History of the Canadian Red Ensign

Charles D Maginley and Red Ensign flags

Charles D. Maginley of Mahone Bay (who happens to be my stepfather) has been collecting old flags and plates featuring the heraldry of Canada for some years. He’s a former naval officer and Canadian Coast Guard instructor, and has authored some books on the history of the Canadian Coast Guard, so the flags are a bit of a sideline.

He put together a talk about the Canadian Red Ensign, formerly the official flag of Canada before we got the Maple Leaf Flag in 1965. He has presented the talk, along with real flags and pictures of ships sailing them, to several groups such as the Master Mariners and the gatherings of sailing aficionados one finds around Lunenburg.

It’s a specialized window on history which true history buffs find interesting. I thought his talk should get immortalized on YouTube so that such people who are not so fortunate to live in our local part of Nova Scotia will be able to find it.

Hirtle’s Beach

Long view of Hirtles Beach

Hirtle’s Beach, south of Lunenburg, is a popular destination year round for local residents, though it is less known to tourists than Rissers Beach or Crescent Beach.

It’s one of those beaches where the sand gets washed away for the winter and returns for the summer – soft beige sand deep enough to bury your brother in.

Fun in the sand

The waves can be big enough for fun body surfing. This is the North Atlantic and the water tends to be cold, but once in a while, warmer ocean currents will come by and surprise you. Not that these teenagers care that much.

body surfing in ocean waves

At the far end of Hirtle’s Beach is a wonderful hiking trail around Gaff Point.

Here’s some more scenery of Hirtle’s Beach featuring my brother and his dogs, Nixxy and Jake. These are Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers – yes, it’s an official breed. They are smart and fast, great agility dogs – these dogs have lots of ribbons at home.

The Candy Fairy is coming on Halloween!

Halloween ghostIf you ever saw the movie Elf, you know that Santa’s elves live on candy. “We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup,” Buddy the Elf explains.

Don’t you think Santa’s kitchen must run low on supplies before Christmas Eve?

Not if the Candy Fairy can help it. She’s a sister of the Tooth Fairy, and she works for Santa Claus.

If, and only if, your parents are well connected, she will come to your house while you sleep on Halloween night – if you can sleep after eating all that sugar – and in exchange for a BIG pile of candy, she’ll leave you an early Christmas present from Santa’s workshop.

She’ll let you keep your favourites – maybe you want to keep the chips and the chocolate bars. You decide. She’ll take the rest and leave you a cool toy.

Ask your parents if they know the Candy Fairy.

High and Low Tide on the Noel Shore at Tenecape

One of Nova Scotia’s best kept secrets is the “Noel Shore” along the Minas Basin between the Avon River at Windsor and the mouth of the Shubenacadie near Truro. The deep clay soil supports large, lush trees, and the rolling scenery is only surpassed by stunning views of the Basin.

Recently, we were lucky to stay a week with friends at Tenecape near Burntcoat Head. The beach is grand to explore at low tide. Such a contrast with the water lapping at the cliffs at high tide.

If high tide occurs toward the end of a sunny day, the water can actually be quite swimmable, as it gets warmed by the sand as it comes in.

Enjoy the video above.

Deep Freeze: Book about Winter 2015

This new book, Deep Freeze Winter 2015: A Photographic Memory of Storm, Survival and Triumph will make you feel like a hero for having survived the winter of 2015 in the Maritimes.

Having been in the thick of it, I had forgotten a lot of the details. Reading how the weather evolved from month to month, from a green Christmas to the repeated onslaughts of March that left us feeling post-traumatic well into summer, brings back a lot of memories.

It’s a real tribute to the Maritime spirit of good humour and making the best of the weather. Stephanie Domet gets a cameo for coining the word – and hashtag – #stormchips. Collections of photos featuring drifted-in doorways, prospecting for cars, and sunbathers in shorts with beer against a snowy background, highlight some themes of that record-breaking winter.

