The Motherhouse Lands Legacy: Endangering the Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area

by Ron Foley Macdonald

The legacy of the Motherhouse lands is having a secondary ripple effect on the proposed Blue Mountain / Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area. The massive reserve has run into a severe roadblock in a new report issued by Judge Heather Robertson who was brought in to mediate between the City of Halifax and the private landowners who have yet to be bought out on the project.

Robertson has sided with the developers, the Annapolis Group and the Susie Lake Development outfit. That means private houses perched over the lakes, all in order for the developers to build adequate access for the rest of the public to get in to the park.

The City and the Ecology Action Center have objected to the report; there is an opportunity for the public to place their opinions in the mix by July 4th. All feedback must be submitted in writing to the Municipal Clerk by mail, P.O. Box 1749, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3J 3A5; by fax, 902-490-4208; or by e-mail,

You can read the report, and more importantly see the development proposal maps, here.

The Wilderness Area as designated by the Provincial government in 2009.
The Wilderness Area as designated by the Provincial government in 2009.

While the report is rather dry, with a timeline and series of opinions that don’t exactly clarify the situation, the proposed development map is quite shocking. There are subdivisions surrounding Fox Lake; some islands have ‘multiple unit’ apartment buildings plonked on them.

This is not anywhere near the “blues skies and rainbows” plan the City and the Province have been propounding since 2009 when the Progressive Conservative government of Rodney MacDonald declared the lands a legally-protected wilderness area under the Wilderness Protection Act. I’ve attended a raft of public meetings on park planning and water quality, all preparing for a ‘deep country’ nature reserve that would preserve the well-known canoe and portaging trails that are still just minutes from our urban area. All that seems to be at risk of falling by the wayside.

What went wrong?

Did the City staff oversell the project?

I knew that negotiations were not going well. For one, the Sisters of Charity sold their land that had surrounded the access road to Susie Lake a few years ago. The Sisters had once gotten their water for the old Motherhouse from Susie Lake. Once they disposed of the Motherhouse, there wasn’t much chance that the largely diminished order would hang on to their Susie Lake properties.

It’s another aspect of a legacy of public good that is drifting into private hands. Susie Lake was, for generations, a recreational area accessed by the old road the Sisters had made so that the water could be piped to a water tower. Once upon a time, when I was a teenager, you could literally walk up to the lake from many points in old Rockingham, whether it was Clayton Park, Bridgeview or Wedgewood.

Most of those trails are now gone. There are paths that go behind Bayer’s Lake Industrial and Retail Park, but anyone can see that the lake has been put in severe environmental risk by the horrifying clear-cut visible from almost any point in the park. It’s like some sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland, soon to be sacrificed on the altar of never-ending “urban development”.

While the expansion of Bayer’s Lake looms over one side of the proposed park, there is a real possibility that the plans of the Annapolis Group and Susie Lake Development will shrink the vision of the Blue Mountain / Birch Cove Lake Wilderness Area to a shadow of its former self, to the detriment of all Haligonians.

Ron Foley Macdonald

Ron Foley Macdonald

Ron Foley Macdonald is a filmmaker, musician, author, and arts journalist who lives in Halifax, NS. He has written for such publications as the Halifax Daily News, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, and Take One. He taught film history for 15 years at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and has also taught at Dalhousie University and Mount Saint Vincent University. For two decades he was the Senior Programmer at the Atlantic Film Festival. He is currently the curator of the film and video series at the Dalhousie Art Gallery, and the producer of the recent feature films Exit Thread and Roundabout.
Ron Foley Macdonald

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One thought on “The Motherhouse Lands Legacy: Endangering the Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area

  • June 14, 2016 at 8:03 am

    Wilderness isn’t Wilderness unless it is buffered and protected. Otherwise, lakes become just enhancements to private real estate development.


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