How Halifax copes with a wild winter

Driving, walking, bus transit — a look at transportation in Halifax during the winter months

This winter has been an unpredictable one for Halifax. How do you get to where you’re going when sidewalks and streets are caked in snow and ice? Whether it’s driving your car, walking or taking a bus, Haligonians face issues with mobility every winter season; however, this year has been significantly worse.

Driving

Joel Barkhouse, a security guard at Casino Nova Scotia on Upper Water Street works night shifts from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. He says he struggles to park his car for work during the winter months because of the overnight parking bans.

Parking bans are enforced in Halifax only during declared snow and ice events from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. Those who violate the ban are either ticketed or have their vehicle towed.

Meters on College St. covered with snow from Sunday's storm. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)
Meters on College St. covered with snow from Sunday’s storm. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

“Since the meters stop after 6 p.m. and start at 6 a.m. I usually don’t have to pay for parking. But since the parking ban, I have to park in the parkade. It’s $3.75 but it all adds up since this winter has had so many storms,” says Barkhouse.

Jennifer Stairs, a spokeswoman for the Halifax Regional Municipality, says so far this season, the municipality has enforced the overnight parking ban a total of 33 times, including the ban overnight on Monday.

Stairs said in an email that the city has towed 63 vehicles that were in violation of the ban. To compare, in 2013-14 the overnight parking ban was enforced a total of 14 times during the entire season and the city towed 33 vehicles.

Car buried in snow late Sunday evening. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)
Car buried in snow late Sunday evening. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

Barkhouse holds out his hands with two bandages on them. Recently, he fell on an icy sidewalk as he went to work, resulting in cuts on his hands and bruises on his shins.

He says even when the ban is not in effect he finds it challenging to park in front of meters because of the road conditions and high snowbanks.

“I feel like the city should do a better job removing snow on roads, every lane is like cut in half. When you’re driving it’s almost like a one-way street you’re sharing with oncoming traffic.”

Darin Borgel, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, told Metro News the storm that hit Halifax on Sunday was one of the worst the city has experienced this winter season.

Sunday’s storm began late Saturday evening with snow then ended with ice pellets and freezing rain. The storm brought gusts of wind 90 km/h coating Atlantic Canada with as much as 59 centimetres of snow.

In 2013, HRM appointed performance-based contractors to provide sidewalk snow and ice removal for all sidewalks in the region. Residents were no longer responsible for clearing sidewalks close to their properties.

For the first time, Halifax, Spryfield and Armdale would see their sidewalks cleared like other neighbourhoods.

The change in 2013 added another 200 kilometres of sidewalks to clearing operations, bringing the total to almost 1,000 kilometres of sidewalks that the city is responsible for.

HRM set service standards stating the clearing of snow and ice should occur within 12 to 36 hours after snowfall based on street priority levels. The rapid weather changing conditions have made it challenging to remove snow and ice this year.

Salt and sand are applied to sidewalks to create a degree of traction; however, the issue lies beneath the surface of snow. Thick layers of ice have formed on city sidewalks.

According to the Halifax Regional Municipality’s website, during the month of February the municipality received more than 10,000 calls to the 311 phone number regarding snow and ice removal—a 700 per cent increase in calls over the same period last year.

Walking

Davita Harris, student at the University of King’s College, says she thinks HRM made a mistake making snow removal the responsibility of contractors rather than tenants.

“There are endless sidewalks in Halifax and with constant snowfall, it’s hard to stay on top of the problem. I’m empathetic to the people in charge of snow removal; it’s not their fault that it’s too much this winter. It’s an abnormal winter,” says Harris.

Davita Harris stands beside a snowbank on Dalhousie campus. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)
Davita Harris stands beside a snowbank on Dalhousie campus. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

Harris says, with storms hitting almost every week, she feels there hasn’t been enough chances to enjoy snowy activities this year.

“With erratic temperatures there has been so much ice and slush, and that’s brought my enthusiasm about it (winter) down to record lows,” she says.

According to the Government of Canada website, the coldest month of the year in Halifax is January with an average low of -10.7 degrees Celsius.

Harris says she travels by bus transit to avoid the sidewalks and hasn’t encountered many problems with getting to school.

“I won’t be sad to see sidewalks again! I think we have all had our fill of winter this year,” she says.

Bus transit

Josh Weatherbey, a student at Mount Saint Vincent, sits on his boyfriend’s couch taking off his hat and backpack, his ears and nose a rosy pink. He took the bus, and it was late.

Weatherbey says public transit is his only way around Halifax, with the exception of his friends’ cars sometimes.

He says winter transit in Halifax only differs from other seasons because buses are frequently late. Weatherbey doesn’t like waiting for buses when it’s cold and fears for his safety as a passenger during winter months.

“I’m always a little nervous that you might end up swerving or tipping when making fast turns. Winter tires should be added to buses, especially with all these snowstorms we frequently have,” he says.

The No. 90 Metro Transit bus drives down Robie St. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)
The no. 90 Metro Transit bus drives down Robie St. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

Halifax Transit uses aggressive tread all-season tires designed by Michelin. Jennifer Stairs says the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board ensures that Halifax Transit is following the regulations and legislative requirements that ensure the safety of vehicles, including tires.

Stairs says the board inspects HRM transit vehicles twice a year and follows the provincial Motor Carrier Act, which sets out the regulations around tires for transit.

“Like we saw this past weekend, on-duty supervisors implement this plan after assessing the weather and road conditions. With Sunday’s storm, we saw high winds and blowing snow, which meant poor visibility for drivers,” says Stairs.

As a result, of Sunday’s storm the buses went on a service pause for about an hour, where they pulled off the road until conditions improved. Once they were back in service, many routes operated on the snow plan to detour around icy or poorly cleared areas. This is regular practice during bad conditions.

Environment Canada issued a statement Monday warning a potential snowfall event for late Tuesday and Wednesday.

What now?

While most of the Maritimes is still recovering from Sunday’s storm, if you’re planning to travel in the peninsula area, stay alert for weather warnings and always be prepared for harsh road and sidewalk conditions.

What mode of transportation will you trust to get you where you need to go safely?

Rehtaeh Parsons: A journalist’s story

Selena Ross worked for the Chronicle Herald to piece together Rehtaeh Parsons’ story over a nine-month period.

When Selena Ross walked into work at the Chronicle Herald for an evening shift last April, she had no idea that she would be assigned the story of a teenage girl torn apart by an alleged sexual assault and a failed legal system. It would result in multiple follow-up stories over the course of a year.

Rehtaeh Parsons had died the day before. When Ross got to work, her editor asked her to look into the Facebook post that Parson’s mother had written following Parson’s death.

“I interviewed her that night. She didn’t want to [come to the phone] at first and then she agreed,” says Ross. The interview was the beginning of an intense week.

Ross, who graduated with a masters in journalism from Columbia University in 2009 and began working for the Chronicle Herald in 2011, had just found herself in the midst of the biggest story of her career.

Ross went out the next day to speak with teens from the Cole Harbour school that Parsons had attended. The group of boys that Parsons had accused of rape also attended the school.

“At one point that week it became clear that that school was a high-pressure situation. All the kids that [Rehtaeh] had accused of [rape] went to that school, all of her old friends were there,” says Ross. “A lot of teenagers across the city were under a lot of pressure.”

While other national papers had to fly in reporters for the day to interview everyone involved, Ross tried not to push people too hard by returning the following week and developing relationships with them over time. She worked on the Parsons stories between other daily assignments at the Chronicle Herald.

