Uncertain. Complex. Accelerated. Disturbing. Stimulating. Interesting. The times in which we live have been summed up by so many different words—and each invites us to ask, “How can we cope with change?” and “Where can we find hope and promise for the future?” Every credible answer leads to one concept: sustainability.
One of the ways of understanding this concept is through the prism of the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations. Member states agreed to 17 Sustainable Development Goals that integrate inclusive economic prosperity, social and cultural cohesion, and environmental stewardship. With each passing day the urgency of finding solutions becomes apparent. Ultimately it will be an holistic approach that will enable us to attain each of the goals effectively —from Gender Equality to Zero Hunger to Climate Action—and build a more sustainable future for all.
The SDGs are applicable world-wide. Each nation has both an obligation and an opportunity to learn from each other. And indeed now is a moment in time to look outward, not inward. All efforts count and indeed individual efforts may have far-reaching effects. Indigenous ways of knowing, considering the impacts of our decisions on the seven generations that follow can be particularly beneficial.
Throughout Ontario, there are remarkable stories of how people are driving sustainability, at home and around the world. Often they may not actually use the word sustainability but the purpose of these projects and initiatives is to make our communities and our lives more resilient. We are a work in progress – certainly not perfect, but clearly making an attempt.
In my time as Lieutenant Governor, it has been a great privilege to hear about the successes, aspirations and innovative approaches to challenges achieved by many Ontarians. As Ontario’s unofficial Storyteller-in-Chief, I believe that the more we learn and share stories, the better equipped we will be to understand one another, to develop empathy, to comprehend the impact of our individual decisions and actions and to find our own place in the world.
This place on our website is intended to shed a light on some of our stories. I hope that it will spark conversation and encourage collaboration. May the stories inspire you to think in new ways about what sustainability means and how you might contribute. Please share them widely.
A simple idea
“Up a dirt road, a heartbeat away from the whirr of today’s suburban life, was a shoreline farm bypassed by modern times. In 2013, the Town of Georgina purchased the Lake Simcoe property from a family who had owned it for 180 years. Public opinion varied about what the old farm should become. A simple idea prevailed. What if it remained a farm? But not just any farm.” What if this farm could become a showcase of advanced eco-agricultural practices and a leading edge community hub for sustainability?
A Social Enterprise
Just six years later ClearWater Farm describes itself as a social enterprise intent on demonstrating how healthy food can be grown in ways that restore the surrounding land, water, local economy and community fabric. The farm utilizes water-wise and nature-friendly practices and technologies to help others discover eco-friendly choices. They inspire their employees, volunteers, customers and partners to grow, prepare and share fresh, nutritious food using organic and regenerative practices.
Connecting with nature
A flagship initiative of the Ontario Water Centre (OWC), an educational charity,
ClearWater’s eco-food production supports their educational mission to deepen young people and their families’ connection with the natural environment, marrying the arts, science and technology to cultivate a more sustainable future. ClearWater is giving kids unique place-based learning experiences that connect them with nature and empower them to work with it. OWC’s founding chair, Annabel Slaight, believes children who have learned to care about and love nature will grow up as wonderful custodians of the planet.
A meeting place
Today there are 150 new maple trees planted along the dirt road that now points the way to ClearWater Farm. “Canada 150 Lane” is just one of the many community-building projects that have transformed the property. The trees grow near a 200-year old Ontario Heritage Sugar Maple named “The Trading Tree” which once served as a meeting place for Indigenous and early settler families. Its story celebrates the collaborative connection between ClearWater Farm and the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation, and has inspired the creation of a children’s book and a charming rain garden designed with the help of local schoolchildren.
A new vision
ClearWater Farm continues to reimagine its historic shoreline property into a setting that honours the past while providing an innovative gathering place for the future. By rebuilding a heritage barn as a youth education centre and community event venue, they are creating new jobs and community assets for Georgina. It has helped inspire a new vision for the town as a thriving, caring community that is still deeply connected to its land and lake.
