A recent judgment lifts the veil on a fierce legal battle between two groups of powerful businessmen for control of a Quebec nature reserve considered one of the largest and most pristine in North America.
A decision handed down in May by Superior Court Justice Thomas M. Davis brings to light the struggle that took place behind the scenes over the future of the Kenauk reservation in Outaouais.
The judge refused to allow a group of wealthy businessmen to obtain compensation after they escaped the sale of the prestigious property in 2013. According to La Presse, the group led by Bic pencil company heir Charles Bich claimed US $13 million.
It all started when a group of investors led by the Quebecois Patrick Pichette, former number 2 of Google, got their hands on the reserve of US$ 43.7 million.
Pichette wanted at all costs to prevent a planned real estate development from disfiguring Lac Papineau, where he already owned a home.
Charles Bich, in turn, wanted to acquire Kenauk with others, in particular, to expand a private hunting property he owns with André Desmarais in the sector.
Bich believed that his group and Pichette’s had agreed to an exclusive negotiation to jointly obtain the coveted territory. Pichette, however, preferred to join forces with other partners.
Bich and Picchio International (the family holding company of Dr. Francesco Bellini, co-founder of Biochem Pharma) started legal proceedings in 2015. They believed they had been tricked by another group of entrepreneurs.
According to allegations made in court by the prosecution, Pichette and his partners acted in bad faith and acted in a dubious manner in connection with the transaction.
“The court concludes that there was no exclusive agreement to make a joint bid for Kenauk,” however, Judge Davis ruled.
Meeting in Heenan
At the trial, we learned that in August 2013, the two groups of potential investors met at Heenan Blaikie’s downtown offices. It was Roy Heenan himself, one of the founders of the now closed company, who chaired the meeting.
Patrick Pichette and his partners defended themselves by saying that they were just preliminary discussions, with no formal commitment. As the two groups did not have the same vision for Kenauk, Pichette then went looking for other partners.
The fact that two of Bich’s partners, André Desmarais and Dr. Bellini, who were announced as witnesses at the 2018 trial, were not called to testify undermined the prosecution’s case, says Judge Davis.
“Their absence is curious, as the two were essential for Bich’s group to complete the transaction,” commented the judge.
Due to the lack of witnesses to prove the main elements of the action, the magistrate considered the process initiated by Bich’s group to be abusive and opened the door for Pichette to assert his rights in relation to this decision.
THE KENAUK RESERVE
Covering 65,000 acres, Kenauk has been described as one of the largest and most intact sets of private land in Canada and North America.
The Kenauk Reserve has 70 private lakes and is home to a gated community (Gated community) with 13 luxury chalets and an exclusive marina.
“A crystalline river flows fifteen kilometers from the picturesque Lac Papineau to the Ottawa River. Add to that 102 kilometers of waterfront offering unrivaled views of Lac Papineau, hundreds of kilometers of existing roads, the diversity and abundance of wildlife and wildlife, and the possibilities are endless,” described a 2013 brokers brochure.
ON THE ONE HAND
Former Chief Financial Officer of Google. It owned Google shares worth $87 million ($113 million) in 2015, according to the New York Times. He already owned a home in Lac Papineau and wanted to acquire Kenauk to preserve the region’s low population density. Restricted tourist exploitation is part of his vision.
President of Les Viandes de la Petite-Nation, he owns a deer farm northeast of Kenauk, Harpur Farms. Cases of mad deer disease were reported there in 2018.
Montreal businessman whose family has owned a home in Kenauk since the 1970s.
MICHAEL M. WILSON
Chairman of the board of directors and former CEO of fertilizer producer Agrium. In 2013, he was the third highest-paid executive in the country, with annual compensation of $23.8 million, according to the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives. Interested in acquiring conservation land in Canada, he looked to Lake Mills and Baie Noire.
Resident of upstate New York. Her family is the controlling shareholder of the famous Bic group (razors, pens and lighters in particular). The Bich family fortune was valued last year at 1.3 billion euros ($1.74 billion), according to Challenges magazine. Mr. Bich has a stake with André Desmarais in an area north of Kenauk. He saw potential for real estate development around Lac Papineau.
Photo taken from powercorporation.com
Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of Power Corporation. The Desmarais family fortune was valued at $5.81 billion in 2021, according to the website Hardbacon. Mr. Desmarais owns a deer and elk farm north of Kenauk. He owns a supplier, the Domaine faunique des Laurentides, where hunting is practiced. The acquisition of Kenauk would have allowed for the expansion of the Herdade’s hunting area, according to the judgment.
DR FRANCESCO BELLINI
Founder of Biochem Pharma, sold to British Shire in 2000 with a gain of $250 million. Dr. Bellini and his family, including his son Roberto, wanted to acquire a private property for their exclusive use. Private and uninhabited Lake Maholey offered such a prospect as it has world-class bass fishing. Lac des Cèdres and Lac Collins were also considered to be of interest, due to their world-class trout fishing.