Open Letter to Councillor Mitchell

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 21, 2007

(this article has been updated)

To: Dave Mitchell, Councillor for Ward 11
Subject: Re: Hydro Corridors as Walking/Cycling Trails

Dear Councillor Dave Mitchell,

I'm trying to understand your reasoning in opposing the use of rural Hydro corridors for multi-use paths, and I just can't come up with anything.

Your argument - a bizarre analogy that tries to compare walking and cycling down a trail with "ripping the hell out of" someone's lawn on a skidoo or ATV - just doesn't make any sense. I quite simply have no idea what your point may be.

Are you aware of the fundamental differences between human-powered and motor-powered transportation?

Machines are noisy, heavy, smelly, polluting, and damaging - particularly recreational machines that do not employ the emission- and noise-reducing devices that are standard on cars.

By contrast, walking and cycling are quiet, light, non-polluting, and non-damaging (bicycles taken off paths and ridden recklessly can, however, damage plants and cause erosion). Being human-powered, they are inherently less energy consuming, less polluting, and healthier than motorized vehicles.

It is for this reason that the city wants to encourage their use [PDF link] - not merely for the narcissistic joy of "ripping the hell out of" someone's property.

In a world where climate change and fossil fuel depletion are shaping up to become the biggest crises of the century, I implore you to reconsider your knee-jerk rejection of the city's modest, pragmatic efforts to reduce motorized transport and increase non-polluting human-powered transport.


Ryan McGreal
Editor, Raise the Hammer

UPDATE: Councillor Mitchell responds:

Hi Ryan,

Sorry for the poor analogy. It's quite simple actually. The farmers own this land on both sides of the corridor, cultivate the land through the corridor, and have the right to farm it.

Urban people do not respect the rights of farmers now with their perceived right to go anywhere in the green belt as if it is the peoples, when it is not; it is owned by local property owners that for generations have farmed it.

They are losing more and more rights every year. We have fewer farmers every year. To allow people to walk or ride bikes over good farm land because they like trails will only destroy twice the farmland on each side of the corridor and with all the lawsuits that the people bring for liability on that farm land farmers might as well quit altogether.

My point was if a farmer drove his or her snowmobile on an urbanite's front lawn and ripped it all up, the police would be there to lay charges in minutes.

When the urbanite drives his or her bike, ATV, skidoo or just plain tramps across the crops in farmers fields, there is no police response. Half of the time the rural area does not even have officers in the country as they are called into the city for priority one call-outs. No response or very slow response compared to an average 4-6 minutes in the city, yet we pay taxes for the same service level.

Then you say what's wrong with letting people walk across food production land or ride bikes on it. I can go on forever, I'm sorry if you don't get it.

Farmers have some rights too. However, they are rapidly starting to wonder what they are. If this reply doesn't help, the agriculture Community is trying to put on rural agricultural classes to help educate urbanites on what our lives our like and challenges they are faced with.

In saying all this there may be some corridors that will work inside urban boundaries but do not send out maps to urban people to mislead them that these trails will ever exist in good viable farmland because that is a formula to destroy our agriculture area.


Councillor David L. Mitchell
Serving Glanbrook, Winona and Upper Rural Stoney Creek

Dear Councillor Mitchell,

Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful response. It's unfortunate that you seem to be trying to reinforce an urban/rural dichotomy, when some of the biggest supporters of Hamilton's farming community can be found downtown.

Against the threat of sprawl development (single-use subdivisions, strip plazas and box stores, and low-density industrial parks offering low-paying jobs in logistics and warehousing), the 'threat' of having people hike and ride their bikes on dedicated trails through Hamilton's pastoral farmlands seems negligible by comparison.

In fact, the more people discover how beautiful and vital Hamilton's rural environment is, the more likely they'll be willing to help preserve it against the threats undermining the rural way of life that you rightly speak of.

Can I ask a question for clarification? Who actually owns the Hydro corridors? Is it Hydro, the City, or the adjacent property owners?

If it is the farmers themselves, then I can see a viable case for restoring the land to them to use as they see fit. However, if Hydro or the city owns the land, then the situation is not nearly as clear-cut as you make it out to be.

Also, to clarify, the city's plan for the trails is to be used for pedestrians and cyclists - that would be all citizens who want to walk or ride them, not just urban residents.

