It’s been months in the making, and for shareholders of Australia’s St Barbara Ltd it looks like one hell of a great deal.

At the end of June, St Barbara sold off its most lucrative gold mining property — the Gwalia mine near Leonora in Australia — to Genesis Minerals, another Australian miner, for about $327 million.

Financial analysts explain that it’s a “planned move which creates value of St Barbara shareholders and even does so in a tax efficient manner. ” Which means, of course, that the shareholders can avoid tax bills, and even if St Barbara shares dropped 45% on the sale, that just made St Barbara shareholders “richer.”

Pity that governments of countries and provinces where gold miners operate aren’t nearly so adept at seeing that their constituents profit handsomely in exchange for all the damage done to their landscapes.

The Touquoy mine in Moose River, Nova Scotia, has been in operation since late 2017, when Atlantic Gold opened the province’s very first open pit gold mine. In 2019, Australia’s St Barbara bought Atlantic Gold for $722 million, as the Halifax Examiner reported here.

Three men in dar suits and one woman stand behind the newly cut golden ribbon at the opening of Atlantic Gold's Moose River open pit gold mine in late 2017, with an RCMP officer in uniform in the background. Left to right: Lloyd Hines, then Nova Scotia Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, then Atlantic Gold Chairman & CEO Steven Dean, then Atlantic Gold COO Maryse Belanger, and Chief Terrance Paul, then Co-Chair of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs.
Screenshot showing official opening of the Touquoy gold mine from erstwhile Atlantic Gold website, grabbed in late 2017 by the Internet archive Wayback Machine.

In the past five years, Atlantic Gold and St Barbara have produced many hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold at the Touquoy mine.

Not a penny of tax to the province

But Natural Resources Canada reports show Atlantic Gold didn’t pay any federal taxes, and neither did St Barbara until four years after the mine produced its first gold bar. 

In 2021, St Barbara’s subsidiary Atlantic Mining NS that operates the mine paid the Canada Revenue Agency $9.1 million, and in 2022 another $7.6 million, for a grand total of less than $17 million.

And Nova Scotia, which will have to live with the environmental legacy caused by the Touquoy mine and monitor the site in perpetuity, has not collected a single penny of corporate tax from Atlantic Gold or St Barbara.

The only direct income the province has received is in royalties, which have amounted to $7.7 million over five years.

With the sale of its lucrative mining properties in Australia, St Barbara is now left with just two operations. One is the troubled Simberi gold mine in Papua New Guinea. The other St Barbara calls its “Atlantic operations” in Nova Scotia.

St Barbara acquired these mining operations and properties in Nova Scotia when it bought Atlantic Gold in 2019. According to The Australian Financial Review reporter Peter Ker, after that acquisition, it looked as if a “black cat” had crossed St Barbara’s path.

Related: Nova Scotia is St Barbara’s black cat

Big but unfulfilled plans for eastern Nova Scotia

St Barbara’s Atlantic operations consist of the Touquoy gold mine in Moose River, where the company has exhausted the gold in the open pit and is now processing stockpiles of rock, and its so-far unfulfilled plan to open three more open pit gold mines along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. St Barbara also holds hundreds of exploration licences across the province.

A map of Nova Scotia from a former website of Atlantic Gold, before it as acquired by St Barbara in 2019, showing the locations of the four gold projects in eastern Nova Scotia, at Touquoy in Moose River, Fifteen Mile Stream, Beaver Dam and Cochrane Hill on the banks of the St. Mary's River near Sherbrooke.
Atlantic Gold’s 2018 map of its four Nova Scotia gold projects.

One of the mine projects, proposed for Beaver Dam, is opposed by the Millbrook First Nation and by the Nova Scotia Salmon Association.

The company had plans for another gold mine for Cochrane Hill on the St. Mary’s River. But that project is strongly opposed by the St. Mary’s River Association and other environmental groups. It would also infringe on a proposed protected wilderness area at Archibald Lake.

Aerial view of the St. Mary's River with winding waterways and pools looking blue-grey under a cloudy sky and November woodlands with scattered patches of green conifers and pale hardwoods without leaves.
Aerial view of the St. Mary’s River near the site of St Barbara’s proposed Cochrane Hill gold mine Credit: Raymond Plourde / Ecology Action Centre

St Barbara’s third mine project was proposed for Fifteen Mile Stream in the Liscombe Game Sanctuary and about 50 kilometres from its Touquoy gold mine.  

In December 2022, St Barbara announced it had pressed pause on the Beaver Dam mine, and terminated the ongoing environmental assessment of the Cochrane Hill mine project with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.

At the time, St Barbara said it would be concentrating on the Fifteen Mile Stream mine, although that too was coming under fire from environmental groups.

Even the Impact Assessment Agency seemed none too pleased with St Barbara’s plans for the Fifteen Mile Stream mine. In a letter to Atlantic Mining NS, the agency noted that while the original proposal was for one open pit now the company was planning three, and these changes were “substantial” so Atlantic Mining NS would have to provide much more information about them.

What next for St Barbara’s Atlantic operations?

St Barbara’s sale of its lucrative Gwalia mine in Australia to Genesis Minerals was not the original plan.

In December 2022, St Barbara announced that it would be merging with Genesis Minerals to create a new company called Hoover House, and spinning off what it called its “non-core assets” in Nova Scotia and Papua New Guinea to a new company called Phoenician Metals. 

Related: St Barbara is shedding its Nova Scotia gold mine, leaving a litany of environmental concerns

Related: A big shake-up at St Barbara will have big reverberations in Nova Scotia

Obviously that is not what happened, and St Barbara has now been left holding the Nova Scotia properties, that “black cat” it bought from Atlantic Gold three years ago.