When I first visited ClearWater Farm in 2017 it struck me that the farm is a living laboratory for sustainability. Its environmental benefits are clear – stopping unchecked runoff, encouraging pollination and providing a home for wildlife. Concurrently it supports economic prosperity – improving crop yield, using green waste to heat greenhouses and providing power to the town as well as offering much-needed jobs for younger people who might otherwise leave for urban centres. Experiential learning is central through apprenticeship programs and summer camps and the ongoing process of reconciliation is encouraged through the farm’s strong connection to the Chippewas of Georgina Island.
In many ways it reminded me of an initiative of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, who had a vision to renovate an estate called Dumfries House, preserving its distinct heritage and regenerating the local economy, through investments in sustainable farming practices and educational centres where young people from the area can learn new skills.
Both are examples of bringing fresh perspectives to bear to address current challenges.
An innovative idea
In 2015, Vicki Saunders was inspired to launch SheEO, a non-profit Toronto-based initiative that dramatically transforms how female innovators are supported, financed, and celebrated. Her goal was to disrupt the existing startup financing systems she believed were designed mostly for men, by creating an entirely new model with a new set of values shaped with a feminist lens. The goal was to help women create businesses that reflected their passions, strengths and values, and allow them a safe space to thrive on their own terms.
Thriving on their owns terms
Growing up on a 100-acre farm outside of Ottawa, Vicki Saunders remembers listening to her parents’ new ideas to diversify their family business. She and her siblings were encouraged to contribute to the brainstorming. What began as a pick-your-own strawberries farm quickly turned into a successful event-driven enterprise with year-round educational activities. Saunders believes this early creative and collaborative environment nurtured her for success as an entrepreneur, mentor, and innovator. She went on to start and grow four successful ventures of her own.
The SheEO model is premised on attracting successful women investors by practicing “radical generosity”. Using a simple crowdsourcing framework, SheEO recruits 500 women called “Activators” who contribute equally to a $500,000 venture capital fund. The Activators then select five woman-led businesses titled “Ventures” that each receive a loan of $100,000 at zero-percent interest. Each new Venture is revenue-generating with export-ready potential to create a better world through their business model or their product or service. The Activators become a team that offers advice and support to help accelerate the new entrepreneurs’ successes while benefitting from this new business network themselves. The loans are paid back over five years then loaned out again through a perpetual fund.
Just four years later, Vicki Saunders’s radical funding redesign is a resounding success. SheEO represents a highly diverse group of women and has a growing global enterprise in Canada, the US, New Zealand, Australia and the UK. They are proud to have funded over 50 innovative women-led ventures that are solving critical issues and helping to redefine the world. They see their visionary approach as a pathway to a new inclusive economic and social model for sustainable communities. SheEO’s goal is to reach 1 million Activators and 10,000 Ventures, with a $1 billion perpetual fund, to support women for generations to come. As they ask so succinc¬tly to their growing number of supporters: Are you IN?
The facts are compelling. They speak for themselves. Empowering women and girls can have an amazing positive impact on the prosperity and quality of life in our communities and society at large. Yet we are still working toward gender equality on so many fronts. There is much Unfinished Business. So I take much pride in the creative and visionary development of Ontario-based SheEO over the last five years. It demonstrates how women’s entrepreneurship can disrupt not only outmoded ways of doing business, but also underlying power structures, which so often entrench inequality and perpetuate divisions between the haves and the have-nots.
As SheEO amplifies the voices of women in the business world, it is driving real progress towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals, or in Vicki’s words, “tackling the world’s to-do-list”.
SheEO’s model itself is an innovation with a profoundly social dimension. Its radical generosity has the potential to be truly transformative while allowing women to forge their own path and thrive.
