Share Your Maritime Love: Nicole Boutilier and Colby Veinotte

Driven by a passion for adventure, photography, food and culture, Nicole Boutilier and Colby Veinotte started Explore the East as a way to share their adventures and highlight lesser known areas of the Maritimes.  They love to collaborate with other East Coast adventurers and they seek to prove that the Maritimes has just as stunning landscapes as any other part of the country.  They were happy to participate in our Share Your Maritime Love project and I’m so happy to have them here.  Here’s what they had to say:

Do you live in the Maritimes?  Where do you call home?

NicoleI was born and raised in a small rural community in Cape Breton called Gardiner Mines. I moved to Dartmouth to study photography at the NSCC Waterfront campus for 2 years but made my way back to the Cape shortly after graduating and I’ve been here since.

ColbyMahone Bay will always be my home, though I currently live in Halifax.

Nicole Boutilier 1
Photo courtesy of Explore the East

What do you love most about life in the Maritimes?

Nicole – I love just about every aspect of life in the Maritimes. Of course the obvious… the incredibly breathtaking landscape and unspoiled natural beauty.  It doesn’t matter where you are in the Maritimes you are only minutes away from the ocean, mountains or all the awesome things in between.  As a photographer I couldn’t possibly dream up a more beautiful place to call home.  I also love the people, I dare say you will not find kinder, caring or more generous people then Maritimers.  It’s a place where your neighbour will always let you borrow a cup of sugar or lend a helping hand. Our laid-back and relaxed atmosphere combined with our great sense of community is incomparable to any place I’ve ever been.  And lastly I love all the fascinating history that we hold in every Maritime province, I never get tired of learning about our heritage and culture.

ColbyIt’s hard to narrow it down to just one answer.  First off I’d have to say the cuisine. Growing up with farmers and fisherman in the family makes it so easy to appreciate the food that ends up on our tables.  Second, the scenery of the Maritimes.  From the highlands of Cape Breton to the world’s highest tides of Fundy.  It’s only a few hours of driving to see some of the most diverse landscapes.  Most of all I love the people and the culture.  I’ve never met anyone as friendly as someone from the Maritimes.  Every person is as friendly as the next.

Nicole Boutilier 2
Photo courtesy of Explore the East

What do you find most challenging about living/doing business here?

NicoleBeing from Cape Breton, there are definitely some obstacles that make growing a successful business and life here more difficult.  It’s unfortunate but the population is steadily on the decline and we have the obvious economic struggles.  Last year, Cape Breton had the biggest loss in population over any other region in the country.  I’ve seen half of my family move to other parts of Canada to find employment, and it always breaks my heart to see people leave this beautiful place.
Personally I feel like many Maritimers are stuck in their ways, not too keen on taking risks or change.  I believe the open-minded creative people are what’s keeping this island and other parts of the Maritimes going strong.  We need more people who are willing to do whatever it takes to make living here long-term possible.  I love seeing people going out on a limb and starting a new business.  During a time when the economy is struggling it’s so rad to see people taking a risk and following their dreams.  It would be great to see more people supporting our local businesses.  Even if it means stopping by a little cafe for your morning coffee over Tim Hortons every now and then.
Two of my biggest passions are photography, exploring and promoting the Maritimes. That is why Colby and I started Explore the East, we want to share how incredible this place is. We want to showcase not only the cool scenic places but also the small businesses that make this part of the country so special.  If you are dedicated and willing to put in the extra work anything is possible.  As Maritimers we don’t give up easily.

ColbyOne of the toughest things I find is the old-fashioned mind set people have.  People being set on their ways of thinking and not accepting change.
I also find that far too many people seem to give up and make the move out west for work. There is much that one can accomplish here with the will to work for it.  Especially with all the modern day resources available such as a myriad of social media platforms. Communicating and networking has never been so easy as it is today.

Nicole Boutilier 3
Photo courtesy of Explore the East

What is your favourite places(s) in the Maritimes?  Why?

NicoleThis one is easy for me, Cape Breton.  One of my favourite places in particular is the Cheticamp area.  It’s where my grandfather is from, and where lots of great childhood memories were made.  It has always been our go-to spot for summer vacations.
I believe growing up in Cape Breton shaped me into the person I am today.  I grew up always being outdoors, and I’m sure that played a massive roll in my love and appreciation for the island.  It might sound a bit cliche but Cape Breton is in my blood and it will always hold a very special place in my heart.  We are surrounded by the ocean, mountains, and wildlife that are simply stunning.  We have endless hiking trails, beaches and little villages to explore.  We are home to some of the most artistically talented people in the world, so there is no shortage of inspiration.
The people are hard working, kind-hearted, strong and generous.  I love that when you walk down the street, everybody greets you even if you are an unfamiliar face.  I recently spent a weekend in the Highlands of Cape Breton exploring the Cabot Trail.  As I was driving through the little communities I noticed that every person walking or every vehicle I drove by, would wave and greet me.  I had dinner with some local folks and they couldn’t have been nicer.  I felt like I was eating dinner with people I had known my entire life, even though we had just met.  It’s the small gestures of kindness and big hearts that make Cape Breton, along with the rest of the Maritimes, so special.

