Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10


Justin Trudeau: in touch with the people of Papineau

Trudeau hangs out with kids at the Garderie Centre Educatif St-Roch daycare

April, 2009

On a sunny afternoon in March, Justin Trudeau, eldest son of the late former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, is strolling along the main commercial street of Park Extension in the federal riding of Papineau, which he represents as a Liberal Member of Parliament.

He is approaching and meeting people, handing out his business cards, and conducting himself very much like a politician out campaigning for an election. Yet the last election was only seven months ago.

So why does Justin Trudeau appear to be in campaign mode? “I’m not really campaigning, so much as trying to do my job as an MP,” he says.

He points out that he won the seat by watching and learning from what other local and highly successful politicians, like city councillor Mary Deros, were doing to stay on top. Deros, who had sought the Papineau Liberal nomination, but lost it to Trudeau, the outsider, keeps busy in an average week attending dozens of community events sponsored by the many ethnic organizations whose members populate this highly multicultural Montreal district.

In this way, over the course of her decade-long career as a city councillor, Deros has been able to cement important community and political bonds, and Trudeau has publicly acknowledged emulating her. “The way I won the seat was two years of (attending) about 10 events a week every single week,” he says, noting that he and a political aide have recently been hitting the streets for an hour or so every few days.

However, Papineau, which was for more than a half-century a Liberal fortress, has in recent years become a swing riding. In 2006, the Bloc Québécois unseated senior Liberal cabinet minister Pierre Pettigrew by a narrow margin of 990 votes, and Justin Trudeau won it back two years later by fewer than 1,200 votes. Trudeau actually claims he chose Papineau because of this uncertainty.

Fast-food photo op

“I didn’t want a riding that would allow me to sit back and feel safe and complacent at any point,” he says.

Trudeau has a BA in English literature from McGill University, a B.Ed. from the University of British Columbia, and his job experience includes a stint teaching French and social studies at a secondary school in Vancouver.

“My thought was that if I was going to go into politics with this big name that I have, Trudeau, I needed to make sure that I justified it somehow.

“For much of my life, it was always a focus on, okay, I have to demonstrate my worth, prove myself outside of politics before I ever go into politics. But then something shifted in my thinking as I started to realize that there was another option. I could go into politics from the ground floor and prove myself that way, and that was the path that I chose.” After initially seeking to run in the upper class riding of Outremont, where he lives, only to be turned down by Liberal Party brass in Ottawa, Trudeau maintains now that working class Papineau was the best choice. “Outremont would have been perceived as a much easier riding for a Liberal to win,” he says. “We know now that it’s not as easy a riding for a Liberal to win anymore.

“More importantly, the concerns of the people in Papineau, the challenges of people who live here – economic challenges, integration challenges for our newer citizens, a large population of elder citizens who are challenged to try and continue to find their relevance and quality of life as they move on – these challenges are exactly the kinds of challenges that Canada as a whole needs to be addressing in the coming years.”

While rumours abounded at one time of Justin Trudeau’s aspirations to follow in his father’s footsteps and become leader of the Liberal Party and perhaps even prime minister, he now acknowledges his lack of experience and seems content with humbler ambitions.

“Hopefully I’ll get to be a minister some day,” he says, adding that the lamentable treatment meted out to former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion served as a reminder of the brutal nature of politics.

“I have a lot of sympathy and admiration for Stéphane, and to see a good man churned up the way he was is always difficult,” he says. “It makes a lot of people think twice about whether or not they would want to go into politics.”


CBC survival trumps private TV

April, 2009

Conventional media were heading for a revenue crisis when the recent recession made the situation even worse.

Instead of one pie divided up among print and electronic, the Internet and specialty channels came on board, taking increasingly bigger pieces. Younger readers and viewers drifted more and more to online platforms, with a corresponding drop in the perceived value of OId Media. All this has been exacerbated by the financial meltdown. Here at The Senior Times we are weathering the storm with continuing high readership and advertisers who covet their attention. We do it without any government subsidy and remain free to criticize without fear of reprisal.

The CBC, with its superb ad-free radio and television service that, in contrast to CTV and Global, effectively mirrors our society, faces similar challenges. CBC’s coverage of the news, both local, national and international, is an essential institution, our window to Canadian life and world affairs.

We denounce in the strongest terms the Harper government’s decision not to make up a $171- million shortfall for the 2009-10 season. The result: Up to 80 jobs are being cut from its news division with another 313 to be dropped in sports, entertainment and current affairs. And that’s just the beginning. CBC president Hubert Lacroix says a total of about 800 full-time jobs will have to go and $125 million in assets sold – a “fire sale” of our beloved CBC. Locally, Radio Noon is to be cut back by one hour and such powerhouse investigative shows as The Fifth Estate and Marketplace will have their budgets sliced.

Similarly, CTV and Global are threatening to drop or sell stations and cut local programming because of revenue shortfall. They – who were making huge profits when they had less competition – are now asking the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to introduce a carriage fee for their over-the-air signals. The proposal calls for cable and satellite distributors to pay the networks to carry their signals, similar to how the distributors currently pay for specialty and pay channels. This would only lead to higher cable fees for channels that are available for free without cable. It could also increase revenue for these networks by $200 to $300 million, according to CRTC chair Konrad Von Finckenstein, who says this will not solve conventional TV’s long-term challenges. We are totally against this fee. Private networks, which have been making huge profits, do not deserve to be bailed out in this way. Let them adjust as best they can.

Meanwhile, we again urge the government to increase its support for CBC because this is a towering achievement of our country that is essential to our intellectual enrichment. We urge our readers to endorse a Save the CBC petition at: TRACK


Nortel and Air Canada retirees facing pension cuts

April, 2009

Former employees from two of the country’s largest corporations, Air Canada and Nortel Networks, are facing a pension crisis most retirees would regard as the stuff of their worst nightmares.

Nortel and Air Canada pensions could end up being cut 30 to 40 per cent if the companies succeed in convincing Ottawa, during the current economic crisis and corporate restructuring, of their need to be relieved of debt, by not topping up their pension funds with billions of overdue dollars.

A demonstration last month at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport photo:ITLaurian

A committee of Nortel pensioners, many of them in Montreal who were non-unionized white collar and managerial personnel, are on the verge of hiring lawyers to proceed with a court case against Nortel’s position. In a statement, the committee claims their pensions are “at risk,” since Nortel filed for protection from its creditors in Canada in January and “the Nortel pension fund is undercapitalized.”

Nortel, previously incorporated as Northern Electric and then Northern Telecom, has about 9,000 non-unionized pensioners. While it is not unusual for companies to underfund pension plans, the practice was a source of contention in labour unions long before the current economic downturn, and the companies are now asking the federal government for up to 10 years to make up the difference.

In the meantime, Nortel has obtained bankruptcy court permission to pay more than $52 million in bonuses to executives and other members of its senior leadership, under a plan to retain key personnel. Nortel sought creditor protection after losing nearly $7 billion since 2005. The company plans to fire at least 5,000 workers this year as part of a reorganization.

Even though their former employer isn’t under bankruptcy protection, retired Air Canada employees who belonged to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) are facing a similar concern.

Lloyd Cahill of St. Hubert, who retired from his job as an Air Canada machinist in 2005 after more than 32 years service, is facing the prospect of having to return to work for an indefinite period, at the age of 58, if $700 is cut from his $2,400 per month pension cheque because Air Canada doesn’t pay up.

On March 18, as many as 3,500 Air Canada ground workers staged a demonstration at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport in protest against ACE Aviation Holdings, the airline’s parent, which wanted to distribute more than $400 million in cash reserves to shareholders, rather than use it to reduce a $3.2 billion pension fund deficit.

“The way the market went and the way these plans were already underfunded has created a problem,” Dave Ritchie, vice-president of the IAMAW, said in a phone interview from Toronto with The Senior Times. He estimated the shortfall would result in a loss of up to 30 per cent on payout to pensioners if uncorrected.

“Unfortunately, the federal regulation only allows them to have their plan funded to a certain allotment and over that you no longer get any tax relief,” he said. “When you’re a corporation, of course, you’re looking for tax relief, so you don’t put the money in, and at the end of the day you end up with the problems.… These pension holidays should never occur.”

Ritchie agreed that government economic policy overall in the last three decades has been to view corporations as the so-called “engine of the economy” and to prioritize their interests, while leaving workers second in line. He said Nortel and Air Canada are not alone in seeking to have the outstanding part of their pension obligations reduced or dismissed.

He pointed out that a consortium of six major Canadian corporations, including Bell Canada, Canada Post, CN Rail, CP Rail and MTS Allstream, submitted a collective brief during a recent nationwide consultation on federal fiscal reforms. “They’re saying they don’t have the money to do it,” he said. Ritchie pointed out that in the last two years ACE paid out $2 billion to its shareholders, and $43 million to Robert Milton, the CEO, but the company still took no action to service its pension debt. “There is something wrong with that system,” he said.


Montreal flea markets a meeting place for treasures and junk

April, 2009

Since the advent of ebay, we have come to believe that our junk is valuable to someone out there. Going to flea markets, you can see this for real. We are now afraid to throw anything out, since today’s garbage is tomorrow’s collectible.

The term ‘flea market’ has two different meanings. There are the real flea markets – where you may just find a flea – and then there are the wannabes that popped up in the 1980s selling new stuff but calling themselves flea markets as a way to skirt the no-Sunday-shopping law.

The true flea markets mentioned below sport tables and cabinets full of collectibles, antiques and junk all mixed up side by side. Browsing through them is fun, not only because you really score deals, but because they recall memories of your childhood in the cups your mother used, the black jaguar figurine from the breakfront, the radio in grandma’s house and loads of toys you played with.

If you’re about to clean out your home or that of your parents, here are some of the items I have noticed that are now selling as collectibles: ashtrays, cigarette lighters, fountain pens, penknives, kitchen appliances (toasters, mixers, blenders and such utensils as ice buckets and tongs), hard luggage, Frisbees, Schwinn bikes, change purses, tools, vacuum cleaners, and toys in their original boxes (sometimes the boxes are worth more than the toys inside!). However, when selling some I discovered I hardly got enough money to justify having stored them all these years.

Montreal North: Marché aux Puces, 7707 Shelley at St. Michel, side entrance at 3250 Crémazie, 514-721-7701. Hours: Open all year, Friday to Sunday, 9 am to 5 pm. This newly enlarged building contains 100 stalls showcasing second-hand items and such collectibles as housewares, lamps, toys, guitars and amplifiers, kitchen items, vintage radios and sound equipment, records, jewelry (they do repairs, too) and furniture. There’s a snack bar on the premises.

Ste. Geneviève: Ste-Geneviève Flea Market, 15674 Gouin W., west of St. Jean, 514-626-4436. Hours: Open all year, Sundays from 10 am to 5 pm. For antiques and collectibles, visit this little house and find 16 rooms filled with tools, glassware, jewelry, lamps, silverware, china and collectibles. There are also tables outside.

