Chainsaws at the Gates

The looming clear cut at the LaFarge gravel pit property has been presented as the end of a “complex” case. It’s not really complicated at all; developers pretty much get to do exactly what they want. Such are the rules and laws that govern private property rights in the capitalist system. This land is your land, if you own the title. With the required piece of paper in hand, you get to shred 2000 trees. If your goal is to preserve it, you need to own it. Ask any haggard veteran of the local Wal Mart wars.

The city blessed this years ago, it’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise. Here’s a bit of a refresher, as preserved by Guelph Politico: “January 30, 2009 – An Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) mediation process has resulted in a potential settlement on a proposed development on the former Lafarge lands at 35 and 40 Silvercreek Parkway South. The City of Guelph, together with the Howitt Park Neighbourhood Residents’ Association and Silvercreek Guelph Developments Limited, has agreed to request that the OMB approve a mixed use employment/commercial and residential development on the site at an upcoming OMB hearing.”

Four years later in 2013: “Council unanimously approved a new plan to develop an area known as the “Lafarge lands,” located at 35 and 40 Silvercreek Parkway at a meeting Monday night. Matthew West, a vice-president with Fieldgate Commercial, wrote a letter to council promising the development would “review options for retaining” a bur oak tree on the site. Coun. June Hofland, a longtime resident of the area near the proposed development, declared a conflict of interest on the matter and abstained from voting.”

Once the white sign gets hammered in the ground, everything that the public can see behind it is eventually toast or will be altered in some way. I’ve seen this before on an epic scale. I’m just old enough to remember the farms of Peel County and the drive through the country on Highway 10 from Square One to Brampton. I can still see the name on the signs on the fence line as it was going up  – “The McLaughlin Group”. Here is an aerial shot from 1974, just to show I didn’t dream it:

square one 1974

Below is a more modern view of the same area. For the record, I had a crash pad in one of these condos for a time and would cycle to work in this madness. There is a trail by the Credit River that will take you quite a ways up or down through town but when you leave the safety of the path and head into the industrial zone, you’re taking a big chance when on two wheels. It was not a place built for the cyclist or pedestrian. There are no feel good bike boxes here, the GTA commute is total war. 

condo condo

Certain things can be saved or salvaged from the demolition if the will is there and they are movable objects. Around the time of Square One photo above (1974), the McLaughlin group made the effort to save the historic Cherry Hill House by moving it out of the way and turning it into a restaurant. It’s hard to believe but there are still a few surviving places like this left in Mississauga. 


Often the mall would get built around a house and it would remain in situ. The Mad Hatter Pub (now known as the Maharaja) is another example. The strip mall developer made an effort and a piece of history was saved. You can find it on a google map at 4646 Heritage Hills Boulevard. It is the only “heritage” left there. They tried, at least. 

mad hatter

It would take quite a bit of digging to determine whether these places were saved because the developer wanted to keep them, or had to. Regardless, the optics are pretty good and the developer still gets what they want. A win-win as they say in the corporate world.

It’s a bit more difficult to work around natural landscapes. Nature is more powerful than any bricks and mortar structure and when she finds an opening, she lets loose. She’s the dandelion in the sidewalk crack, the bats in your soffits, the mice under the cupboards, the oak tree square in the middle of the old foundation of a settler’s place long rubbed out. 

She’s the significant species of birds like American Redstarts and Northern Flickers listed on the 2005 environmental assessment of the “brownfield” known as the LaFarge Lands. Do they compile these reports because they want to or because they have to? We’ve known for years that the chainsaws are primed and waiting by the gates. Why pretend otherwise? A clearcut creates a climatization period. It gives everyone some time to get used to the blank canvas before the new buildings and parking lots arrive. Tonight’s scheduled drum circle memorial should convey a blessing at the mighty bur oak and make sure a shit ton of evidence photos are taken, as there seems to be a lot of communication problems on local development sites these days.


This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual.

All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.






And To Think I Once Saw A Mulberry On Neeve Street

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. 

what marco saw

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? 

60 unit cluster

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.



This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual.

All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.