The Halifax Examiner contacted St Barbara to ask what it plans to do with its Nova Scotia properties now.

The reply from St Barbara spokesperson Kenny Cameron:

St Barbara is pleased to advise the completion of the sale of its Leonora Assets in Western Australia to Genesis Minerals Ltd. This is a significant moment for St Barbara that has resulted in a substantial cash injection allowing our Company to continue operations, pay off company debt and look ahead to developing future projects in Nova Scotia and at Simberi. St Barbara remains fully committed to all projects in Nova Scotia, including Fifteen Mile Stream. These projects will create opportunity, prosperity and well-paying jobs for rural Nova Scotians for years to come — and all in an environmentally responsible way.    

Stockpile processing at the Touquoy operation will continue until tailings capacity is exhausted, likely in the Fall, at which time the processing plant will transition into care and maintenance.    

A July 5 St Barbara “investor roadshow” offered a list of “strategy focus” areas with status updates:

  • Prioritise development of Fifteen Mile Stream and target development in FY [fiscal year] 26 (Commenced)
  • Investigate the repurposing of the Touquoy plant for use at Fifteen Mile Stream (Commenced)
  • Complete processing of stockpiles at Touquoy by end of 2024 (In progress)
  • Pause permitting process for Beaver Dam (Completed)
  • Continue exploration at Cochrane Hill, Mooseland, South-West and Goldboro (Cochrane Hill planned and awaiting permit, South-West underway)

Although St Barbara would have investors believe these represent “advances” in these “strategic focus areas” in Nova Scotia, in fact, there is nothing new there.

Unfinished business in Touquoy

But what does all this mean for the Touquoy mine, where a massive tailings facility and open pit will have to be dealt with at some point?

On its website, St Barbara notes that the Touquoy mine is “currently in care and maintenance.”

Aerial view of tailings management facility at the Moose River gold mine shows Scraggy Lake and woodland in the foreground with the bluish waters of the tailings polishing pond flanked by low grey gravel walls and behind that the pale blue liquid in the almost kidney-shaped tailings management facility with its low grey rock embankment surrounding it.
Touqouy open pit gold mine tailings management facility in November 2022, with the polishing pond and Scraggy Lake into which the treated effluent is discharged. Credit: Raymond Plourde / Ecology Action Centre

The Examiner sent a list of questions to Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change (NSECC) about the status of the Touquoy mine site. Among them, we asked if the department was monitoring the care and maintenance at the mine, if St Barbara has removed the waste rock it was storing temporarily in the open pit, if the province would be using the $41.2 million reclamation security for the mine to do remediation work at the site and if not when that would happen, and in what form the security is held. 

NSECC spokesperson Mikaela Etchegary’s reply:

It is important to note that the company is legally obligated to reclaim the site, and if they fail to do so, the Province will utilize the security bond, which is held by the Province and issued by a credible third party, to complete the reclamation process. The Department of Environment and Climate Change (ECC) is committed to ensuring that the monitoring requirements outlined in the current Industrial Approval will remain applicable even during the care-and-maintenance phase.

In March 2023, the company requested an extension for the temporary storage of waste rock in the open pit at Touquoy. ECC issued authorization on April 12, 2023 which is valid until October 12, 2023.

We didn’t get a reply to our question about the form that the $41.2 million reclamation security is held. In 2019, after repeated inquiries to then Department of Natural Resources, this is the answer we finally received about the form of the reclamation security for the Touquoy gold mine:

Reclamation securities are provided in a form acceptable to the Minister of Energy and Mines (cash, letter of credit, surety bond) and held by the Province of Nova Scotia …

St Barbara still hasn’t provided Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change Minister Timothy Halman with the “additional information” he requested back in January 2023 for an environmental assessment of its plans to modify the Touquoy site. Those modifications include a proposal to store mine tailings in the exhausted open pit, and to expand the waste rock storage area and clay quarry.

The latest update on the Fifteen Mile Stream project from the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada was on December 6, 2022, when the agency asked St Barbara for additional information about that proposed four-open-pit gold mine.

It looks as if the Impact Assessment Agency is still waiting for that information from St Barbara.

Joan Baxter is an award-winning Nova Scotian journalist and author of seven books, including "The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest." Website:; Twitter @joan_baxter

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  1. Based on Mikaela Etchegary’s reply, the security is a bond issued by an insurance company.
    A security bond is a specialized type of surety bond and can provide a significant amount of benefit to the owner (St Barbara’s) of a project.
    A surety bond protects the obligee (Nova Scotia) against losses, up to the limit of the bond, that result from the principal’s failure to perform its obligation or undertaking

  2. From their June 2022 annual report (★s added by me)

    ★Regulatory environment★

    St Barbara is subject to the legal jurisdictions of the countries in which we operate. The Australian Commonwealth, Western Australian, Canadian Federal, Nova Scotian and Papua New Guinea legislation permits and that governs St Barbara’s exploration, mining and processing operations. ★★St Barbara is not aware of any material breach of legislation and regulations ★★ applicable to its operations during 2022. The Group remains committed to compliance with its obligations through training, reporting, audits and process improvements.

  3. It’s hard to wrap my head around this, especially looking at the pictures which really do speak a thousand words. I notice that Chief Terrance Paul (Assembly of NS Mi’kmaq Chiefs) was at the official opening in 2017. I am trying to reconcile this with the Millbrook First Nation opposition to the Beaver Dam project?