a peek inside the fishbowl

09 Feb, 2011

The Ashcroft Convent is in the news again

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Westboro|Yaktivism

As soon as I saw the tweets flying this morning I thought WHAT NOW. Whenever someone breathes the words ASHCROFT and CONVENT in the same sentence it makes my hair stand on end in a mixture of rage and disappointment.

How is that the capital of our country can be such a political backwater? How can we be shackled by a municipal council that seemingly has no clear vision of how to keep things ticking along? How can the city I love so much be so consistently shortsighted about issues like growth, transportation and development? it boggles my mind and drives me absolutely koo-koo crazy.

It’s so f’d up I can’t even begin to describe it all. For starters, there is a document called the Community Design Plan that hundreds of people, including City of Ottawa staff, poured hundreds of hours into. And I quote: “This document is the Council approved guide to the long-term growth and development of the Richmond-Road/Westboro area. The Community Design Plan provides guidelines for the day-to-day decision-making on land use planning and sets out the community’s priorities for the future.”

The CDP makes recommendations on acceptable height and density along the Richmond Road corridor. It was adapted as a secondary plan yet it does not seem to be worth the paper it’s printed on. Residents can’t build a porch without proper permits and variants and inspections yet new condo development are ROUTINELY allowed to go above and beyond what is set out in the CDP.

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Turns out the hubbub on Twitter was in regards to an article in the Citizen about it this morning. (Online here.) It made my heart sink to see what our Councillor had to say about it. First, some backstory. I’m quoting the Citizen here :

“The idea of a special community levy to pay for a park arose out of a controversial Westboro convent redevelopment plan that most area residents oppose.

Ashcroft Homes bought the 2.25-hectare Les Soeurs de la Visitation property on Richmond Road for $12 million last year, and proposes to build a mixed-use residential and commercial complex of 600 units, including a seniors’ residence.

To assuage opponents of the development, the city floated the idea of buying about 0.6 hectares of the southern portion of the site for a park.

The idea was that people in the immediate vicinity would pay for it through a special levy, and would have four months to decide. The deadline is March 31 and any decision would have to be approved by council before that.”

How can the cost of this sliver of land be worth nearly half of what Ashcroft paid for the whole thing? They’re estimating it will cost $5 million.

The Councillor insists that people don’t want to pay a levy. I get that some people might not want to pay a levy but (a) how does she know since there hasn’t been a vote or a meeting about it and (b) is this REALLY the only way the city can control the proposed development on this unique and rare parcel of land?

The whole process for this site has been deeply flawed from the outset. When there were rumours of the land going up for sale the City should have ponied up.

I am sad to think that City may have blown it and blown it good.

Sisters of Visitation Convent - Westboro

(There are more photos online here. Look at the trees that will be lost.)

Did you know that this is the second largest development in the City of Ottawa? It will add over 600 residential units to an area that is already surrounded by newborn condos … each with their own set of people and parking and car woes.

I am sick and tired of the people in wider Ottawa calling us a bunch of NIMBYS, insisting that we’re moaning and groaning about a whole lot of nothing. Nothing can be further from the truth. In my view the vast majority of residents are ok with infill and development. People are not ok with getting stuck in traffic jams as they try to cross their own neighborhoods, their kids getting sideswiped as they try to walk to the (overcrowded) swimming lessons along a residential road that has no sidewalks.

To those who cry NIMBY I say this: would you want to live in the shadow of a monster and then not be able to back out of your own driveway because of the traffic pouring out of it? Would you like to lose what little greenspace is left in your neck of the woods? I think the answer would be no.

Coincidentally, someone emailed me about this yesterday, and I so I’m posting it here with her permission, along with some photos. Read on:

“We are in danger of losing yet another gorgeous historical property to the bulldozers. The city has until March 31st to reach a decision about acquiring a portion of the south end of the site. Yet, nothing seems to be happening.

