Removing Barriers to Increase Access to Education
Floyd Kane BA'92 hopes the newly created award will support a student of African Nova Scotia descent as they step onto the path to becoming a writer
By Tara Thorne
Floyd Kane after receiving his Distinguished Community Service Award during National Philanthropy Day Alumni Awards event in November 2021, with family members, Cynthia Thomas (left) and Stephanie Thomas (right).
Photo: Kelly Clarke
“When you think about how many decisions in our lives are driven by money, what if that wasn’t an issue?” muses Floyd Kane BA’92. “That’s something I wanted to do with this in terms of access to education.”
Kane is on the line from Toronto, where it is early evening and he is walking his dog after a day spent in development on the fourth season of Diggstown, the hit legal drama he created that has been airing on CBC since 2019.
Last summer he created the Edna and Velma Thomas Kane Writers Award at Saint Mary’s University, named for his mother and aunt, a $30,000 purse for a student of African Nova Scotia descent with aspirations toward a writing career of any kind.
“My mother really instilled a love of words, a love of language in me, and wanting to explore that part of myself. I grew up in the country, in a very masculine environment and household, lots of testosterone,” says Kane, who hails from East Preston. “I had three older brothers and they were all involved in sports; I was the only one who was nerdish and kind of soft, you know. My mother always encouraged me to be who I was. That was the table she set for me.”
His aunt, Velma, was a bank executive who encouraged Kane’s junior-high dreams of becoming a writer by gifting him her tan-and-brown Smith Corona typewriter. “It had one of those hard-shell cases that you had to take off, and the black-and-red ribbon you had to replace,” says Kane. “I remember going to Fisher’s in Dartmouth down on Portland Street, because they were one of the only stores that sold ribbons for it.
“I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing now if I didn’t have the foundation of those two women.”
The idea for the scholarship itself also came from Kane’s family, after a conversation with one of his nephews, who had been out of school for years but was still struggling. “He was talking to me about how he couldn’t get financing for a house because he had this huge student loan debt he was carrying,” Kane says. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, you went to university over a decade ago and you haven’t paid your student loan yet?’ I’m not rich, but I could afford to do that—so I paid his student loan off.”
That, he says, was the seed for the award—why should anyone, but especially an artist, be hampered by debts because they have chosen a career with no clear map to resolving those debts? (Or a steady salary, for that matter?)
“What if you finish your undergrad and there’s something that you wanna do that’s not getting an MBA or going into banking, you wanna become an educator?” Kane theorizes. “Or you want to write a political science text, or be a screenwriter? Those things are risky because you have to do them because you love them—you can’t go into them expecting to make money, ‘cause you might not. Most people don’t choose that path because they don’t wanna be poor, scraping by most of their lives, and not having a pension.”
Kane knows both sides of this coin: He also has a law degree from Dalhousie. But he has spent the past 20 years in the Canadian film and television industry. As a producer he has fostered TV series like his own drama North/South, the kids’ show That’s So Weird!, and the Halifax-filmed sketch-comedy series This Hour Has 22 Minutes. He has also written the films Across the Line and Undone, and produced the dramatization of General Roméo Dallaire’s peacekeeping mission during the Rwandan genocide, Shake Hands with the Devil, and the Indigenous comedy The Incredible 25th Year of Mitzi Bearclaw.
When the time came in 2018 to put the writers’ room together for Diggstown, about a well-heeled lawyer returning to her Nova Scotia roots to work for legal aid—played by Vinessa Antoine, making history as the first Black Canadian woman to headline a Canadian drama series—Kane struggled to find television writers of his own ilk.
“I wanted a Black Nova Scotian writer in the writing room,” he says. “On Season One that didn’t happen, and it didn’t happen because it didn’t seem like there was anyone out there who had the training or who wanted to do it as a profession. I had a Black showrunning assistant, but I really wanted someone in the writing room—a national show is a huge opportunity in starting your career.”
When writing his 2015 drama Across the Line—starring Stephan James, who would soon go on to star in Oscar winner Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, as a Black NHL prospect in a racially divided Nova Scotia town—Floyd learned a depressing statistic.
