'Diverse gem of nature' in Cape Breton donated for preservation

A Halifax couple is donating MacRaes Island, plus 40 nearby hectares, to the Nova Scotia Nature Trust.

Halifax couple donates MacRaes Island plus 40 nearby hectares to the Nova Scotia Nature Trust

One of the many beaches on MacRaes Island, Cape Breton. (Nova Scotia Nature Trust)

The owners of a 32-hectare island in the Bras d'Or Lakes have decided to give it to the Nova Scotia Nature Trust, along with 40 additional hectares nearby.

MacRaes Island is located off the western shoreline of the Bras d'Or Lakes between Marble Mountain and Lime Hill.

Nature Trust executive director Bonnie Sutherland describes it as a "unique island habitat that is quite rare. It's really a little diverse gem of nature."

"It's just a beautiful forested island ringed with beaches and there are wetlands and marshes and hardwood forest and lots of birds and wildlife."

Saunders says the land reminded his mother of her home in the Scottish Highlands. (Nova Scotia Nature Trust)

The property across from the island has a hardwood forest, brooks and wetlands and stretches from the shoreline up a hill to the proposed North Mountain Wilderness Area

"It's a wonderful ecological corridor that connects those two ecosystems," said Sutherland. "The views of the Bras d'Or Lake are beautiful."

The land's owner, Alastair Saunders of Halifax, said his parents bought the property in the 1950s. His mother, Moya Cameron Macintyre, was born in Ardchattan, a Gaelic-speaking village in the west Highlands of Scotland.

Alistair Saunders says his parents never built on their Cape Breton land because the trip from Halifax was too difficult back in the 1950s.

"She immediately fell in love with the highlands, whose hills reminded her so much of her birthplace — particularly a hillside in Lime Hill, where the woods ran down between the Campbell and MacIntyre brooks to another sea loch, the Bras d'Or," said Saunders.

Saunders said his mother had a special interest in botany and nature so when he inherited the land he wanted it protected. 

Sutherland said she spent an emotional day on MacRaes Island with Saunders, "seeing that emotion of his realizing that this wonderful piece of land is going to be protected forever."

The Cape Breton property donated to the Nova Scotia Nature Trust includes important wetlands. (Nova Scotia Nature Trust)

The province initially tried to buy the property in the 1970s because bald eagles were nesting on the island. At the time, the population was threatened with extinction because of the pesticide DDT.

Saunders said his family wasn't ready to sell the land but did ensure it was never developed so the eagles were protected.

Sutherland said thanks to the Nature Trust, "in the end, it's turned out the island is protected and all of nature, the birds and wildlife, are free to thrive." 

About the Author

Joan Weeks

Reporter

Joan Weeks has been a reporter with CBC in Sydney for over a decade. Many of her stories are investigative with a focus on government spending and accountability, as well as health and economic issues important to Cape Breton.

With files from Information Morning CB