An Indigenous-led coalition of community groups wants Metrolinx to revamp its plans to build an elevated concrete stretch of the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension (ECWE) through a sensitive wildlife corridor and ecosystem of mature urban forest at Fergy Brown Park, Eglinton Flats and over the Humber River.
The coalition has requested the transit agency backtrack on its plan for the 1.5-kilometre section of line and tunnel under the ground instead. It maintains the forest is a flood and erosion protector and sound barrier, provides greenspace for migratory birds, and is home to threatened and endangered species.
Indigenous youth and elders, with the support of the community groups, have erected a tipi and are tending a sacred fire in Pearen Park, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are leading consecutive four-day ceremonies to honour each of the thousands of trees that will be destroyed if the ECWE proceeds above-ground.
“Our group plans to keep our sacred fire going until Metrolinx commits to a pause,” says Neiland Brissenden, spokesperson for Stop the Trains in Our Parks (STOP), one of six groups in the coalition. “Our intention is to stay there until Metrolinx starts speaking to us in good faith and working with us on this to come up with better solutions for this stretch of the project.”
The coalition wants the transit agency and the Doug Ford government to reconsider their positions on the issue. Specifically, coalition members as asking the government to support an Indigenous-led environmental assessment of the elevated section and address a land claim that is currently in the courts.
We’re not against the construction industry, we’re not against development within our neighbourhood. We just want it to be done right,
— Neiland Brissenden
Stop the Trains in Our Parks
In addition to STOP, the coalition consists of the ENAGB Indigenous Youth Agency, American Indian Movement, Edge of the Bush, Mount Dennis ecoNeighbourhood Initiative, and Mount Dennis Community Association.
Metrolinx has submitted an application to the City of Toronto for tree removal. The plan is to remove trees in the southern half of Pearen Park and on the eastern side of Fergy Brown Park.
Brissenden says the coalition is very supportive of transit expansion as it will bring more development and improve the local economy, but wants it done right and in a way that protects the parks, trees and wildlife.
“I want to be very clear that our group is not against transit expansion. We’re not against the construction industry, we’re not against development within our neighbourhood. We just want it to be done right and we feel our community deserves world-class greenspace and world-class transportation.”
Metrolinx chair Donald Wright recently sent a letter to the ENAGB Indigenous Youth Agency, indicating the track will not intrude onto a parcel of land the agency licensed from Toronto. ENAGB has a ceremonial lodge, sweat lodge, gardens and land-based educational programs just north of the proposed LRT on the Humber River and conducts education and ceremonies in the surrounding parkland.
The letter also noted Metrolinx is committed to working with ENAGB to mitigate other construction impacts, but the coalition is not buying it and contends the elevated ECWE will encroach on the property.
Meanwhile, a statement from Metrolinx to CBC Toronto indicated the transit agency is continuing with its plan for an elevated track, as building in an identified flood plain zone that has experienced historic levels of flooding over the years poses unique challenges to underground construction.
However, the coalition maintains Metrolinx engineers have confirmed that going underground is possible. Additionally, they say Metrolinx has always presented the elevated section as a done deal.
“They’ve talked to us about the colour of lighting, they’ve talked to us about some basic replanting once it’s done, but they never gave our community an opportunity to provide meaningful input into the design piece,” says Brissenden.
The coalition has asked Metrolinx to hold off on any tree removals and return to the table to talk about solutions that could save the urban forest.
The forest was planted after Hurricane Hazel struck southern Ontario in 1954 and now prevents flooding and soil erosion, according to Brissenden.
“It’s a pretty important stretch,” he says. “It’s a kilometre-and-a-half of woodland. It’s about 40 metres wide at points, but it will be entirely removed if they go ahead with this plan.”
With thousands of trees on the site, the Indigenous ceremonies are slated to continue for months. The tipi and sacred fire have been set up at a location where Metrolinx would set up a staging area.
“We would welcome a pause from Metrolinx to discuss the plan for the Crosstown West Extension and negotiate and mediate in good faith on a solution that would work for the community and for Metrolinx,” Brissenden says.
“Our intention is to stay there until Metrolinx starts speaking to us in the good faith and working with us on this to come up with better solutions.”
The ECWE is an extension by Metrolinx to bring the Eglinton Crosstown LRT another 9.2 kilometres west along Eglinton Avenue West to Mississauga. The $4.7-billion project is expected to be completed in 2030-31.