The Canadian Brownfields Network (CBN), a national community of brownfield professionals dedicated to transforming formerly underutilized and contaminated properties into revitalized residential, community, and commercial spaces, recently gathered 140 brownfield practitioners for CBN’s 2024 Annual Conference with the theme, “Here & Now: Making #BrownfieldsFirst a Reality.”

“This year’s conference explores the challenges and opportunities with current brownfield redevelopment and remediation, including issues related to policy and legislation, balancing community priorities, innovative approaches, standard of care, and more,” said Krista Barfoot, president of CBN and infrastructure sector leader at SLR Consulting, as she kicked off the event at Toronto Metropolitan University. “The conference also offers a number of opportunities to network with colleagues. Engagement is the catalyst to solutions.”

“Our focus has been on expanding reach with decision-makers, advancing hot topics and emerging issues and integrating brownfields into other priority areas such as climate change, housing affordability, renewable energy, and preservation of lands with Indigenous communities,” said CBN Executive Director Meggen Janes, a principal at Geosyntec. “We are grateful for our ongoing collaborations that put brownfields first.”

Conference Chair Andrew Macklin, a senior communications advisor at WSP Canada, echoed these sentiments. “We know there is still much work to be done to make ‘Brownfields First’ a reality. But I hope today’s discussion can act as a positive step forward, arming industry professionals and government officials with the knowledge needed to, once and for all, put brownfields first.”

Environment Journal was a proud media partner for the event. Here are some of the highlights from throughout the day’s informative and inspiring lineup of panels and presentations.

Funds for contaminated sites cleanup projects

Scott Thompson, manager of Regional Operations, Risk Assessment, Environmental Services and Contaminated Sites, Ontario Region, Public Services and Procurement Canada/Government of Canada, provided a forecast on funds from the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan (FCSAP).


From dump to destination: The Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site of Canada in Quebec, one of the recipients of FCSAP, has given new life to a historic site in the heart of Quebec City and revitalized an aquatic ecosystem. (Image credit: Parks Canada.)

The Government of Canada has made a $5 billion investment into the world-class contaminated sites management industry in Canada. According to their to do list, approximately 2,000 projects have been fully remediated out of 2,800 on the list. Currently in phase 4, the budget remaining for the year ahead is $35.1 million for assessment and $1.2 billion for remediation, risk management and long-term monitoring. The next renewal is due in April 2026.

“Trying to put a monetary cost on climate change has been difficult,” said Thompson. “We need to demonstrate that we’re getting the best value for Canadians. As we’re getting more reliable data the climate change factor is being more ingrained into our process.”

He also notes that the department is leveraging technology and nurturing new partnerships with local and Indigenous groups to improve the contaminated sites management process.

Brownfields as a solution for new affordable housing

Can brownfields help solve the national housing crunch? According to Chris DeSousa, a professor with the Toronto Metropolitan University School of Urban and Regional Planning, the status of brownfield incentives across the country is a mixed bag and a missed opportunity when it comes to providing affordable housing in urban centres.

DeSousa discussed new research underway that will examine public funding and financing incentives to support brownfield redevelopment in Canada. He also outlined three current types of funding and financing tools: offsets to brownfields financing needs, tax incentives, and direct financing. These tools help to push reclamation costs down and encourage favourable return on investment.

“There is no one stop shop for this kind of information. There should be,” said DeSousa.

His research so far shows that of the allotted FCSAP and Green Municipal Fund (FCM) funds to help cleanup contaminates sites and brownfields, from 2005 to 2023, only 6.83% was spent on brownfields-specific initiatives.

The data indicate limited sources of brownfields support across the country with a rare amount of provincial programs. Quebec has ClimatSol (and ClimatSol-Plus) and the Quebec government has demonstrated strong municipal housing programs. Ontario has the Brownfield Financial Tax Incentive Program (BFTIP) and there are municipal leaders such as the ERASE Affordable Housing Grant (Hamilton). He made comparisons to a more interactive, supportive environment for brownfields support south of the border.

Ongoing challenges include engaging more communities across Canada, help smaller municipalities with administrative challenges, and provide more robust funding support.