In 1998, Rahul Singh—a Toronto paramedic—was on a backpacking trip in Nepal when disaster struck. The downpour from a dangerous monsoon had triggered devastating mudslides that resulted in the destruction of several villages. As a first-responder, Singh quickly realized that local relief efforts were slow and inefficient—he jumped in to help lead the rescue team. The experience had a profound impact on the paramedic, who saw an urgent need for future rapid response relief around the world. When he returned to Canada he founded GlobalMedic—a humanitarian charity with a mandate to save lives.
A volunteer effort
Singh built the organization by turning to his first-responder community for help—he knew they had the training and skill sets to provide life-saving aid during large-scale emergencies. Volunteers are key to GlobalMedic’s efforts. A dedicated core of Canadian paramedics, firefighters, police officers, doctors and nurses have volunteered to be deployed on the first report of a crisis. Civilians from all walks of life generously donate their time to help prepare and pack at the GlobalMedic warehouse. The new Emergency Food Program enlists help from local communities whose members at home and abroad have been affected by disasters. They work together to create cost-effective and culturally appropriate meals.
In a race against time, GlobalMedic is often the first team on the ground to get critical interventions to people in life-threatening situations. It employs high- and low-tech approaches to help solve complex issues with greater speed and lower costs, from drones that map disaster areas to rudimentary water purification units. A commitment to innovation helps bolster local resilience in disaster areas—the volunteer teams empower the distressed communities by providing immediate aid, training and support. GlobalMedic’s core Emergency Programs—Water, Medical, Shelter, and Search & Rescue—are scalable to the size of the crisis. They can activate as many as needed, depending on what the situation demands. Singh says “the solidarity and resilience of the people affected by the crisis hardens their resolve to push through and help.”
The best of Canada
Rahul Singh’s humanitarian work has received international recognition. In 2010, he was named to Time Magazine’s 100 list of the world’s most influential people. Since his memorable backpacking trip to Nepal in 1998, GlobalMedic teams have responded to over 200 disasters in more than 70 countries, including the earthquake in Haiti, the civil war in Syria, and most recently, the aid effort in the Bahamas following the destruction from 2019’s Hurricane Dorian. The organization continually strives to expand their reach so they can save more lives each and every year. For Singh, GlobalMedic’s volunteers are “giving the best of Canada to people around the world.”
Through the work of GlobalMedic, we understand implicitly that we live in an interconnected world in which we all have a role to play in creating a better future.
Each time I visit GlobalMedic emergency packing events I take away a new learning. For example in November 2018 I was struck by the thoughtfulness of seeking out culturally appropriate foods. Meals were designed by Syrian refugees here in Ontario to support those facing food insecurity in Syria. The volunteers understood that familiar food is helpful in maintaining a sense of normalcy. The sense of collective responsibility was palpable and demonstrated that we are at our best when we draw upon each other’s strengths, expertise and cultural knowledge. My most recent visit showed the results of buying in bulk and repackaging to continue to find economies, reducing the cost per person. Similarly Mr. Singh consistently seeks new or captive technologies to meet new needs and provide improved services whether water technologies or drones.
The consistent element is GlobalMedic’s attraction of volunteers – those with expertise and resources and those with energy, time and good will. They are making a significant positive impact to disaster relief abroad by building on and reinforcing Toronto’s unique experiment in social cohesion.
A humanitarian crisis
In the summer of 2015 there was a humanitarian crisis in Syria that captured the attention of the world. Millions of Syrians were trying to flee their war-torn homeland as the nightly news reported disturbing stories of their plight. Following closely was Danby Appliance CEO, Jim Estill, who was concerned that the world was not doing enough to help. The stories and images broke his heart. As a successful entrepreneur, he knew that he had the means to make a difference, so he took a business approach and devised a plan to personally sponsor 50 Syrian refugee families and coordinate a community-wide effort to help settle them into a new life in his hometown.
An ambitious plan
To help achieve his plan, Estill was able to utilize his own organizational skills and the corporate and community contacts he had developed. He brought together faith-based community groups and aid agencies that wanted to help those affected by the Syrian civil war. The Muslim Society of Guelph quickly became a close collaborator in the initiative and helped to lead the project’s volunteers. Jim proceeded to organize the operation as any CEO of a start-up business would, by scaling up and achieving targets and goals. Arrangements were made to set up workplace and community committees to help with the newcomers’ health, education, housing, and employment needs.
