Railway land could revert to Flying Dust

By Mac Christie

A piece of real estate on the northern edge of the City of Meadow Lake could soon be returned to its original owners, Flying Dust First Nation.

A letter was recently sent to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs from Flying Dust’s lawyer regarding the situation, something Coun. Toby Esterby said was an attempt to move the process forward.

“It was trying to show the government everyone’s at the table, everyone’s ready to go, so let’s go,” he said.

The land, a 214-acre swath that formerly housed the railway and grain elevators, was expropriated by the Canadian Pacific Railway from the reserve in 1930. A clause in the agreement indicated that if it ever ceased to be used as a railway, the land would revert back to Flying Dust.

The city expanded its boundary after the expropriation, so the rail yards now fall within city limits.

Flying Dust has been trying to get the land returned since 1992 without success, but city officials are trying to expedite the process.

Jim Dalgleish, chair of Flying Dust’s FDB Holding Co., said the first step is for the city to move its boundary to the southern edge of the rail yards.

“We’ve entertained discussions with the town and they’re prepared to move the boundary,” he said.

Esterby agreed, noting that the city hopes moving the boundary will simplify the process. However, even if the boundary is moved, there are still some concerns. City manager Bruno Kossmann said there are water and sewer lines that run along the north side of the highway, which could cause ownership problems.

But Esterby said there’s an excellent relationship between the city and Flying Dust and he doesn’t foresee any issues.

“There are details there that would have to be worked out,” he said, “but I don’t think any of them would be stumbling blocks.”

Esterby added the city is excited for plans Flying Dust has for the land.

“We think it would be a great addition to the community,” he said. “We’re on board, supporting in whatever way we can.”

Because of the location, Flying Dust expects it to be a prime area for the city for expand to.

However, Coun. Annette Klassen worried at the July 25 council meeting that businesses built on the north side of the highway could have unfair taxation advantages, compared to those on the south side.

But Esterby said that’s not an issue, because Flying Dust has expressed their willingness to ensure an even playing field for the area’s businesses.

“We’ve talked in detail about an arrangement,” he said. “There would be fees in those taxes or some sort of set up.”

Dalgleish agreed, noting Flying Dust wants to add to the community, not draw away from it.

“Flying Dust has never participated in taking away from the city,” he said, “but always in adding.”

If the land were to revert to Flying Dust, they wouldn’t sell lots, but rather sublease them to businesses for the long-term, something like 90 or 99 years, said Dalgleish.

He also noted the boundary could be jagged for the time being, leaving properties such as the RCMP station or the car wash in the city’s jurisdiction. Even if the boundary was changed to include them the businesses wouldn’t be affected.

Those properties are part of the reason the land is the subject of a specific claim from Flying Dust, seeking restitution from the federal government for what Dalgleish said are irregularities in the expropriation process.

Among other things, he cited the fact that property, such as Myles’ Mechanical’s lot, was sold by the railway company, something he said shouldn’t have been done.

“It was for railway use only,” he said. “You don’t go selling it when you expropriated it for a specific purpose.”

But Dalgleish stressed the specific claim and the return of the land are separate issues, and in discussions with the railway, they’re quite prepared to return the land.

He expects the land to be returned within a year-and-a-half or two years, while the restitution could take up to three years to be resolved.

“The land has got to come back (to Flying Dust),” he said.

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