Category: The Arts

The Dawson City Music Festival

Are music festivals on the wane? That the 50th anniversary concert celebrating the Woodstock Music Festival may not happen has led some commentators to conclude that summer music festivals may be no more. Music festivals epitomized the energy and buoyancy of the ’60s and have long returned across the country each summer, drawing enthusiasts for musical experiences in the open air. Some have come and gone. Others continue with no apparent loss of enthusiasm.

One such festival is the Dawson City Music Festival, this year in its 41st annual incarnation. Over the years, almost all the young members of my family have attended the Dawson City Music Festival, using it as an excuse to visit the Yukon and perhaps to canoe the Yukon River. My sister volunteers her beautiful log house on Eighth Avenue as the venue for the Music Festival after-party where the artists, techies, and volunteers gather for an all-night celebration. The Dawson City Music Festival was on my bucket list. This year, we decided to take it in.

The Main Stage of the Music Festival was in Minto Park where a massive tent shared space with a beer garden and Emerging Artists stage, a children’s playground and numerous food carts offering a surprising array of ethnic food. Other venues were the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre (Long Time Ago House) the home of the local Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, St. Paul’s Anglican Church constructed originally in 1902, and the Palace Grand Theatre which has been providing entertainments since 1899.

Old and as uninformed about modern music as we are, we knew none of the musicians. At the Main Stage concerts and at a couple of workshops, we heard only some of them. We particularly liked The Jerry Cans from Iqaluit who use Inuit throat singing and the Indigenous language of Inuktitut in their folk-rock repertoire, Ryan McNally and The MessaRounders (from Whitehorse) who are known for their blues, jazz and old-time music, and Major Funk and the Employment who use their horns and big vocals to play very danceable music.

I also particularly liked the Orkestar Kriminal, a group of five women and five men, who come from Montreal. They play unique instruments (among others, the sousaphone, trombone, saxophone, bouzouki, baglama, piccolo, accordion, and flute) and sing in Yiddish, Russian, Greek, Spanish, and Pashto. Their songs focus on international experiences of crime and prison. In addition to their Main Stage show, they played a concert at the historic Commissioner’s Mansion as part of the very popular Music Crawl which started at the Robert Service cabin, moved to the Commissioner’s Residence, then to the banks of the river, and then to the S.S. Keno.

We could not attend more than a little of the entire festival. What impressed us was the extent to which the best of the musicians got the audience involved. Both on Saturday and Sunday nights, we were amazed to see the floor of the Main Stage tent fill with hundreds of dancers of all ages; children, young people, old people, singletons, apparent drifters. It seemed that everyone there was dancing. And they went on and on. It was a great party.

On Sunday night, the after-party continued in my sister’s house and backyard. There, it was great fun to meet the musicians and the volunteers and to listen to Ryan McNally sing and play in her greenhouse. Altogether a most memorable event.

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The Theatre Under the Stars

No theatre experience is more engaging than when it takes place during the summer in the open air at Stanley Park in Vancouver. Malkin Bowl, near the Stanley Park Pavilion and the rose garden, has been the site of musicals presented since l940 by the Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS). Apart from the quality of the theatre, the fading daylight, singing birds, the scent of the evergreens and the sound of the nine o’clock gun render the site sublime

A community theatre, TUTS is dependent on volunteers, staffed with only a few paid professionals. It provides invaluable experience for the young performers who are part of the cast. Their energy and enthusiasm is contagious. This is particularly so in their production of Disney’s Newsies which we attended on Sunday night and which is currently alternating with Mama Mia.

Based on the 1992 musical film Newsies, redone as a musical which debuted on Broadway in 2012, Newsies tells Disney’s version of the real-life story of the strike by newsboys who sold newspapers in New York City in l899. The strike was prompted by the decision of Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World, to raise the price of the “papes” he charges to the newsies who sell his papers.

It is a delightful musical with a compelling story that illustrates the evolution of labour-management issues, and with believable characters who draw us into the complexity of their responses. The range of music is appealing and the choreography utterly fantastic. Director and Choreographer, Toronto-based Julie Tomaino, and Music Director, Christopher King, have produced a delight which I highly recommend.

All the cast members were strong. Adam Charles plays the charismatic leader of the strike, Jack Kelly; Cole Smuland, his friend Crutchie with a disabled leg; Julia Ullrich, the reporter Katherine; Daniel Curalli, the “brains” of the strike; and Jordyn Bennett, his younger brother. The two latter characters are the only Newsies with parents. Equally impressive was the ensemble of dancers.

On Sunday’s performance, we sat beside the mother of one of the ensemble, Haley Allen. The young actor comes from Smithers and is a recent graduate of the Musical Theatre Program at Capilano University. She is like many of the cast who have come through that program. Haley’s mother told us how excited her daughter is by the opportunity to perform every second night for six weeks, and to bond with the cast who have become her friends. As I had learned a little about her, I watched Haley with particular interest as she sang, danced, and performed mind-blowing gymnastic tumbles and jumps. Her talent is evident, as is that of all those who shared the stage with her. Clearly, their personal bonding is reflected in the strength of the collective.

Jerry Wasserman of the Vancouver Sun, in his review headlined “Fabulous Dancing, with Politics by Disney” (The Vancouver Sun, July 13, 2019) wrote that “this production… feels at first like Les Mis, then Les Mis crossed with Annie for the Disney Channel… a stirring story with a feeble ending that lets the nasty capitalists off the hook.” He concludes that “Director Julie Tomaino’s muscular, athletic choreography… reveal(s) as much about the spunk of these downtrodden orphan kids as their political resistance does.” He notes also that “the elaborate fights” directed by Michael Kovac and Ryan McNell Bolton, “that mesh nicely with Tomaino’s energetic choreography… drive the show.” Andrea Warner in The Georgia Straight (July 25-August 1, 2019) writes that “Newsies charms with heart” and “some of the most epic and impressive dance numbers in the company’s history.” It’s an amazing show which left us feeling warm and wonderful. Musical theatre at its best.

