A new partnership between the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Kenora’s B’nai Brith Camp aims to protect Town Island for generations to come.
The two organizations are set to become neighbours next year after the Nature Conservancy raises enough funds to purchase 82 hectares of Town Island, set for August of 2022.
The City of Kenora and the Nature Conservancy reached a deal for the purchase of Town Island for $2.25 million in February of 2021. The island is located about 50 kilometres east of the Manitoba-Ontario border.
The two new partners say once the property is conserved, they will be working together to provide education, stewardship and access to the island’s property. It will also maintain the public’s access to the area.
“We recognize that Town Island is an important part of the Lake of the Woods community and we want to help conserve it for the benefit of nature and people alike, because when nature thrives, people thrive," said Mike Hendren, NCC’s regional vice president for Ontario.
The NCC says Town Island was identified as one of their priorities because of its intact forest, undeveloped shoreline and large size.
“BB Camp is grateful to be partnering with an organization that shares so many of our goals and values. We look forward to a long partnership with the NCC as we work to protect this invaluable property together”, said Leah Leibl, BB Camp’s Board Co-Chair.
Over the last 10 years, the City of Kenora has investigated the transfer of Town Island to the province in exchange for Crown Land of equal value, closer to city boundaries, which would have been used for development.
When it became clear the swap of land wouldn’t be happening, the city began looking for a buyer for the property in 2019, at a price of $2.9 million. It’s a good investment for the city, who purchased Town Island for a total of $47 dollars between 1895 and 1911.
In late 2019, the Friends of Town Island started a petition against the sale of the island, saying they were concerned about future developments in the area. It received over 10,000 signatures, as many campers were concerned about losing access to the land over the summer months.
To this day, B’nai Brith Camp is the only development on the island. In November 2014, B’nai Brith purchased the leased 30 acres from the City of Kenora.
On November 23, 1895, the Corporation of Municipality of Rat Portage purchased the interior portion of Town Island for $18 from the Crown. It was on March 14, 1911, that the 29 acres of shoreline reserve was purchased by the Corporation of the Town of Kenora, for a price of $29.
When the war broke out, the Town turned the property over to the Navy League for training naval personnel for war duty. At the time, several buildings were constructed on the island by the Federal government, likely on the site of the B’nai Brith camp, with an understanding that the land and building would be returned to the Town of Kenora after the war.
After the war ended, a portion of the island (approximately 100 acres, according to City of Kenora By Law 94-95) was used to establish Camp Ruttan (in 1945 by the Navy League of Canada) and was later leased to B’nai Brith in 1954 to begin the current children’s camp.