ColbyI would have to say my hometown and surrounding area.  I’ve had so many great memories in Lunenburg and Mahone Bay and continue to make more with every visit.

Nicole Boutilier 4
Photo courtesy of Explore the East

What do you think we can do to build a better Maritimes?

Nicole I’ll say it again the Maritimes are one of the most beautiful parts of Canada.  From the Bay of Fundy’s rising tides, to the sandy beaches of Prince Edward Island, to the mountains surrounding Margaree Valley.  While it’s scenic beauty may be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of the Maritimes (with good reason!), it’s the people who call it home that are really at the heart of it’s beauty.  Many musicians, photophraphers, writers, sculptors, painters and other artists have created works of art that mirror the beauty of the land.  It is through their creations that we are able to experience the Maritimes for what they truly are.  It is for this reason that it hurts so much to see the provincial governments cutting funding to the arts.  It is unreasonable to remove the funding for an arts program and then to expect the artists to remain in the Maritimes.  Tax credits, grants, and scholarships are relied upon by many in the arts community.  We need incentives, not only to keep our artists here, at home, but also to attract foreign artists to the Maritimes.  The Maritimes has no shortage of artists, but unless we’re able to give them a reason to stay, the art community has a serious risk of facing an upcoming departure of talent.  And I’m positive this is also relatable to many other industries and fields of work beyond just the arts.  If the government isn’t going to support us, we have to take it upon ourselves to make a change.  Support each other, and do whatever we can to keep Maritimers here.  Shop local, support our artists, small businesses and keep promoting that we are just as great as Western Canada or anywhere else in the world.

ColbyWe need to realize that the Maritimes are just as important as Canada’s other more-celebrated provinces.  We’re still growing in some areas but we are well on our way. We need to learn from our Canadian counterparts that social networking and similar platforms are just as important as other tools in the workplace.  Collaborating and working locally can only do good for the economy. We also need to remember the beauty of our own provinces.  We have few landscapes that are publicized, but Peggy’s Cove is just the tip of the iceberg.  There is so much more to discover and share.

Thanks so much for participating in our Share Your Maritime Love project, guys!

If you would like follow along with Nicole and Colby as they Explore the East, you can visit their Instagram account here.
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A Little Good News: The Wentworth Learning Centre 

This is the start of a new series at Maritime Love, called A Little Good News.  In the series, I’ll tell stories about positive things happening around the region.  Because, frankly, we could all use a little more good news.  My first A Little Good News story is on a subject very close to my heart: rural schools.

In June of 2015, the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board voted to uphold the decision to close Wentworth Consolidated Elementary, along with Maitland District Elementary and River John Consolidated, after rejecting their hub school proposals.  The communities were obviously devastated by the closures.  They fought, and continue to fight to keep their schools a part of their communities.

I grew up in the next village over from Wentworth and while I did not attend this school, I’ve visited many times and I know the toll that a school closure has both on the students and the community.  It can be very hard on kids to adjust to a new, often much larger school many kilometers away; their grades often suffer because of it.  On the community the effect can be even more drastic.  When a school closes, a community’s centre of gravity is lost, leaving it’s members unsteady and unsure of where the next step lies. Many families will move, simply to be closer to school and after school activities.  The remaining community struggles to maintain solidarity, without the school as a rallying point.

The people of Wentworth refused to give up and because of the hard work of some very committed members of the community, they have just announced that in September of 2017, they will be reopening the school as a “P-3, independent, not-for-profit, community governed and community maintained facility“.  And starting May 1, 2016, they will also offer “commercial space available for rent to encourage small business ventures and give owners affordable space to grow“.

To get the full scoop on the project I called on an old friend, Nathan Patriquin, who is the Vice President of the Wentworth Learning Centre Cooperative Ltd, the group that is overseeing the project and will be responsible for the Centre’s operation.  The Centre will not be affiliated with any local school board, instead relying on an ongoing fundraising campaign to raise the funds necessary for it’s operation.  He tells me that they are also accepting proposals from certified daycare providers and are marketing the almost 1500 sq ft of remaining available space as a “business incubator to encourage new entrepreneurs to pursue their ideas“.  When asked how the community has received the project, he tells me that while cautiously optimistic at first, the community is encouraged by the progress that has been made as the project gains momentum.

