Centreville: Turtles, Residents and the Future at Stake

By Karen Paton-Evans

Have you ever been stuck in a traffic jam…in Centreville?

Several days each year, one car, sometimes as many as two at a time, comes to a halt on Mill Line, the gently winding road ending in Karn Road to the south and Beachville Road to the north. It’s not a vehicle collision or road construction that causes drivers to hit the brakes. It is snapping turtles crossing the road.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the snapping turtle is Canada’s largest freshwater turtle, growing to 36 cm or longer (more than a foot, although some Centreville snappers have even bigger shells) and weighing 4.5 to 16 kg (over 30 pounds). In late May or June, mama snappers aged 17 years and older leave the safety of the Centreville Conservation Area’s marsh, walk very slowly across Mill Line and haul themselves up Indian Hill in search of places in residents’ yards where they can lay their eggs. After digging a hole and depositing up to 50 eggs, the mama makes the return journey to the pond. It’s a day-long ordeal. 

In the autumn, the eggs hatch. About the size of a loonie, hatchlings instinctively make their way to the protection of the Centreville Pond in the Conservation Area. As they grow older, some turtles take mini vacations, leaving the marsh to cross the park’s narrow grassy strip and spend the day swimming in the one-acre pond and forming a turtle line with their friends to sunbathe on logs. Mostly, snappers stay in the water, the natural habitat that gives them life. In turn, snappers play an important role in keeping our lakes and wetlands clean. 

Since it takes 15 to 20 years for a snapping turtle to reach maturity, the species’ survival rate is impacted by adult mortality rates. With the right environmental conditions, the Ministry of Natural Resources states, “Snapping Turtles are believed to live well over 100 years!” That means that the huge snappers residing in Centreville Pond could very well be the hamlet’s oldest residents.    

   2.1003016.Snapping TurtleD16482b2 27e6 4c63 Abe1 2e7212d289c8                                                                      Photos: Snapping Turtle www.ontarionature.org           Centreville Pond  www.waymarking.com

The MNR says: “As with many other rare plants and animals, the Snapping Turtle depends on wetland habitat. You can help by protecting any wetlands and surrounding natural vegetation on your property.”

The snapping turtle is listed as Special Concern under the Ontario Endangered Species Act and as Special Concern under the Federal Species at Risk Act. Snappers are designated as a Specially Protected Reptile under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. All of these acts protect both the snapping turtle and its habitat. The habitat of this species is also protected by the Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement under the Planning Act.

Centreville residents do their best to protect their snapper neighbours by accommodating nesting turtles and protecting their eggs; serving as traffic directors when the snappers are crossing Mill Line; and volunteering to maintain and watch over the Centreville Conservation Area and Pond. 

If Walker Industries has its way, the Centreville snapping turtle will have a new neighbour: potentially Ontario’s largest dump, situated near the Centreville Conservation Area’s northern end. The turtles’ lives depend on the water in the Centreville Pond, which mingles with the Thames River – the headwater that Walker Industries is considering using to flush away its leachate (treated somehow), draining off millions of tonnes of garbage for hundreds of years.

For Centreville’s snapping turtles, protected At Risk woodland voles, small businesses and nearly 100 families, there is concern regarding the negative impacts of at least 100 trucks driving daily through Centreville, each hauling in 35+ tonnes of residential, commercial and industrial waste from outside of Oxford County. PLUS additional trucks bringing in toxic brownsoil from contaminated demolition sites from Toronto and elsewhere to cover the garbage every day.                                                                                                                                       

If we stand by and let Walker Industries get its mega dump approved, life in Centreville will be dominated by continuous heavy truck traffic on the roads. Ongoing noise from massive trucks dumping garbage and mega machines stomping down mounding trash, all amplified by the lake created by an uncontained flood in the quarry around 2000. Stench. Gulls and other scavenger wildlife. 

Then there is the very real risk to the water drunk and used by Centreville’s residents: Turtles, voles, great blue herons and other wildlife dependent on the pond, creek, streams and the Thames River; children, adults and family pets dependent on their own private wells fed by underground natural reservoirs near or likely under the proposed dump site.

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Originally, Centreville was the territory of the Neutral Indians several hundred years ago. Legend has it that this was a place of pilgrimage, where the First Nations people came to bury their loved ones and honour their ancestors. Indian Hill is so named because of First Nations burial remains allegedly discovered on the rise that ends in the Centreville Conservation Area. 

Settlers lived in this region even before lands were granted to Thomas Ingersoll in the 1790s. Emerging as the prime centre for development and progress in Oxford County, Centreville erected one of southern Ontario’s earliest sawmills. Harnessing the power of Folden’s Creek as it flowed toward the Thames River, Centreville drew people from everywhere to its grist, flour, fanning and saw mills. Although Woodstock, Ingersoll and Tillsonburg eventually eclipsed Centreville, in its heyday, this place was the centre of it all. 

 The lime industry began and Centreville residents – turtles included – learned to deal with the dust, noise and serious house-shaking whenever quarries do their blasting. For many years, everyone has looked forward to the time when Carmeuse Lime would make good on its promise and honour its agreement with the Ministry of Natural Resources, in accordance with the Oxford County Official Plan, that once Carmeuse has extracted the limestone aggregate, the corporation would rehabilitate the quarry into a green space for the enjoyment and net social benefit of the local residents. Believing in the corporation’s vision of walking trails, a grassy park and even a lake stocked with fish for recreational fishing, residents have held on for that great day. 

Instead, Centreville has been dealt an insulting blow. Ontario’s mega dump in place of the promised green space. 

How can the proposed dump possibly be of net social benefit to the human and wildlife residents of Centreville?

      4418896760 F3dbc5c9dc B                           Centreville2                                                             Photo: Winter -Jeff & Liz Paton         Photo: Summer  -Mary Cooper