Letter From The Publisher
Back in Your
Well, we’re a bit late, but Coastal Communities News is still
in business. In the last issue, we issued a heads-up to our readers that
the November/December issue may be our last. The evidence you hold in
your hands proves the inaccuracy of that, and for this we are all delighted.
Our thanks for our ongoing ability to publish this magazine must go first
and foremost to the Nova Scotia Department of Education, which was wise
enough to see the educational value in keeping people in our rural and
coastal communities in touch with one another through our pages. Thanks
are due to two other provincial departments as well: both Community Services
and Economic Development saw fit to put some funds in a pot that will
allow us to continue our visits to your mailbox.
No, it’s not guaranteed funding for ever and ever. In this day and
age, there isn’t any such thing as that, as any of our readers involved
with local community groups know all too well. But the help the province
is providing will give us some breathing space to seek alternative, longer-term
sources of support for this publication. Over the next few issues, we’ll
be working in partnership with adult literacy groups in different parts
of the province to help them tell their own stories in their own ways.
Watch for that, and for more of the sort of community stories you’ve
come to expect in these pages.
A couple months ago, the Coastal Communities Network (CCN)
feared that its voice would be muted by the demise of this magazine. We’re
grateful that this isn’t about to happen. Through the pages of this
magazine, as well as through its many other important endeavours, CCN
will continue to be “A Large Voice for Small Communities.”
– CCN’s Editorial Board
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Fundy Gem: Harbourville
A Great Place to
Run out of Gas
by Scott Milsom
There are few more stirring views in all of Nova Scotia than those offered
after coming up from the Annapolis Valley over the North Mountain and
down toward the Fundy shore on a sunny day. As you descend, the blue of
sky meeting the deeper blue of sea delights the eyes. There are a number
of roads in Kings County alone that climb out of the Valley and then fall
seaward to small communities along the Bay of Fundy, places such as Scot’s
Bay, Hall’s Harbour, Baxter’s Harbour, Canada Creek, and Morden.
But none offer a more stunning panorama than the road leading north from
Berwick to Harbourville. As I coast down the north slope of the mountain
on a crystal-clear Friday morning in late November, I see the familiar
sky-meets-sea vista, punctuated only by the high brown cliffs of Ile Haute
at the mouth of Minas Channel and the far shore of Cumberland County and
I’ve come to try to get a sense of what moves this little community
of 250 to 300 people, and to that end I’ve agreed to meet local
resident Holly MacDonald in the Harbourville Community
Hall. I arrive and am met by Holly and about a half-dozen other women
active in the Harbourville Restoration Society (HRS),
which, among other things, is responsible for the running of the Hall.
There’s a bit of an emergency to deal with: the furnace isn’t
working, and it’s cold enough that the pipes might freeze. But after
a few phone calls and a fair bit of tinkering, the heat comes on and,
though a chill remains, the danger has passed. The women get busy about
the Hall, putting up Christmas decorations and making preparations for
a community pot-luck supper set for the coming Sunday.
Holly tells me that the Community Hall was, until sometime in the 1960s,
a two-room schoolhouse. “When the school was shut down, the Harbourville
Women’s Sewing Circle, which has been a going concern in this community
for more than 100 years now, took over the building,” Holly tells
me. “When the HRS got together a few years back, it made sense for
it to take over the Hall, but if it hadn’t been for the ladies of
the Sewing Circle, this building would have been long gone by now.”
The people of Har-bourville, through the HRS, have been at work for a
number of years in a long-term effort to fix the community’s crumbling
wharves. In days gone by, Harbourville was the busiest port on the Nova
Scotian side of Fundy, but as seaborne commerce declined over the years
the wharves were sorely neglected. The HRS was founded in 1999 to address
the need for major repairs. “The provincial Department of Economic
Development pledged $200,000 some time ago, but it was contingent on our
ability to find matching funds from other sources,” says Holly,
who serves on the HRS’s Board. “Just yesterday, we received
word from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA)
that they’re going to pitch in with $250,000. Together with funding
already secured for wharf repairs through an agreement between the Annapolis
Valley First Nation and the federal Department of Fisheries, the money
now in place will go a long way toward all that needs to be done. We still
need about another $500,000, but we’re delighted with this most
recent news. Fixing the wharf will be a big boost for the community, and
it will do wonders for tourism in the area.”
Indeed, the good news seems to motivate the women as they go about preparing
the Hall for Sunday’s gathering, when the HRS will make its “official”
announcement to the community about ACOA’s decision. “That’s
not the only piece of good news we’ll have Sunday,” quips
Holly. “Santa will be here too.”
Among the women at the Hall this morning is Harbourville native Mary
DesRoches, who now lives on the other side of the North Mountain
in Somerset, just north of Berwick. After coffee, Mary and I leave the
other women to their work and she takes me on a round of visits that begins
next door at the home of life-long Harbourville resident and Sewing Circle
member Jenny Morton. She invites us into her living room,
which commands a lovely Fundy view.
“I was born in this house,” Jenny tells me. “My Dad
used to drive the mail between Berwick and Harbourville, back in the days,
long ago, when there was still a post office here.” Jenny can remember
back to the 1930s, a time when Harbourville was a bustling port. “Groceries
would come by boat from Saint John, and there were, at one time, five
stores here, and two hotels,” she says. “Then, in the ‘50s,
we had a dance hall here, and people of all ages would come to the dances.
Local musicians would play country music, and, though there wasn’t
supposed to be any drinking, bottles got passed around. But there was
never any trouble.”
At one time, there were lighthouses both in Harbourville and on Ile Haute,
and Jenny remembers a particular Christmas tradition that developed. “The
lightkeeper on Ile Haute would be very isolated from the rest of the world,
especially in winter,” Jenny explains, “and people in Harbourville
developed the habit of lighting a bonfire on Christmas Eve as a way of
wishing him and his family a Merry Christmas. He would signal back with
a fire of his own to let us know that all was well.”
Mary, who attended elementary school in the two-room schoolhouse that
is now the Community Hall, remembers the Harbourville lighthouse. “At
one time, my father was the lightkeeper there, but the Coast Guard closed
it down in the 1950s,” she says. “I remember getting out of
school one day in the early 1960s, and there was the Coast Guard, tearing
down the light. I was devastated, and angry too, because there was nothing
wrong with the structure. It was a lesson to me as a young person that,
if people in communities want to be heard, well, they had better start
speaking up.” The light on Ile Haute is still operated by the Coast
Guard, though it has been automated since the 1950s.
After our visit with Jenny, Mary and I drive up a dirt road to see
Margaret Swindell, who owns and operates a small farm on the
outskirts of Harbourville. Like Jenny Morton, she too can boast that she
still lives in the house in which she was born. “This house was
built in the middle of the nineteenth century,” she tells me, sitting
in her farmhouse kitchen. “My Dad bought it in 1923, and I took
over from him in 1963. As a kid, I’d tag along with Dad as he did
the chores around the farm. (If it was dark, he’d use an oil lamp,
because we didn’t get electricity here until after World War Two.)
When I went to school, I had to wear a dress, but I’d come right
home after classes, go up to my room, put on my pants, and go on out to
I remark that there can’t be too many farms around the province
operated by single women. “I never had any interest in marrying
anyone,” she tells me, “because I like being my own person,
not having to ask anyone’s permission to do things.” She explains
that she raises beef cattle and grows grain, potatoes, hay, and also tends
a small vegetable garden. “I used to also keep some dairy cattle,”
she says, “but I got out of that ten years ago, when the last of
the cream trucks that used to come up over the mountain stopped coming.”
“I’ve liked the life I’ve lived here through the years,”
she tells me just before we leave. “I’ve been happy, and I
wouldn’t trade my life for Queen Elizabeth’s.”
Our next stop is Fundy Lore, an art gallery that features
the works of painter Horst Maria Gilhauman and is operated
by Ly Munk. As Mary and I admire the beautiful paintings
and prints that feature Harbourville’s day-to-day life, Ly tells
me that she and Horst, who was born in Germany in 1936 but emigrated to
Ontario in his 30s, discovered Harbourville after the couple came to the
area in the early 1990s so Horst could study philosophy at Acadia University
in Wolfville. “We fell in love with Nova Scotia because of its unique
lifestyle, and with Harbourville for the very same reason,” Ly says.
“When we first came here, the community had seen better times, but
in recent years there’s been a huge resurgence of community pride.
There’s a restaurant that’s been operating here for four years
now, and the gallery is entering its third year.”
We make a final stop at the home of Greg Hamilton, who
fishes scallop, herring, mackerel, and lobster from Harbourville, and
who also operates a fish market on the waterfront during the summer months.
We find him hard at work in his garage, which is dominated by the rusty,
wheel-less hulk of what he tells me is a 1935 Ford. “I’m looking
at this as a two-year project,” Greg says of his restoration effort.
“I got the body on the Eastern Shore for $500, but I expect I’ll
sink thousands more into it. I’m having a really hard time trying
to find a front grille for it.”
