First Nation mission project to be reviewed by Thunder Bay staff

Thunder Bay city council wants a closer look at a proposed historical development project by the Fort William First Nation.
This site on the southern bank of the Kaministiquia River was the original location of the Jesuit mission that would become Fort William First Nation. A local man wants to recreate the original mission as a historical site. (Adam Burns/CBC)

Thunder Bay city council wants a closer look at a proposed historical development project by the Fort William First Nation.

The First Nation requested $40,000 from city council Monday night to help with a feasibility study.

The community's acting director of economic development said Thunder Bay should help with the cost of studying the plan to rebuild the original Jesuit mission on the First Nation.

Wally Bannon talks to Thunder Bay council about plans to rebuild the original Jesuit mission on the Fort William First Nation in Thunder Bay. City council wants a closer look at the historical project before committing money to it. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

Wally Bannon said that's because the former city of Fort William was instrumental in expropriating that land for the railway.

“[A total of] 1,600 acres … was expropriated off us and our lands, and our people and the houses [were] all taken off of it.”

Bannon told council he's in talks with other potential funders, and added the First Nation will also contribute to the project.

He said representatives from Fort William Historical Park have been invited to meetings about the project, but no one has shown up.

Bannon said the group has also spoken to private businesses, as well as Heritage Canada.

Celebrating history

The First Nation has already spent $12,000 on the project so far, he said.

But Mayor Keith Hobbs said he was still concerned the city will be paying the lion`s share of the cost.

“See if we can do this for less than $40,000, if there`s other partners that would kick in to this,” he said. “It`s a lot of money …”

Wally Bannon stands in front of the original church from the Jesuit mission, which now sits 10 km down the road in Squaw Bay. Bannon wants to move the church back to its original site as part of a proposed historical development in Fort William First Nation. (Adam Burns/CBC)

Councillor Iain Angus supported the request.

“One of the things that this community needs to do is to start to celebrate more of its history,” he said. “Certainly the history of the Fort William First Nation is an important part of our heritage.”

Angus said such a study would likely cost about $150,000.

Aside from rebuilding the original village, the proposed project also includes modern amenities, such as a youth centre, an animal education centre and zoo, and facilities for children and elders.

Bannon estimated the cost of the whole project would be about $1.7 million.  He reiterated the project is at a preliminary stage, and the group is “feeling out who could participate in the actual financing … and then going from there."

Council directed administration to further study the First Nation's request, including other potential partners. That report is expected back in a couple of months.

Councillor Joe Virdiramo remarked that the city is “usually not the first people to put the money in. We usually wait to find out what's happening out there, who the partners are, what the partners are willing to commit, and then we come in and say 'if this happens or that happens,’ then we commit.'"


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