Update: Lord Mayor Betty Disero announced Tuesday, after The Local had gone to press, that town bylaw officers will be at King and Byron this weekend, ticketing any municipal bylaw infractions.
Tears well up in the corners of Fred Sentineal’s eyes when he considers the outpouring of support his business, Sentineal Carriages, has received online, via telephone and on the street in recent weeks. It happens during a discussion on Saturday, the first day at the new weekend location for his horses and carriages on Byron Street, at the corner of King, just in front of the St. Mark’s Church Rectory.
Sentineal says he was not presented with any options other than the move, which Lord Mayor Betty Disero says is only for the weekends. “We had a call Wednesday,” explains Sentineal. “We were told council had made the decision to move the carriage stands, and it was confirmed yesterday (Friday) morning that we were starting here today.”
The move is in response to the chaos of the previous Sunday. That’s when animal rights protesters marched from Simcoe Park to meet with about 100 carriage supporters, stopping traffic at the corner of King and Queen Streets and disrupting local businesses for hours. It was the biggest clash between the two sides in a stand-off that has been ongoing for over three years.
“What I saw on the 23rd was such an escalation of anger between the protesters and the counter-protesters,” says Disero. “Council spent two evenings (Monday and Tuesday) discussing this with legal counsel and came up with a plan to deescalate what was going on, to try to assist the store owners with what’s been happening, and to try and deal with any and all legalities or harshness that was coming from anywhere.”
Disero confirms that council supported the direction to move the carriages just on Saturdays and Sundays, until the situation between the two sides deescalates. The discussion was held in-camera, with legal counsel present, and she assures that at no time did she or any member of council consult with the protesters on the decision. Disero adds that there are further steps to the plan as it moves forward, though details are not being made public at this time.
“There is a plan in place,” she informs The Local. “I talked to Laura and Fred Sentineal yesterday, and the other Sentineal company (owned by Fred’s brother Jeff, Queens Royal Carriages also operates out of the same location). They’re all in agreement with the plan. We’re trying to work with them (Laura and Fred) to at least understand why the move was made.”
Disero says neither company pays a fee to the Town to operate on their usual corner, nor will they be required to do so for the new weekend location. Licences to operate their businesses are granted by the Region of Niagara, not the Town.
“All of my colleagues at the Region are getting letters from different people, to pull the licence,” says the lord mayor. “I just wanted to get the whole thing out of the limelight.”
owned by the Sentineal family have been a mainstay on the corner of King and Queen Streets for more than 30 years. Fred says their presence has always been welcomed by the Prince of Wales Hotel, dating back to when current town councillor John Wiens was the owner.
Councillors Gary Burroughs and Wendy Cheropita dropped by to provide their moral support, while Coun. Erwin Wiens and his wife Dorothy actually booked a carriage ride for the afternoon.
The uncertainty of how the move will affect business, though, is causing Sentineal much anxiety.
“The corner (near the Prince of Wales) gives us visibility,” he stresses. “Putting us on a side street takes away from that. I don’t know what that will bring, but in the winter months there will be no business here to be had, if it becomes a permanent thing. I guess that’s what we’re afraid of.”
To Sentineal, it feels like the protesters, At War for Animals Niagara (AWFAN) have scored a victory. “There’s no doubt they’ve made gains,” he says, “especially in the media. Last weekend was really the first time there was a counter protest in three years. I was down there, I’m personally not proud of yelling and stuff, and I plan never to do that again.
“But the next morning, I woke up with a sense of relief of the frustration over the things they’ve done to us over the past three years. And here we are, still being villainized for trying to exercise the same rights that these guys have taken advantage of.”
Sentineal says he will look into working with the Prince of Wales and the Town to place signs at his usual location to direct people over to Byron Street on weekends. Disero confirms that there is nothing stopping the carriage companies from doing that. She also points out that the new Shaw Guild ambassadors, who began walking the streets Saturday to welcome tourists, will be able to direct people to the new carriage stands.
A small group of about 10 AWFAN protesters were back in town Sunday, and easily found the horses at their new location. It was a much quieter affair than the one a week earlier, and out of sight from the bulk of the tourists roaming Queen Street.
The carriages were back in their more visible location Monday, but the weekend relocation continues to leave Sentineal frustrated with both the Town and the Niagara Regional Police.
“We were down about 40 per cent in sales, and people couldn’t find us,” says Laura Sentineal Monday, evaluating the weekend. “It caused a lot of problems with our reservations, and once the sun set, our staff did not want to be down there. It’s very dark, very secluded, there’s very little foot traffic, and nothing around. I think I understand the ‘why,’ but I’m just sort of waiting to see how it all comes around.”
“It’s unfortunate that the protesters can set up a situation and extort the Town to meet their demands, and that’s what’s happened here,” Fred laments. “Niagara Regional Police have set a stage that you can come protest in Niagara-on-the-Lake whenever you want, and you will not be charged. And that’s where we are today.”