Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10

Columns

Josette still feels the earth move beneath her

Tetchena Bellange says that following the Haitian earthquake, it was as if the world stopped for several days.

At the time of the cataclysmic event, the documentary film director’s aunt Josette, 71, was in Haiti, taking care of her son who had been ill. The family heard from her, then lost touch. “Watching the news, I felt like dying,” Bellange said. “It was awful, a feeling in your belly pinching everywhere. We couldn’t eat or sleep.” In an act of inspiration and desperation, she sent an email to everyone, individuals and any media she found on the Net, pleading for news of Tante Josette.

“The images seen on TV are terrifying, some powerful Haitian symbols just collapsed. Is it at last the end of the Haitian people’s suffering? I hope so with all my heart. And I do my best to believe that my aunt and her son are safe and sound. I stay near the phone in case they call.”

Tante Josette arrives safely in Montreal

After four days, CNN reporter Gary Tuchman called to tell Bellange that Tante Josette was with him. Tuchman was one of several people, including members of the media and the military, who guided Josette to safety, battling the crowds to get her through the embassy doors and taking her to Montreal on a Canadian military airplane.

“It was heartbreaking – at first, when the CNN reporter and the Canadian army came to pick her up, she stayed. She didn’t want to leave her son. The following Monday, she had no choice but to go since her health was deteriorating.”

Josette is still reliving the horror, Bellange says. “It was a nightmare. She says she never saw anything like it before, surrounded by death everywhere. She says she still feels like the earth is moving beneath her.” Because she knew to stand in the doorframe of a house, Josette escaped death. “She went to the entrance, the more solid part of the house, made of metal. The house fell, but the door remained standing.”

Bellange describes the atmosphere at the Wyndham Airport Hotel, where refugees were taken when they arrived in Montreal, as surreal.

“People didn’t talk to each other. Everyone stayed with their own families and a weird silence took over. We were in a state of shock, except for kids, who were running everywhere. Some came off the plane in shorts and sandals and the Red Cross gave them blankets right away.”

Sun Youth is partnering with Red Cross and several other organizations to provide immediate relief to new arrivals.

“We’ve been at the airport since the beginning,” Sun Youth executive director Sid Stephens says. “We’ve helped more than 3,000 people. For some it’s a stopover before going to other cities, but they all come here first and we have to put them in a hotel and provide proper clothing.

“They’re very touched and emotionally drained,” he says. “There are kids – one- or two-week-old kids newly born – coming off the plane. It’s very sad, very heart breaking. Of all the fires and other tragedies we’ve covered, nothing comes close to this.”

While Sun Youth is appealing primarily to manufacturers for new clothing and supplies, individuals may help as well.

“We are in need of hygiene products, diapers, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, toilet paper and other hygiene products, if individuals want to make a difference.”

Used coats may be dropped off at any Bellingham Cleaners, which, with Manteaux Manteaux, is collecting, sorting and dry-cleaning them. This is the beginning of a massive long-term relief effort, Bellange believes. “Some say it may take 25 years to rebuild.”

Everyone in the Haitian diaspora seems to have been affected, Bellange says.

“There are cousins we know are alive but lost everything. We know friends who are dead. Everybody knows of a story where people lost a whole family, where someone is dead or missing.”

To find a Bellingham Cleaners near you, call 514 733-4444. Sun Youth: 514 842-6822.

Labels:


Heritage, talent at the forefront

What do Mary Ann Shadd, Nathaniel Dett, Portia White, and Elijah McCoy have in common? Discovering that these famous Canadians who have made a difference were once young, gifted and black is interesting and illuminating to most people. But if you’re a young black kid yourself, just starting out, this knowledge could inspire you to reach, just a little higher, for the stars.

This is why the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall was the first and only venue considered for what has become an annual Montreal celebration kicking off Black History Month. Young, Gifted and Black showcases the talents of black youth through drama, music, dance, and spoken word.

Kevin George is organizing the sixth edition of Young, Gifted and Black photo: Kristine Berry

“The name Oscar Peterson is something that instills pride,” says Kevin George, the community organizer who first made the show happen, six years ago. “There are not too many venues in this city where young black people can go and say: ‘This incorporates me.’ [The choice of venue] sends a powerful message.”

The vision for the event sprang from tragedy. In 2003, the shooting deaths of four young men shook Montreal’s black community. As a community organizer who works with kids “from all over,” George was acquainted with three of the four young men and says they were basically good kids. “It was a feeling of desperation,” George recalls, explaining how he felt the need to balance the negative news coverage with the reality of many kids he knew.

“I said: ‘OK, what about the positive things?’ There are so many young kids doing wonderful things.”

Inspiration came in the form of a song, Donny Hathaway’s rendition of Young, Gifted and Black, as George was sitting in his car listening to the radio.

“It was an emotional response. I booked the hall right away. By December, I was in a panic.” The responsibility and expenditure created some anxiety, which George shared with Rev. Darryl Gray, then minister of Union United Church.

“At this point, it was an individual initiative. I went to Rev. Gray and expressed my anxiety. He said: ‘Well, you have to do the show.’ ”

The show did, and continues to go on, with new and returning performers of all backgrounds bringing Montrealers a message of cultural diversity and non-violence.

“This year, the proceeds were to go to DESTA, a black youth network that provides education,” George says. “But what happened in Haiti was unimaginable. We spoke and felt that we’d really like to support that cause 100 per cent.”

Haitian-born Vox Sambou

The show seeks to entertain as well as inform. The performers are challenged to integrate their gifts within the context of black history.

“We give them a theme. In the past it was ‘African Kings and Queens.’ This year, it’s ‘My African Roots.’ The performance must speak to the theme.” The kids may dedicate their interpretation to someone they admire in the context of black history or create an original piece, explaining what their performance means to them. The process takes artist and audience on a journey of discovery into glorious ancient Africa.

“You start thinking about great African empires – all of this predates current history as taught in school. I believe it’s everybody’s history, because science says the cradle of humankind is in Africa.”

While slavery is acknowledged as something to be transcended, George says the scope of black history is far greater: “Black history does not start with slavery. Black History Month is an attempt to undo hundreds of years of oppression and lost knowledge of the black community and its contribution to society. The reason you have Black History Month is the same reason you have Young, Gifted and Black. The show is uplifting, like a breath of fresh air.”

Young, Gifted and Black starts at 8pm, February 6, at The Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, 7141 Sherbrooke W. Tickets: 514 848-4848 or 514 790-1245.

Labels:


The living history of Union United

An English Lit graduate and fiction writer, Maranda Moses admits history is not her main subject.

Yet a chance meeting in 2005 with then-Union United Church minister Rev. Darryl Gray led to Moses completing Proud Past, Bright Future. The book tells the story of Union United Church, which is, for many, the physical and emotional centre of Montreal’s black community.

“They wanted a book that would chronicle the church over 100 years,” Moses said. “There was a small book written in the 1970s and Union is cited in different publications, but there was never anything in book-length format.”

Union United celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2007 and commissioned the book as part of a series of events marking that centenary.

Gathering, assembling and editing material spanning so many years was a daunting task. But Moses recognized that this commission was a pivotal event for her. “I was shocked and elated and thankful to have been considered for the project.”

For two years, while working at another job full time, Moses did research and interviewed more than 40 people.

“There was a lot of work involved in looking up archival information. I had to pretty much start from scratch. I didn’t want to rely on what was already written, that was just scratching the surface.”

Moses began by speaking with the oldest members of the clergy and congregation, the keepers of the most memories.

“They turned out to be my favourite interviews, they had so much to talk about,” she said. One lady in particular, the late Mrs. Maisie Dash, left a strong impression on 33-year-old Moses. “She was amazing. Her recollections of Rev. Este were really magnificent – she captured the joyful essence of Rev. Este that other people talked about. There were conflicts, but generally people just had a genuine love for this man, a special attachment to him.”

It’s not possible to talk about the history of Union United Church without mentioning Rev. Charles Este. Coming to Montreal in 1913 looking for work as a porter, which didn’t come through, Este found work only as a shoeshine boy at La Corona hotel.

“He wasn’t allowed to use the front entrance, he had to enter by the back,” Moses said. “But he was so charismatic, people told him to go back to school and make something of himself.”

Este’s clients brought him books, and one man arranged an interview with McGill that opened the doors to this institution, though Este only had an elementary school education.

Este served his congregation for 40 years as an ordained minister. A lover of the arts and literature, Este continued learning all his life and received a doctorate in literature at the age of 63.

Known as “Rev,” Este tirelessly advocated on behalf of the members of the community.

“He used to go door to door visiting the sick, championing on behalf of black nurses who wanted to work in Montreal hospitals, fighting for black men to join the military, for everybody, even those outside the church. He had strong friendships with people in the Jewish community, the Catholic community. Este could be at a meeting with Hydro-Québec, and Bell, and they would listen to him. So that definitely broke down barriers for them and brought awareness to the plight of the black community.”

The systematic racism and exclusion faced by the black community in the early 1900s and described in Moses’s book are painful but should be mandatory reading, since many say forms of it still persist. Black people wanting to go to white churches were not welcomed and on occasion charged “pew fees.” Menial jobs were the only ones available and black workers were “last hired, first fired.” If you were hired, usually it was out of sight of clients. Finding housing was difficult.

It’s important to understand the climate of those times if one is to understand the significance of Union United, an institution that gave rise to such people as musicians Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones, the first black Quebec judge, Juanita Westmoreland-Traore, and bestselling author Mairuth Sarsfield, who wrote the foreword to Moses’s book.

Maranda Moses chronicles 100 years of Montreal institution.

“The church has overcome so much, but has been around 100 years. The next challenge is to be more high profile, to bring more history outside their doors, to involve youth [of the wider community]. I don’t think the youth are getting their proper dose of black Canadian history. In general, what they know is very Americanized.”

Working on this project has given Moses focus and strength. She plans to provide further exposure to the book by having excerpts published on Union United’s website and making the book available on Amazon.

“It was a life-changing experience. I walked away with a feeling of pride and also knowing it’s your duty to excel if you have a passion or a dream. People have overcome so much, there is no excuse for failure.”

Proud Past, Bright Future is available at Paragraphe bookstore, 2220 McGill College.

Labels:


HIV/AIDS 'epidemic' crosses generational borders

When most people think of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), they most likely associate it with young men and women. However, a new phenomenon is starting to emerge, raising the question of whether HIV in those over 50 is on its way to becoming a major problem.

According to an HIV/AIDS infection study released by researchers at the University of Waterloo, persons older than 40 are the fastest-growing segment for new cases of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. A 2004 study by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) found that the largest increase in prevalence of HIV since the peak of the AIDS panic from the mid-1980s to 2002 was among those over 50.

In the university study, which was presented at a conference on HIV research in Toronto last November, graduate student Katie Mairs and gerontology professor Sandra Bullock focused on rising rates of HIV/AIDS among older residents of Florida. The prevalence of AIDS among those older than 50 was found to be highest in that southern U.S. state, where many Canadians spend part or all of the winter. The researchers warned of the potential consequences for snowbirds who travel south each year from Canada to spend their winters in Florida.

