A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Premier’s Office

Tim Houston BComm’92

Photo: Government of Nova Scotia

by Alec Bruce

Shortly after our interview begins, Progressive Conservative Premier of Nova Scotia Tim Houston BComm'92 sets up a humorous tale. “I remember the day I said to my wife Carol, ‘I’m getting out of business and into politics’,” he says. “And she says, ‘Oh, yeah? Which party?’” After two years of navigating a pandemic, and six months since he won a majority in the general election—not bad for a chartered accountant who graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce from Saint Mary’s in 1992—Houston’s good humour remains intact. “The pandemic has caused people to reassess, reevaluate and rebalance their lives,” he says. “It’s very possible to double the population of Nova Scotia to two million people.” On this score, he’s not kidding. Last year, Statistics Canada reported that Nova Scotia surpassed the one-million-people mark for the first time in its history. There is no reason to suppose we cannot keep it up: “People have caught on to what we have to offer. And that’s an incredible quality of life.” What’s more, Houston adds, “I’m incredibly excited about the future for this province. I think every Nova Scotian should be.” It may be hard to square this optimism with the tumult of the times. Houston’s government lifted all COVID restrictions on March 21 in an attempt to “stop pulling the big levers, like broad restrictions, and [to] shift to personal actions and responsibility.” Still, climate change continues to imperil a province that has more coastline for its total area than any other in Canada. Meanwhile, social justice, health care, education, affordable housing and poverty are constant reminders of just how serious the business of governance really is. Yet Houston remains cheerfully adamant. “Government has a responsibility, and I accept that,” he says. “We need to make sure, for example, that people get access to health care, and we are super focused on that. If we do what we need to do as a government, the potential to grow this province is incredible.” Houston appears to come by his buoyancy honestly. Born in Halifax, a military brat, his father was stationed at Royal Canadian Air Force Base Shearwater during his formative years. He recalls a typical, if uneventful, upbringing through junior and senior high schools in the Fairview neighborhood of the city. Even his career choice seemed efficaciously obvious after hearing a speech by the CFO of Nova Scotia Power. “I was in Grade 11, and I just decided that I wanted to be a chartered accountant.”

With that in mind, he chose Saint Mary’s.

“The whole process of where to go to university was straightforward. Saint Mary’s was always known for its great business program, and I was excited to go there because of its reputation. I took a Bachelor of Commerce with a major in accounting [1988-1992], because I knew it would open doors in [business].”

Although he admits to partaking in his “fair share of social activities around campus,” he notes he was “probably less involved in the campus side of life” than some of his peers. “The formal [university] clubs weren’t my thing at that point.” Neither was politics, for that matter. After earning his Chartered Accountant designation in 1995, Houston and his wife moved to Bermuda where he worked for Deloitte and Enstar Group Ltd. In 2007, they returned to Nova Scotia with their two children Paget and Zachary, settling in New Glasgow, to live a quiet life just as the NDP began its historic surge to power in Nova Scotia.

“There’s really only two ways that people get involved in politics,” he laughs. “Somebody seeks you out and puts your name forward, or you get a little bit angry about something. I guess, if you really want to credit anyone with my interest in politics, it’s probably the NDP.” Houston is all in. In a way, his own experience at Saint Mary’s, where his son Zachary is currently studying commerce (his daughter Paget is taking a degree in law and commerce at Queen’s University), fortifies his current thinking about the province’s future. “We have a great system where people can be proud and confident in the education that their children and grandchildren are getting from P-12 and through post-secondary,” he says. “We have that; we just need to keep focused and build on it.” Beyond this, he says, the trappings of politics don’t interest him. Although, he says, with more good humour, “I have noticed one thing since I became premier. There are a lot more people who are willing to say they know me now.”

The Sobeys Inspiration Hub and The Exchange—Creating Space for Possibility

by Kate Watson

Construction is under way on the Sobeys Inspiration Hub and The Exchange, a bold new education and research complex, and Saint Mary’s University President Robert Summerby-Murray could not be more pleased. “Our vision for the future of our region is rooted in our leadership in entrepreneurship, sustainability and innovation,” he says. “The Sobeys Inspiration Hub and The Exchange will provide a myriad of opportunities to bring people together in a way that will advance this vision by uniting students and top researchers with regional business owners and community groups to solve real world problems. This is nothing short of transformational for our university and our partners.” The newest additions to the Saint Mary’s campus comprise three major structural areas built as one interconnected complex. Designed to re-orient the south end of the campus, the construction will in turn energize the connection between the Sobey Building and the Loyola Academic Building. When it opens in the fall of 2023, the new spaces will provide an additional 62,000 square feet on campus designed to enable innovative multidisciplinary work to flourish. It will strengthen the connections and engagement of the university’s more than 6,600 students, professors and researchers from across all faculties: Arts, Science, Graduate Studies and the Sobey School of Business. The heart of these new additions is a four-story, 43,000 square foot glass and steel building that will be named the Sobeys Inspiration Hub in recognition of a $5-million philanthropic investment in the building. This investment is part of the $18-million gift from the Sobey Family, Sobey Foundation and Sobeys Inc., which is the largest gift to date in the 220-year history of the institution. The Sobeys Inspiration Hub will be dedicated to supporting entrepreneurship and innovation at the university and will contain the new home for the Saint Mary’s University Entrepreneurship Centre plus the David Sobey Centre for Innovation in Retailing and Services, just one of four centres of excellence to be found here. The Hub will also house exciting new maker spaces, research and innovation labs, and project studios. The Government of Nova Scotia also made a significant contribution to this building with its funding of $11 million in 2018, recognizing that the capital expansion would be instrumental in growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the province. Nearby, a new building called The Exchange will be home to the Anne J. & Albert T. Isaacs Commons, named in recognition of the $1 million donation from Anne and Albert Isaacs. The couple grew up in small Newfoundland out ports, made their way to Halifax and met there, and eventually ended up in California’s Silicon Valley. They attributed their success in life to the education Albert received as an engineering student at Saint Mary’s. The Isaacs also believed deeply in the idea of paying their good fortune forward by working to make post-secondary education accessible to all students, which resulted in the establishment of an endowment to fund bursaries. Their generosity continued with an additional bequest through their estate. The Exchange itself will be a large student-focused space designed for gathering. Ringed by an inventive living retail lab—a pioneering offshoot of the David Sobey Centre for Innovation in Retailing and Services—it will also house a campus store as well as dedicated rooms for student societies. The Isaacs’ eldest son, Derek Isaacs, has said that using his parents’ gift to create a commons for students is the perfect embodiment of what each of them stood for. “When my father was growing up, he was always looking for a place to study. The kitchen table was basically his room,” he says. “And my mom, she was the soul of hospitality. She was always making sure everyone was comfortable and fed. I don’t think there could be a more perfect thing to do than to create a space where students can study, recharge, prepare for class as well as unwind, relax, have a snack and conversation.” At an event at Saint Mary’s last November, students, faculty, staff and alumni came together to share the plans for the new buildings and meet with donors, including government officials, united in their support of entrepreneurship and student experiential learning at Saint Mary’s University. Vivek Sood, Executive Vice President, Related Businesses for Sobeys Inc., and graduate of the Master of Business Administration program from Saint Mary’s, spoke on behalf of the Sobey family and Sobeys Inc., at the event. “What an appropriate project this is for Sobeys to support,” he says. “The creation of a facility dedicated to supporting innovation and entrepreneurship relates so closely to what Sobeys is all about. We’re excited for this incredible project, and we can’t wait to see what amazing things Saint Mary’s students accomplish because of it.” Sood went on to praise Saint Mary’s for being a catalyst for growth in the region and in the economy as a whole and said the new additions to the campus will position the university for even greater success in the future. Dr. Harjeet Bhabra, the Dean of the Sobey School of Business, also sees the Sobeys Inspiration Hub as reflective of a bright future for the university. When Dr. Bhabra came to Saint Mary’s in the fall of 2018, the university was in the second year of its new strategic plan. The transformational gift to the university and the Sobey School of Business that included support for construction of these new buildings was incredibly timely. “The university’s plan is creative, innovative and aspirational,.” he says. “It reflects a bold vision and optimism for the future.” The design of the new buildings has moved away from the office and classroom model of the past to one that will embrace discovery and innovation in a learning-centred environment. “The Sobeys Inspiration Hub has been designed to house modern teaching spaces conducive to active learning. These are spaces that will support discovery, scholarship and experiential learning. We believe that creativity, inspiration and entrepreneurship can be sparked when students, faculty and graduates have opportunities to come together to have off-hand conversations. The buildings are designed around the idea that space for these ‘accidental collisions’ is immensely valuable.” The buildings are also designed with the most up-to-date teaching and learning technologies. “Since the start of the pandemic, people have become even more open and savvy when it comes to technology. We’re putting equipment in place now that will see us through the next decade.” Dr. Bhabra has said that the essence of the Sobeys Inspiration Hub is encapsulated by its name: “Inspiration is the beginning of creativity and innovation. This space will bring together students and faculty from across all disciplines with businesses and entrepreneurs from our region to inspire each other and collaborate on entrepreneurship and business innovation.” Kritika Gurung is a fourth-year Saint Mary’s student who will graduate with a BA in Sociology and Anthropology this year. Through her work as co-president of Enactus Saint Mary’s, she has seen firsthand how bringing together students in business, arts and sciences can spark the creativity that leads to innovative change. “I actually thought that Enactus was going to be too ‘business-y’ for me. What I learned is that entrepreneurship is not limited to business students. Great things can happen when students come together for open cross-collaboration, and I think these buildings are going to expand how and where we work together.” As an international student, Gurung says that she was attracted to Saint Mary’s by the fact that it’s a small university in a small-but-growing city. After almost four years in school, she says she has changed in ways that she had never considered. “I think that international students often arrive with great passion, hopes and dreams, but sometimes we don’t know where to point ourselves. The culture at Saint Mary’s brings people together, and that broadened my mind. I never imagined myself as an entrepreneur, but now it’s something that might be in my future.” When Dr. David Sobey originally announced his gift to the university, he said, “Our gift is a deliberate reinvestment in the Sobey School of Business and Saint Mary’s University, inspired by our belief and confidence in the university, its leadership, its students and its bright future.” With the construction of the Sobeys Inspiration Hub and The Exchange, coupled with new technologies, innovative classroom design, and living labs, the future for Saint Mary’s is looking bright, indeed.

Learn more about the Sobeys Inspiration Hub and The Exchange here.

President Summerby-Murray leads a hard hat tour at the November 2021 building event.

Conceptual drawing of the Anne J. & Albert T. Isaacs Commons in the Exchange.

Attendees to the November 2021 Inspiration Hub event were asked to add their names to one of the signs for the building.

Marsha Sobey BA’82 talks to member of construction team (right) with President Summerby-Murray (left) and Minister of Advanced Education, Brian Wong (2nd from left).

“It’s right and proper that our research programs and our teaching performs a public service.”

Dr. Jonathan Fowler BA’95 discusses his work on the search for evidence of unmarked graves at the site of the Shubenacadie Residential School.

By Morgan Mullin

Dr. Jonathan Fowler BA‘95 must have an arm ache from always reaching backward, dusting cobwebs off the past so we can understand it better. An anthropologist and professor at Saint Mary’s University, the focus of Fowler’s work spans from Greece to Barbados to Nova Scotia’s own Grand-Pré National Historic Site. “A lot of my normal work is a crossover into the world of forensics,” he says. He has spent much of the past two decades exploring the physical history of Acadians, “finding burned out villages and trying to put those sites back on the map.”

If the past walks next to him like a neighbour, then last summer, present-day headlines of the discovery of unmarked graves at a former residential school site in Kamloops, BC, meant that Fowler was also holding his gaze on the present. Working alongside project co-director Roger Lewis, (the curator of Mi’kmaq Cultural Heritage at the Nova Scotia Museum and a lauded archaeologist), an archaeological team and the local Indigenous community, Fowler set to work to search for evidence of unmarked graves at the site of the Shubenacadie Residential School, an institution which operated from 1930 to 1967.

“I tried to apply our research, expertise and equipment, and methodology to something that has some public benefit, because we were asked to do it,” Fowler says. A familiarity with the area and its people (“We've been doing work in the Shubenacadie River Valley for years,” Fowler says) was combined with the team’s expertise at finding historic graves, like the nearly 300 graves Fowler and his coworkers uncovered at Grande Pré National Historic Site. “Inevitably, you do all of the land record reconstruction, you collect an archive of mapping, which takes in the residential school site. So, it kind of folded into that larger landscape research project,” he adds. “When the time came to look at the residential school we already had all of that information in our archives; we were working with it already.”

Lewis, Fowler and their team are not the first to explore the grounds where the residential school stood, a place where Indigenous children from across the Maritime provinces were forcibly sent by the government in a cultural genocide that resulted in rampant abuse, misconduct and death, as outlined in the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation’s 2015 reports. Previous site studies had been conducted in 2020.

But none had approached the site the way Lewis and Fowler did when they began their work in the summer of 2021. The work began with an understanding that the site has long been of cultural importance to the Mi’kmaq, (close to where a permanent Mi’kmaq village stood in the 17th century) and was informed by oral tradition and cultural memory. Fowler says this was important for a lot of reasons. “One is, it doesn't sacrifice the science at all. In fact, testimony from the people who know the site best is a smart way to proceed scientifically. When people with that perspective bring their insights, you’d be foolish not to listen.” Fowler continues, “The second thing is, it's their story. It's their inquiry. When community members said: ‘Look here, look there, we think there's something over here.’ We did that.”

An aerial view of the former residential school site and the Shubenacadie River.

Roger Lewis and Jonathan Fowler discuss survey methodology at the site.

A LiDARbased digital 3D model of the residential school site as it appeared in 1938 (left, main building circled), married to 2015 satellite imagery (right).

Historical records—land deeds, historical aerial photographs and maps dating back to the 1700s—were scoured so a timeline of activity at the site could be recreated. Between the land’s role as a Catholic mission site built by the French in the 1720s to becoming a residential school, the land was used for farming, purchased by settlers.

Alongside the historical records and community knowledge, Lewis and Fowler’s team used LiDAR (light detecting and arranging) technology to create highly-detailed, interactive maps of the site. They also used drone technology, which captured 900 million data points across 70 kilometres to create the most comprehensive map of the area to date. On the ground, the team performed 79 kilometres of electromagnetic induction surveys, mapping the subterranean features of the area over 30.6 acres, detecting ditches, pipes and cables, field boundaries, building remains, and more. Then, they used ground-penetrating radar (a clunky apparatus that the user sweeps over the ground that is about the size of a push lawnmower) to map the subsurface in greater detail. Together, a quilt of knowledge was created that allowed the team to investigate two locations on the sprawling, 147-acre property where it was believed human remains might exist.

“It's just a vast property,” Fowler continues. “To subject the whole property to minuscule, high resolution, ground-penetrating radar surveys, you’d be looking at decades, decades, decades of work.” Fowler compares it to painting a skyscraper with a single liner brush. A preliminary effort, the work done by Lewis and Fowler’s team could be followed up with more research, if the community wishes—something Fowler is currently waiting to hear more about.

The team did not discover human remains. At one part of the site they searched, near what was once an apple orchard, “the radar revealed reflective patterns in the data that are consistent with graves,” Fowler says. However, he believes these remains predate the residential school by 100 years, meaning they likely belong to one of the farming families that lived on the land pre-1930. “It's also in the spot where we have 19th century sources describing this being an older cemetery,” he says. This doesn’t mean that children didn’t die at the school, or that there are no human remains on site related to the school (something further research on the site could confirm or deny). Rather, it shows that two locations the team was asked to focus on are devoid of graves or remains linked to the school.

When asked why this arduous work was important for him, Fowler doesn’t hesitate. “I do it because I think that these stories matter. And I think we're a better people if we have a memory of these things. I have to believe that. Wouldn't we all like to put our hand on the scales of justice, in a way, and make some of the hurt of this world disappear—and we can’t, always. But I do think that there are ways where our research, our professional lives—teaching, for that matter; trying to encourage people to think broadly and sensitively about their place in the world—I have to believe that helps in some small way, if we’re lucky,” he says. “I think, in the context of Nova Scotia, we talk a lot about the Peace and Friendship Treaties,” Fowler begins, referencing the legally binding agreements the British crown signed with the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy prior to 1779, which are a framework for settlers’ inhabitance on the land. “And I guess we’ve had sufficient peace, let's put it that way. But I don't think we've had quite enough friendship. And I think we ought to just put more emphasis on that, holistically, to one another. And that's what this is about.”

Fowler pauses just long enough that it’s plausible the phone call has cut, before adding: “I think the big picture really is that matter of friendship. And although it's not always possible, or probably even desirable, I think that universities—if we can just bring it back to universities and their place in our communities—I think it's right and proper that our research programs and our teaching performs a public service. It may not always be possible, because there is such a thing as pure research. Sometimes people just need to go into a lab and tinker. But I do think that as much as possible—and it's certainly my preoccupation—is to put our energies at the service of the community. And it's an honor to be able to do that. And I thank my lucky stars to be able to teach at a university where that is part of its DNA.”

Watch a documentary about more of Dr. Fowler’s archaeological work here.

The Ultimate Gift: Father and Daughter United Through Kidney Donation

John Bishop BComm’74 BEd’76 and Kristen Bishop BA’12 co-author book to educate others about kidney disease

By Renée Hartleib

Photo: Meghan Tansey Whitton

Location: Dauphinee Centre, Saint Mary’s University

When Kristen Bishop BA’12 was 14 years old, she developed a list of mystifying symptoms including daily vomiting, dizziness, blurred vision, extreme thirst, loss of appetite and listlessness. When her parents took her to the doctor—over a dozen times in the course of a year—the pediatrician dismissed their concerns and failed to do blood work. It was only after a cardiologist discovered that Kristen’s heart was abnormally enlarged that blood tests were finally ordered. When the results came back, the family received a call from the pediatrician saying the tests had revealed “a problem” and Kristen would need to be admitted to the hospital. “We didn’t know what was going on,” says Kristen’s father, John Bishop BComm’74, BEd’76. “We were in the dark about how serious this was, and the pediatrician didn’t tell us what was happening.” That night, the IWK Health Centre, a pediatric hospital and trauma centre in Halifax, NS, surprised the Bishops with a phone call. “They told us not to wait and to bring [Kristen] in right away,” says John. When the family got to the hospital, they were taken into a private room to meet with the head pediatric nephrologist (kidney specialist). He told the family that Kristen was in renal failure, and that it was life-threatening. While the diagnosis of massive kidney failure helped make sense of the confusing symptoms Kristen had been experiencing, the family was ill-prepared for the impact of such grim news. Kristen remembers the doctor sitting on the edge of her bed. “I asked him when I would be able to go back to school, and he said: ‘You aren’t going back to school. You’re very sick.’” Kristen continues, “It really sunk in then. He was trying to tell me my prognosis wasn’t good. It was terrifying.” In fact, Kristen’s kidneys were only functioning at 10% capacity. In private conversations with her parents, the doctors prepared the Bishops for the likelihood that their daughter would die. Kristen’s potassium levels were dangerously high. This condition is called hyperkalemia and occurs when the kidneys are not able to do the work of removing wastes, maintaining a healthy balance of water, salts and minerals. The doctors were concerned that Kristen’s high potassium would cause a massive heart attack.

Kristen needed a quick intervention but was not well enough for the standard hemodialysis machine. Instead, the doctors had to perform a risky surgery in which they threaded a tube through Kristen’s abdomen’s peritoneum. This enabled Kristen to start peritoneal dialysis, while a feeding tube would help her gain weight from a clinically anorexic 75 pounds. She was immediately placed on the kidney transplant list, while the doctors began running tests on family members, hoping to find a match. To donate a kidney, they would need to have compatible blood, tissue and protein types.

A fortunate match

During her first couple of months in the hospital, while Kristen was on constant dialysis, the doctors tried to figure out how a healthy 14-year-old came to them with complete kidney failure. They theorized that she had a case of strep throat that had gone undiagnosed by her family pediatrician. Untreated, this bacterial infection would have gone after Kristen’s kidneys with a vengeance. In addition to the shock of her diagnosis, Kristen had to cope with the stress of being an ill teenager living on the chemotherapy and kidney ward of the hospital, surrounded by sick children, many who died. “While I had suddenly become a human pin cushion, at least I was old enough to understand what was happening to me,” Kristen says. “These kids, who were only 2 or 3 years old, didn’t know why they were sick or why they were being poked and prodded. It was heartbreaking.” John was also dealing with a personal trauma of his own. He learned he did not qualify as a donor because of high blood pressure. “As a father,” he says, “I was so disappointed that I couldn’t come through for Kristen and for my family.” Determined to become healthier, John began walking an hour each day, to and from the hospital. Over the course of the next few months, he lost over 40 pounds and was elated to be added back onto the list of potential family donors. After countless lab tests, a CT scan, an EKG and a chest X-ray, John discovered he was a perfect donor match, an unlikely occurrence, but an extremely fortunate one. It meant that Kristen’s body was much less likely to reject her father’s kidney. The date for the surgery was set for August 28, 2002, four months since Kristen had been admitted to hospital. She and her father were placed in adjacent rooms for their surgeries. While both surgeries went well, Kristen took much longer to recuperate. She needed to be isolated after the surgery to avoid infection, but after a few days, John was finally able to see his daughter and give her an enormous hug. “As a parent, you’d do literally anything for your kid,” says John. “I actually got the chance to do that.”

A treatment, not a cure

Weeks later, Kristen was discharged at the end of September, to finally return home. “It was wonderful to be home again and to not have any cords or machines or tubes or IVs attached to me,” she says. “I felt lighter and so much freer.” She went back to school a month later, but her life would never be the same. The roster of medications that Kristen had to take was extensive and the side-effects were uncomfortable, especially for a young teenager: thick facial hair, acne, baldness and weight gain. She also felt she had to grow up quickly, “and get quite organized about taking my meds on time every day. The consequence of not doing that was that I might lose the kidney.” Kristen says that the journey, post-transplant, is never over. “I treat this kidney like my child,” she laughs. "I take very good care of it. I take my meds and I drink lots of water.” She adds, seriously, "It’s a disease that requires a lot of maintenance and one you can’t get over. A transplant isn’t a cure. It’s a treatment. At some point I will need another kidney.” She has already beat many of the odds. She is alive and has not lost her transplanted organ. Her health has been mostly good, even as an immune-suppressed person living through the last two years of a pandemic. She did require surgery last year to remove three aneurisms from her kidney, which while at risk of rupturing, has recovered well.

Getting the word out

This summer will mark 20 years since Kristen’s kidney transplant. A lot has happened in that time. Kristen went to Saint Mary’s for her undergrad, where she majored in French, and then transferred to St. Francis Xavier University for her Bachelor of Education. Since 2016, she’s been a Grade 5-6 French Immersion teacher at École Grosvenor Wentworth Park Elementary School and is now pursuing her Masters of Education at Mount Saint Vincent University. John is also a Saint Mary’s alumnus and has spent the last 45 years as “The Voice of the Huskies,” SMU’s stadium and arena announcer for hockey and football games. He has been Alumni President, has represented Alumni on the Board of Governors, and in 2020, received the Paul Lynch Volunteer of the Year Award. In addition, he’s been working on a passion project, one that required the daughter-father Bishop duo to team up again. With the help of writer and good friend Sean Johannesen, the Bishops co-wrote and self-published a book about their experience with kidney disease. Stolen Youth: My Daughter’s Battle with Kidney Disease, was published in the fall of 2021. John is now focused on trying to get the word out. Both father and daughter have a deep desire to help others who are facing the same challenges they did. “When our family was going through this,” John says, “the only literature available were science textbooks. There were no books we could read about other people’s experiences.” He continues, “We really wanted to write something told in story that would help other people.” Most important, Kristen and John want people to know that what happened to their family is not a one-off. Doctors make mistakes, some that cost people their lives. “This completely snuck up on us. We don’t want this to happen to anyone else.” The Bishops recommend asking for blood work if you feel unwell for a sustained period, noting there are many diseases that go unnoticed unless lab work catches something early. It took a traumatizing experience for Kristen to learn what she now knows. “I want people to understand that they are allowed to question their doctor and to get a second opinion.” And when it comes to children, Kristen’s message is even stronger. “You are the advocate for your children. They cannot do this for themselves. You know your child best. If you feel you are being dismissed by your doctor, but you know something isn’t right, always seek a second opinion. Keep fighting.” Read more about Kristen and John’s journey at stolenyouthbook.com.