At the Planning and Environment Committee meeting on Nov. 16, 2010, at which over 40 people showed up to speak and dozens more sent emails opposing Ashcroft’s proposed development, motions were passed putting a hold on developing the rear portion of the property “until Council has considered a report to impose a special rate to permit the acquisition of such land”. We were told that there was $1.3 million in the Kitchissippi cash-in-lieu of parkland fund and the land was probably worth about $3.3 million. The motion allowed for a time period to go out and determine whether there was support for a levy on the ward to come up with the additional funds. However, if the city hasn’t reached a decision by March 31st, 2011, this offer becomes void and Ashcroft can build their original 600 units.

Since then, nothing has been heard by the community at large. The new councillor, Katherine Hobbs, keeps saying the valuation of the property isn’t done yet. Why does it take 3 months to find this out? There have been no ward-wide community meetings to update residents and no attempts to poll the ward about the levy. All these things take time to implement and tabulate so one has to wonder whether there is a deliberate effort to delay the process to make it impossible to meet the March 31st deadline.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the city could buy the whole property as it should have done from the first. What a precious jewel for the whole city to enjoy and for tourists to wonder at – a beautiful serene parkland, unseen by the public for almost 100 years. See the attached photos to understand what we are losing.”

Jennie

What do you think Fishies?

Myself, I would really like the City to hire someone from a third party organization, interview all the people involved, open the books, and tell us what the hell happened, why it happened and make a recommendation about how to fix it and prevent anything like this from happening again. And then I want the City to fix this mess.

I am mad. And I’m hitting the Publish button anyway.

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19 Responses to "The Ashcroft Convent is in the news again"

1 | Jennie

February 9th, 2011 at 12:43 pm

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Wonderful post, Andrea. A lot of us are mad and frustrated that we’re banging our heads against the determined ignorance and deafness at city hall.

The Hampton-Iona Community AGM is on March 2nd at 7pm at Hilson Public School. Katherine Hobbs has agreed to attend, so perhaps this is where the entire community needs to make themselves heard if she is not planning to call a meeting herself.

2 | Kathleen

February 9th, 2011 at 1:08 pm

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Thanks for including the pictures, Andrea. I’ve never seen behind that big wall on Richmond Road to see exactly what beautiful green space and willow trees are at stake here.

3 | binki

February 9th, 2011 at 2:38 pm

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I too am sad (and pissed off) to think that City may have blown it and there’s no hope.

The Developers run City Hall. How about an enquiry into kickbacks?

$6M for a fraction of the land. I hate greedy sleezy Ashcroft.

4 | Lorne Cutler

February 9th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

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Good Post. We need to keep the pressure up.

When representatives of the community associations (Westboro, Hampton Iona, Island Park and Wellington Village) met with Katherine Hobbs in December, we outlined a number of ways of paying for the land. We got feedback at our subsequent meeting with her in January. Here are our proposals and her response.

1) Cash-in-lieu of Parkland Fund – When any new development goes ahead, the developer is required to provide parkland. If they can’t (which most can’t) they have to put cash up instead. A portion goes to a City wide fund and a portion to a ward specific fund. The Ward specific fund is over $1 mln. We proposed that the bulk of the money in the ward fund be used to purchase parkland and that some money from the City fund could also be used given the unique nature of the site next to a recognized historic building. We were told in January, that much of the ward money was needed for a new community centre in the Civic Hospital area. That centre is nowhere near approval, is conceptual at best and if it goes ahead, it will be several years before funding will be required. The money in the cash-in-lieu of parkland fund cannot be used to pay for the studies needed to consider the community centre. We don’t understand why a signficant portion of the community park fund isn’t available to purchase the land at the Convent. It seemed the City also didn’t want to use any of the City fund to purchase land at the Convent because the park might be considered too local. This is not the case of installing a swing set in a small neighbourhood park. This park is to showcase a 100-150 year old unique historic building. If a condo tower on Preston Street can bring in tourists from Italy, a park next to an historic site, should bring in a few people from across Ottawa, especially since Westboro is a shopping mecca. Why isn’t there any mention of any of these park funds being used to purchase land?