Ross says being able to see how the story progressed without rushing interviews and respecting how people felt helped her write the stories.

“People who have been through something traumatic don’t always want to talk about it,” says Ross. “But sometimes they feel like there is a reason for them to talk,” .

Parsons’ parents were upset about how the police and Crown Prosecutors handled the situation. They felt the system had let their daughter down.

The challenges Ross encountered

While Parsons’ parents were co-operative, the police were not.

Selena Ross' final story in December 2013, the first of two parts.
Selena Ross’ final story in December 2013, the first of two parts.

“They shut down access to that file. Even if we were to have someone that would check background info for us, that was impossible with this case,” says Ross.

Ross had to find someone who had seen the file before it was locked down.

“I would have loved to have the police’s response to that story, which they wouldn’t give,” says Ross. “I also would have liked to have heard from the boys that were accused and their families but they would never talk.”

Ross says she found it difficult working on such an emotional story, that she had to open herself up to understanding how people felt about the situation.

“One of the most heartbreaking type of stories to work on are parents who have lost their child. Anytime I’ve interviewed a family whose child killed themselves, it’s hard not to cry.”

AJA nomination

Ross’s hard work on the series of stories on Parsons earned her a nomination for an Atlantic Journalism Awards in the Enterprise Reporting: Print category.

This story was the first that Ross had covered that went viral. One of the main challenges she faced was being able to focus on her own work and not predict which direction the story was headed.

“I’m used to covering stories on Nova Scotia for people in Nova Scotia. With this story, there was so much temptation to see what this means to other people, look up who else was covering it and from what angle. I learned how to balance that without changing how I would work on the story.”

Ross published her final story on Parsons in December, nine months after her death.

“There were a few obvious angles: the allegations against the justice system, against the school system and against the IWK Health Centre. We answered all the questions  that came up last spring,” says Ross.

Although Ross is happy with the stories she wrote, she says she had to think carefully about how she wanted to cover this story, taking into account the alleged sexual violence and death of a young teenage girl.

“It was a  learning process for media everywhere.”

Bicycling baker gears up for spring

As the warmer weather approaches, cookie connoisseur Diana Manuel is excited to be able to ride her red bicycle full time to deliver baked goods.

By Ashley Corbett

(Ashley Corbett Peninsula News)
(Ashley Corbett Peninsula News)

As the warmer weather is approaching, cookie connoisseur Diana Manuel is excited to be able to ride her red bicycle full time to deliver baked goods.

Manuel runs her business out of her home kitchen, where she bakes small batches of cookies that are ordered by customers online. Deliveries are then made by bicycle (weather permitting).

She will also be a proud vendor at the Halifax Crafter’s Society Spring Market this weekend.

The birth of Cookie Cravings

Manuel, 26, created her company, Cookie Cravings, in 2012, but only started running it full time in November. She had always loved baking and learned her skills throughout her childhood from her mom. Bicycles were something she got into later in life.

After graduating with a degree in psychology, Manuel realized she was not sure she wanted to pursue her field of study after all.

“I think a lot of people in university are somewhat confused about what they want to be doing,” says Manuel. “So I started thinking saying, ‘okay, what do I love? And what do I find myself doing the most in my spare time?’”

And so, the idea for her business fell into place.

Equipped with a bell, leather seat and a cherry red coat of paint, Manuel has found the bicycle of her dreams. Though a few days of snowy conditions forced her to resort to other modes of transportation, she has used her bike to make deliveries throughout most of the winter.

She definitely prefers her trusty bicycle to other methods.

“Biking is a lot more fun, and I find it relaxing. Also if I have deliveries downtown it’s a pain to try to find parking,” Manuel says. “It’s also been a good way to get outside in the winter.”

Manuel with bicycle inside her home

Sticking close to home

Manuel strives to use local ingredients in her cookies as much as possible. Some of her locally sourced ingredients include butter and dark chocolate from Cow’s Creamery in Prince Edward Island, and oats from Speerville Flour Mill in New Brunswick.

Looking around her kitchen, colourful paint and dishware strike your senses. Manuel wears a red and white-checkered apron tied around her waist. Her glass jars of flour, sugar and other baking ingredients are lined up in a row.

Manuel in her kitchen (Ashley Corbett Peninsula News)
Manuel in her kitchen (Ashley Corbett Peninsula News)

In front of the jars sit four brown bags neatly packaged, tied with green twine and decorated with a bicycle stamp. The packages will be delivered to cookie customers that day.

“I think cookies make people happy, so everyone who orders from me and who I deliver to are really sweet,” says Manuel as her eyes light up.

“No one is grumpy when they’re getting cookies,” she says with a smile.

Springing into action

Currently, Manuel is gearing up for her booth at the Halifax Crafter’s Society Spring Show this weekend. The Halifax Crafter’s Society is a not-for-profit organization that’s been around since 2005.

Alissa Kloet, one of the volunteer organizers for the event, is passionate about helping local crafters like Manuel get their work out to the public.

“This is making a difference. This is giving people the stepping stones that they need in their businesses and in their professional endeavours,” she says.

Kloet says the spring show will have about 70-80 vendors.

Manuel is excited to be one of the vendors participating as she hasn’t been involved with the crafting society before. She’ll be selling mini egg cookies, one of her favorite treats right now, as well as her sandwich cookies and many other types.

The crafter’s show will take place on Saturday and Sunday at the Olympic Community Centre.

Surviving as an artist

Artist Mary Garoutte’s biggest reward isn’t the money but the revitalized feeling her students get after they leave her painting class.

By Sindi Skenderi

Mary Garoutte (Peninsula News/ Sindi Skenderi)
Mary Garoutte (Peninsula News/ Sindi Skenderi)

Mary Garoutte’s biggest reward isn’t the money – because it’s not that great she says – but the revitalized feeling her students get after they leave her painting class.

After practicing art her whole life, Garoutte’s biggest challenge is being disciplined enough to not procrastinate on her work. She hopes she can overcome it, so she can take her talent to further places.

The 33-year-old teaches five students a week, all her busy schedule can handle, in her small studio space on North Street in Halifax.

Most of her students don’t have a creative background, but she says those are the ones that surprise her the most with their talents.

“They show up and you can tell they’re tired, they’ve had a long day after their office jobs, and they leave totally giddy.”

Garoutte tells them from the start that she will rewind everything they have learned so far. She believes that over time adults lose their creativity and form preconceived notions of what’s right and wrong.

“It’s essential to go back to square one look at things as a child in order to create good art. It’s an attitude before practice,” she says.

If they leave feeling inspired, then “you know you’ve taught it with some blood running through the veins,” she says.

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Revealing her heart to the public

As her classes aren’t enough to sustain her living, Garoutte also puts her pieces up for sale at the Argyle Fine Art gallery on Barrington Street.

She started there about two and a half years ago, and has had good success not only with selling her pieces, but also with reception from other artists, from art commentators and from the media.

“At the moment, Mary is one of our most sought after emerging artists, and we’re thrilled to have her work here at the gallery,” says Crystal Ross, owner of Argyle Fine Art.

Prices depend more on size then on time, Garoutte says. Small pieces usually start at $500, and the larger ones, like a 36×36 or 40×40, range to about $2,000.

Garoutte’s biggest compliment comes when other artists buy her work.

“It kind of reassures you that you’re still making something that catches the eye of someone who’s creative,” she says.

Creativity is really important to her because it has encompassed her life since an early age.

Canvas trumps paper

As early as four years old, Garoutte found herself magnetized to art.

“It was more natural to pick up a paintbrush than a pen,” she says.

Her parents thought she had a learning disability because it took her forever to read and write. In the following years she struggled academically, but got bumped up to fifth-grade art.

It became art therapy for her, “cathartic” she says, especially after her parents split.

Garoutte was born in Phoenix, Arizona, but after her parents split up her mom got custody and moved back to Nova Scotia to live with Garoutte’s grandparents.

While Garoutte’s mom never had the money to send her to art lessons, she gave her verbal encouragement, which was all Garoutte needed.

Garoutte says lessons are helpful, but can put pressure on you and set expectations when you are a child and just need to let your creativity run wild.

“You should never try to tame a child’s imagination, let them go free because that’s what is actually brought out of you in art-college,” she says.

School years

Her first year at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design felt like going back to elementary school. It taught her to look at everything she’d learned until then, which is the same technique Garoutte uses with her students now in her class.

What she loved most about NSCAD was the fact that they taught her to see and observe.

She says you have to go into it with a bit of talent, because they don’t really teach you techniques. Classes are more focused on encouraging personal ideas and personal style.

“That’s the only way you can develop your voice,” she says, and adds that while some students didn’t like the lessons, she was thankful they were that way.

Restoration

After her four years Garoutte felt burned out, and took  a nearly six-year break from creating art.

She was glad she did because she says if she’d pressured herself to create art, she might not be doing it anymore.

“For me art’s much more emotional, it’s not something I can just pump out like a factory. That’s why it always took me a little longer, being in the right headspace to do it.”

Garoutte started working at Zwicker’s Gallery on Doyle street with her sister seven years ago.

Along with it being a historical commercial gallery, it was also a service gallery that did appraisals, art restoration, art consultation and framing.

Her formal job is a gallery assistant and the exhibition co-ordinator, but her favourite part about working there is when she has the opportunity to appraise the value of a piece of art.

“You have to know the art market and it challenges you,” Garoutte says.

Incorporation of her environment

But the best influence on her art has been living in Nova Scotia. She says it created a huge dialogue for her art and has affected her practice.

“I have made a lot of art based on recurring themes in my life. Things like family, and loss and childhood.”

Crystal Ross says Garoutte’s popularity largely comes from her ability to capture a scene with honesty and skill. In her last exhibition, she featured streetscapes from the Halifax and Dartmouth area.

“They were painted from the perspective of a local, meaning that rather than painting iconic, idealized, and picturesque scenes from around HRM, she found places that are part of our everyday landscape. They were familiar, and felt like home,” says Ross.

Halifax is a great place to create art, but Garoutte believes that it is not a great place to sell it.

Whether you work in a commercial gallery to sell your pieces, or put them out for view and not for sale like in a public gallery, “you want a broader audience.”

“Canada’s a great place to live, but in terms of art’s and culture it has a long way to go. And most of that is because it doesn’t have any funding – it makes it hard for artists,” Garoutte says.

Eventually she would like to find that sweet spot of producing at a steady rate, and create art somewhere out of the province.

Her next exhibit for her work will be in mid September at Argyle Fine Art. With only 10 pieces up for show, it’ll be smaller than her past ones, but will take a lot of time as they are all large scale pieces, starting at $1,000.

“Mary’s work is very well executed, and we’ve already seen that her paintings are being admired from collectors all over the country,” says Ross.

Garoutte believes now’s the time to put her stamina to the test, while also creating art that is collaborative of all she has learned until now.

“One huge temptation is leaving your ego at the door; don’t make it about yourself,” Garoutte says.

“And the second temptation is don’t make it about money. Nothing wrong with making money with what you’re doing, but that shouldn’t be the means to the end.”

Prisoner’s girlfriend finds support through shared experiences

What do you do when your spouse is in prison? You reach out to people who can relate to your situation.

By Sarah MacMillan

Vanessa Cormier's group for those with a loved one in prison meets in Halifax every month, often over coffee. (Sarah MacMillan/Peninsula News)
Vanessa Cormier’s group for those with a loved one in prison meets in Halifax every month, often over coffee. (Sarah MacMillan/Peninsula News)

When Vanessa Cormier’s boyfriend was sentenced to four years in prison for a white-collar crime, she didn’t feel like she had any support. She had to move back home to New Brunswick from Houston, TX, where she and her boyfriend, Stephen, had been living.

“Coming back home and having to tell my friends and family what happened and what he did was just horrible,” says Cormier. “It was very hard for the first couple of months. I was completely by myself. It took a lot for my friends and family to talk to me again.”

Two years later, Cormier is now on good terms with them. Yet, she says that they don’t understand what she’s going through and they’re not always sympathetic when she’s upset.

“I can’t really talk to my friends about it. They’re not really supportive because I am waiting, and they don’t like that,” says Cormier. “They put the blame on me if I say I’m feeling lonely or I’m feeling sad today. They’re kind of like, ‘well, it’s kind of your fault, you know, you’re sticking by him.’”

Cormier is committed to staying by Stephen’s side throughout his four-year sentence. He is incarcerated at FCI Beaumont Medium, a medium security prison located in Beaumont, TX.

Finding support

Nearly two years ago, while working in a call centre, Cormier overheard a co-worker saying she was writing a letter to her husband. Cormier, who regularly writes to Stephen, was intrigued. She explains that since not many people send letters anymore, she was interested as to why this woman, like her, was communicating by paper and pen.

Cormier discovered that they were in a similar situation. Her co-worker was writing to her incarcerated husband.

Her co-worker knew someone else whose partner was in prison. Pretty soon, the three women were meeting weekly to discuss their shared experiences and find support.

What started as three women bonding over shared experiences has grown to a group of 15 people, mostly women, from New Brunswick, Ontario and the Halifax area.

Cormier says the group is welcoming to newcomers. However she says that some members are concerned about privacy, and are hesitant about creating a group in an online forum like Facebook. The group has grown by word of mouth.

Cormier stresses the benefit of having people to talk to “who understand exactly what you’re going through.”

She travels to Halifax monthly to meet up with the group members from the Halifax area. Meetings are informal, and often held in a coffee shop or even a park, and centre on a main topic.

“It can be, somebody’s been moved to another prison, or is going to another prison, and they want to know the rules, or if somebody else is able to visit so they can carpool and stuff. And sometimes we’ll talk about what to write in letters because we’re running out of ideas.”

Cormier says the group has offered her the support her friends and family are not able to.

If somebody else has been or has gone through the same thing, it’s nice to know these things. It makes us feel better,” says Cormier.

The biggest struggles

Cormier says that for her, the greatest struggle that she faces daily is experiencing judgment from others.

Cormier has not seen Stephen since he was incarcerated. She says she was recently granted approval to visit, but says the approval process took a long time as she is Canadian, and they aren’t married.

Cormier, a preschool teacher, has not yet been able to take time off work to make the trip to Texas.

Cormier talks to Stephen on the phone about once a week and they send frequent letters. However, Cormier says Stephen lost his phone privileges for a year as a result of fighting.

She says he was finally able to call her in January.

“The first time that he called again, that took me like a week to stop crying,” says Cormier.

Cormier says some of the women she has talked to have said that they experience intense emotion after visiting their partner, and that the emotional highs and lows can be very disruptive to their lives.

