A few Sault Ste. Marie City councillors were expressing real regret last night that the beloved locomotive in Bellevue Park will not be used any longer as playground equipment.
"While I've heard from many that would like to be able to see their children and grandchildren play on the train like they did, we cannot ignore the liability issue," said Ward 5 Councillor Frank Fata.
Porter, the little train engine in Bellevue Park, will remain in his present location, City Council voted last night.
But he will never be allowed to serve as play apparatus.
Outdoor signage will be installed near the locomotive to describe Porter's history, both his early years at Algoma Steel and his second career entertaining children in Bellevue Park.
Councillors agreed to consider spending $31,350 to have a landscape architect design appropriate decorative fencing and landscaping to keep children from playing on the popular little train engine.
Porter will be repainted to his working colour configuration and will be designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, along with the property surrounding him.
In 2006, the locomotive was deemed unsafe by the City's insurance carrier and the City was told Porter should not be accessible to children because he doesn't conform to Canadian Standards Association standards for playground equipment.
In May 2006, snow fencing was installed around the locomotive to keep children away.
Over the next year, City staff tried unsuccessfully to find funds to repaint the locomotive, landscape his immediate environment and install a permanent fence.
But a groundswell of support for the little engine mobilized on the social-networking site Facebook.com, where more than 5,000 people joined a group demanding that Porter not be moved from Bellevue Park. In May 2007, City Council referred the little engine to the the City's Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC) for review and recommendations.
PRAC spent the next year and a half trying to answer these three questions:
- Is there any historical significance remaining with the locomotive, given that its interior had been gutted and it had been altered significantly?
- Should Porter remain next to a children's play area if it he can no longer be played on?
- If Porter does have historical significance representing our industrial past, is there a more appropriate location for him?
With help from the Municipal Heritage Committee, PRAC determined that the train engine has historical relevance as a culturally significant object, but only if it remains in its present location.
PRAC recommended that the locomotive not be moved because its cultural significance comes from its historical use as a piece of playground equipment at its present location.
Moving Porter would remove that relevance.
Assistant City Solicitor Nuala Kenny agreed with PRAC's recommendation to install permanent fencing around the locomotive.
Kenny also said it was an especially good idea to repaint Porter because, as she put it, children would be a lot less likely to play on a train that looks like a train, than a train with a big happy face painted on the front of it.