The Oxtongue Lake Community Centre Lives On!
The Oxtongue Lake Community Centre Committee has met several times over the last couple months and came up with a Terms of Reference that was presented to council Thursday, September 24. Council accepted the terms and passed a bylaw adopting them.
THANK YOU to the members of the Committee and to all who put their energy into keeping the Community Centre in our community.
The posse from Oxtongue arrives to make its case to Council on Nov. 20, 2008:
DO NOT TAKE OUR COMMUNITY CENTRE AWAY!
— H E A D L I N E S —
Oxtongue residents defend their community centre
They want Algonquin Highlands council to keep it open
Posted By Chad Ingram at www.MindenTimes.ca
Algonquin Highlands council is considering shutting down the community centre at Oxtongue Lake and last week about 30 residents of the small community, located at the northern extremity of the township, made their way to council chambers to ask councillors to keep the facility open.
At their meeting on November 20, councillors received a report from the township’s chief administrative officer detailing the hours of usage and yearly operating costs of the community centre, along with Halls Lake’s Club 35. The report shows these facilities are used far less frequently than community centres in Dorset and Stanhope and Reeve Eleanor Harrison has said that selling the two buildings is one option that council will be discussing in upcoming weeks.
Four residents of Oxtongue Lake made presentations to councillors at last week’s meeting.
“I can’t understand this idea of closing the community centres at Club 35 and Oxtongue,” Fran Gower told councillors, going on to espouse her theories about the possible sale.
“I have a great feeling you wish to sell the community centre to raise funds for the airstrip.”
Algonquin Highlands is still waiting on a response from the federal Building Canada Fund regarding funding that council has requested for a crosswind runway the Stanhope Airport.
Gower said that while the community centre may not be used as much as others in the township, it is still an important meeting place for the population of Oxtongue Lake, a community which she called “small and distant.”
About 300 people live in the community, located approximately 80 kilometres north of Minden, off of Hwy. 60.
Gower told councillors that the building was used for meetings of the Oxtongue Lake Ratepayers’ Association and Algonquin Snowmobile Club, fire department training sessions, showers, sports events and exercise programs.
“Please do not take it from us,” she said.
Gary Schultz, president of the Oxtongue Lake Ratepayers’ association, also spoke to councillors and said his board unanimously supported continued operations at the community centre.`
“What I want to do is focus on the context of the community centre,” Schultz said, adding that the stone-clad, one-room schoolhouse is Oxtongue Lake’s only public building.
“We don’t have municipally-owned and run tennis courts,” he said. “Oxtongue Lake doesn’t have any municipally-owned tourist attractions. We don’t have much.”
Schultz told councillors his organization was more than willing to work with them to come up with a plan that would see the building used more.
A report by CAO Lorne Mitchell says the community centre was used on 10 days in 2006 and seven in 2007.
In comparison, the Dorset Recreation Centre is used almost every day of the year.
Oxtongue Lake resident John Salvagna suggested idea of putting a shed to house a bottle drive at the Oxtongue Lake landfill.
“If council members would let us put up a bottle drive, it could subsidize our community centre,” Salvagna said.
The report shows the community centre costs between $7,000 and $10,000 a year to operate.
Salvagna said he was willing to provide the materials for the shed and build it himself.
Scott Hayden, vice-president of Oxtongue Lake Ratepayers’ Association and president of the Algonquin Snowmobile Club, began his presentation to council by submitting a petition of 100 signatures.
“We are able to do this in one day at our community centre,” he said.
Hayden proceeded to say that the community centre had been ceded to the township by the school board in 1966.
“There was no capital cost to the community,” he said. “It was a gift.”
Hayden said that the residents of Oxtongue Lake are “deeply insulted” that the key for the community centre is no longer kept in the community, but rather at a municipal building in Dorset.
This, Harrison said, is because of liability issues with too many keys floating around and because samples from the building’s water supply must be submitted for provincial tests before events can take place at the facility.
Like Schultz, Hayden said the members of the community were willing to work with council to see the building used more.
“We are prepared to help with the hall,” he said. “We always have been.”
Hayden also said that Oxtongue Lake, with its many resorts, constitutes about 10 per cent of Algonquin Highlands’ tax base.
Harrison told the crowd that no decision was going to be made about the fate of the community centre at the meeting and that, “it isn’t really a money issue,” but rather one of usage.
“Is there a better way of doing business?” she asked.
Harrison said council has tried in the past to work with the people of Oxtongue Lake to increase the use of the community centre.
“We have tried to work with the committee up there,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t try again.”
Harrison also said that council may be able to come to some kind of arrangement with the ratepayers’ association to see the key returned to the community.
Councillor Don Shortreed said he wanted to see the facility remain open.
“There should be a return on the investment of the taxpayers of Oxtongue Lake,” Shortreed said. “I feel we owe the people of Oxtongue Lake that community hall.”
Councillor Diane Griffin told the crowd that, “It is difficult, it really is difficult to rationalize all of this infrastructure we have.”
“There’s so many things that can happen at Oxtongue,” Griffin said. “I would hate to see the hall gone. I really would.”
However, Griffin added that, “it can no longer be neglected.”
Deputy-reeve Tom Gardner and Councillor Carol Moffatt were absent from last week’s meeting and Club 35 was not discussed.
Harrison that discussion and any decision regarding the fate of the two buildings would wait for a day when all council members were present.
According to Mitchell’s report, Club 35 was used on 152 days in 2006 and 163 in 2007. Their operating costs are slightly higher than those for the Oxtongue Lake community centre.
Oxtongue Lake Community Centre Hangs in the Balance
by Liz Danielsen
“How in your wildest dreams can you plan on spending $5 million dollars at the airport and concern yourself with a few thousand dollars in operating costs for our community centre?”
– Fran Gower
“This has been a comedy of errors.”
– Reeve Eleanor Harrison
On November 20th, the Algonquin Highlands Council Chambers was once again filled to overflowing with ratepayers wanting to address a controversial subject. More than 40 people, some of them spilling out into the hallway, came to listen to four deputations about the future of the Oxtongue Lake Community Hall. They brought with them a petition with more than 100 signatures beseeching Council to let them keep their community centre. Throughout the meeting it became apparent that the residents of Oxtongue Lake are feeling isolated from the rest of the community, left out and even offended by a Council that is considering the closure of the only meeting place they have.
The Oxtongue Lake Community Hall, an old stone covered building was initially built during the heyday of Hubbel’s Mill as the McClintock Schoolhouse. When the mill closed and many of the workers left the area, the schoolhouse was turned over to the community as a centre for use by the residents. The building, while initially managed by a Board of Trustees, was finally turned over to the Townships of Sherborne, McClintock and Livingstone because of liability issues.
Like many other Councils since amalgamation, the Algonquin Highlands Council has been looking into the viability of all their municipally owned buildings. In considering community halls, they asked staff for a detailed report on the Club 35 Community Centre in Stanhope and the Oxtongue Lake Community Centre in McClintock.
Fran Gower first addressed the possible closure of the Oxtongue Centre and prefaced her comments with an apology for any negative or sarcastic remarks. Gower has been an extremely active member of the community on many levels for the past 52 years including being a municipal councillor and President of the Ratepayers Association.
Gower questioned Council’s motives for closing what she called the ‘heart’ of their small community. She suggested that they wished to sell it to raise funds to build the controversial airstrip in Stanhope. Gower asked why there had been no public meeting held about Council’s intentions and why no consideration had been given to closing other community centres given the high cost to maintain them.
Gower said she was deeply offended by comments made by Reeve Eleanor Harrison that no one would hold a wedding reception in the hall, suggesting that it had little value. Gower said it had been good enough for renowned artist Robert Bateman to attend a reception there and everyone had had a wonderful time. Harrison later apologized for this comment, saying that the building was quaint and historic, but possibly not big enough for a large reception.
Gower spoke of the importance of the building as a gathering place in a small remote community and the only place to meet in emergency situations, to vote, for group meetings, fire department training sessions and numerous social events.
Gower said, “How in your wildest dreams can you plan on spending $5 million dollars at the airport and concern yourself with a few thousand dollars in operating costs for our community centre?”
