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Canadian Tire store sign in Toronto, January 14, 1987. Photo by John McNeill / The Globe and Mail. Originally published Jan. 17, 1987 (John McNeill/The Globe and Mail)
Canadian Tire store sign in Toronto, January 14, 1987. Photo by John McNeill / The Globe and Mail. Originally published Jan. 17, 1987 (John McNeill/The Globe and Mail)

Locals fear proposed Canadian Tire plant won’t bring the right kind of jobs Add to ...

Kevin Junor moved here to escape the gridlock, the smog, the noise and the perceived dangers of big-city living. Eight years ago, Caledon – a town of about 60,000 northwest of Brampton – was a respite from the density of Toronto and the industrialization that was spreading through many of its surrounding bedroom communities.

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But now Canadian Tire wants to build a massive warehouse in the village of Bolton, the most residential part of Caledon, and a vocal collective, including Mr. Junor, see this as the first sign that their Pleasantville is crumbling.

The proposed warehouse has caused citizens of the otherwise sleepy town to engage in shouting matches at public meetings organized by the town’s planning committee, enter into a war of words on the local paper’s letters page and prompted the mayor to use her weekly column to defend herself against accusations of getting cozy with Canadian Tire.

In a town where 83 per cent of property taxes come from residents, mayor Marolyn Morrison says there’s a pressing need to change the balance or Caledonians will face steadily increasing taxes (in neighbouring Mississauga, 68 per cent of revenue comes from residents). With a potential $1-million a year in tax revenue attached to the Canadian Tire facility, it’s an attractive option to Ms. Morrison.

But the costs of allowing the warehouse to be built in town are far too high, according to opponents.

They worry the steady stream of trucks in and out of the facility will pollute the air, generate noise and clog up the already busy commuter roads. In the long term, they fear allowing Canadian Tire in could open the floodgates to more industrial development, forever changing their rural, upper-middle-class haven. Despite the assurances from Canadian Tire that the plant will create hundreds of jobs, locals remain skeptical of its economic benefits.

“You’re not working at a Canadian Tire facility and living in Bolton – you can’t afford to,” said Carlos Cascallar, who has lived in town since 1998 and works as a public-service manager in Toronto. “These people are going to be bussed in.”

The median household income in 2005 (figures from the 2011 census have not yet been released) was $89,536 compared to $69,156 across all of Ontario and $72,655 in the Region of Peel. The town is populated with a mix of polished subdivisions and palatial homes with generous acreage. Local real estate listings brag about “prestige” and “privacy.” In contrast to the two other large municipalities in Peel Region – Brampton and Mississauga – the vast majority of Caledon’s residents are of European heritage. Most residents commute to Toronto or other GTA cities for work.

Since the Canadian Tire proposal came to light last summer, the location of the 1.5-million square foot warehouse has been a source of tension in town. The last public meeting to discuss the proposal in late November dissolved into chaos when an angry group of residents protested against the plan.

They’ve challenged everything from quotes on how traffic will increase (the mayor says there will be a total of 350 trucks per day, while some have extrapolated – based on information presented by Canadian Tire – that it will be more like 800) to estimates of noise levels (a Canadian Tire-commissioned engineer says all noise is on the site and in the surrounding area is within provincial guidelines; residents fear the sounds of air brakes and reverse alarms will become the norm).

While traditionally, industrial development has happened south of Bolton, the proposed site for this facility is at Coleraine Drive and Healey Road, on the edge of Bolton’s residential core – just a five-minute drive from Mr. Junor’s home.

“That goes against everything I wanted in the area. It’s this nice country feel and having a warehouse like that is going to completely change the environment I’m living in,” he said.

Ms. Morrison said it’s more than half a kilometre away from the nearest subdivision with railways tracks as a barrier. And, she points out, it’s zoned industrial and designated as employment lands.

So far, Canadian Tire has submitted reports on traffic impacts and noise. An air quality report is currently being prepared. Those reports – as per town procedure – have been passed along to other industry experts for peer review, explains Doug Barnes, Caledon’s chief information officer. The next public meeting is set for late February or March once all reports have been completed, he said.

Mr. Cascallar thinks the plan will go through because of perceived “cheerleading” from council and the mayor. Allowing this facility to be built will just open the door to more industrial development, he says. This will lead to roads choked by trucks and make his hour-plus commute to and from Toronto for work even longer.

“I feel like the Canadian Tire plant is like a catalyst that would bring a lot more industry on the west side of Coleraine all the way down to the Mayfield (Road) border,” he said. “Once you build Canadian Tire, it tells people that Bolton doesn’t care.”

Rob Nicol, vice-president of communications for Canadian Tire, said in an email the project, if approved, will create more than 350 construction related jobs that will pay out more than $235 million in salaries and benefits. In total, the facility will employ about 1,200 people, he said. Many of those jobs at the Bolton warehouse will be transferred from the Brampton facility it will replace but there will be new opportunities for locals through attrition, the mayor said.

Lately, part of Ms. Morrison’s job has been countering the “misinformation” she says has spread about the project. In the latest edition of the column she writes for the local paper (where the Canadian Tire proposal has come up multiple times), she tried to warm residents up to the idea of the proposed warehouse’s workers as fellow Caledonians. “Some already live here and over time, some employees of a new enterprise will relocate to the local area,” she wrote. “Their children will go to school and play sports with our children. They will shop in our stores and hire local service people.”

John Van Eeden, a retired mechanical piping designer, said he doesn’t think the warehouse will have any major effect on the town’s economy.

“These guys will not be shopping in Bolton,” he said. “They’ll come with their lunch bag from Brampton here and they will go back to Brampton.”

Even if council doesn’t approve this proposal, it won’t close the door on industrial development, as some residents hope.

“If it’s not them, eventually it will be three or four or five other places,” Ms. Morrison said. “And at least with Canadian Tire ... [they] will change their fleet every five years so they have the latest technology.”

Mr. Cascallar stresses he isn’t anti-development. He says his town simply should not settle for the “low-hanging fruit” of warehousing operations and instead try to model itself after Markham, which is home to more than 900 high-tech and life science companies.

Given Caledon’s location, though, it could never be the next Markham or Mississauga, the town’s BIA chair says.

“I think you’re going to have a hard time getting corporate banks or pharmaceutical companies or any of these style places,” Jimmy Pountney said. He says council has been trying to court businesses that would bring white-collar work to town, without success.

In Mississauga, Caledon’s booming neighbour to the southeast, major 400-series highways “connect them to their doorsteps,” Mr. Pountney points out. “We don’t have that here.”

Mr. Van Eeden is convinced there are alternative means of generating the kind of property tax revenue a major facility such as Canadian Tire would bring to Caledon without blemishing his beloved town.

“I’m thinking in Europe there’s monkey zoo. It attracts thousands of people a year,” he said. “If there is a specialized zoo or specialized museum here, people will visit Bolton and Caledon.”

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