She says for some members of her group, having a partner in prison can be especially difficult if they have children together.

“A lot of times it’s what to say to (the) kids because he did something wrong, but then you don’t want them to think that he’s a bad guy. So it’s kind of like, they don’t know what to say or what not to say,” says Cormier.

Moving forward

Cormier says her experiences over the past two years have taught her to be more compassionate with others and appreciative for what she has.

“I appreciate every little thing in life, whether it be hanging out with a friend that I haven’t seen in a while, or you know, a clean house, or a home to come to, just anything.”

Cormier says Stephen will stay with his brother in Seattle once he is released in 2016. She hopes that he will join her in Canada as soon as he is legally permitted to do so.

Halifax vaping community still waiting for regulation

Halifax vaping community is brought together as the debate on e-cigarettes continues.

By Evan Webster

Richard Moquin puffing his personal vapourizer at Bearly's (Evan Webster/Peninsula News)
Richard Moquin puffing his personal vapourizer. (Evan Webster/Peninsula News)

Richard Moquin started smoking when he was 12 years old. Today, the 57-year-old Navy veteran needs nicotine the same way he needs air and water. But he hasn’t had a cigarette in four years.

“Once you start vaping, there’s no turning back,” said Moquin. “It gives educated adults the freedom of choice to quit smoking, while still being able to enjoy recreational nicotine.”

Moquin is a strong advocate for the use of personal vapourizers, or e-cigarettes, as an alternative to traditional smoking. His online store features a variety of vapourizers, ranging from $50-$100 apiece.

How it works

Personal vapourizers deliver nicotine to the user in a much safer way than burning tobacco smoke. Within the device, an electric coil heats a liquid solution of nicotine, glycerine, and flavouring, producing an inhalable vapour.

Vaping is considered safer than smoking because vapour does not include any of the deadly carcinogens found in cigarette smoke. There’s no combustion involved, so vapour is not smoke. It’s more like flavoured steam. Modern vapourizers, like the ones shown above, have been around since 2005.

Vaping at Bearly’s

Jim Iatrou is the owner of Bearly’s House of Blues on Barrington Street. He has nothing against customers vaping inside. On the last Saturday of every month, Moquin and his community of ex-smokers gather at Bearly’s to socialize and enjoy some vapour.

Members of the Halifax vaping community relax at Bearly's
Members of the Halifax vaping community relax at Bearly’s. (Evan Webster/Peninsula News)

Establishments like Bearly’s can permit or prohibit vaping on their own terms. For Iatrou, letting people vape inside was a smart business decision.

“When smoking was banned in public places, it affected our industry,” said Iatrou. “Allowing vaping is a way of getting people in the bar.”

Unlike cigarette smoke, second-hand vapour is both scentless and harmless to a non-smoker. Moquin says public sanctuaries like Bearly’s are crucial for educating the world about vaping.

“It’s about public exposure,” said Moquin. “We embrace these establishments to show the folks that yeah, there is an alternative to the deadly tobacco smoking routine.”

Health Canada steps in

In 2009, Health Canada placed personal vapourizers and their nicotine juice under the Food and Drugs Act. Vaping products fall into a legal grey area. They’re not approved for sale, but they’re not banned either.

According to a recent pro-vaping column in the National Post, this is rarely enforced during the race for regulation. Vendors like Moquin have emerged both online and in retail, and they’re all still waiting for approval.

A collection of personal vapourizers (Evan Webster/Peninsula News)
A collection of personal vapourizers. (Evan Webster/Peninsula News)

Kyle Kurts, 52, has been vaping for seven months. In October he launched Smokeless Nova Scotia, a vapourizer boutique on Kempt Road. For safety and purity, Kurts wants to see his product regulated just like any other substance.

“E-cigarettes should be regulated in terms of how the juices are produced,” said Kurts. “It’s no different than tobacco or alcohol.”

Nova Scotia Health Minister Leo Glavine is worried about vaping in his province. A November 2013 article from CBC outlines Glavine’s fear that vaping will “undermine” the goal of a smoke-free society. But Kurts insists that his product helps rather than harms.

“I have no interest in selling to minors or non-smokers,” said Kurts. “My customers are committed nicotine addicts looking for a safer method of delivery.”

While Health Canada ponders its approach to vapourizers, the vaping community is growing and smokers are making the switch. At Bearly’s last Saturday, the crowd ranged from people who’ve been vaping for years to rookies who just gave up cigarettes.

“When folks switch to the vapourizer, there’s one less smoker out there,” said Moquin. “And that’s a good thing.”

Health Canada is expected to release its official policy towards vaping products soon.

Why it’s important

When Moquin was smoking, he tried to quit many times. The most effective method was laser therapy, which got him through just five smoke-free weeks. But once Moquin turned to the vapourizer, he never looked back.

[pullquote]”It saves lives. Period” – Richard Moquin [/pullquote]

“Every single one of us here is just one cigarette away from going back to two packs a day,” said Moquin. “That’s a fact. That’s why we vape.”

For Kurts, nothing is more satisfying than steering someone away from cigarettes permanently. For so many smokers, his store is the first step on the road to quitting, and he enjoys watching each personal journey unfold.

“The change in that person is absolutely amazing,” said Kurts. “They tell me anecdotally that they feel better, but you can see it in their bearing. People have their heads held up a little higher. They feel better about themselves.”

The debate over personal vapourizers continues to rage. To ex-smokers like Moquin, the nicotine juice is medicine. Matt Richtel in the New York Times calls it “poison by the barrel.”

But there’s no denying that vaping has grown into a popular smoking alternative. As a result, Health Canada is feeling the pressure to regulate more than ever.

Once a month at Bearly’s, Moquin takes charge of the Halifax vaping community. Smokers, non-smokers, quitters, and first time vapour users are all invited to relax, share stories, meet new people and learn.

Even though it’s not yet regulated, vaping is the only thing keeping Moquin and his crew off cigarettes. In the fight against smoking, that’s all that matters.

“It saves lives,” said Moquin. “Period.”

20 years of growth for the Youth Project

Halifax Youth Project celebrates two decades of support for LGBTQ youth.

By Rebecca Brown

Morgayne Isnor learns what the Youth Project was like 20 years ago (Rebecca Brown/Peninsula News)
Morgayne Isnor learns what the Youth Project was like 20 years ago. (Rebecca Brown/Peninsula News)

Dozens of signatures filled the guestbook on Friday night as staff, volunteers, supporters and members of the LGBTQ community poured into the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic to celebrate the Youth Project’s 20th anniversary.

“Tonight is all about sharing stories, celebrating our history, performances from our Youth Board and having a lot of fun,” says Kristen Sweeney, an outreach co-ordinator at the Youth Project.

Halifax drag queen Eureka Love and her friend Maddy stood on a podium in the main foyer of the museum, introducing speakers and sharing their own experiences with the Youth Project.

“It seems like such a funny thing because we’ve really come a far way in the last 20 years,” says Love. “It seems a little bit ridiculous to have to hide but the work isn’t done and it’s a really necessary resource to have the Youth Project.”

The Youth Project is a non-profit organization that works with people under the age of 25 around the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. The organization has spent the last 20 years supporting young people in the LGBTQ community through education, support services, leadership and advocacy.

“We’re lucky because when it seems like maybe we’re on the right track, that maybe we don’t need the Youth Project anymore, it just simply morphs into something else that we do need,” says Eureka Love.

Making a difference

Based out of a little house with a bright pink door at 2281 Brunswick St., the Youth Project provides social support for young people throughout Nova Scotia. Workshops on homophobia are held province-wide and the organization is working to create a gay-straight alliance (GSA) network at all schools.

Amy Jones has been going to the Youth Project since 2013 when she attended Queer Prom, a organized event that was hosted by the Youth Project.

“It’s a breath of fresh air, really,” says Jones. “It’s really refreshing to just be around people who you can relate to and connect with and people who are going through the same struggles.”

Jones, who is also the head of the GSA at Cole Harbour District High School, says educating her peers is the best way to fight discrimination at her school.

“I remember my first meeting with the GSA. It was actually the second meeting because I was too scared to go to the first meeting,” says Jones.

Before going to the Youth Project, Jones had only come out to a few of her close friends. She says the project has helped her feel more comfortable with who she is as a person.

“It’s been wonderful,” says Jones’ mother, Kaye MacDonald. “The biggest thing, I think, is the acceptance. It doesn’t matter who you are, [the Youth Project] is just accepting.”

The organization has received funding from the federal government since 1998. Throughout the week, the Project hosts movie night and offer a drop-in centre and support groups. The house has a library, video games, movies, foosball tables and a TV.

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Where it all began

The Youth Project began in 1993 as a field placement for Maura Donovan in order to fulfill the requirements for a master’s degree in social work at Dalhousie University.

Maura Donovan shares how the Youth Project began (Rebecca Brown/Peninsula News)
Maura Donovan, founder of the Youth Project, shares how it all began (Rebecca Brown/Peninsula News)

“It was a tough time to be gay or lesbian or bisexual in Nova Scotia and nearly impossible to be transgender,” says Donovan. “There were no role models, there was a lot of invisibility and there was a lot of fear, harassment and discrimination.”

Coming out as a lesbian while completing her undergraduate degree at Acadia University, Donovan was aware of the need for a support group amongst young people dealing with the issues around sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Comparisons have been made that Nova Scotia [in 1993] was a little bit like Russia now,” says Donovan. “I think there’s some truth to that. Things were very, very difficult.”

According to Sheena Jamieson, a support services coordinator at the Youth Project, young people in Nova Scotia are finding self-disclosure earlier than ever before. When the Project first started, the average age to come out was 21.

Just beyond the entrance, the Youth Project house hangs a collection of mug shots of young people holding signs that read “out since…” followed by dates. Most common on the wall are people below the age of 18.

“[Young people] are finding safe spaces younger, they are learning the language younger and they are finding the resources to come out,” says Jamieson. “This is just a testament to how many people have found the Youth Project and made it something amazing.”

A look back

Lindsay Dauphinee, who attended the Youth Project as a teen and is now on the Board of Directors, remembers her struggle coming out as a lesbian 10 years ago.

“I had some trouble with other kids at school but nothing serious. I wasn’t beat up or anything,” says Dauphinee. “I didn’t have many friends, so I just kept to myself.”

Although the Youth Project has broken a lot of ground for young people when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity, Dauphinee says nothing has changed in regards to language.

“I still hear people saying, ‘That’s gay’ or calling people by the wrong term,” says Dauphinee. “I think it’s offensive. It hurts.”

Dauphinee looks forward to the day where it does not matter how people identify themselves.

“I would love to see a day where the Youth Project wasn’t necessary,” says Dauphinee. “That we wouldn’t have to have an organization to battle homophobia and transphobia.”

Eureka Love ended the night with a toast to the Youth Project. Two large cakes were brought out in celebration and guests took to the floor to dance. A playlist of hits promoting gay culture, such as Lady Gaga’s Born This Way and Macklemore’s Same Love, played over the sound system, causing a breakout of movement.

“Here’s to another 20!” says Love.

 

Local artist inspired by Halifax’s north end

Halifax artist Emma FitzGerald’s new exhibit reflects the diversity and beauty she sees in her neighbourhood.

By Ariel Gough

A drawing from FitzGerald's latest exhibit.
A drawing from FitzGerald’s latest exhibit.

Emma FitzGerald has always been a world traveller. Whether it was visiting her birthplace of Lesotho, Africa or studying abroad in England and France, she never missed an opportunity to immerse herself in new surroundings.

Her pen and drawing pad became her best travel buddies.

“I studied fine arts at [the University of British Columbia], but my parents are actually Irish and I was born in Lesotho. So I’m use to travelling a lot,” she said Monday. “Drawing made me feel at home in all of these different places.”

She continued drawing after returning to Canada from her travels and has been doing her artwork full-time since 2013. Her work can now be seen on her website: Emma FitzGerald Art & Design.

The comfort of home

FitzGerald, 31, moved to Halifax from Vancouver in 2004 to study architecture at Dalhousie. It was in the north end where the artist found the inspiration for her latest art exhibit, In The Neighbourhood, opening at MP Megan Leslie’s Community Art Gallery on April 5.

“[The north end] is where I’ve chosen to live and I think that’s where I’m most comfortable,” she said. “I’ve started at my door step and I’ll be working my way out to other neighbourhoods.”

To highlight diversity, the exhibit will feature both new and old drawings mainly of Gottigen Street, including the Bus Stop Theatre and the Mi’kmaq Child Development Centre.

West African inspiration

FitzGerald says she describes her latest drawings as “whimsical, but highly detailed.” She is often inspired by the work of West African artist El Anatsui.

“His inspiration is just walking in the street and seeing what people are using every day,” she said. “For me to walk in my neighbourhood and respond to that very directly, I think it’s a really nice way to experience life and make artwork.”

Community response

FitzGerald said she received interesting responses on past drawings she posted online.

[pullquote] “I’m so glad that I never gave up on myself and just continued. It comes from a place of real joy” – Emma FitzGerald [/pullquote]

“When I post it on the Internet, there might be people in other countries that get excited,” she said. “For the people in Halifax, sometimes things get dreary in the winter and your lens changes.  To actually look and notice that we have these amazing heritage buildings and walkable neighbourhoods, people enjoy that.”

Halifax art scene

FitzGerald said that while Halifax’s art scene is less competitive than larger cities and the local art community is very supportive, local artists are still facing challenges.

“We are struggling a little bit right now for spaces where art can be exhibited,” she said. “I’m really grateful for an office like Megan’s opening up her doors. If we could get more of that, there would be more opportunities to get work seen.”

Despite these challenges, FitzGerald encourages aspiring artists to keep pursuing their passions.

“Keep doing it,” she said. “I’m so glad that I never gave up on myself and just continued. It comes from a place of real joy.”

FitzGerald is currently working on an illustrated book that will be released in 2015. In the meantime, people can buy her prints at the Halifax Craft Fair this weekend or e-mail her at emma@emmafitzgerald.ca

Rapper Levi Rose searches for niche in Halifax

Hip-hop artist Levi Rose of Toronto tries to fit into the musical scene of Halifax, while studying at Dalhousie University.

by Zoe Demarco

Rapper Levi Rose sits in his Halifax living room surrounded by a thick cloud of smoke, courtesy of his roommates, while Kendrick Lamar’s “M.A.A.D City” blasts from an iPod dock.

“I guess I got into rapping pretty much because of my older brother. He was always a pretty big influence on me,” says Rose. ” I can remember back when I was in grade seven, they [my brother and his friend Owen] were already making tracks.”

