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Group trying to save Springwater Park hosting event at Georgian Mall 0

By Ian McInroy, Barrie Examiner

A black bear at Springwater Provincial Park, north of Barrie. MARK WANZEL PHOTO

A black bear at Springwater Provincial Park, north of Barrie. MARK WANZEL PHOTO

A group opposed to proposed changes to Springwater Provincial Park is taking its fight to Boxing Day shoppers on Wednesday.

The Springwater Park Citizens' Coalition (SPCC) is concerned about Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) plans to change the park — located north of Barrie near Midhurst — from its current operational status to non-operational status.

The MNR announced earlier this year that the park will no longer be maintained or staffed.

The park currently includes a wildlife compound — enclosures that were first erected in the 1930s to house a variety of wild animals and birds — as well as trails for hiking and cycling, picnic areas, historic buildings and a monument to First World War veterans.

The announcement means the animal sanctuary would be disbanded, washroom facilities and vehicle traffic would be removed and the Vespra Boys cenotaph — a tribute to local veterans of the First World War — would be abandoned by April 2013.

SBCC supporters will be meeting at Georgian Mall food court on Wednesday at 2 p.m. to voice their opposition to the MNR's plans for the 193-hectare facility. First Nations representatives will also be on hand, including members of the Beausoleil, Georgian Island and Rama First Nations who will be supporting the province-wide Idle No More protests. Idle No More organizers oppose the Harper government's recently passed omnibus budget legislation, Bill C-45, and accuse the Tories of trampling on treaty rights.

Les Stewart, of the SBCC, said support by the First Nations groups are vital to his group's efforts to keep the park viable and that Wednesday's event is intended to raise awareness about problems with Bill C-45 and the 14 pieces of federal legislation that would effectively re-write the treaty relationships with First Nations and degrade their role in important decision making.

"Only the Crown and First Nations have the right to alter that living relationship; it cannot be done unilaterally by any one federal government alone," Stewart said Monday.

"The Springwater Park and surrounding forest lands are part of the disputed Williams Treaty, 1923. The MNR plans to make the park non-operational is a land-use change that the First Nations may choose to challenge."

He said the land has never been developed and there is strong evidence to conclude that there would be significant archeological and human remains present.

"There are 1,000 identified First Nation settlement areas in Simcoe County and from 150 to 175 ossuaries or "bone pits" that have been discovered," he said. "Of the 150 or so, only about 10 (6.8%) have been treated respectfully and in a professional archeological manner. Most bone pits (a small one would have 300 skeletons) simply get dug up and forever lost.

"We believe an important 5,000 to 10,000 year old First Nations trail (Minesing Trail) runs between Anne Street at Carson Road and then along Anne Street north of Snow Valley Road and then straight through the park onto Minesing. Those lands have never been studied and the areas before and after are archeologically rich."

First Nations and SPCC have similar goals when it comes to the park.

"First Nations have lived in a sustainable way for thousands of years in Ontario," Stewart said. "They consider themselves as protectors of all the land and water and had been extremely effective in helping defeat Site 41 (north of Elmvale) after 20-plus years of local activism couldn't, and (stopped) the Mega Quarry in Melanchthon Township near Shelburne.

"Land use policy in Simcoe County is a controversial item and one that we will live with (for good or ill) for the next 50 years. Short-sighted, mega-growth can destroy communities and the environment in irreparable ways."

Barrie councillors oppose closing Springwater Provincial Park.

They gave initial approval recently to a motion to send a letter to Ontario's Natural Resources Ministry saying just that, and asking the MNR to provide conditions to the city required to keep the Springwater Township park open with its current level of services and features.

For more information about the coalition, visit www.springwaterparkcc.org.

ian.mcinroy@sunmedia.ca

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