OTTAWA — The federal Liberals’ push this year to transfer the Kapyong Barracks lands to local First Nations has delayed demolition on the site by more than a year, the Free Press has learned.
The military now expects demolition to conclude in fall 2021. Ottawa's initial goal was to finish all demolition by May 2020, but officials lost four months of this summer’s construction season because of the Liberals' effort to get the land into First Nations' hands.
"We’re obviously a little disappointed by (the delay)," said Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches, who speaks for the Treaty One chiefs.
In August, Ottawa signed a comprehensive settlement with Treaty One, which puts the seven First Nations in charge of two-thirds of the land; the rest will be developed by Canada Lands Co.
Winnipeg MP Jim Carr had pushed to get the property out of Ottawa’s hands by this fall’s election, after a legal battle left the site untouched for 14 years.
Yet it was because of that push for this summer's deal that the second phase of demolition is coming more than a year behind schedule, according to the Department of National Defence, which is overseeing the removal of its existing buildings.
"Although Phase 2 was originally scheduled to commence earlier, the first priority was the negotiation of the Comprehensive Settlement Agreement for the Kapyong Barracks land, as the terms of the agreement could impact the scope of work for the project," wrote DND spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande.
The military had completed its first phase of demolitions this May, focused on hazardous material and 13 buildings.
Essentially no more demolition took place until September, after the military awarded a second contract for the remaining buildings, roadways, and underground piping.
The military vacated the site in 2004, after which the Harper government tried transferring the land to federal agencies, sparking a court battle that ended right before the 2015 election brought the Liberals to power.
Since then, officials have been meeting with First Nations to plan a mixed-use development.
Meeches said the latest delay could mean it takes longer to get construction underway, but he hopes the land can be formally converted into an urban reserve by August 3, 2021.
That date will mark the 150th anniversary of Treaty 1, the first of numbered treaties as Canada colonized the Prairies. Meeches said it would be hugely significant to get land converted by that date, even if only part of the land is given that status by that date.
It would mark a change in town for the seven nations, who were displaced under the treaty and are still trying to access the land quotas the Crown promised them in 1871.
"We've had a difficult journey in the past 150 years dealing with Canada, and all the challenges with the reserves and First Nations communities."
Treaty One is also awaiting news from the Federal Court, whom the Manitoba Métis Federation have asked to quash Ottawa’s deal with the First Nations, saying Métis people were not consulted.
A judge has put the October suit on hold until early June, after the MMF and Ottawa agreed to undertake negotiations. In court, the federal government has said it intends to honor the Treaty One deal.
Meeches is watching the demolition and court case closely.
"We've just got to make sure there's no other issues that arise. The demolition is a big job, we understand that," he said.
The demolition will include a federal heritage property: the Korea Hall drill building at 1984 Grant Ave.
Meeches said Treaty One chiefs were hoping to integrate that building into their planned Indigenous war museum, but DND has determined that it’s "beyond economic repair" due to mould and asbestos.
"We would have loved to preserve that building; I actually made overtures to that," Meeches said.
Instead, the site will consist entirely of new buildings. DND has compiled photos and records to preserve Korea Hall’s history.
A year ago, Treaty One unveiled their vision for the 160-acre site, which would include a daycare, hotel, Indigenous hospice and gas bar, as well as sports facilities and mixed-use buildings.
Updated on Monday, December 23, 2019 at 10:03 PM CST: fixes typo in cutline
December 24, 2019 at 3:14 PM: Changes photos