Mountains out of molehills: how luxury condos impact Halifax’s North End

November 24, 2016

Halifax residents are concerned about the rise of luxury condo developments in Halifax’s economically diverse North End.

According to a council recommendation from July 19 submitted by WM Fares Group, the empty lot on the corner of Roberts and Maynard Street might be replaced with an eight-storey condominium complex.

“They want it first. And they want it now. They’re kind of like bullies,” Peggy Cameron says. Cameron is a member of the Willow Tree Group.

Members of Willow Tree Group have been outspoken against condominium developments in the North End. The group is made up of concerned homeowners near Quinpool Road and Robie Street.

Cameron says that councillors have a role in regulating developments in the city, but they’ve been privileging developer plans over the concerns of local residents.

“City development is too intensive and too aggressive,” Cameron says.

There are currently 19 development proposals for Halifax and Dartmouth’s downtown core, according to Halifax Regional Planning and Development.

Willow Tree Group has asked council to delay a public hearing for the WM Fares Group development planning proposal on Maynard Street. The group claims that the eight-storey residential building is “out of scale” in the two-storey neighbourhood. However, council voted to move forward with the hearing.

Cameron and her group claims that high-rise, luxury condominiums have economic, social and environmental implications that could deteriorate the standard of living for local residents.

“Developers are privatizing your right to have access to sunlight and clean air,” Cameron says.

The height of the building is too overbearing in the area of mix-use, small-scale residential and retail properties, she says. This means that residents will not be able to enjoy the comfort of their own privacy or adequate sunlight.

“It was like looking at the wall of a fortress – absolutely no privacy,” Cameron says regarding the nearly-complete Q Lofts building.

Q Lofts, a condominium building designed by Polycorp Group, is located across the street from the proposed development property on Maynard Street. The group’s supposed “energy-efficient, large-scale” condominium building is “98% complete”, according to Catherine Hodgson, Polycorp Group sales manager.

Maynard Street, Cameron says, is targeted by developers because of the trends they see in renting and home owning in the North End. She says that students and young professionals move to the North End because of its charm.

However, Cameron says that condo developments add value to the surrounding area, which may cause landlords to increase rent costs, which may also cause low-income residents to seek cheaper housing in other neighbourhoods.

Cameron claims that there is a lack of communication from city councillors, developers and long-term residence.

“It’s a problematic process for citizen engagement. I believe a lot of citizens aren’t aware of this. And this creates an incentive for developers to push councillors to make decisions,” Cameron says.

“I am not against everything. But I am so disappointed by this city because there are so many missed opportunities.”

Cameron says there are two solutions. First, she suggests that city hall put a moratorium on development agreements until after the Centre Plan is complete.

According to Halifax Regional Planning and Development, the Centre Plan aims to create “sustained economic, environmental and social benefits” to reflect HRM’s current conditions. The plan seeks to cater new developments to the needs and concerns of local residents.

Second, Cameron asks council to slow down completion of the Centre Plan because citizens are not as engaged or informed as they ought to be.

“Developments in this city are too fast, too quick and too dirty. And I am skeptical,” Cameron says.

Cesar Saleh, WM Fares Group vice president of planning and design, says that it is a common misconception that WM Fares Group is the project’s development company.

“We are a consultation service. We design the buildings that our clients, the developers, want to build in the city.”

Saleh refuses to divulge the name of WM Fares Group’s client. However, according to Nova Scotia Property Online, Maynard Holdings Limited owns the proposed development property at 2480 Maynard Street. Property documents show that Maynard Holdings Limited took ownership of the property in 2012.

Although WM Fares Group provides a service to the property’s developers, they nonetheless play a role in the planning and design of the project.

WM Fares Group claims that the intent of the development project is to “increase vibrancy” of the “rhythmic” low-rise neighbourhood. According to recommendations to city council, WM Fares Group claims that the current state of Maynard Street “breaks-up” the “vibrant” neighbourhood due to empty lots and automotive services. They hope that their project will “re-stitch” the fabric of this community.

According to Polycorp Group, the prices of Q Lofts condo units range from $299 900 to $474 900. Compared to condos in The Trillium building on South Park Street, Q Lofts prices are relatively cheap. Property records show that the most valuable condo unit in The Trillium costs $1.7 million.

However, statistics show that residents of Maynard Street and surrounding areas may not be able to afford even the cheapest condo units in the city.

According to the 2011 National Household Survey, 40.6% of the population living in the area of Maynard and Roberts Street, make less than Statistics Canada’s low-income measure. According to Statistics Canada, the low-income measure is $19 460 for one-person households.

Local business owners say developments in the North End may be more beneficial than residents think.

“It makes me so happy and I am hopeful for the future,” Ian Fraser says. Fraser owns Obsolete Records on Agricola Street.

Born and raised in the North End, Fraser thought that the possibility of opening a record store in his neighbourhood would be a challenge.

However, after maintaining his business for six years, Fraser is optimistic of Halifax’s future cityscape. He says business developments in the North End has made his striving business possible.

“There was an Obsolete Records before new developments and there will be an Obsolete Records after they are complete,” Fraser said.

Fraser hasn’t heard any complaints from regular customers. However, he is concerned that new condominiums will change the area’s demographic.

“New condo developments could have an impact on the class diversity here in the North End. But, you have to be hopeful.”

Fraser says that the majority of his customers are university students and young professionals. He fears that the driving costs of rent might push students away.

“You don’t want to change the feel of an area just because you want to build condos,” Fraser says. “Be aware. Don’t develop for the sake of development. Know the area you are going to invest your money in.”

Frasers says that local businesses and new developments are coexisting so far, regardless of fears of gentrification.

“It proves that we can exist together in one community,” Fraser says.

Halifax and West Community Council approved planning amendments for two WM Fares Group projects during a council meeting on Nov. 15, including a development proposal for a residential building on Coburg Road.

HRM’s District 8 Councillor Lindell Smith echoed Fraser’s concerns after the council meeting.

“Anything new brings something new. New development brings new people,” Smith said.

Smith says that new businesses owners have expressed excitement about new condominium developments. However, Smith is concerned about long-time and small business owners. He says they are worried that new condominiums might drive customers to more affordable locations.

“If there is no reason for developers to look at affordability, then they don’t have to do it. And we can do better than that,” Smith said.

According to Smith’s website, the councillor suggests that affordable housing in the North End can be achieved by imposing inclusionary zoning regulations on new developments to include affordable housing units for people with low-incomes.

“So far we have talked to residents and the Centre Plan has allowed for engagement and has fixed things where they have been wrong. I think it’s important that we are doing that,” Smith said.

The date of the public hearing for the Maynard Street condominium project is yet to be announced.


Former Liberian refugee finds hope in helping others

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Rahime Konneh sits farthest left, beside musician Owen Lee.

Rahime Konneh hopes that his big idea will improve the lives of visually impaired people in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Konneh was the second panellist in Thursday evening’s Racism is Killing Us Softly lecture series, a discussion hosted by Dalhousie’s Black Student Advising Centre in the Student Union Building. This discussion was about the challenges and successes that young black men face.

As a former Liberian refugee in Sierra Leone for several years, Konneh said he was faced with the challenges of war, death and a visual impairment.

“I almost lost hope of pursuing my academic dream because I couldn’t read,” Konneh said.

Konneh’s proposed project, called Ability Over Disability, that he says will bring 150 computers with visual assistive technologies to junior high and high schools in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Visual assistive technology can be computer software, like, can range from computer programs that can read to you or magnify the text on computer screens to optical character recognition systems that that can read off print from a paper documents.

Konneh said he did not know he had glaucoma until he decided to pursue an education in community development studies and ecology in Sierra Leone. Konneh said that having a visual impairment made reading textbooks challenging and caused him to fall behind in class.

Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in young people like Konneh.

“It was a painful experience and I do not want to revisit it,” Konneh said.

After completing his studies in Sierra Leone without visual assistive technology, Konneh said he found work with two non-governmental organizations where he experienced the hardship of fellow refugees and those affected with HIV.

Konneh moved to Canada in 2010. After working for his friends for a year, Konneh began his studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland and is now at Dalhousie University where he will receive his double major degree in political science and international development studies in three months.

“When I got here I was fortunate to have access to assistive technologies and so far I have been able to perform academic work efficiently.”

Now, Konneh wants to give back to his Liberian brothers and sisters.

“What can I do as a person who is visually impaired and as a person who faced challenges back in Africa? What can I do at this point after learning from all these experiences?”

Konneh said schools that want to receive these computers must have a minimum of 10 visually impaired students. The schools would have to pay around $150 every six months in order to make Konneh’s project sustainable.

Konneh is raising money to make his proposed project a reality.

