Monday, July 27, 2015

Don't Despair. Repair.

Don't despair.  Repair.   This was said to me recently by someone I admire.

 I know how brutal it was to read the last letter.  It is distressing to learn that in this province where there is so much beauty and so much good, that there is also something so ugly that lurks beneath the surface.  If reading Jane's letter made you angry then I am glad because anger is a great motivating force.  But anger that stands by itself  is destructive.   We need to hear Jane's story and all the stories of other businesses that have had similar struggles and get seriously mad.  Then we need to figure out how to fix this.  

There are solutions, but I don't think we should be waiting for our politicians to solve this mess.  As Albert Einstein said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."    (Thanks to another dear friend for that one.)  This province is filled with business owners that are making progress happen. These are the innovators.  It is time for us as business owners and citizens to get our butts into council meetings.  Just to witness the decisions that are being made on our behalf.  I think we can all spare 2 hours a month.  It can be impressively boring when council is spending 20 minutes trying to decide whether or not to allow a water cooler at a festival, so bring your knitting or your iphone or a good book and tune in or out as you see fit.  What right have we to complain if we are not engaged?  

Our bylaws need to be revisited.  Are they serving our present day community?  If the councilors in Annapolis Royal can't see that it makes no sense, in this time when we are desperate for new people and entrepreneurs, to tell someone that they can not sell art, but they can sell antiques, then it is up to the good people of Annapolis Royal to tell their councilors that they want a new bylaw and this is what they want it to say.

If the councilors in Lunenburg can not come to it on their own, that it makes no sense to require three car parking for a small hat studio or pottery studio or one chair hairdressing salon, when our lot sizes can't even fit that amount of parking without removing the home, then it is up to the good people of Lunenburg to tell their councilors what they wish to see.  This has now been done in Lunenburg and this change is in progress.
Of course there is due process, but it is up to the people to tell their councilors what they wish to see and it is the duty of the council to listen to the people. 

So, if you are in Lunenburg, I'll see you on August 11th at town Hall and if you are in Annapolis Royal, you might want to find out when your next council meeting happens, so that you don't keep scaring away the very people you need.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Farewell to Nova Scotia - The Sad Finale - Harris House

This is the final installment of the letter I received from Jane at Harris House in Annapolis Royal.  This painting, done by her husband Michael Hames, is called Persevere.   I suppose that is the message I am taking from this heartbreaking letter.  Persevere.  Work for change, so that Nova Scotia stops losing this kind of talent and vision.  Some representative of the province should be banging on their door with a big check begging them not to go.  That would be an excellent use of our tax dollars.   You can see more of his art work on their web site as well as their incredible restored antique lighting.

Jane's Letter:

Around the time that we began to rearrange our space to accommodate the lighting fixtures, we were in for another shock. Two and a half years after our arrival, we were told that our property assessment had gone up some eighty thousand dollars, based on what we’d paid for the property (they were finally catching up). So our taxes (a quarter of which were twice the rate, being commercial) were to shoot up accordingly. We would be paying in taxes, for our humble, vinyl clad house next to the Post Office dumpsters, more than the longer term owners were paying for the mansions on St. George Street. We would be paying, even while only a quarter commercial, more than most of the commercial building owners on St. George Street were paying. I know this, because I did the research.

 We contacted the then mayor, but of course were told it was not up to the town. We asked if there was some way we could at least put more than the one allowed and size-restricted sign up for our business. We had by now abandoned advertising the gallery, as we needed our one sign to advertise the potentially viable business, antique lighting. We paid the town yearly to have a small sign in market square, but it wasn’t enough. “You want more taxes,” we argued, “yet you refuse to help us (by way of allowing signage) to earn the money to pay them!” The mayor himself shrugged, but suggested we talk to another local businessman, which we did, and he agreed to let us put a sign on his fully commercial building. We then went before the local planning and heritage committee with our cause and they agreed to let us put a sandwich board on the sidewalk until such time as they could accommodate the smaller businesses that were outside the main shopping area with a sign pointing the way to visitors (this still hasn’t happened four years later except for one for the favoured few shops on upper St. George).

 We were to be allowed one sandwich board only, and only with a choice of three spots. The spot we chose was next to the bank, and we suggested it might be safer to put the sign on the grass rather than the sidewalk. It turned out that the grass was the bank’s property, so we were to ask permission, which was granted by the bank (with a strong suggestion that I move my business account there, which of course, I did.)

Not long after, we received a letter from Town Hall requiring us to remove the sign from the private commercial building, immediately. Many more emails were thrown around with Town Hall, to no satisfaction. No one could explain to me why the sign on the bank’s private property was okay but the one on the other private property (at the mayor’s suggestion, remember) was not okay. We thought we’d just ignore it for a while (by now getting a little used to the harassment) but eventually the owner himself asked us to remove it, as he had decided to join the Planning and Heritage board himself and didn’t want any hassles.

Funny thing about the signs. The Town Hall, in an effort to make Annapolis Royal visitor friendly and welcoming, sent out a notice asking shops to put welcome signs, etc rather than the usual Open or Closed signs. An extremely ugly, damaged wire mesh fence separates our property from the Post Office property, and I had taken to hanging a large Welcome sign there, in an effort to pretty up the spot and of course alert people down the street to the fact that there were more businesses up the street on St. Anthony. Yes, you guessed it – a week after the above mentioned letter, I was sent a letter from Town Hall instructing me to remove my offending Welcome sign—had I forgotten how many signs I was allowed?


Well, it goes on and on; I won’t bore you with more. I came to think of the town as one of those boxes of chocolates all wrapped up so pretty with satin ribbons and oh, so costly, but when you open it up you find the candy is stale and flavourless and maybe even poisonous, so very sick it makes you.
And finally, what happened last year, what was our final straw as I say, I can’t even discuss, as I was given a gag order. But the really, really sad thing is, we’re just a tiny, rather unusual little business, and just two quiet, busy people who moved here for a peaceful lifestyle. Yet the never ending harassment we received since our arrival has turned us into people we don’t even recognise any more. And even more  sad is that we’re only two of a staggering number of people we have come to know that have had similar experiences.

 How many people were lured here with assurances that they could live their dreams only to find the “interpretation” of the rules thrown at them and shattering those dreams only after they’ve been allowed to sink everything they had financially and otherwise into the area’s coffers. The lady who hoped to open an old fashioned home-made candy store down the street, told only after they had collected $ 1500. for a rezoning application that no, not at that particular property, but she could have antiques. Next door to her, the elderly couple that sank oodles of money into the most derelict home on the block, only to be told afterward that art studios were not allowed in her outbuilding, but she could rent the space to lawyers. Seriously? Or the lonely divorced lady who came with the B&B dream and bought the house big enough for a dozen people, only to be told after spending everything she had in preparation for opening, that sorry, you can’t, this town has a moratorium on B&Bs, but you may be able to turn the home into a few rental suites, as long as you…….

I was outraged but not surprised to hear of your plight, Anna. We went from thinking that Lunenburg County was a refuge from the horrors we experienced in Annapolis Royal to realising that it would just be a fire to frying pan situation. If this letter helps in some small way, I’ll be pleased. I had looked forward to one day saying to visitors to my little Riverport shop, “Be sure to visit the Hat Lady of Lunenburg.” 

Instead, we’ll be leaving another empty home in Nova Scotia to once again start its inevitable decay, as prices keep dropping and we still can’t sell. Perhaps when we hand the key over to the real estate agent, he won’t mind painting a rosy picture, but I find it hard to recommend the property to a potential entrepreneur after what we went through, although its location makes that the only viable sort of buyer we could hope to find. It’s not appealing to retirees, this rather large house in a not so very quiet neighbourhood (no matter what that long ago building inspector proclaimed). Families?  The town took what was left of our front yard for a sidewalk in 2010, and parents understandably don’t want their children running directly into the street. So we’ll keep dropping the price and hoping for a miracle.

And Nova Scotia? Perhaps someday we’ll return, as we’re still smitten with your original charm. But to those running this province, you’d better pull up your socks. If you want to attract creative people with a bit of money and a lot of enthusiasm and energy, then you’d better do some serious housekeeping. If you want people to come here and help revive a dying province, you’d better pay attention. Don’t take their money and then give them the cold shoulder. Ask the newcomers who come here with their dream, “What can we do to help?”

