The HCBP is proposed for a 675-acre piece of land in the south end of the city. The City of Guelph is the primary developer, proposing 367 acres of buildings and parking lots, 69 acres of roads, and 74 acres of storm water management ponds. Of developable land, 85 per cent would be covered by impermeable surfaces. In the centre is what many regard as an old-growth forest, a sensitive native ecosystem containing some of Wellington County’s oldest trees. There are no confirmed tenants for the proposed business park
While differing on tactics, groups such as the Wilderness Committee, the Sierra Club, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group’s Speed River Project, Wellington Water Watchers, the Guelph Council of Canadians, and the Guelph Urban Forest Friends have also identified problems with the proposed business park. Downstream from Guelph, the Hoskanigetah of the Grand River, the traditional decision-making body from Six Nations, has allied with the occupiers against the proposed business park. It has ordered the city to “cease and desist the development,” due to risks to our shared watershed.
This land, like most of southern Ontario, is suffering from death by a thousand cuts. Eighty per cent of the wetlands in southern Ontario have been destroyed, and less than one per cent of old-growth forest remains. Individual developments are rationalized as having insignificant impacts, but taken together, sprawl is killing this land.
We occupied the site because the political system has failed us and is failing to protect the land. Guelph Mayor Karen Farbridge proclaims we have “ignored the democratic process.” But beyond providing abundant scientific evidence contradicting the city’s plan, we and others have attended every possible public meeting, written letters, met with city staff, the Grand River Conservation Authority, the Ministry of Natural Resources and local politicians, and had standing-room-only town hall debates – yet the city still wishes to bulldoze ahead. Occasionally these processes establish piecemeal improvements, yet the project itself is never up for debate. This enables politicians to tout their “public process,” while ignoring more fundamental concerns.
Ironically, the most significant improvements to the business park proposal occurred only because the city was forced twice into court. In 2006, the city was taken to the Ontario Municipal Board, which imposed 75 conditions, though only three have much environmental significance. The other 72 simply address traffic, costs, lighting, fences and such.
The second time was our work stoppage, where both us and the cty filed applications for injunctions. We exposed the ministry’s opposition to the business park due to faulty salamander surveys, and how the city ignored the ministry and tried forcing the project through.
So, when Farbridge says, “A handful of protestors have held the city hostage and ignored democratic processes,” we’re confused. Hundreds of people participated in the occupation, with untold more offering support. Of the 32 days work was stopped, 25 were the result of court orders and ministry deliberation. Did the courts and the Ministry of Natural RTesources also hold the city “hostage?”
The city constantly tells us the business park is a “done deal.” But if democracy is to have integrity, the process should be amenable to such large concerns, and nothing should ever be a “done deal” – especially when the land remains intact. A dump site in Simcoe County is just one example where council recently voted to cancel the project.
Many people begin activism with some faith in the system. Many more lose that faith after pouring too much of their lives into a system designed to fail us. What was interesting about the occupation was that many people came in support who aren’t at all “activists,” but were excited and moved by our actions. The occupation arose because we’re sick and tired of watching our planet literally fall apart while those in power pass responsibility back and forth, and we found we are far from alone. Business as usual has to end, climate scientists warn with increasing urgency. That land could host wildlife habitat, community gardens, urban farms, orchards, seed banks, and learning facilities – precisely the antidote to mounting challenges of climate change and peak oil. But if this City keeps holding onto an industrial park as a solution, then we’re in for serious trouble.
We need radical change in how we think, how we relate to each other and to the land, and how we live, and we can’t rely on anyone else for this. We need courage, honesty, love, empathy, and action. The occupation is a beginning of a more organized, empowered and urgent collective defence of this earth. You are more than welcome to join us.
Sam Ansleis and Matt Soltys were among the group that occupied the proposed site of the Hanlon Creek Business Park this summer. More writings of their group can be viewed at HCBPoccupation.wordpress.com.
