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Brantford Council debates timeline of Earl Haig celebration

City of BrantfordBrantford Council debates timeline of Earl Haig celebration

The history of Earl Haig Family Fun Park was a hotly-debated topic of discussion during a City of Brantford Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, June 6, 2023.

Councillors discussed the possibility of creating a 2023 Earl Haig Summer Celebration for the cost of $15,000 after Coun. Mandy Samwell asked councillors to back her motion for a community event that would celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the opening of the Civic Swimming Pool (the site now known as Earl Haig Family Fun Park) in July of 1923.

City fathers came up with the idea for the original pool in 1922 because of the alarming number of drownings each year in the Grand River and the local canal. After the opening of the Civic Swimming Pool (Swimming Pool Park) in 1923, the Canadian Legion was granted permission to run “concessions and amusements,” and in 1929, the facility was renamed Earl Haig Pool.

The pool was closed in 1930 due to a spinal meningitis outbreak and remained closed until 1942 due to difficult financial times in the City. The pool was overhauled in 1956 and in 1982 (or 1989) the site was rebuilt and renamed Waterfront Park by private investors. In 1995 the private investors turned the site over to the City and it was renamed Earl Haig Family Fun Park and has been running under this name ever since.

Samwell’s motion included directing City staff (if approved) to coordinate a community event with entertainment and attractions and to waive entry fees for one day at the family fun park. It would also see City staff develop a community engagement campaign to help share memories and photos that highlight the facility and its history.

Staff debated the timeline of the park’s history and whether or not the celebration should take place this year to honour the opening of the original Civic Swimming Pool, or in 2029 to honour 100 years of the Earl Haig Pool.

“It’s been challenging to reconcile this as I was reading through it over the weekend,” said Coun. Rose Sicoli. “The Civic Swimming Pool was opened in 1923, but that no longer exists and the Earl Haig name wasn’t established until 1929. One may suggest it might be more appropriate to celebrate this in 2029. I think we’re kind of grasping at straws to celebrate this year.”

Coun. Linda Hunt disagreed and thought it was more than reasonable to have the celebration take place this summer.

“I would certainly support this,” she said. “We have spent more than $15,000 to celebrate ten year and 25-year anniversaries, so $15,000 to celebrate the fact that the City of Brantford has had a pool – call it whatever name you want – at that location for 100 years, certainly seems like a very reasonable sum of money. It also celebrates the fact that this is a venue that is enjoyed by a great number of our residents and visitors throughout the summer.”

Coun. Brian Van Tilborg also backed his wardmate and Hunt noting that the site and its history being named after Earl Sir Douglas Haig, field marshal and British commander-in-chief during the First World War, is the heart of Eagle Place.

“This is supposed to be a very fun event for the 100th year of Earl Haig. …,When I hear about what the area of Earl Haig was called prior and what it was, I think about it as a member of the 56 Field Regiment and as a member with long histories of military service,” he said. “The fact that this name was taken on at a time when that was the community, and that was the way they respected the service of our of the people of the community and what they would take on and how they would generate revenues, I mean – that is the heart and soul of Eagle place, it’s the heart and soul of our community. People that know, that follow, and that live in this area, they also know the reasons why we created the waterpark in that area, and that was to keep children from going into the river and drowning. I think it’s a good thing and I think we can all recognize that it has been 100 years within the possession of the City structure. The community has never seen it change, it’s always been there.”

Coun. Greg Martin agreed with Sicoli that the celebration seemed premature based on the off-and-on history of the site.

“It was stated that there’s been a pool there for 100 years, but that’s not correct,” he said. “There was a time between when the original pool was removed and the waterpark was built. I’m not sure how many years, but there were a number of years where there wasn’t a water feature at Earl Haig so it hasn’t been 100 years of a water feature – either pool or the waterpark that’s there now. Coun. Sicoli clearly raised a valid point that it hasn’t been called Earl Haig for 100 years, so I’m not sure that it’s appropriate to celebrate 100 years of something that’s been there and then gone, and then something else put in its place – It’s hardly the same thing. …, I think we’re a little premature with this.”

Coun. Sicoli suggested an amendment to the motion to move the celebration date from 2023 to 2029, however Coun. Richard Carpenter stated that he was worried the property may not be there by 2029 due to rapid growth.

“If you support a resolution to move it off to 2029, my fear is that it won’t be there,” he said. “We’ve already heard lots of debate about why we can’t have something there like the greenhouse. This is something positive for the community, and we talked about history tonight with the museum and people sharing their history, their experiences…why would we not support something that’s positive? Why would we defer anything that gives us the ability to celebrate our past and what the community has done here? Because it was empty for a couple of years?”

Heated debates continued over the timeline and name before councillors voted 7-4 on Sicolis’ amendment to push the celebration to 2029.

Coun. Van Tilborg left Council Chambers before council could vote on the original motion and the final vote was 7-3 with Councillors Hunt, Samwell and Carpenter voting against.

While Brantford residents on Facebook have been quick to rally together to find confirmation of the park’s timeline, final approval of the celebration will happen at an upcoming City Council meeting.

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