Happy New Year’s Eve! We were going to have a quiet get-together with friends, but because the roads sound like they will be terrible, we’re staying home instead and I’m cooking dinner out of the great new Korean cookbook I got for Christmas. I hadn’t even twigged that it’s the end of the decade until I noticed “best of” lists of movies I have not gotten around to seeing. Enjoy the evening, whether or not you are celebrating.
1. Saving Maritime Sign Language
I know we overuse the word “fascinating,” but I think it applies to a story by Emma Davie on the CBC website this morning. I love it when I read about something I know absolutely nothing about.
Davie’s piece is on how members of Nova Scotia’s deaf community are working to document and save Maritime Sign Language, a regional dialect. It is in decline, because younger deaf people have grown up learning American Sign Language instead.
I didn’t realize just how much language encodes culture — that it’s not just words and phrases — until I had kids and raised them speaking Greek. Greek has concepts that don’t exist in English, and phrases that harken back to historical events, and some terms would lead us into deeper explorations of culture. For instance, if someone’s giving you a hard time, you can say they’ve squeezed the oil out of you — a phrase that makes sense in a culture where olive oil is important and olives hard to press.
Back to MSL. Davie writes:
“The language itself has so many stories, has history, has perspectives of what’s important to the community, what was important at that time — all of that is in the language,” said Linda Campbell, a professor in the department of science at Saint Mary’s University…
Campbell said that while the number of fluent MSL speakers is in decline, the language is still used to some degree in the community.
“So many people here, when they come to Nova Scotia for the first time, and they go, ‘Hmm, they don’t understand this dialect.’ And it’s because MSL is being used and it’s been blended with ASL,” she said.
2. City what?
The story discusses the mass graves on the site of the former Spring Garden Road library and adjacent properties, and development possibilities for the former library. All well and good, except for this:
Heritage groups want the old library building retained for public use and are pushing to have it designated as a municipal heritage property and those buried there recognized with a cairn or plaque.
At a recent council meeting, city fathers voted in favour of holding a public hearing on an application to do just that. A hearing date has yet to be set. (Emphasis added.)
“City fathers”? Really? Nicoll writes that this “sounds like a phrase from the 1920s & we’re on the cusp of the 2020s.”
The paper has since quietly changed the online version to read, “at a recent meeting, council voted in favour…”
The phrase “city fathers” always makes me think of Bob Dylan’s Tombstone Blues:
The city fathers they’re trying to endorse
The reincarnation of Paul Revere’s horse
But the town has no need to be nervous
Here’s Bob performing it in 2000.
3. John Risley extends reach into space
Local billionaire John Risley has joined forces with non-local billionaire Jim Balsillie and some other investors to buy the company that built the iconic Canadarm, Brett Bundale reports for the Chronicle Herald.
Northern Private Capital, a Toronto-based investment firm led by Risley and Andrew Lapham, said Monday it had signed a deal to buy MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. from U.S. satellite imagery firm Maxar Technologies.
The billion-dollar deal will see MDA’s corporate headquarters return to Canada. The company has 1,900 employees in six offices across the country — including in Dartmouth — and one in the U.K.
I presume this is the Andrew Lapham who is the son of former Harper’s Magazine editor Lewis Lapham, and husband of Ontario cabinet minister Caroline Mulroney.
Bundale quotes Risley on a visit to the company:
The Halifax businessman described walking into the company’s facility in Brampton, Ont., where he saw a next-generation Mars Rover slated to traverse the red planet next year.
“There aren’t too many places you walk in the door and see something as crazy as that,” Risley said.
Although we get all warm and fuzzy about the Canadarm, MDA’s activities (as Bundale notes) include surveillance and warfare. Risley gushes about the company’s role as a Lockheed Martin subcontractor, working on naval warfare systems.
“The company is very much at the forefront of working with Lockheed Martin to develop these systems,” he said, suggesting there may be an opportunity to sell the systems to the U.S. navy in the future.
I imagine if there are lobsters in space, MDA will be on the forefront of space lobster processing technology.
Bundale has all the financial details of the deal, which I had a hard time keeping straight. That’s because of my slowness with figures, not because of her writing.
4. Ethan crew finally get to go home
If you scroll down to the “In the harbour” section of today’s Morning File, you’ll see there is only one ship listed, the MV Ethan. It’s got quite a backstory.
CBC Montreal has a story about the 108-metre-long Ethan this morning — specifically about two crew members who spent the last 35 months living on the ship while it was docked in Quebec City, hoping to eventually be paid.
The ship was a rust-bucket docked in Quebec City. D&D Maritime, a company based in the Bahamas, bought it and hired a crew to make the vessel seaworthy again. When the company ran out of money, most of the crew moved on to other things. But two men, Bahamian Richard Thompson and Ukrainian Vyacheslav Borshchevskij, stayed behind hoping to eventually get paid for their work.
Isaac Olson writes:
Though it no longer was paying its port fees, D&D Maritime did occasionally send a bit of cash to the men for groceries and other necessities, telling them more money was on the way.
But the sailors’ months of being strung along with promises of financial compensation turned into years.
Eventually, the Port of Quebec seized the ship and auctioned it off.
Thompson claims he and his shipmate were each owed $100,000 US, and although they never saw the big payday they were promised, Thompson said the ship’s current owner, based in Africa, paid him and Borshchevskij decent wages to get the ship seaworthy over the last seven months. [Since Africa is not a country, let me point out it’s flying under the Togolese flag.]
“These guys came in, gave us a job; we made some money, and it’s not all bad,” Thompson said.
“It’s not a fairy tale ending, but sometimes you just have to take the cards you’re dealt.”
Borshchevskij is already back in Ukraine. Thompson is flying home out of Halifax.
5. NS Advocate’s African Nova Scotian stories of the year
Raymond Sheppard recaps his “top eight African Nova Scotian stories of 2019” in the Nova Scotia Advocate. They include the conviction of Shawn Wade Hynes for shooting co-worker Nhlanhla Dlamini with a nail gun, the racial profiling of Lynn Jones for watching deer, and also the approval in principle of community-based transit in some primarily African Nova Scotian communities.
6. New heritage minister wants to boost local journalism
New heritage minister Steven Guilbeault wants to use CBC to increase coverage of local issues, Rachel Emmanuel reports at iPolitics.
He said he plans to work with the CBC, per his mandate letter, to see if they can produce more regional content through hiring more people, opening more offices, or partner with existing media.
“There could be some form of shared agreement where the content is being used and promoted on CBC’s platforms for those smaller news outlets,” he said…
Guilbeault said he’s yet to have a conversation with CBC, but that he would ensure they receive adequate funding for any new mandates.
I assume the minister is spitballing here, because holy hell he is entering some fraught territory. Can the minister tell CBC to hire more reporters? Will private outlets have to tone down criticism of CBC or risk not being featured? Look, I am very fond of the CBC, I (obviously) believe in local journalism of all stripes, and I’m not being critical; Guilbeault is just making a vague suggestion at this point. I’m just saying I can see all kinds of potential pitfalls.
Guilbeault’s mandate letter from the Prime Minister charges him, in part, to:
- Strengthen the regional mandate of CBC/Radio-Canada to broadcast more local news and require CBC/Radio-Canada to open up its digital platform.
- Support local journalism and develop business models that facilitate private giving and philanthropic support for professional journalism and local news.
A long-time environmentalist, Guilbeault is an interesting choice for Heritage. He was one of the founders of a Quebec-based non-profit supporting access to community-shared agriculture boxes from small-scale organic farms and was also a Greenpeace director and campaign manager for a decade.
Before Christmas, Guilbeault did a three-day tour of the Maritimes, which included meeting with Mik’maw communities and visiting the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.
(This section contains spoilers for books published over a century ago.)
A few years ago I read Jane Eyre for the first time. I went to an all-boys Anglo private high school in Montreal that was big on all things British, and our reading lists included Moonfleet, Great Expectations, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and more. But any books by women? God no. One year our history class was divided into two sections: Man the Builder (shorter section) and Man the Conqueror (much longer section).
Anyway, somehow I made it into my forties without being aware of almost any of the plot of Jane Eyre. As I read it, I recognized various names (Oh, this is the book with Mr. Rochester) and events, but most of it was new to me. My partner, Sara, took great pleasure in watching me hit the various plot points (Oh my God! He has a mad wife in the attic!) that are pretty common knowledge.
I was thinking about this after having seen the most recent Star Wars movie a couple of days ago. We’ve become so obsessed by the idea of spoilers — people complaining about the revelation of minutiae in films, people who think you shouldn’t spoil the plot of Little Women, which was published in 1868. I’ve never read Little Women. I understand Beth dies. That’s not going to ruin the book or the movie for me.
2019 saw the publication of many stories on the trouble with spoiler culture.
There’s a very particular way in which many fandoms have become excessively hostile towards the concept of being spoiled, so much so that they swarm on anything they perceive as being a spoiler, which becomes an issue when it comes to the business of discussing things in public spaces…
The fact of the matter is that spoiler culture has become…intense to the point of ridiculousness, and the only way to really ensure that no one was ever spoiled would be to require writers to speak about things in a way that really defeats the entire purpose of reviews.
Imagine walking into a bar on an autumn afternoon during halftime of that same Giants game and demanding the bartender turn off the TVs and that all patrons cease discussing the game simply because you planned on watching it later. It’s preposterous, no? (And would likely get you thrown out of the bar on your ass.) But how is this different than the way people behave with dramatic series and movies?
“When you watch Hamlet, is it ruined if you know he dies?” [psychology professor Nicholas] Christenfeld says. “You’d have to be an idiot going to a Shakespeare play and not knowing the ending.”
He’s right. It doesn’t ruin it or dissuade people from watching Shakespeare’s plays. We all know what happens. It’s like looking at the Mona Lisa more than once. Or listening to Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks despite knowing the sequence and word of every song on the album.
