Heritage Lives: What If……?

By Terry Hughes

This article is not intended as a forecast of what may happen with your canal lands, but what should have happened as announced 38 years ago. We had an opportunity to introduce a new economy called tourism because, like lyrics from the song “Allentown” that tell the story about how factories in the Pennsylvania town were shutting down, it was happening here too. 

In 1984 the federal government announced an economic initiative to develop a themed opportunity involving the abandoned canal lands. It would tap into an already established tourism industry creating new development here that would complement but not compete with activities already found in the Niagara Region. By infusing federal dollars into this area, it was intended to attract private development 

The Welland Canal Parkway Advisory Board, a committee made up of a cross-section of people from different occupations and political persuasions, met and after two years of deliberation came up with a plan developed by the MacLaren Plansearch Co. It should be noted that the opportunities described here were researched and market tested before they were adopted. The canal lands were divided into three sections known as the Northern, Central and Southern Reaches with the focus for development on the first two areas. It was intended to promote the heritage and tourism opportunities of these lands.

Merritt Island at the south end was to feature the 150-year canal development using scale miniatures and a full-sized 461-foot package freighter known as Canada Steamship Lines Fort Henry. Pictured here, you can see part of her work as an automobile carrier but she was also fitted out with a lower deck for package freight. She was only 20-years-old and featured a stainless steel galley and rated as a very low fire risk.         

CSL was willing to offer a large portion of their company archives that included paintings, scale models and books to round out an on-board museum. Bollards were put in place to secure the ship to the shore and a stone bridge abutment from Quaker Road would form a base for one of three ramps to enter and leave the ship. The nature trails on Merritt Island were to be developed.

Having visited the commanding officer at Buffalo’s Naval Park, he offered a lot of ideas that would enable the ship to pay its own way. She was scheduled to be dry docked at Port Weller to weld any openings closed and receive a rubberized paint to ensure minimal maintenance to her hull before being towed here to her Merritt Island berth. Unfortunately, the 1984 federal election terminated that idea because the incoming Progressive Conservative government was not in favour of such development.

According to recently-published reports, your canal lands on the west side of the waterway behind the Seaway Mall are now being sold to a private developer, LIV Communities (see media release, below) by the city. The MacLaren Market Study required the private sector to develop themed visitor attractions. This included an r.v. park, water park and children’s play area. It also would have had an amphitheatre, and cultural village promoting our many citizens of ethnic descent that made up a majority of the population of the city, 

The market study also recommended a federally funded project called an Urban Fisheries Facility in co-operation with the University of Guelph would be developed in a depression under  the Woodlawn bridge. This spot was the remnant of the three old canals that would be excavated and flooded to develop the fish beds.  A number of swimming opportunities would be available nearby. Some 120 hectares of land here could be developed for commercial and other uses. 

The central reach beginning with the syphon would feature the abandoned Cross Street pool as a federally funded national monument. It had served as an aqueduct on the second canal carrying ships over the Welland River for 75 years. It was the only structure of its kind in Canada and today, is finally being designated by the city. Close by, private investment would fund a floating restaurant and hopefully support from local businesses would encourage canal-side opportunities. Merritt Park would remain as part of a continuous green belt on both sides of the waterway

South of Lincoln Street the green belt would continue with docks for boating on the west bank. Just north of the swing bridge, a 500-foot frontage for a sandy beach was to be constructed. That site is now going to be occupied by a large condominium joining its neighbour, the Grand Canal  structure on the opposite bank!  Fortunately, the Wellness Centre can be found here for public use. It was here that public meetings were held that led to keeping motorized watercraft from using the waterway!

South of the Broadway Bridge, a proposed boatless water ski using cabled tethers to pull skiers was recommended for private developers. The Flatwater Course fortunately has brought a great deal more prestige to the city on many fronts. 

Presently the Southern Reach still remains in federal hands although the city has permission to use it for rowing. If we could gain control of this portion of the waterway we could exceed the Henley as a premium rowing course and develop this site for our own benefit!

We are now involved in the Great Canadian Land Sale and witness condominium growth and other developments geared for population growth.When a similar approach was tried to turn over the canal lands for private development in 1988-89, voters rejected this concept and had a petition entered into Hansard, the official record in the House of Commons to keep the lands under public control. By issuing long-term leases to developers, local control of your canal lands was assured. Today, this is not the case!

Burdened with canal land issues, council could not function properly as councillors already have too much on their plates. As was done in the past, you, the public, should be more involved and should have been consulted as to where the city is going with this once valuable asset. 

Next column: When FDR and Churchill visited the Niagara region.

(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.)

City of Welland media release: LIV Communities to develop the Northern Reach lands with residential and commercial units, enhanced access to canal trails and Merritt Island

May 18, 2022

WELLAND – The lands known as the Northern Reach, situated to the west of the recreational canal from Woodlawn Road north to Merritt Road, will be developed by LIV Communities.

Welland City Council confirmed LIV Comunities would develop the nearly 62 hectares of waterfront property in the city with between 3,800 and 4,500 residential units. The development will contain a mixed-use residential and a commercial block that features outdoor patio areas with a canal and park views.

“This development will showcase our city’s natural beauty along the canal,” said Steve Zorbas, CAO. “With splash pads, playgrounds, washrooms, and more in the central and neighbourhood parks, our community is afforded some wonderful amenities to enjoy and get active; we’re excited to see LIV’s vision come to life.”

LIV Communities will develop a gateway feature in the area where the proposed pedestrian-inspired Market Street connects with the designed shared street. This area will include traffic calming features and low-speed limits leading to a central park. Also included are splash pads, playgrounds, public washrooms, and more in the park areas. Dock launch stations for non-motorized watercraft will also be included.

Additionally, the developer will create road and pedestrian connections to existing city infrastructure and the Seaway Mall and improve street networks and accessibility, resulting in greater connectivity to the Canal Trail system for neighbours west of the Northern Reach. A major connection in the development includes the pedestrian bridge from Merritt Island to the Seawall Mall area.

LIV Communities will also work with the City to explore the feasibility of a potential beach area or alternate public swimming feature adjacent to the Canal Trail to further animate and complement the recreational canal.

As a community partner, LIV Communities will contribute $50,000 per year for 10 years for the naming right to a City-owned Facility.

1 thought on “Heritage Lives: What If……?

  1. Claire Masswohl

    Well done Terry. I remember the program that was developed along with many others that went on to dust covered shelves after private citizens worked with the consultants and came out with excellent opportunities for the community. After donating a huge amount of time all ideas were dashed by councillors and staff that did not have the vision to move our City into a tourism attraction that would welcome visitors from all parts of Canada and the world. I also worked on many of those committees and the outcomes never materialized. Check those shelves people with those dusty reports and see the visions of the past that would have supported our community after the factories all closed. Our biggest resource for tourism is that Canal and River and we are giving it to developers for housng. What recreational areas are left?? Parks are diminished to small patches -pools?? So we have more people what are they going to do??


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