Jane Pepino Declares War on Thundering Waters Forest, Dr. John Bacher

An orginal article by Dr. John Bacher:

May 26, 2018

Jane Pepino Declares War on Thundering Waters Forest
Dr. John Bacher

In a lengthy summation argument just before the Niagara Falls City Council by an eight to two vote approved a 120 acre development called “Riverfront” in Niagara Falls’ over 500 acre Thundering Waters Forests, a surprising revelation was made. The was repeated twice by the solicitor for the development corporation that seeks to replace the diverse natural Carolinian forests with urban development, Jane Pepino.

Pepino twice repeated the mantra of destruction for the demise of Thundering Waters Forest. The forest, now largely a protected wetland, is home to three species of endangered bats and the Endangered Barn Swallow. It is also a haven for Species at Risk such as the Wood Thrush, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Snapping Turtle and Midland Painted Turtle.

While the Niagara Falls Planning Department Alex Herlovitch stressed the control his 27 conditions over Riverfront Pepino made it clear that her client, GR Canada Limited ha s bigger ambitions. Twice in her presentation she told City Council that the current proposal would be followed by what she termed a “Phase Two” development proposal.

Before Pepino’s concluding remarks Owen Borjen a biologist and film maker had earlier expressed concern that the harmful ecological impact of the Riverfront development would encourage through triggering species loss, additional development. This is because through drainage, reduction of the size of habitat blocks, and encouragement of inbreeding there might occur species loss on lands which are now protected wetlands. Such species loss could then trigger wetland Down Rating, causing more land in the Thundering Waters Forest to be opened up for development.

Borgen also spoke on how toxic contaminants which around the proposed development could trigger species loss. He told City Council that he found this most disturbing as a result of the reaction to GR Canada to his proposal to do a trash clean up around the perimeter of the Thundering Waters Forest.

Owen Borgen complained that City Council must have shared his request for their participation with GR Canada which triggered a hostile response. He received a letter from GR Canada’s lawyers indicating that if he actually carried out a perimeter trash clean up that he would be arrested and subjected to a $10,000 fine.

Borgen complained to council that the threats against him by GR Canada’s legal team was especially inappropriate in view of the illegal activity that he has seen frequently on site. “The threats against me came at a time when nothing is being done against the various illegal activities that I have witnessed. These include illegal dumping, wildlife poaching and damage by all terrain vehicles.”

Trash problems around the edge of the forest were used frequently by City Councillors who supported the GR Canada development to justify their votes. Such arguments were bolstered by their manipulative use of testimony by a Professor of Biology, Miram Richards. She commented on the amazing diversity of wildlife such as vital pollinating insects such as bees found even in areas where dumping had taken place. Councillors seized upon this honest argument of awe with the forest to justify its destruction.

Impressive arguments for the defence of Thundering Waters were made by a Niagara Falls conservationist, Linda Manson. She read from a recently published Appendix to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of GR Canada’s Ecological consultants Savanta. He contained page after page of comments where Savanta clashed with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) over the Riverfront development. She repeated MNRF’s comments that the protection of wetlands has to be based on existing policies, not “evolving” ones, such as bio-diversity offsetting.

Attention to comments by MRNF were also made by two councillors that voted against the Riverfront proposal Wayne Campbell and Carolynn Ioannoni. Councillor Ioannoni stressed a MNRF letter of April 20, 2018 by Tara McKenna District Planner for MNRF that the EIS which is supposed to guide the development of provincially significant forests and wildlife habitat on the site is still incomplete. Their comments were reinforced by one of the public speakers, Daniel Nardone, who stressed the need of a Peer Review of Savanta’s work.

The contempt for the concerns of the public regarding the need to protect endangered species was well summed up by the views of councillor Wayne Thompson, a former Mayor of Niagara Falls. One of the reasons that MNRF has been so determined to protect the Thundering Waters Forest is their conviction that it is an important refuge for Endangered bat species. To this concern Thompson replied that while he worked in Public Health he was heavily concerned with killing bats.


Willful Blindness by Dr. John Bacher

An orginal article by Dr. John Bacher:

April 18, 2018

Willful Blindness
Dr. John Bacher

There is now a push by GR Canada Limited by get approval for “The Riverfront Community”, in the heart of rare and ecologically diverse Carolinian wildlife habitat in Niagara Falls. This threatened life zone has come to be known through a decade of struggle to rescue it from backhoes as the Thundering Waters Forest.

GR Canada is focused now on a May 8 Public Meeting under the Planning Act. This spectacle is expected to trigger a few weeks later an approval by Niagara Falls City Council of Amendment 117 of their official plan.

GR Canada’s “expert” advisors are seeking to prove that 11.6 hectares of what are now defined as Environmental Conservation Areas, (ECAs) are dead and dying forests. They claim these ECA forests mapped over a decade ago by the Niagara Region have become dominated by dead and and dying Green Ash trees, and Buckthorn. Savanata, GR Canada’s ecological consultants, claim that the ECA lands free of the Buckthorn blight are so tiny in scale that they cannot be mapped.

