New Waterford filmmakers cop Best Canadian Film – updated


And in Cape Breton news…

New Waterford filmmakers Nelson MacDonald (producer) and Ashley McKenzie (director) took top honors – Best Canadian Film – at the YoungCuts Film Festival in Montreal last weekend for their short film Rhonda’s Party, the story of a birthday party for a nursing home resident played by the ineffable Marguerite McNeil of Glace Bay. Rhonda’s Party has also played to enthusiastic audiences at the Montreal Film Festival and the Atlantic Film Festival, where it earned a rave review from The Coast. It plays the International Women’s Festival in St. John’s next month, and the greatest little film series of them all, in Sydney, November 18.

Nelson and Ashley are the moving forces behind New Waterford’s Coastal Arts Initiative. They also provide invaluable film selection advice and legwork for the Cape Breton Island Film Series. They are wonderful, and their success fills us with pride.

Update: Jesse Harley, not a Cape Bretoner but a man who can trace his lineage directly to Gen. John. Cabot Trail, won best picture and best cinematographer in the Five Minute Film category at the Atlantic Film Festival for his film Like Father. Hmmm. Wonder who that could be about? Congrats all around.

Halifax public consultation template

A group of friends was planning a social gathering Thursday evening in Halifax. One demurred, saying work required her to attend Thursday’s public consultation session on the proposed new central library.

“If it helps,” said another member of the group, “I can pre-summarize the public meeting for you.”

  1. What a waste of money this — money that could be better spent on roads and health care.
  2. I can’t believe the city is being so cheap with this design. A bigger new library will draw tourists from around the world.
  3. Will it block the view from Citadel Hill?
  4. Can we attach this to a new stadium?
  5. Why does Halifax get everything? Why not build this in Eastern Passage?
  6. And (from a certain former city employee) this violates Section 12, Sub-section B, paragraph iii of the Downtown Halifax Redevelopment Zonal Buidling Code by-law passed in 1969.

Irving Schwartz stories – 4

Irving once helped sponsor a ship-wreck salvage operation off the northern tip of Cape Breton. One calm, sunny day, he ventured onto the salvage ship to see the work underway. Shortly after his arrival, an equipment problem halted operations for several hours.

Irving, a notorious Type A personality, paced the decks restlessly. In the distance, he could see St. Paul’s Island, the barren rock outcropping that lies a quarter of the way to Port-aux-Basque, NL. Irving directed the crew to lower the ship’s tender into the water, and moments later, he was alone on Cabot Strait, rowing toward St. Paul’s.

Upon reaching the island, he explored the vertical shoreline for a few minutes until he found a place with just enough room to haul the dinghy ashore. He clambered up the cliff and starting walking toward the lighthouse at the opposite end of the island.

He had closed half the distance when the door of the lighthouse burst open, and the keeper appeared.

“Irving!” he exclaimed. “Am I glad to see you! You know that wringer-washer you sold me? It’s stopped working.”

Everyone knew Irving.

Irving Schwartz stories – 3

In his remarks at Irving’s funeral, Dr. Richard Goldbloom, the celebrated Halifax pediatrician who is Irving’s brother-in-law, re-told a story Irving liked to tell on himself.

mine removalIn the late-90s, the Canadian International Demining Corps, Irving’s mine-removal charity, developed a center to train Mozambicans in the techniques of mine removal. Once up and running, the center was to be turned over to state government. The facility lay deep in the jungle. Irving flew in for the transfer ceremony, together with the state governor and the Mozambican Minister of Land Mine Removal.

Upon landing, the government officials and their aides gathered into a tight circle and chattered away in Portugese. Irving wandered over to a group of workers standing to one side.

“Anyone here speak English?” he asked. One worker raised his hand.

“You tell these fellows,” he said, gesturing to the workers and smiling mischievously, “I write the cheques. When I speak, I want them to applaud.”

The ad hoc translator nodded enthusiastically.

Moments later, the ceremony began. The demining minister spoke for 45 minutes in Portugese, and was met with polite applause. The state governor droned on for an hour. More tepid applause. Irving spoke, in English, for four minutes.

Standing ovation.

Irving Schwartz stories – 2

Only a handful of people know that The Coast, Halifax’s thriving lifestyles weekly, might not exist today but for the forbearance of Irving Schwartz.

oreskovitch and shaw-250About 15 years ago, the paper was struggling to survive when a now forgotten freelancer wrote a hatchet-job profile of then-Public Works Minister David Dingwall. As part of his “research,” the Coast reporter called Irving, who, with characteristic candour, offered a measured assessment of Dingwall’s strong and weak points. When the story appeared however, the plusses had vanished and the minuses were torqued beyond recognition. To a reader who didn’t know better, it looked as though Irving had gone out of his way to savage Dingwall.

Irving was livid. He considered Dingwall a friend, and was horrified to be seen as a purveyor of negativity and personal attacks. He engaged a top-flight Halifax lawyer to begin a defamation action against The Coast.

