Beneath the Surface of Mary Lake:

A Microcosm of Ontario’s Struggles with Greenbelt Preservation and Citizen Engagement

A Special Public Meeting hosted by Concerned Citizens of King Township (CCKT) & Save The Oak Ridges Moraine (STORM)

This Nov. 14, 2023 meeting aimed to provide an open forum to update the public on the “Save Mary Lake” project and highlight the important goals of protecting and sustaining the Oak Ridges Moraine (ORM) as envisioned and described in the regulations of the ORM Conservation Plan, and the direct connection of this kettle lake and wetlands site within the ORMCP and the Greenbelt.

Janet Mior:

Janet Mior, a dedicated King Township resident, passionately discusses the environmental impacts of the proposed long-term care facility beside Mary Lake, emphasizing the need for climate action and aligning with the teachings of Pope Francis on environmental care.

Janet Mior, a resident of King Township for 30 plus years and an active member of both Climate Action King and the Catholic community, raises concerns about the environmental impact of a proposed 160-bed Long-Term Care (LTC) facility on the Oak Ridges Moraine beside a kettle lake, Mary Lake.

Mior highlights the importance of environmental stewardship as reflected in the encyclical “Laudato Si” (published 2015) in which Pope Francis grieves for the Earth and calls on humanity to care for our “Common Home”. She points out the Pope’s conviction that human actions leading to the destruction of biological diversity, degradation of the Earth, and contamination of natural resources are considered sins within this context.

The core of her argument is the contradiction between the Pope’s message and the construction of the LTC facility / campus on ecologically sensitive land. She notes that the pristine quality of Mary Lake’s water has been lost, indicating a failure to heed conservation principles. The subsequent encyclical, “Laudato Deum” (published October 4, 2023), is an unprecedented call to all Catholics and non-Catholics alike to take urgent action for our planet.

Mior criticizes the claims of economic benefits and improvements in senior care as misleading, suggesting that the proposed LTC facility will NOT necessarily “better serve the needs of King Township’s seniors and help local families keep their loved ones close to them as they grow older” (KWS ad May 11, 2023).   In Ontario there is no guarantee that residents will have access to their LTC of choice.

She urges that alternative locations outside the protected zone should be considered for the LTC facility, locations that would not adversely affect the environment and would still provide for the needs of seniors.

Mior calls for a conscientious reflection on the Pope’s writings and a responsible decision-making process that considers the long-term consequences for the community’s children and future generations, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all actions and their lasting impact.

In summary, Janet Mior’s statement at the CCKT and STORM meeting is a plea for environmental responsibility, ethical governance, and future-oriented community planning. She advocates for an approach that aligns with the teachings of the Pope on environmental care and calls for a rejection of developments that could harm the ecological and social fabric of King Township.

Deb Schulte:

As a former political representative and environmental advocate, Deb Schulte highlights the misalignment of the Mary Lake development with sustainable practices, stressing the importance of locating long-term care facilities within supportive communities and adhering to environmental conservation principles.

Deb Schulte, former MP and former Minister for Seniors, emphasized her long-standing commitment to community and environmental advocacy. Schulte acknowledged the importance of indigenous perspectives on nature and the balance with the natural environment, a viewpoint she felt was crucial in evaluating the project at hand.

Schulte clarified that although there is support for long-term care and housing for seniors, the proposed location for the Mary Lake project is problematic. She argued that such facilities should be situated within communities, supported by essential services, and accessible to low-wage workers who depend on public transit — conditions not met by the remote location of the proposed facility.

She pointed out the environmental sensitivity of the proposed site, located on the Oak Ridges Moraine and adjacent to significant wetlands, emphasizing the potential harm to the ecosystem. Schulte criticized the planning process, revealing that the monastery’s claim that it was already providing long-term care — which justified the new facility as an “existing use” — was misleading and not supported by evidence.

Schulte also highlighted the broader implications of the project, suggesting that it could set a dangerous precedent for the conservation efforts of the Oak Ridges Moraine and Greenbelt. She expressed dismay at the handling of stormwater management in the development plan, which could result in damaging sensitive wetlands and aquatic habitats.

Moreover, Schulte stressed a broader erosion of public trust and the democratic process, as the project progressed despite the council’s and public’s initial opposition. Planning staff routed the application through a Committee of Adjustment process, despite the project’s size, by-passing Council  to approve the development.

