Talking To Petroleum Contractors

I have no information about which company did the installation of the new gas storage tank and modified vent location. Whoever it was were just following instructions, within the limits of code, as they understood it.

I contacted a bunch of petroleum contractors via email, to see if it would be possible for the vent location to be moved.  I chose them randomly, and sent them all the same inquiry. Some were more willing to engage than others. My inquiry read:

” Hi. I am wondering if someone could answer a somewhat broad question for me ?

I live next to a gas station that was recently renovated. The vents for the underground storage tanks are now 4′ from the property line, adjacent to my doors and windows. As a result, I have the infiltration of gasoline vapours into my home during a tanker refuelling, depending on the wind direction.

Is it possible for the vent location to be moved ? If so, what does this entail, and what is the approximate expense ?

I understand that your answer is not a quote, and obviously the logistics would depend on the specifics of the station. Any general information regarding this matter would be appreciated.

I have reported this to the TSSA and the Ministry of the Environment many times.



The most minimalist reply I received was this:

“The vents can be relocated by digging up the area and modifying the route of the piping.”

Others were more helpful:

“If the MOE and TSSA are unable to help, I would contact the Fire Prevention Department . There is no limit to the height of the vents, so they could be raised higher to be above any openings. Hope this helps.”

” So sorry for your issue. The only other option would be to have another contractor inspect it.”

This person sent a diagram of a truck loading and advice about how to identify the vapour recovery hose in use.

This contractor said: ” I would recommend the vents be extended to get the vapours away from your door/windows. It is potential (sic) a serious health concern with the chemical compounds in fuel vapour.”

This contractor offered : “Please note that the vents appear to meet the code. The issue of vapour recovery is an environmental one. Even if they use the vapour recovery, if they can drop fuel too fast (as is the case because the drivers are paid by how many loads they deliver in a day), the vapour recovery can’t handle the vapour flow rate. They either have to slow the flow or install larger vapour recovery.”

More about that: ” The placement of the tank vents, while legal, was a bad design, but there is a requirement that the site have and use a vapour recovery system on the gasoline tanks. If they are using it, and you are getting fuel odours during a fuel drop, it is undersized for the fuel drop rate. They either have to increase the capacity or slow the drop rate. This falls under Environment not TSSA and they are notoriously poor at pursuing these cases.”

One of them sent a couple of excerpts from the fuel handling code. I learned how far an underground storage tank had to be from a property line (a question the TSSA would not answer for me): 1.5 meters. That’s 59.1 INCHES.

2.2.1. Location of tanks

An underground storage tank shall not be installed

(a) inside or under any building;

(b) less than 1 m from a building;

(c) less than 1.5 m from a property line;

(d) less than 60 cm from an adjacent underground storage tank;

(e) less than 15 m from drilled water wells;

(f) less than 30 m from a dug water well or waterway; and

(g) where the loads carried by a building foundation or supports could be

transmitted to the tank.

So now – would you feel safe eating anything planted in my garden ? The brightest areas are closely adjacent to those vent pipes…



Mutants ?



A couple of years ago I got some free morning glory seeds from the seed exchange at the library. They did okay on the chain link fence by the used car lot’s washrooms. I saved those seeds and planted them the following year.

I saved all the seeds in one jar, and planted them as they fell into my hand. The first year’s morning glories were a mix of common light purple and regular dark purple ones.

The first morning glories that bloomed in 2018 were closest to the house. They were mostly white with pale pink centres, a few with purple fragments or streaks. The rest of the vines further away from the house were all regular purple and dark purple ones. I wondered how the white and streaked seeds were only in this location, as they weren’t mixed in anywhere else ? How did they self select from a random planting ?

It took months before it occured to me that those white morning glories might have been affected by the gas fumes. The plants right below the vent pipes were normal. The fumes wouldn’t sink like a stone unless the air was perfectly still – they would travel a short distance as they dissipated and sunk…

When I collected the seeds in the fall the white and streaked plants were different. Normally the seed pods have about 4-6 seeds, from every flower. The white ones only had a single seed, occasionally a second stunted seed.

I’m not a plant biologist, but this seems odd, and significant. The only seeds I planted the second year were from the first year’s plants ?




