On campus
In the harbour


1. Upper Canadian concrete and glass right down to the water line

Photo: Halifax Examiner
Photo: Halifax Examiner

Walking to the library yesterday, I happened upon the razing of the Maritime Life building across the street. Back in November, Stephen Archibald sung the praises of the structure:

At Queen Street is the Maritime Life Building constructed in 1954 as the head office of our successful local insurance company. The building steps back from the street and the entrance facade faces the intersection to present an imposing view as you head downtown. In recent years a bump-out on the Spring Garden road side took advantage of the setback.

The building has an Art Deco feel that was a little old fashioned even when it was new. The quality materials and details show that the client wanted a home they could be proud of. The sandstone cladding is from the Wallace quarry  in Cumberland County.

Be sure to check out Archibald’s photos of the building’s details.

The other buildings on the Doyle block were razed a few weeks ago, and I had the vague impression that developer Danny Chedrawe was negotiating some deal where the facade of the Maritime Life building would be preserved in exchange for relaxation of height limits on the east side of the block, but I guess that idea fell through or Chedrawe was simply piqued at the opposition to his plans and so got the bulldozers fired up.

That seems to have been the case with the so-called “Wedding Cake House” at 851 Young Avenue as well. Developer Stavros Tsimiklis seems irked by the Save Young Avenue group, and stepped up the razing of the house. After leaving the library yesterday, I went by and took this photo:

Photo: Halifax Examiner
Photo: Halifax Examiner

Clearly, the house is beyond saving. Tsimiklis is going to replace it with row houses.

Interestingly, the two demolitions are related. Alan North, of Save Young Avenue, points out that the Wedding Cake House, properly known as “Ard Na Mara,” was built in 1909 by William Anderson Black, a shipping mogul who went on to become the MP for Halifax. Black was also a cofounder of the Maritime Life Assurance Company in 1922. Black died in 1934, but the company went on to great success, building its Spring Garden Road headquarters in 1954. There were several corporate mergers and renamings, but in 2004 the company merged with Manual Life, and is now headquartered in that non-distinct highrise out by the Armdale Roundabout, which is also home to what’s left of the Chronicle Herald.

I don’t think stuff should be preserved just because it’s old. The evolution of neighbourhoods and streetscapes is part of the life of cities. So I get it — interesting old stuff gets torn down and is replaced with new stuff.

The problem is most of this new stuff is absolute junk.

The Maritime Life building could’ve easily survived another 100 years. The Wedding Cake House probably forever. The new stuff being built in town? It’s the product of uninteresting people flipping property to make a quick buck in a bubble market. Unlike the builders of old, the current crop of developers have no sense of place or time, no desire to take from the past or give to the future, no architectural or aesthetic sense, no concern for culture or community.

There’s no love lost for the old Chronicle Herald building on Argyle Street, but its replacement, the Nova Centre, supposedly the signature building of Halifax, is garbage. It comes right out of the worst of 1980s’ blue glassism, and will fall apart in our lifetimes — the governments’ lease on the convention centre part of the building is just 25 years, with two possible five-year extensions. Evidently, no one really thinks the building will be worth keeping around for 30 years. And indeed, most buildings constructed nowadays have at best an expected 40-year lifespan.

Chedrawe’s Doyle Block plan reminds me of post-reunification East Berlin. The old Soviet block buildings couldn’t even make a claim at brutalism — better to just call them patheticism — and yet that’s what was available, so the newly freed merchants and capitalists would try to pretty them up as best they could, using varied colour schemes, signage and other tricks to break up the monotonous facades. Why anyone in the free world would set out to build something like that from scratch is beyond me, unless it’s simply to maximumly fill a space for maximum and immediate profit, present sense of aesthetics and future survivability be damned.

And does anyone seriously think Tsimiklis will improve Young Avenue?

There’s no pride.

2. Fall River quarry

Pat Healey, who writes for the community paper The Laker out in — I don’t know where it is, exactly, Fall River and Enfield environs, I think — has an interesting article about the fight between HRM councillor Barry Dalrymple and provincial bureaucrats [added, 10:40am: Lawlor is a Liberal Party political appointee, not a government bureaucrat] over the proposed Fall River quarry:

In emails given to The Laker by [a group of anti-quarry activists], government staffer Shawn Lawlor says to independent MLA Andrew Younger, the former Environment Minister, on Sept. 16, 2013, “I don’t believe this is the big deal Barry seems to think it is and I don’t like being belittled by a man of lesser intelligence.”

“I couldn’t tell Barry that we couldn’t do anything with it because it’s the quarry issue we’re not touching,” the email said in response to a forwarded email from Younger. “This is Bill (MLA Bill Horne) putting Barry up to things because he’s mad.

“Bill has been pissed since we told him prior to the election that we were not writing a letter to gov on this matter. That’s what the Leader said; end of story. We told him to do what he had to do of course and he never responded to us.”

Another email from Lawlor was in response to a forward sent by Younger on Sept. 16, 2013 where Dalrymple sent an email to Younger, Horne, and HRM councillor Matt Whitman. In it, Dalrymple informed Younger he did call and gave the info to a Liberal staffer the other day “but I could tell it appeared over his head.”

“(Expletive) him. I understood it,” responded Lawlor in the email to Younger. “And I understood it not to be as big an issue as he thought it was. And to add, it’s a quarry issue. The same quarry issue we’re not supposed to be going near because of all our concerns about quarries.”

It sure looks like Premier Stephen McNeail — “the Leader” — gave the order that the quarry was to be approved.

3. Yarmouth Ferry


“The Portland City Council unanimously approved a lease agreement Monday to resume ferry service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia,” reports the Portland (Maine) Press Herald:

City officials estimate that Portland, which is owed $77,000 by Nova Star Cruises, will receive $150,000 in revenue per year from Bay Ferries Ltd. The lease runs from June 1 to Oct. 15 for the next two years, with an option to renew for one year at the city’s discretion.

Under the lease, The Cat will be barred from the port on nine days this season. The so-called blackout dates in August and September are needed to prevent conflicts with other cruise ship traffic, which is heaviest in the fall, city officials say.

[emphasis added]

Timothy Gillespie, publisher of South Coast Today, points out that the black-out days come at great expense to Nova Scotia tourism operators:

Bay Ferries has previously announced that their conservative estimates are that the ferry will carry 60,000 passengers in 2016, or an average of 282 passengers per day during the 105-day season outlined on their web site…

Tourism Nova Scotia says on its web site that the average visitor to Nova Scotia spends on average approx. $650 per day. Using these figures, the estimated revenue loss to Nova Scotia in the arrangement is likely to be $1 million or more per year, or $10 million or more during the life of the agreement, if Portland continues to ramp up its cruise ship trade.

Gillespie and I had a discussion about tourism economic impact numbers yesterday, and specifically with regard to the ferry. I think all the economic impact numbers are bunk: no one spends $650/day while on vacation in Nova Scotia. Even if I had that kind of money, I’d find it pretty difficult. I guess I could stay at, I dunno, the Westin or whatever, at $250 for some grand suite. Buy 100 bucks worth of nicknacks on the boardwalk, buy a round for the regulars at Bearly’s for $150, stagger over to the Keg for a $150 meal. But jeesh, do that for two or three days running? And with a family of four, at $650 per? Maybe I could get the kids each an adjoining grand suite at the Westin, but I’m sorry, little Susie and Johnny probably can’t keep up with my bar tab.

I don’t know anyone at all who spends that kind of money on vacation, even going to, say, New York or Paris, and even when including air fare or, in this case, ferry fare. And a whole lot of people come to Nova Scotia on the cheap, staying in campgrounds and moving around in the family SUV. I’m glad they come, but let’s not make up stories about their crazy spending habits.

4. The end of the world

“Climate change has already lowered the level of oxygen dissolved in some parts of the world’s oceans, and the problem is likely to become much more widespread from 2030 to 2040, says a new study,” reports Chris Lambie in Local Xpress:

The troubling phenomenon is already in play in the southern Indian Ocean and parts of the eastern tropical Pacific and Atlantic basins. And researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., say their computer models show it will likely get worse, leaving fish and other marine life struggling to breathe.

“In the long term, this is very worrisome,” said Matthew Long, the study’s lead author.

No shit. The oceans are responsible for about half the atmospheric oxygen on Earth. If the oxygen-producing capabilities of the oceans is significantly reduced, then not only will most life in the oceans die, but also most land-based oxygen-breathing creatures like mice and ponies and elephants and people will likewise become extinct.

5. The plight of the Belgians

The (allegedly) silt-producing golf course near Hubbards. Photo: Aspotogan Ridge's Facebook page
The (allegedly) silt-producing golf course near Hubbards. Photo: Aspotogan Ridge’s Facebook page

Barry Publicover is president of Aspotogan Developments, which is trying to develop a sprawling subdivision near Hubbards — “a 220-hectare residential golf development”comprised of 500 houses (“homes” in real estate sales lingo) clustered around a golf course (“championship course” in real estate sales lingo) and country club.

Aspotogan is financed by some mysterious group of Belgians, reports Joann Alberstat for Local Xpress. There’s no attempt to identify these Belgians, but Publicover tells us we should care, really care, that their plans are being frustrated:

The Aspotogan Developments president blamed further delays on a sluggish home construction market, which he [Publicover] said has caused lot sales to stall. The project is located about 25 minutes from Halifax.

“It’s not a pretty situation and somebody needs to have a good solid look at it because there will be a lot of developments dry up and go away,” Publicover said. “We’re outside of HRM and every development outside of HRM is just dormant – just nothing.”

A reduction in the HST on new homes would help the struggling industry, he added. The golf course is needed to spur home construction, he said.

There’s this odd attitude out in the world that the government is obligated to make sure that businesses succeed, no matter how rotten the business model or how broken the market. Many retailers have the same view, but it’s especially held by people in the real estate industry.

I’m just a lowly publisher and not a super important person like a real estate developer, so maybe I just know my place, but I would never dream of arguing that the government should lower my taxes in order to make the Halifax Examiner a success. This venture will succeed (or not) on its own terms by producing product that appeals (or not) to prospective customers (please subscribe), paying employees and contractors decently, and responsibly paying taxes.

I cannot comprehend how anyone can argue with a straight face that we should lower the tax rate on a bunch of faceless and nameless Belgians so they can make a few million dollars by bulldozing the forest near Hubbards.

Here’s an idea: if you can’t make your business work without exploiting workers and paying the taxes necessary for a civilized society, maybe go find some honest work, eh? Nobody owes you or your business success.

Oh, and about Aspotogan… Alberstat continues:

Meanwhile, the developer returns to provincial court in Bridgewater next month to challenge environment-related charges for alleged silt run-off during course construction.

Provincial Environment Department staff issued multiple summary offence tickets and directives to Aspotogan Ridge last year.

The charges were laid after complaints by the District of Chester about silt being released into Trout Point Lake. The municipality also introduced a water quality monitoring program at the lake last year.

Those Belgians just can’t get a break.


1. Race

“Nova Scotia has a race problem,” writes Stephen Kimber:

We like to believe the bad old days — segregated schools, movie theatres that wouldn’t allow blacks like Viola Desmond to sit in the white section, the Africville relocation — are now historic artifacts to be mea culpa-ed during African Nova Scotia Month each year — and then forgotten for the next 11.



No public meetings.


Legislature sits (1–10pm, Province House)

On Campus

Marine Ecology (11:30am, Slonim Conference Room, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Boris Worm and Derek Tittensor will speak on “Applications in Marine Ecology and Conservation”:

In this presentation we will highlights cutting-edge questions and topics in marine ecology and conservation, many of which require advanced computational resources and problem-solving skills. Collaborations with computer scientists are becoming a major engine for innovation in these fields. We will discuss in some detail previous and ongoing work done in collaboration with Microsoft Research, Google, and the Computer Science Department at Dalhousie. Such collaborations will need to be strengthened and expanded if and when the proposed CFREF grant proposal is successful.

