Politicians and BIA plan “First Nations park” beside condo development in the name of “reconciliation”

Sept. 8, 2017

Future residents of two connected 26- and 30-storey condos developed by Medallion Developments Inc. at Weston Road and Finch Avenue could be the neighbours of a massive “First Nations park,” which is being planned and designed by the local Emery Village Business Improvement Area in the name of Indigenous reconciliation.

City staff explained to the Etobicoke Community Council on Wednesday that the land where the park would exist is owned by Hydro One, and would need to be leased by the city for the project to go forward.

The local ward councillor, Giorgio Mammoliti, made the idea of a public park space and the emotions associated with colonization and reconciliation very local – and personal – during the meeting.

“I cannot assume what happened generations ago, but I can only take it in and assume on my part what my family would feel like, in southern Italy, being Mammolitis because that’s where they come from, and a group of people coming in with power, and taking over a village, and telling everyone that your culture’s gone, your language is gone, what you know doesn’t exist anymore, and we’re taking your children and we’re teaching them a different language, and teaching a different culture altogether. I can’t imagine myself living any other way than how my parents have taught me and how our culture has taught us.

“Imagining somebody coming into our private home and taking our children away and taking our values away, the way we see it, only gives me an idea – just a small idea of what really happened back then. Understanding York West and understanding what happened next to Humber River and imagining that the settlement that was there… I want the history brought out,” the councillor said.

Mary Di Mambro, vice-president of public relations at Sutherland Corp., a consulting firm, spoke about the vision for the park as the representative of the Emery Village BIA. She showed a map explaining the vision for the park, which is meant to promote the historical significance of the Anishinaabe, Huron-Wendat Nation, and Haudenosaunee in this area. The idea presented was for the BIA to operate and maintain the park, including organizing and benefiting from sponsorship opportunities.

First Nations leaders came to the Etobicoke Community Council meeting to support the park. Councillor Robert Johnson, Six Nations of the Grand River (Haudenosaunee), said it was an opportunity to  “raise the connection and networking with a linkage to education and story of our elders and distinct paths of the original peoples of our land, and of course that is Turtle Island.”

Chief Stacey Laforme of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations was also supportive, but careful with how he spoke about First Nations history.

“I commend the Emery Park project,” he said. “I know they’re going to try and tell the history of the Indigenous people throughout the park. I commend them because that’s a brave thing to do, because there’s various interpretations of the history of the Indigenous people of this land… the Indigenous people have asked Canada to stand up and face the truth of your past and your history and move forward with reconciliation from there. Well, the Indigenous people of this land can do no less, and that’s why it’s important that parks like this happen, where the true history will come out… In my mind it’s a very good step for the city.”

In response to that comment, Mammoliti spoke on behalf of the BIA. “There is no intent by the BIA or anyone to bring out the history that’s yours,” he said. “The intent of the BIA and the community is to allow you to bring out your own history and to do it in a simultaneous way that everyone’s happy with. I hope someone has told you that. There is no attempt here to spin it any other way.”

Letters from Grand Chief Konrad H. Sioui of of the Huron-Wendat Nation and Chief G. Ava Hill of the Six Nations of the Grand River were sent to promote the project.

A City of Toronto staff member told the committee that he thought the “Parks [Department] wouldn’t be interested in incurring costs” of maintaining the space, but explained the city would lease the property from Hydro One and partnership with the BIA so they could design the park in exchange for the opportunity to benefit from sponsorship.

The parcel of land is situated near the land on Arrow Road that was associated with a controversial deal investigated by the Auditor General in the spring, as reported by CBC’s John Reiti.

“We need to force the history out,” Mammoliti said referring to the Indigenous history of the land in the area and not the power and politics involved in the area in recent years. “… after that happens we can all be proud of ourselves as people that have come into this country, third and fourth-hand, and fifth-hand, and sixth-hand over the years, we can be proud to know that it wasn’t our land to be disturbed, that it was someone else’s. Until we properly understand it, there is no – this word – reconciliation? You can’t have reconciliation until you understand what really happened and respect it and appreciate it.”

Community council moved to support the park and moved for the general manager of Parks, Forestry, and Recreation to report back to committee later this year on Nov. 14.

It was not made clear what, if anything, will happen to the power lines on the property.