Japanese fusion comes to Nova Scotia’s South Shore

By Barry Rueger
Published: Globe and Mail
June 1, 2024
962 words

Partners and co-owners of Main & Mersey Dining Room and Coffee Bar, Shani Beadle, left, and Andreas Arnmar, right, are photographed at their restaurant in Liverpool, Nova Scotia on December 30, 2023.Meagan Hancock/The Globe and Mail

Andreas Arnmar and Shani Beadle’s road to restaurant ownership was what you could call uphill, right from the concept stage.

Late last year the husband and wife opened the Dining Room at Main & Mersey, an Japanese-fusion restaurant, in Liverpool on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. With a population of 2,500, the town boasts culinary options that lean toward fish and chips and lobster rolls.

Believing locals would appreciate the dishes they were envisioning, such as Oyster Mushroom Tempura or Agedashi Tofu, was a real leap of faith, they say now. And that was just the first challenge.

The couple’s culinary journey started small: with coffee. After moving to Liverpool from the U.K. in 2017 (Beadle is from B.C., while Arnmar was born and raised in Sweden), they opened home-furnishings store Main & Mersey on the town’s Main Street. Beadle’s background in fabric design positioned her well for the endeavour.

While she ran the shop, Arnmar renovated their new home and raised their young daughter. Two years later, they launched a small coffee shop behind the store because, in the words of Arnmar, “there wasn’t any good coffee that we liked around this area.”

Main & Mersey’s menu offerings include, lobster kani salad, left, and salmon misozuke, right.Meagan Hancock/The Globe and Mail

The coffee bar did a lot better than they expected, and so did the bakery they added in 2022, serving up treats such as cinnamon buns, lemon-curd croissants and spinach and feta rolls. Soon, she adds, “I saw how many people we turned away asking for proper food, who didn’t just want fish and chips and chowder. There was a massive gap in the food spectrum, especially when the tourists are in town.”

To fill that gap, Beadle and Arnmar knew they wanted to do something new, namely to go higher end and introduce different flavours to the town’s dining scene. They secured a bigger location just a few feet away from the furniture shop in fall, 2022, and began construction on the space.

A brand-new restaurant kitchen, a welcoming bar and an accessible washroom are all complemented by wood-topped tables, tropical plants and cozy lighting. Much of the painting and tile work was done by Beadle, Arnmar and local volunteers. And they converted the upper floor of the building into apartments, with rent offsetting part of the cost of renovations.

The interior of Main & Mersey Dining Room and Coffee Bar.Meagan Hancock/The Globe and Mail

The couple decided to bring along their pastry chef from the bakery, Aimee Corbet, and hired winemaker and mixologist, Alexandra Beaulieu, as well as a Peruvian-Japanese chef. Their Japanese-fusion menu is integral to their vision, of course, but Arnmar stresses that they’re out to do more than just serve food on plates.

“You can get a great cocktail, you can try a really amazing bottle of wine that you may not have had before. You get food that you may not have tried before, good service‚ and you’re in a beautiful space. It’s just kind of ticking the boxes.”

But inevitably, there were delays. Their grand opening was punted forward two months owing to a shortage of tradespeople in the region and because of government paperwork. In the meantime, they were on the hook for mortgage payments, construction costs and staff salaries.

And then, when opening weekend finally arrived last August, their chef made a sudden departure.

Beadle and Arnmar were faced with a new and almost impossible challenge: How do you run a restaurant without a trained chef? Fortunately, he had already trained the rest of the kitchen to prepare his menu. And Beadle stepped up to take on a job she never expected to fill as a member of the kitchen staff, doing prep for the evening, creating new menu items and training her staff. Meanwhile, Arnmar is up front, welcoming customers and greeting regulars by name.

The restaurant’s grand opening was punted forward two months owing to a shortage of tradespeople in the region.Meagan Hancock/The Globe and Mail

Opening the restaurant stretched the couple’s financial resources to the limit. The first big lifeline came from the FarmWorks Investment Co-operative, a Nova Scotia for-profit co-op that lends funds to food businesses in the province. The funding comes on the condition that the restaurant will buy from provincial producers, and serve Nova Scotia fish, meat and produce.

Beadle is on board. “The idea is we use 50 per cent locally sourced ingredients. That can be wine, that could be produce, that can be meat, that can be mushrooms or whatever. It could be distilled liquor that’s made in the province. Obviously, it’s easier in the summer months than in the winter, but we’re also doing things like pickles and other preserved ingredients. ”

Main & Mersey crowdfunded for the final push before opening day. Beadle posted an appeal on their website and received 85 per cent of the $50,000 they were seeking. “You can’t pull out once you’ve taken people’s money. It’s really impressive, that people in our community will step up like that.”

One of those community members is local Laurie-Anne Brown, who grew up in Liverpool in the 1980s when “it was a thriving paper mill town” with a bustling Main Street full of shops and restaurants.

She hopes new establishments like the Dining Room at Main & Mersey will restore “a thriving Main Street that I once knew.”

Beadle notes that the restaurant had donors from as far away as London and Toronto, but they’re counting on locals, like Brown, and residents of the province from further afield, too. “Build it and hopefully they’ll come. People already get in their car and drive an hour and a bit for our pastries so if the food is good … that’s the plan.”

 

Bad news

By Barry Rueger
Published: THIS Magazine
January/February, 2024
640 words
Read PDF.

