Chapter 2: Connecting Communities

Among the most important factors to consider when implementing an HSR service is who the end users will be and how the service will benefit their communities. During the course of his appointment, the Special Advisor met with municipal and provincial stakeholders and Indigenous communities within the Toronto-Windsor corridor to discuss the opportunities and challenges associated with HSR. Enthusiasm for and interest in the project is high overall; however, this community engagement has highlighted a number of important considerations that must be reviewed when implementing HSR.

Community Engagement

A key component of the Special Advisor's mandate was to engage with First Nations and Métis communities as well as public- and private-sector stakeholders. Over the course of his appointment Mr. Collenette held municipal engagement sessions in each of the four main station-area communities (Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, and Windsor) and engagement sessions with Indigenous communities in the corridor. Informal and one-on-one meetings were also held with stakeholders throughout the Special Advisor's term. Throughout the past year, many individuals, organizations and communities approached the Special Advisor to meet on the HSR file. While everyone received a response, the limited time frame for concluding work on the study meant that it was impossible to accept every request to meet. However, as plans for HSR move forward, there will be further engagement opportunities for interested parties.

This chapter summarizes key feedback and provides recommendations for government based on what was heard at the engagement sessions.

Engagement Sessions – Public and Private Sectors

The engagement sessions were designed to explore four key areas:

  • Opportunities associated with HSR.
  • Key considerations.
  • Related projects that the Ministry should be made aware of.
  • Future engagement as the project progresses.

Stakeholders and Indigenous communities were invited to attend sessions in Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, London and Windsor in February 2016. Each session included a presentation on the HSR project by the Special Advisor and MTO officials followed by breakout table discussions.

The engagement sessions were well-attended, with Kitchener-Waterloo and London having the highest numbers of participants. Attendees included elected officials and/or staff representatives across all levels of government as well as people representing chambers of commerce, boards of trade, academic institutions and key regional industry groups.

The following themes emerged consistently across all four engagement sessions:

Economic Development Opportunities

Every community expressed a view that HSR has the potential to be transformative—spurring economic growth, increasing labour mobility, attracting talent, addressing traffic congestion and increasing the quality of life for all of the communities along the proposed corridor.

Toronto attendees identified the connection of communities further west to the airport as a key economic factor. Although Pearson Airport already has a downtown link via the UP Express, the airport and surrounding commercial and industrial areas, sometimes termed "employment lands," remain relatively disconnected from other regional transit projects and lack broader connections to Southwestern Ontario. Participants noted that it was likely that a direct airport connection to HSR would increase ridership for the service through connecting key employment hubs such as Kitchener-Waterloo to Pearson Airport.

As the sessions moved further west, interest in the economic development opportunities associated with HSR increased. At the engagement session in Kitchener there was general agreement that one key challenge that area businesses face is attracting talent, particularly in the high-tech industry. An HSR connection has the potential to make living in the Kitchener-Waterloo region more appealing for residents commuting to Toronto, and would also increase the attractiveness of "reverse commuting," giving employees working in Kitchener-Waterloo the option of living in Toronto. Representatives from the tech industry indicated that highly skilled prospective employees, particularly those who are younger, tend to prefer to live in larger city centres such as Toronto's, and that the reverse commute would make it easier for them to do so.

Participants in London also discussed the potential of HSR to create talent attraction opportunities for the city, similar to those described above for Kitchener-Waterloo. They indicated that although thousands of students attend the University of Western Ontario or one of the city's colleges, fewer than desired settle in London once they graduate. According to participants, one reason for this could be a lack of job opportunities commensurate with the graduates' knowledge and skills. Participants at the session indicated that talent is often lost to Toronto or Kitchener-Waterloo, although this talent loss is difficult to quantify.

Some participants in London also believed that HSR service could create the opportunity for London to become a hub for HSR rolling-stock maintenance since the region already has a long history of building heavy-rail locomotives. Some also believed a case could be made for the HSR maintenance and operations centres to be located in London because it is situated at the mid-point of the corridor.