Greg, who is married and has three grown children still living in the
area, is one of seven people (including two Native fishermen from the
Annapolis Valley First Nation Reserve near Cambridge), who fish out of
Harbourville. “In my younger years, I worked as a carpenter in the
Valley,” he says, “but I wanted to get into fishing, and I
did that in the early ‘80s. I’ve seen changes over the years
in the fishery here. On the negative side, of course, the groundfish have
gone way down, but on the positive side of things, lobster catches and
prices have been remarkable. And new practices adopted in the scallop
fishery over the years seem to have helped the stocks, so things look
good for the future of that fishery too.”
As Mary and I head back to the Community Hall, she explains that there
are a lot of non-residents who have bought land in the Harbourville area
in recent years. “They come here because of the beauty the community
offers,” she says “and most of them are great additions to
the community. But it’s made land prices go through the roof. I’d
love to move back here, but it’s just too expensive now.”
Back at the Hall, the furnace has by now done its warming work and the
women have pretty much got things ready for the upcoming Sunday. “After
the Sunday supper,” Holly MacDonald tells me, “we’ll
have a Christmas Food Drive for the Berwick Food Bank here, and then we’ll
close her down for the season.”
When I remark that the people of Harbourville seem very welcoming to people
who come here from away, Lois Bearden, one of the women who has busied
herself through the morning here replies, “I’m one of them.
Back in the ‘70s, Russia Road [which veers off the main road from
Berwick as one descends into Harbourville], was pretty much ‘hippy
central.’ My husband’s Mom was a Cajun, and he didn’t
want to go to Vietnam, so we figured it was a good time to come up here
and look into his Acadian roots. We got to Harbourville, and ran out of
gas. We’ve been here ever since.”
As I head back up over the north slope of the North Mountain toward Berwick,
I take one last look in the rear-view mirror of the lovely vision of Ile
Haute, then check my gas gauge, seeing that I’ll be fine. But, “So
what?” I think. Even if I ran out of gas, I’d simply coast
back down to Harbourville, where I know I’d be well taken care of.
For more information on Harbourville, visit <www.harbourville.ca>.
To learn more about the art and philosophy of Horst Maria Guilhauman,
If you have a front grille for a 1935 Ford in your garage or attic, please
call Greg Hamilton at 538-9707.
1. Can you see, or feel the effects of, the deterioration of rural infrastructure
and government services in your own community?
2. Do you believe there are seniors in your community who have in their
memories valuable lessons of history that might benefit younger generations?
If so, how might you be able to help preserve the wisdom of those memories?
3. If agriculture is major part of your community’s economy, how
has the decline of small farm operations affected life in your community?
4. How open do you believe your community is to people from away who move
into your midst? If it is open, why do you think that’s so? If it
isn’t very open, why not?
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CCN’s 2002 Proud Community Awards
More than 70 people gathered at the Glengarry Best Western in Truro on
the evening of November 13 for the Coastal Communities Network’s
(CCN’s) third annual Proud Community Award (PCA) presentations
and Gala Dinner. Regaled by good food and Irish dance – the young
people of Truro’s Leydon School of Irish dance put on quite a show
– representatives from community groups across the province celebrated
ten outstanding achievements of individuals and organizations that have
made Nova Scotia’s coastal and rural communities better places to
After reviewing scores of nominations, our panel of judges selected two
finalists in each of five categories. After dinner, the winners and runners-up
in each category were revealed. They were:
Community Innovation, Winner:
Truro Tree Committee
Recent years have seen the devastation of many trees across the province
by Dutch elm disease. The Truro area has been particularly hard hit, and
beginning in 1999 this group decided to make the best of a bad situation.
Since then, more than 30 sculptures celebrating the town’s heritage
and history have been made by a number of artists. Handed the “lemons”
of Dutch elm disease, this group has made “lemonade” and,
in the process has honoured Truro’s history and heritage. As well,
the group has produced a booklet to guide visitors on a “Truro Tree
Community Innovation, Runner-Up: River John CAP Site Committee
These volunteers are committed to promoting the rural way of life and
furthering the economic development of their village through information
technology. They view education as central to this, and they have offered
no-cost courses on computer troubleshooting, as well as other courses
to help local businesses and individuals hone their computer skills. The
Committee has established a program that offers businesses within a three-mile
radius free access to the internet without tying up a phone line. To see
more about the work of this Committee, visit <www.riverjohn.com>.
CKJM-Cheticamp Co-op Radio
A group of citizens concerned about the erosion of Acadian culture in
the Cheticamp area formed a non-profit co-op in 1992 to raise funds for
a community-based radio station. In 1995 CKJM went on the air, and since
that time it has successfully preserved and promoted the local culture.
The station has, from the beginning, been open to the community. With
more than 60 percent of the programs hosted by volunteers, virtually everyone
in the community is given the opportunity to participate. For the past
seven years, CKJM has been fostering both cultural and community pride
in the Cheticamp area.
