Happy New Year, everyone. I thought I’d get 2017 rolling with some thoughts on the TRCA’s recent update to their Scarborough Waterfront Development Project (SWP). In case you haven’t yet learned, the TRCA is planning to roll out a whole multi-year make-work project at the Scarborough Bluffs lakefront, from Bluffer’s Park at the foot of Midland Avenue, all the way east to approximately the mouth of Highland Creek at East Point Park. As part of the project, conveniently financed on the taxpayer’s dime, the TRCA proposes to obliterate (yes, you read that right) over half of the last remaining natural stretch of sand beach on the mainland of Toronto. The area in question is the beautiful, wild Grey Abbey Beach, which is adjacent to East Point Park and Beach.

East Point Park_caption

The TRCA is attempting to sell the project as an extension of the larger Great Lakes Waterfront Trail system, which already runs, in various iterations, across the entire Toronto waterfront (at Grey Abbey and East Point, it is on the headlands, recessed from the shore). The TRCA also says the “trail” will help prevent the erosion of the Bluffs. To the uninitiated, a waterfront “trail” on the beach may initially look attractive. Harkening back to the boardwalk in the Beach district, who wouldn’t want increased access to the lake along a waterfront trail?

The point is that this isn’t a “trail” at all. Nor would the plan increase “access” to the lake — sadly it would do just the reverse by denying any meaningful access to the water’s edge. Witness the current state of affairs at the bottom of Guild Park — a gigantic, elevated road, buttressed with armour rock, currently runs for over a mile to the west, almost to the edge of Bluffer’s Park. What the TRCA wants to do is feed the concrete leviathan. They want more road, not less. As I’ve said before, a wolf is still a wolf, even though it’s all gussied up in sheep’s clothing. Multiple Hummers in width, their “trail” would be built up high over the lake on top of the existing natural beach. Composed of construction refuse, otherwise known as “clean fill”, the beach and adjacent near-shore area would disappear entirely — areas that are home to communities of rare and threatened species. The TRCA, Toronto’s conservation body, proposes to inflict this kind of damage to the shore in the face of other creative ways of dealing with erosion, the likes of which are currently proposed and employed by the TRCA in other areas of the waterfront, including at the Island and in the Bluffs.

Guess what? Despite strong and vocal opposition and uncontroverted scientific evidence that points to the devastating effects of unnecessary shoreline hardening, and the area being allegedly “protected” with the city’s environmentally “significant” designation, and despite the TRCA’s very own self-published report that specifically proscribes further loss of the natural shore at Grey Abbey, their position hasn’t changed. Not one iota.

Forgive my naiveté. As an active participant in the TRCA’s “consultation process”, I’m gobsmacked. The TRCA’s disingenuous and dysfunctional manner of seeking input on their ill-conceived scheme should concern anyone who is interested in the health and preservation of our democratic process. Incidentally, the consultation process is something John Sewell devotes time to in his new book How We Changed Toronto: The Inside Story of Twelve Creative, Tumultuous Years In Civic Life, 1968-1980. Regardless of one’s political stripe, I’d recommend his book to anyone interested in learning about how governmental institutions and administrative bodies listened in a different era of our city’s history. As John points out, hearing people and drawing on their ideas is the stuff of real consultation. Real consultation is hard, but in the end it shaped the modern, inclusive Toronto we know today.

John recently said this to me about the current state of the consultation process in Toronto, “… it is true that consultations are rarely held to find out what the public thinks: they are done in order to say they have happened. In my day we did public consultations because we usually found the public had better ideas than we did and thus consultations led to better outcomes. Now politicians think they know best, and they don’t trust members of the public. It is why governments make so many dumb decisions these days.”

Case in point: On January 11, 2017, the TRCA held a stakeholders meeting on the SWP. I am told by observers at the meeting that not one person on the stakeholder committee spoke in favour of the project. In fact, many members of the committee indicated that they were virulently opposed to the TRCA’s service road, and spoke out passionately against the plan. University of Toronto students in the Environmental Studies programme who were in attendance at the meeting were aghast, and also voiced their opposition. Mutiny is upon the TRCA and they have invited it through a sham consultation process. Rather than consultation, perhaps the stakeholders meetings henceforth might better be termed as crisis management sessions.

