Authentic Lebanese cuisine and the city of North Bay seem like odd bed-fellows, but there is no better spot to get a great meal in North Bay than The Cedar Tree.
Opened in 2009 by Roger and Yasmin Gergi, The Cedar Tree offers a menu of traditional Lebanese favourites like Tabouli, Shawarma, and Kafta, as well as Canadian favourites with a Lebanese twist, such as poutine. The meals are high quality, absolutely delicious, and as a result the Cedar Tree is one of North Bay’s worst kept secrets for great food.
Lebanon’s cedar trees are world renowned. The country is situated on the Mediterranean Sea, and bordered by Syria and Israel. Lebanon has a cedar tree on the national flag, and that tree is an emblem found both inside and outside of the restaurant.
The name The Cedar Tree, comes from the Lebanese Cedar tree species – Cedrus libani – which holds deep cultural and spiritual importance in Lebanon. The flag of the country even includes a Cedar Tree. The Cedars of God, located in Lebannon’s Kadisha Valley, are referenced in ancient history and biblical texts, and were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.
The Cedar Tree restaurant is located on Main Street W. downtown, and when you walk in for the first time, you can just tell you’re in for something different. You can also just smell that you’re in for something good.
The restaurant is clean, open, and features a middle-eastern atmosphere from the music, to the decor, to the menu. One wouldn’t think they’re in North Bay in the restaurant, it has the quality and atmosphere that would have you convinced you’re downtown Toronto at a new spot that you both want to tell everyone about, and want to keep your own little secret corner of the universe.
Roger and Yasmin are dedicated owners, facing challenges like fires in their decade long run at Cedar Tree. As a regular customer, I have to say, I feel like Roger is there to take and make my order almost every time I go. He makes everyone feel like a regular who has been missed, and honestly while he might not know me by name, the fact he recognizes customers, jokes with them, and makes it incredibly clear that he appreciates your business, is exactly the feeling of community that North Bay is sometimes without.
In a city where much of the dine-in and take-out food comes courtesy of franchises you could find anywhere, a spot like The Cedar Tree, where one can support local business and expect a consistent quality of food is like an oasis in the desert.
Restaurants like The Cedar Tree are what gives a city a sense of place.
Just prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, I sat down to speak with Roger about their story:
RM: First off, where are you from and how did you wind up here?
RG: I’m from Lebanon, I moved to Canada when I was 8, originally to Ottawa. From there, once my wife and I got married we moved around a lot. Ottawa, Toronto, Brampton, Hamilton, Calgary, and from Calgary we moved to North Bay.
It was supposed to be, we come to North Bay, we’d do one year like we had normally done. We didn’t have kids yet, so there was nothing really tying us down. We planned to come to North Bay, and then move onto our next adventure. But my wife got pregnant with our first born, and we had to think about where we wanted to raise our kids. And this was the place, we thought about all the places we’d been, and where we wanted our kids to grow up, and we just thought “North Bay is definitely where we want to be”.
RM: And at what point did you decide “alright, we’re going to sell Middle-eastern food here in North Bay?
RG: So this was always a plan of mine. I’ve been in the food industry forever, it’s all I’ve really ever done. I went to school for it, Humber College for Hospitality Management. When we moved here I was a district manager at Cara (Swiss Chalet), but I had always planned to open a Lebanese shop.
One day we saw this place [his restaurant], we were driving by and I saw this place was empty. It was up for rent, and when I peaked in the window, it was almost the exact set up that I had always envisioned: open kitchen, small place. So I called the landlord and asked to walk through. There was no hydro so we came in with flashlights. After looking at the place, I went home that night and told my wife “I’m giving my notice at work and were opening a Lebanese shop.” And here we are!
It happened quickly. We had always thought about it, we hadn’t planned on it being in North Bay, but since she was pregnant with Tony at the time and it was there. It was the same, it was what we wanted.
RM: It matched your mind’s eye.
That said, my parents were back home in Lebanon. Again I’m a restaurant guy, I’ve been in the business a long time. But I had never cooked Lebanese food. I had been at Boston Pizza, Swiss Chalet, Canadian food, you know? Big Chains.
So, I know how to eat Lebanese food, I know how it’s supposed to taste. But my mom cooked for us. So I called my mom. We took the lease, and I thought if my mom can’t help me, I’ll open a burger joint or something. So I called my mom and I said, “Mom, I bought a shop and I want to open up a Lebanese place but I have no clue what I’m doing. Are you able to help me?”
So my mom and dad came. My dad helped me with the renovations and getting the place setup. My mom helped me with recipes and how to.
RM: North Bay is not necessarily known for being overly diverse, were you worried about bringing Lebanese flavour to a Canadian palate?
RG: Extremely. But when I first decided to open I wasn’t worried at all. I’m like, “This thing is going to be amazing, we’re going to kill it and it’s going to be fantastic.”
But in the middle of our renos, we had the windows tapped up and we just had a sign that said “Lebanese restaurant opening soon”. The amount of people that would either stop me coming in, or literally walk in and say, “Are you crazy? Opening a Lebanese restaurant in North Bay?” was insane. No word of a lie, it was insane.
RG: There were two or three people, two of them I remember specifically, literally to my face said “I give you six months”.
So to me, young, cocky, I know what I’m doing. This is business I grew up with, I studied: you know I’m like “see you in six months”.
But it was worrysome. We didn’t borrow money to open this. When we opened, whatever was here we used. Whatever money we had saved up was what we used. We used all our savings to get this place opened. It was do or die.
But I was confident until the first day we opened. I remember that day like it was yesterday. We opened and did $400. That wasn’t even enough to cover operating. We lost money.
I remember going home that night, I couldn’t even look my wife in the eyes, ’cause in my mind: we’re not going to make it 6 months.
Mind you, we opened with no advertising other that the sign on the window. So $400 dollars, I go home, cry like a baby.
The next day we opened the door at 11 am and thirty people were waiting outside.
RM: What happened?
RG: Word of mouth
RM: The few people who tried it had great things to say?
RG: All word of mouth, being in a small town word travels pretty quick, so once the place opened, they’d try it and tell their friend about the new Lebanese place. By the next day we were jamming in here!
At that point I was like, ok I can breathe. That said, we doing ok, we were staying afloat, but we weren’t where I though we should be. So I thought why aren’t people coming in and trying it. We would have people come in, look around, listen to the music and say, “What kind of food do you make? Lebanese? Ew.” and walk out.
RM: You’ve got to have the first bite.
RG: So I made up this big “Poutine” sign. I still have the sign in my office. I put the sign in the window “Poutine $3.99”. Who doesn’t love poutine?
So people were coming in for poutine, awesome, while we’re making your poutine for you, “try this, try this, try that, try that”, and thankfully, they did.
RM: What a cool story! That’s a really neat story. So, by the end of the first year, you felt A) This is going to work or B) This is going to take a lot more work than I thought?
RG: I knew it was going to take a lot more work than I thought. Again, in my mind it was, “Ok, we’re just going to open and it’s going to go crazy”. Obviously, it doesn’t work that way. It took a lot of hard work to get it where we are. It takes a lot of hard work to keep us where we are.
I thought it would be a lot easier to get people to come in a try the food. Getting people to understand that our food is really not that foreign. You can say, “I’m a meat and potatoes kinda guy” and that’s great. Our food is chicken, beef, meat, lettuce, tomato, onions, garlic sauce. It’s all stuff people have had before, just not necessarily in the way we put it together. Our seasoning is thyme, oregano, garlic, olive oil, it’s stuff people are very used to. Like you say, it’s getting them to have that first bite, and getting them over the mindset that it’s something crazy.
Try it, we tell everyone new who comes in, “Try it, if you hate it, I will not be upset by that. Spit it out and tell me you hate it. Everyone has a different palate, and if you don’t like it, that’s ok. I’m just happy that you tried it.”
But it picked up eventually, and we’ve been here 10 years now.
RM: You faced, by my count at least two major challenges from fire here over that 10 years. With a normal job you don’t have to make a call about moving on. As a business owner though, you had to make the decision to keep going. What gave you the strength to get through that?
RG: Luckily, we never had a fire in the restaurant. The first fire was on the roof. There was roofers working on the building and the roof caught fire. We were shut down from the amount of smoke and water damage we had. So it had nothing to do with the restaurant, but that one specifically we were borderline. The floor was starting to cave in and the insurance wouldn’t cover the $60,000 we would need to fix it all.
So we thought , do we spend $60,000 and reopen, or do we walk away because whose got 60 grand lying around, I sure don’t. But we got through it. It took us 6 months to reopen. So we were able to scrounge up enough to get the floor done.
RM: Were you worried people would forget?
RG: Absolutely, but you know what, for me, it was almost needed. Before that I was working 6 days a week open to close. I didn’t get to see my kids.
It really settled in when we were closed, and I’d pick up the kids from school while my wife was at work. Well one day I asked them if they wanted pizza. And they were young, and I didn’t know what they wanted on their pizza. I had to call my wife and ask what they liked. From that point I knew I wasn’t spending enough time at home.
The next day I went to the shop, gave the workers doing the renos the keys and said, “Call me when you’re done”.
RM: It changed your life for the better.
RG: It was needed.
RM: That is so interesting.
Note: This conversation was broken up in two parts, the first on March 13, 2020, and the second on May 17, 2020. This is where the break in the conversation occurred.
RM: When we last spoke, you were deliberating on whether to close in response to the pandemic. Obviously you decided to close for some time, and just recently you’ve reopened for delivery and takeout on weekdays. How did you make use of the time away from the restaurant.
RG: Well, when we decided to shut down, nobody really knew what was going on. So we thought, “Well, we’ll take a week or two off and things will get back to normal and we’ll get back at ‘er”.
Well, it turns out we took two months off, and things definitely aren’t getting back to normal.
But the time that we took off was fantastic, I’m not going to lie. From a financial perspective obviously it sucks when you’re not working, but everything else has been fantastic. We got so much stuff done around the house that needed to get done, that we hadn’t had time for. We spent so much time woodworking with the kids. We have this old, beat up golf cart that doesn’t run, so my son and I took the time to take it all apart and get it working.
RM: As a teacher it’s so interesting hearing all the learning that’s going on outside of the classroom right now. Sure, it doesn’t look the same, but what you’re doing is learning, what a great experience for him!
Were you surprised by the reception when you announced you’d be reopening? And did you miss the restaurant?
RG: The first month or month and a half off, I was totally ok with it because we’ve been so busy. But the last few weeks, now that we’ve gotten done the stuff that needed to be done, that’s when it really kicked in that I need to get back to work. And not just from a financial perspective, from the perspective of, “I need to get back to work and do what I do”. We definitely missed it.
But in both the decision to shut down and to reopen we took into consideration our staff, because it affects them just as much as it does us. So before we closed we checked in to see where everyone’s head was at and if they would be ok with the decision. And throughout the two months we’ve been closed we’ve kept in touch with all of our staff just to make sure they’re ok from the financial perspective, and otherwise. When we decided to reopen, we called in the staff for a meeting to make sure they were ready to get back to work. We didn’t want to put anyone into a situation in which they’d be uncomfortable.
When we reopened the response was overwhelming. Last week was our first week back and it was absolutely insane. I couldn’t believe the amount of support. There were even a couple of days we had to stop taking orders because we just got swamped. The response was absolutely amazing.
We’re blessed man, we’re very blessed, we have a great spot, we have wonderful customers, you couldn’t ask for anything more.
RM: You have great support, but it is what you do with your blessings! You’ve incorporated your employees into the decision marking, and checking in on them, that’s the charm of a small business and it’s touching. I really appreciate hearing that.
RG: We realized when we shut down that some of the staff don’t have the financial means set aside to weather that storm, it’s hurting them just as much if not more.
Our staff has been with us for awhile. Our staff just isn’t our employees. We take care of them because ultimately they take care of us, they take care of my business, it’s a two way street.
RM: Let’s move on to something beyond the ongoing Pandemic. If you had to pick one menu item that was extra meaningful or special to you, which would it be and why?
RG: Wow that is a tough one. Honestly, probably the Veggie Shawarma, and the reason is you can’t go to any other Lebanese restaurant and find a Veggie Shawarma the way we do it. We use tofu. Traditionally speaking, in Lebanese cuisine, you just wouldn’t use tofu. That’s something we came up with on our own to try out because there’s a lot of vegetarians and vegans in North Bay.
Of course, we have the falafel wrap, which is vegan, but wanted to add another vegan option. So we tried to figure out how we could keep it Lebanese, but to give our vegan and vegetarian customers something different. We started experimenting with types of tofu and marinades and came up with the veggie shawarma. And it’s a huge seller, people love it, especially vegans and vegetarians.
That’s something I created, and it’s not your traditional dish you can get anywhere.
RM: It sounds like you’ve done something new but you’ve done it in the spirit of the traditional cuisine which is very interesting. Yeah that sounds cool I think you’ve sold me, you’ll see that on my next order.
Based on the lessons you’ve learned from your journey, both in family life and as a business owner, what message would you choose to display on a billboard that many people would see?
(Note – The Billboard question is stolen from the Tim Ferriss podcast)
RG: Honestly, a couple of things:
First is, “Stay true to what you do best“. We’ve seen it so many times where restaurants try to do too much. For us it’s stay true to what you do best.
The second lesson is that ,”You can’t please everybody“. We’ve learned to stop trying to please everybody. We do the best we can, the best we know how, and that’s all we can do, right?
When we first opened we were trying to make sure that everyone who came in was pleased, but it got us into trouble, because people have different tastes. Some people like a lot of garlic in their sauce, some people don’t like so much garlic in their sauce. So we can’t please everybody, we do it the way we know how, the best way we know how, and hope that’s enough.
RM: You’ve stated that North Bay is a great place to live, and that it was the obvious choice as a place to raise your family. What do you see for the future of our community? If your children were to raise their kids here, what would you want our city to be like?
RG: I think where we’re at is a great place. There’s always something that could be better. For us, one of the biggest changes we’ve seen when we moved here about 13 years ago, there was no diversity in restaurants. You could get Chinese or you could get Italian . And now you’ve got Indian, Lebanese, Japanese, French place opened up, Mexican place opened up. We’re definitely seeing a lot more diversity. Which is awesome, because for us, that was one of the shortcomings of North Bay: “I feel like Indian, but I can’t get Indian!” you know what I mean? And the culture, our kids are missing out on some of the diverse culture they might get growing up in a bigger city. But aside from that I think North Bay is just such a great, great place.
What I found most interesting about the conversation, believe it or not, is not the pretty outstanding tale of a young couple that found a home, and their dream, in North Bay. Of course, the story is great, but what I was most struck by was how Roger told it.
It was obvious he is very proud of his family’s accomplishments, and proud that they had followed their dream and did it their way. That said, it was also obvious that he is incredibly humble, kind, and genuine.
The Cedar Tree is exactly the kind of local business that brings North Bay forward. It introduces delicious cuisine that many locals might not have endeavoured to try had they not heard of Roger and Yasmin’s restaurant. It shows the strength of diversity, brings a neighbourhood feel to the city, and, stands as a humble local monument to the perseverance of a dream.
Oh, and it’s absolutely delicious.
Thank you for everything you do Roger and Yasmin, you make North Bay a better place.
Sincerely, Donair combo, both sauces, hold the onions, potatoes as the side.
“By his pure boldness, simply walking out and attempting no escape in a vehicle, the very openness of it made it nearly successful”
Judge Valin, 1933 on North Bay’s first bank robber. (Porcupine Advance, January 12, 1933)
On Saturday, November 26, 1932, North Bay was shocked at the experience of its first bank robbery. The robbery, the getaway and capture is an action packed story that is every bit worthy of the silver screen.
Shortly before noon, when the bank was scheduled to close, a man walked into North Bay’s Bank of Montreal on Main Street. The man introduced himself as L. Fraser to the teller, and expressed that he wished to open an account in the local branch. Upon being handed a deposit slip, the man claimed that he was unsure about his account number at his original branch, and that he would seek clarification and then return shortly.
“He got the keys of the teller’s cage by threatening the teller with aknife. He got the money out of the cage, keeping us covered at the same time. Then he forced us into the tellers cage. He then backed out of the bank, keeping us covered”
Bank of Montreal Manager D.J McGuire (Porcupine Advance: December 1, 1932)
About 15 minutes after the bank had closed for the day, the man returned to the bank. The Ledger Keeper, Claire McGowan, recognizing the man from earlier, admitted him into the bank as she left for lunch (Porcupine Advance, December 1, 1932). The man asked for the manager, and upon his greeting, brandished two revolvers and was guided to the tellers cage, where he stole his loot.
He locked the remaining staff in the tellers cage, threatening any resistance with his knife, about the size of a butcher’s knife, rather than utilizing his guns. The man casually strutted out of the bank with over $4,800, he walked down the street, behind the Pacific Hotel, and crossed the railway to head West in the direction of Sturgeon Falls.
“I just walked out the door and down the street. I was not in a hurry. I took my time. Then I went down behind the telegraph offices and over behind the old Pacific Hotel (now The Nugget Building). I crossed the tracks and walked on until I got out of the city into the bush.”
Accused on his escape route (Porcupine Advance: December 8, 1932)
If we trace the path of the man out of North Bay (see above) based on an interview when he was incarcerated, we see he travels North on Main St from the bank, until he reaches Klock Ave (the Algonquin we know today). To give a more modern day perspective, the Pacific Hotel which the man mentioned travelling behind, was located in the block which currently houses Mr Pancho’s.
One important part of this story to keep in mind is that $4,800 in 1932 has the value of about $86,000 in today’s dollars (Bank of Canada, 2020). So with that much money stolen, it’s no surprise that the apprehension of the suspect and the recovery of the money was priority #1 for North Bay and Provincial Police in the region.
As the suspect was walking down Main St. and making his escape, the wheels were already in motion for the mission to hunt him down. Police were notified of the robbery immediately. Officers worked the case quickly and diligently, making contact with local hotels and cafes, and cross referencing the witness descriptions of the perpetrator with those of their clientele. Before long, it became clear that the suspect in question was Sam Ayoub, a man well known in Northern municipalities, and with no known criminal record (Porcupine Advance, December 1, 1932).
Fortunately, the public, shocked by the news of the robbery were also on the side of the police, and as a result numerous crucial tips were submitted that lead to Sam Ayoub’s capture. Immediately after the act, M. Laframboise and Joseph Radier gave the police information about his identity (Porcupine Advance, January 19, 1933).
After exiting the town heading west, Ayoub found himself turned around in the bush. He was lost in the woods until about 6:30 PM, a full six hours after the robbery. He was spotted at around 5:40 PM by a North Bay Trucker carrying a load of lumber.
While he was loading his truck around Yellek, about 8.5 km West of North Bay, the trucker spotted a figure moving at a quick pace, and when the figure crossed his headlights, his attire, a black jacket and light fedora, was illuminated. The driver, Austin Larivee, connecting the description with what he saw, reported the sighting to the authorities upon his arrival back in North Bay (December 1, 1932).
The figure was indeed the perpetrator of the robbery. Sam had struggled with the forested escape, and was in need of sustenance:
“I didn’t get out until about 6:30 or 7 o’clock. I was right at a Lumber camp so I went in and bought my supper”
Sam Ayoub on being lost in the woods during his escape (Porcupine Advance December 8, 1932)
While after walking for such a distance, Ayoub’s hunger can be understood, his growling stomach betrayed him, as word made its way to the authorities that a man fitting the robber’s description had purchased food from the Miller-Stockdale lumber camp near Yellek. Peter Elder Smith and his wife (yes, this story even has its own Mr. & Mrs. Smith), who ran the camp reported the man’s presence to police.
Police converged on the reported location, sending out a posse of seven officers, but by the time they arrived, Ayoub had continued on his way West. The police gathered information at the camp, and broke up.
The members of the team in pursuit of Ayoub included:
Deputy Chief Dennis (NBP)
Sgt. Michaud (NBP)
Constable Belanger (NBP)
Constable Smaill (OPP)
Chief of Police Leclair (OPP)
Constable Campeau (OPP)
While Deputy Chief Dennis, Sgt. Michaud and Constable Smaill covered the Canadian National Railway, the rest of the team covered the highway.
The two men that would eventually locate Ayoub, Constables Pilgrim and Bellanger of North Bay Police, were dropped off about 5 km east of Sturgeon Falls, and were instructed to start walking east along the Canadian National Rail line. The Deputy Chief suspected that a pump house located along the rail around Meadowside, by Jocko Point, might serve as a refuge from the cold for their target.
After about five and a half or so kilometres of travel on foot, the duo encountered a man walking west on the tracks, about 4.8 km West of Meadowside. The man attempted to casually pass the officers, when he was confronted and grabbed by constable Belanger and questioned:
“Just a minute, what is your name?”
Constable Belanger to Sam Ayoub (Porcupine Advance December 8, 1932)
The paths of both involved parties in the shootout can be seen approximated in the map I’ve roughly put together below. Note that I’ve given Sam a straight path, although it is clear by the timing described in the primary sources that he was certainly lost for some time. It tookAyoub over 8 hours to arrive just past Meadowside, a distance that is walkable in around 5 hours according to GoogleMaps. Of course the conditions may account for much of the time difference, but you can assume the path shown below isn’t winding the way Sam Ayoub actually traveled, but does give you an idea of the distance of his escape on foot.
Ayoub wasn’t amibiguous in his response to the police. It was immediately clear they had located their target as Ayoub replied to the question of his identity by firing two shots at Constable Belanger, who’s forearm was grazed and was hit in his side.
Luckily for the officers, that’s when Ayoub’s gun jammed, providing an opportunity for Belanger to wrestle with his attacker. Unfortunately, the two were so entangled in their clinch that Constable Pilgrim was scared to fire at the perpetrator in fear of putting his partner’s life at further risk. The brief moment in which the clinch subsided, and the combatants parted, Pilgrim fired twice, the first grazing his side, with the second piercing Ayoubs hand, and landing in his hip bone. Pilgrim then fired at Ayoub’s head, entering through the back of his neck and coming to rest in his jaw (Porcupine Advance, December 1, 1932)
While there is no doubt Ayoub’s injuries were critical, his persistence continued as he tried to flee the scene, until he was tackled by the injured Belanger. Pilgrim rushed to Meadowside and informed the team of the capture, and Constable Campeau picked up the suspect and the arresting officers in his car. He had on him $4,836 as well as three guns, one of which was stolen from the Bank during the robbery.
As he was transported to the station in North Bay, he did not complain of his severe injuries, and refused to provide any information, calling himself L. Fraser. Once he finally identified himself as Ayoub, he refused further cooperation, stating:
“You’ve got me and you’ve got the money. What more do you want?”
Sam Ayoub upon his capture (Porcupine Advance December 8, 1932)
While initially Sam Ayoub was brought to the police station for questioning, it was recognized that his injuries were severe enough to be life threatening, and he was brought to North Bay Civic Hospital and was treated under police surveillance. By the Monday following the Saturday evening capture, confidence had grown that Ayoub would recover to face trial, despite false reports that he had succumbed to his wounds (Porcupine Advance: December 1, 1932) (Porcupine Advance: December 8, 1932). Ayoub, when sufficiently recovered, was transferred to the North Bay Jail, and was charged with armed robbery and wounding an officer on duty.
The North Bay Police and Ontario Police received a ton of credit for their quick and effective response to the crime, as well as for the teamwork between the two organizations. They certainly made use of their resources, and their understanding of the local geography to execute the capture.
Constable Belanger’s wounds were minor, and were treated quickly, with the officer returning to work mere weeks after the shootout. Belanger was proud of the takedown, stating:
“I’m shot, but I’ve got my man”
Constable Belanger (Porcupine Advance, December 8, 1932)
While the public praised Constables Bellanger and Pilgrim as heroic in their actions, Sam Ayoub had a different take on the matter, threatening the arresting officers, as well as those who provided the police with tips.
Interestingly, I found those who made the tips to police actually had their names published in the newspaper. I found this to contrast starkly with modern life, where tips are usually given anonymously, and are rarely published with names even when not provided anonymously.
“I’ll get you if I ever get out”
Sam Ayoub to informants and his arresting officers (Porcupine Advance, December 8, 1932)
On December 22, almost a full month after the robbery, it was reported that while Ayoub had recovered and was able to walk and stand in his cell, he was not anywhere near the condition needed to stand trial (Porcupine Advance, December 22, 1932).
Finally, on January 9 of 1933, Sam would have his day in court. The trial was highly anticipated, and the North Bay Courthouse was filled to capacity to watch John McColeman defend a stoic, emotionless Sam Ayoub. Even Judge Valin, who would hear the case, was amused by the large turnout.
McColeman attempted to convince the court that Sam’s sanity was in question. When the Bank Manager testified that he didn’t seem insane, McColeman pointed out that the Manager really didn’t have the qualifications to make such an assessment. Crown Attorney McKee did not weigh in on the matter of sanity, deciding to make no comment. Ultimately, Judge Valin sided with the Crown, stating:
“The prisoner may be partly insane, but not enough that he is not responsible for his acts”
Judge Valin on the issue of Ayoub’s sanity (Porcupine Advance January 12, 1933)
Following this decision, Judge Valin laid out the sentence, which consisted of 15 years for the armed robbery, and 3 years for the wounding of an on-duty officer. Mercifully, the Judge prescribed no lashed to the wounded defendant, and allowed for his sentences to be served concurrently, meaning that Ayoub would really only face 15 years in the Portsmouth penitentiary. At the time of his sentencing, Sam was 26, and was assured that he would still have time and an opportunity for a new life following serving his time, but that further evaluations of his mental state would be necessary (Porcupine Advance, January 12, 1933).
Why did Sam Ayoub rob the bank that day in 1932?
Prior to the trial, Sam interviewed with a Sudbury reporter who was given some pretty wild responses to his inquiries. The responses give us clues as to his motive, despite his lackadaisical attitude towards his crimes.
Initially, when asked why he did it, Sam replied:
“It must have been the devil that prompted me. I don’t know why I did it”
Sam Ayoub (Porcupine Advance, December 8, 1932)
Then he explained that he wanted to get money for a girl that he had brought from Kirkland Lake to be with him in Sudbury.
When asked if he had robbed the bank in response to financial problems, Sam stated unequivocally that:
“I wasn’t hard up, I was foolish”
Sam Ayoub (Porcupine Advance, December 8, 1932)
When asked why he robbed the Bank of Montreal specifically, he said:
“I don’t know. No special reason. I just went in there and thought I’d hold it up”
Sam Ayoub (Porcupine Advance, December 8, 1932)
It was revealed in the interview that Ayoub was well known around town, and that he was bound to be recognized when he considered his crime in hindsight:
“Everybody knows me, even the chickens in the backyards know me. That’s the trouble.”
Sam Ayoub (Porcupine Advance, December 8, 1932)
It was also revealed around the time of this interview that Ayoub had been questioned for a robbery of the Sylvester Store in Kirkland Lake, and had been sought for further questioning as he left town. It was also revealed that Ayoub was a frequent customer of bars and pool halls throughout Northern Ontario, used aliases including Secord, Fraser, and Essa, and that he hadn’t worked in a long time (Porcupine Advance, December 8, 1932).
One major point of contention in the trial was whether or not the robbery was premeditated. Had Ayoub planned his actions, or was he acting on impulse?
Crown attorney McKee cited Ayoub’s decision to use the silent threat of his knife rather than firing a noisy gun during the act, as well as Ayoub’s initial visit to the branch as reasons that his crime was premeditated. On the other hand, the defence argued that it would be poor premeditation to plan an escape through treacherous terrain in a densely forested region without provisions (Porcupine Advance, January 12, 1933).
Whether you believe the crime was premeditated, or not, will ultimately provide the foundation for your judgement of who Sam Ayoub was. If he had acted impulsively, as his interview suggests, he was a foolish young man. Whereas if it was premeditated, as suggested by his first visit to the bank, he certainly thought he was smarter than he was, as evidenced by the challenges of his escape after crossing the city limits.
George Mitchell, the King’s Council, made a court statement on behalf of Ayoub’s parents(below) which suggested that he lived a relatively good and stable upbringing from a prominent shop owner in Kirkland Lake, and that they were concerned that drug use had set him on the wrong path.
“The boy is well born and has a splendid record. He has been a hard working boy and his parents are exemplary in their relations to the world and to the community. The accused, has resided in Kirkland Lake, and, as I am told, has been consuming some drugs.”
George Mitchell Court Statement on Behalf of Ayoub’s Parents (Porcupine Advance January 12, 1933)
So, who was Sam Ayoub?
Was he a good kid who had fallen into the trappings of drug abuse, and was looking to support the habit and lifestyle?
Was he a man in love, aiming to give his girl the extravagant life he believed she deserved?
Was he an impulsive man, unable to resist the riches in a bank’s vault, despite the risks?
Was he calculated, but ultimately shortsighted on what would have been necessary to be successful in his plan?
Was Sam a young man with serious mental health issues, which would have been untreated and unacknowledged at that period of medical and criminal history?
Or is it possible, as he himself suggested, that the Devil himself momentarily took hold of him and compelled acts of evil through his bodily existence?
Really, we can only guess. One thing is for sure: Sam Ayoub’s name that is synonymous with an incredibly compelling and infamous black spot on North Bay’s history.
**Note: This is a very long article. I’ve considered splitting it up, but ultimately decided to provide natural section breaks for convenience if you want to read it in pieces. You can use the links below to skip to sections**
If you measure the efficiency at which various species move, the energy burned to move a certain distance, you will find that humans fall about 1/3 of the way down the list. Interestingly, researchers have also found that if you put that human on a bicycle, humankind represents literally the #1 most efficient locomotion of the measured species (Wilson, 1973).
“When one compares the energy consumed in moving a certain distance as a function of body weight for a variety of animals and machines, one finds that an unaided walking man does fairly well … but he is not as efficient as a horse, a salmon or a jet transport.
With the aid of a bicycle, however, the man’s energy consumption for a given distance is reduced to about a fifth”
S.S Wilson, 1973
Biking is an incredibly efficient way to move around, and, as most of us remember from our childhood, it’s an incredibly fun way to get around. Oh, and it’s a really cheap way to get around. Did I mention it’s really good for you, and the environment, too?
So with all its efficiency, fun, and benefits, why is it that in our society the bicycle is seen as a a recreational pursuit? We subconsciously think of those who ride their bike’s for transportation as juvenile, or economically disadvantaged. Maybe we assume that they’re fitness obsessives who just aim to cram as much recreation into their day as they possibly can.
We’ve committed so totally and completely to the automobile that we’ve build our whole city around it. In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an alien comes to earth and confuses the car for our planet’s dominant life form. This is both absurd and, when given some thought, a fair conclusion to reach if observing Earth from afar.
It’s abundantly obvious that cars are given preferential treatment in our city, a notion woven into the culture of western society. So how can we get the leaders and residents of North Bay to consider investing and participating in cycling?
What would that city look like?
The Benefits of Being a Cycle City
1) Cycling is the fiscally responsible choice for both the city, and the end users.
When compared with automobile ownership, a bike is an incredibly fiscally responsible choice. Of course, like anything, there are various degree of qualities and types, but generally, a bike can cost you a few hundred dollars, will have extremely reasonable maintenance costs, and do not require the recurring costs of insurance and fuel.
Think about the number of people in our community living pay-cheque to pay-cheque. How many of them own a car because our city’s layout made it the obvious choice? What could all the extra money be spent on?
All in, the cost of a bike isn’t even in the same universe as the car. As such an affordable option, it’s a wonder it isn’t catered to. An affordable way to move around the city should be a huge priority, and yet, if we look at North American cities, it’s blatantly obvious it’s an afterthought, if that.
From the perspective of the city, cycling is also very cheap transportation.
When comparing the cost of infrastructure to the public, infrastructure for automobiles costs about 29 ¢ per mile, while cycling costs a mere 0.9 ¢ per mile (Montgomery, 2013). We pour thousands, and thousands of dollars into our roadways, and for a fraction of that we could improve cycling transportation in our city, empowering residents with the freedom to move around town in another way. As a knock on benefit, the reduced traffic as a function of former motorists choosing to cycling increases the efficiency of the roadways, which has indirect economic benefits.
One could make a fair argument that the most efficient transportation route is the one that can move the highest volume of people per relative space. Bicycles take very little space compared to a car, and while cars can seat five to seven people, they often only carry one.
By including bike lanes and other cyclist infrastructure, we increase the efficiency of our transportation system, and take a fiscally conservative approach to improving mobility of residents.
2) Cycling is a great, sustainable transportation choice to reduce environmental harm.
One of the most obvious, well-known and well-regarded qualities of the bicycle is its environmental friendliness. While obviously there are emissions associated with the production and transportation of bikes, they produce no emissions in use. Remember, the emissions from vehicles are an externality. They create costs to everyone in their impact on the climate, ecology, and air quality.
In reality, in terms of changing personal behaviours to have an effect on the global issue of climate change, addressing our automobile dependence is a huge step. The bike, which offers fairly fast travel over medium distances with no emissions is a great tool to this end.
Up to 90% of the emissions from a 11 km car ride occur in the first few kilometres (Trace Planning and Design, 2019). Additionally, most car trips are under 5 km in distance, and thus could easily be replaced with a 10 minute bike ride (Montgomery, 2013). If we put the effort into accommodating bikes, it could really make a difference in solving the man-made climate change problem.
As an added bonus, more cyclists means less motorists, which means less rush-hour congestion on Algonquin, Cassels and other main arteries, and thus even less emissions caused by slow flowing traffic.
Finally, Cyclists move slower than vehicles, meaning that they are more aware of the sights around them (Andersen, 2018). The desire to acccommodate cycle routes with views might lead to more small scale natural features, and thus better urban ecology in our city.
Cycling has obvious environmental benefits, but unless we nudge people to choose their bike over their car, those benefits will remain untapped.
3) Promoting cycling in our city can make a big difference in the effort to improve human health.
Just as cycling is good for the health of the environment, it’s good for the cyclist’s health, both physiologically and psychologically.
People who cycle for transportation have reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and numerous other ailments which reduce life expectancy (Trace Planning and Design, 2019). In other words, active transportation like cycling promotes longevity in our residents, and reduces health care costs to the public.
Biking as transport also has great psychological benefits, as cyclists report far less stress, rage, and other negative emotions on their commutes than the automobile (Montgomery, 2013).
Studies have been done on the ideal commute time, and they might surprise you. You would think that obviously the shorter the commute the better, and to some degree this is obviously true; a hour long commute is far more tedious and psychologically damaging than half an hour. That said, studies have found that at a certain point, people find that their commute is actually too short. This is because commute time offers a useful buffer between work and home lives.
The ideal commute, according to a UC Davis study, is about 16 minutes long. Travelling to and from work allows time for people to snap into work mode, and decompress before arriving at home (Montgomery, 2013). For the 55 % of North Bay residents that drive less than 15 minutes to work, it seems intuitive that for at least a portion of these people, cycling would actually improve their mood at home and at work (StatsCanada, 2016).
Overall, commuters who travel by bicycle report being happier, more energetic, and experience generally better moods when compared to their motorist counterparts (Montgomery, 2013).
4) Cycling fosters community, while our motorist culture erodes it.
Finally, cycling is good for community. When biking, people are able to interact with each other in ways motorists in the comfort bubble of their car simply can’t. Think about the interactions you have with the public in your vehicle: usually it amounts to nothing more than passing frustration at the behaviour of other motorists, but there are also serious incidents of road rage. People seem most on edge in their cars. Studies have shown heart rates of car commuters can be almost double their resting rate, and a surge of cortisol (the stress hormone) suggests and perpetuates the stress (Montgomery, 2013).
Isn’t it handy people are seemingly primed to act their worst while they’re in control of the most dangerous mechanical equipment they’ll likely ever handle?
Did I say handy? I meant horrifying.
On the other side of the spectrum, cyclists interact with each other in an incredibly positive light. If more of us cycled, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we might be more in tune with our sense of community.
They’ve experienced the cyclists that take the whole lane and slow them down, or ones that act as a quasi-pedestrians illegally crossing streets, failing to stop at stop signs, etc. These experiences lead them to believe that cyclists are a danger to themselves, and to the flow of and predictability of their driving experience.
Of course, as pedestrians, cyclists can be a bit of a pest too if they decide they are only comfortable riding on the sidewalk. I can totally understand wanting to be separated from bikes as a pedestrian, and the laws agree with this. Unfortunately, our infrastructure either places people in two categories: as wheeled transportation or a pedestrian. While it seems obvious that bikes and cars differ vastly, there is no third category for the far lighter, slower, and more vulnerable bicycle.
If it’s prudent to protect pedestrians from cyclists, surely it’s prudent to protect cyclists from motorists. The potential for harm is that much greater.
So yes, we’ve all experienced those unpredictable cyclists that make us sweat or curse behind the wheel. But let’s keep in mind, our infrastructure, and policy, has made no space for them. “Legitimate behaviour” behind the handlebars is sort of a blurry proposition. If the city made space for cyclists in the form of bike lanes, letting them know they actually belong, it would drastically increase the predictability of cyclists, and allow for proper enforcement of clear cut rules and protocols.
Remember, the job of our transportation infrastructure is to move people, not cars. When we’re behind the wheel it’s very easy to point the finger at the perpetrator of the infractions, rather than consider the context from which the behaviour is borne.
So, next time you see a cyclist “take the lane”, or ride on the sidewalk, consider that without providing a legitimate space for the transportation method, we get unpredictable behaviour.
What makes a Cyclist?
It’s a pretty loaded term. When we think of the word cyclist we almost certainly witness the image of a spandex clad expert road bike rider who could just talk your head off about the Tour-de-France. When we think about bicycle transportation, we think of a pretty narrow demographic.
But honestly, few of us grew up without learning to ride a bicycle. And man, the joy of the freedom it offered, the pure fun. It’s a quintessential experience of youth.
And yet at a certain age, the joy doesn’t seem to remain kosher. We think of people who own bikes instead of cars as juvenile, as if they’re not quite far enough along their life journey. Once they get there, they’ll buy a car and then surely they’ll leave the childish thing behind.
Realistically, why can’t we recapture that joy? Some of my favourite memories have been casual cycling in various cities with my friends. Even those who don’t cycle regularly or aren’t the most active can still travel 3-4 times their walking speed, and expends about 25% of the energy pedalling at a leisurely pace (Montgomery, 2013).
So, what makes cyclist?
It could be just about anyone.
If people are made to feel safe, to feel like they belong, I believe many, many more people would cycle. I can’t count the number of discussions I’ve had with people who love to ride their bike, but are uncomfortable choosing between risking a ticket on the safety of the sidewalk, or the perceived kamikaze mission of cruising mere feet from two tonnes of fast moving metal under the control of very fallible human beings.
Cycling, like walking, is a big case of the Field of Dreams effect:
“If you build it, they will come”
North Bay’s Best Cycling Assets
1) North Bay has a fantastic recreational cycling trail system
It would be absolutely ridiculous to write an article about cycling in North Bay and exclude mention of the fantastic Kinsmen and Kate Pace Way trails. These are paved bi-directional bike paths separated from the roadways (with a few exceptions), and provide a fantastic opportunity to cycle recreationally. The paths also cover quite a bit of ground in North Bay, and even regionally, stretching between Airport Rd, to Memorial Dr, to the southern portion of Lakeshore Dr, all the way into Callander.
While the paths largely serve as linear parks, offering a place for recreational cycling more so than cycling as transportation, they still represent a huge asset to cyclists in our city. There is room for expansion and improvement of flow and access along the routes, but essentially this asset could serve as a sort of cycling highway for some desired journeys, especially travelling between Ferris and the city’s North end.
In addition to the paved pathways provided by the city’s trail network, our natural surroundings provide many more off-road mountain biking experience, such as the campus trails, Laurentian Conservation Area, and other trails throughout town.
These trails are a huge asset for a cycling city. I tell all my friends that when they visit North Bay in the Summer they have to bring their bike. There’s not much quite like flying down the Kate Pace Way, knowing you’re riding on a mere swath of smooth pavement cutting through beautiful forests. It’s just very cool.
But it’s also very easy to point to the trails and say: “we’ve done enough for cyclists”.
We need to get our heads around the idea that bike infrastructure isn’t just throwing a small portion of the population a bone, it’s giving an opportunity for the healthy practice of Active Transportation to grow in our city. It’s improving our entire transportation network by integrating freedom and mobility for as many of us as we can.
2) North Bay already has developed an up-to-date and ambitious Active Transportation Master Plan, and a well researched report that points to quality of life improvements as the best way to create growth in our city.
Fortunately, others more determined than myself have put pressure on the city in the past few years to take active transportation seriously in our city, rather than relegate cycling, and even walking, to a recreational pursuit.
In 2018 the city contracted Trace Planning and Design, and formed an Active Transportation Advisory Board, in order to produce a long term plan for improving the experience of active transportation in our city. After reading the document, the North Bay Active Transportation Master Plan (2019), I feel it does well to balance ambition and realistic objectives and, if followed, should do a great deal to improve the mobility of our city.
Additionally, the Baylor Report (2016), produced by Baylor University, was a very thorough study of the potential of our city that concluded that in order to achieve growth, improvements in the resident’s lives would bring more people to the city.
The city has been fairly committed to the idea that attracting businesses to our city would bring growth, but the Baylor Report suggests that because businesses actually follow the people, the better strategy is to make North Bay a great place to live so people want to move here.
With this well researched report from such a credible source, we are more than equipped with the evidence that projects like improving the city’s active transportation network is the best way to invest in our city’s growth.
Fortunately, those determined few that I previously mentioned pushed the city to commit to the Active Transportation Master Plan. This commitment is, without question, a huge asset for making North Bay a better cycling city.