At the Windsor session, HSR was viewed as potentially transformational from the perspective of reviving the manufacturing industry and providing new employment opportunities. HSR's potential to resume cross-border connections with the United States via the existing tunnel also generated considerable enthusiasm. This point was echoed in a discussion with representatives from Michigan's Department of Transportation, the Council of the Great Lakes Region, and Amtrak, the American passenger rail and bus operator.

Many people at various sessions also noted that HSR could make train travel an enjoyable experience for commuters, optimizing productivity levels by making the trains efficient and work-friendly spaces, with access to Wi-Fi, designated quiet cars and quality refreshment services. HSR riders would enjoy their journeys, welcoming trips as opportunities for reading, reflection, and work, in contrast to the "lost time" experience of long car commutes.

Coordination and Integration of Transportation and Transit Services

The second key theme that emerged from the engagement sessions was the need to coordinate services in the corridor and to integrate HSR with local and regional transit systems.

At each session it was noted that rationalizing existing services such as VIA Rail, GO RER, and the UP Express, which run within the same corridor as the proposed HSR system, would be critical to its success. Stakeholders suggested that MTO work closely with the municipal and federal governments to achieve the right balance for optimal service in the corridor.

Stakeholders also highlighted the need to ensure that HSR would not displace existing services such as VIA Rail's services to communities not on the HSR line such as Woodstock, Ingersoll, Stratford and St. Marys. A system-wide approach in developing better connectivity and mobility options in Southwestern Ontario was suggested to ensure that existing rail and bus services would be able to connect passengers to a future HSR network. Participants firmly believed that investing in services for smaller communities in the near term would build ridership and increase mobility options in advance of HSR implementation.

On a related note, stakeholders emphasized that integration of local and regional transit strategies was essential to ensure coordination of transportation priorities and so that services would operate as one user-friendly system. The topic of "first-mile/last-mile" connections was discussed extensively at the engagement sessions. Table 2.1 summarizes local projects underway that were discussed at the sessions and which projects MTO should take into consideration when coordinating with HSR.

Table 2.1: Projects and Services Discussed at the Special Advisor's Engagement Sessions

Toronto KW London Windsor
  • UP Express
  • GO Regional Express Rail
  • SmartTrack
  • Mississauga Transitway
  • Hurontario-Main LRT (Brampton)
  • Eglinton Crosstown
  • Finch West LRT
  • Waterloo ION LRT/Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
  • King/Victoria multimodal transportation hub
  • GO Transit
  • Shift Rapid Transit project
  • City of London's corridor protection strategy
  • Planning and track upgrade activities across the border in the United States

The various local projects listed in Table 2.1, all in different stages of development, are positive contributions to the HSR planning process and will contribute to the success of HSR. As Kitchener-Waterloo builds its new multimodal hub, for example, regular community engagement may also help with HSR integration plans.

It was also beneficial to learn that some communities have already started planning for HSR or are receptive to beginning planning for HSR integration. Municipal stakeholders in London mentioned that their corridor-protection plans are forward-looking and that HSR is already being considered, including what a downtown HSR station might look like, as they upgrade existing CN lines and grade separations. The Special Advisor also met with the Mayor of Guelph and senior city staff who expressed interest in supporting planning efforts to bring HSR to Guelph.

Future Engagement

In all the sessions participants emphasized the need for the continued engagement of stakeholders on the project. There was a specific interest from participants discussing the business case for HSR, in particular implementation timelines, budget, and the target market for the service.

MTO officials explained that the HSR project is in its early stages, and that more information will be made available as the EA process advances. This is a formalized process outlined in legislation that that government must follow and it includes requirements for Indigenous engagement and public and stakeholder consultation.

