Editorial by Len Maki, Friends of the LPH Greenspace

Lately, the former Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital (LPH) and surrounding lands have become a topic of discussion. The recent vandalism inside the building also brings to focus the issue of what to develop and what to preserve, and why.

Maps in the city archives show trail use as far back as the 1920s, but modern use dates to the Boy Scout Jamboree in the mid 1990s. Wildlife is abundant and the trails are accessible to all to walk, run, bike, or cross-country ski. They are kept clean, in marked contrast to some other outdoor areas in the city. Many community groups access these trails throughout the year.

This 144-acre area is now classified as “surplus” property by the Ontario Government, and is undergoing a bureaucratic review process, which can take many years. The Friends of the LPH Greenspace has engaged in significant advocacy efforts hoping to preserve some of this area as trail/recreational use. At one point, Thunder Bay City Council passed a motion to preserve the trail area/greenspace. Unfortunately, this was overruled, as the current provincial government wishes this land to be sold as one piece. The city has designated the area as “future residential” in the most recent official plan, which I encourage everyone to review (search “official plan” at thunderbay.ca). A “Highest/Best Land Use” survey suggested higher-end units, highrises, and condos. A percentage of social housing would be included, as required by regulation. Thoroughfares would run across to Hudson Avenue.

In a time when many have voiced concerns about the preservation of our urban forest, it is worth considering the future of this area. Questions remain about flooding as a result of development, along with the significant impact of traffic on the rest of the active living corridor (Boulevard Lake/Centennial Park/The Bluffs). Of course, the issue of housing availability and urban infill is very important and at some point, this area may be sold. If and when this happens, there is an opportunity to make this area meet both environmental protection and development needs.

To preserve this greenspace in a meaningful way, we need political will, which requires citizen action. This can take a number of forms: telephone calls, letters, and emails to both local and provincial officials (the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing in particular). Also of utmost importance is showing that stewardship of the area continues, and that it is kept clean and safe. Together we can make this a win/win for all.

Addendum: On May 13th, the Thunder Bay Fire Rescue responded to a fire inside the former LPH. If anyone has information or footage of this or other illegal activity at this location, please share it with the Thunder Bay Police Service.