Collingwood’s long history of shipbuilding, from the first hull (the Huronic, in 1901), to the last in 1985 (the Paterson, #231) was intended to be proudly captured in bronze plaques embedded in the sidewalks along Heritage Drive and around the boat docks. This was our “walk of history.” The town’s “Discover Collingwood” brochure says:
15. Harbourlands Walk of History
Take a walk on the memorial walkway through Shipbuilder’s Park along Heritage Drive. The pathway has over 60 memorial plaques commemorating the ships built in Collingwood.
Local residents and companies paid hundreds of dollars each ($400? More? I cannot find a document indicating the amount paid) to have a memorial plaque for a specific hull embedded with their name on it. It was a proud moment for many residents who had worked at the shipyards, and promised to help keep the town’s history alive as the waterfront was changing from industrial to recreational use. As one case study of the harbour noted:
The Collingwood shipyards closed in 1986 after a 103-year history as one of Canada’s busiest shipbuilding centers. For nearly 20 years, the Collingwood shipyards then sat abandoned on the waterfront with an uncertain future.
Years later, many plaques are missing, many have sunk into their holes while some are pushing out of them, many are edged with weeds, others have letters wearing away. Some have rusty bolt heads showing, others have debris accumulated around and on them.
There were some half-hearted attempts a few years back to stop some of the plaques from lifting up and coming loose. You can still see the aged caulking around the edges of some. I suppose this fits with the neglect and run-down state of the Terminals, public parks, and gardens.
The plaques and the walk are not even mentioned in any of the town’s three “heritage walk” brochures. Nor in the town’s “On the Water” initiative, or in the Sidelaunch Days festival. You can’t find the plaques or the ships they honour mentioned on the town’s website, either. It’s almost like our council doesn’t want people to know about the plaques, their donors, or the history they represent.
If you search for “Heritage Drive” on the town’s user-hostile website, all you’ll get is “PAGE NOT FOUND.” The town’s website has almost nothing on the shipbuilding history of Collingwood and to get anything substantial about it, or to see photographs of our past, you have to visit an outside site like this one. I could not find anything on the town’s site that listed the plaques, or named the donors who bought them. That’s shameful. (Neither our museum nor the Ship Walk are listed on the page of Canadian maritime memorials and museums, by the way)
In the summer of 2021, EPCOR removed part of the sidewalk along the east side of Heritage Drive to bury power cables. They removed the plaques, replaced the old sidewalk with a newly-poured section, then re-embedded the plaques, many of which had come partly out of their old spaces before the upgrade (although they left one plaque out, and the half-space where it was previously held can still be seen where the new and old sections meet). Some of those re-inserted plaques show wear from the thousands of pedestrians who walk over them, as well as corrosion from the weather.
As far as I can tell, no effort has been made, no council initiative raised, no advocate at the council table has spoken up to address repairing and restoring these plaques and show even a modicum of concern for our heritage. But they sure were eager to remove other plaques around town, earlier this year.
Anyone who walks around the spit can see the neglect these plaques have suffered. Their poor condition gives visitors and tourists the impression the town just doesn’t give a damn (just like the neglect of Friendship Park does). The town hires summer students to work around town every year: why haven’t any been allocated to weeding and cleaning up these plaques?
Why hasn’t our council done anything to fix the problem? Well, aside from the fact they are too obsessed with lavishing more of your tax dollars on the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (aka the SVJI, already well over $10 million), that is. If any of them have actually visited the terminals or the harbour in the past decade, it seems they simply can’t see the problem that is plain to everyone else.
I suggest our council simply doesn’t care: this is about the town’s history, and that’s just not on their radar. The SVJI is all they care about. Heritage? History? Public pride? They won’t throw money at something that doesn’t involve Mayor Saunderson’s or Councillor Hamlin’s former employers (whose sole-source appointment was made by our corruption-riddled council without the required tendering or contract competition).
Collingwood — and our history — deserve better.