There’s a FB discussion underway, sparked by a post asking people which of Hudson’s neighbours we should amalgamate with if we had to. The three choices were Vaudreuil-Dorion, St. Lazare or Rigaud.
Even having this discussion disturbs me. I see amalgamation as an admission of failure on Hudson’s part. Sure, we could merge with V-D, St. Lazare or Rigaud. V-D is out of developable land, always short on water. St. Lazare needs water, thinks a merger will confer bilingual status and is ready to discuss cost-sharing services. Rigaud needs water and likewise would be open to sharing costs.
Whoever, their residents would be asked to vote to assume our long-term debt and other obligations. An absolute majority of Hudson residents eligible to vote would have to approve the deal. It would be as ugly and divisive as Hudson’s original 1968 merger of the Three Villages.
Maybe people are past caring whether Hudson would be able to retain its bilingual status, but I can’t help wondering how that would work if we became part of one of our officially unilingual neighbours. Vaudreuil-Dorion got whacked by the OLF for offering online services in English. St. Lazare can’t even post the word “Welcome” without someone filing an anonymous complaint. Earlier this year I had a conversation with a St. Lazare official who told me a merger would bring them close to the 50% English mother tongue designation required for bilingual status. They pointed out the social ties that already bind the two communities as sufficient reason to talk. One can hear the touche-pas-a-la-loi-101 wagons circling as I write this.
I see Hudson’s bilingualism as a huge asset, especially with a new hospital coming to our region some day. Francophone families move to Hudson because they know their kids will grow up bilingual even if they aren’t allowed to attend English schools. The only other town in our region where you’ll find that is Pincourt, the second of three officially bilingual towns in the MRC (the other is L’Île-Cadieux).
Instead of fantasizing about our next relationship, let’s make a vow to work at the one we’re in. By all means, let’s talk about an inter-municipal water board and how we can obtain federal and provincial funding for a treatment facility drawing drinking water from the Ottawa River. Let’s explore how we can share administrative services and work together for regional arts funding.
Hudson has marched to its own drum for as long as I remember. It’s time Hudson started walking in step with our neighbours. But I see no point in discussing the terms of our surrender.
If you’re following national politics, you’ll know why Finance Minister Bill Morneau and the Trudeau Liberals are being accused of ethics breaches. There’s a perception out there that Morneau’s family firm will benefit from proposed changes to how Canadians are taxed.
It’s the latest twist to a Canadian cliché: a principled businessman is ensnared in an ethics trap of his own making because he trusted those around him to advise him on what the Big Book of Rules says.
It’s no different in Quebec politics. Liberal MNA Guy Ouellette and his associate Annie Trudel, arrested by Quebec’s crime-busting UPAC, are claiming it’s because they were closing in on a conspiracy between UPAC’s top brass and the Autorité des marchés financiers to shake down corporations hoping to bid on government contracts. If UPAC wins this one it’s because they have the rules on their side.
We come to local municipal politics. Hudson has a reputation for playing fast and loose with the rules that has earned the town unfavourable audits year after year. Last year’s Quebec Municipal Commission hearings exonerated the mayor and elected officials — but hammered the former DG for not explaining the rules to a naive council with no prior experience in municipal governance.
We don’t want to pass that way again.
Politics is all about perception. One of the candidates for mayor in the last municipal election did business with the town. He was rejected by the voters regardless of his other qualities.
This election, ask yourself this: does this candidate have any financial ties to the town? Does that candidate stand to gain as the result of his or her position?
Quebec’s rules governing fiduciary interests are strict and straightforward. The mayor and councillors must declare their holdings and allegiances, including contracts with the town. When the caucus begins a discussion involving a file in which the mayor or councillor has a real or potential conflict of interest, he or she has to leave the room and it must be so noted in the caucus minutes.
If the file generates a resolution, the mayor or councillor must abstain from the vote at the public council meeting and explain to the assembly he or she is in a potential conflict of interest.
What constitutes a conflict of interest? It could be as innocent as the desire to see a municipal building converted from one use to another to benefit one’s colleagues. It could be lobbying fellow council members to approve a project of benefit to one’s clients.
One of the first things awaiting Hudson’s next council is an intensive seminar in the role of elected officials and the rules governing every discussion, deliberation and decision. Anyone who hasn’t attended council meetings regularly will be at an automatic disadvantage.
Words don’t count, especially fatuous generalizations and vague promises uttered in the course of an election campaign. Actions — and conflicts of interest — do.
You’re looking at one of the biggest public security risks in Hudson, the absence of sidewalks and/or cycling paths on the town’s main streets. Here, a pack of Westwood Senior runners heads south on the two-foot-wide security strip along Côte St. Charles. A driver pulls wide around them near the crest of the hill. The driver won’t be able to see oncoming traffic until the last possible moment.
There have been a number of near-death experiences on Côte St. Charles. One involved a hit-and-run transport rig, another a school bus. Miraculously, nobody has been seriously hurt.
