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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Examine opportunities to daylight buried streams, in more challenging locations than west end Chedoke Creek.
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.
Convert inlets in Hamilton Harbour around abandoned factories into swamp forests.
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.
Danny Beaton, Dr. John Bacher on Simcoe County’s inevitable Greenbelt.
First Nations Drum
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
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.
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.
Brief by Dr. John Bacher PhD, Researcher Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) on Bill 39, Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act.
October 16, 2017
1. PALS Views Hearings as Critical Opportunity to Set Ontario on a Greener Path
PALS views the hearings on Bill 39 as a critical opportunity to move Ontario is a more ecologically sustainable direction. Such a shift is necessary in view of increasing population, pressures on land and water from climate change, economic growth and loss of bio-diversity. There are reasons for optimism however, in the refinement of the basic instruments that deal with these challenges: the acts that establish the Ontario Municipal Board and Conservation Authorities.
Given that Ontario has increased both wealth and population since the passage of the Planning Acts of 1946 and Conservation Authorities Act of the same year, it is astonishing that much of the ecology of our province is in better condition now than it was at that time. This is largely because forest cover in southern Ontario and consequently watersheds, is better than it was when these acts were passed. This can be vividly seen in the example of the Credit River, which although flowing through a watershed of around 800,000 people, is witnessing the return of the long extirpated, Atlantic Salmon. Also the devastation caused by low forest cover such as desertification and flooding has largely vanished into history through reforestation efforts spearheaded largely by Conservation Authorities. .
Despite the successes of land use planning and Conservation Authorities since 1946, there remain serious challenges, the most important of which concern pressures on Conservation Authority staff by municipal councils influenced by land development interests, which also contributes to bad land use planning decisions by municipal governments. The best way to address this problem is by restoring the balanced representation between municipal and provincial representation on authority boards which was lost by the 1996 amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act.
2. Merging of Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) and Conservation Authority Act Legislation is Reasonable Given Development of Legislation in 1940s.
The approach taken in Bill 39 is similar to the intellectual ferment in the 1940s that resulted in the Planning Act and Conservation Authorities Act. In this regard however, it should be stressed, that while the conservation legislation approximated that advocated by reformers, the approach taken by the Planning Act did not. It merely facilitated land use planning in a permissive way by municipalities, with little provincial oversight except through appeals to the OMB.
The broad outlines of what is seen as good planning today, focusing urban growth in Ontario south of the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Niagara Escarpment coupled with the protection of wetlands and stream valleys, is all seen in the early land use planning studies and conservation authority reports of the 1940s. What was not implemented at the time however, was a recommendation for a Land Use Planning Board for Ontario. This would have directed the basic land use planning for Ontario-protecting the lake after which the province is named, by guarding the headwaters of its streams and its river tributaries. It would also keep sprawl away from polluting the vital cold water trout streams that nourish Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay.
3. PALS’ Brief on the Need for Ontario Land Use Planning Board is Appended to the Brief
PALS has written earlier at length of the need for an Ontario Land Use Planning Board, to replace the OMB. We do not believe that the proposed Local Appeals Tribunal has the serious mandate to correct errors by municipalities that would facilitate sprawl, as compared to one that has a clear obligation to uphold the principles of provincial land use planning. There is a serious danger, well expressed by environmental lawyer David Donnelly, who has provided legal counsel to PALS, that the OMB will change from a rubber stamp for developers, to one for municipalities.
At a recent OMB hearing which resulted in a favourable decision that stopped a proposed urban boundary expansion immediately south of the Niagara Escarpment in Niagara Falls, PALS was shocked by narrow municipally- centered arguments that mocked the very notion of provincial land use planning. When an expert planning witness from the province testified that it had been provincial policy since the 1980s to have planning need based on calculations of need determined by upper- tier projections, the proponent’s lawyer argued that the planner was simply stating “ministry gospel.” This example of poor municipal planning confirms our view, that the reformed Planning Act’ appeals tribunal’ to emerge as a result of your deliberations should retain the right to clearly reject municipal decisions, not simply send them back for reconsideration.
The mocked “gospel” of the ministry, might be hard on municipalities and developers, but it is truly “good news” for those who care for the environment. Upholding the principles of provincial policy should not be entrusted to local appeals or municipal board, but one entrusted with upholding provincial land use planning. An Ontario Land Use Planning Board is long overdue.
