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Costas Halavrezos

Costas Halavrezos

Costas Halavrezos of Dartmouth has one of the most mispronounced—butchered might be more accurate—names among Maritime personalities. But if many East Coasters have trouble getting their tongues around his decidedly Greek moniker, they have no problem identifying his “buttery” voice, as one caller described it when Costas announced in 2010 that he was retiring as the host of CBC’s Maritime Noon after 23 years.

Despite all that time on the air, the listeners who didn’t know Costas personally wouldn’t really know that much about the man. And, as Costas explains in his story, that was intentional.

“I was on every day,” he says. “Why would I blather about myself? The person you’re talking to—it might be the only time they’re ever on the radio because of the circumstances of the story. It’ll certainly be memorable for them. Very often people are nervous—even if it’s something they know about. The host’s job is just to make them comfortable, conduct the interview, get the information out. That’s it.”

However, when we sat down to talk to Costas, the tables were turned and he graciously opened up about his own life story. And it’s fascinating.

Costas’s father grew up among peasants in the Greek mountain village of Agios Stefanos, left school as a boy to travel with his sister to Egypt for work, and eventually joined the Greek merchant marine during the Second World War. “He had quite a few adventures and close calls,” says Costas. That included surviving being torpedoed and having the ship he was on sink in 12 minutes, a story that Costas relates in some detail.

His mother was “Miramichi Irish” and grew up on a small subsistence farm in Semiwagan Ridge, N.B. She moved to Saint John as a young woman and met Costas’s father while she was working as a waitress in The Paradise restaurant.

Costas recalls essentially growing up in his father’s eatery in downtown Saint John. He says Nick’s Coffee Counter was a “real classless society” that catered to everyone from politicians to prostitutes. Only occasionally, if someone was drunk and said something inappropriate, would Nick Halavrezos grab him by the scruff of the neck and the back of the belt and give him the bum’s rush out onto the sidewalk.

Costas regales us with tales of growing up “Irish Catholic” in Saint John, attending St. F.X. University, travelling throughout Greece and England for a year, working as a young man, drifting into radio work and more.

He and his wife—respected reporter Jennifer Henderson—live a relatively quiet life on a leafy Dartmouth street. He’s grown grapes, sold spices and wrote a book titled Seasoned: Recipes and Essays from The Spiceman. He plays bass in a band called the BBQ Kings, does voice-over work and just started a podcast called Book Me! in which he interviews Atlantic Canadian authors and illustrators.

But it all started at Nick’s Coffee Counter …

This is only a short introduction to Costas’s much longer story.

To read Costas’s compelling life story in his own words—interspersed with plenty of great photographs—please consider subscribing to Backstory NS for just $40 per year (tax included). That includes 26 in-depth stories per year from notable Nova Scotians based on old-fashioned personal visits. There’ll be a new story every two weeks, and the entire collection will be available to our subscribers to read and reread whenever you wish. Your valued support will ensure these stories are collected and shared for years to come. Thank you.

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Mary Campbell

Mary Campbell

Mary Campbell possesses that quick, cutting sense of humour that seems particular to the place that was once called Industrial Cape Breton. Most importantly, she can tell a story against herself. However, Mary also happens to be a serious, seasoned (not old!) journalist who has worked in Halifax, Prince Edward Island, Montreal, Toronto and the Czech Republic’s capital city of Prague. She was in Prague for several years.

In her story, she recalls in detail flipping her car into a snowbank in rural P.E.I. and then taking a photo of it for the newspaper she worked at, fainting while covering a surgical procedure in Montreal and being caught by the anesthesiologist, and getting hired as an English teacher by a Zimbabwean man in Prague because she was wearing a Cape Breton T-shirt.

Eventually, Mary returned home and in 2016 founded the online newspaper called the Cape Breton Spectator. On the publication’s site, she writes, “My needs are not great—my only extravagances are quality paper and cat antibiotics—so it won’t take too many subscribers to keep this enterprise afloat. Anything I earn beyond the bare necessities will pay freelance writers and photographers: I’m fond of the sound of my own voice, but not that fond.”

Mary also happens to be one of the “Highlander Campbells.” Her parents John and Dolores, several uncles and aunts, and a number of “non-Campbells” published the radical Cape Breton Highlander newspaper in Sydney from 1963 to 1976. Its prospectus stated, “There will be no hesitation to become involved in controversy if the outcome holds promise of constructive achievement for Cape Breton.” Mary, who was born in 1964, recalls growing up in that environment and the influence it had on her later life and work. That could well be the prospectus for the Spectator.

In her story, Mary mentions Tim Bousquet, publisher of the online Halifax Examiner newspaper, which like the Spectator is independent, adversarial, subscription-based and advertising-free. The two publications now offer a joint subscription. Bousquet writes, “Campbell is everything a journalist should be: inquisitive, dogged, and unafraid. Even better, she’s wickedly funny.” That describes Mary Campbell—and the Cape Breton Spectator—to a T.

This is only a short introduction to Mary’s much longer story.

To read Mary’s compelling life story in her own words—interspersed with plenty of great photographs—please consider subscribing to Backstory NS for just $40 per year (tax included). That includes 26 in-depth stories per year from notable Nova Scotians based on old-fashioned personal visits. There’ll be a new story every two weeks, and the entire collection will be available to our subscribers to read and reread whenever you wish. Your valued support will ensure these stories are collected and shared for years to come. Thank you.

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Sister Dorothy Moore

Sister Dorothy Moore

Sister Dorothy Moore’s family lived in Membertou—“the unknown section of Sydney at that time”—the entire time she was growing up. However, as a young girl, she ended up staying in a number of different communities to get an education. And that was an education in human nature—cruel and loving—as much as it was a conventional school education.

In her early years, she attended the one-room schoolhouse in Membertou. During that time, the Indian agent picked young Dorothy Moore to attend residential school in Shubenacadie. She was there for two years. “I don’t have happy memories of residential school,” she says. “But I survived it and it’s part of my history.” Some 75 years later, she still has vivid memories from that time, from being beaten with a ruler and a pointer on her first day in the classroom … to receiving a beautiful doll from her family for Christmas and never being allowed to hold it … to sitting alone outside the imposing structure and trying to remember the layout of her cozy home back in Membertou by sketching in the dirt with a stick.

“I was number 44,” says Sister Dorothy in her story. “There’s some things you don’t forget.”

After two years in Shubenacadie, she returned to Membertou, but the school there only went up to Grade 6, and Dorothy Moore was an intelligent girl who craved further learning. She ended up attending a new school in Eskasoni for Grade 7. But then she decided to return home and go to St. Joseph’s School in Sydney. No other Mi’kmaw student had attended a Sydney public school and her parents discouraged her from doing so. But she was headstrong. “I always say I was the first one to jump the … Membertou fence,” she says.

Grade 8 went well. But Grade 9 was a different story. In a dramatic incident Sister Dorothy recalls in her story, she was told to “go back to the backwoods where you belong” and was kicked out of school. But she persevered and found a spot at a boarding school in Mabou, where she stayed for two years. She returned to Sydney for her final year of school, becoming the first Mi’kmaw student to attend Holy Angels High School.

From there, Dorothy Moore became the first Mi’kmaw nun—again against her parents’ wishes. She went on to earn a teaching certificate, bachelor’s degrees in arts and education, and a master’s degree in education. She was a teacher and principal for decades, the native education co-ordinator at Cape Breton University and the provincial education department’s director of Mi’kmaw services.

Her honours include the Order of Nova Scotia, the Order of Canada, and three honorary degrees.

Sister Dorothy’s mother Mary Eliza Sylliboy was raised on a successful farm in Whycocomagh. But her father Noel Moore grew up poor. He and his mother were two of the approximately 125 people forced in the 1920s to move from Membertou’s original location along Sydney Harbour to its present location. Despite early struggles, he became a successful entrepreneur in the floor sanding business. And he remained fiercely proud of his culture and insisted his children speak Mi’kmaw. When he died while working at the age of 79 in 1974, Sister Dorothy said she became a “born-again Mi’kmaw” who has “never stopped working for my people.”

Today, at the age of 85, she lives alone in a duplex on Alexandra Street in Sydney, on Membertou’s doorstep. But the monthly planner she keeps next to her recliner is chock full, she’s on the road almost every day and she’s still working hard for her people.

