It’s Christmas Eve and I have no idea if anybody is reading or not. If you’re here, enjoy the Morning File. I usually work only minimally between Christmas and New Year’s, and I hope you get some time off too.


1. Christmas in prison


A prisoner we are calling JC offers a moving piece on the experience of spending Christmas in prison.

It might seem strange to most that there could be unity and joy in a prison, but that is exactly what I thought I had found in the first years of life inside.

Men would decorate their cells with handmade crafts, much the same as was done before the modernization of Christmas. Secret Santa draws were made well in advance and careful thought was given to each gift. Men who were able-bodied joined the church choir and attended practice without missing a note; the Christmas service was a big event.

But in recent years, things have changed.

Yes, things have certainly changed over the years, in the way that Christmas is experienced by both the inmates and administration. There is no longer the effort to show joy by the men and how they decorate their cells. I cannot say what year it was that I last heard of the choir being formed for the holiday services. The Christmas Family Day at this institution last year consisted of five prisoners with visits and no children attended. The food that was provided was a two-hour old prison hamburger and a boiled potato. The decorations consisted of a coloured tablecloth. This year there was no family social event at all.

The efforts made by the institution to alleviate the pains felt by being away from one’s family have disappeared also. No longer are there Christmas treats in the way of baked goods, not so much as a shortbread cookie.

Please read the full piece here.

2. Zurawski wants electric buses

Richard Zurawski. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Councillor Richard Zurawski is not happy with the city’s plan to buy 150 new buses. In the Chronicle Herald, Francis Campbell writes:

“You can’t declare a climate emergency and then go buy 150 diesel buses, which have lifetimes of up to 20 years and then say, ‘well, we didn’t install an infrastructure years ago, so it is going to be expensive to install an infrastructure and we can’t afford it,” said Zurawski, who represents the area of Timberlea, Clayton Park and Beechville on council…

A 2017 municipal staff report in support of a proposed pilot project for adding a pair of electric buses to the Halifax Transit fleet simulated outputs and costs. The simulated study identified savings of $127 million to $163 million over a 20-year period based on the operating and fuel costs for a fully electrified fleet.

Maggie-Jane Spray, a communications director with HRM, said Halifax Transit did not end up purchasing the two electric buses identified for a pilot, and the budget for the project was eliminated last year.

Bold, etc.

3. More ferry cancellations (not the Yarmouth ferry this time)

The MV Leif Ericson ferry
The MV Leif Ericson on a calm day. Photo: Marine Atlantic.

At CBC, David Burke has a story on how nastier winter storms mean that Marine Atlantic ferries are spending more time tied up. The ferries run from North Sydney to Newfoundland.

The CEO of the Canadian Ferry Association (CFA), Serge Buy, said ferry operations across the country have been hurt by climate change. The CFA represents ferry owners, operators and industry stakeholders.

“We’re seeing changes and it’s hard to prepare for and hard to predict,” he said. “We do know that generally the weather is changing and we’re just trying to make sure we plan our operations in order to make sure passengers are safe.”

Buy said ferries on the Pacific coast have also been hit with stronger storms, and in Canada’s North, waters are freezing later and thawing earlier, which means ferries have to alter their schedules to try and keep up.

Back in 1997, some of Bob Dylan’s road crew were among the passengers on the ferry when it got stuck in the ice for a couple of days.

4. Secrecy and the potential sale of Owl’s Head

Owls Head provincial park. Map: Province of NS

Last week, there was all kinds of outrage over the proposed sale of Owl’s Head Provincial Park to developers who want to turn it into a golf course.

The CBC’s Michael Gorman revealed that the provincial government had quietly de-listed the protected area:

The decision to de-list Owls Head was made using a minute letter, which is protected by cabinet confidentiality and thus not available for the public to see. Government documents, however, make clear a plan which, until now, has been unknown to the public.

