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Rising Tide Festival brings community together to understand harmful substance use

It was a quiet Friday night in North Sydney and large sturdy canvases were hung with precision on the peacock blue coloured walls of the old elementary school. The art room glowed due to the mismatched array of lamps curated from local family homes on the Northside. Cape Breton roasted coffee bubbled away as folks from Boularderie, Sydney Mines, Bras d’Or, Florence, and Sydney filtered in anticipating the show.

The Rising Tide Festival is a series of events happening on the Northside, aiming to engage the community in the work of Northside Rising and to build awareness and interest around the complex issue at hand: harmful substance use. Not an easy issue to dive into. The events aim to educate community members to better understand the causes of high substance use rates on the Northside. The hope is to reduce the stigma experienced by those who use drugs and become a healthier and safer community together.

The Rising Tide Festival Committee was born using the framework laid out over the last year by the work of Northside Rising’s dedicated Core team. This team was formed after our Community Survey results were shared last May.

Involving folks with lived experience in substance use was essential in making the Kick-Off event happen. Our committee prioritized what we felt was important for community members to know. For starters, the fact that a great proportion (but not all) folks who are drug dependent have experienced some level of trauma and/or abuse.

Many individuals who have suffered abuse and trauma have no support in dealing with these things. So they often turn to substances to numb the pain. There are a wide variety of reasons why someone may choose to use drugs for the first time, but no one chooses to become dependent on drugs.

Over half the population (53.1%) aged 20-34 in Cape Breton report heavy drinking in the past month. This is significantly higher compared to the provincial average, 38.5%, or the national average, 33.9%.

- CBRM Municipal Alcohol Policy: A snapshot of alcohol use in CBRM Communities

Having empathy for those who are dependent on drugs can be difficult for many because they have not lived the same experiences. Lack of social and community support can make people who are already isolated feel even more alone. Stigmatizing those who use drugs only stands to make things worse.

Drug use is unfortunately often still treated as a criminal issue instead of a health problem. Researchers at CBU estimate that 80-90% of folks in the Cape Breton Correctional Facility are dependent on drugs. Harmful substance use and mental illness very often go hand in hand. As you might imagine, when someone is criminalized due to drug use, their mental health issues may be exacerbated.

Barriers to education, employment, and other services start popping up everywhere once someone has a criminal record. There is a strong need to look at drug use differently. Radical systemic change around drug policy is working in both Switzerland and Portugal. Rates of drug use have fallen, crime has decreased, and governments have saved money on healthcare costs.  

Deciding to pair the heavy subject of substance use with the arts: paintings, music, and poetry, the Rising Tide Kick-Off left participants feeling a sense of hope, greater connection to their community and feel compassion for those who have or are currently struggling with substance use.

The kick-off was also a special night for the Five Eleven Youth Centre. The Kick-Off was one of the first open community events hosted there since the centre opened earlier in 2018.

Efflor Artist Run Centre, housed within the youth centre, were the technical geniuses behind the show.

EfflorARC was also a recipient of a Rising Tide Funding Grant to better equip their space for youth to engage with the arts. You can find more info about EfflorARC here. 

Attendees told us that community was what was great about this event – the involvement of the community at so many levels, community awareness of addiction, community members from different backgrounds coming together, and learning about a safe place for kids in North Sydney.

“People are trying to do something and make a change here. We are finally catching up to other people.” “This event promoted a friendly environment, helped people not feel so alone and really opens up your mind to stigma.”

Rising Tide Festival Kick-Off Attendees

Northside Rising will continue to hold space where folks can come together and learn how much people care about making positive changes.


Check out our re-cap video here!


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