1. Here come the electric buses

Podium with speaker between two buses
Premier Iain Rankin, with MP Andy Fillmore, announces millions in funding for electric buses at Halifax Transit’s Ragged Lake facility on Thursday, July 15, 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford has a developing story on the announcement that three levels of government are pitching in to start electrifying the Halifax Transit bus fleet:

Halifax will start electrifying its bus fleet in the next two years, with 60 electric buses en route, using money from the federal and provincial governments.

The three levels of government made the announcement Thursday at the Ragged Lake Transit Centre, which will be renovated to charge the buses and to achieve net-zero emissions.

It’s a $112-million project. The federal government will pitch in $44.8 million, the provincial government $37 million, and HRM will cover the remaining $29.8 million.

Check back later for more.

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2.  The pandemic: hearing from the kids

Photo: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

The Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage for free. Please help us continue this coverage by subscribing.

Yvette d’Entremont reports on a new study looking at the impact of the pandemic on the health and mental well-being of children and youth across Nova Scotia.

d’Entremont speaks to Dalhousie medical student Jodi Hong, one of the people working on the survey. Hong emphasizes that the researchers really want “the youth perspective.” From the story:

“Looking at the most recent lockdown (during this) third wave as an example, schools were said to be closed for the rest of the year and then a couple weeks later, the premier said that they would be open again,” Hong said in an interview on Wednesday.

“Just in a short amount of time, there were a lot of changes for kids, so we’re really looking for the youth perspective….”

“We know that things are changing and evolving pretty quickly so this (information) will be important for recommendations of policies and programs going forward as Nova Scotia continues in the recovery plan and as students return back to school in September for hopefully a full year in person,” Hong said.

“This … could maybe make up for the lost time given that we know that there’s important relationships between social activities that kids experience in school and how much time they may have lost when they’re not playing sports or when things were online and they were all at home.”

For anyone interested in participating, d’Entremont offers the following:

The survey takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete and is open until Aug. 8. The survey is available in both French and English and there are two versions — one for parents and guardians, and the other for youth. (The French version of the youth survey can be found here, and the French parent/guardian survey here).

A similar survey last year garnered about 1,000 responses, and the researchers are hoping to at least match that number.

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3. New child care plan could save Nova Scotia families thousands a year

Photo: Beth Bap Church/Unsplash

This item is written by Yvette d’Entremont.

News about a $605 million child care funding agreement between the federal and provincial governments was welcomed by parents and advocates on Tuesday, with Child Care Now NS calling it “monumentally significant.”

Just two weeks ago, that coalition shared with the provincial government its recommendations for what a universal, publicly funded, not-for-profit early learning and child care system should look like in this province (reported here).

Today the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) in Ottawa released numbers suggesting the national child care plan would add up to tens of thousands of dollars in savings for families. If implemented, parent fees would drop by 50% in 2022 and eventually be $10 per day by 2026.

Just how much parents will potentially save varies depending on where you live and your current fees, but the CCPA has mapped the expected savings in 37 cities across Canada broken down into three age groupings: infant, toddler and preschooler.

You can find the interactive map roughly halfway through this CCPA analysis article.

The map suggests that here in Halifax, where parents of infants pay $11,481 per year for child care, savings will be $5,741 a year in 2022, and $8,877 a year by 2026.

Parents of toddlers in Halifax pay $10,236 per year and will save $5,118 a year in 2022 and $7,632 a year by 2026.

Finally, parents of preschoolers in Halifax pay $10,416 per year. They’ll save $5,208 a year in 2022 and $7,812 a year by 2026.In his report, CCPA senior economist David Macdonald cautioned that reducing fees might be the most “saleable” aspect of the plan but said it’s only one piece of what must be a broader plan:

So fees matter, but in the actual construction of a new system, they are only going to be as useful as the government’s ability to increase the number of spaces, staff those spaces, raise ECE wages and keep costs down by cutting profits out of the equation.

And that’s not all, as the feds will have to hammer out agreements province by province, a notoriously difficult task, with some premiers already indicating they do not support the plan, citing concerns over options for parents. These are big challenges, but the payoff will be a huge burden lifted from young families, great care for kids, more parents going back to work and stronger economic growth for Canada.

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4. Paramedics cautiously optimistic about pilot program to reduce wait times

The Emergency Health Services (EHS) logo on a white ambulance. The E and S are royal blue, the S is red. Emergency Health Services is written below in italic font, and the word paramedics is below that in blue capital letters on a high visibility green stripe.
The Emergency Health Services (EHS) logo on an ambulance. Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

The province is introducing a new pilot to reduce ambulance offload times, Yvette d’Entremont reports. “Offload time,” she explains,” is the time that passes between a patient’s arrival at the emergency department until their transfer from a paramedic’s care into the care of emergency department staff.”

Long offload times have cascading impacts, as paramedics have to hang around the hospital, waiting until the ER staff takes responsibility for them. As a result, other emergency responders can find themselves stretched thin, as they cover for staff tied up waiting at hospitals.

Yesterday, the Department of Health and Wellness announced a pilot program to help deal with the issue. Michael Nickerson, who heads the union representing the province’s paramedics says that’s a good first step.

d’Entremont writes:

“What I hope happens with this offload transition team … is (it’s going to) allow paramedics to get out of the hospital quicker, back to the streets where they’re needed and where they do their best work,” Nickerson said.

“We are hoping that it will have a trickle down effect of helping our members by not bringing in additional paramedic crews from the western part of the province and the northern part of the province to cover off in HRM.”

Nickerson said they’re hopeful that will translate into fewer shift overruns, as current call volumes have many paramedics regularly clocking many hours beyond their 12-hour shifts.

“I can tell you morale is absolutely the worst I’ve ever seen it. We have paramedics leaving the profession altogether. We have them leaving the province,” he said.

“This (pilot program) is a step in the right direction. But more needs to be done.”

d’Entremont’s story is for subscribers only. Subscribe here. We love our readers, but we’ll love you even more if you subscribe.

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5. Welcome to Phase 4: zero new cases of COVID-19 reported yesterday

Parking garage with orange number 4 emblazoned on brick wall and words stairs elevator also on wall.
Phase 4! Photo: Jordan Graff / Unsplash

The Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage for free. Please help us continue this coverage by subscribing.

There were no new cases of COVID-19 reported in Nova Scotia yesterday. We are down to 28 known active cases in the province, with two people in hospital, one of whom is in the ICU.

Tim Bousquet has his regular full report here. He writes:

The walk-in vaccination clinic is now open in Dartmouth. The clinic is for those 18 and over getting a second dose at least 28 days after their first shot.

From today through to Sunday, anyone 18 years old and over can walk in without an appointment to the Dartmouth Community Vaccine Clinic at the spot next to Chapters at Mic Mac Mall to get a second dose, if 28 days has passed since their first dose. Hours are 9am-6pm; the vaccine is Moderna. A health card number and ID are needed at this site.

People 12 years old and older can book a vaccination appointment here.

People in rural areas who need transportation to a vaccine clinic should contact Rural Rides, which will get you there and back home for just $5. You need to book the ride 24 hours ahead of time.

We are now at 74.1% of the entire population having received one dose of vaccine. Please note that when Bousquet says “entire population” he means everyone — children included.

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6. Money typhoon continues

This item is by Tim Bousquet, with files from Jennifer Henderson.

A quarter of a billion dollars.

Well, $256,382,000, to be exact.

That’s how much the Rankin government has promised in new expenditures since June 7.

Here’s the list (location is site of announcement; expenditures may be broader):

July 14
Halifax: $3 million to deal with overcrowded Emergency Department at the QE2
Sydney: $213,000 for a free bus pass trial for low-income riders

July 13
Halifax: $8 million as the province’s annual contribution towards the federal daycare program

July 12
Halifax: $4.8 million to establish the African Nova Scotian Justice Institute
Halifax: $1.0 million emergency aid for non-profit arenas/rec centres

July 9
Halifax: $96.5 million for new nursing home beds/upgrades to facilities

July 8
Antigonish: $7.5 million for three municipal solar projects (in Antigonish, Berwick, Mahone Bay)

July 6
Halifax: $25 million to create 600-900 affordable housing units
Digby: $1 million to upgrade the Digby Wharf

July 5
Halifax: $18 million for expanded cancer care — new lymphoma cancer treatment covered and additional cancer expenses
New Ross: $5.4 million for silviculture/roads/forestry training
Bridgewater: $615,000 energy retrofit for rec centre

June 30
Halifax: $4.6 million for the Cogswell renewable energy system

June 29
Halifax: $2.5 million for small business online marketing

June 28
Truro: $6.1 million for the Centre for Forest Innovation, NSCC
Kentville: $1.2 million for the multi-use recreation trail
Halifax: $1.1 million for expanded payments for caregivers
Sydney: $300,000 for an electric bus study

June 27
Lantz: $740,000 for five East Hants recreation projects

June 26
HRM: $700,000 for the canoe clubs in Waverley and Lake Echo

June 24
Antigonish: $1.3 million for the multi-use trail
Halifax: $ 7.5 million towards the land purchase for the Francophone school

June 23
Lunenburg: $1 million yearly for the Palliative Care Unit
Lunenburg: $23.6 million for NS Film production

June 21
New Minas: $500,000 for disabled adults job support

June 19
Sydney: $3 million for the downtown core makeover
Englishtown: $1.3 million for abolishing passenger ferry fees

June 18
Cookville: $1 million for a water tank
Port Hawkesbury: $1 million for the multi-use trail
Mabou: $454,000 for paving the Dalbrae Academy and the bus garage

June 17
Bedford: $1 million for the Bedford Commuter Ferry Study

June 15
Halifax: $18.2 million towards tourism supports

June 11
Yarmouth: $1 million yearly expands cancer care in southwest NS

June 9
Sydney: $600,000 Centre 200 rink upgrade

June 8
Whycocomagh:$1.96 million for the wastewater treatment plant

June 7
Antigonish: $4.7 million for community transit upgrades

True story, I swear: When my kids were little and the Highway 103 twinning project began, one of them looked at the construction work and asked me if there was going to be an election soon.

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7. When is a deadline not a deadline? Savage says no emergency shelter evictions

On a rainy day, two crisis shelters and two tents are seen on grass outside a sandstone building. The shelter on the left is white with a small window on the visible side, covered in Tyvek house wrap painted with a black grid. In the centre, there's another shelter, with a wooden door with three small windows. Next to that shelter, there's a red and grey tent. In front of the red and grey tent there's a blue and grey tent. To the right, a woman wearing a three-quarter length coat and carrying a green reusable grocery bag walks by talking on a cellphone on speaker.
Two of Halifax Mutual Aid’s shelters and two tents outside the old Halifax Memorial Library on Friday, July 9, 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

Last week, the city said it would remove any emergency shelters on municipal property. Municipal crews then removed three shelters ahead of the deadline. Now, Mayor Mike Savage says there never was a deadline, and there won’t be any more evictions, Zane Woodford reports.

He writes:

The official policy on the shelters seems to change daily. Until last week, the municipality said it would “not force the eviction of residents from homeless encampments unless and until their need for adequate housing is met.” Then the line became, “The municipality will allow occupants of homeless encampments to remain until adequate housing has been identified and offered, or until the health and safety of the occupants or public are at risk.” The city even went so far as to revise a previous statement

And then Mayor Mike Savage started taking the lead on messaging, telling media on Tuesday that he didn’t want to “force a deadline.” Following Wednesday’s announcement, he faced more questions about the city’s handling of the shelters, but wouldn’t definitively say that the shelters could stay.

“I’m not really interested in ultimatums,” Savage said. “What I’m interested in is finding solutions for people.”

The deadline, Savage says, was not a deadline at all, but rather a preferred timeline.

OK, then.

Woodford shows admirable restraint in tracking all this without being snarky. His story also covers the announcement of federal funding for 43 affordable housing units. This is the second stage of a program that has already seen the approval of at least 52 units, in projects from the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, Adsum Women and Children, and the North End Community Health Centre.

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8. The Tideline, Episode 37: Measha Brueggergosman

Measha Brueggergosman, smiling widely at the camera
Photo: Tyler Anderson

In this episode of The Tideline, Tara Thorne talks with Measha Brueggergosman, who’s headlining the Halifax Jazz Festival on Friday night, performing a repertoire that celebrates Black women vocalists like Nina Simone and Sarah Vaughan.

Listen here for free!

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1. Self-driving cars as slow-moving bullets

Interior of car with large display screen visible and no driver.
Don’t expect to stretch out in the back seat while your care whisks you to your destination anytime soon. Photo: Bram Van Oost/Unsplash

A couple of years ago, when such things were still possible, I sat a table with Tim Bousquet at a Halifax Examiner party and enjoyed listening to his rant about self-driving cars. His view (partly informed by the writing of blogger Duncan Black): Not going to happen. They are forever two years away, or just around the corner.

When I mentioned this to Bousquet the other day, he suggested I search online for “self-driving cars” and “two years” and look at the results.

In 2018, Stanford Magazine proclaimed, “In two years, we’ll have 10 million self-driving cars on the road.”

A 2019 story from Best Life says “Ford, for one, expects to launch self-driving cars by 2021. So does Volvo. Tesla, meanwhile, says it will have a fully autonomous vehicle by the end of 2020.”

In May, 2020, Bloomberg noted “In early 2018, General Motors Co. pledged to have a fleet of self-driving taxis in San Francisco by 2020.”

You get the idea.

Last week in The Mobilist, Clive Thompson published a story arguing against self-driving cars. Your main goal when driving, Thompson says, is not to get from Point A to Point B. It’s to avoid killing anyone along the way:

If you were to get into a car and fail to get from point A to point B, that would suck. But if you were to kill someone, that would be orders of magnitude worse…

This is a useful point to keep in mind whenever you read about the imminent arrival of “self-driving cars”. Because when tech folks tell you they’re building a self-driving car, what they’re really promising is to make a self-driving bullet that can weave through city streets without hitting anyone.

Kind of clarifies the stakes, doesn’t it?

Thompson, a Canadian technology writer who has lived in New York for years, admits to having written his share of stories, like this one, gushing over the changes self-driving cars will bring.

Thompson mentions Elon Musk’s famous 2016 claim that Tesla vehicles would be fully autonomous within, you guessed it, two years. These days, Musk is still continuing to hype the notion that self-driving cars are just around the corner, even as Tesla drivers die in horrific crashes. Tesla calls its auto-assist system “autopilot” but clearly it is not meant to handle driving on its own.

“Cars and roads,” Thompson writes, “are an environment where [tech executives] cannot bluster and PowerPoint their way out of mistakes — because this time their errors quite directly injure people, with the unforgiving physics of two-ton hurtling chunks of steel.”

The heart of Thompson’s argument is that developing autonomous vehicles is incredibly complex and that we would be better served by making safety features like rear-collision warning systems more widely available:

Well, the software folks began to discover that the physical world is painfully complex. They were accustomed to working on the Internet, where bits generally do what they’re told. Now they had to worry about atoms: Cameras and sensors getting clogged up by rain and snow and dirt, pedestrians behaving unpredictably. And while self-driving engineers made some genuinely remarkable breakthroughs in AI image-recognition, they still don’t know how to give their AI the “common sense knowledge” that humans use to navigate the world — our generalized know-how about, say, the way ice and dogs and bicycles and skateboarders and floating plastic bags behave. Deep-learning AI can do pattern-recognition at light-speed, but human cognition is more than mere pattern recognition. To navigate the messy reality of city streets, we also reason about things, using our Extensive Knowledge About Stuff. That’s how we deal with the unexpected. Self-driving cars can’t yet do that. No AI can.

I think often of this 2014 feature in Vanity Fair by William Langewiesche, on the crash of Air France Flight 447, which was on its way to Paris from Rio de Janeiro. In addition to carefully reconstructing what seems to have gone wrong with the flight, Langewiesche discusses the role of automation extensively. On the one hand, automation has made flying immeasurably safer, reducing crashes caused by pilot error. On the other, pilots accustomed to letting the plane fly itself may not have the same instincts as more hands-on old-timers.

He writes:

Boeing’s Delmar Fadden explained, “We say, ‘Well, I’m going to cover the 98 percent of situations I can predict, and the pilots will have to cover the 2 percent I can’t predict.’ This poses a significant problem. I’m going to have them do something only 2 percent of the time. Look at the burden that places on them. First they have to recognize that it’s time to intervene, when 98 percent of the time they’re not intervening. Then they’re expected to handle the 2 percent we couldn’t predict. What’s the data? How are we going to provide the training? How are we going to provide the supplementary information that will help them make the decisions? There is no easy answer. From the design point of view, we really worry about the tasks we ask them to do just occasionally.”

I said, “Like fly the airplane?”

Yes, that too. Once you put pilots on automation, their manual abilities degrade and their flight-path awareness is dulled: flying becomes a monitoring task, an abstraction on a screen, a mind-numbing wait for the next hotel. Nadine Sarter said that the process is known as de-skilling. It is particularly acute among long-haul pilots with high seniority, especially those swapping flying duties in augmented crews. On Air France 447, for instance, Captain Dubois had logged a respectable 346 hours over the previous six months but had made merely 15 takeoffs and 18 landings. Allowing a generous four minutes at the controls for each takeoff and landing, that meant that Dubois was directly manipulating the side-stick for at most only about four hours a year. The numbers for Bonin were close to the same, and for Robert they were smaller. For all three of them, most of their experience had consisted of sitting in a cockpit seat and watching the machine work.

Pilots, of course, receive far more training than drivers, but drivers would face some of the same challenges.

Or maybe we should just give in to our robot overlords, but insist that pedestrians have to wear sensors to avoid being killed by self-driving cars.

Of course, even if we do, we run the risk of putting even more carbon into the atmosphere, if as this article from PC Magazine a couple of years back warns, self-driving cars wind up killing off public transit:

If the availability of too-convenient transportation creates a rebound effect on traffic and dramatically increases the number of road miles that people travel each year, driverless cars could have a devastating environmental impact. Today the transportation sector is already one of the largest contributors to air pollution. In the United States alone, exhaust from cars and trucks causes an estimated 29 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that human activities generate each year. If driverless cars were to increase the number of vehicle miles traveled per capita, densely populated “megacities” in developing nations would be hit particularly hard.

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2. Food and African Nova Scotian culture

Ingredients for Boiled Dinner recipe in a spiral-bound cookbook
Recipe for Boiled Dinner, from the book “In the Africville Kitchen: The comforts of home” by Juanita Peters, Claudia Castillo-Prentt, and Adina Fraser-Marsman. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

Wendie L. Wilson has an excellent story in Chatelaine called “How Food Is At The Heart Of African Nova Scotian Culture.”

Wilson describes her memories of watching her mother prepare boiled dinner, and then discusses how African Nova Scotian cuisine brings together elements from Africa, the Caribbean, the southern US, and this province:

Despite the challenges, we’ve maintained our culture, undeterred by efforts made to erase who we are —and food is a big part of that. How we share meals, recipes, traditions and cooking methods is vital to the preservation of any culture, including ours.

African Nova Scotian cuisine is a rich blend of African and Caribbean spices, along with dishes and techniques we brought from our southern U.S. roots, combined with what the land and sea had to offer in our new home.

