Tobogganing will soon be legal in Hamilton

Yes, city council says, it may get sued. But Hamilton will soon be a toboggan-free zone no more.

City's anti-tobogganing law has prompted people to sled in protest

Janina Pinho, 4, barrels down the Chedoke hillside this month. The city of Hamilton is looking at setting up tobogganing zones. (Jeff Green/CBC)

Yes, city council says, it may get sued. But Hamilton will soon be a toboggan-free zone no more.

City council voted Wednesday to look into setting up designating tobogganing areas on city property, and other options that will let people sled.

The winter activity is currently banned by a city bylaw right now, with a maximum fine of $2,000, after two large lawsuits from people injured while tobogganing. But councillors agreed that shouldn’t stop others from having fun.

In a perfect world, I would love it if people didn’t sue the city.- Mayor Fred Eisenberger

“You can’t take the fun out of winter,” said Mayor Fred Eisenberger.

“In a perfect world, I would love it if people didn’t sue the city, but we can’t stop anyone from suing us for whatever reason. We can’t shut down our entire city.”

Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8 moved the motion after hearing from residents, some of them children, who learned that there was a bylaw against tobogganing.

He read one from a 10-year-old during the meeting.

“All I asked Santa Claus for Christmas was for a toboggan so I could go sliding,” Whitehead read. “I now have the toboggan but my dad says I can’t use it in the city of Hamilton. Please, Mr. Whitehead, allow me to use my toboggan.”

Other people have been upset by the bylaw too. Earlier this month, a group of tobogganing enthusiasts gathered at Chedoke Golf Course to protest — by tobogganing. Hamilton artist Laura Cole also made a video and created a petition about the issue.

The anti-tobogganing bylaw dates back to the 1970s, said Coun. Sam Merulla of Ward 4, when someone sued the city after a tobogganing accident.

Then in 2004, a lawyer successfully sued the city for $900,000.

Please, Mr. Whitehead, allow me to use my toboggan.- A letter from a 10-year-old boy to Coun. Terry Whitehead

The lawsuits are complicated by the 1 per cent factor. That means if the city is found to be even 1 per cent liable, it can end up paying 100 per cent of the damages because it has the money and the other defendants don’t.

Hamilton has joined other municipalities in asking the province to amend the Negligence Act to change the 1 per cent factor.

Staff will report back to a future general issues committee meeting about the feasibility of establishing tobogganing zones.

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