4. Ecological Devastation Caused Movement that in a Decade Resulted in the Conservation Authorities Act.
Discussions of changes to the Conservation Authorities Act need to be put into the context of what propelled the legislation. This was environmental devastation caused by the deforestation of the watersheds of the fertile farming areas, south of the Canadian Shield, in Ontario.
The passage of the Conservation Authorities Act of 1946 was the culmination of a nine year-long struggle spurred by the Thames Flood of 1937. Most dramatically the flood engulfed underwater a quarter of the city of London, Ontario. A number of other communities were devastated by flooding, most notably Stratford.
There had been reforestation efforts in Ontario since 1905 assisted by the province, which got an important surge from the County- led reforestation efforts of the Agreement Forest program of 1921. However, to stop flooding, these needed to be carried out on a more comprehensive, watershed basis. Middlesex County for instance, although centered for a large area around London, could not by its own reforestation efforts avert the flooding of the Thames. Many important areas that the Northern Thames Watershed Authority protected and reforested after it was created in 1947, for instance, the Dorchester Swamp, were located outside Middlesex, in Oxford County.
In the first few decades of the work of Conservation Authorities there were some significant controversies around dams. Even in areas where major dam construction was undertaken, notably near London, reforestation remained important since it prevented reservoirs from being clogged up with silt generated by erosion.
Some of the successes of Conservation Authorities were achieved without any dam construction, but almost exclusively through, reforestation. One of the most vivid successes was the work of the Ganaraska Authority. At one time forest cover in the Ganaraska was only at five percent. Then in the 1940s, the river flooded downtown Port Hope every two years. Now forest cover is at 45 per cent and there has not been a flood in Port Hope since 1980.
Most of the reforestation carried out in the Ganaraska watershed, as in most of southern Ontario, was on marginal land, suitable not for cropping, but only pasture. This was carried out on the Oak Ridges Moraine.
In the past, dam controversies because of their threat to native aquatic life forms, notably fish, were the major stain on the work of conservation authorities. This was eliminated in the early 1970s by the passage of the Environmental Assessment Act. Its provisions to consider the need for alternatives to an undertaking eliminated the justification for new flood control dams. This is because its provisions for alternatives to such undertakings, which harmed fish habitat, showed that dams could be avoided by planting more forests.
5. Urban Sprawl is now the Chief Threat to Past Conservation Success
Urban sprawl has now become the biggest threat to the successful legacy of conservation. This was a serious threat to the Ganaraska watershed itself. In the 1980s a movement arose to “Save the Ganaraska Again.” This time the threat was not farmers cutting trees, but rather developers.
The Ganaraska was saved a second time through the movement to protect the Oak Ridges Moraine. A ten year ban was placed on any urban boundary expansions in its headwaters. This has been recently reaffirmed and re-extended after considerable controversy during the just- completed review of Greenbelt.
In my publicity efforts to promote the life of a key architect of the Conservation Authorities Act, Edmund Zavtiz, I am continually shocked at the basic threats to the past rescue of Ontario through reforestation. Next to Springwater Provincial Park, I saw an estate residential development established on reforested lands that had been zoned for environmental protection. A few months later I was horrified to see the park threatened by closure, which was only stopped by a native occupation, in which my close friend Danny Beaton, a Mohawk of the Six Nations, played a major role.
6. Work with Native Peoples Showed Need for Provincial Representation on Conservation Authority Boards.
The importance of provincial representation on Conservation Authority Boards came to my attention through working with the adherents of the traditional Iroquois Confederacy. In the early 1990s a friend of mine, Brian Wiles-Heap, was working closely with the Confederacy in their successful efforts to stop canalization of the Grand River. In this the support of the provincially- appointed chair, Archie Mac Robbie was key. He was the only person there who would listen to the concerns of the confederacy chiefs, such as Arni General. The agreement he signed with the provincial government on a Grand River Strategy for the Management of a Heritage River in 1994 finally stopped schemes to canalize the Grand.
After Wiles-Heap’s departure to the United States to work on the issue of the protection of Redwood Forests, I continued to work with Confederacy environmental activists, such as their delegate to the bi-national Iroquois Confederacy Committee, Norman Jacobs. This concerned their efforts to have tree planting along the Grand River and its tributaries. They sought such reforestation to protect fish habitat, through means such has providing shade during hot summer months.
