Georges Island was formed centuries ago by the force of glacial ice on loose underlying sediment.
The long talked-about plan to open to the public the island that measures about 320-by-180 metres and sits in the middle of Halifax Harbour has been moving at glacial speed. Government funding announcements and a recent request for information for seasonal transportation options to the island are finally changing all that, in an effort to make the island much more accessible.
“It’s been years for us trying to get to the point where we actually got some funding to put a wharf in,” said Deborah Page, marketing director with Develop Nova Scotia, the Crown corporation formerly known as Waterfront Development that's responsible for driving development of high-potential property in the province.
In August, the federal and provincial governments announced $3.67-million in funding for a permanent 45-metre timber pile wharf with floating docks on each side, washrooms and interpretive and directional signage for the island.
Page said work began this fall on the wharf and accompanying floating docks that can accommodate boats, water taxis and personal crafts, with the goal of being operational for the 2020 summer season.
With that in mind, Develop Nova Scotia has issued its request for information, seeking submissions by Dec. 20 about potential transportation options.
“We are looking for the kind of information that will allow us to be much more clear in what we are asking for when we go out with a request for proposals,” Page said.
“We don’t have clear set departure points. We will want something on the Halifax waterfront but … ideally there will be other locations, whether that be Dartmouth or Fisherman’s Cove or other areas.
“We would hope to have more than one location.”
Page said a reasonable minimum time to get from the Halifax waterfront to Georges Island would be about 15 minutes, including boarding and off-loading.
“It is going to depend on what kind of vessel it is. There are lots that go faster and there are lots that are bigger, and those may take more time in the boarding and off-loading.”
The information requested will also help to form a fee structure.
“We’re asking people for different kinds of costing structures for different kinds of vessels. Ideally, we will have options. The whole idea of putting a wharf on Georges Island is to increase accessibility. We would like to see different types of transport at different price points. Some might be more of an experience in itself and others might be, I’m going to get you from here to there.”
Develop Nova Scotia is intent on providing free daily berthing and public access to the marina infrastructure, the invitation for submissions states. The plan is to open the island, currently accessible only by appointment for special tours or rare events, to the public with daily operations for 60 days through July and August of 2020 and extending the service to run for 75 to 80 days from mid-June to the first week of September in 2021.
The hours of daily operation have been initially tabbed at 9 a.m, to 5 p.m., and visitors are anticipated to spend about two hours on the island.
“Parks Canada is committed to working with the Acadian community, the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia and other partners and stakeholders, to ensure their views are respected and shared in the stories shared on Georges Island,” Jeffrey Lansing, a communications officer with Parks Canada, said of what the island will offer visitors.
“The specific details of this visitor experience have yet to be determined,” he said.
Named for George II of Great Britain, the island has been an important part of Halifax’s history, from its days in the care of indigenous inhabitants to its evolving defence role for the better part of two centuries and its function as an Acadian internment camp during the expulsion.
The request for information says transportation options are expected to consist of return tickets only.
“My understanding is no,” Page said with a laugh about leaving anyone on the island.
Page said the request for information and the subsequent request for proposals that will be issued sometime in the new year should draw considerable interest from boating and tour operators on the harbour who have long waited, along with Develop Nova Scotia, for open access to the island.
And if you build the wharf and provide transportation, the people will come, Page said.
“There is an incredible draw for it, both for visitors and locals alike,” she said.” Any time that we have opened it up for special events, and we did so before the last Tall Ships, and other folks have done it for special events, the uptake is incredible. It sells out or hits capacity very quickly because people find it quite interesting to be over there.”