Staying afloat: Former environmental engineer to open the first flotation centre in Halifax

Lindsay MacPhee, former environmental engineer, hopes to share the benefits of meditation through her new flotation centre.

Wires hang and pipes poke out from the unfinished ceiling. Pieces of plaster, insulation, tubes and tools are scattered around the space. Several workers tinker away in separate rooms. The space will soon become a sea of meditation and tranquility with decorations inspired by Wes Anderson. When the job is done, this will be the first flotation centre in Halifax.

An environmental engineer for five years, Lindsay MacPhee, 32, did not plan on opening her own business. However, after an environmental consulting job fell through, MacPhee decided to open her own flotation centre on King Street, in the north end of Halifax.

“It was definitely a blessing. I had known for awhile that it really wasn’t how I saw myself living my life,” says MacPhee. “I wanted to do something very fulfilling.”

What is flotation therapy?

Developed by Dr. John C. Lilly in 1954, flotation therapy is used as a form of sensory deprivation, detoxification and meditation to decrease stress and anxiety. MacPhee says flotation therapy can relieve chronic pain, such as whiplash and muscle recovery, due to the amount of magnesium sulphate in the solution.

“The health benefits are amazing,” says MacPhee.

In a flotation session, a person enters a tank filled with 10 inches of water and 800 pounds of dissolved Epsom salts. Denser than the Dead Sea, those who enter the tank will become buoyant and float. The temperature of the water is approximately 34.2 C, which is warmer than a public swimming pool. The tank is closed during the session to reduce sights, sounds and smells.

“When you get into that meditative state, which floating assists with, some pretty profound changes can happen,” says MacPhee.

From environmental engineer to flotation therapy

MacPhee got into floating in May 2013 in Vancouver, where she was finishing her degree in chemical and environmental engineering. She returned home to Nova Scotia six months later. Over the years, she never lost her interest in floating.

“I’ve been waiting for years for someone in Halifax to do this,” says MacPhee.

“We have such an amazing and creative community who are into meditation and the arts,” she says. “I think this can help and assist with that.”

Through the Self-Employment Benefits program and Employment Insurance, MacPhee was accepted into the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development program, which helps entrepreneurs start their own small business with government funding.

MacPhee says that the main challenge of opening her own business was having confidence and educating others about floating.

“I had lived in a world where I worked a nine-to-five job as an engineer. It was such a major shift to what I’m doing now,” she says.

MacPhee says there has been an overwhelming response to her business idea. She says she has received numerous phone calls and emails from as far as Cape Breton and New Brunswick.

“It’s been general excitement,” says MacPhee. “That provides a bit of a push. On the days that are very difficult and I’m experiencing challenges, just knowing that provides a lot of support.”

In addition to flotation sessions, the centre will have a wellness co-ordinator, who is a trained naturopathic doctor, as well as a massage therapist and dietician.

MacPhee originally hoped to open The Floatation Centre by April 1. She expects to open the centre within the next few weeks.

“If I can just help people recognize their positive potential within the universe, whether it’s enhance their creativity, to decrease their stress levels … then I think that I’m doing a pretty great job,” says MacPhee.

Belly dancer shimmies her worries away

Empowering women to be comfortable with their body image through the art of belly dance.

Emily McEwan is 44 years old and has a love for belly dancing that is clearly visible by the way she smiles when describing the feeling it gives her. She believes that belly dancing has a positive impact on her life.

McEwan has always been interested in belly dancing and took classes in Scotland in 1992. However, the reason why she decided to start taking lessons in Halifax was to help her cope with the stress in her life.

Emily McEwan gets read to start her belly dancing class at Halifax's  Serpentine Studios (Photo by Katlyn Pettipas)
Emily McEwan gets ready to start her belly dancing class at Halifax’s Serpentine Studios (Photo by Katlyn Pettipas)

“It takes your mind off things. The thing that finally drove me to sign up for lessons was that I was having a hard time with some other aspects of life and I thought that I needed to try something that was completely different but also that I always wanted to do,” said McEwan.

McEwan quickly fell in love with belly dance and how it made her feel.

“I got some positive feedback when I started doing it so I kind of tucked that away in the back of my head because I had never gotten any positive feedback for how I moved my body to music before. I thought of myself as a klutz growing up, so it was kind of a shock to find out I could actually do this and feel good,” said McEwan.

While belly dancing was creating positive change within her own life, she was very happy to discover that her love for belly dancing could help empower other people as well.

McEwan became a member of a local belly dancing organization called the Halifax Shimmy Mob. The volunteer group of women tries to raise awareness about domestic violence and raise money for women and children’s shelters.

This is an issue that is very important to McEwan.

“I can’t go into any detail but domestic violence is a very personal cause to me. I relate to it very personally so anything I can do that can help, I will. I’m glad that I get a chance to help an organization that’s addressing it,” said McEwan.

Members of the Halifax Shimmy Mob practice their belly dancing (Photo by Katlyn Pettipas)
Members of the Halifax Shimmy Mob practice their belly dancing. (Photo by Katlyn Pettipas)

The Halifax Shimmy Mob raises donations by taking part in multiple charities throughout the year. The belly dance group also creates and takes part in an organized flash mob where different Shimmy Mobs from around the world dance to the same song and do the same choreography. This is scheduled to happen on May 9, also known as World Belly Dance Day.

The Halifax Shimmy Mob also has a goal of raising awareness about the positive impacts associated with belly dancing. McEwan is very enthusiastic about promoting belly dancing because she believes it can be very empowering for women.

McEwan thinks this style of dancing is a great way to help improve women’s confidence, especially in regards to different body images.

“I have found the more I do it the more confident I feel about what my body can do in regards to my ability and also my shape. Which probably like a lot of women I was kind of socialized from a very young age to be obsessed with that and worry about it all the time,” said McEwan.

While McEwan witnesses the positive effects that belly dancing has on women, she believes that there is a common misconception that surrounds belly dancing and she would like to end the stigma.

“Some people have a really mistaken idea about what it is and why people do it. The thing I would want people to know the most about belly dance is that it’s not about women showing off their bodies for men’s pleasures, it’s actually most of the time, by women for women.”

McEwan is also very happy that her nine-year-old daughter, Eri, joined the Shimmy Mob with her because not only are they spending quality time together, but she is also witnessing the positive aspects belly dancing can have on women.

“I think it’s good for her to see women of all ages enjoying this and doing it out in public as well as doing it for a good cause,” said McEwan.

Capturing canines with Stephanie Sibbitt

Stephanie Sibbitt moved to Nova Scotia last year to pursue a career as a full-time artist. Since then, she has found her artistic niche and paints custom pet portraits.

With classical music playing lightly in the background, Stephanie Sibbitt reaches forward to pick out the colours for the first layer on her new painting. On the shelf in front of her workspace, dozens of paint tubes are lined up in the order of the rainbow, and a bulletin board features a sketch of her newest project; a custom pet portrait of Bradley, a wheaten-terrier mix.

Choosing to begin with multiple shades of blues and greens, Sibbitt squeezes small drops of paint onto the top of an old Becel container and begins lightly swirling the colours around until she is ready to make the first brush stroke.

As she begins working on the first layer, her cat Davis pokes its head around the corner and jumps onto the table beside her. Without pausing to take a quick break from her painting, Sibbitt absent-mindedly reaches over to her pet and continues painting while Davis leans in, excited for a bit of attention. Upstairs, her dogs Akima and Opie whine in protest at being let out of the fun.

Most days start out this way for Sibbitt, who moved to Halifax last year to pursue a career as a full-time artist. She and her boyfriend, Bernard Antinucci, made the move from the fast-paced lifestyle of Toronto to pursue their dreams of being entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia. Surrounded by animals, it is no surprise that Sibbitt has found her artistic niche in painting custom pet portraits.

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Sibbitt has been painting all her life. With no formal training other than visual art classes in high school, she relies on books and YouTube tutorial videos to learn different skills.

“I learn from other people. If I see something that inspires me from another artist, I want to go out and learn that skill, figure out how they did it and apply it to what I do,” she says. “For me it is trial and error. My drawers are filled with stuff that no one will ever see just because I’ll try something new and realize I hate it and instead of throwing it out, I’ll just keep it because you learn from it.”

The walls of Sibbitt’s house are covered in paintings of all shapes and sizes, ranging from large acrylic landscapes to postcard-sized ink and watercolour paintings, and of course, her pet portraits.

“I’m one of those crazy cat people too, so for me, the whole pet portrait concept started because I had to put my cat down. He was 19 years old and I was devastated.”

Even though her cat Calypso was gone, Sibbitt still knew she needed some way to connect with him, and being an artist gave her the perfect outlet. After friends and family saw what she could do with just a picture as reference, many people approached her to ask if she could do a portrait for them as well. “It started to turn into this whole group of just remembering your pet.”

For Sibbitt, it is all in the details. Before even bringing her brush to canvas, Sibbitt takes time to have a consultation with clients to gather photographs to work from and learn about their pet’s personalities and quirks. At the end of the day, her goal isn’t to simply paint a picture, but to capture the personality of the animal.

“For me, I’ll spend the time. I’ll take a really crappy picture and do everything I can to make sure it looks lifelike, and make sure it looks like your dog. I really try to take what they tell me about their dog, and what is important to them and then capture that.”

Stephanie Sibbitt absentmindedly pets her dog, Opie while concentrating on her newest painting. (Photo by: Rowan Morrissy)
Stephanie Sibbitt absentmindedly pets her dog, Opie while concentrating on her newest painting. (Photo by: Rowan Morrissy)

In order to achieve a distinctive portrait, Sibbitt uses unique backgrounds and props and tries to incorporate the pet’s name into the portrait to make it special for the owner.

As her business grows, Sibbitt is hoping to expand her services as well. Right now, Sibbitt does all her painting straight from photographs that owners have brought in. In the next few months, she is hoping to provide house visits.

“I’ll come out to you, spend an hour with your dog, and take a ton of pictures of your dog. That way, I get the best pictures I like to work with, and you can keep the rest.”

While her commissions keep her busy with around four to six custom paintings a month, Sibbitt is also working on custom greeting cards and drawing tattoo designs. But even with all her artistic ideas, Sibbitt Studios would be nothing without her strong communication and business skills.

“I am on Kijiji every day posting ads. I’m emailing clients and sending progress pictures to show how far I’ve come on their portrait. If I’m not out there talking to people, then I’m not getting the work, and I’m not getting the referrals,” she says. “It’s kind of a grind, but I don’t want to be a starving artist.”

Other than updating her website, Facebook and Instagram daily, Sibbitt tries to attend vendor shows on the weekend. “I hope to leave every show knowing that everyone got a business card, and at least three people are interested in getting a painting,” she says. “I love painting, clearly this is what I want to do with my life. If I could get paid every day to do art, that would be my goal. And that’s what I’m working towards.”

Moving out to Nova Scotia and making the decision to work for herself has opened up Sibbitt’s eyes to the possibilities that are available to those who are brave enough to seek them.

“It made me realize that it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do, people are always going to judge you based on your style, or your skill. As long as you can stand up and do what you really want to do, that’s all that matters.”

The freedom of poetic expression

Slam poet Andre Fenton, 19, uses his art to deal with depression and share his thoughts with others.

Andre Fenton stands against a graffitied wall in the Halifax Common. He flips through his notebook, hollowed with ripped out pages.

“She sells sea shells by the sea shore,” enunciates Fenton.

Sirens wail in the distance, vehicles honk at the intersection of Windsor Street and Quinpool Road, and children yell from the playground. Amidst the sounds of everyday life, Fenton, wearing a newsboy cap and grey overcoat, prepares to bare his soul.

After nodding that he’s ready to begin, Fenton reads aloud the poem — so new it’s nameless — he will perform at the upcoming adult slam later this month.

 

Fenton, 19, is a slam poet from the north end of Halifax. He spent the last two years pursuing a degree in screen arts from NSCC and working a part-time job at Lawton’s, while performing slam throughout the country and organizing youth and adult events in Halifax.

After qualifying for a place on Halifax’s 2013 and 2014 Youth Can Slam teams, Fenton will help coach this year’s five chosen youth poets for the national event in Ottawa in August.