Savanta is so blind to anything but ash and buckthorn that it cannot make exceptions for ECA lands that have been identified as a Bat Mater Colony. There are three Endangered Bat species, which the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MRNF) believe may root here. The right type of locations need to be selected so that the sound based (acoustic) instruments can record bats during their short roosting period from June 1 to June 30th. Bats require forests of mature or dead trees, notably oak, hickory and maple. They also benefit from oak lives. Ash trees do not assist in their roosting.

GR Canada is seeking to rush for approval before the bat studies are undertaken within Riverfront. Its consultants, the Niagara Planning Group, says that if the bats are found after Amendment 117 is approved the impacted areas can be protected through a Holding Zoning designation.

The ECA Polygon where bats may roost is termed Polygon B, (FOD7-3). Savanta’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) indicates that such designations are living deciduous (leafy) forests. The term FOD means Fresh (dry, or non-wetland) Forests. While not mapped as a viable ECA area by Savanata its own test plots here for forest health reveal Polygon B is thriving. Here test plot Number 14 is given a green dot- the symbol of a healthy forest.

Savanta’s willful blindness has impaired its sight to be unable to see the oak, hickories and maples among the dead ash and living buckthorn. It admits there are healthy Cottonwood and Sliver Maple dominated forests on other ECA lands. I saw such forests near a sinkhole where a brook flows underground just outside Riverfront’s boundaries. Above it soars a tall Eastern Cottonwood. While withdrawn from Riverfront after the sinkhole’s discovery, these lands, vulnerable to collapse and ground water pollution, are still proposed through arrows in Amendment 117’s land use schedule for a future road.

GR Canada is pushing for a public meeting before MNRF is scheduled to undertake three wetland evaluations in the summer. These wetlands are proposed by Amendment 117 as the site of a future collector road, residential development and “mixed use”. (ie. potential shopping center)

The Public Meeting will also be held before the permitting process is conducted for an Endangered Species which has summer roosting habitat in Riverfront, the Barn Swallow. It thrives on the insect rich Hawthorn dominated lands which occupy most of the land within Riverfront. Unlike surrounding farmlands, these Hawthorn fields have not been poisoned by agricultural chemicals, fatal to Barn Swallows. If the amendment is approved before the permitting process is completed this unusual Hawthorn habitat be be eliminated through the “authorized destruction” provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

With the planned Public Meeting not having the needed information to inform the public on what Riverfront may do-let us pray that it will be canceled by Niagara Falls Council until further notice.

The Challenge of Greening Hamilton: Building on Past Legacies of Eco-Justice, Dr. John Bacher

An original article:

March 29, 2018

The Challenge of Greening Hamilton: Building on Past Legacies of Eco-Justice
Two very different planning process went on in Hamilton during the 1950s: nature was protected in West Hamilton while being systematically destroyed in Central and East Hamilton.
John Bacher

In response to my recent essay on rioting in Hamilton as a negative response to nature deficit disorder, I received a private response advising me about two positive greening projects in central Hamilton that are worth considering in more detail.

These involved two paper projects – the Gage Park Master Plan and stormwater management on Ottawa street – which have not yet been realized. Understanding this situation points to the reality that those in power have created a situation where east end and central Hamilton are trapped in a nature deficit.

Hamilton’s nature deficit disorder is based on similar elements of class oppression that have been recognized by urban geographers and historians around the world.

The term “east end”, describes a ghetto for those with limited financial means. They essentially cannot afford to live in the luxury of having wildlife friends, such as singing blue jays and colourful Hummingbirds around them.

This is a reality shaped by prevailing winds that disperse industrial pollutants to the east.

And it continues to this day. A terrible scheme seeking to make Hamilton the garbage-building capital of the Great Lakes was only stopped on July 22, 2017.

The slowness of paper greening schemes to come to reality in central and east Hamilton is expressive of harsh reality, shaped by narrow class oppression myopia and political corruption. Nature deficit is caused by what political scientists who value social solidarity call democratic deficit. The way out of it is to get more people involved in the democratic political process.

In this regards, Hamilton can learn much from past heroes, such as a former Mayor Sam Lawrence, his close friends and park advocate, Thomas McQuesten, and a sadly obscure artist, Murray Thomson.

Gage Park and Ottawa Street North
One paper project that shows the crawling pace of change is the Hamilton’s long-term plan for Gage Park. It was approved in 2010 after five years of consultations. Eight years later, nothing has come out of the more innovative aspects of this plan, which would help in restoring vanished natural diversity.

The Gage Park Master plan calls for bio-swales in the park’s parking lot. Good idea, but where are they eight years later?

Another fine aspect of the Gage Park master plan is “introducing maintained meadow” as part of “a reduced lawn care program.” Where are such naturalized meadows today?

