Eskasoni First Nation gains new land to make room for more homes

Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny, Dr. Mohan Virick and Sydney-Victoria MP Jaime Battiste at Tuesday's announcement. Virick donated the land to the First Nation after working with the community during his career in Cape Breton. (Holly Conners/CBC - image credit)
Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny, Dr. Mohan Virick and Sydney-Victoria MP Jaime Battiste at Tuesday's announcement. Virick donated the land to the First Nation after working with the community during his career in Cape Breton. (Holly Conners/CBC - image credit)

Atlantic Canada's largest Mi'kmaw community is expanding its footprint.

The Eskasoni First Nation announced Tuesday that it's adding 85.5 hectares to its land base.

The new land comes as a gift from long-time community physician Dr. Mohan Virick, who started practicing in Eskasoni as a young doctor newly immigrated to Canada.

"I came here, I was at home," said Virick, now in his eighties.

As a family physician, Virick delivered many members of the community which now has approximately 4,000 people living on the reserve.

He watched as the community's population grew over the decades, and as that growth led to a shortage of land for housing and other development.

"My main thing was the cemetery was getting so crowded," he said. "I thought we'd make a new cemetery."

Virick purchased the 85 hectares in the 1970s. It's located a couple of kilometres west of Ekasoni, in the area of Castle Bay and Benacadie.

Jaime Battiste, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Sydney-Victoria MP, announces the new Addition to Reserve for Eskasoni First Nation as land donor Dr. Mohan Virick looks on.
Jaime Battiste, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Sydney-Victoria MP, announces the new Addition to Reserve for Eskasoni First Nation as land donor Dr. Mohan Virick looks on.

Battiste announces the new addition of land to Eskasoni First Nation as donor Dr. Mohan Virick looks on. (Holly Conners/CBC)

Virick donated the land to Eskasoni about 10 years ago, but it's taken until now for a ministerial order to approve the transfer.

"What they do is go through a process of environmental permitting, making sure that it goes through the municipality, goes through provincial government. And if all stakeholders sign on to it, the land goes through all these permitting processes, and then we turn it into part of the reserve," said Sydney-Victoria MP Jaime Battiste, who is also parliamentary secretary to the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations.

The process used to take longer, but has been expedited as part of the federal government's efforts to advance reconciliation, said Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny.

Denny is hoping the new land will allow for at least 250 homes, and some commercial development.

"For example, we're hoping to have like a lumber mart, lumber area to build pre-made homes," he said.

Eskasoni is now working on purchasing other parcels of land around the reserve, including a small island.

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