Water walk, potluck and much work ahead
County Warden and Liberal candidate Gerry Marshall at the water walk potluck -AWARE Simcoe photo
By Kate Harries AWARE News Network
Air and water were quite calm when the water walkers gathered in the dark by Georgian Bay at Cedar Point. The light crept up and just above the horizon a narrow band of red marked the sun’s arrival. Over the next two days, the wind built up, some drops of rain fell, but the predicted thunderstorm did not materialize.
The water walkers felt protected by unknown forces.
“The weather’s always with us,” Anne Ritchie-Nahuis said.
They also felt frustrated by forces they have come to know all too well.
“I don’t want to come back every eight years to protect the water,” said Vicki Monague of Beausoleil First Nation. “This water needs to be protected internationally, it needs to be protected in perpetuity.”
Thirty people drank the water that had been collected from the spring by the side of Highway 27 north of Elmvale. Among them were Adjala-Tosorontio Councillor Bob Meadows and Jill Dunlop, Progressive Conservative candidate in Simcoe North. They gathered water from the lake to fill a copper kettle that would be carried at the front of the 40-kilometre walk from Cedar Point to Waverley by women and girls taking turns, because it is the responsibility of women to protect water. Men and boys shared the task of carrying the eagle staff.
The Monague family organized the water walk in response to a planned expansion of aggregate operations on the Waverley Uplands, in a formation that’s part of the natural filtration, producing water that has been scientifically tested to be exceptionally pure, on a par with ancient Arctic ice.
The walkers were a disparate group. Indigenous and settlers, young and old. Fifteen or so made the walk to Perkinsfield on the first day. Cars going by honked their horns in encouragement. One homeowner along the way had a bonfire and hot chocolate so walkers could warm up. At the Perkinsfield pavilion, Jenny Anderson had hot soup and sandwiches to mark the end of the first day.
On Sunday, the walk was at Site 41 by noon. Memories flooded back as Vicki and her mother Rosanne faced north and sang to the spirits. In November 2008, the first group of protesters gathered at this spot, and gazed over a fence at a field bountiful with corn, the last crop that planted here, before Danny Beaton, Steve Ogden and John Bacher set off on their walk to Queens Park. Jill’s dad, then-MPP Garfield Dunlop was part of that protest and the battle that followed to stop Dump Site 41.
A large sign bearing the words ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’ is the only remnant of the busy protest campsite that occupied the farmer’s field on the south side of Concession 2 during the summer of 2009. On the north side, a surface still compacted with gravel surrounded by a berm planted with spruces marks what was planned to be a landfill site to serve the whole of Simcoe County and perhaps, it was feared (although this was vigorously denied), the City of Toronto.
Many were waiting at the foot of Darby Road in Waverley when the walkers arrived. As a pair of horses, unaccustomed to a crowd, moved anxiously along a fence, the water walk proceeded up the hill to the entrance to the Teedon Pit, part of the lands owned by Dufferin Aggregates, a division of CRH Canada Group.
“I can’t believe they want to ruin this beautiful country,” said one of the walkers who had travelled from Toronto to help protect the water.
Another ceremony. There were up to 100 people gathered at the gate, many of them local residents who had not previously been politically involved, as well as activists from Council of Canadians, Food and Water First, the Midhurst Residents’ Association and AWARE Simcoe.
And then to Wyebridge, where the day concluded with a potluck feast enjoyed by some 175 people. And there were speakers:
-Steve Ogden, citizen scientist, who reminisced about the machinations of county staff and the saga of the calibrated modflow (don’t ask) that some say led to the unravelling of the county’s case. “My strength in the battle was to collect all the information and make sure that everything we spoke about was accurate… It tends to drive them nuts because you’ve got the facts, you’re right and they’ll still tell you to stick it.” He added that Simcoe County didn’t cancel the landfill because of the facts, but because of “a mass uprising of people and the fear of the local politicians.”
