September 25, 2018

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Opinion

Kapyong a key piece in reconciliation puzzle

Redevelopment along Kenaston has potential for win-win outcome

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>The Kapyong Barracks land is located along Kenaston Boulevard, one of the most congested roadways in the city.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The Kapyong Barracks land is located along Kenaston Boulevard, one of the most congested roadways in the city.

It’s a watershed moment in the history of Winnipeg and the city’s often-troubled relationship with Indigenous Peoples.

Last week, seven Treaty 1 First Nations confirmed an agreement in principle with Ottawa to acquire 110 acres of the former Kapyong Barracks land on Kenaston Boulevard and convert it into an urban reserve. Another 50 acres will be developed by the Canada Lands Company, a federal Crown corporation.

Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches, speaking on behalf of the consortium of First Nations, said the site would likely involve a mix of commercial and residential development, with a cultural component. Reflecting the site’s long history with the Department of National Defence, Meeches said there are preliminary plans for an Indigenous war museum and cadet training facility.

The absence of firm details on the future of the Kapyong land — one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in Winnipeg — will no doubt spark a debate that, in many ways, will have nothing to do about real estate. However, given the land is destined to become an urban reserve, this project will test the mettle of the city on the much larger issue of reconciliation with Indigenous people.

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It’s a watershed moment in the history of Winnipeg and the city’s often-troubled relationship with Indigenous Peoples.

Last week, seven Treaty 1 First Nations confirmed an agreement in principle with Ottawa to acquire 110 acres of the former Kapyong Barracks land on Kenaston Boulevard and convert it into an urban reserve. Another 50 acres will be developed by the Canada Lands Company, a federal Crown corporation.

Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches, speaking on behalf of the consortium of First Nations, said the site would likely involve a mix of commercial and residential development, with a cultural component. Reflecting the site’s long history with the Department of National Defence, Meeches said there are preliminary plans for an Indigenous war museum and cadet training facility.

The absence of firm details on the future of the Kapyong land — one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in Winnipeg — will no doubt spark a debate that, in many ways, will have nothing to do about real estate. However, given the land is destined to become an urban reserve, this project will test the mettle of the city on the much larger issue of reconciliation with Indigenous people.

This city and province have never embraced the idea of urban reserves, certainly not in the way other western provinces and cities have. There are about a dozen urban reserves in Manitoba. In Saskatchewan, there are more than 100.

The opposition here will involve a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding predicated on the fact non-Indigenous citizens do not understand the term urban reserve, which describes the legal status of a particular parcel of land bought or otherwise acquired by a First Nation, not a type of development.

Urban reserves begin as the result of the legal purchase of a property using a Treaty Land Entitlement settlement, where a First Nation is given money in lieu of a land grant to fulfil the terms of a treaty.

To achieve urban reserve status, a First Nation must meet all municipal planning and development requirements, just as any other landowner, and must reach an agreement to pay a sum of money in lieu of property taxes to cover the cost of municipal services.

Across Canada, urban reserve developments vary wildly, from gas bars and gaming rooms to high-value residential and commercial developments. Sometimes, First Nations are the hands-on owners, managers and developers of the land. In other instances, First Nations are investors or partners in a development. Most importantly, however, when urban reserves are done right, they provide First Nations owners with much-needed employment, economic opportunities and wealth.

Symbolically, these developments represent a powerful form of reconciliation. They are an opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples to break down the walls that separate us and live in concert with each other. That is something that Winnipeg, which has a higher proportion of Indigenous Peoples than any other in Canada, desperately needs.

However, the dream of a fully developed, fully integrated urban reserve on the Kapyong land remains a long way off. Take away the urban reserve part of the story, and you still have a development challenge of enormous proportions.

The Kapyong land is located on one of the most congested streets in the city. Despite the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars for an underpass and the widening of the route near the Ikea/Seasons of Tuxedo development, Kenaston is still gridlocked. It proves, once again, road extensions and widenings do not relieve traffic problems, they just attract more vehicles.

Notwithstanding that reality, the city wants to widen Kenaston north of Taylor Avenue. The Treaty 1 First Nations have already said they want to start negotiations to sell some of the land to the city to facilitate the widening. That land sale would provide First Nations with millions of dollars in startup capital to redevelop the rest of the land. However, on its own, the widening will not help the consortium figure out a future use for the lands.

From a planning perspective, the area is already a dog’s breakfast.

East of Kenaston at Grant Avenue, there is a strip mall on the northeast corner and a Superstore on the southeast corner. Some residents have already expressed concern about additional commercial or retail development on the west side of Kenaston, particularly when you consider the enormous retail developments that have sprung up just a few kilometres to the south.

Residential development may also be an awkward fit. A new subdivision of detached, single-family homes could be built, but it would need an enormous buffer of land along an expanded Kenaston Boulevard to protect landowners from the noise and vibration of truck traffic. That leaves higher-density condos as a more likely option. Unfortunately, Winnipeggers tend to be skittish whenever the word "density" is brought into the equation, so you can expect any high-rise proposal to be met with vigorous opposition.

Despite the numerous hurdles for First Nations and their soon-to-be non-Indigenous neighbours near Kapyong, this project has the potential to be a quantum leap forward in the pursuit of reconciliation.

When it gets right down to it, Indigenous and non-Indigenous Winnipeggers really want the same thing for the Kapyong land: a dynamic, high-value, mixed-use development that makes a great part of the city even better, and provides its First Nations owners with the economic spinoffs to dramatically improve the lives of their people.

True reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples has to be accomplished by pursuing win-win opportunities.

And that’s exactly what Kapyong represents.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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