Plans to redesign Civic Square limit the potential and make no allowance for additional space that is going to be needed for city hall staff

By Pepper Parr

July 6th, 2023



The front of City Hall is expected to look a lot different by the time you are thinking about who you want to represent you on City Council when you go to the polls in 2026.

Putting the stamp of approval – at the municipal level that amounts to a bylaw, is expect to take place at Council on the 11th.

During the staff presentation last week the emphasis was on significant levels of community engagement; it was loud and clear. Realistic – time will tell.

Indigenous Elder Wendy Phillips leads the Indigenous Learning Circle discussions at the University of Toronto Scarborough. (Photo by Ken Jones)

There was reference to a meeting with an Indigenous Talking Circle. Our source within the Indigenous community in Burlington confirms that Talking Circles are part of the Indigenous approach to setting out directions and resolving issues, however – to the best of his knowledge Burlington doesn’t actually have a Talking Circle in place.

The funding from the federal government for this project requires that the city work with the Indigenous community – they city plans to meet with that group before meeting with the larger public.

The budget for the work – which is not final has the Government of Canada investing $1,984,900, the Government of Ontario providing $1,653,917.  The City of Burlington has already committed capital funding of $1,323,432, clearly more to come.

The Gazette published three long articles, too long actually, but we wanted to ensure that the public was fully aware of what is planned and how they propose to reach their objective.

The messy approach to informing the public on the Bateman high school transformation, into a location without a new name yet, is not something to be repeated.
Making the redevelopment of Civic Square happen is in the hands of an outside organization that has done some work in the Region and from the looks of what we have been able to see – do pretty decent work.

The direction is coming from the MBTW Group, the company hired by the city; various city departments will play a supporting role.

The group brought in to handle communications does not appear to have any experience in the Halton Region –their web site doesn’t say all that much – but then they never do – do they.

There are those who like Civic Square as it is. There was a plan to fix it up a little, move the flag poles, perhaps put the fountain in a different place and level the Square making it more accessible.

That plan and the renovating of the first floor of city hall got rolled into the re-development of Civic Square – which made some sense from a short term point of view.

To create a Civic Square that is and looks complete some heavy thought has to be given to The Queen’s Head structure and the two units on the east side of Locus immediately north of Elgin.

Demolish these two building allow Civic Square to be more open and swing the Queen’s Head around with what fronts on Elgin – fronting into Civic Square.

Expropriate the housing and come up with something to do with Queen’s Head and you have a space that could be “awesome”.

Given the full steam ahead mode that Heritage is currently in – nothing is going to get the Queen’s Head off its location.

More to the point however – the current city hall doesn’t have the room to accommodate all the current staff and going forward there will be more additional people added to the FTE.

Several department: Human Resources, Legal and some of the Engineering people are housed in the Sims building that the city bought some time ago for $17 million.

What we are going to end up with is a Civic Square hemmed in by the two towers on the east side of Brant Street – one nearing completion and the other yet to put a shovel in the ground.

The Square itself stunted will be stunted by the Queen’s Head and limited by the two units on the east side of Locust.

Now, if someone were to find a way to turn the Queens head around and have what currently fronts on Elgin and have it face into Civic Square that would certainly change the look and feel of the building and the tone of Civic Square.

King Road was shut down in 2012 for 72 hours while a tunnel was built beneath the rail line. Engineers from around the world on the site to see it happen.

That however would take more imagination than the current city administration has – it would also be a heck of an engineering challenge. Recall however that the GO train line at Kings Road was shut down for a long weekend while an underpass was built.

Everything about the current plans for Civic Square seem limiting – short term, when what is clearly needed is a building that every department can be housed in and at the same time have a Civic Square that is welcoming, a place where people can gather and celebrations held. The Mayor thought that perhaps a fire pit could be included.

Developers did what they do, leaving us with a city hall that seems to have been forgotten. A former Director of Planning, who was told her position had been made redundant, once referred to City Hall is as “iconic” – it never was and never will be.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette, an online newspaper that was formed in 2010 and is a member of the National Newsmedia Council.

Related news stories:

Part 1 of the redesign of Civic Square

Part 2 of the redesign of Civic Square

Part 3 of the redevelopment of Civic Square


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4 comments to Plans to redesign Civic Square limit the potential and make no allowance for additional space that is going to be needed for city hall staff

  • G Peer

    Why does everything “Civic” have to be downtown by the lake? Some older citizens may remember that the original city hall tower had a storey that was never completed back in the 1960s because there were not funds available.
    We do not seem to exercise that same cash flow restraint these days.
    Presently Burlington is growing above the QEW and to the west. Some people I know who live north of the QEW and in Aldershot rarely come “downtown” because of the congestion and lack of parking, so they stay away.
    I respectfully offer a possible suggestion… perhaps we should take a longer term view and move our city administration to a more midtown location? Combine a recreational facility with an administrative tower? The current city hall could be repurposed? Perhaps that Bateman property would provide sufficient land for such a multi-use building? Alternatively ….with new technologies available is it really necessary for all city staff to work downtown in the city administration? Thanks for your consideration.

  • Gary Scobie

    I agree with your musings about the redesign and execution, but personally I’ve always liked the look of the City Hall from the street and must be one of the few who still consider it “iconic”.

    • Us too Gary except that we want it to be safe for all given the very unsafe paving presently in place and dead trees are really not a good indication that we give a darn about the image we present. We love the fountain and what it means.

  • Grahame Richards

    Change the name back to Sherwood Inn.We lifers in this town have lots of fond memories there.