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What if someone created a city, and no one came? – The failed Townsend Experiment

May 2021

The community of Townsend is an oddity amongst the other municipalities in southern Ontario. It seems like an oddly placed collection of two residential surveys, with the grandly named Townsend Parkway and Nanticoke Parkway intersecting in the middle of the community, which is surrounded by the farm fields of Haldimand County.

Townsend was actually a planned community, founded in 1970, and while it’s hardly a ghost town, it never became the city that its planners envisioned.

With the rapid growth in the Toronto area in the 1960s, the Ontario government envisioned a city with a population of 100, 000 residents, providing homes to workers employed by Stelco, Texaco and Ontario Hydro, all located in the nearby Nanticoke Industrial Park.

A nursing home was built, in addition to a recreational centre, a church, and a water tower. Government offices were built in what was to be the downtown area, with the offices of the now-disbanded Regional Municipality of Haldimand-Norfolk located there.

In total, approximately $24 million was spent by the Ontario government creating phase one of the City of Townsend.

However, those moving to the area chose to reside in the already established communities like Jarvis, Hagersville and Simcoe. As a result, Townsend never proceeded beyond the first phase of its development. By 1985, it became clear the envisioned population growth wasn’t going to happen.

Plans for a library and a fire station were included in future phases of the development plans, but neither came to fruition.

The Ontario government sold off the plots of land that had been intended for the future phases of the city; land that had been rented in the interim to the farmers who had originally been pressured to sell to the government. Some of those original farmers bought back their land, but others had already moved away.

If the full vision for Townsend had been realized, it would have been the first city in southwestern Ontario to be an environmentally-friendly city, with many of the features that planners strive to achieve today, including integrated pedestrian paths through urban parks, innovative transit and a mixed-use commercial and residential downtown.

Now fifty years after its founding, Townsend is nothing more than a residential community, with about 1,500 residents. Its residents are a mix of families with young children and older retirees, and as such, Townsend does have both a daycare facility, a multi-phase retirement home.

However, there are no retail, restaurants, or even a post office in Townsend.

After the amalgamated counties of Haldimand and Norfolk, merged in 1974, were split up again in 2001, Townsend found itself straddling both counties, with the county line running down the middle of it.

While Townsend may have been, “Designed with you in mind,” those people never came.

Sources: Townsend, Ontario – Wikipedia, Townsend Retraced  |  The Project, Townsend: Ontario’s phantom town – Spacing Toronto, .

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/what-if-someone-created-a-city-and-no-one-came-the-failed-townsend-experiment/

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