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Council passes on Memorial Park designation

Oshawa council has decided against pursuing a heritage designation for Memorial Park. Some councillors said adding such a distinction to the park would add red tape to surrounding properties should they need to do any work.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Despite a strong call from Oshawa’s heritage-minded community, city council has voted not to take the next steps in officially designating Memorial Park as a heritage property.

Presented with the options of going with the designation or sticking with the way things are now, councillors voted to keep things status quo.

Currently, Memorial Park is on the Properties of Cultural Heritage Value or Interest register, added in 2008. However, being on that list does not protect the property in the same way as the Ontario Heritage Act. Currently, any alterations to the property need to be approved by the city and any alterations need 60 days notice before taking place. If protected under the Ontario Heritage Act, the property would be protected from any development or alterations that may impact its heritage or cultural value.

For Councillor Bob Chapman, the designation could have unforseen impacts on the surrounding buildings, which may need to get special approvals in order to make alterations to their own properties.

“There’s a whole pile of administrative work,” he says, adding that any small alterations or improvements to the park would also need to go through a strict vetting process in order to be completed.

“If it’s designated and we need to change some of the park…It’s a more difficult process for our staff to have to do that,” he says, adding that the park is currently at the highest level of protection without the official designation.

The sentiment was supported by fellow Councillor John Aker.

“If we have to make changes to Memorial Park, no matter how minor they may be, there will be an additional process we have to go through,” he says.

Councillor Nester Pidwerbecki also raised the issue that the designation could put up roadblocks for events and festivals looking to use Memorial Park.

These concerns appeared to be alleviated by Paul Ralph, the commissioner of development services, who under questioning from Councillor Amy McQuaid-England noted that the impact on the park and its use would be “negligible” from a provincial policy standpoint, adding that he was unaware of any policies that would prevent events from taking place in the park if it were to be designated.

McQuaid-England went on to say that she didn’t hear any reasons that were good enough to stop the designation process, adding that the top echelon of heritage status is put in place to do exactly what councillors are worried about, that is, adding red tape in order to protect the park’s integrity.

“I think we need to consider that saying no sends a signal to the city and to residents,” she says.

The motion to deny the request also drew the concern of Councillor Rick Kerr, who having previously noted that the park should be commemorated simply as a matter of “civic pride,” noted that he “very strongly” recommends that the park be designated.

The same was stated by Diane Stephen, former longtime chair of Heritage Oshawa who, in a letter to council, noted that the designation should be a no brainer.

“For such an important and integral part of Oshawa, yes  is the best and only option. That there is even a thought to any other option or that there is even an option other than yes is astounding,” she states. “I understand that Memorial Park is owned by the city, however this is even more of a reason to say yes to designation. Heritage designation is a process established in the Ontario Heritage Act to recognize and protect properties of cultural heritage value or interest. This is yet another layer of respect and appreciation for all our fallen citizen heroes whose names are inscribed on the Memorial Cenotaph.”

Along with its proximity to several significant institutions – including Oshawa City Hall, the Masonic Temple, the Canadian Automotive Museum, Oshawa Public Libraries and the Oshawa Senior Citizens Centre – the site has direct associations with several aspects of significant local and national history.

Locally, the park has links to both the McLaughlin and Pedlar families, with a plaque on the site recognizing Pedlar People Limited and its industrial contributions, while the bandshell itself was a gift to the city from Colonel R.S. McLaughlin in 1942. The murals on the opposite side of the bandshell have links to the Ontario Regiment and were painted in recognition of its 130th anniversary.

The cenotaph is a war memorial to veterans of the First and Second World Wars, with the names of all the Oshawa residents who died in both conflicts etched into tablets affixed to the memorial. A memorial to the Korean War is located on the west side of the structure.

The motion carried with Councillors McQuaid-England, Kerr and John Shields voting against it and Pidwerbecki, Aker, Chapman, Doug Sanders and John Henry in favour of the denial.

Councillors Dan Carter and John Neal were absent from the meeting.

The recommendation came forward from the Heritage Oshawa committee, asking council to move ahead with the designation. As a result, staff investigated the possibility of designating the park as a heritage site under the Ontario Heritage Act due to its historical connections, central location and cultural importance.

The final report noted that “the park meets several of the criteria for designation” and that from an operational perspective, staff had no objection to designating the property or leaving the site as is.