During my work with the Confederacy I was horrified to see that the critical bridge in their efforts to use native rights to restore the Grand, the provincial representatives to the Conservation Authority boards were all removed. This was done in a quite abrupt manner before their normal four year terms expired. This effectively removed any serious influence over the Conservation Authority Boards, which became exclusively dominated by municipal politicians.
In my meetings in the Upper Cayuga Longhouse, the seat of the Confederacy’s government, I was told that mismanagement of the environment was death knell of treaty rights to hunt and fish. Only 18 per cent of the Grand River is in forest cover and it remains a major source of phosphorous contamination in Lake Erie. This situation has been encouraged by the ill-considered removal of the very representatives on the Grand River Authority Board most inclined to listen and respect the ancient wisdom upheld by the chiefs and clan mother of the Iroquois Confederacy. It is Canada’s oldest continually functioning government.
7. Working with Native People Drew to Attention to Problem of Conservation Authority Governance in Simcoe County.
It is working with native peoples of the region of Simcoe County that I have been most shocked by the two contrasting world- views of native people and the dominant settler-colonial society. What really brought this home to me was the water walk sponsored by the Ojibway of Georginia Island. The forest of their small reservation was bigger than any we had walked on around the lake, in part since the lands around Orillia are one of the few parts of the province to be without a Conservation Authority. This is largely because of the fierce determination of municipal councilors against having any such body established.
The patchy nature of Conservation Authorities around the province is of serious concern. A flaw in the original legislation is that their establishment is one of a complicated municipal option. Their establishment should definitely be compulsory, as are boards of education.
Essentially the establishment of Conservation Authority Boards were held up for decades in many parts of the province by narrow self-interested real estate and development interests that held sway on municipal councils. This can be seen in the strange situation that there are two (northern and southern), Thames River Conservation Authorities –a matter commented upon by former director of the Authority branch, Alfred Barnes.
The Northern Thames authority was created very quickly in 1947. Keeping out municipalities in the southern part of the Thames was the only way that a Conservation Authority could be formed to rescue London from serious flooding threats. Support for the Lower Thames Authority only came twelve years later in 1959, finally secured by the province’s threat to refuse compensation payment for flooding damage.
From my own biography of Mel Swart, an important founder of PALS, I understand how difficult it was to secure the creation of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) . Mel explained to me the determination of municipal councilors opposed to it, who also fought the establishment of a tree cutting by-law.
In many parts of the province municipal councilors who initially fought the establishment of Conservation Authorities, later clashed with the staff that operated them over issues related to their advisory role in land use planning. This most vividly ended the career of one of Ontario’s most effective public servants engaged in conservation, the late Mac Kirk. The conflict relayed to me by the former Niagara Regional Planning Commissioner, Corwin Cambray, emerged out of his co-operation with the research of Len Gertler, which was a prelude to the establishment of the Niagara Escarpment Commission.
The problem of the fusion of developer interest and the control of Conservation Authority boards became evident with two firings of the senior staff of the Nottawsaga Conservation Authority in 2014, Those impacted were Wayne Wilson, who served as CAO of the authority for 22 years, and Patti Young a senior planner. The firings came after Young sent a barrage of hostile questions to the Springwater Township Council concerning urban expansion. The board of directors was composed of supporters of massive urbanization of 30,000 new residents in Midhurst on prime agricultural lands. Development on such a massive scale threatens the health of the Minesing Wetlands, a refuge for the Endangered Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly, and other unusual wildlife such as the Trumpeter Swan, Sturgeon, the White Fringed Orchid, and the Cerulean Warbler.
8. Problem of Loss of Provincial Representation on Conservation Authority Boards is Unfortunately not a Crowd – Raising Issue
The loss of provincial representation on Conservation Authority Boards stirred up more environmental experts than protestors. When introduced, it drew the ire of foundations with long experience of working in partnerships with Conservation Authorities and the province to acquire natural areas, not demonstrators who rallied in massive protests.
Until 1996 the province appointed five members of each authority board, including the chair. Some of the most distinguished chairs served on the Toronto and Metropolitan Region Conservation Authority Board, beginning with its first, Herbert Arthur Richardson. (Author of what is still the only book on Ontario’s Conservation Authorities, “Conservation by the People”, introduced by Alf Barnes.) A long-time assistant of Edmund Zavitz, he helped to spearhead the movement to create conservation authorities.
