The Holland Marsh Expressway

By Dr John Bacher and Danny Beaton, Mohawk of the Turtle Clan.

In Memory of Alicja Rozanska.

One of Canada's greatest treasures is the precious mosaic of farmlands and natural areas that form the Holland Marsh. The marsh is Canada's vegetable basket. Enough carrots are produced here to give every Canadian four pounds of this healthy food. Its rich organic soils are increasingly growing diverse crops for immigrant communities, such as bok choy, endives and escarole. Wetlands on the south shore of Lake Simcoe and along the Holland and East Holland River support diverse wildlife and cleanse pollutants. 

Given the sacredness of the Holland Marsh, which is one of the most strongly protected parts of Ontario's Greenbelt, the new threat posed to it is quite shocking. The Ontario government recently announced plans for a new expressway. Called accurately by opponents, the Holland Marsh Expressway, it would be a 16.2 kilometre link between the 400 and 404 expressways. It would pave over 39 hectares of critical wildlife habitat. Some 9.5 hectares of the provincially significant Holland Marsh Wetland Complex, which drains into Lake Simcoe, would be removed. 

The madness of the Holland Marsh Expressway was well summed up by Claire Malcomson, Executive Director of the Lake Simcoe Coalition. In response to the announcement of Premier Doug Ford approving the highway, she pointed out that "Lake Simcoe is stressed by development inputs, salt from the expanding road network and excessive nutrients already." This situation makes the proposal, in her words, a wholly inappropriate place to build a highway.

The expressway would have an intersection and cut across the largest remaining forested wetland in the Holland Marsh. It is a birding hot spot. This swamp woodland is a refuge for numerous raptors that require forested habitats. These include the Red Shouldered Hawk, the Sharp Shinned, and Broadwinged Hawks. This woodland is also a home to a number of bird species that require large intact forests. These species include the threatened Wood Thrush, the Scarlet Tanager, the Black and White Warbler, the Veery and Ovenbird. 

One of the rarest species to be disrupted if the expressway is approved is the Louisiana Waterthrush. Its numbers are down to just five hundred in Canada. This species is vulnerable to the polluted storm water the Holland Marsh Expressway would generate. Such pollution would also contaminate breeding habitat for the Northern Pike. 

During its last environmental review, environmental impact studies found two species of turtles that would be vulnerable to the expressway's path. These were the Snapping and Northern Map Turtle. Now, another turtle species found in the Holland Marsh is at risk — the Midland Painted Turtle.

The expressway would cut through the traditional territory of the Georgian Island First Nation. It has never been consulted although the expressway route would disrupt sacred sites.

The ecology and fertility of the Holland Marsh is complex and vulnerable. The soil's fertility is helped by decaying trees. Despite these nutrients, it is vulnerable to oxidation. To plan an expressway through Ontario's salad belt is the height of madness.

It sure looks like Doug Ford has not spent much time with the farmers up in Simcoe County or Bradford, because this is where he has allowed his new Expressway to run through prime agricultural land. This is about as equal to allowing ranchers to burn rainforest, the lungs of Mother Earth, for cattle grazing. In Rondônia, Brazil, already 8% of its rainforest has been destroyed in 18 years. Is Canada, or Ontario, going to let a misguided politician have freedom to hand out permits to construction companies willing to build and pave over prime farmland that produces fruit, vegetables, herbs and medicines, which are far more important than more concrete over our children's future food supply? 

Indigenous people in Brazil are fighting their own governments to protect their homelands and rainforest, which contains the same quality of vegetation as the sacred Holland Marsh here in Ontario. The Holland Marsh has been feeding Ontario with a rich food supply. Why would Ontario allow this genocide to take place on world class farmland in the Green Belt location, when vegetation is a solution to Global Warming? If Ontario allows foolhardy projects like this to happen, it will be another step towards disaster and the loss of Mother Earth’s bounty to native and non-native people. Who has the right to endanger all life species, plant life, four legged, winged ones, insects creeping and crawling?

There is an effort to stop the madness of the Holland Marsh Expressway by securing a federal environmental assessment. This can be done by the federal government review agency or by writing directly to the Minister of the Environment, The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson. While there is not yet an official deadline, do not procrastinate. Send emails to or checkout the following website:

Photo Credit: Danny Beaton in Tiny Township. 

Local Chapter: