1. Ligoure house gets heritage designation
“Halifax regional council voted unanimously Tuesday to designate the former home and clinic of the late Dr. Clement Ligoure, the province’s first Black doctor, an official heritage property,” reports Matthew Byard:
Earlier Tuesday morning, prior to the vote, a rally was held outside City Hall in support of preserving the property. The rally was co-organized by members of Development Options Halifax and Friends of the Halifax Common, which also organized a letter-writing campaign in support of the heritage designation and submitted the application for the designation.
Artist and historian David Woods was one of several speakers at the rally. It was through research Woods conducted in the 1980s that Ligoure’s story was initially rediscovered. Woods’ research uncovered documentation that showed Ligoure was set to serve for the No. 2 Construction Battalion, which he helped found before being denied the opportunity by white officials.
“For our generations and for our Black Canadians all over Canada, who sometimes look at the great landscape of Canada and do not think that they have a long-rooted history, here we have a history,” Woods said at the rally.
“We have a history of medical doctors. We have a history of people who served our country through the military, who served our people unselfishly. And I can imagine some young kid going into a place like that and being able to be told a story and going, ‘Wow! He did all this.’”
2. Rental registry
“A Halifax rental registry is one step closer to reality after council on Tuesday,” reports Zane Woodford:
Council voted to give first reading to the new Bylaw R-400, Respecting Registration of Residential Rental Properties. Once the bylaw passes second reading at a future council meeting, it will require landlords to register all rental properties in HRM.
With the registry in place, the municipality will be able to start proactively inspecting apartments to ensure they meet minimum building standards for safety. The current system relies on complaints from tenants. The standards are being updated too, with included amendments to Bylaw M-200, Respecting Standards for Residential Occupancies.
“The man behind Canada’s first commercial spaceport says the facility in northeastern Nova Scotia could see its first suborbital test launch sometime early this summer,” reports Keith Doucette for the Canadian Press:
Work that began last September on an access road to the launch site near Canso, N.S., is nearly complete, Maritime Launch Services CEO Steve Matier said Monday in an interview.
A small, concrete pad will then be poured to accommodate a small-scale launch to send a rocket briefly into space before it falls back to Earth, Matier said, adding that as things stand there’s no rush to set a firm date.
I don’t know what “briefly into space” means. It sounds like one of those vinegar and baking soda rocket things the kids play with.
It certainly isn’t the Cyclone 4 rocket that Matier has long said would be the workhorse of the Canso spaceport. “Matier said his company is planning to conduct its first commercial launch in 2025, using a larger Ukrainian-made rocket, adding that he has plans to scale up to eight to 10 launches a year soon after,” reports Doucette.
I wonder how that is going to work. The rockets are made in Dnipro, Ukraine, which is the target of repeated Russian missile attacks, and relies in part on Russian-made components. We all want the war to end quickly, but Matier seems overly optimistic that peace and Russian-Ukraine industrial cooperation will return in the next two years. Oh, and also that the rocket will work.
As recently as September, Matier was telling potential investors that MLS would launch its first rocket from Canso in the second quarter of 2023 (i.e. by June), so I guess his vinegar and baking soda contraption will meet that deadline.
And what of environmental reviews related to the spaceport?
The Canso spaceport — a project the likes of which has never been proposed in Canada and that involves extremely dangerous chemicals such as hydrazine — was not subject to a federal impact assessment.
Nor did the project have to undergo Nova Scotia’s more intensive and extensive Class II environmental assessment.
Instead, the very first project in Canada proposing to blast giant rockets into orbit was subject to the shorter and less stringent Class I environmental assessment, as if it were no more environmentally hazardous or risky than a facility that produces fish meal or a gravel pit.
Many projects that receive environmental approval are then issued with industrial or operational approvals, which lay out in great detail all the terms for the project, from construction through operation to reclamation.
A search of the province’s database of industrial approvals reveals none for Maritime Launch Services.
So questionable environmental review, at best.
But would even a strict adherence to the toughest environmental laws be enough?
One of the podcasts I listen to is the delightful Spacepod, produced by Carrie Nugent, a planetary scientist who interviews others in the field about their work. This week, Nugent speaks with Parvathry Prem, a scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, who makes the case that non-Earthly environments should be protected by environmental regulations.
Among her other work, Prem was a co-author on a 2020 paper in the journal Nature, titled “The impact of satellite constellations on space as an ancestral global commons.” Its abstract:
Near-Earth space is becoming increasingly privatized, with the number of satellites in low-Earth orbits predicted to grow dramatically from about 2,000 at present to over 100,000 in the next decade due to the launch of planned satellite constellations. In addition to their direct impact on astronomy, the manner and pace of ‘occupying’ near-Earth space raises the risk of repeating the mistakes of colonization on a cosmic scale. We must consider the impact of satellite constellations, and related future initiatives, on the essential human right to dark skies and on cultural sky traditions across all peoples. We must also include all stakeholders for near-Earth space in the process of developing new policies for space treaties and planetary protection, the consequences of which will reach far beyond this century. We advocate for a radical shift in the policy framework of international regulatory bodies towards the view of space as an ancestral global commons that contains the heritage and future of humanity’s scientific and cultural practices.
The paper acknowledges the many benefits of satellites, but also raises concerns about their impact on the science of astronomy, but more profound are the philosophical issues it raises:
Earlier this year, NASA released the Artemis Accords, which aim to establish a set of shared principles for lunar surface operations. The accords have just been signed by seven countries, allowing state and private actors to proceed with resource extraction on the Moon including water ice at the lunar South Pole, raising concern among other countries as well as scientists about the gatekeeping of near-Earth space. One principle titled ‘Protecting Heritage’ includes language narrowly intended to protect the Apollo landing sites, a very specific type of heritage. There is no recognition that the lunar environment itself is worth protecting, or any acknowledgement of the cultural importance of the Moon. One might make the case that the cultural significance of the Moon—the brightest object in our night sky, our neighbour, and a witness to 4.5 billion years of Solar System history—is far greater than the boot-prints and detritus left behind on its surface just decades ago. We can make similar arguments about the heritage of space debris and artefacts or the deep significance of the night sky to many communities around the world, especially with intertwined scientific and cultural practices such as, for example, celestial navigation or wayfinding. Alternative approaches that view space as a commons may show us a promising way forward, including a recent call for considering space-based governance based on a New Zealand law, rooted in the indigenous Māori worldview, of granting legal personhood to natural resources.
The late Silver Don Cameron repeatedly raised the issue of giving legal rights to the environment, such that a river or ocean or forest would have something akin to legal personhood rights that are not dependent on human considerations.
I doubt that Canso spaceport will ever launch satellites, and even if it does, it will be at best a very minor player in the satellite industry. Still, should we be unreflectively jumping on board this colonization of space, with no thought given to what harms our actions may cause for future generations and for the near-space environment itself?
“Federal Green Party leader and lifelong environmental activist Elizabeth May spoke to a full house at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University Tuesday night,” reports Jennifer Henderson:
In May’s view, a huge change took place in the decade between 1987 in Montreal and 1997 in Kyoto when the Chretien government threatened to walk away if trade sanctions were included in the agreement on climate change. She blames the rise of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which questioned and eventually convinced world leaders they couldn’t sign environmental treaties if they obstructed international trade. That wasn’t and still isn’t true, claims the environmental lawyer and federal Green Party. But the problem is most subsequent environmental accords and treaties have lacked enforceable measures to make them accountable.
“Really what happened from the late 1990s is if you were negotiating a trade deal, you were allowed to have the tools that worked — you got the hammers and the buzzsaws. But if you were negotiating an environmental treaty, you got those red plastic scissors used to cut construction paper in Sunday school,” May said.
5. The Flying Sailor
The Flying Sailor, a short animation produced by the National Film Board, has been nominated for an Academy Award, says the NFB in a press release:
Two ships collide in a harbour, an explosion shatters a city, and a sailor is blasted skyward. With ears ringing, blood pulsing and guts heaving, he soars high above the mayhem and towards the great unknown. A bold blend of comedy, suspense and philosophy, The Flying Sailor is an exhilarating contemplation of the wonder and fragility of existence.
More art than history, the film was made by Calgary-based animators Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis.
The Halifax Explosion is fundamental to understanding our city, and it will be explored in many different fashions, through art, culturally, as a cheap tourist attraction, as the namesake for music festivals and sports teams. As it should be.
I have no criticism at all for The Flying Sailor — it does what it sets out to do, and kudos to the filmmakers.
But I wish that somewhere along the way of our artistic, cultural, tourist attracting, and festival and team namesaking exploration of the Explosion, we’d get around to grappling with the Explosion as the product of war. A North American city was in large part destroyed in World War 1, with thousands of mostly civilian victims, and yet the fact of that terrible loss of life is mostly written out of war histories, or relegated to a minor footnote.
War kills people. Preparing for war kills people. Munitions and weapon making are dirty and disgusting industries that give space for people and corporations to profit by cutting safety precautions.
I’d like to see the Explosion treated as an industrial scandal and crime scene, as war profiteering.
SMU faculty union prepares for strike
“I have worked at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) for almost 25 years,” writes Cathy Conrad:
I am vice-president of SMUFU – the union of full-time faculty and librarians. I was a SMU undergraduate. And now, two of my children are SMU students (with a third starting next fall!). I have always been proud of SMU as a university, and I couldn’t imagine loving my work or institution more.
So it may seem odd that I am proud to be joining my colleagues in SMUFU in preparation for our first ever strike.