THIS Magazine Jan/Feb 2024

One writer’s desperate howl for a good old-fashioned newspaper

WHEN I WAS 11, WE WENT ON A SCHOOL FIELD TRIP TO THE KELOWNA DAILY COURIER.

I can still remember the linotype machines and drum-shaped metal plates of text and pictures that were loaded into the giant presses to print the paper’s pages.

They gave us a still-hot copy of that day’s paper. I kept it for years, and for decades I‘ve subscribed to the local daily newspaper everywhere I’ve lived. For the past year, that’s been in Liverpool, on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. Since arriving, I’ve realized that we’re in a news desert; a place where Facebook is the beginning and end of local news. That situation grew even worse when the Liberal government enacted Bill C-18, the Online News Act.

Since August, two months after Bill C-18 received royal assent, Facebook has refused to allow users to post Canadian news stories. For Facebook’s owner, Meta, leaving entire towns and regions with no local news whatsoever is a better choice than agreeing to pay the news organizations whose work Facebook users have been reporting.

Liverpool is a place where daily newspapers really don’t exist. Outside of one store in Halifax we can’t buy a Globe and Mail out here, there are no local dailies, and the tiny weeklies are hard to find. Nova Scotia’s largest paper, the Halifax Chronicle Herald, recently stopped printing on  Mondays, and has cut back on its home delivery. Still, every now and then one of the big papers or the CBC would run a story about Liverpool, and someone would post a link to it on a local Facebook page. Now, even that isn’t possible, and in the meantime, the prolonged death of newspapers continues.

In September the Hamilton Spectator shut down its newsroom, and its owner Torstar is ceasing to print dozens of small local papers, moving them online instead. Similar shutdowns are happening in small-town British Columbia.  It seems Southern Ontario and parts of B.C. are about to become news deserts just like southern Nova Scotia. Yes, you can still subscribe to many publications online, but there is a tangible difference between holding a printed paper and reading news on a screen. The printed page establishes the trustworthiness of the news outlet. Having trained reporters and editors and a physical printing press requires an investment that almost always leads to serious journalism. The time and money spent on reporters and editors is one reason why the New York Times and the Globe and Mail are still considered reliable. These publications have a long history as trusted news sources, and still feel a duty to maintain those standards. One may not like their editorial slants, but few seriously question the quality of their reporting.

In Liverpool, on the other hand, we just suffered through nearly two months of a boil-water advisory, and unless you followed the Facebook page for Queens County you wouldn’t have known what was—or wasn’t—happening. Because there are no local reporters, there was also no one asking questions about why an entire town had no drinkable water.

Meta’s actions are not new. For decades, the handful of publishers who control almost all of our news outlets have dramatically reduced reporting staff while shrinking newspaper page counts, and at the same time have closed or merged dozens of small local papers that they’d acquired. What Nova Scotia’s South Shore is experiencing, and what southern Ontario and B.C. are about to experience, is the harsh reality of living in a place where media ceases to be the watchdog that holds governments and corporations accountable, and where there’s no trusted source for people to sort fact from fiction.

Sometime before 2000, 30 years after my field trip, I visited the Conrad Black-era Hamilton Spectator with a friend who worked there. My vivid memory is of hundreds of square meters of blue carpet – half of the giant newsroom – sitting empty of furniture.  Governments turned their heads while Black decimated newsrooms, just as they turn their heads today.

-BARRY RUEGER

Restaurant workers demand tip protection

By Barry Rueger
Published: The Media Co-op
May 29, 2024
1205 words

Tens of thousands of servers in restaurants and cafés across Canada rely on tips to survive. Restaurant front-of-house staff are almost always paid minimum wage, and the extra 15 to 20 per cent can mean the difference between paying the rent or skimping on groceries.

In an age of debit and credit cards, tipping your server almost always means tapping your card on a Stripe or Interac terminal. It’s fast and easy, and you don’t have to do mental math to figure out the tip amount. One question remains, though: do you know if your cheerful server will actually see any of that money?

The Halifax Workers’ Action Centre has made tips a focus of their work, with questionnaires and outreach to try and determine how widespread the problem of tip theft might be. “Tip theft” refers to when an employer refuses to let servers keep their tip income, sometimes by insisting that it be split with kitchen and other staff, but even worse by simply taking all of that money for themselves.

Halifax WAC organizer Syd Blum describes the challenges faced by ordinary restaurant employees. “Workers have a very difficult time accessing justice because the cost of lawyers is prohibitive. Nova Scotia is one of the very few provinces in Canada that doesn’t classify tips as wages. So workers are really in that tricky middle ground where, at the federal level, tips are considered income, but provincially they’re not protected, like wages are.”

The WAC surveyed restaurant workers in Halifax, and of more than 250 responses, nearly three-quarters had experienced some form of tip theft. According to Blum, “whether they were currently having their tips stolen, had previously worked somewhere where tips were stolen, or knew someone who was experiencing tip theft — it was widespread. And we cast a wide net, we didn’t just seek out people with experience in tip theft.”

When diners left tips in cash this was less of an issue. Now that almost all tips go through the restaurant’s electronic payment systems, it’s often the case that servers can’t even be sure what their customers left for them as tips.

Halifax WAC warns servers that employers may not pass-on all tips from Point-Of-Sale (POS) machines, or that tip-pooling with kitchen and other staff might quietly include a cut for the bosses. Other employers deduct credit card fees from tips.

