Cabot Saint Lucia: Beach Access

Editor’s Note: This week, I’m focusing on the concerns that have been raised in Saint Lucia over Ben Cowan-Dewar’s latest golf development, Cabot Saint Lucia. First up: beach access.



Finola Jennings Clark says when she first heard that Cabot, the golf resort company founded by Torontonian Ben Cowan-Dewar and his American partner Mike Keiser, was looking at establishing in

Finola Jennings Clark

Finola Jennings Clark

Saint Lucia, she reached out to them via social media:

When I first contacted them…I said, “I hear you’re coming” and I didn’t say, “We don’t want you,” I said, “I’d just like to alert you to the fact that that coast is used by many people in different ways and it would be really good if you could plan to include a coastal path in your proposed development, so that you could work alongside the community.”

That was in 2015 when, by Cowan-Dewar’s own reckoning (see the MBC clip below), he first visited Saint Lucia and was “immediately taken by the natural beauty of the whole island” but particularly by the site he’d come to view — some 360 acres previously earmarked for a Raffles golf resort and real estate development. (As Clark pointed out, 360 acres of land is significant in Saint Lucia, an island that is 43 km long and 23 km wide at its widest — so small compared to Cape Breton, which is about 175 km long by 135 km at its widest, let alone compared to Canada.)

Clark received no response to her message (“that’s social media,” she says) and she didn’t follow up on it, so the next she heard of the proposed development was in 2019, when Cowan-Dewar arrived for a sod-turning ceremony with then-Saint Lucian Prime Minister (and self-described “product of Canada”) Allen Chastanet.

Soon after, word leaked that the National Insurance Corporation (NIC), Saint Lucia’s pension fund, had lent Cabot EC$27.5 million (CAD$12.5 million) of the EC$37.5 million (CAD$17 million) purchase price for the land. According to Philip J Pierre, then leader of the opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party (now prime minister), at the time of the sod-turning, Cabot didn’t fully own the land, nor had planning approval been granted for the development.

Groundbreaking at Cabot St Lucia held on June 14, 2019 – Jacob Sjöman

Groundbreaking at Cabot St Lucia held on 14 June  2019 (Photo by Jacob Sjöman)

This was the point at which the general public, which had been living in “blissful ignorance,” began paying attention to the Cabot Saint Lucia development, says Clark, who spoke to me by phone from Saint Lucia last week.

[I]t was only really when it became public knowledge that they used the NIC money…that people began to get upset. And because, I think, we had brought also into the mix the whole issue that this project was going to happen and people were going to lose their access to the coast and by then we’d researched what had happened in Canada and we had a little bit of an inkling of what was likely to happen…And so then people started getting frustrated and annoyed.

Clark, who specializes in sustainable travel and tourism, says she was originally part of an activist group questioning Cabot’s golf resort plans and has since become vice-chair of the Council of the Saint Lucia National Trust, a member organization established under the Saint Lucia National Trust Act in 1975 to “conserve the natural and cultural heritage of Saint Lucia.” The National Trust along with the Saint Lucia Archaeological and Historical Society have continued to raise red flags about the Cabot development.

On Monday, I spoke with Alison King, an environmental engineer and chair of the Council, who echoed Clark’s concern that proper consideration has not been given to the traditional uses of the beaches surrounding the Cabot development, but to understand the issues at play here, you first need to understand the concept of the “Queen’s Chain,” which will require a brief trip back in time.


I‘m cribbing my description of the Queen’s Chain from this 2020 National Trust position paper on the subject, which explains that this “coastal strip of reserved land” is derived from the ancient French reserve called Cinquante Pas du Roi, or “Fifty Paces of the King.” (French kings apparently had very long legs — a French king’s pas measures 3.73 feet.)

Portrait of Louis XIV

Louis XIV

It all started with Louis XIV, the Sun King, who issued an edict in 1674, declaring the coastal zone of France’s Caribbean territories the property of the State. His aim, according to a 1757 Ministerial dispatch was:

…to have land whereupon to establish, in the contour of the islands, towns, parishes, forts, entrenchments, batteries and other public and necessary works, as well as for their embellishment as for their defense.

As for the dimensions of the reserve, it extends:

…from the high water line, which is at a point where the splash of the wave at high tide ceases to run and based on the French definition, is 186.5 feet (56.85 metres).

Significantly, given the effects of climate change:

This definition of the Queen’s Chain deems the inland boundary of the Queen’s Chain not to be fixed as, for example, in the event of sea level rise, this boundary continues to be 186.5 feet inland from the high water line.

Although Saint Lucia ultimately ended up as a British, rather than a French, colony, the Queen’s Chain remained enshrined in its law because, as explained in this 1985 book review from the McGill Law Journal:

…Between 1879 and 1882, the then-British colony of St Lucia, an island in the West Indies, received slightly modified versions of the English texts of Quebec’s Civil Code and Code of Civil Procedure, of 1866 and 1867 respectively, as domestic legislation. What Quebec and St Lucia, which are otherwise distant and very different territories, had in common, and still have in common today, is a similar colonial background: originally, they were French colonies governed by French law, and later they were British colonies where French civil law survived, notwithstanding the change in “colonial masters”.

