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To get the bright future it deserves, Halifax needs to take an honest look at itself




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2021-08-10 11:31 AM

Trevor Savory

the issue Departments 5 UNRAVEL


Here we go — a new magazine for a new city




Top 10 — what to see and do



To get the bright future it de-

Finding work during a pandemic

serves, Halifax needs to take an honest look at itself — meet


the people fighting for change

Before cars were king




Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack

Emerging from COVID-19, has Nova Scotia’s filmmaking


industry finally found reliable funding and a way forward?

Yes Halifax, we have a housing crisis




Spotlighting artist Andrea Crouse

As Halifax’s kids return to school


this month, are they ready for

Decolonizing minds — one story at a time

the new normal? Are we?



The local cup

Steve Smith/VisionFire

52 The Floatation Centre’s Lindsay MacPhee proves doing good is good business

56 THE HOME GAME The journey to the big leagues

sept/oct vol 1 / no 1

63 THE FLAVOUR The ghost at the table 66 THE STANCE It’s just too much — surviving the age of information overload

year — billet families help the Halifax Mooseheads’ rising stars stay grounded

On The Cover Building Halifax’s future requires reconsidering our history and how we treat our most vulnerable. Photo by Ben Murray.


Steve Smith/VisionFire

is daunting, even in a normal

Here we go



Unravel NEWS

Unravel ONLINE

Entrepreneur Lindsay MacPhee believes love can change the world, and she’s not just talking about it — at The Floatation Centre, she and her team are working hard to offer a haven of empathy and inclusivity. Learn more on page 52.

Concerts, sports, art, and more: after a year and a half of blank social calendars, Halifax is bursting with things to see and do. See our 10 favourite picks for the next two months on page 9.

Visit for photo galleries, video interviews, web exclusive reports, and more. This month, highlights include behind-the-scenes footage from our cover story roundtable, and a historical timeline to complement the story on page 13, looking back at Halifax’s transit history.

Tammy Fancy

arch 2020 was a lifetime ago. When that month started, I was soothingly reassuring friends that this COVID business wouldn’t amount to much, and cancelling travel plans would be rash and hasty. By mid-March, I was leaving my office and putting away the files for an April issue that would never go to press. With the majority of advertisers shuttered, it was economically impossible to print. So we hunkered down, cut spending to a minimum, and tried to serve readers online as best we could. All the while, we plotted our return to print. And as we bided our time, the ground kept shifting. One lockdown gave way to the next. The mass shooting rocked our province. Mobs attacked Native fishers as they exercised their treaty rights. The Black Lives Matter movement forced Halifax to confront systemic racism. Even as COVID held us in its sticky grip, everything else became fluid. For a city, and a province, where “this is how we’ve always done it” is practically a mantra, there are fewer certainties. Suddenly, we’re seeing that there are, and there has to be, better ways of ordering our lives, of treating each other, of growing our city, of building our future. The changes you see in this new magazine, now called Unravel Halifax, reflect that. We want to help Haligonians understand their city and where it’s going, amplify the changemakers, question, and explore. We’ll still celebrate the things that make this city special. We love Halifax as much as ever, but love needs honesty. We’ll challenge our city’s assumptions, prick its hubris. In this first issue, our cover story by Janet Whitman on page 32 sets the stage. We’ve convened a panel of disruptors and changemakers. These aren’t your usual Halifax talking heads — there are no pollsters, business insiders, or politicos. Instead, we’ve invited the people, regardless of age or background, who challenge the establishment. In a free-spirited discussion, they discuss where our city is going, how we get there, and if it’s really where we want to be. And we also want to hear from you. What do you want from this magazine? What are Halifax’s important untold stories? How can we best serve you and your city? Email your thoughts to

By Trevor J. Adams

SEPT/ OCT 2021



Spark a Conversation A CBC Best Canadian Poetry 2020 title

The incisive and vital first poetry collection from Mi’kmaw spoken-word poet and the former poet laureate of Kjipuktuk (Halifax)

ISSUE 01 / VOL 01 • DATE OF ISSUE: SEPTEMBER 2021 UNRAVELHALIFAX.CA PUBLISHER Fred Fiander • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Crystal Murray • SENIOR EDITOR Trevor J. Adams • CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Jodi DeLong • Janet Whitman • VICE PRESIDENT OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT Linda Gourlay • ACCOUNT EXECUTIVES Susan Giffin • Pam Hancock • Stephanie Balcom • Connie Cogan •

$18.95 | poetry | 978-1-77108-885-5


@nimbuspub or

DESIGNERS Roxanna Boers • Jocelyn Spence •



1 9 9 5

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 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 Magazine 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. 40601061 / ISSN 1492-3351




SEPT / OCT 2021

Return undeliverable Canadian addresses to: Subscriptions, PO Box 190 Pictou, N.S. B0K 1H0 E-mail: Printed by: Advocate Printing & Publishing, Pictou, N.S., Canada


BROOKLYN CONNOLLY is a freelance journalist based in Halifax. She’s the 2021 recipient of the Investintech – CAJ data journalism scholarship, and has written for the CBC, the Guardian (U.S.), the Chronicle Herald, and the Nova Scotia Advocate, among others.

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.

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.

CARSTEN KNOX is a Halifaxbased writer, editor, broadcaster, and podcaster. For more than a decade he’s been writing Flaw In The Iris, a film blog at, and is frequently heard on current affairs radio at the CBC.

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.

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.

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

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

Visit Unravel ONLINE Visit to for more stories by our featured contributors and sign up for the unravel newsletter.

SEPT/ OCT 2021












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10 Danielle Earl

Plays, concerts, and sports—live entertainment is back! Ten can’t-miss events to put in your calendar


Saint Mary’s Huskies Football SEPT. 17, HUSKIES STADIUM

Varsity sports are back! And league officials are planning on a full “normal” season of action. Things kick off on the gridiron today, as the Huskies host their bitter rivals from St. Francis Xavier.




Returning to North American ice after a 17-month hiatus, the figure-skating exhibition presents its new production Journey, reflecting on our shared COVID-19 experience. The roster includes world champion Kurt Browning, two-time American champion Alissa Czisny, two-time Olympic silver medallist Elvis Stojko, and multiple-medal-winner Katelyn Osmond.


Halifax Mooseheads

Dartmouth Summer Sunshine Series



Supernova Celebration OCT. 1, SCOTIABANK CENTRE

Organizers are billing it as “Nova Scotia’s biggest live event in almost two years” — a showcase of local musical talent featuring Classified, Ria Mae, Matt Andersen, The Trews, and Jrdn, with a special appearance by Trailer Park Boys Ricky and Julian.

Halifax Mooseheads

After the last fitful season — full of stops, starts, and postponements — the Mooseheads return for another season of major-junior hockey. They start their home slate on Oct. 2 against Nova Scotia rivals Cape Breton on Oct. 2, and host Val d’Or on Oct. 15, the first visit by a non-Maritime team since the pandemic began.


Katelyn Osmond


Up-and-coming local talents take the stage for this free series of alfresco performances, in a dog-friendly venue overlooking the summer splendour of Halifax Harbour. dartmouth-summer-sunshinefree-concerts

Hopscotch 2021 SEPT. 23 TO 26, GRAND PARADE

Eighteen months without live venues hasn’t dampened Halifax’s smokin’ hot hip-hop scene, and this festival is your best spot to connect with your favourites and discover a new wave of rising talents.

Aaron Li-Hill SEPT/ OCT 2021





Rose Cousins



The Dalhousie Arts Centre is marking its 50th anniversary with the quietest year in its history, so seize this opportunity to see one of Halifax’s most talented singer/ songwriters on the stage where she built her career.

Halifax ComedyFest Unplugged OCT. 29 TO 30, VARIOUS VENUES

Last year it ran virtually, but for 2021, organizers postponed the typically-inspring festival to October, and are planning an in-person event. The lineup includes Trent McClellan, Pete Zedlacher, and more. Trent McClellan

10 9


Timely and thought-provoking, this exhibition brings together contemporary artists to confront “dominant cultural narratives.” Challenge your perspectives and learn wider truths about your world through powerful sculptures, installations, videos, and paintings. exhibitions/tyranny

Fully Committed SEPT. 14 TO OCT. 10, NEPTUNE THEATRE

Neptune returns to the stage (at last!) with Becky Mode’s farcical one-person show about an award-winning, ridiculously trendy restaurant. In a dingy basement office, far from the magic of molecular gastronomy, skillful reservation-taker Sam has to use his charisma and wits to handle a demanding, elitist clientele.

Editor’s Note: COVID-19 has made event schedules a moving target. This information was up-to-date at press time, but may have changed in the interim; call ahead to verify schedules and details.

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Sometimes the difference between a good relationship and a great one is subtle. But with lawyers who know your business—not just your industry—Cox & Palmer makes the difference crystal clear. That’s why Atlantic Canadian businesses have relied on us for more than 165 years.



SEPT / OCT 2021


Finding work during a pandemic Even as employers talk of a labour shortage, newcomers find it harder than ever to land meaningful jobs in Halifax BY MARIANNE SIMON PHOTO BY BRUCE MURRAY/VISIONFIRE

Bruce Murphy/VisionFire


s COVID-19 retreats, Haligonians are awakening to a new world of possibilities. For some, it means a return to pre-pandemic pleasures, for too many others, it’s simply about finding employment and self-sufficiency. In 2017 the population of Halifax was 431,479. Statistics say that immigrants and refugees make up roughly 10% of the population. How did they fare during the pandemic? Those who had well-paid jobs or sizeable savings would have managed very well. For those who lost work and did not have any of these, life has been hard. I met Meera Raghava (name changed, due to fears that her candour will hurt her job hunt) a few times in the last couple of months, and knew she was trying to find work. Recently, we had a cup of tea and talked. “Back in India, I approached an agent to help me with my immigration process,” Meera said. “He charged me a large sum of money as his fee and for writing up my resumé. The agent promised to put me in touch with employers in Canada, but he didn’t. When he kept asking for more money, I stopped accepting his services.” She landed in Halifax in January 2020 on a visitor visa, with no job prospects. “I was given to understand that being in the country would make it easier for me to find work, and to get permanent residency status for me and my family,” she explains. “My husband and two children are still in India.” She pauses. I can read her thoughts. I remembered my own ordeal and frustration while I was looking for work a few years ago, after making a similar move from India to Halifax. The long hours spent searching the web for vacancies and the dozens of applications to prospective employers, the many phone calls I had made, the very long wait for a positive response to my applications. I live through it all once again during these few moments. “I was a Registered Nurse in India,” Meera continued. “I worked in a large hospital, and loved nursing,

and especially teaching student nurses. And I was financially secure.” Meera approached many organizations in Halifax for a job. Then she called up some Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program-designated employers and one of them responded. Meera went for an interview and was selected for the job. The Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia prepared a settlement plan for her. The employer applied to the provincial government for an endorsement on the job offer. Then COVID struck. People panicked. The economy slowed down. “My immigration process which was moving along smoothly got delayed. Communication became erratic. The waiting period became endless. I’ve been in Halifax for a year and a half now, and I’m still unemployed,” Meera says. “I am now getting my credentials assessed by the National Nursing Assessment Service, in preparation for taking a bridging course that will qualify me, a nurse trained in India, to do the same job in Canada.” When asked if she had ever felt coming to Canada was a mistake, she replies: “I like living in Halifax. The place is beautiful, and the quiet life appeals to me. I’m determined to stay on and to bring my family here.” And meanwhile, she awaits the answer to two questions. When will she be able to work? When will she be reunited with her family? SEPT/ OCT 2021




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W.R. MacAskill Nova Scotia Archives 1987-453 no. 4230


Before cars were king A century ago, the tram system offered Haligonians unprecedented freedom and mobility



rams were once part of the hustle and bustle of downtown life, screeching across tracks and stopping at the clang of the bell. Now they’re gone, and pavement covers their tracks, leaving them to rust beneath the streets, briefly glimpsed during road-work season. “The tram car was pretty much the major source of transportation for the average working person,” says Don Cunningham, co-author of The Halifax Street Railway 1866–1949. “Most people travelled on them back and forth to work and (operators) knew everybody because they used same tram car for pretty much their entire adult life.” Compared to the buses to today, the tram cars were much more efficient, he adds.