The last provincially-appointed chair of the Toronto regional Conservation Authority was a remarkable urban forester, William Granger. He was an architect in encouraging urban forests -converting large swaths of previously mowed grass to healthy forests.
My criticism of the elimination of provincial appointments to Conservation Authority Boards is not intended as a partisan critique. The previous successful model of governance was developed by the Conservative administration of Premier George Drew, while the current flawed approach was the work of the Conservative government of Mike Harris. The proposed legislation essentially adopts the model for Conservation Authority governance of Premier Harris, not the better one of Premier Drew.
I supported the Harris government’s creation of the City of Toronto and other municipal re-organizations. These wrongly drew massive protests. However, the elimination of provincial representation on Conservation Authority Boards had quite harmful impacts. Sadly they were noticed by only the professional staff and most dedicated members of environmental philanthropies. They did make presentations to the appropriate provincial legislative committee but these were covered only on the back pages of newspapers such as the Globe and Mail. I read an article in the Globe and Mail at the time and indicated that the environmental philanthropies, which were caught off guard by the need to become protesters, were concerned about the possible sale of Conservation Authority lands which were acquired through partnerships with them.
I am not aware of a single incident of even the allegation of corruption or lesser abuse of power of a provincially-appointed Conservation Authority Board member. Rather than such practical considerations removal of provincial appointees seem to have been made on the basis of narrow ideologies of municipal autonomy.
Unlike the hiring of municipally- appointed Conservation Authority Board representatives which are conducted in secret, provincial appointments are vetted through an all party committee of the Legislature. This provides a safeguard against inappropriate appointments . Whatever such ideas may hold in the abstract teachings of political science they are not in accordance with the Canadian constitution. It states clearly that municipal governments have no inherit rights, they are simply a responsibility of provinces.
9. Niagara is A Tragic Example of Municipal Dominance of Authority Boards but itis Not Unique
In Niagara over the last few years I have been a leading critic of the municipally -appointed Niagara Peninsula Authority Board. (NPCA). I have purposefully left this to the end of my presentation. I have found that the persecution of the staff of the NPCA by the municipally – elected representatives to be a devise to challenge my own achievements in the protection of the environment, especially that of the Thundering Waters Forest.
Thundering Waters is a 483 acre predominately-swamp forest, a haven to a great variety of rare species, most significantly now, three species of bats that need old growth forests for roosting. It also has a large area of vernal pools which provide critical breeding habitats for obligate species such as the Grey Tree Frog, Wood Frog, Western Chorus Frog, Spring Peepers and the Blue Spotted Salamander.
Recently as a result of a recent sit-in by brave environmental activists, it has been found to have a significant population of a provincially Threatened Species, Liatris Spicta, a colourful wildflower commonly called the Dense Blazing Star. It also appears to be the only Ontario location where another listed species, the Nine Lined Lady Beetle is present, although denied as surviving in the Province by some scientists.
The entire reason for the controversies over the NPCA governance in Niagara is based on the support given to me by their dedicated, now unionized through OPSEU, employees. This was sparked by my role in 2008 in protecting the Thundering Waters Forest. As a result of my efforts, assisted by NPCA employees, most of this area is now protected as the Niagara Falls Slough Forest.
In 2008 I filed an appeal with the OMB of a decision of the Niagara Falls council, passed by only one dissenting vote, of a re-designation of the Thundering Waters Forest from industrial to mixed residential-commercial use. After filing the appeal I was contacted by the developer’s solicitor, to negotiate a settlement. After several meetings an agreement was reached. I accepted the solicitor’s arguments that if I wanted to preserve this forest I would require the support of the experts with the Ministry of Natural Resources, (MNR), who could ultimately end up supporting me in an OMB arbitration.
The most difficult part of the agreement, which was not initially offered to me, concerned obtaining access to the site, if requested, for a wetland re-evaluation. This however, was obtained and subsequently honoured by the developer.
From conversations with a former NPCA employee, I was informed that there was great excitement at finally being able to go onto the Thundering Waters Forest site, since access in fact, had previously been denied. I was also told that the developer had agreed to the terms since they thought the re-evaluation would not change anything.
