In what almost guarantees that Windsor’s sprawling Ojibway nature complex becomes one of the country’s first national urban parks, Ottawa has announced that Ojibway Shores is being transferred from Transport Canada to Parks Canada.
It means the last stretch of untouched natural land along Windsor’s waterfront — targeted for decades for future industrial use — can now be preserved for its environmental significance and become part of the city’s adjacent and protected Ojibway Prairie Complex.
“Today is a huge milestone — an Ojibway National Urban Park will happen,” MP Irek Kusmierczyk (L — Windsor-Tecumseh) told the Star.
“Today’s a great day to celebrate. So many people pushed and pushed and pushed for this for 10 years and more … we’ll have this huge legacy project for our community,” he said, adding it took “a lot of advocacy and hard work behind the scenes.”
Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault announced during question period in the House of Commons on Thursday that a memorandum of understanding had been signed between the two federal agencies to transfer the undeveloped Windsor Port Authority property to preserve its 33 acres (13.4 hectares) in a natural state.
“I can’t tell you how I feel — we’re just super-stoked about this,” said Kusmierczyk, who previously described Ojibway Shores as “a critical element” of any future Ojibway national park. He said it was the subject of his first meeting with government colleagues after first being elected federally in 2019 and that there had since been “countless” further interactions, including with the prime minister.
The Liberal government’s announcement also means city taxpayers will now save millions of dollars in potential acquisition costs. The next step, said Kusmierczyk, is to find other property locally that can be swapped with the port authority to compensate it for the loss of Ojibway Shores.
This week’s announcement follows years ultimately fruitless negotiations between the municipality and the Windsor Port Authority, which insisted on being financially compensated or being given equivalent lands elsewhere in exchange.
“It’s been a cruel dance between the city and port authority on this,” fellow city MP Brian Masse (NDP — Windsor West) said a year ago. An early champion of saving Ojibway Shores, Masse expressed frustration that city taxpayers were being asked to pay again for property already publicly owned under the federal government.
The municipality no longer has to be in that dance.
“There’s going to be a land swap, but the city is not involved,” said Kusmierczyk, adding Parks Canada will now provide the necessary funds, which he estimates will be in the millions of dollars. In a news release later Thursday, the Windsor Port Authority praised the transfer agreement and said it expects to soon make “its own exciting announcement with regard to a new property acquisition and project development.”
“Oh, wow, this is the best news I have heard since the rally on July 3, 2013,” said local environmental activist Tom Henderson, recalling the precise date when hundreds of angry citizens showed up at an open house at Mackenzie Hall to protest a port authority proposal to clearcut almost all of Ojibway Shores and market it for industrial use.
The chairman of the public advisory council of the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup gives credit to the port authority for backing down from its development plans and not opposing subsequent efforts aimed at preserving Ojibway Shores.
Now the hard work begins, Kusmierczyk said. Earlier this year, Parks Canada provided the city with a $600,000 grant to begin planning for the new urban park, including consultations with the public and such potential collaborators as environmental groups, Indigenous partners and different governments and agencies.
Significantly, said Kusmierczyk, the footprint of Windsor’s national urban park and where its boundaries will be must still be determined.
He and others have indicated that there have been discussions with adjacent private property owners, as well as with the province, which owns a large tract of currently protected Ojibway natural land. The Town of LaSalle is another potential contributor to what is currently a patchwork of protected parcels of land that are home to some of the rarest and most threatened species of plants, birds and animals in Canada.
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Mayor appeals to new federal environment minister to help save Ojibway Shores
Efforts underway to make proposed national urban park even bigger
Jarvis: The day that was the turning point for Ojibway
While Thursday’s announcement was “great news,” Masse said the transfer was something “we asked for over a decade ago,” and suggested the timing was no coincidence. Masse said he’s been able to attract support from all parties in the House of Commons for a private member’s bill he introduced with proposed legislation to create an Ojibway National Urban Park. His Bill C-248 is up for second reading in early June and has been supported by environmental groups on both sides of the border, Windsor city council and the Caldwell First Nation.
While environmental groups like the Citizens Environment Alliance deserve much of the praise for getting the ball rolling in protecting Ojibway Shores from the chainsaws, Henderson said both Masse and Kusmierczyk deserve to share credit on the political front, the former for “years and years of advocating,” and the latter who “made the difference” while being a member of the governing party.
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