A paper for those of us a little older…
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A Column about Culture by Michael Sobota

Michael Sobota

June 2017

“Volunteering is at the core of being human. No one has made it through life without someone else’s help.” Heather French Henry
This is a column about being a volunteer and the culture of volunteering.
As June is Seniors’ Month, I decided to explore something that we all have in common. My guess is that most of you who read this paper are volunteers, or have done volunteer work at some point in your life.
I struggle with volunteering. I am wary of it.
If you are a retired senior, like me, you know the experience of being flooded with requests to volunteer your time or talent as soon as your friends know you are “no longer working.” And it isn’t only your friends who make those requests. But being asked to volunteer likely happens every year of our lives.
My earliest memory of being a volunteer was when I was six years old in grade one. I grew up in a small town. A traveling theatre troupe was coming to perform in my school. They were to perform a version of “The Passion Play” – the Christian story of the birth and death of Jesus. The players needed volunteers, called “extras” to fill out some of the scenes they were staging. My teacher asked if any of us “would like to be in a play?” Of course, I said yes and I made by debut on stage sitting on the lap of the actor who played Jesus, in the scene where he says “suffer the little children to come on to me.” Little did I know how significant this would be for embedding the experience of theatre in my life.
As we grow up and grow older, we are asked to do many things without visible compensation. There is a clear difference in parents telling us to do things (chores) and doing something of your own volition (reading stories to youngsters or newcomers at your local library). Or joining sports teams, a choir, a community clean up project.
One of the common invitations that seniors receive is to join a board of directors. There are far too many local organizations to name. But if they are a not-for-profit organization (incorporated) then they require a board of directors to fulfill the legal obligations. And unless you have experience as a board member before being asked as a senior to do so, I would urge you to pause. A member of a Board is a serious duty. It has legal obligations – called “fiduciary duties”. You are a trustee, and literally that means you become entrusted with the obligations to govern the organization you agreed to be a director of, and oversee all funds (should that organization have a bank account and receive donations or other sources of revenue) “in trust.” It doesn’t matter if you accept or get designated as the treasurer of your group, you are an equal trustee together with your fellow directors.
After I retired, and having received the usual avalanche of requests to volunteer for this or that organization or project, I mostly avoided saying yes. I didn’t know what being retired meant. I didn’t want to immediately take on some more responsibilities. That seemed too much like my work life was. I also did not genuinely know what I was worth. Sometimes, I even felt like a fraud when someone was wooing me to join a specific organization. How could I possibly do what they were expecting me to do?
Over time, I carefully shaped an interior rule for myself: I would volunteer only for something I really wanted to be part of. And secondly, I wanted short-term commitments rather than open ended ones. These two simple guidelines have served me well. They are selfish, even though the end result is me volunteering for something. They have helped my resiliency as I continue aging.
Now I have an important disclosure. One of the most satisfying volunteer engagements I am part of has lasted for more than twenty-five years. I never thought, when I joined the Board of North of Superior Film Association (NOSFA) more than two and a half decades ago, that I would still be volunteering with NOSFA. It certainly breaks the second rule that I had shaped for myself – but it so satisfyingly fulfills the first one.
In summary, as a senior to other seniors, I urge you to volunteer. But to be cautious and curious in doing so. Pause before making commitments. Find out all you can about the project or group you are considering. As a senior, you are likely mature enough to say no to anything that you are uncertain about or that makes you uncomfortable. And definitely say yes to something that feels right, that feels good, that is likely to increase your happiness. Currently, I serve on two local boards of directors. One I joined twenty-five years ago. The other I joined last month. I am eager to see how this unfolds.

May 2017

“Personal Responsibility in a Time of
Public Chaos”
That’s the title of the 2017 Ken Morrison Lecture. This lecture series was established following Ken’s request in the year he died, 2010. The concept behind the lecture series is to present “big ideas and hard questions of our time.” The annual lecture is open to the public without any admission fee (donations are gratefully accepted). It is organized and presented by The Lakehead Unitarian Fellowship. Past speakers in this series have included Hugh Walker, Evelyn Forget and Greta Vosper.
This year’s lecture will be given by Hikmatullah Sherzad, the Imam for the Thunder Bay Masjid.
I first met Hikmatullah Sherzad in ealy March, 2016. We were both attending a talk given by Dennis Edney at LU’s Faculty of Law School. Edney is the lawyer who had defended Omar Khadr against the U. S. Government and ultimately helped free Khadr from the Guantanamo prison. We had only a brief conversation at that event, but I came away with the understanding that he is an intelligent, kind and accessible gentleman.
Those first impressions were affirmed when I heard him speak last January in The Study on the LU campus in a talk he called “Muslim Identity in a Post-Trump World”. His intelligence is balanced with ability to make complex issues and ideas readily understood. My impression of him was greatly increased. Just two weeks later, he would movingly address a public rally that had gathered outside the local Mosque to show support for the Muslim community following a terrorist attack and murders at a Quebec City Mosque. We have since met several times for coffee and conversation.
Hikmatullah Sherzad was born in Pakistan. His parents moved to Canada with him when he was two years old, in 1992. At just 27 years old, he is a young leader, yet wise and experientially mature beyond his years. He was in sixth grade when 9/11 occurred (the terrorist attacks in the United States, including passenger planes flying into and destroying the World Trade Centre in New York.) While Hikmatullah is widely traveled, he has never revisited either Pakistan or Afghanistan. In his talk at the LU Study he said that he is “always happy when people tell him to Go Home! Because Canada is home.” He travels frequently between Toronto, where he has family, and Thunder Bay, where he is the spiritual leader for the local Muslim community. He estimates that the community has grown in the few years he has been here to approximately a thousand individuals.
In several conversations, I asked him if he was afraid. How difficult is it to be a man of faith in a secular world, particularly in contemporary times? His answer has always been “no”. He explained that if I had asked him when he was younger, maybe 17, his answer might be different. He believes he has found his purpose and a path. He is married and building on ways to connect with the world and with different communities. He describes the disorder that we live in as order, or a new order, and that what is important is that you make an honest attempt to live in the world with honesty, guided by your faith.
Hikmatullah says that his Ken Morrison Lecture will be his “take on the world” with an emphasis on questioning everything and finding both individual and collective ways to engage our contemporary world.
The 6th Ken Morrison Lecture – “Personal Responsibility in a Time of Public Chaos” will be given by Hikmatulla Sherzad on Friday, May 12 at 7:00 pm at Superior Collegiate and Vocational Institute, 333 High Street North. The lecture is free.

Feb. 2017

Seventy years. That’s how long the Oras Chamber Choir has existed in Thunder Bay.
The Oras Chamber Choir was formed in 1946 by a group of local Finnish immigrant community members wanting to perform vocal music. This was not just about songs or singing. But to “sustain and promote the rich Finnish choral tradition in Canada.”
Over the past seven decades, Oras has gone through several transformations. Originally a mixed choir – that is, with both men and women in their membership, around the 1970’s the Choir transitioned into being an all female choir. Oras has also had several leaders that guided them toward their future, approximately six or seven. The immediate predecessor to the current conductor was Ulla Rouhiainen.
The current Artistic Director and choir conductor is Erik Johannes Riekko. He has been the choir leader since 2010. Erik brought more changes to Oras Chamber Choir. He revived the membership, and it is again a mixed choir as it was when it was founded. Riekko also began changing the programming, introducing a broad range of classical choral composers as well as contemporary ones. Its core repertoire always includes “the masterworks of the Finnish national romantic school, epitomized by Leevi Madetoja, Toivo Kuula and Jean Sibelius. In changing the programming, Riekko began to push the standards of the choir higher. I have attended Oras concerts over the past several years and, while both the programming and the overall ensemble singing has indeed improved, there are, at times, some works that prove overly ambitious in their execution.
2017 marks the convergence of several important anniversaries for Oras Chamber Choir. In addition to their 70th Anniversary, this is also the 100th Anniversary of Finland gaining their independence. And, of course, it is the 150 anniversary of Canada’s founding. This convergence of these significant dates has motivated Oras to commission an original work. They have commissioned an original choral work from Canadian composer Robert Rival. Rival was the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s Resident Composer from 2011-2014. Rival is a fairly prolific composer, with commissions from the CBC, the Edmonton Symphony, Connie Kaldor, and various other classical music organizations. He is currently on the music faculty at the University of Ottawa.
The commissioned work is not yet titled. But the text will be taken from first hand accounts of residential experiences, poetry, historical documents, and consultations with our indigenous population. There will be a theme of reconciliation. While the work has begun, it is not likely that the final piece will receive its premiere here in Thunder Bay until late this year.
Again, this is a step-up for Oras and they can be lauded for this commission.
I attended their concert last month that launched their 70th Anniversary season. The choir has approximately twenty members – and they are now of mixed backgrounds and cultures. The program contained challenging vocal music from William Byrd, Francis Poulenc, Felix Mendelssohn, Anton Bruckner and their closing selection, Missa A Cappella by modern Finnish composer Eino Juhani Rautavaara. It was beautiful, edgy, at times startling choral music. It was thrilling to hear their performance..
The Oras Chamber Choir has three more concerts scheduled this year. The dates for these concerts are March 5, April 8, and May 27. All concerts are now at St. Paul’s United Church, at 8:00 pm.
On Friday, April 21, Oras will hold a 70th Anniversary dinner and Ball at the Finlandia Hall, beginning at 7:00 pm. For tickets and to keep current with information about the Choir, check out their facebook page.

North of Superior Film Association (NOSFA) began its 25th Anniversary season on September 29.
When the film association began, there were more than almost twenty screens at eight different locations showing films in Thunder Bay. Today, there is one theatre, Silver City. It does have 12 screens but often a big Hollywood blockbuster film is taking up more than one screen, leaving less space for interesting films.
NOSFA screens Canadian films, foreign films, Indy films – the sort of content and stories that you would not see unless NOSFA brought them in. It has always been important to NOSFA that they show films in a suitable setting, with a big screen, excellent sound and elevated (so that you are not looking over or around Aunt Bertha’s new hairdo), comfortable seating. Though you can pretty much watch just about any film – eventually – on your television at home, that’s not how those films were made to be seen.
NOSFA’s opening films were Captain Fantastic (not a Hollywood superhero movie) and Woody Allen’s latest, Café Society.
Upcoming titles include:
Everybody Wants Some (October 13),
Embrace The Serpent (October 27),
Dark Horse (November 3)
Sing Street (November 17).
All screenings are on Thursday nights at Silver City. NOSFA has a new, revamped website. Check it out www.nosfa.ca.
Public art has existed in Thunder Bay for centuries. And for as long as it has existed, there has been a love/hate relationship amongst our citizenry. Most of it is non-controversial, particularly if it graced an old building, or was a military or war memorial, or the statue of some local or nationally known Canadian. But during the past several decades, public art installations have attracted both praise and derision from the general public. The “Beacons” down in the waterfront park are constantly a target for scorn. Last month, two new pieces of public art were unveiled in the Bay/Algoma neighborhood. They are bronze sculptures of a human figure – one standing with a deer head and one seated with a black bear as its head. They have various animals including coyotes, squirrels, chipmunks, birds, a beaver and a racoon sitting on or curled around the figures’ shoulders and heads. The sculptures are called “Wild Life”. The artist who created them is Brandon Vickerd who is Hamilton based.
Some people like the new sculptures and others hate them. Criticism of public art – and these sculptures in particular – focus on two issues: A) why was money wasted on them when we have potholes to fill? B) why wasn’t a local artist selected?
Here is part of an explanation. The 2 sculptures cost a total of approximately $120,000. The city has a budget for public art. It doesn’t take away from other city expenditures (e.g. if these funds were not spent on public art, that would not make this money available for filling potholes). The city has a public art committee. When funds are available, and a possible location for art is identified, an open call is issued to artists. Anyone can apply with a design or concept. The committee receives and assesses applications. The committee has local artists in its membership. They make a recommendation to Council who has the final decision awarding the commission. There were three finalists in this particular competition and two of them were Northwestern Ontario artists.
One other criticism surfaced when these sculptures in the Bay/Algoma neighborhood were unveiled. Why does Port Arthur or, the North Side, get all the attention? Well, there is public art all over the city, including on the front of our refurbished city hall, down on the riverfront park, painted wall murals gracing various buildings in different locations in the city, at the bridge on Memorial Avenue near InterCity and those beautiful, placid wolves sitting in the woods outside Thunder Bay Art Gallery.
So love them or hate them, the process has been an open and transparent one. I like them.

Sept 2016

This past summer has been full of music festivals, individual concerts, live theatre, art exhibitions and even a couple of good movies.
Live theatre included the annual return of classic melodrama at Chippewa Park, staged by the Rob McLeod Players. Denise Kurceba-Krawczuk’s Applause Productions mounted another Broadway Spectacular, in their now annual series called Broadway’s Back on Bay. This year’s show was their largest ever, with more than 60 local singers, actors and dancers on stage. Directed by Thomas McDonald with musical direction by Denise Kurceba-Krawczuk, the nearly 3-hour show was built from show-stopping songs from both well known (Oklahoma, Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music) and lesser known musicals (Urine Town, Once, A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder). The all local cast ranged in age from eight to not-quite-eighty. It was an amazing production and a real showcase for the incredible theatre talent we have in Thunder Bay.
This summer also saw the launch of a brand new theatre event: Superior Theatre Festival. The brain-child of Donna Marie Baratta (originally from Thunder Bay and now based in Toronto), Superior Theatre Festival was two years in the planning. Ms Baratta, together with a local board, some government funding, local sponsors and lots of volunteers, launched a very successful three-day event. This was a multi-disciplined festival with workshops, poetry reading, craft making and theatre performances down on the waterfront and at the Finlandia Hall. The two plays were wonderful productions.
The first was a world premier of Eleanor Albanese’s award winning Night Wings. Staged outdoors at The Spirit Garden, it told us a story about a 12 year old blind girl (Kelsey Agnew) living in a cabin with her 15 year old brother (Roland Piers) , while their aging grandfather (Jim Hobson) lived nearby. The play was sort of a folk tale about supporting and respecting physical disabilities, and living in both an imaginary world and the real world. Director Baratta’s staging was fluid and well paced. It reminded me of many of the early productions of Kam Theatre – more than 30 years ago. The production used puppets integrated into the live action in imaginative and creative relationships. Original music was created for the production by Danny Johnson
The second play, Big Shot, was a one-man show created by Jon Lachlan Stewart, directed by Georgina Beatty. Stewart, on stage, is a force of nature. In Big Shot, he tells the story about a 12-year-old boy who witnesses a shooting on Vancouver’s Sky Train. In giving us the story, Stewart creates a half dozen characters just by shifts in his body language, vocal tones and facial gestures. Big Shot explores complex subjects, including addiction, class and racial relationships, police work and action movies! It was intense, engaging and the finest live theatre I have seen this year.
Looking ahead, some interesting changes and new theatre productions are on the horizon. At the end of August, Magnus Theatre announced the appointment of their new Artistic director. He is Thom Currie, replacing the outgoing Mario Crudo. This will be the first artistic direction change for Magnus in more than twenty years. Here’s wishing Mr. Currie a warm welcome to Thunder Bay.
On October 1 and 2, Deb Patterson returns to Thunder Bay with her acclaimed one-woman show Sargent and Victor and Me. Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Deb has been living most recently in Winnipeg where she and her partner, Arne, are raising their own theatrical family. Sargent and Victor are streets in the neighborhood, in Winnipeg, where Deb and her family live. This is a powerful play exploring both self, disabilities, abilities and community. The play will be staged for two nights only, at Trinity Hall. This will certainly be a not-to-be-missed event in our upcoming theatre season. Watch for an announcement about ticket sales and further information.

June 16 Issue

Something wonderful happened.
The history of telling our stories, in the movies, is almost a century old in Thunder Bay. The first locally made feature film, Dorothea Mitchell’s A Race for Ties, was made in 1928. A soundless black and white melodrama, it was also Canada’s first feature length film produced by amateurs.
In the past two years, three full length, professionally made feature films were shot here in Thunder Bay. One of these has just set an unprecedented record of six consecutive weeks screening at our Silver City. There are many Hollywood studio films that come to Thunder Bay and barely last two weeks.
SLEEPING GIANT, directed by Andrew Cividino and co-written by him, Blain Watters and Aaron Yeger was not only made here, but it is about here. It is a story about three teen-age boys, friends, and one summer they spent together fumbling toward becoming men. Shot in Thunder Bay, Shuniah and Caribou Island, the movie is gorgeous to look at. The film opens with a throbbing percussive score as the camera moves over the water beneath the Sleeping Giant. Soon we see aerial shots of Thunder Cape and more of the lake and our lakefront, with a partially decaying old grain elevator. All of this sets up an atmosphere of vastness, beauty and a little foreboding.
Focusing on that time when teenagers still had fun – and made mischief – during those brief months out of school – Cividino’s story pushes the three boys, and a couple of other teenagers as well as a stoner drug dealer who lives in a trailer and sells them drugs, through dramatic challenges and peer pressures that will change their lives forever. The challenges include testing each other physically as well as psychologically, wrestling, fighting, a local beer story robbery, and grappling with hormones and the emergence of “the other sex”.
Cividino knows what these challenges are about. Born in Southern Ontario, he spent his summers at his grandma’s camp in Shuniah. He has admitted that the film is semi-autobiographical. True to his experience, he cast mostly local actors. Only one of the three boys, Jackson Martin, who plays Adam, comes from outside Thunder Bay. He’s from London, Ontario. The other two, Nick Serino (Nate) and Reece Moffat (Riley), are cousins in real life and grew up here. When he is not in school, Nick works at a local Tim Hortons.
The film premiered a year ago at the Cannes Film Festival in May, 2015. That is just the world’s largest film festival and guaranteed to attract attention. The boys were flown over to France for the premiere. Since then it has screened at Toronto International Film Festival, Cinefest (Sudbury), VIFF (Vancouver) and at more than 40 other festivals in 25 different countries.
Earlier this year, Nick Serino won the 2016 Canadian Screen Award for Best Supporting Actor, for portraying Nate. I got a chance to both meet and interview Nick. I asked him about what it was like to be part of SLEEPING GIANT. He replied that no one knew what it was going to be, and he certainly didn’t know what he was getting into. He credits all the travel and the people he has met for all the support and “helping him grow up.” When I asked him what he wanted audiences to take away with them after experiencing the film he got quiet for a few moments, then said that peer pressures can be both fun and dangerous. That figuring out which ones are bad for you are the real lessons of growing up.
SLEEPING GIANT has won numerous awards and critical as well as popular praise. It is not an easy, happy-ever-after story. There is strong language and adult content. It can be seen by mature minors (14+). Probably the best experience would be for parents to see it with their teenage children. And then talk about it. If you weren’t lucky enough to catch it on the big screen, it should be available for downloading and other electronic versions, as well as DVD, later this summer.

May Issue

On Physician Assisted Dying

“Killing yourself is a fantastically tricky thing to do.” Graeme Baylis, Managing Editor, The Walrus magazine.
This column will continue the discussion about the culture of death and dying in Canada, and specifically the Federal government’s recently tabled legislation concerning “Assisted Dying”.
A brief review. After many years working its way through the courts – and being fought every step of the way by the previous Harper government – in February 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the prohibition of Physician Assisted Dying (PAD) on the basis that old legislation violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court’s decision was unanimous. They gave the Harper government one year to introduce legislation to implement their decision. The then Harper government, more focused on preparing for re-election, did little to move toward implementation, openly stating to the media they “would need more time.” When the Trudeau government took over last November, they realized that they, too, were not ready and would need more time to shape legislation to respond to the Court decision. They asked for an additional six months. In a stinging rebuke, The Court replied that delay was causing intolerable suffering. They granted the new government a 3 month extension and said legislation must be in place by June of this year.
An all-party committee of Parliament, that included MPs and Senators, had been gathering information about what to do to respond appropriately to the Court decision, including an on-line consultation that was available to all Canadians. They tabled a report to Parliament in February that was generally well received as it addressed all of the specific points in the Supreme Court decision.
Last month (April) the new Federal government tabled their legislation, Bill C-14. It has met with immediate criticism and in some quarters, scorn. Chantal Hebert, National Affairs correspondent for the National Post called it the “bare minimum” and said “it fails the test of human compassion.” She considers it the type of implementing legislation that might have been expected from the Harper government. Graeme Bayliss, whose quote opened this column, is just 26 years old but has been diagnosed with chronic depression since he was 17. He has attempted suicide several times in his life and was looking for the legislation to provide legal help so he could die with dignity and, ironically, safety. He penned a major editorial for The Walrus, outlining his personal response and heaping more scorn on the draft legislation.
There are three principal areas where Bill C-14 seems to fall short. It will not allow “advance directives”. That is, for any of us who wish to access physician assisted dying and say so, in writing, while we are well and cogent, before possible slipping into Alzheimers or other mental illnesses, such an authorization will be ignored. Secondly, there is no possibility for youth – what are often referred to as “mature minors” to access PAD, even if they have an incurable disease and are living in intolerable pain and would have the agreement of their parents or legal guardian. Bill C-14 restricts access to 18 and older. If you have a 17 year old son or daughter dying from an incurable illness, you will have to watch them die. You would not do that to a beloved cat or dog. The third area of concern is that the legislation says you must have an incurable, terminal illness and be near death. This is completely at odds with the Supreme Court decision which says PAD is acceptable if you have a “grievous and irremediable medical condition (an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable” to the individual. It did not state illness had to be diagnosed as terminal nor that an individual needed to be near death. Enduring intolerable suffering was the Court’s language. Indeed, one of the plaintiffs who brought the case before the courts, Kay Carter, had spinal stenosis , putting her in enduring, intolerable pain but was not close to death.
The Federal Justice Department has acknowledged that there are possible grounds for appealing their legislation on the basis of several Charter rights. But that “on balance” their legislation strikes the correct approach in this area of sensitive human compassion and is prepared to defend it should it be appealed. Prime Minister Trudeau has defended Bill C-14 as an appropriate beginning.
The Bill will be heavily debated in both the House of Commons and the Senate (where there appears to be a strong movement to amend the legislation) in the next two months. The clock continues to count down toward the Supreme Court’s June deadline for implementation.

April Issue

Last month Dennis Edney came to Thunder Bay, by invitation of the Lakehead University Student Union (LUSU) Multicultural Centre.
David Edney is a Canadian lawyer. While here, Mr. Edney gave two public talks, one of which was titled The Rule of Law in an Age of Fear.
This column will continue an exploration of what it means to be Canadian and live in a culture of fear.
Omar Khadr is a Canadian. While still a teenager he found himself a child soldier in the war in Afghanistan. He was present in a compound where, in a fierce battle, he was blinded from shrapnel in one eye and shot twice in the back, with a hole blown in his chest. He was captured and charged with tossing a grenade that killed an American soldier. Taken to Bagram first, which has been described as both a hospital and torture facility. From there he was taken to the U.S. Military prison base at Guantanamo, Cuba. He was just fifteen years old.
David Edney has devoted nearly the last decade and a half of his professional career fighting on behalf of Omar Khadr. He had to go up against the U.S. justice system, the U.S. military system and the previous Canadian Federal government (the Harper government). He met resistance, delays and blockage at every step in his efforts.
Mr. Edney accompanied a public screening of the documentary film Guantanamo’s Child – The Untold Story of Omar Khadr, at the LU Faculty of Law. Before the screening, Mr. Edney granted me an interview. Following the movie, he answered questions from the audience. That evening, Mr. Edney gave a public address on the main campus at LU to a packed crowd.
Mr. Edney described his first visit to see Omar, in his cell in Guantanamo. He was overcome by Omar’s condition and by those of the Guantanamo facility. The Guantanamo prison operates outside of the American justice system. In essence, it operates outside of the law – other than military jurisprudence. Omar had no legal support. When Edney left Omar’s cell, he told him he would be back. Omar didn’t believe this stranger, as no one every came back to talk to him a second time. When asked why he took up Omar’s cause Mr. Edney responded: “there are some things that, when you see them in your life, you can not walk away from.” He added: “I had no idea what I was getting into.” He found himself working alone, without fee, against the U.S.government, the U.S. military and the Harper government – all of which wanted Omar to be imprisoned permanently at Guantanamo.
After a decade of imprisonment, Omar pleaded guilty to one charge (that of tossing the grenade that led to the death of the U.S. officer). The plea was entered to allow Omar to transfer to Canada, and be considered inside the Canadian Justice system. Throughout all of these legal struggles, both governments and the U.S. military system played on public fear of terrorists, and that Omar was “a convicted terrorist. Finally, the transfer to a Canadian jail was agreed to and Omar was transferred to a Federal prison in Edmonton. From there Mr. Edney continued to fight for Omar’s release on bail and his ultimate acquittal of all charges on the basis of Omar’s ‘confession’ having come under torture.
Mr. Edney sees his work on behalf of Omar as a sacred duty. “Lawyers have a duty far beyond making money. Our duty is to commit ourselves to Justice.” He spoke eloquently about how governments use fear as a tool for control and behavior change using dehumanizing and polarizing rhetoric. How torture was allowed to be carried out by individuals at Bagram and Guantanamo because “they existed outside the law”. And then he touched on just what the case meant to him personally: he said it was “a privilege to take someone out of hell and bring them home. It gave my life a purpose.”
Today Omar Khadr has been released on bail and lives with Mr. Edney and his wife, in Edmonton. Mr. Edney continues work to lessen the bail conditions and ultimately to have Omar acquitted or pardoned. Mr. Edney’s personal telling of this story was powerful and ultimately deeply moving. It is another important chapter to living in a culture of fear.