3) The natural setting of North Bay provides a scenic setting for cycling.
The faster we travel, the narrower our focus of vision becomes. Travelling 100 km/h on the highway, you see far less detail in your periphery vision than travelling 40 km/h in a school-zone (Andersen, 2018). Given that cyclists travel slower than this (for the most part), it stands to reason that incorporating pleasant views for cyclists and pedestrians is far more impactful than for motorists.
North Bay’s natural setting provides some awesome views for cyclists
North Bay’s natural setting, with the escarpment, rock faces courtesy of the Canadian Shield, various lakes and creeks, as well as forests, provides no shortage of fantastic views. These sights encourage and engage cyclists, as it makes the view more pleasant and maximizes the psychological benefit of cycling. People want to enjoy these types of views, and from that perspective the natural setting of North Bay is a real asset.
4) North Bay still has numerous routes that have wide lanes and shoulders that can easily accommodate bike lanes.
North Bay has plenty of pretty efficient routes through town that include lanes wide enough to accommodate and restructure for cycling lanes, including Cassels St, Obrien St, Jane St and others. While we have a serious lack of bike lanes at the present, we haven’t completely cornered ourselves into being a motorist-only city forever. There is potential for development of important routes that can accommodate cyclists safely and efficiently.
Imagine if there were bike lanes lining the streets proposed in the map above. The whole neighbourhood, which is full of schools, would be pretty cycle friendly. Honestly, some of these street are already wide enough that all that would be required is paint. From there, lanes could be painted on a few of the other streets, especially those that are relatively flat and see little traffic. All of a sudden you have an incredibly cycle friendly neighbourhood in a fairly population dense area of town. You offer children the opportunity to cycle to school, and offer parents the peace of mind to know they are safe to do so.
Look at High Street in particular. There are three schools accessible on this one road alone, it already includes a bike lane after Chippewa St., and has wide lanes and shoulders that could easily accommodate bike lanes. This above neighbourhood proposal is a prime example of the way that while North Bay is not a great cycle city today, it actually has a ton of potential as a cycling city.
5) North Bay’s Post-Secondary Schools provide a demographic of potential cyclists.
Cyclists and University/College students is a pretty large demographic overlap. With many students living in our city, there are many potential cyclists. Unfortunately, the topography of the Institutions’ locations isn’t exactly ideal, and the academic calendar does not include the most pleasant biking months. That being said, as a student who stayed for summer employment, my bike was my best friend. It got me to work, it got me to the store, it kept me in shape. Plus, the feeling of coming down the Montessori Trail, approaching a view of the lake and city through what felt like a pinhole clearing between the trees. The rush of witnessing this view, and descending the escarpment on two-wheels after a long day of work was sort of magical.
What Stands between Us and Being a cycle city?
1) People’s attitudes and perceptions of the bicycle are the biggest barrier to creating a culture as a cycling city in North Bay.
Easily the largest barrier to North Bay being a quality cycling city is the attitude that it’s just never going to happen. People here, for the most part, grew up here or in other North American cities that also consider the bike an afterthought. The idea that we should make space for cyclists, or even that we should want more cyclists is a foreign idea.
People think of cycling and they think of European cities like Copenhagen, Denmark. They say: “hey, it’s just the way it is there”, as if that means anything at all. Copenhagen was once a car centric city too, they just decided one day that cars are dangerous, and shouldn’t necessarily be the consideration we build a city around. The “stop the child murder” campaign brought attention to the need for safe biking infrastructure, and effort is put into giving the cyclist preferential treatment. In other words, the shift was a deliberate one. It didn’t just happen, and they didn’t wait for some threshold of cyclists to claim they had demand for it.
Ironically, it’s sort of like how Henery Ford said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. People didn’t know they wanted to cycle everywhere, they just wanted freedom of mobility. Copenhagen addressed the roots of the problem, efficient movement of people, rather than the demand of consumers, which was more space for cars.
We can make our city one that’s very friendly to biking. But first people need to question their fundamental assumptions about how cars are used, what roads are for, and what cycling infrastructure accomplishes.
Council can’t look at new cycling infrastructure as throwing a bone to a small group. Cycling needs to be viewed as integral to planning the movement of people in our city. We need officials to advocate for the cyclist’s safety, to create space for them in the form of bike lanes, and to show them that not only do they belong, they are valued.
Residents need to change their mind from a few perspectives, both in their assessment of people who bike, and of their assessment of themselves as potential cyclists. People see cyclists as a nuisance: they take up space and they’re unpredictable.
They do take up space, but significantly less than a car.
They’re unpredictable, because the infrastructure does not clearly direct them to behave predictably. At times, cyclists act as vehicles, taking the full lane, while others behave like quasi pedestrians, crossing whenever they please and using sidewalks. Of course this is a problem, but arguing for better cycle infrastructure is a solution to it, it certainly couldn’t make it worse.
We need to respect that cyclist exist. That cycling is a good thing, and respect that while there isn’t really a space for them as it stands, there really should be. Cyclists have just as much right to move around the city safely and efficiently as motorists, and yet that right is simply not respected.
This is one of those issues where we need to work backwards to solve it. We can’t have a cycling culture, and thus have demand so we can produce cycling infrastructure, instead, we must create a place for cyclists, watch demand grow as its perceived safety increases, and examine the way a cycle culture emerges from there.
2) People like to bike, but don’t feel safe on the road, and don’t wish to risk a ticket for riding on the sidewalk, and thus, they don’t bike.
The biggest internal barrier preventing motorists and pedestrians alike from becoming cyclists is the perceived safety of that method of transport. People shouldn’t be made to ride exposed, their lightweight bikes a few feet from a moving object that could kill them at the slight mishap. It’s incredibly uncomfortable, and I know many people who simply choose not to cycle because of this single factor.
Of course, cyclists who equip themselves with safety gear are smart, mitigating the chances that they might endure life altering injuries from collisions. Unfortunately there’s some interesting research that suggests that motorists actually give cyclists who wear helmets less berth when overtaking. It is theorized that motorists assume that cyclists who wear helmets have expertise (a flawed assumption), and thus the safety promise of the helmet is actually reduced when riding side by side with motorized traffic (Walker, 2007).
“Not everyone is as brave or agile as the hero cyclist…if you really want to give people the freedom to move as they wish, you must gobeyond accident statistics to consider how people actually feel about moving through a given space”
Charles Montgomery in Happy City
There’s a large degree of irony that in the West we perceive the bicycle as a toy for children, and yet we totally fail at providing safe spaces where children can bike. One cycling advocate has gone as far as to say that if an area is unsafe for children to cycle in, we’ve got work to do (Montgomery, 2013).
Think about North Bay… boy do we have work to do.
3) North Bay has a serious lack of cycling lanes, and thus provides little to no space for the cyclists in the city’s transportation network.
This is pretty self explanatory. While usually it is simply marked by paint, and light barriers, bike lanes simply provide predictability in both the cyclist and motorist experience. Clear lines are drawn between the two transportation methods, and thus motorists and cyclists both can rejoice.
Cycle lanes can face backlash from motorists, such as a park in Brooklyn for which the city was unsuccessfully sued to remove bike lanes. Sure, they can reduce the flow of traffic during construction, and in the short term. In the long term however, it actually makes the motorist experience far better.
So yes, sure we have great cycling trails, but how do people access them? If we can’t expect safe travel to and from access points, are we expected to drive to them?
To be an effective cycling city, North Bay needs a bicycling network that includes both cycle lanes so that all destinations can be comfortably reached, as well as logical trail access to capitalize on our strong trail system.
4) With the exceptions of certain areas, North Bay lacks interesting small-scale views that a more appealing cycling environment should provide.
Some of you reading this might think my obsession with views is a little weird. If you have a bike lane, do you really need us to pamper your route with planters and murals too?
Of course these are a more detailed aspect of encouraging cycling, but they really do. Small scale nature and manmade sights encourage cycling, and have the even greater benefit of creating a sense of place in our neighbourhoods. I asked a former roommate, who now lives in Ottawa, why he enjoyed cycling in Ottawa more. While I fully expected him to discuss the cycling infrastructure there, he basically said the environment provides a variety of views that keep it interesting over time.
In this regard, North Bay could have much more to offer in terms of tree lined streets, planters, and community art pieces, which while helpful for cyclists, more importantly help create a sense of place, an identity, for our city.
5) The highway bypass acts as a literal barrier to cycling in North Bay.
The most expedient route through North Bay, the highway bypass is, of course, completely inaccessible to cyclists. There are no simple and purposed parallel routes, and it is a challenge for bikers of many skill levels to cross. We only have one pedestrian/cyclist overpass in town, and in my opinion one linking the McKewon Plaza area to the Pinewood neighbourhood across the bypass would be a huge breath of fresh air for cyclists and pedestrians alike.
If people continually damage the fence, it probably suggests demand for an overpass between the Pinewood neighbourhood and the McKeown Plaza
6) North Bay has many roads riddled with potholes, sand, rough pavement and debris that are simply not conducive to cycling.
Once again, this might sound trivial if you don’t cycle regularly, but it matters. At winters end the sand is all swept to the side of the road for a few weeks, where cyclists are of course expected to be. For mountain bikes with wider tires this is hardly a concern at all, but on a road bike these conditions are a recipe for disaster.
A more permanent problem is that the roadway is weak where the curb meets the pavement. There are often storm drains, manholes covers, and curbs, which yield frequent cracked pavement, and potholes. These all create complexity and unpredictability for the cyclists. If I have to swerve closer to traffic to avoid a large pothole, I’ve just created unpredictability for motorists.
Smooth, predictable pavement, like those of cycle lanes, are necessary to help people pick up the habit.
7) The long winter season in North Bay, with heavy snowfall and cold temperatures, is not conducive to cycling, limiting the potential as a cycle city.
This is a rough one.
It’s hard to justify locking up money in infrastructure that only gets use 6-8 months of the year.
And yet, with the exclusion of storm events and deep freezes, there are actually many days when temperatures aren’t completely unreasonable for cycling during our winter months.
Plus, some of the most famous cycling cities in the world are at even more northern latitudes than our own city, and receive their share of cold and snow. Copenhagen can expect plenty of snow, and yet cyclists are present in winter, how?
Clearing bike lanes is a priority. Residents can expect black pavement on cycle lanes by the time they wake up for their commute. Fostering reasonable cycling conditions for parts of the winter really isn’t unreasonable
If we compare the winter climate of Oslo, Norway’s premier cycling city, with North Bay, we can see that they are fairly similar in both temperature and snowfall. Here, winter cycling seems absurd, but in Norway, through a commitment to the infrastructure (including clearing the snow), and spiked bike tires, they manage accommodating cycling year round.
Honestly, it’s kind of funny the way that as technology has improved, our standard for comfort has skyrocketed. There has never been better equipment to keep warm and dry in the winter. There has never been better snow removal equipment, and there are specialized bikes and accessories which allow bikes to work great in snow. There are permeable materials that reduce the accumulation of snow on cycling paths. Still, the idea of biking in winter seems as absolutely crazy today as it did generations ago.
Remember, I’m not insisting that everybody go bike during the years worst snow storm, freezing rain, or deep freeze. I’m just saying maybe half of the year isn’t as completely off limits as we perceive it to be.
“Biking in winter is kind of like walking on hot coals: people say you can’t do it. They say it’s impossible!
But then you just go and do it”
Robert Judge- Saskatoon, Canada as quoted in Happy City
Winter is a real barrier to becoming a cycling city, because it is something people can point to for an easy excuse not to try.
8) The steep hills of North Bay create challenges for the average person, and doesn’t encourage cycling.
North Bay’s topography poses a challenge to cyclists, as biking uphill creates a great deal of resistance, fatiguing the rider quickly, and making some routes all but impossible for the average person on a bike. Airport road might have a shoulder cycle path, but how many people can honestly climb that on a bike without stopping, or descend it without trembling in fear.
“I’m biking uphill and it’s killing my quads, I’m biking downhill and it sounds like a fishing rod”
Frank Ocean – Biking
A bike lane on the hill of Algonquin Rd would be useful, but likely would be used by far less than alternative routes with a more gradual slope. We shouldn’t build the bike network to accommodate people who are already cyclists, or a narrow demographic of human fitness, we instead should ensure accessibility and comfort to as many rider as possible.
When planning cycle routes, it is important to consider the way topography creates resistance for cyclists, and make routes reasonable for the average person to undertake.
9) Bike theft is a serious concern in North Bay.
As far back as the late 1800’s, and as recently as last summer, bicycle thefts have been commonplace in our city. Bikes are mobile, and often vulnerable to theft as even some of the best bike locks are fallible given the right tools. It is important the destinations throughout town include bike racks for locking bikes.
“In 1969, the Department investigated 1,438 cases of theft, deemed much like the cases of stolen bicycles 75 years earlier. “Many citizens are careless with their moveable property and it seems there are more and more people in our community that would rather steal the things they want, than buy them”
Chief Wotherspoon quoted in (Lebelle & McClenaghan, 2009) The Beat Light: North Bay Police History 1882-2007
Additionally, the location of these racks is important. They should be highly visible to avoid suspicious figures having plenty of time to mess with the locks, and signal that the community is committed to being cyclist friendly.
An Action Plan for a Cycle Friendly North Bay
1) Improving Cycling Infrastructurein North Bay
The best way to make North Bay a better cycling city is direct improvements to the transportation network infrastructure. We should absolutely increase the number of bike lanes in the city, on both major arteries and on alternative routes with lower slopes to increase the ease of travel. These routes should be prioriatized in terms of maintenance like street sweeping, snow clearing, and pavement repairs.
We need to increase the access points to the trail network, and extend the trail network where possible, while ensuring that on street biking is far safer, as the trails do not provide ideal transportation to all destinations. The trails can act as a sort of highway, allowing for longer distance travel without the risk of the presence of the cars, but they are not the be all and end all of a cycle friendly city.
One area on the Kinsmen trail includes several stop signs within a very short period, where the cyclist is to yield to car traffic. On some streets, this makes sense, while others are low traffic streets where automobile travel shouldn’t blindly be given priority, especially since it is much easier to start and stop in a car than on a bike, making a disruption of flow more important from the cyclists perspective.
Speaking of signs, making sure bike routes are well marked, and that signage is clear on these streets, is crucial to ensuring travel along these routes is intuitive for both experienced riders and beginners, as well as motorists.
Some designated areas in other countries are explicitly giving cyclist preferential treatment over cars, not necessarily excluding access to cars completely, but changing the hierarchy of priority. In these areas, traffic would move slower, and stop more frequently. These areas create awesome places to cycle, and serve the additional benefit of signalling to residents that the city takes active transportation seriously, and is willing to break away from some of our baseline assumptions about automobiles.
North Bay will also need to improve the places people leave their bikes when they arrive at their destination. Feeling that their bike is not secure is a major barrier to cycle travel, and it’s crucial that local businesses and public services include secure, and visible bike racks.
In order to bring cycling into the realm of legitimate transportation, it will also be necessary to enforce cyclists’ infractions of traffic laws. The cycle city thing is a two way street, and the whole point is to make it safer and more predictable, this means cyclists need to follow the rules. Cyclists are not used to enforcement, and there may be some blowback. Infractions like rolling stops might be forgiven because of the nature of bicycling, but unlawful crossing and other infractions should absolutely be curbed. North Bay Police have announced they are bringing back their police cyclist units for the coming summer, which may represent a step in this direction.
Finally, if you rely on your bike for transportation, you’ll face challenges in the form of days where the method simply isn’t a reasonable choice. We need to ensure that public transportation is easily accessible, reliable, and efficient so that cyclists have a back up plan. Keep in mind, even if you bought a fairly decent new bike, tons of great clothes and outwear to keep comfortable on your ride, maintenance at bike shops a few times a year, and an annual transit pass, you’ve still likely spent way less the $11,000 it costs to own even a compact car over the course of a year (when you include, car payments, insurance, gas, maintenance, depreciation, etc.).
With these improvements to the transportation infrastructure in our city, we can do a ton to nudge more people to be cyclists, and reap the benefits of being a cycle city.
2) Changing hearts and minds
Clearly, the biggest barrier to North Bay’s progress in being bicycle friendly is the mindset of both officials and residents. We need to work hard to paint cycling with a new image, from the top right down. We need officials to recognize that, in the long run, changes like the ones suggested above create a more efficient transportation network for everyone, including motorists.
One way we can encourage residents to utilize cycling more often is to make it more fun for people of all skill levels. New cyclists could feel confident that they weren’t going to be ticketed, or killed, in a safe cycling environment, which might give them an opportunity to hone their skills.
On the other side of the spectrum, integrating mountain biking trails to the Active Transportation network can go a long way in encouraging even more use by riders with expertise.
In that same vein, we can bring novelty and a cool factor to our transportation system that can improve the experience for residents, and even attract tourism.
For example, in Poland, a new cycle path was created that glows blue in the dark, creating a magical, almost Alice in Wonderland, aesthetic effect. This type of feature might cost up front, but the glow is powered by the sun. I can talk about how cool this seems all day, but seriously, just look at it:
Alternatively, in terms of winter cycling, a type of Christmas cycle route might make for a really interesting local event that would draw some tourism, and do a lot to create a sense of place for our city. We’re already a very nice Christmas setting in the movies, why not follow through and incorporate and encourage winter cycling through an event like this? It’s just a thought, and whether it would work or not is another thing, but we should be thinking of ways like the glow path and a Christmas cycle route to add novelty, and a cool-factor, to cycling in our city.
The more fun it is, the more people will participate. It’s not exactly a complicated nudge, but it will work.
Finally, we need to have more top down initiative that get people out and biking. Around the world, cities have use “bike to work days” and one day a year bans on vehicle travel within certain neighbourhoods to give people a taste of what it’s like to be a cycle city.
The thing is though, there would need to be a real commitment among city officials and community leaders, advocacy groups and volunteers in order to sell this idea to residents.
How often do we all get out and do something together as a community? Bike to work days represent a real building of momentum for cycling in a city, and if executed properly can help change perceptions of residents in a more timely manner.
3) A Intuitive Education for cycling in our city.
The third and final pillar of the Gateway’s community action plan is a robust, but intuitive cycling education program for our city, includes access to useful documents and courses.
Pamphlets, brochures, maps and other documents can help illustrate the rules of the road, the expectation for behaviour, and safe and expedient routes throughout town. This is especially important in tourism, as if we wish to be cycle friendly for our visitors, we have to make sure they’re informed. Luckily, today we all carry around what amounts to the “supercomputers” of the past, in our pockets.
A well designed app could provide information on the rules, route advice, and other information that could ease the transition to cycling for residents. You can even mount your smartphone on your handlebars, which creates an experience not unlike viewing a GPS monitor in your car. The goal of such an app would be to improve your mobility as cyclist in town.
Finally, an education course for cycling in North Bay, like the ones offered in Halifax would be very useful in ensuring the safety of everyone. Courses should be relatively short, flexible, and simple, outline what cyclists need to know to get around North Bay. They should teach safety skills like using your bell appropriately and hand signalling These programs would be especially useful for our cities youth, and an opportunity to partner with local School Boards could ensure that our children are safe on their bikes, and encourage them to participate.
It Starts with You!
So for the past however many thousand words I’ve been trying to convince you that North Bay really could be one of North America’s great cycling cities (the bar is set low after all). But what can you do as an individual to support this cause?
1) Follow cycle advocates of Nipissing
Local advocacy groups like Cycle Advocates of Nipissing have done much to bring to light the lack of Active Transportation in our city. Join the group on facebook, and engage with the local content. The people who run the page work really hard to ensure its members are informed.
2) Reframe your standards: Would I want my kid biking there?
Instead of seeing a cyclist on the road or sidewalk and thinking they don’t belong and blaming them for it, we really need to consider that cyclists are only doing what they’ve been shown they should. We’re treated like quasi-motorists and quasi-pedestrians, and as a result we really don’t have a clear cut expectation for behaviour. I personally abide by all the rule as much as is possible, but I am far from surprised when others do not. Instead, we should look at our roads and think:
“Would I be comfortable if my child had to bike down this street?”
Of course for just about every street in North Bay, the answer is a clear and obvious “NO!”. That’s not cyclists fault: it’s a city-wide issue that needs to be addressed.
Call city council and let them know that you want bike lanes to be made a priority. Honestly, even if you don’t ever see yourself biking, as a motorist, having more predictable cyclists, and potentially less cars on the road is a win win.
We can’t keep things the way they are, we just can’t.
3) Just Go Bike
Finally, just try biking to work, or the store, once or twice a week.
Yes, recreational use of a bike on trails is fantastic, but really, we need to show the city, and ourselves that cycling can be a utilitarian method of transportation too. Plus, biking is one of those things you have to do, then you realize the barriers aren’t quite as significant as you thought.
The best thing you can do to help North Bay become a cycling city is to get out there and ride!
