By Aleksander Bajrak
Today, Feb. 28 marks the ninth anniversary of Ontario’s Greenbelt, the largest natural preserve of its kind in North America. And for the occasion, it is on its way to having its boundaries extended into the City of Toronto.
City council voted 41-2 on Feb. 19 to have city staff develop a plan to formally designate Toronto’s ravine system, specifically the Humber and Don River Valleys and Etobicoke Creek, as a permanent part of the Greenbelt.
“Our city is famous for our green spaces and our local communities’ close access to them,” said Scarborough Centre Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, who sponsored the resolution alongside York Centre’s Maria Augimeri.
“This would give the public an extra layer of protection so that these parklands can be held in trust for future generations, not sold, disposed or paved over.”
With Oakville and Mississauga approving similar motions in the last two weeks, this will be the first major expansion of the Greenbelt since its establishment by the provincial government in 2005, and will affect five million residents.
Interest in growing the Greenbelt in the Greater Toronto Area began during the administration under former mayor David Miller in 2010, but had stalled due to concerns regarding municipal control of stormwater infrastructure, recreation and stream restoration, according to Environmental Defence, which co-ordinates the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance.
“When the Greenbelt Act was first announced it was looking at farmland and sensitive environmental areas without cities in mind,” said Erin Shapero, program manager for land and water at Environmental Defence. “However, Rouge River in Scarborough was protected, so groups were asking why the others weren’t.”
Queen’s Park introduced an amendment in 2013 to allow special status for conserving urban river valleys.
“All of the source waters to the rivers originate up in the Oak Ridges Moraine, which then flow through Toronto and then down to Lake Ontario. So connecting them is a perfect fit and of great ecological benefit to the city,” Shapero said.
The final plan by city staff on how to go about the expansion will come back to council for approval in late spring.
The Greenbelt consists of 1.8 million acres of forest, wetlands and countryside. Encompassing the Golden Horseshoe through Niagara to Northumberland, it plays a significant role in preventing urban sprawl in southern Ontario.
Environmental group lauds city’s move towards expanding Greenbelt along Toronto’s rivers