Developers are selling off Cape Breton, one subdivision after the other, to German-speaking non-residents? What — if anything — is wrong with that?

This article was originally published by the Halifax Examiner on November 23, 2021. Note that since it was first published, Frank Eckhardt who is featured in this article, has been arrested twice in Cape Breton, once on extortion charges, and a second time for a slew of firearms offences.

Sign on Highway 4 in Cape Breton advertising waterfront for sale on the Bras d'Or Lake. Photo by Joan Baxter

Photo: Joan Baxter

Nova Scotia has long been a popular place for settlers, but in the last century it also became a popular place for non-residents — including many well-heeled Americans and Europeans — to purchase properties.[1]

For decades, scholars and successive governments have debated the issue of non-resident land ownership in a province with relatively little Crown land, and waterfronts being carved up into private properties that reduce public access to Nova Scotia shorelines.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a real estate boom in Nova Scotia, including most rural counties, as people from urban centres, elsewhere in Canada and abroad, looked for ways to escape crowded areas.

A few months into the pandemic, the German magazine, Der Spiegel, broke the story that some right-wing conspiracy theorists were marketing Cape Breton to like-minded German-speaking Europeans, which added yet another dimension to long-standing questions about non-resident land ownership in Nova Scotia.

In this three-part series, the Halifax Examiner follows up on its 2020 coverage of this issue, and looks into some of the complex questions it raises, even as the province prepares to change the property tax rate for non-resident owners.

Read Part 1 here.

This second article looks at more of the real estate and land development companies or individuals marketing Cape Breton Island to German speakers, and at how the trend developed.

Evans Island bridge with gate. Photo by Joan Baxter

Evans Island bridge with gate. Photo: Joan Baxter

It would be easy to miss the turn-off to the island that juts out into the Bras d’Or Lake at Hay Cove in Cape Breton.

The only indication it’s there is an innocuous sign on the edge of Highway 4 in Richmond County that advertises “waterfront” for sale. If you follow the arrow on the sign, you’ll go about a kilometer on a dirt road to a gated bridge that leads to an island.

On the island side of the bridge is a road sign that indicates that you are now on Katja Rose Drive. Just past that is a large notice that trespassing and hunting are forbidden, which advises that the island and its roads are private property.

Sign for Katja Rose Drive on Evans Island. Photo by Joan Baxter

Katja Rose Drive on Evans Island. Photo: Joan Baxter

But the “waterfront for sale” sign did seem like an invitation to visit, so it seems OK to continue along Katja Rose Drive to see what is on the market.

On either side of the gravel road are small signs fastened to trees indicating lot numbers, some with small red “sold” signs in the trees. There are also some clearings with mobile homes on them.

One lot bears a “For Sale / zu verkaufen” sign with the name and contacts for a couple in Germany. For the three-acre property, the couple are asking $96,000, the price they paid for it. There is no well or septic system on the lot, and they tell a person who recently inquired about the property that there is a high risk around the Bras d’Or Lake of drilling a well and not finding good drinking water.

Further along Katja Rose Drive there is a large billboard that has fallen down on the side of the road, which lays out the development phases of subdivision called “Adventure Island Lake Estates,” a joint venture by Canadian Pioneer Estates and Canec Land Development Inc.

This photo shows a fallen-down signboard for the Evans Island development plan. Photo by Joan Baxter

Evans Island development plan. Photo: Joan Baxter

Welcome to Evans Island.

It has been carved into 129 lots, most about two acres, nearly all of them purchased by non-resident Germans.

The roads in the development bear German names, including one named after Michael Vogt, a former associate of Andreas Popp, of the German organization Wissensmanufaktur (Knowledge Creation) that is featured in Part 1, which Transparency International Germany says brings together “a series of messages and protagonists from the conspiracy theory and right-wing extremist spectrum.”

Another lane on the island bears the name of Pia Kaestner, the German woman who is described as the “manager and soul” of Wissensmanufaktur.

