Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why Albert Einstein should have learned Mi'kmaq

Published in the Chronicle Herald during October 2014's Mi'kmaq History Month:

By Jon Tattrie

If Albert Einstein had been Mi’kmaq, he might not have found space-time so hard to warp his mind around. In fact, if we all spoke Mi’kmaq, all of Einstein’s ideas would be more readily grasped.

“Einstein told us everything is in constant flux; everything is moving all the time. It’s difficult to conceptualize that your house is moving, or your carpet is moving,” says Dr Bernie Francis, a respected linguist and professor at the Cape Breton University.

While noun-based English struggles to express Einstein’s ideas, verb-based Mi’kmaq makes it clearer. Colour is a verb, for example. “We don’t say the car is red. We say the car is redding,” he explains. “We’re saying it’s in the process of being red.”

It’s not seen as a permanent condition, but a changing condition that you see at a certain point in time. It’s in constant motion. “[Mi’kmaq] sees the world as a video camera, as opposed to English, which sees the world as a still camera that takes pictures of reality frame by frame,” the Membertou man explains. “That’s the difference. Our language substantiates Einstein’s theory. In the sub-atomic world, nothing is stationary.”

Insights like these, and his deep contributions to saving the language from extinction and to improving Mi’kmaq access to justice, played a big role in the decision of his peers to give Francis the Grand Chief Donald Marshall Sr. Elder Achievement Award this year.

“He’s been doing his work for a long time. It’s nice to see that he’s being recognized,” Tim Bernard says. “Bernie will be the first to tell you that’s a great part of being an elder: you never acknowledge yourself as an elder. It’s your peers and others that give you that recognition.”

“What it means to me is whenever there’s a feast, I get to eat first,” Francis says with an explosive laugh. “Elders eat first.”

He downplays his own achievements, focusing instead on the elders who helped him achieve those things. “It’s given to me by my own people, who know me,” he says. “It’s quite an honour.”

He came to study the language almost accidentally. In the 1970s, he worked for the John Howard Society helping parolees. He realized that language and cultural barriers put a lot of Mi’kmaq people behind bars. “It was at that time that I noticed that our own people were being treated like a bunch of cattle,” he says.

Francis improved the situation by spreading the word that everyone should plead not guilty, and then find legal help. He helped develop a program that assist the accused in finding justice. “Before long I was probably the most hated person in the court system,” he says with a little laugh.

He left that post in the mid-1970s and spent the next several years working with Dr. Peter Christmas, director of the Mi’kmaq Association of Cultural Studies, and Professor Doug Smith to create an orthography that allowed Mi’kmaq to be written down.

By 1980, the Smith-Francis Orthography was complete and went into active use. Much of his work was poured into The Language of This Land, Mi’kma’ki, a book he co-authored with Trudy Sable.


Today, Francis helps to develop Pjila’si Mi’kma’ki, a digital atlas and website that will document the 13,000 year history of Mi’kma’ki. It’s important cultural work, but also important legally for establishing land claims. Francis hopes it will literally and figuratively put Mi’kmaq culture back on the map.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Celebrating Mi'kmaq History Month

an article i did for the chronicle herald

By Jon Tattrie

Nova Scotians are celebrating Mi’kmaq History Month this October, but organizers say the event faces major challenges if it hopes to grow in the coming years.

Tim Bernard of the Confederacy of Mainland Mi'kmaq says the celebratory month started in 1993 when the province “finally realized we should do something to promote Mi’kmaq history and culture. That was a big step.”

But Bernard says funding fluctuates, meaning the event grows and shrinks. Organizers are in the second year of developing a long-term plan to move the month forward.

“We’ve recognized a need for Mi’kmaq communities in Nova Scotia to embrace Mi’kmaq History Month,” he says. “After twenty years, nobody was embracing the month to the degree that we should 
be.”

There are cultural challenges, too. Bernard’s father, for example, did some time at the Shubenacadie Residential School, where he and others were punished if they spoke Mi’kmaw, and were taught to be ashamed of their culture.  

After 540 generations of handing the language and culture into the future, it was shattered in one generation. Tim Bernard didn’t learn his own language. He says inter-generational wounds like that need time to heal.

“It’s about communities celebrating, first. We’ve been deprived for a long period of time. We want to make sure our own communities are feeling good about celebrating Mi’kmaq History Month – the pride – and making sure we’re ready first before we can begin celebrating with the outside cultures,” he says.

He draws inspiration from recent successes in expanding Mi’kmaq presence in the province. Millbrook First Nation recently got a sign on Highway 102, and he hopes others will also get on the signs.  Other communities are returning to their traditional names, such as Sipekne'katik First Nation, Potlotek First Nation and Paq’tnkek Mi’kmaw Nation

Bernard points to Melody Martin-Googoo, who won an Excellence in Teaching Award in Truro this year for bringing a Mi’kmaq language class to Truro Junior High, and the planned Mi’kmawey-Debert Cultural Centre, based around the 13,000-year-old archeological site. “It is our intention to tell our own history through a Mi’kmaw lens,” he says. “There’s been a cultural disconnect, there’s been disruption in our history and our culture.

“We’re just trying to make Mi’kmaw culture a little more visible. Or a lot more visible, but we have to take little steps at a time.”

Treaty Rights benefit all

It’s a message Ben Sichel hears clearly. The Dartmouth-based teacher is white, but he says that’s all the more reason to celebrate events like Treaty Day.

“There's a common perception in Canada today that treaties and treaty rights, such as the hunting and fishing rights many people are familiar with, are just a 'native thing.' But the rights thought of as Aboriginal treaty rights today were obtained in exchange for the British being allowed to live peacefully on the land the Mi'kmaq had lived on for centuries,” he says.

“The British, and all other non-native folks who've lived on this land since the British took it over, have enjoyed that treaty right ever since. The Mi'kmaq were supposed to be able to enjoy that right as well.”


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Gottingen STreet 250

This is an unpublished version of the article that ran in Business Voice. 

By Jon Tattrie

Gottingen Street conjures up images of rural living in pastoral woods, the sound of horse hooves clip-clopping on dirt roads, and the smells of pine and ocean. Well, it does if you’re Paul Erickson, professor of anthropology at Saint Mary’s University and the author of Historic North End Halifax.

Erickson lives in the north end and has spent much of his life digging deep into its roots. “That area from Gottingen to the harbour is referred to as the old north suburbs. It developed before the south suburbs,” he says with a glint of pride.

Gottingen Street is turning 250 this year and it’s flourishing.

The revitalization even earned it a spot in Air Canada’s spring 2014 En Route magazine, which directed travellers to have breakfast at the Nook, visit the Parentheses Gallery, grab a drink in the Company House, dine in Edna and take in a live show at the Marquee Ballroom.

Local Tasting Tours recently started offering HFX North, a foodie’s journey through the north end. The 2.5 hour tour stops at places including Gio on Market Street, Dee Dee’s Ice Cream on Cornwallis Street, enVie vegan kitchen on Charles Street and Fred café and hair salon on Agricola and North.


Halifax was founded in 1749 to give the British a powerful hold on what they called Nova Scotia and to push the Acadians and Mi’kmaq off the disputed territory. Fortress Halifax was born in war and huddled behind the palisades for its first few years.

But shiploads of the so-called Foreign Protestants arrived year after year, seeking more land than Halifax proper could provide. Most of the 3,000 new settlers arriving in 1750-1751 were German, with a few Swiss and French mixed in, nearly equaling the original English population.

The Germans soon over-spilled the city walls and settled to the north of the palisades. The economic immigrants and religious refugees cut through the forest to create paths littered with tree stumps. People built and lived in “Dutch cottages,” modest one- or two-bedroom homes nestled in the woods.

“The main motivation for development in that direction was the creation of the naval dockyards at the foot of what’s now Artz Street,” Erickson explains. “The dockyard was essentially completed by 1760. There’s a lot of early activity there.”

The area was known as Dutchtown, which was an English corruption of Deutschtown, as in Germany. Some called it Germantown.

Erickson describes many of the colonists as indentured servants who paid for their passage by building public works in Halifax. He and his wife Dawn excavated a Dutch cottage on Cornwallis and Barrington streets as part of a SMU project in the 1980s.

In 1753, many Germans were moved to settle Lunenburg (which explains why the UNESCO World Heritage Site looks so much like early Halifax). But some remained north of Halifax.

In 1756, the Dutchtown settlers dragged a log home to the corner of Brunswick and Gerrish. There they paused before a common grave holding the mortal remains of some 300 of their brothers and sisters who died of typhus on the crossing from Europe to Nova Scotia. The building became their grave marker. It was called St. George’s Church and kept that name until St. George’s Round Church opened in 1812, when it became known as the Little Dutch Church. 

In 1764, the German settlers successfully petitioned the Nova Scotia government to change the name from Germantown to Gottingen to honour King George II, the German-born British ruler who founded Göttingen University and who had died in 1760.

Upper Water Street dead-ended at the dockyards and Barrington Street was just a stub, so Gottingen became the street that grew and grew all the way to Lady Hammond Road (that last stretch was recently renamed Novalea Drive) to get people off the peninsula. “It became a transportation artery to the downtown,” Erickson says.

By the late 1800s, Gottingen was a commercial district. A look through the digital version of Hopkins’ City Atlas of Halifax (1878) shows a tobacco factory off Brunswick Lane, a carriage factory near St. George’s Church, and the North End Market. It also housed institutions such as the Military Hospital, the Deaf & Dumb Institute and the “Colored Baptist Church.”

In the 1900s, Brunswick Street was Young Avenue of its day. “It was the residential address of distinction,” Erickson says. In the post-war period, it became more of a working class neighbourhood. The destruction of Africville in the 1960s drove many of the dislocated African Nova Scotians to join the black Nova Scotians already living in the residential north end.

Today, the North End Business Association is celebrating that 1764 name change as Gottingen 250. Particular focus is on the area’s German, Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotia identities.

Michelle Strum, chairwoman of the North End Business Association, says the main celebrations run September 11 to 14. A music and heritage festival (staring Jrdn) will offer a free, daylong concert at 2183 Gottingen Street, an open-air street market on Maitland Street, and family festivities in the field next to St. Patrick’s Alexandra. 

On Sunday, there’s a free community barbeque and multi-denomination religious service. It’ll be a return to roots, as one of the original Little Dutch Church pastors spoke four languages and preached to people from different Christian traditions.

The area’s history will be explored throughout the year at iMOVE, the Bus Stop Theatre and the Co*Lab, with photo collections, archival displays, and community stories on Gottingen Street and online. Organizers also plan to develop a history app that will use location tags to pull out stories from the first 250 years for a walking history tour.

“We’re going to project onto buildings how they looked through the years,” Strum adds. “It’s a celebration of Gottingen past, present, and where we’re going.”

Part of the reason for Gottingen 250 is that there is Canadian Heritage funding available for neighbourhoods celebrating their 250th anniversary.

Strum also owns Halifax Backpackers Hostel and Alteregos Café & Catering on Gottingen Street. It’s one of the signs of growth in the area, along with Q Lofts and other condo projects, the Global News headquarters (in the former Palooka’s site), Home Grown Organics and more.

Strum says the area economy is “excellent,” although businesspeople here (and elsewhere in the downtown) want to see business taxes reformed. Strum also wants action on HRM’s Centre Plans so development moves quicker.

Strum has owned her businesses for 13 years, and that makes her hostel one of the longest-standing enterprises on the street. “Gottingen Street is different than downtown in that people tend to run these life-long businesses,” she explains. Owners retire, sell the spot, and a new business take its place.

“It has that rural business community feel,” she says. “Walk up and down Gottingen Street and you’ll find the owner behind the counter at almost every business. It’s something really special we have here.”

One of those owners is Jenna Mooers. She grew up on Gottingen and North, then Creighton and North, in the 1990s. Gottingen sprouted plenty of empty buildings and vacant lots at that time. She left for Montreal after high school and had no reason to return.

But then her mother, Jane Wright, closed Jane’s on the Common, and bought 2053 Gottingen Street to operate Jane’s Catering and Events. Mooers opened Edna in the building in 2013. It’s a restaurant named for the American poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay.

“I feel like I’m falling in love with Halifax all over again,” Mooers says. “Part of my vision was to be a neighbourhood restaurant and bar where people could walk and get a locally sourced, home-cooked meal and a glass of wine, and not have to take their cars.”

She put benches on the sidewalk add to the community spirit. “Public seating is really neat. It took all of 30 seconds for somebody to come by and sit on them,” she says. “They’re pretty much occupied all day long.”

Business is good, she says, but she worries about development becoming gentrification. “As long as small business owners are invested in the community, live and work and feel it, then I think it’s a really positive thing,” says Mooers, who does indeed live in the neighbourhood.

Gottingen Street still has the community vibe it had in the early days, but the pastoral woods and rural atmosphere are long gone. So are the clip-clopping horse hooves and tree-stumped dirt roads. Some of it made it to World War Two, but almost all of the old world was bulldozed in the mania for urban renewal that gripped Halifax post-war. 

But hints of history remain. The Little Dutch Church still marks the old mass grave. Stand at the corner of Cornwallis and Barrington to take in the billboard sitting on a green space. That’s where Paul Erickson and his SMU team excavated (and then reburied) an old Dutch cottage. Across the street is the new Spice Condominiums. They’re named for William Schwartz, the son of German immigrants. He founded Schwartz Spices in 1889 and operated a spice factory on the site.

Walk up to the south-east corner of Cornwallis and Brunswick (kitty-corner to the Round Church), turn left and stroll past the beautifully ancient brown home. It’s Akins Cottage, built in the 1790s and later home to Dr. Thomas B. Akins, author of 1895’s History of Halifax City. The original Dutch cottages looked something like it.

Close your ears to modern traffic, shut your eyes to the condos, and listen to the echoes of horses trotting on dirt roads. Smell the peaceful woods.

“That’s about as evocative as you can get of 18th century north end,” says Paul Erickson. “The rest you have to use your imagination for.”

---

Learn more at Gottingen.ca.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Nova Scotia, Annapolis Valley: Sampling wines proves alluring

and here's the Toronto Star travel article i did on taking a hot air balloon ride in the annapolis valley, followed by a vineyard tour.

