Transport Canada says it will be taking more measures to prevent public access to the Burlington Canal piers in the spring over safety concerns by installing lockable swing gates.
The federal government, which owns the canal piers by the lift bridge, dropped large concrete blocks and put up warning signs at the site last fall restricting access in order to mitigate “personal injury.”
However, a spokesperson for Transport Canada says further measures will be taken due to an increase in pedestrian activity at the commercial site.
“Transport Canada is aware that the Burlington Canal piers have been used in the past by local residents for recreational purposes, however, this is not the intended purpose of this commercial site,” spokesperson Clay Cervoni told Global News.
“As this property does not have the necessary infrastructure to mitigate the possibility of personal injury, limiting access to this site is necessary, particularly during inclement conditions that impact the site such as periods of high water levels, and ice build-up over the winter months.”
The move has caught the attention of the mayors of the two closest municipalities, Hamilton and Burlington, who are looking for dialogue with Ottawa to suggest alternatives to the gates.
Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward says she learned about the possibility of public access being restricted from Burlington MP Karina Gould in November. The news spurred Meed Ward to send a letter to then-transport minister Marc Garneau in December, opposing the blocking of the piers.
Despite not owning the piers, the mayor told Global News they are considered a part of a $50M regional waterfront park that includes Spencer Smith.
“It actually envisions and includes access to those piers,” Meed Ward said.
“Even though we don’t own them, they are right beside our park and we consider them part of the public access.”
Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger sent his letter on Thursday to the current minister, Omar Alghabra, after hearing work on the gates was set to begin in March.
Eisenberger acknowledged the safety concerns but suggested dialogue to find an “agreeable” solution to prevent the closure.
“This is a popular spot for walkers, sightseers, photographers and people fishing, not only by local residents of the Beach Strip community but people throughout Hamilton and Burlington,” Eisenberger said in his letter.
“As you can imagine, the public can be expected to react negatively to this, and I would include myself among those who will be concerned about the closure.”
Meed Ward says she has begun a conversation with the Hamilton Oshawa Port Authority to get their thoughts on the gates and has begun working with Gould to set up a meeting with Alghabra to work on an alternative plan.
“St. Catherine’s would be a great example of actually building parks and benches in and around their canals,” Meed Ward said.
“So I believe that can be done with the right sort of dialogue and partnership.”
Transport Canada did not comment on the likelihood of any potential dialogue for an alternative to the gates but is encouraging the public to “seek alternative locations” offered by local municipalities for recreational activities.