***** TUTS has just announced an extension of the 2019 season to August 24th.






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An Excursion to Giverny

Giverny is near the Seine River, a drive of an hour and a half northwest of Paris, close to Vernon. In 1883, impressionist painter Claude Monet moved there to live as a tenant with his children and the family of Alice Hoschedé whom he later married. There he began to plant the first of the two gardens which came to inspire his painting. A decade later, he bought the property and began construction of the lily pond which became the subject of thousands of paintings including the eight massive Water Lilies (Les Nymphéas) painted at Giverny and, after his death in 1926, installed in L’Orangerie in Paris. The paintings evoke changes in nature during the day and throughout the year and are considered a significant contribution to the evolution of modern abstract art.

His son Michel Monet bequeathed his family home and gardens at Giverny to the Académie des Beaux-Arts on his death in l966. Restoration of the home and gardens began in 1977 under the direction of Gerald van der Kemp who had previous experience renewing Versailles. In l980, they were opened to the public and the Fondation Claude Monet was established. Given the impact of the Water Lilies paintings, it is little wonder that the house and gardens at Giverny have become a very popular tourist destination, attracting over 600,000 visitors every year.

We were warned that Giverny would be crowded. It was, but friends had discovered a self-guided tour offered by Paris City Vision that would take us there and back by bus and, most important, ensure that we had a “group entrance” to the house and gardens. The “group entrance” meant we avoided the long line of individual visitors waiting to enter. We were able to enjoy the gardens and the house for as long as we wanted, at our own speed. As our time was our own, we spent the rest of the day indulging in a delectable meal at a very friendly and accommodating restaurant. On our return to Paris, the bus drove along the right bank of the Seine and gave us final views of the river and many of its attractions.

As someone who plays with gardening and enjoys photography, I found our visit to Giverny positively exhilarating. The present-day gardens have been planted “in the spirit of Monet,” an idealized version based, among other things, on records of seed orders found in the archives and on Monet’s many paintings of the gardens. Numerous planting schemes create a palette of bright colours which change with the seasons. In the summer, the roses, nasturtiums, lavender, lilies, irises, clematis, tulips, a range of perennials and annuals, take the breath away. By contrast, the greens and accent colours of the lily ponds, the Japanese bridge, the groves of bamboo, the weeping willows, and the reflections in the water induce a serenity which invites rest and contemplation. I would gladly return to the gardens again and in other seasons.

As for the house, I loved the Japanese prints and the other artworks on the walls (most, copies of originals hanging elsewhere), his bright yellow dining room, and the kitchen with its blue and white tiles, fireplace, copper pots, and massive stove. Claude Monet was a very successful artist who lived a long life, had influential friends, and was able to enjoy the fruits of his talents. The restoration of his family bequests will ensure that Giverny attracts visitors in perpetuity. Theirs is a gift to cherish.

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A Spring Tease in Toronto Brings Signs of Hope

Reading the Sunday Star this weekend brought small signs of hope for better times ahead. It’s nice to read some good news for a change.

* The White House released the Annual Report of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors, his own appointees, which clearly shows that Trump’s trade figures on NAFTA are out to lunch. They make the point that the US had a trade surplus with Canada when services are included in the calculations. Now that his own advisors have formally stated what Canada has said all along, will it make any difference in the NAFTA negotiations to Trump? to his lackeys in Congress?

* School children and youth in Florida are leading a campaign for gun control. Where their parents have failed, maybe the younger generations will succeed. I love the slogan in one photograph at a recent demonstration: “How dare you push legislation protecting us before we are born and not after the fact!” This may be the beginning of something good, particularly as they are calling for consumer boycotts against the NRA and against states with lax gun laws. David Hogg, a survivor of the recent shooting, is calling on tourists not to take their spring break in Florida.

* Is the National Rifle Association beginning to lose its lustre? American companies are said to be responding. Delta, United Airlines, Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, the Best Western hotel chain, Wyndham Hotels, and global insurance company MetLife have apparently all ditched the discounts they previously made available to NRA members. Other major companies are cutting their ties with the NRA: the First National Bank of Omaha, one of the largest private banks in America, cut its “Official Credit Card of the NRA,” Symantec is leading the boycott movement into the software industry, and Chubb Ltd announced it will no longer underwrite its “NRA Carry Guard,” popularly known as its “murder insurance.” #BoycottNRA is the new rallying cry. Can social media give this plea the same power that #Metoo has gained? Let’s hope so. In Canada, members of MEC are now calling for the co-op to boycott purchases from a company with a division which makes high-powered rifles. So they should.

Economic sanctions led to the end of apartheid in South Africa. Maybe economic sanctions by each of us, and by the companies we patronize, can be the answer to the carnage caused by American gun laws.

* The donnybrook of the current Ontario PC leadership race has highlighted the questionable capacity of the party to govern the province. Their current interim leader has admitted “the rot” in the party and is trying to clean it up. Until Patrick Brown withdrew on Monday, to the audible relief of his competitors and the rest of the party, he seemed hell-bent on discrediting the four candidates who are seeking to replace him as the future Premier of Ontario.