Despite the intellectually dishonest approach of TRCA officials, Torontonians and local Bluffs residents are fighting back and a broad coalition is developing. Friends of the Bluffs has presented the TRCA with an alternative waterfront proposal that allows increased access to the lakefront, while at the same time respecting the natural environment and the rare flora and fauna that inhabit the shore and near-shore areas. No further hardening of the Grey Abbey shore is contemplated. Rather, a blue flag beach is proposed at the foot of the trail that leads from the newly imagined Guild Park, to the shore. Amble farther to the east, past the current concrete “trail”, and reach a natural shoreline with recessed bluffs that extends all the way to the outlet of Highland Creek. As for the new waterfront “trail”, it remains where it is: on the headland, in a location that respects the environmentally sensitive nature of the entire area, all the way to Highland Creek.

To the TRCA: I’m willing to bet that the thousands of newcomers to Toronto – those without access to cottages in Muskoka – are far more interested in a picnic at the shore than a concrete roadway in the searing heat. Hmmmmm. If in doubt, take a peek at the videos I’ve done on the subject – one with Christopher Hume of the Toronto Star last winter, and another I did on the fly this summer that fleshes out the rich waterfront experience the TRCA has in store for the years to come.

Incidentally, I had the opportunity to walk the beach with the wonderful Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Arthur Potts, in July of 2016. As we ventured eastward to Grey Abbey Beach at the foot of the Guild, we came across a number of families, entirely cut off from the water and in search of a picnic spot and a place to swim. I assured them that if they just hung there in a little longer, they would make it to the sand and the shore. As the monster roadway gave way to the beach and the waves, we were blown away by the number of people accessing the water, including windsurfers, who consider the Grey Abbey shore near East Point to be among the best places in the city to ply their craft.

TRCA, ask yourselves: are the tipping fees you very likely will receive from dumping construction refuse (“clean fill”) all over the beach really worth it? Don’t the new Canadians you mention in your discredited 2016 promotional piece deserve better?

Readers, I urge you to have a look at the plan below that has been developed by Friends of the Bluffs. The plan was presented to the TRCA in late 2016 and was rejected out-of-hand. (The TRCA confirmed their rejection of the proposal in a letter to Roy Wright, dated January 11, 2017.) If you like what you see, sign the petition. Make your local Councillor aware of how you feel, as well as your local MPP and the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray. We all know that the environment never wins, wildlife never wins, and people never win when natural beaches are destroyed.



Conceptual drawing Number 1 – Waterfront concept for Grey Abbey Beach, east of the Guild Park waterfront. Prepared by Roy Wright.

Plan 1
The TRCA’s planned extension of the concrete roadway that currently exists at the bottom of Guild Park, complete with concrete headlands. The entire beach is lost up to the edge of East Point Park and Beach.

Plan 2
The bottom image represents Friends of the Bluffs’ environmentally and people friendly solution that preserves all of Grey Abbey Beach  and creates another beach (with Blue Flag designation), park and limited docking facilities at the foot of the Guild Park trail.

Drawings 1

Conceptual drawing Number 2 – Friends of the Bluffs’ enlarged waterfront concepts for the foot of the Guild Park path, at the current Guild Park hardened shore. Prepared by Roy Wright.

Drawings 2



Hon Glen Murray, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change
11th Floor, Ferguson Block
77 Wellesley Street West
Toronto, ON
M7A 2T5

Hon Kathryn McGarry, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry
Suite 6630, 6th Floor, Whitney Block
99 Wellesley Street West
Toronto, ON
M7A 1W3

Lorenzo Berardinetti, MPP, Scarborough-Southwest
3090 Kingston Road
Scarborough, ON
M1M 1P2

Mitzie Hunter, MPP, Scarborough-Guildwood
Unit 109, 4117 Lawrence Avenue East
Scarborough, ON
M1E 2S2

Raymond Cho, MPP, Scarborough-Rouge River
Unit B, 4559 Sheppard Avenue East
Scarborough, ON
M1S 1V3

Councillor Paul Ainslie
Grey Abbey Beach

Councillor Gary Crawford
Bluffer’s Beach

Councillor Ron Moeser
East Point Beach



DATE: JULY 12, 2016

The comments below are focused on the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s proposed destruction of over half of the last remaining natural sand beach on the mainland of Toronto, from the Grey Abbey shore, eastward to the western boundary of East Point Park. This proposal was put forward at the public meeting held on June 28, 2016, at Blessed Cardinal Newman High School.

