Monstrous Mid-Peninsula Highway Sought to Be Resurrected from the Dead

In Memory of Alicja Rozanska.

From John Bacher:

Shortly after being forced into hospitalization following an attack of congenital heart failure, veteran environmentalist Doug Draper sent me an ominous warning. He informed me that powerful cliques in Niagara were trying to convince the Ontario provincial government of Premier Doug Ford to resurrect the terminated 130-kilometer Mid-Peninsula Highway from the dead. 

The terminated Mid-Peninsula Highway would have exploded through the Niagara Escarpment, near Burlington’s Mount Nemo. It was planned to run around Hamilton, near Rockton, and then cut through the middle of the Niagara Peninsula to meet the Queen Elizabeth Highway. One of the key reasons the highway was terminated was that the City of Burlington went to court and compelled the Ontario government to conduct a full environmental assessment of the project. 

For a quarter-century since the Mid-Pen was announced by the government of the infamous Premier of Ontario, Mike Harris, Doug Draper has been one of its most principled and consistent critics. He went to considerable effort to explore the reasons for the scheme, when meeting with public servants in the Ministry of Transportation’s (MTO) headquarters building in St. Catharines. 

Draper told me that the public servants did not believe in the concrete monster that the Harris government was telling them to push. He explained to me what they believed were the real reasons for the highway. “If you want to find what this is about”, Draper memorably conveyed to me, “You should look at a list of donors to political parties.” 

I spent a lot of time attending public consultations related to the court ordered review of the Mid-Pen. One of the most revealing discussions came from a Hamilton taxi driver, who understood the horrific death toll brought on by Hamilton’s Red Hill Parkway, which went through the forested wildlife corridor of the Niagara Escarpment. He was sickened by the wildlife carnage, which included large animals such as deer. The consultations revealed that toxic salt spray would be unleashed along the corridor into the depths of forested wildlife habitats. 

For several years I was privileged to be a close friend of the dedicated environmentalist, the late Monte Dennis, with whom I served for several years on the board of the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment. Monte’s passion for protecting the earth was revealed when he became the victim of a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), for the crime of writing a Letter to the Editor to the Hamilton Spectator. 

The SLAPP suit caused so much outrage that the Ontario government was prodded in 2015 to pass the Protection of Public Participation Act to prevent such litigation in the future. Monte and Jean Grandoni, another foe of the highway,  challenged dumpers of contaminated fill who evaded prosecution.

Another leader who worked closely against the Mid-Pen was the late Jane Hanlon of Climate Action Now. Through work with her I obtained access to seldom seen maps by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), which showed the importance of naturalizing habitats threatened by the highway. During one of these sessions an NPCA employee told me that she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown because of the pressure on her to approve inappropriate developments. 

The landscape threatened by the Mid-Peninsula Highway is the remaining core habitat of a federally threatened species, the Western Chorus Frog. In the spring, its booming chorus adds wonder to our region. With the magical sounds being heard almost a mile away from where the frogs are singing. 

The threat of the revival of the Mid-Pen is made more ominous by the proposed content of the new Niagara Regional Official Plan. In its Appendix Two, it shows a purple lined strip of Employment Lands (suitable for shopping centers). These lie between Welland and the Queen Elizabeth Highway, where the Mid-Pen was planned to be routed in the past and would disrupt forested wetlands connected to the Humberstone Marsh. The wetland Silverdale Forest in West Lincoln likewise faces the risk that the chorus of frogs will be replaced with the roar of trucks. 

The Mid-Pen is posed to service plans to expand Smithville’s population of 6,245 to more than 21,000 through an urban expansion of around 1,000 acres. The massive sprawl expected to be fueled by growth from Hamilton, which has sealed its urban boundaries, threatens Class One farmlands and would encircle and degrade sensitive wetlands. 

Those who love the majestic Mount Nemo have so far kept the vampire of the Mid-Peninsula Highway in its grave. May the spirit of the Confederacy Chiefs in the councils of the Longhouse, such as Arnie General who once mocked MTO as Major Take Over, keep it there. 

From Danny Beaton:               

The honored late Mohawk Elder Ann Jock, stated at a protest rally that we have enough expressways, golf courses and shopping malls; that we need to protect Mother Earth now before all is destroyed. Chief Richard Maracle was of the same mindset. Our people have always looked after our white brothers, even when he takes what does not belong to him. 

Aussie Staats and Norm Jacobs were of the Haudenosaunee/ Iroquois Six Nations Confederacy. They were adamant on protecting and defending natural life around our territories throughout the Great Lakes Region. Our elders, Chiefs and Clan Mothers would gather from our communities in Quebec and New York with us in Six Nations for Traditional Meetings concerning Mothers Earth's protection and our children's future for thousands of years. 

Not only Haudenosaunee, but Ojibway, Mississauga and Huron Nations and Tribes agreed that Mother Earth's forests and Great Lakes could sustain us all if we protected them and the living birds, fish and animals too. 
Chief Arnie General was a great traditional spokesman and orator for the Haudenosaunee, who many from Hamilton and Niagara got to meet and know in the past few years. Although he is now gone like many in the Spirit World, his Legacy is not forgotten. Like how he went against all unnecessary expressways and shopping malls when he said that we have enough! 

Many of our animals, beaver, rabbits, skunks, turtles, snakes and frogs are being wiped out. Decimated by urban sprawl and vehicles from permits handed out mostly on prime farmland, fruit belts and the Green Belt that is off grounds for natural life. Our natural life and children's future is out the door for profit. 

Indigenous people and Nations have been patient. Like Chief Oren Lyons from the Onondaga Nation said, our people have been tolerant and mostly calm after all that has been done to them. For just a few of these reasons society has to look at what Environmentalists and Scientists are saying with Indigenous people to stop this madness and destruction before all is killed and gone. 

We are now paying the price with Climate Change and Global Warming, even if you don't believe it. Mother Earth was on fire all over the world in the last few years and droughts started in the 1960s. As an Indigenous elder I am repeating the words of my leaders. They are still Chiefs and Clan Mothers in my mind and heart.

Photo Credit: Alicja Rozanska and Chief Arnie General on Six Nations Territory by Danny Beaton.

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