According to a blog post on trams from the Halifax Public Libraries (“From the Birney to the Bus: A Brief and Not at All Definitive History of Halifax Public Transit”), originally the trams ran every 15 minutes. That’s a level of service users of most Halifax Transit routes today would envy. By the 1940s, Halifax had over 80 trams in its fleet, but in 1949, replaced them with electric trolley coaches. Gas-powered buses came in 1969. Even though they are long gone, Cunningham who was a child when the last trams rolled through, often thinks of what was. “When I was a kid, trams were just so much fun almost like a carnival,” he says. “They were noisy because they had the compressors and all that stuff running … but they were a real treat.”

SEPT/ OCT 2021




Nova Scotia Archives Photo Collection: Transportation and Communication: Street Cars: Birney Street Car / negative N-7284

• In 1925 the cost per trip for an adult was $0.10 ($1.57 in 2021) and $0.05 ($0.78 in 2021) for a child. • A weekly tram pass in 1940 cost $1.25 (equivalent to $22.31 today).

THE COMPANY THAT WENT NOWHERE There were many different companies involved in the street railway system. One was the Halifax Railway company, which was founded in 1884, but couldn’t secure enough of an investment to stay afloat.

FINDING THE RAILS To locate the remaining tram rails, the HRM uses ground penetrating radar, which can determine an object’s location underground. If the rail is deep enough, it’s usually left alone.







THE SIMPSONS THE END Despite switching over to buses in March 1949, several of the trams were used sporadically over the next month to cover small distances. For example Route 3 went from Richmond to Buckingham and Young streets. There were six routes in use until the end of April.

And watched your faces through the years, show anger, tears and smiles: Although you criticized my looks and said I was too slow, I got you there and brought you back through rain, sleet and snow.

When the Simpsons department store opened in Halifax’s West End in 1928, it became part of the tram line, with a loop of rails in front of the store.

A passage on the back read: On their last official day in March, one of the trams was decorated with a cartoonish, crying face and two messages. The first, to passengers, read: Good-bye my friends, this is the end: I’ve travelled miles and miles.

LEARN MORE For a timeline of Halifax’s transit evolution, surf to



SEPT / OCT 2021

Farewell to all you motorists — today my journey ends! So let’s forget past arguments, shake hands and part as friends. You’ve followed me around the streets and many times you swore because I beat you to the stop and dared you to pass my door.

JUST HALIFAX Bus routes go all over the HRM, shown by Routes 1, 5 and 7 on this map. The trams were confined to urban Halifax, leaving many neighbouring communities without a public transportation system.



Route 1 Route 5 Route 7 1945 TRAM LINES Belt Line Richmond Line Oxford Line




The Halifax Explosion clobbered the Nova Scotia Tramways and Power Company. Nine employees died and many others were injured, one car was destroyed and many others were damaged.







South Park Inglis & Windsor - Inglis Line











Armdale Line Dingle Line


Point Pleasant Line























































The Belt Line was actually comprised of two tram lines, Route 1 and 2.

The lines in this map are from 1945. While the idea remained the same, the service expanded and changed over the years. For example, in 1927, the routes were as follows:


FANCY CARS Each seat in the tram had its own heater and the seats could rotate so passengers could face each other. Like buses of today there were also advertisements lining the interior.



During the VE-Day riots in 1945, Tram 126 was set on fire and left to burn in front of St. Mary’s Glebe on Barrington Street.

Route 1 and 2: Belt Line Route 3: Richmond - Gottingen/Oxford Route 4: Armdale Route 5: Dingle Route 7: Agricola - South Park Route 8: Windsor - Inglis Route 9: Point Pleasant Park Route 10 and 11: Forum/Exhibition (These were only used for special events.)

Birney Car no. 140, [between 1947 and 1949], Douglas Parker collection of photographs of Nova Scotia Light and Power Co. tram cars, CR60.16 – Halifax Municipal Archives.

SEPT/ OCT 2021



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Nova Scotia’s legacy of injustice, why the fishery fight matters, the power of community, and how to be an ally


SEPT/ OCT 2021



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Chief Mike Sack and the team from the Sipekne’katik band office.


or most policymakers, topics like the fishery are abstract policy issues. For Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack, born and raised in the Central Nova Scotia first nation, the issues are connected to his working-class roots. Among his blue collar experience (which includes running his father’s construction company), he’s worked as a fisherman on the waters of St. Mary’s Bay. Combine that with his decade experience as counsel and now chief, and he has a unique perspective on the issues around reconciliation and First Nations rights that face Nova Scotia today, a perspective rooted in hands-on experience.

Chief Sack on today’s critical issues: “All of our communities are different ... different sizes, structures, and dynamics. In my community, housing is a big thing because we lack employment and poverty to get “As we have all seen in the people out of social assistance and into the workpast year, racism is alive force. There’s a limited number of jobs out there. and well” —Chief Mike Sack As we have all seen in the past year, racism is alive and well. That’s a very different dynamic you face; you wouldn’t think we’d have to face it all day and night.” Experiencing racism: “I remember playing hockey back when I was young. You face it, then they name call and such ... Even today, when we walk into a local village like Shubenacadie, we’re still treated differently. We’ve been there; I’m sure some businesses wouldn’t survive if it weren’t for our population in the area, but we’re still

treated differently in our neighbourhood community. I guess I faced enough dynamics in my life that I feel sorry for that person ... shame on them that they can’t get past it. We’re all people, we come from different places, and we’re all human beings.” A legacy of injustice: “It was very disappointing last fall to see that they can do whatever they want if enough people get together. I’ve expressed my concerns to people in policing ... There were mobs of people, and there are still hundreds of people that didn’t face charges who committed crimes. My fear for this year is that if we go fishing, there will be a bunch of DFO, and they’re going to charge our people. If we had hundreds of people down there surrounding 30 commercial fishers, there would be helicopters coming in with the police. There would be army tanks coming in. (On the day a mob besieged a First Nations-friendly fish plant) there were six to eight police officers in the area ... And you look across the country, it’s all the same.” Dealing with the double standard: “It’s very frustrating; I try to do my best to voice those concerns and have people recognize what’s going on. But at the same time, it goes on social media, it’s a hot topic for a minute, then it’s gone, and nothing changes. Even when I had a chance to question (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau on something, he said he wanted answers from the police, but that was just lip service because nothing happened.” Understanding the fishery: “The biggest thing is just knowing the industry. When I was in my mid-20s to mid30s, I used to buy and sell seafood. You get to know a lot of people. I know that there’s a lot of stuff in the comSEPT/ OCT 2021




“When a politician apologizes ... it’s a political thing to do. Without change,that apology means nothing” —Chief Mike Sack

mercial industry that nobody talks about, and that’s what’s frustrating for us because they don’t want numbers, but there are so many lobsters being caught and sold for cash. Back in 1999, when I was fishing, local people told me that the biggest problem they had with us fishing there was that there was so much DFO in the area, they couldn’t do their fishing at that time of year.” The government’s failure to resolve the fishery issue: “It’s all part of keeping our people down and keeping them in poverty and not wanting them to rise. The same thing goes for the residential school — all of those horrible things that happened ... There’s no difference; they have enough authority to change it so our people could fish and sell seafood at a market value, but they won’t do that, so it’s no difference. They’re keeping people in poverty to this day.” Resolving the issue: In the commercial fishery “it’s all about who can catch the most, who can buy the biggest boat, the biggest house, and it’s all this stuff. We’re trying to fish to bring people out of poverty, to put food on people’s tables to give kids a better



SEPT / OCT 2021

future. There’s a whole difference here. I would like to see the government honour the treaties, respect those, have our people fish, earn a living with them, and provide for themselves.” Residential school apologies: “When a politician apologizes, it’s a nice gesture, but it’s a political thing to do. Without change, that apology means nothing. The government’s always talking about changing, rights, reconciliation, all this stuff, but at the same time, nothing happens. I blame it on a numbers game ... The Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia are under two per cent of the population. So do you think the government’s going to be in a rush to do anything?” The need to understand: “If people were educated, there wouldn’t be that resentment that you see people thinking, ‘they’re trying to get everything for free.’ It’s not the case: we were put into the system. People struggle every day with it. Lack of housing, people can’t afford to buy healthy food now because the prices went up and the social welfare is so low. It will take a lot of time, but I think that they need to stop the lip service and

Solitutde by Jacqueline Potvin-Boucher, Indigenous Artist

start doing something. There’s a lot of avenues that our communities are growing. We have a lot of needs that are not met and don’t go anywhere. That’s the frustrating part for me is that we express our concerns, we try to work with the government, (and) every time that we do, there’s mistrust.”

nities out there with no drinking water that they have drinking water. I hope there’s more of a level playing field. Other people can’t go down to the neighbouring community and grab a job. I want them to know that there’s a whole bigger world out there for our kids and future. The sky’s the limit.”

How you can help: “It’s about holding people and the government accountable ... There are so many needs and wants, but there are minority groups that are being misled. What you can do to support is take the time and familiarize yourself with the topic. Sit down at night, look it up like you have to read stuff, and at least get your own opinion before you go online or dispute it. It’s that system where people talk about the genocide; it was set up to dissolve our people. It’s more about conveying support, making people aware of if they see a protest, taking the protest to the bridge, and blocking the bridge. It’s not because we’re trying to ruin anyone’s day or travel times that day; they’re just trying to bring awareness to something obtained, or somebody can be going through.”

Off duty: I love comedy ... We could be all together in a wake when somebody passes. You’re sitting around, talking about the good times, you’re laughing, and that’s living a positive life. I like to get my four-wheeler up in the woods because your phone can’t ring, or I go boating to relax. I love being outside. Nature calms you.”

Five years from now: “I hope that we have the same respect that other political parties have, and, and at a table, we can be a part of the process moving forward. I hope that there’s a lot more employment in my community, there’s a lot more housing. I hope for those commu-

Comprising two per cent of Nova Scotia’s population, the Mi’kmaq are on the losing end of a numbers game, says Mike Sack. People who want to help need to hold government accountable.

Writer’s Note: Shortly after this interview in August, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) officers arrested Chief Mike Sack for promoting an “unauthorized and illegal” fishery. After questioning at DFO’s Meteghan office, they released Sack. He doesn’t know if he will face charges. “I did ask, like, ‘Why would you arrest me? I haven’t done anything here,’” Sack says. “It just seems to be all scare tactics for the fisheries, to try to stop what we have going on … It’s not about me or being arrested. It’s more so about bringing our community out of poverty and establishing our fishery. And we’re going to make that happen regardless of how we get there. But we’ll get there for sure.”

