1. Onslow fire hall shoot-up

The Onslow Belmont Fire Hall.
The Onslow Belmont Fire Hall. Photo: Jennifer Henderson Credit: Jennifer Henderson

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) is currently conducting an investigation to determine if criminal charges should be laid against two police officers who pulled up in front of the Onslow-Belmont fire hall at about 10:30 am on Sunday April 19. They began shooting at a uniformed RCMP officer standing near a parked cruiser outside the fire hall. Dozens of shots were fired as both the RCMP officer and an EMO official dove for cover. Three firefighters hit the floor inside the fire hall. Luckily, no one was injured.

The two police officers who fired the shots have been placed on administrative duties pending the outcome of the SIRT investigation, according to Corporal Lisa Croteau, a Public Information officer with the Halifax District RCMP. Those police officers have not been identified.

The shoot-up occurred only about 15 minutes after the RCMP sent out a tweet alerting police officers and the public that an armed and dangerous gunman was believed to be driving a lookalike RCMP vehicle headed south toward Halifax. This 10:17 a.m. tweet was the first to indicate the shooter could be driving a police car. What happened at the fire hall may have been a case of mistaken identity, but it will be another few months before SIRT is able to complete its investigation.

SIRT Director Felix Cacchione says the matter is not straightforward and will require an inventory of all the telecommunications sent out and received by RCMP officers in order to determine “what knowledge the officers possessed” when they began firing their weapons. SIRT will decide if criminal charges are warranted.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey continues to say a joint federal-provincial public inquiry will be held resulting in binding recommendations for change on both federal and provincial agencies. He blamed “legalities and technicalities” for slowing down the process and said an inquiry will be announced by the end of this month.

2. Where’s GW’s money?

The entrance to the Portapique Beach Road blocked by the RCMP as they conducted their investigation into the mass shooting that began there on April 18, 2020. Photo: Joan Baxter

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

According to the RCMP, the gunman who murdered 22 people on April 18 and 19 withdrew $475,000 in cash a few weeks before. RCMP Supt Darren Campbell told CBC Radio the cash originated from the gunman’s own holdings. Campbell has emphatically denied reports by Maclean’s magazine that suggest the cash may have been paid to GW for services he provided as a confidential informant to the New Brunswick RCMP on biker gangs.

The RCMP theory is that the murderer, who the Examiner is identifying only as GW, was so worried that COVID-19 would trigger a collapse of worldwide financial markets, he cleaned out his accounts and liquidated his RRSPs and insurance policies. Video taken March 30, 2020 at a Brinks location in Dartmouth shows GW carrying a bag reportedly containing $475,000 in cash.

Interestingly, documents concerning the dead gunman’s estate make no mention of cash at all. In a May 25 document filed with Probate Court to appoint a Public Trustee to oversee the murderer’s estate, GW’s “personal property” was estimated at $500,000, “which includes all insurance, RRSPs, RIFFs, pensions, superannuation and annuities payable to the estate of the deceased.”

A Public Trustee was appointed after GW’s common-law spouse of nearly 20 years withdrew as executor.

The Probate Court documents include six properties owned by the gunman valued at $712,000 for a total estate worth approximately $1.2 million.

That may turn out to be only a preliminary estimate. Published reports quoting people who knew the gunman suggest he liked to flaunt his money and also stashed cash at various properties where he stored his motorcycles and replica police cars.

Efforts by The Halifax Examiner to find out if the estate described in Probate Court documents excludes the hundreds of thousands of dollars the RCMP says it found in a fire-proof box at one of the gunman’s Portapique properties have not been successful. The RCMP will not answer the question due to its ongoing investigation.

We have learned the Probate Court was asked and has agreed to extend the filing deadline until December 31, 2020 to complete the inventory of the gunman’s estate. That extension suggests more cash, personal property, or hidden assets could be uncovered or added. (The paperwork could also clarify what happened to the $475,000 the gunman withdrew on March 30 and has been the subject of much speculation). A proposed class-action suit has been filed on behalf of some of GW’s many victims to try and obtain financial compensation for their families through the estate.

