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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.