GATINEAU—A recent email from the Seized Property Management Directorate (SPDM) to Michael’s Bay historian and activist Doug Tracy of Little Current has confirmed that the properties at Michael’s Bay (that include the old townsite, a number of cemeteries and the closed Royal Michael’s Bay restaurant as well as several hundred acres of property and assorted outbuildings) have been officially “forfeited to Her Majesty the Queen in right of Canada, following a request made by the Kingdom of Belgium for the enforcement of a Belgium forfeiture order. Consequently,” continues the email, “her majesty the Queen in right of Canada is now the owner of the Manitoulin properties.”
The SPDM missive adds that the government is aware of the “presence of First Nation groups in the area of the properties and the presence of alleged aboriginal burial sites on the properties. SPDM will follow the usual process to deal with the matter.”
Mr. Tracy said he was of mixed feelings on the confirmation that the properties had been finally vested in the Crown. “At first, we thought it was great news,” he said. “But then we realized that the property being now owned by the federal government puts us at a full stop where the cemeteries are concerned.”
The issue, notes Mr. Tracy, is that the provincial legislation that would normally give some leverage to the group that is seeking to clean up and restore the cemetery sites does not apply to properties held by the federal Crown and Mr. Tracy and his associates are concerned they will have less clout with the new owner, the Government of Canada.
“It’s getting down to brass tacks,” said Mr. Tracy. “What can we do about the laws? Why is it that the federal government can just ignore provincial laws? Why can’t whoever owns that property look after the cemeteries?”
As to the plans by a group represented by developer JM Pellerin to develop the site, “They are out of the picture,” said Mr. Tracy. “They didn’t read the court order from 2005,” posited Mr. Tracy. “In order to buy the property, they had to get the permission of the owners of the property, Public Works Canada and the Attorney General’s office.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Pellerin could not be reached by press time Monday for a definitive answer as to what this development means for his project. Mr. Pellerin had applied to the courts to enforce an offer to purchase he had made to the property’s previous owners, but the Belgian government had ordered the property seized as having been acquired with the proceeds of crime following a conviction of trafficking in animal steroids levied against the former owners. This development appears to indicate that the property’s owner is in fact the Government of Canada and not the VanDroemmes from whom Mr. Pellerin had secured his offer to purchase. An October email had indicated at that time that the VanDroemme family and Eso Agri Canada were still the owners but that the property was still under a Restraint and Management Order and that no offers to purchase had been approved by the SPMD pursuant to that order.
The Michael’s Bay property has long been a source of controversy on Manitoulin and the relationship between the VanDroemmes’ colourful developer Arend Van Vierzen, local municipal officials and the Manitoulin Planning Board was often turbulent.
The Royal Michael’s Bay Restaurant, which is part of the seized Michael’s Bay properties, was closed earlier this year due to extensive water damage. Several people were out of work as of that time, a development Mr. Pellerin cited as demonstrating a lack of responsibility on the part of the federal government.
As to the cemeteries, Mr. Tracy notes that he still has permission to maintain the one registered cemetery and, although the federal government is not bound by provincial legislation such as the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act, 2002 which came into force in 2012, he and his fellow Michael’s Bay activists will continue to press that the old townsite and its cemeteries be preserved from development.