Ojibway Shores takes ‘big step’ towards urban national park

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In what almost guarantees that Windsor’s sprawling Ojibway nature complex will become one of Canada’s first urban national parks, Ottawa has announced that Ojibway Shores is being transferred from Transport Canada to Parks Canada.

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This means that the last stretch of pristine natural land along Windsor’s waterfront – earmarked for decades for future industrial use – can now be preserved for its environmental importance and become part of the city’s adjacent and protected Ojibway Prairie complex.

“Today is a major milestone – an Ojibway National Urban Park will take place,” Representative Irek Kusmierczyk (L – Windsor-Tecumseh) told the Star.

“Today is a great day to celebrate. So many people pushed and pushed and pushed for this for 10 years or so… we’ll have this huge legacy project for our community,” he said, adding that it took “a lot of advocacy and hard work behind the scenes.”

Federal Minister for the Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault announced during question time in the House of Commons on Thursday that a memorandum of understanding has been signed between the two federal agencies to transfer the underdeveloped ownership of the Windsor Port Authority to preserve its 33 acres (13.4 hectares) in a natural state.

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A section of the banks of Ojibway, west of the Broadway drain, is shown on Thursday, May 12, 2022.
A section of the banks of Ojibway, west of the Broadway drain, is shown on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

“I can’t tell you how I feel – we’re super excited about it,” 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 being elected federal for the first time in 2019 and that since then there have been “countless” additional interactions, including with the prime minister.

The Liberal government’s announcement also means that city taxpayers will now save millions of dollars in potential acquisition costs. The next step, Kusmierczyk said, is to find another property locally that can be exchanged with the port authority to compensate them for the loss of Ojibway Shores.

This week’s announcement follows years of fruitless searches and negotiations between the municipality and the Port Authority of Windsor, which has insisted on being compensated financially or given equivalent land elsewhere in return.

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“It’s been a cruel dance between the city and the port authority over this,” City Representative Brian Masse (NDP – Windsor West) said a year ago. An early advocate of saving Ojibway Shores, Masse expressed frustration that city taxpayers were being asked to repay for properties already publicly owned by the federal government.

A section of the banks of Ojibway, west of the Broadway drain, is shown on Thursday, May 12, 2022.
A section of the banks of Ojibway, west of the Broadway drain, is shown on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

The municipality no longer needs to be in this dance.

“There will be a land swap, but the city is not involved,” Kusmierczyk said, adding that Parks Canada will now provide the necessary funds, which he estimates are in the millions of dollars. He anticipates a land swap announcement “in months”.

Now the hard work begins, said Kusmierczyk. Earlier this year, Parks Canada awarded the city a $600,000 grant to begin planning the new urban park, including consultations with the public and potential contributors such as environmental groups, indigenous partners, and different governments and agencies.

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Significantly, said Kusmierczyk, the footprint of Windsor National Urban Park and where its boundaries will be have yet to be determined.

He and others indicated that discussions are ongoing with adjacent private property owners, as well as with the province, which owns a large swath of currently protected Ojibway natural land. The City of LaSalle is another potential contributor to what is currently a patchwork of protected parcels of land that are home to some of Canada’s rarest plant, bird and animal species.

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