- Q1. What does Windmill propose for this site?
Wedged between Chaudière Falls and Victoria Island, the old Domtar industrial lands presents an opportunity to restore a historically-rich, but currently contaminated and abandoned industrial space into a vibrant, bustling, eco-community.
Sadly, the site has been inaccessible to the public for approximately 200 years. Initial estimates of the costs to remediate and restore the land and the waterfront is in excess of $125 million.
Our vision is to transform this derelict and fenced off property into the world’s most sustainable community, providing public access to sections of the waterfront that have been closed off for generations. It will be a new way for the residents and tourists from all over the world to experience and appreciate the natural splendor of the Ottawa River and the Chaudière Falls, as well as the culture and heritage of Ottawa’s Founding Nations: The First Nations, the French, and the English.
These industrial lands are part of a larger area considered of cultural and historical importance to the Algonquin People and many others. As such, we are fully committed to engaging with the Algonquins, ensuring their culture, heritage, and presence are integral to the development.
Windmill is recognized for being one of the most collaborative and greenest developers in the world. We believe that urban development and nature don’t have to be mutually exclusive, nor should people and their activities be separate from nature. It’s one of the reasons we have targeted the creation of North America’s first mixed-use One Planet community, one of the strictest and most rigorous sustainability frameworks that will guide the decisions we make for the site.
We are the only developer in North America to have achieved LEED Platinum on all its mixed-use projects. Dockside Green, a model sustainable community we built in Victoria, BC, was selected by the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Climate Initiative and the U.S. Green Building Council as one of 16 projects in the world (across 6 continents) that demonstrate cities can grow in ways that are positive for the environment.
- Q2. Does Windmill recognize the significance of this site?
Yes, we are very much aware of how significant this site is for so many people, be it the residents of Ottawa and Gatineau, the Algonquin and First Nations community, and even for all Canadians. It is often referred to as the ‘cradle of Canadian civilization’ and historians have documented that the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau exist in large part because of the Falls and the surrounding area.
Windmill’s co-founders are both raised in Ottawa, and the site has significant meaning to them as well. It is one of the reasons we are fully committed to ensuring that this project reflects the historical and spiritual significance of the area — and in particular, that the heart and voice of the Algonquin People is integral to the development, through culture, heritage, and presence.
The opportunity exists to work with everyone interested in the site to bring it back to its full splendour; to restore and ‘naturalize’ what is now an abandoned and contaminated site; and to recreate a vibrant meeting place where everyone can have access to the Riverfront. We also recognize that the Chaudière Falls have a special significance for the Algonquins and we are working with our neighbours, the hydro operators that own the land directly adjacent to the Falls, to ensure these can once again be experienced and enjoyed by all.
- Q3. What has Windmill done to engage with the community to date?
To date we have engaged broadly with hundreds of different groups and stakeholders, and met with thousands of community members — well beyond any legal duties imposed on a private developer. This has included environmental organizations, First Nations peoples, local business groups, the two Cities, the National Capital Commission, heritage advocates, local politicians, Ottawa River advocates, and interested members of the public.
We do this because we believe it is part of our civic responsibility as sustainable developers, and because we understand that meaningful engagement will lead to a better outcome for this site. Given the complexity of this particular site, we realize that we can’t do it alone.
We have also been proactively engaging with the local Algonquin community since August 2013 to get a better sense of their vision for the site, and to learn about Elder William Commanda’s broad vision for the Falls, Victoria Island, and the surrounding isles.
We look forward to a long-term engagement with the residents of Ottawa and Gatineau and the Algonquin community, as well as with everyone interested, as we work to develop the world’s most sustainable community that reflects tangibly the culture and heritage of Ottawa’s Founding Nations: The First Nations, the French, and the English.
- Q4. Will you be doing further consultation for the public to contribute?
Yes, we consider public input to be essential to the realization of our projects, and the ideas and comments we receive have always led to better outcomes.