The 21-year-old Toronto native, whose real name is Adam Rosenbaum, has been rapping since the age of 12. He’s also currently studying sustainability and management at Dalhousie University.

Making progress

Rose has released two mixtapes, “The Evacuation” in 2011, and “Innovate X Supply X Maneuver,” or “ISM,” this past November. He combines old school hip hop with the modern era, and says he is influenced by jazz music. He says his latest mixtape was influenced by a trip to India in 2012, and is a progression from his first tape.

Album artwork for Innovate X Supply X Maneuver.

“I think it [ISM] has some really crazy sounds that a lot of people could feel, and I’m just really proud of it. I put a lot of work into it and I think it’s a very versatile tape,” says Rose.

He also changed his name to “Levi Rose,” a combination of his middle and his last names, in 2013. He originally started out as “Lil Rocks,” but decided that Levi Rose was more marketable and professional.

The music video for the track, “Space in My Mind,” from the ISM mixtape is set to be released in the next week or two. Rose says he was inspired by American hip hop artist Vic Mensa’s video for “Blazin.”

“I’m a big nature dude,” he says. “This [Vic Mensa] video, he’s just out on top of like this crazy cliff, and there’s a waterfall or a big lake behind him, and I just thought it was a really cool idea. So me and the boys just drove out to the middle of the forest in Nova Scotia and just shot some crazy stuff in the woods and had a good time with it.”

Rose’s previous music video for the track, “When I’m an Old Man,” was released in 2011, and has more than 11,000 views on YouTube.

Struggling in Halifax

Rose says he hasn’t been able to perform in Halifax as much as he’d like. His most recent performance was at a residence charity event last year, where he ended up playing to an empty room.

“In Halifax I haven’t really found a connection yet, like someone who could book me for shows and stuff. It’s a little more difficult when you’re not from here to make those connections,” he says. “At home there’s enough people that I could call and be like, ‘Yo, get me a show’ and I’d get one fairly fast.”

As far as recording goes, Rose has found it to be just as simple in Halifax as it is in Toronto.

How to make a track

Rose finds his beats off YouTube or gets them from a friend, and these inspire what he writes. He says he is fortunate enough to know a lot of people in the music industry, including the brother who inspired him to rap in the first place, who is now a professional musician himself.

“A lot of people, they just write and write and write and then try matching their verses to the beats after,” he says. “But I just find [that] I can’t really tailor it to the beat that way.”

His first mixtape is a catalogue of tracks he recorded over a two-year period. He says he didn’t originally intend to put them all on one tape together, but looking over them one day he decided it was time he put something out. His more recent tape was intentional.

“I knew this time I wanted to make a mixtape, so when I was finishing songs I’d be putting a little extra effort into making them nice,” he says.

He then mixes each song himself, creating the album from the comfort of his bedroom.

Collaboration, inspiration, and the future

Aside from getting his backing tracks from friends and relatives, Rose also features friends that are fellow musicians on his songs.

“Collaboration is always fun. It’s kind of a part of hip hop [and] you’ve got to embrace it,” says Rose. “You can feed off each other’s energy.”

If he could collaborate with anybody though, he says he would pick the late record producer and rapper J Dilla.

Rose says he’ll probably start working on his next project as soon as he finishes school in April, and will hopefully have another project ready for the fall.

“I feel like if I don’t have a clearly defined goal then I can never really be disappointed with my progress,” he says. “I just know that I love doing it, and I’m going to keep grinding no matter what.”

Is it worth posting a ‘no-makeup selfie’ for cancer awareness?

Have you taken a “no-makeup selfie” for cancer awareness? Find out why some people won’t.

By Dina Lobo

Cancer survivor Jennika Hunsinger (Dina Lobo / Peninsula News)
Cancer survivor Jennika Hunsinger (Dina Lobo / Peninsula News)

If you’ve been scrolling down your Facebook or Twitter page in the past week, you’ve probably heard of the ‘No-Makeup Selfie’ for cancer awareness.

The idea is to post a picture of yourself without any makeup in support of creating cancer awareness, and then nominating or tagging your friends to do the same. This started in the U.K. after a few women started sharing selfies with #CancerAwareness. It gained more attention after British celebrity Michelle Keegan posted one on her Twitter account.

Even though Cancer Research UK has raised almost $3 million in 48 hours this week, the trend has been attacked by critics who do not find it effective and ethical to raise awareness through selfies.

Meaghan Ashley is one of those critics who refused to participate.

“It wasn’t till a friend nominated me that I decided to post a sarcastic joke and then I messaged her and said, ‘I hope you weren’t offended by my post, but I just think the whole thing is stupid,’” Ashley said.

Instead, she provided a link to an opinion article she agreed with, which blamed the selfie for being self-validating and narcissistic.

“A lot of people mask their personal gain as charity. Too many people think that they are doing good just by liking, sharing or participating in these fads, but really they are just seeking validation for themselves. Whether it’s, ‘Yeah, you look really great without makeup’ or ‘You’re a good person because you care about this cause,’ either way they are looking for a pat on the back,” said Ashley.

Cancer survivor shares her story

Jennika Hunsinger is a second-year Dalhousie student. She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the age of 15. Hunsinger didn’t know much about cancer, except breast cancer or cancer awareness trends like Movember for men, until she was actually experiencing it herself.

Hunsinger went to a cancer camp called Camp Oochigeas for three summers in a row. Her experience at the camp and the support she received has made her become more involved and determined as a fundraiser and as someone who wants to create cancer awareness. She has created a team and is running 10 kilometres for Camp Oochigeas, something she does every year.

When Hunsinger first saw the no-makeup selfie trend on Facebook, she didn’t want to participate.

“I just don’t usually participate in it, but after being contacted by you and reading some articles, I ended up doing it. I gave my input of what I thought it was and how it could be related. It’s going to get criticized regardless, but I took the time to attach the link for the 10k I’m running for Ootchcamp. I think if you attach some sort of fundraiser to it, it kinda makes it worth it,” she said.

Hunsinger feels that there are other ways of creating awareness and fundraising that are more emotionally effective for her, such as 10k runs.

“I hate running, I just don’t like it and when I train for it, it sucks, but when you’re in it and you’re surrounded by people, you can’t stop. I literally smiled the entire way. Sometimes you cry and there are bands along the way and people along the streets cheering for you the whole way. There are people of different ages and sizes,” she said.

Though Hunsinger admits that the pictures are more self-validating, she adds, “the selfies still contribute to the bigger picture of support and awareness. They are all little pieces that come together. Some are emotional and some are more effective. Even though I thought it was stupid, but the more you accept it and the less you criticize (anything in life), it has good intentions.”

Effective donations

Tammy Grant is an assistant co-ordinator at The Lodge that Gives, an accommodation centre organized by the Canadian Cancer Society, and finds that other ways of donating can be more effective.

“The easiest way to donate is through runs, like Relay for Life or donating your time. Volunteering is a huge part of the cancer society, so if you can’t necessarily donate your money then donate beds, quilts or anything, because everything helps,” Grant said.

Grant does not see the connection between the no-makeup selfies and cancer awareness at all.

“The people that have breast cancer and had a breast removed, I know some women get that area tattooed or something for support. That would be more representative because there is a connection with cancer. If someone shaved their hair for support that would have more meaning too, but I don’t get the connection with no makeup because many cancer patients do wear makeup.”

Hunsinger also feels there is a disconnection as she is one of those cancer patients who wore makeup. “Obviously I wore makeup before I had cancer and then I wore it during and I wore it after,” she said with a laugh.