Drink number one takes a bit of work to find. It starts in the pre-dawn parking lot of an Irving Big Stop gas station outside of New Minas in the Annapolis Valley. We gather around our pilot, Seth Bailey, and watch him release a balloon and track its course. Satisfied, he piles us into a dark SUV and speeds along until he finds a suitable field.
With cold hands we hold open an immense balloon as a fan inflates it with frigid morning air. It lifts sluggishly off the grass. Seth releases an open flame into the balloon and it jumps straight up. We clamber into the small wicker basket; blasts of fire lift us above the Valley. Cows, horses and llamas scatter below. A barking dog gives chase. We drift over a man standing on his back deck in his robe. He shouts a cheery hello. We shout back.
Wandering through air currents, the balloon drops to 200 feet and we skim over corn and blueberry crops. Our aerial nature tour takes us over a marshy forest, above the heads of deer, hawks and hunters. Tractors work the fields as the morning mist evaporates.
Seth breathes fire into the balloon and we soar to 1,200 feet. In an expansive glance, we take in the full length of the Bay of Fundy and the New Brunswick shore. Cape Split juts into the water; the distant villages of Parrsboro, Five Islands and Wolfville huddle in the chill.
We pass a golf course. Seth has landed there on more than one occasion, causing the golfers to politely play around him. As we approach the end of the Valley after an hour’s flight, Seth looks for a suitable landing spot amid the crops, forests and before the Minas Basin. He finds one and we return to earth. It’s a rough landing and 82-year-old Roberta piles into me, laughing. We stumble to our feet and Drink Number One appears before us: champagne. It’s a tradition as old as hot-air ballooning: toast the miracle of flight, the miracle of landing. (It’s said the early French balloonists broke out the bubbly when they alighted in the fields of alarmed farmers.)
Seth has a regular job in Halifax, but his love of hot-air ballooning inspired him to start East Coast Balloon Adventures. We are grateful for his passion.
I hop into a van promising Grape Escapes and Susan Downey trundles me along rustic lanes lined with an honour guard of trees toward the next drink. We putter across back-road bridges and through the fertile valley in a tidal landscape that has slipped from modernity’s grasp.
The road is more patches than pavement as we bump into the site for Drinks Two through Four: Domaine de Grand Pré. This is where the Annapolis Valley’s fabled shift from food crops toward vineyards began in the 1970s. The cobblestone courtyard gives a European feel to the dining and drinking area. As we tour the vines, the silence is interrupted by loud bangs designed to drive off the starlings. Apparently, starlings love grapes.
The sommelier guides us through three wines. They are increasingly delicious and I’m glad for the solid marble counter that prevents me going sideways. The ice wine astounds with its sweet, chilly goodness. It’s a very Nova Scotia product: the grapes are harvested in the dark on a frozen winter morning and turned into a lovely dessert wine. It’s difficult to get Nova Scotia’s scrumptious wines outside the province, so you must generally stand on its land to drink the blood of its vines.
We pile back into the van and wobble through the Gaspereau Valley to organic L’Acadie Vineyards. The sommelier tells us how many bubbles it takes to fill a bottle of L’Acadie sparkling wine: 56 million. L’Acadie surprised everyone in 2011 when its sparkling wine won silver at the Best Sparkling Wines in the World competition in Dijon, France. We sample a few more wines before circling for the van. My writing is sloppy, but I think I may be on Drink Seven or Eight.
Pete Luckett salutes us at the doors to Luckett Vineyards. The balding British ex-pat’s reputation ripples through this province. I heard his name in the hot air balloon as we peered down at his vineyard. He is famous in Halifax for twisting an old law banning Sunday shopping so much that the law finally gave up and let him open his Pete’s Frootique grocery store on whatever days he pleases. I first met him in 2009 when he was seeking a new business adventure. We stood in a rundown field and he shared his next dream: he wanted to open his very own vineyard.
His motto: If you can have someone smiling while you take their money, business will be good.
He opened the vineyard a few years later and today, business is good.
A red British phone booth stands in the rows between his grapes, offering free phone calls to anywhere in North America.
His hillside restaurant provides soulful views of the Valley and food that elicits worship. I forgot to write down the details of Drinks Nine through Twelve, but I remember them fondly.
I’m glad sober Susan is driving the Grape Escapes van. She, like Seth, like Pete, like everyone I’ve met here, was so enchanted by the Annapolis Valley, she started her own business to share the beauty with others.
As we hit the highway to Halifax, the vibrant splendor of the Annapolis Valley recedes. I opt for optimism and plan a return trip to tour the remainder of the Valley’s 11 vineyards.
I guess you could say I’m a Glass Half-Full kind of guy.

Jon Tattrie is a freelance journalist and the author of Ultimate Day Trips from Halifax.

Just the Facts
East Coast Balloon Adventures is Nova Scotia’s only hot air balloon company. They offer sunrise and sunset flights from spring to late fall. Book online at eastcoastballoonadventures.com. Grape Escapes (novascotiawinetours.com) offers a range of packaged and tailored tours through the Valley’s 11 vineyards. Go North offers similar tours, plus overnight trips. The Wolfville Magic Winery Bus leaves the Valley town for hop-on, hop-off tours of the wineries.

Kayaking in Tangier, Nova Scotia

a piece i wrote on kayaking in tangiers for the Toronto Star:



By Jon Tattrie

Highway 107 is a road people take to get home, not to get away. The two-lane route nicknamed Marine Drive clings to Nova Scotia’s rugged eastern shore, passing through fishing villages like Oyster Pond, Jeddore and Tangier. The people cling to the ocean, too, pulling a meagre living from the water.

Newcomers move to the coast for the views and build houses facing the ocean. Locals face inland. Face each other. Face away from the darkness beyond the shore.

If Nova Scotia is Canada’s Ocean Playground, as its license plates insist, then this is the province’s ocean workplace. For generations, Mi’kmaq people, European settlers and their descendents have extracted a living from the sea. All too often, the ocean takes a life in return.

In Tangier, Scott Cunningham continues the tradition. A marine biologist by training, his life changed 30 years when he took a break to paddle the coast of Nova Scotia. If the shore was straightened out, it would stretch to England and let settlers walk home. He had the ocean to himself.

When he returned, he started Coastal Adventures to share his passion with others, and to pull his own living from the ocean. He leads kayak tours along the eastern shore. Some go a half-day, others a full day. Some last the better part of a week.

Our group paddles out of Tangier Harbour. The ocean swells as we cross open water. Cunningham, a seafaring Red Green, provokes thoughts about the ocean, about how it shapes the land, and how it shapes the people.

“For most people it’s enough to go out into this natural world and just breathe deeply,” he says. “They’ve never seen the province from this perspective before. The smells, the views, just seeing the coastline from water. Most of us don’t see that. To be on a kayak where you can go around these nooks and crannies, it’s totally novel for most people. And that’s enough.”

But for those who want more, Cunningham has a story for every plant, a fact about each bird and a deep history of all the stones.

We paddle past small islands. To a dull-eyed city dweller, it looks like pristine wilderness, but Cunningham sees more. A glance tells him if people ever lived here.

The ocean tides press under our kayaks as we cross to Baltee Island and slip through the rocks to come ashore. Cunningham decodes the landscape as we hike. An overgrown rose bush indicates a garden once lovingly tended. Apple trees show a food crop that helped sustain generations. The forest undergrowth indicates a field once cleared. A cavity shows the remains of a root cellar. A house stood over it and a field surrounded it. The home probably fell a century ago.

Cunningham says all of the islands are abandoned. When he was younger, the old folks who once lived on them visited for a few weeks in the summer. Their children came out for weekends; their grandchildren will come out one day. He rambled around the pathless island the first time he visited, and then fell into the same route the second time. Now, his narrow path guides visitors.

We scramble up massive, exposed rocks at the Atlantic face of Baltee Island. The ocean crashes against the base of long-crushed mountains. When the great continent of Pangea ripped apart, Nova Scotia was pulled from its embrace with Morocco. The rocks here are matched only there.

Cunningham tells me you can still see how roads in Tangier, Nova Scotia, run into the sea, only to resume their course inland on roads in Tangier, Morocco. Of course, he also tells me the crab shells we see along the high rocks are leftovers from the great Crab Migration into the woods.

We return to our kayaks and the quiet is interrupted only by waves sloshing against the hulls and paddles cutting the water. A seal bobs along watching us. An eagle passes overhead. The grey sky matches the steel water.

Cunningham beaches his kayak and leads us inland a few paces to an old Mi’kmaq midden. For generations, people came here, harvested the ocean, and tossed the trash at the edge of the sand.  

British colonists pushed into the wilderness to scrape a living out of the shallow land and deep water in the 1700s. Mi’kmaq warriors fought back, swarming British ships with canoe fleets, seizing vessels and attacking other European crews along this shore. The Mi’kmaq pirates won many battles, but lost the war and were pushed into central reservations.

The settlers’ descendents are leaving now. This coast is part of Halifax Regional Municipality, but while the distant city grows, the outposts shrink. A recent map of the province circulating on local social media listed the eastern shore as Terres Inconnues – Land Unknown.

We return to Tangier eight hours after we left.  Pulling the kayaks out of the water, I daydream we are landing on a remote island during a month-long tour. I pull onto Marine Drive and have the dark road to myself as I head back to the city.

---

sidebar

Coastal Adventures operates from early spring to late fall. While they are often fully booked, the routes they take are never heavily travelled. They cater to beginners and experts. Day trips run along the Eastern Shore Islands route outlined above, but vary with conditions.


Multi-day trips include one departing the historic Louisbourg fort in Cape Breton and paddling to Scatarie Island, where you’ll encounter a massive, and very recent, shipwreck. Other tours explore Peggys Cove, the Canso Barrens, the Atlantic Coastal Islands, the Cape Breton Highlands, the Bay of Fundy and several excursions off Newfoundland. Some of the trips involve camping en route, while others are Inn-to-Inn tours. Learn more at Coastaladventures.com.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Paging Peter Kelly, former mayor of Halifax

Here's a piece I wrote for Halifax Magazine about the vanishing act of Halifax's former mayor, Peter Kelly. 

