Thorncliffe Park members angry over plan for Ontario Line train facility in neighbourhood

A community organization in Thorncliffe Park vows to keep up the fight against Metrolinx over a planned facility for Ontario Line trains. Mark McAllister investigates how this could be a case of history repeating itself.

By Mark McAllister

Voices from the Thorncliffe Park community are growing louder as plans from Metrolinx to take over land in their neighbourhood for the Ontario Line move along.

Metrolinx has chosen an area on the north side of Overlea Boulevard, east of Millwood Road, to house a 175,000-square-metre train maintenance and storage facility for the new transit line.

Many are concerned with the project because isn’t the first time the provincial transit agency has made way for train facilities while making promises to local neighbourhoods.

A new survey of residents shows a large majority, over 75 per cent, don’t support what would be the maintenance and storage facility for light rail vehicles in the neighbourhood but would instead prefer other uses like a recreation centre, affordable housing, or a business park.

Member of SaveTPARK, Aamir Sukhera, said, “had Metrolinx actually done a community consultation and tried to understand the community better, they would know that they’re harming everyone living here.”

Small businesses and livelihoods for thousands could potentially be lost in a large part of Thorncliffe Park, on the southeast portion of the Leaside Business Park, to make way for land for Ontario Line trains that community members repeatedly said they don’t want.

“There are about 1,250 jobs, full-time employment, in this plaza so many of these jobs belong to people living in the community that don’t have the ability to commute. So they will be impacted and there won’t be replacement jobs for them. Maybe the businesses will be relocated, [but] I’m not sure,” explained Sukhera.

A petition with the signatures from thousands of residents against the facility has been presented to the provincial transit agency as well.

“Metrolinx isn’t interested in what the petition says, or survey says. It’s irrelevant to them,” said Sukhera. “They’re saying the decision has been made and the consultations are meant to help us come up with a plan for implementation.”

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Metrolinx staff said they plan to help businesses relocate within the community, but not necessarily before they’re uprooted from their current location.

“We’ve got a pragmatic way home for here and we would want to help, within reason. We are only funded for certain things,” said CEO Phil Vester at a virtual community meeting in April of 2021.

“We haven’t had any sort of reassurances for the people that are losing their full-time jobs yet,” said Sukhera.

It’s a familiar story for those in another marginalized community in Toronto. For years before the Finch LRT project began construction, leaders in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood were working towards creating a community hub.

“It was at the last hour where they reneged on it and said that they aren’t going to do it and that we had misunderstood the agreement,” said member of the Jane-Finch Action Against Poverty, Butterfly GoPaul.

When Metrolinx decided the light rail train facility would be built in the area, the dream of a recreation and program space was cast aside, according to community members, only to be brought back for more discussions now that the rail yard nears completion.

“It was all really malicious thinking that a racialized community was going to be hijacked that way,” said GoPaul

This story has repeated itself in Thorncliffe Park, another part of the city, with people facing similar challenges.

“Time and time again decisions are made without our input,” explained Sukhera.

The community group in Thorncliffe Park vowed to make this an election issue as well and plan to push each of the party candidates running in this riding to see where they stand on the future of the project.

With files from Meredith Bond

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