Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

NDP member of Parliament Brian Masse rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 21.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Two Ontario First Nations could become co-managers of a new national urban park, under a plan that drew closer to reality on Wednesday with the passage of a private members’ bill in the House of Commons.

The bill, tabled by NDP MP Brian Masse, passed with all-party support and is expected to pass the Senate easily by the end of June. It calls for the creation of Ojibway National Urban Park, a proposed public green space in Windsor, Ont. The park would unite several areas along the Detroit River into a 364-hectare whole, and safeguard about 200 endangered species. The land is the traditional territory of Anishinaabe communities, who were forced out in the 18th century.

Caldwell First Nation and Walpole Island First Nation, both of which are based in the area surrounding Windsor, are negotiating agreements with Parks Canada to co-manage the new national park, according to Mohummed Peer, a legislative assistant to Mr. Masse. The groups would oversee the park in co-operation with Parks Canada, but the government has not said how duties would be divided. Neither First Nation could be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Parks Canada manages other national parks with Indigenous groups, but this would be the first such arrangement in a national urban park.

The federal government pledged in 2021 to work closely with Indigenous partners on the creation of a network of national urban parks across the country. (Only one currently exists, the Rouge National Urban Park in Toronto.) In a news release at the time, it said one of its aims was to provide for Indigenous stewardship of land, and to promote Indigenous culture and values.

“Indigenous peoples have traditional territories in the areas of most parks, so there’s a direct connection there,” Caroline Macintosh, Parks Canada’s executive director for protected areas establishment, said in an interview. “This [program] also creates an opportunity for other First Nations and Indigenous populations to connect with each other.”

Windsor is best known as a city of automobile factories and salt mines.

“We logged it, industrialized it, farmed it, and now we’re struggling to have any remnants of our ecological past,” Mr. Masse, who represents Windsor West, told The Globe and Mail. “That’s why this park is so important.”

Here are the bills, big and small, that politicians will be looking at next year

John Hartig, a visiting scholar at the University of Windsor who researches Great Lakes ecology, said the establishment of Ojibway National Urban Park is an “amazing opportunity for tourism and eco-tourism.”

The Gordie Howe International Bridge, which will link Ontario and Michigan, is being built directly beside the area that will become the new park. Construction is expected to be completed in the fall of 2024.

“By having this connection, can you imagine the experiences that we’re going to be able to offer?” Dr. Hartig said. He added that he thinks the park will encourage American tourists to travel to Canada, enjoy nature, and “celebrate and honour First Nations.”

Julia Bresee, a manager with Parks Canada, agreed that the park could create opportunities for visitors to engage with Indigenous culture. “Our Indigenous partners can bring tourists in,” she said. “They can share their interesting and important stories, which will promote further tourism in their own areas.”

Even as Mr. Masse’s legislation has worked its way through Parliament, Parks Canada has been working to establish Ojibway National Park through other processes. Last May, the federal government announced that Ojibway Shores, one of the areas that will be folded into the new park, was being transferred from Transport Canada to Parks Canada.

Parks Canada has said it is committed to supporting the development of 15 new national urban parks by 2030. The agency is asking Canadians to fill out a survey on its website, to help it gather thoughts and perspectives on the effort.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe