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New digs in Thorold for the NPCA to celebrate 65 years of conservation

New location on Merrittville Highway includes a large room suitable to host 100 as well as more accessible offices with numerous sustainability features

The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority marked its 65 years as an organization by celebrating a new beginning on Friday. 

Dignitaries from all political levels gathered along with staff members and special guests to cut the ribbon to open their new offices at 3350 Merrittville Highway in Thorold. 

“The existing space (in Welland) was a little inadequate for the staff at this point in our growth and progression,” said CAO and secretary-treasurer Chandra Sharma. “The new space is very good for staff morale. It has many sustainability features that we aspire for and adequate space for the science that we do, like our water lab.”

The new NPCA headquarters are in the former head office of Mountainview Homes across from Canada Games Park. Visitors to the grand opening were led on a tour through offices designed to make optimal use of natural light and to allow for an improved customer experience. Accessibility for staff and visitors was another major focus. 

Locating the headquarters near the offices of the Regional Municipality of Niagara was also a strategic decision. 

“It was very important for us to ensure the location was consistent with our mandate and vision,” continued Sharma. “We wanted to be central. The Niagara Peninsula is a very large watershed that expands to Hamilton and Haldimand, and our staff lives in all three of these regions.”

“We were outgrowing the facility we had in Welland and we needed a new place to go,” added Rob Foster, regional councillor for the Town of Lincoln and the outgoing chair of the NPCA. “We looked at a variety of different places, and this met all of our criteria. Every box was checked. We’re looking forward to a long relationship here.”

Looking back on the authority’s history, Foster reflected on why conservation authorities came into existence in the 1940s.

Rob Foster at the NPCA's grand opening of their new Thorold head office. Mike Balsom

“It was in response to concerns raised by agriculture, naturalists and sports groups,” said Foster, “all of whom highlighted that much of the renewable natural resources of the province were in an unhealthy state as a result of poor land, water and forestry practices.” 

Drawing attention to the changes in technology over 65 years as well as the inevitable growth that has come to the watershed, Foster spoke of the work the authority has done in the three regions.

“The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority provides a wide range of services that are important to the long-term sustainability and the development of the Niagara watershed,” explained Foster. “This includes planning, compliance and enforcement, mapping and watershed restoration. Our organization does many things to ensure we meet our motto, nature for all.”

In 2021, the NPCA embarked on a 10-year strategic plan focusing on six priorities. These include creating a healthy and resilient watershed to mitigate the effects of climate change, supporting sustainable growth through its role in land-use planning, connecting people to nature by improving access to green spaces, fostering organizational excellence through high customer standards, strengthening partnerships and remaining financially stable.

The NPCA launched its Land Securement Strategy in late 2022, aimed at acquiring lands within the Niagara Peninsula watershed for environmental and natural hazard protection and public enjoyment. Recently, the authority acquired a parcel of 44 acres in the Town of Pelham within the Niagara Escarpment Plan area and designated Escarpment Natural and Protection.

“We are making progress on our plan,” confirmed Foster. “We have done some beautiful work recently at Rockway and Cave Springs. This really fits in with our overall motto.”

In her address to the audience in the new Carolinian Room, which also acts as the NPCA’s boardroom, Sharma said that the 65th anniversary was a chance to reflect on the outstanding achievements and the role the conservation authority has played since its inception in 1959. She then went on to speak of the organization’s future. 

“The NPCA has come a long way,” claimed Sharma. “And the NPCA of today is made of a high-performing team of professionals focused on client service. It’s innovative and progressive. It’s focused on the mandate of asset management and preparing to deal with emerging challenges of climate change.” 

“We saw during the pandemic how important our land was for our communities’ well-being,” she continued. “We have a long-term vision and a creative staff who think outside the box. And importantly, we have the unwavering support of our municipal partners and all levels of government “

Representatives from the cities of Thorold and St. Catharines, Haldimand and Niagara regions, and both the federal and provincial governments were in attendance to deliver congratulatory words and present scrolls to the organization. 

The grand opening was followed by the authority’s annual general meeting, during which John Metcalfe was voted in as the new chair of the NPCA board of directors. Metcalfe is the deputy mayor and second-term Ward Two councillor of Haldimand County. The Cayuga resident spent his career working for the Ministry of Transportation.