The historic Fort Ellice site and 3,500 acres of farmland owned by Arthur and Christine Fouillard of St. Lazare has been sold to the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).
Kevin Teneycke, Brandon-based director of conservation for NCC, said that property was acquired in late June.
Now known as the HBC Reserve, the parcel near St. Lazare is described on the group’s website as a “true treasure” of upland prairie, wooded habitat and riparian areas overlooking the Assiniboine River and Beaver Creek.
“It’s a property with high biodiversity value that has been recognized for some time as an important piece of natural habitat,” said Teneycke.
Under NCC rules, the land will continue to be available to leaseholders for grazing and haying uses via an agricultural use agreement.
Citing vendor privacy, Teneycke would not disclose the amount paid for the farm.
The deal means that the Fort Ellice site, which was for years the focus of a bitter expropriation battle between the landowners and the local town and rural municipal councils, may now be open for development.
“NCC was of course aware of the interest by the municipality,” he said. “We’ve had a number of discussions with the RM and we’re working with it to explore options on how we can do that.”
The purchase decision was driven mainly by the biodiversity of the land, but he added that the private charitable organization recognizes the “historical significance” of the Fort Ellice site.
“We’re looking at working with partners on how we might make it more available to the public,” said Teneycke.
Marcel Fouillard, who speaks on behalf of his aging parents, said that his father agreed to the deal with NCC because it would allow the farm to be kept together as a single block and managed in a way that would preserve it for future generations.
“Nature Conservancy does good work, and they gave us a fair price,” said Fouillard.
He did not want to discuss the implications of the deal for the contentious 288-acre Fort Ellice site, citing “wounds in the community that are still healing.”
NCC derives its budget from donations and government grants, as well as revenue from leasing the properties it owns to agricultural users. It owns some two million acres of land across Canada, including roughly 40,000 in Manitoba.
It also recently acquired a quarter section of sandhills west of Oak Lake owned by Tim Mowez.