1. Battle for the Mill
Joan Baxter, author of The Mill: 50 Years of Pulp & Protest, looks at how the plan to pipe effluent from the Northern Pulp Mill into the Northumberland Strait is dividing the community of Pictou, pitting neighbour against neighbour and fishermen against mill workers.
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I know this becomes redundant, but subscriptions are what allows us to pay writers like Baxter to do work that may not otherwise be published.
2. Lafarge tire-burning plan
“A handful of citizens who live beside a cement plant in Brookfield, 10 kilometers south of Truro, have lost a court battle to prevent Lafarge Canada from burning tires for fuel. CABOT (Citizens Against the Burning of Tires) launched a judicial review of Environment Minister Iain Rankin’s decision last July approving the project,” reports Jennifer Henderson. “Yesterday, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice James Chipman denied the appeal and upheld the minister’s decision.”
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For some unknown reason, the CBC yesterday re-reported the story Halifax Examiner contributor Jennifer Henderson wrote over a year ago about the demise of LightSail Energy. You can read the CBC’s not-so-informative article here, or you can read Henderson’s much more detailed account:
In a bid to salvage something positive from the collapse of the Bowater mill in Brooklyn, the province bought a $2 million equity stake in LightSail Energy. The compressed air energy storage company was started by Dartmouth whiz kid turned Silicon Valley darling Danielle Fong, who promised to build a renewable energy demonstration project at the former mill site. But the company has burned through $70 million, Fong’s credibility is questioned, and the Brooklyn project may never materialize.
We’ve taken Henderson’s article out from behind the paywall. Click here to read “Gone like the wind.”
Of course, had you been a subscriber a year ago, you would’ve known all about this…
4. Willow Tree
Yesterday, Halifax council voted on a revised plan for the Willow Tree development, meaning the issue will go back to another (the third, I think) public hearing.
I was at the meeting, but I don’t now have time to report on it myself, so read Zane Woodford’s account.
4. Halifax Water
Also at yesterday’s meeting, Halifax council approved the Halifax Water annual budget. Without getting into the details of the budget, this is mostly a non-controversial issue (yes, details matter….), but councillor Matt Whitman repeatedly badgered Halifax Water reps and ended up being the sole no vote against the budget.
It’s clear that Whitman is positioning himself as the advocate for those angered by the “ditch tax” and for developers who feel they should be charged less in connection fees. We’ll see if that political calculus works for Whitman. It might.
5. Ghost Towns
Jessica Leeder, the Globe & Mail’s Atlantic reporter, has written a thoughtful article about Nova Scotia’s “dying towns,” focusing first on Mulgrave:
Mr. Hadley’s side gig as mayor of Mulgrave, the lowest-paid mayoral seat in Nova Scotia, is the one no one covets. Its population whittled down to just 700, Mulgrave is battling a long list of ills, among them potholed roads, abandoned houses, empty storefronts, an aging population, an impending school closure and an overall, understandable lack of optimism. Like many small towns in heavily rural Nova Scotia, Mulgrave is failing.
Reading Leeder’s article, I recalled ghost towns I’ve known.
The American southwest is home to the best-known ghost towns. These towns mostly sat atop silver and gold deposits, and hundreds or thousands of people lived in them for a few years or a few decades in the early 20th century until the mines played out. Their source of employment gone, the workers would remove themselves (and if they had them, their families) to the next opportunity over the next ridge or the next state. We know about these abandoned towns because the structures that comprised them have survived thanks to the arid desert climate. They’re now tourist destinations.
The weather was much less forgiving to abandoned towns on the windward side of the Sierra Nevada, where I lived. The abandoned towns of the gold rush era (famously, 1849 to around 1870) didn’t have a chance in the endless cycles of rain, snow, flood, and erosion, and the lush forests quickly ripped apart and consumed anything made of wood. Through the gold rush, there were more people living on the Sierra than there are now, filling up thriving metropolises with names like Cherokee, Gold Run, Rough and Ready, and Dogtown; people now live in some of those places, but just coincidentally — there is no continuous connection back to the mining towns.
