An Unforgettable Voice for the Environment

An Unforgettable Voice for the Environment
By Don McLean, Friends of Red Hill Valley - Lake Ontario Basin

Rally for the Valley, August 4, 2003. Mass public opposition to the plans to cut valley trees. Photo by Cees van Gemerden.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” - George Santayana

Friends of Red Hill Valley (Friends), a community group in Hamilton, Ontario, has struggled for 14 years to enhance the Red Hill Valley and protect this environmentally significant area from a proposed expressway. Although the road is now under construction, the memory of this epic battle, including the lessons learned and a description of the incredible variety of tools utilized, has been preserved through the support of GLAHNF.

Although Hamilton is Canada’s eighth largest city, its media is extremely limited. Because the expressway was controversial, and the single largest government project in the history of the city, it attracted media attention. While representatives of Friends were often interviewed by local reporters,we felt our views usually weren’t clearly presented. As a consequence, much of the educational work of Friends was carried out with flyers that were hand-delivered by volunteers to people’s homes. In some years, we reached over 80,000 homes in this manner with detailed information about the costs and the consequences of an expressway through the Red Hill Valley.

Opening night of "Down in the Valley"
at the You Me Gallery, February 2004.
Photo by Cees van Gemerden

In 2002, Friends was approached by Fred Napoli, one of the most widely heard narrators in environmental films and television broadcasts, including the Global Family. Fred lives in the Hamilton area and was appalled at the ecological ignorance behind the Red Hill Creek Expressway. He offered to assist Friends in its educational work. More specifically, he offered to write and narrate radio advertisements. Fred had the technical know-how, but much more importantly, he has an absolutely unforgettable voice. Listeners may not know who he is or where they’ve heard him before, but when he talks, they listen. And since he has spent much of his broadcasting career talking about the environment, his voice carries considerable authority in that field. This volunteered expertise helped us reach additional members of the community.

“Red Hill is No Place for a Road.”

Altogether Fred prepared seven ads. All had the same message – Red Hill Valley is no place for a road. Most of the ads could have been applied to any threatened ecosystem. They spoke to the public’s underlying conviction that we are messing up the planet. The message was simple, yet profound, and it couldn’t easily be countered.

The ads ran on the news radio station, and a station devoted to oldies. Their cost was $25-50 Canadian each, although that package included some time slots that were less than ideal. And even at that price, it doesn’t take long to run up a substantial bill. Friends also put the voice tracks on our website, and offered them for the websites of other environmental organizations. You can listen to them at http://www.hwcn.org/link/forhv/listen/listen.htm. Watch what happens to the accompanying photograph.

Sharing Lessons Through Archives

In addition, with funding from the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund, Friends constructed a massive archive of over 1,000 documents, nearly three hours of video footage, several hundred photographs, and a musical and spoken word CD that preserves the history of the organization and its efforts. They have also begun accumulating personal reminiscences about the Red Hill Valley itself and the battle to save it. All of these may be helpful learning tools for groups beginning similar battles.

The major outcome of this project has been a package of two CDs and two videos that record a people’s history of the valley and the citizen struggles to save it. The CDs contain more than 225 email updates issued by Friends over the last eight years, and nearly 400 other documents dating back to 1991. The latter includes flyers, posters, media releases, submissions to government officials, and other documents. There are also over 425 photographs and even audio reproductions of radio ads.

“We want to ensure that the valley, as it should be, is never forgotten,” says Friends chair Don McLean. “And we don’t want the history to be written exclusively by the City government that has destroyed our largest park.” This issue has dominated Hamilton politics for decades, and is a topic frequently assigned to students from elementary classes right up to university courses. It has already generated several theses and other academic papers that have been incorporated in the archive.

While the road construction is proceeding, the expressway issue continues to play a prominent role in Hamilton politics and government. The expressway battle has tested – and found wanting – a long string of environmental regulatory processes including both Ontario and Canadian environmental assessment, several provincial statutes, and government promises.The material preserved by the archives project ensures that these failings are documented so that lessons can be learned and the processes improved.

The success of the Friends’ battle is in their tenacity and ingenuity in using creative ways to bring their message to the public. Undoubtedly citizens in the area have benefited from hearing more than one view of this highway issue.

To obtain a copy of the History of the Red Hill Valley Struggle, please email or call Don McLean at redhill@hwcn.org/905-381-0240.

By Don McLean
Friends of Red Hill Valley
PO Box 61536, Hamilton, ONT L8T 5A1
905-381-0240 • redhill@hwcn.org

Freshwater Future