At Home on the North Shore Spring 2022

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PM 40064799 Spring 2022 Vol. 7 Edition 2 / $4.95

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ON THE COVER: The kayak shack is one of the hidden gems at Fossil Farms. Jane Pettipas, a member of the retreat team, heads out for a paddle in the warm waters of Merigomish Harbour. PHOTO BY STEVE SMITH, VISIONFIRE STUDIOS PUBLISHER: Fred Fiander EDITOR: Crystal Murray CONTRIBUTING EDITOR: Janet Whitman ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Lori McKay VP SALES AND MARKETING: Linda Gourlay SENIOR DIRECTOR CREATIVE DESIGN AND PRODUCTION: Shawn Dalton ART DIRECTOR: Mike Cugno GRAPHIC DESIGNER: Barbara Raymont PHOTO EDITOR: Steve Smith FOR ADVERTISING INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT: Stephanie Balcom, Marketing Advisor office: 902 420-9943 • cell: 902 292-9584 Connie Cogan, Marketing Advisor office: 902 420-9943 • cell: 902 499-7467 Nicole Fawcett, Advertising Advisor, Strait Area 902 625-3300, ext. 1509


Michele White, Marketing Advisor, Tatamagouche/Colchester County 902 818-2904 FOR EDITORIAL INQUIRES CONTACT: Crystal Murray 902 485-1990 At Home on the North Shore Published four times per year by: Advocate Media Inc., 2882 Gottingen St., Halifax, N.S. B3K 3E2 Subscriptions: 833 600-2870 Effective January 1, 2021: Subscriptions are nonrefundable. If a subscription needs to be cancelled, where applicable, credits can be applied to other Metro Guide Publishing titles (East Coast Living, Unravel Halifax or Saltscapes). Please note that each circumstance is unique and election to make an offer in one instance does not create obligation to do so in another.


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2019-12-06 11:51:52 AM

Vol. 7 Edition 2

Inside this issue

Spring 2022

Cover Story


Old Farm Gets a New Life Find yourself and some fun at Fossil Farms

The Inside Story

Healthy At Home

10 Checking In

40 The Gift of Peace

How to become an Airbnb Superhost

34 From Foundry to Family Home A Pictou couple share their blueprint to redesign

44 Wistful for Wisteria The twisted truth about the glorious flowering tree


48 Little Shop of Treasures Bidding farewell to Water Street Studio

At Home With... 18 Mike Ward Life at a crossroads

On the Table 22 Blue Lobster Public House Shaking up something new in Stellarton

Pugwash’s trail is suitable for all ages to enjoy

46 Medalling With My Food Scallops for all seasons

Departments 7 Editor’s Letter 9 Contributors 14 Off the Wall Pugwash artist Jennifer Houghtaling

16 Thresholds Trapped in your chair

38 The Library Author Alexandra Harrington’s connection to River John

50 DIY – All Onboard Serve up a little nostalgia

22 28


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At Home on the North Shore

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Brandon noted that Xplornet’s packages featuring speeds up to 50 Mbps and unlimited data have a track record of customer satisfaction. Customers like Patricia Weatherbee who uses Xplornet at her cottage at the mouth of the Tidnish River had good things to say. “I’ve been very happy with the service and the reception,” she said. The pandemic has made it difficult to communicate with friends and family, and even do business, but with unlimited data and faster internet, it’s a lot easier. Before finding out about Xplornet, Patricia had no Internet at her cottage at all. Now, she can read email and connects with her friends and family through Facebook. “It’s been our connection to so many people that we can’t actually see and visit right now. In some ways it’s our best connection,” she said.

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here is a nice fat Robin sitting on a branch of the cherry tree outside my living room window. He has kept me company on many days this winter when I was working from home. His feathers are always plumped up keeping him warm—rousing, I think it’s called. Some days he brings a friend, and they snack on what’s left of the wizened berries on the ivy that creeps over the stone and stucco on the south side of my house. They disappear into the woods behind my home at night. I am impressed by the way they have toughed it out this winter. I am wondering what my feathered friend is feeling. Does he know that his presence resonates with hope and renewal? It’s a lot of responsibility and expectation for one little Robin to shoulder. But there he sits. Sometimes for long stretches of time. Only his head giving quick sideways glances or a poke of his beak into his plumes. He seems so patient and in the moment. I wish I could be more like him. Does he know what he is waiting for? As I write this note, it’s the first day of March. Cold but sunny. A welcome turn of the calendar. The countdown to the equinox and soon another milestone after two wearisome years. It’s a month that will usher much of the change and transition we have been longing for. The tipping point into spring. More daylight. Less snow. More freedom. Less restriction. More joy. And, we hope, less sorrow. It’s as if March could take all our worries away. It’s a lot for a month to shoulder as well. But it’s time to lighten the load. Every time I meet you on these pages I have the joy of sharing the many ways the people

At Home on the North Shore



on the North Shore are reinventing and reimagining who we are. We never stray far from our values but there is a strong sense of renewal, regrowth, and restoration of the places that are important to us and, in some cases, the places that we may have forgotten. Our cover story “Fossil Farm Life,” creates an experience with a visit to the oceanside retreat in Merigomish, Pictou County that is the vision of twin brothers Dean and Doug Robertson. They have transformed an old farm that sat quietly on a hill along the Sunrise Trail for more than 30 years, and have led it through a gentle metamorphosis that honours its moment in time. We go a little further along the shore to meet up with the Ward family. They didn’t know they would be trendsetters when they picked up stakes in Calgary and bought a 115-year-old farm in Antigonish in 2013. It was a major lifestyle shift for Mike, an electrical engineer, but he, and his wife Tricia, have never looked back. Instead of navigating the busy avenues of Calgary, they are walking their farmlands with forest-raised pigs, free-range chickens, and, Mike says, their free-range children. Get ready for your five-star rating checking in on the local Airbnb scene and meet a few of the region’s “Superhosts” who have some tips on how to welcome guests in all seasons, and we showcase one property that serves up a side of history in Malignant Cove. Re-inventing history seems to be a running theme in this issue. We are excited to introduce the first in a series of stories where we will follow the renovation of an old foundry on the waterfront in Pictou. Irene Szabla and Rob Christie made the move to Nova Scotia from Whitehorse in 2011. They have an ambitious plan to breathe new life into the historic industrial space and make

it their home. We are going to follow the transformation every step of the way. The restoration of legacy properties in Nova Scotia is having a renaissance. It’s not for the faint of heart or those with shallow pockets, but if you have capital and vision, you can refit just about anything to make it work. Just ask Alex Rice and Evan MacEachern. The business partners and inspired team have transformed the old Allen Dairy on the main street in Stellarton, N.S. The only ice cream you will get there today is in a sandwich on their dessert menu that pays homage to the former dairy days. The team opened the Blue Lobster Public House in December and are ready for the snowbanks to melt and to light up the fire pits on the patio for some good old-fashioned summer fun. We’ve all been fluffing up our feathers to insulate us from the cold and sometimes chilling realities in our world. I am hoping that thoughts of spring, and the stories and images in this issue of At Home on the North Shore, will give you a little reprieve from the heaviness of the last few months and greet you with a sense of renewal. I lift up my head from the keyboard and notice that the Robin has left his branch for the moment. I am sure he will be back before I end my work for the day. One of these days, when the snow is long gone and the cherry blossoms begin to bloom, I know he will find better pickings than what’s in my backyard. But until then, I will welcome his return and hope he gets to enjoy what he has been waiting for all winter.

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TRACY STUART trained as a whole foods chef and also holds a Master of Science, Bachelor of Physical Education; she is a two-time World Champion and Olympic Bronze Medallist in rowing. She serves up a delicious scallop recipe in her column “Medalling With My Food” (page 46).


SHELLEY CAMERON-MCCARRON is a long-time freelance writer whose work appears in a wide variety of publications, including The Globe and Mail, Condé Nast Traveler and Saltscapes. Whether it’s following a gothic black cloaked guide through the atmospheric streets of Edinburgh to sleeping in a lighthouse on P.E.I., she has a fondness for unexpected discoveries. In this issue, she was delighted to explore and learn more about Fossil Farms Oceanside Retreat, an old farm property gaining new life along Merigomish Harbour (page 28) as well as diving into tips of what it’s like to become an Airbnb host (page 10.)

MELANIE MOSHER is the author of three books for young readers. As the days gain warmth and begin to lengthen you can find her travelling the North Shore stopping at local farmers’ markets. She’ll say hello to all the wonderful vendors including Jennifer Houghtaling from Earth & Vine Studio and Mike Ward and his family from Crossroads Valley Farm. Learn more about Melanie at

TRISH JOUDREY welcomes spring! It’s the season to hit the trails, smell new growth in the woods and shed a few of those winter pounds. In this issue, Trish explores the Peace Trail in Pugwash where she finds a rare setting—a place she can feel at peace away from the bustle of life and experience nature’s beauty in an old growth forest. When her hiking boots are away, she writes, plays the piano, or makes plans for her next adventure from her home in Halifax.

STEVE SMITH Here comes spring 2022, and with it comes this, our latest At Home on the North Shore. If ever there was a time to appreciate the lives we live here in our little region, this has got to be it. Spend some time in our pages and be grateful for all we have. Love to all.

NICOLE LEBLANC is a communications professional, a passionate community volunteer, and current town councillor who loves DIY. She lives in Trenton with her husband and beloved dog—and when she’s not getting crafty, she can be found exploring Nova Scotia, meeting new people, and being involved in projects that make our communities better.

