Marking another historic Belleville site

Unveiling the Griffin Opera Plaque, from left, Mary-Lynne Morgan of the Hastings County Historical Society, Belleville Councillor Mitch Panciuk, guest speaker Diana Koechlin, Bill Kennedy a director of the Hastings County Historical Society, and Belleville Councillor Garnet Thompson, July 26, 2017 (Photo: Mary Thomas/Quinte News)

A crowd came out Wednesday to see the unveiling of the third-of-five historic plaques the Hastings County Historical Society is erecting to mark the 200th anniversary of the city of Belleville.

The third plaque marks the Griffin Opera House, built in 1884 at the corner Bridge and Church streets, site of the present O’Flynn Weese law offices.

It was a popular centre of theatre, opera, and minstrel shows, halfway between Toronto and Montreal.

Belleville Councillor Mitch Panciuk says the plaques help everyone get a better understanding of the city’s history.


Panciuk says the city is pleased with the plaques’ project by the Society.


Diana Koechlin addressing the crowd at the unveiling of the Griffin Opera House plaque, July 26, 2017 (Photo: Mary Thomas/Quinte News)

Guest speaker Diana Koechlin, Chair of Later Life Learning, told the crowd the original Belleville Opera House  had been built earlier but burned down after three years. She said the Griffin building was red brick and sloped down the Church Street hill. It could hold an audience of 1,300 people, which was 10% of Belleville’s population at the time.

Koechlin noted that “talking movies” came in during the 1920s, the beginning of the end of the theatre which was torn down in 1933.

She pointed to the McCarthy Theatre which was built on Front Street downtown in 1938 and closed in 1962, which eventually led to the 2003 opening of the Empire Theatre by Mark Rashotte in 2003.

Koechlin said it was “all the legacy of the Griffin Opera House.”

From left, Belleville Councillor Mitch Panciuk, Bill Kennedy of the Hastings County Historical Society and Steve Weese of O’Flynn Weese Law office, July 26, 2017 (Photo: Mary Thomas/Quinte News)

Steve Weese told the crowd the law office was pleased to have the marker at the front of its building.

He noted that pieces of the brick walls of the original opera house have been found, during some reconstruction at the present building.

The O’Flynn Weese office hosted a reception following the unveiling.

People off benefits and onto jobs

Director of Hastings County Community and Human Services Erin Rivers (File photo: Mary Thomas/Quinte News)


There has been a drop in the number of people on social assistance benefits in Hastings County, Belleville and Quinte West.

Statistics show a more than 7.4% drop in the Ontario Works caseload to the end of June, compared to the same time in 2016.

That means 233 fewer people on the benefits than at the same time last year, for a total of 2,909, as of the end of June.

Community and Human Services director Erin Rivers.

Meanwhile the Employment Connection program placed 142 Ontario Works participants in jobs during the month of June.


The average wage was $12.46 an hour.

Forty-five percent of the employment was for general labour, with jobs in manufacturing at 15% and retail at 12%.

In June of last year the number of jobs in retail was much higher at 35%, and  28% labour-related.

Statistics show 3.74% of the population in this area is receiving social assistance.

Search for a sign continues

(Example sign: Eskerod Signs/submitted by City of Belleville)

The search continues for a BELLEVILLE sign, similar to the TORONTO sign in Toronto’s city hall square, where people stand beside the letters and have their pictures taken.

These signs have become tourist attractions across Canada and in many cities around the world.

At its budget meeting in the spring, Belleville city council decided to spend $40,000 on a plastic-metal clad five-foot sign.

The idea was it would be mobile and moved to various sites and events, lit up, and ready for Canada Day celebrations.

Councillor Garnet Thompson says there have been hold ups, and the issue may go back to the capital budget session in the fall.

He says the city wants to look at more pricing submissions.

Thompson says the committee has been looking at ideas from other cities with such signs, including Kingston, and considering the options.


Plaque #3 to mark Belleville’s opera house

Bill Kennedy holds the fourth plaque, one of five to be mounted in Belleville by the Hastings County Historical Society this summer. (File photo: Mary Thomas/ Quinte News)

The third plaque to mark the 200th anniversary of the city of Belleville will be unveiled this week.

The Hastings County Historical Society is unveiling five bronze plaques this summer to celebrate Belleville’s 200th birthday, the third one marks the Griffen Opera House, built in 1884.

President Richard Hughes says it was the finest theatre between Toronto and Montreal.

The talking movies becoming popular in the 1920s meant the decline of this type of theatre.


The public is invited to the plaque unveiling at the corner of Bridge and Church Streets, at 2 o’clock Wednesday afternoon.

The five plaques are:

Firehouse #2 – unveiled
Simpson’s Tavern 1797 – unveiled
Griffin Opera House – to be unveiled
Great Belleville Flood – to be unveiled
Pinnacle Street Railway – to be unveiled

Regional Marketing Board makes hi-tech moves

The Bay of Quinte Regional Marketing Board is reporting a busy summer so far, as it ‘ups’ its marketing game with some hi-tech moves.

The Marketing Board has launched a number of new initiatives this summer, including new weekly Facebook videos, a data collection project and Phase One of the new touch screen kiosks.

Executive Director Dug Stevenson says the kiosks are in nine locations including hotels and visitor centers and people can click their way around the region.


He says the kiosks are a great local story: programmed by SNAP 360, built by The Machining Centre, painted by Quest-Tech and faceplates by JB Print.

He says that last weekend’s event at Signal Brewing in Belleville provided an example of the success of Facebook Live videos.

Stevenson says their first-ever data project has been launched, collecting visitor data throughout the summer at select locations and events, in order to further inform their marketing efforts in 2018, in collaboration with their Bay of Quinte partners.

He says 40,000 Discover Guides were printed and they’ve already distributed almost half in 1.5 months.

They are getting requests from all over the province for them, even from visitor’s centres as far away as Sarnia.

Contest for Bay of Quinte products

A program to promote products made in the Bay of Quinte area, in Quinte area stores, is expanding this summer to more stores, with contests for consumers as well.

Quinte Economic Development Commission Executive Director Chris King says the Proudly Made in Bay of Quinte promotion started out as a pilot project in two stores, Smylie’s Independent in Quinte West and Dewe’s Independent in Belleville.

The stores carry signage about products in their stores that are produced locally.

King says the campaign is now rolled out to a number of stores in the area, with a contest on social media.

#1 KING local products

The idea is to educate consumers about local products.

For more information about the Proudly Made in Bay of Quinte and the contest, you can go to the Quinte Economic Development Commission Facebook page or



Watching out for West Nile Virus

The good news is there has been no sign of West Nile Virus in Hastings and Prince Edward counties so far this summer.

Senior public health inspector with Hastings Prince Edward Health Unit, Andrew Landy, says his department has had traps in 15 locations throughout the two counties.

Landy says none of the mosquitoes trapped so far have tested positive for West Nile Virus.

Meanwhile, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge Health Unit that serves Northumberland County reports that a batch of mosquitoes collected in Haliburton have tested positive for the virus.

Officials are reminding people to cover up when outside between dusk and dawn and apply insect repellent to exposed skin.

Skills training coming up

Quinte Economic Development Commission Executive Director Chris King. (File photo: Mary Thomas/Quinte News)

Another skills training program session is getting ready to roll out through the Quinte Business Development Centre in Belleville.

The provincially funded program, called Elevate Plus, trains people for positions in manufacturing and food processing.

Quinte Economic Development Commission Executive Director Chris King says it’s important since the employment rate here is well below the provincial average and trained workers are needed.

King says it includes training, then time on the job.


A session graduates next week and a new session begins in August.

Belleville to allow development charges delay

Belleville is making some changes that will assist builders with their budgeting when building homes in the city.

For several years the Quinte Homebuilders’ Association has been asking the city for some flexibility regarding the payment of development charges its members have to pay at the construction of new housing.

The value of these development charges has increased over the years and now sits at $11,135  per residential building.

Builders have wanted the payment to be deferred until a new house is complete and the sale is underway.

President Tony Engelsdorfer told council this week the Association has 150 members, providing more than 3,100 jobs, who are affected by these payments.

City council decided this week that staff should prepare a bylaw for an agreement with the builders allowing the deferment.

A staff report to council indicates the agreement will assist builders manage the cost of new development and ensure the city receives the development charge payments necessary to accommodate new growth.

The option to defer payment would apply to all residential building permits with the exception of condominium buildings.

If a builder fails to make the payment, the Association would have 30 days to ensure the payment is made.

The new bylaw will come before council at a later date.


Provincial $$$ for cycling lanes

Belleville is hoping to get some major provincial funding for its bicycle lanes programs over the next few years.

The province has announced its Ontario Municipal Commuter Cycling Program, a four-year cost-sharing funding system for cycling infrastructure.

City council has approved applying for the funding for its 2017 projects, which include Bridge Street West connecting Loyalist College to the downtown, the Northeast Industrial Park extension, and the Station Street – Haig Road extension.

The 2o17 plan also calls for 3.6 kilometres of lanes on Bridge Street East and a designated biking route east of the Moira River.

If the application for the $3.3 million worth of work is successful, it would mean the city would only have to pay $710,000, with the province picking up the remaining $2.6 million.

Belleville Councillor Egerton Boyce (File photo: Mary Thomas/Quinte News)

Councillor Egerton Boyce is a strong proponent of cycling .


The city has plans for cycling trails within its Transportation Master Plan and could decide to apply for some of this provincial funding each year until 2020.


Belleville briefs: cyclists, QSWC, and more

Belleville Councillor Jack Miller speaks to council, July 10, 2017 ({Photo: Mary Thomas/Quinte News)

Belleville is planning to tighten up the rules for cyclists and others using city trails, and the city centre.

Concerns about the “inappropriate use of city trails” by e-bike riders, speeding on the trails, and skateboarding in the downtown, has led city council to give first readings to a new Active Transportation bylaw.

It prohibits e-bikes on the trails, with a review in the years ahead as e-bike technology changes, but allows them on the roads and in cycling lanes.

Councillor Egerton Boyce called for extensive public input on the issue.

Councillor Jack Miller noted the importance of having enforcement in place through bylaw officers.

Councillor Mike Graham said a decision will have to be made about enforcement or it will be “ridiculous”.

Council has opened up the plan for a few months of public consultation, before it could eventually be implemented.

The bylaw is based on a review of similar rules in place in towns across the province including Peterborough.

Questioning the $2 million expenditure

Belleville city council released the second half of the payment to the contractor working on the Yardmen Arena renovation and expansion project last night, but there were some questions about $2 million not in the work plan.

Director of Recreation Mark Fluhrer told council that there were some extensive mechanical requirements and the two million was needed to achieve this.

Fluhrer says this leaves $240,000 in the contingency fund, with the time frame to complete the project this fall.

In March, council approved giving a maximum of $8.5 million to Ball Construction to start the work, until a guaranteed maximum cost of the project was known.

Council approved another $8.5 million, for a total of $17 million, on a recorded vote of seven to one with Councillor Kelly McCaw voting against, and Councillor Mitch Panciuk absent.

Cedar Street – Henry Street work goes ahead

Belleville has awarded the contract for a major watermain and road reconstruction project to remediate water quality issues.

The Cedar Street-Henry Street watermain and road reconstruction project covers the portion of Cedar Street between Catharine and Moira Street West, and Henry Street between Everett and Cedar.

The project involves the replacement of existing services on Cedar that have been in place nearly 100 years, since 1920.

There will be a new storm sewer system and new sanitary sewer system.

Both streets will be rebuilt with new sidewalks, and new road surfaces.

The contract goes to Len Corcoran Excavating Limited at $2.2 million plus tax.

Good to have name cleared: Christopher

Belleville Mayor Taso Christopher speaks to reporters about the conflict of interest decision, July 10, 2017 (Photo: Mary Thomas/Quinte News)

Belleville Mayor Taso Christopher says the decision handed down in the conflict of interest case against him “is good news.”

Mayor Christopher was referring to the decision by Kingston Superior Court Justice Timothy Ray who ruled that Mayor Christopher did have a pecuniary interest in the matter when, during capital budget deliberations last fall,  he voted on a major project involving infrastructure upgrades around Maitland Drive in Thurlow ward.

Christopher was a director of a company that owned some land that the project would require.

Mayor Christopher says this as a “unique situation” and the project was a big job for the city.

He says the judge appreciated that he was “honest about what happened, also it was an error in judgement, so at the end of the day the ruling is in my favour and I’m still mayor and that’s good.”

He pointed to changes underway in the provincial rules which will give elected officials and boards more leeway in debating issues such as the Maitland Drive project.

He said the conflict of interest act (Ontario Municipal Conflict of Interest Act) is changing “because they want healthy discussions, they want exercise of democracy, they want debating of  issues, it just gives the elected officials, boards and police a little more structure.”

The mayor said it was good to have his “name cleared.”  “I’m very happy about that for myself, my family. I tell you I’ve received hundreds of phone calls from elected officials, from the municipal level, provincial and federal levels. I want to thank them very much for their support.