I wish you all the success in your fight, Anna. I’ll be thinking of you and hoping that your enormous efforts pay off. I know how much this is going to, has already taken out of you, and small business owners throughout the province should be singing your praises. I know I am. And so I’ll end this rambling rant with the words of that beloved and time honoured folk song:

”Farewell to Nova Scotia.”

Most sincerely,

Krista Jane May

Harris House Antique Lighting

Annapolis Royal, NS (until Sept 30th)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Farewell to Nova Scotia - A Most Unwelcoming Experience - Harris House Part 2

Today I am posting the second of three installments of the letter I received from Jane at Harris House in Annapolis Royal.  The painting above is a self portrait of Michael Hames, one of the two owners.  It is so hard for me to imagine that not only did the town of Annapolis Royal not do everything in their power to accommodate such talent and such a beautiful shop, but actually did everything in their power to drive them away.  There is a terrible disconnect between what I heard on CBC yesterday regarding our provincial government's prioritizing of immigration to the actual experience of people that choose to move here.  Why court more people when local governments are making it as hard as possible to stay?
This is their beautiful shop in Annapolis Royal.  It will be closing at the end of September.  Beginning August 1st their lighting will go on sale.  Please go support them and do all in your power  to work for change in Nova Scotia, so that they may return at a later date to reclaim their dream.  Their website is

Here is the second part of Jane's letter:

You’re thinking, maybe, that we gave up pretty quickly and without much of a fight, but as I mentioned at the beginning, I must backtrack to give the full picture of our devastating Nova Scotia experience. It began in another county, Annapolis County, with its own method of interpretation of the rules, equally as frustrating and ludicrous as what’s being experienced in Lunenburg County.

In 2008, based on a love we shared of Nova Scotia, Michael and I set out on a new adventure. It is not an easy thing, leaving behind family and twenty years of business ties, but we were ready for a change. We packed up everything and moved (at considerable expense as anyone who has done this knows) clear across the country, from Vancouver Island to the world’s “most livable” small town, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.

Of course, we didn’t arrive completely blind—we’d done our homework, or so we thought. The home we purchased was based on a commercial/residential zoning and as advised by our realtor, we asked if the property was okay for us to go ahead and set up an original print gallery (etchings, stone lithographs, woodcuts) featuring the work of  historically significant artists. With all the talk of Annapolis Royal being an “artist town” we were sure that our business would appeal, and that we would be welcomed as a complementary attraction to the local art scene.

We were told by the building inspector’s office (at that time it was in Bridgetown) that this would be fine, no problem whatsoever, and so we purchased the property. Upon arrival, we immediately set about all the work required to make a serene and inviting environment. Throughout the winter of 2008-2009 we scraped wallpaper, sanded woodwork, fixed plaster –well, anyone who has bought an old home gets the picture. We did much of the work ourselves, and hired professionals for work in which we were lacking in experience or confidence. We spent a lot of money, locally of course. We also researched the house and named the business not after ourselves, but after a previous owner who had done so much upgrading in the 1920s.

I was called back to BC due to a family emergency, just prior to when we had planned to open Harris House Fine Art in the spring of 2009. While away, Michael did the finishing touches to the entryway and placed our lovely sign out front as a welcome home and to renew my spirits. Upon my return I got right back into it, and made by hand about seventy-five invitations to our grand opening, and we either dropped them off in person or mailed them to every business owner in town we could think of. We hoped that they would think of us as a place to send B&B visitors in the evenings, or anyone who just wanted to sit and have a cup of coffee and enjoy and learn about the artwork in the warm atmosphere we had lovingly created.

About a week after our opening, we received a letter in the mail from Town Hall, and another from the building inspector, instructing us to close our business, immediately, or face dire consequences. The zoning for our particular residence, we were told, did not allow for the commercial sale of artwork, unless it was produced by ourselves. There must have been a miscommunication when we’d enquired prior to buying the house at this specific location, he said, but he would be very happy to show us a number of locations we could rent to legitimately run our business.

Right. We were supposed to go and rent a commercial space downtown  with what for money? (And to run the sort of business that would likely attract such a small audience, we’d be broke before fall.) Everything we had, had been sunk into this dream. Nothing would persuade him of the injustice of our situation. “This is a quiet residential area” he said as though our collection of black and white 19th and early 20th century prints was going to cause a neighbourhood disturbance. “You are allowed to sell your own artwork, if you like.” So we basically were being allowed to “play store”. I’m sorry, but by this point Michael had established himself as a little more than a Sunday painter whose wife could try her hand at selling his efforts in the parlour. Everyone knows that tourists in towns like this seeking local art want to buy a painting of a boat for fifty bucks.

 Was it just coincidence that the Town CAO was great friends and sometimes business partner with the wife of a gallery owner/artist on main street whose previously indicated wife was trying to be a picture framer? (I had been asked by several local artists if I would consider doing framing again as I had for twenty five years out west, as they wanted a choice).How much influence does a CAO and town council have on a building inspector? A lot, apparently, if they happen to be friends.

One of the positive things I’ll say about what happened to us in Nova Scotia is that, by sheer necessity, we learned talents and skills we never even knew we’d need to know. I had taught myself to make a website, and so shaken was I that I went through it and removed prices from all the items, fearing we’d be presented with a fine that we could not afford. We slapped a For Sale sign on the house, me crying all the while. To try to bring in some money, I set up a picture framing shop in hopes to keep afloat until we could sell and move on, god only knew where, but there was nothing they could do about that; picture framing was clearly allowed. We were beside ourselves, felt sick, as we knew when we left BC that there was no going back. Real estate prices there were doing nothing but climbing.

During this first grim time, I was in the post office, which is right next door to us in this quiet residential neighbourhood (there are in fact only a handful of residences on this busy street which houses two grocery stores, hardware, liquor, etc., etc.) A woman asked if I wasn’t from next door at Harris House and I shuddered. ”Maybe I am…” I ventured, wondering what she was going to throw at me. But she followed me home, said she’d heard about us and wanted to see our lovely gallery. After studying the prints for some time, she turned to me and said “Aren’t these antiques?” I’d never thought of them quite that way, but I told her that, well yes, I supposed they were. “I’ll get back to you,” she told me, and soon did. Seems “antiques” are a very legitimate item to sell at our particular address, according to the dusty, last century book at Town Hall..

We marched back in to the building inspector’s office in Bridgetown, armed with our new information. (Prior to this, we had consulted a lawyer, and I had also sent a number of letters to the mayor and town council members. I had threatened to name names, something I am usually loathe to do, but it was so obvious that favours were being carried out to the detriment of ourselves. The business owner on St. George, the one whose wife was such good friends with the then CAO was going around town, bragging to everyone “I’m gonna shut’em down.” Does Junior High never end? I remember thinking, not for the last time.) And this time, when we talked to that same building inspector, he all but rolled out the red carpet, stamped a permit for us and wished us much success, though with no apologies or acknowledgement of the anguish he’d already been party to.

Had it not been for that lady at the post office, I’m not sure what would have happened next, as it soon became clear that we had spent far too much on our house, before doing the renovations, and we couldn’t find a buyer. We decided to try to put the ugliness behind us and make a fresh start. I was starting to get picture framing customers and that rare group of people who liked our art were enjoying our little gallery. We had some trouble with Town Hall over our sign – not because they didn’t agree that it was lovely, but that we had failed to first get permission from the Planning and Heritage Committee to put it up, so we went through the required hoops and it was approved. Because antiques were a definite okay for this location, we started exploring our other passion, antique lighting and began to switch gears to a more viable way of making a living.