In their analysis, they found that fewer than one in five Canadians older than 50 who spent at least a month in Florida had been tested for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Because there is no chance of pregnancy, the 50-plus set is less likely to use condoms. As such, the sexually liberated Baby Boom generation could be unaware of the danger to which they are being exposed.

Dr. Judy Gould, a project leader with the Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation in Toronto, cited some basic statistics on HIV and older Canadians produced in 2007 by the PHAC. In 2006, more than 13 per cent of all reported positive HIV tests were for individuals 50 years or older, and a third of those arose from contacts that were heterosexual.

Although not alarming, Gould suggested the numbers might provide useful information to older people “who may need some prevention reminders or just having HIV on their radar.”

Linda Farha, volunteer president of Montreal’s Farha Foundation, which raises funds for research on HIV/AIDS, was more direct. She has no doubt that the heterosexual population exposed to HIV/AIDS patients is growing, while noting that Baby Boomers are rediscovering what it is like to be single. She pointed out that there are about a million divorced Canadian boomers. Since this segment of the population wasn’t directly affected by the first waves of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1980s and 1990s, which heightened safe sex awareness, “it’s not something that enters their minds,” Farha said.

Monique Doolittle-Romas, executive-director of the Toronto-based Canadian AIDS Society, said that preliminary studies on HIV/AIDS among the aging in Canada are underway.

“Presently, there are more unanswered questions than there is knowledge in this area,” she said. “The HIV epidemic is clearly evolving and we need to change our focus along with it. We need to focus on developing campaigns to study the sexual behaviours of older Canadians and research their attitudes and awareness level about HIV/AIDS.

“We also need to develop awareness and prevention campaigns targeted specifically to this new group of people affected by HIV/AIDS.”

Another important area of study, she added, relates to how HIV interacts with other conditions common to aging, such as depression, cardiovascular disease, menopause, prostate cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, and hypertension. “We need to understand how treatment for these age-related illnesses will react with ARVs (antiretroviral drugs) and if the onset of these illnesses is brought on earlier for those infected with HIV,” Doolittle-Romas said.

Adapting HIV-101 for seniors
AIDS Community Care Montreal, a group dedicated to helping those with HIV/AIDS while promoting community awareness and action, has started focusing on the impact of the disease on seniors by adapting its information programs for seniors.

“At the moment, we have what’s called HIV-101 and we have another workshop called Safer Sex,” said Doug McColeman, the group’s director of education and prevention.

“They were initially written for youth, but we’re still adapting them.”

Info: 514-527-0928 or www.accmontreal.org

Labels:


Dans la Rue kids once on the street back to school

Marlee, 22, came to Montreal from Halifax two years ago with a friend to take advantage of the city’s artistic opportunities. She is studying animation while attending Emmett Johns School, part of the Dans la Rue organization that helps youth in need.

“I didn’t have any money and I couldn’t find work because I only speak English,” says Marlee, who kept her last name private. She and her friend tried to play music on the streets to collect money, but it wasn’t enough to pay for food and shelter.

Dans la Rue was founded 21 years ago by Father Emmett Johns, known as Pops, to help kids like Marlee. “Pops bought a second-hand van and went around the east end of Montreal stopping at corners, feeding kids in need,” says Dorothy Massimo, the director of Development and Communications at the organization.

“The hot dog van saved my life,” Marlee says.

Over the years, the hot dog van has been a vital part of Dans la Rue. Dave Crockart, the organization’s accountant says: “It’s one of those things that works. It’s simple, it doesn’t require a lot of management, people know the routine.”

The menu has stayed the same. “Hotdogs and veggie dogs with Kool-Aid in the summer and coffee or hot chocolate in the winter,” Crockart says.

The van goes where kids congregate.

The van works on the same principals it did 21 years ago, only it is bigger with better equipment. The van, comparable with a mobile home, has a kitchen, a dining room table, a bed, and benches.

As the organization grew, kids on the street became more aware of it. “Every kid on the streets of Montreal knows about Dans la Rue,” Massimo says.

Marlee says she even heard about Dans la Rue while she was living in Halifax. As Dans la Rue expanded it added a school where kids could get a free education starting from high school.

“It’s not your traditional school,” Massimo says. It adapts to the needs of the kids on the street who want to finish school and get their act together.

The school is on the second floor of the day centre and it is essentially one “great big classroom” with two teachers and 35 students, she explains.

Emmett Johns school is there for mentoring, tutoring, and support, but it also helps kids make the transition to university.

“One girl is studying law at Université de Montréal,” Massimo says. Dans la Rue helped her put together funding and apply for bursaries.

“Dans la Rue and Concordia’s Fine Arts department have a longstanding relationship,” she adds. Marlee, who gets support and tutoring at Emmett Johns School, is taking classes in animation at Concordia in hopes of one day being able to create a cartoon series for television.

Marlee is a regular, meaning she attends all her classes and does her homework. Others at the school miss classes because of issues they may be having, Massimo says.

“The organization is set up to meet the needs of the kids, and not the other way around,” she says, explaining that the kids have the freedom to do as they please. “We won’t give up on them, though.”

Dans la Rue typically helps kids on the street who have “many other issues,” Massimo says, such as drug addiction, prostitution, alcohol addiction, and a history of abuse.

“I was never on the street,” says Marlee, adding that she doesn’t struggle with any of these problems. She lives in an apartment and says she’s “pretty civilized” and that she has a decent relationship with her family. There was a point when Dans la Rue helped her with her basic needs because she struggled financially, but now they’re helping her with her life goals. The organization helps her buy groceries and a bus pass, but other than that, Marlee doesn’t seem so different from anyone else her age.

“Every kid’s story is different,” Massimo says. “Some kids started out in normal homes. You would never know that kid would end up [needing help from] Dans la Rue.” That is why Dans la Rue has the prevention program, to talk to high school students living seemingly average lives, she says.

“We talk to the kids about what it’s like living on the streets and let them know that they don’t have to end up like that,” Massimo says.

“In every group we meet, there are one or two kids from abusive homes who were contemplating leaving. They turn to us and we help them.”

“They genuinely want to help you,” says Marlee about Dans la Rue. “Someday I want to volunteer here because it’s such a wonderful place.”

To donate, phone (514) 526-5222 or visit www.danslarue.org

Labels:


Montreal pain researcher honoured in the U.S. for his achievements

A Montreal scientist who broadened the understanding of how we experience pain, along with the ways it can be controlled and relieved, has been honoured for the second time in less than year for his lifetime’s work.

In December, Ronald Melzack, psychology professor emeritus at McGill University, was chosen for the 2010 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Psychology.

Last spring, Melzack was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in recognition of his pioneering research into pain mechanisms and pain control over the past 50 years.

Melzack’s principal claim, which was first proposed in a groundbreaking scientific paper in 1965 written with neuro-physiologist Patrick Wall, is that people feel pain not at the point of injury, but instead in their brain through a pathway that travels through the spine. His “gate control” theory of pain suggested that people can change or control their suffering by using emotional and personal processes to block, increase or decrease the feeling of pain.

"You feel damn good when [the pain] stops and you know you're getting better." Ronald Melzack Photo: Martin C. Barry

Building on the theory, he concluded that pain is subjective and multidimensional because several parts of the brain contribute to it at the same time.

He also examined the “phantom limb” pain often experienced by amputees and found that the neural network we are born with generates our perception of body, self, and experience. Melzack’s studies have led to innovative treatments for people who feel chronic, incessant pain.

Patients now taught to manage pain by redirecting their focus through such techniques as meditation and distraction.

“All the chronic pains interest me and had an impact on my thinking,” he told The Senior Times. “Pain is generated in the brain, and not only by physical inputs. Obviously when we burn our hands or when we break our leg, those are sensory inputs and pain is a reasonable thing to feel. But when you have terrible pain repeatedly over years and you can’t find anything wrong, then along comes the idea that it is generated in the brain.”

While “No pain, no gain” is an expression to denote working out while ignoring physical pain and suffering, Melzack’s view is that pain has no inherent value beyond its potential to alert the sufferer of disease or injury.

“I think the only thing we gain from pain is if it’s due to an obvious physiological cause like an infection or something is broken, and then you feel damn good when it stops and you know you’re getting better.”

Melzack began teaching psychology at McGill in 1963, after teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1959 and at the University of London since 1957.

While at McGill, he co-founded and was research director of what is now the McGill-Montreal General Hospital Pain Centre and was a consulting specialist in that hospital’s neurosurgery division.

At the Royal Victoria Hospital, he co-founded the Pain Control Clinic and was an associate member of its anesthesiology department and a medical scientist for its psychiatry department.

Labels:


13-year-old shows how children can help children

Torontonian Bilaal Rajan, 13, has accomplished more in his short life than most will in a lifetime.

He is a UNICEF ambassador, youth activist, fundraiser and author of Making Change: Tips From an Under­age Overachiever.

Rajan’s latest challenge is to get students to raise money for Haiti. He will shave his head in honour of the school that raises the most money, “just for fun,” he says.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of fundraising ideas young people come up with and how much money they can raise. Am I looking forward to going bald? Not so much.”

This latest venture challenges each Canadian student to raise $100. “I think the potential students have for raising millions of dollars is overwhelming.”

Bilaal visits schoolchildren in Malawi in 2007

Rajan began fundraising at 4, when he sold oranges door to door to raise money for the victims of the 2001 earthquake in India. By 7, he had founded an organization called Making Change Now. Its goal was to raise awareness and funds for children in the developing world.

At 8, he launched his first UNICEF fundraising challenge, which raised $1.8 million for those affected by the tsunami of South Asia.

He is hoping that the generosity he saw in 2008 will be matched for Haiti. All proceeds are donated to those affected. The Canada International Development Agency will match the contribution.

“The challenges of the Haitian people won’t go away overnight,” Rajan says. “But I know that students throughout Canada will step up to the plate and make every effort to help those who are suffering in the country.”

UNICEF 1-800-567-4483

Labels:


And now for a little Canadian History

Canada, built by people from so many backgrounds, is a rich, ever-evolving cultural mosaic. To mark Black History Month, The Senior Times highlights the contributions of black Canadians who have made a difference to our society in their respective fields.

Portia White, born in Nova Scotia, was a world-class singer who performed internationally.

Referred to as Canada’s Marian Anderson, the great contralto sang European classical music as well as spirituals, excelling at both. She died in 1968.

Harry Jerome, from Saskatch­ewan, was Mr. Canada, and a great athlete who set a world record with his 10-second 100-metre sprint. The runner won a bronze medal at the 1964 Olympics and a gold medal at the 1966 Commonwealth Games.

Elijah McCoy, son of escaped American slaves, studied engineering. In the 1870s, McCoy invented a device to oil machinery while it was working. Soon nothing but the real McCoy would do.

William Hall, a Nova Scotian, became the first Canadian sailor as well as the first black Canadian to receive the Victoria Cross. He served in the Crimean War and was decorated for bravery.

Mary Ann Shadd published the Provincial Freeman, an abolitionist newspaper, in 1853, and was the first female publisher in North America. She opened an integrated school in Canada in 1851.

After the American Civil War, she returned to the U.S. and was the first woman to enroll in Howard law school.

