Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Subjects

Repo Man

I took a taxi from the airport recently (did I mention I was in Quebec? Quebec and Ottawa for 10 days in October). I got in late and didn’t like to ask anyone to take that drive out Grand Lake Road at 12:30 a.m. to pick me up. So I took one of the cabs that were waiting at the airport.

Still from movie repo man, Emilio Esteves and Harry Dean Stanton

Neither of these guys was my cabbie. (Photo via Film International)

My driver was a young guy who told me he’d only recently bought the vehicle and was doing his best to make a go of it as a cab driver in the CBRM. He said despite the long hours and late nights he still preferred driving a cab to his last gig, as a repo man for a local car dealership.

People are usually pleased to see their cab driver arrive, the repo man, not so much. The driver told me he had frequently been greeted with abuse and on one occasion was knocked out cold. Maybe we need a new Vital award for people (other than professional athletes) who actually field punches as part of their daily grind.


Tompkinsville 2.0

I plan to see Lindsay Kyte’s Tompkinsville at the Highland Arts Theatre (HAT) next month (it’s playing December 9 and 10). The play is based on the true story of the North America’s first tompkinsville_posterhousing cooperative, which happens to have been founded in Reserve Mines, Cape Breton. The “Tompkins” of “Tompkinsville” was Father Jimmy Tompkins, a stalwart of the Antigonish Movement and a driving force behind the project that eventually bore his name.

In preparation for the production, I re-read this 1996 essay by CBU Professor Richard MacKinnon in the Material Culture Review, “Tompkinsville, Cape Breton Island: Co-operativism and Vernacular Architecture,” and this time, the words “vernacular” and “cooperative housing” all jumped out at me because they tied in so neatly with another story I wrote this week—the one about Harbour Royale’s waterfront development in Sydney.

But first, a quick history of Tompkinsville, courtesy of MacKinnon:

This neighborhood development was begun in 1938 by miners and their families who were dissatisfied with the inadequate housing provided by the resident mining companies. Following the co-operative philosophy expounded by Father Jimmy Tompkins, their resident parish priest, the miners and their families formed study groups and taught themselves to build houses suited to their specific needs. This was the first co-operative housing group in Canada and was used as a model for the construction of numerous housing developments throughout eastern Nova Scotia from the late 1930s until the 1960s. Much of the architectural landscape of Cape Breton’s industrial communities in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s was shaped by cooperative housing groups following the pattern worked out by the early Tompkinsville residents.

In the course of writing the Harbour Royale story about a developer and his design, I got interested in the concept of “community self-builds,” a relatively new trend that is arguably Tompkinsville 2.0. The new projects take a number of forms—there’s Hockerton, which saw five families band together to build eco homes in Nottinghamshire, England in the ’90s; or Berlin’s “Baugruppen” or “Building Groups” which apparently account for one in every 10 new homes in the German capital; or the Netherlands’ Almere, a city that has turned 100 acres into a number of themed districts, dedicated to self-builders; or the Shean Housing Co-operative which hopes to build affordable housing in Inverness, Cape Breton and about which I intend to find out more.


Deja Vu All Over Again

I read a LocalXpress story this this week stating that five Cape Breton sites formerly owned by ECBC (now owned by ACOA) must be studied to determine if they are of cultural significance to the Mi’kmaq before they can be sold. One of those five sites is the Ben Eoin Marina, and the question of Mi’kmaq use of the property seemed familiar to me.

I went back to check the dump of Marina-related documents I received from ACOA some weeks ago and, sure enough, Ben Eoin Marina Ltd contracted Davis MacIntyre & Associates Ltd in June 2011 to conduct a “phase I  archaeological resource impact assessment” prior to construction of the marina (you can see that report, it starts on page 1086 of the ACOA documents I received). Here’s what Davis MacIntyre & Associates concluded about the site:

The assessment indicated that one area on the south end of the site is of low to moderate potential for First Nations resources. In addition, the original shoreline of the barrachois at the south end has been submerged. As a result, it has been recommended that dredging activities in the barrachois be monitored by a qualified archaeologist and that archeological testing of the area on the south end of the development area be conducted.

The files also contain a letter dated 26 October 2011 from ECBC’s manager of mitigation and evaluation, Kevin Elworthy, to KMKNO (the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative):





I couldn’t find a copy of the initial letter from KMKNO to ECBC (a number of pages were redacted from the document dump while decisions on others are pending), but construction on the marina was permitted to go ahead so presumably KMKNO was satisfied with the measures taken by Ben Eoin Marina Ltd at the time — interesting that another study has been deemed necessary at this late date.


The Cape Breton Spectator is entirely reader supported, consider subscribing today!