SARAH BUTLAND With spring comes light and colour, plants start blooming and moods start improving. And aren’t we all just eager for warmer days? Throughout the winter, Sarah Butland welcomes the warmth of River John with The Last Time I Saw Her, and the beauty of a remarkable wisteria plant, and hopes they bring the same to you.

DEBBI HARVIE has a passion for family, fitness, and finding fun people on the North Shore who are contributing to sustainability. In this issue, she introduces us to a local maker who is catching a lot of attention by putting a new twist on old lobster traps in the story, “Trapped in your seat” (page 16).

DENISE FLINT has been a freelance journalist for more than 20 years. She has lived in many different places and recently left her cedar shack overlooking the ocean in Newfoundland for an ancient farmhouse on a river in Nova Scotia. She’s looking forward to testing the waters and seeing whether the ocean here is really as warm as promised. In the meantime, she is enjoying exploring the North Shore. Visiting Pictou to research stories on a craft store and a foundry reno has provided a great way to learn more about her new home until she can hit the beach.

At Home on the North Shore

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Short term renters often enjoy the story of where they are staying. Tracy Bishop welcomes guests to her home in Antigonish County that was once a community school and general store.


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At Home on the North Shore


With a seemingly increasing number of people converting homes and cottages into Airbnb and vacation rentals, we checked into the ins and outs of becoming a host

At Home on the North Shore


own a dirt road, through the woods, and in a small hidden community in Pictou County, the deSchiffert family has two Airbnb cottages that hug the water off Chance Harbour—properties they’ve run as vacation rentals for about two years. Their entry into the rental market sprang from a simple reason—they wanted to be close to family but wouldn’t be using the property year-round. “Ben and Kelly, my parents, who are originally from Ontario, bought this property when I was expecting my first child. They wanted to have a place so they could visit their grandkids, but wouldn’t be down all year round, so renting them out was the most logical option,” says Sarah deSchiffert. Sarah, with her partner, Dave Armstrong (they operate Big Cove Foods in Pictou County and always make sure the cottages are stocked with their gourmet spices) run the bookings and scheduling side of things, while her parents (who’ve recently decided to move to Pictou County) own and maintain the cottages. “They have done an amazing job at designing them around what people are looking for in a ‘cottage by the water’ getaway, from water sports to cottage comforts. We have tried a few different platforms for renting them out and Airbnb has been the best to work with, in our opinion,” Sarah says. She agrees more people are converting their homes and cottages into Airbnb’s or buying property to do so. “With the rise of living costs, it’s a great way to earn a little extra if the space isn’t being used otherwise.” Setting up on Airbnb is straightforward, she says, once you have all your information about the property. You do have to register it in Nova Scotia and provide insurance. She says it’s best to be honest on your listing. “Put your best pictures and highlights forward, but don’t mislead your guests. Guests can review your place after they stay and will often offer suggestions. Listen to them openly as they provide good insight into how to make improvements on the little things you may not have thought of.” Sarah says getting that great review is something she enjoys, “knowing you provided a family, or that girls’ weekend away, a beautiful space they felt comfortable in. My parents built and designed these cottages, and I know how rewarding it is for them to see people enjoying it.” She says to become an Airbnb ‘superhost,’ the reviews that guests make must hit all the checkmarks of cleanliness, communication, and overall space enjoyment, consistently. “So be honest about your space, communicate with your guests, and keep it very clean.” Although they’ve been extremely lucky with the incredible people they have now, Sarah says finding cleaners for an Airbnb can be tricky as the cleaning schedule is not consistent and needs to be accommodated between guests.

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When the Malignant Cove property is not rented, Tracy Bishop uses the dining room as a make shift office. The chalkboard gives a nod to the home’s original days as a school house.

Flexibility is key Donna Richards-Grant of Antigonish, N.S. is a superhost— meaning she has great reviews on her properties, including their locations, amenities, cleanliness, ease of check-in, and how quickly she responds. Overall, she looks after five Antigonish County properties—her own and another person’s—and has several offered as Airbnbs at any given time. She says the good thing about it is you can book and choose the dates you want. For instance, if her family wants to use their cottage on Mahoney’s Beach, she can simply block off desired dates and offer it for rent on free dates. Likewise, as tourism and vacation rentals tend to be slower in winter, she uses this flexibility to rent several properties as eightmonth, fully-furnished, fully-equipped leases, then offers them for the other four months as Airbnb rentals. As far as do’s and don’ts, Mrs. Richards-Grant says hosts can set their own rules, and they should do so clearly in their listings, spelling out what’s expected—whether that’s no smoking or no pets, if it’s adult-only, and what’s expected of guests before they check out. “Be sure you make it really clear what to expect.” She always reaches out to guests, and always tells them to message her when they’ve gotten in the house to make sure all is going well. Keeping things sparking clean is important to her, and she says if you’re not cleaning the property yourself, it’s a good idea to check on it before your renters arrive to ensure it’s what you want. She also recommends checking out potential guests before taking any bookings. As a host, people have 24 hours to accept or decline a potential booking. Mrs. Richards-Grant recommends hosts check out the renter’s reviews and do some due diligence 12

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Tracy Bishop, who’s registered with Nova Scotia for having a rental property and with Airbnb, says when she was ready to be a host, it was easy to upload pictures and start renting.

before accepting. She also notes hosts must claim all earnings as it’s income. “I really enjoy it,” she says. “I really like meeting people from all over the world. You get to hear their stories.”

A booming real estate scene At Sceles Realty Limited in Antigonish, broker-owner Giselle Sceles, who is the regional representative for the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors for Highland area, says while she wouldn’t characterize recent sales as being a boom, she can say trades have been more active than they’ve been for many years. Prices have been at an all-time high as have the number of sales to date. She says there have been “competitive offers.” She hasn’t seen many properties being sold as vacation rentals. Most sales were families looking for homes, and close to St. Francis Xavier University, there were a few income properties sold. Five years ago, Ms. Sceles herself bought a beautiful old house overlooking Guysborough Harbour and now runs it as an Airbnb. She bought it not really knowing what she was doing, but knowing buying something so special in a community where she grew up was not going to happen often. “Then I had to think about how to pay the mortgage, but also be able to enjoy the house without the burden of a full-time tenant. So, I maxed my Visa buying beds, bedding and furniture, and took a couple of months to set it up, and the bookings flooded in. “It was a really good feeling to read all the appreciative reviews while also sharing the house and property with people from all over the world. Probably the best thing about the entire experience has been the ability to provide people with a place to stay when they are visiting family in the area. I certainly don’t make money or cover all of my expenses because I operate seasonally but the income does help, and I spend some time there myself, rejuvenating.” At Home on the North Shore

As for advice? “The little things seem to make the most difference. Splurge on bedding and have nice towels and little extras like make-up wipes and face masks. Fresh flowers from your own yard and little personal touches seem to mean a lot to people.”

“Things will happen!” Tracy Bishop, who operates properties in Livingstone Cove and Malignant Cove, agrees. “I tend to treat these properties like I would be living/staying in them every day. You need to provide comfortable, clean accommodations and be available, even if it’s just via email, for your guests. You need to make sure you are always thinking of what guests need and always thinking about the safety of guests while staying at your property and furnish with stylish furnishings, but not spend too much that you will be upset if something gets broken or needs to be repaired. You have to expect that things will happen!” Bishop, who hails from Hamilton, Ont., says she enjoys talking to people and making sure they have a great vacation by offering nice clean rentals in great areas. She became a superhost by making sure the properties are clean, comfortable, taken care of, and by responding to guests needs in a timely manner. “It is a very good experience and makes me feel proud that I am offering something that people enjoy.” She says being in a rural area, it can sometimes be daunting to find cleaners, general contractors, and people you trust to make sure the properties are taken care of. Bishop and her partner Stephen Chisholm, whose Nova Scotia roots run deep, often visited family in the area and used Airbnb to fulfil their rental needs. She’d previously had a full-time rental property in her hometown, which left her feeling deflated after dealing with tenants. She decided to try the short-term rental option. They’ve run the two Antigonish County properties as Airbnbs since 2020. The Malignant Cove property, known locally as the “old Cove Store” even comes with a side of history. “The property was once a local one-room schoolhouse, and the master bedroom is where the teachers would stay. ‘Malignant Cove School SS No. 11’ was what was on the front of the school at the time. The school became a general store and was owned by Willie Dougald McDonald. His extended family still actually owns property on Pirate’s Path very close to the house and they rent the house off us for the July long weekend.” Bishop, who’s registered with Nova Scotia for having a rental property and with Airbnb, says when she was ready to be a host, it was easy to upload pictures and start renting. “The Airbnb platform is quite simple to use, and they are there to help or answer any questions.” Depending on how much you earn is when you have to decide to be a registered business, she says. Airbnb charges guests a fee and they also collect three per cent off every rental. “I think there have always been people who want to invest in property, but the market in the last 10 years has given some people the idea to invest more, or allowed them to sell in higher market areas and buy property elsewhere as investment property,” she says. At Home on the North Shore

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When the Pieces Come Together A visit to Earth and Vine Studio

ABOVE: Jennifer Houghtaling at the wheel in her Pugwash studio. RIGHT: The artist believes that being in the moment is at the heart of creativity.



arth and Vine Studio is the workspace and creation centre of Pugwash mosaic tile artist Jennifer Houghtaling. The studio, which she built about 10 years ago, is a straw bale structure. The inside walls are covered with layers of clay added by Houghtaling and finished with a final coating of lime plaster to protect the straw from moisture. She has carved nooks for shelves, embedded bottles for visual appeal, and added textures and


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lines that make the entire structure a huge sculpture. “It’s like my giant work of art,” says Houghtaling. “I’m always continuing to work on it and have lots of fun with it.” The space invites creativity and radiates possibility. Pieces of pottery, sculptures, and tile mosaics add colour and inspiration. This past fall, Houghtaling began adding tiles outside to the gable end of the building, adding another element of interest.

