The Maritime Explorer
February 19, 2021
Why then the need for yet one more post on Owls Head? Perhaps naively, I believe I do bring a slightly different perspective to the matter. As a lawyer, I can comment on the case currently before the courts, particularly as one who has faced off with the Department of Justice many times over the past forty-five years. As a concerned environmentalist who has visited every provincial park in Nova Scotia and almost all the Wilderness Areas as well, I can comment on what makes Owls Head different from all these other places. Finally, as far as I know, I will be the only golf journalist who has offered an opinion on whether or not Owls Head would make for a good location to build a golf resort. I love the game of golf and am almost in awe of how quickly Nova Scotia has rocketed to the top of the must play places in the world with the success of the Cabot Links courses in Inverness. I have written many posts on Nova Scotia golf courses including this one describing why Cabot Cliffs is the #1 course in Canada. If not for the success of Cabot Links, I do not believe this matter would ever have arisen in the first place.
So with that preamble, let me get started.
In a nutshell, Owls Head is a promontory on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia near the communities of Little Harbour, Ship Harbour and DeBaie’s Cove. It is about a 40 minute drive from the outskirts of Dartmouth. For at least the last forty-five years most of Owls Head has been listed as a Provincial Park, albeit one with no facilities whatsoever. In March, 2019 by what is known as a Cabinet minute, Owls Head was delisted as a Provincial Park and thus reverted to the status of Crown land, which can be sold to third parties. For obvious reasons, protected areas like Provincial Parks cannot be sold. The governing statute here is the Provincial Parks Act which does give the power not only to create parks, but also under Sec. 8(c) terminate that status as well. Those powers are granted to the Governor in Council which is legalese for the provincial Cabinet. Thus the Minister of Lands and Forests who is in charge of the Act does not have the power to do this on his or her own. Also, I could find nothing in the Act or regulations that sets out a process to be followed in terminating the status of a Provincial Park.
Now here’s the rub. In order to officially create a Provincial Park, it needs to be designated as such by a pronouncement in the Royal Gazette and having a plan filed at the Registry of Deeds for the county in which the park is located. In the case of Owls Head and almost half of the 200 + Provincial Parks in Nova Scotia, this was never done. However, for all intents and purposes it was treated as if it had been designated and identified as a park in any number of documents including the 2013 document Our Parks and Protected Areas which set out a long term plan to forever preserve at least 12% of Nova Scotia’s land mass.
So how did Owls Head go from being explicitly treated as a Provincial Park to just another piece of Crown Land that can be sold to the highest bidder? I have had access to the public documents on file in this matter including the legal proceedings that have been started, but not yet adjudicated. Many of these documents including the FOIPOP response that led CBC reporter Michael Gorman to discover that Owls Head had been secretly delisted as a park, can be found at the Owls Head Resource Page established by the Eastern Shore Cooperator. Gorman also discovered that the delisting was only part of what was going on – the Province was in serious negotiations to sell Owls Head to an American owned company that planned to build a golf resort on it. That, in turn, provoked a public outcry that resulted in retired wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft and the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association filing for judicial review of both the decision to delist and the decision to offer the land for sale.