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crumpled 500 ml plastic water bottle with a blue label identifying it as "Big 8" brand, lying amid stones, fallen leaves, grass and a fir branch

This is the second of a two-part series looking at two commercial groundwater wells in Colchester County – one owned by the Sobeys company Big 8 Beverages, and the other by Canadian Springs, owned by Aquaterra. This article examines some of the environmental implications of such commercial water bottling, when the planet is experiencing not just a climate crisis, but also a plastic pollution crisis. This article was originally published by the Halifax Examiner, and the first article in this series is available here.

In June 2013, the year the Sobeys company, Big 8 Beverages, received a grant of nearly half a million dollars from the Nova Scotia government, it installed equipment in its Stellarton facility that allowed the company to produce its own bottles and to “significantly reduce” its costs.

Two years later, Big 8 won Invest Nova Scotia’s “export achievement award.” To honour the occasion, Invest Nova Scotia put together a promotional video for the company, which features narration from Brad Bethell, Big 8 general manager.

The face of a clean-shaven man with short-cropped brown hair and blue eyes in the foreground, with a large plastic bottle of water with a blue tint and cap behind him, and under his face, a blue circle logo with three curved lines inside it, and the words 'Brad Bethell, General Manager" in a blue banner across the bottom of the screenshot, taken from a video.

Screenshot from Invest Nova Scotia video featuring 2015 Export Achievement Award Winner: Big 8 Beverages, owned by Sobeys, showing its general manager, Brad Bethell.

In the video, Bethell said:

Essentially, we can bottle a 500 ml bottle of water inline from a pre-form all the way through to palletizing it without touching it, so it’s very efficient, very effective, and we actually produce over 250,000 single bottles a day.

You really have to understand your market that you’re operating in now, your domestic market, and make sure you’re one of the best. And then once you know the business model, the cost, the logistics, we work with NSBI [Nova Scotia Business Inc.] to make some great contacts to help educate ourselves, on what we need to do to be competitive, and to get into the export trade.

A man wearing a baseball cap and glasses stands in the middle of a U-shaped assemblyline full of plastic bottles full of orange pop with labels identifying it in navy blue lettering as Big 8.

Still showing the Big 8 bottling plant in Stellarton, taken from the Invest Nova Scotia video promoting 2015 Export Achievement Award Winner: Big 8 Beverages.

Invest Nova Scotia also did a Q and A with Julie Nowe, Big 8’s finance and business development manager. Nowe said the “cost reduction” Big8 was able to make by producing its own bottles, and the bottling plant in Stellarton being close to the port of Halifax, positioned Big 8 for exporting “top-quality Canadian bottled spring water or soft drinks.”

“Now we’re exporting to China, Barbados, and Aruba, and we’re looking at further development in Asia and some Middle Eastern countries,” said Nowe.

“We have a niche here because of our excellent water source. We acquire our water from an underground aquifer in Valley, Nova Scotia, which is one of the purest aquifers in Canada,” Nowe noted.

As reported in Part 1 of this series, the two corporations extracting water in Colchester County for bottling are Empire Company that owns Sobeys, which in turn owns Big 8 Beverages, and Primo Water Corporation that owns Aquaterra, which in turn owns Canadian Springs.

According to Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change (NSECC), Sobeys has a water withdrawal permit that allows it to withdraw 650,000 litres a day, which works out to 2.4 billion litres a year. For this, it pays the provincial government $360.27 annually. Aquaterra can withdraw 961,000 litres a day, or 3.6 billion litres a year, for which it pays $408.58 annually. Continue reading Nova Scotia is practically giving away ‘some of the purest water in Canada’

Part 2. What are the environmental costs of bottling and exporting Nova Scotia's groundwater?

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Supermarket display of plastic Big 8 "spring water" in bottles with their blue and white labels, and price label in yellow saying "So local" and the price $3.79 for plastic bundles of 24 bottles.

This is the first of a two-part series looking at bottled water from Nova Scotia’s underground, how much the province charges for it, and the real value of fresh water in the midst of a climate crisis. This article looks at the withdrawal of large amounts of groundwater in Colchester County by two large corporations, and at municipal efforts to benefit from those operations. This article was first published by the Halifax Examiner on January 2, 2024.