While she began her artistic career creating functional pottery, she has since extended her craft to include sculptures and mosaic tiles. “I have enjoyed going from making mugs and bowls and teapots to focusing on form and trying to allow the clay to become something out of sort of nothing,” she says. The beauty of nature inspires her work. “I grew up on a 400-acre ranch riding horses and being left alone with my imagination,” she says. “I love nature

At Home on the North Shore

Besides functional pottery pieces, Houghtaling has been shifting some of her focus to mosaic tile work.

and the ocean and spend as much time as I can in those places. I am also very interested in the creative process and how it seems to come only with intention and focus.” With that mindset, Houghtaling enters the studio. “I know if I pick up a piece of clay and start moving it, and kneading it, and working with it, I’m able to find that place where the clay takes shape and the artwork emerges. “Sometimes when I’m creating I get into a flow state, as some would call it, and I open up to the process. I’m always searching for that moment of inspiration and waiting for it,” she continues. “With clay, it’s very interesting to follow form and take something that doesn’t have any form and turn it into something that speaks to people or even has movement within it.” Houghtaling also feels moved by global issues such as climate change. “[My] mosaic titled, We Are The Bear, has two polar bears in the water. This piece came after reading the book, Circling the Midnight Sun by James Raffan, about the north and climate change, and the effect on polar bears and ice. “‘We are the bear,’ was a line in the book that really touched me, and I was inspired to make the piece based on that. It came out of nowhere. I didn’t have a plan or a sketch, I just started making pieces and they came together.” The

At Home on the North Shore

finished product is a two-foot by four-foot mosaic made from many pieces in varying shapes and sizes. “My favourite part [of creating tile work] is taking a piece of clay, shaping it into a form that puzzles in along the others to bring the whole together.” The individual sections of the mosaic are placed on plywood and grouted. The finished art is heavy and is hung using a French cleat. Houghtaling, who grew up in rural British Columbia, is active in the community as a volunteer and as a councillor for Cumberland County. “We have an East Coast way of life that does not exist in other places and is the reason I love it here. We are humble and community-oriented,” she says. She’s a founding member of the Pugwash Farmers’ Market, where she sells her work, and part of the Pugwash Artist Collective. She has enjoyed recent local exhibits of her work at the Fraser Gallery and the Ice House Gallery, both in Tatamagouche. Houghtaling is also a contributor to the Pugwash Open Air Gallery, a program meant to increase awareness and interest of local contemporary artists. Reproductions of artwork were acquired and installed on exterior walls of buildings in the village. For Houghtaling, it’s a three-foot octopus. In 2020, Houghtaling put her creative projects aside and shifted her attention. “The pandemic certainly changed my focus, and it took me away from art for a while as I decided I needed to be more involved in the choices being made in my community. I became a councillor in Cumberland County,” says Houghtaling. “After getting to understand a very different reality, I have come back to my art with a heightened appreciation, as it can sometimes be a lovely escape from trying to solve the issues around the council table.” When asked about the future, Houghtaling says she enjoys learning new ways to extend her knowledge and her art. “I would like to see more large sculpture work, and I have been dabbling in raku this past year, which I love.” Regardless of which form her clay takes on, it will be both beautiful and insightful.

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THRESHOLDS YOU KNOW YOU’RE A “MARITIMER” WHEN you grab that early morning coffee or a cool beverage at the end of the day, and you lean back in your favourite deck chair…made from lobster traps. Corinne Munroe of Guysborough County spent 17 years making metal lobster traps for local fishermen on the North Shore. In 2012, the tides shifted for Corinne, and she decided to do something different with her craft. Instead of making new lobster traps she found a purpose for her retired traps and designed her first custom-made lobster trap chair. “One of the fishermen told me he saw a picture of a chair made of the lobster traps,” she explained, “so I went to work to create one of my own.” The chairs are usually crafted with several different bright colours associated with fishing ropes and buoys. She likes to mix and match the colour schemes. For custom orders she lets the client pick the colour combinations. Munroe had no idea how popular the chairs would be when she began creating them 10 years ago. In fact, she was quite surprised when people from as far away as Fort MacMurray and the Magdalen Islands sought out her unique outdoor furniture. While the chairs have been the anchor piece of her business, she has worked to create other functional objects and has a table project underway with one of her clients who already purchased several deck chairs. “I’ve made bird feeders, bird cages, shoe racks, bookshelves, tables, chairs, you name it,” she says. “Any idea people can think of, I will work with them to make it a reality.” The chairs hold up very well outside against the elements, are contoured in the right places for a comfortable fit, and give new meaning to traditional outdoor furniture. You can find Corinne’s creations at Pictou Fishing Supplies and Vernon d’Eon Lobster Plugs Ltd in Pictou and North Sydney.


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For farmers, spring is the time to get ready for the upcoming season. At Crossroads Valley Farm—located in the beautiful Ohio River valley, south of Antigonish—the garden is being prepared for planting and the land and equipment readied for the influx of animals.


t was late April 2021, when I first spoke with Mike Ward, owner of Crossroads Valley Farm. “I’m on my way to town to pick up my daughters,” he said. “We’re going to get our hens for the season.” His farm offers fresh eggs, poultry, and pork — “all humanely raised and provided access to fresh air and sunshine.” Mike was raised in Saskatchewan and was working in Calgary when he and his wife, Tricia, made the decision to move east in 2013. They wanted a different way of life for their daughters. “We definitely moved to Nova Scotia for the lifestyle, community, family, and healthy food,” says Ward. “We are very fortunate to have found our home here in Antigonish. It is an amazing town and county that has so much to offer. “Our friends and family thought we were nuts to give up our wellpaying jobs and move all the way across the country. We bought this 115-plus-year-old house and property, then got to work making it our family farm. “I grew up mainly in the city of Regina, although I spent many summer weekends at my Grandma’s farm near Assiniboia. I was an electrical engineer for more than 15 years, who never in a million years thought I would become a farmer,” says Ward. After having their first daughter, Sadie, in 2011, Mike and Tricia took stock of their way of life and knew it was time to make a change. When asked if he’s glad about the move, Ward doesn’t hesitate to answer. “We’re so happy we did.” Mike and Tricia want their daughters to know their neighbours and feel connected to people; something they weren’t sure they could manage in a big city. A vendor and current president of the board for the Antigonish Farmers’ Market, he admits being a small farmer is tough, but it feeds his soul. “Local community and good food are what we are all about. We believe that ‘community starts at the kitchen table,’ and amazing tasting, ethically raised food is our passion.” Sounding like a true Maritimer, he adds, “Most of our memories and celebrations


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Life at a crossroads

At Home with

Mike Mike, Sadie, Fiona, and Tricia bring some feed to the turkeys in their pastured pen.

The “hen mobile” moves to different parts of the farm to vary feeding ground and to deter predators.

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Piglets arrive on the farm by the end of May. Once trained to their boundaries, they can roam the forest and express their “pigness.”

At Home on the North Shore

seem to revolve around some kind of family-and-friend meal gathering.” People are eager to buy local and to know where their food is coming from. “The community and our customers have been amazing at supporting our farm,” says Ward. He goes personally to the Antigonish Farmers’ Market each Saturday to meet his customers and discuss the work he does. He also sells from the farm and supplies local restaurants including, Liscombe Lodge and The Townhouse Brewpub & Eatery. He’s glad to provide access to locally produced products for the people on the North Shore. Crossroads Valley Farm is family-owned and operated by Mike, Tricia, and their two daughters, Sadie, 10, and Fiona, six. “I never raised any animals previously, which was probably a benefit because I wasn’t afraid to try different things,” Ward says. His previous work as an engineer comes in handy. He’s smart and innovative, learning as he goes. “Currently we raise free-range meat chickens, turkeys, and laying hens. But it’s our forest-raised pigs that are the most unique. Since the property doesn’t have a barn, we do things differently. Our pigs are raised in portable pens throughout our forest. Once trained to the electric fence, we set up portable fencing and move them through the forest to give the opportunity to express their ‘pigness’ and get some little extra stuff in their diet.” He laughs and says, “If you let a pig go, he’d head to the forest; he wouldn’t go to the barn or the field, he’d go to the forest.” Pigs can be hard on the land with their digging, foraging, and rooting so they are moved as needed, hopscotching

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over the property. Ward moves them in a north direction one year and in a south direction the next, being mindful of the land and maintaining its viability. The very things Mike and Tricia value in raising their children: fresh air to breathe, sunshine to soak in, land to play on, and nutritious food, have become the key components they value in raising animals on their farm. The “hen mobile” moves around the property. It’s an old travel trailer Ward modified to be a hen house. “Nothing stands still. Everything moves,” says Ward. Something he considers important. The piglets arrive at the end of May. They raise heritage pigs, such as Durlocs or Berkshires, and the standard pink variety. The chicks begin to arrive in early May, about 300 at a time, until they get the amount they wish to raise for the season. In 2020, it was 2,000 chickens and 1,300 in 2021. Turkeys also arrive in May. All the birds are kept in brooders until it gets warm enough for them to be outside and they have feathered out. Then they are moved to pastured pens and relocated around the farm for the remainder of the season.

