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.”

Saint Mary’s students fight racial discrimination with peace

Students with Peaceful Schools International hold conflict-resolution workshops for elementary schools in Halifax and Northern Ireland.

Saint Mary’s University recognized International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Thursday by talking about conflict-resolution strategies used for Northern Ireland schools.

Students from the Conflict Resolution Society hosted the event. The students talked about their experience with two programs they collaborate with, Peaceful Schools International and the Northern Ireland Program.

“One of the things we do is go to local schools to facilitate peace programs here in Halifax first before going to Ireland, so it’s both a local and international program,” said Bridget Brownlow, the conflict resolution adviser at Saint Mary’s University.

The Northern Ireland Program was started at Saint Mary’s in 2004. The program allows students to go to Belfast and gain a better understanding of the conflict and peace process that has happened in Northern Ireland.

“We are passing on the message of what is happening in Northern Ireland because not many people know that there is still conflict,” said Victoria Bell, the student program co-ordinator for Peaceful Schools International.

The conflict in Northern Ireland involves the debate of nationality. The Protestant community believes they should remain a part of the United Kingdom, while the Catholic minority believes they should be a part of Ireland.

There has been a rise in immigration in Northern Ireland, but that has fallen over the last few years due to the violence from the conflict.

“According to the police service in Northern Ireland, in the 12 months between June 2013 to June 2014 the racist incidents have risen by 36 per cent and racist crimes have risen 51 per cent,” said Bell.

During the February break from classes, Saint Mary’s students will go into Northern Ireland elementary schools and hold workshops to help with conflict-resolution problems.

“The workshops that we teach with peaceful schools try to teach lessons to children so they don’t have issues with ignorance, try to teach the importance of global citizenship, caring for one another and accepting one another,” said Bell.

A popular workshop that is used both in Ireland and Halifax is called No Two Alike.

“We ask simple questions like what is similar about us and what is different to bring out built-in stereotypes to discourage it and show them that it is wrong,” said Odane Finnegan, the group leader for Peaceful Schools International.

“We want to show not just the effects of their words but how they say it and the background that is driving the thought process,” said Finnegan.

Saint Mary’s students who get involved with the program go through some training with a professor in the Irish studies department. The co-ordinators and leaders also share their experiences so students have a better understanding of what to expect.

“The best skill we teach is communication and empathy — the ability to effectively communicate and understand how someone is feeling,” said Finnegan.

Excess of summer sublets leaves out-of-town students paying the bills

Students like Tanis Smither, who are on their way out of town for the summer, are having problems finding tenants to sublet their apartments.

Several universities bring more than 17,000 off-campus students to the Halifax area each fall, making this a “student city.” But the population of Halifax changes drastically from mid-April until the end of August, when many students pack their bags to return to their hometowns. Although many of these students live on-campus in residence, a great number rent apartments and rooms from local landlords or homeowners.

When the winter term ends in April, these students are often signed to yearlong contracts and obligated to pay rent for the summer months, even when they don’t plan on staying in Halifax. This creates a problem: there are many more people leaving than arriving, and summer sublets become plentiful, not to mention cheaper than usual.

Tanis Smither is a second-year contemporary studies student at the University of King’s College. She is having trouble finding someone to rent her Halifax apartment for the summer, when she’ll be returning to her native Toronto.

“I started looking mid-February. I put a couple initial ads out just to see what happened, and I didn’t get a lot of responses back,” says Smither.

Smither’s apartment on Pepperell Street is close to downtown and several amenities and is only a five-minute walk from Dalhousie’s main campus.

Many students have resorted to what Dalhousie Off-Campus Housing supervisor Sherri Slate calls “rent incentives,” or small discounts and add-ins for subletters.

“Those rental incentives may be that they’ll charge, let’s say $400 a month, and they don’t have to pay heat and hot water, or cable and Internet are included, or they may offer actual rent discounts. The more of those incentives that are included, the quicker the place is rented,” Slate says.

Smither has decided her $530 rent per month is negotiable. Her apartment includes utilities and comes furnished. Several of her nine other roommates are also looking for subletters and have had similar problems. Smither says she is getting desperate.

