July 23, 2021
The Nova Scotia Advocate
KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The hard-working activists who are trying to save a small community and the pristine landscape of Owls Head Provincial Park from becoming a golf course and resort for wealthy tourists may not have won the battle (yet) but they have been remarkably successful in getting their message out.
Just recently the Facebook group reached 8000 followers, way more than most Nova Scotia grassroots environmental groups. For comparison, the Nova Scotia Advocate has a mere 3,100 followers.
More importantly, the group’s Facebook community by and large aren’t passive consumers who go to the page to read the latest news, click like and move on with their lives. To varying degrees they’re activists, folks who write letters, organize local events, travel down to Halifax to rally, post signs in their yards, and who are more than willing to let the sleazy proposed sale of a provincial park to a rich American become an election issue.
The Nova Scotia Advocate spoke with two activists behind the organizing effort to understand what it is the group is doing right.
“When I first saw CBC’s Michael Gorman story about how OHPP was going to be sold to an American billionaire and turned into three golf courses, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I actually felt sick to my stomach. I will be forever grateful to that whistle blower, whoever it was,” writes Sydnee Lynn McKay, founder of the Save Owls Head group.
“I have always been for the underdog. I have always felt the importance of nature. To me the underdog is the earth, the animals, the birds, the plants, the trees, the fish. They can’t survive without us protecting them. In my opinion, we have done enough damage and it is time to stop,” she tells the Nova Scotia Advocate.
“I know that if this development is approved it will destroy the history of Owls Head Provincial Park and Little Harbour. It will destroy the fisheries, it will increase property values and the residents will not be able to afford to live there. I was raised there, my family lived off the land and the water for generations,” says McKay.
McKay credits a long list of people lending their expertise and skills, from IT to environmental to legal to organizational, as a big reason for its success.
The group has a slick well laid out website, https://saveowlshead.org/, full of relevant information, making it easy to send a letter to a politician or a newspaper, or sign a petition (so far with close to 30,000 signatures!). You can also make a donation to support scientific research, donate art, among many other ways people can engage.
You can also get yourself a yard sign, through a distribution network of over 54 volunteers all across the province.
Think about that for a minute. 54 locations across the province from where yard signs are distributed. That means 54 volunteers, that means ensuring that everybody has proper stock. Meanwhile, demand is outpacing supply.
The success of this group is its pure determination, writes McKay, and she’s right. Ultimately it is the hard work of the core members of the group that accounts for its accomplishments.
Another activist behind the group is Lindsay Lee. Lee has been with the group since the very early days.
There’s another reason for the group’s success, she believes, and that is the sheer audacity of the government to consider selling a property designated to become a provincial park. The smell of backroom deals is simply too strong, says Lee, and people are very angry.
“People felt they really didn’t have a voice, people have really lost their trust in the government after this backroom deal. Our group gave them a place to go,” says Lee.
“There was so much consultation over the years to get Owls Head Provincial Park on the list of the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System. It’s an extensive history of protection promises over decades. Contrast that with the complete absence of public consultation to remove this property from the list of properties awaiting designation.”
“The government orchestrated three years of secrecy so that they could proceed without any public input. And that three years likely would have been even longer, had it not been for a whistleblower and (CBC journalist) Michael Gorman’s freedom of information request,” says Lee.
Lee senses an increased ability among Nova Scotians to see beyond the local and connect the dots. People fighting for the preservation of Owls Head are recognizing that if Owls Head’s park designation can be removed so easily, no proposed park area is safe from the government.
“So many people want to be an active part of this cause. Oftentimes people join a Facebook group, and that’s kind of the end of it. When it comes to Owls Head, joining the Facebook group is just the beginning. We make sure that the information is accessible, but also that there are opportunities for people to volunteer. We make sure that people are able to have a voice. And that’s something that people really crave,” says Lee.