Council Update: Waterfront, Banook, Centennial Pool

Agenda, March 5

Dartmouth Waterfront

The worst kept secret in Dartmouth is officially public: HRM is planning for improvements to the Dartmouth waterfront. There is a big potential opportunity here for Dartmouth and HRM as a whole. A connected Dartmouth waterfront could be a tremendous asset for both residents and visitors and the proof is just across the Harbour in Halifax.

We sometimes take for granted what an awesome gem the Halifax waterfront is. Its success has been part circumstance and part deliberate planning. Building highways along the waterfront was a common mistake that many cities made in the decades following World War Two. Halifax narrowly avoided that fate and the result was a waterfront that was still connected to rest of the city and ripe for redevelopment. After over forty years of consistent planning and investment, Halifax now has one of the best waterfronts that you’ll find anywhere in the world. A top destination for tourists and locals a like.

Across the harbour in Dartmouth, we weren’t as lucky. Dartmouth didn’t end up with a highway blocking off the water, but the CN tracks have had a similar impact. Dartmouth is a place where the Harbour is as much a part of our geography as in Halifax, but it has a fraction of the presence because it’s so cutoff. Our waterfront is an unimproved railway with little public space. The City of Dartmouth tried to kickstart revitalizing the waterfront by building Alderney Landing and Ferry Terminal Park, and they had some success. Varied ownership and a lack of resources, however, meant that the Dartmouth waterfront never really took flight as a bigger project. The publicly accessible waterfront has remained confined to Alderney Landing and Ferry Terminal Park. We could change that.

Downtown Dartmouth is growing. Projects like King’s Wharf and redevelopment of vacant industrial lands in Dartmouth Cove means that the number of people living and working near the Dartmouth waterfront is steadily increasing. Meanwhile the Port Authority is looking at the potential of a cruise ship berth on the Dartmouth side. There would be potential economic benefits to bringing cruise ships to the Dartmouth side, both near at hand in Downtown Dartmouth, but also in the wider area as attractions like the boardwalk in Eastern Passage become possible destinations for bus tours. There is lots of opportunity on the Dartmouth side, but like Halifax back in 1976, it needs a detailed plan to ensure that we get a waterfront that benefits and welcomes everyone.

So what is the plan? It doesn’t exist yet. HRM has done some preliminary work to determine the feasibility of connecting the Dartmouth waterfront on the harbour side of the tracks, but detailed planning is still to come. The broad direction is to prepare an open space plan that provides for public space and solves access problems with a single emergency route. The emergency access route isn’t a road, the idea is to build a trail that can also provide access in an emergency. There are examples of this approach elsewhere in the world, including in West Vancouver where a rail line creates challenges very similar to Dartmouth’s.

West Vancouver Seawall. The railway is behind the chainlink fence to the right. Photo: Larry Dubble, Trip Advisor

The next step is to hire consultants to prepare the plan. There will be public engagement as part of the project to give the public a direct say in the future of the waterfront so stay tuned for opportunities to provide input into Dartmouth’s future.

I have had a few people reach out to ask what this means for the Dartmouth Cove infill application. HRM’s waterfront planning project and the Dartmouth Cove property owner’s application to the federal government to infill are separate processes. HRM’s plan to create new public spaces and a connected waterfront access route might need portions of the Dartmouth Cove waterlot, but then again they might not. It’s too early to say since a plan hasn’t been prepared yet. HRM’s project doesn’t change that unplanned infill with no long-term vision or plan, as proposed by the water lot owner, isn’t a great fit for Downtown Dartmouth. We don’t need a dump in Downtown Dartmouth, we need a waterfront plan that will deliver real public benefits.

Banook Plan

The waterfront wasn’t the only Dartmouth planning initiative to get the thumbs up from Council, we also approved the initiation of a Coordination Plan for Lake Banook. The Coordination Plan has come about from feedback from the paddling community around Canoe 22. We’ve taken for granted that national and international events will regularly return to Banook, but the rest of the world hasn’t been standing still. Banook has a stunning setting on a natural lake, but as other places have invested in infrastructure, Banook’s facilities have become increasingly dated. The stark warning from the 2022 Bid Committee is that unless we commit to Banook as a venue, the days of hosting national and international events could be numbered.

