On campus
In the harbour


1. Richard Butts, Clayton Developments, and the Purcells Cove backlands

The Purcells Cove backlands.
The Purcells Cove backlands.

Let’s have a quick refresher on the Purcells Cove backlands, which is that stretch of undeveloped land roughly between Spryfield and Purcells Cove.

The backlands are the site of two large lakes — Colpitt and Williams Lakes — as well as several streams, most notably McIntosh Run. There are lots of granite outcrops that provide spectacular views of downtown Halifax and the highlands of Clayton Park. The vegetation is a mix of scrub trees, pine forests, and some hardwood forest stands. It was the site of the Spryfeld Fire in 2009.

The backlands have always been a destination for urban hikers. Some decades ago, mountain bikers cut a nice trail through the area (trail heads are at the ends of Yeadon Street and Drysdale Road in Spryfield). I don’t know who, but someone built a swinging bridge over McIntosh Run. Of late, a McIntosh Run Trail group has been working to extend their trail from the Spryfield Lion’s Club all the way through the woods to Purcells Cove.

It’s a really neat area; I hike through it once or twice a year. You should check it out.

Colpitt Lake in the Purcells Cove backlands. Photo: Tim Bousquet
Colpitt Lake in the Purcells Cove backlands. Photo: Tim Bousquet

Back in 2006, the city’s Regional Plan designated the area as “Urban Reserve,” meaning that no development would be allowed for the 25-year planning horizon of the plan. After that point, a future city council might reconsider zoning for the area, but there were no assurances that the backlands would ever be opened up to development.

That didn’t stop Clayton Developments from buying a huge chunk of the backlands in 2009 — about 360 hectares on the northeastern end, closest to Williams Lake — and then trying to get the entire 1,300 hectares of the backlands rezoned from “urban reserved” to “urban settlement,” which would green light development.

Coincident with that rezoning effort, the city was then considering extending water and sewer mains down Purcells Cove Road; nearby residents correctly saw the two efforts as related — a giant sewer main would facilitate the development of thousands of houses in the backlands. (During the 2008 council election campaign, councillor Linda Mosher drove me around her district; when we stopped at Purcells Cove, she explained to me that a high speed ferry from there to downtown Halifax would facilitate the development of the backlands.)

The issue came to a head in May 2014, when Halifax council voted 8-8 on a motion to change the zoning. Tie votes at council are “no” votes, so the motion failed.

In February 2015, councillor Stephen Adams made the absurd suggestion that the city buy the Clayton land. The thought seems to be that Clayton is guaranteed a hefty return on their speculative purchase, even though the company had bought land with no development designation.

At its March 26, 2015 meeting, council’s Community Planning and Economic Development committee voted that any consideration of a land purchase be deferred until a Greenbelting & Open Space Plan is adopted.

Enter Richard Butts, who was then Halifax’s CAO, the top bureaucrat at City Hall.

Richard Butts. Photo: Halifax Examiner
Richard Butts. Photo: Halifax Examiner

A calendar note I’ve obtained through a Freedom of Information request shows that five weeks after the Community Planning and Economic Development committee meeting, Butts met for an hour with someone from Clayton Developments. In the calendar note, the “subject” of the meeting is redacted.

A second calendar note shows that later that summer, on August 25, 2015 from 2-3pm, Butts had another meeting in his office, this one with two people representing Clayton Developments and one person representing the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The names of the people Butts met with are redacted from the calendar note, but a week later the Nature Conservancy representative sent a letter to Butts and planning director Bob Bjerke thanking them for the meeting. The name of the Nature Conservancy representative is redacted from the letter, but it is presumably Craig Smith.

Nature Conservancy letter

The letter reads:

From: [redacted]
Sent: September 01-15 9:17am
TO: Butts, Richard, Bjerke, Bob
Subject: Williams Lake Follow Up and Thanks

Hello Mr. Butts and Mr. Bjerke,

On behalf of [redacted], [redacted] and [redacted], I wanted to thank you very much for making time to discuss our concept for the Williams Lake lands recently. We appreciate your openness to the concept and look forward engaging [sic] with your staff to scope the concept further.

Bob, we’ll await further contact from you in regards to setting up a meeting sometime this month.

Best regards,


These meetings were secret — no councillors were told about them, the public wasn’t notified. But it’s clear that by the summer of 2015, a plan was in the works to have the city and Nature Conservancy buy the land from Clayton Developments, and that Richard Butts was coordinating the effort, while city planner Bob Bjerke was assigned to work out the details.

Then, just three months later, in December 2015, Butts abruptly resigned, announcing that he had a new job — president of Clayton Developments.

