“I think each
municipality is going to face this over the next few years.”
– TOM CARTER, RESEARCH CHAIR IN URBAN CHANGE AND ADAPTATION, UNIVERSITY OF Winnipeg
ALac du Bonnet-area family whose municipality is letting them keep a small backyard poultry flock in contravention of local bylaws say their council should change the rules so it’s not against the law to grow your own food.
Allison and Jeremy Maki live on a one-acre lot in a part of the R. M. of Lac du Bonnet zoned “seasonal residential.” Over the past decade the couple has converted most of their yard to garden and this year added 13 laying hens and a rooster.
They’re just trying to live a greener lifestyle by raising more of their own food, said Allison, who works as a health-care aide in the town of Lac du Bonnet. “And we have a huge yard,” she added.
But the appearance of their property – and the poultry – didn’t impress their bylaw enforcement officer this fall. He recently sent the Makis a letter ordering them to clean the place up and to get rid of their birds.
Their council has since said they can keep their chickens and even apologized for what happened, but that hasn’t really resolved matters for the longer term, said Allison. “They said if somebody complains we’ll have to get rid of them,” she said.
Their year-round neighbours don’t have a problem with their small flock “but if a cottager drives by and doesn’t like the fact we have chickens, they can easily complain and then we’ll have to get rid of them,” he said.
A better thing for their R. M. to do would be to change the bylaw so no one is prohibited from keeping poultry, say the Makis.
“I think it’s the right of people to raise their own food… you shouldn’t have to ask permission,” said Jeremy, who wasn’t impressed last week to learn his council appears to not want to deal with the issue further.
The R. M. apparently rejected an offer from the Green Party of Manitoba to line them up with a lawyer to reduce legal costs to change the bylaw.
Calls to the reeve of the R. M. of Lac du Bonnet for comment were not returned last week.
It’s an issue more municipalities will find themselves dealing with in future, predicts Tom Carter, the Canada Research Chair in urban change and adaptation and a professor of geography at the University of Winnipeg.
The public’s increasing interest in local food, and in growing more of it themselves, is bound to challenge councils everywhere to rethink their bylaws around keeping of small livestock and urban agriculture in general, says Carter.
Major urban centres like Vancouver, for example, have already delved into this one, he notes. This past March Vancouver city council voted unanimously to change city bylaws to legalize the keeping of backyard hens.
“I think each municipality is going to face this over the next few years,” he said. “In the rural municipalities that contain urban settlements, and where usually you do have larger lots, there may be more pressure to implement this sort of thing.”
Zoning livestock out of residential areas began after the Second World War, but it wasn’t uncommon, even into the 1960s, for people in towns and even cities to keep poultry in their backyards, Carter notes.
Backyard poultry flocks in town eventually disappeared because they came to be seen
as a nuisance and a health risk “which I doubt was justified,” Carter adds.
He’s putting his money on bylaws changing again to allow once more. Environmental and food security issues and growing interest in urban agriculture will all contribute to a push from the public for it, he says.
Many do have space on their property for that sort of thing, adds Jino Distasio, director of the Institute of Urban Studies at University of Winnipeg. In suburbia, it’s not uncommon now to see lots of an acre in size, he said.
“So, we’re back to an interesting time here,” Distasio said. “Are municipalities going to, in some way, go back in time and allow these activities again?”