“The rates for first-generation Nova Scotians in terms of achievement and graduation were increasing, but the rates for multiple-generation African Nova Scotians were the same as when I graduated high school in 1989,” Kane says. “It made me sad.”
Connecting the Dots; Creating a Solution
So all the plot points were there, Kane just had to connect them to create the narrative arc: His family, their struggles, his struggle, and history all came together to form a giant metaphorical arrow pointing to the solution—the Edna and Velma Thomas Kane Writers Award. There are no stipulations for how the money must be spent, as long as the recipient is trying to make a go at a writing career.
“I really wanted to do something to trigger Black Nova Scotians who don’t necessarily have the means to go, ‘You know what? I can do this as a career, and I don’t have to worry about where my next meal’s gonna come from. Or that I can’t afford to go to New York to take this workshop,’” says Kane. “That fellowship you’ve always wanted to go to in Europe? Do it. Or pay your rent. Ultimately, I want to give people an opportunity. If they have dreams of being a writer, they can pursue it.”
Kane has committed to the scholarship for the next five years, and his goals for it are robust. “I would love it if someday someone who was getting the Giller Prize”—at $100,000, the largest and most prestigious literary award in Canada—“made their decision to become a writer because of access to this award. That would mean that the award was successful to me. I have a huge family and I have a lot of relatives who I know if they had the opportunity to go to university or pursue a career as a writer, their life would be way different.”
Looking back on his own long and winding road to success in his chosen industry, Kane notes he may have been a comic-book artist with the right support. Or, if he could have afforded it, he would have gone to film school in New York instead of law school in Halifax. “I don’t have any regrets,” he notes, “it was just a different route.” But it was one he had to take based on the resources available to him, so it took longer for him to reach his film and television goals. And he wants to alleviate that delay for someone with dreams like his.
“We’re all trying to do our thing and trying to make the lives of the people around us better, but when you start to think about the people outside of your own circle, you realize people are just really going through it,” he says. “I really would love to see people have an opportunity to pursue their dreams. I just feel that when you think about how many decisions in our lives are driven by money, what if that wasn’t an issue? That’s something I want to do with this, in terms of access to education.”
The Edna and Velma Thomas Kane Writers Award was created by Floyd Kane BA’92 to support students who self-identify as being of African descent, with priority to students of African Nova Scotian descent. Award recipients will receive $30,000 upon graduation to help mitigate the burden of financial debt, to support students in further post-secondary studies and to advance their aspirations for careers in writing. For more information on the Edna and Velma Thomas Kane Writers Award, including the online application form, see Faculty of Arts Awards and Funding.
“This fund will not only carry on her legacy but also impact generations of women athletes to come.”
In 1973, Kathy Mullane MBA’89 worked as Saint Mary’s first full-time female coach. She remembers telling people that women’s sports would be big one day. “Not everyone believed me back then,” she chuckles. “Now, the world watches as the Canadian National Women's Hockey Team and the Canada Soccer's Women's National Team win Olympic gold medals. It’s so gratifying.” Mullane deserves credit beyond her prescience about the place of women’s sports in the world. Right here at Saint Mary’s, she was responsible for growing the women’s athletic program at a time when women had just started being admitted full-time to the university, in 1968. “The other universities weren’t too keen on Saint Mary’s initiating a women’s athletic program. They were afraid we’d become too competitive,” says Mullane. “In the first year, we had to compete at the junior varsity level to prove ourselves.” Prove they did, winning the women’s field hockey Junior Varsity Championship. By the next year, 1974, it was varsity from then on. Five decades ago, Mullane also faced another challenge: the lack of women athletes to recruit because popular university programs such as Physical Education or Physiotherapy were not offered at Saint Mary’s. “I would walk through the residences trying to get the women who looked tall or athletic to try out for the teams!” says Mullane, who coached both field hockey and basketball. Mullane’s career highlights include leading her teams to four Atlantic Universities Athletics Association (now Atlantic University Sport) titles; being a Canada Games coach; receiving a Sport Nova Scotia Outstanding Volunteer Award; and, being inducted into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame in 1998. In her 37 years at Saint Mary’s, she ended up “doing it all”—varsity coach, campus recreation coordinator, manager of sporting facilities, and interim athletic director. All of which is why when Denis Huck BA’74 (SMU) MSW’79 (Dalhousie University) was planning a special fund specifically for Saint Mary’s women athletes, he immediately thought of Kathy Mullane. “Kathy played such an integral part in the development of athletics at Saint Mary’s,” he says. “We thought it very fitting that this fund should carry her name.” Denis was a student in 1973 when Kathy came on as a coach. As a reporter with the Saint Mary’s Journal, Denis had the happy task of covering all the sports for the university. After graduation, he married and settled in Nova Scotia, and he and his wife Valli went on to raise three athletic daughters, two of whom were recently inducted into the Dalhousie Sports Hall of Fame. “I saw the great value that intercollegiate sport brought my daughters and I wanted to create a fund that would help bring more financial and academic support to the women athletes of Saint Mary’s,” he says.
