I was a wet-behind-the-ears reporter just new in Truro, when the Millbrook Chief asked me to come out and talk about economic development.
I was impressed by his passion as we chatted alongside Highway 102, but I was skeptical of his vision. Looking across the traffic he talked in great detail about the creation of an outlet mall similar to the ones popping up in the United States...and perhaps an amusement park.
I specifically remember he spoke about an overpass that would unite the two pieces of the reserve spilt earlier by the construction of Highway 102.
I looked out and saw only traffic and trees.
He waived off questions about funding, jurisdiction and highway access. Those were small issues. The important part was Millbrook had a plan that could bring prosperity to its people.
I walked away unconvinced.
Chief Paul, who passed away Wednesday evening, proved me wrong. It wasn’t too many years after that conversation that I got a call that work had begun on the Power Centre that is now home to restaurants, a hotel, a theatre, a video game parlour, a call centre that has come and gone, and several of businesses.
It was an inauspicious start to be sure. After fruitless negotiations with provincial bureaucrats to negotiate an exit from the highway to the proposed site, Paul authorized some of his band members to gather up heavy equipment and simply build their own ramp.
It was crude, and failed to comply with any established safety requirements, but it got the province’s attention. It wasn’t long before there was a better exit in place and a deal with Sobeys for the construction of a theatre and a gas station. An overpass, much to my surprise, followed later.
Chief Paul was a tough negotiator. He led the Truro area band for 28 years and wasn’t afraid to threaten a native blockade or to open a giant casino if he needed leverage in a battle with the province.
I interviewed Paul many times and he always talked proudly of his community and his accomplishments. I covered his nomination as of Atlantic Canada’s top 50 CEO’s and the times he served as co-chair of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs.
Paul's life-long battle with alcohol was no secret. He knew it cost him deals and sullied his reputation. His legacy is enormous and over the coming days the well-deserved tributes will flow, but I can’t help wondering what more could have been possible if he had been able to put the bottle behind him.
I liked Lawrence. I respected him. He was feisty and always had a glint of mischief in his eye. You were never certain what he was going to say or do next.
He was a character, and Nova Scotia is less today with his passing.