Halifax regional council has voted to formally endorse the creation of a Millbrook First Nation reserve on land between Shannon Park and Tufts Cove.
The council’s endorsement on Tuesday was a final requirement by Indigenous Services Canada to establish the nine acres, or 3.6 hectares, of land as an official reserve.
Chief Bob Gloade of the Millbrook First Nation said they don’t have formal plans yet for the reserve, but it will have a mix of residential and commercial development.
He said they’re working on, and discussing, those plans with Canada Lands, a federal real estate corporation. It owns the 87 acres, or 33 hectares, of adjacent Shannon Park lands.
Those plans may include water access and a boardwalk “for anybody to come in just to walk the lands,” Gloade said in an interview.
“Whatever Canada Lands is doing is basically a kind of marriage with what we’re doing on the site. So everything will be consistent,” he said.
In 2019, Canada Lands submitted an application to the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) to redevelop Shannon Park into 26 new city blocks with 16.4 acres of park space and a 145,000 square feet of commercial space.
Once development on the reserve begins, HRM will also negotiate a municipal services agreement with Millbrook. In Tuesday’s council discussion, Jacques Dubé, HRM’s chief administrative officer, said that First Nations set their own bylaws on reserves, but “bylaw harmonization” will be part of the services agreement negotiation.
Council discussed the fact that this is not the first arrangement they have with Millbrook, as they have a reserve in Cole Harbour.
“So this would simply be building on a relationship that’s already strong, and one that we want to continue to foster going forward,” Dubé said.
Coun. Pam Lovelace said that while this is not a new relationship, it is “a new landscape in which we’re doing it in recognition of reconciliation and transparency and good government and nation to nation building.”
Several councillors voiced the need for transparency in the municipality’s relationship and arrangement with Millbrook.
Before the council’s vote on the motion, Mayor Mike Savage recalled that Shannon Park was the “first big issue” he had to deal with when he was elected in 2004.
At the time, he said, they thought they’d build a stadium at the location to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but that event didn’t end up taking place in Canada.
The history of Shannon Park and adjacent lands
The site has a long history of new focuses or proposals.
The Department of National Defence initially owned the Shannon Park lands, which held a military housing complex. The site closed in 2004.
In 2014, Canada Lands bought the majority of the site: 87 acres, or 33 hectares, of abandoned houses and overgrown bush. Indigenous Services Canada retained the nine acres to transfer to the Millbrook First Nation.
Canada Lands demolished the dilapidated buildings and in 2017, opened a trail and boardwalk lookout onto the harbour. HRM began to look at plans to build a community stadium on the site, but ultimately dropped the location in 2019.
The reserve land is connected to a history much older than this. Prior to 1917, several Mi’kmaw families lived in the area and had a school around Tufts Cove in a community called Turtle Grove.
The community was levelled by the aftermath of the 1917 Halifax Explosion, originating across the Narrows. The Signal produced a feature exploring the story of Turtle Grove in 2017.
The reserve represents land returned to the Millbrook First Nation, in recognition of the lost Turtle Grove community and the lands they inhabited.
A positive step forward
During the council meeting, Savage highlighted how supportive, co-operative and interested Millbrook First Nation has been with what happens at Shannon Park.
He also said that he and other councillors have had a very good relationship with the Mi’kmaw chiefs and leaders over the last number of years.
It’s “one of the things of which I’m most proud as mayor, and I think this is a step forward. So it’s a very positive day,” Savage added.
About the author
Nicole Foussekis (she/her) lives and writes in Mohkinstsis, also known as Calgary, on Treaty 7 land in Alberta. She is an avid daydreamer and...