In a recent gathering of like-minded organizations, the Escarpment Corridor Alliance (ECA) hosted a partner meeting on June 23. The primary objective was to foster collaboration and strengthen alliances among the participants, all of whom share a common goal of safeguarding the Niagara Escarpment in South Georgian Bay. Guided by ECA Board Member, David Scoon, the meeting brought together over twenty organizations dedicated to the preservation of the region’s vital ecosystems, including forests, fields, wetlands, and watersheds.
During the meeting, an important contribution was made by Robert Wong from RMCG Research. Wong set the stage with a results presentation of the Escarpment Community Survey, a recent initiative that provided invaluable insights into the perceptions and concerns of the local community regarding the preservation of the Niagara Escarpment. This presentation served as a catalyst for discussions and played a significant role in shaping the collaborative efforts of the organizations moving forward.
- Thinking bigger is helpful. Working together and presenting a common front makes us all stronger….the voice of the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts;
- Different forms of coordination and resource sharing need to be encouraged. Common calendars and shared service models are examples of these activities;
- The ECA is in a unique position to help drive this partnership model forward and in so doing create opportunities to add incremental support to the valuable work of each individual partner organization.
Two critical events occurred in November 2022 that make the Escarpment Corridor Alliance’s work and plans for 2023/2024 so essential for the future of Ontario’s environment.
First, Conservative Premier Doug Ford announced the removal of 7,400 acres from Ontario’s Greenbelt. This announcement led to an immediate and immense public outcry from just about every stakeholder group, save the developers who stand to benefit.
Second, and with almost no fanfare, the Auditor General of Ontario released her “Value for Money Audit: Conserving the Niagara Escarpment.” It is a scathing indictment of neglect and lack of oversight of one of our provincial treasures and a globally significant UNESCO World Biosphere.
The connection is very important. Many people do not realize that the Niagara Escarpment formed the original part of the Ontario Greenbelt and, to this day, makes up 25% of the total Greenbelt area. In fact, Castle Glen (the proposed site of a Blue Mountains mega-development) was listed as one of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance’s Top 10 Hotspots in its 2005 report card – FYI, it scored an ‘F’. The other common link is that The Greenbelt Act (2005) and the Niagara Escarpment Planning & Development Act (1973) are just that … Acts. They are pieces of paper and, as we have seen, subject to arbitrary change at the drop of a hat.
So, on to the year ahead.
Events & Awareness – Ed Burtynsky Partnership
An explicit goal for the ECA in the coming year is to make sure everyone who treasures the Niagara Escarpment explicitly understands that we can no longer count on the protection of an Act or the Niagara Escarpment Commission to keep our escarpment green and intact for future generations. Proposed developments threaten to behead the escarpment in two of its most iconic and sensitive locations – Castle Glen in The Blue Mountains and Talisman in the Beaver Valley. To protect these areas, these stories need to be told across the province.
To help build that awareness, the ECA is excited to announce that world renowned landscape photographer and filmmaker, Edward Burtunsky, (www.edwardburtynsky.com) is partnering with the ECA on a weekend of environmental leadership, arts, and educational events in Collingwood (Sept. 22nd/23rd). I will write more about this in an upcoming blog, but we look forward to using this partnership to raise the ECA’s profile and our fundraising reach across the province.
Data Driven Dialogue
The ECA recently engaged RCMG Inc., a top regional survey firm, to conduct a widespread analysis of how residents and visitors work, live, and play across the escarpment of Southern Georgian Bay as well as examine their attitudes towards specific proposed developments like Castle Glen, Talisman, and Silver Creek Wetlands. We are pleased to report that this survey generated over 3,000 responses following promotion by radio, direct mail, a poster campaign, social media, and other channels. This response rate far exceeds other surveys that have been done at the municipal and/or organizational level in our region and gives the ECA the data required to engage our local, regional, and provincial governments and agencies with an even stronger, and more legitimate, voice. Expect the data to be released in early May.
Working across multiple local and regional governments is critical if we want our environment to be protected – and it can be very complex and challenging. In my last blog, I discussed a motion recently passed unanimously by The Blue Mountains council that called for the protection of greenspace and the creation of natural corridors in Southern Georgian Bay. We are delighted to see the second half of this motion begin to take shape starting in May when the Chief Administrative Officers from adjoining municipalities will meet with the ECA and other stakeholders in order to determine how we can extend this vision for protected natural corridors across Southern Georgian Bay.