The word spread quickly. By the time the resettlement plan was up and running, more than 800 local volunteers had offered their time to the cause. As the refugee families began to arrive, the citizens of Guelph came together, and local storage spaces began to overflow with their donations. Through his business network, Estill arranged to help the refugees find jobs. Many of them were offered steady work through a program at Danby, where they could also learn English on the job. Estill helped others establish their own small businesses.
Doing the right thing
One of Jim Estill’s personal mantras for both business and life is “Do the right thing.” He was one of the biggest single participants in the Canadian government’s commitment to offer 25,000 Syrian refugees a new home in Canada. He was invested into the Order of Ontario in 2017 and into the Order of Canada in 2019, and he has received many international awards for his ongoing humanitarian work.
A Canadian story
Today the City of Guelph is a richer community because of Estill’s bold and generous initiative. By the end of 2016, 47 Syrian families had resettled in the city, with that number rising to 89 families from multiple countries by the summer of 2019. Many are flourishing in their new homes and schools—their personal journeys of hardship and hope have helped shape a heartwarming Canadian story.
I have seen time and again how Ontarians view engaging with people and places beyond our borders as both an opportunity and an obligation. No matter where we have come from, we have made significant social and economic contributions to our new homeland. There is so much to learn and to contribute.
Stories like Jim Estill’s demonstrate the very best of who we are as a nation. Through his drive and determination, he has galvanized an entire community to respond authentically as Canadians, opening their doors, hearts, minds, and wallets.
As a refugee sponsor, he has shown remarkable generosity. He represents a proud legacy of private refugee sponsors—a unique Canadian model—and is a shining example of how we build both inclusive prosperity and social cohesion in Ontario.
Cambridge Digital Library
The old post office
From the sidewalk on Water Street, the newly restored facade of the historic post office in Cambridge, Ontario might look exactly as it did when it was brand new. Situated on the Grand River, the former Galt Post Office—with its majestic clock tower—was built in 1885 and designated a National Heritage Site almost a century later. Today, after a bold city-led initiative, the iconic building, now referred to as the Old Post Office, has been transformed. When visitors step through the new glass entrance, they find themselves in a digital library—a new facility that reimagines spaces that would be traditionally lined with books.
As part of a local library network called the “Idea Exchange”, the Old Post Office is among a new wave of adaptive revitalized buildings. Through an extensive renovation process, the floor area was doubled, and the innovative design wove together old and new materials to create interesting interior spaces. Part of the all-glass addition cantilevers over the Grand River provide awe-inspiring views of the city and beyond. The state-of-the-art facility is fully accessible, and has achieved top-rated green building certification. It is a striking addition to Cambridge’s downtown revitalization and fulfils the city’s desire to preserve its heritage and strengthen its connections with the river.
As a digital library, the Old Post Office offers a range of programs for life-long learning organized over four floors. It is meeting the growing needs of the community in the digital age by providing a space full of innovative technologies that would not otherwise be accessible or affordable for individuals. While the main floor is a gathering space with a reading room and café, the other levels cater to specific activities. The basement includes a theatre with soundproofed creative studios; the children’s discovery centre on the second floor is a hub of interactive learning; and the top floor is called a makerspace—providing equipment for projects from sewing to 3D-printing. This type of creative programming provides a stimulating environment of curiosity and discovery for a diverse group of patrons
A new gathering place
Five years ago, the Cambridge City Council seized an opportunity to embrace change, and the result has been overwhelmingly positive. While there are few books in the digital library, the Idea Exchange network has a circulating collection—ensuring access to literacy of every kind. The new initiative is connecting citizens in a time of increasing isolation, sometimes because of technology. The facility’s librarians and tech-savvy volunteers are interacting with people of all ages and backgrounds as they share new experiences in their own community. And the new Old Post Office is now a popular downtown destination—it has become this century’s gathering place by the river.
