By Patricia O'Driscoll
The Attorney General's (AG) lawsuit brought by the Government of Ontario against Rowntree (RBA) is a topic of conversation in Tiny Township. Everyone has an opinion. Many do not bother basing that opinion on facts - facts just get in the way. Misinformation suits their purpose. It is used for political gain.
Ministry of Natural Resources Misled Us! ... Why?
Since the 1930s, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and its predecessor, the Department of Lands and Forests, have led many people in Tiny Township to believe that (1) the "Crown owned to the high water mark" and, more recently, (2) the "Crown owned to the 'line of the wood'". WHY did MNR do that? A July 10, 1959 memo from the Assistant Deputy Minister to the Minister of Lands and Forests tells it all: "The Tiny Township situation in our opinion is that most of the land grants run to the water's edge and that the Crown has no real interest in these lands. However, to admit this position would throw the whole issue into prominence along Lake Huron."
In other words, MNR has been bluffing for more than half a century.
In 1981, Tiny Township Council gave first and second reading to a by-law authorizing it to sign a Beach Management Agreement whereby Tiny Township would agree to manage the "Crown Beaches" in Tiny. In 1982, prior to the third reading, The Rowntree Beach Association (RBA) challenged the Government claim of ownership of the western shores of Tiny Township. Shortly thereafter, negotiations between Tiny Township's Council and the Government ceased.
AG/MNR continued to bluff but when it started its lawsuit, AG v RBA, in June 1990, it was forced to put its cards, face up, on the table.
The AG/MNR said that the lawsuit was started to "protect" the "public interest" (of everyone in Ontario) in the "public beaches". The provincial government stated it was serving a provincial interest. The provincial government did not start the lawsuit on behalf of the residents of Tiny nor on behalf of the rear lot owners in Tiny.
In his March 15, 1994 reasons, the judge found that the AG/MNR didn't have any claim to the western shore of Tiny Township. (See article on AG's Lawsuit)
What Happened When the AG Lost the Lawsuit?
The decision of Mr. Justice Flinn has put to rest the question of ownership of the beaches of Tiny. Years and years of confusion are over.
In short, the judge said that existing registered deeds are valid. The AG/MNR didn't lose anything because it sold the lands many, many years ago. Rowntree Beach didn't gain anything because it always owned its land. Notwithstanding what you may have read or heard, there hasn't been any "privatization" of beaches.
What Would Have Happened had the AG won its Lawsuit?
If the AG had won, the provincial government would have owned the western shore of Tiny and this provincial public land would have been administered as a provincial park - there is no other way provincially owned recreational land would have been administered.
Back Lot Owners
Those cottagers who own property that does not front on the water did not gain any legal rights by the court decision, nor did they lose any legal rights. Whatever rights they had before the judgment, they continue to have after the judgment. There are those who, for politicial gain, will try to convince "back lot" owners that they will be denied access to the beach and to Georgian Bay. Many beaches are a block on a registered plan of subdivision owned in common by all lot owners, both waterfront and rear, on that plan of subdivision. Anyone not directly fronting onto the beach should not feel threatened that their access to the beach has been cut off as a result of the court decision. Associations representing all of its shoreline residents, front and rear, should work together to secure for themselves their access to the beach.
Shoreline property owned by the Township of Tiny
The judgment of Mr. Justice Flinn confirms the deeds of the Township to the property it owns on the shoreline (which has been estimated at 3 miles). Four (4) members of Tiny Council don't seem to appreciate that the AG v RBA judgment saved 3 miles of Township land from being lost to the province. Their lack of enthusiasm is difficult to appreciate until you remember that they "backed" MNR's claim to the beaches of Tiny, including Township owned land.
We can only conclude that the lawsuit was an attempt by AG/MNR to try and finesse an expropriation of waterfront property without compensation - it didn't work.
