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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Niagara Foundation buys the Wilderness after years of negotiations
The Wilderness, located at 407 King St. in Old Town, Niagara-on-the-Lake, has been purchased by the Niagara Foundation. Richard Hutton
Ken Reid has sold his 50 per cent share in the property known as the Wilderness. The Niagara Foundation has bought the property for an undisclosed amount. Richard Hutton
A $1 million donation from the Goettler Family Foundation helped the Niagara Foundation purchase the Wilderness property. NOTL residents Vaughn and Lauren Goettler established the family foundation to contribute to community philanthropic causes. Richard Hutton

Purchase price not revealed but ‘significant’ donations enabled organization to close deal

 

After years of intense negotiations, the Niagara Foundation has obtained full ownership of the Wilderness property in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The organization announced Monday that it has acquired 100 per cent of the property, thanks to a $1 million donation from the Goettler Family Foundation, as well as “several other significant donations from Niagara-on-the-Lake residents.”

The forested property is located at 407 King St. in Old Town.

The Wilderness, “as it has been known for more than 100 years,” is about five acres and “has significant historic, cultural, environmental and botanical importance within the Niagara region,” said a news release from the Niagara Foundation.

The ownership of the property has been debated for years, and been mired in legal proceedings since 2018.

The Niagara Foundation received a half-interest through the will of Ruth Parker, one of three sisters who owned the property.

Ruth died in 2013 and her will stipulated that the heritage elements of the Wilderness be preserved and maintained for the benefit of the public.  

The executor of her will, lawyer Peter Janzen, selected the Niagara Foundation to follow Parker’s wishes.

The other half belonged to Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Ken Reid, 72, who has lived on the property for 23 years.

When the Lake Report visited the property Wednesday morning to speak to Reid, an unidentified woman who answered the door said he was not going to speak to media about the purchase.

“We’re saying ‘no comment,'” the woman said before proceeding to shut the door.

Reid inherited his half-interest in the property from his deceased wife Kea Reid, who in turn inherited from her mother Fran McKay (Parker’s sister).

Reid had taken issue with the interpretation of Parker’s will and rejected the foundation’s claim to 50 per cent ownership.

The will did not specifically name the Niagara Foundation as the body best suited for executing Parker’s dying wishes.

Reid challenged the foundation’s right to the property. However, in the end the Niagara Foundation was granted a 50 per cent share.

In 2022, Reid rejected an offer from the foundation to purchase his share of the property, before the court ruled on the legitimacy of the foundation’s claim to Parker’s half.

He did not disclose how much the foundation offered for his ownership stake, but at that time described it as “well below the property value.”

“It was basically just an insult offer,” he told The Lake Report in 2022.

Lyle Hall, chair of the Niagara Foundation, wouldn’t say how much the organization offered Reid for his share back then, nor how much the two parties eventually settled on.

 “Acquisition of the Wilderness has been a goal of the foundation for some time,” he said in announcing the purchase.

“We are pleased to have reached an amicable agreement with Ken Reid to acquire the 50 per cent interest not already under our control, giving us complete ownership of the property,” he said.  

The transaction will close later this year. The release did not include a purchase price for Reid’s half of the property.

“We do not intend to disclose the purchase price. If Ken Reid decides to do so that’s his choice, but we have elected not to,” he told The Lake Report.

The future of the property remains to be seen.

“We intend to collaborate with heritage, planning and environmental experts to ensure we preserve the significant attributes of the land and buildings comprising the Wilderness,” said Hall.

“We also think there is opportunity to draw on the breadth and depth of expertise and experience from within our community,” he said.

“The foundation will actively seek input from residents for project management and oversight skills as we consider options for use and interpretation of this unique asset.”  

“The Niagara Foundation is most grateful to Ken Reid for facilitating this transaction and to the Goettler Family Foundation and our other donors for their financial support,” the release said.

On top of donations to help buy the property, Hall said, “additional fundraising efforts — from philanthropic individuals, corporate partners and grant-making organizations — will be required to ensure the project’s long-term success.”

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