The comments should be read with reference to my earlier submission to the TRCA, dated February 12, 2016, as well as the multiple reports, environmental designations and protections that are apposite to the subject area, including:

The TRCA has also been made aware of a petition that opposes the practice of further shoreline hardening in relation to Scarborough’s remaining beaches. (I am advised that there are over 550 signatures online and in handwritten form to date.)

1. The public’s viewpoint
The petition noted above and other comment received by the TRCA, both in advance of June 28, 2016 and at the meeting, indicates that a vast and growing number Torontonians have no appetite for obliterating a natural beach in favour of an elevated roadway of “clean fill” and armour rock.

It is true, the opposite viewpoint (paving the beach) was uttered by some who attended the June 28, 2016 meeting. It is my respectful view however that public opinion should not be the ultimate driver of the matter of whether the beach is destroyed or saved. A matter as serious as the destruction of the majority of the last remaining natural beach on the mainland of Toronto should not come down to a popularity contest between the parties who would save it and those who would destroy the beach.

2. The real issue
In my view, the real issue to be decided is whether the process of shoreline hardening proposed by the TRCA will cause fundamental and irreversible damage to the shore and near shore areas of the subject area. If serious environmental damage is the likely result, the further issue is whether the TRCA is justified in committing such harm to the natural environment.

a) Fundamental and irreversible damage
The environmental damage caused by shoreline hardening is well recognized, including the destruction and/or displacement of local vegetation and animal life, and increases in local water turbidity, see: www.torontonaturalshorelines.ca/#!facts-on-shoreline-hardening/pll6a

The Scarborough Shoreline: Terrestrial Biological Inventory and Assessment is a detailed and considered report, authored by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority in 2012. In the Recommendations, the report recognizes the rich biodiversity of the Scarborough Shore and explicitly calls for its protection as a, “natural heritage system” within the City of Toronto:

5.2, Site Recommendations, p. 28.
In order to maintain a healthy level of biodiversity at the Scarborough Shoreline, the overall integrity of the natural heritage system that includes the site must be protected.

The first priority should be to focus on maintaining conditions that allow existing communities or species of conservation concern to thrive. This is especially true of East Point Park, and also the beach habitats that are threatened by shoreline hardening.

The Recommendations also recognize the ill effects of shoreline hardening and state that the practice should be severely curtailed. Further, the natural shoreline conditions and beach habitat at East Point Park and vicinity should be largely maintained:

c. Shoreline hardening has been necessary to protect property (and tableland habitat) from erosion along much of the Scarborough Shoreline. Further hardening should be restricted to areas where it is absolutely necessary for erosion protection. Natural shoreline conditions and beach habitats should be maintained, for example, across much of the eastern part of the study area (e.g. East Point Park and vicinity).

b) Is the TRCA justified in destroying the shore?
Nancy Gaffney, Waterfront Specialist at the TRCA, indicated at the June 28, 2016 meeting that, “the first objective” of the TRCA mandate is conservation. Given the TRCA’s stated mandate of conservation and the obvious harm that would result from the ruination of the beach, what is the overriding reason presented for its destruction?

At the June 28th meeting, the TRCA put forward the concern of erosion, and the dangers that the natural process presents to the public, as the primary reason(s) for the removal of the beach. (It is interesting and somewhat curious to note that the TRCA does not seem to have the same concern about erosion with respect to the portion of the beach they intend to save.) If erosion is indeed a legitimate and pressing concern, there are innovative and creative ways of addressing its harmful effects that do not involve the destruction the beach. For example, please consider the approach proposed by the TRCA in the West Segment at Bluffer’s Park.

Bluffer’s Park is just to the east of the highest point of the Scarborough Bluffs, where the cliffs rise to well over 200 feet. (East Point and vicinity are near the termination point of the geological feature of the Scarborough Bluffs, and the cliffs are far lower in height, and accordingly, less dangerous.)

