Someone fingered Doreen Nicoll - they called the bylaw officer who didn't understand what role milkweed really played environmentally.

News 100 greenBy Doreen Nicoll

July 5th, 2018



In 2004 I had the grass in my very tiny front yard removed and a very low wall erected to contain my new garden. Originally, I planted native, heritage plants, most of them edible and all of them able to survive on rain water alone.

Over the years there have been plenty of transitions. Some plants thrive for years only to suddenly decline or disappear and be replaced by a completely different variety. This was survival of the fittest playing out in my garden thanks to the effects of climate change.

During that time, milkweed started to grow, probably a throwback to when this land I live on was farmed. I’ve also purchased milkweed and over the past decade or so and all of it has done quite well. This is a particularly good year.


Milkweed – din dins for the Monarch butterfly and a native plant in Burlington resident Doreen Nicoll’s garden.


But, this is also the year that I discovered that Burlington, Ontario considers milkweed, the only plant that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on, a weed that must be destroyed or removed.

On Friday, June 29, 2018, I returned from work to find a Notice of Violation on my front door. The notice stated that I was in contravention of By-law #12-2011 Part 3 3.1(b), which states, “Every owner of property shall ensure that grass and ground cover is trimmed or cut to a height of 20 centimeters (8 inches) or less and shall ensure weeds are removed or destroyed between May 1 and October 15 each calendar year.”

The Notice of Violation stated the require action was, “Remove or destroy milkweeds from front yard abutting the sidewalk and adjacent property” within seven days. So, by Thursday, July 5.

Again, let me be clear that my milkweeds are growing on my property and not on city land and definitely are not invading a neighbouring property.

monarch butterfly with milkweed

A Monarch butterfly – is that a milkweed plant in the background?

So, I began contacting local environmentalists to see if there were any alternative solutions. I did this because trimming milkweed to the required height of 8 inches or less means that the tops of the plants containing all of the leaves, which are home to valuable monarch eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalis, would be removed and that would have devastating results.

A very wise environmentalist, who wished to remain anonymous, told me about the time her neighbour reported her for growing milkweed in her naturalized garden. It seems the neighbour wanted the city to force this woman to grow grass instead of flowers.

Well, when she showed the by-law officer her receipt from a local nursery for the purchase of the offending plants she was told that everything was okay because clearly a nursery would not sell weeds to the public. The Notice of Violation was withdrawn.

So, in this time of the Suzuki foundation selling milkweed, documentaries like Metamorphosis showcasing school children planting milkweed to encourage the proliferation of monarch butterflies, and people being encouraged to cut back or stop all together watering lawns and gardens, I am perplexed why the City of Burlington is insisting I destroy this native plant that’s imperative to the lifecycle of monarch butterflies.

Here’s a thought, as we’re entering a municipal election this fall: why not make milkweed an election issue?

Monarchs deserve our protection, as does the water that’s wasted every summer on keeping grass green and non-native species blooming all summer long.

I would argue you don’t even have to live in Burlington or Halton to voice your opinion, because monarchs and water affect everyone across the province and country.

I encourage you to make your voice heard. Tell the City of Burlington, Ontario that you value native plants like milkweed, which nurture valuable monarch butterflies and survive on local rain water.

Here’s a list of email addresses so you can share your thoughts on this matter:

Mayor Rick Goldring
Councillor Marianne Mead Ward (who is running for Mayor)
Councillor Rick Craven
Councillor John Taylor
Councillor Jack Dennison
Councillor Paul Sharma
Councillor Blair Lancaster

After all, isn’t a weed simply a flower growing in what suburban society mistakenly believes is ‘the wrong place?’ Tell that to the monarchs.

What Ms Nicoll may not realize is that in Burlington by laws are enforced on a responsive basis. By law enforcement officer do not go looking for bylaw violations – they get complaint calls and they go out and investigate.

Someone fingered Ms Nicoll.