Every year, two corporations withdraw hundreds of millions of litres of groundwater from wells in Colchester County. They bottle the water – said to be “pristine” and “some of the purest water in Canada – and sell it far and wide, even internationally, as “spring water.”

The two corporations are Empire Company that owns Sobeys, which owns Big 8 Beverages, and Primo Water Corporation, which owns Aquaterra that in turn owns Canadian Springs.

It’s impossible to know how much those two corporations make from sales of that water.

And as of this writing, the Halifax Examiner has not yet been able to find out how much water Big 8 and Canadian Springs actually withdraw every year from their wells, which are tucked away on rural roads east of Truro in Colchester County.

Satellite image from Google Maps showing networks of suburban neighbourhood roads in eastern Truro and to the east of Truro, with the Salmon River visible and tracing a course from the upper right of the photo to the lower left corner. While some landmarks such as Tim Hortons and Home Hardware and Foodland locations are marked on Google maps, of note in this screenshot are two yellow circles with stars in them that mark the locations of the Big 8 and Canadian Springs well sites east of Truro.

Google Maps screenshot showing the locations – with yellow circles – of the well sites for Big 8 (owned by Sobeys that is part of the Empire Company) and Canadian Springs (owned by Aquaterra, that is part of the Primo Water Corp) east of Truro, NS.

Canadian Springs hasn’t responded to any of our questions, despite two emails and one phone call that was shunted to “corporate,” where the line went dead.

A Sobeys spokesperson did reply to some emailed questions, but didn’t answer the question of how much water the company withdraws in Colchester County.

We do know, however, how much Sobeys and Primo Water pay the municipality of Colchester for water that comes from the county, and “one of the purest aquifers in Canada.”

Absolutely nothing. Not one penny. Continue reading Nova Scotia is practically giving away ‘some of the purest water in Canada’

Part 1: Each year, Sobeys and Aquaterra pump hundreds of millions of lites of water from wells in Nova Scotia and bottle and sell it in grocery stores for potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. For that water, the province charges the two companies a total of $769.

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Sign at the entrance to the Pictou County pulp mill declaring Northern Pulp is a Paper Excellence company. Photo: Joan Baxter

Sign at the entrance to the Pictou County pulp mill declaring Northern Pulp a Paper Excellence company. Photo: Joan Baxter

This is how the “Friends of a New Northern Pulp” describe themselves on their website:

We are Nova Scotians who care deeply about our province, our forests, and our communities. We are the 36,000 Nova Scotians who own small and large woodlots.

So, just one line in and the BS begins.

The wording of the second sentence suggests that every one of the 36,000 small and large woodlot owners in the province is a “friend” of a “new Northern Pulp.”

If this statement were true, then I — as a woodlot owner — would count among the “friends” of the “new Northern Pulp.”

What is the “new Northern Pulp” anyway? If it’s the company they’re talking about, it looks an awful lot like the old Northern Pulp.

Northern Pulp’s recent submissions to the BC Supreme Court show it’s still the same old Paper Excellence company, one of whose declared “owners” is just an address in a popular tax haven (The Netherlands).

Corporate structure of Paper Excellence from Bruce Chapman 2020 affidavit to BC Supreme Court

Corporate structure of Paper Excellence from Bruce Chapman 2020 affidavit to BC Supreme Court

Continue reading Northern Pulp has a new set of “friends”

But the “friends” look familiar, and the “new” Northern Pulp sure looks a lot like the same old Northern Pulp.

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This article was originally published by the Halifax Examiner on November 28, 2021.

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 not just 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, with 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 urban 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.

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

This, the final of three articles, looks at previous efforts to come to grips with the question of land ownership regulation in Nova Scotia, what it means for affordability of properties, and why it’s all been so contentious for so long.

Read part 1 here.

Read part 2 here.