Kathy Mullane MBA’89 and Denis Huck BA’74 (SMU) MSW’79 (Dal)
The Kathy Mullane Fund for Varsity Women’s Sport will begin its work of supporting these women athletes next Fall. According to Scott Gray, Director of Athletics and Recreation, the fund will be used for many different initiatives, including scholarships, coaching development and support for women who want to get into sports administration. “I want to thank Denis Huck for getting this one-of-a-kind fund off the ground and for recognizing Kathy Mullane, who has such huge and historic significance for the Saint Mary’s Huskies,” says Gray. “Kathy was a woman sports administrator at a time when that was basically unheard of. This fund will not only carry on her legacy but also impact generations of women athletes to come.”
If you would like to support women in varsity sports at Saint Mary's, you can give here.
Scholarship Honours a Legacy by Supporting a Student’s Future
Justice Doane Hallett BComm’52 LLD’99 hopes the Hallett Family Scholarship will inspire other alumni to give, sooner than later by Tara Thorne
Legacy and law endure for Justice James Doane Hallett BComm’52 LLD’99, who has endowed the Hallett Family Scholarship, with a gift of $100,000, in support of students in the Sobey School of Business. While Hallett was valedictorian of his own graduating class, his interest in business was ultimately rerouted into another career.
“By the time I finished my Commerce degree I knew one thing for sure—I didn’t want to be an accountant. It’s too boring,” he says, chuckling. “I had a bunch of friends who were going into law school at the time. We’d go down to the Lord Nelson Tavern, and everyone was always talking law except me. So I decided I’d go to law school. And I have no regrets.”
A graduate of Dalhousie University’s law school, Hallett has had a long and varied career: first he spent 21 years practicing corporate and commercial law with what would become the Halifax firm MacInnes, Wilson & Hallett, followed by 13 years as a trial judge in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. He finished his career as a judge at the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.
Hallett’s roots with Saint Mary’s run deep across many decades: his brother George was a faculty member in the Department of English from 1960 to 1997, and his daughters, Cynthia BComm’80 and Helen BComm’93, are graduates. The Hallett Family Scholarship was partially encouraged by the Sobey family’s donation that resulted in the Sobey transformational gift.
“Sobeys came along and made a very significant donation to Saint Mary’s with respect to their Bachelor of Commerce program. That caught my attention,” he says. “I was also very conscious of the fact that Saint Mary’s, at that time, didn’t have a lot of significant donations from former students. I thought I should do something to bolster their ability to give scholarships.”
Eligible students are full-time undergrads in the Sobey School of Business, Canadian citizens or Canadian permanent residents, and entrepreneurial skills are preferred.
The most significant reason for the endowment however is personal, rooted deep in Hallett’s family history, which dovetails with his early education at Saint Mary’s. “I always felt gratitude towards my parents for everything they did for me,” he says. “And I felt a great deal of gratitude for my wife, Marjorie, too, who was a superb person. I felt I should I honour my parents and my [late] wife.”