Cameron is equally dangerous, but for different reasons. The intersection with Harwood/342 routinely sees near misses as westbound vehicles in the Hudson turning lane conceal vehicles continuing west. Drivers waiting to turn left or right on Harwood sometimes don’t see the second vehicle until after they’ve begun their turn. Accidents are routine.
Cyclists and pedestrians avoid Cameron’s so-called bike/pedestrian path like the plague because they risk being trapped between traffic and the curb. Vehicles heading up the hill are often forced all the way over to the curb by oncoming traffic at the sharp downhill turn.
Over the past month I’ve spoken to scores of residents who resent having to risk their lives to go for a walk that includes being exposed on Cameron, Côte St. Charles and many parts of Main Road. They can’t let their kids walk to school. They can’t bike together as a family. They look with envy at the pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly streets of St. Lazare and Vaudreuil-Dorion.
The one thing the town has always had in abundance are excuses for why residents can’t enjoy safe cycling and walking. The first conversation I remember took place when Elizabeth Corker was mayor. There’s no room for a right of way. We’d have to expropriate. We don’t want to take setbacks from residents. I remember hearing those same excuses at St. Lazare town hall meetings. The people who gave them were kicked out of office, but it took the tragedy of Patricia Jolicoeur’s grievous injury and a life-changing criminal record for a reckless young driver to change public thinking.
Safer streets can be incorporated in the promised repaving initiative, but it requires planning to do it as cheaply as possible. Ditches need to be excavated, storm drains and culverts installed, then backfilled and paved. Once wands or other removable separation devices are added, Hudson’s pedestrians and cyclists can walk and ride safely.
None of this happens by wishful thinking. The $1.5M road repaving loan bylaw presented last week is a drop in the bucket. But if we don’t get serious about making our streets safer, nothing will happen until something tragic does.
Earlier this week, a resident sent me this question on FB Messenger:
I live in the area formerly known as “Como” even though when I bought my house, it is Hudson. I notice in writings, such as your recent interesting article on WordPress people who have lived in Hudson a long time always have to refer to an address here as “in Como” ex: Thursday’s council candidates round table, 7:30 at St. Mary’s Parish Hall in Como”. When I meet my kids’ friends parents at Mount Pleasant and I mention where I live, many who are from here say “oh, you are in Como”. Why does that happen? Was there a cultural or economical divide between “Como” and “Hudson” that people who have lived here a long time need to make a comment? As a “newcomer” of 15 years, I am hoping you can shed some light on something that has always puzzled me. I pay Hudson taxes and will vote in the Hudson election. Just curious.
Here’s my response:
Prior to 1969 Hudson, Hudson Heights and Como were separate villages. Each had its own mayor and council and sent out its own tax bills. Each had its own post office and railway station (Hudson Heights also had Alstonvale and Choisy stations).
With the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway n the early ‘60s, the Three Villages saw an influx of new residents and developments such as Fairhaven. Their respective councils came to realize they shared a number of common concerns, the biggest being water.
In those days the residents either had their own wells or were supplied by a private company, Suburban Water. Suburban’s wells, reservoirs and aqueducts were old (pipes were a mix of lead, iron, steel, asbestos, even wood and dead animals occasionally tainted the open reservoirs). House fires were frequent in those days and there were no hydrants. Volunteer firefighters had to draft water from the lake.
Talk of merging the Three Villages was not new, nor was resistance. Heights residents saw little benefit other than water. Fiercely independent, Como had its own business sector and no interest in amalgamation.
Hudson had the most to gain because it had most of the region’s businesses.
In 1965, Hudson was a thriving regional shopping destination, with three grocery stores, four hardware outlets and dozens of businesses, even a sock factory. St. Lazare was a small agricultural community featuring some of Canada’s best-known riding stables and not much else. Vaudreuil was a summer community; Dorion, a separate municipality, was a truck stop.
We lived in Hudson Heights. My father and like-minded residents believed the three villages stood to gain from a merger. In 1961 my dad bought the only local newspaper, the Hudson Gazette, to campaign for amalgamation. It was a long, bitter battle. The Yes side won the 1968 referendum by a narrow majority. My father was seen by many Heights old-timers as a traitor because he challenged the discrimination that still prevailed throughout Quebec. (Irony: those social distinctions live on in the names of Hudson’s six electoral districts half a century later.)
Once the merger was law, negotiations began to buy the waterworks from Suburban Water and to install new water lines and fire hydrants. The town acquired new fire trucks and built the firehall that parks and recreation now uses.
The merger debate created grudges that remain to this day. If you have the opportunity to talk about this with old Como residents, you’ll occasionally get an earful on a bad day, when something triggers old memories.
