Living a Sustainable Life in Nova Scotia

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word sustainable as –  a state of holding up, maintaining, enduring, or suffering a defeat or injury.

Thanks to the effects we are experiencing from our changing climate these days, the subject of how we can become more sustainable is taking over our conversations and news headlines…especially here in Nova Scotia. Just what does living a sustainable life mean to most people who are stretched to the limit with the demands of our modern-day society? Most of us have been taught by parents, teachers and society in general to follow the customs handed down to us by the generations before us. We were put here on this earth to get a good education… if we were lucky enough… find a good job, marry, have children, go to church, and be kind to our neighbours. If the word, sustainable ever entered our minds or our vocabularies, it was probably used to explain how to keep things steady like holding on to a job to pay off the mortgage or have a bigger car. It might also have meant meeting an endurance test where we faced the reality of keeping a job which we hated, to maintain all the things we thought we needed.

Today the word sustainability or to be sustainable is used more and more. Using the word in a broader sense has given it a whole new meaning for us. Now we are being asked to look at how being sustainable is an action that needs to encompass our whole way of living. It means we must learn and understand how the choices we make can be carried out with consideration on how they will affect the world we live in.

For example, a recent article in our daily newspaper commented on Ways to improve Canada’s sustainable fisheries. This headline actually helped cheer me up because it went on to say that Canada is one of the world’s leaders in keeping our fish stocks at an acceptable level as compared to many other countries especially those in Asia, where we must note, there is a much larger population to feed. Their record for sustainable fishing is abysmally low at something like 14% while ours is rating an A at around 80%. Keeping all countries at an acceptable level of sustainability is a necessity if we are to meet the demands for fish in today’s world and for the future.

Reading on, I found a second article in the same edition on how fund managers should be practising sustainable finance by shifting their portfolios to those companies dealing with solar and wind power. This is a fantastic idea especially for those of us who want our hard-earned money to be doing good for our planet rather than harm. Michael Sabia, CEO for Caisse de Depot et Placements, one of Canada’s largest pension fund companies, is on the band wagon to get government and other large corporations to start investing in companies who are leading the way in developing the need for alternative energy resources. He is saying that our leaders need to see climate change as an opportunity rather than a risk. For years many other great minds have been saying the same thing but to little avail. Perhaps now ‘the powers that be’ will wake up when more of us with money to invest want to see their profits coming from these new resources.

Even if we have no money to invest or aren’t involved in any larger body toting how to be more sustainable, we can do what a man in Halifax has been doing this summer….growing his own vegetables on a small bit of land at the back of his apartment building which was going to waste as a garbage dump. With a ton of hard work and initiative, he has succeeded in making a garden of varied vegetables which he has been able to eat all summer long. His yield has been so abundant that he has been able to share his fresh veggies with his neighbours. This guy’s creativity doesn’t stop at growing his own food. He also collects the trash left on the curb sides in his neighbourhood, such as old furniture and anything else he feels he can restore. From other people’s ‘throw a ways’ he has been creating newly restored items which he sells at his own local yard sale. Not only has created a small business for himself with great satisfaction in doing it, he has also been able to extend his efforts into the community. He shares his product which in turn has spurred others to reciprocate with help in financing the manure and topsoil he needed to improve his soil. He is delighted with their enthusiastic response and interest in creating a  community garden.

The list for similar sustainable projects grows longer as more people are slowly realising they need to make choices that are beneficial rather than harmful to Mother Earth.

Down our way in Annapolis County where I live, sustainable farming is beginning to take hold in various ways. This movement is being spear-headed by an influx of newcomers to our area. They may be young couples wanting a life style away from the stress of big city living, parents who want to rear their children in a healthy environment, or those who have taken an early retirement to carry out their life long dream. Many of them are realising that sustainable farming is the way to go.

Medea and Allan Holtz, a middle-aged couple who took an early retirement from living in Florida, chose Port Royal as a place where they could create a life style that would allow them to be more “self-sufficient.”

After looking all over Nova Scotia, they found the perfect place close to The Habitation in Port Royal. When Samuel de Champlain first sighted this peaceful area in 1604, he was so impressed with it that the following year he returned with a group of men who would become the first settlers from France, thus, creating Canada’s first European settlement. He soon discovered that the original inhabitants, the Mi’Mkaw, rather than to be feared would soon become his friends. Like Champlain, the Holtz’s soon discovered the same thing:

“Here we found a community where the people are kind-hearted, where there is a peaceful atmosphere, a vibrant history, a view to die for, and a pretty decent climate for growing things.”

They remind me of how their dream to be self-sufficient in the foods that they can grow is similar to what the first settlers and succeeding generations have been practising here in this area ever since.  So what is it that makes sustainable farming different from the farming practices we have been using for the past 100 years? In my continuing conversations with Medea, I learned something about permaculture. This concept addresses the need to use every inch of your land for growing whatever kinds of plants or trees the climate in your area will support. This includes those farmers who raise animals as well. If you have both plants and animals all the better because this type of farming forms a closed- loop system which emphasises using the one to help out the other.  Nothing gets wasted. With a copious amount of work and knowledge, the objective is to grow whatever your soil will bear, as well as what your climate will allow. It is surprising what this couple are growing: Jerusalem artichokes, ever-growing strawberries…. still available as I write this… are just a couple of plants I never would have thought could be grown here. Any produce left over after freezing, canning, and processing can be fed to the animals or be shared with neighbours. They then point out that the loop can be completed using any animal waste or plant compost to replenish their soil. No chemical fertilisers will ever be used. Everything in their gardens and their chicken coops gets used in some fashion. Like the chap in Halifax they are learning how to recycle other odds and sods that could easily end up in the garbage. For example, old tires, bits of lumber from old sheds, old scrap metal or anything else they can get their hands can be used to enhance their gardens.

While carrying out the work required to grow most of their own food, they are also working hard to establish a meeting place at a nearby community hall where all farmers, newcomers and older local farmers alike, can come together to share their methods and ideas. Medea is very happy with the response they have had so far. As she says,  “We’ve all heard the saying ‘Knowledge is power’. Yes, knowledge is power, but shared knowledge – that’s community.”

The list could keep growing for how we can become more sustainable in our every day living. We have much to learn about what and how we as individuals and communities can do to become more sustainable. I truly sense a growing trend here in Nova Scotia. In a province steeped in history, with a small population, and abundant resources, our eyes are gradually being opened to how we seriously need to start preserving what we have left.  We know that opening up our hearts and minds to making choices which will benefit our province rather than harm it, and to come together to share and understand how to do this is the way we will successfully fit into our new emerging world. After writing on this topic, the thought has occurred to me that perhaps we can in some way thank our changing climate as the catalyst for this change of attitude.

Summer of 2018 – Heat Wave in Victoria Beach

Summer of 2018 – Heat Wave in Victoria Beach

As I sit here at my computer in this summer of 2018, I am filled with gratitude for living in the beautiful province of Nova Scotia in the small village of Victoria Beach. VB overlooks the Digby Gut, and in case you don’t know, the Digby Gut is a narrow passage of water separating the mainland of NS from an isthmus which juts out into the Bay of Fundy, which in turn leads to the Atlantic Ocean.

Looking over to Digby on the mainland across the Gut from Victoria Beach.

Like many people today, I try to be grateful for little things in my life. Today I am grateful for having chosen to live in Victoria Beach over ten years ago. After more than seventy years of living, I have discovered that practising the art of being grateful has huge benefits: for example, it keeps me focused on the positives rather than the negatives in my life. Goodness knows we all need to do this these days when we hear what is going on in our world. Practising gratefulness isn’t a waste of our time considering how it is human nature to want to complain. This is especially true of many Nova Scotians who do it more out of habit than actually feeling ungrateful. Complaining is a bit like talking about the weather around here. It is often used as an opener for making conversation which is an attempt to be friendly. However, could we not lessen our complaining by being more grateful for the things we have rather than for what we lack?

Unfortunately, this summer’s weather is giving people much to complain about since we are now entering our fourth week of record-breaking high temperatures and humidity indexes. High 20’s and low 30’s are simply not the norm for Nova Scotians! In the past, we were lucky to get even a few days of above 30 degree weather. This province has never experienced anything like the heat wave we are now in the midst of and forecast to last until the end of August. Like the rest of Canada, we are breaking all known records.

Air conditioners in Nova Scotia have always been few and far between except for Halifax where they can be found in public buildings and some homes. Now everyone is talking about getting a heat pump or some kind of A/C. However, even though the heat is very much on our minds with bodies bravely attempting to adjust to it, many of us are striving not to complain….too much! How can we when we hear that in some parts of the world people are actually dying from the heat or losing their homes and forests to the wildfires that abound out in the western part of our continent?

Every summer, we who live here in VB, have been blessed with the cooling breezes off the Bay of Fundy which gives the locals bragging rights for having the Bay at our doorstep to provide free air conditioning. This year is different. Now there is talk that just maybe we need to purchase a heat pump. Personally I have not found this weather too hard to handle probably because my yearly forays to Thailand have acclimatised me. Yes, it’s been getting unbearably hot at times during our heat wave, but just when I’m starting to drip, a welcomed breeze will appear for some relief. The nights are still quite cool at about 18 degrees so a good night’s sleep is definitely possible when I keep our windows open. Doing this ensures our mornings begin with a comfortable house. Early morning fog which collects in the Gut has also helped to keep our temperature under control until the sun appears. However, it’s not so much the temperatures, but  the high humidity which is our greatest challenge as it truly saps our strength.

Cindy Day, our resident meteorologist, explains this spate of prolonged heat and humidity on what is called a Bermuda High where hot, humid air moves to the north from a high pressure system over Bermuda. Another meteorologist likens this effect to how a heat pump works, pumping the American air northward where it gets trapped above us. As these winds move forward, they pick up moisture which in turn lessens the oxygen available. Apparently this is causing the fatigue and headaches which many of us are experiencing. It’s also driving hoards of us to Nova Scotia’s beaches.

Nova Scotia’s beaches are definitely another one of our blessings during this heat wave. Our province is surrounded by the ocean providing white sand beaches along the Atlantic coast where the average water temperatures are 65 degrees. More sheltered beaches can be found along the Bay of Fundy and the Northumberland Strait.

Beach at Lockeport,NS on the Atlantic coast.

Mavillette Beach on the Bay of Fundy.

We also have access to over 3,000 freshwater lakes and hundreds of small streams and rivers. Water is never more than an hour or so drive for most Nova Scotians.

One of many lakes near Annapolis Royal at Mickey Hill.

Another at Raven Haven administered by Annapolis Co. which draws many families.

And yet another at Milford House in Maitland Bridge near Annapolis Royal.

