My profound sadness at seeing the development of the current Enerdu project has some deep roots.
By describing what I mean by this I hope I can offer some perspective to the supporters of this project who might not have a sense of what it means to the evolution of Almonte as I have seen the town develop as a former, interested outsider. Maybe they might gain some understanding why so many of us oppose this project that really offers nothing to the town but legally is the right of the developer to proceed with. I offer this with much respect for the those supporters who are my neighbours and fellow citizens who have their own point of view on this contentious issue. For over the 30 years I have been visiting, then residing and then been a business owner here. I have seen Almonte develop into a thriving tourist destination..and as a result a place where I chose to open a business that would not have worked without the changing nature of the town from industrial to a tourist destination that is arts and culture based.
I first started to visit Almonte in 1982 when we moved to the Ottawa area, from Toronto via 3 years in Vancouver. I knew some artist colleagues who had moved out here before that: Many of these are folks who have dramatically helped change the fortunes of post-industrial Almonte into a place that intrigued me and drew me and many others in. I wanted to be where these cultural visionaries were creating so much vibrant art, architecture, music, neighbourhoods etc etc.
In the 1980s Almonte was a tad worn down at the edges and had a number of big, old, abandoned buildings related to the demise of the original industries that the town was built on. But people with this new kind of vision, often involved in the arts were moving here as was happening in many of the picturesque mill towns around Ontario that I am very familiar with. I grew up in Port Credit in what is now Mississauga. This region was a beautiful area of small towns, very similar to Mississippi Mills, largely rural, with the impressive Credit River moving through numerous pretty towns from its headwaters near Orangeville to Lake Ontario.
Then rampant development of the Bill Davis era began in earnest in the early 70’s. As such I know first hand what reckless development looks like. All these lovely, little, river towns are now lost in a concrete jungle that is disparagingly called Mississauga by anyone who needs to roar through on the 6 to 12 lane highways that crisscross it. We still visit old friends there and always arrive exhausted and white knuckled from the awful emotional and physical experience of navigating clogged highways and mile upon mile of big, cheaply built, housing developments near bland, ubiquitous malls. It is so disheartening and also proving problematic in many ways that can be read about frequently in the Toronto Star etc. This land, part of the Golden Horseshoe down to Niagara Falls, is considered some of the best soil for farming anywhere on the continent: too bad its mostly covered in tarmac encrusted urban sprawl.
The second experience related to feeling compelled to write a cautionary tale about the slippery slope of reckless development which fills the coffers of a few to the detriment of many would be my years living in a nice little house which bordered Lansdowne Park in Ottawa. This little house is now in the shadow of a 40′ wall of concrete which is the back of a bland, big box store on the grounds of this “park” which was originally given to the citizens of Ottawa by the farmer who owned the land. It was given as a public park for all the citizens to enjoy.
So when the former mayor of Ottawa basically gave the land to the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group ( a tad simplified I know: please bear with me) I worked long and hard with the majority citizens of the Glebe and Old Ottawa South who opposed this absurd venture. There were other serious,well thought out proposals for the park that were based on ideas inspired by world class cities which all maintain a large public green-space for their citizenry such as London’s Hyde Park, New York’s Central Park and many parks that are famous in Paris etc. These parks are sacred to the citizens of these cities. Ottawa really needed this park as a restorative green space in a quickly expanding urban area. We fought for this up to the gates of the Supreme Court which wouldnt hear the case…so be it, but the ins and outs of the skullduggery of the developers is well known to me. I had shades of the mess that is Mississauga in my mind’s eye and knew deep down that the glorious image of what the OSEG group was proposing would fall short. Also the attractive area of Bank St. running from the Queensway to the Rideau River was already bustling hub that well served the residents and attracted many visitors. The small, unique, locally owned shops flourished. Now that the newly minted shopping mall, complete with a Winners, a Shoppers Drug Mart and a Milestones, that is Lansdowne Park is in full swing, the problems that the defenders of a version of the development as a people’s park have come true. The shopping area in the Glebe is suffering, the residential streets are unpleasantly overrun with cars and what people had moved to the area for has been diminished forever.
So back to Enerdu. The advocates of this new project right in the middle of the heritage section of Almonte can’t have an understanding what it means to the many newer residents and returning residents who were attracted to this town because of its nicely preserved, sensitively repurposed, heritage downtown and riverside. This is why many people I know are moving to other attractive old mill towns in Ontario, such as Elora, Thornbury, Glen Williams Mill, or Bala where a hydro proposed hydro dam is being fiercely opposed committed citizens who know the damage that ill conceived project will do to their town. http://savethebalafalls.com/
I wonder if the advocates for Enerdu can imagine how upsetting it is to see the very attributes that drew you to the town being bulldozed and forever obliterated, and further knowing that these changes wont contribute anything to the town! No electricity, no taxes, just a loss of quiet, riverside beauty that is in itself a hugely valuable commodity in a world that is quickly realizing how rare amenities such as the views of the lovely old falls and repurposed mills in Almonte are.
This is where the economic growth of Almonte lies: you only have to look at rising house and land values and Mill St businesses that draw well heeled visitors from all over. You only have to talk to recently arrived residents to know how crazy this project seems. I have seen it all before. I have felt this sinking feeling about the loss of things of real value to regular people only to line the pockets of those with no interest in the good of the whole. There are too many examples of it and people who move to avoid the ugliness of reckless development, such as myself feel heartsick. I would like to hear why anyone would support this project in Almonte if they were aware of the well documented, quantifiable, realities of 21century economic prosperity. The jewel that is Almonte as a result of conscientious investment and sensitive heritage restoration and preservation cannot be regained once its most important asset is diminished. And that is the historical vista of the river as it runs through Almonte’s downtown. Please consider this: we all lose with this project. There is nothing I can see to be gained with it except by Jeff Cavanaugh and a few short term construction labourers. In particular I would ask Councillor Gillis, who campaigned as I remember, against the Enerdu project but recently marched with supporters up Mill St: Please , can you tell me what caused your change of heart?