The authors of Annex 2 in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement recognized that the federal governments needed to cooperate with state and provincial governments, and ensure the public is consulted throughout the development and implementation of the Remedial Action Plans. This article demonstrates how public involvement in Remedial Action Plans is much more than consultation, that it enables participatory decision-making and capacity building. The story of the completion of the Collingwood Harbour Remedial Action Plan and its subsequent legacy in the form of the Environment Network, illustrates that with the proper effort directed to citizen engagement and public ownership of this process, a legacy of entrepreneurial innovation can be achieved that builds the capacity to sustain environmental recovery in support of enhancing the community and the economy.


Collingwood Harbour is located on the south shore of Nottawasaga Bay in Lake Huron's Georgian Bay (Figure 1). Collingwood’s location on the southern shores of Georgian Bay and at the base of the Niagara Escarpment has featured prominently in the growth of tourism. Collingwood has focused on establishing itself as a four-season tourist destination area, with its web site advertising “a superior quality of life and tourism amenities.”

Nuisance algal growth plagued the harbour waters up until the mid-1980s as a result of excessive phosphorus inputs to the harbour from the Collingwood sewage treatment plant (STP), which at the time was a primary treatment facility (Collingwood Harbour RAP, 1992). The harbour, as an industrial port for ship construction for over a century, suffered from habitat and wetland loss, shoreline hardening, and contaminated sediment (Krantzberg and Houghton, 1996).

In 1987 the Ontario Ministry of Environment (MOE) assigned Krantzberg to coordinate the Collingwood Harbour Remedial Action Plan (RAP).

Sustainable communities in relation to Collingwood

The Collingwood Harbour RAP practitioners1 acknowledged and deployed an ecosystem approach using the human-in-system definition (IJC, 1978). Practitioners conceived of the ecosystem as an interacting lattice of water, air, land and living organisms including humans.

With human inclusion in the ecosystem approach, societal values were overtly expressed. From the start, town participants recognized that the local economy and quality of life are inextricably bound to environmental excellence. This unequivocal reality effectively defused what can become a divisive economics versus environment debate, which is inconsistent with the ecosystem approach to resource revitalization.

Could Collingwood be considered a sustainable community? If sustainable cities are vibrant, harmonious and lasting (Sustainable Cities, 2004), then the fact that Collingwood is a pleasure to live in supports a positive resolution to the question. Florida (2000) maintains that environmental excellence exceeds other factors, including housing costs, climate, government services and public safety in the selection of places to live. If such is the case, the strategic goal of delisting the harbour serves the purpose of demonstrating environmental excellence and attracting talented trades to town.

Sustainable communities have also been defined as places that have made it their business to remain robust over the long term. “Sustainable communities have a strong sense of place. They have a vision that is embraced and actively promoted by all of the key sectors of society, including businesses, environmentalists, civic associations, government agencies, and more. They are places that build on their assets. These communities value healthy ecosystems and actively seek to retain and enhance a locally based economy… Public debate in these communities is engaging, inclusive, and constructive" (Institute for Sustainable Communities, 2004).

The RAP was effective and efficient in resolving the consequences of historic human use and misuse (Krantzberg and Houghton, 1996). By explicitly seeking the inclusive and active participation of a broad range of stakeholders during the vision and goal setting process, the RAP achieved inclusivity which nurtures legitimacy, accountability, and can galvanize distributed decision making. With the aim of leaving a sustainable legacy, in its final publication to Town Council, the RAP’s “Sustainability Subcommittee,” chaired by the Town Planner, wrote, among other things, that “development (at the shipyards) is acceptable so long as certain conditions are met to ensure water quality and the promotion of fish habitat.” (Collingwood Harbour RAP, 1994). Table 1 shows the evolution of the RAP and PAC process leading to delisting and the establishment of the Environment Network.

Ten years later, in 2004, plans were being finalized for the development of a mixed residential commercial project occupying the shipyard’s property, approximately 16.6 hectares along the Harbour Waterfront. This presented an excellent opportunity to determine whether the principles of the RAP were effective in enabling sustainable growth along the waterfront and within the Town a decade after RAP implementation was completed and the harbour was delisted as an Area of Concern. More details on the RAP itself are covered by Krantzberg (2009).

Years after the delisting of the Harbour, bringing people back to the revitalized waterfront has been a Town priority. Harbourlands Park was created in 2000 and is one of the most beautiful areas in the community. Residents and visitors alike are enjoying the rugged beauty of a once active shipping/grain storage area. The backdrop of the Collingwood Terminals with its huge white columns rises up from the once wasteland “spit area,” now a series of beautifully landscaped walkways and gardens with a history of the area on massive granite plinths. Harbourlands Park offers the ever-changing grandeur and scenic beauty of Georgian Bay for the many people who drive or walk to the Park. There are benches for reflective moments or to watch the quiet beauty of sailboats filling their sails as they make their way out of the historic Collingwood Harbour (Krantzberg, 2006; Town of Collingwood, 2004).

