FORT FRANCES—The frigid wind generated by the helicopter whipped around workers last week as they loaded up and prepared for their first day surveying in remote locations near Sphene Lake, Pipestone Lake (Gates Ajar), and the Lake of the Woods/Morson area.
The three crews—made up of workers from both Rainy River First Nations and Sutcliffe Rody Quesnel Inc.—will be spending most of the next two months completing the land surveying instituted after a land claim agreement was signed between the band, province, and federal government back in May, 2005.
“It’s a big project,” said Eric Rody of Sutcliffe Rody Quesnel Inc., who is heading the work. “It’s the largest land surveying contract awarded by the federal government in Ontario since 1997 and the largest awarded in Canada in 2006.”
Since he has three crews working, Rody expects to complete the work in 60 days. Otherwise the project would have taken about 180 days.
The workers are flown by helicopter from La Place Rendez-Vous to the locations daily.
“Approximately 45 km of rectilinear boundary will be cut, blazed, and staked with iron survey markers,” Rody noted, adding the three large parcels of land comprise about 17,000 acres from the settlement lands.
Rody also indicated there are various third party interests, including portages, launch sites, and access which must be dealt with during the course of the survey.
And he said precise GPS observations are collected and processed to control all aspects of the legal survey.
“The use of GPS could eliminate the need to cut out boundaries, but as an Ontario Land Surveyor, I am a strong proponent of marking boundaries on the ground,” he remarked.
“It has been my experience that private land owners and the public at large want to visually inspect boundaries and the only effective means of doing so is to cut them out.”
As well, Rody said new targeting and aerial photography will be used to define the water’s edge which form part of the boundary of these parcels, and airborne laser mapping will be incorporated to define regulated flooding levels.
The project not only is substantial to the surveyors, it also is a significant step for people of Rainy River First Nations.
“It means the land is really ours now,” said Harvey Cochrane, one of the band surveyors working on the project.
The land claim agreement was made official on May 20, 2005 as the document was signed during a ceremony at the annual Rainy River First Nations fish fry.
The signing brought to a successful resolution an injustice dating back to 1873 when seven separate First Nations (now known as Rainy River First Nations) signed Treaty #3 with the Government of Canada.
The treaty provided for seven reserves, which were surveyed in 1875.
But at that time, Ontario maintained land could not be set apart without its confirmation and consequently the First Nations agreed to surrender six of those parcels of land in 1914-15—resulting in five of the First Nations being relocated to what is now known as Manitou Rapids.
The Rainy River First Nations filed a claim in September, 1982 with Canada and Ontario, claiming the lands had been wrongfully taken from them. And the long litigation process began.
The settlement agreement allowed for one-third of the land to be returned to its rightful owners, along with $71 million in compensation.
“We knew it was going to be a long process to get to where we are now,” said Ray Gladu, claims implementation co-ordinator for Rainy River First Nations.
He added while there’s no present intention to develop the land, the band is pleased to have the long journey nearing completion.