CP Rail brought in heavy equipment Thursday afternoon and began tearing down structures and removing the community gardens that local residents have nurtured for years along the disused Arbutus corridor railway in Vancouver.

Gerry Oldman

Vancouver resident Gerry Oldman watches years of work disappear as his community garden is destroyed. (CBC)

On Wednesday, "no trespass" signs went up and crews moved in with weed whackers to cut back vegetation, but the community gardens remained untouched. By Thursday, however, the clearing of the rail line was underway in earnest.

Local resident Gerry Oldman stood helplessly by while the community garden he spent years building was destroyed.

"My son and my wife and I spent hours in that garden, you know, building the soil every year and planting," he said looking at the remains. "You know, not wanting to hurt anybody, not wanting to be in anybody's way, just quietly going about our ​business and planting food that we love. And now it's gone."

The community gardeners had lots of warning this could be coming. In May, they were asked to remove everything that encroached on CP land by the end of July, including all plants and gardening sheds. That deadline came and went with the gardeners refusing to remove anything.

In a statement, CP Rail said it is following through on what it had said it would do — remove vegetation and obstructions along the track to get it and the surrounding infrastructure up to federal operating standards for a rail right-of-way​.

Today's residents are caught in the middle of a decades-old dispute between CP Rail and the city ever since the city refused to allow the railway to develop the land and insisted it remain a greenway.  

The dispute went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which in 2006 ruled the city had final say over whether to allow development of the corridor, but the railway still maintained the right to use it for train traffic.

Arbutus community garden destoryed

A community garden encroaching on CP Rail's right-of-way is removed. (CBC)

​The city says it doesn't want freight trains running down the line, and has offered CP what it calls fair market value for the land. 

CP says the offer isn't what it considers fair. It says the railway shouldn't be faulted for behaving like one.

Trains haven't run along the line in more than a decade and some gardeners have spent 20 years or more trying to create an urban green space there — an oasis of flowers and trees.

CP Rail Gardens

CP Rail workers trim vegetation along the Arbutus rail corridor under newly erected 'No Trespass' signs. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

In early May, CP Rail suddenly announced it would clear the tracks for train traffic, a move the city considered more of a negotiating bluff than a serious proposal.

However, the railway continues to follow through on that announcement .

Talks between the city and CP have been ongoing for years. Many residents are frustrated the city and CP haven't been able to reach an agreement. Some say things should never have gone this far.

Arbutus corridor flowers

Flowers line the tracks encroaching on the CP right of way. The railway has begun to clear away vegetation from the tracks. (CBC)

On mobile? Click here for an interactive map of the whole Arbutus corridor line

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With files from the CBC's Tim Weekes