By the Irving’s lawyer filed the suit, the offending writer had left for Europe, leaving Coast publishers Kyle Shaw and Christine Oreskovitch to deal with the damage his misrepresentation had caused. They knew the paper couldn’t sustain the cost of defending a libel suit — especially one they were likely to lose, given the shoddy quality of the story. Shaw called a friend who knew Irving and begged him to intercede.

It took some cajoling, but after a long Friday-night phone call, Irving reluctantly agreed to drop the suit in exchange for a brief but abject apology and retraction, published under the masthead in the next edition.

“The kid who did the job on you is off hitchhiking in France,” the friend told Irving. “Your lawsuit won’t hurt him, but it probably will put The Coast out of business, and that would be a shame. If you met the youngsters who run this paper in any other context, you’d be a huge admirer. They started it with no money, and they built it with nothing but imagination and hard work. You would like them. I like them. You don’t want to put them out of business.”

On Monday, the lawyer tried to talk Irving out of dropping the lawsuit, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He was still angry, but had given his word, and that was that.

Margo Schwartz’s eulogy for Irving

This is the eulogy Irving Schwartz’s eldest daughter Margo delivered at his funeral September 20, 2010, at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre:

I speak today on behalf of all of the children of Irving and Diana Schwartz, with sister Joanne at my side and brother David and Sister Stephanie with our dear mother, Diana.

For as long as I can remember, I have been in awe of my father, Irving Schwartz. I have often reflected, with gratitude, that by some lucky accident of birth I found myself to be his daughter. I adored and respected my father and cherished every moment we had together. Our father, Irving, was a great human being, a mensch, and he was a great teacher – one who taught and led by example.

Growing up with Irving as a father was an exciting adventure. Just getting in the car with him was thrilling! We always knew that he would take us somewhere interesting and that we would get there quickly. He would regale us with stories of all the exploits the Schwartz brothers had gotten up to in their youth and sing one of his favourite songs “In a quaint caravan, there’s a gypsy”- at the top of his lungs – famously off-key.

Dad worked a lot and he loved it. He never really stopped – he was too full of positive energy, creativity and a stunning ability to get things done. But we knew the importance he placed on family too.

Continue reading Margo Schwartz’s eulogy for Irving

Irving Schwartz OC

Irving Schwartz, O.C., entrepreneur, humanitarian, community leader, devoted son of New Waterford, Cape Breton, and a leading figure in Atlantic Canada’s Jewish community, died Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010, in Sydney. He was 81.

Irving was the son of the late Abraham and Rose (Claener) Schwartz of New Waterford.Irving_Schwartz mugshot150

He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Diana Usher Schwartz; and his four children, Margo Schwartz (Adrian Noskwith), London, Eng., Joanne Schwartz, Toronto, David Schwartz, Halifax, and Stephanie Schwartz (Brian Brophey), Toronto. He had four grandchildren, Toby and Rose Noskwith of London, Eng., and Rachel and Sophie Fagan of Toronto; five siblings, Ruth Goldbloom of Halifax, Harold Schwartz of Sydney, and the late Joey, Bram and Edna Schwartz; and many nieces and nephews.

Irving’s parents operated a general store in the coal mining town of New Waterford. Abraham Schwartz died one day before Irving’s third birthday, leaving Rose to run the business and raise six children. She was more than up to the task, and although Irving spent one semester at Mount Allison University and another at New York University, he often said he was a graduate of the Rose Schwartz School of Business. Irving made his first of many buying trips to Montreal at age 13.

Over the years, Irving owned or invested in a diverse range of businesses, including a hotel, nursing homes, a cable TV franchise, computer software companies, a clinical research company, a wireless Internet service provider, various real estate holdings, a coal mine reclamation company, and the furniture and appliance store that bears his name.

At the time of his death, he was president of the Seaside Group of companies, with operations in cable TV, wireless Internet, software development, and clinical research. He was also chairman of Schwartz and Company, the furniture chain, and president of Vulcan holdings, a real estate company. He was a current or past director of Ocean Nutrition Canada Ltd., Virtual Media Productions, Halifax Biomedical, and Green Images.

In 1970, Irving helped develop an oyster farm at the Eskasoni First Nation, and four years later, he managed a trout farm for the Cape Breton Development Corporation.

Tera Camus photo courtesy of the Halifax Chronicle-Herald

Irving was a pioneer in the expansion of high speed internet services to rural areas. He led Seaside’s participation in the ambitious project to provide high-speed Internet access throughout Nova Scotia – the first jurisdiction in North America to offer universal broadband access. Seaside will complete its part of the project, covering the nine counties of northern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, by year’s end.

Irving also served as president of the Children’s Aid Society, president of the Lions’ Club, chairman of the board of governors of the University College of Cape Breton, co-founder of Junior Achievement in Cape Breton, director of the National Theatre School of Canada, advisory board member of the Dalhousie School of Business, and chairman of the Cape Breton Chapter of the Hebrew University. He was a longtime member of the National Capital Commission, and volunteered with the Nova Scotia Division of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. He served on the boards of the Nova Scotia Business Development Corporation, the Sydport International Free Trade Zone, and the Nova Scotia Community College.

