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.

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

My Grandfather Built Lake of the Clouds

My grandfather, Bing Young, built Lake of the Clouds in 1965. He worked in construction all his life. Castle Glen hired him as the caretaker. He plowed all the roads, took care of all the buildings, and he also built the lake. He did that until he retired around the year 2000. He lived across Grey Road 19. There’s an old farmhouse on the hill. When he retired Castle Glen gave him two acres of land and he built his house there.

I spent every weekend as a child up there, always hiking. The lake was stocked with speckled trout. That’s where I would spend all my Christmases. I proposed to my wife there, too, right at the arch of the castle.

My grandfather had to enforce the No Trespassing signs at certain times because big four-wheelers would come in off the Sixth Street extension, drive into the castle and rip up the trails. But other than that, everyone you talk to up there is very open about sharing the land. I’ve been going up there my whole life as a local. It’s always just something you do on weekends. The walk through the hardwood forest from the castle to Sixth Street is absolutely beautiful. It’s an ecosystem for a lot of wildlife. It’s a nice place to enjoy. When you come out of that forest the view over the whole area is incredible.

There’s a real lack of awareness about what could happen to the Castle Glen property. Until I heard about it from the Escarpment Corridor Alliance I had no idea that the land was sold to a big developer. The original Castle Glen owners had the dream of doing all this but they never had the funds to make it happen. I have the original pamphlet from Castle Glen when they were selling lots for $3,900 in the late ‘60s or early ’70s. The development was the kind of thing that was out of sight, out of mind. It was something from 15 or 20 years ago that stalled and everyone forgot about.

I’ve always been a mountain biker. One of my biggest concerns is that the nearby mountain bike trails at Three Stage will get destroyed. The soil is clay-based. When it’s wet and people ride there, the trails get damaged fast. A 1,600-home development, potentially a hotel, is just that much more traffic volume.

And for the road biking community, Grey Road 19 is a haven for cyclists. The increased traffic would be monumental. I can’t imagine all the dump trucks going up and down there.

I also worry about the Pretty River Provincial Park and the amount of people that the development will bring. And I don’t like the idea of a housing development right on the Bruce Trail corridor.

I’m not against development, but this is massive. I’m surprised that the environmental side isn’t being looked at more.

My grandfather passed away in 2002, but all those trails and forests are the same as I remember them. If that development is pushed through, it would change the whole landscape of the area.

My hope is that Castle Glen stays as it is for future generations to enjoy.

This article is edited and condensed from an interview with Jason Smith, an avid mountain biker and ECA volunteer who grew up in Collingwood and now lives in Wasaga Beach. 

Traffic Math—How development threatens the Escarpment’s best cycling and hiking routes

VROOM. This is…VROOM…what biking…VROOM…on Grey Road 19…VROOM…might sound like…VROOM…if the proposed Castle Glen Resort Community gets built.

Grey Road 19 is one gem of a cycling route. Grey County proudly promotes this road, the former site of the Sea Otter Canada and Blue Mountains Gran Fondo rides, on its Cycling Routes roadmap. Grey Road 19 is a local favourite training ride for its long gradient, wide shoulders, expansive views and light traffic.

But what is being done to protect this regional attraction?

One thousand, six hundred new homes. Three hundred additional hotel rooms. Three added golf courses. An approved 5,000 square meters of new commercial space.  Another gas station. We have to wonder, how much extra traffic would the planned Castle Glen development create on Grey Road 19?

The studies haven’t been done. But we can hazard a guess.

Imagine each of those planned houses has just one car—a conservative estimate to be sure. If one car leaves every home in the future Castle Glen Resort Community each morning, between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. That’s 1,600 cars over two hours. That works out to 13 cars going by every minute, or one car every 4.5 seconds, for two straight hours. Then the same pattern repeated in every afternoon.

Or, say one car journey per household per day, spread evenly over 10 hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. That adds up to 3,200 cars on Grey Road 19 (one trip out and back for 1,600 cars). That’s 5.3 cars per minute. Just plain math.

One car every 12 seconds. All day long.

That’s the added traffic, on top of what exists today. And we haven’t even considered the guests at the 300-room hotel or people heading to golf.

Would you want to bike on such a road? Would you hike beside it, or in a nearby forest now filled with highway sounds? A popular section of the Bruce Trail follows the shoulder of the Grey Road 19, and this added traffic creates a dangerous mix of pedestrians and many, many cars.

And what about traffic on Sideroad 12, the extension to Sixth Street that borders the other side of the Castle Glen development, a secluded gravel backroad that’s so popular with local walkers that it’s Collingwood’s de facto outdoor stair master?

Nor do those numbers don’t take into account the potential years of heavy truck traffic from constructing 1,600 homes, or the roads and amenities to service them. And of course the proposed hotel rooms, golf courses and shops. Building an entire town on the brow of the Niagara Escarpment, the heart of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, is an outdated development concept that would surely be rejected if it were put forward today.

Don’t take for granted that our quiet Escarpment roads will always be welcoming to walk and ride. As the song goes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Isn’t it time we established protection for the recreational amenities most cherished by locals and visitors alike, the very foundation of the region’s recreation economy, before it’s too late?

Read more about the proposed Castle Glen development HERE. Sign the petition HERE.

Protect the Source of Silver Creek: Our Biodiversity and Natural Environment are Under Threat from Impending Development

The last significant coastal wetland in our region is under threat – and we need your help to stop it.

