Portapique before April 18, 2020

During the evening of April 18, 2020, not for the first time, violence erupted in rural Nova Scotia near the mouth of the Portapique River at a place called Portapique (pronounced “port’-a-peek”).  Until then, few in Canada had heard of the place.

“Porc-épic”, a settlement on the north side of Cobequid Bay in the Bay of Fundy, was a French settlement until the expulsion of the Acadians in 1755. It was then settled by Scots, and a bit later, Northern Irish arrived. During its early days, it was a community, with a meeting house, churches, a school, a place to buy a few necessities, and a post office. At one time, it had a dance hall, or two. People worked at farming, logging, shad fishing, and boat building. In fact, the Cobequid Bay Shad Fishery and Hall’s Boat Building, specific to fishing “the poor man’s salmon”, were important industries in Portapique during the 1800s (Colchester Historical Museum and Archives).

First settled in the early to mid-1700s, the population of Portapique was always small – only 42 souls in 1956. In 2020, there were about a hundred year-round residents, and no shops. During more recent decades it has attracted cottagers, doubling the population during warmer months.

Portapique is 130 km north of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. It is 44 km east of Truro. From Dartmouth, one drives about an hour and twenty minutes, north through Shubenacadie and Truro, and then, turning east, passes just south of Debert about twenty minutes before reaching Portapique.

There are some lovely, big homes, and others that are very modest. Some, such as the home in which the Tuck family lived, have been lived in by families and their descendants for generations. Others are in a group created when an investor bought an old orchard property and subdivided. A large, well appointed home, close to the beach with a view costs little enough to raise goose flesh on a West Coaster’s skin. Residents enjoy the quiet, large properties, privacy as well as neighbours, beaches, evening bonfires, and sometimes, spectacular sunsets. Winters are for the hardier, being long and cold, with lots of snow.

Portapique Beach Road (PBR) is the main access leaving Gloosclap Trail (Hwy 2). PBR runs parallel to the Portapique River in a south-westerly direction to empty into Cobequid Bay. Orchard Beach Drive begins at a “Y” shared at the north end of Portapique Beach Road. From there, Portapique Beach Road runs about a kilometer next to the water while Orchard Beach Drive veers off to the left running roughly parallel for about a kilometre and a half. There, Orchard Beach Road meets at a “T” with the very short Cobequid Cresent

Gabriel Wortman’s log home is at 200 Portapique Beach Road, next to a large cemetery, in fact. A few hundred feet through the trees to the north-east, he has another lot at 136 Orchard Beach Drive, where he has a building referred to as the “warehouse”, in part, fitted out as a Montana-style bar.  Photographs of the building show a large garage door on the front of the building and the now notorious replica RCMP cruiser parked inside (Global News).

The warehouse is across the road from a home at 135 Orchard Beach Drive, which was previously owned by Wortman’s uncle, Glynn Wortman, and was the subject of a dispute between this uncle and Wortman. Wortman’s uncle had decided in 2010 to move from Edmonton to this home, but required bridge financing while he awaited the sale of his Edmonton condominium. Wortman offered the bridge financing, but then claimed his uncle had gifted him the property. The matter went to court where the case was settled for the uncle (The Chronicle Herald). The house sold to Lisa McCully in 2015, with proceeds to the uncle, and she lived there with her two children, ages 10 and 12.