McNabs in the News

From the The Halifax Chronicle-Herald - Halifax, Nova Scotia

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Halifax Chronicle-Herald Editorial

Preserving McNabs Island

HISTORY is repeating itself on McNabs Island. The site of fortifications built centuries ago to protect the entrance to Halifax Harbour, the tiny island has again become the target of hostilities. Although it is minor in nature, the current disagreement strikes at the heart of what the island has been and could be again.

Defence Construction Canada has issued a tender to demolish Fort Hugonin on the northwest edge of the island. Estimated to cost $225,000, the work includes getting rid of dangerous materials, such as asbestos, lead or PCBs.

But a group calling itself the Friends of McNabs Island Society wants to save the fort because of "some very interesting historical features." Society president Cathy McCarthy doesn’t object to removing harmful materials, but wants the fort building to remain. She suggests it could be used as an interpretation centre; or if the dilapidated second floor had to be removed, the building could be left open as a picnic area.

"It’s a beautiful spot," Ms. McCarthy told this newspaper’s Chris Lambie, noting the outstanding views of the harbour from the fortress.

Compared to past potential battles, the latest skirmish is a mere war of words over how best to preserve the island’s rich history and prepare it for visitors, not invaders.

Indeed, McNabs and Lawlor collectively amount to an oasis of natural beauty, providing much-desired solitude in the shadow of the region’s largest urban centre and offering refuge for people and nature, especially as a nesting site for blue herons and ospreys.

How best to utilize the two islands nestled at the entrance to Halifax Harbour is a debate begun centuries ago and not likely to be fully settled for centuries to come. The Mi’kmaq are said to have been the first to use the land. The arrival of the British in the 1700s brought new inhabitants and ways of doing things, including the building of forts. Over time, a few residences were built, some of the land was farmed, and even a bottling company set up shop.

In times past, McNabs literal-ly was a playground for people who lived off the island. A ferry service became a nautical link between the island and the mainland, with visitors attracted by a steam-powered carousel, walking trails, sports fields and two dance pavilions.

McNabs Island and adjacent Lawlor Island were designated a provincial park in 2002, thus protecting and preserving the majority of their lands for public use. Some of McNabs is privately owned, while other areas are under the control of Ottawa.

The latest flap over McNabs can and should be easily resolved. Let Ottawa amend its tender call so hazardous and dangerous materials are removed from Fort Hugonin, but let the work unfold in such a way as to protect and preserve as much of the fortress as possible.

In that vein of compromise, let governments of all levels join the business community, citizen groups and individuals in a renewed and highly focused effort to restore the island’s landmarks while at the same time preserving its natural beauty.

That will take a balancing act of sorts, but would be well worth the effort. McNabs Island is a gem with a rich past, and with equally rich potential.