There’s a longer version of the merger history. Back in 1999, when millennium projects were all the rage, I began my own, a recent history of Hudson, Hudson Heights and Como written from the Hudson Gazette’s archives, beginning in 1950. The Gazette Vaudreuil-Soulanges Millennium Project ran as 50 weekly instalments. Here are my Millennium Project columns covering 1966-1969:
1966 blew in with astounding news – Ron Alloway, the nice guy who bought a place from Perry Bedbrooke in Mountain Ranches, turned out to be Charles Wilson, one of the members of the gang that stole close to $20 million from a British mail train carrying bags of worn-out currency for eventual destruction. The train’s engineer was beaten into a bloody pulp by the thugs during the robbery.
Arrested, tried and convicted on the word of informers, the gang split up and fled to different corners of the world after escaping from a Birmingham prison in 1964, a year into 30-year sentences.
Wilson, his ‘pretty blonde wife Pat ‘ and kids made their way to Canada via separate routes and settled in the Heights in the Pyke cottage before moving to Mountain Ranches.
He was a real charmer, read the Feb 1. Lake of Two Mountains Gazette. He paid his bills promptly, had a friendly wave for even his most casual of acquaintances, was a welcome member of Whitlock Golf and Country Club and was never known to have anything but a cheery smile on his face.
The only suspicion was how Alloway made enough money to support the house in Mountain Ranches, a wife and three kids. Locals were miffed that Alloway had conned them, but that didn’t stop them from hiding Mrs. Alloway and the kids from the hordes of British tabloid journalists that descended on the area like a pack of baying hounds.
In fact, Gazette publisher Ron Jones ended up removing a rifle and shotgun lying on the bed in the master bedroom – as if Wilson had been contemplating a last stand. Jones phoned various police departments, but nobody was interested in safeguarding the guns, let alone guarding the Alloway home from curious intruders.
At first, locals wanted the kids to be allowed to stay in Hudson. But as Ron wrote in an editorial, what about the children growing up in a community where everyone knows what and where their father is? We can’t curb the tongues of everyone, we can’t shield the children from the jibes of ‘jailbird kids’ they will inevitably receive.
That brought Ron a righteous blast at the next council meeting from both Heights Mayor David Aird and Chief Charlie Pooley, both who counted Alloway among their acquaintances. Their biggest beef – Ron’s characterization of Pat Alloway’s cockney accent and his suggestion that local kids might be bullied.
Amalgamation inched its way a step closer with a massive report that discovered that there would be (a) no major financial effects from a merger; (b) better services and (c) easier zoning. In fact the biggest debate was over what to call the new beast.
1968 marked the beginning of a Canadian motoring era – the first Toyotas went up for sale at the Village Pump and immediately were adopted by the rally crowd….meanwhile, Dolly, the old red Volks towed onto the ice off the government wharf, finally broke through and plunged into the lake. You could buy into a pool at the local Legion – before it was decided Dolly was an affront to Quebec’s environmental protection and gambling laws. Another Hudson tradition died.
What was to have been a gala Friday-night dance at St. Thomas School to mark the rebirth of Hudson’s Club des Jeunes turned into tragedy October 7 when 19 young people died in a bus-train crash in Dorion; Hudson police were bombarded with calls from anxious parents as news of the horror became known.
Meanwhile, the town was buzzing with the discovery of the body of an 18-year-old Roxboro girl just off Cote St. Charles. Heights’ cop Charlie Pooley turned the case over to the QPP, who refused to confirm reports Linda Blanchette had been strangled.
The Blenkinship homestead, one of the oldest buildings in Hudson, was heavily damaged by fire that October. Built in August, 1844, the house was so badly damaged, it was torn down.
Feelings ran high that fall in the editorials of the Lake of Two Mountains Gazette: The local blood donor clinic attracted 124 donors, far fewer than organizers expected. The Gaz railed on about community apathy.
Meanwhile, local youth including the young Jack Layton were trying to sell the idea of a youth centre as a worthwhile Centennial project for the three communities. The Gaz ran one of their letters on the front page and several more inside; essentially, the kids wanted a hall large enough for an average dance with a stage, snack bar, sound system, tables, chairs and maybe a juke box.
The kids’ demonstrations, letter-writing, even a 600-name petition – fell on deaf ears. The fix was already in; the Centennial Projects board for the Three Villages voted $30,000 to improve Benson Park, complete with wading pool, basketball court and better parking facilities. (One has to wonder what happened to the wading pool, basketball court and parking.)
But local outrage was reserved for a far more hypocritical decision. After coming down hard on Rigaud and the Three Villages for dumping raw sewage into the Ottawa, the Quebec Fish, Game and Tourism Ministry approved a sewage line into the Lake of Two Mountains to get rid of raw waste from Oka Provincial Park – immediately across the river from Ile Cadieux’s water intake.
The Heights had water woes of its own. Local resident John Vipond, whose property sat between Harwood Road and the lake, wrote to the Gaz after being told by Heights councillor Art Grubert to stop whining about a town ditch that was sending torrents of water into Vipond’s basement every time it rained.
Vipond’s beef: He didn’t see how Grubert had the right to tell him it wasn’t Town business. That prompted a flurry of letters suggesting it was okay for councillors to be rude because they weren’t being paid enough to be nice.
