First Nations leaders and officials gathered on Wednesday for a “land reclamation” ceremony at the site of the former Kapyong Barracks, which will one day be home to the largest urban reserve in Canada.

“It is a really happy day for me to be out here, for us to be walking on our own land, on our own Treaty One jointly held Economic Development Zone, right here in Winnipeg,” Treaty One Chairperson and Brokenhead Ojibway Nation Chief Gordon BlueSky said during a ceremony at the former Kapyong site, which has now been renamed the Naawi-Oodena urban reserve.

The land along Kenaston Boulevard has sat empty since 2004 and was transferred from the City of Winnipeg to the Treaty One Development Corporation last year. The site is now slated to become a massive urban reserve as a joint venture between the Treaty One Development Corporation and Canada Lands Company, a self-financing Crown corporation, which will see approximately 68% of the 168-acre site developed.

An agreement signed last year will also see the city provide all municipal services for the Naawi-Oodena urban reserve “in a scope and manner consistent with the rest of the city.”

Urban reserves operate by allowing First Nations to use land in cities and develop that land for commercial purposes, which in turn generates revenue for their communities.

Treaty One says that once completed, the “landmark development” will represent the largest multi-use project in Winnipeg’s modern history and the single largest urban Indigenous economic zone in all of Canada.

Treaty One said they now expect to begin putting “shovels-to-ground” in the spring of 2023, with development estimated to take 15 years, to be finished in three stages.

The first phase of the project is expected to take five years to complete, which will include 100 residential units and 300,000 square feet of commercial space. The second phase will feature another 600 residential units and an additional 400,000 square feet of commercial space, while phase three will include another 400 residential units and 350,000 square feet of commercial space.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a piece of land like this open for in-fill development in any urban area across Canada,” BlueSky said.

“It’s an amazing opportunity, and I’m proud to be the first Chief in history to officially say, ‘Welcome to Naawi-Oodena.’”

Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun