Is it possible opening up Lake Margaret to additional uses could become as divisive an issue as the twin-pad arena controversy more than 15 years ago?
It certainly divided council when put to a vote and based on comments we’ve received – some documented further on here – it has splintered opinion with city residents.
As noted at a previous meeting of council, fishing in Lake Margaret is regulated by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the city has posted on its website the lake is closed to fishing from now until the fourth Saturday in June in accordance with the Ontario bass fishing season.
The city notes, “Once the lake is open again for fishing we ask that you carry a valid Ontario fishing license and adhere to the posted signs that direct you to where fishing can occur at the northwest and southwest end of the lake.
“No fishing is to occur behind the homes on the north and south shore of Lake Margaret.”
Furthermore, “Boat Launch signage will also be posted on the east end of the lake at Jim Waite Park, where you can park on Lake Margaret Trail. Parking is also available at Pinafore Park near the Celebration Pavilion where directional signage will lead you to the northwest boat launch.”
At Monday’s (May 17) council meeting, Adrienne Jefferson from the city’s parks, recreation and property management department outlined a staff proposal for docking areas to launch canoes.
Jefferson noted, “We expect to monitor those two sites for the first year to see how things go and expect if we need to make any changes there are other locations we could look at as well.”
Coming through Pinafore Park, those wishing to fish would have access to washrooms at the bandshell, advised Jefferson.
Directional signage is due to be installed in the next week or so.
As stressed by Coun. Steve Wookey, portable audio devices are not welcome on the water.
Again, as noted on the city’s web page, “Any type of music speaker will not be permitted to be played on the lake as loud noises disturb this natural environment.”
Jefferson noted the plan is to undertake a six-month or year-long trial and then report back to council.
She stressed only catch and release fishing will be permitted. And staff will work with the Kettle Creek Conservation Authority to develop a plan on fish habitat creation and reach out to Matt McTaggart from Steelhead Food Company to discuss the stocking of the lake.
He is launching a youth stewardship and sustainability program to spread awareness regarding natural resources and how to preserve them for future use.
He is seeking the city’s go-ahead to use Lake Margaret as a model for this program. Read more about that here https://ianscityscope.com/2021/02/20/alma-college-square-something-interesting-and-unique-appears-to-be-more-ho-hum-and-institutional/
Jefferson advised the city has reached out to police and EMS “to ensure emergency procedures are in place.”
Coun. Gary Clarke noted, “These are great rules to put in place so that we can mitigate the influence that could happen to the neighbours there.
“I think what you have put in place is fair and allows people access to the lake but also respects the neighbourhood.”
LAKE MARGARET, NOW MORE THAN A PRETTY BACKDROP
Still with Lake Margaret and what is now allowed, it’s a flashpoint out in the community, as witness this sample of opinions from the City Scope Facebook page, some of which got quite heated and personal.
Herb Warren notes, “This has not been well thought out and will cause future problems with parking, lake pollution, garbage issues, invasive species in the lake. Where to launch these unpowered boats. It is maybe a nice thing to do by our city leaders but there will be problems taxpayers will pay for.”
Jeremy Smith, however, disagrees. “Herb Warren not really. Parking can be handled well in the back of Pinafore Park and the sandy shallows to the north of the lot is a perfect spot for a floating dock for canoes. Unless you think watersport users are going to pollute more than the current walking group I imagine a few garbage cans would cover that. Invasive species when discussing canoes and kayaks only is most likely just plant species and only if you are travelling and using your gear outside the watershed.”
Rimas Miknev observed, “Kudos to Councillor Gary Clarke for putting the motion forward and to the councillors who supported it. Now the lake can be utilized in a good and wholesome way by all citizens of the city who choose to do so, rather than simply serving as a pretty backdrop for an upscale neighbourhood.”
