Retaining Wall Construction and Tree Removal at Brentcliffe Portal Brings Neighbours Grief 

Residents of Thursfield Crescent, whose homes sit on the top of the ravine slope above Eglinton Avenue east of Brentcliffe, awoke on Tuesday, March 24th to the sound of chain saws clear-cutting trees just below their properties. Neighbours rushed to investigate the tree removals on the ravine slope, some of which went right up to their fences, and physically intervened to try to stop the work. Before cutting stopped later that day, at least 25 trees were removed.  

The embankment before the tree removal. Photo Geoff Kettel.

In a panic, residents contacted Councillor Jaye Robinson, Hon. Kathleen Wynne, MPP, City of Toronto Urban Forestry, Metrolinx, and Leaside Residents Association (LRA), Metrolinx sent a “fact sheet” to affected residents on Friday, March 27 at 5pm, and indicated that Crosslinx, their contractor would start work again on Monday, March 30.  However, as a direct result of the intervention of Kathleen Wynne, tree removal did not resume on March 30, and there was no more cutting during the rest of that week, or the following two weeks. On April 13th, residents were informed that the tree removal (a total of 274 trees) would re-commence on April 16th and would take two weeks to complete.  

In between these dates, a lot happened, including: 

  • Kathleen Wynne personally made a visit to the site on March 30 with neighbours present (while observing social distancing practices!);
  • Development of a set of twenty questions for Metrolinx by neighbours and Leaside Residents Association about the project, such as: 
    • Why was the retaining wall project needed?; 
    • Were alternative engineering methods considered which would have required less excavation and fewer trees removed?; 
    • Where were the tree removal and excavation lines in relation to neighbours’ property lines and their fences?; 
    • Given that trees cut to date were so close to the property boundary line, would trees on private property be affected by the excavation required for retaining wall construction?; and  
    • What were the tree replacement and landscape restoration plans? 
  • A teleconference was arranged for March 31, moderated by Kathleen Wynne, for Metrolinx and Crosslinx professional staff and consultants to address the concerns, and dialogue with the neighbours; following which Metrolinx agreed to follow up the neighbours’ questions with written answers;  
  • Receipt of written answers from Metrolinx/Crosslinx, and sending of follow-up questions on April 9th.  A key outstanding concern was the potential impact on trees located on private property, but at risk for injury from excavations on the ravine slope;      
  • On April 14, an arborist for Crosslinx did a site visit to assess the condition of trees on private properties close to the excavation line, to assess the potential impact of the excavation on tree health. 
  • On May 8, Metrolinx/Crosslinx responded to the follow-up questions to their earlier response. They revealed that in addition to the trees that have already been removed, six trees located north of the excavation limit required “injury”, of which three were on private property, and three were on the City’s right-of-way. Crosslinx will be applying for tree injury permits from the City for permits, and  committed to do hand digging and root pruning to minimize injury to the trees during excavation.  So a month later, where do we sit now?  Tree removal required for the retaining wall was completed by the end of April, and residents are bracing for construction of the retaining wall to begin in late May.  But neighbours continue to have concerns about the landscaping and restoration plans for the embankment above the retaining wall, which according to Metrolinx will involve the planting of shrubs not trees, and will not allow an opportunity for the public to see and comment on those plans?  The LRA is objecting to this and requesting Metrolinx to reverse itself – to open the plans to the public, and to plant trees – and for the City and TRCA to require this. 
On Eglinton Avenue East, east of Brentcliffe Road the East Portal is the point where the LRT emerges from the tunnel to the west, and is above ground on the east. A retaining wall will be constructed on the north side of Eglinton to hold and stabilize the embankment created from the newly widened road. Photo Geoff Kettel.
On Eglinton Avenue East, east of Brentcliffe Road the East Portal is the point where the LRT emerges from the tunnel to the west, and is above ground on the east. A retaining wall will be constructed on the north side of Eglinton to hold and stabilize the embankment created from the newly widened road. Photo Geoff Kettel.

So what can I conclude from this fraught affair?

  • Clear cutting of 274 trees and excavation and reconstruction of the slope is negatively impacting adjacent owners for whom the landscape setting was an integral part of their reason for buying homes there and continued enjoyment of their property has significantly diminished. They have lost their treed skyline, much of their privacy, trees on their properties close to the excavation are now endangered, and their properties are exposed to increased noise and pollution.
  • Prior to March 27 affected neighbours only had the crudest of sketches showing the tree removal and excavation lines, without showing property boundaries. 
  • The hundreds of residents across the road in the Scenic Apartments will have their sky-view impacted for years.  Not to mention travellers on Eglinton East who were surprised and sometimes dismayed by the unannounced clear-cutting.   
  • This is not to say that the project is fundamentally bad or wrong-headed. Leaside residents  support the LRT and recognize that the Portal, where the train comes out of the tunnel to the grade, can appreciate that a wider right-of-way is required to accommodate the Portal, the vehicle lanes, bike lanes, and sidewalk, 
  • However, Metrolinx failed in its duty as a public agency to fully inform and consult with neighbours. The project is a big deal, not just the neighbours, but for the wider Leaside community also, and they have not been informed, never mind consulted, until recently. 
  • The Brentcliffe Portal, the retaining wall and tree removal were never presented or discussed at the Metrolinx Community Liaison Committee for the Laird and Leaside stations (of which Carol Burtin Fripp and I represent the LRA), that is until the May 11 meeting.  According to Metrolinx the Portal retaining wall project was under the purview of the neighbouring Liaison Committee which dealt with the stretch between Brentcliffe and Victoria Park. So much for looking at Leaside as a single community! 
  • Persistence has some rewards. Neighbours, assisted throughout by the LRA, and supported by the MPP, did get some answers to some questions and some information. But it’s like it’s never over; while some questions get answered, questions always remain.  My conclusion is that neighbours remain extremely unhappy, disappointed and distraught. 
  • There is no doubt that Metrolinx/Crosslinx should have taken a collaborative approach with the Leaside community and particularly with the impacted neighbours. Have they learned from this experience? 


About Geoff Kettel 221 Articles
Geoff Kettel is a community connector and advocate for “making places better”. He is currently Co-President of the Leaside Residents Association, Co-Chair of the Federation of North Toronto Residents‘ Associations (FoNTRA), member of the Toronto Preservation Board and Past Chair of the North York Community Preservation Panel. He writes a monthly column on heritage and planning in Leaside Life.