Gower said that it was only through the hard work and generosity of Oxtongue area residents that the school was built and later turned over the community. She asked that the key to the building be returned to the community, rather than being held in Dorset, that the building be made available free of charge for non profit organizations and finally, she implored Council not to take the building away from them.
Gary Schultz, President of the Oxtongue Lake Ratepayers Association, reminded Council of a motion presented at their AGM that strongly voiced the members’ desire to keep the centre and the association’s willingness to work with Council to ensure that it is retained and used to its maximum ability.
Schultz said, “We don’t have much as a community; no recreation facility, no municipal building, no airport, no museum or library, no sidewalks or beautification programs and no public works buildings or yard. What we do have is two buildings; the fire hall and a single room schoolhouse that the community converted into a community centre.”
Schultz said that the nominal cost to maintain the building should be viewed as an investment in the community and the people that pay taxes and to ensure that the building is there when needed. “We really want your support to keep the building as a viable entity in the community,” he said.
John Salvagna spoke about fund raising initiatives to assist with the cost of maintaining the building and said he would be more than willing to find volunteers to assist. Harrison responded that Council would consider all suggestions before moving forward with a decision.
Scott Hayden reviewed the history of the building and the community’s involvement. He talked about the countless hours of volunteer time and donations that have gone into maintaining the community centre, adding that the Oxtongue fire hall had been built from foundation to roof by volunteers. Hayden estimated that the Oxtongue area brings in more than 10% of the tax base in Algonquin Highlands which should warrant the cost of maintaining the community hall, something that is the very essence of small town rural Canada.
Hayden talked about the key for the centre being kept in Dorset, saying that the residents are deeply insulted by this as it suggests that Council hold the opinion they aren’t capable or responsible enough to be in charge of the key. He compared the cost to run the centre to other centres in Algonquin Highlands, saying that it is a pittance in comparison. “Taking the key away from our community contributes greatly to the lack of use of the hall and the inconvenience borders on insurmountable.”
Hayden said that the Ministry of Tourism values the community for what it has to offer, and suggested that the Council should do so as well.
Harrison said, “I don’t know how you got the impression that today would be the day that a For Sale sign would be put on the building.” She said that the community centres were not the only infrastructure being considered, and that Council were looking at docks & landings, bridges and roads and they must consider their overall needs and priorities.
CAO Lorne Mitchell gave a presentation detailing the history, maintenance requirements and usage for both Club 35 and Oxtongue. The Oxtongue Community Centre’s use was minimal and it has immediate maintenance needs totalling $5,000. While the report made no recommendations, the bottom line in both cases was that Council has the unencumbered authority to decide possible future uses for the facilities, including disposal.
Harrison told the delegation that the Stanhope and Dorset Community Halls had not been considered for disposal because they had both been constructed with taxpayers’ dollars. She said, “None of these facilities make money, but we are trying to get a handle on usage and whether there is a better way to make use of the halls.”
Harrison also spoke about communication problems with the previous committee in Oxtongue and the problem achieving a quorum for meetings. She said that even though efforts in the past had been unsuccessful, it did not mean that efforts would not be made from this point forward.
Harrison assured the group that removing the key from the community did not indicate a lack of trust, but a concern that there were too many keys available. She promised to work on this, but cautioned that there would have to be some form of contractual arrangement given concerns about liability.
Harrison said she would like to see a small committee struck to work issues out and bring recommendations back to Council in January for consideration. She also said it would be preferable for the group to be a Committee of Council but added that more round table discussion would be needed to reach a solution.
Schultz said, “We’re at a crossroads. There is a lot of good will here, but we need you to remove the threat of losing the centre. As a community we are prepared to work together and meet any demands you have, but the first step is to take the dark cloud away.” Schultz asked if a motion to that effect could go forward to the full Council at their next meeting as a gesture to the group, and Harrison responded, “I don’t see why not.”
A concern was raised from the audience that previous correspondence sent to Council had gone unanswered. The fact that even the fire department members could not access the community hall for training seemed to come as a surprise to Council.
Harrison said, “This has been a comedy of errors. I guess we didn’t try hard enough. For today it is not on the chopping block.” She continued to say that disposal was an option which was Council’s reason for requesting the staff report.
