2019-01-16

Community gathers to try and solve Caledonia gas woes

by Kevin Mcbain

  • <p>KEVIN MCBAIN PHOTO</p><p>Laura Lee Johnson, president of the North Queens Board of Trade, addresses a crowd of about 170 people on the evening of January 7 at the North Queens Fire Hall. The community meeting was called by the Board of Trade to discuss ideas on how to move forward after the loss of Caledonia&#8217;s gas station just over a month ago.</p>
  • <p>KEVIN MCBAIN PHOTO</p><p>Gil Johnson, Region of Queens councillor for the area, addresses the crowd gathered at the community meeting January 7, re-iterating the need for fuel service in the area and how the community needs to be supportive of anyone looking to get a service up and running.</p>

M@KMcBainLHNOW

An estimated 170 people packed in the North Queens Fire Hall January 7 for a community meeting to help find a solution to the fuel woes in Caledonia.

Just over a month ago, the community lost its only gas station, Noah's Convenience, after it was forced to shut down. Now, the nearest gas station located in Greenfield - which is about a 20-minute drive away - leaving people isolated, especially seniors.

The station first shut down in November 2017, citing problems with payment arrangements from its supplier, according to a story in the Queens Observer.

Laura Lee Johnson, president of the host North Queens Board of Trade, said that she was excited to see so many people come out.

"I was not only encouraged, but overwhelmed," she said. "When were setting up we made three rows of chairs and my husband said that this should be enough, and I'm thinking I don't think so. That's only 60 chairs. This is incredibly overwhelming and very positive."

Allan Mansfield, owner of Mary Lake Home Hardware Building Centre, said they have been working on a solution that would place a fuel service facility on the same site as his current building.

"We have not signed any contracts or agreed to anything yet," he said. "We are still in the early planning stages for this project, but if everything goes according to the way that we are expecting it to, we hope to have fuel service back in Caledonia by the May long weekend. Having said that, there is still a long way to go."

Other possibilities brought forward included the formation of a local co-op and a self-serve facility.

The idea of purchasing the former gas station was also brought forward, however, it is currently not on the market.

Funding opportunities were also shared. Krista Harding, executive director of South Shore Opportunities, was on hand and said that they would be willing to help put a business plan together and would look at loan applications.

Another funding idea was to go through the Community Economic Development Invest Fund, which was described as something like a 'crowd funding' source to help fund a fuel service or to help raise funds for people looking at starting a fuel service.

Gil Johnson, Region of Queens councillor for the area, asked the question, "What will it take, what do you want to see from a gas station that you will support?"

Several key points were listed such as, convenient hours; that it offer different gas grades and diesel; have Air Miles; be able to accommodate larger vehicles; that it be clean; have an ATM; and that it be owned within the community.

Laura Lee said that anyone looking at starting up a fuel service needs to know that the community will support them 100 per cent and re-iterated how important this service is to the area for locals and for the tourism industry.

"It's not important. Gas is crucial. We lost our bank out here probably three years ago and that was important. Seniors had no way of doing their banking," she said. "But they have managed and found ways and now a lot of them are using online banking, something that they never thought they could do. But you can't buy gas online. The bank was crucial, but this is dire."

Queens-Shelburne MLA Kim Masland was in attendance and said the loss of the station is something that needs to be addressed.

"When Laura Lee said this was a crisis, I agree with her 100 per cent. I grew up in the North Queens-Caledonia area and that's where we shopped and got our gas," she said.

"Caledonia is relatively isolated, and we do have an aging population and it's leaving seniors in a lurch," she continued. "I also worry about the fire department that fund raises just to operate, but now they're having to incur extra costs just to fill up their trucks. But I know Caledonia is a tight-knit community and they can come together like no one else. I am confident that they will have a gas station back there and it will be because of the people."

Masland also opined that the problem requires government intervention.

"I think the government really needs to be on alert of what's happening in rural Nova Scotia and it needs to step up their game. Whether it's through economic development, or just some more support or guidance to help people to make sure they can continue to live and thrive in these small communities, which, in my opinion, are the threads of Nova Scotia."

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