There are serious photos, too: of buckled barns, stuck ships and the plane that slid on its belly when landing in Halifax on March 29.

shoveller on roof with snow in the air against a blue sky
My photo in the book: shovelling off the roof in March 2015

The pages are filled with full-colour photos taken by Maritimers from all over. I had seen some of them on Facebook or in the newspaper.  One of the photos is mine, thanks to this very website. A researcher for the book contacted me and I sent him a high-resolution version. In return, a copy of the book arrived in the mail last month.

Now that summer is over, and the next winter is lurking just around the corner, it’s good to remind ourselves of what stuff we are made, while we brace for hurricane season and the unknown adventures to be had just by living here.

Deep Freeze Winter 2015: A Photographic Memory of Storm, Survival and Triumph by John MacIntyre, forward by Cindy Day, MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc., 2015.

The Legendary Winter that Was

The Maritimes had a winter like no other. Prince Edward Island had a record-breaking total snowfall of 549.6 cm, which works out to about 18 ft of snow (to date). Fortunately it didn’t fall all at once. Thanks to social media, images of people tunnelling through snowbanks to look for their cars, and Good Samaritans sculpting Grand Canyons so that neighbours could leave their homes, became etched into the popular consciousness.

March 20, moving a lot of fluffy white stuff.

The volume of snow we got here on the South Shore of Nova Scotia wouldn’t faze Northern New Brunswick, but the fact is that we don’t have enough of the heavy equipment needed to handle it around here, as the amount was highly unusual. The usual driveway-clearing equipment, trucks with plows bolted on, were breaking down, and the big backhoes required to liberate some homes were charging $175 per driveway two days after the big storm of March 18. If I were in the snow clearing business, I’d be wondering whether this winter was a harbinger of more climate chaos and if I should invest in heavier equipment.

Many barns around the province caved in, and nurseries lost greenhouses, which are usually uninsurable.

As well as financially and physically, the winter was hard on many people psychologically. The storms came twice a week during a period that some called March Madness, and at times it felt like being bludgeoned repeatedly with a pool noodle reinforced with a hockey stick. There was Snowmageddon and Snowpocalypse and many unnamed storms which continued well into April.

I emerged from the winter with newfound upper body and core strength, and was grateful for my teenaged son who is looking buff these days.

Here are some photos from the winter that was.


Snow Cream, or The Winter Harvest

bowl full of snow cream
Making snow cream outdoors

It’s an old recipe: Mix cream, sugar and flavouring with fresh snow and stir it up to make a yummy dessert.

We have lots of the main ingredient since Snowmageddon hit Nova Scotia on March 18. It tickles me pink to have some of the stuff in the freezer, waiting for the day when I can give summer visitors a literal taste of this winter.

Today, before rain turns the fluffy snow to slush, I made a couple of batches. I chose a drifted snowbank on the shady side of the house and removed the top crust that has formed since last week’s big snowfall in order to get at the fine-grained powder beneath. I filled a big bowl with it. I had already combined the other ingredients, and stayed outdoors to mix them with the snow so it would stay cold.

For freezing, I made a light fluffy product, not creamy like ice cream. In a  previous batch, I used more cream and less snow. It was more ice cream-like at the time, but after being in the freezer it froze hard and wasn’t very scoopable.  It would be fine if you eat it right away. I think we’ll be very happy to eat fluffy sweet snow in the heat of July. If we really want ice cream, we can always buy some!

Recipe below photos.

Snow Cream Recipe

All measurements are approximate. You really can’t go wrong.


1 cup cream
1/2 cup sugar or honey
1 Tbs vanilla extract
1 large mixing bowl full of fresh, fine-grained snow

Combine everything except the snow until smooth. Drizzle over the snow, then mix it all together gently. If possible, do this outdoors so the snow crystals don’t melt.

Serve immediately, or put in plastic containers to stay frozen until summer.


