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Halifax to reassess boundaries of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes

Parks Canada considers area for national urban park

4 min read
A row of trees, bushes, and rocks covered with a light layer of snow juts out into a lake from the left.
caption A fresh layer of snow covers the forest on the edge of Susies Lake on Sunday. The lake is in the southern part of the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lake wilderness area.
Victoria Welland

Halifax regional council is looking at expanding the park boundary of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes as part of a new park planning project.

On Tuesday, council unanimously passed a motion to move forward with the plan, which will consider including lands recently obtained by the municipality and the Nova Scotia Nature Trust.

“This is a huge, huge park. It’s out of scope with anything that we’ve ever done in the history of this municipality. So, it’s very exciting to get to this point,” Deputy Mayor Pamela Lovelace said after putting the motion forward. 

Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes is situated between Bayers Lake and Hammonds Plains, to the northwest of Halifax.

A map shows the different parts of the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes area.
caption A map from the HRM website shows the different areas of the park.
Halifax Regional Municipality

Part of the land was designated as a wilderness area by the province in 2009 and an addition was designated in 2015, totalling 1,768 hectares. For decades, Halifax has promised a park to act as a buffer around the wilderness area. Tuesday’s motion means that more of the area around the edges of the wilderness could be protected from encroaching development. 

The area to the north of the proposed Highway 113 would be included in the park boundary under consideration, said Richard Harvey, manager of policy and planning and author of the staff report.

Diana Whalen is a director of Friends of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Society and a former deputy premier. She and the board of the society sent a letter to council Tuesday morning addressing their concerns with the motion.

In the letter, the society said the staff report does not prioritize the “senior-level co-ordinating committee” council directed parks staff to create in a motion from September 2020.

“Right now there isn’t that kind of planning happening, and we’re really worried about it,” she said in an interview. “That’s why we wanted a co-ordinating committee and here we have really no answer to that.”

The committee is important because it would allow the different departments and levels of government to properly communicate with one another about the park, Whalen said.

“There are a lot of threats or opportunities that can be missed if they don’t talk to each other, and even within the city multiple departments don’t talk to each other well enough,” she said. “We just feel like they’re not co-ordinated.”

An island with trees sits in the middle of a lake with dark trees outlining the fram of the photo
caption An island in Susies Lake can be seen through the trees on Sunday.
Victoria Welland

Whalen and the society also brought up the possible confusion around the park’s boundaries in their letter.

“Our vision is that it goes from Cox Lake in the north, all the way to Susies Lake,” she said.

“I’d like it to be really clear for everybody who picked up a map or read the motion that they would know this was all within the area they’re going to plan for the future park.”

Whalen said it’s “amazing” that HRM has a core wilderness within the municipality.

“I think it’s just what we need, as we move into an era when we have to do a lot more to look after the environment. So, it’s time. It’s past time.”

In August, Parks Canada and HRM signed a collaboration agreement to assess Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes for designation as a national urban park. Part of council’s motion on Tuesday was to negotiate and execute collaboration agreements with Parks Canada.

Council also moved to begin initial work on the park planning project, including public consultation, background studies, and determining Mi’kmaq interests and perspectives. The plan would also clarify the roles of the province, Parks Canada, and the Nova Scotia Nature Trust.

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About the author

Victoria Welland

Victoria is a journalist with The Signal at the University of King's College. She is also a member of the news team at CKDU 88.1 FM. Originally...

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  1. R

    Rick Gilbert

    Multi-government, senior level coordination is essential to effective leadership of an unprecedented, complex project such as Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes. In fact, in considering the terms of reference/membership for the coordinating group, I would recommend recommend mandatory participation by the citizen groups and Mi’kmaq community who are essential partners/stakeholders in this project. I’m not sure if full voting membership is required, but a meaningful voice at the table would allow citizens and representatives of groups such as CPAWS and the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Society to influence planning and policy discussion at the earliest stages.
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