For those of us living in Victoria Beach, we actually can lay claim to a beach of our own. It may be cold and rocky, but it does provide us with invigorating waters should we want to venture into them.

Here is our beach which is actually called Indian Beach by the locals.

Lovely view of our beach overlooking the Gut.

We can crow about how lucky we are right now in Victoria Beach, but we have no right to be complacent. Scientists are predicting that higher summer time temperatures will become the norm, and that we need to prepare for this. Where do we begin? Well, we can install a heat pump for air conditioning for starters. The government is now offering help to home owners in the way of rebates for those who wish to purchase one. If that’s not feasible, we can buy a few fans which I am told are being improved all the time for noise and efficiency. When we leave home, we can carry a water bottle with us at all times to keep hydrated or take along a sun hat for protection. Or, we can take borrow the Eastern custom of using an umbrella to shield ourselves from the sun’s intense rays. We can also schedule our heavy work both inside and outside for the early and later part of our day. Furthermore, we could even do what Europeans have done for centuries…take time off at the hottest time of the day for a rest or siesta. What a great way to reduce any stress in our lives or just catch up on some much needed sleep if we have trouble sleeping through the night.

So, rather than complaining about how hot it is, let’s enjoy our prolonged heat wave for the remainder of our summer and consider what we can do in the future to deal with our changing climate which is without a doubt at our doorstep. This will be our challenge.

Halifax – A City on the Rise

Halifax – A City on the Rise

Recently I found a message from Trip Advisor in my mail box alerting travellers to their choice for the top ten “cities on the rise” in the world which we should consider putting on our ‘bucket lists’. My curiosity tweaked, I took the time to check this out and to my surprise and delight Halifax, Nova Scotia placed fourth on their list! What on earth does my city of birth offer that would put them in the world’s lime light, I wondered? According to Trip Advisor (TA) this honour is based on the following three things:

  1. Military history
  2. Culinary delights
  3. Entertainment

Ironically, before my daughter embarked on her short visit to Halifax last week, she wondered what sights and activities I would recommend for the two days that she, my son-in-law and grandson were going to be there. Not having much time to come up with some place she had never seen, I sent her TA’s recommendations along with the above article. When I met up with them, she asked me if I knew where York Redoubt was located. I was temporarily stymied! I had heard of it but knew little about it or just where it was located. However, thanks to Google Maps and the GPS, we found this National Historic Park site in Purcell’s Cove about 14 miles outside of Halifax.

A short history of York Redoubt.

What we found there was another eye-opener, especially for me. How could I have not seen this place when I spent the better part of ten years living in Halifax as a child and teenager? Not only does this military site have one fantastic view of Halifax’s outer harbour, but it also has an easy to understand description of the role this  place has played over the three centuries it has protected the city, beginning with the wars between Britain and France in 1793 when the fort was begun, up to 1956 when it was closed and designated as a historic site. Its hey day culminated in its success at guarding the harbour and the city from German U-boats during World War II.

Looking over the outer harbour towards Halifax.

The boys…my grandson and his dad…enjoyed scouting out the premises. There were the cannons of all sizes with some large enough to shoot balls weighing up to 24 pounds to ogle over. Moreover, there were 27 buildings to explore, including a Martello Tower*, numerous magazines for storage of ammunition…many below ground, supplies rooms, and even a cookhouse. The park is definitely large with trails providing peaceful walks through the forest which are never far from a spectacular view of the harbour with McNab’s Island* in the distance. Another plus to our visit was, save for a few other folks, we had this beautiful spot almost to ourselves.

Hey, Daddy, look at this!

Mummy giving a short history of the site.

What is left of the Martello Tower.

A cannon resting on its mount.

Overlooking McNab’s Island

Our second stop was to Hydrostone Market in the north end of Halifax. This area suffered huge loses on December 6, 1917 when the Norwegian ship SS Imo collided with the Mont Blanc, a French cargo ship laden with high explosives, setting off an explosion that devastated the entire north end of the city, causing thousands of deaths and injuries. With the help from other communities across  Canada and our neighbours to the south from Boston, the area was rebuilt with houses made of hydrostone, a compressed cement which would withstand any further fires or calamities. Today these houses make up the Hydrostone Market, an upscale and trendy place with homes, shops and restaurants neatly laid out along boulevards shaded by stately trees and community gardens.

At this point the boys, preferring to head back to their hotel for a swim in the pool, decided to leave us girls to explore this place on our own…a good idea. Right there and then, we headed to Julien’s Pattisserie, Bakery and Cafe, the cutest little Parisian cafe outside of Paris. We were in seventh heaven as we sat outside on the ivied covered patio sipping our cappuccino and savouring our yummy desserts.

So good…

Following this indulgence, we couldn’t resist popping into some of the quaint shops lining the boulevard where, of course, we found lots of unusual art and crafts….many locally made… to drool over. I found some all natural face cream to help keep my ever encroaching wrinkles at bay, while my daughter just had to have a lovely amethyst necklace.

Later that night for dinner, with no specific place in mind, we set out to peruse some of Halifax’s culinary delights. Since my son-in-law does not eat fish, any restaurants specialising in that were quickly eliminated. That wasn’t a problem since it did help to narrow down the many choices we faced. With a nine year old to consider, we agreed to look for an Italian offering where we could find pizza. After a short search, we found just what we were looking for at Bishop’s Landing on the harbour front at Ristorante a Mano. We were truly impressed with this place which offered great Italian food, good service, and reasonable prices. The four of us, which included craft beer for the adults, ate there for about $100.00.

