Cornwall aims to overhaul its relationship with the river

The Mora Family went paddling together in the shallows at Guindon Park on Thursday July 11, 2019 in Cornwall, Ont. Paddling is one of the recreation activities the strategic planning session determined should be promoted on the waterfront. Alan S. Hale/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network Alan S. Hale / Alan S. Hale/Standard-Freeholder

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The Cornwall waterfront has been a perennial concern for both the municipality and residents for many years.

So it comes as no surprise that improving the waterfront emerged as a key priority for the municipality at its strategic planning session held late last month.

City councillors and senior administrators set themselves the goal of improving Cornwall’s relationship with the St. Lawrence River. Many of the objectives for how to do that are things the city has already been working on or are already being considered for inclusion in the new waterfront master plan, which is still in the process of being finalized.

Pop up businesses, more municipal programing

This objective is straight out of the current draft of the new waterfront master plan, which proposes a promenade that would follow the Cornwall Canal, go through Lamoureux Park and end at Pointe Maligne. The consultants working on the plan, Thinc Design, envisioned the promenade as an enhanced public space that would also be idea for cafes and food opportunities to be set up along it as well.

“The idea with this idea is that it would be the backbone to provide structure to the park. A lot of the elements that Lamoureux Park has are already along (the area adjacent to Water Street), but introducing this canal promenade would help bring all those disconnected pieces together,” Michael Tocher, project lead, told council in March.

The municipal leaders would also like to see more programming take place on the waterfront, including a campground in Guindon Park that has been proposed for inclusion in the waterfront plan as well.

More sports and recreation

Sticking with ideas that have been proposed for the new waterfront master plan, councillors and administrators have also said they want to work towards creating more recreation and sports opportunities on the waterfront over the next three years.

These activities include many that are being proposed for the Cornwall Canal, which goes mostly unused by residents but was pointed out by the consultants as a place with lots of potential as a recreational space. Paddleboats, competitive rowing, dragon boating in the summer and ice skating have been proposed for the canal, and are among potential priorities for this next term.

Outside the canal, municipal leaders are also looking seriously at plans for a floating playground proposed for Guindon Park and possibly bike rentals to promote the city’s trail system.

Development of Pointe Maligne

The redevelopment of Pointe Maligne is an idea the city and its waterfront committee has been kicking around for years, but hasn’t gained much traction. Measures to improve the area are also being proposed for the waterfront plan.

Given how little progress has been made on Pointe Maligne in the past several years, some leaders as the strategic planning session were surprised it emerged as one of the objectives during the discussion.

“I’m surprised Pointe Maligne is up there,” said Coun. Eric Bergeron. “It’s an opportunity for this council to show it is serious about a project that has been going on for 10 years.”

It was argued by others that as long the future ownership of Pointe Maligne remains in question, the city should be wary of spending more money on the area than what has already been budgeted for it.


Owning strategic parts of the waterfront

Much of the Cornwall waterfront is actually owned by the federal government, and even places that are used by residents every day, such as Lamoureux Park, are only being rented to the City of Cornwall under long-term leases.

But in April of 2018, city council was told the federal government would begin the process of selling off those properties over the next few years, although there was no promise made the city would be given the chance to buy them.

“Whether the properties would be divested to the city remains to be seen, but they would work with you,” Rachel Parkin, manager of strategic program policy at Transport Canada’s real property department, said at the time.

“We will be doing a determination of public interest … so there will be a letter coming to the city this fall to determines if there is any public purpose interest. That’s not to say that you can’t at any point put up your hands and say ‘we want these ones.’”

With that in mind, councillors and senior administrators determined another one of their objectives over the next three years would be to maintain pressure on the federal government to ensure the city has a chance to purchase waterfront lands as they come up for sale, or at least in certain strategic areas.

Commercial development

This objective was not given a lot of detail, especially with regards to what kind of commercial development the municipality is envisioning.

Ideas such as the aforementioned cafes and recreation activities could be kinds of commercial development on the waterfront, but there has also been talk in the past at city hall about having waterfront shopping districts that would be perfect for serving tourists.

Whatever kind of development it pursues, the city will likely have to walk a careful line because some kinds of development have proven to be wildly unpopular with residents, as was seen in 2017, when C.H. Clement proposed building condos around Marina 200.

The Cornwall Harbour

This June 30 marked three years since the City of Cornwall and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA) took joint ownership of the Cornwall Harbour lands with the intention of eventually redeveloping them.

In that time, there has been very little progress on that initiative. But the joint meeting between city council and the Mohawk council last month seems to have introduced new energy and momentum into the relationship between the two communities.

At the strategic planning session, it was decided Cornwall should try to capitalize on that momentum by finally sitting down to create a strategic plan that would outline what both communities actually want to see happen on the harbour.

This is a prospect that Grand Chief Abram Benedict said the MCA would welcome.

“The MCA will continue to work with the City of Cornwall as partners and co-owners on the development of the harbour lands. As part of our joint ownership agreement, we will identify a joint committee to assist in the development of the lands. Once the required committees are established, we welcome the opportunity to jointly develop a strategic plan,” said Benedict.

Editor’s note: The Standard-Freeholder has been examining each of the five key priorities chosen by Cornwall city council at its recent strategic planning meeting– they are waterfront development, increased population growth, improved housing, economic development and environmental sustainability. This piece fits under the city’s ideas for waterfront development.