A Bridge Too Near

I’ve always loved the electric atmosphere generated at a contentious City Hall meeting, no matter the issue. Due to other more pressing duties in my life, I can’t commit massive chunks of time to the civic beat these days but I did pop in last week for long enough to hear the engineering department’s dissertation regarding the upgrade of the one lane bridge on Niska Road. A seven hour juggernaut is a high endurance test but to their credit, plenty of people stuck it out for the duration. The only time I have spoken on the record at City Hall was in defence of the environment, regarding the lack of respect shown toward it by a well known slumlord in town. I’ve never become one of The Usual Suspects in the crowd though, those same people that show up with a sheaf of notes and make identical arguments time and again. If everyone gets to say their piece that wants to, that’s a good sign of a working healthy democracy, even if you have heard it all before. Most cities of this size wouldn’t commit seven hours to a discussion about a bridge. You’d be lucky to get seventeen minutes.


The result of the final vote was as expected; the decrepit temporary bridge that replaced the original one that collapsed will be removed and the road brought up to modern standards, as it should be. The city would be remiss not to fix it. To try and preserve it on quasi heritage grounds is a ridiculous notion. Anyone who drove to the meeting needs to accept this. Judging by the number of cars outside of One Carden last Thursday, that would be the majority. If you know someone who cycled the full 7km into town and back to attend, I’d love to meet them. They will probably be quietly happy that a bike lane is to be included in the redesign, even if it means the surviving cedar hedgerow that became full fledged trees will disappear. They are big and lovely now but far from “natural”.

The main resistance toward the makeover concerns a possible secondary scenario beyond trees that isn’t in the cards yet. It’s the burning question: will a future council cave in and allow development on “conservation” land? There is a bit of a subplot here, in that the established residents understandably like the area the way that it is. In their view, the beautiful vista of the subdivision with it’s streets lovingly named after creatures that regularly get cleared out to build houses must be preserved as is. Niska Road itself has sprouted a gaggle of monster homes and none of them seem to have an overtly heritage tone. It’s a pure Monuments to Conspicuous Consumption vibe. Did any of these folks give a toss when the Hanlon Creek Business Park was getting rammed in? Do people only fight alleged crimes against the environment when it might decrease the value of their three car/four toilet house?


The neighbourhood will only need to be concerned about a future development if fresh pipes and ducting are stuck in the ground when the new work happens. If you spot an electrical and water service upgrade in the fine print of any plans, a subdivision will appear sooner rather than later. If not, there is no need to worry for now. Fresh incomers and their SUVs will not be arriving any time soon to increase the number of seconds it takes to exit the driveway for a trip to Costco or to a far flung heritage trail somewhere for some nordic pole walking. No big pipes, no problem.

Thanks to the tweeting prowess of Guelph Politico Adam Donaldson, the essence of the meeting was conveyed to many of those (like me) who couldn’t stay for the full event. In Adam’s Twitter feed you’ll find the best point of the evening, made by a non driving grade eighter named Tia Carey. She said “how can you say you’re in favour for safe access to nature and then have cars drive through it?” If it was such a critical area, the road would be closed outright; but it won’t be, because it isn’t. When the engineers of old decided to construct a crossing at that particular spot, they couldn’t have predicted a future in which everyone can go anywhere in their metric tonne or two apiece machines where a path exists for them to do so, single lane or otherwise.

This former backroad’s destiny was sealed the day the first bridge opened, inadvertently creating a remote-ish community that owes it’s entire existence to the automobile. The main draw up the other side is a giant store that by design encourages people to fill their machines with massive quantities of products far in excess of what one actually needs to exist. Everyone loves a bargain, real or imagined. In this century, all roads lead to consumerism. And in that neck of the (former) woods, you’re pretty much stuck without a personal set of wheels. Until the day when that is no longer the case, more roads and bridges are to be expected along with epic special meeting nights in the council chamber. Make sure you pack a snack next time.

Where Goes The Neighbourhood?

