‘I’ve watched people cry all day’
CAROLE MORRIS-UNDERHILL VALLEY JOURNAL-ADVERTISER carole.morris-underhill @saltwire.com @CMUnderhill
Looking at the low water level below Sangster’s Bridge, Melissa Sheehy-Richard gets emotional speaking about the impact the federal government’s ministerial order is having on the region. “To think that my kids used to jump, and all the community kids used to jump, off the bridge into the water and when I look down and it barely covers my ankles, it actually chokes me up,” she said. With a provincial election on the horizon, SheehyRichard, the Hants West Progressive Conservative candidate, has been going door-to-door asking people what issues affect them. She said she’s heard loud and clear the changes to how the gates at the Avon River causeway operate have had a direct impact. “I’m going to try not to be emotional about it but I’ve now reached 5,000 people in the community, face-to-face, door-to-door,” said SheehyRichard. “It’s gruelling and worth it because I’ve seen the fear, the pain and the heartbreak that this community is going through.” She’s heard about the dust-ups that are occurring because of the exposed, dried riverbed located near the Falmouth bridge. Aside from the dust being a nuisance, coating homes and businesses, it’s particularly concerning for people with medical conditions, especially those with respiratory issues. She’s heard from business owners; from people concerned over the dry hydrants that are no longer able to be used by the fire department; from people who are concerned about the fate of freshwater fish and habitat. Currently, Lake Pisiquid, a man-made head pond that was created as a result of the Avon River causeway opening in 1970, sits dry. In March 2021, Bernadette Jordan, the minister responsible for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, issued a ministerial order requiring the draining of Lake Pisiquid. The order, which has been renewed every two weeks, also indicates the provincial aboiteau operator must keep the gates open during all outgoing tides, and then open for at least 10 minutes with each incoming tide to allow for fish passage. This decision came as welcome news to the group who feel the Avon River causeway should be removed entirely, allowing free tidal flow to return to the area. Since 2020, there has been an encampment outside the causeway operations. In the fall, they shut down Highway 101 to urge DFO to take action and provide better fish passage. Providing fish passage is a legal requirement under the Fisheries Act. Sheehy-Richard said people want answers and the federal and provincial governments are simply falling short on communicating with constituents about what’s happening in West Hants. “I’ve watched people cry all day today as I did Sangster’s Bridge (Road),” she said on July 7 after signing her name to a banner in support of saving the lake. More than 200 people stopped by the Pisiquid Canoe Club that night to show their support for keeping Windsor’s waterfront filled with water. SEEKING SOLUTIONS Sheldon Hope, one of the Love the Lake rally organizers, has been impacted by the loss of Lake Pisiquid as he’s involved with the canoe club. The paddlers were able to temporarily relocate to Mockingee Lake this summer due to Camp Mockingee not operating this season, but their home base is the Pisiquid Canoe Club, built purposefully next to Lake Pisiquid. “This isn’t anti-Indigenous or anti-fish or anything else. It’s about loving the lake and loving the freshwater and all that it brings to the community,” said Hope in an interview as the second similar rally in two weeks began. The first rally primarily involved youth wishing to express their concerns over losing Lake Pisiquid. He said the lack of water and the low levels upriver is concerning for several reasons. “Fish can’t swim in the sand; fish can’t swim in the dirt. There are freshwater species that are being affected, in particular, a lot of freshwater muscles in the river that have been killed. I’ve seen them personally. Some of the white suckerfish and other freshwater fish have been killed in the river. This time of year, with this low water level, (and the heat of summer) that’s just going to cook them,” he said. He predicts more fish will die due to the changes that have been made. He said the ministerial order is “basically destroying a freshwater ecosystem.” “A freshwater ecosystem in today’s day and age is probably the most important thing on the planet. Freshwater is what feeds us, nourishes us, feeds our crops and everything else.” Hope said no one is opposed to improving fish passage. They simply want to find a solution that will also keep the body of water that the community has built itself around. “That’s what we’ve always advocated for… It’s always been about let’s find a way to do both,” said Hope. “We can fly remote helicopters on Mars and take pictures. Surely, somebody can figure out how to build a structure for that causeway that protects our farmland and protects our freshwater resource and still passes fish. It’s possible. It has to be.” The rally saw Love the Lake supporters sign a giant banner that featured a blue heart that was hung from the Falmouth bridge. Many of the people walked around the Windsor causeway trail, pausing for a moment at the memorial monument in Falmouth to pay respect to the hundreds of Indigenous children who died while in residential schools across the country. Sheehy-Richard said the people she’s met just want answers and a viable solution. “I think it’s important to try to work this matter out because our community is being destroyed by it.” blends, but they lack a bit of acidity and tannin and a certain depth of complexity. Melanie said that by adding these ciders to cool-climate wines that have lively acidity and hints of tannin, you create something with a flavour that is unique from other ciders or wines. She expects to see more vinous ciders being produced in the Valley as the concept becomes better known. Beausoleil Farmstead currently has one of its products, the Sigma Cider White Chardonnay and cider blend, listed with the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation. Melanie said some of their wines are listed with Bishop's Cellar and with Liquid Assets of Nova Scotia, and the Wolfville Farmers' Market has been an “amazing” support to them as a point of retail. CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES Jake said each aspect of the business comes with its own individual set of challenges and opportunities. “Trying to make it all fit together in harmony has been a lot of fun, and a lot of learning,” he said. Considering his full-time job, he said managing the vineyard is demanding and “the biggest challenge is finding enough time to do everything and do it well.” However, he pointed out that, like Melanie always says, there's nothing more rewarding than walking across your front lawn to get to the place where you work and love doing what you do. Jake said they've been blessed to have so much support from the community and others involved in the industry, so they don't feel like they're doing it alone. He said there is great leadership on Church Street when you consider they are neighbours to Planters Ridge Winery, where they have a grape-growing contract, and 1365 Church Street Vineyard and Winery. He said that when you stay at Beausoleil Farmstead, you are close to everything but when you relax on the back deck, you're isolated from the rest of the world. People have been telling them that this is what they're looking for. “While we had moments of panic in March of 2020, I think everything came together really nicely over the last year,” Jake said. He said that, following a couple of challenging years in terms of quality, last year was great for their grapes. The potential is there, which he said is the exciting part, so they're now working to maximize that potential. A HISTORY IN AGRICULTURE Jake said the property has been used for various agricultural purposes in the past, but in many ways, they were starting with a clean slate. They've been working to enrich the soil so that it's better suited to growing grapes. Melanie said that at one time, the property was a terraced orchard, so there are some legacy apple trees from that period that they have been working to reclaim and harvest fruit from. “The really cool thing about those trees is that the varieties that we have, have kind of been lost to time,” Melanie said. They hope to propagate more of the trees to build on that legacy of the past history of the farm. “Agriculture is in the blood,” Jake said, pointing out that both he and Melanie grew up on farms and have now boomeranged back into the industry, but are taking a different approach. He said that consistently seeing the pleasant surprise on the faces of guests who haven't tried a vinous cider before has been very rewarding and a lot of fun. GET IN TOUCH Although Beausoleil Farmstead is currently open to the public on Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., people can book visits for other days and times. For more information on tours and tastings or to book a farm stay at the Beausoleil Farmstead accommodation, visit www.beausoleilvineyards.ca.