He says performing feels like a high more elating than therapy. “When you first start [performing] it feels like you’re sticking your head underwater,” says Fenton, “but eventually you’ll learn how to swim.”

A shy person, Fenton says he was morbidly obese up until two years ago and has been struggling with mental health and depression since his early teens. Spoken word has been his catharsis.

“You’re taking everything you deal with, your deepest confessions, and turning it into an artistic expression.”

Taking the plunge

Fenton’s passion for writing started in elementary school, around the same time El Jones began visiting his school and performing. It was during one of those performances that Fenton realized he wanted to meet the present-day poet laureate.

He found Centreline Studios on Gottingen Street and began using the studio as a space to write and practise recording poetry. One afternoon, while he was sitting in the back room jotting down his thoughts, Jones came into the studio. She asked to hear what he was working on.

The piece, Invisible Walls, focuses on the contrasting social treatment Fenton received before and after losing 145 lb. He says he has always been the same person — whether 300 pounds or less.

Jones asked Fenton to come to the poetry slam finals that were happening that night in Dartmouth. He didn’t know what to expect, but agreed to go along.

“We were going over the bridge and she was coaching me on this poem I literally just finished,” he recounts with a smile.

Jones registered Fenton for the slam and he performed while holding his notebook in front of his face. The crowd snapped and cheered. No one had ever clapped for him before.

Fenton placed third during his first live performance and qualified for a spot on Halifax’s 2013 Youth Can Slam team. He travelled to Montreal two months later for the competition.

Competing in the Youth Can Slam gave Fenton the opportunity to grow his confidence. “There was something I could do that I felt good about,” he says.

Hali Youth Slam

Fenton has been an active member of the slam community since his surprise debut. He has worked closely with David Zinck, the head of the Halifax poetry collective, to create Hali Youth Slam, a society that hosts monthly open mic nights.

Hali Youth Slam began in 2013, but didn’t have a full season. There were three rounds of competitive slam nights.

The first official season of Hali Youth Slam began last August. After having monthly slam nights, Fenton believes the consistency of this year’s season will help prepare the young artists who are competing for a spot on the Can Slam team.

Finals will be held on April 29 at the Alderney Gate Public Library. The top five poets will qualify for the 2015 Youth Can Slam.

Fenton will coach the team of five and accompany them to Ottawa for the national event. “I’ve never coached a team before,” he says, “but I think they have faith in me.”

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He wants to ensure qualifiers work to perfect their pieces so they will be ready for harsher criticism by the time they leave for Ottawa. Fenton says the Can Slam judges are not very lenient.

Memorizing pieces is encouraged. Fenton says memorization builds confidence and improves public speaking; it keeps performers from reading their pieces like robots.

Although Halifax’s adult slam scene has dried up over the years, adults will not be left out for long. The first 2015 adult slam night is planned for April 30.

Fenton — no longer a youth — will be competing and hopes there will be more to come in May and June.

The future

After graduating this month, Fenton has plans to combine his love for poetry and film. He hopes to start a blog where slam night performances can be posted and shared. He is also beginning to turn one of his pieces into a cinepoem, a work of poetry accompanied by a video to tell a narrative.

Fenton is currently working on a video for Just Shine, a poem he wrote and performed at the 2014 Canadian Spoken Word Festival in Victoria.

He hopes the cinepoem will be completed by the end of April so that he can enter it into an online competition. Canadian artists post their videos on YouTube, and the winner will receive a paid trip to compete in the Canadian Individual Poetry Slam in Vancouver.

Just Shine is inspired by the career counsellors who told him there was no money in writing.

Fenton says he writes to make people feel connected. While admitting that competition is a crucial part of slam poetry, he also believes the most important thing is the community.

Fenton names off a list of celebrated Canadian slam poets: Jeremy Loveday, Erin Dingle and Scruffmouth the Scribe. El Jones and David Zinck are also inspirations, as well as his peers who write and perform slam.

“I’m really nerdy,” says Fenton. “When I think of all of these people, I think of them like super heroes.”

Fenton believes there is something powerful about watching someone on stage with three minutes to speak their mind. Slam poetry is a way to share his voice, and he believes the power to leave an audience in goosebumps lies in a piece’s sincerity.

“Honesty is the best poetry.”

Halifax surfboard shaper sees big breaks in 2015

Andreas Hart, founder of Hart Surf Co., launches his company and starts to sell surf boards in Nova Scotia.

Andreas Hart concentrates as he slowly pulls the tape off of a surfboard, one of his own creations. He has been waiting for the resin to set for two hours, and is now back to coat the other side. Hart is the founder and sole proprietor of Hart Surf Co., a Halifax-based company that designs and makes surfboards.

This has been a huge year for Hart Surf Co., starting with a sold-out launch party in January. He won second place in a business competition at the University of New Brunswick, and the first board orders are starting to roll in.

Officially a company since Feb. 1, Hart Surf Co. is now selling surfboards, which can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000. Hart has a few different designs that he uses, and then makes the board to fit the customer.

His small one-room shop, located at the Dalhousie University Sexton campus, is full of surfboards and equipment. Each corner has four or five surfboards stacked together, each at different stages in the design process.

The boards are anywhere from basic foam cut outs to being finished and ready to paint. The process starts with Hart coming up with the dimensions and entering them into his computer. The dimensions then get sent to his machine, which cuts the foam into a board shape. He says the general shape ideas are based off of boards he’s used in the past, but he comes up with all of the dimensions.

The process really started when Hart and some fellow students built the machine, called a CNC surfboard router, during the final year of his mechanical engineering degree at Dalhousie in 2014.

“I wanted to do it after I finished my degree, but then one of my friends, while we were out enjoying ourselves, was like, ‘Why don’t you just do it now?’ And then the next day I sent an email to my professor and asked if I could … and then eight months later we had a machine that worked, and just started designing boards from there.”

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Originally from Dartmouth, N.S., Hart has been a passionate surfer since the age of 13. He taught himself how to make surfboards. He says he used his knowledge of surfing, mechanical engineering, trial and error, and the Internet, to figure out how to make the boards. He says he is continuously learning. Next week, he is going to make his first standup paddle board, and eventually wants to start making skateboards as well.

