The Battle to Save Lake Simcoe Should Be on Voters’ Minds This Election

In Memory of Alicja Rozanska.

From John Bacher:

Critical environmental indicators, which should send warning signals at the polls, are the fate of native cold-water fisheries. These are important warning signals of pollution since self-supporting cold-water fisheries will not survive in polluted environments. What should send alarm bells off on election day is the fate of Lake Simcoe’s Lake Trout.  

While ice fishing for Lake Trout in Lake Simcoe is a major tourist attraction, few realize that this popular phenomenon is totally dependent on artificial stocking. The dumping of phosphorous into the lake through sewage and agriculture, has severely damaged the ability of Lake Trout to reproduce on their own. 

Although phosphorous levels in the lake have declined from a peak in the early 1990s, still around 88 tons are dumped into Lake Simcoe each year — double the target of 44 tons established by the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan in 2009. Most streams flowing into the lake remain stripped of trees, which could provide vegetative buffers to reduce phosphorous pollution. 

Anticipated future urban developments threaten to send phosphorous loadings upwards again at a rate of 15 tons annually. This surcharge of pollution is expected to endure for the next twenty years due to sprawl threatening to wipe out cold water fisheries, such as trout and whitefish. 

Lake Simcoe’s watershed is 5,400 square kilometers — about five times the size of the lake itself. It speaks volumes of the negative impacts of European values and ideology that the largest block of forest in the watershed is found on the islands of the lake that are part of a First Nation reservation. 

The largest tract of forest within the watershed is found on the 3,500 acres managed by the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation. The closure of the Angus Tree Seed Plant, which played an important role in reforestation, has been a detriment to this forest. Now, it may become used as a cannabis nursery. 

Accompanied by Danny Beaton, a Mohawk of the Turtle Clan, I took part in a walk around Lake Simcoe organized by the Chippewas. On this walk we saw some of the grotesque consequences of urban sprawl. One was to come upon a stream that was black and devoid of life. It received flow from a field on which sewage was piped from a development on the shores of Lake Simcoe and then sprayed with sprinklers. 

One of the most fiendish aspects of the undermining of provincial land use planning, is its assault on the basic principles of a freeze on future urban expansions in the Lake Simcoe watershed through its Protection Plan. The mandated periodic review of the Lake Simcoe Plan was supposed to be completed two years ago. The province leaving this in limbo helped it evade the question of whether to extend its moratorium on urban boundary extensions. 

The province attempted to use the delays in the update of the Lake Simcoe Extension Plan to facilitate its attempt to expand urban boundaries using a Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO). This was attempted in the town of Innisfil, a suburb of Barrie. Here, “The Orbit” development is planned by the Cortel Group, which would expand Innisfil’s population, now at 37,000, by an additional 150,000 people. This jumping of approvals of the Lake Simcoe Protection plan has been held up through judicial challenges. These have been led by the Williams Treaties First Nations, a coalition of Ojibway bands.

In their court filing, the Ojibway alliance stated that “No analysis was done by the town, the Cortel Group or the Minister on the potential impacts of their project on Lake Simcoe’s water quality, aquatic life and habitats.” It also indicated that the Ojibway “rely on Lake Simcoe for water and food resources, as well as for ceremonial purposes.” 

One of the most pernicious assaults on Lake Simcoe is the attempt to construct the Holland Marsh Expressway for 16 kilometers to connect Highway 400 and 404. It will dangerously dump toxic salt spray into the Holland River, which crosses one of the most important tributaries to Lake Simcoe. The project would wreck one of the most intact portions of the Holland Marsh and encourage sprawl on Canada’s greatest vegetable belt.

The assaults on Lake Simcoe are so numerous that it is a challenge to keep track of them all. Cutting up some of the best farmland in Canada, and destroying the hope of restoring one of the world’s greatest havens for Lake Trout is among them.

From Danny Beaton:

Thanks to the work of environmentalists, citizens and Indigenous people, there is a concern and movement for Mother Earth protection as  we’ve seen constant plans to build on farm land or on environmentally sensitive areas. 

The promotion of urban expansion wherever developers want to pour concrete needs to end. Because many Ontarians are new Canadians, many do not understand the dynamics of political framework towards environmental protection. If Ontario politicians want our city to look like the urban jungles of Japan, China, Mexico, India and large parts of Europe, keep building in the city. Why expand to destroy our Green Belt when we need to instead expand our Green Belt and protect all forms of water from contamination from sprawl?

The city itself can only hold so much concrete. Better planning must be made to protect our water supply. 

Indigenous people believe everything we do to Mother Earth affects Seven Generations and so if we threaten our rivers, lakes, streams and aquifers, we are threatening our children's children's children. 

Ian Flett and Eric Gillespie are the legal team working with Dr John Bacher to fight for Mother Earth in the Niagara area. John is a veteran environmentalist and peace activist for 40 years now. His parents brought John up at a young age to visit Six Nations Reservation to get an understanding of Indigenous life. The Ojibway and Chippewa of Lake Simcoe area are fighting urban sprawl expansion that threatens their water supply. 

It is Claire Macolmson and the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition who need to be supported to protect their water and Mother Earth’s blood. The Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society are leaders of protecting Farmland in the Niagara Fruit Belt. 

It is only through public support that wildlife can be protected. For species who live in the forest surrounded by water, or vice versa, there is a natural world dynamic happening where nature is in balance with the natural laws that sustain all life forms, not dangerous developments. Natural life — with forests and water — can nurture society. But taking everything out of Mother Earth to build roads and condominiums will not protect other life species. 

For the past fifty years there have been warnings by scientists, National Geographic and World Wildlife Foundation, that we are losing birds, insects, fish and animals at an alarming rate. As planners and architects, we human beings need to look at facts from the consequences of urban sprawl, destroying farmland and causing massive pollution to rivers, lakes and streams. We are quickly running out of time to turn the mess around. 

Only strong leaders who have no concern for themselves or ignorance can see what is happening and the threat to Our Seventh Generations. 

With this in mind I say thank you for listening to a Mohawk Environmentalist.

Photo Credit: John & Danny on a Sacred Water Walk with Becky Bigcanoe, 2015. 

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