Tales from York: My Greenbelt is....international

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On the weekends you will often find us at farmers market around the York Region. It’s always fun and informative.

Often times, people find us just to let us know how much the Greenbelt means to their community.  In the process I’ve learned a lot from foodies, farmers, cyclists, hikers, adventure seekers – everything from where to get the best local organics to the where to see the most scenic vantages around southern Ontario.  They all share a joy about their own unique corner of Greenbelt.  That connection can be difficult to capture in just one word.  Pride doesn’t quite do it, but last week, at Stiver Mill in Unionville, it came as close as any that I could think of.  

A vendor at the market dropped by to thank us for all our work on the Greenbelt.  His name is Terence Phillip. Together with his wife and daughter, Terence runs a Korean-Caribbean Fusion food stand called "Koribbean Girl".  He coaches youth basketball in his spare time. His family, as his food stand suggests, came to Ontario from Trinidad. 

And, it was to his hometown in Trinidad, Tacarigua, where Terence’s Greenbelt story eventually led. Growing up, everyday, he and his grandmother’s 14 children played in the Orange Grove Savannah – a recreational and natural open space in the town. 

When the town proposed developments for that area, news quickly reached the Trinidadian community in Canada, though there wasn’t much anyone here thought they could do. 

I’d never met Terence before, but I was learning a lot, very quickly.  Terence, however, seemed to know the Friends of the Greenbelt very well.  As it happens, a year earlier he’d become a friend of the Greenbelt and got a call to participate in a tele-townhall discussion about it.  He came away from it motivated to do something.

Terence read the research available on the Friends of the Greenbelt website.  He says, "I open all your emails, I read everything."

"I thought, look at what we’re doing here to protect these kinds of environments," said Terence, "I have to share this."  He called his cousin, Dr. Neil Phillip, an associate professor at Community College New York (also an ex-pat of Tacarigua) to say, "this is an example we have to follow, if we can protect millions of acres here, they have to treat this as preserved land."

A "Save the Savannah" Facebook page was established.  They organized a petition and got everyone to sign.  The community in both countries donated $80,000 towards legal fees; they called in experts and cited international examples of land protection, like Ontario’s Greenbelt.

On June 16, 2015 they won.  "Save the Savannah" succeeded in designating their old playground as a historic landmark for conservation. 

I’ve never been to Orange Grove in Tacaragua, Trinidad, many people reading this probably haven’t.  Yet this idea we share, our Greenbelt, closed that distance as quickly as one person can reach out to another.  And, hearing the happiness in Terence’s voice, I felt pride for who we are - who live in this geography and share these ideals that nurture it - that inspire others to do the same.  We’ve got some great friends, and who isn’t proud of that?

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LORENZO CATUZZA
--Director, York Region

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