Ojibway urban park getting a step closer to reality as it heads for third reading

Windsor West MP Brian Masse announcing the schedule for the final reading and vote on Bill C-248, the private member's bill to make Ojibway Provincial Nature Reserve into a national urban park.  (TJ Dhir/CBC - image credit)
Windsor West MP Brian Masse announcing the schedule for the final reading and vote on Bill C-248, the private member's bill to make Ojibway Provincial Nature Reserve into a national urban park. (TJ Dhir/CBC - image credit)

A third reading is on the horizon for Windsor-West MP Brian Masse's Bill C-248, which would establish Ojibway National Urban Park in Windsor.

And that means the park is just one step closer to being a reality.

The proposed bill would combine six different parks and nature reserves, including Ojibway Shores – the only remaining undeveloped shoreline along the Detroit River. The final reading in the House of Commons will be on Feb. 3, and the final vote Feb. 8.

"We've had a lot of people profess they want to see an urban park," Masse said at a Tuesday press conference at the Ojibway Nature Centre.

"What makes us unique and different here is that these are all public lands that we currently own."

The private member's bill passed second reading in June with 168 yays and 147 nays. The proposal for a 364-hectare park would unite several areas — Ojibway Park, Spring Garden Natural Area, Black Oak Heritage Park, the Tallgrass Prairie Park, Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve and Ojibway Shores — as one national park.

If the bill passes a third reading, it goes to the Senate for approval and then royal assent.

Masse said with construction on the Gordie Howe International Bridge on the horizon, there have been no studies about how the new bridge and its traffic will impact wildlife in the area. The Windsor side of the bridge would have traffic entering and exiting beside Black Oak Heritage Park portion of the natural area.

"So that's why this bill needs to get passed now," Masse said.

TJ Dhir/CBC
TJ Dhir/CBC

Essex MP Chris Lewis said the bridge being close to the proposed park could bring ecotourism.

"We have the Gordie Howe International Bridge being built as we speak," he said. "It's going to have a walking path. It helps our small businesses, it helps our medium-sized businesses and it puts Windsor-Essex on the map."

Lewis said the proposed bill will take existing land and "tie it together" so residents have a large, natural area to exercise.

"We have to create green spaces for our folks to get active," he said.

A volunteer organization called Friends of Ojibway Prairie (FOOP) said Windsor-Essex residents have advocated for the Ojibway prairie complex to be protected under the strongest available legislation.

TJ Dhir/CBC
TJ Dhir/CBC

"As a national urban park, this is something that makes Windsor unique among proposed national urban park locations," said FOOP president Mike Fisher. "The effort that was driven by grassroots organizations and individuals and the advocacy that came from our community."

Other advocates for the bill, according to Masse, include Windsor-Essex Bike Community, the Wildlands League, Caldwell First Nation Chief Mary Duckworth, Windsor city councillors Fred Francis and Fabio Costante, Unifor Local 444 and NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky.

Masse said staff members of Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault proposed amendments to the bill, which were disqualified by the chair of the House of Commons environment committee.

"What was more troubling was that the Liberals came to the defence of the minister," Masse said. "They have some internal problem going on. I have no idea what it is, but we don't have time to wait around on that."

CBC News has reached out to the offices of Guilbeault and Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk for a response.