Unravel May/June 2022

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COVID has been a hurricane of uncertainty for restaurateurs — the successful survivors behind Mappatura Bistro look ahead





Bruce Murray / VisionFire


the issue






Tim Houston's next challenge: Nova Scotia Power

The successful survivors


behind Mappatura Bistro

Can’t-miss events




History repeating

Charlotte Mendel fights


global warming

Line changes


14 THE HOUSING MARKET Greener housing



Angela Simmonds and

Fitzgerald & Lyle Streets

Claudia Chender seek to lead their parties and shake


up Province House

Out in the cold




The mysteries of the Nighttime podcast

Leaders need to make


some smart choices

Mead’s resurgence



transform the way we live

Bruce Murray / VisionFire


may/june vol 2 / issue 3 On the cover The last two years have been pivot after pivot for restaurateurs Simone Mombourquette and Terry Vassallo.

16 Julie MacLean

Virtual technology will

Green spaces for the common good Bruce Murray / VisionFire


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Who has the power? As concern over the climate crisis grows, Nova Scotia Power proves to be troublingly out of step with its province Tammy Fancy

W By Trevor J. Adams trevoradams@unravelhalifax.ca

UnravelHalifax @UnravelHalifax unravelhalifax

hether it's the ever-climbing bills, inexplicable blackouts, or vague and often misleading communication, Nova Scotia Power has a knack for irritating the people it serves. One of its latest missteps came in February, when the business announced plans to slap big fees on customers who generate their own solar power. The outcry was immediate. Solar panel installers said the move would destroy their businesses. Customers planning to convert to greener energy said they'd be unable to do so, thanks to the crippling new charges. Observers and environmentalists said the plan would hamstring the province's ambitions to fight the climate crisis. Leadership at Emera-owned Nova Scotia Power struggled to justify the move, with the public seeing no rationale beyond profit. The monopoly showed itself to be, starkly but unsurprisingly, out of touch with the citizens it's supposed to serve. Premier Tim Houston's policies have been hit-or-miss (join me on Twitter for an ongoing series I like to call “Hey! The pandemic is still happening!”) but he's no slouch at reading a room. He condemned Nova Scotia Power's scheme, making the utility back down with threats of new legislation, on which he's now following through. No doubt he had observed how Nova Scotia Power haunted Stephen McNeil, who rose to power in 2013 in part on a promise to break the monopoly and lower power charges, and then proved unable (or unwilling) to make any dramatic moves. So, Houston's question becomes: What now? Kiboshing a single boneheaded policy isn't so hard. But how does he get the utility to do what's best for Nova Scotia instead of what's most profitable for shareholders? Nova Scotia has a much-ballyhooed plan to stop producing coal-fired power, and the 2030 deadline looms. The province is home to many green energy boosters and entrepreneurs, with a host of ideas. And they report a common challenge: Nova Scotia Power is largely stymying their efforts, rather than working with them to hit the province's clean energy targets. Kevin Mullen is a geothermal entrepreneur who believes he has the answer. But he's uncertain he'll be able to convince government and utility policymakers to embrace it. “This affordable, clean, baseload power would be the crown jewel of all of Nova Scotia's energy mix,” he says. “You would think they'd be all over our proposal and trying to facilitate.” He senses “some enthusiasm” from government, but that's all. So, he waits for his phone to ring and Nova Scotia Power keeps pumping out greenhouse gasses and eschewing clean-energy technologies that other areas have embraced. Read more in Janet Whitman's feature “A strategy for Nova Scotia, not for Nova Scotia Power” on page 35. And what do you think? Are you happy with how Nova Scotia Power serves the province? Share your views in our next issue — email trevoradams@unravelhalifax.ca. Letters published at the editor's discretion; submissions will be edited.


Unravel NEWS

Unravel ONLINE

Angela Simmonds and Claudia Chender are changing the face of politics, and they both have their sights on the province’s top job. Ameeta Vohra reports on page 35.

The rise of VR technology generates a host of new opportunities for Halifax. Join Chris Benjamin for a journey into the metaverse on page 41.

A Roundup of daily news highlights, opinions, web exclusive features, and more: keep unravelling between issues at UnravelHalifax.ca.

MAY / JUNE 2022



VOL 2/ ISSUE 3 • DATE OF ISSUE: MAY 2022 PUBLISHER Fred Fiander • fredfiander@unravelhalifax.ca EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Crystal Murray • crystalmurray@unravelhalifax.ca

An intimate memoir and guide to overcoming imposter syndrome, stage fright, perfectionism, and embracing our most authentic selves. FROM SHOWING OFF TO SHOWING UP An Imposter’s Journey from Perfect to Present Nancy Regan

$26.95 | memoir/self-help 978-1-77471-031-9 | May

SENIOR EDITOR Trevor J. Adams • trevoradams@unravelhalifax.ca CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Jodi DeLong • jodidelong@unravelhalifax.ca Lori McKay • lorimckay@unravelhalifax.ca Janet Whitman • janetwhitman@unravelhalifax.ca VICE-PRESIDENT OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT Linda Gourlay • lindagourlay@unravelhalifax.ca ACCOUNT EXECUTIVES Stephanie Balcom • stephaniebalcom@unravelhalifax.ca Connie Cogan • conniecogan@unravelhalifax.ca Susan Giffin • susangiffin@unravelhalifax.ca Pam Hancock • pamhancock@unravelhalifax.ca SENIOR DIRECTOR CREATIVE DESIGN AND PRODUCTION Shawn Dalton • shawndalton@unravelhalifax.ca ART DIRECTOR Mike Cugno • mike@acgstudio.com PRODUCTION COORDINATOR Nicole McNeil • nicolemcneil@unravelhalifax.ca PRODUCTION AND DESIGN ASSISTANT Kathleen Hoang • kathleenhoang@unravelhalifax.ca DESIGNERS Roxanna Boers • roxannaboers@unravelhalifax.ca Rachel Lloyd • rachellloyd@unravelhalifax.ca Andrezza Nascimento • andrezzanascimento@unravelhalifax.ca

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Unravel is published six times annually by: Metro Guide Publishing, a division of Advocate Printing & Publishing Company Ltd. 2882 Gottingen St., Halifax, N.S. B3K 3E2 Tel: (902) 464-7258, Sales Toll Free: 1-877-311-5877 Contents copyright: No portion of this publication may be reprinted without the consent of the publisher. Unravel can assume no responsibility for unsolicited manuscripts, photographs, or other materials and cannot return same unless accompanied by SASE. Publisher cannot warranty claims made in advertisements. SUBSCRIPTION SERVICES Contact: Toll Free: 1-833-600-2870 subscriptions@unravelhalifax.ca PO Box 190 Pictou, N.S. B0K 1H0 SUBSCRIPTIONS If you are a Nova Scotia resident, subscribe now for free. Other provinces of Canada, $25. U.S.A. $40. Int. $75. (Taxes not included) Subscriptions are non-refundable. 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 At Home on the North Shore). 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. Canada Post Publications Mail Agreement No. 40064799

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JANET WHITMAN is a city-and nature-loving journalist who divides her time between Halifax and her cottage on the Northumberland Shore. She’s happiest digging in the dirt, picking up a hammer, or messing around in the kitchen.

KATIE INGRAM is a freelance writer, author, and journalism instructor based in Halifax.

MARIANNE SIMON is a writer and subeditor and has published many children’s stories, articles and poems in magazines and newspapers. Her interests include teaching and conducting Englishconversation classes.

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PAULINE DAKIN is a journalist, professor of journalism at the University of King’s College, and the award-winning author of Run, Hide, Repeat: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood.

BRUCE MURRAY has been creating food and lifestyle photography for more than 20 years in the Maritimes and in his original studio in Vancouver. visionfire.ca @VisionFire.

ALEC BRUCE is an awardwinning journalist whose bylines regularly appear in major Canadian and American publications. He is completing a master of fine arts (2022) in creative nonfiction at the University of King’s College in Halifax.

LORI McKAY has been working as a magazine and newspaper editor for more than 20 years. She recently completed a master of fine arts in creative nonfiction (and an almost-finished book) at the University of King’s College.

ROBYN McNEIL is a Nova Scotian writer and editor. She lives in Halifax with an awesome teen, a mischievous cat, and a penchant for good stories, strong tea, cheeseburgers, yoga, graveyards, hammocks, gardening, gaming, herb, and hoppy beer.

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AMEETA VOHRA is a news and sports writer with work published throughout North America. Her Halifax Magazine story “Thunderstruck” was a 2020 Atlantic Journalism Awards silver medallist.

CHRIS BENJAMIN is a journalist, editor and fiction writer. His fourth book, Boy With A Problem, was shortlisted for the Alistair MacLeod Prize for Short Fiction. His book, Eco-Innovators: Sustainability in Atlantic Canada, won the Best Atlantic-Published Book Award and was a finalist for the Richardson Non-Fiction Prize.

JULIE MacLEAN is a Nova Scotian illustrator and designer who is passionate about telling stories through her art. She loves creating imagery that is young, energetic, and meaningful.

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June 25-July 2, 2022 nstattoo.ca

Scan for tickets and more info!

Sometimes the difference between a good relationship and a great one is subtle. Cox & Palmer makes the difference crystal clear - that’s why Atlantic Canadians have relied on us for more than 165 years. Our lawyers draw on a deep understanding of their clients’ needs to provide strategic legal advice when it matters most. At Cox & Palmer, great relationships lead to great results.





Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

Music, art, festivals, and more — discover the season’s can’t-miss events


Yousuf Karsh was one of the greatest portraitists of his time, capturing revealing and defining images of the world’s most influential figures: people like Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Helen Keller, and Muhammad Ali, along with iconic Canadians Karen Kain, Marshall McLuhan, and Portia White. In this new exhibition, learn about his journey as an Armenian refugee and his rise to become one of the 20th century’s most influential photographers. pier21.ca/world-yousuf-karsh-a-private-essence

Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo JUNE 25 TO JULY 2, SCOTIABANK CENTRE

After two virtual seasons, the world’s largest annual indoor show of its type returns, featuring an international array of military and civilian acts — music, drills, acrobatics, comedy, and more. This year’s theme is “We stir the heart and call you home.” nstattoo.ca


Off the Eaten Path — Halifax Asian Food Festival MAY 16 TO 22, VARIOUS VENUES

Anne of Green Gables — The Ballet JUNE 8 TO 9, DALHOUSIE ARTS CENTRE

This playful, colourful, and evocative production by Ballet Jörgen (based on the beloved long-running Charlottetown musical) will transport audiences to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s whimsical vision of Victorian P.E.I., where an orphan named Anne Shirley brings light and life to the fictional town of Avonlea. canadasballetjorgen.ca

Stoo Metz

This annual celebration of Asian food and culture in Halifax features exclusive and specially priced foods and beverages at spots throughout the city. The last edition involved 26 restaurants representing six different Asian countries. offtheeatenpath.ca


Jim Orgill



6 Blue Nose Marathon MAY 21 TO 22

One of the city’s biggest annual sports events, the marathon takes runners on a 42.2-km route through the city, winding past Citadel Hill, through the North End, and downtown to Point Pleasant Park. There’s also a team relay, half marathon, 10K, 5K, and youth run. bluenosemarathon.com

The Rocky Horror Show MAY 3 TO JULY 26

Billed as a “playful and delicious sexcapade,” this is the story of wholesome sweethearts Brad and Janet, whose lives are upended when their car goes kaput in front of the eerie mansion of Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Exactly what you’d expect from the cult classic, smash-hit musical: sass backed with a tantalizing rock-and-roll score and outlandish dance scenes. neptunetheatre.com MAY / JUNE 2022




History repeating DARTMOUTH

Victorian Halifax had many institutions to help the poor, yet the wealth gap grew, and many tumbled through the cracks

North End

West End




ary O’Rouark, George W. Sutherland, Samuel Abnel. Today they are names on hundred-year-old paper, tucked carefully away in archival boxes. In life, they were also tucked away, but not with care. “There was a sense that for the poor, the responsibility for being in that state belonged to them,” says Steven Laffoley, author of the Halifax Poor House Fire. But then, as now, there are many reasons people land in poverty, and personal character usually isn’t the big determinant. In 1882, a fire destroyed the Halifax Poor House and killed 31 people. “It was probably the height of that 19th-century wealth gap,” says Laffoley, noting the gap is still very much with us. “That’s why I wrote the book; when you write one of these books you’re actually speaking about the present.” All history records of Mary O’Rouark is she was 20 years old when she died. Samuel Abnel was an inmate of the Halifax County Poor Farm in 1904 (he was listed as “insane” in his order for admission). George W. Sutherland was among those listed as “poor, insane paupers” in the care of the Hospital for the Insane in 1886. Dating back to its founding in 1749, Halifax attempted to fund and build institutions to help people like Rourke, Abnel, and Sutherland. They were of “good intent,” says Laffoley, but their approach was wrongheaded. “It didn’t lose sight of the piece that said (the poor) somehow deserved (it),” says Laffoley. “And if only they worked a little harder. Does it sound familiar? If only they had a little more education, they could lift themselves out. We were very reluctant to ask the big question: Is there something structurally wrong with our system?” Other institutions would also take poor Haligonians, like Mount Hope Asylum, workhouses, and the “Bridewell” on Spring Garden Road. (Bridewell is Victorian



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South End

Point Pleasant Park

POTTERS FIELD, WORKHOUSE, AND BRIDEWELL The former Spring Garden Road Memorial Library site is connected to many poor institutions. This includes a potters field, or burial ground for the poor. These graves were unmarked. It was also the site of a Bridewell and workhouse during the 1700 and 1800s, respectively. POOR HOUSE The second and third poor houses were located where the IWK now sits. Thirty (or 31, reports vary) people died when fire destroyed the building in 1882. NORTHWEST ARM PENITENTIARY Located in this general area, the Northwest Arm Penitentiary served as temporary housing for Poor House inmates after the 1882 fire.

Residents of the Cole Harbour Poor Farm.





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POOR FARM The Cole Harbour Poor Farm was a home to the poor and mentally ill from 1887 to 1929. Records show some patients were moved from Mount Hope Asylum to the farm, if they were deemed fit to work. Historians believe that more than 300 people died on the property and are buried in unmarked graves. POLICE LOCKUP AND POLICE COURT Often, Halifax’s poor would turn to other means of comfort or to try and make a few dollars. If what they did was considered criminal (such as: public drunkenness or prostitution), they were often arrested. After a night in the police lockup in the basement of city hall, they faced the police court. Sometimes they were sent to a place like the poor house, while other times they were give a short sentence at Rockhead, the city prison. MOUNT HOPE Originally an asylum, Mount Hope (now known as the Nova Scotia Hospital) was one of several institutions to take in poor paupers deemed mentally unfit. Care for the poor at many institutions was often supplemented by funds from whichever district in Halifax they were thought to be from.


slang for a prison). Halifax’s Bridewell was built in 1818 and closed in the late 1850s. It was part workhouse, part prison, meant to punish rather than rehabilitate and elevate. According to The Prison System in Atlantic Canada Before 1880 by Rainer Baehre, prisoners were forced to sleep on straw, and they needed to pay for higher quality clothing, blankets, and food. “The poorest inmates were sustained on a diet of molasses and tea,” says Baehre. As for the buildings specifically designed for the poor, the first was a workhouse established in 1752 near the site of the current Central Library. However, following a bill in 1758 that required the city to better support its impoverished residents, a poor asylum was built. That facility was replaced in 1867 with a building on the corner of South and Robie streets, where the IWK now sits. It was also the building O’Rouark and 29 (or 30, reports vary) others would die in during the Halifax Poor House Fire of 1882. Workers put up a new poor house on the same spot in 1886. Known as the City Home, it closed about 20 years later. Across the harbour, the Halifax County Poor Farm was on Bisset Road in Cole Harbour. According to the Cole Harbour Parks and Trails Association, from the time it opened in 1887 until closed in 1929 following a fire, over 300 people died there. “These were the lost souls — those for whom no one came either because there was no family, or family didn’t know they were here, or they had abandoned them,” says a Parks and Trails website about the unclaimed dead. While institutions, resources and a general understanding of poverty have improved, thousands of Nova Scotians still subsist with scant means. “We now know that there are ways in which we can meet this challenge, which we didn’t know before, and that maybe from that can come some better solutions,” Laffoley says. “Which isn’t to say we don’t have all these challenges in front of us; I just think we’re better positioned. The real question becomes, OK, if we’re well armed, then what’s the game plan?” s


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Line changes Local researcher Cheryl MacDonald explores how hockey is diversifying and better supporting young athletes BY AMEETA VOHRA PHOTOS BY BRUCE MURRAY/VISIONFIRE


heryl MacDonald’s father loved hockey, so she tried to take an interest in the sport. She watched games on TV and at local rinks. She even tried to play, but realized she lacked the gift. While completing her sociology honours degree, MacDonald found a new way to embrace hockey, combining her passion for it with her understanding of gender differences. Now a sports sociologist and researcher teaching in the health and wellness program at Saint Mary’s University, she is also the associate director of outreach for the university’s Centre for the Study of Sport and Health. MacDonald recently co-edited the book Overcoming the Neutral Zone Trap: Hockey’s Agents of Change. The Hockey News has celebrated her as a “social change advocate,” as she continues to study the barriers that prevent more people from participating in the sport. In the following interview, she offers a unique perspective on the current state of hockey culture, inclusiveness in the sport, societal barriers, and the role of education. Current hockey culture: “Attitudes have not changed enough. A lot of the former ways of doing things are no longer compatible with the goals and attitudes of folks who are coming up through the ranks, in charge, or the athletes as well. We’re finding a lot — uncovering a lot of stories of misconduct. We’re having a lot of disagreements on how hockey should move forward in terms of who should be included, why or how. There will continue to be growing pains as we sort that out. I’m also paying a lot of attention to the women’s professional side of hockey, where I see they’re having a struggle for legitimacy.”



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Societal barriers: “If someone suggests a different way of doing things, or including folks who are different, the immediate reaction is to say no. It’s not to say that the folks who are impeding that are inherently racist, sexist, homophobic, or anything like that ... But there is a chance that they’re not fully aware of it. The second barrier is the folks who are outwardly racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. That is a small group that exists, whether they’re from a different era, whether they don’t understand, or whether they have had their own negative experiences. There are folks who would rather not change the game of hockey, and that means keeping certain people in groups out ... The biggest barrier to inclusion for me has nothing to do with identity, necessarily, and everything to do with resources. There are so many folks who do not have access to money, ice time, and equipment.” Homosexuality in hockey: “Ten or 15 years ago, we wouldn’t even have been having this conversation ... My research has shown that at the younger levels, gay ice hockey players are fairly welcome on their teams. It tends to be at the most elite and competitive levels of men’s hockey specifically that it’s not yet fully safe to be gay ... It is more acceptable for you to identify as a homosexual man of hockey, as long as you don’t act in ways that are considered feminine, so if you are very tough and masculine, then it becomes more OK for you to be gay. If you are a particularly

skilled player, it then becomes more OK for you to be gay because winning happens at all costs at that level.” Women in hockey: “The women’s side is very different; you are often assumed to be a lesbian ... They have now descended into a deeper level of stereotyping and judgment where it seems to become more about not necessarily whether or not you’re lesbian, but how you present in terms of how feminine you are. In women’s hockey, sometimes the athletes will work very hard to present themselves as very feminine or very butch right now. It’s a different challenge, but still full of judgment and feeling the need to prove yourself.” Racism in hockey: “There is a severe culture of judgment and therefore, anything that makes you different will be used against you ... My research has shown that whether you identify as a person of colour, whether you suffered with or battled drug and alcohol addiction, whether you have mental health problems, whether you have been a victim of sexual abuse, whether you’re gay … it’s all about you being less welcome.” Inclusion movement: “We need to create an environment where athletes feel safe and welcome. That means having policies and rules in place that prohibits exclusive behaviour and attitudes, and also education. It’s important that we teach athletes to

Cheryl MacDonald is a sports sociologist and researcher at SMU. She's also the associate director of outreach for the Centre for the Study of Sport and Health.

love themselves. It’s important to instill selfconfidence in the athlete so they know they deserve to be there. They do have a right and then whoever has victimized them is definitely wrong. (We need to ensure) athletes understand they can be their authentic selves, and that they are loved as they are.” About Overcoming the Neutral Zone Trap: The book is “a collection of folks, academics, and keynote speakers from the hockey community, sharing their experiences … The second goal for us was to try to combine academics and empirical research with personal narrative in order to reach a wide audience. We wanted to be able to connect with the hockey fans, the academics, and hopefully everybody in between.” Mental health impacts on studentathletes: “My hockey research got shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic and I noticed the student athletes I had already been working with were quite obviously struggling when the pandemic hit, but I also noticed some of them were relieved because a lot of the stress was taken off them from their daily lives ... We’re not always doing all the things that university athletes need to feel whole.”

What we should be doing for young athletes: “Taking care of mental health is a big one. Having opportunities for socialization, learning about things like time management, for instance, having opportunities to engage in leadership, that transition into and out of university and university sports. Having academic support. I want athletes to feel it’s OK to have emotion and to not be OK. So, I’m interested in how to not just support their athletics and academics, but everything in between that makes them happier and a positive contributor to society.” What sports organizations and governments should do: “Buy in. If not, everybody is not on the same page in terms of what needs to happen to promote inclusion; it’s not going to happen because we’ll be paddling the boat in separate directions. Buy in is having everyone on board agree that this is what is best and proceeding accordingly ... Policy should be number one. They have the agency to implement rules in which you have no choice but to engage in diversity, inclusion, and equity training. You have no choice but to learn about how to be less judgmental and more open minded. It’s one thing to have a rule stating you cannot make a racial slur during the game, it’s another to actually mandate the changing of attitudes so folks understand why they can’t behave in inappropriate ways.”

902-499-1323 Jarrett@reddoorrealty.ca reddoorrealty.ca

The future: “Progress in hockey culture is one step forward, two steps back. We’re probably going to continue to have twice as many steps back but ... that’s still a lot of steps forward from where we are right now. I don’t think we’re ever going to fully eradicate hate and prejudice from sports, but the evidence suggests we are indeed moving forward.”

