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.



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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.


Greetings from Mayberry Ontario

How could you not love a town like Guelph where the top front page story last week was the dispute over an “illegal” skating rink on the edge of a south end subdivision. There are no Boko Haram militants hiding in the shadows here, waiting to steal away your daughters. This is not Kobane, a city half the size of ours laid to waste by war with ISIS militants. No one is likely to get shot for anything they might draw in a cartoon or write in a blog. We get wound up about safe things. You got a parking ticket. Somebody did something dumb ass in the Tim Hortons line. The neighbour got a rooster by mistake and it’s driving everybody nuts. People are playing hockey where they technically shouldn’t be. In the scheme of things, this is Mayberry.

A bunch of neighbours getting together to create and maintain something collectively for everyone’s benefit is an excellent example of how the concept of The Commons works.  The property where the rebel rink was created is “city owned” and a group of citizens decided to make use of that land for recreation without the input of bureaucrats, a legal team, permits or any other means other than their own free will and cooperation. There was no single entity responsible for it’s creation and the people care for it in common. Someone even took the time to wire up floodlights, a significant investment. Without realizing it, these ice enthusiasts are making use of a very lefty concept. They have also managed to gain the support of Mayor Guthrie, who could very well be Sherriff Andy Taylor walking to the fishing hole (or in this case, the scofflaw ice rink) with his family in tow. It’s a lovely scene.


A few years ago, also in the south end of town, a less than lovely scene unfolded. Tension was in the air at the official groundbreaking for the Hanlon Creek Business Park in the fall of ’09 with protesters heckling those present and delivering a fist pounding to a bus full of officials. It was their last stand, for the development was going ahead as was initially planned from the early 90s. In this case, the city – led by a council that was widely perceived to be of the Guelph Factor left – served these rebels with an injunction and a five million dollar lawsuit jointly with an equity firm. This was subsequently dropped but by then it was clear the development was going to happen regardless of resistance, as it always does. Seems if you occupy city owned land with hockey sticks, you get a pat on the back and support from the mayor but if you do it in the name of environmental preservation, the full force of the law will be rendered upon you. A 9 hole wilderness golf course might be a good option in efforts stop the heavy equipment next time.

A common perception of by-law skirmishes, such as those over the clandestine rink, is that it’s just one person with some kind of grudge bringing activity to a halt by getting The Law enforced. I call this the myth of the singular complainant. I live in The Ward, where ignoring by laws is a requirement of residency. The person or persons who ratted out the ice rink would last about a week in this part of town. I have only ever called something in once over the years, when some students had a notion to have a smash up derby with two old cars in the middle of our street very early one morning. By-law disrespect is one thing but there are limits to it when somebody might get killed. The odds are excellent though if you find a particular large scale endeavour in your ‘hood an annoyance, it’s bound to be bothering somebody else. When a young leprechaun poseur decided to use my driveway as a toilet last St Patrick’s Day, I let him know how actual Celtic people deal with these things. No by law officer was required. It hasn’t happened again.

The neighbourhood skirmish on the horizon to which no by-law will apply will be the complaints and frustration to come from the people who will reside in Guelph’s newest 18 story condo marvels downtown. Seeing as it is legally impossible for the most part to legislate where people can live, I think the downsizers and first time owners are in for a shock thanks to the mystery investment buyers, who dominate all projects such as these. I’ve mocked up plenty of headlines to have ready, such as “Condo conflict dominates council meeting” or “Student sublets at Tricar questioned”.  I’m considering offering a one day workshop on how to deal with the issues that will arise such as Solo Cup Collection and Disposal, White Noise Generation, Safe Body Fluid Neutralization and Leprechaun Removal. Welcome to Mayberry.