When Jim Milner met his wife Marie in 1948, she was working at the old White Towers restaurant on the Burlington beach strip
Milner, 81, has lived on the strip for 76 years, the last 44 in the house he now owns. The couple have been married for 60 years and just love it.
“We have no intention of ever selling to the City,” he said. “Our grandchildren want this house.
Last week Halton Regional Council voted to go ahead with a new waterfront park and that will eventually mean the removal of residences. Only four members of council – Jack Dennison and Marianne Meed Ward of Burlington, along with Colin Best and Mike Cluett of Milton – voted to allow residents to remain in their homes when the park is completed. There are currently 27 homes in the area on either side of Lakeshore Road.
The park plan will be phased in over 25 years. The first five phases, which include the already existing Spencer Smith Park, the Living Shoreline, The Strand, The Wind Beach and The Commons, will be built over the next decade.
The final phase, called the Skyway and Federal Pier, will come later. Major attributes of that phase will be various marine interpretive areas and observation points for Great Lakes ships entering the Burlington Canal.
The Living Shoreline will feature a First Nations Interpretation Area and an Aboriginal gas fire circle gathering place overlooking the water. Bicycle repair stations will be part of The Strand, while festivals and cultural events will be permitted in The Commons.
As part of the project, hydro towers also are to be moved at a cost of between $8 million and $12 million.
Total cost of the project is $51.4 million.
Meed Ward said the historic neighborhood has existed along the beach strip for more than 100 years, well before any plans for the park were drawn up.
“We already have a world class legacy park – the sand beach along the water and the walking path,” she said. “There is no reason to remove an historic neighbourhood – the homes don’t impede public access of the beach.
“The residents add value, vibrancy, eyes on the street, and history to the area and have coexisted with the public beach for over 100 years. I hope they can continue to coexist for another 100 years.
“I hope that a future council 10 or 20 years from now will see the wisdom of keeping the historic residential enclave along the beach strip, and stop acquiring and tearing down private homes.”
However Rick Craven, councillor for Ward 1 in which the beach strip is located, takes a long range view and favors moving ahead with the park so that citizens will have a beautiful asset 25 years from now.
The Bay Observer left a message for Dennison, but he had not replied by press time.
Milner said the City has offered to have his home appraised, then make him an offer and pay for both his moving expenses and legal fees.
“But what they offer won’t be anywhere near market value,” he said. “To us, there is no price on it.”
History books record that in 1795 the government of Upper Canada purchased the entire beach strip from the Mississauga Indians for just 100 pounds of goods.
The sand strip on Lake Ontario was formed many centuries ago by the action of the winds and the waves. Marsh plants and bullrushes grew up on the bay margin and eventually trees flourished.
An old map indicated that by 1798 several families were established at the north end of the strip, and by 1813 settlement was progressing with the construction of homes and storehouses.
Milner believes regional council, with members from Halton Hills, Milton and Oakville, as well as Burlington, is too far removed from the situation to make an intelligent decision.
“I don’t think most members of regional council have any idea what costs are,” he said. “Of the 17 who voted not to let us stay, I’d say 15 have never even been down to the beach.”
In his book ‘Memories of the Beach Strip’, historian Gary Evans wrote that it once was the site of the magnificient Brant Hotel, which had accommodation for 300 people, but was seized by the government in 1917 and converted into a hospital for veterans of the First World Ward. The hotel, which rented rooms for $2.50 per day, eventually was demolished in 1937
An amusement park was established on the Hamilton side of the Beach Strip in 1903 and lasted for 75 years. It attracted as many as 40,000 people on weekends.
“In those days every kid on the beach had a summer job at the amusement park,” Milner said.