A sign that was erected near Tatamagouche saying "No Goldmine in our Watershed" after word emergegd that the province wanted to promote mineral exploration in the area. Photo contributed.
Sign erected near Tatamagouche after word emerged that the provincial government was planning to promote gold exploration in the Cobequid Hills and French River watershed (Contributed)

That didn’t take long.

On Tuesday, Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change granted protected status to the French River watershed that provides the village of Tatamagouche with its water, which means that henceforth mineral exploration and mining will be prohibited in the watershed.

The Halifax Examiner covered the decision to protect the watershed almost immediately, and readers chimed in in the comments with all positive support. Of course, one must be a subscriber to comment on Examiner articles, so we didn’t hear from the critics of the decision.

Those critics were people with names like Garth DeMont, George O’Reilly, and “Yacobo O’Hanley.” Or, as we prefer to call them, the old boys.

These old boys, who seem to want no corner of this province to go un-mined, weighed in Wednesday as commenters on Haley Ryan’s CBC story, “N.S. protects Colchester watershed after years of municipal, community action: Province approves French River watershed request from the Municipality of the County of Colchester.”

Now don’t get me wrong. My issue with these old boys has nothing to do with their age or gender. I’m old myself, and some of my favourite people are boys who are old like me.

What I mean by “old boys” in this case is a few like-minded men who decided to comment on the CBC article, condemning the government’s decision and dissing the concerned citizens who worked so hard for so long — and for no financial compensation whatsoever — to have the Tatamagouche water supply protected from mining activities.

Of the seven people who posted negative comments about the watershed protection decision, two spent their careers promoting mining from within the Nova Scotia government, and two had a direct link to the Warwick Mountain Project, a scheme cooked up by the Geoscience and Mines Branch of the former Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which then became Energy and Mines, and is now the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables.

The Warwick Mountain Project promoted 30,000 hectares (74,132 acres) in the Cobequid Hills for gold exploration, an area stretching from the Gully Lake Wilderness Area in the east to the Wentworth ski hill in the west.

This is a screenshot of the Nova Scotia Registry of Claims (NovaROC) map showing the large "closure area" (crisscrossed markings) for the Warwick Mountain Project where the province planned to promote mineral exploration.
Nova Scotia Registry of Claims (NovaROC) map showing the closure area (crisscrossed markings in  11E/11) for the Warwick Mountain Project

Provincial geologists were so excited about the prospect of a big gold find in the area that they wanted to woo big mining and exploration companies to the area, hoping, obviously, that one day there would be gold mines in those hills.

Only problem is that right in the middle of those hills flows the French River, which happens to the source of water for Tatamagouche.

Hence the community concern about mineral exploration and mining in the area, and the formation of the group, Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia (SuNNS), which opposed gold exploration and mining in the watershed.

Community concern about the Warwick Mountain Project was so widespread that eventually — two years after the Council of the Municipality of the County of Colchester voted unanimously to approach the province about it — it resulted in the province’s decision to protect the watershed.

The old boys who commented negatively on the CBC article about that decision are neither amused nor pleased.

Which is hardly surprising given who they are and what they affiliations are, affiliations they chose not to disclose in their comments.

So, for the record, here is some background on three men who felt free to condemn the protection of the French River watershed on the CBC website, but didn’t see the need to tell us who they were or why they were interested in the issue.

Garth DeMont

One is Garth DeMont, a recently retired geologist from the Geosciences and Mines Branch. His comment on the CBC website suggests that he — unlike the “lobbyists” as he incorrectly labels the concerned citizens and council members who asked for watershed protection — cares about the landowners in the area of the watershed, who he maintains have lost out because of the government decision.

Although he doesn’t get around to saying so, DeMont was deeply involved in the Warwick Mountain Project before he retired, as the Examiner reported here.

In email correspondence obtained by the Examiner through a Freedom of Information (FOIPOP) request in 2018, DeMont disparagingly described the concerned citizens as “activists” and “the letter-writing group.”

In a 2015 email to his colleagues, DeMont wrote:

As of 2007 it appears Tatamagouche extracts its water from the French River so exploration in this watershed will be a concern to the local community. I have attached the source water protection plan in 2007. If you read the tone of the section on mining and quarries It [sic] will provide some perspective on the plan writers [sic] opinion on mining related activities in the watershed. Some education work is going to be required with the water shed [sic] management team and the sooner we start the better. [emphasis added]

DeMont then set out to do that “education work,” attending meetings of the watershed protection committee and reassuring members that mineral exploration and mining would pose no problem. All they had to do was come with a list of “best practices,” something the committee justifiably felt unqualified for and refused to do.

DeMont was something of an expert on “educating” communities and convincing them that mining is good for them.

In 2014, as a Department of Natural Resources employee, DeMont made a presentation on “Community Engagement” to help industry make communities trust them, in which he referred to videos made by DNR “in partnership” with the Mining Association of Nova Scotia (MANS), an industry lobby group.

In his presentation, DeMont argued that those critical of the mining industry were ignorant of geology and being influenced by misinformation and emotion, rumours, and gossip. He seemed oblivious to the fact that most community concerns about the mining industry, and particularly the gold mining industry, arise from the fact that it deserves all kinds of criticism that has absolutely nothing to do with geological knowledge, and everything to do with the way the industry operates and that captured governments let it operate.

The internal DNR correspondence about the Warwick Mountain Project also showed that the people of Nova Scotia paid tens of thousands of dollars for then DNR’s work in the Cobequid Hills, footing the bills for the geologists’ trips to Nevada to see gold deposits there, and for geologists’ activities to promote the gold potential in the Cobequid Hills at the annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference in Toronto.

After he retired, DeMont wasted no time getting into the gold game himself.

In 2020, the Mineral Resources Development Fund (MRDF), administered by the Geosciences and Mines Branch, granted DeMont $27,500 for gold prospecting in Dayspring Lake, north of the Liscomb Game Sanctuary. The next year, the MRDF gave DeMont another $3,300 for the same work.

“Yacobo O’Hanley”

Another of the commenters on the CBC story is someone posting under the name, “Yacobo O’Hanley,” who wrote:

Geochemist here with 20 years experience and vested interest in ensuring our province can provide for itself. Another example of a lack of consultation with a balanced range of experts, and decisions made by those who are misinformed about geology and the bigger picture of mineral resource development …


Big mistake made here and it will cost the province dearly down the road.

So who is Yacobo O’Hanley? A quick search of the name produced a reference to Saint Mary’s University and geology.

But a search of the Saint Mary’s University (SMU) website produced no results. I then emailed the university’s communications manager to ask if there was a Yacobo O’Hanley there.

The communications manager replied to ask if I was interested in interviewing the person, and if so, why.

I replied that I hoped to interview Yacobo O’Hanley about why he saw the decision to protect the watershed as a “big mistake.”

The SMU communications manager then sent this email:

I can confirm that [Yacobo O’Hanley] is Dr. Jacob Hanley. I reached out to Jacob, and he has declined your request for an interview.

That he had declined an interview was not a surprise, but Yacobo O’Hanley’s real identity was.

Jacob Hanley is the chair of SMU’s Department of Geology, and his name appears in previous Halifax Examiner articles.

For example this article details how the Mining Association of Nova Scotia (MANS) and its allies mine for public dollars, and how MANS used some of that to beget the Minerals Research Association of Nova Scotia (MRANS).

Hanley is one of the seven people — all men — who make up the MRANS board.

Hanley is also on the Advisory Council of the Mineral Resources Development Fund (MRDF) that hands out $1.5 million a year to mining companies, prospectors, researchers, and industry associations such as MANS.

Screenshot from a 2019 photo on SMU website showing MANS executive director Sean Kirby (left), Saint Mary’s professor Jacob Hanley, student Kevin Neyedley, and then Department of Energy and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette (right). Photo Kelly Clark/CNS
Screenshot from a 2019 photo and article on SMU website showing Saint Mary’s professor Jacob Hanley (second from left) at the official announcement made at Saint Mary’s University of the expanded Mineral Resources Development Fund. Photo Kelly Clark/CNS

Hanley has not done badly with MRDF research money for himself and his students. These are the grants he has received in the past four years:

2021:        $110,050

2020:          $27,800

2019:          $32,700

2018:          $47,500

TOTAL:      $218,050

The grants in 2018 and 2019 funded Hanley’s research in the Cobequid Hills, the site of DNR’s Warwick Mountain Project, where Hanley says mineral exploration should be permitted, regardless of whether Tatamagouche sources its water there or not.

An article in the DNR’s Spring 2017 quarterly Geological Record says that Hanley was conducting “deposit research on the some prominent showings” in the “closure area,” the 30,000 hectares that DNR had closed to claims while it prepared to promote the Warwick Mountain Project to several multinational mining companies, which it did after the 2017 PDAC.

So SMU’s Jacob Hanley knows the Warwick Mountain Project well.

But that’s something he and his alter ego Yacobo O’Hanley didn’t get around to mentioning when posting a comment on the CBC story that strongly criticized the province’s decision to protect the French River watershed.

George O’Reilly

Another commenter who opined on the CBC article was George O’Reilly, who like Garth DeMont, is a retired geologist from the provincial Geosciences and Mines Branch.

O’Reilly wrote that the decision to protect the watershed meant we were going down the NIMBY — Not In My Back Yard — slope.

O’Reilly was also, at least until 2020, a member of the MRDF Advisory Council that disburses public money for mineral exploration, outreach, and research.

His Twitter feed offers some insights into his views on a range of crucial issues of the day, and indicates that O’Reilly (a) doesn’t grasp the immensity or reality of climate change, (b) really doesn’t like “friggin ugly” women, and (c) especially doesn’t like “liberals” and “progressives” and young intelligent women like Greta Thunberg.

A Tweet by George O'Reilly about "friggin ugly women."
George O'Reilly replying to a tweet critical of Greta Thunberg, saying "I'm sick of liberals and progressives telling me what I have to think, believe and do. I can draw my own conclusions on these climate issues."

O’Reilly apparently has no use for “the activist crowd” whom he berates in his comments on the CBC article, bemoaning the decision to protect the watershed as an attack against the mining industry, saying:

Mining is being singled merely because some anti-mining activists don’t want it in their backyard even though they want to continue to avail themselves of the comfortable lifestyle mined products provides.

Missing, of course, is that the real point of the decision is to protect the water supply for Tatamagouche from activities such as mineral exploration and gold mining that could cause irreparable harm.

But hey, everyone is entitled to their opinions.

But it would be interesting to see how Hanley, DeMont, and O’Reilly and other incessant cheerleaders for gold mining in Nova Scotia would feel if someone — say a bunch of government geologists — decided to bring in big gold interests to stake a mineral claim in their backyards, and start drilling all over the place, endangering their water supply, and making a great big environmental mess of the place they call home, in anticipation of blasting it all to Kingdom Come to extract gold.

Subscribe to the Halifax Examiner

We have many other subscription options available, or drop us a donation. Thanks!

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

Join the Conversation


Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
  1. Provincial and mining/resource extraction interests’ long term planning =
    „ let’s extract this for as long as we can“.

    Furthermore, Dr. Hanley has missed the point of the article which is that
    1.the gold mining that he supports will poison drinking water in the Tatamagouche area.
    2. the men making these decisions are connected to those resource extraction interests.

  2. Good article. Reading this actually just reminds me of what’s happening with industrial forestry here in Nova Scotia. We seem to have the Dept. of Natural Resources and Renewables jam-packed with “old boys” who either worked for Bowater in the past, or became buddies with a bunch of industry peeps while at the Univ. of New Brunswick forestry program which is so closely tied to the hulking industrial forestry gorilla in that province. Their main focus seems to be scheming how best to hand over Crown land to forestry — damn all those snotty little wild creatures that inhabit the forests! They refuse to listen to the public and, if and when they DO on some rare occasion, choose to answer a letter, it is with snide, patronizing remarks that add up to nothing more than, “Go away, little treehugger. We know what we’re doing and we don’t want any of your input!!” DNRR has become nothing more than one big sticky ball of 30-year-old chewing gum that should have been tossed into a trash bin a long long time ago.

