The Cabot Group, which operates the Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, is intending to apply for a lease much of the West Mabou Beach Provincial Park to build a third golf course.

In 2018, Nadine Hunt and other citizens who serve on the West Mabou Beach Provincial Park advisory committee rejected Cabot’s proposal to build a golf course on part of the publicly owned park. Facing that opposition, Cabot did not ask the McNeil Liberal government for permission to lease a portion of the land.

But yesterday, Hunt received an email and attached letter titled “Mabou Golf Course Information Package,” details its intent to lease as much as one-third of the 215-hectare beach park to build a golf course.

“I can’t think of a worse place, ecologically speaking, to have a golf course,” says Hunt. 

“The main feature is the two-kilometre long sandy beach. It has one of the most extensive dune systems in the province. The front faces the Northumberland Strait, the back side is on the Mabou Harbour where you have salt marshes — it has a lot of biodiversity. You are going to rip and tear the property of trees. You are going to fill in marshes and strip off the marram grass on the sand dunes. I mean, the Nova Scotia government is in the process of trying to implement a Coastal Protection Act, right? This flies in the face of everything that Act stands for. If they give this proposal even the minimum amount of attention, then in my mind, the government has zero credibility.” 

Cabot’s owner, American Michael Keiser who made a fortune in the 1970s recycling paper from greeting cards, is featured in this video where he credits the golf developments for transforming Cape Breton into a tourism magnet. (Some would argue it already was).

The two existing golf resorts, Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, are in Inverness, a village about half an hour north of West Mabou. The “natural” rugged courses feature spectacular ocean views that attract wealthy golfers from all over the world.

The email received by Hunt and the other members of the park advisory committee yesterday was sent by Mabou resident and former Progressive Conservative premier Rodney MacDonald. He asked for a meeting. 

I want to make you aware that Cabot is interested in building a World Class Golf Course in West Mabou within the boundaries of the West Mabou Beach Provincial Park. They are hoping to lease a portion of the park from the Province of Nova Scotia (roughly a third of the property). I should note that, at this time, no request has been put forward to the Province of Nova Scotia. 

 It should be noted that Cabot does [not] wish to build accommodations or restaurants onsite. Nor would their plans impact or impede access to the Beach area. In fact, they hope to assist in enhancing the existing trail system, parking areas, etc of the Park.

MacDonald, who was a vocal supporter of Cabot’s Mabou golf course idea balloon in 2018, has recently sold his cottages and campground business to a couple from Ontario. He continues to be an advocate for what is now a more detailed proposal that includes a map showing an 18-hole course within the boundaries of the park.

A map showing golf holes on a provincial park
Cabot Group included this map of its Mabou Golf Course proposal in its letter to nearby residents. Credit: Cabot Group

Hunt, who was part of a local group that often walked and picked up litter on the beach before the province designated West Mabou as a provincial park back in 2001, noticed something else that is different about the revised Cabot proposal.

“What’s different this time they are offering money to various groups in the community. In other words, they are trying to buy their support. It’s just pure and simple bribery, old-fashioned politics,” said Hunt.

West Mabou sales pitch 

Cabot’s Mabou golf course information package for residents includes the following statements, including a promise of $125,000 a year:

Cabot is committed to being a good neighbor and is proud to support local communities through staff volunteer efforts, sponsorships, and grants.  

In addition, the Mabou golf project will provide direct annual funding support to the following local organizations: 

a list of proposed payments to community organizations

We know these organizations are focused on what matters to the community. As Cabot grows, the community grows. This creates job opportunities, more volunteers, enhancements in community infrastructure, and the ability to attract and retain workers, such as health care professionals. 

The information package from Cabot also touts the potential economic benefits to the village of Mabou and describes the growth seen in Inverness, a village of 2,000 people about half an hour north. Cabot says during peak season, it employs approximately 500 people and currently spends over $11 million a year in Inverness County. It goes on to claim “Cabot has a proven record of environmental stewardship” and takes measures to protect the dunes in Inverness to preserve bird habitat.

Nothing in Cabot’s sales pitch persuades Nadine Hunt a golf course in West Mabou is a good idea. 

Raymond Plourde is the wilderness coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre. Plourde supports Hunt’s position, adding that if the Cabot Group is hell-bent on developing another Cape Breton golf course, it should be paying to buy privately owned land and not asking to build on publicly owned land protected by legislation.

So far, neither Rodney MacDonald nor anyone with the Cabot Group has responded to email requests to explain why Cabot needs public land in order to create a third course. 

Those who know the area well suggest it’s the spectacular views offered by West Mabou Beach park that make it so appealing to a developer selling the experience of “pure golf” in a natural setting.

Nadine Hunt wants to keep the park that way, in its natural setting. She’s willing to say ‘no’ to promised enhancements to hiking trails if it keeps the golf course developer up the road. 

Hunt has already fired off letters to Premier Houston, Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton, and Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster asking them to reject any notion of leasing a provincial park.

Read Cabot’s proposal here.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. It be interesting to know if any of the community based orgs had prior knowledge and given consent to be included in Cabot Groups proposal? Given the state of the non-profit fund development hunger games, I’d imagine employees, BOD representatives etc., have now been directed to not give any public opinion about this. How many people did the Cabot Group just buy with this PR move?

  2. Thé fact that a former Premier, who is from the area, supports this plan is unbelievable. Golf courses are not ecological treasures, dunes and marshes are. When will we learn that giving money grabbing folks access to our resources is NOT contributing to the sustainability of our world. Rodney MacDonald, shame on you.