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Canada helps buy Juno Beach land in France to stop proposed condo development

The battle to save a part of Juno Beach in France from development is over after the Canadian government announced it would pitch in to buy the land and prevent the construction of a condo on the historic battlefield.

The property, where a French developer sought to build 70 beachfront condominium units, is right next door to the Juno Beach Centre, a museum in Courseulles-Sur-Mer, France that honours the Canadian contributions to the Second World War and overlooks the grounds of the historic battle.

The centre had said the proposed condo development would put its operations at risk and threaten the sanctity of the site. But now, the federal government has announced it is contributing $4 million to help the city of Courseulles-Sur-Mer buy the property.

"This is a big day. A big day for Canada. A big day for veterans," Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay said during the announcement at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa Friday. "The developer would be going on grounds where so much Canadian blood was spent and in order to secure the peace and freedom that we have today. As you would expect, our government was and remains against any development of these sacred grounds."

Canadian officials had been working with the French government as well as local officials for months to find a solution. Under this agreement, two other parcels of land adjacent to this one will form one site as a part of a 99-year lease to protect it from development.

The Save Juno Beach campaign, organized supporters of the Juno Beach Centre opposed to the proposed development, saw 65,000 letters sent by Canadians to politicians in Ottawa and France with calls to protect the site. Campaign organizer Cindy Clegg said the development was "a step too far for Canadians."

"Our efforts to save Juno Beach from development told Canadians what was happening in France, at a time when authorities were looking the other way. It should never have gotten to this point," she said in a news release Friday.

"Canadians make a promise every Remembrance Day to never forget the sacrifices made for future generations. And this year, we forced our government to step up and protect the legacy and reputation of our country as an ally and force for good in a war-torn world."

On June 6, 1944, also known as D-Day, more than 14,000 Canadians stormed Juno Beach under a hail of gunfire and artillery to help liberate Europe from occupation by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, making it a sacred site in Canadian military history. More than 5,000 Canadians were killed in the Battle of Normandy, and 381 were killed on D-Day.

With files from CTV News' Michael Lee and Jennifer Ferreira.