Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Old Town spreads right along the shores of Lake Ontario to the mouth of the Niagara River.
Five “villages” – Old Town, Queenston, St. Davids, Virgil and Glendale – comprise NOTL and sit among the fertile farmland, vineyards, historical sites, nature trails, parks and waterways that have made this corner of our province into a visitor attraction.
The communities have gone through growth spurts and there has much controversy and divisiveness among residents, town council and developers.
Today we are on the cusp of more changes that continue to alarm the community.
Although I share many of the concerns expressed by residents who wish to protect the Old Town, I recognize that we must come together and engage in a productive, positive dialogue with hard facts and figures at hand, rather than simple visionary aspirations.
I’d like to present some facts that I believe have not been part of this discourse so far.
Over-tourism has destroyed some of the most precious locations worldwide to the extent that entire communities have left town and once desirable attractions are left in shambles. What lessons can we learn from these monumental failures?
What are our community’s elected officials going to do before there is too much traffic, too much garbage and too much damage to the environment?
The most appealing cities and towns today (those that visitors wish to explore) are one that retain a real sense of community.
They are real towns, where real people live and shop, learn and play.
In other words, a word of caution to builders and developers: Do you want to invest in NOTL?
Then continue to make it a desirable community where young families, older people and singles live. Give priority to residential services, retail, medical and the arts for the community in order to maintain NOTL’s charm and beauty for visitors.
To the residents wishing to protect the town, I would say that residential is always desirable over commercial. Having more people live in our community will enhance and nurture our community.
Single dwellings, low residential, schools, shops for locals, theatres, sports centres: We need more of these in order to grow a community that could become an urban example to others.
We do not want a quaint historical replica of the Niagara Falls visitors strip. Building more hotels and providing more ice cream and souvenirs shops is so yesterday and so deeply destined to fail in the long run.
Let’s work on attracting more residential and making NOTL with its distinct communities a place where people want to live.
The Shaw Festival, the vineyards and wineries, the trails, the restaurants will continue to attract visitors if we have a healthy and thriving local community.
Tourism as we know it must evolve and change. Please watch “The Last Tourist,” a film released last year that can help you really understand how over-tourism has failed.
I would urge our elected officials and developers to assess how many existing hotel and B&B rooms are already available in NOTL. Such data should be made available to residents.
How many hotels, ice cream parlours and souvenir shops are too many in NOTL? And what will it take for visitors to become disenchanted with Niagara-on-the-Lake and move on to the next best thing?
Becoming a ghost town is the last thing anyone should want, including the developers. Growing our community in a wise and well-planned fashion should be our common goal.
We can work together in maintaining and growing our community while protecting our economic interests.
Let’s start the dialogue.