Proposed Fairground Heritage Masterplan draws critics

Jaz Ludwick grabs some air at the Picton Skatepark. The Park was labled 'intrusive' in a heritage masterplan regarding the Picton Fairgrounds presented to Council Tuesday evening (Jason Parks/Gazette File Photo)


A proposed heritage master plan to revive Picton’s fairgrounds was presented to County council Tuesday night, outlining short and long-term improvements to recreation opportunities and continued enhancement of the location’s agricultural roots.

Bray Heritage, along with Branch Architecture and Letourneau Heritage Consulting, was contracted by the municipality at a cost of $25,000 to prepare a heritage master plan. Dr. Carl Bray of Bray Heritage presented the outline for revival and heritage of the property “as a way of life in the County.”

Bray said the two recurring themes throughout the company’s work was to promote agricultural use and accommodate various forms of recreation for adults and families.

Night falls at the 185th Picton Fair. (Desirée Decoste/Gazette Staff)

While the plan had no immediate timelines or costs associated with the enhancement of the fairgrounds, it noted the creation of a heritage precinct, expansion of the agricultural facilities, increased outdoor recreation for all, fostering of partnerships and managing change.

“It is important to remember the most distinctive aspect of the site – it is a rare, largely intact example of an agricultural exhibition group,” Bray said.

Bray’s report notes the cultural significance, architectural value and social history of the location, mentioning the four key structures – the Crystal Palace, the Fruit Building, Grandstand and the Old Boys Memorial Entrance.

“Part of our work was to sit down and use the provincial criteria for understanding what is of cultural heritage value or interests,” he said.

Bray said through public feedback and those who responded to a survey regarding the matter, it is of no surprise that it was “widely felt it would be a community asset that everyone valued” to enhance the fairgrounds.

“That was across the board, no question. It certainly is a source of pride. It’s evident from the work that the County has done over the years that there’s been a continued investment in it since the 1980’s and early 1990’s. There is also a sense the site could be better used,” he said. “There is a worry that the skatepark and building are somewhat intrusive – not entirely – but they do not necessarily fit in very well with the layout of the fairgrounds and there may be some opportunities for tweaking them slightly.”

He also mentioned opportunities to take some of the burden off County staff and volunteers who handle operational items.

There came to be two different visions of the future, Bray said.

“One that really pumped up the agricultural side and the other that addressed what seemed to be an expanding need for adult and family recreational facilities,” he said.

Through the agricultural lens, it would be to enhance opportunities for farming-related activities year-round for things like community gardens and demonstrations of farming methods or technology. 

Recreationally, the vision is to enhance a “County-wide recreation master plan.” 

Bray said with a lot of open space at the fairgrounds, it would be great to meet some of the current demands or needs to have activities such as Pickleball, Tennis and having open fields to throw a frisbee or football.

Outside of adult or family recreation, however, a local youth advocate felt the heritage master plan neglected the interests of County youth.

Councillor Phil St. Jean (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

Sami Lester, Child and Youth Worker, was one of the local teenagers involved in fundraising and creating the $1.2 million skatepark that sits at the front of the Picton fairgrounds. 

She brought up concerns with the portion of the plan that stated the skatepark does not fit in and should be altered to allow for the restoration of the racetrack.

Lester noted the section of the plan that states, “Should there be a renewed interest in harness racing, the existing track could be upgraded and its circuit restored with only minor changes to the skateboard park: it could also double as a running track to provide another option for active recreation.”

“I see no business plan and market research supporting the pie-in-the-sky notion of having a horse race track on Picton Main Street,” Lester retorted. “Getting this document passed would allow the freedom to modify the ‘intrusive’ and unsightly skatepark from your eyes.”

She called the potential modification of the park ‘preposterous’ and posed the question: “Intrusive upon what? Intruding upon whose values?”

“There is a very good reason the skatepark is located at the front near the road, where incoming visitors could return to appreciate it and where there would be more safety than having it tucked away at the back of the arena as it used to be,” she said.

Regarding the language used within the document, Lester pointed out that there is “no need to point out the age of the users” as the skatepark is referred to as a “children’s play area,” similar to how the age of Crystal Palace users is not identified. 

“You labelled the age of those who use the area you find ‘intrusive,’ because you are biased and already made up your mind. It sounds ageist, and I got the immediate impression you chose to single out ‘children’ as being an anomaly using this piece of land,” she said.

Lester said not only was the park designed by one of the best skatepark planners, but that it is one of the best of its kind in Ontario, if not Canada.

“The building has solar panels on it, bathrooms, and we got funding so it could be wheelchair accessible. Instead of seeing the skatepark as the eye-sore among your treasures, you should see yourselves as making history by building up the skatepark as one of Prince Edward County’s great assets,” she said. “Or, do you want to write County history so that we remember how the youth were unwanted here?”

Coun. Phil St. Jean said he would be the first to “yell and scream” in opposition should it be proposed to remove or modify the skate park, splash pad or the associated building. 

The fervour of the a social media debate the day after Bray’s presentation and Lester’s response forced Mayor Steve Ferguson to join in the discussion and offer some context.

“Dr. Bray’s presentation was about the Picton Fairgrounds Heritage Master Plan which contained a detailed history of the site, key elements to conserve, and some very general ideas about what could be considered to increase public access and use,” Ferguson said.  “Any changes to the fairgrounds, including to the skatepark and the splash pad, will have to go through a very rigorous public consultation process. Judging by the opinions that councillors expressed last night, there won’t be support to alter either of those attractions, and I certainly wouldn’t be in favour of it.”
-With files from Jason Parks