Nathaniel Dett, born in Ontario in 1882, earned an MA from the Eastman School of Music and attended Harvard. He was a conductor, composer and pianist. His music continues to be performed. Learn more about black Canadians at mysteriesofcanada.com

Labels:


Grandmothers unite to help African orphans

December, 2009

It’s an unusual gathering of activists. The room is warm and comfortable, the walls adorned with paintings, picture frames, bookshelves. The lighting is soft, and gentle murmurs rise and fall in volume. The guests are seated around the room, forced to the walls in an effort to make space for the others.

Through the whistling of the kettle comes the delicate but firm tapping of a teaspoon on porcelain. My grandmother, Thérèse Bourque Lambert, summons everyone as the whispers abate. It is time to start the meeting of the West Hill Grandmothers Group for AIDS in Africa.

The West Hill branch of Grandmothers to Grandmothers was started in October 2006.

Grandmothers in Mnjale

There are 18 million AIDS orphans in Africa. When their children die, grieving parents are forced to take up the mantle of parenthood again and raise their grandchildren, some of whom have HIV/AIDS.

The West Hill Grandmothers to Grandmothers fundraise and give AIDS awareness speeches at schools, residences, senior centres, churches and universities on behalf of the Stephen Lewis Foundation for AIDS in Africa. They host Play Your Own Game Days and luncheons. They recently participated in Stephen Lewis’s Dare campaign, in which loved ones sponsor you for fulfilling a challenge they have set. My uncle dared to run the New York Marathon and managed to raise $3,000 for the cause.

In addition to the work they do for Stephen Lewis, the West Hill Grandmothers are encouraged to undertake individual projects; theirs support families in South Africa and Malawi.

In July, the grannies in the village of Mnjale, Malawi, encouraged by Canada Fund, applied to their government for NGO registration in order to get further funding. Having expanded beyond their village, they needed to elect a new name for their fledgling foundation: They chose Theresa, after my grandmother.

The November 28 meeting was held in honour of a visitor from Johannesburg, South Africa. Twenty grandmothers, one grandfather, one student and a daschund gathered to greet her and pepper her with questions.

Rose Letwaba is a nurse specializing in psychiatry who works for Sparrow Rainbow Village in Gauteng, South Africa. The village, which can accommodate 300 patients, houses a hospice for adults and children with HIV/AIDS as well as a Children’s Home and Creche for orphans. They offer education, training, and counselling as part of their Outreach and Grannies initiatives. Like the Montreal grannies, they support grandmothers who care for their AIDS-orphaned grandchildren by providing food, medical care, and emotional support. Seventy per cent of the staff are former patients, and some continue to receive care.

The name Sparrow comes from the Gospel of Matthew: “His eye is on the Sparrow, I know he watches me (Matt., 10:29).” For every person that died at Sparrow the group used to nail a small metal bird to the tree. “We don’t do it anymore,” Letwaba said. “It was too depressing. The whole tree would be filled with sparrows.”

The West Hill Grannies have shared solidarity with Letwaba’s group for three years.

“Nina has a bathtub full of squares,” my grandmother proclaimed eagerly. “Jan has a basement full. I have a cupboard full and another big bag.” These squares are to be knitted together into blankets on their arrival in South Africa. Blankets, especially in winter, are not only used for sleeping. They are to be worn continually throughout the day, a perpetually protective garment. “What you’re doing here has gone beyond the group you support in [the township of] Alexandra, Johannesburg,” Letwaba told us. “Now the grandmothers over there are meeting together and making blankets for those with HIV.

Therese Bourque Lambert, sitting in the middle, surrounded by the West Hill grandmothers

“What we have seen with the knitting is that it has really promoted a sense of togetherness, making them learn about teamwork. It’s not just a matter of keeping them warm, but of bringing them closer to each other. You might think it’s a piece of wool, but it goes beyond that.”

During a visit to a preschool, Letwaba saw the children napping after lunch. “There were 50 of them in a hall,” Letwaba said, “all covered in these little squares.” She told them that the squares had come from across the Atlantic Ocean. They ­didn’t believe her.

The West Hill Grandmothers presented Letwaba with a colourful wrap composed of knitted squares. “I’ve seen a style like that on models!” someone said.

One member worried the gift was too colourful. “My grandmother wouldn’t have worn that,” he said – and received scandalized looks.

“We’re bright, we’re funky,” came the reply. “We’re free spirits!”

Originally Letwaba worked at a clinic with the grandmothers as a psychiatrist. She now does managerial and support work when necessary at Sparrow, which continues to support the grandmothers of Alexandra, or Alex. Sparrow offers them free transport, the use of its chapel for funerals, and food from their gardens.

The West Hill Grandmothers will continue to send the squares to Sparrow and lend their voices in support of the organization’s bid to receive funding from the Stephen Lewis Foundation in 2010.

“I look around and I see how people have started to become more alive and involved. Whenever we meet, someone says this is uplifting. More grandmother groups have to be spawned,” Nina Minde said.

January 13 from 2 to 4 pm at the Westmount Library, a panel of four will speak about the movement and try to raise awareness among families in the area. The panel will include Thérèse Bourque Lambert, Nina Minde, Jan McConnell, and Biatha Kayitefe, the daughter of a woman caring for 18 orphans in Rwanda.

February 20 a meeting of all the Montreal grandmothers groups will be held at West Hill. March 13 the West Hill group hosts a Celtic Concert at Westmount Park United Church. Info: 514-487-0258 or theresebourque@gmail.com

Labels:


Kensington Knitters do it again

December, 2009

Carefully lined up on the improvised sales counter, the merchandise looked like toy soldiers preparing to go forth on their mission. Cozy and colourful, the knitted hats stood proudly on islands of rolled up matching scarves, meant to warm regular, little and very little heads. Baby blankets and doggie sweaters completed the tableau.

Within seconds, a whole faction of the army was gone, destined for grandchildren who were “just turning 40” and great grand-children “just now being born.” The clock was just creeping up to 11 a.m. and the Kensington Knitters’ Famous Hat Sale hadn’t even begun.

The sale is an offshoot of the knitters’ raison d’être for the last nine years, the production and exhibition of blankets, toques and all kinds of knitted goodies created for the street kids of Dans La Rue, an organization founded by Father Emmett Johns. This year, as every year, there was a fashion show and Pops had come to collect the gifts in person.

Miriam Berger, founder of the knitters, was busy waiting on staff and residents who had come to browse, try and buy the lovely items at the sale. But veteran Knitter Elinor Cohen explained that the Knitters had a triple purpose: to help kids directly and by raising money (proceeds from the sale and an upcoming raffle are earmarked for the Montreal Children’s Hospital), to involve the residents at whatever level they choose, and to create the very special community that the Kensington Knitters has become.

From left: Elinor Cohen, Pauline Ouimet, Libby O’Brien, Jewel Poch, Miriam Berger Photo: Kristine Berey

“It keeps us involved,” Cohen said. “Each one makes something they’re capable of doing. One lady makes just baby blankets. Some do one square, then they bring it to me and I crochet around the edges.” Including both autonomous and assisted living, Cohen estimates there are 30 participating knitters at Place Kensington.

You don’t have to be “big on knitting” to be a Kensington Knitter. Anna Tencer, 103 next April, says that though she knows the craft, her mom was the real expert. “She used to knit and I used to watch,” she recalls. Along with her visiting daughter-in-law Beverly, who is “more like a daughter,” she got drafted some time ago into the knitters’ army and winds the yarn, making sure people have different colours to work with. “Somebody has to prepare the wool,” says the six-time great grandmother. “Any good that you can do is important.”

Labels:


It takes lots of love to share the warmth

December, 2009

The delectable scent of freshly baked muffins fills the air. Nearby, people browse through racks of clothing. The sounds of lively chatter and music are audible. But this isn’t a typical day at a shopping mall – it’s a Thursday afternoon at Share the Warmth, the multi-faceted organization that’s been helping Montrealers in need for 20 years.

Share the Warmth was founded by Judy Stevens and her sister-in-law Linda Hodes in 1989 after the two women received a visit at their old business place from a woman who told them she was going out onto the streets to help feed the homeless. “My sister-in-law said, ‘You know what, we’ll get some warm clothes and we’ll meet you on the street,’” Stevens recalls.

Viveka Anban, with keyboard teacher Suzanne Larose Photos: Scott Philip

After Linda made a phone call to The Gazette, their actions on the streets were given a full-page write-up the following day. “I went into work the next day and the phones were ringing like crazy,” Stevens said. “People were calling saying they wanted to volunteer. … so many people wanted to help.”

Stevens and Hodes started out collecting clothes. Then, after a house in Pointe St. Charles was donated, the two started a second-hand shop that sold clothes and provided free clothing to those who could not afford any. At the time, they were still using their cars to drive around and distribute food and clothing to those in need, but they later acquired a truck so they could increase their efforts.

It wasn’t long before Share the Warmth became incorporated. “I always think that we were meant to do it,” said Stevens of founding the organization. “It sort of came from the back door. Nothing is static. Everything evolves and changes in life and so did Share the Warmth.”

The organization kept growing. It moved from the smaller house to its current location – a large church in Pointe St. Charles – in 2005. The church has room for all of its functions: second-hand clothing shop, food bank, youth group and after-school centre.

Fiona Crossling with founder, Judy Stevens

A youth group for inner-city children meets 6:30 to 8 pm twice a week. “The turnout is great,” Stevens said. The group lets children socialize and participate in such activities as arts and crafts. “Last time we had almost 40 kids. They really need it.”

Share the Warmth also hosts community events — spaghetti suppers, dances, and after-school tutoring. The organization has music rooms on the second floor, where musicians give children keyboard and guitar lessons. “It’s fantastic. They’d otherwise never get an opportunity to do this,” Stevens said.

Daniel Jannack, 17, has been taking weekly guitar lessons from Philippe Blanchette, a St. Laurent College music student since October. “I learn how to play and soon I might become a great musician,” Jannack says. “I listen to heavy metal a lot.”

In another room, Viveka Anban, 11. is having her keyboard lesson with Suzanne Larose. They are preparing for a recital, Stevens explains.

Twice a week, food is distributed to the unemployed and those on government assistance. The always-busy kitchen staff works daily to prepare snacks for hungry school children.

“We prepare sandwiches and muffins for schools all across the island,” Stevens said. After preparing the snacks, volunteers at the organization pack them up and deliver them to daycares, elementary and high schools. Susan Mingo is head of the kitchen staff. “We make 500 to 700 muffins a day for kids in schools,” she says proudly, “and 1,000 tuna, egg salad and cheese sandwiches. ” In the fall, Share the Warmth runs a back-to-school program that provides school supplies to students in need. The organization also provides scholarships to about 25 gifted students from low-income families.

Susan Mingo rules in the kitchen

New ventures are in the works. “Our latest program involves working with the students in the scholarship program, the music program, the youth group, and offering them tutoring and mentoring,” Stevens said. “If we can help them in feeling that they want to learn more and they want to be involved in life, they can create a positive destiny for themselves.”

Share the Warmth is able to do all this thanks to the generosity of over 200 benefactors. “We get donations from corporate foundations and individuals. We’re not funded much by the government,” said Fiona Crossling, the associate director of the organization.

To keep everything running smoothly, Share the Warmth needs more than just financial aid. Even though the organization has six full-time staff members, they still need lots of willing volunteers to keep their many programs going. The kitchen is often filled with volunteers, many of them seniors, preparing snacks for the School Food Program.

