In the News


The path to public access at Niagara-on-the-Lake DND lands

It seems everyone’s on the same page, what’ll it take to open up this unique piece of land?

By Luke Edwards Reporter Metroland Media Group Ltd.

Thu., Jan. 5, 2023

After successfully opposing the Project Niagara plans for the so-called DND lands in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Harmony Residents Group members like David Hennessey had to grapple with a question: If not that, what did they want?

The cancellation of the Project Niagara music festival on undeveloped grounds along the Niagara-on-the-Lake lakeshore didn’t mean the residents group that opposed it had won.

David Hennessey recalls the moment he realized it wasn’t over.

“So we're sitting here now, about 2011 or so, and someone said: ‘Well, you stalled this (project). What do you think should be done here?’” Hennessey said.

Until that point, many Harmony Residents Group members hadn’t considered what should be done on the so-called “DND lands.” He blurted out the first thing that came to mind: A park.

That quick thinking was prescient. Even if much of the property remains closed to the public, a future where nature can thrive, history can be honoured and the public can visit seems to be the preferred option among most people involved in the 250-acre plot of land.

“We want to make sure we connect Canadians. We want to make sure we protect and preserve. We want to commemorate the human history of the historic site,” said Lisa Curtis, superintendent of National Historic Sites for Parks Canada’s southwest Ontario region.

“And, eventually, facilitate public access and balancing the sustainability of the site.”

Nature lovers have long marvelled at the natural beauty and uniqueness of the Carolinian forest right on Lake Ontario. History buffs will understand the importance of the Battle of Fort George where British and American forces engaged in some of the most ferocious fighting in the War of 1812.

And yet, the overall property remains largely inaccessible to the public, save for the Niagara Shores Park, which offers a small taste of what the area has to offer.

Curtis points out that several jurisdictions have a role to play in the property, including the military and the Niagara Region, before it can be handed back over to Parks Canada to administer.

The region is continuing work to decommission the old sewage plant, while Curtis said they want to fully ensure the area used by the military for training is fully ready to be reopened before doing so.

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa said there’s been steady communication about the region’s responsibilities.

“It all depends on what the experts say,” he said.

“Ideally, it'd be nice if that area (the former sewage plant) could be naturally regenerative … Obviously, I think, the most preferred option for anybody.”

If and when all those pieces come into place, Curtis said they’ll be ready. They’ve developed high-level planning documents for the property, and while the COVID-19 pandemic threw a bit of a wrench in what they were doing, she said Parks Canada views the property as an important stretch of land.

“I mean, it's undeveloped land on Lake Ontario. How often does that come about? And there’s Carolinian forests and such a significant historic site,” she said, adding there will be far more public engagement whenever the land is ready to move back under the administration of Parks Canada.

Members of the Harmony Residents Group hope that’s true. After opposing the Project Niagara plans more than a decade ago and staying involved in the years since, some members have reservations.

President Peter Harvey said he stays involved because until Parks Canada cuts a ribbon on a new park on the property, anything is possible.

“The sort of thing scares me is some crazy plan that we can't even think of comes up,” he said.

For its part, Parks Canada appears to have heard the pleas of locals loud and clear, though they say patience is still needed.

“Residents have such a passion for this place,” said Curtis. “It means our historic sites are relevant to people and they want to share in that history … these are the projects I enjoy the most.

“It's just it's a really neat site and it will be amazing when we can open up.”

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: After looking at the natural and historical importance of the so-called DND lands, the final entry in this series focused on the potential for the property and the path to making it a public space for many to enjoy.


Niagara-on-the-Lake land has a long history, and long struggle

Property includes site where Americans landed during War of 1812

By Luke Edwards Reporter Metroland Media Group Ltd.

Thu., Dec. 29, 2022

Peter Harvey says the DND lands are chock full of history, including pivotal points that shaped the town.

The actual Fort George may get all the attention, but there’s another piece of land that in many ways puts the battle in the Battle of Fort George.

“The Americans came ashore on the portion between Shakespeare (Avenue) and Two Mile Creek at the mouth of Two Mile Creek. And then they attacked through the area we now call Chautauqua. And the fighting there was very, very strong,” said David Hennessey, treasurer with the Harmony Residents Group and nearby resident.

Dozens died and many more were wounded on and around that patch of land that is now part of a 250-plus property owned by Parks Canada and known locally as the “DND Lands.”

Group president Peter Harvey can’t help but think of the history on that land. Some of it is gone forever, but some may yet to be found. He’s come across what appears to be a foundation for a home and is convinced it’s the homestead of one of the town’s earliest families.

“That piece just off the path before you get into the Carolinian forest when you're coming from Niagara Shores Park across, that looks like the foundation of homestead,” he said.

Along with protecting the natural beauty and significance of the area, one of the group’s main goals is also to honour and preserve the human history. In addition to possible homesteads and the War of 1812 landing site, an event and war that continues to define much of what it means to be Niagara-on-the-Lake, the property was also a military training area for soldiers preparing for the First World War, and continued on as a military site for years after.

In the 1980s, Hennessey said the use of the land tapered off.

Then, in the early 2000s, a new proposal came forward. That was what spurred the creation of the residents group. Dubbed Project Niagara or Tanglewood North, it would have seen the property become the site of an international music festival.

The Harmony Group opposed it vigorously, and the project was ultimately abandoned in 2010.

At the time, a lack of political and economic support was blamed.

“Despite all this encouragement and support, however, we have reached the conclusion that an unusually difficult economic and political environment makes it increasingly unlikely that we can attract the capital funding we need,” read a letter signed by Peter Herrndorf, chief executive officer of the National Arts Centre, Andrew Shaw, CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra; and Kari Cullen, project director for the proposed summer music festival.

Since there’s been uncertainty surrounding the future of the land as the group struggles to see some version of their vision win out.

There remains plenty of work, from cleanup to decommissioning old sewage ponds, to erosion protection. Then there’s the administration question.

