What Lake Simcoe Needs Now: Grow the Greenbelt Into Simcoe County

Part 6 of our series Who Will Save Lake Simcoe? Read the full report here.

58% of the Lake Simcoe watershed’s land is protected by the Greenbelt and its policies, and for this we are grateful. However, Lake Simcoe’s western shorelines in Simcoe County are not in the Greenbelt, nor is the rest of the County. This has contributed to leapfrog development over the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine and into Simcoe County, particularly in Barrie, Bradford West Gwillimbury, Innisfil, and New Tecumseth.

For example, sprawl removed 37,000 acres of natural and semi-natural space in Barrie between 1971 and 2011. [32] Between 2006 and 2012, Simcoe County zoned over 32,000 acres of farmland and natural space to sprawl. [33] Without protective policies like the Greenbelt to keep farmland in production and greenspace preserved, our natural spaces will be under constant threat to urbanization. Case in point, during Simcoe County’s Municipal Comprehensive Review consultation, the County received 79 developer requests to sprawl outside existing boundaries for a potential loss of almost 16,000 acres. [34]

Moreover, Simcoe County is highly reliant on groundwater for both private and municipal wells. This abundance of water is made possible by our recharge areas, wetlands and aquifers that pepper the region. Unfortunately, these places are also prime areas for new development, aggregate activity, and infrastructure such as highways. In 2006, the Intergovernmental Action Report for Simcoe County saw the threat that rampant urbanization was going to have on Simcoe’s water supply stating, “A number of the municipalities in the study area rely on inland water systems which have been demonstrated to be under strain (for example, the Lake Simcoe watershed has known issues as a result of Phosphorus loadings). Without intervening action, these watersheds’ available potable water and aquaculture are threatened.” [35]

Despite 15 years of requests to add Simcoe County to the Greenbelt, this has not happened. Meanwhile, we lose and destroy land that purifies and stores our drinking water and prevents flooding.

Public support for the Greenbelt translated into a provincial promise to protect it, which the province has upheld so far. But it’s tenuous. There have been motions from the York Region Councils of Markham [36] and Vaughan [37] to either downgrade protections of Greenbelt land next to existing communities or to develop in the Greenbelt.

The province has put the 830-acre North Gwillimbury Forest into the hands of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, in the Greenbelt within the lake-side municipality of Georgina. [38] This is a welcome move, but it did not add any land to Southern Ontario’s protected areas. The forest was protected through a legal battle fought by resident and activist Jack Gibbons, who created the North Gwillimbury Forest Alliance, and fundraised more than $500,000 to fight the Town of Georgina, the Region of York and the LSRCA until it was ultimately protected. The credit goes to Jack, generous donors, and the citizens who insisted that a Provincially Significant Wetland should be protected.

Finally, the province had some great ideas for Greenbelt expansion, which would have protected the Paris-Galt Moraine, a vulnerable aquifer in the Waterloo area, among other things. Unfortunately, the only idea they acted on was to extend the Greenbelt into already protected urban river valleys. Critics said in a media statement: “Proposed Provincial Greenbelt “expansion” does nothing for farmland and natural areas that need protection while new highways threaten the existing Greenbelt.” [39] It could be described as more of a re-branding of protected greenspace than meaningful policy change.


[32] Barrie Advance. Thursday, April 7, 2016. Barrie has grown 540%, study finds. https://www.niagarathisweek.com/news-story/6453587-barrie-has-grown-560-in-40-years-study-finds/

[33] Neptis. Implementing the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. October 2013. https://neptis.org/publications/implementing-growth-plan-greater-golden-horseshoe

[34] County of Simcoe staff report to Committee of the Whole. August 10, 2021. Report: CCW – 2021-265

[35] Intergovernmental Action Report for Simcoe County. (2006) Existing Capacities Assessment: Communities Report. https://www.simcoe.ca/dpt/pln/initiatives

[36] York Region staff memo: Considerations of motions, October 13, 2021. https://yorkpublishing.escribemeetings.com/filestream.ashx?DocumentId=27156

[37] Zarzour, Kim. Toronto Star. October 15,l 2021. ‘Slippery slope’: Farmers, environmentalists decry move to open Greenbelt lands in Markham, Vaughan. (For clarity, neither municipality is in the Lake Simcoe watershed) https://www.thestar.com/local-newmarket/news/council/2021/10/15/slippery-slope-farmers-environmentalists-decry-move-to-open-greenbelt-lands-in-markham-vaughan.html

[38] Kelly, Deborah. Barrie Today. June 16, 2021. Province creates new 830-acre nature reserve in Georgina. https://www.barrietoday.com/local-news/province-creates-new-830-acre-nature-reserve-in-georgina-3879316

[39] Ontario Greenbelt Alliance Steering Committee press release. March 24, 2022. Proposed Provincial Greenbelt “expansion” does nothing for farmland and natural areas that need protection while new highways threaten the existing Greenbelt. https://www.greenbeltalliance.ca/resources/media-statement-in-response-to-proposed-provincial-greenbelt-expansion-announcement?fbclid=IwAR1e-IG8lH2LoxYe6BPxAsMoxD8cORrWLQBN4tKIbuUbDq8kawbC_HpZjQo

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