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Alec BruceIf you live in one of Canada’s muscular metropolises, you might think about the Atlantic provinces once, maybe twice, a year. And when you do, you might be tempted to dismiss them as welfare states – unlike, say, Calgary.

After all, most people “down home” draw unemployment at least half the year. They’re just as likely to sit around the house as lace up their boots. That’s why anyone with even a little gumption lives somewhere else in this country – like, say, Calgary.

Of course, that doesn’t explain what people like Anya Waite are doing in Halifax. She’s an oceanographer who has spent most of her 30-year-career in New Zealand, Australia and Europe. Now, she’s running one of Canada’s more intriguing experiments in public-private sector collaborations: the Ocean Frontier Institute.

As global warming has started the countdown on sustainable innovation in marine sciences – where practical applications already affect everything from offshore fisheries and aquaculture to transportation and renewable energy – the institute aims to cultivate the best, newest ideas for everyone, everywhere.

“We’re trying to move ocean studies to a more useful place in the conversation,” Waite told me recently. “Historically, research is an ivory tower and we’re really working to break that down; to make the dialogue easier between academics and their potential stakeholders, which include governments, industries and communities. In fact, it won’t be easy and it certainly won’t be a straight line.”

Apparently, Nova Scotia’s capital city is as good a place as any in the world to make that happen. Why not? She was born, raised and educated there.

Move on down the coast a piece and you might meet a fellow who grew up in 1940s Apartheid South Africa, who became a Reuters news agency reporter covering the revolutionary bonfires of mid-20th century Latin America, who moved to the Toronto Telegram’s Moscow bureau during the iciest days of late-1960s Cold War mongering, who assumed the editorship of Canada’s most successful metropolitan magazine only to be slapped with a $102-million libel suit in the 1980s, and who has lived, since 1997, with his wife along a storm-lashed stretch of Nova Scotia’s South Shore.

Living near Port Medway hasn’t seemed to hurt Marq de Villiers much. In fact, he told me following the national release of his latest book, Hell and Damnation: A Sinner’s Guide to Eternal Torment, “I have an idea for another one. I’m thinking about calling it The Longbow, the Schooner, and the Violin. It’s about wood. Actually, it’s about wood, commerce and art. And war.”

Would he go away to write?

“Why would I do that?” he blurts between bites of a truly excellent reuben sandwich, courtesy of the The Port Grocer restaurant, which overlooks a bay where rum-runners once ferried their booze.

According to Aoife Mac Namara, “We have to get used to the unfamiliar.”

She’s the new president of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, and she knows what she’s talking about. Born in Amherst, N.S., but raised from the age of three in Ireland, she holds two master’s degrees and a PhD in fine arts. After a stint running Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Communications, Art and Technology in Burnaby, B.C., she’s here.

In fact, she’s always been a fan of the East Coast – not because it’s quaint, or slow, or lazy or anything else others in the rest of Canada might assume, but because it tends to defy expectations.

“We all need to be open, to be empathetic, to learn, to collaborate,” she says. “That’s how we’re all going to be future-ready.”

She’s talking about her university, of course, but she could be referring to the stereotypes that still afflict Canadians about other Canadians wherever they may live: Halifax, St. John’s, Charlottetown, Fredericton – even, say, Calgary.

Alec Bruce is a Halifax journalist who writes about business, politics and social issues, and editor of Troy Media Partner news site The Bluenose Bulletin.

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