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa pointed out the complexity of the area, and cautions those interested that the future is going to require a lot of hands. The town can only play a tertiary role at this point, but nonetheless its future is of interest to town officials.

“And it's not just a single ability of one organization saying, ‘Oh, we're going to do this. So, it's going to require patience,” he said, adding expert opinion will need to pave the way for many of the decisions.

Lisa Curtis, Parks Canada's superintendent of national historic sites for Southwestern Ontario agreed that it is a complex site, with several agencies and departments having a stake in it. And while she sees great potential, safety is paramount.

"People want to be able to have access to it, but we want it to be safe first," she said.

Group members remain optimistic that there is a path forward, and one that benefits nature and the residents.

Secretary Ryder Payne is perhaps the most optimistic, saying he believes Parks Canada values the property for what it is, pointing to clean up and research work they’ve already done there.

“So I prefer to trust Parks Canada,” he said.

More than a decade since Project Niagara was abandoned, why stay involved?

“You know, it's one thing to be against something, but what are you for?” said Hennessey.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: After considering the natural importance of the so-called DND lands, this article in a series looked at the human history and more recent decade-plus struggle over a rare piece of lakeshore property.


Niagara-on-the-Lake 'DND lands' a largely untouched jewel

Carolinian plants, ducks, birds and other animals make good use of the old DND lands

By Luke Edwards Reporter Metroland Media Group Ltd.

Wed., Dec. 21, 2022

The deer was possibly just a sniffle away from running smack dab into Ryder Payne.

Payne, a Niagara-on-the-Lake resident and nature lover, was out for a walk and admiring the ducks along the lakeshore when the oblivious antlered creature approached.

“It walked toward me and I just stood there. And then it got within maybe two metres of me, and I couldn't help it. I sniffed and then it looked up at that,” he said.

“It walked slowly behind me, turned and had another look, and then it must have occurred to him, ‘wow. That's a human being.’ It suddenly leaped into the air and dashed off toward the end of the pond and around.”

The scene unfolded at the lakeshore property owned by Parks Canada, known locally as the DND lands for its longtime use as a military training area. A roughly 250-acre parcel of land, it’s bordered by Lakeshore Road to the south, Shakespeare Avenue and Four Mile Creek to the east and west, respectively, and Lake Ontario to the north. It’s a rare, largely untouched piece of nature on the lakeshore and one Payne and many nearby residents want to protect.

But it’s also a complex property with a tangled history. Some of the town’s earliest settlers homesteaded there. It’s where the Americans landed in 1813 to launch their attack on Fort George. And in later years soldiers preparing for the First World War would train there.

But for Payne, and others, it’s the natural beauty and significance that means the most.

Vanessa Wormwell grew up near the property, and has fond memories of exploring the area in her youth. She’s currently at Niagara College studying for what she hopes to be a future career in environmental protection.

“It’s quite rich as a biodiversity site,” she said.

In the area Wormwell and Payne say you can find many types of birds, ducks, turtles and frogs and of course, Payne’s deer friend.

Additionally, it’s home to an undisturbed portion of Carolinian forest, especially unique given it’s right on the lakeshore, members of the Harmony Residents Group say. Wormwell and Payne are both members of the group.

While biodiversity might not get the attention that climate change does, some argue it’s an equally important issue. Niagara College’s Al Unwin spent two weeks this month with the Canadian delegation in Montreal for the COP15 conference on biodiversity and has spent a lifetime advocating for the environment.

“Sometimes I think biological diversity, that term, is somewhat lost and we need to speak in simpler terms. I like to say it's nature. It's living furry animals that we're about to see upwards of a million of them could be lost over the next two decades,” he said.

Every effort should be made to promote biodiversity because we don’t know which species loss is going to create a cascade that could seriously jeopardize human health, he said.

The Harmony Residents Group wants to see the land protected with public access, though they differ a bit on specifics. The group was created years ago to oppose what was dubbed Project Niagara, that would have seen a development on the land that included two amphitheatres, a restaurant and other amenities built. A summer music festival would then be run on-site.

While the town doesn’t have an official role to play right now, Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa said he’s open to facilitating discussions with interested parties to come up with some plan for the area.

“It’s a spectacular bunch of sites,” he said. The property can be broken into several specific areas: The former rifle range, the field where the battle took place, the forested area and the decommissioned sewage area.

“It’s pristine, it’s untapped and still in a natural state to a degree.”

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: This is the first in a series of stories looking at the Parks Canada-owned property, its historical and natural significance, and the potential it has. In this instalment we looked at the natural importance of the area as a prime piece of Carolinian forest that supports biodiversity.


Update From the Harmony Board

DND Lakeshore Properties June 21, 2022

Greetings to all members and friends of the Harmony Residents Group.

This e-mail is to update you on the latest activities of your Board Members and efforts regarding the DND Lakeshore Property. As we reported previously, the meeting of Finn Madsen and myself with Parks Canada local management, Lisa Curtis(Manager - Niagara Historic Sites) and Marcia Morash(Superintendent - Southwestern Ontario), revealed that very little if anything could be expected regarding further progress in opening up the property for public access. They also stated that they were concerned for public safety due to erosion. We pointed out that erosion has been a problem throughout the history of use of the property by DND, Happy Camp, etc., and has always been a problem no matter what happens with the property. Also, to our knowledge, since the early settlers of the late 1700s, through the 1950s Happy Land Health Camp, and the extensive military use of the property; there have been no reported incidents of personal injury on the property. After more than 200 years of various uses of the property, the only reported injuries are the more than 60 soldiers who were killed on the battlefield section of the land or later died of their wounds, in the 1813 Battle of Fort George.  In 1921 the Fort George Battlefield was designated as a site of National Significance. However, in the more than 100 years since that designation, nothing has been done to recognize this major historical site. The site remains closed to the public, and there is not even a simple commemorative plaque or notice designating its existence.

