Citizens of St. Catharines’ Facer Street come together for their own future
Bill Augerman/Facer Street Stories and Photos Facebook

Citizens of St. Catharines’ Facer Street come together for their own future

Residents of the Facer Street district in St. Catharines gathered for the second time in as many months last week to discuss a recent provincial announcement that will change the face of their historic community forever.

On April 5th, Ontario’s Minister of Transportation, MPP Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria, was in St. Catharines to announce the issuing of a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the twinning of the Garden City Skyway.

This PC mega project will construct a 2.2 km bridge spanning the Welland Canal, stretching from St. Catharines to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The minister’s announcement marks the first movement on the project in two years. The PCs hope that following the contract award to a company to design and build the bridge, construction can begin as early as next year with plans for completion in 2030.


A rendering of the proposed twinned skyway to span the Welland Canal.

(Infrastructure Ontario)


Very little detailed information about the bridge is available at this early stage in the development, but it is known that it will be built on the north side of the existing skyway and that twenty properties have already been expropriated.  For the residents of Facer Street that’s where the concerns start. Building on the north side of the present bridge puts the new structure at their doorstep. 

Despite this close proximity, the information provided to them about the project is limited and falls short of answering any questions and concerns they have. The exact design and footprint of the bridge won’t be known until a winning bid is selected by the Province. The sheer scale of the project leaves little doubt that major disruptions and changes are likely to occur in adjacent neighbourhoods, none of those neighbourhoods is closer than Facer Street.

Looking at a map of St. Catharines, it would be difficult to find Facer Street. About 800 metres long, one lane in each direction, it is almost insignificant. But what the street lacks in size it more than compensates for in stature and lore. Facer Street has always been more than a single street, to residents who live there, it’s a community.  

Thousands of people who have never lived on the actual Facer Street proudly declare they are “from Facer”, simply because they grew up somewhere within walking distance; went to school on the street; went to church in the community; belong to the ethnic social clubs that permeate the area; hung out at the pool hall; or played floor hockey at the community centre.  

The houses are tiny, wartime homes tightly cramped along cozy streets, rich with cultural diversity. Ukrainian, Italian and Polish immigrants, African-Canadians, (descendants of freedom seekers from American slavery), multi-generation-Canadians all have settled in large numbers for the past 130 years and the result has been a unique cultural identity. 


The residential streets of the Facer Street neighbourhood.

(Ed Smith/The Pointer)

Although the new bridge represents a challenge for the area, residents and business owners in the community meetings have also heard how it can represent an opportunity to redefine the area for generations to come.  

The Niagara Community Benefits Network (NCBN) has been educating and organizing area residents in order to help them amplify their voice and make a meaningful contribution in deciding how the area will look after the bridge has been built, through the creation of Community Benefit Agreements (CBA’s).  

CBA’s are contracts negotiated between developers and community organizations or coalitions to ensure that a development project, such as the new skyway, provides specific benefits to the local community. These agreements typically outline commitments from the developer to provide various benefits, such as affordable housing, job opportunities for local residents, environmental protections, infrastructure improvements, and other amenities that address the needs and concerns of the community affected by the development.  

NCBN is a local not for profit whose mission is “To unite the citizens of Niagara and their community-based organizations to achieve equitable development that provides the greatest benefit to all.”  

Alice Degan is the Executive Director of the organization and according to her, “The promise of Community Benefit Agreements is that they can turn big development projects from things that ‘happen’ to historically marginalized neighbourhoods, into things that a community can actively participate in and benefit from.”  

Degan points out that although CBA’s are relatively new in Canada, there are many examples in recent years, including one very similar to the skyway twinning project, the Gordie Howe Bridge linking Detroit with Windsor. The two bridges are very close in size and will have similar impacts on their adjacent communities.

The Gordie Howe Bridge CBA fact sheet details how it was important that initiatives selected for implementation would provide positive outcomes for the region while focussing on enhancing the neighbourhoods closest to the project area. The major components of the Windsor CBA were a guarantee to use largely local labour as well as more than a $20 million investment in neighbourhood infrastructure that included items such as $250,000 toward local history and culture, $1.25 million for community safety and $250,000 for food security.  


The Facer Street neighbourhood is one of the oldest communities in St. Catharines with a rich history. The historic photo shows the royal motorcade carrying King George VI and Queen Elizabeth passing by the Facer Street neighbourhood (behind the trees on the right of the frame).

(Top: Liz Taylor/Facebook, Bottom: Archives Ontario)


Jane-Anne McMillan is co-Chair of the newly formed community group Facer Forward, the organization will consult with and report to the greater Facer Street community and hopes to develop a strong relationship with government and the developers as quickly as possible. 

“As a community member living and working in the Facer Street area, I want to use my personal experiences to make a significant difference in our neighborhood's future.  By participating actively in local organizations it's my hope that we can contribute to positive change through addressing our community's needs, drawing inspiration from the people that make up the Facer Street community,” McMillan said.

Facer Forward is planning regular meetings in the community as well as literature drops and social media campaigns to communicate with every household in the Facer district.

“It is important that residents get involved as it gives them a voice in decisions affecting their neighborhoods,” McMillan said. “We want to ensure they receive tangible negotiated benefits from this project such as job opportunities, affordable housing, improved public amenities and community pride. Participation empowers neighborhoods by fostering equitable development and addressing community needs.”

With support from NCBN, Facer Forward has reached out to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) and Infrastructure Ontario (IO), together the two ministries are responsible for the development, procurement and construction of the bridge and as such will also be closely involved with any discussions relevant to community benefits.  

In response to an inquiry from The Pointer the ministries said they are planning to work closely with the local community. 

“During the development period, there will be opportunities for the public to learn more and provide feedback at a community meeting (called a Public Information Centre) hosted by the Development Team, as well as the public project website,” a spokesperson said. 

“The Facer community is ready to collaborate with the Province and developers,” Degan said. “This is a neighbourhood with a strong sense of identity and a unique character; they’ve historically been underserved, and they are ready for that to change.”



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