“Hopefully, it’s a student because I’m sure they would fit with the demographic of the house better, but at this point if anybody in the world wants to sublet my apartment it would be fantastic, I’d be open to it,” says Smither.

Smither says several people have inquired about or even come to look at her place, but they have all found other apartments in the end. She has begun to advertise the room online, on websites like Kijiji and Craigslist, through Facebook groups, and EasyRoommate.com.

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Several students are advertising by hanging posters around Dalhousie’s campus. (Photo: Victoria Walton)

The Dalhousie Off-Campus Living website uses a third-party service, Places4Students, to help students find housing opportunities. Dalhousie’s is free, and Smither says she would use other private services if not for the fees.

“The only reason I haven’t been considering them is because I can’t afford it, I just can’t on my student budget,” she says.

Yasch Neufeld is a rental manager and co-founder of SubletSeeker.com, a similar housing service specifically targeting student sublets. The Halifax startup launched last year and Neufeld says they are seeing even more business in 2015.

“A lot of people, especially at the time you’re looking for subletters, you end up being busy with exams or sometimes you just get unlucky,” Neufeld says, “so we offer a premium service as well where we’ll actually do the work for you.”

SubletSeeker will do everything from photographing your apartment and listing it online, to finding people who are interested and performing reference checks. The fee to use these services is a commission, usually between five to ten percent of the cost of rent. SubletSeeker also has a free section for anyone to use to advertise independently.

Although there are no guarantees, Neufeld says his service has already set up about 10 renters with apartments this season. Neufeld suggests students “get as much information on who you’re subletting to as possible,” to prevent them backing out or not paying rent.

“Call previous landlords of anyone who’s looking to sublet, collect a security deposit, and get them to sign the sublease right away. Those three things will generally lock somebody in,” Neufeld says.

Slate warns that landlords still have the final say on anyone looking to sublet, and that the sublease agreements must be the same as the original lease.

Slate’s Off-Campus Housing office caters to students seeking general housing resources, everything from legal advice to moving companies to listing rentals. She thinks it’s important these resources are available. “All of our faculty, student or staff are entitled to post an ad for free once every year,” says Slate.

Slate and Neufeld agree there is an excess of sublets in the summer months, and that not everyone can find someone to take over their lease.

Although frustrated, Smither realizes she might not find a tenant. “There’s not really much I can do, my hands are kind of tied because I signed a contract,” she says.

Smither plans to live rent-free at home in Toronto and work full time so she can afford to pay rent and save for tuition next year.

“I guess it’s not going to be the end of the world if I don’t find a subletter, it’s just going to set me back a couple thousand dollars.”

Nova Scotia’s sexual education updated before Ontario

Many have been talking about the update to Ontario’s sexual health curriculum, but some may not know that Nova Scotia introduced a similar curriculum almost 4 years ago.

While Ontario’s new sexual education curriculum has been criticized for the inclusion of LGBT topics and the age that sex education is introduced, Nova Scotia’s updated curriculum was quietly implemented in 2011.

“We are really proud of our curriculum,” said Natalie Flinn, the active, healthy living consultant for the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. “We are building capacity for the administration to feel competent and confident in teaching sexual education. And, at the end of the day the true beneficiaries are the children and youth.”

Nova Scotia’s curriculum teaches students about cyberbullying, sexting and how to be safe in an online environment. The update is a response to cultural changes in society, especially in regards to developments in technology and how students interact over social media.

Flinn said that the hypersexual material that children can find on the Internet damages their development in sexual health education.

The curriculum also teaches children about LGBT issues and how they can understand their own sexuality. All of these issues are tailored for each specific age group.

Ontario announced similar changes to its curriculum in late February.  Some parents are upset that children will begin sexual education in Grade 1 and feel that they should not be taught about sex at such a young age.

Ontario’s curriculum has not been updated since 1998.

Both Nova Scotia and Ontario follow guidelines from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Where the two provinces differ is when they introduce certain topics in the classroom.

The organization aims to be non-heterosexist and responds to common misconceptions surrounding sexual health such as sex education leading to early sexual activity.