We look forward to a long-term engagement with the residents of Ottawa and Gatineau and the Algonquin community, as well as with everyone interested, as we work to develop the world’s most sustainable community.
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- Q5. Doesn’t this land belong to the Algonquins?
Windmill will be developing on 37 acres of land, of which 35 acres are privately-owned land and two are perpetually leased from the Federal Government.
However, the land along the Ottawa River, all of Ottawa and much of Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec is unceded Algonquin territory — this means that it has never been given away, sold, traded, or transferred by the Algonquin Peoples. Spanning over 36,000 km2, this unceded territory encompasses all of Parliament Hill, most homes in the Ottawa Valley, as well as private and Crown lands. This means that all of the residences and business in Ottawa and Gatineau which are on privately owned land are also on unceded lands.
Yet despite the fact that the lands are unceded, homeowners and private developers don’t have a legal obligation to consult with our First Nations when it comes to privately-held lands.
As private developers, we absolutely recognize the area’s special significance for the First Nations, as an important site in the heart of Algonquin territory. We know we have a moral duty and personal interest to actively engage with the local Algonquin community, as it is necessary if we want to restore the integrity of this development and achieve its full potential. It is why Windmill has been actively engaging with the Algonquins since the project outset in mid-2013.
Given the long history of the mistreatment of First Nations with respect to its people, culture, and land, our efforts have been devoted to learning how to engage in a way that is meaningful and that will lead to mutual trust. We will continue to listen and dialogue with the Algonquins, ensuring that their culture, heritage, and presence is integral to the development.
We have tremendous respect for the late Grandfather William Commanda, an internationally respected and acclaimed elder from the local Algonquin community, and the vision he expressed for the area. We share common values in terms of our respect for land and water, and for bringing our cultures together in a new partnership.
While the Domtar property doesn’t include Victoria Island, which is owned by the National Capital Commission, nor the Falls (the lands adjacent to the Falls and the ring dam are owned and operated by Chaudière Hydro and Hydro Québec), we believe we can help be a catalyst for a First Nations cultural centre on Victoria Island and we look forward to our continued dialogue with the Algonquins and others on this front.
- Q6. Is there a legal duty for private developers to engage with First Nations?
Unfortunately, many developers believe that they don’t need to engage with First Nations because the law doesn’t require it when it comes to private lands. As a result, the conventional engagement approach hasn’t often resulted in meaningful partnerships with our First Nations.
Windmill believes, however, that the conventional approach is short-sighted and non-inclusive, and that it won’t work for this site. It would only reinforce a long and sad history of injustices, and go against our vision to integrate aspects of the three Founding Nation’s culture and heritage into the development.
Rather, we believe it is part of our civic responsibility to listen to the Algonquin community and to engage in a meaningful dialogue, so that together we can envision a better outcome for this abandoned and contaminated site. We are committed to being inclusive and transparent and to trying to do something different.
We aspire to create a new partnership with the Algonquins that acts as a spark and a learning for how different cultures with conflicted pasts can come together and build a positive legacy that rises above and inspires.
- Q7. How has Windmill engaged with the First Nations community to date?
Windmill has been actively engaging with the local Algonquin community since mid-2013 as we recognize these lands and the surrounding areas are of great significance to the Algonquins and First Nations.
Given the long history of the mistreatment of First Nations with respect to its people, culture, and land, our efforts have been devoted to learning how to engage in a way that is meaningful and that will lead to mutual trust.
To the best of our knowledge, we are the only private sector real estate developers that have voluntarily engaged with the Algonquin Nation, and we aspire to co-develop what will eventually be recognized as a new model of cooperation between private-sector developers in Canada and First Nations.
There is no clear path for how this is done. It will require us to do things differently and think differently about how we engage.
To date, we have been incredibly inspired to learn that we share many common values with our First Nations, such as a desire to repair and restore the land, a passion for the responsible stewardship of the Ottawa River, and a commitment to cultural consciousness-raising.
We know that our work is just beginning and that much more needs to be done. Success will see the best of all our cultures represented in a vibrant 21st century community that gives voice to the Algonquin people, restores the land, cleans the River, and gives public access to the waterfront and Chaudière Falls.
Specific areas of collaboration being discussed as part of a draft Memorandum of Understanding with the Algonquin leadership include:
- Formal recognition that the site is located within traditional Algonquin Territory.
- Selecting a name for the site that acknowledges the tremendous cultural and historical presence of the First Nations in the heart of the National Capital Region.
- Working with Algonquin translators to ensure that major signage onsite is tri-lingual – that is, in Algonquin, French, and English (the languages of the three Founding Nations).
- Coordinating our planning efforts with the two cities, the NCC and the local hydro operators to establish an Algonquin cultural district and presence in the area, encompassing the new Pimisi LRT station, LeBreton Flats, Victoria Island, Chaudière Falls, and the former Domtar lands.
- Explorations of options to allow for First Nations investment in the proposed District Energy System to be built on site, targeted to be one of the most sustainable systems in the world.
- The hiring of Canada’s leading arts consultancy to study how Algonquin arts and cultural spaces can be integrated within the redevelopment.
- The development of youth mentorship and internship programs.
- The promotion of a First Nations workforce in the construction and operations phases of the project.
- Support for and encouragement of First Nations businesses and entrepreneurs located on site, including discussions with a non-profit aboriginal daycare provider.
- Q8. Are the lands Windmill will be developing leased from the Federal Government?
Windmill is in the process of acquiring from Domtar Corporation approximately 37 acres of land located on Chaudière Island, Albert Island, and along the riverfront in Gatineau. The property does not include Victoria Island, which belongs to the NCC, nor any of the land on either side of the Chaudière Falls, which is managed by subsidiaries of Hydro Ottawa and Hydro Québec.
Although Domtar privately owns the vast majority of this 37-acre parcel, the site also includes random and non-adjoining ‘pockets’ of Crown land located on Chaudière Island which total less than two acres of land. These ‘pockets’ have been leased in perpetuity by the federal government to Domtar, and will be transferred to Windmill as part of the transaction.
- Q9. What is your experience working and consulting with First Nations as a developer?
We are extremely proud of the fact that Windmill Developments was one of the first private developers in Western Canada to work directly and proactively with the First Nations on a project called Dockside Green in Victoria, BC. Not only did the partnership lead to a better outcome for the project, it afforded Windmill the opportunity to gain first-hand experience in how to engage meaningfully with Canada’s First Nations community.
The conventional consultation approach used by private developers hasn’t often resulted in better outcomes. In fact, many private developers believe that they don’t need to engage with First Nations because the law doesn’t require it when it comes to private lands.
We believe it is part of our civic responsibility to listen to and learn from our First Nations, so that together, we can envision a better relationship and a new partnership for sustainable and respectful development in Canada.
It’s not an easy path we have chosen—while profitable, the conventional approach used by developers would be much more lucrative. We strongly believe, however, that developers have a responsibility to be positive agents of change, and Windmill is committed to changing the current development paradigm.
- Q10. What is your wish with respect to the First Nations involvement on this project?
First Nations peoples in Canada have a lot to offer and a lot to teach us. Through our engagements with First Nations peoples, we have been incredibly inspired to learn that we share many common values, such as a desire to repair and restore the land, a passion for the responsible stewardship of the Ottawa River, and a commitment to cultural consciousness-raising.
Windmill is committed to sustainable development: everything that we do is conceived, designed, and constructed to protect and enhance the local community and its ecosystems. We are doing this in a variety of ways, and our approach and commitment to meaningful engagement is one of them.
Success will see the best of all cultures represented in a vibrant 21st century eco-community that gives voice to the Algonquin people, restores the land, cleans the River, and gives public access to the waterfront and Chaudière Falls.
- Q11. Why does working together with the Algonquins matter to you?
We know that Windmill and the Algonquin community share a deep commitment and respect for the land, the Falls, and the river.
Our principles are not at odds with the Algonquin aspirations for this site. Today, the site is highly contaminated, fenced-in, and derelict. It has been an industrial heartland for over two hundred years and closed-off to the public, and although industrial operations ceased in 2007, the land continues to negatively impact the Ottawa River.
The world-class eco-village we are proposing is about recognizing the culture and the significance of the site. Clearly, the Algonquin community have a say in this project and must be heard. They have long been stewards and spokespersons for this land and we believe that their involvement can only lead to something greater.
We aspire to create a new partnership with the Algonquins that acts as a spark and a learning for how different cultures with conflicted pasts can come together and build a positive legacy that rises above and inspires others to be open to this new partnership between First Nations and non-First Nations people.
- Q12. Why does this site need development? Shouldn’t it be converted to park land?
Currently the site is a series of vacant buildings on contaminated land. Sadly, it has been closed off to the public for approximately 200 years. Initial estimates of the costs to remediate and restore the land and the waterfront is in excess of $125 million.
In its current state, the site is almost entirely asphalted and many of the remaining buildings are dilapidated and in very poor condition. It is nearly bereft of all trees and there is little vegetation, most of which are invasive plant species. The land is highly toxic, with contaminants still washing away into the River. The waterfront is mostly made up of industrial materials, such as concrete, timber, and metals used to extend the property’s boundaries into the water. There are no rainwater filtration facilities, meaning that all the salt, toxins, and other pollutants run off uninhibited into the River with every rainfall or snowmelt. There is no vegetation along the riverbanks to act as a natural filter to clean pollutants before their discharge as effluent into the water.
The federal government concluded a number of years ago, when it initially explored purchasing this land from Domtar, that a mixed-use community development would be necessary to help pay for the acquisition, remediation, and restoration costs. In addition, given that the vast majority of the waterfront for kilometers on both sides of the River adjacent to these lands is green space and parks, governments are not prepared to use public funds of the magnitude required to restore this site and convert it into parkland.
Privately-led development is therefore the only feasible solution for allocating the necessary $125 million required to clean up the past and set an example for future generations.
The opportunity before us is to influence how that development occurs—in a sustainable and environmental way that reflects our community’s aspirations for the site, and that adopts leading-edge standards that will serve as a model and catalyst to influence other local, national, and international developments.
Windmill is recognized as one of the greenest builders in the world. We are proposing to transform this derelict site into the world’s most sustainable community, providing public access to sections of the Ottawa River and the Falls that have been closed off for generations. Our plan is to re-naturalize the site, providing much more greenspace than currently exists. Riverbanks and ecological reserves will undergo succession planting with native species. Invasive species will be removed to restore the richness and habitat value of authentic riparian edges. As well, streets and courtyards will include native and native-adapted species to help beautify the site and bring back its original ecological splendour.
- Q13. What is your intention for the Falls? Will you remove the hydro ring dam and restore the Falls to their natural state?
There are many in Ottawa and Gatineau who advocate the ‘freeing of the Falls,’ which would mean the removal of the hydro ring dam built in 1908 that controls the River’s flow as it enters the waterfall.
It’s important to note that the land that directly borders the Falls is not part of the Domtar property being sold to Windmill. Nor does Windmill have any control on the electric generating stations and the hydro ring dam as these belong to and are controlled by subsidiaries of Hydro Ottawa and Hydro Québec.
That said, we believe we can play a role in opening up access to the Falls. As it now stands, the Domtar property is closed off to the public, and therefore acts as a barrier to the Falls.
We have been working closely with the NCC, the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau, and the two Hydro companies to find solutions and new ways to enjoy and celebrate the Falls. The broader plan includes providing public access with a new pedestrian bridge near the War Museum that connects the Ottawa riverfront to Chaudière Island, and that links to a public path to a viewing area on the south side of the Falls.