Blind pigs: Back in ‘66, locals would have had to drive to Dorion or Hawkesbury to buy booze. There’s no wonder, then, that enterprising locals would open blind pigs where locals could pick up a fifth of their favourite at any hour. Delivery was extra, but business was brisk; the Hudson Gazette reported at least four plying their trade right under the noses of the local constabulary and elected officials.
Amalgamation: The 20-year-old debate to merge Hudson, Hudson Heights and Como was heating up in Three Villages council chambers. But not for long – in December, 1966, someone from the Quebec Municipal Affairs Ministry produced a report showing the cost of running one merged municipality would be less than the bills for the Three Villages. After that, it was just a matter of time.
Hudson Heights rang in Canada’s centennial year with an ugly political battle. At issue was the council’s new master plan that would have called for major changes to the community’s road network. • Ridge Road would be extended westward across Whitlock Golf Club to intersect Birch Hill, Brisbane and eventually Harwood Road; • An area on Harwood Road (now Lower Alstonvale) midway between Main Road and Highway 17 was designated a Civic Centre; • Main Road would be rerouted south of the CPR tracks to connect with Harwood Road, with the current Main Road terminating at a dead end just west of the tracks; • The area between Harwood and Choisy Station Road was to be zoned industrial multiple-family dwellings.
Outraged Heights residents banded together. Calling themselves the Citizen’s Committee for a Better Hudson Heights, they descended on the council meeting and forced the council to abandon the master plan – but not without being themselves accused of dirty politics.
The inevitable showdown came when the Citizens’ Committee ran a slate in the municipal elections, the first time the Heights mayoralty had ever been contested. Mayor David Aird faced former Gazette publisher Don Duff in a bitterly-fought election. At issue: Council’s insistence that Hudson Heights needed an industrial park to keep taxes down.
When the votes were counted, the council-backed slate was elected and the Citizens’ Committee gang frozen out – but they won in the end. The Heights master plan was scrapped.
The Three Villages desperately needed another doctor, but eyebrows shot up when Dr. Gilbert Croteau opened the area’s first chiropractic clinic, claiming to cure ’Headache, Bronchitis, Liver, Paralysis, Nervousness, Asthma, Backache, Hemorrhoids, Respiration, Digestion, Lombago and Menstruation’
But nobody could cure what ailed the local Centennial Committee. With barely five months to go to Canada’s Centennial, the local project to revamp the park on Yacht Club Road hit a brick wall in March when Como refused to pay maintenance fees for the proposed fancy new playing fields and chalets. Never mind that a third of the kids who used the existing park were from Como. Never mind that it would cost $6.50 per year per family, raged the editorial in the Gaz.
When July 1 finally rolled around, the Three Villages had done nothing permanent, but it was a fine summer for picnics and plenty of cross-Canada canoeists ended up spending time here.
Another local tradition ended in the Spring of ‘67 – the annual Viviry Creek Bottle Race. Alan Blenkinship, owner of the property bounding the creek, announced that due to the increase in the number of homes, the area was ‘too private’ for a bottle race. He urged organizers to take the race to another local stream, but interest faded. One happy note: Marg Gardner managed to uphold her personal tradition of falling in during the race – 14 of the 15 times she entered.
Insect infestation was a huge problem that hot, humid spring. Tent caterpillars and mosquitoes had locals demanding that Hudson spray the Fairhaven area with DDT and the heck with the birds.
Not so fast, said council – we’re not spraying until residents deal with leaky cesspools – a suspected source of regular outbreaks of infectious hepatitis.
1967 was also the summer that the local constabulary decided to crack down on free-running dogs and unlicenced bicycles. In the case of the hounds, too many kids were having to get rabies shots after having been bitten.
Expo ’67 brought plenty of house guests to the Three Villages, but nary a single lasting Centennial project, thanks to ongoing squabbling about the cost of maintaining an upgraded athletic facility on Yacht Club Road.
But the end of summer was just the beginning for the local horsey set as riders from across Eastern Canada converged on St. Lazare for various equestrian events. It was an open secret that George Jacobsen and other guiding lights behind the Montreal and Lake of Two Mountains Hunt Clubs felt they had the inside track for the upcoming 1976 Olympic Games equestrian events. (They eventually went to Bromont, thanks to the Desourdy family’s courting of Olympic officials.)
There were plenty of complaints about the local car rally enthusiasts. Volvos, Triumphs, Coopers, MGBs – and Steve Thom’s eclectic Mercedes collection – spent weekends hammering along the back roads in St. Lazare and Vaudreuil, kicking up rooster tails of gravel and dust. Whatever the complaints, the Lake of Two Mountains Car Club had enthusiastic members and a column in the LTM Gazette.
There was plenty of new construction off Cameron Avenue, but the best deals in 1967 were in the Heights. Four bedrooms on a big lot with old trees overlooking the lake: $27,500. Mortgages were being offered at 5 1/2 per cent.