Thunder Bay Art Gallery (TBAG)

has a triple-treat available right now.
In the large main gallery and the middle one right next to it you will find For Better or for Worse -The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston. It is an exhibition assembled by The Art Gallery of Sudbury showcasing the life and work of Canada’s most famous cartoon artist. I had the humble opportunity to talk with Lynn when she came to Thunder Bay for the opening of the show.
Born in Collingwood, Ontario in 1947, Lynn was doodling and drawing since she was a little girl. It would take marriage, starting a family and the passage of some thirty years before the official launch of For Better or Worse as a daily cartoon strip began appearing in our newspapers. It would last for more than another thirty years, appearing every day, including week-ends. Lynn talks about the hard work of producing a daily strip that had to be created six weeks in advance of publishing. She drew every day – and if she wanted to take a vacation, she had to draw more strips in advance of that six week lead to be able to take any time off. For those of you who followed For Better or For Worse, all of the best story lines are included in this wonderful exhibition. Each storyline has a summary introduction, followed by beautifully matted and framed original strips. You can revisit the evolution of the Patterson family, John, Elly and their children Michael, Elizabeth and the much later birth of April. You will see the pets joining the family -a rabbit and the famous sheep dog, Farley.
Lynn retired from the daily grind of producing the strip in 2008, but continues to contribute to its publishing. It still appears in about 2,000 newspapers in Canada, the United States and some 20 other countries. Lynn has also continued her output in new directions, creating fabric designs, original paintings and some writing. In my discussion with her, I remarked that her life story is a book. She demurred, saying “writing a book is too hard”. And in the next sentence, admitting that she has created an outline. Here’s hoping that becomes one of her next projects.
For Better or For Worse – The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston is an engaging, accessible and ultimately deeply moving exhibition. The show will move on to Fredericton, New Brunswick and then to North Bay. I hope it moves across all of Canada. I congratulate The Art Gallery of Sudbury for curating the exhibition and TBAG for bringing it here. It will run through March 6.
In conjunction with Lynn Johnston’s work, TBAG is also featuring Unconstrained: The Comic Art of Five Emerging Artists. In a third gallery, we see the work of Callen Banning, Andrew Garratt Dorland, Kyle Lees, Merk and Boy Roland. Bold, vivid and diverse, this is some of the finest cartoon art being created in Thunder Bay. There is colour, dramatic differences in scale and content and even one animation. I spoke briefly with Callen Banning – who describes herself not as a cartoonist by rather as “a serial artist” and Kyle Lees, who describes his work as “celebrating having a bad time”. Each of them told me they remember drawing by the age of eight. Lees likes to self deprecate, but his work is more sardonic than cynical. It has layers of wisdom and wit, tempered by sadness, which connects easily with viewers. All of the Unconstrained Emerging Artists will be speaking at the gallery in a moderated panel discussion on Thursday, February 4, at 7:30 pm.
Finally, in the remaining gallery, there is an amazing exhibition called Garments of Everyday Life, curated by the Gallery’s own Nadia Kurd, drawn from TBAG’s extensive collection.
Take some time to visit TBAG in February. You will be well rewarded.

January

Janus, after which January is named, is the Roman god of “beginnings and transitions”. He is two-faced, reflecting backward and gazing forward, simultaneously. This column will do the same.
I will celebrate three Thunder Bay writers – each of whom had new books come out this past year. 2015 had barely begun with Michael Christie burst into our literary midst with his first novel, If I Fall, If I Die. It was set here in Thunder Bay and is the story about a young boy growing up under the careful parentage of an agoraphobic mother, ending with an exciting climax at the top of one of our abandoned grain elevators on the waterfront.
Midsummer brought the release of Unaccountable: Truth and Lies on Parliament Hill, by Kevin Page. Page was appointed Canada’s first Parliamentary Budget Officer. The book is his story in setting up that office and then shielding it from the slings and arrows of the recent Harper government.
Late in the year I attended a book launch at The Royalton Hotel – yes, our venerated bar and eatery. The book being launched was a new collection of poems by Mary Frost, titled Reflections on A Green Glass Frog. There are 74 poems in the book and every one is vintage, vigorous Frost.
At that same Royalton event, I experienced something new on the local culture scene: a performance by Poetrio. Poetrio consisted of poet Douglas Livingston, reading his poetry backed up by double bass player Robin Ranger and guitarist Terry Egan. It sounds bizarre. It was wonderful.
While there were several interesting live theatre productions in 2015, the best local one was staged by Applause Productions (AP) during the summer. Denise Kurceba -Krawczuk (AP owner and producer) co-wrote a script with Thomas MacDonald about teenagers in high-school, using all the challenges and troubles they get into. They also used songs written by The Beatles to amplify those scenes and move their plot forward, and titled their play Love Is All You Need. The Beatles music was written more than 50 years ago – long before these kids were born or even some of their parents. They plunged into this play and these songs with a freshness and passion that put much local theatre to shame.
Our art galleries and local coffee cafes showcased local artists all year long. The best of these, for me, was a delightful, humorous and profoundly moving exhibition at Thunder Bay Art Gallery (TBAG) called Hand To Eye To Land To Sky, by Shayne Ehman. It consisted of sculptures, paintings and interactive installations. The best coffee café exhibition was Leslie Shaw’s paintings at Espresso Joya.
There were numerous music concerts from classical to local bands and single performers – so numerous it was difficult to keep track of all of them. Thunder Bay is truly graced to have such a live, vibrant music scene. Several artists released new CD’s during the past year. Four of the best were Kim Erickson’s The Raven’s Wing, Robin Ranger’s In From Out of the Rain, Matt Sellick’s After The Rain and Nick Sherman’s Knives and Wildrice.
We lost a cultural giant last year: Margaret Phillips. She was a passionate advocate for numerous social justice issues and founder of the Northern Women’s Book Store. Another literary giant, likely the most published Thunder Bay author, Bill MacDonald, came back to us with the posthumous publishing of his final novel On Mink Mountain.
Looking forward into 2016, I eagerly anticipate a TBAG exhibition of cartoonists called Unconstrained, featuring comic art by five emerging artists. They include Callen Banning, Andrew Garratt Dorland, Kyle Lees, Merk and Boy Roland. Their show will run from January 15 to March 6. This show is in conjunction with a special exhibition of cartoon art by Lynn Johnson, of For Better or Worse fame. Ms Johnson will be present at TBAG for a public talk on January 21.
I’ll mention one other upcoming event to mark in your schedule: the launch of a new musical organization. Calling themselves Opera Northwest, they will launch themselves with A Night At The Opera on January 15, featuring scenes from Cosi Fan Tutte, Carmen and Don Giovanni. The concert will be at St. Paul’s Anglican Church at 7:30 pm.

Cultural Appropriation

This is a column about cultural appropriation. The phenomena is likely as old as cave paintings or whenever the first writer took it upon themselves to write something that was not themselves, that was about “the other”.
Here is a simple definition: cultural appropriation is a sociological concept which views the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture as a largely negative phenomenon. (source: Wikipedia). In some of my research and discussions I have had, an added element has come into play that cultural appropriation is “practiced” by members of a dominant culture over a minority one.
Here is an easy example to illustrate the definition: sports teams – at whatever level – appropriating ethnic names and images like The Washington Redskins, or The Edmonton Eskimos, and then using those images for marketing purposes.
At the University of Ottawa recently yoga classes were stopped on the complaint that they were appropriating Indian spirituality for the mere purposes of physical exercise.
A prominent American conceptual poet, Kenneth Goldsmith, was critically railed against when he used the autopsy report of a murdered black man, without changing the words, as a performance piece.
The phenomena came into my personal life recently through my friendship with Roy Ellis. Roy is Thunder Bay born and raised, and from his early years was always involved with writing. His writing is a strong part of how I know him and value his friendship, over nearly four decades.
Four years ago, Roy visited Beijing, China. There he experienced many aspects of Chinese culture, including performances of theatre in Peking Opera style. When Roy returned to Canada (he now lives in Dartmouth and is a counselor at a Halifax hospital) he began working on a play, partly influenced by ancient Chinese erotic texts he had been reading and on the Peking Opera style of theatre. The play, Black Dragon Mountain, took shape and Roy shared an early draft of it with me.
I loved the play, from my first reading. I arranged several readings of his play here when Roy returned to spend some summer time with his family. Roy also did a reading of the play in Halifax,and continued to work on and revist his script. I told Roy I would like to put the play on for Thunder Bay audiences.
Early this year, I was thrilled when I heard news from Roy that he would be mounting the professional premiere of Black Dragon Mountain, in Halifax, in November. He had engaged a director who was excited about the play and it would be staged in one of Halifax’s small but well known theatres.
His play was cast. Rehearsals began. And a marketing campaign began to unfold. A facebook page created for the production began featuring the extraordinary make-up and beautiful, original designed costumes that would be utilized in the production. Then, about a week before the play was to open, one person, a young Chinese Canadian student in Halifax, posted a critical reaction to what she had seen in these photos, and began to articulate why Black Dragon Mountain was cultural appropriation. She called for the production to be “postponed”. Within days, the postings on facebook escalated alarmingly to the point where Roy, in discussion with his cast and team, decided to cancel the production. In its place, he organized an open, public community forum to discuss the issues that had largely been a facebook dialogue, to have it become a community dialogue.
I flew out to Halifax with my friend Jeff MacKay (we had planned on going anyway, to attend a performance of the play) to support Roy and participate in the community forum. His mom and dad were already there, as was his sister.
The experience was, for me, enlightening. There was a large panel of diverse speakers sitting on stage, which included Roy, one of the actresses from his play, and the Chinese Canadian student who had originally criticized the production. The small theatre was full, with approximately a hundred people. Much of the discussion centered on the real issue in Halifax that there are few reflections of diverse culture on the stages in Halifax theatre. There were black, Aboriginal, Syrian and Chinese individuals who spoke – mostly actors who didn’t have or could not get cast in plays. The discussion veered into representation in other media, including the local production of films. There was a strong, general opinion that individuals of any particular ethnicity wanted to tell their own stories, that white people should not tell them, but rather share the resources to help stories of greater diversity get produced. Though there were some voices in support of Roy, most were happy the play was stopped.
The community forum lasted two and a half hours. Around the two hour mark, I spoke, sharing three points. First, I thought this forum was both a good idea and a wonderful forum for Halifax artists to come together to discuss this complex concept. I thanked Roy and the theatre for coordinating the discussion. Secondly, I shared that I found the discussion odd, in that many of the speakers present did not know Roy’s play and had not read it. Some said “that’s irrelevant’. I remembered a Shakespeare class that I took in university, where we discussed and analyzed his plays. Through-out the time of that class, I argued with my professor – who was really excellent – that plays were not meant to be read and talked about. Shakespeare wrote his plays to be staged, to be experienced live. Indeed, in his time, most of the general populace was illiterate. Attending plays, and laughing, crying, yelling or throwing things at the actors was what theatre was about. Experiencing the plays live was, in its purest sense, a community forum. Lastly, I thanked Roy and the actors for the work they had all contributed to Black Dragon Mountain, even though we did not get to experience their collective efforts in performance. It takes so much work, so many resources (human, technical, financial) to put on a play. And theirs had been stopped four days before opening. Sadly, that had occurred, primarily by a facebook campaign.
I understand Roy’s position and that canceling the play was an important decision motivated to stop the hemorrhaging of the theatre community in Halifax and toward promoting healing. From a distance, my own position would have been to put the play on and both suffer and celebrate the responses. “One of the most important contributions theatre makes is to tell us who we are. And the health of the theatre, at any given point in time, is determined by how much of that we want to know’. This quote, from American playwright Edward Albee, has guided me in my theatre life. It still does.

Nov. 2015

The onset of colder weather has found me going inside, visiting coffee shops, taking in art shows, music performances and theatre.
Here are some hi-lights of the past month, with several shows that you can still catch in November.
When I was growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, there was a furniture store on the main street that annually featured a lavish display of snow flocked trees, toys, oversize presents and elaborate lighting, all gloriously arranged in their large front window, at Christmas time. I used to beg my mom to go downtown to see the display, as soon as it appeared each year. I would stand outside and gaze at it until my feet got cold and my nose all but froze.
I experience the storefront window of Chenier Fine Arts, at 8 Court Street, in a similar fashion. But not just at holiday time. Several years ago, in late summer, I found myself standing in awe, nearly mesmerized by a large, framed street hockey scene in Montreal – a painting by Robert Roy. I couldn’t move from this image, for minutes. It drew me to explore the other paintings on display in the window, and then they drew me into the store. I have gone back often. On a recent visit, Debra Chenier, owner of Chenier Fine Arts, told me the store/gallery has been in existence for more than eight years, and people are still “just discovering it”. Almost every available wall space is flooded with art. While Debra features primarily national and international artists, there are some local ones as well. You might find a small John Books bronze sculpture next to a Shane Norrie (he’s from London, Ontario). The store/gallery has an old world feel, as though you might be stepping off a side street in Paris or New York. Chenier Fine Arts is a fine place to visit, pause, chat with Debra, and then come back again when that front window display captures your eye.
Hand to Eye to Land to Sky is a current show at Thunder Bay Art Gallery (TBAG). It is a multidisciplinary exhibition by Shayne Ehman. And it is fun. There are only seven works in Ehman’s show and all of them are wonderful, edgy and engaging. You can sit and watch a delightful animation being displayed in a giant’s hand. You can walk carefully around a large, cracked open egg as though it is about to fry in the middle of the gallery floor. I was inspired by handwriting on a wall painted to look like that lined, yellow school paper that we use to practice our penmanship on. I think penmanship is a skill that may soon be lost. I chuckled and laughed out loud as I wandered around this show. I recommend this as the most buoyant art show you will see this year. But catch it quickly: it closes on November 15.
I discovered someone completely new, to me, exhibited on the walls of Waking Giant coffee shop (59 South Court Street). Paul Sandberg is a local, self taught artist, featuring portraits and individuals in outdoor landscapes. Paul was a sailor, spending twelve years at sea, traveling the world, before finding this creative outlet.
And Ruth Tye McKenzie, one of our finest senior artists, has a collection of her smaller works on exhibit on the walls of Calico Coffeehouse (316 Bay Street). Ruth paints just about everything from people to flowers to nudes to landscapes. Sometimes she combines them and calls them ‘nudescapes’.
So this is that time of year to step inside some possibly new rooms and experience the wide range of art on exhibition.

Oct 2015

Leslie Shaw, Artist
Thunder Bay has experienced a mild explosion of coffee shops – or cafes – in the past year or so. I don’t mean new restaurants or bakeries that also serve good coffee. Nor do I mean chain coffee shops, like Tims or Robins or Starbucks.
I mean those usually quiet, contemplative spaces that exist primarily to serve you a wide range of freshly roasted and made-when-you -order cups of brown beverage that teases all of our senses simultaneously. And that have local art hanging on their walls.
I dropped into a new one of these, Espresso Joya, partly to sample their coffee menu, but primarily because I had heard it was featuring an exhibition of paintings by Leslie Shaw.
I first saw a Leslie Shaw painting more than twenty years ago, on a long wall in Bistro 1. I fell in love. The painting was a large, horizontal work featuring a Northern Ontario landscape of rock sprawling to the edges of the frame and water lapping at them below. I had not seen original work like hers – anywhere – in Thunder Bay.
So after experiencing a wonderful Cortado and viewing Leslie Shaw’s new paintings on the walls of Espresso Joya, I snatched her business card from the counter, called her, and set up a coffee date.
Meeting Leslie in person was humbling. She is an elegant, graceful, thoughtful and focused artist. She was born on the prairies, in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. She didn’t plan to be an artist, let alone make her way in the world as a painter. “Back in the day”, she told me, “you were a teacher, a secretary or a nurse.” She meant, of course, if you were a woman. Leslie graduated from college with a teaching degree and became one for 7 years. An important aspect of her development as an artist is that she kept “going back to school”. She recalls, at university, taking a summer class about “art for children”. There she saw a documentary about The Group of Seven. And something in her broke open. She describes the profound effect of coming to see the importance of negative space, the tension between background and foreground. The power that background can have in design and painting.
I asked Leslie what comes first? How does she begin a piece? Does she see or think of something? Leslie says that it is all about seeing, and she is looking all the time. She takes hundreds, thousands of photographs. Her paintings begin from small 4” x 6” images she takes with her camera (you have to understand some of her works can be eight to ten feet wide and taller than I am). She says that, originally, her “true love was drawing, but sadly, I have put that aside.”
Leslie has had solo exhibitions as well as taking part in group shows. She had several stunning pieces in Thunder Bay Art Gallery’s recent multi-artist, multi-discipline show of Northern Artists. You can see a wide range of her work on line, at her website: www.leslieshaw.info. There you will find an apple tree, a poinsettia, bulrushes and all manner of rocks and plants in her unique style. There is a strong sense of decoration in her designs, but not fragile or pretty decoration. The works have a steely inner structure and wonderfully muted colours. Her palette is limited – there are no bold primary reds or blues or yellows. Even in her blacks, you will see a hint of blue or purple and it will not sink into the canvas, but rather hold the other colours in dynamic tension.
I asked Leslie how she works – does she have several paintings in development. “Oh no, “ she quickly responds” and then quotes a teacher who told her to create one painting at a time and “you work until it’s good.” So Leslie works each painting, changing that tension between background and foreground, “the play of light”. I asked her how she knew when a painting was done? She firmly responded “you know when you are getting close!”
Leslie does not make prints. There are no note cards or other reproductions of her work. Each one is an original.
I asked her what’s next, what lies ahead. She paused and then a smile lit up her entire face. “I have a dream. I have to find someone who has a boat, that can take me to Cariboo Island, out in Lake Superior. I know there are things there I have to see.” Any takers?
Meanwhile, remember that apple tree I described earlier? You can see it on her website, but better yet go down to Espresso Joya and sit underneath it, and experience the dozen other of her works on display through the month of October.

Sept 2015

Kim Erickson held a CD concert earlier this summer, in June. The Unitarian Fellowship Hall was packed with friends to hear her new album, titled The Raven’s Wing. All of the songs, but one, are original compositions of Kim’s. The songs, the musicians Kim gathered to play with her, the technical production quality and the packaging of this CD are all of superior standards. This CD is extraordinary in just about every way I could talk about it. I’ll get to a more detailed description of The Raven’s Wing in a bit.
But first – how long has this been going on? I interviewed Kim at the end of August about music, her life and how she came to The Raven’s Wing project.
Kim was born, raised, schooled and had all her childhood adventures in Thunder Bay (then Fort William). Her first memory of music is her mother, seated and playing at an upright piano at Winston Hall, their home. Beside her mother would be her dad, on guitar or fiddle. Her first remembrance of singing was Sunday afternoon car rides with her mom, dad and older sister, singing along on those drives. At home, they had a hi-fi system, playing LPs, and she would sit in front of the speakers and sing along to records.
At about age seven, Kim took piano lessons from Mrs. Dupuis. She became “a pretty good sight reader” of music at an early age. There were choirs in schools and then one of those remarkably few adults arrived “who see who you really are, and offer encouragement”. This was Mrs. McLaren in Grade 6. In high school Kim played flute, probably, she said, because her sister played it.
In high school she discovered theatre arts also, at Westgate, with teacher Jeff MacKay. “He changed my life. We were doing stuff that was absolutely relevant. I learned skills then that I’ve applied throughout the rest of my life. It was like a family, a great bunch of theatre students who were all supportive of each other.”
Out of high school, Kim moved to Ottawa and studied piano and composition. She started working with Ian Tamblyn and became his main back-up singer doing concerts and touring for about 9 years. They played Vancouver, Massey Hall (Toronto), various venues in Montreal including The Yellow Door.
Then Kim lost her voice. She literally lost her voice “from bad singing” she says. It was improper technique and a lack of training, not from bad performing. Up to this point Kim had not had any formal vocal training. She credits two powerful women teachers who helped her understand that singing was “not just with your voice but with your whole body”. These were Annechien Menso, in Amsterdam (Kim made several trips to work with Annechien in Holland) and Dixie Neill, in Montreal, who was in charge of the opera program at McGill University. Years of training her body and voice brought Kim into full concert performances, and the learning of a wide repertoire of music.
An unforgettable experience, for me, was hearing Kim sing with our Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra several years ago, in their Cabaret series. Conductor Geoffrey Moull invited Kim to do the concert. In her program, Kim sang vocal music in seven languages (she actually knows nine or more). It was this concert which introduced a couple of the songs that would eventually appear on The Raven’s Wing, with orchestrations done by Joseph Phillips, a former double-bass player with our TBSO. The music – Kim’s singing and Joe’s arrangements – in that concert were unforgettable.
And now they are available to all of us on The Raven’s Wing. In addition to Joe’s arrangements for some of Kim’s songs, he also plays bass and guitar on the CD. Other artists include Drew Jurecka on violin, Amy Laing on cello, Damon Dowbak on mandocello, with back-up vocals provided by Kim’s own daughters Roisin and Lesya Roberts.
This is Kim’s third collection of recorded songs. The first, now 25 years old, was The Intention/The Blue. The second was Away. And now there is The Raven’s Wing. Kim considers this one was about 10 years in the making. “It’s not easy getting it done”, Kim says. There are the songs to be written and developed, musicians to be considered, money to be found “and life keeps getting in the way while you struggle to move everything forward.” There are 10 songs in this collection. Once recorded, mixed, mastered and produced, The Raven’s Wing landed a record label deal with Route 61 Music, based in Rome, Italy, which resulted in European distribution. Since the release in Europe, reviews have been pouring in from Italy, Holland, Germany and Sweden, among others and all these diverse critics have responded favorably to The Raven’s Wing. This is huge for a Thunder Bay artist!
The Raven’s Wing has arrived. Some of you may have supported the development of the project and you may already have your own copy. If you want one, you can get it from www.kimerickson.ca (her website) or download it at iTunes or by contacting her directly. Currently, there is only one local outlet where you can make a direct purchase: the Thunder Bay Naturopathic Clinic at 219 Algoma Street South.
Kim looks forward to being able to perform The Raven’s Wing in a live concert sometime in the future.

 

June 2015

Thunder Bay has The Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. They were established in 1978. Thunder Bay has a long history of outstanding athletes in many sports, with award winning athletes, including Olympians. It is often said that we have contributed more local players to the National Hockey League than any other Canadian city. We can all be proud of Patrick Sharp and the various Staal brothers, even though they are scattered amongst American hockey teams
There is no equivalent institution, no one place where we can look to find local artists who have contributed and are excelling in the world of culture. I would be willing to bet we have as many outstanding artists as we have athletes.
Here then is the beginning of a list of Thunder Bay born individuals who have – or are – contributing significantly to the broad world of arts and culture. There are many, many local artists who continue to work and live in Thunder Bay. For the purposes of this column, I am going to highlight several who have seen their talent call them to other cities and countries.
Paul Shaffer. Likely our most famous cultural export, Paul is a musician, actor, author, comedian and most known as the band-leader for Late Night with David Letterman. He was Letterman’s first and remained his only band-leader, for the entire three-decade-plus run of the hit TV show. I remember him as the co-composer of the hit pop song “It’s Raining Men!”
Michael Christie. Christie was briefly a competitive skate-boarder but then turned his hand to writing. His first published book was a collection of short stories, The Beggar’s Garden, that was long-listed for the Giller Prize and won numerous other awards. His second book, his first novel, came out this year. “If I Fall, If I Die’ is set here in Thunder Bay and draws on his own experiences growing up here. The novel received a favourable review in The New York Times. Christie, who now lives on Galiano Island, returned to Thunder Bay last month to read from his novel.
Kevin Durand. Kevin, a Hollywood actor, is a graduate of St. Ignatius High School. Known for his solid character and “heavy” roles, Kevin has acted in some major studio films including Mystery, Alaska, Robin Hood, 3:10 to Yuma and Cosmopolis. He never forgets his home town and will often go back to St. Ignatius and give class talks when he returns to Thunder Bay.
Trent Opaloch. Most of you probably don’t recognize Trent’s name but you may have seen his work. Trent is a graduate of our local Confederation College ConFlix program. He moved to the west coast and began building a career as a cinematographer. Working with director Neil Bloomkamp, he has shot all of Bloomkamp’s feature films including District 9, Elysium and Chappie. Last year, he was nominated for an Oscar for his cinematography on Elysium.
Mackenzie Farqhuar. I have written about Mackenzie in this column previously. Leaving Thunder Bay when he was just thirteen years old, he spent the next seven years at Canada’s National Ballet School. After graduating last year, he has joined one of the best professional ballet companies in the world, Ballet Zurich. It is a stunning achievement for someone so young – and he is only at the beginning of his career.
Isaac Matthews. Isaac is a singer, actor, musician and dancer, known locally for his solo concerts, work with Applause Productions and other local theatre companies. Two years ago, I invited Isaac to be part of a play reading I was directing in Thunder Bay, but he couldn’t because the timing conflicted with an audition he had in New York. He got the audition and a featured role in an off-broadway revival of the musical Rent, which earned him terrific reviews. Currently, Isaac continues his studies in New York at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA).
Theresa Thibert. Theresa is a classically trained opera singer, having earned her Masters of Music from the University of Western Ontario. Locally, you may have heard her sing with the Thunder Bay Symphony, the Finnish ORAS Choir, and in various musical productions. But opera is in her blood. This summer, Theresa will return to the Accademia Eruopa Dell’Opera in Tuscany (she performed with them in 2012), where she will sing a featured role in Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella).
Andrew Cividino. Andew is a writer and director, working in film. Growing up in Shuniah, he is now Toronto based. Andrew’s short film, Sleeping Giant, was shot entirely on location in Northwestern Ontario, using a local cast. North of Superior Film Association (NOSFA) gave the film its local premier during our 22nd Northwest FilmFest. Andrew has expanded the film into a full length feature. The feature length Sleeping Giant was accepted to the 2015 Cannes Film Festival (France) where it received several screenings last month. The Cannes Film Festival is only the biggest, most famous film festival in the world. Getting your first feature film accepted to the festival is an astounding accomplishment. NOSFA hopes to bring you the feature length version later this year.
As I mentioned, this is only the beginning of a list of outstanding artists from Thunder Bay. Together they are contributing to world culture, taking a little bit of Thunder Bay with them wherever they go.

“The trouble is, you think you have time” Jack Kornfield
May 2015
St. Paul’s United Church, just across the street from Waverley Park, is fast becoming known as a house of music.
Last year they celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their Casavant pipe organ, with several specific concerts that featured the organ in all its splendid sound.
They are the home for all of the Consortium Aurora Borealis concerts, which feature both vocal and orchestral music, primarily focused on Baroque, chamber and occasionally twentieth-century composers.  Next fall they will begin their 37th season performing in St. Paul’s church. They present eight full concerts from October through February each year.
I have heard The Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra (TBSO) perform there, as well as various quartets, sextets and octets made up of TBSO musicians.
This church hall itself is physically designed like a small European opera house.  There are three sections of seats (with two aisles) on the main floor that gently slope down toward the front of the room (sanctuary).  The upper level is designed in a large u-shape with several rows of seating that start high up at the back and sweep around the room directly to the far walls above the sanctuary.
The sound in this church is wonderful.  It is “alive” and resonant, a product of all the natural wood used in the main chamber and the specific logarithm of seats, windows, space, depth, height and width of the architectural design.  The room has nearly perfect acoustics for live music to be heard.
But last month I heard something for the first time in that space: a handbell concert.
I don’t know how long the St. Paul’s Handbell Ringers have been performing together.  I missed their appearance last December, when they performed at The Community Auditorium with the TBSO, for a holiday concert.  But there are at least three members of Handbell Ringers who have been performing for more than thirty years – and one of them for forty years!
I spoke with Brenda Reimer one of the senior handbell ringers.  I asked her how she liked handbell music.  She explained to me that she loves vocal music but her own voice “is not what it once was’, and that choir practices take more time and rehearsals than being a member of the handbell ringers.  She told me that “many members started handbell ringing when they were in high school, and indeed some still are.”  She added “that the joy of playing music together, with friends” is what keeps her engaged in this handbell ringing ensemble.
There are twelve members in this group, with Diana Wilcox being their Music Director.  Ten of the handbell ringers are women, two are men.  They range in age from fourteen to, well, let’s just say ‘north of seventy’.
What does handbell ringing sound like, musically?  Once a piece has begun, it is not dissimilar from listening to a pipe organ (without the heavy base notes).  It is closer to the music made by a “glass orchestra” and is comparable in the playing.  A “glass orchestra” uses various glass containers filled with water to varying depths.  It is played by running your wet finger around the rim, producing a ‘ringing sound’.  I’ll bet most of us have tried that at some point in our experience.
The handbell ringing sound is similar.  Each bell is only one note.  When it is rung, the sound continues to resonate outward until the bell is muted, usually by the player touching the handbell to their chest.  To make musical chords, several bells must be rung simultaneously.  Once a particular piece has started, you are immersed in wonderful tones that seem to be floating all around you.
The St. Paul’s Handbell Concert featured pieces performed by the entire ensemble, but also duets and a quartet (performed by Diana Wilcox, Kristine Wilcox, Scott Wilcox and Steve Donegan) and a superb solo work performed by Diana Wilcox herself.  One piece performed by the entire ensemble was accompanied by flautist Rob Van Wyck.  The most moving piece, for me, had all of the handbell wringers performed joined by a vocal choir made up of St. Paul’s Chancel Choir and guests from Trinity and Current River United Churches.  The combination of their voices together with the handbells  was splendid, and ultimately, deeply moving.
This specific concert was held as a fundraiser.  The St. Paul’s handbells are old and in need of refurbishing.  This work can’t be done locally and sending them out of town for the work to get done is expensive.  It was nice to see a fulsome and generous audience attend this concert.  If you are interested in helping sustain this incredible local musical ensemble, please contact Diana Wilcox through St. Paul’s United Church, directly.

April 2015
In one culture filled ten-day period last month I saw five evenings of live theatre, a North of Superior Film Association (NOSFA) screening and a Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra (TBSO) Masterworks concert.  More about the TBSO and NOSFA in a bit.
The live theatre performances were all completely different.  Rob Macleod Players and Occasional Arts presented Rex Deverell’s Boiler Room Suite, a dark story about two homeless alcoholics who take shelter in the basement boiler room of a large hotel.  Cambrian Players presented another Norm Foster play, Bedtime Stories, a wild and hilarious farce.  Magnus Theatre presented John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, an intellectual battle between a mother superior nun and a Roman Catholic priest.  And the coordinating body of the upcoming 10×10 Playwrights’ Showcase gave an evening of public readings to three original short plays, all comedies.
The best of the five evenings of live theatre, by almost every measure, was Frankly Scarlett Productions revival of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. The play, of and by itself, is a provocative theatre work.  Performed by thirty local women of all ages, sizes, ethnicities, and acting skills, it was an enormous crowd pleaser on the night that I saw it.
I was frankly astonished to find all of that live theatre happening simultaneously, in Thunder Bay.  That was not necessarily a good thing, as I am certain some of the productions suffered for audiences in the overlapping, competitive programming.
Before I leave discussing live theatre, please give your attention and support to the upcoming 10×10 Playwrights Showcase.  On Saturday, April 11, ten original plays by 10 local playwrights, each only 10 minutes long, will be performed for the first time altogether.  The showcase will take place at The Finlandia Hall, starting at 7:00 pm.
Now for some more news about our TBSO.  They are just wrapping up a hugely successful season with some of the finest playing I have experienced by our orchestra.  On March 25, they announced their 2015-2016 season program.  It will be their sixty-fifth.  It also happens to be the 150th anniversary of Sibelius birthday, so they will launch the year with his most famous, dramatic orchestral work Finlandia, along with his Second Symphony. Six months later, they will wrap up the season with a performance of his Violin Concerto.  In between those concerts there is an entire world of diverse and interesting music, including Pops Concerts, light classics, a Cabaret series featuring all local artists and the first ever appearance here of Cirque de la Symphonie, which combines aerial flyers, acrobats, contortionists, dancers, jugglers, balancers and strongmen all in choreography to classical and contemporary music masterpieces.  Their new season will start next fall on October 17.  I’ll write more about it as the season unfolds.
NOSFA presents its twenty-second Northwest FIlmFest on two consecutive Sundays, April 12 and April 19, with a special launch of the Festival on Thursday, April 9.  Altogether, there will be some twenty films screened.  This year’s lineup is possible the strongest in the Festival’s 22 year history.  Films include Citizen Four, the explosive documentary about Edward Snowden and his decision to leak secret CIA, CSIS and other documents.  Red Army, the documentary about the great Russian hockey dynasty, told from their own point of view.  Still Alice, the moving film about a woman in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, which won a Best Actress Oscar for star Julian Moore.  And my personal favourite film of 2014: Argentina’s Wild Tales, a series of six stories that take every day events into unpredictable, explosive conclusions.  NOSFA will also screen a series of five short films made by local filmmakers, including the astonishing Sleeping Giant, by Andrew Cividino.  Shot in, around, over and under that great landscape lying just across our harbor, and featuring all local actors, you will not want to miss this authentic coming of age story in our own locale.  Tickets for all NOSFA screenings will be available at SilverCity. Advance six-packs of tickets can be purchased at the UPS store on Memorial Avenue.  Go to NOSFA’s website www.nosfa.ca for full details and schedule of the films.

March 2015

End of life complexities have been around since at least that day that Socrates accepted thatcup of poisoned hemlock. He did this voluntarily out of his profound respect for Athenian law which had condemned him to die, for, among other things, corruption of youth. He was seventy-one. This was approximately 400 BC.

His contemporary, Sophocles, wrote a play called Antigone, in which she defied Athenian laws to go out on the battlefield and rescue the body of her brother, so she could give him a proper burial.

The manner of death and how death happens has come to be called “end of life issues”. They have been a part of art, literature, music poetry and plays for as long as life itself. It has also been the subject of laws and government, stretching from Athens BC to Ottawa in 2015.

The subject of suicide sets off emotional reactions from just about any perspective. This column will not explore the breadth and depth of Canada’s suicide rate except to say that, while it is moderate in comparison to other countries, it is tragically high amongst our First Nations peoples where suicide is almost three times as high as in the general Canadian population.

I attended a seminar put on by Lakehead University’s Centre for Health Care Ethics in late January. It’s title was Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide? Substance, Sensitivity and Process. The seminar was prompted by an impending Supreme Court of Canada decision that revisits the topic of euthanasia or physician assisted death.

Most of us likely remember the Sue Rodriquez case. In 1992, Ms. Rodrigues, who was suffering from sever end stage Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS ) had petitioned the courts to allow her to have a physician assisted death. Her case would its way through all the appeals and ended in a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada denying her request.

The decision was a split one, as close as a split could possibly be on a nine person court: 5-4. Lakehead University’s Centre for Health Care Ethics panel was made up of two prominent individuals living with disabilities -lawyer and activist Dave Shannon – and Dr. Heidi Jans, a professor at the Health Ethics Centre at the University of Alberta. A nurse from Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and a Native Elder completed the other panel. Each made opening statements outlining their position about physician assisted death (none werein favour of the option), followed by an energetic question and answer period.

This was not the first such seminar or community meeting that I had participated in concerning this subject, and it likely won’t be the last. What I took away from this one was that the issues about choice and whose life is it, anway – are as passionately emotional now as they were during the Sue Rodrigues period. And they will continue to be fiercely debated. There isn’t room, in this column, to deconstruct and present arguments from all the sides of this issue. I am working on presenting clear definitions of what suicide,  assisted suicide, voluntary euthanasia, passive euthanasia and physician assisted deathmean, so that we can enter into a more informed dialogue about this complex subject. I hope to present this in an upcoming column.

In the meantime, consider this: in Fall 2014, the Supreme Court again took up the matter of a Canadian requesting the right to be allowed legal euthanasia.

The case is called Taylor vs Canada. Lawyers presented vigorous arguments on the issue for several days to the Justices. One interesting difference between the Sue Rodriquez case in 1992 and the Taylor case in 2014 is that the dissenting opinion in the Sue Rodriques case was written by Justice Beverley McLaughlin.

Justice McLaughlin is not the Chief Justice on the Supreme Court. The Court is expected to release its decision any day.

 “The trouble is, you think you have time” – Part II

On February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the legal prohibition against assisted dying in Canada. The decision was a unanimous one of all nine Judges.

To begin to understand what the decision means, let’s consider some definitions related to this subject and the status in Canadian law. All of these definitions come from the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

Suicide: the intentional killing of oneself. Not illegal.

Assisted suicide: suicide effected with the assistance of another person, a physician, a friend. Illegal in Canada.

Euthanasia: an act of painlessly killing – especially at a patient’s request – a person or animal suffering from an incurable condition. Illegal in Canada when applied to persons, though not illegal when applied to animals.

Voluntary, passive euthanasia is a modified form of legal dying that has existed in Canada for some time. It is most easily understood in regard to a patient’s instructions concerning “withdrawal of treatment” as well as “do not resuscitate” when a patient is dealing with a terminal illness. Both of these described situations fall in the ‘grey area’ of health practice, concerning approaches to end of life.

In striking down the prohibition against assisted dying, The Supreme Court of Canada set out certain conditions for the implementation of their ruling:

  • A person who is seeking assisted dying must be an adult. So the ruling does not apply to children or underage teens.
  • A person must be competent.
  • A person must request it. So assisted dying should not be imposed or coerced, or forced in any way.
  • A person must have “a grievous and irredeemable medical condition” – that could include an illness, disease or disability – but it need not be a ‘terminal illness’.
  • The medical condition “causes enduring suffering’.
  • And that enduring suffering is “intolerable to the individual”.

The Supreme Court ruling centers on the individual and his or her rights, to the exclusion of other possibly competing rights, those of family members, health care providers, the legal profession or even the more broadly conceived rights of society as a whole. The ruling is about an individual, an adult, competent individual, who is suffering “intolerably” and wants help in dying.

In its ruling, The Supreme Court noted that the last time they considered this complex issue, in 1993, with the Sue Rodriquez case, no other Western democracy expressly permitted assistance in dying. By 2010, eight jurisdictions permitted some form of assisted dying: The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Columbia.

While the Court struck down the prohibition against assisted dying, it remains in place. The Court gave the Federal Government one year to consider the ruling and come up with legislation for its implementation.

As has been the case in most discussion about end of life issues, the Court’s decision has sparked wide response. Less than a month has passed since the decision came down and already the Federal Government is hinting that they will ask for more time than the stipulated year. They did not want this decision, at all, tossed back onto their agenda. It is an election year. They are otherwise occupied.

Some responses from physically disabled individuals believe the Court’s decision makes them more vulnerable.   Thunder Bay’s Dave Shannon, a lawyer and passionate advocate for the rights of the disabled, and who happens to be a quadriplegic, says the ruling needs careful consideration when drafting legislation to implement it. Among other considerations, he wants to see administrative bodies, like Ontario’s Consent and Capacity Board, to receive greater resources to be easily accessible for the protection and support of vulnerable populations.

Another Thunder Bay notable, Sheila Noyes, a long-standing and passionate advocate for Dying With Dignity, expressed her gratitude at the Court’s decision. She has spoken openly about the agonizing, painful deaths for both her mother and sister wherein “no palliative care could relieve such agony”. She added “Death is not the enemy. When suffering can only be ended by death, then death is a friend.”

My own stance is that our Supreme Court has decided. Our Federal Government has a year to implement that decision. In that year, how many more Canadians will have to endure suffering that they do not want, and would end if they could, with help? The deadline for implementation of the decision should be sooner, rather than later. “The trouble is, we think we have time.”

Jan 2015

I was born at night in the middle of a snowstorm, in January. As a ‘January adult’, I take after the Roman god Janus, reflecting backward and looking forward simultaneously this month.

2014 was a year absolutely stuffed with arts and cultural events. It is impossible for me to capture all of them but here are some of my favourite hi-lights from the past year, and tips on what to look forward to in 2015.

You remember we had a lot of snow last winter? On February 20th, we had a major snow dump, piled on top of several previous snowstorms. For a brief period, the city took all public transit off the streets and encouraged people to stay at home. The very next night I walked downtown through the drifts to Definitely Superior Art Gallery (DEFSUP). They were hosting an inaugural Book Market and Launch. I expected the event to be sparsely attended. When I got there, all three of their gallery rooms were crowded with people! One room was reserved for tables featuring local publishers. I was flabbergasted at the variety and amount of local publishing. My goal had been to purchase a copy of DEFSUP’s new anthology of NWO writing, ‘fuel’, but I lingered, listened to on-site readings, and ended up going home with six different volumes.

‘fuel’ is one of my top books locally published in 2014. I will add two others to this short list: Days to Remember, by Bill MacDonald and Funny Things Happened On My Way To The Cemetery, by Hugh Robert MacDonald. Both of these are autobiographies. Both of them are funny, moving and engaging books about lives well lived.

The other art gallery event of particular note is Thunder Bay Art Gallery (TBAG)’s The North Now. I wrote about this juried exhibition in last month’s column so I will simply add the good news that the exhibition has been extended! If you haven’t seen it yet, get yourself and a friend over to TBAG quickly before January 18. I have experienced it twice already, and may go again.

Live theater is alive and thriving in Thunder Bay, never more so than during our summer months. Last summer saw five live productions staged locally, from Melodrama at Chippewa Park (The Rob McLeod Players), Applause Productions, Lawrence Badani, New Noise Productions and Paramount Live. We are currently in the midst of the regular seasons for Cambrian Players and Magnus Theatre, as well as more young people’s work from Paramount Live. Watch for the closing production in Cambrian Player’s season in May: Five Women Wearing The Same Dress, By Alan Ball, to be directed by Andrew Paulsen. You heard it here first!

And the third annual 10By10 Playwrights’ Showcase will take place on April 11, 2015. Ten plays written by ten playwrights, each only ten minutes long. Deadline for submitting plays is January 14.

The City held many successful events and festivals in the newly developed Marina Park. One of my favourites has come to be the annual Winterfest. This years’ Winterfest will happen on February 16, Family Day. As usual, there will be a local snow sculpture symposium. There is an open call for snow sculpture ideas with a submission deadline of February 2.

Our Symphony Orchestra (TBSO) and Consortium Aurora Borealis are in the midst of wonderful seasons of music. Watch for Consortium’s concert of the rarely performed Schubert Octet for Wind and Strings, on January 24. The TBSO has several exciting concerts ahead including two Beethoven Symphonies. They will perform Symphony No. 2 on January 28 and Symphony No. 1 on April 15. In between those concerts, they will stage Carmina Burana, the massive choral work by Carl Orff at our Community Auditorium on March 26.

Each year we honour several people who have made significant contributions to Thunder Bay culture, that we have lost. It is with genuine sadness that I reflect on the passing of Bill MacDonald, one of Thunder Bay’s most prolific and published writers. Caroline ‘Joy’ Asham, also left us. Joy was a Thunder Bay story maker, story teller, cultural activist and newspaper columnist. She shared with us the wisdom and laughter from her life each month in The Chronicle-Journal. As well, we said farewell to Joe Vanderwees. Joe was a local businessman, municipal politician and community builder. He was a strong supporter of the cultural community in Thunder Bay, backing the building of our Community Auditorium and securing CBC radio for Thunder Bay and NOW. These were giants in our cultural community.

 

The Thunder Bay Art Gallery (TBAG) is thirty-eight years old. That’s how long they have been going on.

Currently, there have an art exhibit called The North Now – 2014 Northern Ontario Juried Exhibition. I will quickly tell you it is absolutely smashing and you should see it before it closes. The show runs until January 4.

When I went to TBAG to see this show, I spoke with Alistair MacKay, Communications and Marketing Coordinator and Nadia Kurd, Curator. Each kindly gave me some of their time to discuss aspects of the show and I am grateful to them for quiet and helpful professionalism.

I asked Ms. Kurd how this particular exhibition came about. It has been a long time, more than ten years, since TBAG hosted a juried exhibition. Nadia explained that an open call to artists went out last year. This the first TBAG multiple-artist show that welcomed artists from all over Northern Ontario. Previously, exhibitions had focused on artists working in Northwestern Ontario.

108 artists submitted works for consideration by the gallery. Close to 300 individual works were selected for inclusion.

The jury was made up of three prominent arts individuals: Carole Podewarny (a former curator at TBAG), David Garneau (an independent curator and teacher at The University of Regina) and Andrea Terry (a sessional professor at Lakehead University).

The show is both multi-artist and multi-disciplinary. The original call was for mixed-media works, with no restrictions. The resulting show includes quilting, photography, both oils and acrylics on canvas, water colours, gauche, coloured pencil, ink on birch bark, lino-cut and screen prints, stone ware, beading and clothing. There are paintings, drawings, sculpture, and mixed-media creations that include motion and both back-and-front light projections.

This show is very strong, featuring some of the best original art I have experienced at TBAG. All of the work is contemporary, created within the last two years. It demonstrates the rich and varied strengths of Northern artists.

Here are several hi-lights. When you walk through the doors of the main entrance you will be confronted with – and embraced by – Christian Chapman’s astonishing mural “Elvis Changing Into a 1977 Ford Thunderbird”. Chapman’s piece is divided into multiple canvases, referencing Norval Morrisseau and vividly portraying the transformation in his title’s theme. It is an astonishing piece, occupying the full length of the entry lobby wall. It is bright and humorous and reverent, simultaneously. Chapman is an Aboriginal artist with his home and studio on Fort William First Nation.

Thunder Bay’s Robin Ranger has two large works in this show: Water horizon in blue and Building in blue. They are the purest abstractions in this collective show, using colour flooding to the edges of the canvas. If you stand in the centre of the main gallery, you are caught in their magneticism (they face each other, across that vast room). They pull and draw you in and offer both immersion and surfacing.

I have admired Leslie Shaw’s large canvases for more than a decade. She has several works in this show. Two of my favourites are Poinsettia III (it does not look like what you think when you hear that title) and Outcrop # 6 “White Field”.

I admired Chris Stone’s tiny-perfect metal sculpture, looking for all the world like a person observing all the rest of us wandering around the gallery. The metal man has an arm raised with a cigarette in it and the sculpture is titled “Anybody got a match?”

There are so many engaging works here. Marianne Kyryluk has been working on pieces referencing The Tarot. She has two full figure wire sculptures in the show, her interpretation of The Hanged Man and The Fool. They are beautiful and funny and contemplative.

Caroline Kajorinne‘s “Preserving Harold” gives us a life in abstract pieces from a burned homestead. Haunting.

There are wonderful, accessible works from Luke Nichol, Mural Squires, Duncan Weller, Leanna Sigsworth, Greg Dubeau, and so many others. I apologize for not listing everyone – the work in this show is so strong.

Probably my favourite piece (and if you visit the exhibition, you can vote for the “people’s choice” award) is a small oil on canvas painting by Natasha-Genevieve Ritchie, from Timmins. Ritchie impressionistically places a line of figures on a dock or a wharf jutting out into a lake. The image is dream like. She titles it “Waiting”. It is a tiny piece of poignancy, energy and light.

As I mentioned, The North Now continues at TBAG through January 4. Hours will vary during the holiday period so visit their website or call ahead to be certain they are open. Don’t miss this. You will be happy and it’s a holiday present you can gift to yourself. Better, take a friend along and gift them, too.

They want us to be afraid.

This is going to be a column about the culture of fear and the culture of remembrance.

2014 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the start of World War l and the seventy-fifth anniversary of the start of World War ll. Both of those wars are considered to be possibly the last wars where there was a clearly defined, visible and identifiable enemy. For World War l it was Germany, and for World War ll it was Germany, Italy and Japan. When Canada entered those wars to oppose those enemies, there was an aura of duty, obligation and loyalty (within the Commonwealth and to the Queen). There were formal speeches in Parliament, with debate lasting for days, resulting in “declarations of war”. All this was accompanied with a somber attitude and sense of just what committing youth into conflict meant.

On October 7 this year, our Parliamentarians held a one day debate on whether Canada should commit aircraft, trained pilots and accompanying personnel (some six hundred “support” personnel) in the fight against the Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). There is, of course, no Islamist state of Iraq nor an Islamist state in Syria. There are violent and extreme Muslim insurgents, bent on taking over those two countries, in what would be called, in any other era, civil wars. But because we live in an era of modern technology whereby we can observe aspects of conflict occurring around the globe in real time, ISIS has used that media to post shocking videos of the beheadings of American and British Journalists. They have also posted messages calling on their followers anywhere in the world to attack and kill people in those countries that oppose ISIS. Canada is one of their enemies. In holding that Parliamentary debate on October 7 and passing a resolution committing Canadian military forces to that combat, we visibly confirmed that stance.

If you look at that debate and the vote itself (the resolution passed 157 ? 134) you might be surprised that it was about sending young Canadians into conflict. Our Prime Minister stood and smiled, accepted congratulations from his colleagues on his side of the house, while other parliamentarians pounded their desks, smiled, laughed and cheered. This was not a somber atmosphere. It was a political moment, a political victory played out for the cameras, in another example of the use of instant, modern technology.

ISIS wants us to be afraid. The videos of beheadings and their global message to followers to kill us and other Western citizens in countries who oppose them, is designed to instill fear. When two random and isolated individuals killed two Canadian soldiers last month (one in Montreal by being run over by a car, one in Ottawa by shooting at Canada??s War Memorial), it appeared ISIS ??s message had taken hold in our country.

And our government wants us to be afraid. The Prime Minister and the RCMP immediately branded those two soldier??s deaths as “terrorist acts”. Planned legislation to expand the powers of Canada??s Internal Security organization (CISIS) was introduced and new legislation to give police greater powers of arrest and preventative detention are promised.

Both of the criminals who killed our soldiers were not foreign terrorists. Both were Canadians, born and raised here in Canadian families. Each had complicated lives with histories of previous crimes, mental health issues and isolation from their communities. One, rebuffed from joining a Mosque in Vancouver found something attractive in the on-line messages of ISIS. He would become the killer at Canada??s War Memorial followed by getting killed himself when he attempted to enter the houses of Parliament.

Our Prime Minister wants these complex issues to be seen in relatively simplistic terms. At a media conference about murdered and missing Aboriginal women, he said we “should see murder as a crime. We should not see it as sociological phenomenon.” One of the hallmarks of his government has been to be “tough on crime.” On mental health matters and other sociological phenomenon, not so much.

I attend the memorial service on Remembrance Day, November 11, at the cenotaph in Waverley Park. I have observed that, over the past several years, attendance at the service has increased. Past and present military people are there, as well as our collective citizenry, gathered to pay respect to those who fought our enemies and died on foreign soil. Today, our enemies have become much closer. They are here, on the internet. They are on our computers. How we remember those who have fought on our behalf previously, and how we address our enemies now, will determine the kind of society we want to be.

Fear can??t be the motivator for how to move ahead in our lives. It should never be the motivation for war, and certainly not remembrance. I honour the men and women who have served our country and who continue to do so. I reject leaders, both in the military, the RCMP and government who would use fear to impose greater restrictions on Canadian freedoms, make us doubt our neighbors, and believe that it is good and patriotic to apply simplistic solutions to complex challenges.

Sept 14 Issue

This seemed to be the summer that wouldn??t arrive. And when it did, all too soon it is sliding away.

It didn??t stop the city from hosting the usual packed calendar of outdoor events and festivals, including the first ever Open Streets, which featured the entire length of Algoma Street closed to traffic for about half-a-day. Cyclists, walkers, kids and parents with strollers thronged the street in a wonderful display of making the street our own.