The very things Mike and Tricia value in raising their children: fresh air to breathe, sunshine to soak in, land to play on, and nutritious food, have become the key components they value in raising animals on their farm.

Sadie and Fiona, the Wards’ “free-range kids,” were the inspiration for the move from the city to farm life in Nova Scotia. Sadie checks on her own laying hens with help from sister Fiona.


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Meat chickens are fed standard feed, but a fresh patch of grass each day provides a “green tonic.” Every pastured pen has a shelter and 160 feet of poultry netting. Each day, the entire thing is moved forward one length providing new land and room for movement. It also keeps the animals from being in their own waste. Relocating them daily deters predators who like to stalk their prey. The movement discourages attacks and helps keep the chickens safe. Each year they learn, paying attention to the balance of what the land can produce, the work required, and the need of their customers. This year, in 2022, Ward says they’ve achieved that balance. “I think we have found our sweet spot for the number of chickens, turkey, hens, and pigs we want to raise sustainably,” says Ward. “Seems like the land has a comfortable holding capacity and we also have our own workload capacity that we can handle.” For the family, they keep a large garden filled with nutritious bounty. “Tricia is as much of a farmer as I am,” explains Ward. “She is involved in moving all the chickens and pigs, which involves feeding and watering them as well. But her focus is on healthy food for the family. She cooks almost everything from scratch and the ingredients are mostly from our farm or the Farmers’ Market. We have two large chest freezers for our meats, veggies, and fruits. Plus, we have cold storage for our potatoes, carrots, onions, beets, parsnips, and garlic. “Sadie and Fiona like the animals on the farm, especially our four cats,” Ward continues. The girls are a bit young for much of the At Home on the North Shore

Tricia and Mike Ward say they are right were they need to be.

farm work but love to help where they can. “Our goal is to get them running different parts of the farm business in the future and selling at the market with us,” says Ward. “We call them our ‘free-range kids.’” In the spring of 2021, their eldest daughter started her farming journey. “Sadie has her own separate 12 laying hens right now and she is managing them herself. She wanted to get some of her own hens to provide her with a little spending money. “Sadie enjoyed the hens, but she sold most of them back to the farm for the winter,” says Ward. “The only thing we overwinter is our hens. Overwintering animals is the hardest part,” he admits. “We have about 100 laying hens but don’t even keep all of them over the winter. Hens can withstand cold up to -20°C if there’s not a breeze or humidity. They fluff up. They don’t have any blood vessels in their feet, so they sit on the roost and they’re fine. I’ve never lost one chicken to cold,” he explains. They keep enough hens to supply farm-fresh eggs to their regular customers. For 2022, Sadie may take a different approach. “We are looking at having her manage the larger flock and paying her a percentage of the income generated,” says Ward. “We’ll see how it goes.” Now that the days are gaining warmth the process starts again. The Wards prepare for their busiest season with much work needing to be done. But it’s also the season that reminds them they are right where they need to be, doing what makes them, and their many customers, happy.

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at the Blue Lobster Public House

Evan McEachern and Alex Rice have a spirited plan


yellow tractor was busy cleaning up the latest dump of February snow from the parking lot at the new Blue Lobster Public House on the main street of Stellarton when I arrived for a guided tour of the eatery and production facility. I was meeting business partners Alex Rice and Evan MacEachern and a few of their team members. We had a couple of hours before they would open to customers, so instead of circling the block for a spot clear of snowbanks, I pulled into the loading dock at the rear of the sprawling building that was once home to a wholesome dairy group and now one of the largest


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independent makers of booze in Nova Scotia—it was still a place to get a good drink. Rice, president of the Nova Scotia Spirit Company, says his partners had designs to open the eatery, one of the newest channels of the fast-growing booze biz in the summer of 2020. Four years ago, they had purchased the property that was once home to the Allen Dairy and then Scotsburn Dairy from lawyer and developer Jamie MacGillivary. They quickly sunk several million dollars into a refit and re-engineering of the legacy building on the busy east end of the main drag. With much of the mechanization At Home on the North Shore


He says that it was a small gesture in the grand scheme of for their beer, spirits, and soda production complete, the final things, but they were grateful to be in the position to help in phase was a gastropub-style eatery with an outdoor beer garden some small way. that could seat up to 200 guests. The company had been pretty Since the early days of hand bottling their first batches of spirits much bulletproof with their business plans for expansion over in an old laundromat in Trenton, N.S. the company has continued the previous half dozen years, but what they couldn’t dodge was a to double their top-line sales every year, except for the first year direct hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. of the pandemic. Their launch into the ready-to-drink business, “I remember the day I heard construction was shutting a beverage category that is projected to be in the billions of down in New Brunswick,” remembers Rice of the early days dollars in Canada in the next five years, positioned the N.S. Spirit of the restrictions that would immobilize most sectors of the Company as one of the largest independent producers of alcoholic East Coast economy for the better part of two years. Rice’s beverages in the region. Despite the setback of the pandemic, usual mantra was “just got for it.” This time it was, “just shut Rice says they are close it down.” And that’s what to recapturing their sales Rice, his business partner targets with licensees. Rice, Evan MacEachern, and the MacEachern, and mostly rest of the team did. Rice silent partner Dan Allen says there were plenty who lives in B.C. (where of other things to think the plan for the spirits about at the time, company startup was including how to show a distilled) have continued little love to their licensee to scale up their operation. partners who were Their vision is the creation suffering the blow from of the Blue Ocean Group, the sweeping shutdowns. a portfolio of companies The Nova Scotia Spirit that includes spirits, sodas, Company, which got its beers, cider, and most start in an old laundromat recently, wine. in Trenton in 2015, had Rice and MacEachern built its reputation on credit timing and the relationships. Something ability to attract great that MacEachern was very talent as integral aspects good at doing. He had of their growth. come to the group via “I think our best example the Legendary Hospitality General manager Stephanie Richards, Alex Rice, Evan McEachern, and of innovation is with our Group in Halifax. Having executive chef Greg Malcolm. human capital,” says Rice, managed destination who believes that wooing Evan MacEachern away from his gig in eateries and bars like the Stubborn Goat, he knew the importance the Halifax hospitality business was one of those first lucky strikes. of building the brand and connections with the operators and “I think one of the great things about this company and the Blue this had become a critical path to their success, especially with Lobster Public House is the people and their desire to live and the launch of their ready-to-drink products like Blue Lobster work in Pictou County,” adds Rice. Vodka Sodas. When this whole thing started, we were looking for a great place While their consumer sales remained steady, like other craft to do business. “I remember reading a position paper, I think it distilleries and breweries in the region, they lost that sales vein was by Deloitte, that said Pictou County was a great place to do almost overnight. business. So, if they said it was great then it must be,” he laughs, While working on their own pandemic pivot, Rice says his team citing that he has upwards of 100 individuals on his team that was compelled to assist their licensee partners. They quickly started with two guys spitting out ideas for a fun venture together launched the Big Tip, a program that would give a little lift to frontover a beer in Burnaby, B.C. less than a decade ago. line workers in the establishments that championed their products. As the weeks, and then months, of the pandemic ticked by, Alex sent one of his managers to the bank one spring day at the Rice and MacEachern picked away at the details to finish and beginning of the pandemic to withdraw $50,000. MacEachern open the doors of the Blue Lobster Public House. They opened says that they spent the next several weeks mailing $50 bills and in early December 2021. They never wanted to open with vouchers for a six-pack of Blue Lobster Sodas to any front-line the heavy weight of restrictions, however, in late fall when it worker in the hospitality business in Nova Scotia. At Home on the North Shore

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RIGHT: The Blue Lobster Public House officially opened its doors in early December 2021. OPPOSITE: Customer favourites include the tuna stack and the ice cream sandwich — both pay homage to the days when the Public House was a dairy.

looked like regulations were going to relax and capacity in public spaces was going to increase, they put the jets on. Less than two weeks later, the Omicron wave hit the province with a bang, and they were faced with the same realities of so many of the licensees they were trying to support. But doing what they could, the team welcomed their first patrons, and as restrictions eased again in the new year, they were managing waitlists for tables. Rice says the 30,000 sq. ft. they occupy today has a few jigs and jags in the floor plan that were the result of several expansions when the facility operated as a dairy, but the unique footprint was exactly what the company needed to bring together the concept of production and a dining experience.

Taking a walk through the building with Rice, MacEachern, and two of the newest team members, executive chef Greg Malcolm and general manager Stephanie Richards, both with emotional ties to Pictou County, you get a sense of the company’s evolution and the strength of the Atlantic Canadian brand. For each of the last two years, they have shipped more than 10 million cans of vodka sodas from the Stellarton location. Patrons will have the opportunity to tour the facility once it’s back to business-as-usual, but for now, they are greeted on entry with a licensed storefront with the product, branded merchandise, and a good view of the gleaming stainless tanks that were fabricated in P.E.I. They also have their bellies full of Painted Boat lager, a product launched in 2018.

