Bon Portage Island - text version
Picture version here.

Bon Portage Island
(Outer Island on many maps) is owned by Acadia University; the Department of Biology maintains the Island and offers a Natural History Field Course.  Acadia and Nova Scotia Nature Trust recently signed an easement to permanently protect the property from development (links to stories and videos:  1, 2).  Donations towards this campaign can be made here.
Getting there

The trip takes 3 to 3.5 hours from Wolfville or Halifax, depending on traffic and your road rage.  There's a map you can print on the picture version of this website.  From Wolfville most believe that it is faster to cross the province on Hwy 12, taking 103 south, getting off at exit 29 or 30, and staying on Rte 3 to get to Shag Harbour.  You'll need to arrange boat transportation to the Island, Phil Taylor is the contact in Biology.  Sort out with Station Manager the wharf (there's > 1) you need to meet at in Shag Harbour.  You should check the weather at the Lurcher site before making the trip down.  The 3-km boat ride to Bon Portage Island from Prospect Point Wharf in Shag Harbour takes about 15 min.  


The Island is home to the Evelyn and Morrill Richardson Field Station in Biology.  Visitors arrive at a slip that is at about the halfway point on the leeward side of the Island.  Nearby are two bunkhouses that have no electricity.  One of these is the Cyril K. Coldwell laboratory, and it is used exclusively by the banding crew of the Atlantic Bird Observatory.  If they are not too busy, and weather permits, tours can be arranged.  

The remaining bunkhouse is available for 14 lodgers.  Electricity MAY be available at the south tip of the Island, which has a cookhouse (7 beds) with a propane stove and a few places for lodgers, and a laboratory (8 beds).  The main buildings have propane stoves, dishes, cutlery, pots, etc.

Fees ($)

Individuals affiliated with Acadia Individuals not with Acadia
Per round trip on the boat 75
Per night 15

Some natural history

The ~3 x 1 km Island can be circum-walked in a few hours. It is low-lying and is surrounded by rich beds of marine algae (among the richest in Nova Scotia).  The rocky intertidal zone gives way to a cobblestone barrier beach with beach ponds and a large intertidal lagoon.  The bulbous north and south ends of the Island are dominated by spruce-fir with a ground flora reminiscent of coastal Newfoundland.  The habitat in the narrow waist, "The Fen", contains many small ponds and channels, and is elsewhere densely vegetated with shrubs, sedges, and grasses.  In sum, the Island has a rich diversity of ecozones, and consequently a rich diversity of vegetation, in a relatively small area. 

Birds on the Island include a nesting colony of 50,000+ pairs of Leach's storm petrels (locally called Mother Carey's chickens), a small colony of herons, including black-crowned night herons, large gull and duck populations, abundant migratory shorebirds, and a few owls.  Mammals include abundant masked shrews and meadow voles, and a few snowshoe hares and white-tailed deer.

When broken pieces of marine algae get washed up on shore, they begin to decompose.  Fly (Diptera) larvae are important in starting the biological breakdown of this important food source.  A whole community of invertebrates arrives to feed on the fly larvae and shrews come down to the shore to feed on the invertebrates.  When these predators return from the shore and move to the inner island, they transfer large amounts of energy into an ecosystem that would otherwise be much less productive.  Additional predators on the invertebrates are migratory shorebirds and a few enterprising songbirds.  Eventually, a high tide reclaims the decomposed wrack, taking with it a pulse of nutrients that stimulates the whole marine food chain.  This pulse is very important to local lobster and inshore fish productivity. 
Some history

The Island was formerly the home of Evelyn and Morrill Richardson, who were lighthouse keepers for 35 years.  Evelyn Richardson wrote six books and numerous articles.  “We Keep a Light” won the Governor General's Award for Creative Non-fiction in 1945, and “Desired Haven” won the Ryerson All Canada Fiction Award.  “Living Island” is a delightful account of the natural history of Bon Portage during the changing seasons.

In 1964, the Richardsons retired to the mainland, but with the assistance of Willet Mills, a prominent Halifax business man and naturalist, title to the Island was given to Acadia University.  Dr. Harrison F. Lewis, the first chief of the agency that was to become the Canadian Wildlife Service, was a friend of the Richardsons and also helped them conserve the Island for the study of natural history, ecology, and wildlife management.

Currently, the Island is maintained by funding that comes primarily from an endowment generously provided by the Chipman family, from the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, from Acadia University including  the Department of Biology, and from researcher and visitors fees.  In 2007, Dr. Andy Blackadar generously donated a new wood stove to the cause.

Recently, Fred Archibald's Ham Radio course that operated out of BP garnered recognition from the Radio Society of Great Britain’s Islands on the Air contest (see the synopsis).

Natural History Field Course
Bon Portage Research

Updated Aug '15