Batiste Foisy
Mark Rendell

Mystery Surveyors in the Woodyard: City Making a Move?

The next chapter in the ongoing struggle between the City and the Woodyard seems to be heating up

It’s not yet time to man the Old Town barricades, but surveyors are back in the Woodyard, and the City’s sights seem once again set on this semi-lawless patch of land.

Last Friday morning, Woodyard resident Batiste Foisy was on his way to work when he saw two workers beside his shack, banging what appeared to be a surveying spike into the ground.

“They said that they were from a private company, being contracted by the City to survey the lot,” Foisy told EDGE. “They said the City was buying the lake. Then the guy said, not the whole lake, from the ice road to just past the government dock.”

Foisy’s neighbour Alison McCreesh heard a slightly different story from the workers: “The City was looking to buy the lake, is how they phrased it, from the ice road to the rocky outcrop.” They also mentioned “something about a high-water mark,” she said.

When EDGE asked the City what was going on, Wenyan Yu, manager of planning and lands, told us: “The City didn’t send any surveyor for the Woodyard parcel.”

“The City submitted a land application to the GNWT Department of Lands in 2013 for the water lot […] adjacent to the Woodyard parcel […] This application is under review by the GNWT. The City does not know whether the surveyor on site is for this project to survey the water lot.”

Yu attached a map, showing the water lot coveted by the City, running along School Draw by Rotary Park, across the ice road, and ending about halfway along the shoreline in front of the Woodyard.

In a second email to EDGE, she said “the City is acquiring this water lot in front of Rotary Park and Woodyard for potential future uses in line with the long range vision of the Yellowknife Harbour Plan.”

So what’s in the Harbour Plan?

While Yu claims the workers weren’t surveying the Woodyard itself and “uses [for the Woodyard Shoreline] have not been discussed yet,” the City’s controversial 2012 Harbour Plan offered one idea of what the area might look like if the City gets a hold of the shoreline lot. For better or for worse, it’s a quite the shift from the current status quo of shacks and DIY docks.

The lot the City is hoping to acquire for “potential future uses in line with the long range vision of the Yellowknife Harbour Plan”

The divisive 2012 plan imagined a trail running along the shore from Tin Can Hill around to Back Bay. A graphic showed the current shacks and docks along the Woodyard’s marshy shore replaced by a broad wooden dock/walkway with benches, lampposts and colourful food vendors.

It’s the kind of gentrified scene that makes tourism officials salivate. Whether the notoriously independent Woodyard dwellers would be as keen to have their neighbourhood turned into an oasis of ice cream and beaver tails remains to be seen.

According to the Harbour Plan, “The Woodyard is part of the unique character of Old Town, and that characteristic is to be respected.”

“At the same time, improved public access to the waterfront is needed, and this is a key location for access. A shared public walkway through the area and access for non-motorized watercraft (e.g., canoes, kayaks) will be added without taking away from the area’s character or the ecological functions of the wetlands.”

If the City does acquire the lot, it’s just another move in an inexorable, decades-long game to bring Old Town squatters into the City’s taxpaying embrace. Yet while it’s a small move, it gives some Woodyarders the jitters.

“I don’t feel anyone is on the warpath and there’s nothing that’s led me to believe they are about to come down the hill with a bulldozer,” said McCreesh. “But it’s scary because in the short and the medium term, the city will have a lot more power over the area.”

“In the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was a lot of conflict with Old Town and squatting and a lot of shacks disappeared. The reason the Woodyard survived is because it turned out to be commissioner’s land … and I’m worried we won’t have that safety net.”