Losing a Champion for the Environment  – Greta McGillivray

Losing a Champion for the Environment  

On September 25th, our community experienced a significant loss with the passing of Greta McGillivray – one of the original defenders of the unique escarpment environment up in the Collingwood area. I had the pleasure to serve on the Blue Mountain Watershed Trust Board alongside Greta and Terk Bailey, Malcolm Kirk, Norm Wingrove, Sonny Foley and others back in the 90’s. Each meeting was held in Greta’s beautiful home, known for its beautiful, naturalized front yard on Minnesota Street.

We all owe a lot to Greta for her early efforts to protect and conserve. She was tireless. She taught us all that everything is connected!

Her efforts to save the remaining critical natural features and assets here in the Collingwood area were relentless. She was committed to protecting the incredible natural assets that drew us all here in the first place and helped to establish this area as a major tourism and recreation destination.

Through her work in the community, Greta helped to found both the Nature League, and the Blue Mountain Watershed Trust – two of the region’s leading conservation groups. Today, more than 30 years later, we continue to struggle to protect and conserve these very same Escarpment and creek systems and corridors. As a result of her leadership, so many more of us now continue her work as we continue the fight to protect our natural spaces.

As Greta’s daughter Jane reminded me, one of Greta’s often quoted sayings was “There is something fundamentally wrong with a civilization that insists upon treating the earth like a business in liquidation”.

I personally learned a lot from Greta, lessons that steered my career towards more responsible forms of tourism, and my personal commitment to continue doing my part in saving the remaining special places on Mother Earth.

Let’s all pick up the torch and work together to:

  • Stop irresponsible development on the Escarpment brow and slopes;
  • Protect and Conserve a green corridor from Creemore to Kimbercote; and
  • Stimulate creation of a strong, vibrant conservation economy that benefits and is driven by our local communities.

Written by Mike Robbins
Board Member of the Escarpment Corridor Alliance
Working Group Member for the Aspiring Georgian Bay Geopark
Member of the Trebek Council
Part of the TAPAS Group Network (IUCN T
Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group)Founding Partner with the Tourism Company

First Annual WILDHOOD Festival A Success!

Over 250 people, including many parents and children, enjoyed a wonderful day of environmental education, music, exhibitors, and a fabulous BBQ lunch prepared and served by the Thornbury Beaver Valley Lion’s Club.

The first WILDHOOD FESTIVAL was held on Saturday September 24th on the beautiful site of the Blue Mountain WILD School at Elephant Thoughts’ Kimbercote Campus overlooking the Beaver Valley. Co-sponsored by the Blue Mountain WILD School, the Escarpment Corridor Alliance (ECA), and Elephant Thoughts, the Festival was held to raise awareness of the many threats which the Niagara Escarpment faces in South Georgian Bay.

Environmental groups in attendance, who are each fighting to protect a special area of the Escarpment, included: Protect Talisman Lands, Friends of Silver Creek, Royal Astronomical Society Canada, Protect Our Winters, and Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy. Support for these environmental groups continues to grow as demonstrated by the turnout at the WILDHOOD FESTIVAL. The Escarpment Corridor Alliance has brought many of these groups together as partners to share resources and demonstrate to politicians and developers the strength of their cause to preserve and protect the Escarpment in South Georgian Bay. Vendors included Bloem Botanicals, Pollinate Collingwood, BeYou Yoga + Wellness, Holly Mac Realty, Beards and the Bees, Elephant Thoughts – Bees, Ashanti Coffee, Elephant Thoughts – Robotics, and Bubble Grove.

The day included many kids’ programs including scavenger hunts, a dash robot coding session, an obstacle course, a soccer game, math games, and more. The children were also entertained with a fun and educational talk about the formation of the escarpment and its geology and fossil “life” by Annette Sandberg a ECA board member. Musical entertainment was provided by local talent Ed St. Moritz, Alan Gardner, and members of Hot Pants.

We look forward to hosting another event soon in support of the preservation and protection of the Niagara Escarpment in South Georgian Bay.

 Escarpment WILDHOOD Festival Sept. 24, 12-5 PM!

MEDIA RELEASE

 ESCARPMENT WILDHOOD FESTIVAL SEPT. 24 ,12 – 5 PM

Protecting the Future of the Escarpment in Southern Georgian Bay and Saluting Science Literary Week

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September 6, 2022, Kimberley, Town of the Blue Mountains…..The first annual Escarpment WILDHOOD Festival, inspired by The WILDHOOD Festival,  the U.K. multi award-winning festival for children and families, will bring together local environmental groups at Blue Mountain Wild School’s campus location on the Kimbercote Farm property.  The objective of the festival is to raise awareness of the many environmental issues threatening the Niagara Escarpment of South Georgian Bay and its catchment area.

Starting at noon on Sat. Sept. 24, the free festival will salute Science Literacy Week and will be a fun, adventurous and educational day that will include a nature scavenger hunt, obstacle course and other fun kids programming; a vendor village featuring many local businesses; food, refreshments and a performance by The Thirsty Boys.  There will be an opportunity to learn about the many environmental challenges currently unfolding in numerous locations throughout South Georgian Bay from the groups in attendance including:  Blue Mountain Watershed Trust, Friends of Silver Creek, Harbour West Residents Group, Protect Talisman Lands, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and Save Georgian Bay.

“We want to bring families, young and older adults together for a fun, educational day, introduce them to our school and engage them in the bigger conversation regarding the importance of the environment. Only by teaching and learning about the gravity of the pending environmental crisis in and around the Escarpment, will we start to illicit change,” said Jeff Barrett, Founder/Executive Director of Blue Mountain Wild School and co-organizer of the Escarpment WILDHOOD Festival.

David Scoon, Member of the Board of Directors of the Escarpment Corridor Alliance and co-organizer of the Escarpment WILDHOOD Festival said, “we continue to be alarmed by oversized, short-sighted and irresponsible development.  Whether it is Castle Glen, Talisman or the Silver Creek Wetland, precious forests and habitats for endangered species will be destroyed if we don’t educate and inform those around us.  We hope that many folks will come out and learn how they can help save these valuable resources.”

Opportunities to offer donations or to volunteer support will be available on-site.  Parking will be available and follow signage to the site which is located at 316362 3rd Line, Kimberley, ON N0C 1G0.

The event page is live on Facebook, click here for more information and to let the organizers know you’re coming!

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For further information:

Katherine Holmes

416-919-6310

kholmes@holmespr.com

The Elephant on the Escarpment

Let’s call a spade a spade. For over 50 years now, the Castle Glen development, in one form or another, has been “on the books.” Yet, when it comes to the Town of the Blue Mountains politicians and staff, it has long remained the proverbial elephant on the Escarpment. None of them want to touch it. “Keep quiet and maybe it will go away,” has been the historical approach. Castle Glen shows up on page 283 of the Official Plan. It appears a few times in passing and parentheses in the BLUEPRINT, the Town’s 2022 Official Plan Review publications. Population projections through 2046 in the same BLUEPRINT documents don’t even include Castle Glen. As if this will magically make it all disappear!

The Escarpment Corridor Alliance (ECA) wants you to know that Castle Glen is NOT just “another development,” and without our efforts it won’t magically disappear.

Let’s put things in context.

Five Fast Facts

Developed as planned, Castle Glen would represent:

  1. The single largest development in the history of the Town of the Blue Mountains.
  2. The single largest development in the future Official Plan planning period (2022–2046) of the Town.
  3. An increase in population that would exceed the total cumulative population growth for the Town over the past 15-year period (2006–2021).
  4. An urban area with a population 10–20% greater than Thornbury (based on 2021 census data).
  5. The single largest new development on the brow and prominent Escarpment slopes in the province of Ontario since the creation of the Niagara Escarpment Commission (the “NEC”) in 1973.

But there’s more. The biggest “single largest” is the most dispiriting of all – given its size, strategic location as part of the escarpment corridor and its exceptional ecological value, the Castle Glen development would be the single most environmentally destructive development, not just in the history of the Blue Mountains, but in the history of the Niagara Escarpment.

Oh, by the way, because the Castle Glen development is masquerading behind resort residential zoning (my emphasis) the developers can be exempt from the planning for infrastructure, schools, libraries, EMS services that would normally be associated with such an urban area.

The ECA is saying “enough is enough.” Our lawyer, David Donnelly, will be submitting our formal response to the recently issued Staff Report on the History and Current Status of Castle Glen Property on Friday August 19th. The ECA will then be making a formal deputation to Town Council when they receive the report on Tuesday August 30th.

From now on, we want Council, Staff and Blue Mountains residents to call the proposed Castle Glen development exactly what it is: a huge and irreparably destructive new urban development on the brow of the UNESCO designated Niagara Escarpment Biosphere.

Goodbye elephant!

Having spent the past two decades trying to fight this phantom development there have been many very frustrating moments. Today, I am filled with hope that common sense will prevail. It is 2022 and we do know better!

Do you want to make a difference? Here’s how you can help:

  1. Your voice – show up to Blue Mountain Council on August 30th.
  2. Your donations – every dollar helps, especially as we begin to engage legal counsel and professionals and amplify our messaging.
  3. Your support – please volunteer, sign our petition, register for our newsletter and spread the word to friends, families and your communities.

