Nfld. & Labrador

No cruise ships? Halifax opening up the waterfront but St. John's not considering it

While the Port of Halifax swings open its fence doors to allow the public access along the waterfront not being used by cruise ships, St. John's isn't doing the same.

St. John's Port Authority says other vessels use the cruise ship pier

The St. John's harbour fence will stay closed to the public this summer even without the use of piers for cruise ships. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

While the Port of Halifax is swinging open its fence doors to allow the public access to waterfront not being used by cruise ships, St. John's isn't doing the same.

The space held for cruise ships in the Halifax harbour, called the brow, has been closed to the public for nearly two decades but crews are retrofitting the area with tables and chairs for people to keep their distance and enjoy the view. 

"I think it's really interesting and it's fascinating how cities have been adapting throughout COVID-19," said Jen Crowe, chair of Happy City St. John's, a non-profit organization that encourages public dialogue on civic issues in St. John's.

"I think that there are lots of good to come out of this, and one of those good things is reconsidering how we use public space, of course."

Crowe said her group is hearing from citizens who want to make the downtown more pedestrian-friendly, and is thrilled about the plans to make Water Street a pedestrian mall this summer.

"An opportunity to sit there and have a coffee and a chat with a friend while maintaining that physical distancing sounds like an amazing opportunity."

Jen Crowe is the chair of Happy City St. John's, a non-profit organization that encourages public dialogue on civic issues in St. John's. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Crowe said she is aware there are factors that need to be considered when allowing the public access to some waterfront areas as the fence was initially put up for security reasons, but she says the city has an opportunity to think in an innovative way.

Unable to open gates, says port authority

But the St. John's Port Authority said they can't follow Halifax's lead because other vessels use the same pier as cruise ships.

"It's not only a cruise ship terminal so we do have to take the other needs of the other vessels that are required to be inside a restricted area," said Melissa Williams, harbour master and manager of marine operations at the St. John's Port Authority. 

Williams said some vessels carry an international ship security certificate that mandates them to be inside a restricted area. 

"Safety is top priority. Because of the vessels' operation activity there are fuel trucks, boom trucks, groceries, garbage containers, cranes, all kinds of heavy lifts going on, and that can happen at any time during the day."

People will be able to sit in patio chairs in Halifax while complying with physical-distancing requirements. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Williams said Halifax is able to open its port gates because they have a designated terminal for cruise ship use only. In St. John's piers 9, 10 and 11 are used for cruise ships when they're in port but are otherwise used for other vessels.

Not being able to open the fence gates to the public doesn't sit well with retired architect and author Jim Case. 

"I just shake my head and go 'typical,'" Case said. "I have very little personal faith in the port authority making any efforts outside their own moneymaking objectives, and that's fair enough."

Jim Case is a retired architect and author living in St. John's. (Jim Case/Twitter)

Case said he believes the port authority does have the option to open the gates and he wants it to be a permanent move. 

"We have always had a traditional connection with the harbour," he said. "We have lost that."

Case, who has lived in Norway, said Oslo's harbour is smaller than St. John's but has been converted into a pedestrian-friendly space where people can sit at the water's edge and grab a bite to eat. 

He wants to see more access to the harbour in downtown St. John's.

"People don't generally come downtown and say, 'Let's go for a stroll along the harbour,' and therefore other retail possibilities and consumer possibilities have been nixed because you can't sit out there during the day, you can't go out there to enjoy a meal at night," he said.

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