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Develop or preserve: land next to Fort Edward National Historic Site debated by West Hants council after archaeological report

WINDSOR, NS — Looks like West Hants councilors will be taking a field trip soon to better understand the view plans for Fort Edward National Historic Site.

A special council meeting was held on March 16 to discuss the recently released Phase 1 archaeological report, along with other background information, regarding municipally owned land adjacent to Parks Canada property.

“I find that since we’ve had more discussions about the future of this site, I’ve had quite a bit of supportive feedback for going down a historic path,” Coun said. Laurie Murley at the start of the meeting.

“It’s been pretty overwhelming actually, over the last, I would say, probably two weeks.”

During the pandemic, the Regional Municipality of West Hants began looking to sell surplus properties. Windsor’s old Centennial Pool, which had been demolished in 2019, and the adjacent parking lot were among them. The municipally owned lands – located at 36 and 65 Fort Edward Street – are adjacent to the Fort Edward National Historic Site, located at 67 Fort Edward Street.

They went on sale in 2021 for $303,000. Around the same time council gave the chief executive the directive to enter into a sales agreement for the property, the municipality initiated a rezoning process to change the designation from open space (community) to R2 (residential) .

It was then that a community movement to stop West Hants from rezoning the land and selling it to a developer began.

Community members, including those involved with the West Hants Historical Society, would like the property to be retained for public use and for a museum or interpretive center to be constructed to better promote the historical value of the site. Not only would this be educational, but it would increase tourism, which in turn would boost the local economy.

Jonathan Fowler of Northeast Archaeological Research presented a Phase 1 Archaeological Resource Impact Assessment to council on March 8, 2022.

Fowler’s report outlines key historical facts about the fort, which was built in 1750 on the ruins of an Acadian church.

Jonathan Fowler of Northeast Archeological Research provided this map to show where buildings of interest might be located underground at and near Fort Edward National Historic Site, Windsor.  - Contributed
Jonathan Fowler of Northeast Archeological Research provided this map to show where buildings of interest might be located underground at and near Fort Edward National Historic Site, Windsor. – Contributed

Com. Jim Ivey said he thought Fowler’s report provided exceptional detail and was quite informative. He said he wished he had the information a year earlier.

“As someone once said to me, ‘we are where we are, so what do we do now?'” Ivey said.

He proposed that council determine the cost associated with completing a Phase 2 archaeological study and the time it would take to complete one.

Com. Murley, Councilman Jeff Hartt and Mayor Abraham Zebian all spoke favorably about seeking more information.

“I would hate to see a lost story here,” Hartt said.

After a closed council session, the general manager was tasked to present to the March 22 council meeting a report detailing a Phase 2 archaeological assessment of 36 and 65 Fort Edward Street.

See aircraft “of vital importance”

A representative from Parks Canada was absent from the meeting. Mark Phillips, the administrative manager, said they declined the council’s offer to provide comment in a public forum “due to jurisdictional awareness, this land being municipal land”.

However, he said he was seeking clarification on a few issues, including that of view plans. He said that while open to interpretation, the main sight plan, as described to him, was “a 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. sight plan that must be adhered to in relation to a 6, 7, or 8 hours, which brings it further back to Pisiquid Lake.

Ivey, who frequently takes pictures in Windsor and West Hants, was one of the councilors concerned about how view plans could be affected if municipal property was sold and developed.

“I’ve been up there often and photographed the fort from so many different angles,” he said.

Fort Edward National Historic Site, which dates back to the 1700s, has been the center of attention lately as the municipality attempts to rezone and sell two vacant lots nearby to a developer.  Meanwhile, residents and history buffs are pushing for something else to be done with the open space - perhaps the creation of a museum, an old-fashioned trading post or of a picnic area.  Alex Hanes - Contributed
Fort Edward National Historic Site, which dates back to the 1700s, has been the center of attention lately as the municipality attempts to rezone and sell two vacant lots nearby to a developer. Meanwhile, residents and history buffs are pushing for something else to be done with the open space – perhaps the creation of a museum, an old-fashioned trading post or of a picnic area. Alex Hanes – Contributed

Ivey noted that the site was chosen because of its vantage point, allowing troops to see the enemy approaching by land and sea. The hill currently offers a panoramic view, looking down the Avon River towards Minas Basin . You can also see the highway, towards St. Croix, as well as Lake Pisiquid and the headwaters of the Avon River.

“So when they talk about approaching enemy forces, I have no idea what enemy they were talking about at the time, or whether, in fact, it was the French or the Mi’kmaq or any other group that could have been coming,” Ivey said.

He noted that view plans for Citadel Hill, a historic landmark in Halifax that was built during the same period, have been “significantly reduced” since the 1970s due to high-rise buildings.

“This fort is there because of the view plans and Windsor was established because of the presence of the fort,” Ivey said. “The sight plane is vitally important.”

Deputy Mayor Paul Morton suggested council take a field trip after council. Ed Sherman asked for a photo that would better illustrate the 10-2 view plan.

“We’re going to talk about it for another six, eight, 10 meetings, probably, by my educated guess. Why don’t we set a time before our date and get up there and have a look?” Morton said.

After some discussion, the mayor said staff would arrange an outing.