Tom Li, business operations and development manager with the Parsons Corporation, provided a comparison of regulatory and permitting requirements of various Canadian jurisdictions in converting brownfield sites into residential use.

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His expertise is with national oil and gas and commercial clients with thousands of sites across multiple provinces. He provided a practical overview of the closure process, including closure certificates by province. Li highlighted a successful project in British Columbia, where a site with a long history as a retail fuel facility with a service garage was redeveloped into a 20+ storey tower with commercial at grade, residential above, and underground parking. In Ontario, he emphasized, there’s a lot more reasons to get a Record of Site Condition (RSC).

“Theoretically, it takes about five years for the average project to roll itself out on the west coast. But the major difference in B.C. is that there is a more standardized process that gets reviewed and approved and your certificate is good and ready,” said Li. “In Ontario, there’s more variation in municipal policies and site requirements. There are a lot of ‘unknowns’ and a lot more reasons to get a RSC for change of land use.”

However, he also noted there has been progress in terms of reducing red tape in Ontario, thanks to the help of stakeholders working together, citing the environment minister, the CBN, the Ontario Environment Industry Association and the Qualified Persons Community of Ontario (QPCO).

Nima Kia, director of Development and Housing Now at CreateTO, discussed public land initiatives on brownfield sites and how to directly incentivize prospective projects.

Launched by the Toronto Mayor and City Council in December 2018, CreateTO aims to accelerate the development of affordable housing and to provide a mix of affordable rental, market rental and ownership. He cited the Bloor Kipling, Block 1 project, in which a city-initiated zoning bylaw amendment to increase total density from 644 to 725 dwelling units led to construction that commenced on February 1, 2024, with first occupancy targeted by late 2027. The national housing strategy relies on $5 billion in funding from federal government.

Kia explained the benefits of reduced costs through land and incentives to rebuild in desirable locations with rent growth potential, and de-risked projects. There are also trade-offs in terms of a 99-year commitment period, and land lease control.

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The “Brownfield Development: Finding Balance with Conflicting Needs” panel, from left to right: Suvish Melanta, Grounded Engineering (moderator); Jeremy Dunn, Commercial Vice-President, HOPA; Tunde Paczai, Urban and Planning Practice Lead, AECOM; Mark Richardson, Technical Lead, Housing Now TO; and, Kyle Nicholls, Vice President, Environmental Health and Safety, Triovest. The panel provided a thorough discussion on the significant gain afforded by communities that embrace brownfields development in a way that preserves cultural, historical, economic priorities and offers accessible transit and equitable outcomes. The Toronto Port Lands project was cited as an example of how to overcome challenges and conflicting needs of residential/industrial/commercial/public spaces. Mark Richardson made a comment that seemed to resonate with the room: “We need to create the opportunities to make successes more visible. It’s hard to cut a ribbon at a contaminated site but the more that you do that it will be easier to advocate for financing models.”

Toronto Deputy Mayor on challenges and opportunities of brownfields 

The City of Toronto is expecting at least 700,000 new residents by 2051, according to keynote speaker Jennifer McKelvie, Deputy Mayor and Toronto Councillor for Scarborough-Rouge Park, who is also chair of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee.

“Brownfields can help solve the city’s land use needs for housing and the infrastructure for tomorrow. Our land is in top demand and we have a real and urgent need for new housing,” said McKelvie, who worked as a professional geoscientist prior to embarking on her political career.

“Rethinking how our land can be used in new and innovative ways is critical to getting more housing built here, and in any city, and as you all know, brownfields are the key to unlocking potential.”

McKelvie provided a look at the state of play in brownfields in Toronto in terms of brownfield remediation tax assistance program, opportunities to demonstrate environmental stewardship and ensuring sustainable construction practices.

She also cited three transformative brownfield projects, including the Port Lands remediated and managed by WaterfrontToronto (which has seen an investment of $2.9 billion and support from all three levels of government), the East Harbour (which envisions a mixed use community with a transit hub and public spaces), and the former Downsview area (370 acres for Canada’s largest development project to date). McKelvie said that these sites alone have the potential to provide homes for 200,000 residents.