Viewpoint Nova Scotia map of Evans island Screen Shot October 24, 2021 shows the island subdivided into small lots.

Viewpoint NS map of Evans island Screen Shot October 24, 2021

This is by no means the only subdivision developed by Canec and Canadian Pioneer Estates, owned by Rolf Bouman, who began buying and selling land — mostly in Cape Breton — in 1989.

Since then, Bouman’s companies have “subdivided and sold 1,700 properties,” mainly to “German-speaking interested parties.”

Readers who are of an age (meaning as old as I am) may recall that for a time in the 1990s, people landing at the Halifax International Airport were greeted by large signs in German advertising “Immobilien” (real estate for sale) in Cape Breton.

Today, those Canadian Pioneer Estates airport ads are no more, but in Cape Breton, the company’s billboards are regular features on the roadsides, offering real estate services in German and English, and declaring themselves “proudly Canadian.”

This photo shows the signs for Helmut’s Lane and Canadian Pioneer Estates sign. Photo by Joan Baxter

Helmut’s Lane and Canadian Pioneer Estates sign. Photo: Joan Baxter

Nova Scotia Property Online indicates that Bouman’s companies own more than 250 properties in Nova Scotia — in Richmond, Inverness, and Victoria Counties in Cape Breton, as well as some in Antigonish and Guysborough Counties on the mainland. (Property Online is the Nova Scotia government website that shows transfers of land ownership.)

Another of the large Canadian Pioneer / Canec subdivisions is on the Evanston Road, across the Lower River Inhabitants from another one it developed and sold largely to Germans on what is called “Helmut’s Lane.” That lane is just a short walk away from the Golden Lake Estates subdivision called “Beaver Lodge Estates” that was featured in Part 1.

The main road leading into the Evanston subdivision is called Jonathan Bouman Lane.

This photo shows the long road carved into the woods in one of Bouman's subdivisions. Jonathan R Bouman Lane from a wooden tower in Canadian Pioneer’s Evanston Estates. Photo by Joan Baxter

Jonathan R Bouman Lane from a wooden tower in Canadian Pioneer’s Evanston Estates. Photo: Joan Baxter

There is also a lane named after Andreas Popp, the man described by Der Spiegel as a “ doomsday prophet” from the “radical right,” also featured in the first article in this series.

Viewpoint NS map Screenshot of Canadian Pioneer Estates Evanston subdivision Lot on Andreas Popp Lane.

Viewpoint NS map Screenshot of Canadian Pioneer Estates Evanston subdivision.

Not far from the Evanston Road subdivision, on the steep banks of the Lower River Inhabitants are 42 tiny plots of land, some just a tiny fraction of an acre. A few are still for sale, but most have already been sold to German non-residents.

Viewpoint NS map Screen Shot October 24, 2021, showing the dozens of tiny plots of land for sale directly on the banks of the Lower River Inhabitants.

Viewpoint NS map Screen Shot October 24, 2021

THis photo shows a sign for Canadian Pioneer Estates Lot 33 on edge of Lower River Inhabitants. Photo by Joan Baxter

Canadian Pioneer Estates Lot 33 on edge of Lower River Inhabitants. Photo: Joan Baxter

The Halifax Examiner contacted Rolf Bouman to learn more about his real estate business, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and before. Here are the questions and Bouman’s answers, which have been edited only slightly for length:

Halifax Examiner (HE): Have you noticed a growing interest in Nova Scotia real estate in Germany and other German-speaking countries in Europe? Has the COVID-19 pandemic increased that interest and sales? If so, why do you think that is?

Rolf Bouman (RB): Through COVID-19, sales from European purchases decreased significantly. In fact, this was probably the worst period in our business in more than 20 years. Why? International, discretionary visits to Canada were heavily restricted for approximately 18 months, opening to European visitors only recently. Our clients tend to want to inspect land prior to purchase and without the ability of potential purchasers from Europe to easily fly to Nova Scotia, no inspections could take place.  We recognize that this was not the case with people living in North America looking to buy real estate in Nova Scotia, but that was not our experience with European customers.

