Nova Scotia

Schools offer showers, laundry facilities to Potlotek students with water woes

Two weeks after Potlotek First Nation was advised not to drink or wash with its water, nearby schools have invited First Nations students to shower and do laundry at school.

Health Canada advised Potlotek First Nation not to drink or wash with tap water

Water enters the Potlotek water treatment system. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Educators in Richmond County have reached out a helping hand to their students from Potlotek First Nation.

East Richmond Education Centre, in nearby St. Peter's, and Richmond Education Centre/Academy, in Louisdale, have offered the students showers, laundry facilities and free meals. 

On Sept. 11, Health Canada advised the community its water is unfit for drinking or washing.

"I'm devastated for them," said Richmond Education Centre principal Tanya Carter. "My heart goes out to them. In this day and age it's hard to believe that there would be such a water crisis in Canada."

One-third of the school's students are Mi'kmaq.

'They came out skipping down the hall'

The schools are providing towels, soap, shampoo, conditioner and hair dryers, and the principal and vice-principal are making themselves available to help the younger students.

East Richmond has grades Primary to 8 and Richmond Education has grades 5 to 12.

Tanya Carter is the principal at Richmond Education Centre. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Carter said on Tuesday, four students used the school's showers.

"They came out skipping down the hall and were so excited and thanked us."

'It's a godsend'

Parent Amanda Johnson says 43 Potlotek children from 28 households attend the two schools.

"That's a big burden off of them," Johnson said. "It makes us feel great. It's nice to know they have our backs."

Sonya Marshall has two children in high school at Richmond Education Centre/Academy. She said she is touched by the school's efforts.

"It's a godsend.… I feel good that they care about us," Marshall said. "They actually truly care and they are trying to help in any way they can. It's a good feeling."

Sheri Levesque said her water appeared to be clear on Tuesday. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Although both schools have breakfast programs two days a week, they are offering additional breakfasts and free lunches to Potlotek students.

Sheri Levesque has two 15-year-olds and an 11-year-old, and is off work because of an injury. 

"Things have been a little tighter than normal," she said. "So the help with the lunches and the showering and the water has been great. It's really awesome the support we've gotten."

Water test results expected Friday

Potlotek's water problems are not new. A year ago, residents held a protest to call attention to their brown, smelly water.

Meanwhile, the operations manager at the Potlotek water treatment plant, Alec Marshall, said the water has been tested again and he hopes to know by Friday whether it can be used. 

Health Canada said design work is ongoing for a new treatment system.

About the Author

Joan Weeks


Joan Weeks has been a reporter with CBC in Sydney for over a decade. Many of her stories are investigative with a focus on government spending and accountability, as well as health and economic issues important to Cape Breton.

With files from Gary Mansfield