Life in the urban trenches; Community activists go to war; [Final Edition]
Sharon Trottier. The Ottawa Citizen. Ottawa, Ont.: Oct 3, 1988. pg. D.1.PEO
(Copyright The Ottawa Citizen)
Armed with a megaphone and a message, Judy Hunter gathered some 200 neighbors into a Kanata hydro corridor one late summer night and got them shouting mad.
In a lush Outaouais riverside hamlet, John Trent sat in the quiet and sketched the tale of a once-doomed railway line through lower Gatineau, and the people who wouldn't let it die.
Whether they're leading spirited community rallies or sharing their story with a curious stranger, community activists like Hunter and Trent bring to life issues that matter.
They're purveyors of patience and perseverance, at once tough and sympathetic, sinking tireless hours and energy into a cause they believe in.
''It really became my life,'' says Hunter of her two-year battle to keep high-powered transmission lines out of her community. That battle continues; in the past week she made yet another submission in front of a legislative committee in Toronto.
Community activists are the unpaid and often unsung people behind political lobbies, public demonstrations, letter writing campaigns and fundraisers.
They're an essential part of any community, says Ottawa Ald. Diane Holmes.
''It's really important for the community to have grassroots leaders to help organize people, run meetings and express a good point of view.''
Whether they're battling city hall for a stop sign or fighting a multi-million dollar expansion of a neighborhood shopping mall, community activists are a familiar force in Ottawa-Carleton.
When things got a little crazy, Joan Frommer would snap a leash on Sebastian, a gentle giant of a dog, and head for the quiet of a nearby neighborhood park.
''It was my hideaway place,'' says Frommer of Mile Circle, a 52-acre federal-owned park straddling Rockcliffe Park and Manor Park.
She never imagined her placid haven would one day be more a source of frustration than comfort.
''Some days I'd take another route home just so I didn't have to go past it, so I wouldn't have to think about it.''
Knee-deep in a battle to convince the National Capital Commission to drop its plan to have the U.S. embassy built in the park, there were days Frommer almost lost sight of what she was fighting for.
''There were times when I thought if the phone rings again, I'll kill myself,'' says Frommer with an infectious grin.
But nothing could shake her confidence.
''As the days went on, it became more and more obvious that it was wrong,'' says Frommer of NCC's proposal for the site.
The original selection two years ago of the Mile Circle _ done without public consultation _ created such an uproar among local residents that the NCC went back to the drawing board.
In the end, consultants narrowed a list of 38 possible federal-owned sites to five before finally recommending a 10-acre RCMP property barely a stone's throw from the disputed Mile Circle parkland.
It was a sweet victory for Frommer and the hundreds of volunteers on the Save the Circle committee.
For Frommer, who together with Toni Thomas helped spearhead the fight, the battle was at times all-consuming.
''I'd wake up with it in the morning, and go to bed with it at night,'' recalls Frommer, a former federal public servant and mother of two.
At times, husband Andre, daughter Stephanie, 22 and son Brian, 12, found it difficult to cope with the ensuing publicity that followed the issue. ''The hardest thing was the lack of privacy,'' says Frommer.
But Frommer never once considered quitting. ''My mother always told me there was no use bellyaching about something you don't like. You have to go out and do something about it.''
Frommer said the strength and commitment of others is what helped to fuel her own commitment and energy.
Judy Hunter was sure it would all be over by Christmas.
''Then we can get back to our normal lives again,'' she assured her team of tired volunteers.
Two years have passed since that crisp autumn day in 1986 but the battle to stop Ontario Hydro from stringing high-voltage power lines through Bridlewood is far from over.
For Hunter and her fellow suburbanites, it's been two years of struggling hard to be heard.
They've held boisterous public rallies, physically prevented bulldozers and crews from working on the line and assembled more than 50 studies on electromagnetic radiation.
The group fears the electromagnetic field created by the line poses health risks, including cancer, to students at nearby Bridlewood Community Elementary School.
But their efforts have met with little success. They lost an appeal to the Ontario cabinet in 1986 and failed to get a court injunction in January to block construction of the lines.
Still, Hunter isn't giving up.