The Gage Park Master plan apart from has a protection on cheap approach towards the Niagara Escarpment. It properly prevents the construction of any buildings Gage Park that would block vistas of the Escarpment. At a time of strained park budgets, however, such risks are remote.

The plan ignores pricy measures such as building an eco-passage bridge that would actually allow rabbits and hikers to connect to Gage Park without the fear of being hit by a train or truck.

Another paper project which has yet to be realized is an award winning design for bio-swales on Ottawa Street North around Argyle and Edinburgh streets. This green blessing is essentially a much-needed windfall from the corporate philanthropy of the pharmaceutical retailer, Rexall. It has plans for a new outlet here.

The rezonings needed for the Rexall development were approved three years ago.

‘Utopian Days’
To understand what can be done beyond the slow-moving paper promises, it is helpful to go to a time which the great Canadian philosopher, George Grant, who spent his most productive thinking time in Hamilton, termed the “Utopian Days.”

During these Utopian days, the great Stelco strike of 1946 laid the basis for collective bargaining in Canada. It was a time when there was no democratic deficit – mobilization in political struggle was at its peak.

Sam Lawrence was Hamilton’s Mayor during the Utopian Days. Lawrence was part of a CCF slate that controlled City Council. He refused to call upon the army to break the Stelco strike, saying he was a labour man first, chief magistrate second.

At the same time, Thomas McQuesten served on the boards of the Hamilton Parks Commission and Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) board. This was also the most creative time for the Hamilton artist, Murray Thomson, who was a Westinghouse production worker. He also organized an artists’ union.

Woodlands Park
Thomson was the product of the greatest cultural hubs of Hamilton, Woodlands Park. Dubbed “The People’s Park”, its giant shady tress were once part of an old growth forest called Land’s Bush.

Union workers assembling at Woodlands Park (Image Credit: Workers’ City)

Located next to the Westinghouse factory, the six acre park was a venue for political discussions and protests. Some of the demonstrations there were frequently broken up by firemen and police in violation of Democratic norms. This “People’s Park” was the start of a 10,000 march to Stelco at the peak of the 1946 strike.

What most distinguished the strike of 1946 was the artistic flair of the marchers who gathered in Woodlands Park. The marchers were led by Thomson, disguised in a masked effigy of the reactionary Conservative party politician, Nora Francis Henderson. Other masked marchers were linked arm and arm as the Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, and a notorious capitalist called “Old Iron Jaw Hilton.”

While union rights triumphed in 1946 and as Thomson banner’s proclaimed labour did “knock out” their political foes, changes after 1946 were negative for central and east end Hamilton. This was during a time when McQuesten had died and Lawrence began a slow retirement from politics.

It was a downhill time for Hamilton’s Centre and east end. No new nature parks blessed the city. Instead, homes were bulldozed for an asphalt sea of parking lots, many of which were subsidized by massive “urban renewal” schemes paid for by the federal government.

Slumming by Design
The efforts to try to turn much of Hamilton into a giant slum was vividly witnessed by the demise of Woodlands Park as a cultural hub. This was accomplished through the uprooting of its majestic trees. Its landscape was converted to treeless aesthetic fields which still dominate the park. According to labour activists such as Bert McClure, this mutilation was done to prevent large-scale gatherings from being held there.

Woodlands Park with Westinghouse building in background (Image Credit: Jason Nason)

When plans emerged that would eventually mutilate King’s Forest Park for the Red Hill Creek expressway in the 1950s there was a very different approach taken in West end Hamilton moreover. This west end extended into the entire Halton region and to much of the adjacent lakeshore landscape of Peel.

I got a sense of the basic divisions between the West end and East end of Hamilton, when walking with Don McLean and other foes of the Red Hill Creek expressway to Toronto.

When we got to the Burlington side of the beach, we met an affluent businessman from this community. He told us why he supported the Red Hill Creek expressway but opposed the Mid-Peninsula Expressway in his home town.

Essentially, he wanted pollution to stay in the east end, away from his friends, employees and family. Fumes from east end Hamilton for the Red Hill Creek expressway would be blown away by the prevailing winds and not choke his loved ones.

Central Hamilton Under Attack
Two very different planning process went on in Hamilton during the 1950s. Downtown Hamilton became marred by one-way street expressways. This doomed an attempt at a small enclave of civility, Hess Village.

Victorian Hamilton neighbourhoods based on transit were pulverized by the demands of the automobile. New industrial areas in the east end around Stoney Creek had no aesthetic embellishments, such as trees or ponds.

Similarly, it is not surprising that the air of the east end would be toxified by the ill-fated but mercifully short-lived SWARU municipal garbage incinerator. The fumes it belched out made Hamilton’s steel mills look like green wonders of design.

To this day, the Hamilton Port Authority continues its mad incineration mania, seeking to have garbage from throughout the Great Lakes region shipped in by lake freighters.

