Change of direction in Shakespeare

Jan 13, 2010

By Dale Goldhawk

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Before the holidays, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation was firm in its plan to drive a stake through the heart … whoops, I mean a five-lane highway through the few blocks that make up the downtown of the hamlet of Shakespeare. Things have certainly changed and the people of Shakespeare are getting a belated Christmas present.

The Minister, Jim Bradley, will tell you he just has something in his eye but we think he blinked. He and his ministry just announced there are now three alternative road and highway routes in play and these choices will be up for discussion during more local public meetings.

 The route through Shakespeare is still in the new plan. This is the one that would cause the destruction of most of the main street through Shakespeare and really put an end to the village’s reason for existing. It would knock out a couple of great antique shops, other businesses, some houses and likely the Shakespeare Presbyterian Church, the church of singing Rev. Glenn Kukkola. Added are new routes to the south and north of the hamlet which would allow Shakespeare to remain where and as it is – a great little place with a rich history.

The reason given by the ministry for extensive work on Highway 7 & 8 that gets people from the Kitchener-Waterloo area to Stratford – through Shakespeare – is that, “Traffic on Highway 7/8 that runs through Shakespeare is expected to double in the next 30 years to 24,000 vehicles a day.” This is an estimate made back in the days before a recession took a lot of the steam out of future development plans and dreams. Personally, I doubt if this kind of traffic increase will occur by 2040 or, frankly, if it should, given that we have to preserve good agricultural land, not pave it over.

The ministry already held a slew of public information sessions before ignoring opposition and bulling ahead with its one option plan for the highway. Now, it will have more “focused stakeholder consultations and a facilitated community workshop,” in March. As the ministry says in a news release, “The workshop will be open to everyone in the community to ensure the study considers all reasonable options.” Well, it certainly didn’t consider all reasonable options in the last go-around that lasted from the summer of 2009 to November. Nor did it hold ‘workshops’, just sessions to tell people what the ministry intended to do.

 Of course, to hear the ministry tell it, the new attitude resulted from the concerns expressed by Shakespeareans through the public information process. I think the new ‘tude and two new alternatives resulted more from the rally we held, the protest song of Rev. Glenn, and perhaps some backroom conversations involving local office holders.

 John Wilkinson, MPP Perth-Wellington, accepted the change gracefully (because he is a politician) by saying, “I want to thank my colleague, the Minister of Transportation, for acknowledging the need to look at alternatives. I would encourage local citizens to take advantage of this new opportunity to put their best ideas forward to the study group.”

 In more blunt terms, let me invite and incite the citizens of this marvelous little spot in Ontario to attend these workshops to raise their voices and their hackles loudly against the dumb idea of killing Shakespeare with soulless pavement.  I think citizen power is winning another fight against bureaucracy just as it did at Site 41 and in so many other situations. Keep it up!

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