Smiths Falls council to seek extension from Parks Canada over moving Victoria Park campground

The Smiths Falls & District Chamber of Commerce building in Victoria Park
The Smiths Falls & District Chamber of Commerce building in Victoria Park may soon be gone, as Parks Canada has asked that the land be returned to its original 1897 purpose as open park land. Photo credit: Emilie Must.
Posted on: November 14, 2019

Smiths Falls council has voted to ask Parks Canada for an extension to April 30, 2020 to come up with a plan for the Victoria Park campground. The vote was held at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12. 

The long-standing recreational vehicle campground in Victoria Park in Smiths Falls has been operating since the 1930s. By the end of this year council will have to present a plan to Parks Canada on whether to relocate or close the campground. A meeting between the town, the Smiths Falls & District Chamber of Commerce and Parks Canada representatives is scheduled for next week.

On Oct. 7 Parks Canada sent a letter giving the town until Dec. 31 to come up with a viable plan for the future of the campground. 

On Sept. 23 Chris Saumure and Leslie Richardson of the chamber of commerce appeared before council stating their desire to keep the campground in its current location. 

In its Oct. 7 letter, Parks Canada was critical of the chamber’s approach. “We are disappointed by the Chamber’s actions, especially after both Parks Canada and Town staff had worked in good faith throughout the first of 2019 to identify and examine potential alternate sites,” stated the letter, signed by David Britton, acting director for Ontario waterways.

Parks Canada’s letter also stated that the original agreement reached in 1897 called for Victoria Park to serve “open space parkland.” According to Parks Canada, “neither the current licence nor any past agreement has included any purpose that would allow the operation of a campground, let alone an RV park,” on the site, or to allow the town to reach a separate sub-agreement with the chamber to operate there.

“As the situation stands, the Town is in non-compliance with the terms of the licence.” 

“The lease between the town and the chamber isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on” Councillor Wendy Alford commented at the Nov. 12 meeting. 

“I resent the tone of Parks Canada’s letter since they’ve turned a blind eye to the site since the 1930s,” said Councillor Niki Dwyer.  Dwyer asked what the consequences would be if the town declined to comply with Parks’ deadline. 

“It could take us months to come up a plan,” said Dwyer. “We don’t have enough time to be prepared to make a decision. If we’re not ready, I’d like to see what they’re going to do about it.”

Councillor Peter McKenna expressed concern that the town’s long-term relationship with Parks Canada could be damaged. McKenna added that he didn’t want “an antagonistic relationship” with Parks Canada.

“Parks is pretty adamant that they don’t want RVs there,” said McKenna. “We are in compliance with every other agreement we have except for this one.”

Councillor Jay Brennan commented that it was “a pity” that the political will to fight Parks Canada’s demands was lacking.

Article by Emilie Must