To our detriment, much of Huntsville’s swamp area has been filled in ~ Brian Tapley

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Great pictures from that little drone!!

My father used to remind me that the entire area from what is now Boston Pizza all the way up to about the Family Place restaurant used to be a “swamp”! When he went to high school this area was full of cattails and muskrats and flooded every spring.

As with most low lying areas, our society has filled this area in. In this case, first with sawmill waste, (chips, dust etc.) some garbage from local business and then fill from construction projects. This is happening right now in the swamp area on Highway 6o across from Deerhurst’s Highlands golf course. It also happened next to what is now Huntsville Marine. I remember this because in the first half of the 60’s Highway 60 did not go where it goes now. Kawartha Dairy, 3 Guys and all the rest of those buildings did not exist. In their place was a low lying swamp. We filled this in and built all over it just as we are doing still in many places.

If you ask the watershed people they will tell you this is a “bad thing to do”. Sure, in each case it may be small but it is not the individual case that matters. What matters is the overall total effect. Now, when you look at any of these areas, you will see as spring arrives that the flat open areas, especially if they are paved, melt faster and more completely than forest areas and these faster than swamp areas.

These wet, low lying areas, the land that realtors despise and consider of low value, is actually the sponge that nature has provided to even out the water flow. Water that remains trapped in these areas for even just a few days will not cause the rapid rise and fall of rivers and lakes but will gradually trickle out. This, at least in nature is a good thing. Trouble is that for us this land is fairly, or at least on the surface appears, fairly useless. I mean you can’t build on it or park on it or anything most humans want to do on it.

Some of us like to complain and blame the lazy use of computers by staff at places like the MNR for flooding, saying it did not happen this badly in the “old days” and since the new staff are all whizz kids with computers and smart phones they must be too distracted by this technology to be doing a good job. This is not likely the case however. These staff probably work hard and worry just as much as before (I wouldn’t really know this as in this information age it is almost impossible to actually talk to any of the staff that do this job. They are hidden behind firewalls of voice mail!) but we have done this to ourselves by clearing the land a little bit more each year.

Remember that flood at A&W a few summers back? Wonder where it came from? Well what used to be a forested hill leading to a swampy field is now a combination of Home Depot, Walmart, the Independent, the new Chrysler dealership, a host of other smaller buildings and apartments and if you look at the forest area left you note a big sign saying that “Rock Solid Consulting” does not want you trespassing and is going go be building something there someday, perhaps, maybe… you get the idea. We continue to fill at every opportunity, (look across Highway 60 at the Hanes Road intersection at the top of the hill) and this filling and paving makes the situation worse with every little bit added and every vanished piece of swamp land.

To their credit the folks who brought us Walmart did do a lot of work to try to retain the water retention of the area. Undisturbed areas, a small lake, special weirs to even out the outflow and so on, but I doubt all this effort has really matched the retention abilities of the natural land before. At least they have tried, others do not even make an attempt.

The point is that we can expect these type of floods to increase and get worse as time goes on because not only have we decreased the ability of our land to retain water and even the flow, but we have globally caused our weather to become more extreme, with bigger and more frequent storms. We had better get used to all this. It is part of the hidden cost of having a convenient big box store in every neighborhood and the cars and roads to drive on so we can access these places. I mention Walmart and should apologize to them as they are merely one of many. They just do such a good job of marketing that they are one of the first to come to mind, they are really nothing special in this regard.

I have not touched on the inappropriateness of building low on the flood plain, like John Street and the Big East river areas. That is another issue of judgement for all concerned but the effects are pretty obvious. These people have to make the decision if they want greater security from flooding or cheaper land with easy normal river access. They can’t have both, but the choice is theirs and I’m not going there today.

Brian Tapley attended school at Port Cunnington, then Irwin Memorial in Dwight, then Huntsville High, and then Queen’s University, where he graduated 1973 as a Mechanical Engineer.
He worked for Kimberly-Clark for a short time before ‘retiring’ to help his aging parents run the family resort, Bondi Village Cottage Resort in Dwight.

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29 Comments

  1. Henk Rietveld on

    Well put, Brian, and right on the money! I can remember Mike Wilton, then the Regional Wildlife Biologist decrying the loss of the little wetland where Muskoka Landing, LCBO and Canadian Tire, with associated parking lots now live. No storm water retention there. It’s another one of those cumulative death by a thousand cuts. And it just goes on.

  2. Terri Howell on

    Well said Brian. Humans do stupid things and then place blame on those who have to deal with them. I think the District needs a total moratorium on building on any wetland from here on in and building permits along waterways should be carefully considered before being issued in the future. It’s time we wised up. I believe with climate change occurring we will have many more much worse flood events to look forward to.

  3. Hugh Mackenzie on

    Most accurate article I’ve ever read on this topic. Dead on. There should also be a law about allowing construction on Flood Plains.

  4. Lindy Tucker Davidson on

    Wonderful article and long overdue. Brian nails it in his indepth article and I appreciate seeing this put out there for all to read. Water will always reclaim what it owns and it’s only a matter of time before the town doesn’t get some of that land back from the river. As stated in the article, the area near the Town Bridge is built on a shaky foundation of wood chips and trash and someday, the river won’t give it back.

  5. But, at the same time, we need building to continue because people hereabouts need affordable places to live. There is lots of high, dry land about, but it is often prohibitively expensive to develop. We have high “development” fees already in the District of Muskoka and District Council–under the advice of a highly paid consultant–is currently seeking more than double what they were (from $9,000 to $26,700 per unit!

    Ostensibly, this is to go toward “infrastructure”. How much of this will actually be going to the development of infrastructure and how much to increase District salaries and payrolls and more consultant fees? Who’s guarding the hen house? In addition, the Towns are free to increase their own development fees. Who do our District politicos think will be paying those hugely increased fees? Well, they are stupid if they think that they won’t be passed onto the consumers and that the small builders who can’t, won’t be throwing in the towel and laying off tradesmen. Rents will be rising–exacerbating an unbelievably tight rental and real estate market. All because the bureaucracy believes that they know better than free enterprise how to apportion resources. Bah! Fed up with larger and more inefficient centralized government bureaucracy yet?

    • Karen Wehrstein on

      Because government, which is held accountable by a democratic system, is greedier than the private sector, which answers only to its owners. Riiiiiight.

      • The only problem with your theory, Karen, is that no one holds the bureaucrats accountable–certainly not the elected politicians. The fact remains that working for governments is much cushier than working in the private sector (they are paid approximately a third more than for a comparable job in the private sector). Try running a small business and maybe you would change your tune from socialist/communist to freedom-loving. Everywhere that socialism/communism has been put in place, it has resulted in horrible deprivation and the complete loss of freedom for the people. Now that the productive middle classes are being openly pushed around by a coalition of the super-wealthy and and the Marxist-indoctrinated youth, under the leadership of their equally clueless teachers, we will see if the middle class can prevail.

  6. Well said Brian but you forgot one important fact about all this and that is the heat all this pavement put’s out compared to the wet lands. Everyone worries about global warming but never think about how much more heat we are creating now compared to 100 years ago. Now our little parking lots are just a little bit if you compare to the parking lots and roads around every city in north America And a lot of them are built on wet lands. But it seems to me everything new in Huntsville is built on a swamp starting with the mall and brendale square and the list goes on and on no wonder things are getting warmer faster than ever before and floods are getting worse.

  7. Well said Brian. I sat on District Land Division Committee from 1979-1993 and during that time the committee rejected the developing of many of these same properties. Then about 1993 the Townships and Towns decided that they could do a better job and dissolved the committee and took on the job. I think they are still destroying the Muskoka District as they have allowed developers to build on almost all of the disallowed applications.

  8. Does anyone have any solutions to this problem now? Is it too late? Can the Municipality buy the beer swamp at a reduced price right about now and return the land to what it should have been?

    • Laura Beacom on

      Totally agree with you. It would make a great park allowing waterfowl to nest and a nice attraction for towns people and tourists alike to enjoy