I spent part of the summer revisiting some of our outdoor art. I have previously written about favourite outdoor sculptures around the city. This summer, while out cycling, I took time to stop and enjoy some of the large outdoor murals scattered across the city. They are all bright, colourful and eye-catching.

In the south ward, there are a series of wall size murals funded and created by a special grant to celebrate various themes and images from Fort William??s past. On the outside wall of the old Times-Journal building at May and Violet Street is a huge mural divided into four separate images. They Include Vickers Park as it looked in 1912, a Westfort engine house in 1886, a view of Victoria Avenue in 1914 and the Kaministiquia River in 1889.

Further down May Street, on the outside wall of the M???tis Association building is a grand painting of M???tis Voyageurs Arriving at Fort William. This mural is credited to Christopher Rantala and Brian Cronk.

On the Music World building at Simpson and Finlayson is a huge triptych, called Portals Into the Past, by Brian Nieminen. It features an 1892 view of the CPR, an image of Victoria Avenue as it appeared in the 1890??s and booming Simpson Street in 1913.

The newest outdoor mural was created just last month by Definitely Superior??s Die Active Collective. The Collective is a group of local young artists and mentors who create imaginative, colourful graffiti art. This newest mural graces the exterior walkway of Waverley Resource Library. The mural was done by 20 youth artists and 6 mentors. The theme for this piece was land, air and water and features a crane, a sturgeon and a hare in the colourful, almost jazzy design.

I also attended some of our live theatre productions. Summer in Thunder Bay features more live theatre than in any other season. There were seven staged productions this year, with three of them happening simultaneously. The shows included the annual summer melodrama out at Chippewa Park, called Bloodthirsty Blackfly. There were two children??s theatre productions mounted by Paramount Live: Shrek The Musical and Alice in Wonderland. Applause Productions brought a big musical revue featuring more than 40 performers to The Finlandia in Broadway??s Back on Bay. Lawrence Badani presented Love, Loss and What I Wore, a staged reading version adapted from the popular book by Illene Beckerman. And the Rob MacLeod Players brought back The Northern Knights Feast for two performances at The Outpost on the LU campus. Closing off summer theatre is New Noise Productions presentation of Cherry Docs, a play by Canadian playwright David Gow. I will disclose that I am the director of Cherry Docs.

And here is a short piece about Cherry Docs:

The New Noise Productions presentation of Cherry Docs introduces two new theatre individuals to Thunder Bay: actor Chisholm and young musician and composer Logan Belmore. Logan has composed an original keyboard score for the production which he will play, live, at each performance.

Cherry Docs by Canadian playwright David Gow, explores questions about youth and racism and the importance of faith in holding your life together. It asks us to consider just what “tough on crime means” ? does locking away our youth for long periods of incarceration protect our community, or does it turn those youth into hardened adults?

Cherry Docs is presented at The Paramount Theatre on August 28, 29 30 and September 5 and 6. Nightly at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $15 and are available at The Growing Season restaurant, High Tide Tattoo parlour and Steepers.

June 14 Issue

Last month I attended the annual Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop (NOWW) Literary Awards. This was the sixteenth year that NOWW hosted this annual writing competition and awards.

NOWW has been around for several decades. Membership is open to anyone who is either a writer or interested in becoming one, or interested in supporting original writing in the region.

NOWW hosts regular, public readings featuring local writers, invests in professional development with annual writing workshops and publishes a literary magazine three times a year that is available in both a digital edition as well as hard copy. They offer a manuscript critiquing service, at a modest fee, if you have some work you would like a seasoned writer to “blue pencil”. And they organize and host their annual writing competition and awards.

An interesting thing occurred at this year??s awards. To fully understand the story, I have to explain how NOWW hosts the competition.

NOWW??s literary competition is open to anyone ? not just writers in Northwestern Ontario. Writers can submit as many pieces of work as they wish, accompanied by a $10 fee per submission, in a variety of categories. The categories sometimes shift a little. This year they were Speculative Fiction, Creative Non-Fiction, Poetry and Fiction. Once all the submissions are received, they are stripped of their personal identifiers, grouped into each category and then given to a local literary “screener” who reads all the submissions and creates a short list. The short list is then sent out externally to a professional Canadian writer for further assessment. This external judge ranks the top three pieces in each category. These judges have often been quite prestigious. This year they included Roger Nash, Ania Szado, J.J. Lee and Robert J. Sawyer. So each piece is assessed at least once, and the best pieces are assessed twice in a blind process where the reader does not know who the original author is. The winners receive a certificate, the judge??s comments and cash!

So on the night of this year??s awards, everyone applauded politely when Susan North was announced as the winner in the Creative Non-Fiction category for her piece titled Bayswater Revisited. I didn??t know who Susan North was. Susan North was not present to receive the award. For a full list of winners, please take a look at NOWW??s website: nowwwriters.org.

The next day, I posted the winners on my personal facebook page, together with a photo of Cathi Grandfield reading from Susan North??s winning story, Bayswater Revisited. Within minutes, I received an urgent reply from Susan Rogers asking me “who Susan North was” and stating “that??s my story!” I put Susan Rogers in touch with NOWW??s administrator, trusting this would be sorted out. Susan Rogers was indeed the author of Bayswater Revisited. In the process of stripping away all identifiers so that the story would go through its review process with anonymity, the author??s identity was incorrectly re-attached following the judging process. The mistake was temporary and Susan Rogers was happily proclaimed the winner in the Creative Non-Fiction category.

I spoke with Susan ? the real Susan ? about this experience and her story. We met in a local coffee shop. Susan works full time as the station manager for our local CBC Radio. She is also the managing editor for CBC.ca Thunder Bay. Susan is grateful to NOWW and excited by the award. I asked her how she managed to find time for personal writing. Susan quickly admitted that her story, Bayswater Revisited, was actually written some years ago. She pulled it out, polished it and submitted it in this year??s NOWW contest. It is an auto-biographical piece, about what happened one afternoon when she and her children visited Bayswater Beach Park, in Nova Scotia. The story is layered, insightful, engaging and dark.

She says the award both surprised her and has inspired her to continue writing. While Bayswater Revisited is a serious story with complex themes, Susan says she really “wants to write humour”. I will attempt it” she adds, firmly.

Congratulations to Susan Rogers and all of this year??s NOWW Literary Awards winners.

?

The Event Center Revisited

I??ve changed my mind.? Or, as some politicizations like to say ??my thinking has evolved.??
I no longer support the building of an event centre.
I??ve written about this in past columns, always with some analysis and critical questions.? But always ending up with a conclusion that we should have a new event centre in Thunder Bay.
If you??ve been following the discussion in? this paper and other media, you know well that planning toward building an new event centre is proceeding slowly and relentlessly without major obstacles.
You know that our venerable Fort William Gardens is stretching into its sixtieth decade and public meetings have been held about what to do with it.? You know that those same public meetings have been held about the event centre, three over a two year span and now further news about that planning occurs within City Council itself or at media conferences.? Council has voted against a plebiscite being added to this year??s? municipal election ballot, about the event centre.? That decision pretty much assures there will not be a plebiscite.? Holding one with a regular election costs very little but holding one on its own, outside of an election, will cost tens of thousands of dollars.
As commentary ? and public opinion ? has weighed back and forth about the event centre, it was concentrated on several key elements:? the location (downtown Thunder Bay North), the projected cost ($106 million) and a perceived paucity of parking in that location.? None of these are the reasons why my thinking has evolved.
It??s about whether there really is a need for one and the projected annual operating deficit.
A friend of mine shaped a critical question for me: ??what do I want to see or experience that isn??t already possible with what we have???? The event centre ? and the team onside backing it ? promise to move an AHL franchise hockey team from St. John??s Newfoundland to Thunder Bay.? Not only does this not interest me, I am aware that ??farm teams?? such as this one don??t have a history of staying in their home locations very long.? There are many examples of this including that this would be the second ??farm team?? to be attracted to St. John??s and then be attracted away from St. John??s in less than five years.? Our city administration promises that no extraordinary deals will be made to bring ? and keep ? an AHL team here.? Well then, why would they come at all?? Why would they stay?? The proposed event centre would house two hockey teams, the aforementioned professional ??farm team?? and Lakehead University??s Thunder wolves.? That??s a lot of hockey tickets to be sold ? weekly ? in a modest market, in addition to the other attractions that might come to the event centre.
Our beautiful Community Auditorium currently operates with a substantial annual deficit.? So do The Gardens.? And our Conservatory.? And our municipal golf courses.? Most city owned and run facilities operate with deficits, accumulatively in the millions of dollars.? That is part of our yearly municipal budget.? The projected annual operating deficit for the event centre is $1.4 million.? And that is a conservative estimate, based on event bookings, hockey games, conventions, weddings, family reunions. Shutting down The Gardens won??t match half of that cost.
Except for the AHL franchise, all those other things can occur ? and do ? in facilities Thunder Bay already has.? Certainly, some bigger attractions may come here.? I believe that will have a negative impact on our other facilities.? So I have come to the conclusion that we don??t need this new facility now.
Make no mistake: I believe it will be built.? There are powerful influences, both individuals and corporations, swirling around the project and marketing it in its best possible light.? And it will mean a huge investment of dollars in the construction phase, with employment and economic spin offs during that phase.? And then we will have added a significant $million plus to our city operating costs, every year thereafter.

April 2014
The Car:
For the past hundred years the planning and engineering of cities has been dominated by one major influence: the car.? That??s how long this has been going on.
And, for the most part, this has been disastrously wrong.? For sure, there are some rare examples of future planning that is full of grace and human scale, but for the most part urban planning has been about concentrating populations into either dense, high-rise buildings (usually condos for well-incomed people) or in urban sprawl with look-alike neighborhoods eating up forests and farm lands.? Both of these types of population design have been nurtured, and in some cases, motivated by catering to the automobile.? Trees come down and cities are split by huge, multi-lane through-ways and expressways.? Engineers believed people will always move around by cars.
Currently, 50% of the world??s population lives in cities.? By 2050, less than 40 years ahead, that will increase to 80%.? If you have teen-age children, that??s where they will be.? If you have grandchildren, that??s where they will be.?? Thunder Bay, already the largest city in Northwestern Ontario, will be larger.? And likely having spread out more than we already are.
I saw the future last month.? Well, part of it anyway.? It is being carried out in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Melbourne, Dhaka and Christchurch.? These efforts to re-engineer city planning and make urban environments more people friendly were contained in the remarkable film The Human Scale.? The information and statistics I cited above come from this film.? The Human Scale launched the 5th Thunder Bay Environmental Film Festival and it played to a full house.
The Human Scale documents the work of Danish architect Jan Gehl and his young team of visionary city planners.? Gehl asks simple questions when beginning re-development projects.? They include more than just ??traffic statistics??.? He asks ??how many people (not cars) pass this street throughout a 24 hour period?? What percent of those are pedestrians?? How many are driving cars or bikes?? How much of the street space are the various groups allowed to use?? Is the street performing well for all its users?
In his own capital city of Copenhagen, the city has seen a massive transformation in how people move around, how they go to and from work, and what they do in the inner city areas.? Copenhagen boasts one of the highest rates of urban cycling, with more people getting to and from work on their bicycles than by car.? The city accomplished this, in part, by removing parking.? Let me state that again: one of the things Copenhagen did was to tear up vast acreages of paved parking lots and turn them into green spaces, parks, trails, cycling and walking paths.? The city also improved public transit. The population began transitioning away from using cars.?? Remember, Copenhagen is a Northern city with a year round climate very similar to our own.
The Human Scale is available right now on DVD and I urge you to take a look at it.
Here in Thunder Bay, we have several encouraging efforts going on.? We have an energetic Active Transportation plan that adds walking trails, green space, new and additional sidewalks and designated cycling lanes each year to our urban map.? We have a Walkability Committee that has hosted several open forums, bringing speakers to raise the profile of ??wakable cities??, and raise awareness of what is possible to implement.? Developed around the principal of 8/80 ? that livable cities should be accessible and walkable by our young citizens as well as our older ones , Thunder Bay will also see our first ever ??open streets?? implemented sometime this summer.? ??Open Streets?? will allow the closure-to-vehicular-traffic of some of our major roads, on certain Sundays, to return them to pedestrian traffic.? And our municipal engineering department has shown some flexibility with these concepts when redesigning streets that are up for renewal.? More can be done.? We are just beginning.? These are not easy things to do.? Some of them are costly.? We are moving in a better, more human scaled direction.

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“If you build it, they will come.”

“Silence is so accurate.”

Mark Rothko

I was a very young man, not yet twenty, when I discovered the paintings of Mark Rothko. I took several art courses in university, including a generic “art appreciation” course. And there, with Jackson Pollack and Andy Warhol was Mark Rothko.

The type of painting he did was called “abstract expressionism, a term that Rothko hated. It essentially means that what you are looking at is not realistic; it??s abstract and loose, or expressionistic rather than impressionistic. It is the sort of art that is often laughed at as in “my kids could do that”. To see what his art looks like, google him. If you happen to find yourself in Toronto, you can also see a couple of his works at The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).

Magnus Theatre, celebrating their forty-third year, is presenting the play Red by John Logan as their next production. The central character is Mark Rothko.

Logan, the playwright, sets the play in the late 1950??s, during a period when Rothko had accepted a hefty commission to provide paintings for the walls of a classy restaurant in a New York skyscraper. Rothko rented an old warehouse in which to create the work (Magnus??s set will be designed by Bruce Repei and lit by Kirsten Watt). Logan invents a young assistant to help the master. His first line to the assistant is “What do you see?” This sets off a lengthy discussion about art, commercialism, what is classic, what is popular and always circling back to that very first question. The play is in five short scenes, lasting about an hour and a half in total. Logan draws on Rothko??s many interviews and published essays to shape his dialogue. Rothko was as bold in his opinions about art and his contemporaries as he was with paint on canvas. He could be obvious and pretentious as in “Art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take risks.” He was often defensive about his own work as in “I??m not an abstractionist. I??m not interested in the relationship of colour or form or anything else. I??m interested only in basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on”. I would bet you that when you are looking at his work, you will be thinking about his relationships of form and colour.

The play explores the artist and assistant relationship in several directions. Rothko, in the play, says “I am not your teacher” yet clearly he is. He becomes mentor, teacher, father confessor and eventually proud parent in a concluding scene that is much like sending your child off to college, or out into the real world. But before they reach that point, they argue, intellectually fight, posture and wound each other. It is a richly written tour-de-force for two actors. For all its talkiness, some of the best moments happen in silence, as in Rothko??s quote that I used to open this piece. For Magnus, Mark Rothko will be played by Mark Weatherley. Rothko??s assistant, Ken, will be played by Jordan Campbell. Mario Crudo directs the production. The play runs from March 13 to March 29. For full details on dates, times ? including matinees ? check out www.magnus.on.ca. You could also call the Magnus box office at 345-5552.

I will conclude with a reminder that the 21st Northwest FilmFest, presented by North of Superior Film Association (NOSFA) will take place on March 23rd and 30th, with daytime programming on both consecutive Sundays. The FilmFest will launch with a prelude screening of the most recent Coen Brother??s film Inside Llewyn Davis, on Thursday, March 20. Inside Llewyn Davis was chosen by the Toronto Film Critics Association as the Best film of 2013. For up-to-date information, keep checking NOSFA??s website at www.nosfa.ca for more film titles, ticket information and outlets.

Feb. 2014

I have been writing about the proposed “event centre” for Thunder Bay Seniors, since the very first public town-hall meeting, nearly two years ago. Sparked by our venerable Fort William Gardens passing the fifty-year mark, and having sunk numerous millions of dollars into the old structure to reinforce its roof and put in new seating, the city realized that what they have is still an old building. And it operates at a substantial annual deficit. With due diligence, they embarked on a process to consult the community ? that would be us ? about what a new facility might be.

A new facility has to be more than another hockey rink, because the Federal Government announced categorically that they will not fund hockey arenas, much to the chagrin of every NHL franchise owner. So the replacement for our Gardens became “an event centre”, a multi-purpose exhibition and convention centre, with large scale dining capacities to accommodate weddings, cultural dinners, etc. And, oh yeah, there would be an ice floor where somebody could play hockey.

Controversy surrounded the city??s planning from the beginning. An initial seven possible sites were narrowed to three and then a final recommendation came before Council to put the building smack dab downtown, near our North side waterfront development. The loudest screaming came about the matter of parking. Council accepted the consultant??s recommendation. The screaming continues.

Then, last month, the city held another town-hall meeting to ask the community (us again) what should be done with the old Gardens, once the event center is built. Notice how the assumption that the event center will be built, not might be, sneaks into the conversation?

Then, a couple of weeks later, the city held a media conference and, with great fanfare, announced they have selected “a partner” to head up the new event center. This was not a community consultation ? we??ve moved past that ? this was an announced decision. The chosen partner is actually several key partners linked together under the umbrella marketing title “Thunder Bay LIVE”. One of these partners is former NHL coach and broadcaster Gary Green. Green stood with city officials at the announcement and said he would bring the NHL Winnipeg Jet??s American Hockey League (AHL) franchise team from St. John??s, Newfoundland to Thunder Bay. Other partners in Thunder Bay LIVE include Stadium Consultants International, Global Spectrum Facility Management, True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd., Lakehead University, PCL Constructors Canada Inc. and BBB Architects Toronto Inc.

Lakehead University is in the partnership because The Thunder Wolves are also designated users of the facility. This raises one of several important questions. With an AHL hockey team, and the popular Thunder Wolves sharing the facility, who gets priority dates for scheduling? How do they share the ice for practice time? And if the ice is taken out of the Gardens (one of the proposals being discussed), will the current users add pressure to access ice in the event center?

Our mayor and City Manager Tim Commisso were beaming at the media conference announcement. Mr. Commisso said that having two “anchor tenants” would contribute potentially 60 -70 booked dates in the facility. It is still projected to run at an operating deficit, with those tenants. While the mayor cautioned that “nothing is set in stone”, the plans for the event centre seem to be on a very fast track. What is driving this? We know the proposed facility will cost, at current estimate, $106 million. We know both the Federal and Provincial governments are cash strapped and determined to reduce their massive deficits. Both are critical partners in such a costly edifice and neither has committed to the project.

I have said before and will affirm again that I think the city should have a new event center. But I believe the planning is moving too fast, on too narrow a path. No one is discussing the impact the new facility will have on our Community Auditorium. It, too, operates at a substantial deficit. Concert managers that currently book into our auditorium will surely consider the new venue if they see bigger profits for themselves. And will current corporate sponsors at The Auditorium stay there when the glamour of the new venue glimmers across town? We haven??t even begun to talk about this.

And then there is that constant screaming in the background. “If they build it, will you come?” Not if they don??t provide plenty of affordable, accessible parking. This is an election year. $106 million is a huge commitment. What should be our priorities? Let??s discuss this.

??The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.??? Gloria Steinem

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Janus, the Roman god after which January is named, is most often depicted with two faces. Janus looks both forward and backward. Like January, he is about endings and beginnings. So this column will reflect on some of the cultural hi-lights of last year and preview some of those that are upcoming.

Marina Park continues to be one of the great success stories in our city. Buildings and features in the park continue to win national and international design awards. City programming keeps events happening year round. The summer in the parks concerts and the Blues Fest are matched by Spark-in-the-Park (celebrating the Winter Solstice) and Winterfest, which brought snow sculptures to the waterfront. Best of all, it attracts usage. It has become one of our most active and popular recreation areas in the city. People both like it and use it.

Art exhibitions flourished through the past year. Three of the best were Liar, Liar, (mixed media) held at Thunder Bay Museum, Damon Dowbak??s Meditations on colour and form (glass), and the annual Lakehead University Faculty exhibition (mixed media) at Definitely Superior Art Gallery. And 2013 was finally the year that Definitely Superior won the prestigious Ontario Premier??s Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Live theatre has all but exploded in the city ? no more so than the busy summer season. Last summer saw no less than five live theatre productions staged by Applause Productions, Paramount Live, Rob McLeod??s Capital Player??s annual melodrama at Chippewa Park, Migliazza Production??s staging of Jesus Christ Superstar and New Noise??s production of TAPE. The regular seasons of both Magnus Theatre and Cambrian Players provided live theatre through-out the rest of the year.

Live musicoccurs every week in Thunder Bay, from bar bands to choral groups to classical concerts. Our symphony (TBSO) is selling-out its “pops concerts” and launched their Masterworks season with an outstanding all Beethoven program. New CD releases occurred throughout the year from so many local musical artists. Consortium Aurora Borealis is celebrating their 35th season and featured an outstanding all Vivaldi concert. New classical groups emerged, including a string quartet and Brass Northwest. Probably the most interesting music series is being coordinated by Erik Johannes Riekko, featuring rarely heard classical compositions of the last century and featuring some of our finest classical performers, drawn from the symphony and Lakehead University.

Looking ahead:

Magnus Theatre will produce one of the finest American plays of the last decade, in March. John Logan??s award winning Red is a tour-de-force for two actors discussing, arguing, and fighting about the importance of art in any culture. I will write more about this in an upcoming column. You may want to mark Friday, January 10 in your calendar to attend a public reading of a new play by Brad Fraser. Kill Me Now will be given a reading at the Unitarian Hall, at 7:00 pm. Admission is free but it is only there for one night. The play explores passionate relationships within a family including the bonding between fathers and sons and how that gets tested by major health issues. Kill Me Now is one of the most important plays of our current decade. Watch for the dates of the 22nd Northwest FilmFest, which will return in March. The TBSO is programming one the most spectacular ? and rarely performed ? piano concertos – Rachmaninoff??s Piano Concerto No. 2, on a program that includes Tchaikovsky??s Symphony No. 5. That concert closes their season on May 1. I am eagerly looking forward to 2014??s cultural menu in Thunder Bay.

Dec. 2013

The live music scene in Thunder Bay is as varied and rich as it probably has ever been. Thunder Bay has church choirs, community choral groups, ethnic choirs, the Fort William Male Choir, the Sweet Adeline??s, the Lakehead University Vocal Ensemble. Almost every weekend you can choose from a variety of local bands playing at various venues (mostly bars), ranging from blue-grass, to rock, to folk, to reggae, to jazz, to flamenco, to classical configurations (brass, strings, keyboards). We have a professional symphony orchestra, now in its fifty-fourth season, that performs dozens of concerts in a variety of series from October through May. We have a “chamber music” ensemble, the Consortium Aurora Borealis which is celebrating its thirty-fifth season this year, giving us outstanding concerts. Some evenings, I think that if I just step outside my front door I will hear live music ? being played somewhere in our city.

I want to bring your attention to something that returned to Thunder Bay just last month. Here is a little historic context. Some forty years ago, a group of youngsters opened a book store in what is now The Fireweed art and craft store on Algoma Street. I was one of those youngsters. Some of the other notables were Ken Hamm, Liz Martin, William Roberts, Damon Dowbak, Estelle Howard, Graham Saunders, Rodney Brown. Remember this was long before Sweet Thursday or Chapters arrived in town. Finding good literature was a challenge. We formed a Co-op, The Bookshop Co-op, and sold shares for $5. Our intention was to make available books that were not easy to find in Thunder Bay. You know, Canadian authors. Poetry. Plays. Canadian magazines. Even some local authors. We all pitched-in and took volunteer shifts working in the store. There were many months when it was a struggle to balance the budget and pay the rent. I believe it was Ken Hamm and Liz Martin??s idea to begin a series of “coffee houses”, featuring local performers, as a sort of meeting place for musicians, poets, writers and hippies, charge a modest admission and sell coffee and home-baked sweets. The venue was right around the corner from The Book Shop Co-op, on Bay Street: The Little Finn Hall. Thus began a series of Sunday night “benefit” coffeehouses that saw many of our local musicians and poets get a quiet and eager audience for their performances.

Now, forty odd years later, Sunday night coffee houses have returned to Bay Street. In the same building. Only this time they are not “upstairs” in the little hall, but downstairs in what is now Calico??s. The person behind this “reboot” of the coffee house concept is Isaac Matthews, a young local musician/actor. He launched the series on the last Sunday in November and I attended the event. The program for this first coffee house “revival” was full of a whole new generation of musicians. Young, engaging voices, some of them performing original songs, some of them giving us amazing renditions of Leonard Cohen, Stomping Tom Connors, Michael Jackson. In a quiet moment after the concert, I asked Isaac why he was doing this. He replied that he wanted to provide a modest place where local talent could play and be heard more easily than in a bar. Where the audience could be won over to actually listen to lyrics and appreciate the subtle aspects of interpretation. He also wants to see writers, readers and other performers step up to be in the programs.

The series is called “A Time to Talk”, after a line in a Robert Frost poem. The coffee houses will continue on the last Sunday in every month, and already the line-up for the December 29th program is jam packed. The challenge will be to get a seat. They??re free. The events run from 7:00 to 10:00 pm and I predict these will become standing-room only. It??s great to see this tradition return to Bay Street, with fresh, youthful enthusiasm.

Nov. 13

Thunder Bay has a lively and diverse theatre scene. In September, I reported that there had been six, live theatre productions mounted here during last summer. I had the humbling pleasure to direct one of those, TAPE, for New Noise Productions. Now, both Magnus Theatre and Cambrian Players have begun their new seasons.

I have also had the opportunity to take in the Soul Pepper Theatre??s production of Angels in America, in Toronto, and have experienced several outstanding productions from London (England) via The National Theatre Live broadcasts that bring some of the best English language theatre onto our SilverCity screen.

But I saw something last month that so shook me up that I can??t stop thinking about it. It was a play, put on in a local church basement, by three people. There were several aspects that made this theatre experience so special: the story itself, the fine cast and how it was staged.