Well, Sue Margetts vehemently disagrees with that picture. “It must really burn your butt that people that live in an upscale environment, you seem to have issues with. Does resentment run your life and you see no benefit to keeping something just a pretty backdrop? Everything should be filled with people, trampled down and let’s not forget wholesome and good fun. You paint a pretty picture but the reality, yes reality is, for every pro, there will be cons, those are the things like garbage, fishing line left in the water, no supervision for a young kid who gets out on the lake without a life vest, tearing out trees to make for a boat launch, congestion on the paths, scaring away the blue herons, taking away a year’s long migratory path for geese. As of yet, no way for an ambulance or fire to get in should something happen. Next, there will be people asking for permits to put a food truck there. Permission has been given to open the lake which will grow in size of people using it, animals displaced, turtle habitat out there could be gone but what do you care, you don’t. Like there isn’t enough of everything in St. Thomas to keep people occupied, they need more and that will continue as long as it is allowed.”
Oh boy, we’re getting heated now.
A good suggestion from Kevin Woodworth: “I used to fish there when the Axford’s owned it they made sure you had a permit or a membership I think they called that might not be a bad idea now so there would be some money for clean up and other expenses.”
“I bet if you surveyed 100 people, at least 99 of them would rather swim in Lake Margaret than the scummy waters of Pinafore, Dalewood or Waterworks!”
There’s a small matter of parking, suggests Maryellen Davie-Borecki.
“Hooray, first thing city should consider is parking.”
Obviously Kevin Smith does not agree with Coun. Steve Peter’s logic in opposing more activities.
“Let us break down the nonsense in regard to Steve Peter’s opposition to activities on Lake Margaret. First off the lake is owned by the city. It doesn’t belong to the wealthy living on the shores of it. As long a person isn’t fishing on someone’s property and throwing garbage all over the place, what is the problem?
“I have a real issue with the contempt that council has shown the taxpayers for the last several years. It’s about time that we as taxpayers have something to show for council’s incompetence.
“Steve Peters has suggested for us to go fishing in the clean waters of Dalewood and Waterworks Park instead. Seriously, have you ever fished in those scummy waters before? In case Steve didn’t know it fishing for bass and trout in Lake Margaret is a far better experience than fishing for carp and suckers at Dalewood and Waterworks Park. I can’t believe I have to explain this!
“Did I read that right, Steve is worried about pollution from Lake Margaret getting into Pinafore Lake? As I recall swimming was banned in Pinafore Lake decades ago. I bet if you surveyed 100 people, at least 99 of them would rather swim in Lake Margaret than the scummy waters of Pinafore, Dalewood or Waterworks!
“I hate to attack Steve here. I think he was a good mayor for the people back then. However, now he seems to follow the globalist agenda of the Liberal Party, The World Economic Forum and Agenda 2030. After all, he did vote to look at all new projects in our city through a “climate change lens”. This by the way is the language used by the WEF and Agenda 2030. You know what else is buried within the thousands of pages on the WEF website and the Agenda 2030 website? These two websites want to ban recreational fishing by 2030. Shocker, so does Steve apparently!”
Do you think we’ve hit a nerve with the city electorate?
And, we’ve just scraped the surface. More comments next week but we have to close out with this observation from Coun. Peters.
If you remember last week, we noted the suggestion of some keyboard warriors that Peters and fellow councillors Mark Tinlin and Jeff Kohler be voted out of office next time around because of their opposition to increased permitted uses on Lake Margaret while the remaining six members of council were in favour.
Peters notes, “Perhaps the fate of 3 could be the fate of 6?”
CONVERSION TO BEGIN ON EMERGENCY SHELTER
It’s going to be a tight deadline however at Monday’s (May 17) council meeting, members approved an expenditure of just over $1 million to begin the conversion of 10 Princess Avenue into an emergency shelter. The hope is to have the facility ready for opening in September.
The province contributed $928,000 of that amount with MPP Jeff Yurek making the announcement last October. Part of that amount was used to purchase the building.
The conversion contract was awarded to the lowest bidder SDI Builders of London, a firm that has previously completed work in the area at the Ontario Police College and East Elgin Secondary School in Aylmer.
The renovated structure will be the new home of Inn Out of the Cold and will, according to city manager Wendell Graves, provide “a night-time shelter and a day-time respite space and space to provide navigation services for the guests.”
“One element of the overall project which is still in the design stage and will be brought back to council for review is the establishment of an exterior patio area for the guests of the Inn.”
Once completed, Inn Out of the Cold will transfer its overnight operations at Central United Church and use of the Mickleborough building as a day centre to the new emergency shelter.
In addition, it will house a community policing office, replacing its downtown office in the tourism building at the L&PS replica station.
