Canada’s Got Talent: OneBlood, the Men of the Ernst Family Singers are Semi-Finalists!

The Ernst Family of Lunenburg are semi-finalists on Canada’s Got Talent. Please watch and vote/vote/vote for them. You can vote 50 times for the group. They are amazing singers. The video below is a beautiful rendition of Loch Lomond, and there are many more on YouTube. Check out the Canada’s Got Talent webpage on for more information about the Ernst Family and to find the Vote link in the menu. Voting is open Sunday nights after the TV show.

Acadian Flag merchandise

Acadian Flag items available in our shop

Got French Acadian roots? Lots of people do. A few years after taking over mainland Nova Scotia from the French and founding Halifax in 1749,  the British drove the Acadian settlers from the soil they had tilled for generations.

Some years later, many Acadians came back to Nova Scotia and lived quietly in remote communities, not calling much attention to themselves, making waves only at sea in their fishing boats. Over time, many of their descendants assimilated into the larger English-speaking culture.

In the last number of years, however, Acadian culture and language have been waking up. A province-wide French Acadian school board runs 21 Francophone schools throughout the province, and a network of organizations and community centres ensure that Acadian arts and culture enrich the fabric of Nova Scotia.

I’ve added a new design to the shop, with the Acadian flag and a detailed, accurate silhouette of Nouvelle-Écosse. Lots of cool merchandise is available.*

*Items are printed on demand in the USA by CafePress. In my experience, items printed on paper, fridge magnets and posters have come through the mail without duty. However, any clothing not made in the USA (i.e. most of it), mugs and certain other items require duty (18%, I think) as well as GST/HST to be paid at the post office. Your experience may vary.

Clothing made in the USA is clearly marked as such in the shop.

Shakespeare by the Sea

Audience waiting for the show to start

Last week, we saw a wonderful production of Robin Hood by Shakespeare by the Sea. The company performs outdoors in Point Pleasant Park, unless it’s raining, in which case they have an indoor space available.

This year, the plays are staged at the Cambridge Battery, a set of ruined fortifications  in the middle of the park. You couldn’t invent such a backdrop. At intermission, kids of all ages explored the set, if only to see the view of the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

We were treated to great hilarity, exciting swordfights, intriguing a capella harmonies, endearing characters (yes you, Sven), modern cultural references, a classic storyline with a contemporary twist, and a professional ensemble cast. I highly recommend Robin Hood for anyone age 4 and up.

Even if you are unaccompanied by a child, you will enjoy the play!

The company is also performing two Shakespeare plays this summer: A Comedy of Errors and Measure for Measure. We hope to see at least one of them in the next two weeks. Their season ends September 4. See their site for showtimes.

If you’ve seen any of their productions this year, feel free to leave a comment.

Two Planks and a Passion

In 1991, my father met a young couple on a train.

Dad was returning to Halifax after a post-retirement tour across Canada, and they were traveling from Toronto to Halifax, so there was lots of time to talk.

They wanted to start a theatre company in Nova Scotia — a “farm theatre”. He thought it was an interesting combination. Impressed, he suggested that either the Mosquodoboit Valley or the Annapolis Valley would be a good location.

The couple, Chris O’Neill and Ken Schwartz, chose the latter. In 1992, with little more than “two planks and a passion”, a grand vision, and large doses of talent and savvy, they set up a theatre company.

Two Planks and a Passion Theatre Company logoFor 15 years Two Planks and a Passion was on the road. They produced and toured relevant and memorable plays by the likes of Daniel McIvor and Drew Hayden Taylor. Just as often,  Ken and Chris penned their own plays, bringing to the stage Nova Scotian stories with broad relevance, such as The Butterbox Babies and Westray: The Long Way Home.

Meanwhile, Chris and Ken were raising a family that included twins. The demands of touring were making the dream of a farm theatre more and more appealing.

Finally the dream took root on an old farm at Ross Creek, on the North Mountain near Canning.

With Chris as Executive Director, The Ross Creek Centre for the Arts provides enriching experiences for working artists while training the next generation of artists. There are camps and other programs for kids and adults.  At the other end of the spectrum, the Centre provides opportunities for professional artists to retreat from the world and create, or to engage in unique ways with the community.

Two Planks and a Passion is now the Centre’s resident theatre company.  Each summer, under Ken Schwartz’s inspired direction, they create magical outdoor theatre “off the grid”, using the expansive landscape, original plays based on the classics with modern relevance, and some of the finest talent around.

This year’s Theatre off the Grid production is Beowulf, the ancient classic story re-imagined by Rick Chafe. It has garnered great reviews (and another). It is a strong production that left me in awe of the solidity of the acting, the direction and the story.

Beowulf is only playing until August 6th.  See it if you possibly can! Tickets are available here.


Halifax Jazz Festival is on

Strolling along the waterfront last Friday, we heard a cool jazz piano, accompanied by bass and drums, coming from the Festival Tent being set up on Lower Water St. at Salter St. extension. The place was crawling with volunteers adjusting banners and chairs, getting things ready for the show to start at 8 pm. They offered us a program, but, alas, we were on our way to see the Tattoo.