Seniors are just part of Share the Warmth’s varied list of volunteers. “Instead of staying home, students on suspension can come here and work for the day,” Stevens said. “We also have volunteers who are young offenders.” University and high school students often visit and help out with the day-to-day work.

Volunteers also help with the more menial chores. “We have partners for a day, where people from a company or school come help out with cleaning or renovating,” Crossling said. Recently, the youth group meeting room and music room were given facelifts.

Philippe Blanchette teaches guitar to Daniel Jannack

Everyone is welcome to volunteer in this lively atmosphere. Application forms let people choose whatever interests them: deliveries, working in the kitchen or food bank. “Things just wouldn’t work without volunteers,” Crossling said.

Share the Warmth accepts financial contributions as well as donations of food items, school supplies and gently-used clothing. Boxes filled with non-perishable food items will be delivered to families over the holidays this winter. The organization also sells homemade jams and a teddy bear named Fortune that make great gifts.

Because volunteering and donations are what Share the Warmth depends on to “awaken hopes and dreams by overcoming poverty,” every bit of help counts.

Labels:


Validation: a special understanding

Kristine Berey

The Alzheimer Groupe has been helping Alzheimer’s patients and their families for 25 years. In her work as director of support services, Marva Whyte has had to evaluate different ways of dealing with the challenging behaviours typical of the illness. “We experience what works and what doesn’t work five days a week,” Whyte said. One of the most effective approaches she uses in support groups is the Validation Method, pioneered by Naomi Feil in the 1970s. At last month’s educational conference, Vikki de Klerk-Rubin, Feil’s daughter, was the keynote speaker.

“Mom [Feil] was a social worker and started working in the nursing home where her father was the administrator and her mother head of social work,” de Klerk-Rubin said. “They lived at the back of the nursing home.” Feil, who wrote Validation: The Feil Method in 1983, had a very straightforward philosophy. “As human beings, we are connected to one another in a way that has nothing to do with religion, race or culture,” she said. As dementia sets in, Feil said, people still have issues to resolve, but become terribly isolated as a result of the illness and worseneing condition. “It’s not only a physical deterioration, but a psychological need to die in peace.” Feil says that at all stages of the illness there is a desperate need for human connection and the person needs to be reached on an emotional level. “If a person is left alone, that human being will deteriorate and will become a living dead person,” Feil said.

There are four levels of training, given by the Validation Institute in Cleveland and one that de Klerk-Rubin oversees in Europe, where the method is better known. (Feil’s book has been translated into several European languages.) But anyone working with the elderly with cognitive problems can benefit from learning some of the techniques and the philosophy of Validation, de Klerk-Rubin says. “Validation can be practised in the course of your other work. … It’s about communication.”

Key to Validation is the ability to enter the person’s reality while reserving judgment. “The goal is to accompany the person in the resolution of their issues. We never finish it; it’s a process that goes on until they die. We just don’t want them to be alone in it. Also, we believe that even very badly deteriorated people in the back of their minds know the truth.”

De Klerk-Rubin said that most caregivers want to make the client happy but they apply a definition of “happy” that is their own reference. “By trying to get them to be that way I’m trying to change them, not accepting them the way they are.”

Whyte gives an example of something that happens all the time. “Someone is asking for their parent, and says ‘my mother is waiting for me’, when the reality is that this 85-year-old’s parents passed away a long time ago. To say ‘your mother is dead’ would be totally cruel, but to say ‘you miss your mother’ gives the person a chance to talk about their mother, and by talking you are providing the person with the caring, the love and the attention they needed.”

There are learnable techniques, such as mirroring gestures, adjusting one’s tone of voice to the client’s, special ways of touching the person, which help this process.

The Alzheimer Groupe team Photo: Susan Gold

By looking at behaviour in the context of the client, it takes on meaning that makes it easier to understand and deal with. “That’s where we have to be careful with judgments,” de Klerk-Rubin says. “Maybe [that behaviour] is the perfect thing for [the client] to be doing at this point. And if I walk with her on this arduous path, she feels understood and maybe feels a little better. What we find is that if at least the basic attitude and most important principles of Validation are used [in an institution] you will see a significant reduction in burnout, sick days, and it will reduce staff turnover.”

Labels:


Risqué calendar aims to change Cummings Centre’s grey image

Martin C. Barry

December, 2009

Taking their cue from the hit comedy film Calendar Girls, volunteers at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors have decided to mark its 50th anniversary by issuing a commemorative calendar of their own with a special twist – the models are all au naturel.

But don’t get your hopes up too much. It’s all been done with the tastefulness of a photo session in the boudoir. (As it happens, one of the consultants on the project was a professional boudoir photographer.) And while there’s lots of exposed skin, just enough is deftly exposed so that the end result teases more than it reveals.

However, there should be no doubt about one thing: With this calendar the centre is out to change its “grey” image while at the same time trying to alter the preconception that seniors can’t engage in a bit of risqué fun, something that not long ago would have been considered taboo.

Calendar Girls was the true story of a group of British women who produced a nude calendar to raise money for a medical cause. The women hit upon the idea of printing a calendar featuring some of them posing nude while engaged in everyday activities, such as knitting and baking. In the movie, their project is greeted with initial skepticism, even though the calendar quickly sells out and the women become media celebrities.

About a year ago, a committee that was set up to examine ways to celebrate the Cummings Centre’s 50th birthday had been wondering out loud at its first meeting “how could we celebrate this anniversary and have fun at the same time?” executive-director Herb Finkelberg said. “So I remembered about the Calendar Girls. I suggested it and the committee loved it.”

Among its many supporters, the centre was fortunate to have two photographers – Rina Friedman, an amateur, and Morty Benedik, a retired professional – who volunteered their services. As for models willing to be photographed in their birthday suits, there were so many they had to start turning people away.

“It was not only not difficult to find volunteers to get involved, it was difficult to restrict them,” Finkelberg said. “Even as the calendar came out, I had people coming into my office saying, ‘Now remember, you said I could be in it next year.’ That’s the kind of response it got.”

Each month in the calendar shows different volunteers in the area of the centre where they work. Shots show the lobby, exercise areas, the course registration department, an art room, the woodworking shop and the cafeteria. Because of technical problems, the lobby photo had to be taken in two stages: the models were first photographed in a studio, and then their image was superimposed on a photo of the lobby.

Finkelberg maintains that the reaction to the calendar has been positive. “I think I was somewhat concerned as to how this was going to be received. Generally people call me not so much with compliments, they call me with concerns. But since the calendar’s release, it has, without a doubt, increased the excitement and the mood of the entire agency.”

Friedman, who photographs events at the centre, was faced with the challenge of making sure her subjects felt comfortable while fully exposed. She and Benedik worked out a method: “If it was a man, I would turn around or go out of the room,” she said. “He would set it up and then we’d shoot. If it was a woman, I would set up the shot.”

Pearl Grubert, past president of the centre who helps run its boutique, is featured with Gloria April in the calendar spread for February.

“When you get to be a senior, you lose a lot of inhibitions and so you say who cares?” she said. “Why can’t seniors have fun? Why can’t people see us as enjoying life?”

In their scene, the two stand behind the boutique’s counters scantily clad in little else but tissue paper, ribbon and large bows. The caption reads “We also gift-wrap.”

Also featured in the calendar is Gladi Gubitz, whose husband, Irving, chaired the calendar committee. “The buzz in the centre has been amazing,” she said. “It put a smile on people’s faces. They felt good about it. Here was something that was alive and kicking. From my perspective it rang a bell that seniors can have fun and have a laugh. That’s really what it was all about.”

Labels:


Gimme shelter: seniors face bans on Tempo carports

Martin C. Barry

December, 2009

With snow and wind bearing down mercilessly on even the young and hardy, winter in Montreal has always been a challenge for senior citizens. But in some areas of the island, municipal officials don’t seem very interested in the needs of seniors, even preventing them from erecting temporary car ports or doorway shelters to break the wind.

In Côte St. Luc, Jay Rubinstein, a 76-year-old McAlear resident, appealed to city council recently on behalf of himself and a neighbour for special permission as seniors to be exempted from a Côte St. Luc bylaw that forbids Tempo car shelters in driveways if there already is a garage.

Rubinstein has lived in the same home in Côte St. Luc for 54 years. During a city council meeting, he said he had a “wretched basement garage and whether I hire a snow removal firm or clean the driveway myself it is difficult to go up the driveway because of slippery conditions after a snowfall.” In addition, he added, snow removal contractors will not remove the accumulation of snow on top of cars.

Photo: Martin C. Barry

Rubinstein told Côte St. Luc mayor Anthony Housefather how he and the neighbour, who is recovering from cancer surgery, have two cars parked in their driveways without any shelter. “There is no solution for us, other than to erect a Tempo shelter,” he said. “We are an older population … there’s got to be a solution.

“We are just as deserving of the right to have one as someone who has no carport or garage. … If you don’t want them at all for aesthetic purposes it’s one thing. But why suddenly are the people without carports allowed them and why not me?”

While acknowledging that Côte St. Luc generally discourages Tempos for aesthetic and other reasons, Housefather said the city allows residents without garages to put them up. However, he insisted, “the way the bylaw is currently constructed, the city council has no discretion in the matter to grant you an exemption for hardship or any other reason. I don’t have the power to do it, the council doesn’t have the power to do it. We’d have to change the bylaw.” Housefather said he would take Rubinstein’s request for a change in the bylaw under advisement, “but I can’t grant you an exemption.”

In an e-mailed response to a question from The Senior Times, the mayor confirmed, “We have no power to exempt anyone from a bylaw. It (the Tempo bylaw) has been in force for over 20 years and we will review his request at a future date to see if we are interested in amending the bylaw.”

In Park Extension, until two years ago homeowners, many of them seniors, erected improvised doorway shelters, often fashioned from plastic sheeting and scrap pieces of wood. While they were regarded by some as “visual pollution” and there were safety concerns as well, seniors grew to appreciate the tunnel-like structures, which provided an added measure of protection from the elements on cold and blustery winter days.

In 2007, the borough of Villeray/­St-Michel/Park Extension stepped in with a new bylaw cracking down on the use of polyethylene, particle board or other materials with an unfinished look in the construction of the improvised winter shelters. While pre-fabricated Tempo shelters are permitted by the borough over driveways, shelters over front walks have now virtually disappeared. While some of the rationales for the ban were fire safety and crime prevention, it came into force with at least some complaints from affected seniors.

“The main concern was to have visibility,” says Park Extension City Councillor Mary Deros, noting that the new bylaw also made it mandatory to have windows to prevent undesirables from lurking inside. While effectively placing a ban on covering balconies, the borough still allows shelters on front walks as long as they’re built on a metal frame and are anchored securely. “We have an aging population,” Deros says.

“A lot of them come out to wait for a taxi or adapted transportation. The last few winters we’ve had a lot of snowfall and they don’t have the means or strength to shovel the snow.”

Labels:


Righteous Gentiles honoured at Segal Centre

Byron Toben

December, 2009

In The Human Condition, Masaki Kobayashi’s nine-hour film epic about the Japanese occupation of Manchuria — called by some the greatest film ever made — Kaji, a liberal intellectual drafted into the army to supervise starving Chinese prisoners, meets their leader, an aged spokesman.