The final installment of Jane's letter will be posted tomorrow.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Farewell to Nova Scotia - Harris House - A Story of Nova Scotia Devastation - Part 1

This painting was done by Michael Hames, one of the two owners of Harris House.  It is called Quiet Desparation.   I am having a very hard time publishing this letter because just like Jane's hands were shaking as she wrote to me, my hands are shaking as I type.  Tony and I happened upon Harris House on a trip to Annapolis Royale and it was like walking into a fantasy.  Michael restores antique lighting and seems to be able to do just about anything. When you see his art you are rendered speechless.
This letter from Jane is very long, but there is not a word I would leave out, so I will post it over a few days. In case you are still thinking that this battle is about one hat maker in Nova Scotia...Think again.  This is about every person in Nova Scotia and if IF YOU ARE NOT PART OF THE SOLUTION THEN YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.   Please share this story in any way you know how.

Jane and Michael are having a giant moving sale beginning August 1st.  Please go support them and tell them you are sorry on behalf of Nova Scotia and that you will work for change, so that they may have a second chance at their dream.  Their web site is

Dear Anna,

This letter is proving very difficult to write as I relive the saga of misery our Nova Scotia dream turned out to be. If this was an old fashioned pen and ink letter which a lady like yourself surely deserves (but it would never get written the way my hand now shakes) it would be blotchy and unreadable from tears I thought I had once and for all finished shedding.

Before I backtrack and lose more than one of your readers, I’ll start by saying that we had hoped Lunenburg County would be our refuge, the answer to our troubles in Annapolis Royal. We’ve been exploring the area for years now, and had hoped to move our restored antique lighting business to the Lahave/Riverport area. But a conversation with the county building inspector in 2012 (we were very ready to borrow the balance of what we needed to settle in an ideal area property) told us we would be required to have the firewall, wheelchair ramp, public handicap accessible washrooms, etc. $20,000-$25,000 package which you and many others are facing. I thought it interesting (and ambiguous, even at the time) that he claimed this was a provincial rule and out of his hands.

Whatever the case, this was simply not a viable option for us either financially or logically. Like yourself, Anna, and many other businesses I’ve been reading about, we are small, do more and more online business and are very specialised. Most serious customers call ahead because they are looking very specifically for an item. That is not to say that we don’t get the odd number of happily surprised tourists that enjoy discovering our unique business. But no busloads for us, either!

When a customer buys one of our pieces, whether a planned or impulse buy, we always ask if they’d like to wander around the area to see the attractions, other shops or have lunch while we carefully package their items, as this is a fragile product we offer. Usually, they don’t return for an hour or three as they discover new territory and it is not uncommon for those who come specifically for our products to have already booked a B&B for the night. I am not exaggerating here – one young Norwegian woman planned her Canadian vacation around a visit to our shop, she so loves genuine 1930s Art Deco lighting. I suspect that many other niche businesses, yours certainly no exception, have had similar experiences with their clientele. To make it financially impossible or undesirable for a small business to operate is no doubt doing harm to the whole community who would have benefited enormously from the spinoff business. And like you and your hat business, Anna, we need the walk-in traffic less and less as we perfect our online presence. Like you, too, though, we enjoy the in-person visitors as much as they are thrilled to have stumbled upon another unique and unexpected business in Nova Scotia.

We still hadn’t given up on the Riverport/Lahave dream a year ago. After the final straw with the Town of Annapolis Royal (who have their own unique take on how to make small businesses want to flee) we took a drive out to the South Shore area and looked at some more possible locations for our growing but still miniature business. This time, however, the realtor (same one as before) was far less encouraging than she had been two years before. Word was out, and she couldn’t honestly say that we wouldn’t be facing the same issues, no matter how we tried to arrange things.

We were determined, though, and willing to get creative. We stopped and asked a business lady we’d had dealings with on several occasions (whose name I shall keep anonymous in an effort to spare her any grief) if she had ever thought of renting an unused portion of her own shop. She seemed very receptive to the idea--our two businesses were very complementary rather than competitive and we felt it could be of great mutual benefit. Renting a part of an established commercial location seemed to make sense, was surely a way to have a legitimate location--and it would have been a minimal rent--we wouldn’t (and couldn’t)
consider it otherwise. We could buy a modestly priced place nearby and I could walk to the showroom in the mornings while Michael remained at home, doing the restoration work on our antique lighting.

