Demolition of Domtar's century-old vacant mill on Chaudière Island in Ontario resurrects debate on future of archipelago; Domtar owns most of Chaudière totaling about six hectares and more than nine hectares on Gatineau shoreline

OTTAWA , March 12, 2012 () – The demolition of a century-old vacant mill on Chaudière Island by paper manufacturer Domtar has resurrected debate on the future of the archipelago that was once the engine of Ottawa's economy.

In doing so, it has also exposed the complicated property ownership and land titles - some dating back to the 1800s - that make the islands difficult to delineate, and perhaps develop.

It is typical of the Ottawa jurisdictional tangle that has long stymied progress on major development projects like LeBreton Flats and Sparks Street rejuvenation. LeBreton languished for 40 years in part because the multiple property owners in the area couldn't sort out their differences and agree on a plan.

Fixing Sparks Street has confounded planners largely because the different owners are often pulling in different directions. But it is much more complicated on the Ottawa River, particularly the cluster of islands that is home to the Ottawa-Gatineau operation of Montreal-based Domtar.

The National Capital Commission has long argued that lack of ownership and control of the Ottawa River's urban shoreline is one of the key reasons why waterfront development is so difficult to undertake, and nothing illustrates the problem better than the puzzle that is the Victoria-Chaudière Falls islands. At least 10 groups, including governments and public agencies, own a piece of the islands or have a significant footing in the area.

Victoria Island is largely owned by the National Capital Commission, but Public Works owns a small portion of the western half of the island. The Algonquin First Nation, however, claims the entire Ottawa River watershed as its historic territory.

Domtar, however, is king of the river. It owns most of Chaudière - about six hectares - as well as more than nine hectares on the Gatineau shoreline, where its Quebec paper mill was located. The Quebec government as well as the City of Gatineau also owns strips of the shoreline. And Hydro-Québec operates a power plant on the river.

On the Ottawa side, Public Works owns several parcels on Chaudière Island totalling about 21/2 hectares, which it leases to Domtar, the NCC and Hydro Ottawa, which operates a power generating plant. Public Works says Domtar operates under two leases: one entered into in 1881, which is renewed annually, and a second one in 1889, for an original term of 21 years. According to the terms, the option to renew rests with the lessee, which today, is Domtar. Public Works says the leases would be renewed for as long as the company wants because it doesn't need the lands to fulfil its mandate. Essentially, the lands are locked in, until Domtar gives them up. The Ontario government, through the Ministry of Natural Resources, is also a player.

NCC chief executive Marie Lemay says it really looks "worse than it is" because in reality, the key player is Domtar.

However, the big unknown hanging over islands is the massive claim by the Algonquin of Ontario over much of eastern Ontario, including all of Ottawa and the watershed, which is of historic significance to the First Nations. What's more, a group of Quebec Algonquins is also claiming title to the same lands, leaving the future of the area very much uncertain.

THE DOMTAR LANDS

The Ottawa River and island and waterfront property that house Domtar's operations in Ottawa-Gatineau, have such a complicated ownership that they are difficult to delineate, and perhaps develop. A Citizen map, drawn from several sources, shows who owns w hat.

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