Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10


Pricey, pristine, peaceful Oslo

Norwegian coast

I sat in the waiting room at Heathrow airport in London, England with a room full of tall blonds. A two-hour flight northwest over the North Sea brought me to Oslo Norway. Norway occupies the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula. It borders Sweden, Finland, and Russia with its famous fjords coastline facing the North Atlantic Ocean. Norway is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, while also being the most peaceful – Global Peace Index ranked it as the most peaceful country in the world in the 2007 survey. Oslo, with about half a million residents is the country’s capital and largest city.

What first struck me when I arrived in Oslo was an overwhelming feeling of peace and tranquility. It was not the tranquility I found on the Greek Islands, which was mostly about the ocean and the sun. The Norwegian tranquility emanated from the people themselves.

Hedda picked me up at the airport with her new hairless dog Spike. I couldn’t help but wonder how Spike made it through the Norwegian winters. Hedda and I met while studying at UCLA in the summer of 2002. She had invited me to spend a week with her in her hometown. Her house was beautifully nestled in the woods. She had assured me that I could make my way downtown while she was in school during the day, but I didn’t see any evidence of a city in the vicinity. Her house, and most of the other houses in Oslo looked like life-size dollhouses scattered in deep woods. I found out later that these houses in the woods were only a couple of miles from the city center.

Vigeland Sculpture Park

As Hedda headed out early the next morning for class, I walked two blocks down to the tram station and waited. I felt like I was in the sticks. Not a soul was in sight. Two stops and five minutes later I was miraculously in downtown Oslo. The city looked classically European with a mix of old architecture and new trendy stores, restaurants and cafes. There was one noticeable difference – a lack of tourists. Norway is in my opinion one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but it is also one of the coldest, temperature-wise, and the most expensive. Though Oslo doesn’t attract as many tourists as some other major European cities, as I stopped strangers on the streets to ask for directions I was pleasantly surprised that everyone spoke near perfect English.

The city was lovely. I walk to the Royal Palace, built in the first half of the 19th century, which housed the Royal Norwegian Family. After a few minutes of imagining the Palace was my home, I walked down the hill and through the streets, exploring the University of Oslo and the National Theatre.

I met Hedda at the Vigeland Sculpture Park – one of Oslo’s main attractions. It is Norway’s largest park occupying 80 acres with 212 bronze and granite sculptures by the Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. The sculptures are all of men, women and children in motion. The most intriguing piece is the monolith at the top, carved from a single piece of rock and standing 14.12 meters high. It portrays 121 human figures lovingly embracing each other while rising towards heaven.

Oslo Royal Palace

Sadly, the Munch Museum, dedicated to the work and life of Norway’s most famous painter, Edward Munch, was closed for construction. It holds over half the artist’s entire production of paintings, including his most famous works The Scream and Madonna.

Hedda brought me to the Holmenkollen Ski Jump. It is a truly terrifying slope that only the supremely experienced should consider. It extends 60 meters above ground and 417 meters above sea level. It was also used for the 1952 Winter Olympics and four World Ski Championships. I did not have the guts to climb to the top, and missed a magnificent panoramic view of the city.

What was most prominent about the Norwegians was their spirit for a healthy and active lifestyle. It is no wonder they are so beautiful. They are passionate about it, and they have designed their cities to accommodate it. They do not let the weather get in their way. There are numerous stunning hikes and ski slopes just 5 minutes from downtown and a few tram stops away.

Norwegian food is fresh, healthy and hearty. The water in the shower is so soft it feels like silk. They don’t count calories as many are burned on the ski slopes. They eat a special brown goat’s cheese for breakfast called Brunost. It looks strange but it will put any cheesoholic into cheese heaven. It is sharp, strong and sweet like caramel. And though it is probably terribly fattening, I indulged splendidly. As far as I know, there is only one store in Los Angeles that sells this delicacy, and it is far beyond my budget at the Beverly Hills Cheese Shop.

We spent our nights downtown with Hedda's friends at some trendy bars.Everyone spoke perfect English. It was early October. The streets were quiet but the bars were full of life. Drinks were expensive at $10-$15 per cocktail. I was told the best time to visit is late June. On June 21, the longest day of the year, the sun does not set and the parties last for 24 hours.

With its life-size dollhouses, majestic mountains, and heavenly goat cheese, it’s no wonder Norway is one of the healthiest, wealthiest and peacefulcountries in the world.

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Meeting Zeus and a Cretan goddess

My brother Jon and I are very different. He’s quietly curious and knowledgeable. I’m overly-excitable and annoying. But we have one thing in common: the quest for adventure.

He needed little coaxing when I asked him to come to Crete with me. With thumbs-up and a subtle smile, he signaled he was game for the ride – lucky for me, given the dangerous roads we had to drive.

Barely having time to bid my dogs good-bye, Greece swept us up as swiftly as Apollo’s chariot traversing the heavens. Sky-high and safe, we snoozed in Air Transat’s wide seats offering great leg room. Jon and I are no spring chickens, so we both appreciated the comfy nighttime flight that rejuvenated my usual jet lag.

I stayed on in Athens while intrepid Jon headed for Chania, Crete where I would join him three days later. We would drive along Crete’s southwestern shore, swim in its lovely Libyan sea and hike like Hercules.

Checking into a darling hotel named Plaka, I was surprised by it’s cozy affordable charm and quiet beauty. Its location put me in the middle of Midas gold: shopping, dining and ancient sites. I had the best of both worlds: a lively Plaka neighboruhood outside; tranquil Plaka Hotel inside. My room offered a breathtaking view of the Acropolis, but it got even better atop Plaka’s roof garden. An awesome 360-degree view of Athens revealed itself. Two hotel feasts: the view and breakfast!

It was time to meet Jon. We were both set on doing some spectacular hiking in Crete’s incredible gorges. Our favourite hike was Imbros Gorge, Four hours to the finish line with a beach to reward you. No matter the gorge, a treasure of floral magnificence unfolded. Orchids poked out of crevices dug deep into the earth. Oleanders, lilies and poppies appeared among intimidating boulders. Our feet were treading over billions of years of time!

No trip to Crete would be complete without serious caving, so Jon and I set out to find the Ida cave – birthplace of Zeus. After driving hours to reach the foot of Mount Psilaritis’s 2,456 metres, we stumbled upon the legendary cave.

What a disappointment! We were staring into a black cavern with no opening to explore. I went red with rage. Never one to interfere, Jon let me have a go at the god. Carefully stepping down the stairs leading into Zeus’s rock hovel, I cursed the God in broken Greek. We had traveled over 1000 kilometers (I allowed myself poetic exaggeration) and all he could give us was a dank cave, an old Cretan goat and some crows flying overhead. Albeit, their cawing supplied some eeriness, but we deserved better! Even the off-tune lute music we had heard the night before in a hotel high up in Monasteraki village and the priest we had met in Meronas who requested I stay thirteen days to convert me into a good Greek Orthodox girl was more interesting than this. Crete has over 2000 caves. Why did this one have to be a dud?

The next day I realized Zeus had been present, for he gave us an unforgettable gift. It happened while we were trying to traverse the waters along Kourtaliotiko Gorge. Suddenly, a beautiful nymph-like lady appeared. “I’m Sylvie: follow me,” she said, waving. This goddess guide led us out of the gorge. We were ascending into unknown territory. “Welcome to my home,” she smiled. It was a cave covered in flowers with running water, even fire. Stretched out over one of her cave cushions, Sylvie cooked us our first cave meal: keftedes (meatballs), tzatziki with herbs picked outside her cave and yogurt with honey from the gods. Lulled by Sylvie’s magical manner, we nicknamed her Calypso – Odysseus’s kidnapper.

Our hiking was put on hold. My “Ode to a Cretan Urge” was being fulfilled right here. As stars twinkled and Sylvie smiled, the black hush of midnight descended. We were a trio in a land resonating with minotaur myths, impenetrable mysteries and surprises that confound the imagination.

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Behind the walls, Skopje’s Old Town enchants

Our favourite Old City restaurant

Skopje is perhaps the most surprising city we’ve ever visited, possibly because we had no guidebook or recommendations from friends to depend on.

The kindness of the Macedonian people continued as our bus from Ohrid, which we had boarded with the help of the Dimoska family, stopped at a cafeteria. It was a welcome respite on this hot and stuffy four-hour trip. I was already regretting leaving the family in Orhid or at least in the town.

While everyone was buying burekas I was in line for the toilet. Alas, I had no denars to pay the attendant. One of my fellow passengers came to my rescue and also changed a euro or two to denars so we could partake in the marvelous, huge cheese burekas that we wolfed down as the bus departed.

In Skopje, we were dropped off at the train/bus station and found a cab to the hotel the family had recommended. Upon discovering that it was beyond our budget, we asked the owner for advice and were the recipients of yet more Macedonian hospitality.

He drove us to an inexpensive hotel! It was 35 euro and 5 euro extra for the necessary air conditioning above a bar on a small street across from the Greek consulate. The room was tiny and non-descript but it was a walk from the town circle and as we later found out, on the same street as the Jewish community centre. It was a windy-twisty but interesting 20 minutes to the massive circular ton square. We had to write down markers such as Sex Shop along the way. But don’t get me wrong. It was a pleasant area, past bakeries, pet shops, restaurants, and shoe shops. We had pasta and salads in a posh, antiquey European style restaurant after checking out the bookstore for a guidebook — to no avail.

Strange architecture adorns Skopje

The next morning, we headed out towards the medieval fortress across the bridge and once inside the small gate, we discovered an Old City. Its narrow stone streets beckoned to my yearnings for small old-fashioned boutiques, handicraft shops and cafés, and to Irwin’s yearnings to find an internet café where he could sip espresso and play internet chess.

Lo and behold Irwin was reading a small sign posted beside a door. We had stumbled upon the Honorary Consulate for the State of Israel. We rang the buzzer and immediately were let in. Usually security isn’t this lax, but our friend upstairs told us he had been expecting a friend. We climbed the stairs and there was the assistant to the Honorary Consul, his son, a dapper young gentleman who welcomed us warmly, serving us coffee and providing us with two students who would to take us over to the Jewish Foundation building. During coffee, we talked about the history of Macedonian Jewry. He told us 7,148 or 98% were deported to Treblinka. Only 200 Jews now live in Skopje, some having immigrated to Israel.

Inside the foundation building we met Victoria who is responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the foundation responsible for building the “Holocaust Memorial Center of the Jews of Macedonia.” Macedonia is returning land and funds to the remaining Jews as reparations for land and property that was stolen, and the center will be ready, says Victoria, this summer. I had a fleeting thought that it would be nice to return for the opening.

Victoria spent three years in Israel ten years ago, but her family returned fearing the conflict there. We stepped out onto the street and she showed us a restaurant or two where we could sample authentic Macedonian cuisine. Then, she took us to her friend’s jewellery shop where Irwin purchased gold earrings for my birthday at a great price.

A lazy afternoon in the Old City

After our lunch of kebab for Irwin, an exquisite yogurt soup for me, and Greek salad and roasted peppers for both of us we wandered our own ways. I discovered an antique beaded jewellery shop where I spent two hours negotiating prices and sipping Turkish coffee. He hightailed it to the more modern bar/café where he played chess on his laptop.

That evening we met Victoria for dinner in a cave like, ornate restaurant, (the name of which I wrote on a slip of paper and lost) and ordered wonderful salads of eggplant, red peppers, hot dishes of meat for Victoria and Irwin and a giant tomato cut like a pie. It must have been 5 inches in diameter and it was then that Victoria disclosed the fact that her country produces the best tomatoes in the world. She’s right as far as I know!

The next morning we walked over to the Jewish community center and met the president and secretary, two youngish women who spoke impeccable English and showed us the synagogue. This is a small but thriving community complete with a choir and a publication centre of sorts. We purchased an English cookbook of Jewish Macedonian recipes written by one of the oldest members of the community and were given a video of the choir, which we cherish and play for friends.

We spent the afternoon arranging our exit from Skopja, which was by mini-bus to Thessaloniki. We figured we would arrive in this port city and hop a last minute cruise to the Greek Islands — to make up for the one we had missed in Trieste.

