The Story of
West Mabou Beach Provincial Park
Photo credit: Gabe Mac
Save West Mabou Beach Provincial Park
...once and for all.
This is the second time in five years that people in Mabou have had to fight to save their provincial park from the Cabot Group, even though the park is already protected.
We need to update and strengthen the Provincial Parks Act to ensure that West Mabou Beach Provincial Park and hundreds of others across the province remain protected in perpetuity.
Protected needs to mean protected. Period.
When the PC government legally protected West Mabou Beach Provincial Park in 2001, Ernie Fage (who was the Minister of Natural Resources at the time) emphasized the importance of the site:
"This property contains one of Nova Scotia's finest coastal beach and dune systems in a spectacular scenic setting and is a prime example of the type of Crown Land that needs to be protected for future generations. We recognize the need to protect this area in order to preserve its ecological integrity and values."
The Most Recent Threat:
In October, the Cabot Group launched another run at our treasured provincial park, despite having already been turned down by a different provincial government in 2018. This time, the company was looking to lease (yes, lease) part of West Mabou Beach Provincial Park to develop a private golf course and they hired former Conservative Premier Rodney MacDonald to try to push this proposal through.
Building a golf course in this Natural Environment Park would have dire impacts on the sensitive dune ecosystems, jeopardize the rare and endangered species that depend on this habitat, and set a dangerous precedent for the province, as former government park planner Dale Smith explained:
"The Cabot Group’s proposed golf course development would not only be devastating in its impact on West Mabou Beach Provincial Park but also threatens all provincial parks in Nova Scotia... The recent contention around golf course proposals for West Mabou and Owls Head surely must have Nova Scotians, locally in the Mabou area and across the province, wondering if our provincial park properties will ever be truly protected from the ambitions of private developers and the presumed entitlements of political operatives."
An important legacy of protection:
Once again, local champions and their allies across the province stood up to protect West Mabou Beach Provincial Park from becoming a golf course.
On April 20, 2023, Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton stated that there would be no golf course at West Mabou Beach Provincial Park. This position was reinforced by Premier Houston's office.
We are grateful to the government for making the right decision and to groups and individuals across the province for taking action. But this isn't the first time we've had to save the park—and unless we strengthen the Provincial Parks Act, it may not be the last.
West Mabou Beach Provincial Park on Cape Breton Island is the result of a community-led campaign to ensure that this ecologically significant area would be protected for generations to come. In 1983, the government appropriated 532 acres of the land for "a public purpose, namely the purpose of establishing a recreational area for the public." As people learned more about biodiversity, they recognized that this land is also important for its rare ecosystems and endangered species. In 2001, West Mabou Beach Provincial Park (now 672 acres) was finally designated under the Provincial Parks Act because of its “significant beach and dune system, rare plants and outstanding scenic views.”
West Mabou Beach Provincial Park is site 777 in Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan. And yet this core park—which is a "priority ecosystem for conservation"—has been at risk of becoming a private golf course—twice. In 2017/2018, the Cabot Group took its first swing. Thankfully, the McNeil government rejected the outlandish proposal.
West Mabou Beach Provincial Park has an important legacy of protection and community advocacy. This time, we intend to save it once and for all.
18 more reasons to save the park:
West Mabou Beach Provincial Park is home to at least 18 rare and endangered species, including the critically endangered piping plover. This is one of the very few provincial parks in the province where piping plovers breed. West Mabou Beach Provincial Park has been identified as "Critical Habitat" necessary for the survival and recovery of the species.
Other species that depend on this habitat include the Canada warbler (endangered), barn swallow (endangered), bank swallow (endangered), and the olive-sided flycatcher (threatened). West Mabou Beach Provincial Park is the only known location in the Maritime Provinces where the upswept moonwort fern grows, making this species even rarer than a species at risk.
The park has a high potential for additional rare and/or unique species because of its unusual ecology, from its nationally unique gypsum karst, uncommon dune forests, and the fact that it features "one of the most unique and extensive dune systems in the province."
Free for all to enjoy:
It's not only the flora and fauna that depend on West Mabou Beach Provincial Park—local residents and tourists also benefit from all that the park has to offer.
From swimming and picnics in summer to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter, this incredible park is worth visiting in every season. Visitors can try bird watching, photography, kayaking, fishing, cross-country running, and more thanks to this expanse of protected land and the park's 10 kilometers of hiking trails.
In a province where only about 5% of the coastline is public and protected, having unfettered access to this spectacular beach is important to the local communities and the province as a whole. West Mabou Beach Provincial Park has been the beloved summer playground for generations of kids—and should be protected for generations to come.