A defining moment in the history of St. Thomas’ Memorial Arena to be written this spring and summer

city_scope_logo-cmykIt has a long and storied history. Of course, the St. Thomas Elgin Memorial Centre was long the home of the St. Thomas Stars and before that, the Pests and the Barons.
How many of you remember the short-lived Wildcats of the Colonial Hockey League who called Memorial Arena home for three years before morphing into the London Wildcats and then the Dayton Ice Bandits?
The old barn is seeped in hockey history but its defining moment may very well be written this spring and summer.
Over the past couple of weeks, the venerable facility built in 1953 has been transformed into an impressive vaccination hub where tens of thousands of area residents – certainly far more than the 2,600 or so hockey fanatics who could jam the stands and walking track for a game – will wend their way through the structure and emerge after a shot of insurance against the coronavirus.
Tremendous gratitude is owed Cynthia St. John, Jaime Fletcher and the rest of the hard-working staff at Southwestern Public Health and their community partners who have ironed out every last detail to open up the vaccination clinic Monday morning to get down to the business of corralling the coronavirus.

During a tour of the facility on Thursday (March 11) – most fittingly one year to the day after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic – health unit CEO Cynthia St. John observed, “Within 356 days, we are ready to put vaccine in arms, so that is a significant achievement.
Memorial Arena vaccination 2“All of that work is going to pay off Monday morning when we are vaccinating members of our community . . .”
And what will transpire Monday is far beyond a simple process, reminded St. John.
“While administering needles sounds somewhat simple on the surface, the safety, security, infection control, supply, logistics, approval, funding, staffing, training and technology, these are not simple.”
Between Memorial Arena and a similar operation in Woodstock, the target for the health unit is to vaccinate 150,000 or so residents in the Southwestern Public Health region.
“We’re starting to see it’s the beginning of the end,” acknowledged St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston.
Memorial Arena vaccination 1“I don’t know what it will look like when we’re done, but it will be different than it is today and we’ll feel safer in our community. And the community that pulled together for this last year to get us to this point and the groups that did the same work, we all thank you.”
For the first recipients who stream through the doors Monday, the immunization process will take 30 to 45 minutes. And, when you check out after receiving your shot, you will be automatically booked for the booster shot in 112 days.
Talk about efficiency.

“Our plan for next week is every single dose we receive will be in arms.”

There are 36 vaccination pods on the ice surface floor and Jaime Fletcher, program manager of the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, explains the hours of operation through those pods in the first few days of the vaccination process.
Appointments Monday will be from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. as the Pfizer BioNTech has to come down from the Western Fair Agriplex in London.
“The following day (Tuesday) we will have appointments from 10 until 3 and then we’ll move to an 8:30 until 4:30 schedule for the rest of the week.
“Our plan for next week is every single dose we receive will be in arms. That means the following week there will not be a clinic on Monday (March 22) because we won’t have any vaccine and on Tuesday we’ll probably move into extended hours and into the weekend based on the amount of vaccine we’re expecting.”
Adults aged 80+ and Indigenous adults aged 55+ can book by calling 226-289-3560 from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., or book online at http://www.covidvaccinelm.ca. Choose City of St. Thomas Memorial Arena from the drop-down menu.


Absent from the first report this year from the site plan control committee, amended plans for the Alma College Square development will be before council on Monday (March 15).
In January of 2020, council approved the final site plan for the three-tower residential development on the site of the former Alma College.
Since then, the plan has been updated which was the subject of considerable discussion at the Feb. 12 site plan control committee meeting.
Alma College Square new rendering March, 2021The amendments impact the size and proportion of window and doorway openings in all three buildings with a reduction in window size on the top floors.
The wraparound concrete patios and divider screens have been revised to smaller patios with balconies to provide ground floor units with the same footprint as those above.
According to the developer, Patriot Properties, this will increase the amount of landscaped space around the buildings.
The number of units in Phase 1 is increased by one, bringing the total to 156.
Patriot Properties advises this will “result in smaller and more affordable units and increased efficiencies in the floor plan design.”
The report from the site plan control committee advises, “Most of the building elevation modifications are the result of the precast building system being utilized to construct the towers and the adjustments that were required to meet Building Code requirements while not compromising the structural integrity of the building.”
This was a considerable bone of contention at the February meeting.
To address the smaller window concerns – which some felt gave the buildings an institutional look – Michael Loewith of Patriot Properties “modified the window openings on the top floors by increasing the height of the upper floor windows and installing a transient window panel over the sliding doors.
“These modifications from the construction plans further assist to distinguish the uppermost floor from the middle and ground floors.”

“The proposed exterior design changes maintain a thoughtful, well-conceived, and traditionally-inspired architectural design for the buildings.”

