1. Cops seized 11 firearms, hundreds of boxes of ammunition, and more than $130,000 in cash from Frank Eckhardt

Frank Eckhardt, a white man, in an attic liined in plastic with one window. There are wobbly plastic shelves behind him, sparsely stocked with small packages and boxes.
Frank Eckhardt in a ZDF documentary on preppers

Tim Bousquet reports on the latest on Frank Eckhardt, the survivalist and right-wing extremist who’s been selling land in Cape Breton to German-speaking non-residents (Joan Baxter has reported on Eckhardt and about the selling of land in Cape Breton extensively, including in this report).

Bousquet writes that the RCMP seized guns, ammo, and $130,000 in cash from Eckhardt after a search warrant was executed on Eckhardt’s home in Grand River on December 23. Eckhardt was arrested the same day, and charged with 13 firearm offences. Bousquet writes:

Eckhardt was previously arrested on December 10 and charged with extortion. The court documents explain that a couple from Germany — S.S. and D.W. (the Examiner is not using the full names of alleged victims or police informants) — moved with their child to Canada in December 2020, with the assistance of Eckhardt’s company, F.E Property Sales Canada.

On their arrival in Canada, the family lived with Eckhardt on his property in Grand River for three months. They also bought property from Eckhardt on West Bay Highway in Cape George.

They opened a gym in St. Peter’s, in a building leased from Eckhardt. Someone with knowledge of the situation told the Examiner that Eckhardt was charging the family $3,800 a month, while they also ran the gym on his behalf.

According to the court documents, S.S. told police that “issues began in late fall of 2021,” causing the couple to end their lease agreement with Eckhardt for the gym building. “Eckhardt was not happy, made threats, and was later charged with extortion” by the RCMP.

Eckhardt was released from custody on conditions, which appear to include staying away from the family, but he allegedly breached that condition twice by visiting the gym.

Bousquet details more about the firearm allegations, prior police investigations of Eckhardt, and the list of the items seized by the RCMP.

Click here to read Bousquet’s full story.

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2. What climate emergency?

An aerial shot of the Isthmus of Chignecto, with the Northumberland Straight in the upper right corner.
Isthmus of Chignecto. Image via Google Maps

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

Public Works Minister Kim Masland said yesterday she has been briefed on a Climate Change Adaptation study commissioned two years ago to recommend action to protect the 23-kilometre Isthmus of Chignecto connecting Nova Scotia to the rest of Canada.

The narrow strip of land is at risk of being flooded or submerged as sea level continues to rise annually and the Maritimes experience more intense storms as a result of global warming. Goods estimated at $20 million a day flow through the key transportation corridor connecting Nova Scotia with New Brunswick.

Although Masland said she had been briefed, she was unable to provide any specifics on when the report was received — at least six months ago before the Houston government took office — what actions have been recommended by the by its author, when action might begin, or what it could cost. Masland said discussions continue with New Brunswick and the federal government.

Two years ago this month, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, together with Ottawa, hired Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions to carry out a Climate Change Adaptation study. Among other options, it was to consider whether the current Bay of Fundy dike system needed further bolstering or whether the risk of flooding is so acute the TransCanada Highway and the railway might need to be moved.

An earlier study six years ago estimated the cost of moving that critical infrastructure at $350 million. It would cost more today. The border town mayors of Sackville, NB and Amherst, NS have been vocal about the need for governments to make decisions and start addressing the impact of climate change on the low-lying coastal area.

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3. Province House

The Yarmouth ferry is docked in Yarmouth and there is a fishing boat in the foreground.
The Alakai, docked at Yarmouth in 2019. Photo: Suzanne Rent

Jennifer Henderson was at Province House yesterday and has the update on what happened.

First, minimum wage will increase by 40 cents on April 1 to $13.35. That’s still not close to a living wage, though, which in Nova Scotia is $22.05 per hour. Henderson writes:

Premier Tim Houston said his government accepts this first recommendation made by the Minimum Wage Review Committee but “will take a little bit more time” to hear from employees and employers before deciding if it will commit to implementing the Committee’s additional two recommendations.

The Review Committee is recommending a second adjustment on October 1, 2022 that would bring the minimum wage to $13.60. Taken together, these two raises would match the 5% rise in the Consumer Price Index. The committee’s recommendations also include a path to a $15 minimum wage by 2024.

