Owls Head Provincial Park: A Recognized Candidate for Protection for Nearly 50 Years

“While Owls Head is making headlines as Nova Scotia’s ‘newest’ provincial park, it’s actually a park 47 years in the making,” said Lindsay Lee, Secretary of Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association. “After nearly five decades of public consultations, government plans and scientific studies, Owls Head Provincial Park is finally getting the legal protection it needs and deserves.”

To understand just how significant that is, it’s important to understand where we started.

MAY 1, 1975

Eastern Shore Seaside Park System

“The concept of an Eastern Shore Seaside Park System was unanimously approved-in-principle by local community representatives on May 1, 1975. This proposed concept was the product of co-operative efforts by the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forests, the provincial government, public participation advisors, and elected citizen representatives.”

Eastern Shore Seaside Park System Brochure

The brochure was prepared by the Parks and Recreation Division of the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forests, in cooperation with the Citizen’s Representatives Committee for the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System (circa 1977). Click to enlarge.

“The Eastern Shore Seaside Park System Citizen’s Representative Committee was formed in February 1975, following the Nova Scotia government’s announcement of plans to develop the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System. The Minister of Nova Scotia’s Department of Lands and Forests declared that his department wanted to actively encourage public participation in the planning of the proposed provincial Park System […] The Committee was comprised of 21 locally elected members representing 17 communities from Musquodoboit Harbour to Sheet Harbour. Soon after its formation, the Committee decided on its own objectives.”

Eastern Shore Archives

JUNE 1980

Eastern Shore Seaside Park System concept Master Plan is published in N.S. CoNServation, Vol. 4, No. 2, a quarterly publication of the N.S. Department of Land and Forests (now “Lands and Forestry”).

The Clam Harbour beach building and boardwalks are almost completed. The map found on pages 8 and 9 indicates that Owls Head park lands seem to include the southern shorelines and Cuckold Island.

The map’s legend identifies that Owls Head park lands were to be “natural areas.” It was part of the “Islands and Headlands” area, as one of the “Natural Environment Parks Proposed as representative examples of the unique coastal landscape.”

Click to enlarge.


Office of the Department of Lands and Forests in Musquodoboit Harbour gave information about the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System as still being a work in progress.

DECEMBER 3, 1998

Wilderness Areas Protection Act is passed and Tangier Grand Lake Wilderness Area (a large inland portion of the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System) is protected.


Colin Stewart Forest Forum Final Report

Colin Stewart Forest Forum Final Report is released by the Nova Scotia Environment and the Department of Natural Resources.

“Presented to government in November of 2009, this report is based on nearly 5 years of scientific analysis and cooperative planning by members of the Colin Stewart Forest Forum. It is an exceptional example of different interest groups working together – in this case major forestry companies and environmental organizations.”

Colin Stewart Forestry Forum Introductory Letter

Owls Head Provincial Park is identified as Tier 1 (top priority) conservation land.

Tier 1 areas are those of highest priority and conservation value […] Most Tier 1 areas are truly irreplaceable, meaning that they represent the last opportunities to fill particularly critical gaps in the protected areas network, or to capture highly significant ecological features.”

Colin Stewart Forestry Forum Final Report

Screenshot of Map 2.7, p. 25, Eastern Shore Archipelago: Conservation and Scientific Assessment, Nova Scotia Nature Trust. Click to enlarge.

Note that the south shore of the headland and Cuckold Island are no longer included in the Owls Head Provincial Park property.

JULY 2011

12 Percent Lands for Review

“Owls Head” is featured on map 15 of the 12 Percent Lands for Review series produced by the Protected Area Branch of Nova Scotia Environment. It is a key part of area 304: “Owls Head and Islands, 24 sites 276 hectares.”

The 12% review initiative is in response to the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act (2007), which set a goal to protect 12% of the land in Nova Scotia by 2015.


The property is identified as Owls Head Provincial Park Reserve in the “Provincial Parks and Park Reserves” map series, issued by the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources.


Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan

After years of consultations, Our Parks and Protected Areas is published. Owls Head Provincial Park is site #694. The Plan “represents what are considered to be the best lands for protection.” It’s worth noting that Owls Head Provincial Park was identified as an “existing” park in this document.

Our Parks and Protected Areas: A Plan for Nova Scotia builds on extensive consultations and activities over the last several years that yielded the Colin Stewart Forest Forum final report, the Our Wild Spaces discussion paper, and The Path We Share, the Natural Resources Strategy.

