Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hope squeezes through The Narrows

I gave the following speech Tuesday, April 9, at the Crow's Nest in downtown St. John's during the first AGM of The Narrows Group — formed to protect, preserve and enhance the historic entrance to St. John's harbour. The Narrows Group adopted a constitution and elected an executive, including Ryan Cleary (chair), Mark Hiscock (vice-chair), Joanne Butler (secretary), Ken Sooley (treasurer), and Peter Gill (at large). 
Good evening and welcome to the first annual general meeting of The Narrows Group.  
It’s taken a lot of hard work to get here, a lot of shoulder to the wheel, a lot of patience, a lot of perseverance, but we’re here — finally. 
As the Member of Parliament for the riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, I often tell other MPs — MPs and people across the country — about how my riding is the most beautiful in the country. 
Other MPs say ‘We know, we know’ — all MPs say their riding is the most beautiful. 
But I mean it — mine really is. 
I have the proof to back it up — from Quidi Vidi Gut, the Lower Battery, the Outer Battery, Signal Hill and Cabot Tower, to Fort Amherst, the downtown core and the southside hills, to Cape Spear and Petty Harbour, the Goulds, and Mount Pearl. 
My riding is the most beautiful — and the jewel in the crown of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, the jewel in the crown of Newfoundland and Labrador — is The Narrows, the historic entrance to St. John’s harbour. 
It’s as much a symbol of this place as a codfish or cliff, a skiff or old skipper. 
The Narrows is the only way in; it’s the only way out (by sea anyway). 
The sun rises through The Narrows. 
I look for it most every morning through my upstairs window. 
For more than 500 years so much of the world has been welcomed to Newfoundland and Labrador, welcomed to St. John’s, though The Narrows. 
Chains were first put across The Narrows in 1655 to guard against pirates. 
Submarine nets were used in The Narrows during the Second World War. 
Sir Richard Whitbourne saw a mermaid in The Narrows in 1612.
It’s not known whether he saw the mermaid from a barstool on George Street, but probably. 
Both sides of the Narrows — the Battery side and the Fort Amherst side — are steeped in military history. 
And fishing heritage. 
Someone said to me just today that the Battery is a taste of outport Newfoundland in downtown St. John’s. 
Even to this day Prosser’s Rock on the harbour's south side is the largest fishing port in the province. 
The Battery isn’t what it used to be in terms of stages and wharfs — the elements have done their damage. 
And it’s not like years ago where a fisherman and his family could simply repair or replace a wharf. 
Now you need a permit, you need to hire an engineer, you need to pay a fortune — a fortune that most people don’t have. 
In the summer of 2011 the Outer Battery Neighbourhood Association held a meeting to discuss the damage caused by Hurricane Igor. 
More specifically, to discuss what they could do to replace the infrastructure that was lost without having to spend thousands of dollars on engineers and meeting code. 
Like I said, years ago a fisherman could replace his wharf, and he did. 
But today it’s needs to be up to code — which can cost a fortune. 
During that meeting of the Outer Battery Neighbourhood Association in the summer of 2011 I had an idea — it’s not just the Battery side of The Narrows that needs to be enhanced, protected and preserved. 
The Fort Amherst side of The Narrows needs just as much attention. 
The old concrete bunkers are literally crumbling into the sea. 
The military history of the Fort Amherst side goes back hundreds of years — and there’s little to reflect that besides what’s crumbling into the sea. 
As I mentioned, the Narrows has become a Newfoundland and Labrador symbol. 
Thanks to the Republic of Doyle and tourism promotion, most Canadians see The Narrows as representing all things Newfoundland and Labrador. 
My idea was to have both communities — Fort Amherst and The Battery, with their shared history, culture and heritage — work together under a single umbrella.
Under a single organization — The Narrows Group. 
The Outer Battery Neighbourhood Association was already in existence. 
Residents of Fort Amherst then formed their own neighbourhood association. 
This Group is community led — I can’t stress that enough — it’s community led. 
We had some meetings and invited friends of The Narrows — the St. John’s Port Authority, provincial tourism, City Hall, MHAs, Destination St. John’s, Parks Canada, etc.
Then, in February 2012, we asked the City of St. John’s to undertake a planning area development scheme. 
A planning area development scheme that would recognize The Narrows — both sides — as a special area, a single area when it comes to city planning. 
The city’s response was to say we’ll do that as part of the municipal plan review process.  
So we’re still waiting.
One of the questions that’s outstanding is where does the municipal plan review process stand?
Then last summer I spent $4,200 of my office budget to hire Gerald Penney Associates Ltd. of St. John’s to write The Narrows Project: a review of existing studies
And it’s a great report, a fabulous job. 
The review also included a number of recommendations:
• Define the cultural landscape and or historic district of The Narrows. 
• Document the heritage value of The Narrows. 
• Seek recognition as an historic place under the Provincial Historic Commemorations Program (which we’ve looked into). 
• Develop a Conservation plan or process to set out policy and strategy for conservation of The Narrows.
• Finally, work with residents towards a development plan for The Narrows to be incorporated in management regulations.
We can move forward on all of these recommendations once we have a formalized Narrows group.  
Cutting to the chase, the goal of The Narrows Group, the VISION of The Narrows Group, is to enhance, protect and preserve The Narrows, with the communities of the Battery and Fort Amherst leading the way. 
But there’s another goal — a vision for the entire harbour. 
There have been a couple of issues as of late — with the harbour fence, with the proposed Encanex waste-water treatment facility. 
To Encanex first, I spoke to the proponent — Alton Payne — as late as this morning. 
The company submitted an application last fall. 
Then in December the minister of Environment and Conservation said the company must submit an environmental preview report of the proposed waste-water treatment facility. 
Bottom line: Alton Payne told me that it’s up to Encanex to decide whether they want to proceed.
In other words, the project’s in limbo, the company hasn’t decided whether they want to move forward. 
As for the fence issue, I’ve had a problem with it from the start. 
I don’t like the idea of having to look through bars to see the North Atlantic.
 I also don’t think there was enough consulting. 
There was another option besides the fence — the port authority could have hired security, instead of a fence. 
I’ll stop there. 
To sum up — The Narrows Group is a COMMUNITY-LED GROUP focused on enhancing, protecting and preserving The Narrows. 
We want to see the culture and heritage of The Battery and Fort Amherst PRESERVED for future generations …
We want to see the area PROTECTED from the wrong kind of development — the type of development that residents don’t want. 
We want to see the area ENHANCED so the fishing and military heritage is celebrated — not allowed to crumble into the sea. 
We’ve created The Narrows Group as a foundation on which to build our vision. 
Key word being OUR vision, a community vision.
But we all have to work together to follow this through. 
Thank you. 
Thank you to the residents, to the representatives of various organizations, to St. John’s City Council, to the staff of my office. 
Also thank you to Mark Hiscock for singing my favourite song — the Old to Newfoundland.
Might just be time to come up with an anthem for The Narrows. 

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