Group hopes to make iconic piece of Grand Manan part of national park

The family that has owned an iconic chunk of Grand Manan Island for more than two centuries is preparing to bid it farewell.

Property containing cliff-side campsites overlooking Bay of Fundy for sale for $1.3M

The cliffs of North Head, Grand Manan, overlooking the Bay of Fundy are up for sale after being in the same family for more than 200 years. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

After 213 years, the family that has owned an iconic chunk of Grand Manan Island is preparing to bid it farewell.

The Hole-In-The-Wall campground, known for its cliff-side campsites boasting spectacular and unobstructed views of the Bay of Fundy, is up for sale. 

At the same time another group is pushing for that strip of coast of North Head to become a satellite portion of Fundy National Park.

"It's excellent," said Kathleen Small, the campground owner who ran the business alongside her late husband for decades.

Kathleen Small, the owner the Hole-In-The-Wall campground, ran the business alongside her late husband for decades. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

"We weren't aware until it had been in operation for a couple of weeks," said Karen Wishart, Small's daughter who is helping to sell the land. "But this was totally new to us." 

Named for the doughnut-shaped rock formation rising just above the ocean's surface, the land has been in the Small family since at least 1806.

The 50 tent sites on the ocean's edge have hosted hikers and campers for decades.

It offers views of breaching whales, seabirds, seals and fishing boats — all from campsites that are just a metre or two from the precipice of cliffs with waves crashing far below. 

After 213 years, the family that has owned an iconic chunk of Grand Manan Island is preparing to bid it farewell. The property containing cliff-side campsites overlooking the Bay of Fundy is for sale for $1.3M. 0:44

Up for sale are 100 acres of forest and bluffs that include the campsites that were used for cliff camping overlooking the large Swallowtail lighthouse. The land stretches across much of the eastern shore of North Head.

The asking price is $1.3 million. 

Small said the family simply cannot operate the cliff camping anymore, despite still receiving calls from former campers telling her how much the area has meant to them. 

"I had a call a couple of weeks ago from Massachusetts," said Small. "And she said, 'Oh, I stayed up until two in the morning under the stars listening to whales.' She said absolutely an experience I will never have anywhere else.'" 

Many of the campsites at the former Hole-In-The-Wall campground are just a few metres from the edge of cliffs, with a steep drop to the Bay of Fundy below. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Push for a Park 

With advance knowledge of the upcoming sale, a small group has been working for the last nine months on a proposal to have the federal government purchase the land. In turn, it would become an addition to Fundy National Park. 

"Our proposal is that they acquire this land, because of its uniqueness, and add it as a seaside adjunct to Fundy National Park," said Andrea Kelter, who has been spearheading the proposal.

Karen Wishart, daughter of campground owner Kathleen Small, says the pitch by locals to add the property to Fundy National park was unexpected, but welcome. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

"It's one of the only places in Canada, other than Cap-Bon-Ami up in Quebec that's a national park, where you can sit on the cliffs and watch some of the most endangered animals in the world.

"It is a common area for humpback whales, minke whales, finback whales, and a less-common area for right whales, although we have often watched them from the cliffs." 

Kelter said the vantage point also provides a unique perspective for aquaculture, as lobster fishing boats and fishing weirs can be observed directly from the cliff sites. 

"There's a tremendous amount of work, really good work, done by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in those waters," she said. "What a way to educate the public on some of these things." 

The Hole-In-The-Wall Campground has offered cliff-side camping for decades, allowing for unparalleled views of the Bay of Fundy and the sea life it contains. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

She said she's mapping economic benefits for the area. She hopes that will be presented before the end of the month to a well-known New Brunswick businessman and former politician. 

"We're in a very fortunate position where Frank McKenna, has been named chair to a new national committee which is all about tourism economy, job creation and economy," she said. "If we can get his attention then I think it can go forward." 

McKenna, the former premier of New Brunswick, now chairs a committee tasked by the federal government to boost Canadian tourism. 

The iconic Swallowtail Lighthouse overlooks the cliff-camping property that is now for sale for $1.3 million. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Kelter said the increase in traffic to the island would benefit everyone. If approved, it could lead to additional ferry runs to handle tourists and extend the tourism season from the Victoria Day long weekend to the end of October. 

"This is not a huge acquisition for the federal government," she said.

The Trudeau government recently increased the annual budget to promote tourism from $57.8 million to $97.8 million. 

A family legacy 

Although the cliffs of North Head are up for sale, the majority of the inland property will remain with the Small family.  That includes a strip of the northern coast that hosts a portion of the Red Trail hiking trail that runs the length of the island, as well as the actual Hole-In-The-Wall rock formation that will continue to be open to the public.

"The original owners were a part of the Loyalist movement, they came to New Brunswick in 1786 and 1788," said Small. "How they found Grand Manan, I have no idea.

"But I think it was the idea that there was free land and the land in New Brunswick along the St. John River and the Kingston Peninsula area had been taken up, and there was free land on Grand Manan." 

The land that includes The-Hole-In-The-Wall rock formation is not included in the property sale and will be left accessible to be public along with the local hiking trails. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

The island's first airstrip was carved into the property. Material used to build the island's infrastructure, including much of its roads, was taken from a quarry on the property.

An inland portion of campground, mostly used for RV's and campers, is not included in the sale and will reopen in the summer under a new name. 

"It's a serviced site," said Small. "A simpler operation anyway, but still gives people the opportunity to visit Grand Manan." 

Local Support

Although the sale of the land is a sad affair for some who are used to the open access and familiar family, there's hope that it will remain accessible. 

 "I certainly do understand it from the family's perspective," said Deborah Upton Savedoff, who has lived next to the park for the last eight years. "But I'm really hoping that whatever happens to the new property, whoever is the new buyer, or group that takes it over, will do the right thing and keep it open for folks to enjoy from all around the world and right here at home." 

Deborah Upton has lived next to the cliffs for eight years and says she skis or hikes through the park everyday. She says she's thrilled at the idea of the property becoming part of a national park. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

The idea of a national park has Upton Savedoff excited. 

"I think it's a stunning idea," said Upton Savedoff. "I love the idea of connecting Grand Manan to the park on the mainland. I think it would be a brilliant option for this piece of property."

About the Author

Shane Fowler

Reporter

Shane Fowler has been a CBC journalist based in Fredericton since 2013.