GSP Group, which three years ago provided the city with an urban design review as part of site plan approval, has now updated that review concerning the proposed amendments.
At issue here is Design Point #7 in the original urban review in relation to “The proposed building architecture provides for an articulated, heritage-inspired character that relates the character of the site and surrounding area.
“The ground floor building elevations feature distinctions, through material and colour changes together with individual unit entrances and glazing, that contribute to a pedestrian-oriented ground level. The middle storeys of the building elevations, between the ground floor and top storey of the buildings, demonstrates traditional inspirations including a regular rhythm of windows albeit with a variety of forms and sizes, simple detailing, and brick-patterned pre-cast concrete. The top storey is distinguished from the building middle using glazed and metal materials together with a slight wall recession, which provides an attractive and effective cap to the roofline of the buildings.”
Kevin Muir, senior planner/urban designer with GSP Group – with offices in Kitchener and Hamilton – concludes, “Based on my review of the revised building elevations and renders, the nature of my observations and opinion regarding Design Point #7 remains unchanged with the proposed building elevations. The proposed exterior design changes maintain a thoughtful, well-conceived, and traditionally-inspired architectural design for the buildings. The design maintains the principles of contemporary mid-rise building design practice, particularly regarding the distinguished base, middle and top building sections.”
As an aside, Muir observes “While I personally, and admittedly subjectively, prefer the full height glass-clad penthouse of the approved building elevations, the proposed building elevations maintain the intent of that design approach, namely a distinguished building top aesthetic through material, colour and architectural distinctions from the building middle.”
The site plan control committee recommends council approve “the amended plans submitted with respect to the building elevation changes and other Site Plan adjustments in relation to parking arrangements, landscaping and other minor modifications.”

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It’s been a tough road the past year for the two taxi operators in the city and now they are being asked to participate in the public engagement process related to opening up the private transportation market.
That prompted Michelle and Murray Watson, long-time owners of Red Line Transportation, to forward a lengthy letter to council for the March 8 meeting dealing with the review of the taxi bylaw.
In addition to the emergence of Uber on the scene, at the end of this month, the revamped Railway City Transit will roll out its Demand Responsive Transit for on-demand service to cover extended hours of operation.
In their letter to council, the Watsons note “We do not agree that there are rapidly changing patterns in the majority of St. Thomas consumers in this area of transportation at this time.
“And, in fact, the public has relied heavily on taxis to ensure their safety and we would also wonder who the public would call and who would be accountable if they did not have us to rely on seven days a week, 24 hours a day.”

“We believe you are going down a slippery slope without any regulatory means and we would like the opportunity to be able to present this to council as to why this is such a dangerous consideration.”

A report dealing with possible changes to the city’s taxi bylaw was presented to council last November and the Watsons question the timing of that in light of the pandemic and “without input from either taxi company or the public.
“We were not invited to make a deputation or even a comment as to why this was even on anyone’s radar or realm of need.”
The Watsons are requesting council postpone a review of the bylaw “to a time when both taxi companies and the public can fairly provide proper information to city council and the general public.”
They conclude, “We believe you are going down a slippery slope without any regulatory means and we would like the opportunity to be able to present this to council as to why this is such a dangerous consideration.”
At Monday’s meeting, Coun. Steve Peters observed, “Murray and Red Line have been in business in St. Thomas for a long time. I think we need to hear from people like Murray and their experience because they have played a critical role during COVID.
“They are front-line workers like a lot of others out there and they have given people the ability to get to appointments, get their shopping done and get wherever.
“We really do need to get that input before we make a decision as to where we’re going.
“And, we have to factor in our new transit system and how that is going to have an impact.”
According to that November report to council on the taxi bylaw, repealing it “will usher St. Thomas into a more modern framework that allows ridesharing programs, limousines, vehicles for hire and taxis to operate, without prejudice, in an arena that should be dictated by supply, demand and consumer choice, without municipal interference.”
Companies like Uber and Lyft are not regulated by the current bylaw and operate independently.


Last month, Tracey Reeves wrote council with concerns about the lone trumpeter swan housed at Pinafore Park and the city’s dormant breeding program.
The issue is on the agenda for Monday’s meeting, where the recommendation from Adrienne Jefferson, supervisor of parks and forestry, is to terminate the program.
The city became involved in a provincial program to re-establish the swans in southern Ontario in 1985.
The last trumpeter swan cygnet hatched on June 26, 2013. That was the first offspring produced since 2004.
There were a pair of swans in the Pinafore Park enclosure until the female died two years ago.
Jefferson recommends to council the remaining swan be donated to a wildlife rehabilitation program “where it can spend the remainder of its life living alongside other swans and wildlife.”

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.


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