Bateman sick over planned highway

Carmela Fragomeni - The Hamilton Spectator - Sep. 26, 01:02 EDT

Celebrated artist Robert Bateman is lamenting the planned "desecration of (his) sacred place," the Niagara Escarpment, to make way for the mid-peninsula highway.

Bateman, a world- renowned painter and naturalist, lived on the escarpment near Mount Nemo in Burlington for 26 years. His first show was in Burlington in 1967 when he was a high school teacher there.

"I've been gratified every time I come back -- I drive down Britannia Road -- at how intact it still is. It makes me smile with pleasure," he said.

Many of his early paintings are of wildlife in the area being considered for the mid-peninsula highway.

Bateman has been an active member of naturalists' clubs and conservation groups since the early 1960s and has become a spokesman for many environmental causes.

Bateman, who now lives in British Columbia, said bulldozing the escarpment and the surrounding rural areas might be the worst thing to befall the UN-proclaimed world biosphere. "It's a terrible feeling of what could happen."

He hopes his voice adds strength to that of the Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment (COPE) in fighting a provincial proposal for the new highway to cut through the escarpment and rural Flamborough and Burlington.

"I think it's a dreadful idea ... We badly need to give our heads a shake on this," Bateman said yesterday from Venice, Fla., where he was signing prints of his works.

"I would have hoped the 21st century would have seen a newer, brighter, more progressive approach to transportation.

"We should be following in the footsteps of Europe and get a handle on the automobile taking over our lives so much."

Bateman wants to help COPE rally people in large numbers to oppose the plans and make the Ontario government listen. The 72-year-old artist, who has travelled the world exhibiting his paintings, called Mount Nemo an almost sacred place for him.

He said Halton region is one of the three places in the world closest to his heart. The other two are Haliburton, where his family has had a cottage since the 1930s, and Salt Spring Island, where he has lived since 1985.

He considers the mid-peninsula proposal to be the same kind of Progressive Conservative mentality that brought Ontario the Walkerton tragedy in which seven people died from contaminated drinking water.

He cited provincial cuts in the Environment Ministry as one of the causes.

COPE is hosting a media conference featuring Bateman at Spencer Gorge Wilderness Park in Flamborough above Dundas Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

Sue McMaster of Flamborough, a COPE member, said her group feels "pretty lucky" Bateman has made time for their cause.

"He is someone who really and truly appreciates the escarpment and the surrounding area for what it truly is," McMaster said. "He understands the implications of this highway ... He has publicly shown his interest in saving the escarpment. A lot of his early work is of this area.

"He is known for depicting exactly what we're trying to save."

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