The Gateway Vision for Cycling in a Better Bay
Doing What’s Right
Recently, our community experienced a devastating a tragedy. Shelby Dickey, a 25 year old promising Nipissing Student Athlete and Graduate Student, was struck by a vehicle as she road her bike on Highway 63 by the Green Store.
This absolutely heart-wrenching story of a promising young life gone far, far too soon, received a massive outpouring of sympathy for those close to Shelby, and the Nipissing community. Honestly, I’m tearing up as I write this and consider what her family and friends have had to endure. Nothing short of an absolute nightmare, beginning with a young woman who just wanted to ride her bike.
We can’t just keep doing the same thing, relegating bicycles to risky roadside travel, and expect different results. These tragedies are preventable.
It’s extremely difficult to experience such a loss, and I think the best way to honour those close to Shelby is to do our best to make sure no family has to feel that pain.
Cyclists are worthy of safe transportation.
So, what would a city that prioritized cyclists look like?
North Bay could easily be a cute summer tourist town where people come because they know they can arrive, rent a bike, and leave their car and the typical North American experience in the parking lot for the weekend or week while they explore the gorgeous natural views of a city cradled by escarpment and lakes.
This seems like a moon-shot if you apply the perception of our city today, sure, but over time, this isn’t even that lofty a goal if we make cycling infrastructure a priority.
Honestly, we’re starting to get a reputation as a big Christmas town because of all of the holiday movies filmed here. Can you imagine the boost to tourism that could be added if it were a Christmas Town where people biked around (with wrapped presents in our handlebar baskets no less) when possible in winter?
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With some effort we can have safe travel by bicycle through our beautiful natural cityscape. Our city needs more sense of place, more identity. We’re never going to be Toronto or Ottawa. We have to pick a direction for our city, and with that we should capitalize on our assets.
Focus for too long has been on investing in growth. Well, North Bay is about the same size it was almost 35 years ago (StatsCan, 2016). Sometime, when we have a firm goal in mind, like population growth, we can’t see the forest for the trees.
If the goal is growth, we should be creating a community with a unique sense of place, that people are dying to move to. Breaking away from the North American obsession with making the bicycle a secondary method of transport is a great way to start in this placemaking endeavour.
At this point, I think it’s probably fair to say we’ve given the “invest money to attract businesses to attract people” route a try. Let’s try to invest in ourselves instead.
By really committing to becoming a bicycle city, and taking action as soon as possible, we can increase mobility for our residents, young and old, rich and poor alike. A pride in our city shared by such a large cross section of our population would be a great community builder.
North Bay is a perfect size, and perfect natural setting to be a beautiful cycle city, but we really do need to push hard to change perceptions, and get the wheels in motion.
Andersen (2018) Copenhagenize: The Definitive Guide to Global Bicycle Urbanism
Montgomery (2013). Happy City: Transforming Our Lives through Urban Design
Trace Planning and Development (2019). North Bay Active Transport Master Plan.
University of Baylor (2016). Baylor Report on North Bay.
Walking seems like one of those topics that’s just so obvious it’s not even worth talking about.
George Carlin, the late standup comedian, certainly would have shared that sentiment.
“I know they have a magazine. Walking! WALKING!
There’s actually a ******* magazine called “Walking”! ‘Look, Dan, the new “Walking” is out!’
Here’s a good article: putting one foot in front of the other!”
On the other hand, maybe because walking is so ubiquitous, and yet largely unconsidered, it is exactly the type of topic that might be interesting to really delve into.
We Are All Pedestrians
For some, walking is their transportation, it’s how they get from A to B. For others, those who own a private automobile, walking becomes a recreational activity, sometimes even one that they actually drive to go do.
But even if you drive everywhere you go, when you park, you still take the heel-toe express the rest of the way. Plus, even if you own a car, it shouldn’t mean driving has to be your only method of transportation. The city as a setting should offer us the freedom to move around in different ways, enriching our lives.
Finally, just because you have a vehicle, doesn’t mean everyone has that privilege. Our city should be accessible to all of its residents, and more attention should obviously be paid to accommodating those who aren’t motorists.
A Better Bay
As discussed in the last A Better Bay article, our city follows a spatial layout that is problematic. Designated zones for separated commercial and residential uses, few mixed-use neighbourhoods, and a low density pattern of sprawl, all pinhole residents into one method of transport. These patterns ensure that we are dependant on car ownership to achieve the freedom to move in our city.
Being that I’ve offered some thoughtful steps for combatting this fundamental issue with our city, for the next few weeks I’d like look at the alternatives to car travel: walking, biking, and public transit.
We must ask how we can ensure that in 30 years we live in a city that accommodates and even encourages these sustainable methods of transportation.
Some people ride bikes, some people take transit. But we are all pedestrians, so I thought that walking would be the best place to start.
The Plight of the Pedestrian in a Car Dependent City
Little attention is paid to walking infrastructure. Politicians seem to unanimously support sustainable transportation, and yet when push comes to shove, the attention given to improving the experience of walking in our city is minuscule by comparison to the attention to car travel.
So if we’re all walkers, and pro-walker position is politically correct, why doesn’t walking get its due?
Well for starters, there’s a very real perception that pedestrian issues are those of a disadvantaged, car-less class, and therefore while it’s politically correct, its not actually politically motivating to address the issues. It’s basically assumed that once you have a car you use that and that alone, a fair assumption given the city’s layout, but far from an ideal perspectives to work from.
Consider The Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury, a dystopian (very) short story where a man is questioned by authorities, and eventually institutionalized, for walking. While this is a sort of satirical take on the extreme conclusions of our societal attitude towards walking, it makes a poignant argument about the way we look at pedestrianism.
“In ten years of walking by night or day, for thousands of miles, he had never met another person walking, not once in all that time.”
Ray Bradbury (1951) The Pedestrian
The main character is taken to the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies, the implication being that once a level of technology is reached (car), it would be (literally) crazy for one to utilize a “lesser” method, much less use walking to occupy time pleasantly as the protagonist does.
While obviously an exaggeration, the roots of this attitude can very much be seen reflected in our society, even more so today than when Bradbury wrote the story in 1951.
We should embrace that even for those of us with vehicles, walking is a method of transportation we should be excited to have, and should not be relegated to a method of transportation for the less fortunate.
Pretend that investments in pedestrian infrastructure only benefit people without cars (they have far reaching benefits, but for the sake of argument roll with me).
Do we not want to have a city that is equitable, and treats all of its residents like their experience matters?
I can’t speak for you, but I genuinely believe if we hold our city to these lofty standards, North Bay can and should be a city where everyone counts.
Consider also that if pedestrian infrastructure improvements are low priority, the experience of walking in our city gets worse and worse. This creates a feedback cycle, where less people choose to walk because of the crummy conditions and experience, and therefore even less attention is needed for pedestrians because there isn’t demand for it.
The History of the Street
There’s a very significant moment in history of urban planning when the streets become the property of the car.
Prior to the major proliferation of the automobile that shaped our modern world, the streets were actually mixed use, featuring cars, horses, street cars, buggies, bikes, and of course, walkers (Montgomery, 2013).
Check out this video of San Fransisco in 1906 to see what I mean.
We’re used to the idea that the street is there for cars to move. The deep truth of it however is that the reason streets are there is to move people.
So obviously, as the video shows, this was sort of chaos. With the car travelling so much faster than these other methods, and car ownership being so wide spread, mixed use roads is certainly not something I would advocate for.
I just want to be sure it is understood that at some point it was decided that the car would have the right of way. Free-crossing by pedestrians was given a criminal term “Jaywalking” and fatalities would be their own fault. The automobile was anointed the King of the streets, and the automobile became the technology around which we built our cities. The car has reigned ever since.
We need to be aware that pedestrianism has been considered a second class method of transport for a long time, and that bias needs to be acknowledged and understood to ensure pedestrians are served to a high standard in our city.
So with societal biases about pedestrianism in mind, let’s consider what we should know about walking, what the state of pedestrianism is in North Bay, and finally, ways to make the pedestrian experience better and encourage walking in our city.
Benefits of Pedestrian Cities
So what are the benefits of a population that walks more often? Well walking benefits human health, benefits the environment and is very cost efficient.
In terms of human health, walking promotes longevity and helps to combat a variety of ailments. Health Canada data suggests that in our country, about 9/10 kids, and half of adults, do not get the recommended amount of daily physical activity, contributing 5.3 billion dollars to health care expenditures (North Bay, 2019). Walking reduces the risk of obesity, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, dementia, depression, and heart disease (Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 2014). Studies also state that people who walk over 3 hours per week can expect a 16% reduction in cardiovascular disease (CanadaWalks, 2015).
Basically, walking is a healthy choice, and thus, for the benefit of its residents, North Bay should nudge us towards this choice.
In addition to the benefits to our bodies, walking is also good for our minds. Walking promotes mental wellness, critical and creative thinking, and general happiness. Correlations have been found between step-count and energy/mood, suggesting that people who walk more see personal benefits (Gloady, 2006).
We can also play with the way psychology can help nudge people into walking more frequently. For example pedestrians who are stimulated with interesting sights and sounds on their path walk father, and more often (Ellard, 2015).
Our automobile dependence isn’t just having adverse effects on our health, it also has costly repercussions for the environment. We burn far more greenhouse gasses than need be to get around, a habit that reduces air quality and is a major human driver of climate change.
Studies have found that in a 11 km car ride, 90% of the emissions are used in the first 1.6 km (North Bay, 2019) This means that reducing shorter car trips, and replacing them with a zero or low emissions transportation method (walking) could have huge positive implications for our environment.
Walking is also as cheap as transportation gets. It brings you door to door without any monthly insurance, fuel, or maintenance costs to the user. A pair of shoes is all you need, and all it costs you is time.
From the community perspective, pedestrian infrastructure like sidewalks, medians, etc. are relatively cheap compared to the costs of improving infrastructure for cars. For both the individual and the community, walking is the frugal choice.
Good for us, good for the environment, and the cheapest form of transportation there is.
If the benefits are significant and well known, what are the barriers preventing a resurgence of walking in our society?
Barriers to Pedestrianism
The first and biggest barrier to more people participating in pedestrian travel is the shape of our city itself. Because I already wrote a full article on this, I won’t get too deep into it. To put a nice bow on it, the separated land uses and low density of our city has made the space between destinations too far to be a truly walkable city.
As previously mentioned, walkers issues are perceived by governments, and residents, to be lower class issues. While nobody would come out as overtly anti-walking, there is a lack of political capital to the issue because of this perception. We are all pedestrians and this perception is of course untrue, but it has real consequences as a barrier to better walking in North Bay.
The physical geography of the area, including the topography and weather of North Bay, also act as barriers to walking as transportation in our city. Most people are deterred by hills, and North Bay has many, from the lows of the shores of Lake Nipissing to the heights of the escarpment. These hills make some on foot transportation impractical.
While maintenance of sidewalks could certainly be improved in the winter, the difficulties caused by the long, cold, and snowy season makes it very difficult to nudge people into choosing walking over their nice warm car.
North Bay has an aging population, and with that comes issues of accessibility, especially when walking. This population, in order to be able to walk at all, have to be assured of a pedestrian environment that ensures their safety. In my opinion, we could do a lot better in this regard, but we’ll get into that later. Those residents who have physical limitations also face this issue.
Remember, we aren’t creating a city that works for the average resident, we’re creating a city that works for all of its residents.
Finally, there are practical limitations to the types of tasks that can be undertaken with pedestrian transportation. We can only carry so much weight, so the weekly grocery trip on foot is a rough proposal. Even light items, like toilet paper, pose and issue for walkers, and they take up a great deal of space limiting the number of other items that can be carried.
So while walking has obvious and plentiful benefits, it’s clear that there are also significant barriers that limit our capacity as a pedestrian society. So how does North Bay measure up as a walkable city?
The Lay of the Land: Walking in North Bay
In my second year in North Bay I moved into a house on Douglas St.. As a student, I made many trips to the Tim’s in the Esso on Landsdowne St. and every time I wondered how a street like that could possibly exist without a sidewalk. The city was either expecting pedestrians to avoid this fairly main connector of the Old Town neighbourhood with Algonquin, or was saying, basically, “too bad deal with it”. This was especially insulting to the physically impaired residents of the neighbourhood that I witnessed brave traffic to journey up the hill.
Of course, the year after I moved out of that house, the city built a sidewalk. I know I sound bitter, but I’m really not. The fact they recognized the sidewalk was needed is great. Unfortunately though, this example speaks to the fact that walkers are of such a low priority to the city that a street like Lansdowne could have existed for so long without one. It’s obvious when the road was built, it was built to move cars, rather than move people.
In general, North Bay definitely lacks sidewalks. While most of the main roads have sidewalks on at least one side of the road, many of the secondary streets lack sidewalks all together. You might think of this to be of little concern in low traffic areas, but because of the city’s topography there are some very dangerous blind spots caused by hills.
The combination of no sidewalk and these types of blindspots puts pedestrians in a dangerous position.
Bottom line, sidewalks are a basic feature of a city and there should be a much greater priority in providing adequate sidewalks on as many streets as possible. We should not think of sidewalks as a privilege, they exist for the safety of the city’s residents, and that shouldn’t ever be put on the back burner.
Opportunities to Walk
In addition to the lack of sidewalks, our tendency towards amalgamating services in a centralized location also reduces walking opportunities. For example, as schools amalgamate, and smaller, neighbourhood schools close, less and less of the student population are able to reasonably walk to school. This of course is the case here, where Chippewa and Widdifield are set to amalgamate.
The habits formed in youth have large implications on behaviour in adulthood, even when it comes to walking.
Another example of this phenomenon is the tendency towards building sports complexes over neighbourhood fields. With less maintained sports fields in neighbourhoods in favour of a centralized location, there are less opportunities for walking to these destinations. There’s also theoretically less opportunities for the informal “pick-up” style games that I personally grew up on.
Yes, it’s more efficient for the city to maintain 4 baseball diamonds in the same location than 4 spread out throughout the city, but the cost of that efficiency falls to the end user, who will have to travel farther than in the neighbourhood model.
Overall, as we seek efficiency in the services we offer by putting them in large central locations rather than smaller, scattered ones, we reduce the amount that can be accomplished by pedestrian travel, and erode the pedestrian culture of our city, especially for youth.
Every summer we visit my girlfriend’s family in Sydney, Cape Breton, N.S. I am always struck by what I’ll call the crosswalk culture of the city.
There are crosswalks everywhere. Seriously, some no more than 120 m apart.
And here’s the kicker: motorists respect the crosswalk.
Any pedestrian in the city can approach the crosswalk and be sure that they will be offered opportunity to cross promptly by motorists who just know to stop. On main roads fairly comparable to our own Algonquin Ave, the crosswalk simply has a traffic light in order to ensure safety and allow for better traffic flow.
The number of legal crossing opportunities, and the provision of right of way to the crosser, makes for a very pleasant pedestrian experience. The pedestrian of Sydney is respected, catered to, and recognized as a legitimate occupant of the city’s transportation system.
I’ve noticed that in some areas of North Bay there are long, long distances between legal crossing opportunities, especially on busy roads like Algonquin and Lakeshore. We have neighbourhood crosswalks on some roads, for example on Cassels St. and Front St. , but they are only respected as providing right of way if the crosswalk attendant is present, which is limited to hours servicing children walking to and from school.
The best example of the lack of a legal opportunity to cross causing issues is the medical building on Algonquin Ave., which has a parking lot across the street.
The driver gets out, and to reach their destination in their limited time as a pedestrian, they must either walk to the Landsdowne / Algonquin intersection, adding 300-ish metres to a 20 metre walk. The other option is up to the highway bypass, adding over half a kilometre to legally cross.
Of course, nobody in their right mind would travel all that extra distance, meaning that just about every person who parks in that lot jaywalks.
And I don’t blame them. The city nudged them. The choice to travel 20 metres instead of hundreds of metres was the obvious one.
To make matters worse, given the building houses medical services, it is not uncommon to see people with seemingly limited physical capacity make the daring cross.
Obviously this is a particularly severe example, but think about it: this is an oversight of pedestrian services that actually mostly impacts motorists.
There are literally hundreds of locations in our city that nudge pedestrians into dangerous behaviour.
I’ve mentioned it before (and you can expect a more in depth analysis of it in the future), but a massive amount of space in our city is occupied by parking lots, and many of them sit empty much of the time.
Parking lots are terribly unpleasant for pedestrians. How many times has your heart stopped passing through a parking lot when a car begins to back out and evidently doesn’t see you walking behind it?
Parking lots are basically large areas where pedestrians are given no direction of where to walk to stay safe. When not given direction or an intuitive path, people often revert to travelling as the crow flies, the shortest path, diagonally across the large lots.
These are areas meant to service the people who park there, all of whom walk the rest of the way, and yet they are largely without any accommodations for this on-foot travel. Parking-lots provide such poor pedestrian travel that people often get back in their car, only to drive to park in a different spot in the same plaza, defeating the convenience of a commercial plaza altogether.
The parking lot in the new section of the plaza on Mckewen St. (seen below) includes medians, albeit few of them, which at least provide some comfort to walkers. By contrast the Staples/Sobeys parking lot does not really offer reasonable paths for pedestrian travel.
When you consider both satellite images, and just how much space we use on parking, this means large distances are covered by pedestrians in a fairly unregulated environment. This should absolutely be addressed by the city and property managers.
The most expedient path to access the towns neighbourhoods, the highway, is completely inaccessible to pedestrian travel. The highway also acts as a barrier for many pedestrians, as those with capability limitations may fear crossing the highway. While the convenience to motorists of 11 and 17 passing through town is significant, so is the inconvenience to pedestrians.
Akin to the way Jeff Goldbloom describes life, the thing about pedestrian travel is that if you do not formally provide it, it finds a way.
Take this catwalk behind the Independent for example. The pedestrian, seeking access to the grocery store and the mall, has the choice of almost an additional kilometre walk around to Laurentian St. or a path through the catwalk.
So pedestrians found a way, what’s the issue?
The issue is that this is not a formalized access point, it is loose dirt, uneven surface, and narrow. Basically, the logical access point by distance is inaccessible for many people. While informal access serves those who already walk, it does little to encourage a pedestrian culture, and these informal features of the pedestrian environment should be formalized.
Leaving the Pedestrian High and Dry
I might be wrong, but I think the most deplorable pedestrian situation in town is the Food Basics/Beer Store/Shoppers Drug Mart parking lot on Cassels St.. For context the plaza is surrounded by retirement communities, and the street is one of North Bay’s main arteries.
As one approaches the plaza, passing New Ontario Brewers, the sidewalk ends at the intersection, and leaves the walker to navigate the parking lot on their own. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen the elderly in our community standing vulnerable in the middle of the entrance of the parking lot.
I shouldn’t need to say this, but since it’s stayed this way for years, it may need to be stated:
This is inexcusable.
This puts all pedestrians at risk on a main artery of North Bay, and involves the safety of a vulnerable elderly population living nearby.
It’s an absolute joke that our urban environment was constructed in such a way that would leave pedestrians high and dry. The fact that it has stood as it is for so long just highlights the way pedestrian issues are simply not a main focus.
Fixing this specific sidewalk should be an immediate priority for the city.
I’ve been ripping our city pretty hard here, so I should clarify: North Bay also has its assets for pedestrians. The whole reason I thought this huge article about walking might even be worth writing was that our city has a ton of potential as a walkable environment.
The Kinsman Trail and Kate Pace Way provide beautiful linear park type areas for people to walk on, and serve almost as a highway for pedestrian and bike travel in our city. These trails offer a great opportunity, and it should be ensured they are extended and connected in ways that encourage their use and their practicality for our residents.
Chippewa Creek, Lake Nipissing and Trout Lake, and the Escarpment that cradles our city all provided beautiful landscape as a setting for pedestrian travel. North Bay’s natural features make for beautiful views, adding fantastic potential for the city as a walkable environment.
What we need is to nudge more people to walk, and accommodate the practice with infrastructure to help get our city the appreciation it deserves as a cool place to explore on foot.
Our city definitely has potential for a wonderful place for pedestrians, but there is a ton of work to do.
In the very layout of our city, we have relegated walking to a recreational endeavour.
We have places that are lovely to walk, but the catering to automobiles of our society means that these places are often segregated from other uses. North Bay’s waterfront for example, makes a lovely place for a walk. Ironically, it’s so nice, many people drive there to participate.
We can walk everywhere, we should make the space between our everyday destinations walkable and beautiful to encourage walking as a pursuit of transportation not just recreation.
It seems to me that the city has focused a ton of attention and funds on growth and attracting businesses to our town in recent years. The effort seems to have been largely without its payoff to this point. I guess the thinking is attracting businesses and new residents grows the tax base, and with that revenue we can start to fix the city. Gotta have money to spend money.
But what if we’re going at it backwards? What if revitalizing our city, making it walkable, modern, and beautiful, is what attracts new residents. Money is spent on the campaigns aimed at growth.