Le Faubourg des Antiquités, 15739 de la Caserne, west of St. Jean, 514-620-0505. Hours: Open all year, Sundays from 9 am to 5 pm. When the Ste- Geneviève Flea Market downsized, many of the antique dealers moved across the parking lot to this newer location. You can have fun wandering through the kiosks visiting 30 friendly dealers who trade in porcelain, silver, antique furniture, jewelry, fixtures, dinnerware, pottery, trunks and collectibles.

Sandra Phillips is the author of Smart Shopping Montreal and Le Consommateur Averti Montréal, and you can find money-saving ideas on her shlog at


Walking for the other cure

April, 2009

The Alzheimer Society of Montreal is inviting walkers of all ages and abilities to take part in its annual Memory Walk on Sunday, May 31.

Walkers will meet at 8:30 am at the Jacques- Cartier Quay in the Old Port of Montreal to register, followed by a welcome and a warm-up session. The two-hour walk ends at noon, followed by lunch and prizes. Seniors can do the walk at their own rhythm. “There are many places to sit down along the way,” says Amélie Giguère of the Alzheimer Society. “We’ll have drums and rattles and make lots of noise,” she says. “All we want is for people to see us.”

A recent study reveals that Alzheimer’s continues to ravage families. “With approximately 15 per cent of people under age 65 affected by Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, it isn’t only our health care and social systems that are being overwhelmed,” says Scott Dudgeon, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Canada. “The reality is that the businesses and industry sectors are also being affected as our boomer generation, a generation of leaders and mentors, are affected by dementia.”

• About 500,000 Canadians are affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia

• One in 11 of those affected is under 65

• 72 % of those living with the illness are women The Alzheimer Society funds research and training and provides support for families living with the disease.

To register for the Memory Walk, call 514-369-0800, ext. 226 or visit www.lamarchede


Letter to the editor

Dear Editor,

I picked up the current issue of The Senior Times and am impressed by all the columns and features. There is something for everyone.

I was particularly interested in Neil McKenty’s forthright comments about the pope and his blind eye to anti-Semitism. Whatever Bishop Williamson may say, no matter if he recants, the man is clearly removed from sanity and a disgrace to the Roman Catholic Church.

What is more troubling is that I’m not hearing much fuss about it coming from my own Anglican Church or other churches. There should be a storm of righteous indignation. Have I missed it? On another note, I do appreciate the generous font at The Senior Times online. What a comfort not to have to call up my magnifier.

– Phyllis Carter


Fossilized words are embedded in our language

April, 2009

The English language is littered with thousands of archaic words. Some have pleasant connotations, such as “franion,” which the OED defines as a “gay reckless fellow,” and “halch,” which means “embrace.”

These words, for better or worse, have flickered out. Alas, words are organic. They are born, they live and they die. Sometimes, however, words don’t quite expire but enjoy a vestigial existence by being employed in an expression or a hyphenated word.

For example, while the word “kith” has probably been uttered recently by a romantic lisper, the OED documents that its last usage without its partner “kin” was in 1848. “Kith” is an old word first used in 1000 AD to refer to one’s friends and countrymen. Similarly, “kilter” is an archaic word that referred to the “good condition” of something, and nowadays is only employed in the negative sense of something being “out of kilter” or “off kilter.” The last attestation of “caboodle” in the OED without “kit” was in 1923. “Caboodle” appears to be a corruption of “boodle,” which developed in the 1830s in America to refer to the “whole lot.” By the end of the 19th century this usage was all but extinct.

One can only be in “cahoots” (never in “cahoot”) with someone in some devious partnership, but the word “cahoot” developed in the southwest of the United States in the early 19th century as a form of the archaic Scottish word cahute which meant “cabin,” or “poor hut.” We only talk about new fangled things, but “fangled” never really enjoyed a separate existence in our language. The OED says that the both the noun and verb “fangle” had the sense of “fashion,” but this arose from a mistaken analysis of newfangled, later form of newfangle, “eager for novelty.” The “fangle” part of this word derived from the Old English fangol, “inclined to take.”

The word “dudgeon” is only employed when attached to “high” and sometimes “great” or “deep,” and it refers to intense irritability. Similarly, “shrift” is only available when married to “short.”’ Shakespeare, however, had other options for the word. In Measure for Measure, the Duke says, “I will give him a present shrift, and advise him for a better place.” In Romeo & Juliet, Juliet’s nurse asks her young mistress, “Have you got leave to go to shrift today?” “Shrift” referred to the confession of sins and the granting of absolution, so to receive “short shrift” meant one wasn’t getting the attention one merited. In Old English, “short shrift” referred to an even more precarious situation and this was alluded to by Shakespere’s Duke. It referred to the short period of time allotted someone about to be executed to say their confession. The past participle of “shrift” was “shriven,” and this word lives on in the associated adjective “shrove” as in Shrove Tuesday.

There are many words featured in expressions or hyphenated words that may appear to be familiar as they have homographs in our language. Originally one would pay a “scot” for some service and particularly one related to entertainment. Later, the term was applied to the payment of a local tax that was levied based on the financial means of the inhabitant. So just as today there is no free lunch, in days of yore, there was no “scot-free.” The word “hue,” as in “hue and cry,” does not refer to shading but to the outcry of a multitude. It derived from the Old French huer, “to hoot.” Similarly, the word “pale,” as in “beyond the pale,” is an old word for “stake.” “Poke,” as in the to-be-avoided purchase of a “pig in a poke,” is an old word for a “small sack,” and this sense lives on in the word’s diminutive “pocket. ”The term “poke,” I am told, is still used as a term for a bag in some parts of the American South, and according to the OED, in Scotland “applied to the bags or wallets in which a … beggar carried provisions and portable property.”

While some words with negative connotations have become extinct, one old word survives only in a negative form. “Couth” until the 16th century was a word that meant “known.” The reverse process, however, can occur. The word “ept” is a back-formation of “inept” first recorded in a letter written by author E.B.White in 1938: “I am much obliged to you for your warm, courteous, and ept treatment of a rather weak, skinny subject.”

A rather “ane” word, if you ask me.

Howard Richler’s latest book is Can I Have a Word With You?


Mandates, wills, living wills and more: what, how, and why

April, 2009

As the population ages we hear more talk of wills, mandates, powers of attorney, mandates in the event of incapacity, and living wills. WHAT are they? WHAT is the difference between them? WHY should you have them? HOW do you get them? WHAT happens if you don't have them?

The will is a document that states what you want done with your possessions and savings (your estate) after you die and names the person you want to carry out those wishes. In your will you can give someone the right to continue residing in your home, you can have one person benefit from the income of your estate while another inherits the capital, and you can donate specific objects or amounts to specific individuals or charities while someone else receives the bulk of your estate.

If you do not have a will, the law will decide how your estate is to be distributed. Many people feel that even if they do not have a will, their spouse will be protected and inherit their estate. This is not so; the spouse does not necessarily inherit the entire estate, but may have to share it with children, siblings and parents. Without a will, there is no one named to administer the estate. You can write out your will by hand, date it and sign it and it will be valid when probated; or you can have one drawn up by a notary or lawyer. The important thing to remember is that the will only takes effect upon death.

The living will is a contradiction in terms as it takes effect while you are living but unable to state your wishes. The law provides that you cannot be forced to undergo medical treatment without your consent. If you are unable to consent to treatment for whatever reason, such as illness or an accident, a close relative or your representative, designated by your mandate or by the court, can do it for you. Hemust act in your best interest and must take into account any wishes you may have expressed when you were well. This is where the “living will” comes in. It is not a real will but rather an informal document that you can write out yourself containing your instructions in the event you become ill and are unable to express your wishes. It guides the person making decisions for you so that those decisions are the same as what you would have made yourself were you able to do so. The mandate in the event of incapacity is made in anticipation of incapacity and names a representative (mandatary) or representatives to take care of you and/or administer your property should you become incapable of doing so yourself. It may also contain the same provisions regarding health care as are found in the “living will.”

The mandate in the event of incapacity will take effect while you are still living, but only if you no longer have capacity, that is, if you are unable to take care of yourself or if you do not have the capacity to make your own decisions with regard to your property. It can contain special provisions for your special needs or lifestyle. For example, it can provide for the care of a pet, for contributions to charity, for an allowance to or support of a spouse or other person, for the sale or renting of a property, for a contribution to the education of a family member, etc. Where there is no mandate, such expenditures would have to be approved by the public curator’s office and the court.

The mandate in the event of incapacity is a formal document that can be prepared by an attorney or notary. In some cases the document provides instructions for your personal care as well as instructions with regard to the administration of your property. In other cases two separate mandates may be made, one with regard to personal care, the other with regard to administration of property. You can name one or more persons to represent you and different people can be named to care for your person and administer your property. In order for the mandate to take effect there must be a court judgment. This is the mandate called the homologation of the mandate. You will be advised that someone has asked the court to homologate the mandate and you will have the opportunity to appear in front of the judge and argue against the demand. Before deciding whether or not you have capacity and before rendering its judgment the court will study a physician’s report and the report of a psycho-social worker, and will obtain the testimony of witnesses. In many cases a representative of the court will interview you as well even if you do not fight the request. It is important to understand that this document, unlike a will, can only take effect while you are living. Also it will only take effect if the court is convinced that you do not have capacity. Furthermore, should you ever regain your capacity, you can easily end the mandate.

Why do we encourage people of all ages to sign a mandate in the event of incapacity? It is not only the diseases of age that can diminish a person’s capacity to make their own decisions, but accidents and temporary illness as well. If you choose not to have a mandate in the event of incapacity and at some point are assessed as lacking in capacity you may be declared to be a person in need of protective supervision. In such a case an application must be made to the court to convene a meeting of at least five relatives and friends. At that meeting a tutorship council usually consisting of three persons is elected as well as a tutor, curator or administrator. This is amore complex procedure and deprives you of the right to name your own representative (mandatary). Moreover, should it be determined that you are in need of protective supervision and should nobody be willing to act on your behalf, the public curator will step in. We are often asked to differentiate between a mandate in the event of incapacity, an ordinary mandate and a power of attorney. As already discussed, the mandate in the event of incapacity only takes effect upon judgment of the court based on proof of incapacity.

An ordinary mandate is the agreement by which you empower someone to act for you even though you have the mental capacity to make your own decisions. In the Quebec civil code there is no mention of the term “power of attorney” as there is in other places. In effect, the contract of mandate is the document by which you grant a power of attorney to another person. The best known and most used mandate is the bank's power of attorney. Granting a third party the right to use your bank funds should not be a general practice and should only be done with someone you trust completely, and then only if necessary and after much thought.

You can name one or more persons to represent you and different people can be named to care for your person and administer your property.


Look to Northern Ireland for a way to peace in Middle East

April, 2009

The recent outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland seemed at first like a black cloud threatening the fragile peace process. Until the silver lining appeared.

What happened after two British soldiers and an Irish policeman were murdered by a discredited IRA dissident group is almost unimaginable. The forces that had been at each other’s throats for decades came together to publicly denounce the killings.