Although Parks Canada has installed signs, restricted access to reduce vandalism, and removed fallen trees from the Niagara Shores portion of the property, there has been no significant progress in doing anything to open up the rest of the property to public access. There is little excuse for this since both the DND and the Rifle Range have been thoroughly cleared of toxic and dangerous substances for some time. To expedite the process of opening up the property to the public, Harmony has suggested that the responsibility for the DND Lakeshore property should be transferred to the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake to be administered and maintained by them.  There can be restrictions of course on what the property can be used for as well as ensuring access to the Battlefield Historic site. These sort of agreements are not unusual, and have been part of other property transfers in the past.  The town has shown a willingness to take responsibility for the property and its maintenance. The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority has indicated an interest in the property in the past, but were unable to come to any agreement with Parks Canada. We believe NPCA should be interested in partnering with the town to at least extend their control of the 2 and 3 mile creek watershed to the lake which is  beyond where it currently ends at Lakeshore Road. The area is also ideally suited for Conservation Uses.

We have asked MP Tony Baldinelli for help with moving this forward at the Federal Level, and are working with him and the town on this. We have as well notified Steven Guilbeault the Environment Minister of this via a copy of the e-mail in which we asked Mr Baldinelli for his help. We expect to have some results during the summer months as we continue to pursue  this option.

With regard to the de-commissioning of the old waste water treatment plant, we are in contact with the Niagara Region’s Engineer who is in charge of the project, and expect to participate in the initial design plans for the de-commissioning. Although the project has been dormant during the Covid period, it  has allowed 2 years to expire with no effluent or water flowing into the ponds, and hopefully proves the point that the ponds would not dry up during the summer months. In fact, those 2 years have been much warmer than usual as well. Based on the results of other instances of keeping the ponds as part of the de-commissioning process, the old sewage treatment  ponds will have naturally cleaned themselves within one more year. It appears that the total de-commissioning project will require several years to be completed, including a follow on monitoring period.

Please stay tuned, and in the meantime, enjoy what is hopefully a Covid free summer.

S. Peter Harvey

Chair, Harmony Residents Group


Update From the Harmony Board

DND Lakeshore Properties December 10, 2021

Greetings Everyone;

It has been some time since we last communicated with you, and although the Pandemic has made it very difficult and even impossible to meet and operate normally, your Harmony Residents Board of Directors attempted to make some progress with respect to the DND Lakeshore Property. We are hoping that 2022 will bring things back to a more normal level, and perhaps even make it possible to hold a regular Annual Meeting. 

In the meantime, there have been some developments worth noting, and this message is to communicate them to you. Firstly, the Harmony Web Site since its inception has been successfully hosted by Google, and is expected to continue to serve us well in the future. During the past year Google has modified its web applications which required Harmony to re-develop its web site in order to comply with these changes. This has been completed and is now operational and fully implemented. Please visit and browse through the site to experience it for yourself. All of the original important items and history records are still there, but you should find the site easier to navigate through. You may find the Drone Video section of particular interest. A lot of the changes required were how data was secured, handled, displayed, etc., and was mostly technical in nature; rather than the data itself having to change..

Secondly, the de-commissioning of the old sewage treatment plant, as far as we know, has been sitting in limbo since the new plant became operational. As you may recall, Harmony has advocated for keeping the two settling ponds as part of a natural wetland area. The Region of Niagara, who is responsible for the de-commissioning, claimed that the ponds would dry up if no extra water was supplied and they were just left to nature.  There now has been two warmer than normal summers, with no flow of water or effluent into the ponds except for rain, snow, and normal run off. The ponds had some seasonal changes in water levels, but these two warm summers have verified that the ponds do not go dry when no extra water is supplied. Surely this negates the argument that the ponds will dry up if left to nature as was claimed in the past. We await the activation of the De-Commissioning Project, hopefully some time in 2022.

Thirdly, as stated in the Parks Canada Management Plan, the specifics for the Niagara Shores Park area is scheduled to be determined in 2021.  Since the end of 2021 will soon be here, and there has been no notices on this, we have requested a meeting with Parks Canada for an update on the latest status of this item; as well as any other updates on the DND Lands in general. Although Parks Canada agreed to meet with us, we are still waiting for a time and date when they can be available for the actual meeting to take place.  We are hoping as well to meet Parks Canada’s new  Superintendent of Southwestern Ontario who replaced  Louis Lavoie. We would have liked to have had this update sooner so as to be able to include it in this message, but will update you following the meeting when it occurs

Lastly, we are always welcoming new members, so if you know of people who are interested in supporting what happens with the Lakeshore Parks Canada Lands, please have them contact us. Due to health related and other reasons, we have lost several members of the Board of Directors, and are actively seeking new volunteers for the board. If you, or someone you know, would be interested in becoming more actively involved and serving as a director, please contact myself or any of the directors. (See ) Due to being unable to hold our Annual Meeting, many of our members have not had the opportunity to make their annual $20 membership fee in the way they normally did, and may have not elected to use the on-line option available on the web site.. It is however important for you to know that with a current account balance of $2,942.17,  our financial position is sound. Harmony continues to keep operating expenses well under control, and if there has been anything positive about  this Covid-19 pandemic, it would be that expenses have also been lower than normal. Our volunteers all personally cover their own expenses, which helps keep regular costs down to items like Internet Fees, Annual Meetings, and Administrative Material. This provides us with the ability to handle extra unforeseen items dealing with promotional, advocating, and advertising costs if and when needed.

Trusting this finds you and your family doing well throughout this trying period of dealing with Covid and all the factors associated with it. May this Holiday Season be a good one, and all the very best wishes for you and yours.


Update From the Harmony Board

DND Lakeshore Properties February 25,2021

Greetings for an improved 2021. Your board has been meeting over the past year whenever possible during the restrictions imposed by Covic-19. We have met to keep up to date on developments regarding the former DND lands on the Lakeshore and Niagara Shore Park and to look at strategies going forward. We have not forgotten our mission to protect those lands and see them turned into a natural heritage park with access to the waterfront. 


Parks Canada has still not made any decisions about the land’s use.  However, given the number of people who used the trails and parks in our regions this summer and fall, often causing crowding, the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and Mayor Betty Disero have expressed an interest in taking stewardship of Niagara Shores Park. The town’s director of operations, Sheldon Randall, has been working with Parks Canada to have the area reopened.  He told the Lake Report late last year that Parks Canada was being “very co-operative and we share the same goals. I believe it is doable.”


We have also been watching plans for the decommissioning of the old sewage ponds. If you wish to follow the latest on this you can go to this link:


No final decision has been made about filling in the sewage lagoons.  The Harmony Residents Group would like to see the ponds left and naturalized for wildlife. One of the concerns raised by those who want to fill in the ponds is that they would dry up without water flowing into them but over the past summer, despite the dry weather and the absence of flowing water, they remained wet.


Your board will keep tracking developments and has offered to act as a partner to turn Niagara Shores Park into a viable park with trails while pursuing our goals for the rest of the area.


We hope that we will be able to hold an annual meeting later this year to give you an update or that development and others. We need a strong membership going forward and hope you will stick with us until we can all meet again.


Harmony Newsletters

Following are periodic newsletter updates and reports reflecting happenings, events, and the status of the ongoing efforts by Harmony to advance the goals of the organization. They are listed from current or newest to oldest order.


    February, 2020 Newsletter-7      May, 2018 Newsletter-6      November, 2017 Newsletter-5      

    December, 2016 Newsletter-4     July, 2016 Newsletter-3      October, 2015 Newsletter-2      

    April, 2015 Newsletter-1 


Falling into the Lake

Lake Report Article On Lakeshore Properties August 30,2019

In a well researched article , the Lake Report reveals the erosion risks facing the Lakeshore Property , the lake-facing properties that have been the focus of the Harmony Group's conservation advocacy for the past twelve years . If you missed the article in the Lake Report , please follow the attacked link to the video presentation of the article :

Lake Report Falling into the Lake

NOTL volunteers receive recognition

The Niagara-on-the-Lake Local Monday June 13, 2019

Finn Madsen - Contribution to protecting the Environment

Finn Madsen has been involved in the community for many years. He joined the Board of the Harmony Residents Group in 2007, and has been chair since 2012. He was also a member of the UNESCO Committee and the Communities in Bloom Committee for the town.

Finn strongly believes the Lakeshore Road property owned by Parks Canada should be preserved and protected, and there is an opportunity not only to create a legacy for NOTL residents and visitors alike, but also a place for young children who are our future.

Over the years he has spent countless hours doing presentations on a local, municipal, regional and federal level. He has recruited several knowledgeable and capable board members and a vice chair, that will continue his vision as he steps down as chair.

Finn has always worked in the background, never wanting recognition for his time and effort. However he has always ensured someone else gets the recognition they deserved, and now its his turn, and well deserved.



In case you missed it , in this week's (March 28th)edition of The NOTL Local , there was an excellent article on the Lakeshore Property Lagoons , by Owen Bjorgan. It can be found on page 19 in the electronic version of the newspaper by following this link Community Involvement could save the Lagoons

Or if you would rather read it in a PDF format , choose this link to view it Owen's March 28th Article in PDF  ...

Either way , please read and act on his message , we need all of NOTL residents asking our Town and Regional officials the right question..." Why Not leave let them alone and allow them to naturally become a welcome part of our Niagara wetlands?"



Last week at the NOTL Town council meeting( March 11, 2019) the Harmony Board presented our recommendation on the retention of the WWTP Lagoon's(ponds) on the Lakeshore Properties. This is a vital piece of our strategy to create a revitalized Wetland feature to the property. The Members of Council were very supportive of our approach to the natural remediation of the ponds, and by unanimous vote created a motion to send a supporting letter to the Region on this matter. The Letter of endorsement has been sent , and we now await the Region's consideration and response . Better for the land, better for the wildlife and fauna on the property, better for our citizens pocketbooks, and a very good fit with our overall vision of creating a natural heritage park on the Lands.  If you would like to see the recorded presentation on the Notl Council streaming site , please follow this link Council Meeting  ...

If you would like to view the presentation itself that we made to the Council, please click here Council Presentation

 Always feel free to ask your board any questions or make comments and suggestions by emailing us at .



At last evening's Board meeting,member and candidate John Boot,was considered and unanimously

voted onto the Harmony Board.Please join us in welcoming and thanking John for dedicating his time and talent in support of the Harmony Residents vision for the DND Properties. Welcome aboard John!


In the spring of 2018,the Federal government announced new funding for Canadian Conservation initiatives, and the Harmony Board sent an exploratory letter to the Federal minister to gauge whether our vision for the DND Property might qualify for this new funding. We recently received a response from the Minister of the Environment,the Honorable Catherine McKenna,which is positive but not definitive and will require continued follow up. The response letter can be seen in its entirety by following this link. Click here

2018 - Municipal Election - Candidates Elected  for Town and Regional Council.

Congratulations offered to elected Town and Region Council Members, Monday, October 22, 2018

The Harmony Residents Group offers our congratulations to the successful NOTL candidates in the 2018 Municipal Election. 

We thank each of the elected candidates for their positive response to our question of them during the election campaign (October 5, 2018), which was; Do you support the Harmony Residents Group's vision for the DND Lands? 

 Election Candidates  Actual Responses.

Harmony wishes you every success for the four years ahead, looks forward to supporting and working with you, and asks for your continued support in helping us reach our goal of a Natural Heritage Park for the DND Lands.  Click Here to see our latest proposal to Parks Canada.

NOTL military lands imagined as park

Maryanne Firth, St. Catharines Standard, Thursday May 19, 2016

Support is growing to see former military property in Niagara-on-the-Lake transformed into a public nature park. Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority endorsed the proposed project in principle during a board meeting Wednesday following a presentation asking for the organization's expertise to help turn the vision into reality.

Residents lobby council to support opening DND property

Suzanne Mason, St. Catharines Standard, Thursday March 5, 2015

The Harmony Residents Group presented their proposals for the DND Lakeshore property to the Niagara-on-the-Lake council, and requested their support. They received unanimous support and the council later approved a motion to have the Harmony Proposal incorporated into the town's new Official Plan now under development, and sent a letter to Parks Canada requesting them to begin the process to open up the park for public access.

The quest to turn a water treatment site into a park in NOTL

Newstalk 610 CKTB, Wednesday March 4, 2015

A residents group would like the federally-owned land on Lakeshore Road to be turned into a park that can preserve, protect, and open up the land to public use. The Harmony Residents Group is looking forward to the completion of the Parks Canada Management Plan which will reflect their plans for this area.

Region holds Open House - Sewage Treatment Plant - Niagara-on-the-Lake

Region of Niagara, Community Centre, Tuesday June 17, 2014

The Open House provided an update on the new Niagara-on-the-Lake Wastewater Treatment Plant and Infrastucture Upgrades now underway.

Click Here for more info.

We need to get the ball rolling now

Melinda Cheevers, Niagara on the Lake Town Crier, Wednesday November 06, 2013

Just over a year after the announcement of funding for construction of a new wastewater treatment facility in Niagara-on-the-Lake, many are left wondering what will happen to the existing lagoons once they are decommissioned.

Click Here for full story.


Decommissioning Lagoons could be expensive project

Penny Coles, Niagara Advance, Wednesday December 18, 2013

Spend somewhere in the neighbourhood of $7 million to remove any remaining sludge from the current sewage lagoons when they are decommissioned and fill in the ponds; or spend considerably less and let nature look after itself.

Niagara-on-the-Lake’s ‘Army Lands’ Belong To We The People

Niagara At Large May 17, 2011    (also featured in The Town Crier, May 20, 2011)

(Editor’s Note – The post below speaks to a picturesque stretch of federally owned land along the shores of Lake Ontario, hosting one of the last remaining stands of Carolinian forest and other natural riches. Many in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario and surrounding communities fought to preserve this land, where a military rifle range was in use during the first half of the last century, when a Toronto-based consortium wanted to transform some of it into a venue for summer music concerts. The Harmony Residents Group of Niagara-on-the-Lake would like the lands preserved as a nature park for the public)

By Randy Busbridge

Catching turtles to take home as pets, swimming in the lake when the red flag wasn’t up, skating on Four Mile Creek Pond  …  these are but a sample of the stories shared on May 11 during the “Rifle Range Memories” discussion hosted by the Harmony Group.

A 1956 photo taken on the lakeshore lands, courtesy of Randy Busbridge.

Speakers brought old photos, maps – even a replica of a bazooka rocket – to help illustrate their tales.  Most of all, they brought their memories.

Speakers recalled the former “Happyland Camp” facility for tuberculosis victims, fishing and hunting expeditions (including the Saturday night sport of shooting rats at the old town dump), and hours of childhood play on all parts of the “Army Lands”, as the Parks Canada Lakeshore Road property was known.  They talked about discovering the foundation of the John Secord homestead, and rumours of an old burying ground.

These days the site is fenced off and guarded by a handful of “No Trespassing” signs, but when the Army was active on the site they weren’t so stand-offish.  One speaker enthusiastically recalled the time when he hitched a ride in a Sherman tank.  Another joked about the time as a young girl when she and her sister tried to attract the attention of the handsome soldiers as they paraded from Camp Niagara on the Commons to the Rifle Range.

Humorous stories abounded.  One involved combing the town dump to collect Beehive Corn Syrup cans to mail in for hockey cards.  Another involved an unfortunate tourist who went swimming in the sewage lagoon before he realized what it was.

Humour was complimented by feelings of nostalgia, as speakers remembered a simpler time “before iPads, cellphones and the Internet.”  Reverence and joy were also present as people described the happy times and beauty they experienced as they explored and played on the property.

The healing power of nature was also a common theme, as speakers described how old roads are now overgrown, or talked about how the wasteland of the former tank range has now filled in with a young forest.

But nature can’t heal everything.  Some spoke with alarm at the rate of shoreline erosion.  One person estimates the shore has been reduced 200 feet in his lifetime.  Another recalls a photograph he took of his children standing under an oak tree that was 35 feet inland – a tree that has now vanished into Lake Ontario.

The property may have been called the “Army Lands”, but one thing that stood out from the discussion is that the Army never had exclusive use.  Locals have used the site to pasture their cows, to picnic, to hunt, fish, swim and play from time immemorial.  The federal government may be the current custodians, but the land belongs to the residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Randy Busbridge is a resident of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario and member of the Harmony Residents Group, a not-for-profit organization working toward establishing a Natural Heritage Park on the Parks Canada Lakeshore Road property.  Visit the group’s site at:

Council wants Parks Canada to work with stakeholders

SUZANNE MASON, St. Catharines Standard, March 23, 2011

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE — Town council wants Parks Canada to develop "a common vision" for its Lakeshore Rd. property with stakeholders, but did not approve a request from the Harmony Residents Group for its support in principle for a natural heritage park on the 240-acre waterfront site.

Council approved a motion by Coun. Jamie King Monday that it "recognizes the tremendous natural, ecological and heritage resources … (and) the significant social, educational and economic opportunities these lands offer to the residents … the Regional Municipality of Niagara and citizens across Canada through … access to these lands and the Lake Ontario shoreline."

King said he knows the vision of the Harmony Residents Group for the property is not shared by everyone, so he wants Parks Canada to bring several parties together to discuss their opinions.

"I don't want Parks Canada or Niagara-on-the-Lake to wait for a developer to come to us," he said, adding that he wanted to advocate for public waterfront access.

King had wanted the town to initiate discussions with various levels of government and Parks Canada, but councillors defeated that part of the motion.

Coun. Dennis Dick said he was concerned about the amount of staff time that may be needed, pointing to the "hundreds of hours" spent by staff on trying to save Niagara District High School from closure.

"This isn't our land," said Dick. "We have to know exactly what our jobs are."

The property had been the favoured site for Project Niagara, a partnership between the National Arts Centre Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, for a proposed large-scale summer music festival. The land has been used by the federal department of national defence and contains sewage lagoons operated by the Region of Niagara.


No plans for public access

 MATTHEW VAN DONGEN, St, Catharines Standard, July 30, 2010

 Opening up Niagara-on-the- Lake's last patch of rare Carolinian forest to the public is no longer a priority for Parks Canada following the demise of an $80-million music festival proposal, says a federal official.

The 268-acre lakeshore property, formerly a military training ground and shooting range, has been off -limits to the public for decades. The department of national defence began cleaning up the property in 2008 in response to an ambitious pitch to turn the prime lakeshore lands into a summer performance home for two Canadian orchestras.

Project Niagara organizers abandoned the plan earlier this month, however, citing a lack of government funding.

That makes public access to the site unlikely in the near future, said Doug Stewart, Parks Canada director general for Ontario.

"There is no active planning for the property at this point ... It's not our intention to move forward and develop the lakeshore property," he said in a phone interview Thursday.

Stewart noted a small section of nearby shoreline owned by Parks Canada, Niagara Shores Park, is open to visitors now. "But beyond that, we don't anticipate any public use," he said.

"We have no other active proposals for the property."

The problem is not a lack of desire, he said, it's a lack of cash.

Ideally, Parks Canada would like to show off the history of the property, which includes the landing place of invading American soldiers during the War of 1812. Stewart also acknowledged a "recreational potential" for the property.

But cleaning up the historic contamination, including potentially unexploded shells and buried lead bullets, is expensive, he said.

Under Project Niagara's plan, millions of dollars in federal cash would have been spent on a cleanup benefiting up to 200,000 visitors a year.

Without that audience, "many competing projects" now rank higher on the Parks Canada priority list, he said.

He also suggested the military might not continue cleaning up the property to the higher standard required for public access, given the apparent death of Project Niagara and its projected mass of visitors. Parks Canada could run into liability issues if it allows visitors onto the property without a full cleanup, Stewart said.

National Defence spokesman Mike Graham was unable to answer questions about the Niagara-on-the-Lake cleanup effort this week.

But Randy Busbridge is betting the government has already done just enough work to make opening the property a reality.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake resident recently received a species-at- risk report from Parks Canada that was conducted last year, as part of a feasibility study for Project Niagara.

The assessment lists nine species at risk found on the site, including the threatened chimney swift and endangered butternut tree.

"I think that's actually very helpful," said Busbridge, who is part of a community group that opposed Project Niagara in favour of turning the lakeshore property into an eco-park. "This report is pointing to species that require some action in terms of preservation. I think that goes hand-in-hand with some sort of parkland designation."

He favours minimal development of the property, which features rare Carolinian forest remnants and a long stretch of virtually untouched shoreline.

Busbridge argued a park with few buildings, carefully controlled access and a well thought-out trail system would require a less extensive government cleanup than a huge amphitheatre designed to attract hundreds of thousands of people.

"First and foremost, our obligation is to protect the natural features on the property, but I don't think that's in conflict with the idea of opening the space to the public," he said. "If you do it in a smart way, I think you could showcase the heritage and natural features ... while minimizing the human footprint."

He hopes to meet with Parks Canada officials to pitch the community group's plan.

Stewart said he's "willing to listen to any proposal," but noted the agency expects any development plan for the property "to be fully funded by the proponent."

No one is offering to pay for a full cleanup of the former military lands now, but the idea of opening the property to the public does have high-profile supporters.

Regional Chairman Peter Partington is urging council to pay for a new sewage treatment plant for Niagara-on-the-Lake, instead of expanding the existing sewage lagoons that sit on land directly beside the Parks Canada property.

If Project Niagara had gone ahead, the amphitheatre would have been built on top of those lagoons. But even without the music festival, top regional brass are keen on the idea of decommissioning the lagoons, said chief administrative officer Mike Trojan.

"We're talking about a unique and pristine waterfront piece of property," he said. "We're generally agreeable to the idea of relocating the facility to another location, so Parks Canada can maximize the use of the entire property."

Niagara Falls Conservative MP Rob Nicholson has pushed for the opening of the lakeshore lands since his days as a regional councillor a decade ago.

"It's a very valuable piece of public property, right on Lake Ontario. I was one of the ones who said there has to be another use for it aside from a firing range," said Nicholson at a recent Parks Canada funding announcement in Queenston.

"It has been a long process ... (but) whatever use it ends up as, if it benefits the people of this area and the people of Canada I'll be supportive of that."

What's at risk

-- Snapping turtle, designated as a species of special concern;

-- Eastern milksnake, designated as a species of special concern;

-- Chimney swift, designated as threatened;

-- Hooded warbler, designated federally as threatened, provincially as species of special concern;

-- Monarch butterfly, designated as species of special concern;

-- Eastern flowering dogwood, designated as endangered;

-- Butternut, designated as endangered;

-- White wood aster, designated as threatened;

-- Shumard oak, designated as species of special concern.


 TSO, NAC pull the plug on Project Niagara

 MARTIN KNELMAN, The Toronto Star, July 13, 2010

 Click here for full text.


 Moves are afoot to gain public access to shorelines

 MATTHEW VAN DONGEN AND JULIE GRECO, St. Catharines Standard, June 28, 2010

  I magine being able to wet your toes along any stretch of beach or shoreline, anywhere in the Great Lakes, regardless of property ownership.

Lake Erie citizens group ShoreWalk has chased the dream for years.

The idea has also been introduced as a private member's bill provincially by Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor.

Now, Regional Chairman Peter Partington is pushing the goal in Niagara -- and all around the Great Lakes.

Partington introduced a resolution at last week's binational meeting of Great Lakes politicians in Milwaukee, Wis., calling for support for a "right of passage" for all citizens to be able to walk the shorelines of the world's largest freshwater bodies.

At home, regional council is poised to get a first look at a Niagara "waterfront enhancement strategy" in the next few weeks.

