Before I get into the Morning File, just a reminder that we are in the midst of the annual Halifax Examiner subscription drive. Your subscriptions make the Examiner’s independent journalism possible. The more subscribers there are, the more stories we can cover, and the more in-depth investigations we can tackle.
1. A chain of transmission leads back to a revival meeting
Yesterday, the province reported 111 cases of COVID-19 over three days.
Tim Bousquet reports that many of the cases are related to a “faith gathering:”
The bulk of the cases are either directly related to multi-day faith gathering in late October in Amherst, or are secondary outbreaks arising from that original outbreak.
The only late October multi-day faith gathering in the Amherst area that I’m aware of is the “Bordertown Campmeeting” held at Gospel Light Baptist Church.
That chain of transmission has led to an outbreak at the East Cumberland Lodge long-term care home in Pugwash. Four residents and one staff member have tested positive, and one of those four residents is in hospital with the disease…
The virus entered the home via a single employee who is connected through a transmission thread back to the faith gathering.
On the Facebook page of the church that organized the meeting, there is a note saying “Pastor is not feeling well this evening, there will be no service tonight. Be praying for each other.”
Bousquet also brings us all the latest data on vaccination rates, where to get tested, and exposure notices.
One of the clearest explanations I have heard about how vaccinated people can still spread the virus — without necessarily getting sick or seriously ill themselves — comes from New York Times science reporter Apoorva Mandavilli, during her August 2, 2021 appearance on the Times’ podcast The Daily:
So this is a little bit complicated. You know that the vaccines that we have are injected into the muscle. And from there, the vaccines do a really good job of stimulating our body to produce a lot of antibodies, but in the blood. And not a lot of those antibodies are going to make their way into the nose, which when you think about it, is really the place where the virus comes into the body.
This was always the case. This was the case even for the original virus. But with the original virus, just a small amount of antibodies was probably enough to stop the virus from multiplying in the nose. With Delta, there is just way too much virus for the small amount of antibodies in the nose to probably completely contain.
People will conclude from this that the vaccines are useless, but that conclusion doesn’t follow. As Bousquet has noted, as more of a population is vaccinated, it’s inevitable the percentage of infected people who have been vaccinated will rise. That doesn’t mean vaccines aren’t effective. Seatbelts are nearly universally worn now. So most of the people who die in car crashes are wearing seatbelts. The conclusion is not that seatbelts are useless.
2. Who is your local school named after?
Two schools in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education started this year with new names: Sir John A. Macdonald High School is now called Bay View High School, and Tallahassee Community School has become Horizon Elementary.
That got me thinking about school names in Nova Scotia. Who, or what, do we name our schools after?
“This’ll be a fun little project,” I thought to myself a few months back. Then, week after week at the Examiner Zoom meetings, when everyone gave a roundup of what they were working on I’d say, with some embarrassment, “Uh, I still have the school names story.” Now, the story is finally published and you can read it here.
My original thought was to just roughly break it down by category: places, people, and so on. But two things quickly became apparent. First, the vast majority of schools are named for their location: East St. Margarets Elementary, Basinview Drive Community School, Inglis Street Elementary School (though that one is indirectly named for the person the street is named after). Second, a far more interesting story was to look at the people. Who are Nova Scotia schools named after?
One of the things that struck me was just how few schools are named after dignitaries, rich people, and major historical figures. A tiny handful, really.
From the story:
Overall, very few Nova Scotia schools are named for people of the rich or famous variety. Instead, you’re much more likely to find the names of local doctors and priests, school administrators, local or provincial politicians, war heroes, and an array of local landowners, trailblazers, artisans, and people who became community fixtures. They include a beloved caretaker, a teen hockey player fatally injured on the ice, and a blacksmith turned city councillor.
Take one of my favourites, Ash Lee Jefferson, in Fall River. It bears the names of three Black women from the community. The school website explains that Martha Ash (1897-1963) “shared the beauty of her property and flower gardens with the entire community” and “was widely recognized as the community counsellor for those needing support.”
Ada Lee (1875-1946) was the daughter of Fall River’s first Black settlers and “served tirelessly for years as Fall River’s midwife and nurse. She had an “open door” to anyone in need and donated the land upon which Ash Lee Jefferson was built.” And Selena Jefferson (1872-1964) “taught for nearly 65 years and was one of the first teachers in North Preston.” Her community service included “maintaining vegetable gardens, chickens, and a butter supply for anyone needing food.” All three donated land on which schools now stand.
Leslie Thomas was a young RCAF sergeant who died during a training mission. Eric Graves a hockey player who suffered a fatal injury on the ice. Madeline Symonds was the first Black woman to graduate from the Truro teachers’ college.
The story also raises the whole question of naming as a way to remember people. In some cases, people at the schools I called had no idea who they were named after. And nobody is going to forget who Sir John A. Macdonald was, but what happens when rural schools bearing the names of local figures shut down? Do we lose a little piece of of local history? I turned to doctoral student Hannah Main, who studies rural school closures, to discuss that question.
From a subscriber: Sharon Fraser
There’s a meme about Walter Cronkite that goes around on social media regularly. It tells young people that they will never believe that there used to be a time when the news was simply presented — without an agenda, without trying to make anyone look bad or good. Walter would just read the news and, the meme says, “get this. . . WE WOULD ALL JUST MAKE UP OUR OWN MINDS WHAT WE THOUGHT.”
You’d think I could let that pass now and then — but no. I write a comment, each and every time I see it — always a variation on this:
“I do think we sentimentalize Walter Cronkite and others of his era. News reporting always has an agenda and it did then as it does now. Walter reported from the point of view of a privileged white male — as did most of his contemporaries because that’s who they were — and the ‘facts’ he presented were as much perception as truth.”
I also often try to remind people that not only in Walter Cronkite’s era but in much more recent memory, commentators and reporters identified people who showed up regularly in news coverage as “special interest groups.” These could be environmentalists — whining tree huggers; they could be people working against discrimination and racism — politically correct bleeding hearts; they could be labour unions — power hungry thugs; they could be — and so often were — women. I once wrote to an editor at The Globe and Mail after I had seen a news reference to “women and other groups.” I asked who those other groups might be. The Lions’ Club? The Masons? Rotarians? The editor never answered.
After what I’ve been through, it’s very satisfying for me to see the diversity of voices represented in the Examiner. Hearing the voices has another message: it tells me that the issues are being defined by the people most affected by the circumstances of news and by change — special interest groups no more.
I was familiar with Tim’s work before he started the Examiner and I have always appreciated his thoroughness. It shouldn’t have to be mentioned, but I like clarity and accuracy. I’m glad that Tim has recruited people to work with him who have the same journalistic values he has and who make a point of covering issues that we don’t see elsewhere..
I urge you to subscribe. There’s more and more to read every day and the site is easy and reader-friendly.
And subscriber or not, if you haven’t read DEAD WRONG, Tim’s investigative series about the wrongful conviction of Glen Assoun, it’s worth the price of admission. (You can listen to the podcast here.)
See you at the Examiner.
3. Black News File
Matthew Byard’s Black News File is packed with stories this week, looking at the retirement of longtime educator Don Berry, Black MLAs meeting with Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs Pat Dunn, El Jones’ op-ed in the Globe and Mail, and coverage of a panel on slavery reparations. There’s a Nova Scotia Music week roundup, too.
Here’s Byard on the El Jones piece:
El Jones that says “African Nova Scotians should look to grassroots organizing — not representation” if looking to seek real change.
Jones points to the heavy criticism Premier Tim Houston faced by members of the Black community when he appointed a white man as minister of the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs and then fired two Black female civil servants — Dr. Késa Munroe-Anderson and Dr. OmiSoore Dryden — as possible motivation in “Houston’s swift action in firing the staffer.”