In the harbour

The seas around Nova Scotia, 9am Tuesday. Map:
The seas around Nova Scotia, 9am Tuesday. Map:

5am: Bahri Hofuf, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Baltimore
6:15am: Oceanex Connaigra, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
7:30am: CSL Metis, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Baltimore
9:30am: Primus, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Lexoes, Portugal
10am: OOCL Italy, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Cagliari, Italy
11:30am: Bahri Hofuf, ro-ro cargo, sails from Fairview Cove to sea
11:30am: BBC Xingang, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 to sea
5:30pm: Toreador, car carrier, arrives at Pier 31 from Southhampton, England
6pm: Ijsselborg, cargo ship, sails from Pier 27 to sea
6pm: Primus, container ship, sails from Pier 42 to sea


I’m still wondering where that weekend went.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. So on the blackout days, does the ferry stop outside the harbour and launch passengers onto rafts?

    It is curious that while Portland is attracting increased ship traffic it is specifically excluding the Yarmouth ferry from its calculations. They may have a better sense of the value of this ship than do our own deep thinkers.

    1. Can an arrangement be made with another port like Bar Harbor for those black out days? That used to be great day trip.

  2. The recklessness of the destruction in Halifax is so discouraging. It is fast becoming just another soul-less collection of ugliness and losing all that made it interesting for both residents and visitors. Developers love zoning. When we lived in DundasOnt. I once interviewed a city staffer about a proposed project that was about to destroy a neighbourhood of lovely modest homes and green spaces in favour of crammed up cookier-cutter triple-garage crap. The citizens united and got a stay. The staffer told me, “They won’t win. It’s zoned. My heart breaks for them. Developers are evil'” So she said. Maybe what we should be debating is what a “Developer” is and why we have to kowtow to their truly bad work.

    1. Council has declared open season for developers after much haranguing from the development community (and likely political contributions) and the progress at any cost among us who continually villify groups like the Heritage Trust.

      Look to your elected officials people and see where the dark hearts truly are.

  3. I think a week or so ago, it looked like they removed some of the prettier decorative elements off the front of the Maritime Life building, does anybody know if that’s the case and where exactly they ended up?

  4. The back story behind the golf course is interesting in that it began not as a “lifestyles of the rich and famous” development, but more of a place where the average Joe could afford to retire to. To some extent it still is. There is a 9 hole course there now, ready to play if someone can run it, and it was designed by a local golf course architect. Until the Belgians came to “the rescue” it was mostly a local investment group behind it, trying to make something from an old military base. The course was the first ever designed in NS under “wetland avoidance” protocols, as much as possible – new wetland protection policies in the Province now make it difficult to build a single home, let alone a golf course, compared to the old way of bulldozer first (not that I wish to return there, although we have probably gotten a little off course with some of the things we protect).

    Maybe we don’t want affordable golf in Nova Scotia? Maybe golf should be a sport only for the rich? That is where we are heading. Misapplied environmental regulatory policy, lazy media, and uninformed NIMBY groups are driving the sport back to the elite here, while elsewhere it’s becoming a more accessible, public game. Yet with our aging population, golf is one thing that can provide some outdoor activity well into one’s post retirement years, and arguably should be something to be encouraged. Not everyone is a birder or a gardener.

    And it’s not in Hubbards. It’s in Mill Cove.

    1. I grew up in a city out west where the city owned and operated PUBLIC golf courses.

      You want golf for everyone? Take it out of the hands of the investment class.

      1. I think we’re from the same city. Edmonton did their municipal golf courses right; one was built on land that used to flood every few years, so, why not build parks and golf courses there? One was built on an old, full garbage dump (way too mushy to consider doing much else with it). And one is built on prime land just minutes from downtown. I’m not sure why the last one made sense, in terms of city planning, other than maybe the other two made a fortune for the city. But Edmonton also services the oil-money class-seekers with acres and acres of heavily irrigated and fertilized private courses carved into what was once wildlands or farmland, with parking and club sandwiches for all.
        Either way, golf courses aren’t useful parkland. They’re an endless stretch of restricted space that prices itself out of any usefulness to most of the population. Most cities would be far better served with real parkland or some other more universal attraction than with another sprawling golf course.

  5. Just have NSBI lure some companies in with payroll rebates and provide their employees with free membership at the golf course and BAM, the Belgians’ problems are solved.