  3. “None of the funding for research goes into my pocket, so claims that somehow I “benefit” financially from this (or mining/exploration) are absurd.”

    Dr. Hanley, the exact quote to which you object was:

    “Hanley has not done badly with MRDF research money for himself and his students.”

    As an academic your comment is disingenuous, to say the least. Of course you need to promote research funds. But to suggest that as an academic, and consequently personally, you do not benefit from research grants is nonsense. You would not last long your position without them.

    The question also remains whether your grants are the result of scholarship or your membership in the Mineral Resources Development Fund (MRDF).

    1. No, the exact quote is not the issue. Its the public perception of what that quote means. The public (in the comments above) seem to think that I have done well because of the mining industry “i.e., B. Gaulke: … enjoying a comfortable lifestyle shilling for the mining industry”. Ms. Baxter’s comments do not clarify the relationship between funding and personal gain. As for your comment about “being disingenous, to say the least” yes, of course I need to promote research funds, but it has nothing to do with the security of my position. There is no requirement for faculty to bring in external research funds to “last long in their position”. Review any collective agreement at any Canadian institution to understand this point further.

      1. For what it’s worth, I agree with Joan — it reflects poorly that you’d refuse an interview but then spend your time defending yourself in the comments. The “some of us have real work to do” argument doesn’t elevate your position.

        Your tactic here about the funding issue also seems to be focussed on straw-man deflections. Nobody said you packet money. Nobody mentioned collective agreements. As a department chair would you support a faculty member who brought in no funding, trained no graduate students, and had little to no research productivity? Would your Dean be totally fine with that? Given that your research program (and the products with which you are judged by your colleagues and peers) depends on funding that in part comes from activities related to the mining area in question, don’t you think it’s appropriate to clearly communicate your identity and interests when expressing your opinion in public?

        1. Faculty members are evaluated on many things, ranging from teaching to service to scholarship and there is ZERO requirement for external funding. This is consistent across all institutions in Canada.

          1. You’re pretty good at defending yourself from things (“requirement for external funding”) that nobody asked you about.

    2. Contact the NS government to seek clarification about the role of members of the MRDF advisory council and the peer-review process for grant applications.

  4. Just a comment: I am the “Yacobo O’Hanley” in this article. When you log on to CBC via any social media, you use your name from that social media outlet as your login name as an option. I have been doing that for a decade. There is nothing more to it. No “alter ego” no secrecy. Furthermore, in this Examiner article, entire sections of the CBC comment I made are cut out including the part where I say ” I am not an advocate of gold mining “. But I also talk about the danger of excluding exploration in areas that may contain elements vital to Nova Scotia’s transition away from hydrocarbon dependence. This is just common sense. In fact, if you read about our research you will learn that it specifically aims to reduce the exploration and mining footprint. None of the funding for research goes into my pocket, so claims that somehow I “benefit” financially from this (or mining/exploration) are absurd. It goes towards student training, that’s it. None of this shows up in this article above. Its disappointing to see this consistently poor quality of reporting from Joan and endorsement/publication by the Examiner, full of mistakes and unverified information, and ultimately insulting and slanderous. Very immature, and very unprofessional. As for declining an interview, some of us are working and managing families in the middle of a pandemic, and there simply isn’t time to engage everyone. Feel free to reach out to those organizations you comment on above to get clarification about the role researchers play and their academic freedom to do so, rather than inventing alternate realities and lashing out at subject experts when you can’t defeat arguments on factual or ethical grounds.

