First Nations leaders broke ground Monday on a project that will see the site of the former Kapyong Barracks transformed into the country's largest urban reserve, and released ambitious plans for the first phase of the massive development project.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of negativity and naysayers with the project, and I’d like to let them know, and would like to let everyone in Winnipeg know that this is just the beginning,” Treaty One Chairperson and Brokenhead Ojibway Nation Chief Gordon Bluesky said during an official groundbreaking at the former Kapyong site on Monday morning.
The site along Kenaston Boulevard is now slated to become Naawi-Oodena, a massive urban reserve that will be a joint venture between the Treaty One Development Corporation and Canada Lands Company, a self-financing Crown corporation.
Bluesky said Monday’s ceremony was significant because of what will now be built on the site, but also because of the years of work that went into making Naawi-Oodena a reality.
“After 20 years of prolonged negotiations and courtroom disputes, initiating the first developments at Naawi-Oodena marks a historic moment not just for the Treaty One Nations, but for Canada as a whole,” Bluesky said.
Monday’s groundbreaking was held on the northeast corner of Kenaston and Taylor Avenue on what will be the first phase of the development. Plans for the 7.7 acre section will include 130,000 square feet of commercial space and a 95,000 square foot commercial centre, and the entire build is expected to take four to five years to complete.
Treaty One said the first phase will also include a full service First Nations-owned gas bar, which they believe will serve as a “cornerstone” of the development, and is expected to be up and running by the end of next summer.
In total, approximately 68% of the 168-acre site will be developed, and residential, commercial, educational, cultural, recreational, and other community-related facilities are expected to be built in the space, according to Treaty One.
The second phase is expected to include a further 600 residential units and another 400,000 square feet of commercial space, while phase three is expected to include another 400 residential units and 350,000 square feet of commercial space.
Urban reserves operate by allowing First Nations to develop land in cities for commercial purposes, which in turn generates revenue for their communities.
Sagkeeng First Nation Chief E.J. Fontaine said on Monday he believes the development of Naawi-Oodena will play a large role in bringing increased financial prosperity to First Nations communities and people in Winnipeg and across the province.
“We’re going to make this one of the most prosperous pieces of property across Canada,” Fontaine said.
“Economic development is the way of the future. We can’t keep depending on the government to give us the tools and the resources we need for developments, we need to develop on our own.
“This is going to be one of the most valuable assets we have to develop a vibrant and viable economy for our people.”
The City of Winnipeg will also play a key role in the development, as an agreement signed in 2022 will see the City provide all municipal services for the Naawi-Oodena urban reserve “in a scope and manner consistent with the rest of the city.”
“This is a critical development because this is about economic reconciliation,” Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham said at Monday’s ceremony.
“It’s also about showing the rest of Canada what it means to develop a future of reconciliation, and a future of working together.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun