Toronto

Metrolinx delays plans to chop down trees at Osgoode Hall amid opposition

Metrolinx says it has delayed its plans to chop down trees in downtown Toronto next week because it has developed an "alternative method" to carry out work on a new transit project.

Trees 'probably some of the oldest' downtown, spokesperson for Indigenous group says

Metrolinx had said it wanted to cut down five trees on the grounds of Osgoode Hall, an historic public building, starting Dec. 5 to enable it to conduct an archeological assessment of the property. The agency is starting work on a new Ontario Line subway station at the site. It now says those plans are delayed. (CBC)

Metrolinx says it is delaying plans to chop down trees in downtown Toronto next week because it has developed an "alternative method" to carry out work on a new transit project.

The provincial regional transit agency had said it wanted to cut down five trees on the grounds of Osgoode Hall, an historic public building, starting Dec. 5 to enable it to conduct an archeological assessment of the property, located at University Avenue and Queen Street West. The agency is starting work on a new Ontario Line subway station at the site. 

Its initial plan, which involved digging a "test pit" in the Osgoode Hall garden, was met with fierce opposition. The trees have historical significance to Toronto, critics said.

"Metrolinx has determined an alternative method to continue progress toward construction and begin the archaeological work at the site for the future Osgoode Station before removing any trees," Anne Marie Aikins, spokesperson for the agency, said in an email on Tuesday.

The Law Society of Ontario, which operates out of Osgoode Hall, expressed relief at the news.

"Thanks to the efforts of community members, stakeholders and partners who have raised concern over the removal of five trees from the historic grounds of Osgoode Hall, Metrolinx has now agreed that this removal is not necessary to facilitate an archaeological assessment for the Ontario Line station Metrolinx proposes for the site," Wynna Brown, spokesperson for the law society, said in an email on Tuesday.

"While the future of this important greenspace that has been carefully preserved for generations in the heart of Toronto's downtown core remains uncertain, this temporary reprieve is welcome news."

Brown said the law society, which considers itself the steward of the site, is waiting for the results of an independent review overseen by the city.

The city has said it has retained consultants to do a review of alternate locations to determine if there are possible locations for the station entrance. It expects to have the report back by the end of the year and to share it with Metrolinx.

"We will continue discussions to pursue all reasonable options to lessen or eliminate the impacts of Ontario Line development on Osgoode Hall and its grounds, while balancing the complex needs of Toronto and the region," Brown said.

According to the law society, Metrolinx had planned to cut down five trees in the lawn's southwest area. And if they come down, at least 20 others would have to come down as well, Brown said. The trees, part of a grove that includes maple, elm, horse chestnut, ash, linden, crab apple, oak and pine, are near a black wrought iron fence built in 1867.

The change in plans comes after the Haudenosaunee Chiefs Confederacy Council and the Haudenosaunee Development Institute said in a Nov. 24 news release that they would be "physically present to stop the removal" of the trees.

A drone view of the trees on the grounds of Osgoode Hall. (CBC)

Metrolinx met with representatives of Indigenous groups in Toronto on Tuesday to discuss its plans.

Bryan Hendry, a spokesperson for the Haudenosaunee Development Institute, said the groups have been meeting with Metrolinx weekly since September.

"There just has to be other alternatives to cutting down 200-plus-year-old trees that generations have enjoyed. Let's face it, these trees are probably some of the oldest trees within downtown Toronto," he said.

"Because Metrolinx is a Crown corporation, it's ultimately owned by the province of Ontario and by the citizens of Ontario; they have a duty to consult and a duty to receive consent from the Haudenosaunee and all First Nations to inform them when there is any kind of construction or tree removal."

The Ontario Line is a new 15.6-kilometre rapid transit route slated to cut through downtown from the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place.

Osgoode Hall, its fence and grounds are designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. The law society has said the area is an "important greenspace in the core of downtown Toronto." It is the oldest continuously used institutional property in Toronto, it said. 

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