The Darkside: Is Small Business Welcome Here?

The Darkside Gallery & Café is located at 196 Windmill Road

By Kate Watson

Seriously? Seriously? The same city that talks about attracting newcomers and welcoming new businesses is telling this lovely, locally-run gallery/cafe that it doesn’t belong on Windmill Road?

The mind boggles…

The Darkside Gallery & Café is located at 196 Windmill Road
The Darkside Gallery & Café is located at 196 Windmill Road


Dear friends, neighbours and customers,

We will be going to court this week, as the city is charging us with violating the zoning bylaws in North Dartmouth. They are seeking to impose a fine of $100/day since our opening, which amounts to roughly $47,000 and growing.

Over the past year, ourselves and our landlord have worked to come to an agreement with the city that would allow us to keep operating in our current location. Despite the fact that we have come close to finalizing a development agreement, they are pursuing their court case against us.

We cannot understand why the city has chosen to go after a small business such as ours. In a province that is trying to grow its economy and reduce red tape, HRM continues to create bureaucracy and foster an anti-small business environment.

We came from outside Nova Scotia, brought our saving, our hopes and our dreams here and decided to invest ourselves in North Dartmouth. We bought a house, started our family and decided to open a small art gallery and café in a neighbourhood that is slowly improving.

We have hosted open mike nights for local musicians and story-telling evenings that celebrate the oral tradition and music of the east coast. Students from John Martin Jr High have exhibited their incredible drawings. Artists from all over Nova Scotia have sold their art to our customers. Not everyone buys a painting, but the art on the walls continues to provoke discussions among those who stop by.

Since the day we opened we have been harassed by the bureaucrats at the city. There has been no outside complaint made against us. We know this from the discovery documents that they provided us for our court case. This malicious prosecution has been driven by the staff of the city, whose salaries we all pay with our taxes and whose job it is supposed to be to improve the city we live in. One staff member even emailed that they should ‘throw the book’ at us. This is despite the fact that we have been told by the city that they believe that our presence in the neighbourhood is a good thing.

They have caused us untold stress and sleepless nights and now they threaten to shut us down by fining us what amounts to a half year of sales and would force us out of business.

The North Dartmouth community has been kind enough to embrace us. We have found a wonderful home in a diverse, vibrant neighbourhood and appreciate the love and support we have found from the residents. It would break our hearts to have to close.

We do not know what the outcome of this week’s court battle will be, so we ask you for your thoughts and prayers and thank you for your support over the past 15 months.

Please share.

Oliver and Megan Mahon
Owners, The Darkside



  1. This is happening all through Nova Scotia, in all the small towns, I see it time and time again.

    Will see everyone in Montreal, I guess.

  2. Good Luck Oliver and Megan-we need small business owners like you and as an artist, your gallery support has made all the difference to me and other emerging artists. The thought that you have to fight to stay is heartbreaking. My thoughts are with you through this!

  3. The city bureaucrats love to go after “the little guy” whether that is an individual homeowner or a very small business. They pick on the weakest, in true bully fashion. They chased world renowned guitar maker George Rizyanyi out of Halifax a coule of years ago in the same way, with bogus zoning concerns. Meanwhile they let the richest of the rich build things like that monstrosity of a convention center in downtown Halifax. The city enforcers a fearful and fawning at the super rich, and pick on the average citizen. Time for some house cleaning.

  4. So, they admit they were told from the beginning that they were violating the zoning for that area and expect us to have sympathy? Not getting any from me.

    • BUT…if the business was “friends” with the HRM, the HRM would find a way around the zoning issue…or change the zoning for such folks. I think that’s more the issue than just a zoning violation…that is why I have sympathy for these folks!!

    • They were not violating anything. They did what they were told to and then the city changed their mind. They are in a commercial zone that has been so for half a century.

    • You are kidding me ,right? They came here, are paying taxes and are not a drain on anyone. You sound like a grumpy old man. Hope you don’t live in their neighbourhood?

    • If they were aware from the beginning they were operating outside of the zoning laws it is them that should be ashamed! If it’s okay for them to operate outside the zoning laws why can’t I open my multinational faceless corporation next door?

  5. So, the business is in violation of a bylaw and they knew this when they opened? Or not? It’s an unfortunate situation but this piece doesn’t have enough detail to make it clear what has happened at all. I find this kind of incomplete story telling to be damaging to the larger conversations about development in our communities. More information please!

  6. This little art and coffee shop is a bright light in an otherwise dismal street scape. It is precisely the kind of small, family run enterprise that our communities need. It boggles the mind that city bureaucrats are bent on shutting it down.