Lighthouse Links Development Company, which is owned by American couple Beckwith Gilbert and his wife, Kitty, is behind the proposal. They already own 138 hectares of land next to the Owls Head property.

Gilbert has a background in merchant banking and has been heavily involved in medical research.

He was not available for an interview, but in an emailed statement he said the couple fulfilled “a dream to own and preserve an unspoiled, natural ocean beach” when they started buying land in Little Harbour 16 years ago.

(Someone should tell the Beckwiths that you can’t actually own a beach in Nova Scotia; but I digress.)

One thing that struck me at the time was how little of the reaction I saw was related to the secrecy. It’s one thing to decide that a chunk of land should be developed and to go through a process to allow it to be sold instead of protected. It’s another to do it using cabinet confidentiality. Maybe we are just inured to this kind of secrecy from the provincial government. Anything that can be hidden is.

In the aftermath of the original story though, Victoria Walton published a piece on Halifax Today, quoting Caitlin Grady of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, following her appearance on the Rick Howe Show.

Grady did raise the issue of secrecy:

On top of losing access to this site, Grady also says the decision sets a bad precedent for the future.

“If the government decides to sell off this property to a developer interested in a golf course, tomorrow it might be a site in Antigonish that’s of interest to a mining company or a site in Cape Breton that could be sold off to foresters,” she says.

Grady says any of the 90+ sites that are currently pending protection could be quietly removed at any time.

“It’s really about sending the message that we do not want to undermine our very extensive network of protected areas that we’re working on, and our parks can just not be put up for sale by the government at their will,” she says.

5. Savage doesn’t rule out running again

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage
Mayor Mike Savage. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Mayor Mike Savage did a softball appearance on Global Halifax this morning, answering questions from co-hosts Paul Brothers and Alyse Hand on subjects like his favourite food, and whether he would buy Schooners seasons tickets.

We’re coming into an election year though, so Savage was also asked if he will re-offer. His reply: “I think it’s a possibility. I’ll think about it, and you can bring me back next year and I’ll let you know for sure.”


They paved put crushed granite on paradise, put up a parking lot

Evening landscape at the Peggys Cove Barrens
The barrens. Photo: Kent Martin

Yesterday, Tim quoted from Frances Willick’s CBC story on a proposal to build a new parking lot at Peggy’s Cove. (I’m sorry, I refuse to write “Peggy’s Cove” without the apostrophe.) This despite the fact that, as Willick writes, “most of the land surrounding Peggys Cove is a preservation area.”

Willick quotes local Roger Crooks, who was shocked when he heard the proposal. He says:

“It’s just one beautiful area and to take it for a parking lot, I thought, ‘My oh my, there’s got to be something behind this that I don’t understand because it does not make any sense.’”

I live near Peggy’s Cove, and all my kids have worked there in the summer. Yes, the traffic is ridiculous. But putting a parking lot over part of the barrens? Seriously?

When the province announced it was putting money into upgrading tourist areas around the province, including Peggy’s Cove, a neighbour and former resident of the Cove told me he was worried. Why? I wondered. Seemed like a good news story. He said he suspected part of the money would be spent either building a road or parking through an ecologically sensitive area.

And here we are.

While the area around Peggy’s Cove is called “the barrens” it’s an amazingly diverse and beautiful eco-system. I’ve hiked the area many, many times in the 20-plus years I’ve lived nearby, sometimes in the company of my father-in-law, Kent Martin, who has been photographing the barrens for years.

Lady slipper flower
A lady slipper in the barrens. Photo: Kent Martin

The Halifax Field Naturalists have done us all a service by uploading a pdf of their June-December 1980 newsletter. The newsletter includes a detailed area study of the Peggy’s Cove Barrens, including an exhaustive listing of the plants found there, including more than two dozen lichens and 21 mosses.

The newsletter notes:

There are five major habitats within the study area near Peggy’s Cove: coastal barrens, patches of scrub spruce, bogs, ponds, and the intertidal zone…

In general, [the coastal barrens] sub-habitat encompasses the hillsides, but it must be noted that it is, in fact, a mosaic of wet, dry, sheltered, and exposed micro-habitats, depending on local topography. Both soil and moisture accumulate as one moves from the bare tops of the hills to their bases, and some shelter from the wind can be found in the lees of the hills. The vegetation cover ameloriates temperatures and the extremes common on the hilltops are not pronounced on the hillsides…

Broad-leaved shrubs and herbs are common, but for some species it is a sub-optimal habitat (eg. bunchberry, wild lily-of- the-valley, gall-of-the-earth grow better in the forest understory). Stunted trees, mostly conifers, grow in sheltered hollows, and eventually create their own microhabitat. Although the majority of the plants in the barrens are mesophytes (middle plants, with respect to moisture), some show xerophytic adaptations, especially evergreen species that must minimise water loss in winter when moisture is often frozen and thus, unavailable. For example, Labrador Tea has thick, leathery leaves with a hairy covering over the stomata; lambkill has a waxy cuticle…

Because the barrens sub-habitat is a mosaic of microhabitats of differing environmental conditions (each microhabitat favouring a different collection of plant species), there is a much greater diversity of plant species within the barrens than within either the hilltop “arctic-alpine” sub-habitat or the bog habitat at the base of the hills.

Clouds at the barrens
October afternoon at the barrens. Photo: Kent Martin

But yeah, sure. Add more parking.

It seems to me there are all kinds of other options we could explore before building a parking lot in a unique, ecologically sensitive area. For instance, I’d love to see a study on the feasibility of frequent shuttles ferrying visitors to the Cove, similar to the way they do at the Fortress of Louisbourg.

Several years ago, I interviewed the late John Beale, who owned the Beale’s Bailiwick gift shop and coffee bar in Peggy’s Cove. We talked about how people get to the Cove, and one of the things he said was, “Public transportation is not prioritized. That’s the problem.”


1. Paying a living wage

Logo for the Loaded Ladle
The Loaded Ladle co-op has decided to pay staff a living wage.

We’ve had a lot of stories about organizations paying terrible wages. Suzanne Rent has done fantastic work pointing out absurdly low rates for jobs that require university degrees and years of experience. The pièce de résistance may have been Sail NS looking for a volunteer communications professional to do what sounded like a full-time job for free.

So when I heard that the Loaded Ladle Co-op had decided to pay its six-member staff a living wage, I wanted to follow up.

The Loaded Ladle describes itself as an “alternative food service” at Dal. From the organization’s website:

The Loaded Ladle provides accessible, sustainable, locally-sourced free food on the Dalhousie University campus. Our collective of students and workers manages this alternative food service. We also offer events and activities which critically examine barriers to food sovereignty, food security, and food justice.

The Ladle provides free meals, offers cooking workshops, and sponsors talks, among other activities. Its values statement says:

  • We are explicitly anti-capitalist, anti-oppression, anti-racism;
  • We engage meaningful participation by diverse groups of people;
  • We practice and promote care, solidarity and community;
  • We practice open non-hierarchical decision-making;
  • Loaded Ladle paying a living wage.

The Ladle has an interesting history. In its early days, it ran up against Dal’s exclusive food services contract. Loaded Ladle board member Bee Morrison wasn’t around in those days, but she knows the history. She told me:

There’s only one conglomerate on campus that provides all the food. So whether you’re buying from Subway or Booster Juice you’re buying from the same corporation. And the Ladle presented itself originally as a resistance to that. So there was a lot of conflict in the early days of the Ladle, because the Ladle was providing free food on campus… So you would have campus security throwing the soup down the drain.

