BY ANDREW SMITH
LISTOWEL – A group of students from the University of Guelph is attempting to solve one of Listowel’s hottest debates in recent years with their vision for the Memorial Park dam.
Robert Corry, associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Guelph, said the debate around Listowel’s dam on the Maitland River is an interesting one, with both ecological and social issues attached to the structure.
“It’s a really interesting project for the students to try and bring those two things together,” Corry said.
Corry said the group of landscape architecture grad students were challenged with addressing that dam in a way that would take into account not only the local wildlife habitat, but also visual appeal and how the local culture would mesh with the new site.
“I haven’t told them what to do but address this site and deal with some of the cultural and ecological pressures, and come up with concepts of how those could be managed,” Corry said. “I hope they address everything from what it would be like to keep this in place versus what it would be like to completely remove it, and maybe steps in-between.”
Background on the Memorial Park dam was provided by Phil Beard of the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority, and Doug Grant of the Middle Maitland Rejuvenation Committee. Municipality of North Perth CAO Kriss Snell was also on hand to provide the background from municipal council. Although dams are common across southwestern Ontario, Corry says many are associated with former mill sites, which isn’t the case in Listowel. Corry said dams often have ecological issues surrounding them, and there comes a point when they reach the end of their lifespan.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of these impoundments in other systems around the world, and there is sort of a finite lifespan to them,” he said. “When they hit that lifespan, what do you do?”
Corry said the general idea is to move back to healthy river systems, with dams like the one in Listowel becoming fewer and fewer.
“It’s unlikely you’d get a dam like this built nowadays,” he said. “It’s too much regulation on the river itself.”
Student Ben Van Der Veen said something definitely needs to be done from a naturalization point of view, leaning towards removal of the dam.
“If you don’t take out the dam, there’s going to be a lot of money they needs to be put in to keep it looking good. “You might not have that nice traditional park feeling where there’s a body of water for you to gravitate towards, but you will have a healthy river that doesn’t need constant upkeep.”
Stephanie Shandz, another student, said there may be room for a compromise between residents worried about the river ecosystem and the recreational pond by creating a wildlife corridor and trails along the river.
“We can maybe make it into something enjoyable rather than something that’s a thorn in one person or another’s side,” she said. “Whether they’re fighting for the dam or against the dam, maybe we can find a nice common ground.”
The student tour also included a visit to the property of Don Alexander on Road 146, commonly referred to as the oasis of the Middle Maitland. Beard said the section of flood plain along the property represents the Maitland River in a natural state.
“It’s in a much better condition than the river is at Listowel,” Beard said. “Nature always knows the best way to look after a river system, and rivers were designed to flow.”
Beard said it was important that the students see what the Maitland River is capable of achieving if restored to its natural state.
“This is one of the few stretches of the Middle Maitland River that’s still in a natural state,” Beard said.
“It represents a good example of a healthy section of river and river valley.”
According to Beard, climate change of hotter, drier weather is another important factor to determine when looking at the future of the river.
“We have to take that into account when we’re designing parks, tree planting or anything, to be able to survive in those condition,” Beard said. “It’s our new reality, we just don’t have the climate we had 30 years ago.”