Thousands of people, Catholic and Protestant alike, took to the streets to express their outrage and abhorrence. And the republican splinter groups who have claimed responsibility have been roundly condemned by the mainstream republican organization, Sinn Fein. Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister in the power-sharing executive, stood shoulder to shoulder with the protestant first minister, Peter Robinson, to condemn the killings: “We were elected to lead and, through democratic institutions, deliver for everyone throughout the community. We will not allow a tiny mindless minority to set our political agenda or divert us.”

McGuinness called those responsible “traitors to Ireland” and urged Catholics to cooperate with police in catching the culprits. Such an unambiguous display of support for the Northern Ireland Police Service from the leadership of Sinn Fein is unprecedented. As the London journal The Tablet wrote: “Twenty years ago they would have been plotting the killing of soldiers and policemen themselves.” Those responsible for the bloodshed plainly intended to destroy the power-sharing structure of the Assembly at Stormont and escalate sectarian tensions across the community. However, the response from politicians and even more importantly from ordinary citizens, who took to the streets in significant numbers at short notice to support vigils and peace rallies, made clear that any attempt to turn back the clock on the peace process would not be tolerated.

These public displays were followed by the unprecedented image of Catholic republicans and Protestant loyalists attending the funeral of Stephen Carroll, the murdered Ulster police officer. In a highly personal address at the end of the service, in the presence of Carroll’s widow, the head of the Police Service, Sir Hugh Orde, told her:

“He will not be forgotten, Kate. I promise you. My staff and officers will not forget what he did. I know the community will not forget what he did.”

The hard fact is there will be no united Ireland for the foreseeable future. But the blinkered IRA dissidents refuse to recognize that. They first demonstrated their hostility to the peace process when they planted a car bomb in Omagh in August 1998 that killed 29 people in the main shopping street. (I walked on this street in a trip to Ulster a couple of years ago. The Omagh blast is still fresh in the minds of the citizens there).

Undeterred by the hostile reaction, pockets of disgruntled republican activists throughout Northern Ireland vowed to defy majority public opinion, re-arm and revive “physical force” republicanism as the traditional and only effective means they could see of ever achieving a united Ireland.

For a time there was nothing much more than propaganda stunts with armed, hooded figures on manoeuvres in remote Irish boglands. From time to time police on both sides of the border intercepted arms and explosives in transit to a planned atrocity. The dissidents suspected that the mainstream IRA was double-crossing them by infiltrating its own people into their ranks to betray them.

But several well-planned ambushes over a year ago, in which police officers were wounded, underlined the growing dissident threat. Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde warned that the dissidents were intent on killing a police officer, a grim prophecy that has now been fulfilled.

Still, tragic as the killings were, what remains is the virtual universal condemnation of them in Ulster by the ordinary people and their elected leaders. Remember these same leaders had been fighting each other for decades. Now they are united for peace, an extraordinary accomplishment and a way forward for others.

It is no coincidence that U.S. President Barack Obama chose as his new envoy to the Middle East the very man who played a large role in bringing the warring Irish factions together in the Good Friday Agreement. Former democratic senator George Mitchell now brings his negotiating skills, honed in Ulster, to building peace between Israel and the Palestinians, whose enmity is perhaps the most dangerous in the world.

But the peace process in Ulster is a paradigm for a similar development in the Middle East. There are dissimilarities of course, but if the hard men in Ulster can unite for peace, so can those other warring factions – the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The peace process in Ulster points a way to peace in the Middle East.


Shacking up isn't what it used to be

April, 2009

Living together involves different priorities at different stages of life. On my return trip from visiting my daughter and her fiancé in their Manhattan shack-up, I couldn’t help but marvel that they consider 400 square feet “home.” Our needs become so different when youthful exuberance is tempered by experience!

At a senior stage, couples take more note of the financial and practical aspects of sharing a home. Contrary to the building stage that our children share, incomes have often reached their peak and must then be fairly delineated. When these incomes are not in sync, complicated power struggles and disappointments can surface. Moreover, concerns around “what if’s” begin to complicate estate planning. Loyalties need to be defined.

Alec and Glenda are a case in point: When Alec moved into Glenda’s condo both sets of their children were pleased that their parents had found partners. However, when Glenda unexpectedly passed away, her heirs, victimized by a job loss and the chain effects of a recession, counted on the sale of the condo to help them through. Alec’s children, on the other hand, had strong feelings about their elderly father being evicted from a home he had lived in for the past few years. Although this had been discussed in a pre-nup agreement, no one expected the surge of emotion that began to surface.

Although money matters are the most evident breeding ground for conflict, the psychological aspects of living with a partner come with the ghosts of previous relationships. Old loves as well as old hurts leave invisible scars and expectations. To that effect, by the time we reach mid-life, many of us have had to live alone. Although many do not begin by welcoming this notion, some of us have learned to love our own space. With the confidence of self-acceptance and a sense of mastery, we have experienced the pleasure of answering to no one. There can be a comfort in freedom: dancing with our mirrors, reading through the night or sharing a container of ice cream with our pets. And, ironically, women who had previously weighed more heavily towards couplehood, evolve into the majority of people who like single life.

In my experience, something happens to the sex roles as we age. Rarely stereotyped as the nesters, the homebodies or the spokesmodels for togetherness, men begin to access more of their neediness as they age. Those who had been married find it more difficult to take physical and emotional care of themselves when they lose a spouse. And, with time, men also become more sentimental. They begin to tolerate more closeness, and suddenly they want to come to the supermarket.

Women, on the other hand, tend to become more pragmatic and independent. Many have moved away from sentimentality to simple appreciation of a book of coupons and central air conditioning. Obviously, nature is still searching for a way to bring all this into sync. In other words, both partners might not be in the same state of readiness to give up their independence,with flips and flops of attitudes.

At every stage, however, moving in together involves mutual responsibilities. It might involve conquering ghosts of old expectations. It always implies augmenting and growing, but at a certain point it also sneaks a peek at inevitable losses. Whereas my daughter’s generation makes future plans that can luxuriate in time,more mature couples need to live in the moment, all the while remaining mindful of impending limitations. To share this with a partner involves a tremendous leap of faith. It involves a sense of respect for another person’s basic character. And it is not always adorned by romance.

All this being said, there is a special bond that comes with joining into one home. The notion of a “we” can continue to offer a sense of emotional and psycho-social stability. It is the endorsement of high mutual regard. It is also a testament to the human spirit and the generosity of commitment. And it’s just plain good for one’s health.

But it wouldn’t be fair to end this article without mention of the fact that moving in together is not necessarily limited to a man and a woman. Alternate arrangements involve equally challenging, sometimes unanticipated adjustments. More and more people are sharing living quarters with friends. Many of us house elderly parents. And there are always children who come and go, often bringing a constellation of grandchildren and “significant others” too complex to document. This might be a sign of our times, of our changing family life structures or of our increased longevity, but it always impacts on who joins whom at the breakfast table.

The decision of whether or not to live together is basic testimony that we’ve lived in colour. Our capacity to share our lives and the choices therein is the material that creates our stories. And never before has a generation been so alive with tales to tell.


Seniors at work

Ernest Rashkoven, 82, has no plans to retire any time soon Photos: Ellen Green

April, 2009

Although many older adults consider retirement on some level as the years unfold, today’s seniors are not necessarily of the same mindset as their predecessors. Regardless of the current economic crisis, older Canadians are choosing to stay at work for reasons that are as individual as they are.

In the early 20th century, the age of eligibility for a government pension was 70, but the average life expectancy was about 60. Now the population is aging rapidly, life expectancy has risen, and Canadians can receive government pensions at age 65. This translates to more demands placed on public pensions than ever before. As well, the ratio of workers to retirees in Canada is expected to fall to two-to-one in 2031, from five to one in the 1980s. So our population is aging and the work force is shrinking. As a result, companies – and individual workers – are reconsidering outdated policies regarding retirement.

For many older Canadians still blessed with good health, whether or not to leave their jobs at “retirement age” has become a choice, and they find they are still enjoying their work and continuing to achieve a sense of purpose.

Ernest Rashkoven received his law degree from McGill in 1953 and decided to pursue his interest in becoming a notary.

“I liked the idea of helping people and providing non-contentious services for clients. I felt I was well suited for the path I chose,” explains Rashkoven, 82. “Now it’s 56 years later and I still feel the same way.”

Rashkoven maintains the same schedule he established years earlier – he is at his office before 8 am and until 6 pm five days a week. He and wife Freda Gans have three children and nine grandchildren, and both volunteer in the community.

“We are lucky enough to have our health and we travel a great deal,” he says. “I have no plans to retire right now, but should I decide to one day, I would most probably just get more involved in volunteer work and community affairs.”

Rashkoven concedes that the recent downturn in the economy may eventually affect his line of work. “For instance, if there are fewer real estate transactions, there is less need for that aspect of notarial services,” he says.

For now, Rashkoven has no plans for any changes in his routine, or his life. “I am fortunate to be in good health and to have chosen a career that I have really enjoyed over the years,” he says. “I know where I am going in the morning.”

* * *

Lynn Abelson, 66, received a secretarial degree from what was then Sir George William business school and worked in an office until she had her first child 43 years ago. “I first went back to work when the kids were in their teens, but I’ve been with the Alzheimer Group Incorporated (AGI) for the past 10 years,” she says. “I really love what I do and this organization has become like a large family to me. We’re all dedicated to the clients who are part of our extended family.”

Lynn Abelson feels lucky to be working

Abelson’s responsibilities include office duties, registration, looking after donation cards, organizing the program book, setting up gala invitations and organizing and collecting funding information for conferences and membership drives. “Above all, my most important role is to greet people who call and come in,” she says. “Often the people who call us are very nervous. We try to put them at ease and let them know that they and their loved ones are welcome here.”

This mother of two considers herself lucky to still be in the work force, particularly in this age of electronic communication. “I feel fortunate enough to have developed the skills needed to use a computer. Without this job I probably never would have developed these skills,” she explains. “Working here keeps me more aware of what’s going on in the world.”

Abelson is not AGI’s only senior employee. She says that older employees can and do fill a niche in the working community. “Quite simply, we don’t often have the same responsibilities that a younger person has with a young family. From what I’ve seen, seniors tend to be reliable, punctual and organized, and usually have excellent attendance records, ”she says. “Most of us have an old-school work ethic.”

As well, AGI has given her more to consider regarding the benefits of work. “Studies indicate that being mentally active can actually help ward off diseases like Alzheimer’s,” she says. “And staying active mentally also keeps you from thinking about sickness. A job for an older worker is so much more than just a place to hang your hat.”

Abelson keeps up her health with daily jaunts on the treadmill, has recently learned to play the game of mahjong with a few friends, and still finds the time to babysit, with husband Leonard, their two grandchildren.“ We encounter all sorts of people from all different backgrounds and sometimes there’s a lot of sadness,” she says. “Yet it’s such a sense of accomplishment when you know you helped improve the life of an Alzheimer patient or caregiver.

“Every day I realize again that these are people who can still contribute and give of themselves,” she adds. “They don’t look at what they lost, they look at what they still are.”

Abelson says she feels grateful to have found this position at this time of her life. “I’m actually really proud of myself and that I’m part of what we accomplish here,” she says. “As long as I can do it, I plan to.”

* * *

Cecil Leonard, 57, has been a financial planner since 1974. His insurance and investment business is based in Kingston, Ont., although he also has several clients in Montreal as well as in Toronto. Many of his clients are seniors, and although some are retired, he says they all have one thing in common. “You meet people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds and at different stages of their lives but one basic need is the same,” he says, “Each person’s goal is to be financially secure and independent.”

Leonard’s sensitivity toward each client’s individual need is evident in his approach. “The basis of what I do is about developing personal relationships,” he says. “Each person must be treated as unique and with respect, regardless of financial success or lifestyle.”

Cecil Leonard has no plans to slow down

Leonard has also used his investment knowledge and personal experiences to help benefit the community. “When I met my wife, she already had a child who had been handicapped due to a case of meningitis as a baby. As well, my own father had polio in 1952 and I never knew a time when he wasn’t in a wheelchair. As a result, I was aware of the weaknesses in government programs regarding trust planning,” he says. “So in 2001, I helped create the Tree of Life program through the Miriam Home. How it works is contributors take out life insurance policies through the program for which they receive tax receipts for the premium and the home collects the benefit upon death.”

This father of two and husband to Martha, a child welfare lawyer, cautions people to filter through the media information on the economy. “The reality is that seniors shouldn’t be 100-per-cent invested in the markets and the older you get the less you should be investing,” he says. “A guideline is that a 70-year-old should be invested in the market no more than 30 per cent; for a 60-year-old, it should be no more than 40 per cent, and so on.”

Leonard suggests individuals meet with their advisors in order to continue to plan their personal financial path.

Besides waterskiing, downhill skiing and reading, Leonard travels often with his wife. Although he is considered a “young” senior by today’s standards, Cecil Leonard has no plans to slow down. “I do retirement planning for others, but not for me,” he admits. “What I hope to do is continue with my work and lifestyle as long as my health permits.”

* * *

When Louis Beurak, 70, left his home in Barbados to study commerce at Sir George University, he couldn’t have imagined that Montreal would become his new home. But working opportunities presented themselves 53 years ago and Beurak found his niche in the needle trade. “I sell textiles to manufacturers, mostly knitted goods imported from China. I have always enjoyed this type of sales,meeting people and interacting with them. That’s why I’m still here doing what I do after all these years.”

An avid surfer, Beurak still travels to Barbados twice a year. “I love swimming and surfing. While growing up I played on my school’s water polo team,” he says. “My life is here in Montreal, but I always can’t wait to get back to the ocean and to Barbados. To be honest, I don’t feel my age. When I get on a surfboard I still feel like I’m 16.”

Beurak’s ability to adapt and thrive on foreign soil came from his parents. In 1938, his newly married parents took the last ship out of Poland and found themselves in Barbados. “Everyone questioned my parents on their decision to leave but they were adamant they needed to get out,” he says. “They left with only what they were wearing, a small briefcase, which I still have, and a small band of gold.”

Beurak’s father built up his peddling business over the years, Eventually the family owned four dry goods stores. It was this sense of enterprise and strong work ethic that Beurak took with him on his own adventures in Canada.

“I’m at the office before 8 am and until 5-5:30 pm five days a week, ”he says. “I don’t even want to think of retiring. If I were to stay home I would age too fast.”

Besides traveling with wife Delle, this father of three and grandfather of 10 walks and swims to stay physically active all year. “I still love all kinds of sports,” he says.

Although his industry has been affected by the current economic situation, he has seen a lot of ups and downs throughout his many years of experience, and says there is still a great deal to be positive about. “The companies that survive in times like these will prosper even more later on,” he says.


Help rescue animals

The Animal Rescue Network is looking for volunteers who love animals and have some spare time. Volunteers are needed to work in the shelter, help in the area of animal health care, drive the animals to vets, screen and coordinate volunteers, help with fundraising, and take photos.

Info: 514-938-6215 or


A century of learning

Cecile Klein

April, 2009

Who said school was just for kids? Cecile Klein still attends weekly classes at the Jewish General’s mini-med program to learn about medicine and health. And she’s 101.

“The more I go, the more I learn,” Klein says. She has a weekly routine to keep her body and mind working. “Going to the lectures helps keep me mentally fit; I try to write down the next day what I heard at the lecture.” She also attends a weekly fitness class involving chair exercises for adults over 50 to keep herself physically fit.

Klein’s daughter, Harriet Nusfbaum, regularly attends mini-med lectures with her mother. She has attended many of the mini-med programs in the city but says the one offered at the JGH meets her needs. “It’s information about right now.” The others, she says, are about future research.

Nusfbaum explained that the JGH has the best approach because the workshops are very hands-on. “They have the facilities so they bring in the articles that you can see,” she says. Participants perform “surgery” on mannequins, led by teams of doctors and nurses to demonstrate the procedures, she explains.

Nusfbaum says she feels that it’s important to see how the entire hospital staff works as a team and the importance of each one.

“There is something for everybody at any age,” she says. “It’s never too young to start learning about how to keep yourself healthy.

“One of the most important things we learn is the de-mystification of the hospital and to be able to recognize symptoms – what’s normal and what is not.”

The next mini-med session begins on May 6, with the theme The New Old Age: Living Well. Staying Well. Being Well. Topics include living well with chronic conditions and heart disease, being well with arthritis and staying well-informed, and staying well with diabetes and after stroke.

The lectures take place at the Jewish General Hospital every Wednesday from May 6 to June 10, 7:30 to 9pm, in the block ampitheatre, room B-106. Registration is now underway at or 514-340-8222, ext. 3337. Space is limited.


Alice Returns to Geordie

Alain Goulem, Deena Aziz and Glenda Braganza from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will appear in Geordie’s upcoming Alice Through the Looking Glass. Photo: David Babcock

Lewis Carroll’s delightful story about a little girl and her magical world, adapted by Harry Standjovski, continues to weave its web of wonder at Geordie Productions. Alice Through the Looking Glass takes up where Geordie’s 2006 production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland left off, reuniting many of the same actors and designers.

This hilarious and elaborate stage production of the classic story features some of Montreal’s best known actors and award-winning designers and promises to bring audiences to an even wilder Wonderland than before.

Alice Through the Looking Glass runs from May 1-10. Info: 514-845-9810


From sentimentalist to minimalist: a few good tools are all I need

April, 2009

I’m going to call it the new minimalism. What happens ifwe get back to basics. A good knife – sharp, balanced, it feels good in the hand. Heck, it feels like an extension of the hand. It’s a chef ’s knife, 8 or 9 inches long with the tang – the metal of the blade – filling all the way into the handle. The metal is carbon steel, which needs more sharpening but keeps its edge better. It requires work.

A pot, large enough for pasta or soup stock. Finally, a frying pan, cast iron ideally. If that’s too heavy, a good quality non-stick one. Both the pan and the pot have heavy bases so that there are few if any hot spots. You want heft in a frying pan, you want heft in a knife. Cooking is a physical activity. You can “sing for your supper” all you want, but if you don’t work for it, nothing is going to get to the table.

I look at how many pots I have, how many pans, how many of the 200 or so cookbooks I really use and wonder what I need. The new minimalist in me laughs. However, the new minimalist is battling with the sentimentalist. The sentimentalist remembers that his mother gave him the Connecticut banquet cookbook, which was handed down from her mother. The sentimentalist looks at his impressive array of coil bound church supper cookbooks and wonders when he is ever going to make that upside down cake from Burnt Islands Newfoundland.

If I were on a desert island, what would I take with me? If I seriously decided to clean up the house, what would I give away, bring down to the Sally Ann or just throw out?

Sure the three-foot-long paella pan is impressive, but paella tastes just as good from a frying pan or casserole. And there are some things I have never bought, nor do I want. An espresso machine, for example. I’ll never make it as good as I can get at Café Italia. Similarly, I’ll never make a crème brulée with the perfectly torched topping. That’s why I enjoy eating it at a restaurant.

Too many home kitchens are built for caterers these days. As if Martha Stewart was going to pop in to bake us a coffee cake and we wanted to make sure she would have exactly what she needed. Could Martha get by with a basic set of pots and pans and a few knives? You betcha.

So, the Flavour Guy is evolving (or perhaps devolving) to new minimalism, working with what I have and not buying anything new. Great cooking comes from using everything to its fullest potential, not finding the perfect whisk to beat the egg whites. Besides, if the soufflé falls, we just call it a frittata and bring it out.

Here’s a basic roasted chicken I’ve been making a lot. Start by getting the best chicken you can – free range, organic if possible. It is more expensive but there is a difference in the taste. Let it come to room temperature. Salt and pepper the cavity and skin. Slather duck or goose fat over it. Good butchers carry this.

Now here is the key. If the chicken is small (let’s say 3 pounds, or a kilo and a half) and the oven is standard (about 30 inches), you want high heat and a quick roast at 450F. It will cook in about 40 minutes. If the chicken is bigger (at least 4 pounds or 2 kilos) and the oven is smaller, slow cook it for a couple of hours at 325F. If you have a 6- or 7- pound chicken, cook it at 300F.

That’s the equation. Small chicken, big oven = quick roast. Big chicken, small oven = slow roast. In either case, cook it breast side up and baste every 15 minutes. The fat will crisp the skin and mix with the juices at the bottom of the pan. Use this for basting and later for gravy. Check the inside of the thigh with a thermometer. Take the chicken out when it reaches 170F. Let it rest on a warm platter for 15 minutes before carving.

And, of course, keep the bones for soup.

Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. You can reach him at


Exhibition explores how culture reflects nature

The majority of ceramic departments in North America pride themselves on their interdisciplinary conceptual savvy, but Concordia continues to provide something unique – the richest cultural mix in Canada. As Raw/Medium Rare/Well Done demonstrates, there is a constant interplay between identities and languages.

Two broad, recurring themes have emerged within this exhibition: nature and culture. The title of the show obliquely references Claude Levi- Strauss’s seminal anthropological text, The Raw and the Cooked, which explores the dichotomy between nature and culture by examining myths. In Raw/Medium Rare/Well Done, artists explore how culture reflects nature.

This exhibition will be displayed until April 17 from 11 am to 7 pm, at Concordia University’s FOFA Gallery, 1515 Ste. Catherine W.

For information, visit or call 514-848-2424, ext 7962.


Malibu: 21 miles of scenic beauty and surfing for all ages

April, 2009

Last week my good friend Cassie and I spent the day in the Bu (pronounced “Boo,” which is slang for Malibu). We walked into the Malibu Surf Shack on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) after a two-hour, 20- mile drive through the traffic-filled streets of Los Angeles.

