The City of Kenora now has just under $3 million to play with after the sale of Town Island officially took place earlier this month, and 82 hectares of shoreline and forests are set to remain public under the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

“The sale of Town Island to the Nature Conservancy is a monumental transaction for the city,” said Mayor Dan Reynard. “This island will now be preserved as green space and the city can invest funds from the sale of this island into important municipal projects for our community.”

The City of Kenora has explained they’ve looked into the transfer of Town Island over to the province in exchange for Crown Land over the last decade, which could have been used for development. But when that land swap fell through in 2019, the city listed the property for sale for $2.9 million.

That’s a strong investment for Kenora. The city originally purchased Town Island for a total of $47 dollars between 1895 and 1911.

But in late 2019, the Friends of Town Island started a petition against the sale of the island, as they were concerned the community would be losing an important public space, which received over 5,000 signatures.

A deal was reached between the Conservancy and the city by February 2021 with the expectation that the NCC would need to fundraise $2.85 million prior to the sale, which was scheduled to take place in August 2022. That deal has now gone through, with support from the province.

“Our investment in this project will result in the protection and conservation of Town Island, ensuring the island’s unique biodiversity can continue to thrive, and leaving a legacy for the benefit of future generations,” said Ontario’s Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, David Piccini.

The NCC says Town Island was identified as a priority because of its intact forest, undeveloped shoreline and large size, and given increasing development in the area, they say keeping the property in its natural state for the species that depend on it is critical.

“The island’s forests and shores harbour important species and offer opportunities for recreation. When intact, these ecosystems also help keep our water clean and store carbon. Together with BB Camp and nature-minded supporters, we’re excited to help steward nature on the island for the benefit of all,” said the NCC’s Ontario Region Vice President, Mike Hendren.

In November of 1895, the Municipality of Rat Portage purchased the interior portion of Town Island for $18 from the Crown. Then by March of 1911, the Town of Kenora purchased another 29 acres of shoreline for a total of $29 – or $1 per acre of waterfront property.

When the first World War broke out, Kenora turned the island over to the Navy for a training area. The federal government built several new buildings on the island during this time, likely on the site of the current B’nai Brith camp.

After the war ended, the City of Kenora’s By-Law 94-95 states about 100 acres of Town Island were used to establish Camp Ruttan in 1945, which was later leased to B’nai Brith in 1954.

To this day, the B’nai Brith children’s summer camp is the only development on the island. They purchased 30 acres of Town Island from the City of Kenora in 2014, and have a partnership in place with the Nature Conservancy to protect the area for generations to come.

“It has been a long-term goal of BB Camp to secure the preservation of Town Island and this successful partnership allows us to continue to maintain and expand our current programs and provide for the education and stewardship of this island,” said Co-Chair of the BB Camp Board of Directors, Leah Leibl.

Town Island is located about 50 kilometres east of the Ontario-Manitoba border.