Canada’s Centennial Summer did have one local effect – the plaquing of historic properties in the community. First to be plaqued was the rambling white home on Mount Victoria once owned by George Matthews, after whose wife Elizabeth Hudson the town was named. Then came Mullan’s General Store, built in 1824 as a schoolhouse, courthouse and church – on different days of the week, of course.
The plaquing frenzy climaxed early in October, with a plaque-a-thon organized by the Hudson Historical Society and the Women’s Canadian Club. All three mayors and scores of history-minded locals spent an entire weekend unveiling plaques on 17 buildings. At least half of them have since been renovated, destroyed by fire – or torn down to make room for new homes without architectural merit.
The 20-year-old debate over whether the Three Villages should get married continued to drag on. Quebec was pushing these shotgun weddings in order to save money, but Gaz publisher Ron Jones wasn’t impressed with their tactics. One example: The three local councils were invited to a closed-door meeting at Whitlock – and barred Ron. Bad move. His double-barrelled counterblast came in a heavily-slanted article entitled A Nothing Story and in an editorial headed Fusion Confusion.
No wonder Quebec wanted to keep it a secret. Figures released just before Christmas, 1967 showed Hudson Heights would be the biggest tax-bill winner after amalgamation – from $60 per capita, to $46. Como would jump from $35.
That was the fall the Hudson High senior football team won the Greater Montreal Football Championship. Steve Doty’s team, led by team captain Larry Smith’s pass reception, became an HHS sports legend.
But interest in local athletics was dying. Residents resisted any attempt to use any part of their taxes to pay for upkeep of the town rink and playing fields at Benson Park. Not only that – an emergency meeting discovered that although the Athletic Association paid a dollar’s rent on the land, nobody knew who owned it.
After 50 years of endless debate, the Three Villages voted in 1968 to merge into the municipality of Hudson. It took all year.
All three councils held public meetings in April to allow residents to vent their concerns; attendance was poor. In Como, the farmers wanted to keep taxes down but others wanted the roads paved; Hudson was concerned it would have to pay for services in the other two communities. Hudson Heights couldn’t afford to clean its ditches and big landowners were facing enormous tax evaluations.
But when the issue went to a three-village referendum on Wednesday, May 15, Como voted against. Turnout was poor; of the 1220 eligible voters in the Three Villages, only 583 voted. But this was not to be Como’s last word; in September, the town mailed out ballots to its 295 ratepayers. Of the 212 returned, 184 voted yes to amalgamation.
From then on, things happened quickly. In December, 1968, Hudson Mayor George Runnells declined the job heading the new provisional council; Doc Runnells was about to turn 90. Heights Mayor David Aird also declined, making Como mayor George Armstrong Hudson’s provisional mayor.
The Three Villages already had a combined police force by then. Vandalism was on the increase and hardly a week went by that somebody’s car didn’t get taken for a joyride, thanks to the trusting local habit of leaving keys in the ignition. Problem #1 was the cost of full-time policing. So in August, Hudson Heights agreed to merge its police force with that of Hudson-Como. Heights Chief Charlie Pooley promptly retired.
Spring 1968 brought the usual demand that something be done to ‘get rid of’ mosquitoes; some locals still thought the best treatment was DDT. That brought a torrent of angry letters from birdwatchers and one from zoology student Randi Olson, who pointed out that any pesticide is concentrated as it moves up the food chain, affecting birds, fish and other beneficial species.
In the end, it was only Alastair Grant, real estate agent, mining promoter and noted local eccentric, who spoke out in favour of a massive aerial DDT bombardment of the local mosquito population.
Real estate in ‘68 was still a bargain. A nine-room, five-bedroom house on half an acre of mature pine in Hudson was going for $25,000. In Como, Royal Trust agent Donella Darling was selling 20 lots in Hawthorne Park, just west of the Willow, for $3,500 apiece, 10 per cent down. Hawthorne Park? It’s now Leger Lane. Also renamed: Como Station Road became Bellevue Drive after CP tore down the old station.
The summer of ‘68 saw a lot of roadwork – like the widening and repaving of Macaulay Hill, the disappearance of the hump on Cameron at Lakeview and the straightening of Como’s deadly Parsons Corner. It also saw the startup of an employment agency for local teens.Teens Unlimited was given office space at Hudson Heights Town Hall, where residents could connect with local teens looking for odd jobs.
The fall of ‘68 saw another debate pit Hudsonite against Hudsonite. Some locals, including Hudson’s sizeable population of pilots, wanted the federal and provincial governments to build a proposed mega-airport in St. Polycarpe.
Others were aghast at all that noise and traffic.
Don’t worry, Air Canada pilot Alan Mills wrote in the Letters section. The new generation of aircraft is much quieter. Besides, look at all those new jobs we’ll be getting, Mills wrote.
In the end, Mirabel got the nod.
— Millennium Project, by Jim Duff, from Gazette Vaudreuil-Soulanges archives
Four weeks into the official municipal election campaign and I’m hearing about issues that never get mentioned in public discussions. Here’s one we can all relate to.