Additional sexual education available for schools

If the education programs in the schools aren’t enough, there are many other resources for sexual education located throughout Halifax.

The South House offers additional support and resources for sexual health.

The South House, located on South Street, is a sexual health resource centre and will do inclusive workshops on sex and sexual health
The South House, located on South Street, is a sexual health resource centre and will do inclusive workshops on sex and sexual health (Photo: Jennifer Lee).

Jude Ashburn, the organization’s outreach co-ordinator, said that they would often be asked to go to schools and do workshops on sex and gender. They would cover topics that wouldn’t necessarily be discussed in a classroom.

“For a long time we went in and gave sex ed for free and just went everywhere that asked us. And when we do sex ed we mention things like pleasure and masturbation. These are things we don’t think you would get in sex ed (in schools),” said Ashburn. “We affirm the right to have unbiased scientific information about your body.”

While providing workshops in schools, Ashburn learned that children know a lot more about their own bodies and sex education than some might think.

“We asked kids in Grade 3 to describe their gender and they came up with some really radical answers. We would ask them things like, ‘If your gender was a place where would it be’ and what they would come up with was amazing,” said Ashburn.

Flinn said they have received letters of support from parents commending the curriculum.

Since the 2011 update was a response to adapt Nova Scotia’s curriculum to cultural changes in society, there may be more updates in the future.

Women in science and technology celebrated at Big Dream screening

“I think it’s important that people send out the message that this is something girls can do too.”

A documentary screening last weekend provided a space for women to share their experiences and to encourage more women to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

On Saturday afternoon, a documentary called Big Dream brought out a crowd that nearly filled the 120-seat auditorium in Dalhousie University’s computer science building. The documentary is about seven women across the globe who are pursuing careers in STEM.

The screening was hosted by WISEatlantic, Mount Saint Vincent University, Atlantic Association for Research in the Mathematical Sciences and Dalhousie’s Faculty of Computer Science.

The event was an oddity in the technology community because women made up at least half the crowd. Usually there’s only three or four women at technology events, says Emily Boucher, who directs research and marketing at Digital Nova Scotia.

Women are drastically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). For example, during the 2013-14 school year in Nova Scotia, only 22 per cent of architecture and engineering students were women. Similarly, only 27 per cent of students in mathematics, computer science and information sciences were women, according to the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission.

Lack of role models

Nur Zincir-Heywood, a computer science professor at Dalhousie, says that a reason women are so underrepresented is that there aren’t many women role models in STEM fields.

“This is where the misunderstanding starts because if there’s no role models, [women] don’t know exactly what to expect, what’s going to happen, or what it looks like,” says Zincir-Heywood.

“[Women] shouldn’t feel shy to go, talk, and ask. And we, the women in the STEM fields, should do our part and be accessible so both sides can find each other. We can take it from there.”

The importance of early development

Zincir-Heywood says that one of the biggest obstacles is that often women don’t view entering STEM as an option because there aren’t many corresponding subjects in junior high or high school.

Early engagement with STEM subjects is a huge factor in attracting women to these areas. A WISEatlantic survey from 2014 found that junior high students in STEM activities were 2.7 times more likely to consider a STEM career.

The WISEatlantic survey explores the career interests of junior high students.
The WISEatlantic survey compares the career interests of girls and boys in junior high (Courtesy of WISEaltantic).

Susana Somerton is a Grade 7 student who came to the documentary screening event. She is interested in technology and has attended robotics camps.

“At the camps I’ve gone to, I’ve been maybe one of three girls out of a 20-person camp so I think it’s important that people send out the message that this is something girls can do too,” says Somerton.

Dalhousie students also spoke about how their early exposure to science and technology led them to pursue degrees in STEM.

Mimi Cahill, a forth-year informatics student, recalled going to workshops about technology when she was eight years old. These workshops sparked her interest in entering the technology field a decade later.

“I think that was partially because I had such a good experience when I was young and told, ‘You can do this. Try it.’ It was an inclusive environment and then I decided that I’m going to do this, I can do this,” says Cahill.