SEPT/ OCT 2021




Housing snapshot Yes, Halifax, we have a housing crisis



e asked Neil Lovitt, the city’s expert in real-estate economics, for the most telling statistics on the red-hot rental and homebuying markets. “Are things as bad as they seem for renters/buyers?” says the vice-president of planning and economic intelligence with real-estate consultancy Turner Drake & Partners Ltd. “Yes.” COVID-19 gave renters a tiny break by prompting Nova Scotia to implement emergency rent controls and putting a damper on the usual influx of international students, migration from other provinces, and immigration. But the rental market’s been tight since about 2017. “Rent control won’t fix a lack of available units at any price,” Lovitt says. Home-buying was already heating up in 2019. The pandemic set the market ablaze. “It is remarkably more expensive now and continues to get worse for buyers,” says Lovitt. Contrary to popular belief, the growth story during the pandemic is not all about people flooding in from Ontario, British Columbia, and other provinces to flee COVID and live a simpler life. The greater impact is the huge decline in people moving from Nova Scotia to other provinces, such as Alberta for oil patch jobs. “The pandemic seemed to drive a burst of migration from other provinces early in 2020,” says Lovitt. “But for the year overall, fewer people arrived compared to 2019, and 2021 isn’t off to a strong start.” Things will likely pick up as the province opens up, he says. And, of course, some people are buying before they even set foot in the province. * Data sources: Turner Drake, CMHC, StatsCan, Nova Scotia Association of Realtors Infosparks



SEPT / OCT 2021

By the numbers The sweet spot for apartment vacancies, considered balanced for both renters and apartment owners: Apartment vacancy rate in 2019, the tightest on record: Apartment hunters had slightly better luck in 2020 as the vacancy rate increased, helped as COVID curbed the usual influx of international students, immigrants, and people moving from other provinces:

4% 1.0%



The softer Percentage vacancy rate gain in four wasn’t enough to years: ease up increasing median rents in 2020: $1,099 Bidding wars have sent the median sale price surging so far in 2021:


Average number of listings for each home sold so far in 2021: 1.0 Percentage increase over the same period in 2018, a gain fueled by rising prices and growing demand for higherpriced homes as low interest rates enable people to afford more house for the same mortgage payment:

In 2018: 5.3

In 2019: 3.4

The median sales price peak for single-family homes and condos, in May 2021: $500,000



The price in July 2021:


In a trend that started in 2020, the average sold price was above the listing price, reflecting rampant bidding wars, as in July 2021’s asking price ratio, as a percentage: 109%

112% $456,954

The peak, in April and June:

The ratio for most of 2018:

97% Number of people leaving Nova Scotia for elsewhere in Canada in 2020: 13,020 in 2019: 14,371 Number of people relocating to Nova Scotia from elsewhere in Canada in 2020: 17,183 in 2019: 18,136

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HEY HALIFAX, WHERE WILL THE ROAD LEAD YOU THIS FALL? Discover 8 exciting road trips in New Brunswick. Visit

Fundy Trail Parkway


ABM leads IT solutions for today’s fast-paced businesses


or 30 years, ABM Integrated Solutions, a Halifax-based IT solutions provider and integrator, has been serving large and small organizations across a wide range of industries in Atlantic Canada. Today, ABM Integrated Solutions has evolved beyond what it means to be a technology outsourcer into an organization dedicated to delivering technical excellence across the Atlantic region. “Our mission is to be a reliable and trusted partner for our customers, providing technology solutions and services to empower their success,” says Craig Lynk, President ABM Integrated Solutions. ABM aligns strategically with small and medium-sized businesses (SMB), delivering technical integrations, solutions, and platforms. ABM understands the pace of change and the ongoing challenges organizations face within the new digital economy. Technological challenges and advances are constant, and to stay competitive, businesses today need to remain current. In many ways, organizations’ technical programs need to secure and drive a successful business strategy. That’s why today, ABM considers itself more than just another technology company, but rather an organization that supports a wide range of SMB customers as a partner, delivering exceptional IT solutions tailored to the individual needs of their customers. “We help organizations be their best by doing what we do best,” says Mr. Hall-Hoffarth, “we provide inclusive programs designed to enable the organization and allow companies to focus on their business goals and objectives.” But don’t just take his word for it. Cortney Burns, the Director of Finance and Administration at the Greater Moncton International Airport, had this to say, “as with most organizations, cybersecurity is a critical focus for Greater Moncton International Airport (GMIA). ABM provides technical guidance and expertise, with a focus on ensuring our systems and information are protected from unauthorized access, both inside and outside of our organization. With the support of ABM, we implemented several security initiatives that have improved our technical readiness and increased our security posture to support key business initiatives. ABM continues to be a valuable resource in meeting the needs of GMIA.” One recent ABM client, Cherubini went further to say, “we had a complex system integration that required a high level of technical expertise and knowledge we couldn’t field in-house,” said Michael Gasparetto, the company’s Managing Director. “ABM not only solved our problem, but they also worked with us to greatly improve our overall IT infrastructure and service promise.” To do what Mr. Hall-Hoffarth says, “we do our best to understand and support our customer’s needs.” ABM frequently works with world-class partners such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), the global edge-tocloud platform-as-a-service company that helps organizations accelerate outcomes by unlocking value from all of their data, everywhere. “We’ve found ABM’s particular ability to execute complicated infrastructure projects to be extremely beneficial,” said Paula Hodgins, President of HPE Canada.“The efficiencies are passed on to clients in reliability and valueadded functionalities. which, in the long run, means cost-competitiveness.” Within all of this, Mr. Hall-Hoffarth says, “reliability and customercentricity are the keys to our success.” “We work with businesses to understand not only their immediate needs but also their long-term objectives. We continue this collaborative approach to find the best solutions within our partner networks, working closely with HPE, Aruba (a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company), and Fortinet (to name a few) to

"We are a reliable and trusted partner to our customers. We provide technology solutions and services to empower their success." deliver best-in-class, cost-effective solutions. Then, we apply an integrated, tailored approach to drive service excellence and bottom-line results for our customers.” In fact, ABM’s Managed Services and Service Desk offerings are specifically designed for SMBs that require in-depth analyses and ongoing support for their growing technology needs, aligned with real-world outcomes. But what does this mean? ABM can bring efficient and accessible cloud computing solutions to businesses, providing secure, effective computing options that help reduce IT overhead, enhance security, and improve bottom-line profitability. As part of ABM’s suite of offerings is the ABM Advantage Basic Plan, which allows clients to focus on cost management while also providing them with options to choose from a large selection of IT products and services. To go a step further, ABM’s Advantage Plus Plan leverages the company’s technical expertise to eliminate distractions associated with selecting and managing products and services aligned with business outcomes. ABM also offers the Advantage CIO Program, which goes beyond software, hardware, and support services. The CIO works directly with a client’s leadership teams to forecast business change, create long-term IT roadmaps, and oversee large-scale development projects. ABM also focuses on safeguarding valuable stakeholder relationships in a variety of ways by conducting comprehensive security assessments for their customers. Additionally, as a Fortinet partner, ABM can provide monitoring services to ensure a client’s environment remains secure. In fact, ABM’s Peace of Mind offers professional security assessments that help instill confidence for all stakeholders. The bottom line is, regardless of the need or the scale of the solution – whether it be a large, complex project in a fast-paced environment or a smaller initiative with a tight timeline – ABM supports customers by providing effective solutions designed specifi cally for an individual business’ needs. “Whether a business is expanding an office, taking its on-premise servers to the cloud, or requiring the expertise of a virtual CIO, we have integrated technology plans that will meet the need,” Mr. Hall-Hoffarth says. “For SMBs, the accelerating pace of IT change is a fact of life. We know this from our experience, and we have the technical expertise and knowledge to help your organization prosper, both today and tomorrow.”



Title: Bilby Date: 2021 Medium: paper collage on wood panel Size: 6” x 8”

Andrea Crouse’s art is a form of collage mastered over years of thoughtful practice. She takes tiny paper cut-outs from magazines and glues them onto wood panels, a slow and deliberate process that gives her a sense of calm and relaxation. From the artist: “This paper collage artwork features colourful houses along Bilby Street in North End Halifax. Bright paint on wood shingles and decorative mouldings are a part of our city’s landscape that is rapidly changing in the face of new development. Newly constructed buildings on nearby Isleville Street peek out from around the corner in this scene.”

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Welcome to the family, Unravel. Here’s to a new dawn of boldly telling Halifax’s stories — to getting to the heart of the local headlines that really matter, and telling them with authenticity. Advocate is behind the voices of Atlantic Canada’s best businesses and stories, including Unravel Magazine. We’re excited to launch Unravel and watch it take off.



Decolonizing minds— one story at a time BY TREVOR J. ADAMS


Courtesy Of CBC Podcasts

f you’re like most Canadians, you’ve had occasion to realize lately that a great deal of what you think you know about First Nations history is wrong. This was not a mostly empty land before the Europeans arrived. There were thriving Indigenous communities across the continent, vibrant cultures with strong traditions and histories. One of the most lasting and damaging legacies of colonialism is the twisting of Indigenous history, creating lies, half-truths, and misconceptions that so many people today accept as facts. With CBC’s recent Telling Our Twisted Histories podcast series, host Kaniehti:io Horn “brings us together to decolonize our minds— one word, one concept, one story at a time.” Over 11 episodes, listeners explore topics like education, the significance of names, the truth about Pocahontas, and what reconciliation really entails. Spoiler: It’s more than just saying “sorry.”

Solitutde by Jacqueline Potvin-Boucher, Indigenous Artist

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telling halifax stories.

sign up for free and get unravelled

print / digital / online



H A To get the bright future it deserves, Halifax needs to take an honest look at itself — meet the people fighting for change

Ezabriell Fraser

HALIFAX HAS A HUBRIS PROBLEM Rebecca Thomas (left) and Dr. Margaret Casey

Steve Smith/VisionFire

We like to think of our city as hip, fun, dynamic. But we often fail to recognize its ugly underbelly — an unjust, unfair place for so many, for so long. “Its well-intention is also its big blind spot,” says Rebecca Thomas, a Mi’kmaw writer and former Halifax poet laureate. Thomas shared this frustration and more at a roundtable with four other local changemakers invited to Unravel’s North End offices to chart a better course for K’jipuktuk (the original Mi’kmaq name for Halifax, meaning “the Great Harbour”). While there might be lots to be excited about, unsolved problems drag on. A lack of respect for Indigenous peoples. Four hundred years (and counting) of anti-Black racism. Police brutality and racial profiling. Wages below the poverty line. Unaffordable housing. Unnecessary red tape for international students and immigrants. Inaccessible transport for residents with disabilities. Self-satisfied apathy that overlooks societal ills or dismisses them as inevitable. “When I was growing up, I thought Halifax was about the people,” says Kate Macdonald, an activist and artist of African Nova Scotian descent. “That’s why we got the reputation that we have — not because we have shiny buildings, but because of the way people are here, whatever the rep is.” Now, unless people themselves are affected, they don’t care, she says. “We’re not this poor port town that’s struggling. It’s not like that anymore. There’s lots of money here,” she says. “It’s about attracting new people for the economy. It’s about displacing people to make space for things that look nicer. It’s about forgetting people in prisons and jails and not really worrying about what our educational system is doing.” Dr. Margaret Casey, a retired physician who spent 25 years working at the North End Community Health Centre, says work is ongoing on important issues but it “needs to be escalated.” “We are not truly inclusive and we don’t have equity and diversity in the proper way in this city,” she says. Max Taylor, a TikTok star who came in a not-sodistant third in the 2020 race for Halifax mayor, is frustrated more people aren’t stepping up. “People my age, a bunch who are finishing school, have a lot of things to say on social media,” he says. “But they’re not sending the letters. They’re not talking to people about it. They’re not running themselves. They’re not going out to try and help people who are running to try and change things.” The apathy is why “nothing ever changes,” he says. “Just because it hasn’t happened before doesn’t mean it can’t … If no one’s done it before, be the first. I don’t think enough people have that mindset.”