    • Really like your article! For once someone with a platform calls it out…greed is destroying the livability of Huntsville!
      Greed is buildng massiv homes tht are out of reach of all the locals i kno (including myslf), destroying all the ponds, lakes, swamps, tht are home to our fish population…hav u tried fishing in the last coupl years? Not mch left in the few lakes they havent ruined with excessive building and filling…Doug Ford himself filled “his” part of the lake with sand and helped kill the spawning grounds on Deer Lake! Somthng thts supposed to be illegal (or did he conveniently change tht law like hes lookng to do to other natural areas to allow development?! Gad now he’ll prob threaten to sue me for tellng on him).
      Im sick to death of how the rich, the tourists, the people who live here 2 mnths of the year (i kno not All of u do this but too many do), treat this beautiful part of the country.
      No small, serene, natural lake is now complete without a giant power boat or jetskiis ripping it up. Our town is literally falling apart (hav u driven dwntwn lately, hope u hav an extra set of axels for your poor vehicle)…tax money keeps pouring in (frm thes million dollar lakeside mansions and newbuilds) and yet the town cant seem to fix roads properly (PLS hire peopl who Actually kno how to fix a damn pothole so it lasts more thn one week!) or protect the VERY thing tht brings folks to Huntsville and surroundng area!
      Short sighted greed, and hiring the lowest bidder will kill this town, its being allowed to grow too fast with little to no care for the local hardwrking population nor for wildlife or nature! Quick bettr make tht dollar today…itll cost u a ton more later but u can worry about tht anothr time.

  9. Great article Brian. Ground water and overland flooding as Huntsville is experiencing now are complex issues.
    They are not related but both cause big problems. By not related I mean that you can have extreme overland flooding with water sitting meters from your building and still have a dryer then normal basement. Conversely excess rain can cause your basement to flood through ground water while the river that is only steps away remains seasonally low.

  10. Karen Wehrstein on

    Not that I am against wetlands preservation, because there are all sorts of other reasons we need them, but I think Huntsville’s developed swamplands are a drop in the bucket, so to speak, in terms of flood danger. They don’t affect the amount of meltwater that comes roaring down out of Algonquin Park, and wouldn’t absorb enough if they were still swamps to make much of a difference. This winter’s snow was not only plentiful but jam-packed with water because of all those freeze-thaw cycles, the same ones that strained our backs and our snowblower engines from November to March. Then we got the unlucky confluence of sudden high temperatures and rain. I know the lakes are drawn down in winter based on snow moisture content measures, but this was an unusual winter.
    .
    Except that it wasn’t. Not any more.

  11. To my knowledge, it’s not the District who is to blame for all the development on local flood plains. I believe that the Conservation Authority in North Bay bears the responsibility for this; and they still have too few field inspectors resulting from the halcyon Harris years. Also, back in the day, the entire Beer Lake area was a landfill, and any buildings of substance were built on spread piles. Apparently some of the piles were driven down as deep as 60 metres, without encountering anything solid.
    .
    A further ancillary issue is the reduction/destruction of endangered species. Not only was their habitat destroyed, but the resultant more extreme weather has also exacerbated their loss to future generations. I despair for our offspring, and their offspring: We have been abysmal stewards of the world with which we were entrusted. It’s patently too late for sustainability: all that we can do now is cut our losses, reduce carbon emissions, and build more Darlingtons.

    • Michael Petropulos on

      It sure is funny to see how everyone thinks that they are the expert with respect to the dynamics that are at play here but people really need to get their facts straight before spreading (more) nonsense. First off (not that it really matters), it is the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, stationed out of Parry Sound, that currently has jurisdiction. Also, stating that piles were driven up to 60 metres (~200 feet) without hitting anything is just ridiculous. The deepest pile, located in the entire area, is located in the north-west corner of the plaza and it goes down exactly 101′ to solid bedrock, less than ½ of your fictitious bottomless pit. All the buildings located here, whether they are of “substance” (whatever that means?) or not, are built on solid footings. The fact is that flooding in the Brendale Square area can be easily, cheaply and conclusively mitigated, if and only when the Town choses to do so. The LCBO and the Beer Store relocated namely because of the flooding. Until it is resolved, not too many businesses will have much of an incentive to relocate there and this community can continue bantering and finger pointing until the remaining empty buildings decay beyond the point of no return. I obviously do not want to see that happen but what choice do I have? The fact is that the Town can continuously talk about and put together all the conceptual plans for this area that they want, but until they actually choose to sit down and discuss the matter with the biggest stake holder and his engineers, everyone may just as well just zip it up and enjoy the scenary.

      • Emmersun Austin on

        Where is the “biggest stake holder” and where are the “engineers”? Let’s hear from them. Do we have to “zip it up”?

        • Michael Petropulos on

          Mr. Austin, I believe that I am the biggest stakeholder and I am prepared to provide the cost of engineering if the Town is willing to install a back flow prevention valve in the single storm outlet that services the entire area.