The prisoner, sensing a sympathetic soul in Kaji, urges him to help the prisoners. When Kaji queries how he can do that, the leader replies “When good men are confronted with evil, they will find a way to act.” Later, when the brutal Kempei-Tai (Japanese military police) seek to chop heads for fun, Kaji intervenes, at the risk of his own head.

This powerful episode flashed into my head as I attended an event called When Decency Met Heroism during its final Canadian stop at the Segal Centre. The event honoured a group of Righteous Poles and Holocaust survivors.

L to R: Marian Golebiowski, Marianna Krasnodebeska, Ewa Juczyk-Ziomecka, Secretary of State Joanna Sobolewska; chancellery of the president of the Republic of Poland, Tadeusz Zylinski; Consul General, Janina Rozecka Photo: Anna Ronij

In tandem with the construction in Warsaw of the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews is an archive inspired by the tribute to Righteous Gentiles at Yad Vashem in Israel to over 6,000 individual Poles who risked their own lives to shelter Jews. It is inspiring to remember that, in addition to famous diplomats who issued escape visas to thousands – Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden and Chiuga Sugihara of Japan, for example there were a myriad of ordinary people who, like Kaji, did the right thing when confronted.

The Polish ambassador to Canada accompanied Marianna Krasnodebeska, 86; Janina Rozecka, 87; and Marian Golebiowski, 90 as they were honoured. In a handsome book issued in 2008 for the tour, which was attended by Barack Obama in Washington last spring, the stories of 65 Righteous are related in detail. An amusing anecdote told how Jews were taught the rosary and the sign of the cross to pose as Catholics. But Magdalena Grodzka, 84, relates, they signed too reverentially and slowly, closing their eyes. “Who’s ever seen such a thing?” she asked. It was a tip-off to the Nazis. She explained, one should “wave your hand around quickly, without touching: one-two-three.”

After the tributes, the joint started swinging with Yiddish songs by the dynamic Theresa Tova, last seen here in concert during the Yiddish Theatre Festival in June. Matt Herskowitz pounded the ivories with the fervor of Oscar Peterson, and Bryna Wasserman led viewers, including the amazingly spry honorees, in a concluding hora-like dance finale.

Visit the Museum of the History of Polish Jews at www.righteous.pl

Labels: ,


Legislation keeps veteran out of Ste. Anne’s

December, 2009

In November 2006, Greg Thompson, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, inaugurated the newly built Remembrance Pavilion at Ste. Anne’s Hospital, the last federally regulated veterans hospital in Canada.

“Canada’s new government stands up for its veterans by making sure they have the state-of-the-art facilities that truly meet their needs,” Thompson said about the structure especially designed for elderly patients with cognitive deficits. “This Modernization Project demonstrates our commitment to provide high quality care to our veterans.”

As well intentioned as these words may have been, they ring hollow to Sharyn Cadot, wife of Allied veteran Dennis Vialls, who at 84 is fighting his last battle, with Alzheimer’s disease.

From her perspective, though her husband landed in Normandy on D-Day and fought for democracy, he can not make a dent in bureaucracy.

“Presently there is legislation that prevents Allied veterans from admittance to Ste. Anne’s hospital,” Cadot said. According to policy, veterans who served with the Canadian forces have immediate access to long-term care at Ste. Anne’s should they require it. But Allied (British) veterans are placed in facilities in the community as long as their needs can be met there.

Cadot feels that Ste. Anne’s hospital is the best possible place for her husband, who is now in urgent need of long-term care. The hospital is in her community, where four of their five children reside. She says the care provided there is the best for her husband who already attends the day centre twice a week and is happy there. The choices she has been offered include a private facility that she can’t afford, another residence available immediately but requiring hours of bus travel, and a public facility where she was told the wait could be up to two years.

To be placed on the waiting list for Ste. Anne’s hospital is not an option at the moment, even though Vialls has been a Canadian citizen for 43 years and has five children born in Canada.

Allied veteran Dennis Vialls last Remembrance Day Photo: Kristine Berey

As primary caregiver, Cadot, 62, is nearing burnout and has had to take sick leave from her job last May. In a letter dated November 20, Thompson informed Cadot that “Department of Justice officials were consulted on this matter and they have confirmed that there is no legal authority, and thus no policy basis on which to admit Mr. Vialls to Ste. Anne’s Hospital.” Cadot asks why – when the number of living veterans is declining so dramatically that the hospital is considering bringing in civilian patients – are all veterans not treated equally?

In one of her many letters to elected officials, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, she pleads for an amendment to the legislation. She says that Allied veterans should not be sent “to public care when it is not their wish. A better evaluation plan needs to be in place for Allied veterans. Why are benefits different for Allied veterans?”

Lac St. Louis MP Frances Scarpaleggia agrees that Allied veterans should have priority access. “I’ve written to the minister asking that Allied veterans get the same treatment as Canadian Forces veterans. If the government wanted to do that in the first place, it would require regulatory changes that wouldn’t happen overnight.”

Social worker Bonnie Sandler, who works extensively with the elderly, says the policies of Veterans Affairs are complicated. “It’s very hard to understand the different criteria as they apply to different people. They give different amounts of money based on whether you were hurt, not hurt, whether you went overseas. You need a special degree to figure out who gets what. Spouses of veterans are all receiving different services.”

Regarding the care given at St. Anne’s, Sandler is unequivocal in her praise. “The care there is exceptional. It’s very sad that not everybody can go there who deserves to be there.”

Currently there are 14 names on the waiting list at Ste. Anne’s, said communications officer André Bou­dreau. Renovations on the 14th floor of the main building have been recently completed and there are 33 available beds. The Remembrance Pavilion, which features 116 bedrooms, has no empty beds. “They’re all full,” Boudreau said.

Cadot, a formidable fighter in her own right, plans to send a letter to Prime Minister Harper every day until Christmas. She has also started a petition asking for a special derogation for Vialls and has collected “hundreds of names.”

A recent letter to Harper reads: “Our families continue to be very saddened by the silence from your office and are hoping that you will be more lenient toward veteran Dennis Vialls and our families on December 25, 2009, as a gesture of goodwill and grant him his derogation.”

She adds, “Please grant us his derogation, as his health and the health of his wife continue to deteriorate.”

Labels:


Students and seniors share stories and geography savvy

December, 2009

Vista residents and Grade 5 Willingdon pupils came together this November to share personal experiences that span four generations.

The residence and the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) have organized the program that brings students from across the city to participate in activities with the Vista residents. The first event was a geography game similar to Trivial Pursuit. Residents and students were placed in groups where they answered questions together; in their downtime, they shared stories and ate snacks supplied by the children.

“We were talking about my experience during the war in England and the gas masks,” said Mrs. Ricketts, a resident. “I said I was sorry that they took the gas masks back at the end of the war because I used to use them for cleaning up. I was trying to think of things that would interest [the children] or make them laugh.” “The kids started to realize, ‘Hey, Mrs. Ricketts lived through the war’,” said Joanne Kennedy, vice-president for strategic communication.

Mrs. Ricketts told the students about the bombings that she experienced in England. “Oh yes, when the sirens went, we used to run down to the shelters.”

“And [the students] were shocked that bombs could have dropped on a city,” Kennedy said. “They had no comprehension of that.”

Mr. Pesner, another resident who participated in the activity told the kids stories about his experience being a pilot in the Second World War.

“The kids think that all of the soldiers have passed away,” said Ronald Brunet, general manager of the residence. “They were so captivated by the stories. It was pretty amazing to see everyone realize that this is for real.”

Chidren from Willingdon School with Vista residents during the “Canada Games”

Some of the participants were shy at first, but icebreakers were enmeshed in the game — soon everybody was laughing and talking.

At one point everyone had to pull out a card with an action on it and they had to perform that action. Mr. Pesner got “do the Charleston,” which had his entire table laughing, Brunet said.

The game was reminiscent of Trivial Pursuit in the sense that they had to move their pieces across the board by answering the questions correctly. “Some of the kids knew the answers better than I did,” Mrs. Ricketts said.

They named the activity Canada Games. The children were telling everyone about the places they had visited. Discussions and memories were sparked by the questions.

“I think it’s just reaching out and hearing everyone’s story,” Brunet said.

“It’s an inter-generational project and it’s within the community. It hit a lot of elements that are important to this community at Vista.”

Labels:


Good news for caregivers

Kristine Berey

December, 2009

According to the Care-ring Voice Network, there are more than 500,000 caregivers in Quebec who provide 80 per cent of the care needed by loved ones with health problems. Over 60 per cent of these people juggle work and home responsibilities. Many are in danger of burnout and 25 per cent suffer from depression.

Help may be on the way as early as next year through a newly created fund designed to help caregivers in a private/public partnership that is said to be unique in Quebec’s history.

On November 23, family and seniors minister Marguerite Blais and André Chagnon, philanthropist and owner of Sojecci II Ltd., launched the $200-million fund, of which $150 million will be financed by Quebec, and $50 million by the Chagnon family. The money will become available over 10 years and will be managed by an administrative council made up of five members named by Quebec and five by the Chagnon family foundation. Three quarters of the funds are earmarked for caregivers helping loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive deficits while one quarter will be used to help caregivers of people with other incapacities.

André Chagnon and Marguerite Blais photo: Kristine Berey

According to the Quebec Federation of Alzheimer’s Societies, 120,000 Quebecers are affected by the illness, and 140,000 might develop Alzheimer’s or a related impairment within the next five years.

Caregiver resource centres, based on a British model, will be set up across the province, with the aim of providing quick and easy access to services already established in the community. The money will not go to caregivers directly but rather to organizations already in place that support them. “We’re not going to invent new structures,” Blais said. “We will check all the projects that exist.”

Herb Finkelberg, director of the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors, welcomed the news. “We are seeing a dramatic increase in individuals who are cognitively impaired. The caregiver is at risk of compromising their health because of the incredible amount of energy caretaking requires. The idea here is to prevent this kind of deterioration from taking place. This is much-needed funding for a problem of which we’ve seen only the tip of the iceberg.”

Labels:


Former radioman Sid Margles joins broadcasters Hall of Fame

Martin C. Barry

Retired Montreal broadcaster Sidney Margles, whose name and voice were synonyms for late-breaking news on CJAD Radio during the 1960s and ’70s, has capped his 40-year career by being inducted into the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame.

As is the case with so many fruitful careers, Sid started at the bottom. While attending a teen audience ­participation program on CJAD in the mid-1950s, he was selected to read a commercial for the show’s sponsor – Coca-Cola – and more opportunities followed. In 1959, during his third year of university, Sid seized the opportunity to join the CJAD news department as a full-time writer.

In 1960, CJAD provided Sid with a transmitter-equipped mobile unit – a veritable studio on wheels that could put the listener at the scene of a fast-breaking or major news event virtually anywhere in the Montreal region. From fires to politics, celebrations to crises, civic issues to public demonstrations, Sid Margles was there, on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As such, he is recognized today as a pioneer of Canadian on-the-spot radio reporting.

Among seasoned journalists in those days, Sid was known for his knack for turning up at the scene of newsworthy events before anyone else got there. While some speculated he had a highly developed network of insiders to keep him clued in, Sid attributes his success to the technological tools he was using, including a mobile phone in his car, a helicopter with a two-way radio link that often provided assistance, and a scanner radio for monitoring police and fire activity.

A high point of Sid’s reporting career included coverage of the 1968 St. Jean Baptiste parade and the disruptive riot, during which Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau sat steadfast as other VIPs around him sought cover. It was also during the troubled times in Montreal, from 1962 to 1970, when bombs were planted in several areas and there were many demonstrations and riots. But by far, his most memorable experience began on a stormy Friday, November 29, 1963.

One evening while he was preparing dinner, a call came in about an “explosion” in Ste. Thérèse, north of Montreal. Possessing news intuition, Sid sensed a disaster and was on his way even before he learned it was an Air-Canada DC-8 that had crashed moments after takeoff with 118 people aboard. He was the first newsman on the scene. With microphone in hand, he was able to immediately confirm the crash and describe the tragedy. Sid remembers it this way.

December, 2009

“I received a phone call from Vince Rowe, news editor on duty. Being a hunch player, I said I was on the way and to call me in the car to give me more information. I was on my way to the Laurentian Autoroute, which in those days was a toll road, when he called to say the explosion had been several miles into Ste. Thérèse.

“I told him to call the police and tell them I wasn’t stopping at the toll gate. As I travelled up Highway 11, I saw there was this one policeman standing in the middle of the road with a flashlight trying to direct traffic, and there I saw on my left all the flames. I ended up moving in to observe what I would describe. I had to walk in about half a mile from my car because it was in the fields. And I came back out and was able to report from my car.”

For Sid, one result of that experience was realizing the limitations faced at that time by radio reporters on location. So he consulted with CJAD’s engineers about developing a mobile transmitting unit. In conjunction with Motorola, they produced what became known as a Carrier Operated Relay System, a portable unit enabling a radio reporter to transmit back to a car, where the signal could be relayed to the station.

“At that time, the unit they developed for me was the size I’d say of a huge suitcase, which sat in the trunk of the car, and the portable was a five- or six-pound handheld unit. It was, of course, a lot larger than what you see today. But in those days it was quite a development.”

While Sid’s career in radio news came to an end in 1984 when he was appointed president of a division of Standard Broadcasting (CJAD’s parent company), four years later he embarked on a career in politics when he was elected to the first of three terms he would serve as a city councillor in Town of Mount Royal, where he, his wife, and three daughters lived at the time. Sid has lived in Côte St. Luc for the past four years. He spends his winters in Florida.

Labels:


Making friends in the ER: an ode to the Montreal General

Barbara Moser

December, 2009

In some respects, it was a productive and relaxing day. I lost some weight, made three new friends, corrected 30 of my students’ poetry essays, read The Gazette cover to cover, and got editing help for articles in this issue.

I spent the day – the entire day – at the Montreal General Hospital emergency waiting room. Like many who waited with me, I had little choice but to appear at the ER at 9:30 am. We all had problems that could not wait or could not be tended to by our family doctors.

After being told, when I arrived, by the triage nurse that there was an eye clinic at the MGH that day and that I wouldn’t “have to wait long,” an ER doctor directed me, nine hours later, to take a taxi to the Royal Vic and to make it snappy because the eye clinic there was about to close. I raced over and was examined first by a resident and then by her teacher, a retinal specialist, to determine that my retina has not detached. I was treated exceptionally well by these doctors and am grateful for their care.

Back to the MGH at 9:30 am. There was a line up to register and see the triage nurse. Then we had to find a chair in the waiting room while watching a new smaller waiting room for H1N1 patients go up before our very eyes, complete with plate glass windows. If you had an ear problem, the three hours of drilling and banging certainly didn’t help.

At one point there were four stretchers in the waiting room and little room to walk around them! People were getting called in once or twice an hour, but these same people were coming back to the waiting room to wait for the next step in their diagnosis or treatment or for a test result.

To get to the café, the closest place for food and water, one had to go outside and through a set of doors. No one alone and in pain, and certainly those on stretchers, could manage it, so those of us who were able bodied, helped by going to buy these poor people bottled water. It can’t be healthy to go without food for an entire day!

Try not to go alone to the ER if you are in pain. You absolutely will need someone to tend to you while you wait… and wait …. and wait.

Arriving in an ambulance does not always ensure you will be seen right away. One of my new friends had been having a root canal earlier that morning. Suddenly she had a severe reaction to the codeine her dentist had given her. It seems he hadn’t read her allergy list. Probably because he didn’t want to take any chances, he sent her by ambulance to the hospital. But when she arrived, she was told her problem wasn’t serious and she had to wait with the rest of us.

My new friends, Norma and Jack, waited longer than I did. We kept each other company editing articles for The Senior Times, sharing chocolate bars Norma brought from her car and doing crossword puzzles. We got to know each other.

In nine hours you get to know someone.

Norma and I discovered we both love garage sales. Luckily we were well enough to carry on a conversation.

Masks are in the entrance for anyone who… well… I’m not sure whom they are for. One woman sat with a mask on all day even though she had no flu symptoms. Another guy coughed a few times into the air of the waiting room until I reported him to the guards who promptly brought him a mask.

One poor man lay on a stretcher in the middle of our small waiting room for hours. Finally he was called in. An hour later he came out, found a chair and started moaning. He pointed to his side. It was some kind of sciatica, which can be brutal. He cried and writhed till three of us walked up to the registration desks (there were no nurses around and when they rushed through and someone nailed them, they pulled away, one stating “I’m not here.”) In any case, after three or four of us complained about the inhumanity of his plight, a nurse approached the man and loudly asked him why he was breathing so heavily. He was obviously in panic from the pain. She finally found him a stretcher and one of us helped him walk into the newly built H1N1 waiting room, where he remained alone and in pain for quite some time. He was still there when I left for the RVH.

At 6 pm, Irwin showed up, and brought miracle upon miracle — fresh strawberries, apples, bananas, small juices, cheese and crackers. I began to serve all my friends and then lo and behold, I heard my name called. I was in shock.

Was I really the Barbara Moser whose name was being called?

Thank goodness Irwin was there to accompany me in the cab in the rain to the RVH a half hour later. I quickly said goodbye to my friends promising them each a free subscription to The Senior Times for their editing help.

Suggestions for changing the emergency room procedures at the MGH in case anyone’s listening:

If there is no specialty clinic or if it’s moved, why not inform people when they arrive so that they can move themselves to another hospital where there is such a clinic?

Why can’t people not in life-threatening situations or in pain get a number like they do in a bakery or at the SAAQ? Then they could go home or sit in a cafe and come back at a certain hour. Of course they never know because of the number of ambulances that come in, but with more than 20 people waiting more than nine hours, surely, they have some idea. They seem to thrive on giving out as little information as possible. Whom does this benefit?

Could they at least put a vending machine with water and sandwiches in this waiting room or have someone selling drinks and snacks from a cart like they do on the train? If patients are alone on stretchers for hours in the waiting room, a nurse’s aide should come every so often to check on them and get them water if they need it or help them to the bathroom.

The waiting room is just too small. There are not enough seats for everyone. So expand the waiting room and put in more chairs. Why can’t we afford a few of those recliners? If you have H1N1 symptoms, go to a special clinic set up to diagnose and treat you, not to a hospital emergency room! Please! The triage nurse should be sending these people back to these clinics unless they are having serious respiratory problems. If they are, a 12-hour wait could kill them!

And yes, we already know we shouldn’t go near an ER unless absolutely necessary, but couldn’t the triage nurse let us know if it is absolutely necessary?

Postscript: Norma and John waited until 1am to be seen — another six hours after I left.

Labels: ,


Still going strong though stage opportunities are few for seniors

Geraldine Doucet never thought she’d live long enough to be an octogenarian. Her mother, father and younger brother all died prematurely and she is now the oldest living member of the Pisacano family.

She was on stage in all her glory last month at the Decarie Square Dollar Cinema, singing and dancing at her 80th birthday bash.

“Trust me,” she says. “Life begins at 80.”

Among older Montrealers, Doucet has been a fixture for nearly five decades. Appearing in numerous stage musicals and local television productions, she has belted out broadway tunes and danced her way into thousands of hearts. Although Geraldine got her start in showbiz during the 1950s, her career didn’t really take off until her husband, Roger Doucet who sang O Canada during Canadiens games at the Forum, died in 1981.

After her husband’s death from brain cancer, Doucet, who had put aside work as an entertainer to pursue a career in business, rediscovered her talent. “That’s when it opened up,” she says. She had met Roger in New York City, where they both attended the New York College of Music. While her career had always been secondary to his, she says her big break came “when he left me. I would rather have had him, but that’s the way God meant it to be.”

Geraldine was born in New York City’s Chelsea neighbourhood. “My mother had a wholesale/retail fish business there, and my father was a gambler,” she says. “He went to the track, he was a bookie and a good time charlie.” She became interested in showbiz because of her involvement in activities at the local church. “I was always in all the church plays, in the church choir.”

Doucet is best known for a series of stage musicals such as Nunsense, which played in Montreal at the now defunct La Diligence supper club on Décarie across from Blue Bonnets, and her participation in CTV Montreal’s long-running annual fundraiser for sick children, the Telethon of Stars. She appeared in a run of shows at the Centaur Theatre and the Saidye Bronfman Centre.

She also had success with her half-hour show, Geraldine, which ran for 39 weeks on CBC-Montreal.

Since 1999, Geraldine has been a “snowbird” who spends her winters in Florida. “From a health point of view, I think it was a really good move. From a career point of view it was a disaster,” she says. “Everything happens here. This is where the movies are made and you can’t fly back for an audition. The flight is $500 and then you don’t get the part.”

Geraldine Doucet celebrated her 80th onstage Photo: Martin C. Barry

She is somewhat bitter that opportunities in show business are so few for seniors. “More and more young people are coming in and there’s less desire for old people to be seen. I’m going to say this out loud: I have been told that in some cases they prefer not interviewing older people. You have to say to yourself, ‘It’s time to do something different.’”

This year, she had a leading role in a short dramatic film called The Perfect Vacuum. The six-minute movie, produced with the assistance of a grant from a CTV Television foundation to promote Canadian talent, also stars Quebec vocalist Natalie Choquette.

“A lot of my scenes involve vacuum cleaning,” Geraldine says about the movie, which tells the story of a singer (Choquette) who decides not to perform again until there is world peace. “We dance with her while we help clean.”

Since 1994, Geraldine has been married to Ben Linds. In her spare time, she paints colourful canvases, many of which are displayed in their home in Côte St. Luc.

Geraldine’s new venture involves giving talks to seniors about their aspirations and how they could be achieved beyond the age of 80. Next summer she will start making the rounds of senior residences with this project.

Labels:


Rebel for societal change

When David Woodsworth, a Professor Emeritus, retired from his job as director of McGill University’s School of Social Work decades ago, he decided he wanted to work with senior citizens. A colleague who had taught courses on gerontology suggested Woods­worth’s knowledge of the elderly was limited.

“This was true, but I learned,” says Woodsworth, 91. In 1986, he became a founding member of the NDG Senior Citizens Council. Prior to this, there had been no organization looking after the specific interests of seniors in the area.

