Shock, denial, anger and depression – yes, I feel I am experiencing all these emotions as I watch the slow decline of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a town once known primarily as a national historic treasure with many cultural opportunities.
I agree with the letter from Elsie Lailey (“Yet another commercial development in Old Town,” April 7), who simply expressed she was “so very sad” at what was happening to the town.
Visitors used to enjoy shopping in town, going to art galleries (Angie Strauss/Trisha Romance etc.), browsing antique stores and experiencing live theatre at the Shaw Festival.
Circumstances (the pandemic) and progress often force change. However, it does not mean we have to abandon our heritage or lower our standards in order to stay an economically healthy community.
As residents, and taxpayers, for over 22 years – and visitors for another 20 before that – we have seen positive change.
Think the old gas station where the Shaw Cafe now sits, indeed an improvement. Having a Tim Hortons and McDonald's as neighbours (but not within the Historic District) was a positive change.
Limiting bus traffic in town, but offering transportation alternatives, was a positive change. We can embrace and even encourage tourism growth without sacrificing the nature of the town and its historic significance.
On the other hand, some changes have not been as welcome or enhancing. We have witnessed the changing face of retail. Once we had a variety of clothing and shoe stores, along with jewelry, soap, candle and a few tchotchke shops.
There were one or two ice cream and coffee places, and several fine restaurants. You could even go to the Oban after a dinner and/or show and listen to live piano music.
Now, however, we have an abundance of ice cream, coffee and “goodie” shops and numerous choices for hand-to-mouth “picnics.” The result for locals has been sticky benches, discarded coffee cups and napkins, pet feces and thoughtless tourists.
Shopkeepers even need to put signs up telling shoppers not to bring food or pets into their stores.
Having served for over 15 years on various town boards in upstate New York (assessment review, building zoning and zoning variance, as well as master plan), I can attest to the fact there are many tools that can be used to support and encourage healthy economic growth.
However, all of this depends on the town's mission statement and a stewardship definition that carefully protects the quality of life for the town's residents and preserves our history.
Does Niagara-on-the-Lake's mission statement do this? Does it prioritize economic issues?
It would appear that the economy and money have become a lead factor in decision-making as the latest “word” is the mayor and councillors want to: widen the sidewalks, allow more outdoor cafes, remove on-street parking, move the flowers to the street parking areas, narrow the street and create a “mini-midway” (our own Clifton Hill?).
What was once a town awarded for its beauty and culture will now be one noted for its “fun” – and new Dairy Queen.
It begs the question of the fiduciary responsibility for town government to use our tax dollars wisely.
Healthy, positive economic development can become a welcome addition to the community – both residential and tourist.
However, to accomplish this and reverse this dismal decline will depend upon having or electing leaders who possess a sense of duty to perform as stewards for this town and its heritage, leaders who can support a mission statement and code that will indeed encourage welcomed economic growth.
And for those interested in running for office, we need more than a change of “tone.” Something to ponder.