This interview is edited for conciseness and clarity. MAY / JUNE 2022




Greener housing


Buildings are the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases in Halifax. HRM is ramping up efforts to get homeowners to fix that


Contribution of Halifax buildings to greenhouse gas emissions


Energy consumption reduction target for buildings by 2040




alifax homeowners might get a new incentive to spend on upgrades like heat pumps and spray-foam insulation: mandatory stickers showing a home’s energy efficiency. Lara Ryan, a sustainability solutions consultant who’s helping the municipality work towards net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, says the possibility of requiring an efficiency assessment before a home is sold is one of many ideas to spur more deep energy retrofits. Buildings account for 70 per cent of HRM’s greenhouse gas emissions and the municipality aims to cut energy consumption by half by 2040. To get there, 5,000 homes a year need extensive efficiency upgrades. “To be able to reduce your energy consumption by at least 50 per cent, you’re going to have to do more than one thing,” says Ryan. Usually it’s a combination of three, such as swapping out an oil furnace for a heat pump, insulating and air sealing for drafts, and adding solar panels. Other jurisdictions in Canada are looking at requiring EnerGuide labels (official ratings given to energy-audited homes) as homes go on the market. “It would be a gamechanger here,” says Ryan. “If your house was rated 85 and your neighbour’s house was 64, and the houses are essentially the same except for their energy systems, which house is going to be more attractive? Obviously the one that has the lower energy cost.” It falls under provincial jurisdiction, but some cities have charters that enable them to implement the measure. “We’re looking at it for Halifax,” says Ryan. “There have been lots of conversations about it here in Nova Scotia. We’re not there yet.” Andrew Gilroy, vice-president of the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors Association, likes the idea. While it might be a headache for some sellers to add booking efficiency tests to other paperwork and appointments, the additional knowledge is a plus for buyers and their realtors, he says. “The way things are moving in this market, and a lot of buyers buying without being here, the more information they can be given, the better.” In a frenzied market like Halifax’s, pretty much anything sells. Gilroy’s association doesn’t track whether energy upgrades boost a home’s value. The evidence is anecdotal, and it’s far from clear to what degree making a home more efficient pays off when the “for sale” sign goes up. Having energy efficiency information at the ready for buyers could put a tangible value on doing the right thing for the environment. Armed with that information, more Haligonians might spend on greener homes.



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The number of homes a year that need deep energy retrofits to meet reduction goal


0 66 to 74 81 to 85 100

EnerGuide’s lowest rating for houses with major air leakage, no insulation, and high fuel consumption

Typical EnerGuide range for an energy-efficient, upgraded older home

Typical range for a new home

Rating for a “net-zero” home


The View: Fitzgerald & Lyle Streets

Date: 2021 Medium: Giclée print on watercolour paper Size: 11” x 14”


rian Hotson’s work starts with photographs of payphones, recycling bins, sheds, and utility poles: the things and forms of life, “embedded with us, and mostly unnoticed.” Hotson abstracts these forms, imbuing them with vivid light and colour — simultaneously modern and nostalgic. His work asks viewers to consider what we notice, asserting the energy of the unnoticed, the radiance of the ordinary. See his work at the Dart Gallery on Portland Street in Dartmouth. He is part

of an upcoming exhibition Spectra, running May 29 to June 19 at the Ice House Gallery in Tatamagouche. From the artist: “The bridges are central to how Dartmouth and Halifax work. On this corner, Fitzgerald & Lyle, you can see where the bridge sits. I use this colour palette to create abstract architecture to refocus perception of everyday things, especially those deeply embedded into our routines.”




Out in the cold A new life doesn’t come easily — a Bangladeshi immigrant shares her experiences starting anew in Halifax BY MARIANNE SIMON ILLUSTRATION BY JULIE MacLEAN


hen textile engineer Tori Bhattacharya (name changed) graduated from university in her native Bangladesh, she wanted to pursue her career abroad, a dream she didn’t realize until settling in Halifax in October 2021. “After completing my engineering degree, I wanted to go to the U.S. or Germany for higher studies, but my conservative parents believed it wouldn’t be safe for me to travel to or live in a foreign country all by myself,” she recalls. When asked why she came to Canada, she says, “Oh, that is a long story. My sister’s friend used to come home often and slowly we got to know her family. Her brother had recently settled down in Canada. They were looking for a bride for him and they proposed marriage between me and him. Later we were introduced, photographs exchanged, and we communicated over the telephone for some months.” During Christmas holidays, he went to Bangladesh, and they married. “Ten days after our wedding he had to return to Canada,” she says. “I applied for a Canadian visa which took 10 months to come through.” Travelling alone during the pandemic was hard. “It was my first journey to a foreign country, and I found it long and exhausting,” Bhattacharya says. Her reaction to Halifax was mixed. “When I reached here, my husband, his sister, and her family were waiting to welcome me to my new home,” she says. “It was a happy occasion. But I found the city too small and sparsely populated.” The Canadian climate was a shock. “As soon as I got down from the plane, the cold air hit me,” she says. “For someone like me who had lived in a tropical country all her life, Canadian air felt too cold even in October. Then the snow came, and I shivered in spite of the many



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layers of clothing I was wearing. And shovelling snow was back breaking.” Bhattacharya had to quickly learn all those little tricks for surviving winter that seasoned Canadians take for granted. “I found walking on the snow really difficult,” she says. “I had to wear bulky winter boots and practise walking. I fell a few times and once I hurt my arm and leg badly. I shudder at the thought that I will have to face winter every year.” And things got worse. “After I came to Canada, I suffered from severe vitamin deficiency,” she says. “My mouth was covered with sores, and I got very sick. I was in excruciating pain. In four months, I had to go to the hospital emergency department three times. Every time I had to wait for seven to eight hours before I could get any help. My husband was working, and I had to go there alone. I sat there and cried every time.” She believes it would’ve been much easier to get the health care she needed back in Bangladesh. “There, I could walk into any clinic or private hospital and get immediate help,” she says. “If I didn’t have money, I could go to a government hospital where emergency cases are attended to without much delay. I am concerned about my health, and I am afraid. What will I do if I become seriously ill again?” Today, her most pressing need is a career. “I have been sending out applications for jobs, but received no response from any employer,” she says. “I realize that a degree in textile engineering will not be of much use. My best bet, I think, will be to take a twoyear course in information technology and then look for work in that field.” And meanwhile, Bhattacharya hopes for warmer weather, and tries to stay patient and persevering.


The Nighttime Delving into Nova Scotian crimes and unsolved mysteries

Photo: Submitted


Jordan Bonaparte


ova Scotian Jordan Bonaparte first launched his Nighttime podcast in 2015, aiming to provide audio documentaries that explore topics like crime, unsolved mysteries, and the all-around weird. Marrying in-depth research with expert interviews, he’s built a reputation as a fair and comprehensive storyteller, with the award-winning series now available as a podcast, a live YouTube show, and a nationally syndicated radio show. His quirky tales of UFOs and the supernatural grab much of the attention, but his most important work has been on serious issues — championing the cause of a Nova Scotia Power worker killed on the job, and prodding the police on several missing-persons cases. He’s also done dozens of episodes on the Nova Scotia mass shooting, digging to learn the truth about why it took the RCMP so long to stop the attack.




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COVID has been a hurricane of uncertainty for restaurateurs — the successful survivors behind Mappatura Bistro look ahead BY ROBYN McNEIL PHOTOS BY BRUCE MURRAY/VISIONFIRE


longside the tiny bar on the left of Mappatura Bistro’s front door hangs a multipicture frame. Moments preserved in time. At the top is a photo of the staff taken on what would be the restaurant’s last night of service before the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020. In it, staff crammed into the small stainless-steel kitchen look to the camera with smiles and uncertainty. They knew something unusual was afoot but would never imagine how quickly the world would change.



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The very last night before the end of the world For Simone Mombourquette, who owns Mappatura with partner (and chef) Terry Vassallo, the last weekend before the pandemic forced the world to pause evokes vivid memories. That Friday, emails began hitting her inbox, cancelling their daughter’s extracurriculars. The restaurant, however, had a full house that night. Mombourquette didn’t work, but says staff told her customers didn’t seem overly affected. She thinks that’s likely because everyone lacked a frame of reference. For most, nothing in the past affected our lives the way COVID would. “We were not quite sure what we were dealing with. So, life was going on,” says Mombourquette. But “it just felt like, wow, something’s going down.” Saturday night, Mombourquette worked. And the restaurant was jam-packed, like a tin of sardines, she recalls. People were seated right to the end of the communal table. “It was incredible,” she adds. “I’ll never forget it. There was no talk about what was going on outside of these walls. People were having a good time. They were happy, joyous, like the last kick of the can.”

The end of the world as we knew it Every year during March break, Mombourquette and Vassallo go to the Prince George for a night with their daughter. By the time they made it back to Mappatura on Monday, the list of local closures had only grown. The next day, on March 17, bars and restaurants joined the closures, though restaurants could offer takeout and delivery. “We were just kind of shell shocked,” says Vassallo. “Honestly, the first thought on our mind was our staff. Here are these people that are just like family to us, and the floor has just fallen out from underneath them.” When the hammer fell, being able to come through for their staff was a “huge, huge worry,” said Mombourquette. She says their first thought was, “Do we have enough money to pay our staff? Yes.” Next, “What about our suppliers?” Mombourquette said they started with the small ones “just like us,” who depend on their businesses for survival.

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Before the plague


“Terry and Simone are the most lovely people to work with and for,” says Maggie Phillips, a career server with Mappatura since it opened in 2016, “because of their years of experience of working with other people. And for other people. They’ve just taken all the things they’ve learned, the good and bad. And they create a really nice place to work because of that.” As with many restaurants, there was a lot of hype when Mappatura first opened. Often that initial burst lulls when the shine wears off. Things eventually plateau for the restaurants that stick around and then level off. When the pandemic hit, Mappatura was about 3.5 years old. It survived the opening frenzy and ensuing dip. And in the months just before the shutdown, says Mombourquette, the business became “very solid and steady.” Phillips adds: “It was a lot of very familiar faces every week. It was chaos, in a great way.” Busy is good for a small business, especially one that supports an entire family and a small staff. One declaration of emergency later, all that was all gone. The chaos, however, was far from over.

Fortunately, Mappatura had already been tinkering with the idea of adding some takeout options before the government-mandated shutdown. Mombourquette had even started building the menu, so when dine-in was no longer an option, she could focus on making to-go happen. If they’d had to close entirely, she explains, the revenue loss would have finished Mappatura: “Most small, independently owned restaurants don’t have that buffer ... I feel like we slipped into a different mode. Survival mode, you know? And by Thursday, we were doing takeout.” Running a small business requires a fair amount of nimbleness, which served them in good stead during the pandemic. “Your whole life is pivoting,” Vassallo says. “It’s just a series of pivots … So, four years in, Simone and I’d already done quite a bit of pivoting. We just kept it moving.” The flip to takeaway allowed the restaurant to stay afloat, but they say they still had to lay people off. For a while, there were many unknowns for Mappatura’s small team. For Phillips, whose husband works in the hospitality industry, too, things seemed dire. “For months, we didn’t know if there would be an industry to come back to. And it was terrifying,” Phillips says. She soon returned a couple of mornings a week at the coffee window. “It was wonderful just to get out of the house and talk to people again ... The coffee window became lunch on the patio, which became a few tables inside. And the next thing you know, we’re serving inside again.” Takeout was the key, Phillips adds: “(A) brilliant move done quickly by Terry and Simone.”