After finishing his engineering degree, Hart started auditing business classes at Dalhousie to learn how to formally start his own business.

While there are others in Nova Scotia who make surfboards, Hart says he is the only one doing it full time and trying to make an established company out of it. “Nova Scotia has been getting a lot of publicity over the past two winters for its surf … It’s going to take some time obviously, but I’m trying to gain some trust,” says Hart.

Hart says right now he is working on a video that will showcase local surfers using his boards, and what he is most excited about, putting together a surf team with the ultimate goal of the team travelling together and representing his boards.

Surfboards and art

Hart is also connecting with local artists who paint the boards when they are finished, providing one-off designs that can’t be found anywhere else. On April 18, his boards will be featured in The Collective Art Show, hosted by the Blackbook Collective, which will showcase more than 20 local artists.

Local artist Heidi Wambolt has done the art for several of Hart’s boards. She says her style of work focuses on aquatic life and themes, so working with Hart was a perfect fit.

“Andreas is great to work with. He makes suggestions but gives me a lot of space and freedom to do my own work,” says Wambolt.

“With Andreas’ laid back suggestions, the freedom of artistic expression, and my eagerness to keep painting and producing, more boards will definitely be on the way!”

Hart says his next step is to get a bigger workshop outside of the city — preferably in the Lawrencetown, Seaforth, and Martinique area. He says he wants to stay in Nova Scotia and keep trying to get his name out there.

“It’s exciting to see where it takes me,” says Hart.

Vintage bikes in vogue

Vintage bike enthusiast and dealer Brian Purdy talks about the comeback of old school bikes.

For retired 65-year-old writer Brian Purdy, bikes have become much more than a hobby.

Like many people, he’s been riding bikes since he was a little kid, but it’s only been in the past five years that he’s rekindled his love for bikes. They’ve helped him get through a hard time in his life.

“My marriage broke up and I basically had nothing. I needed to get around and I didn’t have money for the transit, I didn’t have money for smokes, I didn’t have money for anything. The easiest way to get around was a bicycle,” he says.

Brian Purdy with his reclaimed 1970s Vulcan. (Photo- Mitchell Mullen)
Brian Purdy with his reclaimed 1970s Vulcan. (Photo: Mitchell Mullen)

Necessity inspired adaptability and soon Purdy was smitten with his newfound passion. Local Halifax co-op Bike Again, which runs a build-to-own program on Almon Street, helped him build his first bike: a vintage Raleigh three-speed.

“I got obsessive about it for a while,” says Purdy.

“Some might think I’m still rather obsessive about the history and the technology, but you know if you’re interested in something you just saturate yourself in it and it kind of sticks to you.”

Since then, Purdy’s been buying, collecting and selling bikes. For him, the elegance and simplicity of bicycles — especially the older variety — was what drew him in.

“I love the history, I love the romance, I love the tradition, I love the usability and the practicality, I love that one-third of a horse power will put you up the tallest hill,” says Purdy.

“It’s one-third of a horsepower that a person generates on a bicycle, and look what can be done with it. It’s astonishing.”

Coming back

Most vintage bikes on the roads today are from the early 1970s. Purdy, like most bicycle enthusiasts, call the years between 1972 and 1974 — the height of bike popularity in North America — the “bike boom.”

Bikes from that time were made with durable steel frames, and that’s why many of them are still roadworthy after hanging in people’s garages for decades. The way these bikes stand the test of time still amazes Purdy.

“I swear, if the end of the world comes what will be left are Raleigh three-speed bikes and cockroaches,” he says.

Bike production has changed since the ’70s and the old steel frames have been phased out in favour of less expensive aluminum for standard commercial bikes and carbon fibre for racing bikes. The only way to get these steel-frame style bikes nowadays is to pay the high price for a new one from a specialty manufacturer or pick one up used. That’s where Purdy’s business comes in and he couldn’t be happier about it.

While he’s been selling bikes for almost as long as he’s been collecting them, Purdy says, in the last year, he’s been getting more attention from Haligonians searching for these vintage bikes. The old bikes from the ’60s and ’70s are back in style in a big way, and to Purdy it’s no surprise.

“They’re cool. It’s cool to reuse things from the past and have something that doesn’t just look like something every Tom and Harry has.”

Brian Purdy's 1972 Gitane Sport de Lux. (Photo: Mitchell Mullen)
Brian Purdy’s 1972 Gitane Sport de Lux. (Photo: Mitchell Mullen)

To use or collect?

It’s not just the durability of the bikes that matters to Purdy, but the uniqueness of them. For Purdy these bikes are personal, and they lend themselves to being fixed up and updated.

“You can customize them and make them feel more like they’re yours,” he says. “There was real craftsmanship back in the day. People really did care.”

Though there are people out there looking for vintage bikes in their original condition, Purdy doesn’t have a problem giving his bikes an update. While some collectors are very concerned with authenticity, Purdy thinks bikes are meant for riding.

“You have to divide cyclists between users and collectors,” he says, “[Collectors] want the bike to be all original.”

“A user won’t think in terms of concessions, but that the modernization of the bike is something they feel is necessary in order to make it as viable as possible.”

 

Purdy knows this first hand. He’s put lighter wheels on his French 1960s Gitane road bike to make it a smoother ride.

Trying to meet the needs of his customers is important to Purdy, whether they are users or collectors. For Purdy it’s part of the enjoyment, but also a standard he sets for himself.

“You want to give the best bike that you possibly can, you want to give what the customer wants and if the customer is particular you want to meet that,” he says.

​Local biscuits take the oatcake

A Halifax baker finds a sweet spot with his recipe for oatcakes.

For some, Nova Scotia is the sight of leaves changing colour in the Annapolis Valley. For others, it’s the sound of waves crashing along the Eastern Shore. But for Ken Wallace, a taste of Nova Scotia is always just a bite away.

“I fell in love with oatcakes when I moved here from Ontario 30 years ago,” says Wallace.

He can’t recall how he first happened upon a recipe for the oat-based treats, but remembers that once he started making them, he couldn’t stop.