3. Bill Casey: the RCMP is “more interested in real estate than public safety”

RCMP headquarters on Garland Drive in Dartmouth. Photo: Halifax Examiner. Credit: Tim Bousquet

Jennifer Henderson reports on the decision to put the Operations Communications Centre at the RCMP’s headquarters in Dartmouth despite a recommendation not to put it there. And former Colchester-Cumberland MP Bill Casey is trying to find out why.

Casey filed an Access to Information request in June 2019. Casey wants to know why an internal RCMP report in 2017 overturned the recommendation of a 2004 expert panel report that examined where to locate a new RCMP Operations Communications Centre. That centre handles 911 calls. The current operations communications centre is in Truro. The 2004 expert panel recommended the centre be located anywhere but the Dartmouth headquarters to ensure “geographical separation” between the 911 response systems run by the Halifax Regional Police and the Nova Scotia RCMP.

Casey got this answer in June 2020.

The RCMP is not in possession of a Departmental Security Report that analyses the risks outlined in the 2004 study that explains why these risks are no longer applicable.

“The RCMP has no assessment, no data or research that explains or supports that statement,” Casey says. “My point is that if warnings in a detailed RCMP study on the safety of the Nova Scotia emergency communications systems are to be overruled, there should be some explanation, some report, or details to say how the listed risks have evaporated.”

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4. Charges dropped against Santina Rao

Santina Rao. Photo: Helena Darling

On  Monday, charges against Santina Rao were dropped by the Crown Attorney. But the fight is not over. As Rao writes:

As I look back at the entire situation, I will continue to be alienated, because I was, and always will be to others, “that Black girl who got assaulted in WalMart,” and people will remember me for the horrible trauma my babies and I suffered through.

Yes, I am happy the charges have been dropped. But that means there’s something new I need to fight for: the justice from the fact that a WalMart employee took it upon themselves to racially profile me, call HRP, and tell them whatever, so they’d send as many police officers as they did just for me, unarmed, and my two babies.

I suffered a broken wrist, concussion, and lacerations to my body.

The charges are dropped, but there is no justice for me. I am still currently banned from all WalMart properties, even though there was never any theft in the first place.

Good for her.

Rao is holding a press conference this morning in front of the courthouse on Spring Garden Road.

We’ll have more on this story later.

5. In response to a man from the US who failed to self-isolate when arriving in Nova Scotia, the province is tightening restrictions on such travellers

Premier Stephen McNeil (l) and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang at the COVID-19 update, July 6, 2020

The Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage for free.

Tim Bousquet reports on the tightening of rules around people travelling to Nova Scotia from outside the Atlantic bubble after a man from the U.S. who entered the province didn’t self-isolate, starting a COVID-19 cluster on P.E.I.

At a press conference, Premier Stephen McNeil said starting Monday, any traveller from outside the Atlantic bubble must provide an address and a phone number where they can be reached 24/7.

If they are in self-isolation, they should be able to take a call… and there will be followup calls every day for 14 days. And if we can’t locate them after three tries, police will be called to do an in-person check to make sure that person is self-isolating where they said they would be.

Bousquet writes about the details on the traveller and the cluster:

McNeil explained that the person flew into Toronto from the US, and was cleared by the Canada Border Services to board a flight to Halifax. The man arrived in Halifax on June 26. He held a student visa to attend school in Charlottetown. He was picked up by friends from PEI, who attempted to drive him onto the island but he was turned back because he did not have the paperwork required by that province, so he returned to Halifax.

It appears the Charlottetown friends then returned to the island, where they started a cluster of infection. One of the newly infected works in a nursing home. Contact tracing on PEI revealed the presence of the international traveller in Halifax, where he was not self-isolating. Nova Scotia Public Health caught up with him on Saturday and he was tested for the disease; the positive test result came back Sunday. He is now under a federal quarantine order at an airport hotel.

Dr. Robert Strang said Public Health is now doing contact tracing to see who else the traveller may have come in contact with.

Read the full story here.

6. Bus terminal closed and cleaned after driver falls ill with COVID-19 symptoms

A Halifax transit bus at the Sackville Terminal, March 18, 2020. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

The Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage for free.

Zane Woodford reports on a bus driver with Halifax Transit who was taken to hospital on Monday after feeling sick with symptoms of COVID-19. Two other drivers were being tested and the Sackville Terminal was temporarily closed.

Ken Wilson, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508, confirmed the news with the Examiner.