Weymouth Falls Community Unity
This group was established to help the African-Nova Scotian communities
of Digby and Annapolis counties overcome existing barriers relating to
employment issues. It soon realized, however, that community members had
broader concerns, including education, the preservation of heritage, community
pride, economic development, youth, and other issues. The group holds
regular meetings and workshops, and offers programs to highlight community
strengths and to overcome barriers to local development.
Resource Management, Winner:
Scotian Gold Co-op
With its re-organization in the 1980s, this farmer-owned co-op has helped
Valley apple growers overcome the fickle demands of the global marketplace.
While half of Nova Scotia’s apples go to low-yield commodity products
like juice, the vast majority of Scotian Gold apples are premium eating
apples. The co-op has worked to develop new varieties of high-end apples,
and has helped give producers control of their future. Today, co-op members
have the ability to plan for the continuity of their farms for future
Resource Management, Runner-Up:
Guysborough County Inshore
This group has brought together small-boat fishermen along the coast of
Guysborough County to work democratically in their common interest. Through
this group, crab allocations are shared by the inshore fleet. It is also
involved, in partnership with other fisheries organizations, in several
lobster conservation programs and is active in the management of groundfish
resources for inshore harvesters. Throughout all its deliberations, this
organization has always stressed the twin themes of democratic representation
and the sustainability of fisheries resources and harvesting methods.
Small Business, Winner:
Ray Doucet, Manager, Cheticamp Co-op
As manager of this local co-op for the past 30 years, Ray has seen annual
sales rise from $200,000 to approximately $10 million. Having expanded
to a full grocery section, an in-store bakery, and hardware and building-supply
sections, the co-op has helped keep millions of dollars in the community.
Ray’s devotion to community is evident in his volunteer efforts
that successfully challenged government plans to take health-care services
from the Cheticamp area. He also worked tirelessly to help local fish
harvesters and plant workers take cooperative ownership of a local fish
Small Business, Runner-Up:
Homestead Craft Shop at Maud’s Place
In partnership with Maud’s Place, a fledgling heritage museum in
Brookfield, this venture has brought together more than twenty area craftspeople
in a cooperative effort to both market their wares and stimulate growth
in the local economy. Operated this past summer from mid-June to mid-September,
the shop was staffed entirely by volunteer craftspeople. Many who had
previously restricted their sales to Christmas bazaars were able to expand
summer sales. Through the project, local craftspeople democratically shared
their talents and ideas. Plans are now well underway for the 2003 season.
Youth, Winner: Graham Dixon
This fourteen-year-old is a reliable and innovative volunteer at the Samuel
Wood Museum Complex in Wood’s Harbour .He has helped with food-drives,
fund-raising events, and Child Wellness Days. Whenever something needs
doing at the Complex, Graham is there, filled with ideas and enthusiasm.
When a fire escape needed replacement, Graham seized the initiative by
drawing up plans and ordering lumber. When computers needed moving, Graham
offered fresh ideas and lent a central hand. No matter what is needed
at a given time, others at the Complex know that Graham can be relied
on to both come up with good ideas and then follow through on them.
Youth, Runner-Up: Cornelia van den Hoek
Cornelia, who has just finished high school, hails from Economy, Colchester
County. After attending a youth leadership course, Cornelia noticed that
many people in her area had to drive an hour to attend 4-H activities.
So, she organized a large group of both adults and young people to establish
the Glooscap 4-H Club in Economy. This has allowed more local young people
to become involved with 4-H. Cornelia also noticed another need in her
community – a chronic shortage of swim instructors. So, she took
two years of courses, and, in cooperation with local pool owners, has
offered swimming instruction in three different local communities.
In past years CCN held its Proud Community Awards as part of its Annual
General Meeting. This year, however, it decided to hold a two-day event
that included a Trade Fair, workshops, and a “Town Hall” meeting
hosted by the Nova Scotia Rural Team, a group consisting of representatives
from federal and provincial governments as well as a number of community-based
activists from around the province. CCN also found sponsors (see box,
this page) to help defray the costs of the event. We are grateful to all
Although CCN often has to deal with things that don’t work for coastal
and rural Nova Scotia, the 2002 Proud Community Awards were a celebration
of what is working. All the finalists serve as inspirations to those of
us still working away in our efforts to make our communities better places
to live and work.
For more information on the Coastal Communities Network,
its Proud Community Awards, or the 2002 winners and runners-up, contact
Scott Milsom, CCN Communications Officer, at 445-7168.
Does your community or municipality find ways to celebrate those whose
work betters life for the entire community? If so, how?
Nova Scotia’s Farmers
Feed the World
Farmers feed the world. In Nova Scotia, more than 50 different crops
are grown and many types of livestock are raised. Safe, quality food is
a top priority for farmers and the agricultural industry in the the province.
