On Sept. 2, 2021, we met for a high school picnic at an apartment parking lot with a great view of Lake Ontario. We learned how Bois-de-Saraguay in Montreal was saved from destruction.
When we first began planning for our most recent Malcolm Campbell High School picnic which took place on Sept. 2, 2021, we were talking about meeting at Cliff Lumsdon Park in New Toronto, a neighbourhood in South Etobicoke.
Our previous meeting had been at Long Point Provincial Park on Lake Erie.
For the Sept. 2, 2021 picnic in Toronto, Bob Carswell let us know that after a week of really hot weather in late August, he would last no more than 10 seconds sitting in the hot sun at Cliff Lumsdon Park.
Bob suggested that we meet, instead, in the shade of the parking lot behind the low-rise apartment building where he lives, a short distance from the park. He could readily walk to the parking lot using a sturdy walker that he’s recently acquired, which works better than trying to walk using two canes.
We all agreed that the parking lot, with a great view of Lake Ontario and the Toronto skyline through a chainlink fence, would be a great place for us to meet. 
Low-rise apartment buildings with parking lots facing Lake Ontario
A pattern of land use decision making in the 1950s accounts for the many low-rise apartments that are now facing away from the lake in neighbourhoods such as Mimico, which is just east of New Toronto. Bob Carswell lives in such an apartment in New Toronto.
Between 1950 and 1960, as a judicial inquiry (prompted by articles by Pierre Berton in the Toronto Daily Star) later determined, planning decisions at the Town of Mimico were made by builders rather than by city officials, with the result that zoning bylaws were ignored. That accounts for the way that apartments were built in Mimico in the 1950s.
I’ve been reading archival newspaper articles about Mimico at the Toronto Public Library website. Articles from the 1960s editions of the Globe and Mail are easy to locate and print out. The format the Toronto Star uses for the same era is more cumbersome but its archival articles are nonetheless also of much interest. 
Judge J. Ambrose Shea headed the Mimico judicial inquiry
A May 25, 2012 document entitled Mimico 20/20 Revitalization Cultural Heritage Resource Assessment, by URS Canada, explains how a dense collection of low-rise apartments came to be constructed along the east side of Lake Shore Blvd. West in the 1950s.
As I’ve outlined at a previous post, the Mimico 20/20 document notes (page 9) that:
Several options for administrative reorganization were considered in the years following the Second World War, eventually resulting in the amalgamation of Mimico and other Lake Shore communities into the Borough of Etobicoke in 1967.
During the same [postwar] period, most of the large waterfront estates in the study area were subdivided and sold off. The east side of Lake Shore Blvd was built up with a dense collection of anonymous low rise apartment buildings with their backs to the lake, and the shore itself – unbelievably – was given over to parking lots for the tenants. The reason for this is that from 1950-1960, building inspector Jack Book judged it better to encourage construction projects than to enforce zoning requirements. Book bowed to the wishes of the developers, presumably believing that in the long run, the tax base of the town would be stronger. The Judicial Inquiry, carried out by Judge Shea, concluded that:
It started with small by-law violations, sanctioned in the philosophy that Mimico needed building. From these small beginnings the builders, the real estate men and the developers took over. They took complete charge, and, if they were not encouraged, they were certainly not interfered with or impeded, to any appreciable extent, by members of council or officials.
Mr. Book spent time in prison [he received a two-month sentence] for perjury, and the developers’ spree was brought to a halt.
After 1962, the area remained relatively static in terms of development until the last two decades of the 20th century, when higher density condominium blocks began to encroach at the north end. The commercial street has undergone superficial modernization and remodeling without significant changes in scale or density.
The document refers to a Feb. 5, 1962 Toronto Daily Star article entitled: “Mimico Building Chief Rapped by Probe Judge.” You can access Judge Shea’s report at this link:
To read it you would need to download the PDF and rotate the text.
An excerpt about the inquiry’s launch reads:
It began with a series of articles in the Toronto Star by Pierre Berton in May 1961. The first article was entitled “What’s Wrong in Mimico: The Strange Case of Mrs. Jackson”, which laid bare the obstacles that had been placed in the way of Mrs. Jackson obtaining a building permit so that she could sell her lakefront land which was now surrounded by apartment blocks on all sides.
Filling in the waters in Mimico, New Toronto, and Long Branch
The report by Judge J. Ambrose Shea refers to the practice of creating new parcels of land by filling in the waters along the waterfront.
A witness at the inquiry notes that, in Judge Shea’s words (p. 10), “for some time a problem has been created by the filling in of the waters along the lakefront, in connection with the continued apartment development and the demand for more and larger lakefront lands, resulting in conflict in municipal jurisdictions. The lakefront boundary of Mimico was the shore of the Lake as it was in January 1911 and included water lots that had been patented at that time.”
In New Toronto as in Mimico and Long Branch, you can see evidence – chunks of concrete and the like – of landfill projects of many years ago along the lakefront lands. 
Based on buildings in nearby neighbourhoods dating from the 1950s, it’s possible that decisions about land use, of the kind observed in Mimico, may also have been made elsewhere in those years such as in New Toronto. 
The Mimico inquiry gave rise to discussion in the 1960s about how evidence is dealt with in judicial inquiries as contrasted to criminal trials. 
Goodbye ol’ house
At our picnic, we talked about the house on Lavigne Street in Cartierville south of de Salaberry Street, where Dan McPhail lived after his family moved from Ahuntsic.
In the basement of the house, Dan came across writing on a wall which (by way of paraphrase) said, “Farewell ol’ house”, or maybe it said, “Goodbye ol’ house.” The exact wording we do not know.
Peter Parsons, a student at MCHS, may have written the message but that’s just an assumption. It may have been any of the three remaining occupants who wrote the message. Bob Carswell remarked that everyone, indeed, has lived in a house where in time someone would have said, “Goodbye ol’ house.”
Dan moved to the house around 1966 or ’67, “and the house was built in 1950, ’51, something like that, so it wasn’t really an ‘ol’ house’ at that time, you know.”
From my vantage point, I think of the choice of words as an expression of affection. A poignant sentence. I don’t remember things all that well. I have an episodic memory – I only remember certain things that are of significance, for whatever reason. From the time Dan first mentioned what was written at the house on Lavigne Street, I’ve remembered that ever since. It’s always stayed with me.
The house was sold after Mr. Parsons passed away leaving Mrs. Parsons and a son, Peter, and a daughter, Patricia. The family moved to an apartment on Dudemaine Street. Students at MCHS have shared recollections about Peter Parsons; his friends remember him fondly: Update regarding MCHS grad Peter Parsons.
Patricia was in my class in Morison School, as I recall. The last time I had the occasion to speak with her was when we happened to stop to talk on Lavigne Street (south of de Salaberry) one day, by which time I think she may have been studying at McGill.
As a child I knew little about Saraguay
On Sept. 2, 2021, we also talked about the history of Saraguay, concerning which Bob Carswell remarked:
It was a village, which consisted of estates, and then the village itself. And the people from the estates used to call the villagers Shack Town, because there was one street and the only farmhouse that was on the water was right down Alliance Avenue, and, so they used to call that street Shack Town, because all the wealthy people figured that a shack town, because it was full of shacks.
You know, the farmer or somebody put all sorts of little houses down there, and rented them out. And, of course, that started the Mic-Mac Restaurant up at the corner, which became the place where everybody from Shack Town used to come up the street, get their treats, and go back down.
The tennis court was put in by the rich. And they would come up in the early morning and play tennis, and then go across the street and get a drink or something from the Mic-Mac. So there’s a whole history to the whole area.
As a child I was familiar enough with Cartierville and Ville St-Laurent, but I did not spend much time in Saraguay. I now know Saraguay better than I did as a child, having heard many stories in recent years. I can, in fact, now point out Paton’s Island and Cat Island on a map that shows the Rivière des Prairies whereas previously their very existence did not register for me.