Eating out allows grandson to us his mom’s smart phone while waiting for our food.

The entertainment scene was TA’s third category included in their survey of ‘cities on the rise’. We didn’t have time to take in any of the many opportunities that no doubt were available even on a Tuesday night because we were all tired from our long drives and sight-seeing. Nevertheless, Halifax has gained a reputation for drawing talent from all over Canada and the world for all music genres… from rap to opera and jazz…to name a few. Every night you can catch local Maritime music at many of the pubs and restaurants in the downtown core.

After dinner stroll along the walkway skirting the harbour.

For me this time in my home city was very special as it gave me and my little family some quality time together in a place which is seemingly gaining much attention from other parts of Canada and the world. Who would have thought that the city which I could hardly wait to escape from, back in the ’60’s when I was a young girl anxious to see the rest of the world, has now become one of the world’s most interesting cities to visit! Wonders never cease!

*Martello Tower – constructed in 1793 and one of five Martello Towers built to protect Halifax over the past three centuries. Round in structure with thick walls, they were built to mount the cannons and to house their large heavy balls.

*McNab’s Island – The largest island at the entrance to Halifax Harbour is now part of the National Parks system hosting picnics and historical tours in the summer months.

 

 

Celebrating Tea and Queen Victoria

Only in Canada do we look forward to that third weekend in May when we are gifted with a long weekend. Why is that, you might wonder? Is it because after a harsh Canadian winter, we can look forward to summer which is just around the corner, knowing we can finally get outside to clean up winter’s aftermath making room for our transplants, or to open up the cottage? This might be true for most of us these days, but for some it’s an opportunity to celebrate the birth of Queen Victoria who had the distinction of being Britain’s longest reigning monarch… a title she can no longer proclaim since Elizabeth 11 took it over in 2015.

When Victoria died in 1901, our then government decided to make the third Monday in May a statutory holiday to commemorate her birth on May 24, 1819, causing many a raised eyebrow in Britain as well as our neighbour to the south that we should be setting aside this day to celebrate a Queen who was to all extent and purposes a temperamental and dour, old woman who always wore black. However, as we have found out, appearances can be deceiving.

Thanks to her talent and love for writing, we have discovered that Victoria was the exact opposite of that stern image implanted in our brains by our history books and our great grandparents. Present day historians claim that her daily dairies were enough to fill over 700 books beginning with her childhood until her death in 1901. Through them, we have learned that she was a passionate and strong woman who refused to bow to the strict social norms of her time. She not only had a firm grip on who she was as a person, but also on the country she ruled as well as the country she most loved…Germany.

After all, her beloved husband, Albert, was a German and strong personality in his own right who came into her life at the tender age of 19 when she was about to take over the daunting task of Queen. He fulfilled not only the role of her lover, but also provided a strong father figure for her. He was the pillar of strength she needed as she gave birth to their nine children while struggling to keep control of the world’s largest Empire.

Our interest in Victoria has increased over recent years as her descendants have gradually released some of what she wrote. We are learning that this woman had another side which went totally against the acceptable customs of her day especially when it came to her subsequent relationships with men after Albert’s early death. Yes, she suffered from depression which explained her long period of mourning. She never discarded the black dresses, but she refused to stop having fun and being herself when she met a man who understood her, such as her servant John Brown, a rough and ready  Scot who adored her. The same was true for Disraeli one of her Prime Ministers.

Even in her final years after receiving the title of Empress of India, she refused to travel there insisting that India come to her. As a result, a young servant with a wife and mother-in-law arrived to carry out the task of teaching Victoria every thing there was to know about his country Thus, began another close relationship for this woman with an old body at 84 who still had a young heart.

Victoria’s personal life was certainly not a boring one. However, it was a source of concern for her family and many of those who worked with and under here as she fought to lead her Empire through the vagaries of the world at that time. As a head of state and ruler of the vast British Empire, we know she survived numerous attempts to assassinate her. We also know that she really came into her own after Albert’s death becoming extremely popular with her public towards the end of her reign. During her 63 years on the throne, Britain experienced tremendous growth in technology, industry and communication. Underground rail systems, bridges, and roads were built everywhere in attempts to unite the country. Judging by the crowds who came out to see her in her later years, it appears she had indeed matured and finally won her battle to take control without Albert’s influence.

Learning about Victoria as a person has made Victoria Day for me just a little more interesting. What started as a day to have a parade and some fireworks, morphing into a time to clean up the yard and plant some flowers to welcome summer has now  brought us time to reflect on the personal journey of a woman with two very distinct sides to her personality during a time of change in matters of morality and economic growth throughout her vast Empire.

For my Victoria Day Weekend this year, I had the opportunity to do something different: I was asked to be a greeter for the guests who attended a Victorian Tea and Talk at the Lower Granville Hall. Under the capable leadership of Medea and Alan Holtz, new comers to the community of Port Royal, and some hard-working ladies with much experience in holding dinners and teas to raise funds for their hall, this successful tea did a great job of commemorating the Queen’s birthday. What better way to raise some much-needed money for our hall and the Annapolis Heritage Society who will be using our donation to help fix and paint the exteriors of two light houses: the one in Port Royal and the other in Victoria Beach.

Medea and Alan Holtz

Every effort was made to treat all those who attended this fundraiser an authentic Victorian Tea. Not only did the servers don Victorian dresses, headgear, and gloves, but had to walk carefully to avoid tripping on their long skirts. These little touches along with soft parlour music lent an atmosphere of calm and gentility much appreciated by the guests causing some to linger longer than planned.

Susan MacGregor

Me, the Greeter

The beautiful table settings, the tea served in silver pots, and the dainty sandwiches and sweets were the main attraction. However, the star of the show had to be the peaches! Why peaches? Well apparently Victoria, when introduced to them on a visit to Italy, fell madly in love with them and every year after that insisted that some be shipped to her in England. Unfortunately, peaches aren’t in season on Victoria Day in Nova Scotia. Instead of serving imports the gals made their own life-like peaches from a secret recipe using ordinary cookie dough.

To keep our guests amused a trivia quiz about Victoria’s life as well as the Royals today…especially since this was the day of Harry and Megan’s wedding…was on each table to provide fun and learning for all. What a great way to pull people together.

Our special guest speaker, Barry Moody, a noted local historian, gave an insightful talk on how tea became the favourite drink of the British, and the influence that had on the country’s social norms and economy. Did you know that the first tea was offered in 1658 at a London coffee-house? From there it became the beverage of choice at the Royal Court. It then quickly became an important social occasion giving birth to our famous ‘afternoon teas’. You may have heard of the term ‘high tea’ which was customarily tea served with a meal. With the advent of such social customs came opportunities for the East India Company to import more tea from China. It also provided opportunities for business minded entrepreneurs to start manufacturing such tea essentials as porcelain tea cups and saucers, teapots and even mustache mugs. Barry went on to say that artifacts related to tea drinking have shown up at Melanson’s Settlement, a Historical Site in Granville Beach. He admitted not much else is known about how the ritual of drinking tea influenced the Port Royal area, but noted that it was the French who have given us proof that it existed here in some form. I suspect it was also a popular past time with the Scottish and English Loyalists who settled here. In my own experience, my maternal grandmother was a big fan of ‘afternoon teas’. After my grandfather died, she moved from Halifax to a small farm in Seabright, where she hosted teas every Sunday afternoon for all her friends. Petit fours, shortbreads, Scottish scones made on a griddle, oatcakes with homemade jam were the lure making “Georgie’s” teas very popular.

Like most things today, our rituals and customs are being challenged by the changes occurring in our lifestyles. Tea drinking is losing some of its allure to the rise in our coffee culture. There are still those who prefer their tea because it has less caffeine or none at all if you consider sipping herbal teas possibly for medicinal purposes. Or, it might just be a matter of personal taste. Whatever the reason, our guests and those who organized this event were left with an experience that left us satisfied and wiser about the influence of tea on the British Empire and the Queen who reigned. I am happy to have been involved in this ‘tea’ event which was a hit with all those who attended. Without a doubt, this will become a yearly event on Victoria Day. The Port Royal gals are already looking ahead to next year and planning for it to be held on Monday instead of Saturday.

Kamille and Jeff Langstroff

 

A Memorable Day on Nova Scotia’s South Shore

A subject on the minds of many of us these days is the awareness of how everything in this world is connected…the key word being “everything”. It’s easy to grasp the premise that as human beings living on this planet we are all connected, but how about the idea we are also connected to all living things which would include our trees, plants, animals, insects and whatever else that grows? Now there is food for thought. Lately I have been hearing much about a book entitled The Hidden Life of Trees written by the German author, Peter Wohlleben. Seems this book has impacted many of my friends so I have put it on my immediate list of books to read.

The opportunity to learn more about why this book is capturing so much interest came knocking at my door while visiting a good friend on the South Shore last weekend. On the Sunday, Mother Nature blessed us with a clear day after a good rain the day before. Blue skies with fluffy white clouds and moderate temperatures made for a perfect day at the beach. We chose Hirtle’s Beach, not only because it just happens to be our favourite one, but because on that day the Kingsburg Coastal Conservancy was offering an added bonus: guided nature walks highlighting its rock formations and flora, bird watching, a talk on the history of Kingsburg, a local exhibit of art at Shobac, and boat rides to Ironbound Island where feral sheep reside. What more could we want?

Boardwalk leading to Hirtle’s Beach.

The rocky part of the beach.

I learned that this conservancy is a charitable, non-governmental land trust started in 1995 by a group of volunteers dedicated to protecting and preserving the Kingsburg Peninsula on Nova Scotia’s South Shore for all to enjoy now and into the future.

We arrived at the beach around 11 o’clock just in time for the home cooked lunch of seafood chowder and homemade pie. I have to say I had one of my best lunches ever while sitting on the rocks of the beach, and the best part was that it was all for free.

Yummy lunch on the rocks.

To walk off our lunch, we took a walk along the beach noting numerous sea birds darting here and there. We were delighted to see some plovers in the mix. Several years ago bird watchers noticed that their numbers seemed to be dwindling so a group of concerned citizens took great pains to protect their nesting sites from the beach traffic. Their efforts have paid off as more sightings of these little birds have been noted in the past few years.

Can you spot any plovers?

We noticed that most people were doing what we were doing which was just walking and paddling in the water. The wind was a little too chilly for those of us without wetsuits but not for the surfers. I settled for trying to get some action shots of them as they manoeuvred the waves.