"We're blessed in Niagara in that we're surrounded by water on three sides ... but I think perhaps in the past, we've taken our beaches and shorelines for granted," said Partington, who will end his term as Niagara's top municipal politician in October.

"I think it's becoming increasingly important to preserve our beaches, but also public access to the water in general."

The law is tricky when it comes public access to the water.

In Michigan, there is specific legislation guaranteeing shoreline walking rights to the public, but no such detailed law exists in Ontario (Craitor's private member's bill, if passed, would change that.)

Advocates for public access argue historic legal decisions in the U.S. and England consider the navigable portions of the Great Lakes as extensions of the ocean, making local shorelines fair game for strolling up to the high-water mark.

Many private property owners believe otherwise -- and have the fences to prove it.

Before he leaves office, Partington hopes to see a strategy in place giving Niagara the tools to gradually increase public access to its 117 kilometres of waterfront.

That strategy will inventory existing public shoreline and examine tools like municipal rights-of-way, conservation easements and special planning approvals for new developments tied to public access to the water.

It will also look at government opportunities to buy rarely available chunks of land.

Partington said he still feels regret for lost opportunities along Lake Erie, in particular a failed regional attempt to buy the old Easter Seals camp in Wainfleet, which ended up in the hands of a private housing developer.

"We thought we might get it, but we were out-bid," he said. "That, I would say, was a catalyst for this strategy.... We can't let that happen again."

The Region has already set aside $1 million for potential property purchases and the municipality just spent some of it buying 400 feet of waterfront in Wainfleet.

The Region isn't the only public body looking for waterfront access, either.

"It's our No. 1 priority in terms of acquiring recreational lands," said Stuart Green, a landscape planner with the City of St. Catharines.

The city boasts about 20 kilometres of Lake Ontario shoreline.

A little more than half is owned by the city or leased from upper levels of government, Green said, if you count the new addition of a trail along the Port Weller spit.

The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority also owns about 1.6 kilometres of lake frontage, including the shores of Long Beach and Morgan's Point conservation areas on Lake Erie and the new Jordan Harbour conservation area just off of Lake Ontario.

The agency supports the regional strategy, said land management director Darcy Baker, who noted public ownership can preserve natural areas and fix degraded environments.

But he added planners and politicians will have to work carefully to ensure new public access doesn't hurt the ecologically sensitive areas they're trying to save.

He pointed to the old military lands in Niagara-on-the-Lake, off-limits to taxpayers for decades and which boast a rare patch of Carolinian forest, mostly untouched by farming or development.

Two major Canadian orchestras want to make the property the new home of a summer music festival, while some local residents would prefer an eco-park.

"Less access can sometimes be a lifesaver for certain environments," he said. "With that property, even unintentionally, the results have been beneficial."


Where Is Niagara's Regional Government On A New Wastewater Treatment System For Niagara-On-The-Lake?

 RANDY BUSBRIDGE, Niagara At Large, May 25, 2010

 Click here for full text.

 Create A ‘Tecumseh National Park’ Right Here Along The Lakeshores Of Niagara

JOHN BACHER, Niagara at Large, March 23, 2010

Click here for full text.

Sprawling Greenlands In Niagara-on-the-Lake Should Be Site Of An Eco-Park – Not A Music Festival

RANDY BUSBRIDGE, Niagara At Large, February 24, 2010

Click here for full text.

Opening up the waterfront

MATTHEW VAN DONGEN, St. Catharines Standard, December 15, 2009

Local leaders are searching for ways to provide more public access to Niagara's waterfront, including buying shoreline on both Great Lakes.

The Region began working this month on a Lakefront Enhancement Strategy designed to make it easier for residents to reach and use Niagara's 117 kilo-metres of waterfront.

Niagarans are virtually surrounded by water, including two Great Lakes and the Niagara River, but public ownership is limited and "access is uncertain at best," according to a recent report presented to regional council.

"My personal view is that there is room for more public ownership of our lakeshores," said Regional Chairman Peter Partington, who is championing the planned strategy to municipal mayors. "Every resident should have access to clean beaches, for example... but public access, in whatever form, is the goal."

The Region has set aside $1 million for potential land purchases, "but it doesn't have to be land acquisitions," said Patrick Robson, commissioner of integrated community planning. "There are many opportunities to bring lakefront property into the public realm."

Trails, municipal right-of-ways, hydro corridors and conservation easements are just a few of the less pricey options the Region and local municipalities can explore, Robson said.

The Region expects consulting firm OEB Enterprise to conduct phase one of the strategy, including developing a set of "guiding principles and goals" that may include:

-Increasing public ownership of waterfront lands.

-Establishing lakefront uses that benefit the most people.

-Protecting the shoreline environment.

-Preserving shoreline heritage.

There's plenty of work to do. The Region doesn't yet have an inventory of public or publicly accessible waterfront land in Niagara. Regional planner Ken Forgeron has estimated about 35 per cent of the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail through Niagara is actually on the water.

In St. Catharines, city staff estimate about half of the waterfront is in municipal hands.

Wallace Reid and his wife Mavis were out enjoying some of it Monday, strolling along the lakeside trail in Westcliffe Park.

Reid, 88, is a big fan of the trails in the north end of the city.

"It seems like they're constantly building new ones," said the regular trail walker, pointing in particular to the newly opened Port Weller spit trail.

"That's one of the nicest walks along the lake you'll find anywhere. You won't find any better."

Partington said the region as a whole has some wonderful beaches and trails. But in the past, Partington said, local governments "may have taken the lakeshore for granted."

He also pointed to "missed opportunities" to make lake access easier for residents.

For example, the Region was asked to buy a rare old-growth forest in Fort Erie, Marcy's Woods, several years ago, but it was sold instead to a private developer. The Region also tried and failed to buy the former Easter Seals camp in Wainfleet.

In future, Partington said, he hopes the Region and local cities and towns can agree on a "waterfront vision" that will help guide potential land acquisitions.

