Memory lane and new discoveries

6 Jul A woman and man throw axes towards colourful wooden targets at Halifax's Timber Lounge

Two weeks ago I headed to Halifax after a 20-year absence. During my last visit my son’s father and I met up with his brother and girlfriend and I showed them some of the places I’d discovered during time spent doing a one-year degree in journalism at the University of King’s College. I stuck around after graduation, finally leaving the city for good about nine months afterwards.

This time I had a taste of a King’s dorm experience when my partner and I spent a night at Alex Hall, the dorm I likely would have lived in had I lived in residence. We spent the next night in a room we’d rented through Airbnb in a charming house located in another part of town.

Halifax is one of my favourite cities. I love its walkability and joie de vivre. I love the whimsical names you see everywhere. I love that its Public Gardens offers free admission, so unlike Montreal’s Jardin Botanique, where most of the year you pay to access that park.

The food is amazing too and at the risk of sounding like I work for Tourism Nova Scotia, I don’t think we had one bad meal as we chowed down on breakfast sandwiches at Just Us! Café, I enjoyed a brie and tomato sandwich, Inka latte and mix of salt caramel/mint chocolate chip gelato at Humati-T Café, the chickpea burger at the Stubborn Goat’s beer garden on the Waterfront was very tasty, I loved the latte and brownie we shared at Choco Café.


I had a fun birthday dinner with my partner, my dad, my sister and her boyfriend. I searched Twitter for an interesting restaurant and learned a food truck called The Food Wolf was serving meals at a bar called the Timber Lounge. I read something about the Timber Lounge and axe throwing but I thought it was a joke.

It wasn’t at all! While we sat indoors at tables hewn from huge logs we got to watch an employee group do their team-building exercise, hurling axes at log slices painted with colourful bull’s eyes in a room at the back of the bar. It just like a dart game but with axes instead of darts and a coach accompanying players, making sure everyone was safe. My family told the waitress it was my birthday though I think she understood it was my dad’s birthday and there was some joking that we could try our hand at this lumberjack sport. I was too chicken to even go near the axes but what a rush seeing these men and women enthusiastically throw largish axes across the room. It seemed primal and dangerous but fun too.

A woman and man throw axes towards colourful wooden targets at Halifax's Timber Lounge

Photo by Andrew Belding

As for the food, everyone at our table except me ordered a “Piggy Bun” pulled pork sandwich, which they raved about. I enjoyed “Charred Scallion Noodles,”an Asian-style tofu and vegetable dish. The beer was good – I tried a local English brown ale craft beer while my sister and partner drank a locally crafted pale ale. She had to wait for the pale ale on tap to finish before getting a chance to try the amber ale she wanted.

Afterwards we headed to DeeDee’s Ice Cream, where again our food experience was excellent. I was pleasantly surprised by their spicy Mexican chocolate ice cream.

Other surprises

  • I had no idea Theodore Tugboat (Theodore Too) was at the Halifax Waterfront and that someone had put him to work giving tours to tourists.  Actually he’s not the original fictional tugboat from the children’s TV show that aired for years on CBC but an imitation tugboat that looks just like Theodore.


© Andrew Belding

    • We spotted the Bluenose II, a replica of the famous fishing and racing schooner you see on the Canadian dime, to the left of Theodore Too and noticed it was also offering (pricey to us) tours.
    • I was sad to see few ducks at the Halifax Public Gardens. It might have something to do with rules banning people from feeding the ducks. I have happy memories of the place being overrun with ducks and I remember seeing swans at the Gardens. No swans this time, a few ducks and some seagulls mimicking ducks, I guess.

  • I think it was Grad Week in Halifax. It seemed everywhere we went we stumbled on dressed-up couples or singles, sometimes accompanied by parents and family members, having their photos taken as their limos or buses waited. We saw grads on a Wednesday evening and Thursday during the day and heading into evening. A waiting limo driver said all week 14 high schools were holding events around Halifax but June 23rd was the biggest day/evening for the grads. I asked if drunken grads were a problem but the limo driver said he doesn’t see the grads when they get drunk, which happens afterwards. I think his exact words were he doesn’t see them when “they get ugly.”

A lone grad dressed in a princess-like prom dress waits just inside Halifax’s Public Gardens

Burritoville’s sad end

9 Jun

Photo from Co-op de Solidarité Burritoville Facebook page

I’m late to this news but am shocked to learn that Montreal vegetarian restaurant Burritoville is no more.

For over a decade  it served Mexican-style vegetarian fare on Bishop near Concordia’s Hall Building. I met one of Burritoville’s owners, Jono Aitchison, many moons ago when he worked for and later owned Burrito Nation on Sherbrooke St. in NDG. I used to stop by for the incredible quesadillas he made with organic cheese and green salsa. They were so good I can still taste them.

For Burritoville Jono teamed up with his cousin Steve Aitchison and their friend Dave Tamas and moved the restaurant from NDG to downtown Montreal. They purposely set up near Concordia because they saw their students as key customers and felt they shared Burritoville’s socially conscious values. The restaurant celebrated food, art and music. With a varied menu (in 2010 McGill Daily reporter Eric Wen said it had “the best burrito in town”) liquor licence and plenty of space, Burritoville was not just a place to eat downstairs but upstairs where there was a bar, a piano and a stage equipped for performances it saw all sorts of events, comedy nights and music. It was a community, a gathering place for meetings and conversations, a place where you’d find all sorts of interesting art on the walls, a place that challenged you to think.

I haven’t been to Burritoville in a while. I saw mentions in my Facebook feed of a solidarity co-op and thought maybe Jono, Steve and Dave were trying a new ownership model. What was going on was an ownership handover that failed so miserably the restaurant shuttered its doors.

Here’s what Jono posted on Facebook about what happened:

To all who knew and loved Burritoville,

Since the doors opened in 2004 on Sherbrooke St. in NDG, as Burrito Nation, to the 2008 move to Bishop St. downtown, Burritoville has always had the mission to nourish and provide a positive space in the community. We served this mission for over a decade and it was both the most rewarding and challenging venture any of us have entered into. It was truly a labour of love and in light of the recent downfall we wanted to reach out to our loyal customers and friends to express our gratitude and sadness.

In the spring of 2013 each of us had reached a point where we considered pursuing new directions in our lives and decided to investigate our possible options, including selling the business. Shortly after we were approached by an enthusiastic group of students, led by an equally enthusiastic professor, from Concordia. From initial discussions it appeared that these could be the best people to see our work continue and grow into the future. Further discussions revealed that such a takeover could be feasible for both sides. Soon after, as we were seeking employees for the new school year, we hired three 3 people from the group. Talks progressed slowly but we understood they were serious and needed time to build support.

Over the following 2 years multiple 3rd evaluators were brought in resulting in many surveys, studies and reviews. Meetings were held and negotiations for the sale took place. At the same time support from the Concordia student body and CSU was growing, the Coopérative de Solidarité Burritoville was formed, with our involvement, and all seemed on track for a successful transition.

As the point of handover neared, it became apparent to us that they would be unable to smoothly realize their ambitions for the Co op if the entirety of the “money for purchase” from the CSU was given to us, as anticipated. As such we agreed to defer a significant portion of the purchase price, in order to give them a better start creating a payment schedule allowing them to complete the balance of sale by December 2016. We expected they would need time to establish themselves while seeking to achieve the improvements they envisioned immediately. We were hopeful Burritoville would flourish with this new energy and continue to grow in new ways. As of August 2015, the Coop officially took ownership of Burritoville and began implementing changes.

To our great disappointment we recently heard that the troubles facing the coop were so overwhelming that there was a threat of closure. This news was heartbreaking. As more information became public we found ourselves listed as a primary reason for the demise. We were floored. After years of studies and meetings and complete transparency there is no way this misfortune is our doing.

Beyond our grief at seeing Burritoville come to an end we are extremely proud of all we, and the community did with it. Many connections we made and which were made by others at Burritoville are lasting. Our memories and the moments had there live on. We have had many people tell us their stories of what Burritoville meant to them and at this time especially it is great to hear as it reminds us why we did it. We provided a space and the people came and made it what it was.

So now to all the geeks and gamers, the freaks and funny people, the wordsmiths and hoofers, the songsters and jammers, the Fantasians and thespians, the storytellers and artists of every stripe, to our friends and lovers and the best employees ever and to the hungry legions who came back again and again and anyone else who crossed our threshold, we love and miss you.

Jono, Steve and Dave


Montreal Girl Geeks event recap – an excellent talk & useful information

2 Jun

Laura Rietveld giving her inspiring Montreal Girl Geeks talk. Photo: Liesl Barrell/Montreal Girl Geeks Facebook page

I find I don’t go into Montreal as much as I’d like. Sometimes IBS or whatever this is I’m dealing with flares up and I’m not feeling 100 percent. Getting into Montreal from Vaudreuil is sometimes challenging because I don’t drive and using public transportation can take close to two hours.

Last week’s Montreal Girl Geeks event at WeWork’s co-working space at Place Ville Marie was great on so many fronts.

There was an excellent talk by Laura Rietveld, who spoke of the help she found through a mentor but also of the lonely and difficult process she underwent to overcome her own doubts and fears and make her award-winning documentary film, Okpik’s Dream about Harry Okpik, a champion dog musher in Nunavik.

And along with free coffee and beer provided by WeWork, organizers and guests shared valuable information for anyone looking for work or training or interested in getting involved in Montreal’s tech community. A week later, I’m sharing what’s relevant now.

Here’s a rundown:

Jobs & Career Related

  • Montreal Girl Geeks co-organizer Liesl Barrell said her digital agency company, Third Wunder, is looking for marketing students interested in doing a summer internship (stage).
  • Amp Me Inc, a song-synching app company based out of WeWork  recently received $8-million in funding  and is hiring.
  • Montreal Girl Geeks co-organizer Leann Brown, who works at Youth Employment Services Montreal (YES), says YES has a job opening for a Provincial Projects Coordinator.

Tech events

  • WordCamp Montréal 2016 happens July 23-24 at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business. General admission is $50.00. Get your tickets here.
  • Liesl Barrell urged people to take part in AquaHacking, a hackathon for people who care about protecting the St. Lawrence River. The challenge, which started in May, continues until September, with hacking days starting this Saturday (June 4). For the Oct. 7 final, six finalists will demonstrate their solutions to a jury made up of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, IT execs and water experts. Not only do you get to embrace technological challenges but you could win $50,000 in cash.

Affordable training

Developer boot camps can be expensive. If you’re interested in becoming a professional developer or you want to learn how to get involved in the open source community, skills incubator Les Pitonneux offers an affordable option.

Les Pitonneux founder Roberta Voulon said the group is for people learning programming online. To help people break out of isolation, it holds free Coffee & Code study sessions in WeWork’s lounge several times a week. For $100 a month you can participate in their Learning Circles where you get collaborative, peer-to-peer help as you work on projects and soon, they’ll announce workshops so people can focus on learning a particular skill.


A grassroots garden near the Jean Talon Market & a mystery bus in Vaudreuil

22 May Photo by Stephanie O'Hanley

Today as we walked near Montreal’s Jean Talon Market we spotted this citizen-driven collective garden. Its benches are made from wooden pallets, as are many of its planter boxes. There’s a rain barrel on site, and also a distribution box for books so that people may leave or take as many books as they wish. So it’s a place where people can garden and/or relax with a good book.


An overall view of the citizen garden. Photo by Stephanie O’Hanley


Signs declare the garden space is open for citizens and urge people to enjoy it and care for it. Photo by Stephanie O’Hanley



A bench made of pallets is flanked on either side by  side tables made of tree trunks, which also serve as planters. Photo by Stephanie O’Hanley




Photo by Stephanie O’Hanley

I found this article (in French) about the garden. It’s located in an abandoned parking lot behind a fire station and sprouted up (sorry, bad pun) in 2014 when some young residents and firefighters wanted to green the area. The philosophy is anyone can join the garden collective.



Later we saw this bus in the parking lot of a Vaudreuil-Dorion shopping centre. The licence plate says New Brunswick. There was no one in the bus when we took photos and I wonder what it’s all about. Do you know?


