Griffin House plan nixed by salamander
Niagara Escarpment Commission denies development permit
The Niagara Escarpment Commission has denied the City of Hamilton’s application for a development permit for a new interpretive centre and washroom facility at the Griffin House because of the impact it would have on Jefferson salamander habitat.
The decision by the commission has forced Hamilton staff to rethink how it can provide needed washrooms, while providing expanded parking and information for visitors to the popular heritage structure on Mineral Springs Road in Ancaster.
Carolyn Samko, senior project manager for heritage facilities and capital planning, said city staff has ordered a hunter green-coloured trailer that will offer a unisex, accessible washroom that will be located on the Griffin House grounds.
“It’s better than the blue port-apotties,” said Samko. “In the long run, it is not a bad solution.”
In the spring of 2015, David Sweet, at the time the Conservative MP for the former riding of Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale on behalf of the previous Conservative government, provided the city with just over $205,000 for a new interpretive centre and washroom facility at the Griffin House National Historic Site. The city was unable to access the money until a year later, which staff stated was fine because it gave them time to design the new facility.
The city applied for a development permit from the commission in October 2016 to build a one-storey 71.74-square-metre accessory facility, which would include a water and sewage holding tank on the Griffin House land. The application also included improving the driveway, adding three parking spots and installing a new power line.
But the proposed location would have been in a regulated habitat of the endangered Jefferson salamander. The provincial Environment Ministry told the commission last February any disruption of the area would impact the salamander, said Danielle D’Silva, the commission’s spokesperson.
The Jefferson salamander is found only along the Niagara Escarpment in southern Ontario. It has a grey or brown back, but blue flecks may be present on its sides and limbs. It can be anywhere from 12 to 20 centimetres long. It lives in moist, loose soil under logs or in leaves.
D’Silva said a trailer located on the Griffin House grounds would be exempted from the commission’s regulations.
Samko said it’s expected the installation of the trailer will be completed by the fall.
As for the proposed interpretive centre, Samko says staff will provide the public with updated information on new signs, including possibly a kiosk, about the Griffin House and the historical importance it has to the community.
She said the federal funding will cover the costs of the new trailer and signs, as well as other needed items for the property, including new fencing, and security measures. The city has already installed a gate at the entrance to the property to prevent vehicles from entering. The Griffin House itself is also in need of roof repairs and other upgrades.
Samko said the federal government has allowed the city to use the grant as it sees fit.
As for expanding the on-site parking to accommodate buses and tours, Samko said discussions are continuing on how to do it without any digging. Parking is still available at the nearby Hermitage.
“This will give us an opportunity to really think about what to do there,” she said.
The Griffin House, built in 1827, preserves the history of early Ancaster settlement and celebrates Black history. The house was inhabited by Enerals Griffin, an early African-American immigrant to Upper Canada, who could have arrived to Canada by the Underground Railroad.
The Hamilton Conservation Authority acquired the 18-hectare property in 1988 and it was opened to the public in 1995. In 2008, the Griffin House received National Historic Site designation.
The city will put a trailer that contains a unisex washroom for people to use, after a development permit was denied to protect salamanders in the area.