Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay city council tentatively approves backyard chickens

It took over four hours of debate and discussion, but city councillors in Thunder Bay have tentatively approved amendments to zoning bylaws that would allow people in the city to keep chickens in their backyards.

4 hour debate dealt with pros and cons of urban chicken coops

The gallery in Thunder Bay council chambers was full Monday night, as a four hour discussion about backyard chickens took up most of council's meeting. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

It took over four hours of debate and discussion, but city councillors in Thunder Bay have tentatively approved amendments to zoning bylaws that would allow people in the city to keep chickens in their backyards.

The vote is still subject to ratification at a later meeting.

Council heard a large cross section of arguments for and against the idea at its Monday meeting, and councillors themselves went back and forth on the issue.

"We can be a leader, or at some point we are going to be a follower," Coun. Rebecca Johnson said, challenging her colleagues to vote in favour of the changes. "Because this is inevitable that we are going to wind up doing this at some point in time."

Other councillors were less enthusiastic, citing concerns about how the bylaw changes are worded, and how the new rules would be enforced.

"Right now, there's no teeth at all in this bylaw," said Coun. Brian McKinnon, who noted he's heard a lot of opposition from constituents. "It's almost unenforceable, I have no idea how somebody's going to build a coop and who's going to check it."

The 'coop gallery' on The Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy website shows what current unsanctioned urban chicken coops in Thunder Bay look like. (

City staff confirmed that the animals would not be licensed nor coops routinely inspected; instead bylaw officials would respond to individual complaints.

In the end, council voted 7-3 in favour of the changes, with three members of council being absent.

Public meeting drew large crowds

The changes, which involve altering existing bylaws, meant members of the public could make presentations to council on the issue and a number of people took that opportunity. The gallery in council chambers was full, and city staff also set up overflow seating in city hall's main lobby, which was also packed.

"Having the skills to produce your own food and having a part and a role in your own food supply can't be overstated, and I think that that's rare," said Erin Beagle, who is the executive director of Roots to Harvest, a non-profit group that promotes getting young people involved with agriculture.

"This is an opportunity we have, and to pass it up would be unfortunate."

Others spoke about the educational opportunities, especially for children, potential economic benefits related to the building of coops, as well as strengthening neighbourhood communities.

Thunder Bay residents Arlene and Gary Ramsdale were two people who spoke out against allowing urban chickens in Thunder Bay on Monday. Several others spoke at council's meeting in favour of the idea. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

Council also heard its share of objectors, including Arlene and Gary Ramsdale, who cited a list of concerns, including enforcement, as there are already a number of urban coops in the city, which aren't yet permitted.

The Thunder Bay Real Estate Board also objected, due to fears that backyard coops would decrease housing prices.

Changes not final yet

Monday's meeting wasn't the final word on urban chickens.

The proposed changes still have to come back to council for ratification.

"This is not giving the general public permission to have chickens in the backyard," said Coun. Joe Virdiramo. "When the bylaw comes back, that's the trigger that says 'yay' or 'nay,'


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