Chaudière Hydro and the NCC are working closely with the Algonquin community to ensure that Algonquin cultural elements are built-in to the design plan, and to minimize any impact that the hydro generating stations might have on the American Eels (‘Pimisi,’ a sacred animal for the Algonquin people) that live in the Ottawa River.
- Q14. Won’t development on the waterfront be harmful to the River?
The Ottawa River is a critical component of this project and we are extremely sensitive to protecting it and ensuring our development is a net benefit to the River. That’s why one of the first organizations we spoke with was the Ottawa Riverkeeper (‘Sentinelle Outaouais’).
We have also engaged with the Algonquin community and look forward to their input on how we can better protect the water and the natural wildlife.
This has been an industrial site for hundreds of years. And although industrial operations ceased in 2007, the land remains contaminated and negatively impacts the River. The site’s waterfront is mostly made up of industrial materials, such as concrete, metals, and lumber, used to extend the property’s boundaries into the water.
There are no rainwater filtration facilities on site, meaning that all the salt, toxins, and other pollutants run off uninhibited into the River with every rainfall or snowmelt. There is no vegetation along the riverbanks to act as a natural filter to clean pollutants before their discharge as effluent into the water.
Our project will improve the quality of the surrounding area and help restore it. Initial estimates of the costs to remediate and restore the land and the river is in excess of $125 million. Our first step will be to decontaminate the site to remove the hundreds of years of industrial contaminants present on the site. We will also re-naturalize the banks of the river using native species.
- Q15. Will you be limiting access to the waterfront?
No. Our intention is to dramatically improve public access to the waterfront and the Falls, from both cities.
Development along the water will be responsible and sustainable. We envision giving the public access to the water in two ways: along a multi-use network of paths built on naturalized green space (for e.g., the continuation of the bike path along the river in Gatineau); and also in an urban fashion with patios and restaurants — this is currently a rare experience in the National Capital Region, which is surrounded by water.
We have already consulted with the Ottawa Riverkeeper and plan to continue to involve her in our planning process.
We also know that the Falls and the River are important to the Algonquin community. We have engaged with both the Hydro generators that own the land directly adjacent to the Falls and the Algonquins and we are working to ensure the Falls can once again be experienced and enjoyed by all.
- Q16. What will you be doing to protect the heritage aspects of this site?
One of our eight development principles that will guide this project deals with heritage. We’re currently studying all the existing buildings to assess: potential heritage uses; their condition; and how much it would take to bring them back up to a usable state. We would like to celebrate as much heritage as we can.
We do know that it will be very expensive to bring these structures back to compliance with the building code, and given that, we are very open to ideas and partnerships with heritage groups or others that can help us bring these buildings back.
- Q17. How will you deal with the interprovincial issues arising from the property?
- This project will certainly be challenging. That said, we are very pleased and grateful for the support we have received already from Mayor Pedneaud-Jobin, Mayor Watson, members of both councils, and the National Capital Commission. We hope that this project can serve as a template for how all jurisdictions can work together on transformative projects in the National Capital Region.
- Q18. What are the timeframes for this project?
The site is planned to be constructed in six phases over a ten to fifteen year period. Our first phase is planned for Gatineau, and will focus on cleaning the land, repurposing the salvageable heritage buildings, and constructing new mixed-use developments.
Each phase is expected to last approximately two to three years.
- Q19. What does success look like in this regard?
Ideally this project will positively engage both settlers to Canada and First Nations peoples who care about the environment, sustainability, and how it manifests in the reality of today’s society. We believe that there is tremendous opportunity for the heart and voice of the Algonquin People to be integral to the development, through culture, heritage, and presence in one of the world’s leading eco-communities.
We also aspire to create a new partnership with the Algonquins that acts as a spark and a learning for how different cultures with conflicted pasts can come together and build a positive legacy that rises above and inspires others.