Nova Scotia

Georges Island 'a beautiful opportunity waiting to happen,' says MP

Halifax MP Andy Fillmore is hoping to drive interest in increasing public access to Georges Island in Halifax harbour, although the site would need some major upgrades first to make it ready.

Fillmore wants to see increased access to historic island in Halifax harbour

The Halifax waterfront, as viewed from Georges Island. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Andy Fillmore wants to find a way to get more people to Georges Island.

"This island is like a tantalus that we can see, but we have trouble touching," the Halifax MP said Monday.

While it sits in the middle of Halifax harbour, Georges Island gets few visitors each year other than for special events, largely because the historical site isn't equipped to handle heavy traffic.

Its lighthouse acts as a beacon to curious onlookers from the waterfront, but few get to tour its historic military buildings and tunnels.

A sailboat passed Georges Island with Halifax in the background. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Most of the buildings on the island are more than a century old. It's part of what makes the island special, said David Miller, the Atlantic Canada executive director for Parks Canada.

But it also complicates things when people are talking about expanding access. "[The structures] were built for military purposes, they weren't built for modern visitors to come out and enjoy the site," he said.

Halifax MP Andy Fillmore and federal Infrastructure and Communities Minister François-Philippe Champagne toured Georges Island on Monday. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

"Because of that, it's not necessarily the ideal place for just sort of the general public to be walking without some kind of interpretation or folks around to ensure that they stay safe in the way it's currently set up."

To Miller's point, some of the buildings on the island show their age, while parts of the infrastructure are impressively preserved. There are, however, crumbling steps in some places and the occasional hole that needs to be dodged.

One of the former military buildings on Georges Island. Parks Canada officials say preservation of these buildings and other artifacts must be ensured before increasing public access. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Miller said Parks Canada would love to see more people access the site, but there's work that needs to be done first. That includes building a new wharf to receive boats, installing bathrooms and signage and ensuring the historical artifacts and buildings on the island are properly protected.

Fillmore believes that's doable, assuming there is support from all three levels of government.

He spent an hour Monday touring the island with provincial and municipal officials as well as his federal colleague, Infrastructure and Communities Minister François-Philippe Champagne.

A view inside one of the tunnels on Georges Island. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

With millions of people visiting the Halifax waterfront each year, Fillmore said there is "a beautiful opportunity waiting to happen" if the three levels of government can find a way to pair increased exposure to the history of the island with an increased interest in ecotourism.

The former city planner said he believes a sustainable business plan is possible for the site, although it would require capital spending up front, he said.

Fillmore said he hopes the island could become an attraction similar to way Alcatraz Island has in San Francisco Bay.

The lighthouse on Georges Island, with Pier 21 in the background. Halifax MP Andy Fillmore is hoping to improve public access to the island. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

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Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at