Photo by Andrew Belding


Photo by Stephanie O’Hanley


Close up of the bus with its black background, painted teal-green smoke and green cobwebs, superimposed cast-iron effect skull and silver skull details

Photo by Stephanie O’Hanley

On Trudeau and manhandling

20 May

If you’ve been following Canadian politics, no doubt you’ve heard about #elbowgate, an incident or series of incidents that happened on Wednesday when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lost his temper. As a vote was called, a group of New Democratic Party MPs were apparently blocking Conservative whip Gordon Brown from returning to his seat*

* Nancy McKnight, who works for the Parliament of Canada, says in a comment on a National Post story that Brown was “was not trying to get to his seat. He was trying to get into position in front of the Speaker where he and the government bow to the Speaker and then towards each other signalling the Speaker he can now proceed to the taking of votes. The NDP ganged up and closed off his path. A childish delay tactic.”  In the interest of getting the facts right, I’ve corrected my wording below.

Trudeau strode across the House of Commons, walked through the group of MPs, apparently shouting “get the fuck out of my way” before he grabbed Brown by the arm, supposedly to lead him to the front (I guess the Conservative whip couldn’t head to the open space to the left of the NDP ; imagine the symbolism!). In the process Trudeau’s elbow struck NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau hard in the chest.

Though he’s apologized at least three times,  it looks like Trudeau’s honeymoon is over. He’s ruined his image as a feminist. You don’t expect a feminist man to use force to get his way and while I think striking Brosseau in the chest with his elbow was an accident, it’s still shocking that the reasonable, “sunny ways” prime minister would do anything like this.

I’ve had my own weird experiences of people thinking it’s okay to forcibly put their hands on me. I’m of average height but have a small/medium frame so I look approachable and easy to push around. A few weeks ago an older man doing the greeting at Vaudreuil’s Costco store grabbed me by the arm and led me to the other side of the store after I asked about where I needed to  go to return an item. I told him my partner was in the store and I wanted to go back inside to let him know I was heading to the customer service counter on the other side but Monsieur decided to physically stop me. I complained to management right away. I have no idea if the man is still handing out coupons and greeting people at the front of the store.

Once I was shopping in a grocery store and carefully reading prices I think in the butter section. Or maybe I was looking at yogourt. Whatever I was doing an older man decided to move me out of his way, as though I were a piece of furniture. He lifted me and then put me down somewhere behind the section because he wanted to get something and I was in his way. The incident happened very quickly. I was shocked and had no idea what to do. The man didn’t appear to speak English or French and he disappeared out of sight.

I have no idea where these men learned it’s okay to grab people or move them and I wonder why Justin Trudeau would even consider a physical approach. Not only is he prime minister and supposed to be setting an example and exhibiting a certain decorum and restraint, he says he’s a feminist so that would suggest he would know how to use his words and not force, and he would take a collaborative approach to solving problems, even when he’s dealing with a frustrating situation.

I’ve been on the fence about Trudeau so I suppose I can’t say my honeymoon with him is over since it never existed to begin with.

Update, May 23, 2016. I don’t think what happened should be seen as a big scandal but Trudeau apologists are certainly chiming in with the attitude that since Trudeau has apologized, anyone upset by Trudeau’s behaviour is making too much of a fuss (f.y.i. Canada has had its share of unusual prime ministers but we’ve never had a prime minister before this who got physical inside the House of Commons).

Comedian John Oliver’s piece about #elbowgate is an example of what I mean.

My latest (ducky) story for Your Local Journal

14 May

Published May 12, 2016 in Your Local Journal. I’ve included some “extra” photos that weren’t published either in print or online on Your Local Journal’s Facebook page.

A ducky love affair & rescue at the Complexe Pointe-Claire

Stephanie O’Hanley
Special Contributor

They came, they went, they came back and then they were rescued.

Sandra Spaziani, an employee at Concept Élite, said she first spotted wild mallard ducks at the Complexe Pointe-Claire in late March or early April when they waddled by the hair salon. She remembers the timing because she was about to go on holiday and she snapped photos of the ducks.

“There were three of them, a male and two females walking around,” said Spaziani. “Then they disappeared. I don’t know where they go.”

Oxana Ursulyak, owner of neighbouring store Le Chocolat Belge, saw the ducks on April 7 and posted photos on her personal Facebook page with the heading “My clients today!”


“I was very surprised,” Ursulyak recalled. “Everybody went outside and started to take photos.” One man driving a car even stopped to snap a picture,  she said. “People go crazy.

“I was overwhelmed with joy,” Ursulyak added. “They are so nice, with orange feet.”

One Sunday morning (May 1) a Your Local Journal reporter saw a mallard couple strolling in front of the Chapters bookstore. The smitten pair headed towards Sushi Shop next door, where they looked in the window.


Ursulyak said she was surprised the ducks weren’t scared of people and that she saw a man from the nearby pet store, the Nature Pet Centre, come out and feed the ducks small pieces of something.

Last week Olivia, an employee at Nature Pet Centre, told Your Local Journal the ducks probably don’t live at the shopping centre but were often seen at the back of the mall. She said the pet store’s staff took care of a male duck that injured his foot and that all the ducks were “okay now.”

Then on Monday morning (May 9) Spaziani once again saw ducks outside Concept Élite. This time it was a female duck with nine little ducklings.

Photo by Sandra Spaziani

Photo by Sandra Spaziani

“I’m an animal lover,” she said. “For me it’s cute. I feel sad for them. I wish I could put them in the lake. I feel bad for them because there are cars around and they could get hit.”

The sight of the mama duck and ducklings gathered in a desolate walled corner of the nearby CIBC’s building also alarmed Ly, an employee at Nature Pet Centre.

“They can’t live here,” he said, pointing out that while he’s fed the ducks crickets, there was no decent food available and a very real risk the mother duck or ducklings could be hit by a car since the mother could not fly away with her ducklings and a male duck had already been hit.

Ly phoned friends to help him transport the duck family. Being used to handling birds, he said he placed the mother duck in a carrier and the ducklings in one of the store’s boxes and took them to his house in the Pointe-du-Domaine neighbourhood of Notre-Dame-de-l’Île-Perrot, where they’ll be released into the wild.

“I live near the lakeshore,” Ly said.

It’s unclear whether the other ducks will come back or even why the wild birds dropped by the Complexe Pointe-Claire to begin with.

“It could be possible they hang there because there’s food or something,” said Ecomuseum communications director Émilie Sénécal. She said ducks nest near water and it’s hard to tell where they live. “Ducks move around.”

Migratory birds are protected by the federal government. “Ducks often nest in urban areas,”  Natalie Huneault , media relations spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada, said in an email.

“The females select the nest location, and tend to choose locations where they succeeded in raising their broods the year before,” Huneault said. “Inexperienced one-year females may select inappropriate nest locations, and in these situations, it is best to let nature run its course.”

Ducks come under Migratory Bird Regulations (MBR), she said. Section 6 of the MBR says ”no person shall disturb, destroy or take a nest, egg, nest shelter, eider duck shelter or duck box of a migratory bird.” Under the regulations it’s illegal to have in your possession “ a live migratory bird, or a carcass, skin, nest or egg of a migratory bird except under authority of a permit.”

A woman answering the phone at Environment and Climate Change Canada’s general enquiries line said she gets 20 calls a day about geese and ducks nesting in places like shopping centres. When ducks are in danger they may be relocated. “Someone in management would have to call us,” she said. [Note: When I mentioned this during an email exchange with Huneault when I questioned why the general enquiries line gave me a completely different answer,  she wrote back that the “staff at the general enquiries centre are not spokespeople.”  She also said: ” There are very few exceptions for Environment and Climate Change Canada to deliver a permit to relocate a nest and it’s suggested to let nature run its course.”]

Costco’s recall woes raise questions about corporate “organic” foods

28 Apr

It’s been nearly two weeks since Canadian Costco customers in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador learned the bag of Nature’s Touch Organic Berry Cherry Blend frozen fruit lying in their freezer might contain the hepatitis A virus (nothing like a hep A smoothie!). Now the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is warning Costco customers in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan that their Organic by Nature frozen organic sweet peas may be contaminated with listeria. According to Consumerist, a notice from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says the CRF Frozen Foods recall lists 15 types of frozen vegetables sold at Costco and Meijer stores in the United States and Canada.


