DIGBY, N.S. – Open Spaces Committee members hosted a public meeting Feb. 8 at the Digby Fish and Game Club to gather ideas around possible uses for the Haines Lake property.
Digby District 2 Councillor Matthew Ross, Digby municipal deputy CAO Jeff Sunderland, DARC recreation manager Bob Powell and trails and open spaces co-ordinator Jonathan Riley welcomed about 30 members of the public. (DARC is the Digby Area Recreation Commission.) There were lively, round-table discussions where ideas were tossed around for the property, which the municipality acquired in 2016.
All four men sit on the Open Spaces Committee, along with Coun. David Tudor, and previously hosted a public open house at the Haines Lake property in September where information was gathered through surveys completed by interested participants. Twenty-four of those 27 survey respondents identified nature and picnics as their top ideas, while swimming, canoeing and kayaking each received 21 votes. The Feb. 8 discussions centred around similar ideas, with swimming lessons, picnics, kayaking and canoeing again identified as activities people would want to see happen.
Digby residents Leigh and Lesa Theriault were among the residents who attended the Feb. 8 meeting.
“We just took an interest in the piece of property and we’re hoping they’ll open it up so we can do a bit of canoeing, kayaking and swimming there,” Lesa said.
“When I was a young fellow we could go anywhere around Haines Lake, Porters Lake, there were beaches everywhere. That’s now all cottages,” said Leigh, who grew up near Haines Lake. “There’s not a place to go anymore to put a canoe in or swim with your family and picnic anywhere in this area – other than the Fish and Game and that’s pretty well filled up with trailers or campers, so it would be nice to have another place to go.”
Leigh said when he was a youth, he went swimming, biking, skating, fishing and canoeing at Haines Lake.
“It was more like a public space,” he said, adding he was pleased that part of the lakefront is coming back into the public domain. “It should be able to be utilized by the community.”
Digby resident Sharon White also attended the meeting.
“I love that they’re getting community input on what to do with the property,” she said. “I also like the whole idea of people getting back to nature, back to the land, getting people outdoors again – who knows what this could be in 20 years.”
Matthew Ross said there is public access to the lake at the Fish and Game Club, and the intention is not to impact on that space.
“The municipality acquired this land and we want to be able to do something with it,” he said. “We want to do something different than the Fish and Game is doing – have a little place that people can come to, so we organized this event to get more ideas about what we can do. That’s what this is all about – getting people engaged around the space.”
Ross was pleased with the turnout at the meeting and said he also received about a dozen phone calls from interested people who couldn’t attend. He said anyone else who is interested or curious about the property and plans is welcome to contact committee members.
As the evening’s discussions centred around generating ideas for the waterfront, the property and the buildings, Ross said they already have plans to install public washrooms in the former DNR building that’s at the site.
The committee also has plans to put a new roof on the barn and has applied for a grant with hopes of getting further development funds. Ross is pretty confident the municipality will budget some money for the property this year as well.
Ross grew up in the district and has fond memories of Haines Lake. If some of the ideas go ahead, the project could bring his childhood memories of the lake full circle.
“I did swimming lessons here, that would be about 32 years ago,” he said. “This is a great property – and a great opportunity.”
He said the biggest thing they’re hearing from the public are thoughts around the preservation of the site.
“People don’t want to see it as a 24-hour, motorized piece of property – they want it to just be slow, quiet, family-oriented – motors are already allowed on the lake – so people don’t want to see another spot for motorized vehicles,” Ross said.
The committee will look at the ideas offered through both public processes, make some decisions and present their ideas to the municipality’s council.
“We did kayaking lessons there last summer, and it was a small group, but it was a good group,” Ross said. “I think it will be good to do that again next summer. Build on that group that was there last summer. It’s a slow start to this development, and it’s going to take some time, but this is a long-term project.”