Owls Head Provincial Park has been a candidate for legal protection since the 1970s. It was a key component of the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System, Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan, and more. Let’s take a look at the park’s history and the extraordinary campaign to save it.
To understand just how significant that is, it’s important to understand where we started. So today, we’re looking back on its extensive history, the government decisions that brought us here, and the citizens that rallied to save the park.
The Eastern Shore Seaside Park System Citizen’s Representative Committee is formed, following the Nova Scotia government’s announcement of plans to develop the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System.
May 1, 1975
Local community representatives unanimously approve the concept of an Eastern Shore Seaside Park System. The concept is the product of cooperative efforts by the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forests, the provincial government, public participation advisors, and elected citizen representatives.
The Minister of Lands and Forests declares that his department wants to actively encourage public participation in the planning of the proposed provincial park system. The Committee is comprised of 21 locally elected members representing 17 communities from Musquodoboit Harbour to Sheet Harbour. Soon after its formation, the Committee decides on its own objectives.
The Eastern Shore Seaside Park System Brochure is launched by the Parks and Recreation Division of the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forests, in cooperation with the Citizens Representatives Committee for the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System.
The Master Plan – Eastern Shore Seaside Park System Concept – is released in a quarterly publication of the NS Department of Land and Forests.
The map identifies Owls Head parklands as a “unique coastal landscape” in the “Islands and Headlands” area of the proposed Natural Environment Park.
The Colin Stewart Forest Forum Final Report is released by the Nova Scotia Environment and the Department of Natural Resources. It is based on nearly 5 years of scientific analysis and cooperative planning by members of the Forum.
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.”
“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 target to protect 12% of the land in Nova Scotia by 2015.
Owls Head Provincial Park Reserve is identified in the “Provincial Parks and Park Reserves” map series, issued by the NS Department of Natural Resources.
After years of consultations, Our Parks and Protected Areas: A Plan for Nova Scotia is published. Owls Head Provincial Park is site #694. The Plan “represents what are considered to be the best lands for protection.”
September 23, 2016
Application to purchase Owls Head Crown lands from the Department of Natural Resources is formally initiated by Sean Glover (Cox & Palmer) on behalf of his client, Beckwith Gilbert / Lighthouse Links Development Co., by way of correspondence to DNR staff and an attached “Application for the Use of Crown Land.”
September 26, 2017
The Hon. Margaret Miller (then Minister of Natural Resources) writes to Mr. Beckwith Gilbert:
“The first step that must be taken before the transaction can proceed is DNR obtaining authorization from Cabinet to remove the Crown lands from the Parks and Protected Areas Plan (PAPA).”
July 22, 2018
Lighthouse Links Proposal: Proposal for Exchange or Purchase of Lands in Little Harbour, HRM, Nova Scotia.
August 14, 2018
Halifax Regional Council approves 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). The Plan indicates an “essential corridor” between Tangier Grand Lake Wilderness Area and Owls Head Provincial Park.
December 5, 2018
At a meeting requested by [lobbyist] Michel Samson, attendees determine there will be “No Public Consultation until after decision re PAPA,” (Parks and Protected Areas Plan) and that “Aboriginal Consultation,” likewise, would not be initiated until “after the withdrawal from PAPA.”
February 26, 2019
Memorandum to Executive Council: “Decision on whether to withdraw Crown lands at Owls Head identified for protection in the Parks and Protected Areas Plan.” Submitted by the Honourable lain Rankin (Minister of Lands and Forestry) & the Honourable Margaret Miller (Minister of Environment).
March 13, 2019
The government of Nova Scotia secretly delists Owls Head Provincial Park (removes it from Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan) without public notice, consultation, or scientific assessment.
August 26, 2019
Updated Valuation Report: The valuation by Turner, Drake, & Partners states that the “highest and best use” of Owls Head Provincial Park is for recreation or conservation.
As a result of the primary zoning (regional park zone), the property is assessed at a mere $306/acre, based on the land being undevelopable. That amounts to $216,000 for over 700 acres and five miles of coastline.