“We didn’t know if there would be an industry to come back to. And it was terrifying” — Maggie Phillips



Back to the future These days, “normal” means getting back into the usual routine. Mombourquette and Vassallo begin each day at Mappatura a little after 9 a.m. For Mombourquette, that means checking messages, doing the cash from the night before, and cleaning the restaurant top to bottom. “It’s super unglamorous,” Mombourquette says. Next up: wine or liquor orders, either picking them up or putting them away. Then it’s time to go over reservations and takeout for the night and the week ahead. “Social media, it’s not great, but it’s me,” she says. “I do all of that stuff.” Vassallo, adds Mombourquette, comes in the morning and just starts cooking. And he’s usually at it until he walks out the door that night. One of his first tasks each day is making pasta. “It’s an opportunity to go through a little bit of muscle memory but still use the time for introspection, problem-solving,” he says. “And I start my day, every day, the same way.” Then come the small-batch sauces that need replenishing. Calling suppliers and sourcing ingredients follows. “I truly start my morning, every morning, talking to our fish supplier.”

“(The pandemic) was devastating. But it ... allowed us to stand back and take an inventory of what’s important” — Terry Vassallo

Getting by with a bit of help from your friends For any small business, the relationships built with suppliers can be critical. That became even more apparent as the pandemic upended the supply chain. “It was devastating,” Vassallo says. “But it was a correction that happened that allowed us to stand back and take an inventory of what’s important.” The pandemic clarified the importance of fostering and maintaining those relationships. And the last years only cemented those connections. One of those connections is Ted Hutten of Hutten Family Farms. Hutten has been farming for more than 30 years. These days 90 per cent of his business is direct-to-customer retail. The remaining 10 per cent is spots like Mappatura. And when it comes to wholesale, Hutten only works with a chosen few. “I’ve always liked Terry and Simone,” he says. Hutten says that throughout the pandemic, Mappatura and the other restaurants the farm supplies did their best to support those suppliers by ordering and keeping up on payments. He appreciates those efforts. For Vassallo, suppliers like Hutten, Espresso 46, and Roma Cheese made the difference. “It meant a lot to us because you felt that support,” he says. “We’re only a small restaurant, but we also felt maybe they were interpreting it the same way, that we were there to support them.” As a result, the relationships are much stronger now. “They always give me something good to eat when I go there, a treat,” says Ciro Comencini, the maker behind Roma Cheese. Wednesdays are long for Comencini. It’s the day he makes his deliveries in the city. Often his last stop before venturing back to Hants County is Mappatura. “He’s really got the Italian blood,” Comencini adds. “He’s always got a meatball for me, a cup of coffee.”

Chef Terry Vassallo and Simone Mombourquette

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Silver linings As tough as things have been, they could be worse, says Mombourquette. “That’s one thing that we’ve certainly become very aware of with what’s going on in the world right now,” she says. “Now when I go to sleep at night, I lay there. And I’m like, I’ve got a roof over my head. I’m warm. I’m not hungry. And we’re safe.” And Mombourquette reports a surprising realization. “I like my business more than I did before the pandemic,” she says. “I love it. Because it became more like us.” Anyone that owns a restaurant can tell you about the challenges. But those you know about in advance. “(COVID) was a big surprise,” she says. If they had known the pandemic was coming, would they have chosen to do something else? “For sure,” Mombourquette says. “Very few restaurants are actually making money right now. Everyone’s trying to survive.”



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At this point, her biggest fear is a massive resurgence of the pandemic that triggers another lockdown. It “would be devastating,” she says. Meanwhile, Mombourquette has several ideas brewing, but wants to see what happens to the local economy over the coming months. “We’re cautious,” she says. “But we’re cautiously optimistic ... People have to appreciate that and realize that this is nothing in the grand scheme of things. We’re lucky to still have the opportunity to try to keep going. Because a lot of people don’t.” Phillips agrees. “People are definitely looking forward,” she says, adding that she thinks people will soon fall in love with their favourites all over again. And she can’t wait. “It’s just so lovely to see people come back and settle in their chair and be like, ‘Oh this feels familiar. This feels nice.’”

Server Maggie Phillips says she believes diners are keen to return to their familiar places and routines.

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THE NEW ECO-WARRIOR’S MUSE Halifax author Charlotte Mendel puts her prodigious talent to work fighting global warming. With her new book, she wants the next generation to know they “can do it” one step at a time BY ALEC BRUCE PHOTOS BY BRUCE MURRAY/VISIONFIRE



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When you’re in a dire situation, that is when the greatest of human nature comes out” — CHARLOTTE MENDEL


alifax author Charlotte Mendel’s latest book is about a boy who travels into the past to save the world from climate change, and, yes, she would like to talk about it. After all, Reversing Time: One Boy’s Quest to Change History (Guernica Editions, Montreal, 2021) is her third novel and her first for a young adult reader. But that can wait. First, we must play “the game.” Sitting at her computer in her home in Enfield, N.S., she shares her screen on the video link. “So, you are no longer Alec Bruce,” she says. “You are Climate Hawk.” “Uh-huh, got it … Climate Hawk,” I say. “So, Climate Hawk, you are in the interactive, online World Climate Simulation game and global warming is heading towards 3.6 C. Your goal is to get it down to two or, even better, 1.5. Can you do it?” She moves her cursor to point out a series of boxes containing options for energy efficiency in generation, transportation, and agriculture — the gamut of human activity. What the hell? I think, before choosing to tax coal into oblivion. “Whoa,” she says. “Now that’s good. You just brought the planet’s mean temperature down by half a degree. How do you feel?” I shrug. But I feel like a kid who just learned how to ride a bike. “Good,” she smiles, switching screens to chat. “Essentially, it’s the same as the book,” in which the teenage protagonist discovers he isn’t powerless to change the world.

In fact, she came across the game (the product of an American university project) while she worked on the book. “In Reversing Time, I wanted to aim at young people where, I think, there is a real sense of despair,” she says. “Too often, we are using the wrong language with them.” Like her book, the game strives to use effective language. “When you’re in a dire situation, that is when the greatest of human nature comes out,” she says. “I want people to see that this is actually an exciting time. We need to galvanize everyone to focus on what they can actually do.” Book or game, “you can do it” is the message Mendel, who grew up in Mahone Bay and has spent a good deal of time travelling and working abroad, now deploys nearly every waking moment broadcasting to the rest of the world. She’s not a scientist. But she can talk. And she can write. “No other challenge is more important, more urgent, than climate change,” she says. “(That’s) what I want people to remember me by in the short time that I might be remembered.” Not that being forgotten seems likely for Mendel, who’s also the author of Turn Us Again (Roseway/Fernwood, 2013), which won the H.R. Percy Novel Prize, the Beacon Award for Social Justice, and the Atlantic Book Award in the Margaret and John Savage First Book category. Her second novel, A Hero (Inanna Publications, 2015) was shortlisted for the 2016 William

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Saroyan International Prize for Writing, and was a finalist in the 2016 International Book Awards in the General Fiction category. “Charlotte preaches in her writing what she practises in her life, and that makes her unique,” says Michael Mirolla, Guernica’s publisher and editor-in-chief. “She combines impulsiveness and hyperactivity with the courage to take chances and a determination to get things done in areas where she’s passionate. She puts into her writing the same passion she uses to advocate for her beliefs … (That) translates into imaginative leaps.” In Reversing Time, the bullied highschool student Simon learns from his mother that he is a member of a secret tribe of time travellers. He is further shocked to discover they expect him to help halt humanity’s doomed course towards self-extinction. A recent review by the Canadian Review of Materials, which focuses on literature for young adults, calls it “a complicated tale, filled with information about what we are doing to the planet and glimpses of a possible future, told mainly from the point of view of a conflicted teenager.” Adds Mirolla: “The book tackles what is probably the most dangerous crisis humanity has ever faced, while at the same time detailing the life of a struggling teenager as seen through his eyes. In her writing … (she) transforms events in her life so that they become universal.” With an overall Goodreads rating of 4/5, many bibliophiles seem to agree. “Travelling only along one’s own timeline is a nice twist,” writes one. “Focusing on the environment and the survival of humankind was another twist. I have already sent this book around the preteen circuit in my neighbourhood.” Says another: “The set pieces are well rendered and the characters believable. Mendel handles tension with dexterity and the book is expertly paced. The interactions, particularly between the main protagonist and his parents, are sensitively and dexterously handled. A great read and highly recommended.” Waslyna Bendel, a Grade 12 student at East Hants Rural High School, is also a fan. “What intrigues me about Reversing Time is the message it is trying to get across, and how intensely it makes you think about your own impact on the earth,” she tells Unravel. “This is a book that’s worth publishing because it gives you a glimpse into our future if we don’t do something about climate change.”



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She adds that the book has a way of reaching readers. “She is able to drive her point home and ask the uncomfortable questions most people would just bypass,” Bendel says. “She is also able to make you relate to, and butt heads with, the main character.” As for the subtextual meta message, the whole you-can-do-it thing? “It has made me think about my impact on the planet, and the role I play in climate change,” Bendel says. “It has made me think and worry about our future. What will our planet look like in the next 10, 20 years? What can I do differently and what could others do differently to help?” Mendel doesn’t recall just when the climate emergency became so personal to her. She doesn’t seem especially interested in dwelling on the details that usually fill out a bio: influences, teachers, siblings, parents … turning points. When she was a younger woman, she sojourned in Israel to study at Tel Aviv University. Later, she spent three years travelling the world, working in France, the U.K., Turkey, Israel, and India. Later still, she and her husband and two children began keeping as many as 20 chickens, four goats, three sheep, two cats, and thousands

You are in the interactive, online World Climate Simulation game and global warming is heading towards 3.6 C. Your goal is to get it down to two or, even better, 1.5. Can you do it?” — CHARLOTTE MENDEL

of bees at their spread in suburban Halifax. “I had a little hobby farm and some goats, and I used to walk down the street and people would really enjoy it,” she says, almost offhandedly. “I used to give milk and cheese to the neighbours, and eggs from the chickens and honey from the bees.” On the other hand, Mendel clearly recounts how she felt when the global warming “light bulb went on” for her about six years ago. “I was very defensive,” she laughs. “I was talking with someone whom I’d admired very much, and they pointed out something that I was doing or not doing. I reacted and they said, ‘I’m sorry but I’m sick of hearing that.’ So I went away and just thought, ‘You know, that was true what they said.’ I started to think a lot about what the point is of our lives, anyway.” That’s clearly the question that matters most to her now: What constitutes a truly “good” life in these years of living precariously? Mirolla has known Mendel for about a decade. “I’ve had the opportunity to visit her ... and watch her care for her animals and listen to her talk passionately about her ideas on the environment,” he says. “Her unique voice comes from that

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There are a lot of people who are concerned ... We can attend climate rallies and we can (advocate) with MPs” — CHARLOTTE MENDEL



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personal dedication to the principles of conservation and trying to live a life that pays attention to the environment and reducing our carbon footprint, he says. Mendel believes a lot of people think the corporations want us to address global warming even though they are responsible. “It’s all of us, all of us who are doing it,” she says. “And so, yes absolutely, if you have time, lobby the corporations, write the petitions, complain to the government, and vote strategically. But we, individually, still have to do it.” On this score, she doesn’t think Halifax is doing a bad job. This coastal city stands to lose as much and perhaps more than many communities when the mercury rises. She wishes for it what she wishes for everyone, everywhere on this benighted Earth: enlightenment. “I think there’s a lot going on here,” she says. “There are a lot of people who are concerned. I think that there’s sometimes a disconnect, but we can attend climate rallies and we can (advocate) with MPs.” For her part, she plans to keep writing. She has another book in the hopper. And, course, there’s the World Climate Simulation game, created by the Climate Interactive lobby group. She says she’s already run the program, with great success, at 75 schools in England. Now, she hopes to bring it into Nova Scotia classrooms. “I’ve gone to the Department of Education and had a meeting with them about the World Climate Simulation,” she says. “I think they’re going to attend one of the sessions. I think they are really interested in it.” Book or game; chicken or egg. “I guess I really wanted to use the game as a sort of segue for Reversing Time, because I’m not very good at publication (promotions). That’s been the idea. And I’ve made lots of connections with schools. Really, the book and the simulation are doing the same thing. They’re both saying: This is the situation.” Fair enough. But right now, the situation is: I have a choice. Our game is still afoot. Is my next move to electrify all major transportation across the planet? “Let’s go for it,” I say. “Wow, that’s fantastic,” she says. “That’s a two-degree cut right there.” I lean back in my ergonomically perfect chair that came to me on a container ship and smile to myself. It’s just a game. It’s only fiction. But it feels real.

