Update on the Wanderers Block

On November 22, 2022, the Public Gardens Foundation’s unsolicited and interesting proposal to help arrange funds for a Botanical Hall on the block was presented by Mr Robert Pace to Council and the public via the Community Planning Economic Development standing committee meeting of Council.

It was natural that the other tenants on that block, being halifax lancersWanderers Lawn Bowling Club, and HFX Wanderers FC would have concerns. The original proposal showed the lawn bowls moved off-site and consume much of not all of their space and municipal work depot space. They had not been consulted about the Botanical Hall.

On January 26 I convened a meeting of current and possible future tenants of the municipal land on Wanderers Block. The goal was to see if everything would fit on the block. I suggested that rather than argue through me or with staff, the groups should coordinate their asks and aspirations and make sure each of their goals did not become an obstacle to another group achieving theirs.

The group met again on April 17 at which time a draft site plan which shows how all four groups could be accommodated was presented by Public Gardens Foundation and discussed.

That graphic that Friends of Halifax Common has shared was put together by Pace’s team in SketchUp with all the tenants’ proposals to see if they fit. I am still not sure if they all do, the production greenhouses for the Gardens that HRM staff insist they need were not included in the model, but it is getting close!

My advice to these groups was to bring their concerns and proposals publicly to the same standing committee Mr Pace had.

One by one each of the groups has presented publicly to the committee. To date, Wanderers Lawn Bowling and Mr Pace have presented. Lancers presented over a year ago and I believe they intend to present again this fall. WanderersHFX FC will present sometime late this summer. None of the expansion proposals has ever been secret.

I think the Botanical Hall is doable, but needs careful consideration, especially on operational impacts and the cost of moving the Lawn Bowls on site.

There are also a lot of concerns about the future of the Wanderers Grounds.

There is no plan for the land to be sold. The current and future Common plans allow for the private sector to donate to the construction of facilities, but make it clear that the municipality owns the land and the facilities. In some cases, exclusive rights to use the space are allowed, such as Lancers and Lawn bowls.

In the case of HFX Wanderers FC, the proposal will likely be to build a publicly owned set of bleachers on public land, at a historic sports field used for ticketed sports and entertainment since 1882.

HFX Wanderers FC does not now and will not in the future have exclusive use of this space. The picture above is of one of the Canadian rugby teams that played on Wanderers Grounds all last week… that field is available for booking year-round, by anyone.

This is entirely in line with the 1994 Halifax Common Plan which reads in part:

“The whole Wanderer’s Grounds and Bell Road block should over the long term, remain under city control and be consolidated into a multi-purpose all-season area which includes athletic events, special events, concerts, public gatherings, and general public use. (page 34) Within acceptable limits, allow privately sponsored temporary events with paid admission and exclusion of the general publics, and encourage private funding of facilities and activities through joint ventures. (page 36)”

While no decision has been made yet, I do understand concerns about the impact on the Public Gardens. That said, the Public Gardens was established in 1867 and Wanderers started hosting events on the grounds in 1882. In its heyday, it routinely hosted rugby and baseball games with 10,000 ticket-paying visitors. Both sites have co-existed for over 140 years. I think it is doable, but needs careful consideration.

There will be considerable opportunity for public input in the upcoming months. I encourage residents who have concerns to get in touch with me.

Link to Botanical Garden proposal: https://www.saltwire.com/atlantic-canada/news/8-million-year-round-greenhouse-proposed-for-wanderers-grounds-100796396/

Link to 1994 Halifax Common Plan: https://wayemason.ca/reports/foundational%20documents/1994%20Halifax%20Common%20Plan%20October%20-%20searchable.pdf