June Subscription Drive
In 2021, before being turfed from office, Iain Rankin said he wanted Nova Scotia to be the startup capital of Canada.
Regardless of whether you think this should be the government’s focus — it should not be — there is already a whole startup world “ecosystem” in place here, featuring government money, bad graphics, and terrible abuses of the English language. Whenever I spend time exploring websites in this startup world, I feel like an ouroboros — a snake eating its tail.
Every website spews the same kind of bullshit language, and leads you to another half dozen inter-related websites. Eventually, my head is spinning as I try to parse what exactly these outfits do. There’s Startup Atlanic with its “Who runs this website?” link that takes you to Propel, which is “Atlantic Canada’s e-accelerator for tech startups” that “provides you with the skills required to build a baby unicorn.”
And then there’s the Emera ideaHUB, which in addition to doing violence to capitalization, is “for founders who want to solve the world’s most important problems.” It “enables early-stage deep tech innovation that impacts our lives, our communities, and our world.” And don’t even get me started on the PIER, which is “a sector-focused living lab.”
You know what’s a successful Nova Scotia startup? The Halifax Examiner.
I think the Examiner is an interesting mix of innovative and old-fashioned. Tim Bousquet didn’t set out nine years ago to disrupt the news industry. He set out to report on the news. Sure, he did it in a way that was new and innovative — there was no ecosystem of digital news startups, or not much of one at the time. But the innovation wasn’t the point. It was just the model that made the most sense to him.
Here’s the old-fashioned part. While other digital news organizations were constantly pivoting, depending on what they thought the future was — video! Facebook live! Periscope (hands up if you remember Periscope) — Bousquet steadfastly stuck to the idea that you find and report on stories that matter to the community. That’s been the ethos from the start, and it’s the ethos today.
What keeps the whole enterprise going is, quite simply, your subscriptions. Subscribe here, support the Examiner, and who knows, maybe we’ll even be able to invite you to a 10th anniversary party next year.
1. New rules coming for land-lease communities
Bylaws covering land-lease communities (known more colloquially as trailer parks or mobile home parks) have been the same since amalgamation. But that looks like it’s about to change, Yvette d’Entremont reports.
A proposed bylaw that would consolidate and modernize HRM’s three existing mobile home park bylaws and provide more protection for residents is a step closer to becoming reality.
Council voted on Tuesday to give first reading to proposed Bylaw L-500, Respecting the Construction and Operation of Land-Lease Communities.
“It’s not too often that you say something that you bring here to council is going to directly impact residents’ lives for the better,” Coun. Lisa Blackburn said. “But this is one of them. This is going to be huge for residents in land-lease communities.”
There are currently 29 of these communities in HRM, with nearly 4,000 homes. Residents of some of these communities have for years brought concerns about issues like being charged for water, when their water is unsafe to drink. The bylaw should address this and many other issues, d’Entremont writes.
2. Who would Jesus sue?
A lawsuit filed by the former head of the Halifax Christian Academy is suing the school, Tim Bousquet reports:
Shaun Alspach… says the school cheated him and his company out of $375,000 and then representatives of the school lied about him, including, among other things, falsely accusing him of stealing money.
Those allegations are included in a lawsuit Shaun Alspach and his wife, Leah Alspach, filed in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.
The lawsuit names as defendants Halifax Christian Academy; Darren Millet and Jo-An Dennis, who were members of the school’s board of directors during the time period of the allegations; and Rebecca Nickerson, a school employee.
The lawsuit claims that, despite promises, Alspach was not paid for extra hours he worked, and that the school not only reneged on the payment but defamed him to boot. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Twila Grosse will be the Progressive Conservative candidate in the upcoming Preston byelection, Matthew Byard reports.
In accepting the nomination, Grosse, a retired accountant who spent 36 years with the Halifax International Airport Authority, said she had first been approached by the party to run in 2013. Now that she has retired, she said, “I wrestled with this decision. I consulted family, friends, colleagues , acquaintances, and, yes, even God, and the answer I received was, ‘Why not?”
