It was reminiscent of the final scene in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, as a crowd of around 150 people, young and old, gathered hand-in-hand around Parliament Oak School two days after Christmas to protest the selling of the property.
The Grinch, whose heart hasn’t grown any sizes this year, is the District School Board of Niagara, which put the property on the public market after refusing to accept the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s offers.
The property was originally gifted to the school board by the town and has historic significance, believed to be where one of the first documents of Canadian parliament was signed.
Barbara Tranter, who organized the protest through a ‘call to arms’ on Facebook, said she did it because of the memories attached to the building.
“I walk by the entrances and remember a million things that happened to me here,” said Tranter, who attended Parliament Oak School from kindergarten to grade 8. “I was the pitcher on the girl’s ball team.”
She said the one thing the community would like to see is for the building to become a community hub.
“I want to start a film school for kids. With a computer and a phone, you can make a film now. And then we could do film nights, and that’s just one thing we can do in here. We can outfit one of the classrooms as a theatre really easily … Music Niagara wants to come in. There’s a lot of people who want to use it — and it’s in great shape still.”
She said she “couldn’t believe” the amount of people who showed up on one of the coldest days of the season.
The protest was joined by Lord Mayor Pat Darte and Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates, who have both been active in trying to protect the school from developers.
“I believe that Niagara-on-the-Lake is at a crossroads here. This is one of the prettiest towns in all of Ontario. We have to make sure that we keep it. And Parliament Oak school is part of it. It’s just down from the main street,” said Gates.
“When you see a turnout on a freezing cold day, in sub-zero weather — the wind is blowing, the snow is flying — and to see young kids right up to seniors that are 80 and 90-years-old, people that went to the school, I believe the board has to revisit what they’ve done here.”
“A community hub can be a number of things … You can have arts here, you can have heritage here. You can have boys and girls’ clubs. You can have all kinds of things in this school … but what we’ve got to make sure is that we keep it,” said Gates.
He said he was happy to see local politicians out supporting the views of the people.
“I think the board should do the right thing. The Premier of the province of Ontario thinks the board should sell it back to the town. The town wants it back, your MP does, your MPP does. All your councillors do. Everybody says ‘listen, you’re making a mistake.’”
“And when you get the details that they got the school for nothing and the town wanted to give $5 million and they still won’t give it back to them? I’m absolutely shocked,” said Gates.
He said he believes the school isn’t just important to the community, it’s also important to parliament.
Recently, claims have surfaced that the property might hold historical value because of tunnels that were discovered on the property, apparently related to a mansion that once stood on the grounds.
Lord Mayor Pat Darte said he’s heard the rumours, but couldn’t confirm if there is any merit to them.
“I’m not a historian,” Darte said.
He said there’s been “a lot of discussion” but he isn’t aware of anybody looking specifically looking into whether these claims could halt the DSBN’s sale process.
A group — the Niagara-on-the-Lake Community Hub Organizing Group — has been formed to try and prevent the sale.