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CBN Executive Director Meggen Janes with Toronto Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie. “It’s so refreshing to hear the Deputy Mayor talk about brownfields and remediation,” remarked Janes during the question period following the keynote.

Transforming traditional approaches to brownfield remediation

Former CBN Executive Director Tammy Lomas-Jylha provided an informative discussion of a new management approach for divesting surplus sites through open dialogue, standardized sales agreements, and centralized site information systems.

Currently available divestment alternatives include: remediate and sell (traditional dig and dump remediation), sell un-remediated (buyer environmental due diligence period and access to Imperial’s environmental reports), and risk-managed sale (significant environmental due diligence is completed to ensure that the environmental state of the site is stable and well understood.)

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Former CBN Executive Director Tammy Lomas-Jylha with Vanessa Watson of Environment Journal.

“We wanted to develop an approach that is an open dialogue with municipalities and potential buyers to help them start working at ways to work together” said Lomas-Jylha of the consulting work she has undertaken with colleague Monique Punt for clients such as Imperial Oil.

She emphasized the importance of municipal engagement through developing site-specific data sheets, connecting with municipal representatives to understand their unique needs, increasing knowledge on the benefits of brownfields redevelopment, capacity building, and facilitating dialogue between municipalities and Imperial Oil’s commercial portfolio managers for surplus sites.

When it comes to new approaches, artificial intelligence (AI) is top of mind for everyone these days. Kathryn Matheson, team lead at SLR Consulting provided an interesting conversation on AI and brownfield redevelopment.

“As generative AI has become more popular there will be more uses in the environment industry,” said Matheson. “And as housing supply becomes a more critical issue, AI can help meet those timelines.”

Matheson made a compelling argument for how the role of environmental professional includes staying on top of new tools to help clients and help the overall work process. However, there is also a standard of care to consider when it comes to responsible use and possible risks. She emphasized the importance of developing guidelines and best practices for quality assurance, such as educating staff and promoting QP in the loop approach, consulting subject matter experts, protecting data, and consulting legal professionals.

When it comes to new approaches, Dr. Magdalena Krol, Associate Professor Civil Engineering Department, York University also provided compelling information on the trend of combining district energy and geothermal energy with in-situ bioremediation.

Krol set the stage with current environmental issues – including the need to cleanup 30,000 brownfield sites in Canada, subsurface remediation being the second biggest environmental protection expenditure, and energy production and use accounting for 78 per cent of GHG emissions.

Can geothermal applications be used for brownfield remediation? According to Krol’s proof of concept, increased temperature could lead to significant contaminant reduction, could take advantage of already installed heating systems, and would be a cost-effective remediation solution that can continue to be used for heating and cooling. However, this solution is not applicable for constant source sites and the transport of contaminants or vapour intrusion could occur.

In addition to new approaches, the speakers encouraged new ways of looking at the landscape.  Leandro Santos, research planner with the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI), discussed the millions of square feet of office space that sit empty across Canada since the COVID pandemic and how these can be successfully repurposed.

“As municipalities seek to revitalize their downtowns by introducing more residents, the adaptive reuse of select office buildings presents opportunities to increase housing supply while leveraging existing buildings and infrastructure,” said Santos.

Which office buildings are good candidates for residential conversion? He advised examining market conditions, planning policy and regulation, and technical considerations such as Building Code requirements. He also recommended CUI’s guidebook: https://canurb.org/publications/the-case-for-conversions/

Hamish Corbett-Hains, principal of Geosyntec Consultants also covered land use compatibility and balancing the needs of land uses and assessing approaches for sensitive land use changes in industrial or commercial settings.

“Major facilities and sensitive land uses shall be planned and developed to avoid, or if avoidance is not possible, minimize and mitigate any potential adverse effects from odour noise and other contaminants,” explained Corbett-Hains. However, he pointed out that there are currently no regulations specific to land use compatibility, especially with regard to nuanced situations. Municipalities can apply at their discretion and application of the process varies across the province. Stakeholders often need to come to the table on their own initiatives.