What if we invested that money in creating a city that people are dying to live in, and let the businesses come to us?
So we’ve established that creating walkable environments increases pedestrian travel, which has large scale human health and environmental benefits. We’ve established that while North Bay has its strengths for pedestrians, it also has many barriers to practical pedestrian travel. So what can we do to make walking in North Bay better?
(Note: North Bay did get consultation on an Active Transportation Master Plan in the past few years. After reading the plan, there are certainly some promising methods for improving the pedestrian environment. Some of them are included below, in addition to other expert ideas, and some of my own. I will not deep delve into the Active Transportation Master Plan, as it will be a more central subject for the next A Better Bay article on cycling in our city.)
According to the 2016 Census, over half of North Bay residents face a commute of 15 minutes or less each day. While 15 minutes in the car translates to quite a long walk, I believe it safe to say that a least a portion of those representing the “or less” probably live within walking distance of work. Now that’s not to say they should have to commute by foot everyday, but encouraging these people to walk some days, we can have a positive impact on their health and on the environment.
Employers can help encourage walking by offering pedestrian employees a cheque in lieu of a parking space. Additionally, flex start and end times would allow for the experience of the pedestrian commuter to be pleasant and un-rushed, rather than a frantic unpleasant walk that makes them turn back to their cars.
After this COVID-19 crisis subsides, it is possible that many people will work from home some days, since this will likely prove many responsibilities can be completed from home. This means that people won’t have to worry about transportation on as many days.
It’s possible that the task of finding your way to work for 20 days per month (5 day in person work week) might encourage the purchase of a car more than say, 12 days per month (3 day in person work week).
While these employer side accommodations won’t guarantee community scale pedestrian commuting, it will definitely incentivize some to walk to work, at least some days.
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with incremental progress. Respect the baby step.
If You Build It…
A huge finding of research on urban transportation is the field of dreams effect:
“If you built it, they will come”
If we continue to build our cities around cars, we’ll encourage more and more people to be motorists. Traffic studies that increase a roadways capacity often have the secondary effect of encouraging demand for that roadway. We expand our roads and the traffic stays the same.
On the other hand, if we create pedestrian environments that feel safe and enjoyable, while we foster respect for the walker, more people will be pedestrians.
The first priority in this regards has to be developing the city’s sidewalk network. Numerous streets are without sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to either share the road with the onus to not get hit, or to walk on peoples lawns, creating, long, ugly patches without growth.
This does two things:
it puts the pedestrian in a precarious position in term of their individual experience
it screams to residents that pedestrians aren’t respected.
Basically, where the city does not accommodate for pedestrians, it’s telling us they don’t belong.
Imagine that. On my own two feet in my own city, and I don’t belong?
Another thing that would go a long way to making our city walkable is to put the car in its place. It seems that people in our society see roads as a vehicle (pardon the pun) to move people as fast as possible. If we were to put more emphasis on their role as providing safe transportation, we might better integrate methods that make the roadways more pedestrian friendly, including traffic calming, sidewalk buffers, and medians.
Traffic calming includes features like speed-humps, and planters that reduce the width of the lanes which inevitably slows down cars. They are a great way to reduce speeds in residential areas, and add the secondary function of adding small-scale nature to our neighbourhoods.
As you can see in the photo above, some applications go as far as to limit traffic to one way through the obstacle, reducing the incentive to use residential streets as through ways.
In extreme cases, to prevent neighbourhoods from becoming throughways for fast moving traffic, streets are split in the middle, enabling pedestrian traffic but excluding motorists.
Some of our sidewalks are right up to the road, while others run along a dirt shoulder. In both of these cases, barriers like curbs, poles, planters, trees, and boulders can provide an added element of safety and more scenery along sidewalks.
Street furniture like benches can also serve this barrier type purpose, with the addition benefit of catering to the needs of pedestrian traffic. Tiny parks can be barriers for pedestrians while providing an awesome pop of scenery, nature, and character.
One study found that a pedestrian moving 5 km/h should see something interesting every 5 seconds or so to encourage walking, and its full psychological benefit (Ellard, 2015). Tiny parks and murals can provide this scenery and help boost the psychological benefit of walking (plus offer a place to rest). Installation of street furniture, barriers, and tiny parks can encourage pedestrianism through the nudge of a pleasant setting.
Bike lanes, which will be explored in the next A Better Bay article, also provide a buffer between pedestrian and motor traffic, while medians provide an island for those previously mentioned illegal crossings.
In the short term, the idea of crosswalks in North Bay being as effective as those I described in Cape Breton is silly. That said, we really should consider providing more safe opportunities for pedestrians to cross streets, providing additional freedom of movement, peace of mind, and incentive to choose to walk.
This would take time to establish, identifying problem areas for potential crosswalk sites, providing signage and paint, traffic lights if necessary, and enforcement for drivers who do not abide by this. Over time, the painted cross walk could become a symbol of our walkable community, respected by motorists and utilized by pedestrians.
Another safety issue for pedestrians is the vulnerabilities that come with areas that are dark or secluded or both.
One important concept for people to feel safe walking is “eyes on the street” which refers to the number of people that would witness an incident. Our low density settlement pattern doesn’t lend itself to heavy pedestrian traffic (yet?), which makes ensuring our sidewalks are well lit that much more important in ensuring pedestrians feel safe.
One thing we can start to do right away, is educate about the benefits of addressing our car dependence. Walk to work days, take a walk days, and other initiatives can demonstrate belief that not every trip has to be taken by car. CanadaWalks is one organization that works to educate and bring awareness of the benefits and barriers of walking in our country.
Main St. Pedestrian Party
The most important thing I think that we could start to do (after the COVID-19 crisis is in our rearview) is encourage pedestrian travel by shutting down Main St to motor traffic regularly in the summer to provide walking only, town square type events. The city has done this on a smaller scale in the past, one event, Rocktoberfest, was a great occasion to gather as a community and the novelty of walking down Main was fantastic. This type of event could be combined with live music, the farmers market and other events like midnight madness downtown.
By doing it regularly, say weekly or biweekly on Saturdays in the summer, you accomplish a few things.
You bring some always appreciated foot traffic to the downtown businesses
You allow motorists a chance to be prepared for the change in their route.
Finally, you bring awareness of the pleasant experience of pedestrianism, and normalize the behaviour, developing the culture of walking in our city.
These events would be really cool for residents young and old, and might draw some bonus tourism in the summer. A regular, pedestrian only, block-party type environment would make North Bay’s magical summer season even that much more charming.
We have had a low standard for our pedestrian infrastructure in our city for my entire time living here. I suspect it’s a culture that dates back farther than that.
It’s our job to hold our city to a higher standard.
Streets should have sidewalks. That’s not an unreasonable ask.
We should feel empowered to hold our city to a standard that ensures the city provides freedom to all of its residents.
If you have no sidewalk on your street, write or call the city and complain. You’re not being entitled. You might not get it right away, but the city needs to know pedestrian infrastructure is in the public interest.
(Note: during the COVID-19 crisis, I wouldn’t advocate for bombarding the city with these type calls. That said I’ll leave the call to action there, because we will get through this and this stuff will matter again, eventually.)
I’m not going to lie, the layout of our city makes being a walkable city an uphill battle. That said, there are concrete steps we can take to encourage and accommodate walking.
It is absolutely crucial that we remember that over time, our city will become whatever we demand of it.
“I will wager no other town was so thoughtlessly named as this …
Now, name has no part, for this live town has made its own identity”
Anson Gard on North Bay, 1909
The name North Bay is pretty transparent. The city is situated on the north bay of Lake Nipissing. It is a bay. It is situated to the north of the population core of the province. Really, it’s all pretty self explanatory. There’s not too much to grasp here.
But have you ever wondered how “North Bay” actually became the official handle of the city?
Was there some sort of naming committee hell-bent on not working very hard?
How North Bay got its Name
It’s not exactly a long story, but I’ll start with some background:
The development of rail travel was absolutely crucial in this region. The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) reached the area in 1882 when John McIntyre Ferguson had a intuition that the land previously said to have little potential was a place for a settlement. He purchased 288 acres at a dollar a piece.
This intuition was likely based on information from his tycoon uncle Duncan McIntyre, who’s positions with Canadian Central and Canadian Pacific gave him first hand knowledge of the mapped out plan for the railway (Berton, 1971).
In what must have been a shocking, stroke of good fortune, Ferguson promptly found a customer for a large tract of his newly acquired land in the CPR, who wanted the right of way in the area. This sale lead to the crediting Ferguson with the founding of the town, and set forth his local real estate empire (Noel, 2009).
In the early years North Bay was a railway town through and through. Much of the town’s early infrastructure, including the town’s first church, was made up of train cars (Berton, 1971). Basically, transportation was its raison d’être.
So with that in mind, how did the place officially become “North Bay”?
Ferguson, arriving in 1882, needed nails to construct his home, the area’s first house. Not knowing how to designate his camp to order the nails to, he looked at Lake Nipissing and ordered them to “the north bay” without much thought to naming the community.
His concern was describing the geographic location with enough accuracy that he receive his supplies, and I’m positive those pen strokes weren’t made with the idea that there would be a city here by the name almost a century and a half later.
Ferguson attempted to change the name later, but locally it wasn’t much of a concern as the town was busy, blossoming, and young, and there was much more important things to do.
The name stuck, and the town incorporated under the name North Bay officially in 1891.
While Ferguson may have missed the opportunity to thoughtfully name the settlement, his early role in establishing the town is beyond dispute and numerous streets in town still bear his name today. He was the beneficiary of inside information from his family, and he capitalized on the opportunity and became a powerful local force economically and politically. He was both one of the towns wealthiest men, and a long-serving mayor (four terms) (Berton, 1971).
North Bay is the setting of Giles Blunt’s John Cardinal novels, and the accompanying CTV television series Cardinal. The town is named Algonquin Bay in the fiction, a slightly more creative name. Blunt may have done this as a thin veil for North Bay, but it does raise the question of what the city’s reputation might be like with a different name, for better or worse.
“North” can have different connotations depending on the context in which it’s uttered, and the person who hears it. Some might hear North Bay and think arctic tundra, others might think of the “north” as charming.
Just because North Bay sits on the north bay of Lake Nipissing doesn’t mean our city was destined to be named “North Bay”. The name arose from a particular set of circumstance. In the same manner, the city became the region’s core by circumstance rather than the course of destiny.
Becoming the Core
North Bay is population centre in the district, surrounded by communities of various sizes including Sturgeon Falls, Mattawa, Corbeil, Callander, and Powassan. These smaller communities act as peripheries to North Bay, and while this is obviously linked to the population sizes and available services, one might wonder how North Bay became the central settlement in the region.
In 1895, Mattawa, Sturgeon Falls, and North Bay, were all vying for the role as the “County Seat” for Nipissing, the governmental centre of the region. At the time, the communities were similar sized, with Mattawa being the oldest, most established, and Sturgeon being smaller in population than the other two (Noel, 2009).
In the initial election on March 14th, North Bay won by a 177 votes, an impressive margin given the population of the competing municipalities were around 2,000 at the time. Mattawa, suspecting that the votes of “dead men and children” may have contributed to the large margin of victory, called for a recount (Noel, 2009) (Gard, 1909).
Sturgeon Falls dropped out prior to the second election, held on July 11th, and all but 24 of its votes went to Mattawa, which put North Bay behind. A local legend states that railway workers who felt at home in North Bay pushed their locomotives to the limits to reach the polls in time to cast a ballot (Noel, 2009). North Bay won the contest by the margin of eight votes (Gard, 1909).
The strategic position of the city as a transportation hub, connecting the south and east to the west, probably explains much of North Bay’s central role in the region. That said, this election was also pretty crucial in securing the early population growth of the region. Becoming the Chair of Nipissing County meant the city would receive a courthouse, a registry office, a jail, judges, as well as government and judicial office space (Noel, 2009).
North Bay became the community that could offer these crucial services in the region, helping to incentivize settlement in North Bay rather than the communities that surround us. They do say “it’s all about being first to market”.
As you can see in the above graph, while the populations of Mattawa and North Bay were neck and neck prior to this election, after it North Bay became the larger settlement. By 1911, North Bay’s population was about 5 times that of Mattawa
So now when you hear “North Bay” you’ll know the ridiculously simple story of how we got our name, and how the city became the population and economic centre of our region.
Sometimes, it’s important to remember that the way things are now were not an inevitability. Our city is called North Bay, and serves as the economic and populous centre of the district because of a specific set of circumstances and the actions of humans.
With this considered, let’s remember that the future is not some inevitable course set forward by the stars, but that in fact, our actions today are producing the circumstance of tomorrow.
Berton (1971). The Last Spike: The Great Railway 1881-1885.
Gard (1909). Gateway to Silverland: The Story of a Happy, Prosperous People who are Building the Metropolis of the North.
Noel (2009). Family and Community Life in Northeastern Ontario.
Combating the Spatial Patterns of a Contentious City
You probably think about it a little. Probably not much, but maybe a little. It crosses your mind on occasion at least.
If you’re fortunate enough have a car, it comes as:
“Thank God I have a car”.
If you are one of those unlucky residents of North Bay without a personal vehicle, its probably more like:
“Getting around this city is a pain in the ass”
However subtle, and occasional these feelings are, they’re important. The experience of your life is made up of a million little feelings. Sometimes they’re conscious feelings, and other times they’re a frequency running in the background. The specific feeling in this case, is that you are contending with your city, your setting, specifically when it comes to the freedom to move around.
Sure, if you have a car, you’ve got a tool that helps combat that strain, but the car is expensive to purchase, maintain, and insure, it has major environmental consequences, and its exclusive use can lead to poor health outcomes. So while you’ve got a weapon against the city, it’s still a contentious relationship. One’s relationship with their setting can either be a large strain in life or a blessing, so while the pattern and layout of our city is usually an undercurrent of our thoughts, it’s worth examining.
While the A Better Bay series will move forward to feature all kinds of potential improvements for our city, large and small, I think it’s probably best we get the biggest issue out of the way first: the pattern of land use, low density, and the challenges to the residents and their city that come with it.
The Costs of Sprawl
Sprawl refers to a pattern of settlement with low density, characterized by many single dwelling units spaced on large lots, far back from the street, and with the pattern of growth outward. These low density settlement patterns come with higher infrastructure costs per kilometre, and the distance created by the spaced out development means extra kilometres of transportation to account for between destinations.
Typically, when we hear sprawl what we think of is the pattern of suburban growth outside of large cities: the antiquated dream of commuting
to the city from their large houses out in the ‘burbs. In this case though, we’re talking about a small city, North Bay, and the pattern of settlement therein.
Sprawl contains multiple land uses, but they are segregated in their zoning, keeping commercial, residential, and industrial uses separate. This homogeneity of use makes for ugly views, and low accessibility for those without a car. In other words, the pattern of uses spread out and low density development promotes the dependence on the private automobile among residents.
Our dependence on automobiles is associated with numerous negative impacts on environmental and human health. Not to mention the dependence on cars becomes a vicious cycle, as because so many residents commute and do their errands through the use of their cars, the need for infrastructure to accommodate all those cars, extra lanes, maintenance, new traffic lights, etc. drains municipal budgets in a way which leaves little room for addressing issues about people, rather than cars.
Keep in mind I’m not saying everyone should give up their cars, I’m saying that our city should be laid out in a way that makes residents feel like they have the choice to own a vehicle, rather than making it a virtual necessity. Even small changes in the amount of people walking can have major impacts on healthcare needs and environmental health of our planet and region, so the freedom to choose makes for a great weapon in combating these issues.
That said, people prefer to walk in interesting settings, and kilometres of houses occupying space between places we can shop or work isn’t exactly all that interesting.
Density is desirable because it means that the area reaches a capacity where it is economically feasible to provide services like grocers, restaurants, boutiques, and improved public transit options. Dense areas, when planned thoughtfully and maintained well, provide an interesting setting for people to live, work, and seek entertainment. They are also cheaper in terms of providing amenities, as the number of people served in the same amount of space is smaller, creating cost efficiency in things like public works.
In short, dense, mixed use areas provide residents with a sense of place. Their neighbourhood no longer represents the space between commercial areas, the neighbourhood can become an enriched place to live with its own identity. They have capacity for better transit services, better social lives, healthier habits, and are better for the environment.
It makes a lot of sense how we wound up with this pattern in many cities throughout North America when you give it some thought. Industrial use produces odour and air pollution, so it makes perfect sense to segregate that use from residential ones. This desire for nice clean, coarse land use planning developed from there, and took on a life of its own, which is how we got to the situation we face of automobile dependence and boring neighbourhoods.
Additionally, as individuals, we have a huge incentive to want a large lot, a house nice and spaced out from our neighbour, and no downstairs tenant. People adore privacy, and the luxuries this pattern offers to the individual resident in terms of housing is a powerful factor in the layout of cities as they now stand. It makes sense that the aggregate of this desire created the sparse settlement pattern we now have.
We arrived here, with segregated land use and large low density residential neighbourhoods, because we didn’t quite think it through. It will certainly take a very deliberate effort to fix what’s been broken.
The Lay of the Land in North Bay
North Bay certainly qualifies as a low density city, albeit a small city. The 2016 census had our population density at 771 residents per square kilometre. Of the 24,244 dwellings, almost half are single dwelling units. Some of the older patterns of use, such as lots taking up space on two streets, with the detached garage backing onto the second street, reduce the density of our neighbourhoods.
The city reaches outwards from the downtown core along Main West, Lakeshore Dr, Cassels St/Trout Lake Rd, as well as a main artery off of Algonquin and the connected Airport Rd artery.
The city is made for automobiles, with the highway as an expedient route right through town. The city’s history, as the amalgamation of North Bay with Widdifield and Ferris Townships promoted that the pattern of settlement in three core areas, one large and two smaller, rather than only one, further explaining this sparse pattern.
Land Use Zoning
Red – Commercial
Green- Park/Open Space
The above maps illustrate the pattern of segregated land use in North Bay. Note the vast areas of residential space free from commercial applications with small exceptions. Because of this pattern we have very few mixed use “all-in-one” neighbourhoods where people can go about most of their day without having to jump in the car. That luxury, and the freedom of choice in this case is definitely a luxury, is pretty much reserved for those living in the downtown core or on the boundaries of commercial zone.
Overall, while a considerable amount of green-space has been maintained throughout town, further growth in North Bay should be focused in town, increasing density and services provided within the city’s neighbourhoods. This filling in of neighbourhoods with more residences and commercial options helps break the pattern of segregated land use in favour of mixed land use that provides neighbourhoods with the prospect of being able to run their errands without having to start their car.
Commuting and Getting Around North Bay
The consequences of this pattern can be seen in the data. According to the 2016 Canadian Census, 75% of people in North Bay drive their car to work, while only 8% are passengers in a car. Think about how many cars that is, taking up all that extra space, all the extra gas. The fact that 55% of all commuting takes place between 7 and 9 A.M means all those cars are all in transit around the same time. It also means that we need space for parking for all those cars to sit around all day at the same time. In the morning I often drive southbound out of town on 11, and the congestion I see coming into town is more akin to Toronto than it is to small town Ontario.
Small changes in the proportions of commuting method can have some pretty significant impacts on the environment, and our own health, so it would definitely be wise to aim to reduce this obvious dependency on the automobile.
Climate change might be a global problem, but it needs to be addressed locally. Human health issues emerge in individuals, but can be addressed at local and societal scales. Our city layout has power to help us address both of these issues.
Confession: I drive. I love my car and the freedom it offers me. But it shouldn’t be the only way to get around. Choice is a weapon, and the layout of our city has disarmed us.
Of course in the colder months, people would likely choose to use their cars for comfort, which is ok of course, as long as we keep in mind plenty of people don’t have personal vehicles, an all-in-one neighbourhoods would go a long way for promotion of equity in our city.
The above data is only about work, it doesn’t include the fact that most people in North Bay don’t live within a reasonable walking distance from their grocery store, or other services that compose their errands. All of these car trips create traffic, emissions, and missed opportunity for a healthier choice.
The pattern of settlement in North Bay creates a contentious relationship with its residents, we have large distances to cover to visit friends, to work, to run errands, to do seemingly anything. It stamps an effort tax on everything we do, and it pinholes us into one method of transportation, the car. Either you have one, and you use it all the time, or you’re S.O.L.
I think it would be nice to live in a city where walking, biking, and transit are not thought of as the alternatives for the disadvantaged, but make up the mosaic of choices that residents have each time they leave the house.
I think it would be great to have mixed use, all-in-one neighbourhoods where people can live, shop, exercise, play, and enjoy communal space all without having to start their car.
And honestly, I think North Bay, thoughtfully developed, could be an incredibly wonderful little city, balancing access to nature with smart human settlement, creating a setting that enhances the experience of everything we do. A setting with a sense of place like this encourages repeat tourism, and makes the lives of residents better, which is ultimately what a city should do.
