Tag Archives: development

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.

Heritage Lives: The Great Land Sale Of Your Canal Lands

/Terry Hughes graphic

 By Terry Hughes

The media has come alive with the new direction the city has taken in managing the canal lands. Since replacing the WRCC (Welland Recreational Canal Corp.), the city is now more directly involved in canal land business. The question now is: can they better manage this valuable asset and keep within the bounds of what expectations were developed when the canal lands became available in the 1980’s?  There were four basic principles that were to govern their development. Let’s examine each principle and match them with the efforts the city is making to date. 

1. The long-term retention of all of the remaining lands and waterway known as the Welland Canal Recreational Waterway as a major heritage and tourism resource for the benefit of the people of the city of Welland, the Region of Niagara and Canada, now and in the future.

The idea of having parkland in the centre of a metro Niagara as was seen in New York City evolved into a mixture of private and public projects in 1984. Unfortunately, a change at the federal level placed the lands up for sale for the private sector in 1988 similar to what we are seeing now. It became an election issue at the local level and public response resulted in a petition being sent to Ottawa stating that the canal lands be kept public. The petition was read into the parliamentary record called Hansard after the election was over by our elected representative, Gib Parent 

2. All private and public developments must use long-term leases so that the city maintains control of the canal lands into the future.

Headlines such as,  WELLAND PUTS WATERFRONT PROPERTY ON REAL ESTATE MARKET and  WATERFRONT CONDOS IN WELLAND SELL OUT and follow-up stories make no mention of long-term leases. Judging by the number of condo sites being approved by city council the best sites will be gone while public access and development is being compromised. In the original plan, the condo site on Prince Charles Drive was supposed to be the location for a five hundred foot frontage for a local sandy beach. It would certainly have been better than a floating swimming pool, as had been promoted by some city officials for a while.

3. Heritage sites must be maintained and/or developed to their fullest potential.   

Here, the city has not lived up to maintaining canal-related sites. And in every case the heritage committee, museum board and any member of the heritage community had not been consulted and asked for input. Instead, the city neglected the development of the Feeder Lock Park and Second Aqueduct/Cross St. Swimming Pool sites. In the case of the Feeder Lock site, it is better known as the Dog Park! The park is well used by dog owners for their pets but using space some five hundred feet away on the opposite side of the highway that includes a gated barrier would have been a better location.

After several years of work by a variety of committees the Second Aqueduct site was finally approved for recognition but was negated by city officials and the head of the heritage committee. And in spite of a recommendation that the structure be made into a reflecting pool to celebrate its seventy five years as an aqueduct and forty years as a swimming pool and with signatures from a cross section of local politicians, people from culture groups and academia, this opportunity is being ignored. 

4.  Environmental requirements when developing private or public projects must be respected.

When the Cross Street Pool site was being developed as part of the Civic Centre Project without any heritage support, a stairway leading down the wall facing the canal was to join a marina. The problem was that the development was only five hundred feet away from the intake where the city gets its drinking water. In an overwhelming  public response to allowing motorized watercraft to return to the waterway, people rejected the idea in spite of  support from a few members of council.      

The question of whether city council can do the job that was once the responsibility of the WRCC is already indicating that we ask too much of them. In my view, then-mayor Cindy Forster’s council found it impossible to develop the lands for tourism and still conduct the business of the city. More recently, with the recent departure of Richard Dalton (manager, Recreation and Cultural Services) who was a valuable resource to the city, further developments/activities are stymied. 

The loss of the protection of the WRCC as an incorporated body means we will not be able to protect the canal funds being taken over by future developments if regional reforms take place.

Our future may be found in the development of the rowing course at Dain City. Save for the need for a return lane for racing crews, this course is deeper, better protected from wind and straighter than the Henley course in St. Catharines.

With support from our local member of Parliament we can wrestle away the seaway’s authority and place permanent grandstands there and cheer on our rowers!  

(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.)