October 29, 2019
Lighthouse Links submits an updated proposal. The public later finds out that this updated proposal includes blowing up the park’s rock ridges and grinding them into sand. Journalist Richard Bell later describes the plan as “literally grinding the park as it now exists into biological, ecological, and geological oblivion.”
December 16, 2019
Letter of Offer between Minister Lands & Forestry Iain Rankin and Lighthouse Links Development Co. sets out the terms between the two parties. The Letter of Offer contains no expiry date.
December 18, 2019
Investigative journalist Michael Gorman of the CBC beaks the story, thanks to a whistle-blower and a freedom of information request.
December 19, 2019
Sydnee Lynn McKay launches the Save Owls Head Provincial Park Facebook group.
January 13, 2020
The Nova Scotia government sanitizes its websites of references to Owls Head Provincial Park. The government surreptitiously removes the Owls Head Provincial Park Protection Values Sheet and erases Owls Head Provincial Park from the online Parks and Protected Areas map.
February 7, 2020
Stefan Sinclair-Fortin of The Signal reports, “Minister of Lands and Forestry Iain Rankin said he is aware of the public’s interest, but has no plans to protect the area.”
March 23, 2020
Biologists Caitlin Porter and Dr. Jeremy Lundholm submit the Report on the Ecological Importance of Owls Head Crown land to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.
April 1, 2020
Jamie Simpson of Juniper Law represents the applicants (Bob Bancroft and Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association) in the judicial review hearing.
June 28, 2020
The Chronicle Herald reports, “Of 206 provincial parks in Nova Scotia, 102 are awaiting official designation.” In many cases, citizens have no idea that these “provincial parks” aren’t formally protected.
August 5, 2020
Justice Coady grants the applicants’ request for a time extension. He agrees that even though the deadline to file a judicial review had passed, “the secrecy of the decision precluded any member of the public from legally responding within the six-month window.” He also emphasizes, “The public had every reason to assume Owls Head was a provincial park.”
April 1, 2021
Judicial review hearing: Applicants Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association and former DNR biologist Bob Bancroft (represented by lawyer Jamie Simpson) go to court on behalf of concerned Nova Scotians. It is uncertain at this point when the Court will issue its decision.
July 26, 2021
Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Christa Brothers dismiss the request for judicial review. While she doesn’t grant the applicants the relief they were seeking, Justice Brothers does recognize several significant points in the applicants’ case.
If Owls Head had been formally designated as a provincial park, as was represented to the public, any change to its status as protected land would have required an order-in-council, and would therefore have been public knowledge. Ultimately, the government’s own misrepresentation of the status of the lands shielded its actions from scrutiny and allowed purportedly protected lands to be considered for sale, out of the public eye.Judicial Review Application Decision, Paragraph 2
Ultimately, Justice Brothers rules:
“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.”
October 7, 2021
The applicants (Bob Bancroft and Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association) serve notice that they are going to appeal the court’s decision.
“We think that it’s time to make that shift in common law, the environment has become such an important issue for Nova Scotians and Canadians generally that it is time to recognize that the government does have an obligation to be transparent when it comes to important lands with ecological values,” lawyer Jamie Simpson explains.
November 23, 2021
After nearly two years of fierce public resistance, Lighthouse Links Development Co. withdraws from the Letter of Offer, citing a lack of government support.
November 24, 2021
The court approves Ecojustice as an intervenor in the appeal on the consent of the applicants and the province (and “no comment’ by Lighthouse Links). Lighthouse Links advises the court that they wouldn’t be participating in the appeal.
January 13, 2022
Minister Rushton (Natural Resources and Renewables) confirms that the Houston government will legally protect Owls Head: “I’ve asked my department to prioritize this piece of land to move it forward. There’s a lot of steps that have to go into it, but rest assured, as we go through those steps, we’re certainly going to be very transparent as to where this land is going to go. It will be protected one way or another.”
February 15, 2022
Jamie Simpson files the appeal books for Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association and Bob Bancroft, who remain concerned about protecting the public trust and the numerous other parks in a vulnerable position in Nova Scotia. (The appeal hearing is scheduled for October 5, 2022)
June 14, 2022