Founded in 1975, TIARA is an association of landowners in the Canadian Thousand Islands, both year-round and seasonal, who are concerned about the future of this beautiful area.
Some live or vacation on land owned by their families since before Confederation; some have been here for several years; some have just arrived. All are joined by a wish to take a long-range view of the future of the Thousand Islands and its vulnerable resources, and to encourage activities which permit us all to live in harmony with these resources in a sustainable way.
In November of 1975, Parks Canada announced that with a huge expansion budget, its 1000 Islands park holdings (which then consisted of all or parts of about 15 islands, several tiny islands or shoals and some mainland property) would be expanded to take in 30 square miles of islands and mainland to become the flagship national park, easily accessible from Ottawa. It expressed confidence that acquisition of all this land would be completed in five years. This expansion was in fact already underway: one large island (Leek Island) had already recently been expropriated.
There was a wave of protest from private landowners. The 30 square miles was no wilderness as other National Parks were. There were long-established and thriving communities; there were lovingly tended island and mainland properties, many of which had been in the same family for many generations. There was a strong love of the area and a deep sense of its beauty and history. TIARA, the Thousand Islands Area Residents' Association, was formed and incorporated with Douglas Mackintosh as its founding President. News traveled fast: although it was still wintertime, TIARA soon had a large and active membership of both seasonal and permanent residents.
Parks Canada at that time had a poor record of public participation in other park locations, and in an effort to rectify this image in the 1000 Islands, it set up an Advisory Committee on which various bodies (including TIARA) and levels of government were represented. Local fear and mistrust was still running high, however, and would continue.
By March of 1976, TIARA's membership had passed 1500 and donations of over $18,500 had been received.
TIARA is founded and a Study Group formed
In 1976, Professor Luke Batdorf was invited to come and advise TIARA. He had been a consultant to a citizens' group in Nova Scotia which had been able to stop Parks Canada from expropriating to expand. His theory was if a community wanted to participate intelligently in plans for its future, it must know about itself but must also be able to hold the line.
Following his advice, TIARA's Board of Directors assumed the role of holding the line and the TIARA Study Group was formed, with Dale Bishop as co-ordinator. The Study Group started to collect information about the history, ecology and economy of the 1000 Islands area. By January 1977, Volume 1 of A Report to the People was published, entitled, “An Introduction to our Community Study”.
At the same time, the TIARA Executive was continuing to oppose expropriation by Parks Canada and to rally public opinion and support. A huge public meeting of over 700 was held in July 1977, at which Volume 2 of A Report to the People - People on the Land: “the Economics of our Study Area”, was presented. Volume 3 followed in August, The Land: “Environmental Considerations of our Study Area”. Each volume was being distributed to every resident in the area, not just to TIARA members.
The TIARA Policy Committee meanwhile had been working for a year on a statement of the association's policies, principles and goals. These were adopted by December 1977 and later published. They still form the association's basic goals.
Local Planning Underway
During all this time, the South Leeds Planning Board had been working independently on the creation of the area's first Official Plan. The plan was to cover five townships: Front of Leeds & Lansdowne, Front of Escott, Front of Yonge, Rear of Yonge and Escott and Rear of Leeds & Lansdowne. A draft had been prepared by J.L. Richards of Ottawa, but it failed completely to mention the presence of the Thousand Islands or to deal with the preservation of the area's great natural beauty. TIARA persuaded the Planning Board to declare the area south of Highway 401 a “A Special Policy Area” and to hire another planner, Haigis McNabb deLeuw, to create a separate plan just for it.
By July 1977, Haigis McNabb deLeuw had several alternative concepts ready for consideration. TIARA organized a summer of considerable public input about them, consisting of small group meetings, surveys, analysis of written comments, etc. By October, the last two volumes of A Report to the People were published, Volume 4, The People of the Study Area”: “How Things Change”; and Volume 5, “Our views and Perceptions of the Future”, which summed up the input from the summer participation meetings. All this information was handed to the Planning Board to assist it in its decisions about local planning. Probably between $50,000 and $70,000, all private donations raised by TIARA, was spent on the widely-praised TIARA studies, and tens of thousand of volunteer hours.
All through 1978, the Planning Board continued to work on the Draft Official Plan, which was finally ready for submission to the Minister of Housing by October 1978.
Parks Canada's Committees
In 1978, Parks Canada's St. Lawrence Islands National Park Advisory Committee (SLINPAC) presented its recommendations for the Park's future to the federal Minister responsible. TIARA had made it clear that Thousand Islands residents would not tolerate the treatment that Parks Canada had imposed on other communities. It was a time of watchfulness, suspicion and some compromise for TIARA.
