Champlain Township council stuck with its Committee of the Whole recommendation to close the L’Orignal Campground in 2024. But the decision did not happen before a few campers had their say.

Only a handful of campground renters showed up at the Champlain Township regular council meeting on March 22, 2023, but that–as one upset camper claimed– was because no notice had been given to campers about the upcoming decision, and some were out of the country.

As council prepared to pass all of its Committee of the Whole recommendations, including the closure of the L’Orignal Campground, Vankleek Hill Councillor Paul Emile Duval spoke up to say that there were people in the audience who wished to address the closure of the campground.

“I tried to explain it to them,” Duval said.

Members of council reiterated the reasons for the closure and added that the township would preserve the green space so that people could continue to enjoy the 2.5-acre space which takes up part of the 17.5-acre L’Orignal Municipal Park.

West Hawkesbury Councillor Sarah Bigelow stressed that one-half of a percent of people’s property taxes which pay for the deficit every year could be used for something else rather than the L’Orignal Campground, which benefits only a small number of people. A report on the campground had mentioned that of the 54 lots rented to campers, only four of the 54 rentals represent Champlain Township residents. Seventeen rentals were made by Hawkesbury residents, 17 campers were from Québec and 16 were from other parts of Ontario.

There is no pool, no restaurant, no pavilion and due to the lack of offerings, rates cannot be increased and further, the campground cannot grow and be profitable, Bigelow said, adding that it was also not financially feasible to install new municipal services like water and sewage there. “We would never catch up,” she said.

Mayor Normand Riopel said that the notion of closing the campground was first raised last year. “We have to vote for the best of the community,” he said, agreeing to give the podium to a camper for two minutes, providing he did not repeat the same points over and over. Riopel added that Longueuil Councillor Paul Burroughs would speak first.

Burroughs agreed with council’s move to close the campground. “The majority of people are from outside and we’re asking other taxpayers to pay the deficit.” The campground has ended each year since 2019 with an approximate $39,000 shortfall.

Champlain resident Denis Carrière had questions for council, including asking who was representing the campground at the meeting.

His wife, Bonita Carriére, moved to the podium and said that the most offensive and hypocritical part of the decision was to have heard about it from someone while she was at Costco in Vaudreuil. “Should we not have been advised first?” Bonita asked.

Plenty of notice prior to closure

She also pointed out that when they paid their rental invoice, they were told that the next council meeting was in April.

Riopel said he could understand their frustration, but that campers were being given plenty of notice to vacate, with the 2023 camping season proceeding as usual.

Bonita had questions about how costs were calculated, related to grass cutting (she said residents cut their own grass) and mentioned that there had been staff for the beach but no admission fees had been charged for beach access.

Treasurer Kevin Tessier was asked by the mayor to respond, although the mayor did explain that maintenance costs were not “all in one pot” but were apportioned according to each facility. “It’s more calculated than it used to be,” Riopel said.

Tessier pointed out that the two staff members referred to by Bonita had been hired during the COVID pandemic, thanks to a grant. The students were in place to monitor the surge of crowds during the pandemic who were wanting to use the beach.

Tessier mentioned that in January 2023, council had been asked if it was interested in a report on the campground with regard to possible closure. Council had replied yes and it was only then that the report was brought to council. Everything was public, Tessier said

The decision was not made in January, but the recommendation to close the campground was only made on March 22 and would not be official until a decision was made by council at a regular meeting. There may have been confusion due to a proposed campground near Vankleek Hill presented to council last year.

Campgrounds can look more like mobile home park

Senior Planner Jennifer Laforest said that campgrounds are tricky uses from a planning perspective. While they are classified as recreational uses, intended to be used by the travelling public, we have seen over the past years that the duration of stays has increased. Typically, anything over a few days becomes a residential use. It starts to look more like a mobile home park, Laforest said.

We want to be sure we retain public access and the best use of those areas, Laforest said.

Laforest said that to make the campground attractive to overnight stays, the township would have to provide a lot more investment to add to the amenities and features of the site.

There is a Park Master Plan to be carried out in 2024, and if the community really wants a campground, that is something that the township can look at, Laforest said

Bonita asked if there were grants available for campground or park improvements, but Riopel pointed out that the municipality would have to contirbute its share (one-third or more).

Champlain council approved closure of the campground at this point, but the subject came up again at the end of the meeting during question period.

WIth no questions from the public, the mayor allowed Bigelow to speak “I have one other comment about the campground. I know last year, when Evergreen Campground was taken over by a private company, the rates were increased the day that people were moving into their campers and people had no time to move. Unfortunately, you probably feel you have no time to move but we are giving you a year to do so. It is an unfortunate thing and I do understand your frustration but it’s something that we all feel has to be done for the good of the township,” Bigelow said.

Although her husband had left earlier, Bonita Carriére returned to the microphone. “What I don’t understand is, that there was so much money that could be made — like at the beach, you go there and there’s 60 cars, but 45 are from Québec. Like . . . don’t charge for Champlain … but for the campers, we wouldn’t even use the beach because it was so full.”

“So we have four people here upset by the campground. . .” “Because we had no notice,” interrupted Carriére. “Oh, I think if you looked on Facebook, there were a lot more people who knew about it,” Bigelow replied.

Bigelow suggested that many are using the campground as a second residence. “I think this is the case. People are using this as their oasis and a second residence, and that is what Mme Laforest was saying and if we were going to turn it into a transient campground, that is going to put a lot of money into infrastructure and subsequent rental increases. It’s not feasible for us to keep it going.”

“It’s too bad to see people put $1,000, $5,000, $10,000 into our lots to make it nice and now we have to take everything down,” Carriére said.

But that’s like a home, Bigelow continued. “It’s not like it’s a cottage that you own. I have a camper parked elsewhere and I have a deck and a gazebo and all of those nice things, but it’s not my home and it’s something that … if the seller sells or closes down, I would have to move,” Bigelow ended.