Agriculture is responsible for more than 16,000 Nova Scotian jobs.
Try your luck at our Agri-Quiz to test your knowledge of this vital
Nova Scotian industry
1. How many people does one Nova Scotia farmer feed?
2. What type of apple is grown only in Nova Scotia?
3. How many litres of maple sap does it take to make
one litre of maple syrup?
4. How many eggs can a hen lay in a year?
5: What is Nova Scotia’s provincial berry?
6: How many glasses of milk does a dairy cow produce
7: How many beef farms are there in Nova Scotia?
1: b 2: c 3: c 4:
b 5: c 6: a 7: a
Source: Nova Scotia Dept. of Agriculture
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People who live in Nova Scotia’s small rural and coastal communities
are all too well
aware of a dynamic shift in government over the past several years. In
the name of “fiscal responsibility,” the feds decide they
are getting out of a particular business. (Remember, for example, the
days when Ottawa felt it was part of its job to manage and maintain wharves
because they were central to the viability of so many of our coastal communities?)
When such things happen, people look to the provincial government for
support. But, not being given any resources from Ottawa to help out with
these former federal responsibilities, the buck gets passed on to municipalities.
Typically, these are at least as starved for funds as the province, and
the job at hand inevitably has to be picked up by groups of unpaid volunteers.
(For example, look to your local Harbour Authority, which is almost certainly
made up of unpaid volunteers. Look also at more distant and lower quality
health care, or to local school closures, to see the effects of federal
and provincial unloading of responsibilities.)
People in our communities typically band together in the face of this
withdrawal of responsibility on the part of government. They do what they
can by forming community-based organizations to fill in the widening gaps
of need. Whether the job before it is providing alternative transportation
for those needing health care or organizing a drop-in centre for young
people, community groups are in constant need of funding. While many government
programs might underwrite specific projects, they are almost universally
unwilling to fund “core” activities for these community groups.
And, as often as not, government agencies will ask for “matching”
funding from other sources. Community groups typically spend much time
and effort dressing up their “core” activities as “projects”
in order to secure funding to do the work that needs to be done in their
There is another potential source of funding community groups might make
use of, but the way things stand today, many of them are unable to. There
are many charitable foundations and generous individuals who would like
to help local community groups with their worthwhile projects, but current
taxation regulations make it very hard for community groups to take advantage
of this. Because of the taxation benefits of giving to charity, charitable
foundations, in particular, can only fund activities defined as “charitable”
by the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA), the “gatekeeper”
of charitable status in Canada. Sadly, many community groups that apply
for charitable status are turned down, because of the very outdated definition
of what activities qualify as “charitable.”
The laws regulating charitable activities in Canada are based on English
laws from the 1600s, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. They restrict
charities to the following four activities: the relief of poverty, the
advancement of education, the advancement of religion, and other purposes
beneficial to the community. You would think that “other purposes
beneficial to the community” would include all sorts of good works,
but the courts have interpreted this very narrowly. And, the way the CCRA
defines “the advancement of education” is also narrowly interpreted.
It may not include, for example the publication of educational materials
that raise public awareness about a given issue. In fact, the CCRA’s
definition is so narrow that it usually includes only educational institutions.
So, while the CCRA might consider giving a man a fish as “the relief
of poverty,” if you simply show him how to fish, it may not be considered
“the advancement of education.” You might have to put the
man in a classroom and teach him how to fish there in order to qualify
under the CCRA’s current definition. You’d think learning
to fish might involve water somewhere, wouldn’t you?
Along with such narrow definitions, the CCRA enforces another regulation
that often leads to applications for charitable status being denied. This
is its “ten percent rule,” which restricts the “advocacy”
activities of any charitable organization to ten percent of all its activities.
Thus, an organization that offers aid to people with, for instance, lung
cancer, would probably be looked upon as a charitable organization by
the CCRA, but if that same organization was found to be spending eleven
percent of its efforts to promote clean air and smoke-free areas it could
be judged to be doing too much advocacy work and therefore have its charitable
status denied or revoked.
So, a charity can distribute band-aids to injured workers, but it had
better not advocate too strongly for safer workplaces. To make matters
worse, the CCRA’s interpretation and application of its regulations
is often inconsistent and arbitrary. The environmental group Greenpeace
is considered “too political” for charitable status, while
the Fraser Institute, a right-wing, pro-big business think-tank, is not.
In recent years, a YWCA in rural Ontario was refused charitable status
until it removed mention of women’s rights in its application. In
Québec, a Christian group was told it would be refused charitable
status because its mission – the elimination of torture –
involved lobbying certain governments to change their policies. So, the
group could cheer up prisoners who had been tortured, but it was not allowed
to appeal to governments to stop torturing people in their prisons. And,
the list of such examples goes on.