Dozens of colourful surfboards, wetsuits and kayaks lined the deck outside. A young girl from Vancouver was eyeing the latest surf swag inside. Sean, the store owner and a Malibu native, says he typically does not give interviews, passing up opportunities when hotshots from Vogue or Glamour come in, so as not to be overexposed.

Part of Malibu’s essence is its relaxed and laissez-faire attitude. The locals like to preserve the casual-yet elegant ambiance, which separates Malibu from the high-strung, smog filled, paparazzi circus of Los Angeles.

Malibu is 21 miles (34 km) of scenic beauty along the Pacific coastline. It borders Topanga Canyon to the east,Ventura County to the west, the Santa Monica Mountains to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The California State Parks within Malibu are packed with breathtaking trails for hikes, horseback riding, and biking. But Malibu is best known for its premiere surf beaches and the surf culture that goes along with it.

The Surf Shack is across the street from the Malibu Pier and the well known Surfrider Beach,which is said to have the “best breaks in the world.” Surfers from all over, of all levels, shapes, sizes and ages are drawn to the waves at Surfrider. At $20 an hour or $25 a day to rent a surfboard, surfing is nicely affordable during these harsh economic times. “Kayaking is equally as popular,” Sean says, gesturing to the store’s windows overlooking the beach. “A lady in her 60s is out there kayaking. She’s been in a couple of times,” he says.

“An 86-year-old man from the Midwest came in for a surf lesson,” he adds. “We held the board the whole time until he caught a wave and stood up. It’s one more thing to check off of his bucket list.”

Sean has co-ordinated senior group outings of 20 to 30 people.

We crossed the street and strolled along the pier, which holds the new Malibu Pier Club, a vintage-inspired bar offering cocktails and appetizers. The pier is an excellent spot for salt water fishing. We moseyed on over to the beach, walking along the sidewalk on PCH, passing surfers waxing their boards and zipping up their wetsuits, and breathing in the fumes from a Volkswagen Hippie Bus.

The Malibu Lagoon State Park, part of Surfrider Beach, is where Malibu Creek meets the Pacific Ocean. It is a pleasant little bird-watching area where the Adamson House, a natural historic site, showcases Malibu artifacts. The students of Malibu High School frequent this area as part of their nature studies.

Opposite the Lagoon, on the other side of PCH on Cross Creek Road, is the Malibu Country Mart. With over 60 shops, it is a great place to people- watch because many celebrities shop there. The Malibu Kitchen is reason enough for me to make the trip. It is the only gourmet deli in the area, which unfortunately allows them to get away with charging $12 for a sandwich. The service is mediocre, but the desserts are miraculous. The monstrous carrot cake cupcakes and Oreo brownies are my favourites.

Further up the coast is the family friendly Zuma Beach, known for its long, wide sands and excellent surf. This is where Valley kids and Malibu High and Pepperdine University students go to “slide the Bu” (surf in Malibu).

The Paradise Cove Café, just east of Zuma Beach, is the only restaurant in Malibu right on the sand with its private beach and cove. Its Sunday all you- can-eat buffet attracts large crowds, and while it appears in just about every guidebook I would steer clear. When I was there the place was packed and parking was horrendous. We waited 40 minutes for a table, and then were seated in the direct sun surrounded by children running around spreading sand everywhere. There was not one thing to eat for a vegetarian like myself; the menu consists solely of overpriced seafood. I left hungry, sun burnt, and annoyed.

Further up the coast, past several smaller, less-frequented yet lovely state beaches, is Neptune’s Net Seafood. This artery-clogging joint is where the bikers traveling along PCH hang out. Menu items include such delicacies as fish ’n’ chips, oysters, clams, lobster and calamari – all deep-fried, of course.

For a relaxing Malibu ocean front meal, I suggest Moonshadows on PCH during sunset.

Wildfires and mudslides aren’t the only troubles this upscale and tranquil community is facing these days. It’s a telltale sign of the country’s hardship when there are signs that the rich are suffering. Many of the seaside beach houses and canyon estates are up for sale. There are several empty stores in the Malibu Country Mart. Even the Malibu Inn, a legendary bar that has hosted many memorable musical acts, has closed.

However, I believe the Bu will pull through. Malibu’s greatest asset – its 365 days a year of surf weather – will forever attract people to its shores.

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Tragedy inspires generosity at Sun Youth

We all heard about the tragic death of Olivier Turcotte, 5, and Anne-Sophie Turcotte, 6, on February 21 at their home in Piedmont. Their father has been charged with first degree murder. In the children’s obituary, the mother, Isabelle Gaston, asked people to reach out and to help those in need instead of sending flowers.

This message greatly touched a Montreal business man, himself the grandfather of two children about the same age as Olivier and Anne-Sophie. He contacted Sun Youth Organization and decided to anonymously give $10,000 towards purchasing milk and eggs for children under the age of 12.

“The timing for this donation is perfect,” said Eric Kingsley, coordinator of client services. “On a daily Tragedy inspires generosity at Sun Youth basis, we have seen the number of families requesting the services of our emergency food bank jump from 80 to 125 in just a few months. Many of these families have children under the age of 12. This $10,000 will help us cope with the increased demand.”

“Since this donation has been announced, a few other donors came forward and offered to support us in our efforts to feed the children, said Sid Stevens, executive vice-president of Sun Youth. “One particular donor is looking into purchasing honey to include in all of the food hampers given to expecting mothers.”

Stevens says that the donor responsible for the $10,000 wants to inspire other donors to do something similar and give to food banks across the province of Quebec to help feed children. “There are 132,000 people using food banks in Montreal on a monthly basis; 82,000 of them are children. The Piedmont tragedy sparked something positive among our donors, but there is still a lot of work to be done to help children in need,” Stevens said.

We remind you that the Sun Youth food bank will once again embark on a spring-summer food drive. Bring non-perishable items to Sun Youth, 4251 St. Urbain, Montreal, H2W1V6. Collect food at your workplace and call us to pick it up. Contact 514-842-6822.


Gardening: a sustainable passion

Stuart Robertson has never supported the use of chemical fertilizers photo:Kristine Berey

April, 2009

Those of us who garden – or dream of gardening – would never miss out on the perennial learning experience a Stuart Robertson column offers. Montreal’s premier gardener, Robertson has been dispensing sage advice and inspiration on CBC Radio, in The Gazette and through speaking engagements for over 27 years.

“Every CBC station has a person like me, all beloved by their audience, getting lots of calls,” he says, understated and matter-of-fact, crediting the popularity of gardening rather than his own personality.

According to Statistics Canada, in the last three decades, floriculture and other nursery products have grown from being a $44-million to a $1.8-billion industry in Canada, in part because of the supply and demand created by the growing numbers of seniors who love to garden.

Robertson remembers when horticultural societies were mostly in Montreal West and NDG, with very few in the French community. “Gardening in Montreal was very much a British, Irish and Scottish activity. People from the U.K. brought their gardening habits with them. They were far more conscious of growing food during the war and made much more of it.” Italian immigrants brought different gardening traditions to Montreal, Robertson said, while the Botanical Garden encouraged people to “garden for themselves.”

The city’s gardening scene is very different now. “The past 20 to 25 years there has been a huge explosion of people in the horticultural industry, with key designers making their names” Robertson says. Cloning and other techniques have made access possible to plants we could never grow or afford to buy before, such as orchids. “I’m pleased to see that Quebec is such a hotbed of experimentation.”

Because, like gardeners, all garden situations are unique, Robertson has never run out of ideas. In the first two of a series of books that he hopes will stretch across the reader’s shelf, Robertson has harvested the infinite variants of the horticultural dilemmas he has solved through the years. “There’s no such thing as a ‘silly question,’ ”he writes in his first book, Stuart Robertson’s Tips on Organic Gardening. “If you want to ask, it’s obviously important to you to get the answer. I still have lots of questions of my own and the best way to learn the answers is to ask someone about them, or look them up in a book… Asking questions seems to be the hallmark of being a gardener.”

He didn’t set out to write the definitive book on gardening, he says. “This is just a collection of answers to questions. They’re ideas of ways of doing things that I’ve found to work, to be fairly easy to manage and that involve as little work as possible.” He credits his readers with many of the ideas he writes about. In his recently published second book, Stuart Robertson’s Tips on container gardening, he thanks all the “fine people” who place quaint, quirky or surprising containers in front of their homes, providing him with “a deluge of ideas.”

Robertson says he has been gardening all his life. His earlier gardening memories are of sharing sunny outdoor moments with William Augustus Robertson, his paternal grandfather. “I spent time with him and must have picked up more than I realized,” Robertson says. “He had a country cottage with a huge vegetable and ornamental garden. He grew everything he could. I credit him with opening my eyes to what could be done.”

Although Robertson presents many options and explains the pros and cons of each alternative solution he describes, he has been unwavering in his organic approach to gardening. He first came into contact with the concept through meeting Helen Nearing, whose books on “The Good Life,” co-authored by her husband Scott, advanced harmless methods of growing food in the mid-’60s when the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides were coming into vogue. Around that time, Robertson read an early copy of the Rodale Book of Organic Gardening. “It seemed to make sense,” Robertson recalls. “At the time I was being bombarded by chemical companies [wanting to promote their products] and [the products] smelled so bad.” He decided that the chemical option was not one he would recommend. “In the ’70s I realized I’ve got to take a stand on it. It’s a shame to use chemical fertilizers and products in the garden which are not encouraging life.”

For Robertson, good soil – “an incredible soup of life”– is the basis of gardening.

People garden for many reasons, Robertson says, wanting to decorate their space with living things or just to relax. “Some people treat gardening as a chore, some people treat it as pure pleasure. There is a definite connection between people and the earth.

If they’re open to it, that’s wonderful.


April's definitely not the cruelest month

April, 2009

Ice thaws on the river, ice melts on the streams, They are freed again as the spring sun gleams Old winter is beaten – see how it withdrew

—Goethe, Faust

Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain! April is here! No more crampons on boots, no more scarves, hats, gloves and iced up windshields. The cane with no more spikes can rest in a corner until November. No deadly snow plows to be afraid of or waiting at windy corners for crowded buses and trying to get in and out without sinking into a dirty snow bank at the curb.

Just thinking of soft April showers and a few daffodils and crocuses showing their heads lifts the spirit. What a relief to watch the filthy heaps of snow melting in the rain!

All the same, be prepared for the battle of the potholes. I have already stumbled over some, watched cars attempting to dodge them and pedestrians, their eyes glued to the sidewalks, trying to avoid a broken ankle. There are bound to be blocked-off roads at construction time during the heat of summer – but anything is better than snowstorms.

I love April. It’s not the cruel month T.S. Eliot would have us believe. It promises spring and fun and sitting at a table outside a patisserie sipping a cappuccino. When I was young I’d sit in the April sun with a hand-made reflector to get a tan. I didn’t know about skin cancer. There are so many things we didn’t know, we could just enjoy ourselves unencumbered. Wasn’t it wonderful to lie on a beach towel by a lake or ocean and let the sun shine on us instead of having to cover up? Who can remember all those dire warnings and predictions about food, medication – not worth the strain anyhow because they tend to change from day to day.

