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.”

Youth mental health program fundraises to stay afloat

The Spot held an auction on March 29 to raise funds after not receiving a government grant to help with its operating costs this year.

Ash MacDougall sits in a plastic chair, reading sheet music from her lap and practicing the Beatles’ Hey Jude on her flute. Beside her, her friend Avery Muir compliments her progress.

At another table, someone is playing with art supplies. Sounds from an electric guitar and drum set sneak through a separate, closed off room.

Two participants practice their guitar skills at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Two participants practice their guitar skills at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

This is a common scene at The Spot, a drop-in mental health program for youth held at the Pavilion on the Halifax Common. The Spot, partnered with Connections Halifax, is described as a safe space for youth to create and express themselves through music and art.

“Honestly, I love the people here. The people here are so open. Everybody is going to accept you, no matter what,” said Muir. “You’ll never feel left out or outcast here.”

The Spot recently held an auction where it raised approximately $5,500. The fundraiser was held because The Spot did not receive government grant funding, like it has in the past, to help with its operating costs this year.

Michael Nahirnak, a co-ordinator of The Spot, says the money will probably keep The Spot running until summer. He says he doesn’t know why The Spot did not receive a grant this year, but is not pessimistic about it.

The Spot is a free program so participation is accessible to everyone. Nahirnak says this is uncompromising.

“[Youth] can be a time that issues do pop up in terms of mental health,” he said. “I think we have a responsibility to support youth through that.”

The Spot uses the Pavilion for free, but costs to run the program include compensation for program facilitators, art supplies, instruments, instrument repair, equipment upgrades and refreshments.

Art supplies at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
A small bit of art supplies at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Artwork made by participants of The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Artwork made by participants of The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

MacDougall and Muir, both high school students, have been coming to The Spot for several months. Muir says she feels like an outcast at school, but is able to express herself at The Spot.

MacDougall says The Spot is here for “people who don’t necessarily think the same way as the rest of society.”

Nahirnak says The Spot is always looking to grow. For the future, he hopes The Spot can hire a full-time co-ordinator, do more work with outreach and find its own space.

“I think in the far future it would be great for The Spot to have its own home,” he said. “A one-stop shop that youth can come and be creative and have support.”

The fundraising auction showed there is community support for arts and mental health programming, but Nahirnak says it may not be enough.

“People want this kind of stuff,” he said. “However, the city probably needs to step up a little bit to help us with that.”

Nahirnak says The Spot has plans to collaborate with its partner Youth Art Connection and other charities and ask the Halifax Regional Municipality for more support.

In the meantime, Nahirnak and fellow co-ordinator Heather MacDonald, hope to find a more sustainable form of funding. The Spot will not be hosting another auction in the near future.

The Spot runs on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

“Art and music are universal. We promote mental health, but it doesn’t mean you need to have a mental health issue to come,” said Nahirnak. “Everyone is welcome, as long as you’re interested in creating.”

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.

Students talk stress management during exam season

Looming deadlines, final exams a source of stress for Halifax’s students.

Exam season has arrived at Canadian universities and colleges, prompting students across the country to take to Twitter to express their frustrations.

John Camardese, a chemistry study coach at Dalhousie University, says exam stress is often linked to past exam performances and lack of preparation.

“The key is to be well prepared and to start early so you can comfortably cover the required material for the exams,” he said.

With final exams and the stress that comes with them still the norm in Canada, one can’t help but wonder: how stressed out are students about exams, and what can be done to minimize those stress levels?

Majority are ‘very’ stressed

Students were asked via Facebook and Twitter how stressed they are about exams. Of the 10 that responded over the past week, six said they were “very” stressed about finals, while none of them said they are “not at all” stressed.

When asked what they do to help relieve stress, most of them said they find exercise, non-academic reading and watching television to be great stress relievers.

“A good stress reliever is lots of exercise,” said University of King’s College student Sam Krueger. “Any chance to get some is fantastic.”

However, it isn’t just exams and final papers that have students stressed out. According to Dalhousie student Michael Kamras, there’s also an added pressure on students to stay healthy over this important period of time.

“There’s a lot of stress to make sure that you’re keeping healthy, which is really difficult to do considering the high stress levels,” he said.

Students: support services losing effectiveness

Universities do provide support services for exam-stressed students, but many are only available for a short period of time. Dalhousie, for example, brings therapy dogs to their school during exam periods to allow students to take a break from their studies.

In addition, universities like Saint Mary’s and Dalhousie provide on-campus counselling services, but according to the Facebook and Twitter respondents, most people who sought counselling to manage their stress were told the wait to see someone would likely be months.

What’s worse is many students often don’t know their schools offer counselling services and workshops.

“I’m sure there are services offered, but I’m not too aware of them,” Krueger said.

“I think there could be a bit more reaching out by the university for students to take advantage of what they’re offering,” Kamras said.

Requests for comment on this story from counsellors at both universities were either not returned or referred to other campus support services for information, but information on managing stress can be found on their website.

Watch the video below to learn more about how stressed out Halifax students are at this time of the year and what they are doing to try and manage that stress.

In a recent development, the National Post reported last week universities in Alberta and Ontario are considering giving less weight to exams or eventually eliminating them altogether because of the popular belief that “high-stress exams give a false picture of a student’s abilities.”

Until Canadian universities and colleges decide to do away with the final exam once and for all, students will have to continue finding ways to manage exam-related stress.

Visit this website, provided by Dalhousie’s Student Academic Success Services for more information on exam preparation and time management.

And for more information on stress and how it can be managed, check out the Canadian Mental Health Association’s website, which features tips as well as links to community support services.

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.

Halifax printmaker finds inspiration in music and art

Alex MacAskill has done artwork for the Halifax Pop Explosion and local bands. Now he’s headed to Nashville.

Atop the maze of studios at NSCAD’s Granville campus sits multi-talented Alex MacAskill. He’s actively sketching, scanning, printing and pressing art work for school, as well as for his business Fish Bone Prints.

His workplace is rugged; large wood panels and easels are scattered throughout the area. His desk is accompanied by all the tools he needs: black ink, illustration paper, and a printer. He is an artist printmaker and designs everything from album art to beer holders. The collection of his favourite works are pinned to his work space. He works alone, with folk-rock and indie music filling the air.

MacAskill is pursuing a degree in fine art and managing Fish Bone Prints simultaneously. He has grown an array of clients for his business, including Matt Mays and JEFF the Brotherhood. He’s also worked with local artists such as Wintersleep and The Novaks, as well as many government organizations. His biggest client last year was the Halifax Pop Explosion, which posted his work throughout the city.

“I have been lucky enough that I don’t need to advertise,” he says. “After a few years doing this I’ve developed a kind of signature style, one that is expected when an artist reaches out to me.”

There are a number of steps to screen printing.

“It all starts with pencil sketches to develop the idea of it. From there I take those sketches and make a full size drawing on illustration paper – done with black ink – I scan that onto the computer and work it in Photoshop and add some digital colouring. You have to print the colours differently and separate the layers. From there you use a squeegee to push the ink through the stencils.”

His school work is an outlet of personal expression. MacAskill even dabbles in the unique practice of woodcutting.

“I take a block of plywood and use chisels to carve into it. Then I roll over the ink to hit the high spots, then press paper onto it and begin to trace,” he says.

From a young age MacAskill was very artistically inclined, just like his older sister.

“She was a big inspiration for me,” he says, smiling. “I looked up to her a lot, she went to NSCAD too. She inspired my love of art, and I guess I’m following the same path as her, just carving my own footsteps.”

In high school, MacAskill wanted to find a way to design his own T-shirts for his band and began experimenting in homemade remedies. Through this desire, MacAskill acquired a foundation of skills in print work and ultimately let that flourish into his own brand.

His boyhood passion for both art and music is a combination of interests that now work in harmony to pay the bills, and takes him to places he’s always dreamed of.

“I’ve actually just landed a job with a graphic design firm in Nashville. I graduate in April and start work down there in May. It’s a dream come true. Nashville has a great culture of art and music, I really love it there,” he says.

MacAskill departs shortly after he performs a farewell gig with Drags, his garage rock band. They will be performing their last set at the Seahorse Tavern at the end of the month.

Summer on a patio: Employment advice from a bar manager

Brad Harris, general manager at the Lower Deck, addresses concerns and gives advice on securing a summer job in the food and beverage industry.

“Now is the time to apply,” says Brad Harris, general manager of the Lower Deck in Halifax.

With the winter semester coming to an end and exam season well under way, students are frantically trying to lock down a summer job.

The four months of summer are a limited but good opportunity for students to gain valuable work experience, and, more importantly, earn money to help pay for the continually rising tuition fees. But competition can be stiff, and according to Statistics Canada, tens of thousands of students descend on the job market at the same time every year.

“If I post for a server slash bartender [on a job listing], on average I will get about 100 resumes by the next day,” says Harris.

The employment rate for students during the academic year hovers between 35 to 40 per cent of all postsecondary students, while the summer employment rate for full-time students consistently averages around 70 per cent.

According to statistics, female students are far more likely than males to obtain a summer job, in part because of better job opportunities in the retail, accommodation and food service sectors, where females are more likely to work.

The restaurant and bar scene is an active part of the community in Halifax, and the food and beverage industry provides jobs for hundreds of students and locals every summer.

An industry ‘like no other’

Harris says the food and beverage industry is “one like no other.”

Job requirements include late hours of work, long shifts and customer-service scenarios that differ extremely from any other job a student typically has. Members of the industry say it’s more of a lifestyle than just a job, and many servers use the hashtag #serverproblems or #serverlife to describe common struggles other servers can relate to.

https://twitter.com/princesssyaya/status/582074869392621568

A deeper issue

Despite the jokes, the service industry has been largely criticized for stereotypical and even misogynistic tendencies. Historically a female occupation, the industry has come a long way in shifting its policies to create a safer and more accessible work environment for all students, but a 2010 census data conducted by Service Canada shows that almost 76 per cent of the positions in this occupation are still held by women. No data is available for non-binary students in the industry.

Hannah Wilson, a female university student and recent employee at the Alehouse located in downtown Halifax, has “strong opinions” on this particular issue.

Wilson got offered her job while out drinking one night with friends at the Alehouse.

“Experience is not the biggest of their concern,” says Wilson. “It is mostly just young, attractive girls they want working there.”

This issue, which Wilson calls “the culture of looking appealing” in the service industry, has appeared in more than just a few restaurants and bars in Halifax.

Collin Kelly, a male student who worked as a busboy at one of Halifax’s major clubs last summer, noticed this issue as well. Kelly wishes his place of employment to remain unnamed.

“Women were definitely hired and promoted much quicker than males, especially if they were good looking,” says Kelly. “And I think that’s the case at most bars.”

But not all restaurants or bars in the city endorse these stereotypes. Harris has been the general manager of the Lower Deck for four years and has been in the industry for longer than 20, and he says that primarily his hiring will always be “experience based.”

The only exception to Harris’s rule is always whether or not potential employees will get along and work well with his core staff.

“I’ve hired the ‘super server,’ the one that looks absolutely amazing on paper. But those individuals more often than not have too much confidence in their service and abilities… They come in and start ruffling the feathers of my core staff, and that generally doesn’t go over well,” says Harris.

Harris says he first conducts an informal interview to see how the potential candidate will fit with his other staff. New employees that will get along with and respect their coworkers will, in turn, receive coaching from more experienced staff and produce a more efficient team overall.

Harris says he hires hardworking and approachable, personable individuals above everything else.

Getting hired in Halifax

Halifax has the luxury of being situated right on the coast, which not only gives the summer months a vibrant patio-season culture, but means one thing that is especially crucial to the food and beverage industry: tourists.

Halifax sees about 1.8 million overnight visitors every year, and more than half of them visit during the summer months, according to the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency.

Harris says the Lower Deck increases its staff by 30 to 40 per cent during the summer months in order to support the city’s booming tourism industry. When the patio opens the restaurant’s capacity increases by another 260 people.

Harris typically starts his hiring process at the beginning of spring, and he likes to have his final staff sorted by May 1 in preparation to open the patio for the May long weekend. So if you’re an experienced server and sticking around for the summer, it’s time to start applying.

Many restaurants in the city that have a large patio and draw a younger crowd, like the Lower Deck, typically hire students as the majority of their staff for the summer months.