Happily, there’s a national coalition working to help the process
of change along. A Vancouver-based group called the Institute for Media,
Policy, and Civil Society, together with the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy,
have launched a “Charities and Democracy” project to hear
the voices of community groups across the country and to develop means
to convince the federal government that changes to our charities laws
are essential. Change is needed to allow community groups to do the work
that has to be done to assure the survival and development of our small
communities. In 2001, the project heard from over 700 people as part of
a National Dialogue on Charities and Advocacy. This past fall, workshops
were held across the country to further the movement for change.
Other countries such as Scotland and Australia have recently updated their
charity laws to reflect 21st-century realities. It’s long past time
that Canada did the same.
Government representatives from departments at all levels have appealed
to community groups across Nova Scotia – and across Canada –
to tell them how government policies can be harmonized to benefit our
small communities. Well, folks, here’s an ideal place to start.
– Scott Milsom
For more information on the “Charities and Democracy”
project, visit <www.impacs.org/policy/>.
1. How does government downloading affect people in small communities?
2. How can getting charitable status help make the work of community-based
groups more effective?
3. Is “education” something that can only happen in a classroom?
Can you think of things that have helped educate you that took place outside
a classroom setting?
4. Should environmental groups that advocate policy changes for environmental
reasons be considered charitable?
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Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve
Working for the
by Scott Milsom
In 1987, as the environmental movement was gaining ground across the
globe, the United Nations (UN) issued the Brundtland
Report. Named for the Norwegian Prime Minister of the time, it was also
given the title Our Common Future. It defined “sustainable development”
as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising
the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” That’s
a huge order, but since that time the UN has been working to promote the
One of the means it has chosen to move this work forward is through the
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s
(UNESCO) Man and the Biosphere Program, which has seen the establishment
of more than 400 “biosphere reserves” around the world, including
twelve in Canada, and one – the Southwest Nova Biosphere
Reserve (SNBR) – in Nova Scotia.
Lunerburg-area resident Wanda Baxter is the voluntary
Project Coordinator of the SNBR Association, and I met her to
try to get to the bottom of the “biosphere reserve” concept,
and what it might mean to people living in southwestern Nova Scotia.
“The SNBR received its designation in September of 2001, after a
group of local volunteers made application to UNESCO,” Wanda says.
“The whole idea of biosphere reserves is that it’s a voluntary
thing. Perhaps the word ‘reserve’ is a bit unfortunate, in
fact, because it implies that there won’t be change. Of course,
there will. The biosphere reserve concept recognizes that education, culture,
and the economy are all inter-linked. Each biosphere reserve has a core
protected area, and in our case this is Kejimkujik National Park and the
adjacent Tobeatic Wildlife Management Area. But the biosphere is far larger
than these smaller protected areas, and we are looking at the five counties
– Annapolis, Digby, Yarmouth, Shelburne and Queens – that
make up the SNBR. The whole of southwestern Nova Scotia is really a unique
series of ecosytems.”
Wanda explains that the SNBR and other biosphere reserves serve three
functions. First is a conservation function, to conserve landscapes, ecosystems,
species, and genetic variation. Next is a development function, to foster
economic and human development that is culturally, socially, and ecologically
sustainable. Finally, there is a logistical function, providing support
for research, monitoring, education, and the exchange of information related
to issues of conservation and development.
“We’re working with landowners throughout the entire area,”
Wanda says. “Our first aim is education: it’s important that
people see the SNBR, not as something intrusive, but as something that
can be helpful in people’s development plans. The keyword is ‘sustainability.’”
How, I ask Wanda, would the laying of sewer pipe in Yarmouth in, say,
ten years from now, be affected by the existence and growth of the SNBR?
“It’s not that we’d want to go in there and tell them
they have to do it this way or that way,” she responds. “We
don’t ever want to develop into anything resembling a regulatory
body. In an ideal world, our existence would simply mean that more information
was available, that the ‘sustainable development bar’ was
set higher, and that people in Yarmouth might take some pride in the fact
that they were laying their sewer pipes in a way that was better for the
environment than before.”
Through partnerships with government agencies, environmental groups, and
researchers, the SNBR has worked to raise awareness about species at risk,
such as the very rare and secretive southern flying squirrel, which in
Canada is found only in the southern parts of Nova Scotia, Québec,
and Ontario. “Along with the southern flying squirrel,” Wanda
tells me, “other ‘species at risk’ in southwestern Nova
Scotia include the mainland population of moose – most of whom spend
much of their time in the Tobeatic – the pine marten, Blanding’s
turtle, along with several plant species. We’re working to raise
awareness about all of these species.”