It will take time, and deliberate effort to begin to repair the pattern of sprawl in our city. Here is some of the ways North Bay, over time, can be remodelled in a way that continues to promote density.
The issue of increasing density in a city can be addressed directly and indirectly in a variety of ways, including through the city planning policy, land use zoning, transportation and housing decisions, and through the decisions made by individuals.
The latest North Bay City Plan (2013) identifies the need to increase density and promoting mixed use planning:
2.1.2 Residential developments surrounding commercial nodes shall have a higher density to support increased pedestrian activity and mixed use development.
North Bay City Plan (2013)
188.8.131.52 High density developments will be encouraged to locate in suitable areas including the Central Business District and its immediate vicinity, or b) in close proximity to major shopping areas, community facilities, open space and recreational facilities, or c) in peripheral locations around residential neighbourhoods with access to major collector or arterial roads
North Bay City Plan (2013)
These goals are an important part of the city plan and it’s great that it acknowledges that higher density and mixed use is is the right direction for our city, but I’d like to delve into more specifics.
The following policy, contrary to the ethos established above, seems to illustrate that there are limits to the desire to increase density:
“184.108.40.206 Secondary dwelling units are permitted in detached, semi- detached and townhouses or in the accessory structures related to these uses, but not in both”
North Bay City Plan (2013)
This is probably a method to prevent overcrowding, but honestly in many cases, people would certainly have space to have a basement apartment, and utilize their detached garage “accessory structure” as another apartment if it was built up to code. Given the pattern I mentioned earlier where detached garages extend the lot to occupy space on two streets, it makes sense to further utilize these types of solutions to increase density rather than limit them.
One company, LaneFab, even works to create residential housing out of detached garages that sit on laneways, a render of which can be seen below. While we have laneways in our city still, I could not be sure how many would be fit for this type of solution without a survey.
Commercial and 2nd
The old health unit building off zCassels St. could be converted into an apartment complex (much like the old Marshal Park School was), with its parking lot being developed as a type of neighbourhood square. Depending on the decisions made in renovating, there might even be room for a business or two in the building, promoting mixed use along the Cassels St artery, which is ripe for a revitalization.
The downtown core represents a great pattern of settlement, but is in need of a revitalization in the form of a cleanup. Many residents shy away from spending time at our cities core, and that is not a relationship we want for our city. Once again, it is a relationship of contention. We want to have standards and love the setting of our lives.
Live at The Sands
The old Sands Motel, while in obvious need of demolition, might serve as a great lot for another apartment, potentially with commercial space on the ground floor to stimulate the development of mixed use outward from the downtown core, and helping to revitalize an area that could use a clean up in general.
The vacant site of the old hospital, visible off of Algonquin Ave, also represents a large area within the city that might be developed in a way that promotes density and mixed use. Given its location with numerous schools, both elementary and secondary, this could really help revitalize the neighbourhood.
Oceans of Parking
You might have noticed that there’s a lot of “parking lot oceans” in North Bay. Both malls literally don’t ever reach capacity parking with the exception of the Christmas shopping season, and even then, I’m not sure that they do. As more people turn to Amazon and other online retail options, we will see more and more perpetually empty parking spots moving forward. In my opinion this represents a ton of wasted space. Why are we keeping that space so that it can have a few cars sit on it a few weekends a year.
These areas, such as the Northgate and North Bay Malls, represent more opportunity for some residential space worked into the commercial area, creating mixed use neighbourhoods without expanding outward. The above diagrams from the Sprawl Repair Manual suggest how rich space can be carved out of these parking lots, which will inevitably become more empty as the Amazon era of commerce moves forward.
There is also a vacant lot in the Sobey’s parking lot where the MacEwan gas station used to stand that would make a nice place for some sort of apartment with main floor business space. While you might think it’s a little weird having an apartment there, keep in mind the Leons, a hop skip and jump away from this site, already has residences in the building, and that the Starbucks and other businesses in the area would greatly benefit from such a localized source of customers.
As a bonus, it sits right up to the sidewalk, which enhances the pedestrian experience. The image below illustrates that the business’ orientation with regards to the sidewalk shapes the whole aesthetic and experience for pedestrians.
While increasing density is important in reducing the costs that come with growth, the mixed use integration I’m suggesting in the examples I’ve given is key. Patterns with residential buildings built into commercial zones, and where commercial space occupies the main floors of living space, create a synergistic relationship between the residents of a space and businesses, as out of convenience, the residents are the customers, stimulating the neighbourhood’s activity.
Being able to walk to get some chores done, to feel like you can at least choose to walk, is a major change in experience and in freedom that I believe is worth promoting.
Now, granted, not all of these ideas would work, or are even great ideas. North Bay, according to the 2016 Federal census, is not experiencing growth. If we’re building new business and residential space in the interest of promoting density and mixed use neighbourhoods, we’re going to need to attract some population growth. But remember, this exploration isn’t about how we can change things so it’s better tomorrow, it’s about realistic, longer timelines.
We will get what we demand
Before any bulldozers break ground or any U-hauls are reserved for a move to ‘the Bay’, the first step of this uphill battle to reshape the patterns of our city is to become conscious of the way our the pattern of our setting shapes our experience, and the way the city changes over time. With this in mind, we can shape the city in a way that makes our lives better.
We can have a spread out, boring city built for cars with little identity aside from what it is not: the nature that surrounds it. Rows and rows of houses with the occasional Circle K isn’t exactly a lively neighbourhood pattern. This pattern is riddled with environmental, economic, sociological and psychological consequences, in addition to creating a have/have not dichotomy in our small society based around the ownership of an automobile.
Alternatively, with public consciousness and deliberate planning, the city can become a place that we embrace, a wonderful setting for our existence rather than a set of obstacles to compete with each day. Our setting shouldn’t add friction to our lives, it should allow for flow, and nudge us to make better decisions about how we move around in our space, promoting exercise and reducing carbon emissions through the freedom of choice
With regards to our the stage of our day to day lives, we’ve gotten very complacent. We pay far more attention to Federal and Provincial politics than we do about Municipal; we care more about American politics than we do about the planning of our own city.
Ultimately, we need to decide as a public to be a force in the city’s planning direction. While we’re conscious that somebody plans and directs the change we see around us, they are, at most, voices faintly heard from another room. It’s time we interject, and create demand for a pattern of living that builds a loving relationship with the stage of our lives, rather than a contentious one.
The pattern which our city takes in the distribution of residential, commercial, and industrial uses, and the density of residential areas has a profound impact on our life experience,
North Bay’s pattern of sprawl, a pattern with low density and segregated land use, promotes the dependency on personal vehicles which has consequences on human health and the environment, and creates a have/have not dichotomy among the city’s residents in terms of the freedom to move around.
We can increase density through targeted policy and the promotion of mixed use developments, such as apartments with main floor shopping.
Each neighbourhood should take the all-in-one approach, and offer space for its residents to go about their daily life without the need for a car.
Cassels st, Algonquin st, the “parking lot oceans” of the city’s malls, and other areas represent potential space for increased density and the promotion of mixed used neighbourhoods and a walkable environment.
Ultimately, the residents of the city demand the shape the city takes, and we need to understand that just because things are the way they are, doesn’t mean they always have to be.
Special thanks to Garrett Campbell (@signartman) for permission to use his work.
Every year on November 10th, I listen to Gordon Lightfoot.
Now as the son of a self declared parrot-head (a Jimmy Buffett fan), Lightfoot has always been a staple, heavy in the rotation. But every year on November 10, I take six minutes or so out of my day to listen to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The song, intuitively, is the story of the S.S Edmund Fitzgerald, a freighter which sank carrying a load of iron ore on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. Its final resting place, Lake Superior, is the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area of 82,100 km squared, and the 37th deepest lake in the world at a maximum depth of over 400 m. The shipwreck tragically killed all those aboard.
The song is sad, beautifully written and preformed, and more than a little haunting, describing the final day on earth for the 29 aboard.
Now, I’ve been to Lake Superior, a truly beautiful experience, but aside from that I don’t have any personal connection to the tragedy. And yet I have this tradition of listening to Lightfoot tell the tale on the anniversary of the sinking, why?
It just feels like the right thing to do.
So why am I talking about this song and this shipwreck.
While the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald sits beneath 160 metres of cold Lake Superior water, a mere 14 metres below the surface of our own lake, lies the wreck of Lake Nipissing worst tragedy (Mackey, 2001).
Lake Nipissing’s Steamboats
While steamboats had been an important part of waterways in British North America, later Canada, for the bulk of the 19th century, the steamships didn’t appear on Lake Nipissing until about 1881, as the Canadian Pacific Railway reached the shores (Canadian Encyclopedia, 2017). With the new connection to the far more populous south, the steamship became an important transportation method for the area’s rich natural resources, which the area’s pioneers were beginning to exploit.
The ships brought crucial supplies and personnel to hunting and logging camps in the area, and hauled timber to local mills and railway junctions on the way to southern markets. The steamship era for the lake was an important part of the areas history, as transportation for loggers and settlers was crucial in the establishment and development of the area given the heavy reliance on the primary industries. The era peaked in the roaring ’20s, and ended as diesel engines replaced steam propelled ones (Canadian Encyclopedia, 2017).
The John B Fraser
Alexandre Fraser, owner of the Alexandre Fraser Lumber company, built the 100 foot long John B. Fraser in 1888 in Sturgeon Falls for the purpose of aiding the transport of timber and loggers in his operation. The vessel was named after his brother, John Fraser, with whom he profited from harvesting the McGillivray Lake timber limits. After just a few years of service on the lake, Alex sold the ship to Davidson, Hayes and Company in 1892, a lumber company from Toronto operating in the Lake Nipissing watershed (Mackey, 2001).
The following season, in 1893, went according to plan, until the final voyage of the year that is, on November 8, when approximately 6 crew members were to bring the 20 or so lumberjacks and supplies to a hunting camp (Mackey, 2001).
At around the hour and a half mark of the journey, in the centre of the lake, tragedy arrived with a fury.
Lake Nipissing’s GreatestTragedy
In the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Lightfoot sings:
“Does any one know where the love of God goes When the waves turn the minutes to hours?”
Gordon Lightfoot, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
A reference to the fact that in Lightfoot’s imagining of the tragedy, the severity of waves and winds made minutes feel like hours for those aboard. The panic of trying to survive the storm, and the tedium of avoiding being swept overboard must have been excruciating. In these situations, time dilates, and slows down. The drawn out process of the shipwreck must have been absolute hell, and the experience probably felt much longer than it was.
In the opposite fashion, it seems with the case of the wreck of the John B. Fraser, the rapidness of the event spelled the tragedy.
By the time the fireman aboard the John Fraser, John Adams, noticed the smoke from the engine room, the room was engulfed in flames. The smoke and extreme heat (temperatures estimated at around 1,100 ˚C) prevented Adams from stopping the fire, or really intervening at all. While the captain ordered for the ships engine to be stopped, the engineer was unable to reach the lever, and Adams believed he never made it out of the furnace room. Thus, the boat continued forward while the passengers and crew abandoned ship (Mackey, 2001).
The ship burned quickly, and men dove overboard into the waters of Lake Nipissing. The scow that the Ship was towing supplies on was adopted as a life boat by a few lucky survivors. Adams was thrown from the ship and with some struggle reached the scow, where four men pulled him aboard. He then used his pocketknife to sever the tie of their craft to the John Fraser (Buffalo Evening News, 1893). Here’s Adams telling his story on the Buffalo Evening News a few days letter:
“I jumped for the stern, but at that moment the boat drifted under the still rapidly revolving wheel and dipped down under the blow, throwing the whole of us into the water. I went down, it seemed almost to the bottom, and as I dropped I got a kick in the face from some one’s boot … When I came up I saw the fellows struggling about in all directions … I was about exhausted but managed to catch a bowline and hauled myself along to a scow in tow of the steamer … As soon as I could pull myself together I got out my knife and cut the towrope and she lay to awhile while we rescued two men. All the other poor fellows had gone under.”
Crew Member John Adams, Buffalo Evening News November 10, 1893
The ship came to rest on the floor of Lake Nipissing, in the middle of the lake adjacent to Goose Islands.
Interestingly, the poor record keeping of the time means that the casualty numbers are estimates, and they have varied over time. Initial stories claimed 18 perished (Buffalo Evening News, 1893), then 19 (Buffalo Enquirer, 1893). Later stories claim 13 of the 17 on board died (Toronto Star, 1972), and the local plaque commemorating the tragedy claims somewhere between 12 and 15 men died (City of North Bay, 2020). Regardless, we know that relatively few on board survived, and that the destruction caused by the fire happened quickly, reducing the potential for mitigating response.
Families of the victims did their part to recover the remains. The following year, the Murray family hired a steamboat to help recover their son Tom’s body from the scene of the wreck. They actually recovered his remains and those of two more victims, bringing closure to the families.
Others, like victim Johnny Smalls’ wife to be, did not find such closure. It is said she walked the beaches of Lake Nipissing for days after the accident, hoping to find any trace of her fiancé Johnny (Mackey, 2001).
Unearthing the Wreck
In 1972, the Aqua Jets Diving Club found the wreck. The Club didn’t have the financial means to remove the ship from its resting place, though the story of club’s discovery did make an appearance in the Toronto Star (Toronto Star, August 15, 1972). Later Nipissing University Archaeologist and Outdoor Education Specialist, Bessel VandenHazel examined the wreck as part of the University’s Underwater Archaeology Project, eventually publishing the results of his underwater excavation as The “John Fraser” Story: An Investigation of the Remains of the Side Paddlewheel Steamer “John Fraser”.
The Callander Bay Heritage Museum hosts most of the artifacts recovered from the ship, including the ship’s steam-whistle. They can be seen on the museum’s virtual tour, and they were kind enough to send me some photos on their display for the John Fraser.
Some artifacts from the wreck can also be found at the North Bay Museum. Some even claim the artifacts are haunted, or are influenced by the presence of the loggers’ lost spirits, with unexplained occurrences by the exhibit. Staff and patrons have claimed things on adjacent walls have fallen without reason, and have witnessed the model train, that runs around the ceiling of the building, stop dead in its tracks right above the exhibit (Maitland, 2018).
Whether the artifacts are haunted or possessed, the wreck of the John Fraser is the deadliest disaster Lake Nipissing has ever seen, and there is little doubt the memory of the catastrophe haunted the regions residents for years.
Searching for Answers
“As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
with a crew and a captain well seasoned”
Gordon Lightfoot, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
In the Edmund Fitzgerald case, some have theorized complacency may have been a factor in the deadly accident, with an experienced captain who had travelled boldly through many storms in the past. The theory being that this complacency lead to poor reaction time and ill-advised decision making (USCG, 1977).
In the case of the John Fraser, I can’t help but wonder if the deadliness might also have been the result of a type of complacency.
Lake Nipissing is notoriously shallow and I’m sure the notion that the lake would become their final resting place probably seemed incredibly unlikely. The fact the journey was supposed to be the final trip of the season may also point to some complacency, as it’s possible the crew may have let their guard down in terms of safety and procedure given a full season of successful trips.
This relates to the concept of moral hazard where safety precautions, or increased perceptions of safety, lead to more reckless behaviour and decision making. A full season of successful trips would bring a perception of safety, and with that complacency. When you also consider that type 1 (automatic) thinking occurs when tasks are repeated, and complacency can come with that too, this makes even more sense.
The very deadliness of the accident has been sort of a local mystery. The lake is shallow, and most people, hearing that so many perished in the wreck, can’t help but wonder why so few made it out alive.
We can be sure of the fact the wreck was caused by an engine fire, which we know rapidly forced those aboard into the water. This was undoubtedly a factor in the wreck’s deadliness. We can certainly wonder if complacency may have made the situation worse, although we can’t be sure.
We also know that help was slow to reach the wreck. Employees at Smith Lumber on Frank’s Bay, noticing the plumes of smoke over the lake, departed to help the wreck in their sailboat, although the minimal wind meant it took over an hour to reach the victims (Mackey, 2001). By this time, all that could be done was collecting the few men who had made it upon the life boat, the rest, sadly, had drown.
So, next time you walk the beaches of Lake Nipissing, think about the way Johnny Smalls’ fiancé did the same 127 years before you, longing for her lost lover, mourning for her lost lover.
Consider what John Adams must have thought of the lake, watching his peers drowning, only able to save a select few.
Did the way they “one by one, dropped off and went down” haunt him at the very sight of Lake Nipissing’s shallow waters?
Consider the history of the lake, and the ghosts of thousands of voyages and the trees which travelled across it to become the very bones of houses throughout our province.
Finally, next time you look out at Lake Nipissing, consider the fateful day on November 8, 1893, and remember that even the shallowest of lakes can swallow you whole.
This article is the first in a new Gateway series called A Better Bay. As humans, we overestimate what we can accomplish in a short period of time, but we underestimate what we can accomplish over long periods of time. If we take a long run view of our city, we can ensure we live in a city designed intelligently, with its residents in mind.
A Better Bay is an attempt to look at the future of our city, and thoughtfully deliberate as a community about our best path forward.
As a Geographer, it’s pretty much a requisite that I believe that the space we occupy matters.
Luckily, common sense bares this out, as the setting of our lives obviously has potential to affect our mindset:
Think about the way your mindset changes after you clean the house and get rid of some clutter. You feel lighter, happier, and being in a clean space helps with mental health concerns more than most would care to admit.
So almost everyone wants a nice space to occupy. People spend countless hours and thousands and thousands of dollars decorating their house to suit their personal aesthetic preferences. Hell, people with money even get custom homes, designing the space themselves to suit their preferences. They do this for a variety of reasons, but the most important is as simple as that it’s nice to be in a nice space.
Compare the following photos: which space would you rather occupy?
But what happens when you scale up, and the size of the space no longer represents simply your own responsibility? Think your neighbourhood, or your city. You have control over your own property, but there is little you can do about how others choose to tend to (or not) their own property.
This is an example of an externality, which will probably become a pretty big concept if you continue to follow this blog. An externality is when the actions one person, or a group of people, imposes a cost on others. The others usually don’t receive the benefits of the actions, or get to be involved in the decision imposing the cost.
A local example:
Say your neighbour nearly buries their house in collectable and tacky objects (a certain house might come to mind). That particular home owners decision to have their house in their, let’s say unique, aesthetic, is perfectly fine. It’s their property after all, they’re just exercising the freedom to have their space, their way. But the people who live nearby are actually the ones who have their view affected by it. Thus, the non-monetary cost of the decorations, the bad view to neighbouring houses, is borne by the neighbours rather than the decision maker (homeowner).
A global example:
We might be able to control our own individual carbon footprints, even on a household scale we have lots of control, but the cost of super-polluters is actually borne by all of us in the reduced air quality, and the consequences of climate change, despite the fact we have nothing to do with planning their emissions strategy.
A more timely example:
People who elect to go out and say, party, during this pandemic are sort of just exercising their freedom, right? Well yes, their choice has a cost that as an individual, they have increased the risk they get the virus. The externality is that everyone who has no choice but to interact with that person, or even occupy the same space at a different time like public transit, is also at an increased risk of transmission.
It seems freedom really isn’t free.
If this brings to mind the “prisoner’s dilemma” from a past post, then you’re definitely onto something. The idea that other people making bad choices makes our choices less relevant or potent leads to apathy, and more bad choices.
So, if we want to have nice places to live and exist on a large scale, we have a more complex task on our hands than simply tidying our rooms. There will be varying opinions on what the best form of the city should be, structurally and aesthetically. But just because a task is difficult or complex doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.
One major concept that I’d like to get into before getting to the meat of this article is the idea of “nudges”. The book Nudge by Cass Sustein and Richard Thaler describes the way that people’s free will can be influenced by subtle cues and changes.
A simple example: the relative height of products on a grocery store shelf to eye level. We’re more likely to see the products at eye level, and store managers know this, and arrange product accordingly. Keep in mind this effect is present whether its accounted for or not, there is no neutral layout, as no matter what is placed at eye level, we’ll see that first.
You can harness this power to make more money, putting more lucrative products at eye level. You can harness this power to make people eat healthier, putting the healthiest products at eye level.
But even if you arrange the products completely randomly, the design is not neutral, it still nudges the shopper to an item and away from others.
The book stresses that nobody wants to make decisions for anyone, instead it focuses on designing the world in a way that guides most people down the right path on their own volition. The pair coin the term ‘Libertarian Paternalism’ to describe the strategy.
They don’t aim to take anyone’s freedom to choose, just to influence their ability to make the correct choice.
Take the example of ones 401k retirement fund. In a situation where an employee has to opt-in to contributions to their 401k, they are far less likely to do so than in a situation where the default is contributing, and one must opt-out if they don’t want to.
The simple explanation for this is a type of inertia. People have the tendency to stick with the default. People tend to go with the flow, and if there’s effort involved in making one choice or another, people tend to let the effort tax forgo the proper decision, sticking with the default. Hell, most people use their phones default ringtone, and there isn’t a great deal of effort involved in changing it.
