Widening Kenaston 'No. 1 priority' for First Nations group working on Kapyong Barracks land

The First Nations group taking over part of the Canadian Forces Kapyong Barracks lands in Winnipeg wants to work with the city to widen Kenaston Boulevard as soon as possible.

Treaty 1 First Nations hope to have negotiations with city mostly done by Oct. 24 election

An agreement in principle about the Kapyong Barracks land, between seven First Nations and the federal government, was signed earlier this month in Winnipeg. (CBC)

The First Nations group taking over part of the Canadian Forces Kapyong Barracks lands in Winnipeg wants to work with the city to widen Kenaston Boulevard as soon as possible.

"Our No. 1 priority is Kenaston," said Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches.

Long Plain is one of the seven Treaty 1 First Nations that signed an agreement in principle with the federal government earlier this month regarding the former Kapyong Barracks land. Scant detail was made public at the time, but Treaty 1 leaders said they plan to create an urban reserve and develop the First Nations portion of the land.

Meeches said work in the area will begin with the widening of Kenaston Boulevard, along a portion of Winnipeg's major Route 90 that squeezes down to four lanes and 50 km/h. The long-awaited project is already being studied by the city, but the city needs to acquire 30 parcels of the Kapyong site to do it.

Meeches wants most of that negotiation to be complete before the upcoming civic election, set for Oct. 24.

"It just may slow the process down," he said. "I'm not exactly sure if it would. I don't think there's any real cause for concern on it."

The city has been planning to widen Kenaston Boulevard for 15 years as part of a Route 90 reconstruction that would extend from Taylor Avenue in Tuxedo to Ness Avenue in St. James. The project also encompasses replacements for the St. James bridges over the Assiniboine River.
The Kapyong land is nestled between the affluent Tuxedo and River Heights neighbourhoods. (CBC)

There is no funding for the project, which is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and remains in the design phase.

Acquiring the Kapyong property could allow the city to proceed with the southern portion of the widening sooner rather than later, provided the city obtains funding. The province and Ottawa would be asked to contribute to the project.

The city set out a general plan for the widening in 2012 but detailed design was put on hold until a resolution was reached regarding the fate of Kapyong Barracks.

Meeting with city Tuesday

Meeches said his group will meet with representatives of the city on Tuesday.

The parties need to work out the amount of land needed and possible changes to intersections, and establish a municipal development service agreement before work can start.

"We need to hear from the city," Meeches said. "I think they have some idea on what their requirements are. There's also, from our side, there's a few things we would like to put on the table."

The seven First Nations in the Treaty 1 group are Long Plain First Nation, Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, Peguis First Nation, Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation, Sagkeeng First Nation, Sandy Bay First Nation and Swan Lake First Nation.

Meeches said his group met earlier this week with the Canada Lands Co., the arm's-length Crown corporation that handles real estate, development and attractions management for the federal government. Canada Lands is overseeing the Kapyong Barracks redevelopment and sale and will be present when the Treaty 1 leaders meet with the city on Tuesday.​

After years in the works, Meeches said he's pleased to see movement on the project.

"I think it's good for everybody. Finally, it's happening," he said.

The Treaty 1 group also plans to erect a war museum on site in honour of Indigenous soldiers who fought for Canada.

"People may or may not know there's a very, very proud history of Indigenous soldiers that have fought for Canada," Meeches said.

"And a lot of that has to do with the Treaty-Crown relationship that we have and to protect the Treaty, to protect Canada's interest."

Take a look inside Kapyong Barracks, as it looked in 2012:

CBC's Sean Kavanagh goes on an exclusive tour of a former military site that now has some of the most valuable and unused land in Winnipeg. 2:12

Kapyong has been mostly abandoned since the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, moved to the Canadian Forces Base in Shilo, Man., in 2004. The land, estimated to be worth between $65 million and $90 million in 2015, was declared surplus and the federal Treasury Board tried to sell it to the Canada Lands Crown corporation.

The group of Treaty 1 First Nations challenged the sale and argued outstanding Treaty Land Entitlement claims meant they had a right to the site.

The land transfer was ruled illegitimate, but the federal government fought the decision in the courts until then-prime minister Stephen Harper announced in 2015 that the government would no longer continue to appeal the decision.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson