Alumni Entrepreneurs Spread the Joy of Love and Noodles

For some, love is a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine. But for Shanshan Liu BComm’11 and Jian Li BComm’12, it’s a pile of fried chicken atop a hot bowl of ramen.

By Jordan Whitehouse

Photo: Stoo Metz

Li learned to make the mouth-watering crispy dish from his grandma growing up in China. Now, it’s the straightest way to his wife’s heart. “It’s really, really delicious,” says Liu. “If I have one bowl, I just want all the fried chicken on top. That’s why he created that.” It’s not just Liu feeling the fried-chicken love, though. The dish is a crowd favourite at the couple’s Halifax ramen shop, Truly Tasty. When they opened on Quinpool Road in 2012, it was the first ramen restaurant in the Maritimes. Today, it’s a go-to spot in the city for anyone needing a steaming bowl of broth packed with homemade noodles, slow-cooked meat, and fresh vegetables. Although the two are originally from China—Liu from Henan, Li from Tianjin—it took a 2008 class at Saint Mary’s Language Centre to bring them together. “We call that romantic, because we don’t have the chance to meet in China,” says Liu. That connection took them through two commerce degrees at the Sobey School of Business, where Liu majored in human resources management and Li in finance. While studying, they both worked at a Vietnamese restaurant in Halifax—Liu as a server and manager, Li as a cook. Li also worked as a sushi chef during his undergrad days and even enrolled in a few ramen-making courses on the side. That experience has served them well. At Truly Tasty, Liu is the smiling face of the front-of-house, handling customers, staff, and the flow of hot ramen coming out of the kitchen. Li is the mastermind of the back-of-house, where you’ll find him simmering, braising, marinating, and keeping his Japanese noodle-making machine in tip-top shape. Their commerce degrees have also come in handy, says Liu. “Everything we learn from there gives us a big opportunity here.” She points to the market research skills they learned in particular, which they’re now using to finetune their menus with the dishes customers respond to. She also mentions their accounting courses, which she never really liked but are now proving huge. Plus, says Liu, Jian’s knack for numbers is just what they need to determine the exact amount of fried chicken ingredients to order. Still, even with all of that restaurant experience and business knowledge, the early years of Truly Tasty were a struggle, says Liu. Haligonians had never seen a ramen restaurant in their city. While some may have been familiar with the cheap and instant ramen noodles of their youth, many didn’t know what authentic ramen was, let alone how good it could be. But Liu and Li persevered and showed them. By 2016, there were lineups out the door of their tiny 12-table restaurant. Soon, they had to think about expanding. “So many customers come and say, ‘Please, guys, you need a bigger place to feed all of us here,’” says Liu with a laugh. So, they began planning for a move to a bigger location and eventually found the perfect spot right next door in the spring of 2019. It was triple the size of their original restaurant, but it needed a lot of renovations. Undaunted, the two jumped in with plans to extend the kitchen, make room for about 30 tables, and modernize the 3,000-square-foot space. They had a goal to open by April 2020.

But then the pandemic hit. “It changed everything,” says Liu. “But what can you do? You just try to find the way to deal with it.” Knowing they wouldn’t hit the April target, Liu and Li slowed renovations and refocused on how they would deal with pandemic restrictions. That largely meant switching to takeout, something they had never offered before. They worried that putting the broth, noodles, and ingredients in separate containers would diminish the quality and wouldn’t appeal to customers. Thankfully, they were wrong. “It’s really good for all my regular customers, because they say, ‘Yes, I can have it everywhere, not just the restaurant,’” says Liu. “And we definitely have more market, more people try, because some want to have at home rather than spend time in a restaurant they don’t know.” By October 2020, Liu and Li finished renovations and opened the new restaurant. Now, they’re breathing a sigh of relief as restrictions lift, the dining room fills, and love spreads between hot bowls of fried chicken ramen once again. Although Liu and Li had originally considered having the two locations, that proved too much. Still, more expansion could be in the works. “We were joking the other day, we wish we could have Truly Tasty worldwide,” says Liu with a laugh. “It’s a good dream, you know?”

Photo: Meghan Tansey Whitton

Combining the Love of Hockey with Its Critique

Overcoming the Neutral Zone Trap: Hockey’s Agents of Change interrogates discrimination and barriers faced in hockey

By Gail Lethbridge

Hockey is Canada’s beautiful game.

Many Canadians grew up tuning into Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights and remember heading to cold hockey rinks at six in the morning for early games or practice while their parents waited in the stands nursing hot cups of Tim Hortons coffee.

It has been said that hockey is the glue that binds the country together across thousands of miles, provinces and territories.

But despite cherished images of kids playing pick-up on frozen ponds and gold medals won during dramatic Olympic showdowns with Americans or Russians, the game is fraught with division.

Beneath the veneer of glory is pockets of ugliness: exclusion, discrimination, racism and bigotry.

Probing the ideologies that have made hockey a fortress of the straight, white male is the subject of a new book edited by Saint Mary’s University Sport and Health professor Cheryl MacDonald BA'10.

Overcoming the Neutral Zone Trap: Hockey’s Agents of Change is a collection of essays and reflections by players, parents and academic researchers who have experienced and studied discrimination in hockey.

“The purpose of this book is to challenge hockey’s norms and explore how the culture and structures of hockey in North America can work to marginalize certain groups who participate in it,” says MacDonald.

The book’s title refers to the “neutral zone trap,” a tactic used in hockey in which players create defensive barriers between the two blue lines to block the other team from getting through.

This metaphor represents the barriers to hockey players who wish to be part of the game and who encounter resistance, bullying and in some cases abuse.

The collection had its genesis in a 2018 Hockey Conference covering these issues. The resulting insights were so important that MacDonald wanted to capture them and share the knowledge beyond the conference.

“The book is geared towards scholars and hockey fans alike,” she says. “I would like for them to come away from reading the book with an understanding that not everyone experiences hockey the same way.”

The launch of the book in late 2021 proved timely.

Racial slurs during a tournament

Just before it was launched, a 16-year-old hockey player with the Halifax Hawks U18 AA team said he faced racial slurs during a PEI tournament. Mark Connors, a Black goaltender, said he was called the “N-word” by team members on the opposite bench during the Sherwood Falcons Early Bird Tournament, held Nov. 18–21. He said he faced further slurs from PEI players after the game and in the Charlottetown hotel where the team was staying. "When I walked by them, they said, 'You shouldn't be playing hockey. This is a white man's sport.'” Connors told CBC. After the incident, the governing body Hockey PEI issued a 25-game suspension to five players accused of hurling the racist slurs. During a disciplinary hearing, the PEI players were also ordered to take anti-racism education. While an ethics committee found Connors’ testimony to be credible, the PEI players and their parents are appealing the suspensions saying the evidence is insufficient. Families of the players cited a report by Hockey PEI that said no one in the rink heard the slurs. Yet Connors says this was not his first experience of racism in hockey. Several years before, when Connors was 12 years old and playing Pee Wee, he encountered another racial slur from an opposing player. That player received a 45-day suspension. MacDonald says you only have to look at the players of the game to see that hockey is not inclusive. Compare the racial profile of hockey to sports like football or basketball and you see a very different story. MacDonald points to other elements of the toxic culture of hockey, citing the recent decision by the Montreal Canadiens to draft an 18-year old player who shared sexually explicit photos of a woman without her consent. Logan Mailloux was a first-round pick. When the woman complained to police, Mailloux was charged with invasion of privacy and defamation, and ordered to pay a fine of $1,700. He asked not to be drafted. The Canadiens drafted him anyway.

Photo: Ian Selig

Another high-profile example of toxic hockey culture came with the Chicago Blackhawks scandal in 2010, in which a 20-year old player was sexually assaulted by an assistant coach. The Blackhawks management ignored the complaint by player Kyle Beach and did not deal with it until after the team won the Stanley Cup.

The Blackhawks settled a lawsuit filed by Beach and several senior managers of the Blackhawks organization were fired.

MacDonald traces the culture of hockey back to the British model of sport which was exported to Commonwealth countries such as Canada.

“Hockey emphasizes teamwork and camaraderie, respect, fair play. Especially for boys. Part of being a ‘real man’ and a ‘successful man’ was not being feminine. If you are not straight and manly, then you are not a man.”

Insights on personal stories

MacDonald and her co-editor Jon Edwards decided to approach the book using a cross-disciplinary method to reach a broader audience. They want to understand prejudice and exclusion in hockey using academic frameworks and base the insights on personal stories.

“We created an accessible yet intellectual collection that incorporated the emotional and personalized stories that research reports cannot always convey,” MacDonald says.

“By humanizing issues in hockey while also providing empirical evidence, we hope to not only reach a wider audience but also be more convincing to readers as well.”

MacDonald says this academic-personal approach to the subject of hockey culture is unorthodox.

“It was a risk because I was worried hockey would find it too critical and academics would find it not intellectual enough,” she said. “We wanted to find common ground between academic research and the lived experience of sport—combine the love of hockey with the critique.”

She points to one harrowing essay entitled "I Never Thought I’d Get Here, I Thought I’d Be Dead,” which explores the experience of former professional hockey player Brock McGillis turned advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. McGillis was the first male professional hockey player to openly come out as gay.

An in-depth interview with McGillis in the book summarizes what it felt like to be a hockey player in the closet. He hid his sexuality to be safe in a sport that is hostile to LGBTQ+ people. As a result, his life was plagued by alcohol, drugs, frequent injuries and relations with women which he used to disguise his sexuality.

“He loved hockey, but everything else was terrible,” said MacDonald, who conducted the interview.

Essays in this theme include “Uncovering the Conspiracy of Silence of Gay Hockey Players in the NHL” by Roger G. LeBlanc and “’What Do You Mean You Don't Play Hockey...You a Queer or Something?’: Reflections on Life as a Non-Hockey Playing Canadian Boy” by William Bridel.

Overcoming the Neutral Zone Trap also interrogates issues that impact women’s hockey, Indigenous participation, mental health, disability, the impacts of social media, and parents in hockey, written by people with lived experience. MacDonald emphasizes the NHL has acknowledged problems of racism, sexism and the lack of diversity in the sport, and that toxic hockey culture is not universal. Many players have great experiences in the game and the NHL has taken action with diversity and inclusion initiatives. But MacDonald says change is slow and too often diversity and inclusion efforts are for “PR purposes.” “People in power are older, white gentlemen who are from a different time. I think that if they are going to continue to participate in hockey they will have to create sustainable change.” Working on Overcoming the Neutral Zone Trap did not give MacDonald and fellow authors hope that the game can be rescued from these systemic issues, but she is encouraged by the interest in them. “I see it as one step forward, two steps backward,” MacDonald says. “We are never going to eliminate racism, sexism and homophobia.” MacDonald notes though that progress can be found in the fact that this book was written at all. Ten years ago, this book would not exist. She says the book has attracted the attention of the media and book retailers. “Knowing that there is a demand for the information…makes me feel like it may make a difference for someone and contribute to a safer, happier and more equitable future for the sport.” MacDonald hopes the book will lead to further projects and spaces in which hockey supporters and players can openly discuss discrimination and barriers to inclusion in hockey. This, she says, will produce a sustained response that will create a permanent community of support to help the sport and players overall.

Dr. Cheryl MacDonald is the Associate Director of Outreach at the Centre for the Study of Sport and Health at Saint Mary's. Find out more on this program here.

For the Love of Animals

Catherine Reeve BSc'09 turned a love for animals into a rewarding career as Head Trainer at Epic Tails Canine Adventures

By Krista Keough

Photo: Epic Tails Photography

Catherine Reeve BSc'09 grew up in the industrial city of Oshawa, ON, only 30 minutes away from the Toronto Zoo. Her father’s job at the nuclear power plant required that he work night shifts and her mother often took Reeve and her two sisters (one is her twin) to the zoo during the day, while he slept. “I spent a lot of time at the Toronto Zoo, which is probably what started my love of animals,” Reeve says. One summer, her family took a road trip to Quebec, New Brunswick and PEI, but their route did not include Canada’s ocean playground. Years later, Reeve met a recruiter from Saint Mary’s at her high school. Although she had never been to Nova Scotia, she remembered how much she loved the East Coast, “and then I just fell in love with Halifax,” she says about when she arrived. Reeve decided to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree and built many meaningful relationships with her professors along the way. Her honours supervisor and Psychology professor, Dr. Maryanne Fisher, made a big impact on Reeve. “I’d always wanted to work with animals and she was the first person who told me, ‘You know, you can do that if you want to.’ That was definitely a big turning point for me.” Dr. Colleen Barber, a Biology professor who was doing research with European starlings, also played a significant role in Reeve’s professional development, taking Reeve “under her wing” to study the birds over the course of three years. Their work together began over casual conversation, while Barber checked nest boxes on campus. Barber offered that Reeve could check the nest box herself. Reeve climbed the ladder and by the time she came back down to the ground, she was hired. Barber was so impressed that Reeve had been happy to climb the ladder, she decided to employ her for a summer research position. “Little did she know how much that meant to me,” Reeve says. “It’s where my love for the field and research and everything really took off.” Reeve graduated from Saint Mary’s in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science degree (magna cum laude) with Honours in Psychology. She has since completed her master’s degree in Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science at York University in Toronto, and her PhD in Psychology at Dalhousie University. Her work with Dalhousie’s Psychology professor, Dr. Simon Gadbois, opened a whole new world of research for Reeve that she continues to explore today—all about dogs. "At the time, dogs were seen as a new, exciting animal that we should be studying more,” she explains. “In the scientific community, dog research was really exploding at the time.”

With her educational accreditations in hand, Reeve moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland with her dog, Walker, a terrier, for three years. While there, she lectured at Queen's University Belfast in Psychology and Animal Cognition and conducted research on domestic dog cognition, olfaction and behaviour. She gained a lot of hands-on experience mentoring with dog trainer, Al Rankin BSc (Hons) from My Dog’s Best Friend (which offers dog training and behaviour services). This mentorship, in part, led Reeve to her current role as a trainer and behaviourist for Epic Tales Canine Adventures in Halifax. Elisabeth Shea is the owner-operator of the small business, founded in 2015 to provide enrichment and socialization to dogs. The company offers training for puppies and adult dogs, and group classes a few nights a week. “A big part of what I do is consulting for dog behaviour problems,” Reeve says. “That might be for dogs that are reactive, resource guarding, or have separation anxiety—behaviour problems that typically stem from fear. I help those dogs [and] teach them the world isn’t necessarily super scary.” When thinking about the future ahead, Reeve wants to continue working directly with dogs and their owners, while also contributing to new research about the effects of dog training and behaviour modification on canine and human mental health. Our conversation comes full circle when Reeve brings up the subject of teaching, another one of her passions. Reeve is working towards being an IAABC Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant. “Teaching students animal behaviour is one of my absolute favourite jobs. If there’s any way that I can help people learn about animals and to understand them better, I love doing that.”

Building Bridges That Last a Lifetime

After 27 years with Halifax Harbour Bridges, general manager and CEO Steve Snider BComm'79 prepares for retirement

by Krista Keough

Photo: Courtesy Halifax Harbour Bridges

“Have you ever seen an old-fashioned toaster?” With this question, Steve Snider BComm'79 launches into a story about a production operations management course he took at Saint Mary’s. The professor had posed a problem about a toaster and three slices of bread to demonstrate a load versus capacity exercise. “That exercise has stuck with me for over 40 years.” As the general manager and CEO of Halifax Harbour Bridges, and one of the longest-serving CEOs of a tolling authority in North America, it’s a good thing Snider likes solving problems. During his 27 years, he has led complex projects for both the Angus L. Macdonald and A. Murray MacKay bridges, including The Big Lift, an eight-year-long redecking of the “old” Macdonald bridge. Snider, 65, was born in Gunningsville, NB, home of the Gunningsville Bridge. His father was in the military for 25 years, while his mother attended community college and went to work with financial teams as a controller. “I was the first child from both sides of my family to go to university,” says Snider. “It turns out that I kind of plowed the road for my brother and sister. They both also attended and graduated from Saint Mary's.” Snider was attracted to the university for its reputable business program and enrolled in the Faculty of Commerce in 1975. (The school was renamed Sobey School of Business in 1992.) During his four years, he attended football and hockey games, and helped plan the Business Students Association Annual Dinner featuring keynote speaker Robert Stanfield LLD'69, leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. Snider was also a “don,” now known as a resident assistant. “I was in charge of order, civility, mail and toilet paper for 23 guys,” he laughs.

SMU grads with bridge affiliation at bridge floral display in 2002, (the year the university turned 200 years old), from left, Steve Snider BComm’79 HHB GM& CEO, Len Goucher, Board Member, Bruce Smith BComm’78, Board Chair, Harry McInroy BA’69, Board Member, and Craig Paul, HHB Manager MACPASS and IT & Tolling.

After graduating with his bachelor’s degree, Snider went to work for National Sea Products Ltd. in production operations. He spent 12 years with the company and one year afterwards at Transit Cape Breton. When asked how he came to his current role with Halifax Harbour Bridges, Snider offers, “The head of the recruiting firm called me and said they thought I’d be good for the job.” After he was hired, Snider recognized right away that his role came with a lot of responsibility. “But once you're smitten by bridges,” he continues, “well, they're pretty cool.” Recounting the fellow alumni he’s crossed paths with throughout his career, you can tell Snider’s beaming on the other side of the phone. I've had the privilege of working with a lot of people who I went to school with. When I was at Saint Mary's, the director of residence was a gentleman by the name of Ken Munro. And when I came to work here [at Halifax Harbour Bridges], Ken was my CFO.” Snider values the friendships he made in university and cherishes many of those friendships still today. “In May, I'm off to our godson's wedding in Bermuda. His dad and I met at Saint Mary's and I was the best man at his wedding. He’s one of my best friends in the world,” he says. “[University] is about building lifetime, lifelong friendships.” Soon after his trip down south, Snider will make plans for his next big adventure—retirement—and he’s building a list of the things he’s going to do. “I want to visit a few places where I lived in Newfoundland, and I'm looking forward to spending a few more days on the water each summer,” he says, referring to a passion for sailing that he shares with his wife, Patty. The pair also enjoy gardening and spending time with their close-knit family. “We have three sons and one daughter. And with two granddaughters, the nice thing is, you get to spoil them and send them home,” he jokes. As the conversation closes, Snider remarks on his time at Saint Mary’s with pride. “It gave a lot of us a great opportunity. I've had the chance to travel the world, meet bridge people all around the globe, and build strong friendships. Now, with a little more time, maybe I can go back and visit those folks who continue to operate the big bridges.” Smitten by bridges, indeed.