Many of us who live in the neighbourhood have found refuge in the sights, sounds and wildlife at Bluffer’s Park. To the nature lovers and photographers who visit the park daily, Bluffer’s Park is a slice of paradise—an oasis from the pressures of the city.
The reality is that the days are numbered for our beloved park. For those who have been following the local issues, you already know that the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) are undergoing their legally mandated public information session to reveal their development plans for the park and surrounding area. They do this under the guise of being concerned environmentalists and conservationists, when nothing could be further from the truth.
The TRCA was created in 1957 as a response to the shoreline damage created by Hurricane Hazel. Their primary mandate then, as is still today (specifically in this area), is to preserve houses that were built too close to the edge of the cliffs and are in danger of succumbing to the natural erosion processes of the Bluffs. (For more information about the geological significance of this area, and how there has been a massive failure to preserve it, please refer to an earlier Wild Bluffs article, “Geology and Conservation in The Bluffs — A Brief History.)
The Meadowcliff Drive Erosion Control Project, which was their latest endeavor, saw them destroy the natural beach at the base of the Bellamy Ravine, plow over and destroy a snake den/habitat, and start the process underway of completing a massive recreational trail at the base of the Bluffs. At the time of this construction, I asked the TRCA if they planned to continue the trail up to and/or through Bluffer’s Park. In the reply I received from them, I was assured that they had no specific plans to do so. A few months later, looking through the published minutes of their meetings, I found a document outlining their plans to do just that. Those plans have evolved into the Scarborough Waterfront Project (SWP). Throughout this process, they have kept community input down to the barest of minimums, and have excluded real conservation and environmental groups every step of the way.
The real issue here is that the TRCA is an organization that serves several functions, and two of their primary functions—preserving property and conservation work—are in direct conflict with each other. One cannot be an effective conservation group while you are under pressure to destroy natural shoreline in order to save houses.
Unfortunately, there are many property owners who did not do their due diligence in selecting their properties, and now the taxpayers of the City of Toronto are on the hook for millions of dollars to preserve multi-million dollar homes in an upscale area.
The current plan for the SWP is to complete the shoreline trail right through Bluffer’s Park, connecting it in to the westernmost part of the park, and over to the existing burms that can be seen from the west beach. They have managed to convince many residents that this is a desirable build, citing recreation opportunities and improved access to the Bluffs. This project would see the destruction of a plover nesting ground to the east, and eradication of coyote habitat in the same general area. One does not need to be an environmentalist to understand that destroying natural habitat for wildlife to build recreational zones for humans is not conservation work.
In the first of a series of 3 legally mandated community outreach meetings, held on September 10th, 2014, the audience of approximately 120 people were actively discouraged to speak publically about any concerns. At one point, the moderator (who was representing the TRCA) became snippy with the crowd and exclaimed that they couldn’t possibly listen to this many people, amid the grumbling of some of the attendees. Instead, the crowd was encouraged to fill out forms with their opinions, and write notes on post-its stuck to charts. They were also invited to speak with City of Toronto employees and members of the TRCA in small groups. I believe that they were trying to prevent a public display over how much opposition there is to this project, and were filtering out the official opinions of the community by picking and choosing what forms and post-it notes actually made it on record.
If this sounds like a cynical view, keep in mind that I personally have spent over 3 years trying to track down which government branch or agency they are actually responsible to. After dozens of emails, phone calls, and re-directions, I ended up at the Provincial Ministry of Natural Resources and I was informed that the only body that the TRCA is ultimately responsible to is its own Board of Directors. Which means that the numerous complaints and concerns that the public has shown about their conduct over the past few decades has been effectively silenced and disregarded by every level of government.
I have spoken to many people in this community, including some high ranking and prestigious individuals who have described to me their battles with the TRCA over the years, and how ultimately they gave up trying to protect and preserve the unique geology and habitat of this area as they were completely ineffective in their efforts.
During my research, I came across the most disturbing revelation yet about the TRCA. I was led to the Waterfront Regeneration Trust (WRT), a mostly privately funded lobby group whose intent and purpose it is to build the Waterfront Trail all along the lakeshore of Lake Ontario. I began to believe that it was this group in particular who was silently leading and guiding the TRCA in this project, as I had been informed by insiders at the City of Toronto that they were under enormous pressure from the Province to complete the Waterfront Trail. I now see that the TRCA has published their membership for their Stakeholder Committee regarding the SWP, and the WRT is one of the primary members on this committee.
In summary, I believe at this point there is nothing this neighbourhood can effectively do to stop any development plans for Bluffer’s Park. Their development vision for this area will destroy any remaining geology in the area, as well as disrupt the sensitive habitat for much wildlife, including several animals that are on the endangered species list for Ontario. The TRCA is so terrified of another scene like one the local community pulled at the public meeting for the paving of Chine Meadow that they have shut down any real dialogue with the community, and intend to steam-roll this process over everyone and anything that stands in their way.
If this article sounds like an attack on the TRCA, it’s only because I have tried over and over to engage them in dialogue regarding the concerns of many of our local residents, only to be shut-out and ignored. Our local City Councilor Gary Crawford has also shown no particular interest in these concerns from so many in our community. I applied to be on the TRCA SWP Stakeholder Committee representing over 120 members of the Wild Bluffs, and was not even contacted or questioned about my application, even though they later told me that this was their process with all the applicants. This kind of thing has also been the experience of many other conservationists over the years. It truly negates any of the good work they have done in other areas of the City when they move with such a heavy hand and a lack of accountability.
Humanity’s failure to understand the value of nature to our own well-being and health will be the final nail in our coffin. A concrete lined coffin where nary a flower can bloom, nor a blade of grass can sprout.
“What gradually burned itself into our memories more than any artifact or animal was the feeling of being an integral part of the environment, rather than something combating it. Civilized man had declared war against his own environment, and the battle was raging on all continents, gradually spreading to these distant islands. In fighting nature, man can win every battle except the last. If he should win that too, he will perish, like an embryo cutting its own umbilical cord. All other living creatures could exist without man; they did exist before man. But man could not exist before they were present, nor would he survive after they were gone.”
Thor Heyerdahl, Fatu-Hiva: Back to Nature