The first leadership debate made it painfully obvious that none of the newcomers has any grasp of policy issues facing the government of the province, and none favours a carbon tax. Patrick Brown at least approved of the party platform which was generally conceded to have been cribbed from the Liberals and he, at least, recognizes that a carbon tax is coming, like it or not. This upcoming election campaign is going to be very interesting. Have the Liberals been so bad that we need to trade them in for this bunch?

* Last but not least, Jean Terauds wrote a marvellous review entitled “Handel’s Alexander’s Feast a marvellous musical meal in Tafelmusik’s hands.” I heard the concert at Koerner Hall on Sunday and was thrilled. This was the first time the Tafelmusik Baroque orchestra and Chamber Choir have performed this oratorio. Secular, taken from John Dryden’s 1697 ode, “Alexander’s Feast or The Power of Music,” it included a concerto for the harp played by harpist Julia Seager-Scott using a triple-strung harp, a concerto for the organ played by Neil Cockburn from Calgary, wonderful arias, stirring recitatives, invigorating choruses, and many highlights by different instruments in the orchestra. The soloists, American soprano Amanda Forsythe, British tenor Thomas Hobbs, and British-Canadian baritone Alexander Dobson, were splendid. Under the deft direction of Ivars Taurins, it was an utterly marvellous performance, wildly received by the audience. And, according to Tafelmusik’s new musical director, Elisa Citterio, next season will feature three full performances by the Choir. That’s just what I need to hear to put joy in my heart and a spring in my step.




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Vancouver’s Circle Craft Market

Last Friday, I spent the entire day exploring the Circle Craft Christmas Market at the Vancouver Convention Centre. When the doors opened at 10:00 a.m., already there was a lineup of shoppers like me, eager to see the wares without the crowds. Circle Craft is a self-sustaining cooperative of BC artists, formed in 1972, to promote “direct from the artist” quality crafts at the Market and at their gallery on Granville Island. Circle Craft is more intimate than the gigantic One of a Kind show, which runs in Toronto at the end of November but, with three hundred exhibitors, this offering is no less engaging.

One of the delights of these shows is the chance to speak with the artisans who produce such creative treasures. The X-tails couple from Prince George with their colourful line of children’s books started out by accident and are now in great demand for stories in schools. The Out of Ruins couple from Ottawa offered to come to my home in Toronto and propose a glass insert for my foyer window fashioned from their recycled glass. The Abeego Designs folks from Victoria promise that their beeswax paper will lengthen the freshness of left-over food. The Lemon Square bakers from Vancouver offer samples to die for. The 4 Paws Pure people from Prince George have an array of dried treats for animals too exotic for my cats but which the dog-lovers in the crowd were buying up with gusto. Don Pell of Wingnut Enterprises, Bellevue, Saskatchewan, told me that the brightly coloured whirligigs that I admired were for outdoor use and would withstand even the coldest prairie winter. The young man at Gift-a-Green had a range of inventive greeting cards that grow. An intriguing idea worth a try, I thought. The bamboo sleepwear on display at This is J, was colourful and soft, but I was in no mood to try on clothing, so took their Fall/Winter 2017 catalogue and may well buy online.

And so it goes. Back and forth along the rows, with too many wonderful treasures to explore. In the interests of expediency, I skipped the jewellery shops, and generally avoided the pottery, ceramics and wood. I declined the free samples offered by various distilleries, wineries and breweries; drinking so early in the day would undoubtedly deter me from the serious power shopping ahead.

For anything too heavy or cumbersome to carry back to Toronto, I decided to rely on webpages. Almost all the artisans seem to have an internet presence, and collecting cards for future reference online is useful. They also have those new-fangled little gadgets for taking credit cards and issuing receipts by email at the same time. Finding my email address already embedded in some machines was somewhat disconcerting; my email address preceded my attendance at the Market! I later thought that perhaps this occurred because I made purchases at the Harmony Festival in West Vancouver before, although not from these particular artisans. Even more shocking was to return home and find so many receipts clogging up my email. Did I really buy all that?

As at the One of a Kind, I made good use of the Parcel Check to store my purchases as I went along. The only downside of the practice is that I forgot how much I’d acquired until it was time to go home. Then I had to arrange all the bags on my arms and in my backpack, and then pack all the parcels myself up the escalator, across the foyer, and down the escalator again to get outside. Fortunately, I didn’t have to stand long until a cab came and whisked me over the bridge just as the setting sun lit up all of North Vancouver.

In the vast expanse of the One of a Kind in Toronto, I typically meet no one I know. At the Circle Craft Market, by contrast, shortly before noon I heard my name called, turned, and found my cousin Diane standing right behind me. Over a lemonade together, we caught up on all our news. Later, the same thing happened again; this time with the two new friends who had met me and my DOH companion at the airport last week. I may be in Vancouver for only a short time, but such encounters make me feel at home.

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Toronto Sings for Gord Downie

On October 24th, I joined the masses gathered on Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, to honour Gord Downie by singing his songs. Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman (aka “DaBu”), the founders in 2011 of the weekly drop-in singing group, Choir! Choir! Choir! in Toronto, organized and led what was a communal hootenanny. Most everyone knew the music and lyrics by heart; the rest of us sang along using words we’d downloaded from the internet. It was a very stirring event.

I went because I knew so little about the man and the band which has become a national phenomenon. I needed to fill the gap. The Tragically Hip is a familiar name. When they played the Dawson City Music Festival years ago, I knew that my sister had hosted the band in her home at the after party. Gord Downie’s actions, since his diagnosis with a brain tumour in December 2015, quite properly made him a national hero. I admired the Secret Path graphic book and also the album designed to tell the story of Chanie Wenjack’s tragic escape from an Indian Residential School, and promoted on the Hip’s last national tour. All proceeds from the Gord Downie/Chanie Wenjack Foundation go to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.