“I was experimenting with the ingredients and next thing I know, I was baking batches to send to my family members across the country.”

After decades of receiving rave reviews from relatives, friends, and neighbours, Wallace decided to make biscuits his business. Last July, he founded Genuine Nova Scotia Oatcakes and began selling the cookies with the mission of offering “a wholesome and delicious oatcake made from the finest local ingredients,” or, as he calls it:

A respectable recipe

Wallace gets his ingredients from producers in the Maritimes located as near to his Halifax home as possible.

“It really is a challenge to make something just from stuff that’s nearby, but it’s about giving something to the community while making a bit of a living too,” he says.

He uses organic oats and spelt flour from New Brunswick’s Speerville Flour Mill. The cookies are sweetened with honey and maple syrup from Nova Scotian bee farms and sugar shacks.

“They’re handmade. So while they’re consistently good, each one’s as unique as a snowflake. Some are thinner, some are thicker. Some are chewier, some are crisper,” says Wallace. “It all depends on timing and where they sit in the oven.”

Wallace’s treats are about the size of a checkers piece, making them much smaller than many of the “hockey puck” sized oatcakes sold around Halifax. He thinks the treats are better for sharing when they’re bite-sized. He says no one ever just eats one.

“It’s almost like there’s some sort of universal law. You’re always reaching for another.”

Wallace has put a lot of thought into what goes inside the treats, but he’s equally mindful of what goes outside of them.

“A case of Oreos comes in a plastic tray that gets thrown directly into the garbage,” he says. “There’s just so much waste.”

That inspired the baker to deliver his desserts in a way that’s kinder to the environment. Small batches of Genuine Nova Scotia Oatcakes come in recyclable and reusable bags.

More serious snackers have the option of ordering a KiloCan, 60 oatcakes packaged inside an old coffee tin. Wallace uses a unique eco-friendly lining for the tin to keep the cookies from crumbling — oatmeal.

“Who said you can’t have your (oat) cake and eat porridge too?” he jokes on his website.

The lining’s especially important for when the oatcakes make long journeys abroad, travelling to first-time customers and Nova Scotians yearning for a taste of home. Wallace has shipped tins to Hawaii and Arizona in the U.S., and to Bhutan and Gambia. In early February, he shipped an order to Queensland, Australia. It was a 72-day trip by boat.

“The thing about oatcakes is someone could find one in 10,000 years and it would probably still be fresh,” he says.

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A busy business

At this point, Wallace is making oatcakes one or two days a week in order to fill private orders and supply the six stores in Halifax where they’re sold. Wallace estimates he’s baked more than 12,000 biscuits since last July. He had to add an extra rack to the oven in his north-end home to keep up with demand.

“The best day’s an oatcake day. It starts with a meditation and then I put on music or a great audiobook and start baking. Even if I begin early in the morning, I won’t finish until late at night.”

The radio is always playing when Wallace bakes. Inspired by the day’s current events, he gives each batch of cookies a unique name. Recent trays of blueberry oatcakes were named March Blizzard Blues to honour the storm raging beyond his window. When another hit later that week, he christened the lot Double Whammies.

As his business approaches its first anniversary, Wallace has begun to play around with a few ideas for the future.

“I’m not quite sure where it’s heading but I think there’s a lot of potential. I always hear there are no oatcakes in Toronto or New York,” he says. “Who knows, maybe we’re going to take over the world with oatcakes.”

In the meantime, Wallace has more important things on his plate — his afternoon snack, a selection of freshly baked biscuits.

Brian MacQuarrie: comedian, actor, human

MacQuarrie is best known for his work with Picnicface, but what happens when a comedian has a ‘ mental breakdown’ and has to pick up the pieces?

The small crowd at Toothy Moose applauds as Brian MacQuarrie approaches the stage, Moleskine notebook in hand. He opens it to the page his routine is scribbled on, rests it on a stool sitting in the spotlight, and grabs the microphone. He chuckles. “OK. I’m going to try some new stuff and some old stuff. Hopefully you guys are on board with this.”


“I like the idea of performing a show and everybody misses out on it,” MacQuarrie said while preparing jokes for tonight’s stand-up routine. “The best word I’ve ever heard in performance is turn-away; how many turn-aways did we have? How many people wanted to be a part of that show and missed out?”

Born in Antigonish, N.S., MacQuarrie has been doing improvisational theatre and standup comedy since 2003 when he was accepted at Dalhousie University. Since then, he has found success as a comedian, overcome a mental breakdown and is making a career as an actor.

Joins Picnicface

In 2003, MacQuarrie became captain of the University of King’s College improv team and met Mark Little, Evany Rosen and Kyle Dooley. Together, they began doing sketch comedy under the name Picnicface.

In 2007 the troop released its video, Powerthirst, on YouTube and it went viral. Many members came and went in the early stages of Picnicface, but once their video went viral the quick jump to stardom solidified the official eight members — one of them being MacQuarrie.

“We originally started with four, five people in the audience, then we got to the point where we’d just see this lineup of people going around the block. It was like, ‘Really, you guys want to see us?'” says MacQuarrie. “We’d do a show, have some drinks … it was the best ever.”

The group quickly became recognized by big names such as Disney, CollegeHumor and FunnyOrDie. They were also invited to the YouTube Canada launch in Toronto, and began making an independent film: Roller Town.

Soon after the completion of Roller Town in 2011, The Comedy Network decided to give Picnicface its own show.

“It was the coolest experience in the world. I wrote a television show with my friends,” says MacQuarrie. “Fans were coming up to me saying they were fans. It was great. It was jarring.”

Picnicface was in the midst of shooting its TV show and was about to release its film when MacQuarrie began struggling with mental illness.

“Then something just sort of unhinged for me … I ended up having a mental breakdown,” he says.

MacQuarrie has a history of depression and anxiety. He was flying to and from Toronto and Halifax and was barely sleeping. He says he was purposely trying to gain weight. He was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, as well as marijuana, and disconnected himself from the other members of Picnicface.

