Five Canadian Communities Fighting Climate Change That You’ve Probably Never Heard of Before

When you think about what Canada is known for on the international stage these days, fighting climate change is not exactly near the top of the list. Without credible plans from Ottawa and many provincial capitals, Canada’s climate-fighting reputation is up in smoke or, as the Economist put it, the moose has lost its sunglasses and Canada is “uncool.”

But when you look beyond the headlines, there is another story — one in which the vast majority of Canadian communities are committed to fighting climate change.

DeSmog Canada reached out to experts across Canada to get their opinions on which municipalities are leading the fight against climate change. Immediately, it became clear we could easily list Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton or Vancouver and tell great stories about these innovative cities.

Vancouver, for instance, nominated most often by the experts, is reforming its bylaws, permits, regulations and policies in an effort to become the greenest city in the world by 2020. Whether it is energy, food, grants, efficiency, jobs, bikes, procurement or construction, Vancouver has a sustainability policy, subsidy or project. Add in the work Surrey, Burnaby and the City of North Vancouver are doing to evolve from Vancouver bedroom communities into sustainable urban environments and the story could start and end in the Lower Mainland.

But we wanted to look beyond the big players to find the other guys — the innovative communities you probably haven’t heard about yet. Drum roll please …

Dawson Creek, B.C.

Dawson Creek sign

Dawson Creek, at "Mile 0" on the Alaska Highway, sits in the middle of B.C.'s natural gas fields. Photo: Shawn via Flickr.

Way up in the Peace Country, 400 kilometres northeast of Prince George, lays Dawson Creek — a city of fewer than 12,000 people in the heart of British Columbia’s natural gas fields.

During the last decade, the town has installed solar hot-water heaters on municipal buildings, changed its building-code bylaws to require every new house to be built “solar ready,” started charging a $100-per-tonne levy on greenhouse gas emissions and channeled the cash into a carbon fund, developed an anti-idling campaign, embraced a nearby wind farm and in 2012 became Canada’s first Solar City.

During this sustainability boom, the region also saw a massive influx of development from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of natural gas wells. Fracking requires large amounts of water, combined with chemicals, used to blast the natural gas from the shale rock formations. Faced with repeat drought years, Dawson Creek partnered with Shell to build a water-reclamation plant to provide water to industry and preserve the town’s drinking water.

"Now we have about 4,000 cubic metres of water a day going through this effluent plant that can be used for fracking instead of surface water or the city's treated water," former mayor Mike Bernier told Postmedia.

Guelph, Ontario

A footbridge in Guelph

A footbridge in Riverside Park, Guelph. Photo: Patty O'Hearn Kickham via Flickr.

Guelph, Ont., located 90 kilometres west of Toronto, was the winner of the 2014 Sustainable Communities Award for Energy from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The city, population 120,000, has leveraged Ontario’s green energy policies to develop close to 1,000 solar installations and has cut emissions by capturing methane from the landfill and composting organics.

Since 2006, Guelph has cut emissions per capita by 17 per cent. (The city was also helped by Ontario’s policy of phasing out coal-fired power plants). Guelph is aiming to have two district-energy systems operational by this year or next to provide hot or cool water from a central plant to customers, reducing emissions even more.

“By 2031 we’re expecting to add approximately 50 per cent more in population and a per capita reduction of 60 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions,” says mayor Karen Farbridge.

Varennes, Quebec     

The Saint-Joachim Chapel was built in 1832 in Varennes, Quebec. Now the city is leading the way to the low-carbon future with several technology research centres calling Varennes home. Photo: Gilles Douaire via Flickr.

Varennes, Que., located about 25 kilometres from Montreal, is home to a number of technology research centres, including Hydro-Québec’s IREQ, CanmetENERGY and the National Institute for Scientific Research. It is also the home office of the biggest biofuel producer in Canada, Greenfield Ethanol.

Greenfield is building an ethanol plant in Varennes using non-recyclable, non-compostable waste and an anaerobic digester, using organic waste from the surrounding area to produce biogas. 

The City of Varennes is replacing its city lights with energy efficient LEDs, using electric cars (with seven charging stations in the city) and building a new net-zero library — the first in net-zero building in Canada.

“Its yearly energy consumption will be zero thanks to geothermal technology, 700 solar panels, radiating floors, solar walls and smart lighting,” says mayor Martin Damphouse.

T’Sou-ke First Nation, B.C.

T'Sou-Ke First Nation solar panels

T'Sou-ke Chief Gordon Planes amongst a sea of solar panels. Photo: David Dodge, Green Energy Futures

About 40 kilometres west of Victoria on Vancouver Island is the T’Sou-ke First Nation. It is a tiny community of 250 members (150 on reserve), but it has a claim to fame as British Columbia’s “most solar-powered community.”

In 2009, through B.C.’s Solar Community Program, the T’Sou-ke Nation installed 75 kilowatts of solar power and now sells excess power back to the grid. All homes on the reserve have solar hot-water systems and have had energy-efficiency retrofits. The community also built a greenhouse and runs a community garden, selling extra produce to roughly 30 stores on southern Vancouver Island.

“When you think about the T’Sou-ke Nation, this tiny group on the edge of Vancouver Island, developing probably the most solar-intensive community in Canada, it is quite an achievement,” says Andrew More, T’Sou-ke solar program manager.

Most recently, the T’Sou-ke Nation became a partner in a $750-million wind-power project that will produce enough energy to power 30,000 homes.

Bridgewater, Nova Scotia   

Bridgewater Farmers' Market

Bridgewater Farmers' Market. Photo: John McCarthy via Flickr.

Bridgewater, located about 100 kilometers down the south shore of Nova Scotia from Halifax, has transformed its community’s energy system. Bolstered by provincial policies, the town of more than 8,000, has replaced street lights with LED lights, conducted energy efficiency retrofits to municipal buildings, introduced an anti-idling program, changed land-use policies and started buying locally installed solar power.

As a result of the major overhaul, Bridgewater reduced energy consumption from its town’s facilitates in 2012 by 15 per cent from 2007 levels and exceeded its goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent.

“I take particular pride in knowing that our town has done an exemplary job in dealing with sustainability planning,” says Mayor Carroll Publicover.

Main Photo: Dawson Creek grain elevator. Credit: Shannon via Flickr.

Raphael Lopoukhine is an environment-focused digital journalist and multi-media communicator, working in print, the web, design, video and photography. Raphael…

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