For all that, I knew very little about Downie’s music over time; neither the tunes which made him and the band popular nor the lyrics which often read like poetry. I’m not alone. I’ve since learned that many of my cohort are equally oblivious to the impact he had on younger people, especially on those now in their late thirties or forties. People like the Prime Minister.

I now appreciate why his work has been so appealing. “I am a stranger… on a secret path,” the lead poem/song on his Secret Path album, released in tandem with the graphic book, is haunting and emotional. “Bobcaygeon,” where he “saw the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time,” resonates among those who know the north. “Ahead by a Century” speaks to who he was and what he stood for. “New Orleans is Sinking” and “Wheat Kings” speak of that which is familiar in ordinary life: “Bourbon blues on the street,” “hands in the river,” “Sundown in the Paris of the prairies,” “wheat kings and pretty things wait and see what tomorrow brings. “Late breaking story on the CBC.” “You can’t be fond of living in the past, Cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re gonna last.” “Courage” sings of the human condition: “No simple… explanation for anything important… . Any of us do and yeah the human… Tragedy consists in… the necessity Of living with… The consequences Under pressure. Courage… it didn’t come… it couldn’t come at a worse time.”

Mike Downie spoke to the crowd about the Downie Chanie Fund. In Gord’s honour, Don Kerr adapted “Fiddler’s Green for Gord.” The lyrics can be downloaded online. Beautiful.

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A Photo Shoot at Jack Poole Plaza

I invite you to join our early morning photo shoot at Jack Poole Plaza on the Vancouver harbour last week, and see how photographer Rick Hulbert works. Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris, a free online program which shows the quality of light at particular places and times of day (including sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moon set), Rick knew exactly when morning light would be best at the Plaza. When I arrived at 6:10 a.m., he was already there, with his tripod set up at the extreme architectural point of the plaza. He’d already begun shooting material for use in future photography classes.

Last week, he sent me two images which he had ‘recorded’ (notice the lingo) during a five-minute period early that morning. Using the Ephemeris, he was able to find the exact angle of the sunlight and the best place to stand. He explained in an email that his intention was “to portray Harbour Green Neighbourhood in colour. It is early morning first light, and because the sun is shining through the greatest amount of the earth’s atmosphere, the quality of the light is soft and warm. I employed a wide-angle lens and kept my camera level and on a tripod to support a horizontal horizon along with ‘vertical verticals.’

The image of the downtown core of Vancouver surrounding Jack Poole Plaza is conveyed in black and white. B&W images portray pure luminance which has the potential of conveying an enhanced sense of depth. By stopping down my Tilt/Shift lens to f/22, I was able to achieve a starburst effect with the sun bouncing off one of the building windows in the distance.

“The challenge in both images was to display the enormous dynamic range of light in a single capture. I did this by reducing the original tone curve to a ‘linear curve,’ which also reduces the contrast, allowing me to have more flexibility in ‘re-visualizing’ the image in software. While it could be said that simplicity of subject is a noble goal, I chose to attempt to embrace a complexity of edges in an ordered composition.” He wanted “the images to read as large as possible with no cropping. The subject of each image is the entire field of view… edge to edge of each photo.”

Photo by Rick Hulbert

Photo by Rick Hulbert

Photo by Rick Hulbert

Photo by Rick Hulbert

Learning by doing means getting up early in the morning to experience in our bones the quality of the light at that hour of the day. While the master produced his prototypes for future use in class, the rest of us were free to see all the splendid scene had to offer.

My photos have not yet been re-visualized in Lightroom. They were shot as RAW files in Aperture mode. Rick did say that I could have moved the chairs. I never thought of that at the time. My focus on the greenery visible through the iconic Olympic Cauldron led to a discussion of how green pops out in any setting. In the last photo, I tried to highlight the Lions Gate Bridge in the background on my Apple Photos edit program but was not particularly successful. Next purchase? A download of Lightroom.

***** Thank you to Rick Hulbert for sharing his photos and his comments. 


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A Gem of a Concert

It is a striking story rich in imagery and drama. In the summer of 1701, over 1300 Native delegates paddled the northern rivers in their canoes headed for the colonial town of Montreal. They came from around the Great Lakes, from across the French colony, and from as far as Acadia, from 39 indigenous nations in all, to attend a peace conference called to put an end to decades of strife between them. In the middle of the conference, one of the leading organizers, Kandiaronk, a highly respected Wendat from Wendake (Huronia), fell ill and died. After funeral rites in both the Native and the French traditions, condolence ceremonies, and a funeral procession led by French troops, Huron warriors, clergy, the Native leaders and French officials, he was buried in Notre Dame Church in Montreal. Historians have said that his death brought everyone together and encouraged the signing of the peace treaty which was followed by feasting, dancing, singing and the exchange of goods.

The Toronto Consort, the nine-person ensemble of singers and instrumentalists led by David Fallis and known for their early music, turned the story of this “Great Peace of Montreal” into a haunting “choral documentary” which stunned the audience present for two sold-out Toronto performances on the weekend. Wendat scholar, poet and song-writer Georges Sioui brought the gravitas of his language, the wisdom of his poetry and the lyricism of his traditional music. Native singers and drummers, Ojibway Marilyn George and Wahta Mohawk Shirley Hay added their distinctive voices and drums. Wolastoq (Maliseet) composer and vocalist Jeremy Dutcher extrapolated from the oldest known recordings of songs by his Indigenous peoples along the St. John River basin, to produce a unique classical and operatic sound that brought the house down. He is now producing a CD, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, described as “part composition, part musical ethnography, part linguistic reclamation” that will be worth watching for.