“It would be a mistake to view these events as isolated,” she said.
She continued saying:
“The uproar over the new government’s appointments and dismissals reflects how token gestures toward representation and diversity embraced by governments, universities and corporations in the wake of the killing of George Floyd do little to effect systemic change and shift power away from white institutions. One day, a premier can fire Black women. Another day, he can stand up and denounce racism by staff. In either case, the community remains at the mercy of the political calculations of those who view Black people either as a problem to be suppressed or as a tool to be used, and then discarded.
“And that holds true regardless of which political party holds power. Consider the provincial Liberals: now that they are out of power, they introduced legislation aimed at dismantling racism. During their tenure, they held out against community calls to end police street checks, presided over a provincial jail system where Black and Indigenous people are disproportionately incarcerated, and appointed a former RCMP officer as the Minister of Justice. Power comes and goes, but anti-Black racism remains alive.”
She cited Rocky Jones and talked about how lessons learned from the destruction of Africville and both the formation and dissolvement of the former Black United Front (BUF) can be used by African Nova Scotians looking to move the needle in seeking meaningful change.
Jones concluded by saying,
“The summer of 2020 saw a mass uprising in Canada that brought Black people out into the streets in protest. Those ordinary people did not come out for a few more seats at the table; they wanted an end to Black people being killed by police and to the substandard conditions of our lives that we have endured for far too long. We cannot settle for some token appointments, a few statements, and a pledge to do better some time in the future. We must organize at the grassroots outside the system for serious change.”
4. After 200 years, Tor Bay is officially recognized as an Acadian community
Yesterday morning, Yvette d’Entremont said she wanted to do a piece on the Acadian community of Tor Bay, and its official recognition by the Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse (FANE). Tim Bousquet said she didn’t need to do a stand-alone story. A blurb for the Morning File would be fine.
Ha ha, I thought. There is no way Yvette is just writing this up as a blurb. And, sure enough, here she is with a really interesting story.
The Tor Bay region in Guysborough County has been home to Acadians for some 200 years, but the community had never been officially recognized by the provincial Acadian federation. Marie-Claude Rioux, the executive director of FANE, tells d’Entremont she only learned there were about 500 Acadians living in the area three years ago:
“It’s emotional because it’s pretty much as if you realize all of a sudden that you’ve had a brother or a sister that you didn’t know about and you meet for the first time,” Rioux said.
“We all felt like, ‘Oh my God, how come we didn’t know about the Acadians from Tor Bay? How come we didn’t know the history of Acadians from Tor Bay? And I guess it brings us back to the history of all Acadians in Nova Scotia. After the expulsion, we were forced to relocate in areas that nobody else wanted.”
Last week, Rioux made her first trip to Tor Bay where she was greeted by a large group gathered at a community centre decorated with Acadian flags and served a fricot lunch.
Recognition means the community can benefit from an array of programs and activities, through FANE.
5. Town of Lunenburg sells Bluenose captain’s home without consultation
In her debut for the Examiner, Victoria Welland brings us the story of Captain Angus Walter’s former home in the Town of Lunenburg. The home was donated to the municipality to serve as a museum. But the town has now sold it as a “surplus asset.”
Walters was the famed skipper of the Bluenose for most of its racing career. Welland writes:
Bernard (Spike) Walters gained possession of the property in 1969, a year after the death of his father, Angus. Bernard Walters lived there until 2000 when he donated the property to the Town of Lunenburg.
The affidavit to the deed reads, “That the town acquired the property by gift from me for the purposes of a Museum (in honour of my late father Captain Angus Walters) but the property is not subject to a trust in relation thereto.”
The property did function as a museum for a year or two after the donation, according to Stephen Ernst, town councillor and Heritage Advisory Committee Chair. He remembers it well because he worked there himself. But problems arose with the museum’s operations.
“It came down to the location of it,” Ernst said. “It’s on the opposite side of the harbour from the main town and it just didn’t draw the people that we were hoping for, despite efforts by the other museums in town and the town itself to try and attract people there.”