Since Sunday was the last day of this special weekend, we had only two walks to choose from: a walk and talk about fungi or the history of Kingsburg. Without hesitation we both agreed that the fungi walk would be the most interesting. I was actually excited about learning more about how they contribute to a healthy forest. Would this be the opportunity I hoped for to learn about the hidden life of trees? In the meantime with an hour or more at our disposal before the walk got underway, we opted to take a short run over to see the local art exhibit in Shobac.

I discovered this special place several years ago when visiting my husband’s son who had rented a cottage there for his summer holiday. So, what makes it so special?

The Shobac of today is an architectural wonder. It’s located on the edge of the Gaff Point Cliffs overlooking the LeHave River estuary. First inhabited by the Mi’Kmaq as a camp ground, then sighted by Samuel de Champlain who named it Shobac, not long after established as an Acadian farming and fishing village, to be later settled by German, Swiss, and French Protestants, mostly abandoned in the mid 20th century except for a few fishing families, the land was finally bought and developed into what it is today by a Brian MacKay-Lyons, a talented Nova Scotian architect.

MacKay-Lyons bought this huge tract of land in 1988 with the vision of re-creating an agricultural village for use by the community and the visitors who come to this part of the South Shore which are many due to its proximity to the three towns of Lunenburg, a Unesco Site, Mahone Bay, and Bridgewater. It is also near three of Nova Scotia’s largest and most popular beaches: Risser’s, Crescent, and Hirtle’s, not to mention numerous smaller ones all around.

Commonly called a compound, the land has a fabulous north view with Hirtle’s Beach in the distance. The land is dotted with undulating hills called drumlins which are glacial deposits left by the ice age some 15,000 years ago. Waves beating against the cliffs have created lovely sandy beaches below as a result of erosion. Sheep and horses can be found grazing on the grassy hillsides. What makes the scene even more outstanding are the box like cottages and larger buildings all available for rent on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. MacKay-Lyons’ latest acquisition is an old schoolhouse dating back to 1830 which has been restored to incorporate both the old and the new as many of his buildings do. The Troop Barn where we found the art exhibit was found and rescued by him in 2009 near Bridgetown in the Annapolis Valley  This was the last of Nova Scotia’s octagonal barns and was slated for demolition because no one had stepped forth to buy it. Thanks to this man’s money and foresight, it’s been beautifully restored and is now used extensively by the community for all kinds of exhibitions and other community gatherings. Not surprisingly MacKay-Lyons has garnered many awards and much recognition for this architectural wonder so it’s worth a visit and definitely a great place to stay for a vacation.

View of Hirtle’s Beach from Shobac.

Box like buildings blending into the seascape.

Troop Barn where the art exhibit was held.

Some drumlins and sheep in the background.

After viewing the art and voting on the one we favoured most, as well as being fortified with some fresh lemonade and homemade cookies for our efforts, we drove back to Hirtle’s Beach for the fungi trek along the Gaff Point Trail Head.

Heading out for our fungi walk.

Into the forest we go,

Our guide gave us an excellent explanation of how nature has devised such an intricate system for keeping an old growth forest healthy and vibrant. Who knew that fungi (mushrooms) played such an important role in their health? Who knew that all that green moss we see on walks in the woods where there is an old and new growth of trees harbours a whole network of fungi threads in the soil underneath? Who knew that these fungi supply essential carbon and nutrients to each and every tree? The more fungi or mushrooms the healthier the trees.

This is my simplified version of how it all works. Hopefully I can gain a more scientific and clearer explanation from Wohlleben’s book. Apparently he goes so far as to say that trees have personalities and actually talk to one another by communicating below ground via a ‘woodwide web’. Willows, he claims, are loners and have relatively short lives compared to beeches and oaks which last for thousands of years and act as a family. He adds that trees have emotions and can feel pain. Who knew? Another ‘ah ha’ moment for me was the realization that perhaps all the clear cutting of our forests here in our province could be classified as a criminal act since it kills any new growth and turns old growth forests into dead zones. I think those who work in the Department of Natural Resources should be putting this book on their reading lists.

Our guide showing us old and new tree growth.

My memorable day at Kingsburg will stay in my mind for some time. I learned so much and it inspired me to do more reading about how Mother Nature has a clear plan for how all living things can live together harmoniously if every part of her is allowed to fulfill its purpose. As intelligent human beings, we have a responsibility to not only learn how we can fit into this system but also learn how to do this in a sustainable manner. Kudo’s to the Kingsburg Coastal Conservancy for their concern for preserving our beautiful province and for spreading the word to all those who are listening.

Looking out to Ironbound Island from Gaff Point.

The cliff on Gaff Point Trail.

Raising Sheep in Port Royal, Nova Scotia

Can you imagine being suddenly thrust into the role of parenting 80 newborn babies dependent upon you for their livelihood. Could you cope?

This spring Julia Springob and Lou Barta of Port Royal were faced with this surprise when their ewes presented them with this number of very hungry baby lambs, far more than they ever anticipated. The norm for a ewe is to birth one or maybe two lambs so imagine their surprise when many of them birthed three and even four babies. Since motherhood was new to many of their mothers, they simply couldn’t cope with so many offspring at one time. This is where Julia and Lou had to step in, resulting in bottle feedings every two hours. They were literally on call both night and day for those first weeks. Thankfully they were down to three feedings a day when I visited their farm.