CHANGING the FACE of POLITICS Nova Scotia has never elected a woman premier — Angela Simmonds and Claudia Chender are both working to change that.

Bruce Murray / VisionFire


Angela Simmonds (left) and Claudia Chender are running to lead their political parties.


pproached about running for the Liberals one month before the provincial election in 2021, Angela Simmonds didn’t just have her eyes on a seat in the legislature — she wanted to lead the party. While she was executive director of the Land Titles Initiative, a government initiative to help Black Nova Scotians get clear title of their land, she came to a crossroads. “I was in a position where I could make some changes, but also wasn’t at the top to enforce the changes,” she says. “It’s hard to work within those boundaries and not

be able to create legislation for change. My frustration was that we are building relationships and having conversations, but we’re not changing the minds of people who are developing these policies in other departments.” Simmonds has faced racism and sexism throughout her life. “I remember being followed back to my office, someone closing the door and telling me I should only speak when I’m spoken to — I’m a new lawyer, a woman, and that was not the time for me to speak,” she says. MAY / JUNE 2022 UNRAVEL



Angela SIMMONDS ƥ Born and raised in Cherry Book. ƥ Was a lawyer, social advocate, and community leader: executive director of Title Land Initiatives and manager of access with the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society. She also articled at Nova Scotia Legal Aid’s Halifax Youth Office and received a Juris Doctorate from Dalhousie University. ƥ With the grassroots North Preston Recovery Initiative (under Title Land Initiatives), Simmonds pushed government to commit $2.7 million to address the legacy of systemic racism relating to land ownership in historic Black Nova Scotian communities. As an MLA, Angela Simmonds sees a continuous effort to learn more as key to her job.



“I remember feeling in that moment so enraged ... It wasn’t because I wasn’t smart enough to be in the room or the issues weren’t relevant, but because I was a Black woman. That’s a moment that has shaped me.” Claudia Chender has faced sexism too. An MLA since 2017, she had gotten many “weird” correspondences, but she expected that, acknowledging politics requires thick skin. One experience with another MLA, an older woman, stays with her though. “(She) said to me on several occasions, ‘Wow, you have a young family. I could never have done this job when I had small children; I would have felt too guilty,’” she says. “That comment stopped me in my tracks because it was designed to kind of pierce that softest, most vulnerable part of being a mom, which is that you constantly feel worried and guilty that you’re going to mess up your kids.” That fuelled her decision to seek the NDP leadership. “I have twin daughters. They’re 10, and I want them to know they can use their voice to do whatever they want,” she says. Chender says she never aspired to be leader. Shortly after last year’s election, Gary Burrill announced his resignation. People began urging Chender to run and after two months, she decided to make the leap. “There are barriers we can certainly break down for women, gender queer folks and all kinds of people who face challenges and are marginalized,” she says. “The reality is that being a parent of small children is a lot: having busy, fulfilling work and being a parent. It made sense that I continue to push our vision forward: a Nova Scotia where governments work for everyone.” Chender entered politics out of frustration with how Stephen McNeil’s government handled education and labour issues and the cancellation of the film tax credit. She wanted to amplify underrepresented voices.

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ƥ Worked as a community outreach worker with the Halifax School Board and was an employment counsellor with the YMCA. She helped run family-owned J&J Cleaning Company and was an administrative assistant at the IWK Health Centre’s psychology department. ƥ In 2020, Simmonds was named Top 100 Accomplished Black Canadian (ABC) Women. She has won numerous awards for her work in the community including the Dr. Burnley Allan “Rocky” Jones Human Rights Award and Judge Corinne Sparks Award. ƥ Has volunteered with Feed Nova Scotia, the Buddy Daye Learning Institute, the Preston Bulls Basketball Association, the Tatamagouche Centre, and the Electoral Boundary Commission. ƥ Simmonds was first elected as an MLA for Preston in August 2021 and is the House of Assembly’s first Black Deputy Speaker. ƥ Married with three children, Simmonds enjoys spending her downtime with them and her three-year-old grandson.

Her galvanizing moment as an MLA was thenpremier Stephen McNeil's dispute with the teacher's union. Her son was locked out for a day, work to rule was in effect, and he did not have a Christmas concert. While the Work to Rule legislation was debated in the House, she felt it was a flawed bill. The NDP proposed many amendments to the bills; the reaction of teachers in the province motivated her to run.

Samson Learn Samson Learn

“Pages started bringing in notes and piling them on my desk,” she says. “There were notes, phone messages from teachers around the province, saying, ‘Thank you for fighting for us and for doing this. Know that we’re all watching.’ I believe that we can have a government that actually can respond to the real lives and communities of this province, rather than making decisions based on spreadsheets.” Both Simmonds and Chender could change Nova Scotia’s political landscape, with women leading both opposition parties. Simmonds would be the first Black leader of a major Nova Scotian political party. Throughout Canada’s history, women and people in marginalized groups have been underrepresented in political office, explains Erin Crandall, a political science professor at Acadia University. “We see that elected politics continues to be a predominantly male and white venture, so a lot of the barriers exist within political parties,” she says. “We can identify that when political parties themselves make the effort to recruit from underrepresented groups, that this is the first stage that needs to happen … We have seen some change in attitudes amongst political parties that there is greater effort to recruit from groups that historically have not been well represented in elected politics.”

Claudia CHENDER ƥ First elected as MLA in 2017, represents Dartmouth South in the House of Assembly; the first woman House leader of a recognized party in Nova Scotia. ƥ NDP critic for Justice, the Status of Women, Economic Development, Natural Resources and Renewables, and Fisheries and Aquaculture. ƥ A longtime member of the Dartmouth Business Commission, Chender now sits as ex-officio. Advocates for a vibrant, locally owned, and supported business community. ƥ A lawyer, graduated from University of Victoria in 2004. Studied anthropology and political science, earning a bachelor of arts from Dalhousie University in 1999. She also has publishing and business experience. ƥ Chender has a partner and is mother to three school-aged children.

After being one of a record-high four Black members elected to the House last summer, Simmonds became the first Black deputy speaker in Nova Scotian history. Chender has broken barriers being the first woman House leader in the province. While in opposition, both have reached across party lines to propose and pass legislation. Simmonds introduced the Dismantling Racism and Hate Act, which is scheduled to return to legislature during the spring session. Meanwhile, Chender successfully championed legislation creating no-protest spaces around hospitals for women accessing reproductive health care. Only seven months into political office, Simmonds continues to adjust to her role. Before she was an MLA, Simmonds played the role of social advocate, championing issues affecting her community. Now, she sees her duty more as learning and navigating conversations. “That’s been the most challenging because I’m a strong voice: I speak truth to power,” she says. “Sometimes you’re labelled ... as a Black woman with a chip on her shoulder. My riding is very diverse … [I’m] often asked how would I serve the other communities that

Claudia Chender says her colleagues inspire her, as they teach her how to help people in her role

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don’t look like me. I care if my son can buy a house. I care that we have jobs. My predecessor didn’t look like all the communities they served, but was there for 16 years.” Chender considers herself lucky to be elected into an NDP caucus where mothers of school-aged children are in the majority, but still sees many obstacles. “One of the things I’ve championed since I was elected is a whole suite of democratic reforms … like a legislative parliamentary calendar,” she says. “When we’re going into the legislature, how long we’ll be there and what will our hours be? Most people know their hours and terms of employment. We don’t. All of that becomes much more difficult for somebody who has limited means, mobility or capacity in any way. It’s impossible. By not having those structures that allow everyone to be able to participate in this work in the same way, it’s a very strong barrier to many people who might not ever think of putting their name forward.”

“We still very much live in a patriarchal world and culture ... Our legislature is not a welcoming space for everyone”

Bruce Murray / VisionFire

— Claudia Chender



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Chender says she draws inspiration from her colleagues, including Susan Leblanc, Lisa Lachance, and Suzy Hansen, as they teach her how to effectively help people. Chender’s primary role model is late NDP leader Alexa McDonough. “She always advocated for what she thought was right, regardless of the political tides of the day, and she did it clearly, fiercely and forcefully,” she says. “She earned the respect of everyone around her. She is such a model for how to do this work with authenticity, integrity, to be effective.” Simmonds cites former lieutenant-governor Mayann Francis as a mentor. She adds that she finds political role models scarce in Nova Scotia. “There has not been many people that look like me,” she says. “The only people really who, at the core, guide and motivate me to do all things are my children.” Chender believes misogyny is why more women don’t seek the top jobs in Nova Scotian politics. She points to when McDonough was first elected. “There were constant questions impugning her basic reputation, status as a woman and a mother,”

she says. “That was the reality for a long time. At this moment in Nova Scotia politics, that is less common, although not altogether gone. We still very much live in a patriarchal world and culture. We still fail to address and unpack that properly. Our legislature is not a welcoming space for everyone. We continue to chip away at that edifice.” And while there are fewer men in the legislature, much remains the same. “The idea that it’s magically going to change as more women come in, I think is fantasy on some level,” she says. “It’s heavy lifting; it takes time, effort, and we’re just continuing to put in that effort.” Money also keeps women and people of colour out of politics. To fund her leadership run, Simmonds had to raise $30,000. One way of fundraising was asking her network of friends to donate $1,000 each, making them eligible for tax rebates. “Some of our communities that still struggle, are oppressed and don’t have the

“We have made progress, but not enough ... Part of being a first means you’re hopefully not going to be the last”

opportunity won’t be able to have access to that,” she says. “We need to have a better process where we support women.” Crandall emphasizes the need for those deep pocketbooks. “You have to put money forward in order to be an official candidate for leader of a political party,” she says. “If you don’t have existing networks, that is something that can act as a barrier to your candidacy. If we look around how Canadian society operates and who’s in positions of power in terms of having access to fundraising tools, again, historically, women and equity seeking groups would have less access to these types of resources. These are still trailblazers in Canadian politics, and now they very often have to work harder and do more to make their candidacies more competitive.” And if they overcome the fundraising hurdle, Crandall says women and marginalized people are often sacrifical candidates. “They’re being placed into ridings where if you’re the Liberal candidate, you know that historically, the Progressive Conservative Party is likely to win,” she says. “Even when you have close to 50 per cent of

Bruce Murray / VisionFire

— Angela Simmonds

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Grace Szucs Submitted

Grace Szucs

Claudia Chender often throws her support behind local causes.

Angela Simmonds says she often confronts the stereotype that a politician needs to look like the people she serves.



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your candidates on the ballot who are women, only 30 per cent, for example, actually get elected. Parties are increasingly aware of these barriers and are addressing them, but certainly the changes are not happening quickly.” Nova Scotia is one of three provinces and territories that has not yet elected a woman as premier. Crandall feels Simmonds and Chender are in good shape to smash that glass ceiling. “When people see elected representatives who look like them and have experiences that are similar to them, that matters in terms of how they feel about politics and the ability of politicians to represent you,” Crandall says. Simmonds hopes she paves a path for more people to follow her lead. “I hope I won’t be the last,” she says. “We have made progress, but not enough. If we think about the legislature, there are four (Black) people, but it’s the first time it’s ever happened. I’m disappointed that I would be the first but also excited that we all know there are firsts. Part of being a first means you’re hopefully not going to be the last.”

A strategy for Nova Scotia, To meet our climate goals and get off fossil fuels, our province’s leaders need to make some smart choices — and fast


not for Nova Scotia Power


evin Mullen figures Elon Musk or Ryan Reynolds would have no problem selling Premier Tim Houston on his idea to help get Nova Scotia off coal by 2030. But he’s not a high-tech evangelist or famous actor. And so far, the Halifax finance whiz turned renewable-energy entrepreneur isn’t getting much traction with what he says is a no-risk-to-the-province proposal to build a series of giant geothermal plants to provide steady, reliable, clean power to help replace coal. The new energy source would make the province less dependent on imports and profit-driven Nova Scotia Power as demand for electricity is poised to surge with Canada pushing to get cars and homes off fossil fuels.

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He’s not asking for government money. All Mullen needs is a signed power purchase agreement so he can line up funding from financial backers (he’s got eager bidders, he says) and his company, GreenQuest Power, can start building a pilot plant that would generate 120 megawatts, enough to power 40,000 homes. He’s asking the province to agree to $100 per megawatt hour. That’s pricier than wind, which has fallen dramatically over the years to about $55 or $65 per megawatt hour (MWh) hour with the installation of larger and more efficient turbines. But geothermal has the advantage of being able to generate emissions-free, renewable electricity around the clock, unlike wind and solar. Those “intermittent” sources, supplemented by coal and natural gas, need a new backup. Idling backup “baseline” energy makes the true cost of wind closer to $120 or $150 per MWh. Mullen, a finance consultant before launching GreenQuest, says his price would come down to $50 for the plants he builds after the first proves itself. He’s been evaluating green energy opportunities for three years with his engineer brother Vince Mullen in Saskatchewan. He says their research points to geothermal as the missing link as Nova Scotia Power shuts down its coal-fired plants to meet government-mandated targets. Previous premier Iain Rankin moved the deadline up a decade to 2030, an acceleration Houston endorsed. On top of that, the province is aiming to get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand for this type of solution globally,” Mullen says. “Because we’re monitoring and doing the business modelling real-time, we just caught it at the perfect time. Nova Scotia happens to be decommissioning all its coal plants and trying to move to net zero.” Mullen, who grew up in Waverley, says everything he’s proposing with geothermal has been done before many times. “There is no question of ‘if’ it is possible, the question is can we improve on the costs.” He’s done the math and it appears to add up.


With gas guzzling cars and oil-heated homes and buildings, electricity accounts for only about 22 per cent of Nova Scotia’s energy consumption. Weaning off fossilburning fuels will generate a jump in electricity demand that could triple the current level. Despite the looming need, Nova Scotia has yet to put a viable plan on the table. It’s less than eight years until 2030, when Houston aims to have 80 per cent of Nova Scotia’s electricity supplied by renewables, up from 30 per cent in 2021. Nova Scotia Power’s goal this year of 60 per cent non-emitting energy sources might be tough to meet with the flow of



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Bruce Murray / VisionFire

hydropower from billions-over-budget Muskrat Falls in Labrador experiencing glitches. Houston has encouraged pitches from green energy entrepreneurs. Wind and solar have grabbed the headlines. When storage options become more affordable, offshore wind could one day make Nova Scotia a major producer, even an exporter. In the meantime, the Atlantic Loop is touted as the best and most affordable solution to replace coal. The estimated $5-billion project would upgrade transmission grids to allow for the flow of more hydroelectric power from Quebec and Labrador through New Brunswick and on to Nova Scotia. Atlantic Canada’s premiers are asking Ottawa to contribute $2 billion so ratepayers don’t bear the brunt of going green. The federal government signaled its support with the release in March of its final “Clean Power Roadmap for Atlantic Canada” but has offered no confirmation on funding. Nova Scotia Power is pushing for the expanded grid, which would bolster its monopoly power and enable the utility to earn its government-guaranteed profit of around nine per cent of what it spends on grid improvements or expansion. But putting too much faith in the Atlantic Loop could prove risky. Securing hydroelectric power is by no means a done deal and supply is limited. Hydro-Quebec, the major source, has other potential customers in New York and New England who already have far-higher electricity bills and would likely be willing to pay more. Following a Council of Atlantic Premiers meeting in March, the region’s premiers said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine put a spotlight on the security of energy supply and the need to boost self-sufficiency. Asked by Unravel Halifax at a press briefing after the meeting about the risk of depending on Quebec, the premier said he is eying alternative sources. “The world is changing very quickly,” he said. “There are incredible opportunities. When you look at the energy mix, which really speaks to energy security, you’re talking about a whole mix of generations coming on to the grid.” He cited hydro, solar, wind, green hydrogen, and evolving technologies around nuclear that use spent fuel. (Two New Brunswick start-ups are working on so-called small modular nuclear reactors to add to that province’s aging Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station. Getting them up and running by 2030 is viewed a longshot.) Responding to the same question at the briefing, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said his province could provide “a more robust supply” of hydropower.

"This affordable, clean, baseload power would be the crown jewel of all of Nova Scotia’s energy mix” — Kevin Mullen The province started delivering electricity from Muskrat Falls to Nova Scotia through a 177-kilometre subsea cable in August 2021 after a three-year delay that resulted in ratepayers here spending more than $200 million on replacement fuels. Muskrat Falls is supposed to supply 10 per cent of Nova Scotia’s electricity needs under a 35-year contract. Betting on an increased supply could be risky. “Although Newfoundland and Labrador have a bit of extra power kicking around because of Muskrat Falls, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be available,” says Larry Hughes, a Dalhousie University professor who specializes in energy systems and policy. “It looks as if mining is about to take off in the province … They have three ingredients for batteries and apparently they’ve got rare earth elements in certain areas. If they start doing the processing themselves, what is the incentive to sell power here at a wholesale rate when they can sell it at a higher rate within their province itself?” Like Quebec, the province can also bypass Nova Scotia and sell to jurisdictions that are willing to pay more. Weather is another concern. With global warming, erratic events like the 1998 freeze that left half of Quebec and thousands of New Brunswickers without power for weeks could become more frequent. “What happens if Quebec has another ice storm?” says Mahone Bay-based green energy consultant Jamie Stephen. “All of Atlantic Canada is without energy for several weeks? That doesn’t seem like a good idea in a changing climate.” Ottawa’s latest clean power roadmap for the region underwhelms Stephen. “The Atlantic Loop would provide more options but with the numbers in the report, there is no way it can deliver sufficient electricity for electrification of the transportation and heating sectors,” he says. “The Atlantic Loop is required simply to partially deal with the closures of coal-fired power plants and the difficulty to invest in replacement gas plants because of the forthcoming clean electricity standard.” Nova Scotia Power plans to switch two of its coalfired plants over to natural gas for an interim period, with ratepayers paying for the temporary fix that would last until natural gas phases out. Nova Scotia Power’s parent, Emera Inc., didn’t respond to questions and declined to make its CEO, Scott Balfour, or the utility’s CEO, Peter Gregg, available for an interview.

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He tried to get funding for feasibility studies from the $50-million government fund set up to back projects to breathe new life into the forestry industry. He says gatekeepers at the transition fund rejected the request and told him they aren’t open to further biomass proposals. In partnership with the Nova Scotia Federation of Woodlot Owners, Stephens secured funding from Ottawa to assess the social acceptability of bioheat and district energy. He’s hoping for more federal money to do a full feasibility study for New Glasgow.

"There's a lot of pent-up demand for this type of solution globally” — Kevin Mullen

Bruce Murray / VisionFire

Like Mullen, Stephen has a home-grown energy solution that would create local jobs, in contrast to more hydroelectric imports, which deliver few local benefits. Also, like Mullen, he’s having a tough time getting a foot in the door, despite a plan that could prove lower risk and lower cost than ideas the province is pursuing. Stephen says entire towns could meet their heating needs by burning only a small portion of the truckloads of sawmill scraps and pulpwood that Pictou County’s Northern Pulp and other shuttered mills once gobbled up. With a district energy system (a high-efficiency boiler feeding a network of hot water pipes), a town like New Glasgow could heat most of its businesses and homes with 50,000 tonnes of biomass a year. Northern Pulp’s annual consumption was 1.2 million tonnes. Smaller, more rural communities, such as Argyle, near Yarmouth, could burn wood pellets to heat homes and business with government-funded pellet-burning boilers. Instead, Nova Scotia exports boatloads of compressed wood pellets. Europe then gets the carbon credits for burning the renewable resource. Beyond energy, Stephen’s proposals provide a new market for Nova Scotia’s forestry industry, which has been struggling without a buyer for bark, chips, and other by-products since the closure of Northern Pulp. Stephen uprooted from Ottawa with his wife and three young daughters to Nova Scotia in November 2020 because of the opportunity that the mill’s closure and the threat of climate change creates here.



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Bruce Murray / VisionFire

Mullen’s plan uses a newer “closed loop” geothernal system that generates electricity by bringing heat to the surface from underground rock through non-toxic fluid sealed in a pipe.

Bill Lahey, the University of King’s College president who prepared a sweeping report on best practices for a sustainable forestry industry, endorsed small-scale biomass-burning projects for public buildings with fossil-fuelled heat. Liberal Stephen McNeil’s government identified 100 suitable buildings. Lahey says he didn’t advocate for large-scale biomass options using wood to generate electricity out of concern they’d justify bad forestry practices, and weren’t a green option compared to alternatives. Lahey says he didn’t consider biomass projects for heating like the ones Stephen is proposing, which are far more efficient than burning wood scraps to generate electricity, as Nova Scotia Power does. Stephen says an ecological forestry that maximizes forest health and biodiversity while also providing sustainable building materials requires a market for byproducts and pulpwood (the small diameter, low quality standing timber that Northern Pulp and Bowater Mersey bought by the truckload). “It is simply not possible to implement ecological forestry, as recommended in the Lahey Report, without a market for low-grade timber. In the absence of a pulp market, the only viable option is bioenergy,” says Stephen. “If people want restoration of the Acadian Forest, they have to support bioenergy produced from ecological forest operations because it is the market that allows active restoration to occur.”


