Halifax, Nova Scotia: Candidate national urban park interim pre-feasibility report
About the pre-feasibility phase
The Pre-Feasibility Phase is the first step in the national urban park designation process. This process is locally-driven and flexible, and the activities and roles of specific partners, as well as the timing of activities and decision-points, will vary based on the local context. Throughout this process, Parks Canada and key partners maintain regular communication to confirm whether there is interest in proceeding.
The Pre-Feasibility Phase concludes with the publication of a Pre-Feasibility Report.
Interim pre-feasibility report
Candidate national urban park: Halifax, NS
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Note: Parks Canada recognises that the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia remain in a pre-feasibility phase of work on this project. This Interim Pre-Feasibility Summary Report will be updated prior to finalization to reflect Mi’kmaw interests and perspectives related to feasibility.
Parks Canada launched the pre-feasibility assessment for a proposed national urban park at Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes in Halifax, NS in early 2022.
Parks Canada confirms that the Halifax candidate site has met the requirements of the Pre-Feasibility Phase of the national urban park process and can now begin Planning Phase activities. Parks Canada recognises that First Nation engagement is at an early stage and will continue seamlessly from pre-feasibility into planning.
This means that in Parks Canada’s view:
- local partners have expressed support for exploring opportunities at Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes as part of Parks Canada’s national urban parks program, including First Nations, other jurisdictions, and land administrators. Together with Parks Canada they have formed a Partner Group to guide the national urban park designation process
- Mi’kmaw partners are engaged in co-developing an engagement approach with Parks Canada to honour the nation-to-nation and government-to-government relationships in a spirit of reconciliation
- local partners have identified an area of interest for the proposed national urban park, including the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area and nearby lands administered by project partners
- Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes presents opportunities to advance the principal objectives of the National Urban Parks Program: conserving nature, connecting Canadians with nature, and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples
- initial background studies have been undertaken to inform the exploration of the proposed national urban park
- initial engagement has been undertaken with stakeholders and the public related to the project
- local partners have discussed considerations for a vision, boundary, and governance model for the potential national urban park
- local partners have discussed considerations for a vision, boundary, and governance model for the potential national urban park
Through the pre-feasibility assessment phase, Parks Canada has heard from partners, stakeholders and the public that the proposed national urban park should:
- protect the terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, including water quality and habitat for species of concern/at risk in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes area
- support ecological connectivity, within and beyond the proposed national urban park where feasible
- provide space for nature-based education and recreational opportunities, in ways that respect nature and are inclusive of all local residents
- feature a collaborative, inclusive, and equitable governance arrangement
- embrace Indigenous knowledge systems
In the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia partner view:
- the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia, through the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs and Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn (KMK), remain in a pre-feasibility phase of work on this project. This Interim Pre-Feasibility Summary Report will be updated prior to finalization to reflect Mi’kmaw interests and perspectives related to feasibility
- KMK continues to conduct research, studies, and community engagement to identify species of interest, Rights-based interests, community priorities for park use and preservation, and community interest in use of the space, among any other priorities or concerns which may arise through research and engagement
- KMK will further support the Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq in the consultation phase of the project once that phase is initiated. KMK’s participation in the pre-feasibility and exploratory phases of this project do not derogate from any Rights exercise or the Constitutional Duty to Consult
Partner group members
A Partner Group was convened with a first meeting in May 2022 to explore opportunities at Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes as part of Parks Canada’s national urban parks program. Current member governments and organizations include:
- Halifax Regional Municipality
- Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn
- Nova Scotia Nature Trust
- Parks Canada
- Province of Nova Scotia
- Sipekne’katik First Nation
Support by local partners
Local partners have expressed support for exploring opportunities at Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes as part of Parks Canada’s national urban parks program. First Nations partners are engaged in co-developing an engagement approach with their leadership and membership, and engagement is ongoing. The Partner Group members have expressed interest in continuing to collaborate to explore the potential for a national urban park.
Partners have also expressed that the proposed national urban park should be a public space that:
- respects and integrates the rights and interests of Indigenous peoples
- protects distinctive ecological features, including conservation of the natural landscape and habitat protection, and that this protection serves as the priority basis for decision-making
- is for people to appreciate nature and culture. The proposed national urban park should provide residents a space for nature-based recreational opportunity without compromising its celebrated environmental attributes. It also provides for a range of various user experiences, so that it can include all Nova Scotians
- is built on cooperation and collaboration. It involves the long-term commitment of multiple partners to achieve success and effective management, and provides for the participation of citizens through governance, stewardship and public outreach
Area of interest
- Urban Area: Halifax, Nova Scotia
- Size of Area of Interest: 2,304 ha
- Province of Nova Scotia (Protected Wilderness Area): 1,767 ha
- Halifax Regional Municipality: 317 ha
- Nova Scotia Nature Trust: 220 ha
The proposed national urban park is currently centered around Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area along with lands held by the Halifax Regional Municipality and the Nova Scotia Nature Trust. These partners have been working for several years to acquire and commit lands for protection and park use. Parks Canada is currently working with partners to determine the proposed boundary for a future national urban park. The final boundary may include additional lands, as may be acquired.
Fit of area of interest with program objectives
Partners have identified an area of interest for the proposed national urban park, centered around Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area along with lands held by the Halifax Regional Municipality and the Nova Scotia Nature Trust.
The National Urban Parks Program has three core objectives: conservation of nature connecting people with nature and advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. The area identified for the proposed national urban park Halifax aligns well with those objectives:
- Conservation of nature: Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes is an area with high ecological value, with a mix of protected, native woodlands, barrens, lakes, watercourses and wetlands. Twenty-three Species at Risk and 61 Species of Conservation Concern are known within or near partner lands in the area, including 3 lichens, 3 vascular plants, 3 invertebrates, 10 birds, 1 fish, 1 mammal and 2 reptiles. Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes is primarily surrounded by residential areas and roadways, posing substantial constraints to maintaining ecological connectivity beyond the area of interest. Opportunities to support some level of connectivity via less developed terrestrial areas and watercourses is an important and time-sensitive consideration.
- Connecting people with nature: Halifax, NS has become one of the fastest growing areas in Canada. Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes is already a popular destination for informal access by local residents, with documented activities including swimming and hiking, paddling, camping, skating, cross-country skiing, art and photography and bird watching. The proposed park is located within 30 minutes by car from the downtown core and is surrounded by peri-urban residential neighborhoods. The proposed park is well-situated for residents of these neighborhoods without access to a car, although local transit options and active transportation linkages for broader populations are needed.
- Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples: Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes is located within the traditional territory of the Mi’kmaq. Parks Canada is working on a nation-to-nation basis with the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia. Opportunities for the proposed national urban park as a place for traditional and cultural practices, a place to demonstrate leadership in conservation and stewardship, and a place with potential for economic benefit for communities are being explored.
Further engagement is planned to explore of the interests the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia and urban Indigenous communities at Blue-Mountain Birch Cove Lakes. This area has the potential to meet their needs and desires as a place to reconnect with nature and undertake their own cultural practices in a natural space.
The proposed national urban park at Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes builds on many years of work by the Halifax Regional Municipality, the Province of Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Nature Trust, and local advocates in advancing a vision for a regional park at this site. A number of site-specific studies were completed as part of the national urban park pre-feasibility assessment. A comprehensive background report has been prepared, including:
- ecological and recreational conditions
- archaeological and cultural study
- analysis of land use and settlement
- review of park governance models
The purpose of the background report is to inform future park planning, including integrating connections to nature through associated recreational uses, ecological conservation, as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation.
From March to June 2022, a series of online public engagement sessions, as well as in-person targeted stakeholder group interviews, were completed to better inform the preparation of the pre-feasibility background report. A summary of the feedback gathered from the engagement process has been collected in a “What We Heard” Report.
Through this stakeholder and public engagement, Parks Canada heard:
- general support for the idea of a national urban park
- strong support for the conservation of nature in the area, given increasing development pressures
- interest in the inclusion of areas beyond lands currently held by Halifax Regional Municipality, the province of Nova Scotia, and the Nova Scotia Nature Trust to protect as much area as possible
- support for the involvement of Indigenous knowledge
- support for increasing accessibility at Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes
- questions about opportunities available to enhance ecological connectivity at Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes as part of the national urban park program
- questions about the proposed highway at Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes and potential implications for the proposed national urban park
- questions around future governance of the proposed park at Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes, with interest in a role for Parks Canada
Pre-feasibility phase milestones
- July 2021 – Statement of Collaboration signed with Halifax Regional Municipality
- April 2022 – Stakeholder and public engagement launched
- May 2022 – Partner Committee convened, recurring meetings every 6 weeks
- April 2023 – Mi’kmaq-led Community engagement launched
Next steps: Planning phase
The Planning Phase is the next step in the national urban park designation process.
Building on the pre-feasibility assessment, activities in support of the Planning Phase of the national urban park designation process are being launched for the Halifax candidate site. These include:
- continued collaboration with the Partner Group to develop a shared vision, identify a proposed boundary, and determine potential governance models for a future national urban park, as well as identifying priority investments, preparing draft budgets, and beginning operational planning
- ongoing engagement with Mi’kmaw partners in the spirit of nation-to-nation and government-to-government relationships
- additional understanding and investigation of condition and potential of the proposed national urban park lands, including conceptual trail planning, opportunities for public access, cultural asset management, Species at Risk studies, and an ecological connectivity pilot project
- continued First Nations-led background studies of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes as well as community engagement
- continued stakeholder and public engagement
More information about the proposed national urban park in Halifax is available on the Halifax Regional Municipality website.
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