A Whitlock West couple whose Thanksgiving turkey dinner was disrupted by that Sunday power failure wondered what could be done other than installing a generator. Although their neighbourhood boasts underground power lines, residents are hit by the same power outages that all too often darken the triangle between Harwood Blvd., Alstonvale Road and Côte St. Charles.
Could the Town of Hudson intervene with Hydro Quebec to limit power failures? Hydro Quebec says its crews are in the midst of its ongoing preventive pruning program, but interventions are limited to ensuring a minimum clearance for transmission lines. Hydro pruning crews don’t attempt to identify and fell every tree with the potential to cause outages because they don’t have the resources.
Do Quebec municipalities have a legal responsibility to limit the risk from downed trees? Jurisprudence is scarce. A St. Lazare resident took the city to small claims court after trees along a town-owned Hydro servitude destroyed appliances and knocked out his power for several days. He lost. There was talk of a class action lawsuit but lawyers couldn’t agree on who to sue.
After a town-owned rotten poplar fell on Gabriel Rossy’s car, killing him in 2006, his family fought all the way to the Supreme Court for the right to sue the City of Westmount instead of accepting a Quebec Automobile Insurance Board settlement. They lost, but only because he was in his car. If he had been walking or cycling, would the courts have decided otherwise?
Quebec law holds the property owner responsible for damage if it can be proven a tree was unhealthy or otherwise presented a risk, but who is prepared to waste time and money to track the root cause of a power failure that delayed Thanksgiving dinner?
Property owners have a legal responsibility to manage any of their trees posing a risk to their neighbours. I think the town should set an example by tending to trees on public land with a potential for risk. Right now I’m looking at an otherwise healthy shagbark hickory on the town setback with a crack starting at a bole 25 feet above the pavement. If that branch was to break off, it would take out the neighbourhood power lines and could easily kill someone happening by at that moment.
Hudson is lucky to have a number of tree-care professionals with the experience to judge whether a tree poses a risk and the expertise and equipment to deal with it. A permit is needed to fell a tree more than four inches in diameter, but Hudson’s technical services division is quick to inspect and issue a permit.
Back to the core question: what if anything can the town do to reduce blackouts? Anyone who lived through the ’98 Ice Storm and Hudson’s all-too-frequent blackouts would be curious to know the answer. I know I am.
Less than two weeks to go to voting day and candidates are getting antsy as the mayoral and council races close up. This is the way of things in elections. Someone who scored last week’s mayoral candidates’ debate put Nash and Nicholls within a few points of one another.
Questions I get most often going door to door in this campaign: who are you running with, what’s your platform and who should be Hudson’s next mayor. I’m guessing we’ll be asked that last question at Thursday’s council candidates round table, 7:30 at St. Mary’s Parish Hall in Como. Get there early.
Officially, every one of the 15 candidates in this election is running as an independent. There are no parties or slates, but alliances and clandestine hookups are emerging. This is how politics is played in Hudson, in private as Hudson’s special-interest lobbies scramble to ensure they have horses in this race to town hall, where they’ll be competing for influence and financial support.
None of that is of concern to District 5 voters I’ve met in my door-to-door walkabouts.
Last week a Ridge Road resident invited me for a drive around the block. He wanted to show me a drainage problem in his neighbourhood which causes his back yard to flood most springs. The network of ditches and culverts that should be draining water from Oakland into the big interceptor running along the back of Ridge are clogged with leaves and yard waste. He maintains the town has neglected to clean them out regularly. This has been going on under the last two administrations; he even won a lawsuit against the town in small claims court.
What can you do, he asked me, “and if you say ‘nothing’ I won’t vote for you.”
I can’t blame him. He’s had it with the town’s intransigence. He was particularly upset over the fact the town installed new drainage culverts when repaving that bombed-out stretch of Ridge Road this summer. Those culverts solve nothing because the ditches and culverts downstream are blocked.
Politicians don’t like ditches and culverts because they’re boring. But ditches are crucial to Hudson’s health. Bad drainage speeds the freeze-thaw deterioration cycles destroying our roads. Blocked culverts shorten the lives of our septic tank weeper fields. Clogged ditches stink and breed mosquitoes. If Hudson installed culverts and drains in the roadside ditches lining our major arteries we could backfill and pave them over to create pedestrian and bike paths.
Drainage is a problem even in parts of District 5 connected to the sewer system. At one house I visited, the owners were excavating a ditch along their property line to channel the water from their sump pump to a culvert running under Maple. It looked to have collapsed, prompting me to wonder at the wisdom of repaving without tackling drainage problems.
I don’t think it’s a personnel problem. Hudson’s technical services personnel were responsive and efficient in dealing with concerns in District 5 where we live, and in District 3, where we have a business. But whatever system the town has in place to track drainage problems doesn’t seem to be working on Ridge.