Of all these volunteer activities, he was perhaps proudest of his 12 years service as a volunteer firefighter in New Waterford.

Irving founded and operated the non-profit Canadian International Demining Corps, which carried out land mine removal operations in many countries around the world, and was part of the impetus for his 1997 investiture in the Order of Canada. In 2003, he was named an officer of the order.

At the time of his initial investiture, Governor-General Romeo LeBlanc cited him as, “a staunch supporter of educational institutions, notably the University College of Cape Breton, Dalhousie University’s School of Business, and the National Theatre School of Canada … He is dedicated to the eradication of the use of land mines and the reclamation of mine-polluted land for productive use by indigenous populations,” the citation said.

When Irving was named an officer of the order six years later, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson described him as, “a visionary entrepreneur and committed philanthropist (who) has made significant contributions to Cape Breton. Irving Schwartz has invested resources, time and expertise in local knowledge-based companies, helping to diversify and develop the island’s economy.”

In eastern Nova Scotia, Irving was well known for fronting television commercials for his furniture and appliance company, always ending with the tag line, “I guarantee it!”

Once, while travelling in Bosnia in support of demining operations there, he encountered a group of Canadian peacekeepers and asked if any were from Cape Breton.

“I guarantee it,” one soldier replied.

In 2002, Irving was awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, and the following year was inducted into the Nova Scotia Business Hall of Fame. He was also an inductee of the Cape Breton Business Hall of Fame. At the time of his death, he had been designated to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Home Furnishings Association.

In 2008, he received the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from Dalhousie University.

Diagnosed with cancer in 2008, Irving managed to turn even that bad news into a positive achievement. He headed a successful $5.5 million fundraising campaign for the Cape Breton Regional Hospital’s cancer unit. He declined suggestions that he seek treatment at prominent U.S. medical centres, insisting he would get better care in Cape Breton.

Through several operations and chemotherapy treatments, he continued to work full time, at one point returning to his office three days after surgery. He spent the day before his death working at the furniture store, and attended Yom Kippur services at the Temple Sons of Israel Synagogue in Sydney Friday evening.

In a statement Saturday, Premier Darrell Dexter said Irving’s “legacy as a community leader and philanthropist will be the achievements for which he is most remembered.”

Deputy Premier and fellow New Waterford native Frank Corbett said, “Cape Breton was very fortunate to have a leader like Irving Schwartz. His passion for life, family and community will be sorely missed.”

Irving loved to engage friends and strangers alike in conversation and storytelling. The door to his office at the furniture store was always open, and saw a constant stream of visitors, from titans of industry and politics to coal miners, school teachers, and homemakers. He was known for quietly offering advice and assistance to scores of Cape Bretoners starting out in business or facing business difficulties.

His funeral will take place Monday at 11 a.m. at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre, 50 Maillard St., Sydney, with burial to follow at the Hebrew Cemetery on Lingan Road.

Memorials may be made to The Parkinson Society Maritime Region, 7071 Bayers Rd., Suite 150, Halifax, N.S., B3L 2C2, or to The Cape Breton Cares Campaign, Cape Breton Regional Hospital Foundation, 45 Weatherbee Rd., Suite 304A, Sydney, N.S., B1M 0A1.

Condolences may be sent to the family at

An amazing man from Sydney

The mine-removal NGO Mines Action Canada has released a statement expressing gratitude for Irving’s wisdom, commitment, support, kindness, generosity and sense of humour for many years. Money quote:

In the mid-90s many people in Canada were caught up in the enthusiasm of the Canadian-led initiative to ban landmines. Irving went one step further and founded CIDC which has became Canada’s leading landmine clearance organization. There are children and innocent civilians in Bosnia, Croatia, Mozambique and other countries who can go about their daily lives without the threat of landmines because of the efforts of this amazing man from Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Irving Schwartz stories – I

Irving Schwartz, whose death yesterday leaves a gaping hole in Cape Breton, loved to trade stories, so I offer this space to share a few about him. I hope you’ll send me yours.

Irving_Schwartz_yankees cap-300
Creative commons photo.

Irving’s outrageous TV furniture pitches — always ending with his over-the-top delivery of the tag line, “I guarantee it!” — earned him nearly universal face recognition throughout eastern Nova Scotia. When my own weekly television debates brought me a tiny fraction of his notoriety in the 1990s, Irving liked to embarrass me by introducing me to strangers.

At the Mull Cafe in Mabou one afternoon, he gestured ostentatiously in my direction.

“You realize who this is, don’t you?”  he bellowed to the waitress at a pitch no one in the restaurant could ignore.

The waitress, evidently an ATV viewer, stared at me blankly.

“I’m afraid I don’t.”

“But you know who he is, don’t you?” I asked, pointing at Irving.

“Oh yes,” she smiled. “I know Irving. Everyone knows Irving.”

Please send me your stories about Irving.