2) Future Park Funds – Since it will take several years to develop the site, how about taking a lien on a portion of future money going into the Park Fund, say for 5 years or limit it to development in this part of the ward. At this point, the City has only said that they don’t like this idea.

3) Development Charges – Development charges are about paid by developers for every dwelling unit they put up. They are supposed to cover the cost of the infrastructure required to service the new development. For developments inside the greenbelt, the charge is about $5,500 per apartment (one-bedroom unit) and $7,700 per apartment (>1 bedroom). With Ashcroft proposing to build 600 units, development charges could bring in almost $4 mln. If only 300-400 units were built, we would still get $2-3 mln. in development charges. It will not cost the city anywhere near $3 mln.to provide the needed infrastructure to service the site. Why not use a big chunk of this money to pay for parkland that would service the site and community? Again, the City hasn’t responded to this proposal.

4) Tax Incremental Financing – For those of you familiar with the funding model for Lansdowne, the City said that the stadium wouldn’t cost us anything because the commercial development was going to generate taxes that never existed before and that a portion of those taxes would be used to service the stadium debt. As church land, the convent site has never paid taxes before so any taxes generated by the Ashcroft development are also incremental. With 600 units proposed, the site would generate almost $2 mln. a year in new taxes. If only 300-400 units were built because we actually got parkland, there would still be well over a million dollars a year in new taxes generated from the site. Only a portion of those taxes would be needed to pay for the services required by the site each year. We proposed that the incremental taxes be used to pay for the parkland, the same as the City claims to be doing for Lansdowne. In fact, there is a provincial legal statute that allows the City to officially nominate a development for tax incremental financing and the Province will hand over the education taxes (from the municipal tax bill) to help pay for the community improvement. We have been told that the City Treasurer thinks this is too difficult to implement and doesn’t want to consider it. Even if the City doesn’t formally apply to the Province under the Tax Incremental Financing Act, they can still nominally allocate taxes from the site to pay for the park, just as they have said they are doing for Lansdowne.

5) Community Levy – This seems to be the only option that the city is considering. Unfortunately, the fewer houses that want to sign up for a levy or the more expensive is the land or the more land that can only be acquired by levy (because the City can’t find any other money), the higher the levy will be. Make the levy high enough and nobody will want to pay it. This seems to be the only funding option that the City is promoting, perhaps because they know how high it would be on its own.

As you all may be aware, Ashcroft has a statutory requirement to provide parkland. Ashcroft wanted to provide the cash (with Staff’s agreement), but the Planning Committee insisted on land instead. The City has decided to ask to the land along the east side of the property. This is the land, that Ashcroft is calling the Nuns’ Walk and was never planning to develop. All that the City will achieve by taking this land, is to prevent Ashcroft from fencing it off. Ashcroft can’t develop on it whether the City takes it or not. We expected that the land that the City would take would be parallel to the Byron Park not perpendicular. Silly us for assuming “adjacent” meant really adjacent, not just touching. Then again, when we wrote the Secondary Plan, we thought that “south of the convent” mean all land south of the convent, not just the land bordering the Byron Park.

It it worth observing that it is the Planning Department who appear to be calling the shots on what parkland will be taken and how it will be funded. These are the same people who approved everything that the developer requested, including cash-in-lieu of parkland and a road through the Byron Park (turned down by the Planning Committee). If the City can’t find any money to purchase parkland, and the only land that they take is the Nuns’ Walk, Staff will be able to tell Ashcroft that they will be able to build everything that they asked for. Food for thought and action hopefully.

For more information on the convent, check out http://www.hamptoniona.ca

5 | sara

February 9th, 2011 at 3:04 pm

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Makes my heart ache to see such lost opportunity, and angry at the city for letting this get this far. Its crazy to think the best we can hope for at this point, is to pay to have a small park next to a big, ugly developement.