Cahill says that people need to know that they don’t need a solid background in computers and technology before they begin their degree. She bought her first laptop the first week of university classes.

“Don’t expect that you need any prior knowledge. You can start fresh, like me, and you’ll be fine. You don’t need to know anything before, just a little math,” Cahill says.

 

Discouragement

Women spoke of discouragement as another barrier in STEM.

Susan Grandy is a software engineer for an American company but is based in Nova Scotia. She graduated from Dalhousie’s computer science program in 2010. Since then, her work has brought her to Seattle and India.

“Something someone said to me, which made me discouraged and lose my confidence, was that girls didn’t think the same way and therefore I wouldn’t make it through. What I’ve come to realize is that we have something unique to offer. We may not think identically but that’s actually a good thing,” says Grandy.

To the future

Grandy encourages women entering STEM to be persistent.

“All I can say is keep going because there were times when I thought I couldn’t do it  but there’s tutors and other things. The resources are there and I found the profs would help you whenever you needed help and just keep going,” Grandy says.

Brittany Kelly is the vice-president of Dalhousie’s Women in Technology Society (WiTS). She is in her last year of the computer science program at Dalhousie. She encourages women to look beyond the stereotypes of STEM.

“There’s a lot of opportunities to go and talk to people, go to conferences, and really get involved. There’s all sort of societies and a lot of the people in the different fields are very welcoming and everyone just wants to see everyone else succeed,” says Kelly.

The Seagull takes flight at Dalhousie University

Dramatic play proves ‘life can be endured.’

Dalhousie students in the Fountain School of Performing Arts took the stage on Tuesday to begin their first performance of The Seagull.

The Seagull is a play written in 1895 by Anton Chekhov and revolves around the main character, Nina, who is an aspiring actress, and a man named Konstantin who wants to reinvent the theatre through his writing.

The stage in the opening act as the audience wait for the performance to begin (Photo by: Katlyn Pettipas)
The stage in the opening act as the audience waits for the performance to begin (Photo: Katlyn Pettipas)

Dalhousie’s version of the play is directed by Tanja Jacobs, a theatre artist, director and actress who has been working in the theatre for 32 years. Despite losing multiple days of practice due to Halifax’s extreme winter, Jacobs is happy with how the production is going.

“Considering that we lost time and had problems that we couldn’t control or solve … I find it remarkable how achieved the production is. I’m very pleased with it,” said Jacobs.

This is Jacobs’ third time working on a production of The Seagull in the past two years.

“I would do 10 more versions of it!” said Jacobs. “It’s not the only work that’s going on in my life. I’m also a working actor, but if I was given another opportunity to work with young people in this play, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. I’m not bored with it and I never will be.”

Poster from the production of The Seagull (Photo by: Katlyn Pettipas)
Poster from the production of The Seagull. (Photo: Katlyn Pettipas)

Jacobs’ fascination with this play stems from the idea that, although sober at times, it is so relatable to real life.

“I find this play inspiring because it portrays that life is not just complex but full of disappointments. It proposes that disappointments can be experienced and endured; that life can be endured,” said Jacobs.

She also believes The Seagull is an educational and beneficial production for artists to work on because, like the characters within the play, they share “romantic ideas” about love and art.

Jacobs was in charge of casting while living at home in Toronto and tried to cast the actors in a way she thought would connect to or relate with the characters they were playing.

“[The actors] were asked to tell a story about an experience they’d had in the theatre, whether as an audience member or an actor … I learned a lot about them by watching those stories,” said Jacobs.

The production of The Seagull continues at the Sir James Dunn Theatre in the Dalhousie Arts Centre until April 4.

Halifax News Digest: March 30 – April 2

Other news from around the peninsula, as reported by other media outlets.

Bedford Institute of Oceanography nets $3.5-million in funding for structure upgrades (Metro News)

The Bedford Institute of Oceanography will receive funding as part of the government’s $5.8-billion plan to rebuild infrastructure across the country. The money will allow the institute to upgrade the older buildings, some of which are more than 50 years old. Most of the funds will come from the fisheries department, with a smaller contribution from Natural Resources Canada.

