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.

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.”

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.”

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BlackOUT 2.0 sheds light on challenges facing LGBTQ African-Nova Scotians

Members of the community discuss what it means to be black and LGBTQ in the province.

Young LGBTQ African-Nova Scotians should accept themselves and seek out others who support them, a panel called BlackOUT 2.0 said on Wednesday.

“We need to accept ourselves, more than anything,” said Chris Cochrane, a transgender African-Nova Scotian woman. “We have to make sure we are living and accepting our lives to the fullest so we can help other people.”

Cochrane was one of four panellists who spoke at the Halifax Central Library from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The event was advertised as “an open discussion of what it means to be African-Nova Scotian and LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) in 2015.”

Robert Wright, Evelyn White, and Axel Obame joined Cochrane on stage. Rev. Elaine Walcott acted as a moderator. They all spoke about how difficult it is to accept yourself when you can’t find others who are accepting of you.

“It is a dialogue that allows for more people to participate in the conversation. Four chairs, one for each panellist, plus two extra chairs. Any LGBTQ African-Nova Scotian who is a black person can sit in one of the extra chairs at any time and join in the discussion,” said Walcott.

The panel talked about the challenges that young LGBTQ African-Nova Scotians currently face.

“Speaking for the younger generation, one of the challenges is being yourself. Because if your environment is unsure of you, you are going to doubt yourself so much more, and it doesn’t help you in the least,” said Obame.

He said that there is some acceptance in the province, “but on a scale of one to 10, it’s like a 3.5, not like an eight.”

He also spoke about how important it is that young African-Nova Scotian LGBTQ people find an outside source that is accepting of them. “When you find that outside voice, it helps you validate everything you’ve been keeping hidden inside,” said Obame.

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The panel stressed the need for improved and more accessible resources for African-Nova Scotian LGBTQ youth.

Walcott said she is open and available to help anyone in the community who is in need. White also promised her support to younger struggling LGBTQ African-Nova Scotians. “As an elder in this community, I have your back,” said White, “and the only thing you are required to be is yourself.”

The panel was split into two parts. The panellists discussed three questions and a short question and answer period followed.

The three main questions were:

  • What does it mean to you for you to be African-Nova Scotian and LGBTQ?
  • What are the challenges of being African-Nova Scotian and LGBTQ in 2015?
  • What are the opportunities for moving forward regarding being African-Nova Scotian and LGBTQ?

Each panellist also made a point of mentioning how rarely events like BlackOUT occur.

“We need more opportunities to share this conversation,” said Wright.

The event was presented by NSRAP (Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project) LGTBQ Youth and Elders Project in partnership with the Halifax Central Library as part of African Heritage Month. The Facebook event page said “all LGBTQ community members, friends, and allies are welcome.”

“This is an event of empowerment and validation. It is certainly a rare and treasured opportunity,” said Walcott. “It’s so powerful to have this opportunity so that others will have a sense that they are not alone.”

Coping with seasonal affective disorder this winter

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a less severe depression, when the change of season and light exposure influence people’s moods and energy.

This winter in Halifax has been one of the worst the city has seen in years. Winter has been tougher this year with the multiple severe storms that have been called worse than White Juan in 2004.

More people have been stuck inside and have had to deal with snow and ice making it harder to move around the city.

It is understandable that Haligonians would be feeling a little under the weather due to the circumstances that they have been facing.

But what is the difference between being under the weather and having seasonal affective disorder?

What is seasonal affective disorder?

 Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that happens during a season, usually winter, and lasts until the end of that particular season.

Approximately two to six per cent of Canadians will experience SAD in their life, according to Mood Disorders Association of Ontario.

 

The sidewalk conditions in Halifax (Photo: Samantha Calio)
The sidewalk conditions in Halifax (Photo: Samantha Calio)

“Seasonal affective disorder is related to light levels. In winter the days are shorter, people are more confined inside and they suffer from lack of light,” says Dr. Rachel Morehouse, a professor at Dalhousie University in the psychiatry department.

It can be seen as a type of hibernation response where people are more likely to sleep in longer and be less active, but they also have signs of depression, says Morehouse.

Seasonal affective disorder is not as severe as depression and it rarely becomes a pathological depression.

What are some signs and symptoms?

 Seasonal affective disorder deals with people’s moods. Most people will start feeling sad or grumpy and have a lack of interest in doing their usual activities.

“Most people get impatient when normally they are not like that, and they are not wanting to get out of bed or do activities, you just have to know yourself and identify a change,” says Morehouse.

It has been shown that women are more affected by this disorder than men, but anyone can become vulnerable to the disorder.

“Starting around October when days start to get shorter is when people can start feeling the affects of the disorder,” says Morehouse.

In most cases people will start feeling better in March when days are longer and there are signs of spring.

“This year it might be delayed because people will still be stuck inside with the snow, but I have not seen more cases because of the bad weather,” says Morehouse.

What are treatment options?

 “Treating it involves giving people more light or they can be given antidepressants,” says Morehouse.

There are two options for getting enough light; people can either go outside or be exposed to a light fixture that is around 5,000 to 10,000 lux for around 30 minutes per day in order to receive enough light.

“The best advice is to get out, get active and get light,” says Morehouse.

Music on the street with Glen Creed

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halifax prepares for the snow to melt

The Halifax Regional Municipality continues to clean up the piles of snow that surround the streets and are now preparing for a risk of excess water once temperatures start to rise.

Halifax has been hit with 111.3cm of snow and 121.7cm of precipitation in the month of March alone, according to Environment Canada. The question now is what will happen when all that snow melts.

“We’ve been working really hard over the last week especially to open up catch basins, those are the drains, in the areas that we know always have [flooding] problems,” Jennifer Stairs, a spokeswoman for HRM, said Wednesday.

catch basin
Cleared catch basin on the corner of Walnut street and Shirley street. (Photo by: Erin McIntosh)

Although the amount of snow is not a record breaking amount, the impact has been overwhelming and a lot of people have been comparing it to White Juan that happened February 2004.

Snow lines the streets in heaps reaching heights of two metres or higher and once temperatures start to rise, and rain begins to fall, all that snow will turn to water, possibly swamping our streets.

“We have essentially a list of about 200 hot spots around the city where, particularly last month, we saw issues, so we wanted to make sure that those were opened up before we got any rain,” Stairs said.

According to Environment Canada, Halifax Metro and Halifax County West is expecting another 20-40 millimetres of rain over the next two days, and rising temperatures throughout the rest of the week.

Homeowner Gail tries to shovel snow onto the road before the rain hits. (Photo by: Erin McIntosh)
Gail, a homeowner tries to shovel snow onto the road before heavy rain hits. (Photo by: Erin McIntosh)

“Knock on wood I haven’t [experienced flooding] this winter, however I expect a big rain tonight so I’m trying to get the snow on the roads so it’ll go that way down to the drain,” said Gail, a homeowner on Walnut Street in the south-end, Halifax, who didn’t want her last name published.

“We often see water on the roads at Bedford Highway. Waverley Road has some problems spots, but I mean every community has its known area,” Stairs said.

“I hesitate to use the word flooding because we’ve had issues where we’ve had deep water on some of the roads. We saw that on several occasions last month in particular and it’s happened every year. It’s not something uncommon or unusual.”

The city has been enforcing overnight parking bans on declared snow and ice days, that started Dec. 15 and will run until March 31. During the day time, police are closing off sections of roads for snow removal. Residents are being asked to help out the city with shoveling and clearing drains when possible.

The HRM has also been asking residents who know where their catch basins are located in their neighbourhood to help clear them out. It will help residents and surrounding neighbours both with the melting snow and with any rain Halifax is expecting in the next couple of days, but it’s not a task some residents are prepared to take on.

“I’m barely keeping up now with the shovelling. I would be willing to [clear catch basins] if I could get ahold of my own shovelling first,” said Gail.

In the meantime, the city continues to clear snow from the roads and sidewalks. Stairs said the city is dumping truckloads of snow in big open fields, but wouldn’t say where. Contrary to rumours, snow is not being dumped in the harbour.

 

Winter-weary Haligonians spring for getaways

Following two late winter storms, travel agencies in Halifax say they’re seeing a huge increase in inquiries.

By the time Haligonians rang in the new year at the end of December, Nova Scotia had seen grand total of only three centimetres of snow, according to Environment Canada. This was perhaps seen as a good omen; a suggestion that it would be a mild winter overall. But in the months that followed, winter returned with a vengeance.

As March comes to an end, some travel agents say business is better than ever as more and more Haligonians are looking to get away.

“I have been completely swamped this year and there is definitely an increase in people enquiring about packages,” Joanne Roberts, an associate at Flight Centre, writes in an email. She says that despite prices for package vacations being higher this year, many packages are still being booked. 

The numbers

#SnovaScotia is real. The Coast said it best:

The “mess” refers to the massive snowstorm that walloped the Maritimes on March 18, only three days after a previous storm.

By comparison, the severity of Nova Scotia’s winter in the first few months of 2015 has been worse than any in recent years. For example, March 2014 saw 36.8 centimetres of snowfall on the province. This year on March 18 alone, Halifax saw a snowfall amount of 48 centimetres. Nova Scotia received 111.3 centimetres this March — three times the amount of last March.

Environment Canada reports that over the first three months of 2015, Nova Scotia saw 301.3 centimetres of snow, or just under 10 feet.

Halifax’s brutal winter has been a hot topic for online communities. CBC’s 22 Minutes even poked fun at the recent storms.

Haligonians searching for the sun

Blair Jerrett, senior director at Maritime Travel, says that they are still in the midst of a busy booking season. He also says that many of their agencies report an increase in inquires about travel packages in the days after storms.

“Without a doubt, we find that weather does have an effect on how busy our offices get in the winter,” Jerrett writes in an email. “Back-to-back snowstorms like the ones we’ve been having the past two months have caused many people —who previously may not have been planning to head south— to consider a last-minute getaway.”

Jerrett says the most popular destinations are the direct, all-inclusive packages in places like Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Mexico.

Roberts says that cottage rentals in the Maritimes are also booking up faster than usual. She urges people to plan their ‘getaways’ now.

The rest of us will remain in Halifax, trying to remember what grass looks like.