The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is kicking Sentineal Carriages to a new curb.
The company, which has operated horse-drawn carriage tours in town for decades, will be forced to move its operations from King Street (in front of the Prince of Wales) to Byron Street, behind Simcoe Park starting Saturday.
Laura and Fred Sentineal, owners of the carriage company, said they were told they would have to change locations Friday morning, during a phone conversation with Lord Mayor Betty Disero, interim CAO Sheldon Randall and a town lawyer.
“Long and short of it, this weekend town council apprently decided that we would be best not being at the Prince of Wales and we have been delegated to Byron Street,” Laura said, in a phone interview.
“Apparently it's to try and defuse things with protesters. Personally I feel like it's punishment and a warning,” she said. “I guess because of the big protest last weekend. For some reason that was all our bad.”
She said she thinks it's a response to residents showing up to voice support for the carriage companies during a protest Aug. 23, which saw the street shut down for part of the afternoon.
“But I mean we had nothing to do with the police shutting down the street, with (protesters) taking over the park. That was definitely not us and somehow that's all being overlooked,” Laura said.
She said she feels like protesters are getting what they want, which is to shut down the carriages.
“They devote their lives to destruction of people like us. And they're very, very good at it.”
Right now her family, which helps operate the business, is trying to figure out the next steps to take, she said.
Laura said she thinks town council is using the carriages as “bait” to get protesters off the main street, adding she doesn't think protesters are going to leave the corner either way.
“I personally don't think it's going to work,” she said. “They're not giving up that corner. It's far too grand a stage for them.”
“Do we have to go through this little exercise to prove that? I guess.”
Laura adds the company has been pulling its horses from the street when protesters are there in big numbers.
“We've been doing that with, honestly, success,” she said. “But apparently that isn't good enough now.”
She said the change in location is a trial, but that it wasn't communicated how long it would last. Disero did not immediately respond to questions about how long the trial is going for.
Fred said Disero and Randall told them the decision to move them is because other businesses, like the Prince of Wales, are suffering because of the protests.
“They feel that moving us will solve their problems,” he said, adding that he does think the Prince of Wales has been affected.
“I don't know what this will bring,” he said.
He said he was told the mayor and CAO are acting on direction from town council.
“(Randall and Disero) claim they are following direction from the council on Monday night,” Fred said. “Sheldon was mandated to make this happen.”
Laura said she thinks the town is “grasping at ideas” to manage the ongoing protests, which have become more and more distruptive on the street.
When asked why council would not be meeting publicly about the issue, Fred says he suspects it's because of a recent letter from a resident group, which threatened legal action against the town and police if something isn't done to limit the protests and the effect on businesses, residents and visitors.
But Fred said Sentineal Carriages made it clear they “had no part in that and no stomach in that.”
Laura said she thinks town council met privately about it because “they haven't got the you-know-whats to do it publicly,” adding she thinks the town will have a “handy-dandy” excuse for discussing the issue in a closed session (not open to the public).
“Don't get me started on that whole thing,” she said.
Randall suggested it was not permanent and that if it was not working, other options would be explored, Laura said.
Disero said council discussed the move to Byron Street “for two evenings this week.”
“This has now been escalated by all sides to such a degree that it could become unsafe on the corner, and it is working against businesses that are trying to recover from COVID-19,” she said.
“We have a plan and this is part of it.”