While concerns around Banook’s future as a destination was the starting place for the Coordination Plan, it’s not the end point. Banook is more than just a venue for paddling, it’s a beloved public space that is used every day by the folks who live and work here. Banook is a hub for aquatic sports, a walking trail, a place to swim, and more. It’s part and parcel of life in Dartmouth. It’s one of our most important public spaces. Making Banook the best sporting venue in the world would be meaningless if the space doesn’t also work for the folks who live here and use it every day. Banook has to serve both needs.

The proposed Coordination Plan will take into account the needs of Banook as a venue and the needs of Banook as a public space. Staff are calling it a coordination plan because plans for Banook already exist and staff’s advice is that we don’t need to throw out everything that has been done, we need to update what we have, and pull together pieces that aren’t in sync. The process will include public engagement so stay tuned.

Henry Findlay Park
One of the pieces identified in the staff report for consideration that has generated a fair bit of public feedback already is the future of the playground in Henry Findlay Park. The staff report identifies the possibility of regularly locating the athlete’s village at Henry Findlay Park rather than in Birch Cove Park. Henry Findlay would be a better location because it’s flat, allowing both able-bodied and para-athletes to share the same space, and because it’s much closer to the hub of activity around the Clubs, Canoe-Kayak, and the Judge’s Tower. The downside of using Henry Findlay Park is that it could impact the existing playground.

I live not far from Banook and my own kids have spent a lot of time at the playground at Henry Findlay over the years. I know firsthand how beloved and how well-used that playground is. So I wasn’t surprised to hear from folks who were upset at even the suggestion that the playground could be relocated.

I want to emphasize that this is the very start of a planning process that will include public engagement and feedback. There will be lots of opportunity for people to provide input on Henry Findlay and other public spaces around Banook. The goal of the updated Coordination Plan is to find the best balance between competing needs. The playground at Henry Findlay Park could stay where it is and the athlete’s village could give way instead, it could be redesigned to be easily removable when there are events, it could shift over to Sullivan’s Pond, or we could potentially reclaim asphalt at the end of Nowlan Street to relocate it nearby. That’s just off the top of my head. The point is there are lots of possibilities and no decision has been made.

Centennial Pool: Photo: CBC

Centennial Pool

The staff report on planning for a Centennial Pool replacement was before Council. As the name suggests, Centennial Pool was built in 1967 and it has served the community well. Centennial fills an important role in the swimming community as it and Dalplex are HRM’s only 50 metre pools. The rest of the pools in HRM are 25 metres, which works fine for recreational use, but doesn’t meet competitive requirements. Although Centennial and Dalplex are 50 metres in length, neither fully fits modern competitive requirements. Neither has a warm-up pool and the water current and number of lanes that Centennial has doesn’t meet the competition expectations of today. The result is we’re the only region in the country that doesn’t have a true competition level aquatics facility.

While Centennial doesn’t meet competitive requirements, the facility’s age is also problematic. During COVID, it sprung a leak and it took almost two years to find and fix the issue. There is no guarantee that Centennial won’t face future issues.

The combination of Centennial not being a good fit for the competitive requirements of today, that its age creates some risk for its future use, and that HRM objectively needs a proper 50 metre facility led Councillor Mason to move a motion requesting a staff report that would consider options, including potentially closing Centennial and using proceeds from the sale of the site to help pay for the cost of a new facility. This sparked the creation of a save Centennial citizens group. The group has presented to HRM’s Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee and, judging from the content of those presentations, I think there has been some misunderstanding of Mason’s motion and where we really are in the process.

Closing Centennial and selling the land is just one option. HRM will look at many options for where and how new 50 metre facility could be provided. The staff report identifies options to consider including building a brand new facility, expanding an existing facility like the Canada Games Centre, or partnering with an institutional partner like Dalhousie on a new facility. The details on a new 50 metre facility is very much up in the air. HRM hasn’t made any decisions about Centennial and planning for a replacement 50 metre pool facility will take many years to complete, if not decades. The pace of creating new facilities like the Central Library or major renovations like the Zatzman Sportsplex is typically 10-20 years. Centennial isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s future will be decided much, much further down the line.

So, right now, the next step is high-level planning for a new 50 metre facility. This is the start of what will be a very long and open-ended process.