With gratitude,

Bruce Harbinson

President, Escarpment Corridor Alliance

Talisman Update Part II: Beaver Valley Development Group Presents to Council

Westway, working under the new name, Beaver Valley Development Group (BVDG) presented to Grey Highlands Council on August 3 – watch from the 1:08 mark. While short on substance the presentation was long on buzzwords such as sustainable, wellness, collaboration, listening and ecotourismWhile nothing specific was shared it is very clear that they are intent on moving forward with significant development on farmland and Beaver River watershed lands at the Talisman site.

While BVDG continues to perpetuate the myth, started by Grey Highlands staff and Council, that they will “revitalize” the old Talisman resort, this is puzzling as they do not own that property, but bought the pristine farmland and watershed/floodplain properties that sandwich the Talisman resort and old ski hill. In response to a question, BVDG indicated they were attempting to reach an agreement with the owners of the resort property. We don’t know the nature of this agreement.

The presenters were very careful to say that they have “no vision and no plan” but yet have been meeting with the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority, the Niagara Escarpment Commission, and the Bruce Trail ConservancyThe developers also thanked Grey Highlands staff for their guidance and support. If there is “no vision and no plan”, which they say is to be developed in consultation with the community, what have they have been discussing with our representatives and officials tasked with protecting the Escarpment?

Apparently, community consultation to inform the vision and plan is tentatively scheduled to begin in September. It is important that the community continues to be deeply and actively engaged to promote a green Beaver Valley and Escarpment, and to protect our environment, farmlands, rivers and watersheds.

Many questions remain:

  • What will be developed and where will it be built?
  • How will this development affect the existing redevelopment plans for the original Talisman resort?
  • How will development affect local neighbours in Amik, Kimberley and at the top of the hill?
  • What will be the costs to taxpayers to develop the access roads and bridges along 7A so they can handle years of construction equipment and hundreds of more cars?
  • How will sewage and water capacity be expanded to handle the development and at what cost?
  • How will development on farmland at the top of hill, which is on Karst, affect the municipal water treatment plant which draws from this area to supply Amik?
  • Will the developer be required to fund a substantive new flood plain study as the 1995 study for the site is outdated, and does not incorporate climate change or Eugenia Dam releases? See Kate Lazier’s excellent presentation on this subject to GSCA here.

–This is the second blog in our update on the sale of the Talisman Public Lands. Once again, we were fortunate to receive this update from our friends at the Protect Talisman Lands Association. The PTLA and ECA are aligned in our fight to keep the Escarpment green by stopping inappropriate developments, such as the one proposed on the Talisman Public Lands.

The PTLA thanks you all for your continued engagement and donations.  All help of time and money is extremely appreciated and is tax deductible through our Small Change Fund project. Donate here to support the PTLA’s fight to protect the Talisman Public Lands.

Talisman Update: What Now That the Land’s Been Sold?

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.

The Escarpment Summit: Like-Minded Groups Meet to Discuss Strategy

At the end of June, the G7 summit met in Germany. Just prior, on June 23, there was a rather different meeting of the minds at an “Escarpment Summit.”

The Escarpment Corridor Alliance (ECA) gathered close to a dozen local organizations for a workshopping session to share ideas and support each other in the common goal of keeping the Escarpment green for future generations.

“The key message was the urgency expressed and how little time we may have to act,” said David Scoon, an ECA board member. “If we don’t act quickly and forcefully, forests could be cut down practically overnight.”

Attendees included the Friends of Silver Creek, Save Georgian Bay, Collingwood Climate Action Team, the Nature League of Collingwood, Collingwood Cycling Club, Collingwood Off Road Cycling, Kolapore Wilderness Trails, Protecting Talisman Lands Association, Blue Mountain Watershed Trust, and the Niagara Escarpment Foundation.

The gathering highlighted the power of these groups to bring together a very large number of concerned citizens with a common interest of protecting the Niagara Escarpment from irresponsible development.

Going forward, the groups plan to share information and join forces to send a joint letter to politicians.

Further actions to watch for and support include a large community event before the municipal elections this fall and letter writing campaigns.

“The gathering certainly emphasized the fact that we are all in this together, and by joining forces, we are much stronger and in a better position to achieve our common goals,” said Scoon.

See below for the full list of attendees, and please follow and share their social media.

Escarpment Corridor Alliance

Friends of Silver Creek

Protecting Talisman Lands Association

Niagara Escarpment Foundation

Save Georgian Bay

Collingwood Climate Action Team

Nature League of Collingwood

Collingwood Cycling Club

Blue Mountain Watershed Trust

Collingwood Off Road Cycling

Kolapore Wilderness Trails