Celebrating a strong, creative, resilient Lunenburg County
NOW, MORE THAN EVER...
Do it while you’re young - Young couple make a move and their “best decision” in choosing Martins River.
Story by Tina Hennigar
Megan Lehman was cutting my hair when I asked her what brought her to Lunenburg County from Walkerton, Ontario, just 3-hours outside Toronto. “I was tricked,” laughed the young, creative stylist. While I’ve only seen Megan with her mask on, I can see her bright smile through her eyes.
“We came to visit my in-laws and they showed us a rental, and that was it.” Living in Martins River with her fiancé, Matthew Gunter, a plumber, Megan said they’re very happy here. “It’s the best decision we’ve made so far.”
They arrived in January. Arguably not the best time to move to Nova Scotia, especially with the threat of a global pandemic looming. On top of that, her job as a stylist would soon be banned for a time. Megan admitted, frankly, she was terrified. Who could blame her? But thanks to the relationships she had built with her clients before the lockdown, they came back.
“I strive for retention. When they come back to me after our first cut, it’s just so awesome. I really try to treat them well and give them what they want. That helped me.” Megan credited Toppers salon owner, Barry Carr, and her fellow stylists for their help. “I can’t say enough about them.” Megan, being very social, needed to have a social circle, and she found it with her clients and co-workers. “And my in-laws,” Megan said. “I have a great in-law family.”
Her artistic side was also able to thrive here. Megan said she was happy to see such a strong creative community with tattoo artists, local producers, photographers and the like. “I did really miss prom season this year though,” Megan said of losing the opportunity to do updo’s and make-up for graduates. “It’s one of my favourite things to do because no one ever does it for themselves.”
From Megan’s perspective, what’s the one thing missing from Lunenburg County? “My family, my friends back in Ontario,” she said. The pandemic making it particularly hard since they don’t get to see each other. “But my family loves it here. When I told them I was thinking of moving to Nova Scotia my dad said, “Just do it. Do it while you’re young.”
By Tina Hennigar
Andrew and Lisa Mutch met in high school in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in their high school’s musical rendition of Hello Dolly. They went on to university, got married, and had three children. After university, Andrew accepted a position with Michelin and throughout his career, he and the family have moved to various places in Nova Scotia and the US. Over the past 34 years, they have lived in New Glasgow, Oklahoma, the Valley and South Carolina. Their children are now grown and live in various places in Canada. Andrew and Lisa moved to Lunenburg County in 2016, and they have both felt like it was home almost immediately.
“It’s like starting over every time you move and sometimes it can take up to a year to get settled in a new community and have
it feel like home,” Lisa said. Most times it was much easier for Andrew as he would often already have a network of people around him through Michelin. But with this move, it only took a few months for Lunenburg County to feel like home.
Andrew and Lisa purchased a home on the water in First Peninsula, and it only made sense to get a sailboat and learn how to sail. And since there are so many stunning trails with scenic nature all around, they’d also find themselves biking and hiking in the surrounding area. They both love music and are members of a local church. Lisa joined the bell choir and Andrew sings in the choir. Andrew, a music lover himself, joined the board of Lunenburg Academy of Performing Arts (LAMP).
“If you’re bored in this area, you need to just take a walk around,” Andrew said. “You’ll find something to do.” Andrew and Lisa
are also impressed with the spectrum of music offered and
the calibre and the abundance of artists and crafts people in Lunenburg County.
Lisa is an accountant with AC Belliveau Veinotte, an accounting firm whose head office is in Bridgewater with other offices in Bedford, Chester, Liverpool, Shelburne and Barrington Passage. The firm currently employs about 50 staff. She said everyone immediately welcomed her as part of the team when she started there in January of 2017.
The office had to be creative during COVID to comply with social distancing protocols, she said. Those who had internet access worked from home. Those who didn’t have adequate access worked in shifts at the office. “We were in tax season, and people and businesses still needed our accounting services performed during this time.”