Libraries have traditionally been a place for people to come together and learn. Revitalizing an historic building like the Old Post Office, and making it an innovative digital library and creative hub, shows the vision of a community that honours the past while looking forward to the future.
As I saw firsthand at the opening in 2018, the Idea Exchange connects Cambridge with the new digital age, and neighbours of all backgrounds and beliefs with one another. It is encouraging the innovation and social inclusion needed to build a more sustainable future. And with its focus on the arts, it will surely foster the kind of storytelling and context-building that helps us understand how our world is changing. Its unique location on the Grand River connects people with the natural environment. Just as the Galt Post Office used to do, this new space nurtures the communication that allows us to share our stories and connect with others.
UNCEDED: Voices of the Land
A talented team
After a nation-wide juried competition in 2017, the Canada Council for the Arts announced that renowned architect Douglas Cardinal would lead a team to represent Canada at the 2018 Venice Biennale—the most prestigious architectural showcase in the world. The entry took the form of an exhibition titled UNCEDED—Voices of the Land. Co-curated by Gerald McMaster, a member of the Siksika First Nation, artist, author, and professor at OCAD University, and David Fortin, a Métis architect and academic based in Sudbury, the exhibition features the talents of 18 Indigenous architects and designers from across Turtle Island. According to Cardinal it “is a way that we can show the world the beauty, the vitality, the strength, and the resilience of our Indigenous people in surviving a terrible history, but rising above that.”
An immersive experience
In Venice, the exhibition was unique in its immersive storytelling approach. Rather than a presentation of architectural models and drawings, it was a series of intriguing soundscapes and large curved forms displaying images of natural landscapes and depictions of Indigenous cultures. The exhibition was organized into four thematic sections: sovereignty, resilience, colonization, and indigeneity. It features life-sized videos of the architects speaking directly to visitors about their work and worldview. They explained how Indigenous architecture is a way of thinking, told stories about their families’ experiences in residential schools, and spoke powerfully of resilience
Lessons for the future
UNCEDED positioned Indigenous architecture in the global spotlight and was recognized as an innovative contribution to the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. A Guardian article quoted Douglas Cardinal: “I firmly believe that the Indigenous world view, which has always sought this balance between nature, culture and technology, is the path that humanity must rediscover and adopt for our future. The teachings of the elders are not the teachings of the past. They’re lessons for the future.” People still have an opportunity to experience the exhibition at the Canadian Museum of History until March 2020.
As the Honorary Patron of UNCEDED, I had the privilege of witnessing firsthand its reception as Canada’s entry to the Venice Biennale. It was simply unforgettable. This breathtaking installation gave insight into what a world might look like with a more inclusive understanding of our cultural heritage.
Architects shape the world through their visions, creativity, and technical skills, but above all through their empathy for the physical and social environments they inhabit. Unmistakable within UNCEDED is the idea that place matters: our identities are shaped by both the natural and built environments around us, as well as by the perspectives of those who share them with us. These relationships are inscribed in buildings and landscapes, all of which have the power to change the way we understand our surroundings and each other.
UNCEDED has the potential to provide significant insights into the strength of Indigenous cultures, the long journey of healing and reconciliation, and ultimately peaceful coexistence. Its stories may inform our efforts to build sustainability and resilience. Indeed, any solution to challenges such as inequality, biodiversity loss, and food insecurity will be incomplete without the unique perspectives of generations of Indigenous peoples.
Quetico—Lac La Croix First Nation Partnership
Wilderness canoeists around the world know that Quetico Provincial Park is one of the most beautiful places to paddle in Canada. Located in northwestern Ontario and situated on a million acres of Canadian Shield, the wilderness park’s abundant waterways, undeveloped landscapes, and relative lack of mechanized travel all contribute to its global reputation. Quetico also has a rich cultural history. It straddles the “voyageurs highway”—an inland water route travelled by fur traders for more than two centuries. And it sits on the traditional territory of Lac La Croix First Nation, whose ancestors have lived in the region for thousands of years. The First Nation’s people have a strong spiritual connection to this land, and their story is deeply rooted in the park’s history.