NDP leader Gary Burrill said the government has the financial capacity to commit to a $15 minimum wage and should not delay implementing the committee’s recommendations to reach that benchmark.

“Nova Scotia is in a hole when it comes to minimum wage,” said Burrill. “With the dramatic increase in grocery prices lately, there are a lot of workers earning minimum wage who are seeing the ability to support their households slipping between their fingers. This is why the government in Nova Scotia needs to make a move like the government of Ontario did two weeks ago and New Brunswick did a month ago. We need a minimum wage floor of $15 and then we can talk about how to get to an actual living wage of $18-20 an hour.”

Henderson also reports on what’s up with the Yarmouth ferry (Houston is hopeful the ship will sail this season), in-school vaccinations, and some of the questions asked at the scrum.

Click here for more on Henderson’s story.

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4. More than half the prisoners at the Burnside jail have COVID

The renovated North Unit day room at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Zane Woodford has the latest on the COVID outbreak at the Burnside jail. As Woodford writes, more than half of the prisoners now have the virus, and the outbreak isn’t over.

“As of Jan. 13, the cumulative case count involving persons in custody at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility is 128,” Justice Department spokesperson Heather Fairbairn told the Halifax Examiner in an email Thursday.

The prison population was 230 last week after three people were let out early. At that time, the active case count was 82.

“As of today, there are 42 active cases among those currently in custody at the facility,” Fairbairn said Thursday. “None are in hospital and there are no cases in the women’s unit.”

As of Tuesday, Fairbairn said there were 37 active cases, so the numbers are climbing again.

The Examiner asked Fairbairn how long prisoners are isolated before being deemed recovered.

“Healthcare in the facility is administered by Nova Scotia Health,” Fairbairn said. “When a person is considered to be no-longer infectious is determined by NSH on a case-by-case basis.”

Click here to read Woodford’s complete story.

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5. COVID update: 59 hospitalized, 542 new cases

This is a close up of an old Olympia manual typewriter, blue grey in colour. There is a sheet of white paper in it, and the word COVID 19 has been typed in capital letters.
Photo: Markus Winkler/Unsplash

Tim Bousquet has the COVID update. There are 542 new cases in the province, although that number is likely much higher. And here are the details on hospitalization. Bousquet writes:

There are now now 59 people in hospital who were admitted because of COVID symptoms, seven of whom are in ICU. Additionally, there are:

• 46 people admitted to hospital for other reasons but who tested positive for COVID during the admissions screening or who were admitted for COVID but no longer require specialized care
• 102 people in hospital who contracted COVID in the hospital outbreaks

The 59 who were admitted because of COVID range in age from 0 (there is a child under 5 in hospital) to 100 years old, and the average age is 66. The average stay is six days.

Here’s the testing for today and the weekend:

Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Chester Basin Fire Dept., 11am-3pm
Pictou Legion, 11am-3pm
Cheticamp Seniors Hall, 11am-3pm

Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Alderney Gate., 10am-2pm

Halifax Convention Centre, noon-4pm

Click here for the full report with details on vaccination and hospital outbreaks.

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The real story of Esther Cox and The Great Amherst Mystery

A black and white photo of a two storey house in 19th century Amherst
The house in Amherst where Esther Cox lived, the setting of a famous poltergeist story that took place from 1878 to 1879 — known as The Great Amherst Mystery.

Back in July, Halifax Twitter personality Sack Vegas told Yvette d’Entremont and me about a story of a well-known poltergeist in Amherst. I had not heard of it and Sack Vegas challenged us to take a road trip to Amherst to report on the historic hauntings in the town. (Think of it as The Examiner meets Ghostbusters, but with less slime.)

Rene Ross, executive director of the Sexual Health Centre for Cumberland County, got in on the Twitter conversation, too, and told us more about the story and the young woman behind it all: Esther Cox.

d’Entremont and I never made it to Amherst because, well, so many other frightening things have been going on the last several months, but the story of The Great Amherst Mystery came to mind last week when the brother of a longtime friend asked me about local ghost stories.

