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  • Writer's pictureHannah Sabourin

Cantley residents step up to protect eco-park

(L to R) Joanna Dean, David Wilson, and David Snider at Parc Ginns, an eco-park in Cantley. As members of the environmental activist group Friends of Parc Ginns, they work with the municipality to protect the 103-acre plot of land from irreparable destruction. Hannah Sabourin photo

Environmental activist group Friends of Parc Ginns walked through an eco-park in Cantley on a bright September day. The group waded through muddy terrain and waist-high grass, passing a dilapidated barn that once belonged to the Ginns family.

In 2018, Anne and James Ginns, who moved to B.C., gifted this property to the municipality. Cantley is bound to protect the 103-acre park from all activities that could jeopardize its existing flora and fauna. This expectation is outlined in the Canadian Ecological Gifts Program, a program administered by the feds that give Canadians a way to protect ecologically sensitive land for future generations.

Friends of Parc Ginns, a group of 30, said they work to promote the vision of the land’s previous owners – to preserve its integrity.

The group formed on Nov. 14, 2021, after a local businessman threatened the land’s integrity — allegedly cutting trees without municipal permission, according to Friends of Parc Ginns.

The group said that Cantley placed boulders to block vehicular access to the park. However, until recently, the municipality has done little to protect the park from mountain bikers.

According to Ward 1 Cantley Coun. Nathalie Belisle, the municipality will soon install signs on Parc Ginns to curtail cyclists, dog-walkers, and motorists from using the land – activities that would cause irreparable damage to native flora and fauna, according to the group.

On that same day, the Ministry of Environment Quebec approved the use of some eco-park trails. However, according to Coun. Belisle, the municipality plans to place additional signs to indicate which paths to show where people are allowed to walk.

Currently, six signs line the park perimeter prohibiting all cyclists, including mountain bikers, from “poaching” on Parc Ginns — “Poaching” is mountain biking lingo for using trails without permission. More signs deny entry to dogs and motorized vehicles.

Coun. Belisle said the municipality will consult with Friends of Parc Ginns on the week of Sept. 26 to learn about what more they could do to protect the park’s delicate ecosystem.

She could not say, however, if the municipality would eventually impose fines on dog-walkers, cyclists, and motorists who use the Parc Ginns trails.

“We will start with education,” she said about the signs, “but we would need to update our bylaws” before imposing any fines.

In addition to signs, Friends of Parc Ginns’ member Joanna Dean said the municipality asked the group to compile a list of activities permitted in Parc Ginns: bird watching, hiking, and mushroom identification walks. Dean also expressed interest in installing benches.

She said these initiatives could help Cantley residents understand the eco-park’s value. “Parc Ginns is a wonderful place. As the population grows in the Outaouais, [the eco-park] is going to be [a] beautiful [place] where people can enjoy the meadow and the beaver pond,” said Dean.

The group said they were anxious for municipal action because mountain biking retreat Domaine Kanawe, a neighbouring business, will open its doors to the public on Sept. 24.

Sylvain Lafrenière, the owner of Domaine Kanawe, built a parking lot on the ecological park border.

At the Aug. 30 Cantley council meeting, Lafrenière announced that all Cantley residents could park on that lot for free to access Parc Ginns.

Dean, who lives across the street from the park, said she was happy that more people now have access to the eco-park. However, she also expressed worry that mountain bikers would have easier access to Parc Ginn's trails.

On Sept. 19, Lafrenière told the Low Down that the ecological group has nothing to worry about.

“I’ve spent millions of dollars to make mountain biking trails. I don’t see why [my customers] would go on [Parc Ginns] land that is not developed [for the sport],” he said.

Nonetheless, the advocacy group said they worry about the park’s future because Lafrenière once fought to build an access road through Parc Ginns.

In 2021, he filed a motion to the Superior Court of Quebec to gain access to Parc Ginns. The court ruled that they would not issue permission to Lafrenière because his intended developments – both the parking lot and the road – would threaten the ecological sanctity of the land.

Dean said the Friends of Parc Ginns are happy the municipality placed signs around the park before Domaine Kanawe’s opening day. However, they hope council continues to protect the land.

As displayed during the Aug. 30 council meeting, it is not always easy to express their concerns to Cantley Mayor David Gomes, elected to office in November 2021.

In 2022, Cantley resident and member of Friends of Parc Ginns Suzanne Pilon filed five access-to-information requests to the municipality of Cantley concerning the eco-park. Two of those requests were follow-ups to her original letters, something local government asked of her because the wording was convoluted or imprecise. According to Pilon, her dealings with municipal staff were helpful and professional.

That changed during her exchange with the mayor during the Aug. 30 council meeting, when Gomes referred to Friends of the Parc Ginns inquiries as “relentless.”

During the meeting, Domaine Kanawe's owner, Lafrenière, asked the mayor how much money they had to spend to complete access-to-information requests filed by the Friends of the Parc Ginns.

“By my calculations, I would say that the municipality must have spent at least $50,000 in time to address all questions relating to Parc Ginns from this group of people,” said Lafrenière.

Once Lafrenière took his seat, Pilon, a former Cantley councillor, addressed his comment at the microphone, explaining that she had only filed five access to information requests since November 2021.

She asked the mayor why she hadn’t received certain information from the municipality, including about photos taken by municipal inspectors who, according to Pilon, visited the eco-park and took pictures of cut trees on Nov. 19, 2021.

However, when she filed access for the photos taken during the inspection, she never received them from the municipality, she explained.

Gomes responded, echoing Lafrenière’s question: “You know what I’m going to do? I will ask my staff to look at how many access-to-information requests you made, and I’ll try to monetize it."

Gomes continued: "If we received 20 access-to-information requests in a year, it comes from the same three people. Is that clear enough, Ms. Pilon? It costs a lot. [...] I find it excessive when you come here and scratch. [...] Why are you coming to council with this?"

In an interview with the Low Down, Gomes said: “I do not have a problem with access-to-information requests.” However, Gomes explained that he does have a problem when citizens waste municipal money with extraneous questions. He said that when people file requests, they should ask: “What is the added value [of my requests]? What is the objective behind them?”

Concerning Parc Ginns, the mayor said that, since he took office six months ago, “no developments have been made in the park.” According to Gomes, the municipality has protected the park from all environmental threats.

Coun. Belisle said that because the municipality is still fighting the 2021 decision in court, it has been hard for Cantley to be completely open with Friends of Parc Ginns about their plans for the space. But, now that the Quebec Ministry of Environment approved the land’s walking paths, Belisle said the municipality will soon do more to protect the 103-acre park.

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