This is only a short introduction to Sister Dorothy’s much longer story.

To read Sister Dorothy’s compelling life story in her own words—interspersed with plenty of great photographs—please consider subscribing to Backstory NS for just $40 per year (tax included). That includes 26 in-depth stories per year from notable Nova Scotians based on old-fashioned personal visits. There’ll be a new story every two weeks, and the entire collection will be available to our subscribers to read and reread whenever you wish. Your valued support will ensure these stories are collected and shared for years to come. Thank you.

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Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard

Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard

Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard of East Preston says she tends “to remember the really horrible, hard things.” And having grown up Black in Nova Scotia in the 1950s and 1960s, there are plenty of such things to remember. Particularly difficult was the late summer of 1965 when, at the age of 12, she both lost her father in a horrific car accident and “left the comfort and safety” of the segregated Partridge River School in East Preston to attend the integrated Graham Creighton High School in Cherry Brook. Adding to her burden at that time was the fact that she had an altercation with her father on the morning of the day that he died. She tells that story in haunting detail.

However, anyone who knows Senator Bernard knows that she also has a keen sense of humour. She’s a natural storyteller and even when relating a sad or disturbing anecdote, she tends to lighten it with laughter.

She knew what she calls “the taste of poverty,” especially after her father died, leaving her young mother to raise “a family of 13” including her own 10 children, a godchild and two grandchildren. However, the Thomas family was not alone. As Senator Bernard says, the people of East Preston—which was settled and built by people of African descent—“come and support” when there’s a loss or tragedy. Her widowed paternal grandfather William Benson Thomas was especially helpful. And a young Wanda Thomas drew strength and inspiration in particular from her mother Marguerite and her maternal grandmother Inez Slawter.

Despite experiencing depression and racism at a young age, Wanda Thomas excelled in school. And with the help of a man named Don Denison, she enrolled at Mount Saint Vincent University at age 15. However, she wasn’t ready for university life. She “flunked out” in her first year and got work at a Dalhousie University cafeteria by calling into a radio phone-in show.

After two years, she was given a second chance at university, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a PhD. She made her mark as a long-practising social worker, professor and director. Her honours include the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada. And she was appointed to the Senate in 2016. But that’s just the bare-bones resume. She puts flesh on those bones by telling stories—about the day that led to her becoming an active Christian as a young mother, about the hurtful incident that made the Bernards decide to leave their longtime home in Cole Harbour and settle in East Preston, about becoming a senator and much more.

This is only a short introduction to Senator Bernard’s much longer story.

To read Senator Bernard’s compelling life story in her own words—interspersed with plenty of great photographs—please consider subscribing to Backstory NS for just $40 per year (tax included). That includes 26 in-depth stories per year from notable Nova Scotians based on old-fashioned personal visits. There’ll be a new story every two weeks, and the entire collection will be available to our subscribers to read and reread whenever you wish. Your valued support will ensure these stories are collected and shared for years to come. Thank you.

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Dirk van Loon

Dirk van Loon

Dirk van Loon of East Port L’Hebert didn’t know what the heck he was getting into when in the mid-1970s he came up with the idea for “a classified ad exchange for old farm and country kitchen stuff.” Even from the start, when the first edition of Rural Delivery was published and sent out into the world in June 1976, it was much more than a classified ad exchange. At just eight pages, including the front and back covers, “Numero Uno” included an introduction by way of an editorial, an article on buying piglets, garden notes, thumbnail reviews of how-to books that didn’t pull any punches, several of Dirk’s distinctive illustrations and more. All for 35 cents.

Almost 43 years later, Rural Delivery is glossier and bulkier, but it’s a publication that has remained true to its roots and continues to be enjoyed 10 times a year by thousands of readers across rural Atlantic Canada and beyond. Legions of freelancers and regular columnists such as Frank Macdonald, Anne Gray and Fred Isenor have ensured its pages have been filled with practical, entertaining and thought-provoking content. DvL Publishing of Liverpool N.S. eventually launched other magazines, such as Atlantic Forestry Review, Atlantic Horse & Pony and Beef & Sheep.

