Niagara-on-the-Lake residents have beef with McDonald's

The townsfolk of Niagara-on-the-Lake have fought off subdivisions and strip malls, and now the picturesque Ontario community is waging war against McDonald's.

National Post
March 8, 2001

Niagara-on-the-Lake residents have beef with McDonald's
Fast-food giant would 'change this community forever'
Anne Marie Owens

The townsfolk of Niagara-on-the-Lake have fought off subdivisions and strip malls, and now the picturesque Ontario community is waging war against McDonald's.

The fast-food giant intends to build a franchise along one of the major roadways leading to the scenic main street, but the proposal has brought vociferous objections from residents who see it as a precursor of the kind of development they have fought so hard to keep out of the architecturally pristine community.

"This isn't any ordinary town," says Gerry Dyck, who lives and works next door to the proposed McDonald's site. He operates a family antique business from a building that dates back to 1876. "It will change this community forever once it's there. I don't doubt that this will open the floodgates."

Margherita Howe, a long-time activist in the community, says she believes other fast-food franchises and big-box retailers "are just lying in wait," and predicts if McDonald's goes ahead, the ripple effect will see that type of development running all the way into the Old Town.

At least one local politician agrees, and is objecting to the proposal.

Rob Copeland, an alderman, says it would give Niagara-on-the-Lake the cookie-cutter kind of commercial development leading into cities all across North America, where views of fields and farmland are blocked by strips of fast-food franchises.

Even the town's official plan talks about the importance of that stretch of roadway along Niagara Stone Road or Hwy. 55, which is considered the main approach to the downtown. Any development in this area is supposed to have careful regard to the town's agricultural, historical and architectural ambiance.

For its part, McDonald's has tried to appease the concerns of townsfolk by promising to adopt "a made-in-Niagara-on-the-Lake" design.

Victor Labreche, development planner for McDonald's Restaurants of Canada, said the building will be made from all-natural materials, including clay, brick and wood, with heritage-style windows and canopies hanging over all entranceways. The site will feature extra landscaping and the trademark high-in-the-sky golden arches will be replaced by a more modest sign closer to the ground.

None of that has satisfied residents, who have signed petitions objecting to the development and packed council meetings. Even the company's standard sign announcing that McDonald's is "Coming Soon" mysteriously disappeared from the site.

The town council is set to decide on Monday whether to allow the development to go ahead.

If approved, the franchise could open in July, just in time for tourist season, when thousands of visitors flood the roadways leading to the town.

Even visitors, like Marc Scudamore of New Mexico, who has been visiting the region for decades, have joined the debate.

"I was greatly saddened by the news that McDonald's, the poster company for the rampant and reckless commercialization of today's society, wanted to put an outlet in Niagara-on-the-Lake," he wrote to the local newspaper. "What could be more out of place? … What you have is an irreplaceable piece of paradise. Care for it wisely."

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