In conclusion, Deb Schulte presented a strong case against the development of the long-term care facility at Mary Lake due to environmental concerns, planning irregularities, and the disregard for local governance and community input. She urged continued opposition to the project, signaling that the fight against it was not only about this project but also about upholding democratic and environmental principles.


Steve Holysh:

Steve Holysh, an expert in groundwater management, provides a detailed overview of the Oak Ridges Moraine Groundwater Program, focusing on the importance of long-term data management and the implications of decisions that affect water resources and the environment.

Steve Holysh, in his presentation, delved into the intricacies of groundwater management and the importance of data in shaping sustainable water use practices. Over the last 22 years, he has been overseeing the Oak Ridges Moraine groundwater program, focusing on building a trusted geological and hydrological framework. His role is pivotal in creating a legacy for Ontario by integrating comprehensive data management with knowledge and insights accessible via a dedicated web portal.

Holysh emphasized the longevity of the groundwater management project, suggesting that their decisions are made with a long-term perspective, contrasting the short-term view often prevalent in such planning. He shared anecdotes to illustrate the real-world consequences of water management decisions, such as a story about a well-drilling gone wrong due to lack of adequate information.

The core of Holysh’s presentation was the value of data in understanding and managing water resources responsibly. He highlighted the history of fragmented and incomplete data management in Canada and outlined his commitment to change this by creating a centralized database that can inform water management for decades to come.

Holysh pointed to the large amounts of data collected that are often underutilized or discarded and how his program aims to retain and utilize this information to avoid past mistakes and enable informed decision-making. He conveyed the gravity of global water issues, including shortages and pollution, and how these have resonated with him personally, reinforcing the need for the meticulous work his team conducts.

Furthermore, Holysh discussed the implications of the changing climate and agricultural practices on water supply and management. He underscored the need for Canada to be prepared for the future, which could see dramatic changes in water needs and distribution, especially in the context of global food production and virtual water concepts.

In conclusion, Holysh’s remarks brought to light the complexity of water management and the necessity for proactive, informed, and integrated approaches to safeguard this vital resource. His insights stressed the importance of a long-term view and the value of data in ensuring that water remains a sustainable resource for generations to come.


Susan Walmer:

Susan Walmer, CEO of the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust, blends her corporate finance background with environmental advocacy, emphasizing the Moraine’s ecological and hydrological significance and the critical need for ongoing community engagement in conservation efforts.

Susan Walmer, the CEO of the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust, brought her experience from corporate finance to the forefront of environmental conservation. She discussed the Moraine’s formation over 13,000 years ago by glaciers, which created a ridge supplying drinking water to over 250,000 people. Walmer emphasized the environmental sensitivity of the Moraine, which stretches over 470,000 acres from the Trent River to the Niagara escarpment, including the area around Mary Lake.

Walmer celebrated the Moraine’s critical ecological and hydrological functions, such as providing habitats for wildlife, maintaining wetlands and rivers, reducing flooding, and filtering and storing drinking water. Highlighting the importance of forests and trails around Mary Lake, she pointed out their significance not just for ecological balance, but also for human physical and mental health.

She also discussed the role of natural systems in absorbing carbon dioxide and the Moraine’s capacity to mitigate and adapt to climate change, underscoring its importance as an invaluable natural resource. Walmer praised the grassroots advocacy that led to the protection of the Moraine and stressed the importance of continued vigilance to ensure these protections remain in place.

Acknowledging the collaborative efforts of various groups and individuals in conservation, Walmer called for continued community involvement and advocacy through municipal politics and beyond. She recognized the acceleration of government decisions impacting the Moraine and urged the need for strong land-use control to prevent development solely for profit.

Walmer emphasized the value of ecosystem services provided by the Moraine and the Land Trust’s role in protecting over 5,000 acres. She spoke about the Trust’s support for climate change mitigation through the protection of wetlands and its contribution to preserving habitats for at-risk species.

In closing, she encouraged community engagement in environmental decisions and honored the audience for their interest in shaping a sustainable future. Walmer invited everyone to visit the Land Trust’s website to learn more and to contribute to the ongoing efforts to protect and honor the connection between land, water, and community well-being.