It was a bit more complicated than that. But that story will have to wait till February.

We spent our last night in Skopje trying to get some sleep so we could get up at 3:15 am to be picked up at 4 am in our minibus to Thessaloniki. Our fellow passengers were a university student who’d just finished her exams and a history buff/guide who supports his son in Santa Monica, California. To supplant his income he imports used cars from Germany. He talked a lot about the about the conflict between Macedonia and Greece. According to him the Greeks are not only jealous of the name Macedonia, used by “non-Greeks” but wary of future territorial demands on the fertile northern part of Greece, from which thousands of Macedonians were expelled, their property confiscated. Ostensibly they were part of the Communist rebellion, which was put down with the help of the British after the Second World War.

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Not your father’s Mary Poppins

(photo: Robert Galbraith)

Jane Petrov, playing the Bird Woman in the Montreal School of Performing Arts’ a capella production of Mary Poppins, has been a returning acting student for five years now. “I did a lot of theatre when I was at McGill years ago, then I had a family and became a librarian,” she explains. “Then just before I retired, I decided I’d enjoy going back to theatre, so a friend brought me to MSOPA, and the reception I received was a very warm one. So I started taking classes, and I have no regrets.”

Unfazed upon learning she’d be belting out her numbers solo, she says it’s “not a problem since my mother was a music teacher – we started off early in life having to sing without accompaniment. It was the music of the Bird Woman that attracted me – it’s almost the theme song of Mary Poppins.” And theme is everything in this particular production.

“I think a lot of message got lost in the original musical,” says director Dale Hayes, who adapted the a capella version with an eye to highlighting the theme – which, to her, is about priorities.

“The message is family,” she maintains, citing elements of the story that got lost in the 60s version’s catchy tunes. “Mr. Banks, the children’s father, he’s very much business, business, business. And the kids several times during the opening of the play refer to their father – ‘I wish father had more time for us, I wish he could come and play with us.’ And through a series of events that happen in the play – that actually happened in the movie, but I don’t think people really focused in on that – the father comes to a realization that family is really important, that his children are more important than the almighty dollar, and it takes a tuppence – two pennies – to make him realize that in the end.”

An edgier, more meditative Mary Poppins? “We could have done a really dark version,” says Hayes, “but we weren’t going to go there. We still had to think about the kids, you know. There’s a lot of laughter and the kids are going to enjoy it because there’s what they’re expecting – the fun stuff – but there’s also this family message that’s clear. Of course the kids are going to expect A Spoonful of Sugar, Chim Chim Cher-ee, and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – and those songs are in the play – but it’s all a capella, we didn’t focus on the music. We really focused on the theme and the message, and it’s interesting, because the father, in the first half of the play, he talks about money and how important it is and about the stock market, and I thought, ‘how topical.’”

(photo: Robert Galbraith)

The modern resonance of the theme and the Bird Woman’s place in it held another part of the role’s appeal for Petrov. “It’s through the little boy giving a tuppence to this woman, to feed the birds, that the realization comes that there’s more to life than the stock market going up, up, up or down, down, down.”

But she didn’t simply have the part handed to her based on type. “It’s never done that a person is solicited for a role.” No one gets in without passing the audition – “you always have to in this school.”

“When we first started the school,” says founder Josa Maule, “we weren’t going to do any productions – just train actors.” After a couple of years, she recalls, “we did ‘pay to play.’ If you were in the class, you were in the production. That didn’t work really well – we did three shows, and it was cute and their family and friends came, but it just didn’t do it for us. So then we decided, yeah, we’re going to start auditioning people.”

“We cast within the school, but it’s an audition process just like it is in the real world,” says Hayes. “They have to pass a cold reading, which means that they don’t get any chance at all to go through the script. They can read it beforehand of course, but they don’t get to see the scenes that they’re going to be auditioning. The actors from our very first level right up to our more advanced students, they all have the opportunity to audition for the role. And they know going in that it’s a heck of a commitment. It’s serious stuff. We work for eight weeks, every weekend, some evenings – and as we get closer to the production date, it’s like… grueling, you know? But they live for it, and they’re up to the challenge, and it’s working out. I’m very proud of the progress we’ve made. It’s a professional-caliber production, not like a highschool musical. It’s good stuff.”

Besides the stage chops, students get preparation for the mechanics and etiquette of the trade. “We’re a school first and foremost,” Hayes notes. “It’s important that our actors are well informed about not just how to act, but how to audition, and how to get the role, and how to be in a production, and the protocol when you’re in a production, and all that sort of thing, so it’s a learning experience.”

Some learning curves are longer than others. “A few of our first students,” from 1992, “are still with us today,” reports Maule. “Alan’s one of our ‘oldest’ students (he’s in his fifties). He takes several classes over and over just to be in the game of things and to get everything right. He likes the opportunity of working with new people from time to time… he says I’m not getting rid of him anytime soon.”

Petrov sums up the experience as “going back to something that I really love doing… and what really meant most to me over these last few years is how you have young and old people all working together, to create the magic of theatre.”

“We’re an acting community within an acting community,” Maule says. “Once you come onto our stage it’s like you feel right at home.”

Maule’s school goes out of its way to make theatre accessible for actors and audiences alike, with $10 Friday workshops and regular show seats for $12. “Not everybody can afford $20-30 a person to bring out a family,” she says. “We also do casting mostly for independent and student films, which pay nothing or very little, and we’re doing 11 plays a year called Express O Theatre, where we promote new plays from new playwrights, preferably local.”

MSOPA hosts an open house 2 pm Saturday, January 10. Mary Poppins runs until Sunday, December 14 with shows at 2 pm Saturdays and Sundays and at 8 pm Fridays and Saturdays.

Info: 514-483-5526 or

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Transportation manners: depends whom you ask

Ryan Watkins, an 18-year-old CEGEP student, is accustomed to a large crowd using public transportation. But it’s only now that he considers it a large and impatient crowd. In October, he recalls a gentleman with a cane struggling to get down the stairs with his bags. “He managed to make it down and then the metro finally came. Everyone just shoved forward. He got so frustrated that he actually jabbed me with his cane, pointed at his bags, and grunted. No one even bothered to notice him and so no one helped him.”

Although the station was filled with people, not one of them helped the obviously struggling man. Watkins grabbed the man’s bags and followed him onto the metro. “I held onto his bags for only two stops. He looked at me briefly, took his bags, and got off without saying a word,” Watkins says.

Watkins was surprised. “At first I expected a thank you or at least a smile but then I realized I didn’t deserve it. I did exactly what everyone else did – ignore what was inconvenient,” Watkins says.

Watkins thinks that common courtesy is no longer a priority, especially among youth.

“We’re just so caught up in our own lives and overwhelmed by the whole idea of growing up and becoming individuals that we end up ignoring things that aren’t connected to us,” Watkins says.

Watkins hopes that the youth will become less self-absorbed. “People move at their own pace and whenever that pace is interrupted is becomes an inconvenience. We should become more considerate and aware of other individuals around us regardless if they have a connection to our lives or not.”

Tyler Colmars, 21, thinks that the amount of consideration should be based on the conditions in a particular situation. “Some days I’m exhausted. And I’m sure a lot of other people are too but when I’m that tired – I just have to focus on myself,” he says.

The public transportation system has a set of posted and unwritten rules he says. “Everyone knows the basics. If someone is pregnant, injured, or ridiculously old – you let them sit down or at least move out of the way for them,” says Colmars. Apparently there’s more to it than just that. “No guy is going to get up for a girl, it just doesn’t happen anymore. It’s first come first serve. And whoever is already sleeping, forget it. Sometimes there’ll be an older lady staring at me the whole bus ride and I won’t budge.” Colmars is not easily persuaded to give up his seat. “People who are capable of standing will just have to stand. If she was there first then I would have stood.”

Marielle Dubenois takes her grandchildren on the bus to the Fairview Pointe-Claire shopping mall. “Sometimes we’ll all get a seat and sometimes I’ll have to stand so that the kids can sit down,” she says.

Dubenois does not mind the loud or rowdy students on the bus. However, she finds their lack of consideration for those around them irritable. “I get tired and my grandchildren have trouble standing on a moving bus,” Dubenois says. “They can obviously see this but sometimes no one does anything about it. It’s disappointing. An adult or another elder seems more likely to give me a seat than someone young.”

Dubenois will visit friends downtown on a regular basis. They take walks around the area and often browse through stores. “I walk slower than others. I would figure that it’s expected and understandable. My legs don’t move as smoothly as they used to,” she said with a smile. “People will rush by us and rudely ask us to step aside. It’s rare that I’ll hear someone genuinely and politely say ‘Excuse me.’”

Dubenois explains that the majority of people seem to be constantly distracted. “I don’t expect an abnormal amount of courtesy from others. But, holding a door open or giving up a seat on the bus is barely inconvenient for anyone. I don’t understand it,” she says.

Dubenois thinks that this lack of etiquette is not due to selfishness. “I believe people are generally good and sincere. Sometimes they just aren’t fully aware of the things around them.”

She believes that people are overly preoccupied. “This sort of thing sometimes leaves my grandchildren and me standing on a bus. It’s an unfortunate but somewhat understandable lack of consideration.”


Black community thrilled by Obama’s election

Barack Obama becoming the president of the United States has evoked a depth of emotion around the world rarely seen in history. Montreal film-maker Laurie Gordon was in Rome on “the long night of Obama” and recalls the anticipation and electricity that permeated that city. “We were six hours ahead so everyone stayed up all night. I was in a café when they were still counting the votes and a barista came in and just said one word: “Obama!”

Closer to home, The Senior Times asked people whose work involves them in community and social justice, what Obama’s victory means to them.

Egbert Gaye, publisher and editor of Community Contact, the black community’s monthly newspaper since 1994: “I’m surprised that America moved so easily to not seeing race as a hindrance. It’s a redemption for the nation.”

Dorothy Williams, Montreal historian whose book Blacks in Montreal 1628-1986: An Urban Demography was re-issued this month. “I was watching the election on TV and realized I was standing in front of History, that nothing was ever going to be the same again. For our youth it was an absolutely life-changing event – it said to them ‘anything is possible.’” It’s a door that is never ever going to be closed again.” Dr. Williams also mentioned that there were American presidents before Obama whose ancestors included black people. “Anybody who knows about race and history knows he’s not the first black president. It’s not a secret because his blackness is visible.”

Egbert Gaye

June McGibbon, program coordinator at the Walkley United Families Association: “I heard one little boy say to me ‘Now I can be what I want to be’ To have a black president is, for this generation, eye opening. I was amazed at the young age group that followed the election right from the beginning.”

Sheila Goldbloom, retired social work professor, recipient of the National Order of Quebec and the Order of Canada. “I’m delighted. I think it provides a universal feeling of hope that we can change the system and make it work.”

Victor Goldbloom, former Quebec minister and president of the Quebec Region of Canadian Jewish Congress. Recipient of the National Order of Quebec and the Order of Canada: “It’s quite spectacular how many different elements in American society supported Mr. Obama. This is really a manifestation of the best that the United States can be. Soon we’ll see more and more people of various origins rising to positions of major responsibility in Canada.”

Dorothy Williams

Gemma Raeburn, senior auditor at the Bank of Montreal. Community activist in the black and larger community, recipient of the U.S. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award: “I was originally a Hillary supporter, I would have loved to see a woman in the White House. The night Obama gave his victory speech, it was really moving to see him standing in a crowd of white people, black people, Asian people, everybody together, just applauding and crying. I pray that he does a good job.”

Dan Philip, president of the Black Coalition of Quebec, a human rights and social justice organization serving the interests of the black community. Recipient of the Rosa Parks award from the Canadian Human Rights Commission. “Certainly I had doubts like everybody else but I think it shows what you might call the maturity of American society.”

Dan Philip

Richard Best, son of WWII veteran Mascoll Best who died in action. “Obama’s victory was a healing process for the United States in coming to terms with itself and truly recognizing its diversity and dynamism.” Mascoll Best and other Caribbean veterans are honoured by a plaque in the Canadian War Museum thanks to the tireless efforts of the late R.C.A.F. Flying Officer Owen Rowe.

Luigi Marshall, community worker at the Black Community Resource Centre: “Obama represents progress for all people, not just Americans. It doesn’t changes people’s realities in one day but makes the saying you tell young people – “You can do anything” – more real.”

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On panties, slips, corsets, bras, stockings and nighties

I have decided to devote this column to underwear! I discovered a beautifully illustrated and witty little book on one of my shelves entitled And all was revealed – Ladies Underwear 1907-1980, by Doreen Caldwell. This inspired me to look at the present Reveal or Conceal exhibit at the McCord Museum, a provocative exhibition that explores historical perceptions of modesty and eroticism in women’s clothing.

In 1939 my hostess in the North of England referred to undergarments as undies, a somewhat déclassé description for smalls. On washing days they were dumped into a separate vessel, boiled clean and then hung out to air on a pulley high up over the fireplace in the laundry room, but never talked about. My German mother drummed it into me that underwear – Unterwaesche – had to be kept immaculately clean because, God forbid – um Gottes Willen – I were knocked out cold crossing a street, what might strangers think who may have to undress me! I remembered mother’s dictum during my stint as a probationer nurse in the mining district of England. One of my duties included helping patients out of their clothes.

When I lived in England, panties were either called “drawers” or “knickers,” slips were referred to as “petticoats,” and dresses as “frocks.” Drawers were held together with string in the 1800s, and a girl’s trousseau included at least a dozen pair of knickers in various colors. It must have been torture wearing corsets. My mother owned three different models and often called me to tighten the strings. With my knee hard against her back, I pulled so hard that both of us almost ran out of breath, but she never complained. Now corsets are prescribed for bad backs. The fashion industry tends to change the material of upscale brassieres now and then. An advertisement in my little book advocates: “As necessary as lipstick, as important as perfume: A good bra is a beauty must,” and Brigitte Bardot adds: “I want to be simple, wild and sexy.” In the hippie period of the 1960s many women threw their bras out or burnt them in a heap. It spelled not only freedom for breasts, but was in keeping with feminist ideology.

In 1943 there was clothes rationing in England. One needed clothes coupons and we didn’t get many. Rayon stockings could not be had and pantyhose (“tights” in England) had not yet been invented. Women wore pants (“slacks”), not much encouraged by stuffy employers, but there was a war on!

I remember the New Look of 1949 as rather unbecoming. Lingerie was anything but sexy. Nylon stockings were hard to come by unless one had an American boyfriend or enough cash to acquire some on the Black Market. Panty-girdles were the order of the day, extending from waist to thigh with attachments to fasten stockings.

How liberated we are now! During the summer, our legs are bare and tiny bikinis in every colour of the rainbow follow the trend that less is more. It’s suggested in one of the books that shopping for underwear is an erotic experience. I’m no longer as concerned about that as finding a comfortable and good-feel garment I enjoy wearing, even if it isn’t alluring. I prefer large T-shirts for sleepwear to those soft silky nightgowns that need special care.

We are in December and 2008 has flown by. Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy and peaceful 2009 in whatever you may find yourself wearing.


Death policy mitigates risk

Everybody knows we’re living through difficult times. People are carefully reevaluating their investments and reassessing their retirement needs. With portfolios so badly devastated, I’m receiving more calls about clients purchasing life insurance policies. The basic idea is that the policy will replace the investment savings that have been lost in the current financial turmoil.

Life insurance guarantees that monies will be available on the death of the insured therefore making certain that the surviving spouse maintains their quality of life and is not held hostage to any unprecedented negative economy or worldwide crisis.

I am often asked if it is hard for people aged fifty plus to obtain life insurance. Generally speaking, the insurance company evaluates your profile. After obtaining blood and urine samples, which are standard, they may ask for an ECG or complete physical. It is also common for the insurance company to refer to your attending physician to confirm various medical information highlighted in your application. Other issues they look at are your build, driving record and family history as well as smoking habits. Past history such as a criminal record or alcohol or drug abuse are also considered. This information is assessed by an underwriter at the insurance company and a decision is made as to whether to offer insurance or not. Sometimes a decision is levied that carries a substandard risk which translates into an additional premium charge on the basic cost of insurance.

Each applicant is evaluated uni­quely. People who have endured major illnesses such as cancer or heart attack may still be eligible for insurance. It’s important when going through the application process that all pertinent information is properly disclosed to the insurer. If the insurer uncovers additional information after the policy is issued, they do reserve the right to rescind their offer. While this rarely occurs, it underscores the importance of being honest.

I can state that after 18 years in the business, every death claim I’ve seen submitted – and they’ve been numerous – has been resolved satisfactorily.

To summarize, life insurance is a guaranteed future payout of a lump sum of money. Take the market risk out of your retirement portfolio by adding a life insurance component.

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Local charities feel the pinch

Busier volunteers, longer lines, and emptier shelves illustrate the scope of the economic crisis at Share the Warmth (photo: Robert Galbraith)

“The recession has hit as far as we’re concerned,” says Sun Youth founder Sid Stevens. “We normally average about 200 families a month that we give food to. We’re adding 250 families to that list.” For the first time in 50 years the organization had to do a food drive during the summer just to keep up. “There’s banks in trouble, but you have to include food banks now too.”

Generations Foundation’s Adrian Bercovici concurs. “It’s an unusual kind of creeping poverty. I wouldn’t be surprised, in the next month or two, as things keep going downhill, if we get stockbrokers’ families asking for help.”

He sees the signs daily. “There’s a lot more kids that need clothing, extra school supplies – we’ve never had to give out school supplies this time of year, ever.” And the phenomenon touches every community he serves: “This week you’ve got two more kids in one school, next week three more in another school... so when you look at it, you think, what’s one more kid? It’s not like a hundred kids in one place.” But, he says, “It’s a creeping thing, once you start adding it up across the island – a few people lose their jobs, it’s harder to take care of the kids – they have a little less, so they tend to rely on us for breakfast or lunch… or they’re taking a cut in pay, or maybe they’re laid off for a couple weeks.” The recent crush on the frontlines, in his experience, “seems to be more of a middle class thing.”

No charity in Montreal has been spared the current climate’s triple squeeze – increased demand, rising costs, and dwindling contributions.

At the Salvation Army the numbers are causing “quite a shortfall” according to spokesman Michel Tassé. “Since April our requests for food assistance have doubled,” he estimates, with donations “about the same as last year.” A similar equation hampers efforts over at Share the Warmth, where Associate Director Lise Lalande observes “more people are coming to us for help who don’t normally do so – people coming in who have never come for help before, but now they just can’t manage. Their income just doesn’t make it anymore.”

The lineups at Sun Youth’s food bank are only the beginning, predicts Emergency Services director Tommy Kulczyk. “The peak will only be seen in about four to six months,” he says, noting that those thrown out of work mostly start to show up once unemployment benefits run out. “I hope people understand we’re helping people who have no margin of error. It’s not a question of reducing something. These people have to cut on basic, essential items. They can’t cut the rent. They can’t cut their heating. They have to cut food.”

Adrian Bercovici of Generations Foundation (photo: Peter McCabe)

And while those ranks are swelling, supply is shrinking. “Every food bank in Montreal has said the same thing the last couple of months,” he maintains. “Donations went down 30% during the summertime.” A hundred-dollar contribution this year, he calculates, amounts only to about two-thirds as much food as last year. “Everything went up. Basic food – pasta, rice, it all went up 30 or 40%. Beef went up 40%. Even packaging went up 18%.”

The belt-tightening hurts on multiple fronts. “There are less and less food suppliers and distributors that give us stuff,” says Lalande. “We used to have quite a lot that would give us their surpluses. But I think everyone is producing closer to what they really need to – companies don’t seem to have a lot of overstock, and that’s what we normally benefit from.”

Meanwhile, heavyweight contributors are coming up empty. “Most bigger donors are foundations or companies, and if their profits or returns are down, it’s going to affect all the [charitable] organizations, so we count on everybody trying to give a little bit more to make the difference.”

That same problem is making for “a very long year” at Sun Youth: “[Foundations] take a sum of money and invest it and distribute the interest, and a lot of the interest is 50 to 60% of what it was last year,” notes Kulczyk, “so the foundation finds itself with less revenue, and people have to make a choice – reduce the number of groups they give to, or cut down the amount they give to each group.”

That deficit may sink many programs. Stevens relates how even after the special summer food drive, which collected 90 bins of food and raised $90,000, “We spent it all by September 1, and had to go to our Board of Directors for a supplementary budget of $50,000.” It’s hard to see how they’ll make it through another year with even less foundation money. “We see no light at the end of the tunnel.”

Gift bears, anyone? Share the Warmth's Lalande (photo: Robert Galbraith)

“It’s been very difficult,” says Peter Desmier of Epona Foundation, a nonprofit that keeps kids in school through tutoring and equestrian activities. “People are having a hard time of it in their own business and personal lives… So they can’t give as much as they did last year.” Desmier notices things getting tighter “definitely since September,” not only finding trouble getting new contributions but in fact sliding backwards.

“Donors weren’t able to fulfill their commitments and it really hurt us, so it’s tough. That was money that we were anticipating, that would have got us through, but now we’re really scrambling. It’s caused us to be more conservative in our giving and how we manage our program and our resources. So it’s forcing the charities to start streamlining, and we’re having to develop more fundraising activities this year.”

Even coach Jackie Poirier, of the foundation’s equestrian program at Free Spirit Stables in St-Lazare, has been recruited in their financial efforts. “She’s finding because we’re having such a hard time, she has to go and get involved in the fundraising herself. So she’s doing the Musical Ride this year, and asking people in the equestrian community to come see it and participate.” The event begins 7 pm Wednesday, December 10 at Free Spirit Stables (

Share the Warmth will also be getting musical fundraising help – from the McGill Chamber Orchestra, with a performance at 7 pm Thursday, December 11. Santa visits Saturday, December 20 with kids 10 and under, and toy donations as well as food and money are welcome. Lalande notes also that “we always need volunteers, especially during the week of December 15.”

For the athletically inclined, the Salvation Army’s Santa Shuffle takes place on Mount Royal Saturday, December 6, organized by The Running Room. Participants in the 5 km run or 1 km walk will collect pledges to help raise the Army’s daunting $500,000 Christmas fundraising target.

For early risers, Generations Foundation holds its holiday fundraising breakfast from 6:30 – 10 am Friday, December 5 at La Stanza, featuring guest speakers and prizes for kids.

And throughout December, Sun Youth will be running their Christmas campaign, which, says Kulczyk, “[funds] about 80% of the food distributed through the 40 different programs we offer the community. Most of the time – whether we’re helping fire victims, victims of crime, or just people having problems with their budget – the first thing we do, usually, is feed them. So that campaign enables us to help 18-20,000 people during the whole holiday period.”

Stevens asks that holiday revelers not let philanthropy bear the brunt of fiscal restraint. “We’re asking people to be a little more generous than they have in the past – although we appreciate what they’ve done in the past – we’re hoping they can do just a little more. If they just add one additional can, we’ll still be ahead. And if they haven’t given, we’re asking them to really do the best they can to start.”

Epona Foundation:
514-421-7433 or

Generations Foundation:
514-933-8585 or

Salvation Army:
877-488-4222 or

Share the Warmth:
514-933-5599 or

Sun Youth:
514-842-6822 or


Meet a Friend December 2008

Margaret - Healthy widow, 78, available for coffee, conversation, walks, movies, and dinners.

Gloria - Caring lady, 65, likes dining, good wine, movies, traveling. Does aerobics and walks several times weekly, seeking an affectionate, sincere, outgoing, fun-loving, educated gentleman for companionship and more, to share the good things in life with. West Island resident preferred.

Carole - Caring widow, 65, likes good movies, traveling, playing bridge, socializing. Does aerobics, seeks an affectionate, sincere, outgoing, educated gentleman, 60s plus, for companionship and more to share the good things in life with.

To contact Margaret, Carole or Gloria at Meet a Friend, address your letter and a recent photo to Margaret, Carole or Gloria @ Meet a Friend, c/o The Senior Times, 4077 Decarie Blvd, Montreal, QC, H4A 3J8.

Would you like to Meet a Friend? Send your bio of 25–30 words and a $20 cheque to the above address or call Shannon at 514-484-5033, or email your bio to and call to have us bill your credit card.

We reserve the right to edit for clarity and brevity. All contact info is kept private and all responses are forwarded from our office.

What's Happening December 2008


Saturday, December 6 from 10am – 2pm St. Clement’s Anglican Church hosts a Christmas Mini-bazaar and Saturday, December 13 a St. Nicholas Pot Luck and Penny fair at 4322 Wellington, corner Gordon. $8. Info: 514-769-5373

Saturday, December 13 and Sunday, December 14 from 9:30am – 4pm Quinn Farm holds an old fashioned Christmas craft fair at 2495 Perrot, lle Perrot to benefit the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind. Info: 450-453-1510


Sunday, December 7 at 8:45am Shaare Zedek Men’s Club hosts A Theatre of One – Jewish Style with entertainer Bena Singer and Sunday, December 14 at 8:45am the Honorable Marlene Jennings at 5305 Rosedale. Info: 514-484-1122

December 8 to 15, AMI-Quebec holds a support group for people living with mental illness and their caregivers, families and friends at the Institute for Community and Family Psychiatry, 4333 Cote St-Catherine. Info: 514-486-1448

Wednesday, December 10 at 7:30pm, Atwater Book Club, led by author Mary Soderstrom, discusses Kamouraska at the library. Info: 514-935-7344

Friday, December 12 at 6:30pm Montreal Urban Hikers meet for a Christmas Lights walk in Lasalle at Tim Horton’s, 8080 Champlain (metro Jolicoeur). Info: 514-366-9108 or 514-938-4910

Saturday, December 14 from 1–4pm, N.D.G. Canine Club hosts a Christmakah Party at Auberge Zen, 1875 Laval. Info: 514-594-4114

Thursday, January 8 at 11am the McGill Institute for Learning in Retirement will be holding an orientation session for new and prospective members. Participants choose from subjects ranging from literature to music, history to religion, travel to creative writing, and more. New term begins on January 19 and lasts for 10 weeks. Info: 514-398-8234 or


December 4–21, Christmas in the Park, featuring music, opera, songs and performers, will be held in Lahaie Park at St-Laurent and St-Joseph, and Des Faubourgs Park at Ontario and Delorimier. Info: 514-281-8942

Sunday, December 7 from 2–4pm AMI-Quebec holds a holiday party with live music at the Monkland Community Center, 4410 Westhill. Info: 514-486-1448

Thursday, December 11 Atwater Library hosts a holiday beading workshop. $20 including all supplies. All proceeds go to the Atwater Library and Computer Center. Advance registration required. Registration: 514-935-7421

Thursday, December 11 at 7pm the Yellow Door hosts a night of poetry and prose at 3625 Aylmer. $5. Info: 514-398-6243

Saturday, December 13 from 8pm-12:45 Solo Lachine hosts a Christmas dance for 40+ singles and couples at 1415 St. Louis, Lachine. $8/$12 non-members. Info: 514-683-4948 or 514-486-4180

Saturday, December 20 at 8pm the Single Person’s Association hosts their Christmas Dance for 35+ and Wednesday, December 31 at 8pm their New Year’s Eve dance, both at St. Catherine Laboure Church, 448 Trudeau (corner Clement and Lasalle). $12. Info: 514-366-8600

Thursday, December 25 Keith & Karyn production and promotion company presents their 8th annual Christmas Dinner and Toy Giveaway at the Caribbean Paradise Restaurant at 8080 Newman, LaSalle. Info: 514-486-4423


Saturday, December 6 at 7:30pm the St-Columba-By-The-Lake Church hosts a night of Christmas music with the voices of Octet Plus at 11 Rodney Avenue, Pointe-Claire. Suggested donation $10/children free. All proceeds go to Refugee Action Montreal and the Emergency Relief Fund of Presbyterian World Service and Development. Info: 514-364-3027

Saturday, December 6 at 7:30pm The Westmount Youth Orchestra Christmas Gala takes place at the Strathcona Music Building, Pollack Hall, 555 Sherbrooke W. Info: 514-398-4547

Saturday, December 6 Carmina and Friends presents a Christmas concert featuring J.S. Bach’s Live We For Friendship at the Unitarian Church, 5035 Maisonneuve. Suggested donation $10. Info: 514-843-6497

Sunday, December 7 at 4pm the CBC/McGill series presents a gala concert of youth choirs featuring guest conductor Jeff Joudrey at the Pollack Hall, 555 Sherbrooke W. $15/$10/$5. Info: 514-398-4547

Friday, December 12 at 8pm Concordia University Department of Music presents A Jazzy Christmas. $5. Info: 514-848-4848

Friday, December 12 at 7:30pm Lakeshore Chamber Music Society presents its Christmas concert with Les Chanteurs d’Orsee at Union Church, 24 Maple, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. Tickets sold at the door. $12, students and seniors $6. Info: 514-457-5280 or

Saturday, December 13 at 4pm the McGill Suzuki Group will perform traditional Christmas and Hannukah music at Westmount Baptist Church at 411 Roslyn.Info: 514-937-1009

Thursday, December 18 at 8pm I Musici presents Hot Coals – Hot Keys, featuring the recently discovered Chamber Concerto by Frankck and the works of Turina and Schubert at Pollack Hall, 555 Sherbrooke W. $37/$33 Seniors/$17 Students. Tickets: 514-982-6038

Thursday, December 18 at 7:30pm Dorval-Strathmore United Church holds their 7th Christmas Concert and food drive at 310 Brookhaven (corner Carson), Dorval. $7 in advance/$10 door, plus one non-perishable food item. Info: 514-631-9879

Saturdays and Sundays until December 23 from 1:30–3pm, Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours Chapel presents a rotation of eight choirs singing a repertoire of carols of various origins and musical traditions at 400 Saint-Paul E. Info: 514-282-8670

Monday, December 22 at 1:30 pm, Creative Social Center presents their Chanukah Celebration, at 5237 Clanranald. Please buy your tickets in advance for an afternoon of music, dance and latkas. Non-perishable donations for Sun Youth are appreciated. $4. Info: 514-488-0907


Saturdays and Sundays until December 21 at 2pm and 3pm the Sir George-Etienne Cartier National Historic Site of Canada hosts a 19th century Christmas exhibit from the period at 458 Notre-Dame E. $7.85. Info: 514-283-2282

Until February 16 from 10am – 5pm, St. Joseph Oratory museum holds an exhibition featuring over 300 Christmas mangers from 100 countries at 3800 Queen Mary. Info: 514-733-8211

Until January 4 Chateau Ramazay hosts Holiday Treats! Holiday Tales! – a traditional Christmas exhibit with trees, ornaments, greeting cards and table settings in the Victorian style at 280 Notre-Dame E. $9. Info: 514-861-3708


Saturday, December 6 at 8pm Jewish Public Library presents No Exit by award-winning Israeli filmmaker Dror Sabo at the Leanor and Alvin Segal Centre at 5170 Côte Ste-Catherine. $12, $7/JPL members and students. Tickets: 514-345-6416

Tuesday, December 9 to Saturday, December 13 at 8pm the National Theatre School of Canada presents Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at the Ludger-Duvernay Theatre, 1182 St. Laurent. $9. Info: 514-871-2224

Until December 13, Mainline Theatre hosts Patrick de Moss’s La Bella Luna, starring burlesque star Holly Gauthier-Frankel, at 3997 St-Laurent. $17/$15 seniors and students. Tickets: 514-481-8406

December 19 to January 10 Hudson Village Theatre presents its 8th annual Christmas performance, Beauty and the Beast, at 28 Wharf, Hudson. Info: 450-458-5361 or


More paramedics on the horizon

Paramedics in Quebec are hard to come by, and wait times can be exceedingly long. “There has been a shortage of paramedics for quite awhile,” said Michel Godon, co-chair of the pre-hospital emergency care program at John Abbott College. “This program will try to get more of them out there which has an effect on response times. Some people have to wait up to a couple of hours before they can get an ambulance. It’s all based on priority.”

He explained that paramedics are frequently overworked. “They just don’t have enough. During the summer people were booking overtime on their days off. They cancelled their vacations to work, because they were needed.”

They operate in 12-hour shifts. They try to stagger the hours so that there are always a decent number of medics on the road.

“As a paramedic, when you need a day off, you’re tired, you’re burnt out; it’s not always feasible to take a day off, because it means that there’s not going to be anyone responding.”

As a teacher in the John Abbott paramedic program, Godon tries to prepare his students for the rigorous nature of the job. “We had them do night shifts on the weekends, some of them didn’t sleep all weekend and they love it.”

Regardless of the demanding nature of the job, it’s rewarding. “One thing about this type of job is that people don’t go into it just for a paycheck obviously. They want to help people. They don’t mind doing extra shifts.”

The students want to learn this profession so that they can help people, but there are other perks as well, Godon said jokingly. “They like the truck with the red lights and sirens. They’re getting paid to break the law, speed through red lights.”

This is the first semester that John Abbott has offered this program. But Godon has been working on it for two years.

At completion of the program, students will be trained for primary care. They take biology, immunology, pharmacology and emergency medical courses in order to learn to stabilize patients before sending them to the hospital. They will be trained to deal with “something as stupid as someone letting off a smoke bomb in the metro,” to dealing with modern day crises inlcuding weapons of mass destruction and hazardous materials.

Paramedics and ambulance drivers are one and the same. During their training, the students take 45 hours of ambulance training.

Godon said that he was chosen to write the program because of his background and connections in the industry. He is a retired paramedic firefighter and also co-chairs the Police Technology program at the college.

With the integration of this program into Abbott’s curriculum, there will likely be more paramedics on the road within a couple of years.

“There’s going to be better care because there will be more people available. If we hire more people there will be less delays.”

Godon said that there are two other colleges, Ste-Foy and Ste-Agathe, who offer a similar program. “I looked at what the other colleges were doing and I consulted with the people that I’m working with and then we decided to add the John Abbott touch to it.” He explained that in the other colleges, the internships were done at the very end of the training. “I felt that if you wait long enough to put someone in the hospital to realize that they don’t get along with sick people, it’s kind of too late.” At John Abbott they start their internships right away. “We’re very pro-success at Abbott. If our students start a program, we want them to finish it.”

Godon explained that the students spent the last two weekends observing in ambulances and dispatch centers, the 911 center where the calls come in for the ambulance. “As a paramedic you’re in the vehicle all the time, you get your calls on the radio.” He explained that even though his students will never be working in a dispatch center, it changes the dynamic when you know what is going on, on the other side of the phone call. “It’s a good idea to know where those calls are coming from, what those people are actually going through while giving you those calls. They’re on the other line talking to this person, who might be really panicked. It’s chaos.”

The students are also spending 24 hours at the Veteran’s hospital and an internship in the geriatric ward of the Montreal General. “More and more patients that they have are elderly. Problems breathing, stomach problems, the flu.”

Older people often wait too long to call for help, he explained. “Maybe they should have seen a doctor two weeks before, but when they call, it’s a crisis situation.” Some paramedics can get annoyed with some of the callers because they feel that they are not in a dire situation. But this type of attitude is unacceptable. “If they’re calling you it’s because they need help, so you’ve got to give it to them.”

Godon emphasized that a priority is to make the students aware of the importance of politeness and respect. “If the patients feel comfortable with the medics, then things will go a lot better.

“We’re there to serve the citizens and give them the respect that they deserve.”

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Liberal catch Weil "not a policy wonk"

(photo: Robert Galbraith)

NDG Liberal anointee Kathleen Weil is an expert’s expert – a self-confessed fan of policy wonks who insists she’s not one herself, thrice courted by senior officials before accepting her express ticket to the National Assembly and a virtually guaranteed cabinet post.

A walking encyclopedia of civic demographics after eight years at the head of the Foundation of Greater Montreal and three years publishing Vital Signs – an annual statistical analysis of each of the region’s neighbourhoods – her grasp of the city’s changing composition is clearly unrivaled, and no political novice ever brought to the table more compelling expertise in the intricacies of healthcare funding and social service delivery on the ground.