Other Considerations


Participants emphasized that both HSR's target market and how much it will cost users must be made very clear during the planning and technical stages of the project. If business travellers are target users, a potential pricing approach would be to offer tiered fares with business class seats at one price, as well as other more affordable options. The Special Advisor was encouraged to consider other pricing approaches, such as student and senior prices, or offering discounts for bulk ticket purchases or for passes. In Europe, for example, HSR fares can vary significantly depending on how many tickets are purchased at a time or how far in advance they are purchased, and discounts are generally provided for trips that are paid for in advance. Fare integration with intercommunity buses, VIA Rail and GO Transit was noted as a desirable aspect of HSR.

Service Levels

Participants discussing service levels had various opinions, often dependent on their location. In Kitchener-Waterloo, for example, many stakeholders felt that a shorter commute time to Toronto was one of the most desired factors. In communities such as London and Windsor, although speed was important, so was the provision of predictable and regular service, particularly at peak times in the morning and evening.

Emerging Technologies

A number of stakeholders encouraged the Special Advisor and MTO to consider the impacts and implications that emerging technologies would have on future transportation services. It was suggested that Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) might provide excellent opportunities for first-mile/last-mile connections and for smaller communities to connect with HSR, and that alternative rail technologies merited further consideration. Hyperloop, an emerging technology now being tested around the world where people are transported in pods at immense speeds through pneumatic tubes on a cushion of air, was also raised.

Business Case Results

Finally, a number of stakeholders recommended that more detailed information be shared at future engagement sessions about the project and about the business case for HSR in the corridor. They would like to see more detail on potential station locations, timing, and the costs and benefits, including a Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR), if possible, to demonstrate evidence-based decision-making for the project.

Recommended Approach – Public and Private Sectors

Overall, stakeholders in the Toronto-Windsor corridor are enthusiastic about the potential opportunities that HSR can bring to their communities, with economic development opportunities being the primary area of interest. Stakeholders believe that HSR will extend Toronto's and Kitchener-Waterloo's "commute sheds," making both commuting to work and business-related day-trips to and from these major employment hubs easier. They believe HSR will also spur jobs and economic growth in London and Windsor.

Stakeholders also indicated that it will be important for the Province to ensure that services are integrated and that first-mile/last-mile connections are made, creating a comprehensive transportation network for Southwestern Ontario with HSR as the foundation. Where possible, work already underway in the communities on transit projects, mobility hubs, or other infrastructure investments must be taken into account and integrated with HSR. Shorter-term investments to bolster mobility options in advance of HSR implementation could be made in municipal transit and intercommunity services, particularly in smaller communities in the corridor. Stakeholders' expectations are high for future engagement on HSR to include more information about the business case.

Based on the feedback from the engagement sessions during the Special Advisor's term, it is recommended that the Province undertake the following as the HSR project advances:

Recommendation 1: Integration with Local Transit Services

The Province should continue to work closely with municipal stakeholders in the corridor to identify opportunities to integrate local transit and existing and planned services with future HSR stations and ensure that first-mile/last-mile connections are made.

Recommendation 2: Regional Transportation Infrastructure

The Province should encourage and support investment in regional transportation infrastructure in the near term to increase transportation options in smaller communities, which will help build ridership in the corridor and establish a system-wide approach to mobility in Southwestern Ontario.

Recommendation 3: Share Detailed Business Case Results

The Province should share detailed business case results for HSR as the project develops, emphasizing collaboration, transparency and information-sharing, to ensure that communities along the corridor are informed about and engaged in the project.

Recommendation 4: Continued Engagement with Stakeholders

The Province should continue to engage with stakeholders, including but not limited to municipalities and land owners in the corridor, on the planning, development, and implementation of HSR, including throughout the Environmental Assessment process.

Engagement with Indigenous Communities

There are a number of First Nations and Métis communities in the proposed HSR study area, and the Special Advisor emphasized the need to engage with Indigenous communities as early as possible in the project-planning phase.

Letters introducing the Special Advisor and the proposed HSR project were sent to all First Nations communities in the study area, as well as to the Métis Nation of Ontario. The Special Advisor offered to meet with community leaders to provide more information and to have discussions about the communities' interests and concerns.

