Keeping river access in Chelseathe way things are is ‘untenable’
A review of the comments by Chelsea citizens on access to the Gatineau River reveals deep divisions within the community.
Granted, the issues are complex. However, viewed simply, there are those who believe that accessible, equitable, and respectful access to the Gatineau River should be a municipal priority, while others seek little deviation from the status quo, wherein access to the river is restricted to those fortunate enough to live by its shore. This is not about de-privileging a few, but of the right of a majority to access public lands.
There is no lack of original ideas on the consultation site, especially from those seeking to maintain the status quo: “The municipality should provide a public, supervised swimming/ wave pool near the Meredith Centre,” or “If folks want swimming so much, give them a swimming pool with river water,” (shades of “Let them eat cake?”) and one suggestion is a largely inaccessible site in the Chelsea Park area near an old industrial waste site.
There are three principles at play that should not be compromised.
One is equitable access to the river. The municipality’s position that access be only by foot or bicycle from the community trail (Voie Verte Chelsea) will result in only a minority being able to reach it. Parents with small children, seniors, and the less able-bodied would be excluded.
Then there is the matter of accessible access to the river. Whether we live on the Gatineau River or in the Gatineau Hills of Chelsea, the river is part of our common heritage, and equal public access by all Chelsea citizens to parts of the river owned by the municipality should not be compromised — public lands are for public use irrespective of what claims may be made regarding ‘acquired rights’.
And respectful access to the river. Access needs to be provided to Chelsea citizens in a manner that respects the natural environment, the river’s capacity to maintain a certain number of docks, and the citizens who live by its shore.
The Gatineau River is a beautiful natural resource and every Chelsea citizen should have the right to enjoy it. A scene from the film “Out of Africa” resonates here, when Meryl Streep asks Robert Redford if he thought things would remain the same forever. He replied, “No, but I was hoping it would stay this way for just a little longer.” In this case, wanting to keep things as they are is untenable in a supposedly progressive Canadian municipality in 2021.