Look Good, Feel Better is an organization that is dedicated to helping cancer patients with beauty tools, products and tutorials. Its aim is to improve self-esteem for those undergoing cancer treatment. Hunsinger received a bag full of donated beauty products from the group during her treatment.

Cancer misconceptions and the reality

For someone who works with cancer patients daily, Grant feels that there are many misconceptions and stereotypes when it comes to cancer, as some cancers have entered the mainstream world and some have not.

“Some of them look like they don’t even have cancer. There are hundreds of different kinds of cancers and so many popping up every day. They are all different and their genetic makeup is different, so if they find the cure for breast cancer it’s not going to cure all other cancers. There are just too many different kinds,” Grant said.

Camp Oochigeas, that Hunsinger stayed at and is running for, is 100-per-cent run on donations and fundraisers. With no government support and almost entirely volunteer-based, Hunsinger understands and appreciates any form of donation, even if it’s through a selfie.

“As long as it’s going to a foundation where the money is being used. But to just say you raised money and it was for cancer, that is just so vague.  Where is that actually going? Is it going to an actual school or entire hospital? Is it going to a patient? I’m more interested in looking at where it goes because I am an avid (donor),” Hunsinger said.

Just like the camp, The Lodge that Gives is also mostly reliant on donor dollars to keep the accommodation centre open. The Canadian Cancer Society, also reliant on donor dollars, has seen a 240 per cent increase in donations since the no makeup selfie trend went viral, CTV reported. Just like many cancer camps, Cancer Research UK does not have any government support and encourages donations in many forms. Since the selfie trend started it has raised up to 8 million Euros, according to research done by the Guardian.

However, many still find the ethical and moral values behind the selfie questionable.

Ashley said, “I don’t think that your physical appearance is the epitome of who you are, so if it’s about being yourself then I don’t think a picture without makeup tells the story of who you are. So either way for a good cause or not, I don’t agree it.”

Never too fowl for Halifax hen keeper

John Wimberly, founder of HFX HENS, says there are benefits to raising chickens in a city.

By Linea Volkering

John Wimberly
John Wimberly, founder of HFX HENS, says there are benefits to raising chickens in an urban setting. (Linea Volkering/ Peninsula News)

Balancing a jug of steaming water in one hand, and a pellet-filled container in the other, John Wimberly is an unlikely sight in front of his north-end home. He barely hesitates as he squeezes between a car and his house, lurching over a snow bank left over from Wednesday’s snowstorm into his backyard. He unlocks the latch of a snow-covered creation of mesh, wood, nails and wire. Past the enclosure’s gate, Wimberly pushes up a plank of wood. Three beaks poke into view.

This is Wimberly’s chicken coop, built from scratch out of repurposed materials. It is home to three unlikely urban residents: hens.

DSC_3306
Wimberly mixes feed for the hens using special pellets and hot water. (Linea Volkering/Peninsula News)

Hatching an interest

Wimberly’s interest in keeping hens began around two and a half years ago, when his father offered him an old brood intended for slaughter. Intrigued at the idea of hen keeping, Wimberly took on the birds. Since then, he has become an active advocate for urban hen keeping in Halifax.

“When I started raising hens, I was really enthusiastic to push it further and I wanted to get people together,” Wimberly says.

DSC_3331
A barred rock hen (bottom) and a golden comet hen (top) (Linea Volkering/Peninsula News).

The egg industry

Wimberly uses “disconcerting” to describe factory farming because of the small amount of space given to the animals. He views this process that brings eggs to supermarkets as unethical and unhealthy for the birds involved. Instead, he encourages like-minded citizens to support local henhouses, as they provide an alternative to the system.

“It also creates a conversation in your neighbourhood, some sort of understanding of where your food comes from,” says Wimberly.

Wimberly reaps the benefits of having at least one of his chickens lay an egg per day. However, the best part about this is it happens for free.

As the eggs can last up to six months when refrigerated, Wimberly finds that they build up over time. Rather than selling these ethically sourced products, he uses them for cooking, or trades them for local garden-grown goods. For Wimberly it results in a cheaper grocery bill, but most importantly, he values the opportunity to be independent and sustainable.

DSC_3308
A single egg is retrieved. (Linea Volkering/Peninsula News)

Launching a social platform

The world of urban chicken keeping is riddled with difficulties because of negative public perception, as well as poor legislation. There has also been mass controversy in Halifax over the keeping of hens in an urban and residential setting.

In an attempt to unify and educate the community on the facts surrounding chicken management, Wimberly founded the Facebook page HFX HENS in February 2013.

“Mostly it was created because there needed to be some sort of outward facing focus here to push for that political change and also to make sure people had the information they needed.”

The page, operated and curated by Wimberly, exists as a forum for chicken owners, as well as those who are merely curious about the idea. To date, there are 189 members.

Wimberly says that groups he participates in, such as Halifax Chickens, who cater to current chicken owners, are valuable.  However, he hopes that HFX HENS will serve as more of a resource where any level of chicken enthusiast can find mentorship, educational opportunities, and information on proper keeping techniques.

Education and outreach in the community

Wimberly, through HFX HENS, often holds educational events such as this Saturday’s Intro to Hen Keeping where guides those in attendance through an interactive session, complete with hen handling to build confidence and understanding.  Wimberly mentions that necessary things such as wing clipping are an example a of a particular demonstration he would give at an event like this.

The chicken coop complete with hutch, atrium and run are hand made from scrap materials. (Linea Volkering / Peninsula News)
The chicken coop complete with hutch, atrium and run are hand made from scrap materials. (Linea Volkering / Peninsula News)

The outreach done by HFX HENS has been popular, according to Wimberly who will have taught over 100 people about hen keeping by the end of the month. Among those in attendance are children, seniors and young adults from several different backgrounds, including experienced farmers.

Wimberly says parents “realize that this is a really good way of building responsibility with their children.” He notes  that by having chickens as a pet, parents are “teaching their kids about food and where food comes from and just instilling a lot of really healthy values.”

Wimberly hopes to help people in the community overcome the stigma of hen keeping by teaching people how to keep the animals in a way that is not a nuisance to others.

DSC_3317
Wimberly’s chicken coop. (Linea Volkering/Peninsula News)

Common hen keeping misconceptions

“The big things are noise, odour, and vermin,” says Wimberly.

The problem of noise, Wimberly says, is avoided by not keeping roosters. Often loud and energetic, roosters are the most likely to upset neighbouring households with their calls. Additionally, they are not needed in order for hens to lay eggs.

Wimberly has found that odours can be eliminated with proper cleaning and bedding techniques.

As for vermin, “it’s not a chicken specific issue, it’s just whether you leave a food source out,” says Wimberly. By limiting the amounts of available open food and using a hanging feeder that is inaccessible to rats, vermin problems are easy to be rid of.

DSC_3314
A hanging feeder makes it difficult for rats to steal chicken food. (Linea Volkering/Peninsula News)

Major ‘henefits’

As Wimberly mixes the hot water with the pellets into an oatmeal-like substance, he points out that the cost of chicken upkeep is cheap. With a chicken’s ability to eat almost anything, they act as a living compost bin and produce highly coveted waste for fertilizers.

Wimberly finds the upkeep of a henhouse to be a very minor time-commitment, needing only two quick visits a day for feeding and some casual cleaning. As long as a nesting box and a roosting beam are included, the animals make themselves at home.

