By John Bacher
Many of you may have had the inspiring pleasure of seeing the PBS documentary on the creation of the national parks system of the United States. If so, you will have seen how such towering figures as the Murie brothers (Olaus and Adolph), John Muir, and Ansel Adams protected the landscape of America over enormous opposition.
There is a place where you can create such heroics as the great environmental champions of the past, right here in Niagara. This is surprising since all the land in question is already publicly owned. It is even owned by the Canadian National Parks branch and protected by the Greenbelt.
What is strange however, is that this land, although it has a marsh estuary and an old growth Carolinian forest of over two hundreds acres, the largest remaining on the shores of Lake Ontario, is threatened by development pressure.
The strange glitch in the Parks Canada equation is that it is administered by the historic sites division of Parks Canada, and that this division, under Canadian law has a limited mandate.
The reason that it owns land here is not to commemorate the rare species in the Canadian forest and marsh. It is to celebrate the worst Canadian defeat in the War of 1812, the Battle of Fort George, which led to most of Niagara being under the heel of American occupation.
This branch considers ecological restoration and tree planting to be outside of its mandate. The historic interpretation branch of Parks Canada is engaged in a process that would, if approved, transfer control of what are now sewage lagoons for a massive summer Symphony concert venue for the Toronto Symphony, backed by the National Arts Centre called Project Niagara.
It would cost in total some $109 million n public money- $60 million for the theatre project, and another $45 million to relocate the sewage lagoons, which are located here. Plans are being developed that would see parking here for 1,500 cars.
There is an endangered species, which can be found on the Carolinian species, the White Wood Aster. The large mature area of forest, which provides one of the last breeding habitats in southwestern Ontario for the Red Shouldered Hawk. The forest is part of a globally rare Pin Oak-Hickory ecosystem, which is generally confined to a narrow strip of several miles on either side of the Niagara River.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of the most seriously deforested areas of Ontario, which is contributing to the problem of shoreline erosion around Lake Ontario. This problem will become worst because of the greater storms that will be induced as global warming worsens. This threat shows how having reforestation here, should be an urgent necessity, rather than an amusement park.
There is a great effort at planning now for the bi-centennial of the War of 1812. Having a national park here, which would include surrounding forests, such as the former Niagara Shores Conservation Area, would be of especially make this a meaningful celebration. 2 As you know, this university is named after a hero of the War of 1812, Sir Isaac Brock, who led Canadian resistance to schemes for American invasion.
There are few tributes to his great co-commander Tecumseh, who co-ordinated naive resistance to the racist dogmas of Manifest Destiny. What so pre-occupied Tecumseh in his determination to stop American expansionism was his understanding of the ecological consequences of forest destruction.
He eloquently stated that as a result of this abuse, the rivers would run red with the blood of the land. This consequence of forest destruction is especially vivid in Niagara on the Lake, where streams because dirty and silted up from sedimentation caused by soil erosion. A Tecumseh National Park can be a beacon to a sustainable relationship with the earth, which motivated the native people’s resistance to American conquest, which was the actual historical reason for the War of 1812.
It can also be a way of bringing together historical interpretation, ecological protection and art, in a better way, than the polluting schemes of Project Niagara. The sewage lagoons in Tecumseh National Park can be improved by creating a new polishing lagoon, a constructed wetland, which would also create benefits for wildlife habitat.
As was done in the artistic rehabilitation of the Mills Creek Canyon Earthworks project, this can be combined with floating waterfowl nesting boxes, overlooks, fanciful bridges, and sculptures that can be of use for turtles sunning themselves.
In conclusion, I would urge you to become involved in the struggle to create Tecumseh National Park. Photograph its wonders, and design artistic wonders that can further cleanse its waters. In doing so, you can make a serious contribution to local strategies on climate change, honouring the role of native peoples in Canadian history, and in creating a place of beauty that will be cherished by future generations.
(John Bacher is a longtime conservationist in Niagara and member of the Niagara-based citizens group, Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society or PALS for short.)
(Click on http://www.niagaraatlarge.com for Niagara At Large and more news and commentary on matters of interest and concern in our greater binational Niagara region.)