Deadline looms over battlefield preservation 4
NIAGARA FALLS - A Niagara Falls group says it’s prepared to enter into a lease or contribution agreement with the city for the former Battlefield Public School property.
The Friends of the Lundy’s Lane Battlefield wants to turn the four-acre Barker St. site into a park commemorating the 1814 Battle of Lundy’s Lane.
In April, council put a proposal to turn the school into a 30-unit seniors apartment on hold after receiving a petition opposing the idea. It gave the group six months to raise $450,000 to buy the school.
The organization has raised $25,000 since then. Project lead Janice Wing said major public and private donors will come on board if they know the city is willing to work with the group. She said when council asked the group to start fundraising, most budgets and corporate-donor commitments had already been made for the year.
“We’re not going to get the big bucks in until we get the project underway,” said Wing, a city councillor.
“Right now, it’s quite a leap of faith without title to the site. At the moment we have no right to demolish the building, no right to develop the site.”
Although a specific deadline wasn’t set, council wanted the group to prove it was on its way to getting the money by October.
City clerk Dean Iorfida said a meeting is scheduled for Wednesday to discuss the next steps. He said it’s premature to say if a report will go before council at its next meeting Oct. 23.
The city bought the property from the District School Board of Niagara, which closed the elementary school in 2011, for $900,000.
Wing, past president of the group, said she’s finalizing a business plan required before the federal government considers its applications. She said the group has filed two applications, and will send one more to help fund parts of the project.
The organization is considering applying for provincial funding to help pay for consultant fees and demolition estimates.
“I believe we definitely have the ball rolling,” said Wing. “We’ve accomplished in a few months what others have taken a few years to do.”
She said if the city gives the organization the green light, the property could be transformed into a $1-million project honouring a significant battle site, provide an attraction for tourists and an educational experience for students.
Ont. mayor fights to save blood-soaked battlefield from development
The mayor of Niagara Falls, Ont., has appealed to the Canadian and Ontario governments to help the city secure “for historical and cultural purposes” a parcel of land headed for sale in North America’s honeymoon capital — and where one of the bloodiest battles ever to erupt on Canadian soil was fought during the War of 1812.
“We’re definitely going to pursue all avenues,” Jim Diodati said of the historic property, set to be sold by a local school board on the eve of Canada’s planned commemoration of the war’s bicentennial.
“This is part of our national heritage,” the mayor told Postmedia News. “It’s why we don’t sing the Star-Spangled Banner, why Canada is Canada.”
The site now occupied by the Battlefield Public School — closed in June by the District School Board of Niagara due to declining enrolment — is known to have been at the centre of the action in the July 25, 1814 Battle of Lundy’s Lane, a pivotal clash in which allied British, Canadian and First Nations troops withstood the last serious attempt at the invasion of Canada by American forces.
Held to a bloody stalemate along Lundy’s Lane — located within sight of Niagara’s world-famous waterfall — the invading U.S. regiments had withdrawn by year’s end across the Niagara River, ending the threat of Canada’s conquest.
Heritage advocates have expressed concern that the board’s planned disposal of the school property could lead to a commercial development on one of Canada’s most blood-soaked battlefields.
More than 1,700 soldiers, about 850 from each side of the fight, were killed, wounded, captured or lost during the Battle of Lundy’s Lane.
Eighty-four men died defending Canada in what military historian Donald Graves has called “the last and best chance for victory for the United States” in the War of 1812.
Some 175 Americans died in the battle, which is also known as “the Gettysburg of Canada.”
Diodati said the Niagara Falls municipal government made clear to the school board by its Dec. 13 deadline for offers that the city is interested in acquiring the battlefield property.
While no price tag has been attached to the land yet, Diodati said city officials have met with local Liberal member of the provincial legislature Kim Craitor and the area Conservative MP — federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson — to try to line up funding to help buy the storied battlefield.
“It starts with the cost, and we don’t even know what the price is,” said Diodati. “We’re going to see if (the school board) will donate it, and if they won’t then we’ll look to see if we can get the federal government to participate.”
Earlier talks between city staff and officials in Ottawa suggested the federal government was unlikely to contribute to a land deal after announcing a $28-million fund in October to commemorate the War of 1812 bicentennial over the next three years.
“As a valuable heritage site, it is believed that every effort should be made to protect the Battlefield School property,” said a city report presented last month to Niagara Falls council. “Staff has been in contact with the federal government looking for financial assistance. . . . There appears to be no federal funds available to acquire the land.”
But in what appears to be a very fortuitous coincidence for Niagara Falls, a notable member of the Conservative government — Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself — recently waxed eloquent about the historic significance of the Lundy’s Lane battlefield.
In a May 2010 speech announcing $3.2 million in federal funding towards the expansion of a War of 1812-themed museum in Niagara Falls, Harper framed the 1814 battle as a true turning point in Canadian history.
“In moments such as this, the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, Canada’s destiny and identity as a country, separate from the United States, were decided,” he said at the time.
“It is well that as the 200th anniversary of this old conflict approaches, we should get ready to retell the stories of our brave ancestors . . . Because what they did then, ladies and gentlemen, made a difference to who we are today, what side of the border we live on, what flag we salute.”
The Battlefield Public School playground is located next to Drummond Hill Cemetery, the burial place of War of 1812 heroine Laura Secord and site of a monument dedicated to those who died in the Battle of Lundy’s Lane.