Four months later, on April 26, 2016, Allan Shaw, the namesake for the Shaw Group, the umbrella company that owns Clayton Developments, and Craig Smith from the Nature Conservancy, asked to talk to the entire city council, in secret. This was an extraordinary request; as I wrote the next day:

Allan Shaw
Allan Shaw

Understand that Halifax council routinely, almost automatically, declines to have people or organizations speak directly to council. Typically, such requests for presentations are redirected to a subcommittee so the full council doesn’t have to deal with them — aside from the various city-related groups like Halifax Partnership, I think it’s been seven or eight years since the full council heard directly from an outside group.

But yesterday, on a motion by Steve Adams, the councillor for Spryfield, council agreed to hear from Shaw [albeit, not in secret — council agreed to hear from Shaw only in open session].

Developer barks, council jumps.


Shaw showed up at council yesterday with Craig Smith, of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and the two had a proposal: the city should buy the backlands and make it a wilderness park. Shaw told council that the deal was being brokered by none other than lobster purveyor John Risley, who made his billions in large part by getting governments to do his bidding.


Details were skimpy, well, nonexistent, but Smith and Shaw told council that the city would have to act immediately, or Risley and the NCC would take their ball and go home and Shaw would presumably do something horrible to the backlands.

Council voted 15-1 (Barry Dalrymple dissenting) to direct staff to write a report, and the whole discussion will go behind closed doors at a future council meeting.

I was at the meeting, but to refresh my memory I watched the video recording of the meeting yesterday. What I hadn’t recalled from being present at the meeting is that the Acting CAO, John Traves (who took the position after Butts left), said he had also been meeting with Shaw and Smith.

It’s been four months, and the requested staff report on the proposed Purcells Cove backlands purchase hasn’t been written, or if it’s been written, it hasn’t been presented to council.

None of this should be too surprising. Of course filthy rich developers meet secretly with city bureaucrats, and of course the bureaucrats work on plans that do the bidding of the developers and then try to massage the politicians, who are nominally in charge, to approve the developers’ wants.

But I suspect even more is going on here. Ever since Butts started meeting with representatives of Clayton Developments about the proposed purchase of the Purcells Cove backlands, the city’s purchase of another wilderness area — the land proposed for the Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes (BMBCL) Wilderness Park — has been sidelined.

The Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes wilderness. Photo: Tim Bousquet
The Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes wilderness. Photo: Tim Bousquet

As I’ve previously discussed at length, BMBCL is that gigantic chunk of land behind the Bayers Lake Industrial Park. Blue Mountain is a high point just south of Kingswood that provides panoramic views of the Bedford Basin, downtown Halifax, and Saint Margarets Bay. The “Birch Cove Lakes” part of the wilderness are seven inter-connected lakes that comprise a canoe loop of about six hours’ paddling.

People have been working to protect BMBCL for decades, and in the 2006 regional plan — the same document that disallows development in the Purcells Cove backlands — the BMBCL land is designated for a proposed wilderness park. A map included in the plan shows the park boundaries stretching from ridgetop to ridgetop — that is, the water quality of the lakes would forever be protected from suburban runoff, and the wilderness experience would not be marred by views of subdivisions.

This map of the proposed Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Park is in the city's 2006 regional plan.
This map of the proposed Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Park is in the city’s 2006 regional plan.

Over the past year, however, the largest private landowner in the area — the Annapolis Group,  which is controlled by the Jodrey family, worth a half-billion dollars — has been angling to have the city either approve development of their land or, as with Clayton Development, buy them out. Once again, a development company that bought wilderness land on speculation that it could get the land rezoned is arguing that it is owed a guaranteed profit.

The Annapolis Group has been getting traction for its argument, both from a facilitator who argues that the city doesn’t need to protect BMBCL from ridgetop to ridgetop, and from councillor Reg Rankin, who is pushing the purchasing option.

The Annapolis Group's envisioned development of the area designated as a potential wilderness park.
The Annapolis Group’s envisioned development of the area designated as the potential Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness park.

It’s impossible for me to believe that the two issues — the Purcells Cove backlands and the BMBCL —  are not being dealt with collectively.

I fear a grand deal is in the works: the city will buy a much smaller piece of land in Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes (essentially, not the lakes at all), allowing the Annapolis Group to develop the area around the lakes, while the “savings” are shifted towards buying out (with the help of the Nature Conservancy) the Clayton Development lands  in the Purcells Cove backlands. The city then announces that it is buying two wilderness areas for the price of one. Councillors get to say they are protectors of nature. The Annapolis Group gets to make a gazillion dollars in profit by developing the Birch Cove Lakes, and Clayton Developments makes another gazillion dollars by selling the Purcells Cove backlands. John Risley, who is presumably bankrolling the Nature Conservancy, gets a giant tax write-off. Win-win-win-win, as they say.


Except such a deal devalues the Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness to a stump of its originally envisioned glory, Clayton gets millions of dollars for speculating on land that had zero development rights, and the city buys one wilderness area (the Purcells Cove backlands) that doesn’t need protecting because it isn’t zoned for development and doesn’t buy another wilderness (BMBCL) that actually does need protecting.

Note: The first headline of this piece read “Shaw Developments.” I of course meant “Clayton Developments,” although the two companies are related.

2. Rain

Is that really news in Halifax?


1. Yarmouth ferry


Of the Yarmouth ferry, Stephen Kimber writes:

During the first week of August — midway through its short season — the Cat carried an average of 488 passengers a day. That’s considerably more than its first week average of 181. If only there were eight days in a week, the ferry would have actually met its own low-ball weekly targets for the first time this season.

Alas, the best-faint-hope scenario now is the ferry will carry 40,000 of the 60,000 passengers it had originally conservatively projected. To put it in perspective, that’s 10,000 fewer passengers than the previous, fired operator carried last year.

And that was fewer than half the 130-135,000 passengers a 2012 experts panel agreed would be necessary for the service to be “commercially viable.”

2. Cranky letter of the day

To the Inverness Oran:

I am commenting on the letter written in the August 10th issue of the Oran by Alex MacDonald, who returned to Inverness after an absence of 56 years. His perspective is particularly notable, due to his long absence. 

As I have been saying for many years, while Cabot has been good for some people; those who have jobs (mostly seasonal, cleaners and servers, lousy pay) with Cabot; and some restaurants and businesses that are hired by Cabot: Cabot has not been good for the town and its people as a whole. 

Let’s briefly review the history, as far as I know it. For over a hundred years, there has been two beach roads. We all know what happened. A condition, precedent of the purchase, was that Cabot was required to provide a beach path to replace Beach Road #2. That was over five years ago. Nothing has been done to fulfill this condition that I am aware of. There has been lots of “talk” but as far as I am concerned, it is nothing but a stalling tactic on Cabot’s part. 

From day one, Cabot has not treated the town fairly, starting with the pittance of $1 royalty for a round of golf that Cabot charges $200 for. Do the math. It works out to a “generous” ½ of 1 per cent. Do you believe that? Think of all the needs of Inverness, and what it could do with a more appropriate royalty of, say, 5 per cent. When I spoke with Ben Cowan Dewar (now living in Toronto, and tourist director for the current incompetent government) over five years ago, he was stalling and saying a beach path couldn’t be done, despite numerous examples of public walkways across major golf courses all over the world, including Pebble Beach in California. Even Trump has public access on his courses in Scotland. In my opinion, Cabot has acted with extreme bad faith, and now they are asking to put up “cottages” which I’m sure will sell for millions. I can’t think of one good reason to grant these approvals until a beach path is put in and the original agreement is fulfilled, as it was supposed to be over five years ago.. 

There is another issue with which I am less familiar, but when the original fish plant at Beach Road #1 was purchased, there was a condition that there was to be a public picnic area, which did, in fact exist there for many years. Now, I understand that Cabot has taken that over and eliminated the public area. 

I am not an attorney, but I do know, if you purchase land with covenants and conditions, you are obligated to fulfill those covenants and conditions. The only explanation that I can think of for Cabot being allowed to openly and deliberately flout the law and its legal obligations, ignore these conditions, including their stalling putting in the beach path for over five years, is that the IDA, the councillors, and other authorities that have the power to force Cabot to follow it’s legal agreements, have turned a blind eye to these transgressions in order to serve the power and money of Cabot at the expense of the people of Inverness. 

What I find particularly galling is the fact that the people of Inverness gave Cabot the land and made the golf course possible, and the people of Inverness have been given the short end of the stick, or maybe I should say the shaft, ever since Cabot came on the scene. It seems that Cabot’s business model is that in order for them to win, someone has to lose. It wouldn’t have to be that way  if the governmental authorities had the guts and the integrity to make Cabot live up to its legal obligations. Cabot had illegally built on protected dunes, and the Crown said that it would be allowed, but Cabot must put in the beach path. Now the present Nova Scotia government is talking about letting them get away with this too, if they pay a “fee”. All the government councillors, ministers, and powers that be should all be ashamed of themselves for betraying the people of Inverness.

On another note, the Margaree airport is another typical Cabot move. They want the county to spend millions of dollars upgrading the airport based on a bogus study that was funded by the people who want the upgrade. I saw the study. The financial success of the airport depends on financial projects so unrealistic that they are laughable. So, let’s take a look. 

Who stands to benefit most from the airport upgrade? Obviously Cabot. Is Cabot putting up any money for this? Of course not. Who will have to absorb the inevitable losses? Not Cabot. It will be you and I, the taxpayers. Then Cabot will come in and “rescue” the county by buying the airport for pennies on the dollar. Don’t think it could happen? Don’t kid yourself. They bought and tore down one of the few motels in town, apparently so people would have to stay at their accommodations. Never mind that visitors lost a place to stay. They have their own restaurants, their own lodging, so not much money flows to Inverness businesses, compared to what Cabot gets. They have never cared about Inverness, only about making as much money as possible, and giving as little as possible to Inverness and its people, the ones who made the golf course possible. This is unfair and unacceptable. Don’t let them get away with this.

There is a meeting on August 29th at the Inverness Fire Hall to discuss Cabot’s application to build their cottages, and possibly take away the public picnic access from Inverness. I urge all people of Inverness to attend this meeting and express your demand that no further approvals be granted to Cabot until it fulfills its legal obligations to the community. They have built on protected lands and flouted the laws with impunity for too long. It’s time to stand up for your rights. 

Demand that your representatives represent you and not Cabot. As Alex MacDonald rightly stated in his letter, a second beach access is also a safety issue, and must be addressed. Now.

Anton Selkowitz, Dunvegan


No public meetings.

On campus


Thesis Defence, Interdisciplinary Studies (10am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Sean Hennessey will defend his thesis, “An Assessment of the Effectiveness of a Comprehensive Multiple Health Behaviour Change Intervention in the Workplace: A Mixed Methods Study.”

Kidney failure (11am, MA 310, Sexton Campus) — Michael G. Klein, a doctoral student from McGill University, will speak on “Facility Network Design for Dialysis.” His abstract:

Kidney specialists treat chronic kidney failure with dialysis until transplant or death. Patients travel to in-centre or satellite hemodialysis (HD) facilities for each four hour treatment, three times per week or participate in home peritoneal dialysis (PD) or home HD. The travel burden for patients in rural areas can be greater than one hour in each direction. Regardless of the travel burden, some patients will always opt to go to an in-centre or satellite facility, while others will always opt for home dialysis. For many, the choice will vary depending on the location of available facilities. We propose a mathematical model for the dialysis facility network design problem, considering the impact of travel distance on patient choice for dialysis mode. The model also incorporates the challenges of capacity management and budget constraints required to find a feasible solution. We illustrate the application of our proposed modeling framework with a case study here in the province of Nova Scotia.

Saint Mary’s

Thesis Defence, Applied Science (10:30am, Sobey 265) — Masters student Christina Connors will defend her thesis, “The Mr. Big Technique on Trial by Jury: Impressions of Defendant Character, Confession Evaluations, and Verdicts.”

Thesis Defence, Applied Science (1pm, Loyola 171) — Masters student Kevin Neyedley will defend his thesis, “Sulfide Mineralogy and Sulfide, Silicate, and Fluid Inclusion Constraints on the Formation of Mineralization and Volatile Activity in the Layered Mafic-ultramafic Caribou Lake Gabbro, Northwest Territories, Canada.”

Thesis Defence, Religious Studies (2pm, Loyola 177) — Masters student Alex Craven will defend his thesis, “Defender of the Faith: Can the Early Church Apologists Inform the Needs and Direction of the Church Today?”

In the harbour

The approach to Halifax Harbour, 9:20am Wednesday. Map:
The approach to Halifax Harbour, 9:20am Wednesday. Map:

1am: Tokyo Express, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
6am: Atlantic Cartier, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York  (tracker)
6:30am: ZIM Barcelona, container ship, arrives at HalTerm from New York
7am: ZIM Texas, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
11:30am: California Highway, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
3pm: NYK Meteor, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
3pm: Tahoma, US Coast Guard cutter, sails from NC5 for sea
4:30pm: ZIM Barcelona, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Kingston, Jamaica
4:30pm: ZIM Texas, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York

7am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 36 to Autoport
11:30am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Autoport to Pier 41
8pm: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s


I’ll be on the Sheldon MacLeod Show, news 95.7, with Lezlie Lowe, at 1pm.

Please consider subscribing to the Examiner. Just $5 or $10 a month goes a long way. Or, consider making a one-time contribution via PayPal. Thanks much!

