There is something so unmistakably whole about people, whether thoroughbred or import, from the south shore of Nova Scotia. The stretch of land and water running from Lunenburg County to Yarmouth and curling up into Digby breeds a good, honest and endlessly admirable people.
They come fully equipped with unabridged resourcefulness, a thriving arsenal of creativity, and, usually, a boat of some sort. They’re laissez-faire, but the furthest thing from lazy. They exist on the periphery of the mundane (i.e. desk job jockeying and social media scrolling) that typically swallows us all whole.
This is a stereotype, of course, but in this narrative, the reason for the calm, copacetic south shore persona exists wholly out of love, and maybe a little platonic jealousy.
People from this small, beautiful corner of the world seem to work with their hands and minds so coolly and instinctively—as if it was written in their intrinsic fabric how to summon phosphorescence on a shallow summer night, or stand-up paddle-board from Rebecca’s Restaurant to the middle of Mahone Bay, fully clothed, with a batch of just-made muffins.
They fix their own boats, they build their own boats; they manage restaurants and cafes and invest in the local economy. They have lobster boils and pig roasts and seemingly live their lives by what must only be the moon and its phases. To put it simply: They don't get lost in the fuss. They are undeniably talented, painfully modest and completely unflappable— and their music community is no different.
Diego Medina—a 36-year-old artist, producer, sound tech, motion picture tech and audio mixer who came to Halifax by way of Calgary, and before, that, Chile—is a devout contributor, facilitator and creator of music within this small, enchanting community. He injected the south shore with something it never knew was missing when he purchased the Old Confidence Lodge a decade ago.
“My family came [from Chile] in the 70s before I was even born and they were basically escaping the military coup in ’73,” he says. Medina’s family landed in Ontario, but eventually moved to Calgary, where Medina spent much of his life. It wasn't until he was touring across Canada as a musician in The Cape May that he discovered Nova Scotia, and its inescapable pull. Medina moved to Nova Scotia more than a decade ago, bought the building in 2009, and turned it into a recording studio, eventually morphing it into a tandem venue. The building is also Medina’s full-time home.
The Old Confidence Lodge can be found about 80 minutes southwest of Halifax, on a quiet seaside road in Riverport. It’s an enigmatic and simple-yet-grandiose estate, perched atop a small lot overlooking the clear, grey water, where it has sat for the past 89 years.
The wooden structure stands sturdily—resilient against the harsh ocean air — its thick pastel-yellow exterior paint barely peeling in recoil. The three-level building commands respect: Its flat, upright facade facing the wind and water, owning the long and winding coastal route that hosts it, and a small cluster of several other very large, old wooden homes in an otherwise sparsely populated village.
It’s early spring in Nova Scotia, that overcast-ruled time of year when all-encompassing frost permeates everything while we’re paying our dues for the pending summer. Medina sips orange pekoe listening to A Tribe Called Quest on vinyl, while his humungous black Newfoundland dog, Penguin, sits at his feet. He’s sitting in the same airy, wooden-beamed room that for decades served as the designated cloaking area for a now-defunct secret society.
Just below, through the floor is the music hall: A five-foot-tall stage framed by heavy velvet curtains, rising from old hardwood floors that make up the 200-capacity mezzanine area, sitting beneath the theatre’s balcony. Picture a fisher’s version of the Grand Ole Opry.
“The Oddfellows were sort of like a Masonic group—sort of like a Freemason group—that had a female auxiliary called the Rebeccas,” says Medina. “We are sitting in the space right now that was the secret lodge. I put walls up of course, but this used to be just a giant hall all the way to the other side of the building.”
The Old Confidence Lodge was built by the Oddfellows in 1929. It was a secret gentlemen’s club where women cooked and cleaned, and guys took oaths and slid peephole windows for open sesame.
When he bought it 10 years ago, Medina stumbled upon some relics in the Lodge’s upper floor before turning it into what is now his lofty condo. “There was just a throne and some weird benches and seats, and what is now the kitchen was a weird cloak dressing room,” he says. “And they had cloaks and pointy shoes and, weird [stuff]—just bizarre shit.
“They had a goat as their mascot,” he adds. “They kept it outside and it ate the grass. Apparently it was brought in for initiations—I don’t know what they'd do with it, honestly, but this is what the story tells me.”
The building has only been passed through a few owners’ hands in its lengthy lifespan. Between the Oddfellows building it in 1929 and Medina moving in 79 years later, a couple local artists bought the place in the early 2000s and tried to turn it into a tapas bar.
The Oddfellows named their secret club The Confidence Lodge. “There’s weird stuff, like old shows back in the day when they would allow kangaroo boxing matches, they would have that here—a kangaroo box a person—that kind of weird stuff,” says Medina. “That happened.”
Today, the Lodge is known for its intimate concerts and its incomparable recording experience, including albums and tracks for Joel Plaskett, Rose Cousins, Amelia Curran, Alan Syliboy, Mardeen, Hey Rosetta!, Matt Mays, Rich Aucoin and many, many others.