I received correspondence from the employer around 7:45 this morning that a transit operator at the Sackville Terminal was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms — shortness of breath, tightness in chest.

The terminal was cleaned, but Wilson said he was concerned the operators’ lobby at the Ragged Lake depot wasn’t closed and that’s where the driver worked.

The Sackville Terminal opened later in the day. Municipal spokesperson Erin DiCarlo said in an email no details would be released on employees who may test positive for COVID-19.

If a municipal employee tests positive, public health will be in contact with the individual and will complete contact tracing to identify all those who have been in close contact. If public health’s investigation determines a public notification is needed, they will issue.

The municipality will continue to internally advise staff of any positive test results within their respective business unit/facility/division and will follow all public health cleaning recommendations to help reduce the spread of the virus.

Read the full story here.

7. Lorelei Nicol won’t run in the municipal election

Councillor Lorelei Nicoll. Photo:

Three-term Cole Harbour-Westphal councillor Lorelei Nicoll won’t be running in the upcoming election. Zane Woodford reports on the announcement made on Monday. In a statement, Nicoll writes:

In my twelve years in this role, I have worked hard to ensure the communities of Cole Harbour, Westphal, Lake Loon and Cherry Brook have the recognition they deserve as unique and distinct communities within the HRM.

I championed the alignment of municipal electoral boundaries to recognize the historical and present day ties among these communities and I have been privileged to work with residents and community leaders to bring our shared history to the forefront, honour our past, and prepare for the future.

Nicoll was first elected in 2008 in what was then District 4- Cole Harbour. Nicoll is one of two women on Council. On Monday Deputy Mayor Lisa Blackburn replied to Nicoll’s statement with, “Sending you strength and thanks for your support.”

Nicoll’s daughter Elizabeth Cushing also tweeted out a statement talking about her mother’s influence on  her and encouraging other women to run for council.

Read the full story here. 


Taking a stroll down The Avenue’s history

A couple of weeks ago, heritage consultant Elizabeth Cushing tweeted out this bit of Dartmouth history.

I hadn’t heard of The Avenue, so I contacted councillor Sam Austin, as well as Craig Ferguson, who runs a Twitter account called Dead in Halifax, which is all about cemeteries and graveyards in the HRM. Both had commented on Cushing’s tweet. Like Africville, The Avenue was a Black community at the top of Crichton Avenue that was lost to urban renewal. Austin says at its peak about 134 residents lived there. One resident still lives there. But the history of The Avenue is virtually unknown. Austin put me in touch with Adrienne Lucas, who wrote about the community in her 1998 master’s thesis. The community never had a name but she called it The Avenue. Her thesis covers the The Avenue’s history, early settlement, education, and the last generation to live there. You can read the thesis here. 

Adrienne Lucas grew up in a Black community in Dartmouth called The Avenue. She wrote her 1998 thesis about the community.

Lucas and I chatted Sunday night and were exchanging emails last week. Lucas returned to Nova Scotia in 1994 after being away for about 23 years. She went to university that year and majored in sociology she says, “at a time when history, institutions and beliefs were being deconstructed by many, including voices from the margins. Mine was one of those voices.”

She says when she was choosing a topic for her thesis, writing about The Avenue was an obvious choice.

There was much written about other Black communities in Nova Scotia — Africville, the Prestons, Cherry Brook — and I wanted to include my community (though nameless) as another example of how people of African descent survived and thrived in an often hostile world. Also, my community was part of the city of Dartmouth and we therefore had a somewhat different experience with schooling and access to the wider community than the more isolated Black communities.

My research uncovered the difficult experiences that we, as a Black community, had when participating in the education system and other institutions which were designed to exclude us from full participation in all aspects of life — from education and work to social engagement and participation.

But underpinning all the social injustices was our community that provided support and validation, that helped to build people of good character who were eager to participate fully in society.

The Avenue, when we were growing up there, was a place of natural beauty. We were surrounded by an environment that provided hours of enjoyment — from swimming or skating in/on Birch Cove Lake to picking berries, cherries and apples that were all around us. We were surrounded by playmates and spent many long hours outside exploring our world as children from that period did.

