Nestled in the downtown core, the Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers have had to adjust to a changing city over the years.
Now they’re faced with the possibility of a 900-car parkade being built right next to their training paddock. The province released a tender for the building project on Tuesday as part of the QEII hospital’s expansion project.
The parkade would slice a chunk off the end of the Lancers’ outdoor training paddock which sits beside their stable, which was built in 1908.
But moving? That’s not an option, said Angie Holt, the Lancers’ head coach and executive director.
“We’ve been here for 80 years. There’s no place for us to move to,” said Holt in an interview beside the stables of the Lancers’ main barn. “Our entire identity is wrapped up in being in the heart of Halifax.”
Holt said her group had not been consulted about the plan before it was made public.
“We had also been led to believe it wouldn’t have such an impact on us,” she said.
Holt said she hopes to work with the province to find a better way to move forward with the development. Currently, the project would bring the clamour of construction within a few metres of the Lancers’ training programs.
“This would be a big deal. it would take a lot of figuring out to mitigate things to make sure things stayed safe,” Holt said, discussing how the construction could spook the Lancers horses.
Holt said the slice of paddock space on which the province proposes to build has the potential to change how they run their lessons and perform their musical ride show.
“We are already trying to do a whole lot on a very small footprint here,” Holt said.
The Lancers have had to adjust to noisy neighbours before, from boisterous soccer games and parking lot construction. They moved across Bell Road more than 10 years ago to make room for Citadel High School.
None, however, impeded on the Lancers’ space so directly.
Chrissy Sawler, an avid horseback rider who’s actively involved in Nova Scotia’s equestrian community, said she’s worried about the development damaging the Lancers’ horses and riding programs.
“To me this is a terrible thing to see,” said Sawler, adding the increased car traffic and large-scale construction could negatively impact horses’ health.
The plan for development shows a “lack of respect” to the Lancers and the community they impact, Sawler said.
“I think this should have been thought through a little more thoroughly.”
Coun. Waye Mason claims the province’s plan for the space should have been more transparent.
“I am completely disappointed in the province,” Mason said in a written statement earlier this week, referring to the land the province would need to purchase from the municipality to build the parkade.
“Why has the actual plan for the hospital not been made public?”
In a letter to Mason, Premier Stephen McNeil wrote the purchase of land and proposed parkade “would not displace the Bengal Lancers or interfere with the use of the Wanderers Grounds.”
Holt said she wants to work with the province to develop a plan which would allow the Lancers suitable room to ride, and continue to serve their community.
“We’re a non-profit, part of our mission is to be accessible to everybody,” said Holt.
The Lancers run daily riding lessons all year. Holt said “thousands” of people have come through their various riding programs and therapeutic riding sessions since they began in the late 1960s.
“We sort of operate like a community centre in a lot of ways,” said Holt. She mentioned the Lancers employ many teenagers, attract volunteers and are home to horses that hospital workers often come visit during summer lunch breaks.
They’re also a busy tourist spot. Their musical ride program has been in place since the 1930s.
Whoever wins the bid to build the Halifax infirmary’s parking garage will have to consult the Lancers, and Holt is hopeful they’ll come up with a tweaked design that won’t hinder their operations as much as the current one appears to.
“We’re just uncertain, and everybody is hoping something good comes out of this,” said Holt. “But there’s worry that something bad will come out of this as well.“
About the author
Sam calls Orillia, Ontario home. When he's not chasing Signal stories, he can be found sketching in cafes, watching soccer or following news...