Ottawa

Tewin: The land at the centre of Ottawa's reconciliation controversy

When a pair of city committees suddenly voted last week that fields and forest on the city's outskirts should become Ottawa's next major suburb, those hundreds of hectares were suddenly thrust into the limelight in a way not seen since the 1970s.

Algonquins of Ontario paid $16.9M for properties long held by Ontario government

The area where the Algonquins of Ontario and Taggart Group see building a new community from scratch has been looked at before. (www.tanakiwin.com)

When a pair of city committees suddenly voted last week that fields and forest on the city's outskirts should become Ottawa's next major suburb, those hundreds of hectares were thrust into the limelight in a way not seen since the 1970s.

First Nations leaders in Quebec this week say they are furious they were not consulted about the land, which they say falls in their territory. They are also upset that under the proposed deal, a group they oppose, the Algonquins of Ontario, stands to be allowed to urbanize 445 hectares in an expansion of Ottawa's urban areas.

But the huge tract also made headlines nearly 50 years ago in a different debate over how the region would grow, before hundreds of thousands of people lived beyond the Greenbelt. In the 1970s, the former Ontario Housing Corporation along with the National Capital Commission had pieced together land parcels and dreamed of building a "model city" near Carlsbad Springs. Instead, a place designated on a map as "South Rideau" became Barrhaven.

The Carlsbad Springs lands sat publicly owned but undeveloped for years.

In January 2020, land registry records show the Algonquins of Ontario Realty Corporation purchased three dozen properties from the Ontario government outright for $16.9 million.

The Algonquins of Ontario (AOO), an organization that is negotiating a large land claim, in recent months met with city councillors to pitch its own, modern vision.

They see a walkable, compact community called "Tewin" that could one day number 45,000 residents. It would follow environmentally friendly "One Planet Living" principles, much like the Zibi development on the Ottawa River.

It's a vision they share with partner Taggart Group, whom AOO reached out to in late 2017 after deciding the company would make the best partner, explained Janet Stavinga, executive director of AOO's consultation office.

The lands themselves AOO bought separate from its treaty negotiations, Stavinga said, and AOO did so after the Ontario government offered it the first right to purchase them out of a duty to consult with the group.

As for how it paid $16.9 million for the land, "the AOO entered into an agreement with our financial partner, the Taggart Group," Stavinga explained.

Staff score lands as low as -8 points

Yet the three dozen parcels bought by the Algonquins of Ontario, and dozens of other privately held properties that make up the balance of the Tewin proposal, are not currently located within the city's urban boundary, where development is allowed.

The City of Ottawa is in the process of expanding its urban areas, but after staff spent months scoring dozens of properties, the 3,600 hectares in the Tewin area came nowhere near making their cut.

The Algonquins of Ontario have purchased lands near Boundary Road and Highway 417 to develop with their partners, Taggart. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Some Tewin parcels scored as low as -8 points because of deductions. The highest score in the area was just seven points, confirmed the city's director of economic development and long-range planning, Don Herweyer. 

In contrast, City staff did recommend dozens of other properties be granted a coveted spot inside the urban boundary. Those properties tended to hit scores of between 40 and 70, because big points went to rural properties already close to Ottawa's existing suburbs, watermains and sewer pipes, and transit.

Staff also worried about sensitive marine clay soils found on the Tewin lands, concerns that date back to those 1970s headlines.

All future housing on the Tewin lands would need to rely on sump pumps for drainage and buildings higher than four storeys would need expensive supports for foundations, staff noted in their big report last month. Rural roads would need to be converted to carry traffic, and kilometres of transit lanes built.

The Algonquins of Ontario disagree with this assessment, however, and argued the city relied on out-of-date information.

They had submitted to the city their own reports by a team of engineers from companies including Paterson Group, Golder and DSEL, which Stavinga said addressed the technical matters, even if it was unclear to her whether staff reviewed those reports.

The soils are similar to many other communities in Ottawa and are "fully capable" of supporting new development, she added.

City councillors were shown this map at a meeting on Jan. 26, 2021, of the area where the Algonquins of Ontario propose building a community called Tewin. The areas in pink are owned by that group, and the dashed area are natural areas that would not be developed. (City of Ottawa)

As for design and construction costs related to all sewer, water and stormwater services at Tewin, those would be covered by the Algonquins of Ontario and Taggart, Stavinga said.

The mayor and many city councillors heard those arguments and last week decided that despite the land's poor scores, the Algonquins of Ontario should be allowed to build their development as a sign of reconciliation. The surprise move has caused other developers and First Nations chiefs to speak out in protest.

Should the Algonquins of Ontario indeed get full council approval on Feb. 10, and have their land brought inside the urban-rural divide, "Algonquin principles and teachings will guide all aspects" of the project and it will lead to jobs and scholarships for Algonquin people, Stavinga said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Porter

Reporter

Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past two decades, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now