The three major parties have all nominated Black candidates to run in the riding. The byelection date has not yet been announced.
Blame me for ruining the solstice for Joan Baxter. A week or 10 days ago, I saw that the Globe and Mail was holding a webcast on June 21 called “The Space Economy: What could the commercial space age mean for Canada?” The event’s “presenting sponsor” was Maritime Launch Services, aka the Canso spaceport people. The company’s CEO, Stephen Matier, was also on the panel. So, you knew you were going to be in for an hour of clear-headed journalism. I shared the registration link with Baxter, and she dutifully signed up. Today, the Examiner has published her commentary on the panel.
[Globe and Mail science journalist Ivan] Semeniuk invited the MLS CEO to speak, unchallenged and without fact-checking, at length about his company, its plans to launch 12 rockets a year from Canso, and all the amazing amounts of money and benefits this will bring to Nova Scotia, to Canada, to the entire planet.
I thought that Globe and Mail journalists had fought hard against a company proposal that would have seen some of them writing sponsored content. I know this is not the same thing, but kind of feels like it’s in the same ballpark.
Baxter continues her acerbic report on the panel:
Matier provided no facts or figures about the status of the MLS spaceport project in Canso, the company’s current finances, or about the source and nature of the rockets it plans to use. However, he did sing the praises of the site MLS has chosen for its spaceport, making it sound as if the people of Canso had been hoping Matier would come to town and fulfill a long-held wish that their picturesque and quiet town would become a site for blasting rockets into space.
5. Chair of UPEI board of governors resigns in wake of report calling the school ‘dire’ and ‘toxic’
“The chair of the University of Prince Edward Island Board of Governors has resigned — one week after an independent report outlined major problems at the campus over the past decade,” reports Carolyn Ryan for CBC.
Sinnott and [Andrew] Bartlett were the only two members of the current board who were part of the body between 2013 and 2015, a period singled out by the Rubin Thomlinson report.
That’s when two women accused former president Alaa Abd-El-Aziz of sexual harassment, sparking an investigation that included some members of the board of governors. The complaints were eventually settled, with the women signing non-disclosure agreements…
The board went on to extend Abd-El-Aziz’s contract in 2018 and 2021 as well.
He resigned in December 2021. Ryan goes on to quote faculty union head Margot Rejskind on her reaction to the resignation, and the university’s workplace culture.
1. ‘Pinball is of the body’
At first, I thought Rae Hodge’s essay on pinball, published in Salon on June 18, was going to be a nostalgia piece along the lines of “our (older people) games are better than your (younger people) games.” But I was wrong. This is an excellent essay that I, a fan of essays, will encourage you to read.
The piece is called “Pinball is of the body: Why modern tech can’t recreate the world under glass.” Here’s how it opens:
If you pull back the plunger of a pinball machine ever so slowly, your wrist can feel the delicious tension building in each coil of the metal spring, one after the next, as the kinesis of anticipation moves from the machine into your body. And if you pause for the span of a single breath, plunger strained to apogee, and hover at the precipice of launch in that moment-between-moments — your field of vision narrows, your eyes dilate in delight.
And everything else in the room — in the world, in your mind — disappears behind the sharp clack of the plunger’s release.
This is some very finely observed writing, and the focus on the physical sets the tone for the rest of the piece. It’s a love letter to pinball, a meditation on death, and a call to arms for repairing over replacing. It also quotes Wendell Berry extensively.
Hodge introduces us to Kalyn Smith, taking a break outside a pinball bar in Louisville, Kentucky. Smith is an enthusiast and part-time repair technician building her own machine, and she said the demographics of the weekly tournaments she attends are changing. Hodge writes:
Pinball parlors have long been dominated by the bodies of men, their stories painted lurid on the back glass of machines in corny, sexualized images of cartoonishly buxom women. Times are changing, though.
“For a while there, especially when I first started doing tournaments, it was pretty much all older cis males. But luckily it seems like it’s definitely getting more diverse,” Smith says.