Hanlon Creek Protesters sit down
by Kelsey Rideout
The controversial development of the Hanlon Creek Business Park was slated to begin in the spring of 2009. The City of Guelph considered it an important part of the local growth management strategy. However, the construction site was met by a group of protestors who occupied the site over the summer. After a series of legal decisions and consultations, the development of the Hanlon Business Creek Park has now been delayed until the spring of 2010.
The Hanlon Creek Business Park Occupation website outlines four main reasons why protestors and community members contest the development of the park. These include: the intrinsic worth of an old growth forest, the significance of the Paris-Galt Moraine to the integrity of Guelph’s drinking water, the abundance of “brownfields” and industrial land that is not in use, and provincial and federal regulations concerning the preservation of the Jefferson Salamander.
Marcy Goldstein, 25, a community resident and Sam Ansleis, 22, a University of Guelph student, shared their thoughts about the Hanlon Business Creek Park development as individuals involved in the occupation of the controversial site.
Kelsey Rideout: From your perspectives, why refute the development of the Hanlon Creek Business Park?
Marcy Goldstein: For me, personally, it comes from valuing land more than valuing the industrial business world… I think that we need to start valuing land as a culture and a society and we need to value everything that the land teaches us…It’s also the idea of putting a development on top of a wetland, while Southern Ontario has less and less clean drinking water, as it’s getting more and more contaminated… As climate change becomes an increasing reality, I think more and more we have to realize what we need and it’s not an industrial business park. We need to find new ways to live, which include valuing an old growth forest and also looking at how we can give back to it.
KR: Who exactly were the protestors?
Sam Ansleis: It was diverse. There were definitely people of different age demographics who were there. In terms of who was there consistently on the site, they were probably from the specific age demographic of the 20s.
KR: Can you describe a typical day and night while camping on the protest site?
Sam Ansleis: Initially, we had a big meeting with everyone that was there and established ground rules and established that it was a site of resistance…There was a lot of talks on how to take care of each other emotionally, mentally, physically…It was a drug and alcohol free zone because it was a site of resistance and because the talks we were having required us to be as present as we possibly could.
MG: In terms of a regular day, we all had different rules that we alternated among us…We had different security shifts during the night so we made sure that someone was awake all night to keep all of us safe. We cooked breakfast for each other, lunch and supper. Keeping the camp tidy, talking to media, doing a lot of public outreach to visitors as they came in and taking them on tours and showing them the trees, was a lot of… needing to be on the spot. This was our home, and it was also a home that was always open to the public, all of the time.
KR: On Aug. 27 the Minister of Natural Resources, Donna Cansfield, decided not to issue a work stop order, allowing the City to work under certain conditions in order to protect the Jefferson Salamander. However, after resistance to the HCBP continued, the City announced that they were not constructing the culvert until Spring 2010. How do you feel about this decision?
MG: For me it was mostly just a huge sigh of relief. I was like ‘okay I can breathe now,’ because it was definitely a sense of urgency when Donna gave the go ahead…Every single person that lives here now has more time to do what inspires them in terms of encouraging the city to stop this…And [there is] a lot of joy, I don’t say that enough. Definitely a sense of joy for all of the different living beings that are there.
KR: What does “activism” mean to you on a personal level?
SA: I’m not an activist. I don’t define myself as an activist. I’m just somebody who ia existing within the society and my reactions to the society I think are really reasonable reactions. I think that the term [activist] separates my actions from my everyday life. My action of being at the occupation was something that I needed to do, something I had to do to survive.
MG: My main problem with the word activism is that it creates a boundary between yourself and others. It creates this special role of an activist, which is different from other people in the world living their lives. And I don’t see myself as special or as separate from other people living their lives. I think a single mother having three jobs and raising kids is so strong and just surviving in the system is as much an activist although she wouldn’t have that label like they would give me. I’m fighting for this land not because I consider myself an activist but because I see this land as a central part to our survival, if anything it’s self-defense.