“My brain just went clunk.” MacQuarrie mimics the noise and quickly twitches his head. “I lost my mind. Absolutely lost my mind. I rented a hotel room for three months. I would walk around the hotel in my underwear all the time. I was out of my mind. Several days without eating food. Just drinking glasses of water. I lost my mind.”

 

In the midst of his breakdown, MacQuarrie received a phone call saying that his TV show had been cancelled.

“I hated the idea of the show being cancelled. Some people were like, ‘Did Brian drive the show into the ground?’ Um, no. Even if I was out of my mind, I was signed up with so many contracts … if they wanted a TV show they could have made me do it.”

Picking up the pieces through teaching

After his show was cancelled, MacQuarrie says he apologized to everyone he could and began teaching students and people affected by mental illness. He volunteered at Dramafest, a three-day theatre festival held at Dalhousie for high school students, taught at Improv U in Quebec, and ran his own mental health improv classes at Dalhousie. Teaching these classes helped MacQuarrie cope with his own mental illness.

“I believed that I could change the way people thought about mental health. My manager said to me, ‘This is career suicide. Kiss comedy goodbye.’ And it was just like, ‘I don’t think that’s true. I need to do this for myself.’

 

“It was really humbling to have these moments with these people and I got to see their development as people. So it was one of the best things that I ever did.”

MacQuarrie met a firefighter at one of his classes and began to work out with him, which resulted in MacQuarrie losing a lot of weight. He tried to audition for the role of Lex Luthor in the upcoming Superman film, but was not hired. He moved to Toronto, but moved back to Halifax less than a year later.

Current projects

After doing small acting roles for a while and doing standup regularly, MacQuarrie was cast in the Halifax film Relative Happiness. MacQuarrie plays Gerard, a failed love interest of the main character, Lexie.

“I got a call and was asked to do a reading for [Relative Happiness]. So I did. They said, ‘Well, it’s close to what we want’ and I was like whatever you want, I’ll do it. I’ll spend the days working on a character and you’ll have something that sort of stands out.”

MacQuarrie was also cast in his first lead role since Picnicface in the feature film Your Wife or Your Money, which is currently in post production. MacQuarrie plays Warren, a role specifically written for him, who has “this kind of unstoppable force who would do anything for his girlfriend.”

“Maybe no one will want to see it, but maybe people will see it in England. Maybe people will see it in L.A. or New York.”

MacQuarrie also acted with Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara on the series Schitt’s Creek.

He has been applying for grants in order to write his own movie scripts and is currently writing an “anti-romantic comedy” television pilot with Petra O’Toole.

With the help of friends, MacQuarrie has also been working on a new animated series called Eric the Pillager, an adult comedy about vikings. MacQuarrie does the voice of Björn, a less than intelligent man who provides comic relief. MacQuarrie is most excited about the fifth episode because he came up with the episode idea all on his own. They are currently trying to get a deal with Teletoon for the show.


 

 

“That’s why I had a mental breakdown. I wasn’t living the way I wanted to. The people I’ve met I wouldn’t have met if I didn’t lose my fucking mind. I wouldn’t be working on this pilot that I like. I wouldn’t have got the movie,” says MacQuarrie.

“Yeah, the world is a terrible place, but it’s also incredibly beautiful. Life is fucking amazing … It’s taken a while to rebuild, but I’ve never been more confident than I am right now.”

The kink of never growing up

Baby Edie, a member of the Society of Bastet, talks about his adult baby lifestyle.

A black truck pulls into the parking lot of the Society of Bastet’s play place: a tiny grey commercial complex. Inside, the play place looks more like a small three bedroom apartment than a kinkster club — until you realize they have more interesting furniture than the standard table and chairs.

A wooden ‘X’ with metal rings sits and waits in a corner of the room. Beside it is what looks like the support for a tiny swing set, but in its place hang two large carabiners for suspension play.

Two large couches are off to the side of the main play area; the space is empty this Sunday afternoon.

The Society of Bastet's main play area. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns)
The Society of Bastet’s main play area. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns)

Before starting the interview, he asks to stay anonymous in order to protect his real-world identity. He agrees to use his kink name, Baby Edie.

The kink

Baby Edie is almost 70 and says he didn’t get into the lifestyle until his 50s.

The name itself comes from the kink: age play.

“It’s always been thought of as part of pedophilia, but it isn’t,” says Baby Edie. “There’s a lot of people, even in the kink world, that really don’t get it and still are hesitant to accept it.”

In age play, adults role play different ages ranging anywhere from the elderly to infants and everything in between. In Baby Edie’s case, he plays an adult baby/diaper lover, or AB/DL girl, the youngest type of age player.

Linked to that is usually a power relationship — often domination and submission. However, in many AB/DL cases, like Baby Edie’s, the relationship is more nurturing than sexual.

Baby Edie has been a part of Bastet for about 10 years, and says he’s been well supported by the society.

“Over the years, people have got to know me and accepted me,” he says, adding that many people have praised him for coming out as AB.

“I’m sort of the mascot of the group and the community because I’ve gotten involved in the club a lot more,” he says.

He says it was a relief in the beginning to find people that were also interested in something “so bizarre.”

Not always easy

Baby Edie has been in the annual sex show, held at the Cunard Centre, for the past few years. He says it’s one of the only sex shows across Canada that has an age play component to it, which can be problematic at times.

“When I’ve been there, I have my own little space and I have some toys, colouring books, a play pen and I act out the baby,” he says.

Some people are intrigued and see what is going on, while others “avoid me like the plague,” he says.

An incident he remembers well happened a few years ago. Two women came up to him and asked questions. Questions, he says, that morphed into insults with one of them saying, “You’re the biggest, fucking ugliest baby I’ve ever seen.”

After that, he considered leaving the show and never doing it again.

“Things like that certainly shoot you down,” he says.

Although difficult, Baby Edie continues to go to shows, mostly to educate people.

Outside the sex show and the club, as most of Bastet’s members refer to it, Baby Edie keeps his kink to himself, hidden from family and work.

After two marriages that ended in divorce, which Baby Edie says was mostly due to other reasons than the kink, he now lives alone. He keeps his dresses – about 330 of them – on racks all over his house.

