Chatting with a few Saint John innovators

by Jeri Knopp

Over the last few months, I have been sitting down and chatting with people from all kinds of fields. These people have two things in common: they are pushing boundaries and coming up with new ideas in their field, and they are choosing to do these things in Saint John. Here is a collection of some of the stories I’ve written:

Dan Elman


Dan Elman is a born and bred Saint Johner, and one of the few remaining members of the original Jewish community that was a large part of the city’s history. Not wanting the community to vanish, he, along with a few others, came up with the idea of immigration: bringing highly skilled people in from Israel with their families to work in jobs that are hard to find local workers to do. Now, more than 10 years into the program, 132 Israeli adults have settled in Saint John, many of them working in IT as part of Enterprise Saint John’s True Growth “Israeli IT Workforce Initiative”.

Graeme Stewart-Robertson


Graeme Stewart-Robertson has been the Executive Director of ACAP Saint John, a community environmental non-profit organization, for the last year. After completing his undergraduate degree from UNBSJ, then going on to graduate studies in environmental geography at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Stewart-Robertson was drawn back to ACAP Saint John to complete a project that was close to his heart: the Marsh Creek Restoration Initiative. With that behind his belt, his role expanded and he got more intimately involved with the organization.

Jason MacLean


Jason Maclean is co-owner of Yoga Haus, a Rothesay yoga studio, and organizer of Inclusive Yoga, a program specifically designed for people with physical and mental disabilities. Born in Bathurst, Maclean moved from city to city in New Brunswick. After leaving the province for a while, he discovered yoga, and brought it back to the city he now calls home. Early this year, he introduced a new program into community spaces on a one time basis, but it has become so successful that there is now a designated Inclusive Yoga class at Yoga Haus.

Beth Kelly Hatt and Melanie Colpitts

Photo by Lance Timmons Photography

Beth Kelly Hatt moved to Saint John in 1981 from Charlo, New Brunswick. After taking a city tour and realizing that the tour guides were only talking about industry, not any of the architecture or culture she was interested in, she started Aquila Tours. Since then, the company has moved towards catering solely to cruise, and in 2007, they launched their training arm: the Aquila Centre for Cruise Excellence. Seen as a leader in the cruise industry, their training program is now the world standard for tour guides and has students in more than 40 countries.

Wendy MacDermott

Image courtesy of Cindy Wilson, Telegraph Journal

In 2011, Wendy MacDermott took on the role of Executive Director of the United Way. A native New Brunswicker from just outside of Moncton, she had moved to Saint John three years earlier from Saskatoon, SK, where she had lived for ten years. She first got involved with Vibrant Communities, bringing her non-profit perspective to Saint John, actively engaging both people who live in poverty and people who want to be part of the solution to figure out what the best way to go forward was. When she became part of the United Way family, she brought this mentality with her and started a major shift in the way the organization operates, with much success.

Jacques Blais

Image courtesy of Samuel Gilbert

Jacques Blais is a traveller, a nomad and outdoorsman who has chosen to make Saint John home in his retirement. Born in Quebec City, he turned to academia after a professional ski career, as a TA in French at the University of Calgary where he met his wife, Catherine. They travelled to Hawaii together and he fell in love with outrigger canoeing. When they moved to Saint John, Blais realized how perfectly suited the outrigger was for the Bay of Fundy waters, and is now trying to bring the sport to the area, one person at a time. He serves as a bank of information, teaching others the intricacies of the sport and when he’s not on the water, he’s doing research.

Dr. Mary Ann Campbell

Image courtesy of Mary Ann Campbell

Dr. Mary Ann Campbell is a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of New Brunswick Saint John. Born in Nova Scotia, she completed her master’s degree at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, then returned to Dalhousie for her PhD. When a job opportunity came up at UNB, she jumped at the chance to not only be back in the Maritimes, but also to be part of a new team breaking ground in implementing an evidence-based tool to help deal with domestic violence in the province. As the director of the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies, she continues her evidence-based approach to informing real world practice in the police field.

Dr. Jo-Ann Talbot

Image courtesy of Dr. Jo-Ann Talbot

Dr. Jo-Ann Talbot came to Saint John ten years ago after training in the Emergency Medicine program in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Dalhousie Medicine satellite campus in Saint John was just getting up and running, and she was excited to be able to work in an academic centre close to her family out East. Together with Dr. Michael Howlett, Dr. Glenn Verheul, and Drs. James French and Jay Mekwan, the Emergency Medicine Simulation program began. Five years later, the program is helping med students, residents, and experienced doctors practice high acuity, low frequency events in a simulated setting with dummies that respond to treatment.

Kate Elman-Wilcott

Image courtesy of Mark Hemmings

Kate Elman-Wilcott was born in Saint John, but spent much of her early life outside of the city, largely in Halifax where she studied theatre at Dalhousie University, then went on to work in youth theatre sections of professional theatre companies. When her family moved back to Saint John temporarily, she put together a theatre show with some children, and InterAction was born. 15 years later, the organization is providing theatre, dance and music to youth of all ages, skill levels, and economic backgrounds.

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