Environmental resistance from the Rockies to the Prairies

This week, we bring you stories from Alberta and Manitoba about a pair of projects that have ushered in political controversy and alarm bells about impacts to the natural world

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A strip of homes, part of an earlier development, sits on the Three Sisters lands in Canmore, Alta.

From the Rockies to the Prairies, the fate of two communities hangs in the balance as residents fight to protect the natural world around them.

One saga begins with mine closures, the other with a mine proposal. But the tales are somewhat similar: a company comes in with a project, some residents are opposed, and then it spirals into a political controversy. 

In the Rockies, Canmore, Alta., is dealing with a $161-million lawsuit Three Sisters Mountain Village properties launched against the town and councillors for opposing a commercial and residential development project — one that could double the town’s population and eat into critical wildlife habitat.

Drew Anderson, one of The Narwhal’s Prairies reporters, has been following the story for a while. Last October, he drove to Canmore — which has grown into a tourism hub since the local coal mines closed in the ’70s — when the council was forced to vote in favour of the project because of the pending court case. Soon after the decades-long resistance ended, a source told him about a box of freedom of information requests that had been languishing in a garage somewhere.

“I reached out to get the box and, lo and behold, it had been snagged by one Jeremy Klaszus, editor-in-chief of The Sprawl,” Drew told me. And so, he and Jeremy began working together on a story — and a podcast episode! — in our first-ever collaboration with the Calgary publication.

The sprawling feature spans the tale of the former mining town — one nestled in mountains sacred to the Stoney Nakoda Nations — that could transform into a version of itself both residents and environmentalists had fought hard against. It looks at the impacts on wildlife like elk, deer and sheep, and a housing crisis that mires the region. It takes a walk down Canmore’s touristy main street and wonders out loud: would a miner from the ’60s know what to make of the tuna ceviche with passion fruit served at the town’s rustic-chic chalet?

Josh and Georgina Mustard crest a ridge near the Vivian, Manitoba site where Sio Silica has begun exploratory drilling for silica sand

To the east, a political scandal in Manitoba is putting a different community-industry tension under the spotlight. In another collaboration, Manitoba reporter Julia-Simone Rutgers brings us and the Winnipeg Free Press the story of a controversial mine project just outside the capital city.

Alberta-based Sio Silica has positioned itself as part of the green energy future by proposing a silica sand mine in Springfield, Man., which some believe will be key to sparking a lucrative green tech manufacturing industry in the province. But the proposal has been met with staunch resistance; residents fear the proponent’s plan to drill holes through their drinking water aquifer could cause irreparable harm.

After an independent review, residents were told the province was taking a second look at the company’s plans before deciding whether to grant an environmental licence: the last regulatory hurdle in Sio Silica’s way. Everything came to a head this winter when the newly elected Premier Wab Kinew alleged the project had been all but rubber-stamped before the New Democrats formed government. These allegations have sparked an ethics investigation into a few Progressive Conservative politicians — including the former premier.

With the allegations coming to light, some residents say it’s time to look into the company’s political dealings at all levels of government.

Sio Silica hasn’t backed down — it has threatened local councillors who oppose the project with legal action. And as we learned in Canmore, a lawsuit can seal the fate of even the most controversial projects.

But Springfield residents remain unwavering in their opposition, going toe-to-toe with the corporation’s leadership at community meetings, council sessions and environmental hearings.

“Ultimately, residents want accountability from their leaders and clarity on the risks they would absorb living near this proposed mine,” Julia-Simone told me. 

Both Drew and Julia-Simone have the most comprehensive accounts of these two contentious projects. Read Drew’s story on the Canmore saga here, and Julia-Simone’s account on the fate of the sand mine here.

Take care and take care of your town,

Karan Saxena
Audience engagement editor
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P.S. We’re hiring for three positions (!!!) and the deadline to apply is this Sunday. Want to report on B.C.’s upcoming election, edit our stories or build relationships with our wonderful members — or know someone who might? Apply and spread the word!
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Photos of the 10 Black environmentalists in the story on a coloured background. Top row, left to right: Laurian Farrel, Kiana Bonnick, Peter Soroye, Louise Delisle and Chùk Odenigbo. Bottom row, left to right: Zamani Ra, Violet Morrison, Ingrid Waldron, Julius Lindsay and Maydianne Andrade

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Black environmentalists on their mentors, protégés and friends

The community of Black environmentalists in Canada may be small, but it’s nothing short of mighty.

Reporter Serena Austin spoke with 10 Black Canadian scientists, researchers and environmental advocates for her latest story, which landed on The Narwhal’s site a few days ago. 

“Black environmentalists share a love of nature and, often, a familial history of farmers and gardeners,” Serena writes. “But, unfortunately, another unifying experience is isolation in their field of work.”

It’s a story about facing Canada’s environmental racism both systemically and individually — and intentionally building connections that strengthen their communities and their work.

Go check out Serena’s story here!

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This week in The Narwhal

Susan Haddon rests her hand on an old Garry Oak tree by her home in Saanich, B.C.
New housing rules in B.C. trigger fears of ‘catastrophic’ loss of urban trees 
By Sarah Cox
B.C.’s NDP government says new legislation aims to address the housing crisis. Critics say the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach removes local autonomy and threatens urban forests, including Greater Victoria’s endangered Garry oak ecosystem.
An aerial view of the Port of Vancouver's Roberts Bank terminal
Canada approved a major port expansion in endangered orca habitat — now it’s going to court
By Steph Kwetásel’wet Wood
A collage of ads from the Ontario government on a brown paper background. The ads depict roads and people and have a variety of slogans, like "What if I told you there's a place where it's all happening?"
Ontario may move to allow expropriation of land before environmental review: documents
By Emma McIntosh & Fatima Syed
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What we’re reading

The world is looking to electrify — and battery research is all about the future. In The Globe and Mail, Ivan Semeniuk looks at Canadian scientists’ race to make the next breakthrough in battery technology.

A warm winter has led to a decline in snow. Will winter, and winter sports, soon be extinct? In the face of a bleak and uncertain future — Michelle Cyca writes in The Walrus — it’s worthwhile to teach our kids persistence and optimism.

Need more tips for coping with climate anxiety? Vox’s Allie Volpe talks to climate-aware therapists to help you walk the line between staying in touch with reality and not succumbing to despair.

A GIF of a dog typing (with human hands emerging from underneath the table) on a laptop

When you’ve just read the most elaborate stories on tensions between community and industry, and forward this newsletter to as many friends as you can — because you want them to stay informed on all things environment!

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