One former Nova Scotia restaurant worker, Pers Turner, recalls a major food service company that owned restaurants and did catering menus, but refused to pay catering employees tips, even though they were added to client bills at the end of the day.

“For their catering staff, they did take all of the tips, and their justification was that they paid their catering staff more,” Turner says. “The bills for catering had the customers paying a gratuity, but all of that money went to the company.”

Denying tip protection

In November of 2023, that dilemma led Nova Scotia NDP MLA Kendra Coombes to introduce Bill 366, the Tip and Gratuity Theft Prevention Act. Modelled after similar Acts in other provinces, it would have protected workers’ tips from greedy employers.

A year and a half later, Nova Scotia’s Conservative government has decided not to move ahead with tip protection. Their argument, common among those who dismiss tip protection, is that “in Nova Scotia, tips are not considered wages and the Labour Standards Code does not address tip protection.”

Currently, six Canadian provinces have legislation protecting workers’ tip income. The three prairie provinces, Nova Scotia and the three northern territories do not. Most employers are happy to pass on tips to the servers who earn them, but I spent several hours scouring provincial Reddit groups across Canada, and examples appeared everywhere. The amounts lost are often relatively small, and servers are generally making close to minimum wage.

Blum says because the costs of launching legal action against an employer are often unaffordable, these thefts are just accepted as part of the job.

“The Halifax WAC exists because the cost of hiring a lawyer is prohibitive to most people — especially those making service industry wages,” she says. “We get a lot of people who were turned away from employment lawyers’ offices because they’re told the value of their claim would be far outweighed by legal fees and it’s just not worth it.”

The Canadian Revenue Agency has taken tips much more seriously. For decades, they have been known to audit restaurants to tally servers’ tips and assess whether income taxes have been paid on them. Now the CRA website is explicit in how the employer needs to track tips: “If any of your tips and gratuities are controlled by your employer, your tip income amount should already be included on your T4 slip.”

Despite Nova Scotia’s claim that tips aren’t wages, the CRA says that “in Canada, the amount you earn in tips and gratuities is considered to be income, and you must report all of it on your tax return.”

In other words, Nova Scotia will expect your server to pay provincial income tax on tip income, even though the province refuses to protect that income from employer theft.

Manitoba, which had been under Progressive Conservative rule for seven and a half years, took things one step further. The Employment Standards: An Adult EAL Curriculum Resource, a program designed to introduce Employment Standards concepts to newcomers while developing English as a second language, teaches students that, “Legally … the server’s tips belong to the employer, so the employer can take money from the server’s tips.”

Despite the 2023 election of the NDP’s Wabanakwut “Wab” Kinew, that remains provincial policy. In an email statement to The Media Co-op, Robyn Dryden, a policy analyst in the Department of Labour and Immigration, says: “The Employment Standards Code defines ‘wages’ as ‘compensation for work performed that is paid to an employee by his or her employer…’ [as] tips are paid by the customer rather than the employer, and are considered to be similar to a bonus rather than a wage.”

Helping servers directly

If you eat in restaurants on the prairies, or in Nova Scotia, you may need to take steps to ensure that your server receives the tips that you leave. One option is to return to carrying cash for tips, and leaving — or handing to them discreetly — a $10 or $20 bill at the end of dinner.

Alternatively, you can ask your server: “If I leave a tip on the terminal, who gets that money? Is it you?”

Blum encourages talking “to workers about this, especially as customers.”

“It’s one thing if an organizer comes in and starts talking about tip theft, but it’s another thing if people who are in the shop every day buying coffee or eating breakfast are having those conversations. We really encourage that,” she says.

For tips to be protected province-wide — something workers have been calling for — Blum says all it takes is a little political will.

“What’s wild about tip theft in Nova Scotia is that we’re not asking the government to create some kind of new program. We’re talking about a line on a piece of paper. It’s an amendment to legislation, so it would cost the government nothing.”

How to save a bundle on rental car insurance and make sure you are covered

By Barry Rueger
Published: Globe and Mail
March 8, 2024
1065 words
Downloadable PDF

After landing at an airport, many of us will proceed to collect our luggage and head to the car rental counter. It is there that they will invariably offer to sell you insurance.

I’ve been in this same situation countless times, but after a recent trip to Vancouver where the price of the insurance offered was more than the price to rent the car, I decided to do some digging to find out the smartest options.

Every rental will include basic liability coverage. It’s required by provincial law. But some kind of additional insurance to pay for damage to the car is a good idea. The cost to repair even small dings or a cracked windshield can quickly run into the thousands of dollars.

Accepting the offer at the counter is usually a very expensive way to get that insurance.

We recently rented a car in Vancouver from Hertz. When we made the booking on Expedia, the site offered insurance for nearly half of the price that we were going to pay for the car rental. We declined Expedia’s offer and assumed we would do better at the Hertz counter.

We were wrong. For a two-week rental of a mid-sized car, Hertz was charging us $380.72. The “loss damage waiver” it offered, covering physical damage to the car, as well as theft or vandalism, but not injuries, would have cost an additional $489.86.

We declined.

What I have learned is to plan ahead.

There are choices out there, but the time to research them is well before you book the car, not at the rental desk.

Almost every insurance option requires that you already be a customer, whether it’s your own auto insurance company, the credit card you use, or the website that you use to make travel bookings.

In our case, it turned out that Expedia would have been a better option than Hertz. If we had purchased rental insurance through Expedia, we could have bought a “travel insurance policy” for the same two-week rental for $241.80 – that’s $16.12 a day, or slightly less than half of what Hertz wanted to charge us. Even more amazing: The Expedia package includes not just collision coverage, but trip cancellation coverage, and will pay some emergency medical expenses.

If you don’t use Expedia (or similar booking websites), those rates are similar to another option called RentalCover.com, a standalone rental car insurance site that will set up your insurance prior to picking up the car. Unlike some car rental insurance policies, RentalCover will insure all drivers listed on the rental agreement as well as fees for loss of use and towing, and they’ll cover trips of more than 30 days. They’ll also cover you if you’re renting a motorhome or recreational vehicle.

In this case, while still at the rental counter, we chose to call the insurer who provides our car insurance in Nova Scotia. Our agent added rental car coverage to our existing auto policy, and assured us that we were now fully covered for an annual fee of $32 a year. That quick call saved us hundreds of dollars.

The other insurance option that is often available is though your credit card. Most major credit cards offer some form of rental car insurance as part of their package of benefits. Call your card company or visit their website ahead of time to make sure your specific card package includes this coverage.

As you’re doing this research, be sure to ask some careful questions. For instance, if you decide to accept insurance coverage from the rental company, will you still be covered by an outside insurance policy? It’s generally an either/or proposition. And you should be clear that the auto rental company might require the cardholder to pay for damages with their credit card, with your card company reimbursing you after the claim is processed.

In other words, you might find your credit card maxed out.

Beyond that, rental insurance plans all have various rules. Most companies have age restrictions. Expedia, for instance, excludes drivers under 25 years of age, or over 70. Some insurance packages exclude camper vans and the like. All of them insist that you stay on paved roads and obey rules about drinking and driving.

Before booking your rental car, look carefully to make sure that your credit card insurance includes your entire planned trip – especially if you’re travelling to more than one country – and the specific vehicle type that you hope to drive.

And if there will be more than one driver, always ask if both you and your partner are covered. Some rental car insurance packages will charge double for a second driver.

If you damage your rental car, understand that using outside insurance may leave you faced with paying the entire cost of repairs before you can claim it from your own insurance company. Hertz, for instance, is specific that if you “choose to decline Hertz’s coverage, you will be responsible to Hertz for the full value of any damage due to loss of or damage to the Hertz vehicle. If loss does occur, you must then submit a claim for reimbursement to your credit card company.”

In recent years, we’ve had to negotiate claims with both car rental companies and the company that moved our household. We’ve learned that it’s worth taking the time to document anything that might come back to haunt you. Even though you’ll be anxious to get on the road, find a well-lit spot to stop, examine the car for existing damage and take photos. If you see any sort of dings, dents or scratches, call the rental office and tell them.

And if you bring the car back, and the rental agent suddenly demand hundreds or thousands of dollars to repair damage? Always be reasonable, but never feel a rental agent’s assessment is the final word.

People make mistakes, and they especially make mistakes when examining a dirty car in a dark, underground garage. Insist that they show you exactly what they think needs repair. If you don’t believe that you caused the damage, or that the damage merits a claim, say so.

I love rental cars and the chance to drive a new make and model of car every time that I travel. Now that I understand how to manage my insurance, I’m sure my next trip will be that much more relaxing.

Bell Canada owes Canadians

By Barry Rueger
Published: Canadian Journalist.ca
February 13, 2024
1160 words

Bell Canada is set to axe 4,800 jobs, sell dozens of radio stations, cut newsrooms across Canada, and destroy CTV’s star investigative program W5.

The announcement by BCE Inc. made big news-but the real damage was done decades ago.

Canadian news has long been an expanding wasteland.

What saddens me is that government could have prevented this–and still has the power to fix it.

Full column is available at https://canadianjournalist.ca/column-bell-canada-owes-canadians/

In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair

By Barry Rueger
Photographs by Susan Evans
Published: Globe and Mail
November 17, 2023
1526 words
Downloadable PDF

24/11/2023, 18:22 In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair - The Globe and Mailhttps://www.theglobeandmail.com/drive/mobility/article-drag-racing-in-nova-scotia-is-a-family-affair/#comments 1/8
In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair
BARRY RUEGER
LIVERPOOL, N.S.
SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 17, 2023
UPDATED NOVEMBER 18, 2023
Driver Lorne Buchanan, centre, and his partner Brenda Rafuse, right, beside their methyl-hydrate burning
dragster, with writer Barry Rueger, left.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Driver Lorne Buchanan, centre, and his partner Brenda Rafuse, right, beside their methyl-hydrate burning dragster, with writer Barry Rueger, left.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

In the 1970s, back home in Kelowna, B.C., I had fantasies of becoming a race car driver. My cherry red ‘69 Dodge Charger was too fast for my own good, and speeding tickets were a regular expense. I drove fast, and I loved cars that went fast.

On the Greenfield Dragway near Liverpool, N.S., I’ve rediscovered that love of fast cars, of roaring big V8 engines, and have found one of the last places where global warming and fuel economy just aren’t on the table for discussion. It’s not that people aren’t aware of these things, or don’t care, it’s just that when you’re driving a car at 320 kilometres an hour, they really don’t enter your mind.

