There is an intriguing mix of news in this issue of the Times. On the one hand, there’s a very positive piece from Mayor, Nancy Peckford, a talk she gave to local business people in which she lays out the importance she and her council colleagues have placed on encouraging the economic development of North Grenville, and giving some details on the progress that is being made in three areas of activity: the expansion of County Road 43, the new Kemptville Campus, and the promotion of tourism in the municipality. We have, as she says, a lot to offer visitors and residents alike, and that is often gone unnoticed. That, she pledges, will change in the future.
But, to counter the optimism, we also publish some really worrying news concerning the future of the Ferguson Forest Centre. The Ontario Government has cut a major program, without warning, which will have serious negative effects on our local economy. It is not the first time that the provincial government has threatened the existence of this wonderful facility in our community.
What used to be known as the Ferguson Forest Station had grown out of a tree transplant nursery that the Ontario Government had established in 1920 on twenty acres of land, and had been greatly expanded in 1945 and named for Kemptville’s one-time Reeve, and Ontario’s one-time Premier, G. Howard Ferguson. But the Ministry of Natural Resources, who operated the Station, were losing $1 million every year by 1995, and it was a natural selection for the Harris Government to make in its first year of cutbacks and downloading.
But the local community were not prepared to lose such an important asset, and volunteers began to organise. Sandra Lawn, Past Director with the Eastern Ontario Forest Group, in an interview at the time, pointed out that the service being provided by the Station could not be performed by another facility elsewhere in the Province. The Province now had to dispose of the property, and under Ontario law, the right of first refusal went to the Oxford Township. If they were not interested, it would be offered to the Town of Kemptville, and after that the Township of South Gower. If all three refused, the land would be put up for sale to private buyers. In July, MNR asked Oxford if they were interested. Oxford Reeve, Don Cameron, and Councillor Owen Fitz’gerald, argued in favour of Oxford expressing an interest in the purchase, if only to get more information about MNR’s plans and valuation of the property. Council agreed unanimously with his approach. Don Cameron informed MNR of Council’s decision, and added a very significant statement. Oxford would not be changing the zoning on the land, no matter who bought it. It would remain agricultural land. This would obviously make the property harder to dispose of, and limit MNR’s choices in the matter. This stand may well have saved the Station.
While negotiations continued between the MNR and Oxford Township, the seedlings still required attention. Weeding and irrigation continued to be provided by volunteers, organised by the Consortium. Local people came to help, as did people from Ottawa and surrounding areas. Buses of Mohawks arrived from Akwesasne to help in the work, and the extent of the voluntary effort must have come as a great source of encouragement to those working to save the Station.
In the end, it was the combined efforts of the three municipal councils, the numerous volunteers, and the local community that saved the Ferguson Forest Centre, which became a not-for-profit corporation leasing the land from the Municipality of North Grenville. It has continued to be both profitable and valued as a recreational and commercial asset, one which we do not want ever to lose. Previous municipal politicians tried to dispose of it so as to develop the area “like Merivale Road”. The efforts of the Board, strongly supported by then-Councillor Terry Butler, saved it then. Terry, who was just last week honoured by mayor, council and businesses for his lifetime of work on behalf of this community, would expect us to carry on that commitment and refuse to allow the Ferguson Forest Centre to close.
This is a good time, in a sense, for this crisis. We now have a municipal council that is committed to economic development of a sustainable kind, and the FFC is the epitome of that kind of enterprise. We have a community that understands and values the FFC and what it provides to so many organisations and community groups, in addition to the economic benefits. We can’t let another Ontario Government take this away from us. It’s coming back to you and me.