The second half of the concert was a performance of “Wendake/Huronia,” another choral documentary, composed by Canadian composer and educator John Beckwith to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the first encounter between Samuel de Champlain and the First Nations people in the province of Ontario, at Wendake (present-day Huronia). Commissioned by John French and the Midland-based Brookside Music Association, it had its première in the 2015 Festival of the Bays. Joining the Consort for this performance were the 40-plus member Toronto Chamber Choir and several singers who sang in the première.

“Wendake/Huronia” is written for choir, alto soloist, narrator, early-period instruments with indigenous drums, and sung in French and Wendat. Surtitles help with the translation. Beckwith first compiled a text from historical sources to summarize the Wendat experience before, during and after contact with the Europeans. His music simulates the use of snowshoes and canoes, both modes of transportation which fascinated the French. It evokes the appeal to the Europeans of exploring over the seas. There is “a musical depiction” of the traditional “Feast of the Dead” which so intrigued all who encountered it. “Lamentation, 1642” reflects on the epidemics and warfare which decimated the population. It ends with a French version of a poem by George Sioui which expresses hope for peace and reconciliation. The music is a melange of modern and First Nation traditional; the story is our history which is well worth knowing. The effect of the performance on the audience was mesmerizing. John Beckwith, who celebrates his 90th birthday in March, was present to share in the acclaim.

This very ambitious and successful triumph blew away whatever elusive expectations I had for the evening. Congratulations to the Toronto Consort.

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The Globe and Mail Hits a Homer

Reviewing the daily newspapers is a ritual in our household. When a single edition of the paper hits many issues all at once, with depth and insight, it is particularly gratifying. Such was the case in Saturday’s edition of the Globe and Mail.

So why was I so excited? Let me list the highlights and, if you missed them, let me encourage you to look them up on the internet. In addition to what is listed below, there were three legal reports of great interest which I will summarize in my next post. Watch for “An Update on Current Legal Issues.”

1) Ian Brown on Gord Downie’s Secret Path

Ian Brown has written a multi-level two-page Folio story entitled “Gord Downie: A Story of What Happens Next” about Gord Downie’s legacy project, his Secret Path songs, graphic novel and animated movie about Chanie Wenjack, the twelve-year old Ojibwa boy who ran away from a residential school fifty years ago and died from exposure. The Secret Path had its debut at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa last Tuesday to enthusiastic applause. Brown’s review is a fascinating account of how Downie is dealing with his medical condition, and how he, his brother and their associates learned of Chanie’s story, and what they have done to make the story known to the broader Canadian public. Addressing the issue of cultural appropriation, Brown describes how Downie and his team went to Ogoki Post in Northern Ontario, met Chanie’s sister Pearl Wenjack and learned about their community and culture. They have now established the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund “dedicated to cross-cultural education to support healing and recovery.” It’s a moving story that will bring you up to speed on this very interesting and potentially important cross-cultural endeavour.

2) Judy Stoffman on aboriginal painter Daphne Odjig

An upbeat companion piece to the Folio story is Judy Stoffman’s wonderful obituary to “Aboriginal modernist painter Daphne Odjig,” who recently died in Kelowna B.C. at 97 years of age. I am chagrined to admit that I knew nothing about her, although she is clearly a very prominent painter who has won great recognition. With great élan, Stoffman tells of Odjig’s early life on Manitoulin Island, family losses and rejection by her relatives, her migration to Toronto and her self-education in art, her multiple moves to western Canada, her evolving artistic styles, her leadership in the indigenous art community, and her continuing energy well into old age. This article offers a rich narrative of how Odjig came to appreciate her native heritage and how she became a professional artist. She is an inspiration to me, and to other women, as much as for her own community. If it takes an obituary to introduce us to the stars in our midst, better late than never. Do read her story

3) The Focus section on Fraud in the American election, including Marcus Gee on Gerrymandering

The five-page Focus section on “rigging the American election” is fascinating. American election officials assure the public that intimidation and corruption at election time are not real dangers.

Marcus Gee, who normally writes about Toronto city matters, has written an in-depth article entitled “Divide, Then Rule. It describes how both parties historically have drawn state electoral boundaries to make sure their own candidates are elected. Called “gerrymandering,” the practice is open, legal and well-established. Apparently, state officials use the results of the national census every ten years to “redistrict” electoral boundaries so that districts have roughly equal numbers of potential voters. They now use modern data-collection techniques to pinpoint pockets of support and either draw them into the district or to divide up areas of strength for the opposition party.

To illustrate the process, Gee describes how the Republicans used gerrymandering to great success in the North Carolina City of Asheville after the 2010 Census. Gee refers to journalist David Daley’s new book, Ratf**ked:The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy. It describes how the GOP conducted a systemic campaign to seize control of state governments. Why? So that they got the power to gerrymander districts for congressional elections. The success of the Republicans has now prompted the Democrats to copy their strategy.

In Canada, a judge heads an independent commission in every province to define changes to constituencies. In the United States, a few states, including California and Idaho, have independent commissions to set boundaries, but most do not. According to the website, End Gerrymandering, “The United States is the only advanced democracy in the world where politicians directly participate in the districting process.”

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Sellers & Newel: Toronto’s Unique Used Bookstore

Peter Sellers grew up in Leaside and has lived in Toronto all his life. He went to the University of Toronto School and then York University’s Glendon College where he studied English. He worked in advertising, for an agency and then freelance. In November 2011, he opened his bookstore. Having a bookstore, even a small 650 square foot outlet, was the change he had craved.