“I don’t think the average person understands what it means not being able to hear,” he says of the types of infirmity that typically beset the elderly. “Hearing and sight are a couple of the major physical problems. And then there’s the increasing immobility.

“You cannot go into the Metro, you cannot go up and down the Metro stairs, and so therefore what do you do? You have to take a taxi everywhere, but you can’t afford a taxi.

“If you’re ill and you need attention, no doctor will come to the house. You have to go the doctor’s office somehow or to emergency, which is an impossible task for almost anybody at six hours [wait time] or more. Access to a physician’s care is a very significant issue.”

Woodsworth comes from a family for whom social consciousness is a tradition.

His uncle, J.S. Woodsworth, was the first leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), which became the New Democratic Party. David Woods­worth’s grandfather, Rev. James Woodsworth, was a senior Methodist missionary in western Canada. His father was also a Methodist minister, as was another uncle. Strong faith would become a powerful factor in determining Woodsworth’s social convictions. Woodsworth acknowledges that all this led him into social work. Despite his politically activist heritage, he insists he isn’t partisan and will usually vote for the party whose policies he favours. While he says he has voted for three of Canada’s leading political parties, he admits he never supported the Conservatives. But he says he admired Tory prime minister John Diefenbaker because of his stance on human rights.

As a social worker and commentator, Woodsworth says he feels compelled to warn others in his field of a tendency brought on by public policy, which leads them to accept bureaucratic and legalistic requirements to bring about changes in individuals.

David Woodsworth is a founding member of the NDG Senior Citizens Council Photo: Martin C. Barry

“It’s the fault of the individual; in other words, it’s not the fault of the society,” he says, describing the mindset. “I would rather emphasize the fault of the society.”

Acknowledging that this professional framework corresponds to a rightward shift in politics that started in the 1980s, Woodsworth adds, “I think there is a class difference related to that. The people who manage things, the movers and shakers, are out to protect their own interests. They come to believe sincerely that that is the way to do it. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the prime minister of Canada. I think he believes what he says and does. I just think it’s wrong.”

Woodsworth is cynical about the direction our society has taken in recent decades.

“The dominant politics in modern times is the politics of private enterprise and ownership. That has been greatly supported by the demise of the Soviet Union. So all of these things contributed to a great victory.”

Woodworth blames George W. Bush for furthering the interests of private enterprise as a way to deal with societal organization or problems. “The consequence of that has been a whole range of errors, omissions and suffering, which were avoidable had there been different politics. “But you couldn’t have a different politics because the people who own the power thought otherwise,” Woodsworth adds.

“So it’s basically a power struggle. The Soviet Union was a prime example of authoritarianism in the name of doing good for the people.

“It was probably more repressive than what we’ve got. But it doesn’t make our system the right one.”

Labels:


Margaret Trudeau speaks out on mental health awareness

Margaret Trudeau is living proof that mental illness can be successfully treated and that people afflicted with it can recover and live happy, productive lives. The former wife of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada’s 15th prime minister, was in Montreal last month as honorary chairperson for the first annual Montreal Walks for Mental Health.

The five-kilometre fundraiser was sponsored by CSSS Cavendish and several local community groups involved with mental health. The walk began and ended at Côte St. Luc’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau Park.

“There are a lot of people who suffer, and they suffer in quiet desperation; they don’t reach out for help,” says Trudeau, who revealed three years ago that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

“There is a lot of help for people who suffer from mental illness. I suffered from bipolar all my life and it wasn’t until I got treatment that I recovered. I live a wonderful life, which I didn’t think was possible. My news is that if you get help and you follow your doctor’s orders and you exercise and you eat well and live a good life, you can recover from a mental illness.”

Trudeau was asked why no one seems to want to discuss mental illness. “Because they don’t understand the brain,” she says.

“We understand all the other organs in the body and how they function, but not the brain. The brain is like the last taboo. … More and more research is needed to find remedies for mental illness. For those who are suffering from a mental illness it’s such good news. There is help and it’s good help and you can have a good life.”

“I chose sanity,” says Margaret Trudeau, who has bipolar disorder Photo: Martin. C. Barry

Trudeau says she finds it easier now to speak out about her own problems than in the past. “One out of five Canadians is suffering with their emotional and mental health,” she says, “either with depression or anxiety or stress or insomnia or different types of behaviour that are not normal and don’t allow them to live a whole functioning life. So it’s something that affects every family. It affects every group of friends.

“The more information you get, the more you get an understanding of the workings of the brain, of the problems of chemical imbalance, of the need for medication, of the need for therapy. Then you can be an advocate yourself, and that’s what I’m trying to be as an advocate for the mentally ill. I suffered terribly from mental illness and I haven’t for a long time because I got help. Now I live a balanced life — I chose sanity.”

Trudeau’s stopover in Montreal was part of a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of mental illness issues. She has been involved for three years and has accepted speaking engagements all over the country.

“One in five Canadians is suffering from mental illness,” she says.

It’s hard for people to be honest about mental illness because of the stigma attached, she says.

While pharmaceuticals are commonly prescribed for mental illness, Trudeau said the range of treatments is much wider. “There’s everything – meditation, yoga. Certainly medication is important with a doctor. But then you have to have a very good attitude toward life through eating well, getting your vitamins, your Omega fish oils and getting exercise.

Of course, sleep is the most important. To get a good night’s sleep. That’s the first sign that you’re starting to get into trouble emotionally or mentally. You lose your sleep pattern or you sleep too much.”

Labels:


Cashless system of food delivery a necessity

You could call what happened to Gabrielle unfortunate. Or you could say it was a misunderstanding. But when Daphne Nahmiash heard of the incident, she called it by its true name: elder abuse. “Calling the police on a 94-year-old woman is excessively ridiculous and also punitive and scary,” said the chairperson of the NDG Community Committee on Elder Abuse.

The fiasco started one afternoon when Gabrielle, who uses a walker, is hard of hearing and legally blind, needed to order some food for guests who were visiting following a death in the family. Usually Gabrielle relies on her son to do her shopping, but this time she took the initiative. She called her local supermarket and placed a telephone order, believing the store would accept a cheque at the door. She had been told this would be possible both by the clerk at the store and by someone at the store’s head office, who assured her he would call the NDG store and let them know. “I called the store and they confirmed they had received the call,” Gabrielle said.

When the delivery man arrived, he dropped off one box but had to go back to pick up a second box he had forgotten. “When the delivery man came to my door my cheque was all ready,” Gabrielle said. “But when he came back, he said, ‘they won’t accept your cheque. I have to take back the order’.”

Meanwhile, Gabrielle had put the groceries away and didn’t want a stranger going through her cupboards. She told him to leave or she would call the police.

Instead, the delivery man did so, even though he had just seen Gabrielle’s son enter the home. “He could have asked me to pay, but didn’t bother,” recounted Mark, her son, who asked not to be referred to by his real name. “I could have settled the whole thing right there.”

Though the police were polite, the incident left Gabrielle shaken. “Being a heart patient I get out of breath. At 94 you’re more fragile; everything affects you very badly, even small things,” she said. Mark was also worried about his mother. “What would have happened if she had a heart attack? That night she had to take a bunch of tablets because her heart was racing.”

Mark went to the store to pay the bill, and the owner called Gabrielle to apologize. Still, the experience was very hard on the family.

Seniors want grocery stores to do more for their older clients. Discounted rates or free delivery on special days are of course important, but there must be a system in place that allows seniors to place phone orders and pay through some cashless method, since keeping large amounts of money at home is dangerous.

Luckily some stores do have systems in place, though most are reluctant to take cheques.

“We used to take cheques, but we lost hundreds of dollars every month,” said Maléka Khetani, co-owner of Le Marché du Village in Côte des Neiges. “So now clients give their credit card number over the phone, we enter the information manually into the machine and the client signs to approve the payment at the door.”

The Senior Times would like to compile a list of senior-friendly grocery stores for our annual Resource Directories. If you have a favourite store that will bring you food when you’re snowed in and let you use your credit card at the door, let us know at editor@theseniortimes.com

PA Supermarket, 1420 Fort, downtown 514-932-0922 Phone orders: 7 days/wk, 8am-9pm Over $25 for seniors, $1 delivery charge Under $25 for seniors, $3 delivery charge Credit card: Provide number on the phone and produce card on delivery. Manager: Lucie Desantis Delivery area: West to Décarie and north to Queen Mary

Provigo, 2300 Lucerne, TMR 514-735-0731 Phone orders: Call Linda Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before 11 am Delivery charge: $5 (no minimum) Credit card: Provide no. on phone and produce card upon delivery and sign for it Cheques: must apply in the store for this right Manager: Amandine Nicolas Delivery area: TMR and some parts of Ville St. Laurent

Metro, Sherbrooke and Victoria Westmount, 514-488-4083 Phone orders: Tuesdays and Wednesdays before 11am No delivery charge for seniors for minimum $35 order. Credit card: provide no. on phone and produce card upon delivery and sign for it Manager: Graham Fletcher Delivery area: in and around Westmount

Le Marché Du Village, 5415 Gatineau Côte des Neiges, 514-735-3611 Phone orders: Monday-Saturday 8am-9pm Delivery charge: $3.25, minimum $25 order Credit card: Give number over the phone, produce card at the door. Manager: Nizar Khetani Delivery area: TMR, CDN, NDG, CSL

Labels:


Ste. Anne’s veterans recall WWII experiences and horrors of battle

Martin C. Barry

Although they both served their country with valour during the Second World War, the wartime experiences of two Canadian veterans differed widely. Olier Déry was 15 in 1940 when he started hanging around the relatively new Dorval Airport, where military aircraft were being prepared for transport to the battle front in England. In those days, it was easier, it seems, for a young guy with a taste for adventure and military life to get his foot in the door.

“I started in the canteen,” says Déry, 85, a former CP Rail brakeman who now resides at Ste. Anne’s Hospital for Canadian veterans on Montreal’s West Island. Soon pilots taking aircraft aloft on test runs were inviting him up for a spin. By the time he was 18, he had enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he was designated as an LAC, a former ranking for aircraft maintenance personnel.

“I got to see my aunt,” he says of the time he spent near London. Called upon to take part in night-time surveillance from rooftops, Déry recalls seeing the bright trajectories of “tracer” ammunition fired from British positions at German aircraft flying in during air raids.

From a distance, he saw the effects of the many V-1 flying bombs that rained down on London, taking thousands of lives and causing untold damage. In the end, he avoided becoming a casualty himself. “It’s stupid,” he says of war. “You’re destroying everything, you’re killing a lot of people, and when they come out of it, the ones who survive are in really bad shape. It makes a lot of people suffer.” Gerry Hemlow, 91, a retired factory worker, served in the Royal Canadian Engineers, a branch of the Canadian military’s land force. Much of their task was to put into place the many bridges that were necessary for the Allied forces to penetrate Nazi-occupied Europe. Hemlow, who was in his early 20s, endured the stresses of being under artillery attack in Holland and France.

WWII veterans Gerry Hemlow (left) and Olier Déry

“A lot were killed and badly wounded,” he says. Fortunately, the only service-related injury he suffered was a hernia, sustained during training in Canada. However, he acknowledges that for a while he was affected by the carnage he witnessed.