In Smith’s state, the current top-ranked player is Elizabeth Gieske, whose sudden rise began with a 2018 tournament win.
When it comes to playing the games themselves, Hodge contrasts how we typically sit motionless when playing on our phones with the embodied experience of standing at a pinball machine. Playing pinball is a hands-on experience. Watch people at the tables, and they rarely stand still, just pushing the flipper buttons. They nudge the machines, bend to the side, slap and shake the tables (hopefully not too hard!). And the machine and the player quite literally need each other:
In a pinball machine’s use-and-fix life cycle, the fix isn’t the only thing keeping it alive; the use itself is just as important. Its internal electromagnetic coils, when heated and engaged, are what bring to life the kinetic delights of the flashing playfield.
“You’ve got to keep the coils hot a little,” Smith said. “If they stay too cold for too long, they can kind of get a little more brittle, and not be as strong.”
The game’s own physical lifespan, then, is directly lengthened by the joy it brings you. A pinball machine can only stay alive if you play with it. And if you don’t, it slowly starts to die inside.
I played a lot of pinball in my teens and early 20s. For a while, I worked at a magazine store in downtown Montreal (Metropolitan News, for any ex-Montrealers reading this who may remember the place), and the St. Catherine Street arcades were close at hand, so I could pump quarters into the machines during my breaks.
For a couple of months, I also worked at an arcade in Athens, where an undocumented Brazilian housepainter who would regularly set new high scores on the F-14 Tomcat machine, and then go home, leaving a bunch of free credits on the game for anyone else who wanted to play.
But the arcades slowly disappeared, and I never expected to see them back. Then, in 2016, I heard about the Halifax Pinball League, and Trevor Adams at Halifax Magazine (RIP) took my pitch to write a story about them. You can read it here. I went to cover the event, wound up playing, and have been an occasional participant ever since (with a lengthy pandemic break).
I also have a PS4, and sometimes use it to play pinball games. Most of them are remarkably good, but there is something strange about their lack of physicality. When you pull back the joystick to launch the ball, you don’t feel that tension in the spring. When you press a button to bump the table this way or that, in hopes of directing the ball where you want it to go, the result is more predictable than if you’re banging your palm against the age of the table.
I’ll be nudging some of those tables at a pinball tournament tonight. I hope I don’t stink out the joint as badly as last time.
Most PR pitches go straight into my trash. (There are good PR people out there, who target their pitches. Most of what I get is not from them.) And anything from real estate companies is generally not going to grab my attention.
But a report commissioned by RE/MAX, and being released today, did catch my eye. It’s called “15-Minute Neighbourhoods: Lessons for small communities.” The report was written by Kathryn Bakos, Ken Greenberg, and Shoshanna Saxe. (I’ve interviewed Greenberg a couple of times, most recently here, for a story on the failed Spring Garden car-free pilot project.)
None of what’s in the report will come as revelatory to Examiner readers: cities are too car-dependent, mixed-use neighbourhoods and investments in transit are good, and so on. But a couple of things did jump out at me. First, was the fact that even in recognizing the need for a lot of new housing fast, the report essentially repudiates the Nova Scotia approach of adding more sprawl with a veneer of affordability, and embraces non-market housing:
Canada needs to guarantee that new housing stock is affordable by ensuring that a percentage of the inventory is subsidized, open to non-equity co-op type properties and diversified across building types, to avoid the perils of gentrification. Canada needs to rethink our streetscapes, to bring greater diversity across our modes of transportation, including public transit, biking, walking and driving.
While adding more inventory is important, it’s more complex than that. More housing is needed within existing neighbourhoods to take advantage of existing infrastructure and services and bring more stability to the tax base to maintain them.
The report also notes that according to Leger survey data, which was also commissioned by RE/MAX, more than half of Canadians don’t think 15-minute neighbourhoods are “realistic, achievable and feasible.” But that’s because most of them thought it would lead to gentrification, and not some opposition based on the government turning our neighbourhoods into concentration camps or some such.