As for Andrew, Michelin had an essential product to make. “We needed to maintain operations,” Andrew said, noting that even if people weren’t driving as much, transport trucks, emergency vehicles and the military never stop, so neither did production. Michelin, known for its health and safety precautions, already had rigorous infectious disease procedures in place prior to COVID-19. Even so, the pandemic meant they had to adapt. They were able to learn from other plants in other parts of the world who had already been impacted by COVID-19.
As Andrew sees it, the manufacturing that is taking place in Lunenburg County is world-class. “There is lots of high tech right here in Lunenburg County,” he said of the companies here in the County, “not just Michelin, but other manufacturers as well. The labour force is highly capable and competent.” He suggests the twinning of the 103 Highway, and the development currently happening in Bridgewater has the potential to bring even more opportunity to Lunenburg County.
For its part, Michelin celebrates 50 years of making tires in Nova Scotia next year in 2021; the first tire made was produced with wire that came from Bridgewater’s plant. Since that
time, the plant has established a reputation as one of the
most progressive plants in the world. “It’s a testament to the tremendous people here in this area.”
Story and photos by Tina Hennigar
The Rural Riches 50/50 Toonie Lottery launched in 2019 is a community based project whose goal is to help sustain organizations through collective fundraising. To play folks needed to register for a number, and then pay to play by visiting a participating retail outlet. The funds raised from the weekly 50/50 jackpot benefit a plethora of community organizations. with funds going to the United Way, The Lunenburg County Community Fund, Harbour House, Bridgewater Lions Club, to name a few.
The global pandemic affects everything, and for many groups and organizations in Lunenburg County, that meant their ability to fundraise was halted, as events, suppers and draws were put on hold, including the Toonie Lottery. The need for funding didn’t stop – but the shutdown left the group scrambling to find a way to help.
With the Toonie Lottery on hold the Rural Riches quickly launched a wholly online Raffle. Raffle players could sign-up and pay online, allowing Rural Riches to get begin raising funds again. Once restrictions eased and their retail partners were in a better place the Weekly 50/50 Toonie Lottery restarted. Today the online raffle is on hold, waiting in the wings should it be needed during a future lockdown.
The lottery itself runs like a well-oiled machine. Players register and play in retail boxes which volunteers pick up each week in time for the draw. Volunteers also ensure that registered numbers are added to the drum each week. Once the draw is made, the team verifies that the winning number was played that week.
If the money was received the winner gets half the jackpot; if no money was received, then 50% of the jackpot gets added to the following week’s draw. The participating community organizations win every week.
Community 50/50 lotteries are growing in popularity with no end in sight. These draws have helped community groups fundraise and are especially important as funds become even harder to raise.
The local organizations that benefit from the draw are many and increase all the time. To learn more about them and how to play go to: www.ruralriches.ca
Story by Tina Hennigar
Passing through New Ross you might not necessarily see it, but you can feel
it - the heart of New Ross beats strong and proud. And make no mistake, what the community lacks in size, it more than makes up for with, well, everything else.
Just ask Joseph Crocker and his wife Julie, owners of Peasants Pantry.
The unique A-Frame restaurant is as interesting as their menu, featuring things such as a falafel burger, Vietnamese sub and a charcuterie board. They make their own salami, meatballs and woodfired pizza, buns, and nearly everything else.
After COVID-19 hit they had two goals for reopening, Joseph said. “We wanted to maintain the people we had and continue to serve good food. That’s it.” He noted that they already had a good takeout business, so they were ready to go. “They didn’t hesitate,” he said about his team and getting back to work as soon as they were permitted.
“The response from our community has been fantastic.” Joseph shared that typically, being a go-through community, you see a lot of new faces as people travel between the South Shore and the Valley, but for the first two months after reopening they knew everyone who walked in the door.
“It was nice to see everyone again. Now we are starting to see new faces, as people are beginning to get out and travelling again.” Joseph says they still have their solid base of supporters. “We really appreciate our customers,” he emphasized. “I think everyone who owns a business worried that people might not come back. But they came back.”
Their menu features all homemade products and local suppliers, wines from the valley and beer and cider brewed in Chester and New Ross, right down the road from them at Bulwark Cider. “We’ve done some events together,” he shared about Bulwark and their handcrafted ciders. “You have to support the businesses around you in a community like New Ross,” Joseph said. “When one floats, we all float.”
Story by Tina Hennigar
By the time you read this story, Lunenburg Rum Cakes
e-commerce store will be open and taking orders. I spoke with owner, Sarah Batten from Spectacle Lakes, when she was only days away from the launch. She was full of nervous excitement. Would people order her cakes online? Would the site she’d been working on be functional? One thing was certain: opening up an online boutique store was the right model for her business, especially when opening it during a pandemic. As she talked about her rum cakes and chocolate bark, Sarah had me sold! I set a reminder in my calendar for her store’s launch.
Sarah had done her research, learning every aspect of her business. Sarah’s Lunenburg Rum Cakes was born after studying tourism, then Pastry Arts, and most recently, a business course, all at Nova Scotia Community College. Her cakes will be a sweet souvenir, perfect for visitors to take home after a visit to Lunenburg and help celebrate Lunenburg rum-running history.
Sarah’s love of Lunenburg inspired her to pay homage to this town. Lunenburg Rum Cakes and chocolate bark feature local products and promote local streets in Lunenburg. The rum is from Iron Works Distillery, the cranberries in the bark are from Terra Beata Cranberries, even the salt is from South Shore Sea Salt. The packaging and labelling honour the local community as well.
“I have a real sweet tooth,” Sarah said about creating the cakes and the bark. She comes from a long line of bakers, first being exposed to the craft in her grandmother’s kitchen. It was after taking Pastry Arts that she learned her interest was more in the baking than in the decorating.
Someone eating one of her rum cakes will experience a texture similar to a pound cake, very moist thanks to the simple syrup made with rum that she applies when the cake comes from the oven. And while Sarah hopes anyone with a sweet tooth will enjoy her cakes, what she wants people to enjoy most is the sharing.
“I come from a large family, and I hope people will enjoy my cakes while chatting with their family, laughing and sipping some tea,” just as Sarah enjoys them with her husband, James. “He’s really good at selling my cakes,” She laughed. “And he’s a great taste-tester too.”
To order your sweet souvenirs go to:
Creativity a useful tool during times of uncertainty - Local company adds bandana style mask to its collection
Story by Tina Hennigar
Just as the world was learning we’d have to live with masks, Jay Hiltz, owner of Nor’easter Apparel was adding a bandana style mask to its collection of trendy clothing products that includes t-shirts,
hoodies and sweatshirts. Jay makes these and other products in the small church he purchased in Martins Point.
The bandana is made with good quality polyester, is soft on the skin and tucks neatly in the collar of a shirt or a hoodie. It’s large, so perfect for someone with a beard. ‘Stay the Blazes Home’, the phrase coined by Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, is printed on the front.
Originally from the community, Jay moved away to pursue his talents and interests in marketing, branding and design. He returned home when it became clear that, with a good internet connection, he could create a compelling brand and market it to the world from rural Nova Scotia.
“You don’t have to live in Toronto to create a company,” Jay shared.
Being nimble and able to pivot quickly
is nothing new to Jay. The young entrepreneur capitalized on the opportunity to purchase his screen printing equipment from his then supplier who was selling his business. This purchase enabled Jay to bring his production in-house and gave him more control by allowing him to act quickly when designing new products.
Jay added a new fashion truck to his company to help bring his products
to various community events and farmers’ markets. Jay feels that allowing for creativity will benefit everyone,
as entrepreneurs seek out those communities that embrace out of the box thinking.
Watch for Nor’easter Apparel’s always expanding product line at
Farmington, a great place to grow - Local Farmers pivot during COVID-19 to create a whole new offering and revenue stream.
Story by Tina Hennigar
Béatrice Schuler-Mojon photos.
Farmers Mykal Koloff, originally from Chester, and Marena Thomson, originally from Toronto, along with fellow farmer, Robin Johnston from the Ottawa Valley, all had pre-existing farms when they had a conversation in the winter of 2018 about what the upcoming season might look like. That conversation lead them into a partnership and Soil Mates was born.
They grow a variety of crops, well over 25 in fact, and collectively sell at farmers’ markets to small grocers and restaurants.
When COVID-19 forced the temporary closure of farmers’ markets and restaurants, Soil Mates decided to create a subscription vegetable basket service to get their products into their customers kitchens, allowing for four possible pickup locations around Lunenburg County.
“It’s been a successful venture,” said Robin. “We will continue to offer it even with the reopening of the markets and restaurants.” It’s now an added revenue stream for the young company.
They work as a team and utilize each other’s strengths within the business, but credit Lunenburg County for its thriving local food scene and complimentary food services. “People have been farming here for generations for a reason,” Robin said. “There is good farmland here.”
“We’ve felt incredibly supported here
in Farmington. There’s a terrific mix of folks, some living here for generations, while others are looking for a more self-sufficient life,” she shared.
You can find them selling their Lunenburg County grown produce at the Lunenburg Farmers’ Market and on the plates of many local restaurants such as The Kiwi Cafe, Mateus Bistro and The Port Grocer.
Contact them at: www.soilmates.ca to learn more.
Story by Curtis Snyder
Raj, like many fathers, has mixed emotions as he talks about the third generation of the Popat family leaving for another year of university, as we chat at his family operated business, Curry Express, in Bridgewater. His two daughters Jeenal and Kayla are back at Acadia and
Dalhousie in the middle years of their kinesiology and pharmacy programs. “The years go quickly”, he says.
Rajesh (Raj) Popat has called Bridgewater home since 1972. His parents, Vrajlal and Lalita, brothers Hitendra, Jayesh, and sisters Daxa and Pratibh came here from Uganda (via Gujarat, India) after an uncle recommended they leave Africa for Canada. His father quickly began a career at the newly opened Michelin plant while his mother took care of the children and their home.
In those days, many
people from Lunenburg
County had never heard
of a samosa, cilantro, or
even a mango or curry
powder. Raj’s wife Meena,
who emigrated from India
in 1992, commented that,
“the world has both grown
and shrunk since then”.
Now, the two of them work side-by-side preparing and selling various foods and spices for many hungry customers.
Since 2008, Curry Express has made its a mark on Lunenburg County and indeed on the whole of Atlantic Canada. Located on Aberdeen Road in Bridgewater, they specialize in a variety of Indian dishes for dining in, take-out, or catering. They offer a wide variety of meat and vegetable masalas and curries, breads such as naan and papadum, and several flavourful appetizers and desserts. The business has thirteen employees and they have seven products, made freshly by hand and from scratch,
available from every Sobeys store in Atlantic Canada. Raj and Meena have also adapted their cooking to include local flavours by creating a donair samosa.
When asked what advice he might offer a businessperson looking to come and live in Lunenburg County, Raj says simply, “We need more businesses”. He explains, “There is a need and desire for more shops offering ethnic foods, clothing and specialty items”. Half-jokingly, Meena chimes in and adds, “We have everything here that Toronto has except the traffic”.
When asked to offer advice to an immigrant family about living in Lunenburg County, Meena smiles broadly and says how, “safe the area is
for kids, how good the schools are at educating young people, and how beautiful are the many landscapes of the area”.
Almost 50 years have passed since the Popat family came to call Lunenburg County home. Since then they have persevered through thick and thin to make a successful business, raise their families and make many positive contributions to our area. Raj and Meena’s two daughters are attending two of Nova Scotia’s finest universities. The Popat family, their businesses and their cuisine are an important part of the local landscape.