Environmental, Legal, Planning, and Economic Work
The ECA is embarking on significant projects with multiple professionals in 2023 as we build the case for land conservation, not just in our hotspots, but also across our broader region. At the scientific level, wetland and watershed evaluations, species at risk analysis, GIS and constraints mapping, and much more work is underway or being initiated to support our advocacy with governments. Legal and planning projects continue to focus on understanding how today’s legislation is best applied to overturn 50-year-old legacy planning mistakes that almost nobody believes serve the public interest nor our environment. Finally, we have several projects focused on building the case for a Conservation Economy approach to how we manage and profit from our natural assets for generations to come.
From Grassroots to Professional Organization
From the onset, our Board of Directors have been fully aligned to our mission of keeping the escarpment across Southern Georgian Bay green and free of inappropriate and unnecessary development. We were also in agreement that, to do so, we would need to supplement our cherished grassroots approach. We would need professional elements in our organization who will make sure the volunteers, who will continue to be the lifeblood of the ECA, are more effective.
The person who will help the ECA to move to the next level is Jarvis Strong, who we are delighted to have hired as our first Executive Director. Jarvis will initially be working on a part-time basis out of our new HQ at The Foundry in Collingwood. His background as an accomplished ED along with his fundraising experience, energy, and passion for outdoor education make him a perfect fit for the ECA. Under Jarvis, the ECA will build out the systems and governance required to achieve maximum impact across our community.
Our escarpment, the Giant’s Rib, that stretches across our regional landscape represents something essential, something that we passionately believe is worth fighting for. We hope that you feel the same and that we can count on you for your support in the year ahead.
On March 1st, 2022, the Escarpment Corridor Alliance made its public debut over a Zoom meeting. It’s hard to believe all that has transpired over the past year and how far the ECA has come. With this post, we would like to reflect on all that has been accomplished over the past year. And, in our next post, we will share a preview of the very exciting year ahead.
Making Our Mission Public
From that first Zoom call, attended by nearly 150 people, the awareness and support of the ECA has skyrocketed. Concerned supporters – residents and visitors – of our beautiful Southern Georgian Bay area have resoundingly connected with our mission for broad corridors that protect our natural heritage and biodiversity, and offer unique recreational opportunities to all. And, while the ECA is absolutely fighting against mega-developments like Castle Glen and Talisman, our supporters clearly recognize that we are fighting for something bigger … a green escarpment for generations to come. “Think global; act (BIG) local” is our mantra!
Groundswell of Support
One year in and we now have almost 22,000 supporters who have signed our petition to keep the escarpment free of mega developments. Thousands more supporters are reading our newsletters and actively engaging with us on social media.
Our Donor Base
Battling large land developers and creating a professional not-for-profit organization is expensive. Period. We are so grateful to the hundreds of individuals, families, and foundations that have made such generous donations that allowed us to accelerate past the grassroots phase and professionalize the organization. Your support has helped us build our team of scientific, planning and legal experts as well as expand our marketing reach.
With a mission that resonates and a highly engaged board of directors reaching out far and wide across the escarpment, the media have taken notice. The ECA has had coverage in countless newspaper articles, magazine features, social media and on CBC Radio (click HERE to listen).
The word Alliance in the ECA name is not an accident. In a single year we have partnered with over a dozen local and regional environmental, recreational, and social organizations often becoming a conduit for their voices to be amplified, all while building our base of support. Working in collaboration with organizations like the Blue Mountain Watershed Trust, Protect Talisman Lands Association, Friends of Silver Creek, and others we have significantly elevated our collective impact.
Throughout 2022 ECA Directors and volunteers made our case through presentations, deputations, written submissions, and townhalls to our elected officials. Moreover, we worked tirelessly to determine which candidates, provincially and locally, shared our vision for a green escarpment. Our impact on elections across the four municipalities we touch was profound. Nowhere was this evidenced more clearly than in The Blue Mountains where the new council recently voted, and unanimously passed, a motion that called for the protection of greenspace and the creation of natural corridors in Southern Georgian Bay. Critically, the motion spoke to increasing collaboration across municipalities, precisely what we, at the ECA, are aiming to achieve. We could not have written it better ourselves!
Now, thanks to the ECA and the incredible work of all our directors, volunteers, and supporters, our vision is well recognized across local municipal governments. This sets the stage for other municipalities to follow suit and sends a clear message to the provincial and federal governments.
Nobody said it would be easy, but nothing worth fighting for is!
Thanks to all of you for your support in getting us off the ground. Let’s build on this remarkable start and make our second year even better.
Council voted unanimously to work with regional partners and the province to enhance local land conservation through a formal collaboration process.