      • Brendale Square is only one of thousands of similar situations around the country.
        There are legal, ethical and other considerations.
        The norms of the past are the foundations of where we find ourselves now.
        Should taxpayers of today be required to backstop unlucky investors and insurance companies of yesterday? Like all investors should they have been wiser and more prescient ? Investors in stocks and bonds face risks. The market is brutal to the unwise and good to the ones who made better decisions and paid more for higher land.
        Of course the “Town” could buy out all the low landers who enjoyed cheaper land and better views as part of their calculus in their business plan. But “Town” means taxpayers. Let the Brendale owners and all similar decision makers and their insurers sort this out as best they can. The market can be both brutal and rewarding.
        Let them decide how to save their investment and recaim their land. Nobody gurantees my investments and I shouldn’t be expected to back stop theirs.
        As far as the inevitable law suits against the Town for aleged negligence in granting building permits is concerned I would argue that officials acted in good faith based on best knowledge and practices at the time.
        Things change. Life in the big city.

        • Michael Petropulos on

          This particular “investor” is not asking anyone to “backstop” me even though I was completely unaware that the Brendale Square area used to be a community landfill before I bought my particular properties here at the naive age of 25. Back then, flooding in the area was very infrequent and it was minor when it did occur. If the community, i.e. the “Town” does not want to make or consider the relatively cheap and easy measures that may prevent flooding in the future, “things” are not going to “change”. As such has been the case, all I am saying is get used to it, don’t point fingers at anyone buy yourselves and expect to begin paying for the free parkiing that you have been enjoying for the last 50+ years. Otherwise, if sever yearly flooding is going to prevent businesses from relocating there I certainly do not intend to spend one dime more than I need to and everyone can continue to enjoy the scenery.

        • Michael Petropulos on

          Kind of like what you did when you sat on Town Council, Bill. Where is the back flow prevention valve that could have prevented this flood and others like it?

          • If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem Mike……PS….I was on council for 10 years to try and help people and have volunteered for many more to make people’s lives better in this Community. You don’t appear too often in that line of work and as you have stated you don’t intend to spend a dime to help out any one other than your own bottom line. If you want to cheap shot, have some credibility….
            Great article Brian. You’re a Guy who is involved in improving Life In Muskoka!

        • Michael Petropulos on

          In response to your comment below Bill, I meant nothing personal, I just thought it ironic that a former councilor would accuse me of just standing by “to watch” just after I offered to pay for the engineering that will probably provide a cheap fix to the ongoing flooding issues for all the properties and businesses on this side of the river here, including my own. The lowest lands in this photo belong to two adjacent owners and I, and they are part of a larger containment area that drains from other businesses and homes; yet I could not get the Town (under Doughty) to even provide their steam jenny to unfreeze the only storm drain that was flooding our lot, which technically belongs to the Beer Store, even when I offered to pay for it myself. You see, twenty-five years ago I hired a contractor and a team of engineers to design and build this drain, and re-grade and re-pave the parking lot which was in worse condition then, than it is now. It took me a year to get 4 other owners to agree to pay their proportionate share and it required that two other owners, in addition to me, pay to re-pave their own lots at the same time (1993). The whole thing worked well for years until one hundred year floods turned into 5 year floods and twenty year floods turned into an annual ordeal, pushing the anchor tenants out and leaving the smaller ones no option but to chase them. I would spend a million bucks now to fix my properties up but I’ve only had one serious second rate anchor step up to the plate in the last decade, only to walk when he realized that I was not willing to run a “break even” investment at storage building rates. Meanwhile, as I pay realty taxes annually that are equivalent to a person’s yearly wage, Joe Public complains that their eyes get sore when they park on my property for free or that I am not doing my best to maintain the potholes that invariably appear each spring when they use my private vacant property like it’s a public street. I suppose that what frustrates me more than being accused of not doing anything is being labelled “the problem” when I am the only real victim here who has tried so much to do something. With the lack of other options, all I was trying to say was that I’ve already given more than my fair share to charity, thanks.

  12. Patricia Snell on

    Great article by Brian and good conversation from everyone.

    Glad to see that people are having real conversations about issues that people don’t want to talk about.

    They allowed development on flood plains (i.e.: next to the river). Should never have happened. What are the people that made money on these developments and allowed them going to do about it?

    • Michael Petropulos on

      I think that a better question is “What are the people who made all that money from the all the realty taxes on these develpments going to do about the relatively cheap and basic infrastructure that should have been in place that could have mitigated these damages?”, remember; the same people that DID allow those other people to make money when Joe Public had a need that all those nasty money makers fullfilled when they invested their millions?

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