Nova Scotia·Video

Rural N.S. propane dealer says rail blockades threaten to shutter business

A propane dealer in Digby, N.S., says the shutdown of rail service into the Maritimes threatens to drive the company and its 14 employees out of business.

'We're just days away from closing the doors,' says president of Royal Propane in Digby

On Wednesday, about 20 demonstrators set up this blockade across CN's main rail line in west Edmonton in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in opposition to a natural gas pipeline project in British Columbia. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

A propane dealer in rural Nova Scotia says the shutdown of rail service into the Maritimes threatens to drive the company and its 14 employees out of business.

"We're just days away from closing the doors," said Susan Wagner, president of Royal Propane.

The Digby company has been rationing propane to its 3,000 customers in southwestern Nova Scotia since Indigenous blockades disrupted supply delivered to the region on trains earlier this month.

"I got old people down here that's cold and I'm only delivering to people ... so that they can cook their food and stay warm and I'm only giving them half. That's so I can get two people done as opposed to one," Wagner said on Thursday,

"I'm thinking we're like, we're in a natural disaster right now. Like, it's a state of emergency, is my opinion."


Two fish plants in the area are also being rationed in an effort to keep both open, she said.

Wagner estimates at this time of year, Royal delivers from 33,000 to 66,000 litres of propane per week to customers.

That supply is down to 10,000 litres and she's trying to get more.

Wagner blames the situation on the federal government for allowing, in her opinion, a handful of people "to hold up the entire country."

In the House of Commons this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked by West Nova Conservative MP Chris d'Entremont about the plight of Royal Propane and other Nova Scotia businesses sideswiped by the rail blockades.

Trudeau's response

The prime minister said resolving the situation peacefully is the way to go.

"The forceful responses that the opposition is proposing would not make things better for those workers or for their region, it would make things worse for Canadians from coast to coast," Trudeau said.

The blockades on the main CN Rail line are a show of solidarity for the Wet'suwet'en First Nation, whose hereditary chiefs oppose the construction of a 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline through northern British Columbia.

N.S. company copes with fallout from rail blockades

2 years ago
Duration 3:36
Classic Freight general manager says he's concerned about supplies of essentials, like propane, getting into the region.

Royal Propane is hardly the only Nova Scotia business scrambling to adjust to the rail shutdown.

Classic Freight is a transportation company in Burnside that moves cargo by rail and truck.

The trucking side of the business has picked up in the short term, said general manager Todd Seward.

"We are in an unusual situation now where we've been turning away some freight, which almost never happens in February," he said.

Susan Wagner is president of Royal Propane and Hearth, a Digby, N.S., propane and appliance dealer. (Royal Propane and Hearth)

But he said it's not sustainable with its existing operation.

"We can't say yes to everybody. And you know, we are getting lots of calls to run over the road," Seward said.

With container volumes dropping at the Port of Halifax, Classic Freight's fleet dedicated to container deliveries within the Atlantic region has been reassigned.

"We've advised them that we would need them to run longer through Canada with diverted freight and our guys have agreed to do that," Seward said.

Rail operation hung up

On the rail transportation side of the business, the company has no idea when rail cars with cargo destined for Eastern Passage, N.S., will show up, nor when cars it dispatched inland to the CN Rail terminal in Brampton, Ont., will arrive.

"Ten days later, they haven't made it to destination. That freight isn't moving. CN has stopped moving containers east-west from Halifax," he said.

Seward said CN has not lost the cargo.

"We can tell where they are and they're not in Brampton, [which is] where they need to be," he said.

Port of Halifax

At the Port of Halifax, Atlantic Container Line will be diverting cargo away from Halifax beginning next week and into U.S. ports to get deliveries into the Midwest market.

Another line, Hapag Lloyd, is looking at also routing its cargo away from Halifax.

Propane delivered by rail isn't moving due to blockades across Canada. (CBC)

The company said in a notice Wednesday on its website that "various options to move/divert cargo out of Halifax are being explored."

"The blockade in Ontario remains in place, and CN's Eastern Canadian network is more or less shut down," the company said.


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.