Outhouses and 'honey lanes' create property title problems in Cape Breton

The federal government is trying to avoid a stink over outhouses from generations ago that could cause land title problems for about 500 homeowners in two former Cape Breton coal mining communities. 

Officials are meeting with residents in areas of Glace Bay and Donkin to discuss the peculiar property problem and how it might be solved.

Backyard lavatories were the norm before modern plumbing and the material deposited in them had to be cleaned out regularly by a man and his horse-drawn "honey wagon."

To reach each of these outhouses, the "honey man" followed a strip of land about three to six metres wide known as the honey lane, according to Gerard Shaw, regional director for Public Services and Procurement Canada.

Federal land

Those pathways were on land owned by Dominion Coal Company, property later taken over by the federal government when the company shut down.

"The strips of land were never transferred out of the federal inventory," Shaw said, which means homeowners don't have clear title to the strips. 

In subsequent decades, many people built swimming pools, garages and other buildings that encroached on the honey lane. They thought it didn't matter because the outhouses, along with the honey man, were long gone and no one needed that access to their property.

They were wrong.

As a result, the federal government has initiated a program to dispose of surplus lands to residential property owners. To do that, a series of open houses will be held next week in the Table Head, Caledonia and No. 11 areas of Glace Bay. There was also one this week in Donkin.

Migrate the property

Shaw said each homeowner will have the opportunity to see a map that shows what part of the property is affected and eventually a resolution will be found to transfer that piece of land to them.

"We'll do the surveying, we'll migrate that property. We will look to transfer the property at no cost to the homeowner," he said.

After that, because the land will then be registered, the owner is legally able to sell it.

Shaw estimated it will take between three to five years to complete the entire process.

But that doesn't mean it will be over, he said. The process will start anew with a fresh round of meetings with people who live along former honey lanes in Sydney Mines and New Waterford, where the situation is exactly the same.