“Certainly being at the Foundation, you look at a community in a very integrated way,” she says. “Your transport plan, your environmental plan, your healthcare plan, your economic plan – you see them all as interrelated.” The FGM, created with a strategic $20-million pooled investment fund between the Montreal YMCA, Centraide and Red Feather, networks with charities and funds community projects, “getting to know what kind of initiatives the community is proposing and supporting those initiatives” with grants and other resources.

Foundations, she explains, don’t do fundraising – they create endowment funds that allocate investment returns to various charitable causes, a sort of “permanent nest egg for the community.” In her time at the FGM, she brought a rigorously scientific approach to measuring the needs of communities and defining metrics for the social returns on their investments – the genesis of her exhaustive Vital Signs compendium. “What are the numbers you have to look at?” she asks. “What’s the socioeconomic breakdown, the age breakdown, the number of immigrants? I always start with learning about a community, whether it’s the greater Montreal community, or NDG – I like looking in depth,” taking statistics from various Ministries, crunching the numbers, and looking at social trends – “and then you have a better sense of whether the programs that exist are adapted to their needs… because the needs change, the data constantly change, populations change.” And are they adapting? “Well,” she says with serene self-assurance, “that’s what I’m going to find out, obviously.”

Not much of a political animal on first impression, she’s never taken a run at public office before. “This is my first, and I actually have never been involved in political organization, I’ve always been more on the policy side,” she admits, though she denies being a textbook policy wonk: “Well, I’m not a policy wonk, really – I like policy wonks, but I’m not one. No, there’s another caliber of person that’s a policy wonk, really – because I really love people, and I love hearing their stories and what their challenges are, and then making the connection with the policy wonks, with the planners.”

The previously reluctant candidate explains her prior refusal as mostly a question of timing. “When your kids are young – especially four of them – jumping into politics would be a little irresponsible,” she says. “And the career choices I made at that time were too interesting for me to abandon.”

Now things have changed for her family and her career. “This time around the youngest is 13 and the oldest is 22,” and the experience she’s accumulated in the meantime, she contends, has made her more formidable as a candidate. “I’ve been building the Foundation now for 8 years, and previous to that I was the chair of the Regional Health Board, and very involved in healthcare reform.” By very involved, she means where the rubber hits the road, not just compiling reports. She becomes passionately animated talking about future developments in healthcare, having seen, she says, the cutting edge of innovation right here in Montreal.

“I see some interesting changes. You now have these CSSSs (Centres de Santé et de Services Sociaux), to better organize your primary healthcare structures in your communities. They do planning [based on] data that StatsCan puts together: What’s the poverty level? How many seniors do you have? How many do you have over 75? And what’s coming up – how many baby boomers do you have? So they do that kind of planning, and emergency care, and connecting with the hospitals in their particular area. The other big change I’ve seen is that there now are these Groupes de Médecine de Famille, and the idea behind GMFs is you have doctors working in collaboration with other healthcare professionals, where once a patient is admitted to a GMF, on a permanent basis they have their family doctor in that group. It’s about one third of Montrealers who don’t have family physicians, so the idea behind GMFs is that they’re given some resources and money, and access to information technology and diagnostic technology.”

The GMFs, she says, “clearly are part of the solution in recruiting new doctors,” admitting that “obviously in the medical schools, there’s a lot of work to be done, in terms of making it known that this kind of medicine can be very attractive, with more tools at their disposal and better results.”

“My father was a doctor before the days of Medicare,” she recalls. “He’d say, ‘Okay kids, hop in the car,’ and we’d go down to Verdun and the whole Southwest,” where she and her siblings would wait patiently during his housecalls.

“We saw a lot of poverty. They’d come out with whatever gifts the family could muster because they didn’t have the money to pay – and he was always making us aware of poverty issues.”

It shaped her perspective, she maintains, and it’s a reassuring one to hear from the kind of person who isn’t always thought of as putting faces on the numbers. “I have a strong social justice background,” she says. “Most people know me as that, and my parents were the same. I think I’ll be very enthusiastic about any mandates I’m given – whatever commissions I’d be asked to sit on,” she muses, leaving aside any further speculation. With her predecessor enjoying a 61-to-16 percent victory over Green candidate Peter McQueen, she can be forgiven a bit of complacency.

“There’s a meet-the-candidates night next week, so that’ll be my first time meeting Mr. McQueen,” she says at the time of her interview, mere weeks after accepting the invitation to run, and literally minutes before her inaugural door-to-door canvassing trip. “I’m just starting up. I’m getting our pamphlets today. That’s how quick this is…” – they in fact arrive as she speaks – “…I guess it’s been about three weeks or so since I made the decision, and everything then happened so fast.” A compelling moment to witness in the infancy of this assuredly high-profile political career, it’s greeted with the same air of quiet competence as the rest of the bustle around her freshly-minted campaign office. If any of her upcoming itinerary is giving her nerves, it doesn’t show as she makes her way outside to pound the pavement.

“I’m looking forward to it!”

Voting takes place 9:30 am – 8 pm Sunday, December 8. Polling station info: 888-ELECTION or


High end fashion at Place Kensington

(photo: Robert Galbraith)

Most people think that fashion shows are about haute couture but the Kensington Knitters would disagree. For them it’s about having fun and displaying their knitted creations.

“We model, we're not very sexy but you get the idea,” said Miriam Berger, founder of the Kensington knitters club. “All of this goes to Father Johns, for the street children,” she said as she pointed at the stacks of blankets, hats and scarves that were to be donated to Dans la Rue (an organization founded by father Emmett Johns, serving youth living in the streets or youth at risk).

Residents, Berger and Elinor Cohen organize the Kensington Knitters who meet weekly to knit blankets. “The two of us are retired professional social workers,” Berger said. “We try to develop leisure time activities with a purpose. We're helping Father Johns.”

“This is one of the few groups that supplies us with blankets,” said Father Johns. He explained that Canadian Tire used to donate blankets to the homeless but then someone from the Old Brewery Mission went public saying that the homeless don’t need blankets, they need housing. “Nobody said that they didn't need housing, but when they're cold, a blanket does pretty well.”

“Its hard work but it’s worthwhile,” Cohen said. “The street kids walk around with them on their shoulders.” This isn’t only about the kids, Berger said. “Socially it's wonderful. We get together and have tea and cookies, we talk and we fool around with knitting.”

Cohen explained that the residents knit squares and then she sews them together and crochets the edges to make complete blankets. “Every blanket is a combined effort. Each square is made by an individual.”

Every November the knitters model their “fashions”. This year, they had less residents participating than in previous years but the atmosphere was still jovial. “Not as many residents get involved because the age group is older now,” Berger said. “There are more resources in the community so that they can stay in their own home longer, rather than coming into a senior's residence.”

This year there was live music and a witty MC while the models strutted along the catwalk with their blankets draped across their shoulders. The auditorium was filled to the brim with residents who turned out to see the show. “Everybody who knits gets a flower, formal speeches are made and then we have the parade.” Berger said. “The mobile residents model and then we pick a couple of waitresses who offered cause not everyone can do it. So many of them are on canes and walkers.”

“I'm getting kind of used to seeing all this beauty but the first time I saw the fashion show, I was going to rush down to Holt and Renfrew and say I've got an idea for you,” Father Emmett Johns said. “They quite appreciate these. We love our kids, but we're not able to give them the warmth that a good knitted blanket does in the middle of a winter's night.”

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Nelson Symonds remembered

While rock guitar seems often to be about loud, egomaniacal posturing, the jazz guitarist is a much more subtle beast. The epitome of the understated, modest yet enormously talented jazz guitarist is Montreal’s own Nelson Symonds, whose passing on October 11 gives us reason to re-evaluate his work. Symonds was a sophisticated, though under-exposed artist whose music was deep and heartfelt.

Tributes are being written across the country. Many are speaking about Symond’s playing, including Ottawa-based guitarist Roddy Elias who was recently quoted as saying that upon his first hearing Symonds’ guitar, “on an emotional, expressive, spiritual, soul level I knew I was in the presence of someone truly extraordinary.” From what I gathered about the man, this greatness was the result of a humble approach to his art and the strong work ethic that governed his life, aspects that are documented in the 1984 film by Mary Ellen Davis, Nelson Symonds, Guitarist.

Born in Halifax in 1933, Symonds left home in 1951 to work as a musician in Sudbury, then toured the States with vaudeville and carnival troupes before heading to la Belle Province in the mid-50s. In an interview I had with him in 1983, he told me that his first jazz gig “was in 1958 in Montreal, at the Vieux Moulin on Sherbrooke Street near Bleury. That was my first legitimate jazz gig, although I’d improvised before in the Black vaudeville shows.”

Once settled in the Montreal area, Symonds mainly stayed put: “I only played in the States once, jazz wise. My only jazz gig in the US was in Milwaukee in 1960. I was there at a club for nine months.” Symonds was a tireless club performer until he was slowed down by heart trouble in his later years. “I’m supposed to be starting a job tonight at Mingus on Bishop for a couple of weeks,” he told me that spring afternoon in 1983. He also told me about how he had spent “three years at Rockhead’s Paradise [on Saint Antoine]. Before that I was up north with Charlie Biddle for six years, from ’71 until ’77,” he said.

Although he played at most of Montreal’s Jazz clubs in his time, and performed with many top name jazz artists (people like Rahsaan Roland Kirk, John Coltrane and Blue Mitchell to name a few) he didn’t record until late in his career, and made only two CDs as leader and as many as a sideman on saxophonist Dave Turner’s dates. “I really never thought about it cause I always got a chance to play here in Montreal,” he said by way of explanation. “I was at the Black Bottom for five years from ’63 till about ’68 and La Boheme from ’68 till ’71 and then we were up North.”

Neither was studio work his bag. “I’m not into that. I’m self-taught. I’m not a sight reader,” he said. He also preferred the intimacy and the flexibility of the club. “Usually I’ve been in a place for a long time. So I really didn’t care about recording if I had a chance to play. A lot of people ask me the same thing, but, I don’t know, it’s not something I really thought about ’cause I always got a chance to play.”

The change in the jazz scene in Montreal in the 1980s that saw the fall of the jazz club in favour of the festival format meant sporadic engagements. But it also meant a chance to play with international celebrities for a large audience, like Symond’s opening set for a Ray Charles concert in the St. Denis Theatre at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. “We’re not used to that,” he said. “It’s not like playing at a night club. Doing concerts like that. You know you’ve only got an hour shot. You have to be ready for that. The main players are geared to do that, and they do a lot of it. We’re used to playing in clubs. You try to get yourself up for that. A lot of times you’re playing at a new club and you open up the first night and you really feel great the first set, but you don’t plan on that. If you don’t feel great that first set you know you’ve still got a couple more shows to play. So sometimes I have a tendency to be a little bit uptight, but I tried to be as loose as possible on that concert with Ray Charles. I never really played in front of that many people, that’s another thing. So I was pretty tense. Everybody that knows us knows that. Under those circumstances it was adequate. Most of the time was for Ray Charles. But anyway, it wasn’t too bad.”

Most of his fans would say, rather, that the music of Nelson Symonds was some of the finest jazz you could hear in this city and anywhere else, for that matter.

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Coffee, tea or paint?

Deanne Hall-Habib, Bertha Truchek, and Gloria Meiloff (photo: Shannon Rose)

Most of us love chocolate and some of us are coffee addicts but what do we think of these delicacies as painting mediums?

“When they told me the paintings were made with a medium of coffee and tea, I thought ‘you can’t go wrong,’” said John Zampetoulakis, owner of the newly-opened Kokkino’s café where the paintings are being displayed. “I lucked out. I think it’s great. As we were putting them up, people were buying them.”

As I walked in and joined the crowd sipping free coffee and eating baklava, I saw dozens of beautiful paintings depicting landscapes, flowers and animals. The framed paintings were all over the cozy, warmly lit café. One of the paintings in particular caught my eye. It looked like it had been torn. “Her dog ate the painting and then she stuck it together again,” Zampetoulakis said. There’s a picture of the dog underneath the painting.

Gladia Jarka, a member and artist of the Women’s Art Studio of Montreal, explained that when instant coffee, tea or cocoa is mixed with water, it becomes similar to a sepia toned watercolour.