 It would not have been an ideal situation for us – we like working near each other. I like being able to summon him for technical questions on the lighting or for simple alteration work on a piece someone has bought and wants to take home. And Michael likes to consult me for an opinion on this or that as he works on a project. We also like to offer flexibility to our clients as to the hours, and she was quite rigid, getting on in years. But it was a viable solution, and we so wanted a new start in a place we’d come to love.

Six weeks later, when we felt we were in a situation to seal the deal, we went back to see this lady. What a different reception we got. She was friendly as always, but nervous. She’d heard a lot of talk since our last meeting, had heard many stories and was afraid that having us there would draw attention to her own business which she admitted did not have the new requirements, and she could ill afford them. It seemed they were going after the new people, at least at first, and she wanted to keep a low profile at her stage in life. She was sorry, but the deal was off.

It was at this point that we both thought, okay, I guess Nova Scotia doesn’t want us and it’s time to see if there is any way we can make going back to BC a reality. We’re luckier than some, if you can call being my aging and soon-to-need-my-help parents’ only surviving child of three, lucky. But circumstances have changed in seven years, like it or not, and we’ve acquired a third of a share in a Vancouver Island property. Over the past winter we invested what was left of our money (which would have gone into a Nova Scotia property) into this location, preparing a showroom and workshop for our lighting business and separate living accommodations. It’s not ideal and it’s not what we wanted.

Part two of this letter will be posted tomorrow.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Full Moon Tiny Shelters - More Common Sense and Vision from our Community

Full Moon Tiny Shelters is based just outside of Lunenburg.  They are one of the many small businesses making Lunenburg a vibrant and dynamic place to live.  As I look around at all the talent in this area I realize I am surrounded by innovators.  Our government needs to listen to its people.
Here's an example of one of their tiny homes.  Check out their web site.
and have a listen to what Jamie has to say.

My Name is James Constable and my wife, Jennifer Constable, along with Dawn Higgins, make up Full Moon Tiny Shelters where we build tiny houses on trailers. I am happy to say that this has turned out to be a weird, perhaps crazy and bizarrely successful idea. We do this work from our completely off-grid house and workshop in Blockhouse, thus making us a home based business. We are also friends with Anna Shoub, the self proclaimed Hat Junkie, and have been following her battle with the town of Lunenburg with great interest. What is most unfortunate is the fact that the word “battle” best describes her experience and this speaks volumes about what the town is, or in this case, is not, willing to do for the very people who make it interesting.

We all know about the struggles of rural communities to survive and thrive and it seems pretty self evident that any small town that hopes to grow and prosper needs to do two things: One, create meaningful work on all levels for young people so they want to stay and two, attract new, young innovative and creative people to add “new blood”. It is not the box stores or the banks that residents and visitors love, it is the cutting edge restaurants, the craft stores, the artists, and the front line of all this are the home based artisans and the writers and the people who are doing what they love on a small manageable scale. It does not matter if your family has been here 500 years or 500 days, if you are making hats or giving hair cuts, these people are the ones who are breathing in new life, they are adding passion and art and energy and they should, in my opinion, be celebrated, and nurtured and encouraged at every turn.

Luneburg is not just a town, it is an area, for many of us we live outside of the town limits and yet it is our hub, it is where we shop, eat out, educate our kids, support the events, it is the place we identify with and I don't think there is anyone, new or old, who does not want to see Lunenburg become a creative vibrant community and this is absolutely possible because everything is a matter of choice and ultimately leadership. If the laws don't support a good idea, then change the laws.

Lunenburg could be the town that has flower baskets instead of parking meters, it could be the town that has banned plastic bags and bottles to prove it cares, it could be the town that generates all of its power from solar panels, it could be the town that bends over backwards to support the Hat Junkies and the people who want to make a living and still be home for their kids. It could be the town that says “YES” in a big bold voice. Lunenburg could become world renowned for being open and welcoming and alive with new people and ideas, or it could stick to the rules, make everything just a little bit harder than it has to, be governed by administrators who always play it safe. It is all about choices. I keep using Lunenburg as an example because that is where I live, but the same applies to any small town or community, anyplace can chose to innovate and embrace creativity and new ideas and evolve and grow, but only if they want to, only if they dare.

It is possible to read what I have written and think I am being negative, but that is not the case. The South Shore of Nova Scotia is an amazing place, the people who have been here for generations are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met and on top of that the area has attracted even more people from all over the world each bringing with them there own backgrounds and cultures and skills. Many of these people are potters, sculptures, hat makers, writers, filmmakers, computer programmers, blacksmiths, stain glass experts, musicians, and chefs and that is why the area is so special. Many of these creative people work from home because they are chasing a dream and a life style; they become part of the fabric of the community. I am one such
person and I love it here, Anna is another and there are hundreds more throughout the area, but we need to keep them here and we need to keep them coming.

The world seems to be shifting and I think it is quite possible that 20 years from now the people and the towns that listened to their hearts and allowed themselves to be lead by common sense and governed by artists instead of lawyers and administrators will be the places that thrive, so let us hope that in our little corner of eastern Canada we can make the right choices.

Thank you, James

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Letter of the Day - Minister Furey

Today I received permission from Mark Furey, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Business,  to share this e-mail that was sent to me.  It is clear and concise and sometimes credit needs to be given where credit is due.  Thank you, Minister Furey.

Ms. Anna Shoub
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia


Dear Ms. Shoub:

Re: Challenges Facing Home Based Business in Lunenburg and Rural NS

I am writing in response to your e-mail dated May 29, 2015 regarding challenges as a small business owner in Lunenburg and rural Nova Scotia and your request for assistance.

The issue you have raised falls within the responsibility of the municipality.  Municipalities are responsible for the enforcement of the Building Code, land-use or zoning by-laws within their respective jurisdictions.  Therefore, they have the authority to interpret the application of the Building Code, land-use or zoning by-laws in line with the policy or vison of the municipality on the particular topic or issue.

The Office of the Fire Marshal (OFM) has the overall responsibility for the Nova Scotia Building Code and Regulations.  I am pleased to advise you that the OFM is working on a review of the operation of small businesses within a residence as a result of recent differences of Code interpretation.  The OFM recently took the matter to the Nova Scotia Building Code Advisory Committee (the “Committee”). This Committee is establishing a working group to further review this particular issue to see if there is merit in providing some regulations to establish clarity and consistency for home businesses throughout the province.

Should you wish to make a presentation to the working group, please contact Mr. Joe Rogers, Building Code Coordinator with the OFM at (902)-424-5721 or by e-mail at

Our government is committed to reducing red tape and would consider recommendations by this Committee including proposed regulations which would establish clarity and consistency for home businesses throughout the province.

Thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention.

Yours truly,

Originally signed by

Mark Furey
cc:       Rachel Bailey, Mayor, Town of Lunenburg
Harold Pothier, Fire Marshal
Joe Rogers, Building Code Coordinator

So, what does this mean you ask?  Here is my interpretation and a few other people I have shown this to seem to have deduced the same. 

The Town of Lunenburg does not need permission from the province to fix this problem.  Since they are responsible for  both zoning  and the Nova Scotia Building Code and the application of both needs to be in line with their own Municipal Planning Strategy  (that's the town's policy)  then all they have to do, today if they chose to, is to properly manage their building inspector to apply the building code so that it is in line with their own policy.
Here's the Policy:

and more Policy

and even more policy

 and here's the Land Use Bylaw.  That's the document that carries out the policy.  You can see me in there so neatly.  I'm the one about craft workshops and then you can see how (e) explains that I can only sell what I make.  Check.

So, there we have it.  Simple, right?  The town of Lunenburg can now easily align their views with the other municipalities in Nova Scotia, like HRM,  that understand  Home occupations are accessory uses to a home not requiring a change of use because they have now been given express permission from the province to do so.  Wrong.  Why?  I, honestly couldn't begin to hypothesize.  It truly stumps me why something so simple should be made so complicated, but two days ago I got this in the mail from the town.  It is a copy of a small book that was sent to the minister regarding my case.  Even though the mayor was copied on the e-mail above and even though it must be clear from our own Municipal Planning Strategy that it is not possible to classify my craft workshop where I sell only what I make as "Mercantile" or Commercial, the town continues to classify me this way.  The booklet has pages and pages of information justifying their building inspectors interpretation.

