Monday, September 5, 2011

Nova Scotia National Historic Site #14: Akins House

This small cottage on Brunswick Street, in North End Halifax, was the home of Thomas Beamish Akins. Built in the 1790s, T.B. Akins' house is the oldest dwelling in Halifax.

Thomas Beamish Akins was born on February 1, 1809, in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. His mother died when he was 10 days old, after which time he moved to Halifax and was there raised by his mother's family. Akins went on to become a relatively successful lawyer with his cousin, Beamish Murdoch, but neither married or exhibited any interest in public or political matters. He never once ventured outside Nova Scotia.

Akins did, however express a keen interest in history. He entered a contest and won a silver medal from the Halifax Mechanics' Institute for his 1838 "Essay on the Early History of Halifax." Although, his essays were apparently rather boring, they did rely heavily on "primary sources" which still makes them useful to this day. In 1882 Akins was made president of the Nova Scotia Historical Society

In 1811, Sir George Prevost complained to the Provincial Assembly of Nova Scotia that its public records were "in a ruinous state." However, it would take numerous government bunglings before something was finally done about it (are you surprised?) Opposition member, Joseph Howe, distressed by the rapidly decaying condition of the records, moved in 1851 that the province do something to examine, preserve and arrange the documents. Enter Thomas Akins, who agreed to become the first ever provincial Commissioner of Public Records in Canada, for any province, on May 29, 1857.

This was an important moment in Canadian history, since the creation of the Nova Scotia provincial archives predated that of the Dominion's archives by fifteen years. Furthermore, there would not be a second provincial archive created until Ontario established its own in 1903. Thanks to some rare political forward thinking, Nova Scotia now enjoys one of the most complete sets of public records in the country.

Akins maintained his position faithfully for 34 years until his death in 1891. Upon passing away, Akins bequeathed his entire, substantial personal collection to the provincial archives.

For more information on Thomas Beamish Akins, please refer to his biography, here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

2011 Halifax International Busker Festival, Part 2 - My Favourite Acts

With over 30 different acts, ranging from mime to acrobatics, and from dance to magic, the EP Reader with a tight schedule might have wondered what would have been the best acts to see? That's a great question, and while I thought all of the performers were great, there were four that really stuck out in my mind as having been "must see!"

1) FlameOz, England

Originally formed in Australia in 2002, FlameOz is a unique entertainment company that blends its awe-inspiring fire show with the energy and flare of the circus. FlameOz won the Metro People's Choice Award two years in a row, in 2009 and 2010, and they were back again this year with two completely new shows (one for the day, and a night time version as well).

(When FlameOz flat-packed its Swedish team-mate, Thomas, in from IKEA, he had to be re-assembled by hand. Unfortunately, the other members put his arms on backwards.)

(The amazing Satya, standing on Ms. Gracie's shoulders, spinning three hoops...)

(... And then tossing all of them on to Dmitri in one shot.)

(Gracie, doing a straddle lever on Satya's back, while Dmitri and Dangerous Dave look on. Oh yeah, and they have flaming torches on their heads too.)

(Dangerous Dave figures he'll have a go, as well, and lifts four people. Thomas' legs are hooked around Dave's waist, and he's sticking up out of the front like a larger version of Kuato from Total Recall.)

(Everyone's favourite FlameOz show is the one they put on at night. They're worth seeing in action, so click here to watch a video clip from the 2009 show.)

(It's a low quality picture, because it's taken from afar, but here you can see Satya and Ms. Gracie spinning flaming hula-hoops of death, during the All-Star show.)

2) ILLMask/ILL-Abilities, All Over.

Consisting of two BBoy teams (break dancing), of seven people total, representing as many different countries, ILLMask/ILL-Abilities was by far the most inspirational show of the festival.

Ill-Abilities was formed by Luca "Lazylegz" Patuelli, to destroy the common misconceptions surrounding people perceived to have a "disability," and to show the world that anything is possible and that when you make no excuses, you have no limits.