The play is called Momma??s Boy and I would suggest forgetting the title because it is misleading. The play is full of so many things that we should care about: how do we grow up? How do we balance what we want to be with what life deals us? How do we build family? How do we let our children go??and grow? The play also has a love story and moments of laughter, pain and profound insights.

The plot of the story is simple: two college age young people, Ginny and Jordan, strangers, find themselves on a small plane flying into Sioux Lookout. Ginny is returning home to work on her Master??s thesis at her mother??s (Daphne) kitchen table. Jordon is escaping the big city to a part-time teaching job. Daphne lives alone in her cabin and raises goats. They meet when Daphne comes to the airport to pick up her daughter. From there the plot thickens, with both predictable and surprising twists.

What makes this production so astonishing is how natural it is. How honest and authentic. It is designed to play “in small or unusual places” (once it was performed in a coffee-shop). Here I saw it in the basement of St. John??s Anglican Church. We sat in two rows of folding chairs about 15 feet apart. The play took place between these seats, right in front of us. The actors?? conversations were normal, natural with no need for loud projection. It was as though we were eavesdropping on these lives. There were no trick effects. Simple lights attached on poles at the end of each row of seats and the basement??s own overhead lights let us see everything we needed to. The actor playing Jordan also played guitar and the story was filled with live, original music, sung by all the characters. Music, at times, moved the story along.

The play was written and directed by Eleanor Crowder. She also played Daphne. Anna Lewis played Ginny and David da Costa played Jordan. They gave, in this production, some of the finest performances I have seen all year. In several years.

Here was a play about us, about living in the North, about things that are both delicate and serious in how we live here. An unexpected pregnancy pushes each of the characters to greater clarity and propels each of them to fight, selfishly, for what they want. Just about every aspect of this production ? story, acting, staging ? made for a thrilling evening of theatre.

I hadn??t had an experience like this for more than 30 years, back when John Books and Eleanor Albanese and William Roberts and I were touring Northwestern Ontario with our original stories. We were Kam Theatre then. To their credit, Bear & Co, the Ottawa based theatre that brought Mamma??s Boy here, is touring it in Northwestern Ontario to North Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Dryden, Sioux Lookout, Manitouwadge and Thessalon. They will also perform it in Toronto and then swing out to the Atlantic Provinces for an Eastern Tour. It is, in a special way, our story. One of our stories. And I??m glad they are telling it to whoever wants to hear.

Oct 2013

“It can??t be expressed by a couple of letters by the end of your name”.

Paul Morralee is a local filmmaker. He said this, by way of explaining how he and the many, good local filmmakers get work. They don??t have letters by the end of their names, like PHD, or CA, or DR, or LLB that instantly identify someone??s occupation and give them credibility. And, as a local filmmaker “you constantly have to prove you know what you are doing.”

The best way to know what a filmmaker can do is to view their work. Google MorVision and you can see examples of what he does at your own leisure.

Paul has been making films for more than 35 years. He made his first one when he was fifteen. It was a pow-wow at Golden Lake Reserve, in the Algonquin??s.

He has gone on to make hundreds of short films, many of these for community television or local clients, and many of them ending up on the internet via YouTube.

His company, MorVision, survives in the same way most local video and film companies do: creating industrial documentaries, corporation messaging, non-profit commercials and documentaries, promotional shorts. I asked Paul if all this work was interesting or if he made some of these films for survival, paying the bills, etc. He replied that “it??s got to be interesting, to be motivating to move a story forward and through a project.”

I asked him what he sees when he looks through the camera lens. “The opportunity to propagate a story, to move a story forward,” he replied. Then adding “and there are so many stories to tell.” The result “is a collective vision, a collective experience”. He learns from every film and often sees parallels and cross-references from different clients. “Organizations work in different ways. I am motivated by curiosity and use all these different experiences in creating that collective vision.”

Paul and MorVision have worked in collaboration with dozens of local clients. One of his recent projects, The Welcome Path, is intended to support Aboriginal youth who come to school in Thunder Bay, from somewhere else. It tells the story of students experiencing Thunder Bay from their arrival at our airport through encountering Thunder Bay Transit and various local landmarks, through a school year leading to graduation. The project was done under the leadership and guidance of Thunder Bay Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force. When the film was launched in September, there was a media conference and the story hit the front page of our daily paper. No one at the media conference, however, mentioned that the film was directed by Paul. You can see the film on YouTube, where he gets full credit for his work.

Paul??s current work-in-progress is a history of Northwestern Ontario Lighthouses, featuring the six lighthouses between here and Rossport. Watch for it next year.

Finally, there is another important exhibition running at Thunder Bay Art Gallery (TBAG). Titled “Recent Acquisitions”, it brings some of our own best artists out of the vaults of TBAG??s permanent collection. These works are “some of the most culturally significant works of contemporary art in Northwestern Ontario.” Featured are two of my favourite Thunder Bay artists: Ruth Tye McKenzie and Susan Ross. Other artists included are Catherine Kozyra, Mike Peters, John Books and Martin Panamick. As TBAG is often stretched for space, this is a rare opportunity to see this work in their permanent collection. “Recent Acquisitions” runs until October 27

Sept. 2013
This column is a mixed-bag, a collection of things that I had put on idle while I dealt with stuff that I thought wasn??t about culture.? In conversation with a mentor of mine, he challenged me that all the things I had set aside were, indeed, about culture.? Idle no more.? Here goes.
North of Superior Film Association(NOSFA) is about to conclude their 21st season. But before they do that, they have organized the 20th Northwest FilmFest.? It will take place on the first two Sundays of April, the 7th and the 14.? And on each Thursday preceding those Sundays (April 4 and 11).? I??ll disclose that I sit on the board of NOSFA, and thus help organize the FilmFest.? There will be eighteen films screened.? Several of them are in my ??top ten?? list for 2012. Look for a strong list of documentaries including Chasing Ice, Stories We Tell, Searching For Sugarman and First Position.? Tickets are being sold through The UPS Store on Memorial Avenue.? A snap shot of the flims is on the front page of this paper. Full details will be in the program, which will be included in the April 4 Chronicle-Journal.? You can also check out the films at their website: www.nosfa.ca.
One of the joys of going to our Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra (TBSO) concerts is seeing so many of our local music artists being featured in their concerts.? The TBSO invited Shy-Anne Hovorka, Susanna DiGiuseppe, Matt Sellick, Tony Agostino amongst others, to be part of this year??s concert season.? It is a real? treat to hear them with our symphony musicians.? And if you think symphony music is just for snobs, get ready for beer and Beethoven.? The brewski concert takes place on Saturday, April 20 at the Thunder Bay Armouries.
We have had a mixed bag of plays in the Thunder Bay theatre season.? Cambrian Players has mostly stuck to rollicking comedies while Magnus has jumped around with serious, intellectually challenging scripts as well as moving socially conscious stories.? Both local companies, however, will conclude this season with the most produced Canadian playwright ever, Norm Foster.? Again, you can find the specifics of Foster??s plays at each of their websites.? Makes one wonder if there are any other Canadian playwrights around?
Finally, the local theatre scene lost a giant last month.? Heather Esdon left us on March 15.? Known primarily for her appearances as an actress, she worked with just about every theatre company that exists here. She did extraordinary one-woman shows at Magnus: The Search For Intillegent Signs of Life in The Universe, and Shirley Valentine.? She appeared in several Cambrian Players productions including Romeo & Juliet and The Laramie Project.? She acted in many student film projects, from the Confederation College film program.? But as fine an actress as she was – and she was – Heather was so much more than that.? She was a teacher and mentor to young people beginning to explore theatre for the first time (and some older people doing that, too).? She was a director.? She produced the Thunder Bay Fringe Festival.? And, late in her career, she began to write.? Poetry, stories, scripts.? I had the great honour to work with her on her final theatre project.? It was a collection of local stories drawn from people who are living with Hepatitis C.? Heather shaped their lives into what became Hepatitis C-eater.
This work is being performed now to local groups, schools, youth organizations.? Her work lives on and her spirit has inspired all of us.
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?Feb. 2013

She was right. I was too, but our positions were not mutually exclusive. I did remind her that I pointed out the city was going to have a snow-sculpture symposium and I gave notice for potential sculptors. More on the sculptures in just a bit.

The city has had organized outdoor activities for most of the past century. Thunder Bay Historical Museum has pictures of outdoor hockey games being played on an ice rink cleared on the Kaministiquia river. Winter carnivals, of one sort or another, have been celebrated in our region with varying success. There is certainly an active, outdoor culture in Northwestern Ontario.

So I was pleased to see that, after several years of dormancy, the city of Thunder Bay was rebooting the winter carnival concept. Rebranded as Winterfest 2013, activities were centered on our new waterfront development. With activities all weekend but concentrated on Family day, our new February holiday, people could enjoy dog sled rides, skate on the popular skating rink, learn how to curl on a newly poured ice sheet, observe snow sculptors and their finished sculptures, make their own in large blocks of snow conveniently provided by the city, attend one of several concerts, or simply enjoy a walk about.

When I went down to the waterfront, it was packed with people. Families, new parents with strollers or babies held close to their chests, seniors, kids. I stopped first at the skate park and stood watching the busy activity with another older adult. One section of teens were sweeping snow off of the slopes and inclines for open boarding. Another group was actually adding snow at the far end to make a sharper jump that resembled a small ski hill. There were busy, happy skate boarders everywhere. A young lad came up to us and gave us a copy of King Snow – The Quebec Issue. I had never heard of King Snow before. It is a impressive, glossy print snowboarding magazine. This issue featured a full colour image of Quebec poutine dripping all over its cover. The magazine is hip. Down. Sassy. Brassy. Word.

Along the waterfront, just past the skating rink, were four large snow sculptures, done by different local teams. One was an owl with an egg and chick. Another was a cartoon car packed with delightful animals. Another was a stylized skater, lying on her back with her foot thrust into the air, while the North Wind had her back. And there was a mammoth, looking for all the world like it had just been flash-frozen. People milled about, taking pictures of the sculptures and having their kids pose with the sculptures. The animal laden car was a popular photo-op.

The best part of all this activity was being immersed in it. I reflected that it had taken a long and difficult path to get our waterfront developed. Planned for the better part of a decade, it did not come into being without discussion and controversy. Almost each phase of the park was criticized or fought over. I remember some curmudgeons stating that the kids wouldn??t use the skate park and they would cover it with graffiti. Voices were raised against the money spent on public art. Some people said we didn??t need a hotel and condos built on public land. The city stuck to its guns and secured both Federal and Provincial funding partners to get the project underway. One by one, parts of the park opened. They were greeted with enthusiasm. And they are being actively used.

The park development is not done. The condo and hotel development remain a hole in the ground. But the rest of the spaces were full of people and colours and movement at Winterfest 2013. It was a pleasure to be part of it.

 

The third and final public presentation by the consulting team hired by the city to prepare a report on a possible ??event center?? was held November 21.
The city identified that our fifty-year-old Fort William Gardens was reaching the end of its natural life several years ago.? The consulting team has been researching, developing and refining their ideas for about a year.? By the time you are reading this, the city – our Mayor and councillors – will have received the consultant??s final report and have decided what to do with it.
I have attended all three of the public, town-hall type meetings about our proposed ??events center??.? All three have been well attended.? I congratulate the city on this open, consultative process.? Anyone who had concerns or ideas to share about an event centre had ample opportunity to do so.? The public events were well publicised, held at diverse locations all over the city, spaced over nine months.? The final session was ironically held at our Community Auditorium (TBCA).
The irony is that the TBCA polarized our city in similar ways that the proposed events center does.? You will recall that a plebiscite was held in conjunction with a municipal election, and the vote resulted in support for building our TBCA.? Holding a plebiscite ??so the people can have their say?? about having an events center remains a passionate issue.? At least, it was for several of the speakers at the last public session. One speaker said we elected our council and it is their job to look at the information they are given and make a decision.? If the public is unhappy with that decision, then consider that in the next municipal election (not scheduled until Fall 2014).? But, an event center was not an issue in the last municipal election, so there is some legitimacy in holding a plebiscite.
At this final public meeting, the recommended location for the event centre is the downtown waterfront district.? This is no longer a debate and that left supporters of the Innova Park location angry and resentful.? The matter of parking again raised emotions.? This city is obsessed about parking.? The transit consultant fielded both questions and concerns about the parking issue with aplomb.? The key remaining issue for consideration – and it, too, is an emotional one – is cost.? The projected cost is $106 million. You may recall information at earlier public meetings projected the costs at somewhere between $60 and $80 million.?? Of the total projected costs, the city of Thunder Bay??s portion would be $33 million.? Just under $56 million is expected from the combined Federal and Provincial governments.? And, ominously, $15 million is expected from ??private equity??.? Someone from the floor asked what that meant, where was this money going to come from.? No clear answer was provided.
I??ve stated before that I support the concept of an event center.? Though the current proposal and costing is probably more or less defined, it will be refined if the city gives a go-ahead.? Next steps would be confirming the necessary funding components (2013-2014) and giving the building concept over to an architectural firm for detailed design work and then construction (2014-2016).? I liked Duncan Weller??s design proposal.? Writing in his column in the Chronicle-Journal last month, he suggested that the event center be built ??over the railway tracks??, utilizing ??air space?? and saving valuable land for development. This is exactly what the CN train station in Toronto does, with all of the cross-Canada trains coming in beneath the building.? I have also suggested that a ??new Conservatory?? be incorporated into the design on top of the event center.? I am not holding my breath that either of these exciting, edgy ideas will be implemented.
While most of those who have attended the public sessions about the event centre have been ??of a certain age??, or as Keith says under the masthead of this paper ??those of us a little older??, there were younger adults present at this final session.? Several spoke up with enthusiasm about the proposed building.? It was heartening to hear their voices, and their passion for the future of this city.? None of them were obsessed with parking or favoured a personal location.? They were excited about Thunder Bay addressing its future.? They are the voices the city needs to carry this concept forward.

November 2012

“Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship”. The quotation is from Robert Anderson??s 1968 play I Never Sang For My Father. I saw that play, in New York, on Broadway, as a very young man. The quotation resurfaces for me, almost every time someone I know dies.

This column will explore how we pay attention to death, and in particular, what we do with that relationship that lingers on, in various aspects of culture.

Death and the relationship after has been celebrated in culture for hundreds of thousands of years. From the powerful rituals and artifacts left to us by Chinese, Egyptian, Aztec and Mayan cultures, through the ancient plays of Sophocles (Oedipus, Antigone), and then Shakespeare, to Halloween and the more recent drama of Arthur Miller??s Death of A Salesman or The Teutonic Theatre??s The Laramie Project.

Focusing memories and paying respect to those lost have long been celebrated in music, from classical symphonies and orchestral Requiems (our TBSO will bring us one of the giants in this field, Mozart??s Requiem, next January) to haunting songs of our popular culture – Earl Robinson??s I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night or The Shangri-Las??s Leader of The Pack or Queen??s Show Must Go On. I could mention thousands of pop-culture songs in this vein.

I??ve written previously about one local asset that embodies some of the best elements of respecting death and loss and the process of moving on with that experience. It is what I and several friends have come to call “the healing gardens” situated along the banks of our floodway. Formally called the Canadian Cancer Society??s Garden of Hope and Remembrance, it was designed by local master gardner Lana Lang, who maintains it with dedicated volunteers, for all our benefit. If you have not visited there yet, I urge you to do so. It is an island of calm and order and beauty in our busy and sometimes troubled lives.

Moving from the horror that Halloween has become, to November we arrive at one of the most respectful holidays on the calendar: Remembrance Day. Established initially to honor the day (and the hour and the month) when peace treaties were signed in Europe to end World War I (“the war to end all wars!”) it has grown to become a day to honour those who served and were lost in all wars. Out of respect for those who served, we wear red poppies. Memorial services are held across Canada on November 11. Here there are two organized services held in both sides of our city. I have frequently attended the one at the Cenotaph in Waverly Park. And in recent years, I??ve witnessed attendance has grown.

This ceremony never fails to bring up a memory I have of seeing this Cenotaph splashed with red paint, in dripping letters spelling out Thou Shalt Not Kill. That bold act of vandalism to some, and agit- propaganda to others, occurred in the early 1970??s during the height of anti-war activism, against the Viet Nam war. Painting those words on a memorial to the war dead was about as scandalous as you could get. Police investigated vigorously, including local hardware stores to see who might have recently purchased red paint, but no charges were ever laid.

The sentiment remains, however. It is embodied in a continued movement for peace, not to have any more wars. Conceived in 1926 by women in Great Britain, and formally introduced in 1930, from that date forward some people wear the white poppy. I am one who does. The white poppy is intended as a general symbol about peace, and is worn in remembrance for all those who died who were not in the militaries, but died as the result of wars. They are, of course, in the hundreds of millions. American culture invented a term for those deaths: collateral damage. In truth they were wives, mothers, children, farmers, shopkeepers, doctors, nurses, maybe some of your relatives. We have a relationship to all of these deaths. So I wear both poppies. And I remember.

 

October 2012

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Definitely Superior Art Gallery

I think of David Karasiewicz and Rene Terpstra as Mr. and Mrs. Noah.

Definitely Superior Art Gallery (Def Sup) is approaching a significant event: their 25th anniversary. That will occur in April of 2013. I have been around since their beginning, indeed, participated in their birth in the old Zellers Block in downtown Port Arthur, 24 years ago.

I thought it would be timely to check in with this “artist run centre” and see what they are up to. But when I arrived for my appointment with David Karasiewicz (Gallery Director) and Renee Terpstra (Development/Administrator), before I could even say hello, they both began to avalanche me with details of the recent flood in their building. No, not that big flood last May. This one occurred in midsummer, leaving standing water in all the gallery rooms. Definitely Superior Art Gallery is located at 250 Park Avenue, Suite 101. That address is, unfortunately, in the basement of the former Eaton??s building. And the flooding did not occur because of rain, but because an old city water main outside the building broke. The flooding caused major damage to all three gallery rooms, the floors, baseboards, and some materials in storage. The Gallery had just held an opening of their annual Member??s Show, but thankfully, none of the art was damaged. It was all up on the walls. David and Renee spoke rapidly and easily, trading off details of the chaos that ensued and how they managed and recovered from the disaster. Mr. and Mrs. Noah.

It is a small miracle that they recovered. Def Sup has only 3 staff, but a lot of volunteers. When I interviewed them, we were standing in completely repainted gallery rooms with new floors and new baseboard. The space was gleaming and ready to host the opening night reception for the Biindigaate Film Festival, taking place just across the street at The Paramount Theatre.

That opening reception for the film festival is an example of what Def Sup has come to mean in the community. The Gallery hosts over 50 exhibitions and events annually, with a great many of these occurring outside of their building, in collaboration with local groups and businesses, particularly in the downtown core area.

They have developed unique and innovative programming “outside the box”. These include their Die-Active collective, a youth focused programme, supported by staff member Lora Northway. This programme, among other initiatives, resulted in the art mural on one of the Mac??s Milk stores that had been a target for robbery earlier in the year. This youth artist project, created and implemented by themselves, drew city-wide publicity and shone a bright light on graffiti as art, rather than vandalism. I??ve seen the wall mural and it is really beautiful and amazing.

There are so many innovative aspects of the way Def Sup interacts with their neighborhood, and brings art into the community. From October 1-6, watch out for orange jump-suit clad local poets, spontaneously showing up and delivering ?. This activity is in its 6th year. And at the end of the month, Def Sup offers The Hunger 7, a Halloween “event of epic proportions”. Featuring 49 acts, including 42 bands/DJ??s, Def Sup has coordinated the event over seven different venues in the downtown core. One $10 ticket gives you admission to all the acts and events. Last year, some 2,600 people participated in The Hunger.

No wonder Definitely Superior Artist Run Centre and Art Gallery was selected as a finalist for the Ontario Premier??s Award for Excellence in the Arts two years in a row: 2010 and 2011.

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To close this month??s column, I need to add a postscript to my column last month about young dancer Mackenzie Farquhar. There were errors in the column, which were entirely my own responsibility, and I want to correct them. When he was 7 years old, Mackenzie??s dad took him to the Highland games in Callandar, Scotland, not Cape Breton. The National Ballet of Canada did offer a partial scholarship to Mackenzie??s parents, not a full scholarship. Many personal sacrifices were made to sustain Mackenzie??s enrollment at the school. Finally, in addition to his mom and dad, his younger brother and grandmother, Mackenzie wants to credit his grandfather also for the ongoing support he has received .

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September?2012 Issue

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Mackenzie Farquar remembers going to the Highland Games in Cape Breton with his dad. He thinks he was about 7 or 8 years old at the time.

Back in Thunder Bay, he began learning highland dancing, from local teachers. One summer, a teacher suggested he might want to attend a summer dance camp run by The Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB), in Manitoba. His teacher suggested that he would be exposed to different styles of movement and dance, including ballet. That it would open up movement for him that went beyond the somewhat “militaristic” style of highland dancing.

Mackenzie had never seen a ballet, either live or on television. And, this was ballet. He was a young boy, playing soccer and hockey, and some track and field (running). That??s what boys do. That??s what his friends were into. But he liked dance, too. Mackenzie went to the RWB summer camp.

He had a great experience. The RWB saw something in Mackenzie. They offered his family a partial scholarship if Mackenzie would enroll in their Ballet School. His parents demurred, saying he was too young. Mackenzie continued his schooling and sports, here in Thunder Bay. But he returned to the RWB summer camp a second time. And the RWB, again convinced that there was promising talent in this young boy, increased their scholarship offer to Mackenzie??s parents. Again his parents declined, protective of their son while recognizing something was happening for him.

Mackenzie took to those summer lessons, like a duck to water. The inevitable happened. The National Ballet of Canada was also on the lookout for young talent. It was critical to get youth – both boys and girls – into classical ballet training while their bodies were still growing and forming. Assessing Mackenzie??s talent, they offered his parents a full scholarship to the National Ballet school. After considering the offer and discussing this fully with Mackenzie, they agreed he could go. Mackenzie was just 13 years old.

I asked Mackenzie what that was like, leaving your family and school friends, to move to the largest city in Canada, and focusing his attention on ballet? He says the first year was difficult. The National Ballet School was like attending a private boarding school. You still had to keep up all your academic courses in addition to the daily dance classes. Mackenzie had two sources of strength to support him: Don and Gina – his parents, his brother Kyle, his grandmother. If you ever meet Mackenzie, you will immediately see he is a “likeable guy”. Even in Thunder Bay, when he started attending the RWB ballet camps, his friends in local sports thought it was cool, and supported him. So, in Toronto, he made new friends quickly. Mackenzie says “we were all in the same boat. Most of us had left our families to be here. So while it was hard, we all had a similar experience.” He also liked and excelled in math!

Jump to 2012. Five years later, Mackenzie is now 18. He graduated from the National Ballet School this summer. His entire family attended his graduation. Those five years were difficult, challenging, developmental years. I asked him if it had ever became too much, did he ever want to quit? “Of course!” he replied. Lots of times. Then he added with a wisdom that is beyond his 18 years that “dance is as much psychological as it is physical.” He had excellent teachers that buoyed him up when he had doubts. And he had Don and Gina, offering support, advice, guidance. Like any family, significant sacrifices had to be made to accommodate that support. Regular trips home and summers with his family helped shape Mackenzie??s values and keep him grounded.

Today, Mackenzie is now living on his own in Toronto, in an apartment with friends. He continues his training at the Ballet School, continues shaping both his mind and his body for what he hopes will be a career in dance. This is a remarkable story to have emerged from Thunder Bay. It??s a story about courage and risk, about sacrifice and support. And, it??s really about a remarkable family. A Thunder Bay family.

 

 

June 2012

Gardening has likely been going on in our region since shortly after humans arrived. The fertile soil south and west of the city, in Murillo, Nolalu and the Slate River valley have long had functioning farms. Likewise, the fertile area around Pass Lake, to the east.

Gardening has a culture of its own. As food production it can be as complex as tilling acres to raise grain for animals or for milling and local sales, as Jeff and Andre Burke do at Brule Creek Farms, in Conmee. It can also be vegetable production as a growing number of local farmers do, supplying our Farmers?? Market, and the True North Food Coop – which currently has more than forty local suppliers. Gardening may also be your own back yard plot. In my cycling around the city, particularly when I use back lanes, I have admired hundreds of local home gardens, some with small adjacent greenhouses, to get a head start on our shorter growing season.

But gardening is not always about food. Look around your own neighborhood, or maybe your own front yard. With the arrival of spring, Thunder Bay begins to sprout, bud and bloom. Some homes have turned their entire yards into gardens filled with exotic foliage and flowers. By mid-summer, flower gardens are flourishing, to the point where local tours are given.

Most of the local home gardening, whether it is to produce vegetables for your own table or flowers for your visual pleasure, is tough, nearly backbreaking work. I stopped vegetable gardening nearly two decades ago as my day job kept me busy and limited my planting to pots of flowers on my front steps and fall bulbs.

This past winter, some youngsters approached me about using my back yard as a garden, to produce vegetables. They are university-age young adults, but youngsters nonetheless. They are involved in the growing movement locally that is raising awareness about food sustainability. I said sure and immediately added I wouldn??t be much help with the labour part. They laughed at my self-deprecation because, now, months later, I find myself with my hands plunged into rich, dark soil planting potatoes, peas and lettuce in a fully tilled garden that occupies half of my backyard. This has been a small revolution in my attitude and personal behaviour.

Last month I had the pleasure to participate in one of the neighborhood Jane??s Walks. This one was led by Keith Nymark and Cathy Farrell, and took us around my own neighborhood. Much to my surprise, within a few short blocks of my home were two community-garden plots. These are moderately sized city lots given over to local individuals who want to grow food. Community gardens have been around for several decades, but seem to be expanding. This is another piece in the food sustainability matrix.