  7. Oliver and Megan. I wish you all the best and I hope that you will prevail. We are a small business going through the same in Stewiacke. The town had not much else to do but enforce a by-law on us, even though our neighbours are completely supportive, made no complaint and were devastated by the action taken against us on a small technicality that originated with someone who has nothing at all to do with us. They refused to consider a development agreement or a reprieve through the long process. It is costing us as well while we await a review of the Land Use By-Law that is dragging on and on. The average time to amend a by-law – three months – for those who are in the favour of the town. For us – so far, it’s been a year and still no end in sight. Every month costs us more, although not as much as you. We still have the support of many citizens and the town government is really the only entity that decided to try to make our lives miserable too, but we make the best of it and rise above. We used to employ local youth, now cannot afford to do that. We comfort ourselves with the knowledge that those with tiny little hearts and minds have to live in their own miserable little mud puddles every day. Our mission – to enhance the lives of those around us and make our little corner of the world a better place. Theirs – to be destructive. Hang in there folks. I am from Dartmouth and if I still lived there, I would be talking to my elected representative for sure. Bask in the love and light emanating from those who are supporting you and be grateful that you are builders and growers and creatives – and not destructive morons.

  8. Oliver and Megan, we have enjoyed many cups of coffee, plates of curry and lovely conversations with you both, You have done nothing but enhance a neighbourhood. May you win your day in court and all that I can say is ‘ May the Force be with you’!

    • Hmm? I don’t see “buying art” anywhere in that support statement…. Allot of drinking & eating… Just saying… I guess I can disregard zoning before I open a business then cry for help when penalized for actions & decisions?

  9. What a great story of entrepreneurship, community building, and development of a business that sounds like it should be a welcomed addition in any community. I hope that people will get behind this couple by lobbying/calling local politicians, etc. Our provincial economy needs more efforts such as these and they will only happen if our bureaucracy is made to listen to what we want to have happen in our respective communities..
    Best of luck.

  10. I have enjoyed several evenings of storytelling at the Darkside. Storytelling is a traditional art, recognized by the Canada Council of the Arts. Oliver and Meghan stayed open after their regular hours to allow these presentations to take place, an act of generosity since there was no guarantee of any profit for them. Not all art is found on canvas, pottery or fabric and cannot be quantified by sales receipts. Small outlets like the Darkside and the Nook on Gottingen provide an invaluable resource to performance artists in our city.

  11. This doesn’t surprise me at all. City Hall only gets off developers’ tips long enough to bully small businesses.

    The flexibility of bylaws is directly proportional to the size of the business.

  12. My impression of this situation is it seems like two things are at play. First, typical government left-hand doesn’t know what right-hand is doing. Could be lack of direction or regard for any common sense or rules. Second, I have heard of many municipalities being run by people with extreme bias. This is a more common phenomenon in the maritimes than one would expect. The ‘city-fathers’ (and whom they influence) need to butt out and let the people and the system do its job according to the policies in place. Situation like this leave people on both sides (citizens, entrepreneurs, municipal workers/management) feeling dicouranged and frustrated. If the directors of the municipality need change, then do due diligence to change the policy and not single out single cases like this. Few situations receive the public view. I am hopeful that this business succeeds in its defence and serves as an example that municipalities are not above their own laws and policies, and that such bias
    destroys the credibility of the municipality to lead itself.

  13. Read further folks (see broader story in metro news)
    . It’s not zoned for a coffee shop cafe so they decided to skirt the process, and open an art gallery with coffee as special offering. They chose to not pursue a development agreement and zoning change back when they opened in oct 2014.

    I’m in the process of rezoning for my business and have great correspondence and support with the city.

    You have to respect the process and work with the city. All businesses have to play by the rules. He tried to do an end run around the rules and got caught, and is now playing the victim card. Good luck with that. Will be interesting to see the outcome.

  14. If the cafe was owned by a major developer the issue would already be put to rest. What a ridiculous city – bought and sold a long time ago. No wonder people leave.

  15. This is ridiculous. Set up a donation page to recover the cost of the fine. I’m sure you’d get it back in no time. If 2350 people donate $20 you’re set, for the fine at least. I’m not a regular, but you have a great business going.

  16. Why not just follow the protocol — the city is not the big bad wolf here, we all have to live together. Maybe I moved to an area not zoned for a cafe because I don’t want to live beside one!

  17. Seriously. Let’s support growing businesses especially ones that are new or non traditional ideas. If we can afford to give tax breaks, incentives and press conferences to multi-national box stores and call centres small zoning issues and 100$ a day fines are plain foolish.

    -Concerned taxpayer in Dartmouth

  18. I have worked in many cities across Canada ,but Halifax by far has missed the boat a long time ago,they cannot think outside the box when it comes to small businesses . Love living here but dislike working here .we have great people here , but poor management if you know what I mean.

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