A couple of years ago, at the age of 78, Dirk announced that he’d sold the business to longtime employee Chassity Allison. However, he remains on the Rural Delivery masthead as “publisher emeritus,” and continues to contribute his Pot Luck editorial and delightful drawings to the magazine.

Dirk did a lot of living before he started Rural Delivery at the age of 38. He recounts the early days in his family’s Vermont orchard before it was “hammered” by a hailstorm, memories of his famous grandfather, a rocky college career, an eye-opening stint in the Peace Corps in Colombia that ended badly, getting into the newspaper business in Missouri and Colorado, and writing a children’s book that he jokes “sold 10 copies.” And that was all before he drifted to Nova Scotia’s South Shore in 1969.

He later wrote The Family Cow, which he refers to as “the cow book,” and Small-Scale Pig Raising, which he calls “the pig book.” Nowadays, among other things, he’s active helping out at the nearby Harrison Lewis Coastal Discovery Centre, which he helped establish in 2007.

If you want to learn more about Dirk, you could do worse than read his Pot Luck editorials. Or sit down and talk to him. He’s someone not afraid to call “bullshit” when he sees it, all the time with a twinkle in his eye.

This is only a short introduction to Dirk’s much longer story.

To read Dirk’s compelling life story in his own words—interspersed with plenty of great photographs—please consider subscribing to Backstory NS for just $40 per year (tax included). That includes 26 in-depth stories per year from notable Nova Scotians based on old-fashioned personal visits. There’ll be a new story every two weeks, and the entire collection will be available to our subscribers to read and reread whenever you wish. Your valued support will ensure these stories are collected and shared for years to come. Thank you.

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Mary Janet MacDonald

Mary Janet MacDonald

Mary Janet MacDonald is a warm and welcoming human being. She’s genuine and wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s a champion of her many family members and friends, and their dreams. She has friends all around the world but she has that quality that makes the person she’s talking to in the moment feel important.

Though you don’t hear about it from her­—at least not in casual conversation—she must also be extremely hard-working and disciplined. She’s a wife, a mother of seven and a grandmother of 10. She’s also spent most of her life since graduating from high school in 1969 working outside the home, including more than 30 years with the school board in Port Hood “between maternity leaves” and about eight years travelling back and forth between her western Cape Breton home and the Alberta oilsands. She’s “retired” more than once and, at the age of 66, now travels to Halifax to work in homecare.

Mary Janet is also the consummate volunteer and organizer. For instance, during a stint managing the Strathspey Place performing arts centre in Mabou, she also volunteered to manage the high school musical ensemble Celtic Crew, made up of students attending Dalbrae Academy, which shares a space with Strathspey Place. Today, she co-chairs the charitable group 100 Women Who Care Rural Cape Breton.

She has a lovely singing voice. And she and her husband Cecil have passed on their musical abilities, with their children being involved in bands from Kilt to Company Road. Their youngest child Mitch created a bit of a stir in Inverness County and beyond in 2008 when he competed in the reality series Canadian Idol, eventually becoming the runner-up.

However, Mary Janet herself is best known in Nova Scotia and around the world as one of the top practitioners and teachers of the highly engaging style of step dancing that the Scottish Gaels brought to northeastern Nova Scotia in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and fostered in the New World. Some researchers question whether the dance style that Mary Janet performs is of Scottish Gaelic origin, although others—such as Scottish musician, bagpipe maker and researcher Hamish Moore—vigorously defend the connection.

Mary Janet has appeared countless times on stage over more than 60 years and many times on television. She also produced two step dancing instructional videos.

There’s a direct line from the dancing of Mary Janet’s great-grandfather Big Dan Cameron—born almost 170 years ago—to her own dancing. The link in that chain was her grandaunt Margaret Ann (Cameron) Beaton, the woman who raised Mary Janet after her mother Margie died and the woman she called Mama. Margaret Ann’s daughter Minnie—who is Natalie MacMaster’s mother—was also instrumental in Mary Janet becoming a dancer. The two consider themselves sisters.

Mary Janet knew a lot of loss at a young age. She also received a lot of love. You’ll notice in her story that she doesn’t use euphemisms for death such as “passed away.” One gets the impression that she lives each day to the fullest because she knows tomorrow is never guaranteed. And, reassuringly, living life to the fullest means she’s still dancing …

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