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A full-sized food truck with a serving window in the eatery is part of the kitchen that has kept people talking, and an element that sets the venue apart from other establishments in the area. “We wanted to do something different, and I think we have,” says Rice. “We wanted to create an elevated dining experience, but having to remember that we are essentially a pub and brewhouse, so we took that into account when designing the menu.” Chef Greg Malcolm, who has worked throughout Canada, and most recently in Halifax, was tasked with creating a traditional pub menu with a little added flair. He says two of the current favourites are the tuna stack and an ice cream sandwich that he says pays homage to the days when the Public House was a dairy. When Nova Scotians say goodbye to restrictions and the province eases into summer, general manager Stephanie Richards and her

staff expect to be welcoming hundreds of patrons on the daily. The restaurant has capacity for 100 and additional event space on the mezzanine, with its own bar and washrooms that can welcome up to 60 guests. Perhaps the biggest game changer is the outdoor beer garden concept that will stage musical performances and where guests can kick back by a firepit or try their skill with lawn games. Rice says that with some innovation, they hope to be able to use the beer garden in the shoulder seasons. When the snowbanks and the pandemic mandates melt away in the month of March, Rice says he wants to host an event for the former dairy employees. “The people who used to work here are very much a part of this story and we want them to see how this place has transformed, but also to notice the little nods to what used to be.”

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tickets & info: (902) 485-8848 | 1-800-353-5338 99 Water Street, Pictou, NS, B0K 1H0 | Box Office Hours: Monday to Friday 10:00 am to 4:00 pm




With stargazing, kayaking, and resident chickens, an escape to Fossil Farms Oceanside Retreat is only natural.



n an early morning at Fossil Farms Oceanside Retreat, Dean Robertson paddled his kayak through the tranquil waters of Merigomish Harbour, moving ever closer to shore to observe several deer, who remained seemingly unaware—or at least unconcerned—by his presence. “You can get so close to the wildlife here in the kayak,” says Robertson, who with twin brother Doug, opened an expansive natural year-round retreat this past year on a 200-year-old farm in Egerton, on Highway 245 along Nova Scotia’s Northumberland Shore. It’s pastoral, rural countryside is easily accessed off the Trans Canada, and is only 10 minutes from New Glasgow. At Fossil Farms (yes, fossils abound), visitors greet resident chickens and Babydoll sheep—a rare, heritage breed of small sheep—snooze in hammocks, pedal fat bikes through the coastal landscape, and bliss out in a wood sauna. It’s new life for an old farm, that was mostly dormant for three decades.


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At Home on the North Shore

The brothers, originally from Thorburn, N.S., bought the 60-plus-acre property five years ago with the intent to do some farming. They were familiar with the area, driving through the land for more than 50 years, going to their nearby family cottage. They planted a seven-acre vineyard, then somewhere along the way, the plan morphed from a bit of farming into a tourist retreat. How? “Several mistakes,” jokes Doug, the operation’s onsite man on the ground. “I have too much driving time back and forth from Halifax and come up with bad ideas,” adds Dean, whose day job is CEO of the Shaw Group, manufacturers and community developers, whose repertoire ranges from Prestige Homes to wood pellets to real estate. “I always wanted to have a spot where people can get away from work.” He says if he needs to think differently, to think big picture, particularly from a business perspective, he finds that time in a different environment, disconnecting from normal reality, helps. The brothers set up a collection of one- and two-bedroom Prestige accommodations, and the idea went from there. “Really, what it is now is a place for folks to get away,” says Dean of the property, which has seven units (five more are planned) and an events space called “The Barn,” a 2,500-sq.-ft. post-and-beam structure that acts as a hotel lobby. Again, The Barn didn’t start out with this intention. Initially, the thought was to build a place to store the tractor. “The tractor’s still outside,” they joke. “There’s too much time between here and Halifax,” repeats Dean. The Barn is home to seating nooks where guests can sit and read, play board games, do puzzles, even whittle. It has a long communal table, and commercial kitchen set up for cooking classes and demos. A brick fireplace and scattered sheepskins add warmth. A large meeting room takes up most of the upstairs.

Doug Robertson holds one of the many fossils the brothers found on the heritage farm property.

At Home on the North Shore

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As an events space, the Robertsons say The Barn can host corporate events, small weddings, and special events like cooking classes and yoga retreats. Dean says part of the allure of the place is you’re on a farm, where you see things growing. (The Robertsons, who’ve worked together for years, in consulting and at Shaw, stress they’re not farmers— it’s more for looks and to show people what farming’s like.) Also appealing? You’re on the ocean, with fantastic hilltop sunsets, and it’s a place to relax. “You can do nothing if you want, or you can do a whack of things. It’s designed so people can be outside and active.”

TOP LEFT: The Kayak Shack is a favourite place for a yoga stretch. FAR LEFT: Connecting to the name Fossil Farms, the brothers planted gardens that recognize the earth’s different geological periods. LEFT: Jennifer and Dean Robertson at the gate of the Woods of Wisdom, a little trail signed with words of inspiration and thought. FAR RIGHT: “The Barn” for special events, meeting rooms, and custom farm kitchen. INSET: Dean and Jennifer’s personal retreat on the property. RIGHT: Farm co-ordinator Jane Pettipas’s favourite chore is babying the farm’s “Baby Doll Sheep.”

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Guests can amble through an apple orchard or the Woods of Wisdom trail. They can dip in the pool overlooking the harbour, plan a vintage movie night, hang out around firepits, do field yoga on Saturday mornings, or take a golf cart tour of the farm where garlic, sunflowers, blueberries, millet, and more grow. There are flower and vegetable gardens, and bees, along with solar panels to help power the property. Dean says they’re concentrating on three signature experiences: kayaking, stargazing, and food. From the Kayak Shack, painted in cheery pastels, guests can push off

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into Merigomish Harbour, exploring tidal rivers and little coves, paddling to islands protected from the Northumberland Strait, often with eagles and hawks soaring overhead. They can play cards in the shack, walk the boardwalk, or sit in the Adirondack chairs at the harbour’s edge. Come night, it’s a different type of exploration, pointing the onsite telescope skyward to see Pluto, the rings around Saturn,

and other heavenly wonders. With little light pollution, Dean says stargazing shines. To enhance the experience, they’ve built Hilltop Studio, a little hut where the old farmhouse once stood (in a nod to property heritage, it’s built like an inverted farmhouse with white clapboard inside). The hut opens to a bonfire pit surrounded by the vineyard. After stargazing, guests can finish the night with a campfire.

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OPPOSITE FAR LEFT: Doug holds a photograph of the original farmhouse and demonstrates where it used to rest on the hill top. OPPOSITE LEFT: Peddle to your paddle: Guests are fee to grab a Fat Tire Bike to explore the property and to fast track their way to the Kayak Shack. LEFT: Dean and Jennifer take a moment at the end of one of the trails. The couple both feel they do their best thinking when they are connected to the natural world.

Their third focus is culinary. Along with The Barn’s kitchen, there’s an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven and an outdoor kitchen with a smoker and barbecue. There’s a greenhouse where they grow tomatoes, there is wheat growing in the field, and they offer farm-to-table experiences such as make-your-own pizza or pasta (complete with a wheat thresher). Don’t worry though, there’s always some Pictou County Sam’s pizza in the freezer, too!

At Home on the North Shore

The Robertsons also own property near Blue Mountain and hope to offer hiking soon. They plan to connect with local operators such as Steinhart Distillery, Knoydart Farm Cheese, Big Cove Foods, and Sunny Cove Honey to bring in more of their products, and to bring local people together to further activate the area. After a period of soft launching, Dean says they’re ready to go. “We’re really just getting started.”

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e can’t save the world, but we can save one house.” That’s the rationale behind Rob Christie and his wife Irene Szabla’s ambitious plans for the old foundry in Pictou. Since moving to Nova Scotia from Whitehorse in 2011, they’ve seen one beautiful old building after another succumb to neglect and disrepair—walls literally crumbling to dust, and rats and raccoons taking the place of the families who once inhabited these historic old homes. They’re determined not to let it happen to this one. The foundry dates back to 1855 and was built by William Henry Davies, an English ironmonger living in Stellarton. Three separate brick buildings were constructed to house a cupola furnace (used for melting iron), office space, and a machine shop, conveniently located to provide access to both the harbour and the railway. The building in the middle, the foundry, has gone through many incarnations over the years. At one point it contained machine, boiler, moulding, pattern, blacksmith, and carpenter shops. During and after the Second World War, it was used for shipbuilding. In recent years, it has housed everything from a microbrewery and tasting room to a women’s clothing shop, an art gallery, an auction house, and a Saturday market. It was a commercial space when Christie and Szabla first bought the property. They were living on the upper two storeys of an

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Rob Christie and Irene Szabla on

old stone building they owned on Pictou’s main street. The stone house needed extensive renovations and they planned to use the foundry to generate rental income to help with expenses. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out. Tenants moved in and then moved out again (one stiffing them for a $5,000 electrical bill). Tired of carrying a mortgage on a property they weren’t getting enough income on to make worthwhile, they attempted to sell the building last year but received no offers, even in Nova Scotia’s hot market. They figure the problem lay in its designation as a commercial property—a commercial property that was just a bit too far off Main Street to attract casual shoppers wandering through the town. On top of that, because of the commercial designation, taxes were extremely high, and service low. They didn’t even get garbage collection. Deciding they had to get rid of one of their properties, they put the stone house up for sale. It sold in 36 hours. “A year ago, we never thought we’d sell the stone house for the price we did,” says Szabla. With the money it generated, they moved ahead to convert the foundry into a residence. It was the sensible thing to do since they had so much difficulty renting the space out for commercial activity (added to the fact that they would be homeless in a month when the sale of the stone house concluded).

the first steps of an ambitious plan to transform an old iron foundry into a sleek but storied living suite.