I congratulate the people of Wentworth on their commitment to providing local education for their children and for fighting so hard for their community.  It is exactly this kind of innovative thinking that will keep our rural Maritime communities alive and help them prosper into the future.

If you would like to learn more about the learning centre or are interested in renting space, please visit their Facebook page Wentworth Learning Centre.

Wentworth School

 

 

Fall Chop Chop Week in Saint John

A foodie’s dream – it’s Chop Chop Week in Uptown, Saint John!  All this week, our fabulous chefs offer up special plates, 2-course lunches and 3-course dinners for a special price.  And the best part is that $1 from every dish sold goes to Lunch Connection, providing hot lunches for kids.  It’s a win-win.  You get to eat great food and the kids get a hot lunch.  And remember that thing I wrote about helping support your city, Saint John?  This is one really simple way to do just that.  You get to show appreciation for our fabulous chefs who take such great care to make wonderful, beautiful food for us, support local businesses and thus the local economy and you get to help feed kids in the area.  So really it’s a win-win-win.

We’re well into Chop Chop week, with only a few more days left to partake.  And by all accounts, it’s been a roaring success.  Joel went to En on Tuesday with some coworkers and told me the place was bumping.  Last night we went to dinner at East Coast Bistro and the place was packed.  We had a fantastic meal and despite how busy it was, the service was great and we didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes for any course. Their kitchen is obviously a well oiled machine.

Since I can’t eat wheat, my choices are somewhat limited but I would still like to make it out for one more Chop Chop meal this weekend and I have found that our Saint John chefs are incredibly accommodating with food allergies and intolerances.  I thank you for that, it means a lot to this gluten free foodie!

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Chop Chop main course, En
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Chop Chop dinner at ECB!
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Black & white salad for me, sweet potato soup for Joel
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Pesto haddock gratin for my main, apple-cranberry-rye stuffed pork tenderloin for Joel
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Butter ice cream with sponge toffee crunch for me, Maritime gingerbread for Joel – so yummy!

So if you haven’t been out for a Chop Chop meal yet, what are you waiting for?!  Get on the horn and make a reservation for this weekend!  Yes, all our restaurants will still be here next week but these special menus and the chance to help local schoolkids won’t be.  Happy eating, SJ!

Stepping Up For My City

“Ask not what your city can do for you, but what you can do for your city”.

That, of course, is a paraphrased version of the very famous quote by JFK about patriotic duty. Or, in this case, civic responsibility.

This past week, Mayor Mel Norton published a post on his website (previously in the Telegraph-Journal) entitled Our Spirit of Resiliency, where he outlined where Saint John has been, where we are now and how we’re going to get to where we want to be. He called on the citizens of Saint John to pitch in, stating:

“We need you to ask yourself what you can do to foster this city’s ongoing renaissance.  Look around you: others have obviously asked themselves that question and found inspiring ways to answer it.  If you’ll forgive the pun, the ‘burning’ question now is: Have you?”.

Now, I know there has been some argument about whether Saint John really is a ‘Renaissance City’ and whether we should be using the term to describe our city.  I don’t give a shit about all that.  To me, it’s just semantics.  What truly matters is: how do we make our community better?  How do we improve quality of life for Maritimer’s and make this region a place where people want to live and investors want to do business.  I can tell you this: we don’t make our communities better by sitting on our hands.

I know some of you out there are thinking: “Damn it!  I pay my taxes and I vote, isn’t that enough?  What more do you want from me, woman!”

And I think the answer to the question is no.  No, it is not enough to simply live here, pay your taxes and go about the business of life.  Don’t get me wrong, these things are very important!  But in this economic climate, if we want more for our communities than struggling to keep their metaphorical heads-above-water, we need to do more.

I’m as guilty as the next person.  I could do more, I know that I could.  But it’s finding out how best to use your personal skills to help your community that is the real challenge. There are a multitude of ways to contribute to the health of our Maritime communities: from volunteering with non-profit organizations to supporting local businesses to participating in community clean-up days, just to name a few.

There are some people doing incredible things in Saint John that I draw inspiration from: People like Judith Mackin, Michelle Hooton, James Mullinger, the folks at Acre Architects and Third Space Gallery and more.  These people are using their substantial creative talents to build something special in our city.  I think if you look around your community, you will find similar, civic-minded individuals who love their community and want to see it succeed.  And if you don’t, then why not be that person?  Imagine what we could accomplish if we simply stopped our complaining and just got to work?  We would see a very different Maritimes.

So in the future, I will be on the look-out for ways to contribute to the growth and success of my city.  I hope you will too.  And together we’ll build a better Maritimes.