“I encourage you tonight that regardless of our individual challenges we can still instil a better life in people.”

Halifax Explosion anniversary committee seek award winning poet

Barry Cahill is a retired provincial civil servant (Photo: Fadila Chater)

(*** This is an original draft of the article published by The Signal***)

Canada’s newest parliamentary poet laureate George Elliott Clarke may be asked to produce an original piece of work to mark the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion.

The Halifax Explosion 100th Anniversary Advisory Committee met at NSCC Institution of Technology campus on Wednesday to discuss grant recommendations for local organizations who wish to participate in next year’s centennial.

Committee member Barry Cahill raised the motion for the committee to contact Clarke to see if he would be interested in having his work commissioned by HRM.

“If anyone would be approached to do this, George is the one,” Cahill said.

Clarke, native Nova Scotian and person of African-American and Mi’kmaq descent, is a nationally acclaimed poet and playwright. Clarke’s work offers a political and historical insight on the experiences of African-Canadians, particularly in Nova Scotia.

Clarke has won several awards and recognitions. In 2008, he received the William P. Hubbard Award for Race Relations from the city of Toronto. In 2001, he received the Governor General’s Award for his poetic anthology, “Execution Poems”.

In a recent Globe and Mail article Clarke is said to be writing historical poetry to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion.

Having read this article about Clarke’s interest in writing about the Halifax Explosion, Cahill said he immediately thought about contacting the poet to ask him to contribute his work in the community collaboration.

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In attendance at Wednesday’s meeting were committee members and staff. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

During the meeting, newly appointed committee member Dan O’Brien raised concern over whether asking Clarke to be commissioned by HRM would be inconsiderate to local poets. O’Brien said that Halifax’s poet laureate is to be announced this month, and commissioning Clarke’s work would possibly snub the new poet laureate.

“My fear is if he would be stepping on toes. I’m worried about a conflict of interest between the Halifax laureate poet and us commissioning George Elliott Clarke,” O’Brien said.

In regards to O’Brien’s concerns, chairman Craig Walkington explained that there is no conflict of interest and that such matter should be left alone.

“I don’t think George writing a piece and the Halifax poet laureate are mutually exclusive, one doesn’t exist at the expense of the other,” Walkington said.

The committee concluded with the motion for staff to investigate the feasibility of HRM requesting George Elliott Clarke to commission a piece of art.

Cahill has known Clarke for over 20 years, having shared in an interest in the history of African Nova Scotians. In particular, James R. Johnston, who was the first African Nova Scotian to graduate with a law degree.

“George is a very prominent African Nova-Scotian and a source of pride for everyone in this province,” Cahill said.

Cahill said that Clarke would have exclusive insight on how the Halifax Explosion impacted the African Nova Scotian community in Halifax.

“George is one of us,” Cahill said, “he knows the history, he’s interested in the history.”

The next committee meeting is scheduled for February 17th at a location yet to be announced.

Unsung: the untold story of a storyteller

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Dawn Harwood-Jones gives internships to underprivileged people from diverse cultural backgrounds. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

Taped onto the white, wooden door to Dawn Harwood-Jones’ production office is a poster that’s faded and curling up around the edges. In the centre of this poster, a blue and green globe with the words “The Golden Rule” bring rays of light to its core. At the end of each ray lies “Christianity”, “Islam”, “Buddhism”, among other world religions.

Looking toward her office door from her cluttered desk, Harwood-Jones explains the meaning behind the aging poster.

“The essence of every religion, the golden rule, is to treat other people the way you’d like to be treated. That’s why we have that poster,” Harwood-Jones says.

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1313 Hollis Street is also home to Smallest Halifax Art Gallery and Deli Green Bakery. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

1313 Hollis St., is home to Pink Dog Productions, a video production company co-founded by Harwood-Jones and Roberta Hancock. The company specializes in “make a change” videos that promote diversity, community and heritage.

The 64-year-old executive producer, musician, artist, community volunteer, event promoter and choir conductor spends most of her days on the phone or at her laptop, answering emails and networking with collaborators.

But Harwood-Jones’ job is more than slapping together videos for television stations.

“We give people a voice,” Harwood-Jones says.

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Harwood-Jones spends her time in the office on the phone and answering emails. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

After leaving her 20-year career at CBC in 2007, Harwood-Jones set out to produce and sell her own public service announcements with her colleague Roberta Hancock. With the help of a few friends, Pink Dog Productions was born.

Examples of her work with Pink Dog Productions include Empowerful. In this project, Harwood-Jones enabled youth and the elderly to work together to learn about and be inspired by motivational figures of African Nova Scotian descent.

Today, Harwood-Jones is working on finishing up Unsung Heroes.

For over a year, Harwood-Jones and her colleagues have been producing a live presentation of stories, spoken word and musical performances that confront injustices that have happened to war veterans from different cultural backgrounds.

The project is in its final stages of production.

Harwood-Jones says that although the stories of Unsung Heroes may invoke feelings of guilt and resentment, the presentation itself is a celebratory coming-together of Mi’kmaq, Acadian, Jewish, African Nova Scotian and European peoples through historic re-enactment and musical performances.

Today’s Unsung Heroes echoes a video that Harwood-Jones produced with Pink Dog Productions and uploaded onto YouTube. In the video, local poets and musicians perform while stories are told by veterans that remember the forgotten soldiers of African and Mi’kmaq descent.

“Part of telling these stories is saying that it can change. Because it has,” Harwood-Jones says, referring to what she says is Canada’s unspoken past of cultural discrimination.

What Harwood-Jones refers to is the mistreatment of African Canadian soldiers during the World Wars.

For example, as Harwood-Jones points out, British and American Commanders banned soldiers of African descent from marching with white soldiers during the Paris Liberation of 1944.

Harwood-Jones says she feels that Canadian history has neglected to tell the story of African Nova Scotians, Mi’kmaq, and other ethnic peoples. To make up for this lack of history, Unsung Heroes tells stories about discrimination and cruelty so to educate today’s generations about the importance of tolerance in our community.

Tolerance and community is something Harwood-Jones says she learned at a young age.

“Injustice drives my life.”

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Harwood-Jones works on post-production of Unsung Heroes. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

Born into an Anglophone family from Montebello, Quebec, Harwood-Jones quickly realized how fortunate she was as an English-speaking Canadian.

“As I grew up, I started to realize that even though we were poor we were privileged compared to so many people in Canada.”

Harwood-Jones tells of how her mother’s friend, who was of African descent, had to face numerous barriers in order to emigrate from Grenada to Canada. Her mother was broken-hearted by her friend’s misfortune and talked about the unfair treatment of black people with her young daughter.

“I early on learned about unfairness of people of African descent,” she says.

Looking back to the poster on her door, Harwood-Jones says that underlying everything she does is the message of the golden rule.

As an outspoken person who wants to be heard, Harwood-Jones says she uses her privilege to enable others to speak up. She says this is her way of treating others the way she wants to be treated.

“That’s what was so magical about [Unsung Heroes]. It was having so many cultures in the same room, honouring each other. And I’d like to see that in the city,” Harwood-Jones says.

For Harwood-Jones, the arts are tools for social change. For more than two decades, Harwood-Jones has been giving First Nations, African Nova Scotians, immigrants, and at-risk youth a platform to perform on.

Although Unsung Heroes is nearing the end of its production, Harwood-Jones can’t say that she’ll be taking a break anytime soon.

When Harwood-Jones isn’t working at Pink Dog Productions, she’s conducting a choir for seniors and youth. She is also co-hosting a family of Syrian refugees in Chester, where she lives.

“It keeps going with her. The video is done, the photos are done, everyone involved in the project has moved on, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Dawn is already thinking about the next project in the community,” says Sean Dewitt, a colleague of Harwood-Jones and photographer for

For Harwood-Jones, the golden rule isn’t just a motivational poster to hang on the wall, but words to live by and give voice to.

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Harwood-Jones’ office sitting area. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

Four home remedies to help you cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

According to the Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mental disorder that is associated with changes in the weather during winter months. In most cases, SAD causes symptoms of depression including feelings of worthlessness, having a lack of energy, sleeping troubles and thoughts of death or suicide.

In some cases, SAD could occur in the early months of spring or summer. In these cases the symptoms are slightly different and may include weight loss, poor appetite and anxiety.

What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The cause of SAD is widely speculated to be the result of a lack of sunlight, which in turn could decrease levels of serotonin, the brain chemical that affects changes of mood and sleep patterns.

Lack of sunlight is also said to cause an increase of melatonin, the brain chemical that regulates sleep.

A rise in melatonin levels may affect sleep schedule which may be related to symptoms of depression.

