LaFortune Park in Caledonia, Ontario isn’t looking too fortunate these days. It’s a 106-acre plot of fenced-in land with some paved paths minimally maintained by the municipality of Haldimand in Caledonia, my home town.
A former campsite, the LaFortune family owned and maintained it until 1969 when they bequeathed it to the region with the stipulation it remain a public facility. It was closed as a campground in 2002 and since its fate (and slow disintegration) has been deliberated by Council, with little or no progress on that front.
What it has become, however, is the unofficial dog park of Caledonia, Ontario. But don’t tell anyone, even though everyone knows. It’s an easy spot to run the dogs because trails, while falling apart, still remain. You actually aren’t suppose to be using the land, so there are no complaints from anyone you meet, and the likelihood of encountering another dog owner, or several, is high. It’s almost like the region’s clandestine canine meet-up spot, without the nefarious intent.
There is wildlife, including deer, in the park. A wildlife rehabilitation centre in the region has complained in the town’s newspaper about a mauled fawn (unfortunate if true) thanks to an off-leash dog, but I can attest that neither Victor, nor Sasha, have chased wildlife.
Nor have I seen any other dog I regularly encounter (and there are regulars) do so. However, in the summer ticks are an issue, but larger than that threat is a strange resistance from the town to build an actual official leash-free dog park.
I raised the issue during a town hall meeting at municipal election time, and it was met with chuckles despite both City Councillor candidates admitting they encountered a lot of dogs while door-to-door campaigning. Both claimed Caledonia was definitely ‘a dog town.’
Yet … apparently not a dog park town.
The incumbent (and subsequent re-elected City Councillor) dismissed my dog park idea because it required “too many regulations,” (When doesn’t city council deal with regulations?), followed by a flippant dismissal of those who used LaFortune Park for said purpose. Which barks the question: If there is clearly a need, why isn’t city council answering it?
In the meantime, if you’re in the area, driving down Highway #54 (which links Caledonia to Six Nations and eventually Brantford, Ontario), take a small detour at the LaFortune Park sign (to 30 Onandaga Townline), leave your car at the low rusty gate entrance (likely padlocked with a chain to keep out cars but clearly not pedestrians) and take a stroll through the former camp grounds, now being slowly reclaimed by nature. There’s a good chance I’ll see you there, with Victor and maybe Sasha, and so will any of Caledonia’s under-served canine constituents.