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Friday, September 30, 2022
Commons off-leash dog park is under review

Dog poop, conflicts and wildlife interactions could mean changes, Parks Canada says


Complaints about dog owners not picking up after their pets, conflicts between owners and other users, and concerns about dogs chasing wildlife have prompted Parks Canada to review allowing pets to use the Commons as an off-leash dog park.

Parks Canada has received about two dozen complaints in recent months, and about an equal number of supportive messages from dog owners saying that having the run of the Commons is invaluable to owners and pets, said Lisa Curtis, superintendent of national historic sites for southwestern Ontario.

The agency “continues to review the public use of heritage properties and all our multi-use trails in the Niagara historic site,” Curtis said in an interview.

“We're trying to explore ways to best ensure the safety and enjoyment for everyone.”

The organization is soliciting comments via email at or by phone at 905-468-6614, to determine if the off-leash practice will continue.

The review likely will be completed by mid-summer and she encouraged people to pass along their comments or concerns.

“We want to gather information and consider the different options. We just want it to be safe and enjoyable,” Curtin said.

Parks Canada has informally permitted the Commons to be used as an off-leash area for many years, but with population growth in Niagara-on-the-Lake – and the COVID-19 pandemic – the property has been attracting a lot more visitors.

Besides dog poop problems – some parts of the Commons are littered with droppings – interactions between dogs and native wildlife, and conflicts between users are concerning, she said.

“It's not a great thing if your dog is chasing deer or chasing birds out of their nesting areas,” Curtis said. “We have to think about the natural side of things” as well as people’s desire to use the Commons trails for walking, biking and exercising their dogs.

As well, Parks Canada staff operating tractors and other equipment have reported several “near-misses” with dogs running free.

“When they operate the heavy lawn equipment, sometimes dogs are coming towards the blades and we get quite nervous about that.”

Besides comments from the public, various departments of Parks Canada are being asked for their ideas, she said.

The agency doesn’t want to rush into a decision, “but we're striving in the next couple of months to get something out to the public.”

Curtis said no separate fenced-off area would be created on the Commons to accommodate off-leash dogs.

Dog owners hope the Commons remains open to them. 

Joey Rigg noted the area is safe because it is far from the road. “If they took this away, we would just freak out. The dogs are so happy. I hate the leash. “

Jill Brooke said the Commons is “fantastic and it’s a gift. It’s good for the adults because we’ve bonded. The dogs get along.”

She said it’s not like a park where the dogs are all fenced in and owners are chatting, not watching what their dogs are doing. “People are walking with their dogs and keeping an eye on their dogs,” she said.

Dog lovers posted signs in late March warning owners to contact Parks Canada to “save our off-leash area.”

The Commons is the only official off-leash area for dogs in NOTL.

With files from Evan Saunders.