It was a regular, summer evening on the property known colloquially as the "Lafarge lands", named for the company that once had a gravel pit on the site. Joggers hustled by down the pathways, kids on bikes peddled along the relatively safety of the dead end street, and there was even someone on a skateboard that went sailing by. Sadly, this scene of community activity might represent the last call of such serenity in this reclaimed stretch of natural wilderness in the inner city.
Over 60 people gathered along Silvercreek Pkwy S. Sunday night to mourn, reflect, and remember all that the natural area has given them. Responding to a press release from the City a few weeks ago announcing that nearly 2,000 trees here were marked for removal, it seemed like mourning was all area residents could do.
"We mourn the loss of life, we celebrate the memories and stories, and we also recognize that there are stories and relationships to this land that are much older than any of us," said Christine Lafazanos who organized the event. "Give yourself permission to feel all that you're feeling," she added.
The group gathered about halfway down Silvercreek between the Manor and the train tracks. Nearby, a bur oak was cordoned off already, one tree that will be saved thanks to a deal struck at the Ontario Municipal Board with the City of Guelph, and the Howitt Park Neighbourhood Residents Association, who 10 years ago organized to make sure area residents have a say in how the site was developed.
"Even though this land is technically owned by someone else, the everyday reality is that this is a community space, this is ours," said Lafazanos. "And if this particular land isn't familiar to you, I'm sure you have similar places that you love."
City councillors Phil Allt, June Hofland and James Gordon were in attendance. Gordon performed music, and couldn't help but comment politically on the matter. "I never thought in Guelph we'd be going through this process more than once," he said in reference to a 2005 controversy where 15 big silver maples were cut down in Royal City Park.
"As a politician I have things that I could say, but this is not the occasion for that," Gordon added later. "As a guitar slinger, and as a fellow member of this remarkable community, my hope - and there is hope and I'm witnessing this hope right now - is that though we might feel like we're falling now. There's a way we can rise from this, and the way we can do it is to gather,the way that we are right now, but more often and with louder voices."
Kids drew pictures and wrote messages on a large piece of paper offered, scrapes of fabric where handed out so that people could write messages and tie them around a favourite tree, and the gathering disbanded as some people talked about how to protest further, or take off down the nearest trail to enjoy the space for what may be the last time.
In a press release sent out on late afternoon on Friday July 14, it was announced that the removal of 1,950 trees at 35-40 Silvercreek Pkwy S, which is better known as the "Lafarge site", would begin sometime in "late July." The only trees or plant life to remain will be around the creek and along the rail lines. No plans by the property owner about the future development of the site have yet been filed, and the developers have promised to follow the existing tree bylaw and plant three new trees for every one torn down.
“We are working with the property owner to ensure compensation is provided for the removed trees,” explained April Nix, environmental planner with the City of Guelph in the release. “Throughout the process, we will continue to ensure the property owner complies with Guelph’s tree bylaw, while providing protection of natural heritage features including Howitt Creek.”
For residents though, that's not good enough. To them, they're losing a big open space for play and exercise, a natural noise buffer between them and the Hanlon Expressway, and the general beauty of the natural space in the area. It was almost enough to move people to tears...