The Rick Howe Show
February 11, 2021
Christopher Trider, co-administrator of the Facebook group Save Owls Head Provincial Park, joins host Jordi Morgan to offer perspective on Owls Head Provincial Park.
Jordi Morgan: So we’re talking about Owls Head this morning. We wanted to get both sides of this issue, so joining us today is Chris Trider. Chris grew up on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia and he also has formed a Facebook group to talk about this issue and to oppose it. They are opposed to the sale of this land, which is not a done deal yet, but Chris joins on the phone this morning. Good morning, Chris.
Christopher Trider: Good morning, Jordi. Thanks for having me on. Just to clarify, the Facebook group was founded by Sydnee Lynn McKay from Little Harbour, and I am a co-administrator of that group. I joined December 20, 2019, when we learned about this plan for Owls Head.
Jordi Morgan: Okay, my apologies. And thanks for the clarification. So tell me about the core opposition that you have to this. I understand, you know, we’ve talked about this sort of a secret sale and this, that, and the other thing, and I think that’s something that is not necessarily the issue now, because it certainly isn’t secret, what’s been going on. But perhaps you can tell us about how we got to the point that we are now with this piece of land.
Christopher Trider: Well, I think history is important in the clarification. If you go back to the late 1960s, the lands at Owls Head were considered for inclusion in the Ship Harbour National Park proposal because of their value as a representative coastal landscape.
That plan, as you may be aware, was soundly rejected by the local communities. And after an exhaustive and extensive public participation program, Owls Head was included in what is known as the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System. And it was included in that park plan as a “Natural Environment Park.” So it has a very long history of protection. And at that time, it was given what is referred to as an “administrative designation” as a park reserve. It survived with that administrative protection – it wasn’t formally designated, but it had an administrative designation as a park reserve.
And then in 2013, after a rather exhaustive, multi-year program to create the Parks and Protected Areas Plan, it [Owls Head] was included as site #694. And it is listed in that plan as a “provincial park.” And you can indeed find many references. If you visit our website, saveowlshead.org, you can see all the supporting documentation to this. And actually, the public’s right to expect that this was a protected property was recently confirmed in the court as part of the proceedings that are underway by Eastern Shore Forest Watch and Bob Bancroft. So I just want to clarify the very long (over 45-year) history of protection that this property has enjoyed.
Jordi Morgan: So how did it get to the point that it was delisted or not continued to be protected? How did that happen?
Christopher Trider: Well, as near as we can tell from the information we have from the Freedom of Information requests (that were submitted by Michael Gorman, that led to the original story on December 18, 2019) is there were some conversations between Beckwith Gilbert – the landowner – and some lobbyists and political figures about the possibility of acquiring the provincial lands there, the park lands.
Jordi Morgan: And this is a track that is adjacent to land that he already owns? Am I correct on that?
Christopher Trider: He was able to acquire roughly 143 hectares of land there. There were three parcels involved, as your earlier guest stated: the lighthouse property, which was the federal property, the provincial (I’m going to call it park lands), and lands that had been acquired by Beckwith Gilbert. And so, those were the three parcels and the Owls Head piece has been included in many of the Parks Division’s and the government’s planning documents.
But the negotiation that took place, we’re saying it occurred in secret. But basically, there was no public opportunity and the decision was made to delist it – to take Owls Head out of the Parks and Protected Areas Plan. And then they signed a letter of offer to sell it to Lighthouse Links Development Co., which is owned by Beckwith Gilbert.
And we just feel it was all done without proper notice, without following proper protocols and procedures within government, which would have – we believe –never allowed this property to be offered for sale for golf course development.
The description of the property, if you check in the earlier references, it’s rock. It’s parallel rock ridges, where the globally rare plant community has evolved and developed. And there is no soil there. Essentially, it’s more like a duff layer. And parallel to these rock ridges are these bogs, and barrens, and wetlands that create this… It’s just an amazing landscape. And it’s part of the part of 100 Wild Islands [Tourism Advancement] Project. It was part of the Eastern Shore Islands Wilderness Area. It’s been included in just about every provincial document & park planning.
So, this narrative that it never had any status, or that it’s un-granted Crown Land, or to try to ignore and brush aside this long history of protection, has incensed a lot of people. And I mean, thousands and thousands of people. We have 4,000 people who’ve joined our group. We’ve had almost 3,000 people petition the government through CPAWS’s efforts to urge the government to reverse this decision. Twenty-three conservation groups signed on to a letter, [including the] World Wildlife Fund. I mean, it was done in a terribly… I call it a backroom deal, I guess.
Jordi Morgan: So, just let me interject here for a moment. Because at the time – and I’m just referencing Michael Gorman’s story here – at the time, the Lands and Forestry Minister, who is now the premier-designate, Iain Rankin, said that there isn’t a high biodiversity value when you compare it to other pieces of land that we’ve advanced for legal protection. He said that the decision wouldn’t affect the government’s ability to reach its goal of legal protection of 13% of all Nova Scotia land. So, I read out of that, that he feels that there are other areas that should be set aside for protection that have a higher priority. What’s your response there?
Christopher Trider: We disagree with that. Only 5% of Nova Scotia coastal areas are in public ownership and/or protected. So to have an almost 700-acre, coastal, publicly owned property with close to five miles of shore frontage, it’s a real jewel, it’s a real gem. You look at how people use areas like, you know, Prospect and Crystal Crescent, and these areas. We’re very under-served in these areas.
What Mr. Rankin maybe was not aware of at the time he made that statement, is that St. Mary’s [Ecology of] Plants in Communities Lab had done 15 years of research on the plant communities. They have an amazing publication that they just put out on heathlands of Nova Scotia. And they have confirmed that there is high biodiversity on this property. And it’s very unique, and it’s a very special place, and it needs to be protected.
Jordi Morgan: Okay. What kind of response are you getting from folks in the immediate community there? They [the earlier guests] indicated that there seems to be a lot of public support for the development down there. And I know that development always, you know, seems to get a sort of a polarity between the developers and the environment. I know you’ve talked about these larger groups – World Wildlife Fund, that’s their mandate – but what about the local folks there? Have you talked to them? And how do you feel about their perception of it?
Christopher Trider: We feel very badly that this route was taken that really has fostered division in the local community, along the economy versus the environment line. It never should have come to this. I mean, this property should never have been considered for sale or for this purpose.
But now it’s out there, I mean… the local MLA has actively fostered this division in the community, which is very concerning. And our members, and people we know, supporters of our group, have been intimidated. You know the sign battle that was referenced? We’ve had our signs torn down. I mean, we don’t want to exacerbate that division.
You know, if you were to step back and have an independent look at this, you would never consider this property for the golf courses. I mean, really, we don’t even know what the plan is.
Jordi Morgan: I’m afraid I’ve got to move on, just for time considerations, but it’s not going to be the last we talk about this, I’m sure. With Iain Rankin now as the premier-designate, I’m sure that this is going to be something that will be on his to-do list in fairly short order. So I would assume that there’ll be some kind of an answer, one way or the other, on it, but I do appreciate you taking the time to give us your perspective.
Christopher Trider: Well, thanks for having me.
Jordi Morgan: Oh, thank you very much.
That is Chris Trider; he is part of the group that has organized to save the Owls Head area.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Timeline of Promised Protections
How Golf Courses Would Jeopardize Important Marine Ecosystems
CBC Radio Interview with Marine Biologist Dr. Boris Worm
The Important Biodiversity of Owls Head Provincial Park