The first sign of spring in St Patrick’s Ward isn’t the recently returned birds chirping away demanding seeds or the clocks moving forward. We know it’s getting warmer when the ubiquitous white Committee of Adjustment signs start popping up all over and the mailbox starts to fill with notices of public meetings regarding certain properties. You don’t need the farmer’s almanac to determine what’s in the air, be it the sing song of the contractors hammer or hexavalent chromium. I used to love being part of this rite of the season, the annual gripe sessions down at the Italian Canadian Club with my neighbours, where we let it all out and absolutely no one sides with the city, developers, the company in question or anybody at the head table. We’d fill the room and let everyone have their moment at the mic, even though the development or adjustment happens regardless, with perhaps some minor changes. Occasionally, a good old fashioned petition would get passed around, never to be seen again. Someone would write it all up for the Tribune or the Mercury. It was a time honoured ritual.

As with all traditions, many fade with time. Currently, the parties in question can no longer be bothered to hear the neighbourhood as a group, except for meetings at city hall where the classic democratic process is still strictly enforced. The trend now in these hectic, app driven times is toward the Open House or Information Session  These new free form meetings are further split into separate afternoon and evening events, presumably in the name of accommodation but actually serving to dilute the kvetching of the masses even further. No longer do we jockey for a good seat in the rows of chairs to stare down the applicants/consultants/city staff in the hot seats. No more impassioned speeches from Joe Lunchbucket about “where am going to park the truck?” or Sally Camomile-Tea voicing concern about what her organic children may be breathing in. We had a good thing going dammit, our community meetings were a much loved spectacle. Now, we stand divided and pretty much conquered.  Our engaged badass reputation teeters on extinction.


(This isn’t actually in The Ward but similar sentiments can be found scribbled here and there in all neighbourhoods such as ours)

First up this past week was a Q and A session about 200 Beverley Street, aka the Imico foundry lands. The city has dumped millions into property maintenance and brownfield monitoring. Millions more will be spent to “prepare the site for development”. There are lots of suggestions out there as to what might happen, little nuggets of hope floated that we might get something exciting such as a park, arena, community centre or “education facility”. Realistically, there are only two options. The site will either revert to an industrial use or be zoned for more condos. If the brownfield launderers surface in short order, condos are a certainty. The Mercury has suggested that four “firms” have expressed an interest, although none of whom will state their intentions openly. This would imply some kind of big box, a hot trend in other parts of town (the site is 13 acres) or it’s the industry option, which will definitely be lighter weight stuff than the foundry was. Either way, it’s widely implied that the city has “no money” and private capital is necessary to take care of it. So this rules out the park, arena or something for the people. We can forgo the perennial whinge fest good neighbours, this is a done deal!


(Once again, not actually in The Ward but a similar scene can be expected soon)

The following evening saw our largest neighbourhood industrial concern, Owens Corning, pulling out all of the stops over it’s inability to meet the coming improved air quality regulations. OC insists they are “committed to conducting its operations in a manner that protects the public’s and (our) employees health and safety and the environment” according to one of a ream of fact sheets doled out. The caveat is they will be unable to meet the new air pollution regulations for hexavalent chromium that the province has devised, so they are looking for an “site specific” exemption. New tech they are installing will vastly improve their current emissions but they can’t hit the bar within the time frame, if ever. So they are obligated to tell us about it. This meeting followed a more science fair/trade show structure, with those tasked to mind the display tables swooping in on anyone browsing or remotely making eye contact. This way, people like myself don’t get a public moment to bring up the mass layoffs, shipping the labour intensive (union) jobs to Mexico whilst keeping the polluting part of the operation here because its easier and more cost effective, which in turn pleases the shareholders – the actual true bottom line. We former outspoken types are reduced to blogging in our pyjamas, hoping someone out there might read it, knowing full well that armchairism never changed a goddamn thing, ever.

You won’t see me at city hall on March 12th at 5.20pm at the application for severance for 47 Richardson Street. I’ve got a radio show to put on. I’m fairly sure the slumlord era is drawing to a close for St Patrick’s Ward and the new dawn of all things luxury is upon us, so a couple of infill houses are probably nothing to worry about. But if you do have any concerns, be sure to make your presence known, although the comment period is over. Or is the golden era of our scrappy populace over? It’s up to you.

Post Script: The Richardson Street application to jam two homes on a lot best suited for one has was denied late last week, due in large part to the efforts of a solid, united block of neighbours. There’s hope for us yet.