The SNBR Association is working with government and private landowners
in a buffer zone around Keji and the Tobeatic to promote the goals of
conservation and sustainable development. “It’s entirely a
voluntary thing,” Wanda says, “but companies like J. D. Irving
and Bowater are anxious to get involved. Sure, it’s good public
relations for them, but it’s also good for the environment. It used
to be that environmental activists were mostly finger pointers, pointing
at bad practices. But there has been a paradigm shift, and environmentalists
are now working with the private sector and local communities to better
the environment and promote sustainable practices.”
Wanda, who is from the Kingston Peninsula not far from Saint John, New
Brunswick, studied English at Mount Alison and the University of New Brunswick,
and then took an Environmental Ethics course at Dalhousie. “I was
always awed by the way the natural world was portrayed in literature –
like the descriptions of the English moors in Brontë’s Wuthering
Heights and the writings of Henry David Thoreau,” she says.
“But as much as I loved school and learning, I found that I wanted
to get involved in more than the theoretical: I wanted to dive into work
that was practical, useful.” After going west to get a Master’s
degree in Environmental Planning and Policy at the University of Calgary
and graduating in the fall of 2001, she and her partner moved to Lunenburg.
Soon, a job opening came up, and Wanda found a way to apply her book learning
in a practical fashion by working with the SNBR Association. (Funding
for that position has dried up, at least for the time being, though Wanda
continues to work with the SNBR Association on a voluntary basis.)
One of the central aims of biosphere reserves worldwide is the promotion
of products that stem from environmentally sustainable practices. In southwestern
Nova Scotia, forestry products spring immediately to mind, and the SNBR
Association is engaged with a number of forestry organizations to promote
such products. But there is also another area with tremendous potential:
“We are working with governments and the private sector to help
develop ecotourism in this part of the province,” Wanda tells me.
“Much has already been accomplished in this area, but there is still
a huge amount of untapped potential for ecotourism in this part of the
Although the biosphere reserve concept is currently stalled in the United
States – as part of the anti-UN sentiment in that country –
the biosphere reserve concept is being embraced enthusiastically by governments
in Europe, and elsewhere globally. “In Europe,” Wanda says,
“biosphere reserves are being embraced by governments. It’s
something of a top-down approach there. Here, though, we need to build
things from the ground up, to make the biosphere reserve concept a community-driven
one. There’s now a Canadian Biosphere Association in place, and
there’s a National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy,
which promotes the concept of biosphere reserves and advises the Prime
Minister. And the concept is also being promoted by the Assembly of First
Last year, a group on Digby Neck was fighting to block plans by an American
company to develop a quarry. It wrote to UNESCO and asked them why the
SNBR Association wasn’t helping them in their battle. “We’re
still brand new,” Wanda explains, “and we can’t engage
in such struggles at this point. We are working to get firmly established,
and our priorities right now are structure and democratic governance.
We’re quite encouraged by the fact that the province and a number
of municipalities have been very supportive. As well, we’ve had
piecemeal funding from Parks Canada and Environment Canada.”
The SNBR is the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada, and having brought
municipalities onside, the Association is now looking for the province
to show its commitment and endorsement of the project. A February meeting
will set the course for the Association for the next three to six months.
It seems that the biosphere reserve concept will probably catch on here,
as it has in many other countries. Our environment will only be the better
For more information on the Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve,
visit its website at <www.thegreenpages.ca/snbr-rbsn>.
1. Do economic priorities sometimes get in the way of environmental ones?
Can you think of examples in your own area?
2. Can you think of any ways that economic activities in your area might
be changed to help the environment?
3 Do you think there should be times when environmental factors should
take precedence over economic ones when it comes to a proposed economic
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Law Reform Commission of Nova Scotia
Making the Law
Serve the People
by William H. Laurence, Legal Research Counsel, Law Reform Commission
of Nova Scotia
Can you think of a recent example of the law touching your life? Have
you sat on a jury? Do you administer the estate of a deceased spouse or
relative? Does a former spouse pay maintenance to you? Perhaps one of
the many administrative tribunals that operate in the province made a
decision that affected you. If any of these examples apply, then you have
likely benefited from the work of the Law Reform Commission of Nova Scotia.
The Law Reform Commission is a small public body that proposes changes
to the province’s laws in order for them to work better, or to become
fairer, more understandable, or better suited to current ideals of justice.
Since its establishment in 1991, the Law Reform Commission has published
reports on a broad range of topics relevant to Nova Scotians – domestic
violence, maintenance enforcement, the probate system, juries, mortgages,
and mental health law are some of the subjects about which the Commission
has proposed legal reforms. Remarkably, though a provincial public body,
the Law Reform Commission has been operating since 2001 without government
funding. The Commission receives all of its funding from the Law Foundation
of Nova Scotia.
