Ben Cowan-Dewar: Mabou and Magical Thinking

Cabot Cape Breton CEO Ben Cowan-Dewar

is into Magical Thinking

Britannica defines “magical thinking” as “the belief that one’s ideas, thoughts, actions, words, or use of symbols can influence the course of events in the material world.”

You know the kind of thing; “If I run around my house three times really fast, it will not burn to the ground while I am away.”

                                                    What the Sam Hill?!

Mr. Cowan-Dewar seems to believe if he really wants to - like so, so much - build a golf course in West Mabou Beach Provincial Park that it will cease to be a provincial park “dedicated in perpetuity for the benefit of present and future generations of Nova Scotians.” (Like the Provincial Park Act says.)

Cowan-Dewar explains that “…we are not seeking to buy the land, the province, who owns the park, would continue to own it, we would operate on top of it.”

Let me repeat this.

Cabot does not want to buy the land; they just want to operate on top of it.

It is past time for the magical thinking to meet the reality of the situation:

  • A provincial park is, by definition, for the people of the province – and tourists, too. You cannot chop off one-third of it and turn it into a space for only those who can pay a hefty entry fee.


  • Our government, in its plan titled Parks and Protected Areas, describes West Mabou Beach Provincial Park, in part, like so: Contributes to Province’s goal of protecting 12% of its land base by 2015; unique dune field; one species of bird found at the park is listed as critically imperilled and another two species vulnerable to extirpation or extinction.  In addition, two species of vascular plants were listed as imperilled and one species as vulnerable to extirpation or extinction.


  • The plan noted above was developed by consultation with the people of Nova Scotia. At no time did anyone in government state that we will protect the habitat of threatened species of birds and plants as planned except if someone wants to build a golf course there or operate on top of part of it.


  • Cowan-Dewar has said that his proposed magical golf course can be built in a protected park because Cape Breton Highland Links Park is in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

The logic, faulty though it is, goes like this:

  • Cape Breton Highlands National Park is a park.
  • West Mabou Beach Provincial Park is a park.
  • Cape Breton Highlands National Park has a golf course.

Therefore, West Mabou Beach Provincial Park may have a golf course.


The Cape Breton Highlands National Park was founded in 1936. In 1939, The National Park Service hired Stanley Thompson, the famed golf architect, to build the golf course in the Cape Breton Highlands Park.

The golf course was always meant to be part of this national park; the Great Depression was in its final years and the government wanted to make work for the local people. Parks Canada is now transforming the way the park is managed, recently releasing a 10-year plan that includes a strategy to share the management of the park with the Mi'kmaq, who were living on the land for thousands of years before Cabot arrived.


The case in West Mabou Beach Provincial Park could not be more dissimilar.

The park was created as a natural environment park partly as a response to a proposal to build a golf course there in 1999: specific birds and plants at risk have been listed as in need of protection.

It has been designated as a “core park” because it “protects a range of provincially significant heritage values and provide opportunities for high-quality outdoor recreation, nature-based education, and tourism.”


There is more to say, and then there isn’t.


Our government must refuse Cabot Cape Breton’s proposal, if it finally comes to them, or fundamentally undermine our provincial commitment to responsible governance of our most ecologically important parks.


Cabot is, as they are in Coul, Scotland, and St.Lucia, courting the local people in Mabou, offering money to worthy local institutions, in an effort to garner support for their proposal that is not a proposal yet.

Ben Cowan-Dewar puts it this way, “…the key focus for us is trying to find magical sites, and West Mabou like it has very much the same attributes, as it is just a magical opportunity.”


I agree that there would have to be magic of some kind involved to convince Nova Scotians that one third of a core natural environment park should be let to a private golf resort and real estate developer.








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