DARTMOUTH – Squat rows of abandoned apartments encircle an empty children’s playground, buried by snow. These buildings have seen better days. Their dull brown, yellow, grey and dishwater green paint is fading. Most windows are shattered or boarded up, while metal fencing and a dozen ‘No Trespassing’ signs surround them. If you look into the horizon, you can see candy cane-striped smoke stacks belching smoke and the outline of the A. Murray MacKay Bridge. Shannon Park, a dilapidated former military barracks, is one of the first things people see when crossing the bridge into Dartmouth. It’s an eyesore, but things are about to change for this ghost community.
The Halifax Regional Municipal Planning Strategy identifies Shannon Park as an “opportunity site.” Some dream Shannon Park will become one of the country’s most sustainable neighbourhoods, home to over 300 eco-conscious people. Others hope the Department of National Defence will return the land to the Millbrook First Nation. Some see no reason why we can’t do both.
Loyd Johnson, a member of the Millbrook First Nation Economic Development Committee since 1977, says he expects the Department of National Defence will return at least nine acres of land to Millbrook in exchange for land his community owns in Sheet Harbour. Johnson says all of Shannon Park was once Mi’kmaq land, though that’s been disputed. There are records of a Mi’kmaq settlement off Tuft’s Cove called Turtle Grove, dating from the 1700’s. The Halifax Explosion displaced the Mi’kmaq inhabitants, after which the Department of National Defence built Shannon Park for military personnel and their families. Johnson says he’d like Millbrook First Nation to acquire all of Shannon Park: “We should be entitled to, by law or by ethics, the first right of refusal to buy the rest of it,” he says. “We hope to match any price that’s out there.”
The Department of National Defence was unable to comment at this time regarding the amount of land they will allot for the Millbrook First Nation. They have plans to sell much of Shannon Park to the Canada Lands Company. Gordon McIvor, vice president of Canada Lands, was hesitant to discuss his plans for Shannon Park in detail, as Canada Lands doesn’t own the property yet. However, he hints that Shannon Park would be a green community, similar to Canada Lands’ Currie Barracks in Alberta.
Currie Barracks is the first green-community project of its kind in Canada, achieving Gold LEED Neighborhood Development certification. The plan calls for the adaptive re-use of heritage buildings, walkable streets, mixed use buildings, locating conveniences such as cafes and shops close to residential neighbourhoods, green spaces and convenient access to public transit. Loyd Johnson says he is willing to work with the City and potentially the Canada Lands Company to make the Millbrook portion of Shannon Park green as well. “Lets say we do get all of Shannon Park, by all means we’d love to follow the green community concept because that’s our style, environmentally conscious,” says Johnson.
Inspired by trips to other waterfront communities, HRMbyDesign‘s urban design project manager Andy Fillmore has high hopes for Shannon Park as well. Fillmore thinks waterfront developers can learn from sustainable design initiatives he saw in Western Harbour in Malmö, Sweden. Both Shannon Park and Western Harbour face the water, leaving them vulnerable to high winds and cold temperatures. Western Harbour is built on a distorted grid, where five-story buildings block waterfront winds. It’s a tactic Fillmore feels would also work with the micro-climate of Shannon Park. It’s like walking around Venice, he explains. You can’t see forever. There are twists and turns which prevent nasty wind tunnels.
Fillmore hopes the future developer of Shannon Park will also follow the example set by Dockside Green, a LEED Platinum development in Victoria B.C. Dockside Green’s development strategy calls for the use of waterways, pedestrian/bike trails, a vehicle sharing system, a mini-transit system, on-site sewage treatment and the reuse of storm water runoff. Fillmore would like to see residents of Shannon Park reuse storm water, feeding it into lagoons, ponds and gardens. He’d also like Shannon Park to become a dense, pedestrian-oriented and mixed-use community that reduces carbon emissions through the use of district heating.
When people head to Dartmouth now, they’re greeted with “desolate and decaying buildings,” laments Fillmore. “It’s depressing,” he says. “We need to tell ourselves a different story about where we are going and how we want to live.”