The first sign is up, asking people to please stay home, and telling them that no washrooms are available.
The electronic sign is on Queen’s Parade, at John street, with a rotating message that also says ‘local traffic only.’
In their updates to council Monday, both Lord Mayor Betty Disero and interim CAO Sheldon Randall spoke of the large number of visitors still coming to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Chief of their concerns is the lack of public washrooms.
Disero said tourists are stopping at grocery stores, gas stations and convenience stores in town, asking to use their facilities. “This is causing great stress to these operators.”
Randall agreed the town is having “some real challenges with people visiting from out of town,” and also with locals who are driving downtown, when businesses are closed.
The Town has ordered large, digital, signs, and the first one is up on the Niagara River Parkway entrance to town.
There were also plans discussed to put one near the roundabout on Niagara Stone Road. They will remind people, “we don’t want your business right now, we want it later,” Randall said.
Hopefully, he added, they’ll get the message to turn around and go home.
Suggestions from councillors were to make the messaging on the signs simple and clear.
Coun. Clare Cameron said the signs are a great idea, but advised the message should “get to the heart of the matter,” such as “All washrooms are closed. No visitor services.”
Coun. Wendy Cheropita suggested another video, “with no pretty pictures at all,” making it “really really clear, hotels are closed, restaurants are closed.” The Town needs a “more effective message to let visitors know this is not the time to visit,” she said.
Disero has asked the Niagara Parks Commission to close their parking lots on Niagara River Parkway, “because people are coming into Niagara-on-the-Lake to use our washroom facilities, which are closed, so they are using bushes, construction sites, portable toilets, and behind buildings,” she said. “We have now asked the Niagara Parks Commission to open their facilities, if they are keeping their parks open. We are waiting to hear back regarding this.”
One of the problems, Randall said, is there is nothing illegal about visitors driving from Toronto, Hamilton or Niagara Falls, or elsewhere in the province, to visit NOTL. “And when our bylaw officers talk to them, they don’t care.”
It’s a challenge “to move them along,” he said.
The best thing to happen for Niagara-on-the-Lake would be for the Province to pass a no-travel ban to prevent visitors from coming to town, but at the moment that isn’t the case, Randall said. “We don’t want them to come, but they’re allowed to do that.”
Although the electronic sign tell travellers the Niagara River Parkway is not a local road, said Disero, bylaw officers cannot enforce it. “We can’t stop people, so we want them to know we are not ready for them. We don’t have the facilities open that they would require.”
A media release from the Town Thursday said efforts to maintain and enforce emergency orders and deter visitors from coming into town “remain an utmost priority.”
The Town media release said it has been clear in its request for tourists and residents of neighbouring municipalities to avoid visiting during its state of emergency, closing public parking lots as a deterrent, “but bylaw officers have witnessed a continued disregard of this request, leaving no choice but to go over and above with this message.”
The sign messages are also short and polite. “There is limited space on the sign,” she says.
Disero said the sign is another way to push out the message to stay home. “We don’t have the facilities available to adequately host our out-of-town visitors at the moment. As much as we appreciate their love for our beautiful town, we ask that they please stay away for now, and come back and visit us once this pandemic is over.”
Staff expect additional signs will go up at main gateways to the Town in the days to come.
To review all Town updates related to COVID-19, read answers to frequently asked questions, and see up-to-date information on the status of Town services, visit notl.com/COVID-19, or call 905-468-3266. Town staff will continue to assist and serve citizens online and over the phone between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. For immediate alerts, follow the Town on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.