The Collingwood Harbour RAP Public Advisory Committee was incorporated in 1993 with offices located in downtown Collingwood. A storefront called The Environment Network of Colllingwood, opened for the Collingwood Harbour RAP. The purpose of the Environment Network of Collingwood was to provide a central location for the various activities of the RAP. It also provided residents with an environmental resource library and most of all it gave residents and visitors to the community a place to go with environmental questions and concerns.

Several years later the incorporation legally changed the name to The Environment Network. The organization operates as a cooperative, providing people with opportunities for work and a place for people to learn how they can operate their business or home in an ecologically, socially and an economically sustainable manner (Rich, pers. Obs.).

Making the link between the environment, society and the economy is imperative. The organization strives to assist in creating a “green industry” and to foster action that demonstrates sustainable practices and improvements.

In 1994, just prior to the de-listing of the Harbour, the Environment Network became part of the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Energy’s Green Communities Initiative to continue the work initiated by the RAP. This group of communities eventually worked together to create another non-profit organization called Green Communities Canada. The Environment Network created a Strategic Plan for the “Greening” of the entire community. The Strategic Plan contained goals with specific objectives; detailed Action Plans with activities identified by the community with implementation coordinated by the Environment Network.

All goals and activities set out in the Strategic Plan were completed within a period of two years. The organization continues to update its direction annually to ensure the needs of the community are met. The Environment Network remains a member of Green Communities Canada to this day.

In 2007, staff and Board members of the organization participated in training offered by The Natural Step on the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development. Fifteen years after the initial strategic plan called the ‘Greening of Collingwood’, The Environment Network became a founding member of the Natural Step Learning Network.

Throughout the many years of operation, the Environment Network has experienced times of significant growth and times of slower more steady growth. Despite fickle trends in society the organization has managed to ensure that interest and awareness remains high for the programs, activities and issues presented through the organization. This is definitely a significant strength of the organization that can be directly attributed to the creativity, entrepreneurship and commitment of the people involved.

Since 1993, The Environment Network has focused primarily on raising environmental awareness and improving the local natural environment through direct action. It is well understood that despite significant achievements, it is simply not enough to address the environmental degradation, social inequality, and economic instability of our community. More and more individuals, corporations and municipalities are aware that our society is operating in a fashion that the natural environment simply cannot sustain.

The question for many years was, (from 1994 to 2007 approximately) “Why must we change our behaviour?” Due to a significant shift in social awareness around climate change, in 2007, the question suddenly changed to, “Howdo we alter our lifestyles and business plans and move towards a sustainable future?” With the understanding that in order to make change in any situation, one must first change themselves. The Environment Network continued to strive to model environmental and socially-sound ways of life and lead the way for sustainability in our community.

The Environment Network opened a new retail storefront in 2008, identifying it as a “sustainability centre” addressing all aspects of sustainability, including; economy, environment and social in an integrated fashion. The goal was to gather, support and lead others in an engaged fashion.

The Environment Network worked as an objective moderator and regional coordinator using the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development by providing a clear, compelling, science-based meaning of sustainability and a practical strategic planning framework to help people make smart economic decisions to move our community step-by-step towards a successful and sustainable future.

Guiding principles

The Environment Network operates according to the Framework of Strategic Sustainable Development to guide our programs, services, and operations according to four sustainability principles:

  1. To reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and heavy metals

  2. To reduce our dependence on human made substances which build up in nature.

  3. To reduce our destruction of nature.

  4. To ensure that all people, around the world, are able to meet their basic human needs. Those needs are identified as, subsistence, affection, identity, protection, understanding, creativity, participation, leisure, transcendence, and freedom.

Organizational structure

Board of directors

As a Corporation, a volunteer board of directors governs the Environment Network.


The Environment Network staff and contractors function as a co-operative, where all project coordinators collaborate and have a say in the organization’s operations. The Executive Director is responsible to research and obtain core funding for the organization.


The work of the Environment Network is enhanced by the dedication of volunteers that assist with outreach, fundraising, office, field work and much more.


The partners and potential clients of the Environment Network play a significant role in shaping the results and impact of our work in the community. Over 50 partners are listed below:


Active and safe routes to school

Active and Safe Routes to School is a program designed to assist school communities in encouraging safe and active travel to and from school. If the current trends continue we may no longer have a generation that will remember walking to school. Vehicle ownership is increasing steadily, resulting in congested roads and increased air pollution from transportation. As more people opt to drive to their destinations, parent’s fears of traffic dangers and personal safety increase, forcing parents to drive their children to and from school. School areas, in many communities, have become traffic nightmares and all too frequently we hear children becoming victims of collisions right outside their school.

The benefits of the program:

  • Increased physical activity for children and youth

  • A healthier lifestyle for the whole family

  • Less traffic congestion around schools

  • Safer and calmer streets and neighbourhoods

  • Improved air quality and a cleaner environment

Active Transportation

Active Transportation is defined as transportation that is human powered as opposed to motorized vehicles (electric, gas or other). This Network produced a report that is intended to assist the municipality in identifying opportunities to improve Active Transportation within the Town of Collingwood. This report advocates for better bicycle and walking infrastructure among its existing and developing streets including adequate resources for trails, sidewalks, bicycle lanes, greenways, and urban parks.

