Reader disappointed in North Shore public meeting

To the Editor:

Saugeen Shores Council & Staff:

I was excited to attend the Public Meeting at the North Shore Park Pavilion on Thursday, July 7 at 5 o’clock, then equally disappointed that it was a static display rather then a open forum with presentations and rebuttals. I suggested all comments submitted be made public, in full (with permission, anonymous or otherwise) or at least in summary. 

I have been a Port Elgin resident since 1978.  In 1992 we built our home across the street from the playground in North Shore Park.  I am retired now, but as an employee I was a shift worker.  Our bedroom is in the front of our house.  On a summery day I would (day) sleep (while working nights), with our windows open, undisturbed through Andy sounding the train whistle every time he crossed the harbour entrance (twice per circuit).  If I was out front I would stop what I was doing and wave to the Train.  Both our sons were flagmen for the Train. 

 On our travels, when we said we were from Port Elgin, many people would immediately reply, “… the steam train …” and then “… the beaches …”

We were heartbroken when the Station and the Town couldn’t come to an agreement and we lost the Train.  I am pleased the current owner of the original (1973) train is proposing to make a return to North Shore Park! 

In my observation North Shore Park has been underutilized for the thirty (30) years I have lived across the street; perhaps ever since it was donated (for ‘recreational use’) in 1908 (?).  The old growth cedars don’t lend themselves to a people friendly park.  The fronds and seed casings are slow to compost, too acidic for most plants to grow in and too dense to allow enough light through filter through the canopy and a haven to mosquitoes, black flies and gnats.  Their roots do, however, stabilize the soil against shoreline erosion and runoff.  Other than the trail & picnic shelter and, now, the Splash Pad, I see very little use by humans.  The September 7, 2021 tornado knocked down many mature cedar trees in North Shore Park.  Without their neighbours’ support more trees were felled by this past winter’s storms; it is inevitable more will succumb to future wind events.  We have planted trees in our backyard; our thirty (30) year old ‘mighty oak’ is now about fifty-five feet (55’) tall; the twenty-seven (27) year old purple beech is about forty feet (40’) tall; and the Ginko we replaced the European Mountain Ash with is now fifteen (15) years ago with has grown to about twenty-five feet (25’) tall.  The point I am trying to make here is the time it takes for a tree to grow to maturity.  Some trees don’t like wet roots.  Other trees have stronger roots than others to stand strong against our severe on shore winds (North Shore Park has a south through north-west exposure and gets battered by winds through 225°).  A replanting program needs to be adopted before the rest of the cedars are blown down. I would prefer a semi-open park-like setting of deciduous shade trees, not a Planned Reforestation to harvest as lumber in forty (40) years!  An Arborist should be consulted to select suitable varieties and the appropriate spacing for both strength and appeal. 

I like that we have a Splash Pad in the neighbourhood; but I think it was foolish to build one on the lakeshore.  Why bring sand to the beach?!  Our residents away from water would have benefited better.  I see the majority of Splash Pad users are young children.  I am concerned excited children with wet feet will run over toward the passing train, slip & fall and be run over. 

As for relocating the harbour entrance?  I have watched the larger boats coming in & out of the existing access to & from the boat launch rubbing the trees.  Before deciding on the new harbour access give consideration to pedestrian traffic; traffic flow, both on the street and in the parking lot; navigating trailers in & out of the boat launch; off-season boat storage (don’t forget about the fire!); future harbour expansion (more population in Saugeen Shores > more boats > not enough boat slips). I suggest considering the new harbour entrance near the brick walkway and the exit closer to the Fish Cleaning Station. That is; pull in the entrance near the brick path, continue to in front of the boat launch then turn right, back down the boat launch … pull out of the boat launch continue towards to Fish Cleaning Station, then turn right towards the exit. 

As for the buildings that support the operation of the amusement steam train …One of the issues with the previous Station was lack of maintenance; it became an eyesore!  The Harbour Master Office and the Transfer Station were constructed to last; and they have weathered well.  Resilient materials must be used, yet still offer the ambiance of an old era steam locomotive station and yard.  Also group the new buildings as close as practical to the existing Fish Cleaning Station, if only for ease of access to utilities, but also minimize the obstruction of the neighbours’ views.  Pedestrian access from the existing pathway will promote walk-in participation. 

The train will be operated seasonally; weekends in late May, June, September and into October, daily in July & August until Labour Day, then perhaps occasionally in the off-season.  While dormant the buildings could be the target of vandalism.  At least a passive, or preferably an active security system, should be active. Maybe a temporary (removable) chain link security fence?  Don’t forget the row of razor wire! 

The circuit the train must follow has limitations, such as, inclination, turning radius, et al.  Working around existing structures may result in congestion.  Where warranted, suitable barriers will need to be erected to protect pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles from interference.  I remember Andy blowing his whistle for extended periods to attract the owner of the poorly parked vehicle blocking his path to move their obstruction! 

Now a real conundrum; PARKING!How many vehicles can be anticipated at North Shore Park?  There are already congestion problems; when the Picnic Shelter is being used; and at the Splash Pad & Canada Post’s Super Boxes. Will on street parking be restricted on both sides of the ‘ess’ bend along Stevens and McVicar Streets?  Will parking for North Shore Park be designated in the harbour lot? Will parking be allowed on the open space across the street from the playground? If so, will access be controlled (off McVicar only so as not to be on the ’ess’ bend) and how?  And, if so, will there be a metered pedestrian crosswalk to get to North Shore Park (on the ‘ess’ bend)?We also need a multipurpose path along the North Shore Park side of McVicar to join up with existing path at the Fish Cleaning Station. Move the Canada Post Super Boxes; draw a circle around them and half the customers are fish!

Even if Saugeen Shores’ residents feel an amusement steam train lacks interest, it does bring tourist families (not ‘hooligans’) to our community who inject much needed revenue into our local businesses.  Many of these business conveniences wouldn’t be here, or at least not in the same abundance, if it weren’t for tourist dollars.  We locals know not to shop Friday or Saturday in the summer weather or try to cross Goderich Street at any intersection other than a traffic light while the ‘Awayers’ are here! A small price to pay for increased selection and access to businesses who otherwise may not prosper. 

I’m sure others have some interesting comments and concerns.  I look forward to reading them in a Public Forum.  I do not participate on Social Media, so I hope all submissions will be posted where the public can access them … easily! 

Bottom line:The Port Elgin & North Shore Railway in North Shore Park is a benefit to our community. We mustn’t miss this opportunity to welcome back “the Train”!

Sincerely,Bill Inkster105 McVicar Street, Port Elgin