The first of these two recalls is shocking since people who consumed the berries are now at risk of contracting hepatitis A, a potentially serious form of liver disease. Making matters worse, some of the berries may have been distributed in free food samples distributed at Costco.  I nearly bought that bag of berries but instead chose a cheaper bag of blueberries, supposedly from Canada.  I can understand why people thought the berry blend was safe. After all it’s labeled Canada Organic.  I was left with the impression it was an all-Canadian product.

Apparently this is not the case.  It seems some or perhaps all the berries in the blend came from a country or countries where either the water used to clean them contained sewage or the workers handling the berries weren’t washing their hands properly after using the bathroom since the virus is found only in the stools (feces) of infected people. Costco has phoned customers who purchased the Organic Berry Cherry Blend to offer them free vaccinations for hepatitis A since being vaccinated within two weeks can prevent the onset of symptoms. People were using the frozen berries in smoothies and since the berries weren’t cooked, they ingested the virus when they drank it.  The Government of Canada’s advisory notes:

Food contaminated with Hepatitis A virus may not look or smell spoiled. Consumption of food contaminated with this virus may cause hepatitis and produce a self-limited disease that does not result in chronic infection or chronic liver disease. The illness is usually mild and starts about 15 to 50 days after the contaminated food is eaten. It generally goes away by itself in a week or two, although it can last up to 6 months in some people. It can cause inflammation of the liver, and symptoms may include fever, low appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, and yellowing in the whites of the eyes and the skin (jaundice).

In countries where hepatitis A is prevalent, people have antibodies to the disease but many Canadians lack antibodies. While most people who get exposed won’t get a chronic infection or chronic liver disease, the Mayo Clinic says in rare cases hepatitis A can cause a sudden loss of liver function, especially in older adults or people with chronic liver disease.

As for listeria, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, it can lead to “a rare but serious disease called listeriosis.” The agency points out “food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes may not look or smell spoiled but can still make you sick. Symptoms can include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache and neck stiffness.”



Those at higher risk include pregnant women, the elderly and individuals with weakened immune systems and in serious cases, listeriosis can lead to brain infection and even death, the agency warns.

A Google search shows similar recalls for organic products sold at Costco’s Canadian stores. For example, in 2013 at least 1,200 Costco customers, mostly from British Columbia and Alberta, bought a frozen berry blend linked to a hepatitis A outbreak in eight U.S. states.

Even worse, some of these products sport labels that offer consumers an impression the product is sanctioned and safe. As you can see in the image of the Nature’s Touch Berry Cherry Blend above, the packaging includes a Canada Organic Logo and a label indicating the product was verified by the Non-GMO Project. The Organic by Nature frozen sweet peas are supposedly USDA organic.

What you can do

  1. Know who you’re buying from. If you’re going to shop at Costco or a big supermarket, research companies and find out where exactly the food is coming from. Phone the company whose name appears on the bag and ask about sourcing. Have them list their suppliers and tell you what countries grew your food. That way you’re aware of the risk.  Or if you’re going to gamble on a frozen berry mix, don’t use it for smoothies but turn it into jam so you kill any virus lurking in the bag.
  2. Don’t trust labels. It seems with these organic fruit blends the Canada Organic logo only refers to the Canadian component of the mix. The Non-GMO Project verified label suggests it’s non-GMO but this doesn’t guarantee the food’s safety. It’s sad that you have be skeptical about the labeling but based on these recent recalls the labels means nothing. Unless rules are tightened around food safety, an unlikely scenario in this time of global trade, you can’t be sure of anything in the global supply network.
  3. A better approach to buying organic is to buy locally from small, independent stores and if possible, directly from farmers in your area. Even better, grow food yourself. Buy in season and freeze your own berries and vegetables.

That way you won’t stand in line for a “free” vaccine at the pharmacy of your local Costco warehouse worried out of your mind about hep A because you enjoyed a yummy smoothie or feel nauseous with a stiff neck and muscle aches, a headache, fever, and vomiting just because you had a hankering for sweet peas.