In the same way in which our local churches sponsored Syrian refugees a few years ago, our town needs to think about how we in Niagara-on-the-Lake can help some of the millions of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.
Our churches are themselves recovering from the disruptions of COVID, so may not be able to help the influx this time.
The refugee women and children would no doubt welcome a large building with many sleeping rooms and perhaps even a spacious common area for socializing or watching television.
And maybe even a kitchen and a dining facility, no matter how rudimentary. Not necessarily five-star, but a haven from the horrors of Putin’s rockets and bombs.
But do we have anything like that in our town? Let me see … let me see … let me see. Yes!
It’s called the Old NOTL Hospital and in only a few months all the tenants of the lower level will have moved out to a more modern medical facility.
There are rooms that could accommodate beds. There is a room in which to congregate called the Wooler Room, the hospital’s original venue for meetings and lectures.
Plus there is the cafeteria area where staff used to dine. And even better, there is a kitchen (which needs refurbishment) but is still wired and plumbed to be a kitchen.
It appears that the town’s well-intentioned purchase by a former council, which was put out to pasture by our voters in the last election, is not going to be an easy sell.
Creating this haven for desperate human beings would defer having to deal with a property while we await creative and practical uses by the town and its local groups and institutions. I think that it has a future for our town, but like many of us, I can’t yet visualize what that future looks like.
There will be the usual negative comments. First, it will cost money. Well, if we could raise the funds for a heritage trail on the old rail line, we can create a temporary home for people who have fled for their lives.
Secondly, language barriers? Well, in the First World War we coped with 20,000 Polish soldiers training here to defend their country and the town survived. If you check out the 2021 Census, you’ll find that there are 85 people in Niagara-on-the-Lake who claim Ukrainian origin.
Some NIMBY opponents may claim that these are (by circumstance at least) poor people and they might not “fit in” to our town. Don’t forget that the United Empire Loyalists who had fought for their beliefs over 200 years ago fled here and played a significant role in the foundation of the town that we love so well today.
And the “refugee effect” on property values? Only the Shaw is really close and the impact would be much less than if one of the aggressive local developers tries to put a luxury highrise condo on the site.
Hey, town council. There’s an election looming. Let’s do something positive, creative and exciting that reflects what I hope are the values of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The Ukrainian refugees need us. Please let’s try to help them.