Sharing the sacred fire: Ceremonial sweat lodge on campus

Participating in the first sweat lodge ceremony on campus at Saint Mary’s was an unforgettable way to wrap up the school year for a small group of students.

“It’s a really special experience, that’s for sure,” said John Morrison, an Anthropology major, shortly after emerging from the two-hour ceremony on Monday, April 15.

The sweat lodge structure was built the day before on the lawn behind The Oaks, using wood and rocks gathered in the area. For several hours prior to the ceremony, rocks were heated in the sacred fire pit, then moved into the lodge, where water was poured onto them to create steam. 

“It was a very calming experience being in there,” Criminology major Mary Rice said during a group lunch afterwards. “It was really hot but I was just focusing on putting my energy into the praying and healing. What helped me get through the heat was the people I was praying for; they’re going through a hard time so I can go through the heat for a little while to send them healing thoughts.”  

Raymond Sewell, SMU’s Indigenous Student Advisor, said students have long been inquiring about having a sweat lodge on campus so it was nice to see it become a reality this week.

Over the past term in the Indigenous Peoples of Canada course, students had been learning about cultural and historical challenges for Indigenous Peoples The course is taught by Professors Trudy Sable and Roger Lewis and one of their guest speakers was NSCC’s Indigenous Student Advisor Gary Joseph, a Cree Elder married to a Mi’kmaw woman from Shubenacadie. During his class presentation, Joseph guided students through a mock sweat lodge experience.

“The students really liked it and felt it showed the resilience of Indigenous cultures healing and moving forward given the painful and often unrecognized history they had been learning and discussing in class,” said Dr. Sable. Students expressed an interest in trying the real thing, which took some advance coordination but it came together with help from Sewell and his father, as well as Joseph, plus funding from the Office of the Vice-President Academic & Research.

“This just seemed like an opportune time and an experiential continuation of our class. There is a lot of interest to do more of them,” said Dr. Sable. The sweat lodge will remain on campus for a year and Sewell looks forward to coordinating future events.

Joseph provided some context around the elements of Monday’s ceremony: “Some of our ancestors a long time ago who signed agreements with other nations, one of the comments that often came of that treaty process was ‘we’re doing this for as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow’. When we make the sacred fire, we’re making a connection with the fire of your spirit and the fire of the sun. When you make these ceremony lodges, the grass is also part of the ribs of Mother Earth, so we’re acknowledging Mother Earth. And the water of course, we’re born from water, we’re breathing water, and water is 80 per cent of our body, so we share the water.”

Stephanie Dionne, an Anthropology major, strongly encouraged other students to try out the sweat lodge when the opportunity arises again. It’s an important addition to the campus as a welcoming space for Indigenous students, but also as a helpful gateway to intercultural study for other students, she said.

“It’s a starting point to broader understanding. I feel like it’s giving us a window into the life of other people,” said Dionne. 

Saint Mary’s Viola Desmond Bursary celebrated at the Nova Scotia Legislature

From left to right: Tom Brophy, Dr. Malcolm Butler, The Honorable Tony Ince, The Honourable Wilfred P. Moore, Q.C., LL.D., Ms. Jane Adams Ritcey, Sylvia Parris-Drummond, Deborah Brothers-Scott, Erin Sargeant Greenwood, and Tony Colaiacovo.

From left to right: Tom Brophy, Dr. Malcolm Butler, The Honorable Tony Ince, The Honourable Wilfred P. Moore, Q.C., LL.D., Ms. Jane Adams Ritcey, Sylvia Parris-Drummond, Deborah Brothers-Scott, Erin Sargeant Greenwood, and Tony Colaiacovo.

On April 9th, 2019, the Honorable Tony Ince, Minister of the Public Service Commission and Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, recognized the generosity of the donors behind the creation of the new Viola Desmond Bursary.

The Honourable Wilfred P. Moore, Q.C., LL.D., and Ms. Jane Adams Ritcey were recognized with a Notice of Motion read by Minister Ince before the legislature, receiving a round of applause from its members.

“The most important part of today is the recognition of Viola Desmond and the bursary available to African-Nova Scotian students at Saint Mary’s,” said the Honourable Wilfred P. Moore, Q.C., LL.D. “This recognition was a very nice gesture that my wife and I appreciate very much.”

The Viola Desmond Bursary was announced on November 8, the date of Viola’s heroic anti-discrimination action in 1946. The bursary is fully-endowed and will be given out every year to full-time African-Nova Scotian students at Saint Mary’s. The bursary was established with the permission of the Desmond Family.

The initial award amount will mark the year of Viola Desmond’s anti-segregation action, 1946, with students receiving $1,946. While this award is not renewable, it may be awarded to the same student more than once.

While preference for the bursary will be given to students in the Sobey School of Business, the bursary may also be awarded to students in programs featuring entrepreneurship. Preference will also be given to female students from Halifax County. Students must also have a financial need.

 More about the Viola Desmond Bursary at Saint Mary’s

Saint Mary's research projects with big industry impact

The Office of Innovation and Community Engagement at Saint Mary’s is a small office that delivers a big impact.

A recently-released progress report highlights a few projects that Saint Mary’s faculty members have been working on in collaboration with industry partners, including:

  • Dr. Jason Rhinelander’s partnership with LED Roadway Lighting has allowed him to lend his expertise in artificial intelligence and object recognition to evaluate the accuracy of an adaptive radar-based sensor platform for pedestrian and vehicle recognition at streetlight intersections.

  • RetailDeep uses innovative facial recognition software to enhance the shopping experience in stores, collect data from clients, and pinpoint opportunities to innovate within the retail space.

  • A partnership between Coloursmith Labs and Saint Mary’s researcher Dr. Danielle Tokarz has led to a breakthrough in treatment for colour blindness. Along with her team, Dr. Tokarz helped the startup company refine the focus of their research efforts and identify the appropriate nanoparticles and gels for the lenses. 

“Our office also takes pride in pairing faculty members with industry, helping to facilitate solutions to local companies’ problems using academic expertise, said Kevin Buchan, Director of the Office of Innovation and Community Engagement. “It’s also a great opportunity for students, the next generation of researchers, to work on applied projects in their fields.”

“We’re encouraged by the success we’ve had so far, and we look forward to doing more of these innovative projects,” said Buchan.  

 Click here to read the progress report, featuring researchers from all faculties at Saint Mary’s, and their partners, click here.


The Office of Innovation and Community Engagement (OICE) facilitates research relationships between Saint Mary’s University and companies, government departments, and community organizations. OICE is the initial point of contact for faculty members and external partners wishing to collaborate. The office assists with finding suitable expertise, contract development, and advises on funding opportunities.

Together again: CODCO is back, for one night only at SMU


Thirty years ago, the legendary cast of CODCO paved the way for a renaissance in Canadian comedy writing and performance. Often controversial, occasionally furious, but always hilarious, CODCO took gleeful pleasure in lampooning the hypocrisies of the powerful.

Saint Mary’s University will host an unforgettable evening on Friday, March 15th as Andy Jones, Cathy Jones, Greg Malone and Mary Walsh come together again to revisit their best work in a panel discussion on the art and politics of satire. They are the featured guest speakers for the 2019 Cyril J. Byrne Memorial Lecture, in the McNally Theatre Auditorium.

The public event begins at 6:30 pm with a live performance by the Evan Mahaney Jazz Trio. Starting at 7:00 pm, the four comedians will review their favourite sketches from CODCO’s television run, and reflect on the lasting significance of their work. The panel discussion is followed by an audience Q&A and a reception.

CODCO’s writing and many of its audacious performances continue to be studied today. Originally founded in St. John’s as a theatre company, CODCO aired nationally on CBC from 1988-1993 as a weekly sketch comedy television program. Far ahead of their time, Walsh, Jones, Jones and Malone – along with their beloved co-performer Tommy Sexton – were masters of social satire. With The Kids in the Hall, they pushed Canadian comedy, and Canadian culture as a whole, into new territory by tackling many previously taboo subjects relating to gender, sexuality, religion, economic development, colonialism and corporate / political power.

The annual Cyril J. Byrne Memorial Lecture celebrates the life and the fun-loving spirit of literature professor Cyril Byrne, who passed away in 2006. Throughout his 35-year career at Saint Mary’s, Dr. Byrne played a major role in establishing our Atlantic Canada Studies Program and the D’Arcy McGee Chair in Irish Studies. The lecture has welcomed many of the world’s best writers to Halifax, such as Yann Martel, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Alistair MacLeod, Anne Carson, Colm Tóibín, Dionne Brand, David Adams Richards and Wayne Johnston.

As always, the lecture is free and all are welcome, but seating is limited. Online registrations are now closed and early arrival is recommended for all who submitted RSVPs online. An overflow seating area with a video link has been arranged in Scotiabank Auditorium.

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2019


Please join the Saint Mary’s University community in celebrating International Women’s Day. There are a variety of events taking place across Halifax and here on campus for you to take part in.

This year's theme for International Women’s Day, #InnovateForChange, is a call to action, asking everyone to harness the power of technology to create a more equal world. By removing the barriers facing women in STEM, we can unleash new ideas and solutions that will transform our society and strengthen our economy.

This morning Saint Mary’s professor Dr. Clarissa Sit is one of five “remarkable women researchers’’ participating in a special panel discussion at the IWF International Women’s Day breakfast on Friday, March 8.

Between 300-350 people are expected to attend the event at the Westin Hotel in Halifax to celebrate the occasion.

Moderated by Dr. Alice Aiken, VP Research at Dalhousie University, panelists will speak about how their work addresses the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, and how they are having impact locally, regionally, nationally or internationally.

Dr. Sit completed her PhD at the University of Alberta before moving to Boston to work as an NSERC Banting and Alberta Innovates Health Solutions Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard Medical School. She is now an Associate Professor at Saint Mary’s; her lab investigates microbial warfare and other interactions between environmental fungi and bacteria. The team uses an applied science approach to tackle human health challenges, such as antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and ecological pests, such as White Nose Syndrome in bats and American Foulbrood Disease in honey bees.

The event was organized by the International Women’s Forum - Atlantic Chapter (IWF Atlantic). The IWF is a global non-profit, non-partisan membership organization created in 1982 to exchange ideas, to learn and inspire and to build better leadership. The Atlantic Chapter of IWF Canada annually hosts a breakfast on International Women’s Day.

This evening, the Saint Mary’s University Women’s Centre is holding an event that will feature performances, speakers and a student panel. The Celebration of Women event will feature prominent alumna Candace Thomas, Q.C., a partner with Stewart McKelvey, who was named one of the top 100 accomplished Black Canadian Women.

The Celebration of Women event takes places from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the 5th floor of the Student Centre. While the event is free, they will also be accepting donations that will go to Adsum house. Visit the SMU Women’s Centre Facebook page for more information.

More information on events taking place across Halifax.  

More information on International Women’s Day.