Protesters Surround Machinery to Protect Winnipeg’s Parker Lands

Protesters walk through a clear-cut area that was once aspen forest in the Parker Lands on Friday. (Dereck Doherty/CBC)

Group calls for conservation area instead of development along new rapid transit route

CBC News Posted: Jul 14, 2017

A group of protesters gathered at the Parker Lands in Winnipeg Friday in an effort to halt the removal of trees and destruction of what they call an important environmental wetland area.

The group surrounded a shredding machine that had been at work since Thursday, turning timber into toothpicks.

“We’re standing in front of the machines and making sure they’re not moving,” said protester Jenna Vandal.

“The construction company came and told us we were on private land, and we said we’re actually on Native land so we’re not moving. He left and got the police to come, and the police told us they’re just worried for our safety and left after that.”

Vandal, a ​Métis woman, is considering setting up an occupation of the site, bringing out tents and lighting a sacred fire. She’s less worried about being removed by the police than about just watching the forest be destroyed.

‘It should be criminal’

Vandal has signed numerous petitions, written to politicians at all levels of government, and used social media to make as many people as possible aware of the issue.

“I feel I’ve done what I can do and there’s nothing left but direct action. And sometimes that’s the only way to get things done,” she said.

‘I feel I’ve done what I can do and there’s nothing left but direct action. And sometimes that’s the only way to get things done.’– Jenna Vandal

A group called the Parker Wetlands Conservation Committee has been lobbying government to set aside the Parker Lands — south of Taylor Avenue and just west of the Jubilee–Pembina interchange — as an ecological reserve for about three years.

“There is so much room elsewhere for development. We don’t have to develop these natural spaces that provide us with some green, and to have them destroyed,” said PWCC spokesman Cal Dueck.

“It should be criminal.”‘

Earlier this year, many of the trees were shredded as part of the next phase of the city’s rapid transit bus route.

The piece of land being targeted by protesters on Friday is privately owned by Gem Equities, which acquired it in a controversial land swap with the city.

Gem has been removing the trees ahead of expected development along the new transit route. However, the company owned by developer Andrew Marquess has not yet submitted a plan to the city.

CBC has contacted Gem Equities for comment.

In just two weeks, the PWCC has received 1,500 signatures on a petition opposed to the destruction of the area, according to Dueck.

“The remaining 42 acres of forest and wetland is slated to be sacrificed to a housing development. ‘Developing’ this area would exacerbate the already profound threats to our watershed,” the petition states, while listing the flora and fauna that will be impacted by the loss of their natural habitat.

‘Much of the flora and fauna on the property is no longer found elsewhere in Winnipeg.’– Cal Dueck

“The Parker wetlands and aspen forest is home to myriad wild creatures including whitetail deer, foxes, frogs and toads, a great horned owl, a family of Cooper’s hawk, swallowtail butterflies, milkweed, yellow lady-slippers, the mysterious bottle gentian, and big bluestem (as well as vestiges of both mixed-grass and tallgrass prairie ecosystems), to name only a fraction of the population,” the petition says.

“In March the tracks of a short-tailed weasel were spotted, and recently a Canada warbler and a whip-poor-will, both classified in Manitoba as threatened under the Endangered Species and Ecosystems Act, were observed.”

Call for conservation area

Dueck is calling on the city and the province to “save this heritage forest” by issuing an immediate stop-work order until the land can be purchased or expropriated from Marquess.

Dueck is also urging Marquess to offer the land to the city or province “at a reasonable price” so it can be held as a conservation area.

“Much of the flora and fauna on the property is no longer found elsewhere in Winnipeg,” he said, noting that in 2000, the area was designated as an ecologically sensitive natural heritage area.

But at some point during the administration of previous mayor Sam Katz, the area was re-designated as a major redevelopment area, Dueck said.

In addition to the plants and animals in the area, the land is an important part of Indigenous history, said Vandal.

“Rooster Town, a Mé​tis settlement destroyed in 1960, was situated right next to the Parker wetlands,” she said. “Structures, arrowheads and bison-skinning tools have been found in this urban forest.

“I will fight to defend this land that cared for my Indigenous ancestors, both Métis and First Nations.”

The protesters say they will remain at the site until Friday evening.