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The Hillside Trail in the Spyglass Hill area in Rothesay, N.B., on May 12.Chris Donovan/The Globe and Mail

It’s where teens gathered for bonfires and beer and where hikers and dog walkers took in sweeping vistas of the Kennebecasis River along trails that wound through blueberry bushes and thickets of pine to the highest, most panoramic viewpoint in the land.

The storied 85 acres known as the Spyglass Hill properties have a history tied to the most monied family dynasties of the town of Rothesay – the Irvings, the Crosbys, the Olands.

When the prestigious parcels of land went up for sale last year for $3-million – put on the market by Dennis Oland – locals were vocal about the loss of a treasured green space and requested that the town council preserve the land for public use.

The town received letters from concerned residents, worried that the popular dog-walking area would be developed and become inaccessible. Some requested that the town buy it, and one councillor suggested holding a public meeting to discuss it. But such an acquisition was too steep.

The well-heeled town had plenty of green space already, said deputy mayor Matt Alexander at a town council meeting on Feb. 13, 2023, and furthermore, he added, the owners had expressed concerns with people trespassing, tearing down signage and littering on their private land.

Instead, another prominent family with connections to the oil and gas industry in New Brunswick and Alberta snapped it up to build an expansive estate with spectacular views of the river.

It sold under asking price, for $2,225,000 to a numbered company (744863 NB Ltd.) owned by Deborah McKenzie of Calgary. She owns a home in Rocky View near Calgary area with Jon McKenzie – and it is her name and their address listed on a variance application for the Spyglass Hill properties to the town of Rothesay.

Mr. McKenzie is the chief executive officer of Cenovus but has strong ties to New Brunswick. He stepped onto the Irving board in February this year, a throwback of sorts to his days working for the company a decade ago.

He lived in the province for four years working for Irving Oil; first as its chief financial officer, hired in 2011 from Calgary-based Suncor Energy Inc. SU-T, and then as its chief commercial officer. During that time, he had responsibility for all supply, trading and commercial aspects of Irving.

In 2015, he was lured over to Husky Energy Inc., capping the company’s months-long search for a new CFO. He jumped to Cenovus CVE-T to become its CFO three years later, but in a twist of corporate fate would end up dealing with Husky once again in 2021, playing an instrumental role in a merger between the two companies. Mr. McKenzie took the reins as CEO at Cenovus in April, 2023, replacing Alex Pourbaix.

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The surrounding hills are speckled with high end homes and the property itself is flanked by a golf and country club and the prestigious Rothesay Netherwood School.Chris Donovan/The Globe and Mail

An application for a variance on the land says clients are planning to return to the area and build a home, pool, pool house, cottage, and a three-storey barn-style garage, according to a boundary application tabled at the Rothesay Planning Advisory Committee on Dec. 4, 2023.

Neither McKenzie replied to calls or queries from The Globe and Mail.

The surrounding hills are speckled with high end homes and the property itself is flanked by a golf and country club and the prestigious Rothesay Netherwood School, where the couple has been known to make multiple philanthropic donations.

Elizabeth and Richard Currie, former long-time president of Loblaw, known for growing the company into a multibillion-dollar enterprise, also have a home next door. The Crosbys, of Crosby Molasses, and Sandra Irving, the wife of late billionaire Arthur Irving who died earlier this month, also have elaborate estates nearby.

J.D. Irving Ltd., with companies that include Cavendish Farms and Irving Shipbuilding, owns vacant residential land next door.

The Spyglass properties were sold by Kingshurst Estates Ltd., a company that once belonged to former Moosehead Breweries scion-turned-industrialist Richard Oland. It is now controlled by Dennis Oland and his father’s former business associate, Robert McFadden.

Richard Oland, 69, was found bludgeoned to death in his office in uptown Saint John in 2011. His son, Dennis, a financial adviser, came under suspicion because of his money problems and strained relationship, and was charged with second-degree murder. But after a years-long police investigation and two trials, he was acquitted of murder in 2019.

The rising price of land in recent years motivated him to sell, said Mr. Oland in an e-mail to The Globe. The land was originally purchased by his grandfather, Philip Oland, in the early 1970s. At the time it included the Kingshurst Dairy, known for its jersey cows that produced buttery high-fat milk, delivered across the Kennebecasis Valley area in tall clear glass bottles.

“My father ran the dairy in those years and a development plan was put in place to build residential homes on the land. The development never happened,” wrote Dennis Oland. “There was always something more important going on with other family businesses, so it just went on the back-burner.”

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The land was often accessed by the public, he added, as it would have been too difficult and expensive to fence it off or restrict access.Chris Donovan/The Globe and Mail

The land was also used for equestrian pursuits – and some of the jumps remain today. Mr. Oland said his grandparents operated a pony club on the land and held annual horse shows with cross country horse jumping competitions that extended onto the grounds of a nearby exclusive private school, Rothesay Netherwood School. To stop overgrowth, Mr. Oland said the fields were mowed every five years, a task that took about two weeks.

The land was often accessed by the public, he added, as it would have been too difficult and expensive to fence it off or restrict access.

“It’s definitely a beautiful place to go walking,” he said, comparing it with the large open park lands in Britain, like Exmoor National Park or Yorkshire Dales National Park although on a much smaller scale.

“The top of Spyglass has a wonderful view of the river up and down the entire valley, probably the best view in the entire Kennebecasis Valley.”

In recent months, the McKenzies sought and received permission to subdivide the property, reconfiguring the three long strips of land they purchased overlooking the river, into three new chunky lots. The first two are now at the front of the property, where they plan to build a stately home with a circular driveway, in keeping with some of the other mansions owned by the province’s famed industrialists in the area.

The third parcel of land, made up of more than 56 acres of woodland, is intended to be preserved for public use, said Sandra Cooke, principal of landscape architecture company Brackish Design Studio at the Rothesay Planning Advisory Committee late last year.

And with that, it appears local recreationalists haven’t lost all access to the land, perhaps ensuring that its next chapter can be preserved for future generations.

With a report from Stephanie Chambers

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