Editor’s Note: The Sheet Harbour and Area Chamber of Commerce and Civic Affairs asked Sue Henry to make a presentation to the March 4, 2020 Chamber meeting regarding the announcement that the Whale Sanctuary Project was going to Sherbrooke/Port Hilford rather than Sheet Harbour/Mushaboom. The construction cost of the project was estimated at $20 million, with annual maintenance between $1 million and $2 million. The Cooperator is printing her talk at length because Henry engages with some of the perennial issues dealing with the often painful difficulties of negotiating conflicts between proposals for new developments and strong local opposition to such proposals.
Sue Henry's Presentation
I have been asked by your Board to speak tonight about my continued involvement with The Whale Sanctuary Project scheduled to be built in Port Hilford, Nova Scotia, Canada. Let this sink in … the small community of Sherbrooke, along with Port Hilford, which sits one hour to the east of us, will be the first whale sanctuary in North America! What an achievement and opportunity this is for them? The world is watching.
I had mixed feelings about speaking tonight when I was asked, and quite honestly I had to ask myself … ”Why me?” … and “Why now?” “Is it too late or is it too early?”
To answer the question “Is it too late?” … you bet it is! The golden opportunity that we could have been apart of is gone. We had a chance to become the stewards of an initiative that will change the way the world thinks of keeping whales in cement tanks. This is a leadership role along with the scientists and experts in the marine biology field, and we could have worked side by side to develop the sanctuary that would work for us, and them. Now we get to watch and see how Sherbrooke moves this forward.
I believe that we will never change or develop this area unless we first examine the past and try to learn from it. My question to the Chamber is “Why did you not move this forward, or even help support or even explore it?” The biggest project was offered with the whole world watching us, and you took a neutral position. The Chamber would not even give a few dollars towards refreshments on our Beluga Day. I must be wrong but I always thought that your leadership group was to help develop the Eastern Shore. In my opinion you cannot be neutral with a project of this level.
I feel that it may have been because some of the board members did not support this for their own personal reasons. Some things that were said were, “We should just let the whales go and hope for the best”, or “They should can the meat and sell it to China”, and “My children want to drive their Sea-Doos in that area.” Well, guess what? Now they can any time they choose. You now have, as they say, a 20 million dollar view!
You do not have to look far in this community to see what is happening, and I really don’t have to stand here and tell you about the decline in our hospital, social services, one grocery store is gone, one by one things are declining or closing and that will continue. Quite frankly, there is only one business that is successful in this area these days and that is Crowell’s Funeral Home. Need I say more?
Every person in this community had a part to play in the decision of where best to put the sanctuary. Yes, everyone … to those who supported it, to those who opposed it and those who fell silent not willing or brave enough to speak out. We all need to take the blame. I have also heard things like “Well if it was presented differently”, or “Because so and so rolled their eyes and disrespected someone at a meeting”. Let me tell you … these are only excuses, the response, no matter what, would have been the same. When you get “NO means NO” there is NO room to communicate and NO room to negotiate! That is one of the bigger issues here. We are not open for business. We don’t embrace it and we don’t want it.
The lack of respect that was shown by some people on December 16th at the Legion toward Dr. Lori Marino, neuroscientist, and Charles Vinick were appalling and embarrassing. There was even a verbal threat toward the Sanctuary. I, as well as many others, supporters and people against the sanctuary, was sickened by this.
We need to all go home and look in the mirror and say “What have I done for my community lately?” To be honest, most of you here tonight are working hard for the community. There are a lot of people who do great work for our area and I applaud them. Thank you! We can never hear those 2 words enough. Thank you! For anyone involved in a volunteer group we are all suffering as our membership is dropping, and so will our work as we are all getting older and very few young people are moving back to help carry the load.
The other issue we need to think about is how we treat the “Come From Aways”. Let me tell you … these people bought or built houses in our area, they live in our area, they shop in our stores, they volunteer and they also try to move this area forward. They are not “come from away”, they are just as much a part of this community as we are. Most have done very well in business, education, and their careers. They have chosen to live here because of our beautiful shore. They see things that we don’t always see. They know things that we never experienced. We need to show them respect and let them guide us in a direction that is successful. But instead, we look at them and say “Well that's not the way we do things here.” Well my friends, believe me, what we have been doing here for the last 40 years is not working.
Is anyone familiar with the Hadhad family? This family started a chocolate factory in Syria in the 1980’s. One night it was bombed and everything was destroyed. They made the decision in 2016 to move to Canada … actually to our neighbours to the east in the town of Antigonish. Two hundred residents showed up at the airport to welcome them that night. They started another chocolate factory called Peace By Chocolate. Four short years later they employ over 30 people and ship worldwide. A movie is being produced about this remarkable family and their story. The real heroes behind this success are the welcoming and supportive Town of Antigonish. This would never have been possible without their love and support.