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Frances Dadin-Alli, a Nigerian who immigrated to Halifax in 2010 to study at Dalhousie University, says people need to sacrifice their time and take a stand. “I climbed my way to the position I am now, as Pride chair, because I want change,” she says. “I’m always questioning rules and regulations … I want it to be inclusive for everybody.”

Tangled in red tape

Dadin-Alli’s biggest frustration with Halifax is the lack of government support and unnecessary red tape for immigrants and international students. “I don’t think the government has given immigrants a lot of opportunity to further themselves,” she says. “I’ve struggled a lot. There are so many criteria we need to catch up with as immigrants before we can have the privilege of every Canadian and permanent resident … It holds you back.” International students pay double the university tuition fees and are restricted about the hours they can work to support themselves. To gain a post-graduation visa and apply for permanent residency, they are required to get work in their field of study, she says. “How many people can say they finished university and got the exact job they went to school for?” In her case, it’s a bachelor of arts degree in gender and women studies with a certificate in disability management. Now that she’s gained permanent residency status after 11 years, she’s opening a restaurant. Thomas, an Aboriginal student services supervisor at the Nova Scotia Community College, says the process for international students smacks of paternalism. “They’re charging you more and saying you’re not allowed to work,” she says. “When I was a full-time master’s student and had four jobs, no one said, ‘No, no, you can’t.’ It makes it harder for them to succeed.”

Ben Murray

We all pay for unaffordable housing



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Universities get big bucks from the province and one reason they charge higher fees is because international students often don’t stick around after graduation. Taylor says staying is out of reach for many international students. “When I did my whole little political stint, I talked to people who were students who came here,” he says. “They said they’d like to stay, but that they can’t afford to stay. If you look at a lot of the apartments around the universities, they’re paying these high,


Kate Macdonald Kordeena Clayton

high prices to live in these tiny one-bedrooms and it’s just going up and up and up.” Casey says government seems to be making a genuine attempt to provide more affordable housing, what she calls “an urgent crisis here in the city.” “I’m not just talking about the people who are homeless. That’s a huge problem,” she says. “But people who were not able to pay their rent and have been evicted.” Casey was part of an unsuccessful court challenge to turn the shuttered St. Patrick’s-Alexandra Elementary School into a community hub with affordable housing. The developer building on the site wants approval for two luxury towers, over 20 storeys each, to be able to pay for the few affordable housing units that would be there. “That has to be addressed,” says Casey. One solution would be a community benefit agreement between developers and coalitions of community groups, says Macdonald. “However much money you make, a percentage of it has to go directly back to the community. We don’t have that here … We’re just stuck right now.” Macdonald says the community cares, but she’s not sure about government. “We saw the community rally and make these shelters for folks and now the city is saying we’re taking them down because they’re ugly.” Casey says safety, not aesthetics, is the concern with the temporary shelters at sites around the city. “Those

structures are not the answer. There has to be a dignified way ... that is safe and affordable.”

Be the change

Change is overdue. “I think that the pandemic has made people — not everybody, I don’t want to sound like a Pollyanna here — [spend] time reflecting on what are the really important things that we have to do,” says Casey. “Whether we’ll move from that reflection to actually doing, I’m not sure what the spur will be. But I am hopeful that people are seeing things with a slightly different lens, maybe not a totally different one. The question is: how do we make the move into action?” Paying a living wage, creating more affordable housing, improving accessibility, and easing the path for international students and immigrants are problems that could be fixed now, with the right push and political will. But to become a city where all people are treated equitably, Halifax needs to abandon its old 19th-century ways. That means stop trying to fix the existing system and come up with a new, better one that supports rather than oppresses. The city can get there. But it will require disruption and discomfort. “We could have a Mi’kmaw mayor in Halifax and I don’t think that would meaningfully change how Mi’kmaw people are treated,” says Thomas. It takes courage to give up the way we’ve always done things, but we’ve done it before. “There was a God-selected monarch that had a feudal system,”




Macdonald adds, “We also need to disenchant ourselves from what Halifax is … There’s lots of money here. There’s lots of push for the economy and infrastructure. But for who? And for what, when, why ... Those are conversations we need to have.”

Low bar

Striving for changes to make Halifax a better place isn’t some utopian ideal. “Our bars are so low,” says Thomas. “When people talk about why they’re proud to be Canadian, they say it’s free speech and health care — unless it’s your teeth or eyes or your mental health: free health care with an asterisk. Those should be human rights.” Every small step gets us closer, says Macdonald. “Small change is still change. We just need to do the work.”

Ben Murray

Deeds not words

says Thomas. “We thought that was the only way that we could operate in the world and we imagined something beyond that and it shifted and changed.” As with the overhaul of the feudal system, it will require elites giving up power and wealth. Thomas doesn’t see that happening willingly. “That’s where I kind of feel stuck,” she says. “So what do I do? I go home and I’m writing a romantic novel.” “That stuff is important too,” says Macdonald. “There’s value in however we’re surviving these systems. We’re always told it’s a waste of time to daydream. Everyone’s wildest idea came from a dream at some point. It’s not useless for me to dream what this world would look like if you had the capacity to actually just let me live. That’s as basic as it gets.” “Yeah,” says Thomas. “Without limitations.”

With Canada’s wealth built on resources from lands taken from displaced and killed Indigenous people, First Nation land acknowledgements should generate the same respect as veterans get on Remembrance Day, Thomas says. “We see an Indigenous person who’s homeless because they’ve been displaced from their communities and their land and they’re spat on. It makes makes me so mad because the displacement of Indigenous people has done more for this country than any other veteran ever has.” Thomas would be happy to never see another orange shirt or a flag lowered to half-mast to honour lost Indigenous children if the federal government would stop taking residential school survivors to court and provide Indigenous people with clean drinking water. “I’m done with symbolism,” she says. A start would be to fire all white people who run things for First Nations, she adds. “We have never had an Indigenous minister of Indigenous Affairs in Canada,” she says. “Have Indigenous people run things for Indigenous people because it’s incredibly paternalistic to think that politicians and white people would be able to properly assess and decide what Indigenous people need for success.”

Black lives still matter

As with First Nations, Nova Scotia has systemically marginalized and discriminated against Black people for centuries. “When I first saw the hashtag Every Child Matters, I was like don’t you dare let this be [a token] hashtag BLM for this year,” says Macdonald. “Because I know what it’s like to be a year out and people don’t care.” People are “way more anti-Black than they know,” she adds. “People are obsessed with Black people, but


Frances Dadin-Alli

Bruce Murray/VisionFire

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Bruce Murray/VisionFire


Too much to tackle?

With so many issues to tackle, changemakers, policymakers, and money are spread thin. Complacency is also a challenge. “Is it Every Child Matters? Is it Black Lives Matter? Or is it accessibility? Or is it newcomer immigrant?” says Macdonald. “What are you fired up about? Take that on. People are always going to see me as the anti-police girl … Do I think the justice system is whack? Absolutely. I focus on what I know and I speak from what I understand. That’s where all my fire goes.” There is symbolic change on some issues. But whether that will lead to meaningful change is not yet clear. “I don’t know if … symbolism is step one,” says Macdonald. “Or if there’s a step one we’re not taking because of symbolism.” People, even the oppressed, are continuing to step up and issues are resonating with Haligonians. “We have the capability to shift our kaleidoscope



SEPT / OCT 2021

and change what the outcome is if we stop being so — greedy maybe? Complacent. Scared,” says Macdonald. “If you’re scared, just do it anyways. I’m scared every time I go out into the streets. There’s nothing to protect me and I do it anyways.”

Change, not absolution

White guilt is no help. “If it’s a starting point to learn, that’s great. Then turn it into action,” says Thomas. “Acknowledge your privilege and utilize it. I don’t want to oppress white people so they know what it feels like. I want the same rights as white people.” People shouldn’t turn to Indigenous and Black people to absolve guilt. “There’s a collective movement of people learning about lost kids, residential schools, about police violence toward the Black community,” says Thomas, whose father attended Shubenacadie Residential School. “When they have their moments of breakdowns and ah-ha moments and feel guilty … they turn to us for absolution. I’m not the place to put your tears about residential school. It’s great. I’m so proud of you for taking this on, but don’t come to me. There’s a lack of boundaries about where it’s appropriate to put tears.”

A vision

Casey believes change starts with big ambitions. “That sounds way pie-in-the-sky stuff. But if people could get a sense of what this city could be and everybody has a part to play — everybody. Gradually, we would learn the different perspectives and what needs to be done,” she says. “Nothing is going to happen overnight. But if we could talk about a vision for the city, that could be something that would be an energizer.”

Ben Murray

they also hate Black people.” White people appropriate the culture, the hair, the music, she says. “They don’t realize I’m penalized for the same thing.” Dadin-Alli says people want to take the culture, but not to support Black people. The popularity of waist beads worn by African women to symbolize fertility and femininity is a prime example, she says. “Now on social media, it’s like a fashion where every woman wears them. I’m like, ‘Do you guys know what this means?’ It’s one thing to take people’s culture, but when they have an issue, you run away. You don’t stand with them.”


MEET THE PANEL See our changemakers' bios, and exclusive video from their discussion, at

Max Taylor



ara Thorne had always dreamed of being a filmmaker. As an arts journalist she’s rubbed elbows with filmmakers and actors, regularly attending the Toronto International Film Festival. In 2007 she made a short. On the morning of her 40th birthday, Thorne was on the phone with EI. She’d left her gig as a writer and editor, and things weren’t going well. “Your life is half over, you have no job, what are you going to do?” she says. Through the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative (AFCOOP) she tried Writing Small, a writers’ workshop. It’s geared to polish scripts for Telefilm’s Talent To Watch, a national financing program, giving filmmakers a chance to make micro-budget first features in the $150,000 range. In the stack of ideas Thorne had for a movie was a feminist revenge drama. Her mentor at AFCOOP, filmmaker Iain MacLeod, suggested she do that one. “I was wondering, ‘What if women were as violent as men?’” At the time she was chronically angry in the wake of #MeToo. “You have to get to 40 to accumulate that many micro-aggressions,” she says. “And I learned in that time how many of my close friends experienced sexual assault.” Thorne’s first feature, Compulsus, was shot in the spring over 15 days. But one movie doesn’t make a career, especially in Nova Scotia. In many ways it’s no easier DanCallis

Starring Robb Wells, the drama Dawn, Her Dad and The Tractor shot in Halifax at the height of the pandemic.



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Emerging from COVID-19, has Nova Scotia’s filmmaking industry finally found reliable funding and a way forward?

in 2021 to make a go of it as a filmmaker than it’s ever been, but what keeps filmmakers like Thorne striving is the need to tell their stories, spurred on by ridiculous levels of optimism. Ridiculous because the industry is built on funding and exhibition models that change, dissolve, resurge, and change again. In June, then-premier Iain Rankin committed to almost doubling the province’s film and television production incentive fund from $25 million to $48.6 million for this fiscal year. It’s unclear at the time of writing this story how the new Progressive Conservative government will fund the industry, but Laura Mackenzie, executive director of Screen Nova Scotia, says stable support is key. It’s been a long road back from 2015, when the Liberal government killed the Nova Scotia tax credit, crippling the industry. Something Rankin said at the announcement sticks with Mackenzie. “He said that the fund never stops, it never runs out, no eligible projects are turned away,” she says. “That’s never been said publicly before.” The problem with the incentive fund — as compared to the tax breaks on offer elsewhere — is it’s largely accepted to be capped. International studios looking to come here to make their movie or TV series can’t bank on that. They don’t want to sign contracts and then find the money’s run out, gone to other productions. “When he said that publicly, it validates the fact we’re a reliable partner in business,” says Mackenzie. Another sign Nova Scotia is reliable came last summer, when the industry successfully managed shows during the pandemic. Word spread to Hollywood of safe sets with rigid testing and distance protocols. The phone in Mackenzie’s office rang off the hook. She heard from all the big American streaming giants, many interested in bringing their shows to Nova Scotia. It made for a busy summer 2021: The Sinner, From, and Moonshine, formerly known as Feudal, all shot here. But infrastructure limits the ability of the local industry to serve these visiting productions. “We miss Electropolis,” says Mackenzie, referring

Jessie Redmond Photography

FOCUS to the former studio space on the Halifax harbourfront, now Nova Scotia Power’s head office, where shows like Lexx and The Conclave were once made. “I’ve had a number of conversations with project managers and engineering companies who are looking to get into owning a soundstage. We’re looking for the right partner to build something that can hold the level of production we have now, but also has acreage to grow.” That would bring more service, out-of-province productions here, and that’s a good thing. It’s good for the economy, and it’s good for local film crews, employing them and training them. That training opens them up to work on smaller, home-grown productions. But, there’s a concern from Nova Scotian producers that the incentive fund doesn’t do enough to help support their local, smaller-budget productions. Those budgets have reduced because of an absence of an equity fund, which was shut down back in 2015. “We used to do our first features for about a million dollars,” says Mackenzie. “That hired producers and editors. Now we see risk-taking, where directors are also writers and editors. It’s going to impact the quality of the project. And, not to mention, nobody is going to get paid.” Terry Greenlaw is the producer and partner at the production company Picture Plant, along with filmmaker William MacGillivray. Founded in 1981, it’s the oldest extant production company in Atlantic Canada. Picture Plant recently produced actor Shelley Thompson’s first feature as a writer-director, Dawn, Her Dad, And The Tractor, and in December will produce the first feature by actor-writer-director Koumbie, called Bystanders. “We’ve been lobbying for is something that would take the place of the equity fund,” says Greenlaw. “It could fill the hole that we find happens so often, a 20-per-cent hole to complete the film. Production companies and producers, they put their fees into that hole.” Greenlaw and MacGillivray moved their film

The Compulsus crew shoots at the Freehouse in Halifax.

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Courtesy: Karen Wentzell

Diggstown, another Nova Scotian success story, filming at Martinique Beach pre-COVID.



Under The Weather in Newfoundland because that province has an equity fund for homegrown filmmakers. She sympathizes with first-time filmmakers in Nova Scotia who hope to build a future on a film made for less than $200,000. “The budgets are so small,” says Greenlaw. “As Ron Hynes used to say, you can’t drink the sea and you can’t eat the air.” Bretten Hannam is a Mi’kmaw filmmaker from Bear River. Their pronouns are they/them, but they say that they’re “not terribly fussy about it because in Mi’kmaq there are no pronouns. That we’re all speaking English is the problem.” Their first feature was North Mountain, a 2015 thriller with both indigenous and 2SLGBTQ plot elements. But, following its release, people weren’t lining up to give Hannam a second opportunity. “No, goodness no,” they say. No regrets, though. The first-time experience of making a feature taught them resilience, shooting a film with a lot of exteriors in wintery weather. “It took almost two years before I got all the feeling back in my feet,” they say. It’s taken six years for Hannam to get a chance at a second feature. It’s called Wildhood, a coming-of-age Indigenous identity road movie about a teen crossing the province with his little half-brother. The film is being produced through another Telefilm funding stream with its budget coming in under $2.5 million.

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“My first one I shot in a crazy blizzard, and the second in a pandemic. You do learn a lot, and when you’re done, yeah, you want to do it again.” Hannam is thrilled to have had a second chance to make a movie, especially as the path ahead after the first was never clear. “I don’t have another job,” they say. “I live a sporadic paycheque-to-paycheque existence. Before COVID, I knew that I might get a couple workshop teaching gigs a year, or do some arts jury work, maybe a script review or treatment writing here and there. But since COVID, it’s been unpredictable. Besides that and grants, I keep my cost of living low.” The challenge for any Canadian feature film is finding an audience, especially on the big screen where the competition has multimillion-dollar marketing that puts bums in seats for the most recent Fast & Furious movie. Streaming and digital options are another possible avenue for success. “If you’re in the film business, you have to dream big,” says Gharrett Paon, Bretten Hannam’s producer on Wildhood, busy strategizing its release. It will premiere at TIFF and will screen shortly after at the Fin Atlantic International Film Festival. “Really it’s about getting the most amount of eyeballs. The film brings representation to two-spirit individuals, and my hope is that kids who represent that way will find it.” Koumbie’s working toward shooting her drama,

Corey Isenor

Bystanders, at the end of the year, but she’s not thinking of the big screen at all. “It won’t be shot specifically with a theatrical release in mind,” she says. “I’m not being precious about how audiences want to see it. The way Telefilm weighs these things, the funding bodies care about that, but artistically, and personally, I’m not shooting it for a cinema. Our audience is a younger audience and people are watching films at home — it’s a fact. I’m even taking into consideration that people will watch this on their phone.” Marc Almon may have the answer for both sides of this equation: Nova Scotian films for those who love watching movies in cinemas, and those who want to watch at home. With his partner Rob Power, he runs Culture Link CIC, which operates Light House, the new media, performance, and production centre in downtown Halifax. It includes a studio and performance space, and is the new home of CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes. That’s not where Almon’s ambitions end. “One of the things we’re trying to address is a need for more commissioning agents in the Atlantic region,” he says. “The consolidation of broadcasters in Canada has been severely detrimental to filmmaking here. There’s a handful of decision-makers in Toronto who say what gets made. We want to provide more options for local decision-making.” That includes a project they have in development called Light House Go, a streaming service for Canadian content. “We want to partner with Atlantic Canadian filmmakers, that’s the ambition for Light House Go,” says Almon. He hasn’t given up on getting Canadian films on the big screen, either. Plans are afoot for an independent cinema at Light House. “We have to make it more of an event again, to encourage people to come out to films,” he says. “Cineplex is a terrible company, they don’t care about local tastes. I look to the United Kingdom where there’s much more competition. Why can’t we have more cinemas like that? We’re talking about smaller cinemas, and maybe add other components to the mix — beer, or wine, or tapas. If you look at the Devour film fest, they’ve hit on a very smart model. “If we can find that way forward, I think people would love to see the return of neighbourhood cinemas. In Halifax we’re so deprived, we don’t even have the Oxford anymore.” Spinster was Andrea Dorfman’s Halifax-shot comedy aiming at a theatrical release last year. Starring Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Chelsea Peretti, it had a real chance to stand out. The pandemic scuppered those plans and it was released online. “Spinster was a disappointment in that it didn’t get into cinemas,” says Jay Dahl, the film’s producer. “But, we did see the numbers and it found a large audience. That was very much because of Chelsea. I’ve never made a film with serious marquee talent, and she’s a name. It

TOP: On the set of local production Hustle & Heart. BELOW: Insiders had high hopes for the local production Spinster, starring Chelsea Peretti.

Corey Isenor

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opened a lot of doors and it’s done well.” Dahl says hiring an American star is a way to make a Canadian film stand out from the crowd, a business decision Canadian producers have made in the past. “Budgets in L.A. have collapsed,” he says. “Major A-list stars are looking at movies at $2 million or $3 million. Suddenly, it makes Canadian financing interesting.” The question remains: if you’re dealing with budgets under $2 million, or maybe a lot less than that, how do you rise above the noise, find an audience, and have a career as a filmmaker in Nova Scotia? Tara Thorne hopes Compulsus gets into the festival circuit and get some attention there, but beyond that she has no expectations. “The idea that I would be making a film in my 40s? For some reason it happened. I might not get to make two, but I made one. That’s made me feel extremely privileged. “I wanted to see professional actors create this world, and just make magic.”

LOCAL SPOTLIGHT The biggest showcase for East Coast filmmaking talent, Fin Atlantic International Film Festival, returns from Sept. 16 to 23. The lineup will feature both virtual and in-person programming. “The festival experience is so much about community enjoyment of films from here and around the world, so the team at Fin is thrilled to be able to say, ‘We’re back!’, executive director Wayne Carter says in an announcement on the festival website. “With last year’s introduction of our Fin Stream event, we now have multiple ways to bring the magic of movies to our audience, not only locally in person, but online to the rest of Atlantic Canada.”

Above: State-of-the-art Light House Studios is a key production hub for films and live performances like this Cariboo Run show for the Halifax Jazz Festival.



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Lindsay-Bea Davis

Wildhood, written and directed by two-spirit L’nu filmmaker Bretten Hannam, is its 2021 Opening Night Gala Film. The film tells the story of Link and Travis, two Mi’kmaw brothers who embark on a two-spirit odyssey, reconnecting with culture and the territory of Mi’kma’ki (Nova Scotia) while trying to find Link’s mother. The film deals with themes of community, culture, language, and identity. Learn more at

Cabot Trail

Plan your fall road trip at FallForCapeBreton

Breathing underwater Bruce Murray / VisionFire

As Halifax’s kids return to school this month, are they ready for the new normal? Are we? BY ALEC BRUCE



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he question will dog people for years, even generations, to come: Where were you when the pandemic hit? Like the rest of us, Coady Monk has a story. “We didn’t know what COVID was back in March 2020,” says the recent graduate of Charles P. Allen High School in Bedford, whose goal was to become a police officer. “No one imagined this happening. It seemed so surreal.” First, there was the incessant hand washing and doorknob disinfecting. Then, there were the social distancing and the masks that made everyone appear like extras in a medical soap opera. Finally, there were the hastily rigged online learning platforms that insinuated themselves into a user’s private space like so many artificially enhanced hall monitors. “I remember an exam where the teachers required us to turn our cameras on for 2.5 hours,” says Monk, who recalls more than a few moments of “overwhelming stress” after being sent home — along with thousands of other Nova Scotia school kids — to pursue his academic career in front of a screen. “Well, you know, a person may be a little insecure about what’s showing in the background … It’s not normal.” Around the city, even after in-person learning had resumed, the dystopian future had dug in. If you were a fan of apocalypse genre movies, you recognized the signs immediately: the hastily abandoned streets and shuttered store fronts; the blinking billboards instructing citizens to remain calm and “be kind,” the electronic image of someone’s big brother telling someone else to “stay the blazes home,” the socially bubbled kids in family cars dotting school parking lots before sunset. To a degree, Coady (who had received his first dose of vaccine by the time we talked) still struggles with those memories, those profoundly pernicious glitches in the matrix of everyday life. He’s taking the next year off to consider his options, to get his bearings. But that doesn’t stop him from thinking about today. It’s September and 53,000 Halifax kids are heading back to 135 schools. What about them? What now? It’s another good question, and one that’s preoccupying parents, teachers, administrators and, certainly, more than a few pandemically seasoned tykes and teenagers as the first school year of the vaccine era heaves into view. Is this the year that things return to normal — oldtimey, happy-go-lucky normal — for the kids? Or are they looking at a simulacrum of a thing they’ll only truly appreciate in storybooks? Most poignantly, perhaps, how have the past 18 months changed the city’s school children? Are we and our educational system equipped to help them deal with and adapt to the way we all live now? Paul Wozney is president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, a former teacher, and the father of three kids enrolled in Halifax public schools. He’s not so sure about this return to normal business.

Opposite page: Coady Monk recalls distance learning as a time of “overwhelming stress.” Above: The transition from the classroom was a jarring shock for many kids.

“I think most people have a lot of hope that we’re going to be able to resume life as we knew it this month,” he says. “I don’t think that hope is illegitimate. I think it’s the human condition.” But, he says, “after in-person learning resumed in June, the lion’s share of new cases happened in publicly funded pre-primary classrooms. We had almost 1,000 kids come down with COVID-19, most of them in the late stages of the school year.” The problem is especially troubling now that several virulent strains of the virus are on the march. In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga., reported that at least four variants (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta) were rapidly gaining traction in the U.S. and throughout the developed world, including Canada. These mutations, researchers said, “seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. An increase in the number of cases will put more strain on healthcare resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths.” Fortunately, it also said, the current crop of vaccines seems to work on them. On the other hand, kids age 12 and under can’t be inoculated. “And they’re the ones who are spreading COVID-19 under conditions that we have set up for them,” Wozney says. These conditions include cramped and poorly ventilated classrooms at the worst possible moment in the

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Bruce Murray / VisionFire

city’s history. “We’ve gone from understanding COVID-19 to being a droplet-transmitted disease, to being an aerosol-transmitted disease,” he says. “Meanwhile, we don’t know how many schools have ventilation systems that meet national standards. How many do not? And how many have none at all?” And there’s another quandary. Should a fourth wave crash this fall, who’s now able to sandbag the home front? “It might sound melodramatic to some, but this has been a really traumatic experience for a lot of families in Nova Scotia,” Wozney says. “We have a huge proportion of Nova “Some of us are good Scotians who rely on multiple minimum wage jobs to make ends meet swimmers, and some and care for their loved ones, and COVID has threatened their very of us are drowning” viability. They were just OK before, but during the pandemic they end—Amy Spurway ed up firmly beyond that margin. And they have not been OK. Their kids have not been OK.” Amy Spurway, a writer and author and mother of three who lives in Dartmouth, is not so precariously situated. But she can relate. “The saying has been, ‘we’re all in this together’, we’re all in the same boat. But actually, we’re not. We’re in the same sea. And some of us have a boat. And some of us are swimming like our lives depend on it. Some of us are good swimmers, and some of us are drowning.” Two of her kids (twins) graduated last year. Her 13-year-old is entering Grade 9. All are on the autism spectrum. For her, the threat of new exposures, aging



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public school infrastructure, and personal reserves of strength and resilience stretched to the vanishing point may be real and present dangers this year, but another big challenge will be ensuring that the province’s education system is responsive to individual needs, especially in a time when rolling crises require nimble thinking. “One of the fantastic things that has come of this pandemic is mental health services being moved online,” she says. “This actually allowed my oldest daughters access to the type of supports they have needed for years, but we as a family couldn’t manage because it meant finding childcare for the other, it meant getting them to appointments, it meant, you know, parking somewhere.” On the other hand, she says, “the difference between how the high school and the junior high school handled online learning were completely night and day. The high school kids were allowed to touch base with their teachers online, and everything was posted on Google classroom. There were no supports for my daughter in junior high. So, these are the types of things that can’t be done with one size fits all. There are kids who benefited and did really well with online learning. And there are kids for whom it was an absolute disaster.” Ultimately, she says, “the thing that strikes me is how this experience has revealed and made clearer and more obvious the humanity of everybody. We saw were teachers teaching from their homes, with their own children calling for them or crawling up on their lap. This is a time that has given us the opportunity to see each other in more human terms…We have an opportunity to move towards a more human-centred education system.” Getting “the system” to respond accordingly is what Wozney does for a living. With varying degrees of success. Currently, the province’s return-to-school plan is a formidable document, fortified with dozens of rules, guidelines, codicils; not all of them straightforward or easy to implement, and none of them individualized or even especially “responsive.” More concerning, the document (which refers to the September 2020 school year, but was “updated” in June) seems oddly outdated. “The province is planning for all children to return to school on Sept. 8, 2020,” it says. “This may change if direction is provided to the department by Public Health in response to their assessment of changing COVID-19 conditions in Nova Scotia.” Meanwhile, it asks that educators “open windows when it is safe to do so, ensure [the] ventilation system operates properly and is routinely maintained, and increase air exchanges by adjusting the HVAC system.” As for viral surface contact, recently determined a non-starter in epidemiological circles, the rules say that “disinfectants should be used to eliminate the coronavirus that causes COVID-19” and that “cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces (e.g. doorknobs, railings, bathrooms, desks, tables, light switches, water fountains, etc.) should occur at least twice daily.”

Bruce Murray / VisionFire

Mom Amy Spurway says that for her family, the pandemic brought surprisingly improved access to mental health supports.

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Parents and students alike are desperately hoping for consistency and normalcy this academic year. Bruce Murray / VisionFire

Says Wozney, before last month’s provincial election: “The reopening plan was announced last August (2020), and this government and Public Health never once went back to it to re-evaluate whether or not it was still working based on updated understanding of the pandemic … We have to start planning for a safe September at the earliest possible opportunity, because you can’t drop a plan on people three weeks before the school year starts, and expect everybody just to be able to adjust because you’ve made a press release ... I haven’t heard from the [education] minister in over a month.” Somewhere in the burdened, broken-hearted centre of all this are the teachers on who almost everything — how the kids do, how they feel, how they adapt, how they perceive their rapidly unfolding, capriciously unreliable universe — depends. “We know they are not babysitters,” Wozney says. “They are exquisitely trained professionals. But, under the circumstances, they are a whole lot more than even that.” Coady Monk agrees. “The teachers did a phenomenal job,” he says. “If I were going back to “This has been a school online this year, I would say we need more staffing for really traumatic educational program assistants. A teacher deals with roughly 30 experience for a students in the class, and that’s too many. If we had more EPAs lot of families” who are able to connect with students one-on-one and have —Paul Wozney that clear communication with those students … to try and clarify things and try and help the student understand things. That would be great.” For Monk, though the memories linger and will likely be with him for the rest of his life, they’re not all disturbing or exhausting. Sure, actual graduation was strange or, as he might say, surreal. “There were three check-ins,” he says. “The first was by name. The second was by vehicle. You could have up to two vehicles, one for the graduate and other for any families and friends up to four people. At the third check in, you stepped out, walked towards the vice principals, and got ready to go over the crosswalk — a blue and white crosswalk with Cheetah paw print on it. And then you received your diploma, grabbed your photo and left.” Still, the recollections of the support he received during the months of living and studying covidedly shine brightly. “In a way, I’m grateful I got to experience this over the past 18 months,” he says. “You know, for me, personally, my marks went down. That’s not just me; everyone I’ve talked to said their marks went down when they were online. But if I were going back to school, I think, honestly, I would be happy just trying to live every moment.”


The Floatation Centre’s Lindsay MacPhee proves doing good is good business BY ROBYN McNEIL PHOTOS BY AARON McKENZIE FRASER


efore you even walk through the Floatation Centre (TFC) doors, you sense something different awaits. The rainbow flags, inspirational quotes, and anti-racist messages that greet you at the front door confirm the centre’s reputation as a safe, inclusive space is not just well-earned. It’s intentional. Stepping inside the centre, which just marked six years in business, you find a cozy, welcoming space. A bright teal accent wall behind the front desk casts a cheery aura and highlights the counter’s honey-stained wood. Colourful Tibetan prayer flags hang across a hallway to the right of the desk. To the left, a place to leave your shoes, and a waiting area and retail space that features a large palette sofa and a selection of local goods for purchase. Another hall leads to more of the centre, including the back office. That’s where I meet the centre’s founder, Lindsay MacPhee. MacPhee radiates happiness. That may sound trite, but it’s true. It’s almost like she vibrates at a higher frequency. Yet, despite that natural buzz, she still exudes an even calm that leaves you completely at ease. “She’s nothing but a bundle of good energy and love,” says Mase Keeping, a massage therapist who works out of the centre one day a week. Obviously, as a boss, she’s awesome. But as a person, she’s amazing.” Queer girl in a rural world MacPhee started life in rural Nova Scotia. Until about 13 or 14, she lived with her parents and younger sister in a tiny community called MacPhees Corner in Hants County. At that time three branches of her family called the corner home, but the name is pure coincidence as far as she knows. In her early teens, MacPhee’s parents divorced. While her dad stayed in the corner, her mom relocated to Shubenacadie. MacPhee and her sister spent the years that followed moving between them in two-week rotations. While many teens struggle when parents divorce, MacPhee wound up with “two awesome sets of parents,” she smiles. “I’m very lucky. My mom (who does the centre’s accounting) is my best friend.” MacPhee loved the adventures her country home offered during her earliest years, but as she grew, the isolation, rural lifestyle, and small-town mentality made her feel caged.

Although she wasn’t out at the time, MacPhee (who is pansexual) knew she wasn’t straight either. The disconnection between her lived experience and internal reality hit her. “I couldn’t wait to leave,” recalls MacPhee. “Now, living in the city. I miss the rural. The slowness of it,” she adds. “And the comforts of home.” A different world After high school, MacPhee enrolled in engineering at Saint Mary’s University. In 2004, she graduated with a 4.1 GPA and headed to the University of British Columbia for a degree in chemical engineering with an environmental focus. During that time in B.C., MacPhee married. A few years later, when the marriage ended, she avoided the knee-jerk reaction to return to Nova Scotia right away, wanting to make a go of it independently. But, during her last year on the West Coast, everything that could go wrong did. A best friend’s father passed away, then MacPhee’s aunt and cousin followed. She finally decided to drive home from Vancouver with her best friend. But one month before they were planning to leave, a health issue claimed his life, too. MacPhee even lost the engineering job she’d arranged for Nova Scotia. Luckily, she had a good relationship with the company, and they intervened with employment insurance. So, she had a little breathing room to figure out her next move. Lightbulb moment Just before MacPhee left Vancouver in 2013, a friend surprised her with a birthday float (a therapeutic session of drifting in an isolation tank free from external stimuli, intended to relax body and mind). Fast forward a few weeks, and she’s in Halifax without a job. Lying in bed one morning, she thought, “I just need to find a place to float.” When she looked online, the closest tanks were in Montreal. “And it was just a total fucking lightbulb moment.” Armed with an idea, MacPhee got to work, using her engineering skills to dig into the science of floatation. To some, climbing in a tank of saltwater for 75 minutes of sensory deprivation might sound a bit “woo-woo,” but nearly 70 years of research documents the wide range of benefits floating offers. Floating can ease chronic pain, improve circulation, reduce stress, improve mental and physical performance, boost mood, and enhance overall wellbeing. And that’s only some of the potential gains. Feeling good about her plan to bring floating to Halifax, MacPhee applied to the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education & Development’s Self-Employment Program, a program open to EI recipients to help participants get a business off the ground. Although MacPhee’s first application was unsuccessful, her second made the cut, and TFC opened in 2015.

Lindsay MacPhee started out as an engineer, before having her “lightbulb moment.”

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For loyal customer Jennifer Crawford (left), the service Lindsay MacPhee offers is a mental health essential.

