We moved into our house in Waterdown on July 30, 1997, my 28th birthday. Gail and I had been married for a little over a year and a half, and had lived in a townhouse in Burlington for three years but we were getting ready to start our family and wanted a bigger place with a backyard. One of the things we loved about the house was the fact that it backed onto a banquet centre called The Bohemian. This meant that not only would we not be looking over our fence into someone else’s house, but we had a beautiful view of trees and green space from our kitchen window.
This is a picture we took after we bought the house but before we moved in. It’s is not the best view of the Bohemian grounds, but I was trying to take pictures of our new place, not the place next to it. This is probably sometime in April or May 1997. The building in the distance is the Bohemian itself, and the land to the right of it is maybe half of the whole property. You can see the other half of it in the second picture, below.
For the first five years or so, the place was beautiful. The people who ran it kept it up very well. They were out cutting the grass and trimming the hedges and such every week. Whenever I went to cut our grass on weekends, I’d always check to see if there was a wedding going on – they had outdoor weddings there all summer long and I imagined they didn’t want the official screaming “Dearly beloved” over the sound of a lawn mower. There were squirrels everywhere and lots of birds including blue jays, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, finches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and the odd hummingbird. Occasionally we’d even see rabbits and one time an entire family of four raccoons walked along the top of our fence, one after the other. The road you see in the distance is Dundas St. (formerly Hwy 5) which is a fairly major road, but the trees blocked the sound (particularly in the summer) so we rarely ever heard traffic noise. We’d never actually met them, but couldn’t have been happier with our neighbours to the south.
A few years later, things changed a little when the owners sold the property. Soon thereafter they cut down a couple of trees and put in a bigger parking lot, but it was still far enough away that it didn’t really affect us. After a while it became evident that they weren’t as interested in appearances as the previous owners; the grass would sometimes go weeks without being cut, and the trees and bushes furthest away from the building started to look a little neglected. The outdoor weddings ceased. It was a little disappointing, but it really wasn’t a huge deal. We still had our green space and trees and wildlife.
Here’s a picture from about 13 years after the one above, April 21, 2010. This was taken from the kitchen window, basically looking out over top of the stairs to the deck you can see in the picture above.
In the top left, you can see poles with lights strung between them that marked the edge of the “new” parking lot, which is to the right of the poles. I built the birdhouse in the foreground, and you can see two doves sitting on top of the fence just to the right of it.
And then we got the letter. I don’t know when it was exactly but sometime in 2012, we received a letter informing us that the Bohemian property had been purchased by a developer who was going to build townhouses there. I don’t believe they were required to inform us but they did anyway. They also notified us of a public meeting to give nearby residents more information about what was going to be happening as well as giving us the ability to ask the developer any questions we might have. We attended along with some of our neighbours and they showed us maps and artist’s renditions of what the property would look like. They told us that they’d be tearing down the existing fences and replacing them with new ones, and that some of the trees would have to be removed. We specifically asked how many trees, and they assured us that they’d make every effort to keep as many as they could. They seemed very accommodating and open and willing to answer all our questions.
On October 12, 2012, I tweeted “Sad day at our house. All the trees behind us are being ripped out” along with this picture:
Over the next week or so, a whole bunch of trees were ripped out, including most of the ones you see in this picture. Shortly thereafter, the fence was taken down and replaced with a brand new cedar one. The new one looks much nicer than the old one, so some good has come from this. But over the next year, more and more trees were removed until finally in the fall of 2013 they took out the last ones. The property is currently a wasteland of mud and piles of dirt (note the fancy new fence):
I’m very disappointed by this but in all honesty, I can’t say I’m angry. Who should I be angry to, and why? Nobody has any obligation to leave the property as it was. Nobody has any obligation to ensure that I have a lovely view from my kitchen. We live in a capitalist society and people and companies are out there to make money. Should a company be denied the right to make money because it would ruin my kitchen’s view? 66 families will be buying houses in this new development and will hopefully be happy living there – why is my happiness any more important than theirs?
I also can’t say I’m surprised. It’s a prime property for housing in a growing community, and the owner has the right to do with it what he wants. Trees are nice but we all know that if they get in the way of a project, they’re gone. If you were given the opportunity to build a house for a hundred thousand dollars and sell it for four hundred thousand, you’d likely drop a few trees to make that happen too. If you were a developer building 66 such houses (selling for $25+ million), you’d nuke every tree in sight to make sure it happened and I would too. Kinda sad but true.
It’s currently May 2014. The trailer in the last picture above has been removed. Now that the snow has gone, they’ve been out with the loaders bringing in more dirt and spreading it around. I imagine the construction will soon begin in earnest and a year from now there will be 66 townhouses behind us. We’ll be able to look out our kitchen window directly into someone else’s house, and the big picture window in our kitchen, which has never had blinds or curtains of any kind, will become a lens into our life. I guess we had beautiful greenspace behind our house for fifteen years, which is more than most suburban families can boast, so we can’t complain too much. But we will anyway.