ignoring our natural assets: spencer creek

Reports suggest park along historic Spencer waterway

Detachment contributes to sad state

Craig Campbell
Published on Apr 04, 2008

Spencer Creek's lack of connection to the community may contribute to the local watershed's poor condition. And despite past recommendations to improve access to, and respect for, the waterway its current status as a hidden and abused resource continues to frustrate several stakeholders. Jaime Overy, Spencer Creek watershed stewardship planner at the Hamilton Conservation Authority, said the lack of connection to the creek was discussed in the ongoing stewardship plan.

"We identified stresses we could think of that impacts those watersheds. One was detachment from nature," Ms. Overy said.

The conservation authority is trying to engage community members, and property owners, in the stewardship process.

But the entire length of Spencer Creek through Dundas has several owners. Sections of the watercourse are actually controlled by private landowners, while other segments are owned by the City of Hamilton, Conservation Authority and the Royal Botanical Gardens.

This hodge-podge of owners creates problems for access, and improvement programs.

"It's a stumbling block," Ms. Overy said. "Trying to get landowner buy in is difficult."

And while the conservation authority and federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans share some control over the length of the creek, the Royal Botanical Gardens must deal with its major impact on Cootes Paradise and Hamilton Harbour.

Tys Theysmeyer, the RBG's aquatic ecologist, also raised the issue during a recent presentation to the Green Drinks meeting of Hamilton's EcoNetwork.

While discussing the impact of the July 26 Biedermann pesticide plant fire and subsequent spill of contaminated douse water into the creek and Cootes, Mr. Theysmeyer bemoaned the current status of the creek.

"It's always frustrated me. It's the only community I know that doesn't make its water feature the centre of the community," he said.

Dundas resident Randy Kay, who attended the presentation at Slainte Irish Pub in downtown Hamilton, couldn't help but agree.

"The whole notion of Spencer Creek being treated like it doesn't exist has been a pet peeve of mine," Mr. Kay said. "It just doesn't make sense, the way the whole town practically turns its back on it."

He believes it leads to a lack of concern for the creek, which he sees as treated more like a sewer than a precious natural resource.

The sewer comparison may not be far off, as Mr. Theysmeyer explained to the Green Drinks meeting Spencer Creek is certainly not a body of water anyone should be entering.

He said the average EColi bacterial level in Spencer Creek during 2007 was 10 times the accepted level for recreational use.

"There are no good days" to swim in the creek, Mr. Theysmeyer said.

He said the fire water carried a small amount of the chemical Diazinon, used to produce pesticide at the Head Street plant, into the creek.

"It's nasty stuff," he said. "Only an infitessimal amount is needed to kill stuff."

An estimated 48 different species in the creek were wiped out by the spill. Mr. Theysmeyer said the local watercourse was the only known location for some of the organisms, and they can not be re-introduced.

Among the improvements he'd like to see in Spencer Creek are removal of several man-made barriers that control the water's flow, and improvement of the old infrastructure that allowed contaminated water to flow directly into the creek.

Both the 1999 King Street Urban Design Guidelines and 2005 Hatt Street Urban Design Study made a new focus on Spencer Creek a top priority.

The Spencer Creek "promenade" or "linear park" would feature a walking trail and a sequence of public spaces along the creek from the Grightmire Arena at Market Street all the way to the former Town Hall.

According to the 2005 report: "The creation of an attractive green linear park or pedestrian promenade would contribute to the livability of residential neighbourhoods along Hatt Street and the entire downtown...a green oasis within the downtown."

The report also recommended the removal of concrete walls from the creek, where possible, and a design that would increase the biodiversity, health and productivity of natural habitat, as well as promoting a variety of active and passive ecological and recreational uses.

The report said the linear park's design should also celebrate Dundas' industrial heritage - which relied on Spencer Creek for operation of several mills.