Manitoba-Ontario UNESCO bid heads to Paris

The bid to have a vast wilderness area deemed a UNESCO world heritage site is heading to Paris.
A bid to have a vast wilderness area in Manitoba and Ontario deemed a UNESCO world heritage site is heading to Paris. 2:01
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger announces the UNESCO bid is complete and will soon be sent to Paris. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The bid to have a vast wilderness area deemed a UNESCO world heritage site is heading to Paris.

The Pimachiowin Aki Corporation — a partnership between five First Nations and the governments of Manitoba and Ontario — has been working for five years to prepare its application to get the esteemed designation.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger announced on Wednesday that the 4,000-page proposal is complete and will be submitted to the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Centre in Paris by Jan. 27.

"Elders from our five First Nations, who are partners on this project, have a vision that we need to work together to take care of this land for people who live on the land and for visitors to the land," said Sophia Rabliauskas, spokesperson for Pimachiowin Aki.

See the propsal

A special display has been set up at the Manitoba Legislative Building for the public to learn more about the Pimachiowin Aki UNESCO bid.

It will be open daily from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. but only until Jan. 22.

"We also know that we are protecting it for children across the world who benefit from things that are often unseen like clean air and clean water.

"When you look at the research in this box that is going to UNESCO you will see that our ancestors have been taking care of this land for generations and the UNESCO designation will help us continue to do that for the next generation."

If the bid is successful, the region would join other UNESCO world heritage sites such as Egypt's Pyramids of Giza, India's Taj Mahal, Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Arizona's Grand Canyon and Canada's Banff National Park.

A decision is expected in 18 months.

Land that gives life

The Pimachiowin Aki — Ojibway for "the land that gives life" — site is 33,4000 square kilometres of boreal forest, rivers, lakes and wetlands spread across the Canadian Shield and straddling the Manitoba-Ontario border.

The box containing the UNESCO proposal is displayed on Wednesday at the Manitoba legislature. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

It includes Atikaki Provincial Park in Manitoba and Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in Ontario. The First Nations involved are Poplar River, Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi, Pikangikum and Bloodvein River.

"Today marks an important milestone on our journey to protect the heart of the last intact forest of its kind left in the world," said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger.

"Thanks to the vision and leadership of our First Nation partners, we are now in a position to present Canada's first UNESCO world heritage site proposal based on both natural and cultural criteria."

Project manager Gord Jones said the submission acknowledges "the Anishinabe culture, the legacy of that culture, the continuous existence of that culture, and the reality of the people on the landscape — the fact the people are on the land and continue to use the land, were influenced by it, and continue to be influenced by it.

"We think we have a strong case for the site to be recognized."

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said the UNESCO site "would stand as a proud example of co-operation among aboriginal peoples, the province of Ontario and the province of Manitoba."

Centre of controversy

The proposed site was at the centre of the recent controversy around the Bipole III hydro transmission line.

The NDP government in 2007 overruled Manitoba Hydro's original plan to run the line down the east side of Lake Winnipeg, choosing a longer west-side route instead. A major factor was the protection of that site.

But critics of the government, such as the Progressive Conservatives, said a west-side route would cost at least $1 billion more than an east-side route, which is 50 per cent shorter.

The transmission line route was a major issue in the October 2011 election, with the Conservatives promising to put the line down the east side.

The NDP won a majority.

With files from The Canadian Press