Open Sesame! Officials investigating late-night wanderers at new Halifax library (Metro News)

An investigation is underway after four people entered the new Halifax Central Library late Friday night. A witness said that they were outside the library at around 2 a.m. Friday and were surprised to see a young couple walk in through the unlocked doors. The couple said that there were already people inside when they entered, and the security team at the library acknowledges that security footage shows unauthorized people in the library at approximately 2 a.m.

Damaged N.S. tall ship towed inshore after difficult rescue at sea (CTV News Atlantic)

A tall ship from Nova Scotia is now moored near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, according the U.S. Coast Guard. After the ship experienced engine trouble and problems with the mainsail, the captain called for help. No one aboard the ship was injured. All nine crew members were rescued by a coast guard boat.

Maritime Reptile Zoo to close (CBC News Nova Scotia)

The Maritime Reptile Zoo has announced on its Facebook page that it’s closing, citing financial problems. Nova Scotia’s harsh winter has been hard on local businesses, and the zoo’s Facebook page says that the weather has left them “unable to recover.” All the animals are alive and well and are being relocated to other facilities in Nova Scotia and Ontario.

Transit tweets roll in: Halifax Transit hosts digital town hall (Metro News)

Halifax Transit’s recent meeting at city hall encouraged Twitter users to make their voices heard using the hashtag #maketransitbetter. Some suggested that Mayor Mike Savage try using the transit system. Other suggestions included on-transit wifi, buses that run later in the evening, and consequences for people smoking at bus stops.

Bus driver helps Keiko the dog get home (The Chronicle Herald)

A two-year-old husky named Keiko jumped the fence surrounding her home and was found dodging traffic by someone waiting for the bus, who held onto her until the bus arrived. The driver, Gerry O’Donnell, bent the rules and brought Keiko on to the bus, where the dog remained well-behaved and sat looking out the window until O’Donnell finished her shift. O’Donnell brought Keiko to her home and the dog was reunited with her owner through the Nova Scotia Lost Dog Network Facebook page, where the post has since gone viral.

Mind Ball brings mental health to the party

“Its a party with heart and a purpose,” say the party organizers.

Between 300 and 400 young adults danced the night away last Saturday at Halifax’s second Mind Ball.

The Mind Ball was an opportunity for people to get dressed up, get together, and to let off some steam. The party’s additional purpose was to contribute to destigmatize mental health problems and illness.

“The party definitely meets expectations,” said Nicole Kink who attended the event. “It’s great to get people talking about mental health in a social and less formal context too.”

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Nicole Kink and Megan White get goofy with Mind Ball’s lively atmosphere and costume booth (Photo: Rachel Collier)

The Mental Health Commission of Canada reports that about 20 per cent of Canadians live with mental illness and that mental illness continues to be met with widespread negative attitudes.

It also says that these negative perceptions around mental health are one of the main reasons why more than 60 per cent of people with mental health problems or illness won’t seek the help that they need.

Mind Ball organizers Allison Ghosn and Rebecca Singbeil recognize this issue within Halifax.

Ghosn and Singbeil attended various mental health events around Halifax and noticed a pattern.

“It was generally the same group of people at every single event,” says Ghosn.

Singbeil and Ghosn wanted to create a mental health event that would reach a demographic of people who weren’t already engaged in learning about mental health issues.

“We needed an event that people would already want to go to,” said Ghosn who realized that the 18-30 year olds are important to target when it comes to mental health awareness.

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This group of university students couldn’t give up the opportunity to both dance and to express their support and desire for more positive mental health perceptions. (Photo: Rachel Collier)

The Canadian Mental Health Commission says that 70 per cent of adults with mental illness report that symptoms began in their teens or early 20s.

“So we decided, we’re going to have a party but were going to try to put as many pieces into it as we can that will promote awareness,”said Ghosn.

“Sharing educational facts that contradict mental health myths is the most effective way of reducing stigma among adolescents,”  says Lynne Robinson, a mental health expert at Dalhousie University.

“Interacting with people who actually have mental illness is another very useful strategy for people of all ages,” she said referring to an analysis of strategies used to reduce stigma.

