One of the major challenges Sarnia’s brand new city council will face this year will be the preservation of parkland.
Late in 2018 a draft master plan for parks, recreation and culture was released, recommending as many as nine smaller parks be sold or “consolidated” with other parks.
Mayor Mike Bradley and his councillors should move swiftly to put an end to this idea.
Our forefathers were far more progressive when it came to creating public open space than we are today. That was true at the municipal, provincial, national and even international level.
In fact, Central Park was created in New York City back in the 1850s, when the United States had only a fraction of the wealth it enjoys today. Had it not been for farsighted Manhattan politicians that magnificent 843-acre park would have been paved over long ago. And without Central Park, New York would be even more of an overcrowded concrete jungle than it is today.
Canada’s 19th century politicians were just as progressive as their American counterparts. Our federal government, for example, created Banff National Park in 1885, two decades before Alberta gained provincial status. In Ontario, Algonquin Provincial Park appeared on the scene in 1893.
Down through the years Sarnia has taken a backseat to nobody when it comes to creating parkland. And it has done so even during extremely tough economic times.
A perfect example of that is Canatara Park, which was created smack in the middle of the Great Depression. The legendary philanthropist Maud Hanna helped make the park possible with her $10,000 donation but that still wasn’t enough to make Canatara a reality.
Mayor James Barr stepped up to the plate and talked a reluctant council into forking over another $10,000 to make the park possible. That doesn’t sound like a lot of money today, but in 1932 it was a small fortune.
In the early 1950s, when Sarnia had a population of only about 30,000 people, council manged to find the money to create Germain Park, a 60-acre gem that stretches almost from East Street nearly as far as Indian Road.
During the 1960s council should strong leadership again, this time buying the land needed to establish Centennial Park on the St. Clair River. Some wanted to construct a community hall to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday but Mayor Henry Ross pushed successfully for open space on the river.
In what was then Sarnia Township, councillors had the wisdom to establish another fabulous waterfront facility – known today as Mike Weir Park.
Without Canatara, Mike Weir, Germain and Centennial parks our city would be a sadly diminished place. Very few medium-sized Ontario cities can match what we have when it comes to open space and we owe that fact to such great mayors as James Barr and Henry Ross.
In recent decades builders have been allowed to give municipalities cash in lieu of parkland when putting up new subdivisions. Money-grubbing politicians have been too quick to take the cash.
Twenty-first century leaders need to show some of the backbone and sound judgement of our 19th and 20th century politicians. In Sarnia, they can do just that by refusing to get rid of any of our parks. The argument that we need the land for housing is nonsense. Our city has a land mass as big as Montreal, so we’ve got plenty of room to grow without selling off any public open space.