Heritage Lives: Ghosts Of The WRCC

Under Mayor Cindy Forster’s administration, the WRCC built better bicycle/walking paths on the west side of the waterway. (File photo Joe Barkovich)

Part 3: Incorporation And A Comparison Of Canal Land Development By Two Administrations

By Terry Hughes

During  the negotiations between the city and the federal government, a number of legitimate concerns were raised by Mayor Dick Reuter in a letter to our M.P. Gib Parent in 1994.

 He states that “physical liabilities such as the collapse of the aqueduct, canal bank and their retaining structures” and other issues must be considered. A public relations campaign was initiated by the city planning department on the latter featuring local radio personality Frank Sernak on a professionally developed video.

Interestingly, Public Works Canada had commissioned a study on canal bank erosion by Acres in 1993. They noted that “the north reach (from north of the aqueduct to the train trestle) has experienced most of this phenomena because of the high banks in this portion of the canal.” Estimates made on this issue were costed out at spending two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for twenty-five years. I don’t believe that any remediation on this problem has occurred.   

In 1996, the Welland Canal Parkway Development Board resigned. Pressure from government officials for us to become involved in the negotiation process between the federal government and the city led to this decision, however, discussions between the chair, Mr. Parent, Mayor Reuter and Coun. Joe Spadafora continued on a governance model.

1997 was a memorable year for a number of reasons. I retired from the teaching profession, became involved in the federal election but more importantly the city and federal government settled on transferring the canal lands to the city. I recall Mayor Reuter suggested to Coun. Spadafora that a symbolic dollar bill be placed on the wall of the mayor’s office celebrating the deal.

The mayor’s attention quickly changed to the issue of building a new city hall. Controversy over building a swimming pool under the facility would become a local election issue. That would end further involvement between local officials on a new board. But the need to have the new mayor aware of a framework for a governance model and the need to have it incorporated became important. The significance of a new board and its incorporation was presented to Mayor Cindy Forster’s first council meeting. 

The Cindy Forster Canal Board 

The operation of this board was very similar to the parks and recreation department. Until the incorporation of the board, money secured from the deal with the federal government was used for non canal land purposes. 

Soon it became evident that the board was not in the tourism business. The possible reason was that the mayor who chaired the committee as well as being mayor of the city left little time for investigating tourist opportunities. 

That issue would come under jurisdiction of the committee called TOWN (Tourism of Welland Niagara). Instead, motorized boating became a major issue in terms of numbers and the operation of watercraft. There wasn’t any way to enforce coast guard rules because they lacked qualified officers. If they hired off-duty regional police, it could become very expensive as the committee running the triathlon found out. In the meantime, the marine unit of the regional police was overwhelmed patrolling the multitude of waterways in the region. When they did arrive here the number of boaters found to be drunk was greater than the provincial average. 

One of the greatest disappointments during the operation of this board was the filling in and placement of structures in the Cross Street swimming pool during the construction of the city centre. At no time was anyone in the heritage community advised or consulted as to what plans the board had for this piece of history. All that was achieved was the further disguising of this valued structure.

The birth of the WRCC (Welland Recreational Canal Corporation) at its time of incorporation was a positive step because now, the funding for the operation of the canal lands from any future takeover due to municipal reorganization was secure. The fund was now to be used for canal land purposes only. Better paved bicycle/walking paths were built on the west bank of the canal. But the frustration over the lack of tourism development would become the major issue that would fuel the next election. 

Next in the Ghosts series: A New Governance Model And Direction For Tourism.

(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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