“You just make something that kind of fits those characteristics and they will just go straight to it.”

Wimberly says that his landlord is comfortable with the setup, so long as space is used appropriately. Even Wimberly’s neighbour seems unabashed, giving him a friendly wave as she appears briefly on her back porch before disappearing back into the house.

DSC_3320
Hay is used as bedding for the chickens. (Linea Volkering/Peninsula News)

Fowl legislation

The Halifax Regional Municipality examined the land use bylaws in 2009 surrounding the keeping of hens on non-agricultural designated lots. It was discovered that, although the regional land use bylaw prohibits chickens on residential lots, it was not listed as specifically prohibited on the Halifax Peninsula.

In a 2011 report done by municipal staff, a survey was conducted asking participants to state on a scale of one to five whether they were for or against urban hen keeping. The average score was a 4.3 in favour.

The report also mentions that 84 per cent of the people who took the survey thought that “laying hens” should be allowed.

“I don’t disagree with the notion that it’s agricultural. I just disagree with the notion that anyone should restrict a harmless, at worst, and wildly beneficial, at best, activity,” says Wimberly.

In 2013, it was announced that chickens would be allowed on the properties of those residing on the Peninsula.

As the conversation surrounding chickens in the HRM is far from over, Janet Bryson, senior communications advisor for the HRM, encourages those interested in hen keeping to contact the city’s planning department. By knowing a neighbourhood’s specific set of rules or bylaws ahead of time, nasty fines and surprises can hopefully be avoided.

When a joke leads to eviction

Halifax student facing eviction over jokes he says are “misunderstood” but his roommates say create a “hostile environment.”

By Matthew Scrimshaw

Jing Tang records the comments made by her roommate in a little black book. (Matthew Scrimshaw / Peninsula News)

Inside her third-floor bedroom, a spacious triangular alcove with a door leading to a small snow-covered porch, 23-year-old Jing Tang is able to carve out a little piece of serenity.  She turns down the music playing on her MacBook, the gentle voice of a Chinese opera singer dimming, and pulls a small, black notebook from the drawer beside her bed.

“This is one of the few places where I can relax,” she says, her arms motioning like those of a conductor and pointing to the large size of her room.

She opens the first page of the notebook and traces her finger down a page littered in notations.  Each notation is accompanied by a date and time, and observed together with the accounting books lining her bookshelf, the book appears to be a ledger.

It is.  Tang does not get along with one of her roommates.

“I was told to document every bad thing he’s said,” she explains, turning the page to reveal yet another page full of written-down transgressions.

The transgressions largely centre around the use of sexist, racist and homophobic stereotypes according to Tang.

“He told me he would send me back to China,” she says, laughing now at the absurdity of the threat, but at the time she says she was thinking, “I’m here alone, an international student, female, from Asia, so it’s become personal.”

The repeated comments have made her feel helpless says Tang and her once spacious room now seems claustrophobic.

“It would be nice to study downstairs, or spend more time in the kitchen, but I don’t want to argue anymore,” says Tang.

Uncomfortable

Tang lives in a large house on the edge of Dalhousie’s campus with six other roommates.  She has done so for two years and several of her roommates have come and gone during that time.  Though the rooms are rented individually, and her roommates often begin as strangers,  Tang insists that she has gotten along with all of them – but one.

“My roommate, his comments make me very uncomfortable,” she says, “It’s become a hostile environment.”

In the downstairs kitchen that foreign-exchange student Tang prefers to avoid, one of her roommates agrees with her assessment.  Brent Carpenter is a third-year-old law student at Dalhousie and only moved into the house last September.

“It’s an uncomfortable environment,” he says while seated at a worn kitchen table, two computers splayed out in front of him. “And the intimate nature of the roommate relationship makes it more of a concern.”

He says he knew living with strangers might be complicated, but was not expecting this level of animosity.

“It’s somewhat anticipated that there will be some butting of heads, but you can’t foresee the general disruption of a roommate who constantly creates conflict.”

Carpenter accepts that his roommate is entitled to opinions different than his own but says he takes umbrage when those opinions lead to disrespect.

“No one deserves to be criticized or ridiculed on the basis of their ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation,” says Carpenter.

Though many of his housemates have elected to avoid the house’s common areas as much as possible, Carpenter has done the opposite.

“It’s a form of bullying, and while I won’t sink to that level, I’m not going to back down either,” says Carpenter.

Is communication the answer?

The rising tension amongst the house’s tenants reflects one of the main concerns of Dalhousie University’s Off-Campus Living Office.  They offer students a guide to living with roommates that emphasizes the need for regular communication.

However, Tang insists that communication is not the problem.

“We have tried talking politely, talking angrily, talking to our landlord…. I have gone to Dal’s legal services office to get advice,” she says, dropping her head.  “It’s not that we don’t talk, it’s what’s said when we do talk.”

She adds that documenting her roommate’s behaviour was the suggestion of the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service.

Though the roommates are reluctant to mention specific incidents, it appears that the majority of the complaints stem from off-colour jokes and comments that they feel are made solely to elicit a response, according to Carpenter.

“We’ve tried many times to be nice, to talk, to start with a clean slate, to let bygones be bygones, and to establish ground rules,” he says. “Without fail, this individual overstepped boundaries and made comments.”

Misunderstanding or eviction?

This individual is Giovanni Rojas, an engineering student who moved into the house in September, the same time as Carpenter.  He says he is not a villain, but simply misunderstood.

“I make jokes, and sometimes people get offended because of those jokes, but I don’t mean anything offensive,” says Rojas.

He says that many of his roommates make the same type of jokes, and that he has never had issues with people he has resided with in the past.

“I lived in residence for five years and never had any conflict,” says Rojas.

Nonetheless, Rojas admits that the house’s landlord, Ezra Edelstein, has given him multiple warnings, both verbally and in writing, to stop antagonizing his roommates.

Form E - Landlord's Notice To Quit
Form E – the landlord’s notice to quit – must be hand delivered to the tenant. Upon receiving it, the tenant has 15 days to vacate the premise. (Picture courtesy Access Nova Scotia)

He says his perceived dismissal of these warnings has prompted Edelstein to seek his eviction, citing a breach of statutory condition 3 under section 9 (1) of Nova Scotia’s Residential Tenancies Act, which states:

“A landlord or tenant shall conduct himself in such a manner as not to interfere with the possession or occupancy of the tenant or of the landlord and the other tenants, respectively.”

Edelstein says that he has never had to resort to eviction in his time as a landlord, but has received repeated complaints about Rojas’ behaviour.

Meanwhile, Rojas says he is exploring his options, including filing his own complaint against the landlord.

“[I am] Probably going to fight it because I think my rights are being violated when someone like the landlord comes and says he’s going to kick me out,” says Rojas.

Too little too late?

Tang welcomes the news of her roommate’s potential eviction, but laments the timing.  Her semester is almost complete, and she is likely moving to Vancouver in May.  For now, she is resigned to studying within the confines of her own room, but able to find solace in the support of current and former roommates alike.

Carpenter says that despite Rojas souring his year, there are rewarding aspects to living with other people, such as shared meals and common experiences.

Indeed, as Tang’s former roommate Stephanie Dover points out, common issues are often what bring people closer together.

“Some of the best memories of my life are because of living with roommates, you almost become like family,” she says, smiling as she fingers Tang’s notebook of transgressions.  Before she can continue, Tang delivers the punchline.

“You chose to live alone this year!”