Family history through a lobster tray
There is a lot to hate about social media, especially right now, when it can feel like a distraction or burden at best, and a toxic hellscape at worst. But one of the things I do still like and enjoy is coming across interesting people, following them, and seeing what they have to say. Most of the time, I have no idea how I came across them in the first place. Maybe they followed me and I followed them back. Who knows?
What I can tell you is that Thelma Phillips, who lives in P.E.I., is one of these people I’m glad I follow.
Phillips has an alluringly minimalist blog, where she recently published the first post in what she hopes to make an ongoing series. Inspired by the BBC podcast A History of the World in 100 Objects, Phillips, who has an interest in local history, intends to “write about objects that will tell the story of my family, my community and me.” And the first post, called Lobster Tray, gets the series off to a great start.
Eva and Ernest Hardy, Phillips’ great-grandparents, ran a lobster canning factory in western P.E.I. from 1901 to 1946. None of the factory’s equipment has survived — except for this one lobster tray (seen above), which Phillips owns. Here’s how she describes it:
The tray is base is galvanized metal. The wooden frame is 13.5 inches wides, 26.25 inches long and 2.25 inches deep. There are small pieces of wood, tapered by rough carving on either end, on the bottom on the two shorter sides that would allow the tray to sit slightly off of a table for drainage. The drainage holes are evenly spaced 1.5 inches apart, faint grid lines directing the precise location for punching. Considering the amount of salt that would have been around the factory, it’s miraculous the nails holding the frame together are still able (barely) to do their work of holding the pieces together.
This simple item then becomes the starting point for a description of an early 20th-century lobster cannery. Phillips’ writing is nicely descriptive, so I’ll turn it over to her again:
Everything was done by hand, in conditions that would probably not be considered sanitary today. The boiler man drew water from a hand-dug well using a bucket and would fill the huge boiler that produced steam to cook the lobsters, keeping a hot wood fire roaring all day. Workers, both men and women, would open the cooked lobsters, first ripping off the claws and cracking them at the knuckle with large knives to extract the meat, pulling out the tail meat, and ripping the bodies apart.
The little legs were fed through the wringer that came off a washing machine, squeezing the sweet meat out of them. My mother says this was the only job she ever did in the factory. The leg meat was added to the tomalley (“the green stuff” inside a lobster body) and roe to make lobster paste, also canned and sold…
My great grandmother likely handled the tray thousands of times over the 45 years they worked each summers to make the money that would carry them over the rest of the year. “Factory owner” makes it sound like they were rich, and they definitely were not. They had a telephone, but no electricity and never had a car or truck. The furthest from PEI either of them ever got, that I know of, was when when my great grandfather went to Montreal for an operation, but I don’t think my great grandmother ever left PEI, or even went to Charlottetown!
Phillips has wisely decided to not write the series on a schedule (this only ever leads to endless blog posts that begin, “Wow! I’ve fallen behind!”) but says she will continue the series “as the spirit moves me.”
I hope we don’t have to wait too long for the next installment.
Public Accounts (Friday, 9am, One Government Place and online) — 2023 Report of the Auditor General – Investigation of Island Employment Association; with representatives from the Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration, and Nova Scotia Government Employees Union – NSGEU
In the harbour
07:00: Zaandam, cruise ship with up to 1,718 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Sydney, on a seven-day cruise from Montreal to Boston
08:00: Liberty of the Seas, cruise ship with up to 4,414 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from New York, on a round-trip cruise out of New York )
11:15: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Autoport
12:00: Jasmina D, bulker, arrives at Berth TBD from Becancour, Quebec
15:30: MSC Katya R., container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Sines, Portugal
15:30: Zaandam sails for Bar Harbor
16:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves back to Pier 41
16:30: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for Liverpool, England
18:00: Liberty of the Seas sails for New York
23:30: MSC Katya R. sails for sea
No arrivals or departures.
Over on Mastodon, instead of doomscrolling, people are posting photos of flowers with the hashtag “bloomscrolling.” Clever. Also very enjoyable to scroll. (I’m sure people are doomscrolling also.)