Thunder Bay

Gull Bay First Nation gets apology from Ontario Power Generation

Dams on the Nipigon River and the Ogoki River Diversion flooded the community, damaged habitat and destroyed burial grounds.

Power projects in the first half of the 20th century flooded land and destroyed burial grounds

A member of the Gull Bay First Nation says she hopes an apology from Ontario Power Generation will help her community heal.

Liz Pope says OPG's predecessor showed disrespect for the First Nation when it damaged their land for power projects in the early 1900s.

At a ceremony in Thunder Bay on Thursday evening, OPG apologized for the damage caused by several dams on the Nipigon River and by the Ogoki River Diversion. 

The projects, completed between 1918 and 1950, flooded the community, damaged habitat and destroyed burial grounds. 

"Some people remember what happened and if they don't remember they remember the stories from their elders of what happened, so it was very traumatic," Pope said.

"What that whole event symbolizes is the level of disrespect OPG, the provincial government and the federal government had against not only the First Nations members of Gull Bay but First Nations people as a whole," she added.   

OPG says it made a mistake

OPG Senior Vice President Mike Martelli said the company made a mistake.

"Eighty years ago, our predecessor, the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario, harnessed the waters for power production around Lake Nipigon, and in doing so, we disregarded the traditional ways and culture of the Gull Bay First Nation," he said.  "We recognize this now ... and we're here to apologize for that lack of communication and disregard for their traditional ways."  

Gull Bay chief Wilfred King said the apology demonstrates OPG's sincerity in its dealings with the community.

OPG has also provided $12.5 million in compensation to the First Nation and will pay ongoing rent to Gull Bay for the flooded lands.

In addition, it will finish work to mitigate erosion of the shoreline. 

But King said the money is less important than the accountability shown by OPG.

"I think it's just the recognition and the meaningful contriteness of Ontario Power Generation to really look at what happened to our community and acknowledge that," King said.  

Pope said she thinks it's monumental that the first of the three parties responsible for the tragedy – the others being the provincial and federal governments – has settled with the First Nation. 

"I'm hoping this is the beginning of the other two parties taking responsibility and then subsequently moving on," she said.

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