I must backtrack here to explain how I got the idea to do an article on the subject of sheep farming here on my “special road”. If I leave my house to go anywhere further than walking distance, I must get into my car to travel to our nearest town of Annapolis Royal or any other place in Nova Scotia. This amounts to at least several times a week. If you take a look at my post entitled My Road Well Travelled, (click here) you can find more information on what makes this road so special, not just to me, but many others who live and visit here. Each time I travel this road I pass Julia and Lou’s sheep farm, and every time I can’t resist taking a peek at those little lambs…plus several goats… to see just how quickly they are growing. It’s a heart-warming sight.

I became so intrigued with the idea of finding out more about the owners and their sheep that I made an appointment to interview them, resulting in a piece I had published in the Valley Harvester, our local community newspaper. This is what I found out about raising sheep in Nova Scotia.

After taking me on a tour of their farm to meet the baby lambs, witness their bottle feeding, as well as to meet the goats and the sheep dogs, I quickly realized that this idyllic farm is being built with an abundance of hard work and dedication.

Just feed me.

At last. Thanks papa Lou.

Sheep farming in Nova Scotia is a challenging business requiring lots of know-how and cash. A lover of lamb meat, I have always wondered why it isn’t so readily available in our grocery stores and is more expensive than beef or pork. Well, now I think I understand why.

Julia and Lou have been at this for a year now having moved here from British Columbia where they farmed on a part-time basis for 16 years. They decided to immigrate to Canada in 2000 from Germany. Julia’s native country is Germany and Lou hails from what was once Czechoslovakia. Their B.C. farm was located in the northern, interior part of B.C. in the Bulkley Valley halfway between Prince Rupert and Prince George. There, Lou drove a logging truck while Julia stayed home to raise chickens, turkeys, some beef cows. She also maintained a large vegetable garden providing food for themselves  and their neighbours. Lou’s yearning to be his own boss and their growing desire to go into full-time farming compelled them to take the plunge and begin their search for more land. With land prices in B.C. escalating, they turned their eyes eastward and with the help of the Internet settled on a picturesque farm in Port Royal.

In their first year, they have increased their flock of sheep from 45 to 60, not counting the newborn babies. In addition, they have seven goats, three guard dogs, and one herd dog, still just a kid being diligently trained to take on his adult duties in the near future. I think it’s a miracle they all survived their trip east and their first winter. Now in their middle years, Lou proudly announced, “We haven’t lost a single animal to any disease, climate or predators. We have an electric fence and our guard dogs to thank for this.” I would add that he needs to give credit to himself and Julia.

When asked what their greatest challenge has been so far, they both agreed it was the task of transporting the animals in two large trailers driven by Lou and a friend followed by a back trailer driven by Julia from B.C. to N.S. in just seven days

“It was the most arduous task we have ever had to take on” said Julia. “The weather was heating up in June, making it difficult to keep the animals cool. We were worried about finding places where we could stop for the night and not be an annoyance to the folks around us. Our animals would always make too much noise around feeding time.”

However it turned out that most people, when they heard what they doing, were more than happy to lend a hand in providing a place to park their vehicles with enough water for the hot, thirsty animals.

As Julia pointed out, there was one other high point during their trip which presented itself once they got here… the birth of a baby lamb in November!

As for how they feel after their first year in Nova Scotia and whether they are optimistic about their future here as sheep farmers, their reply was passionate in their quest to raise healthy and affordable food for local eating. Eventually they hope to provide their products to the community as they did in B.C. by starting small and relying on word of mouth. They see a future in this province for the small farmer who wants to join the ever-growing need to become more sustainable in food production. However, Lou did seem concerned about the government and parents not doing enough to encourage young people to climb aboard to take up small farming.

When asked what joy they get from their new venture, without hesitation they said:

  • You can be your own boss.
  • You know where your food is coming from and what’s in it. I must add that they are living proof of this as both who are in their 50’s and look the picture of health.
  • You never can be bored with your work. Every day is different.
  • The challenges you meet present new learning through personal experience.
  • You can be outside as much as you want and have access to clean water and air.

For now they want to continue expanding their flock of sheep to the point where they can support themselves as well as their community. They also want to meet the standards as set by the province for producing healthy food products, which will mean obtaining all the necessary licences. Julia loves to make goat cheese, and she’s even thinking of the possibility of lamb pies and sausages.

However, in order to accomplish that she knows she will have to upgrade her huge kitchen to meet those food production regulations. Right now they are taking it all one day at a time, concentrating on increasing their flock to a sustainable level, and ensuring their lambs and goats are kept safe and healthy.

Julia, Lou, and herd dog.

Look What’s Happening to Halifax

Look What’s Happening to Halifax

There are times I wonder if there is anything these days escaping the pursuit of constant change. Don’t get me wrong in thinking I am against change because I definitely am not. Change is good, but I do feel that we need to pursue it with some caution.

Lately there has been much talk about all the changes taking place in my birth city…Halifax… the capital of Nova Scotia. Human nature dictates that changes will result in two opposing sides: those who look to the past wanting to keep things as they are and those looking to the future willing to support any kind of change. Halifax is presently facing this problem, but from what I can tell they might be following another human reaction to change…. that of moving from one extreme to the other. “Let’s join the race to become a world-class city at all costs” seems to be the mantra. This is good, but let’s slow down a bit and try to do it with taste.

Historically, the city has shown an inclination to get stuck in the past right up until the early 1970’s when the urge to move forward began with the beautification of its waterfront. When I was growing up in Halifax, Water Street, down by the harbour, was a place to avoid. I always hated that fishy smell. The street was a series of dilapidated grey warehouses, the naval dockyard, seedy taverns, with some notorious ‘red light’ houses thrown into the mix. Then in the 70’s it all went through a huge metamorphosis resulting in the Historic Properties. Our waterfront suddenly had changed into not only a major tourist attraction, but also became accessible to all Haligonians. It had managed to preserve some of the old fish houses and wharves to produce a nice mix of the old and the new.

Other changes took place at that time and well into the 80’s. Some were good others not so. Spring Garden Road became a major shopping area to the detriment of Barrington Street which always had been. The old Capitol Theatre, which my grandfather helped engineer, was demolished resulting in much hue and cry to be replaced by the Maritime Centre, a large modern complex at the bottom of Spring Garden Road. Many of us kids, and adults too, were upset at how the ‘powers that be’ could have torn down such a unique theatre as the Capitol which resembled the inside of a grand old castle.

Perhaps this flurry of changes was too much for conservative old Halifax because for the next few decades, primarily under the mayoralty of Peter Kelly, the city showed little forward movement. Under his leadership any wise planning and growth had come to a screeching halt. Barrington Street became more derelict as retailers moved out to swanky suburban malls, affordable housing became a scarcity as evidenced by the increasing numbers of homeless on the sidewalks of Spring Garden Rd., and few construction sites and cranes were to be seen anywhere.

However for the past several years, the construction tap has been turned on full blast under the leadership of Mike Savage, Halifax’s present mayor. This began with the regional council’s decision to go ahead with the construction of a new convention centre, after many years of wrangling on whether the city should or shouldn’t take the risk of pumping millions of dollars into a new one when they already had one… albeit a small one. Located in the heart of downtown, the Nova Centre has caused traffic chaos and scores of disgruntled restaurant and store owners. Whole streets have been closed for a year or more as the structure endures one delay after another. To satisfy my curiosity, I just had to go see for myself what all the fuss has been about and have to admit I was blown away by what I saw. It’s stunning and should put Halifax up there on the list of world-class cities. It’s definitely had a ripple effect as nearby buildings in the downtown core are either being spiffied up or torn down to be replaced by more modern buildings. I couldn’t help wondering if this really was the staid old city I was so eager to leave 40 years ago?

On a whim, I decided to wander further down to the south end of Barrington Street where my father lived for most of his adult life, and where I spent my first three. I wanted to see if #315, a stately old house where he had his apartment, was still standing. It was… but barely! A huge sign was posted next to the main door indicating that this house and the one next to it is slated for demolition. But hold on… this decree was issued in 2015 and the house is still there because there was another smaller sign stating that these premises have been declared ‘heritage’ houses. It’s not just for personal reasons I want to see these houses saved, but also because they represent an old style of architecture from Halifax’s past which is too rapidly disappearing. I hope the city councillors will consider this and support the Heritage Society rather than another greedy developer.

As I continued to search out other changes in the city, harkening back to my early years, I decided to pay a quick visit to where once my old high school was located. Queen Elizabeth High (QEH) was demolished ten years ago and been replaced with an unusual project called the Common Roots Urban Farm which supports community and marketing gardening for the purpose of promoting health and wellness in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). This is the acronym used for the city of Halifax and the outer regions including Dartmouth…another change which has occurred since I left. Nevertheless, here is a wonderful example of how a prime piece of land in the midst of one of the busiest parts of the city can be used to introduce some rural living into that of the urban.

In case you are wondering what happened to QEH, well the good news is that a gleaming new high school uniting protestant and catholic students under the same roof now stands nearby. When I was a high school student, St. Patrick’s and Queen Elizabeth were rivals just a few blocks away from each other. St. Pat’s has also faced the wrecking ball, leaving a piece of prime land vacant until a decision is made on what its fate will be. Let’s hope it will be a wise choice that will bring more country into the city and be of benefit to all people.

These days my visits to Halifax invariably end up in a quick stop at the new Central Library. This building has garnered accolades and awards for its architecture from all parts of the world. It’s an environmentally sustainable building which can boast of a rooftop terrace growing native plants, and toilets that are flushed with rain water.  An abundance of windows strategically placed on all levels allows the sun to pour in to control the indoor temperature and help reduce electrical costs. All the materials used in its construction are natural. You can really notice the difference when you spend time in this building. For this reason alone, I could spend days there instead of just a hasty stop for a cup of delicious coffee and a home-baked pastry at the Pavia Cafe on the roof top overlooking the harbour.  This library is truly accessible to all citizens providing cultural activities and small rooms which are rented out for other varied purposes. The acoustics are fantastic because no matter how many people pass through its doors or what is taking place inside, the place still feels and sounds like a library…quiet and peaceful. Halifax can be proud of this building.

Yes, the attitude and the look of my home city has certainly changed for the better. Where once it was conservative and rather dowdy, it’s now bright with a positive vibe prevailing. It is fast becoming a ‘world-class’ city and a more desirable one to live in as far as I can see. My one hope is that it doesn’t become too obsessed with trying to outdo other cities. Having lived in Toronto for many years, I certainly don’t want it to make the same mistake that city did by erecting tall office towers and condos, as well as a hideous express way that not only obscures the view of the lake but also cuts it off from the rest of the city. This has left the best part of the city mainly for the enjoyment of the well-heeled and the tourists when a waterfront needs to be accessible to everyone. Halifax, if you truly want to be a world-class city then learn from the mistakes of others by being a leader for what can be better.

To make a slideshow of these pictures, left click on the first one and follow the arrows.