The Mood Disorders Association of Ontario suggest that SAD could be caused by early childhood trauma.

Who does it affect?

Women are up to eight times more likely to be diagnosed with SAD than men. Adults under the age of 55 are more at risk to developing SAD.

Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs more often among people living in the northern hemisphere than those closer to the equator. Daylight savings times, the constant change of seasons and weather, and the lack of daylight associated with being nearer to the north pole all contribute to the risks involved with developing SAD.

How is SAD treated?

There are a number of methods to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder including light therapy and anti-depressent prescription drugs. It is important to seek medical advice before beginning a treatment.

In a YouTube video produced by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Dr. Robert Levitan explores treatments and preventative measures for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

For mild cases of SAD, multiple online medical sources recommend the following at home remedies.

1. Maximize on the time you spend outdoors.

Because the leading cause of SAD is a lack of sunlight, spending enough time outside when the weather calls for clear skies is essential to fighting back symptoms of depression.

The Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario recommends rearranging your living environment so that even when you are inside you can benefit from the sunlight near a window or open area.

2. Exercise daily.

Having a healthy lifestyle is to the key to avoid health issues including mental illness. To avoid symptoms of depression, make an exercise routine and stick to it. Exercising helps you release built up energy and relieve stress. Exercising outside is an added benefit to coping with SAD.

3. Prioritize sleep.

A recurring symptom of SAD is exhaustion linked to lack of sleep. The Better Sleep Council of Canada recommends regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, daily mental stimulation, taking a warm bath before bed and making your sleeping environment more comfortable.

4. Pass on the carbs, eat more protein.

A number of online sources including WebMD advise those who are coping with SAD to avoid simple carbohydrates such as white rice and white bread. These carbs quickly raise blood sugar levels which then pump excessive amounts of insulin into your body. Instead stick to complex carbohydrates like oatmeal and whole grains which increase the serotonin levels that your body needs to regulate your mood.

Leafy greens, fish and turkey are said to contain nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, vitamin D and amino acid tryptophan that can boost serotonin levels.

Film Society explores PTSD through Israeli film

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Sarah Clift teaches a course about the philosophy of memory and trauma at the University of King’s College. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

(Written on November 21st, 2o15)

By Fadila Chater

Students gathered in the G. Peter Wilson Common Room at the University of King’s College Thursday to watch artistic depictions of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the Israeli film, Waltz with Bashir.

The film tells the story of director Ari Folman and his struggle to remember his years as an Israeli soldier in the Lebanon War of 1982. He encounters his memories in a series of PTSD induced flashbacks.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental illness that affects those who have experienced first-hand trauma. Symptoms of PTSD include hallucinations, flashbacks and loss of memory about aspects of the traumatic event.

Sarah Clift, a professor at the University of King’s College and expert in the philosophical study of memory, chose to screen the film because of its unique depiction of trauma and PTSD.

“It certainly does capture the essence of the haunting that is so unbelievably debilitating,” said Clift, referring to the symptoms of PTSD.

In November, the Canadian Military released a report that details 80 suicides among regular male soldiers in the Canadian Armed Forces between 2001-2014. In an investigation by the Globe and Mail, the number of soldiers who committed suicide after returning from the Afghanistan war is a third of the number of soldiers who were killed while serving in it.

PTSD among soldiers has doubled over the last decade and is said to be the cause of a percentage of suicides.

“There is a kind of crisis of masculinity, if I can put it that way, that is signaled, I think, by the failure of military officials and their infrastructure to provide adequate facilities and resources for soldiers with PTSD,” said Clift.

The film depicts hallucinogenic scenes of lost memory against stark yellows and greys. Bloody war violence is often shown in gruesome detail.

Audience members grimaced at shocking images of death and torture. The final moments of the film show real life images of a street littered with the bodies of the dead, causing some students to shield their eyes or cry.

“The scene when the woman is coming towards you crying because her village was destroyed really brings home the reality and gravity of the situation,” said movie-goer Daniel Platts.

The King’s Foreign Film Society hosted the event. Film Society member Taylor Saracuse concluded the screening by encouraging students in the room to discuss their thoughts.

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First year student Layla Gibson says that she is interested in learning more about PTSD and trauma. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

“We are sitting here in Foundation Year Programme, talking about what a table is, and there are people dying right now. I’m not discrediting philosophy, but meditating on the issues of this film puts you in your place,” said Layla Gibson, a first-year student.