News

1. Documents show horrors at Northwood during COVID outbreak

Yvette d’Entremont takes a look at the Neglecting Northwood report that was published by the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union (NSGEU) on Tuesday. There were 53 COVID-19 deaths at the long-term-care facility. The 23-page report include details gathered from NSGEU staff who worked at Northwood during the crisis, as well as details from Nova Scotia Health Authority and Department of Health and Wellness internal documents obtained through Nova Scotia’s Freedom of Information Act. d’Entremont interviewed Jason MacLean, NSGEU president, on Tuesday, who says the details in the report are “only the tip of the iceberg.” Says MacLean,

I’ve gotta tell you, the acute care system was well prepared for this. Home care and long term care were not prepared for this. We were lucky in home care. We were not lucky in long term care.

And there are a lot of disturbing details here, including those shared by Northwood staff to NSHA’s senior director of Continuing Care, Susan Stevens, in emails. Reports d’Entremont on those email exchanges:

“Just spoke with one of our employees who continues on site at (Northwood). She relayed that the availability of PPE is much better than it had been though access to sinks is troublesome (likely due to age of building / design),” the team member wrote to Stevens.

That employee reported staffing was an ongoing challenge because residents were “so sick and care is so much more now.” With three CCAs (continuing care assistants) in the evening for 30 residents, there were some nights where none of the CCAs knew the people they were caring for.

In addition to the staffing issue, the employee’s unit — 6 Centre — had 23 residents who’d tested positive for the virus and six who had tested negative.

“Many positive (residents) wandering about and sharing a room who are (positive). Some negative residents also wander about. Understandably, she worries about spread of the virus,” the team member wrote.

“Care is reportedly getting heavier as residents are more unwell. Reportedly three CCAs on in morning from 7-8:30 to get all residents cleaned up and ready for breakfast for 8:30 breakfast time.”

The employee also reported that residents “likely haven’t had a bath in a week as their hair is all greasy. They often wet but do not get changed.”

Read d’Entremont’s full story here. 

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2. Fire destroys homes of four families

Photo: GoFundMe

A GoFundMe page has been set up for four families who lost everything in a fire at Mulgrave Park on Tuesday morning. Graeme Benjamin with Global News reports that Halifax Regional Police say the fire was deliberately set. No one was injured.

Maya Johnson, who lives near the area, tells Global there was no warning.

It went right up. Through the sides of the house, everything.

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2. Parents don’t want the Atlantic bubble to burst

Parents in Nova Scotia say they’re worried that opening the Atlantic bubble to the rest of Canada could put their children at risk when they head back to school next month.

Brooklyn Currie at CBC talks with parents in Nova Scotia who are concerned for their children’s safety at school once the Atlantic bubble opens up to the rest of the country, without the 14-day self-isolation requirement.

Currie talks with Raven Watts, a mother who is part of a group called Parents for Pandemic Education. Watts says parents in the group have concerns about opening the Atlantic bubble.

I think we’ve been so diligent about safety, so why is the push happening now? Why aren’t we giving our kids a fighting chance? And the families? Parents need to go back to work and communities need to be able to thrive.

Susan Kirkland, the head of the department of community health and epidemiology at Dalhousie University, tells Currie she’d like to see the Atlantic bubble stay closed, but we have to be vigilant with handwashing, mask-wearing, and social distancing as schools reopen.

I do believe we’re going to have to be willing to accept a certain level of COVID activity in our community. But we have to make sure that level does not get out of control.

In a written statement, Premier Stephen McNeil says we have to learn to live with COVID-19.

This is not a question of putting the economy before public health — we have come too far to undo all the work of Nova Scotians over the last few months. We will continue monitoring the epidemiology here and in other provinces as we look at potentially expanding the Atlantic bubble.

As a parent, I think about this, too. I’d like to see the Atlantic bubble stay closed longer, at least until kids get settled into school for a bit. My kid is 17 and every school year, she catches a cold by the end of September.