“It’s fun, it’s quite forgiving. But it has its own set of challenges,” said Pauline Shapiro, a member of the studio who originally brought this idea to the group. “I saw an exhibition of paintings in Bromont at the chocolate festival and I saw some people doing coffee work. I researched the Internet and I found out how to do it.” She demonstrated the technique to her fellow painters.

“I went to a gallery and it was all wine and cheese,” Zampetoulakis said. “Everybody was so into themselves. Here, everybody’s nice.” The paintings are reasonably priced and Zampetoulakis bought one for his daughter as a Christmas present.

The exhibition continues at Kokkino’s, 5673 Sherbrooke, corner Harvard, until December 14.

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An art career spanning seven decades

(photo: Susan Horan)

Women of Anita Shapiro’s generation were either teachers, nurses, or secretaries. Anything outside of that wasn’t really accepted. “My mother and father would have liked me to go to McGill,” Shapiro says. “You would go to McGill for an arts degree and do teaching after, which most of my friends did.” Those were the 1930s.

Going against tradition, she chose a different profession. Growing up in Westmount she was exposed to a close community. Her neighbour’s father was also her doctor and she learned that they had relatives in Boston. Her friend went to Boston to study, got an arts degree and came back. “She was a few years older than me and she got a job at Eaton’s and that’s where I got the idea,” says Shapiro with a sparkle in her eyes.

She took art classes at Sir George Williams University in the 1930s and followed up by studying life drawing and landscapes with Herman Heimlich. They would go out on location, practice and learn everything about drawing. In those days there weren’t many books available, as they all came from Europe and had to be translated.

After that she got a job in the advertising department of Morgan’s doing illustrations of merchandise. “We would be given an empty page and we would have to plan it,” she recalls fondly. She worked there during the war years and had to be very creative with resources. “You get your merchandise and you invent the figure, or else somebody tries something on and you do a life drawing. It was really a fun job.” She worked there from 1940-1946, leaving to get married and raise three sons. Taking care of family and working as an artist proved to be a challenge. “It was hard to do freelancing because it was only on the weekends,” she says. “Whenever I had a call to do some work, it was just the time that I had other plans.”

Once her children were grown, Anita was back into her professional career full swing. She belonged to Powerhouse, which later became known as Le Centrale. “I wanted to meet other artists,” she remembers. “This was in the 1970s and I met some very nice people who I’m still in touch with.”

Over the years she’s perfected many styles of artwork including abstract, still life, figures, and cubism, in various media including charcoal and acrylic. She was influenced by the impressionists and loves colour. Her latest paintings explode with colour and shapes, a stark contrast to these dark fall days.

Going against the norm proved the right decision in the long run for Anita Shapiro, who sums up art’s lifelong appeal in noting there’s little that could keep her from it: “These are such fun to do!”

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A Christmas dinner for all in memory of Keith Louis

Eight years ago Keith Louis saw someone digging into a garbage bin outside of McDonald’s and thought, “hey, that could be me.” Keith died last December but his company, Keith and Karyn Promotions, is hosting their 8th annual free Caribbean Christmas dinner and toy giveaway Christmas Day, dedicated to his memory. The event held from 1-6 pm is for those who can’t afford a big dinner or who don’t want to be alone. All Montrealers are welcome to the Caribbean Paradise, 8080 Newman, Lasalle (metro Angrignon, bus 106 to Thierry).

The public is asked to donate food for the occasion. What is needed: non perishable foods, chicken, turkey or beef, desserts, milk, soft drinks and juice. Clothes, toiletries and toys are also very welcome. Another way to help is to sponsor a meal for a family of four by donating $20. Pickups are scheduled starting December 6 but the dropoffs are also welcome at 2368 Beaconsfield, corner Sherbrooke.

Guests will enjoy a free hot dinner and live entertainment. There will be a live broadcast hosted by CKUT 90.3 FM, face painting, and gifts from Santa. Housebound individuals can arrange for a meal to be delivered to them on Christmas Day.

Info: 514-486-4423 or


We didn’t always eat this way

Latkes, chruschich, pfefferneus, fruitcake, baked ham with a pineapple glaze, turkey with oyster stuffing … we didn’t always eat this way.

The Flavour Guy is grumpy, trying to put things in balance knowing that the end of the month will bring on a couple of kilos of parties, family fêtes, and late night, very enjoyable binges.

The festive season is for feasting. We once balanced feasts (from the Latin for joyful or merry) with fasts (meaning self-control). Christians have Lent, Jews look to the 9th of Av, the Fast of Esther, and Yom Kippur. Muslims celebrate Ramadan. Many Hindus fast when there is a full moon. I remember when good Catholics did not eat meat on Friday. For Erev Shabbos (Sabbath Eve), we might serve chicken but there was a large jar of gefilte fish if my friend Jean-Pierre came over.

While this was partly religious – it’s hard to be penitent with a full belly – there just wasn’t the amount of food we take for granted.

When grandfather Berel arrived from Eastern Europe a century ago, he left behind a village where greens were eaten in the summer, root vegetables in the fall and fresh meat or fish was, at best, a weekly indulgence. Forget about “the hundred mile diet.” If it grew, swam, flew, or walked (with varying restrictions) you ate it.

The smoked meat we drool over in Montreal is made with one of the toughest cuts from a cow. This is peasant fare. No one back then said “I’d like it lean.” The Yiddish proverb “When a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is sick” makes sense in any poor country today.

Early immigrants to North America were astonished that they could get meat at breakfast, lunch and dinner: bacon and eggs, a hamburger, a nice piece of chicken. What a country! In the old land, only the very rich could eat meat daily. Here anyone could... and three times a day! This was a sign that they had arrived in the promised land. It was the end of the fast.

Those caught in the transition – from old country to new – relished this unending feast because they remembered doing without. It’s there in images, in photographs of older generations who look a little thinner, a little smaller than us. It’s there in the steady gaze, a remonstration that we have it good.

Today, having lost the memory of the fast, the grump in me asks: are we really enjoying the feast? Fortunately there are a couple of bummers coming around – Advent, the 10th of Tevet – check your religious calendar. With so much feasting ahead, there might be a day or two to push the plate away.

Most fasts don’t mean doing completely without, but restricting the diet to basic foods – no meat, no oil – to aid contemplation. As Satchel Paige put it “Don’t eat fried food, it angries up the blood.”

Here’s a dish to help set things in balance. It’s strong on flavour but weak on indulgence. Take a thick piece of stale bread, toast it severely but not burnt. Rub a half clove of garlic over both sides while it is still hot. The garlic will ooze into the toast. Put the toast on top of a bowl of hot vegetable or chicken broth. Add a little grated cheese. Sip slowly and think sublime.

You can reach the Flavour Guy at


Who is the real Santa Claus?

(photo: Normand Rajotte)

The Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Archaeology and History will present Who is the real Santa Claus? December 6,-7, 13-14, 20-21, 23-24, 26-28, and 30-31 at 350 Place Royale (corner de la Commune).

All are invited to meet Melkior, Babushka, Black Peter and Santa Claus. While visiting the archaeological remains, children will meet four Christmas characters who will explain how the holidays are celebrated in their parts of the world.

Come on a world tour of holiday traditions! Meet them all and decide for yourself. Plan for about 45 minutes to complete this tour accompanied by and interpreter-guide. Places for each tour are limited.

Tours are from 12:30 to 4:30 pm. The last tour in English leaves at 3 pm.

This price of this event is included with the cost of admission to the Museum.

Info: 514-872-9150 or


Dancing the fairytale dream

It is that time of year again. The time for snowflakes, flowers, mice, toy soldiers, a sugarplum fairy and a young girl named Clara to come together and tell the story of The Nutcracker. Every year Ballet Ouest dazzles Montreal audiences with its production of this fairytale ballet.

Founded by Margaret Mehuys in 1984, the company performs new ballets as well as a classical repertoire. They invite outside choreographers to create original works “from which a contemporary dance language can be constructed.”

Mehuys started the company when her ballet students expressed interest in performing. With money raised from a garage sale and donations from parents, Ballet Ouest was born 24 years ago. The company has come a long way.

“We perform in a big theatre with a professional crew,” Mehuys says. “There is an elaborate set with ten scenic drops, 130 costumes and 25 professional dancers. It has become a professional company.”

This year’s cast is comprised of 107 dancers ranging from ages 7 to 93. Evelyn Hansen-Gillis, 13, from Dorval and Karina Armuplu, 12, from Saint Laurent get to live out every young girl’s dream this year by playing the lead role of Clara. Dell Ross, 93, plays Clara’s grandmother in the opening party scene. “The beautiful thing about The Nutcracker is that it gives kids the chance to experience live performance,” says Mehuys about the young dancers.

Former Ballet Ouest dancers have gone on to train at the École Supérieure de Danse du Québec, the National Ballet School of Canada, and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens.

Ballet Ouest dancers will be on their toes in their holiday production of The Nutcracker Saturday, December 6 at 2 pm and 7:30 pm and Saturday December 7 at 2 pm at Salle Pierre Mercure, Centre Pierre Peladeau, 300 de Maisonneuve E.

Info: 514-783-1245 or


Sun Youth Seniors gear up for the holidays

Volunteers from the Sun Youth Seniors Club wrapping toys for 12,000 young ones: (from left to right) Réjeanne Cronier, Roger Lemieux and Fernande Plante

On November 27th, CHOM and CJAD were broadcasting live on the sidewalk in front of the Sun Youth building for our Annual Holiday Collect.

Once again, Montrealers were very generous. From 5:30 am to 7:00 pm, volunteers from the two radio stations and from Sun Youth were collecting funds and non-perishable food items in preparation for the Sun Youth Holiday Basket Campaign which will be helping 20,000 Montrealers again this year.

Sun Youth will also be distributing 12,000 new toys to children whose parents are registered for Christmas baskets. These toys are individually wrapped by members of the Sun Youth Seniors Club.

Sun Youth has been registering people for Christmas baskets since September. Those who wish to apply are requested to bring a proof of income, a proof of address and the Medicare cards of everyone in their family, including the children. The information is then entered in a database and sent to the Montreal Central Index to avoid duplications and to make sure everyone registered gets a food hamper.

From all of us at Sun Youth, Happy Holidays and the best for the New Year and beyond!

Info: 514-842-6822


A ballet mom's memory

Molly was 8 when she first experienced being on stage before a live audience. It was 1989. She had been a student of Ora Kozlov’s at the Greene Ave Ballet School for three years and now Ora had chosen Molly and other lucky little girls to dance in Ballet Ouest’s Nutcracker. Molly was a chef, dressed in a chef’s costume, a chef’s hat and a big wooden spoon.

The rehearsal involved long hours at Westhill High School, where Ballet Ouest performed in the 1980s. Molly loved every minute of it. Her big night came and I volunteered to help with make up and costumes. What mother wouldn’t?

I remember the look on her face for the entire 3 or 4 minutes she was on stage for every performance. It was magical. The morning after the finale Molly wouldn’t go to school. She lay in bed clutching her autographed program and cried, saying she didn’t know how her life would go on without The Nutcracker. What was the use of going to school if she couldn’t be on stage dancing The Nutcracker?

I called her ballet teacher Ora who asked to speak to Molly. I don’t remember what she told her — probably that all ballerinas feel this way after their first performance and that she had to eat and go to school and be strong so she could continue being a dancer. Whatever she said, Molly got up and went to school.

The next year Molly was a Mother Ginger in the ballet. And the third year she was in the opening party scene. Molly never got the chance to dance as Clara but she continued to study dance with Ora till she started college.

Molly still has that program book from 1989. And I know we both often remember that first magical night on stage in The Nutcracker.


Artists transcend limitations to earn success and appreciation

Stéphane Daraiche with parents (photo: Kristine Berey)

When they were children, Serge Laflamme dreaded having to go to the hockey arena with his brother Daniel. “Children can be very cruel,” said Serge, as he recalled the kids making fun of his brother, who was born prematurely with cerebral palsy in 1958.

The neurological damage has, among other things, prevented Daniel from ever using his arms. But now Serge couldn’t be prouder of his brother, a successful artist who lives on his own in an apartment, gets around on a special tricycle and earns his living through his art.

Stéphane Daraiche was an active 7-year old whirling dervish until, in 1975, a car rammed into him as he was riding his bike, shattering life as he knew it so far. His mother Micheline Marley was there to help him as he emerged, a quadriplegic from a six-week coma and had to re-learn everything from scratch. “It took him two years to accept it,” Marley said. “He was very angry at first. We had to take things day by day.”

Along their difficult paths, both these young men discovered they had an aptitude for art. For Daniel, the breakthrough came when he saw a television show featuring a young girl without arms who used her feet to accomplish different tasks. Inspired, Daniel learned to eat and draw with his feet. Eventually, he began taking painting lessons at the Couvent Saint-Joseph in St. Foy.

Stéphane first began using a pencil after his accident in order to communicate with his family, since pronouncing words was, and still is, difficult for him. Though confined to a wheelchair and deprived of the use of any of his limbs, Stéphane learned to hold a pencil in his mouth and manipulate it skillfully. Soon the writing turned to drawing just to pass the time, and his mother bought him coloured pencils, then paints and canvas.

Daniel Laflamme demonstrates his dexterity at foot painting (photo: Kristine Berey)

Today Stéphane lives on his own in an adapted apartment. He paints images of his own design in oil and like Daniel, sells his images with the help of Canada’s Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA).

At a recent demonstration at Complexe Desjardins, admiring crowds gathered around the two artists as they built up their canvases. Stéphane was putting the finishing touches on a leaping unicorn he created out of his own imagination and Daniel was completing a robin perched on a leafy branch.

MFPA is not a charity. Its mandate is to locate and encourage mouth and foot painters and help them achieve financial independence through the use of their talent. This is especially significant considering that 52% of people with disabilities are unemployed, while only 6% of able-bodied Canadians are jobless.

MFPA Canada was incorporated in 1961. It is the Canadian branch of the international Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists which has 700 members in over 70 countries. The self-supporting organization is owned and controlled by member artists. It creates greeting cards, calendars and gift items such as puzzles, stationery and prints, featuring the images of the painters. The reproductions of the artists’ work are marketed through a direct mail program and provide an income to all member artists, who retain the rights to their original work as well as the net profits from all sales.

For information or to order call 866- 637-2226 or visit

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Theatre legend invites students to bring ideas to the stage

Shannon Tosic-McNally, Victor Knight and Gabriela Saltiel (photo: Scott Philip)

Victor Knight has always had acting on his mind. He has shared that passion with Dawson students for a quarter century. “Victor’s 86. The man’s been around and he knows what he’s talking about,” said Kyle Pelletier, a third year student of Knight’s. He’s one of the older teachers at Dawson who is able to communicate with the younger generation.”

“My family was in show business,” said Knight, a teacher in the professional theatre department since 1974. “I was the eighth child, so my mother certainly was no longer a dancer. My father had been an entertainer in London.”

Knight explained that when his father returned from serving in World War I, he chose to drive a taxi. Knight speculates that his father no longer had the stamina to be an entertainer.

“Very frequently he would get calls from his old friends in the business that would say ‘we need a couple of kids for a film next week,’ I would go trotting off and do extra work, small part stuff.”

Gabriela Saltiel, a second year theatre student, has obviously heard about Knight’s beginnings in the theatre world. “He was born into the business and it shows because it’s so in him.”

Like Knight’s father, his acting career was put on hold due to serving in a world war, but when he returned, he enrolled in the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, England. He never completed this program. “After I graduated — well I didn’t graduate, I got kicked out.”

He explained that a lot of his classes got cancelled and he and his classmates were frustrated. “The whole class got mad and they said ‘go and tell them.’ I was fool enough to do that.” He said he was labeled a troublemaker and was asked to leave. “I didn’t make the trouble, they made the trouble.”

This bump along the road didn’t phase Knight one bit. “I immediately got work so it didn’t matter.” It was a job at the Kew Theatre in Kew Gardens, in London. “The week that I got kicked out of school, I got a job there and I worked there for three years.

Victor Knight’s students on the Romeo and Juliet set (photo: Lucas Chartier)

“One day, a friend of my fathers called me up and said ‘Victor, my niece is coming down from Montreal and is interested in the theatre. Can you take her?’” This call altered the course of Knight’s future. “I said I would try to fit her in somewhere and I did. I later followed her to Montreal and we got married and had a child.”

“I wish he had told you the story of how he got engaged,” said Saltiel who had been eavesdropping. “The first play that they saw together was Twelfth Night and when he proposed to her he took this quote from the play and it goes on and on and on about how he could love her and how he would show his love to her. It’s the sweetest thing ever.”

Although Victor and Helen Knight are no longer married, they share grandchildren in England.

When Knight arrived in Montreal, he began working in radio. He worked at a daily soap opera called Laura Limited. “Your mother may know about it, you wouldn’t though,” said Knight, addressing one of his students.

He also worked on a national broadcast every third or fourth Sunday. He explained that the pay was lucrative for the time. For the two gigs, he was making well over a hundred dollars a week doing what he loved.

Knight explained that he did not originally plan on becoming a teacher. He was working on a play at Sir George Williams University that the Chief of Studies was directing. “He was directing the play but I ended up doing a lot of the directing for him because I’d been in the business a little bit longer than he had. At the end he said ‘You’re a born teacher.’ I didn’t believe him and I said ‘I didn’t even finish high school.’” He was assigned two courses.

“What I like about the way he directs is he lets you do what you want first,” said Bineyam Girma, a third year theatre student. The third year students are currently working on Romeo and Juliet. “I had an idea of how Tybalt should be and I brought it to the stage. He doesn’t tell you, ‘play it like this.’”

Knight explained how he came to be at Dawson College. Sister Saint-Laurent was working in theatre at Marianopolis College. “She got into trouble with a play that she was directing. The sexual parts were getting embarrassing so she asked me to finish the play for her.” He did the same thing the following year.

After she joined Dawson College, Knight said she called him up and said, “You’ve got to come here now.”

Knight began his career at Dawson teaching pre-university courses. Shortly after, he was approached by members of the administration to develop a program for professional theatre with the help of Bert Henry, a long-time colleague in the department.

Knight wanted the students to have a venue for their plays. “I was walking along Notre-Dame street and I saw this empty cinema and I called Bert and I said, ‘Come with me, I’ve got to look at this place.’ It was in appalling shape but it was perfect. It had romance written all over it.” This became the original Dome theatre. It was 1974.

“I’m making new friends every year with these students. I tried retiring. I took one semester off. I felt like I was waiting to die and I don’t like waiting to die.”

“I wish he was my grandpa,” said Shannon McNally, one of Knight’s students, as she walked by.

“I’m doing exactly what I want do,” he said. “What possible reason could I have to retire?”

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Santa's wrong: it's naughty and nice

He’s making a list
Checking it twice
He’s gonna find out
Who's naughty or nice
– “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Haven Gillespie & J. Fred Coots, 1932

It is quite apparent that the duo of Gillespie and Coots had no etymological training or they’d have realized that etymologically there is no dichotomy between the states of naughtiness and niceness. The word “nice” emerged in the English language and originally meant “foolish” or “ignorant” (it derives from the Latin, nescius, “ignorant”) but before long it carried the connotation of wantonness or lasciviousness. In quotations from the 14th and 15th centuries it is associated with ribald and lustful behaviour. Observe the following from Chaucer’s Romance of the Rose written in 1366: “Nice she was, but she meant no harm or slight in her intent.” More than two centuries later Shakespeare uses the word in much the same manner in Love’s Labour Lost: “These are compliments, these are humours, that betray nice wenches that would be betrayed.”

The Shakespearean line reminds me of thesophomoric joke that made the rounds in the early 1960s that purported to explain the difference between a good girl and a nice girl in this manner: The good girl goes to a party, goes home and then goes to bed, whereas the nice girl goes to the party but goes to bed before going home.

In the 16th century “nice” went through a shift of meanings and came to mean such things as “delicate,” “elegant,” “cultured,” and “respectable” but it would not be until the 19th century that it became synonymous with the word “pleasant.”

While most readers are probably not cognizant of the original naughty sense of nice, I suspect few people are not aware of the change of meaning of a certain word that appears in the Christmas songs Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and Deck the Halls. Observe the following lyrics from these two melodies: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, Make the Yule-tide gay” and “Don we now our gay apparel, Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la, la-la.” Nowadays, if someone were exposed to this latter lyric for the first time, he/she would be excused for believing that the theme involved cross-dressing.

Although today the word gay still possesses the sense of “merry,” the homosexual connotation is the dominant one. How did this transformation occur? “Gay” is first used with the homosexual connotation in the 1920s by American expatriates living in Paris and the word is first recorded with this sense in the OED in 1935.

“Gay” didn’t suddenly metamorphose in meaning from “merry” to “homosexual.” By the 15th century it referred to one “addicted to social pleasures and dissipations.” A “gay dog” referred to a man given to reveling or self-indulgence. In 1630, William Davenant in The Cruel Brother and Nicholas Rowe later in 1703 in The Fair Penitent unveiled libertine characters they dubbed “Lothario.” As a result, in the 18th century, the term “gay Lothario” was used to refer to such a character. In the 19th century, the word was sometimes applied to a woman deemed to lead an immoral life, such as a prostitute. Also, the term “gaycat” may have influenced the semantic change of the word “gay.” By the turn of the twentieth century, the word was used by hobos to refer to a tramp’s companion, usually a young boy, and often his catamite, which is defined by the OED as “a boy kept for unnatural purposes.”

Incidentally, the word “gay” is still evolving If a teen tells you that “a party was gay,” he/she is probably not describing the sexual preferences of the party-goers but rather is stating that it was not a good party.

A merry Christmas to all.

Howard Richler's latest book is Can I Have a Word With You? He can be reached at


No laws exist for common law unions in Quebec

The need for companionship does not diminish with age and an increasing number of people are entering into a committed relationship for the second and third time. A frequent question is: should we marry or just live together?

Marriage is defined by law as “the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others.” The common law relationship has been defined as co-habitation with an element of permanence. What are the legal differences between the two?

Entering into marriage is a formal procedure carried out by a legally authorized person and requires that the free consent of both parties be declared openly in the presence of at least two witnesses. In the case of a common law relationship, two people decide to live together. They set up house and make their own financial arrangements. They may or may not enter into a written agreement. They consider themselves married but the law of Quebec does not. In all other Canadian provinces two people can declare themselves to be married common law and the union will have the same effect as a regular marriage.

In Quebec, a common law marriage does not really exist. Although some social legislation does include common law couples, no laws exist setting out the rights and obligations of the parties one towards the other. This means that when the common law relationship breaks up, there is no obligation for one to provide support to the other, regardless of the difference in their respective incomes and regardless of the number of years they have been living together.

Neither is the family residence protected as it is in the case of married couples. This means that if the family home belongs exclusively to one of the parties, the other can be forced to leave. This may not seem fair but the position has been justified by the courts on the grounds that common law relationships are a threat to the institution of marriage, that unmarried couples do not make the same commitment as those who marry and therefore the rights and duties created by marriage should not follow. The theory is that where the choice of two people is to live common law, it is because they do not want to incur the obligations that result from marriage. Consequently, to presume that common law couples want to be bound by the same obligations as married couples would be contrary to that choice.

The decision to marry includes the acceptance of various legal consequences of the formalized marriage, including the obligation of mutual support between the spouses. Where individuals choose not to marry, it would undermine the choice they have made if the state were to impose upon them the very same burdens and benefits which it imposes upon married persons.

Statistics show that, In Quebec, about 30% of relationships are common law. Interestingly, it was the Council on the Status of Women back in 1991 that lobbied against granting legal recognition to common law couples on the grounds that it went against the autonomy, equality, and freedom of choice of women.

The time will come when the law will catch up with reality. Meanwhile common law couples be well advised to enter into a co-habitation contract as they begin life together.

Joyce Blond Frank is a Montreal attorney specializing in family and elder law.


