Big Day Downtown (Part 5)

FEATURE IMAGE: Christopher Hemsworth, Halifax SUP Background Art

The Downtown Halifax Business Commission (DHBC) has a mandate to improve conditions, advocate business and consumer needs, and keep the core of Halifax on the map. I recently moved to Dartmouth, but still do the majority of my work and occasional play here. Gosh, you should see the view!

DHBC’s Big Day Downtown is an ongoing series of programs and contests and my favourite part is when they invest in writers to spend money downtown and share their experiences. There is always a catch, and these year it focused on crowdsourcing ways to spend the money. I may not have asked outright, but I do that on a regular basis. So much so, I can’t recall the last time I have actually had an original thought online. I’m reading about and noting new businesses in Halifax from tidbits of evidence I find in the Herald, All Nova Scotia, CBC, Metro, and The Coast. I look around and notice new closed and open signs in windows. I listen to what people say about their experiences and always like to hear a good tip. Like, “Oh wow, the guy that owns the bar and does the booking says it will be great!” or “Hey, a jerk is complaining about getting bad service from a place that opened too soon.” I also (mostly just) retweet as The Dingler, so I enjoy thinking about the Haligonian relevance of things online without all my non-local personal interests mucking up the stream.

When I think of “People’s Choice”, I have mixed feelings and then focus in on my own taste, experience, and how it may mesh with my community. I immediately recalled what the best selling grocery non-perishable by units or the best selling grocery non-perishable by total sales dollars in Nova Scotia were (questions and answers courtesy of Halifax Retales). I come in and out of phase with fools but my opinion on the popularity or rarity of something rarely makes me feel like a genius. Keeping things subjective while trying to support a good effort by others, a sensible budget, and my own personal integrity is an ongoing battle.

I glanced at The Coast Reader’s Best of Halifax, but still had no inspiration. I thought about spending the money meeting with various people over a bunch of coffee breaks to make the plan, but wasn’t sure if needed any more democratic process in my life. Anyone can follow me on Twitter or Instagram. A step closer is the illusion of reciprocity I get from my Facebook friends and LinkedIn colleagues. Pinterest still skew towards cut-and-paste magazine imagery. I feel too old on Tumblr. Swarm/Foursquare tracks my whereabouts. Google+? Ha ha ha. Don’t even get me started. Old fashioned Blogging? Well, here we are.

Since squeaky wheels get the grease, I spoke with my daughter Rowan, one of the squeakiest wheels I know. We decided to take the day between summer camp and grade three starting to hit the streets. Armed with a vague sense of self-gratification, time (and $150) to burn, plus our appetite for slightly new experiences and old comforts gave us our story.

Starting with parking, which is never really as much of an issue when you realize you have to pay and walk. Metered versus garage? Street versus indoor? Uphill versus downhill? Whatever your criteria, there is a spot for you. Choice: Provincial Law Courts.


This small shop in the Historic Properties stands out (especially to my daughters), amongst the shiny and wooden items of its neighbours. It’s filled with locally made and imported items but the influence is heavily Japanese, fantastical, cute, and pastel colours. We ended up with a couple blue and pink hand fans, but there are lots of options for gifts, stationary, and other gateway tchotchkes into another dimension.


View this post on Instagram

Oatmeal Raisin cookie #bigdaydowntown

A post shared by Iain K. MacLeod (@boostventilator) on

A massive oatmeal raisin cookie, a large chocolate mocha, and a bag of freshly roasted, whole Anchored coffee beans. This was definitely the “comfort” section of our day. File TIBS under great coffee and baked goods. It made the rest of day possible.


View this post on Instagram

No Baked Potato #bigdaydowntown

A post shared by Iain K. MacLeod (@boostventilator) on

I was curious to try the baked potatoes from this newly relocated cupcake store, but no luck. Onward and upward! Let me know if you get a chance!


View this post on Instagram

Ko-Doraku Sushi Special #bigdaydowntown

A post shared by Iain K. MacLeod (@boostventilator) on

Rowan wasn’t hungry at this point and I had missed lunch, so I went with the sushi combo. This location is in Purdy’s Landing and offers reasonably priced, fast, and quality sushi lunches. And stamps for frequent shoppers. This is the kind of fast food that doesn’t punish you afterward.

View this post on Instagram

Staring Contest

A post shared by Iain K. MacLeod (@boostventilator) on


View this post on Instagram

Nun & Communion #bigdaydowntown

A post shared by Iain K. MacLeod (@boostventilator) on

How could we not go here, right? This is Halifax’s premier candy store (now, a chain that reaches out into Calgary, Montreal, Saint John and St. John’s). We were tempted by the massive gummy bear and gummy worm, but stuck with a folded pagoda food pail filled with Rowan’s favourite treats. I found something with dark chocolate and coconut. Oh, and two Pez dispensers. C3P0 for Rowan and one of the member’s of the Hello Kitty extended family for her sister Kenna.


Suffering from recent bad news of a sudden street closure, my sympathies (and a chunk of change) went out to the Inkwell Boutique. They were having a free-with-purchase Emma Fitzgerald bag promo and I filled it with some paper dolls by Briana Corr Scott (a selkie and a fairy) and a salt cod print from Lunenburg’s Kat Frick Miller.

View this post on Instagram

Boring is Best

A post shared by Iain K. MacLeod (@boostventilator) on


Art! DeSerres has a lot of options and tools and toys. For the budding artist to the professional. It is a fun place to browse, but an even better place to stock up. And sometimes there are sales. Check out these Faber Castell Watercolour pencils, for instance. Rowan has lots of ideas on how to spend the money, but we stuck with those and some watercolour paper.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Iain K. MacLeod (@boostventilator) on

We had some time to kill, and the Discovery Centre is a regular stop if you have kids (especially when it rains).

Digestion #hyperlapse

Thanks again to the DHBC for making this happen and caring so much about our city and the people that live and work within it. It takes a village to build this city on rock and roll.

My previous Big Days Downtown:


Charting Population in Canada

A couple months ago, some population statistics popped up (Everyone knows rural Canada’s population is tanking. Except it’s not. | Contrarian) in an interesting graph:


However, the raw numbers of rural Canadians is actually increasing:

Canada’s rural population has been rising quite steadily since 1851. True, the increase has levelled off over the last two decades, but so has the decline in our share of Canada’s total population…our influence and political power? That has indeed been falling. Which may be why urban statisticians could publish such a misleading chart. – Parker Donham


This new chart, however, does not explain the struggling political influence and diminishing power of rural Canada compared to urban Canada. Zoom out a little, without truncating the axis or omitting data sets, and you can see what is actually going on:

Graph of rural vs urban Canadian population

Miss (or missed?) Mister Show

Do you know about Mr. Show with Bob and David? I was lucky enough to catch it before it was cancelled from HBO, I waited patiently for the DVD sets to be released, and then followed along as David Cross and Bob Odenkirk made names for themselves as Tobias Fünke (Arrested Development) and Saul Goodman (Breaking Bad). Here they are appearing on The Daily Show on September 11, 2013:

The full episode is available on Comedy Network.

Some times you come across a show that is ahead of it’s time. That is true of Mr. Show (“At Least A Dozen Mr. Show Skits That Became Reality”) but it also comes from a rich history of top-notch sketch comedy, from Monty Python to the Kids in the Hall. You may recognize some of the cast and guests like Sarah Silverman, Paul F. Tompkins, Jack Black, Tom Kenny, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Brian Posehn, Jerry Minor, Scott Aukerman, and Dino Stamatopoulos.

You can pretty much skip Run Ronnie Run. It is a rare case where the outtakes are far superior to the actual finished movie. If you are new to all of this, here are three amazing sketches that might spark your own interest:

The Audition

Young People & Companions

Pre-taped Call in Show

Note: These three skits in particular are from the mind of Dino Stamatopoulos, comedy writer, creator of Morel Orel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole, and Starburns (Community).

Also, Bob and David are plugging a new book:

Big Day Downtown 2013 (Part Four)

I live in the North End and work near the Halifax waterfront, and explore downtown as a regular part of my life. I wasn’t born here but it is definitely my home. I spent the last couple years using Downtown Halifax Business Commission’s Big Day Downtown as opportunity to let my daughters have a bit of input in all the fun and spending. This year, I added a healthy dose of “self” awareness. Not to say my girls are spoiled (they are) or that we don’t have fun downtown (we do), but this was a chance for me to move outside of my comfort-zone by treating myself like I actually have a comfort-zone and decided to try out a couple new and fun things for me.

To kick things off, I was invited to the launch at Noble, an amazing sub-terreanian (beneath The Middle Spoon) speak-easy specializing in Great Depression era cocktails that are accessible by secret password only. I was asked to randomly select three cards from a large bowl and was left holding Dramatic, Exotic, and Happy as ways to experience <a href="downtown Halifax.

The first challenge? Parking. Definitely a contentious issue but never an area of stress for me personally. My usual plan is to find my destination and then drive in concentric circles until I can squeeze into a spot. Usually, this is after 6pm or on the weekends, so I don’t worry about scrounging for change for the old-school meters. If you are looking to take in as much of the downtown as possible, you don’t need to park outside of every place you visit. The answer came at $8 a day and a couple blocks from Scotia Square; Centennial Pool. Not technically downtown, but definitely close enough for you to get there on foot. Also, don’t forget there are “lots” of other parking options plus other smart options outside of driving a car downtown

The next challenge? Activating my $150 RBC Pre-paid Visa.


Besides Neptune, Halifax Feast, and Grafton Street Dinner Theatre, I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach this category. I was lucky to be smack in the middle of the 23rd Atlantic Fringe Festival which provides heaps of drama, comedy, musicals, and magic from a wide array of talented people. I choose Tara Thorne’s re-staging of her 2007 Law & Order: Musical Victims Unit play. It is a tribute to the Dick Wolf institution, playfully recasting the cliches and stereotypes as only a true fan can do. Plus, with an added layer of “cop rock”. How can you go wrong? Hint: you can’t, it was a great time and you only have to heed this warning:


Depending on where your mind may wonder when faced with the thought of something exotic (really depends on whether you are a Venus Envy or a Night Magic type of gal or guy), we are lucky enough to have many diverse options downtown. I didn’t go down that road per se, but I opted with the more traditional definition and focused on goods imported from far “away”.

Just down from the Cogswell Interchange, RCHMND (1876 Hollis St) is a men’s clothing store that is all class and home to the latest styles from Gitman Vintage, Norse Projects, United Stock Dry Goods, and many more. I picked up an item that is part of my arsenal of office supplies, a pack of Fields Notes Brand notepads. They had the limited edition “County Fair” additions and, maybe I am stretching “exotic” a little, but I went with Oregon. It is home to Portland, after all.

Field Notes

I swung by Two If By Sea (1869 Upper Water St), aka TIBS, and grabbed a freshly roasted bag of their El Salvador, Monte Ray Anchored Coffee beans (a hint of blackberry, dark chocolate, and dried fruit) to bring home for burr grinding and drinking black or bullet proofed. Importing from Dartmouth is pretty exotic, right?

Anchored Coffee

Chocolate By Design (1360 Lower Water St) provided me with the energy needed from a double mocha to keep going and I went with a $10 sampling of some of their best dark gourmet Belgium chocolate.

Choco by Design

Other potential exotic options that cross my mind:


A quick, easy, and happy lunch in the food court was next: Kebab Kitchen’s (5201 Duke St) Special mezze plate which is an affordable and delicious mix of dips (hummus), cheese (halumi), falafel, grape leaves, and pita plus a 480 mL Green Hornet from Booster Juice, which is a blend of carrots, celery, spinach, and parsley. It only (!) has 16g of sugar, but I dare you to look up what your seleced smoothie has, because it looks like that lowest you can go there.

I’m a pretty happy guy by nature, but I’m also a non-drinker. How can that be? That’s a long story, but I thought about the idea of dipping my toe in the sea of alcohol and throught this would be an interesting way to start. I walked to Bishop’s Cellar (1477 Lower Water St) and got a staff member to unofficially walk me through a basic version of Red and White Wine 101. I learned about dry, sweetness, regions, grapes, and the term fruit-forward. I had tons of options and ended up playing it safe and relatively inexpensive with Adolia Valpolicella and Caposaldo Pinot Grigio, both from Italy.

Wine from Bishop's Cellar

I also would check out the following for:

R.I.P Jay Smith (1978-2013)

“Please take care of me.” – found this ~10 years ago on our doorstep when Jay Smith moved out from neighbouring apartment

A photo posted by Iain K. MacLeod (@boostventilator) on Mar 28, 2013 at 3:31am PDT


James Joseph ‘Jay’ Smith

Jay Smith of Rock Ranger once went six months without electricity last year.

Update: Benefit Concert in Halifax, Nova Scotia (7-APR-13)

Update 2: Benefit Concert in Sydney, Nova Scotia (8-APR-13)

Update 3: Rock Ranger albums available here.

#bigdaydowntown Part 3: This Needn’t Stop

In the bag(s)

The 2012 edition of Downtown Halifax Business Commission’s (DHBC) Big Day Downtown introduced a playful twist in order to facilitate (or force, for the agoraphobic at heart) bloggers to step-up the “social” in social media. Names were drawn at a reception at the wonderful Morris East and I was partnered with The Internet’s own Joel and Sylvia from the collaborative pop-culture-athon known as This Needs to Stop (Looking for a place to start? Try the Comprehensive Review of Fifty Shades of Grey). The idea of mashing-up writers was a lot easier to get behind than the thought of me spawning a third child to properly continue my series.

Was I about to awkwardly dive into a brave new world of fashion, food and drink? Or would I bore them tears with the latest advances in consumer electronics, web standards and must-have apps? Luckily we found a secure middle ground. I would bring Rowan, a 6-year-old proxy of the wants and desires of the youth of today and we would invest the $200 in an array of gifts for children in need this upcoming holiday season. We were guided by a few simple rules; toys had to be battery-free and, most importantly, be super fantastic.

I tried to get a midi version of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love Of All” to autoplay in order to elicit the proper amount of emotion, but you will just have to hum along in your head.


We met at The Uncommon Group’s Carbonstok (1235 Barrington St, +1(902)404-7288) in the self-proclaimed SoMo sector of downtown. The place is full of unique, unusual and clever gift ideas. Where else could I find a massive cardboard buffalo head for my dad last Christmas? Several moments passed being confounded by various wooden brain teasers from the Toymaker of Lunenburg. Not only was this a great start to a big day downtown, but October 20th marked Canada’s first Small Business Saturday. This meant no tax at Carbonstok, extending our financial reach a step further.

LEGO Friends

We strolled down to The Discovery Centre’s Discovery Shop (1593 Barrington St, +1(902)492-4422) and were treated to more accidental savings. Due to an update of exhibits at the Discovery Centre, all the Dinosaur toys were marked 50% off. There were a lot of choices to be made, leaning heavily towards experimental, observational and “some assembly required”. Rowan was blown-away by the effect of 3D glasses…even without having any corresponding 3D-ready images to look at.


Lizard Egg

Sea Monkeys

The last stop was DeSerres (1546 Barrington St, +1(902)425-5566), where Rowan spent some time testing out various markers and art supplies. The toys and children’s craft section is very impressive, covering a wide-range of tastes and skill levels.

Sparkle Bands

We approached our goal of $200 within a couple hours and with $1.75 to spare. 14 items were purchased in total, though many more were fondled, test-driven and left-behind for another day.

The last step takes place on Saturday, November 17, 2012 at 17th Annual Chronicle Herald Holiday Parade of Lights. The MacLeod-Lewis clan will be bundling up, as usual, as heading down to the event and eagerly handing over to the Empire Theatres Toy Drive. A new family tradition has been born!

The Goods

See also: This Needs to Stop: Big Day Downtown!