John Chisholm passes away

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ANTIGONISH - John “Nova” Chisholm, legendary entrepreneur, philanthropist and mover of dirt, died in the early hours of July 4th at the age of 68, according to a news release on the Riverside Speedway website. 

Born in Antigonish on January 5th 1946, to Donald and Margaret L Chisholm, John co-founded with his father Nova Construction, one of the largest road building companies east of Quebec. When it came to the business of moving dirt and building roads, John was a natural from the start.

The Chisholm clan, whose centuries-old motto was I am fierce with the fierce, was a family of farmers, loggers and earth-movers. Mechanical competence was considered a necessity of life. So at age 4, with his father looking on stoically, John Nova learned to drive tractor. He bought his first D4 dozer at 17 and won a contract to dig the basement of the Angus L. MacDonald Library at St. Francis Xavier University, happily cutting classes to do so.  Later that year, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy – a watershed event for his generation, John Nova quit school for good and founded Nova Construction.

One of the company’s first major jobs was building a large section of highway on Newfoundland. For John, landing in pre-TransCanada Newfoundland was “like getting dropped on the moon.” But he loved the work: the camaraderie of his crews, creating smooth, straight, well-built roads where there were none before. Most of all, he loved beating the pants off the competition – a passion for which he would never lose his appetite.

In 1975, at age 29, John and his team started construction on what is still considered to be among the largest and most successful industrial projects ever completed in Nova Scotia – the Wreck Cover Hydroelectric Plant. For the next three decades, John lead Nova Construction’s expansion into ever larger and more successful industrial projects: the development of Porcupine Quarry, considered to be among North America’s finest sources of quality aggregate; the construction of the Cobequid Pass, and the establishment of Pioneer Coal, a reclamation mining company with operations throughout Cape Breton and Pictou County.   He also played an instrumental role in the conception of Confederation Bridge. His son Donald has succeeded him as President of Nova Construction.

John played as hard as he worked. A lover of NASCAR racing, he travelled to Tennessee in the mid-1960s to scope out the legendary Bristol Raceway, and ultimately created a replica, the Riverside Speedway, upon which his son Donald races today.

Quiet and old-fashioned, John believed that actions spoke louder than words. While he was well-known for substantial gifts made to a number of organizations including the Coady Institute at Saint Francis Xavier University, many people around Antigonish were touched by his kindness and generosity. In 2011, he was recognized for his significant contributions to Nova Scotia’s economy with an honourary degree from St. FX. And so, 48 years after dropping out of high school, he finally graduated. What an awful pile of dirt it took to make that happen.

John will be mourned and deeply missed by his wife, Anne; his son and daughter-in-law Donald and Kellie Chisholm; his daughter and son-in-law Julie Chisholm and Aly Mawji; the delights of his life, his grandchildren, Emily, Shelby,Nahla, Kieran; and the many loyal and committed employees of Nova Construction, past and present.

Arrangements to follow.

Organizations: IWK Health Centre, FX University

Geographic location: Antigonish, Quebec, James River

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Recent comments

  • Patrick Hannon
    July 14, 2014 - 17:02

    John was the best open pit miner in the Province, a creative and energetic leader that was always ready for work. He once said that when the Americans said it could not be done (mining with a continuous miner on a steep slope), it just got him determined to do it. A great guy, very much admired.

  • Dougls Ash
    July 06, 2014 - 18:51

    It is with sincere and heartfelt sympathy we offer to the family of John 'Nova' Chisholm. I worked for several years in the seventies and eighties at the quarry. John was a kind and caring man. Whatever he said he would do he never went back on his word. He will be missed. Sincerely, Douglas and Kathy

  • rodger moore
    July 06, 2014 - 14:23

    SORRY to hear about John worked my truck for the company in AMherst NS

  • Carolyn Deleskie
    July 05, 2014 - 20:55

    So sorry to hear about your father. Our prayers are with you and your family. Remember the good times with your father Julie, they will help you get through it. Love to you and your family Carolyn and Daniel Deleskie