Wheeling westward out of Newmarket, Ont., recently, my mind wandered to.a simpler time when we rode bikes without helmets, didn’t need special cycling lanes and hiked out in the woods without our parents being arrested for allowing us to do so without supervision.
Back then, there was an urban myth among kids in my hometown that one of the farmers would come out with a rifle and take pot shots at kids crossing through his fields if we were on foot. I never heard of anyone actually taking any buckshot in the butt for trespassing and come to think of it, don’t even remember seeing any farmer at all.
Given recent headlines, that myth would be more realistic the way the world is today, but the reality is those fields that we cut through are now being replaced by housing on what was the outskirts of town back in the day. It was the banging and clouds of dust along Hwy. 9 that caused my momentary nostalgia as I headed to an appointment.
Nobody but me and a few of my contemporaries give a broken tee about those memories. Actually, the land we’re talking about has made several transformations since then, including a time when it was the Glenway Country Club, surrounded by its fairways and greens.
It was a radical change for somebody who was used to land devoted to agriculture, but Glenway did offer a pleasant drive through on Hwy. 9. looking at the homes off in the distance over the green of the golf course and plenty of trees still around.
Change is inevitable and I had to accept that, but that was just the beginning. The homeowners who bought into living around a golf course also had to accept change with the replacement of the golf course with the housing presently kicking up the dust that I was driving through.
The houses that were replacing the green ribbons that the more established homeowners in the area thought would always be there, are going up after a long, drawn-out battle that cost the town a bundle only to have the developer get its way, albeit with concessions that are supposed to console the complainants, but seem more condescending than anything.
The dust cleared as I got through the construction zone, looking out on to the fields and barns that remain further out of town, wondering how long they would be there as the growth continues.
Hwy. 9 leads out to Hwy. 400, which would get me on my way to a meeting at Glen Abbey, which is facing a similar fate as Glenway, the main difference being that the Abbey is much more renowned as a golf course, with it scheduled to host next year’s Canadian Open for the 30th time.
For that reason, my memories from the Abbey are as numerous as those from my hometown – the remnants of Hurricane Fran blowing my umbrella inside-out, Tiger’s miracle shot out of the bunker on 18, close calls at winning by Canadians Mike Weir, Jared du Toit, David Hearn and Richard Zokol and fond thoughts of colleagues who have since exited this realm or moved on due to retirement.
Apparently, I’m not alone in what the Abbey has meant to me personally.
The Abbey’s home town of Oakville recently designated it a historic site in a unanimous vote at council and next Tuesday, the application by ClubLink, the owner of the Abbey, will come before council again and expect a big turnout for that one, particularly by the “Save Glen Abbey” Group.
Oakville identifies with the Canadian Open and the fact that the Abbey, with its unique design as a stadium course, was the first solo design by Jack Nicklaus, so golf is at the centre of its protest against development by ClubLink. On the flip side, criticism of their efforts usually centres on how the players don’t like the Abbey as if that’s some kind of revelation.
While golf plays a significant role in this particular case, it goes far beyond that and reflects more on where the region, province and country surrounding the Abbey is headed.
I recall a bunch of us discussing the Abbey’s potential as a housing development right on its grounds the day that ClubLink purchased it nearly 20 years ago from what was the Royal Canadian Golf Association, now Golf Canada.
There had been rumours over the years since then, particularly as the housing market in Southern Ontario heated up and a golf course such as York Downs north of Toronto was scooped up for $412-million. What would that make the Abbey worth in its desirable location?
From what I can see, nothing will ever be the same at the Abbey since ClubLink announced the plan to develop it and met such opposition. One huge question is how do you force ClubLink to run a golf course if it doesn’t want to or force Golf Canada to stay at the Abbey instead of moving to a yet unnamed location for its head office?
One thing that is certain is that this debate will go on a long time, through various hearings and challenges and you can bet the word NIMBY will soon be thrown around more than it is now.
In case you’re not familiar with that term, it stands for Not In My Back Yard, a particularly obnoxious term used by pro-development people, self-styled progressives, to insult homeowners close to green space such as the Abbey for wanting to protect their investments.
Even celebrated Canadian author Margaret Atwood and grocery store magnate Galen Weston were called NIMBYs, for their opposition to a proposed mid-rise condo development in Toronto that overlooked their homes and exceeded height and density bylaws.
The building is far from the affordable housing Toronto so desperately needs and a two-level garage with 30 parking spots hardly encourages transit use in a city that is most times stopped cold with gridlock. Normally a darling of the self-styled progressives, Atwood faced a storm of criticism on social media for her alleged NIMBY-ism and it had nothing to do with golf.
Those types of stories are becoming all too common, particularly in Toronto, but certainly in other urban areas across the country. In the case of Glen Abbey, traffic is of particular concern should the development be completed.
There are other concerns that go with the unprecedented growth in and around the Toronto area. While politicians routinely suggest commuters take transit to avoid gridlock and to be more environment-friendly, it seems they can never make up their minds on transit decisions that will best serve the population.
There is a long laundry list of infrastructure challenges – an overheated housing market, high rent, health care, to name a few – that are going to cost various levels of government a bundle as they react to population growth, but there is the problem. It’s reactionary, not proactive.
It isn’t over the top for people in Oakville to ask what’s ahead for their community even if there is silly name-calling, yet ClubLink owns the land and wants to do with it as it sees fit. It promises to go on for awhile, not only in the Abbey debate, but at other locations, as well.
It isn’t about memories of Glen Abbey, or Glenway for that matter, or those of an aging baby boomer remembering when he was a kid.
What people should be concerned about is not the past, but where their communities, province and country is headed and what’s being done to prepare for it.