The objectives for the meetings with Indigenous communities were similar to the municipal engagement sessions, including

  • Providing communities with a high-level overview of the proposed HSR project.
  • Seeking feedback on how best to engage with First Nations communities in the corridor.
  • Understanding the key challenges and opportunities presented by HSR from the perspective of First Nations.

The following section summarizes feedback from the Indigenous communities that met with the Special Advisor and/or MTO officials.

Ongoing Engagement with Indigenous Communities

One theme that emerged in each of the meetings with Indigenous communities was the need for ongoing, regular engagement throughout the duration of the HSR project with communities in the study area. Community leaders stressed the importance of collaboration between their communities and the Province, to ensure that the views and interests of Indigenous peoples are adequately incorporated at each stage in the project.

Communities requested that long-term engagement plans for the HSR project be defined and developed in partnership with their communities; each has differing needs, interests and preferred approaches. For example, the Aamjiwnaang, Chippewas of the Thames, Walpole Island, and Kettle and Stoney Point First Nations indicated a preference to be engaged as a group to allow for a unified regional voice. Other communities may prefer to be engaged one-on-one.

All communities emphasized the importance of ongoing engagement leading up to and throughout the EA process, particularly as more project details become available.

Economic Development Opportunities and Partnerships

Communities meeting the Special Advisor and MTO officials were interested in the economic development benefits of the project, identifying employment, procurement opportunities, ongoing revenue generation, business arrangements, and partnerships as potential economic opportunities. They noted that the proposed project could bring substantial benefits to Indigenous communities and businesses through activities related to

  • Construction
  • Operations
  • Maintenance
  • Consulting services (e.g., for feasibility or EA studies).

Some communities recommended that the Province consider how to ensure that communities are prepared before the project begins so that they can take advantage of economic development opportunities that arise from the project—for example, identifying what specialized skills and education will be required for various components of the project (construction, maintenance, operations) and determining what the Province can do to help ensure Indigenous peoples and businesses have the capacity, expertise, and skills required to take advantage of these opportunities.

The concept of equity partnership and a desire to be shareholders in the HSR project was also raised by some communities. There are no models for such an arrangement to do with rail infrastructure in the Province; however, equity arrangements between the private sector and First Nations have been successful for other types of infrastructure, such as energy utilities, and equity partnership models for HSR could be explored. Above all, Indigenous communities want to be considered true economic partners as HSR moves forward.

Environmental Protection and Respect for Culturally Sensitive Lands

The protection of the natural environment and respect for culturally sensitive lands must be a priority throughout the implementation of HSR. Overall, assuming that HSR would be an electrified service, the communities expressed the view that the project would be a positive one for the environment, particularly because it would reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by taking cars off the road; however, a number of important considerations for the HSR corridor were raised by the communities, including but not limited to concerns about

  • Protecting wildlife, including the provision of wildlife overpasses/underpasses on the HSR corridor.
  • Minimizing impacts of rail corridors on the environment such as the loss of Carolinian grassland, woodlands, or the spread of invasive species, such as phragmites, an invasive species of grass that crowds out native vegetation and can spread along transportation corridors.
  • Soil contamination and leaching risks posed by construction materials.
  • Noise and vibration impacts from fast and frequent train movements.
  • Protecting water systems such as the Grand River, Thames River Watershed, and others.

Communities encouraged the Province to recognize that Indigenous peoples are experts on the environment and have a deep knowledge and understanding of local species of plants and animals. Their services could be retained to support the EA process for environmental monitoring or to offer traditional knowledge.

On a case-by-case basis at provincial construction projects the Province and Indigenous communities often arrange for environmental or archaeological field monitors when necessary. For example, after the Highway 407 East project revealed thousands of Indigenous artifacts from a former Huron-Wendat settlement, Indigenous field monitors visited the site for inspections, as shown in Figure 2.1.