In the aftermath of the meeting, both Gower and Schultz were very hopeful. Schultz said, “We’re very positive as a community after our meeting with Council. It’s likely due to the fact that 40 of us attended the meeting which ensured a positive atmosphere. I think Council would be out of step to go against the community and I think we’ll be able to keep the community hall for at least the term of this Council.”
During a recent interview, Reeve Hazel McCallion, who was celebrating her 30th anniversary as the Mayor of Mississauga, had some very appropriate comments about her priorities for her ratepayers. When asked why she had been so successful, McCallion said that she had first focused on basics like clean streets, adequate police protection and making sure that each community was served by a community centre and a fire hall.
According to McCallion, it wasn’t until that was accomplished that her Council moved on to the bigger projects and even then, they tried to find ways to achieve those projects without cost to the ratepayers. She stands as an example to all municipal Councils.
Back in Algonquin Highlands, we’ll look forward to Council’s decision on the community hall early in the New Year.
Report on the Algonquin Highlands Council Meeting
Thursday, November 20, 2008
by Joan Hayden
It was 9:00 o’clock on a bright, chilly November morning — the parking lot of the Community Centre was filled with cars. Dominating all was a big yellow school bus. At the wheel was Tracy Parrott, who fortunately was on very good terms with her employers, convincing them that it was essential that a very large group present themselves to Council in support of maintaining the building we have known originally as the Community School House and since the 1960’s as our Community Centre.
Not only was the bus almost full, but many others had driven themselves – some even coming up from Toronto to show support. It was a surprised Council who hurriedly sent for more chairs to accommodate the large contingent.
Unfortunately, two Council members were unable to attend the meeting, leaving only the Reeve, our representative Diane Griffin, and Counselor Don Shortreed, to listen to our presentations.
Gary Schultz made a telling reference to the lack of amenities awarded our area in comparison to some of the other areas – we do not have tennis courts, we do not have museums, we do not have a municipal office etc. The one thing we have, our Community Centre, should be untouchable, inviolate.
Fran Gower was critical of Council for even thinking of spending millions on a new airstrip, and being unwilling to fund our Community Centre. Fran has spent many hours researching the history of Oxtongue Lake and the Community Centre. She is very passionate about our right to enjoy this Gathering Place, the place we vote, the place our ratepayers’ meetings are held, the place our Business Association’s meetings take place, our Canada Day Celebrations, etc. She berated Council, (as did all the speakers, in very strong language) for the policy of keeping the key to the Hall in Dorset, making it very inconvenient for renting. The Fire Department does not have a key!!!! Should a fire occur inside the building, the fireproof doors to the Hall would be impenetrable!!
Scott Hayden advised that our Hall had been gifted to the Community from the School Board – no capital costs were involved, as was the case in Stanhope and Dorset. He indicated that the Oxtongue Area produces more than 10% of the tax base for the Algonquin Highlands. Surely an annual expenditure of $8,000.00 to $10,000.00 on maintaining our Hall is our entitlement in light of our tax input.
John Salvagna, a resident, suggested that a goodly sum of money to maintain the Hall could be raised if Council would allow a shed to be built at the dump, where cottagers could place their returnable bottles to redeem the deposit.
Our submissions were followed by a Power Point presentationbyCAO Lorne Mitchell.
He was very careful to point out the number of days the other Halls were used compared to the Oxtongue Hall. Dorset and Stanhope, with their great usage, create deficits and drains on the Highlands budget of around $150,000.00 per year. Ironic that Oxtongue, with its minimal usage, creates a drain of only $8,000.00!!!
The Reeve questioned the two Members present as to their feelings with regard to our Hall. Don Shortreed had no trouble endorsing our efforts. He felt we were entitled to have a Hall. Bless him!! Our own member Diane Griffin was not as supportive. The lack of usage of the hall was a major hurdle for her.
Whatever the outcome of our efforts, the group who journeyed over to Stanhope returned with a feeling of accomplishment and togetherness. We were surely encouraged to keep up our efforts on behalf of our Community Centre. Our substantial tax base, and the hours and hours of volunteer work provided by members of our community should be reason enough for Council to ensure the ongoing viability of the building that has come to be the heart of our community.