The Environment Network has worked with the Town of Collingwood and Wasaga Beach to support the issue of Active Transportation and provide the municipalities with the “how to” information that is much needed at this point.

Collingwood trails

The Environment Network supported the Collingwood Trails Network through basic administration and acting as a resource to the committee. Together, the two organizations were able to build nearly 100 km of trails in our community.

Home energy audits

The Environment Network has been coordinating home energy visits since 1994, an activity identified in the original strategic plan. Tens of thousands of residential energy evaluations have been performed in Simcoe County and Muskoka by the Environment Network, making the Environment Network one of the largest providers of the home energy retrofit services in Canada.

The purpose of the Environmental Network's home energy assessments is to support water and energy conservation by assisting homeowners to reduce their cost and increase their homes’ water and energy efficiency.

Girlfriends and The Crew

The Girlfriends program and The Crew were created in September 2007 and 2010, respectively. These after school programs for girls (Girlfriends) and boys (The Crew) in grades 7 and 8. The programs were established to help young people address important topics such as self-esteem, physical activity and relationships of all kinds (including friends, family and the natural world). Drug and tobacco use, sex and sexuality are topics that are discussed openly and honestly.

These are mentorship programs run by women and men, for our young people with volunteer mentors and guest professionals from the community providing positive leadership and serving as role models for the participants.

The intent is that participants' awareness and attitudes toward healthy living and environmental responsibility will evolve over the course of the program, giving them the tools needed for continued personal change and ensuring that they are able to meet their own basic human needs (Sustainability Principle #4).

Day Camp

The Explorations Green Environmental Education Day Camp follows the philosophy of Earth Education, accomplished through hands-on environmental learning and dynamic outdoor activities in a safe and fun environment. Children are provided with experiences that develop and nurture a joyous relationship and understanding of the earth and its processes.

The Camp helps children to discover that humans are part of nature, and helps lead them to discover different relationships that exist between people and the natural world. Explorations Green gives Campers skills to live more in tune with the earth, by focusing on and modelling positive environmental behaviours and attitudes. Explorations Green provides opportunities for Campers to experience several different ways of enjoying nature, through active group games, quiet solitude enhancing experiences and lots of outdoor sports, in order to give them the tools for continuing contact with the natural world throughout their lives.

The Shoppe

The Environment Network Shoppe was established to make responsible consumerism easy for shoppers. This came about because Environment Network staff were having difficulty finding products locally that satisfied everyday needs and wants in terms of environmental concerns and overall sustainability.

The Shoppe doors opened 22 April 2008. A great deal of time and work went into researching each item and their individual ingredients. The Environment Network must ensure that its products meet the needs of its customers while following the four principles of sustainability. In turn, it is also important to our customers that we succeed because they invest time and money into our products and services and have an interest in the Environmental Network being a credible, progressive, organization that can continue to raise awareness and assist them in transition towards sustainability.

Social innovation factory

In 2017, as part of a new collaborative non-proft hub in the Collingwood area, the Environment Network teamed up with a group of other community organizations who are also committed to youth and or the environment. Together, the goal is to focus our efforts on increasing positive impacts on the community. As part of this collaboration, the Environment Network offices and The Shoppe have moved to a new location to reside in one building with some of the other organizations. Everyone involved is very excited to begin a new chapter in this, the twenty-fifth year of operation of The Environment Network.


According to the IJC (1996), the RAP process is breaking ground in community-based and ecosystem based management processes. In 2017, some might argue that ground breaking in many locations has stalled. Where this is the case, from the Collingwood experience, it is apparent that governments need to view themselves as a mechanism that nurtures community capacity. Participation of the appropriate actors, development of mutually agreed upon decision making process, common objectives, political support, public participation and funding are all central prerequisites to achieving a sustainable community, and are central to the philosophy that is behind successful RAP programs (Krantzberg, 2003).

The Collingwood Harbour RAP employed a combination of human, scientific, technological, organizational, institutional, and resource capabilities to generate and sustain the capacity for the changes required to solve the Habour's environmental problems. As defined by Hartig et al. (1995) capacity-building enhances the ability of a community to identify and achieve consensus on problems, develop policies and programs to address them, and marshal appropriate resources to carry out the policies and programs. Further, democratic dialogue and participatory decision making enabled consensus and ownership of the RAP and its legacy. This is evidenced beyond the RAP by the commitment of the politicians and citizens to ensure the sustainability of the Town’s economy, environment, and social fabric. Achievement of local ownership of the RAP and shared responsibility for actions helped empower a community fiercely protective of its excellence that embedded sustainable design in the approved redevelopment plan of the brownfield property at the Shipyards.


Our thanks go to the Collingwood Harbour Public Advisory Committee, the leadership of the mayors of the Town of Collingwood, and the proud people of this extraordinary town.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.


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Provincial and federal government experts, community representatives from a cross section of sectors including local government, education, environment agriculture, industry, tourism and recreation, land owners, conservation authority, human health, citizens at large.