6 | binki

February 9th, 2011 at 4:55 pm

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After reading Mr Cutler’s post (thank you for that), I think an enquiry of the Planning Department (earlier I said City Hall in general) is required. They set the whole thing up nicely – for Ashcroft. There’s no way out now and Ashcroft gets everything they wanted.

Mayor Watson and Katherine Hobbs – we need you!

7 | lacoop

February 9th, 2011 at 5:51 pm

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Wow! I grew up here and never knew there was such amazing green space behind those walls! And now we are going to lose it. That really is sad. Nice end run by the developers and the city to say ‘sure you can have it back, but we’ll tax the people in the neighbourhood’. Does that mean we will now own that space? Maybe we should have a special levy on all the roads out to Kanata and Barrhaven…and another special levy for all their nice schools…and we could just keep that up. How is it that I pay more taxes for my old house, with no sidewalk, where I don’t use the roads as much (because I am close to most services), than I would for a nice new house, with sidewalks and new roads out in Kanata or Barrhaven? This is a broken system. And they wonder why people are losing faith in the system…because of this type of situation and all the distrust it creates.

8 | coffee with julie

February 10th, 2011 at 10:09 am

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I can feel the deep frustration and disappointment in your words, Andrea. And I completely empathize.

As for being referred to as a NIMBY, I wouldn’t take offense to that. We’re all NIMBYs … of course, we’re going to focus out attention on our own backyards.

Otherwise, you would be writing and up in arms about the gorgeous forest being cut down as a type this in the Beaver Pond area of Kanata (http://www.cbc.ca/canada/ottawa/story/2011/02/01/ottawa-beaver-pond-protest.html) so that Urbandale can build expensive townhomes or the doubling of the size of Manotick village by one single Minto development (see “Mahongany subdivision dispute” on this wiki entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manotick,_Ontario). There are countless examples of big development wins in Ottawa, and it keeps continuing.

It makes me feel like I’m banging my head against a wall just thinking about it all. Properly planned in-fill that will not overpopulate roads and schools IS possible … it just doesn’t bring as much $$ in to a developer.

Okay, I am going to go off and do some deep breathing or something now. ;)

9 | Meghan

February 10th, 2011 at 10:11 am

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I also grew up around the corner from the convent and remember going down the path between the convent and Hilson school. A nun told my friend and I not to go down the path because a lot of homeless people came looking for food etc. We were never encouraged to play in the area and as far as we were concerned it was wasted space.

I still live in the hood and see the changes. I also know that we do have a lot of green space – Hampton Park, Iona Park, Claire Park, the Ottawa River Parkway – and more.

Not sure we are losing green space since we never really had any access to it. The only people that did were the nuns.

I watched the same hoopla over the Loblaws and since then 5 of my family and friends work there and everyone I know shops there. The sleepy westboro is long gone. The new trendy condo laden Westboro is here and I don’t think that is going to change – no matter how upset people get.

10 | Jennie

February 10th, 2011 at 10:14 am

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A small group of us met with Katherine Hobbs today.

She needs to hear from people that they want to acquire the back part of the property as outlined in the PEC motion from November 16th. Send her an email at Katherine.Hobbs@ottawa.ca

She says she hasn’t heard from anyone supporting it yet!

She is supposedly going to hold a community meeting within the next 2 weeks.

Let her know if you are willing to support the levy (and no, it won’t be anywhere near $400 each!!)

Go to our Facebook page “Save the Ottawa Soeurs de la Visitation Convent Site” and post a comment there.

The community is starting to move! We need to do it as we don’t seem to have any support at City Hall.

11 | Down Comforter

February 10th, 2011 at 10:36 am

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This is so ridiculous that the city would let this happen just look how luscious and green it is!

12 | ken

February 10th, 2011 at 12:33 pm

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I agree with most of what you say. Terribly large development.

However, it makes me think;
As seen from the outside, is a beautiful piece of property completely blocked by a ugly wall still a beautiful piece of property or just an ugly wall?

