Council Update: Yellow Heart, Lakes, Heritage, Parks

Floating Yellow Heart. Photo: Ontario Invasive Species Awareness Program

Agenda, August 23
Agenda, August 9

Yellow Floating Heart:
The Yellow Floating Heart infestation in Little Albro Lake was back on Council’s agenda. You might recall from my past updates that Yellow Floating Heart is a freshwater plant from Asia. It’s an aggressive invasive species that can outcompete native vegetation in our waters. Unfortunately, it has been sold as a garden plant for ponds and some of it escaped into Little Albro Lake in the late 2000s.

Since its arrival, Yellow Floating Heart has almost completely taken over Little Albro Lake. It has been a concern for area residents since the plant has made it difficult to swim or use a boat on Little Albro. There is very little public access to Little Albro so Yellow Floating Heart hasn’t impacted the wider community yet, but that could easily change. Yellow Floating Heart’s seeds spread wherever the flow of water takes them; we’re fortunate that Little Albro drains directly to the Harbour! Unfortunately, the seeds are also designed to attach to wildlife so there is a real risk that Yellow Floating Heart will eventually get out of Little Albro and spread into Dartmouth’s other lakes.

Floating Yellow Heart seed under the microscope

I took the Yellow Floating Heart issue to Council and the result was last summer, HRM carried out a pilot project to see if covering the bottom of Little Albro Lake with mats would be an effective way to kill the plant. HRM installed two types of mats and results were evaluated by experts at Dalhousie. Although the mats did stifle the Yellow Floating Heart, there were challenges. Gases from the lake bottom collected underneath the mats pushing them off the bottom, while silt settling on top actually created some spots for Yellow Floating Heart to root. The mats did stifle the plants, particularly the impermeable mats, but using them in a bigger way on the lake would require a lot of labour intensive maintenance to release gases and to periodically remove accumulating sediments. Not impossible to do, but difficult and expensive.

Yellow Floating Heart Mat Study results by location and type. Impermeable barriers worked best

Fortunately, since my original request and Council’s approval of the mat project, a new and promising option has emerged for dealing with Yellow Floating Heart: herbicide. When staff first looked into options for dealing with Yellow Floating Heart, there were no specific herbicides available. That has since changed with Procella. Procella was used in a drinking water reservoir in Oklahoma and a study released in late 2020 shows that it wiped out 95% of the Yellow Floating Heart in a single application with no long-term impacts. The US has approved the use of Procella and Health Canada is currently considering permitting its use.

HRM’s intent is, rather than implement a larger mat project, to get approval to use Procella in Little Albro Lake. This will require an emergency exemption from Health Canada, which staff feel is possible given the harm Yellow Floating Heart is currently doing to Little Albro and the potential harms to the wider environment should it eventually spread. Staff are cautiously optimistic that approval can be secured.

I don’t take the use of a herbicide in Little Albro Lake lightly. There was controversy a few years ago about the potential use of herbicides in Banook and using herbicides. That’s not something I would support because the weeds in Banook that sometimes foul up paddlers are part of the lake’s natural ecology. What’s happening in Little Albro Lake is very different. Little Albro Lake is being overrun by an invasive species that isn’t suppose to be there and that poses a larger environmental threat to the rest of Dartmouth’s lakes. Right now it is contained, but each year we’re one duck flight away from it potentially spreading to another lake. Having to use herbicides isn’t ideal, but there is far more potential harm in leaving Yellow Floating Heart in Little Albro Lake. Plus Little Albro Lake’s natural envrionment has already been almost completely destroyed by Yellow Floating Heart. Hopefully federal approval will be forthcoming.

Yellow Floating Heart was originally written off as an unsolvable problem. I’m very glad to see the impossible becoming possible.

Kearney Lake’s shoreline along Kearney Lake Road is primarily rock infill

Lake Management:
Council approved a project for Kearney Lake that I’m excited about because of the potential wider potential applications for other HRM lakes. Kearney Lake is an important Lake with paddling and swimming activities, but the Lake also faces stress from high nutrient levels. Some of that nutrient loading is coming from Kearney Lake Road. Kearney Lake Road runs alongside the lake and there is very little natural shoreline left along it. Rock infill is the dominant characteristic of the roadway/lake edge, which means there is limited vegetation and soil. The ability of a shoreline like that to absorb nutrients is considerably less than a healthy natural shoreline, meaning more nutrients are going into Kearney Lake than would normally be the case. It’s really not feasible to move Kearney Lake Road away from the shore so the challenge is to work with the conditions that already exist.

HRM intends to improve Kearney Lake’s shoreline by reintroducing vegetation and piloting some floating islands. Reintroducing a living shoreline to a rockscape has been done in other places. The way it works is materials like logs and hay are put down to stabilize the slope and allow plants to root in new soils rather than being washed out. As plants mature, their roots further stabilize the slope and they spread out to fill remaining gaps. Eventually vegetation fills the voids, bringing a rocky moonscape back to a more natural state. HRM will try to do this over the next three years along Kearney Lake.

The other measure that HRM will pilot at Kearney Lake is floating islands. Floating islands are basically floating wetlands. Plants on the floating islands not only create habitat, but they also extend their roots into the water below, filtering and absorbing nutrients. Floating islands have been used successfully in other places and provide another option for adding shoreline vegetation back to an area where native wetlands have been destroyed there isn’t any space to work with. The Chicago River is a prominent example.

Floating islands (on the left) in the Chicago River where rigid canal walls make restoring a natural shoreline impractical

I’m very excited about this project at Kearney Lake because of the implications for Banook and other lakes in HRM. I had been discussing with staff the possibility of a similar project in Lake Banook where Prince Albert Road’s shoreline has the same challenges. Kearney Lake ended up getting the pilot project, but if this works, Banook’s Prince Albert Road and Grahams Grove shorelines would be good future sites to restore. HRM is proposing to develop a Lake Management Framework to guide future initiatives and extend approaches like this to other lakes in HRM.

Christmas tree at Sullivan’s Pond

Park Lighting Strategy:
Council approved a recommendation from Parks to develop a lighting strategy. This was work that came out of a motion of mine. I get complaints about lighting on the Dartmouth Common, Sullivan’s Pond, and Harbour Trail frequently. Rather than pursue one-off projects, I figured that HRM probably needs a bigger picture think about lighting in parks and so I brought a motion to Council request lighting strategy. It turns out staff agree and were back to Council with a recommendation to develop one.

HRM has over 900 parks and lighting them all wouldn’t be feasible. A strategy would allow HRM to prioritize. Staff expect the strategy to consider three kinds of lighting: walkways, park facilities, and decorative placemaking. Criteria will be developed for each. I expect a strategy, in the same way that other strategies have, would come with recommended funding for implementation so that HRM can actually start to address some of the lighting asks. Staff expect to pursue a lighting strategy as part of next year’s workplan.

HRM vacant land at 71 Shore Road with people going fishing. Photo Google

Possible Shore Road Park:
I made a request for a staff report on transforming an unused HRM owned lot at 71 Shore Road into a park. The municipal property is already a defacto park. It is a popular spot for people to take in the view, get close to the water, walk their dogs, and fish. 71 Shore Road’s current use is very much park like, but since it’s not officially a park, it has no supporting services, which causes issues.

Since 71 Shore Road isn’t a park, there is no garbage collection. Garbage that accumulates is collected by volunteers with the Harbourview Residents Association, which is probably not a viable forever solution. There are also issues sometimes at night with people using the space inappropriately, which could probably be reduced if the space was a proper park. A timed vehicle gate like what exists at Birch Cove, lighting, and a properly delineated parking lot would all likely help reduce or eliminate undesirable nightime use. In short, the space is used as a park already, but there are no services, and the problems that result from a lack of services fall on the neighours.

The other issue with the property is that the crossing of the CN tracks isn’t officially a public crossing. The crossing is a private crossing for the benefit of HRM’s neighbour at 83 Shore Road. HRM doesn’t actually have any right for the municipality or the general public to cross the tracks here. Since this isn’t actually a public crossing, that means the liability for the crossing falls on 83 Shore Road, which is hardly fair given HRM’s unofficial park use. HRM needs to not freeload off its neighbour access!

This property has dogged everyone who has sat in the District 5 seat for years and I think it’s time to recognize the space for what it is now and what it’s potential could be: a park providing access to the shore on the Dartmouth waterfront where opportunities to get close to the Harbour are fairly limited. It won’t be a quick process, but I’m hopeful that this is the start of seriously thinking about this space.

Dartmouth’s newest heritage property. Now registered but badly needing some love

114 Pleasant Street:
Dartmouth has a new heritage property! Council approved registering 114 Pleasant Street. 114 Pleasant is connected to the prominent Johnston family and was constructed by well-known local architect Henry Elliot. The land the house is built on was once part of the sprawling Mount Amelia Estate that covered a large swath of Southdale.

Mount Amelia was owned by James Johnston, a founder of the Bank of Nova Scotia, lawyer, judge, and premier. Johnston’s influence on this part of Dartmouth is still very evident today in street names like Amelia Place and Johnston Avenue. His original home still stands at 28 Blink Bonnie. Johnston sold the part of his estate that is now 114 Pleasant Street, to his eldest son, James Johnston Junior. The younger Johnston was also a lawyer and drafted the Town of Dartmouth’s Charter. After buying the land from his father, Johnston Junior built the house in 1854. The house was later sold to Johnston Junior’s eldest son, Arthur Johnston. Arthur Johnston served as mayor of Dartmouth from 1891 to 1897.

Despite its connection to a prominent Dartmouth family, the last several decades haven’t been kind to 114 Pleasant Street. The property has been vacant for a long-time and, as is often the case with vacant buildings, has been in steady decline. Despite the declining condition though, the bones and elements of the original house are all still there and the owner wants to try and save it. Rather than demolish the home and start with a fresh site, he has found some partners and applied to HRM to register the property. HRM’s policies allow for more flexibility in zoning for registered heritage properties as an incentive to register and that is what is happening here. In exchange for saving and restoring the house, the owner will have the opportunity to apply for more density than the ER-3 zoning would otherwise allow, with the limitation that what is added to the site must be compatible with the heritage building. Preserving heritage and accommodating new aren’t mutually exclusive.

Council approved the registration of114 Pleasant and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what plans come forward to restore this piece of Dartmouth’s built history.


  • Scheduled a public hearing for amendments to the Regional Plan
  • Amended planning bylaws HRM wide to allow for shared housing in all residential zones (no change in Centre Plan area because this was already done in there when the Centre Plan was adopted). Follow-up motion at the next Council meeting to request staff return in 18 months with an update on whether the changes have created parking issues (pretty confident there won’t be any based on how these places already operate in District 5)
  • Directed staff to revise the public engagement approach for planning projects
  • Approved a handful of community grants that were referred back to Committee after initially getting rejected, mainly due to incomplete applications
  • Provided an event grant for the senior women’s Canada vs Wales match that will be held in HRM
  • Requested a staff report on responsibility for damage done by contractors during snow and ice clearing (my request), notification for road closures, signage at boat launches, planning for fire stations in new developments, and on allowing the general public to participate in heritage hearings (also my request)
  • Registered 18 Wilfred Jackson Way in Westphal as a heritage property (the former Home for Coloured Children)
  • Received a report from Halifax Centre for Education on how supplementary funding has been spent
  • Directed staff to prepare a plan to restore St. Mary’s Boat Club
  • Approved a number of street names, including Skokodul Street (formerly Maitland Street) in Dartmouth
  • Finalized capital contribution requirements at Dartmouth Cove for the new Dundas Street extension (being half paid for by HRM and half by property owners in Dartmouth Cove)
  • Very minorly increased the budget for the Alderney Gate Renovation project by $16,028 to account for architect fees related to scope adjustments
  • Amended the Private Road Admin order to make it easier to deal with situations where a property’s ownership is unknown
  • Reviewed the surplus property report and classified a number of property’s surplus, some of which will be used for affordable housing
  • Awarded contract for waste collection at HRM facilities
  • Entered into a bonus zoning agreement for 1138-1140 Barrington Street (bonus is for heritage restoration)
  • Changed trail standards on the Western Common Wilderness Common (yes there are two “commons” in that name, it’s not a typo, just weirdness)
  • Deferred a report on African Nova Scotian Advisory Committee
  • Rejected staff advice to initiate a planning process for lands along the Bedford Highway, opting instead for the alternative motion to consider these properties as part of the larger suburban plan that will be getting underway this year
  • Finalized changes to the Noise Bylaw around construction noise to limit rock-breaking to weekdays and to reduce the allowable evening hours for all construction noise on weekdays from 9:30 pm to 8:00 pm
  • Wrote the federal government in support of access to abortion services and on judges receiving training on domestic violence
  • Finalized the new Crosswalk Flags administrative order
  • Received HRM’s year-end financial statements
  • Scheduled a heritage hearing to consider registering 65 Tulip Street, Dartmouth