At the eastern portion of the shore at Bluffer’s Park, the lake laps the toe of the Bluffs, increasing the rate and severity of erosion, yet here the TRCA is proposing a widened sand beach, rather than the removal of the shore. (At East Point the TRCA proposes to destroy the beach, even though the Bluffs are well recessed from Lake Ontario and are not eroding into the lake.)

3. Conclusion
Mr. Worrell, it is inimical to the public interest to destroy the beach when alternatives exist to remediate it (if indeed remediation is even necessary). In this era of climate change, and with the effects of global warming all around us, we need twenty-first century solutions to waterfront development. History shows that the natural environment never wins, that wildlife never wins, and that people never win when our natural beaches are destroyed. Please do the right thing and save this beach.

Yours truly,
M. Jane Fairburn
Author, Along the Shore: Rediscovering Toronto’s Waterfront Heritage


cc. Hon Glen Murray, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
11th Floor, Ferguson Block 77
Wellesley Street West
Toronto, ON
M7A 2T5

cc. Hon Kathryn McGarry, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry
Suite 6630, 6th Floor
Whitney Block
99 Wellesley Street West
Toronto, ON
M7A 1W3

cc. Gary Crawford, Ward 36 

cc. Paul Ainslie, Ward 43

cc. Ron Moeser, Ward 44 




Re-birth of an Island Nation

March 28, 2016

Hello Everyone, Here’s a Facebook post I did recently on the 1916 Easter Rising Commemoration at the Residence of the Irish Ambassador in Ottawa, earlier this year: https://www.facebook.com/janefairburnalongtheshore/posts/1062570570473422. Also, please check out Terry Glavin’s article in the National Post.  

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Walking the Eastern Shore with Christopher Hume

February 28, 2016

I spent last Friday morning walking Scarborough’s beaches with the Toronto Star’s urban affairs and architecture critic Christopher Hume. You can check out the video here:

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Scarborough Waterfront Development Project Submission

February 12, 2016

SCARBOROUGH WATERFRONT DEVELOPMENT PROJECT SUBMISSION TO: THE TORONTO AND REGION CONSERVATION AUTHORITY FROM: M. JANE FAIRBURN DATE: FEBRUARY 11, 2016 INTRODUCTION Few outside the Scarborough Bluffs district know that a gaping crevice in the land lies south of the Kingston Road near the foot of Bellamy. Gates Gully has rested silently there since the last […]

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Paving the Beach: Does it Really Make Sense?

February 7, 2016

Hi everyone, In the early part of the twentieth century, the Township of Scarborough was blessed with myriad areas along the shore where people could get into the lake and swim. Between Fallingbrook and Kennedy Roads alone, three supervised areas existed, beginning in 1928 (“Parks in Scarborough Remembered”, Scarborough Historical Notes and Comments). Now all […]

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Decision Time for the Scarborough Shore: What Kind of Waterfront Do We Deserve?

February 3, 2016

Recently, the primary focus of Toronto’s waterfront development has been on the transformation taking place in the downtown harbour and its oft perceived errant cousin to the west, Humber Bay. Few recognize that another transformation of no less magnitude is about to begin on the eastern shore in the Scarborough Bluffs, where the land rises […]

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A Word or Two About the City of Light

November 23, 2015

The timeless resiliency of the French people has been laid bare this week, as they stare down the terror visited upon them in the streets of Paris. But “la Ville Lumière” is no stranger to violence — another dark chapter came during the Nazi Germany occupation of the city during the Second World War. As […]

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Tearing Down the Gardiner: It’s About a Leap of Faith That’s Worth Taking

June 10, 2015

Love it or hate it, it’s decision time on the fate of the eastern portion of Toronto’s concrete leviathan, the Gardiner Expressway. Built in the mid-1950s at the height of North America’s love affair with the car, the often reviled and strangely endearing serpentine creature conceived along the shore of Lake Ontario remains an iconic […]

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On the Verge of Spring

March 9, 2015

Greetings one and all, With the welcome sun now penetrating through layers of hard-packed snow and ice, winter will soon be a distant memory — I thought you might enjoy one more look back at the wonderland that was, “along the shore”.

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