Council Update: Transit fare tech, Cornwallis, Blue Mountain Birch Cove

Calgary "My Fare" app. Photo Jim Wells

Agenda July 21

Transit Fare Technology:
You might recall news stories from 2018 about super-sized transit tickets coming to HRM. What was driving the new larger transit tickets were new fareboxes. The boxes couldn’t process HRM’s existing small size tickets, forcing the municipality to move to a less user-friendly size. The thought was that this would be a short-term nuisance as the new fareboxes would pave the way for electronic payment options, which would then significantly reduce or eliminate the need for tickets. The larger tickets were a sort of nuisance interim step. As it turns out, Willy Wonka golden tickets won’t be coming to HRM. Transit has revisited the fare modernization plan and has decided to take a different approach. HRM and the farebox vendor have mutually agreed to terminate the contract and without the new fareboxes, there is no need for new ticket sizes.

Photo: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Warner Brothers

So what’s the new approach? HRM is going to proceed with a mobile app as a first phase in modernizing fare payments. The big advantage of a mobile app is it can be implemented quickly and cost-effectively because it doesn’t involve installing new equipment. No new fareboxes or hardware of any kind to make it work. Since there are no hardware requirements an app could be available as soon as late 2020 or early 2021 and no hardware means no capital costs. The main expense for HRM is operational: the app provider. There are several different companies that provide apps to transit services and municipalities are typically charged either a fee per ticket or fee based on a system’s total ridership. Transit estimates that the cost to HRM for an app would be $250,000 – $500,000 a year.

So what’s in it for transit users? The main advantage for riders is an app would mean no more trying to remember to buy tickets or passes. No more trips to the store each month. HRM’s intent is that an app would also provide the best price to riders by automatically adjusting each rider’s account to reflect the best overall value based on their usage. Each month, once you hit the point that it would make more sense to have bought a pass rather than tickets, the app will automatically convert your past ticket purchase into a monthly pass. No more guessing in months where you might be away whether it makes sense to buy tickets or a pass. How an app account would work exactly still needs to be sorted out, but providing the best value for each individual’s usage is HRM’s intent.

Once an app is up and running, HRM will look to install electronic validators, allowing app users to tap to pay/validate when boarding rather than showing the operator proof of payment. The validators would be compatible with smart cards and contactless bank cards/credit cards, allowing HRM to add additional electronic payment options in the future and opening up the possibility for all-door boarding since fare payment and control wouldn’t necessarily have to happen next to the driver anymore.

A mobile app isn’t a perfect solution. The main problem is not everyone has a smart phone and not everyone has a data plan. The data plan challenge is somewhat solvable as it’s envisioned that the app would allow users to pay their fare in advance, meaning that anyone with access to wifi could still use the app to pay their fare before they leave for the bus stop. The bigger challenge is that although 78% of Atlantic Canadians have a smartphone, 22% don’t, which means that cash will still have to be accepted, and Transit will need to continue producing paper tickets and monthly passes for now. Going 100% electronic would require a solid plan and supporting infrastructure for people who don’t have access to electronic options and, as a result, is still several years away at least. Council approved Transit’s new plan. to start with a mobile app.

Cornwallis being removed in 2018. Photo: CBC

Statues have been in the news a lot lately as cities around the world grapple with how to commemorate history when the figures being commemorated no longer reflect current values. HRM was ahead of this recent curve with our Cornwallis debate and yesterday, the Task Force’s report was before Council for consideration.

The Cornwallis Task Force draws a very clear distinction in their report on the difference between commemoration and history. Removing Cornwallis’s name and taking down the statue doesn’t change the story of the founding of Halifax and Dartmouth. There is no erasing history here. What it does is it stops celebrating Cornwallis. It removes him from a place of civic honour. Who we commemorate is as much about the present and our values today as it is about the past. That’s apparent in the actual history of the Cornwallis statue. Cornwallis was a largely ignored figure who failed to carry out the orders he had been given to maintain friendship with the Mi’kmaq and spent his brief two years in Halifax trying to get posted to somewhere else. The statue and myth of Cornwallis is very much a product of the 1930s and had more to do with British imperialism and the last gasp of a fading empire than with commemorating Halifax’s reluctant founder. As it turns out, the statue isn’t even a likeness of Cornwallis! The artist used the wrong portrait!

