There was a cutting wind on Thursday morning, the day Atlantic Gold decided to officially open a local office in Sherbrooke. The crowd that gathered the office were entirely undaunted by that wind.
Wielding signs and loudly voicing their opposition to plans for a gold mine at Cochrane Hill, a group of 51 people wanted Atlantic Gold to know one thing: they don’t want to see a gold mine jeopardizing the St. Mary’s River and the unique ecosystem by which its surrounded.
Shortly before 11 a.m. on April 4, the group gathered at St. John’s United Church and marched down the road to where Atlantic Gold opened its new office in the community, where Main Street meets Highway 7.
When the rallygoers marched to the office, chants like, “Clean water, no gold. Our children’s future should not be sold” filled the air.
Locals weigh in
Leigh McFarlane stepped aside from a crowd of around 70 people wielding signs and hailing passing vehicles with chants in support of the environment to explain why she was in attendance.
McFarlane, founder and CEO of the Soap Company of Nova Scotia, said a number of things motivated her to participate.
McFarlane noted she feels the need to protect one of St. Mary’s most valuable resources – its water. She expressed concern that Atlantic Gold is more interested in taking its profits and “leaving us with the mess that is left” once the mine reaches the end of its operation.
“[A gold mine] isn’t what we need. There will be no net gain, either here or at Cochrane Hill, or at any of the gold mines in Nova Scotia,” McFarlane said. “There is no place in our province for these kinds of mines.”
In February, when a community meeting discussing a potential gold mine took place, McFarlane said she went in with an open mind.
“I wanted to find out what was going on, and came away feeling quite desperate and in despair,” MacFarlane said.
The source of that despair was learning the sheer scale of the mine that Atlantic Gold has planned for the Cochrane Hill site.
“I moved back to this area in 2013. I am seventh-generation here. I have grandchildren growing up within a very short walk from the St. Mary’s River and the Glenelg Lake,” McFarlane said. “My business is all about water. Without that we have nothing.”
“We have a beautiful historically important place that is precious, and if that mine were to go in, Cochrane Hill would basically be ravaged,” McFarlane said. “The St. Mary’s River would be at risk of never being the same again.
“The St. Mary’s River Association has put so much work into restoring the river and bringing back the fish habitat. It’s so pristine and beautiful; we have the river and the Cameron Lakes and Glenelg Lake – and without that water we have nothing.”
Robert Robichaud, a resident of Sherbrooke at the rally, shared similar thoughts about the mine.
“The figures are staggering. There will be removing so much earth, and removing so much water from the river, and we’ve worked so long to preserve the environment here,” Robichaud said.
Robichaud insisted the mine will do St. Mary’s no good, adding the region is a retirement destination specifically because of how pristine and undeveloped it is, and that a mine would spoil that key advantage.
“Our lack of development is one of our strengths. I’ve lived here since 1981, and I want to keep it, so I can swim or fish in the river when I want,” he said. “Who is going to want to move here with a cesspool 12 miles away?”
Scott Beaver, president of the St. Mary’s River Association, an organization that is in steadfast opposition to the mine at Cochrane Hill, noted the synchronicity on the day of the protest, saying, “this year happens to be the International Year of the Salmon and the St. Mary’s River Association’s 40th year anniversary. In 40 years, we’ve done almost $2 million worth of work on this river.”
Beaver said the community braved the chilly April winds to show their concern over the potential for dust, drinking water and well water
and the negative impacts those things will have on the community, particularly for tourism, one of the major industries in the region.
“They want to dig a proposed kilometer-long and half-kilometer-wide pit, and it’s going to be 80 meters deeper than sea level,” Beaver said. “When they’re done it’s going to be the biggest lake in Nova Scotia. That’s phenomenal just in and of itself.”
Beaver noted all the water that flows form Cochrane Hill and the sites from which Atlantic Gold wants to draw water for mining operations all ends up in the St. Mary’s River.
“It doesn’t just go back into the river. This river is like no other one in Nova Scotia.”
Beaver said the potential damage to water bodies in the region such as Glenelg Lake, Archibald Lake and the Cameron Lakes is simply not worth the risk— especially in the case of the latter, which is intended to be the site of a tailings pond.
Beaver also noted the amount of money Atlantic Gold plans to set aside in bonds to deal with potential environmental damage is not enough.
Ecology Action Centre perspective
Raymond Plourde, wilderness co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, said the organization he represents stands in solidarity with the community.
He noted that while he and his colleagues are not completely against mining in general, St. Mary’s is not the right place to put a mine.
“We agree this is a terrible place for an open pit gold mine and think it’s an insult to the community to come here and say you’re going to do this without asking permission,” Plourde said.
“They wanted to set up a liaison office today. It was their grand opening and they were given the appropriate greeting from the community; essentially, ‘nope.’”
Atlantic Gold Weighs in
Maryse Belanger, president and COO of Atlantic Gold, was on site to speak to some of the rallygoers, noting “I thought it is important for me to come to Sherbrooke and hear directly from local residents.”
“I respect the views of all who attended and look forward to providing even more information to all residents at Atlantic Gold’s Community Open House in June,” Belanger said.
Dustin O’Leary, communications manager for Atlantic Gold Corporation, said that although people attending the rally were mostly against the development of a mine, “many did come into our event to hear our perspective.”
O’Leary noted the company has been engaging with the community about a potential mine for over a year.
In March 2018, approximately 130 people were at an open house the company held, introducing the mine project.
“Since then, Atlantic Gold has been meeting with residents and community groups,” O’Leary said.
He added that groups and individuals have also been invited to the company’s Moose River project, to get perspective on how the company operates its mines.
O’Leary said that with more than 95 per cent of Atlantic Gold’s workforce in Nova Scotia, “we are confident that our mine will attract new families tot eh area and provide great job opportunities for those already in and around Sherbrooke.”
O’Leary alluded to Atlantic Gold’s operation in Moose River providing 300 direct full-time jobs.
“We know that some people will always be opposed to natural resource development of any kind. However, we are confident that once our technical submissions have been completed, the community will have a better opportunity to understand that our project is environmentally sustainable and supported by factual science data and sound engineering practices.”
Atlantic Gold plans to hold an open house event in June. At this open house, Atlantic Gold will share the results of a variety of studies supporting its Cochrane Hill Environmental Impact Statement – one that is due by summer 2019. Residents are encouraged to attend, and share their concerns by contacting Atlantic Gold by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone at 902-391-4653.