Another Halifax blizzard prevented some elements of the party from taking place.

However, multiple local artists who are passionate about mental health did show up to help stimulate conversations and thoughts about the topic.

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Ghosn and Singbeil welcomed artists from Atlantic Cirque, Brave Space and Outsider Insight among others.

DJ Zora the Sultan set the musical tone for the party’s busiest spot – the dance floor.

An area called the Mind Lounge was set up away from the dance floor. It had bean bag chairs, bottled water, a quiet atmosphere, peer support, paints,  and other mental health resources.

“We want people to get comfortable with mental health, give it an image boost. We wanted an event where people wouldn’t hear mental health and say ‘oh that’s not for me,’” says Ghosn.

“We need to break down the us vs. them perceptions. Everyone has mental health and it is something that everyone needs to take care of, ” she says.

Ghosn and Singbeil have already started imagining possibilities to keep next year’s event interesting.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but we’re thinking of something that might be say, a three day, daytime type of event for next year,” says Ghosn.

Drop in volunteers causes Meals on Wheels to revamp

Halifax Meals on Wheels is trying to improve its brand, in order to spread word about the organization and attract younger volunteers.

Since January, Halifax Meals on Wheels, an organization that delivers nutritious meals to those who cannot make their own, has been figuring out what they can do to attract more volunteers.

In February there were 101 clients who needed meals delivered to them. Meals on Wheels has an “active list” of 58 volunteers. Only 45 of those volunteers actually took part in the deliveries last month.

Geri Kearns, president of the Meals on Wheels board, said that she strongly believes they would need 100 volunteers to run the program smoothly. When Kearns began volunteering eight years ago, there were around 80 volunteers.

“Our focus is volunteers,” said Kearns. “We’ll cover everything in this promotion, but it’s really the volunteers we’re looking for.”

Meals on Wheels has hired a small group of people to help in the revamping process and promote the organization. Kearns said there is no shortage when it comes to clients, the problem is having enough volunteers to deliver the meals.

Meals on Wheels is planning a launch party that will take place in June. Some changes that will be presented include a new logo and new brochures.  They also plan to create a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

“We are a charity, but people think they have to be on social assistance to get our services. That’s not the case,” said Kearns. “Our role really, is that if you are unable – no matter what age you are – to prepare a nutritious meal for yourself, then you are eligible to get our service.”

Through this revamping, Kearns said she hopes they can change some of these misconceptions.

Seniors helping seniors

A majority of the volunteers are over 60 years old, with some volunteers even being over 80 years old. Kearns said winter and summer months can be hard because many of the senior volunteers go away on vacation.

Kearns said ideally, when Meals on Wheels delivers the meals, there are two volunteers on a route. One is the driver, and the other delivers the food.

“One of the shortages that we have are driver volunteers. Some of the drivers we do have don’t want to go out in the winter because they are getting older,” said Kearns.

This year they had to cancel delivery eight times due to winter weather conditions. Some years they have never had to cancel.

There are seven routes that Meals on Wheels services – most of them five times a week. If they had two volunteers on every route, they would need around 70 volunteers a week.

“Most of us on the board go out more than once a week,” said Kearns. “All of us drive as well.”

Janeske Vonkeman, 23, is one of three volunteers who are under the age of 60. She has been volunteering since June 2014.

Vonkeman is a volunteer at a couple of organizations, but decided to get involved with Meals on Wheels because she wanted to try something new and different.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet great people, clients and other volunteers,” said Vonkeman. “Small kind acts can make a big difference to someone, and I’ve seen this with Meals on Wheels.”

Vonkeman said she thinks it is really important for young people to get involved with Meals on Wheels because it provides on opportunity to make a difference in the community.

“We tend to get caught up in our school or work bubbles and forget about what’s going on around us,” said Vonkeman. “Not only does it allow us to help people living in our community, but it helps enrich ourselves.”

Kearns said she knows students do a lot of volunteer work with regular schooling, but that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of young people continuing with it.

“I know it’s because they need to get a job. They need some money, and we’re not paying people, but you know, it’s satisfying.”