The Law Reform Commission does not make the province’s laws. Rather,
law-making is the responsibility of the elected members in the House of
Assembly, through legislation, and of the province’s judges, through
their case decisions. Nonetheless, Law Reform Commission proposals are
reflected in a number of provincial statutes. Assembly representatives
from all political parties have referred with approval to Commission reports
or to Commission work generally, during the course of legislative debates
The Commission’s work has also influenced the manner in which government
operates. For example, in the area of appointments to public agencies,
boards, and commissions, the provincial government recently acknowledged,
consistent with a 1997 Commission report, that the process for choosing
people should be “transparent.” This would include ensuring
that the criteria for an appointment would be consistent with the agency’s
purpose and publicly available, and that the process for identifying and
selecting people would be clear.
The Commission’s influence goes beyond legislation and government
policy. Commission reports serve an important educational function. Available
for free, either in print or through the internet, they are used as a
source of legal information by a wide range of community members. Commission
reports are used as course materials at post-secondary institutions. Government,
public interest groups, and other organizations use Commission reports
in order to develop awareness of issues and to focus discussions among
interested people. Commission reports are distributed widely. They are
available, for instance, at public and university libraries in Nova Scotia.
Another significant role of the Commission is responding to enquiries
about the law or about aspects of the Commission’s work. The Commission
does not provide legal advice, nor does it intervene in legal cases. Nonetheless,
since 1991 Commission staff have responded to a large number of enquiries
made by telephone, by fax, by letter, by e-mail, or in person. In replying
to enquiries, Commission staff have provided legal information, copies
of Commission reports, along with other documents and contact details
for government departments and other relevant institutions.
The law is meant to serve Nova Scotians. If a law is obsolete, unworkable,
confusing, or unfair, it performs a disservice, and it should be changed
or eliminated. The Law Reform Commission is committed to raising public
awareness about problems with our laws and to proposing forward-thinking
changes that will help to ensure our laws are clear, relevant, effective,
If there are aspects of the law that you’d like to
have changed, the Law Reform Commission welcomes your comments. It can
be reached by phone at 423-2633, by fax at 423-0222, by post at 1484 Carlton
Street, Halifax, NS, B3H 3B7, or by e-mail at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
To find out more about the Commission, visit its website at <www.lawreform.ns.ca>.
Coastal Communities News
Coastal Communities News is published bi-monthly by the Coastal Communities Network, a non-profit society registered in the province of Nova Scotia.
Coastal Communities News is made possible by the generous efforts of many volunteers, and by financial contributions from Human Resources Development Canada, and by donations and in-kind contributions from the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Culture, as well as from member groups and organizations.
We welcome all articles and submissions, from individuals and groups, with content in keeping with the role and nature of this magazine. We reserve the right to edit all submissions. Except where additional credit has been given, all articles are prepared by the Editor and Editorial Board.
Coastal Communities Network
The Coastal Communities Network is a volunteer association of organizations whose mission is to provide a forum to encourage dialogue, share information, and create strategies and actions that promote the survival and development of Nova Scotia's coastal and rural communities.
CCN is made up of organizations rooted in Nova Scotia's coastal and rural communities, and it is the diversity of its membership that gives it strength. Your organization, and your community, can help CCN determine its direction and strengthen its voice still further. Join the Coastal Communities Network today.
"A Large Voice for Small Communities"
How to Become Involved
CCN's strength lies in its membership, which is made up of organizations rooted in Nova Scotia's coastal communities. The range of member organizations is very broad, including churches, fish harvester groups, municipalities, community and regional economic development agencies, unions, universities, and local community groups. CCN welcomes the participation of any organization that represents the interests of a coastal community or issue and is interested in working together with similar groups across the province. Your organization can become involved in a number of ways:
in the Coastal Communities Network
by participating in regular monthly meetings of the CCN membership. These are held in Truro (usually on the first Tuesday of each month), and allow representatives from member organizations to review what is happening in coastal communities across the province, plan actions on issues of common concern, and review progress on CCN-sponsored projects;
by getting on our mailing list to receive regular copies of Coastal Communities News. Send us your name and address by mail or fax, or call us directly;
by contributing written articles to Coastal Communities News, and so letting everyone know what's happening in your community;
by taking part in CCN workshops and information sessions. Special events like this are held on topics of importance to coastal communities (for example, community economic development, co- management in the fishery, etc);
by inquiring about CCN's resource library, which includes information, reports, and studies on topics that affect the future and sustainability of coastal communities.
You may contact us at:
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