On the day that Guelph was founded in 1827, a large maple tree was cut down to mark the occasion. John Galt and company knew that foundation stories need some panache, so chopping down an obstruction to make structural lumber carried great symbolism. Chainsaws or luxury condos were not a thing back then, nor was the patented early morning sneak attack so tree huggers don’t have time to quickly mobilize and shut them down. They didn’t put up a distillery where the mighty maple stood so that several generations later it would become part of an investment condo scheme. Whiskey was a mandatory 1800s lubrication requirement, much the same as craft beer is today. A commemorative plaque to remember the town’s first official tree assassination still stands in the shadow of the Metalworks development, whose sewage upgrade was the prime mover for the unceremonious removal of Neeve Street’s famed mulberry last week. The intention to preserve it was mentioned at every single community meeting and it’s removal proves that there are truly no fucks given when housing-as-commodity is on the horizon. I mentioned this at the meetings, were you there? Do you remember a city councillor screaming at me until his face turned red? There were lots of people around. Perhaps I dreamt it like Marco did in the Dr. Seuss book about Mulberry Street. I swear I saw a stacked townhouse tree lined future but in reality we got a multiplex of high-rises and forlorn stumps. Marco later got a gig writing promotional materials for real estate developments.
We long term Ward settlers have been putting up with a lot of crap while the new investments are being built. This isn’t the usual temporary frosh week disruption of jocks hollering and defecating in the middle of the road, pumped on Red Bull and vodka at 5am. Streets are closed for months, giant craters randomly open up, reversing machinery beeps incessantly, dump trucks gun it to and fro, equipment pounds at the bedrock all day while the workers toss hundreds of Nestle bottles into the pits in full view of the blue water preservation ribbons tied snuggly to trees still standing. No one should be surprised at the visceral reaction to our communal mulberry getting smoked, we’re all a bit testy as anyone would be when the neighbours are making a racket and disrupting the relative peace. You can leave our 100+ year old sewer pipes as they are down this way, thanks. The moment a potential upgrade is mentioned, you’ll know that the hood is destined for gentrification greatness and your blue ribbon’d tree, whose roots likely burrow deep into the old brick lined shit tunnels, is doomed. The 7am chainsaw is always primed and waiting along with the excuses – “it was a sub contractor!” “there was a communication problem” “we’ll plant a new one!” “your call is important to us”. What on earth made you think they actually care? Was it the organic coffee and plentiful biscuit trays at community input night?
The very minute that the Woods factory was sold off to an equity fund was also the moment the death notice was signed for the Neeve Street mulberry. I filed away all of the handouts from those long ago meetings, when the stated goal was to incorporate as much adaptive reuse as possible and that no new buildings would ever be more than four stories high to preserve the character of St Patrick’s Ward. What a waste of paper and time. Back then, those that gathered at the Italian Canadian Club were ok with the official line. The consensus was yes to redevelopment, except maybe from the workers who lost their jobs when their factory was asset stripped and run into the ground, no different from the recent implosions of Sears and Stelco. Your stocks and shares in those companies are worthless now but don’t worry, there are new ways of creating and storing wealth in many tiny cubes stacked high for all to see. And never mind those anarchists mooching tree fruits at the gates dear investors, they will be dealt with. The Downtown West Bank Biltmore Metalworks Distillery District is one or two MPAC assessments away from being tear down central. It’s far too late to fight anything once the book value of the two bedroom clapboard shack has hit $500,000 deep within the Owens Corning hexavalent chromium inclusion zone. It will be over. (hello future reader in 2027! ps – I told you so)
If you are aspiring to preserve your neighbourhood and shape it’s future, a rock solid reliable, diverse and active community group presence is required, coupled with a cadre of headstrong city council contenders primed and ready to make a run to represent you. Griping about it after the fact on Friendface and on the blogs (!) will result in a zero percent slowing of the investment property / commodity housing takeover. If a cohesive resistive force doesn’t exist when the first snow job proposals are presented, it will not magically materialize once the white sign is hammered into the ground. The time to get at it was yesterday.
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