And there is one other type of garden that I must mention before signing off this column for the summer.

A short while ago I was shaken by the sudden and unexpected death of a close friend. With his death came responsibilities that I had accepted years ago when I agreed to be the executor of his estate. I was awash in grief, naive of my executor??s responsibilities, uncertain how to move forward. As I stumbled my way through meetings with my friend??s lawyer, bank manager, social worker, I didn??t know if I was up to the task. I was cycling home after a meeting with the bank manager when I found myself at the McIntyre river bridge on Balmoral Street. I glanced over my shoulder and recognized the soaring arms of the wooden pergola at the Canadian Cancer Society??s Hope and Memory Garden. Immediately I turned in toward the garden. This quiet, contemplative place is a jewel of landscape and horticulture design, sitting on the banks of the McIntyre River floodway. Originally planned by local landscape gardener Lana Lang, it is maintained by Master Gardeners?? of the Thunder Bay Horticultural Society. Its simple, winding paths and occasional stone seats invite you to forget the noise of the city, the noise in your life and slow down, reflect, be still. This garden, that space, helped me enormously that day. The extraordinary sense of design and planning of the walkways and the kinds and varieties of the plants, gave me comfort. A sense of order emerged in my breathing and then my thinking. This garden is a small miracle in our city. I respectfully urge you to visit it if you have not already.

 

 

May 2012 issue

The Fort William Gardens is entering the seventh decade of its existence – and likely its last.? The City is preparing us for its end,? and offering options for what to do next.? I think this is good planning.
A second open-house was held last month in a continuing? effort to demonstrate this is an open process.? But since the first open house in March, the emotional temperature of those in attendance at these carefully staged open houses has risen considerably.
Emotions remain high about ??citizens not being consulted, not being allowed to have our say??.? This means, of course, holding a plebiscite.? One was held, for example, before the decision to proceed with the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium.? And another was held before proceeding with our new hospital.? At both open houses concerning the proposed events center, this request, at times an angry demand, for a? plebiscite was carefully side-skirted.? Council will proceed only after receiving a recommendation from? the team of consultants hired to advise them, and that advice will include whether there is the possibility of multi-governmental funding support to build it, and a reasonable economic case to operate it.? This does not give those who raise the issue of a plebiscite satisfaction.? It shouldn??t.
For others who readily accept that The Gardens must and will be replaced, the emotional tenor has raised over the site location.? The advising consultants have all but ruled out the airport location, and have given some negative weighty analysis to the Innova Park location.? Their analysis appears to favour the downtown location, currently occupied by the North side city bus depot.? Addressing the other emotional question about parking, the consultants reported that 2,000 parking spaces could be built by paving acres of land at either the airport site or the Innova Park site, at an approximate cost of $8-10 million.? Addressing a perceived parking drawback of the downtown site, the plans now include a below-level parkade on the building footprint, to accommodate 350 cars.? This will add approximately? $15 million to that site??s total costs.? The overall cost of the building remains in the range of $80-100 million – a wide enough estimate to allow for things like the sudden addition of an underground parkade.
There were strong, and opposing, factions present at this open house,? about which site would be best.? A small but well organized group supporting the Innova Park site,? circulated a one page hand-out extolling its virtues.? They claimed to have done research (from individuals who currently attend hockey at The Gardens) that showed overwhelming support for the Innova Park location.
During the public discussion, I asked the consultants how much of the? estimated scheduled days of occupancy in the new building would actually be devoted to hockey.? Their answer was in the 20-25% range, and that is if Thunder Bay can ??secure an OHL or and AHL level hockey team??.
At the second open-house, there was no change to the originally reported $900,000 possible annual operating deficit of the new facility.? In comparison, the existing Gardens operates with an annual deficit of approximately $600,000 as does the Community Auditorium.? So while certain physical new costs were revealed by the consultants to the three sites under consideration, nothing further was revealed about operational costs.? Much remains unanswered.? And we, the general public, will not know much more before the consultants bring a final report and recommendation before Council by the end of May.? There is another public open-house scheduled for June 6 at the Fort William Gardens, presumably after Council makes their own decision.
Does Thunder Bay really need a new events centre?? I think so.? I am less certain that Thunder Bay – and other government partners -? can afford a new $100 million project right now.? And I think there has been a narrow focus on the footprint of the building itself and an obsession about parking, and not enough about the bigger picture.? I think this decision does not have to be taken now, this year.? I think there is time to look at the seemingly favoured downtown site with a broader development view in mind.? Some creative visioning, street and landscape planning in conjunction with the city??s Active Transportation Plan, coupled with careful looks at other cities that have undergone major downtown urban renewal (both Duluth and Copenhagen, come to mind), would serve us well.

Should government censor art?
Should government censor art??? Should government remove funding support if it doesn??t like the content of a movie or a book or a play?
In 2010, Summer Works, a theatre festival in Toronto, produced a play called Homegrown, by Catherine Frid.?? Ms. Frid??s play dramatized her friendship with one of the so-called ??Toronto 18??.? A spokesman for the Prime Minister??s Office (PMO)? issued a statement saying ??We are extremely disappointed that public money is being used to fund plays that glorify terrorism.??? At the time, the PMO had no first hand knowledge about the play, having neither seen or read it.? To demonstrate support of Ms. Frid??s play and of Summer Works, theatre companies across Canada staged public reading of Homegrown, to show it was not a play ??glorifying terrorism.??
In 2011, Summer Works had their entire Federal funding support cut.? This $40,000 amounted to approximately 20% of their annual summer budget.?? Cultural chill spread across the land.
Michael Healey, one of Canada??s leading playwrights, was a ??playwright in residence?? at Toronto??s Tarragon Theatre.? Last November, he gave his newest play, Proud, to Artistic Director Richard Rose for consideration in their upcoming season.? After reading the play, and? some? consultation, Mr. Rose told Healey the Tarragon would not produce his play.? The chief character in Proud happens to be called The Prime Minister.? Mr. Healy promptly resigned his playwright-in-residence status.? He? has taken his case to the media and plans to mount an independent production of the play this Fall, in Toronto.
Here is what Proud is about, in Healey??s own words: ??The third in a trilogy of plays about Canadian values, Proud is about what we actually want out of our politics, and our politicians.? One man devotes his entire life to moving the country several millimetres to the right on the political spectrum.? Will he succeed?? At what cost?? A Pygmalion for a country that, until Stephen Harper came along, had no need for one.??
Simultaneously, he has given permission for his play to be read, in public readings,? across Canada.? A local troupe, The Superior Play-Reading Group, will be reading the play on Friday, May 11, at 7:00 pm at The Thunder Bay Centre of Change (former Hillcrest High school).?? The reading will be a pay-what-you-can benefit, with all proceeds going to Michael Healey.

April 2012

The Fort William Gardens opened in 1950. It was considered a modern athletic palace in its time. Over the decades, in addition to hockey games, it hosted Bob Dylan, Nickel Back, R.E.M. and the Canadian National Ballet, amongst others, under that roof. Today it nears the end of its architectural life.

Last month, hundreds of interested citizens showed up for an open house to hear about and see what its replacement might be. The city is describing the new facility as an “events centre”. This is likely because the Federal Government has publically stated they will not give Federal funding support to sports arenas.

Well, the three possible buildings on the three possible sites all look like a new hockey arena, with additional space for conventions, meetings, conferences, and cultural events. And the proposed buildings include sports “boxes” to sell to businesses or wealthy patrons, just like the big arenas do.

The open house featured building plans situated on three parcels of land that the city owns. This was narrowed from an original nine locations. The three are Innova Park, a site near Thunder Bay airport and a site in the downtown North side currently occupied by the bus terminal. Consultants hired by the city to prepare recommendations to Council on a final site, carefully explained that no decisions have been made. This is still early planning. And this open house – and another one to take place on April 11 – are part of bringing the proposals forward to the general public, to inform us of various issues and assets about the sites, and to listen to responses from the community.

Responses from the community could be summarized into four areas. The first is the flashpoint subject of parking. The second is site selection. The third is the cost, as in can we afford it? And the fourth is there should be a plebiscite on whether to have an “events center” at all.

I will quickly say that I believe the events center will be built, whether there is a plebiscite or not. And I think we should have one. The Fort William Gardens is reaching the natural end of its architectural life. There is support for hockey in Thunder Bay (at whatever level of academic or semi-professional team). The events centre aspect could draw larger musical and cultural acts to the city, that now pass over Thunder Bay. And a building of this magnitude can contribute greatly in economic development to our city.

The projected cost, according to the consultants, is in the range of $80-100 million. A sum that large will require both Federal and Provincial contributions. The city has “set aside” $25 million toward its share. Right now, the new facility is projected to operate with an annual deficit of $900,000.

One of the main challenges in eventually selecting a site is parking. This city is obsessed with parking. Our council spends an inordinate amount of its deliberations on the subject of parking. Both the Innova Park and airport sites will involve paving acres of land to provide parking. And this parking will be considered revenue generating – not like the acres of parking at the community auditorium, but like the acres of parking at our hospital. The downtown North site may or may not require building a parkade. My own view is that the city has an Active Transportation Program, which fosters looking at alternatives to greater usage of cars. With good transit connections and accessible and appropriate walking distances, the downtown site is the preferable choice. This discussion will continue for many more months. To share your opinion, please attend the next open house on April 11.

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?March 2012 Issue

North of Superior Film Association

Nineteen and twenty years.? That??s how long the North of Superior Film Association (NOSFA) has been bringing? films to Thunder Bay audiences.
NOSFA is in the middle of its twentieth season of regular, monthly screenings.? A great deal has changed since a small group of film enthusiasts met in the back yard of Michael Gravelle on College Street twenty years ago.? I will disclose quickly that I am a NOSFA Board member and have been around since it began.? The make-up of our entirely volunteer Board has changed? numerous times.? The choice and variety of films changes annually.? The film industry itself has changed, and dramatically so.? But NOSFA??s purpose remains essentially? the same.? We like films, and we want to see greater variety and diversity of films available in Thunder Bay.? We present films that are not likely to get screen time here: Canadian films, independent films, foreign films.? And one more thing has remained unchanged in twenty years: a NOSFA membership still only costs $10.00.? That??s for our annual season running from September through the following May.? Don??t know how long we can hold that price down.
NOSFA will present our nineteenth Northwest FilmFest on the last Sunday in March (March 25) and the first Sunday in April (April 1).? The reason it is our nineteenth festival is that we didn??t host one in our initial birthing year.? It seemed enough, at the time, to figure out what we were doing and whether or not there was a supportive audience here, for the kind of films we were bringing in.? And boy, did Thunder Bay audiences respond.? Today our membership usually approaches or exceeds a thousand, and your loyalty in attending our films is humbling.? This year??s FilmFest has some adjustments: it will be done on a slightly smaller scale and we are reducing festival ticket prices (we raised them last year).? We will still be bringing you 12-14 titles, but some of these may only be screened once.? All screenings are at SilverCity.
Here are some of the films we will be bringing.? On Thursday, March 22, NOSFA will present a FilmFest prelude: two different films on the same night, each featuring Michelle Williams.? Each will have only one screening.? Ms. Williams has been nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn.? We??ll present that film as well as featuring her in a completely different role in a small, independent film: Meek??s Cuttoff.? In it she is a young farm-wife on a wagon train heading out in the American west.? Then on the two Sundays of the Festival itself, watch for two of the most outstanding film performances I saw last year: Michael Shannon in an edge-of -your-seat family drama Take Shelter, and Michael Fassbender in the examination of sexual compulsion, Shame.? Finally, watch for a wickedly delicious Canadian comedy by award winning director Thom Fitzgerald: Cloudburst.? More details can be found at www.nosfa.ca, but? the actual program and screening schedule will not be ready until later in March.? Keep checking the website.
In closing this month??s column, I would be remiss in not paying tribute to a cultural giant of Thunder Bay.? Last month we lost Dusty Miller.? Dusty – and her husband Tom – were tremendous contributors to the cultural development of Thunder Bay.? Tom in his academic career at Lakehead University, and Dusty in her diverse and generous contributions to build and strengthen local arts and culture.? And also her enthusiastic participation in local and provincial politics.? Dusty was fearless in the face of injustice, fierce in moving solutions forward on complicated local challenges and humble and gentle in success.? She was a loyal and true ally to those who earned her trust and support.? She was thoughtful and wise? in mentoring youth.? She had an enormous heart and generosity of spirit, a great gift of humour and a laugh that could crack the heavens. She helped me, personally, many, many times and? I am proud to have earned her friendship.?

Feb. issue?

?After visiting the new Thunder Bay Centre of Change (formerly Hillcrest High school) on the occasion of their “grand opening”, I have become preoccupied with space. More specifically, space for our local artists and theatre companies.

I??ll talk about the Centre of Change in a bit. But first I have to go back several decades, to before our Community Auditorium was born. I am referring to the 1970??s – in the decade shortly after Thunder Bay itself was born (out of the merger of Port Arthur and Fort William).

Thunder Bay was alive with culture in the 1970??s and early 1980??s. In addition to dozens of local bands, choral groups, dance societies, a young professional symphony orchestra (now TBSO) and countless individual artists, a half dozen live theatre companies were born in this period. These included Moonlight Melodrama, Kaministiquia Theatre Laboratory (or Kam Theatre), Magnus Theatre, and Eleanor Drury Children??s Theatre. They joined our longest-running theatre: Cambrian Players.

All of these local theatres had found performance spaces in the city – though several moved often. None of them performed in real theatres designed specifically for their purposes. Even the young Magnus Theatre Northwest, which had managed to move into and renovate a former Slovak hall in the East end, operated within tight physical restrictions.

Along came the grand concept of having a “community arts complex”. Years of planning toward what would become our Community Auditorium included broad-based consultation with the aforementioned theatre groups as well with other local arts groups and independent artists. Everybody??s wish lists were thrown into the planning, and the early conceptualization of the “community arts complex” incorporated a modest theatre space for use by the local companies – likely a better “home” for Magnus Theatre – in addition to the large concert hall auditorium. There were also plans to provide exhibition space in the building??s interior for local artisans. As soon as budget pressures arose, everything was cut except what we have today: the concert hall auditorium. Since so much public funding went into the building, there were expectations it would somehow be accessible for community groups. And over the decades of its existence, various management initiatives have tried to make that happen. Its “stage door” concept was one of those efforts. But with the exception of TBSO, none use our Auditorium as a regular performance venue. It is simply not affordable.

And in the past decade and a half, other live theatre groups emerged: Occasional Arts , Way Way Off Broadway, Rogue Productions and Frankly Scarlet. Some of these were production specific (we want to mount this play, and will find any space to do it), but both Rouge and Frankly Scarlet attempt annual seasons of live theatre. In recent years, local groups began renting the upstairs space of the former Paramount Theatre. In its movie heyday, it split its balcony space into a second, smaller screening theatre. When it stopped showing films, it lay more or less dormant until a revival approximately two years ago. But its current management, seeing this popular revival has pushed rental costs beyond the affordability of most local groups, including its semi-permanent tenant, Cambrian Players.

The emergence of Thunder Bay??s Centre of Excellence has raised cautious hope that maybe, finally, a truly accessible and affordable performance space could exist. The building is already host to some 40 local groups and businesses. But the performance space, the former high school auditorium, isn??t quite right, just yet. While affordable, the building has physical accessibility issues. It??s main audience area is flat, with less than ideal viewing conditions. Yet its management is open to consultation and potential uses for the space. It is, after all, called a “centre of change”. And in that, hope lives on.

Sept. 2011 issue

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Live theatre has a rich and diverse history in Thunder Bay. And the range of what??s available has covered a huge spectrum of creativity. Beginning with the simple school pageant, through high school productions (often full-scale musicals) through the many independent community theatres that have sprung up (and as frequently, died), add our long-surviving Cambrian Players and the city??s only fully Equity recognized (“professional”) theatre, Magnus and ending with large scale touring productions (again, often musicals) that appear on our Community Auditorium stage. We are certainly blessed with quantity, if not always quality.

This past summer was no exception to this blessing. Often thought of as “the off season” for theatre (and it is, for Cambrian Players and Magnus), local artists and producers have seen our summer months as an opportunity, rather than the doldrums. Probably most prominent of these is the Rob McLeod Capital Players. Building on a tradition stretching back at least 40 years with Moonlight Melodrama, the Capital Players have taken to staging an annual summer melodrama at Chippewa Park. Headed by the endurable Colin Stewart and his engaging co-creator, Janis Swanson, they produced one of the best melodramas I have ever seen. The show was called The Unofficial Chronicles of Ralphie Boshcoff. I caught it on a jam-packed closing night and it was the entertainment bargain (only $5) of this summer.

The Paramount Theatre is more than a venue. For several years it has had an active producing arm called Paramount Live. Focusing on theatre for and by youth, it produced several offerings this summer hi-lighted by a winsome production of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.”

Applauze Productions was created by local vocal instructor, vocalist and vocal coach Denise Krawczuk. Their inaugural production was a fully realized, licensed version of Rent, last summer. Its short (4 day) run sold out The Paramount Theatre. This year, Applauze Productions returned with Cabaret and moved to a slightly larger venue, the Bora Laskin Theatre on the LU Campus. Ms Krawczuk and her young director, Spencer Hari have established fully staged summer productions of Broadway musicals as another anchor in Thunder Bay summer theatre season.

Rounding out the summer was an independently produced play called True Directions. Adapted from the film But I??m A Cheerleader and written for the stage by Yolanda Bonnel, this was probably the riskiest venture in our summer season. Produced by local multi-talented writer, actor, film-maker Andrew Paulsen, True Directions pushed the edges of comedy and good taste in ways Thunder Bay audiences have never seen. It was the entertainment fireworks of the summer.

So what lies ahead? Paramount Live will continue young people??s programming and will open a musical version of Bugsy Malone in early September. Look for an original Eleanor Drury Children??s theatre production later in Fall. Frankly Scarlet Productions, another local independent company, plans to mount One Flew Over the Cuckoo??s Nest this fall, also. Magnus Theatre opens their 40th anniversary season with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee on September 19. And Thunder Bay??s longest-surviving theatre, Cambrian Players, opens their 64th season with a classic: Oscar Wilde??s The Importance of Being Ernest, on November 10th.

My Favourite Outdoor Art

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Now that Spring is finally here and we are stumbling toward Summer, many of us will be spending more time outside. We have some of the longest days of lingering daylight in Canada, thanks to our geographic position on the edge of the Eastern time zone.

And spending time outside means a summer full of festivals, concerts, special events, Border Cats games, fairs, food, cold beers.

Thunder Bay??s summers are full of cultural events, often overlapping each other, most charging you some kind of admission fee and then selling you souvenirs, food and drinks.

The summer, for me, is at least partially about visiting or revisiting some of our public art. For the sake of this column, I am limiting my discussion to local art outdoors. Most of it is public art, that is owned by the city and paid for by you. To experience this art there is no admission fee, you don??t have to buy anything else, nor worry about parking. Indeed, the works I am going to describe here were all visited by riding around the city on my bicycle.

Here are ten of my favourites.

I??ll begin with what I consider a hidden gem. Tucked away in a small neighbourhood park is one of the most unusual outdoor pieces I have seen anywhere: a larger than human scale sun dial. The diagonal “blade” of the sun dial is nearly 3 meters tall and the circular base on which the dial rests is approximately 4 meters wide. Embedded in the base are geographically correct North, South, East and West locater points, with numerals that can tell you the time by where the shadow of the dial strikes them. I am certain this sun dial is at least 35 years old, as I found it when I lived in that neighbourhood, in the 70??s. You can find this quiet gem at the corner of Prince Arthur Boulevard and Ogden Street. Sadly, wooden benches around the sun dial have fallen into disrepair.

Next, and probably the most familiar work is Vertere. Vertere is that twisted bunch of wood spines that resembles the backbone of a freshly filleted walleye laying horizontally, just outside the entrance to The Canada Games Complex. It was created by Paul Epp and installed in 1981, when The Complex opened. The next time you are there, take a few minutes and walk around it. Then imagine what exercise does to your own interior spine and vertebrae.

The next three pieces are all the work of Sean Randall. His outdoor art (he is also a painter) is made from unprotected iron or steel, cut into intricate lattice work, then allowed to rust. A nice intro to his work are the large standing screens he created at Birch Point Park in 2000, when Thunder Bay was named the Forest Capital of Canada. You can also see his amazing designs in the Island Drive bridge Fish and his “iron butterflies” at the Pennock Creek Forest Trail and Demonstration Area.

And if you find yourself at Birch Point Park, you could stroll along the Boulevard Lake bicycle/walking path and find three more stunning pieces, all installed just last year (2010). Roly Martin has created a giant chair, about 5 meters tall, situated like a lifeguard chair might, facing Boulevard Lake. Martin’s piece is called Lyon??s View. It is named after J.W.Lyon, who gifted the boulevard Lake property to the then city of Port Arthur. Sitting on the chair is an over-size man??s hat, as though Mr. Lyon were still present and simply went for a swim in the lake. Further along the path, Sarah Link – with James Woodbeck – has perched a bronze Peregrine falcon on top of a 2.4 billion year old glacial erratic. The erratic is a big, old rock placed vertically in the ground as a column or pedestal for the falcon to perch on. In front of the Peregrine is another, smaller, smooth egg-shaped rock , held down by a metal band. The band suggests the protection of the falcon egg and more practically, prevents theft. You know you would want to pick up that egg and stroke it! I wanted to.

And then just a bit further on that path you will find Paul Wolf??s “A Walk With The Kids”. Wolf has created a large mother partridge, leading her flock of chicks for a walk around Boulevard lake. Like any bunch of kids, a couple are headed off in their own direction for independent adventures. The creatures are made of concrete and ingeniously painted and assembled. They seem natural, despite their over-size and invite smiles and contemplation.

Eighth on this list is “Terra Firma”, the extraordinary beautiful decoration on the front face of our renovated city hall. Created by John Books and Christopher Stones, the 800 lb bronze piece reflects our landscape, including 3 indigenous trees (white pine, black spruce and balsalm) as well as Lake Superior. It was installed in 2009.

Ninth is “Animiki – Flies The Thunder”. This stunning silver winged sculpture is set on a gentle outlook, projecting over the Kaministiquia River. Created by Anne Allardyce and installed in 1992, the piece anchors the North end of a rapidly expanding Kam River boardwalk and park. You approach the piece by walking through a tunnel under the railroad tracks. First you see its base and it grows larger as you move through the tunnel, finally soaring above you some 10 meters when you stand at its base. Walk around the base and discover, in poetry, some things you may not have known – or known in this particular way – about the river and this setting, inscribed in the circular foundation.

Finally, my favourite outdoor art can be found in the woods, adjacent to Thunder Bay Art Gallery. They are three large, black wolves. They sit or lie just outside the gallery building, barely noticeable amidst the summer greenery. They are quiet. Protective. Mysterious. Their creator was Mary Anne Barkhouse. I am so glad she made them for Thunder Bay, and that the Gallery put them where they are.

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All of these pieces make me slow down my hectic pace. They invite contemplation and reflection. They inspire wonder and awe and some humour. They are one way of providing some balance to the festivals and ball games and back-yard BBQ??s. And they are free. The most precious commodity we have in our short summer is our own time. Spend it wisely.

May’s column

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One busy Monday last month our city council addressed three major initiatives on the same evening. This, by itself, is not unusual. But this particular evening councillors received, discussed and then approved or accepted three initiatives that will have significant impact on our city??s culture in the coming years.

These three initiatives are the final approval of the Horizon Wind initiative that will see wind turbines built on top of the Norwester mountain range, south of the city. They considered and accepted the Thunder Bay Drug Strategy. And they received the Draft Inspire Thunder Bay Culture Policy, giving it the green light for broad community consideration and their own formal vote on approval at an upcoming Council meeting in May.

Let me begin by taking a look at the Inspire Thunder Bay Culture Policy. A little history: Thunder Bay has had “cultural” policies in the past. A formal Arts & Heritage Policy was approved by the City in 1991, and renewed with little change in 1998. More recently, Thunder Bay City Council adopted a “new” Cultural Policy in February, 2005. And now we have the draft of the Inspire Thunder Bay culture Policy. I have read it and it is truly a “change” document, building on past arts and heritage approaches but taking major visionary steps toward planning for Thunder Bay??s cultural future. Many community leaders and organizations have been part of the development of the Culture Policy. I spoke with Callie Hemsworth, the City??s Coordinator – Recreation & Culture Planning, about this new policy. I asked her how the plan got to this stage. “The process for developing the Inspire Thunder Bay Culture Plan started in January 2010 but builds on a long history of cultural leadership in Thunder Bay”, she said. “The plan is reflective of both the community and Corporation (City), and is based on the view that culture is one of the four pillars of a successful and sustainable community.” I liked this immediately. For the city to understand culture??s integral role to be both a successful, attractive place and to contribute to a sustainable community is heartening. Callie describes this as “the City??s first ever strategic plan for culture.”

The policy itself is vast and all encompassing. It recognizes existing cultural assets, from our art galleries, our museums, our symphony orchestra and other diverse musical groups, organizations, bands and artists, to our schools, festivals, theatres and public libraries. It both identifies these assets and explores practical, achievable options/directions for how to develop them further. I asked Callie what particular aspects are important for seniors. “Directions relating to activating culture in urban spaces and enabling cultural participation in neighbourhoods will help make culture more accessible to older adults. Many older adults are recognized both as amateur and professional artists in Thunder Bay, and like anyone else, they are often looking for space to create or show their work. The Culture Plan recognizes the priority of affordable and accessible space for inter-generational arts and heritage opportunities, which is supported in several actions within the Plan.” This is only one area of the comprehensive new Culture Policy. To take a look at it -and my caution is that reviewing all of its sections is a daunting task – check out the city??s website or contact Callie directly at City for a draft copy (625-3791). I will be writing more about the Policy in future columns.