Meals on Wheels recently celebrated its 40th anniversary in Halifax. Kearns said she hopes with these coming changes, they will be able to celebrate the 50th anniversary.

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.

Senior Internet user urges others to stay safe online

Jerry MacInnis, 75, talks about his Internet experiences.

Jerry MacInnis is 75 years old and online. He uses the Internet mainly for emailing, checking his Facebook and playing games. He’s part of the fastest growing group of Internet users — seniors.

MacInnis uses his Facebook to contact friends on holiday and emails his brother who lives on the other side of Canada, but he still prefers the telephone more than writing to each other online.

“I’m a face-to-face type person,” he said.

Though MacInnis enjoys using his computer to play games, unlike many users, he avoids interacting with strangers.

Numbers from Statistics Canada show that approximately 70 per cent of seniors online are accessing the Internet every day. A 2007 study says although seniors are the fastest growing group of users, younger users make up the majority of people active on the Internet.  

While there are want ads popping up on Kijiji from seniors who are seeking Scrabble partners, companions and help with day-to-day activities, MacInnis isn’t looking for friends online. He urges seniors to be careful and wary of what they do with their time on the Internet. 

“You never know what you’re getting yourself into. That’s my biggest fear. [They] try to be friends with you and take you for everything that you’ve got,” MacInnis said.

Junk mail, scams and spyware come in many forms, and for those not familiar with the Internet some of these hazards can be hard to recognize.

In the hopes of avoiding potential risks and online challenges there are resources available that provide advice for senior Internet users.

The government of Canada’s Get Cyber Safe website offers advice to seniors for online safety, explaining security software and the potential for scams in seemingly private emails.

The RCMP also has guides for users about online activity, safely shopping online and avoiding possible phishing scams — scams where criminals or bots try to collect personal and confidential information.

Although users like MacInnis choose to protect themselves by staying away from strangers online, there are precautions and education available to allow senior users to safely enjoy the Internet.

 

 

 

 

News Digest: March 27-31

Catch up on news happening on the Halifax peninsula, as reported by other media outlets

Roof of former Halifax high school caves in under weight of snow (Metro News)

Early Friday morning a security guard found sections of the roof of the former St. Patrick’s high school, located on Quinpool Road, had caved in. Two sections of the walls were taken out, and the building, which has been closed since 2012, is set to be demolished in the coming months.

Dalhousie deals with fresh scandal (The Chronicle Herald)

Dalhousie students have been found to be involved in a sex scandal, as an Instagram account called “The Dal Jungle” has been brought to light. The account held pictures of students engaging in sex acts as well as nudity, and the account was only available to males. However, the Instagram account has now been de-activated and five students have been kicked out of residence, as well as 15 students have been banned from drinking alcohol.

Four arrested in drug raids in Kings, Yarmouth, Lunenburg counties (The Chronicle Herald)

On Thursday and Friday four men from Kings, Yarmouth and Lunenburg counties were arrested in connection to drug raids.

Two men, ages 33 and 43, from King’s County, were arrested in relation to 400 marijuana plants being seized, as well as grow operation equipment, and an unsafely stored firearm. Both men were charged with drug trafficking.

Police also arrested a 29-year-old man from Yarmouth and a 51-year-old man from Eastern Passage.

Plane hit antenna array before crash: TSB (Metro News)

Early Sunday morning Air Canada flight 624 crashed and slid off the runway at the Halifax airport. There were 133 passengers on the flight and 5 crew. 25 people were taken to the hospital, and all have been released except for one. Air Canada says that despite the snowy weather, the conditions were safe for the plane to land. The Transportation Safety Board says that the plane hit an antenna array which ripped off its main landing gear. The plane also lost one of its two engines. Investigations are ongoing as to the reason for this occurrence.

McNabs Island cottage to be set on fire (Metro News)

An abandoned cottage on McNabs Island will be burned Tuesday morning, says the Department of Natural Resources. The bad condition of the cottage could pose a threat to visitors of the island and it has been determined that burning is the best option, and will be done by trained professionals. The cottage is not one of the historic homes on the island.