Who knows what lurks out of sight above Talbot Street?

city_scope_logo-cmykWe referred to them as the city’s forgotten apartments. A pair of decrepit hovels visible from the mayor’s office in city hall.
The first thing you noticed was the gaping holes where the ceilings had fallen away.
Patches of paint which had not yet floated to the floor cling tentatively to the walls.
In other areas, vast expanses of paint blistered like badly burned skin.
Missing tiles in one of the showers had been replaced with duct tape and garbage bags.
The remnants of a skylight were stuffed with a blanket and when it rained, water dripped to the floor and down the front stairs.
When this corner exposed those units in January of 2016 they were home to four tenants, seemingly off the radar of several departments at city hall.
Links to the trio of items written about those apartments and what might have been in the way of affordable housing back in 2016 can be found at the end of this item.
We reference these residences because how many other out-of-sight, out-of-mind units can be found up and down the Talbot Street core?

One department at city hall is about to find out.
The St. Thomas Fire Department has launched its Fire Safe Downtown Campaign.
Chief Fire Prevention Officer Kim Destun advises they are beginning the inspections at the west end of Talbot Street, dominated by businesses but some with second-floor residential units.


“Our intention is to really get in there so that we know what’s going on above these mercantiles.
Several weeks ago Destun and her crew were in a business and “we were in the basement and that’s an incredible maze . . . Getting ourselves in there and getting our crews in, if need be, so if it is full of smoke, they know where they’re going.”
Destun adds she and other officers will be conducting fire inspections and offering relevant staff training as part of the campaign.
The goal of the fire safety campaign is education and fire code compliance.

“You saw the fire in Aylmer and how quickly it can go from unit to unit and that’s what we’re hoping to get ahead of.”

She explains what the year-long campaign will entail.
“Typically what is done is we’ll go in and we’ll do the inspection and, depending on the severity of the issue, the landlord will be given a certain amount of time to comply.
“And that will go along with the education piece, you should comply because this is why.
“And, hopefully, they go yes this is a good idea and do it. If not, we can go down the enforcement route and make sure it happens.”
The priority, stresses Destun, is giving owners and residents the tools and training they need to ensure downtown buildings are protected.
She referred to the fire last month in the downtown core of Aylmer and how quickly a blaze can spread.
“You saw the fire in Aylmer and how quickly it can go from unit to unit and that’s what we’re hoping to get ahead of.”
Back in 2016, the Chief Fire Prevention Officer was Bill Todd and we talked to him specifically about the two units.
“And that’s the problem with some of these places. If we don’t get into them, we don’t even know there’s an issue and I didn’t think anybody was living in those apartments.”
What was truly frightening is there appeared to be only one way out of the units, down a steep, unlit staircase.
A disaster waiting to happen.
This campaign now underway was made possible through a grant from the Ontario Municipal Fire Prevention Officer’s Association.

Related posts:

The city’s forgotten apartments

What was once forgotten, is now lost

Will the forgotten Talbot Street apartments soon have company?


Contained in the recently released federal budget is confirmation Volkswagen will be the recipient of federal dollars to locate its EV battery plant in St. Thomas.
No specifics on how many billions of dollars that might be – up to $15 billion has been quoted in some sources – but rest assured taxpayers are to be made privy to that disclosure somewhere down the road.
Industrial development boundaryBut what about ratepayers in this city?
Who exactly is paying for the associated local costs?
The tree-clearing contract, surely worth over a million dollars, is a closely guarded secret at city hall.
Is that being picked up by a higher level of government, like the business associate who picks up the tab at lunch?
And now we have consultant’s fees to the tune of almost $8 million, as revealed in Tuesday’s (April 11) council agenda.
Council will be asked to approve a $7.9 million contract with Arcadis IBI Group for engineering and planning services on the 1,500-acre site.
According to a report to council from Nathan Bokma, manager of development and compliance, “the city is responsible for the development of municipal services that will support the new EV plant.”
Bokma goes on to note, “With this large investment in the city, staff sought out a large, international consultant that would be able to deliver on various aspects of planning and engineering disciplines for a massive industrial subdivision development to meet the very tight timelines required by VW.”
Because of this, the city did not tender the project, instead “it is necessary to single source procure these services,” according to Bokma.
He adds, “Engineering work across Ontario is dictated by a professional fee schedule which is very similar between firms.”
Bokma concludes, “This strategy will take advantage of unified public consultation processes and exercises for the overall development to allow staff to move through the engineering and planning processes quickly to design and implement new roads, sewage pumping stations, regional stormwater management ponds, and other infrastructure to support this incredible investment in our community.”
What is missing from Bokma’s report is which city budget the almost $8 million expenditure will come from.
We have forwarded several questions related to financing this expenditure to city manager Sandra Datars Bere.


