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Shown here is the Halifax skyline, with Colpitt Lake and the planned Halifax Wilderness Park in the foreground. (Irwin Barrett)
Shown here is the Halifax skyline, with Colpitt Lake and the planned Halifax Wilderness Park in the foreground. (Irwin Barrett)

There has been a titanic shift in my lifetime of people, increasingly trapped in concrete jungles, seeking out nature. This is for their physical and mental well-being, of course, literature supporting the “nature fix” grows weekly, but it’s more than that. It’s a cultural revolution inspired by our growing appreciation of the natural world, of its beauty, importance and decline.

While I’m the first to complain about too many people on my trails of choice, I’m in ferocious support of sojourns into wilderness. People who do so are more likely to be enamoured by a particularly colossal tree, colourful bird or breathtaking viewpoint and thus come to grips with what we stand to lose if more is not protected. Besides, too many people on my favourite trails just means we need more of them, more national, provincial and municipal parks, more wilderness areas and wildlife sanctuaries. Much, much more.

It’s difficult to believe complimentary urban wilderness can be achieved. Space, after all, is at a premium and where money’s concerned, trees often fall.

To my consistent amazement, the Purcell’s Cove Backlands have yet to suffer this fate and, conceivably, never will. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), among others, has been taking the Backlands seriously for years now, particularly a 380-acre stretch (roughly nine per cent) owned by the Shaw Group on the north end of this outstanding ecosystem.

Craig Smith, program director for NCC Nova Scotia, explained to me that some of these lands host a continentally significant combination of jack pine forest with broom crowberry understory, which doesn’t occur outside Nova Scotia. Sharing company are mature stands of pine and oak, permeated by wetlands and host to innumerable breeding birds. It’s a place of charming hikes and thankfully, I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Allan Shaw, chairman of the Shaw Group, spent much of his childhood in the Backlands. When locals asked them not to develop these 380 acres, the company listened, and when the NCC approached them about protecting the land permanently, Shaw was instrumental in saying yes.

The Shaw Group agreed to sell this property for far below its true value, and in 2017, the NCC brought the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) on as a partner. The city will own and maintain the property, while the NCC administers their standards of preservation. The project’s total price tag, including purchase of the property, legal necessities, enabling access and establishing signage, is $8 million, of which the municipality has agreed to pay half.

At this moment, the NCC is only $1.2 million away from its overall goal. With it will come 380 acres of intact outdoors, forever protected between Purcell’s Cove and Herring Cove, bordering Williams and Colpitt lakes. A parking lot will be built on Purcell’s Cove Road and signage will light the way through pre-existing trails. It will be open and accessible to the entirety of the HRM by way of public transit or short drives, probably in the fall of next year.

Projects like this are integral not only for the protection of Canadian wilderness, but for the rewilding of Canadians themselves. If you’d like to keep tabs on this protect, see maps or donate, visit

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