HE: Have prices per hectare / acre of unserviced land increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, or just generally in recent years? This lot is priced at $35,400 for 1.3 hectares (3.2 acres)… would you consider that an average price per hectare for rural parcels of what appears to be unserviced land (assuming no well or septic system?) in Cape Breton?

RB: As is the case with real estate around the world, prices may differ significantly due to location, even in Cape Breton … It is therefore very difficult to make an accurate assessment as to what a hectare of a land would sell for.

HE: Are most of your clients people who wish to immigrate to and live permanently in Nova Scotia, or are they looking for a seasonal home? Or perhaps looking for land as an investment for the future? 

RB: We have seen people from all across the world desiring to build a seasonal home and some might even wish to immigrate. Some as well view land as an investment and if the title is good and the land is surveyed this can sometimes be the case.

HE: On your website, it says that most of your clients are German speakers. Have you also sold to many or some non-German speakers in recent years? If so, roughly what percentage of your sales have been to non-German speakers? 

RB: We sell land to everybody and we have many Canadian clients. Because I moved to Cape Breton from Germany in the 1980s, becoming a Canadian resident, it is easy for me to facilitate sales to other German speakers, but beyond my own life and work experience, we have no reason to track the percentage of Canadian versus international clients.

HE: Your signs say “Proudly Canadian,” but German is not an official Canadian language. Do you see this as a contradiction?

RB: As someone who chose to come to Canada and make Canada a permanent home, the description “proudly Canadian” is very important to me. Our company has mostly Canadian staff, works 98% of the time with Canadian contractors and business partners in terms of road construction, engineering, surveying, house construction, landscaping, etc. In fact, most of my family are Canadian, either due to the place of birth here in Canada or becoming Canadian citizens, after having lived here initially as permanent residents … The use of German in our signage, always along with a complete English translation is a celebration of Canada’s multicultural reality.

HE: Are there any non-German speakers on your development on Evans Island?

RB: Of course there are non-German speakers on our development on Evans Island and in many other developments. One is even a local resident and just recently constructed a road to his intended building site. Please also note that in many cases after non-resident owners owned a piece of land for a time period it very often is being sold back to Canadians.

HE: On the Evanston Road, there are about 40 very small properties directly on the banks of the Lower River Inhabitants. Are these large enough for building? If not, what would they be used for? Could development of this riverbank cause any environmental risks to the river, for example, and if so, what mitigation measures are you recommending?

RB: … The small lots that you are referring to are always being sold in connection with a larger building lot in close proximity. The small lots are called fisherman’s reserve, which is historically something fishermen would have used to access the water and where they would have stored their boat and equipment. These lots are never meant for any significant construction and will typically be used only for the construction of a gazebo and water access. In order to avoid any potentially negative environmental impact, we typically construct a single boat launch in a subdivision in the area, which all the property owners can use to launch their boat once a year and then to park it in front of their own property. We have consequently never encountered any significant environmental risk.

This photo shows Rolf Bouman in a video on the website of Canadian Pioneer Estates standing in front of a lake and wearing a red jacket.

Rolf Bouman from Canadian Pioneer Estates website Screen Shot October 15, 2021.

Although Bouman says there are “non-German-speakers” on the Evans Island development and one “local resident” is building in the subdivision, Property Online shows that the vast majority of landowners in the subdivision are non-residents, with addresses in Germany.

In 2020, Andreas Popp told the Examiner that Wissensmanufaktur had worked for over 10 years with Canadian Pioneer Estates.

However, several informants in Cape Breton have emphatically told the Examiner that Bouman does not share the political views of Andreas Popp and Eva Herman, which are described in Part 1.

The Examiner sent Bouman a list of follow-up questions on October 7, including whether he works with or has any connection with Golden Lake Estates, why there is a lane bearing Andreas Popp’s name in one of his subdivisions, and whether he had felt any fallout from last year’s media articles about the presence of right-wing conspiracy theorists in Cape Breton.

In reply, Bouman wrote, “Golden Lakes Estates is our competition. We do not in any way collaborate with them, and have no connection whatsoever.”

He said that because Canadian Pioneer Estates has constructed over 70 roads over its 30 years, it has named them after “friends, family, staff and many others,” and sometimes also customers.

“Fifteen years ago, Andreas Popp was one of our customers and because he owned land in the area at that time, he made the request and the lane was named accordingly,” said Bouman. “He then apparently sold his lots and has not owned land, formerly acquired from us, in this area for the past 10+ years. Last year we did take the sign for Andreas Popp Lane down, in fact we have requested to change the name of the lane, and have inquired with the municipality to inform us as to how such process could transpire.”

Bouman continued:

Because I have been living in Cape Breton for more than 30 years, I have not personally experienced any negative repercussions from last year’s Der Spiegel article. Cape Breton is my home – I have built a life here and am raising my Canadian family here. My Cape Breton friends and neighbours know me, know what I’m all about and know how much I love Cape Breton and Canada.

Unfortunately, I have heard from others in the German community who are worried that anyone with a connection to Germany is implicated in the views and opinions attributed to certain individuals.

Appealing to right-wing preppers

Another of the real estate companies marketing Cape Breton to German speakers is F.E. Properties, “Your partner for land acquisition in Canada.”

F.E Properties is owned by Frank Eckhardt, whom Der Spiegel described as having the far-right leanings of the “Reichsbürger” (Citizens of the Reich) movement in Germany. According to German public radio, Reichsbürgers deny the legitimacy of the modern German state that developed after the fall of Nazi Germany.

Der Spiegel alleged that Eckhardt sends out emails that deny the Holocaust and promote Nazi ideology, and the Examiner reported here on his survivalist or prepper views, and his appearances promoting these on German television and online.

Eckhardt’s website boasts about the joys of life in Cape Breton “without W Lan [Wifi], vaccinations, 5G, free learning and without the need for school, in the middle of nature, that is almost nowhere else,” and the “networks with like-minded people.”

The website offers a long list of “rules, terms and conditions and disclaimer” for his “Cape Breton Eco Village” in Grand River, Richmond County, including:

The premises of the “Cape Breton Eco Village” may only be entered with my express permission and in my presence or in the presence of one of my employees.

Visits are only permitted by prior arrangement.

Consultations and inspections on site are free of charge for all my clients who have already purchased a property through my company. For all visitors who do not qualify, a one-time inspection fee of $500 plus 15% tax will be charged. This amount will be fully offset against the purchase price after a possible acquisition of an area of my company and will be refunded.

This photo shows the billboard for Frank Eckhardt's "Eco-village" with "off-grid living & permaculture project." Photo by Joan Baxter

Eco Village sign in Richmond County. Photo: Joan Baxter

In August 2020, Renate Sedlmeier, Department Manager of Business Support Canada at the Canadian German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, which has been helping Germans and German companies get established in Canada since 1968, told the Examiner that her German business clients were “devastated” by the media reports about conspiracy theorizing and far-right ideologues selling land to like-minded German speakers in Europe.

Sedlmeier also said that she had had a couple of complaints about Eckhardt overpricing land for German clients.

In the summer of 2020, the CBC’s Tom Ayers reported on a German couple who had been looking to immigrate to Canada and found themselves in email contact with Eckhardt in their efforts to find land in Cape Breton. The couple told Ayers that Eckhardt sent them emails with Nazi propaganda attached that, “among other things, honoured Germans from the Second World War and denied six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.”

After media reported on Eckhardt’s political views, vandals painted Swastikas on some of his F.E. Property Sales signs and on August 28, 2020, a window at his St. Peter’s office was broken.

This photo shows the F.E. Properties signboard vandalized with Swastika in 2020. Photo: Contributed

F.E. Properties sign vandalized with Swastika in 2020. Photo: Contributed

On September 2, Eckhardt sent a belligerent email — full of bold red, black, and blue font in various sizes — asking if he should send the bill for the thousands of dollars damages to me or to CBC.

Eckhardt asked why I was not writing an article about “Kristallnacht” of August 28 in St. Peter’s.

Kristallnacht — the “night of broken glass” — is the name given to the first of a series of pogroms against the Jewish population in Germany that was unleashed on the night of November 9 to 10, 1938, when Nazis killed close to 100 Jews, vandalizing and destroying their homes, businesses, and synagogues, and in its aftermath, arrested 30,000 Jewish men who were sent to concentration camps.

For this article, the Examiner emailed Eckhardt with a few questions about his real estate business, whether he buys and develops properties targeted to a particular market, and also inquiring if he still stands by his comparison between the vandalism of some of his real estate signs and Kristallnacht.[3]

He has not replied.

F.E. Properties billboard for “Land Purchases in Nova Scotia” in September 2021. Photo by Joan Baxter

F.E. Properties sign for “Land Purchases in Nova Scotia” in September 2021. Photo: Joan Baxter

Eckhardt appears to have replaced or repaired all his vandalized signs, and new ones are common on the sides of major thoroughfares in Richmond County.

Property Online shows that F.E. Properties owns only four properties in the county, and those are near his home and “Eco Village” in Grand River, Richmond County.

Eckhardt did not reply to questions about his real estate operations, but the German couple featured in Tom Ayers’ CBC story complained that the price Eckhardt wanted for the land he was offering to them was eight times the assessed value.

So what – if anything – is the issue?

Of course, there is nothing illegal about having extremist views or spreading conspiracy theories, selling land to foreign buyers, or charging buyers — be they residents or from another continent — inflated prices for real estate in Nova Scotia or anywhere else in the country.

Marketing property in Nova Scotia to specific international markets is certainly nothing unusual or new in “Canada’s Ocean Playground.”

There are those who argue that rural areas stand to benefit from international land sales, and that moneyed landowners from anywhere are a good thing, whether they are looking to build new residences on the land they buy, or just seasonal visitors to their Nova Scotia properties.

On September 25 this year, the government of Premier Tim Houston announced that it was spending $2.5 million “to support new provincial immigration and migration targets by helping Nova Scotia attract newcomers from across Canada and around the globe.”

The press release quoted Jill Balser, the province’s Minister of Labour, Skills and Immigration, saying the new marketing campaign would show off Nova Scotia’s “natural assets and demonstrate to the world why Nova Scotia is such an amazing place to study, work, live and raise a family.”

It continued:

A key priority for government, as identified in ministers’ mandate letters, is economic growth. The province will work to double Nova Scotia’s population to two million people by 2060 and attract, on average, 25,000 new residents each year.

But, as reported here and in Part 1 of this series, many of those buying land in parts of Nova Scotia such as Richmond and Inverness Counties, are non-residents, and the Examiner was unable to find any evidence that they ever intend to move here to live and “raise a family,” or go through the immigration process that would allow them to do so.

Indeed, the land is being promoted to German-speakers in Europe as a secure place to park their capital, as an investment, or a place to spend holidays rather than a place to come and live, a new home in Canada.

In German, Golden Lake Estates promotes its Cape Breton real estate this way:

Are you looking for a safe haven or a vacation home? With us you will find a wide range of carefully selected properties.

In their Wissensmanufaktur videos Andreas Popp and Eva Herman promote Cape Breton to German-speaking Europeans as a place they can temporarily seek refuge from their own countries that they claim are being overrun by millions of non-white refugees — whom they call illegal migrants — mostly from war-torn countries.

