Trafalgar Moraine

The Trafalgar Moraine is a landform a few kilometres wide and about 25 kilometres long that extends southwest to northeast across the northern part of the Town of Oakville in Halton Region. Although it sounds similar, it does not perform one of the most critical ecological functions - groundwater recharge - as the Oak Ridges Moraine. The Trafalgar Moraine is largely composed of silty, clay-rich sediment, and underlain by shale bedrock, both of which impede the infiltration of water. A few areas, however, act as ponds for surface water, allowing some groundwater recharge, despite the nearly impermeable soils. These features are the only distinguishing features of this topographically very subtle geological feature.

Until recently, the Trafalgar Moraine was not widely known outside the geological community, and it was not considered to be in need of any special designation or protection. The valley of Sixteen Mile Creek, which crosses the moraine, is protected under the Region of Peel's Official Plan, as are some woodlots, but the moraine itself is not. Moraines are quite a common feature in southern Ontario, and until quite recently this one aroused no particular interest.

The Trafalgar Moraine entered the public eye in 1998 after the Town of Oakville proposed Official Plan Amendment (OPA 198) to designate land north of Dundas Street for future urbanization - about one-quarter of which was on the Trafalgar Moraine. A background report prepared as part of the plan amendment process, titled North Oakville Natural Heritage Inventory and Analysis, mentioned the moraine. A local group called Oakvillegreen Conservation Association Inc. picked up on this and began lobbying the town and province to protect the moraine from urban development on the grounds of its environmental sensitivity. Other environmental groups soon joined this effort.

As a result of pressure from these groups, Mike Colle, Liberal MPP for Eglinton-Lawrence and opposition critic for the Greater Toronto Area, introduced the Trafalgar Moraine Protection Act in the provincial legislature. The act called for a moratorium on development on the moraine until a plan to identify and protect its sensitive features was in place - much like the Act that had been passed to protect the high-profile Oak Ridges Moraine. In the meantime, land developers submitted plans for the area and publicly supported the OPA, while Oakvillegreen launched an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board opposing it.

The Trafalgar Moraine Protection Act was defeated after second reading in the legislature in June 2003. Soon afterwards, the stakeholders reached a compromise with government officials and the land development interests, allowing the OPA to be passed on condition that a good portion of the land involved would be protected as public parkland. The Regional Municipality of Halton also considered designating a particularly good example - yet to be determined - of the moraine's topography as an Environmentally Sensitive Area.

The case of the Trafalgar Moraine reveals many of the forces at work in the politics of Greenland protection in the south-central region of Ontario. Considering the moraine's questionable ecological significance, it seems possible that those advocating its protection were motivated at least as much by a wish simply to protect the area from urbanization as to protect the moraine's ecological integrity. But under current policy - or rather absence of policy - an ecological argument is the best, perhaps the only, way in which local residents can fight urban sprawl.

Other reasons for protecting the land - the lack of a demonstrated need to urbanize more rural land, the right of residents to protect local Greenlands, or the value of preserving large open spaces within an urbanized area - have no clear policy behind them. They also gain no media or political attention.

It is also important to note how much attention can be generated when Greenlands under threat are adjacent to a large, and in this case very articulate, urban population. So high profile did this issue become that a bill to protect the Trafalgar Moraine reached second reading in the provincial legislature - a remarkable situation considering the moraine's relative lack of ecological significance. In the meantime, arguably more significant natural features such as the Oro Moraine, situated much farther from population centres and therefore from media scrutiny, attract only limited local attention.