How to “save” Windsor’s Ojibway Prairie Complex

Vanni Zhang
By Vanni Zhang May 1, 2017 22:19

How to “save” Windsor’s Ojibway Prairie Complex

It’s sometimes hard to find a balance point between development and environment – a challenge Windsor, Ont. knows all too well.

Go back to the fall of 2007.

Coco Paving, a family-owned, local business, submitted a proposal to build new retail stores at Matchette Road and Sprucewood Avenue.

The proposed shopping centre would be anchored by four big box stores and would create more than 1,000 retail jobs, the developer said at the time.

But here was the problem: the land is adjacent to the Ojibway Prairie Complex, a collection of five natural areas. The complex is prized because Essex County has less than six per cent of its natural forest cover remaining. And, in southwestern Ontario, it is estimated that less than half a per cent of the original prairies and savanna survives.

So Coco Paving’s proposal touched off a fight that continues today.

Among other things, concerned citizens are afraid the shopping centre will increase the traffic on Matchette Road and lead to death of animals hitting by cars.

In Windsor’s residents’ hearts, Ojibway Park is a paradise for wildlife.

Since 2007, a group of people in Windsor has united against Coco Paving’s proposal. And, now, it has been a decade of fighting for Ojibway Park – some of the protesters never having thought of themselves as environmentalists before this.

They send letters, attend council meetings, buy advertisements to promote “saving” Ojibway and make promotional videos.

Nancy Pancheshan is the leader of Save Ojibway.

“I have lived in Windsor all of my life.” said Pancheshan. “And I have always known Ojibway is a special place but until court case that has lasted nine years, I didn’t realize the variety and the uniqueness that we have in our city in Ojibway.”

Ojibway Park is a special place for Pancheshan.

“I love Ojibway Park,” said Pancheshan.

She has been trying to save Ojibway Park, but she has met a lot of obstacles.

“We tried to do Transit Windsor ads,” said Pancheshan. “First, we said (let’s do a) billboard. But some people (in Save Ojibway say Transit Windsor is a better way to go. But Transit Windsor said our ads are too political. I guess one could say those parks are too political too.”

She added, “I am very disappointed in Transit Windsor’s decision.”

But the group has not been deterred. It’s turned to radio advertising and magnets for their cars.

“So that’s a better idea anyway,” said Pancheshan.

Along the way, the group developed the goal of not only opposing the big box stores, but getting Matchette Road closed altogether.

Greg Goggin, 62, is also a member of Save Ojibway.

“I want the residents to realize the value of Ojibway Park,” said Goggin. “The value of having the opportunity to be able to protect 21 endangered species. I mean that’s an honour to be able to do that. I would like to see the community band together. We would like to see Matchette Road closed to be able to protect the migrating animals from being killed on the roads. So that’s I would like to see.”

But closing Matchette Road is a controversial idea for several reasons.

Hilary Payne is the Ward 9 councillor for the city of Windsor.

“Matchette Road carries a lot of traffic to and from LaSalle,” said Payne. “I don’t think it could be possibly closed because of the major traffic disruption if it were closed. It would cause a lot of inconvenience to a lot of people for driving. The proper answer to people who are asking the road be closed because the animals are crossing there, in my opinion, is putting animals’ tunnels on the unique road to allow the animals to across safely.”

Payne said it would be a better way by building a tunnel to solve this problem.

“The same group that proposed the shopping centre is now pushing for the closure of Matchette Road.” said Payne. “That’s fine. They are entitled to do that… But I don’t agree with what they are doing.”

Karen Cedar is the naturalist of Ojibway Nature Centre. She points out that Ojibway Park can never get any larger than it is.

“The boundary area is very hard at this point,” said Cedar. “So there is no expansion is impossible.”

She said the adjacent lands that haven’t been developed, such as the property owned by Coco Paving, have provided a buffer between developed lands and Ojibway. But she says the reality is those lands are privately owned.

“So it would be nice we could expand those areas. But our biggest goal is to educate to let people know we have areas that are important, significant. It has value and they should get out and enjoy it and appreciate it what we have because we’re fortunate to have Tallgrass Prairie all the plants and animals.”

Vanni Zhang
By Vanni Zhang May 1, 2017 22:19

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