Nova Scotia Government, Parks and Protected Areas Plan
Owls Head Provincial Park (Site 694)

In 2013 we committed to protecting every scrap of wilderness identified in the Parks and Protected Areas Plan, and if you add those lands still awaiting protection to our existing total, you get a little over 14 per cent. So in fact our legislated goal is 14 per cent of Nova Scotia and not 13. In case a single percentage point sounds insignificant to you, it amounts to a sum of land larger than Kejimkujik National Park.

Zack Metcalfe, The 13 Per Cent


The NS Department of Environment releases a series of maps showing the Eastern Shore Islands Wilderness Area. The map below shows Owls Head Provincial Park as “other designated area” (even though it had not designation/formal protection). Owls Head Provincial Park is an important component of the Eastern Shore Islands wilderness area (protected by the provincial government) and complements the 100 Wild Islands Tourism Advancement Partnership (protected by the Nova Scotia Nature Trust).


August 14, 2018

Halifax Green Network Plan

Halifax Regional Council approved the Halifax Green Network Plan, which “defines an interconnected open space system for the municipality, highlights ecosystem functions and benefits, and outlines strategies to manage open space.”

Owls Head Provincial Park falls under Area of Consideration 8 (100 Wild Islands). Furthermore, the Halifax Green Network Plan understands the importance of ecological connectivity and indicates an “essential corridor” back and forth from Tangier Grand Lake Wilderness Area to Owls Head Provincial Park.

Please click to enlarge and see the other maps from the HGNP.

JANUARY 13, 2020

Information Disappearing

The province of Nova Scotia removed Owls Head Provincial Park from the online Parks and Protected Areas map. In an unprecedented move, the NS government sanitized their own websites of references to Owls Head Provincial Park after Michael Gorman broke the story of the secret delisting and proposed sale.

However, it is nevertheless surrounded by a dark line, indicating that it is part of the “Lands in the final Parks and Protected Areas Plan (2013).” Reporter Tim Bousquet points out that “Owls Head Provincial Park Reserve has existed since the 1970s; that’s why it’s on the basemap.”

APRIL 1, 2021

Respected biologist Bob Bancroft and local environmental group Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association get their day in court on April 1, 2021. The applicants (represented by Jamie Simpson) launched a legal case that challenges two secret decisions by (then Minister of Lands and Forestry) Iain Rankin.

The amended petition challenges two different secret decisions by Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin:  the decision to de-list the park on March 13, 2019 and the decision to entertain a Letter of Offer with the golf course developer on December 16, 2019.

In their petition, the applicants’ first major claim is that Lands and Forest Minister Iain Rankin breached “procedural fairness” in several ways, such as failing to provide notice to the public that he was considering the delisting and Letter of Offer, or holding any public consultation on the two matters.

The second claim is that Rankin’s decisions on delisting of the park and the signing of the Letter of Offer were “unreasonable” because he failed “to provide justification” for his decisions.

Richard Bell, The Eastern Shore Cooperator


Owls Head Provincial Park has been part of park plans or protected land plans for nearly five decades. Whether it was listed as “Owls Head Provincial Park,” “Owls Head Park Reserve,” or simply “Owls Head,” the site was included on maps and government documents over several decades, leading many Nova Scotians to think that it was protected.

Many citizens, community groups, and NGOs have spent countless hours participating in the different initiatives, such as the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System, the Colin Stewart Forest Forum, the 12 % protected land initiative, and Our Parks and Protected Areas.

The Save Owls Head movement has shown once again just how deeply Nova Scotians care about wild spaces, coastal parks, and transparency in government.

The Houston government’s decision to right this wrong will preserve the beauty and biodiversity of our province for generations to come. We’re hopeful that this announcement signals the dawn of a new era for protected areas in Nova Scotia—one in which all of the pending provincial parks, nature reserves, and wilderness areas will soon receive legal protection, as we work our way towards protecting 20% of Nova Scotia by 2030.


Prepared by Patricia Egli with supplementary material by Lindsay Lee.

Many thanks to Patricia Egli of The Eastern Shore Forest Watch for researching and compiling much of this timeline, which was first presented at the Ship Harbour Community Centre meeting. The information has since been made available with her permission.

Eastern Shore Seaside Park System Citizen’s Representative Committee fonds

CoNServation Vol. 4, No. 2

Colin Stewart Forest Forum Final Report

12 Percent Lands for Review

Eastern Shore Archipelago: Conservation and Scientific Assessment

Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan

The 13 Percent” by Zack Metcalfe

Halifax Green Network Plan

Owls Head Provincial Park has been deleted from the province’s map of parks and protected areas” by Tim Bousquet

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