Iroquois Lock top gem in South Dundas, says visiting contingent

A ship enters the Iroquois Lock in South Dundas. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

MORRISBURG — The Iroquois Lock is the Municipality of South Dundas’s most unique — and yet least promoted — feature, according to a third-party citizens’ assessment delivered to council in a Sept. 6 report.

The observation arose from recent visits to the municipality by nine specially selected Gananoque-area individuals who gave their unvarnished observations as part of a First Impressions Community Exchange Program. Promoted by Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the program aims to foster community improvement by providing civic leaders a view of their jurisdiction through fresh eyes.

Providing an initial overview of the visiting team’s report, Shelley Hirstwood, Gananoque’s economic development officer, described the Iroquois Lock as “something so unique” and a “hidden gem right now.”

“Unless you’re in the know,” the lock is “hard to find,” she said, adding that each of the visitors returned to the Seaway facility for more than one look.

South Dundas Mayor Evonne Delegarde with Gananoque Economic Development Officer Shelley Hirstwood (left) and Anne-Marie Koiner, Deputy Clerk/Deputy Treasurer of the Village of Westport, after their Sept. 6 presentation in Morrisburg. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

South Dundas Mayor Evonne Delegarde with Gananoque Economic Development Officer Shelley Hirstwood (left) and Anne-Marie Koiner, Deputy Clerk/Deputy Treasurer of the Village of Westport, after their Sept. 6 presentation in Morrisburg. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

“Number one is capitalizing on the locks in Iroquois,” said Anne-Marie Koiner, Deputy Clerk/Deputy Treasurer of the Village of Westport, delivering recommendations on how South Dundas might improve. “I ask you, where can one go in Eastern Ontario to experience the sight of a big huge tall ship going through a lock? Iroquois is the one and only spot on the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence Seaway from the Eastern Ontario border to Lake Ontario. Only one lock, and it’s right here in Iroquois. It’s a golden opportunity to showcase the workings of a lock, to demonstrate to the young and old and and not-so-old the marvels of sea to lake travel.”

The wide-open waterfronts in Morrisburg and Iroquois — “really great treasures, really great assets,” said Hirstwood — figured as another major South Dundas highlight for the Gananoque contingent. The group also singled out as features those villages’ history of transformation during the St. Lawrence Seaway construction — a story that “amazed” them — the presence of the renowned Upper Canada Playhouse in Morrisburg, and their perception of South Dundas as a “friendly and safe” place.

Morrisburg’s dog park, its murals and its serviced industrial park earned praise as well.

But Hirstwood also acknowledged perceived shortcomings or “opportunities,” including the need for better signage to direct tourists to the villages’ respective waterfronts, beaches and golf courses. Though service at the Morrisburg site was exemplary, they spotted a lack of signs to indicate hours of operation at the municipality’s community visitors’ centres and also suggested pamphlet boxes for tourists arriving at the Morrisburg and Iroquois centres after hours. Portable commercial signs sitting on public land alongside the main County Rd. 2 drag through Morrisburg also captured their critical attention. They also saw need for “some TLC” on the County Rd. 1 route up to the Iroquois Lock, and they were struck by an apparent short supply of “mid-size restaurants and pubs” catering to Upper Canada Playhouse crowds after evening shows. And the township website could use some updating with interactive maps and link tweaks to accommodate ever shorter attention spans, according to the visitors.

Koiner offered an almost poetic set of prescriptions for the South Dundas politicians to consider. In soaring language, she suggested the construction of a visitors’ pavilion at the Iroquois Lock and the “honouring” of the history of the Seaway through song, dance and dramatic productions.

“It’s a golden opportunity to showcase the workings of a lock,” she said of the pavilion idea, “to demonstrate to the young and old and and not-so-old the marvels of sea to lake travel. To inspire dreams of movement and to reminisce the past ways. Improving the signage from highway 2 to direct the public to the lock is beneficial in attracting tourism, directional arrows pointing the way, signage could also include next ship information.”

The Seaway’s dramatic impact on Morrisburg and Iroquois is “related” to the story of the Lost Villages further to the east, “and yet it is different,” Koiner observed. “Plaques and memorials are great reminders. But so are songs and poems and stories, which bring memories to life,” she said.

As for improving County Rd. 2 through Morrisburg and the village plaza, look to bicycle lanes and embrace electric cars, she said. Koiner presented a green vision for the plaza, with a solar farm mounted above the parking lot, shading the vehicles and pedestrians below while capturing energy. “Could viable partnerships be entertained with Ontario Power Generation or the Province of Ontario? Once bitten, twice shy, but there are opportunities,” she advised.

South Dundas Economic Development Officer Rob Hunter thanked his Gananoque counterparts for their presentations, as did members of council.

Councillor Archie Mellan noted a tendency to take assets for granted. “Sometimes the history gets pushed aside as you try to move forward,” he remarked. “I’m thinking a lot of your ideas were very good, very constructive.”

Mayor Evonne Delegarde suggested they return in a year’s time to see further improvements currently being planned by council.

A similar contingent from South Dundas is set to visit and critique Gananoque on Sept. 20.

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