News / Canada

Nova Scotia beach access pits locals against McCain heiress

The dispute has residents questioning why they can no longer use a path to a public beach.

Joshua Bishop walks with his dog, Maci on a beach in Hackett's Cove, N.S. on Wednesday March 9, 2016.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Krochak

Joshua Bishop walks with his dog, Maci on a beach in Hackett's Cove, N.S. on Wednesday March 9, 2016.

HACKETTS COVE, N.S. — A tranquil Nova Scotia beach has become the scene of a dispute between an heiress to the McCain dynasty who wants trespassers off her property and locals who question why they can no longer use a path to a shore they've strolled for many years.

Local resident Joshua Bishop says Eleanor McCain, a recording artist who has built a home near the beach on St. Margaret's Bay, should allow locals to continue to use the trail that runs through forested land to Barney's Beach, which is public property to the high-water mark.

"I find it kind of spiteful that when it became clear the neighbouring property was the way to get there, she purchased it and blocked everyone," said the 27-year-old insulation installer on Wednesday.

Without the trail, residents must either walk 30 minutes along the shoreline to reach the beach or seek permission from another neighbour to cross their land.

A security guard makes his way towards beach visitors in Hackett's Cove, N.S. on Wednesday March 9, 2016.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Krochak

A security guard makes his way towards beach visitors in Hackett's Cove, N.S. on Wednesday March 9, 2016.

McCain bought the property last year and the daughter of the late frozen food magnate Wallace McCain said in an email that her family wants to enjoy its privacy.

"Our property has been damaged on a number of occasions. This includes garbage being left on our property, damage to plants and trees, and evidence of unsafe fires," she stated in the message.

"This is private land and as everyone would expect, individuals are not permitted on private property without permission."

She sent several photographs showing piles of waste materials, crumpled beer cans in a fireplace and some trees that had been cut down.

Bishop countered that the waste materials include garbage blown in from the sea that was gathered up for the photo.

He acknowledged that a group of teenagers had on previous occasions left rubbish at a camp site and cut down some trees, but says he and other locals cleaned the area in the past and were preparing to go to police if an incident occurred again.

Amy Johnson, Bishop's fiance, said in a telephone interview that while McCain has the legal right to keep people off her land, it's the latest example of coastal communities losing easy access to scenic waterfront.

"What's the point of having Crown property if nobody can access it?" she said.

Local residents Peter MacPherson, left, and Joshua Bishop make their way up the beach in Hackett's Cove, N.S. on Wednesday March 9, 2016.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Krochak

Local residents Peter MacPherson, left, and Joshua Bishop make their way up the beach in Hackett's Cove, N.S. on Wednesday March 9, 2016.

The issue has been debated since a provincial research group released a study in 2001 showing 1,800 kilometres of the province's coastline had been purchased by non-residents.

Advocates for greater controls on the sale of coastal properties have argued that development rules don't take into account the concerns of local residents, but others value the investment in local real estate.

Kevin Clarke, a retired real estate who sold McCain her first piece of property in Hacketts Cove, said a land owner has the right to ask for people to stay off their property.

"If it was a local purchaser ... there wouldn't have been another word said. That would have been the end of it," he said.

However, Collingwood resident Rob Weatherbee said he successfully battled a private landowner to a settlement that he said maintained access to a beach in West Bay, N.S., five years ago — arguing a well-worn path to the sand shouldn't be blocked by a landowner.

"They're shutting them down all over the place. ...People come from afar and build a fancy cottage and then they think, 'We don't want anybody else down there making a noise and having a bonfire,'" he said.