08/15/2014 04:16 EDT | Updated 10/15/2014 05:59 EDT

Arbutus community gardens destruction 'bullying tactic' says Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says CP Rail ignored his request for facilitated talks, as the firm rips up community gardens nurtured for years along the disused Arbutus corridor railway.

Today's residents are caught in the middle of a decades-old dispute between CP Rail and the city ever since the city refused to allow the railway to develop the land and insisted it remain a greenway.  

The dispute went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which in 2006 ruled the city had final say over whether to allow development of the corridor, but the railway still maintained the right to use it for train traffic.

"CP's removal and destruction of long-standing structures along the Arbutus Corridor is completely unwarranted, and these actions are simply a bullying tactic," Robertson said in a news release Friday.

"The City offered to purchase the land at fair market value, which CP rejected...There is no business case to reactivate cargo trains along the Corridor, and the City's right to control the zoning was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada."

Robertson said he had written to the head of CP Rail in July in hopes of reaching a long-term solution through facilitation discussion.

"[This request] has been ignored," said Robertson. "The actions by CP are counterproductive, unnecessary, and disrespectful."

CP says the city's offer isn't what it considers fair. It says the railway shouldn't be faulted for behaving like one.

In a statement issued Thursday, CP Rail spokeswoman Breanne Feigel said it is following through on what it had said it would do — remove obstructions along the track to get it up to federal operating standards for a rail right-of-way.

"We approached the work carefully and were respectful to our neighbours along this corridor," said the statement. "CP Police and other officials were on the property to ensure public safety as machinery was being used."

The statement went on to say work will continue into next week and asked that the public respect the corridor as CP private property and stay out of the area "for their safety and the safety of CP Rail crews."

Community gardens destroyed

CP Rail brought in heavy equipment Thursday afternoon and began tearing down structures and removing the community gardens that local residents have nurtured for years along the disused railway.


On Wednesday, "no trespass" signs went up and crews moved in with weed whackers to cut back vegetation, but the community gardens remained untouched. By Thursday, however, the clearing of the rail line was underway in earnest.

Gardeners like Kate Wilczak say the removal of the gardens has nothing to do with trains. 

"This has absolutely everything to do with CP feeling that the city isn't meeting their negotiations. Even though the city has made an offer and is willing to negotiate. This is CP greed — this is greed."

Local resident Gerry Oldman stood helplessly by while the community garden he spent years building was destroyed.

"My son and my wife and I spent hours in that garden, you know, building the soil every year and planting," he said looking at the remains.

"You know, not wanting to hurt anybody, not wanting to be in anybody's way, just quietly going about our ​business and planting food that we love. And now it's gone."

Oasis of flowers and veggies

Trains haven't run along the line in more than a decade and some gardeners have spent 20 years or more trying to create an urban green space there — an oasis of flowers and trees.

But in early May, CP Rail suddenly announced it would clear the tracks for train traffic, a move the city considered more of a negotiating bluff than a serious proposal.

CP Rail asked community gardeners to remove everything that encroached on CP land by the end of July, including all plants and gardening sheds. 

That deadline came and went with the gardeners refusing to remove anything. However, the railway continues to follow through on that announcement.

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Follow our web reporter Steve Lus as he travels the Arbutus corridor rail line in his blog below:

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