Since the 2013 purchase of the Asinabka islands by Toronto-based developer Windmill Development and real estate company Dream Unlimited Corp. (formerly Dundee Realty Corporation), a persistent and controversial condominium development called ZIBI has been pushed forward by the Ottawa-Gatineau municipal governments. Despite resistance from Algonquin communities and activists, it has been enabled by the provincial and federal Liberals through a consistent rejection of appeals, an evasive and profiteering approval process, and a perversion of private land zoning policies that causes public interests to be in collusion with those of corporate property owners. The condominiums are being built in the middle of the Ottawa River, on a peninsula between Ottawa and Gatineau, directly across from Victoria Island, that is Asinabka, or Place of Glare Rock. The Algonquin have long considered this area sacred and Asinabka carries a legacy of being a place of meeting for visiting Indigenous councils. The area has been drafted for UNESCO World Heritage status with the continued discovery of over 6,000 year old artefacts and traces of human civilization being found along the river’s coast – but remains in flux and as an impediment to high-density development that self-assuredly began blasting at the islands to pour concrete foundations in 2016.
About a decade ago, Algonquin architect Douglas Cardinal had worked with the community and the Elder William Commanda – a world respected leader among Indigenous North American councils – to develop a plan with the city for a cultural centre dedicated to the history and arts of Indigenous peoples, landscaped public park, and meeting space, as a way to resuscitate the islands after their abandonment by the DOMTAR paper mill. Cardinal’s architecture is recognized for its ideosynchratic formal interpretation of Indigenous cosmologies. The Museum of History, situated on the Quebec border in Hull, expresses the multiplicities of geologic landscapes throughout Canada, situating in its limestone façade the topographies of badlands, wide plains, Atlantic coastlines, Arctic ice, and everywhere, a deliberate connection with the view, sound and presence of water. This public, open-space, culturally significant plan envisioned the contextual reintegration of the islands into the life of Ottawa and Hull as a respectful and dignified gesture of reconciliation with the Algonquin community.
In favour of a more profitable form of reconciliation, Windmill Development and Dream Unlimited Corp. convinced Ottawa’s municipal government that luxury condominiums and retail hub in the middle of one of North America’s most significant rivers are a truly sustainable and invigorating proposal to re-energize the urban fabric of the city, and connect federal workers on both provincial borders with convenient space to live and work. The multi-billion dollar hydro expansion project occurs while Windmill Development and Dream Unlimited Corp. acquire the lease of the land under ‘fee simple’ claims, which infers absolute ownership of the land.
The jeopardy held by private interests to maximise profit off of development manipulates ecological policy towards an appearance of alignment with local, environmental interests, reducing state participation and influence on corporate stakeholders, through the appearance of ecological sustainability, while legally selling off and exploiting site-deficiencies. Developers have exploited the ecological disaster of brownsoil that covers an estimated 87,300 cubic metres following the abandonment of the site by Domtar Corporation’s paper-mill. The pollution was permitted and sustained through apathy at all levels of government towards either holding Domtar liable for the cleanup of the industrial pollution and ecological damage of the islands around Chaudiere Falls, following the abandonment of the site, or for the government to assume the costs. Jeff Westeinde, founding partner of Windmill Development, is also CEO of subsidiary company Quantum Murray LLP – an amalgamation of environmental clean-up and emergency response that was recently assumed under new ownership by Canadian billionaire and “activist” investor Wes Hall. By assuming the costs and the operations of environmental clean-up through Quantum Environmental Group, the Westeindes’ ZIBI project internalises the profits of private land-zoning and acquisition, with little recourse towards the ecological impacts of containing a condominium complex, let alone the hydro expansion project, in the middle of the Ottawa River.