Zibi development seeks aboriginal construction workers

The developer of a new project on the former Domtar lands in Gatineau, Que., says he's looking to employ aboriginal workers with construction experience.

Windmill has done "more than anyone else" in region to engage with Algonquin, developer says

Windmill calls for aboriginal tradespeople

8 years ago
Duration 2:44
Windmill developments wants to employ First Nation tradespeople to work on the redevelopment of the old Domtar complex, but first it needs to find out how many skilled laborers there are, so it's putting out the call.

The massive Windmill redevelopment on the Ottawa River shoreline, which is land considered sacred to First Nations peoples, is seeking aboriginal construction workers.

Windmill Developments and Toronto's Dream Corporation plan to build a $1.2-billion residential, commercial and retail community on the Chaudière and Albert Islands starting this fall.

The 37-acre site, which includes the downtown Gatineau, Que., riverfront, is also expected to include condominium buildings, a boutique hotel, shops, waterfront parks and a network of pedestrian and cycling paths. 

Jeff Westeinde, co-founder of Windmill, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning he's looking to create a database of available and skilled aboriginal workers for the project, which could begin decontamination work in September or October of this year.

Its partner Decontie Construction Inc. issued a call-out to the Algonquin nation of Kitigan Zibi on Monday to build an inventory of Algonquin-Anishinabe construction workers. Westeinde said he hopes to employ the workers and provide them with the proper qualifications.

Qualification bureaucracy presents barrier

Workers from Kitigan Zibi do not have the proper union certification for Gatineau, which presents a problem.

It is not a new problem, though, said Westeinde. He referenced the James Bay area where Hydro Quebec worked to create a "special administrative zone" to ensure they could hire a crew of Cree workers.

The Zibi development will give the public an easier view of a somewhat hidden gem: Ottawa's Chaudière Falls. (Danny Globerman/CBC)
"We are very hopeful that discussions with the [Quebec construction workers' union] will lead to a fruitful outcome. This is something they're aiming to see as well," he said, adding the union does have a dedicated liaison for aboriginal workers.

While Westeinde said he wants to hire as many Algonquin workers as possible, the number of those either interested, qualified or available is not known. That's why Windmill is not setting any specific target until after the database is put in place.

"Essentially we're building an inventory to say, here's the availability of labour and the types of skill sets and interest they have. We'll be working with both the [union] and the ministry of labour and some of the local colleges … for those who want training. That'll tell us how many workers are interested," Westeinde said.

Signs to be in Algonquin, English, French

The development has been named "Zibi," the Algonquin word for river, and there will be signs in English, French and Algonquin, according to Westeinde.

Westeinde said the project will be a success if "the French, the English and the First Nations" get along.

"This is private property. We're a private sector developer who has done more, we think, than anyone else in the region to ever engage with the Algonquin, so we're very hopeful that that will get resolved quickly and we can get to work," Westeinde said.

There has been some push back including a lawsuit and a hearing at the Ontario Municipal Board that starts Monday at Ottawa's city hall. The hearing is not expected to move past this stage, Westeinde said.

A First Nation near Golden Lake has formally agreed to work with the developer and Westeinde said other large groups representing Algonquin could soon join.

The entire project is expected to be completed in 2030.