Stopped in town for coffee the other morning, the usual gang were there with their usual strongly held but not necessarily well informed opinions.  A couple of guys were rambling on about the Wabigoon Band Land Claim settlement.  Said the band got $24 million compensation for about a hundred acres of swamp being turned into a hundred acres of wetter swamp, it wasn’t worth ten bucks when the dam was built in 1910, $24 thousand is too much, much less 24 million, blah blah blah.  I chipped in to say I don’t know anything about it, but the Wabigoon band will no doubt make good use of the money, and anyway any government money coming into our district is a good thing.  That chilled the air pretty good, and I kind of drank up and slinked out.

Big Joe, my neighbour down the road stopped in to check up on me, and I was telling him about it.  “Well”, he said, “I think there was more to it than that, I think they had to move or rebuild their village, and there was a lot of lakeshore got flooded.”  He swigged his coffee, then went on “Although I don’t think the government has really thought this through.  There were already a lot of freehold homesteads in 1910,  from Dinorwic all the way to the west end of Wabigoon lake, and their boundary is the ‘high water mark’, which is a ways out in the lake now that Wabigoon’s level was raised.  There are a lot of strips of lake-bottom that actually belong to somebody.  So if this settlement is as inflated as some people think, it means all these landowners could be up for a tidy sum”.

“Unless the government goes all racist on this, and disqualifies non-native landowners” I chipped in.  Joe goes on “well, they might, we are seeing all kinds of chipping away at landowners rights, the government just takes our land.  F’rinstance, if somebody finds a strange flower in your field, and it gets judged ‘endangered’ you could lose use of 40 acres or more of your land without any compensation.  And that’s just under the Species at Risk act, there are lots more examples.  There is an outfit in rural Ontario called ‘Landowners Association’ whose purpose is to fight the government taking our land, I get their magazine, keeps my blood pressure up”.

Thinking about this, I added “You know, this could be even bigger than our area, most of the industry in old Ontario started with a dam and a waterpower mill, there could be lots of flooded land in old Ontario, maybe even in big cities.  This could run into billions!”

“I don’t think so”, says Joe, “this past 40 years or so the government has been busy cleaning up those old deeds, taking away wrinkles like this underwater land, along with some of your rights, when property is transferred.  If your lawyer isn’t smart enough to catch them.  I expect most plots, even a lot of local plots, have had their underwater land quietly taken by the government already, without any compensation of course”.  Which left me thinking, we are supposed to have squeaky-clean, honest government in Canada, what must it be like in other countries? Or maybe Joe is just paranoid.

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