There were also lumbering towns in the foothills. I once spent a week trudging through the forests fruitlessly looking for any sign of a long-abandoned town on the edge of the bluffs above Chico Canyon. At its height at around 1875, the town held a few hundred, maybe as many as a thousand, people, all employed in felling the old growth forest and transporting the trees to a 30-mile long flume that carried the wood to a mill on the valley floor. The town had a school, a store and post office, sturdy homes and businesses, now all gone. The third- or fourth-growth forest is today so thick I couldn’t even find the contours of an old road that I had been told had been visible a decade before.
But what of the human loss that comes with abandoned towns?
I didn’t feel the enormity of that loss until I moved to Arkansas and found not ghost towns, but dying towns. These are all over the south. Typically built in the late 19th century about 20 miles apart from each other on a railroad line, the towns were the meeting point for farmers selling their goods. There was the mill and depot, the grocery store, three or four churches, a line of restaurants and shops on a main street. In the 1930s, these places were given a shot in the arm with the introduction of movie theatres — the one place where people could gather in air conditioning to beat the relentless summer heat and humidity.
But by the 21st century, the towns were pale shadows of their once thriving selves. If the former shop buildings on Main Street existed at all, they were abandoned and boarded up; more likely, they had burned down or collapsed and were now a hole in the ground or an empty lot. Some of the better constructed buildings had long ago been raided for their bricks, but most were just a pile of rubble. The church congregations have moved on to the megachurches in the city, or to the new Church of Christ building out in the hills.
A few of the theatre buildings still stand, hollow shells that echo with the ghosts of glamour on the screen, a cacophony of laughter at Abbott and Costello, first kisses stolen in the dark. A few homes still stand a block or two from Main Street, and a bar — by my time, the legion hall — where drunken old men would lie to me about their exploits.
For stories involving other places and other issues, I’d often interview someone who grew up in one of the dying towns; they had left for jobs in the “city” (itself struggling at 10,000 people), and they’d speak of how the WalMart destroyed the old business district, how no one could afford to keep up the town.
There was nothing else to do, so on weekends I’d drive around and find these dying towns. Sometimes I’d get out and stare through the cracks in the boarded up buildings, kick the rubble, sit on the steps of an abandoned church, have a drink with the drunks at the legion. These were sad, sad places. I thought of the hopes and dreams of people growing up in the towns, how their promise had been dashed by things no one, least of all the smarty pants reporter, could understand. There were a thousand personal decisions made — take the job across the county, move with the baby to grandma’s house, join the military, close down the diner as I’m just too damn tired and the money isn’t worth it anymore — each story individually mundane, but collectively they make up the death of a town.
There’s a lot more to the story of southern disenchantment — foremost, racism and its associated cultural tribalism that has turned the southern breed of Christianity into a hate cult — but the death of the towns is a contributing factor. Music snobs will forgive me for saying that it is the inspiration for the Jimmy Buffet song, Ringling, Ringling:
Church windows broken
That place ain’t been used in years
Jail don’t have a sheriff or a cell
And electric trains they run by maybe once or twice a month
Easin’ it on down to Mussel ShoalsRingling, Ringling
Only forty people livin’ there today
‘Cause the streets are dusty and the bank had been torn down
It’s a dyin’ little townAnd across from the bar there’s a pile of beer cans
Been there twenty-seven years
Imagine all the heart aches and tears
In twenty-seven years of beer
I’ve seen hundreds of these towns.
So Leeder’s look at Nova Scotia’s dying towns intrigues me. It’s tempting to simply say: this is how things go. Nova Scotia long had a resource economy that fuelled a healthy rural economy, but due to happenstance and mismanagement, it doesn’t work anymore. It’s not the town’s fault that the fishery collapsed, or that the coal is no longer worth digging up, or that anymore the forest isn’t good for anything but pulp and even that doesn’t provide much work, but here we are. As Leeder writes:
The dampened resource economy, shifting jobs, shuttered stores and the ease of highway travel — both to work and big-box stores — have starved town cores and slashed their tax bases, making revenue harder to generate. Meanwhile, the increased regulation of water, waste, planning and zoning has made running a town more expensive and complex than ever, [Kevin Matheson, an accountant who often works for struggling towns] said. “You need experts now in a whole large number of fields, which is a struggle when you have a small tax base,” he said.
Add the maintenance of aging infrastructure — roads, sewage systems, water treatment plants — and you have a road map to crisis mode, Mr. Matheson said.
