South Shore residents receive province's highest honour

·5 min read

Retired Senator Donald Oliver of Pleasant River and Stella Bowles of Bridgewater are among six recipients to receive the 2020 Order of Nova Scotia announced November 9.

The award is the highest honour given by the Province of Nova Scotia. It recognizes those who have distinguished themselves in a variety of fields of endeavour and have brought honour and prestige to themselves and the province, according to a press release.

Lt.-Gov. Arthur J. LeBlanc, Chancellor of the Order of Nova Scotia, made the announcement in the release.

“On behalf of the Queen and all Nova Scotians, I offer my sincere congratulations to the newest appointees to the Order of Nova Scotia,” said Lt.-Gov. LeBlanc. “These six exemplary Nova Scotians have made significant and meaningful contributions to this province. They are most deserving of this honour that recognizes their achievements and efforts to help others.”

The Honourable Dr. Donald Oliver, born in Wolfville, has devoted his life as a powerful advocate to minorities. He practised law for 25 years in civil litigation and was a senior partner at a major Halifax law firm.

“I’m humbled when you look at the people that also received the award and what they have done for Nova Scotia and for the world. It is pretty impressive,” said Oliver. “I’m deeply honoured to be in such company.”

In 1990, he became the first black man in Canadian history to be summoned to the Senate of Canada, and, later, the first to be elected unanimously as Speaker Pro Tempore of that institution. While in the Senate, he served with distinction as chairman of six standing committees including Fisheries, Rules, Transport, National Finance and Legal and Constitutional.

For his community work in promoting human rights, he has received five honorary doctorate degrees. He has also received numerous other awards and honours connected to his service to the community and country. Earlier this year, he became a member of the Order of Canada.

The work he's most proud of relates to efforts in making society realize the benefit of diversity, "and that means tall people, short people, white people, black people, people speaking French and English – all kinds of diversity in any way you can think of it,” he said.

“The main thing I think I have contributed is to persuade an awful lot of people, governments and organizatios about the business case for diversity. If you do diverse things and hire people with different talents and so on, you are going to have a better product and rise to the top.”

He said he was also happy to be able to do a lot of things for black people over the past 50 years, which folded into the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer.

At age 82, he continues to be involved in advocating for the rights of black people. He is working with an organization called Black North Initiative headed by Wes Hall in Toronto. Oliver is the chairman of a committee and works on the board of directors.

The initiative has involved hundreds of Canada’s largest corporations that have pledged to have a work force encompassing at least three-and-a-half per cent black employees over the next five years.

He has been a committed community volunteer, serving as chairman, president, director, or head of more than 25 charitable institutions, including the Neptune Theatre Foundation the Halifax-Dartmouth United appeal and the Halifax Children’s Aid Society.

Oliver now enjoys spending time on his Christmas tree farm in Pleasant River that he purchased in 1975.

Meanwhile, Bowles, a student in Grade 11 in Bridgewater, wanted to go swimming in the LaHave River when she was 11 years old, but her mother stopped her and explained that the water was contaminated. Many homes still had illegal straight pipes at that time which allowed sewage from the toilet to flush directly into the river. The young Bowles decided she wanted to do something about it.

With guidance from a mentor, Dr. David Maxwell, she tested bacteria levels in the river and verified these exceeded permitted guidelines.

After posting her results on social media, Bowles drew national attention and support for the removal of straight pipes along the LaHave River.

At age 16, she is the youngest recipient of the Order of Nova Scotia.

“I’m so unbelievably excited. I can’t believe I’m receiving this honour. I was speechless when I heard I was receiving it and I still can’t find the words to describe how happy I am,” she said.

Her project helped influence the development of a $15.7 million project, funded by all three levels for government, to get all straight pipes in a designated area replaced with compliant septic systems by 2023.

"I love seeing the septic tanks on people’s front lawns. It may be strange for a 16-year-old girl to be excited about septic tanks, but I get really excited when I see them. I say, 'Mom, Mom look' every time I see one,” she said.

At last count, according to Bowles, 209 septic tanks had been installed and she was confident that the program's target would be met by 2023.

Author Ann Laurel-Carter wrote a book about her journey, My River, that is now part of the curriculum on youth empowerment for Grade 7 students in Nova Scotia.

Bowles keeps busy presenting at conferences and schools, and working with youth around the world who are tackling environmental issues in their own communities.

For example, she's been involved with a group from South Queens Middle School which has been testing water in the Mersey River.

“I really love it. It is proof that kids have the power to create change,” said Bowles. “It’s exciting to hear from them and hear about their results. Science can be fun; it’s not just working from a textbook."

She is also a youth leader with the environmental group Nova Action, whose goal is to promote the restoration, enhancement, and conservation of the environment through research and education.

Bowles is recognized as an example of how youth can make a difference.

“I know youth have a voice, they just need to be able to use it,” she said.

Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin