Peche Island restoration well underway, tours to resume in 2022

Sheltering islands are being constructed off the shore of Windsor’s Peche Island on Oct. 20, 2021 in an effort to protect the island from erosion and also provide habitat for endangered fish populations. (Rich Garton/CTV Windsor)

The City of Windsor and Essex Region Conservation Authority are halfway through restoration efforts on Peche Island, with the hope of protecting the 86-acre island from further erosion and preserving fish habitat on the northern shore.

“That island’s going to be here for our kids, that island is going to be here for our grandkids, it’s just a really special place,” says Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens.

Over the past year, the city, in partnership with ERCA has built four off-shore sheltering islands that serve the dual purpose of stopping erosion and creating “calm bays” to help cultivate aquatic vegetation to protect the Northern Madtom, a species at risk which is endemic to this area of the Detroit River.

“It’s very endangered and there’s only a few spots left where you can find it in all of Canada,” says Kevin Money of the Essex Region Conservation Authority. “What we want to do is create that ideal habitat, not only for the Northern Madtom, but the hundred other fish species that exist and thrive in the Detroit River.”

Two more islands will be constructed by year’s end, according to the city. The goal is to build nine sheltering islands in total.

Between 1931 and 2015, its estimated the island has shrunk by 17 acres due to erosion.

To date, council has approved roughly $4.8 million toward the erosion mitigation project, but is looking for some help from upper levels of government to complete the work, estimated to cost $7 million.

“If they know that we’re invested, they too will become more invested in the project,” says Dilkens, noting there are plans to ask council for more money as well to complete the erosion mitigation project.

Meantime, the city has been working to restore a bridge over one of the entrance canals, built by Hiram Walker more than a century ago.

The work is also being undertaken in anticipation of a return of the highly popular pontoon ferry day-trips to Peche Island. The service was suspended in 2019 due to high water levels and hasn’t yet returned due to the pandemic, but the city is hoping to resume offering the service in the Spring of 2022.

Mayor Dilkens says the even bigger vision is to create a trail system that could connect all parts of the island into a continuous trail for residents to use.

“Hopefully, future councils are committed to seeing that and realizing that vision and that goal because the people of this community deserve nothing less than to be able to enjoy this wonderful experience that’s right here in their backyard,” Dilkens says.