-Gerry Marshall, Penetanguishene Mayor, County Warden and Simcoe North Liberal candidate, who said he identified two topics – first, the aggregate expansion, which he likened to a fire. “It’s hard to have a good conversation in the middle of a fire.” He promised to meet with representatives of Tiny, Springwater, Tay and Oro-Medonte townships on the matter. Second, the aquifer. “Let’s have a broader conversation on the aquifer,” he said, adding that as a Liberal he will be in a good position to talk to the ministers dealing with the environment, natural resources and the green belt.
-Jeff Monague, former chief of Beausoleil First Nation and manager of Springwater Provincial Park, who talked about the treatment of indigenous people in this area, making no apology for the fact that those present might find these to be uncomfortable truths. “My people have been uncomfortable for hundreds of years,” he said. Nevertheless, he and other indigenous people are willing to make common cause with those who want to protect the water. “Water is a living thing and it’s more powerful than us. We have to respect that.”
-Beth Brass Elson, Site 41 leader and also one of those who fought for the reopening of Springwater Park under the management of Beaufoleil FN. “It all comes down to what we want for our future and how we’re going to stand up for it… My heart’s not saying this one is going to go good… It’s going to be a big fight… Gather up your children, your grandchildren, your ancestors, whatever you’ve got, and come out battling. It’s ok to be arrested!”
-Tiny Deputy Mayor Stephan Walma, who outlined the process so far with the expansion application and took questions. One public planning session has been held and another will be coming up, he said, and the township has met with the ministry of natural resources and forestry. Many questions remain to be answered.
-Tiny Councillor Richard Hinton, who promised to fight to save the water. “It has been an eye opener,” he said of the process so far. “I am not going to let go… you have affected my life and how I feel and how I treat water.”
-Dave Barkey, local resident. “To protect the water we must protect the hill because that’s the filter that makes it so clean.”
-Peter Stubbins, local Green Party member, who recalled how locals went to support Melancthon residents in stopping the megaquarry. That’s when the last Tiny council approved Phase 1 of the Beamish, now Dufferin aggregate operation. “It flies in the face of the communal will that the council could be doing that.”
-Peter Anderson, local resident, who detailed numerous problems residents had identified in the way the aggregate was being extracted. Meeting with the natural resources ministry, “we got zero reaction. Zero.” And meeting with the environment ministry, “they have given us nothing but empty words and given us the runaround and treated us like we are children.”
-Mark Calzavera, Council of Canadians, who warned that “fighting a quarry is much harder than fighting a dump.” One reason is “the Aggregate Resources Act that’s the (provincial) act that governs quarries and it is terrible, it is so skewed in favour of the developer, I can’t even begin to tell you how bad it is.” He warned against the Cornerstone Standards Council which purports to certify “green” gravel. He recalled how John Hawke of BFN had stood at a CMC meeting when the question was asked, ‘Who will stand to protect the water?’ “The deep deep truth is that nobody else is going to protect the water except us,” Calzavera said, “except you, and you, and you….” Almost everyone in the hall stood up.
-Springwater Mayor Bill French. “I am here to listen,” he said, urging those present to “be supportive of those people who are trying to listen and trying to take your message.”
-Anne Ritchie-Nahuis, who paid tribute to the efforts of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition in identifying the most important areas of natural heritage that need to be protected. “This could be a part of it and nobody at the county is really pushing for that to happen. This is what I would like you to ask councillors to consider.”
Vicki Monague wrapped up the meeting with an account of the next steps, a process of consultation and participatory decision-making.
“The purpose of that water walk was to call a meeting of all stakeholders. The ministry of natural resources, the MOE, Dufferin and Sarjeant as well as landowners within the area, First Nations and other grassroots citizens.
“I gave Dufferin and Sarjeant until November 17 to tell me whether or not they are going to participate in that meeting. And I will still continue to push for that… By the end of November we’re going to call our first working group meeting.”