Over 100 people gathered at Danceland in Manitou Beach to ask questions and express concerns about recent circumstances concerning the resort village, The key focus was the recent announcement of the Oasis Village Project’s migration to Watrous from the originally proposed Beach site. Also on people’s minds were the fate of the iconic drive-in theatre, one of the last in the province. Concern was also expressed about a pair of recent bylaws, one requiring Criminal Record Checks for all civic volunteers, and one establishing rates for use of public park spaces.
Organizers stated that the Village Council had been invited to attend the meeting; none were noted in attendance.
While one or two residents questioned the propriety of the meeting, most were there simply seeking answers. The evening was moderated by Cheryl Hanson, village resident. The meeting was organized by an ad hoc group of citizens, and the attendance reflected the widespread malaise.
Responding to questions about the relocation of the Oasis Village to Watrous was spearhead Michael Byrne. Byrne says that long term negotiations with the Village Council simply did not prove fruitful. Stakeholders responded to an inquiry from the Town of Watrous, and town representatives were able to complete a preliminary agreement with developers of the 80 unit residential complex in short order. The fate of the intended holistic wellness centre, now called Phase 2, is on hold while plans are made to either integrate it with the living facility or approach Manitou Beach again about its presence there, explained Byrne in a post-meeting interview.
“We came to the point that it was not feasible or possible to continue the project at this time in Manitou Beach. We were approached by the Town of Watrous to consider a retirement residence facility with an assisted living component to it. That’s where the Phase 1-Phase 2 language came in. It was all under one umbrella. Now we’re dividing it into two with the hopes that someday in Manitou Beach that we would focus on a health/wellness retreat facility.“
Maintaining necessary confidentiality around the negotiations, Byrne simply noted that the hurdles could not be overcome and that a search for alternatives became necessary.
“It’s a complicated question. There were challenges around infrastructure and the funding of a service agreement. We were just unable to come to a workable solution with the current council.”
Byrne said that Watrous has been very receptive, and the same infrastructure challenges were not a concern in the community neighbouring Manitou Beach. Byrne noted that there were inherent differences in working with a council that had considerably more experience.
Following the early closure of the Manitou Beach Drive-In last summer due to issues with the projector, attendees were curious about the status of the attraction. The Village owns the theatre and its equipment, and it seeks independent contractors to operate the facility under a revenue agreement. Since the evident departure of the last operator, residents sought assurances that Village Council had taken initiative to put out a call for a new operator. Residents expressed concern that what’s proven to be a popular attraction and summer staple may have seen its last days.
Additionally, organizers brought up a pair of recently passed bylaws that they say act as deterrents for recreation and tourism. The demand that all civic volunteers, including those not on committees or in charge of handling money, secure a Criminal Record Check is resulting in fewer volunteers showing up. As well, the rates set for use of public space in the village for private events such as weddings are subject to fees that are cost prohibitive, organizers contended.
In the end, longtime resident Lionel Sproule stepped to the mike for a summation statement that garnered applause. Sproule is the two-time past president of the Saskatchewan Tourism Association and connected to the community through his family’s ownership of the Chalet Pool and various businesses in the village. He attributed a vibrant tourist trade in having created the facilities at the Beach. Sproule is a shareholder in the Oasis Village venture.
He decried the idea that Manitou Beach is a “sleepy little village” without a potential for dynamic growth and development.
“We’ve got a hundred sleepy little villages, we’ve got thousands of them in the country. If you want one, go find it - but it’s not here.”
Michael Byrne called on the Village Council to make a choice in determining their vision for the community going forward.
“We came to the realization as we worked through this that there is a division in Manitou Beach. There are those who see it as a ‘sleepy little village’, and maybe a bedroom community to Watrous. So development is not welcome; there’s no appreciation for tourism or desire for tourism. And that’s ok. On the other side, there is a camp that wants to see economic development and supports to tourism, which would contribute to a vibrant and growing community. Really the village and its elected officials are going to have to determine what the vision is for Manitou Beach.
At the end of the meeting, attendees were presented the option of signing petitions - one demanding a meeting with Village Council, the other demanding its resignation. `
For her part, Manitou Beach Mayor Poppy Peterson responded to a request for comment with an email where she acknowledged the right of any group of ratepayers to petition for a public information meeting.
In the email, she concluded, “I will add that our council makes our monthly board meetings available in real time through zoom. Minutes are posted on our website soon after that. We were always planning an informational meeting after our upcoming civic byelection. Our last public information meeting was in august 2022, and councillors willingly make their email addresses available to any ratepayers that may have questions. Our decision to not attend last night's meeting came from councillor availability and village confidentiality. If Health Haven Holdings truly wants to open up the contents of the proposed Service Agreement, they have to do so in written form to the village office. Only then are councillors and our village administrator able to speak to this. Again, once I am able to see the recorded minutes of January 25th I am very willing to speak to them.”