While the Cornwallis statue and myth is really a product of 20th century imperialism, what he has become since is a symbol for all the wrongs done to the Mi’kmaq. The business of reconciliation in Canada is very much unfinished. Pick any social indicator you want, and indigenous Canadians are measurably worse off than non-indigenous Canadians. It wasn’t so long ago that Canada was still trying to assimilate them in residential schools, including here in Nova Scotia at Shubenacadie where violence and sexual abuse was what greeted Mi’kmaq children who were forced to attend. Injustice stretches forward through time from Cornwallis to the present day. Cornwallis has become a symbol for those wrongs and our commemoration of him has become a barrier to Reconciliation with the Mi’kmaq. This isn’t just a discussion about history!

When I voted to remove the statue back in 2018, I had no expectation that it would ever return to Cornwallis Park and, not surprisingly, the Task Force’s recommendation is that it never again be placed in a position of public commemoration. Instead, the Task Force recommends that the statue eventually form part of an HRM museum collection, where it might be displayed with the appropriate context. The Task Force made 20 recommendations in all, which also include renaming Cornwallis Street, and Cornwallis Park, and looking for opportunities to add more diversity to HRM’s commemorative street names. Council accepted all 20 of the Task Force’s recommendations, although we did opt to consult the affected community on what the new name for Cornwallis Street will be rather than accept New Horizons Street as recommended by the Task Force.

In terms of Dartmouth specific impacts, it’s worth thinking about the Shubenacadie waterway. The Shubenacadie was an important travel route for the Mi’kmaq. It was basically a highway across the Province to the Bay of Fundy. HRM will be naming new streets in Dartmouth Cove at the mouth of the Sawmill River and the daylighting project will see the creation of new public spaces in Downtown Dartmouth. Given the historical importance of the Shubenacadie system, both seem like excellent opportunities to engage the Mi’kmaq community in seeking names, interpretation, and art for our public spaces.

The Task Force’s recommendation is also potentially very significant for another Dartmouth project: a new museum. Prior to amalgamation, the City of Dartmouth had its own museum and two heritage houses, Evergreen House and Quaker House. Those assets became HRM’s with amalgamation, and the municipality has had an agreement ever since with the Dartmouth Heritage Museum Society to allow the Society to operate the buildings and manage the collection. It was just a few years after amalgamation though that major issues with the old museum building on the Dartmouth Common across from the Sportsplex forced the museum to close. Parts of the collection are exhibited in Evergreen House, but Evergreen House isn’t a museum, it’s a heritage house. It’s well-suited to be a period house museum for Helen Creighton, but it’s not a great exhibition space. The quest to find a new home for the Dartmouth collection has been ongoing for the last 16 years, but HRM has only recently begun to seriously plan for what a new museum could be.

Evergreen House. Photo: Dartmouth Heritage Museum Society
Since demolished Dartmouth Museum on Wyse Road. Photo: DHMS

HRM is currently working on a museum study that will come to Council in early 2021. The study will get at the fundamental question: are we creating a new institution, a Regional Museum, that will tell all sorts of stories that are currently going untold, or are we building a much smaller replacement home for the Dartmouth collection? Either outcome could work well for Dartmouth as the location will be somewhere in Downtown Dartmouth and both would finally provide a new home for the collection. Based on the Cornwallis Report and the Task Force’s identification that HRM really needs a civic museum for stories that go beyond just Dartmouth’s, the Regional Museum option suddenly seems like the more likely outcome. We’ll see what the study says and what Council decides to do with the results in the months ahead.

Blue Mountain Birch Cove:
Blue Mountain Birch Cove was back before Council as we contemplated a grant request by the Nature Trust of Nova Scotia for $750,000 towards acquiring a key 232 hectare piece of land in the wilderness’s western portion (yellow lands in the map above). The Nature Trust land is important because it would join two sections of already protected Provincial wilderness around Cox Lake and Fraser Lake. The so-called Wilderness Connector would preserve a wildlife corridor heading west to undeveloped lands beyond Hammonds Plains. Protecting it will, hopefully, ensure that Blue Mountain Birch Cove doesn’t become an isolated wilderness completely surrounded by development. The importance of maintaining this corridor is identified in HRM’s Green Network Plan and in the conceptual work that has taken place around the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Park.

