History repeats itself

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Joan Baxter, author of The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest, recently shared her reflections since the release of her book during environmental non-profit group Friends of Redtail Society’s annual general meeting on March 17.

She said the inspiration for it came after a morning jog when the smell from the mill was particularly strong, a phone call to Northern Pulp and a long conversation with Dave Gunning during which he provided her with a lot of information.

“When I finished that phone call, I had 27 pages of handwritten notes and I thought, ‘I think this may be a book that may be staring me in the face,’” she said during her presentation at the John P. Gammon Recreation Centre in Scotsburn.

Along the way, she said she realized the story wasn’t just about Boat Harbour or air pollution, but also the forests of Nova Scotia.

The story also turned out to be about the protest against the mill over the years, she added.

She said there had been “wave after wave of citizens coming together to form groups to protest what the mill was doing to Boat Harbour, to the air, to the fishery, to their health.”

People from some of the original groups gave her “banker boxes full of files” as well as gigabytes of electronic information from newer groups like Clean up the Pictou County Pulp Mill.

During her visits with people, she said she was given ‘stop the spraying’ buttons from 1988.

“It’s just incredible how history was repeating itself.”

She said it became clear to her during the research that Canada’s democracy isn’t as transparent or accountable as she had once thought.

“Another thing that I was learning as I was starting to do the research is how the government seemed from the very beginning, no matter which party was in power, the government seemed to have been captured by the owners of the mill,” she said, citing examples of access to land and the indemnity agreement for the treatment of the effluent.

She said working on the book put her in touch with groups like the Friends of the Redtail Society.

“There are so many people in this province trying to make things better,” she said, adding that has been encouraging for her.

She said there’s a lot of young people involved in those groups and believes there’s an awakening all over the world regarding corporate influence in democratic governments.

Tom Miller, chairman for the group, said they invited her to be the keynote speaker because the topic is timely and because the book is well written by a local author.

“This is a pretty good turnout for us for an AGM, so we’re quite pleased. I think she was a big part of the draw,” said Miller, referring to the audience of approximately 30 people.

Author and journalist Joan Baxter spoke about her book The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest, during the Friends of Redtail Society annual general meeting on March 17 in Scotsburn.  (Jess photo)