GLACE BAY, NS – A group of Glace Bay High School students is being applauded for successfully engineering a project that bridges both the physical and psychological gap between the post-secondary institution and the community.
The school, which opened in 1989, is located on the east edge of Glace Bay just a couple of hundred meters from a nearby shopping plaza containing a grocery store, fast food outlets and other shops and services. But until recently, the shortest pedestrian route was an uneven, rocky, sometimes steep and often rained-out meandering trail. There is a brook at the bottom that at certain times of the year was difficult to cross without getting wet.
At least that was the case until the Changemakers became involved. The school club was established four years ago, but it was in the fall of 2019 that some members of the group decided that something had to be done about the trail that was inadequate at best.
“Some of our members brought up the fact that the space known as the Burr, a space used by the student body and members of our community, was in need of some attention, care and revitalization,” said Rebecca MacMullin, who served on the executive committee of the Changemakers’ Burr Project.
“It was somewhat hazardous and it bothered me that students go to school, do great things and then have to be in this muddy area. That area was always like a hangout and we wanted to make it an actual part of the school.”
So, the group set out to do something about it.
On Wednesday, two-and-a-half years since they took on the project, the Changemakers unveiled the new pedestrian trail, bridge and revitalized area now officially called The Burr.
“We are thrilled to celebrate and showcase the unrelenting power of positive, youth-led initiative and change,” said Daniel MacGillivary, a member of and spokesperson for the Changemakers group.
“We hope to inspire and encourage the youth of Cape Breton Island to get involved and take action in their communities. Our message is that you are strong, you are powerful and your voices matter.”
MacGillivary said the students wanted to do more than just solve an active transportation problem. The articulate Grade 12 student said they became committed to effecting change in their community.
“What started out as an optimistic idea to change the space built on the basis of positive community-minded change blossomed into a collaborative youth-led initiative with the goal of rebuilding, repurposing and redefining the nature of the space,” said MacGillivary. “We were able to bring a positive and everlasting legacy for our student body and the people of Glace Bay to enjoy for years to come and we simply could not be happier.”
There is now an actual pathway with an even and maintained surface. The grade of the slope has been reduced and a permanent bridge, with high safety rails, is now affixed over the stream at the bottom of the hill. The sides of the pathway have been sculpted and grass planted.
A recently-built outdoor basketball court sits on the high side of the pathway, while the lower side remains green. In fact, members of the school’s gardening club, under the tutelage of agriculture teacher Tanya Fifield, have been planting and beautifying the area. They even plan to bring in some Quercus macrocarpa, better known as the burr oak.
HEALING, RESTORATION AND REFLECTION
The Changemakers also wanted to use the space to acknowledge recent losses to the student body.
A path-side bench is dedicated to Leigh-Anne Cox, who passed away in 2020 at the age of 14 after a courageous battle with cancer.
Leigh-Anne’s mother, Adele, who works at Glace Bay High School, thanked the students in a brief but emotional address during Wednesday’s unveiling.
“This is very humbling and heartwarming – gestures such as this will keep my girl’s memories alive,” she said.
“My girl embodied everything this group stands for. She was a changemaker in her own right by touching the hearts and souls of everyone she met and many that she hadn’t. This is a beautiful tribute. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am so proud and honored.”
The Changemakers also paid tribute to two students who lost their lives in a Glace Bay house fire in October 2021. The tragic blaze claimed 16-year-old Madison Kelly and 15-year-old Brea McKenzie.
The group has planted a lilac bush called “Hope” and two small trees, including a red oak, along the side of the path in a grassy area between two benches. There is also a trail-side memorial stone situated by some new plants. The plaque reads: “Like scattered seeds, memories bloom forever.”
The student-led initiative has not gone unnoticed.
Nova Scotia Education Minister Becky Druhan, who was on hand for the official opening, was duly impressed.
“The development of the path is a real fantastic demonstration of what leadership and community connection can achieve,” she said.
Glace Bay native and Cape Breton-Canso MP Mike Kelloway could barely contain his enthusiasm for the project as he praised the students for acting in the service of others.
“This is transformational – that is, taking something that wasn’t positive and turning it into something that is incredibly positive,” said Kelloway, who also shouted out the health department and education center staff who helped out.
School principal Donnie Holland also heaped praise on the student-led initiative.
“It’s hard to get projects of this magnitude done at the best of times, so to think that this was youth-driven should be a great inspiration to everyone,” said Holland.
The unveiling attracted about 100 people, including students, teachers, school board workers, health care workers, politicians, citizens and community organization representatives.
Edith Dalton, property manager for the Choice Properties-managed Glace Bay Market Mall, also expressed her admiration for the work of the students.
“We feel very fortunate to have collaborated with the group, the school board and project leaders,” she said. “The end result is amazing. The bridge and pathway mean a safe connection between the high school community and the Glace Bay neighborhood.”
So far, the Burr Project has been recognized with four awards, including the Nova Scotia Lieutenant-Governor’s Respectable Citizenship Team award, the Ecology Action Center’s Danielle Moore Sunshine award, Next Gen’s Vital Young Leader award and the CBRM’s Gary McDonald Memorial award.
Along with the aforementioned Rebecca MacMullin and Daniel MacGillivary, the group of eight Changemaker students also includes Emily O’Neil, Claire McNeil, Brielyn Murrant, Makayla MacDonald, Steven MacKenzie and Samantha Catapano-MacDonald. The students were guided by Marcie McKay, a health promoter with Nova Scotia Health, nurse Joyce Hooper of the school’s health center and Stephanie Johnstone Laurette of the Ecology Action Center.
– David Jala is a reporter with the Cape Breton Post. Follow him on Twitter @CBPost_David.