He says he used to make his own dresses, but once he realized they could be professionally made, he invested more into them. The dresses are specifically made as kink-wear and cost on average about $70 each.

“I was figuring it out one day, and I said, ‘Jeez, I must have a lot of money tied up there’ … I had like $25,000 in dresses at home,” he says.

In addition to the dresses, Baby Edie has plastic and vinyl raincoats he usually orders from the UK.

Keeping the collection away from people isn’t an easy task, and he asks people to call before they drop by.

“If I have visitors, I’ll hide them. I take them all and dump them on my bed and close the door to get them out of sight,” he says.

The dresses are worth it; it’s a comfort for him. If he’s had a bad day at work, he can come home, put on a dress and feel relaxed.

However, he says he wishes he had someone else to dress up with to make the experience that much better. He says he’s not interested in women his own age and wishes he could find a partner in the 40 to 60 year-old range.

“There is no younger women that will get into the scene with you,” he says. “I don’t want to feel old.”

Since he doesn’t have anyone to play with at home, he usually spends Saturday nights at the club in his designated corner.

He points over to the corner beside the suspension set. Plush toys, blocks, and colouring books are stuffed to the side in stark contradiction to the flogging cross across the room.

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Worth it

Baby Edie says he knows a lot of people who are into his same kink but do not have outfits or baby gear. He will often offer himself as a resource for those people.

“There are a lot of people that are into the age play that are so paranoid that they figure if they come to the club and they see someone they know, then that’ll be the end of their life,” he says.

That didn’t stop him.

“I’m not going to let the fear of being outed interfere with my life to the point that I’m going to be a hermit,” he says.

It’s one of the best decisions he’s ever made.

“I noticed that since I’m with the club, I’m a lot happier than in vanilla world,” he says. Vanilla world is essentially the world outside of kink.

“I have a lot more friends than I had before,” he says.

Music on the street with Glen Creed

A familiar face in downtown Halifax, Glen Creed loves to play his accordion on the corner of Spring Garden Road and Dresden Row.

Over the sounds of heavy traffic, Glen Creed plays an old George Jones tune on his accordion for all to hear.

While he used to play the bar scene back in his hometown in Pictou County, Creed now spends his days playing his music on the corner of Spring Garden Road and Dresden Row.

“It’s not something I have to do. I don’t do it for a living. If I make a few dollars fine, if I don’t that don’t bother me a bit. If I play and people enjoy it then that’s what counts.”

Click on the link to hear Creed’s cover of Glen Campbell’s Gentle on my Mind.


As he plays he looks straight ahead, focusing on his music and barely taking notice of the few glances he receives from people walking by. His open accordion case holds a handful of loonies and toonies.

Creed says he began playing the accordion at the age of 12, and hasn’t put it down in 53 years. Growing up, both his father and brother played the instrument, but being left handed, Creed had to teach himself to play. The first song he ever learned was You Are my Sunshine.

Creed has been playing music on the streets for decades. This year marks his 20th year playing on the waterfront on Canada Day. Most days he starts playing around 9 a.m. and goes all the way until lunch.

His old accordion has duct tape covering the many holes in the bellows, and although he has three more waiting at home, he needs to get the reeds fixed in them before they are ready to play again.

“It’s nice to get out. So many people today play all the young people’s music, but the older people like the type of music I play,” he says. “I do Newfoundland stuff, waltzes, polkas, fiddle music and Celtic stuff. It takes them back in time and they really enjoy it.”

While Creed enjoys playing all kinds of music, his love for country music is quite clear. His wide repertoire features many of his personal favourites by George Jones, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell.

Glen Creed plays his accordion despite the cold weather. (Photo: Rowan Morrissy)
Glen Creed plays his accordion despite the cold weather. (Photo: Rowan Morrissy)

Even with the long winter that Halifax has been experiencing, Creed is still determined to play despite the cold. His dry, weather-beaten hands prove it.

“The cold air is really hard on them (the accordions). You have days that are really cold, but you just do the best you can, play when you can. Some days are a little too rough, but I just keep on going.”

Raina the Mermaid splashes her way to success

How a “fish out of water” became a mermaid entertainer, educator and entrepreneur.

Raina the Mermaid’s exquisite custom-made orange mermaid tail hangs over the edge of her underwater stage at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Children in the front row huddle around it in awe.

“Look mommy, a real live mermaid,” shouts a nine-year-old girl.

Raina starts off an afternoon of educational entertainment with some underwater music from her friend’s “shell phone” and a flap of her tail.

A photo posted by Raina Mermaid (@hfxmermaid) on

The real live mermaid

A lot of work goes into making appearances on land and in water when you work full time in the mermaid industry.

It takes 30 minutes from start to finish to wiggle into the tail, gather the appropriate amount of seaweed for your hair, apply rare sea jewels and give yourself that underwater glow.

Stephanie Brown, the entrepreneur behind Raina the Mermaid, has it down to a science.

“How many people get to wake up every day and go ‘this is my life, it’s so cool’?” said Brown. “I’m a mermaid. This is my real job.”

Raina’s tail comes all the way from California. Its state of the art draining technology, fiberglass fins and custom painted orange silicone cost the pretty price of around $4,000.

When she’s not performing underwater for birthday parties, music videos, or educating children on land, she’s managing her businesses: Halifax Mermaids, Atlantic Mermaids and Canadian Mermaids.

Brown turned her background in teaching and love of mermaids into something quite unique. She has managed to find a way to do what she loves, and “not in the traditional sense.”

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The rabbit hole of mermaid culture

In the midst of the pressures of getting her degree in teaching, dealing with chronic pain, and being diagnosed with a learning disability, in 2007 Brown found herself “falling down the rabbit hole of mermaid culture.”

“At that time I didn’t think it would be a business,” said Brown. “I just thought it would be an amazing experience that I just wanted to take part in.”

Her first tail was plain and impractical, and her first time in the water “wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped it would be,” said Brown. “I had never taken into consideration that I was a terrible swimmer.”

By 2009 Brown had a new tail and was performing at birthday parties and doing some photography.

Brown says her professors had warned her about the difficulty of getting a teaching job upon graduating, but she always thought it would work out.

“It was very hard to give up the idea of being a classroom teacher,” she said.