Hardship and healing
When Quetico was first regulated as a provincial park in 1913, the Indigenous communities living there were not consulted. Two years later they were forced to leave their homeland and relocate to make way for the park’s creation. In the following years, members of the Lac La Croix First Nation endured many hardships when the imposed land limitations contributed to the isolation of their community. It wasn’t until 1991 that the Ontario Minister of Natural Resources made a public apology for this great injustice, and the healing process began. Three years later, the Lac La Croix First Nation and the province had signed an Agreement of Coexistence to promote a cooperative relationship and create initiatives to further the social and economic wellbeing of the Lac La Croix.
Since then, the First Nation has been involved in both day-to-day conservation activities and long-term planning of the park. A revised park policy has helped to create a work centre and a new park entry station in the Lac La Croix community, just southwest of the park. It has also become a focal point for cultural initiatives, park interpretation, and Pow Wows. The First Nation and Ontario Parks now collaborate to foster employment opportunities for Lac La Croix youth, conduct biological and archaeological research, and plan resource management.
In 2018, an updated Park Management Plan included the voice of the Lac La Croix First Nation. Norman Jordan, then-Chief of Lac La Croix First Nation wrote, “Quetico Provincial Park sits on our traditional territory and we are very happy and honored to work and manage this land together.” The partnership between Lac La Croix First Nation and Ontario Parks continues to evolve as they share a stewardship to protect Quetico as a sanctuary of true wilderness. Its unspoiled tranquility and quiet solitude are a paddler’s paradise.
Partnership is often a key element in achieving sustainability. During a visit to Quetico Provincial Park in 2017, the park staff and members of the Lac La Croix First Nation welcomed me to the traditional lands of the Lac La Croix in a memorable ceremony. It was a window into their inspiring collaboration. Together they are taking significant steps on the long journey of reconciliation while building a more sustainable future for the next generation and beyond. They have much to teach us about connecting the dots between environmental stewardship, inclusive economic prosperity, and social cohesion and about the benefits derived from both an understanding of traditional knowledge and evolving science and technology. The people of Quetico and Lac La Croix are patiently nurturing respectful relationships.
Along the shoreline of Lake Huron, just north of the Municipality of Kincardine, lies nearly one hundred acres of natural beauty—the Stoney Island Conservation Area. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy 8 kilometres of all-season trails for hiking, cycling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. However, most of the visitors to this pristine setting are not aware of the volunteer efforts of a local group of proactive citizens who work together to preserve the diversity of plant and animal life near its creeks, meadows, and woodlands, attracting field naturalists from near and far.
Originally purchased in 1973, the Stoney Island Conservation Area, ensures public access to Lake Huron. When the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority (SVCA) contemplated selling it due to a budget squeeze in 1990s, the Kincardine Cross Country Ski Club was worried. Generations of its members had skied the trails since its founding, and a core group from the club approached the SVCA and offered to maintain the property. When their bold proposal was accepted, the Kincardine Cross Country Ski Club took up the stewardship of this important area.
The Canada 150 Trail
Collectively averaging 400 hours of work each year, the dedicated volunteers worked tirelessly. They removed fallen trees and branches, mowed meadows, built and repaired handcrafted bridges, improved drainage in wet areas, and upgraded the trails. In the winter, the club members groomed ski trails and cleared drifts after snowstorms. In 2017, the group took a new challenge. To honour the country’s sesquicentennial year, they designed a multi-use trail with a manageable length and flat terrain, accessible to youth and seniors, which they called the Canada 150 Trail.