''There might be a day where I think of throwing in the towel, but it never lasts long,'' says the 39-year-old mother of three. Her group recently hired a Toronto lawyer to take its fight to the Ontario Supreme Court.
Despite the setbacks, the Bridlewood struggle has been a ''learning, growing and positive experience'' says Hunter, a part-time nurse at Civic Hospital.
She's logged about 10 hours a day for the Bridlewood issue, writing briefs and submissions to provincial cabinet, organizing meetings and answering a stream of phone calls from concerned residents and the media.
Husband Ian, and children Carolyn, 18, Jennifer, 17 and Patrick, 8, have been her greatest source of support and strength.
There's a dilapidated railway line running through the brush a few steps away from John Trent's home in Kirks Ferry, Que.
The rotting track once carried weekend visitors from Ottawa to Wakefield aboard steam locomotive No. 1201, a majestic, gleaming monster that puffed and hissed its way through the history of lower Gatineau.
The train whistle piercing the quiet of a Saturday afternoon and metal screeching against metal were familiar and welcome sounds to Trent and others living close to the track.
When the Canadian Transport Commission announced in December, 1984 that CP Rail could scrap the money-losing Hull-Maniwaki line, Trent was outraged.
''I thought it was the craziest thing I ever heard,'' said the 52-year-old professor of political science at the University of Ottawa.
Trent wasted no time in forming a group of residents to launch a public appeal against CP's decision to rip up the track. When the transport commission decided to give supporters of the train one year to reach an agreement with CP Rail to keep the line open part-way to Wakefield, Trent helped set up the Gatineau Valley Railway Committee. Its mission was to keep the 27-kilometre line alive.
''We wanted to keep the land in public hands, but keep the train privately operated,'' said Trent, a father of three.
Trent was a major force behind the coalition of tourist groups and government officials who convinced the three local municipalities _ Hull, Hull West and La Peche _ to take over the line.
And in July, a local businessman proposed spending $4 million for an ambitious plan to resurrect the Hull-Wakefield tourist train. (Steam engine 1201, which went out of regular service in 1959, has been retired to the National Museum of Science and Technology. It ran to Wakefield on weekends until 1985.)
After facing what at times seemed insurmountable barriers, Trent says all it took was an ''impassioned plea or anger'' to keep supporters of the train from giving up.
He's now vying for a federal seat. Trent beat out two other opponents to represent the NDP in the riding.
When Barry Wellar walked into a public meeting held by developers planning a multi-million dollar expansion of the Carlingwood shopping centre, his nose began to twitch.
''Something smelled,'' says Wellar of the meeting nearly three years ago.
Within minutes, Wellar had shattered any hopes for a docile meeting. His biting objections to the mall's expansion began a bitter and controversial battle against municipal politicians and planners.
Wellar formed the Carlingwood Action Committee, which appealed Ottawa city council's approval of the $15-million expansion to the Ontario Municipal Board in 1986.
The group lost its appeal and the shopping centre went ahead with its expansion. But representatives from seven community groups have since joined the Carlingwood Action Committee to keep the owners of the 35-year-old mall from expanding further.
While the owners of the west-end mall have agreed not to seek further expansion until late 1989 while Ottawa city staff study the impact of traffic on the surrounding community, Wellar's group isn't taking any chances.
Residents have been conducting their own traffic studies. They've kept up regular intersection traffic counts and have compiled more than two years worth of data to use in their fight.
It's been an all-consuming struggle at times for Wellar, so much so that he once collapsed from stress and exhaustion during the OMB hearing into the mall's expansion. But he's never considered dropping it. ''I started it, and I'm going to finish it,'' says the urban studies professor at the University of Ottawa.
Color Photo; Paul Latour, Citizen; Judy Hunter has waged a two-year battle to keep Ontario Hydro from stringing high-voltage power lines through Bridlewood John Major, Citizen; Barry Wellar fought against expanding Carlingwood Shopping Centre Lynn Ball, Citizen; John Trent wouldn't let his dream of a steam train chugging through the Gatineau die John Major, Citizen; Joan Frommer tangled with the NCC to keep the U.S. Embassy out of Mile Circle
© 2005 LAGGISS