I’m going to let the April showers wash winter right out of my hair – breathe in and out in the knowledge that the days are longer, the grass is green, and the sun will be warm again. There’ll be children’s laughter in the streets playing hockey and riding their bikes. I won’t have to take my garbage out at dawn with my winter coat over my nightie – wearing boots.

I can’t wait to have my windows cleaned and keep them wide open. I can’t wait for the birds to come back and build another nest in my tree near the kitchen window. I shall take my umbrella and go for a long walk on the mountain and, if the sun shines, sit on a bench at Beaver Lake with a book, or just watch people go by.


Do you have to ask the question?

The first thing I do when I bump in to a family I have worked with is to greet the Alzheimer individual with a handshake, a direct look into their eyes, and introduce myself with “Hi John, I’m Bonnie.” It doesn’t matter if I have met this person many times before, or if our last meeting was hours earlier.

But sometimes the family caregiver will see me approaching and by the time we are face to face she is already asking the loved one if they know who I am. It’s hard not to notice the confused look on the individual’s face as I witness their inability to remember me. Sometimes one or two more questions are asked before I am able to reintroduce myself.

Memory losses associated with Alzheimer’s are irreversible. No special juices or vitamins will bring back the person’s memory. Certain medications may slow the progression of the disease, and physical and cognitive exercises are beneficial, but the losses, both physical and mental, are permanent and sadly progressive.

So why ask the question? Are people testing their loved one’s memory? Are they hoping for the right answer? Do they think the questions will help stir up memory? At times, asking too many questions may agitate the person. They feel that they are expected to know something but can’t find the answer. Well meaning family members may think that they will help the person recover their memory.

Recreologists working with groups of Alzheimer patients will include cognitive exercises such as word puzzles and memory games as part of their program. But people are not singled out and directly asked if they can remember certain things. These professionals know how to give hints and assist those who show signs of agitation. Activities are presented in a playful and non-threatening way. It is interesting to observe these groups when members get excited after they hear the leader give the answer as though they had answered themselves.

So rather than asking your loved one if they know someone’s name, reintroduce the person: “Look John, it’s Bonnie. ” This is a simple way of reducing unnecessary frustration in your loved one.

Questions and comments can be sent to


Real estate market certainly isn't all doom and gloom

The more I hear about “the economy” the more frustrated I become as a real estate agent. Everyone talks about the doom and gloom, which only puts buyers and sellers on edge.

The unemployment rate is up but it is not soaring. Average prices have increased despite fewer sales, so buyers are obviously able to purchase at higher prices in “this economy.” Consumer confidence is down, but I think this is a result of sensationalizing matters instead of putting them into perspective.

Interest rates are low, so why not take advantage of them? As well, Canadian mortgage products and insurances (CMHC), government and bank guidelines are stricter than in the US. In short, Canadians enjoy a healthier real estate market compared to the US.

Though the growth in real estate in Montreal has not been as big historically as some Canadian cities, it is this steady growth that has saved Montrealers from an imploding real estate market, as demonstrated elsewhere.

If you are thinking about selling your home in this economy, the asking price is very important. Just 5 per cent above the average could eliminate potential buyers. Some will not qualify. Others may just qualify but the bank may ask that they put more money down and the buyer is not able to.

Ask your agent to provide you with a detailed market analysis to demonstrate what your home could sell for. This should contain comparable sales in the last six months and include active competition in your area, which is your real asking price cap.

There are always buyers, no matter what state the economy is in. Sellers should expect that the average sale time may increase and that buyers may be more cautious. Buyers may want to negotiate more, so don’t be so quick to refuse an offer. Keep negotiations moving forward.

For readers thinking about buying a condo in Montreal, it’s all about resale. Parking, garage space, and an elevator are sought after features. Also, condos with thick concrete floors are more desirable because they are quieter. Location is important, as is proximity to public transportation and other services. However, it is rare to get everything you want in a property and if you do, you will probably pay a premium for it.

The average sale price of condos continues to increase. Fuelling this could be the “Baby Boomer Echo.” They are starting to retire, which may help to maintain the demand. They are looking for smaller homes and conveniences now that the kids have moved out.

If you’re thinking about buying a condo or home in the US, no one has a crystal ball that will predict what the country’s economy will be like in six months, let alone a year from now. Some reports have suggested that the US real estate market has reached its lowest, and in some areas there are reports of positive average sale price increases. It really depends on where in the US you want to buy.

Also, there are so many homes for sale in the US that it makes looking almost impossible, unless you have a single location in mind. There are hundreds of thousands of properties for sale in Florida alone. One should really focus and be prepared to research for a while. A real estate agent can help you find something but he/she is also limited to the same factor as you – time. Be patient.

Buying for investment with the thought of renting is different from purchasing to occupy. You need to talk to a real estate agent to understand what is involved to be sure that your reasons match the desired goal. If a Canadian were to purchase now, it is very likely that in years to come, a nice profit will be made. But one buys real estate for a reason and depending on that reason, it will either be a good time or a bad time. Talk to a real estate agent and explain your purpose and goals, both short-and long-term. The advice you get is usually free.

Daniel Smyth is a real estate agent with Groupe Sutton-Cloden Inc. in LaSalle.


Remembering Willy and Frank Moser – my twin uncles

L to R: Frank Moser, Manny Peris, Barbara Moser, Sid Stevens, Willy Moser on a visit to Sun Youth, circa 1990

My uncles Willy and Frank died within two months of each other, Frank in November in Jerusalem after a long battle with Parkinson’s and Willy, in February, after a stroke and several heart attacks. They were 81.

Frank and Barbara, 1954

My uncles were remarkable men. Given all their difficulties, they lived full lives until the end and I want to celebrate that. They were full of humour, wit, wisdom and love of family. Frank was a physicist and worked for Eastman Kodak in Rochester until he moved to Israel in the early 1970s and settled in Jerusalem, where he volunteered with students in the physics department at Tel Aviv University.

Like my father Leo, who died in 1970, Willy was a well-known and prolific mathematician. He taught at McGill for over 30 years and like my father, shared his passion with many young people, dazzling them with the magic of mathematics.

Laura and Robert Moser with Frank, Willy and Leo

When I was a young adult living in Israel, Frank was a second father to me. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, we drove up to the Golan Heights together to bring care packages, including cream cakes my aunt reminds me, to the soldiers. Frank introduced me to the father of my daughters. They learned Hebrew together in Haifa, or tried to. Uncle Frank and Aunty Ruth Joy became my parents in Israel. Frank was an incredibly witty, soft-spoken, loving uncle who listened without judgement. I know it’s a cliché but Frank was one in a million. Frank was a wonderful photographer. His photos were works of art.

L to R: Ruth Joy, Willy, Beryl and Frank

If Frank guided me through my early twenties, it was Willy who took on the role of dad when I arrived in Montreal in 1975. He and my Aunt Beryl became my Montreal parents, whom I shared with my cousins, Marla, Lionel and Paula. Willy was influential in my decision to start The Senior Times. He was “in on the name” and had lots of advice about articles. He was proud of my ability to jump in and publish that first issue, in which he was featured with his new grandson, Adam, in a story about being a grandparent. He was a master at crafting headlines.

What I will remember most was my uncle’s devotion to the brother he revered — my father, Leo, and his continual chronicling, organizing and publishing of my father’s mathematical work.

Willy and Frank, 2004

Willy gave exceptional and practical advice. He coached my daughter Amy, on the phone to LA, on buying her first car, telling her exactly how much to offer, when to walk away, when to come back. She followed his instructions to the letter and saved a couple thousand. He also influenced my decision to give up my car, detailing the cost of owning a car. I deduced I could travel to Europe every few months, take taxis every day and still come out on top economically. That was five years ago and I still live happily without a car. Atlas Taxi can attest to that!

Uncle Frank and Uncle Willy, I will miss you and thank you, my twin uncles, for the fatherly love you have shown me for 40 years.

In 1967, Willy was approached by the police to investigate the legality of games at Expo 67, and determine whether it was a game of chance as advertised. To read this exciting account, go to the “man of mathematics” on


Darwin, baboons, bassoons, & bobo the hobo

Mathematical Pie by William Moser Published in The Senior Times, April, 2001

J.E. Littlewood, one of the great mathematicians of the first half century, reported the following story about Charles Darwin.

Darwin had a theory that once in a while one should performa damn-fool experiment. It almost always fails, but when it does come off, it’s terrific. Darwin played the trombone to tulips. The result of this particular experiment was negative.

The Hungarian-American biochemist, Albert Von Szent-Gyorgyi (1893-1986) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries relating to cell respiration and to the composition of vitamin C.

I particularly like the following remark of his:

“Discovery consists in seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.”

Now, a verse:

There once was a hairy baboon

Who always breathed down a bassoon

“For” he said, “it appears

That in billions of years

I shall certainly hit on a tune.” – A. Eddington

And another:

There was a young man from old Trinity

Who found the square root of infinity

While counting the digits

He was seized by the fidgets

So he chucked Math and took up Divinity.


McGill Obituary of William Moser

William O. J. Moser (1927-2009) was born in Winnipeg and graduated in 1949 from the University of Manitoba, and obtained a Master’s degree in Mathematics in 1951 at the University of Minnesota.

Moser’s Ph.D. Thesis, written at the University of Toronto under H. S. M. Coxeter, evolved into the oft-cited standard Ergebnisse reference on combinatorial group theory (1957) known to generations as “Coxeter and Moser.” Before arriving at McGill he held faculty positions at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Manitoba. Much of his later seminal mathematical work was in discrete geometry, where, with Peter Brass and Janos Pach, he published in 2005 Research Problems in Discrete Geometry. Moser’s interest in problem solving extended far beyond this definitive monograph, and he was active for many years in provincial and national mathematics competitions for pre-university students, and in the publication for the Mathematical Association of America of Five Hundred Mathematical Challenges with E. Barbeau and M. Klamkin; with bawdy humour and other irreverence, problem solving was but one of the missions he shared with his older brother Leo Moser (1921-1970), who was also a mathematician.

Willy served as President (1973- 1975) and in other capacities in the Canadian Mathematical Congress – the predecessor to the Canadian Mathematical Society, and received their Distinguished Service Award in 2003. His experience in editing the Congress’s journals served him well subsequently in multiple capacities, including editing his friends’ writing – whether or not they requested it. Moser’s relations with colleagues were more brotherly than collegial. Typically one might find in his entourage a speed chess match, a peripatetic friend expounding latest discoveries and conjectures, and others enjoying the conversion to mathematics of the potent coffee Willy brewed for his academic family, all bathed in the pungent second-hand smoke of Willy’s cigar or pipe. He stubbornly remained active as an Emeritus Professor at McGill after his retirement in 1997, and after a subsequent, debilitating stroke. On receiving the CMS Distinguished Service Award in 2003, he addressed the audience in these terms:

Be generous and patient as teachers, be active in projects which benefit the mathematical community and, above all, have as long and as happy a mathematical life as I have had, and am still having.