The town has now spent countless of our tax dollars on retaining legal council and  commissioning reports from their contracted employees and from town staff, instead of spending our hard earned money to simply fix it.  In this booklet, the town continues to insist that they are helpless and await an amendment in the Nova Scotia Building Code to proceed with progress.

Hope dies hard and I keep waiting for the town to simply see that they have made an error and be big enough to admit it and then we can just get on with our vision of making Nova Scotia the best place in the world, filled with artisans and young people and families that know they can support themselves.  But, if this booklet is any indication, I don't think it's going to be that easy, so I will address this provincial panel and be a voice for home based businesses in Nova Scotia because I don't want any other person that comes after me to ever have to go through this hell.  If the province can do something, anything, from their end to ensure that individual municipalities can only see home based businesses as just that, businesses in a HOME with only code that applies to a home being applied then it simply has to be done.

And in the mean time, I need your help.  Send me your letters and I will post them here.  Speak up!  People are afraid of retribution.  I get it.  But there is strength in numbers. This is an opportunity for your voices to be heard.  In the past day, two quotes from Ghandi appeared in my life.  Heck, sometimes you gotta take those signs when they are given to you.  The first, "When the people lead, the leaders will follow." and "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

I know I have made some enemies in this town.  That sucks.  Really......I like people.  This kind of confrontation is not fun for me.  Someone said to me the other day, "be careful or you will really piss off council."  The thing is, as much as I may like individual councilors or administrators or building officials, my allegiance is not with them as individuals.  My allegiance is to this beautiful province and to other artisans and small business owners like myself who often get the short end of the stick.  So, I hate that there are hurt feelings, but I think we all need to get over ourselves and just do the right thing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Music To My Ears. Erin Donovan

Erin Donovan is a professional musician and music teacher who has moved to Mahone Bay Nova Scotia.  Her letter is music to my ears.  Check out her web site and see for yourselves what an incredible asset she is to our community.

July 18, 2015

To Whom It May Concern:

My husband and I have been small business owners and artists for over 20 years, first in Toronto and now in rural Nova Scotia. We moved here for the life-style, the real estate prices that were just low enough that we could afford our own studio separate from the house where we raise our children (hard to get kids to sleep and practice drums or mix music) and to be in an area known for independent artists with like-minded values.

We knew coming here was a risk—that we wouldn’t be walking into a market that would provide us a ready-made income—and we have learned to cobble together a patchwork quilt of jobs that lets us stay in this area. I freelance as a musician, playing regularly with Symphony Nova Scotia in Hfx, picking up work as a piano player locally and I teach music to local kids in my beautiful studio in Mahone Bay. I have a Masters Degree in Music Performance from Yale University and a pretty long resume of professional work mostly in Toronto and I make about $20K a year in this area. My husband is a Juno award winning recording engineer with a Master’s Degree from McGill University and has recorded some incredible artists including Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Suzie LeBlanc and most recently Old Man Luedecke. He also squeaks out a living from Mahone Bay, recording remotely and coming home to mix/master in his small studio in our backyard.

We love it here. We do worry about money and it is difficult enough to make a living as an artist without worrying about some of the things we need to worry about. A few years ago we were dropped by our long-term insurance provider because of our separate studio. It was declared a client-based business and the new rates quoted to us were beyond what we could afford including steep liability insurance. We struggled to find another provider and eventually had to pay the high-rates for business and liability insurance.

Rural Nova Scotia is full of imaginative, creative artists who are finding ways to make a modest living at home, making this area an attractive tourist destination, providing a richness to our culture and also showing our youth that you can make it work here despite the lack of available jobs if you have an imagination and some creativity.  These small businesses are vital to our community and reflect the kind of place I want to live with music studios, ceramics studios, hat shops, art galleries etc. We NEED to encourage these types of businesses if we want to keep our small towns vital and diverse.

We need to ask ourselves what kind of community we want to live in? Is it one with hat-makers, ceramic artists, painters, writers and musicians and music/art teachers for our children to learn from? If so, then we need to ask ourselves are we making it easier or harder for these independent business owners to live here?

Erin Donovan and John Adams