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Belfountain community vows to fight ‘unwanted’ development

October 3, 2019   ·   0 Comments

Written By KIRA WRONSKA DORWARD

The belle town of Belfountain celebrated its 23rd Salamander Festival on Saturday September 28th at the Village Church. 

More than just a celebration of community life in the hamlet of 200, the Festival is also a reminder of the hazards of industrial development, and an expression of the townspeoples’ wish to preserve their corner of the world as is.

Twenty-three years ago, the Salamander Festival started as a victory celebration over the incursion of a developer who failed to make stock of the town. The name Salamander Festival is a nod to the native Jefferson Salamander, whose population was (and is) threatened by habitat loss and roadkill fatalities. The proverbial “canary in the coal mine”, the relative health and success of the salamander population is an indicator of the overall health of the surrounding environment. Obviously, development and urban land sprawl threatens the shallow pools of water and peace of the salamander’s habitat.

Since then, the people of Belfountain have continued in their efforts to fight development. The same developer from twenty-three years ago is now lobbying to develop a new settlement in the environs of the town. 

“This is a hamlet,” says former Toronto Star reporter and local resident, David Kendall, “they want to put in 71 houses. It’s going to be totally turned into some vast bedroom community…putting at risk the water [for the whole village], which is already in a pretty bad situation. They’re also doing a gravel pit just a bit beyond Shaw’s Creek [Road] that’s going to be a fifty-year pit. They’re going to be rumbling and digging for fifty years right at the edge of town… Finally, Cataract has just discovered that St. Mary’s [Cement] is going to do a 400-acre pit. So, Ontario is “Open for Business” according to the provincial government.”

The phrase “Ontario is Open for Business” was used more than once by the townsfolk opposing development. Judy Mabbe, President of the Belfountain Community Organization (BCO), goes into further detail about the impending battles with developers and the Ontario government facing the hamlet. She and the local residents represented by the BCO believe that a collective approach to developers is the only way forward. 

“This community is facing challenges,” says Mabbe. “We are classified as a ‘minor urban centre’…but the issue is water…so if we have 71 homes [built] as proposed right now, when you take into consideration the amount of water [that will] be used by that development, there will be a direct correlation with [the lack] of water coming to Belfountain.”

At a meeting last June, concerned local residents literally stood up for their rights in what became a standing-room only meeting about the future of Belfountain’s water management. “The community came out in force,” says Mabbe, unsolicited by the BCO. “I have to tell you, it was the proudest moment of my life. They let the Town Hall know how they felt. That was not prompted.”

Much of the resident’s concern surrounds the aforementioned Credit River, which, allegedly, would be used to send waste-water downstream to Erin. “We’re concerned about the impact on the Brook Trout. The increase in water temperature will kill them, the changes to the environment will kill them.”

This conversation is coming at an apt time, when global concern about climate change has reached an apex with marches of thousands in demonstration in various major cities around the world. 

“We have a strong environmental focus in our community,” continues Mabbe. The motto of the BCO is to Protect and Preserve Heritage and the Environment for Belfountain and its Environs.

“We are a fairly small community tucked into the hills of the Town of Caledon, with the Credit River to the North and mountains that enclose us. So, we’re a fairly tight-knit community. There are a few long-time families that live here, their children are still here. So when I think about community character, I think of Belfountain about how we have neighbours who know neighbours, we help each other in the community, when there are issues, we address them as a community. We have public meetings, we talk about the concerns. The residents are involved in the process, and the resolution too.

In that sense, the Salamander Festival represents both the small-knit nature of the hamlet, as well as the townspeople’s overwhelming desire to preserve what they have. 

Grecia Mayers, Chair of the Salamander Festival, came to her position quite by accident after creating a “salamander song” that then took on a life of its own. 

“It wasn’t something that I planned to do. [The Festival] had been raised to such a level that I didn’t want it to fall off, so I just took it upon myself to keep it at the same calibre. So here I am, 12 years later.”

The Festival, though it is intended to showcase local vendors, is actually the biggest fundraiser of the year towards the Town’s efforts to combat impending development. 

