Once about a time in 2009, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced to the world that we were open for business – for the mining business, that is. The minister of Natural Resources and the chair of the provincial Chamber of Mineral Resources combined forces to offer a colourful multi-page supplement to the “Mining Journal,” announcing that the province was resource rich — and development friendly. Almost a decade later, the provincial government and Mining Industry NL confirmed that 2009 vision with their “Mining the Future 2030: A Plan for Growth in the Newfoundland and Labrador Mining Industry.” That commitment included five new mines in the province by 2030.
There’s gold in them thar hills. The word seems to have gotten around.
In 2018, First Mining Gold (Vancouver, B.C.) proposed the construction of a 59-km road from the Burgeo Highway to access its mineral exploration property. Local area residents protested claiming that the road would destroy a large area of wilderness for economic gain. At that same time, the provincial government announced the need for an Environmental Preview Report for a gold mine proposed by Anaconda Mining (Toronto, Ont.) in Ming’s Bight on the Baie Verte Peninsula.
The provincial gold fever has struck, even on the Avalon Peninsula it seems.
You may have read of recent protests against Eagleridge International (Conception Bay South, NL) who are currently constructing an 11-km access road off the Trans-Canada Highway south towards the Avalon Wilderness Reserve to support their gold exploration activities.
This project has a long history. Registered way back in September 2013, only now, after recourse to the provincial Supreme Court, was the company able to begin road construction. The government decided not to appeal, adding only the caution that if a gold mine were to be proposed, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would be required.
While it is true that an EIS would be required if a gold mine were to be proposed, it is not so clear that an EIS would be able to adequately deal with values that we cherish most – loss of beauty, loss of wilderness or loss of quality recreational values.
We are killing the beauty of our land with a thousand cuts. Proposals are constantly made to government for dams, hydro lines, mines, cutovers, for commercial developments of all kinds and shapes. Never, however, does the government seriously entertain proposals for protected areas or wilderness development.
The government used to consider the development of protected areas and wilderness areas. You don’t hear much about that anymore.
No small wonder. When you’re open for business, only certain things are possible.
There’s gold in them thar hills. Golden calves are being constructed across the province — lifted high for all to worship. The faithful have gathered and prostrated themselves. A mindlessness lurks the land. Despite any evidence to the contrary, our lands and waters are still viewed fundamentally as a storehouse of resources, the exploitation of which depends solely upon our financial flexibility and technological finesse. All other values disappear.
But are “developments” always a sign of human progress? May it say more about our maturity and wisdom if we decided not to “develop” an area? May we lose something of what it means to be human if our lands and waters are viewed simply as “economic opportunities.”
Lost will be an experience of beauty, of solitude, of wilderness, of things that humans need, but for which there is no price tag or replacement. Lost will be a special wild place that no human power or intelligence can create. As roads pierce the country, as the edge of the hinterland recedes, as every river is dammed or every river valley logged, what price do we pay? We create reserves for pine marten, gannets and caribou — and rightly so. Isn’t it about time that we created reserves for the human spirit as well?
If Eagleridge International decide to propose a gold mine next to the Avalon Wilderness Reserve and upstream of Salmonier River, an EIS will no doubt be required. But how does a government intent on “Mining the Future,” envision an alternative future? That’s not so clear, especially when one is blinded by the glitter of gold in them thar hills.
Fr. John McCarthy, S.J.
Jesuits of Canada