Debbe Crandall:

Debbe Crandall, a seasoned conservationist, shares her journey advocating for the Oak Ridges Moraine, detailing the legislative process that led to the Moraine Conservation Act and Plan, and expressing concern over recent development proposals that threaten the area’s ecological integrity.

Debbe Crandall, with over two decades of experience, is deeply rooted in the conservation movement as a founding member who has in the past held numerous positions with STORM (Save the Oak Ridges Moraine Coalition); Chair of the Board & Executive Director. She has been a pivotal figure in advocating for the Moraine, engaging in advisory panels that influenced provincial legislation and growth management plans, and even chaired the Oak Ridges Moraine Foundation.

Her experience extends to serving on the Greenbelt Council, working as a hydrogeologist, and being a staunch advocate for the role of civil society in protecting our biosphere. Crandall’s history with the Moraine’s conservation dates back to a time when there were no plans or bylaws to protect the area, a time before the term “Oak Ridges Moraine” was commonly recognized.

Crandall took the audience through a journey of advocacy and perseverance that led to the establishment of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act and Plan, an innovative and precedent-setting approach to conservation that has been lauded both nationally and internationally. This plan mandates that municipalities ensure the Moraine’s ecological and hydrological functions are maintained, enhanced, and restored.

She recounted the collaborative efforts that built comprehensive natural heritage and groundwater databases in Canada and highlighted how conservation biology, coupled with progressive planning and political opportunity, led to the landmark Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act and Plan.

However, Crandall expressed concern over recent developments, such as the proposal for a long-term care facility on the Moraine, which she feels goes against the existing requirements of the Moraine plan and the spirit of the conservation efforts made over the past 30 years. She criticized the fast-tracking of this proposal without adequate council input and suggested that planning staff had overstepped their traditional purview.

Crandall emphasized the importance of wetlands, particularly on the Oak Ridges Moraine, as vital to ecological health and free providers of essential services. She highlighted the vulnerability of kettle lakes to changes in adjacent groundwater conditions and expressed concerns about King Township’s lack of oversight. She found it ironic and worrying that the very systems that epitomize the need for the Moraine Conservation Plan are now under threat due to recent proposals and actions.

In conclusion, Crandall called for vigilance and community support to uphold the integrity of the Moraine’s protections. She underscored the interconnectedness of all aspects of the environment and the potential for bad decisions to set dangerous precedents, not just locally but across broader regions. Her message was a clarion call for continued advocacy and engagement to safeguard the Moraine’s ecological integrity.


Mary Muter:

Mary Muter, Chair of the Kingscross Ratepayers Association, presents a technical analysis of the proposed development near Mary Lake, highlighting the potential ecological risks and inadequacies in the current assessment approach, and calling for more comprehensive environmental evaluations to be able to determine possible impacts allowing for risk management.

Mary Muter, Chair of the Kings Cross Ratepayers Association and the Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation, brings a wealth of experience in environmental advocacy to the discussion. She has been actively involved in water quality, wetlands, water levels, and fishery field research, contributing significantly to the understanding and preservation of local ecosystems.

In her address, Muter presented concerns about a planned facility’s environmental impact, enlisting the expertise of a hydrogeologist to assess the development’s implications. She oriented the audience to the site’s layout, detailing how the building and parking lot would occupy the space, and highlighted the substantial size of the proposed structures.

Muter expressed concerns about stormwater management, particularly the plan to discharge water into a wetland and a lake, which is against existing regulations. She pointed out the value of a wetland on the property, underlining its high ecological significance and the necessity to preserve it based on its scoring in environmental assessments.

She criticized the project for proceeding without appropriate assessments by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, which she argues should have been a requirement due to the potential impact on vulnerable surface and groundwater features.

Muter also questioned the adequacy of boreholes drilled for assessing soil and groundwater, suggesting that more extensive testing should have been conducted to inform land-use planning more accurately. She shared a cross-section profile indicating potential issues with stormwater drainage and the impact of construction on groundwater levels.

She highlighted the complexity of the hydrology involved and the challenges of conveying this information to the public. Muter closed by acknowledging the need for further funding to advance the advocacy work, providing information on donation avenues for support.

Through her presentation, Muter conveyed a sense of urgency and the critical need for careful, science-based evaluation and action to protect the environmental integrity of King Township and its natural features. Her talk emphasized the interconnected nature of environmental systems and the cascading effects development can have, urging for a cautious approach to preserve the region’s ecological health.