Many of our classic dishes are traditional to the region, such as salt-cod fish cakes, boiled dinner, baked beans and blueberry duff (a steamed pudding), while others have more far-flung roots, including cornbread, fried potatoes, oxtails, pigtails, curried chicken, greens and Southern-style mac and cheese. The traditional Maritime dishes that have become part of our repertoire usually have some additions or substitutions. A ham hock might be added to our baked beans, and roasted cow tongue might replace roast beef for Sunday dinner. Traditional African Nova Scotian cuisine is resourceful and often includes slow cooking and cuts of meat from nose to tail. Root vegetables, greens and a variety of fish are other ingredients that have stood the test of time…

Food, faith and community were our sustenance. The parcels of land that African Nova Scotians were granted were often not the most fertile. We relied on previous farming experience and our inherent knowledge of the land to feed the generations.

There is much more to Wilson’s story, and I encourage you to read all of it.

Wilson mentions the new African Nova Scotian flag, unveiled earlier this year. She is the creator of the flag, and explains her creative process in designing it in the video below.

YouTube video

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The railway that never was

Black and white map showing red lines indicating proposed railway.
Various proposed Guysborough railway routes. Photo courtesy Bruce MacDonald

Driving along the Eastern Shore a couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about some of the economic development projects that have been proposed for the region: Goldboro LNG plant, Canso spaceport, and the ludicrous proposal from Chinese company DDI to build a massive resort and replica “Crystal City” complete with replicas of the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. (It was going to attract millions of young Chinese tourists, apparently. You have to watch the promotional video, here.)

A couple of weeks ago, Tim Bousquet wrote:

The machinery of government seems hellbent on logging the shit out the place, denuding the soil and poisoning the rivers and lakes through gold mining, and placing every cockamamie scheme imaginable — space portLNG plantmega shipping terminalbiomass energy, whatever — in this sacrificed sector of the province, as no one much who lives there objects and those who do object hold exactly zero political power, so screw ’em.

More than a century ago, the region’s hopes were pinned on a different economic development scheme — a railway branch line that would connect to the rest of the province’s railway system.

In an article at Historic Nova Scotia, Bruce MacDonald traces the history of the proposed railway.

By the late 1890s, MacDonald writes, every county in Nova Scotia had rail access, except for Guysborough and Victoria. In 1897, discussions began on proposed routes for a branch line. MacDonald writes:

The first effort to connect the county to the province’s railway network commenced in early 1897, when community meetings at Middle Musquodoboit and Guysborough town discussed construction of a line from Dartmouth through the Musquodoboit valley into Guysborough County. Within several months, however, a consensus emerged in Guysborough County, favouring a route from Sunnybrae — already connected via branch line to Stellarton — to Guysborough town…

To Guysborough County’s residents, a branch line would promote its natural resources—fish, timber, farm produce, minerals, and especially Country Harbour’s natural harbour — and stem the outflow of its population.

MacDonald, a retired teacher living in Antigonish, is the author of a book called The Guysboro Railway: 1897-1939. (“Guysboro” was the more common spelling until the 1920s.) He first became interested in the story of the railway during visits to his grandmother’s house when he was a child. “There were two huge concrete abutments, and my Nan would take me up the Guysborough railroad bed. I was born in 1953, and the railroad bed was still in fairly good shape. You could walk along it and fish in the river… My family wasn’t directly connected to it, but it was literally in their backyard.”

Bald man in a rain jacket standing in front of a concrete abutment.
Bruce MacDonald. Photo contributed

I spoke to him about the railway, and what its proponents hoped it would do for the region. Branch lines, MacDonald said, were a big deal in the West, where they were essential for shipping grain. The purpose of the Guysborough railway was less clear:

Guysborough had some underdeveloped resources, the biggest being Country Harbour itself. Developing that as some kind of port — one of the attempts in that was backed by the Allan family of Montreal, and their plan was to transport coal through a rail line to Country Harbour and ship it to America. At that time, the railway was king and there was potential for economic development. Minerals for sure, the gold mines…  Fishery and timber in particular, and a modest amount of farming products. I think the idea was they would see the development of these natural resources and the possible exploration of other minerals which would have led to some kind of boom or local economic development.