The partnership with the Nature Trust is an amazing opportunity for HRM. The Trust will own and manage the property and is bringing outside cash to the table. The Trust’s total costs are $2,525,250, of which, $1,656,000 is the value of the land. The land price has been reduced by $400,000 because of the Trust’s involvement (a less than market value sale), it has raised $161,250 from the general public, and is able to tap into federal and provincial dollars to make up the rest. HRM and the Trust can truly accomplish more together than either could alone.

Despite the land’s noted importance, HRM staff recommended against providing the $750,000 grant. The staff report indicates protecting the lands has merit and the ask of HRM to cover 45% of the cost is similar to past arrangements that the municipality has entered into for land protection (Purcells Cove Backlands). The reason for staff’s no recommendation is the municipality’s finances aren’t in good shape right now due to COVID and the lands aren’t part of the area of Blue Mountain Birch Cove where HRM has been focussing its acquisition efforts. The report notes that funds are available in the Parkland Reserve, but those funds could be needed over the next few years for other park projects, especially if COVID’s economic fallout lingers with resulting impacts on HRM’s budget.

I appreciate staff’s caution, but opportunities like this don’t come along every day. What the Nature Trust had to offer was simply too good to pass up. Council overruled the staff recommendation and opted to provide a grant so that the Trust can acquire the lands. Once the deal between the Trust and the landowner closes, these 232 hectares will be protected forever. Blue Mountain Birch Cove is a special place and we’re very lucky to live in a city where wilderness is just 20-30 minutes away. It’s worth preserving.

Woodside Ferry Reno by Abbott and Brown

Woodside Ferry Terminal:
If you’ve used the Woodside Ferry Terminal regularly over the last few years, you’ll no doubt have come off the ferry at some point to find the escalators out-of-order. It’s been a constant source of complaint and a challenge for HRM to manage as the escalators break down frequently and parts are very hard to find. Unfortunately, the unreliable escalators are just the Terminal’s most publicly visible problem. The building was built in 1986 and is at that point in life of needing major work on all its various systems. HRM started a major rebuild last year by replacing the elevator. HRM is now ready to move onto the project’s much more dramatic Phase 2.

Phase 2 of the Woodside Terminal rebuild includes new exterior cladding, a new roof, new interior finishes, new washrooms, new escalators (yay!!!), and new mechanical and electrical systems. When the work is complete, there will be very little of the original building left. HRM is also incorporating its climate change goals into the rebuild. HRM’s Climate Change Plan commits the municipality to making its facilities net-zero by 2030 and when the work in Phase 2 is complete, Woodside will be one of the municipality’s most energy efficient buildings, generating savings of $60,000 a year. Hopefully a sign of things to come as HRM needs to make sustainability a primary focus in all of our facilities.

Council approved the $6,588,789 tender for the work. The contractor will have two years to complete the project so expect construction at Woodside starting this year and potentially extending into 2022.


  • Discussed an information report on how Council appoints the Traffic Authority (motion to come at our next meeting)
  • Held a public hearing to provide a time extension for a development on Bilby Street in Halifax
  • Entered into a new operating agreement with the Carroll’s Corner Community Centre
  • First reading for a new district energy bylaw for the Cogswell
  • Approved HRM event grants for the year (yes some events are still happening or are far enough into the fiscal year that organizers are hoping they might still be able to go ahead)
  • Authorized entering into an agreement with the Province for cost-sharing paving for some rural roads
  • Directed the Returning Officer to send out direct mail to every household in HRM regarding the upcoming municipal election
  • Proclaimed 2015-2024 the International Decade for People of African Descent as many other places have around the world
  • First reading for a zoning change from commercial to residential near Auburn High School in Cole Harbour
  • Deferred a decision on a proposed development behind Victoria Hall in hopes that staff and the applicant can negotiate a more compatible development
  • Scheduled heritage hearings to consider a number of buildings including 2539 Agricola, 5988 University, and 2500 Creighton
  • Authorized the Armdale Restaurant to use a portion of “Rotary Park” (a bit of lawn overlooking the rotary) next to the restaurant as patio space