Nova Scotia

Protest planned as Cape Breton mountain becomes focus of mining group

People opposed to any future mining or quarrying on Kellys Mountain are planning a demonstration and blockade of Highway 105, beginning at noon on Saturday.

Mining Association of Nova Scotia says protected status hampers industry growth

Kellys Mountain, as seen from the shore of Bras d'Or Lake. (Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith/CBC)

People opposed to any future mining or quarrying on Cape Breton's Kellys Mountain are planning a demonstration and blockade of Highway 105, beginning at noon on Saturday.

The protest is organized by the Indigenous organization Reclaim Turtle Island, and supported by the Council of Canadians.

"I'm absolutely appalled that we would be going through this again," said Johanna Padelt of the Council of Canadians, Inverness chapter, who was involved with the Save Kelly's Mountain Society in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

At that time, a company called Kelly Rock Ltd. proposed a quarry on the mountain.

Now, almost 30 years later, the proposal is being used by the Mining Association of Nova Scotia as an example of a lost economic opportunity.

'Impossible to even have a dialogue'

The mining association's executive director, Sean Kirby, said there is an aggregate deposit of over two billion tonnes on Kellys Mountain, "but because the area is protected, nobody is allowed to have any consideration of whether or not a quarry should be there."

"It's impossible to even have a dialogue about it because the area is protected," he said.

That argument holds no sway with Padelt.

"Mining has no place in a designated wilderness area, no matter how small they try to make it sound," she said, "and even more importantly it has no place on Mi'kmaq territory."

Sacred to the Mi'kmaq

According to the mining association, the size of once-proposed quarry would have been less than one per cent of the mountain's total area, which is part of the Kluscap Wilderness Area.

Kirby said the quarry would also have been more than three kilometres from the seaside cave known locally as the Fairy Hole, which according to Mi'kmaq legend is where the mythological figure Glooscap lived.

A report by the mining association said Cape Breton is being disproportionately harmed by the provincial government's Parks and Protected Areas Plan. Dozens of potential mineral projects are affected, it said, making it harder for the industry to create new jobs. 

"If we could launch a quarry there, it would create about 80 direct jobs that would last about a half century," Kirby said.

A map showing the 1989 Kelly Rock Ltd. proposal. The purple indicates the proposed quarry area. (Mining Association of Nova Scotia)

He said the mining association is using Kellys Mountain in a policy argument it's making to the Nova Scotia government.

The association wants more flexibility built into the Protected Areas Plan to allow for a land-swap mechanism. That allow companies to access protected areas by purchasing land of at least equal size and ecological value outside the protected zone and arrange for it to be preserved instead.

Kirby said that would ensure the total amount of protected land remains the same or grows.