Stunning white rock shoreline near Terence Bay. Photo by Joan Baxter

Nova Scotia coastline near Terence Bay. Photo: Joan Baxter

It was a spring day, and as they’d been doing for some weeks, Jan and Paul (not their real names) were driving around looking for land on the South Shore of Nova Scotia, where Jan had spent a good part of her childhood.

Both were living and working in Halifax, and wanted a property they could call their own, where they would settle down and eventually retire. They had been scouting out properties for weeks, and had yet to find a place they could afford. For many years, the South Shore had been popular with American and European buyers who had no problem paying hefty prices for oceanfront properties.

“One day we were driving out near Terence Bay,” Jan recalled for the Halifax Examiner. “And we saw this sign that said ‘lots for sale’ on a dirt road that seemed to lead to the waterfront. So we just started driving. The gate was open.”

Suddenly another vehicle came out of nowhere and cut them off. The woman driver stopped her car, slammed the door, and approached their open window, angrily informing them they were on private property.

“We said we were sorry but that we had seen a sign that there were lots for sale, and we told her we were potential buyers,” Jan said.

The woman, who had a strong German accent, was still angry, and proclaimed loudly, “We don’t sell to Canadians.”

She said the lots were only for Europeans.

Jan and Paul turned around and headed back to the main road.

Jan, a fifth generation Nova Scotian, was in tears.

This happened back in the mid-1990s, but Jan remembers it as if it were yesterday, especially her visceral reaction to being told that Canadians were not welcome to buy land in … Nova Scotia.

A new tax levy for non-residents?

Non-resident land ownership in Nova Scotia has been a contentious issue for decades.

Canadian Pioneer Estates billboard in Richmond County, Cape Breton. Photo by Joan Baxter

Canadian Pioneer Estates sign in Richmond County, Cape Breton. Photo: Joan Baxter

The question of whether those who own land, reside and pay taxes in Nova Scotia should pay lower property taxes than those who do not has been debated, discussed, and disagreed on since the 1960s. Continue reading “Please don’t sell Nova Scotia:” Additional taxes on non-resident landowners have been discussed since the 1960s. Now the debate is on again as non-residents snap up property in Cape Breton.

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

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This article was originally published by the Halifax Examiner on November 19, 2021.

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 longstanding questions about non-resident land ownership in Nova Scotia.

This three-part series follows up on the 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. The first of the three articles updates the story of conspiracy-minded German speakers promoting Cape Breton as a refuge.

This photo shows the gravel road into the Beaver Lake Estates properties that Golden Lake Estates has been selling to people in Germany over the past two years. Photo by Joan Baxter

Beaver Lodge Estates road. Photo: Joan Baxter

The new subdivision is called Beaver Lodge Estates, and at this point, it’s little more than a gravel road carved into the scrubby woodlands near Cleveland in Richmond County, Cape Breton, about a 15-minute drive east from Port Hawkesbury.

Google Maps Screen Shot showing Beaver Lodge Estates in its first phase

Google Maps Screen Shot showing Beaver Lodge Estates in its first phase

The 57 lots in the Beaver Lodge Estates — where no beaver lodge is visible, by the way — are very basic. And that’s being generous.

Some are still marked only by signs bearing lot numbers affixed to trees. Some are small clearings with no septic system or water supply, accessed by a driveway branching off the two-kilometre-long gravel road that has been driven through the wooded landscape.

Beaver Lodge Estates road in Richmond County, Cape Breton (Contributed)

Beaver Lodge Estates road in Richmond County, Cape Breton (Contributed)

So far, just four of the lots have homes on them, and only two of those are occupied.

This photo shows a Beaver Lodge Estates lot with prefab house. Photo by Joan Baxter

Beaver Lodge Estates lot with prefab house. Photo: Joan Baxter

The land development company behind the venture, Golden Lake Estates, says it is selling off the lots in phases.

Golden Lake Estates website showing Beaver Lodge Phase II. Screen Shot from September 30, 2021.

Golden Lake Estates website showing Beaver Lodge Phase II. Screen Shot from September 30, 2021.

“After the first and second phase of Beaver Lodge Estates were so well received, we were able to continue this development with the third phase and thus 16 more properties,” says the blurb on the website of Golden Lake Estates, the new name for the company that emerged after an “amalgamation” of Cape Breton Real Solutions in September 2020, which attracted negative press coverage in July and August that year.

More on that later, but first a look at who is snapping up Golden Lake Estates properties, and at what price. Continue reading Marketing Cape Breton as a “refuge” for “clear thinkers.” Development companies selling properties to German-speaking non-residents who “want to live with the values of Germany from 1933 to 1945.”

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This book review was originally published in the Halifax Examiner on November 17, 2021.

This photo shows the cover of the book "Testimonio" and it shows Diodora Hernández who was shot near Hudbay’s Marlin gold mine in Guatemala losing sight in one eye and hearing in one ear Photo: James Rodríguez

Book cover featuring Diodora Hernández who was shot near Hudbay’s Marlin gold mine in Guatemala losing sight in one eye and hearing in one ear Photo: James Rodríguez

Alvaro Sandoval is a Guatemalan who knows all too well what it is like to be attacked and criminalized for trying to defend his community from North American gold mining companies, and he has a message for Canadians and Americans:

I would like to call on the people and politicians of Canada and the United States to reflect seriously on your way of life in your so-called developed countries; that your way of life is achieved at the cost of exploiting the natural resources in our countries that you call “underdeveloped.”

Sandoval is from San José del Golfo, a community about an hour’s drive northeast of the capital, Guatemala city.

Like others in his and neighbouring communities, Sandoval began his resistance to gold mining in 2012 when he got wind of plans by Vancouver-based junior mining company Radius Gold to open the Tambor gold mine in the area.

This photo shows Angelina Noj from San Pedro Ayampuc in Guatemala holding her small son Esmit in front of the blocked entrance gate to the Tambor gold mine. Photo: James Rodríguez

Angelina Noj from San Pedro Ayampuc in Guatemala holds her son Esmit in front of the blocked entrance gate to the Tambor gold mine. Photo: James Rodríguez

For more than five years, Sandoval and his family were part of a community movement that maintained a permanent peaceful encampment outside the mine, a camp known as “La Puya” (The Thorn). Riot police were repeatedly dispatched to the site to violently evict the people at the encampment.

Although the Canadian company Radius Gold – that promotes itself with the motto “Relentless Exploration, Great Discoveries” – initiated the mine, it didn’t keep it very long. In 2012, shortly after two hitmen on a motorbike shot at and attempted to assassinate community member, Yolanda Oquelí, Radius sold its interests to its junior American partner, Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA). However, Radius Gold maintained a royalty interest in the mine’s gold production.

After years of community resistance to the mine, in 2016 the Guatemalan Supreme Court finally and definitively revoked the company’s license. The gold mine – which had been illegal all along – was closed down. It had never obtained “free, prior, and informed consent” from Indigenous communities in the area.

This photo shows popular art on a wall saying “Todos somos la puya” (We are all The Thorn”) inspired by the resistance to the Tambor gold mine in Guatemala. Photo: Catherine Nolin

Popular art on a wall saying “Todos somos la puya” (We are all The Thorn”) inspired by the resistance to the Tambor gold mine in Guatemala. Photo: Catherine Nolin

Sandoval and his daughter Ana would like to see people in North America help reign in their mining companies that are wreaking havoc on Indigenous lands and people in Guatemala and beyond:

We call on the Canadian and American people to investigate and learn about how your companies come here and violate our rights; how your companies participate in and take advantage of the corruption of our governments that serve the interests of your companies to then violate our rights and harm the wellbeing of our natural resources, our communities, and our people.

We call on your politicians and business leaders to reflect on how you do your work as politicians and business people; we call on you to do your work in an honourable way and not in a way that profits from the blood and tears of other people. Like you, we merit respect in life.

The Sandovals’ messages are contained in a new book that details in sometimes horrifying detail the behaviour of Canadian-owned mines in Guatemala, a country that suffered 36 years of armed conflict, which only ended in 1996 when a Peace Accord was signed.

