03/10/2014 02:36 EDT | Updated 05/10/2014 05:59 EDT

Nova Scotia group worried about future of popular historic canal site

HALIFAX - A canal commission in Nova Scotia was raising alarm bells Monday that public access could be lost to a historical site and a lake that is regularly used by paddlers who canoe on the Shubenacadie waterway in the Halifax area.

Deborah Windsor, chairwoman of the Shubenacadie Canal Commission, said an area off Fletchers Lake in Fall River is protected under the province's Special Places Protection Act, which preserves historical sites.

Part of the area overlaps with a plot of land that is designated as "owner unknown," the commission said.

A landowner of a neighbouring property is trying to claim at least a portion of that land under the Limitations of Actions Act, where land can be claimed if the owner can prove they have occupied it in a way that clearly shows ownership, said Windsor.

She said hundreds of canoers, kayakers, church groups, scouts and school classes use the land regularly. It's also the only public access point to Fletchers Lake and is home to a historical lock used in the original Shubenacadie Canal system in the mid-1800s, she added.

"It's a place where the public should be allowed to continue to go, whether it's to enjoy the canal, whether it's to enjoy the historical component of the canal or to use the land as an access point to the lake," Windsor said Monday.

She said her group plans on meeting with Natural Resources Minister Zach Churchill on Tuesday and is urging the public to share their stories in an effort to prevent the site from becoming private land.

The Natural Resources Department said the property owner has made a verbal claim to the province and the area has been surveyed by its staff.

A spokesman for the department said the province was previously looking into whether it could acquire a portion of the "owner unknown" land in order to protect the heritage of the site.

Bruce Nunn said the landowner has been flexible in working with the province and no decision has been made yet.

"The land claimant has been very co-operative and the department's research on this file has been progressing well," said Nunn in an email.

Nunn said Churchill will meet with the commission Tuesday and also plans on meeting with the land claimant. He added that the Special Places designation would apply to the land whether it is public or private.

The Shubenacadie Canal runs about 100 kilometres from the Halifax harbour to the Minas Basin, an inlet of the Bay of Fundy.