HERITAGE LIVES: The Thrill Of Victory And The Agony Of Defeat For Welland In 1984

Development proposals in the Maclaren Plan. (Supplied graphic)

By Terry Hughes

While channel surfing the other day, a program called A Park for All Seasons appeared that was focusing on Bruce Peninsula National Park and Five Fathoms National Park here in Ontario. Suddenly, it brought back memories on how these two facilities would in part, have a negative impact on our city as we were about to reduce our reliance on smokestack industries and consider tourism.

/Graphics provided by the author.

As will be shown here through clippings of newspaper accounts and government reports, a campaign of deceit and denial was used against us while development of parallel projects were allowed elsewhere.

As the city entered 1984,  it did so with a feeling of optimism because proposals found in the Maclaren Plan, as shown on the above map, would bring tourism to our community and help replace the industrial base lost in the past. A combination of private and public funding would help syphon tourists visiting the peninsula to us by offering a wide variety of themed activities that would complement and not compete with established centres in Niagara. 

Of the nearly 8 million dollars provided by the federal government, more than 3 million had been spent on three nature trails and administrative building on Merritt Island, canal bank stabilization, preparation of the former Cross Street Pool as a national historic site, landscaping of lands along the abandoned waterway and placement of bollards to secure a laker, the Fort Henry, to the west bank of the island.

The next step was to secure funds to purchase the ship from Canada Steamship Lines and move her to Port Weller Drydock for preparation of the hull before her arrival here. But that was not going to happen! With the defeat the Liberal government in the September, 1984 federal election, all projects were frozen and to the surprise of all, Public Works under the new government took a new direction.

The new canal board, first of all, went into a state of denial in that they were not in the  tourism business and later, suggested that the canal lands be privatized and sold off.

As shown through the accompanying headlines, the federal government launched a media blitz stating that the canal lands issues were contributing to the national debt. A plan costing thirty thousand dollars was released showing how the lands could be privatized. But government documents of the day show the direction of park development and why the city was justified on insisting that the lands be placed under Parks Canada!

Now while all this controversy was going on, the federal government had arranged to acquire control of both parks in the Bruce Peninsula for development of their Parks Canada expansion. Like here in Welland, a board was appointed to oversee a plan on how these parks should be developed and, as that television program, A Park For All Seasons showed, they did an excellent job!

But remember, back here, we were being told that the lands are a burden on the national debt even though the plan developed for us had been recognized as realistic and a financially sound project.

The document titled Diving and Shipwrecks, Fathom Five National Marine Park, contains a text on how this operation evolved, how it paralleled the project going on here and later, would indirectly lead to the loss of the canal lands as a Parks Canada project.  

Next Column:  What was going on in Niagara in 1818? 

(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading. His opinion column, Heritage Lives, appears on the blog once or twice monthly.)

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