News Canada

Manitoba's east side up for world heritage site

BY TAMARA KING, WINNIPEG SUN

FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 18, 2012 09:20 AM CST | UPDATED: WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 18, 2012 07:47 PM CST

The pitch to designate part of Manitoba's boreal forest as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is finished and is expected to arrive in Paris next week, the province announced Wednesday.

The Pimachiowin Aki project is a partnership between the Manitoba and Ontario governments and five First Nations - four in Manitoba and Pikangikum in Ontario - and involves about 33,400 square kilometres of forest and waterways between the two provinces.

Pimachiowin Aki is Ojibwe for "land that gives life."

For residents of Manitoba's Bloodvein reserve, the project has been a long time in the making.

"For about 10 years now they have been working on the land use plan and all that and the protection of the river, the land itself, the lakes. It means a great deal to our first nation members, to protect it for the future," Chief Roland Hamilton said Wednesday during the announcement at the Manitoba Legislature.

More than 900 sites across the globe have the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, including Australia's Great Barrier Reef and Venice, Italy. Canada has 15 sites.

Generally, UNESCO's technical advisers take about 18 months to review a bid, the province said Wednesday.

Though it's not a sure bet it will be accepted, Premier Greg Selinger suggested the proposal is precisely the kind of pitch UNESCO is looking for.

"They've made it clear that they saw a gap in world heritage sites for boreal forests, we think that we can fill that gap with this submission," he said.

The actual proposal contains more than 4,000 pages of material making the case for the designation.

The pitch is scheduled to arrive at the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Paris by Jan. 27, the province said.

Pursuing the UNESCO designation is one of the reasons the NDP wants to run Bipole 3, a new high-voltage transmission line from Gillam to Winnipeg, down the west side of Lake Winnipeg.

The provincial Tories favour an eastern route for the line, saying because it's shorter, Manitoba Hydro would save millions of dollars.

Taxpayers have a stake in the project too.

In 2009, the Manitoba government gave $10 million to the Campaign for the Land that Gives Life. The endowment fund is managed by the Winnipeg Foundation, and Pimachiowin Aki partnership is planning to raise another $10 million.