Toronto applying to have its main rivers protected under the Ontario Greenbelt - Inside Toronto

City planners to map out areas around the Don River, Humber River and Etobicoke Creek

Jean Ko Din
Beach Mirror - Inside Toronto
July 30, 2014

The City of Toronto is drawing up a final report to expand the Ontario Greenbelt to protect three key water systems in its own backyard.

City planners are currently looking at the Don River, Humber River and Etobicoke Creek to map out the surrounding public green spaces that will be included in the city’s proposal to Ontario’s Greenbelt Council in February.

Franz Hartmann is the executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA), an organization that has been campaigning for this Greenbelt expansion since 2011. Hartmann said this is an exciting time for the city.

“It is taking an almost final step,” he said. “The reason why this is so important is because we want Torontonians to step into their backyard and be in the Greenbelt.”

The Greenbelt is the largest permanently protected green space in the world. It covers 1.8 million acres of agricultural land and natural heritage systems in southern Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe area.

The Greenbelt Act was created by the Ontario government in 2005 to protect important ecological areas from urban development and sprawl.

It currently protects prominent ecological systems such as the Oak Ridges Moraine, the Niagara Escarpment and a continuous band of surrounding farmland and countryside.

On January 2013, an amendment was made to the Greenbelt Act to include an Urban River Valley Designation. With this new legislation, Toronto can apply to have key water systems and green spaces be connected to the headwaters of the Oak Ridges Moraine through to Lake Ontario.

“The goal of the designation is to have that continuity of protection to the river system,” said Susan Swail, Greenbelt project manager at Environmental Defence Canada.

“It adds an extra level of legislative protection from the province, which we are convinced will provide greater awareness in these areas.”

Swail coordinates with the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance to provide support for municipalities looking to apply for their green spaces to be adopted into the Greenbelt Plan.

The TEA is a member of the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance and has been working with smaller community groups within the city that have been interested in the Greenbelt expansion campaign.

Hartmann said the community groups advocating areas of the Don River, Humber River and Etobicoke Creek have been very supportive of the expansion plans because it will mean more opportunities to raise awareness on protecting these public areas.


However, at least one group is concerned about a potential shortcoming to the Greenbelt expansion.
“A big issue for us is getting through the Dentonia golf course and some of the other private land in between,” said Andrew McCammon, president of the Taylor Massey Project (TMP).

The TMP advocates for the protection and restoration of Taylor Massey Creek, a tributary to the Don River.

Like Taylor Massey Creek, many other tributaries for the Don River, the Humber River and the Etobicoke Creek will see patches of land that will not be protected under the Greenbelt legislation. These are privately owned areas that are not eligible to be adopted.

Shelley Petrie, program director of the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, said the proposed map’s discontinuity is not a major concern for the urban river valley expansion. Because municipalities own most of the green space, it does not diminish the overall goal of protection.

“If the designation considered both public and private land, it will never happen,” Petrie said.

“By and large, there is a collective protection of public land. This will then be an opportunity and an incentive (for private owners) to elevate the level of stewardship and care for their green space.”

TEA’s request for Toronto’s Greenbelt expansion first came to city council in the spring. The first request found support from many councillors including Scarborough Centre Councillor Glen De Baeremaeker, Parkdale-High Park Councillor Gord Perks and Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher.

The motion to proceed with the Toronto application to the province was passed July 11. De Baeremaeker said this historic motion did not cost the city anything to pass, except time, which is a very small cost compared to the its implications.

“In 150 years from now, after all the city councillors are gone from this Earth, these trees will still be protected,” De Baeremaeker said.

“We’ve really damaged this green space over the years. It’s now a time for healing and regeneration.”

De Baeremaeker said through the Greenbelt designation, it will solidify the exact intended use of these green spaces as recreational and environmental land. It will also help the city qualify for more financial help for environmental restorations from both the provincial and federal governments.

Toronto’s Greenbelt expansion plan will be presented as a final report to the province in February, which will be around the same time as the Greenbelt Act’s 10-year policy review.

The City of Mississauga and the City of Oakville are also in the final stages of having their urban river valleys included in the Greenbelt. Hartmann says it is unclear which of the cities will be adopted into the Greenbelt first.


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