“A lot of university students don’t work during the school year, so when the summer comes around they are more than happy to work full-time plus and make as much money as they can, which is great for me,” says Harris.

But older restaurants, such as Split Crow and The Old Triangle, tend to have a smaller turnover in the summer and tend to employ more mature servers all year round. So the key to being a successful server and obtaining a solid restaurant or bar job in Halifax is knowing where to apply.

The catch of the industry is that it is hard to break into if you don’t have any experience. Many wonder how someone can gain experience if no one will ever give them the chance.

In the industry, Harris says these people are referred to as “green servers.” It is not common for a green server to get hired and do well, so the best way for someone wishing to break into the industry is to start off as a hostess or a food runner. If they do well then managers will slowly integrate them into serving.

Harris says he sometimes takes a risk because he feels like he has a duty to pay it back.

“Someone gave me a shot once, awhile ago, so I feel like I should do that as well,” says Harris.

 

All in all, anyone who has ever worked in the industry will give you the same piece of advice: you need to work for it.

“I was one of the few at my job who was given full time hours,” says Kelly. “If you want to get full-time in this city you need to be a hard worker.”

Wilson says that the job is a lot of work in a short period of time.

“The only way to really learn is to do,” she says.

Harris agrees, stating those that work hard and show an absolute interest to learn and improve will be the ones rewarded with more hours, better hours and even a promotion.

Tax tips for students

A chartered accountant and the Canadian Revenue Agency offer tips for students on how to tackle their taxes this season.

Tax season is upon us, and for many this is a stressful time of year. Students are finishing up classes for the semester and are getting ready to take exams. Unfortunately for students, tax season waits for no one. The deadline for individuals filing a tax return this year is April 30.

Many students don’t file their own tax return, with some handing things over to their parents and others to the professionals. But for the eager and strong-hearted who want to tackle this alone, here are a few tips.

What you need

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) As a student filing a tax return, you will need to provide certain documents, such as a T4 slip. These slips show employment income and payroll deductions.

It is important to keep all documentation when filing for a tax return for at least six years. Your return may be selected for review, therefore you should keep an organized file of all of your documents.

You will need to have information on all of your income.

According to CRA the most common types of student income are:

  • Employment income
  • Tips and occasional earnings
  • Scholarships, fellowships, bursaries, and study grants (some of these may be excluded)

Michael Casey, a chartered accountant and chartered business valuator in Halifax, says “students should make sure they check carefully to see if scholarships are tax exempt because most are.”

Casey says students need to claim their tuition and book expenses. In order to claim your tuition, education and textbook amounts, you need to receive your T2202A form. This is usually available online. If you have not received this you will need to contact your school.

For textbooks, full-time students can claim $65 a month and part-time students can claim $20 a month.

Some things eligible tuition fees do not include are:

  • Social activities
  • Medical expenses
  • Transportation and parking

As stated by CRA, one important thing to remember is courses taken as academic upgrading in order to attend certain university or college programs, may not be claimed towards the tuition tax credit because they are not considered a part of post-secondary education.

Once you have calculated the amount you will need to reduce your own tax owing, if there is any remaining amount, you may choose to transfer it to a parent of grandparent.  You can transfer an amount equal to $5,000 minus the amount you used to reduce your own tax payable. All the student needs to do is sign the tax certificate and provide a copy to the recipient.

Casey says you can earn up to about $10,000 tax free, but you should still file.

“The T4 income, such as wages, earns you the potential for a future RRSP deduction when you begin to work and earn the big bucks,” he says.

“If you are 19, you will get the HST rebate which is received 4 times a year tax free. If you don’t file, you are out of luck.”

News Digest: April 3-7

Other local news as reported by other media.

Trailer Park Boys appeal to government to save film tax credit (CBC Halifax)

Mike Smith, Robb Wells and John Paul Tremblay, also known as the famous Trailer Park Boys trio, took to the Internet as their television personas to rally support to stop any cut that might be made to Nova Scotia’s Film Tax Credit. Though Diana Whalen, Nova Scotia’s finance minister, claims that companies who receive the tax credit do not pay taxes, others disagree. The actors’ public service announcement, viewed hundreds of thousands of times and counting, encourages the public to contact Whalen and ask her to reconsider the possible cut.

‘Something to experience:’ Caution tape, sculpture used to challenge art gallery visitors in Halifax (Metro News)

John Greer’s retroActive, a show currently being shown at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS), places art in the space in ways that challenge the gallery’s visitors, an example being his use of caution tape across doors to force viewers into different positions. Visitors crouch, bend and travel through the gallery to see his work. Greer is a professor at NSCAD University who has also won the Governor General Award.

Winter clinic closures leads to blood shortage in Atlantic Canada (Global News Maritimes)

Due to a challenging winter, Canadian Blood Services had to cancel 60 clinics this past year in Atlantic Canada. Canadian Blood Services says it is short 2,300 units of blood from what it expected to collect. Because blood is perishable, the poor road conditions and bad weather caused problems for transportation of both donors and deliveries.

Street snowboarders are riding high in Halifax (The Coast)

Jibbing, a subgenre of snowboarding, is done by taking a snowboard to the streets for your winter ride. Ian MacArthur and friends take their boards in search of poles to ride and the ideally formed snowbanks for a smooth ride. The stormy winter has provided more spots than previous ones with consistent heavy snowfall, and despite having boarded on the West Coast, MacArthur still enjoys coming home to explore the East Coast landscapes.

Canada beats Finland to win world curling bronze (News 95.7)

This year, the Canadian curling team made the move to the podium, beating out Finland to win the bronze medal at the Sunday morning game of the world men’s curling championship in Halifax. The team played a confident game in front of a 2,801 person crowd at Scotiabank Centre.

​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.

Pollyanna’s Entertainment ‘finds the beauty in every woman’

Pollyanna’s Entertainment provides a male entertainment service to women in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

It’s Saturday night.

A chorus of excited shrieks and “holy shit’s” bounce off the walls glowing yellow in my dimly lit living room. Several young women sit in a circle, squeezing each other’s knees and covering their nervous smiles with fingers painted the colour of night and crimson. I hit the play button and The Black Eyed Peas’ Pump It blasts from a set of speakers on the table.

A box containing the board game Twister and an unopened can of whipped cream sit in the corner of the room.

The table in the centre of the room has been pushed aside to make space. We’re half-hypnotized with anticipation as we stare at each other wide-eyed, thrilled with nervous excitement.

Enter Damon.

Barefoot, he walks into the room wearing black pants and what looks like a bulletproof vest. A plastic grenade dangles off his chest. A black ball cap with SWAT printed on it sits low on his head, hiding his face.

He walks inside the circle of women. His eyes move slowly as he lifts his gaze to one of my friends sitting on the couch.

He closes the curtains with a flick of the wrist.

Damon is silent as he sways his hips onto my friend’s lap. He gently wraps his fingers around her wrists and slowly moves his hands into hers. Her cheeks turn a dark pink. He takes her hand and guides it to the middle of his chest. Every woman in the room is blushing.

This is the last time we see Damon fully clothed.

Damon's personal business card. (Photo: Sydney Jones)
Damon’s personal business card. (Photo: Sydney Jones)

Damon’s debut

I found Damon a few weeks ago through an ad titled “Male Entertainment for Ladies” posted on Kijiji, an advertisement website open to the public. He told me that Damon is not his real name, but is what he goes by with clients.

I contacted the owner of the business through the site, and instead of setting me up with a traditional interview, she offered to send Damon to my apartment for a performance.

About a year ago, the businesswoman behind Pollyanna’s Entertainment noticed Damon in a Nova Scotia bar and asked him if he would be interested in a job as a male entertainer. After agreeing to an interview and performing a dance routine, Damon was hired.

Pollyanna’s Entertainment specializes in male entertainment for women and serves clients in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

“It encourages women to take control of their sexuality and be OK with being a sexual being,” says Polly, the woman who created the business. For reasons of privacy, she chooses not to use her real name and refers to herself as Polly instead.

“For men to have a strip club that they can go to is pretty commonplace,” she says, and explains that there is no place for women to go to have similar experiences.

The job isn’t for everyone

Damon is one of three male entertainers who work for Pollyanna’s Entertainment. In addition to being physically fit, confident, and having the ability to dance, Polly says one of the most important requirements of the job is “to be able to find the beauty in every single woman.”

“I don’t think everyone can pull this off,” says 26-year-old Damon, putting his everyday clothes back on after his performance in my living room.

“You can’t be self-conscious, have to be confident with your body, be social — that’s probably the biggest thing, aside from maintaining your physique and eating properly.”

Although being a male entertainer is a full-time physical commitment, the gig is only part time for Damon. Along with working a number of other jobs, he is also a full-time university student.

Polly says she likes to help young students because she understands the burden of student loans. “I have three degrees and I know how long it’s taken me to pay off.”

The male entertainers are paid around $100 an hour and are busiest during the spring and summer months, when there is high demand for events like pool parties and butler service.

Pollyanna's Entertainment does not allow photos or videos to be taken during a performance. (Photo: Sydney Jones)
Pollyanna’s Entertainment does not allow photos or videos to be taken during a performance. (Photo: Sydney Jones)

What clients should expect

Clients are given the opportunity to engage with the entertainers with games like ring toss, Twister and whipped cream body shots.

During the booking process, Polly says she asks the clients whether they prefer a “wild” or a “mild” party so the male entertainer can prepare himself accordingly.

“You’ve got to be able to have fun with it,” says Damon. “If you’re awkward, that makes them awkward, which comes back to you.”

Damon says it’s important to feel out the mood of the women in the room, and says he wants to make every woman feel comfortable with the experience.

“Halifax is much more conservative than I thought it was,” says Polly, adding she was surprised after launching her business that there wasn’t a larger market for this type of enterprise in Nova Scotia.

Polly says the job is part time for her and she has a lot of fun with it. She hopes it will encourage more women to feel comfortable with their sexuality.

“I’m hoping in the next five or 10 years that it’s not going to have such a dirty feel to it,” she says.

When daycare costs as much as a ‘fancy apartment’

A Halifax parent describes the financial burden of paying $42 a day for full-time daycare for her three-year-old son.

When Catherine Bryan’s three-year-old son wakes up in the morning, he stands by the baby gate at the top of the stairs and calls for her to come and get him. Together, they go through their morning routine — a trip to the potty, eating breakfast and getting dressed, before heading off to daycare.

Bryan, 35, is a PhD candidate and sessional instructor at Dalhousie University. She and her partner, a university professor, pay $42 a day for their son to attend daycare five days a week.

“It’s like renting him a fancy apartment,” says Bryan. “Between the mortgage, my tuition, and just regular bills and things of that nature, the extra [$940] a month is extremely challenging.”

She dreads storm days, because although she loves spending the extra time with her son, Bryan and her partner still have to pay their daycare on the days their son stays home. This is also true when he’s sick.

Snow and sick days can also cause them to lose work, so while they’re still paying for daycare, they’re also not making any money that day.

“The cost is infuriating,” Bryan says. “It makes me sick, every single month.”

Bryan found the first daycare her son attended to be a bit challenging. Their policy on sick kids, says Bryan, was inflexible. “Germs spread extremely quickly in daycare, but [they had] a very restrictive policy, where a child could be better and have a doctor’s note, but according to their assessment would still be sent home.”

During her son’s first three months in daycare, Bryan was in the Philippines doing research for her PhD. That meant that if and when her son was sick, her partner, the primary bread winner, was unable to go to work.

Now, her son attends a daycare with what she considers a more reasonable policy on illness. “They’ve been much more balanced in considering ‘what does an infectious child actually look like?’ versus a kid who just has a runny nose. Their noses run six months out of the year,” says Bryan. “You can’t just exclude them from childcare.”

Although it’s difficult to afford, daycare is an important part of their day-to-day life.

“Having daycare means that I can finish my studies. It means that my partner can work and it means that we can do both of those things without worrying about the well-being of our son,” she says.

Bryan feels that daycare is necessary for her son’s early development. “The daycare supplements the care that he gets from us with learning and different kinds of things that he wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.” Socialization, she says, is a very important part of this.

Waitlists

Originally, Bryan hoped to have her son attend the daycare at Dalhousie. “I was probably two months pregnant when I called, and the waiting list was so long that they weren’t even adding anyone to it.”