Since 2011, the organization has been funded by a levy on students, and is now, in Morrison’s words “fully integrated” into the campus food system. In an interesting-looking BA Honours thesis from 2015, Jaida Regan positions the Ladle as part of an alternative food system at Dal. Her paper is called The Alternative Food System at Dalhousie University: Exploring the experience of participants in student-led food initiatives on Studley campus.

In addition to cooking and serving up vegan meals, the Ladle plays a roll in promoting solidarity and a sense of community. That’s why Morrison got involved with the organization when she moved to Halifax to study:

What drew me to the Ladle in the first place was how I could participate in community by feeding people. In first year, I really struggled to make friends. My family is from Cape Breton and I’d moved back home from Vancouver because I wanted to be close to family, but I struggled to make friends with people in my age cohort, because I had taken some time off between high school and university and didn’t really connect with people in my classes. I went to the Ladle to volunteer and really found that being able to be a part of the whole process —being there in the beginning and helping make the food, especially early in the morning when there’s no one around and you’re chopping carrots, it’s really calming; and then being part of the serving line at lunchtime and later being able to eat the food. The whole process makes you realize you are part of a community and you are definitely not alone.

The Loaded Ladle has six staff members, and until recently they were all being paid more than minimum wage, but less than a living wage. I asked Morrison why the board decided to increase their employees’ hourly pay. Her answer:

The discussion around what to pay them quite genuinely was someone at a board meeting asking, are we paying a living wage? And someone else saying, no, just under, and someone else saying no, that’s ridiculous, we can afford to pay a living wage. So we did.

Capp [Larsen], she’s our finance person, sent out an email before the board meeting essentially and just said, “here’s the numbers, here’s what we can afford to do, we can pay a living wage, let’s do it.” It was quite literally as simple as that. The Ladle prides itself on being an ally to groups championing workers’ rights and everyone on the board is either a student or community member who has volunteered at the Ladle a lot. Everyone in that room wants a living wage themselves, because they need to survive in Halifax. So the fact that we saw the budget and had the funds and that everyone believed people deserve a living wage made it easy for us. There was not a lot of tension around that.

There is no consensus on what exactly constitutes a living wage in Halifax. In 2015, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives put the number at $20.10/hr. In a 2018 report, the United Way put the figure at $19.17/hr.

The Ladle is currently paying $18.75, but the board has tasked Larsen with finding out if that number is high enough. Morrison says, “We are definitely committed to adjusting the number as we see fit. We’re not going to lower the number! But if it turns out $22, for example, is a living wage, we’ll do that.”

Unlike businesses though, the Ladle knows at the start of each budget year how much revenue it has to work with. Unless they opt out, Dal students contribute $4.50 each, per semester.

Morrison is keenly aware of this difference. That’s because, in addition to being a volunteer and a student, she is also a small-business owner. And, by her own account, she does not pay a living wage.

Her consignment shop, The Has Bin, bills itself as “consignment for folks of all shapes, sizes and genders.” The shop is in North End Dartmouth, and Morrison says she wants the clothing she sells to be available to people in the community at a reasonable price.

She struggles with the gap between her ideals and the economics of running her business:

I employ three people and I certainly can’t afford to pay them a living wage…

It’s interesting to navigate as a young person having an actual store and having to figure all that out, and go to school, and maintain my morals and all that stuff. But certainly being a board member at the Ladle has shown me what is possible. For people like me who have a small business to maintain, it’s scary if [a living wage] is the baseline for everything, because it’s daunting to think about having to pay your employees more than you can afford to pay them. But having the opportunity to reach that goal at the Ladle makes you feel less cynical… There are places out there where it is possible.”

2. Stephen Archibald and the ship railway

Piles of stone
Piles of stone from the never-completed ship railway. Photo: Stephen Archibald

Stephen Archibald has a blog post on one of my favourite Nova Scotia almost-was schemes: the Chignecto Ship Railway. What little remains of it could be lost through erosion. Archibald writes:

Growing up in Nova Scotia I knew of the ship railway as yet another grand scheme that turned out poorly, but didn’t realize that much of it had actually been built. On the ground, with the help of some expert knowledge, my mind was changed. (You can easily find the full story of the railway online. UNB Archives has the major collections and great photos.)…

My first inclination was not to be too excited about a pile of sandstone sinking into the mud (we regularly knock down better than that in Halifax). But looking at these photographs reminded me of the power and strangeness of that landscape. The stone is a foreign element and provides a different dimension. So today I vote to move the stone away from the shore. How much can that cost? And use it as an excuse to get people thinking about the rising sea levels that will soon make Nova Scotia into an island.

I first heard of the railway while reading Joan Dawson’s wonderful book The Mapmaker’s Eye: Nova Scotia through early maps. (I don’t have a copy of the book on-hand, so I hope I am remembering this correctly.)

There was a drawing in the book that showed the ship railway — an engineering wonder that would have transported ships by rail from the Bay of Fundy to the Northumberland Strait, overland near Amherst. When I saw it, I thought it looked like something that might have come from the imagination of Bruce McCall.

Drawing of the ship railway
Artist’s conception of the ship railway. Photo: Fort Beauséjour Museum.
Artist’s conception of the ship railway. Photo: Fort Beauséjour Museum.

All this to say, I’m delighted that Archibald decided to write about the railway and share some photos from his 1983 visit to the site.


No public meetings this week.

On campus

No public events.

In the harbour

06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
11:00: Acadian, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
13:00: Elka Glory, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from IJmuiden, Netherlands


I have seen several Twitter accounts sharing the chart below, showing who is offering free meals today and tomorrow. The info seems to be drawn from this article in The Coast, which has some great quotes from Staggers Pub owner Debbie Phinney on why her business cooks up a huge amount of food and serves it free to anyone who turns up on Christmas day.

List of places serving free meals on Dec. 24 & 25
Free meals available today and tomorrow.

Philip Moscovitch is a freelance writer, audio producer, fiction writer, and editor of Write Magazine.

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  1. Re beach ownership. While it is generall accepted that beaches cannot be privately owned, it appears if you have enough money you can in fact lay claim to shoreline. Just ask Eleanor McCain who had used courts and security goons to keep people off “her” beach.

  2. Why on Earth is anyone calling it “Peggys” Cove???? I can’t see any good reason to turn a perfectly good possessive, which refers to the region’s history, into a nonsense word that means nothing. I hate it so much.

    1. You have to ask the provincial map authorities if there is still anyone there who remembers. I can’t recall when it happened but it has been many years since the government stopped using the apostrophe. It probably has something to do with their printing machines in which case they should have gone with “Peggy Cove”. I say we should bring the apostrophe (along with accents where appropriate) back.

    2. I was told years ago, while taking a marine navigation course, that apostrophes were discouraged on nautical charts because of the possibility of confusing them with navigation marks. This seems a flimsy excuse – if someone can’t tell the difference between a mark between letters and one in the middle of a bay, maybe they shouldn’t be navigating a ship? – but I offer it FWIW.

  3. The Peggy’s Cove situation is just the most recent in a recent string of issues that highlight a growing need for the Province to do some serious planning and investment in regards to the whole system of public parks and protected areas.

    Whether it’s because of population growth, a desire for healthy living, tourism advertising, or the power of Instagram, my anecdotal observation is Nova Scotia’s outdoor areas have never been more popular. In many ways this is a wonderful thing! People are getting active and now have first-hand experience with the value of our natural areas. At the same time, many of these areas are overburdened. Carters Beach is a fiasco. Duncans Cove is seriously degraded. And any of the beaches close to the city are a complete parking armageddon during the warm months. At the same time, facilities are being neglected so badly that a community group felt the need to guerrilla paint the Lawrencetown Beach building.

    There’s a serious need to look at the whole system and find ways to reinforce existing facilities and open up/promote additional places to take the load off some of the popular locations.