Editorial cartoon by Graeme MacKay, Tuesday January 13, 2015
Lawsuits are making it tough to find a public place to toboggan in the City
Once upon a time, tobogganing was so popular in the Dundas Valley the conservation authority looked at selling hot chocolate and installing portable toilets.
This year, the agency wants to plant trees on a popular sledding hill off Governor’s Road to discourage the winter sport that is increasingly plagued by liability chill in Hamilton.
“It’s sad, because we do want to encourage people to get outside and be active,” said agency head Chris Firth-Eagland. “It’s a liability problem, absolutely.”
Hamilton became the poster child for the legal dangers of tobogganing in 2013 after a Garth Street reservoir sledding accident left the city on the hook for almost $1 million in lawsuit damages and court costs.
Ironically, tobogganing has been banned on city property before amalgamation — unlike in surrounding sled-friendly cities like Burlington, Kitchener and St. Catharines. But Hamilton’s sledding reputation has really gone downhill in recent months thanks to renewed efforts to head off lawsuits.
In the Dundas Valley, Firth-Eagland said tree-planting is being mulled after an earlier effort to “naturalize” the hill failed to dissuade either tobogganers or noxious weeds.
This fall, the city installed additional “no tobogganing” signs at hills in Ancaster and Flamborough, as well as at the Greenhill and Garth Street reservoirs — the latter the site that prompted the most recent lawsuit.
Reinforcing the old bylaw has stirred up fresh outrage among residents unaware of the rarely enforced sledding ban. Since late last year, more than 1,000 people have signed an online petition at Change.org entitled, LET US TOBOGGAN!!!
“We’re getting more questions. Well, complaints, mostly, that we’re taking away a cherished Canadian pastime, that sort of thing,” said city parks manager Tennessee Propedo.
There are more signs, but no corresponding tobogganing ticket blitz, said enforcement manager Kim Coombs.
In fact, Coombs can’t recall ever charging someone with a tobogganing-related bylaw infraction. “We don’t really want to ticket someone for sledding,” she said. “When we get a complaint, which isn’t that often, we try to educate.”
That usually means a friendly reminder, Coombs said. Repeat offenders are mailed warning notices. Ignoring that would prompt a bylaw charge in provincial offences court.
Coun. Sam Merulla said he would be “shocked” if anyone had actually received a fine for tobogganing in the city.
“The point of the bylaw is to protect taxpayers from huge (legal) payouts,” he said, suggesting more cities will follow suit thanks to the recent lawsuit, not to mention the 500 or so sledding-related head injuries — mostly to kids — in Ontario each year.
Fairly or not, out-of-town media have begun to cite Hamilton as an infamous example of a North American trend toward tobogganing bans. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)