By Dave Dale,
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
East Ferris residents concerned about potential Algonquin Treaty settlement impacts got a clearer picture of the future from provincial negotiators during a special meeting of council, Thursday.
About 1,200 acres of Crown Land in Nipissing District has been included for land transfer in the draft settlement agreement, including three parcels in East Ferris. One is off Centennial Drive, 302B, with 137 acres at Maple Lane, another is labelled 83F2 involving more than 1,000 acres east of Stepping Stone Lane (near the end of MacPherson Drive) and a third, smaller parcel labelled 83F1 north of the far end of Johnson Road.
Among the key concerns, based on recent presentations to council and feedback provided to the negotiators, is the 47-lot subdivision plan east of MacPherson Drive. Residents are upset that the Lands for Life designation in 1999 to protect that property is being overturned, putting in jeopardy an extensive walking trail system from the shoreline to the watershed lakes above.
Residents dependant on Maple Lane are also worried about their access and whether residential development on the parcel is appropriate. They were told the road will remain Crown land for shared use.
Overall potential for increased traffic on Centennial and MacPherson drives, an already contentious issue for pedestrians due to lack of sidewalks, was also raised as general concern.
Doug Carr, Ontario’s chief negotiator and Doug Lemke, co-chair of the municipal advisory committee were among those the provincial side of the table. They were joined by Jennifer Griffin, senior negotiator for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and Cara Hernould, associate negotiators from the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs to field dozens of questions submitted ahead of the 90-minute open house. The meeting was conducted via Zoom due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and livestreamed on the East Ferris YouTube channel. It’s also embedded with a video player at the bottom of this article.
A brief history of the land claim was presented, including how there were 26 petitions by Algonquin communities to negotiate a treaty between 1772 and 1993. A 1985 land claim application covered 14,000 square miles of unceded Algonquin territory stretching from Ottawa to Lake Nipissing, as well as land in Quebec north of Temiskaming. The federal and provincial governments agreed to work toward a settlement in 1991 and 1992, respectively, with negotiations officially starting in 2012.
They noted the guidelines for the negotiation at the outset included the exclusion of private property and Algonquin Park for consideration of land transfers. Also notable, they said, was the transferred land would be “fee simple” or private land instead of Indian Act-designated reserves. Carr said this means that any development will go through the municipal planning process, although he added that municipalities must designated it no more restrictively than “rural” in Official Plans.
In 2017, a report of the draft negotiation settlement indicated that there were 263 parcels of Crown land on the table involving 42 municipalities.
Since then, Carr said consolidating the parcels into fewer but bigger chunks have added 7,000 acres but reduced the total number of parcels by 10 percent. Also removed from the settlement was Camp Island on Trout Lake, with the stewardship to now include the Algonquins, Nipissing First Nation and the province.
Carr said the subdivision proposals for the East Ferris parcels were more accurately described as “concept plans” developed in 2013 that the Algonquins of Ontario are “reconsidering” with the actual “future use not determined.”
He said those ideas were not full researched with environmental studies and surveys wouldn’t be done until closer to making a development application. But Carr said more information and closer study of the land, also indicated in public feedback, is leading to those concepts “evolving.”
Regardless, just like any private land owner in East Ferris, he said the municipal planning process will guide such things as setbacks, waste water management and other building code details.
As for adding traffic to MacPherson, Griffin said she and Algonquin representatives have walked the property and there is a “conversation” taking place about possibly using Johnson Road as an entrance way.
Councillor Terry Kelly said he appreciated the “transparency”of the answers being shared and asked Carr if they considered a cash offer instead of land to avoid conflict with residents.
With there being about 12,000 people identified as Algonquins, and other than those living the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan (Golden Lake), Kelly said most are “amalgamated” into society.
He asked Carr if they considered asking them individually in a direct survey “do you really want the land or do you want to divvy up” about $1 billion individually?
Carr said there had been discussions about a cash offer because all involved know “land is the hardest part” in a treaty negotiation due to centuries of development and private sales.
“The notion that we can settle this with only money is clearly not something we’ll be able to do,” he replied, describing how the Algonquins are “looking to assert their rights” and land ownership is important to them.
“This is the best we can do to settle the claim,” Carr said, “There is a limited amount of land available each land parcel is important. We probably hit the balance between money and land as we are going to.”
Councillor Erika Lougheed said she “wished the concept plan (for the subdivisions) was never put out in the first place” if it wasn’t firm because it’s led to the existing adversarial atmosphere.
The Algonquin Treaty issues are coming at a time East Ferris is dealing with multiple development proposals that have already riled up residents of MacPherson and Centennial drives.
Lougheed asked if the province had any way to help the municipality when it comes to dealing with whatever development plans come forward in the future. She said it seems like the municipalities will have to pick up the pieces after the treaty.
Carr said that’s part of why they are getting involved in the conversations, similar to the town hall meeting held in South Algonquin before Christmas.
Mayor Pauline Rochefort thanked Carr and the provincial representatives for the “crispness” of their answers.
Rochefort said the communication process is key as they hope the treaty leads to eventual reconciliation for all.
“Certainly we do want it to be a positive journey in East Ferris,” she said.
Carr said they’re hoping to see the environmental assessment process wrap up this year while also addressing the legal interests people may have for some of the Crown land designated for transfer to Algonquin ownership. In 2022, they want to finalize negotiations and the implementation process at the same time. The goal for 2023-24 is to conclude the ratification of the treaty and start the process of transferring land ownership over future years.
Dave Dale is a Local Journalism Reporter with BayToday.ca. LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.