Windsor, Ontario: Candidate national urban park pre-feasibility report

About the Pre-Feasibility Phase

The Pre-Feasibility Phase is the first step in the national urban park designation process. This process is locally-driven and flexible, and the activities and roles of specific partners, as well as the timing of activities and decision-points, will vary based on the local context. Throughout this process, Parks Canada and key partners maintain regular communication to confirm whether there is interest in proceeding.

The Pre-Feasibility Phase concludes with the publication of a Pre-Feasibility Report.

On this page

Summary

Parks Canada launched the Pre-Feasibility Phase for a proposed national urban park in Windsor in fall 2021.

Parks Canada confirms that the Windsor candidate site has completed the Pre-Feasibility Phase of the national urban park process and will now move into the Planning Phase.

This means that in Parks Canada’s view:

  • local partners have expressed support in principle for a national urban park, including First Nations, other jurisdictions, and land administrators in the study area. Together with Parks Canada they have formed a Partner Committee to guide the national urban park designation process
  • First Nations partners are engaged in co-developing an engagement approach with Parks Canada to honour the nation-to-nation relationships in a spirit of reconciliation
  • local partners have identified a study area for the national urban park, centred around the Ojibway Prairie Complex and encompassing additional lands in a natural state, or with potential for restoration
  • the study area presents opportunities to advance the principal objectives of the National Urban Parks Program: conserving nature, connecting people with nature, and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples
  • initial background studies have been undertaken/are in progress to inform the exploration of the proposed national urban park
  • initial engagement has been undertaken with stakeholders and the public related to the project, particularly to explore a vision for the park
  • local partners have discussed considerations for a vision, boundary, and governance model for the potential national urban park

Through the Pre-Feasibility Phase, Parks Canada has heard from partners, stakeholders and the public that a national urban park should:

  • provide long term protection of the few remaining natural areas in the Windsor area that protect rare Carolinian Zone Tallgrass Prairie and Black Oak Savannah ecosystems
  • involve local First Nations traditional territory holders’ voices, perspectives, and leadership
  • create opportunities for education and learning about nature, economic development (e.g. employment opportunities particularly for Indigenous youth) and regional tourism (i.e. bi-national, First Nations-led ecotourism, etc.)
  • be inclusive and accessible, and include meaningful experiences for visitors with a range of needs and abilities
  • advance and collaborate with efforts to conserve nature and culture within the broader region

A strong desire was expressed by many that Parks Canada should play a central role in the governance of the national urban park in Windsor, whether as a key partner with First Nations and other land administrators or taking on principal administration of the park.

Partner committee members

A partner committee was convened with a first meeting in May 2022 to guide the exploration of a national urban park in the Windsor area. Member governments and organizations include:

  • Caldwell First Nation
  • Walpole Island First Nation
  • City of Windsor
  • Town of LaSalle
  • Parks Canada
  • Province of Ontario
  • Hydro One

Support by local partners

Local partners, including local First Nations partners, have expressed support for a national urban park. First Nations partners are engaged in co-developing an engagement approach with their leadership and membership, and engagement is ongoing. The partner committee members have expressed interest in continuing to collaborate to explore the potential for a national urban park in the Windsor area.

Partners have also expressed the following:

  • an aspiration to conserve the Carolinian Zone ecosystems (particularly Tallgrass prairie and Black Oak savannah) that are critical to urban health and of importance to local First Nations
  • a commitment to ensuring that First Nations voices and perspectives are involved in the creation of the national urban park from its early stages and an interest in exploring cooperative management
  • interest in exploring ways that a national urban park can create opportunities for health, wellness, education, and tourism
  • recognition of the importance of local leadership, and that the national urban park will need to be informed by, and led by, active involvement of local governments and partners, including First Nations governments and organizations
  • a commitment to developing a long-term and aspirational vision to ensure that unique natural and cultural features are protected for future generations

Study area

  • Urban Area: City of Windsor and Town of LaSalle
  • Size of Area of Interest: 875 ha
  • City of Windsor parks and natural areas, and adjacent lands: 480 ha
  • Town of LaSalle parks and natural areas, and adjacent lands: 244 ha
  • Province of Ontario: 109 ha
  • Hydro One: 14 ha
  • Institutional: 15 ha
  • Federal: 13 ha

The study area for the national urban park is centred on the Ojibway Prairie Complex, a complex of City of Windsor-administered municipal parks and natural areas and the Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve. The study area also includes: Ojibway Shores (federal), other municipal parks and natural areas in Town of LaSalle and City of Windsor, protected areas associated with the Rt. Hon. Herb Gray Parkway administered by Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Hydro One corridor, and St. Clair Prairie and Woods (privately owned by St. Clair College). Parks Canada is currently working with partners to determine which areas of the study area should be included within the national urban park boundaries.