The project had the backing of the provincial Liberals, so when they won the next provincial election, it looked like the railway would be a go. In his article, MacDonald writes:

Following victory in an April 1897 provincial election, the Liberal provincial government instructed the Dominion & Eastern Railway Company to survey a proposed route from Sunnybrae to Guysborough town. As time passed, however, no contract materialized and the project faded from public discussion.

Because the project was closely associated with the Liberals, its fortunes rose and fell depending on which government was in power. Liberals exploited locals’ hope for the branch line by touting it in the lead-up to elections. MacDonald told me, “The Conservatives accused the Liberals of using it to get votes. I’ve heard stories that whenever an election approached, literally survey crews would show up with chains.” Once the election was over, the crews would disappear, and the project would go into limbo.

In the late 19th century, when the project was first proposed, building branch lines was a provincial responsibility. But after 1911 the federal government took over branch line construction, which greatly reduced the odds of the line in Guysborough County ever being built. “That made it harder to get it done, because the decision wasn’t being made in Halifax, it was being made in Ottawa. And what did they care about his area in rural Nova Scotia where there wasn’t much of anything at the time?” MacDonald said.

After his 1911 election defeat, but before the Conservative government of Robert Borden took office, Wilfrid Laurier actually signed contracts to begin construction on the railway. But the Borden government cancelled them. As MacDonald writes in his article:

When Robert Borden’s Conservative government took office on October 10, 1911, it proceeded with the Dartmouth – Musquodoboit line — located in Borden’s riding—but suspended plans to build the Sunnybrae – Guysborough line — located in a Liberal riding — until further notice.

Then, in 1929 — more than 30 years after the railway was first proposed — it looked like it would get built. MacDonald writes:

Finally, on February 10, 1929, the Liberal government announced plans to build a 67-mile branch line from Sunnybrae to Guysborough town, to be completed within three years. Engineering parties arrived in Pictou County in June, and the Dominion Construction Company, under the direction of Henry Falconer “Harry” McLean, was awarded the contract on October 18, 1929.

The Company wasted no time, moving equipment and crews to Sunnybrae before year’s end and immediately commencing work. McLean’s men toiled throughout the winter of 1929-30. By late summer 1930, the entire rail bed, most concrete abutments and wooden trestles were in place. In addition, 22 miles of track was installed from Sunnybrae to the Denver – Newtown area. All that remained was completing several bridges and laying the remaining rails.

Once again, politics intervened. On July 23, 1930, the Liberal government was defeated in a federal election. The Conservative government of R. B. Bennett, facing a major economic depression, immediately stopped work on the line. The rails in place were removed and the project abandoned.

Black-and-white photo of a work camp
Railway crew work camp near Denver. Photo courtesy Bruce MacDonald

While there were a few efforts to revive it over the next decade, the project’s time had clearly passed.

Although the railway may have been king back in the 1890s, by the 1930s we were getting into the heyday of highway building. In our interview, MacDonald said, “By the late 1930s, railroads are no longer the up-and-coming means of transportation. It was much more the automobile, and eventually air transportation. I read an article from 1949 still talking about wanting to build the railroad, but by that time the horse had left the barn. The optimal time to have it built would have been the Laurier contract in 1911.”

Signs of the railway that never was still dot the region. A cairn constructed by McLean (there are eight others marking projects his companies worked on across the country) now stands by the side of Highway 347 in Newtown. Its plaques bear Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Sons of Martha,” written in honor of engineers, and memorializes those who worked and died on the project.

Cairn on a grassy mound
Cairn in honour of the men who worked on the railway. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

The cairn was originally placed by the side of the road, MacDonald said, but is now on the site of what would have been the railbed. It has been recently restored.

Path in the woods
Cleared site of former railbed. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

MacDonald said that as workers ripped up the rails from the track that had been laid, they threw the spikes into the woods, and people still report finding them.

Clara Dennis took photos of what remained of the railway, and the Nova Scotia Archives have several of her photos on their website. Here are some sheep grazing on the railbed.

Black and white photo of sheep on an old railway bridge
Sheep grazing on the railway bed. Photo: Clara Dennis, Nova Scotia Archives

And this one was taken near the location of the Sons of Martha cairn.

Black and white photo of railbed
Clara Dennis photo of the railbed near the Sons of Martha cairn. Photo: Nova Scotia Archives

When I asked MacDonald if he thought the railway would have made a difference to Guysborough County, here’s what he said:

The historian’s job is to record what happened, not to speculate on what might have been. If you ask anyone from Guysborough County, they will tell you the death of the railroad was the death of economic development for Guysborough County… Many people feel that, had there been a railroad and some kind of economic development, they would not have had the population outflow and more money would have stayed in the county. How that would have played out is hard to say… It’s probably fair to say it would have likely kept more people there, and possibly generated a greater amount of economic activity…It’s really difficult to say it would have changed the county’s history in a dramatic way, but it would have brought benefits of some kind.

He added, “This has been the story of Guysborough: The big break was always just around the corner.”

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Active Transportation Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — live streamed on YouTube

Youth Advisory Committee (Thursday, 5pm) — live streamed on YouTube


Health (Thursday, 1pm) — video conference: Recruiting and Training Medical Students in Rural Areas; featuring representatives from Dalhousie University Faculty of Medicine and Nova Scotia Health Authority

On campus

No events

In the harbour

10:00: Kibaz, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
13:00: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage from Saint John
16:30: Taipei Trader, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Kingston, Jamaica

Cape Breton
15:00: Acadia Desgagnes, cargo ship, sails from Sydney for sea
19:00: Paul A. Desgagnes, oil tanker, sails from Government Dock (Sydney) for sea


Going to sip some Heaven’s Door bourbon and watch the Bob Dylan livestream Sunday night.

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

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  1. I note on the money-dropping image, there’s been nothing for the Eastern Shore. Why is that?

  2. Further to the subject of food, I recommend the Netflix documentary series, High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America.

    “Black food is American food. Chef and writer Stephen Satterfield traces the delicious, moving throughlines from Africa to Texas in this docuseries.”

    1. This is on my to-watch list. I have heard great things about it. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. “Although the railway may have been king back in the 1890s, by the 1930s we were getting into the heyday of highway building.” As a footnote, the “highway” along the Eastern Shore, as I recall, was a dirt road and not paved until sometime well after World War II. At some point there emerged another fantasy project of a highway to connect the Eastern Shore to central Nova Scotia, similar to the railroad, called “the road to nowhere.” You might look into that too.

  4. Regarding politicians and political parties making promises and throwing around cash, it’s not unprecedented.

  5. Many of those “African Nova Scotia” recipes are very familiar especially Boiled Dinner which affectionately turned into bald dinner.My Mum grew up around the Creighton Street area of town.

  6. Railways might be ‘ a wave of the future ” as they do have advantages over other forms of transportation

    1. If we were serious about climate change we’d be building rail instead of fetishizing electric semi trucks ect. Trains are incredibly efficient ways to move people and things, even if they run on diesel. At least we sort of preserved good places to put train tracks by turning them into bike trails.

      A diesel electric can move a ton of freight 200 km on a liter of diesel.

  7. The money tornado does not seemed to have touched down in certain Conservative counties – just like the fortunes of the Guysboro railroad a century ago. Just look at the blank spots on the moneybags map.

    1. Politicians don’t have any incentive to give helicopter money to their reliable base, let alone their reliable opponents. The only voters that matter in our elections are swing voters in swing ridings.

    2. And Cumberland County is another example. Maybe in Cumberland North with the Tory vote split and Bill Casey running for the liberals they may have a chance. But if we see no money dropped here, then likely the Liberals have written Cumberland North off again.