Talks on Kapyong Barracks future could start soon

The long-awaited transfer of a prime parcel of real estate in Winnipeg's south end is expected to take place later this fall, kick-starting one of the largest redevelopment projects of public lands in the city's future.

The long-awaited transfer of a prime parcel of real estate in Winnipeg's south end is expected to take place later this fall, kick-starting one of the largest redevelopment projects of public lands inthe city'sfuture.

The former Kapyong Barracks military base has been largely vacant since 2004, whenthe 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry relocated to CFB Shilo near Brandon, Man.

The Canada Lands Company, a federal Crown agency that will oversee redevelopment of the 90-hectare property, expects to receive official ownership of the Kapyong property from the military later this fall.

Public consultations on the site's future will begin shortly afterward, said CLC vice-president Gordon McIvor.

"We would find it absolutely strange and bizarre if Winnipeggers weren't extremely concerned, focused on what the future of this property is going to be," he said.

Unofficial discussions underway

Located west of Kenaston Boulevard at Grant Avenue, the Kapyong site is surrounded by Winnipeg's most affluent neighbourhoods, including River Heights and Tuxedo.

Public transit, shopping centres, recreation services and other amenities are already in place near the site.

McIvor said that as a Crown agency, CLC's job is to work with community members and the city to determine the best use for the land. But there have already been some unofficial discussions about what might be done with the vacant military base, McIvor said.

"We believe that what would be logical is a large residential component, with a little bit of mixed-use," he said.

"Don't make it all Tuxedo-style housing, for heaven's sakes. You've got to have housing going right down to very affordable and maybe even subsidized."

McIvor said the CLC could also do what it has done with other vacant military bases and reuse the existing permanent married quarters, or PMQs.

"We always try and keep as many PMQs as we can because they lend themselves to affordable housing," he said.

"Knocking out the tiny little windows in the PMQ and then putting in nice picture windows, and then putting columns in the front, is a lot less expensive than sending that whole thing to… the landfill and starting at zero."

McIvor stressed that it could take a few years before a shovel hits the ground.

First Nations felt 'shut out' of land claim

Two First Nations had hoped to use their treaty rights to buy parts of the Kapyong land to use as urban reserves.

They would have purchased the land through a process called treaty land entitlement, in which the federal government honours outstanding land claims by giving bands the first chance at buying vacant Crown land.

"We actually visited Kapyong. They gave us a tour of the facility," said Chief Dennis Meeches of the Long Plain First Nation.

"[We] met with Indian Affairs, met with a number of different agencies as a result of trying to acquire the property through treaty land entitlement. We thought maybe there might be a good opportunity there, and at the beginning it almost seemed like that would be the case."

Tina Levesque, who was chief of Brokenhead First Nation when it expressed interest in Kapyong in 2001, said the band wanted to use a part of the land for economic development.

"Our plan was to get the portion of land with less buildings. We had not totally decided on exactly what would be there, but [a] gas station for one, and outlets like that," she said.

But then federal officials told the First Nations that under a new Treasury Board policy, the Kapyong land was designated as "strategic."

That designation meant the land was exempted from the First Nations' priority claim, and the bands would have to compete with other groups or companies for the land.

Treasury Board officials said the new policy is not intended to shut out First Nations, but to give all property buyers an equal chance at prime land.

But Meeches said Long Plain has had enough of a policy "specifically designed to keep First Nations out," so he dropped his bid for the Kapyong land.

"I'd rather just not bother," he said.

Levesque said the current Brokenhead council will have to decide whether to pursue the land.