While I don’t like the size of the development I really like the fact that it is being developed. I like the fact they are turning a lost piece of Richmond road into something useful. However I think the developer played a bit of a shell game to get what they want.

Good luck.

14 | andrea

February 10th, 2011 at 1:17 pm

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Ken – I don’t disagree with you. I think we have to be realistic and accept that the site will be developed. In a perfect world they’d tear down the wall, restore the convent and create an amazing parkland for residents to use… but that is a pipe dream.

The least they can do is develop the site in a way that is smart, beautiful, and doesn’t alienate the neighbours in terms of design/traffic etc.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Westboro had a square?

15 | Chrissy

February 10th, 2011 at 6:31 pm

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Wow, this is just crazy. Maybe your NIMBYs in Westboro need to join our NIMBYs in Kanata and support each other’s causes. Our group is looking at exposing the relationship between the developers and the city. Visit our facebook group for more information (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=46087029890) and I’ll share yours with our group. This whole system is in serious need to change. I’m beyond frustrated right now and reading about your fiasco is certainly adding fuel to the fire.

16 | MDC

February 11th, 2011 at 10:36 am

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I agree with Andrea. This site will be developed but it is up to residents to decide how much is developed.

Channel that anger and frustration and eamil Councillor Katherine Hobbs at Katherine.Hobbs@ottawa.ca and Mayor Jim Watson at Jim.Watson@ottawa.ca

These politicians need to hear you’re frustration at the lack of planning that leads to Ottawa’s little bits of paradise being paved over. Even more they need to hear that you support a levy which should come in at under $10 for 20 years. Forego a movie, a couple of coffees, a few ice cream cones and vote to buy a small piece of urban paradise.

MDC

17 | Lorne Cutler

February 11th, 2011 at 10:27 pm

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In my earlier email, I outlined a number of financing options that we suggested to the Councillor. I have just been advised by a City Hall insider, that there is another potential source of financing that we did not know about and one that no one told us about (to be fair to our Councillor, she is probably too new to know about this potential source of funding). That being said, Peter Hume does know about it and never raised it.

It turns out that there was a fund established under the Development Charges to address urban core issues. This fund was established to address the fact that not enough development charges were coming into the inner core, even though so much development was happening in the core. A $6M fund was developed to address this imbalance and can be one of the sources of funds that should be available to us (I don’t know how much is still in this pot). It is in fact money that has already been set aside by the City for such occasion as the need to increase parks space as areas intensify.

Peter Hume has not mentioned this fund even though he chaired the Deveopment Charges sub-committee when this fund was established. I was advised that this is solely a fund for the urban core wards such as Kitchissippi and will not impact on the availability of development funds for the suburbs.

18 | Jennie

February 18th, 2011 at 6:11 pm

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Resident Dennis Van Staalduinen has this to say about the city’s misuse of the levy idea:

I’ve been dismayed at the misinformation, delays, and fudging coming from our councillor’s office. But particularly as someone who helped spearheaded a special levy campaign 3 years ago with the foundation of the Wellington West Business Improvement Area, I see a HUGE disconnect between my reading of how levies are applied and how Katherine Hobbs et al. are explaining their case.

BOTTOM LINE: WE NEED TO CHALLENGE KH ON HER ASSERTION THAT YOU NEED EXPLICIT CONSENT TO IMPOSE A LEVY!!!

It’s simply not the way it works; it’s a levy not a referendum. If every levy required “I support a levy of $X/year for Y years” then there would never be a levy for anything – and if that’s how she’s positioning this one, we are doomed to failure and your door-to-door canvassing will not work.

Here’s how it worked when forming a Business Improvement Area (and I was one of the founders of the Wellington West BIA):

1) BUDGET: You start by setting the budget total
(In our case, that would be the value of the convent lands – the figure we SHOULD ALREADY HAVE.. but even if we assume the widely bandied-about figure of $5 Million, we can use that as a worst-case starting point.)

