Fromer Toronto Mayor, David Crombie, has deep roots in Burlington area and is fond of the city, tries to bend our Mayor’s ear.

September 18, 2013

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  It was an event held at perhaps the most prestigious site in the city.  It had relatively little to do with Burlington and at the same time it had everything to do with Burlington.

Marlaine Koehler, part of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust that created the Waterfront Trail that first opened in Burlington just east of the Canal on Mother’s Day in YEAR

Some of the best minds in the province were in the Discovery Room overlooking the lake and Spencer Smith Park with the pier at the east end.  There were people from municipalities and government agencies across the province. They were there to honour two women: Marlaine Koehler and Vicki Barron who, together, were the driving force behind the creation of the Waterfront Trail that today stretches from Niagara on the Lake to the Quebec border and has begun to include large parts of Lake Erie.

Vickie Barron, one of two women given the David Crombie Award bu the Canadian Urban Institute in Burlington earlier this week.

Nothing like this had ever been done before.  The initiative came out of a Royal Commission led by Crombie  that resulted in a Waterfront Regeneration Trust; an organization that holds waterfront property or the right to walk on properties in trust for the public.

There was a time when Burlington was a leader in the development of the “waterfront”, something David Crombie reminded us of when he was in the city a few years ago talk to the Waterfront Advisory Committee.

Crombie was back to witness the awards being given and took advantage of the opportunity to chat up the Mayor on how he was doing with the plans for the Beachway Park.  This park is where the Waterfront Trail used to begin.  The series of pictures set out below show – well, check the body language.  Crombie was having some difficulty with comments Goldring was making.

Mayor Goldring is struggling with this issue.  I think his heart is in the right place, which is more than can be said of some of his council members, but setting out a vision and then executing the leadership to make the vision a reality is not our Mayor’s strong suite.

The pictures are shown in the sequence they were taken in – minutes apart.

David Crombie, centre, likes everyone he meets and has a soft spot for Burlington.  Crombie listen, he listen carefully.  Mayor Goldring is on the left with the chair of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust on the right.

The conversation was about the lakefront, the Beachway and Spencer Smith Park.  Crombie who has vast experience with how to make the waterfront accessible to the public and at the same time include community makes a point.  Is Goldring listening?

Crombie thinks about the responses being made by Mayor Goldring.

The folded arms tell the story – and the expression on Crombie’s face suggest he doesn’t like what he is hearing.  The city will have a better idea of what Mayor Goldring thinks when he speaks at Council Monday.  The city’s position on the Beachway Park, which will the go to Regional Council, will be made known on Monday.

Ms Koehler told the small audience something about the day, it was a Sunday, a Mother’s Day when the Waterfront Trail was officially opened.  “we got calls from Hamilton asking if the trail could be stretched to their part of the province and we explained that Hamilton had not taken part in the planning and making a last-minute change just couldn’t happen”.

The event was one of those things that take place to honour our best in this country.  What made this event particularly poignant was the presence of former Toronto Mayor David Crombie.  The award was given in his name and he had worked for many years with the two women.  Crombie has been the strongest argument in the province for making our waterfronts livable places.

Burlington is on the cusp of making a decision that will define for a century what kind of a waterfront we are going to have as decisions get made about what Burlington wants to see done with the Beachway Park – a location that was at one point thought of as a bit of a slum; a place where biker gangs held court and where houses were yards away from a railway line and hydro towers loomed  over everything.

Council Blair Lancaster told a committee meeting that when she was a young woman she “wasn’t allowed to go to the park”.  Janet Turpin Myers, a recently published Burlington author, said that “when I was young you were behaving really badly if you went to that place.  It was seen as a ‘wild’ place.

The vision parks and recreation staff has put forward is “plastic”.  It has no life, no vitality and no colour and no imagination.  It is what you would expect from bureaucrats.  The limited vision that came out of Parks and Recreation is far from final and there will be some good work done to make the park much more vibrant.

What is missing is the strongest thing the park has going for it and that is the “community” that is already there and one that should be grown.

It took Torontonians a couple of years to get to the point where homes were allowed to remain on their islands – making it one of the nicest, safest places to visit in that city.

The city wants to create four zones within the park that will allow for the protection of the sensitive sand dunes and for the creation of better parking. The current plan to to take four properties that are currently privately owned and turn them into park space. There are three structures on the four properties.

On the plus side, the city has limited the land grab it wants to do to four pieces of property with four structures.

What Marlaine Koehler and Vicki Barron did with their Waterfront Trail work was change the mindset.  They were the beginning of the movement that brought the lake back into the hands of the public and made it a living breathing place.  Ms Koehler told her audience that her mother saw the lake as a place where “dead fish being washed up on the shore”.  Koehler and her children visit Burlington frequently and swim at Beachway Park.  My children see that body of water much differently than I did when I started working on it.  They see it as a place that is rightfully theirs.  My generation had to fight to get it back into the hands of the public.  The Waterfront Agency in Toronto has spent seven years getting three km of the trail through the downtown part of that city.  It is still a struggle but courageous people with innovative ideas have shown it can be done.

Burlington can have a Beachway Park that will become the envy of the province; a place where community, a protected environment and activities for all ages can be enjoyed.

As people were getting ready to leave the event a large ore carrier was seen coming out of Hamilton’s harbour.  Crombie pointed to the ship and said: “I want to go home on that”.  Minutes earlier Crombie said to me that Goldring needed to be cautious because he was about to make a long-term decision.

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2 comments to Fromer Toronto Mayor, David Crombie, has deep roots in Burlington area and is fond of the city, tries to bend our Mayor’s ear.

  • Many many years ago I was honored to have the then Mayor David Crombie write the foreword to my book ‘Spirit of Toronto’. This title was about the historical ‘spiritual’ evolution and range of Toronto’s city ‘soul’, ranging from Ameri-Indian to Zoroastrainism. ( … I produced this book on the occasion of the Pope John Paul’s visit to the City … ) Mayor Crombie absolutely understood the essential dynamics of what made a city great. As he said, referencing Rome, ‘nations may come and go, but cities endure forever’.

    I always get a bit anxious when local politicians and bureaucrats keep trying to compare – or ‘elevate’- Burlington to something it should never -and can’t ever- be, ie. New York or Toronto.

    Burlington MUST champion ITSELF – first and foremost. Otherwise, we’ll remain in the shadows of genuinely authentic -and great- cities.

    In the Mayor’s recent newsletter he mentioned how the residences on the Beachway were “funky and quirky” and, BECAUSE OF THIS, needed “tidying” up. I was stunned. (… And I wasn’t the only one who was … )

    Destroying what does not fit into a ‘neat & tidy’ suburban mind-set is chilling, almost frightening. Eviction and expropriation is NOT a ‘solution’.

    Tearing down a long-standing lakeside ‘beach’ community that extends, by the way, all the way to Stoney Creek, is ripping out genuine local history and natural evolution. It is no way to ‘support’ or ‘build’ a great AUTHENTIC city.

    These people pay taxes, they have homes, they have families. Leave them be. Let them live where they have chosen to live. Work with them, not against them. Make Burlington BETTER, not WORSE.

    Are you listening Mayor Rick?