To close I want to make a few observations about wind turbines. I believe they, too, are a part of planning for and building “a successful and sustainable community”, as Callie said earlier. Full disclosure: I support the development of alternative energy development, from water, wind and sun. And I support the installation and development of wind turbines on top of the Norwesters. I would hope we might see the day where there is a legion of them, stretching all the way down to the U.S. Border. I have had the good fortune to see and tour wind “farms” in other locations. I think the turbines themselves are gentle giants, elegantly designed, graceful to our eyes whether you see them from great distances or from standing beside them. I have done both. I have lived in Thunder Bay for most of my adult life, and in that time observed both respect for our natural and cultural heritage balanced by practical and innovative change. Wind generation is part of our future. Turbine design, placement and acceptance is more than a personal or corporate economic issue. Our cultural and environmental values merge in projects like the wind farm on top of our Norwesters. In my opinion, I believe the aesthetics will be enhanced and our broad community will be richer for their placement. It is about planning for “a successful and sustainable community”. I salute all the visionaries who are strategically planning for this dynamic future.

Confederation College Film Program

Last month my home was invaded. For several days, dozens of strangers came into my home. Among other things, they took down all my pictures and photographs, rearranged my furniture, commandeered my fireplace and ordered in pizza. I had, actually, allowed the home invasion.

I agreed to let my home be used as the location for a film shoot. Led by local young director Curtis Jenson, his cast, technical support people and crew took over just about every room in my home, to make their film noir. My cats were not amused.

The experience of observing this process was genuinely exciting. Curtis is a graduate of Confederation College??s film program (class of 2005). In the rapidly growing local film industry, he stands out as one of the better filmmakers. The shoot he had organized used first year students in the college??s program. They were learning about recording sound, setting lights and establishing correct light readings, setting up individual shots through the camera and actually taking the shots (Curtis was a generous and easy-going teacher). Speaking about the College program, Curtis says “it offers students a lot of hands-on experience. It allows every student to produce various projects throughout their schooling”. The film shoot in my home was one of those.

The Confederation Collect film program (ConFlix) is celebrating their 41st birthday this year. Each Spring, ConFlix features their annual Film Night showcasing the graduating student films. That Film Night comes up on April 23, 7:00 pm at Thunder Bay Community Auditorium.

“After graduating in 2005, I learned a lot about myself and the kinds of films I enjoy making. For the first time, the film program made me feel like there were other people out there that thought like me and looked at the world like me. Ultimately, the program gave me a foundation to build off of, which I have been doing every year since I graduated,” says Curtis.

I sit on the Board of North of Superior Film Association (NOSFA). More than a decade ago, we set up film prizes for the top three films from the graduating students. Several years ago we renamed these awards in hounour of one of our founding directors, David Brown. So as a NOSFA director, I have had both the pleasure and the burden of watching all of the graduate student films for more than a decade.

I spoke with Dennis Austen, one of the instructors in the College film program, about this year??s annual Film Night. Dennis said, first of all, “The Film Night is free. There will be 32 films showcased. The longest is 7minutes and the average is 4-5 minutes.” I asked Dennis what we would see this year. “There are several love stories, a Western and a vampire musical”, Dennis replied.

There are several ways ConFlix is important to seniors in Thunder Bay. The program maintains an active roster of local people willing to perform in student films. Over the years, I have watched many of you up there on the big screen. As well, I have witnessed Seniors present at the annual Film Night, cheering on their grandchildren, the neighbour girl or boy, or simply enjoying another aspect of Thunder Bay??s diverse cultural world.

Mark April 23, 7pm in your calendar and come out and support these young film makers. I know they will appreciate it.
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The Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra
“We would leave Thunder Bay. I just wouldn??t want to live in a city that didn??t have an orchestra.” I first heard this comment from Elizabeth Powlowski. She and her partner Peter were two of the first Canadians I met, when I immigrated to Canada in 1969. My good fortune was to live across the road from the Powlowski??s in Kaministiquia. Over the years, I watched them raise their three sons and make frequent trips “into town” to assure the rapidly growing boys would experience live orchestral concerts. Their boys are now adults and Peter and Elizabeth are semi-retired. And still attending symphony concerts.?
The Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra (TBSO) is a remarkable cultural institution. This year it celebrates its 50th Anniversary. Paul Inksetter, current President of the volunteer Board of Directors of the TBSO, echoed Liz Powlowski??s remarks made to me several decades ago. He adds “The TBSO is the largest cultural organization in north-western Ontario and the only professional symphony orchestra between Toronto and Winnipeg. Our annual tours to communities across the North provide the only opportunities for residents of those many small towns to experience great symphonic music, performed live in their home communities.”?
Formed in 1960 by Rene Charrier and Douglas Dahlgren as the Lakehead Symphony Orchestra (LSO), it performed its first concert on November 29 of that year in Lakeview High School gymnasium. Incorporated in 1962, the LSO changed its name to the TBSO Association in 1970. Since that first performance in a school gymnasium, the orchestra has gone on to perform all over the city, in churches, church basements, schools, the former Selkirk Auditorium and shopping malls, until finding a beautiful sounding home at our Community Auditorium 25 years ago.?

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But it has not been an easy journey for the TBSO. Heather Morrison, principal keyboard artist with the symphony for 35 years, has seen most of the triumphs and crises that have occurred. And there have been several times when the orchestra might have gone under. She recalls one of these when, facing immanent economic collapse, the musicians organized a benefit concert, Howard Cable came to conduct and the musicians sold out the auditorium. “How amazing it is for a city this size to sustain an orchestra. Over the years, the public display for what we did – and do – is life saving”.??
Linda Penner, who has been singing with the TBSO chorus and billeting musicians since 1984, has also served on or with the Board since 1999. She recalls many memorable concerts, including Angela Hewitt playing Bach and the chorus singing the Bach B Minor Mass. She also mentions the power and lights going out on Music Director Stephane Laforest??s final concert with the TBSO!??
Knowing that the TBSO chorus will be involved in the performance of Beethoven??s 9th Symphony on March 31, I asked her what she thought of getting ready for the concert. “Oh, what sheer joy! One of the great pieces of symphonic music that truly speaks to – and of the human condition”. The TBSO Chorus will be augmented by the Lakehead University Vocal Ensemble for this concert, bringing a massive 150 voice sound to the concluding movement of the symphony.??
Heather Morrison laments that “there is no keyboard in Beethoven??s 9th Symphony score. ” She wants to play in it. So I asked someone who is immersed in the playing, what this symphony is like.??
Michelle Zapf-Belanger is in her third season as a violinist in the TBSO. “All Beethoven symphonies are fun to play for musicians. I yearn to play them – there??s something special about the way they feel under your hands, about the way Beethoven makes you interact with all the other instrument sections. While you??re playing Beethoven, you feel like he understands you and understands orchestras, that he??s using you to talk about something important. This will be my very first Beethoven 9. It is his last symphony and the one with the strongest, most explicit message. We don??t get to play it often because it is a budget-buster, extra musicians everywhere, full chorus, lots of rehearsal time needed. It will be an honour and a privilege to play, and I??m pretty excited.”??
50 years after its quite founding, the TBSO has grown to have a multi-million dollar impact on the economy of North-western Ontario. What better way to mark this extraordinary anniversary and this remarkable orchestra, than coming to hear them perform Beethoven??s 9th Symphony on Thursday, March 31 at our Community Auditorium.???
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Ely Snow Sculpture Fun!??
“Welcome to Winter! Welcome to a land where the sky is so blue and the sun shines so bright that you forget that the temperature has descended past freezing long ago”. Sounds like Thunder Bay in January, February and sometimes March, eh?. This is actually the opening salutation on the Ely Winter Festival homepage. It goes on to add the following, making it unique to Ely: “where snow is carved into beautiful shapes and where the town itself becomes an art gallery.”??
The Ely, Minnesota Winter Festival grew out of a local cross-country ski race launched in 1984. It was then a 3-day weekend gathering. The event that really set the Festival on-the-map emerged 10 years later: an international Snow Sculpting Symposium. And here is where our local connection comes in. In the mid-1990??s local artist and sculptor John Books received an invitation from a friend living in Minnesota, to consider “coming down” for the Snow Sculpting Symposium. John accepted, and the first team of hearty Thunder Bay snow sculptors made the journey. Accompanying John were Gerry McEachern, Angus Macdonald and Norm Sponchia.??
In 1998, the city added local artists work on display in downtown storefronts and created the Ely ArtWalk. In addition to the cultural components, there are lots of sports, athletic, food and drinking events in what has now grown to a 10 day Festival. The 2011 edition runs February 3-13.??
But it is the snow sculpting element that commands attention. Local artist Damon Dowbak, a long serving member of the Thunder Bay winter sculpting team, is quick to point out that “it??s not a competition or a contest. It??s a symposium”. Sculptors come to Ely to create their frozen figures for the love of it, not for prize money or large-screen televisions, or new SUVs. And, Damon says, it has attracted international attention, with sculptors coming from Mexico and several South American countries.??
The city provides giant blocks of snow for the sculptors to work with. Think of Michelangelo sitting in front of his blocks of Carrere marble, and imagining what is inside the block. If you check out the Festival website, you can see both photos and some short videos of past year??s creations: www.elywinterfestival.com. There is real diversity in the compositions, both in size and themes. Some of them are absolutely massive.??
I asked 2011 team member Michah Dowbak (who will be making his 3rd trek as a team sculptor this year) how the local group of artists decide on what to sculpt. “We all just think of the wackiest things we can think of”, he said. “We have goofy discussions that eventually get practical. Our composition this year will have lots of big textures.” He affirms that, both from the conception stage to the actual sculpting, it is a group process. I asked Michah why he does this, why go work out in the freezing northern cold to create snow things? “I visualize this much as I do music”, he replied. “It??s a chance to be creative on a really big scale. It??s also temporary, a temporary scale. You create something and then give it away. It??s like the childhood fun of making a snowman, and then watching it melt away later”.??
Over the past decade and a half, there have been dozens of local artists, architects, musicians, farmers and community builders that, for a week in February, become snow sculptors and make the journey from Thunder Bay to Ely to build in the snow. This year??s team in addition to Damon and Michah Dowbak includes Angus Macdonald, Walter and Nathan Kuch, Cy Sponchia, Tiffany Toderick, Emily Latimer, Alexander Christian, and John Books. All the very best to our hearty snow people.??
North of Superior Film Association???
North of Superior Film Association (NOSFA) is in its 19th season of what might most simply be described as offering “alternate” films in Thunder Bay. You might ask alternate to what? Again, the simple answer would be Hollywood – or big studio films.??
NOSFA was formed by an enthusiastic group of local film fans who wanted to see films that were not getting screen time in local cinemas: Canadian films, foreign films, independent productions (non studio films). Born at a time when there were at least a half-dozen operating cinemas in Thunder Bay with several screens each, most of the product being screened was still coming out of Hollywood. Today, with only one local theatre (with 12 screens), NOSFA??s original purpose seems to be as valid and necessary as it was 19 years ago. Disclosure: I have served on the Board of Directors of NOSFA since their beginning.??
The general operating concept has remained the same throughout NOSFA??s existence. There is a basic membership which allows a discounted ticket price to screenings. The screening year runs from September through the following May. Remarkably, the cost of a membership has not changed in 19 years: still only $10 for the entire screening year. Currently, individual screenings cost members $6.00 and non-members $9.00. Membership has its privileges.??

After successfully completing its first season, and with audiences showing their loyalty and support, NOSFA decided to add a Spring film festival. The Northwest Film Fest was launched in their 2nd year (the 18th one will be held next Spring – more on this in a bit).??

NOSFA has had several “homes” and no real home during these many seasons. Screenings were held at the former Odeon Victoria, the Paramount and the Cumberland. As each of these cinemas ceased to be operating cinemas, NOSFA has found a home at the only remaining facility that screens new, feature films on the big screen: Silver City. It took careful negotiations by the dedicated all-volunteer Board of NOSFA with the local management and the national office of Cineplex-Odeon to secure the new venue. Audiences, truly loyal, have followed us in each of our moves.

NOSFA??s regular screenings are held on Thursdays. The 2nd half of the current NOSFA season begins on January 6 with a delightful, sun-filled Italian comedy: Mid-August Lunch. It is followed on January 20 with the first of the Steig Larsson trilogy: The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo. NOSFA??s President, Marty Mascarin offers this caution about the film: “Larsson??s books have enjoyed phenomenal success world-wide but for those who are not acquainted with the novels, we must offer the caveat that “Girl” delves into very dark, violent and sexually explicit material” . Next comes a historical filmic look at a young John Lennon in Nowhere Boy, screening on February 3. This is followed by a powerful story of a young girl striving to keep her family together in contemporary Appalachia, Winter??s Bone is screening on February 17. For a full description of all these films and to sign up for our e-newsletter, check out our website: www.nosfa.ca.\par

The 18th Northwest Film Fest will have a special double header feature on March 24th as a prelude to the full Festival rolling out on two consecutive Sundays: March 27 and April 3. We listened to members and audiences who responded positively to the 2-Sunday approach and were careful to avoid the school March Break this year.

So if you like film and want to keep seeing a broad range of stories on the big screen, come out to a NOSFA screening and enjoy what I have long described as the second most pleasurable thing we do in the dark.

November 2011

I am sometimes surprised, but always pleased when different parts of community interact with each other for mutual development. It??s been described as community annimation.

During the closing weeks of October, I experienced three examples of this. I??m writing about how arts and culture interacted to enhance and inform our broader, community culture.

Thunder Bay and North-western Ontario are in the midst of an epidemic of substance use. We have known for a long time that our alcohol use is higher than other parts of the province. Added to this, we are now in an epidemic of prescription drug use, specifically oxycotin. There are many complex factors that come into play as to why someone takes up drugs and why they may become an addict. Unemployment, poverty, mental-health issues, stressed families and lack of health care resources are all part of that mix.

Cottonland is a documentary film that explores how an entire community, Glace Bay on Cape Breton Island, became caught up in an ocycotin epidemic. The story of Cottonland has many parallels to North-western Ontario: the decline of major industry, rising unemployment and outflow of youth, increasing poverty and the introduction of drug use. The film is a first time feature documentary from Nancy Ackerman. Ms Ackerman was a photo-journalist and had never made a film prior to Cottonland. I first saw this documentary a year ago, when Patty Hadju, then Coordinator of our local drug strategy, screened it at our Health Unit. I saw it again last month at a public screening at the new Centre of Excellence (the former Hillcrest High school). Several dozen people came to see it and there was a lively, interactive discussion after the screening. It is a powerful documentary, and a great example of community animation.

Pot, Pills and Parties was the title of a Youth Drug Policy Reform Conference, held also during October, attracting about 150 participants. A special component of that conference was the screening of another documentary: The Life You Want. It tells the story of Doris, a 22 year old Aboriginal woman with 3 children, struggling with an oxycotin addiction in her community of Eabametoong First Nation (Fort Hope). This is another extraordinary documentary, crystallizing the issues of substance use, grounding those issues in personal experience and exploring options for how a community might move forward. The Life You Want was made by local filmmakers Michelle Derosier and Dave Clement, who together are Thunder Stone Pictures. One of several fine local film production companies, Thunder Stone Pictures is rapidly developing a reputation as the go-to company for producing dynamic and engaging films with superior production values, about North-western Ontario.

Frankly Scarlet Productions produces local, live theatre. Following on the cusp of Mental Health Week, the company produced One Flew Over The Cuckoo??s Nest. Based on Ken Kesey??s ground-breaking 1962 novel, the play explores issues of being different and rebellious inside a mental institution that purports to have only the patients best interests at heart. While Frankly Scarlet??s production values were crude, and the story is dated and simplistic, there was no doubt of the powerful effect it had on the audience when I saw it. The actors were committed to showing us something important in a vital and engaging way.

These three cultural products, two documentary films and a play, reached out to our larger community in a way that a newspaper article or a television clip or a guest speaker could not. Collectively, they emphasized the importance of a community approach to addressing difficult community issues. All three were fine examples of community animation.

October 2011

Last month I was honoured to sit on a panel assembled by CBC radio, to discuss whether Thunder Bay is a generous city? We were to discuss the question from the perspective of local, not-for-profit charitable organizations. We agreed that yes, indeed, Thunder Bay is a generous city.

The observation most relevant here, however, came from Socorro Woodman, the smart and articulate Development Officer for Thunder Bay Art Gallery. She reflected that, often when economic times are hard, the arts are seen (by some) as less important, less supportable, less vital to communities struggling with high unemployment and scarce incomes.

My own experience is that, unfortunately, Socorro is correct. We are living in hard times. Our Federal government is obsessed with getting “tough on crime”, lengthening prison sentences, building more prisons, buying hugely expensive fighter planes, while all Ministries have been asked to find 5-10% cuts to their existing budgets, toward balancing a massive cumulative and structural deficit.

Our Provincial government is – well, what is our provincial government doing? It is immersed in a provincial election. And all provincial political parties are struggling in this important, democratic process to sway our opinions, get our votes, and gain or maintain power.

Every Ontario political party is obsessed with employment right now. And they all talk about employment in terms of aiding or strengthening our forest industry, health care, education. Are any of them mentioning arts and culture? Are you?

Arts and culture is a huge engine of employment in this province. Ontario??s entertainment and creative industries support over 300,000 jobs. This is far bigger than forestry, bigger than the auto sector. That includes our traditional culture industries like symphony orchestras, art galleries, theatre companies, film and television production, sound recording industries, book publishing, and newer cultural industries like computer animation and digital inter-active media. One of the challenges is that most people – and political parties – don??t think of arts and culture as industries or businesses. Well, we are.

I took the time to research the Ontario NDP, the Ontario Progressive-Conservative and the Ontario Liberal Party platforms for this election. I checked their official web-sites, looked at their published platforms, read their policy statements and some of their literature. None of them – not one of them says anything about Ontario??s arts and culture. This is both shameful and depressing. I sent out inquiries asking for specific party responses – or policy positions – from the various provincial political parties – concerning arts and culture.

Only one response was received in time for me to include some of the information in this column. It is timely in that it answers my question posed earlier: what is our provincial government doing? The following comes from Joanne Ghiz, Media Relations, Ontario Liberal Campaign: “since 2003, we have invested over $4.1 billion in this sector. This includes investing more than $2.5 billion directly in our cultural agencies (The ROM, AGO, McMichael Art Gallery, Science Centres, etc). Invested over $400 million in our public and First Nations libraries. Increased annual operating funding to Ontario??s cultural attractions agencies by over $28 million and invested $33 million in cultural agency revitalization projects.” Ms. Ghiz added that Ontario??s cultural agencies collectively attract more than three million visitors and generate $4.5 billion annual within Ontario??s economy.

So here we have some basis about what is being supported now, and to what extent. I don??t know what other provincial political parties would do – because they haven??t publicly said anything. The silence is ominous. And I will remember it.

During World War II, Winston Churchill??s Finance Minister – struggling to balance the government??s budget -said Britain should cut arts funding to support the war effort. Churchill is said to have replied “Then what are we fighting for?”

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I want to talk about homelessness, housing and culture. Bear with me while I weave the strands of this narrative together.

In mid-January, I attended a National Housing Meeting in Vancouver. I was invited – together with some two dozen representatives from most provinces and The Yukon, for a two day meeting to explore the possibility of setting up a national housing coalition.

I was impressed with the other participants?? contributions. I was particularly impressed by Patricia Bacon??s work with the homeless in The Yukon, where living without shelter, on a daily basis, has far more severe consequences than in other, Southern parts of Canada. One shelter model they have adopted (from the U.S.) is called “the little house”. Unable to raise enough funds to build multiple-unit apartments for the needy, they raised enough money to build one small house, with a capacity for one or two people. The house is approximately 240 square feet in total. They did this for about $30,000 (including hook-ups for local utilities). They succeeded in raising the funds last year completely on their own, and are now working on their second house. Their motto is “housing the homeless, one little house at a time”.

At the end of the two days, we had struggled through all those “first step” procedures that are tedious but necessary in both team-building and coalition building: we emerged with vision, mission and values statements. And struck a modest steering committee to keep the work going further and keep us all in communication.

While enroute to and from Vancouver, in addition to the advance meeting materials I had to absorb, I had brought along several books for diversion. One of these was Michael Christie??s linked-story collection called The Beggar??s Garden. I had first read this in early Fall, and was really enjoying my second immersion. Michael is a Thunder Bay boy who gravitated west and ended up working as a social worker in the downtown East Side of Vancouver, one of the most economically depressed metropolitan areas anywhere in the world. Michael worked with the homeless and people with mental health and substance using issues. Simultaneously, he completed his MFA in creative writing at UBC. His story collection is about the people he encountered in his work. I have met many individuals in Thunder Bay who could be extended family members of the characters. I highly recommend The Beggar??s Garden for your consideration.

Last year, Michael moved his young family back to Thunder Bay. He now teaches Creative Writing at Lakehead University, and occasionally does public readings and public commentary.

I have recently become involved in helping launch a play-reading series on the LU campus. Our first play will be Canadian playwright Rex Deverrel??s Boiler Room Suite. In it, two homeless, elderly street people, who would have been considered derelicts or “alki??s” thirty-five years ago when Deverell wrote his play, find their way into the basement of a large hotel. There, in the boiler room, they find sanctuary while they share a large bottle of cheap wine, reminisce about the past and fantasize about the future. I suspect you might recognize Aggie and Sprug. They might be part of your own extended family. They, too, would be very comfortable in the company of some of Michael Christie??s characters.

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Boiler Room Suite

January 2012

will be read for one night only on Thursday, February 2 in The Study on the LU Campus. 7:00 pm. Admission is free. Discussion following the reading. If you attend, you will go away with more than you came for. And there will be an attendance draw: some fortunate audience member will get a hard copy of Michael Christie??s The Beggar??s Garden. The entire evening is probably priceless.

The fireworks display that climaxed the public “opening” of our new waterfront park development on December 16 , were spectacular. Maybe this was because it was December and the sky was clear and black. Maybe it was because the air itself was clear and crisp, allowing the colours to be sharp and bright and dazzling, and the explosions louder than they seem in summer. Maybe it was because we were all just glad the long-delayed opening was actually happening.

I have been a supporter of waterfront development in Thunder Bay for at least 3 decades. Of course, our waterfront began being developed long before our modern era. Probably the most significant and landscape-changing decision was made when the city fathers of Prince Arthur??s Landing and Fort William sold prime real-estate to the railways, forever dooming our excellent waterfront land to be sliced through by those iron bands. Today, we are on the verge of an equally historical error: selling prime waterfront property to a developer – instead of leasing it – and thus forever losing our capacity to enhance this beautiful landscape. That is a topic for another day.

In this column last June, I described ten of my favourite examples of outdoor art. Public art that is commissioned and paid for by you and me, and that is available for everyone to enjoy. And this is a significant detail: public art. Like some of you, I have purchased over the years various examples of local art: drawings, paintings, pottery, and have it in my home. Like some of you again, most of the public will never see it. And, were you to see it, some of you might think that is a good thing. Public art, therefore is different in that it gets seen – and judged – by all of us who care to experience it.

In the two years of development leading up to the opening of our new waterfront, the public art additions have attracted some attention and even controversy. Whenever an announcement was made about one of the new art additions, I could rely on typical reactions usually relating to the cost (too much!) and the artists (how come they weren??t local!). And then that would be followed, sometimes, by how ugly or ridiculous or wasteful the art seemed to be, as judged from media descriptions.

Well, some of this public art is now accessible with the opening of the park. And some of it was created by local artists And while winter may not be the best time to experience it, I had fun touring the waterfront unofficially, on the day of the opening.

First I want to laud a site specific, one-of-a-kind sculpture, created specifically for this grand opening. It is a snow sculpture called “Go With The Flow”. Created by seasoned winter sculptors John Books and Walter Kuch, the piece depicts a polar bear standing atop a small ice flow (we can imagine it is going to continually get smaller, both here in our park and in the far North), like a surfer, riding a rising wave that curls behind him. Snow sculpture is strenuous and difficult work. I chatted with Walter and John while they were working on this piece, moving constantly and deliberately to keep warm. Later, in February, they will once again be heading up Thunder Bay??s excellent team of winter sculptors for the Ely, Minnesota Snow Sculpture Symposium. Thunder Bay would do well to announce and host such a symposium here, and feature it right on our new waterfront park.

The other outdoor sculptures visible at the opening included giant silver water droplets , titled “Traveler??s Return”, by Andy Davies. They look for all the world like frozen tears or Christmas ornaments, and are likely beautiful to see in any season by our superior lake.

A short distance from the new Baggage Building Art Gallery nestled on a small knoll, is an utterly delightful collection of Balloon Animals. Created by Paul Slipper and Nadine Stefan, these instantly recognizable creatures are about 4 times the scale of usual balloon animals. And these are made of different coloured granite (some of it from Vermillion Bay). I particularly liked the goose.

Out on the piers are Mark Nisenholt??s architectural glass panels, elevated above head height in cedar-slatted, box shaped lanterns. Illuminated from the interior, these are gentle, glowing beacons.

And then there are the two structural beacons. Giant bent pillars thrusting out toward the lake and into the sky, like the prow of a great laker. My personal jury-is-out about this concept, as this frosty day was not the best time to experience them in all their dimension s (structure, light, sound, colours).

There is more there to talk about and discuss. For now, huzza! Thanks, city and artists. The park space is open. Go experience it.

December 2011

North of Superior Film Association

Nineteen and twenty years. That??s how long the North of Superior Film Association (NOSFA) has been bringing films to Thunder Bay audiences.