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Re: ‘Richard Butts, Clayton Developments and the Purcells Cove backlands’. This is a fine example of investigative journalism, Tim. Bits and pieces link in and the jigsaw puzzle is complete. I wish many others who, unfortunately, do not subscribe to the Examiner and may not even have internet, could appreciate this story. It reads like a novel and should be front page in a respectable publication that reaches the masses. I wish such a forum existed. HRM residents who attend public meetings regarding development plans might just as well water their tomatoes

  2. Clayton Developments

    Locally the Clayton Developments area in question is referred to as the William’s Lake Backlands, the area to the s/e of Ocean View Drive extending to the n/w end of Ferguson’s Cove Rd as the Purcell’s Cove Backlands, and the area behind Ferguson’s Cove as the Ferguson’s Cove Backlands. It would be interesting to know from whom the William’s Lake Backlands pieces were bought in 2011 and why the sales price seems to be inflated?

    1. $12,000 an acre is quite cheap.
      Prior to the 2011 purchase the largest parcel was assessed at $2.9 million.

  3. RE: Richard Butts… Thanks Tim for this excellent reporting.This affirms my belief that my meagre subscription contribution is worth every penny and so much more.. Most of what you report is not news to me, but your concise run-down brings this whole tawdry affair into clear focus.

    One aspect of your reporting that is a revelation – to me at least – is the relationship between The Nature Conservancy, local developers and the esteemed John Risley. This is pretty disheartening, to say the least. I have heard vague, but somewhat negative rumblings about the Nature Conservancy in the past and this makes me want to learn more. Tim, when you get a bit of spare time, could you…Thank god for our local alternative media.

    Every candidate for municipal office should be asked about this issue and we need to demand they answer directly without equivocation.

    1. Unfortunately asking councillors about anything substantive is tantamount to asking Donald Trump…well anything I guess.

      Councillors feel they can get reelected by showing up at a public event, taking credit for that public event and having their picture taken at said event.

      We, the electorate MUST prove them wrong. Municipal politics matter, now more than ever.

      Come October we can throw the bums out.


        1. Good question, and it raises a peripheral Council concern I’ve long had: how much is City Hall a large, distinct, insular organism operating like an administrative amoeba, ingesting, tolerating – even secretly smirking at requests for staff reports, etc. – all the while caustically, gratefully aware councillors will come and go with little host influence or effect?

          1. Let’s not lose sight that we have the power before, during and after elections.

            Engagement counts.

            As a postscript our council were the ones who hired Richard Butts and let him run roughshod throughout our municipality and did not question his UNBELIEVABLY obvious conflict of interest in taking a job at Clayton Developments.

            We can make council squirm and we can take action in October.

  4. On August 26 2011 3 parcels totalling 389.7 acres were purchased for $4.74 million.
    The 3 parcels include the triangular parcel at the eastern end of Williams lake, the large parcel bordering Williams Lake and Colpitts Lake, and the small triangular parcel adjacent to the southern edge of Colpitts Lake.
    The other 3 parcels of 243 acres shown in the first illustration are assessed at just $689,000.

  5. Stomach turning lack of ethics by our (we pay for these people don’t we) councillors and bureaucrats. Thanks for keeping us informed and putting the work into linking all the bits together.

    WRT the cranky letter…I bet the Links would meet their obligations if several people just started walking down the fairways in protest during the summer. Just random dates, social media coordination, tough to make money when the great unwashed might suddenly get between customers and their balls. Learn from first nations protest. Nothing gets attention like disruption roads, railways and in this case big money on a golf course.

  6. Council is disgusting. All they need to do is say no development for 40 years, and we’ll buy it back at significantly less than face value (because as all investors know, sometimes you lose money on a speculation), and if you don’t like that, no development for 200 years. Be bold douchebags, hahahahahaha…..

  7. Tim, I am further depressed by your spectacular article on the conversations areas and the incestuous relationship between city officials/representative and large developers + Risley et all, which will eventually do us all in! What in the hell do we do? I believe your analysis and predictions are bang on. Wonder what would happen if Lill MacPherson won as mayor? I believe that although Mike Savage says all the right things he appears to be definitely on the side of the developers – or am I wrong? I’m sitting here grinding my teeth wondering what to say/do? How do we break the hold that the developers and monied people have on politicians and unleash a future that is could be forward looking and equitable to all, rather than to the 1%!!!!

    1. And the liberal party agenda at HRM.
      Wonder where the new branding idea cam from?

      Most politicians are eith inept, unqualified, incompetent or in over their heads to handle these conniving businessmen or they are in their pockets too.
      Someone suggested that HRM staff names should be known out there too and I tend to agree.

  8. Can we now call Richard Butts out for what he is?

    A grifter who looks out only for himself and his career. Looks like that is what passes for public service nowadays.