Passion for a place
In January 2018, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario joined local community members and over 100 schoolchildren for the official opening of this Canada 150 Trail. The efforts of the local ski club to preserve the natural beauty in their backyard, created an opportunity for the whole community to connect with their environment, no matter what the season. The vision of the volunteers to connect their local efforts to a nation-wide celebration, allowed the next generation to understand its place in Ontario and Canada. Looking ahead, they are hopeful that younger generations will share their passion for this special place and will become stewards of its future.
Often the starting point for a community to understand what sustainability really means is to care for the environment in which they live. Environmental stewardship is one pillar of sustainability. When we nurture a love of nature in youth and encourage them to see themselves as stewards of their communities, we are building a path to a more resilient future.
That is where this story began. When I had the pleasure of opening of this Canada 150 Trail, I was inspired by work of the volunteers who, after years of conservation and stewardship, had created a place for people of all ages to come together and connect with their environment. How wonderful it was to see the delight on the faces of so many young people as they skied across the new trail – one built for them. It became obvious to all that this project was also about building social cohesion – a second pillar of sustainability.
Sustainability starts at home with our families and neighbours. We all have a role to play, and it is clear that the members of the Kincardine Cross-Country Ski Club understand that. I have no doubt that the next step will be to focus on opportunities for inclusive economic prosperity – the important third element of sustainability.
The Jim Tovey Lakeview Conservation Area
The Four Sisters
If you lived almost anywhere in the Greater Toronto Area in 1962, you would have seen the skyline along the shores of Lake Ontario dramatically change with the arrival of the four sisters – towering smoke stacks in Mississauga. The sisters were part of an industrial landmark that could be seen as far away as Burlington to the west and downtown Toronto to the east. The Lakeview Generating Station was the largest coal-fired power plant in Canada, built to provide electricity to a booming population. In 1989, when Jim Tovey moved to the community, he helped to lead the citizen group that convinced politicians to demolish the station and abandon plans to construct a new gas plant in its place. His vision for a new type of shoreline, would help to reinvigorate the area and change the way today’s generation sees the shoreline from the east to the west of the GTA.
A revitalization project
In 2010, Tovey was a Mississauga City Councillor working with community organizations and developers on plans to transform the city’s eastern waterfront. A reclamation project called the Lakeview Waterfront Connection would create a new 64-acre conservation area along the Lake Ontario shoreline using leftover aggregate from construction projects in the region. When completed, the site would include a waterfront trail, cobble beach, meadow, forest, and wetland—restoring the ecosystem. In addition, the now-vacant industrial park would be revitalized into a multipurpose hub—with the development of new residential units and commercial, institutional, and cultural amenities. This new space would support the future economic, environmental, and social life of the city.
The Morphology exhibition
Tovey was also a musician and artist, and inspired by the reimagining of the waterfront, he conceived of Morphology: an annual photography exhibition documenting the emerging landscape of the Lakeview Waterfront Connection. The images were meant to help the public reconnect with the lake and imagine it’s future. At the inaugural launch of the exhibition in 2018, Councillor Tovey proudly remarked, this “is the first ecosystem that’s ever been built in Lake Ontario in the GTA—ever.”
A lasting legacy
Sadly, Jim Tovey passed away unexpectedly soon after the launch. In a statement to a shocked community, Mayor Bonnie Crombie remarked, “Mississauga has lost one of its greatest champions today. Jim was a community builder whose legacy will live on through the growth and redevelopment of the waterfront.” A few months later Credit Valley Conservation announced it would name the Lakeview Waterfront Connection project in Tovey’s honour. The Jim Tovey Lakeview Conservation Area commemorates the Councillor’s transformative vision and provides his much-loved community with the green shoreline oasis he had always imagined.
Across Ontario I am often struck by the great pride with which communities large and small tell stories of their history. Knowing where we’ve come from roots us to place. Knowing where we go next is often the larger challenge. It takes a leader with great vision to take our history and reimagine it for future generations. Jim Tovey was a remarkable individual. He understood that progress did not, and indeed, must not, mean leaving anyone behind. Tovey’s vision replaced a landmark that was once a symbol of innovation, but later one of environmental damage, with a space that took in the whole concept of what a resilient and sustainable community can be. He knew inherently the importance of connecting the dots between environmental stewardship, social cohesion, and economic prosperity.