Nova Scotia generated most of its electricity by burning imported oil until the 1970s OPEC oil crisis triggered a switch to Cape Breton coal. As that supply dwindled, coal was imported. The world’s dirtiest fuel’s contribution has shrunk as energy-intensive industries shut and solar and wind were added to the grid. But it’s still the biggest source of electricity, and electricity is the province’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses. Houston has shown a willingness to confront Nova Scotia Power that his predecessors largely lacked. In February, he kiboshed the monopoly’s plan to impose access charges that would make new solar panel installation cost prohibitive. The utility quickly backed down after Houston threatened new legislation. He's since put forward a bill that would protect the solar industry and put other restrictions on Nova Scotia Power. The solar debacle prompted renewed calls for the province to make Nova Scotia Power a Crown corporation again. In a phone call with reporters, Houston didn’t rule out the notion but hinted the price tag would make a deal impossible. One analyst who follows the company (and asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the question) estimates the takeover cost at $6 billion, including the assumption of debt. Most energy industry observers aren’t warm to the idea, pointing to our Atlantic neighbours to illustrate

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Wreck Cove


Point Aconi


Sydney Victoria Junction Armhest Point Tupper

Dalhousie Mountain FORCE* Wolfville Berwick Greenwood Digby


Canso Sheet Harbour

Ellerhouse Burnside South Canoe

Mahone Bay Mersey



Lequille St. Margaret’s Bay Bear River

Church Point


Nuttby Mountain

Tufts Cove Halifax



Pubnico Point

Wind energy

Biomass energy

Solar energy

Thermal energy

District Energy System

Hydro and tidal energy Combustion turbines

*Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy

the pitfalls of Crown-owned utilities. Newfoundland and Labrador needed a federal bailout after massively overspending and underdelivering on Muskrat Falls, for example, while New Brunswick Power spent $13 million in taxpayer money on a Florida company claiming it found an efficient technology to convert seawater into hydrogen. (It hasn’t.) Nova Scotia Power is asking its regulator, the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, for a 10-per-cent hike in power bills over two years. Depending on the path Nova Scotia takes on clean energy, it’s a signal of the potential for much higher increases to come as infrastructure is built and new power deals signed. It’s unclear where all this leaves the home-grown solutions that Mullen and Stephen champion. Mullen says time is of the essence for geothermal before other jurisdictions catch on. Older geothermal technology taps into naturally heated underground reservoirs of brine water to create heat or electricity. Mullen’s plan uses a newer “closed loop” system that generates electricity by bringing heat to the surface from dry or wet underground rock through non-toxic fluid sealed in a pipe. Geothermal was long shunned as expensive, especially when fossil fuels weren’t as much an environmental concern, but advances in technology are making it more cost competitive. “Once it starts elsewhere, the cost is going to come up to what the market will bear. The resources, like oil



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patch drilling equipment — we’d be on a 20-year waiting list and it would be much more expensive,” says Mullen. “Nova Scotia can be at the front of the curve to be the one to capture those resources. We need big companies to come to Nova Scotia. Once this takes off, it would be very difficult to get them here to build.” Mullen made the business case with Environment Minister Tim Halman and Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables Karen Gatien in December. He’s had some follow-up with bureaucrats and senses some enthusiasm but isn’t sure where he stands. If he gets a greenlight, Nova Scotia Power would ultimately be the buyer of his geothermal power. But he sees little point in a meeting. When he was looking at the possibility of taking over old hydropower plants to extend their life by refurbishing them, company officials told him they wouldn’t be open to him buying any of the aging assets because doing so would create a competitor. Mullen wonders if the fear of political backlash is holding up proposals like his that would help get off coal and diversify the energy mix. “This affordable, clean, baseload power would be the crown jewel of all of Nova Scotia’s energy mix,” he says. “You would think they’d be all over our proposal and trying to facilitate.” The energy overhaul is an opportunity that will affect generations, he adds. “We need to create a strategy for Nova Scotia, not for Nova Scotia Power.”


METAVERSE For better or worse, virtual technology will transform the way we work, play, and live together — meet the locals on the cutting edge BY CHRIS BENJAMIN PHOTOS BY BRUCE MURRAY/VISIONFIRE

“Every technology is both a blessing and a burden” — Neil Postman, cultural theorist


remember the moment it clicked. Looking up the steep steps to Sacré-Cœur in Paris, I got reverse vertigo, regretting having skipped leg day. Only there was no climb ahead. I was on a level floor inside the (now closed) Reality Shop on Queen Street. It was Google Earth, VR edition. Later, I’d be shooting trolls and flying like a superhero. But it was staring up at that architectural bastion of politics, art, and religion I felt “christened with wonder,” as John Mann once sang. This was four years ago, long before I heard the term “metaverse” (which Neal Stephenson coined in his 1993 novel, Snow Crash). Also before Facebook rebranded itself Meta, “to encompass everything that we do,” as chief avatar Mark Zuckerberg said with robotic enthusiasm. This was in a company-released video, featuring mock-ups of Zuckerberg finger swiping outfits and playing poker with a robot. Fun! In a creepy, corporate-speak way. The word “metaverse” makes me feel like Grandma, who owned a computer she rarely touched. I take solace from Wired Magazine luminaries, who also don’t know exactly what it is, or will become. Take Eric Ravencraft (good avatar name), who says the metaverse is “the future of the internet. Or it’s a video game. Or maybe it’s a deeply uncomfortable, worse version of Zoom?” Wicked. Nora Young, host of CBC’s tech program, Spark, defines it as “an immersive virtual world.” In that Neal Stephenson book I mentioned, it’s a place people go to escape the dystopian future. All the definitions are abstract, fluffy, oversimplified.

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There are "a lot of fundamental questions" for Derek Reilly (left) and his colleagues at Dalhousie to answer about how we'll live and work in a virtual world.



The metaverse encompasses a series of different technologies. These include virtual reality (digitally generated worlds), augmented reality (a combination of physical and digital worlds, like the superimposed yellow first-down line in football broadcasts), cryptocurrency (digital money), and digital goods like avatar outfits and NFTs. That last one? Stands for non-fungible tokens, chunks of tradeable data available via a blockchain, a sort of digital ledger. Go figure. (About 400,000 people own NFTs, compared to billions of online gamers. According to anonymous sources, most people think NFTs are stupid.) As the Meta/Facebook video depicts it, the metaverse is a shared, immersive audiovisual online space where users interact as avatars for business or pleasure. In most contemporary writing about the metaverse, there’s some element of commerce, the ability to make real cash or some digital representation of it, like cryptocurrency. What’s crucial, what every observer (even Zuckerberg) notes, is the metaverse doesn’t really exist yet. The Meta/Facebook video is more far-out fictional than an artist’s representation of a proposed downtown development. Current online gaming fascinations like Fortnite, Roblox, and Minecraft might be called prototype metaverse-like platforms for entertainment. And Meta/ Facebook’s Horizon Workrooms (for which headsets alone cost $300) could be the business equivalent. But true sustainable immersive hangouts remain years from realization. That’s largely a technological problem. While capitalists see a profit opportunity in this emerging tech, they’re playing a long game. Their marketers are playing on our fantasies. Industry watchers often reference a promotional video of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg touting the metaverse's potential.

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“Half of the things he does are not things I particularly want to do in virtual reality,” says Derek Reilly, who co-directs the Graphics and Experimental Media lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax. “You don’t want to wear one of the headsets needed for VR for more than 45 minutes.” Reilly is an avid gamer, having spent more hours than he cares to count playing Minecraft. He shares excitement about immersive technologies. He is clear that “metaverse” is a marketing dream with many impediments. “The time it takes to get into a collaborative work engagements is prohibitive,” he says. “Getting everyone into their headsets, logging in, configuring the avatars, learning the controls, navigating to the meeting location, making sure everyone can hear. You think Zoom is a pain? By the time it’s going, you’re too fatigued to work. Then there’s the virtual white board — no tactile feedback. It’s like signing your name with a mouse.” In the Zuckerberg video, the virtual world crystalizes around a worker as he sits at his welldecked home-office desk. We’re a long way from even lightweight VR goggles, let alone being wireless in a virtual world. After a wave of technological innovation, it’s another 20 years before new technology becomes practical. It takes longer still before economies of scale make prices accessible. VR’s progress has been fitful. Reilly says VR headsets have been around since the mid-1960s, and subsequent waves of innovation came in the ‘80s, ‘90s and around 2008. “There are a lot of fundamental questions about interaction that have not been resolved,” he says. With burgeoning interest from large corporations like Meta/ Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and Epic Games, it’s reasonable to expect growth. “Something is going to emerge. I would suggest it’s going to be something slightly better than what we can find today.”

Reilly has had his share of compelling VR experiences, including chatting up strangers watching gorillas at a virtual zoo. “But they’re not ubiquitous or long lasting.” He’s referring to the idea of slipping through worlds like a Zuckerberg avatar, from a card game to an urbanart hunt to a Peace Accord in Eastern Europe. The platforms are owned by different companies, so there’s no universal interface for the user; to each world a different set of equipment. The amount of physical rendering required to create all those virtual worlds is mind-numbing. Heads, bodies, hands, and eye movements must be rendered and individualized. It takes rooms of expensive sensors, working independently then fused. All of which requires the kind of bandwidth rural Nova Scotians can only complain about not having.

PROFITUNITY There’s gold in them virtual hills. The risk is large tech firms will grab it all. Locally, the metaverse concept is having an impact. There are several VR-suite rental places in and around Halifax. A Polish online training firm called NobleProg offers “Metaverse Training in Nova Scotia,” via remote desktop at Purdy’s Wharf, for “developers who wish to become a future developer and contributor to Metaverse by building interactive simulations and experiences.” “There has been and will continue to be a market for immersive VR and AR,” says Derek Reilly. “Modest Tree’s interactive training is a hot area.” He’s referring to one of a handful of local companies providing immersive training experiences. Modest Tree was co-founded by CEO Emily Smits in Halifax in 2011. It creates deeper, more meaningful learning experiences for organizations. It’s locally based, with staff in Germany and the United States, and serves clients globally. An example of their work is training maintenance and emergency-response repair workers on complex engines (automotive, marine or aircraft) in sometimes stressful conditions. “We would create a virtual environment based on a 3D model,” Smits says, “and provide a virtual walk-through of a work site for safety reasons, or look at a product and show different components and take it apart.” The trainees can be anywhere in the world, joining by mobile phone, desktop, using VR headsets, and are

Interactive training is likely to be a "hot area" for emerging VR technology, says Derek Reilly (left).