Maple: omit vanilla and use 1/2 c real maple syrup instead of sugar. If you can get amber (dark) maple syrup, with its rich flavour, use it! Incredible.

Chocolate: Add 1/4 cup chocolate syrup.

Mocha: Add 1/4 cup cocoa powder and 1 teaspoon instant coffee.

Strawberry: Add 1/2 cup frozen strawberries and blend well with the milk before adding to the snow.

Get creative! The possibilities are endless.

You can use milk substitutes: soy milk, almond milk etc.

Use sweetened condensed milk and omit sugar.

The big storm

The February 15-16 storm that completely buried cars in Prince Edward Island continues to make life difficult for Nova Scotians more than a week later. Tall snowbanks make driving and walking difficult and dangerous, especially in the towns. Elsewhere, snowshoes are the vehicle of choice. Clogged or hidden storm sewers result in flooding when it’s warm(ish) and thick ice when it’s cold, especially in Halifax.  Around Mahone Bay, people have been removing snow from roofs and decks to mitigate damage and leaks, especially whenever rain threatens. What a winter!

After the storm

Ice pellets
Ice pellets

We had a whopper of a nor’easter last night. Schools closed early yesterday and it was a foregone conclusion that they’d be closed today. Many offices in the Maritimes are closed today.

Here close to the Atlantic coast, we had little rain though it was forecast. It came down as ice pellets. The top couple of inches are made of ice pellets, averaging about 1 mm in diameter.

We I don’t often get to ski on our road before it’s plowed, but at time of writing it still is covered, though it seems that 4-wheel drive trucks can get through.

As you can see, the snow drifts around to collect on the sheltered, south-facing side of my swingset greenhouse.

From an Old Swingset to a Greenhouse

Swingset greenhouse
Swingset greenhouse

Is it a tiny greenhouse?  Or a walk-in coldframe?

I’ve always wanted a greenhouse. I have several coldframes that I’ve been using to extend the gardening season at both ends, so that we have fresh salad from the garden at both Christmas and Easter! But I want more! I’d also like to do a better job growing plants that enjoy more heat than we get here near the sea – tomatoes, peppers and basil, for example.

The front of our one-acre property, where my main garden is, is exposed to wicked northerly winds during the winter. I worry about how a greenhouse would stand up to the storms. But the back of the house is more sheltered, and faces south. I dream of building a sunroom – let’s call it an “orangerie” to be exotic – onto the house, but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

However, I had this rusty, outgrown swingset, a pile of scavenged lumber, and some ideas:

  • Perhaps a solid back wall on the north side would better resist the wind and the snow.
  • Then I could put in a proper door that would make the interior easy to access during the winter.
  • Start the door a foot off the ground and it would be easier to shovel it out when the snow is thick and hard. No matter that you have to step over it to get in; it would be like stepping into the cabin on a sailboat.
  • Make the door big enough for heat to escape during the summer, since the structure isn’t big enough to cross-ventilate.
  • Add an opening window in the door for those in-between days when you need just a bit of ventilation.
  • Use up that pile of old wood and make room for new things to happen.

Swingset with tomatoes and cucumbers
Swingset in summer with tomatoes and cucumbers

My six-foot-tall son – as tall as the swingset now – helped me move the frame to the garden last spring and roughly level it. We nestled it next to the asparagus bed and let tomatoes climb ropes up to the swing hooks.

As plants died back in the autumn, I redefined the garden paths to go around the future greenhouse, and set the bootstrap-engineering part of my brain to work figuring out how to build out the structure.

The first thing was to build a box around the space using old 2x4s, some of which were nailed together into thicker pieces. If I’d had bigger dimensional lumber I would have used it.

The wall after placing it on the swing frame.
The wall after placing it on the swing frame.

Meanwhile, I set to work building the wall on a flat space in the driveway.  I cut the bottom of the 2×4 studs at the required angle, and set the side studs to slope inward at the slight angle required. Then I framed in the doorway. An old piece of treated plywood determined the width of the door and became a hinged flap at the top. Because I had a lot of strapping, it became the cladding – after we pulled the old nails out.