NOSFA is in the middle of its twentieth season of regular, monthly screenings. A great deal has changed since a small group of film enthusiasts met in the back yard of Michael Gravelle on College Street twenty years ago. I will disclose quickly that I am a NOSFA Board member and have been around since it began. The make-up of our entirely volunteer Board has changed numerous times. The choice and variety of films changes annually. The film industry itself has changed, and dramatically so. But NOSFA??s purpose remains essentially the same. We like films, and we want to see greater variety and diversity of films available in Thunder Bay. We present films that are not likely to get screen time here: Canadian films, independent films, foreign films. And one more thing has remained unchanged in twenty years: a NOSFA membership still only costs $10.00. That??s for our annual season running from September through the following May. Don??t know how long we can hold that price down.

NOSFA will present our nineteenth Northwest FilmFest on the last Sunday in March (March 25) and the first Sunday in April (April 1). The reason it is our nineteenth festival is that we didn??t host one in our initial birthing year. It seemed enough, at the time, to figure out what we were doing and whether or not there was a supportive audience here, for the kind of films we were bringing in. And boy, did Thunder Bay audiences respond. Today our membership usually approaches or exceeds a thousand, and your loyalty in attending our films is humbling. This year??s FilmFest has some adjustments: it will be done on a slightly smaller scale and we are reducing festival ticket prices (we raised them last year). We will still be bringing you 12-14 titles, but some of these may only be screened once. All screenings are at SilverCity.

Here are some of the films we will be bringing. On Thursday, March 22, NOSFA will present a FilmFest prelude: two different films on the same night, each featuring Michelle Williams. Each will have only one screening. Ms. Williams has been nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn. We??ll present that film as well as featuring her in a completely different role in a small, independent film: Meek??s Cuttoff. In it she is a young farm-wife on a wagon train heading out in the American west. Then on the two Sundays of the Festival itself, watch for two of the most outstanding film performances I saw last year: Michael Shannon in an edge-of -your-seat family drama Take Shelter, and Michael Fassbender in the examination of sexual compulsion, Shame. Finally, watch for a wickedly delicious Canadian comedy by award winning director Thom Fitzgerald: Cloudburst. More details can be found at www.nosfa.ca, but the actual program and screening schedule will not be ready until later in March. Keep checking the website.

In closing this month??s column, I would be remiss in not paying tribute to a cultural giant of Thunder Bay. Last month we lost Dusty Miller. Dusty – and her husband Tom – were tremendous contributors to the cultural development of Thunder Bay. Tom in his academic career at Lakehead University, and Dusty in her diverse and generous contributions to build and strengthen local arts and culture. And also her enthusiastic participation in local and provincial politics. Dusty was fearless in the face of injustice, fierce in moving solutions forward on complicated local challenges and humble and gentle in success. She was a loyal and true ally to those who earned her trust and support. She was thoughtful and wise in mentoring youth. She had an enormous heart and generosity of spirit, a great gift of humour and a laugh that could crack the heavens. She helped me, personally, many, many times and I am proud to have earned her friendship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

??Winter is a time for tucking in – a time when closeness is both sought out and forced upon us??.
The quote is from a play, The Old Same Story, written 35 years ago by local artist and writer John Books.? It was produced by Kam Theatre Lab and I directed and was part of that production.? The play was about rural life in Kaministiquia and some scenes took place in a log cabin, and some of those scenes were in winter.? We toured it throughout Northwestern Ontario,? in winter.
Two of the things celebrated in the play, as winter activities, were reading and writing.? I have a stack of books by my bedside, and am slowly working my way through them.? Most of this reading is for pleasure.? Some of it is for contracted reviews so that reading becomes work.? The stack never seems to diminish, as I am always adding new ones.? I am particularly fond of local writers.
In January, I attended the first of what may become an annual ??author brunch??, hosted by the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop? (NOWW) and the Sleeping Giant Writers?? Festival.? NOWW celebrates their fifteenth anniversary this year.? Among their founders were Debbie Debaker, Jim Foulds and Charlie Wilkins.? Wilkins was the featured speaker at the NOWW author brunch.? He is such a good writer and storyteller that he is worth featuring in a column by himself.? Here, I will simply say he held a packed room (the event was sold-out) in the palms of his worthy hands, reading excerpts from several of his books and linking them with expert, personalized narrative.
NOWW deserves some attention.? In addition to that brunch, the organization hosts regular public readings by local authors, published or not, in our local libraries.? The ones I have attended have featured a ??main?? reader as well as an open-mike section where anyone can come up and read.? NOWW also sponsors two major Literary Awards.? The Kouhi Award (established in 1999) ??recognizes ??outstanding contributions to the literature of Northwestern Ontario.? It is named in honour of poet Elizabeth Kouhi.?? The Burnford Award (established in 2009) ??recognizes a ??builder??, someone who has made outstanding contributions to publishing, promoting or supporting the literature of Northwestern Ontario.? NOWW also publishes a literaray magazine, provides a ??Blue Pencil manuscript critiquing service?? and an annual writing contest.? Local writers struggle for space if they are published and for attention in a wider literate world.? The next time you find yourself in Chapters, spend some time at the local authors section.
Circling back to my opening and John Books: he is not only a local writer and artist, he is part of a small, hearty band of local snow sculptors.? I featured the local team in a column two years ago, as they were embarking on their annual trek to Ely, Minnesota for Ely??s snow sculpture symposium.? This paper featured several photos of the team??s astonishingly beautiful snow sculptures.? At the time of that writing, I speculated about the possibility of such a snow sculpture event here in Thunder Bay.? The City of Thunder Bay has just announced a call to artists to participate in the ??Winterfest 2013 Snow Sculptures?? event.? Selected participants will receive a $300 honorarium and meal tickets for the sculpting days as well as prepared ??blocks?? of snow.? Deadline for applications is Wednesday, February 6 at 4:30 pm.? Full details can be found at http://www.thunderbay.ca/calltoartists.? I am eagerly looking forward to seeing these sculptures next winter.
Meanwhile, we are still mired in this winter.? As I was finishing this column, the city experienced a record-breaking cold temperature of?? -36.3 degrees.? This is very definitely ??tucking in?? time.? Time to pick up some good books.? Or do some writing.

Jan. 2013

??The apocalypse is in progress.??
Before you snort and turn the page, indulge me a bit and read on.
The apocalypse is happening.? It isn??t about a single date in a misunderstood ancient calendar.? Nor about any faith-based predictions.? Nor about science-fiction inventions of impending collisions with space comets or asteroids.
We are already in it.? The apocalypse is happening.? This is one of several take-home messages I experienced while viewing Shop ??Til You Drop – the Crisis Of Consumerism.? The engaging and complex documentary film was the December screening of our Environmental Film Network (EFN).? The EFN is currently in their sixth season.
The apocalypse is happening and, for the most part, we don??t see it or experience it because we are not paying close attention.? I am one of those who believe global warming is not a debatable phenomenon but a decided issue.? Good science and research has readily convinced me.? The disastrous and unexpected weather events of the past several years are one part of that, but only one part.? While governments react with alarm and support for the human tragedies caused by hurricanes, earthquakes, drought and floods, they simultaneously continue vigorous financial subsidies for fossil fuel development and expansion of the auto making industry, pipelines, highways, and simultaneous urban density and sprawl.
The film documentary links the above government investments, and multi-billion dollar responses to ??natural disasters?? with the overall theme of growth.? All western governments have bought into the concept that, for strong economies, for better standards of living, increased growth is necessary.? Admittedly, I am deconstructing some complex global structures into simple ideas.? That is one of the gifts of the documentary.? it steps back, pauses, and looks around at what is in front of us.
And growth is built from investment (at the front end) and consumerism (at the back end).? That??s where you and I come in.? Watching the film in December, while simultaneously passing through the annual pig-out feast of consumerism (holiday shopping) was enlightening.? In a brief but telling sequence at the beginning of the film, a wise woman articulates what, over time, we have purchased for the homes (apartments, condos, whatever) we live in. It was an avalanche of statistical consumerism.? I thought I knew all this, understood it, and was doing what I could in my sphere of influence, to combat consumerism.? Sadly, I fall closer to the end of the scale that might be called wretched excess.? Yes, it is that bad.
We are in the apocalypse.? It is incremental and slowly leading us toward the death of cities and our planet.? Ideological politics fuels the Canadian response to this.? To grow we need bigger investments in our tar sands, pipelines that will move that dirty oil to our west coast and south into the US, to the Gulf coast.? In the apocalypse, is there any hope?? Any way to slow this down?
My friend Alexander, believes so.? He is involved in researching and developing ideas about food sustainability in the North.? He means here, in Northern Ontario.? Alexander is also about to become a first-time father. Parenthood immediately changes your perspective on the future and what you want to do about it.
Early in December, four Aboriginal women in Saskatchewan (Sheelah McLean, Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam and Jess Gordon), became alarmed by the swift and ruthless passage of our Federal Government??s Bill C-45.? Bill C-45 is an omnibus piece of legislation that, among other things, diminishes the protection of our lakes and waterways as well as directly affects several areas of traditional Aboriginal treaty rights.? Bill C-45 was not their only concern.? There are as many as eight different current Federal pieces of legislation that affect Treaty rights. They became angry and started what has become a national activist movement called Idle No More.? Demonstrations and events aimed at speaking out and resisting this legislation have spontaneously sprung up across Canada.
In Ottawa, Chief Teresa Spence has gone on a hunger strike saying she would rather die than see the Federal government??s agenda implemented.? She began her hunger strike on December 10, 2012 and requests a meeting with the Prime Minister and The Governor General.? In Thunder Bay, on December 21, the Winter Solstice, more than a hundred individuals gathered at Thunder Bay??s Spirit Garden on our waterfront, in unity with the demonstrations taking place across the country. It was bitterly cold and I was in awe of the turn-out. There were elders, kids, women drumming, singing and speaking eloquently about what the land and water means within their traditional culture.? They were asking everybody, especially the Prime Minister, to step back.? Pause.? Look around and see what is in front of us.
Three days later, December 24, Idle No More brought the heart of consumerism in Thunder Bay to a halt.? It happened at Inter-City Mall.? The mall was packed with people, movement, shopping.? A small band of drummers sat down in the middle of an open space and quietly began drumming and singing.? Several others began to dance and sway, eventually forming a circle around the drummers.? Then, as close to a miracle as I understand them occurred: shopping stopped.? A full circle dance had begun, and so many wanted to join the dancing that a second circle began immediately behind the first, expanding to occupy the space available.? No one was shopping.? If the grinding pace of the apocalypse is to be slowed, Idle No More is one of the ways to do it.

Dec. 2012

The Event Centre

This column is a mixed-bag, a collection of things that I had put on idle while I dealt with stuff that I thought wasn??t about culture.? In conversation with a mentor of mine, he challenged me that all the things I had set aside were, indeed, about culture.? Idle no more.? Here goes.
North of Superior Film Association(NOSFA) is about to conclude their 21st season. But before they do that, they have organized the 20th Northwest FilmFest.? It will take place on the first two Sundays of April, the 7th and the 14.? And on each Thursday preceding those Sundays (April 4 and 11).? I??ll disclose that I sit on the board of NOSFA, and thus help organize the FilmFest.? There will be eighteen films screened.? Several of them are in my ??top ten?? list for 2012. Look for a strong list of documentaries including Chasing Ice, Stories We Tell, Searching For Sugarman and First Position.? Tickets are being sold through The UPS Store on Memorial Avenue.? A snap shot of the flims is on the front page of this paper. Full details will be in the program, which will be included in the April 4 Chronicle-Journal.? You can also check out the films at their website: www.nosfa.ca.
One of the joys of going to our Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra (TBSO) concerts is seeing so many of our local music artists being featured in their concerts.? The TBSO invited Shy-Anne Hovorka, Susanna DiGiuseppe, Matt Sellick, Tony Agostino amongst others, to be part of this year??s concert season.? It is a real? treat to hear them with our symphony musicians.? And if you think symphony music is just for snobs, get ready for beer and Beethoven.? The brewski concert takes place on Saturday, April 20 at the Thunder Bay Armouries.
We have had a mixed bag of plays in the Thunder Bay theatre season.? Cambrian Players has mostly stuck to rollicking comedies while Magnus has jumped around with serious, intellectually challenging scripts as well as moving socially conscious stories.? Both local companies, however, will conclude this season with the most produced Canadian playwright ever, Norm Foster.? Again, you can find the specifics of Foster??s plays at each of their websites.? Makes one wonder if there are any other Canadian playwrights around?
Finally, the local theatre scene lost a giant last month.? Heather Esdon left us on March 15.? Known primarily for her appearances as an actress, she worked with just about every theatre company that exists here. She did extraordinary one-woman shows at Magnus: The Search For Intillegent Signs of Life in The Universe, and Shirley Valentine.? She appeared in several Cambrian Players productions including Romeo & Juliet and The Laramie Project.? She acted in many student film projects, from the Confederation College film program.? But as fine an actress as she was – and she was – Heather was so much more than that.? She was a teacher and mentor to young people beginning to explore theatre for the first time (and some older people doing that, too).? She was a director.? She produced the Thunder Bay Fringe Festival.? And, late in her career, she began to write.? Poetry, stories, scripts.? I had the great honour to work with her on her final theatre project.? It was a collection of local stories drawn from people who are living with Hepatitis C.? Heather shaped their lives into what became Hepatitis C-eater.
This work is being performed now to local groups, schools, youth organizations.? Her work lives on and her spirit has inspired all of us.

A friend approached me while shopping in one of our supermarkets. She chastised me about my column last month. I had suggested that, in the cold depths of winter, it was a good time to hunker down inside and read or write. I was ignoring all of the winter outdoor activities available to us, she said. While not quite a senior (she is in her fifties), she assured me that she and her large family spend lots of time outside. Her kids skate and play hockey outdoors and she is an avid cross-country skier.

She was right. I was too, but our positions were not mutually exclusive. I did remind her that I pointed out the city was going to have a snow-sculpture symposium and I gave notice for potential sculptors. More on the sculptures in just a bit.

The city has had organized outdoor activities for most of the past century. Thunder Bay Historical Museum has pictures of outdoor hockey games being played on an ice rink cleared on the Kaministiquia river. Winter carnivals, of one sort or another, have been celebrated in our region with varying success. There is certainly an active, outdoor culture in Northwestern Ontario.

So I was pleased to see that, after several years of dormancy, the city of Thunder Bay was rebooting the winter carnival concept. Rebranded as Winterfest 2013, activities were centered on our new waterfront development. With activities all weekend but concentrated on Family day, our new February holiday, people could enjoy dog sled rides, skate on the popular skating rink, learn how to curl on a newly poured ice sheet, observe snow sculptors and their finished sculptures, make their own in large blocks of snow conveniently provided by the city, attend one of several concerts, or simply enjoy a walk about.

When I went down to the waterfront, it was packed with people. Families, new parents with strollers or babies held close to their chests, seniors, kids. I stopped first at the skate park and stood watching the busy activity with another older adult. One section of teens were sweeping snow off of the slopes and inclines for open boarding. Another group was actually adding snow at the far end to make a sharper jump that resembled a small ski hill. There were busy, happy skate boarders everywhere. A young lad came up to us and gave us a copy of King Snow – The Quebec Issue. I had never heard of King Snow before. It is a impressive, glossy print snowboarding magazine. This issue featured a full colour image of Quebec poutine dripping all over its cover. The magazine is hip. Down. Sassy. Brassy. Word.

Along the waterfront, just past the skating rink, were four large snow sculptures, done by different local teams. One was an owl with an egg and chick. Another was a cartoon car packed with delightful animals. Another was a stylized skater, lying on her back with her foot thrust into the air, while the North Wind had her back. And there was a mammoth, looking for all the world like it had just been flash-frozen. People milled about, taking pictures of the sculptures and having their kids pose with the sculptures. The animal laden car was a popular photo-op.

The best part of all this activity was being immersed in it. I reflected that it had taken a long and difficult path to get our waterfront developed. Planned for the better part of a decade, it did not come into being without discussion and controversy. Almost each phase of the park was criticized or fought over. I remember some curmudgeons stating that the kids wouldn??t use the skate park and they would cover it with graffiti. Voices were raised against the money spent on public art. Some people said we didn??t need a hotel and condos built on public land. The city stuck to its guns and secured both Federal and Provincial funding partners to get the project underway. One by one, parts of the park opened. They were greeted with enthusiasm. And they are being actively used.

The park development is not done. The condo and hotel development remain a hole in the ground. But the rest of the spaces were full of people and colours and movement at Winterfest 2013. It was a pleasure to be part of it.

 

What a summer it has been! And I don??t mean the weather. I??m talking about the breadth and depth and variety of cultural events that have been available for our sampling and immersion. There were the usual summer anchor events: Thunder Bay Blues Fest, The Highland celebrations at Fort William Historical Park, the two Italian festivals and then the two Summer-In-The-Park series down on the waterfront, one a weekly music concert and the other a weekly film night out under the stars. And later in August the annual Youth Festival returned to Marina Park.

But there were new and expanded cultural opportunities this year. The Bay-Algoma Business District launched their first Bay Street Buskers Festival, and the weather blessed the musicians and jugglers artisans and hoola-hoopers who paraded their talents for the two day event.

And there were no less than six fully-staged, live theatre productions. Six. I can??t remember a summer where there was so much live theatre to experience. Several years ago, some of Thunder Bay??s aspiring young actors and actresses and directors, who go away to theatre programs in mostly Southern Ontario Universities during the school year, started coming back to Thunder Bay and “putting on plays.” Applauze Productions, under the steady leadership of Denise Krawczuk, began presenting a big “Broadway musical” each summer. Her first was Rent, three years ago. She followed this with Cabaret and then last summer, The Drowsy Chaperone. This year, she surprised us with a show devoted almost exclusively to young people: 13-The Musical. The cast consisted of 13-15 year olds, all local, and all amazingly talented. When I saw the production I thought “this is what the future of theatre in Thunder Bay looks like.” By that I didn??t mean Broadway musicals, but rather these wonderfully talented kids.

Out at Chippewa Park, The Rob McLeod Players staged another of their successful, audience friendly summer melodramas: The Moose Meat Cook-off.

And all those college age “kids” who had faithfully worked under Denise??s tutelage for three years again came back to Thunder Bay for the summer and under the direction of Sam Migliazza, staged Jesus Christ Superstar. Sam??s mom Rose was the producer and music director and his sister, Angelica, was the choreographer. They staged it at Redwood Park Church and sold-out three performances. That??s 600 people for every show.

Meanwhile Ahti Tolvinen revived a personal passion project of his called Wealth Secrets. Ahti wrote the play from his experience in the financial world. After taking the play to the Hamilton Fringe Festival last year, Ahti assembled a fresh cast, did some rewrites and opened it in Thunder Bay and then took it to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival where it was critically well received.

 

Paramount Live

And Andrew Paulsen??s New Noise Productions brought a startling, adult drama to The Paramount in mid-August. TAPE was also the third fully-staged production for producer Paulsen. I had the great and humbling honour to direct this show.

Finally, over at Thunder Bay Art Gallery (TBAG), you just have time to catch a major art show that opened back in June. This is a one man show by Thunder Bay??s multi-talented (he is a musician, a photographer, a painter and a stain-glass artist) Damon Dowbak. This is a tremendous exhibition ? one of the best I have seen anywhere in Ontario. Called Meditations on Colour and Form, this is a show that deserves national if not international attention. It continues at TBAG until September 8.

? the young people??s branch of The Paramount Theatre ? produced a children??s version of Pinocchio in August.

Sept 3013

I have been pondering bullying lately.? A lot.? I think bullying is learned behaviour.? We aren??t born with it, like the colour of our hair or our eyes or our skin.? We learn it. Where does it emerge?? This column explores the culture of bullying and its antidote: respect.

Late last month I attended a city Ward meeting.? It had only one agenda item, to see and listen to a presentation about the proposed Active Living Corridor for the Bay/Windsor street area.? During the question and answer period following the presentation, an elderly gentleman sitting next to me stood up to speak.? While he thought cycling and walking safely in the proposed area were good things, he thought the addition of more stop signs to slow cross-street traffic would not enhance safety.? ??Kids will ignore those signs and bicycle right on through those intersections.? That??s just what they do.??? I was startled by his statement.? I didn??t know this person well, but what I did know was mostly positive about his community involvement with cultural organizations.

As seniors, we are often thought of as knowledgeable, thoughtful, experientially mature (wise), caring and community contributing – even as our physical abilities to contribute slow down.? We are also often described as grumpy, frustrated,? resistant to change, out-of-touch, quick to anger, selfish curmudgeons. There is truth in all of the above.

At this same ward meeting, a little later, a young man stood to speak.? He was a teacher in one of the areas neighborhood schools.? He spoke quietly but effectively, challenging the earlier senior gentlemen??s comments about ??kids??.? The teacher said we should not undervalue the ability of students to learn appropriate behaviours, both in the classroom and in the outside world.? He said his students had the experience of learning good bicycling habits in a training session, provided by the city??s Active Transportation program and Thunder Bay District Health Unit.? He had surveyed his students and reported that more than a third of them wanted to cycle or walk to and from school, and would do so if sidewalks were installed and traffic was slowed.

In another part of Ontario, a group of Grade Five students decided to write letters to our Prime Minister.? Their teacher said the students themselves brought up the topic of recent political ??attack ads?? on television and on the internet.? The students, who had experience with and frequently discussed bullying at school,? saw the ads as ??cyber bullying??.? The teacher asked them what they wanted to do, and they came up with writing letters to the Prime Minister asking him to stop making ??attack ads??.

Last month, May 17th, was the ??International Day Against Homophobia??.? A full page ad ran in our daily newspaper, highlighting this year??s focus on the internet and social media.? Both our Public School Board and Catholic School Board, as well as teacher associations and 13 different community organizations all purchased space on this full-page message against social media and internet bullying.

The city has recently launched a ??Respect?? campaign.? It includes posters, newspaper ads and videos on line.? The basic concept is reflected in the phrase ??hate divides a community??. Respect builds community.

Kids learn behaviour in school, from the internet, from movies and television, from parents and their families.? We, as older adults, hold close many entrenched attitudes.? Gloria Steinman??s quote that opened this column was intended to address how we think about women.? She aimed it at us, adults.? As older adults, both men and women, we carry great responsibility with this earned knowledge and wisdom we have.? We are both formal and casual role models.? There is a strong and visible movement to change, to ??unlearn?? behaviours that don??t build healthy communities.? The city and our schools are a strong part of that movement, toward change and healthy behaviours.? I congratulate them on moving to strengthen our community.

May 2013

John Books responded eagerly when I asked to interview him about lying.

I have known John for more than forty years.? When we were young and foolish enough to believe we would change the world, we built a log cabin together, protested Canada??s role in the Vietnam war and started a touring theatre company.? As we grew older, we grew apart.? John went to live in the U.S. for awhile and I began to work on confronting HIV/AIDS, together with a different band of health activists.

In our senior years, we have moved around the circle to where we find ourselves once again deeply immersed in culture.? John has become one of Northwestern Ontario??s better known sculptors.? He has commissioned work on display at Old Fort William and his elegant bronze trees titled Terra Firma- co-created with Christopher Stones – grace the front of our newly renovated City Hall.?? John has been sculpting for the past thirty years.

I wanted to discuss lying because he is part of a group art exhibition at the Thunder Bay Museum called Liar, Liar.? I had never thought about lying in connection with art before, with the exception of forgeries.? Lying, to me, seemed intellectual, something you did with the spoken or written word.

John took me on a tour of the Liar, Liar exhibition and then we went for a late lunch to discuss the show further.? The idea for this exhibition did indeed arise from the spoken word.? Liar, Liar is a project of Northern Mosaic.? Northern Mosaic invited members of Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop (NOWW) to submit stories on the theme of lying.? Stories by Marian Agnew, Deborah De Baker, John Pringle and Jack Shedden were selected and then Northern Mosaic artists created various works inspired by or riffed off of the stories.

Liar, Liar is a mixed media exhibition.? There are beautiful and haunting pieces of glass ??fabric?? created by Cheryl Wilson-Smith.? There are large, nearly monochromatic paintings by Leslie Shaw, that reflect and challenge our view of local landscapes.? There is a series of vertical, mixed-media compositions that look for all the world like wallpaper panels for a bluesy nightclub, by Debbie Metzler.? One of these ??tapestries?? is called Miles, There??s a Cat In My Trumpet.? And just across from this panel, in the center of the room,? John Books has sculpted what is certainly a high-light of the show: Toots.? Toots is a slightly larger-than life cat, featuring wire whiskers, nail-studded fur and a trumpet sticking out of its ass.? The piece is wildly funny, satirical and hellish, simultaneously.? I laughed out loud, on viewing it.? John has several other sculptors in the exhibition, but it is the cat you will remember when you leave.? He also co-created? with Metzler a series of collages called Everybody Lies.? One of these that leaped off the wall into my consciousness has the word history imbedded in some ripped pages.? A cutting reminder that history??s biggest lie is – his story.? This lie too often did – and still does – exclude the participation and accomplishments of women.? There is also a musical component, a soundscape, composed by Wayne Falconer.

Liar, Liar is a stunning show.? It is layered, accessible and engaging.? To my mind, the best conceptual show of local art in 2013.? It is located on the second floor of Thunder Bay Museum and will be there until June 2 (though the Museum??s website says June 9.? Somebody??s lying.) Museum hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 1:00 – 5:00 pm.? You should be able to purchase the Liar, Liar exhibition catalogue (only $5) in the Museum gift shop.? The catalogue has all four of the original stories by the NOWW authors, and? artist biographies and descriptions of their work.? In reviewing the catalogue, remember that this is a show about lying, eh?? If they??re run out of copies of the catalogue, you can view it on-line at the Museum??s website.