The City of Parksville increased its parklands while ensuring the protection of a 97-acre freshwater wetland when city council approved the purchase of the tract known as the Ermineskin land during its regular meeting Monday night.
The $1.3 million purchase from the Ermineskin Cree Nation gives the city the 35.9-hectare property, located within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) at 790 Hirst Ave., to be held in perpetuity as a natural park. The bylaw establishing the parkland was given three readings Monday night and was approved unanimously.
“I am extremely pleased with the city’s successful purchase of the Ermineskin lands,” Mayor Marc Lefebvre said. “It is truly a rare opportunity to preserve such a large piece of natural habitat so close to residential neighbourhoods. We anticipate strong public support for this significant area which we have secured for future generations of Parksville residents.”
The acquisition by the city followed decades of negotiations, with the Ermineskin Cree Nation requesting the city maintain the lands as a park in perpetuity.
Chief Randy Ermineskin described the transfer by using the Cree word “Witaskiwin,” which he said means, “living together on the land” and can be translated to “apply to a land-sharing arrangement between individual members of a nation.”
“After thirty years of negotiations and talks, Ermineskin Cree Nation is pleased this section of land will be maintained as a park in perpetuity,” Ermineskin stated in a written release from the City of Parksville.
“It would be fitting, that Parksville City Council, consider placing a memorial on the land to commemorate this agreement.”
Lefebvre told The NEWS he fully anticipates signage being placed at the park to acknowledge the land’s heritage, and said the city would welcome an Aboriginal naming suggestion from the Ermineskin Cree Nation for consideration.
“We appreciate that they have allowed our community the use of this property over the years,” Lefebvre said. “They could have put up fencing with barbed wire, but they didn’t do that.”
The property contains a freshwater wetland that is home to 87 species of birds and other animals, as well as several city wells. It is immediately adjacent to developed residential property in the city, and residents and visitors alike have traversed its undeveloped trails for years.
“For many years, the Parksville council has worked to acquire this site,” the city’s press release stated. “Over the years, council has received delegations from concerned residents requesting the city consider acquiring the lands to ensure members of the community may continue to enjoy the wildlife and natural environment of the site. Currently the lands are used by the public for bird watching, walking and the opportunity to quietly enjoy the natural surroundings. These uses will continue and maintenance of the park will be performed by city staff, keeping the park, as much as possible, in its natural state.”
Lefebvre and councillors took the opportunity Monday night to single out the efforts of 26-year-old Christopher Stephens, who was in council chambers for the deliberations along with several other residents from the area. Stephens, who grew up in Parksville near the Ermineskin lands and developed a love of birding and nature, began lobbying council as a teen to preserve and protect the wetlands.
He has since gone on to earn master’s degrees in both environmental management and in municipal planning, the latter inspired in part by his work in preparing presentations for council.
“Throughout completing my master’s degree it was forefront in my heart and in my mind to see this highly significant site become a bird sanctuary and a significant natural park in Parksville,” said Stephens. “We had the (Englishman River) estuary, which had been preserved through the efforts of the community, and we had the Parksville Community Park. But we did not have a freshwater wetland in Parksville’s protected area network.”
Lefebvre said the land acquisition is just the beginning for the city’s newest natural parkland, which is expected to eventually have interpretive signage.
“When we develop more revenue over the years there will be trails and benches, I would imagine,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s going to happen over time.”