Waterloo Region — Chris Gosselin is thrilled by Waterloo Region’s landscape.
Since he arrived as a graduate student in 1983, he’s come to know the area intimately. He names off some favourite spots he says are still relatively intact from before colonization: the Roseville Swamp, the Hilborn Knoll Regional Forest and the St. Agatha Forest, to name a few.
His excitement for the land is catching.
He describes the remnants of grassland prairie still remaining, and how this region sits in the meeting place of two forest zones: the Carolinian zone that stretches south across the United States to the Carolinas, and the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes zone that grows northeast through Ontario to Quebec and west to Manitoba.
“And then,” he interrupts himself. “We’ve got bogs. And you walk into them, and you feel you’re way up north somewhere!
“We have some wonderful natural heritage here,” he says. “Wonderful.”
Anyone who shares his excitement for nature, or appreciates the idea of preserved green space in the region, largely has Gosselin — the former manager of environmental planning and stewardship at the Region of Waterloo — to thank for it.
Last month, he won the Ontario Land Trust Alliance 2020 Vision Award for his work establishing the rare Charitable Research Reserve as a multi-property land trust in the region. A land trust is a non-profit organization that acquires land or establishes permanent protections for land in order to conserve it.
The charitable research reserve began as a single protected property of approximately 900 acres along the Grand and Speed rivers, but Gosselin was instrumental in pushing the organization to protect multiple pieces of environmentally significant land in Waterloo Region, Wellington County and the city of Guelph. Together, the locations are known as raresites.
Gosselin says he first heard about the idea of land trusts in 1990 at a conference in his early days at the region.
Before raresites was established, the middle of southwestern Ontario had a blank space with no major land trust protection. He started the discussion about the concept at regional headquarters in 2014 with a community workshop, and kept the momentum going with monthly followup discussions for two years.
Since those first discussions, raresites has identified 300 properties within 17 ecologically significant areas in Waterloo Region and Wellington County as candidates for land conservation. The first additional property was protected in 2019. It includes 87 acres of forests, creeks, wetlands, grassland, cliffs and flood plain in Rockwood.
Besides the land trust, Waterloo Region has a formalized net of environmental planning and protection known as the Greenlands Network. This is an umbrella of environmental protection policies for land, streams, groundwater, habitat, linking corridors, forests and wetlands.
Current regional planner Albert Hovingh says Gosselin played a major role in creating these environmental protections, among other initiatives.
Gosselin attributes much of the success of the region’s green space protection to actively fostering co-operation. “It’s individual citizens who are interested, it’s very conservation-minded land owners, it’s municipal staff who have a sense of vision and commitment to the environment.
“And ultimately at the end of the day, it’s really important to have people sitting on municipal councils who share a lot of those values and who want to make that happen. And I think in the Region of Waterloo over the last 40-odd years, we’ve had a confluence of all of those things coming together.”
A strong network, he says, “is so much more powerful than one lone visionary out there crying in the wilderness of the local natural areas. Nobody else really hears that voice or wants to act upon it.”
Gosselin spoke about the need to foster a holistic ethic of stewardship that permeates the entire region — where “we all feel that whether we live in the city, or in one of the new highrises, or we have a farm or a rural residential property, all of us take personal responsibility for our environment.
“It’s a very holistic thing, creating this ethic of stewardship that we all have, and how we care for our areas and treat them as the irreplaceable and precious assets that they are.”
Leah Gerber’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows her to report on stories about the Grand River Watershed. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Leah Gerber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record