During the two years that the evaluation went on from 2008 to 2010 I was assisted by a close personal friend, John Lynn in communicating with what was going on. From conversations with him, buffered by those with NPCA employees it became clear that senior management at the NPCA believed a wetland evaluation was due. This was because of the need for ten year reviews where unprotected, (non-significant) wetland was just a few points below the 600 threshold required for protection.
NPCA staff assisted MNR in the wetland evaluation. A previously undocumented grove of Black Gum trees was identified, and as NPCA employee rolled over a log during a site visit. This revealed the presence of the Blue Spotted Salamander. These findings were previously denied by the developers’ ecological consultants, who were present during the site visits, but confirmed the new species findings.
When the protected Niagara Falls Slough Forest was recognized in 2010 I regarded it as one of the great accomplishments of my life. Others however, were not so happy. This was well expressed by a prominent Regional Council, Bruce Tims.
Tims said that in 2010 a situation emerged where it appeared that the NPCA had lost its “balance.” This meant that in his view and others on its board, that it has become overly focused on the protection of the environment. He said this in a St. Catharines City Council meeting, before Council debated a request made by Niagara conservationist Ed Smith, that it call for a provincial audit into the NPCA.
The NPCA Strategic Plan legitimated the subsequent firing of Conservation Authority staff. In this regard it should be understood that the developers’ agents were on site during the wetland evaluation. This means that they witnessed episodes such as the kicking over of the log that resulted in the discovery of the Blue Spotted Salamander. The person who made this discovery was the first to be fired by the NPCA Board, in a session, which I was told directly by the victim, involved a direct encounter with the then Board Chair.
I agree with the requests of many that a provincial supervisor be appointed for the NPCA. If there is no current provision in the act this is the time to put it in. However, for a long term solution, when the supervisor leaves, there must be a return to at least the level of provincial appointment to Conservation Authority boards that existed before they were eliminated in 1996.
10. Hopefully Your Deliberations will be an Important Turning Point in Ontario History
I hope your deliberations will be a significant turning point in Ontario History, similar to the 1939-1940 hearings into the Department of Lands and Forests. Here a courageous conservationist John Irwin, denounced the firings of men such as Alfred Barnes, much as I am defending dismissed ecologists today. This resulted in a new thrust for public policy in Ontario towards conservation, which I hope your actions will set in motion.
On Thursday, July 20th, 2017 the Ontario government finally showed the courage to say no to developer lobbyists when it finally said no to five years of pressure to gut wetland protection policies that have been in place since 1991. It rejected proposals to permit “bio-diversity offsetting” that would permit the destruction of provincially significant wetlands which are an important refuge for endangered wildlife.
Five days after the province firmly defended wetlands on Tuesday, July 25 after failing to publicize the wetland policy review the Globe and Mail leaped to the defense of developers who had advocated offsetting. It published an article by Jill Mahoney, “Fight for Wetland Stalls large Niagara Falls Development.” The particular development had offered itself as a pilot project for bio-diversity offsetting.
Mahoney‘s account was most bizarre that while ignoring the ultimately failed attempts by developers to change wetland rules through offsetting, it was full of angry quotations by the Mayor of Niagara Falls, James Diodati.. He denounced how, “The rules are being changed as the game is being played out.” This was a reference to a decision, following existing rules by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, (MNRF), to increase in October 2016, the area of wetland protected from development.
Mahoney focused on the opposition to the project came from the foreign owned nature of the current version of the threat to the Thundering Waters Forest. Her article only had one quote from an ecologically minded opponent of the development, retired Canadian forces captain, Edward Smith.
Based on a three hour interview Smith’s quote was narrowly limited to his concerns about foreign ownership. This ignored how he is being subject of a law suit based on his concerns for firings at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, (NPCA) these were expressed in a document which it attributed to him titled, “A Call for Responsibility.” The firings, although motivated by efforts of NPCA staff to protect the Thundering Waters Forest, took place before the property was transferred to its current owners.
Nine years ago when I and Jean Grandoni opposed the destruction of the Thundering Waters Forest at Niagara Falls City Council we were faced with a strange argument by the developer’s solicitor. This was that the scheme should be supported because of the prominence of the various local families behind it. Their support resulted in an appeal by me of the council’s decision to the Ontario Municipal Board. (OMB)
Following filing an appeal to the OMB I was contacted by the developer’s solicitor who asked me to engage in a mediation process. After several meetings, he agreed that the then Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) would be given access to the site, if requested to do a wetland evaluation. On this basis I withdrew my appeal and minutes of settlement were signed.