Story and photo Emily Bowers
In the winter of 2015, that snowy season of endless accumulation, I flew home to Nova Scotia for a brief visit from Johannesburg, where I was living at the time. On the way in, there was a delay that kept me overnight in Toronto. And on the way out, there was another delay when the snowbound Halifax runway was shut down after a plane skidded off on landing the night before. Somewhere on that snowy trip of grim airports and climatic dislocation I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that I was done with being away.
I had, by that point, taken more flights than I could ever count.
I took forgettable domestic connections between Halifax and Toronto during my university years and further afield for work and holidays. And by the winter of our province’s collective discontent, I’d spent a decade flying into and out of Africa — mainly Ghana, where I lived for about eight years, and later South Africa, when Johannesburg was home.
Home was a fluid concept by 2015. Like so many Maritimers I packed my bags after high
school and headed out. My parents got used to annual visits and in my Africa years I tried to make those trips in the summer, to avoid a weather shock as much as possible.
But that year, 2015, I decided to come home in March when I was working on my master’s degree thesis and wanted the comfort of my childhood home for a last push to my deadline. Because even after half of my life away, the old house on top of the hill in New Germany was still home, an undeniable fact made ever more so as I watched the snow pile up and pin us down. On that trip I belonged in a way I never quite did in all those places, all those years away. I was a Maritimer, hunkered down with my family and riding out the storm.
I went back to Johannesburg but within a few months I plotted my departure. When my work permit was up for renewal, I quietly dragged my feet on the process, knowing I was putting my ducks in order. In Africa I worked for Bloomberg, the financial news agency, and while I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain my job from a remote desk in Nova Scotia, I received an offer from a growing US company that had a network of work-from-home reporters and editors all over the world.
It didn’t occur to me, in 2015, to think about whether the internet would be a factor. I discussed a transition with my parents, who made space for me in New Germany and that hot July, I soon realized – internet was a prized resource for rural Lunenburg County. I was competing with my parents for their connection. With kids in the area home on summer break. My job, being largely text-based, was still manageable but things dragged when pages were bogged down with ads, charts and flickering stock prices.
Eight months later, I became a homeowner of a small bungalow in Hebbville. I bought it for reasons both sentimental and practical. The sentimental: it was the home of my grandparents and the place of my last memories of them. It was the place where my mother and my uncles grew up. The practical: I could afford it and being just minutes from Bridgewater it had the best type of internet connection on offer on the South Shore.
That was in 2016. I tucked away in Hebbville and I got the internet hooked up. I streamed Netflix and watched live sports and worked at my remote job, the one that had me writing news far from Nova Scotia’s shores but the connection made it possible for me to do the job as well as any of my coworkers. I settled into village life as best as I could, which for me meant joining the Hebbville Fire Department. Our small but mighty unit, known for our yellow trucks, gave me roots in the area, much needed because I underestimated how difficult it would be to create new roots in an old place. I was an adult living in my childhood region. At times I longed for the cities I’d left, for the world I craved at 18 when I graduated from Park View Education Centre and headed to Toronto and then further on to Accra, Ghana, and Johannesburg, South Africa. I longed for the all-night diners with bottomless cups of coffee in Toronto. For people watching at Johannesburg’s Arts on Main creative commons and dancing at Accra’s best clubs with a stop on the way home for kelewele — deep fried plantain sold on the late-night roadside.
I was back home, double the age I was when I left and still longing for the city: if not an all-night diner then a coffee shop open past 3pm. A bookstore that sells more books than games and coffee mugs. A theatre or an art gallery. I would sometimes get lost in the things we don’t have, or don’t have enough of, and more than once in the years since I’ve been home I’ve thought that perhaps teenaged me got it right by getting away.
