When 235 homes in Cannery Park went on the market in 2013, they were seen as the perfect place for young families.
They sold out quickly, and along with other growth in St. Davids in recent years, have added substantially to the population of the village.
Cannery Park is within walking distance of St. Davids Public School, near a golf course, churches and the St. Davids Lions Park, with a pool, playground, and tennis courts. Some of the families who have moved to the new subdivision, many from the GTA, were looking for a quiet, peaceful neighbourhood to bring up their kids, and they found it in St. Davids.
Shriti Gandhi is the mom of two youngsters, aged four and seven. She and her husband are one of the young couples who chose St. Davids and Niagara-on-the-Lake to bring up their family.
She estimates about half of the homes in the subdivision have families with kids — families who were looking forward to the large green space in the centre of their neighbourhood as a community gathering space.
She loves her neighbourhood, but recently, she’s been disappointed by the lack of attention paid to the park residents were really excited about.
“I’m a little confused,” she says, gesturing to the open space in the centre that has been fenced off all summer, and a playground that is in the open, blazing sun.
“Is this all there is? I attended the town hall meetings, I was on Join the Conversation, and this isn’t what I was expecting.”
She recalls the presentations of the designs, and the alternatives for the playground equipment, and she was excited to see some progress made. The playground was installed in the fall, and some grass planted this spring, but it has not been tended, and is off-limits for playing.
She also has some questions about what is yet to be completed.
The two main issues, she says, are the lack of shade and seating, both of which were priorities during discussions, and which she expected to see.
“There is no shade, and there is no seating area,” she says. There are young trees planted around the perimeter of the playground, but it will be years before they provide any shade.
There is a large wooden pergola at the entrance, at the opposite end of the park to the playground, which doesn’t really add much to the park, and doesn’t provide shade, she says — she would rather have seen the money spent on something useful.
The majority of the park has offered no recreational space for kids this summer. “It’s so sad, especially when most kids have been homebound for months.”
There was also a lot of discussion about a “concrete slab and basketball net,” she says.
Several homes have basketball nets at the end of driveways, and it would have been nice to see the kids off the street and playing in the park instead, she says.
Before the construction of the park, the open field was used more than it is now. Kids played there, although the ground was uneven. It’s been levelled off, which has been very helpful, but the grass that was planted didn’t take, and now it’s full of weeds, and closed off for use.
“It was decent. It was a place for families to congregate. It’s of no use to us now, not to mention aesthetically unpleasing,” she says, struggling to come up with a word that isn’t too harsh to describe its unkempt appearance, with patches of grass, dirt where nothing grows and a myriad of weeds.
While she anticipates there will eventually be green space, she says, “is this what it’s supposed to look like? I feel they could have done better.”
Gandhi says she wonders if the Town is that interested in her neighbourhood — she knows the villagers were not excited about the high-density subdivision.
“I know we’re not NOTLers,” she says, “but we moved here to be NOTLers.”
Mila Frith and her husband also came to St. Davids to escape a large urban area and raise their children in a small, safe community. She too says the park looks awful, and that it’s a shame the open green space has been unusable this summer, although “since it’s been landscaped, it’s beautiful in comparison to what it was.”
However, “for a town that’s known for how pretty it is, this kind of looks like it’s been slapped together. You can’t really appreciate what was done because of the weeds.”
When the process began in 2018, the Town did a good job of listening to the residents’ comments in terms of the playground equipment, which was chosen to accommodate a wide range of ages, as requested, but she too is disappointed that there is no shade, which she believes was mentioned from the beginning as important.
She recalls the decision against the basketball court, but believes it would help to get children off the street and congregating at the park.
Frith, who started a Cannery Park Facebook page for residents of the subdivision, says the other concern mentioned was the smell of the storm water pond, which the Region has now cleaned up.
When the park was just a field, her three boys and others in the neighbourhood used the area to fly kites, play kickball, tag, soccer, and other games. “It was how the kids got to know each other,” she says.
While she appreciates the hot, dry summer has made it difficult to grow grass, she and her boys look forward to being able to use the green space again.
When Gandhi contacted the Town last week about the condition of the park, she received a response that town staff were also concerned, and were working with the contractor to have the weeds cut before the end of the week, or town staff would do it. The contractor had said their attempt to establish grass, which was seeded in June with a layer of topsoil, was unsuccessful due to the recent heat wave.
Acting director of operations Kevin Turcotte says the weeds were cut Friday, and the park is looking better.
But there are still dirt patches, and the open space continues to be sectioned off, to prevent people from walking on the turf in its present condition.
“We need a little bit more time,” he says, asking residents to “be patient.”
When the public was engaged through open houses, and the playground designs presented, there was no shade indicated, although there are some small trees planted “in close proximity to the playground.” There was never any plans for shade other than the trees, Turcotte said.
There are definitely shade options, such as a sail structure, “but unfortunately that is not in the budget,” he says.
If the community feels they want or need shade, they could raise funds, and he’ll work with them on a design they could take to council, “maybe as a shared cost.”
The developer provided the site for the park, as part of development charges, but the town budget has to cover the cost of construction, although that money comes from the development charge reserve, not directly from taxpayers, Turcotte explained.
Benches have been held up due to COVID, and will arrive and be installed shortly, under the pergola and others “placed strategically throughout the green space.”
There is also an armour stone wall for natural seating, he says.
“A lot of people are excited” about the park, he adds. “We’ve gotten good feedback.”
Although a basketball court was discussed early on in the process of designing the park, Turcotte says the majority of residents felt it was unnecessary. He says he feels the well-attended open houses, comments on the town’s website and the engagement of the public were signs that the process of involving the residents worked well for the community.
He’s looking forward to an official park opening, hopefully in September.
Town staff continue to work on a path that will connect the subdivision to the St. Davids Lions park on York Road, says Turcotte.
There was a delay initially while waiting for the developer and owner of the property to turn it over to the Town, he says, but that transfer has been completed and staff are working on a design.
Staff have to do some clearing and surveying before working out further details.
“It’s definitely in the works,” he says.