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Szabla and Christie are leaning into a modern open-concept design that gives them space to entertain a large crowd but with cosy niches for when it is just the two of them.

After suffering through previous renovations, Szabla had one stipulation about their new digs. She didn’t want a constant stream of “every imaginable tradesperson,” as she describes it, traipsing through her living space. So they got the rear part of the building habitable in order to live there while the work was going on in the front. The high brick walls and aged beams—both of which Christie stripped and refinished—make the space very livable while they wait for the work to continue in the front of the building. The plan for the new residence is to create a large living space in the front and convert the small backspace

into either an apartment or some kind of holiday rental. Beyond that, they had no real plans. That’s what made hiring an architect to guide them through the conversion seem like the right move. That architect was Vincent van den Brink of Break House in Halifax. His company focuses on commercial properties but they usually have at least one private residence on the go. “They can be really fun to do,” explains van den Brink. “They [Christie and Szabla] seemed like nice people— they are nice people—and the building had enough interest to keep us involved.”

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At Home on the North Shore

One of those interesting features is the fact that the building itself is old but Christie and Szabla wanted a modern space created. Though it sounds like something that might be hard to coordinate, van den Brink says the key is to find out what attracts a person to a particular style. “If someone says they like art deco, you don’t just do the colours,” he says, explaining that factors such as the shapes of the rooms and the kind of light a space has all contribute to how someone feels about a particular style. But there’s also a more subtle, specific element. “There’s always a spirit to a building or house and you start with that.” The modern style leans towards an open living, dining and kitchen area, and the foundry, with its concrete floor, tall windows, and high timber structure, lends itself easily to that aesthetic. Therefore, what seems at first like a clash between two different styles, can be merged into a cohesive whole. Certainly, Christie’s voice is filled with enthusiasm as he walks through the space that is slowly being transformed and points out some of the features. Just like their desire for a modern space in an antique building, they also have the seemingly contradictory wish for a home that is big enough to entertain a crowd and small enough to be comfortable for two. The dining table will seat 12, yet a small corner of the large space will be intimate enough for a cosy chat. Their bedroom will be the only private space on the ground floor, specifically positioned there to keep the home completely accessible as they grow older. Two bedrooms upstairs will serve as separate guest quarters, again providing both privacy and plenty of space for visitors. Christie and Szabla are well on their way to making the foundry their forever home, and saving the world one house at a time.

The concrete floors have been polished and timbers sand blasted. The couple are ready for the next phase of the reno.

EDITOR’S NOTE: At Home on the North Shore will continue to follow the transformation of the foundry to a family home. Keep an eye out for updates in future issues.

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n River John, winter comes racing over the hills without much of a warning.” Although it’s now spring, this new book, The Last Time I Saw Her, brings River John to its readers along with many sensitive topics; but, especially for a first-time author, it is done beautifully. Alexandra (Lexi) Harrington packs a punch in her first middle-grade fiction and honours our county by setting it in the streets of River John.


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“When I was a kid, we used to spend time in River John every summer,” says Harrington. “My grandparents had a cottage up there, and being on the North Shore was the best part of any summer vacation. As an adult I am still up there frequently, usually looking for beach glass.” Harrington continues,“I started writing this book when I was so young, like 14, and I started plotting it out when I was in River John one summer. I was attracted to the idea of the small village as the setting, and it was a place I knew well. Good place for mystery and drama!” If you’ve ever visited the village, you will likely understand how special and memorable it is, even outside of the Read by the Sea Literary Festival and Sheree Fitch’s Mabel Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery. Harrington included the few local businesses and honoured the charming characteristics while aligning them with the shadow side that could be possible for any location. While the imagery of the plot stood out to me, some lines completely stopped me and forced me to take a moment to stare at nothing. It doesn’t happen often, but then the author includes a line like “…but the only thing certain as a storm coming was the promise that it would end,” or “The space between them as she held his gaze was full with the weight of them.” I need to remember to breathe. This is a tale of Charlotte, AKA Charlie, returning after almost a year away from the village and everything she ever knew—and now life was completely different. Meeting her former best friend, she realized quickly how long 11 months was for a senior in high school. This novel is filled with mystery, romance, drama, life lessons and so much more. I do highly recommend you add it to your reading list, no matter your age. Through email, I had the privilege of asking Harrington a few questions about her work.

At Home on the North Shore


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SB: Which character in The Last Time I Saw Her do you most resemble?

“Originally, I think Charlotte was a lot more like me when I first started writing the book as a teenager. However, I grew up a bit since then, and so did Charlotte. There’s still a bit of me in her, we’re both emotional people and a few of Charlotte’s quirks, hobbies, likes, etc. come from me. “I think I would like to be more like Leo, who, a lot of the time, is a voice of reason for his friends. I would love to have Sophie’s strong sense of self and I think she is definitely the smartest of all of them. She was my favourite to write.”


“Definitely! I read a TON when I was younger. I think honestly middle-grade is my favourite genre but it can be very hard to pull off. I’d love to write a middle-grade story someday. Luckily for me I have a great mentor to learn from. “I think the YA and middle-grade genres are so important, because those are the genres that get young people into reading and that’s where young people find the characters that they most relate to. I think those genres are where we see the most diverse voices and that’s so important for young people to experience.”


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SB: Writing seems to be in your blood, with your mother, author Lisa Harrington, also writing for teens. Is middle grade/young adult fiction where your heart is?

SB: What’s next for you? Any works in progress currently? Can you give a hint if there will be a follow up to The Last Time I Saw Her or another story set in River John?

“I’m currently picking away at a couple projects, probably more slowly than I’d like. I’m working on a YA mystery set at a girls’ boarding school and another, slightly more adult mystery with some spookier elements that takes place on a tiny island. I won’t rule out writing about River John again, but I do think Charlie and Sophie’s story is over. They’ve been through enough!” SB: What do you hope people take away from this story?

“I hope people just see little bits and pieces of things they can relate to—the small town, complicated friendships, shaky family life, and messy romances. The story is pretty dramatic and, at times, over-the-top, but I wanted it to be rooted in some familiarity. And then also I just hope readers are entertained by the story. I think that’s important.” And there are promises of a new book in our future as Alexandra concludes, “It’s like a puzzle, trying to put everything together and it’s hardly ever perfect, but with mysteries you kind of have to work backwards. It was certainly a challenge. I’m excited to try again!”

At Home on the North Shore

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Pugwash’s trail is suitable for all ages to enjoy STORY AND PHOTOS BY TRISH JOUDREY

Great walks

Sponsored by

of the

North Shore

Jim Vance, Gordon Young, Gregory Nix trekking by Canfield Creek.


estled serenely at the mouth of the Pugwash River on the North Shore is Pugwash. It’s a town where almost everything conveys peace. “Peace is our Pugwash legacy,” recounts Gregory Nix, president of Cumberland Trails Association and certified trail guide, when asked how the Peace Trail got its name. “We thought it a fitting title to give our trail since it was here that the first Conference on Science and World Affairs was hosted by Cyrus Eaton to discuss the threat of nuclear weapons in 1957. “At the end of the waterfront road is the Thinker’s Lodge,” Gregory continues. “There, you can view the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize, awarded jointly to the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs and to Joseph Rotblat.” I join Gregory, John Caraberis—a Seagull Foundation board member and owner of Basic Spirit Pewter—and two other local avid hikers, Jim Vance and Gordon Young, at Sheryl’s Café just


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around the corner from Atlantic Canada’s largest underground salt mine and the Pugwash waterfront. We’re here to chat and have a bite before we set out for our seven-kilometre Peace Trail hike. After the short five-minute drive from Pugwash, we park the cars on the side of the road and enter the trail with a warm welcome from Gregory. “Welcome to the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. This trail holds many stories, legends, and interpretive signs explaining the ecology of the area.” I study the signpost at the entrance to see where our sevenkilometre, two-loop hike will take us. The trail contour meanders along the shore of Canfield Creek, hugs Spirit and McLeod Lakes, and follows the Pugwash River, which is all part of the Pugwash River Estuary. “It’s a moderate hike, suitable for all ages,” says Gregory, “We’ll walk on a path through the

At Home on the North Shore

“Welcome to the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. This trail holds many stories, legends, and interpretive signs explaining the ecology of the area.” — Gregory Nix —

Merging of Canfield Creek and Pugwash River.

woods, but we will have lovely vistas along the water for the entire way. The ideal hike.” At the bottom of the sign, my eye catches a quote by Henry David Thoreau, “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.” With Thoreau’s advice tucked into my proverbial back pocket, we set out, hiking poles in hand, through the woods to Canfield Creek. The light streams through the tall pines, fir, and spruce trees, casting shadows on the needle-covered slopes making our walk through the forest magical. “We have old-growth pine trees, some more than 150 years old, Acadian forest, and Nova Scotia’s provincial tree, the Red Spruce, along this trail,” says Gregory, stopping to point out something on a trunk. “Look. See this lichen here?” We move closer for a better look. “We are lucky to see this. It’s a sign of air purity and the health of our forest.”

At Home on the North Shore

Majestic old-growth trees on the trail.