Unknown to the solicitor, when we signed the Minutes of Settlement a Pelham area environmentalist, John Lynn, had contacted brave staff persons at the NPCA, urging them to help me with my OMB appeal. Lynn is the only surviving individual who was part of the core group of eco-justice activists who in 1959, led by future Ontario legislator Mel Swart, persuaded the provincial government to create the NPCA.
NPCA staff was overjoyed when following signing of the Minutes of Settlement; MNR invited them to accompany them on the evaluation. They took part in the discovery of two previously unidentified species that were not recorded when the owners denied MNR access to the site. These were the Black Gum, an endangered tree, and the regionally significant, Blue Spotted Salamander. The findings resulted in the protection as significant wetlands, of 281 acres of the 484 acre site.
The process of the wetland re-evaluation was quite laborious stretching from 2008 to 2010. The slow process was required by the legal need for the ecological advisers of the owners, Lisa Campbell and Richard Brady, to be present on the site visits. I learned about the victory through reading a Niagara Falls Planning Department report filed at a City Council meeting.
The rescue of the Thundering Waters Forest ignited a storm of protest from developers. Sympathy for their complaints among the Niagara Regional Councilors that control the NPCA board, triggered NPCA staff firings legitimated through a planning exercise known as its Strategic Plan.
On Strategic Plan advisory boards key figures involved in attempts to develop Thundering Waters served, notably the developer’ solicitor, Lisa Campbell and Richard Brady. This resulted over six years in the firings of 21 NPCA staff documented into an appendix to “A Call for Responsibility.” These firings also eventually resulted in the unionization of the NPCA through the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, (OPSEU)
During the carnage of firings at the NPCA a new threat to wetland protection emerged because of lobbying efforts by the Fort Erie Chamber of Commerce. These sought to remove wetland protection within Fort Erie’s urban boundaries.
What triggered the Fort Erie Chamber’s indignation about wetland protection was a large old growth swamp forest, dominated by oaks and hickories, known as the Thompson Road woodlot. It shades the mouth of Frenchman’s Creek and the Niagara River. This makes it an important refuge for waterfowl such as herons.
Both the Thompson Road Woodlot and the similar wetland forest Thundering Waters were recommended for protection from development in a 1980 study of ecologically sensitive areas of Niagara known as the Brady report. This continues to be the only comprehensive study of land use planning based on the need to protect threatened eco-systems in Niagara that are hot spots of bio-diversity. An attempt by the NPCA to update the Brady report did not look at the entire City of St. Catharines. Recently Lisa Campbell has penned another report justifying deforestation in St. Catharines in an environmentally sensitive area identified in the Brady report as the Escarpment-De Cew Forest.
Unfortunately, the Brady report has not been well reported on in the Niagara area corporate controlled media. Few know of its pleas to protect Thundering Waters (originally called Ramsey Road Woodlot), the Thompson Road Woodlot, the Brock Decew Forest and the Irish Grove Woodlot. (A Grimsby Forest threatened by a road). This widespread ecological literacy provided a favorable opportunity during for the Fort Erie Chamber of Commerce to attack provincial wetland policy in an all candidates meeting held during a provincial by-election. This sparked a review of provincial paper which featured a discussion re paper of biodiversity offsetting. It was during this period of policy review that the Thundering Waters forest was sold to foreign investors.
After the sale of the Thundering Waters Forest, the new owners came forward with a development proposal that was originally based on bio-diversity offsetting. This was the first time since 2010 that a specific development proposal had been made. The original focus of development, an old growth forest immediately south of Oldfield Road, had now become a protected wetland. After two demonstrations at the Niagara Region and Niagara Falls City council, development on the basis of offsetting was dropped.
In June of 2016 an attempt was made to justify development of the 203 acres of the Thundering Waters Forest which were not provincially significant wetlands. This was attempted through a draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS). It was prepared by Dr. Stephen Hill, of the consulting firm, Dougan Associates. It helped to set in motion a native led protest, organized by an Oneida resident of Niagara Falls, Karl Dockstader.
Prior to the release of Hill’s report a deluge of requests were made by concerned Niagara Falls residents to the Niagara Falls Planning Department that whatever its findings, the EIS, commissioned and paid for by a developer, be subjected to an independent peer review. What makes this particular aspect of the struggle to save Thundering Waters so revealing was that it was led by Linda Babb, whom the Globe and Mail interviewed at length, but was never quoted from. As a result of this input, as provided for in the Niagara Region’s and City of Niagara Falls official plans, an independent peer review of Hill’s report was made.
The peer review was conducted by North-South Environment by an Ecologist, Leah Lefler. The most important part of her critique was an observation on page 3 that at this stage of the development process, according to the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System, (OMERS) that additional lands should be examined for wetland evaluation.
Lefler stressed that OMERS required that the unprotected wetlands at Thundering Waters should “be evaluated” to see if they should be protected “as part of “the Niagara Falls Slough Forest Wetland Complex Provincially Significant Wetland.” She also stressed that existing provincial and municipal policy required that all wetlands on site “greater than 2.0 hectares” should be designated as an Environmental Protection Area” (EPA) in the Niagara Falls Official Plan and protected from development. She also demanded that acoustic surveys of the breeding habitats of endangered bat species be conducted.
Although the City of Niagara Falls kept Lefler’s report secret (it was revealed only after an access to information act request by Ed Smith), its key recommendation was acted upon. As the Globe and Mail reported a wetland evaluation visit was made in late September 2016. As a result of the site the area of protected wetland was increased to 335 acres. The developable acreage has now shrunk to 149 acres, much of which is further restricted by buffering constraints.
The Globe and Mail failed to comment on the ecological significance of the additional acreage protected through the application of the OMERS methodology and the comments of the peer reviewer. Some details of the significance of these lands are clear from Hill’s own draft EIS.
Hill’s June 2016 draft EIS revealed three areas of what were then unprotected wetlands with old growth forest characteristics. These areas having trees with cavities and grooved bark are important for roosting habitat for the endangered Little Brown, Northern Myosis and Tri-Colored bats. Under Hill’s EIS, which was discredited through Lefler’s peer review, these areas were targeted for what Hill termed a “Tree Saving Plan.” This called for saving individual old growth trees while permitting development around them.
One of the old growth areas north of the rail line which runs through the middle of the Thundering Waters Forest was identified by Hill as a Fresh-Moist Oak-Maple Hickory Deciduous Forest. Hill admitted it is “notable for the size distribution of mature trees”. His EIS found that this area also provides breeding habitat for two Species at Risk birds. These are the Eastern Wood Pewee and the Wood Thrush. Both species are experiencing serious declines because of deforestation.
Another area of old growth forest rescued by the increased area of protected wetlands is a block of Oak Mineral Deciduous Swamp. This Hill admitted was “an exceptional example of Carolinian slough forest, containing high diversity of native species and a variety of vegetated habitats.” Here are found rare Buttonbush communities. This forest contains numerous vernal pools. They provide breeding habitat for the Blue Spotted Salamander and various frog species. It is also habitat for a rare plant, Shreber’s Aster.
A block of Old Growth Oak Mineral Deciduous Swamp which was upgraded to protected status is south of the rail line near the earlier protected wetland that is home to a spectacular White Oak giant known as the Thunder Oak. It contains rare Rufous Bulrush and Buttonbush communities. This newly protected forest also has vernal pools important for breeding amphibians and nesting areas for Wood Thrush. A less ancient block of mature forest south of this area was protected. It has Wood Thrush . breeding habitat and vernal pools.
Through the wetland review protection was also extended to a large block of mature forest adjacent to Dorchester Road and the Chippewa Parkway along the Welland River. This has vernal pools that provide amphibian habitat. The swamp also provides nesting for the Eastern Wood Pewee.
The wetland review also protected a number of pockets of Willow Mineral Deciduous Swamp. Currently dominated by Black Walnut and Eastern Cottonwood, these pioneering woodlands are succeeding into a Pin Oak forest. They also have important amphibian breeding habitat.
Ecological studies reveal that there are severe constraints to even the 149 acres of the site that are not protected wetlands. Hill’s own draft EIS reveals that most of this area provides breeding habitat for Wood Thrush and the Eastern Wood Peewee. They also provide important foraging habitat for another Species at Risk, the Barn Swallow.
Repeating the mantras about job loss, the Globe and Mail did nothing to deal with the reasons for the opposition, based on concerns to the threat of habitat loss of endangered species. It is a text book example of the mentalities that are creating an extinction crisis.