Doreen Nicol - Raise the HammerDoreen Nicoll, a Burlington resident, is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.  She writes regularly for Raise the Hammer, a Hamilton community based on-line publication where this article first appeared.


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5 comments to Someone fingered Doreen Nicoll – they called the bylaw officer who didn’t understand what role milkweed really played environmentally.

  • vfiorito

    I agree with Doreen Nicoll

    City policy appears to harass people doing their part to fight climate change, the biodiversity crisis and environmental toxification problems.

    Not only do Burlington’s current property standard by-laws appear to conflict with City Council’s recent climate change emergency declaration, they may also conflict with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the Species At Risk Act.

    Imagine if Canada’s Group of Seven artists were held to the same standards as Burlington’s property standard bylaw, and they could only paint landscapes that were dominated by neatly mowed lawns.

    Landscape design, like painting, is an art form, which is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    Burlington’s by-laws and policies currently empower people who don’t understand or deny the existence of serious environmental problems. These people will pressure untrained city staff to mow what appears to them to be weedy unkempt looking lawns. Burlington residents should have to fight with the city to be responsible stewards of the Earth. Some of them will inevitably take the city to court and seek damages and compensation.

    If city staff fail to recognize habitat for endangered species (Milkweed for Monarch Butterflies or New Jersey Tea for Mottled Duskywing Butterfly),then their actions could violate the Species At Risk Act and the city could risk fines up to $1,000,000

    Modernizing and upgrading city property standards policies and by-laws, should include solutions to long term neglected environmental problems.

    City policies and by-laws must encourage and assist property owners to clean up old dumpsites ASAP, like the one contaminated with old pesticide and petrochemical containers behind Creek Way in The Orchard.

    The City’s capital budget plan to have heavy equipment at the end of Corporate Drive, near Creek Way dumpsite is both an opportunity and a deadline. City policy must be to facilitate clean ups of sites like these in ways that reduce costs for everyone, including the property owner.

    Current City property standards also ignore dangerous derelict buildings, like the one located next to Sheldon Creek along the South Service Road, between Appleby and Burloak

    City property standards allow local businesses can dump industrial effluent into our watersheds with impunity. The above has been reported repeatedly to all levels of government, and is legal. Residents living down stream from environmental problems must have a right to know. They should not have to use the Freedom of Information Act to access information that the city be collecting and sharing. Ignorance isn’t bliss for children playing or fishing downstream.

    Burlington must modernize and upgrade city policies to solve climate change, the biodiversity crisis and environmental toxification problems.

    The city must have policies to inform residents of reported problems that may affect them and pressures property owners to remediate serious environmental problem or face punitive measures.

    Burlington must protect and create habitat for the Halton region’s 48 endangered species, manage the health and improve the vitality of the city’s ravines and wildlife corridor system, give Burlington residents a “Right to Know” about local environmental problems and make polluters pay to clean up their messes.

    This issue is an opportunity for city council and Burlington residents to treat the climate change emergency as an emergency.

    No one should have to fight with the city to prevent future generations from inheriting a resource depleted dying planet.

  • Sandra Griffin

    Bravo, Doreen! Mayor Goldring sent me an email that the bylaw is temporarily changed and will be made official in the Fall.

  • Alide Camilleri

    I have milkweed on my property and make sure it is there for the Monarch. Last year one plant was home to 12 Monarch caterpillars, the most I have yet seen. I hope they all managed to develop into healthy butterflies. The ignorance of people concerning this plant and its importance to the survival of the Monarch amazes me. I hope Ms Nicoll fights city hall on this.

  • Michael jones

    I’m all for it..I have milkweed throughout my property and this morning such saw a swallowtail hatch from chrysalis.and I’m running in Ward 2

  • We have an absentee landlord with property near my home and he never cuts the grass. Neighbours have even offered to cut his grass, given him names of landscape companies who could come and take care of his lawns, yet the City by-law officers appear to do nothing for us or against the uncooperative neighbor. Interesting. I can see a need to amend the by-law though away from the “one complaint bring down the hammer process”.