My kid can study fairly independently and I have freedom and flexibility with my work, so I can help her when needed. We’re working on a plan if she has to learn from home again. But I can’t imagine having younger children and trying to organize and teach them while working from home, too.

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4. Workers want consistency on Atlantic bubble rules

The opening of the Atlantic Bubble led to significant delays on the Trans Canada Highway at the Nova Scotia/New Brunswick border. Photo: Darlene Singh

In other COVID-19 news, out-of-province workers also have concerns about the rules in the Atlantic bubble. Cassidy Chisholm with CBC talked with John Mills who lives in Nova Scotia, but works in northern Ontario. Mills says he works for three weeks and returns home for three weeks, spending two of those weeks in self-isolation from his family. Mills says he’d like to see Nova Scotia drop the self-isolation rule for workers like him. In New Brunswick, out-of-province workers don’t have to self isolate. In P.E.I. workers do have to self-isolate, but if they test negative for COVID-19, they don’t have to continue self-isolation. Says Mills:

There’s got to be consistency across the board … I think that’s a big deficiency in the whole Atlantic bubble.

Not only is it taking away from my quality of life, but my family’s as well. That’s really my biggest concern — how long is this going to carry on?

Chisholm also interviewed David Alexander, a chef who lives in Windsor, but works at an oil camp in northern Alberta. He works for two weeks and returns home for eight days. He and his family spend that time in isolation.

It’s a bit tough on us. Right now it’s fine because it’s summertime.

A spokesperson with with the province tells CBC Nova Scotians who work outside the province still have to self-isolate, unless they are exempt under a public health order.

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5. Beirut explosion

The blast cloud from the Halifax Explosion.

An explosion in Beirut, Lebanon on Tuesday that killed at least 100 people and injured another 4,000 was drawing comparions to another blast: The Halifax Explosion.

Kelsey D. Atherton, a defense technology journalist with Forbes, writes about the possible explanations for the explosion in Beirut, opening his story talking about the Halifax Explosion, and looks specifically at the mushroom cloud the explosion in Beirut created. Atherton writes:

Marwan Abboud, the Governor of Beirut, reportedly called the explosion a “national disaster akin to Hiroshima.”

That comparison gets at the scale of the disaster but confuses the likely cause of the explosion, and its resulting mushroom cloud, which is conventional explosives. In a less helpful phrasing, Lamar Odom-biographer Chris Palmer tweeted out, first, “Good Lord. Lebanese media says it was a fireworks factory. Nope. That’s a mushroom cloud. That’s atomic.” Palmer then followed this with, “The mushroom cloud forms outside of the factory. There is no question that was an atomic bomb. That is a controlled detonation. If every firework went off at the same time it wouldn’t do that. A fireworks factory exploding wouldn’t blow out windows 10 miles away.”

Palmer has since deleted the tweets, without an explanation or follow-up offered as of publication.

Mushroom clouds are iconically linked with nuclear explosions, but that is because mushroom clouds are a phenomenon that follows big explosions, and no nuclear detonation is small. It is perhaps the cyclical nature of the internet, or maybe a general unfamiliarity with big explosions of a non-nuclear nature, that every time a mushroom cloud is observed after such a disaster, casual observers immediately rush to claim that this mushroom cloud is in fact an atomic bomb.

“This is just clearly wrong. Mushroom clouds form in all explosions — they just stick around a lot longer for big ones. You can tell from the color of the explosion (deep red/orange) that it is not hot enough to be nuclear (which always starts white/yellow, even small nukes),” said Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at Stevens Institute of Technology.

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Views

1. The big and silent life of Nova Scotia giantess Anna Swan

Anna Swan was born in New Annan, outside of Tatamagouche. She grew to be 7’11”, and married Martin Van Buren Bates, who was 7’8″. There’s an exhibit on her life at the Tatamagouche Heritage Centre. Photo: Suzanne Rent

On Sunday, I took a road trip to Tatamagouche. I’ve visited this village many times, but this was the first time I stopped into the Tatamagouche Heritage Centre, which has a display on Anna Swan.