We were a community that survived as best we could within the constraints of a system meant to keep us down — whether from streaming in schools to lack of employment opportunities to the lack of municipal services that we had a right to but were denied. Yet, we educated ourselves and made a way when there was no one outside of our community to lend a helping hand.

The Avenue was a Black community in Dartmouth until the 1970s when development moved in. Photo: Sam Austin

Austin says he learned about this community when he stumbled upon Lucas’s thesis. Austin used to organize Jane’s Walk before he became a councillor and he reached out to Lucas and asked her if she’d host a Jane’s Walk in the neighbourhood. She took about 50 people along and talked about the area’s history. Austin says since then, preserving the history of the area is a bit of a project for him. A private lane in the area was renamed United Avenue, which is a nod to the church that was there. And there’s a sign at Birch Cove Park where people who lived in the community went swimming in the summer and where baptisms were held. Austin says the area was identified as a future cultural landscape:

When that comes up in the future, there will be some specific planning for that area. It’s a little bit challenging because the municipality doesn’t own the land there. We own the street and the sidewalk and that’s it.

This piece of Dartmouth history was on the verge of being totally forgotten. To be blunt about it, there’s a lot of history wrapped up in The Avenue, the experience of Black Nova Scotians writ large, which includes institutional racism. That’s where the dump was, that’s where the crusher was. The paving stopped at the home of the last white family. I don’t think anyone in white society thought it was history worth remembering. It’s not as stark as Africville, but it does have similar themes.

In 1977, several graves from the community’s cemetery were exhumed and moved to Christ Church Cemetery to make way for more housing in the area. Ferguson says he was in Dartmouth one day and went into Christ Church for a tour. There he met a woman who organized a brochure of a walking tour of the cemetery. He had heard about the reburials from The Avenue. Ferguson says there’s a plaque at the Victoria Road Baptist Church that commemorates the graves of those people moved from Dartmouth Lake Road Church, which was established by Rev. Richard Preston in 1844.

A plaque inside the Victoria Road United Baptist Church commemorates the Black residents of The Avenue whose graves were moved from that community’s cemetery to Christ Church Cemetery.

Ferguson says he likes the cooperation between the churches in remembering this history.

It’s probably rare enough to see that between different denominations to begin with but in Nova Scotia between African Nova Scotians and a predominately white church. I don’t know the whole story behind it. It’s a nice sentiment they are able to get close to their people.

I always say a cemetery is like a museum for people. It gives you a chance to scratch beneath the surface a little bit, to discover the stories of your community. In this case, it’s amazing that Christ Church remembered this on the walking tour and put up a marker so people don’t forget. It’s literally history that was bulldozed and obliterated in the name of urban renewal. There’s been so much of that in our history in Halifax, Canada, North America.

Lucas says there are lessons from The Avenue that are important today.

I think it is important for the wider community to understand the full history of Dartmouth and not just parts of it that make the wider society feel good or look good. I think by understanding the history of The Avenue, decision makers can look to change systems that advantage some while disadvantaging those who are different – whatever the differences. We are now living in a world where the voices on the margins are demanding to be heard, demanding change and demanding fair and equal treatment under the law. I think understanding The Avenue pinpoints some of what STILL needs changing on a wide scale – not just locally, but nationally – to live up to our ideals of a free and just society.


Grape-Nut ice cream is a Maritime treat. I had no idea.

During a road trip this weekend I was listening to the CBC podcast Cost of Living. CBC Calgary’s Danielle Nerman had a segment on weird ice cream flavours from the Maritimes that you can’t find anywhere else. I was expecting to hear about Moon Mist, the banana-grape-bubblegum ice cream made only in Nova Scotia. There was a short bit on Moon Mist, including an interview with Master Chef Canada winner Jennifer Crawford, who’s from Nova Scotia and a huge Moon Mist fan. But Nerman’s report was about grapenut ice cream.

It’s not that I haven’t heard of grapenut ice cream. It’s one of those flavours, like orange-pineapple, maple walnut, and neapolitan that our parents bought and we ate, even though we didn’t really like it.

But I had no idea grapenut ice cream is a Maritime specialty. According to one story, the ice cream was first created by Hannah Young, a chef at Palms in Wolfville, who, in 1919, stirred Grape-Nuts cereal into vanilla ice cream when she ran out of fresh fruit.

