Shaping New Stories

City of Welland, Ontario
Written by Pauline Muller

Progressive and proactive to its core, the City of Welland is one of Ontario’s finest examples of motivation in action. It is here, in the Rose City, that the feet of hardworking dreamers are planted firmly on Canadian soil. Easily accessible and well-appointed in the Greater Toronto Area with only one and a half hours between its northern outskirts and the big T, this lovely mid-sized city now tells its story in new ways. And, after over a decade of consistent, meticulously planned expansion, its timing is superb.

The launch of the City’s new brand—one which draws inspiration from the land and waterway that shapes its past and energizes its present and also sparks curiosity for an ambitious, smart, and thriving future—arrives on June 15, just as Welland gears up to manage further growth over the next decade or two in its commercial and residential property markets. With a range of about 25,000 new dwelling units in the cards for development, it has plenty of space for new arrivals. As it is, population estimates for the same period are projected at around 40,000—a significant expansion considering where Welland was in the 1990s.

The City achieves its success through forward-thinking initiatives, progressive and time-saving development approvals, and handsome financial incentives that make relocating here a no-brainer for big business.

As a result, prosperity is once again afoot in the City of Welland. With the imminent arrival of the world-famous automotive supplier, Linamar, providing new employment for around 200 people, the latest specialized electric vehicle technology will soon find a home here. The groundbreaking new fabrication facility features massive high-pressure-die-casting equipment said to be unique to this auto manufacturer and unmatched by any other fabricator in the United States or the European Union. Linamar will open the doors to this next-generation, 300,000-square-foot facility on 59 Canal Bank Street, Welland in February 2025.

As new businesses move into town, the City has started welcoming a new era of progress after a historic economic downturn toward the end of the 1970s. A similar trend followed again early in the new millennium when four major fabricators moved out in just two years, bringing dark days as big tag manufacturers closed down their facilities in the region. This turned what was once one of the country’s wealthiest manufacturing areas into one struggling for employment opportunities for many years. Nearly 10,000 former positions were gone.

Today, the John Deere plant, one of the factories that closed a decade and a half ago, belongs to a prestigious development firm that is turning the former fabrication facility into a residential property comprising around 2,500 living units. So far, every phase has sold out in what has become yet another dazzling success story.

“When I arrived here as a consultant nine years ago, the forecast was not as promising as what we’re seeing today. What we did in working with council in the past three terms was change our culture. We changed the way we looked at how we process development applications; we wanted it to become business-friendly,” says Steve Zorbas, Chief Administrative Officer, underscoring his belief in stamping out bureaucracy and taking people’s time seriously. “We never take ‘no’ as an answer; we find ways to achieve desired outcomes,” he continues. “That is why we have been successful, and why all these things are happening in the City of Welland.”

This proactive leader’s enthusiasm helped create the slipstream necessary for change. And the changes are tangible: building permit approvals for complete applications are available within the legislated timelines (10 days for residential permits, 14 days for small buildings, and 30 days for complex buildings). This is a significant win over some other local municipalities that take months to do the same work. The City management’s commitment and outstanding work ethic are evident in the sheer volume of work it took to prepare and sell the industrial sites needed to help bring back prosperity and return Welland to its former glory. To date, it has sold seven industrial parks, with an eighth sale pending.

Indeed, since around 2013, Welland has seen a gradual upturn in its fortunes as it established over 1.5 million square feet of industrial land where big manufacturers could settle. Then, the first wave of significant economic recovery came with the arrival of General Electric Company around 2018. Today, the City’s economic developers and urban planners aim to grow this footprint with an estimated 3 million square feet, making the area especially favourable for even more employment.

In 2022 alone, Welland approved over 1,300 residential building permits. “We don’t see [growth] dropping any time soon,” shares Zorbas. “It is a matter of planning and preparing for it. With all that, we offer existing and new residents excellent quality of life.”

Perhaps the city’s most coveted crown jewel, the Welland Recreational Canal, means that locals and visitors can enjoy spending unparalleled time in nature while being close to the comfort of urban surroundings. “We are blessed to have a pristine, recreational waterfront,” Zorbas says. Alongside this, 70 kilometers of cycling, walkways, and trails offer even more opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Plus, with notably shorter winters and longer summers than nearby Toronto, most residents would agree that living here is worth the distance from the big-city lights.

The Welland Shipping Canal is a modernized canal that links Lake Ontario with Lake Erie across 44.4 km of waterway affectionately referred to locally as the industrial highway. As a major route in the St. Lawrence Seaway, the canal was initially constructed in 1829. It remains a main artery for the thousands of cargo vessels that pass through the Niagara Region annually.

“The City of Welland is rich in opportunity across the board—recreational, commercial, industrial, retail, you name it. The city has positioned itself as the premier location in Niagara,” says Marc MacDonald, Corporate Communications Manager. After several years of hard work drawing new investors and some of the Golden Horseshoe’s best developers, the City’s commitment is paying dividends in meaningful ways.

“Everything we are doing right now is very progressive in its approach. We are not going with the status quo or the way [things] have always been done,” MacDonald continues. The City prides itself on practicing what it preaches, rehabilitating brownfield sites in the same way it motivates developers to do. To this end, the new fire station was a finalist in the 2022 Brownie Awards for being a redeveloped former brownfield site that now benefits local communities.

This is also a city that functions well. For those dependent on public transport, its infrastructure is in top shape. “We have a fully-fledged regional transit system, and we endeavour to play our part in any way we can to continue to improve [it],” says MacDonald. This goes above and beyond transporting commuters in and around the city itself; the system reaches beyond the City’s perimeter, traveling to local amenities and attractions like the surrounding lakes and other places of interest like Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, and more.

The area also boasts good schools and parents are assured of quality education available at institutions like Niagara College Canada, which offers more than 130 qualifications and currently educates around 15,000 people—and is growing. In addition, Brock University is a stone’s throw away in St. Catharines and provides over 100 programs for students to choose from.

The Empire Sportsplex is another one of the city’s proud establishments. Opening its doors to the public for the first time last year, this facility was long in the making and recently received the Parks and Recreation Ontario award for exceptional design of a recreational facility. Generously equipped for pickleball, basketball, tennis, and beach volleyball, this Empire Communities development will serve local communities for decades to come.

Welland’s local farmers market started in 1907 and, as such, has been a favourite weekend attraction for generations. Alive with stallholders and visitors alike, the market is the Saturday-morning heartbeat of a community that loves to get together to enjoy local produce and just an occasional touch of fanfare in summer. The market even has its own song by @gralbr on YouTube honouring its heritage. Summer music concerts are also popular in the area.

Despite initial appearances, however, not everything here is about economics. Welland’s people are also resourceful and wonderfully creative. For instance, not many cities have their own—and award-winning—community podcast or children’s book. The City of Welland does; the podcast has already aired 75 episodes in under two years and the book is ready for print in the near future. Aimed at igniting the city’s magic for young and old, the book will encourage community involvement for existing and new residents in fresh and unusual ways. As one of the City’s capstone projects to wrap up the rebrand, the book promises to engage those deep and wise thinkers among us who still see life through the magical lens of narrative, namely kids.

“A move at a young age can be incredibly intimidating, scary, and unsettling. So, we try to tell the [City’s] story through a young character who has moved [here] and does not know anything about it,” says MacDonald. To reach as wide an audience as possible, print and digital versions will be available in French and English. With a 365-day angle on everything there is to do and enjoy here, adults and kids are in for a treat with this innovative and fun publication, entirely produced by a team of talented local contributors. Another beautiful part of its own creation tale is that the book was entirely sponsored by local developers committed to continuously investing in Welland’s future.

With this view in mind, the local council seeks to further develop its skills as a trailblazing force locally and further afield—a vision that the whole team fully supports. “We are all just catching our breath and trying to work with the growth, preparing and planning for what is coming our way. There is no better place to locate than Welland,” Zorbas says.

Once all is said and done, the mainstay of the City’s evolution remains its enduring quality of life that comes at a fair price alongside easily accessible services and ample educational and economic opportunities. From here, there is indeed only one direction for this city of tenacious dreamers. And that is full speed ahead.

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