Nova Scotia

To mark 50 years, Ecology Action Centre encourages art around Nova Scotia

The Ecology Action Centre started as a student project in 1971 with a wild idea: people should recycle some things, not just chuck everything into the trash.

Dozens of new works include a major mural by Mi'kmaw artist Lorne Julien in downtown Halifax

Brian Gifford drives the "paper tiger truck" to kickstart recycling in Nova Scotia in the 1970s. (Submitted by the Ecology Action Centre)

The Ecology Action Centre started as a student project in 1971 with a wild idea: people in Halifax should recycle stuff and not just chuck everything into the trash.

"They had a truck and they drove around and picked up people's recyclables because there was no other recycling program," said Joanna Bull, the organization's community engagement manager. 

"At the time, everybody thought they were nuts. It was a totally hare-brained, unrealistic, out there, radical idea. I like that story because it shows that shift really is possible and that the actions and advocacy of people — regular people, young people in this case — can actually really shift our society in significant ways."

Those Dalhousie University students never guessed they were starting an organization that would still play an important role in Nova Scotia life 50 years later. 

This undated archival photo shows the EAC in action. (Submitted by Ecology Action Centre)

Over the decades, the Ecology Action Centre worked against a proposal to build the biggest nuclear power plant in the world on an island near Shag Harbour. They partnered with farm women from Centre Burlington to stop uranium mining in the province. 

But Bull said it isn't a time to look back. Like the founders, the organization has its eyes on the future and its 40 staff and 5,000 members are focusing on climate change, biodiversity collapse and environmental injustices. 

"I hope that 50 years from now, we'll look back and we'll say, 'I can't believe we burned all those fossil fuels for everything. What a crazy thing it was we did back then.' Just like throwing glass bottles into the garbage was in 1971."

A woman wearing a bright patterned shirt and glasses stands on the sidewalk by a Halifax street.
Joanna Bull says some of the people who founded the organization are still members today. (CBC)

To mark this year's 50th anniversary, EAC called on Nova Scotia's artistic community to create some visions of the future.

More than 50 artists created 50 unique works of art all over the province.

If you download the app, 50 Things: An Art Adventure, it will tell you when you're near one. Some are physical objects, while others reveal videos or podcasts within the app. 

In 2019, EAC staff and volunteers supported Pictou Landing First Nation in calling for an end to wastewater getting pumped into Boat Harbour. (Submitted by Ecology Action Centre)

Respect the Sun

Walk across a Halifax bridge and listen to the Ecology Action Centre founders talk about how they started the organization, and what role the bridge itself played. Another spot features a quilt made out of the rubber bands used to hold lobster claws together. 

Lorne Julien's Respect the Sun will be displayed in Halifax until October. (Jon Tattrie/CBC)

Or if you're passing Agricola and Willow streets, stop and take in Lorne Julien's Respect the Sun. He's a Mi'kmaw artist from Millbrook First Nation. 

His mural, painted on 10 wood panels and attached to the building, features an eagle. The animal plays an important role in Mi'kmaw and other Indigenous cultures, Julien said. 

"It's believed that they're able to take our prayers to the Creator, to God," he said. "The eagle is raising one wing up toward the sun and also another wing pointing down toward Mother Earth."

The orange represents the survivors of residential schools and the children who died at the institutions. Julien said the Mi'kmaw tendency to think of the next seven generations, not just today, naturally leads its artists to think about the deep future of the planet and the people. 

"I believe right now, we're in a time of healing, in a time of change, not just for First Nations people, but for the rest of Canada. We all talk about reconciliation; we all have to be working together," he said. 

"Nova Scotia has been through a lot. Atlantic Canada has been through a lot. I think it's given people a chance to reflect on what's important in your life today. And I guess that's where I'm at too."

He hopes his work inspires people to reflect on our shared world, and to explore their own cultural roots — especially Mi'kmaw youth. "I want to give our youth hope, and I think that's what my work represents."

Dancing to court cases

Ben Stone helped co-ordinate the 50 works of art hidden across Nova Scotia to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ecology Action Centre. (CBC)

Ben Stone, co-artistic director with Zuppa Theatre Company, helped organize the artistic projects. 

"We have craft, we have film, we have sound, we have music," he said. There are also theatrical works, audio creations and plenty of interactive exhibits. 

So if you see someone dancing beautifully alone on a Nova Scotia beach, download the app and join in. 

"There's one piece in particular that's sort of a DIY dance performance that you do with yourself, or with a group, and the app instructs you on how to do this dance," he said.

"It's based on the four court cases the EAC participated in, so you sort of dance out these different court cases with a dance instructor in your ears."

The app will be up for 50 days, ending at the Nocturne weekend in October. Then, it all disappears. 

"I doubt anybody will be able to see all 50. There are some as far away as the [Cape Breton Highlands National Park] all the way down to Cape Forchu in Yarmouth. There's some in Bear River. They're spread all over," Stone said.