The chief of the Pictou Landing First Nation says she was never so happy to see the bottom of a ditch.
Andrea Paul said an official from the Northern Pulp paper mill in Abercrombie, N.S., told her over the weekend that wastewater was no longer being sent to the treatment pond at Boat Harbour, so she went down and had a look for herself.
Paul said she was able to see rocks in the ditch that leads from the pulp mill to Boat Harbour.
"I'd never seen it so empty, so I didn't realize what the bottom really looked like, so it was just nice to see the rocks at the end there," Paul said.
Elders from the community say Boat Harbour — known as A'se'k in Mi'kmaq — was a pristine area where they'd go to pick berries, swim and catch fish before it became home to the mill's treatment facility in 1967.
The mill shut down on Jan. 31, taking with it 350 direct jobs and more than 2,000 forestry-sector jobs across the province.
At that time, the company stopped sending industrial waste through the treatment system, but as part of its orderly shutdown of the mill, Northern Pulp continued to send wastewater from its power system to Boat Harbour.
Paul said according to a provincial order, that was supposed to stop completely by the end of April.
She said she was pleased the company met that goal slightly ahead of the deadline and was surprised by her own reaction this week at seeing the signs of a cleanup.
"It was emotional, but I didn't want to be emotional, because ... I just never thought you'd see the day when that's done and it's definitely very rewarding," said Paul.
"You know, I'm just really happy for the whole community and especially for the young people that this won't be a part of their legacy anymore. They'll have a new legacy and they'll have A'se'k back."
Two weeks ago, Paul remarked on the lack of odour from the treatment pond, a problem that has plagued the surrounding communities for decades.
"The people that live really close to the shore are saying they can smell the saltwater now, so that's good because you couldn't before, right, because the effluent would hug the coastline," Paul said.
"There are some very positive changes happening, which are very healing for the community."
Remediation of the polluted site is estimated at $200 million and will take years to complete.
Several items remain to be cleaned up as part of the plant shutdown, with the next deadlines coming in August, said Paul.
Northern Pulp did not respond to requests for comment.