By John Swartz
A group of people are leading a charge to convince council the decision to redesign Terry Fox Circle and effectively remove the ability to drive through Couchiching Beach Park was not an example of listening to citizens and going against their wishes.
To that end Mel St. Onge, Peter Hislop, Marcel Rousseau and David Robbins created an online petition, which they hope to present to council in a deputation. They also have hardcopy petitions people can sign at various locations in town.
“We just started today and I think there’s 20 names on it in the last 20 minutes. There will be petitions at French’s Stand, Wilkie’s Bakery, Apple Annie’s Town’s Jewelers, The Cone and there will probably be more (locations) in time,” said St. Onge.
All are regular users of the park and well-known to people in the community. The networking they achieve while at the park convinced them there are more people opposed to removing Terry Fox Circle than for it.
“To me it’s a park made for the City of Orillia people, taxpayers, they want to continue to drive through the park. Some of them are handicapped and have to have parking spots the closer to the beach for their grandchildren or whatever,” said St. Onge.
“Everybody I’ve talked to in the park in the last three years is dead against this park being closed. The City wants to close it down to traffic, they’re already going to be major changes here and we accept those changes, but we’re not going to accept losing our parking.”
Members of the group also have formal and informal experience working on community initiatives. They know convincing council to reverse their decision won’t be easy.
“I’ve talked to maybe 200 people in the last two weeks and they say, no, fight it. Canadians are famous for complaining, but don’t do anything about it, so we as a group decided, well maybe we’re going to lose, but we’ll give our best shot,” said St. Onge.
Rusty Draper also supports the petition and was on hand today to support the launch.
“We should never use the word defeat. We might now win this, but you’ve got to go in there conveying that message that we’re going to (prevail). If we don’t win, well at least we tried,” Draper said.
St, Onge thinks decisions that create major change in the community should require more than a simple majority vote.
“The vote on City council was a 5/4 vote that shut it down. To me a 5/4 vote should never be a majority, it should be 8/2 vote or whatever because we’re talking about taxpayer money,” he said. He also thinks the public wasn’t listened to. “Why can we not have a say. We elect these people in as councillors and they should be listening to us. They’re tell us what to do.”
Using social media and the online petition appears to be creating a groundswell.
“I put it on Facebook and in one day I had 150 comments regarding not closing,” said Don Wilkie who was also on hand to show his support. Of course, it’s all about who you know online and Robbins said the City’s publication of the development docents didn’t get much notice.
“You see what’s going on and you talk to people. Nobody knew about the online thing the City did (plans and documents about the proposal),” said Robbins.
For several years Marcel Rousseau has been documenting Orillia’s history and has a lot of photographic evidence of the way things were.
“I have a 1910 photo of the turnaround. It’s been there a long time,” Rousseau said.
He concedes there is potential for accidents, but he’s never heard of one, and thinks some tweaks will work better than closing the drive.
“Unless there was a runaway horse in 1912 that hit somebody, there’s never been an incident,” he said. Basically my feeling is, there’s a few safety issues, its tight right at the waterfront where the turn is, but you can fix that very easily. The parking can be fixed, instead angle, make it parallel; you lose some, but don’t close it,”
Indeed, on the afternoon of the petition launch every parking spot on the circle was occupied, and the boat launch parking lot was full as well. The group wants wide community support when they go to council and is encouraging as many as possible to sign the petition.
“The whole key is to get people to sign it because they don’t believe the park should be shut down. That’s the bottom line of what we want to accomplish,” said St. Onge.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Main: Rusty Draper at French’s Stand singing a petition to keep Terry Fox Circle open to vehicles,