Things started moving quickly after Brown made the decision to commit herself to the mermaid business.

“What started off with a garbage bag and a tail and a girl who couldn’t swim,” said Brown, has now “hit us like a wave.”

Mermaids: the new craze

“We like to joke that mermaids are the new vampires in the mer-world,” said Brown. “Ten years ago you couldn’t even find a book about us other than The Little Mermaid.”

Brown has published two books about how to be a mermaid and her own journey.

When Brown is not performing she’s teaching mermaid hopefuls or handling the business aspect of being a professional mermaid. Her mermaid business is growing so quickly she’s applied to the ADP small business grant contest for $10,000 this month in hopes of being able to keep up with demand.

“We’re hoping to buy a portable tank,” said Brown. “It would make our on-land gigs that much better.”

Information, imagination and inspiration have been part of Brown’s vision for Halifax Mermaids from the beginning.

The fusion of education and entertainment enables Brown to teach children about myths and legends surrounding mermaids from around the world, as well as the importance of protecting our oceans from plastic waste.

“Children learn best through play experience,” said Brown. “The imaginative world of mermaids can teach children information in a new and exciting way.”

In her case, the inspiration comes in the form of a tail.

“Even the world’s worst swimmer can put on a mermaid tail and feel like they are becoming this imaginative creature,” said Brown. “You get to slip into this other world which is so empowering.”

Tales and tails

Appearances like the one this week at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic are all part of Brown’s busy mermaid life.

Hundreds of children have been lining up to meet Raina after every session at the museum. They smile for a photo and wait for a personalized postcard from a real live mermaid.

Jenny Nodelman, marketing and events officer at the museum, says Raina’s presence ties in to their efforts to educate museum patrons about the sea, including legends and myths. She says many parents are happy to see their children so enthusiastic.

“Children are coming dressed up as mermaids and pirates,” said Nodelman.

Austin Wright poses with his postcard from Raina. (Photo: Caora McKenna)
Austin Wright poses with his postcard from Raina. (Photo: Caora McKenna)

Austin Wright was excited to see Raina the Mermaid. “I’ve never seen one before,” he said. “I like mermaids because they like to swim and I like to swim.”

Austin’s older sister, Kayla, says she likes mermaids because they “are very rare, and have tails and fins.”

Nodelman is happy that thanks to Raina, children and families are having fun at the museum.

“Hopefully it changes the mindset of young ones and families to see that the museum is a community space for families as well as a place of history and heritage,” said Nodelman.

For Brown, the fact that there are so many children excited about the mermaid world makes it all worth it.

Imperfect glass perfect for terrarium business

Mynott and Kovalik make handmade glass terrariums at their home studio in north-end Halifax. They’re expanding their online business, Minimalistos, to include a new line featuring recycled and imperfect glass.

Jelsi Mynott and Vlad Kovalik are on the hunt for old storm windows. If they’re warped with air bubbles, all the better.

Mynott and Kovalik make handmade glass terrariums at their home studio in north-end Halifax. They’re expanding their online business, Minimalistos, to include a new Heritage Line featuring recycled and imperfect glass.

“These oddities are pretty common in older glass out of wooden framed windows,” said Mynott. Although, for their current orders they avoid scratches and bubbles as much as possible, this line will incorporate them.

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Kovalik and Mynott travel around Nova Scotia collecting window glass wherever it’s available. They like storm windows and old windows with wood frames.

“We have over 100 windows sitting in our basement right now,” said Kovalik. “There’s always window glass everywhere in our house,” said Mynott.

By using recycled glass only from Nova Scotia, Kovalik and Mynott hope to reduce their impact on the environment while keeping with a minimal design aesthetic.

“I think it’s neat that we’re sending parts of Nova Scotia around the world. These windows have seen so much weather and history,” Mynott said holding up individual pieces of triangle shaped glass.

Mynott and Kovalik, both 26, started Minimalistos in 2013. They turned a large second bedroom into a home studio and put a table in the middle of the room where they measure and cut glass.

“It’s all done in our home studio. Everything is done by hand from finding glass, to grinding the edges of the glass down, to soldering the pieces together to form a shape,” said Kovalik.

More than 20 terrariums of different shapes and sizes are on display in the couple’s house. Kovalik picks up one of the square-shaped designs with freshly soldered edges and a missing panel of glass.

“It takes hours of work getting it out of the frame, especially the ones with wooden frames. The learning curve can be pretty sharp especially when you risk breaking a vital pieces of glass,” said Mynott.

Their work day begins with a cup of coffee together. When they’re ready, they remove the glass from its frame and cut it into long strips. Then they cut the glass into shapes and use solder and a soldering iron to attach the pieces together.

They say they spend up to 50 hours a week creating their geometric glass sculptures. They have even begun working on weekends to keep up with product orders.

“A partnership makes all the work a little easier because sometimes I just don’t feel like working and he’s there telling me to get going,” said Mynott.

Currently, Minimalisto terrariums are sold worldwide through an online website where prices range from $55 for smaller shapes to $160 for larger, more complex shapes.

Several shops in Halifax, including Makenew, The Flower Shop and Common Values Emporium also carry the couple’s handmade sculptures. Mynott and Kovalik say they’ve sold more than 500 individual terrariums so far.

They will do custom designs for customers, and Mynott said they’re currently designing an exclusive line for Crown Flora Studio in Ontario.

They’re also experimenting with copper-coloured terrariums as part of their new designs.

“We never thought we would ever actually have a business, that was a bit unexpected but I think having the time to make things creatively as a career is amazing,” said Mynott.

Neither Mynott nor Kovalik have formal training in creative design. Mynott studied philosophy and Kovalik’s background is in medical research.

“We’ve always been DIYers. If there’s something we really want that’s way out of reach because we couldn’t possibly afford it then we’ll try and build it. That’s always been a big part of our relationship,” said Mynott.

Boxes of bubble-wrapped terrariums sit in the corner of the studio ready to be shipped.

Mynott said having a good relationship with their customers is what makes them work harder to make their deadlines.

“Halifax is a very supportive environment and very connected community which pushes you to do even better work,” she said.