Ontario Landowner Association Article

This is the story of the expropriation of Fisherman’s Cove, in Orillia, Ontario. It is the story of how one woman, Eleanor Sheppard had a dream and had the money to make it happen. She invested in a $2.8 million venture: the Research and Development of culturing Bait Fish and advancing the technology of recycling ground water in fish farms, as well as dramatically reducing the sewage, being discharged from the fish farming operations.

Much was accomplished in the 5 years leading up to the expropriation of this ‘Bait and Tackle Shop” called Fisherman’s Cove. Eleanor’s money bought and refurbished the bait and tackle shop. They installed their first ground water recycling system, designed to hold bait fish in Fisherman’s Cove Bait and Tackle Shop. Their plan was to build Cold Water Fisheries, using the closed system technology from the University of Guelph and it too was moving forward. With Eleanor Sheppard’s approval, the first President of Cold Water Fisheries undertook the responsibilities of constructing the 1st hatchery, for Cold Water Fisheries, at Coldwater Ont. The hatchery contained 3 industrial sized recycling closed systems.

The accomplishments of this impressive venture grew rapidly. Next was the construction of their 1st land based, grow out facility also at Coldwater, Ontario. This was followed by the construction and installation of their 1st cage site, grow out facility at Manitoulin Island and a second grow out facility using ocean cage technology there as well. Eventually, they oversaw the planning and construction of a processing plant on the island. Eleanor’s dream of being able to pass on her legacy was fast becoming a reality. Cold Water Fisheries has since grown to become the largest fish farm in Ontario employing 100 people, and since start up, Eleanor Sheppard’s investment has created an economy of $100 million, selling hundreds of thousands of fish for food consumption, in both the Canadian and U.S. markets.

In August, 1991 the elderly, Eleanor Sheppard was still alive and Fisherman’s Cove was beginning to sell bait fish from their 1st ground water recycling system, inside Fisherman’s Cove; bait fish that were hatched, and raised at Cold Water Fisheries, in recycled ground water. The information gathered at the farm (Cold Water Fisheries) as well as the retail outlet,(Fisherman’s Cove) on the Research and Development of bait fish culturing, was critical to developing a Bait Fish Farm, to supply the retail sector in Ontario. Information critical to placing a product (ie. bait fish)into the market, requires feedback from the consumer, (Recreational Fisherman) about the quality of the product (the bait fish). What is just as critical is the feedback from the retailers, who were targeted in their marketing plan.

The feedback from the fishermen, along with the retailer, (the tenant leasing Fisherman’s Cove) using Cold Water Fisheries bait fish, was very positive. They were producing healthy, strong, bait fish. Continuous supply, is one of the biggest problems in the bait fish industry. A depleted supply of netted bait fish, caused by over netting, and poor water quality in our streams, lakes and rivers, causes the commercial bait fish netters problems in maintaining a continuous supply to the retailer.

This positive response from the consumer, as well as discovering adjustments (improvements) needed in the hatchery, as well as the holding system at Fisherman’s Cove, caused Mr. Devine to believe that they were within a couple of years, from taking the bait fish, from the farm, to the retail sector. Profits per pound of bait fish, appeared to be twice the amount, than that of raising fish for food consumption. It appears Fisherman’s Cove was the first retail outlet in North America, to have sold bait fish, that had been hatched, reared, and held in recycled water. Further research is required to determine if Fisherman’s Cove is still the only retail outlet in North America, to have sold bait fish, hatched, raised and sold in recycled water.

This is where this success story takes a bad turn and unforeseen circumstances, government turning a blind eye, a Supreme Court ruling on another case and the all too often cover-up of evidence, led to the “ongoing saga of Fisherman’s Cove”.

The land purchased at Fisherman’s Cove from 1986 to 1990 was placed in the names of Mr. and Mrs. John Devine, Eleanor’s relatives, with a personal loan from Eleanor Sheppard. It was Eleanor’s wish as indicated in her will to have the loan forgiven upon her death, and for the Devine family, to continue to operate the Cove as a business after her death. This never happened, because the property was seized from John Devine when Eleanor was still alive, thus obstructing the execution of Eleanor’s last will and testament.

The Ontario Government had other plans for this land and Fisherman’s Cove was slated for expropriation so that a highway widening project could be undertaken leading to Casino Rama. A strip of land was expropriated from Fisherman’s Cove, on which stood their two story building, the Fisherman’s Cove sign, and 75% of Fisherman’s Cove parking, rendering the remainder of the business inoperable and displacing tenants from their businesses and homes. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Ontario Government refused to recognize Fisherman’s Cove as an operating business and took the legal position that if Eleanor Sheppard wanted to continue to finance the Fisherman’s Cove water preservation venture, and her entire retail business, she would have to demolish and rebuild Fisherman’s Cove, at her own expense.

Fisherman’s Cove was notified (seized) in August of 1991. Eleanor Sheppard passed away in Sept. 1991 never fully understanding what had happened to her project. In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on another case: the Del Holdings vs Toronto Transit which ruled that expropriating bodies, must address disturbances and damages, on the date of notification. The Ontario Government only paid for the strip of land taken. Upon gaining knowledge of the Dell Ruling, the Ontario Government took the position that the land at Fisherman’s Cove was vacant land, thus no compensation, to demolish and rebuild Fisherman’s Cove. Details of the Ontario Government’s position, (vacant land) and what was really on the property on the date of notification, can be found on their web site www.worlds-apart.ca. This action devastated John Devine and his family who had invested so much time and energy into this massive project only to see the Bait shop that they inherited, destroyed with n o compensation.

According to Mr. Devine, the Ontario Government, under the leadership of Premier Harris, hired a former Ontario government employee, turned appraiser, to tell the Ontario Government that Fisherman’s Cove was vacant land, on the date of seizure. (Aug. 1991). A picture taken by the Ontario Government, in 1993, showed buildings on the property, the same as what was there in August of 1991. Yet, there is also a survey, drafted apparently by an independent appraiser, showing the property to be vacant land on August, 1991, completely contradicting the picture taken in 1993.

John Devine and his son Mark, had plans and high hopes for continuing the work done at their bait and tackle shop, Fisherman’s Cove but today, it is gone, replaced by a highway leading to a casino. Can this be called progress? Can a business get knocked down and paved over by our government and quickly dismissed as ‘vacant land’ with no compensation for an existing business? Yes, apparently it can and it does happen and justice for the small business owner who does not have deep pockets to pay lawyers to fix these wrongs, means justice denied.