Tell me, Condo Condo Condo

By my nature, I’m the type of person who takes a great interest in the goings on in my neighbourhood. I love a good old fashioned town hall meeting and here in The Ward they are usually held at the Italian Canadian Club. There haven’t been many lately but when the massive condo developments were first proposed after the trashing of the WC Woods plant, there were plenty of meetings. They really need to come up with another name for a meeting where you’re pretty much being told what is going to happen. It’s more like a lecture and a formality really, for not once in this town have the concerns of the citizens altered the end product of a development. Don’t insult our intelligence by handing out chart paper and getting us to write down our ideas like it’s Grade Six again. The second time that happened, I bailed for the pub. Stick your Sharpie up your ass, buddy. This is obviously a done deal.


(A future Scotty Hertz (played by Ed Norton) watches a condo fire caused by unattended scented candle in an English major’s investment condo flat in Condomania 2. He’s perfect for the role, Ed Norton is exactly two days older than me) 

If you can point out an instance where a mass community anti development outcry truly won out in this city, I will gladly retract that last sentence. Sure, there will be concessions to the people like a small public square, coffee shop or access to the river, but somehow developers manage to get exactly what they want, every single time. There may be delays, such as in our famous epic Wal Mart battle, but The Big Box was built regardless. The Jesuits, curlers and thousands of happy-ish Wal Mart shoppers coexist in the burgeoning northern retail hub without conflict. The world did not end. Concerns were raised about the 18 story Tricar tower and it’s twin across the tracks. They’re going in, unaltered. Good thing we didn’t buy the dump of a house we looked at on Sussex Street, I’d be buying 10,000 helium balloons like the old man in Up and hitching a ride out of there post haste. It’s more likely I’d be rhyming off daily complaints on this blog until I died of pure exhaustion.


(Next stop, Owen Sound)

I sympathize with the citizens in the south end who have valid concerns about their new neighbours, the HIP Solstice condo developments. South enders have paid a shedload of cash to live the suburban dream and are now having visions of driveways littered with red Solo cups and puke accented by general dumbass yelling between 12-3am, Thursday through Saturday. Most people accept that towns and cities need development and that it will happen eventually. You don’t really see people lying in front of bulldozers anymore, with the exception of incidents like the Hanlon Creek Business Park standoff.  They are sticking a townhouse development over there as well, because business isn’t exactly booming. No word yet if it’s going to be called Jefferson Salamander Estates.

hcbp grading

(Heavy equipment prepares the grade of the Hanlon Creek Business Park for empty space)

Solstice are in essence building the new university residences, so the U of G doesn’t have to. I’m not implying they are in direct cahoots but at this rate, you will never see another student dwelling being built right on campus. They should actually be called Symbiotic condos. There is an info table in the University Centre promoting living at Solstice regularly. MacDonald Hall, a classic early Edwardian gem, has been cleared out and is being converted into the consolidated College of Economics. Private money built it; it’s named MacDonald after the tobacco giant that funded it, a fact conveniently lost to time and likely be lost in the reno. So Moo U is now missing a residence. Where do all the students go? They have to live somewhere and enrolment isn’t increasing. Many of them will end up in the investment condos off campus, conveniently situated on the bus route for which they all get a really cheap pass. Symbiosis in action.


(The abdicator Edward VIII shares a smoke and a joke with the ladies on the steps of MacDonald Hall, Guelph -1919. His grandad lends his name to all things “Edwardian”)

In the south end, what initially started out as a condo for “upper income retirees” has evolved into two projects. Both are investment condo properties geared to students, with a chunk of wetland, 1,000 trees and a church getting smoked in the process. Add in the other on going developments (Coltara, Arkel Lofts) and you have what my colleague Guelph Politico has aptly named Condo Central. A junior version of the boom we’ve seen all across the GTA and every boom goes bust eventually. It’s the part of the capitalist mechanism that no one really wants to discuss until everything turns all 2008. Boom, bust and bailout.

If we see a similar, larger economic collapse, I will predict in spooky futurist fashion that under the guise of the University, the province will take over Solstice condos and run them.  By that time we will be downloading lectures directly into our brains, the library will be run by robots who have all media ever created in their flash drives and the developers will still be getting exactly what they want, every single time.