How Main Street Canada revitalization program grew


(Published in 1989)

Heritage Canada's Vice president of demonstration programmes is François LeBlanc.
A recent conversation with him:

Place: In 1984 you were named the director of Main Street Canada. What was your first important task?
LeBlanc: In 1984 we operated in just seven demonstration communities. These were largely autonomous "city States." We knew that if Main Street were to have more than isolated impact we had to move from a few towns to many,

Place: How was the accomplished?
LeBlanc: The first seven projects achieved such impressive results that the Department of Industry, Science and Technology contributed $5 million to take the programme to 70 communities by 1991.

Place: What did this mean administratively?
LeBlanc: It meant Main Street Canada had to change into a centrally-managed national programme, a professional co-ordinating agency. We established a headquarters and regional offices to stay close to the grass roots. We developed a systematic approach to information gathering and dissemination. We undertook community and co-ordinator selection. We added a Quebec component. And we introduced demonstration projects in larger communities like St. John's, NF.

Place: Looking back, you must be proud of what has been accomplished.
LeBlanc: The success of Main Street has surprised even those of us who developed the programme. After all, it will (by 1991) account for no fewer that 6,ooo jobs, 1,500 business starts, and 700 major building renovations. It is also generating $90 million private-sector investment.

Place: And why do you think this has happened?
LeBlanc: I think it's happening because Main Street Canada communities know what to emphasize. When Heritage Canada started we thought in terms of things: bricks and mortar, saving this building or that street. But by 1979, when the Main Street programme was launched, we had shifted our thinking: what needed to be emphasized was not things but people.

Place: How does the programme emphasize people?
LeBlanc: It focuses on a regional co-ordinator, a local co-ordinator, and a four-point approach that begins with organization. Organization involves, in addition to the local Main Street office, municipal officials, the business community, building owners, the media, the volunteer groups, the public. The emphasis is upon getting these people together; it helps them develop revitalization values and techniques. It helps them develop the right attitudes.

Place: And what do you do to ensure the right attitude?
LeBlanc: You ensure that the co-ordinator is educated and dedicated. You ensure that the programme enters only communities that want to pull together and are knowledgeable. In addition, you offer a process that helps local citizens with organization, marketing, economic development and design improvement.

Place: And that spells success?
LeBlanc: It helps. But there's more to it than that. In the end, the reason for Main Street's success is, I think indefinable. There is in the programme an "x" factor that's though to pinpoint.

Place: It's a chemical reaction.
LeBlanc: Right. The programme has to do with the dynamics of people working together for something they believe in. They create a synergism. That is, they create an interaction of discrete agents so that the total effects is greater than the sum of the individual parts. It is a sort of chemical reaction with the co-ordinator's office acting as catalyst. And how all of that works is ultimately indefinable.

Place: What ever it is, it's working
LeBlanc: What ever it is, it's working.