Also published in Notes, Canadian Mathematical Society.

The William Moser Memorial Fund has been set up with the McGill math department to encourage young minds and to honour the Moser twins. Those wishing to donate can do it online or by contacting Elizabeth Mazurek, McGill Annual Fund, 1430 Peel St., Montreal, Qc, H3A 3T3, 514-398-8860.


What's Happening April 2009

April 16-23, Universite de Montreal presents the 23rd inter-university photography competition, featuring over 400 photographs taken by university students. Vernissage April 16, 5pm. Free. Tues-Thurs and Sunday 12-6pm at Centre d’exposition de U de M, 2940 Côte-Sainte-Catherine. Info: 343-6111 ext 4694.

April 18 from 9am-5pm and April 19, 10am-4pm, Deux-Montagnes Quilt Guild presents their Quilt Show at 141 Legion, Deux-Montagnes. Quilt raffle, tea room, demos and merchants. Info: 450-473-0517.

April 25 and 26, 10am-5pm, West Island artists exhibit at Beaconsfield Yacht Club, 26 Lakeshore Rd. Percentage of sales donated to adolescent colon cancer research. Vernissage April 24, 5pm-10pm. Info: 514-695-1272.

On the full moon of every month at 9pm, Ça décoiffe sponsors the works of over 10 Montreal photographers. 4526 Papineau, near Mont-Royal. Info: 514-229-4228 or 514-529-4156.

Concordia senior non-credit program offers undergraduate courses for 55+ at a greatly reduced fee. Info on spring and summer sessions: 514-848-2424, ext 3893.

Mondays, 7:30pm - 9:00pm AMI Québec holds supports groups for caregivers and those suffering from mental illness, helping them to better understand and cope with the implications of the illness at 4333 Côte Ste- Catherine. Info: 514-486-1448.

Thursdays at 2 pm, Centre Greene invites people living with Parkinson’s to their Ballroom Dance classes with Ellen Rubin, retired physiotherapist who specialized in the treatment of neurological conditions and has been a dancer for 12 years. This is a social dance class for those living with Stage 1 or Stage 2 Parkinson’s. Bring an able-bodied partner. No drop-ins. 1090 Greene Ave. $10 a class. Info and registration: 514-484-2016.

Wednesdays from 11am-noon join Craig Cormack for Taï Chi based movement and stretch classes at Centre Greene, 1090 Greene. $10 a class. Info and registration: 514-931-6202.

Wednesday April 8 at 12:15pm Centre Greene hosts a Senior Luncheon. $5. Cabane a Sucre meal. Info: 514-931-6202.

Saturday April 25 at 9am Montreal Urban Hikers Walking Club offers a guided walk of Dorval starting at 9:30am at the western end of Summerlea Park in Lachine. Car pool from Angrignon Metro at 9am. Confirmation required before April 18. $2. Info: 514-366-9108 or 514-938-4910.

Monday April 27 Zoological Society hosts a field trip to Boise Von Allmen. View migratory birds and spring flowers. Joan Ouellette will speak April 21. Info: 514-485-8317.

Wednesday April 15 at 12pm, St. Thomas More Parish hosts their card party and military whist at 978 Moffat, Verdun. $5. Refreshments. Bring your own cards. Prizes.

Thursday April 16 at 7pm, Atwater Library presents readings by Jan Conn, Carolyn Smart, Barry Dempster and Sue Sinclair as part of the Atwater Poetry Project at 1200 Atwater.

Saturday April 18 from 10am-3pm Atwater Library hosts a book sale featuring older and out of print books at 1200 Atwater.

Saturday April 18 Royal Canadian Legion Verdun, Branch no. 4, holds a dinner/dance at 4538 Verdun. Music from South of 40 and hot meal. $35. Info: 514-769-2489.

Sunday April 19 at 11am Scottish Centre of Montreal holds a buffet brunch at 1610 Stephens, Verdun. $12. Info: 514-366-0708.

Saturday April 24 and April 25 from noon-4:30pm Steri-Animal is holding an adoption clinic for cats at Global-Pitou, Plaza Pointe Claire. Info: 514-938-6150.

Saturday April 30 at 12:30pm Atwater Library hosts Books Road show with antiquarian booksellers Wilfrid de Freitas and Susan Ravdin at 1200 Atwater. Get an expert opinion on the value of your books. $2/book for members, $3 for non-members.

Tuesday May 12, 2009 Alzheimer Groupe organizes a Gala Evening fundraiser at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Guests will visit the “Imagine” Exhibition, commemorating the 40th anniversary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “bed-in” at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. The cocktail reception will begin at 6:30 pm at 1380 Sherbrooke W. Info: 514 485 7233.

Sunday April 12 at 7:30pm Beth Zion Congregation screens Prince of Egypt at 5740 Hudson. $5. Info: 514-489-8411.

Wednesday April 15 at 7pm CHIP presents a captioned film screening of The Band’s Visit. This Israeli film is about bonds that tie rather than boundaries that separate. Info: 514-482-0500, ext. 215.

Thursday April 10 at 7:30pm writers Saleem Narwaz, J.R. Carpenter and Arjun Basu will discuss their work at the Côte St.-Luc Library. $3. 5851 Cavendish. Info: 514-485-6900.

Wednesday April 15 at 7pm Citizens in Action presents a free conference on the failure of the neo-liberal agenda with Julius Grey at the Concordia Hall Building, room 1220.

Tuesday April 15 at 7:30pm, Atwater Library presents Bernard Gottlieb, director of the Montreal Scrabble Club who will speak on Scrabble and its resurgence in popularity. 1200 Atwater.

Thursday April 16 at 1:30pm, Pointe- Claire Public Library presents a panel of organizations on the many enriching opportunities available for seniors. Refreshments. Info: 514-630-1218.

Wednesday April 22 at 11am the Montreal Chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society holds its monthly meeting and welcomes anyone interested in civil, military or vintage aviation. Neil Aird will speak on Beaver aircraft at 365 St. Lois, Pointe Claire. Info: 514-481-8786.

Monday, April 6 at 8pm, McGill Early Music Ensemble performs at Redpath Hall. Free. Info: 514-398-4547 or 514-398-5145.

Thursday, April 9 at 8pm in the Redpath Hall, McGill Baroque Orchestra presents works by Locatelli, Boccherini, Haydn and Vivaldi. Directed by Hank Knox and with guest Mark Fewer, baroque Violin. $10. Info: 514-398-4547.

Saturday April 18 at 7:30pm, Church of St.Columba presents Medieval Mystique at 11 Rodney, Pointe-Claire. Visit medieval France with Estavel performing on copies of period instruments, Suggested donation $10. Info: 514-364-3027.

Thursday April 23 at 6:30pm Yellow Door will hold a poetry and prose reading at 3625 Aylmer. Info: 514-939-4173, 514-845-2600 or

Wednesday, April 22 – 25 and April 29 – May 2 at 8 pm Freestanding Productions presents Women of Manhattan by John Patrick Shanley, directed by Jock Macdonald and codirected by Isabel Farias. 4324 St. Laurent, 3rd flr. Seniors/$12. Info: 514-807-8810.

Wednesday April 22 at 7pm, at the Cote St.-Luc Library, The Performance Play reading Ensemble performs Senior Moments $3. 5851 Cavendish. Info: 514-485-6900.


Back to the future at Centaur

April, 2009

Centaur Theatre has another in a string of hits in this, its 40th year, with the fascinating Age of Arousal. This piece, written by Linda Griffiths of Maggie and Pierre fame, is loosely based on George Gissing’s 1893 novel, The Odd Women. Beneath its exposition of Victorian era hypocrisy and somewhat overshadowed by the bravura performances of five outstanding local women actors (and one more-than-token man) are the age-old building blocks of money and sex. Marx and Freud are friends of theatre.

The production makes frequent use of interior monologues — clued by quick lighting changes — to highlight what the actors think, often the opposite of their spoken text.

Victorian England was a cradle of the women’s suffragette movement and the concept of the “new woman.” George Bernard Shaw’s two plays of 1893 were prohibited from production until 1902, but mirrored Gissing’s themes by discussing the emergence of “manly women and womanly men” in The Philanderer and of the economic causes of women’s plight in Mrs. Warren’s Profession.

In Age, boisterously directed by Sarah Stanley, two women Mary (Clare Coulter, fresh from Buried Child at the Segal) and Rhoda (Alison Darcy, star of A Doll’s House at the Segal) run a secretarial school, funded by Mary’s lectures on women’s rights, and teach down-and-out ladies employable skills. Their business partnership is buttressed by their close personal relationship as odd women (Vicspeak for lesbians).

Fireworks ensue when they take on three sisters, definitely not Chekov’s Trio, who are intimidated by the high tech machines of the day — Remington typewriters!

The amazing Leni Parker, winner of MECCA awards, wins the house with her portrayal of Virginia, the boozy sister. Equally impressive are Diana Fajrajsl as Alice, the suffering sister and Gemma James-Smith as Monica, the naïve sister.

The one male, Julian Casey, plays a bounder, but with redeeming actions. In the play, Rhoda predicts that their goals will be achieved within 30 years — by 1915.

Alas, votes for women in 1893 were allowed only in New Zealand. England and Canada joined the move in 1918.

Age of Arousal continues until April 19. Info: 514-288-3161.


A tale of what might have been

Precious little is known for sure about Millicent Milroy (1890-1894). But this much is engraved in stone: “Millicent Milroy A.M.M.M. St. Daughter of James and Helen Milroy, 1890 — Wife of Edward V111, 1894.

The tombstone, at Mountain view Cemetery, in Ontario, was engraved by Ms. Milroy herself shortly after the death of the Prince of Wales in 1972. Until she died in 1984, the former school teacher maintained that she had met Edward at the Iroquois Hotel in Galt during one of his visits to North America, and had married him. There are several versions of the story, including the speculation that two boys, Edward and Andrew, were born of the union and had been adopted,with Edward having made secret arrangements.

After playwright Gary Kirkham heard the story on CBC, he visited the gravesite. His imagination went wild and he resolved to dig a little deeper. During his research, the clerk at the library instantly recognized his subject and said “Oh you mean Milli,” and Kirkham’s first full length award-winning play, was conceived.

“You have an irresponsible man and a very down-to-earth woman,” he explains. Kirkham attributes the play’s success to its actors. “In the end, the paper is not the art form. It’s the actors on stage, not the words on the page.” Info: 514-631-8718.


Rarely seen horses star in equine ballet

Horses are the true stars at Cavalia

April, 2009

Estelle Delgado, trainer and performer in the spectacular show Cavalia, doesn’t like the term “horse whisperer.” Though it denotes a humane method of training, in contrast with the concept of “breaking in” a horse, she says the word does not accurately define her lifelong experience of playing and working with these noble animals.

