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Saturday, June 22, 2024
OPINION: NOTL loses local treasure

On Wednesday it was announced that Niagara-on-the-Lake residents will be saying goodbye to a true piece of local heritage: Parliament Oak School.

The DSBN sold the site for almost $5 million while NOTL town council was in the midst of investigating whether the school property could be designated as a historic site.

Chances of seeing it saved look grim now — not that they didn’t before.

It’s not just frustrating, having watched the DSBN ignore the town’s pleas to keep the property in the community, but it’s upsetting to see a childhood staple sold to a developer — Liberty Sites (3) Ltd.

Parliament Oak has been a treasure of the town for generations.

If you’re like me, you probably spent more time on the playground there than on the ones at Simcoe Park and Memorial Park combined.

It was the place to go — partially because it felt like it truly belonged to us.

As far as locals go, we know how hard finding a tourist-free spot can be. And tourism in NOTL has only been growing.

Parliament Oak was a place to escape that.

Maybe it was the fences or the barred up windows, but something about the place seemed to ward off the picnickers and the tour buses. It was safe, familiar and there was always somebody you knew around the corner. Even in the middle of July, it was a place you could find some peace and quiet.

When roaming the town, my group of friends ended up at Parliament Oak often — typically after a stop at the old Candy Safari.

My great-grandfather Harry Steele, who lived on Regent St., would taking his dog down the block for a walk past the school yard to the Commons on a near-daily basis. My grandfather Doug Steele attended Parliament Oak and his brother Dean ended up teaching there. Then there was my brother, my cousins and I, who probably spent more time on the Parliament Oak playground than we did on the ones at our own schools.

High school was much the same — if you were hanging out in old town, you’d likely wind up at Parliament Oak at some point. We might have “attempted” to get on the roof a couple of times, but it was the same place — it belonged to Niagara-on-the-Lake as a community.

On top of that, the building itself was unique. I only attended Parliament Oak for nursery school before heading to the one-hall-wonder that was Colonel John Butler, but I won’t forgot thinking how different the building was. Something about the enclosed playground fascinated me. I won’t lie, it still does.

Then there’s the site’s heritage with regards to Canadian parliament, which most locals know.

But now we’ve come to the end of an era.

I was part of the final class to graduate from Niagara District Secondary School. I truly only got to experience a small portion of what Niagara used to be. My grandfather fought hard to give me that glimpse into local life, and I thank him for it.

But with Niagara District and Parliament Oak both closed, mainly from a lack of students, NOTL is a changing community, and at this point it’s hard to see a point in reminiscing about times that aren’t likely to return. 

The reality is there won’t be another generation that gets to experience what mine caught the last winds of. It was beyond the wineries. It was beyond the fancy clothes and gourmet bistros. It was the true heart of NOTL, where you knew your neighbours’ whole family so well you all had nicknames for each other.

We’ve seen our town’s sincere efforts are not enough to stop the change. I guess it's time to accept the inevitable.

I will end with this: 

This used to be the kind of town you could wind up best friends with your father’s old roommate’s son, and then find out your grandfather’s were best friends too. That actually happened to me, though now that family has sold their house and left town, like many others.

I will miss the old NOTL.

Hello, Toronto-on-the-Lake.

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