Whole love Growing up near Indian Brook, the inequalities between her own life and the lives of Indigenous friends provided some of the lessons that led MacPhee to weave social justice into her business priorities. Others came from her close relationship with her sister, who opened her eyes to a lot. In the past, MacPhee was more vocal about environmental issues than anything else. But, since opening TFC, she’s seen the barriers keeping some people from the benefits services like hers. So, she decided to approach business by ignoring rules that say there’s no place for compassion in the bottom line. From the beginning, MacPhee let that compassion light the way, choosing to pay staff above the minimum wage. And anyone who works 25 hours a week is considered full-time, which means they qualify for benefits, with the centre paying half the premium. In the six years since, MacPhee raised wages consistently. Now everyone makes at least $15 per hour. While that’s not as high as she would like, it’s more than many businesses of her type offer. “My mom would probably say that I am a bit selfsacrificing,” says MacPhee, adding her motto is “attack with love ... These are the things that are important.” The phrase, which lives on her forearm as a brightly coloured reminder, is from the song “Whole Love” by Wilco. The philosophy takes many forms at The Floatation Centre. MacPhee’s committed to supporting folks whose mental health, safety, and wellness aren’t supported in



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traditional clinical settings by offering half-price floats to self-identified Black and Indigenous clients. For Canada Day, Taylor Milne, one of TFC’s float hosts and a future massage therapist, came to MacPhee with a proposition. Never one to celebrate, Milne offered to open the centre and work for free if TFC would donate all proceeds to the Grassroots Grandmothers Circle, a First Nations group leading the fight against the Alton gas-storage project. MacPhee agreed. “I think giving to water protectors is meaningful because we value water so much,” says Milne. “And I think focusing on how we can mobilize our resources and our privilege to support indigenous and BIPOC lives is really important.” MacPhee and her staff work mindfully to integrate community care into every aspect of the centre, whether through efforts like the half-price policy or supporting local artists and businesses by offering their products for sale. “With small business,” says MacPhee, “it’s easy to put you into a box, and the first five years, you never do these things. After five years, you do these things. Like, no, screw it. I believe in tithing. I love the idea of giving to get like; it’s just this total flow. I’m just happy to do things in our own way and have that flexibility and the support of everyone who works here, who is on board. Or are the spark (or instigators) of the good stuff.” Cultivating kindness A simple way to create a culture of kindness in the workplace is to hire accordingly. “Every person who works here, now and in the future,

they’re hired based on compassion first,” says MacPhee. “You don’t know how to use Excel? I’ll teach you.” For Keeping, who spends hours in wellness spaces as both client and practitioner, it’s a decidedly different sort of workplace. “You can feel that energy if you walk into a place and don’t see anything that reflects you,” they say. “So, it’s been a thing for me on a personal level to make sure that anywhere I go, people are aware people like me exist.” “Lindsay is the embodiment of the place,” says Milne. “She is very what you see is what you get.” There’s no act, and that helps people feel more comfortable in their quirks, says Milne. It doesn’t hurt that she holds space for people to make mistakes. “It’s not you’re no longer a part of our community. It’s, how can we facilitate change [for good]? And I think that’s important.” Making meaning For Jennifer Crawford, floating played a big part in how they learned to survive. Crawford, a food creative and aspiring pro wrestler, found floating while searching for a salve for their PTSD. At this point, their nervous system was constantly on its highest gear. Imagine a car in park with the gas pedal to the floor. You’re burning your tires, but getting nowhere. Crawford started floating once a week. And it worked. “I can still vividly remember my first session,” recalls Crawford. For 50 minutes straight, it was an absolute cacophony in Crawford’s head. Just noticing the speed of thought was shocking. “It was wild to witness,” they remember. “Over a month or so, my thoughts got slower and slower. It changed my life profoundly.” Although they have yet to get in a float at MacPhee’s centre, they know how vital the methods are.

“Lindsay is doing something so special,” says Crawford. “When you see it modelled, you know it’s possible. It’s not just, ‘we’re going to make money,’ it’s, ‘we are going to make meaning’ ... I wish there were a million Lindseys. When people bring their whole selves to what they do. It inspires other people ... That kind of impact can’t be measured.” Attitude of gratitude MacPhee is grateful to those who’ve inspired her life and business. She holds people like Sheena Russell of Made with Local as an example of good business ethos. Another close friend, a local activist, consistently models how to always be in service. And Crawford’s admiration is mirrored. “Jennifer has helped me be more vocal with my queerness,” says MacPhee. They made me realize that if being queer is going to be part of your identity in a way that benefits you, then you’ve got to own it ... I like cheering on people who are out there and living their lives in the most authentic way.” Some days, she can’t believe she’s so lucky. For the first eight years of her engineering career MacPhee hid her tattoos and septum piercing to appear professional. She’s no longer willing to contort herself or her ideals to fit expectations — and she doesn’t have to. “I’m not changing who I am to fit into a certain box,” she says. “And if it means going through the school of hard knocks and learning the hard way by failures, great. I would never have control over any of this as a ... junior engineer. I didn’t have autonomy. Now I realize all I ever wanted to do was to make a difference. And now I have folks who work with me who feel the same way. It’s magical.”

“I’m not changing who I am to fit into a certain box,” says Lindsay MacPhee.

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Bruce Murray / VisionFire



The Simonsens (left to right: Jacob, Dana, Sadie, Jennifer) love hockey, so being Cam Whynot’s billet family was a natural choice.

The journey to the big leagues is daunting, even in a normal year — billet families help the Halifax Mooseheads’ rising stars stay grounded




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Cam Whynot

Steve Smith / VisionFire


hese are exciting times for Cam Whynot. In July, the Calgary Flames chose him in the third round of the NHL draft, 89th overall. As he works towards a career in the pros, the defenceman is getting ready for his third season with the Halifax Mooseheads. The Kentville native will also rejoin his billet family in the city next month. Like major-junior teams across Canada, the Mooseheads rely on local billets to give players a home-away-from-home during the hockey season. Whynot will again live with the Simonsens, the first player the family has hosted. Sadie Simonsen is 13 years old and plays ringette, while 10-year-old brother Jacob loves hockey. “We thought it would be a pretty cool experience for them,” says Dana Simonsen, adding that they had been considering billeting for a while, when the opportunity to host Whynot came up. “It’s a kid from Nova Scotia, an hour away from home and English speaking ... If we’re going to do it now, it’s the right fit, so we decided to jump in.” The Simonsens offer Whynot lodging, meals, and a positive environment. “It’s having a nice comfy environment for them to live in,” Simonsen says. “I was surprised at how busy their schedule is. We’re not responsible for any driving arrangements, social activities, just food and accommodations. They’re fairly busy, so it’s not uncommon for Cam to get up in the morning and head off to school. And then, by the time he gets home from the rink, it’s usually at 6:00 p.m., and we’ll sit down as a family and have a real nice supper.” After the family meal, it’s often back to work for Whynot—tutoring or a team event. With a schedule like that, a good billet can be a haven. “We make sure he’s comfortable, and we’re supportive,” says Simonsen. “We make sure he has a great experience away from his home. It’s a big culture change for a lot of these kids. We want to make them feel like they’re in a good environment.” COVID-19 upended hockey’s predictable routines. For players like Whynot, who are not from the city, lockdowns and ever-shifting game and training schedules meant relying on the billets for the stability that their sport could no longer provide. “Yeah, they’re huge—I’m very lucky I got fortunate to be with great billets,” says Whynot, who is an only child. “I have a younger billet sister and billet brother, and it’s cool. It’s like having a sibling for the first time, just playing and hanging out with them. My billet parents ... do anything that I need and they’re always there for me. Whether it’s a tough day of practice, they talk about that ... Over the past two years with them, they’ve definitely grown a special place in my heart.” Former teammate Justin Barron, who recently made the jump to the NHL and the Colorado Avalanche, is another big support. “Justin is a great person; he is a great hockey player to start with,

When billet player Senna Peeters is away, it feels like a piece of the Gagne family (left to right: Jean, Èmilie, JeanPierre, Melanie) is missing.

and he was our captain,” Whynot says. “He was our best player, leads by example every day and for me being able to play with him was huge. He’s been in the league for a while. He was a first-round pick in the NHL draft. He just talked to you on a bench and showed you a few things here and there. Off the ice in my draft year, he kind of went through the same thing in a little bit of a pandemic year, just talking about things, whether interviews or pretty much anything about the draft, he kind of knows. He’s been through it, and he’s just a guy you can always talk to about anything.” Mooseheads center Senna Peeters will be billeting for the third regular season with Jean and Melanie Gagne. Peeters is the family’s second billet player. “We’re a big hockey family; I used to play just for fun, and my son plays for fun,” Jean says. “Melanie’s parents have been season ticket holders for 23 years, so we often get the games. Then we have season tickets with, through my work for a while and, and then we just decided that it would be fun to try it out.” As for the billeting experience, they thought it was a great way to add to their family. “They’re here, and we’re kind of like their family away from home, so we try to make them feel like part of our family as much as we can,” Jean says. “It’s the fact that it’s adding to your family; whatever you will do as a family, you would just simply include that extra person.” Peeters had made a positive impression on the family over the past few seasons, filling a void in the Gagne SEPT/ OCT 2021



“Our role — whether he’s coming from practice or a game — is to have a normal family life, sit down for supper, have a laugh” –Melanie Gagne

Senna Peeters



family, being a role model to their 11-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter. Peeters brings different perspectives to the household. “He’s like the big brother to both of them,” Jean says. “it’s just fun learning each other’s cultural differences. He’s from Europe, so it’s a little different than what we’d be used to, but we’ve had a good time learning his background and about his friends and his family. His family has been down two or three times, including his grandparents from Belgium. It’s been just nice getting to know them and being as much interested in his life as he is living here in ours.” When the season came to a screeching halt in March 2020, Peeters returned to Belgium, hoping to rejoin the team in July. As travel restrictions came into effect, it created more uncertainty of when Peeters could return to Halifax. While he was waiting weekly for the phone call to say he could come to Halifax, Peeters played for Swedish team Rögle BK and worked out at his home in Belgium to stay motivated and ready. When Peeters represented Austria (his father’s native country) at the 2020 World Junior Championship in Edmonton, he stayed in Canada and reunited with the team and the Gagnes after the tournament. “I didn’t go home anymore to say goodbye because I wanted to be allowed to stay in the country,” Peeters says. “I talk to them on the phone every day about practices, always a little update. I do that with my family; I live here with billets who are great people. I like it here, so it feels like a nice second home, and my parents have visited, so they know where I am living, so it’s not like I am in a stranger’s place suddenly. We have a group where we talk after a game and show some pictures and stuff, so I stay updated about home.” The Gagnes are impressed with the calm and reSEPT / OCT 2021

solve Peeters showed last season despite only playing 16 games. “I would say that he’s demonstrated a tremendous amount of mental strength, determination, commitment, and maturity,” Melanie says. “When you think of when he participated, for example, in the world juniors, during that timeframe, he was in quarantine at a hotel between Austria, Edmonton and then back here in Halifax for close to six weeks.” The Gagnes aren’t big hockey fans, but they understand what Peeters needs from his billet. “Our role — whether he’s coming from practice or a game — is to have a normal family life, sit down for supper, have a laugh,” Melanie says. “He regularly plays hockey with our son, whether it be in the living room, outside of the garage. It’s able to provide that supportive space, that outlet, where he can just be himself, and that could be having conversations about some of his concerns, or he could just also be watching a movie and laughing.” New Mooseheads head coach Sylvain Favreau was an assistant last season. He saw the importance that sort of support during last year’s unusual season. “The hockey family is a pretty tight-knit family too, so we held ourselves together pretty, pretty good over the course of the season,” he says. “I think that within the hockey club, we’re a big family, and we’re here to support each other. Their number one support group is their teammates and colleagues. So I think that was a way to ease some of that anxiety and not stress. We [the staff] tried to make every effort to have fun interactions. We had team builders, different events, movie nights. We had our theater, a video theater room at the rink as the mimic of a theater cause we couldn’t go to see a movie outright. We did our best to surround the players with some sense of normalcy.” As the vaccine rollout is accelerating and restrictions ease, the Mooseheads look forward to a closer-tonormal season. “For us, it’s just family time,” Jean Gagne says. “We have season tickets with the kids, and we go to every game, and we support Senna as much as we can. We have fun. We make a night of it every game and then a win or lose, good or bad for Senna; we’re just glad to see him play and try his hardest, cheer and win together, or cope losing together. “


The local cup The craft drink craze is still at fever pitch — Bluenose beverages for any budget BY BROOKLYN CONNOLLY

Recommendations from Bishop Cellar’s director of consumer experience Kathryn Harding.