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In almost every case, he said, mitigation is possible with odour control units and low-noise fan blades. He emphasized that early consultation with compatibility practitioners (lawyers and engineers) is key and cited the East Bayfront are with the Redpath Sugar facility as an example of a successful land use redevelopment project.

Of course, with all these new approaches there is also an evolving standards of care to consider. An engaging panel of experts explored the intersection of evolving standards, technological advancements, and emerging industry demands and how these impact or support brownfield redevelopment.

“Think of different types of actions that you take, and the policies and procedures that help you determine what you’re doing – for example, how to take a sample and manage that sample.” I think about context. Best industry practices? What does that mean? We use Standard of Care as a way to assess

“The standard has evolved over time and has changed a lot. Site assessments went from a few pages to 500 pages,” said George Boire, a business development executive with Berkely Canada.

“Brownfield development is a team sport,” said Janet Bobechko, a partner and certified environmental law specialist with WierFoulds LLP. “We all bring a unique set of skills. I attend conferences like this and keep up with legal implications and case decisions and emerging issues such as PFAS. For me my standard of care is constantly evolving and I stay personally diligent.” Bobechko also emphasized the importance of double checking AI generated information and providing full disclosure to clients.

Finally, Dr. Soren Brothers, ROM curator of Climate Change, provided a talk on embracing impacts and turning tables in the Anthropocene. He discussed Crawford Lake (“the best place on Planet Earth to showcase the impact of climate change”) as a case study for how human actions have had an impact on the environment, but also pointed to examples such as the Evergreen Brickworks and the Port Lands project have turned negative impacts into mutually positive situations.

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The CBN event brought together 140 brownfield practitioners at Toronto Metropolitan University to discuss the importance of new developments in the sector. (Image credit: Andrew Macklin/X.)

HUB Awards 2024

CBN has been presenting the HUB (Heroes Underpinning Brownfields) Awards since 2016. They’re given to recognize brownfielders who are making a significant contribution to the progress of brownfield redevelopment in Canada. There are three awards, each designed to correspond to a different stage of career growth:

HUB Award winners will be presented with an indigenous art piece by Brian Bob a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation on Vancouver Island from I-Hos Gallery.

Winners are selected by jury review, and the 2024 jury members were: Tanisha Monster, Business Development Coordinator, Milestone Environmental Contracting Inc.; Carl Spensieri, VP Environment Berkley Canada; and, Prasoon Adhikari, Supervisor Environmental Engineering, City Of Kitchener.

Lifetime Achievement: Presented to a distinguished individual whose lifelong dedication has significantly elevated the Brownfield industry.  This unsung hero has tirelessly led, mentored and innovated, shaping transformative paths that have now become the bedrock of industry practices and policies.  Their resounding strength has propelled immense progress, setting an enduring standard of care for brownfields.
Winner: Chris Cushing (Stantec)

Innovation Award: Acknowledging pioneers at the forefront of technical innovation and novel approaches to brownfield redevelopment.  These visionaries passionately create solutions across various facets of the brownfield space, developing tools that enhance lives.  Their significant roles in overcoming challenges reflect a commitment to diversity, collaboration, and leadership, while shaping innovative solutions for the industry.
Winner: Karey Dow (Legacy Environmental)

Emerging Leaders Award: Recognizing remarkable developing professionals who are newer to the brownfield world and have become integral pillars in advancing the brownfield practice.  These rising stars offer valuable insights into programs, policies and practices that significantly propel the industry forward.  As community and local leaders, they are not only making a name for themselves but also infusing vitality and vigor into the realm of brownfield renewal.
Winner: Hannah Chessell (Geosyntec)

For further information on the CBN conference, click here.

Upcoming events for CBN include the 25th Brownie Awards, which will celebrate outstanding brownfield projects and brownfield champions from across Canada. This year’s awards program features a special anniversary award and a refresh of categories. The nomination deadline is September 12, 2024 and the winners will be announced at the Brownie Awards Gala on November 18, 2024.

Featured image: Rendering of the Toronto Port Lands revitalization project. Credit: WATERFRONToronto.

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