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Unlikely Radicals: The Story of the Adams Mine Dump War

by Charlie Angus

The Adams Mine controversy is a David and Goliath story that has popped in and out of the media for the past 20 years. It began in 1989, when metropolitan Toronto, bursting at the seams with garbage and with nowhere to put it, was desperately searching for a new dumpsite. The city thought it had found a suitable location in the abandoned Adams Mine outside the small Northern Ontario town of Kirkland Lake. For a whole generation of Ontarians, the struggle to keep Toronto’s trash out of their region amounted to a campaign to ensure the ecological integrity of their communities, coupled with the drive to implement large-scale waste reduction and diversion strategies.

Charlie Angus neatly crystallizes that battle in readable fashion, digging up secret documents, recounting shady backroom schemes, and outlining divide-and-conquer strategies employed against local residents. A community organizer, politician, and member of the 1980s alt-country band the Grievous Angels, Angus can add to his resumé a knack for writing a Grisham-like political thriller with the feel-good accents of a Frank Capra movie.

Angus, the NDP MP whose Timmins–James Bay riding includes the Adams Mine, does a terrific job of painting the stark reality of a Northern region that has traditionally been scooped of its resources for the benefit of Southern Ontario. He’s confident enough to share exactly the correct amount of detail, from scientific data to political machinations, to keep the book both accessible and authoritative.

Despite the difficulties encountered in protecting the area from becoming an ecological “sacrifice zone,” Angus and a remarkable coalition of First Nations, Franco-Ontarians, farmers, and small-business owners who opposed the dumping plans never lost their humour as they packed Toronto City Hall, blockaded Northern roads, occupied the mine site, and confronted government officials from municipal to federal levels.

In tough economic times, the silver bullet of a potentially hazardous dump can prove seductive. In this context, Unlikely Radicals is a cautionary tale. It’s also a reminder that a dedicated community with a long-term view can be successful in defeating some of the country’s most powerful players.