If you’re not familiar, The Great Amherst Mystery took place over about 15 months between 1878 and 1879 and involved Cox, who was then about 18, and all kinds of strange occurrences that took place in the house where she lived with her sister, Olive, and brother-in-law, Daniel Teed. Furniture moved, household items disappeared, and there was knocking on the walls throughout house. Cox herself was subjected to fevers, prodding, and even a stabbing. The strange happenings followed Cox and the stories made the local papers. Eventually, a man named Walter Hubbell wrote a book about Cox and the poltergeist. There’s a good rundown of the story here.  The Town of Amherst celebrates the story each year with Esther Fest. 

A mural painted on the side of a building in Amherst celebrating the story of Esther Cox and the Great Amherst Mystery.
A mural on the side of a building in Amherst. Photo: Town of Amherst

All of the events started in 1878 after a a man named Bob MacNeill sexually assaulted Cox. In that Twitter thread last summer, Ross said she always thought of the story of the poltergeist as one of revenge by Cox because of that assault. In a tweet, Ross said, ” I’d like to see a story on how these old tales intersect with the patriarchy.” I wanted to know more about that, too.

A woman with shorter grey wavy hair wearing pearl earrings and a pale pink turtleneck sweater.
Laurie Glenn Norris, author of Haunted Girl: Esther Cox and The Great Amherst Mystery.

On Wednesday, I spoke with Laurie Glenn Norris, an author who wrote the book Haunted Girl: Esther Cox and The Great Amherst Mystery. I wanted to learn more about Cox and the story — not just the alleged hauntings, but rather who Cox was as a person, and the time she lived in.

Norris, who researches and writes about the lives of women in the 19th century, started working on the book with her friend, Barbara Thompson. Norris, who now lives in River Hebert and was once the curator of the Cumberland County Museum, always heard stories about Esther Cox. After lots of phone calls during which they talked about Cox, Thompson did the research and Norris got writing on the book.

Norris said that to this day, if something odd happens in the building on the spot where the house once stood, people will say, “Oh, Esther is around.”

“Esther is a curiosity, I think,” Norris said. “She’s always been a source of humour and laughter.”

A book cover that says Haunted Girl: Esther Cox and The Great Amherst Mystery

The Great Amherst Mystery happened over the course of 15 months, but Norris said she wanted to find out what happened in Cox’s life before that 15 months, and then after.

“Barb and I thought what happened before The Great Amherst Mystery had a lot to do with what went on during that time period,” Norris said.

Norris said that assault that happened to Cox was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” and was likely a trigger for the events that surrounded Cox during those months ahead. She was born in 1860 in Eastville, a community close to Stewiacke. Her mother died when Cox was just three weeks old. She and her siblings were separated, and Cox went to live with her father’s parents. When she was about 17, she was sent to Amherst to live with Olive and her other siblings. Cox’s sisters eventually got married, but she stayed behind to look after her siblings’ children. Hers was a life dedicated to taking care of the children, cleaning, and cooking for everyone who lived in the house.

What was left for Esther? I am imagining, as was common during the time period, that Esther Cox was told to act like a lady, be like a lady. The household is a woman’s sphere. That is your goal, to get a man.

Norris said no one really knew the connection between Cox and Bob MacNeill, who was a relative of Daniel Teed. Yet on that one night, Cox returned home after being out with MacNeill on a buggy ride, distraught, crying, and hysterical. Norris said in her story, Cox said MacNeill pulled a gun on her. The next morning, news broke that MacNeill left Amherst and no one would hear from him for some time.

About two weeks after that night is when strange things started happening around the house. Pillows moved, dishes flew through the air, and knocking was heard on the roof, in the cellar, and on the walls.

Norris said during this time, ghost stories were a popular form of entertainment and there was a rise in spiritualism.

A lot of times when people couldn’t explain what was going on, they’d say, ‘Oh, that was a ghost.’”

Then, all of the happenings were reported in the local newspapers. People started gathering around the house and they, too, reportedly heard the knocking sounds. Then Walter Hubbell, an American who was a b-list actor at the time, arrived in town after hearing stories about Cox and the hauntings during his time in Halifax. Norris said Hubbell wanted to prove that Cox a fraud, but once he was at the house he saw a way to capitalize on her local fame. Norris said he took her on a road show to towns in New Brunswick.

What happened, I think, is things got out of control. Esther was a victim, but in some ways she also had agency. Whether she believed this was happening, whether she had some sort of episode because of this traumatic thing that happened to her, but I think at some point she said, ‘hey, I am getting attention with this.’ What is kind of hard for us to think of today, is it became fashionable to be in Esther Cox’s bedroom and watch things happen.