Still with the new industrial lands. While speed is of the essence in getting ready for the arrival of Volkswagen, motorists on the other hand will have to slow down.
In a report to council for Tuesday’s meeting, proposed changes to the posted limits will be up for discussion.
Ron McNeil Line from Highbury Avenue to Yarmouth Centre Road will be dropped from an 80 km/h limit to 60 km/h as will Yarmouth Centre Road.
Edgeware Line, from Highbury Avenue to Yarmouth Centre Road will also be limited to 60 km/h.
Important to note the heads up from Matthew Vriens, the city’s manager of Road and Transportation who advises, “Speed reductions along these corridors will improve safety for truck egress and prepare the public for the future increase of traffic volumes.”No indication in his report but we can only assume these changes will go into effect sooner rather than later.
It offers considerations for a pilot project to gather information on community impact including a time frame of three to four years.


A month ago we quoted a letter from city resident Kay Vaughan requesting council permit the raising of hens in backyards.
Staff has prepared a report on the matter for members to consider at Tuesday’s meeting.
backyard chickens 2Included is a document from John and Kelly Nephin who live in eastern Ontario which provided input to the Town of Carleton Place in support of an amendment to its animal control bylaw to allow a small number of hens to be kept in backyards.
It dealt with myths that chicken coops are smelly and ugly; hens are noisy and are a health risk; they are annoying to neighbours; they attract predators; and animal shelters will become crowded with abandoned chickens.
Included is a list of numerous Ontario municipalities that allow the raising of hens including Kitchener, Woodstock, Norfolk County and Windsor and it offers considerations for a pilot project to gather information on community impact including a time frame of three to four years.
City staff present three options for council’s consideration.
1. Do nothing. This would maintain the status quo of prohibiting the keeping of backyard hens as per the
zoning bylaw and the animal control bylaw.
2. Direct staff to prepare amendments to the zoning bylaw and animal control bylaw, including draft
regulations for council’s consideration, to permit the keeping of backyard chickens.
3. Initiate a pilot project to permit a “control group” of 6-10 residents to keep backyard chickens on a
temporary basis (minimum 2 years with possible extension). Participants would need to register and meet
regulations to be drafted for the pilot. This will allow staff to monitor complaints, issues that arise and
evaluate potential costs before reporting back to council on next steps.

Related post:

St. Thomas Police Service strategic plan 2023-2026: ‘The police alone cannot solve the problem of crime and social disorder.”


Last Saturday (April 1) evening, the gym inside West Elgin Secondary School erupted in a spontaneous outpouring of whoops and hollers.
The community of West Lorne had overcome the odds to be crowned 2023 Kraft Hockeyville champions, prevailing over the much larger competition in Saint-Anselme, Quebec; Maple Ridge, B.C.; and Ste. Anne, Manitoba.
kraft-hockeyville-mcphail-family-1In addition to the $250,000 prize, the Municipality of West Elgin is contributing $150,000 to help with renovations at the West Lorne arena.
That roar Saturday evening could be heard well beyond the confines of West Elgin Secondary School.
There were a few tears as well in memory of West Elgin Mayor Duncan McPhail who died shortly after West Lorne was announced as one of four finalists.
We spoke with Duncan’s wife Norma about the community coming together to go after the $250,000 prize.
“I have to say the organizing committee and West Lorne Minor Hockey did an absolutely amazing job.

“Doing it for Duncan was absolutely overwhelming. And he would be so proud and so humbled by all of the outpouring of support.”

“I can’t even imagine the hours they spent making this all happen, but they are the champions here.
“They pulled out all the stops to make it work.”
The winning announcement last Saturday occurred on Duncan McPhail’s birthday. A fitting tribute to the popular mayor.
While pitted against much larger communities, people from well beyond the borders of West Lorne came together and did it for Duncan.
Norma said he would have been humbled by the outpouring of support.
“Absolutely amazing the support from the whole community and across many other communities pulling together for West Lorne.
“Doing it for Duncan was absolutely overwhelming. And he would be so proud and so humbled by all of the outpouring of support.”
The arena is to be renamed after NHL’er Bo Horvat, but no doubt Dunc’s name and legacy will be commemorated in prominent fashion inside the community facility.

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