Looking down the length of Ash Lake on a beautiful late Spring day in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area in Halifax. Contributed/Irwin Barrett

Halifax has signed a “statement of collaboration” with Parks Canada, with the two levels of government agreeing to work together toward the creation of a national urban park at Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes.

The federal government announced on Wednesday it plans to spend $130 million to create a network of national urban parks across Canada.

“Parks Canada will collaborate with municipalities, provinces, Indigenous partners, and conservation organizations, among others, to identify opportunities for creating or expanding national urban parks in urban and near-urban settings across Canada,” the government said in a news release.

“The National Urban Park Program is the next step for Parks Canada whose history over 110 years has provided Canadians a system of national parks, including Rouge National Urban Park, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas.”

The release said the parks network “will include areas managed under a range of flexible governance models, including federally administered places, third party administered places, and partnership models.”

Halifax is one of four municipalities or organizations to sign a “statement of collaboration” with the federal government, along with the Meewasin Valley Authority in Saskatoon, Sask., Winnipeg, Man., and Windsor, Ont., the news release said.

The Fox Lake Viewpoint in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness area. Contributed/Irwin Barrett

The release doesn’t mention Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes by name, but municipal spokesperson Brynn Budden confirmed that the agreement is specific to the picturesque wilderness area between Bayers Lake and Hammonds Plains.

“Halifax and Parks Canada have agreed to work in a collaborative manner around the feasibility, scope and features of the potential designation of a national urban park at Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes (BMBCL),” Budden wrote in an email.

“Through shared resources and possibility of subsequent agreements, such as contribution agreements, this is to include explorations into the establishment of BMBCL as a park and a recognition of it as part of a national system of urban parks that readily provide access to natural spaces.”

The statement, a copy of which the municipality provided to the Halifax Examiner upon request, “indicates the intent to conduct a dialogue around the feasibility of the potential designation of a national urban park at Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes.”

It continues:

The province of Nova Scotia has designated lands as protected Wilderness Areas and the municipality has identified the regional park as a priority in its Regional Plan. This Statement of Collaboration also includes the hope of working in partnership with Mi’kmaq organizations and significant regional land holders such as Nova Scotia Nature Trust.

The statement, signed July 23 by municipal chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé and later by Ron Hallman, president and CEO of Parks Canada, commits both HRM and Parks Canada to appoint a staffer to oversee the potential park, “co-lead a series of discussions to explore mutual alignment on park objectives,” and “determine the possible scope and features of the potential national urban park, including natural and cultural elements,” among other actions.

It’s a welcome development for Chris Miller, executive director of the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). He’s been working since the 1990s to protect the area.

“When I first started, not a lot of people even knew about that area, and to think now it could potentially become a national park and this very, very important place in Canada, it’s so exciting. It makes me so happy,” Miller said in an interview.

Chris Miller, executive director of the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, near the shore of Charlie’s Lake in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes area on Thursday, July 15, 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

Aside from putting Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes on the map, Miller said Parks Canada’s involvement could help Halifax secure more land in the area, something he said the municipality has been struggling to get done.

The provincial government protected the wilderness area, starting in 2009 with 1,300 hectares and expanding the wilderness to 1,700 hectares, or about 4,200 acres, in 2015. It’s now considering protecting another 15 hectares.

The municipality has promised to create a park in the area since 2006. There have been disputes around the final boundary of the park and there’s an ongoing legal battle with one land owner, but in 2017 Halifax started buying some land to ensure public access to the wilderness, with some federal government assistance. It’s purchased three parcels totalling about 130 hectares since then, and it’s pledged $750,000 to help the Nova Scotia Nature Trust secure an additional 232 hectares.

A map from Halifax’s website showing recent additions to the proposed park.
A map from Halifax’s website showing recent additions to the proposed park.

These plans are still in early stages, with opportunities for public consultation to come, Miller said, but he hopes Parks Canada can buy up some land.

“Parks Canada needs to come to the table with something new. They can’t just rename what’s already there as a national urban park. That’s not good enough,” Miller said.

“The most obvious thing is to actually get directly involved in land purchases, and the land purchases that are most important for the National Urban Park, the properties that are located closest to the city on the urban side of the wilderness area because that’s the place that most people are going to be coming from in the future.”

The statement doesn’t create a boundary for the park, or commit Parks Canada to any land purchases, Budden said.

To raise further awareness of the push for a national park, Miller and CPAWS are planning are a week-long camping trip in the wilderness area for mid-October, just as the leaves change, “to showcase this important natural area and to show how a national urban park can help protect it.

“It’s really amazing to have wilderness in the heart of the city.”

Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. In the midst of infilling in the Arm and Owl’s Head, highway twinning, the 102 103 connector, etc, etc, etc, this is a ray of hope.

  2. Don’t forget to talk the Friends of Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Society about this wonderful news. That is the group that has done the most work in recent years to advance the protection and management of the area.

  3. What does this mean for the proposed 102 to 103 connector highway from Larry Uteck that is supposed to go right through that area? Dead, I hope.