When people find out they’re pregnant, she says, they start calling daycares and putting their names on lists immediately.

Bryan’s current daycare is “great.” She says it ended up being fortunate that she couldn’t get into the Dalhousie daycare because the centre her son is in now is much closer to home.

Fees

According to findingqualitycare.ca, a website run by the Childcare Resource and Research Unit and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, these were the average full-time daycare rates in Nova Scotia in 2012:

  • For infants, it was $792 per month (based on the daily average of $36).
  • For toddlers, it was $704 per month (based on the daily average of $32).
  • For preschoolers it was $682 per month (based on the daily average of $31).

These averages were determined by multiplying the daily rates from 2012 by 22, the average number of days a child spends in full-time daycare per month.

Of the daycares listed in the Halifax daycare directory, only nine daycares had their current fees listed online. These nine daycares featured increased monthly averages from those listed in 2012.

  • For infants, the monthly rate is increased to $895.44, significantly higher than the average rate from 2012.
  • The monthly average for toddlers increased to $755.42.
  • The monthly average for pre-schoolers increased to $765.43.

Government subsidies and childcare benefits 

Bryan says the lack of support from the government can make you feel that “maybe you’re not a good mother because if you were a good mother then you wouldn’t need child care, you would take care of your child yourself.

“As a mother, or a parent more generally, you never feel good about the decision [to put your child in daycare] because you’re not supported in that decision,” she says.

According to the provincial Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, daycare subsidies are dependent on family income, finances and social need.

These subsidies are provided to families with children 12 years of age or younger who are applying for full-time care at a licensed childcare facility.

Unfortunately, Bryan and her partner are not eligible for a subsidy. “We fall in this weird in-between space where we don’t have no money because my partner is a prof, so there is money coming in, but we certainly don’t have a lot of money.”

However, she says, she has friends who have been able to have a child and still attend school, largely due to such subsidies.

In Canada, there is also the Universal Child Care Benefit. Families receive $100 a month per child under the age of six. This benefit is taxable and can be applied for immediately after the birth of a child. If you have a child under the age of six and do not receive it, it is likely because your family income is too high.

There is also the Nova Scotia child benefit for families with a low to modest income who are raising a child under the age of 18. They receive:

  • $52.08 per month for the first child.
  • $68.75 per month for the second child.
  • $75.00 per month for any additional children.

This money could, however, bump families into a new tax bracket and cost them more in taxes or provide them with less of a rebate, so at the end of the year, regardless of the benefit, they end up with less money in their pocket than they had before.

It isn’t enough, says Bryan. “It does nothing. Nothing.”

What does it take to run a daycare?

There are a number of regulations that must be met for a daycare to be licensed. In a full-day daycare they must maintain a ratio of:

  • One staff member for every four infants (three to 18 months old).
  • One staff member for every six toddlers (18 months to three years old).
  • One staff member for every eight preschoolers (three to five years old).

To meet these staff-to-children ratios, a staff member must be at least 16 years old.

Daycares are also required to ensure that every child in attendance is provided with a meal at regular meal times throughout the day, as well as snacks if a child attends before or after regular meal times.

An example cost breakdown for staffing and operating a daycare at 90 per cent occupancy with 53 children in total (from infant to school age) and 10 staff members looks like this:

  • Eight Early Childhood Education (ECE) staff members have a projected salary at $28, 517 with $2,852 in benefits. This comes to a total of $$250,950 a year.
  • One ECE Director has a projected salary of $45,905 with $4,590 in benefits. This comes to $50,495 a year.
  • One cook/housekeeper has a projected salary of $24,620 with $2,496. This comes to a total cost of $27,116 a year.
  • The total cost of all ten staff members comes to $328,561 a year.
  • Additional operating costs (such as: rent, food, insurance, heat, light, program supplies) are estimated at $100,000 a year.

In total, this comes to $428,561 a year to run this facility at a 90 per cent occupancy rate.

In order for a daycare to break even with these rates, it costs $34.50 a day (or $759 a month) per child. However, typically daycare rates do not apply universally to each age group. It is important to understand that enrolling infants in daycare will likely cost more than enrolling toddlers or preschoolers, as infants require more intensive care.