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Researchers at the Graphics and Experimental Media lab at Dalhousie study practical applications of VR technology.

led by an instructor. The geographic benefits are clear, plus it’s prudent to ensure a certain level of competence before exposing workers to dangerous conditions or high-cost equipment. “There is also the ability to scale training applications,” Smits explains. “We can put a lot more learners in a digital environment.” Smits says her company is unusual in that it provides its clients with software, so they can develop their own immersive-training programs. They aim to “democratize training.” Another local tech firm, rooted in aviation training since 1978, is Bluedrop Training and Simulation, which specializes in aerospace and defence training programs, flight simulations to jumpstart learning pilots’ hearts — learning to avoid costly errors in judgment in the real world. All without risking lives or multimilliondollar aircraft. Being in a military town helps. (Could we please have an app to help teens learn to drive?) In entertainment, virtual and augmented reality lovers find the storytelling incredibly compelling. “Immersion can yield a more compassionate response,” Reilly says, noting a Canadian-American documentary simulation called Travelling While Black, by director Roger Ross Williams, about the risks faced by Blacks travelling in 20th-century America. It’s set at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a safe place to stop and eat. It is far more engaging than watching a movie on flatscreen: being there, looking around the room, seeing the faces, talking to people about their experiences. Once you start, it’s an inescapable empathy builder. RISK A December 2021 report from counterhate.com warned “VR Chat — the most reviewed social app in Facebook’s VR Metaverse — is rife with abuse, harassment, racism,



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and pornographic content.” On today’s rudimentary virtual planes, “virtual groping,” male avatars assaulting female avatars, is a thing. “There’ve been well-documented instances where your avatar is accosted by gangs,” Reilly says. “The assault can feel quite visceral.” And just as with every online application, there are perverts attempting to sexually exploit children. Information privacy is also a concern. What else can social-media moguls learn about us that we haven’t already surrendered through our phones? “Movement patterns, body size, how you respond to stimuli,” Reilly speculates. “What you’re looking at and when and for how long. Valence and arousal, stress reactions: more internal information.” The metaverse is a more extensive, seductive internet, carrying many of the dangers of the real world, succumbing to the same temptations. Many of the same lessons apply. Don’t be tempted by the shiny apple; nothing’s free except bad advice. Our parents’ truisms. What if the biggest danger of the metaverse is its creators? Weakly regulated multinational corporations determined to mine personal details we can’t even fathom? Reilly counters with another question. “What does it mean to be a critical thinker in a hyper-technical environment?” MORE PUNK ROCK Governments should be forward thinking and willing to protect citizens, not only from individual creeps, but also from corporate data miners, and from the spread of disinformation in a more immersive version of the internet. Part of that may be working to make open-source creative tools accessible for community-minded virtualworld builders, the legions of anti-Zuckerbergs with the collective ingenuity to reclaim the internet. A scaled-up version of Emily Smits’s democratization of training. As Reilly puts it, “We need to be a lot more punk rock. We can usurp or subvert the intentions or design of any structure designed top down. We can use it for free assembly or protest.” Humanity doesn’t have a great track record of responsible tool management. But as social media has shown, things get dark before we find the light. It’s worth some forethought.



The world’s oldest drink is more fashionable than ever

BY LORI McKAY public,” says Nathaniel Jarvis, who along with his brother Jack, opened Ursan Meadery in New Ross five years ago. “Since then, in Nova Scotia anyway, we’ve had several other meaderies open locally, which has been great.” He’s referring to places like Mountain Meadworks in Earltown, Hard Honey in Tatamagouche, and Midgard Meadery in Scotch Lake (the oldest meadery in the province), among others. Jarvis says the idea to make mead came to his brother one night after, you guessed it, a night of drinking. “It was New Year’s Day, and he said to me, ‘That’s it, we should have

a go at making mead,’” says Jarvis. “He jumped right in and started studying up on it.” Mead has always been common in the U.K. — particularly where the Jarvis family is originally from in Plymouth, southwest England — and the brothers were keen to bring their own version to Canada. They started offering three types: sweet, blueberry, and baklava (spiced). They later added seasonal meads, using local peaches and apples, and then short meads, which mature quicker and are lighter and drier. While afire worldwide, mead is still in an introductory stage here in Nova

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Bruce Murray / VisionFire

ou may not have tried mead, but you’ve likely heard about it in movies and books. It’s what the Vikings have in their giant mugs, what people are sipping at Renaissance fairs, and what guests toast with at medieval weddings. Lords and ladies drank it. The Greeks called it “the drink of the gods.” A fermented beverage made with honey, mead is an ancient drink dating back millennia. Beer, wine, and spirits have long eclipsed it, but mead is coming back and growing in popularity. “When people started watching shows like Game of Thrones, mead became more known to the general


Common mead varieties Melomel: Mead with fruit added Hydromel: A weak or watered-down mead Metheglin: Mead with spices Sparkling mead: A carbonated mead, like sparkling wine (typically achieved by adding a small amount of honey or sugar just before the mead is bottled) Bruce Murray / VisionFire

Cyser: Mead fermented with apple juice instead of water Mulled mead: Mead that is heated before drinking (usually spiced)

Scotia. To spread the word, Jarvis attends farmers markets, caters to weddings, and pours at beer festivals. “Before the pandemic hit, we had a fantastic couple of beer fests,” he says. “We made it a little bit theatrical. We dressed up in old linen shirts and our booth was like an old-style trading stall. We had lines of people waiting to try it. It was a fantastic experience.” Ursan Meadery is on Jarvis’s parents’ farm. When the pandemic started, business dipped, so they launched an on-site store. “We really wanted people to be able to come out to the location and see what we’re doing and try the different products we offer,” says Jarvis. His mother Helen runs the store. The mead is also available by delivery and occasionally sells at NSLC. He says one of the things that fascinates

Mead icing? Nathaniel Jarvis of Ursan Meadery says mead pairs well with a variety of foods, including seafood, chicken, pasta, and desserts. “I’ve done pulled pork with mead and cider, and scallops with mead is fantastic,” says Jarvis. “I’ve also had success making desserts with mead. I’ve made a sweet mead buttercream icing for a cake and reduced down baklava mead and poached pears. There’s lots you can do because it has that sweetness to it. You can use it in a similar way you would use a sweeter white wine.”



For winery Planters Ridge, mead was a no-brainer way to expand its offerings.



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him most about mead is that it’s hyper-local. Ursan’s honey is all from the Annapolis Valley. The bees primarily pollinate blueberry fields and apple orchards, so the honey is light with a floral finish. “The way we’re making mead could be the same way as someone making it in the U.K. or Poland or in the U.S., but if you have a different honey, you’re going to end up with a different product,” he explains. The growing local mead industry isn’t just about the meaderies. Other businesses are seeing the potential as well. Places like New Scotland Brewing Co. in Dartmouth, Chain Yard Urban Cidery in Halifax (offering a mead-cider blend), Tanner & Co. Brewing in Chester Basin, and Planters Ridge Winery in Port Williams, which sells a sparkling mead. Wendy Collins, retail and hospitality manager at Planters Ridge, says mead just makes sense for them. “We had imported these large tanks from Germany — which was a big investment — but they were only being used to harvest grapes once a year,” she explains. “We had to think of some creative, supplemental ways to get more use out of them. Honey was something we could get year-round from a local beekeeper, so it seemed like a perfect fit.” Also, most of their wines are on the drier side, so mead lets them offer a sweeter option. In addition to the sparkling mead, Planters Ridge offers a still mead called Valley Nectar, and Pink Ambrosia, tasting of cherry pie and wildflower honey.

“A lot of people associate it with beer,” says Collins. “I think they’re picturing medieval taverns and people drinking mugs of it. They know it’s ancient, but that’s about it. Once we present it to them, they become interested.” She says people often assume it’s going to be thick, syrupy, and cloying, and are pleasantly surprised. “It’s quite light and delicate,” she adds. Planters Ridge mead has made its way onto some local Halifax drink menus. Edna Restaurant makes cocktails with its sparkling mead, and Almonak includes a mead mimosa among its mimosa flights. “Mead is such a fun product to try and to talk about,” says Collins. “It has so much history, as it’s the oldest form of alcohol known to man.”

A range of flavours Mead can be bone dry or extremely sweet. You can add fruits, herbs, and spices to create distinct flavours, and different parts of the world have their own specialties. In Ethiopia, for example, they make a mead called Tej, flavoured with gesho, a local shrub. Aging also plays a part in its taste. In Poland, where mead’s popularity never waned, they age their mead up to 25 years.

Some history • Mead dates as far back as 7000 BCE in northern China, where pottery was found containing chemicals consistent with honey, rice, and organic compounds linked to fermentation. • The term honeymoon is said to come from mead. In medieval times, it was common for a couple to be gifted mead as a wedding present. They had until their first full moon cycle together (a month) to consume the mead, which would provide increased fertility to conceive a child. • In Norse mythology, mead was said to be created by mixing the blood of a wise man named Kvasir with honey. Whoever drank it would turn into a poet or scholar. It became known as the Mead of Poetry. • Ancient cultures often associated mead with health and vitality. It was allegedly given to Greek warriors after a fight to help heal injuries. • A recent resurgence in mead’s popularity is sometimes attributed to Game of Thrones, but it also existed in other literature, including The Lord of the Rings. Mead is, apparently, one of Middle-earth’s favourite drinks.

MAY / JUNE 2022




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The common good Halifax loves its green spaces, but they’re shrinking quickly



ne of my favourite views of Halifax is from Citadel Hill, looking not out to the harbour, but west over the city, especially at dusk. Now, cranes and construction projects crowd that skyline. As we look up at the new towers emerging around us, we might not be noticing what’s disappearing. According to Statistics Canada, cities are losing trees, park space, and other vegetation at a prodigious rate. Researchers used satellite imagery to look at the amount of greenness in cities across the country, at three points in time. Halifax maintained its greenness from 2001 to 2011. Then in 2019, there was a decline of three per cent. When they repeat the study in a few years, there will be even less green on those satellite images, given the unprecedented pace of development recently.. That may mean progress, but the cost is high. Trees and shrubs reduce energy use by keeping cities cooler in the summer; they also filter air pollutants and have a long list of health benefits for humans. A slew of studies over the last decade testify to the advantages of living in areas with ample green space. It reduces deaths, mostly from cardiovascular disease. Patients with a view of greenery recover more quickly. Children who spend time outdoors are less likely to develop myopia and other vision problems. There’s also evidence that exposure to nature is good for our mental health, lowering the risk of depression and anxiety. People who spend time in nature sleep better and have less stress. Then there’s the impact on attention, memory, and creativity — all improve with time in green environments. It’s not yet clear why green spaces are so good for us. But you don’t need to know to benefit. In British Columbia, a program launched earlier this year allows some doctors to give a prescription for the outdoors, through free passes to National Parks. Here in Halifax, many people innately know green space is good for them. Every year, on the first warm days in April and May, people of all ages spring up like dandelions around the North Common, lounging on blankets, playing catch or frisbee, walking their dogs. You can sense their gratitude for the sun and the vista of green in which to enjoy it. But our green spaces are eroding.



MAY / JUNE 2022

It might be a stretch to describe the lower west side of Citadel Hill or the corner of Bell Road and Summer Street as paradise. But Joni Mitchell could have been thinking of these spaces when she famously wrote her song about paving and parking lots taking over the natural landscape. In 1763, the Common was 93 hectares of undeveloped land. Today, there are many public buildings on the Common: hospitals, schools, the sprawling university area, a museum, and homes. You could argue much of that serves the public good. But we keep chipping away at the remaining green space. There is paved parking at the bottom of Citadel Hill, and a new parking garage has risen on Summer Street off Bell Road. The Oval has a pavilion building and space for the refrigeration units. A professional soccer stadium has taken over Wanderers Ground. A hospital expansion is underway. A new pool is planned. And now, the Halifax Common Master Plan aims to gussy up the remainder. It makes a laudable commitment to more open, green space. But it also talks about more seating areas, more food vendors, and warming huts on the north side of the Oval, a sundeck connecting the playground and the new pool in the Central Common, which will also have a new pavilion for showers, changing rooms, offices, and storage. Then there’s the vision for a major gathering area, around the current fountain on the North Common, which will be reimagined as a series of water sprays. It will include a concrete plaza with wide steps, a performance structure with rain shelter, seating, and shade structures. New concrete paths will converge at a pedestrian roundabout near the middle of the North Common, and meander through a raised trellis with displays and benches. It sounds lovely. But every built, curated, paved part of it will take away from natural green space. That panoramic western view from Citadel Hill includes the Camp Hill Cemetery. It both protects a chunk of skyline and provides a sylvan break between the cranes and human structures. I think about the people buried among the trees and shrubs there and I’m grateful to them. Because that’s one piece of green space that could only ever be developed over their dead bodies. Literally.

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