Figure 2.1: Indigenous Field Monitors on an Archaeology Site in the Highway 407 East Corridor

Staff working at an Archaeological Site in the Highway 407 East Corridor

Source: Ministry of Transportation

Of primary concern to communities is the protection of lands used for cultural purposes such as for ceremonies or for gathering medicinal plants, as well as potential impacts on archaeological resources such as traditional First Nations' settlements and burial sites, and this concern must be considered when planning any new infrastructure for HSR, including tracks or new stations.

Education and Awareness

Communities viewed the HSR project as providing an excellent opportunity to advance education and build awareness of Indigenous culture, history and traditions in Southwestern Ontario, a way to build trust and understanding and to educate Ontarians and all HSR users about First Nations and Métis history. It was suggested that Indigenous communities could engage directly with the public in a number of ways throughout the project, including during the EA process, to raise awareness about their traditional territories, histories, and cultures.

Participants suggested that if HSR is built the Province could procure Indigenous artists and historians to create art and cultural installations for HSR stations. This has been a successful endeavour in other MTO projects. The Right Honourable Herb Gray Parkway, for example, features artwork produced by local Indigenous artists (see Figure 2.2), and the hiking trail running parallel to the highway includes educational plaques that detail Indigenous history and traditions for path users to read and interact with. As a second example, the artifacts from the former Huron-Wendat settlement on the 407 East site mentioned above went on public display during Doors Open Whitby in 2014 (see Figure 2.3).

Figure 2.2: Sculpture of a Turtle Designed by Walpole Island First Nation Artist Teresa Altiman Featured on the Herb Gray Parkway Trail

Sculpture of a Turtle made from steel with a large stone resting on its back

Source: Ministry of Transportation

Figure 2.3: Indigenous Stone and Bone Artifacts Found on the 407 East Site

A sample of Indigenous Stone Artifacts Found on the 407 East Site A sample of Indigenous  Bone Artifacts Found on the 407 East Site

Source: Ministry of Transportation

Capacity Funding

Participants raised lack of capacity as a potential barrier to successful engagement on the HSR project, noting that many Indigenous communities do not have the human resources, financial capacity or technical expertise to meaningfully participate in government-led engagement processes. Communities in the HSR study area identified the need for the Province to provide capacity funding to facilitate their meaningful participation in the HSR project; communities often request capacity funding so they can hire their own technical experts to review project information such as EA studies or engineering reports, and since many communities are small, they may also require capacity funding to hire administrative staff to deal with the hundreds of requests received each year from government that seek feedback on various policies, initiatives and projects.

Recommended Approach – Indigenous Engagement

Overall, the HSR project is viewed as a positive opportunity with the potential to generate economic development and environmental benefits; however, Indigenous communities want to ensure that there will be real benefits and shared prosperity for their communities.

Given the important considerations that were raised by Indigenous communities during early engagement, it is advised that the Province adopt the following recommendations as the HSR project advances.

Recommendation 5: Continued Engagement with Indigenous Communities

The Province should continue to engage with Indigenous communities on the planning, development, and implementation of HSR, including throughout the Environmental Assessment process, and work with communities to determine preferred approaches to engagement.

Recommendation 6: Opportunities for Indigenous Communities – Economic Benefits

The Province should consider opportunities for Indigenous communities to share in the economic benefits associated with HSR, including generating future opportunities related to procurement and other economic partnership arrangements.

Recommendation 7: Protection of the Environment and Lands of Cultural and Archaeological Importance

The Province should commit to protecting the natural environment, culturally sensitive lands and archaeological sites throughout the Toronto-Windsor corridor, recognizing that Indigenous communities are experts in these areas of knowledge.

Recommendation 8: Showcasing of Indigenous Art and Culture

The Province should provide opportunities to showcase Indigenous culture, history and traditions throughout the HSR project, including showcasing Indigenous art and culture at future HSR stations, and consider Indigenous traditional naming opportunities for HSR-related infrastructure.

Recommendation 9: Indigenous Capacity Funding

The Province should consider providing capacity funding to Indigenous communities in the study area to facilitate engagement on the HSR project.

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