Bridgewater teen youngest person ever to be awarded Order of Nova Scotia

·4 min read

Stella Bowles is a 16-year-old high school student who loves hockey and gets excited at the sight of new septic tanks.

She is also the youngest person ever to be awarded with the Order of Nova Scotia.

Bowles's science project at age 11 convinced three levels of government to pledge over $15 million to help clean up the sewage pumping into the LaHave River on the South Shore.

The Bridgewater, N.S., teen was at home one evening about two weeks ago when she got the call to inform her she would be among the 2020 recipients.

"I was completely speechless," Bowles said Friday. "I still have no words to describe how honoured I am and excited for this."

The Order of Nova Scotia is the highest award in the province. It is given to those who have distinguished themselves in various fields while bringing honour and prestige to themselves and Nova Scotia.

Bowles said she doesn't know the name of the woman who nominated her, but is hoping to find her someday to thank her personally.

It's an honour that puts her alongside hockey player Sidney Crosby and gymnast Ellie Black. Crosby and Black are the only others to receive the award before the age of 25.

"They're both incredible athletes, and I'm some kid with a science fair project," Bowles said with a laugh.

"I think it's going to be a really funny trivia question someday: like 'What do Stella Bowles, Ellie Black and Sidney Crosby have in common?'"

A hockey player herself, Bowles said having something in common with Crosby is "really exciting."

Andrea Conrad
Andrea Conrad

Back in 2015, her project began with a simple question; why can't I swim in the river I look at every day?

When she learned it wasn't safe due to the bacteria levels created by 600 straight pipes illegally dumping sewage directly into the water, she decided to investigate.

With guidance from her mentor, Dr. David Maxwell, Bowles began testing for fecal bacteria at different locations.

She found high levels of contamination and posted the results on Facebook. In the process, she gathered quite an online following and caught the attention of her local municipal council, and later the provincial and federal government.

International honours

Over the past five years, Bowles has been recognized with international awards. She speaks to young people about the environment, and a book written about her story is now part of Grade 7 curriculum across the province.

She's also the youth leader for Coastal Action's Nova Action program, which has 10 youth around the province taking on their own environmental causes and hoping to create change using Bowles's example.

Bowles said younger people often can bring important perspectives and create change where adults might have never thought to try.

"You're less narrow-minded ... you don't really see how it's so difficult to fix this problem. You just want it fixed," she said.

Andrea Conrad
Andrea Conrad

Since the funding was announced in 2017, work has commenced to swap out the straight pipes for systems that include septic tanks, pump chambers, sand filters and drain fields.

She said about 200 pipes have been replaced with the rest expected to be completed by 2023.

"Actually, on my way to school this morning, I saw a new septic tank on someone's front lawn and got really excited," Bowles said.

"And 200 straight pipes is 200 less than when I started when I was 11. So I'm super pumped."

Bowles said she never would have guessed that one project would have led to such an interest in science and the environment, but is still deciding on where she'd like to go to university and what she'll study.

But she does have plans for the day it's safe enough to swim in the LaHave River.

"I really can't wait to just cannonball in the water," she said.

The five other recipients of the Order of Nova Scotia this year are:

  • Linda Best, Wolfville, scientist, researcher, author, farmer, small businessperson, philanthropist.

  • David Fountain, Halifax: philanthropist, volunteer and board member, investment advisor.

  • Natalie MacMaster, Cape Breton native: Gaelic fiddler, award-winning performer and musician.

  • Donald Oliver, Pleasant River, Queens County: retired senator, lawyer, human rights activist, community volunteer

  • Shawna Paris-Hoyte, Halifax: lawyer, social worker, social-justice advocate, volunteer.

The 2020 recipients will be recognized at Pier 21 in Halifax on Nov. 24.