AMHERST – With calls to double tourism revenues in Nova Scotia, Bill Casey feels an opportunity is available at the provincial border that’s too good to overlook.
Speaking to members of the Amherst Rotary Club on Monday, Casey said the former Acadian village of Beaubassin, the Chignecto Marine Ship Railway and the site of the Eddy Rebellion in 1776 could be turned into a tourist attraction.
“Now is the time to take advantage of these opportunities,” said Casey, who lobbied the federal government to purchase the land where Beaubassin said until 1750 and turn it into a National Historic Site. “There are historic sites and ones of significance located right at the entrance to our province. We’re poised perfectly to take advantage of this.”
While the federal government owns Beaubassin, nothing has been done there since the last archeological dig in 2011 and while one sign welcomes people to the historic site another warns them to keep out.
The province purchased the ship railway several years ago and is considering what to do with the property.
Just across the border is Fort Beausejour, which was known as Fort Cumberland, after British forces took the fort in 1756. Twenty years later it would be the site of siege of Fort Cumberland by Jonathan Eddy and militia from New England.
“Who knows what could have happened had they succeeded,” Casey said. “It’s quite possible we would not be part of Canada right now, but part of New England and Obama would be our president.”
While he believes governments at all levels need to act, Casey said it’s important for the community to get the process started by creating a committee of people from all walks of life.
Casey said the Fort Lawrence ridge is full of history, but it has been overlooked by both the federal and provincial governments in favour of tourist attractions at Louisbourg in Cape Breton and Grand Pre and Port Royale in the Annapolis Valley.
He said Beaubassin is the most intact Acadian village on the planet and would like to see it become home to an interpretive centre before Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017. He would also like to see part of the village recreated to attract tourists off the Trans-Canada Highway.
The archaeological dig that ran from 2007 to 2011 turned up thousands of artifacts that showed Beaubassin was a centre of trade and showed the relationship between the Acadians and First Nations peoples. It’s also where the expulsion of the Acadians begun.
“I remember in 2004 when we hosted the World Acadian Congress, thousands of descendants from around the world just quietly walked through the field at Beaubassin. It’s their history. It was so moving and so quiet you could hear a pin drop,” Casey said.
Had it been completed, Casey said, the ship railway would have been an engineering marvel of the late 1890s and early 1900s. It was a year from being completed because of delays caused by bogs near the Baie Verte portion of the railway.
The money ran out, the federal government changed and the project collapsed. Casey said pieces of the ship railway continue to be unearthed by Mother Nature while some of its remnants remain at both ends.
Casey said the ship railway has been a special place for him since he was 10. He remembers camping and the exploring the area as a child and later owned it before selling the 142-hectare, 27-kilometre piece of property to the province in February 2012 for $357,000 – well below its appraised market price.
“There’s a ton of history concentrated in one place, at the gateway to Nova Scotia,” said Casey, who was MP from 1988 to 1993 and from 1997 until his retirement as an Independent in 2009. “This is too important to let slip away. We can’t leave this all to government because it won’t get done without the community. We need a citizen’s advisory committee to move this process along.”
The former MP is seeking a return to federal politics and is seeking the Liberal nomination in Cumberland-Colchester where he will run against his former party, the Conservatives and his friend, sitting MP Scott Armstrong.