But then I saw the sun set over Crescent Beach and heard the loons croon on Lake Mush-a-Mush. And I smelled the fresh spring greens flourishing as I hiked on the trails that course through the Acadian forest. I could do all the people watching I want in Mahone Bay and find all the books I want to read in Lunenburg and LaHave. And I picked over the handcrafts in shops like my mother’s in New Germany, Village Glassworks, and sipped craft beer in the Bridgewater bars like King Street Beer and FirkinStein’s, where my musician boyfriend Sam Wentzell plays solo shows and with his band, Weather Advisory.
Because this is a place where local musicians are supported. As are artisans like my mother, who has been in business for four decades, and writers like me, who can create books of poetry and novels and read them in cozy nooks along the ocean.
The support has its limits though. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Sam transitioned his business as a music teacher online, and both he and his students dealt routinely with connection problems that would delay or derail his weekly lessons. When my family attempted to gather for Zoom calls, my sisters in Antigonish and Ketch Harbour were able to dial in, but my parents in New Germany would be a frozen image on the screen, jerking in and out of the conversation.
I was lucky during the lockdown because I was almost five years into my work-from-home job, so I was used to the solo days. But I watched as friends struggled to transition their children to home schooling and themselves to the isolation that the pandemic brought, battles made all the more challenging in our land of unreliable connectivity, where living a few kilometres in one direction or another can make all the difference in linking a lifeline to the outside world. My creative writing group, based at the Margaret Hennigar Public Library in Bridgewater, transitioned to Zoom but two members who lived within half an hour of the library in opposite directions had poor enough connections that video chats weren’t an option. This is a minor complaint in the grand scheme of COVID-19 but we needed those connections all the more in 2020.
And now I need them to grow my business, as do most entrepreneurs who call the South Shore home. I’m a writing coach and editor as well as a financial journalist. These are things I could do from anywhere in the world with the right infrastructure, and I choose to do them here.
Because the South Shore should be a choice. It should be an option for workers who will never go back to an office and students who need to finish that one last class. It should be a choice for the knitter who wants to sell handmade socks on Etsy and for the therapist who wants to see clients without driving through a snowstorm. For musicians like Sam and Weather Advisory who put their album recorded in rural Lunenburg county on Spotify and YouTube where it attracts listeners from Texas to Singapore.
I chose to end my life away that winter of 2015 because the South Shore was a choice for me, for the job that I had been offered and for the life I wanted to build. It’s not a perfect place but we choose to live here and through our choice, w
Story by Tina Hennigar
The day the COVID-19 restrictions were announced by Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, Joel Holland, owner
of 902 Athletics in Bridgewater, received 80 membership cancellations. He was instantly filled with worry – not for himself, but for his staff of 8-coaches. “I had no other choice but to temporarily lay everyone off until we could be back up and running.”
Then he painted the entire gym so it would look nice when everyone returned.
That positive attitude helped him in the early days to come up with a plan. That plan included loaning all his equipment to the members who continued their memberships to help them to create home gyms to stay on track. “Everyone got a program and a personal coach. Our community is so important,” Joel said. “And we lost that temporarily, so we had to work hard to bring that community online,” he said of 902 Athletics’ new virtual community.
Joel’s goal was always to bring back all his staff and to open back up to his members. But opening up at 50% capacity would be tough especially when he still had 100% of the bills. He knows he was fortunate to have even some of his members stick with him, and he was luckier than many other businesses.
“Business owners are going through the most challenging time,” Joel said, “but also, so are our members.” Joel was inspired by his members who continued with their workouts and continued to put a value on their health and wellbeing. “Those are the people who motivated me through COVID!”
The safety of its members has always been a top priority for Joel and his coaches. Now cleanliness is just as much a priority as the safe use of the equipment.
Joel is more committed than ever to supporting local business owners like him. “Going through something like this, it just changes everything,” he said. “We all got to see how quickly we could have lost those businesses and services that we really need. You have to support the people who support you.”