The difference between doing history and writing history
My friend Aaron Hartlin recently turned me on to the Disgraceland podcast, which describes itself as follows:
Disgraceland is a true crime podcast about musicians getting away with murder and behaving very badly.
Jerry Lee Lewis’ 5th wife? Dead. Sam Cooke 3AM in a seedy motel? Dead. Sid and Nancy? Dead. Why? Because musicians are crazy. Because insane things happen to them. Because we love them. And because we let them get away with it.
Murder! Suicide! Religious Cults! Tupac! The Stones sleeping with the first lady — wait… what?
If you love true crime and you love music get ready to love Disgraceland.
Disgraceland, which is obviously a play on the name of Elvis Presley’s estate Graceland, is written and voiced by musician Jake Brennan, whose personality oozes wonderfully through the stories he tells. Brennan employs some regular tropes: “The stories about [insert musician’s name] are insane,” he’ll say at the start of each episode, and then explain that he’s going to discuss great music, “unlike the music I played for you at the top of the show; that wasn’t great music — that was a preset loop from my Melotone … because I can’t afford the rights to [that great music].” He thing goes on to tell some, well, insane stories about the musicians.
It’s all great fun, and Brennan is very, very good at it. There’s a skill to finding these stories, and interpreting them for a wider audience. (The comedians Dave Anthony and Garreth Reynolds do something akin to this with The Dollop.)
But yesterday, as I was reading through microfilm of old newspapers at the library, I found myself reflecting on the difference between doing history and popularizing history. Doing history involves using primary sources, while popularizing history can mostly or entirely rely on secondary sources — taking other people’s work and putting it in a new format that people will find compelling.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in recent months at libraries and in the municipal and provincial archives. I think that for one set of historical records in particular, I’m the only person to have ever read them. I’ve taken copious notes, built spreadsheets, cross-referenced various documents, and above all, thought about what I’m researching.
I think I have a series of inter-related stories that are worth telling, and which (importantly) have relevance to the present. But it doesn’t come quickly or easily, and I haven’t been publishing articles about these stories in the meanwhile.
When I was researching the Dead Wrong series about Glen Assoun’s wrongful conviction, I spent months and months reading court records and interviewing people on background, and my friends began hounding me: when are you going to publish this stuff? I feel much the same now. But you’ll just have to wait.
If I say so myself, I’ll get the history right, or at least pretty good. It’s the second part — the telling it in a compelling fashion — that I worry most about. This thing has got to sing, in a way that matters to people, makes them sit up and pay attention.
All of which is to say, thanks for your continued patience.
Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall and online) — agenda
Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall and online) — agenda
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, One Government Place and online) — 2023 Report of the Auditor General – Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority: Examination of Service Contract Awards; with Paul LaFleche, Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing
House of Assembly Management Commission (Wednesday, 4pm, One Government Place) — info here
Sport Concussion (Wednesday, 7pm, online) — 17th Dalhousie Mini Medical School
From surface ozone pollution to ocean-air gas fluxes in Halifax, Nova Scotia (Thursday, 11:45am, Milligan Room, Life Sciences Centre) — Aldona Wiacek from Saint Mary’s University will talk
Panel Discussion and Conversations on Intentional Erasures (Thursday, 5:30pm, online) — with Isaac Saney, Michelle Sutherland-Allan, Yahya El-Lahib, Cynthia Conley, Nduka Otiono; moderated by Marion Brown; more info here
Dal Reads 2022/2023: The Skin We’re In (Thursday, 7pm, LeMarchant Place Atrium) — author Desmond Cole in conversation with El Jones; from the listing:
In this bracing, revelatory work of award-winning journalism, celebrated writer and activist Desmond Cole punctures the naive assumptions of Canadians who believe we live in a post-racial nation. Chronicling just one year in the struggle against racism in this country, The Skin We’re In reveals in stark detail the injustices faced by Black Canadians on a daily basis: the devastating effects of racist policing, the hopelessness produced by an education system that fails Black children, the heartbreak of those separated from their families by discriminatory immigration laws, and more. Cole draws on his own experiences as a Black man in Canada, and locates the deep cultural, historical, and political roots of each event. What emerges is a personal, painful, and comprehensive picture of entrenched, systemic inequality.
Film Screening: Athlete A (Thursday, 3pm, SB 401) — with guest speaker Cheryl MacDonald
An Evening of Poetry with the SMU Reading Series (Thursday, 7pm, SMU Art Gallery) — featuring poets Nolan Natasha and Angela Bowden
Book Launch: Tender (Wednesday, 7pm, Alumni Hall, New Academic Building) — by Sylvia Hamilton
In the harbour
10:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
15:30: Midland Trader, bulker, sails from Pier 28 for sea
17:00: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Autoport
17:00: MSC Rossella, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Montreal
17:30: East Coast, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
20:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves back to Pier 41
A beautiful day. I’m going to walk around a bit and listen to podcasts.