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Rare woodlot jeopardized

Why would Region want to remove such a key piece of Niagara’s history?: owner

By Katherine Grant
For NewsNow

A walk through the woods just beyond the western urban boundary of Grimsby is a revelation.

Towering pines, oaks and shagbark hickory trees, many hundreds of years old, provide a majestic buffer, softening the sounds of traffic off in the distance.

Largely untouched over the past centuries, this 25-acre Grimsby woodlot is now being threatened by a proposed extension of Livingston Avenue. The Region of Niagara is carrying out an Environmental Assessment for the proposed extension of the road from Casablanca Avenue to Oakes Road. The proposed road would cut right through the heart of the woodlot threatening its continued existence.

The land has been fortunate to have been owned by excellent land stewards who have cared deeply about the natural heritage.

Ja Irish, owner of Original Greenscapes, has a deep affinity for the property.

“My grandfather started to work on this land in 1915 and soon it will be a century of stewardship that the Irish family have taken towards this significant woodlot,” said Irish as he walked through the greenspace.

He pauses to point out an old slab of concrete, all that remains of his grandparents’ home, lost to fire in the 1970s. A bit further down the path are a few small outbuildings dating back decades. An old wooden wagon still sits inside one of them. That is how little this land has been touched by modern times.

“A century of care and the care of the previous owners of this treasured woodlot is severely threatened today by a road project that is not needed,” says Irish. “Why would the Region of Niagara want to remove a key piece of this irreplaceable part of our history and legacy in the Town. Why would the Region plan on spending money on this study and a possible road leading into areas outside of the Town’s Urban Boundary and when Main Street West is in need of serious maintenance and upgrading?”

He isn’t the only one questioning the region’s plan. ‘Save the Woodlot’ signs have sprung up on the lawns of many homes abutting the property in recent weeks.

Hundreds of local residents have signed a petition to stop the four-lane road from going through.

Local environmental advocate Bruce Mackenzie has volunteered his time to help draw attention to this imminent threat to the woodlot.

“This is the largest woodlot in Grimsby on the Lake Ontario plain,” said Mackenzie.

The land, he explained, is protected under the Greenbelt Act.

Once a swath is cut through the woodlot for the roadway, what remains of the lot will be exposed to threats from salt and wind damage and changes to drainage, he said.

Invasive species creep in from the edges and increased sunlight will encourage unwanted growth of such pervasive plants as European buckthorn, Mackenzie added.

Many of the trees are approaching or have surpassed 250 years of age because they have been protected to this point. The trees in this woodlot are true representatives of the area’s original Carolinian Forest, said Mackenzie.

For Irish, his connection to the land is highly personal.

His grandfather came to Grimsby in answer to an ad in a Toronto newspaper for farm hands. He met and married his wife here in Grimsby and worked for Adolphus Hunter, Hunter Road’s namesake, later buying the Hunter farm.

Irish’s father, Wilfred, who died only last year, also cared for the land.

Now, it is in Ja’s hands and he is inviting the public to come out and see the immense beauty of this rare woodlot. The Irish Grove Woodlot at 38 Hunter Road will be open for public tours on Saturday, Sept. 6, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

The Region of Niagara’s Official Plan recognizes this woodlot as an Environmental Conservation Area. It will be up to the public to remind the Region that its role is to protect what it has already clearly identified as an important part of the natural landscape, said Mackenzie.

Ja Irish can be reached at 905-945-5351, or email originalgreenscapes@sympatico.ca

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