The book documents the complicity of the Canadian government in promoting Canadian companies and mining-friendly laws in the country on the heels of decades of genocidal military governments, and the unwitting complicity of the Canadian people whose pensions are invested in those companies. Continue reading “It pains me to tell you that the image of Canada is severely damaged:” damning testimony in a new book reveals the horrific record of Canadian mining companies in Guatemala

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Nova Scotia’s Billy Joyce – Canada’s Red Pill – erstwhile YouTube channel promoting QAnon

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Halifax Examiner on September 13, 2020, before the US election and the storming of the Capitol in Washington on January 6, which involved many QAnon adherents. This article contains graphic descriptions of conspiracy theories about child abuse and torture that may not be suitable for all readers. Jesselyn Cooke at the Huffington Post has written a powerful and heart-wrenching account of how QAnon affects families.

The change in the Nova Scotian woman – I’ll call her Lidia – was dramatic and it happened suddenly. According to a member of her family, Lidia had always been left leaning and progressive, and in 2016, had said she strongly supported Bernie Sanders in his bid to be the US Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.

Then, one day about a couple of years ago, after she spent time speaking with a sibling in the United States, Lidia did an about-face.

“She suddenly went all weird and Trumpy on us. But she couldn’t stand Trump before,” said a family member who worries about Lidia and the way her new belief system is affecting people around her, including her children.

“It has broken up the whole family,” said the relative.

The cause of Lidia’s transformation?

In a word: QAnon.

How it began

Today QAnon is a global movement fuelled by convoluted conspiracy theories. But it began with a single post on October 28, 2017 by an anonymous entity on the 4chan internet forum, on a “politically incorrect page” in a dark corner of the internet that has been criticized for its racist, violent and misogynistic posts.

In the months that followed, there was little media attention paid to this online phenomenon, with the notable exception of the excellent podcast “QAnon Anonymous,” hosted by Julian Feeld, Travis View and Jake Rockatansky, which, almost from the beginning has provided in-depth and critical coverage of QAnon. Continue reading QAnon without borders

The conspiracy theory that originated in the US has become a global movement, and has attracted adherents in Nova Scotia. Anti-hate activists are concerned about it.

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The making of a toxic mess and the uncalculated cost of previous gold rushes

Toxic tailings from previous gold rush at Montague Mines in Halifax Regional Municipality remain exposed, and recreational users are exposed to them. Photo: Joan Baxter

This is Part 1 of a three-part story, an earlier version of which appeared in March 2020 in the Halifax Examiner, about the toxic legacy from historic gold mines in Nova Scotia, which its citizens will be paying many millions of dollars to try to clean up, and how the contamination at just one of these sites — Montague Mines in Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) — is still affecting lives today, and may also affect a large new residential subdivision that is proposed for nearby Port Wallace, between the Highway 107 extension and Waverley Road. 

It’s a complicated mess, with a lot of conflicting interests, some powerful players — the Shaw Group through its subsidiary Clayton Developments, and its president, former HRM Chief Administrative Officer Richard Butts — and different levels of government and public agencies.

It’s also been difficult to get clear answers to some straightforward questions about the situation, but I’ll get to that. 

In Part 1, we’ll set the scene with a look at gold mining in Nova Scotia and how we got to where we are. 

Historic gold mining districts in Nova Scotia

This tale begins with colonialism, with the theft of others’ lands and appropriation of natural assets that has always driven it.

In 1578, Queen Elizabeth I of England granted a patent to “adventurer” Sir Humphrey Gilbert, which gave her the right to one-fifth of any gold and silver he found in eastern North America. Gilbert’s expedition failed to make it across the ocean, so Elizabeth didn’t get her hands on any gold from what is today known as Nova Scotia.

In subsequent centuries, many settlers reported seeing gold in the province, and names such as Cap d’Or and Bras d’Or suggest that Acadians were well aware of its presence. But it wasn’t until news of the gold fever that was gripping Australia and California in the mid-1800s reached this part of the world that settlers started hunting for gold and taking its presence seriously.[1]

One of these was John Pulsiver, a farmer from what is now Chaswood in the Musquodoboit Valley. According to his own account, in 1860 Pulsiver was camping near Mooseland with three Mi’kmaq guides – James, Paul and Francis Paul. They had run out of provisions, so one of the party went off to procure supplies. Pulsiver waited in the forest, and happened to spy a piece of quartz in a nearby brook. When he broke it into pieces, he found pieces of gold.

