Nine football fields of Recreational Green Space Lost East of Victoria Avenue since 1970

Dear editor,

In the 50’s and early 60’s our family lived next to the original St. Mary’s School on Nelson Street. We walked out the door to play hockey or baseball in the area between the school and Sinclair Street. In the late 60’s we moved to 5th Street East. It was a 100 yards to the field east of St. Michael’s School. It was a three block walk to the huge field east of the 52 Canadians Arena where the Muskies played football and where there was also a full baseball diamond. It was three blocks east to play baseball or hockey at the East End rink and Huffman School Yard. I attended Robert Moore which was adjacent to the Central Rink, and two baseball diamonds.

According to the TOFF Museum website, playgrounds adjacent to schools were established in the 1950’s when TOFF entered into mutually beneficial joint use partnerships with the Catholic and Public School Boards. TOFF set aside land for baseball diamonds, rinks and Community Centre buildings (warm up in the winter, “Playground” in summer) for recreation immediately adjacent to six schools that were equitably distributed throughout town. The taxpayer was served by not having to fund duplicate recreational facilities.

During the school year, children had recess and phys-ed classes on those fields and rinks. More importantly those outdoor facilities were also available throughout the year for un-structured play and programs run by TOFF Recreation Commission.

In the early 1990’s TOFF entered a joint use agreement for the exact purpose of the provision of recreational green space/parks when Mayor Dick Lyons declared the playground at St. Michael’s to be named Knights of Columbus Park. These joint uses did not involve the conversion of these areas formally into “parks” under the town’s official zoning plans, but these areas were in fact “parks” in every other sense of the word. The Knights of Columbus Park has in fact been our park. It has a park playground area, memorial trees and plaques to affirm this fact. For over 60 years, families have used the green space east of St. Michael’s for a hockey rink, baseball and soccer. It is still used widely for these purposes. But TOFF seems to ignore these facts.

Since 1970, 3.7 Hectares (equal to 9 American football fields) of Public Recreational Green Space Lost East of Victoria Avenue in Fort Frances (calculated using Advanced Google Maps Distance Calculator)

The south end rink and playground is now a hospital parking lot.

Huffman School was closed. TOFF converted the green space and baseball diamond to residential lots leaving only a community rink.

The Central Rink and a 2nd baseball diamond are parking lots. The west and north ends of town have also lost recreational green space as smaller schools closed.

The only large TOFF park in the east end was located east of 52 Canadians arena. Now it is home to outstanding indoor recreation facilities that are available to those who can afford them. However, not every kid is a hockey player. Did TOFF really have to pave over the baseball diamond? Wasn’t there anywhere else in town to put the new library?

TOFF councillors say they want to attract young families to town. They are trying to sell lots in the new Erin Crescent development. What park are those young children going to walk to so they can kick a soccer ball or play baseball?

We call our group Save Knights of Columbus Park. We have over 100 members including many of the parents who undertook a three year project to fundraise and construct KC Park over 30 years ago. As recently as last summer they were still investing sweat equity by maintaining the playground equipment. Last year TOFF and the School Board ended the joint use agreement for Knights of Columbus Park to pave the way for the sale of the property to RRDSSAB.

We support RRDSSAB’ plan:

To renovate the St. Michael’s School building for apartments for seniors and Early ON Centre.

To provide more affordable family rental housing in town.

We filed an appeal with LPAT opposing TOFF’s rezoning of the St. Michael’s School property. Two lawyers from Thunder Bay and a planner from out of town paid by TOFF convinced a LPAT adjudicator from Toronto that our appeal should be denied.

We ask the new TOFF CAO, Mayor and Council to arrange a land exchange with the purchaser (RRDSSAB) to acquire the green space at St. Michael’s for the creation of an official park maintained by TOFF. In exchange, RRDSSAB would receive a similar sized piece of land within town on which to build its affordable housing.

For over 60 years the families of this area have used this green space as a playground, soccer field, and in the winter a hockey rink. We have asked council to stop and think about this situation. The town has a number of other parcels of land around town that can be used for needed family rental housing.

Scott Fawcett