If you don’t know about her already, Anna Swan was born in a log cabin in New Annan on Aug. 6, 1846 and weighed 16 pounds at birth. By the time she reached adulthood, Swan was 7’11”. Her parents and 12 siblings were of average height. Her height, of course, was a cause of great pains and discomfort to Swan (her height was likely due to a problem with her pituitary gland). She couldn’t sit at the family table for dinner and instead sat on the floor against a wall. Her father often had to expand her bed to accommodate her continued growth. Swan went to Normal College in Truro to study to be a teacher, but didn’t like the people following her around all the time. She eventually returned home.

American showman P.T. Barnum heard about the giantess of Nova Scotia and sent an agent to the province to encourage her to join his show. Besides a good salary, Barnum offered her a tutor to help with her education. Swan also took lessons in piano and voice. Swan survived a fire at Barnum’s museum.

On a voyage to tour in Europe, Swan met Martin Van Buren Bates, known as the Kentucky Giant, who stood at 7’8″ and once served as a Confederate soldier. By the time the ship reached European shores, the pair was engaged and were married in London. Queen Victoria paid for Swan’s wedding dress and the ceremony was quite the spectacle.

Anna Swan and Martin Van Buren Bates were married in 1871 in St. Martin-in-the-fields in London, England.
Swan’s wedding dress was paid for by Queen Victoria.

After touring together, Swan and Bates bought farmland in Seville, Ohio, where they custom-built a home with furniture that accommodated their stature. They had two children — a daughter who was stillborn, and a son who weighed 23 pounds at birth, but only lived several hours. Swan’s health deteriorated over the years and she suffered from thyroid disease and goiter. She died 132 years ago today, one day before her 42nd birthday. (You can find more on Swan at Historic Nova Scotia here).

What struck me about the display at the heritage centre is that I didn’t learn much about Swan as a person beyond her great height, her time touring with Barnum, and her marriage to Bates. There were no artifacts from her directly. How did she feel about this life? What was her life really like?

Joel Fishbane.

Toronto author Joel Fishbane wondered the same thing when he first learned about Swan several years ago. Fishbane was so intrigued with Swan’s story he wrote a novel, The Thunder of Giants, a work of historical fiction intertwining Swan’s story with that of Andorra, who is eight feet tall and growing up in Depression-era Detroit. Andorra travels to Hollywood to play Swan in a show based on Swan’s life.

Fishbane first learned about Swan in an autobiography by P.T. Barnum, which included a single paragraph about the giantess from Nova Scotia. Fishbane was already working on another book and decided to include Swan’s story. Fishbane and I spoke on Tuesday.

We don’t actually have any record of her own voice. There’s no letters, no diary. She’s essentially silent in the historical record. Even newspaper records don’t directly quote her. Anything we know about her is essentially second-hand information. Sometimes there’s contradictory information. We’re not even sure of her actual height because Barnum would exaggerate for effect. Newspapers would exaggerate for effect. So, there is a lot of information that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Here she is the centre of the story and we can piece together her life based on various accounts but we don’t have her own voice. Even Martin Van Buren Bates wrote an autobiography and she’s not a major part of it. Symbolically, we have another example of a woman getting silenced in the historical record.

She’s living in the 19th century and she’s eight feet tall and she has to deal with all the conflict that comes with that. But because she’s a woman she’s still expected to conform to what is expected of women in that day of age. What’s interesting is to juxtapose her life with Martin Van Buren Bates, who is also eight feet tall and a giant. But because he’s a guy, he can buy land, he can join the army, he is able to live his life and it was like, ‘Oh, you’re a big guy. Isn’t that weird?’ He’s still able to have some semblance of a ‘normal’ life. But with Anna, she’s expected to conform. What does she do? She tries being a teacher and tries to go to school. She’s expected to marry but most people don’t want to marry her and she can’t trust the people who do because she doesn’t know if she’s going to be exploited. What was really fascinating is that she goes to New York, she goes to work with Barnum, and she actually becomes very independent before she marries Van Buren Bates. In a way, theirs is a very extraordinary marriage in that they found each other. You can kind of understand why he’s the one she chose to marry, because they marry quickly after she meets him. He’s the one person she can relate to and trust not to exploit her because he’s in the same circumstance she is.

