Back when children sat too close to television screens, I used to press my small nose to the TV to watch a dreadful show called Queen for a Day. Contestants would tell their sad stories, and say what a monetary prize would do to make them happier. The audience, using a sort of misery meter, would determine who was the saddest of them all and crown her Queen for a Day. Even as a kid, I thought those contestants had hit the end of the line.
Never say never. I wrote in support of an application for my beloved Amherst Island to be named one of Heritage Canada’s 10 most endangered places, hoping that my letter help would push the needle on Heritage Canada’s misery meter and bring the island’s plight to public attention. Amazingly, it did. Amherst Island made the 2013 list, released Wednesday.
Amherst Island is a relatively small farming island in eastern Lake Ontario.
There is archeological evidence of the presence of First Nations people on Amherst Island between 4,500 and 3,800 years ago. Champlain first mapped the island in 1615, and European settlers arrived in the late 18th century. Immigrants from England, Scotland and Ireland arrived throughout that century and the population supported two villages, five churches and a truly impressive number of taverns.
The larger village, Stella, still occupies the footprint of the 19th century village. It is remarkably unchanged from that time. With the exception of a few houses, a café, and a municipal shed, all of the buildings date back to the 19th century. Two general stores survive (one as a museum), as does the blacksmith shop and the Victoria Hall, former site of island dances and concerts. The shops and taverns are now homes. Typical of a 19th century village, the buildings are built very close to the road.
The island was isolated until well into the 20th century. Until the 1970s, ferry service stopped for months when the Bay of Quinte froze. As a result, change came late to the island. The village, farm houses and fields, the winding roads, the stone fences built by Irish settlers, and the extraordinary wildlife have survived. Our ancestors of a century ago would still recognize the island as their home.
It is very likely that Amherst Island will be transformed into an industrial landscape within the next few years.
A large wind turbine plant is planned for the island and is within months of getting government approval. Such approval is almost certain, given the province’s continued commitment to expediting alternative energy projects. This haste to push projects along has meant that there has been little, if any, planning as to where they should be located, and that people’s serious concerns have been brushed aside.
If this project goes through, the island will be covered with up to 36 turbines, each 50-storeys tall: the height of the Toronto-Dominion tower in Toronto. Construction vehicles bearing cement and massive turbine parts will make thousand of trips past our school and through the village of Stella, spewing exhaust and almost certainly causing vibration damage to the stone foundations of the historic buildings that line the road. Outside the village, roads will be straightened and widened. Trees will be destroyed. For each of the turbines, new access roads will be cut into fields, destroying wildlife habitat.
The placement of turbines is simply shocking. One will loom over our school and playground. Four turbines are to be built within steps of the Owl Woods. The whole of Amherst Island is an Important Bird Area of Global Significance, but this tiny area is particularly vulnerable. The Owl Woods is known internationally as having the greatest variety and number of owls in one place in Canada. At the wind plant on nearby Wolfe Island, the bird kill is the second highest of any wind plant in North America, and experts tell us that we can expect the same or worse kill rate on Amherst Island.
Owls, eagles, osprey and hawks will die on Amherst Island.
I appreciate that some see sculptural beauty in wind turbines when seen from a distance. They are not lovely up close. They are very, very big. They also cast shadows, and shadow flicker, and create noise and vibration. There will be no place on Amherst Island to escape their presence.
A wind turbine plant on Amherst Island will destroy a historic landscape, a lively little community, and a hell of a lot of beautiful birds.
So give me the crown and the roses and I’ll be happy to cry for the cameras. Just please notice what is taking place in your backyard.
Elizabeth Barr comes from an old Amherst Island family.
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