artist supports group's efforts to preserve escarpment
Irene Gentle, Special to the Post
Oct 2, 2002
A recently-launched citizens' group aimed at putting the brakes
on a proposed highway has found a big name to support its cause.
Canadian nature artist Robert Bateman has allied himself with Citizens
Opposed to Paving the Escarpment (COPE) in its quest to oppose the
controversial mid-peninsula highway.
Bateman was the featured guest at a media conference at Tews Falls
in Greensville Saturday to speak out against the road aimed at linking
the Niagara region with the 407 ETR in Burlington by cutting a swath
through area farm and escarpment land.
"I am very glad to lend whatever small support I can to (challenge)
this idiotic idea," a relaxed and casual-looking Bateman told
the assembled crowd.
Currently living in British Columbia, the 70-year-old painter began
his career in rural Burlington, preserving the area's natural beauty
on canvas. He has been a vocal and passionate defender of the environment
His battle to preserve natural sites began decades ago when he saw
the places he had immortalized during his first art show in Burlington
were slowly disappearing.
"Virtually every single thing of human heritage I decided to
depict was bulldozed in the next several years," said Bateman.
He won some support for his environmental efforts from former Premier
Bill Davis, who appointed him to the role of Niagara Escarpment
Commissioner for a time.
Currently on an exhaustive book tour, the artist took the opportunity
Saturday to blast not only the mid-peninsula project, but what he
sees as a continual decimation of the natural world.
He objected to the making of "an instant pudding world that
is slick and smooth and sweet and all you have to do is plunk down
your VISA card and pay for it and let someone else make decisions
On the proposed road itself, Bateman wondered "do you think
we need more cars? Do you think we need to waste money on things
The escarpment, he said "is southern Ontario's most wonderful
asset. But the immediate destruction is just part of it. The (highway)
is going through many beautiful parts of Ontario that are not escarpment.
Family farms and a lot of pieces of nature are going to be adversely
Bateman was introduced by COPE chair Brendan Kelly, who wondered
"there's no one here fighting for the highway, is there?"
Heads swivelled about to see, but if anyone was, they stayed quiet.
A few members of the environmental group Oakville Green made their
presence known through T-shirts and hinted that they, too, have
their sights on nabbing Bateman to support their cause.
Kelly showed confidence that COPE would prevail in the long run.
"With your support, and the support of Robert Bateman, we'll
do it," he told the crowd before hinting that legal action
against the Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) over an alleged
violation of due process could be on the agenda if the road isn't
blocked at the political level.
Flamborough COPE board member Dave Eckersley said any legal battle
is far in the future but noted "In the long term, it's certainly
something we'll be thinking about."
Bateman is likely the biggest name to sign on to the COPE cause,
but he is still only one of the latest. Launched in June with just
six members, COPE's ranks have swelled to about 1,000 today. The
group opposes the highway on the grounds that alternative routes
or rail and public transit options have not been fully explored.
COPE has also challenged the assumptions of the road, including
its potential economic benefits.
There is also a growing belief that the road would be tolled if
built. Eckersley noted that a recent public information centre held
by the MTO contained what he felt was the first tacit admission
that the road could be a tolled one.