‘Silly we need permission’: Why does Smiths Falls pay Parks Canada to swim in the basin?

Lease agreements with Parks Canada for the swimming area at the Murphy Building in Smiths Falls as well as at the docks at Lower Reach Park were up for a five-year renewal during a regular meeting of town council on May 21. – Laurie Weir photo

Did you know that the Town of Smiths Falls is required to lease swimming areas along the Rideau Canal from Parks Canada? Why is this, exactly?

That was the question to the director of community services, Stephanie Clark, by Coun. Chris McGuire during a regular committee of the whole meeting on May 21.

“It’s considered a water lot,” Clark said. “It’s theirs and we’re leasing that space from them so we can use it as we see fit.”

The five-year lease agreement was up for renewal between the town and Parks Canada and Clark was seeking permission to sign a new agreement, as it relates to the swimming area in front of the Murphy building.

The lease agreement is effective May 15, 2024 to April 14, 2029, at a cost of $279.50 per year.

McGuire asked what uses would cross the line that would require a permit.

“From what I understand from the lease is that we want to have it designated as a swimming area then we would want to make sure that [there is a ] use agreement because it is technically their water lot,” Clark said. “We could probably do other things with it … but it’s to have the guaranteed use we have in front of the Murphy building – and where the raft is as well.”

McGuire said, “It seems silly to me that we need permission…but if the government has the time and the energy for this, I will support the recommendation.”

Coun. Peter McKenna said it was “great question” from his colleague, and added that it might also protect the town from liability.

“It gives the town exclusive (use) and nobody else could pitch a tent there and start doing weird and wonderful things,” McKenna said. “Is there a separate agreement for other swimming areas or are they not as interested?”

Clark said this was the only (swimming-related) lease agreement that was coming up for renewal, “but we do have water lot agreements for a number of different spaces.”

According to Parks Canada, this is normal practice.

“Water lot licences are issued to marine operators who occupy the federally-owned bed of the Rideau Canal for commercial purposes,” said Maureen Belej, public relations and communications officer with Parks Canada. “The licence sets out the terms and conditions that regulate the use to align with relevant legislation.”

Belej said there are numerous municipalities, marinas, and campgrounds under commercial waterlot licence on the Rideau Canal from Ottawa to Kingston.

It was in 2021 when the Town of Smiths Falls entered into the following renewals for their lease agreements: Victoria Park water lot at $265.42 per year; $500 for Victoria Park and Duck Island; $354.70 for the water lot at Confederation Park; and $100 for parking at the water tower.
Council gave its support for the lease agreement with Parks Canada to renew for another five years.

Clark said another lease is up for renewal — the docks at Lower Reach Park. This one would be another five-year agreement at a cost to the town of $325 annually and would run from June 1, 2024 to May 31, 2029.

Council also approved this request from the director.

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