As reported in Part 1 of this series, in a May 2020 video, Popp told his audience they don’t need to leave their homeland forever, just until things are “solved” in Europe.

Still, nothing even remotely illegal.

Nor does the issue appear to be causing any concern at the Municipal Council of Richmond County.

Municipality of County of Richmond signboard showing hand drawn and idyllic secne of lake front and recreational activities. Photo: Joan Baxter

Municipality of County of Richmond sign. Photo: Joan Baxter

The Examiner asked Amanda Mombourquette, warden for Richmond County, about the monitoring of rural subdivision development in the county, and whether the subject of real estate being developed and sold primarily to German-speaking Europeans had ever arisen in the Municipal Council.

Mombourquette replied that there were bylaws governing subdivision planning, and the Eastern District Planning Commission administers these services.[4] There are no differences in tax rates for non-residents, and there are only two standard rates, one for residential ($.81 pre $100 assessment) and another for commercial ($2.11 per $100 assessment).

“We haven’t had any specific discussions on real estate being developed and sold primarily to German-speaking Europeans, or any particular group for that matter,” Mombourquette said.

Informants in Cape Breton who spoke to the Examiner say they are concerned that the trend is driving up land prices, which will make it impossible for local people or young families to afford land.

But municipalities stand to benefit from increased property taxes that can result from higher property values.

According to Sarah Herring, a spokesperson for Property Valuation Services Corporation, residential property assessments analyze at least 12 month of sales transactions, which includes the sale price of an individual property, and of similar properties in the geographic area. And:

Generally, the most common reasons for assessments to go up are an increase in the real estate market in that area (not just a single sale with a higher price), or improvements to a property (e.g., renovations).

Thus a new subdivision with multiple lots sold off at high prices would, presumably, result in higher assessments and thus higher tax revenues for municipalities that can always use the money.

So that brings us back to the question of “so what?” Are there any reasons to be concerned about non-residents of Nova Scotia, people from outside the province and the country snapping up land in the province, even if they have no intention of ever moving here, putting down roots, and becoming part of the local economy and community?

That is a huge and thorny question, one that has been debated for decades in Nova Scotia. It is the focus on the next and last article in this series.

Endnotes

[1] Every person living in Nova Scotia who is not Indigenous is a settler, and all are living on the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People.

[2] The follow-up questions that were sent to Rolf Bouman received no reply: “May I ask also if you collaborate with, or have any connection to Golden Lake Estates? Or are you completely separate and even “competing” real estate and development companies? I was a little surprised to see an Andreas Popp Lane on the CANEC / Canadian Pioneer estate in Evanston, given his  connection to Golden Lakes Estates’ predecessor, Cape Breton Real Solutions. Does Mr. Popp own land in your Evanston Estate, or did he once own land there? Also, have you seen or felt any negative repercussions following last year’s article in Der Spiegel about Andreas Popp / Eva Herman, and Frank Eckhardt? If so, I would very much appreciate hearing about that.”

[3] Questions emailed to Frank Eckhardt on October 24 included:

  1. Have you found that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased interest in your F.E. Property Sales business and thus in people wanting to move to and live in Cape Breton, or reduced it? Can you elaborate on why you think this is, depending on what you have found?
  2. Do you buy up and then sell land, like some other real estate / land development companies?
  3. Are you particularly interested in selling to German speakers, or to anyone interested in the land you sell?
  4. Are you selective about the people you sell to? If so, what are the criteria you use? Are you hoping to create a community of like-minded people in Cape Breton?
  5. Last year after your signs were vandalized, you wrote in an email to me that this was a “Kristallnacht” … Did the police ever find the guilty parties? Were you compensated? Do you still believe this comparison with Kristallnacht was justified?

[4] The Examiner emailed the Director of the Eastern District Planning Commission on October 14, with a list of questions about subdivision development in the region, the effects on property taxes, on wildlife habitat and watercourses, and the positive and negative impacts of such rural developments. He did not reply to the email.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*