Lake of the Clouds in Castle Glen is the source of Silver Creek which flows down the Escarpment, through forest and field before coming to rest in the Silver Creek Wetland and then entering Georgian Bay. Despite being designated by the province as “Provincially Significant,” this wetland, along with Silver Creek and its floodplain, may be lost forever.

If, at the top of the Escarpment, the Castle Glen development proceeds, there will be irreversible damage to the Silver Creek Wetland. Compounding this problem are the Huntingwood Trails and Bridgewater developments at the bottom of the Escarpment destroying forever this Provincially Significant Wetland.

Why is Silver Creek under a particular threat?

As South Georgian Bay’s last remaining intact coastal wetland, any development in its proximity will prove destructive to its very fragile ecosystem and already endangered wildlife. Eventually this will have a negative impact on the water quality of Georgian Bay. Without the wetland to provide a carbon sink to cleanse the water and runoff, the Bay will accept unknown amounts of toxins that will have long lasting and devastating effects on the health of the water and the wildlife that populates it.

In cooperation with the Escarpment Corridor Alliance, Friends of Silver Creek are fighting to protect the creek from top to bottom by working together to force the Ontario government to recognize, respect and enforce environmental protections – and preserve the wetlands they themselves have designated as “significant.” We must curtail development to ensure the lasting beauty and natural heritage that attracts millions of visitors each year to our beloved Escarpment.

Time is of the essence and the impacts are very real.

These developments threaten to destroy endangered wildlife habitat and migration corridors, heighten risks from severe flooding, and will mean the permanent loss of our natural heritage from the Lake of the Clouds, down the Silver Creek to the wetland, and ultimately into Georgian Bay. This area needs immediate protection – it simply cannot wait.

Imagine in the near future if signs along the shores of South Georgian Bay are posted saying “Unsafe Beach” or “No Swimming due to Unsafe Pollution Levels.” Imagine dead trout full of micro-plastics along Silver Creek and no salmon returning to spawn as creek beds have been disturbed. Imagine losing our wild spaces along the Escarpment, replaced by homes with a “view for the monied few.”

We’re determined in our fight to make change happen and preserve this area.

This is your chance to think globally and act locally on climate change. Sign and share both the ECA petition and the Silver Creek petition to help build public awareness of these issues.

We need your help – and so does the environment we all rely on and the nature we all love to enjoy.

By Sunny Wiles, Friends of Silver Creek. The Friends of Silver Creek is an aligned organization with the ECA whose mission is to preserve the Silver Creek Wetlands, the last significant coastal wetlands in the Collingwood/The Blue Mountains region and to stop development, within reasonable proximity, to ensure its environmental protection and natural beauty.

How to Build a Conservation Economy: A Lesson from BC’s Great Bear Rainforest

First Nations have created a strong conservation economy in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest intact old-growth temperate rainforests left in the world. The conservation economy has been developed through sound investments in sustainable development and environmental stewardship projects that link the health of nature to the wellbeing of the 27 coastal First Nation communities.

A conservation economy marries conservation and development. Biosphere Reserves, like the Niagara Escarpment, are designated as internationally significant learning places for sustainable development and management of biodiversity – the perfect place to implement a conservation economy.

A conservation economy is essentially an economy that sustains itself on income earned from activities that conserve and restore rather than deplete the natural capital of the region (geology, soils, air, water, and all living organisms). In a conservation economy, local communities take over stewardship of natural resources and ecosystems for the benefit of future generations, and help to stimulate new local employment/business opportunities, where the benefits stay in the local economy. A few examples of conservation economy initiatives:

  • Responsible tourism – ecotourism and regenerative tourism
  • Wellness communities and initiatives
  • Wild harvesting and foraging
  • Local cuisine
  • Sustainable forestry
  • Outdoor schools and education
  • Open air fitness gyms
  • Indigenous cultural tourism
  • Impact tourism with a philanthropic element
  • Regenerative agriculture

In 2016 the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements (signed by industry, governments, and local communities) established ecosystem-wide management of the temperate rainforests that stretch across 6.4 million hectares of the remote British Columbia coastline and Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, an archipelago off British Columbia’s west coast. Today more than 85 percent of the Great Bear Rainforest is permanently off-limits to industrial logging and provides First Nations with decision-making powers within their traditional territories.

First Nations in the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii, in developing a resilient economy, have invested in a diverse array of economic sectors from sustainable forestry and energy to manufacturing and real estate. Ecotourism, in particular, has become an important and growing part of many First Nations’ economies. Good examples include:

  • Spirit Bear Lodge in Klemtu, a cultural ecolodge and tour business
  • Nawalakw Healing Centre & Ecotourism Resort, a social venture and charitable enterprise in Kwakwaka’wakw territory
  • Hiellen Longhouse Village in Old Masset on Haida Gwaii
  • Homalco Wildlife Tours out of Campbell River, a world-class wildlife viewing and cultural experience tour provider
  • Knight Inlet Lodge, a world-class wildlife viewing operation

Here, in the southern Georgian Bay region, we must together work to protect the most critical economic and recreation asset we have in the Collingwood/Blue Mountains and Beaver Valley areas. We can grow a robust conservation economy that supports the protection of one of the richest ecological networks along the length of the Niagara Escarpment, for the sustainable benefit of future generations of both residents and visitors. We must live up to the UNESCO Biosphere commitment for a fully connected corridor supporting sustainable development and management of biodiversity.

Conservation is a responsibility, not an option.

In our region, we must protect the natural lands on the Escarpment and grow a conservation economy. Help ECA send this message to our politicians by:

Mike Robbins is a Board member with the Escarpment Corridor Alliance and an ecotourism consultant.