And while the greater economic forces are the dominant story in the demise of towns, the residents have their place to play as well. You’ll find no bigger advocates for four-laning highways than people living in dying towns. And I’ve been watching the demise of the Co-op grocery stores, as people would rather drive to the Halifax Costco once a month than support the local institution that employed young people and breathed life into the town.
A hundred years ago, in California or Arizona, the residents of the dying towns were realistic enough to know that no one was going to bail them out, and so they moved on. And, like it or not, that’s largely what’s happening in rural Nova Scotia, as young people move to the city in search of work and opportunity.
But while such an attitude might be understandable, especially to those of us living comfortably in the city, it misses a whole lot. There’s a very strong attachment to place in Atlantic Canada; I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I’ve known promising young students in Nova Scotia, people smart enough to go on to grad school and earn a PhD and become highly paid academics, who have turned all that down because it meant leaving home and family in Nova Scotia. It’s not for me to pass judgment on their life decisions, but I know I’m dealing with something profoundly deep.
And rural identity is at the core of Nova Scotia sensibilities. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why or how this matters, but it does.
I don’t think there’s any easy answer to the depopulation of rural Nova Scotia or the dying towns. Undoubtedly, things will mostly continue apace, young people will continue to flee, and other than a handful of exceptional places that have figured out how to buck the tide, most towns will die.
So it goes, indeed, but let’s not pretend we aren’t losing something important.
7. Smiling Goat
This photo of a sandwich board outside the Smiling Goat was making its way around social media yesterday:
According to people who commented on my social media feed, the Smiling Goat’s owners are out of town. I’ve been unable to speak to them.
Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall) — the Khyber building.
Accessing Affordable, Healthy Food (Wednesday, 3pm, Halifax Central Public Library) — Round 3.
Halifax and West Community Council (Wednesday, 6pm, City Hall) — here’s the agenda.
Accessing Affordable, Healthy Food (Thursday, 10am, Halifax Central Public Library) — Round 4.
Investment Policy Advisory Committee (Thursday, 12pm, City Hall) — nothing much on the agenda.
Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — a busy meeting.
Accessibility Framework Session (Thursday, 2pm and 6pm, Gordon R. Snow Community Centre, Fall River) — all about accessibility.
Centre Plan – Discuss Package “A” (Thursday, 6pm,
NSCC Waterfront Campus the FABULOUS RAY IVANY MEMORIAL AND CELEBRATORY CAMPUS) — info here.
Accessing Affordable, Healthy Food (Thursday, 7pm, Keshen Goodman Public Library) — Round 4.
No public meetings for the rest of the week.
Voice Recital (Wednesday, 11:45am, Sculpture Court, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — students of Michael Donovan perform.
POSTPONED DUE TO EXPECTED WEATHER Preserving the Rights of Aging Prisoners (
Wednesday, 7pm, Room 2-29 Lecture Theatre, NSCC Cumberland Campus, Springhill) — Adelina Iftene will speak.
Help Design the Bicentennial Commons (Thursday, 11:30am, lobby, Howe Hall) — info here.
Catalonia’s Cinema (Tuesday, 7pm, Halifax Central Library) —Jerry White will speak on “Homage to Catalonia’s Cinema: Understanding Spain’s Most Restless Region.” Rescheduled from March 13.
The Shared Work Model of Collaboration (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Auditorium, Marion McCain Building) — the rhyming spoken word artist / woo-woo slinger Tim Merry is now calling himself a “Systems Change Strategist.” Funny shit.
Michael Medline (Thursday, 5:30pm, McNally Theatre) — the President and CEO of Sobeys will speak on “Defense to Offense: Winning our Own Game,” on how to thrill customers in today’s retail environment, because there is no more thrilling experience than getting followed around as a possible shoplifter at Sobeys. Register here.
In the harbour
5:45am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Autoport from St. John’s
10:30am: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
11:30am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Autoport to Pier 41
1pm: Proti, bulker, sails from anchorage for sea
2pm: Silver Express, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage for inspection from New Haven, Connecticut
2:30pm: Silver Express, oil tanker, sails from anchorage for sea
3:30pm: NS Stella, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
3:30pm: Don Juan, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
6pm: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
8:30pm: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
Weather is on the way, they say.
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.