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Time to take back land donated for long-delayed Upper Fort Garry interpretive centre, councillor says

A Winnipeg city councillor says it’s time to take back land given to a volunteer group 15 years ago for a historical interpretive centre near Upper Fort Garry that has not yet materialized.

A parking lot currently operates on the part of the property — at the corner of Assiboine Avenue and Fort Street — that was supposed to become the interpretive centre.

That’s despite the fact the conditional use and variance permits required to operate the parking lot expired in 2019. 

According to the terms of a 2009 deal that transferred ownership of the property from the City of Winnipeg to the Friends of Upper Fort Garry, the group had five years to build the centre. After that, the city could take it back. 

“I’m pleased people volunteered their time, I don’t want to criticize them,” St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes said in an interview.

“But at some point, 15 years on, I think you have to say there isn’t going to be an interpretive centre. So what do we want to do with that parking lot?”

A city spokesperson confirmed that a conditional use permit is required for the continued operation of the parking lot.

In 2017, the city’s property committee granted an extension that allowed the Friends of Upper Fort Garry to keep the parking lot going for another two years. That permit expired in 2019 and has not been renewed since.

“The city notified the group that they’re required to submit both variance and conditional use applications to allow for continued use of the parking lot,” city spokesperson Kalen Qually wrote in an email.

In past years, the parking lot has generated annual revenues of about $100,000.

When the group initially applied to operate the parking lot  in 2015, board chair Jerry Gray said the money was needed to fund the interpretive centre.

Gray told reporters at that point that the group didn’t “want permanent parking there, quite obviously,” and was “happy to go by the two-year condition.”

When contacted on Tuesday, Gray said he has had nothing to do with the project for years and declined to comment.

The group had planned to build a $17-million, grass-roof-covered interpretive centre on the lot. It sits next to what is now Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park, which marks the site of the 19th-century Hudson’s Bay Company fort that has been called the birthplace of Winnipeg.

The interpretive centre was intended to house artifacts, a Métis heritage centre, a theatre, a restaurant and 25,000 square feet of leasable meeting space, along with 65 stalls of underground parking.

Any effort by the city to take back the land could be complicated by the fact that the title is now held by the provincial government, which operates the nearby heritage park, opened in 2015.

Time to take back land donated for long-delayed Upper Fort Garry interpretive centre

3 hours ago

Duration 1:57

A Winnipeg city councillor says it’s time to take back land gifted to a volunteer group 15 years ago for a historical interpretive centre near Upper Fort Garry which has failed to materialize.

Mayes has asked city staff to look into the matter and report back.

“Who’s operating that parking lot as of today? Where’s that money going? What’s the accounting for what’s been collected? And yeah, do we have the legal right to take back part of that land?”

Both the city and provincial government directed questions about the operation of the parking lot to the Friends of Upper Fort Garry.

At a meeting of city council last week, Mayes asked property and development chair Sherri Rollins for an update on the site.

Rollins said she expected to have more conversations about the property.

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