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St. Norbert residents rally to save Lemay Forest from high-density development

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg risks losing natural space, history in development of Lemay Forest, historian says'
Winnipeg risks losing natural space, history in development of Lemay Forest, historian says
Historian Philippe Mailhot said on Tuesday, "You take twenty steps into a forest and you forget you're in an urban area and anything the city can do to save these wild, quiet spaces is important." – Nov 29, 2023

Residents in a Winnipeg neighbourhood rallied together this week in a bid to save a natural space from a high-density development.

Cat Macaulay-Gauthier and other members of the Save the Lemay Forest Committee gathered for what could be their final walk-through of part of their beloved Lemay Forest. For Macaulay-Gauthier, the forest has been a staple of her daily walks.

“I come out here and walk this area every day and it’s literally my therapy,” she said.

The residents said they are pushing back against plans, by Tocha Developments, that would turn a portion of the St. Norbert area into a high-density residential neighbourhood.

“The wildlife, the trees, the plant species, don’t have voices,” said Jaxon Kowaluk. “With a community as strong as ours, I think we’re going to end up fighting it, and hopefully winning it.”

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St. Norbert city councillor Markus Chambers said officials have met for talks about potentially acquiring the land.

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“I know those discussions are happening behind the scenes to look at what the value of the land is and what it could be used for,” he said. “I think it would be imprudent on our part if we allowed the decimation of this forest, of these forested lands.”

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Last week, the city’s planning and property development committee chose to delay a vote on whether to start working out a purchase price. It is expected to now take place on January 11, next year.

According to Tochal Developments, if no firm headway is made on a sale soon, they’ll continue with their development plans. For now, access to the area will be restricted on Friday, leaving residents with little time to enjoy the forest.

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“We’ll see what happens on Friday, if the no trespassing signs will go up, and the fence. It’s a day-by-day thing,” said Macaulay-Gauthier.

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Residents added that among their worries is the potential for the neighbourhood to become overwhelmed with traffic on residential streets, as well as overwhelming animals and mature trees that currently call the forest home.

Committee member Phillipe Mailhot said that developing the forest doesn’t make sense.

“The idea of the city of Winnipeg at one time talking about investing about 40 million dollars into restoring and preserving Winnipeg’s canopy, while at the same time allowing a developer to get rid of however many thousands of trees when we could be making it accessible… seems counterintuitive,” he said.

Planner John Wintrup says Tochal is open to having the city and other governments buy the land. He added, however, that it would need to happen soon, or they’ll continue with development as planned.

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“We acknowledge and respect the residents have a different view and we’re providing that opportunity now for that to play out. We don’t want it to play out forever,” he said.

— With files from Global’s Iris Dyck

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