From my own environmental area of expertise, a company that sets its default printer setting to double sided tends to use a lot less paper than ones that require the user to select for a double sided option. The key here is the user can still get the single sided option if they’d like, their freedom to choose hasn’t been removed, they’ve just been nudged in the right direction by the default. Ironically, while crafting a presentation on this concept in Grad School, I printed my notes out single sided, which was the default setting on my printer (at the time).
Understanding that the way things are designed influences our decision making goes a long way to understanding the way that urban design can affect the general well-being of its residents.
There are many ways which you can judge a city. You could use any number of measures, like Gross Domestic Product (GDP), GDP per capita, or the percentage of working age resident employed, which might give you an idea of the economic strength of a city. You could judge a city by its weather, the average temperature or annual precipitation say. You could judge the city by its density, electing to live either in an apartment, in close quarters with others in a more dense area, or in a van down by the river in a less dense area. You can judge a city by how it feels to you, by the presence or absence of major sports teams, or any number of amenities it has, or doesn’t have.
In his book,Happy City, Journalist and Urban Experimentalist (Urban Design Consultant) Charles Montgomery proposes that the best measure should be the happiness of the people who live there.
In Montgomery’s book, the author looks to psychological research to apply to city planning to ensure that the spaces that we create and interact with have positive effects on our psychology, and our relationships. Think nudges built into the way the city is planned, guiding citizens to make better decisions without robbing them of their right to choose how they want to live.
Beyond nudges, Montgomery utilizes research on what make people happy, and looks for ways to apply it to city planning, such as the positive effect of natural scenery and the protection of view corridors from overdevelopment. The way people move through cities is also a large focus of the book, such as the effect long commutes have on people, the ideal method and distance of commute to support happiness (believe it or not, the shortest commutes are not the closest correlated to happiness).
The following quote from the book, including a quote from Enrique Penalosa, Mayor of Bogata, Columbia, is taken from the book’s first chapter directly. I think it states pretty perfectly the spirit behind Happy Cities.
” “Ifwe defined our success just in terms of income per capita, we would have to accept ourselves as second-or third rate societies- as a bunch of losers” he said. No the city needed a new goal. Penalosa promised neither a car in every garage nor a socialist revolution. His premise was simple. He was going to make Bogotans happier”
Montgomery (2013). Happy City.
For me, this quote brings to mind Moneyball, the story of Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Bean who decided to use different measures and perspectives than opponents to improve his baseball team (another case of book > movie by the way). Penalosa decided to use measures other than economic ones to try to improve his city. He aimed to make the city more pedestrian and biker friendly, and developed the rapid mass transportation in the city to improve public transportation so less people needed to use their cars. In short, he was looking to maximize happiness that came with planning decisions rather than maximize economic benefit.
So, what exactly makes a city a happy one? Montgomery proposes eight guidelines that help conceptualize what exactly a Happy City is:
“It should should maximize joy and minimize hardship.”
“It should lead us towards health rather than sickness.”
“It should offer us the freedom to move, live, and build our lives as we wish.”
“It should build resilience against economic and environmental shocks.”
“It should be fair in the way it apportions space, service, mobility, joys, hardships, and costs.”
“Most of all, it should enable us to build and strengthen the bonds between friends, families, and strangers that give life meaning, bonds that represent the city’s greatest achievement and opportunities.”
“The city acknowledges and celebrate our common fate, that opens doors to empathy and cooperation, will help us tackle the greatest challenges of our century”
So there we have it, a few vague guidelines for which to reframe our understanding of our city. Of course, Montgomery provides great examples for these, and real life has provided a great example of the final criteria, our common fate, in the form of COVID-19.
Notice the criteria concerns itself with equity, social lives, resilience, freedom, and of course, happiness. Montgomery has applied these principals in his home city of Vancouver, and had a TedTalk that reached millions of viewers on the subject.
So the real question is this: is North Bay a “Happy City”? and if not, can it be?
Considerations for Density and Sprawl
One thing that should be addressed immediately is that North Bay is a small city with a population of just over 51,000 as of the 2016 Census. Admittedly, Happy City is more geared towards larger urban centres, like Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver etc. All the same, that just means we have to keep the fit of strategies proposed by Montgomery in mind. It doesn’t mean what his book has to say about urban design is completely irrelevant, just that it will have to be considered at scale.
Consider the density of North Bay of 771.5 People per Square Kilometres, when compared to Vancouver at 5,492.6. North Bay represents a much sparser pattern of human development. When you consider the scene of high-rise apartments compared to our own skyline, this is abundantly obvious.
Right now, its easy to feel like sparsity is an asset, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic: crowds and foot traffic are actually a disadvantage. But consider the advantages of living in a city centre in normal times: tons of choice of shopping and dinning options, many companies as potential employers, efficiency of space and resources, and not having to get in the car to go, well, anywhere at all.
Ok, I’m exaggerating a tad. Depending on where you reside in North Bay, you can probably walk to a dining or grocery shopping option. But honestly, as someone who lived in the city without a car for about 5 years, it was a royal pain in the ass.
The city pattern is one of sprawl, everything is spread out. There are a few particular areas (Algonquin, Lakeshore, Northgate Mall and Downtown come to mind) that people can buy things, many areas where people live, and a few areas where industry resides. This model of urban planning, with distinct zones, is designed with the automobile in mind, not necessarily people.
Now many readers are in North Bay specifically to get away from density, and I fully understand that. There’s a reason I came North for school. There’s a reason I stayed. It definitely has its advantages. That said, we have to find ways to make it easier to move around in North Bay, because with the sprawl comes an effort tax with everything we do: visits to friends houses, grocery trips, etc., they all come with the price of time and getting across large residential areas, in addition the the dimension of time and scheduling. If you don’t have a car, this effort tax feels gigantic.
I won’t get too deep into this, I’ve got a future article planned that tackles the issue specifically, but its important to know that our layout is a disadvantage in some regards. These weaknesses need to be acknowledged to be addressed.
While metropolises come with a lot of convenience, nobody wants to live in a cramped apartment building. With the efficiency that comes with packing a ton of residents into a relatively small amount of space in terms of the buildings footprint, there is real dread from being cramped in close quarters with a lot of people.
Coincidently, a large amount of North Bay’s rental market is actually very similar to what is recommended in Happy City. One major psychological finding was that people like the opportunity to be around people, as long as they have the option to retreat to their own space. With that balance in mind, the rental options in the city, include duplexes, triplexes, and small buildings and converted houses with 10 units or less.
These settings provide the optimal balance of communal social interaction, whereas isolate properties have a bigger effort tax associated with being social, and large apartments have an uncomfortable amount of social interactions, and insufficient space for retreat.
So while our city is obviously far from perfect in terms of a real estate and rental market, score one for North Bay in terms of the size of the groups of units, it’s a good starting point.
Safety & Trust
This is a big one. People really need to feel safe to be happy. Ultimately, a lot of our hardwiring from prehistory remains, our general goal in most situations is to feel safe. As I described in a previous article, crime statistics are important, but ultimately, safety is something that is perceived. People either trust their neighbours or they don’t.
Lately, I would guess there isn’t a ton of trust in North Bay. People have noted that rising crime and the opiate crisis have made them feel less safe.
In Happy City, one of the experiments on safety and trust was simply asking people “if you lost your wallet, what percentage would you assign to the probability of getting it back?”
The idea being that whatever the real odds are, the odds you assign represents your perception of your city in terms of trustworthiness. Interestingly the study found that most people vastly underestimate the experimental odds of actually receiving their wallet back.
The findings in the research were that larger city residents were lest trusting of their community, whereas medium and smaller cities (like North Bay) actually did better by this measure. While North Bay in particular might have some shady characters that erode communal trust, we can surely get back to the point where we are a community, trusting of each other and kind to each other.
(Hopefully, when this page gets more followers, I’ll be able to put up a poll and get a reasonable sample with which we can attribute a public perception of this situation for North Bay, as well as some other interesting public perceptions I’d like to capture.)
Does North Bay as a city nudge us towards sickness or health?
Once again, ultimately people will live how they choose to live, but the setting of their lives can prime them to make good decisions.
Regarding healthcare, this is sort of mixed. We’re lucky to be home of the Regional Health Centre, an awesome, and modern facility, ensuring that there is good immediate care available when needed. That said, there’s a shortage of family doctors in the city, which means crammed clinics, and more importantly, the procrastination of residents in getting conditions checked on, which adds knock on costs to the system through unaddressed health issues.
In terms of lifestyle, does North Bay encourage people to live well? Does it encourage us to eat healthy? To exercise?
Well, this is tough to evaluate. There are certainly options for physical activity, with numerous fitness facilities around town, and outdoor recreation options like biking trails, hiking trails, and others. That said, aside from the Kinsmen and Kate Pace Way trails, generally the city isn’t very bike friendly, with a lack of bike lanes, and poorly paved roads.
The city also lacks some of the outdoor exercise equipment that other municipalities have adopted. I also find that the recreational facilities like public tennis and basketball courts are lacking or inaccessible relative to other communities.
North Bay’s public trails certainly nudge people to take advantage of them and get outside, but I think it’s obvious we can probably improve in this regard as time goes on.
This is a category where we get a big win. In the psychological research explored in Happy City, it was found that the presence of nature can have profoundly positive influence on mindset. Many of these studies considered the relative happiness of people working or living in the same areas with different views, those with and without nature. One such study even found hospital patient recovery was correlated with natural views in their hospital room.
North Bay is undoubtedly beautiful. Surrounded by forests and lakes, we’ve have great views, and we’re truly lucky to have nature so well integrated into our city. Sometimes I think it’s so present people, myself included, take it for granted.
In Happy City, there is a specific reference to the fact that people need nature in different doses in their life: small, medium, and large.
Consider North Bay in this regard. At a large scale, we hit the jackpot. A beautiful forested escarpment overlooking forests, Trout Lake and Lake Nipissing. Life is good.
Regarding a medium dose of nature, think smaller wooded areas in town rather than landscape scale features listed above. Chippewa Creek is a perfect example of this, and while it is not a perfect creek, it is beautiful to have water flowing right through town, with a well maintained bike path along it to boot.
There are definitely other smaller wooded areas and natural features scattered around town. That said, I’m sure a lot of people walk to the bus stop, or even go their whole day without getting a dose of that medium sized nature. While we certainly have this medium sized nature in the city, it’s not necessarily evenly distributed among neighbourhoods.
In terms of small doses of nature, in my opinion, we struggle a little more. Small doses refers more to peoples properties, things you’d see on a walk down the street, etc. Many properties in many of the cities neighbourhoods are unkempt in an unsettling way, and it’s actually a little surprising how few streets are lined with trees given the area. Looking at satellite images on Google, it seems like the trees in backyards were prioritized over the fronts. This internalizes the benefit to the home owner over the community a little.
In my personal experience, a walk down the street in Barrie actually provides this small dose of nature better than North Bay, despite not necessarily offering the same benefits in large scale natural features that North Bay has.
Again, remember I’m not writing this to insult our city needlessly: we can only make things better if we acknowledge how they could be improved
So is North Bay a Happy City?
Well, let’s quickly go over the criteria from Happy City again.
“It should should maximize joy and minimize hardship.”
“It should lead us towards health rather than sickness.”
“It should offer us the freedom to move, live, and build our lives as we wish.”
“It should build resilience against economic and environmental shocks.”
“It should be fair in the way it apportions space, service, mobility, joys, hardships, and costs.”
“Most of all, it should enable us to build and strengthen the bonds between friends, families, and strangers that give life meaning, bonds that represent the city’s greatest achievement and opportunities.”
“The city acknowledges and celebrate our common fate, that opens doors to empathy and cooperation, will help us tackle the greatest challenges of our century”
So you’ve probably noticed I only delved into a few different topics, and didn’t look at criteria points specifically. Given their vagueness I thought it more useful to talk about a few more concrete points about the layout, natural features, housing, and wellness in the city. Again, I do plan on writing articles on some of the mentioned topics specifically.
That said, even with a shallow delve, it’s pretty clear that our city has a ways to go to be considered a ‘Happy City’.
The good news is that the idea that we should be planning in the name of the experience of residents, and improving their mental well being through urban design is an inspiring concept. We know North Bay is never going to be Ottawa, but we’re positioned in a lovely area, and with some careful deliberation, we can make this city an unbelievable place to live and visit.
I can’t wait to tackle potential avenues for these improvement in coming articles in the A Better Bay series. Stay tuned.
This is a long one, so strap in, and let’s continue where we left off…
Cockburn & Sons’ Limited
By 1988, J.D Cockburn, a man who wore many hats, had begun to really take advantage of the opportunity of harvesting Lake Nipissing’s sturgeon to satisfy caviar demand. The period with the largest harvests of the species in the lake’s history 1900-1908, saw an average of over 11,000 pounds of caviar being harvested annually. These harvests were split between the Cockburn fishery and one other commercial licence holder on the lake.
This ridiculous, ‘kid in a candy store’ style of management (or lack thereof) did a number on the sturgeon population, and by 1908 a moratorium was ordered to let the fish stock recover. The closure was short lived however, and by 1917 harvesting commercially was once again allowed.
Unfortunately, this early century collapse was only the beginning of the issues that the sturgeon population would face in the still young 20th century.
The Caviar King
In 1915, Roy Cockburn, son of J.D, and his brothers took over operations of the family fishery, and began fishing for sturgeon in Lake Nipissing.
“Wait”, you might say: “I thought you said fisheries were banned from harvesting sturgeon from Lake Nipissing until 1917.”
Yes, you’re not crazy, I did. This obvious non-compliance was admitted to by Cockburn in a newspaper article in 1946, and that’s just the beginning of the arrogance that the second generation of the Sturgeon Falls Cockburn’s would put on display.
By 1946, Roy was the sole owner operator of the Cockburn fishery on Lake Nipissing, and his caviar business had earned Roy the moniker “The King of Caviar” among locals. Additionally, Roy took the family tradition of involvement in local politics to another level, becoming the elected mayor of the town. His brother and former partner, George, was designated as the Indian Agent in the region, and the Cockburn stranglehold on the natural resources in the area grew. This was of course, a very profitable position for the family.
In a 1946 interview, Roy states that on average, they shipped 700 pounds of caviar annually, with particularly good years yielding upwards of 1,000 pounds. In the same article, the estimated profit to Roy per pound was about $4, which means the average year, his profits were around $2,800 per year from the harvests.
That’s a nice, but modest, return when you consider that includes the cost of operation, and was only one of his earning channels. It’s especially solid when you consider the serious hardship experienced in the Sturgeon Falls local economy between the depression in 1930s through to the post WWII period (Unknown Author1, n.d).
Beyond the financial gain, the prestige associated with caviar was beginning to rub off on Roy. A letter from the National Film Board of Canada(1951) indicates he was the subject of a short film, cleverly titled Net Prophets.
In the same year, Roy received another letter, this time from the Lieutenant Governor of Canada, Ray Lawson(1951). The letter thanks Roy for caviar which had been sent to the Governor to treat to some very notable guests to the capital:
“A very welcome parcel has been received from you, but we will not open it until their royal highnesses, Princess Elisabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, arrive … we appreciate your caviar and this will be a great treat for our royal visitors.”
Lieutenant Governor of Canada Ray Lawson, Letter to Roy Cockburn in 1951
Yup. The current Monarch of the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II, enjoyed Lake Nipissing caviar from Roy Cockburn two years before her coronation.
And she wasn’t even the only European monarch that tried Lake Nipissing’s caviar. Emperor Wilhelm II of the German Empire also was known to enjoy caviar from Lake Nipissing with some regularity, while it was rumoured the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, had been a customer as well (Commanda, 2018).
Clearly, the caviar produced by the second generation Cockburn was of high quality and high regard, and this earned him his own royal title, as the King of Caviar, Ontario’s #1 caviar salesman.
I honestly think this story is sort of stunning.
For such a luxury product, a delicacy with worldwide prestige, to be associated with Lake Nipissing is really weird. The addition of the local dynasty of the Cockburn family makes the story more intriguing, as the family seemed to be a powerhouse, with a stranglehold of many of the resources and industries of Sturgeon Falls.
There is little doubt that the family was a local empire. Empires often come with a cost.
To understand these costs, you have to hear the other side of the story.
In 1850, Nipissing First Nation (#10) was included in the Robinson-Huron Treaty. The treaty included $4.00 to each member annually, with no adjustment for inflation over time (notice the $4 happens to be the same amount of profit Roy Cockburn made on each pound of caviar). The treaty outlined the arrangement between settlers and Indigenous use of the territory and its resources (Commanda, 2018). The specific mention of fishing in addition to hunting, made the treaty the first of its kind in this regard.
It’s really important to understand that in the context of Indigenous language and perspective, the treaty was understood to essentially be an agreement of sharing, and non-interference between the parties sharing the territory. The treaty was only written in English, and there wasn’t an understanding of a transfer of ownership the Crown viewed it as. From their understanding, the settlers and First Nations peoples alike would have full access to the fish in Lake Nipissing (Pottery, 2016).
They were half right.
The Myth of Abundance
The abundance of natural resources in the North, and the associated opportunity for financial gain, was a major selling point to settlers moving into the Lake Nipissing area (Department of Agriculture, 1880).
In my research for this article, I came across a (very) old pamphlet from the 1880 which advertised for settling in the Muskoka and Nipissing regions.
The pamphlet makes multiple references to abundance of resources, including specific mentions of the area’s fish:
“The numerous lakes and rivers literally swarm with fish of the best varieties, such as salmon trout, white fish, trout, herring, maskinonge, bass, pike, pickerel and many other kinds.”
Information for Intending Settlers: Muskoka and Lake Nipissing, Department of Agriculture, 1880
This isn’t the only reference which implies the fish were plentiful in the region, and connects well to the concept of “The Myth of Abundance“. The ‘myth’ developed in colonial societies, experiencing irrationality in response to the seemingly endless supply of land and natural resources in North America compared to back home in Europe. As a result of the myth, which was entrenched generation by generation, as well as the popular understanding of “nature” as a frontier to be tamed, settlers misused and damaged the quality and quantity of natural resources. Settlers were basically under the impression that the resources were so plentiful that they could never be exhausted.
Now to be fair, the pamphlet, maybe read by one J.D Cockburn himself, does make reference to the need for conservation of resources despite the abundance:
“There is a good deal of game in this part of the country and no game laws to preserve it for the exclusive use of particular persons. The laws simply refer to confining hunting and fishing to their proper seasons, to prevent destruction during breeding seasons, which would very soon have the effect of destroying the game entirely, and in this every man in the country has an interest, the property in game being common to all.”
Information for Intending Settlers: Muskoka and Lake Nipissing, Department of Agriculture, 1880
The people of Nipissing First Nation were under the impression their use of the fish in Lake Nipissing for the subsistence of their community would continue uninterrupted by the settlers.
Unfortunately, something else was coming.
Gradually, as the century moved forward, limits and restrictions were placed on fishing in the lake. Now one might think the concern would be overfishing, and that any restrictions put in place would have everything to do with the size of harvests, the quantity of fish being caught. Just seems like common sense.
The regulations the Department of Fish and Game put in place were actually the imposition of preference to the settler market, with banning of traditional indigenous techniques for sturgeon fishing like night fishing, as well as a ban on the use of spears and the traditional net designs used by the Nipissing (Commanda, 2018).
With any conservation or preservation effort, their is a cost, usually a direct restriction on economic activity, like harvesting fish, to reduce the damage to the environment. In this case, because of the restrictions chosen, those costs were imposed directly on the Nipissing people, with regulations aimed at reducing their harvests, their right to which had been guaranteed by the Robinson-Huron Treaty.
It was of course preposterous that the Nipissing were considered the threat to the fishery. The Anishnabee people of the region have been fishing sturgeon from Lake Nipissing for literally thousands of years (Pottery, 2016). Not only did they sustain the fish stocks over that massive duration of time, the resource was described as thriving and plentiful in the settler’s literature upon their arrival (Department of Agriculture, 1880). These restrictions shouldn’t have just raised eyebrows, they were just the transparent imposition of power.
Hell, it seems like if conservation of the fish population was the goal, the settlers should have been asking for the advice of Nipissing First Nations people.
It seems pretty obvious that the Robinson-Huron Treaty would not have been agreed to if the transfer of ownership and potential for such restrictions had been evident or understood.
Evidently, the regulations were less concerned with the settler commercial use of the resource, given the harvest of 11,000 + lbs. of caviar (and 143,159 lbs of sturgeon itself) annually between 1900-1908 (Commanda, 2018). When you think about the fact that Lake Nipissing likely wouldn’t even have been commercially exploited as heavily for sturgeon and caviar had the Great Lakes not been overfished for the product by the 1880’s, it’s pretty easy to see what was coming next (Ontario Rivers Alliance, 2009).
Following the 9 year moratorium on sturgeon fishing the the lake, harvests began. In 1925 Lake Nipissing harvesting surged to represent 40% of the caviar produced in Ontario, and in ten short years, that number dwindled to 8% as harvests became smaller by 1935 (Harkness & Dymond, 1961). There were less and less sturgeon as a result of over fishing.
The obvious pattern here, first in the Great Lakes, and then in Lake Nipissing, is overuse and exploitation.
This is a textbook example of “conservation” as the imposition of power onto a vulnerable group. The regulations and restrictions were passed in the name of environmental protection, and yet the practices that continued were far more detrimental than those that had been excluded. Simply put, the restrictions were a way to allocate more of the resource to the colonial society and its members.
Keep in mind, I’m not saying all environmental law and policy is simply the imposition of power. I earned a Masters Degree in Environmental Studies studying policy specifically, and I think I’d be disappointing my former colleagues and myself if that was my take on environmental policy. Many, or even most, of these policies are crucial checks on devastating human behaviours. In fact, better policy probably would have prevented the gross overfishing of sturgeon on Lake Nipissing.
It’s incredibly important that we look back on the unintended (in this case, likely intended) consequences of the policy, and the way the costs of that conservation are distributed, aiming for more equitable and enforceable policy in the future.
As time proved, the commercial fishing was a much bigger threat to the Lake Nipissing Sturgeon than the traditional harvest techniques of the Nipissing people. Both the sturgeon and the Nipissing people have paid the price for the (mis)management of the resource.
Both continue to suffer the consequences.
Decimation of Lake Nipissing Sturgeon
When you think about it, the commercial harvesting of fish for caviar calls for incredibly delicate balance. The species has a long life span, and many lake sturgeon live be 100 years old. The species has a low reproductive rate as females only produce eggs every six years or so (Ontario Rivers Alliance, 2008). Studies suggest sturgeon harvests should represent less than 5% of the population for sustainable use (Commanda, 2018). The unchecked harvesting specifically for the quality of reproduction, logically speaking, inevitably leads to the collapse of that fishery.
To put this simply and drive it home: when the nets were cast, fishermen were hoping to harvest the very fish that would re-stock the lake. Without being careful about the number of fish harvested annually, a decline in the sturgeon population in Lake Nipissing was a foregone conclusion.
Enforcement matters to.
As previously mentioned, in 1908 the resource was beginning to suffer the consequences of overfishing after the most intense sturgeon fishing period of Lake Nipissing’s history. The overfishing necessitated a moratorium on fishing sturgeon in the lake between 1908-1917.
This is where enforcement comes in.
Interestingly, in a newspaper interview from 1946, Roy Cockburn admits he has been harvesting sturgeon since 1915. It sure seems that the priority in the policy was control rather than conservation given he openly boasted about a clear infraction of the regulation. A total ban of harvests was going unenforced on one group, while the technique of harvest after the ban was enforced on the other. There’s not much to say about this other than the priority of the policies and their enforcement was clearly not one of conservation.
No records exist for the harvest of sturgeon on Lake Nipissing from 1924-1959 (Commanda, 2018). It sure doesn’t seem like limiting harvests to preserve stocks was a priority through this part of the 20th century if they couldn’t be bothered to record and report the size of the harvests.
The impact of overfishing of the sturgeon was compounded by the changes in the habitat due to human use around the lake. A mill built on the Sturgeon River around the turn of the 20th century increased the turbidity and suspended solids and particulates in a key spawning ground for sturgeon, further stressing the reproduction of the species (Ontario Rivers Alliance, 2009).
Later projects on Lake Nipissing, including a sewage treatment plant and hydroelectric production, changed the chemistry and physical characteristics of the habitat, including changes in temperature detrimental to the delicate process of sturgeon spawning. Only about 1% of sturgeon eggs survive in the best of conditions, meaning these changes likely had major impacts on the reproductive capacity and population of the fish.
The situation obviously got worse over the next half a century, and commercial fishing of sturgeon was no longer viable or permitted due to depleted stocks by the 1990’s. By this time, the exercise by Nipissing people of fulfilling their treaty rights and traditional livelihoods by fishing for sturgeon began to become more stigmatized, as their continued fishing was seen as selfish exploitation of a shared resource (Pottery, 2016).
This is of course, incredibly ironic given the sturgeon were plentiful for thousands of years, but less than a century of colonial control decimated the population.
The Nipissing people were left with the feeling that the spirit of non-interference in the Robinson-Huron Treaty had been broken on the part of the crown by their restrictive policy of traditional harvesting. To add insult to injury, they also had to suffer blame and scrutiny of ruining the recovery for the continuing to practice their treaty rights to fish the lake sturgeon, which of course had become much more difficult because of overexploitation by businesses.
When you consider the reduced capacity of the Sturgeon to meet subsistence needs it filled prior to the overfishing, the cost of the unchecked harvests of Nipissing’s black gold rests heavy on the shoulders of Nipissing First Nation.
And the sturgeon themselves aren’t any better off. Despite strict bans on commercial sturgeon fishing, a recent study by Nikki Commanda(2018) showed that in the 30 years or so since, the population in Lake Nipissing has not rebounded, and continues to require an endangered label. Her conclusion ponders why Traditional Ecological Knowledge (the data pertaining to ecology in the oral histories by Indigenous peoples) held by the Nipissing peoples hasn’t been sought out in order to replicate the management that allowed the population to be so strong to begin with.
After reading her paper, I’m inclined to agree.
So the story of the Caviar King of Lake Nipissing is one of opportunity, riches, prestige.
But it’s also a tale of betrayal, greed, and the destructive capacity of humankind.
So what can we learn from this story?
Equitability, environmental policy, and sustainability
You wouldn’t think there’s much to learn from this story in terms of environmental policy other than, basically: “Don’t do that”.
But there is a lesson here about equitability and sustainability of policy.
Sure, it’s pretty easy to ague that the policies that were put in place were obviously targeting First Nations harvests, and probably had little to do with the preservation of the sturgeon population. That said, this obvious power imposition reminds us that in any environmental policy, it is crucial that the economic costs are distributed in a way that is equitable.
Pretend the rules passed concerning the harvesting techniques would have made a huge positive impact on the sturgeon population, I know this would seem more likely if they also limited the amount harvested, but bare with me. Pigeonholing the Nipissing people into different techniques for harvests left them with the choice to either harvest the new way, abandoning thousands of years of expertise passed down generation by generation, or break the rule and risk penalties from enforcement. They were aware that commercial harvesting wasn’t being restricted, and this would only contribute to resentment.
If the cost of a resource use rule falls squarely on the shoulders of one group, and that group’s change of behaviour is what’s being relied on to create the positive change, will that that rule actually be effective?
Had the officials making the policy considered this?
Maybe. Probably. I don’t know. But it’s pretty clear that their chosen policy instrument was ineffective, as the population collapsed relatively promptly, and it put the Nipissing people through some undue suffering to compound other colonial issues.
There are two sides to the rules, enforcement and compliance. Even the most common sense rules have to feel legitimate for people to comply.
With the transparent imposition of cost on the First Nations people, it seems to me non-compliance was probably rampant. Thus, even if the effects of those rules had been really positive in theory, the rule wouldn’t be effective because it wouldn’t be followed. Given enforcement on Indigenous people was often quite strict, the non-compliance likely led to increased tension between settlers and First Nations in the area, a negative knock-on effect of the ineffective policy, and perpetuating the strained relationship with First Nations peoples.
When a small town is founded, it seems pretty inevitable that those who get in on the ground floor have a massive opportunity to become a political and economic cornerstone of that town. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this, it’s pretty natural when you consider that the needs of the community are many, and there’s only so many people to fill them. In an area rich with natural resources, like Sturgeon Falls for instance, an early claim to the market is a golden ticket.
The Cockburns exemplify this perfectly, with J.D establishing a small local empire, and his sons taking it over.
The issue is that in this case, as in many I’m sure, the family members become prominent community members, and hold prominent official roles in the community, with which they can create advantageous situations in their business endeavours. For example, Roy’s brother George’s role as the Indian Agent for the region contributed to Roy’s acquisition of a local cranberry marsh which had helped sustain the Nipissing People for hundreds of years. The lack of enforcement on the sturgeon harvesting during the moratorium, and the lack of limits to commercial harvesting, further exemplify this. The potential for nepotism and family favours only grows when one considers Roy was literally the Mayor of Sturgeon Falls.
Let’s put this bluntly:
Imagine today, the Mayor of your community was commercially harvesting as much fish from the lake as he desired, specifically for their eggs, year after year, without recording the harvests at all. Oh by the way your mayor is also making a small fortune on that business, in addition to his others, while the town suffered a multi-decade period of devastating economic hardship. All the while, subsistence fishermen were persecuted for their harvests of that same fish.
Absolutely unacceptable, right?
Basically, there was no check on the Caviar King, and it had devastating consequences on the environment and those who rely on it. It is my firm belief that while we need businesses to create, we also need government must protect. With such a blurred line between the two, it’s not surprising that the incentives of profit and self interest outweighed the concern for the common good.
Where rules come from and healthy scepticism
Finally, this story reminds us that rules come from somewhere. When the powers that be make decisions, even with the best of intentions, they can have unintended consequences. When these good intentions are absent, the results are even worse.
It’s pretty obvious from my reading of this research that this was a clear case of discrimination on the Nipissing people built into the environmental policies concerning the sturgeon harvests on Lake Nipissing. The disadvantage to the First Nations subsistence fishers was a feature of the policy, not a bug.
This reminds us that we must be diligent. When we read about a new law or policy, we should think critically:
Who benefits? What are the costs and how are they distributed?
Now I’m not saying we should descend into nihilism because rules are just the imposition of power and everything is incredibly arbitrary. I’ve been there. It’s a bad mental spot, and there’s just no room for improvement.
I believe in improvement.
What I am saying, is that we should practice healthy scepticism, and be active and informed about the rules that concern us. If something isn’t right, it should be challenged through the appropriate channels. When it comes to rules about the environment, they concern all of us.
Our elected officials are just that, elected, and if they aren’t serving the public benefit, or are blatantly serving a specific interest over others, we should make sure those so called leaders are never in a position to make those types of decisions again.
Be skeptical, be diligent, be critical. But never let your scepticism crush your belief in improvement.
So there you have it, the story of Nipissing’s black gold and the Caviar King.
Special Thanks to Nikki Commanda. While I don’t know her, her research paper: Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser Fulvescens) Management and Status Update for the Lake Nipissing Watershed, served as the inspiration for this me to tell this story
I have to say, it has been pretty strange trying the launch a blog with a very local slant in a time when the only story anyone cares about is as worldwide as Pitbull.
Yes, it seems like all anybody is talking about right now is COVID-19. And because of the pandemic, everybody is doing their talking over WiFi.
People are (I hope) staying at home most of the time, with the exception of trips out for necessities. We’ve been asked by experts to collectively participate in social distancing and isolation to make sure that the health care system isn’t overloaded with cases. The less interaction people have, the less the risk of transmission throughout the population.
So how much does locality matter in a time like this?
Sure, we can feel a little safer than larger cities with more international links, and our relatively small number of reported cases also might bring comfort to some. To some degree locality definitely matters. I wouldn’t want to be in New York or Italy right now for instance, and I sincerely hope those situations improve.
But it’s more about our daily experience. Many people are living and working in the same space now, and the setting of their lives has shrunk. It stands to reason that if you’re spending most, if not all, of your day in the house, where that house is doesn’t really matter very much.
Given the lack of physical social interactions, you might even say that communities not tied to geography, like interests, such as the sports you watch or your hobbies, are actually rivalling the local community in importance more than usual.
You probably follow a certain hobby on Instagram, Facebook, or Reddit. Those communities online are all discussing COVID-19, both in general, and how the situation pertains to the area of interest that brought them together.
Think sports. I regularly spend time discussing sports with my group-chat of friends that live all over Ontario, and one is even across the pond in Wales (though fortunately his devotion to the Toronto teams hasn’t dampened with distance). I spend time on reddit or facebook commenting on the developments coming out of the NHL, MLB, and NBA about how their seasons might occur (or not) following this situation.
(For the record, I don’t think any of those leagues will have games this seasons)
The point I’m making is the community I’m interacting with now is less about where I am, and more about what I’m interested in.
Now to some degree, with the heavy integration of social media in our lives, this is always true. But when you’re stuck inside and the actual in-real-life interaction with community is taken away, the importance of the online communities can only grow.
Anyways, the beginning of The Gateway has been a bit of a struggle between wanting to write about the local topics I had envisioned the site being about, and the desire to write about what everyones thinking about right now. Today, the desire to write about this unparalleled, globally-shared experience won out.
One interesting aspect of the COVID situation I thought I’d share some thoughts on is the way that businesses, especially large ones, handle the situation. The pandemic has devastated the stock market, and businesses that have closed as a result have had to decide how or if they would support their employees.
Let’s stick with the sports angle.
Immediately upon the announcement that the NBA season would be suspended, Celebrity-Owner of the Dallas Mavericks Mark Cuban assured the media that the franchise would be taking care of their hourly employees, ensuring they would be receiving the cheques they’re counting on even though the events they work were not going to occur. Some other teams followed suit, and even some big name players, like Giannis Antetokounmpo, donated to funds designed to provide a safety net for the teams hourly employees.
Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, owner of the Leafs, Raptors, and other Toronto based teams, has ensured that employees will receive 95% of the amount they would have if they had worked the events. Seems good that teams and players were looking out for their people.
Other teams though, like the Winnipeg Jets, who’s owner David Thompson is worth an estimated 38 billion dollars, refused to make such assurances.
Facing an onslaught of public criticism, including the poignant tweet above illustrating just how greedy that move was, the team decided to pay the employees for the remaining home games. The power of public opinion.
There were other penny pinching strategies at the cost of the employees, such as Boston Bruins making their assurance conditional on if the season would continue or not, which would of course represent a major delay to the employees receiving money that they likely could use right now. This also recieved backlash.
The Buffalo Sabres, who have been torturing their fans with their play on the ice for years now, still haven’t put in place a plan to ensure their employees have a safety net in this difficult time. Their owner is worth over 5 Billion dollars.
While discussing the various strategies clubs had for the situation in one of my aforementioned sports-related group chats, one member made a simple, but important point about the world of business right now:
He said that not taking care of the employees was straight up bad business. Why?
Because the only thing anyones talking right now is COVID-19, and that means the only public relations any company has right now is how they handle it.
He makes a great point. Let’s consider some of the big, brand-related, stories we’ve been hearing recently.
Bauer, an iconic brand in Canada and the hockey world, recognizing the potential for mass shortages of face masks for front-line healthcare workers, shifted it’s production to the making of hockey visor like face shields to distribute to hospitals all-over.
Is this an inspiring action by the business? Absolutely, I’d say.
They recognized that this is a crucial moment in human history and that they could play a part in mitigating the damage, and they took it. Pandemics are a team sport, and we’re all on team humanity, so bravo to Bauer.
But keep in mind this is also great PR. The brand is in the news when hockey is totally irrelevant, and people will definitely remember the way the brand stepped up to help handle the situation. Bauer scratches the publics back, the public scratches theirs.
A tweet from Head Coach Darren Turcotte indicated that witnessing the brands actions, the Nipissing Woman’s hockey team would be switching to the brand. Bravo Lakers.
This whole situation sucks, but it is definitely an opportunity to reward companies that act with some grace in a scary and uncertain time.
Suds and Sanitizer
Here’s another one you’ve probably seen: craft brewers and brewing conglomerates alike using their facilities to produce hand sanitizer instead of just their delicious beverages. With a major shortage of hand sanitizer, likely due to the hoarding by some individuals, this is another great move.
Labatt is one brand that’s taking action on the sanitizer shortage, while in our region, Crosscut Distillery is putting forth a small but mighty effort to lend a hand. The more we all clean our hands, the better the outcome of this whole situation, and these companies are stepping up in a positive way.
Update: as of March 30, New Ontario brewery in North Bay will also be producing sanitizer. Great news!
Speaking of beer, here’s a really weird one: the name of the virus has really hurt one particular brand. Corona, typically enjoyed with a lime, isn’t being enjoyed much these days.
“5W Public Relations said that 38% of Americans wouldn’t buy Corona “under any circumstances” because of the outbreak, and another 14% said they wouldn’t order a Corona in public. The survey encompasses polling from 737 beer drinkers in the United States.”
Does it make any sense? Is there a connection between the name coronavirus and the beer? Is there any logical reason not to enjoy a Corona just like any other alcoholic beverage right now?
Of course not.
But consumers are weird, and I guess all the bad news associated with the word “corona” has dampened the appitite of their consumers.
Jim Morrison sang it best:
“people are strange“.
Restaurant and Delivery Services
The food industry has certainly had to centre its PR around its handling of the pandemic. Local restaurants, who would be under threat from a bad month let alone a borderline quarantine situation, have had to decide to stay open or not. Those that have stayed open have ensured everyone they’re taking extra precautions, and are really pushing for local support in this difficult time. Some are even changing up their model, like how Twiggs is putting together things like pizza kits that require some assembly and are therefore entertaining. Others are preparing frozen meals and marketing them almost as meal prepped food. Local restraints in North Bay are even uniting under a campaign to “Distance Socially, Eat Locally“.
Larger chain restaurants are also assuring customers that extra precautions are being taken to stop the spread of coronavirus. Little Caesars comes to mind specifically because they’ve marketed their “Pizza Portal” system as a contactless way to get yourself a Hot-n-Ready:
The delivery services, such as Skip the Dishes, are also introducing new precautions against the spread of COVID, advertising “contactless delivery”. Businesses, especially in the restaurant industry, have had to adapt and innovate in response to the threat of the pandemic.
Late Addition: Columbia Sportswear
Basically immediately after I published this article, I read a news story on one CEO making a personal sacrifice to ensure his people were taken care of and I thought it would only be right to give him some props.
Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle has cut his salary for the 2020 year to a mere $10,000 to ensure the company can afford to pay its employees through this crisis. To give you an idea of the type of pay cut he’s volunteered to take, Boyle made over 3 million dollars in 2018.
I would argue that if one person taking a cut can ensure that everyone is paid that there’s some imbalance that needs to be dealt with in the economy, but it’s not really the time. Ultimately, Boyle didn’t necessarily have to take this cut, but he recognized that his people needed help, and he did what he had to do. In a time of crisis, the man acted with humanity, and that’s exactly what the world needs now.
“A lot of it is symbolic. When we come into a crisis like the one we have right now — where it’s a difficult time for the economy, for workers, people are losing their jobs, people don’t know what to expect — I think for CEOs to come out and say, ‘We are going to give up our pay,’ it’s a signal that they are sharing the pain.”“
Itay Goldstein, professor of finance University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School found in Duffy (March 26, 2020). Why CEOs are giving up their salaries during the coronavirus crisis. CNN Business.
Once again though, you can bet he realizes what great PR the proper handling of the situation will be. People are talking about the company, and see his act as a nobel one. I’m sure that the memory of his action, for consumers, but especially for employees, will sustain long after this crisis is dealt with.
Other CEOs have made similar sacrifices to their own salary for the sake of employees during COVID-19, for a list of those companies, click here.
Another thing we should note is whether companies that aren’t really necessary right now refuse to shut down to help stop the spread. I saw this post on facebook the other day, and I found it to be infuriating. I won’t credit anyone with it so nobody gets in trouble, but seriously, I can’t think of anything less important right now than telemarketing. Gathering people together for that purpose is asinine, and shows a disregard for the seriousness of the situation.
Do better Zedd.
Hoping on the Brandwagon
Other brands, that have absolutely nothing to do with the virus are also including the pandemic in their marketing.
Take this Jeep ad for instance:
Cool design? Absolutely. What does the jeep brand have to do with the pandemic? Very little. But at least they’re encouraging public compliance with the advice of experts. It shouldn’t hurt.
And you can expect that the marketing teams of most brands will also jump on this bandwagon, given they still have to advertise, and they know where the public consciousness lies.
So thousands of people are dying all over the world from the same cause and I’m here talking about brands.
You might be thinking: “Who cares?”
And fair enough. But there is a point I’m making: We need to remember the way companies handled this when this is all said and done.
Mark Cuban apparently believes that the public will have a long memory when it comes to the way brands handle coronavirus:
“How companies respond to that very question is going to define their brand for decades. If you rushed in and somebody got sick, you were that company. If you didn’t take care of your employees or stakeholders and put them first, you were that company,”
We vote with every good, service, and experience we buy, and I think that it’s really important that when all this is said and done (and even throughout this), we should be voting for the companies that stepped up and realized some things are bigger than money.
The public consciousness has a short attention span, but with such a profound experience like this, we should have long memories. Let’s reward the people who acted like people, and punish the people who didn’t.
Election day isn’t once every four years. You vote with your wallet everyday. Never forget it, and if you see a brand putting people in a bad spot right now, don’t forget that either.
Corporations were famously ruled to be people by the U.S Supreme Court. Let’s reward the ones that show us some humanity.