The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority has a lands acquisition strategy, but it doesn't focus particularly on waterfront property, said agency head Tony D'Amario.

D'Amario said the authority supports the fledgling regional strategy and expects to play a role in its development.

"Considering the amount of waterfront we have, there aren't that many places for public access, especially on Lake Erie," he said.

There are looming opportunities to reconnect residents with the Great Lakes.

The NPCA is just beginning to develop land in Jordan Harbour for trail-walkers and canoeists, for example.

Hundreds of acres of federally owned lakefront property in Niagara-on-the-Lake, off-limits for decades, may be opened to the public in the near future, too. The former military property is the proposed location for a controversial new music festival and amphitheatre. Local residents have countered with a proposal to turn the land into an eco-park.

Partington said one way or another, that stretch of lake-shore "has the potential to become more open to public use."

A preliminary staff report on the initiative is expected to come to regional council early in the new year.

In the meantime, a budget of about $20,000 is expected to give the consulting firm a head start gathering information.

Partington and several waterfront mayors will meet Wednesday to talk about the strategy. 

Tranquility threatened, residents tell forum

JAMES BRADSHAW, Globe and Mail, July 27, 2009

For the first time, residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake engaged in a full-scale public debate on Project Niagara. Last week's meeting (which lasted a vigorous four hours) was the first of several such forums as the proposed music festival takes shape - and as the community decides whether to embrace it.

New details unveiled to the public by project organizers may have won over some fence-sitters. But there remains a determined cadre of locals who would prefer not to see the proposed 17-week, 50-concert summer music festival come to town each summer.

Nearly 300 people packed the gymnasium of a public high school to hear presentations from Project Niagara's brass and to raise their concerns, a format that will be repeated every three to four months while the event is being debated.

Residents remain divided on the plan. The Harmony Residents Group, which counts some 600 members, has been vocal in its opposition. But while their members, and other detractors, dominated the forum, a newly formed group of supporters, Community Builders, recently attracted nearly 400 people to their inaugural meeting.

Kari Cullen, Project Niagara's manager, assured last week's assembly that the festival "intends to be a good neighbour" and trumpeted the allure of a world-class music festival in Canada. But the primary focus of the evening was a traffic study commissioned by Project Niagara and executed by Ontario-based international consultants Delcan, which dominated the question-and-answer period.

Residents repeatedly questioned the accuracy and scope of the study's findings. Project manager Nick Palomba remained adamant that the calculations are based on "worse than worst-case" assumptions.

Doug Stewart of Parks Canada, meanwhile, answered a proposal from the Harmony Group to turn the federally-owned 108.5-hectare site targeted for the festival into an eco-park instead. He said Project Niagara would be the catalyst for improving and opening up the land, closed to the public for decades, and it's unlikely the government would invest in the site without it. (Parks Canada is studying how to use the 80 hectares not occupied by Project Niagara.) For his part, Project Niagara architect Bruce Kuwabara - who also designed the nearby Jackson-Triggs winery - tried to spur the crowd to look to the town's future. "It's a great town, and it's changed. History doesn't freeze dry. This place is dynamic," he said.

Yet Gracia Janes, a member of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Conservancy, wasn't sold: "Where can we all get these rose-coloured glasses," she asked, wondering aloud what it would take for organizers to abandon their plans.

Many other residents at the meeting made impassioned pleas about the intrusions they suffer at the hands of the town's other tourist attractions, drawing applause.

But one onlooker was disappointed with the questioning. "A small town at its worst," he said. "I haven't heard one word about vision."

The National Arts Centre and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra joined forces five years ago to create Project Niagara, which would feature the NAC and TSO as well as other international orchestras, jazz, blues, pop, opera and world music acts. The festival would need $76.5-million in capital funding and would operate on a $20-million annual budget raised from its own revenues and the private sector.

The federal and provincial governments have yet to decide whether to grant $25.5-million each in capital funding.

Ecopark pitched over music festival for NOTL site

Posted By Suzanne Mason Special to The Standard

Posted May 26, 2008

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE — An ecopark has been proposed as an alternative to a large-scale music festival on Parks Canada land in Niagara-on-the-Lake to attract tourists year-round and more young families to the area.

Harmony Residents Group spokesman Randy Busbridge told town council Monday that the Lakeshore Road site is ideal for an ecopark with its unique history and natural resources.

“Niagara-on-the-Lake needs such a park,” he said. “We are one of the most deforested towns in the province. We have limited waterfront access.”

Busbridge said an ecopark would help protect the natural resources on the property and stimulate education, research and rehabilitation efforts. “The shoreline is eroding, wetlands and creeks need rehabilitation, forests need enhancement and habitats must be preserved,” he said.

Busbridge said the town could capitalize on a rapidly growing green tourism market since nature and heritage are the main reasons that people visit the Niagara region. He also said provincial studies show that these visitors stay longer, spend more money and tend to visit year-round.

Busbridge says his group envisions a modest building that would feature an interpretive centre, information kiosks and a public meeting space similar to the facilities at Balls Falls.

“Our goal would be to minimize the human footprint with controlled access to sensitive areas,” he said, adding that capital and operating costs would be minimal.

Potential sources of revenue identified by the group are partnerships with educational institutions and conservation groups, fundraising, facility rental and public memberships. Busbridge said expansion could be tied to education and research projects.

He said an ecopark would benefit the community as a whole, complement existing attractions and stimulate new business opportunities.

“The development of a similar park in Annapolis, Maryland actually attracted young families to the area,” he added.

Busbridge said a non-profit foundation could be established to run the park in partnership with Parks Canada. He said his group has approached Parks Canada with its proposal and has been asked to develop more concrete plans.

Coun. Jack Lowrey asked Busbridge if he thought there would be room for both a music festival and an ecopark on the property.

“The other proposal is more invasive. We’re presenting this as an alternative,” he said to loud applause from the public gallery.

Project Niagara, a partnership between the National Arts Centre Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, hopes to build a $50-million amphitheatre and attract 250,000 visitors to shows from June to September.