Ever since high school, he has collected books, all kinds of books, which reflect his personal passions over time: modern literature, crime fiction, biography, military history, otherworldly books, poetry, plays. His own collection of books made up his first shop inventory. Now he does special orders for customers, and buys other books which fill out his collections.

Apart from the content, he likes books as objects, likes to be surrounded by books, and to talk about books and authors with his customers. Twice a year, he travels to London to buy the fine books and older editions that he really likes to sell. He prides himself on selling different books which people may not find anywhere else. To “cull his herd,” he sells discounted books on the street, a loss leader which makes his customers happy.

Peter promotes Sellers & Newel on the internet: “By day, Toronto’s smallest bookstore. By night, a unique and intimate live music venue.” Last year, jazz trumpet player Tim Hamel suggested to Peter that his tiny space would give fine resonance for playing music. Peter seized on the idea and began his S & N Speakeasy. From September to May, Peter opens his bookstore twice a month, usually Thursday nights, for musical performances by local singers and songwriters, and for poetry readings. The bookcases in the middle of his store move to the side, and 35 or so young people (and the occasional older person like me) gather for an intimate evening of music, poetry and camaraderie.

In May, I attended the Speakeasy for a concert given by singer-songwriter Jack Connolly, playing his guitar with fellow guitarist Ian Koiter joining in on the harmony. A delightful, low-key evening, the singing went on and on, each song drawing an even more enthusiastic response. Have the ’60s returned? It certainly feels like it. The next show will be Andrew Mah on Thursday, September 29th at 672 College Street. See the upcoming schedule on the shop’s website.

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Susan Farquhar: An Artist who Runs

Susan Farquhar is an artist and printmaker who is as passionate about running and the YMCA as she is about her art.

Originally from North Bay, she studied at Guelph and then did a Fine Arts degree at York University in 1977. After graduation, she and her partner, artist Robert Game, joined Open Studio, a non-profit community where artists share facilities. As she perfected her printmaking, her first clients were other artists creating new images using printmaking. From 1991 to 2013, the couple ran their own studio, Atelier GF, in a warehouse building at 512 Lansdowne Avenue. They then worked from studios at home which, Susan says, gives her “much less space but… more time and opportunity to work.”

Originally into fine prints in etching, silkscreen and relief, Susan finds that the digital age has revolutionized the field. Artists can now use modern digital applications to create images themselves and without needing a printmaker. On the other hand, modern technology has also opened new opportunities that did not exist before. Now she combines many printmaking techniques with mixed media, on canvas and wood. She builds up images in layers of textile and colour, paper cuts, little drawings and paintings. Her goal is to use “traditional and contemporary imagery” to “reflect the changing nature of Canadian identity.”

Her work is on her website for all to see. She also blogs about new projects. When she completes a catalogue of a group of monoprints, she can now produce it herself in book form. Before digital solutions, such catalogues would have been very expensive to produce; now they can be ordered on demand, in paperback.

She participates in art shows, some solo and some with other artists. She does presentations to high school teachers, and has worked with printmaking students doing both silk screen and digital. She finds that she is busier than ever, doing her own work as never before.

Susan, now 62, has been a member of the West End YMCA on College Street for at least 15 years. Working at the print shop, she found that she desperately needed some exercise. First she used the pool, swimming lengths. Then she started lifting weights. Then her brother and sister-in-law in North Bay got her interested in running. For nine years now, she has run regularly, doing one or two half-marathons each year. She runs with the Longboat Roadrunners Club on Sunday mornings out of the Y.  Two or three times a week she runs with friends she met at the Y. She likes the support and camaraderie of the running club and the Y. Both attract a broad mix of people and accommodate different motivations for participating. She now works as a volunteer at the front desk of the Y and meets more people than ever. For her, this Y is different: “not too big, more social cohesion, room for volunteers, and a real community which services a lot of people.” It has become her “social centre” in recent years, almost like a second home.

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The West Vancouver Harmony Festival

Every summer, the August long weekend marks the beginning of the ten-day West Vancouver Harmony Festival. It’s a joyous event which attracts visitors from far and wide.

The parks along the seashore, west of the Lions Gate Bridge and across the narrow inlet from Stanley Park, between the 14th Street Ambleside Pier, and the children’s fantasy playground and waterpark at 16th, are festooned with balloons, banners, lanterns and signs welcoming visitors to the Festival. Musical programs cater to all tastes from three different stages set up in the midst of food carts, restaurants and bars. There are art shows, activities for the kids, book readings, and cinema in the park each night. And then there is Art Market, the stretch of tiny marquee tents set up the length of the sidewalk on the north side of the park, each with an artist, artisan, or craftsperson displaying their wares. For three days mid-week, the Art Market becomes The Art of Photography.

There is nothing more fun than to browse the Art Market and meet the artisans. It’s best to go early when traffic is light and the vendors are free to talk. It is fascinating to learn what they do and how they do it, where they come from and where they exhibit. Sometimes the least inviting stall provides the most interesting story. The sculptor who models family installations in clay, for example, shows me pictures of commissions she has done for clients all over the world. The painter originally from the Maritimes talks about his technique and how he thinks up the names for his whimsical paintings.

An older photographer tells me that he bought a camera on retirement and now uses a tripod in his studio to take the stunningly delicate photos of flowers he sells. His wife recounts the circumstances when pictures of Pitt Meadows and the Golden Ears, views I love, were taken, one very early in the morning, the other in the middle of winter. He calls his photography “a hobby.” It’s obviously “a business” in which his wife plays an active role. Another artist who paints old cars and water scenes and his wife tell me that they live near the Fraser River in Hammond, not far from where my grandparents lived and my parents married. They fill me in on the few remaining landmarks I might recognize in the area, and the changes in the municipality today.