It seems to me that the cleaning of ditches and culverts should be ongoing. Maybe they don’t have to be scooped out every year but someone should give them a look and check to see they’re flowing. If they’re clogged, someone has to decide whether it’s a one-day job with a backhoe and a couple of guys with shovels or a major project requiring excavators, cofferdams and a big crew.
Other MRC municipalities seem to have groundwater problems under control. They fix broken things without having to hire consultants and they seem to be able to do it for less.
A Hazelwood resident told me Côteau du Lac mayor Michel Jasmin doesn’t buy new town vehicles. He buys two-year-old vehicles off lease, with warranties. He hires local kids to cut the grass in town parks, hands them the keys to the park chalets and makes them responsible for maintenance. There’s no graffiti, no garbage and very little vandalism because the kids take ownership.
This summer, Côteau du Lac spent $6 million repaving its streets. Instead of floating a loan bylaw, the town paid cash. Like that Hazelwood voter said, there’s nothing wrong with being small-town cheap if it allows us to avoid borrowing needlessly.
That Ridge Road resident who threatened not to vote for me without a promise? I told him I’d make his drainage problem my drainage problem.
At our weekly Sunday gathering a neighbour asked what could be done about a dog that barks incessantly. “Six hours one day,” she said. She looks after a dog herself when its people are out of town and finds it just plain cruel. There’s a town bylaw but it’s vague and and difficult to enforce if there’s nobody home to let the poor beast in, which is usually the case. So she called the SQ.
I’m trying to figure out how it should work. The SQ is too overworked and understaffed to deal with nuisance complaints. The Community Patrol has been stripped of its bylaw enforcement power. The town pays for the services of an animal control agency but they’re not allowed to break and enter to deal with canine scofflaws. In other municipalities, pet ordinance violators receive tickets in the mail and are hauled into regional municipal court if they don’t cough up.
I’m coming across a fair number of neighbour/neighbour squabbles. Most involve trees, dogs, fences and water rights, but this past week I heard a new one: chicken-keeping households are attracting foxes and the foxes are eating all the rabbits because the henhouses are too well built.
What’s the answer? Regulations decreeing rickety henhouses?
Never a dull moment for whoever’s elected here in waterlogged, dog-loving, chicken-keeping District 5.
In a previous post I said I wouldn’t burden you with lurid anecdotes from the campaign trail. That said, I’m being pressured to pronounce myself on what I stand for.
Bear with me while I try to walk the talk through District 5 and its 835 registered voters.
District 5 is far and away the wierdest electoral distribution in Hudson’s 2017 municipal election, a socioeconomic crazy quilt. I was told Hudson’s former urban planning director was ordered to redistribute Hudson’s eligible voters into socially and geographically distinct districts. If that was her mandate, it was a failure. District 5 takes in all of Côte St. Charles and a third of Main Road. It stretches from Lower Maple to Lower Alstonvale, from Whitlock West to the path that connects the fragments of Hazelwood. It includes some of Hudson’s oldest and newest streets. Roughly a quarter of the homes are on the sewer system; almost everyone on a septic tank would like to have the choice. The addresses from the foot of Macauley Hill to the Cameron farm don’t have town water.
Over the past two weeks I have knocked on the doors of modest cottages and opulent riverfront spreads as I explore District 5 on foot. I’ve introduced myself to residents doing their own roofing and explained my presence to housekeeping staff over camera-equipped intercoms.
I’ve come up with some interesting observations. For example, it’s best not to enter a home where the sound of a knock or doorbell is met with furious barking, especially if one has already been greeted by dogs or cats elsewhere. I made that mistake early on in my door-to-door walkabouts. The elderly resident invited me in. I was greeted by a morbidly obese creature that looked like a pitbull-mastiff cross. The dog was fascinated with the smells of other dogs and cats on my pants. Not in a friendly way. Only the dog’s clumsiness saved me.
I now understand a beef I often hear from Hudson’s firefighters and first responders: Why doesn’t Hudson require every homeowner and landlord to post civic numbers? Many municipalities don’t even give their residents the choice. The town plunks steel poles with reflective numbers at the entrance to each driveway. How often did I find myself retracing my steps to find 49A this or 555 that? The law says every civic address must post a number visible from the street on which it is registered. Not in Hudson.
I’m also learning doorbell/knocker etiquette, beginning with respecting personal space. After ringing or knocking, step back so that one foot is off the porch or stoop. When someone answers, you’re not in her/his space and probably lower and less threatening and the person isn’t forced to assume a defensive posture with the door between them and you.
I try to make human contact, and that doesn’t include handing them a flyer. I get them talking. And talk they do. They spill out their frustrations, their pet peeves, their wishes and their regrets. For a lot of people I think it’s cathartic to vent.
Here, in no particular order or priority, are some of the things I’ve heard:
Granny suites: Once the kids or parents are grown and gone, many homeowners would like the option of turning that extra space into something they can rent legally. This is a conversation we began having during the Corker administration. Why hasn’t the town moved on this?
