Halifax ‘makers’ seek space to tinker

Group members revel in the joy of invention

Adam Cox, left, Peter Greathead and Evan d'Entremont have been drumming up interest in establishing a Halifax makerspace since the summer. Photo: Chris Putnam
Adam Cox, left, Peter Greathead and Evan d’Entremont have been drumming up interest in establishing a Halifax makerspace since the summer. Photo: Chris Putnam

For an hour each Monday night, this noisy basement coffee shop is the most creative place in Halifax.

Over music and steaming lattes, ideas flow easily from the 12 people gathered downtown at Uncommon Grounds: a miniature airplane that pilots itself by GPS; a 3D printer capable of replicating itself; an array of wireless household thermometers that track temperature trends.

This is the largest meeting so far of the Halifax Makerspace Society, a mix of programmers, designers, artists and engineers with a common goal: creating a workspace where they can gather to build things.

The concept is called a makerspace, or a hackerspace – a shared workshop and laboratory filled with tools available to all dues-paying members. They exist in cities around the world, but this would be a first for Halifax.

Joining a makerspace is “kind of like getting a gym membership, except instead of gym equipment you’ve got tools,” says 32-year-old software developer Adam Cox, one of the group’s core members.

Designing commercial products is one possible use of the space, but most of those involved are just interested in the joy of invention. Electronics or metalworking, small projects or large: members have shown interest in them all.

Rachael Craig attended her first meeting in mid-October. The 29-year-old instructional designer and Dalhousie University neuroscience grad has always been interested in tinkering. She remembers programming computers in BASIC at age six.

“I love it all,” she says. “I’d be up for building robots or catapults or, you know, doing something with woodworking.”

Shawn Kehoe and Rachael Craig both attended their first makerspace meeting at Uncommon Grounds on South Park Street in mid-October. Attendance at the group's weekly meetings has been steadily growing. Photo: Chris Putnam
Shawn Kehoe and Rachael Craig both attended their first makerspace meeting at Uncommon Grounds on South Park Street in mid-October. Attendance at the group’s weekly meetings has been steadily growing. Photo: Chris Putnam

Craig says she could work in her basement but she wants the community and skill-sharing opportunities a makerspace would offer. Other members dream of accessing expensive equipment like milling machines and welding gear that they could never afford on their own.

There’s a philosophy underlying the project, too. As the meeting’s members talk, a passion for openness and collaboration is a recurring theme. Systems administrator Rob Hutten, another newcomer, puts it another way; he’s interested in “restoring the art of being useful.”

The group’s biggest challenge will be finding enough committed members to keep the monthly dues affordable and to acquire a well-equipped space. They want to attract students, too, perhaps with a discounted membership rate. Dal PhD physics student Tristan de Boer thinks this would be an ideal place for students to be mentored.

There’s a lot to be done first. This isn’t the first time a makerspace has been proposed for Halifax, although no group has made it this far. At least 30 people have shown interest. The local society is in the process of being registered as a cooperative, and it’s ready to start looking at rental spaces.

Many members are interested in collaborating on a large art project for next year’s Nocturne festival. Peter Greathead, a 46-year-old harbour ferry mate whose hobby is turning antique clocks into cases for home computers, is excited about the idea.

The gears are already whirring in his head: a remote-controlled blimp that floats down Barrington Street, or a robotic arm that stacks wooden blocks according to Twitter instructions.

“Those are all possible,” he says.

Once the doors open on a makerspace, just about anything can emerge.