By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
The fight to save Port Hope’s Penryn Woods got a couple of high-profile endorsements Tuesday morning, with a press conference that featured Mark Cullen and Northumberland-Peterborough South MPP David Piccini.
The event was held at Penryn Woods at Victoria and Strachan streets, led by Forests For Our Future head Claire Holloway Wadhwani. The group – better known as Save Our Trees Port Hope – began last year in response to the overwhelming support for saving the woodlot from Mason Homes Phase V plans that would see it cut down for residential development.
Development can no longer mean clear-cutting land to put up single detached houses, Piccini said.
“Ontario’s long-term prosperity, environmental health and social well-being depends on wisely managing change and promoting efficient land use and development patterns.
“Efficient land use and development patterns promote sustainability by promoting strong, liveable, healthy and resilient communities, protecting our environment, public health and safety, and facilitating strong economic growth.”
Piccin recalled playing in the woodlot as a child and how much it meant to him. The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of what is truly important, he said, like the value of our natural surroundings.
The updated provincial policy statement speaks to land-use planning that supports more effective and efficient patterns of development, such as a mix of housing (including affordable options), recreation, parks, open spaces and mitigating the impact on the environment.
For Piccini, it’s also about the municipality preserving its identity “as a small yet mighty town in rural Ontario. We have a wonderful community here, a community that draws its origins on a fundamental agricultural foundation in beautiful natural surroundings.”
Piccini announced that he has launched saveourtrees.ca in support of the effort, throwing the support of himself and his team behind it. He invited everyone to log on, sign the petition and fill out the forms that will allow them to attend the LPAT hearing as a participant. The hearing was brought by Save Our Trees Port Hope, Holloway Wadhani said, based on what she charged was a process marked by errors, omissions and confusion.
“This is our future. This is local Ontario. We are going to have our voices heard,” the MPP declared.
Cullen shared the story of renowned concert violinist Joshua Bell. Two nights after a posh sold-out concert in Boston playing a violin worth more than $3-million, he went along with an experiment by a Washington Post reporter and set up shop as an anonymous musician playing his violin on the platform of the Washington subway with his violin case sitting nearby for donations.
Bell raised a mere $32 during the course of the whole day. It turned out almost nobody stopped in their busy daily rounds to listen, with one age group being the exception – children passing by would tug on their parents’ sleeves to linger and to listen. Invariably the parents dragged the children away.
One lesson to take from this is that children sometimes have a clear sense of what is important. Tell them these woods will be cut down so someone can build houses, Cullen said, and they’ll declare the idea ridiculous.
Another lesson is that we often fail to appreciate the beauty of our natural surroundings until someone opens their eyes to the reality – or until they’re gone.
“Penryn Woods is Port Hope’s Joshua Bell,” he said.
“We have a proposal to chop it down, replace it with something someone interprets as progress – progress is being redefined as cutting down biologically rich woods to build homes.”
His message to Mayor Bob Sanderson and the Port Hope council was to urge courage.
“I know this isn’t easy. Your job isn’t a rollover, and neither should you. Be bold. Making the right decision – and there is only one right decision – takes courage. Nothing worthwhile is achieved without it. Courage and hard work.
“Legal counsel for the Town of Port Hope have advised council not to say anything, not to do anything. The key word is ‘advise.’
“Legal counsel are merely doing their job. They develop legal opinions, and they advise. Let’s remind council and the mayor that they have asked the legal team for advice, not permission. There is a difference.”
Cullen declared Piccini a gift for the cause.
“He stands here on our side, with the angels, with the owls and the songbirds and the beneficial insets. You support the cooling of the environment. Oxygen, not more carbon.”
Piccini has also actively supported the Highway of Heroes project of honouring the servicemen and -women who fought for Canada with the planting of more than two-million trees along Highway 401. But these trees will take two generations to grow and to provide the benefit that the trees of today in Penryn Woods offer now.
“It’s not just a nice place to walk the dot or watch the birds. It’s about our children. It’s about our children’s children,” Cullen said.
Though the folks at Mason Homes hadn’t returned his calls, he shared his message for the company at the press conference.
“My observation is, when you pass the bread, it comes back buttered,” he said.
“Based on 45 years of life in business and a little bit of real estate, I have learned that when we take the high road and do the right thing, we are always paid back in kind and always in ways that are unexpected.
“Pass the bread. Do the right thing. I assure you, it will come back buttered.
“I am with you, as are many,” he told the group.
His rallying cry for them is to remember Joshua Bell.
“For once, just once, let’s not as adults pull the children away in our hurry. Let’s listen. Let’s listen and do the right thing. After all, we have preserved these woods not for ourselves but for the legacy that is Port Hope.”
Bruce Bowden of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario Port Hope gave a bit of the history of the woodlot, located at what was formerly the boundary between Port Hope and Hope Township. It was part of a huge parcel purchased after the War of 1812 and subsequently used to build four houses for a single family. Nearby Penryn Park is part of the parcel.
Bowden was incensed by the loss of Rose Cottage that formerly sat near the press conference site (so named in honour of their Irish servant). The developer insisted it had to go so, at great expense, council and the ACO intervened to move it to a Pine Street location.
“It shows a lack of foresight on the part of the developer that it’s not there,” he stated.
The community takes great pride in its renowned downtown that is often called the best preserved Victorian 19th-century street in Ontario. And the topography surrounding the woodlot shaped the development of that entire area.
“So while we are trying to protect this, we are trying to protect the entire essence of our town,” Bowden said.
“Penryn Woods must be permanently protected, due to its value and significance to our town’s ecosystem, our heritage and our tree canopy,” Holloway Wadhwani said.
“This is based on a wealth of evidence on the importance of trees in the context of climate change, community health and well-being.”