Setting up the Festival Tent for the Halifax Jazz Festival

The Halifax Jazz Festival continues until Saturday, July 16th in various venues around town.

The Tattoo: See it at least once

French motorcycle team, bagpipe bands, in the Tattoo finale


That was my 11-year-old’s assessment of the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo which he saw for the first time on Friday.

“What is it?” he kept asking before we went. “It’s … a show,” I said, inadequately.

It’s hard to describe the Tattoo; if you haven’t seen it, I’ll refer you to its own website, which says it is “the world’s largest indoor show…. featuring over 2,000 world-class Canadian and international military and civilian performers … a fast-paced, two-and-a-half hour family show featuring music, dance, acrobatics, drama and comedy in a number of innovative acts.”

Bands to the rafters and the choir during the finale

Originally modeled on the Edinburgh Tattoo in Scotland, the Nova Scotia Tattoo was first staged in 1979 and featured primarily military acts.

Over the years, many civilian acts have been added, including guest performers from all over the world.

In common with the military marching bands and demonstrations of physical prowess, virtually all the acts involved precision teamwork.

Estonian roller skaters pose for photos after the show

We saw a fabulous precision roller skating team from Estonia, the French Guarde Républicaine motorcycle ballet, a German gym wheel team, and of course, Scottish Highland Dancers from Nova Scotia and from Australia. The latter group mixed the traditional strict forms of Highland Dance with tribal rhythms and modern innovations, which I found intriguing, having grown up partly in Antigonish where many kids took Highland Dance lessons.

The highest level of millisecond exactness was displayed by an all-female New Zealand drill team.

Talentholdet's innovative rope skipping

The loosest group was the Danish gymnastic troupe Talentholdet whose playful exuberance contrasted refreshingly with the strict discipline of the other acts while performing jaw-dropping feats of tumbling.

Even the tightest military bands had their comic routines to keep us entertained.

Musically, it was impressive that the many brass bands, the bagpipe bands, the choir and the soloists, spread across the width of the Metro Centre, could play in ensemble (almost all the time) – another testament to discipline and talent. Quite the sound!

Notably most of the civilian performers were female – dance troupes in particular, and while there were many women in the military bands, you had to look closely to distinguish them in their uniforms.

The show has a strong vein of patriotism and support for the troops, in their current mission of training the Afghan army now that Canada’s combat role has ended. Included in the honours are police, firefighters, emergency medical services and other first responders who “serve and protect”.

Altogether, the Tattoo is a huge community effort supported by many volunteers. The audience contained people from every province in Canada and many from the USA.

It’s a show that just about everyone should experience at least once.

The Rope Loft in Chester: a favourite restaurant

Father’s choice on Father’s Day, so of course we went to the Rope Loft on Chester’s Front Harbour.

Entering the Rope Loft
The Rope Loft in Chester

We didn’t dock and dine this time, but you can do that, and berth your boat for the night too, if you’re lucky.

If the walls could talk, they would have many nautical yarns to tell. The old oak timberframe building dates back to the privateer ship Teazer, as it was built with remnants of the famous ship after she burned and sank in Mahone Bay in 1813.

But there’s no salt pork and hardtack on the menu. The Rope Loft Burger is the best around. One of our fathers was very pleased with his sirloin tip roast with baby potatoes and Yorkshire pudding which, he declared, was almost as good as his own. That’s high praise!  The mothers enjoyed Baked Salmon and Seafood Marinara respectively.

A walk around the Village completed our lovely Father’s Day outing.

When the weather is warm enough, you can sit on the deck and watch the activity on the Front Harbour.

The restaurant is a busy place during Race Week. Last year, the Tanzer 22 class was headquartered at the Rope Loft.

Check out the Rope Loft website for a bit of history and some pictures – and of course the menu!

Mahone Bay Swimming Pool

Mahone Bay Swimming Pool website

Kids in Mahone Bay learn to swim at the Mahone Bay Pool, a gem in the heart of town.

The pool is open in July and August, and welcomes visitors as well as locals.

There are public swim times in the afternoons and evenings.

Mornings are devoted to Red Cross swimming lessons, from beginners to Bronze Medallion and Bronze Cross.

The teachers are mostly young people who have come up through the system. It’s a great summer job.

Classes and public swims are not crowded.

Registration is coming up soon. Find more information on the Mahone Bay Swimming Pool’s new website, created by yours truly.

Doers and Dreamers 2011 is ready

Doers and Dreamers 2011 cover
Doers and Dreamers 2011

Planning a trip to Nova Scotia this year?  Live in Nova Scotia and plan to vacation in another part of the province?

The new Doers and Dreamers, the province’s flagship travel guide, is ready.

So are other guides such as the 2011 Motorcycle Tour Guide, the Halifax Guide, and Taste of Nova Scotia.

Check them out on the provincial tourism site. They’ll send them to you free.

Even if you travel for business, Doers and Dreamers is handy to have.