I’ve also found one of the few remaining places where virtually everything on wheels has a North American nameplate. In an age when the car business is global, and when electric cars are becoming more and more common, drag racing is still the domain of big-block Chrysler and Chevrolet engines, with a smattering of Fords. Even the token Volkswagen Beetle and the two Honda Civics manage to squeeze in loud and powerful Detroit engines.

At the Greenfield Dragway, which leases the little-used South Shore Regional Airport runway for several weekends each year, Noel Peach is repacking the drag chute that slowed his car at the end of his first run.

Driver Noel Peach packs his parachute. A chute is required for any car that goes faster than 150 miles anhour. Drag racing still uses imperial measurements.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Driver Noel Peach packs his parachute. A chute is required for any car that goes faster than 150 miles an hour. Drag racing still uses imperial measurements.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

It’s a tricky business, and one that benefits from a second set of hands. On this sunny October weekend, he was helped by his wife Lindsay.

Peach’s dad was a racer, too. After Noel and Lindsay met, it was natural that Lindsay became part of the race team – or more accurately, exactly one-half of the team.

Nova Scotia drag racing is still dominated – although not exclusively – by male drivers, but partners are integral members of most teams. Whether providing bookkeeping and planning skills, or hands-on maintenance and support, a lot of drivers rely heavily on their partners. (It’s a good thing Noel and Lindsay are a team in other ways, too: The couple’s home in Upper Tantallon, near Halifax, burned in the wildfires just a few months before, when they were here for another race.)

Drag racing still uses imperial measurements – a quarter-mile track is about 402 metres. Cars are measured in inches and feet, and an explanation on the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) website explains that a Top Fuel dragster “can burn up to 15 gallons of nitromethane fuel during a single run,” reaching more than 330 miles an hour. That’s more than 50 litres during a 3.7-second run at more than 530 km/h.

Peach drives a 1988 Trans Am, a car that hit 164 miles an hour on this day. He explains that even though drag racers are fierce rivals on the strip, they’re a strong community back in the pits. If you need a hand, or a part, someone will step up to sort you out.

Working together is what Peach and Lorne Buchanan of Bedford, N.S., did when it came time to upgrade their cars. Peach wanted to buy his current car from another racer, but didn’t want the engine that came with it. Buchanan’s dragster was fine but needed a new engine. Buchanan and Peach bought the white Trans Am together, and each took what they needed.

Today the two cars are parked side by side in the pits. Buchanan’s partner, Brenda Rafuse, guides the dragster into the pit, and helps him to pull off the hood covering the electronics. If you look for it, you’ll see Rafuse’s name is also painted on the side of the car.

Author Barry Rueger sitting in LorneBuchanan’s dragster.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Author Barry Rueger sitting in Lorne
Buchanan’s dragster.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

If you only have cursory knowledge of drag racing – fat tires and loud engines – you may be overwhelmed by the many classes of cars and races. The NHRA points out that there are 10 classes that feature a straightforward, heads-up race between similarly classed cars.
Two cars line up beside each other at the “Christmas tree,” watching as a sequence of
three yellow lights flashes, one after the other. When the bottom light turns green, they both take off.

At the Greenfield Dragway, things get more complicated. Cars range from full-length dragsters, to various levels of pro and super-pro cars, to what seem to be factory stock sedans. Each is assigned a handicap based on the number of seconds the weight and configuration says it should run a quarter-mile. And each car can choose to run in more than one class.

In practical terms, you usually see two cars lined up side by side, with the slower one getting the green light first.

Greenfield is still a small-town race, and spectators aren’t kept in the grandstands. You can walk up and down the pits, talk to the drivers and their teams, and take the time to marvel at the cars and the obvious pride of the people who maintain these vehicles.

Beyond the (usually) shiny paint jobs and sponsor logos, serious cars need to meet a plethora of NHRA safety rules intended to protect the drivers, crew members and spectators. In all but the slowest cars, a roll cage is required, made to specific dimensions. Safety belts are replaced every two years, and helmets and neck collars are mandatory. Faster vehicles need to add a drive shaft loop and axle retention devices, and cars that can hit 150 miles an hour must have a parachute at the back of the car.

All of this costs a lot of money, and as Fred Thibeault from Middleton, N.S., describes it, it has been many years since the winnings at a Nova Scotia race paid enough to cover what it cost to build the car. At this point, everyone is doing it for the love of fast cars and the thrill of racing.

24/11/2023, 18:22 In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair - The Globe and Mailhttps://www.theglobeandmail.com/drive/mobility/article-drag-racing-in-nova-scotia-is-a-family-affair/#comments 5/8
devices, and cars that can hit 150 miles an hour must have a parachute at the back of
the car.
All of this costs a lot of money, and as Fred Thibeault from Middleton, N.S., describes
it, it has been many years since the winnings at a Nova Scotia race paid enough to
cover what it cost to build the car. At this point, everyone is doing it for the love of
fast cars and the thrill of racing.
Fred Thibeault is a local legend, and is still racing into his 70s. His Chevrolet Camaro is a thing of beauty. The
car beside it is driven by his son.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Fred Thibeault is a local legend, and is still racing into his 70s. His Chevrolet Camaro is a thing of beauty. The car beside it is driven by his son.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Thibeault’s 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS is a shiny red thing of beauty. He has been racing this car for 34 years, and it’s obviously his pride and joy. The car is, in some ways, still stock – the same car that came off the dealer’s lot when it was purchased – but over the years it has been slowly upgraded in nearly every way allowed by the NHRA rules.

Under the hood, the car is cleaner than most kitchens. The stock 375-cubic-inch engine has been bored out, and has seen the pistons, rings and camshaft replaced or upgraded to boost performance. A dry-sump oil tank makes sure that everything stays lubricated under extreme conditions. And the transmission – well, the outside is stock Chevy, but what’s inside is another thing altogether.

Another of Thibeault’s cars is the 1989 Camaro parked right next door at the track. It’s driven this weekend by Thibeault’s son Scott. He has three sons who drive, and two are here on this cool October weekend.

The race track family goes beyond the children and spouses who are part of the teams. The 160 drivers and hundreds of family members and spectators all seem to know each other, and spend as much time socializing as they do prepping their cars for the next run.

Drag racing today is high-tech. The Christmas tree tower at the start and the photosensors at the finish line time each run and generate the printed slips that each driver picks up on the way back to the pits. Inside the cars, many of today’s dragsters rely on an electronic box to time each shift to perfection. All you need to do is steer the car for a few seconds – the computer will make sure that each shift happens at the perfect moment.

Not everyone wants such a high-tech racing experience. The head of the Greenfield Dragway Association is David Joudrey. He explains that when he’s racing his 1979 Chevrolet Nova, he’ll do so in the “non-box” class, racing against people who still shift their own gears instead of letting the “box” do it.

24/11/2023, 18:22 In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair - The Globe and Mailhttps://www.theglobeandmail.com/drive/mobility/article-drag-racing-in-nova-scotia-is-a-family-affair/#comments 7/8
Racers 'burn out' before racing to warm and clean their tires.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Racers ‘burn out’ before racing to warm and clean their tires.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

At the start line, some things haven’t changed. Once you’ve done your prerun “burn-out” to warm up your tires, and have positioned your car’s nose at the starting point, you’ll have both the brake and the throttle pushed in as the Christmas tree counts down. You want your engine revs to be as high as possible before you start moving. Your aim is to release the brake when the lights hit “1/3 yellow” – if you wait until the green light comes on, you’ve already lost.

After a day revelling in the smoke and sound of these cars, I’m sadly reminded that I hardly drive over the speed limit any longer, and that it’s been years since I even did my own oil change. My Mazda CX-5 SUV is a convenience now, not the passion that my Charger used to be.

Still, as David Joudrey reminds me, if I can borrow a helmet, and can pass the safety inspection, my Mazda and I can join them at the Greenfield Dragway next season and recapture those days of speed – though I doubt my insurance policy will allow it.

24/11/2023, 18:22 In Nova Scotia, drag racing is a family affair - The Globe and Mailhttps://www.theglobeandmail.com/drive/mobility/article-drag-racing-in-nova-scotia-is-a-family-affair/#comments 8/8
Two racers are neck and neck as they pass boards displaying their times.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Two racers are neck and neck as they pass boards displaying their times.
SUSAN EVANS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

 

 

 

 

 

Shopping for a Greener Home in France

By Barry Rueger and Susan Evans
Published: Asparagus Magazine (PDF Scan)
September 2022
1622 words

It’s been almost 10 months since we arrived in France with hopes of settling here for life. Sometimes it seems incomprehensible that we could have blithely sold up and closed down everything we had going on in Canada, and set off with two suitcases and a cat on a plane to a new life in a new country on a new continent—all taken on trust, sight unseen.

There have been waves of regret and tsunamis of self-doubt, but one thing remains constant: in almost every way, we love this new country of ours, and are resolved to take the time necessary to build a secure sense of belonging, the one missing piece of the puzzle.

For the most part, we feel, France is getting “it” right, culturally, socially, and politically. The French government assumes a position of social, national, and global responsibility that we aren’t used to, coming from a country where ecological tragedy can be brushed aside in favour of preserving a few more years of profit from oil, gas, and coal.

Yes, we all know about the mountains of paperwork and forms to fill out before anything moves forward in France. But move forward it does, logically and steadily, if maddeningly slowly. And it’s all worth it in the end, because we reap the benefits of belonging to a system that’s “doing it right.”

From the moment we arrived here—despite all the difficulties of language and not knowing a soul here—we felt supported. Moving through different government departments, we encountered a rational, thoughtful, unrushed way of doing things, and received help from government staff every step of the way.

We soon began the process of purchasing a house in Alençon—a small municipality in Normandy, about 200 km southwest of Paris—and found ourselves navigating a universe of carefully planned regulations and funding programs aimed at making French homes warmer, greener, and more comfortable. And it is heartening that these programs are designed specifically to benefit average working people, and not just well-heeled home renovators.

When looking at heating choices in Canada, our Vancouver homeowner brains were wondering: “If we can’t use gas for heating and hot water, what’s left? And if it’s electricity, isn’t it expensive? And how about the ecological and environmental costs of generating electric power?”

In France there are many more central-heating-system options than are commonly available to Canadian home-owners. Examples include heat pumps, condensing boilers, wood-pellet or “biomass” burners, and solar-powered heating. Many are more eco-friendly than gas or oil, and more economical to run. But what makes them even more attractive are the generous government subsidies that can cover up to 100% of the costs of upgrading.

In Canada we tend to focus on automobile emissions and power generation as key areas to reduce carbon emissions. But according to a 2020 European Commission report, “Buildings are particularly energy-intensive, accounting alone for almost 45% of final energy consumption and 25% of greenhouse-gas emissions in France… [And] 7 million dwellings are poorly insulated and almost 4 million households struggle to pay their bills or deprive themselves of heating.”

From the beginning of July 2022, homeowners in France were prohibited from installing a new oil-fired furnace, and owners of new homes were prohibited from installing gas heating. The government of France declared that new installations of equipment for heating buildings or water must fall below a conservative greenhouse gas emission ceiling. Meaning you won’t be allowed to install an oil, gas, or coal-fired heating appliance except in exceptional circumstances.

The house of our dreams was a big 18th-century mansion with many floors, many rooms, fireplaces, and a lovely setting in the middle of Alençon. It was a two-minute walk from the historic round Halle au Blé, from our favourite sidewalk bistro, and from a great boulangerie (bakery). Lovely though it was, we faced the challenges common to owning houses built two or three centuries earlier: as well as the expected renovation of wooden floors and 300-year-old walls and ceilings, we would be facing bills for heating and energy-use very near the top of the chart.

Those gigantic fuel bills, and our general concern for reducing our own contributions to climate warming, made it obvious that we would have to spend many thousands of euros to bring the house up to something approaching 21st-century energy efficiency. We eventually decided against purchasing this house, but first we had a chance to explore what that process might look like.

In France, home buyers are very well protected. They’re given a wealth of information about the house that they hope to buy, and everyone involved takes the concept of vices cachés (“hidden defects”) very seriously. These can include everything from structural issues, to neighbouring development projects, to troublesome neighbours. And work done on the house, whether by a professional or a well-meaning do-it-yourselfer, is subject to a 10-year period of warranty called une garantie décennale.

In Canada, when you purchase a house you’ll sign a sales contract that might run five to 10 pages long. If you’re lucky, there may be a home inspection report as well, but it’s often a case of “buyer beware.” In France, you’ll be reading and initialling every page of a document well in excess of 100 pages, and sometimes much more than that.

As well as telling you everything you don’t want to know about the structure, the roof, and the presence of asbestos or lead paints, it will outline in detail how energy efficient the house is. It is government-mandated that you be told where your heating efficiency lies on a scale from an excellent A to a very sorry G, and how many CO2 emissions your home will generate over a year, also measured on a scale from A to G. Every real estate listing also includes the charts showing these ratings.

Fortunately, the French government also is very generous in helping homeowners improve both of these numbers. Depending on the project, the government will pay up to 100% of the costs of an upgrade, but the specific amounts depend on several factors. First, household income, and the number of people in residence. Unlike in Canada—where equivalent funding programs only look at how much is being spent—the funding available is much greater for homeowners with less income. Second, the extent of the improvement provided by the upgrade: Will your efficiency move from the bottom-most F or G levels to something in the middle, or will you reach the topmost A or B levels?

All of this work begins at the MaPrimeRénov website where homeowners can apply for funding to replace old heating systems, insulate their homes, and replace aging windows with new triple-glazed ones. There is also funding available for solar and geothermal heating, and for other ventilation improvements. The funding process is complex, but if you’re a homeowner, it’s too generous to ignore.

One of the biggest expenses we looked at would be a new furnace. The quote for that was approximately €20,000 (about US$20,000).  If we had purchased the house, we could have received significant financial assistance for a more sustainable form of heating. As well as exchanging the old furnace for a new heat-pump, pellet-burning, or geothermal unit, we also could have applied for funding to cover some or all of the other improvements listed above. We’re advised that we would have saved at least 60% of our household fuel bills.
To be funded, all of this work has to be completed by a professional installer: do-it-yourself tinkerers need not apply. And landlords must promise that the home will remain a tenant’s principal residence for at least five years after the work is finished—an Airbnb property won’t get the subsidy.

There are also programs to offer zero-interest bank loans to homeowners doing energy improvement work, through a program called éco-PTZ. Works that can be paid for with these loans include: roof, wall, window, and door insulation, and installation of renewable-powered heating. One of the benefits of taking out an éco-PTZ  loan is that there is no requirement to demonstrate income levels to support it. You must simply be the property owner.

From this September, anyone who wants to sell a property that is ranked in the F or G categories will also need to pay for an audit énergétique—a far more precise measure that aims to inform future buyers not only of their likely energy bills—but also of the cost of renovations needed to make the property fall into the B class. And in July, the new laws made it illegal for landlords to increase the rent of properties with ratings of F or G, and illegal to rent them out full-stop from 2025.

Living in North Vancouver, we were always made to feel guilty for the less-than-ideal environmental choices we’d made. Even when alternatives weren’t offered, were beyond our means, were untenable because of our age or situation, or, at best, were incredibly difficult and time-consuming to achieve. In France, it feels like the powers that be are truly helping citizens change their habits and lower their impacts.

When we finally find our new house in France, multiple financial incentives will make it much easier for us to renovate or replace inefficient heating systems, poor insulation, or draughty windows. The French government uses financial aid as a carrot incentive to encourage us to improve our home’s energy efficiency. There is no punitive stick of guilt or financial loss if we don’t have the means to pay. What our new government understands is that we won’t solve the climate crisis by only handing money to corporations. It’s often a much better investment to help individuals and families to make their houses green.

 

Save lives, money and reduce pollution: Why roundabouts are a solution for every city

Published: Globe and Mail
May 7, 2022
920 words

Round-aboutCOVID-19 restrictions are disappearing and France is expecting another one million Canadians to visit the country this year. Many will arrive after a lengthy flight, collect their luggage and clear customs at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, then climb into a rental car. Minutes later, they’ll suddenly find themselves immersed in a stream of French drivers circling around a traffic circle or rond-point. And once they’ve escaped that first traffic circle, they’ll immediately find themselves in a second, and a third, and in all likelihood, yet another.

Welcome to France, and the first of more than 30,000 traffic circles, the multilane roundabouts that challenge visiting drivers to learn new rules, new signs, a new language. They also provide no chance whatsoever to just stop and figure out where you’re going.

It is an item of faith in France that the roundabout was invented in Paris in 1907. The goal of its creator, the architect and urban planner Eugène Hénard, was to better manage the horse-and-carriage traffic throughout Paris. His first roundabout was at Place de l’Étoile in Paris, (since renamed Place Charles-de-Gaulle) where multiple lanes of circulating cars, motorbikes, vans and buses still circle around the Arc de Triomphe.

More specifically, these drivers battle for supremacy over 12 unmarked traffic lanes where cars entering the circle from the right have priority over everyone else. The result is legendary chaos and massive traffic jams.

Regardless of where traffic circles were invented, it was in Britain, not France, where they first became popular, with an explosion of construction in the 1950s and 60s, and a rethinking of how they functioned. It was the British who decided that incoming traffic should yield to those already on the circle. It was the success of this improvement that led to the adoption of the new British design in France.

The first French version of the “English roundabout” was opened in 1976 in Quimper, near Brittany’s Atlantic coastline. The rond-point’s official entry into the French Highway Code happened in 1983, the same year that decentralization moved much of town planning to local governments.

These town and village governments embraced the roundabout with enthusiasm. Since gaining popularity in the 1980s and 90s in France, roundabouts have been adopted in every corner of the country. And civic pride has led to another French tradition: the sculptures placed in the middle of the traffic circles. From the beautiful to the bizarre, these emblems of local pride have not only become important landmarks for lost tourists, but have led to websites, documentaries and Pinterest groups celebrating – or mocking – these roadside artworks.

The modern rules for French roundabouts are simple: Entering traffic must yield to the vehicles already circling. Once you’ve entered, keep to the inside, left-hand lane, with your left-hand-turn signal activated. Once you approach your exit, switch your signal to the right and move to the outside, right-hand lane, then exit. For drivers used to traffic lights and street corners, it can be nerve-racking to figure out which of the three, four, or even five exits you want, before you can change lanes and escape.

All of this happens while you’re watching both rear view mirrors and trying to spot a directional sign that almost never matches what your GPS is telling you. Having a spouse to act as navigator is a big help. (My wife Susan says that depends on which spouse is providing the navigation.)

Roundabouts aren’t just another French oddity – they’re actually a solution to a few problems that are faced by every town and city.

They completely eliminate stop-and-go traffic. Instead of dozens of cars sitting with their engines pumping out exhaust fumes at every red light, traffic moves constantly into and out of intersections. And because they do away with the need for stop lights or advanced left-turn signals, infrastructure maintenance costs are dramatically reduced. For small towns and villages, this saving is a valuable advantage.

Most importantly, though, roundabouts turn out to offer significant advantages in traffic safety. Every car entering a traffic circle has to slow down, so cars, trucks and buses move more slowly than usual. There are no red lights, so there are no drivers who accelerate through the intersection on a yellow. Deadly 90-degree collisions are a rarity in France. And because everyone moves in a counter-clockwise direction, and exits to the right, there’s little chance of cars appearing out of nowhere from your blind spot.

The result, according to a 2018 report by the European Commission, which examined 44 studies where junctions where converted to roundabouts, is a 41-per-cent reduction in traffic accident injuries and a 65 per cent reduction in fatal accidents.

In addition, a World Economic Forum report from December found the United States is saving lives and energy costs by replacing lights with roundabouts. It also notes that France has by far the most roundabouts per capita, about double the number per capita of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“Here’s a controversial idea that turns conventional thinking about road safety on its head: traffic lights cause accidents, increase pollution and we’d be better of without them,” starts the report.

Still, when your jet-lagged self is suddenly dealing with multiple roundabouts, you’ll appreciate the two big secrets to manoeuvring around them. First, it’s okay to circle two or even three times until you know where you’re going. Second, in the event you take the wrong exit, in all likelihood there’s another roundabout just ahead, so it’s easy to double back to where you got it wrong.

How to Move Abroad and Keep Earning Money

Published: Real Simple Magazine
May 17, 2021
1176 words

For many of us, the pandemic years of 2020-2021 have wildly changed how we approach work and earning. Maybe you’ve gone fully remote and want to stay that way; maybe you’re planning a semi-retirement that involves downsizing just how much work you do. Maybe, like me, you’re making a long-held dream of moving to another country a reality. But if you’re emigrating and planning to earn money in a new country, things can get complicated fast, especially where taxes and work visas are concerned.

My wife and I are preparing to move to France this year; the selling price of our Vancouver home will buy us a lovely rural property in the Dordogne, with money left over. Although yes, we could just live off the proceeds of this sale, we both really want to keep working—me as a writer, my wife as a pianist and teacher.

Here’s how we’re planning to make the move across the globe, downsize our working lives somewhat, and yet still earn money in a foreign country in our semi-retirement.

(full article)