It’s a time of celebration and hope for Winnipeggers, Manitobans and Canadians.
Today, a groundbreaking ceremony was held on the site of the former Kapyong Barracks, heralding construction on a massive development project that will see the land transformed into Canada’s largest urban reserve: Naawi-Oodena. “The centre of the heart, and community,” in Anishinaabe.
The 109-plus acres sit along Kenaston Boulevard, but have lain empty since 2004 when the Canadian Light Infantry was moved to the Canadian Forces Base in Shilo, east of Brandon.
Indigenous leaders and politicans are calling the move “historic” and “long overdue.”
“Land acknowledgements are nice, but it’s time to sit down and start talking about business planning and moving forward,” said Chief Gordon Bluesky, spokesperson for Brokenhead Ojibway Nation and Treaty One Nation.
“There’s been a lot of work, a lot of sweat and tears. You know, we’ve had leaders that have passed away before seeing this come to where we are today,” Bluesky said.
Mayor Scott Gillingham and others in attendance, say the project is emblematic of economic reconciliation.
“This is a critical project for our city, for our province and for our nation. It’s about economic reconciliation. It’s about creating a future together that is better and different than our past. And this development is certainly important for the First Nations, Treaty One First Nations, and their children, but it’s also very important for non-Indigenous children of our community.”
Minister of Parliament for Winnipeg South Centre, Ben Carr, acknowledged it’s been a long journey to get here. “Too long, and too difficult.”
He said the project at hand is a signal to good things. “The first is that the land has been returned into the hands of its rightful caretakers.” The second, he said is, “what it represents for the future. When people who grew up in this community now, whether already here or yet to be born, drive past this land as I did when I was a kid, there will be signs and symbols (prompting) questions about ‘what does this stand for?’ ‘What does that mean?’ ‘I’d like to understand more about where we come from.’
“It’s that openness, that dialogue, which is at the heart of reconciliation,” Carr said.
The first building will be built on Taylor Avenue and Kenaston Boulevard. Bluesky said it will be a First Nation-owned gas station to open by the end of next summer.
There are also plans for commercial space, office complexes and retail. “We are even looking at some affordable housing initiatives as well,” he said.
Canada Lands Company, a partner in the development, says, “At full completion, the redevelopment of Naawi-Oodena could accommodate between 2,300 and 3,000 homes, and 915,000 to 1.2 million square feet of commercial space.
Kinew nodded to the economic wellspring this, along with the rest of the development, could be. “It’s new opportunities, new jobs being created. It’s going to be good for the city, going to be good for the province.”
Bluesky said the project has generated interest from businesses in Winnipeg, but also across Canada and internationally. “This is the largest infill development there is — and across Canada — so, this gathered a lot of interest.”
Kinew also announced a cabinet order passed Friday, which relinquishes any provincial claim to the land.
“This is something that was an outstanding legal request. It wasn’t getting in the way of the project moving forward but would just sort of help settle any claims, and as a result, we figured it was a good step we could take to reset the relationship,” he said.
Gillingham also pointed to a campaign promise he made to widen Kenaston, in part to accommodate Naawi-Oodena. He said that goal, while many steps away, is underway.
“We have our city staff looking at updating the cost of the Route 90 project,” he said. “That information will be coming shortly.”
Bluesky said this is far from the end of these kinds of partnerships and developments. “Naawi-Oodena is just one opportunity within our whole territory, and we’re planning on moving forward with those same partnerships, even beyond.”
He estimates development on the first block of land to take four to five years. All of Naawi-Oodena could take 10 to 15.
— with files from Global’s Rosanna Hempel
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