Property, including Royal Michael’s Bay Resort, seized by Belgian government as assets purchased with proceeds of crime in 2005
TEHKUMMAH – Canada is at the cusp of disposing the seized property in Michael’s Bay, having contacting the Township of Tehkummah to ask if it had any wishes for the lands before opening the remaining three properties to public sale later this month.
Tehkummah clerk-administrator Silvio Berti received a phone call on June 8 from Kim Thamer, manager of operations for the Seized Property Management Directorate within Public Services and Procurement Canada, saying Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory had withdrawn its interest in the property.
“She just wanted to know, at this point, if there’s interest and what interest,” Mr. Berti told the township’s council at its July 7 meeting. “Ultimately, it’s good news and a step in the right direction after all this time.”
Following regulations, First Nations had the right of first refusal on the property and Wiikwemkoong was the only one that filed such an interest. Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier withheld comment when The Expositor contacted him last week because he had not yet spoken with the band council on the matter.
Tehkummah has long expressed interest in Michael’s Bay, as has the Michael’s Bay Historical Society (MBHS). The recent call from Ms. Thamer was to gauge interest; it did not indicate what costs, if any, may be involved in the acquisition of the land.
Public Services and Procurement Canada spokesperson Jeremy Link told The Expositor in an email that all sales follow the Seized Property Management Act and disposition regulations.
“Sales are generally at fair market value. The Michael’s Bay property is approximately 544 acres of vacant land with the portion containing the former townsite being much smaller. Discussions regarding different options are ongoing,” he wrote.
“The remaining three properties are expected to be listed for public sale through a real estate broker before the end of July,” Mr. Link concluded.
At the council meeting, Tehkummah resolved to ask the government to give them the burial sites and registered cemeteries within the property, including access rights in perpetuity, and to encourage the transfer of the townsite along the Manitou River to MBHS.
MBHS president Ed Sagle said he was encouraged both by the news and by Tehkummah council’s support of his society.
“That’s the best news I’ve heard from council in the 20 years I’ve been working with them,” said Mr. Sagle.
He said there is lots of potential within the townsite and was hopeful about the negotiations with the federal government, since the presence of burial sites would make it less appealing for a buyer.
“In phase one when we first organized, we had lots of plans. We were hoping to make it into a destination for Manitoulin Island and maybe try to restore some buildings and the old town like Upper Canada Village (the heritage colonial village on the banks of the St. Lawrence River). That would be a big asset to this area,” said Mr. Sagle.
He said there may be an opportunity to connect to the nearby Blue Jay Creek Provincial Park, a small, isolated preserve.
Mr. Berti said council’s intent has always been to support MBHS and said it makes fiscal sense because the township cannot tax its own properties.
“I’m happy that he’s excited and I hope it works out that the directorate can follow through with the recommendations from council in providing us with the properties at a nominal fee or be given them,” he said.
Councillor Michael McKenzie told council that most of the properties appear to have already hit the open market as he had heard of workers erecting signs on the land.
Councillor Rick Gordon said he had also heard of officials measuring the properties and that the government should not have done so without first contacting Tehkummah. However, he said the right kind of development could be a great boon for the township.
“That would be a great place for someone to have a lodge or anything like that. And that’s what we want there, we want something that’s going to bring money and bring people into the township,” said Councillor Gordon.
Michael’s Bay was the largest settler town on Manitoulin Island in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A few remnants of crumbling foundations are all that remain of the once-thriving hub today.
The federal government seized the property upon request from Belgium as part of an investigation into bovine growth hormone sales, an illegal hormone in the European Union and Canada. The Belgians said the purchasers used proceeds of crime to buy the Michael’s Bay properties.
The seized properties include Royal Michael’s Bay Resort, a restaurant, golf course and banquet centre owned by Claire and Walter Vandroemme, who held the title to all of the lands before the Belgian and Canadian governments took possession as part of the criminal proceedings.
The resort’s website became password-protected in 2013 and has since gone offline.