Kimber's Nova Scotia (July 15, 2007)

Kimber’s Nova Scotia

July 15, 2007

A roundhouse blow to history

A retired teacher and amateur historian says you can’t blame Kentville’s mayor or town council for the fact that one of the town’s last remaining links to Nova Scotia’s storied railway heritage is now rubble. Ivan Smith, who was on hand last week to document the demolition of the town’s former Dominion Atlantic Railway roundhouse, says its “loss… is merely a symptom of province-wide apathy,” and blames Nova Scotians “who don’t care” about their history.

Built in the early 1900s, the roundhouse — the last of its kind in Nova Scotia — serviced and repaired up to 10 steam locomotives at a time during an era when the railway employed one-third of Kentville’s workforce, most in its roundhouse.

By the time town council voted to demolish the building this spring, however, the old structure had long since been reduced to little more than a warehouse for fruit juice.

Although there were some last-minute local efforts to save the building, Kentville mayor Dave Corkum says the time for action was probably 20 years ago when the roundhouse was in better shape and its fixtures still intact. “You have to look at these things with your head, not your heart.”

Except for the Cornwallis Inn, Kentville’s former Canadian Pacific railway hotel, which was built in the thirties and is now in private hands, nothing remains from the town’s railroad days. The wooden station was torn down nearly 20 years ago and potentially valuable museum pieces, such as a caboose and railway snowplow, were destroyed.

For his part, Smith says it’s “up to the people of Nova Scotia” to take back their heritage. The former school teacher thinks that’s not happening now because no one is instilling a sense in young people of just how interesting our history can be. Too few people, he says, are using the Internet to reach them.

Smith is.

Though probably best known as the man who, back in 2000, challenged Elections Canada’s ban on publishing election results online before all polls across the country had closed, Smith also runs his own wonderfully eclectic online web site devoted to “Novascotiaiana” — — that’s definitely worth checking out.

If there were more Smiths, there’d still be more roundhouses. And a more interesting province.

Paving the water highway

Federal officials who set up shop in the Digby fire hall recently to hear what locals had to say about ferry service between Digby and Saint John walked away from the two-and-a-half hour meeting with one loud, clear message implanted in their brains — the service needs federal financial help to survive.

“Transport Canada has to realize rural Nova Scotia is just as important as Toronto or Montreal, or ferry service in B.C.,” declared local businessman Dean Kenley, who even missed his daughter’s graduation ceremony to make that case to the federal officials.

“This ferry used to be a service, not a business,” agreed Jimmy MacAlpine, deputy warden of the Municipality of Digby. “I treat it no differently than the Trans-Canada Highway.”

The federal working group is tasked with coming up with a plan for the ferry’s future to present to cabinet by the end of the year.

Last year, Bay Ferries had announced it was canceling its Bay of Fundy service Oct. 31, but local protests led to a deal to keep it operating until the beginning of 2009 while officials figure out a longer term solution.

The problem, agreed many of the speakers, is that Bay Ferries has done a lousy job — its scheduling is poor and, in the past three years, it’s raised rates for cars and passengers by 60 per cent. Complained one innkeeper: “the couple in the MG” could easily drive from Saint John to Digby for less than the $260 the ferry charges.

“If Bay Ferries is not willing [to operate the service],” Kenley told the feds, “perhaps someone else is.”

The feds perhaps?

And, by the way, we have this, uh, ferry service…

South West Health Authority officials will be wining and dining a potential new Digby doctor later this month, trying to show off what a great place their town is to live — and work. The authority is hoping the physician, who’s now living in another Canadian province, will move to Digby to offer much needed emergency room coverage.

Digby General Hospital’s ER is currently closed on weekdays because of a critical shortage of local doctors willing to do ER stints.

Recruiting a new doctor isn’t the only way the regional health authority is attempting to solve the mess.

South West Health says it’s also hoping “to hear good news” soon from the Department of Health on its request for funding for two nurse practitioners to help a local doctor cover off two weekday emergency shifts at the hospital.

Thanks to a recent close-to-home study demonstrating that the use of nurse practitioners can save lives — and dollars — the authority is optimistic the province will say yes.

That three-year study, which began in 2000, brought together a nurse practitioner, specially trained paramedics and a collaborating physician to provide health care services to residents on nearby Long and Brier islands.

Thanks to the program — which has since attracted interest from other communities in Nova Scotia as well as from as far away as Scotland, Japan and Australia — the number of local residents’ visits to emergency departments dropped 40 per cent while trips to family physicians fell 24–28 percent. Because the nurse practitioners conducted more frequent reviews of the drugs residents were taking, the cost of prescriptions fell too.

As Barbara Downe-Wamboldt of Dalhousie University, a co-author of the study, told a residents’ meeting recently, “If there’s anything government will listen to it is lower costs…”

If, indeed, there is anything this government will listen to…

Get in line

The Pictou County Health Authority has lost another doctor. Officials confirmed last week that family physician Sameea Benjamin has also tendered her resignation, effective Aug. 31.

She joins pediatricians Dr. Krys Lubkiewicz and Dr. Julie Clowater, as well as general surgeon Dr. Alex Gillis, who all left in June.

And so they go.

Funding formula, Round 2

Yarmouth’s Tri-County School Board is taking up Deputy Education Minister Dennis Cochrane’s offer to meet again to discuss their differences of opinion over how the province’s education funding formula works — or doesn’t.

The two sides met last month in a meeting that generated plenty of heat but very little light.

The board thinks it gets the shaft in a system in which the Strait Regional School Board receives $13 million more a year than it does. Cochrane counters that its circumstances are different, and insists the formula is equitable if the results aren’t always equal.

Not every school board member was eager to offer Cochrane an encore. They worry he’ll use the session to do more “spin” and possibly even try to show the board itself is mismanaging what the province sends.

Board vice-chair Ron Hines says he’d be happy to open the board’s books, which he believes would show the formula is inequitable as well as unequal. To buttress its case, t
he board passed a motion at its most recent meeting asking the education department to reevaluate how it doles out transition funding to boards facing dramatic enrolment declines. Under that part of the formula, the Strait board got nearly seven times as much as it did.

Equal? Inequitable? Anybody here know how to do math? Old? New?

Do not disturb

Plans to dredge the entrance to Sydney harbour are on hold while two pairs of endangered piping plovers raise their seven recently hatched plover nestlings.

According to a Natural Resources department biologist, it may take three more weeks before the babes leave the nest for good and, even then, they will likely continue to hang around on the beach.

That doesn’t sit well with a South Harbour oyster farmer. Alex Dunphy, Sr., who has been pressing for authorities to dredge the sandbar at the entrance to the harbour since 1999, says the entire harbour could face economic and environmental disaster if something isn’t done.

At least economic and environmental disaster is nothing new for Sydney.

Step right up and place your bids

Flushed with its success in selling off the former Shelburne youth centre property to controversial Halifax developer Ralston MacDonnell, the South West Shore Development Authority is now eager to peddle Shelburne Park, the site of a cold war military submarine “listening” post that closed its doors in 1995.

Since acquiring the 65-hectare property in 1999, the authority has been spending $300,000 a year to maintain it. Although it was once assessed at $18 million, the authority expects its call for proposals will net only a bargain basement $3–5 million.

“The board just wants to get rid of it,” explains Frank Anderson, chief executive officer of SWSDA. “They want to see it get into private sector hands and let them pay taxes and employ people.”

He expects to issue the call for proposals by the end of the month

“We have had it long enough,” he told the Shelburne Coast Guard.

I sense more fun and games ahead in Shelburne.

Stephen Kimber is the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College. His column also appears in Thursday’s Daily News.



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