THUNDER BAY – A citizen group is urging the city to commit to what could be expensive repairs to a historic fountain at Waverley Park.
Bonnie Anderson, secretary of the Coalition for Waverley Park, described the Hogarth Fountain that sits at the centre of the park as a “significant gift” to the city and a “one-of-a-kind asset” in a deputation to city council on Monday.
Made in 1790 and donated to the city in 1965 in honour of prominent mining developer and Port Arthur MPP Donald Hogarth, the 10-ton fountain has been disconnected since 2017 due to leaks and other mechanical issues.
It’s also partially obscured by a fence installed years ago in response to vandalism.
The coalition wants to see both of those things change, asking council on Monday to consider funding restoration and a new, less obstructive security solution.
The group also urged the city to prioritize other work to shore up the park’s cenotaph that honours the city’s war dead, add memorial plaques, and connect the monument to the rest of the park with walkways.
All told, Anderson said city staff had previously offered a rough estimate of up to $750,000 for that work, while simply restoring the fountain to operations was pegged at $250,000 or more. Those years-old estimates would likely be higher today, staff said.
City administration reported earlier this fall that the Hogarth Fountain was one of several projects that would be set back after the city spent close to a million dollars to raise the James Whalen tugboat out of the Kaministiquia River.
The parks division had saved up some capital dollars to restore the fountain before that happened, staff reported, though not enough to have started design work until at least 2024.
Anderson said the coalition would assist with fundraising efforts – the group previously helped find significant federal and private dollars for a pavilion in the park – but also made the case the city must budget to properly maintain its heritage.
“Many people, ourselves included, feel that maintaining historical artifacts such as the fountain for future generations is one of the reasons we pay taxes, and that deteriorating infrastructure can give citizens and visitors a negative impression of the city.”
Anderson noted the coalition had first come before council in 2019 to call for repairs to the fountain.
The city typically budgets around $50,000 a year to maintain the more than 100 artifacts held by the parks division, said parks and open spaces manager Cory Halvorsen, including two to three dozen medium to large artifacts like the fountain.
Staff said the fountain restoration was near the top of the priority list for artifact maintenance, but had taken a back seat to other parks capital projects including the new accessible playground at Boulevard Lake.
“It’s an unfortunate situation to be in,” Halvorsen told councillors. “We’ve been aware of the need for the work for some time, and it is an important park artifact. However, we are faced with a huge amount of pressure for various types of projects, and various opportunities all being managed through the parks planning group.”
Coun. Brian Hamilton questioned if the fountain was still a priority, asking if parks planners would recommend putting it there today.
“As far as urban planning, things are changing,” he said. “Would we be suggesting that we put a fountain at the centre, given the issues we’re seeing with vandalism?”
Supervisor of parks planning Werner Schwar acknowledged the concerns, but also suggested it would be “inappropriate” for the city to fail to maintain the artifact.
“If we were starting the park brand new, perhaps not,” he responded. “But given the historical significance of the fountain and the fact that it’s been there and it’s been gifted and that it’s in a heritage conservation district, I would say it would probably be inappropriate to dismantle it for that reason.”
The required work includes fixes to mechanical and electrical issues, the drainage line, and cracks in the grouting and the concrete liner, staff said.
In an interview, Schwar said lockstone at the Waverley Park cenotaph is experiencing some heaving, though he said that does not present an immediate threat to the structure. He also noted staff have been considering long-term plans to connect the cenotaph to the rest of the park to make it more accessible since at least 2015.
Council voted to refer the coalition’s deputation to city administration for a report back by Jan. 31, 2023. That report will estimate what it would cost for design work for both the full renewal of Waverley Park including work on the cenotaph, and the more limited restoration of the fountain.
That will come in time for council to consider including the design work in the 2023 city budget, allowing for potential approval of the work itself in the 2024 budget.