Proposed National Urban Park in Windsor – Study Area, text version follows
Map: Proposed National Urban Park in Windsor – Study Area

This map shows the extent and boundaries of the current study area of the proposed national urban park in Windsor, Ontario. The municipal boundaries of the City of Windsor and Town of LaSalle are outlined with a dashed black and white line. Parcel boundaries are outlined in white. The background is a greyed-out aerial photo of the City of Windsor and Town of LaSalle.

The candidate lands were selected based on natural heritage features and include public and privately held lands. Engagement with all landowners will occur prior to designation of any lands.

The north part of the study area includes the following natural areas within the City of Windsor from west to east:

  • Ojibway Shores
  • Black Oak Heritage Park
  • Ojibway Park
  • Malden Park
  • Chappus Natural Area
  • Tallgrass Prairie Heritage Park
  • Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve
  • South Cameron Woodlot (over 2 parcels)
  • Spring Garden Natural Area
  • Oakwood Natural Area
  • St. Clair College Prairie and Woods.

To the south, natural areas within the Town of LaSalle, from west to east:

  • Turkey Creek
  • Reaume Prairie
  • Stanton Woods
  • Town Centre Woodlot
  • LaSalle Woodlot/Brunet Park
  • Villa Maria Woodlot.

This map was made by the Geomatics team of the Engineering Department of the City of Windsor, in March, 2023. The map reference number is E405A.

Fit of study area with program objectives

Local partners have identified a study area for the national urban park, centred around the Ojibway Prairie Complex. The core study area has expanded through partners putting forward additional candidate areas building on the Ojibway Prairie Complex and Ojibway Shores, to include other natural areas or areas with restoration potential with potential connections to the core study area, notably extending into the Town of LaSalle as well. The study area is recognized as important, as it protects the last remaining natural areas within a heavily developed urban landscape that is experiencing increasing pressures for industrial, commercial and residential land uses.

The National Urban Parks Program has three core objectives: conservation of nature, connecting people with nature, and advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. The study area identified for the national urban park in Windsor aligns well with those objectives:

  • Conservation of nature: The region faces land use pressures, particularly residential, commercial and industrial, and green spaces are limited. The study area supports a high degree of biodiversity and key habitat, some of the last remaining and rare Tallgrass prairie and Black Oak savannah in southern Ontario. Within the study area, over 3,000 recorded species and over 200 species at risk have been found, such as Slender-bush clover, Tall green milkweed, Loxocera ojibwayensis, Giant spreadwing, Massassauga rattlesnake, and Eastern foxsnake. The study area, with the inclusion of Ojibway Shores, provides a vital connection for species to other natural areas on or along the Detroit River (e.g. Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge). The study area has the potential for enhancing conservation through restoration of degraded areas. The study area plays an important role in climate change response for the Windsor area, particularly with respect to storm water absorption and mitigating impacts of flooding, as well as providing a refuge for species during other climate change-related weather events (extreme heat, storms).
  • Connecting people with nature: Straddling southwest City of Windsor and the northern part of the Town of LaSalle, the study area is well-situated to serve urban residents and provide access to some of the last remaining natural areas in the region. The established parks and natural areas of the study area are well-used and well-loved by urban residents for passive recreational activities such as walking, photography and wildlife viewing. The Ojibway Nature Centre, with established interpretive displays and programming, receives about 50,000 visitors per year, notably school groups. The proposed park is well-situated for urban residents without access to a car; local transit systems and some active transportation linkages serve the site, although both could be improved. The Gordie Howe International Bridge, under construction, with a planned active transportation pathway that will connect to the study area, will bring increased cross-border awareness and visitation to the park.
  • Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples: The study area has historical and contemporary significance to First Nations peoples of the area. As the study area is within the traditional territory of the Three Fires Confederacy peoples, including the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi peoples, Parks Canada is working on a nation-to-nation basis with both Caldwell First Nation and Walpole Island First Nation. Both Nations have expressed strong interest in co-governance and co-management of the park, and the potential of the park as a place for traditional and cultural practices, a place to demonstrate leadership in conservation and stewardship, and a place with potential for economic benefit for their communities.