By Jon Tattrie

Citizen Peter Kelly walks into Izzy’s Bagel on the Bedford Highway with the practiced friendliness of a professional politician. He says hello to each patron and chats with the lady behind the counter while ordering green tea. When you spent 32 years in politics, it’s hard to shake the habit.

But Kelly’s trying. After ending his term as HRM mayor in 2012, he took a year-long vow of public silence. A man who was seemingly everywhere was suddenly nowhere.

But his silence has ended. And Citizen Kelly has a lot to say. In a wide-ranging interview with Halifax Magazine, he offered insights into what comes next and set the record straight on his time in office.

Kelly retired on an eight-election winning streak and has not lost a vote since 1983. Will he contest a spot in the provincial legislature or federal parliament?

“There is never a day that goes by that people don’t say you should get back into it,” he says. “If I feel that I can bring benefit, I may look at it, but right now that’s not high on the agenda.”

For now he’s settling into an elder statesmen role. He seems more relaxed, or at least a Peter Kelly version of relaxed. His eyes still have that dark intensity and he can still speak at length without answering your question.

He runs a low-profile consulting business guiding landowners through the development process, blending his insider’s knowledge of politics with his MBA. He goes to public meetings and helps his former constituents when they ask.

He’s dead against proposed changes to the Otter Lake landfill. The promises being reconsidered are promises he made. “I’m watching that one very closely. That was a sacred promise,” he says.

Kelly offers vague praise for Mike Savage, his successor, which is not surprising for a man who rarely used negative campaigning. He says the smaller council seems to be working well (noting he always supported a smaller council) and celebrates the plethora of development in the city, from Dartmouth Crossing to the convention centre. “Those cranes came from our councils,” he reminds us.

Insiders say he’s writing a tell-all memoire. He admits he’s been approached by a publisher. “Right now I feel I’m too young to do a book,” the 57-year-old says. “Life’s not complete.”

But it’s clear he’s thought a lot about how to balance it. Will it detail his personal struggles, or just be about work? He’s undecided.

As mayor, he put in 80-hour weeks and was often spotted picking up litter (including at least one bullet) in his spare time. When constituents called his home on weekends or evenings, he answered. Quiet evenings with family evaporated.

“It has taken its toll. I love to work and I put everything into it,” he admits.

His marriage collapsed and other relationships suffered. One of the main goals of the year’s sabbatical was to rebuild his private life. Instead of speeding through life at 200 miles an hour, he slowed to a pace that allows observation and adjustment.

Few people are as well-positioned to understand Kelly as Gloria McCluskey. Like him, she won her first political seat in 1985 (as a Dartmouth alderman), rose to become mayor (Dartmouth) and served with him on HRM council. She’s one of the hardest-working politicians in the province.

She describes a man who could never work hard enough. She would accost him: “Your Worship, take some time off.” But he didn’t. On long days, she took him food. “I was concerned he wasn’t eating,” she recalls. “He ran non-stop.”

McCluskey saw him participate in three Pride parades in a day, help light the Christmas tree and clean the tables after public events. “He was one of a kind and people really like him,” she says. “[But] he was overextending himself all the time.”

When told he’s slowed down from 200 miles an hour, she jokes, “He’s probably down to 100.”

McCluskey has a chilling reminder for those who throw themselves into work at the expense of their family. “Put your arm in a bucket of water. When you haul it out, you’ll see how much you’ll be missed,” she says. “People like you and you work hard for them, but you can be replaced and in a couple of years people will probably forget that you were there.”

But your family will notice that hole in the water.

Kelly admits he made the mayorship an all-encompassing job. “I’ve probably had more family time in the last year than the last five years. That gives you a better appreciation of the importance of family. Sometimes lessons are learned too late in life.”

That family life includes a new son. A couple of years ago he learned he had an adult son living out west. The man reached out to him and has travelled east, while Kelly has gone west. “He’s a great guy and he has a great family. It’s an evolving relationship,” Kelly says.

That, plus his other two children and three grandchildren, have kept him busy.

He’s enjoying the fruits of his labour. Asked about his proudest achievements, he starts with Remembrance Day. No, not the Occupy Nova Scotia eviction on Nov. 11, 2011. As a politician, he led the charge of veterans to keep the stores closed on Nov. 11.

He also marks his role in relocating the East Coast Forensic Hospital from Bedford to Burnside in 1999, opening Harbour Solutions in 2008 and delivering the landmark Africville apology in 2010.   

Kelly has regrets, too. He starts with the concert scandal that dogged his final years. He says he wished he had had a better grasp of how the deals worked (critics would say he knew exactly how the shady deals worked) and “more definition” of how such deals were supposed to happen.

And then there’s the Mary Thibeault estate. Kelly’s placid demeanor stirs and he cuts off the question. “Again, when you’re focused on the job, the personal things will often get under the table. Certainly the timeliness is one that I could have done better,” he says.

The Coast accused Kelly of improperly transferring money from Thibeault’s account to his. He sticks to the line he’s long toed: it’s a legal matter and he has never been accused of wrong-doing by the police or any other agency.

“The process is complete. The courts signed off on it and it is done with,” he says. “I’m sure if there was [wrong-doing], then it would not be complete. The issue is a matter of law.”

Speaking a few days before Halifax MLA Joachim Stroink exploded onto social media with an ill-chosen Christmas photo posing with “Black Pete,” a Dutch character portrayed on blackface, Kelly offered a prophetic warning to new politicians.

“It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for those who like their personal space. You become very public. Your actions are watched and your commentary is analyzed,” he says, “and that should be the way. Anything you say or do in the public forum … in which you serve, it is there for the public.”

It’s a price worth paying, Kelly argues. “I think anybody who has the desire to improve the quality of life and the collective community should strive to serve.”

He just hasn’t decided how his future service will unfold.

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Sidebar:

Peter Kelly lost his first two elections – bids for Bedford town council in 1981 and 1983. He won the seat in 1985, was re-elected, and then became Bedford mayor in 1991 and 1994. He was voted Bedford’s councillor in HRM in 1995 and won the mayor’s chair in 2000, 2004 and 2008.




Thursday, October 3, 2013

Arlene Dickinson's journey from her father's den to the Dragons' Den

From the October 2013 edition of Business Voice magazine.

From her father’s den to the Dragons’ Den

By Jon Tattrie
Broke, divorced and excommunicated, Arlene Dickinson contemplated her future from the discomfort of her father’s couch. A judge had just taken away custody of her four children and told her if she wanted them back, she’d have to prove she could earn enough money to take care of them. She was 31, had a high school diploma and a string of entry level jobs.

“You can’t let this define you,” her father told her as she tried to imagine a path out of his house.

It wasn’t obvious that she was about to become one of the wealthiest, most powerful and influential business figures in Canada.

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Dickinson says in the early stages, entrepreneurs must have massive self-belief, mixed with a dose of self-doubt. “You can start to believe in yourself so much – and in what you’re doing so much – that you stop being able to hear what other people are telling you,” she says.

That can be a fatal mistake. It’s better to hear early marketplace mutterings about your product. Listen. Adjust.

Dickinson’s self-doubt drives her to examine every idea for weaknesses and improve them. But when it’s time to pitch, she’s all confidence.

“A lot of entrepreneurs are similar. We portray these extroverted, highly confident people, but that can sit atop a modest, introverted person,” she explains.
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Dickinson made the most of her thin resume and a family connection to land a sales position on a Calgary television station in the late 1980s. She got her kids back. She found she had a talent for selling ads, but the station let her go.

Dickinson was one step closer to fortune and fame.

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Some business sages argue success is best achieved when you find your passion and make it your business. Others say you should find your talent and make a business around that.

Dickinson sits between the two positions. Your passion may leave the market cold and your business will falter. But exploiting holes in the market might fail, too. “Passion is a really key indicator of whether you’re on the right track,” she says. “If you don’t love it, you might not have the drive you’re going to require to cross the finish line. You have to have a passion for what the opportunity is, otherwise you’re just building something to make money and you’re not really going to live a dream.”

Dickinson has seen thousands of business dreams. She says the successful ones start with the table stakes of a good idea. “There are very few new ideas,” she says. “It comes down to a strong idea, and the person’s ability to execute it.”

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Dickinson’s ad-selling mentor had left the television station shortly before she was let go. He and a few colleagues started a marketing company called Venture Communications. He invited her to join them. She wouldn’t get a lot of money, but she would be a partner. She accepted. It was 1988. A decade later, she bought out the last remaining partner and took over the company. Her business success rocketed. Her net worth is estimated at $80 million.

Her life changed again in 2007 when she was invited to audition for Dragons’ Den, the CBC reality show which was then attracting 200,000 viewers per episode. She was skeptical. “Me, a fifty-something woman with wrinkles, on Dragons’ Den? No way. This isn’t British television after all,” she writes in her best-selling book, Persuasion.

She landed the job. Today, the show draws two million viewers and Dickinson has become an icon.
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Dickinson says it’s odd to be treated like a normal person all your life, and then suddenly turn heads because you’re on TV. There’s a theory that people remain the age they were when they first became famous. Dickinson is delighted by the idea. Fortune and fame have changed her life and her worldview, but not her values.  “I’m really glad that it happened to me later in life, because it’s a heady thing.  It’s really easy to get caught up in the trappings that somehow you are special. I really am not,” she says.

Her celebrity status opens doors for her, but her work ethic, and ethical working, earn her a place inside the room. She doesn’t always succeed, but Dickinson is not put off by failure. Persuasion is full of horror stories of her turning up drenched and unshowered to pitch to a convention of hairdressers, or getting lost in an industrial park and arriving to a pitch late and disheveled. “Failure is part of the journey to success. If I meet an entrepreneur who has failed, I’m actually usually more interested in that person. The lessons they’ve learned in business are irreplaceable. These aren’t things you can learn at school – these are things you learn in the front line,” she explains.

But if a pitcher on the Dragons’ Den pins their failure on a rough market patch, a recession, or bad luck, her purse snaps shut. All of those factors may be true, but it’s an entrepreneur’s job to handle that. As the Buddha advised, drive all blame into one: yourself. Learn what went wrong and better position yourself to succeed next time.

It takes guts, because Canada has a problem with business failure. Consider the note of glee in reports that BlackBerry is falling on tough times. “BlackBerry has not failed. They’ve hit a market condition that needs to be addressed, but this is an incredibly successful company that has created an ecosystem in Waterloo and across the country that has thrown off billions of dollars in economic benefit to our country,” Dickinson says. “How silly are we to think that because they are looking at change, somehow that means they’ve failed?”

Dickinson was born in South Africa and immigrated to Canada as a child. She grew up in poverty, but saw opportunities all around her. She also knew she could and would fail. “My parents instilled in me this gratitude for the environment I was blessed to be now living in. As a result of that, I’ve always felt like nothing was going to get in my way. There were no human-rights issues that were going to get in my way; I never thought of the fact that I was a woman instead of a man,” she says.

But that good fortune can make Canadians soft and unable to appreciate the guts it takes to start a business. It can make us dismissive of someone who’s suffered a setback and has to start again.  “We’ve never really had to, as a culture, suffer. As a result we tend to think, how could you fail?”

Dickinson mentions Clearwater and Sobeys as examples of Atlantic Canadian companies that have created entire ecosystems that employ thousands of people. “It far exceeds what they did when they created their business on its own,” she says. “As Canadians we need to embrace and elevate the Mike Lazarisises of the world, the Jim Balsillies, the John Risleys, the Sobeys, the McCains, the Shaws.”

Unlike some of her fellow dragons, she doesn’t believe success is measured solely by wealth. In Persuasion, she writes that building your core ethics and beliefs is a more satisfying measure of self-worth than how much money you have, or how high you climb the corporate ladder. It’s also the most stable source of energy to drive you forward. Dickinson, as any fan of Dragons’ Den or her new show The Big Decision will know, believes capitalism can have a heart. “Simply because you’re a capitalist doesn’t mean you’re selfish or that you have no regard for the well-being of those around you.”

We should encourage kids to think about how to use their talents to develop something bigger than them, she urges. Instead of preparing your child to land a great job as a doctor or lawyer, why not support them in their dream to create their own job, and many more?

Dickinson points to Jessie Jollymore, a dietician in Halifax’s North End Community Health Centre. Jollymore saw a need to improve the food locals ate. She also saw a vacant lot. Together, they were bursting with opportunity. She rallied neighbourhood kids to start urban farming in 2007. The kids grew the food and brought it home to cook delicious family meals. “There’s an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child, but sometimes, the children raise the village,” Jollymore says.

The kids, aged eight to 15, created a salad dressing. It sold 2,200 bottles last year. The kids attended a week of business school this summer, courtesy of the Black Business Initiative, to learn how to develop the business. They aim to sell 6,000 bottles this year

Today, Hope Blooms has grown to 50 kids and 27 family plots that collectively harvest 2,000 pounds of produce a year. Seven of the kids, plus Jollymore, pitched their business to the Dragons’ Den earlier in the spring.

“She epitomizes capitalism with a heart. She’s encouraging youth to think differently,” Dickinson says.

Dickinson, who came out of poverty herself, says at-risk youth can be great entrepreneurs. “It is already risky and bad. You know where you are. When somebody says you can take yourself out of this, you suddenly start to see yourself for what you are, which is an instrument of your own success or failure. It helps them think about business and being in charge of their own destiny. And that’s what entrepreneurs do well.”

The Hope Blooms episode won’t air until October, so Jollymore can’t say if they landed any investors. But she can say that dragon Jim Treliving, owner of the Boston Pizza chain, recently flew in to take the kids to lunch. He told them he’s going to try to get their salad included in his restaurants.

It’s the kind of dream that drives Dickinson. What scares her most these days is not failure. “It’s running out of time. There are so many wonderful things we can do to make a difference not just for ourselves, but for those around us.”

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Business Champion
Arlene Dickinson is returning to Halifax as Scotiabank’s Business Champion this fall. “It’s rare in life that you have the chance to apply all of the lessons you’ve learned over the course of your career and put them to work in a way that’s genuinely meaningful and helpful to others,” she says. “My personal experience and lessons learned will complement Scotiabank’s strength in the delivery of advice and products, a powerful combination ultimately benefitting Canadian entrepreneurs.”


Dickinson will be the guest speaker at the Halifax Chamber of Commerce’s annual Fall Dinner Nov. 7.