2021: The Year of the Sign
The iconic Save Owls Head signs were spotted in ridings all across the province. Concerned citizens were eager to crowdfund the cost of the signs in order to raise awareness and send a clear message to the provincial government. Provincial sign coordinator Karen Reinhardt organized fundraising, orders, transportation, and a network of over 50 volunteers who distributed signs in their communities, from Yarmouth to Cape Breton.
Research Continues at Owls Head Provincial Park
Marine biologist Dr. Kristina Boerder and her team continued their marine and terrestrial research at Owls Head Provincial Park in 2021. Their work centred on:
- Recording the biodiversity present (birds, marine species, eelgrass)
- Assessing the status of marine eelgrass habitat
- Assessing the carbon storage capacities (wetlands and eelgrass)
- Communication and raising awareness
To learn more about this work, please see Dr. Boerder’s overview of the 2021 season.
Photos by Nicolas Winkler Photography, click to enlarge.
From the arts to the court case, let’s take a look at some of the other ways that citizens made Owls Head an election issue and advocated for positive change.
February 6, 2021: Liberals chose Iain Rankin (the former Minister of Lands and Forestry) as the new party leader and the 29th premier of Nova Scotia. Within the hour, the Save Owls Head group issued a press release and an open letter, calling on Premier-elect Rankin to save Owls Head Provincial Park.
March 9, 2021: Beloved Nova Scotian artist Joy Laking devised an art-based awareness initiative: Artists for Owls Head. Professionals and amateurs created paintings, poems, photos, pottery, and even songs.
April 1, 2021: Jamie Simpson of Juniper Law represented applicants Bob Bancroft and Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association in the request for a judicial review hearing. The court case was fully funded by concerned citizens, who raised $27,000.
Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Christa Brothers asked Jamie Simpson, “Why should I be the first judge in Canada” to rely on the public trust doctrine? As expected, Justice Brothers announced that she would be reserving her decision.
In solidarity with the applicants, the grassroots Save Owls Head group organized a gathering of supporters outside the Law Courts on April 1, 2021. Speakers included local resident Beverley Isaacs, Lindsay Lee of Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association, Tynette Deveaux of Sierra Club Atlantic, environmental activist Jacob Fillmore, and Facebook group founder Sydnee McKay. Nina Newington of Extinction Rebellion was the emcee.
April 19, 2021: Editorial cartoonist and Save Owls Head volunteer Matt Dempsey launches his series of editorial cartoons, titled “Iain and his Owl-batross.” His series is featured in installments in the Nova Scotia Advocate.
April 22, 2021: In response to the growing interest in provincial parks, the Nova Scotia government announced its intention to protect 61 new protected areas. Owls Head Provincial Park wasn’t on the list, but it was certainly a driving force behind the list. Many of these sites had been awaiting designation for years.
April 25, 2021: Volunteer Karen Reinhardt organized fundraising, orders, transportation, and over 50 volunteers who distributed awareness signs, bumper stickers, and decals in their communities. The “Save Owls Head Provincial Park” signs quickly appeared all across Nova Scotia, from Yarmouth to Cape Breton.
May 3, 2021: Filmmaker Jerry Lockett produced a video interview with Chris Trider, one of the leaders of the Save Owls Head movement.
July 2021: In advance of the provincial election, residents contacted the candidates in their ridings about their positions on stopping the sale and saving Owls Head Provincial Park. You can see what the candidates (and their parties) had to say, here.
July 6, 2021: Concerned citizen Cassandra Francis started a daily walk to protest the government sale and raise awareness about Owls Head Provincial Park. Cassandra walked for 39 days straight, sometimes in the company of her grandchildren.
July 22, 2021: Volunteer Ian Guppy launches the popular Save Owls Head t-shirt sales. The shirts are designed by graphic designer (and all-around great volunteer) Helen Michel.
July 26, 2021: Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Christa Brothers dismissed the applicants’ request for judicial review. While she did recognize significant points in the applicants’ case, many found her decision concerning:
“Neither the province’s previous misrepresentations about Owls Head, nor its history of public consultation in relation to parks and protected areas, entitles the applicants to be consulted before decisions are made about the protection or sale of Owls Head Crown lands.”JUDICIAL REVIEW APPLICATION DECISION, PARAGRAPH 186 (Our emphasis in bold)
July 31, 2021: Nova Scotia filmmaker Jerry Lockett concluded his great “Protectors of the Park” series, a collection of short videos inspired by environmental advocates, scientists, and participants in the legal case.
August 7, 2021: Mi’kmaw Grandmothers and members of the grassroots “Save Owls Head” movement host rallies in Halifax, Annapolis Royal, and Wolfville, calling on Nova Scotian voters to protect our parks and public lands at the ballot box.
Elizabeth Marshall shared a story that left some in the crowd in tears. “When I went to Owls Head I saw a female bear come out of the woods and she stopped and she looked at me and she captured my heart and I knew why I was there,” Marshall said.Yvette D’Entremont, The Halifax Examiner: Hundreds Rally for Owls Head
“It’s not for my non-Indigenous neighbours, although I love you guys. I’m here for the water, I’m here for the land, and I’m here for the bear and all the fauna and the fish and everything. So people, don’t give up. We’re going to defeat them. We’re going to win and Owls Head will be protected because we are going to make sure of it.”
August 17, 2021: Nova Scotia held its 41st provincial general election. The Save Owls Head group achieved its goal of 10,000 members on Facebook by election day.
Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Christa Brothers had written in her decision, “Proper recourse in our constitutional democracy is not through the courts, but at the ballot box.”
Lawyer Jamie Simpson and journalist Stephen Kimber rightly pointed out that the ballot box is a “too blunt an instrument” to solve issues such as this at the polls, particularly since most citizens aren’t single-issue voters. Nevertheless, members of the Save Owls Head movement took voting in the provincial election very seriously.
In the end, the Liberals were resoundingly voted out in favour of the Progressive Conservatives, whose land protection goal is a minimum of 20% by 2030.” In their platform, the PCs also vowed to legally protect all of the remaining sites from Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan (see pages 117-118).
“I drove around the province quite a bit during the campaign period and I saw Owls Head signs in Louisburg, I saw them on the South Shore; they’re everywhere. A lot of people connected with the Owls Head issue and it wasn’t just about that piece of land on the Eastern Shore not being protected. I think it was a lot about the sense that the government had done something in secret, without telling people, with a piece of public land and made a deal to build a golf course. People didn’t like it and it was very hard for Iain Rankin, who was the Minister at the time that was done, to get past that. It came up in the debates and I think it sort of hung over him, it made it very difficult for him to establish goodwill when it came to some big environmental promises.”Political commentator Brian Flinn
June 29, 2021: The Save Owls Head Provincial Park group was voted the runner-up of the Ecology Action Centre’s Tooker Gomberg Award, which “goes to the person or event that most creatively and brilliantly made the news in the past year.” Environmental activist Jacob Fillmore won first place. (The Save Owls Head group was also nominated for the EAC’s Danielle Moore Sunshine Award.)
July 6, 2021: On a CPAWS-NS research trip to Owls Head Provincial Park, the group spotted an endangered leatherback sea turtle close to shore. “This is a species in trouble,” Executive Director Chris Miller said. “There’s been a 70 per cent decline in this population globally, and the population is continuing to head in the wrong direction.”
Designated as an endangered species in 2003, the leatherback sea turtle migrates across the Atlantic or Pacific oceans after nesting. They’re the world’s largest reptile – weighing up to 2,000 lbs – and feed on jellyfish. The Atlantic leatherback sea turtles that have been seen off the coast of Nova Scotia are facing a 5 percent population loss annually.Robert Devet, The Nova Scotia Advocate
September 17, 2021: Bob Bancroft and Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association sent a letter to newly elected Premier Houston and Minister Tory Rushton (DNRR) asking them for a commitment to legally protect Owls Head.
October 7, 2021: The official notice that the applicants were going to appeal the decision was served. Bob Bancroft and Forest Watch decided to appeal because they did not receive a response from Minister Rushton before the deadline and because they felt they should continue to fight for the public trust doctrine in this case.
October 15, 2021: NDP Leader Gary Burrill introduced The Owls Head Act (An Act Respecting Parks and Protected Areas). If passed, the Owls Head Act would have strengthened the protections of provincial parks, nature reserves, and wilderness areas awaiting designation in Nova Scotia. The Act would have ensured that these properties couldn’t be delisted without public consultation. (The Owls Head Act was defeated by the PC Party on November 3, 2021).
October 16, 2021: The Mi’kmaw Grassroots Grandmothers (Land and Water Protectors) host a sacred Water Bundle Ceremony at Owls Head Provincial Park. Led by Grassroots Grandmother Dorene Bernard, the event also included settler allies.
October 28, 2021: The formal (paper) petition calling on the provincial government to save Owls Head Provincial Park surpassed 10,000 signatures from concerned Nova Scotians.
November 3, 2021: The Owls Head Act was defeated with a vote of 28 against and 22 in favour. The PCs voted against the bill. The NDP and an Independent MLA voted in favour, as did the Liberal party—the government responsible for secretly delisting and offering to sell Owls Head Provincial Park in the first place.
“We do not have the support of the government of Nova Scotia necessary to make this project a reality,” Lighthouse Links wrote in a statement released to the media.
Former park planner Christopher Trider hailed the victory: “This is an important achievement for all Nova Scotians concerned about our parks, our coastlines, our environment, and—perhaps, most of all—our government.”
See: Nova Scotians defeat billionaire developers who tried to swoop in on park in Canada’s National Observer
November 24, 2021: The court approved Ecojustice as an intervenor in the court appeal.
November 25, 2021: “My desire is to protect that land,” Premier Tim Houston says of Owls Head Provincial Park. “We understand the importance of Owls Head, we understand the importance of listening to Nova Scotians on what they want to happen in their province.”
November 28, 2021: The change.org petition to save Owls Head Provincial Park surpassed 40,000 signatures.
November 30, 2021: The Assembly of Mi’kmaw Chiefs released a press release: Assembly Assess Future of Owl’s Head Provincial Park. “We want to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again for any other properties under this Plan,” emphasized Chief Denny.
December 1, 2021: A group of concerned citizens met with Eastern Shore MLA Kent Smith to discuss the park’s ecological values, the broader park network, and new opportunities for the province.
The group included former park planner Christopher Trider, marine biologist Dr. Kristina Boerder, experiential tourism operator Celes Davar, local advocates Pam Baker and Beverley Isaacs, and Lindsay Lee of saveowlshead.org. The presentation proposed ways to ensure legal protection, honour important cultural landscapes, and invest in the Eastern Shore as a nature tourism destination.