The picture at right shows the wall after we had carried it to the swing frame and placed it in position. It was a heavy, two-person job.

I had cut the bottom boards but left them off until after I had nailed the sills to the bed frame, so that I could swing the hammer effectively.

My carpentry skills are rough, but I’ve built on what I learned from my grandfather and father by helping friends in various situations. It felt like I was using everything I know in this project, and had to make a lot up as I went along. Plenty of opportunity for problem solving!

greenhouse wall
After placing the wall and adding a post under the door.

For example, after placing the wall, I realized that it would be tempting to sit on the door sill, so I added a vertical post to support it (left), which would be standard framing technique anyway. In fact, there should be another short post on each side, next to the studs – if you were building to code, which I wasn’t.

wall borded in
The wall boarded in.

Then I boarded in the bottom of the wall using the pieces that I had pre-cut.

Any stained or treated wood is high up in the structure, away from the soil.

Because the season was getting late, and I had seedlings already growing too thickly in my coldframes, I had prepared the bed and transplanted a variety of seedlings into it before the wall was ready. It was easier to do while the space was open. I had no need to step on the bed while assembling the wall.

I built the door on the flat driveway and hung it after the wall was in place, using heavy hinges.

Once the door was hung, we added the plastic, which had come second-hand from a commercial greenhouse via a friend. We stapled it in place, one plane at a time, and applied my best gift-wrapping technique to make it flat. I nailed strapping in place to hold the edges all around. It needs to be well attached to withstand the storms.

I hadn’t intended to cover the boards with plastic, but it turned out that it was possible to do so. It will make the greenhouse warmer, though it will breathe less.

The almost finished greenhouse
The almost finished greenhouse

All I had to buy for this project was the hinges. I used up most of the scrap wood I had on hand, and I had enough nails and screws from former projects – some mine, some my father’s, and some my grandfather’s! I’m lucky in a way to have inherited everybody’s stuff, and I’m delighted to put them to good use. My grandfather, who built the first coldframes I ever saw, must be smiling at this little structure.

One unforeseen benefit of the design is that the weight of the door on the inward slope keeps it in place whether it’s closed or open. I don’t think I’ll need to use a latch or hook, even in the howling wind.

Inside the greenhouse
A short person could stand up inside. Not me.

It already feels like a greenhouse inside – warm, sheltered, moist, a place to grow. I’ll be looking for excuses to hang out here during the winter. A little kitchen stool is all the furniture it can handle, but even that will allow one to sit rather than squat. Hmm… maybe a hammock which I can tuck up and away when not in use…. the swing hooks are still there, after all.

I’ll watch and listen carefully for flapping and wear and tear on the plastic. Maybe I’ll cut clips out of PVC tubing to attach the plastic to the metal on the south side.

The plastic will need to be replaced every few years; something to plan for.

My seedlings look happy.

Now I’m actually looking forward to winter!

UPDATE 2018: The size of the plastic on the south side is too big, and has stretched as it flaps on windy days, especially if the door is open. It happens to be near our bedroom window and the noise of the flapping is annoying. When I replace the plastic, I’ll build a frame similar to that on the north side, but not boarded in, so it flaps less and gives me a little more room to move around inside.

You could also design your frame to hold old windows. However, I’ve used old windows on coldframes and they have two disadvantages:

  1. If they break, it’s a pain to clean up the broken glass in the soil;
  2. Windows old enough to have lead paint are also old enough to have that paint flake and get into your soil. Not healthy.

I’ve had better experience with tempered glass, from shower doors, for example, which I’ve used for several years on coldframes without mishap. Aluminum screen doors and windows are also good. I’ll be sticking with those in the future.

Oh – and I LOVE going into my little greenhouse and at colder times of the year to pick a fresh salad for guests, or for Christmas dinner!