"Stop the 413 highway" protest. Credit: Doreen Nicoll

Once known as the greenest town in Ontario, Caledon is actually an amalgamation of hamlets, villages and urban areas. Part of the Oak Ridges Moraine, a designated United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Biosphere Reserve, Caledon is home to the headwaters of the Credit and Humber rivers. It also contains some of the best farmland in the province.

However, that natural beauty and local bounty is under attack from the Ford government. Intent on building Highway 413, the provincial government plans to pave over 5,000 acres of prime farmland laying the groundwork for developers to profit from unbridled residential and industrial sprawl. But Caledon resident, Jenni Le Forestier, intends to stop Ford in his tracks because as she sagely observes, “We can’t rehabilitate pristine farmland once it’s paved.”

Le Forestier, a private music teacher, lives at the Forks of the Credit River. A member of Stop the 413 and Stop Sprawl Peel, she also sits on the board of Gravel Watch Ontario and was a Green Party candidate in the federal election. Le Forestier adamantly opposes construction of the proposed 60-kilometer highway.

Conservatively estimated to cost $6-8 billion, the 413 would start in Mississauga where the 401 and 407 intersect. It would travel north before heading eastward literally cutting Caledon in two as it passes through sensitive archaeological sites and burial grounds of the Huron-Wendat confederacy. The highway would then traverse prime farmland in northern Vaughan before connecting with Highway 400.

The Ford government anticipates the highway accommodating over 300,000 trips per day by 2031 with drivers saving an average 30 minutes of travel time. However, an expert panel set up by the Liberals in 2015 established a more realistic time savings would be closer to 30 seconds per trip. That along with an impressive list of viable alternatives, including making the 407 toll-free for trucks, is why the Liberals shelved the project in 2018.

To accelerate construction of the 413, the Ford government proposed changes to the existing environmental assessment process for the Ministry of Transportation’s Greater Toronto Area (GTA) West transportation corridor. According to the document, “The regulation would create a new streamlined process for assessing potential environmental impacts of the project, as well as consulting on it.”

Many, outside of the provincial government, are unhappy with these changes perhaps most notably with modifications to better suit the Public-Private Partnerships (P3) delivery model despite flimsy assurances that the protection of the environment remains a priority.

Don Mclean has a deep understanding of the motivation behind building highways. From 1992 to 2003, Mclean chaired Friends of the Red Hill Valley. The Hamilton, Ontario group adamantly opposed construction of the Red Hill Valley Parkway due to impacts on the environment and surrounding communities. Mclean also co-founded Environment Hamilton and continues to sit on its board.

According to Mclean:

“Major new infrastructure, especially roads but also water and sewer trunk lines, are always followed by major development that replaces food lands with subdivisions. The land speculators understand this, so they are always pushing for new highways. They purchase agricultural lands at agricultural land prices and once the highway goes through, the land price rapidly multiplies as it is broken up into housing lots, providing windfall profits to the speculators. This is the real back story behind every major new highway. They aren’t publicly justified this way.

“The claim is always that the road will ‘relieve congestion’, but actually the opposite happens because the roads are inevitably accompanied by car-dependent suburbs who quickly fill them up. Some researchers contend that within as little as five years up to 95 per cent of the traffic on a new highway is induced — that it is brand new traffic that didn’t exist before the road was opened. So, of course it quickly gets congested and that allows the whole land speculation scheme to be repeated with the same argument that the next new highway will ‘relieve congestion’.”

That was certainly the case with the Red Hill Valley Parkway. A few weeks after construction began, Hamilton’s largest developer announced 2,000 new homes would be built at the south end of the expressway.

The main opposition came from citizens who didn’t want the Red Hill Creek Valley parklands paved. Mclean recalls:

“That was an important reason to oppose the highway, but it partly missed the fact that the road was paving the way for massive land development that was also devastating the environment including farms, forests, fields and streams a couple of kilometers outside Red Hill Valley. It was a double hit on the environment.”