Article 355 of the Civil Code of Saint Lucia addresses the Queen’s Chain:

Roads and public ways maintained by the state, the Queen’s Chain, the sea shore, lands reclaimed from the sea, ports, harbours and roadsteads and generally all those portions of territory which do not constitute private property, are considered as being dependencies of the Crown.

That National Trust position paper makes a number of suggestions for the modern “use and preservation” of the Queen’s Chain and one of these is particularly germane to the Cabot project.


The government of Saint Lucia cannot sell Queen’s Chain land, but it can lease it and, as Alison King told me:

…there’s a tradition of leasing Queen’s Chain to developers, when it’s adjacent to their freehold. Now, when you have a lease, it doesn’t mean that you can do what you want, there are conditions attached to that lease. It may well be that the public still has access, that you can’t put certain types of hard development within that space, there may be conditions attached to the lease.

As mentioned, the property acquired by Cabot for its Saint Lucia resort was initially sold to Raffles Hotel and Resorts. When Cabot bought the land, says King:

…there were some [Queen’s Chain] leases that were attached to that property that was transferred, so they inherited not all but some of the leases…and now they are requesting the remainder of the property that is Queen’s Chain…be released to them.

The National Trust, however, objects to Cabot inheriting leases granted to another developer. King told me:

[W]e believe that, in fact, if property changes hands it should not [entail] automatic transfer of a lease, the Queen’s Chain lease should come back to the government, and that’s something that we are advocating for in terms of Queen’s Chain policy management.

As for why the lease should be returned, King says:

[Y]ou need to be able to control how…that property is being used. I mean, the Queen’s Chain is so important, it’s a buffer between the marine and the land space…it protects basically the marine space from whatever is going on — when they start putting their fertilizers and their pesticides, you don’t want that to go up to the water’s edge. Then, also, the climate change issue, we have sea level rise, we have storm surge, it’s not advised to be building in that space anyway…

Rendering of Sundowners restaurant, Cabot Saint Lucia

Architect’s rendering of “Sundowner’s” restaurant at Cabot Saint Lucia.

And finally, the issue of public access:

[I]t is traditionally public space and it should remain space.

King elaborated on this:

[I]f you go to an island like Barbados, for instance, which has hotels almost all the way around its coastline…as somebody who is not staying at a hotel, it is so difficult to find some way to get onto the beach because the hotel’s not going to let you through their property, you have to find the public accesses and they’re very few and far between.

Finola Jennings Clark told me that even in Saint Lucia, where public access is supposedly preserved by means of the Queen’s Chain, resort owners have many techniques for discouraging public use — installing bars, restaurants, permanent beach umbrellas and deck chairs; forcing locals to travel to the beach by shuttle; allowing locals to use the beach only if they buy a drink; permitting public access only by very steep roads; installing gates and hiring security guards to watch over beachgoers.

“It’s happened to all of us,” said Clark, of being on a “public” beach and being told to leave by a security guard. Clark used the example of Sugar Beach, a Viceroy resort located some 60 kilometers southwest of Cabot Saint Lucia on Jalousie beach and I found this Trip Advisor account of what is involved in visiting the beach if you are not a guest of the hotel:

We walked to Sugar Beach from a designated free (debatable) parking location. The resort does not allow non-guests to drive down to the beach. If you want to take a shuttle to the beach they charge $50 per person (with $50 value vouchers to their restaurant). It is free to walk down to the beach from the top of the hill, but it is more than a mile and quite steep. If you do choose to do this, wear your workout shoes. If we were to go again, we would take a water taxi.

We made the trek and when we arrived the beach was beautiful. If you are a non-guest they will escort you to the employee restrooms. It is also $50 to lay on one of the resort chairs (and you must give them a couple feet of distance). The resort staff make it very clear they don’t like the fact that it is free to access the beach if you aren’t staying there, but you can enjoy it because it is public property. Just know ahead of time what you are walking into.

Cabot’s beach access-solution, in light of these stories, seems textbook. The new CEO of Cabot Saint Lucia, Kristine Thompson (a Trinidadian who, in addition to heading Cabot’s high-end Saint Lucia project is the founder of Yay! Entertainment, an “international franchisor of Chuck E. Cheese” restaurants), explained during a June 2021 press conference with Cowan-Dewar:

[W]hat we’ve committed to is that any Saint Lucian who wants to access those beaches can come to our reception, can park and we would escort them down in a golf cart to the beach until they were finished and wanted to go back and then we take them home.


Pressed by a reporter as to when such access would be possible, Thompson said it would be during Cabot’s business hours.

As Neal Livingston, the Cape Breton filmmaker and environmental activist who has been fighting Cabot for beach access in Inverness told me, “That’s not how people hang out at the beach.”