Pulsiver took his news to Premier Joseph Howe, who reportedly scoffed at him, telling him to go home and mend his old shoes.

Pulsiver’s account, like that of several others wishing to claim they had been the first to “discover” gold in Nova Scotia, was published in the 1868 book by Alexander Heatherington called “The gold fields of Nova Scotia.”

Of course it would be misleading to say that Europeans “discovered” anything on this continent, including gold in Mi’kma’ki. The Mi’kmaq knew about the presence of gold, which they called wisawsuliewei, and would show it to European immigrants and visitors when they were guiding them. But they had no special fondness for the metal, and certainly didn’t mine it, polluting the water and destroying land that sustained them.

So it doesn’t really matter which of the settlers lays claim to the first gold find in Nova Scotia. What matters is that all the speculation about Pulsiver’s and others’ finds unleashed the first of three gold rushes in the province – one that lasted until 1874, a second from 1896 to 1903, and a third from 1932 until 1942. Continue reading Port Wallace Gamble: The real estate boom meets Nova Scotia’s toxic mine legacy (Part 1)

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In the shadow of Montague Gold Mines – how historic pollution is haunting big plans for developing Port Wallace

This is a story, an earlier version of which was published in the Halifax Examiner in March 2020, about the toxic legacy from historic gold mines in Nova Scotia, which its citizens will be paying many millions of dollars to try to clean up, and how the contamination at just one of these sites – Montague Mines in Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) – is still affecting us today.

This, the second in a series of three articles about historic gold mining that is coming back to haunt Nova Scotia, looks at how contamination from an old gold mining site is affecting plans for a large new subdivision planned in HRM. Part 1. can be read here.

Port Wallace 2016 presentation development map & schedule

For a few years there, things were chugging along well for Clayton Developments’ ambitious plans for a large new residential subdivision on hundreds of acres of woods and wetlands in Port Wallace.

At first glance it looks like an ideal place to put in a new subdivision. At least I imagine it does through a developer’s eyes.

Port Wallace and environs. Google satellite.

Located between the Waverley Road and the Forest Hills Extension, Port Wallace is not far from Burnside and Dartmouth Crossing, and there is good highway access to the Halifax airport. And the development site appears to be a lovely natural setting through which Barry’s Run flows, close to Lake Charles and Shubie Park.

Even if a few residents in adjacent communities had expressed concerns about several possible negative effects of the new subdivision, it looked as if nothing would get in the way of Clayton’s master plan for Port Wallace.

And then something did. But I’ll get to that.

First some background.

Potential for development … and for problems

HRM originally identified Port Wallace as a potential development area in its 2006 Regional Plan. Since then, it has undertaken a barrage of studies to assess its potential for development, and also potential problems.

A study by AECOM in 2013 looked at the possible effects that a subdivision in Port Wallace would have on the Shubenacadie Lakes sub-watershed.

At the heart of that sub-watershed is Lake Charles, which is close to the Port Wallace lands slated for residential development. The AECOM report noted that Lake Charles is particularly important in the lakes system, being the headwater lake that discharges both north and south:

Historical reports suggest that approximately 60% of its discharge flows north to William and on to Lakes Thomas, Fletcher and Grand. The remaining 40% of the discharge from Lake Charles flows south to Lakes Micmac and Banook and ultimately to Dartmouth Cove in Halifax Harbour.

Water flows from Lake Charles south to Lakes Micmac and Banook and then to Dartmouth Cove. Photo: Joan Baxter

AECOM also found that “the primary human activity impacting water quality is changes to land use resulting from development within the subwatershed.” (This should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched the deterioration of water quality in Dartmouth lakes as subdivisions have mushroomed around them and homes have crowded their shores over the past half century.) Continue reading Port Wallace Gamble: The real estate boom meets Nova Scotia’s toxic mine legacy (Part 2)

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