I was delighted to be invited by Tovey to the launch of Morphology. He understood that art has the power to both share new ideas, and to help shape the public’s thinking about important issues. Among the guests at the launch were civic leaders, artists, and members of the public along with the construction workers who through the photographs were able to see how the aggregate created by their construction projects had been turned into art.
In the years to come, the Jim Tovey Lakeview Conservation Area will continue to bring together the old and the young, new Canadians, and those whose history can be traced back to before the four sisters. It is a place with a future that is inspiring and evolving, a new and exciting page in Mississauga’s story.
Regent Park Revitalization
In the 1940s, the Canadian government created a new Toronto neighbourhood made up of social housing meant to encourage a strong sense of community. Named Regent Park, it was modeled after the UK’s “garden city” approach to planning, with inward-facing housing and lots of green space. Over time, design elements like limited through-streets and a lack of access to supermarkets and transit created a feeling of isolation. By the late 1980’s, the maze-like development had gained a reputation as a dangerous place to live.
A strong voice
When Sureya Ibrahim moved from Ethiopia to Canada in 1998, she and her family settled in Regent Park. Despite the local problems and unsafe reputation, the neighbourhood still had a strong sense of community and was home to many new Canadians with young families. Sureya joined a group of residents advocating for change and added her voice to a growing call for solutions to the systematic problems in the neighbourhood. In 2002, Toronto Community Housing (TCH) answered their call and began working with the residents to create a vision for a new type of downtown neighbourhood.
By 2005, TCH had partnered with developer Daniels Corporation to transform the aging infrastructure into a new mixed-income, mixed-use neighbourhood. Along with the residents, they wanted to revitalize Regent Park and inspire socio-economic change. The new design would replace all 2,083 existing social housing units with new LEED-certified buildings and add up to 5000 more market-rate units. The partners adhered to a social development plan created with the residents’ input combining residential buildings, commercial spaces, community facilities, educational institutions, activity parks, and green space. Most importantly, the initiative finally reconnected Regent Park to Toronto’s grid of streets.
A thriving community
Today, with the transformation well underway, large parts of Regent Park are unrecognizable—three of five construction phases are almost complete. The transition means big changes and opportunities for residents new and old. Sureya Ibrahim, now a Supervisor of Community Connections at the Toronto Community Centre for Learning & Development, acknowledges it can be difficult nurturing cohesion during a time of rapid change. She wants the community to thrive long after the developers are gone. Ibrahim told the Toronto Star, “We are still going to be here. We are still going to be doing what we love to do and building the community, identifying who the leaders of the future are and passing on the torch.”
Often a commitment to sustainability is more theoretical than practical, but the new design for Regent Park demonstrates environmental stewardship, social cohesion, and inclusive prosperity, the three pillars of sustainability, in the most concrete ways.
No matter where I travel in Ontario and around the world, I find myself telling the story of Regent Park. The story of this neighbourhood brings together so many of best parts of what makes Ontario special: The vital voice of the newcomer, the openness to change of fast-growing cities, and the willingness to commit to a long-term vision for the next generation.
When I met Sureya in 2018, I was immediately struck by her sense of opportunity and her realism. Touring the development, I was touched to see the many partnerships whose contributions have made the revitalization possible – from the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Foundation, who built a basketball court fit for the Toronto Raptors, to the Toronto Police, and the many small businesses and community groups. The vibrancy of the neighbourhood shines in places like the Daniels Spectrum, a creative hub with galleries, event space, and a rehearsal hall. Many want to be in Regent Park, it offers incredible amenities, arts, culture, and food. As Sureya well knows, its success will be its greatest challenge.
I have no doubt that the residents will continue to use their voices for inclusion. We are all better when we work together.