Making the holiday season joyful for your loved one

The holidays are quickly approaching and reminders are everywhere. Christmas carols can be heard on the radio, and there are lights and decorations every which way you turn. Gift buying suggestions overflow our mailboxes.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukah, the holidays are times for celebration, family dinner gatherings, and party invitations with the underlining expectation of comfort and happiness. This time is difficult for many. We remember our loved ones who are no longer with us, we worry about having enough money to buy gifts, and some of us crumble knowing our lives are less than perfect during this so called festive time.

We see family and friends who are not well, who are going through hard times, and we look at our own lives questioning our own level of happiness. But what about the caregiver? How will she celebrate the holidays? How will she get through this time with all she has on her plate, living the “36 hour day?” Will she be expected to buy gifts, cook and entertain family and friends?

For the caregiver who struggles to get through each day, I hope that she will be surrounded by loved ones who will recognize her life and respectfully include her in their holiday time if that is what she wants. Some people prefer to ignore the holidays and this should be respected. Well meaning people may pressure others to join them in their festivities and do not hear what is really being said to them. Take the time to listen and to respect the wishes of others.

A precious gift for a caregiver is time. Offer your time to free the caregiver to be able to enjoy activities of her own. If you want to add to this, think of a gift certificate for some body pampering, or for a favorite boutique. Invite her out to a movie and dinner and arrange for someone to stay with her loved one.

Holidays bring memories of past times, better times, and with these memories come sadness. If we are dealing with a sick loved one, we wonder what the new year will bring. Will the loved one be here for the next holiday? It is easy to suggest that we focus on the present, the days of the holiday, and to make the best of this time. The suggestion is easy, the follow through is harder. There are no magical answers.

Someone with Alzheimer’s should not be ignored during the holiday season. Think back to how these times were spent in the past, before the disease. What did the person enjoy about the holiday season? Was it the food, the songs, a decorated tree, the opening of gifts, small or large gatherings? Plan to include your loved one in some of these activities. The treat of a turkey dinner with all the fixings, potato latkes and sugar donuts, a beautifully wrapped gift, some old time music or movie that can be enjoyed by all. Keep in mind that these activities should not be overwhelming, but at a level that the person will feel comfortable.

I see too many AD individuals forgotten during the holiday time. People may think that they won’t really understand a celebration, but this is not true. A special dinner, dressing in pretty clothes, a gift, hearing lovely music, seeing beautiful decorations can all be a joyful experiences.

We tend to think that everyone else’s life is perfect and that it is just ours that is challenged. Intellectually we know that this is not so, but during holiday time we are bombarded with images of happy people enjoying celebrations. No one is ill, no one is alone. Each year we read about how difficult the holidays are for so many people. Decide what works for you and your loved ones. Focus on doing simple things to bring a smile to the face of someone you love.

Do not forget the caregiver; do not forget the Alzheimer individual. Even a person far into the disease can smile and feel joy.

Comments and questions can be sent to and may be used in future articles.


Abortion woes for Obama?

Amidst all his economic challenges, President-elect Obama is heading towards a showdown with America’s Catholic bishops over the issue of abortion.

At their bi-annual meeting in November, the president of the bishops’ conference, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, said that while the bishops “rejoice” at the election of an African-American president, they should confront him over his support of abortion rights.

President-elect Obama’s views on abortion are reflected in the party platform. The Democrats support a woman’s right to choose. But very significantly the abortion plank was extended this year to include measures to reduce abortion. These involve strengthening the social and economic safety net to enable more women to bring their pregnancies to term.

It would seem at first glance that programs to reduce abortion are something that both sides of the abortion debate could agree on. But that is not the case, at least with the leadership of the Catholic church in the United States and also in Canada.

Cardinal George said in a news conference that while the bishops supported “social welfare programs that come to the aid of the poor,” they also would continue to lobby for legislative and legal restrictions on abortion.

It would seem from this and other episcopal statements that the primary objective of the bishops is not only the reduction of abortions but their elimination.

This reveals the inherent weakness of the bishops’ position. It is simply not realistic to think that the United States (or any other western country) will pass laws and restrictions that will criminalize abortion.

The American Catholic bishops have been at war for a long time on the abortion issue. But, after having spent an enormous amount of political capital on this issue, it is difficult to see that they are any closer to their objective, the elimination of abortions.

Nor do Catholics themselves seem to support the bishops unqualifiedly. Most polls show that about the same proportion of Catholics in the United States and Canada support a policy of restricted abortions as do the rest of the population. And despite the warnings of a number of bishops not to vote for a pro-choice candidate, exit polls found that 54 percent of Catholic voters supported the Obama-Biden ticket. Is it likely that a growing number of American and Canadian Catholics are realizing there is more merit in the gradualist approach (reducing abortions) than the absolutist one (trying to eliminate them altogether). Is it also possible that the pro-choice group is more effective in reducing abortions than the pro-life group is? And what a relief it would be if both groups abandoned their sterile debate on abortions and pooled their resources to reduce them.

It would seem that the key to lowering the rate of abortion is preventing the number of unwanted pregnancies. Pro-choice supporters such as President-elect Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, a practising Catholic, champion wider access to birth control. It’s also been pro-choice elected officials who have fought for insurance coverage of the procedure and the introduction of new and more effective contraception.

Only 11 per cent of sexually active American women forego contraception, and this 11 percent account for half the abortions in the United States. Both Senators Obama and Biden support the comprehensive sex-education programs that seem to work as opposed to advocating no-sex-until marriage programs which do not.

In addition to abortion, the bishops also said they were concerned that President-elect Obama was reportedly planning to overturn President Bush’s directive that banned most research on embryonic stem cells.

As the bishops wrapped up their meeting, the abortion debate continues. But one thing is sure. The absolutist position, eliminating all abortions because they are considered murder, will not be realized now or later in either Canada or the United States. The gradualist position, reducing abortions as much as possible, will carry the day. It is indeed a pity that the bishops do not realize that their absolutism does not help their cause, it hinders it.

However the bishops confront him on the abortion issue, it would seem that President-elect Obama has most Americans, including Catholics, with him on his policy to reduce abortion.


Fraser-Hickson must fundraise to ensure future

John Dinsmore and Reverend David Sinclair (photo: Kristine Berey)

For Shannon Rose, 18, “everything began” at the Fraser-Hickson Library. “I feel really excited,” the college student said when she heard that the 123-year old Library – closed since early 2007 – will reopen next fall. “That’s where I learned to read. The library fostered a lot of the interests I have today.”

It was a beaming John Dinsmore, president of the Library’s board of directors, who gave The Senior Times a tour of the new premises at Trinity Memorial Church on Sherbrooke W, just east of Decarie, near the Vendome metro. “We are in a firm contractual agreement with the church,” Dinsmore said. “They are delighted to share space with us while serving the community.” Though the pillars of the $6 million plan are in place, the Fraser-Hickson must resume fundraising to assure its continuity.

As a first step, requiring an investment of $2.5 million, approximately 70,000 items in the library’s collection will be made available to the public in a beautiful 9,000 square foot heritage space, featuring high windows and 18-foot archways in the lower level of the church. The second phase, costing about $3 million will see the building of a 21,000 square foot extension on the Marlowe side of the church. There will still be a children’s library, meeting rooms, and a rental space for community events. Plans for a new section for teens reflect the library’s commitment to literacy and young people. A reference section will provide more computers and an emphasis on a range of electronic resources. “We have always been a library that has helped people increase their knowledge,” Dinsmore said. Parking spaces are planned and the site will be wheelchair-friendly. The library is looking to restore its membership and volunteer base.

When the library first closed, many of its 12,000 members joined the CSL and Westmount libraries. These facilities were overwhelmed during the city merger, while they were free to nonresidents. When the city demerged, these new memberships were terminated.

Those who fought to save the Fraser Hickson expressed a sense of betrayal by the decision makers at the seeming lack of political will to preserve it. Many find it a bitter irony that a library that had provided free services to Montrealers from 1885 to 2003, would not benefit from a 10-year action plan implemented just as the Fraser-Hickson had to close its doors. The plan calls for an investment of $125 million to build new libraries, renovate existing facilities and upgrade library services in the city.

“You have to realize their collection was very different,” explained CDN/ NDG borough mayor Michael Applebaum when asked why a public-private partnership was not realized. “They are a research document and history library and a City of Montreal library is more of a popular library.”

But Applebaum said the Fraser- Hickson has been a vital part of the community for over 50 years and deserves to be funded. “It’s an excellent project. The borough will support them with funding for a long-term plan. They still have to find the necessary funds but when they go to any foundation, they can say the City of Montreal backs us – that we support them re-opening can’t be questioned.”

Community support is essential to libraries, says the director of the Eleanor London CSL library, Tanya Abramovitch, but not by having people pay out of their pockets in fees. Even in CSL, where residents treasure their library, when a $5 membership fee was instituted in 2005, the registration plunged from 18,000 to 13,000. “Support for public libraries is a very long term commitment. They need the promise and support of politicians to prosper. I cannot imagine how we would survive without the support of my council. The library budget for 2008 is $2.3 million.” Abramovitch says her new book budget alone takes up over $200,000.When it comes to readers who want to read English books, regardless of their mother tongue, the Fraser Hickson is a unique and irreplaceable Montreal resource.

“We’re looking for expressions of popular encouragement,” Dinsmore says. “We have a place, we have a plan, but we still need money. Does the community want the Fraser Hickson to flourish? That is the key question.”


Editorial: Who will lead us through these critical times?

With a new Quebec government about to be elected, and as the Harper government in Ottawa stumbles in its first weeks, we have a message for our readers and politicians alike: This is no time for adventurism.

We see the world economy teetering from crisis to crisis, we watch our savings dry up, and more than ever we need strong, stable, sensible government. That is why the Quebec Liberal Party under Jean Charest is the best choice in this provincial election. Yes, the Liberals take voters in west-end Montreal for granted. Still, there are some excellent candidates and with them we still have some clout.

The alternative, as far as having the required number of seats to form a government, is the Parti Québécois under Pauline Marois. With their social-democratic stream, they can be effective in opposition. But the last thing Quebec needs right now is a party committed to breaking up the country taking power, even if the PQ has shelved for now a referendum that would enable such a cataclysmic process to begin.

We dismiss Mario Dumont and his ADQ because they want to go too far, too fast in enabling private health care, and other ill thought-out policies, such as dismantling school boards. We like the Green Party and its call for a saner approach to the deterioration of our environment.

We also appreciate Québec Solidaire and its fight for social justice with such policies as raising the minimum wage from $8.50 to $10.50 and indexing it to the cost of living so the working poor can survive. But between both parties, only Dr. Amir Khadir in Mercier riding has a chance of being elected and we would welcome his defeating the PQ’s Daniel Turp there. If Jean Charest does get a majority this time, we have confidence he will be well placed to get the English super hospital built, reinforce our health care system and maintain our universities with gradual and relatively slight $50-a-semester increases in tuition, which will remain the lowest in Canada.

Stephen Harper, on the other hand, did not get the majority he hoped for when he broke his commitment to fixed elections every four years. He lost it because of miscalculations in Quebec, especially the $35 million in cuts to grants for culture that to many revealed the government bias inherent in his ideology.

Then, without a clear mandate, he tried to pull what can only be described as a dirty trick: Instead of announcing spending programs to stimulate the economy and help hard-hit manufacturing and forestry, his finance minister tried to insert more right-wing ideology. Jim Flaherty had the nerve to attempt first to deny civil servants the right to strike for three years, and second, to cut the $1.95 per vote subsidy to political parties. Both these proposals have since been withdrawn.

On the first point, there is no justification at this time for denying workers, be they in the public or private sector, the right to withdraw their work as a pressure tactic in contract negotiations, except when public safety is involved. As for the crisis around the subsidies to political parties, the Conservatives were beating a hasty retreat in an attempt to avoid being defeated on a confidence motion. This could have set in motion a bid by the opposition parties to cobble together a coalition. The alternative is another costly federal election, surely not in anyone’s interest, including the Liberals as they prepare to replace Stéphane Dion. Harper’s ploy has backfired, revealing a manipulative streak that this country could do without. We would prefer a cooperative approach, one that takes into account that this still is a minority government, and inspires, rather than reeking of rank opportunism.