But grapenut ice cream is in short supply now because you can’t buy Grape-Nuts cereal in Canada. The cereal, which was invented in 1897, is actually nuggets of wheat and barley. Nerman says one theory about the name is that the wheat-and-barley cereal looks like grape seeds. Scotsburn in Truro still makes the ice cream and imports Grape-Nuts cereal from the U.S.

So, I put out a question on Twitter asking if people knew grapenut ice cream is an Atlantic Canada thing. Most people knew.

I don’t think ice cream flavours here are stranger than anywhere else. Ice cream is like pizza; you can add just anything to it, right?

You can listen to the segment on the Cost of Living podcast here.




Halifax Council (10am, virtual meeting) — here’s the agenda. Of particular note is the procurement policy (see #3 above) and the borrowing of up to $130 million from the Municipal Finance Corporation. On the latter issue, the staff report details that 10% of property owners have missed the June 1 deadline for paying property taxes and “it is probable that many impacted customers will also struggle to pay their final October tax bill.” The stark reality is that many of these property owners will lose their properties, and the city will ultimately recoup lost tax revenue via tax sales.

Zane Woodford will report on the meeting for the Examiner.


Special Halifax and West Community Council  6pm, virtual meeting) —  agenda here.


No meetings.

In the harbour

11:30: Maersk Mobiliser, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 34 from the Sable Island field
14:00: Maersk Mobiliser sails back to Sable Island
16:00: Boarbarge 37, semi-submersible barge, moves from Pier 9 to IEL
16:00: Toreador, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
17:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, moves from National Gypsum to anchorage


Remember Tiger Stripe ice cream? The orange-and-black licorice flavour? I miss that one. Dee Dee’s on Cornwallis Street in Halifax has a flavour called orange star anise, which is pretty close and very good.

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

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  1. That is fascinating history about “The Avenue.” I grew up in Dartmouth, and have never heard about this. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. Are there any houses or part of the church still in existence? I’m guessing not. Would love to learn more on this neighbourhood.

    1. The church is gone, but a few original houses still exist. I’m told that 245 Crichton and 238 Crichton are original. 255 and 259 are also likely original Avenue homes.

  2. I don’t think it’s right that some people lose their properties because they could not pay their taxes in April 2020, nor will they be able to in Oct. 2020== due to their lack of income because of Covid. Instead why doesn’t the city tack the taxes on to the properties, and when the property is sold (or changes hands) — whenever that will be — the property taxes (with interest) will be recovered. That should be done with anyone who can’t pay their taxes.

  3. The Christ Church cemetery extended further east until Victoria Road was built and at that time all the remains of the dead were exhumed and moved to the Dartmouth Common in what is now known as the Public Cemetery.

  4. Last Friday i was searching the 1921 census to see how many people were living in the house we own. The first owners were the Bowes family and at date of the census there were 10 people. In column 21 the census discloses racial origin and one sees ‘English’ or ‘Scotch’ or ‘Russian’.
    For the black families on Crichton Avenue the word ‘English’ is in the column with a line drawn through it and above it is the word ‘negro’. see here :

    The Keeler family,white folks, are on the same page and lived further up Crichton Avenue, they are #16 – I think they are related to the well known ‘fan’ dancer Ruby Keeler

    For Canal Street, racial origin shows ‘Negro’ – the enumerator is not the same person as the enumerator for Crichton Avenue. Place of birth is shown for each person.

  5. My family moved to Crichton Park in the mid 50’s. It was ‘post war Halifax’ (Dartmouth). Big families with lots of kids, fairly close in age. We all roamed free. i counted up one day how many kids whose yards bordered on mine . There were 40. The school system couldn’t keep up. They built Dartmouth High School then doubled the size a couple of years later. A fews years later it was overcrowded again 2200. I was in the first Primary class at Crichton Park School which is directly beside ‘The Avenue’. We didn’t call it that. We didn’t call it anything. Kids from the Avenue went to school with us. I discovered a few years ago that the didn’t have running water in the Avenue. How did I not know that? We all played in the woods around the school. The dump (with the incinerator) were where the ball field is now. The stone crusher (and the air raid siren) were to the right of the school. We were told to stay away from it. I didn’t go down that road. No idea why. I didn’t have any reason to?