This calls for a celebration! Local residents and environmental advocates were thrilled to witness a 5-0 vote by The Blue Mountains Council to move forward with a proposal to increase the collaboration between stakeholders in order to protect the green spaces along the Niagara Escarpment.
The motion, put forward by Councillor Alex Maxwell, goes beyond The Blue Mountains and requests that staff collaborate with neighbouring municipal and regional councils and other stakeholders to create planning processes that incorporate natural environment protection and sustainability as guiding principles. The motion acknowledges the importance of our natural environment to all aspects of our regional economy, combatting climate change, and maintaining healthy ecosystems for generations to come.
The Motion for the Protection of Green Space received strong community support from residents who wrote letters and spoke at the January 23rd Council meeting. Local resident and Escarpment Corridor Alliance (ECA) Director George Knowles informed council members at the meeting that, “we can’t solve all the problems around the world, but it’s up to us to do what we can, where we are, right here, right now, in the Town of The Blue Mountains. And we know that nature doesn’t pay attention to political boundaries, so we need to work in concert with Grey Highlands, Collingwood, and Clearview. As the saying goes, we need to think globally and act locally. This motion offers a chance to act big locally, right here, at home.”
The ECA is a coalition of local residents, businesses, and organizations who are alarmed plans to turn key parts of the brow and prominent slopes of the Niagara Escarpment into mega-developments. The ECA is encouraged by The Blue Mountains Council’s strong leadership and support of the motion and hopes that it will help municipalities to reconsider inappropriate developments such as the proposal for Castle Glen that would replace over 1,500 acres of forest and ecologically-sensitive wetlands with 1,600 homes, hotels, three golf courses and 54,000 square feet of retail space.
“Kudos to Town of The Blue Mountains Council for making the right decision and voting to pass this motion recognizing the true value of our natural heritage,” said ECA President Bruce Harbinson. “Land conservation principles don’t necessarily align with political boundaries which is why this motion and having collaboration across all of our region’s municipalities is so important and timely.”
As we look back on 2022, we’re encouraged by all that we’ve accomplished together since our launch in March – and we’re grateful for your support.
Over the past year, we’ve raised awareness about the threats facing our natural lands and connected with residents, businesses and organizations in support of our home! Through elections, outreach, and events, we’ve grown together and are ready for another successful year ahead.
Amongst many other achievements, we’ve:
- Gained over 20,000 signatures on our petition, highlighting the importance of the Escarpment and the support across Ontario for a responsible approach to development;
- Led significant legal, public relations, and advocacy campaigns to protect our community;
- Advocated for land conservation and sustainability to leaders, local representatives, and municipal councils;
- Built strong relationships with likeminded residents, businesses, and organizations; and
- Voiced our strong opposition to Bill 23 and other policies and legislation harmful to the environment alongside community members and organizations across the province.
In the year to come, we plan to continue connecting with friends and neighbours while building new relationships in the community. Additionally, and after thorough preparation with our team, we are expanding our outreach with government officials to increase our advocacy for the protection of our region.
We look forward to working with you in the coming year and continuing to protect our community together. Your support, from volunteering to donations and petition participation has been central to our success throughout 2022. In the words of John F. Kennedy, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”
Looking ahead to the new year, we imagine how much more we can accomplish – together. We cannot wait to continue our work to protect the Niagara Escarpment.
Wishing you a happy holiday season and our best wishes for the new year.
The Beaver Valley is being threatened by a massive development – and our friends at the Protecting Talisman Lands Association continue to fight against this destructive proposal. Join us on Thursday, December 29th from 3-5 PM at Kimberley Hall to learn more.
If you are unable to attend but would like to receive an information package please contact us at email@example.com.
It will be a ‘world cafe’ style event with a quick overview of the initial development proposal, brief presentations by many of the community (and other) groups involved, followed by a social time for sharing information, questions etc. Refreshments will be available downstairs in the hall; a heartfelt thank you Stacie (Kimberley General Store) and Justin (Justin’s Oven) for their continued support!
What are some of the ongoing concerns with the proposed development on the Talisman Public Lands?
- 500+ units: Only 15% smaller than all of Markdale! Adds 300% more homes in Amik/Kimberley.
- Unknown Costs: Many questions about payment for the short-term and long-term costs to install and maintain the infrastructure: 7a road paving, water treatment plant expansion, sewage installation, subdivision road plowing, etc.
- Uncoordinated planning: Plans only address the upper and lower parcels and not the middle portion, including the former resort buildings.
- Environmental devastation: A new town in the middle of the Niagara Escarpment is nothing less than devastating.
Join us on Thursday, December 29th from 3-5 PM at Kimberly Hall to learn more. Masks required.