Residents rally to show support for whale sanctuary

By Helen Murphy    
December 18 2019

SHERBROOKE – Could the legacy of Wilma the Whale be helping to drive community support for a proposed whale sanctuary – designed for belugas – being located at Port Hilford Harbour? Stephen Flemming, executive director of Historic Village and a local organizer of community support for the proposed sanctuary, thinks so.

“A lot of people know about Wilma. She endeared herself to folks and that’s in the hearts and minds of people,” he said during an interview with The Journal Monday.

Wilma the Whale was a friendly beluga who arrived in Guysborough Harbour in 1993, staying several years.

A community event, called A Whale of A Christmas, to show support for the proposed whale sanctuary to be located at Port Hilford attracted about 70 people to the Sherbrooke Village Exhibit Centre Saturday afternoon.

The Whale Sanctuary Project aims to establish a “model seaside sanctuary where whales and dolphins can be rehabilitated or can live permanently in an environment that maximizes well-being and autonomy and is as close as possible to their natural habitat,” according to the organization’s website.

Potential N.S. sites for the sanctuary have been narrowed down to Port Hilford and Mushaboom, near Sheet Harbour. The group behind the project is weighing a number of factors in determining its final choice, including physical attributes and community support. So far, it looks like the St. Mary’s option is winning the community support race, but it may take second place when it comes to the desired harbour depth and protection from storms.

Port Hilford is a little more exposed and a has little less depth, “but the community support is awesome,” says Flemming.

“The community support here is unbelievable,” he says, noting that people from all over Guysborough County came to Saturday’s event, with many attendees from the Sherbrooke area.

“So the support is all up and down the coast here. Local fishers are supportive too. (The sanctuary project) fits within the headspace of the sustainable tourism we want to do in this region and in Guysborough County.”

Flemming sees tremendous potential for the local RICHES project to partner with the sanctuary to bring tourists from around the world to the area. RICHES (the Rural Institute for Cultural Heritage and Environmental Sustainability), being undertaken by Sherbrooke Village as a 50th anniversary legacy project for 2020, will provide training and other programming to support the growth of sustainable rural tourism in cultural and natural heritage along the Eastern Shore.

“With RICHES there’s an opportunity to have courses that interact with the sanctuary concept,” he says. “Everything from marine courses to painting. And from the N.S. Museum point of view, we would like to participate in the teaching part.”

Flemming says there’s also an opportunity for RICHES to get involved through high-speed connectivity, linking the sanctuary project to interested audiences around the world.

He says other N.S. museums are also supportive. The possibility of having live-streamed video from the site on display at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax and the Atlantic Fisheries Museum in Lunenburg has been discussed.

Saturday’s event also featured a repeat appearance by “Joseph Howe,” following his participation in the Old Fashioned Christmas event at Sherbrooke Village.

The large crowd in attendance was treated to snacks, whale-themed songs, and A Beluga Night Before Christmas reading by Belinda Jordan.

Following the festivities there was ample opportunity for community members to speak with Lori Marino and Charles Vinick of the Whale Sanctuary Project. Information panels were also on display.

Marino and Vinick thanked the community for their support and stated the decision will be made by the Whale Sanctuary board based on the best location for the belugas. They commended the local committee for their dedication and commitment to the project.