Melancthon Mega-quarry shutdown becomes a how-to lesson in grassroots campaigning

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew

What was to be the largest quarry in Canada is now a lesson in humility after an unlikely collection of farmers, celebrity chefs, rock stars and NIMBYs across the province petitioned, protested and ultimately blocked the establishment of a massive limestone mine in southern Ontario.

News that The Highland Companies had withdrawn its application to build a mega-quarry in Melancthon township, some 100 kilometres northwest of Toronto, was met with surprise and celebration by those who had opposed its development in southern Ontario's Green Belt for the past two years.

The whole affair can be seen as a win for the "lawn-sign protesters" who opposed the quarry without resorting to angry foot stomping and vitriolic threats.

Signs opposing the quarry were posted along streets as far away as Toronto and local farmers garnered support from across the region by holding large festivals, luring people to see the area first hand.

[ Related: 'Mega-quarry' in southern Ontario won't be built ]

The Globe and Mail reported that the grand appeal began with Michael Stadtländer, a renowned chef with a farm in the area, who urged Canada's culinary community to help protect the food sources that could have been threatened by the quarry.

A 2011 music festival known as Foodstock lured some 30,000 people to the area to experience firsthand the region facing the perceived threat. That made way for the even larger Soupstock festival earlier this year, featuring artists such as Jim Cuddy and Sarah Harmer.

Stadtländer said, via the Globe:

We mobilized a lot of people. We had people come to the country and experience the land. This farmland grows food for the city. … For me it was a nice strategy.

That may be the biggest take away from the Melancthon quarry debate — those who opposed the quarry won by making it a personal issue to a larger audience. Where other protests and rallies cry out against general environmental threats, perhaps failing to connect with those not already indoctrinated in the cause, those who opposed the mega-quarry reached those who had not considered how they would be affected.

Foodies, visitors to farmers markets, and restaurant-goers across the province joined a cause to which they may never have otherwise felt connected. The "Not in My Backyard" crowd was made to see Melancthon township farmland as an extension of their backyard.

Sylvia Jones, provincial representative for the region, congratulated residents for running a strong and coherent grassroots campaign against the quarry.

"There is a lesson to be learned here: local residents, community groups and municipal councils, can make a difference," she said in a statement. "Concerned residents, artists, musicians, chefs put together hugely successful events like Food Stock, and Soup Stock to raise awareness to their concerns.

"Their cause really became a movement across Ontario and today we can praise their determination and hard work."

[ Y! Awards: Rob Ford didn't win the year's biggest blunder? ]

The economic repercussions of the decision won't be known for some time, but some in the southern Ontario construction industry expect it will have a negative impact on the price of building infrastructure such as roads and homes in the region.

Moreen Miller, CEO of the Ontario Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, told the Toronto Star:

The project would have created hundreds of jobs and helped meet the overwhelming need for natural resources for infrastructure development. There's been lots of discussion in the GTA about our aging infrastructure and this material is needed in order to make our cities safe and sustainable.

In a statement, The Highland Companies said it believed the quarry would have helped supply Ontario with much-needed construction material, but due to the lack of support it would return its focus to growing potatoes and other crops.

So for now the land will continue feeding the urban foodies that helped save it, but one must wonder what happens when a lack of building material becomes a bigger issue for the province.

Perhaps southern Ontario can expect a Limestonestock in the coming years.