  • Approved several flypast requests (SailGP, Battle of the Atlantic, and HFX Wanderers RCAF Appreciation Game)
  • Initiated a planning process for lands on Shore Drive in Bedford
  • Requested the Province amend the HRM Charter to allow HRM to charge a vacant lot tax
  • Opted not to proceed with asking the Province to request more demolition controls since 90% of demolitions result in new construction and, in cases where new construction isn’t imminent, there would be the risk of creating dilapidated buildings
  • Directed staff to create a bylaw to allow for regulation of ATV trails on HRM roadways
  • Approved and rejected several different encroachments agreements
  • Completed the yearly write off of uncollectable debts ($17,158), consisting mainly of parks and rec fees
  • Amended the Economic Action Plan
  • Requested a staff report on mental health programming for first responders
  • Approved an extension of Councillor Russell’s leave of absence while he is recovering from cancer treatment


  1. While we’re redeveloping the water front in Dartmouth could we think about removing some lanes for cars and putting in cycle lanes as well?

    • Hi Amanda. The Sawmill River project will see some space on Alderney repurposed to join the Harbour and Banook Trails together. HRM is also planning to connect the Wyse Road lanes down to Alderney. I expect the future for Alderney Drive won’t be cycle lanes since we have the trail network alongside. The likely change there will be to create bus only lanes.

  2. Dartmouth’s biggest and best feature is it’s quietness and accessible nature within proximity to homes, coffee shops, and the library. When it comes to the Dartmouth waterfront and Banook what measures could be put into place to protect what draws many to Dartmouth: it’s scenic views of water and trees not being cluttered by buildings or bombarded with traffic noise? What could be done to both protect current spaces and create more spaces like the harbour trail, spaces which are quiet, forest-esque, and within the city?

  3. Hi Sam,

    The potential to improve the Dartmouth waterfront is past due. I agree that Dartmouth can become a much better place by adding to our waterfront area for residents and tourists alike. A great way to promote the growth and sustainability of our small businesses in the downtown core.

    Although this is a great idea one thing that has to be seriously considered to attract and retain visitors and that is public safety. I live on the waterfront and from what I witness right now is not condusive to the aforementioned. It seems to be a gathering place for, lets just say, the least desiables. I know that may seem harsh however, often the truth is. People downtown are concerned about this and if it is not addressed it will hamper what you and council are trying to do.

    You may have to consider two person police patrols, on foot like Dartmouth used to have. Beat officers that show a presence at times that can deal with the situations as they arise.This may also prevent some situations from becoming issues as well. The reality Sam respectfully, is that it is difficult to attract people to an area that they fear for their safety and are harassed when there. People will not come back.

  4. Lots of information here. What is missing in the downtown plan is the issue of why people have to pay to visit Dartmouth. The Ferry should not be part of the transit system and it should be considered as a natural walking path across our harbour. The cost for this should be built into the overall budget. How do I ask folks who live in Halifax to come to an event on the Dartmouth waterfront but they have to leave by 10:30 or else they miss the last ferry. It is more than just infrastructure.

  5. While redeveloping the Dartmouth waterfront is most welcome, I doubt ship passengers would be happy having to incoveniently cross over to Halifax. We are far behind Europe in redeveloping our waterfronts. Anyone who has been to Spain’s Costa del Sol or Portugal’s Algarve will see that they have tourist-oriented boardwalks with shops, restaurants & bars. Their transit system and it’s fare technology is far ahead of ours.

  6. Sam, please tell me that there is no plan to even consider a cruise ship berth at the COVE?

    This would turn Newcastle Street into an extremely busy exit street for this and that’s simply not acceptable for a residential street that already sees multiple 18 wheel vehicles navigating this street, causing many issues.

    • Plan hasn’t been made yet, but early discussions have not been about Newcastle Street, have been about Alderney area. I don’t see how unloading cruise ship passengers into Newcastle would make any sense at all

  7. That’s an issue I have too, the ferries need to run later and more often on the weekends but it’s still a mode of transportation so I don’t see it being free long term any time soon

  8. I’d love to see the walking trails linked up around Lake Banook. The lack of a path between Lakeside Terrace and Edenbank Terrace forces pedestrians to take a long and hazardous detour away from the Lake, along busy streets that lack sidewalks. I realize the land is owned by wealthy people; I hope that’s not an impediment.

    • Wealth isn’t an impediment here. The lack of a willing seller is. HRM would have to expropriate and that’s a tall order when it comes to someone’s home property.

  9. Hi Sam,

    Happy to hear about the improvements to the Lake Banook waterfront. Would love to sit down and discuss green stormwater infrastructure at the paddlers cove end.

    Let me know when we can meet.

Comments are closed.