Nova Scotia

Halifax: A city with two north ends - Part 2

Many new and popular bars, cafes and restaurants have opened in Halifax's north end, bringing new faces into that part of the city — but some have noticed that although the north end has a large African Nova Scotian community, the restaurants themselves don't reflect that for the most part.

Restaurant owners offer ideas on how to welcome diversity

Dan Vorstermans and Ceilidh Sutherland own the Field Guide Restaurant in north-end Halifax.

Many new and popular bars, cafes and restaurants have opened in Halifax's north end in recent years, bringing new faces into that part of the city — but some have noticed that although the north end has a large African Nova Scotian community, the restaurants themselves don't reflect that for the most part.

That's left some community members concerned that the local community might be getting left behind.

Jenna Mooers owns EDNA on the corner of Gottingen Street and Portland Place and her establishment was named one of Enroute magazine's top 10 new Canadian restaurants for 2014.

Mooers grew up on Creighton and North streets, in an area that some African Nova Scotians refer to as "the box."

She was excited to open a business in her own neighbourhood. EDNA is not quite two years old, and employs 28 people; Ninety per cent of them live within a three-block radius; two employees are African Nova Scotians. 

Mooers said perhaps people from the African Nova Scotian community are coming in infrequently because they don't like the menu. But she admits the reason could be much more complex than that — that it could be due to systemic racism.

Some business owners who did not grow up in Halifax say the issue is even more noticeable to them.

'It was a white event'

​Dan Vorstermans and Ceilidh Sutherland own the restaurant Field Guide, across from EDNA on Gottingen Street. The business is only 17 months old and is already a destination for creative cocktails and locally-sourced dishes.

Sutherland, who is originally from rural Nova Scotia, said she took note of the divide in the north end last summer. Some friends had organized a night-time market on a busy street corner. They expected it to draw a diverse group of people.

"It was a white event. It was all white people. It was really weird. And I think for the people who put it on, that event had really good intentions and wanted it to be this really inclusive thing," she said.

"It did create this conversation of, why is this happening? Where is this line? There's some line somewhere on Gottingen Street and nobody is willing to go over it, either way, and it's really strange."

Vorstermans and Sutherland say they see the lack of diversity in their own restaurant, too. Many people think of Field Guide as a young hipster joint and the owners say they find that label stifling.

They want to be welcoming to everyone — all ages, races and from all economic backgrounds — but Vorstermans and Sutherland say they don't know what to do and they'd like some guidance. 

'You don't want to seem patronizing'

Vorsterman said he's considered hosting a barbecue, or handing out coupons as a gesture to let the community know they're welcome. But he's concerned that could backfire. He doesn't want to insult anyone and he also feels he has to be careful about how he hires people.

"You don't want to seem patronizing by saying, 'Hey, we really want to hire someone from this community' to have a token person from this community," he said.

In the first 17 months of running Field Guide, Vorstermans and Sutherland have been focused on surviving. They've hired mostly people they know, but they know that practice isn't helping to diversify their clientele because they're likely to attract even more clientele from the same social circles.

David Gallagher and Sean Gallagher, the father and son team that owns the Lion and Bright cafe and bar on Agricola Street, also say they see the deep-seated racism in Halifax. They point out that it's not unique to the city.

Sean grew up in Africa and has lived in Halifax's north end for a decade, while his father has worked all over the world with Canadian NGOs such as Oxfam and Care. In South Africa and Bosnia, David Gallagher worked with people who had been displaced by war or apartheid. He's been living in the north end for two years.

The Gallaghers wanted to set up in the north end because it's a vibrant community, and it's affordable.

'Needs to be an effort'

Sean Gallagher was surprised and disappointed to hear that some people from the African Nova Scotian community do not feel welcome in their restaurant.

"Obviously there needs to be an effort to create an invite. If there's a notion it is a closed door, that's news to me, and it's unfortunate," he said.

They've had success welcoming people from the African diaspora and the Caribbean into their restaurant because they have connections to the international student communities in Halifax, he said. But so far, they've had less success with the local African Nova Scotian community — and they hope to change that. 

This summer, Lion and Bright will sponsor a community mural project at the corner of Creighton and Charles streets. They'll be working with community groups and they hope to connect with members of the African Nova Scotian community. 

Sean Gallagher is more comfortable going that route rather than doing something like handing out coupons to people from the African Nova Scotian community. 

"I don't want to be singling people out," he said. "How to integrate more? I would say figure out how to get our job postings into that community."

He said he created 40 jobs last year. The cafe also promises to stay open in snowstorms, so they have to hire people who live nearby.

Sean Gallagher said another thing that would help bridge the divide would be if entrepreneurs from the black community started their own businesses, so they could inspire others to do the same.

Both sides of Halifax's north end want more integration — but how?

'Barriers both ways'

Michelle Strum has some answers. She opened the Alter Egos Cafe on Gottingen Street almost 14 years ago.

At that time, she was perplexed that she wasn't receiving any resumes from members of the nearby African Nova Scotian or Mi'kmaq communities.

Strum, who is the past chair of the North End Business Association, said it's her responsibility to ensure members of the local African Nova Scotian and Mi'kmaq communities are represented in her cafe. 

She also wants to debunk the stereotypes about Uniacke Square. People who live there want jobs just like any other community, she said.

"I think what businesses need to understand — instead of assuming that people just don't want to work there — is that there are barriers both ways," said Strum.

"There is disconnect between communities and that plays into whether someone feels confident enough to walk into your shop and ask for a job."

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