ST. MARY’S – Pictou native and Canadian recording artist Dave Gunning has literally added his voice to a rising chorus of complaint against gold mining in the St. Mary’s River valley.
The eight-time East Coast Music Award-winning singer-songwriter released his new composition, “For All the Gold,” last week to support the St. Mary’s River Association’s ongoing conservation efforts in the environmentally sensitive watershed. The group has been advocating against an open-pit mine that Atlantic Gold – the Nova Scotia subsidiary of Australian mining giant St Barbara – proposes to build near Sherbrooke.
In an interview, Gunning said the song and a four-minute movie (by videographer Tim Myers) of him performing against aerial backdrops of the river and old still shots of long-defunct mining operations send a simple message: “It’s easy to dig a hole in the ground and make some money right now. It takes a lot more effort to think about the future and who will have to pay for the damage.”
Atlantic Gold, which operates Moose River Gold Mines near Middle Musquodoboit, approximately 60 kilometres northeast of Halifax, wants to erect an open pit mine – including material storage, site infrastructure, crusher and concentrator facilities, an above-ground tailings management facility, mine site haul roads, and access roads – at Cochrane Hill, northwest of Sherbrooke.
Opponents of the proposed project, which is undergoing federal assessment, say the mine, if approved, could cause irreparable harm to the fragile river system where governments have spent millions of dollars on habitat preservation and restoration.
In a statement in October, Atlantic Gold said, “St. Barbara recognises and respects the environmental significance of the St. Mary’s watershed. As part of the approvals process, our Company is appropriately required to provide scientific evidence to all levels of government to demonstrate that water sources can be protected before, during and after the mine life of the proposed Cochrane Hill Gold Mine operations. Our company looks forward to submitting its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Cochrane Hill Gold Mine project soon and working within the stringent environmental assessment process that will follow.”
Gunning, who recently exercised his musical chops to raise awareness of pulp and paper pollution in Boat Harbour near his home in Pictou County, became familiar with the St. Mary’s River situation recently.
“I heard about what the St. Mary’s River Association was up against through some mutual friends,” he said. “It was pretty easy for me to get drawn in because of the similarities we’re facing in Boat Harbour. It just seemed to be a lot of the same things. I’m writing songs all the time, but it was pretty easy to become inspired by this one.”
St. Mary’s River Association President Scott Beaver, whom Gunning contacted earlier in the summer with the idea, said, “I was really surprised how fast he pulled it together. It was really only three or four weeks before he had it recorded and had sent me a rough cut. In the back of my mind, I was thinking he probably just threw it together. But when I listened to it, I was amazed by how well he really captured every bit of the issue. He did a lot of research.”
Co-written by singer-songwriter Jamie Robinson, “For All the Gold” resonates with the current controversy with lyrics such as, “Five years’ worth of pay cheques will never cover up the costs of forever gone and nothing left to keep” and “Cause they can dig 27 tonnes just get an ounce this time, nothing like it was in my grandfather’s day.”
Said Beaver: “The St. Mary’s River is certainly one of the province’s most ecologically prized and intact systems. Places like this are not appropriate locations for massive, destructive open-pit gold mines. Dave’s artistic contribution to this battle is truly heart-warming and sends a powerful message.”
It also fits neatly into an increasingly hot war of words the association has been waging against Atlantic Gold since the beginning of the year, when the group staged a press conference to show evidence of spawning salmon and followed up with a slick, new website to promote its cause. Atlantic Gold countered by publishing the results of research it said showed overwhelming public support for its mining plans in the area.
There’s some evidence that attitudes in the communities around the proposed site are hardening against resource extraction of any kind. Earlier this summer, after hosting public consultations in Sherbrooke, economic development consultant Fathom Studio found that most participants like the idea of “softer” and more “environmentally sensitive” forms of industrial activity better than traditional, primary ones.
According to Beaver, the St. Mary’s River Association paid for the song’s hard recording and video production costs “through an initiative this summer, which raised about $14,000 not just for this project but a few other things, too.”
Said Gunning: “I’ve given them the rights to use it for however long they want to use it. One day, I’ll also put it on one of my recordings. But in the meantime, this is all about the St. Mary’s River Association.”