Did the AG/MNR think that the trial judgment was wrong in fact or in law? Did the AG/MNR look upon the judgment of Mr. Justice Flinn as biased and/or prejudiced? NO, because on April 11, 1994, the AG/MNR released a communique saying that there was no basis upon which AG/MNR could successfully appeal. All rights of appeal were abandoned.
What are the "true colours" of the members of Tiny Township Council regarding the shoreline ownership?
You've heard all the protestations: the Province doesn't want a Wasaga North; the municipal councillors don't want a Wasaga North; the cottagers don't want a Wasaga North; the permanent residents don't want a Wasaga North; the province doesn't have money to develop a Wasaga North. Saying "No" to a Wasaga North doesn't prevent it happening - it just causes people to ignore "the real thing". In the lawsuit, the government claimed ownership of miles of shoreline in Tiny.
For years and years, most Tiny Township Council members accepted, on blind faith, MNR's bogus claim that all the beaches of Tiny were owned by the Province of Ontario.
For years, Tiny's municipal councils, accepting MNR's theories of Crown ownership, have looked at, talked about and planned for beaches it didn't own.
Most Tiny Councillors Supported the AG/MNR Claim
By their votes over the last few years, four (4) of the five (5) members of Tiny Council actively supported the AG/MNR's claim against Rowntree Beach. Indeed, Mayor Ross Hastings said in the January 21, 1992 issue of the Penetanguishene Journal: "I sure hope the MNR wins it (AG v RBA) or there's going to be some fun." In April 1992, Councillor Gail Barrie swore an affidavit that was used in court by the AG in AG v RBA.
Some people want you to ignore and forget the very real threat the property owners along the shore, in particular, and all Tiny residents, in general, faced with the AG's lawsuit. Some people want to downplay and overlook the fact that Wasaga North was a very real threat. Some people want you to forget that four (4) members of this Tiny Council (Mayor Ross Hastings, Deputy Mayor Peter Stubbins, Councillors Gail Barrie and Fern Maurice) supported the Attorney General/Ministry of Natural Resources throughout the lawsuit. Some people want you to believe that they did not want a Wasaga North even though they supported the AG/MNR. These municipal politicians want you to believe that the lawsuit, which claimed provincial ownership of Tiny's beaches, would have had absolutely no connection to a provincial park.
MNR is relentless. Since 1970, MNR has had detailed provincial park plans for Tiny Township. Those plans proposed an extension of Wasaga Beach Provincial Park for 17 miles along Tiny's western shore. Those plans were submitted as evidence by Rowntree at the trial: AG v RBA. (see The Tiny Cottager Fall/Winter 1993 pg 4 and Archives of Ontario).
Mayor Ross Hastings knows all about owning to the water's edge; he has cottage property on a lake in Chaffey Township, now part of the Town of Huntsville, which is deeded to the water's edge. The surveyor who surveyed Chaffey township was instructed by letter dated "5th Jany 1869": "I have to instruct you not to reserve or post off any road allowance on the margin of lakes or waters, nor to shew any such road allowance on your plan." (MNR Survey Records).
Why did these four (4) members of Council want the cottagers of Tiny, their taxpayers, to lose their property and front on provincially owned land a provincial park? Why do these four (4) members of Council put provincial interests ahead of the interests of their taxpayers, the residents of Tiny?
Councillor Doug Taylor Alone Opposed the AG/MNR Claim
Only Councillor Doug Taylor did not support the AG; he has stated that his first priorty as a member of Tiny Council is to look after the needs of Tiny's residents. His home fronts on Penetanguishene Harbour. An interview in The Observer, March 19, 1994, stated: "'Those who say the beaches of Tiny should be open and free to all people of Ontario are misguided. By inviting all of Ontario to the beaches of Tiny, it will in fact make it very, very difficult for the Tiny residents to compete with the use of beach facilities by residents of Southern Ontario.' ... 'The questions that Tiny residents should be asking of themselves' said Mr. Taylor is, 'Do you really want to push your way through crowds of people to get to beaches? And why would a Tiny resident want to compete with all of Ontario for its own resources?'"
After a lawsuit that will cost the taxpayers of Ontario more than $2 million, one would think that those four (4) members of Tiny's Council would say that the good fight has been fought, but MNR was wrong and "we were silly to have been taken in by MNR's bluffing." Wouldn't you think they've had enough advice from MNR? Wouldn't you think that those four (4) members of Tiny Council would each say: "Enough is enough; I have egg all over my face - the horse I bet to win, came in last."
Has MNR packed its tent and moved on? It appears from the comments of a "concerned citizen" at Tiny Council on April 27, 1994 that advice is still being dispensed by MNR to anyone who wants to listen.
At the April 27, 1994 Tiny Council meeting, Councillor Barrie was asked point blank if she'd ever consider a Beach Management Agreement between Tiny and MNR. She said: "not as long as there is peace on the beach."
"The Public Defenders of Tiny's Public Beaches"
It was only April, but the posturing at recent Tiny Council meetings would make you think that we were on the eve of the November 1994 municipal election. WHY? Led by Councillor Gail Barrie's 1991 campaign manager (Mrs. Kathy Speers) and accompanied by the usual coterie of tub thumpers, the self proclaimed defenders of Tiny's "public beaches" have emerged from the ashes of the lawsuit (AG v RBA) and are making "delegations" to Tiny Council demanding that the "public beaches" be saved for the public. That's "motherhood and apple pie" until you learn that these "concerned defenders" define "public beaches" as all the beaches in Tiny, except Rowntree Beach, regardless of ownership/title.
The spokesperson for the "public defenders of public beaches" said she was "furious" with AG/MNR for not appealing, for "dumping it all" on Council's shoulders and leaving it all in a mess. After stating the law as she'd like it to be, she then wrongly attributed to the reasons of Mr. Justice Flinn a sentence about "implied dedication" that is found in an MNR package released after the announcement of No Appeal. No such phrase as "implied dedication" appears in the judge's reasons. Who is coaching whom?
Persuasion by Fearmongering
What is the bottom line of all the words and actions of the "public defenders of public beaches"? It's called politics. It appears that the fearmongers who ran rampant in Tiny's back lots during the autumn of 1991 are off and running again. In the autumn of 1991, they worked the back lots and concentrated on many whose first language was neither English nor French and "warned" those back lot owners that if they voted for certain candidates, they would "never again be able to put their towel in the sand". It appears that many back lot owners believed those stories and voted accordingly. In 1994, faced with the judgment of AG v RBA, the fearmongers will probably embellish the story and talk of "roping off", "posting of signs", and the "building of fences". These shameful tactics are oftentimes used upon people who are not conversant with the facts or the law. This political tactic is as old as the hills: "DIVIDE AND CONQUER".
In the eyes of the "public defenders of public beaches" it is not politically correct to have a sandy beach in private ownership. From now until November 1994, you will probably hear a lot of nonsense about the "privatization" of Tiny's beaches. Remember, it is all a political game being played with YOUR LAND by people who have nothing to lose and everything to gain by fearmongering.
One good side effect of the lawsuit and judgment is that many property owners in Tiny Township have been awakened to their rights and become knowledgeable about shoreline ownership. Hopefully, the days of bluffing and the era of "smoke and mirrors" have come to an end.
Now that the AG/MNR has lost its lawsuit, reliable sources who know how government works are warning: "MNR has not left Tiny. MNR will simply change gears and switch to Plan B."
The former Reeve of Tiny Township (198891) wrote a Comment entitled "Prediction: 'Tiny will attempt to gain possession of western shoreline and turn it over to MNR'" (The Observer, April 1, 1994). The article ended,
"Trust me, I am not wrong as to what the Tiny Township Council and provincial civil servants are after. I've been there and I speak from experience."