For too long, the City of Winnipeg has not prioritized urban canopy and greenspace; Winnipeg is below average for urban greenspace compared to other major cities in Canada, which is appalling.
By Cat Gauthier
The 22-acre Lemay Forest and greenfield located in the historic neighborhood of St. Norbert, is one of the last few remaining intact river bottom forests in Winnipeg. It is an extraordinarily biodiverse urban refuge.
The Coalition to Save Lemay Forest was founded in 2020 by a handful of St. Norbert residents who met on a neighbor’s lawn to come up with a plan to raise awareness to protect the 22-acre Lemay Forest and greenfield from a proposed high density mixed-use residential development. These neighbors engaged in a door-to-door awareness campaign to garner support to oppose the development and preserve the Lemay Forest. A Facebook group was created and since 2020, the Coalition has grown to hundreds of members including local and national advocacy groups.
In October 2023, Mr. Wintrup, a planner who works for Tochal Development Group (the landowner), sent aggressive letters to the residents of Lemay Avenue that public access to the Lemay Forest private land will end at the end of November. A Winnipeg advocacy group shared one of their letters from the Mr. Wintrup indicating that the landowner will continue with a development plan in 2024 unless there is an expressed interest in acquiring the Lemay Forest land by end of December 2023. We have never met or seen the landowner as he has not attended any of the community engagement meetings, or civic community committee meetings.
The wheels were set in motion and a core group of residents and local advocacy groups met virtually to brainstorm and concluded that the only solution to preserving the Lemay Forest and greenfield was to acquire the land in partnership with government and the community at large. A draft strategy to acquire the Lemay Forest and greenfield was created with help from a local advocacy group and it is the foundation for executing next steps.
An online petition was launched and over 2,000 signatures were collected in a matter of weeks.
A website and Instagram account went live shortly after. A crowd funding campaign is launching shortly to indicate to government officials that we are committed to contributing to the work ahead to Save Lemay Forest.
Why the Lemay Forest and greenfield should be saved?
The Coalition members and the community at large are passionate about preserving the Lemay Forest and greenfield because it is where we seek refuge to breathe deeply, get excited and pull out our phones to photograph deer, coyote, fox, beavers, eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, pileated woodpeckers, migratory and resident birds and of course the monarch butterflies to share in our Facebook group. Over the last 16 years that I have been walking in and around the Lemay Forest trails, I have discovered patches of wild asparagus, fiddleheads and edible mushrooms!
The Lemay Forest is a wildlife corridor providing habitat and safe access for many wildlife species and contiguous with the city-owned Red River riparian forest. We recognize that we are interconnected with nature and live by the truth, “take care of the land and the land takes care of us”. We all need time spent in nature for our physical and mental health (Physicians for the Environment).
For too long, the City of Winnipeg has not prioritized urban canopy and greenspace; Winnipeg is below average for urban greenspace compared to other major cities in Canada, which is appalling. The Coalition to Save Lemay Forest refuses to let one more mature biodiverse forest be wiped out by high density development. The lack of confidence in government to protect natural spaces is a big contributor to climate anxiety felt by the majority of young Canadians and we have a responsibility to not burden the next generation with the task of playing catch up for the decades of neglect toward urban canopy and greenspace.
We need urban canopy to mitigate the effects of climate change as more and more severe weather events occur, and to alleviate the urban heat island effect, especially in high density areas, mature forests reduce and absorb spring runoff, thereby helping to prevent basement flooding. St. Norbert is the lowest area in Winnipeg, basement flooding is already common for homeowners. Loss of mature trees and impermeable surfaces are causing sewer capacity constraints, most especially in St. Norbert as no building permits are being issued.
I belong to a group of active “retired” ladies who walk/hike every week, we try to find new trails within city limits, preferably forested trails which are so much more pleasant to be sheltered by the trees from the winter wind and shaded from the hot summer sun. We have met other likeminded groups of active women who walk or hike together, there is always so much laughter and camaraderie. Oftentimes, women walking alone approach us and we invite them to join. Most groups have names, ours is Trail Chicks, we did meet one group called The Hens. Who doesn’t feel better after spending time in Nature??
Editor’s note: Pegasus Publications Inc. and Lifestyles 55 are very supportive of the efforts to save Lemay Forest. The city is growing rapidly. We need to preserve these islands of nature to keep Winnipeg livable. The city and the province must step up to the plate to protect what is an irreplaceable treasure in south St. Norbert. Please let your local representatives know how important this is.– Dorothy