Have you asked people in your community what they think of having multi-use off-road trails they can access? Certainly no one living adjacent to the Rail Trail or Radial Trail seems to mind it.


Ryan McGreal
Editor, Raise the Hammer

Again, Councillor Mitchell's Reply:

They are all different. Hydro one owns most of the land in rural Hamilton. Some farmers have hundred year leases. Some farmers and longstanding families own the land and easements are granted over it. In most cases, Hydro corridors create separate properties and separate tax bills.

I am passionate about individual property rights and how we seem to have a double standard and we are losing more rights every day.

I love to go down and rollerblade the 16 km Beach Strip paved trail. Trails do have to be built and constructed properly or over and over again human use will pound the ground to dust and every rain the dust and powdered soil washes away and v ditches form and soil degradation occurs very rapidly.

I personally do not think that true environmentalists - or maybe I should call them naturalists, especially if thousands and thousands of them walk over the same trail - realise what damage they are doing.

Trails cost money. Let's just keep them off of our agricultural land so our taxes do not go even higher for trails that should be left growing crops.

Mind you our government does not care about our farmers, nor does most of their grocery store habits support local food production. It is quite possible that beautiful rural trails could be a way of subsidising farm incomes and pay for the lost crop production at a dollar value that at least a decent profit per area could be made.


Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted February 21, 2007 at 15:28:19

I don't like this us - 'urbanites' - versus them - 'farmers' - approach to this issue (or any issue). It never helps to generalize the nuances of the different stakeholders in a debate. We are all 'people'

Unfortunately Councilor Mitchell's response - while it is welcome - does not help me understand his argument. It seems as if he is trying to keep 'urbanites' (whoever they might be) and farmers as far apart as possible. As if it is impossible for someone who has never set foot on a farm to appreciate the farmers wishes...

In the UK hikers have a right of way over farmers fields. There is a general understanding (and no bylaw to the best of my knowledge - people are allowed to use their common sense - imagine that!) that hikers must stay to the edge of the field when walking across, and not disturb the crops. I don't know how much the farmers like it but I've never heard of any problems (except for Madonna complaining about gawkers on her country estate) and from a non-farmers perspective I can tell you that being welcomed into the countryside, and allowed on the farmers property, is a great way to gain a better appreciation of the farmers way of life. Perhaps Mr Mitchell would like us all to stay in our own little worlds lest we upset each other? Or perhaps the farmers he is protecting have a Madonna complex and don't want us gawking at them as we walk by?

It truly is a mystery


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By A Robot (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2007 at 22:37:22

I tried contacting Councilor Mitchell to offer my front lawn for his ski-doo in exchange for a few trails for my bike, but my email bounced.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted February 21, 2007 at 23:31:52

The western concept of land ownership can also be summed up with analogy:

A warrior destroys a village and kills all the men. He then takes whatever woman he chooses to be his wife.

So the white man has done with land.

There is no respect in either relationship.

Private land ownership is not morally defensible when arguments are made such as councillor Mitchell's (BTW no relation!!).

Not only that, the really big, huge actually, "missing the point" is that the odd hiker or cyclist is no threat at all to agricultural land compared with market forces which would build more suburbs and highways.

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By Connie (registered) | Posted March 17, 2007 at 03:53:11

I agree with the points made her about hiking trails improving people's appreciation for farmland and farming activities. They could be the farmers' best allies in fending off attempts to develop on greenfields!

Also, Mr Mitchell seems to catastrophize unnecessarily as he also says that MOST hydro lines mark separation of properties, so trails would be appropriately along the edges of fields.

I find it galling that the opinion of one councillor can sabotage this initiative without further consideration.

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By Connie (registered) | Posted March 17, 2007 at 04:06:18

I agree with the points made her about hiking trails improving people's appreciation for farmland and farming activities. They could be the farmers' best allies in fending off attempts to develop on greenfields!

Also, Mr Mitchell seems to catastrophize unnecessarily as he also says that MOST hydro lines mark separation of properties, so trails would be appropriately along the edges of fields.

I find it galling that the opinion of one councillor can sabotage this initiative without further consideration.

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By Kristion (anonymous) | Posted May 25, 2007 at 21:39:56

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