Heritage Designation Meeting Gets Good Turn Out

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This is re-printed from the Chatham Daily News on May 24, 2015, following the public Open House meeting on May 22, 2015, on Chatham-Kent’s bid to seek Rondeau as a Heritage Conservation District. Photo of the crowd at top, includes RCA Directors Dr David Colby and Brian French. Photo on bottom is of cottager Jerry Hind who is in favour of the 2017 cottage lease deadline and their removal.

 

Cottagers in Rondeau Provincial Park packed Morpeth’s community centre seeking reassurances Friday.

They found that, and more, courtesy of a consulting company that provides cultural heritage planning. According to representatives of MHBC Planning Ltd., the cottages located within the 121-year-old provincial park are distinct and important enough to qualify for heritage designation.

That was a relief for many of those who attended the public meeting.

“I think it went really well,” said Leslie Guyitt-Buller, 51, whose family has owned a park cottage since 1948. “I’m glad they had this meeting … my family has been there for five generations. It’s a very emotional thing for us.”

Also present were Rondeau Cottagers Association members David Colby and Brian French, president and vice-president respectively.

“We may be breaking new ground here,” Colby said. “And it’s entirely co-existent with the spirit … of the laws in Ontario.”

Of the more than 100 people in attendance, most were supportive of the consulting company’s work. Even so, tempers flared as dissenters voiced their opposition to the plan. At one point, someone yelled that the cottagers had agreed to leave the provincial park at the end of 2017.

“That’s categorically false!” another responded. “No one agreed to leave! It’s unspecified!”

The confusion is this: The provincial government owns the land, but the cottagers own the cottage structures. Because most laws concerning land preservation and designation have targeted Algonquin Park, Rondeau has become an anomaly — a place everyone forgot, with more overlapping rules and regulations than it knows what to do with.

“It’s a strange situation,” admitted French. “We’ve fallen between the cracks.”

The meeting was meant to be a presentation and discussion about the park’s cultural significance.

Still, some doubted the event’s integrity, especially as invitation to the public open house only found their way to Rondeau cottage owners, and not to all residents of Chatham-Kent.

“This was presented as a public meeting,” said Jerry Hind, a Rondeau cottager who opposes the plan. “Instead, it was a pep rally.”

Hind, 68, and his wife Linda, 67, were two of the only people outspoken against the cottagers’ plan. Their questions and comments during the presentation were all rebuffed, often to loud applause.

The couple stood by their claims after the meeting.

“It’s a system of privilege,” Linda Hind said. “There’s all kinds of people in Chatham who can’t afford the entrance fees (to the provincial park). I think (the cottages) should be taken out.”

Meanwhile, many within the Rondeau Cottagers Association believe the Ontario government doesn’t have the right to take their property.

“You can’t just go in with bulldozers and expect it to be okay,” Colby said.

MHBC will be taking its findings to Chatham-Kent council. However, as previously reported by the Chatham Daily News, municipal governments have no jurisdiction in provincial parks. This is according to Jolanta Kowalski, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Therefore, even with MHBC’s recommendation, the Ontario government will likely have the final word on the matter. Then again, if the cottages within Rondeau Provincial Park are deemed to be a cultural heritage site, that provincial power may be limited.

It all comes down to whether the history of the cottages is enough to designate them cultural heritage sites. According to MHBC, it should be.

“You need to give us your information, the unique history of your cottage,” said Lashia Jones, of MHBC. “As much as you’re willing to tell (your stories), we want to hear them.”

According to MHBC’s plan, the next community meeting will take place mid-summer, at a date not yet determined.​

Photo top: Louis Pin/Chatham Daily News/Postmedia Network

Photo bottom: Elizabeth Cooper, Rondeau cottager