Walking in this wholesome environment invigorates me. I want to breathe deeply to savour the spicy aroma of evergreen trees around me. Gregory stops and points across Canfield Creek. “Can you see it?” he asks, pointing to a cluster of trees on the opposite side of the creek. “What are we looking at?” I ask. “An eagle’s nest.” Sitting atop of the tallest red pine on the shoreline is a massive, twigged sphere resembling a jewelled crown in the forest. “It sure has a commanding view over the water,” I say as I zoom in with my camera to capture its magnificence. “I’ve seen eaglets peeking their heads over the top of that nest in spring,” says Gregory proudly. The red triangle markers nailed to the trees mark our way through the woods. We pause while Gregory takes out his small handsaw to cut through a log that has recently fallen over the path.

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Tips for Bird Watching on the Peace Trail 1. Periodically stop, stand still, and listen. Even soft talking may scare off birds. 2. Look up and around for any unusual activity. Falling spruce branches might be generated from birds. 3. Start with light pocket-sized binoculars. If you are keen to continue, you can always purchase a larger pair with stronger lenses later. 4. Familiarize yourself with a good field guide, such as Petersen’s, so you can identify birds quickly. 5. Join any of the three Bird Count expeditions of the Friends of Pugwash Estuary on May 15th, the end of September and December 28th. Contact Betty Hodgson at Friends of Pugwash Estuary, for help identifying birds or help with birding.

Gregory Nix at peace.


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“I am impressed how well-maintained this trail is. It’s one of the best I’ve seen in Nova Scotia with many interpretive signs, well-placed trail markers, and bridges and paths in excellent condition. It must take a lot of work,” I say as Gregory lifts the log off the trail. “You’re right,” says Gregory, throwing additional fallen branches off the path. I admire his commitment to keeping the trail operational even when he is out for his personal enjoyment. “Similar to the Peace Conferences, the Peace Trail is a collaborative effort from many community companies and people, like our local resident, Bob Nogler, who helped to build the trail and now stewards it.” “We are blessed that we have over 600 acres connected to this trail system and 10 miles of protected shore frontage. Without the partnership and easements from landowners, Seagull Foundation, National Conservancy Corporation, Salt Mine, and Friends of Pugwash Estuary, this trail would not be a reality.” This reminds me of what John Caraberis said earlier over coffee, “If we don’t protect wildland, it will surely get developed one day. For me, that feels like something dies.” I pause by a picnic table dedicated to the memory of Alice Power, past Chair of Friends of the Pugwash Estuary, to appreciate the surrounding gift of peace made possible only by these generous donations of land. “This trail has been therapeutic too, says Gregory. “It has helped some of Cumberland County’s at-risk children get in touch with the land and be part of a cooperative and supportive group who helped to build the trail. Local summer students have also pitched in to unblock old fish ladders so the salmon can flow freely up the river again.” Gregory gazes silently over the bridge at the Pugwash River below. “I come here to canoe in the summer. It’s where I find peace,” Gregory adds. “We also host an annual canoe and barbecue day. It’s great fun and open to all.” I make a mental note to return for the excitement and adventure in the summer.

“Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.” — Henry David Thoreau —

Canfield Creek meets Pugwash River.

At Home on the North Shore

Hiking through Acadian forest.

Canfield Creek.

“Watch your step,” calls Gregory. “We are ascending a short incline to the top of this knoll.” Strange, I think, to have such a big mound like this along the flat shoreline by the river. “What caused this?” I ask. “Busy little mink! The rascals. They’ve tunnelled and undermined this hill. Ha-ha. I love it,” he adds will a playful wink. I think about Thoreau’s words and realize how interdependent we all are on our delicate ecosystem. I marvel we are still following the water. I can’t remember another forest trail in Nova Scotia where so much of the trail is

Happy hikers Gregory Nix, Jim Vance, and Gordon Young.

directly along the water. How exceptional. I stop for a moment to savour the peace. Not even the sounds of birds interrupt the quietness. But Gregory assures me that this area is teeming with birds every spring. “In fact,” he adds, “this area hosts the Annual Spring Migratory Bird Count. This year, we logged a total of 811 birds representing 70 species.” As we end our hike, thoughts of my busy life start to re-enter my consciousness. I am grateful to know I can find peace, be in the wild, and be a part of something greater than myself, only a few steps away from Pugwash on the North Shore.

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A showstopper in the right garden spot and a boon to bees


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plant that is native to China, Korea, Japan, and southern Canada blossoms late each spring on the North Shore of Nova Scotia, thanks to the attention given to it by New Glasgow homeowners Coreen and Fred Popowich. When the couple purchased the Japanese wisteria from the former Pleasant Valley Nursery near Antigonish 11 years ago, it still had a lot of growing to do. Today, their vine variety “Royal Purple” is the talk of their neighbourhood when in bloom—it’s not something a passerby can easily miss. Wisterias are known to climb vigorously and can deform fences and other structures with their strength, so the Popowichs knew to plant theirs where it could climb safely. The couple chose to plant this near their pergola to keep it from taking over their house. “It has a pleasant but not overpowering scent; lighter than the lilacs, and it is full of bumblebees all day long,” says Coreen. “A somewhat comforting sound.” While the flowers do not blossom every year, it was a showstopper in 2021. The amount of colour and beauty that viewers can enjoy depends on how hard the preceding winter has been, with the buds going straight to leaves instead of flowers. Angela vanKessel from Cultivated Eco (, a start-up in Pictou County, says the question about the seasonal effect of winter on wisteria is a complicated question. “It’s only recently that wisteria can survive our winters here in N.S. (not including South Shore/Annapolis Valley areas). This winter is that freeze and thaw style we are starting to get used to here in N.S. and it can be stressful to any plant,” she says. “Snow is an important insulator to protect the main roots of the plant. Because wisteria bloom on new wood (meaning the branches that grow in the same season as the flower blooms), the winter conditions shouldn’t affect bloom as long as the plant survives. The best way to get your wisteria to bloom is to avoid high nitrogen fertilizer and to do some root pruning (an axe works great).” Wisteria does have a couple of caveats for those considering planting in their yard and garden. They are toxic to animals (and humans) and their vining trunks and branches can often reach 30 or more feet long, and those limbs are heavy. You need a sturdy trellis or arbour to train a plant on, or else keep it strongly pruned. “Wisteria needs to be pruned back a couple of times a summer after it blooms, and to keep it from climbing on the roof. Other than that there isn’t much else to do but enjoy it,” Coreen says. There are 10 species of wisteria, although only a few are available in Nova Scotia, from reputable local nurseries and garden centres. When looking at a Japanese wisteria from above, it is interesting to note that the vines grow clockwise while Chinese wisteria twines counterclockwise, but this isn’t the only difference. Japanese wisteria also tend to be more fragrant and their flowers more prominent than the Chinese species. At Home on the North Shore


The plant requires full sun, good drainage, and consistent moisture to thrive during the initial growth period and while flowering to be at its best. In the spring, the plant produces flower clusters which resemble bunches of grapes and, with proper care, increase in size and beauty each year. Japanese wisteria flowers come in pink, white, blue and violet and tend to grow in 12 to 18-inch clusters of flowers, blooming while the leaves continue to develop. While growing the gorgeous wisteria plant certainly isn’t ideal for everyone’s garden, once a neighbour decides to grow one, the whole community will reap its benefits!

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MEDALLING WITH MY FOOD Tracy is an Olympic medallist and has a Chef’s diploma from the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts.


ne of the things that excited me most about moving to River John, was the ability to grow our own food in a little country garden. I soon discovered that if I used a larger lens, I could see there was much more potential for amazing fresh food just beyond our garden. In fact, a whole world of wild, freshly caught fish was minutes away in John Bay, with teams of fisherman working the seasons like clockwork to bring us tasty delights all year. Being a newcomer, I had to learn what was in season at what time of year. The Northumberland Strait is unique (like all fishing zones), and the fresh catch is always changing. Luckily, I can rely on the locals to keep me apprised as to “what is what and who is who” in the fishing world. One of my favourite stories to tell my friends from away is one that could only happen in a small town, and it is the story that inspired this dish that has become a family and friends’ favourite.