This locally brewed, 3.1-per-cent ale is a fresh taste of summer. Harding says that Tatamagouche brewing has core products that are offered year-round, and a seasonal rotation of other hops.

If you’re looking for a hoppy punch, Breton Brewing Co. might just be the brand for you. Its Breton Black Angus IPA recently came out in a 473 ml 6-pack, whereas before it was only offered in tall boys. Harding, who loves the beer, says that the smaller servings make its 6.2 per cent alcohol more approachable.

CRAZY ANGUS DIPA (473 ml) COMPANY: BRETON BREWING CO. $5.00 For the serious IPA lovers, here’s your upgrade on the previous beer, packing a lot of hoppy bitterness in its 473-ml can. At seven per cent alcohol, you may want to pair this with a hearty meal or share with a friend. (Or share with an enemy, and make them into your friend.)

BLUFF CIDER (355 ml)



Pine resin, grapefruit, subtle caramel, and orange peel that lead into a smooth/bitter finish.

This up-and-coming cidery is new to Nova Scotia’s shelves. Distilled in Avonport, Nova Scotia, its cider is made out of champagne yeast which gives the drink a crisp, fresh taste. You can find it for purchase at Bishop’s Cellar.



Steve Smith/VisionFire

You used to have to go to P.E.I. to get Upstreet, but a few years back it opened a brewery/BBQ joint in Burnside, where it brews this alcohol-free options. Historically, “near beer” has had a (largely justified) reputation for flavourlessness, but Harding promises this one brings the classic taste.

Big tropical hops and brisk carbonation cut nicely through rich and fatty foods — try with fish and chips.

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MINT CHAMOMILE KOMBUCHA (6-pack) COMPANY: GOODMORE $23.00 Reaching outside of Harding’s world, and the walls of Bishop’s Cellar, she recommends Goodmore’s Mint Chamomile kombucha. She says she likes all of Goodmore’s flavours, but Chamomile Mint is a definite favourite.

BLUE LOBSTER LEMON ICED TEA (6-pack) BREWERY: NOVA SCOTIA SPIRIT CO $18.48 Blue Lobster’s lemon iced teas are a hit ready-to-drink summer beverage. According to Harding, the brewery flavours the teas with Nova Scotian honey. The natural additive brings a light sweetness to the lemony drink.

COMPASS GIN ROYAL (750 ml) BREWERY: COMPASS DISTILLERS $50.00 Compass Distillery in North End Halifax is a year-round favourite for Harding. The distillery uses all local products that are harvested throughout the province which bring a lasting nuance to their flavour. In particular, Harding says Bishop’s Cellar has been selling a lot of the distillery’s Compass Gin Royal — it makes a beautiful cocktail with its light purple colour made naturally with violets.


902-499-1323 60


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Steve Smith/VisionFire

Harding says that you can’t beat Blue Lobster’s vodka. The price, matched with how clean it is, is “everything you’d need.” A classic Bloody Caesar is always a safe bet, however she says it’s great on the rocks, too.

Summer the way summer was intended. LAKE CITY DISTRICT 5 (6-pack) COMPANY: LAKE CITY CIDER $19.00 Harding calls this a “staple cider.” Balancing sweet and dry, Lake City’s District 5 cider is a wellbuilt, crushable cider. Perfect for balmy early autumn nights.

Flavour Crisp and clean, apples all day, but dry not juicy.

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Pairing A no-brainer Thanksgiving pairing— works with turkey dinner or pumpkin pie.

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Steve Smith/VisionFire



SEPT / OCT 2021


The ghost at the table Restaurants relied on delivery to get them through the lockdown. Customers are back in dining rooms, but the industry is forever changed


Steve Smith/VisionFire


ver 10,000 restaurants across the country closed as a result of the pandemic, according to Restaurants Canada. Despite Atlantic Canada’s relative success in controlling COVID-19, the restaurant industry’s latest survey data shows that there are still 9,600 restaurant jobs in Nova Scotia alone that haven’t recovered from the financial hit. That’s a quarter of the province’s food-service workforce, with seven out of 10 food-service businesses operating at a loss, or “barely scraping by.” Locally owned businesses have taken the hardest hit. With each additional restriction and lockdown, owners were stuck between shutting their doors entirely, or opening them for delivery drivers and take-out. While many were learning to work from home, restaurants were transforming. The pivot came at a cost. “When it happened, when we started using Uber Eats and Skip the Dishes, it was a lot,” says Kelly Cormier, co-owner of the Ardmore Tea Room. She says that orders from the apps currently make up to 50 per cent of the restaurant’s business, even since the return of inperson dining. Because they weren’t sure how their menu would translate in takeout, they decided to operate under a different name on Uber Eats and Skip The Dishes. For locals, the Ardmore has been the longstanding breakfast joint. It’s a go-to, it doesn’t disappoint. So when they made the decision to operate online, they “didn’t want to have it be Ardmore, and have people go ‘yeah!’” Operating as The Breakfast Joint just made sense — and the Ardmore isn’t the only restaurant in Halifax to make that sort of shift. In the industry they’re called ghost, cloud, or dark kitchens: restaurants that operate as delivery only. Cormier explains that their prices are higher at The Breakfast Joint as a way to offset the 30 per cent service fee from companies like Uber Eats and Skip The Dishes. “Because our prices are so low at the Ardmore, there’s no real room to add a 30-per-cent charge,” she says, explaining that there’s a risk of losing money otherwise. While attractive to local businesses that have been fighting to stay afloat, the ghost kitchen model may be the very thing to threaten them as big competitors join the fray. “The whole notion of ordering online for everything ­— whether it’s Amazon for clothes, or supplies, or food,

At the Ardmore, take-out and delivery orders currently make up 50 per cent of the business, says co-owner Kelly Cormier.

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Third-party ghost kitchens are or whatever it may be — really became more of an everyalready in Canada, and coming day thing rather than the exception,” Susi Graf, marketsoon to Halifax — new competiing director of Ghost Kitchen Brands, says. tion for local restaurants. And corporate food chains are catching on. Ghost Kitchen Brands is a Canadian company that provides large scale kitchens for prominent food services, like Cinnabon and Quiznos. They rely on third-party couriers to deliver their foods, services, while offering takeout in some locations. There are Ghost Kitchen Brand kitchens in Alberta and Ontario, and soon, Quebec. The company has seen “enormous growth” since the pandemic. “There’s no real room to After ending 2020 with 23 kitchens, she says that they hope to end this add a 30-per-cent (delivery) year with up to 100 kitchens opened. Graf explains that the model charge” —Kelly Cormier lets brands to get into locations that they might not see viable. The risk of opening in a new location, and hiring and training a team, lessens with the Ghost Kitchen Brands franchise, because Ghost Kitchens Brands does all of that. “I feel like customers’ tastes and preferences have really changed over the pandemic,” says Graf. While there is still demand for in-person dinning, since “nothing replaces that feeling of eating in a restaurant,” Graf believes that there will also always be a place for ordering take-out, delivery, and bringing food home. “I think there’s room for everyone in the equation,” she says. “We’re just giving customers a lot of choices.”

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It’s just too much Information overload is a growing problem, and you can see it right here in Halifax BY PAULINE DAKIN


magine standing in the cereal aisle of your local grocery store. The shelving stretches, four or five tiers high, half the depth of the store. It’s hard to take it all in. The choices seem endless. There are the healthy options, the sugar-drenched offerings. And everything in between. At some point, overwhelmed, you just grab the darned Shreddies. It’s all just too much. For many of us, life feels a lot like that grocery store aisle. We’re bombarded with content, information, and the decisions they demand of us. Social media feeds offer up unending entertainment, opinion, distraction. SEO Tribunal, a company that assesses search engine optimization, reports that every minute, people do more than 3.8 million Google search queries. PC Magazine writes that in that same single minute people send more than 18-million texts and 188 million emails. Who can keep up? The better question is, what does it do to us to try? When I think about all the email there is to check and respond to, all the links I should read to prepare for too many meetings, all the research and scrolling that’s necessary before you make the simplest online purchase, or choose which cell or internet company to use, all the scam-artist robo-calls and emails I have to assess (did I order something on Amazon?) to assure myself that yes, it’s another attempt to defraud me, all the great watching I could be streaming… you get the picture. I can feel my blood pressure rising at the tsunami of information, and all that it requires of me to process. And the slight feeling of panic knowing I can never really process it in a meaningful way. It splinters my attention and makes me feel distracted and unable to focus. My friends say the same thing, and talk about being forgetful or fatigued. My kids feel it too. I once came home to find my then-12-year-old daughter crying because she couldn’t stop watching the messages in her group chat, in case the others said something she should know about. She was overwhelmed and couldn’t escape. It’s cognitive assault, like the unending blast of a fire hose. A 2009 American research project called “How Much Information,” essentially a census of the world’s information flow, pegged the amount of data an individual consumes each day at 34 gigabytes, the equiva-



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lent of a fifth of a notebook computer’s hard drive, or about 100,000 words. That was a 350-per-cent increase over 1980. Even before AI and machine learning it was continuing to grow by six per cent a year. Mostly we hardly notice it. The information comes in the form of video, radio, phone calls, books, social media, images. We talk on the phone while we scroll our Twitter feed and think nothing of it. But it creates a demand on our brains like never before. Imagine agrarian life 200 years ago. You saw the same few people, repeated the same actions every day… milk the cow, scythe the wheat, prepare meals, care for children. It might have been boring but it was cognitively undemanding. Today we constantly encounter new information. And folks, our brains may be plastic but they aren’t built for this bombardment of “inputs” or data. Jean Twenge, a psychology researcher at San Diego State University, has studied the effect in young people. She’s found that high users of social media and screen time (about seven hours a day, which is not unusual) have less curiosity, less self-control, and less emotional stability. They’re also twice as likely to have a diagnosis of anxiety or depression. I still clearly remember the first time I had an anxiety attack. The pounding heart, dizzyness, difficulty breathing, and terrible sense of dread. At the time, in the early 1980s, I’d never heard of anxiety and neither had my family or friends. Partly because people didn’t talk about mental health much then. And partly because in some important ways life wasn’t as triggering. These days, I’m a professor at the University of King’s College, and everyone on campus knows about anxiety and a remarkable number of my students suffer from it. In one term, fully a third of the class. And it’s not just King’s. Some of my students and I worked with the Investigative Journalism Bureau and the Toronto Star to detail the surging mental health crisis in young people. We found that nearly 30 per cent of post-secondary students in Canada and the U.S. said their failing mental health has caused them to consider self-harm and suicide. Many talked about being overwhelmed and isolated. Olympians Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka know all about it. The American gymnast and Japanese tennis star have each backed away from high-stakes competitions, referencing their mental health and the expectations that are too much, and amplified in online buzz. The first pandemic lockdown gave many people a brief respite. It’s an opportunity to re-evaluate where we set the volume control on the firehose of information. There’s an entire literature on managing email stress, taking technology breaks, and reducing stress. We know that exercise and being in nature are proven antidotes to a noisy world of information. Lots of people swear by meditation or mindfulness. When I was an anxious teenager, my mom would say to just get out for a walk and take note of the real world around me. It’s even better advice today. And leave the phone at home.

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Unravel Sept/Oct 2021 - Telling Halifax Stories  

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