VANCOUVER - Community gardeners scrambled to harvest their vegetables and flowers ahead of bulldozer that mowed down years of devotion and hard work along a stretch of abandoned rail line running through Vancouver.
The appearance of the bulldozer and accompanying dump truck was the culmination of a growing dispute between Canadian Pacific (TSX:CP) and the City of Vancouver over the value of the land known as the Arbutus Corridor.
The once-abandoned 11-kilometre-long rail line has been used for many years by local residents as a greenway to grow their gardens, but in May, CP warned that it would be taking over the land and assessing the current track condition for the possibility of running trains along the route.
The company gave residents until July 31 to remove personal items, sheds, storage containers and gardens.
Deanna Rexe, who lives in a housing co-op beside the track, said the deadline came and went. But on Thursday, the heavy equipment and CP police officers appeared.
Before long, the remains of people's fencing and gardens were being carted out in the dump truck, she said.
Rexe and others who have gardens along the line were told by police that they had 20 minutes to clear out.
"That's why we're working in a hurry to harvest, and to save the flowers so we can move them elsewhere in the property," she said as she uprooted plants in her garden.
Sarah Myambo has been growing vegetables for 25 years on her garden plot and watched as the heavy equipment rolled into the area.
"I can't even cry. I have no tears," she said. "I just cannot believe it."
CP told residents in a recent letter that contractors will be making their way along the corridor, identifying needed track improvements and removing items throughout August and September.
"CP is doing what it said it would do; complete the necessary work, which includes the safe removal of vegetation and obstructions, to begin to get the track and infrastructure in the area up to federal operating standards," spokeswoman Breanne Feigel said in an email.
"We approached the work today carefully and were respectful to our neighbours along this corridor. CP Police and other officials were on the property today to ensure public safety as machinery was being used."
The company also said on its website that for many years, it has been involved in conversations to convert the Arbutus Corridor for a number of combined public uses, such as "a greenway, public transportation, community gardens and eco-density development."
"Despite our efforts, the company and other parties have been unable to achieve a plan for the disposition of this valuable asset," it said.
"As such, we are moving forward with upgrading this rail line to ensure it meets the regulated safety requirements for our operations."
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson wasn't available for an interview, but said in an emailed statement, "It's very disappointing, given there is no business case for reactivating cargo trains. We've asked CP to respect the wishes of the local neighbourhood, and to continue to work with the city towards a long-term solution."
In late July, Robertson sent a letter to Canadian Pacific CEO Hunter Harrison, noting the city disagrees with the company on a fair market value for the land. He also asked the company to not remove community gardens along the rail line.
"In fairness to the residents along the corridor, over the last 14 years there have been no trains, minimal upkeep and little to no interest in this greenway from CP," the letter said.
"No one disputes CP’s legal rights; however, the very short notice given for removal of any and all encroaching uses has created a huge amount of anxiety, especially given the many years these uses have been allowed and not objected to by CP."