Trying to Fix the Backyard

I scored a bunch of end of the season plants from a seller on Kijiji for unbelievably cheap. The seller said she had a small garden center, but was getting ready to move and just wanted her inventory gone. I split this with a friend. I couldn’t believe my bounty. I paid about $ 3.00 each for many hostas, several rose bushes, a diabolo ninebark and a sand cherry, and other things I can’t remember. This was just before I took possession of the house, in the fall of October, 2016.

It was a warm day, like summer. We planted everything, guessing at the best locations.

The next spring, I had vague memories of where things were planted. I spent a lot of time expectantly looking at the dirt for shoots. Everything had survived.

I doubted that there would be any plants in the backyard besides weeds. The used car lot owner told me that the backyard had always been completely overgrown until the previous owner spent many days clearing it out just before the house was listed for sale. I was really happy to have a yard again. There were lots of birds, and I was surprised to see toads.  On barely warm days in the early spring, I sat in the backyard, thinking.

I never had such a large yard before. One thing was certain – I did not want a manicured lawn, not that this would be possible in this location anyhow.

I was self conscious, as the back yard was visible to the used car lot customers. Their washrooms were located at the back of the 1950’s style building. There was a four foot chainlink fence, and that property had an elevation that was at least 36″ higher near their building. I tried to show that I was going to be a good neighbour, by tidying up the lot, and careful plantings. I had a lot to learn.


This was an ominous photo from the listing. It gives a good idea of how barren the yard was, after all neglect was hacked away. It’s hard to make out in the photo, but there is a retaining wall straight ahead of the male shadow. Retaining wall in this case means a pile of cinder blocks, with no mortar or rebar, about 50% of which have fallen over. The factory parking lot is beyond the trees. Their elevation is perhaps a foot higher, but  years of plowing and debris have pushed earth against the chainlink fence so my yard is close to three feet lower in this area.

This is what it looked like in March of 2017:


It was really unsightly. I began removing all the useless cinderblocks, which was a lot of effort for my feeble book reading arms. The chainlink fence was below the ground on my side of the fence, and all the posts were still solid, so I did not fear imminent collapse.

I started digging in the garden, and kept finding the strangest things. There was a cement patio paver walkway that had been completely buried, so I unearthed it. One corner of the yard seemed to have been used as a dump, with many cheap plastic children’s toys buried there. There were several steak knives. The creepiest was finding large shards of broken window glass buried throughout the yard. This was a most frightening discovery, as I did not want to slice open my hands as I was planting.

I met a few neighbours. One told me that for little while there had been a family renting the house, but the mother was really mentally ill. Maybe this explained the buried glass ?

My plantings seemed hopelessly puny. I had already spent my entire garden budget. I  looked online for free plants, then placed my own ad. People were always giving away day lilies. They rapidly multiply and are tough to kill. I didn’t love them – but was willing to make do with any non-weed. A woman who had also just moved into the neighbourhood contacted me. Her yard had previously belonged to some incredible gardeners and was  overflowing with thousands of tulips and day lilies. I took all that I could carry and went back several times. She even gave me a water barrel, as her new home had six of them ! I was so grateful for this.


The fence by the driveway was really terrible. The posts were rotten so it was wobbly, and the short height gave me no privacy whatsoever. Part of the fence had a taller, heavier fence section nailed to it, which made no sense, but made it uglier.

Every time I was in the backyard I felt like I was putting on a show, trying to prove that I was going to take care of this house. I also worried about how visible and accessible my two back doors were.


Summer filled in the perimeter. I wondered what to do with the giant piles of brush I had from clearing the front. I called about getting them chipped, but that was kind of a hassle. I started reading about HugelKultur – which is a way of planting using raised berms, built on buried wood. The buried wood acts like a sponge and keeps the plantings moist, and while the wood breaks down it nourishes the plants.

I decided to do this, sort of, to build up the area where the “retaining wall” had been. This area would be too dark to grow anything except plants that loved deep shade. Even if I composted all the branches to make a stable in-fill that would be a decent improvement.


It seemed easier to make piles of sticks vs branches, so I spent hours trimming each branch into a stick, so they could be piled up with more stability.


I planted some wildflower mix in the spring, but as the trees filled in it was too dark, so nothing grew.

The hostas in the corner were doing really well.


That is, until suddenly they weren’t. One day a bunch of the leaves were broken and torn, so I guessed that some raccoons had been standing on them ? Then entire plants vanished, with just a few chunks of root and crown left. Others got gnawed into lacy shreds. I had no clue what the vermin was, but I dug out all the survivors and moved them anywhere far away from this corner. (It was probably voles, as they love the roots, and the yard had many snails and slugs, which eat through leaves.)

There was a cement slab, probably for a previous shed that made a nice patio area under the tree. I liked the deteriorating wall of the station. I hung up some solar lanterns from Dollarama, and enjoyed my new yard as much as possible.


Trying to Fix the Front Yard

I had no idea what might be in the garden. There were weeds for sure, with some mystery trees, a straggly lilac bush, a couple of Rose of Sharon and a struggling forsythia.

A couple of scrawny tulips came up in the spring, and that was it for spring flowers.

A succession of Streetview images of the years that preceeded :

  • 2009, with an overgrown thicket growing by the driveway, with the rest of the yard looking like a mess:

Screen Shot 2009.png

– 2012, with the driveway thicket hacked down, with the trees and brush on the opposite side of the lot asserting themselves:

Screen Shot 2012.png

– 2014, with the thicket almost regrown, and a pair of wretched emerald cedars doing fine:

Screen Shot 2014.png

– 2016, look at that thicket grow !

Screen Shot 2016.png

As trees leafed out I discovered what I was dealing with – lots and lots of Manitoba Maple, with some hackberry that planted itself. There was also a super abundance of goldenrod – which spreads with prickly underground rhizomes.

I liked the overgrown haunted look, and the way this shielded me from the used car lot next door. BUT – this was a mess.

Because of the social issues in the area, a leafy area to hide or drink in my yard was a bad idea. I found several used syringes around the perimeter of the yard, too. I thinned out the strip by the driveway in the fall, and was really surprised at how dense the vegetation was. I found a fence section and an abandoned mirror under all the growth in there, invisible.

I was pretty timid when I started digging up the goldenrod, and cutting down the smaller  saplings. One evening around dusk as I was trimming away a woman was sitting drinking in my bush. I couldn’t see her and she didn’t see me until I was a couple of feet away – that’s how dense it was. We were both surprised !

If this had been picturesque ivy, climbing roses or even Virginia Creeper I would have thinned it out then let it ramble away.

I sat on the side of my steps and stared at the patch for days, wondering how to fix this mess. A friend brought me a used Sawzall, which we discovered would easily trim most of the small brush.

The more I trimmed, the more there was to trim. Under the worst area near the driveway I found a sealed bottle of Absolut Vodka. It must have rolled out of someone’s bag, lost forever. It looked like it had been there for a long time, with a partially sun bleached label. I put it on the curb, for anyone to take. It took a few days until someone brave or foolish enough came along.

I wanted to create some privacy. The car lot was on a higher elevation, and there was a short chainlink fence on top of a retaining wall. They parked their inventory very densely, with the bumpers facing my yard. There was only just enough room for a thin person to walk between the rows of cars to have a look. The cars were like another layer of protection. However, it would be nicER to not see them, and attractive plants would be better than aggressive weed trees.

On the way to the grocery store I passed a few mature Smoke Bushes. A couple had been pruned into trees, the others were large and wide bushes. The kind I liked had dark purple almost black leaves. The internet claimed these were hardy plants, that grew fast, that could get to be 15 or more feet tall. I found some photos of a bunch growing together to form a hedge. This seemed like a good solution.

I realized that I needed to cut all that mess down, and that the sooner they could get planted, the sooner they could start to grow. I hated to lose the shade, but I loathed those trees.


It looked like this when I was done. I left the Wedding Wreath Spirea alone, until I could find someone to help me to dig it out to move it elsewhere. I discovered a clematis, that grew modestly up the fence, so I left that,  too. Finally it looked like this:


This was possibly even worse looking !

These little bushes were what I bought to fill all that space:


I planted some Cosmos seeds and hoped for the best. The Smoke Bushes survived, and the Cosmos grew. By the fall it looked like I was trying at least: