In the early morning of June 25, a massive excavator set to work demolishing the old Arthur Meighen Public School. It was an extraordinary sight, made surprising by the fact that no notice had been issued by the Town. Oh, we knew the old school would be torn down at some point – the press had told us so – but when? One report had it that a demolition permit was issued in April, but nothing happened in the months that followed. There was a rumour about that the old building would be pulled down in the fall. Another rumour had it that the school wouldn’t be demolished after all. Could that be true? Who knew? Again, no notice had been given by the Town.
And so, on that morning, residents of Emily, Water, Wellington, Widder and Church streets dashed about closing windows, calling pets inside and covering garden furniture as clouds of white dust and grit brought by the demolition settled over the neighbourhood.
What was in that dust? Everyone was aware that the building contained significant amounts of asbestos; after all, that had been a reason for closing the school in the first place. Had the asbestos been removed? Again, no notice had been given by the Town.
The toxic cloud hung over the neighbourhood during the day, settled on homes and gardens overnight, and would be joined by more dust and debris as demolition began anew the next morning. The plumes could be seen from across the Thames.
Where was the Town in all this? Faced with its inaction, several residents turned to the Ministry of the Environment, which then contacted both the Town and the developer. At the end of the third day of demolition, the Town’s depleted water supply was used to hose down a small portion of the growing ruin. The effect was negligible. The demolition crew hardly bothered repeating the futile exercise on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Sunday provided a break that should have allowed neighbours an opportunity to wash the dust and grit off their homes and vegetable gardens. If only a water conservation notice had not been in effect. Thank God for the rain.
Arthur Meighen Public School is nearly gone, but it lives on in our lungs.
What does this blatant disregard for public health and safety say about the Town? What are we to make of the gross disrespect paid its residents during this ongoing demolition?
At this stage, one can only conclude that they are indications of things to come.