'They showed up with a backhoe': Mortlach restaurateur loses bid to save prized front gate

An artfully decorated front gate gracing the patio of a restaurant in Mortlach, Sask. was removed Thursday.

Village said it was worried about potential of accident and resulting liability

A backhoe works to remove the front gate of the Little Red Market Café in Mortlach, Sask., Thursday morning. (Chad Forrest )

Chad Forrest says he got the call Thursday at around 8:20 a.m. CST, while he was showering.

It was the Village of Mortlach calling. At 9 a.m., it was planning to remove the artfully-crafted, wrought-iron fence that graces the front patio of the Little Red Market Café, the restaurant Forrest took over last May.

"They showed up with a backhoe and the RCMP and picked it up and moved it east onto the other side of the property," said Forrest.

For Forrest, the removal capped a bitter, year-long struggle to convince the village to allow him to keep the gate, which he says is a key part of the restaurant's brand and a "major" reason why he acquired the business in the first place.

In a letter to residents posted on the village's website the day before — written in response to "the volume of opinions surrounding this issue" — the village council explained its reasoning.

A letter to residents of the village addressing the issue. (Village of Mortlach)

The gate extends onto a village-owned road, opening the village up to potential liability should a driver's sightline be affected by the gate and result in an accident.

'Wasn't ready to deal with fire and knives'

After his shower, Forrest raced to his restaurant to find the backhoe already on-scene.

Forrest, by his own admission, grew so emotional he couldn't open up the restaurant for lunch.

The gate, as it once stood. (Submitted by Chad Forrest)

"I was shaking with anger and I was sad and upset," he said. "I just wasn't ready to deal with fire and knives at that moment. So we closed for lunch and we opened for dinner and we had a really good crowd."

Forrest has said he struggled with the village "to try and find some common sense," hopeful that he could work out a bylaw allowing him to keep the gate where it was.

The village council, in its letter to residents, said, "Council's first response to the issue was to seek a mutually agreeable compromise which included physical modifications and signage.

"No such compromise has been found to be agreeable."

One last option?

Forrest says he's talking to a lawyer about another option — "a petition to get a referendum for the village [on whether the gate should be restored]."

"They [the village] seemed to indicate yesterday that that wasn't an option but I'll get my lawyer to look at it if it's all the same to them," said Forrest.

He's not hopeful, though.

"I'm not counting any chickens anymore because we know we don't have the village council's support, which is sad for our business."