Serving the Port Dalhousie Community Since 1992
In March of 2019 the Conservancy marks its 20th anniversary
– a remarkable milestone for an all-volunteer community organization.
Twenty years ago, a group of residents of the historic village of Port Dalhousie in St. Catharines became concerned about the possible loss of the home at 43 Dalhousie Avenue when a For Sale sign went up. The village of Port Dalhousie dates from 1826, and from 1829 until 1930 was the northern terminus of the first three Welland Canals. According to the City’s Heritage Resource Inventory, 43 Dalhousie was built in 1841 by Alexander Muir of Muir Brothers Drydock. Alexander's diary states he bought the property from Nathan Pawling for 60 dollars and Alexander's wife Jane lived in the house until 1911.
The residents set up a meeting to consider their options and they were joined by the City of St. Catharines' Heritage Planner who explained that having the area designated as a Heritage Conservation District (HCD) under the Ontario Heritage Act was the only way to have some protection for the area’s unique character. It was going to be a lot of hard work and would take years, the planner warned, as the community would have to be canvassed for support. It would then require Council’s approval and, eventually, that of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). Undeterred, the group decided to proceed and PROUD (Port Realizing Our Unique Distinction) was born!
The volunteers from PROUD (now the Port Dalhousie Conservancy, a not-for-profit corporation) and the City of St. Catharines (Staff and Council), worked together towards the designation of the village of Port Dalhousie as a heritage district. In December 2003, following extensive community consultation, the City successfully defended its designating by-law before the OMB and Port Dalhousie was officially designated a Heritage Conservation District under Part V of the Ontario Heritage Act. Then, in early 2004, Conservancy volunteers designed and raised the approximately $18,000 required for street and gateway signs for the new district.
Unfortunately, danger lurked and, also in early 2004, only a short time after final OMB approval of the Heritage Designation, the Port Dalhousie Vitalization Corporation (PDVC) announced that they had purchased a significant number of the heritage properties in the commercial core of the new heritage district, for development purposes. Two condo tower proposals eventually followed.
The Conservancy then sought community input again and concluded it had to oppose what was a 33-storey proposal for the low-rise Port Dalhousie heritage district. Widespread community opposition followed and this first tower proposal was withdrawn in 2005. It was followed by a 20-storey proposal which was exactly the same in density (number of condos, hotel, theatre and commercial space) but added an 8-storey wing along Main St. The Conservancy once again consulted extensively and concluded it had to oppose the new (old) proposal.
Eventually, a complex and lengthy (71-day) OMB Hearing got underway in February 2008. The City, the Conservancy and members of the community put forward a very strong OMB case. The Conservancy had broad community support and its membership grew to over 600, making it the largest community organization in Niagara. Their volunteers raised substantial funds and were able to hire a top municipal lawyer to work alongside the City Solicitor. The case against the tower was supported by leading international expert witnesses and provisions of the Provincial Policy Statement, the City’s Official Plan, Zoning By-Law (3-storey height limit) and Heritage Guidelines. Despite this, the OMB approved the proposal in almost its entirety. The OMB had NEVER before approved a tower in a designated HCD but justified it in terms of the revitalization that components such as the hotel, theatre and commercial space would bring.
Ten years since the OMB ruling, nothing has been built on the site and new owners have largely ignored the revitalization components. Conservancy volunteers continue to work hard on preserving Port’s unique heritage and provide input to the City on the various projects proposed for this and other sites. They also keep Port Dalhousie Ward and the City informed through their community newspaper the Port Reporter –also an all-volunteer effort.