A tiny woman with greying hair who does exquisite weaving volunteered that she first learned to weave when her daughter went to school. “Let’s see, that must be 40 years ago.” An aging glass-blower tells me his own provenance, from an apprenticeship with Vancouver’s leading glass-blower, years ago, to his own studio on his farm in Port Kells. A young man selling stylish glassware made from recycled beer bottles volunteers that “there is no point in you buying here.” He comes from near Haliburton in Ontario, and his glassware is available in Toronto in the Distillery District and elsewhere. 

Meanwhile, the boats pass by, the children build elaborate forts on the beach, and play in the waterpark nearby. Early the next morning, the fishermen come to catch their limit of crab. Summer in the city goes on as it normally would. 

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The Story Behind Toronto’s New City Hall

Have you ever wondered how Toronto got its “new” City Hall? Fifty years old last year, the iconic Toronto civic structure has become the heart of who we are and what we aspire to be.

Filmmaker Michael Kainer, in collaboration with archivist Karen Teeple, has produced a documentary, “Finn With An Oyster: The Story Behind Toronto’s New City Hall,” which tells the story. It’s a fascinating tale of backroom deals, a failed referendum, a student uprising, the world’s largest international architectural design competition, and then the choice which symbolizes the city today.

Building a new city hall that would propel Toronto into modern times was not easy. The assembly of land in the early 1960s required demolishing The Ward, an entire neighbourhood of low quality housing stock and several important historic buildings. Deciding to hold an international design competition and not “going Canadian only” upset nationalists. Selecting the vision of the young and relatively obscure Finnish architect, Viljo Revell, seemed unduly daring. Even the artwork, including Henry Moore’s sculpture The Archer for the square, provoked criticism. Nathan Phillips, Toronto’s first Jewish mayor, with his competition advisor academic Eric Arthur and architect Viljo Revell, persevered.

Once completed, the question became what to do with the old City Hall. The Eaton family, scions of the establishment department store across the street, proposed demolishing the old City Hall and building a new shopping mall directly across from Nathan Phillips Square. The proposal became a lighting rod for opposition from all those people who, in supporting the modern design of the New City Hall, had come together and learned that they had some power. They rallied to “save the Old City Hall,” were successful, and then turned their energies to “saving the downtown” from the proposed Spadina Expressway. Toronto’s “quality of life” reform movement had begun.

“Finn With an Oyster” is the fifth film produced by lawyer-turned-filmmaker Michael Kainer. The native of Regina came to Toronto with his wife Mary in the early 1970s to pursue their professional education. Michael was interested in photography and applied to Ryerson at the same time that he applied to law school. When the law school accepted him first, law became his profession.

After 30 years in practice, he began to turn his attention to planning for alternative forms of creativity in retirement. His first efforts were two short films: in 2006, “Innocence on Ice” (a co-production), and in 2008, “Succo Pomodori,” depicting the making of tomato sauce in the back lanes of Little Italy. That same year, he wrote and co-produced “Skate to Survival,” a 44-minute documentary on the harrowing life and amazing artistry of Canadian figure skating coach, Ellen Burka. That film has been widely screened on OMNI 1, at various film festivals, and on Air Canada Inflight films. In 2014, he directed and wrote “Patron Saint,” a 70-minute documentary about the Polish-Canadian psychiatrist, politician, and art patron, Janusz Dukszta, who commissioned 100 portraits by 40 of Canada’s finest artists over 60 years. That film premiered at the 2015 Reel Artists Film Festival at the TIFF/Bell Lightbox in Toronto. “Finn with an Oyster” has screened at the City of Toronto Archives, Bloor/Hot Docs Cinema, the London Ontario Museum, the Architecture+Design Film Festival in Winnipeg, and in the Toronto Arts and Letters Club Film Series. His next film will be a history of the Toronto Islands.

You can see “Finn with an Oyster” tomorrow and Sunday in the Council Chambers of the New City Hall, 100 Queen Street West. The 71-minute film will play continuously 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. as part of Doors Open Toronto weekend. I intend to catch it first thing tomorrow. Perhaps I will see you there.

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Breakfast at the Bar Raval

Yesterday afternoon, the patio of our favourite local restaurant bar was taken out by a three-car accident at the corner of College Street and Palmerston Avenue in Little Italy. Fortunately, no one was killed. The patio was demolished, and the front window cracked, but the distinctive mahogany decor of what aims to be Toronto’s most iconic bar was undamaged. It had to close for the rest of the day, and the architects were brought in to assess the situation. According to co-owner Grant van Gameren, interviewed on the radio this morning, the decor is intact. That’s great news.

At 8:00 a.m. today, the bar was back open, with the full menu and the same smart, smiling staff on hand to greet the early risers. I decided to join them to see for myself that all is well. It’s the first time I have actually been there for breakfast and I would heartily recommend it.

Since it opened a year ago, Bar Raval has won rave reviews, including Nº. 5 on “Canada’s ten best new restaurants” list, last fall, as determined by Air Canada’s enRoute magazine. The problem for older folks is that the place is very small (only 1980 square feet), takes no reservations, and is designed for “standing up” — eating from small plates and leaning against the sinuous wood bars and round barrel tables. There are stools available inside and chairs on the outside patio, but if it is crowded, standing is the norm. In the past, I have gone mid-morning or mid-afternoon and always managed to get a stool. Now, I have learned that morning breakfast is okay, too.

So, what’s so special about Bar Raval? The restaurant was designed as a “pintxo bar, a cornerstone of social and gastronomic culture in Basque Country.” It serves coffee, wine, beer and cocktails, baked goods, tapas and pintxos (see photo of menu, below), cured meats, cheeses, hams, various exotic seafoods that come as “canned specialities” or “preserved and marinated.” Smoked Mackerel? Galician Octopus? Razor Clams? Asparagus Salad? Mushroom Tower? The regular menu is available all day, from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. For breakfast, I learned that they also offer Smoked Salmon in a croissant, Raisin and Rhubarb Scones, Polvorone (I will try that, next time) and various other baked goods. The food is served on small plates, expertly prepared, rich and totally satisfying.

And the decor is stupendous. Designed by Partisans Architects, it is “a 21st-century reinterpretation of Spanish Art Nouveau.” As the architects have noted on their website, “van Gameren charged us with an ambitious task: to create ‘an art piece’ that would become an enduring institution… the rippled — and rippling — surfaces encourage patrons to get comfortable, lean into their soft edges, and become a part of the woodwork. Raval’s molten quality fosters fluid circulation and close encounters, honouring the spirit of its Spanish pintxo counterparts.” The architects worked with fabrication partner MCM Inc. and software engineers at Masterdom “to innovate the milling process.” Using red mahogany from South Africa, the decor was designed to recall the work of Spanish-Catalan architect and designer, Antoni Gaudí. Created on a 3D computer, the creative team developed “customized toolpaths that would generate over 9km of engravings on 75 panels of wood.” Van Gameren told me last year that while the flat surfaces could be cut by machine, the curves had to be done by hand. As the owners and architects intended, “the result” is “a series of three-dimensional tattooed ‘limbs’ that enfold patrons in a warm mahogany embrace.” And, so they do. This is an iconic restaurant and bar on an iconic corner. Locals and visitors alike can thank co-owners Grant van Gameren, Mike Webster and Robin Goodfellow for creating a wonderful new destination in Toronto.

Now it will be up to Councillor Mike Layton and Toronto City Council to do something about the dangerous corner at Palmerston and College.

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Don’t Miss the Play “You Will Remember Me”

Theatre reviewers have raved about the play by Quebec playwright, Franςois Archambault, entitled “You Will Remember Me,” now playing at the Tarragon MainStage in Toronto. It was labelled “a pleasing family drama” by Karen Fricker in the Star, which explores “the reality of dementia and uses it as a metaphor,” says J. Kelly Nestruck in the Globe and, after discussion with “Canadian theatre legend” R. H. Thomson, “a play about identity” by Mike Crisolago in I was able to snag a last-minute ticket last week and found that the play is all the critics said, and more.

Given its subject, the play is surprisingly light-hearted. Edouard Beauchemin (R.H. Thomson) is a well-known Quebec history professor, public intellectual and nationalist who is in his sixties and beset with Alzheimer’s. Although he can recite historical facts, ad infinitum, and rage on about his favourite bugbear, he can’t remember whom he is talking to or why. He remains vigorous and occasionally brilliant, but cannot be left alone. His long-suffering wife, Madelaine (Nancy Palk), needs a break and decides to leave him with their daughter Isabelle (Kimwun Perehinec) and her new partner Patrick (Mark McGrinder). Isabelle is preoccupied with the demands of her career as a journalist. Patrick, temporarily unemployed, volunteers to pick up the ball. But he has his own agenda which includes his teenage daughter Bérénice (Michela Cannon). All the actors are superb.

To quote Karen Fricker (March 11, 2016), “Edouard is the latest incarnation of an iconic Québecois cultural figure: the charismatic, incorrigible, skirt-chasing male academic… whose ambiguities and excesses comment on the national situation.” The national situation in Quebec has changed since Edouard supported René Lévesque and the Quiet Revolution, years ago; young people today know next to nothing about the revolutionary struggle of which he was a part. The bane of Edouard’s current existence is the all-pervasive influence of social media which, in his view, has “dumbed down” contemporary intelligence. All this is suggested by sparkling dialogue and interesting plot developments. But he who scorns modern technology finds it has uses after all.

And who is it that best helps Edouard deal with his changing identity? His wife has left. His daughter is impatient and rarely connects. It’s “the strangers” in his “blended family” who step into the breach. Patrick and Bérénice discover that the trick is to live in the moment, and that the reality of the moment may, but need not, reflect the truth in the past. On the contrary, relationships can be enhanced, and secrets revealed, by the strength of the creative imagination.

My mother, after surgery for an aneurysm at 75 years of age, suffered a post-operative stroke which destroyed her short-term memory. Although not suffering from Alzheimer’s, she was demented for the remaining 12 years of her life. My experience visiting her and her fellow residents in the secure unit of a long-term care facility for six years was that “the creative imagination” was the key to successful emotional interactions between us. On many occasions, by knowing just a little of what remained in the long-term memory, I found it possible to connect in the present. Who knows whether what we talked about was true or not; it didn’t matter. What was important was to confirm each other as people connected in the moment. That the play portrayed that process left me awestruck. That it did so with such good humour and such pathos in a mere 90 minutes makes it totally compelling.

I would recommend the play to anyone who has been, or will be, touched with dementia. As the reviewers all said, it offers much food for thought and it’s a play you will not forget. Developed for Montreal’s Théâtre La Licorne in 2014 as Tu te souviendras de moi, it had its début in the English translation by Bobby Theodore as part of the Enbridge playRites festival of new Canadian plays in Calgary that same year. It played at The Cultch Historic Theatre in Vancouver last November. This co-production between Studio 180 and the Tarragon Theatre is its Toronto English-language début and runs until Sunday April 10th.

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