Danielle Noble—who sings and plays keys in Mahone Bay/Halifax-based band Caribou Run— says because of Medina’s hard work, the local music scene has been able to flourish and gain some solid momentum over the past few years.
“Diego is just a really great person to work with, and the Old Confidence Lodge has been like a second home to us for the past few years,” she says. “We've gone in there to watch other people record, we've gone there for different shows, for different parties and things like that.”
Caribou Run just released its first full-length album, Old Peninsula, an ode to Nova Scotia that was recorded at the Lodge. “And to finally have the chance to record our album there, it’s been really great.”
Noble, along with her partner and bandmate, Drew Moores, also started a video performance series called Tiny Boat Concerts few years ago, where they film performances from both local and touring artists on their homemade houseboat docked in the middle of Mahone Bay.
Noble, originally from Bedford, says the south shore scene is something she feels “really fortunate to have stumbled upon.
“It’s a community that’s really, really encouraging and supportive of one another. I find it’s kind of like a family in a sense, and I feel really lucky. It kind of just has an old feel to it. People live really unique, simple lives and it’s just a great community.”
Aside from the consistent roster of pub shows or church concerts that regularly take place on any given day, the south shore also lends itself to a host of annual music festivals—from the widely attended Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival, to the Knotty by Nature Music Festival hosted at the Ovens Natural Park and the Hops and Chops Festival in Mahone Bay.
“What’s really great, too, is that one weekend there could be nothing going on the next weekend, and then all of a sudden someone set up a show at their house,” says Noble. “So there’s always things that pop up here and there. And it could have a festival feel to it because lots of bands are playing, but it could be in someone’s backyard.”
Jennah Barry is a born-and-raised south shore singer-songwriter whose much-praised debut album, Young Men (2012), was one of Medina’s first packaged recordings at the Lodge.
“Jon Mckiel might have been before me, but I think we are the first two,” she says. “I made that record when [Medina] was just starting and he had really crappy kerosene heaters. Every once in awhile, he would crank this giant diesel heater and you'd just have to deal with the smell, and he’d heat the room for a minute and blast it, and then he’d do a take and then blast it again, and then do a take. And he just keeps it looking better now. He built a new stage—which, admittedly, it’s a very intimidating stage, it’s the real deal.”
Barry, 29, has lived in some of the biggest cities in Canada, but still somehow got called back to Mahone Bay, the small town she was raised in.
“I like living in a small place. I like living in a close community. I found when I was living in Toronto, that’s what I was craving….I thought about it, moving here—whether that would be a good move for someone trying to have a creative career—but it’s great,” she says. “I mean, you're interviewing me about a scene in the south shore, so there is one here.”
Barry teaches piano and singing lessons and also works at No 9 Coffee Bar in Lunenburg—a cafe owned by her friend, a fellow musician and former member of Bran Van 3000, Sara Johnston.
Since moving back to the Bay in 2011, Barry says a few other artists followed, among them JOYFULTALK’s Jay Crocker and Aaron Mangle from Cousins. “There’s just a lot of musicians living around here, so there’s always these really great shows,” she says. “Because musicians that they know from away will come and collaborate and make these shows and use the spaces that we have here creatively to [make] nice venues.”
Medina can also attest to the fact that there’s been a definitive influx of creative come-from-aways over the past few years. “A lot of people have moved here that are friends of mine who were either in Ontario or Alberta or wherever,” he says. “People have been more inspired to come move here and pursue their talents—many of them being musicians. I think that, in terms of music, we've made a lot of records that have kind of put this place on the map.”
Having spent the past decade fostering and carefully caring for a scene he had such an integral role in, Medina is now moving on to a new baby: His own. After becoming a father earlier this year, he’s decided to sell the Lodge so he can dedicate more time to his family.
“The last 10 years of my life and work have taught me a lot about growing something epic from a small undeveloped nucleus of a dream,” he says. “Packing it up and selling it to the next potential owner [will be] a real pleasure because I know it’s turnkey-ready to thrive as a live performance venue, [with] perhaps a bar and music situation and BNB spot above. Whomever gets it can do that while still making it their own own dream to be lived out.”
For Medina, the Lodge has been his home, his recording studio and a favourite venue among local musicians and aficionados alike. But it’s also a time capsule—a precious portal into nearly 90 years of revelry and celebration (whether in the form of music-making or cloak worship).
But whether it’s Medina who continues to oversee the Lodge for years to come, or it gets passed into the hands of someone else, it is and has been an important piece of Nova Scotia’s musical history—specially the South shore’s—that should be preserved, and more importantly, enjoyed.
“It’s important to keep this place alive as it used to be back in the day, because this is the place that people would come to see shows. And this was the place where people would come get married. Or make out with their girlfriend in the corner. Or get into a fight. Whatever,” he says. “This was the venue in Riverport. This is where the parties happened. So I want to keep that spirit alive.”
Hillary Windsor is a freelance writer in Halifax.