Ogden’s Site 41 records a “goldmine” to be preserved at Trent University
Steve Ogden in 2009 as the Site 41 protest camp was being set up. Vicki Monague is in the background. -Kate Harries photo
‘This collection offers comprehensive documentation of an important episode in Canadian environmental activism’
By Kate Harries AWARE News Network
It’s official – the Site 41 battle is history.
Trent University has acquired Steve Ogden’s records of the three-decades-long campaign to stop a dump site from being built in Tiny Township.
“I’m happy that it’s done,” Ogden said in a telephone interview from his present home near Parry Sound. “This incredible fight is now on the record forever.”
In his evaluation for the university, appraiser Robert Wright describes the archival record of the Campaign to Stop Dump Site 41 as highly complete, extensive and well-organized.
“This is a goldmine of information for the scholarly investigation of water and environmental issues in Ontario and should attract scholarly users to Trent University Library and Archives,” Wright writes in an August 11 report to the university.
“This collection offers comprehensive documentation of an important episode in Canadian environmental activism. Included are numerous original documents that could not be found elsewhere, as well as a wealth of comprehensive contextual documents that will be of great utility to those working with the collection.”
Wright notes that the 30 banker’s boxes include documentation of numerous challenges to the withholding of information by the County of Simcoe from the Community Monitoring Committee, materials documenting public distrust of Ministry of the Environment (MOE) experts, notes on the county’s decision to ignore their own watchdog’s safety concern, documentation of attempts by county representatives to defame Ogden and his lawyer and materials obtained through Freedom of Information requests by Ogden.
Of those, Ogden has a particularly vivid recollection of an email exchange he obtained through FOI, between an MOE hydrogeologist who was expressing concern and the director of the ministry’s Barrie office. “Don’t be discouraged by this talk,” the director writes reassuringly. “The political machine is now engaged it seems.”
“ ‘The political machine is now engaged.’” As Ogden repeats the words now, he recalls his astonishment at reading a communication from a senior ministry official, articulating the view that science can be trumped by power. “I was stunned by it,” he says. It reflects an attitude that “hasn’t gone away.” But now, “it’s all there… And students can research it.”
In an August 23 2019 letter thanking Ogden for his donation, Trent Director of Philanthropy Sherry Booth predicts that the gift will help prepare “the next generation of extraordinary leaders who will tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.”
Ogden and the late Gord Leonard, who both lived near Site 41, became locally famous as “citizen scientists.” At many a committee hearing and public meeting, Ogden and Leonard went toe-to-toe with Ontario environment ministry officials and Simcoe County consultants, showing an easy command of abstruse detail regarding the site’s suitability as a landfill to serve all of the county (and perhaps, many suspected, Toronto – in the wake of the recent cancellation of the Adams Mine project).
Ogden was known for his meticulous record-keeping and dogged pursuit of the facts through multiple freedom of information requests. He ultimately garnered support from then provincial information and privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian in his quest for the data used in the “calibrated modflow,” a computer model that supposedly supported the county’s theory that there was sufficient upward gradient pressure at the site to ensure that there would never be any leachate to contaminate the underlying aquifer which had the purest water to have been scientifically tested.
Ogden’s records start in 1979. An environmental tribunal hearing in the 1980s resulted in a ruling against the site – a triumph for locals who then had their hopes dashed as the ruling was overturned by a provincial cabinet intervention under then premier David Peterson.
In 2008, as the county began to work on the project, Mohawk elder Danny Beaton and Ogden walked to Queens Park. In 2009, a protest campsite was set up by the Anishinaabe Kweag led by – among others – Vicki Monague, Shelley Essaunce and Beth Brass Elson. John Hawke was the fire keeper. Local Progressive Conservative MPP Garfield Dunlop, a former county warden, turned out to show support – on one memorable occasion, in attendance at a farmers’ tractor protest. The Federation of Tiny Township Shoreline Associations added political muscle. Allies visited from as far away as Peru. Well-known figures like former Toronto Mayor David Crombie (a local cottager), Council of Canadians chair Maude Barlow and Toronto broadcaster Dale Goldhawk joined the fray. A protest rally in Perkinsfield was attended by 2,500 people.
Springwater Mayor Tony Guergis, elected on a promise to fight Site 41, attracted widespread derision when, as county warden, he switched sides and became its most determined proponent.
In the end, the county crumbled at an injunction hearing, in the face of a spirited defence led by lawyer Peter Rosenthal, acting for Monague who along with farmer Anne Ritchie Nahuis was targeted by the county with a civil suit claiming $160,000 in damages.
In August 2009, in front of a packed gallery, with crowds waving placards outside, county council voted to halt construction of the Site 41 dump site – at the 11th hour, when it was almost completed. Guergis was defeated in a landslide in 2010, and again in 2014, and again in 2018. The calibrated modflow was never released. AWARE Simcoe grew out of the movement to “Stop Dump Site 41.”