When SLINP, (Now known as the Thousand Islands National Park), work was finally completed, a succeeding committee was formed, the Thousand Islands Heritage Area (TIHA) Advisory Committee, whose mandate was to come up with goals and objectives for the best development and management of the area's resources. In July of 1981, its “TIHA Concept” was published, but its success depended entirely on considerable voluntary commitment from government, commercial and private interests, and has not been followed. TIARA managed to have a reference to it inserted in a subsequent Official Plan, but almost no-one outside of TIARA is aware of its existence. However, the TIHA Concept remains a set of goals that TIARA supports and has often tried to encourage various agencies to follow.
A Shift in the Concentration of Concern
For the first five years, TIARA's main concern was that Parks Canada should not wipe out centuries of human history by expropriating private property and trying to return the area to a wilderness. Now, it became clear that the opposite extreme could be no less of a threat: uncontrolled, inappropriate commercial development. So, in the early 1980's, TIARA's next role as a watchdog emerged, and its interest in good long-term land-use planning became paramount. The association took on the task of keeping its ear to the ground, researching proposals for future development, ensuring that they were within the spirit and guidelines of the Official Plan and the TIHA Concept and that the various agencies concerned were exercising their mandates to control, guide or even forbid proposed development according to the circumstances.
TIARA, having organized so much public involvement in the newly approved Official Plan, wanted very much to ensure that the Plan's aims would be followed. A community, however, is made up of elements with different points of view. Commercial establishments, naturally enough, wanted to expand in order to make money. The townships were faced with decisions whether to allow all development and perhaps increase tax revenue, or to control development to help maintain the Thousand Islands' special ambiance.
Implementation of Planning
The Site Plan Control By-law: Shortly after its Official Plan was approved, the Township of Front of Leeds & Lansdowne passed a Site Plan Control By-Law requiring that a detailed plan of any new commercial development be submitted to Council before the issuing of building permits. This would allow government agencies and neighbours to have a chance to comment and perhaps point out improvements or amendments that might be made.
In some instances, this worked out admirably. But there were occasions when the Township did not enforce its own by-law and inappropriate development took place without public participation.
Plan Amendments: Anyone can make an application to amend the Official Plan, to change the designation or to lift restrictions on a particular piece of land. In several instances, TIARA objected to proposed amendments because they were felt to be inappropriate. Some examples of these follow.
The Go-Kart Track: One case, the Go-Kart Track, dragged on for years, from 1982 to 1986. At a cost of over $10,000, TIARA continued to insist at higher and higher levels that a Go-Kart Track was completely out of keeping with the atmosphere of the area and the wishes of the surrounding residents. The case eventually went before the Ontario Municipal Board, which approved the Tourist Commercial designation being requested, provided the owner could pay his outstanding planning fees. Since he was never able to do this, the track was never built, and eventually the land was sold for a home-based industry to which no-one had any objections.
Point Comfort Marsh: A plan amendment with a long history concerned the Point Comfort Marsh. In the 1979 Official Plan, the marsh was zoned Rural. In 1982, the Seal family, who claimed ownership, applied for a plan amendment to change it to Tourist Commercial. TIARA, maintaining that the marsh was Crown property, wanted to preserve its Rural designation. In 1984, when the Official Plan for the Township of Front of Leeds & Lansdowne was updated, the designation on the new plan suddenly appeared as Tourist Commercial. The planner simply said it had been done “at the request of the owners”. This put the onus on TIARA to object by appealing to the Ontario Municipal Board.
TIARA based its case on fundamental principles of the Official Plan, one of which was that commercial activity should be concentrated in nodes rather than proliferating all along the Thousand Islands Parkway. It argued that a new commercial development in this residential and largely unspoiled bay would constitute a new node, and furthermore, there would be irreparable damage to this Class I marsh from the extensive dredging and filling required to build a marina. In October of 1989, the OMB found in TIARA's favour and the marsh was decreed to be designated Environmental Protection.
TIARA's long battle to save this marsh earned it the Federation of Ontario Naturalists' W.E. Saunders Natural History Award in 1990.
In 1993, Point Comfort was again the site of a controversial proposal for a $5 million 48-unit 3-storey resort complex on the shoreline of the same bay. TIARA objected for the same reason it had opposed the proposed marine for Point Comfort Marsh: this would introduce a new commercial activity. The plan was later withdrawn by the owners.