When you “Google” the distance on Google Maps between Halifax and Port Hilford, the result most times, depending on traffic, is to go the main highway … the 102 taking you through Truro and Antigonish. Unless we have something unique here, and I ask you all to think about what could we have here that would align with the Port Hilford project, because, by distance, we are about ½ way which is a good stop for a break. But what could we have that would direct traffic to the Number #7? We need to come up with something. I don’t have that answer but I challenge you to think about it.
The Chronicle Herald did an article on Saturday and I want to quote a paragraph:
“There were also concerns by fishermen and recreational boaters in Mushaboom about how they would be impacted by the sanctuary, if that community, another finalist, had been chosen. The three lobster crews out of Wine Harbour who will all be giving up some territory to make room for the Port Hilford whale sanctuary decided to not oppose the project because it would be good for the community.” End of quote!
Believe it or not, but someone from our area called the fishermen in Port Hilford to spread lies and try to stir up trouble for the project in that area. WHY????? This is how the world now sees us. This needs to change.
To the next question, … “Is my being here speaking about a connection with Sherbrooke and the plan to move forward with the two groups joining too early?” You bet it is!!
On February 25th the announcement was made in Halifax at the Maritime Museum with all three major TV news groups there along with several journalists from several newspapers. CNN, the BBC and even the Australian Network have also picked up this story. On February 27th 2 days later, I was asked to give you a report as to how the two groups will work together and their plan to move forward. Are you kidding me?
Sherbrooke has not even had time to digest the full scope of the project. We have not even talked about a meeting yet. What I can tell you is, Sherbrooke has extended an invitation for our group and anyone interested in the area, to work with them, and we have accepted. And I cannot be more thrilled and excited to work with a group who believes in progress, development and the whales! The first resident is expected by the end of 2021, a very ambitious timeline.
Sherbrooke will take the lead in this and our role will be secondary, to help in anyway and fill in the blanks. But, ultimately it is their baby!
My personal involvement will be to help the project move forward for the whales. I will not, and cannot, be a liaison person between their group and our needs. That will not work for me. I want my work to be whale related. But I do think that one of our young community leaders would be perfect for this work. Becky Atkinson is from this area, born and raised and wants to continue to live, work and play here. As you all know she has started a brewery and just recently opened a Tap Room in Sheet Harbour. I ask you all to support her business, to help her develop, and I can’t wait to see how her business will flourish. I believe that Becky is the one who could bring our two communities together in a positive manner that may also help us grow. This is the second reason why I got involved so passionately … for the next generation!
Becky also turned my attention to a book called “Our Iceberg is Melting”, by John Kotter. This is a book that is very simply written. It is about a group of penguins that have a big decision to make to save their colony. I urge those interested in changing us as a community to read this book. It talks about when a big decision needs to be made for the survival of the greater community, what steps to follow and how to work with everyone involved to achieve the outcome needed. It is a very short story and is available at our local library. This community needs to change their attitude toward change and moving forward … and fast!
Last September, Hurricane Dorian blew through with a vengeance. It almost destroyed The Sober Island Oyster Farm, a business that Trevor and Michelle have worked very hard to make a success for over 10 years. They needed help and fast. Within hours there were many of our community members at their doorstep saying, “What can I do to help?” We worked side by side sorting the muddy small oysters. Some days up to 15 people volunteered. Some for hours, some for days and some for weeks … and it was fun also. This is the kind of community that I want to live in, a place where we help our neighbours grow and succeed. Because, when they succeed we all succeed. Let us all become Becky, Trevor, Michelle and the other’s town, just as Antigonish was the supportive town for the Hadhad family.
This week I have also heard “well in a few years when Sherbrooke gets the kinks worked out maybe another sanctuary will come along and we will be ready for it.” Well, here is my response … Port Hilford is a large area with room to expand, they will have all the facilities built, with room to enlarge the area if and when the community and Sanctuary chooses. They will likely choose to build on to what they already have. From a cost effective perspective this makes sense. If another group comes along looking to build another sanctuary, with our track record and opposition, they will not even look at us. We need to face reality, we need to fix who we are.
You may not like my words but I urge you all to think about what and who we are and who we as a community want to be. When you can’t work with your neighbour to the west you turn and work with your neighbor to the east!
I would like to end by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Darkness can not drive out darkness,
only light can do that.
Hate can not drive out hate,
only Love can do that.”