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Political seeds planted by local activism for Bridgewater's Stella Bowles


UPPER LAHAVE, N.S. —

Stella Bowles, 15, lives in Upper LaHave just outside of Bridgewater.

She’s part of a generation of activists who aren’t waiting around for someone else to tackle what they believe to be the biggest issue -- the environment.

And although she’s not old enough to vote yet, she’s already making political waves.

It all started with a school science experiment.

“When I was in Grade 6 we had to do a science project and I did mine on testing the LaHave River for fecal bacteria, which is not the typical 11-year-old science fair project, but it was a lot of fun and my results showed that it was not safe to swim in the river and I wanted to let the community know,” Bowles said. “I wanted to make sure people knew that if you were swimming in the river, you could get really sick from it.”

She begged her mother to set up a Facebook page, and she was hesitant at first, but capitulated and agreed to put a sign up near their wharf, which read ‘The river is contaminated with fecal bacteria.’

That got the attention of the community.

A Facebook page was eventually set up as a way for Bowles, who shares Facebooking duties with her mom, to highlight her testing results and engage the community.

The attention quickly exploded, members of the media were asking for interviews, meetings were organized. It was a lot more than 11-year-old Bowles was prepared for at the time -- but it’s since turned into a major project for her.

The source of all of that bacteria? About 600 straight pipes along the LaHave dumping raw sewage directly into the river.

Or as Bowles bluntly describes it: “It’s poop.”

“I really just wanted the river to be clean,” she said. “I really didn’t care how they fixed it; I just wanted it to be fixed.”

Her advocacy led to direct government action. In 2016 the municipality, provincial and federal governments committed over $15 million to fix the sewage problem on the LaHave.

The project will divert 100 straight pipes per year until 2023 when all of the raw sewage will stop flowing.

Bowles said people have already noted a reduction in the odour emanating from the LaHave.

There were some bumps along the road -- some folks called her data into question and suggested her efforts should be ignored -- but as the kids say, she showed her receipts, backing up her data with duplicate lab testing.

“It was really nice seeing everybody come together around this, saying ‘OK, this kid if right, we have to do something,’ ” she said. “It’s incredible to see what one person can accomplish. But it’s not just my success, it’s really the whole community’s success.”

She hasn’t slowed down, speaking across Nova Scotia and showing other young people how to test their own waterways for contamination.

“We only have one Earth and it’s kind of going downhill right now and a lot of people aren’t standing up, and I really want people to know that even if you’re 12 or 50 or 80, you can make a difference.”

“It’s our generation that’s going to be left with this huge disaster, so we might as well start acting now.”

She can’t vote in the federal election this October, but that’s not stopping her from rubbing shoulders with some of the most powerful people in Canadian politics.

“I’ve spent a day with Elizabeth May at Parliament and she actually called me right when my project was getting started,” she said. “We were having a pretty long conversation and they were like ‘OK, Elizabeth, we need to go,’ and she said ‘I need another minute.’ And that felt really great that she took time to talk to me.”

She also introduced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a gathering at St. F.X. and had a meeting with him afterwards.

“It’s nice knowing they’re listening to me,” she said.

She said she wishes she could vote in the upcoming election but will have to wait until next time.

Who would she vote for? She’s keeping that pretty close to the vest.


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