A recent ruling lifts the veil on a bitter legal battle between two groups of powerful businessmen over control of a Quebec wildlife sanctuary believed to be one of the largest and most pristine in North America.
A decision by Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Davis in May sheds light on the behind-the-scenes conflict over the future of the Kenauk Reservation in Outaouais.
The judge refused to allow a group of wealthy businessmen to receive compensation after they escaped the sale of the prestigious property in 2013. According to La Presse, the group, which was led by Bic pencil company heir Charles Bich, was demanding $13 million.
It all started when a group of investors led by Quebec resident Patrick Pichette, former No. 2 at Google, got their hands on the reserve for $43.7 million.
Pichette wanted at all costs to avoid that a proposed real estate development would deface Lac Papineau, where he already owned a residence.
For his part, Charles Bich wanted to acquire Kenauk with others, in particular to develop a private hunting estate that he shares with André Desmarais in the sector.
Bich believed his group and Pichette’s had agreed on exclusive negotiations to conquer the coveted territory together. However, Pichette preferred to team up with other partners.
Bich and Picchio International (a family holding company of Dr. Francesco Bellini, co-founder of Biochem Pharma) therefore initiated court proceedings in 2015. They believed they had been deceived by the other group of businessmen.
According to allegations by prosecutors in court, Pichette and his partners acted in bad faith and duplicitous in connection with the transaction.
“The court concludes that there was no exclusive agreement to make a joint bid for Kenauk,” however, noted Judge Davis.
In the judgment, we learn that the two groups of potential investors met in August 2013 at Heenan Blaikie’s downtown offices. It was Roy Heenan himself, one of the founders of the now-defunct company, who chaired the meeting.
Patrick Pichette and his partners defended themselves by saying that these were only preliminary talks without a formal commitment. Since the two groups did not have the same vision for Kenauk, Pichette then went in search of other partners.
That two of Bich’s partners, André Desmarais and Dr.
“Their absence is curious as the two were essential for Bich’s group to complete the transaction,” the judge noted.
Due to the lack of witnesses to prove the essential elements of the lawsuit, the judge deemed the Bich group’s proceeding abusive and opened the door for Pichette to assert his rights related to this decision.
THE KENAUK RESERVATION
Covering 65,000 acres, Kenauk has been described as one of the largest and most intact private properties in Canada and North America.
The Kenauk Reservation has 70 private lakes and is home to a gated community (Gated community) with 13 luxury chalets and an exclusive marina.
“A pristine river flows ten miles from scenic Lac Papineau to the Ottawa River. Add to that 102 kilometers of waterfront that offer unparalleled 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 brochure from brokers in 2013.
ON THE ONE HAND
Former Chief Financial Officer of Google. Owned $87 million ($113 million) worth of Google stock in 2015, according to the New York Times. He already owned a home on Lac Papineau and wanted to buy Kenauk to maintain the area’s sparse population. Restricted tourist use is part of their 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 and ex-CEO of the fertilizer manufacturer Agrium. In 2013, he was the third-highest-paid manager in the country, with annual compensation of $23.8 million, according to the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives. He became interested in acquiring land for conservation in Canada and viewed Lake Mills and Baie Noire.
Resident in upstate New York. His family is the majority shareholder of the famous Bic group (particularly razors, pens and lighters). The Bich family’s fortune was estimated at €1.3 billion ($1.74 billion) last year, according to Challenges magazine. Mr. Bich has an interest with André Desmarais in an area north of Kenauk. He saw potential for real estate development around Lac Papineau.
Photo from powercorporation.com
Executive Vice President of Power Corporation. According to the Hardbacon website, the Desmarais family fortune was estimated at $5.81 billion in 2021. Mr. Desmarais owns a farm raising deer and elk north of Kenauk. He owns an outfitter, the Domaine faunique des Laurentides, where the hunt is conducted. The acquisition of Kenauk would have allowed for an increase in the property’s hunting area, the ruling said.
DR. FRANCESCO BELLINI
Founder of Biochem Pharma, sold to the UK Shire in 2000 for a profit of US$250 million. Doctor Bellini and his family, including his son Roberto, wanted to acquire a private property for their exclusive use. Private and uninhabited, Lake Maholey offered that vista as it offers world-class bass fishing. Lac des Cèdres and Lac Collins were also considered interesting due to world class trout fishing.