“When you spend all your life with horses you don’t need words. You understand their feelings – before they show you. It becomes instinctive and very natural just to listen to your horse, take the time with him, and pay attention to his body language, his mood, the way he’s eating and the way he responds when you’re next to him.” Delgado, who was raised on a breeding ranch in “the most beautiful place in France,” has been performing with horses since she was a toddler, along with her family. Her sister Magalie and her brother-in-law Frédéric Pignon are the equestrian co-directors of the show.

Delgado says she feels the horses are part of her family. “For me they are friends and partners. They can show affection in the way a dog can. Even if they’re eating, when I enter the stable they come to the window looking for me. They are very intelligent and have emotions like anybody else.”

In a passionate celebration of the ancient love between horses and human beings, Cavalia combines the artistry of acrobats, singers, musicians and superbly trained animals with evocative lighting and visuals. The horses’ training ranges between six months to 10 years with daily practice to refine their techniques, like in any performing arts discipline. Conceived by president and artistic director Normand Latourelle, an early member of the Cirque du Soleil team, the show has been described as an “equine ballet.” Over half of the featured horses are Iberian horses of Pure Spanish or Lusitano breeds, with the latter bred on the Delgados’ farm. The other breeds represented by the 60 horses that travel with the show (with 40 performing at any one time) include Quarter Horses, Appaloosa, the Friesian, the ancient Belgian, Percheron and more. All the horses are male, stallions or geldings.

Though Delgado’s specialty is dressage, the equestrian discipline seen in horse shows, she has fulfilled a dream she had since she was 15, of becoming one of the rare women capable of a form of acrobatic riding called the Roman Post. The technique originated among the shepherds on the great plains of Hungary, and calls for the rider to stand on two speeding horses with one foot one the rump of each. “This was my dream when I was young,” recalls Delgado, who began riding horses in parades as a toddler.“I would look at the guys performing – it’s very rare to see a girl. Standing on the horses, they looked so free, like a bird.”

Cavalia will be presented from April 21 to May 10. For information visit or call 866-999-8111.


Three hot tips on April theatre

April, 2009

Over the River and Through the Woods

The author of this comedy/drama, Joe Di Pietro, is best known for his musical, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. In this play, popular Off Broadway, he deals with the conflicts of an Italian-American third generation grandson in moving across the continent for job advancement and the grandparents – all four of them – intent on keeping the family together in one place. These concerns will certainly resonate with the large Jewish audience at the Segal.

The whip-smart dialogue – DiPietro was a marketing copywriter before hitting it big in show biz – plus the usual superb production values of the Segal – augur for a well spent evening.

Over The River plays at The Segal April 19 to May 10.

Info: 514-739-7944

Paradise Lost
In George Bernard Shaw’s 1903 masterpiece, Don Juan in Hell, the Devil refers to John Milton’s 1665 epic thusly: “(He) described me as being expelled from Heaven by canons and gunpowder; and to this day every Briton believes that the whole of his silly story is in the Bible. What else he says I do not know; for it is all in a long poem which neither I nor any one else ever succeeded in wading through.”

Finally, local actor Paul Van Dyck has waded through it and created an inventive multimedia show, including puppets of Adam and Eve, for a user friendly version of the classic rap.

Paul may be familiar to readers for his memorable bits in Vampire Lesbians Of Sodom, Dracula, The Real Inspector Hound and Sahara Crossing. Oh, by the way, if you think Shaw was rough on blind Milton, you should see what he had to say about Dante for his 1335 Inferno.

Paradise Lost plays at Theatre Ste. Catherine till April 12. $15 (pay what- you-can on the 5th and 12th)

Info: 514-284-3939

Cherry Docs

The Docs refer not to fruit surgeons (popular stand-up Derick Legwenus nailed that with his memorable Dr. Avocado routine), but to the Doc Marten’s footwear beloved of Skinheads. In David Gow’s much feted drama, a Neo-Nazi is charged with murder. Legal Aid assigns a Jewish lawyer to defend him and the process leads to the lawyer questioning his own liberalism. Montrealer Dan Jeannotte and Winnipeg-born Sean Carney can be counted on to sizzle in this conflict, directed by MECCA winner Gabrielle Soskin.

Cherry Docs plays at Theatre Ste. Catherine April 16 to 26 with 7 evening and 6 matinée shows. $21/$15 students, seniors/$12 on April 22 or 23.

Info: 514-481-1327


Rwanda's struggle with AIDS through photographs

April, 2009

A school playground in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, a city ravaged by HIV/AIDS photos: Andrew Stawicki

The 1994 Genocide has left Rwanda with countless orphans and a disastrous number of people infected with AIDS. Photo Sensitive in partnership with The Rwanda Initiative are exhibiting a series of photographs across Canada entitled Living With, to show the hope and despair of Rwandans.

“It’s heart wrenching in places but inspirational as well,” says James Burns, coordinator of Photo Sensitive. Six photographers and one Rwanda Initiative intern spent 10 days in Rwanda in December 2007 photographing the best and the worst of life in Rwanda 15 years after the genocide.

The goal of Photo Sensitive is to use the power of photography to spread the word about social issues that otherwise would never make the press, Burns says.

A church in Kigali where the children sit apart from the adults

The Rwanda Initiative is a partnership between the School of Journalism and Communication at the National University of Rwanda and its counterpart at Carleton University in Ottawa.

“The main goal is to build the capacity of the media in Rwanda,” Allan Thompson, a journalism teacher at Carleton University says. “We do that mainly by teaching journalism at the University. We also do internships for Canadian and Rwandan journalists who go back and forth between countries.”

The Rwanda Initiative set up the project initially. Thompson explains that they got the funding from SIDA and researched many of the projects that the photographers would go out on.

“The photographers spent time with local students and acted as mentors,” Burns says. The Photo Sensitive photographers were paired with Rwandan photojournalists and journalism students, which resulted in the locals producing their own body of work.

Burns explained that the country is still suffering the effects of the genocide. Rape was a popular weapon that was used and as a result, there are now 200,000 people people infected with AIDS in a country with a population of less than nine million, according to the UN.

“There’s a photo of a grandmother, in her 60s or 70s who is looking after all of her grandkids because of AIDS and genocide,” Burns says. Her children died from HIV and the massacres that took place in the early 90’s. As a result, she is left as the sole caregiver for five children.

“Kevin Van Passen documented circumcision,” Thompson says. There has been a huge move for adults to get circumsized because it reduces the chances of contracting HIV. “It’s difficult to find someone who will let you photograph that procedure,” Thompson says.

Roza Mukabagema - she got infected after caring for her infected children. Two of her daughters died of the disease, two more are very sick and two of her five grandchildren have tested positive

“There’s some really sad stories, but it’s not all negative. There are photos of youth just going about being kids despite the fact that they’ve contracted AIDS and HIV.

“One of our photographers Tony Hauser was certainly struck by the people here,” Burns says. “He was so impressed by the people that he met and could not believe the poverty that they were living in.” Many of the Rwandans had never had their photographs taken before and asked Hauser for copies. “Tony doesn’t use digital cameras. He still uses old style film.”

Hauser’s solution to the problem of distributing photographs was to return to a small village in Rwanda, Yagature in June 2008 and hold a mini exhibition. After the exhibition, he gave the locals the photographs.

“The photographers were impressed by their strength in the face of adversity,” Burns says. “Even though it could be hard, the Rwandans let them into their lives.”



Blue Met focuses on Writers in Peril

Azar Nafisi

Newsday once referred to Azar Nafisi as a writer who “reminds us why we read in the first place.” When the gifted Iranian author found herself unexpectedly alone before an audience of hundreds at Concordia University last February, she did just that, beautifully.

In a pre-Blue Met literary evening, Nafisi had been scheduled to be interviewed by radio host Jian Ghomeshi about her new book, Things I’ve Been Silent About, but heard at the last moment that her partner was prevented from attending.

Nevertheless, she carried on, talking about the circumstances leading to the writing of her bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran, and what compelled her to write the much more personal second memoir.

Her love and need of literature was interwoven with accounts she presented of her life within her family and within Iran’s troubled society.

“Readers are intimate strangers,” Nafisi said, likening written but unread words to hot house flowers that wilt and die. “The heart of reading and writing is curiosity,” she said, evoking Vladimir Nabokov’s definition of the word: “Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form.”

She warned against sinking into a life of pure materialism, as some do in abundant North America, of living in a “world based simply on greed, without imagination and thought.”

This year’s BlueMet, in partnership with Reporters without Borders and Media@McGill will present a series of events, Writers in Peril, in French, English, Spanish, Arabic and Farsi, highlighting freedom of expression. Reza, a photojournalist who trained journalists in Afghanistan aiming to establish media outlets, will be featured, as well as human rights activist Marek Halter. Exiled Iranian cartoonist Nikahang Kowsar will speak, as will Zakaria Tamer, a Syrian- born short story writer and Margaret MacMillan, who has written books about censorship in China.

Distinguished literary guests will include Central and South American, Israeli and Arab, Hungarian, South Asian and Quebec writers.

The 11th annual edition of the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival will take place April 22-26, 2009 at the Delta Centre-Ville Hotel.

Information about and tickets to these and other events are available by calling 514-790-1245 and at or


A one-day Turkish tease in Bodrum

April, 2009

Bodrum. The name itself is exotic. The only destination on our seven day cruise that wasn’t an island, this town of 40,000 is a magnet for tourists. On the Turkish coast, it was the second stop on our Easy Cruise, which started in Athens. Irwin and I were eager to get back to Turkey, which we had explored for five weeks, five years ago – even if it was only for one day.

Like many Turkish cities, Bodrum has its shuk, or market, with hundreds of small, tantalizing shops to explore in a maze of narrow streets. I have to confess I spent most of the day wandering around them buying jewellery for my staff and family. I adore bargaining in these tiny shops.

The trick is to buy a lot in one place, once you’ve shopped around and found an owner willing to lower prices. The shop we chose was owned and run by a family of burly men who were gentle and smart about recognizing me as a serious customer.

For lunch, the shop owners recommended a fresh-fish restaurant on the sea. We were taken there by the same boy who had brought us traditional mint tea and Turkish coffee after our deal was sealed. But as I predicted, the restaurant prices were outrageous and we left to search for another eatery.

Finally we made our choice and took our seats facing the beach only to realize that many restaurants had their own beaches, little spaces with beach chairs where one could have a sip or a meal and use the beach for free. No towels provided, though, and certainly no bathing suits. Irwin had his suit, but I had left mine on

the ship, so we decided to go shopping for one. Unfortunately, there were no suits I wanted to splurge on. Finally we found a fun boutique and I purchased a “skort” (remember those?) and went in with my T-shirt, looking pretty silly. So I learned my lesson. Never leave your bathing suit on the ship.

Of course, Bodrum didn’t have the serenity of Kalymnos, our previous stop, but it was an exciting way to spend our second cruise day, and it certainly put the idea of returning to Turkey again into our heads.

Bodrum boasts some fascinating historic sites and nightlife galore, but I have to confess we were doing the cruising thing and just shopped till we dropped into the sea for a swim.

If you want more information on accomodations and sites, google Bodrum.

Next stop: Kos