Greenbelt and Development? Oxymoron?

October 6, 2008 at 2:08 am Leave a comment

Letter from the Greenbelt: And development sprang up how, exactly?

Posted: October 03, 2008, 9:45 PM by Barry Hertz


In 2005, the Government of Ontario proclaimed a Greenbelt on about 750,000 hectares encircling the Golden Horseshoe, an area larger than Prince Edward Island. Green is good, but is the Greenbelt working? And why are the farmers so angry? Peter Kuitenbrouwer today begins an exploration of the Greenbelt.

Yesterday near Palgrave, a group of dignitaries drove the last spike, so to speak, to link up the two most important hiking trails in the Greenbelt: the Bruce Trail and the Oak Ridges Trail.

We stood in a clearing in the woods, at the end of a dirt driveway beside a beaver dam, all wearing a strict dress code of hiking boots, jeans, polar fleece, windbreakers and baseball caps.

“There are thousands of hiking trails in this part of Ontario, so you literally need to pack a big lunch,” enthused Harold Sellers, whose own cap identified him as executive director of the Oak Ridges Trail Association.

Among those applauding was the local MPP, Liberal Helena Jaczek (Markham-Oak Ridges).

The famed 800-kilometre Bruce Trail, which climbs from Niagara Falls to Tobermory along a long, ragged northwesterly extension of the Greenbelt, now links to the 250-kilometre Oak Ridges Trail system, winding east almost to Peterborough.

Mr. Sellers led us on a brisk hike through a dirt trail in the woods up and down hills. Blazings of a stripe of white paint on tree trunks marked the trail. We jumped over mud and horse droppings and drank the country air. Later we feasted on burgers and sausages from animals raised in Ontario, and pies made from apples and pumpkins grown in the Greenbelt, all lovingly served up by Howard Beckett, Caledon’s Howard the Butcher.

“I’ve always liked being out of doors,” says Mr. Sellers, who grew up near Uxbridge. Hikes are a great bond linking his group’s 700 members, he says.

“A lot of friendships develop among people with a common love for the outdoors.”

Such talk is music to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who keenly wants to build greater Toronto’s love affair with untrammelled green space. But just how green is the Greenbelt?

On my way up here in my little Honda, I was enjoying the greenery on Highway 50 north of Bolton when suddenly I stopped. There, by the road, a bulldozer was pawing away, cutting a hole in a hillside, next to a sign announcing “Estate Homes!”

Nearby, new McMansions peaked from the forest. A sign in front of a forest read, “Glorco Holdings Inc. has submitted an application to rezone this property from Rural (A2) and Hazard Land (HL) to Estate Residential (RE). Contact Town of Caledon Planning & Development Department.”

I checked my map, produced by Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation. This spot is in the heart of the Greenbelt.

Later, during the speeches at the hiking trail, Richard Whitehead, the local councillor for the Region of Peel, told the assembled, “In 1900 the forest cover in Caledon was only 8% because it had been cleared for farming. Now it is 28%.”

After he spoke, I asked him about the rezoning applications, just two kilometres away.

He said a big wedge of land from Bolton to Highway 9, between Highway 50 and the York/Peel boundary, is designated as the “Palgrave Estates” area. It has 6,000 homes now, set to grow to 9,000.

“Limited residential development, properly organized, improves the environment,” he added.

Forgive me, Mr. Whitehead, but that’s a bigger load of crap than the one the horses left on the trail. Compact neighbourhoods served by transit, close to where people work, could be good for the environment.

Cutting up the countryside for estate homes that you can only reach by car, whose residents have to drive for a litre of milk, is lousy planning.

And I thought this was the Greenbelt.

To get to the Palgrave Conservation Area, take Highway 50 through Palgrave to Finnerty Sideroad. Turn left, then take the first left on Duffy’s Lane; turn left again at the first dirt road and park where it ends.

Photo of Harold Sellers, executive director with the Oak Ridges Trail Association, by Peter Redman for National Post


Entry filed under: Agriculture, Environment & Sustainability, Food, Local Agriculture. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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