For the Ford government, the 413 is not really about the road. It’s about land use. It’s about Ford selling off Ontario to his developer buddies. Farmland has been going for $18,000 per acre but once it’s rezoned development then the price jumps to $1 million per acre. Currently, 50,000 acres of Ontario’s farmland is lost to development each year.

Farmland is not the only land up for grabs in Caledon. On October 26, 2021, Caledon Town Council ratified a Ministry Zoning Order (MZO) allowing construction of a 2.2 million square foot warehouse at Mayfield Rd. and Dixie Rd. North. Provisions for an additional four million square foot warehouse to be constructed on protected Greenbelt land at Old School Rd. and Dixie Rd. were also approved. The loss of Greenbelt land combined with increased truck traffic concerns local residents.

A gravel pit expansion is also in the works. This project is located to the west of Le Forestier’s home and the West Credit River. A mega quarry is also planned just north of the heritage hamlet of Cataract Village which is located at the forks of the Credit River. Le Forestier says the pit and quarry will devastate the area. She maintains:

“There have not been enough studies conducted to know the impacts of extraction taking place below the water table or impacts on our well water. Or, the impact on our health from dust, noise, flying rock and diminished air quality due to blasting and the high volumes of trucks.”

When Phil Winters and his wife, Gail were changing careers they decided to settle in to her hometown of Caledon where in 2009 they started GoodLot Farm on 27 acres in the village of Belfountain.

The couple grow organic hops used to make local craft beers including their own brand, GoodLot. Winters says:

“We operate our business with climate change at the top of our decision-making lens. Both our farming practices and brewing practices are designed with CO2 impact in mind.  Businesses can thrive this way, without sacrificing our children’s and planets future.”

Winters sees the highway, warehouses and quarries as irreversible moves that only bring short-term gain. He is philosophically opposed to the 413:

“Building this highway in the 21st century runs opposite to every scientific study on what policy makers should actually be doing to preserve our quality of life. Building these highways, especially with an under-utilized mega highway just a few kilometres away, is insane and completely counter to all advice given by those trying to protect our quality of life and children’s future”

Winters believes building the 413 has everything to do with developers making money on the back of the environment.

“Watching class 1 soil be consumed and disappear forever by developer backed mega-highways breaks our hearts. We need food. We need local supply chains. If we give up what is the best soil in Canada, and sacrifice the Greenbelt along the way, then we are truly lost as a species and have completely lost sight of what matters.”

Winters envisions Caledon as a centre for agri-tourism much like Prince Edward County and believes that direct policy should reflect this end. Winters doesn’t see either warehouse creating new jobs in Caledon, just more traffic congestion. He knows the quarries will destroy the peace of the area while trucking will cause chaos and make roadways unsafe. All of this will devastate the town’s tourism economy.

Winters, a fly fisher, says the Credit River is currently the spawning grounds for native brook trout, but that is at risk thanks to a proposed municipal waste water management plant. Winters also points out that these same head waters, that are being threatened on many fronts, provide water for one-third of Canada’s population.

Le Forestier and Winters agree developers target municipal councillors and mayors because there is less of a paper trail and the rules around declarations of conflict of interest, like Caledon councillors benefitting from the sales of their farms, are less restrictive.

Le Forestier has filed complaints with the integrity commissioner at the Region of Peel as well as with the Provincial Ombudsman over historic and ongoing procedural issues and a lack of transparency.

Winters wants to remind those in power making these decisions, “We are in a life and death struggle for ourselves and the next seven generations.”

To register for the Ford government’s Halton Region Public Information Session about the 413 on Tuesday, December 14 from 6 to 9 pm. click here. This is the last of 3 information sessions so if you live in Peel or York regions and missed your session here’s your chance to be heard.

Doreen Nicoll

Doreen Nicoll is weary of the perpetual misinformation and skewed facts that continue to concentrate wealth, power and decision making in the hands of a few to the detriment of the many. As a freelance...