Different Planning Approach
An entirely different approach took place in the west end Hamilton, Burlington, and Oakville. Here there was a determination that even oil refineries should be built in a way that was in harmony with nature. This succeeded to a remarkable degree. The oil refineries were built with careful buffers, including complete forests, some of which provided a refuge for the endangered Red Headed Woodpeckers.

Halton Region and Peel along the lakeshore may be the only area in the world where the homes of the one percent are adjacent to oil refineries. Here the grounds of petroleum refineries are also refuges for deer and rare woodpeckers. There is no nature deficit in Halton Region, despair its plethora of heavy industry. This green pattern is clear all along the Lake Ontario lakeshore, with massive forests lining oil refineries as far as Port Credit.

Efforts to wipe out the legacy of the green planning in the west have led to protests and political organizing. This has resulted in municipal councils being controlled by the Green Party of Canada, through its regional affiliate, Halton Greens.

A critical aspect of its organizing was a campaign against the development for residential purposes of a former oil refinery buffer in Oakville on Lake Ontario, Shell Park. This political mobilization to defend the green legacy of the good planning of the past ended the democratic deficit that had allowed paving interests to dominate municipal councils in Halton.

Art Crawls Through Ugliness
Think tanks such as the Hamilton Institute are right to criticize art crawls which are disconnected from the broader landscapes. Art crawls through ugliness don’t make sense.

The Pollution Crawl that helped stop schemes for making Hamilton the garbage-burning capital of the Great Lakes is helpful in showing how crawls can seek to restore beauty to our landscape. Sherman Inlet in Hamilton Harbour was to have been the site for a garbage-burning facility.

It is to be hoped that its restoration will be on a bigger scale than anticipated and that more of the buried river will be exposed and brought back to life.

Cleaning up the polluted legacy of the past is difficult for Hamilton to finance, with the decades-long struggle to clean up Randall’s Reef being a vivid example. Past Pollution Crawls can be morphed into restoration crawls, on the scale of the artistic marches that were launched from Woodlands Park in 1946.


John Bacher is the Chair of the Sierra Club, Ontario Chapter. He is a member of the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) and sits on the steering committee of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance.



Sinkhole discovery In Thundering Waters Forest, Dr. John Bacher

Another original article:

March 25, 2018

Sinkhole discovery In Thundering Waters Forest
Dr. John Bacher

Since 2008 there has been a major battle to protect a 483 acre of diverse native Carolinian habitats in the City of Niagara Falls, well known as the Thundering Waters Forest. Most of these threatened lands have as a result of ecological field work stemming from a mediated Ontario Municipal Board negotiation in 2008, which provided for site access for provincial wetland evaluators, become protected wetlands.

In October 2017 there was announced a smaller 120 acre version of the development proposal, which became known as the Riverfront Community. Most of this is proposed to be built on lands which are not protected wetlands, although the developer has proposed to have some areas reviewed for a Down Rating process based on field observations. Sadly, one of these nine areas, Wetland Number One, has already been Down Rated. This was on the basis of a field investigation which revealed two blocks of concrete that were thought to show human origins of the wetland area. They may have been bridges over a now vanished stream that flowed here Warren Creek.

Google map of Sinkhole location. Robert Hillier.

One of the worst aspects of Riverfront is a proposal for a road in between two blocks of protected wetland. It is half way between the northern edge of the development and the Welland River, it would make wildlife movement very dangerous between what would become two fragmented blocks of now intact forest. In Figure 11 of an Environmental Impact Study, (EIS) by Savanta, it is labeled as “Potential Impact” area 5″.

Page 38 of the EIS warns that, “Impact area 5 is a barrier to the connectivity for reptiles and amphibians moving from the Welland River, internally through the subject land.” This is a polite warning by developer paid ecologists of impending wildlife slaughter.

From walking through the tiny gap between two blocks of protected wetlands where the east west road through the heart of the Thundering Waters Forest like a dagger is planned, I soon discovered why it is not classified as a wetland. To be considered a wetland at least 51 per cent of the plant species present must be those that favour wet conditions.

The gap in the continually forested landscape of protective wetland designations is caused by a significant hydro geological feature. The proposed east west road’s vulnerable dry forest not a protected wetland because it is a well drained Sinkhole. Here water flows straight into the ground.

While there are a lot of wetland species in the Sinkhole, notably the majestic and here quite tall Eastern Cottonwood, they do not dominate the dry forest. The water loving Cottonwoods tend to cling to the brook that empties into the Sinkhole, while drier plant species cling to its highly elevated slopes.

Brook running into Sinkhole. Photo by Robert Hillier.

My friend Martin Munoz and I discovered the Sinkhole when we were looking for significant ecological features, being shocked into action by the threat of wetland Down Rating. After gliding over frozen Pin Oak lined vernal pools and seeing beautiful mushrooms and fungus growing out of ancient trees, we were startled to hear running water. Understanding that there was an unknown brook nearby we headed in the direction of the happy, babbling melody. We first encountered two small ravines, which joined and later crept into a deeper pit. At the bottom of a twenty metre sink, we saw the brook go underground, above a tall Eastern Cottonwood Tree. Some of its roots were exposed by the running water.

