Joan Baxter joins us today on the Off Script podcast to tell us about her new Book ‘The Mill’, the 50 years of community activism protesting the pulp industry’s practise in Pictou County, and the politics surrounding it all.

I’m not sure there’s a better topic for the transition from Season One, to Season Two of this podcast than the topic we choose for today’s show.

(Season One, for those who didn’t listen to it, was about digging into the experience of Nova Scotia’s former MLAs. It was a serialized story, told from the beginning of a typical MLA’s career, to the end, and along the way we were able to shine a light on how politics works inside the halls of power in Nova Scotia.)

I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about what we talk about on today’s podcast until last Thursday. That’s when I heard this story about a book-signing by a local author at the Coles bookstore in New Glasgow being cancelled.

The signing was cancelled due to pressure the store was under from what a Chapters/Indigo spokesperson described as concerns that customers’ “joyful and safe experience” might be compromised.

The Pulp and Paper Mill at Abercrombie Point at the tip of Boat Harbour in Pictou County is the subject of a new book by Joan Baxter, called ‘The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest’. And it is her book that is at the centre of this controversy.

‘There were vague hints that someone would destroy the book in front of me, they were worried for my safety, I said I wasn’t worried for my safety, I’ve worked for BBC in Africa for so many years, I’ve covered coups, I’ve covered wars, I’ve had their special hostile environment training, I said ‘I cannot imagine that I should be afraid in a bookstore in Nova Scotia.’  

I had a chance to read the book. Not long after getting through the first chapter, I quickly realized the importance of the issue that Joan Baxter was writing about.

You know how there are books that are funny, like actual ‘laugh-out-loud’ funny?

I’m not talking about a book where you read something, see the humor in it, perhaps you say ‘huh’ to yourself and move on. I’m talking about the kind of book where you see the words on the page, they jump out at you, and you actually can’t help yourself from laughing.

This book is the opposite of that.

Joan describes the real human suffering, tragedy, years of citizen-activism, and the slow and insufficient political response. It’s the kind of stuff that will make your stomach turn. It made my stomach turn while I was reading it.

“The Government of the time, apart from giving [the mill] access to over 100 liters of water a day, which they had to build a damn to do, they built a causeway for them to link Abercrombie Point and Pictou, gave them access to 230,000 acres of some of our best crown land, gave them incredible tax breaks, and the biggest thing of all, that they agreed the people of Nova Scotia, the department of environment would be responsible for the waste from the mill.”


I’ve already shared that I don’t think there’s a better topic to transition from season one to season two of this podcast than the topic of today’s show. Here’s why:

There is so much more going on in politics in Nova Scotia than what we weren’t even able to touch on in our 75+ hours of interviews with former Nova Scotia politicians that made up Season One of this podcast.  We went back pretty far, but not more than a few decades. Joan Baxter’s book tells the story of a political fight that’s been happening for over half-a-century. 

While it might not be a fight that’s happening in your community, there are broader lessons about activism, corporate influence and what has been happening inside the halls of power in Nova Scotia. In the work we’ve produced so far on this podcast, we’ve really only been sharing one side of the story. 

So today on the Off Script podcast, I’m chatting with Joan Baxter about her new Book ‘The Mill’, the 50 years of community activism protesting the pulp industry’s practise in Pictou County and the politics surrounding it all.

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Follow along on Twitter: @SpringtideCo | @MarkCoffin | @Joan_Baxter

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Joan’s latest book: The Mill: 50 Years of Pulp and Protest

Joan’s other book: Seven Grains of Paradise: A Culinary Journey in Africa

John Demont’s Column: Journalist, miners shabbily treated by big business 



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