(A Thalidomide baby, Sergio David Miranda Carvajal a.k.a "BBoy Checho," was born with severely effected lower limbs. His dance style involves a lot of upper body strength, and he often appears to be "floating" in the air. Here you can see him doing a move called "What Your Man Can't Do." In his home country of Chile, Sergio is a freelance electrician.)

(Living in San Francisco, California, Tommy Ly a.k.a. "BBoy Tommy Guns" was diagnosed at 18 year-old with osteosarcoma - having a malignant bone tumour - in his right knee. He was given the choice between a prosthetic bone implant and amputation. Tommy chose the amputation because it would allow him to continue with high level dance and physical activity.)

(Luca "Lazylegz" Patuelli is a Concordia University (Marketing) graduate from Montreal. Born with arthrogryposis, a condition affecting the bones which causes stiffness of the joints in the body, and in his case causing weak calf muscles. Luca believes any dance move that can be performed on the ground, can be performed on crutches.)

ILLMask is a combination of two separate dance teams, and also includes Luca "Lazylegz" Patuelli. Three of its members came along with Ill-Abililities to Halifax to help with the show.

(Some of the stunts that they performed seemed to defy physics.)

(And some of them just looked painful.)

(Bonus shot: Lazylegz and Checho perform the two-man, two-arm float. They actually perform a stunt later in which both men support each other on just one arm. It sounds difficult and looks even harder.)

3. Lords of Strut, Ireland.

Blending "pop, dance, and entertainment, into circus, acrobatics and comedy," Famous Seamus and Seantastic are the two members of Ireland's "hardest working man band." They provide a high-energy comedy-acrobatics show, that contains equal parts break dancing, contortion, acrobatic ladder and acrobalance (you'll see). Poking fun at celebrity culture, Sean and Seamus definitely put the theatre back in street theatre.

While I borrowed much of that above paragraph from Lords of Strut's official website, I'm being 100% sincere when I say Lords of Strut, more than anything, is perhaps the single greatest health care return on investment ever made by Ireland. This award winning show is supported by the Irish government and provides a nearly non-stop 45 minutes of laughter, mirth and joy.

Since, "laughter is the best medicine," and a University of Maryland study found that people who laugh are 40% less likely to have heart disease, it stands to reason logically that this relatively tiny investment in culture by the Irish government must be saving its country millions of dollars annually in health care costs. The Canadian government is welcome to take notice and make the appropriate changes to its fiscal policy any time now.

(During the show, Sean and Seamus notice a tourist in the audience with a camera and stop to get some free publicity and exposure in the Salem, Massachusetts area...)

(...Then they decide to have their picture taken in "the crazy pose.")

(They do eventually get around to dancing, but Sean has some trouble with his back spin and needs Seamus to come help him.)

(Why is Famous Seamus so mad? Perhaps it's because "you didn't see his brother, Seantastic, lift him up in the air, with one hand, by his ass!")

(Now Seamus is upset because Sean is ruining his "ladder dance" by standing in front of him.)

(Sean gets a solo too, with his "ring piece," which he'll eventually fit his whole body through. This joke works much better in Ireland, as I think there is something lost in translation when it comes across the Atlantic Ocean.)

(Toward the end of every show three unsuspecting men get dragged out of the audience to become part of Lords of Strut's back-up dance team. Together they are called the Strut-a-lites.)

(The finale though, is this stunt. They are the only two-man man band currently performing this move. And yes, that is a man standing on another man of roughly equal weight's head.)

4. Throw2Catch, Montreal

A professional circus group that typically does paid shows on cruise ships or in theatres, last year three of the members, Jean-Philippe, Nicolas and Sam, created a street show they planned to perform three times. They received so many calls after those three performances - from festivals booking their act - that this summer JP, Nico, and Sam, along with their dog "Salto", have driven over 7000 km back and forth across Eastern Canada, in a converted, old mini-school bus, to entertain their adoring fans. "Success!"

(Never ones to take themselves too seriously, Nico holds the "hot hot hot" hoop of fire in one hand, while he taunts JP The Lion to jump through it.)

(In the words of Ringmaster Sam, "Suc-cess!")

(They don't just have a good sense of humour though, the boys also have some serious juggling skills.)

(Here, Nico and Sam juggle the razor sharp swords of death, while JP does a "salto" over seven members of the audience and lands between them.

(Nico performs on the Cyr Ring, that we first saw at the Tattoo. He also seems to be losing his clothes. The woman in the front row, on the right, doesn't seem too upset though.)

(In perhaps the most dangerous part of the routine, JP gets ready to be launched into the air from the Russian Bar and do a double back flip.)

(You didn't believe me, did you? That bar is only 3 inches wide, and believe-it-or-not he's going to come down and land on it safely.)

(Let's face it though, the real reason you all came here is to see JP do a back flip through this burning ring of fire - it's real this time.)

(JP readies himself for certain death, while Nico and Sam prepare to step off the ladder of doom onto the teeter-board of terror.)


Well, EP Readers, I hope you enjoyed this year's EP Review of the 25th Halifax International Busker Festival. Remember though, when you're donating to street performers who have dedicated upwards of 18 years to their craft so that you can be awed and entertained, if you can't buy anything with it, neither can they.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

2011 Halifax International Busker Festival, Part 1: August 4-14, 2011

For the 25th year in a row, the annual Halifax International Busker Festival took over the Waterfront from August 4-14 and entertained locals and tourists alike with 11 days of comedy, magic, dancing, and fire (that's right, fire!)

Last year, due to lack of funds and time, I had a limited review of the Festival. However this time around, prepare yourself EP Readers, for the most picture-filled, EP-filled, busker-filled funstravaganza I've posted on EP Dave's Terra Nova yet. How is this possible, you ask? Great question! This year I signed up as a volunteer for the 11-day Halifax International Busker Festival, and volunteered for 14 shifts. I took over 600 pictures. I've posted the best here in this special two-part series. Consequently, I'm confident to say you will not find a more thorough review-in-pictures of this magnificent event anywhere else on the Internet.

(Are you ready for some busking? You'd better be! Thomas didn't fly all the way from Sweden to Thailand, to meet up with two pretty ladies on a beach, who invited him to Australia to join an elite fire-twirling team that sometimes graces Halifax with its presence, just so that you could not be entertained.)

At 25 years old, the Halifax International Busker Festival is the oldest street performance festival in Canada. It's quite an honour to be invited to perform in it, and quite a bigger privilege to be able to watch it, since the Nova Scotia provincial government seems to think it is more important to fund massive, money-losing outdoor concerts than it is to support a funny, entertaining, economy-boosting, and often inspirational festival such as this one, and consequently this years festival almost didn't happen. In fact, Flame Oz, one of the performers, publicly shamed the Nova Scotia provincial government during one of its performances for this inexcusable display of poor judgement.

This year saw 30 performers from 4 different continents, including the countries of Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Ireland, England, the United States and Canada. Rather than just talk about them though, I'll show you a small sample of photos so you'll know what you missed, and in part-2 I'll post even more photos of my top-three favourite acts.

Definitely deserving honourable mention, is one of the funniest mime acts you'll ever see, Fraser Hooper from England. Unfortunately for Fraser, his act's entertainment level depends largely upon the sense of humour of the audience and more importantly the sense of humour of the children he gets involved in the show. This can be very hit or miss, but when it's on it's one of the funniest shows. In the above photo, you can see Fraser setting up a tug-of-war match between four adults and what looks like a five year-old boy.

The best part of the show is when Fraser has a boxing match between himself and a member of the audience, complete with sound effects. Again, the humour here is really dependent upon how well his "volunteers" can perform.

Sometimes when he gets hit in the face too many times, Fraser gets disoriented and ends up hitting the ring post/corner man instead. (Unfortunately, my camera didn't auto-focus quick enough for this shot.)

Another exciting group was the martial arts/stunts demonstration crew Team2X, out of Scarborough (Toronto). One of the members of this team was even part of the the stunt team for the film Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.

During their show, one of the members messed up and had to be "punished." Check out the "lift" he received from Carl's spinning back kick. Needless to say, this kick was not pulled. You might also enjoy the reaction of the woman in the front row, on the right.

By far the best performer at self-promotion was Victor Rubilar. As one of the other performers joked, "if you want to know how awesome Victor is, just ask him. He'll tell you all about it." All kidding aside, this unbelievable football (soccer ball) juggler from Argentina, currently living in Sweden, had one of the more impressive skill-based shows, and was definitely a hit with all the ladies.

As well as being the recipient of this year's Fan Choice Award (apparently two years ago he lost by one vote), Victor holds four Guiness World Records. These include "most consecutive rolls of a football across the head from temple to temple," "the longest time to spin a football on the forehead," "the longest distance travelled whilst balancing a football on the forehead," and "most footballs juggled (5, as you can see in the picture above)."

If you can't juggle five footballs at once, you can always have members of the audience try and play a game of water balloon tennis with giant raquets - the aim of which being to get a water balloon into the red colander helmet on Aiden Orange's head. For this trick to be successful, there is a certain level of skill needed by both the members of the audience to bounce the water balloon from one raquet to the other, and then high enough into the air without breaking it, as well skill on Aiden's part to be able to position himself in such a position as to be able to "catch" the water balloon in the helmet. I was impressed that eventually, within the ten balloon margin for error, the team of "volunteers" and Aiden were always able to "successfully" complete this stunt. (Aiden always seemed to get wet at the end though.)

Holding a degree in Astro-physics from the University of Toronto, Aiden now makes his parents proud by travelling around the world balancing an electric lawnmower on his chin, while members of the audience throw heads of lettuce into the spinning blades. This was my least favourite stunt of the entire festival because I always had to clean up the salad that was left over on the stage after every show.

And then there was Peter Rabbit. Actually, I'm not sure how to classify Peter, but he's always a fan favourite, and has been invited to perform at the Festival six times so far. I heard he has also won the Fan Choice Award twice in the past. For Peter's performances, he sets up his "expensive equipment" and then proceeds to energetically drum on the buckets for about half-an-hour. At the Historic Properties stage here, Peter would have a special finale in which he would go around the audience and drum on absolutely everything in sight, including the buildings of this National Historic Property behind him, and the strollers of the babies in the audience, and even the bottoms of people's shoes. Pay special attention to the "no hands" drumming in the photo.

Lest you think Peter is just some guy from Brooklyn who set up some dirty buckets (he broke all of his over the course of the festival and had to find a new one at the last minute for this show), check out this video of Peter performing at a University of Kansas basketball game.

An often overlooked aspect of the Halifax International Busker Festival is the vendors that line the Waterfront to sell people overpriced food ($5 for a piece of pizza?). By far one of the more interesting side vendors this year was this wax hands-making booth. To see an interesting video of how this is done click here (note: this is not my video, nor was it taken in Halifax, as the description will make clear.)

Of course, anywhere there are people, you will invariably find a Peruvian pipe flute band. This one came from Ecuador for the summer to play at various Atlantic Canadian locations and sell their CDs. In spite of my fear of an impending giant guinea pig invasion (yes, it's a South Park reference), I still have to admit that this band was really really good, and that I'm still whistling their infectious melodies.

And now for something rather "out there". This is world class fire breather Pyromancer from Holland. His show was a bit eccentric, and I heard some people say it was too "weird" for them, but certain members of Flame Oz told me personally that he was one of the best in the world. (Which just goes to show you the average person rarely understands or recognizes the beauty and artistry around them.)

I'm particularly pleased with this night photo, and I'm certain you'll find it an impressive looking stunt, but to truly appreciate the mastery Pyromancer has over his craft, watch the video here (the backward walking firebreathing stunt creates a serious risk that the flame could travel backward down his throat and burn him badly, just so you know).

In conclusion, I was struck by two main things after volunteering at this festival. First, I was amazed at the level of performing talent in the street performer community, and second I was embarrassed by the unbelievable level of disrespect some people can show.

Without fail, and I watched over 50 shows, whenever one of the performers would start preparing the audience for his/their final act, no less than five people (and those were only the ones I caught) would try and sneak away from the show. It was always at this part in the show too, so it's not a coincidence.

Now, I can understand not having enough money to pay every performer, but again this is no excuse since every single performer pleaded with the crowd to, at the very least, just come up to them and say "thanks" if they couldn't afford to put in even $1. Famous Seamus from the Lords of Strut (more on them in part-two) noticed this disturbing trend as well. As part of his show he would routinely point out these embarrassing people and announce over the loud speaker "if you listen carefully you can hear the squeaking of the tight-asses as they try and walk away."

Additionally, the garbage was quite an issue. I spent most of my time as a volunteer picking up garbage. (If I never see another BeaverTails wrapper ever again it will be too soon.) While I was cleaning up one of the stages after the last performance of the festival, a family from Belgium stopped me to express their horror at how disrespectful Canadians are. The idea of seeing this much litter on the streets of Belgium after a street performance was incomprehensible to them (which leads me to believe it's a problem with Canadians). We had no less than six garbage cans located around the relatively small stage area, yet I was able to pick up two garbage bags full of litter after everyone had left. It was truly disgusting, but I know it's not just a problem with Halifax. All Canadians, consider yourself EP Shamed. Get your acts together and stop embarrassing us internationally.

Now that that unfortunate, but necessary business is out of the way, I can continue with part-two.

Friday, August 5, 2011

2011 Natal Days Festival, Part 2: July 28-Aug 1, 2011

On Monday morning, I arose at 5:30 AM, to get ready to cycle to Dartmouth to compete in my first (running) road race in 3 years. After registering and gingerly warming up my IT Band Syndrome-plagued knee, I took my place with the 1200 other runners to wait for over 1 minute after the gun was fired to reach the starting line for the 6 mile event (10 km).

(And we're off! Well, sort of...)

The Dartmouth Natal Day Road Race is a 105 year-old tradition. Officially it is the third oldest running race in North America. As you can see from the above photo, it gathers quite a crowd, and with beautiful tree-lined streets like this, it's no wonder why.

The race even drew out local fans who pitched in to keep everyone cool on this blistering hot day.

After finishing the road race, and cleaning up, I walked about 20 meters back to the race course which had now been turned into a parade route. Stanley Cup winning hockey player, Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins, was the Honorary Parade Marshal. This position essentially involved nothing more than sitting in a car and waving at fans. However, this couldn't be done efficiently, as dozens of fans kept forcing the parade to stop by running up to try and get Brad's autograph.

Of course, what would a parade be without marching Mounties?

All of my favourite floats were back again, like the Crime Stoppers Jailbirds, the tiny fire engine, and the Shriners with their Paddy Wagon.

There were even some new favourites as well, like these Japanese drummers, or the pirates who shot bubbles from their cannon. To be fair, the pirates aren't really new, since they were at Sullivan's Pond last year for the Mayor's Dartmouth Tea Party, but this is the first time I've seen them in a float.

After the parade - because I obviously hadn't had enough exercise this day - I rode back to the Macdonald Bridge to participate in the 29th annual Bridgewalk. Just like at last year's Bridgewalk, the city shuts down the Macdonald Bridge for the day and pedestrians are encouraged to walk over and back as many times as they'd like. It's the best day of the year, in my opinion.

Additionally, it doesn't hurt that the organizers serve free cake either. If I'm honest, this fact had no small part in my decision to come participate.

If for some crazy reason you don't like cake, you could also look at the classic cars. This '54 Bel-Air was probably my favourite. I had forgotten about the "good ol' days" before computers (and fuel economy and safety and performance...) when a small Ea-pea could fit in the engine bay of an automobile.

Plenty of extra encouragement existed along the roughly mile-long bridge. If the oompa band didn't make you pick up your feet (or stroller wheels), then Mr. MACPASS could definitely brighten your day with his gargantuan smile.

By the time I had crossed over to Halifax and back though, I was truly exhausted and could barely stay awake. I decided to conclude yet another successful EP Natal Days weekend by cycling back over the bridge and back home to fall asleep.