Nova Scotia

Highway interchange gives Paqtnkek Mi'kmaw Nation access to cut-off land

A new interchange on Highway 104 gives Paqtnkek Mi'kmaw Nation near Antigonish, N.S., access to reserve land that's sat unused for decades.

Community developing land and hopes to open gas station and convenience store later this year

Paqtnkek Mi'kmaw Nation Chief Paul Prosper. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

A new interchange on Highway 104 gives Paqtnkek Mi'kmaw Nation near Antigonish, N.S., access to reserve land that's sat unused for decades.

Federal and provincial politicians gathered with the community leadership for an official opening Tuesday morning.

The Trans-Canada Highway divided the community when it was built in the early 1960s. Now the new infrastructure allows the community to access about 200 hectares of land to the south of the highway that had been cut off. 

Chief Paul Prosper called it a "historic celebration."

"It's really nice to see things come around from denial of basic certain rights related to access to sort of a reconciliation approach where there is recognition of the rights of our community," he said. 

The interchange on Highway 104 is now officially open. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Nova Scotia Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Lloyd Hines called it an "excellent project." 

It was, he said, "extra sweet because of the real righting of a wrong that was done here many many years ago when Nova Scotia was a different province, Canada was a different country."

There are already plans in the works to develop the land on the south side of the highway, with the Bayside Travel Centre opening later this year. It'll include a gas station and a convenience store for long-haul truckers. There are also discussions underway about setting up gaming facilities, Prosper said.

There are plans to open a gas station and convenience store near the interchange later this year. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

He hopes that will create economic opportunities and benefit nearby communities.

"It allows our community as well to essentially break the cycle of dependence, to allow us to view things through opportunity, the developments opportunity brings," Prosper said. "It allows us to dream and tell our story about our community of Paqtnkek and where we want to go in the future. I'm really looking forward to that."

The Paqtnkek First Nation is located between Heatherton and Tracadie, about 25 kilometres east of Antigonish.

In July, voter turnout was 67.4 per cent when community members — most of then in favour — approved surrendering land for the $15.3-million project. In exchange, the band was to receive $2.3 million in compensation for the land and the relocation of several houses.

With files from Paul Palmeter