This June saw the final closing of the controversial sale of the municipally owned lands sandwiching the former Talisman Resort to Westway Capital, a GTA-based group that has informally proposed a significant resort and residential development.
The land known as Talisman sits on the slope of the Niagara Escarpment protected lands, just outside of the hamlet of Kimberley, in the Beaver Valley Corridor, a picturesque, 40-kilometre stretch of the Beaver River Valley tightly enclosed on two sides by the Niagara Escarpment.
As tourist traffic shifted to Blue Mountain in the early 2000s, Talisman fell on hard times and declared bankruptcy in 2011. At that time the Municipality of Grey Highlands retained ownership of the lands above and below the resort—agricultural land and the Bruce Trail at the top and the former golf course on the river floodplain at the bottom.
The 3rd section contains the former ski hill and resort buildings, and has been owned since 2011 by another company, which has plans to revitalize the resort, including a spa. To date this development is working within the existing sewage, water and road infrastructure.
In 2020 the municipality announced plans to more aggressively market the lands to “maximize development potential.” In May of 2021, a GTA-based group of investors and real estate developers named Westway Capital approached Council with a proposal to buy the two properties and develop them. While at least one offer at a higher price was made, by the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy, it was not accepted. Most Council meetings concerning the sale were in private and minutes are not available.
The sale went ahead despite widespread public opposition and concerns about a lack of transparency by Council. A survey found the 72% of respondents were opposed to the sale and 75% thought the municipality was not acting in the best interest of its residents.
In the ensuing year, many community groups have come forward seeking to halt or delay the sale in favour of a more ecologically minded, community-driven future for the land.
The Protecting Talisman Lands Association (PTLA) formed in 2021 with the prime objective of retaining the top and bottom lands as green space for community enjoyment.
Despite the PTLA’s efforts, which included taking the municipality to court, the sale closed on June 9, 2022.
So what now?
“Now they’ve sold it off, we have no idea what’s going on with it except this one presentation that Westway Capital made to council which basically envisioned another Blue Mountain,” says Stephanie Warner of the PTLA. As the group watches and waits to see what Westway does next—concerned that they may try to get something approved quickly before there is a change in government—the PTLA has additional focus on the October 2022 municipal elections. The PTLA website states its objectives as:
- Raise awareness of the community’s vision for Talisman in the upcoming elections.
- Educate and advocate for continued green space and public access to the lands.
- Ensure that any development respects the unique features of the Beaver Valley and the Niagara Escarpment
- Enhance planning, biodiversity and floodplain regulations that recognize the vision for the Niagara Escarpment Plan and mitigate climate risk.
“We’re trying to get the municipality to be more transparent with what’s going on,” says Warner. We’re actively looking for councillors to run in Grey Highlands who can support the vision of appropriate development.”
The latest news is that Westway is sending a delegation to Grey Highlands Council on August 3, which may reveal more about their plans. Stay tuned for updates from that meeting.
The fight is far from over.
What can you do?
- Follow the Protecting Talisman Lands Association on Facebook and sign up for the newsletter at protecttalisman.ca
- Donate at protecttalisman.ca
- Volunteer with the Protecting Talisman Lands Association
- Continue to support partner groups like the Escarpment Corridors Alliance to show politicians that this is not just a NIMBY issue—there is widespread and unified support to ensure that development on the Niagara Escarpment is environmentally appropriate.
–Guest blog by our friends at the Protect Talisman Lands Association. The PTLA and ECA are aligned in their fight to keep the Escarpment green by stopping inappropriate developments, such as the one proposed in the Talisman Public Lands.