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Centre of Canada debate continues
Funding available to develop Baker Lake site

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Where, oh where, is the centre of Canada?

According to Maclean's magazine, a small municipality in the south, population about 10,000 souls, claims it is located at the centre of Canada. Tache, Manitoba, in fact, intends to build a $5-million Centre of Canada Park on time for Canada's 150th birthday in 2017.

The Government of Manitoba even maintains that it "occupies the geographical centre of Canada." Winnipeg also claims the distinction.

That would be fine if the world existed only on a straight line east to west.

Former long-time Baker Lake mayor David Aksawnee has long maintained the site eight km outside Baker Lake at 64 degrees, 18 minutes, 41 seconds north and 96 degrees, four minutes, eight seconds west is the geographical centre of Canada.

"That was way back, around 2006 or so," that he became aware, he says.

"We looked it up on the computer and we found out it's not too far from the community."

Yet another source, Natural Resources Canada, puts the geographical centre at Yathkyed Lake, also in Nunavut, at 62 degrees, 24 minutes north and 96 degrees, 28 minutes west. This would place the centre somewhere hundreds of kilometres from Baker Lake, Rankin Inlet and Arviat.

Aksawnee and hamlet councillors put quite a bit of effort over the years toward developing the site. But the access road has only made it so far as Prince River, he says.

However, there is a sign between the airport and the community.

"I haven't heard talk of it (developing the site) anymore," he says. "At the site, there's nothing going on."

Aksawnee would like to see the project revived. He figures a lot of the tourists that visit Baker Lake in the summer would be interested in visiting the site.

"We wanted to build another monument, an inuksuk, in that area. And have a place for people to relax."

The access road, as it is, has been built over time with funds from the Government of Nunavut. Baker Lake can continue to apply for those funds annually, depending on their priorities.

"The department (Economic Development and Transportation) has two programs the municipality has already accessed," said Robert Connelly, manager of community economic development, located in Rankin Inlet. "One of them is the Community Transportation Initiatives Program, formerly the Community Access Road Program."

Connelly says any community can apply under this program to develop access trails that support a variety of economic and cultural activities.

The department also has a Community Capacity Building Program.

"The access trail, in Baker Lake's case, to the site is one of the hamlet's priorities. For several years now the hamlet has been allocating part of that budget towards this project," said Connelly.

If the hamlet were to choose to further develop the site, there are a few routes to go. It could be done internally, as a municipality, as it has been. The hamlet could also choose to go the route of a territorial park or a national park, both of which would involve extensive planning and consultation.

The committee in Tache, Manitoba, for example has applied to the federal government's Canada 150 Fund, $150 million Ottawa has set aside for projects to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday. They're also fundraising.

"That would really interest the community itself, because there were plans to build something there. And have a ceremony there, too. That was my plan," said Aksawnee. "We wanted to build another monument, an inuksuk, in that area. And have a place for people to relax."

No one at the hamlet was available to speak on progress and senior administrative officer Dennis Zettler declined to comment, saying only what he told Macleans: That he's been told over the years that Baker Lake is the geographical centre of Canada.

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