Howards Marine Shed: TIARA objected to the proposal by Howard's Marine to locate its new storage shed in the residential district of Rockport. TIARA supported the neighbouring family's objections before the OMB, which denied the Tourist Commercial designation of the rural field. Further, TIARA took the trouble to find an alternative location for the shed, near existing development, which was accepted and built upon.
The Megadock on Grenadier Island: This was an example of a dock being installed without regard for by-laws or regulations, without the permission of the relevant ministries or of the Township. The huge dock appeared overnight in a small quiet bay and it soon became apparent that since it was intended for use by several families, it was more in the nature of a private marina. However, the authorities were either unwilling or unable to insist on its removal. After years of objections and a lucky opportunity by a neighbour to buy the land under the bay, to finally cause the massive over-sized dock to disappear.
Federal docks at Rockport and Ivy Lea: When the federal government decided to sell these docks, TIARA encouraged the two township councils involved in purchase them, offering to assist financially with maintenance, on the principle that public access to the river should be encouraged. Front of Escott declined to purchase the Rockport dock and it was sold to the Prohaska family, owners of the nearby hotel. However, the Front of Leeds and Lansdowne decided to purchase the Ivy lea dock.
The Tomlinson Dock: This was another example of an individual going ahead without township permission. The dock in question, four times bigger than the by-law permitted, was built in 1993 in contravention to the township by-laws. Following its installation, the owner applied to the Township of Front of Escott to give him permission retroactively. The Township refused and TIARA supported its decision. The matter went to the Ontario Municipal Board, which permitted the zoning to be changed retroactively to allow the dock, a decision which it insisted should not be taken as a precedent. TIARA was disappointed in this outcome, as it forced the Township to condone illegal construction, and rewarded an action made in defiance of all regulations.
TIARA has tried to be pro-active, urging discussion on matters which were evidently going to become contentious in the future:
Very Small Islands and Shoals: As far back as 1989, TIARA urged the townships to make regulations about the use of tiny islands and shoals as a mooring place for large boats. There were several cases of island cottagers who had always thought that they owned the shoal right off their island, and who found out after a dock was built and a cruiser moored, that they didn't. The townships eventually all put by-laws in place to regulate the size of a dock in relation to the size of the property. TIARA urged all landowners to investigate the true ownership of shoals off their shoreline.
Floating Cottages: TIARA has also been urging the townships to think ahead about if and how they wanted to regulate “floating cottages”; These have been a problem in other areas, mainly because there was no way of preventing a sudden flotilla of floating cottages from mooring in a hitherto empty location, since they are registered as vessels and can therefore anchor pretty well anywhere. Attempts have been made to regulate these, but their hybrid nature makes this difficult.
A History of Public Involvement
TIARA has always tried to involve the public in planning issues. By 1984, the Official Plan was due to be redrafted. The old planning board had been abolished. Henceforth each Township would have a new plan of its own. As a public service, TIARA organized 'Input 84', a survey of all residents, not just TIARA members, in its Study Area (Townships of Front of Leeds and Lansdowne, Front of Yonge and Front of Escott, south of Highway 401) to ascertain their view on the future of the area.
The over 40% response was impressive. The vast majority felt strongly about the area's natural beauty and preferred planning that guided development to avoid over-crowding and over-commercialization. This attitude ran consistently through all cross-sections: Canadian and American, permanent and seasonal residents. The results of the survey were turned over to the Townships which were drafting their official plans.
In 1996, 2000 and 2010, TIARA conducted similar surveys, all of which had tremendous response, reaffirmed our original findings and serve to this day as a guide to TIARA in its evolving vision and mission.
TIARA Newsletters and Seminars
TIARA has included information about many subjects in its three yearly Newsletters, such as Gypsy Moth control, safe boating, water levels, composting and recycling, new legislation regarding planning, natural resources and municipal elections.
TIARA has held annual open houses in the past several years which have included talks, seminars and workshops about such matters as wetlands, water quality, living with wildlife, individual waste reduction, ospreys, the 19th Century timber trade, native history, planning reforms and changes in tax assessment systems.
TIARA Directors and members attend seminars and meetings held by other organizations on such topics as Shoreline Preservation, Private Land Stewardship and Natural Resources.
Today, TIARA keeps up to date with such matters as the enormous changes in municipal powers and boundaries, the new technology for the mapping and inventory of natural resources, and the renewed necessity for individuals, commercial interests and government agencies to work together for the future of this beautiful and vulnerable area.
TIARA is still a volunteer organization, governed by a board of directors elected at its annual meeting. It depends on the dedication and enthusiasm of this board and its members to carry out the vision set out back in 1975, “To preserve and improve the present character of the Thousand Islands area with emphasis on the environment.”