Wood Smoke Stories

Forced to leave Dundas, Ontario

My husband and I live in Dundas, a valley suburb west of Hamilton in Ontario, Canada. We moved here from Toronto in 2000 for an affordable home and the marvelous greenbelt with its numerous hiking trails. Our problems started in 2007 when a close neighbor started outdoor burns in his backyard using a vintage wood stove with an attached, homemade 4.5' smokestack. The smoke was foul and acrid and so thick that it could be photographed. Peculiarly, our neighbors were not troubled by this.

We knew that all outdoor burns were banned and told our neighbor to stop—to no avail. We called in the Fire Department who were rude, condescending and did nothing. We could not sit outside nor even open our windows; we could not escape the smell even inside our well-insulated home.

We started litigation against the Fire Department for refusing to shut down an illegal burn. We hired Canada’s foremost climate change lawyer, Ms. Laura Zizzo. In 2010 we finally shut the burn down and got a written apology from the Fire Chief. The miscreant sold up and moved out—we had respite for 7 years.

Then in 2017 we were again subjected to foul, acrid smoke which enveloped 5 neighborhood streets. This time we cannot pinpoint the source. My husband, who is in his 70s, walks the streets most weekend nights looking for the source. We still get an indifferent response from the Fire Department. We have narrowed the source to half of a particular street and asked the Fire Department to park there and raise their tall ladder or use a drone. They will not do that even though they admitted to us that the smoke was “very bad.”

We emailed our local councilor and couldn’t get past his secretary. All we got was a tepid, “canned” response mentioning how sorry they felt about our issue. We weren’t looking to share feelings—we wanted action taken on the issue i.e. public education via flyers, town hall meetings, radio and internet ads, strong enforcement of bylaws etc. They gave us no commitment to action but suggested what we should do. We have been “doing,” tackling this issue for over a decade entirely on our own.

We anticipate every weekend with dread. This is no way to live life and thus have decided to move out to an environmentally cleaner place, not easy to find in Canada. We have decided to locate to a remote, rural area in Cape Breton away from neighbors. As such we will have to sacrifice many services that we currently rely upon. But it will be worth it to breathe cleaner air and drink cleaner water.