Report from the Archives: Records of the Joint Action Group to Clean Up the Sydney Tar Ponds
Robicheau, Wendy G., Labour/Le Travail
IN SEPTEMBER 2003, an important part of Industrial Cape Breton's economic, political, social, and environmental history arrived without ceremony at the Beaton Institute: over 100 banker boxes, or 90 linear metres, of unprocessed records from the Joint Action Group [JAG], a community-based organization dedicated to cleaning up Sydney's infamous tar ponds. (1) This is one of the largest accessions ever received by the Institute. Contained in the records are paper and electronic documents, published and unpublished reports, video and sound recordings, photographs, books, posters, banners, and community surveys. This rich and diverse collection will be of interest to readers of Labour/Le Travail for it documents a working-class community's struggle to rehabilitate the local environment after more than a century of steel making on Cape Breton Island.
JAG was formed in 1996. Federal government ministers of Health and Environment met with community leaders of various affiliations to design an organization committed to finding a community-based solution to the tar ponds problem. All three levels of government signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 1998; it allowed JAG to carry out its mandate to "educate, involve and empower the community, through partnerships, to determine and implement acceptable solutions for Canada's worst hazardous waste site and to assess and address the impact on human health." (2) For the following seven years, JAG studied soil and water contaminants in the Muggah Creek area, dealt with re-directing sewage to the Sydney Harbour, appointed working groups to address interconnected aspects of the tar ponds situation, (3) and collected community opinion on clean-up options.
In mid-2003, JAG's Memorandum of Understanding expired and most of the organization's records were prepared for transport to the Beaton Institute at Cape Breton University; a portion of the records are being stored on the Sydney Steel Corporation [SYSCO] site. Soon after, the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency [STPA], an agency of the Nova Scotia Government, indicated its desire to have access to the JAG records as part of its involvement with the remediation process. In response, the Beaton Institute inventoried, organized, and partially digitized the records as quickly as possible, a process that also involved archival training, primary research, and classroom instruction. That work began on 15 November 2004 and continued until 31 March 2005. The "Joint Action Group for the Environmental Clean-Up of the Muggah Creek Watershed fonds" is now open to researchers, with some restrictions. …