Spoiler paranoia is making a lot of our pop culture at least marginally worse…
It doesn’t have to be this way! For most of human history, the idea of a “spoiler” would have felt rather curious. Many of the great Greek tragedies announce in their opening dialogue exactly what’s going to happen, and Shakespeare’s plays were largely built atop historical tales and famous stories many in his audience would have been familiar with. The great novels of the 18th and 19th centuries often simply stated outright in chapter names what happened in those chapters.
This tradition continued well into the 20th century. For instance, in 1976, a full year before Star Wars opened in theaters, the New York Times wrote an article where George Lucas explained what happened in the film’s plot, right down to the final beats of Luke Skywalker bringing down the Death Star.
That New York Times story, by the way, is amazing. In it, Lucas says that Star Wars is for 14-year-olds:
“It’s fun—that’s the word for this movie,” said Lucas. “It’s for young people. ‘Graffiti’ was for 16‐year‐olds; this is for 14‐year‐olds. Young people don’t have a fantasy life anymore, not the way we did. All they’ve got is Kojak and Dirty Harry. There’s all these kids running around wanting to be killer cops.”
“The reason I’m making ‘Star Wars’ is that I want to give young people some sort of faraway exotic environment for their imaginations to run around in. I have a strong feeling about interesting kids in space exploration. I want them to want it. I want them to get beyond the basic stupidities of the moment and think about colonizing Venus and Mars. And the only way it’s going to happen is to have some dumb kid fantasize about it—to get his ray gun, jump in his ship and run off with this wooky into outer space. It’s our only hope in a way.”
I used to be shocked when I’d look over at Sara flipping ahead to the last pages of a book so she could see how it ended. She wanted to know if getting there was going to be worth it. I don’t know that I’ve ever done this, but I do get it. Plot is one part of storytelling. A small part, really. Sure, the twists and turns and reversals and shocks are fun. But there’s so much more.
My daughter texted me yesterday (from the train to Montreal — a subject for a different Morning File piece) to let me know that Doug Poulton had passed away a few days before Christmas.
Doug and his wife, Sandra, moved to St. Margaret’s Bay from Mississauga some 35 years ago. When we got here in 1998, they were running the White Sails Bakery in Tantallon, which had a thrift shop benefiting the food bank upstairs. Doug was one of those guys who seemed completely immersed in his community. He moved here, loved, it, stayed. (My neighbour Gerry Barbor, who I profiled for a recent issue of Saltscapes, falls into this category too.) I didn’t always agree with his politics, but I admired him for his tenacity, energy, commitment, and love of where he lived. As our mutual friend Carolyn Laurie wrote on his Facebook page: “He was strong, opinionated, but more than that he was generous, kind, and an amazing community minded person.”
When I interviewed Doug for the Examiner in 2018, he said, “You’ve heard of Glen Haven? I call it Glen Heaven… You and I both know that once you get into the bay you don’t want to leave.” At the time, Doug was advocating for a controversial development near the head of St. Margaret’s Bay, arguing that it would help seniors stay in the community as they got older.
Doug had a long series of accomplishments. He ran for council twice, advocating for safer well-water, better transit, and more development. He lost by only 38 votes in 2008, and ran again in 2012, when he got buried in the Whitman landslide. After he and Sandra sold the bakery, he went back to his previous occupation as a realtor. Doug helped found the local chamber of commerce, and volunteered with a raft of local organizations, including the Bay Seniors, the Saint Margaret’s Bay Community Enterprise Centre, the local tourism association, and more.
I found it interesting that his obituary mentioned none of this, highlighting instead “his welcoming ‘Well, hello there’ and his genuine interest in those he met.”
I used to run into Doug from time to time, in and around the bay, and I too will miss that “Well, hello there.”
No meetings this week.
No events this week.
In the harbour
Don’t be the person who goes out partying tonight and drives home after drinking. Honestly, it’s amazing to me how much this has changed in the last few decades. What once seemed like harmless behaviour (that sometimes wound up in tragedy, but hey, what can you do?) is now almost universally reviled. I didn’t grow up here on the Peggy’s Cove Road, but some of the stories I have heard are truly hair-raising. And, of course, there are still after-effects in local communities from incidents that took place decades ago.
I’m finding it increasingly easy to just not drink alcohol at all at parties or dinners. I enjoy beer, wine, and liquor (in modest amounts) but it’s really not all that hard to order something non-alcoholic: pop, kombucha, mocktail, juice. I’m also pleased to see the return of old-timey drinks like shrub and switchel (which are also fun to make).
Go out and have fun if that’s your thing, but get someone else to drive you home if you drink. Or take transit. It’s free tonight after 6 PM.
The free transit is somehow branded with the MADD Halifax name.
This free and extended service is offered to support MADD Halifax in their mission to stop impaired driving and to support victims of this violent crime. Donations to MADD Halifax are used to support MADD Halifax programming areas including educating schools on the perils of impaired driving and hosting candlelight vigils for victims. We encourage you to contribute to MADD Halifax online today or directly to a MADD Halifax volunteer at the Halifax and Alderney Ferry Terminals on New Year’s Eve.
I get uncomfortable when public services serve specific organizations. Just offer us free transit on New Year’s Eve. And, long-term, give some serious consideration to how we might consider making transit free.