As regular readers know, I generally prefer to keep things light in this space, and the mood will indeed brighten in a moment. First, though, a recent act of vigilantism can’t go unanswered—even if it was an eye-rollingly dumb one. Remember our story two weeks ago about noise from a Fonthill car wash? Well, a self-identified ally of the car wash owner decided that it would be a good idea to retaliate against some of the neighbours complaining about that noise by harassing them—with more noise. So she got in her truck and parked in one of their driveways early one morning, and then the next morning, and blasted her horn. A pal of hers did the same thing around the corner.
Her justification? See the follow-up story, and the targeted resident’s letter to the editor on page 5. But it boils down to this: “I was here first.”
Five-dollar-fancy-word alert: social psychologists refer to this attitude as “autochthony,” the belief that “original” inhabitants are more entitled than those who arrive later, which consequently stokes prejudice against them.
In a civilized society operating under the rule of law, such sandbox tribalism has no place. In this case, the dumb factor gets dumberer. Both the honker and the honkee have lived in the same houses in the same neighbourhood for the same number of years. So who was there first?
Apparently place of birth matters. However, unless you were born at home under the care of a midwife, no one is actually born and raised in Pelham. You were born at a hospital in Welland or Niagara Falls or St. Catharines or Hamilton, and then your parents took you home—your parents who were also not born in Pelham. At best, we can claim to be born and raised in Niagara—which apparently is better in some minds than being born in Toronto and moving to Pelham at age 10, which is better than being born in Saskatoon and moving to Pelham at age 20, which is better than…
These assertions of “I was here first” superiority should be looking pretty silly by now to anyone with half a noggin.
For one thing there’s the obvious issue of how far back you’re comfortable going, and whether you’re willing to accept the logical consequences when you get there. If living in Fonthill for 50 years beats living in Fonthill for 20 years, then what about descendants of families who lived in Fonthill before Fonthill was Fonthill? As tragic news from B.C. showed last week, the veneer of charitable white colonialism is thin indeed. Doesn’t 300 years beat 50 years? In which case, there are a few bands of Indigenous people in Niagara who might well have a message for us newcomers: We were here first—go back to where you came from.
There’s also the blinding hypocrisy on display, brighter than one of those new LED billboards on Highway 20, regarding which businesses we like and which we don’t.
If you buy a home that’s near a commercial enterprise, and that enterprise is following the letter of the law in conducting its business, apparently you have no right to complain, correct? You should have known what you were getting into before you bought the house. You should have done your “due diligence,” two of the most misused words in the English language.
Let’s say that this commercial enterprise starts a new line of business—still perfectly legal, but one that it wasn’t doing before. As long as the business is still obeying the law, then residents should accept their fate, right? Suck it up, Buttercup, and all that?
Now instead of this business being a car wash that has added forced-air fan dryers to its operation that didn’t exist before, let’s make it a farm. Let’s make it a farm than has been around since the people of the six-nations Iroquois Confederacy were given the heave-ho out of Niagara by the British, a farm that’s been passed down through five, six, seven generations. In other words, no one alive today could claim to have “been here first” before this farmland. The old Village of Fenwick grew up around the farm—and dozens like it— new subdivisions showing up just over the last 40 years or so.
Now let’s say that this agricultural operation, like the car wash, decides to add something new to its business, to lease out land to add a crop that wasn’t being grown when the subdivisions were built, when we newcomers moved in. Let’s call that crop cannabis.
Suddenly there’s a new odour coming from this land that wasn’t there before. Bear in mind, though, that the farm is perfectly within its rights to operate. It is following the law.
Surely it logically follows that if residential neighbours are expected to put up with the annoyance of a new noise coming from a nearby business, then residential neighbours should be expected to put up with the annoyance of a new smell coming from a nearby business, right?
Where is the legal difference? Why jeer one set of neighbours as NIMBYs, and not the other?
A few years back, when cannabis first became a hot-button issue in Pelham, in response to our news stories there would inevitably be comments left online to the effect of, “What about manure odours? What about chicken farms? This is the country! Shit stinks! Get used to it or move!”
The hypocrisy runs rampant. Some of the same people now claiming that the “rights” of a service station and car wash in place for 50 years supersede those of nearby residents have themselves often been the loudest in condemning legal cannabis operations on farmland that has existed for generations.
In both cases, there’s only one question that needs to be answered.
Are these businesses operating legally?
It doesn’t matter how long either business has been in existence. It doesn’t matter who owns it, or who runs it, or what the product or service is.
Is the business in compliance with applicable bylaws? If so, terrific. If not, it is perfectly reasonable to expect the authorities to require the business so comply with those bylaws, because that’s what a civilized society, operating under the rule of law rather than vigilantism, does.
Pelham’s bylaws are in serious need of updating, and this process is underway. The noise bylaw suffers from lack of specificity—even if, as the car wash neighbours claim, it was beefed-up in 2010 to deal with earlier complaints about the same business.
Meanwhile, an entire committee was struck by Town Council to address the cannabis odour issue, and it has spent tens of thousands of dollars doing so. A reasonable person might infer that the primary goal of this committee—which features the word “Control” in its name—was to make it impossible for cannabis growers to operate in Pelham. That’s certainly the way that the cannabis farmers see it, given that they have filed yet more legal claims against the Town. (More on this in a future issue.)
Personally, I’d love never to smell cannabis crops here ever again. I hope that the Town’s efforts to update its bylaws in this regard succeed, and that the cannabis companies’ legal challenges go down in skunky flames.
I’m also on record as noting that I didn’t find the car wash noise terribly loud—but I don’t live near it, and even if I did, my opinion wouldn’t carry any more weight than others who do. We need to leave the resolution of this dispute in the hands of the Town, and the law, and just cool the honking heck down.
Feeling creaky: Our second-youngest niece graduated from high school last week in Vancouver. The creaky part comes when we remember that our oldest nieces are 30-year-old twins. Ay carumba…Speaking of those high school years: Trent Crick’s look back this week at growing up gay in Pelham is both brave and heartbreaking. I’m a pretty laid back guy, but reading this put me in a sluggy mood. And teachers, where the hell were you? As a reminder, we continue to look for your stories of growing up LGBTQ+ in Niagara, as part of our June Pride series. Email [email protected] …Dennis Hopper took the wrong exit: Our own Easy Rider, Don Rickers, takes us on a pleasant tour along the Niagara Parkway this week for a worthy cause (Column Six)…Stats looking good: Ontario recorded the lowest daily number of new Covid cases on Monday since last September, and the number of active cases in Pelham was down to 12, from a high of 139 in late April…Just space left for chickens ‘n’ grills: The Fonthill Lions Club is running a “Win a New Grillfriend” raffle (I had to read that twice too), in which the top prize is a Louisiana Grill. The draw is this coming Sunday, June 13, at 6:30 PM. With some luck, it might make a fine Father’s Day gift, and with more luck, a week later on Father’s Day, the province might allow us to gather safely outdoors to celebrate—Dad with his new grillfriend. While you’re buying your raffle ticket, pick up a Drive- Thru Chicken Dinner, which has to be pre-ordered and paid. They go fast, so act quick! www.fonthilllions.ca or (289) 684-1240…Breaking news: That stolen egg cart has mysteriously returned! Details next week…The heat is on: Enjoy the sun—only two more weeks until the days start getting shorter again. As ever, stay safe. ◆