Cox was under the care of a doctors, who gave her drugs to calm her down. Norris said there was a lot of controversy and talk in the town around Cox being a fraud. She said Dr. Nathan Tupper, the brother of Sir Charles Tupper, who visited the home at the time, but didn’t witness any occurrences, told reporters, if “a strong rawhide whip was laid across Esther’s bare shoulders by a powerful arm the Mystery would be solved at once.”

As for those strange happenings, Norris said she thinks it all started as tricks being played by Cox and her sister, Jenny. And the knockings inside the house were by her brothers. Combine that with a time in which everyone was superstitious and that rise in spiritualism — it was easy to see how the story got out of hand.

Cox often set fires or she’d cut herself. All of that was reported in the local papers. Today we’d likely recognize those as responses to trauma. Norris addressed this in her book, particularly about the cutting and how people cut themselves as a way to punish themselves or release psychological pain.

Norris said we’d never know about Cox and her life if it were not for the story of The Great Amherst Mystery. The lives of women at the time simply weren’t documented, and stories like Cox’s weren’t uncommon. Stories of hauntings and strange events often involved girls and young women — think of the Salem Witch Trials, which Norris references in her book.

Norris tells stories of other young women who seemed to be tormented by spirits, including Mary Carrick, a young Irish woman who worked as a maid for a wealthy family in Massachusetts. At the home where Carrick worked, there was rapping on the walls and objects flew around the house. Carrick was eventually “seized with a violent attack of hysteria” and was put in an asylum. Norris speculates Carrick was tormented by the bored children in the family she worked for, and not anything supernatural. But the effects on Carrick were long-lasting.

“I think part of it was a way for young women to have agency in a world where it was hard to come by for them,” said Norris, who believes Cox was exploited by Hubbell and others in the town, including the media.

Barb and I scanned all the newspapers we could at the time, and not once is [Cox] interviewed. It was always the doctors getting interviewed … the ministers are getting interviewed, the townspeople are getting interviewed. She is quoted twice, but it was from another source.

Norris told me she and Thompson couldn’t find any photos of Cox in their research. It’s almost like she is the apparition herself.

Cox ended up in jail for arson, and during her time there no incidents were reported. Norris said she thinks that time in jail was the end of the line. Cox eventually was married twice and ended up in Massachusetts where she took care of her second husband’s children, and her own. She started taking in laundry to support herself. She died at the age of 53. MacNeill ended up back in Malagash and was never held accountable. Norris said Cox may have been upset by that, too.

We can’t ever know what happened. It’s too long ago and it’s too muddled. There are so many newspaper accounts about it and there was so much exaggeration about [the hauntings].

I like how Norris tries to tell Cox’s story beyond the incidents over those 15 months. Stories about the lives of women during that time aren’t well known and their stories deserve more investigation.

What I wanted to do with the book was say ‘this is a complex person here.’ I don’t think Esther ever will be, in this area, not a figure of fun. People have interviewed me and they want me to say there is a poltergeist. They want me to say Esther was haunted.

Norris continues to believe Cox was a victim of her circumstances, her time, and the attitude people had toward women, and was taken advantage of by others, including Hubbell and her own family.

I think she rebelled against that. Ultimately, it didn’t turn out well for her. She is an unusual example, but she’s an example of what life could do to women.

Norris wrote another novel, Found Drowned, which based on a story about a young woman named Mary who lived near Pugwash in 1877 who went missing. Two weeks later, a body washed up on the shore at Bell’s Point, PEI.

I couldn’t find anything about this incident in the newspaper, but one thing that really got to me, was that she was described as her ‘mind being clouded. Her mother married a man who wasn’t her father, I don’t think. And I started to think about what was going on in that house. My idea is that Mary was running away. There are a lot of stories. These are just two examples.

I wanted Mary’s and Esther’s stories to be told because there might be another side to this.

Norris said today young women like Esther Cox might be treated differently and get some help. Maybe.

She was definitely a troubled young woman whose story came down to us, even though it came in a very manipulative way.

Norris said a lot of people still want to believe there were poltergeists in that home in Amherst for those 15 months. But Norris said she wants people to think beyond those stories.

I want them to think of Esther as a human being who lived in a particular time and place and who was influenced by that time and place, as were all the other people surrounding her. And she just wasn’t a figure of fun. She was more than a curiosity. She, as we do, lived day by day and things happened on a daily basis and she has feelings and thoughts. I wanted to humanize Esther.

A young woman trying to navigate through this thing is more interesting than a ghost story. I mean the whole psychology of it and they way society treated her. That’s way more interesting than a ghost story. I am hoping my book provides a little balance to the story.

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A photo of Lauren Mills and her colleague, suited up in full PPE at a testing clinic. Lauren has a swab in her hand, her friend is giving two thumbs up, and they look very happy to be helping.
Lauren Mills, front, volunteers at the COVID-19 testing site at the convention centre in downtown Halifax. Photo: Lauren Mills.

On Wednesday I got my booster. Thanks to Jamie at Halifax Medicine Shoppe for the shot in the arm! After each shot or test, I always feel we are one step closer to the end of all of this.

But with every shot and test, I also witness how professional, organized, kind — and, well, cool as cucumbers — the staff and volunteers are.

Last year, I wrote about the hundreds of volunteers who greet, swab, and test Nova Scotians at the rapid test sites. Before I wrote the story, I had no idea these clinics were run by everyday Nova Scotians who just signed up to help. Lauren Mills was one of the people I interviewed. She was one of the swabbers, but for months now she’s shared via her own Twitter account the dates and times for testing sites across the city. I have seen many people tweet or post on Facebook how these testing sites can actually be fun. There’s music, friendly and welcoming volunteers, and so on.

Not everyone has been kind back. In December, the IWK shared a post on its Instagram account asking patients at the emergency department to be kind. This was after some incidents in which visitors were abusive to staff. The Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia shared a message asking people to be patient and kind as they waited for vaccinations. And just last week, chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang said the police had to be on site at some of the testing centres because people going in for tests have been verbally abusive to staff and volunteers.

I can’t imagine it’s easy to keep calm and have a smile on your face doing this. These are people on the frontlines of the pandemic, being exposed to a virus that people like me can hide away from at home. I am sure they also worry about their own family, friends, and coworkers. The very least we can do is be patient and kind back.

My neighbour is one of the many registered nurses who came out of retirement to help with the PCR testing at the local labs. For weeks she worked long shifts, and would often tell my kid and me how many tests the lab did in a day. At one point, the number was in the hundreds. This neighbour also had a long-awaited surgery cancelled the morning of, thanks to a new wave and new COVID restrictions. Yet she recently started up at that lab, helping to assemble rapid test kits. Like everyone I’ve met when getting my vaccinations or tests, she’s warm, kind, and the cool-as-a-cucumber type. In our casual chats she will say, “this WILL end.”

And yes, it will end.

I know when it does we will all want to put this behind us, forgetting that it even happened. But I often wonder what stories we will remember. Already we are chronicling those stories in real time on social media, posting photos of the bread we baked or the gardens we grew during the lockdowns. Or sharing our frustrations and anxieties about school, work, and more restrictions in tweets and Facebook posts. It’s hard to say what we will remember, but I do hope we remember those staff and volunteers who kept their cool and guided us all through this — one shot and one test at a time.

They’re an example for us all.

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No meetings

On campus

No events

In the harbour

06:00: MSC Lucy, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
06:30: Horizon Thetis, oil tankers, sails from Imperial Oil for Falmouth, Great Britain

Cape Breton
No arrivals or departures.


Bad weather is on the way. There are a lot of storm chips on shoulders out there.

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Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent and on Mastodon

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  1. The Ester Cox piece was a great thanks. Thank goodness we have advanced past that dark age.We still have a ways to go yet. I think a lot of the reported spiritual activity is a sham,its one of the perks of atheism no God,no devil,no demons. However I believe in good and it does exist as does evil but that evil is a tangible one made by humankind.

  2. I call the rapid test site at Alderney Gate Club Covid & usually spend any waiting time dancing (in place) to whatever tune is playing. When I was there on Wednesday past, some of the volunteers did a little dance as well. Going to get tested is the biggest social gathering I’ve gone to in more months than I can remember (yes,we are spaced apart & masked, but there are usually quite a few of us there). Life is what you make of it, so I’ll take the opportunity to enjoy a little dancing when I can. 🙂