How cruise night could provide a template for revitalizing Brandon’s downtown

On the first Thursday of the summer months, downtown Brandon is filled with the sounds of revving engines and camaraderie.

Cruise night has been a staple on Rosser Avenue for more than 20 years, bringing hundreds of cars and people to a downtown that has struggled with revitalization, says Dave Burba, president of Road Rebels car club and a member of Brandon and Area Car Enthusiasts.

Anywhere from 200 to 300 cars — as long as the weather is nice — are on display, drawing more than 1,000 spectators to the heart of southwestern Manitoba’s biggest city, which has a population of 54,000.

Cruise nights offer a double hit of nostalgia — people relive the rides of their youth while reminiscing about how vibrant downtown used to be, Burba said.

“Downtown was a bustling place … it used to be the place that everyone went to there was so much stuff happening,” Burba said.

“It’s sad how downtown has deteriorated over the years.”

A car show fills a downtown street.
Emmy Sanderson, Brandon Downtown BIZ executive director, says events like cruise night help revitalize downtown by increasing foot traffic in the core. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Emmy Sanderson, Brandon Downtown BIZ executive director, says cruise night provides a blueprint for events that could draw people downtown and revitalize the area with increased foot traffic.

“This is the biggest draw in our downtown right now,” Sanderson said. 

“The downtown cruise night is really important, because it’s been a longstanding event that has maintained through good times and bad.… They are like our steady rock of downtown events.”

The Brandon Downtown BIZ would like to have events like cruise night every weekend in the summer, Sanderson said.

Such events draw people who don’t typically visit the core, helping show people that downtown, with nearly 400 businesses, has a lot to offer, while destigmatizing the idea it’s an unsafe place, she said.

A car show on a downtown street.
Brandon’s Downtown BIZ wants to see more events like the downtown car show. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

“When no one else was here, cruise night was still here, so we are looking at them as our pillar of what can be accomplished and replicating it in other events,” Sanderson said.

“What cruise night has done is prove that it’s possible. We’re not reinventing the wheel. We are doing something that is already happening.”

Brandon and Area Car Enthusiasts have been hosting the downtown cruise for many years because they are driven to help keep some energy and spirit alive downtown, Burba said.

Brandon and Area Car Enthusiasts have never considered leaving downtown because they’re driven to keep the area’s energy and spirit alive, Burba said.

In fact, they’ve doubled down to host more car shows in the core.

This Sunday they’re celebrating Collector Car Appreciation Day by taking over Princess Avenue for a car show.

A car show fills a downtown street.
Cruise night in downtown Brandon attracts 200 to 300 cars, drawing more than 1,000 spectators. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Burba’s also seeing growing interest in cruise night, with businesses staying open late or sponsoring the event.

He appreciates more people from downtown are participating in cruise night because it helps everyone feel included in the community.

A car show on a downtown street.
Guests check out classic rides, trucks and motorcycles on Rosser Avenue during cruise night in downtown Brandon on Thursday. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Sanderson said in addition to business participation in cruise nights, there’s a partnership with the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation’s Ask Auntie Program Blue Door Project, a non-profit daytime drop-in shelter.

Staff and clients of Blue Door supply visitors with water and help with sanitization during cruise night.

Ask Auntie co-ordinator Florence Halcrow said they’ve enjoyed helping build community with the car show.

“The people from the Blue Door always take part and they always walk through the crowds and check out the cars, just like anyone else. So it helps them be part of the community,” Halcrow said.

A car show fills a downtown street.
Organizer Dave Burba says more businesses are starting to participate in the car show. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Bloor Door clients live downtown, so it’s important to support events in their community and also build connections with people in the rest of Brandon, Halcrow said.

Sanderson said they’re all working to make cruise night a great event for everyone.

“Downtown is an ecosystem we’re all in this together,” she said. “We all are working together to help make this event great for everyone.”