“For many years,” says Mayer, “things were very quiet in Belfountain…recently in the last say, six or seven years, there’s been a threat of development in our area, in a very sensitive area…It’s like we’re being bombarded with all kinds, and gravel pits, and cement factories proposed, and errant waste water, but that’s another proposal.”

She added, “And resident’s felt, and under the Community organization, that they should inform the residents about the proposal, so we’ve been on a fundraising kick to pay for legal advice and also scientific advice about the water issues around here, and the environmental issues about building on sensitive land. We’ve had to get geologists involved because there was a water issue thirty years ago that stopped the first development, but now [it’s rearing] it’s head again.”

“The government has said ‘the Greenbelt is open for business’ and so on, so we’re just trying to be aware of our surroundings. People chose to live in a hamlet, in a rural area, and we’d just like to keep it small, and green and rural. And that’s our mandate too [of the Festival], ‘small is beautiful’,” Mayor continued.

On another topic, Mayer discusses the noise pollution issue in the small cross-walk of Main Street and Mississauga Road, often swollen with motorcycles and the road shoulders choked with parked cars on weekends. 

“The noise on the weekends here is just incredible. The people who live on the main street complain all the time. And the speeding, they speed along the mountain shoulder. There’s just a lot of congestion with traffic.”

As Judy Mabbe points out, Belfountain is now heading into “leaf season”, which brings hoards of tourists from all over the GTA to Caledon to marvel at the countryside’s colours and natural beauty. 

“We’re facing a significant influx of visitors…and parking is at a premium. There are different rules [about parking] between the Town and the Region and it becomes very confusing.

“We have people who have lived in different communities, big communities, whatever, but when they look at the attributes of Belfountain, they decided to live here. Belfountain is a peaceful community. We have a night sky every night when there are stars. It’s a collaborative community, it’s rural, it has that feeling from the people that live here. You have the people that love getting together and socializing, and you have others who like their privacy, who just enjoy that rural environment, and they’re very protective of it. We have a lot of bio-diversity, there are a lot of sensitive species that live around us, there are a lot of endangered or at-risk species in this area, because we are part of the Niagara Escarpment, and we are part of the UNESCO biosphere. 

“So what we really would like to see is that appreciation of the environment. We have a lot of people who come up here to hike and learn about the variety of species in the Conservation Area. I think that’s an important piece of learning, and we need to continue that practice, so that people can appreciate what they’re seeing, what they’re taking in, and as residents…we’re trying to look at sustainable tourism in this area. Because on a busy day, we can have 3000 people come through, when the Conservation Area can only handle 89…so when leaves start changing colour, that’s when you’ll find traffic lined up from Highway 10 on Forks of the Credit into Belfountain, and there will be electronic signs on Highway 10 saying ’30 mins to get to Belfountain’ or whatever, just because the volume is so high.”

However, not everyone in the community is in complete agreement on all these issues. “The local businesses thrive from weekend traffic, and we are appreciative of how many people love our hamlet, and that we get to share our slice of heaven with so many communities” says Lisa Young, owner of The Common Good (the Belfountain General Store, which opened two years ago). 

She was, however, disappointed when she was not asked by the BCO to join in the festivities, “as these large town-funded events should benefit all the businesses we have, not just one or two. Festivals like this are nice opportunities for the community to develop more cohesion and inclusivity amongst each other.”

Although it was not officially a part of this year’s festival, The Common Good is open for business and ready for leaf season tourists with a warm, cozy atmosphere, squash and chicken soups, handpies, and beautiful artisanal items. A perfect stop on a crisp autumn day, as the unfortunately wet Salamander Festival was.

At the end of the day, however, the Salamander Festival is about celebrating all aspects of the Belfountain community, both human and wildlife. This is a literal life and death struggle to preserve a way of life for those who have no voice, and a deliberate life choice for those who have made the hamlet their home and want to preserve that authenticity. “The Festival is a community event that gets people out before the winter comes, the residents come out and support everything here,” Mayer, the Chair of the Festival, sums up.

“We’re only going to be better together, and better stewards of our beautiful hamlet when everyone is invited to join in these kind of events. When we learn to work together, we’ll see just how beautiful small can be,” concludes Young.



         

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