Paton’s Island is on the north side of the Back River across from the estates of Saraguay. The owner of the island was Hugh Paton; an excerpt from a description at househistree.com of Paton’s house on the island reads:
Completed by 1886, for Hugh Paton (1852-1941) and his wife, Bella Robertson (d.1925), of Elmbank, Montreal. In 1880, Paton bought the island (then called Île Bourdeau) as a summer retreat for $2,800 from Arthur Bourdeau whose family had farmed it for several generations. He set about landscaping the gardens into a park, and being a true Scot, this included laying out a golf course too. Their fantastical, eclectically-styled mansion of 50-rooms sat at the centre of the 60-acre island estate that they connected to the mainland with a bridge guarded by a gatehouse. As Master of the Montreal Hunt, meets often gathered here in the season and polo was played in the summer. Paton stood out as being very popular with the local French-Canadians here.
Bob Carswell explained that Hugh Paton used a barge to get across the river to the Saraguay side. His family would spend summers on the island. Paton would take the barge to Saraguay, get on the polo road and take his wagon to his house in Montreal where he was at work on weekdays. Bob added:
If you look at that island today, if you look it up on the internet, you’d be able to see from there how all the high-rises have taken over, and you can look across the waters, and you see L’Île-aux-Chats, Cat’s Island, as we called it.
And there used to be a fellow, the family that owned Cat’s Island, lived at the bottom of my street. And they used to – the old man, the grandfather – used to go across the street to the island, in the winter when it froze over, and he would drag back these logs. He would take the logs up to Sainte-Geneviève and run them through a sawmill.
And that’s how they built their first house there. And he did this every winter, with Nellie, the horse’s name was, and she would tromp across and tromp back [with loads]. And then, of course, it became part of the Saraguay Woods, Le Bois-de-Saraguay, which is now a protected area, turned into a nature park, because there is so much flora in there that is so unique, that they literally protected the whole area.
Parc-nature du Bois-de-Saraguay
An online description of the Saraguay Woods park reads:
Parc-nature du Bois-de-Saraguay is located on the western part of the island, in Ahuntsic-Cartierville.
Parc-nature du Bois-de-Saraguay features unique natural and cultural riches. This large park is home to a variety of flora and fauna as well as a magnificent forest of rare ancestral trees scattered among water courses and wetlands. At the heart of its 96 hectares are two heritage buildings: the Mary Dorothy Molson house and the chauffeur’s residence of the former Ogilvie estate. Take a walk on the nature trail to discover the natural and historic treasures of this special place.
Hugh Paton made his money in the railway business. 
Sylvia Oljemark recounts how Bois-de-Saraguay was saved from destruction
At a previous post, Bob Carswell, referring to a 1959 Cartierville School class photo which includes Mrs. Mary Jackson, a teacher at the school, notes: “She [Mrs. Mary Jackson] and her daughter (Mrs. Sylvia Oljemark) were responsible for decades trying to get the City of Montreal to declare Saraguay as a Nature Park due to its unique Flora.” At the time of the post, the park had not yet been officially proclaimed. 
An excerpt (I’ve adjusted the paragraph breaks) from an online account by Sylvia Oljemark, entitled “Montreal’s Green Space Story: Past and Present,” reads:
Conservation efforts begin in the Village of Saraguay
Nineteenth century Montrealers were passionate about their parks. Neighbourhood parks and public squares abounded and the city’s pride, Mount Royal Park, was created in 1876. As the city grew through the early twentieth century, many parks were built over and Montrealers lost the political will to protect green space. It was not until the Montreal Urban Community came into being in 1970 that conservation possibilities were considered. Early in its tenure, the MUC identified parklands suitable for regional parks, but lacked the legal powers to implement the plans. At about the same time, other significant circumstances began to shape future events. Real Estate developers, having the forethought that our political class did not, had begun buying up tracts of vacant land.
Over the next fifteen years or so, the Grilli Corporation acquired almost all the undeveloped land in West Island. The Quebec Ministére des Transports was also purchasing swaths of land and establishing rights of way for future roads like the 440 Autoroute – in the interim unintentionally creating green corridors for flora and fauna so cherished by environmentalists. And some urban planner envisioned a major new artery, parallel to and roughly mid-way between Gouin Boulevard and the Trans-Canada Highway. The proposed artery was called de Salaberry Boulevard – a name that was to resonate till the present day. The original trajectory of de Salaberry was east-west from Cartierville-Ahuntsic to Kirkland. It looked good on a map, but two large urban forests stood in its path – Saraguay and Bois-Franc Forests. The stage was set for events to trigger Montreal’s first significant conservation efforts in a century.
The inspiration and impetus for the green space movement and its evolution into the Green Coalition began, quite by chance, in an obscure and little known community on the “Back River” (Rivière des Prairies) located about mid-way between the eastern and western tips of Montreal Island. The tiny Village of Saraguay, just a few streets wide, is nestled today between two large Nature-Parks, the Bois-de- Liesse and Bois-de-Saraguay. How that came to be and how Saraguay and its Forest became famous for a brief moment in Montreal’s history in the late 1970s attests to the mindset and sheer doggedness of Saraguay Villagers.
By the turn of the twentieth century, the industrial barons of Montreal’s Golden Square Mile had established large country estates and farms in Saraguay and environs for use during the summer. In Saraguay, these vast estates were managed as feudal fiefdoms with tied cottages to house their retainers – farmers, grooms, chauffeurs, butlers, maids and cooks. The wealthy land owners clubbed together to incorporate the Village of Saraguay as “a separate village municipality” in 1914, to maintain its unique rural aspect and, if truth be known, to keep out the ‘riff-raff’. Commercial development was outlawed. The only enterprise in Saraguay even today is the corner- store; formerly the Mic-Mac Restaurant; it acquired its rights before the incorporation.
In the early years, the Village of Saraguay was run like a private country club. But by the late 1940s, the old feudal order was crumbling. Service-men returning from World War II were not returning to their posts as faithful retainers on Saraguay estates; they were opting for taking up jobs in the city and for building modest homes on a tract of Saraguay farmland previously owned by Marcel Martin. Newcomers, like my parents, Tom and Mary Jackson, both school teachers, were also settling in the village center – called Shack Town by the wealthy land owners. Villagers were demanding a say in how Saraguay was run. In 1951, “commoners” were invited to join slates running for Council posts in the first election that followed due process. The Tom Jackson, Adrien Lecavalier, Hartland Campbell (Tommy) MacDougall slate, running on the platform “Keep Saraguay Beautiful”, carried the day.
Major developments threaten Saraguay
Whether they were conscious of the fact or not, old stock families, now independent of their wealthy overseers and the newcomers in the Village had developed a special pride-of-place, a distillation of the best intents of the 1914 incorporation and a determination to build an attractive, quiet, riverside community. In 1964, however, the Village of Saraguay, population 427, succumbed to the blandishments of Mayor Jean Drapeau who promised that Saraguay would maintain its “caractère champêtre et villageois” and the villagers voted in favour of a merger with the City of Montreal. In return, the village received water, sewage services; fire and police protection; before this time villagers had fought chimney fires by bucket brigade, losing several homes in the process! In 1967, with By-law 3470, Saraguay was zoned unifamilial résidentiel, entrenching the merger promise, and the charter of the Village of Saraguay was revoked. Saraguay’s wealthy estate owners had quietly begun to sell off their land holdings to developers. The old feudal era was at an end.
Local humourist Tom Jackson used to say, “Saraguay didn’t join Montreal, Montreal joined us”. He was more prophetic than he could have known. Just ten years later, to the consternation of Saraguay residents, the City of Montreal proposed a zoning change, that was already in second reading in July 1977 when the villagers heard of it. The entire Saraguay Forest was to be razed for the construction of housing, fourteen apartment blocks, two shopping centres, Twin Towers on Gouin Boulevard and the Port-Plaisance Marina Complex on the waterfront. Eighty-five hectares, at least half of Saraguay Ward was to be developed and a major road, the de Salaberry Boulevard, was to cut through both the village and the forest. So incensed were some residents that they wanted to ‘divorce’ Montreal and join Ville Saint Laurent. But, Mary Jackson mounted a hard-hitting media and citizens’ letter-writing campaign. The Mayor was presented with a petition signed by more than 95% of proprietors that I had circulated on my bicycle. On the eve of the third and final reading, Mayor Drapeau telephoned Mary Jackson with the news that the zoning change was to be withdrawn and that the Saraguay Forest was safe. He called again two weeks later with reassurances that the waterfront projects had been cancelled and de Salaberry shelved.
Bois-de-Saraguay piques interest of Québec government
It was to take several more years of intense work on the part of many groups and individuals before Saraguay Forest was truly safe. For example, the Société d’Horticulture et d’Ecologie du Nord de Montréal worked tirelessly for the conservation of Saraguay Forest as a “Parc Naturel Urbain”. The plight of the forest attracted the attention of the scientific community and numerous treatises were published on its exceptional ecological value. “La végétation et la flore du boisé de Saraguay” (Bouchard et Lacombe 1978) provides the definitive list of types of vegetation – 35 species of trees, 45 types of shrubs and 275 species of herbaceous plants; in addition, a dozen other vegetal species considered to be rare. Three amateur ornithological societies (Ducharme 1979) listed the birds of Saraguay – 129 species. For a time, because of these attentions, l’érablière à Caryer du Bois-de-Saraguay became Montreal buzz-words! The Bois-de-Saraguay came to be regarded as the bijou of Montreal’s green spaces – a pristine forest on the northern shoreline.
The Bois-de-Saraguay case is known in green space and bureaucratic circles as the “déclencheur” or trigger that set Montreal conservation in motion. According to André Bouchard at the Jardin botanique de Montréal, “The campaign to conserve Bois-de-Saraguay was the catalyst for the creation of the MUC regional parks network”. The furor over Bois-de-Saraguay piqued the interest of Quebec and in 1979, the Provincial Government granted MUC the mandate to acquire, manage regional parks, along with the legal mechanisms to do so. Quebec injected $10.5 million to start the acquisition program and an additional $2 million towards the Saraguay Forest purchase in 1981. During the first phase, between 1979 and 1982, Pointe-aux-Prairies, Ile-de-la-Visitation, Bois-de-Saraguay, Cap-Saint-Jacques, Bois-de- Liesse and L’Anse-à-l’Orme were acquired as Nature-parks. Subsequently the rhythm of acquisition slowed, although the establishment of park facilities continued.
One of the powers conferred by Quebec in 1979 was the capacity to impose Interim Control Bylaws to freeze commercial development on desirable parklands until funds could be found for their acquisition. The MUC placed controls on fifteen forested sites in 1982. However, within a few years the protection was lifted from three sites and they were lost to development. In Saraguay Village, folks were delighted that the natural sites that surrounded them were now protected in the Saraguay and Bois-de- Liesse Nature-Parks. They were cheered that the Quebec Government decreed the forested areas of Bois-de-Saraguay to be an Arrondissement naturel under the aegis of the Cultural Affairs Ministry in 1981, stipulating that no trees may [be] felled. No other Nature-Park has this special layer of protection.
Details regarding efforts (1977 to 2011) to save Bois-de-Saraguay
Details regarding the successful efforts to save the Bois-de-Saraguay can be found at this link:
An excerpt from the above-noted document reads:
1977: On a hot day in July 1977, my children came running home – shouting, “They are going to cut down Saraguay Forest.” Plans are in second reading. The forest is targeted for housing, 14 apartment blocks, 2 shopping centres, Twin Towers on Gouin, Port-Plaisance Marina on the waterfront: a major road – de Salaberry – is to cut through Village and Forest. Our family and neighbours form Saraguay Citizens Group; mount a media and letter-writing campaign; invoke Mayor Jean Drapeau’s merger promise that Saraguay would retain its “caractère champêtre et villageois.” More than 95% of proprietors sign a petition. The project is dropped: de Salaberry shelved.
1977-1979: Bois-de-Saraguay is the bijou of Montreal’s natural spaces – the scientific community extols its ecological quality: the Société d’Horticulture et d’Ecologie du Nord de Montréal campaigns for a “Parc Naturel Urbain.”
1979: “Déclencheur”: “The campaign to save Bois-de-Saraguay was the catalyst or déclencheur for the conservation of Montreal’s natural spaces and the creation of the regional parks network.” stated the late André Bouchard, professeur titulaire au Département de sciences biologiques de l’Université de Montréal et à l’Institut de recherche en biologie végétale. The furor over Bois-de-Saraguay persuades the Quebec government to grant the Montreal Urban Community the legal means and mandate to acquire, protect and manage regional parks (now called Nature-Parks). Quebec injects $10.5 million to kick-start the conservation measures.
Green Coalition webpage
House at Derry and Trafalgar near Milton
At our Sept. 2, 2021 picnic, we spoke as well of an abandoned house near Milton west of Toronto, at the corner of Derry and Trafalgar Roads, that you can see from when driving south from Milton toward Oakville. I’ve devoted a previous post, which many people have read and some have commented upon, regarding the house, which appears to have been built in 1905. 
Whether the house warrants designation for its historic value, I have no idea. Whether people in the Milton area have been working together, now or in the past, seeking to preserve the building and repurpose it to some new use, I have no idea. What I know is that many people have been thinking about the building, as they drive by on their journeys to and fro over the years.
Dan McPhail commented:
Dan: It’s a nice house. When we first moved there [to Milton], there was people – when we first moved to Milton, there was a family in there.
Jaan: What year was that?
Dan: That would have been somewhere around – from 2004 to maybe 2007.
Jaan: That’s amazing.
Dan: And, if I can recall, they put in a swimming pool – like one of the above-ground swimming pools.
Jaan: Oh, yeah, that’s neat.
Dan: So, it wasn’t dormant that long and then, it just – and it was up for sale a couple of times.
Jaan: That’s really interesting. I looked around. There’s a few others off the main road, you know, that, again, are abandoned. But they’re beautiful houses, and you think of all the history.
What does the future hold for these abandoned houses?
Who knows what the future holds for the house at Derry and Trafalgar and other abandoned houses in the area. We can enjoy the houses just as they are; it’s of interest to contemplate their past and to experience their presence in the present moment.
It’s of interest to ponder the views looking east (toward the busy traffic on nearby Trafalgar Road) and west from the porch (toward farmers’ fields) of the house at Derry and Trafalgar. I can picture in my mind the backyard above-ground swimming pool (as described by Dan McPhail) of some years ago. I can picture the children at play outside the house. As Bob Carswell has said, a person can imagine that in a sense in every house the words are written: “Goodbye ol’ house.”
I also look forward to taking a road trip from Milton as Dan McPhail has suggested:
Dan: Jaan, if you have the chance, okay, go, drive along Britannia from Milton; go east along Britannia to 8th Line. Then make a right, and from Britannia Road down to Middle Road or something, it’s like driving – you can’t believe you’re in an urban area. It’s a road that’s been lost in time, almost, and it’s like driving in the country, and all the farms on the left, the farms on the right, and barns; it’s like a time out of history, you know.
Jaan: I’ll do that, for sure.
Dan: Because, what makes it so amazing its that it’s so close to industry, and building – you know, like subdivisions and things like that; it’s all by itself.
Preservation of Bois-de-Saraguay demonstrates the power of human agency
Human agency expresses itself in all kinds of ways. Sometimes, we just spin our wheels. At other times, we get some good traction and great things can be accomplished.
I’ve found it of much interest to learn about how the Saraguay Woods (Bois-de-Saraguay) came to be preserved. I come across the article by Sylvia Oljemark because Bob Carswell mentioned the Mic-Mac Restaurant, which prompted me to search online for “mic-mac restaurant saraguay.”
The story of Saraguay Woods underlines what I have learned, as an observer and occasional participant, in land use hearings in Ontario. I’ve learned that concerned citizens can have a powerful impact, of benefit to an entire community, when they work together effectively to make their voices heard.
In 2011, I was involved in a letter-writing campaign, assisted by strategic advice from several sources, which led to the saving of a Toronto school, named Parkview School at the time, as I’ve explained at previous posts.
I was involved, as well, in a letter-writing campaign that led to the designation, under the Ontario Heritage Act, of a historic house at 58 Wheatfield Road in Mimico, thereby ensuring its preservation, as I’ve also explained at previous posts.
I mention these two cases because I was directly involved and am aware of how important human agency was in these cases. There are many such cases; I’ve spoken about some of them at this website.
When I read recently about the preservation of the Saraguay Woods, I stopped to think about how much can be accomplished by people working together effectively, and I thought about how inspiring such stories are. I owe thanks to Bob Carswell for telling us about the Mic-Mac Restaurant.