Fishbane says in his novel, he wanted to give Andorra the life Anna wasn’t able to have. He says these women were judged by their size in ways women are still judged by their size and appearance.

That always remains a problem especially in the entertainment industry and everywhere else. And that remains the biggest challenge for people to overcome. And then there’s also the fact that like Anna, we’re expected to fill certain social roles. Wherever you are in society, there are certain social roles, certain obligations you’re expected to fulfill and the decision about how to fill them or whether to fulfill them or go off and strike your own path is one that each of us has to decide for ourselves.

As I researched her, I always continued to be in admiration for her. The more I read about the era the more I became aware of the personal struggles she was up against. As I wrote the book, you have to put yourself in your character’s perspective and I started to think, ‘Wow, it would have been really hard for her.’ Even writing the simplest things like how she had to move around the house. She would have been six or seven and people were already mistaking her for a teenager, so that is really going to affect somebody.

Fishbane was able to give a voice to Swan in his novel, including her thoughts on the times she lived in, including while she was in New York during the Civil War.

I made her aware of the world around her and she had comments about it. She had conflicts with the men around her. Even though she gets married, she still tries to preserve her independence. I purposely made Martin Van Buren Bates a secondary character in the story and questioned whether her marriage to him was more of convenience than of love. Marriage was a business arrangement for women and they had to think about all the factors that went into it. They couldn’t just run off and marry for love. They had to think of all the difference consequences and that’s one of the things she does when she marries Martin Van Buren. It’s much a practical decision as it is one driven by emotion.

Fishbane visited Nova Scotia and stopped into the museum to see the display on Swan for research on his book. He says when people visit the museum and learn about Swan, he wants them to think of the human beyond the facts and find the lessons that still are part of our lives today.

This was a person who has her own desires, she had her points. She almost certainly had her bad points. She struggled. She was a person like anybody else. Whenever I do historical research, that’s what I look for. I really look for the human element behind the facts because facts are easy to find, generally speaking. What you really want to get are what are the human factors that motivated her, what were the human emotions she encountered, what were the pressures that really made her into a three-dimensional person? That’s what we really need to think about whenever we look at any historical figure.

But with Anna Swan specifically, here’s a woman that had no choice but to allow herself to be exploited. The only way she could survive in this world was to put herself on display. And it was because the way the world was set up, they wouldn’t let her do anything else. The world wouldn’t let her be anything other than what she was as opposed to her husband who, by virtue of being a man, they let him be a solider, they let him be a war hero, they let him own property. He didn’t have to put himself on display. He could have lived on his farm and people would have said, “Oh, there’s that big farmer.” That double standard is something we still see reflected in today’s world. We deal with double standards all the time.

Anna Swan was a celebrity in her time and that fame gave her an income and a life she wouldn’t have found otherwise, especially as a woman. But that came at an expense. Her wedding dress was destroyed in a fire at her sister’s home. We don’t know if other artifacts were destroyed that would have included her voice. Certainly, there were other women in Swan’s time who were also silenced, whose voices we don’t hear about in exhibits now.

When I think about Swan, I think about them, as well. The silencing of their historical voices is a loss for us, too.

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Noticed

Since the mandatory mask rule came into effect on Friday, everyone I’ve seen in a public indoor space has worn a mask. I guess I underestimated people and expected a few anti-maskers to fight back on the rule, taking it out on staff in stores, restaurants, and elsewhere. That probably has happened, but I haven’t seen it, yet.

I still see a few people not wearing their masks over their noses, though.

And then I saw this sign on my drive on Sunday.

We could be wearing masks for some time to come. Ryan Patrick Jones with CBC reports that Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, says, “We can’t at this stage just put all of our focus [on a vaccine] in the hopes that this is the silver bullet solution.” That means social distancing and mask wearing could be part of our lives for a few years yet.

Tam says the Public Health Agency is also publishing guidelines around the reopening of schools that includes a recommendation that children over the age of 10 wear a mask. Says Tam:

The recommendations will undergo evolution as the evidence changes and we’ll also have to see what happens as we understand transmission in different age groups and what happens in schools. We may have to adapt this recommendation as we go along.

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Government

City

Wednesday

No meetings.

Thursday

Harbour East – Marine Drive Community Council  (6pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — agenda here.

Province

No meetings.


In the harbour

11:00: Ef Ava, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Portland
15:00: Gaia Desgagnes, oil tanker, moves from Irving Oil to Imperial Oil
16:00: MOL Modern, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea


Footnotes

I’ve ignored my social media accounts since Saturday and it’s very nice. I’ll share this Morning File, of course, but after that I’ll log off again. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while and for now have set some ground rules for how I’ll use my social media accounts. I may quit Twitter entirely. Sure, I get some story ideas from social media, but I get more from going outside, observing the world, and talking to people. I have thoughts on all of this and the price I’ve paid using social media and how we lose our connections to people in real life. Maybe I’ll write about it, but maybe I won’t. I definitely won’t tweet about it.

Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent

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  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedford_Magazine_explosion

    There was a smaller munitions explosion during WW2 in Halifax, which produced an almost perfect mushroom cloud.

    War is hell though, we make a big deal about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but there were numerous conventional bombing raids, all conducted by the allies, with higher civilian death tolls in both Europe and Japan. Halifax suffering two explosions might make us the hardest-hit North American city since the American Civil War, but we got off light.

    I will note that there’s something ironic about the phrase “conventional bombing” – airplanes are 120 years old, nothing relative to our species’ history, and yet we view only throwing chemical rather than nuclear explosives out of them at our enemies as “conventional”.

  2. I read the novel with real delight when first published, found this online:
    “First published in 1983, The Biggest Modern Woman of the World was a finalist for the Governor General`s Award for fiction and the Smith`s Best First Novel Award. In this reissue you will find a new Afterword written by the author. In this exhilirating and profound novel, Anna Swan, the real-life 7?6?, 413-pound Nova Scotian Giantess renders her own autobiographical account. Born in 1846 (an 18 pound baby) to a family of crofters, Anna Swan had to sit on the floor as a child so that her head would be level with her siblings at the dinner table. Searching for a home that fits, Anna Swan first goes from Nova Scotia to New York, where P.T. Barnum bills her, at his museum of freaks, as The Biggest Modern Woman of the World. Worn down by P.T. Barnum`s museum fires, she goes from New York to Europe and then to a giant farmhouse in the American mid-west, where she hopes to live out the rest of her life like a Victorian lady. Part truth, part legend, The Biggest Modern Woman of the World is a saucy romp through the traditional categories of gender, art, sexuality and nationality. There never has been a story quite like it. (2001)”.

    It is available on Amazon.ca as re-issue for C$110 (!!!), and used for much less. Sadly it does not appear in the Halifax Public Library Search.

  3. As far as I can see, there is not a whole lot of mask wearing on PEI. About to go to Charlottetown though, so we will see.

  4. For many years Anna Swan’s shoe was on display at the Halifax Citadel – back when the Nova Scotia Museum had displays in the Cavalier Block. Is it still on display somewhere ? The same display had Angus MacAskill’s boot.

    1. I was thinking this exact thing, having borrowed Susan Swan’s book from the Annapolis Valley Regional Library bookmobile at the Margaretsville stop in probably 1985 or so. I met Susan Swan at a writer’s evening in Halifax a few years ago. She herself is probably 6 ft. tall. I do recommend this book as an interesting exploration into Anna’s life.