    1. Dr. Hanley was invited to speak with me. He declined, and now maintains that he did so because “some of us are working and managing families in the middle of a pandemic.” (Journalists who ask for interviews are, presumably not included in that “some of us” who are working and managing families in the middle of a pandemic?) But Dr. Hanley does now have time now to post lengthy comments on Facebook and here. And he had time to condemn the French River Watershed protection in a comment under the CBC article in which – once again it should be said, because that is the point of the article (which he seems to miss) – Dr. Hanley didn’t acknowledge who he is or his link to the Warwick Mountain Project.

      1. You interview people as part of your job so presumably you have time for it ? Yep I do have the time to write brief comments after hours (check the time stamps). In hindsight, having seen your questions that you would have asked, it was probably better we didnt speak. Having spoken to a range of subject experts in Science disciplines today from our various provincial institutions (some of them individuals you have interviewed in the last few years) about your approach to journalism, the consensus is that it is completely unproductive unless it aligns entirely with your opinions. Anything less results in your slander and criticism. As for not acknowledging that I have worked in the area in question conducting geoscience research intended to reduce the footprint of exploration (yes, a geologist who actually cares about minimizing the impact of mineral resource development), this is really irrelevant. It wouldn’t have changed the outcome of your article anyway. I would encourage you to try to more productively engage with subject experts rather than criticizing and demeaning them on subject areas you have no actual expertise in.

        1. This is my last comment on this, as Dr. Hanley’s patronizing comments and insulting comments and ad hominem attack on a woman journalist, so typical of an old boy, really aren’t worthy of any more response or time. However, it is important to set the record straight in the name of accuracy, which – as a department chair – I am sure Dr. Hanley appreciates. Asked by the SMU communications manager why I wanted to interview “Yacobo O’Hanley” (if indeed he was at SMU, remember I didn’t know who Yacobo Hanley was or if he was at SMU), I replied simply: “I would like to interview him about his comment on this CBC article this morning, particularly his arguments against this decision that he describes as a mistake.” When the communications manager replied that Yacobo was Jacob Hanley, he also said that Dr. Hanley declined to be interviewed. At that point, I asked the communications manager – not Dr. Hanley – if SMU had any policies on whether its academic staff should identify themselves when posting on social media about a government decision on a project in which they were involved in a professional capacity. The communications manager replied that this was academic freedom and the university had “nothing further to add.” Those questions were not sent to Dr. Hanley, or directed to him. There were no specific questions sent to Dr. Hanley at any point, because he declined an interview with me via the communications manager, without knowing what the questions would be, or even asking how long it would take or when an interview might be arranged. An interview would have allowed Dr. Hanley the opportunity to speak professionally about his work as an academic in a publicly funded university about his work on the Warwick Mountain Project, for which he received public money. Which, in my opinion, would have been the professional thing to do, certainly more professional than taking to the comments sections of social media and media outlets to attack a journalist based on his conversations with a few unnamed people (it is not apparent that Dr. Hanley has actually read any of my work), and far more professional than criticizing a government decision affecting a project in which he had a direct link, and failing to acknowledge who he was or his link with that project.

    2. It’s hard to believe, given what I hear from other academics, that “why would I care about getting funding for my work?” is an honest position, man.

  5. “Mining is being singled [out] merely because some anti-mining activists don’t want it in their backyard even though they want to continue to avail themselves of the comfortable lifestyle mined products provides.” – George O’Reilly

    Mea culpa. At this very moment I am experiencing a more “comfortable lifestyle” due to the gold crowns on my teeth. Oh wait, what’s that you say? Current reserves are enough for a few hundred years of all medical/industrial uses for gold? The gold being mined today has no other purpose than to further enrich people who (as Joan points out) wouldn’t stand for it being done in their backyards?

    I’m pretty sure Yacobo and his ilk are enjoying a pretty comfortable lifestyle shilling for the mining industry, by their own logic that invalidates anything they have to say on the subject.

    Berta G.

  6. Another article that hits it out of the ballpark to expose the corruption in this province. Shame on CBC with their access, funds and commitment to the people for their failure to do one iota of the investigative journalism of Joan Baxter and Tim Bousquet and colleagues. Thank you so much for speaking truth to power in every issue. I ❤️ the examiner.