Sunday, March 13, 2016
Downsview Development Blamed For Flooding Veterans’ Graves
“This is sacred land,” said Allan Rubin, president of the Jewish Canadian Veterans Memorial Park Association. “Respect [is due] for those who have passed and the families that are still here.”
Located at the northern end of Mount Sinai Memorial Park on Wilson Avenue, the cemetery inters Jewish Army, Navy and Air Force servicemen. Adorned with monuments dedicated to the thousands of Canadian Jews who served in both world wars, it’s the only memorial of its kind in the country.
Since 2014, however, Rubin says development on the adjacent Downsview Lands has repeatedly damaged veterans’ graves.
The 572-acre Downsview Lands are overseen by the Canada Lands Company (CLC), a crown corporation that manages and sells federally owned property. Formerly a military base, the area now houses an airfield, offices, sports facilities, the 294-acre Downsview Park, and five former military housing subdivisions earmarked for new residential developments. Immediately north of the cemetery, and bordering the Jewish veterans section, developers Urbancorp and Mattamy Homes have been working on the first of these neighbourhoods, known as Stanley Greene, since 2014.
Tensions between CLC and the Jewish veterans association began when Stanley Greene surveyors drove nearly a dozen stakes into cemetery land and graves without seeking permission. In December 2014, after Stanley Greene’s old sewage system was torn out, the cemetery’s groundwater levels rose significantly, Rubin said, filling and collapsing several open graves. The problem persisted well into the spring.
“There was one plot that we had to pump pretty much right until the time when the casket came down the road,” Rubin said of one burial last May. “We covered the water that remained with leaves so the family wouldn’t notice any difference, but by the time they started filling the grave, the water came pretty much up to the lid of the casket.”
Not wanting to cause any undue duress, Rubin said veterans’ families weren’t informed of the flooding incidents, and the CLC promised to fix the problem.
Rubin thought the issue was resolved, but in January of this year, a worker at Stanley Greene left two water pipes running at the site for five days. The water flooded the adjacent cemetery, but this time, sub-zero temperatures froze the water, and Rubin won’t be able to assess whether the concrete foundations of the site’s monuments have been damaged until the ground thaws in the spring.
With the Stanley Greene development now graded several feet above the cemetery, the thaw may lead to more flooding, Rubin said.
A CLC official denied that work at Stanley Greene has caused the repeated flooding of the cemetery. “The groundwater levels seem to be naturally occurring,” Rodger Martin, CLC’s vice-president of real estate, told The CJN. “They’re high on our side as well.”
Martin said Stanley Greene’s new sewage system was installed prior to the January flooding. No other specific measures were taken to mitigate the cemetery’s groundwater problem, he said, and with building permits already issued by the City of Toronto, construction is imminent.
“We’ve been in contact with [Rubin, and] we’ll continue to be in contact with him with whatever concerns he may have,” Martin added.
York Centre city councillor Maria Augimeri is a longtime critic of Ottawa’s Downsview Lands development plan.
“They’ve shown a real contempt – more than just disrespect,” Augimeri said about the CLC’s handling of the flooding.
The area’s new MP, however, is confident the issue will be resolved.
Rubin isn’t holding his breath.
“Before they go forward with construction, the water issue should be resolved,” he said. “According to the law, you’re responsible for containing the water on your property… But how do we sue a giant like Canada Lands? We just don’t have that kind of money.”