For the bulk of my political life, I have been fighting for the future of Downsview. Chief among my efforts has been the battle against the sale and development of the Federal lands at Downsview Park.
A few years ago, with the help of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), the first portion of this land was sold to the highest bidder by the Federal Government. Developers then turned this beautiful green space into a disastrous “neighbourhood” fraught with horrible, systemic building flaws, and unbearable quality-of-life issues for some of its residents. The City still refuses to recognize these homes as up-to-code.
This neighbourhood stands as a physical indictment of the Feds’ vision for the rest of the Downsview lands. There are three other neighbourhoods planned like this, and it seems like the same future awaits them.
To the north of this area, at Keele and Sheppard, is a beautiful swathe of federal parkland known as William Baker. It has bike trails, massive mature trees and, on a good day, you can witness some unique wildlife. According to plans by the Federal Government, this area is to be bulldozed and in its place, 3,500 apartment units are to go there, with the Feds pocketing the cash.
It’s unconscionable. Especially considering that as part of a necessary defense strategy in 1947, these lands were taken from 270 Downsview residents to build a military base. But today, with the based closed, they are trying to cash in on the lands they took away from us 70 years ago. The right thing to do is to give the lands back to the City.
That is why I am planning to bring a motion to an upcoming City Council demanding that the Federal Government give us back our lands. In the City’s hands, park land is illegal to sell. If this land is restored to its rightful municipal status, it will be protected for generations. It could thrive with amazing programming and activities that any design or control from Ottawa could never accomplish. This land is Downsview, not a cash cow for the Feds.
We have a choice. We could choose a nightmare future of shoddy homes with limited green space plagued with traffic and flooding, or we can choose a bright future with these lands in the hands of the people of Downsview who will love and care for them in perpetuity. As it stands, you have a hand in this choice. Make sure you always choose leaders who will fight for the best of these two futures. You will have the opportunity to make those choices over the next two years.
But I am not waiting. The time to give this land back to Downsview is long overdue.
Maria Augimeri is the Councillor for Ward 9 (York Centre) and has represented Downsview residents for over 30 years. She is also the leader of the SetDownsviewFree movement which demands the Feds to stop selling parkland and hand the Downsview lands back to Toronto.