Eastern cottonwood tree over Sinkhole. Photo by Martin Munoz.

The magical scene Martin and I witnessed was identical to moving videos of the Eramosa Karsts sinkholes, made by the accomplished cave explorer, Michael Gordon. His work has greatly contributed to the need to protect Sinkholes, underground streams, caves and other features of Karst, (limestone and dolomite) formations to protect ground water.

(l) to (r): Sinkhole, Brook into Sinkhole, Martin Munoz and John Bacher, Photo by Robert Hillier.

In Hamilton south of the Niagara Escarpment Gordon’s opening up of caves once plugged by car parts leaking poisons helped to rescue what is now the Eramosa Karts Conservation Area from being paved over. One of the first stages of this process was to have the area designated by then Ministry of Natural Resources as an Earth Science Area of Natural and Scientific Interest. (ANSI)

One of the reasons for the establishment of Earth Science ANSI features is just so that people can understand and appreciate the wonders of geology. The experience that Martin and I had in Thundering Waters seeing a brook flow underground is one of these. People may read about elements of hydrology such as base flow from underground streams in high school text books, but the lessons are easily forgotten. They are seen vividly when streams flow down into the earth into an underground river.

While many people identify Karst formations with the rocky, Dolomite domed Niagara Escarpment, they also lie below extensive overburden of clay or sand soils. This describes the situation of the landscape of the defeated Dufferin County mega quarry, which is the best place in Canada to grow potatoes. Here Danny Beaton and I viewed the impact of the Karst fed drainage discharge that created conditions for the cold water stream in which we saw Brook Trout lead put of the river. At Thundering Waters under 20 meters of Welland Clay laid down by the vanished Lake Tonawanda is the porous dolomite which nourishes ground water. The collapse sink hole cut through the clay letting water replenish ground water through exposing the Karst rock.

Karst areas should be protected from development for a number of reasons. It is dangerous to build over them since these lands being vulnerable to erosion are prone to collapse. The planned expansion of Smithville was recently curtailed in part because of such features. The risk of collapse are increased near areas such as Thundering Waters by the soon to be retired power canal where excavation has brought ground water discharge. It is equally important that Kart area’s role continue to nourish underground aquifers that supply the ground water that keep streams alive in the summer time. This function will become even more important because of the drier summers expected in Niagara as a result of climate change.

While the Riverfront development is wrong in any shape or form, the worst aspect of it is the attempt to carve a road through the middle of a predominately old growth forest. The eastern edge of the development, if permitted at all, should be serviced separately through roads which do not cut up ancient woodlands.

While the term Thundering Waters based on the raging torrents of the Niagara River has put the its name into the hearts of others, the softer sounds of the brook flowing underground may appeal to our heads. It teaches that the water that nourishes our streams at their driest and most vulnerable moments, wells up from deep within the earth, from rocks that are normally invisible to our eyes.

Overcoming Central Hamilton’s Nature Deficit Disorder by Dr. John Bacher

Dr. Bacher on Hamilton:

Raise the Hammer
March 20, 2018

Overcoming Central Hamilton’s Nature Deficit Disorder
Dr. John Bacher

The absence of singing birds, frog choruses, forests and wetlands in downtown Hamilton contributes to negative rage, boredom and hatred. Such hellish conditions give vent in nihilistic rock-throwing.

The recent riot in central Hamilton has reminded me of a problem I learned when struggling against the Red Hill Creek expressway. This is that central Hamilton suffers from a nature deficit disorder.

Smashed window from Locke Street Riot (RTH file photo)

The absence of singing birds, frog choruses, forests and wetlands in downtown Hamilton contributes to negative rage, boredom and hatred. Such hellish conditions give vent in nihilistic rock-throwing.

While the slogans may be “f* the rich” or a “purely negative approach” toward gentrification and development, these ideas in themselves do not cause riots, vandalism and graffiti. What causes such anger is living in a bleak prison of concrete.

When we campaigned to save the Red Hill valley from a paving blight, a strange bit of analysis came through. Most of us were from the west end of the City, blessed by the wild forested wonders of the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG). Those who were not from the west end tended to be residents in the east end who lived near the expressway’s path.

Tree canopy in southwest Hamilton (RTH file photo)

Hardly any Nature to Love
There was virtually no representation of expressway fighters from central Hamilton. Here we concluded that nobody could love nature, since there was so precious little wildlife to cherish.

Petty parks of central Hamilton, such as Durand Park, the starting position of the riot, likely have toxins in their soils caused by decades of poisonous weed killer applications.

Even the best of them, Gage Park, is still not connected to the nearby Niagara Escarpment. Why not have a bio-bridge over the rail tracks and some patches of ponds, vernal pools and forests to bring this 1920s wonder up to greener standards?

Gage Park (RTH file photo)

Much of our analysis was based on a careful study of how nature in central Hamilton got buried alive. Between Cootes Paradise protected entirely by the RBG there were eleven rivers that were buried. Some of these can be seen in the inlets in Hamilton’s industrial waterfront.

Sadly, all of the activism to correct this situation are in the west end. There is an effort to daylight a stream buried by a parking lot in Ancaster, and to restore what had been the RBG’s Coldspring Nature Sanctuary. The former sanctuary was paved over in the 1960s by McMaster University for a parking lot.

While Hamilton has created ambitious parks in rural landscapes such as Karst areas prone to building collapse, nothing positive has happened in the areas that have been built up since 1947 when the great founder of the city’s parks system, Thomas McQuesten, died.

One of these was the paving over of the Coldspring Nature Sanctuary. Another was McMaster’s wrecking of the RBG’s magnificent Sunken Gardens. What tops the list was the arresting of protesters for illegally camping in King’s Forest Park, to facilitate the City of Hamilton desecrating it with the Red Hill Creek expressway.

Canada geese on a vacant lot in downtown Hamilton (RTH file photo)

Concrete Curbs and Gutters
Despite my disagreements with the negative tone of the anti-gentrification of the Hamilton Institute’s manifesto, there are a couple of passages which properly mock insufficient efforts to bring back life to Central Hamilton. One is the complaint about having native trees die in insufficient planters and cyclists being injured on bicycle lanes.

The problem of dead trees in planters and injured cyclists shows how Hamilton is not taking a serious greening path. The big contrast is with Portland, Oregon.

Hamilton is a city of concrete curbs and gutters. Portland in contrast has its streets lined with bioswales. These provide trees with healthier, well watered places to live. They also give cyclists a safe refuge when cars menace.

Portland’s success shows that prosperity can be built on having a more beautiful city. Its tree lined bioswales attract investors who invent and create jobs. Technological innovation is needed to improve humanity’s relationship with nature. We need innovations in such areas as health care, pollution reduction and energy efficiency. Such needed creativity is different from the wiles of property specualtors.


Street trees in Portland (Image Credit: American Society of Landscape Architects)

Steps to Restore Central Hamilton Ecology
Let us take some effort to ecologically restore central Hamilton is a way to build social peace and prosperity. Consider a few positive actions as the following.

  1. In anticipation of the demise of fossil fuels needed to meet Paris Accords to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, plan to convert Bitumen facility in Hamilton Harbour developed for Tar Sands to a restored marsh.
  2. Develop a program to eliminate concrete curbs. Replace with bioswales that mimic constructed wetlands. Use bioswales for trees such as Pin Oaks that benefit from moist soils. Have swales provide greater safety for cyclists forced to flee from irresponsible motorists.
  3. Look at existing parks and recreational playing fields in Hamilton and develop plans to convert some of their lands to natural habitats. Attempt to restore vanished populations of a elemental indicator species in urban environments, the Green Frog, as has occurred in ravines in Toronto through park naturalization strategies.
  4. Examine opportunities to daylight buried streams, in more challenging locations than west end Chedoke Creek.
  5. Conduct study of abandoned industrial sites for conversion to naturalized parkland habitats. Investigate possibility of using existing structures in such areas for recreational purposes as has taken place in Duisburg, Germany.
  6. Convert inlets in Hamilton Harbour around abandoned factories into swamp forests.
  7. Turn elevated Burlington-Telesa expressway into linear park, similar to New York City, High Line.

One of Hamilton’s recent green prophets was Bert Lowes, the founder of the Bruce Trail. He loved to quote from Scripture, that “Without Vision the People Perish.” The Hamilton riots show that this is a real danger.

May Lowes’ words help turn rock throwers into urban ecological restorationists who mean business.


John Bacher is the Chair of the Sierra Club, Ontario Chapter. He is a member of the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) and sits on the steering committee of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance.


Danny Beaton and Bacher focused on protecting the Nottawasaga River and the Minesing Wetlands from the polluted storm water that is set to flow from the Midhurst Secondary Plan.

Danny Beaton, Dr. John Bacher on Simcoe County’s inevitable Greenbelt.

First Nations Drum
January 2018

For Danny Beaton, Greenbelt celebrates Mother Earth
Dr. John Bacher (PhD)

Harold and Ann Boker and Danny in Art Parnel’s clover field, Simcoe County
Photo Courtesy of J.E. Simpson, 2009

Now in a ponderous and tentative way the Ontario government is engaged in a consultation to expand the Greenbelt into the sacred heartland of Huronia. It is the core of the civilization that produced the prophetic figure, the Peacemaker.

Technocratic words about wetlands, cold temperature water, moraines, aquifers, base flow and the key indicator species, the Brook Trout are the language of the long overdue exercise to expand the Greenbelt. They have little resonance however, compared to those expressed by Danny Beaton’s, passion for Mother Earth.

In contrast to official jargon, Beaton explains that, “under the Nanfan Treaty the Mohawk nation has the Right to water and wood from Six Nations to Georgian Bay as long as the grass grows and the sun
shines…therefore as a Mohawk man I have a right to protect our sacred waters, sacred farm land and our spiritual animals.”

Beaton, a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan, took his great stand in the defense of Mother Earth in the campaign to defend the world’s purest source of drinking water. It was located near Elmvale, where the greatest settlement of the people of the Peacemaker was located.

Beaton has termed The Peacemaker’s World, “The Healing Place.” He finds its “probably one of the most beautiful places that I have been to in my entire life. The waters are everywhere. The forests are everywhere. We pick the berries.” Here he eats the fish and gathers cedar on a regular basis.

There was a 22 year struggle that sought to protect the world’s cleanest water from becoming a garbage Dump. It was called based on an engineering report, Dump Site 41. Beaton played a major role in stopping the dump from receiving garbage.

Beaton first organized an eight day walk from where Dump Site 41 would be built to Queen’s Park. It was called The Walk for Water. He saw the trek as bringing “attention to the Sacred Waters of the Alliston Aquifer and the tributaries that run into Georgian Bay.”

Following the Walk Water Beaton organized an occupation of the site. It blockaded excavation machines from digging up the Sacred Mother Earth of the Peacemaker’s World.

What made Beaton’s passion so powerful is that he knew how to be arrested with dignity and power. It was a majestic dignity that the Peacemaker’s words of “Peace, Power and Righteousness” resounded
from the ancient times from of his ancestors.

Beaton was arrested on the blockade line by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers. At the time of his arrest he was submitting his photographs of the struggle to First Nations Drum and News From Indian Country. At the time he was using an upright log for his desk and sitting on a lawn chair. After being put into handcuffs he was taken to the OPP Midland Detachment Center.

Beaton distinguished himself by refusing to sign a release form. By doing so he would have pledged never to enter the dump site again. He later explained how, “I felt someone had to show the world that
this was all crazy”.

Beaton told the Justice of the Peace at his trial that “somebody had to stop the rape of Mother Earth.” At this point, he later recalled, “I felt like crying because of all the chaos that was happening but no justice for Mother Earth.”

In refusing to sign the form Beaton’s words were simple but eloquent. He told reporters, “Who Will Speak to the Water?” These were his last words to the press before spending three days in prison, before his bail hearing.

Beaton’s words of the need to speak for the water came at the right time to stop Dump Site 41. This is because when he went to prison the nonviolent struggle of peaceful resistance to save the world’s purest
water had taken on the form of a great scientific experiment. It exposed the lies of the engineering professionals that had been used to deceive the voting public of Simcoe County.

When the resisters held the line against the bulldozers the water that flowed out of the Dump Site 41 site remained pure. As soon as the blockade was breached by the force of the OPP the water that flowed out
became dirty.

The stain on the water became a dirty mark upon the politicians who backed Dump Site 41. If so much damage could be caused by simply digging a pit, what people reasoned, would be caused by dumping garbage into it?

During Beaton’s three days in prison where his biggest complaint was the impurity of the water, an outraged public opinion caused everything to change. Incensed citizens mobilized and phoned their
councilors, denouncing them for believing the lies of the engineers.

When Beaton arrived in the Barrie Simcoe County court house, everything had changed. He was released in the knowledge that work on Dump Site 41 had been halted.

The excavations were healed by restorative work. Eventually easements were put on the land by the Ontario Farmland Trust, to ensure that this prime Class One soil would remain in agricultural use forever.

Beaton a few years later came to the rescue to another threat to the cold pure waters that feed the cold water trout streams that flow into lower Georgian Bay. This new threat was termed the Dufferin County mega quarry.

Much like Dump Site 41 before Beaton’s involvement, opponents of a mega mile quarry on Canada’s best potato growing land had been getting nowhere. Farm houses and buildings were burned down. Their debris clogged local dumps. Forests were clear cut in violation of tree protection by laws. Fence rows were ripped up.

Beaton met with the organizers of opposition in a corporate law office on Bay Street. He told them, literally, to “Take a Hike.”

By suggesting they take a hike Beaton meant they should follow the example the stopped Dump Site 41. He called for a procession from Queen’s Park, the seat of political power which could kill the Mega Quarry, to the site of the proposed giant pit. The march was held and captured the public’s imagination.
This sparked by death of the scheme through the unusual imposition of an Environmental Assessment.

After the end of the five day trek Beaton and I were led by one of the organizers Smiling Yogi to a place where he promised we would appreciated what the hike was all about. He took us to one of the magnificent cold water streams of Huronia.

Yogi took us to a White Cedar Brook Trout stream which is an important tributary for the cold water Nottawasaga River flowing into Georgian Bay. Here Brook Trout leaped through its sparkling fast running waters, laced with riffles, runs and pools. It was lined with verdant green watercress.

Beaton is now focused on protecting the Nottawasaga River and the Minesing Wetlands from the polluted storm water that is set to flow from urban expansion in Midhurst. His passion for Mother Earth gives substance to the call of the public consultation document for the expansion of the Greenbelt in Huronia called appropriately, “Protecting Water.” The document exposes how urban sprawl is a threat to the wetlands and trout streams that nourish Georgian Bay. But he expresses it was t through the wisdom of native people who see sacred waters as Mother Earth’s blood.

Click here for a pdf copy of the article.

Extending the Greenbelt Into Simcoe County: Defending the Peacemaker’s World by John Bacher Ph D

Another original article:

Extending the Greenbelt Into Simcoe County: Defending the Peacemaker’s World
John Bacher PhD

Elder Danny Beaton (l) and the author, Old Growth Maple forest at risk at French’s Hill, Waverley, ON, Sept 2015

My friend Danny Beaton (Mohawk Six Nations) has worked with me for the past decade to protect the sacred but threatened landscape of Simcoe County, better appreciated as Huronia. This was a homeland to a great civilization, now dispersed to Oklahoma and Lorette near Quebec City. It is best appreciated he explained to me as “The Peacemaker’s World.”

The Peacemaker was a Huron who journeyed over Lake Ontario to found the Iroquois Confederacy. That such a prophetic figure, a visionary upholder of good constitutional goverence, should have emerged out of Simcoe County, is expressive of why all its remaining rural landscape needs to be protected by the Greenbelt. Rather than following the Peacemaker’s principles of the Good Mind, it has become the Wild West of urban sprawl.

The essence of the Greenbelt is that it protects natural areas from intrusions and the entire rural landscape from urban boundary expansions. Once lands are put into the Greenbelt, they are protected for ten years. As was witnessed by the last bitter battles over the Greenbelt Review, the decennial review can be intense, but it is much more transparent process than the myriad of offical plan amendments, council decisions and OMB hearings which are the alternative.

For the past decade Danny and I have clashed with municipal councils on a wide range of issues. One surprising thing I learned was that in the northern part of Simcoe County, in and around Tiny Township, that there are actually surviving old growth forests. These however, are not well protected because of the complex battles between the County, municipalities, developers and the Ontario Municipal Board. (OMB)

Simcoe County did develop a candidate list of protected natural areas through a study conducted in 1996. Its recommendations have still not made it into the Simcoe County Offiical Plan. One of its suprising findings that in Tiny Township there are still “extensive tracts of forests” that “are important habitat for a number of forest interior (bird) species as well as for mammals such as Black Bear, Martin and Fisher which have large home ranges.”

The ignored 1996 natural heritage report found that the northern part of Simcoe County still had “vast tracts” of old growth forests. These it found “represent the last vestiges of what southern-Ontario looked like in pre-settlement times. Unlike much of southern Ontario, where the original woodlands have become highly fragmented these woodlands survive as “unbroken forest blocks”.

Danny Beaton and I recently were devastated to witness devastation in one of the core old growth, predominately Sugar Maple forest blocks of Tiny Township at French’s Hill. Äfter seeing this he asked, “Why do corporations continue to rape and pillage our forests, wetlands and water ways to Georgian Bay? Why do companies continue to stake claim to the last endangered treees and forests with immunity from Simcoe County Governance? Why are citizens being ignored in county meetings that are set up for citizen particpation and shared authority over land rights and development?

Beaton and I have also been deeply involved to protect the legacy of reforestation in Simcoe County, that brought back to life a landscape turned to desert by deforestation.

With Danny Beaton I was able to particpate in the occupation with the Beausoleil First Nation in the occupation of Springwater Provincial Park. After a year this caused the provincial park to be re-opened. While this campaign was successful, I became aware too late of a terrible development across the road from Springwater Provincial Park. This was on private lands that had been reforested sixty years ago, and were designated as an Environmental Protection area in the Springwater Township zoning by-law and official plan. Despite this designation and although the area is not serviced with sewers, the lands were rezoned and designated to permit the construction of the Black Creek Estates of Snow Valley.

The Black Creek Estates were simply the vanguard of destructive development schemes around Midhurst which have the goal of increasing the community ten-fold in population to around 30,000 people. What makes this scheme so harmful is that it through massive storm water runoff, will impact the Minesing Wetlands a treasure house of bio-diversity. It is the only refuge in Canada for the Hines Emerald Dragonfly. This is a vernal pool obligate species, much like the Spring Peepers and Chorus Frogs which explode into a magnificent symphony of sound when the snow begins to melt. Some 135 native bird species nest in the wetland. One of the most spectular of these features are two nesting colonies of Blue Herons, one of which has more than two hundred nests.

The Peacemaker’s World can only be protected by the direct action of the provincial government putting rural lands in Simcoe which protect such natural wonders as the Minesing Wetlands into Ontario’s Greenbelt. This move needs to be carried out before the next provincial election. Rather than being seen as a controversial hot potato to be tossed around and evaded, the province needs to make a bold move that would win it plaudits from a public prone to cyncism.