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And so, the story goes: One day in early May, the sun was shining with good intensity, and John Bay was sparkling. It felt like a Sauvignon Blanc kind of day. I was done with the heavy red wines of winter and was ready for a crisp, tangy, refreshing white wine. So, I headed down to the NSLC to see what they had to fit the bill. The liquor store overlooks the bay, so I couldn’t help but wonder what the boats would be hauling into the dock that day. So naturally, after my usual greetings, I asked Peter, the manager at the time, what was in season. Without hesitation he proclaimed that scallops were the catch of the day. When I asked where I could get my hands on some, almost if by cue, the store door opened and a local fisherman entered the building. Peter says, “That guy should be able to help you.” He froze like a deer in headlights as we both stared in his direction. I explained that I’d come for a nice white wine for dinner;

At Home on the North Shore

Seared Scallops with Avocado-Lemon Sauce Serves 4

Prep Time: 10 mins | Cook Time: 5 mins AVOCADO-LEMON SAUCE

2 medium avocados ¼ cup coconut cream (the top part of the coconut milk that has separated from the water) Juice from 1 large lemon 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 2 tsp toasted sesame oil ¼ jalapeño, seeded (optional) 1 clove garlic, peeled 2 tsp sea salt 1 tsp freshly ground pepper


12 large sea scallops Pinch of sea salt Pinch of pepper 1 tbsp avocado oil

GARNISH I was told he might have some fresh scallops that would pair beautifully. I asked him where I should go to pick some up. To my surprise, he said, “Well, I’ve got some in my truck that I was going to cook up at the camp tonight.” Then he generously said I was welcome to have them. I couldn’t believe my luck! At home, I skipped in the door with my white wine and two pounds of fresh scallops. My husband tilted his head with confusion, “What? Where did you...?” “Only in River John,” I told him, pleased as punch. This scallop recipe is super easy. It takes less than 15 minutes from idea to table. I encourage you to support our local fisherman this spring. There is nothing better than fresh homegrown and home-caught food. We are so lucky to have both available in our own back yard.

cheers! At Home on the North Shore

4 radishes, thinly sliced in rounds 1 green onion, sliced in rounds Pinch of pea shoots per plate


Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. 2. Scallops. Pat dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat the avocado oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the scallops, cook for two minutes, flip and cook for another two-to-three minutes (until golden brown). 3. Plate. Spoon a large dollop of the sauce on the top edge of the plate, then drag the bottom edge of the spoon through the sauce pulling it toward the bottom of the plate (imagine a paisley pattern). Add the scallops to the plate and garnish with the pea shoots being the final touch.

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Chris Motz, Delia Burge,


Rosalie Parsons and Anne MacDonald have all played an inspired role at the Water Street shop.

Little Shop of Treasures After 35 years, Water Street Studio founders say it’s time “to call it a day.”


t’s a hospitable-looking building; with mellow old stone walls and a bright red door to entice you inside. As you enter, you will discover a treasure house of items made by some of the most talented crafters in Nova Scotia. Displayed on wooden shelving—where age and care have burnished the wood to a perfect patina—you will find everything from soft woolen scarves and glossy ceramic bowls to pewter jewellery and sparkling glassware. One-of-a-kind items vie for attention everywhere you look. Welcome to Water Street Studio in downtown Pictou. The shop is run by partners Delia Burge and Anne MacDonald. Their partnership has lasted longer than most marriages—Burge was one of the original seven founders when


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the studio was founded 40 years ago, and MacDonald joined the group eight years later. They have a habit of finishing each other’s sentences. As one speaks, the chances are the other will be nodding approvingly, completely in sync with the words flowing. The shop got its start on the third floor of the old YMCA building 40 years ago. A few women wanted to do some sewing and weaving—Burge, for example, works primarily with wool from a rare breed of sheep she raises on her own farm—and they just couldn’t find the space or time at home. The women got together to rent a studio and gradually others joined them, forming a co-op. As word spread, people became curious about what they were doing and would drop by to have

a look. Obviously, they liked what they saw. It wasn’t long before a potter and a woodworker—who had also been admitted to the group—asked if it would be okay to sell from the space. Soon they had what amounted to a real store. They decided they needed street-level space to accommodate all those eager shoppers and moved into their present Water Street location 35 years ago. Initially, the space was half studio/ half shop. Hence the lingering name. But production gradually moved back into the various crafters’ homes as their children grew older and the studio side of the operation disappeared. Now, it’s strictly retail. There are three different kinds of merchandise in the store. First, there’s

At Home on the North Shore

the co-op-produced work, then there are wholesale goods purchased from makers and manufacturers at craft shows, and finally, there are crafts in the store on consignment. The first selection is a labour of love, the second gives them plenty of good quality merchandise with which to fill the shelves, and the third allows them to carry more expensive, specialty items without taking a financial risk on them selling. Because fashions in craft come and go—remember long crocheted vests or tooled leather belts!?—the inventory of the store changes. This natural trend has accelerated in recent years, possibly due to COVID-19. Jewellery has lost some of its cache and pottery sales are booming. People are writing letters and sending snail mail to their friends and family, perhaps as a result of the isolation we’re all feeling. The other day a customer came into the store and told MacDonald: “My cousin and I are writing letters to each other every couple of weeks.” As a result, their cards are flying off the display stands. Similarly, kits are increasingly popular, whether painting, embroidery, hooking, or some other craft. People want creative ways to fill their time at home. The store has also increased its local inventory. “We used to sell a lot of matryoshka dolls from Russia and lacquered trays,” says Burge, although there are none in the store now. “We got really high-quality imports. There used to be incredible stuff from China. Then women stopped embroidering in their villages and went to the cities to work in tech instead.” At the same time, what customers were looking for gradually changed and they started paying more attention to where an item was sourced. “Tourists would pick something up and put it back down

if it was made in Indonesia. And COVID made it worse. People want to support local and small,” MacDonald explains. Even local customers, who used to shop there for unique imported items, are now more inclined to purchase things made close by. COVID, and the internet, also had an impact on the relationship they have with their wholesale suppliers. “They’re selling online on Etsy [an online marketplace for handcrafted items] and they’re insanely busy,” says MacDonald. “People want to treat themselves.” If they feel uncomfortable going into a shop, they can fulfil that need online with the click of a mouse. There’s also been an embargo on craft trade fairs for the last two years. As a result, the partners are having to work harder to get inventory into the store. Yet, the shop continues to thrive. There may be fewer international visitors, but locals—intent on supporting their own— are making up the difference. New sellers are joining the ranks and new items are filling the shelves. Nonetheless, the partners are ready to call it a day. “We’re old!” says MacDonald with a laugh, while Burge nods in vigorous agreement. They want to retire from the daily obligation running a shop entails. All these years later, they still embrace the hippy and back-to-the-land movement that drew them to the north shore of Nova Scotia in the first place. They’ve got sheep to care for, handcrafted items to produce, and grandchildren to spoil. So, if anyone has a fancy to immerse themselves in a world that successfully embraces the extraordinary, there might just be a shop in Pictou waiting for someone new to take the (handcrafted, authentic leather) reins.

They’ve got sheep to care for, handcrafted items to produce, and grandchildren to spoil.

At Home on the North Shore




Matthew Berrigan (902) 449-1273


Whether you’re local or come from away,you’ll find it all

at home.

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In the modern times of texting, email, and ever-changing technology, the art of handwriting, especially cursive, is becoming more and more nostalgic. For this project, I’ll show you how to take a treasured photo, greeting card, recipe card, or any handwritten note and turn it into a beautiful one-of-a-kind treasure.



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WHAT YOU’LL NEED: • Cutting board or piece of wood

(unfinished, smooth surface works best) • All-in-one glue sealer (I used a matte

finish Mod Podge) • Foam paintbrush • Hard plastic card • Washcloth • Print of your special item

For this project, I had a photograph of a ledger book from a friend’s family farm in P.E.I. Seemingly mundane details of the snow in February of 1936 in her grandmother’s handwriting has now become a treasured cutting board display more than 85 years later. These special items don’t appear out of thin air, so if you don’t have a handwritten piece, that’s OK. You can ask someone for their favourite recipe, lyrics to a song, or a special phrase, and have them or you write it out. For your print, it will need to be done on a laser printer (not inkjet) and printed in reverse image. If you don’t know what type of printer you have or how to reverse the image, simply go to a local print shop and explain your project and ask for help. To start, I added a thin coat of adhesive sealer using a foam brush and laid the print face down on the item. Using a hard plastic card, I dragged it over the print to get rid of any air bubbles. Any bubbles will mean the ink won’t adhere to the item, but if this happens, it’s OK, it just adds to the vintage nature of your piece. I also love the trend of layered cutting boards, so I intentionally offset the writing on this, making it the perfect layering piece. Next comes patience. Let the item dry for 24-72 hours. Once dry, I took a wet (not soaking) washcloth, allowing it to soak into a small area, gently rubbing away the paper with my fingers. If you notice the paper pulling back, just re-wet the cloth and try again. Remember, mistakes add charm, and you or your recipient will be so excited by the meaning of the piece, you won’t notice the small things. If you wish, you can use another coat of adhesive to seal the piece, but remember, while some brands of sealers are non-toxic, it’s not considered food-grade safe, so you may wish to keep this for display. Using regular school glue is an option, but this is only an adhesive, and won’t provide a seal that can add to the longevity of your project. A simple, inexpensive, and meaningful way to bring that special piece of paper to life. At Home on the North Shore

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For whatever your hearth desires. “Our passion is to provide you with the best in products and services to make your experience with us safe and enjoyable.” Wood Pellet Grills

Did you know that chimneys need to be cleaned and pellet stoves need to be serviced professionally once a year?

WE SERVICE WHAT WE SELL. Ironwood Series 885 Pellet Grill | Ironwood Series 650 Pellet Grill

• • • • •

Chimney Sweep sweeping services available Pellet stove cleaning WETT Inspections WETT certified Installations Serving Cumberland, Colchester, Pictou, Hants, and HRM

Give us a call at the end of your burning season, usually May/June to avoid delays in annual servicing & chimney cleaning. Gas Grills

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Come see us to stock up on all your favourite spices, sauces and rubs, and other Traeger accessories!

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Sherry Blinkhorn says, “When I opened Blinkhorn Real Estate Ltd. 17 years ago, I made a conscious decision not to join a national franchise so that, instead of having to send a percentage of dollars of commissions made out of this community, I would be able to donate at least 1% back to our county in some way, and I have done that every year. Supporting local is so important to us as a team, we hope that consumers always consider that as well when choosing a real estate company.”

Broker/Owner Sherry Blinkhorn 2021 Featured