Back in December 2022, Ontario premier Doug Ford removed 7,400 acres from the protected lands of the Ontario Greenbelt, claiming the lands were needed for housing.

The move was greeted by howls of disapproval. Compromising the Greenbelt would undermine its ecological and agricultural roles and offend good planning. Many of the properties had no access to infrastructure and services needed for housing. Investigative journalists uncovered a $8.3 billion windfall for friendly developers. The province’s auditor general and its integrity commissioner issued scathing reports.

Finally, in September 2023, Mr. Ford ate humble pie and announced he would put it all back.

It was a good news story, but only because a seriously bad decision was reversed.

Happily, the Greenbelt also hosts brilliantly positive stories. SERS master’s student Rosalind Synder has been collecting some of the best.

One favourite is the Alderville Black Oak Savanna project. Initiated by Mississauga Anishinaabeg biologist and artist Rick Beaver and managed by the Alderville First Nation, the project centres on restoration of a rare Tallgrass Prairie and Savanna ecosystem. Beaver identified the restoration potential of a 200-acre tract of Alderville fields in 1992 and proposed its protection. Alderville’s Chief and Council quickly approved the idea. The timing was crucial. The small tract of land had been slated for a subdivision development.

Since then, the Alderville Black Oak Savanna has been almost fully restored, and is the largest tract of tallgrass grassland in Central Ontario. A major contribution to the restoration was revival of the Indigenous practice of regular burnings that favour the native plants and renew the soil.

small fires burning in a line on a field of grasses

Another big part of the Alderville Black Oak Savanna project is the Mitigomin Native Plant Nursery. The Nursery grows endangered native species for replanting and to produce seeds for further restoration work. Eventually, the nursery should be a supplier for other restorations in the region.

field with wild blue lupines blooming as green grasses sprout

For cultural as well as ecological purposes, the project ensures community access to traditional foods and medicinal plants for cultural as well as ecological restoration. For the Alderville First Nation, it contributes to seed sovereignty and community empowerment. And for everyone, the restored grasslands sequester carbon.

The project’s research, education and outreach encourage all those who visit to connect and be in relationship with the land. A staff member described to Rosalind the “sense of place” kinship she has developed by actively working on the land and the importance of knowing she is contributing to such a special restoration.

The multiple gains of this one project are testimony to the dedicated efforts of staff, the Alderville First Nation, their organizational partners and the support provided by the Greenbelt Foundation. They also demonstrate how restoration with Indigenous leadership can deliver ecological, cultural and other sustainability benefits in other places.

Photos from the Alderville Black Oak Savannah InstaGram page