The great divide around Shakespeare

Sep 29, 2009

By Dale Goldhawk

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I talked with Ian Taylor, a director of the Perth County Historial Foundation on September 29. Here’s what he has to say about the bad decision of the Ontario Ministry of Transportation to widen the highway through the little village of Shakespeare, Ontario, thus destroying much of this historic community.

I spoke with Jeff Workman of the citizens group trying to save Shakespeare, on September 30. Here’s Jeff’s announcement of a rally on October 17, against the Ministry of Transportation’s direction followed by another excerpt in which we talk about another route for that troublesome highway.

Rally

Workmanmore

Go to this URL for some great photos of Shakespeare, Ontario. See what we’re trying to save from the pavement-not-people fixated people at Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation.

http://s3.amazonaws.comlocalism.com/blog/on/oakville/posts/1124365/Sunday-Drive-Shakespeare-Ontario

I have seen it happen many times in my long career but it never fails to amaze me when politicians come to conclusions that are light years away from those reached by their own constituents. This seems to be the case in Perth County, Ontario, and, more specifically, Perth East Township, that contain the little village of Shakespeare.

JimBradleyI have joined with residents of Shakespeare to try to detour the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Minister Jim Bradley (photo) from their current path toward widening Highway 7 and 8 and destroying most of Shakespeare’s main street and most historical buildings. But Shakespeare’s 750 residents and businesses aren’t the only ones who dislike and fear the ministry’s plans for this highway. It seems the only ones in favor of the plans, outside Stratford, are the ministry and, perhaps, area politicians, many of whom seem to me to be completely at odds with the citizens who live in affected areas.

The controversial part of the highway runs between New Hamburg on the outskirts of Kitchener-Waterloo and Stratford. Shakespeare is between the two communities. The New Hamburg Board of Trade and many residents of that community oppose ministry plans which called for a by-pass of Highway 7/8 around New Hamburg and recently changed to installation of a median strip for the highway through New Hamburg. The board collected names on a petition which was given to Kitchener-Conestogo Liberal MPP Leanna Pendergast to give to Minister Jim Bradley in mid-August.

Board chair Paul Knowles, on August 19, 2009, supported the people of Shakespeare in their similar stand against the Ministry of Transportation. He said, “I have a great deal of sympathy for them –they are locked in the same kind of battle we are, here in New Hamburg.” Knowles added, “The problem — in Shakespeare, as in New Hamburg — is that the MTO thinkers think only of moving traffic, and as quickly as possible. They have admitted that the economic health of the communities involved is not priority one.”

New Hamburg is in Wilmot Township within Waterloo County and, to its credit, the township agrees with Knowles and says there are better ways to make the highway safer without destroying people’s homes and businesses in the process.

Knowles proposes, simply and logically, that traffic slow down through Shakespeare as drivers do in areas of the U.K. and other countries that preserve historical communities.

Perth County farmers don’t like the plans of the ministry to make the highway a faster way to get from K-W to Stratford. Paula Neice, an executive member of the agri-business coalition, says the volume of traffic and projected future development do not justify drastic changes to the highway at the risk of some of the best farmland in the province along with some very prosperous agricultural operations.

Perth East farmers don’t like the plans either. The Agricultural Business Communities (ABC) of Perth East, Perth South and Wilmot West says MTO is basing its studies and plans on incorrect property information “with flagrant biases against the agricultural sector.”

Individual residents have written to various groups opposing the ministry plans and say they will destroy historic buildings like Fryfogel’s Inn and an historic farm.

All this rolls off the backs of elected officials in the area. Perhaps, this has something to do with all the bucks dropped into the area by the Ontario government.

Since 2003, the Ontario government has provided several millions of dollars through the Gas Tax and the Ontario Transit Vehicle Programs, to support Stratford transit, in Connecting Link funding and the Move Ontario funding for road and bridge projects.

No wonder then that Stratford is on board with the ministry plans. The Stratford and District Chamber of Commerce applauded the co-operation it saw in and around Stratford when the latest highway plans were announced several years ago. Maybe there was and is co-operation in Stratford but certainly not in the areas around it.

When she was Stratford Festival Senior Director of Marketing and Audience Development, Anita Gaffney, (now Administrative Director) has said, “The Stratford Festival draws some 160,000 visitors along Highway 7/8 each year including hundreds of school buses. Enhanced highway access to Stratford will improve the quality and safety of the
travel experience for our patrons, suppliers and employees,” You don’t think this is why Shakespeare has to die – so that the audiences of the Shakespeare festival can carry on through to Stratford quicker than Falstaff can quaff a jug of ale?

Some Perth County officials, including the then Warden, warmly greeted the Ministry’s plans for Highway 7/8 ‘improvements’ when they were first introduced for study in 2006, on the grounds the changes would increase the opportunity for more business prospects, give farmers access to better roads to ship their products to the marketplace and handle increasingly large volumes of traffic.

Have these politicians talked, in the past couple of years, with the people of Shakespeare and the Perth County farmers who oppose the highway plans? They refuse to talk with Goldhawk… so far.

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