    The site also interests other Indigenous communities with treaty and traditional ties to the area, in addition to other Indigenous residents of the Windsor area. Further engagement will take place to enhance the exploration of the interests to the other Indigenous communities with treaty and traditional ties to the area. The study area has potential to meet their needs and desires as a place to reconnect with nature and undertake their own cultural practices in a natural space.

Site-specific studies

Local partners conducted site-specific studies as part of the Pre-Feasibility Phase. The findings of these studies confirmed the fit of the study area against program objectives. Note that assessment of lands within the Town of LaSalle are in progress, but not yet completed, as these lands were recently added to the study area. The studies included:

  • Mapping and connectivity assessments, including: boundary, provincially significant wetlands, waterways, trails, trail and accessibility assessment, accessibility, bus routes, bus ridership, infrastructure, and location of nearby schools, libraries, facilities and recreational areas
  • Land and property assessments: land ownership, land ownership summary, zoning, zoning summary, land use
  • Assessment of environmental and natural elements: Natural Heritage Review and Historic ELC Mapping, Invasive Plant Management Strategy, Invasive Plant Strategy Phragmites Memo
  • Cultural Heritage Technical Memo
  • Archaeological Assessment Stage 1

Stakeholder engagement

Preliminary stakeholder and public engagement was conducted from fall 2022 to spring 2023 to explore the overall feasibility of a national urban park in the Windsor area, and to identify considerations related to a potential vision, boundary, and governance model for a national urban park. Key stakeholders representing a broad range of interests (conservation, cultural heritage, tourism, economic development, labour, education, transportation, social and cultural interests) and the general public participated.

Summaries of stakeholder and public engagement feedback, when available, can be found on the digital platform for the proposed national urban park in Windsor .

Through this stakeholder and public engagement, the following ideas were expressed:

  • general support for the idea of a national urban park, particularly a desire for Parks Canada to play a role in park management to ensure its long-term protection
  • strong support for the conservation of nature in the area, given increasing development pressures
  • interest in the inclusion of areas beyond the study area, to protect as much area as possible
  • strong support by many for the involvement of First Nations
  • strong support for increasing accessibility of the park for all ages and abilities; agreement that the park should be an inclusive and accessible place
  • interest in opportunities for tourism, economic development, and the opportunity to raise the profile of the region, particularly the potential to attract visitors from both Canada and the United States
  • questions about the value-added of the national urban park, since the core of the park is already well-established park lands, and concerns were expressed about potential changes, particularly introduction of fees
  • mixed opinion about the nature of the park being used for passive recreation versus more active recreation (mountain biking), which is currently not permitted in sensitive parts of the study area

Pre-Feasibility Phase milestones and findings

  • July 2021 – Statement of Collaboration signed with City of Windsor
  • May 2022 – Partner Committee convened, recurring monthly meetings
  • November 2022 – Stakeholder and public engagement launched
  • March 2023 – Pre-Feasibility Phase completed

Parks Canada confirms that the Windsor candidate site has completed the Pre-Feasibility Phase of the national urban park designation process.

Next steps: Planning Phase

The Planning Phase is the next step in the national urban parks designation process.

Building on the Pre-Feasibility Phase, activities in support of the Planning Phase of the national urban park designation process are being launched for the Windsor candidate site. These include:

  • continued collaboration within the Partner Committee to develop a shared vision, identify a boundary, and determine governance models for a future national urban park, as well as identifying priority investments, preparing draft budgets, and beginning operational planning
  • ongoing engagement with First Nations partners in the spirit of nation-to-nation relationships, particularly the exploration of their involvement in co-governance and co-management of the site and investigation of designation as an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area
  • complete assessments of lands within the Town of LaSalle
  • further understanding and investigation of the condition and the potential of the study area lands, including opportunities for public access, additional infrastructure and amenities, connectivity among parcels, cultural heritage values
  • continued First Nations-led research and community engagement including the involvement of elders and youth
  • continued stakeholder and public engagement
  • undertake research into First Nations-led eco-tourism
  • planning for educational and engaging opportunities related history, culture, nature, particularly to reach youth
  • providing opportunities for space for First Nations’ ceremony
  • balancing science and Indigenous ways of connecting with nature in the Windsor urban area, including through models of community-led environmental research and monitoring

More information about the proposed national urban park in Windsor is available on the digital platform for the proposed national urban park in Windsor.

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