Because the municipality deemed the house a surplus asset, there was no consultation needed before selling it:
[Margaret Smith, Angus Walters’ granddaughter] said she was never contacted by the town about the sale of the property….
She said she had a difficult time retrieving family items that were found in the house. The town contacted her and James to go through the items when the town decided to sell. She described communication with the town as a taxing process.
“I would like to go in and get a few more things out. My daughter would like to have some things because it is her great grandfather, but nobody (answers) me back so I have to go through the town council.”
1. Follow-ups from Phil
This is a 4-in-1 “Views” item (what a deal!) in which I follow up on a few items previously reported on or noted in the Examiner.
1) Yesterday, Tim Bousquet wrote about the connections between COVID deniers and flat-earthers. Earlier this year, I interviewed University of King’s College alum Cédric Blais, who was studying flat-earthers while doing his master’s at Cambridge University. Some flat-earthers, Blais says, go to extraordinary lengths to try and scientifically prove their beliefs, and that fascinated him. At one time, he says:
The belief the earth is flat was held by most scientifically educated people… I am trying to understand how one might try to sustain that belief at a time when that belief is no longer reasonable… A lot of the pre-Socratics thought the earth was flat, and a lot of their arguments mirror those of the flat earthers today. The movement is quite disunified. It’s very much reliant on internet culture, which means that a lot of the material it produces are random people conducting their own experiments, making their own observations, and not necessarily interested in coordinating themselves.
A common way of thinking about pseudo-science is that pseudo-scientists are kind of disconnected from reality. They avoid any contradictory information and they’re not interested in correcting mistakes in their theories when they’re pointed out to them. One of the fascinating things to me is that, on the contrary, none of that seems to be completely true, at least for flat-earthers.
Hence, convoluted explanations for phenomena such as the moon-tilt illusion.
I interviewed Blais in March, when COVID-19 vaccines were on their way, and there was no vocal anti-vaccination movement yet. Looking back now, this part of the interview on why it’s important to take people like flat-earthers seriously seems particularly relevant:
Flat earth theories can seem harmless. But when you look at the general degradation of trust in science, you get a certain sense of urgency and start wondering how you stop that, and get fixated on stopping it. Part of the reason I was interested in treating them seriously is they take themselves seriously. It might not do justice to the phenomenon to treat it as an example of ideological people acting in bad faith, because clearly that does not correspond to their self-image. That is not to say there is no bad faith involved, but if we fail to recognize the ways they see the world around them, we are missing a key part of the puzzle.
2) In November 2019, I spoke to filmmaker and tenants’ rights activist Sharon Hyman for the Examiner. Hyman and her neighbours in the suburban Montreal community of Hampstead were fighting the mayor’s plan to demolish their four-storey apartment buildings, in which rents are reasonable, and build a 10-storey luxury apartment complex in their place.
Here’s what I wrote at the time:
The location wasn’t zoned for 10 storeys, but the building’s owners were confident they’d get council approval to go ahead anyway. Mayor Bill Steinberg favoured the project, calling it a “win-win-win” (for whom?). When council voted the development down, the mayor vetoed the vote.
Hyman and her fellow residents got enough signatures to force a referendum on the new development, and the vote was held last Sunday. Voters turned down the development by a margin of 593-267. The local community paper, The Suburban, quoted Steinberg:
“The project is not going ahead, and what the developers will do next, I can’t tell you… Obviously, some of the benefits we would have had, like a zero percent tax increase, are not going to happen.”
In other words, the tenants are selfishly going to cause everyone else’s taxes to go up by fighting against a luxury complex they won’t be able to afford to live in, but that will bring in greater revenue to the town.
Why am I telling you this story about tenants’ rights in Montreal? Because Hyman said from the start she saw this as being part of a bigger fight — one she hoped would resonate across the country.
“Our particular story for me was never about just our two buildings. It was about sending a message to tenants across Montreal and across Canada that it’s time to start fighting back, taking back our power and sending a message to developers that you can’t just treat tenants like expendable commodities… At some point, people have to stand up to this gentrification and take our cities back. Do we really want our cities to just be accessible to the affluent?”
There were municipal elections in Quebec on the weekend, and Hampstead mayor was running for a fifth term. His entire campaign, he told the Montreal Gazette, was based on redeveloping the buildings Hyman and her neighbours live in:
Steinberg, for his part, is steadfast. “I have been going door-to-door 23 hours a week every week — and the overwhelming majority of people want 10-storey buildings,” he said. “My whole campaign is based on that.”
He lost the election.
3) Last year, I wrote about my experiments with the pomodoro technique. At its simplest, it’s a method for working without distractions. You set a timer for a set period (usually 25 minutes), don’t let anything take you away from your task, and then take a break. Then repeat. One advantage of the technique is that it allows you to get better, over time, at estimating how long, how many pomodoros, a task will take. (The school names story took far more pomodoros than I had expected.)
I was interested to note last week that crossword blogger Rex Parker — a pseudonym for English professor Michael Sharp — has developed his own pomodoro-style anti-distraction technique:
I’ve been buying more cassettes lately (weird boom in this retro format, not sure why), so I got a CASSETTE PLAYER / CD player that sits right here on my desk. It’s a nice alternative to streaming, which is convenient but gives me the urge to switch music too often. Trying anything I can to keep the Distraction Monster from dominating my brain. Thus, my few cassettes get a Lot of play. I press play, it plays one side until it stops, then I turn it over (so satisfying, this little physical intervention), and play the other side. And so on and so on. My current work music (Duett, “Leisure”) sounds like it should be playing in an ’80s mall, or ’80s TV crime drama, or an ’80s TV crime drama set in a mall, and sonically that is basically where I want to live forever.
In case you’re wondering “CASSETTE PLAYER” in capitals, because Parker is referencing a crossword answer in the New York Times puzzle of the day.
4) John Charles, who I spoke to about his efforts to save an old home in Prospect, sends this image, with the boards under the house’s siding removed, in preparation for demolition. The Department of Public Works considers the house a hindrance to snowplow drivers, because it sits too close to the road, so it bought the house in order to demolish it.
Charles estimates the boards to be at least 16″ wide, and, looking at them, he figures the house was built approximately 150 years ago. He adds, “It’s ironic that the work on the house so far is similar to what would be done to prepare for a major restoration.”
2. Lab-grown meat and electric cars
Audio producer Tina Pittaway introduced me recently to the work of Alicia Kennedy, a food writer who often writes about the intersections of food, justice, climate change, and ethics. Recently, she was a guest on the War on Cars podcast, where the topics included lab-grown meat and electric cars.
What’s the connection? Well, in both cases you have a technology that is supposed to be the second coming, solving all kinds of environmental crises. But it seems increasingly likely that the solutions we need run deeper than just “green” versions of what we have now. There is also an interesting discussion in the podcast on how two different types of non-meat “meat” are conflated.
Kennedy is interviewed by one of the show’s hosts, Sarah Goodyear:
Sarah: “Oh, don’t worry, just drive an electric car. It’ll be fine.” Well, that doesn’t account for the fact that a lot of the pollution from cars comes from the tires. A lot of the danger from cars is obviously not mitigated if they’re electric. And the electricity has to come from somewhere, and the batteries are incredibly environmentally destructive to create. And so when people talk about electric cars, I don’t get very excited, and I know that you don’t get terribly excited when people talk about fake meat. So maybe you could—I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on lab meat or fake meat or whatever people call it.
Alicia Kennedy: Well, I’ve made this parallel before because Bill Gates, who invested in lab meat and tech meat — which I can explain the distinctions — but I think he told the New York Times or something that he was — that Elon, used only his first name, did the best thing ever for climate change with Tesla. And I was like, “Are you kidding me?”
And I think that that makes the parallels so clear between these little fixes that still make someone so rich, versus real fundamental changes that we can make, not just to our behaviors but to our infrastructure that would make real, lasting impacts…
And so then you have lab meat, which people talk so much about. You know, the Good Food Institute is a non-profit that exists, like, literally just to promote lab meat, but it doesn’t actually exist on the market. It might never exist on the market. People talk about it like it will very imminently, but we don’t — it’s not actually going to happen. Even Bill Gates, who was a big booster of it initially, has said that we’re really far away from it really getting to anyone’s plates. I think in Singapore you can get a cultured chicken nugget, I think, and that’s it.
Goodyear also offered up this bit, on resignation to climate change:
This is so weird to me that people find it easier to envision a totally apocalyptic world with a red sky and, you know, us all shuffling along in rags through rubble. They find that easier to imagine than a world in which they don’t drive to the big box store a mile and a half away to buy their 10-pound freezer pack of cheap beef. Like, they can’t see that there might be something in between those two realities that might actually be really fun to build and really interesting to build and really gratifying, and that would put us into a different kind of contact with the people in our community to build something healthy.
Stephen Archibald conveniently published a new entry in his Noticed in Nova Scotia blog while I was writing this Morning File, and this time he turns his eye to grave markers made of zinc.
Archibald invites readers to join the club (or cult) of zinc marker enthusiasts, and explains:
Zinc markers are not plentiful in Nova Scotia but they are common; any cemetery that was in use at the end of the 19th century is a potential candidate site (most examples are from the 1880s and they peter out by the First World War). The zinc specimens often mimic their stone cousins in size and shape but are recognizable because of their matte blue grey colour and crisp decoration. Sometimes they will be the “best” looking marker in the cemetery because zinc resists the growth of lichens and mosses, and environmental staining.
These memorials, he notes, were not the work of local artisans, but were chosen out of a catalogue (they were customizable), with much of the manufacture coming from a plant in Connecticut. Because bronze had a certain cachet, those offering memorials in zinc referred to it as “white bronze.” Ah, marketing.
Archibald shares images from one of these catalogues, showing some of the available motifs that could be added to zinc memorials, and then brings us images of some of these memorials from around the province — Middleton, Halifax, Lockeport, Grand-Pré. He describes himself as “completely smitten” with this one:
I am not a horror film enthusiast, but the one below gives me serious horror movie vibes.
Although the “white bronze” marketing may have been silly, Archibald notes that these memorials did deliver on their promise to remain in relatively pristine condition. He writes:
We see pretty much exactly what our Victorian ancestors saw, except they could read the iconography with more emotion. What a treat.
Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 10am, City Hall) — also livestreamed
Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — livestreamed
Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 4:30pm) — livestreamed
2021 Accessibility Advisory Committee Annual Town Hall Meeting (Wednesday, 6:30pm, Halifax Central Library) — also livestreamed
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — also broadcast live
The Pathway Forward (Wednesday, 2:30pm) — Session 8 of the Dallaire Cleveringa Critical Conversation Series, held online
Phase-Separation of Intrinsically Disordered Protein Regions: Biophysics, Biochemistry and Bioinformatics (Wednesday, 4pm) — Julie Forman-Kay from the University of Toronto will talk
Aging, Depression, and Somatic Health: An Online Public Conversation (Wednesday, 4:30pm) — a panel of experts lead an online discussion of factors that promote mental and somatic health
A Step-by-Step Guide to Meal Planning (Wednesday, 12pm) — in this online workshop Shannon Rouzes teaches four easy steps for meal planning, as well as how to safely store food
In the harbour
12:30: Stavanger TS, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
14:00: Phoenix Admiral, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from New York
16:00: Glovertown Spirit, barge, and Beverly M I, tug, arrive at Sydport from Miquelon
I am going to be in Montreal next week and will report back on the French tacos.