Development: Whether we’re talking Sandy Beach, Ellerbeck or Norris, why should large-project developers be allowed to hook up to town water and sewers without being responsible for replacing the capacity they’re taking from sectors which don’t have water or sewers? They should be held responsible for replacing the water and sewer treatment capacity their developments are using. The town should prioritize the installation of sewers in many sectors where septic tanks are clearly not working properly.
Pine Lake: It’s a symbol and its loss represents Hudson’s crumbling infrastructure. Even Pine Lake’s most fervent advocates don’t want the town to throw good money after bad on more experts and studies. If there’s a way to do it on the cheap, give us back our iconic little lake that once welcomed everyone.
Roads/pedestrian paths: People have figured out the interconnection. Hudson’s roads are in terrible shape but there’s no point fixing many of them unless the town is ready to widen and rebuild from the roadbed up. While we’re at it, why can’t we add pedestrian/cycling paths that separate their users from traffic?
Snow removal: Rather than going with the lowest bidder, why is the town not considering cost plus? Residents are stunned when they learn the town is paying $400,000 a year plus taxes as well as footing the bill for salt and sand (another $200,000+ last winter). Other municipalities closely supervise their snow-clearing contractors in real time, someone who knows the industry told me.
Public security: Main Road and Côte St. Charles residents are fed up with reckless drivers and speeding, break-ins and noisy trucks. One resident living near a stop sign on Côte Road drew my attention to a transport using engine compression to slow down instead of applying its air brakes. Most municipalities have bylaws prohibiting the use of these Jacob brakes in populated areas; Hudson doesn’t. Crescent residents complain about the near-daily presence of drug dealers on their street at times when students are outside Westwood Senior High School. Why doesn’t the administration work out a deal with the SQ for a few hours of extra policing a month? Other MRC municipalities occasionally avail themselves of ‘SQ à la carte’ to crack down on impaired drivers, reckless driving and park security as well as the sale and use of drugs in parks and playgrounds.
Public space: I found a good way to get people talking was to ask them about Sandy Beach. The common answer: we used to go there. We don’t any more because it’s full of people not from Hudson who disregard the leash laws, trash the place and don’t pay a cent to its upkeep. Charge them for parking. Enforce the bylaws. Don’t settle for a servitude giving public access to the beach. Demand that Nicanco hand over the entire beachfront and a green buffer between the beach and its development.
Taxes: What’s too much? This year, the town adopted a revised budget based on a $12 million tax load, a 4% hike over 2016. (Although Hudson finished 2016 with a $916,000 surplus, $240,000 of that was earmarked for unbudgeted flood-related expenses.) One of the first tasks the incoming council will face is the adoption of a 2018 budget based on unaudited data from 2017. (Quebec allows an extra month because it’s an election year.)
One longtime resident said he was prepared to take a 10% tax hike if it meant better roads. I ran into another as she was emptying her house. She and her husband were splitting up and she has no choice but to sell and move with her daughters to somewhere cheaper. Not far away, another family had sold their house and are preparing to move to Rigaud because the wife can’t or won’t work and the husband’s salary isn’t sufficient. Why Rigaud? Because their youngest can continue to attend the Hudson school where the quality of the teachers will give him a chance at a better future. Hudson is getting too expensive for the working poor.
I ran into one of Hudson’s real estate agents as she was showing a home to a potential buyer from B.C. For someone on the verge of retirement whose Sunshine Coast or Scarborough home will sell for $1.5 million, Hudson is a bargain. For those who hope to remain here, property valuation increases driven by flip investors and contractors will continue to inflate taxes.
Affordable housing: My visit with one energetic senior repeated itself dozens of times throughout my walkabouts. She lives alone in a beautiful house overlooking a forest. She doesn’t want to give up her home, filled as it is with memories of her late husband. Her children and grandchildren visit but the day will come when she will have no choice but to downsize when she can no longer drive. A volunteer herself, I sensed that she will resist that as long as humanly possible.
What would be your idea of paradise, I asked her. Kilteevan, she said without pausing. It’s too far out of town but it’s perfect. Everyone there minds their own business unless someone is in need — and she can have a little garden.
I get it because I’ve seen it. The lady writing herself Post-It notes to remind herself of things she must not forget, then forgetting where she puts the notes. Women bury their husbands and live alone in their beautiful Hudson homes with their big dogs because there are so few communal facilities that will take pets. I realize it’s no really about affordable housing, but suitable housing, housing where someone with the means can find a niche that will shape itself to their needs. Would I like to be institutionalized, have to give up my dogs?
I raised some of these issues with one of my neighbours. “What’s that got to do with the city,” he kept asking. The inference was that all of this door-to-door bleeding-heart crap was softening my brain.
I don’t see it that way. Going door to door is total immersion in what Hudson wants and needs as well as a humbling lesson in who we are. Long after the campaign bombast has been forgotten, these are the conversations I’ll remember. Thanks, everyone, for taking the time to share what matters. If I haven’t gotten to you yet, I will.