The Port Stanley Heritage Group is to be thanked for the presentation they made
to council on April 24. Efforts to improve our community should never go unrecognized.
The proposal to erect 12 signs, all of uniform size, to commemorate the rich legacy
of our village will, no doubt, receive the enthusiastic support of council once
a few financial details have been settled.
It is questionable, however, that this proposal will meet the stated aims of educating
visitors and newcomers to our village. It is also questionable that this is an adequate
or appropriate manner of celebrating our past.
A series of signs attached to steel poles anchored in concrete is unlikely to inform
and inspire the public about the remarkable past to which we all owe a debt. It
will be difficult, if not impossible, to compress our heritage, cookie-cutter style,
into 12 boards, all of uniform size. The attempt to do so will result in lost opportunities
to use some imagination and the resources that are readily at hand.
For example, the story of the sinking of the coal-car ferry Marquette and Bessemer
No 2 in December, 1909, and the related development of the fuel industry in Port
Stanley, can hardly be shoe-horned into the space of one of the proposed signs.
Presumably one or two photographs would be used on the proposed sign and yet there
are hundreds of such artifacts available. Why not do the job properly? Why not an
interactive digital terminal that would allow the display of the story in a more
comprehensive manner? Or why not a diorama of the lake with model boats and trains
to highlight the events? Many other possibilities could be suggested, creating an
attraction that would be a memorable experience and a spur to tourism. The sinking
of the Marquette and Bessemer No 2 is one of the premier shipwreck stories of the
Great Lakes. Mike Fletcher, who is a leading diver and researcher of underwater
wrecks calls it “the Mount Everest of Great Lakes shipwrecks”. Are we going to settle
for a sign, of uniform size, anchored in concrete to recognize this part of our
Other themes from our past could be given similar treatment, one step at a time.
It might take a decade to complete the task but it would be done properly.
What about cost? When it comes to the value of our heritage and its potential as
a community resource and a source of pride, $5,000 is a paltry sum. Much larger
sums can be raised. With diligence and hard work the fullest exposition of our shared
heritage can be realized over time. Why do anything less?
The battle for the hearts and minds of North American planners was fought along
the fault line between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. Anyone who has any serious
interest in community development will have read Jane Jacobs books. Anyone who doubts
her conclusions has probably not driven on one of Robert Moses’ dreadful freeways
or his even more dreadful faceless, uniform, inhuman housing developments. Jacobs
maintains that uniformity is the hobgoblin of urban planners. It looks good on paper
but it is bought at the price of community cohesion, spontaneity, imagination and
human enjoyment. Variety is the lifeblood of good communities.
With the anticipated development of the harbour lands, our community enjoys an opportunity
that is unique to municipalities of this size. The potential is nothing less than
amazing. To date, council has moved with admirable caution (think of submarines)
but the time of decision is not far off. Is council going to accept the challenge
to treat our past with the respect it deserves or is it going to take the easy road
and settle for heritage on sign posts, all of uniform size?
Is it going to be Jane Jacobs or Robert Moses?
We request that council encourage a more imaginative and comprehensive proposal
than the one presented on April 24 for the sake of generations of Port Stanley people,
past, present and future.
Frank and Nancy Prothero
542 George Street
Port Stanley, Ont.