  6. They always say true socialism has never been properly attempted, but I wonder if we have ever tried true capitalism in this country. As is said here, a business is supposed to stand on its own two legs, not live on direct and indirect mooching by corporate freeloaders. I know this happens everywhere, even in the United States (sometimes the corporate freeloading is even worse there) but why can’t we just set up a fair tax and regulatory scheme for business and then tell them they are on their own after that and don’t come back a-mooching? And special tax breaks, particularly on a business-by-business basis, are just a more indirect form of mooching. I mean, it isn’t even like this guy is proposing to set up some kind of novel business that may be the wave of the future, need to nurture new technological attempts, cutting edge, innovation, blah blah blah blah etc etc etc. He wants to set up a damned golf course.

  7. Just a thought….Driving those RVs around could burn $650/day in gas maybe.

  8. Re the plight of the Belgians: This shines a light – all be it a dim light – on what’s happening in the local real estate market. How many people have looked at the construction cranes and the continued urban sprawl and asked, “where’s the money coming from?” As someone involved in the real estate industry, I know I’m speaking heretically, but the simple fact is that there is no uptake for all the condos, rental units and suburban single family “homes” currently on the market or being built, and no amount of government largesse will change that situation. Only in migration and more jobs (providing a living wage) will add fuel to the real estate market and austerity centered governance will attract neither.

    The outrage of the decade would be to see government provide any kind of subsidy to private developers while thousands of citizens remain homeless or live in substandard dwellings. Wouldn’t “homes for everyone” be a great slogan for the Nova Scotia Housing Authority”. Don’t hold your breath.

    1. By the way, I consulted for a different group of developers about 12 years ago who wanted to buy that old military base and build a housing development. My report was pretty short and my advice was simple: “Don’t do it”.

  9. Good to see the Examiner continuing its coverage of the on-going Yarmouth Ferry boondoggle. My thanks to Tim B. for the head’s up yesterday on some of my questionable math – which, after our conversation, I’ve since revised. As for the inflation of the average tourism spend in Nova Scotia, I have relied on facts/figures from crown corp Tourism Nova Scotia, posted on their web. As much as I have, over the last 15 years, found some of their “facts” specious, I’m at a loss for more reliable info. The base of the issue here for me is that Bay Ferries signed a deal (now online) with Portland that virtually prohibits a ferry run for 25% of the dates in September – one of the strongest months of the year for visits from New England.

    1. Oh, I’m not disagreeing with the gist of your argument, just with the Tourism NS numbers. I mean to spend some time interviewing the person who put them together. It’s on my list….

      1. Another note… If they book more cruise ships for the season, Portland can add blackout dates with 30 days notice.

  10. “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody”

    I’m moving to Dartmouth.

  11. I came to Halifax for the first time back in the 70s. I was living in Montreal at the time . I loved the look of Halifax so much. It felt good to me so I moved here. It was like a little gem. A scaled down city so similar to Montreal with its architecture.

    I did leave for 10 years to live in the UK. But I was very happy to come back to beautiful Halifax. Sadly the changes that are coming fast and furious are too much for me. My neighbourhood has been targeted by developers. Around me there are piles of rubble and sadly the buildings that will rise from the rubble all look the same and are way too large for the neighbourhoods they will hover over.

    I was an active participant in the ‘Halifax By Design’ movement. I went to many community meetings, spent hours in those tedious round table meetings as well. But it was worth it as collectively we came up with a plan after all that work. A plan that looked like the salvation of Halifax.. Sadly that was the last I heard of ‘ Halifax by design’.

    There is a for sale sign on my front lawn and the agents are coming to look at my house in a half hour. I am very sad to leave Halifax but it’s better for my health as my blood boils when ever I walk downtown.
    Goodbye sweet city.

      1. In fact it makes _me_ want to leave! I did my stint with HTNS but it wasn’t enough and the low interest rates, lack of taste and intelligence of the majority of Councillors whose views on urban matters is confined to “how much it will bring in taxes” has and seemingly will prevail.

        My mind is already packing prior to the real thing. With regrets – bye-bye – I won’t have to face the old love on the other side of the street. Best just to walk away and try to remember the good times together.

  12. The urban demolition mindset has much in common with our big forest industries’ clearcut mindset.. if there is any opposition, speed up the process