It's just 19 characters (22 if you count the spaces) in all-caps Helvetica, painted Highway Yellow against an industrial green girder. Yet, somehow, the "Welcome to Cape Breton" sign on the Canso Causeway swing bridge maintains a deep iconic grip on Cape Bretoners. Just this morning, it showed up in my Facebook feed when Megan MacDonald, a CB ex-pat home from Toronto for a few days' R&R, re-posted this meme from the "Meanwhile in Cape Breton" group:     Years ago, riding a bus from Halifax to Cape Breton, I compared notes with the woman in the next seat about the point in the journey when it finally...

A childhood friend found this disturbing 1956 photograph by the late Life Magazine photographer Gordon Parks on the Facebook page of the African-American history group BlackPast.org. She reposted it on her own Facebook page, and I reposted to to mine, adding, "It's worth remembering that this was less than 60 years ago." It didn't take long for Gus Reed to post this photo of the posh Hydrostone restaurant Epicurious Morsels, adding: 60 years ago there was a separate entrance for African Americans at the Birmingham bus station. 60 seconds ago, this was the wheelchair entrance at a restaurant in Halifax. One of...

To make sport of bad English translations by non-English speakers is to flirt with, nay dive headfirst into, unbecoming condescension. But sometimes, it's irresistible. "Please use it referring to as equipped," has been an all-purpose mantra in my house ever since those words arrived on the wrapper of a Honda Civic air filter sometime in the 1980s. Last weekend, my son Silas received a set of Chinese-made Edifier speakers he had ordered on line. Among the packaging, he found this poetic brand testimonial: I believe this can only be fully appreciated as blank verse: Big surprise, astonishment, and enjoyment. Ever from the sparkles of ideas...

This is a must-have for anyone living along the Strait of Canso superport, and for 14 residents of Goldboro, soon to be the site of an LNG terminal. Denizens of HRM may also want to bone up in anticipation of warships soon to be flying off the assembly line at the Irving Shipyard. Be sure to read the reviews, especially the third one down. H/T: Sue, via Jane Kansas...

Every Christmas since 1993, British Television's Channel 4 asks a noteworthy figure to record an "alternative" to starchy pieties of Her Majesty's annual Christmas message to her subjects. This year, Channel 4 tapped whistleblower Edward Snowden. From his temporary asylum in Russia, Snowden sounded a pithy, 1 minute, 43 second, warning about the dangers of government spying: A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves — an unrecorded, unanalysed thought...

Susan Dixon has started a petition: Has anyone at Canada Post ever tried to to push a stroller or a wheelchair or a walker through the snow? I don't think they realize the impact of ending door-to-door mail delivery when it comes to the parents of young children, to the disabled, and to the elderly, especially in winter...

SableUpdate The three Parks Canada bureaucrats who tag-teamed an illustrated talk at tonight's ninth annual Sable Island Update faced a skeptical, though not overtly hostile, audience. The first time Canadians heard about plans to turn Sable Island into a National Park, Jim Prentice, environment minister at the time, launched into an addle-pated discourse on how great a park would be for private businesses that could could ferry boatloads of tourists out to Sable and put them up for the night in hotels. You want to hope this was a spontaneous outburst by a know-nothing minister, but with Harper's crew, who can be sure? Parks Canada bureaucrats have struggled ever since to convince Sable's large, passionate constituency that they are not the advance guard for a mob of gun-toting Reform Party vandals bent on paving Sable and putting up Ferris wheels. In the process, they appear to have persuaded the naturalist and longtime Sable champion Zoe Lucas. (Disclosure: Zoe and I have been friends for years.) zoe_lucas copyIn her talk last night, Zoe, who is principal organizer of the meeting, gave her usual fascinating and witty précis of events on Sable over the last 18 months—a spell-binding catalog of weather highlights, scientific discoveries, critter strandings, beach debris, and whatnot. She followed this with a useful history of tourism to the island, gently driving home the point that people have always visited Sable (albeit in small numbers) and properly managed, such visits cause little damage while helping build the passionate constituency for conservation that is Sable's best protection from Cretins like Prentice. Zoe and I have not spoken about this, but it appeared to me that she and the Parks Canada officials charged with setting up the new park have established a productive and mutually respectful relationship. This has not always been the case. Zoe is a woman of strong views and a willingness to express them. She has not always enjoyed a blissful rapport with Sable's federal overseers. In their presentation, the Parks Canada officials made the obligatory gestures you would expect toward Zoe's revered role as unofficial steward of the island, including the invaluable scientific work she has carried out over nearly four decades. Beyond that, they peppered their inventory of preparations for park status with signals they have been listening, and thinking about imaginative ways to fulfill Parks Canada's mandate to provide visitor opportunities without wrecking the place. Two small examples: They hope to get Google to carry out Street View mapping of the island, so Sable buffs can treat themselves to virtual tours from the comfort of their living rooms. When challenged about regulations that ban petroleum drilling on the island, but permit seismic testing, they agreed with a marine geologist in the audience that sufficient seismic testing has already been carried out, and it's unlikely future tests would be permitted. I don't want to go overboard here. The trio of officials did sometimes lapse into practiced talking points whose purpose was to mollify, rather than inform. They professed not to remember what the park's annual budget was, but when pressed (by me) they agreed to give Zoe this information for publication on her Green Horse Society website (specifically, the park's 2013-2014 annual budget, and the annual operating budget they expect once startup costs are behind them). I'm no @Tim_Bousquet, but I did my best to live-tweet the event. With occasional help from seat-mate Alan Ruffman, I think I did capture the gist of most, if not all, the questions. You can find these tweets by searching for my Twitter handle (@kempthead) or the hashtag #Sable. Those outside the Twitter realm can view the live-tweets in bullet form after the jump. If you are unfamiliar with Twitter, reading from the bottom up will give you my account in chronological order. Errors and omissions are mine.

Like me, Contrarian reader Stan Jones voted at one of the continuous advance polling stations his riding (though presumably he did so sans caméra).  These polls were among the innovations Elections Nova Scotia introduced to combat flagging turnout, by making it easier for people to vote. They proved popular, but as Jones points out, they had the unintended consequence of lessening the analytical usefulness of poll-by-poll returns: [I]t does seem to complicate poll-by-poll analysis, since it looks to me as if all those votes are reported with the Returning Office as the poll, rather than some district poll. For example, in Yarmouth, some...

Dan Conlin has kept track of the trick-or-treaters who called at his Duncan St., Halifax, home for the last 17 years. Yesterday's numbers showed a modest uptick, but the overall trend is dramatic and downward: This year's visitors began arriving at 5:35 pm, peaked at 7 p.m., and had vanished into the night by 8:15. Vampires, Princesses, and Ninjas led the parade, at six each. Only one cat made an appearance, likely the one pictured, feline fancier Rosa Eileen Barss Donham, who lives one street over from Dan. Conlin gives his Best Overall Costume Award to an eight-year-old walking box of Ritz Crackers, English in...