Georges Island in Halifax Harbour is opening to the public for the first time in generations, starting this weekend.
Officials made the announcement on Thursday on a new wharf, built with provincial and federal funds to facilitate visits from the public.
Halifax MP Andy Fillmore was enthusiastic in making the announcement.
“Exactly one year ago, I stood on the roof of the Seaport Farmers Market here, alongside our amazing partners in this enterprise – Parks Canada and Develop Nova Scotia – and then we announced our plan to open this iconic landmark once and for all,” Fillmore said.
“Together, the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia committed over $3 million in funding to open Georges Island, primarily for the construction of this permanent timber pile wharf and the development of new visitor experiences that are going to enable visitors to learn about the island's historical and cultural significance to the Mi'kmaw, les Acadiens, and all Nova Scotians.”
Pandemic measures have limited the original plans for a full opening to a partial one, with the island open the public only on weekends from now til Labour Day.
“After generations of being just out of reach, this iconic and historic cultural site will finally be linked to the broader Halifax waterfront experience,” Fillmore said. “And although visitor experiences will be a bit limited this summer, Parks Canada will continue their work and their consultation and collaboration with La Federation Acadienne de Nouvelle-Ecosse and Indigenous partners to develop interpretive material and activities that include the full and complex history of the island.”
The island has an extensive history, through First Nations before Europeans arrived, militarization in the 1700s, and the conflicts that followed. It served as a detention centre for Acadians during the expulsion and was garrisoned during the American Revolution. Fort Charlotte stands atop it and an iconic lighthouse stands on the Halifax side. It served as part of Halifax's defence complex, including through the First and Second World Wars. Military communication infrastructure still stands at the crest.
“There's so much more to learn about Georges Island beyond its military background,” Fillmore said. “The Mi'kmaw perspective needs to the shared, as well as the island's association with a dark chapter in Canada's history for its role in La Grand Derangement, as a detention point during the deportation of Acadians.”
Temporary interpretation panels installed for this summer will be upgraded with permanent ones next year.
'A true treasure'
Fillmore said people will be able to land on their own during the open hours – noon to 5 p.m. on weekends – if they have boat access, but Abassatours is the transportation partner for the island, running from Murphy's Cable Wharf.
Dennis Campbell, CEO of Ambassatours, said it is a big deal for the company.
“It's bringing to life a true treasure that we have in the harbour that many, many locals have no idea just how special Georges Island is, and the history is absolutely incredible,” he said.
Archeologist Sara Beanlands, a founding partner of Boreas Heritage Consulting Inc., was overseeing a work site next to the wharf, as her team members, clad in white overalls, dug into the earth in search of artifacts.
“For us as archeologists, it's giving us an opportunity to uncover some of the buried history of the island,” Beanlands said. “The new infrastructure that's gone in and will continue to go in as Parks Canada develops the island for public access has allowed us the opportunity to have a look at some of the archeology and make sure that the archeological resources in that area are well managed and preserved.”
Tour tickets are $19.57 for adults, with reduced fares for seniors, families, youth and children. There are also picnic packages available. Details are online at visitgeorgesisland.ca.