Canadian Institute of Planning Award of Excellence in Urban Design 2017
The Britannia Farm Master Plan Refresh is an ambitious project driven by the overall goal to provide inspiring outdoor and experiential education in Peel Region. Britannia Farm is immense in its scale at approximately 200-acres and represents an increasingly rare, large open space with a variety of natural and cultural heritage features and a distinctly agricultural character, nestled in a rapidly densifying part of Mississauga. It is located on Hurontario Street, just a few kilometres north of Mississauga’s City Centre and is owned and operated by the Peel District School Board (PDSB). The property was dedicated to the children of Peel by the Crown in a trust established in 1833 for the purposes of supporting education. A master plan to use the property for outdoor education was first prepared in 1989 however, a lack of sustained funding has meant that this 200-acre asset has gone relatively unused.
The imperative for understanding and appreciating the natural world, and how we interact and impact it, is heightened even more than when the original plan was prepared. Research on the value of green and natural spaces on mental health is regularly in the media alongside issues of climate change and food security. Britannia Farm’s location in the heart of the densest part of Peel Region means that more students will have an opportunity to explore these issues, as well as other issues across the curriculum – or just hop on the LRT to go for a walk in the woods!
Understanding the site’s incredible potential and the need for more outdoor education capacity, the PDSB commissioned Urban Strategies to lead a multi-disciplinary team of consultants to refresh the Britannia Farm Master Plan, including developing and leading a robust public engagement and community consultation strategy.
The objective of the project was threefold:
- Create a Refreshed Master Plan for the future, sustainable use of the Farm that respects the Farm as an educational resource for the Board;
- Determine appropriate public access and ideas for public programming; and
- Consider the development potential of a small portion of the property (32-acres) that was approved for a long-term lease through a Provincial Order-In-Council in 2009 in order to provide a sustainable funding source.
The Master Plan Refresh focuses on the physical priorities and necessary partnerships required to unlock the educational potential of the property and unleash the creativity and passion of the Board’s staff and students. It sets out a logical arrangement of the physical elements through the creation of a physical framework that is rooted in the rural, agricultural legacy of the site. The proposed interventions are “light touches” on the landscape, leaving nature to do its work and transform the property over time. The students of Peel will be witness to this evolution and at times participate in it as ecological restoration and enhancement is carried out. The existing heritage structures will remain on the site and be restored to better contribute to a snapshot of rural Ontario in the mid-19th century.
The Plan also addresses two new considerations: i) introducing public access to the property in collaboration with the City of Mississauga, and ii) the development of a small portion of the least environmentally sensitive lands, which also happen to be along the Hurontario LRT frontage, to fund the sustained operation of Britannia Farm and the PDSB’s two other outdoor education centres, including capital investments that are sorely needed. Both of these considerations represent exciting opportunities to realize the full potential of the site, though neither are without their challenges, which are addressed by the Plan through a variety of creative approaches informed by extensive stakeholder consultation and public engagement.
The Master Plan Refresh was enthusiastically adopted by the Peel District School Board on December 12, 2016.