Story and Photo by Mike Adler, InsideToronto.com
What the Rouge National Urban Park can or cannot be has been discussed behind closed doors for seven months.
Now people living near the celebrated green space, which is about to draw more visitors and see no less than four different “discovery hubs” built, can tell Parks Canada what they think of its “People’s Park” concept.
They have three months to make their opinions known, either by filling in a survey online or attending one of three meetings where their questions can be answered in public.
“This will be a People’s Park after all and we want the people to help shape it,” Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent said Monday at Scarborough’s West Rouge Community Centre.
“This is your chance to leave a lasting legacy.”
While announcing a start to the “public involvement period,” Kent introduced the woman who will soon take charge of the park, Pam Veinotte.
On July 16, Veinotte, superintendent of Canada’s first national park at Banff, becomes superintendent of what Parks Canada says will be a new Rouge Park uniquely positioned to help large numbers of people connect to nature, learn environmental stewardship, “discover Canada’s national treasured places,” appreciate agriculture and experience the culture of Greater Toronto’s First Nations.
A large part of the federal funds promised last month, $143.7 million over 10 years, may go towards building the hubs.
The main hub, according to the 20-page park concept document written after stakeholder sessions and available on the Parks Canada website (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/rouge), will be in a “high-use area” and host outdoor concerts and events as well as showcase other federal parks, historic sites and marine preserves.
Another will be by the Lake Ontario shoreline and will help visitors “experience and learn about the park’s beach and wetland features.”
The third hub, near the Bead Hill National Historic Site, a former First Nations village near Scarborough’s Glen Rouge campground, “will be the welcoming point for the discovery of the rich aboriginal history of the valley.”
A fourth hub, among agricultural lands in the park’s northern territory in Markham, “will celebrate food and farming,” the concept paper says.
A Conservative MP from Thornhill, Kent said the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and other major owners of land in the park, including Markham, Pickering and Toronto, agree the park will go ahead and expect to transfer their properties to Parks Canada this fall.
Independent landowners, the agency has said, won’t be forced to sell parcels of land in the park – a different attitude than the Liberal government displayed four decades ago when it expropriated large areas of Pickering, Markham and Uxbridge for an international airport.
But on Monday, Kent suggested the agency will try to strike deals to buy at least two small properties between large blocks of public land before the park’s boundaries can be set.
The public meetings, all from 7 to 9 p.m., will be on July 17 at University of Toronto Scarborough’s Instructional Centre on Military Trail, on July 24 at Markham Museum on Markham Road and on Aug. 14 at Pickering Town Hall on The Esplanade.
Parks Canada officials said the public involvement phase ends Sept. 17.
Naming Veinotte is another milestone for the park, said Faisal Moula, director general of the David Suzuki Foundation, who added Banff and the Rouge have things in common.
Compared to other national parks, Banff is visited by enormous numbers of tourists, said Moula. The Rouge won’t be a wilderness park, but like Banff it will have to be carefully managed to avoid undermining its ecology, he said, given the growing human development pressures around it and the larger numbers of visitors expected.
In a release, New Democrat MPs Rathika Sitsabaiesan and Dan Harris welcomed Monday’s announcements as “a testament to members of our community who worked for over a quarter century to see their dreams for Rouge Park” become reality.
“Moving forward, we will work hard to make sure the voices of community members are heard in the consultation process,” said Sitsabaiesan, who represents Scarborough-Rouge River.
A transitional council headed by the agency assumes control of the park’s day to day operations on July 31.
Federal funding of $143 million announced for Rouge Park. Pickering-Scarborough East MP Corneliu Chisu, left, Parks Canada CEO Alan Latourelle, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Environment Minister Peter Kent tour the Rouge National Urban Park’s Rouge Marsh on Friday, May 25, after participating in the announcement of $143 million in funding for the park. Staff Photo/MIKE ADLER
For enlarged map click here: RougeStudyArea
- Pickering national park update: federal government won’t force landowners to sell
- National park update: federal government won’t force landowners to sell
Years after the first rumblings of it were heard, a rain of federal money started falling Friday, May 25, on the Rouge River Valley.
In Scarborough’s West Rouge Community Centre, people rose from their seats to applaud when federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Canada’s first National Urban Park would get $143.7 million over 10 years. Flaherty was cheered again when he said the federal park would get a budget of $7.6 million annually after that.
Coming in a week when budget-driven cuts to its Parks Canada agency were being felt across the country, the size of the federal largesse was something advocates for the Rouge River had looked for since the present park was established with a $10-million federal fund.
“We can now say with fiscal certainty that our collective dream and vision will become a reality,” said Environment Minister Peter Kent, adding the national urban park is “a world-leading concept” which will lift “our national park system to a new place.”
The money will build a visitor’s centre, improve the park’s trail system and build “proper” parking lots for visitors, said Alan Wells, chairperson of the Rouge Alliance, a co-operative of 12 agencies and governments that has run the park from Aurora and has an operating budget of $1.4 million annually.
“We were pretty close (in terms of budgets) to what the feds are talking about,” said Wells, who along with the rest of the Alliance board is stepping down on July 31 as the province prepares to transfer ownership to Parks Canada.
Wells, however, said the Alliance saw the $100 million needed to establish a 10,000-acre park and that 5,000 acres of federal land, much of it occupied by tenant farmers in Markham, could soon be added to the future park boundaries, which aren’t set.
Kent, a Thornhill MP, said he was confident the 5,000 acres would be added as “sustainable” agriculture.
“Those on the York side of the line will be part of this park,” he said, and with longer working leases, the farmers would use better agricultural practices than they do now.
Flaherty, also the minister responsible for Greater Toronto, said the future park, “a people’s park nestled in the back yard of millions,” will “change this part of Greater Toronto forever” and the Conservative government would invest the money “to see it remains special for all of Canada.”
The ministers and Parks Canada officials said that after 11 months of discussions with stakeholders the first public meetings on establishing the new Rouge Park will begin next month, though no dates were announced.
Anyone interested should get involved “and to share in some real history-making,” Kent said.
“This will be a people’s park and we want the people of Canada to help us shape it.”
Kent and Flaherty also thanked Alliance members, community groups, politicians and others who fought to preserve the Rouge Valley from development and who campaigned to make it a national institution.
Earlier, Scarborough East Councillor Ron Moeser recalled, as a local ratepayer president, he had been part of a coalition in 1982 that started asking the Ontario government to save the valley.
“We met every cabinet minister in (David) Peterson’s government,” to influence what ultimately was that premier’s decision to declare a provincial interest in the entire Rouge watershed.
Lois James, a founding member of Save The Rouge Valley System, said the federal park taking shape was beyond her dreams in those days. The first activists to take up the cause, she said, wanted “just a park that you couldn’t build estate housing in. And that was touch and go.”
“It’s forever now,” declared Glenn De Baeremaeker, a Scarborough councillor who also spent decades crusading for the park with STRVS. “I think the park can withstand any attack.”
Though grateful, Jim Robb, general manager of Friends of the Rouge Watershed said he was keeping his eye on vision of a 100-square-kilometre park “richer and more diverse in ecological health then it is today.”
The park’s environmental objectives, enshrined in management plans which took years and required contributions from thousands, should be strengthened, not forced to “go backwards” under the national urban park concept, he said.
He also said it was important to expand the park into the vast federal holdings which were expropriated in the 1970s for a Pickering airport.
Keep the park small, Robb said, and it may suffer from overuse as the Rouge Valley is promoted to visitors as a means to understand Canada’s national park system and its past.
A larger park will spread out the increased numbers of visitors and offer them a higher-quality experience, he said.