During the council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, council voted 12-0 (Councillor Stroud was absent a the time of voting) to approve a master development plan for Belle Park. Located on Montreal Street and along the shore of the Cataraqui River, the former landfill has been under consideration and discussion for change since 2014 when the Belle Park Working Group was formed. Now, with council’s approval, the work to develop the land into community use space begins.
How We Got Here
Belle Park was a natural marshland until 1952 when it began its use as a municipal landfill site starting with the southern area closer to River Street before creeping north and taking up the entirety of the land now known as the park. By 1974, dumping into the site had come to an end and the landfill had been closed, and work to turn the site into a municipal park space had begun. The City of Kingston officially opened the new Belle Park in 1978, housing a 9-hole golf course, multi-use courts, a clubhouse, and a connection to Belle Island, which the city had acquired in 1956.
Belle Park would continue to operate as a park and golf course in the decades that followed, with the city considering development of further park amenities on Belle Island — which had already seen some use as one of the golf course holes was located on its west end. In 1988, the city was in the process of creating a beach when human remains were discovered on the island. Following a full excavation of the area, these remains were returned to an area for burial, but tools, pottery and early pipe stems were also recovered and preserved.
By 1997, the city was taking steps to address leachate seepage into the Cataraqui River and continued work on improving the natural habitats and land with tree replacement, planting, and work to remediate the soil and water in the years ahead, while also starting to consider park uses and future development. Council created the Belle Park Working Group in 2014 to provide advice on the park to Council, and the City conducted feedback surveys in the following years with respect to park usage. In the fall of 2017, council made the decision to permanently close the golf course and begin the undertaking of a master redevelopment plan for the park.
The New Park
The master plan for Belle Park is a 15-year development project which will see work done to the park to preserve and restore the natural environment, add trails and improve park access, create a social, cultural and heritage gathering space, add new recreational activities, and maintain land management with regards to its former landfill use. No changes to Belle Island, now co-owned by the City of Kingston and the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs, are in the proposal, nor are changes to its bridge, or the channel between it and the park, however access through the park to the island for its visitors is being improved.
When development is complete, the revitalized park will have:
- A driving range, pitch and putt course, and a chipping/putting green, paying tribute to its decades as a full golf course
- New trails and paths to allow for hiking, walking, biking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing
- Multipurpose sports fields for use for rugby, soccer, ultimate frisbee and other sports/activities
- Sports courts, including dedicated courts for pickleball
- A protected, naturalized shoreline
- Protected wildland spaces
- Addition plantings and botanical demonstrations.
- Picnic and shade structures
- Improved parking
- Educational resources on the history of the park and its ties to the Indigenous culture
- Improved and expanded clubhouse
Development of the site is expected to take place through four phases, starting with the cleanup of the woodlands area, the creation of trails and naturalized access, a playground and the creation of the pickleball courts and disc golf areas. Through phase two, the park will add additional courts, the multi-use field, and its picnic areas, while additional trails and the renovations of the clubhouse will take place next. Lastly, golf returns to the site by way of a driving range and pitch and putt in the final phase, expected to be completed in the mid-2030s. The park’s western path along Montreal Street is expected to connect as part of the Active Transportation planning to the third crossing, as well.
During the creation of this long-term project plan for the city, the Working Group met more than a dozen times. Municipal planning also hosted five open houses, held four consultation sessions with a focus on the Indigenous impact, including a meeting with the Mohawk Nation Council Chief, created five online feedback opportunities, and received dozens of online submissions and letters from members of the public. Work on the first phase of this redevelopment is expected to begin in the coming months.