2) AREA: You figure out what the total area of coverage will be, with an eye to keeping the rate DOWN for each ratepayer meaning you need to cover as large an area as makes sense – because of course the bigger the area, the lower the rate.
(in our case: the easiest and most sensible area of coverage is the whole ward. As soon as you try to identify a smaller area, you get hopelessly lost in the weeds… clear boundaries are paramount.)

3) RATE PER PROPERTY: Then the city divides that budget among all properties in the area based on their percentage of the total assessed value of all properties – so a small store at .04% of total value might pay $40 / year while a massive grocery store at .5% might pay $500/y.
(In our case, I think it would be applied to both residential and commercial – which is good news for lower rate/payer and should be easy for the city to figure out for the whole ward (they use the same figures for taxes) BUT very difficult when you gerrymander your own lines on the map. SO BASICALLY, I’M SURE THE DELAY IS BECAUSE OF KH’s INSISTENCE THAT WE LOOK AT A SMALLER AREA!)

4) ONUS IS ON THOSE OPPOSED TO SPEAK UP: The city sends out notices to all property owners informing them of their assessed portion of the levy and giving them a period in which to respond IF THEY OBJECT. That is, it is a NEGATIVE BILLING SCENARIO. This puts the onus on the “No” forces and takes pressure off the “For” camp.

In all four cases, KH seems to either be ignorant of the rules or – to be less charitable – playing games.

1) TOTAL NUMBER: We need the assessed value NOW. With that number, you can easily figure out an average cost per household and do a rough minimum / maximum for a small versus big property. THAT’S ALL YOU NEED TO INFORM THE PUBLIC OF.
2) WHOLE WARD: We need to insist on getting the numbers on the whole ward ASAP. The smaller area is a red herring. Using KH’s approach, we will never even have that option.
3) RATE PER PROPERTY: We need to work on keeping this DOWN – and if KH were actually interested in helping, she would be doing just that.
4) MAKE PEOPLE OPT-OUT NOT OPT IN: we will almost certainly win if we force nay-sayers to organize a contra campaign. Justy a surely. WE WILL LOSE IF WE NEED TO GET A MAJORITY OF PEOPLE OFF THEIR BUTTS TO SAY “I WANT TO PAY!” It just won’t happen.

19 | Jennie

February 24th, 2011 at 10:36 pm

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Here is an important website to express your support for saving this heritage garden:

http://www.conventgarden.ca

It has pictures, the background history of the site (dating back to mid-1800s), and a letter to send to all the city councillors and the mayor to show support for acquiring this precious piece of land for the city.

“Ottawa has the unique opportunity to purchase a portion of the grounds of the former convent site at 114 Richmond Road.
This is an established heritage garden with lawns and mature trees. Steps from local amenities and attached to a pedestrian and cycle corridor, it would be a perfect destination to meet friends, enjoy lunch outdoors, or take a peaceful break.
Similar to the Arboretum in style, but with views of the heritageconvent building, the Convent Garden could be a gem for Kitchissippi and all of Ottawa.
The purchase may require a modest ward-wide property tax levy, estimated to be on the order of $20/year for 20 years for the average Kitchissippi residence.
The levy would go away, but the garden would remain for generations to enjoy.”

Councillor Hobbs is inviting residents to have their say on the possible purchase of parkland at the former Les Soeurs de la Visitation site. The meetings are scheduled as follows:

* March 1, 2011 (Tuesday)
7 – 9 P.M.
Hintonburg Community Centre
1064 Wellington Street West

* March 2, 2011 (Wednesday)
7:30 – 9 P.M.
Broadview Public School
590 Broadview Ave.

* March 5, 2011 (Saturday)
3 – 5 P.M.
Churchill Seniors Recreation Centre
345 Richmond Rd.

* March 6, 2011 (Sunday)
3 – 5 P.M.
Ottawa Civic Hospital
Amphitheatre (Main building access from Ruskin St.)

* March 6, 2011 (Sunday)
7 – 9 P.M.
Champlain Park
140 Carleton (Field House)

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