Work will get underway immediately with a proposed completion date of Sept. 17 of this year.
Yet to be finalized is an outdoor patio area for those utilizing the shelter.
As Graves explains, “One element of the overall project which is still in the design stage and will be brought back to council for review is the establishment of an exterior patio area for the guests of the Inn. Staff are working to complete a design which will reflect the proposed use, the adjacent neighbourhood and the conceptual redevelopment of the former cenotaph area. Anticipated costs are in the range of $25,000 for the patio area.”
To date, it has not been a smooth ride for the downtown shelter. At a Zoom meeting back in January with Mayor Joe Preston, area merchants expressed concerns about the location and the lack of input from business owners.
Patti Mugford advised Preston downtown merchants dealing with homeless individuals around their properties and the rampant drug use with discarded paraphernalia have not been “a pretty experience for us.”
She sought answers on how this new emergency shelter “will be different than what we’ve gone through?”
She pressured Preston on why downtown merchants have not been consulted on the new shelter.
“These businesses have been here for a long time,” reminded Mugford, “nobody took into consideration to talk to these businesses before this happened?”
To which Preston shot back, “We had conversation with yourself and others all summer long. We’ve attempted to keep as posted as possible through the great help from Earl (Taylor) of the Downtown Development Board to speak of the whole of the downtown.”
A lot is riding on this emergency shelter with businesses counting on it to ameliorate the homelessness and back-alley drug use in the downtown core not contribute to it.
LUCKY THIS TIME
The city and Southwestern Public Health should consider themselves extremely lucky St. Thomas firefighters were quickly able to quickly knock down a fire this week at Walnut Manor, the embattled shelter owned and operated by Vishal Chityal and SupportiveLiving.ca out of Welland.
The residents and staff were safely evacuated and the rundown structure suffered little damage.
But it should serve as a warning we don’t repeat the tragic circumstances of a fire death in 2015 at an unregulated London group home.
It’s the same situation at Walnut Manor where the residents are extremely vulnerable and a quick exit from the structure might not be possible.
Fire Prevention Officer Kim Destun advised the Ontario Fire Marshal will not investigate the fire as it was confined to the exterior of the building.
A possible cause is careless smoking, compounded by the amount of garbage that litters the back of the home.
A garage on the property is typically full of garbage, a critical concern being close to Old St. Thomas Church.
“We’ve been on them a whole bunch of times,” added Destun. “We did draw attention to them that this is part of the problem.”
Will this prompt increased inspections on the part of the fire department?
“I was there last week and we were there the week before over the garbage issue,” advised Destun. “Each time we go, they’ve cleaned it up within a couple of days. It just re-occurs very quickly. So we will have to obviously keep on it.”
She continued, “Everything else, as far as the alarm system, the staff and evacuation were excellent. We didn’t have any problem with it.”
The owners have not installed a sprinkler system in the structure even though they were previously offered financial assistance through the city.
“They got really, really lucky. If it had been two or three more minutes it would have been up into the roof because it was going up that back porch on the second storey.”
Can you imagine if this had been the middle of the night?
It could have gone south very quickly.
Back in 2018, then St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services Director Elizabeth Sebestyen was working with the Canadian Mental Health Association “on harmonizing the standards of care and introducing some kind of a licencing procedure.”
Seems to have fallen off the radar of Mayor Joe Preston and this edition of council.
While we’re on the subject of Walnut Manor and its owners, Loretta Gibbons in Calgary forwarded a link to a short parody video on Vishal Chityal and the award-winning team at SupportiveLiving.ca.
Gibbons’ brother and his wife live at Lakeside Terrace in Port Colborne, Ontario, another facility owned and operated by Chityal.
In October of last year she contacted us to advise the couple was paying $1,000 per month each to share a bedbug-infested room with food she describes as so deplorable, “I called Meals on Wheels and they delivered lunch for them. Of course, this is not sustainable as it is $17 for two lunches every time they come.”
You can watch the video here https://drive.google.com/file/d/1PFh9gWfwEwH5ghT1KJFZb7GUqojVWA2Q/view?usp=sharing and she shared it with the Port Colborne News and Views website at https://www.facebook.com/585456045/videos/10157660319366046/
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