“When I came back from overseas, I didn’t want to speak of it. But now many years have passed and it’s much less on my mind. The war is over 63 years and a person forgets. I never helped to build the Bailey Bridge across the Rhine River, but I stood guard there and did maintenance work on the bridge. I wasn’t there, but there was big loss of life right there in the engineers.”

More than 400 veterans, most of whom saw service in the Second World War and the Korean War, live at Ste. Anne’s Hospital. Many other veterans receive medical treatment on an out-patient basis. Several hundred Canadian veterans of more recent conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda and Haiti also receive treatment at Ste. Anne’s. For Veterans’ Week, Nov. 5 to 11, the hospital is staging or taking part in a number of activities, some of which will be open to the general public.

On Friday, Nov. 6 at 10:45 a.m., a Souvenir Ceremony, organized in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Legion, is being held in the hospital auditorium. (A special pass is required). On Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 10:30 a.m., veterans from the hospital accompanied by dignitaries will attend a Remembrance Day ceremony and wreath-laying at McGill University. This event is open to all.

Labels:


Pastoral volunteers provide spiritual care for those at home

Every Sunday, Inez Macaulay watches Mass on TV.

Inez cannot drive or walk to church on Sundays. She can only go to church when she manages to get a lift, but most of the time she has to stay home. After the televised Mass, a volunteer comes in and brings Holy Communion to her. “I appreciate it very much,” Macaulay said. “I find it’s a big help.”

The volunteer is a Pastoral Home Care (PHC) volunteer from St. Monica’s Parish in NDG. PHC is a service with wide and increasing need because of the rising senior demographic. According to volunteer Louis McAnany, many people who are home-bound risk feeling disconnected from their church communities. “They are not forgotten,” he said. “They are still members of the community.”

Priests and lay volunteers from PHC provide a service that meets the spiritual needs of seniors who are physically unable to attend Mass. When McAnany, who has been a PHC volunteer at St. Luke’s Parish in Dollard des Ormeaux for many years, visits seniors and the disabled, he is mainly there to listen to them and “go with the flow.”

Inez Macaulay, a pastoral home care recipient, at daughter Cathie Macaulay’s home Photo: Matthew Rettino

The pastoral volunteer’s role is to listen to the spiritual needs of the person and to provide non-judgmental care and support.

“We’re not social workers,” McAnany said. “We are not there to cook meals or look after the sick and elderly. We’re here on a strictly pastoral basis.”

The elderly generally need accompaniment and simply to talk about things going on in the world and in their lives, McAnany said, adding that getting things in return “is not in line with the pastoral visit.” McAnany said he does appreciate prayers from those he visits.

While PHC can be provided for people of all faiths and even those who do not practise Catholicism, McAnany administers Holy Communion for Catholic seniors. He says simply giving them Communion is impersonal. “They need emotional, spiritual ties as well to feel part of the community.”

He said he can see the joy on the faces of those he visits. “They tend to grow more sociable with others.

“A visit opens them up and gives them a desire to get back into life.” To McAnany, that is the greatest reward.

Cathie Macaulay is the Pastoral Homecare Coordinator for the English sector of the Archdiocese of Montreal. Her job is to encourage small groups of pastoral volunteers in each of the 35 English Catholic parishes of Montreal to organize volunteers giving spiritual support to the sick and homebound. “In the English sector, we have over 170 volunteers,” she said. “In the whole diocese, there are over 600.”

Part of her role is to teach visitors or volunteers how to listen deeply, how to help seniors reach a deeper understanding of aging in a spiritual context, and how to accompany others dealing with issues such as grief.

“The first step is to train,” Macaulay said. Several English parishes are training new visitors, she adds. “We’re glad to have well-trained volunteers,” she said. With the dwindling number of priests and increase of the elder population, she says that the need for volunteers is increasingly important.

Fr. Gilles Surprenant is pastor of St. Luke’s Parish, a Dollard des Ormeaux church. “Since Vatican II, the church has made more room for lay people. There was a time when there were many priests (to administer pastoral care). A long time ago, people would care for their neighbours. Now people do it for strangers as volunteers.”

On the parish level, the PHC team sends other volunteers to connect with people in their homes or in seniors’ residences. According to Surprenant, the duty of the pastoral visitor is to assist the pastor with caring for the old and sick. The PHC service is being reorganized to better serve the community, Surprenant added. Once the service is reorganized, it will be easier to receive accurate statistics.

With fewer people going to Mass, it is always a challenge to find people willing to sacrifice their time to this ministry. According to Surprenant, there are parishes that work together to meet the growing demand for volunteers, but more are necessary to administer the service to those who need it.

As for Inez Macaulay, mother of Cathie Macaulay, she has always appreciated the service.

“One lady reads stories and books that have a religious background and we discuss the books, how they refer to the Gospels,” Inez said. “A couple of times a week someone coming in to have religious discussions brings me back to a feeling of having some religion in my life. Seeing Mass on TV is not the same.” To receive Pastoral Home Care or to volunteer, contact PHC services at 514-931-7311, ext. 354.

Labels:


Sheri McLeod: senior in training

After nearly 20 years with the NDG Senior Citizens Council, Sheri McLeod has come to the conclusion that retirees today increasingly are viewed through a “wider lens,” instead of on the basis of an “illness” model that dwells mostly on vulnerability.

“There’s a greater appreciation of later life as an extension of one’s entire life experience, and that’s slowly seeping into people’s consciousness,” says McLeod, who has been the council’s executive director for the past decade.

“Older people in general are being provided with more options in everything from accommodations to vacation packages, lifestyle magazines and leisure opportunities that I think 20 or 25 years ago people would not have thought about.

“Also what we’re seeing is the beginning of awareness of adapting the workplace to the needs of the older employee,” McLeod adds. “Something that’s been shown in a number of studies is that some people would quite willingly return to part-time work if they had the opportunity, because people’s vitality exists for a much longer period of time now; I think that’s starting to change things. It’s no longer about being 65 years old, so here’s the gold watch, it’s over. It’s more where do you see yourself in your life?”

Aging is “a journey everyone is on,” says Sheri McLeod Photo: Martin C. Barry

Declining health and the eventual loss of a spouse or close friends are inevitable, and for seniors who live alone, social isolation can lead to depression. However, for transportation to doctor’s appointments, help with income taxes, hot meals, or just much-needed companionship, the NDG Senior Citizens Council continues to meet the needs of about 1,100 seniors in Montreal West and Notre Dame de Grâce.

This year marks the council’s 35th anniversary. While its services have been a mainstay of Montreal’s west end community for decades, it now also provides new programs, such as a grief support group for people who are having difficulty adapting to life’s changes. Community lunches and social interaction facilitated by the council also help seniors make friends and maintain a social network.

McLeod, 45, describes herself as a “pre-senior” or a “senior in training.” She joined the NDG Senior Citizens Council 19 years ago as a volunteer coordinator, before graduating from McGill University’s School of Social Work and taking on a heavy load of the council’s case work. The council operates on a budget of about $330,000 per year, which comes from grants from various sources. The council’s offices were until recent years located on Terrebonne in NDG. They are now in the Montreal West United Church.

Since two-thirds of the NDG Senior Citizens Council’s funding comes from Centraide as well as from the government, there are some strings attached, such as an increasing pressure to work more closely with other groups, with whom the council is sometimes encouraged to sign agreements. “It’s a big machine and we’re not,” says McLeod, adding that her group tries to remain independent. “We try to have a certain amount of autonomy, while still respecting that a lot can be gained for the general population through certain types of involvement.”

While there is a tendency among people to view advancing age with a degree of dread, McLeod says, “I think everybody who works here is ironically a lot less afraid of being old than other people. You would think it would be the opposite, because we have all seen so many times how incredibly resilient and strong people are.

“Often people fear what they see as unknown, and for us it’s not really. Collectively it’s a journey everyone is on and so we’ve seen thousands of examples of people who’ve overcome so much. And regardless of what you get handed as you move through your own aging, there are a lot of things you can do and put in place to optimize your own experience.”

Labels:


Students gather on Parliament Hill demanding environmental action

Thousands of students from across Canada stood on Parliament Hill in the rain last month demanding that the federal government take action at the upcoming UN environmental summit in Copenhagen. “When we go to Copenhagen, Canada has to choose: Are we going to lead, follow or get out of the way?” said Gracen Johnson, organizer of Fill the Hill, the demonstration that took place on October 24. “It’s got to be one of those three.” Students at the rally were advocating for “mitigation, adaptation and a green economy.”

Mitigation is the science-based emission reduction targets, Johnson said. Adaptation is the students’ demand for a fair climate deal. “To have a green economy, we need green jobs. We need just transition for workers, we need to rethink the way we plan our cities, and we need urban transportation that’s so much better than it is. “We have the resources available here and it’s just not being utilized and I think that’s criminal.”

Approximately 3,000 students attended the rally.

“Everyone was together and we were all rallying but there’s so much negative information floating around,” said Jordie Cumber, a student at the University of Ottawa. “The energy could have been better. ‘Here are the positive things we can do,’ instead of, ‘We suck. We don’t do anything’.”

Johnson said she thinks the message was received. “It is very loud and clear. If you look on the news today you can see all of these people, worldwide, millions of people asking for the same thing. “For the message to be ignored, it would be astounding. We’ll see what the leaders do with that.”

Thousands of protesters gathered on Parliament Hill October 24 Photo: Peter Dudley

Most of the effort was organized on the web, with Johnson communicating with volunteers via Skype (a long-distance video calling system) and e-mail for the past 10 months. “I have 70 more hours a week of my life to enjoy now that it’s over,” Johnson said, adding that it’s going to be odd having so much free time.

“It’s been so much work, but totally rewarding. In our debriefings at the pubs tonight, we were talking about how it’s going to be like withdrawal. This issue is so important. To not be organizing and mobilizing would be impossible for me.” “World leaders are going to decide the future of humanity,” she added. “I guess we’ll see what happens.”

The UN environmental conference will take place December 6-18 in Copenhagen.

Labels:


Justin Trudeau tells youth they must be leaders today

When Justin Trudeau went to Dawson College October 23 to talk about politics and youth, he quickly dispelled the notion that students are apathetic.

“Young people in general get a pretty bad rap for being disconnected, disengaged and apathetic,” said Trudeau, who is the Liberal member of parliament for Papineau. But this is the wrong assumption, he said. “More young people than ever before are getting involved in non-governmental organizations.” Among the organizations he cited are Greenpeace, Amnesty International, local community groups and student groups.

“They’re out there fighting an issue, voicing their concerns. They just don’t think that politics is a particularly interesting use of their time.”

The electoral strategies of the political parties based on slander and short-term goals are not overly inspiring, he said. Canadians of all ages are becoming more cynical about politics and are “tuning it out or turning it off.”

“Take on responsibilities and shape the world,” Justin Trudeau told students at Dawson College last month Photo: Martin C. Barry

He said it’s hard for anyone to see how stuffing envelopes and knocking on doors for this blue team, orange team, or red team is going to change the world in a positive way.

“It seems ludicrous, particularly when we see that more and more politics are [...] just figuring out a way to get a little more power.

“It’s easy to get elected. Pick a group with enough votes and completely marginalize another group and brush them aside. You’re going to get yourself elected. Stephen Harper is proof of that. But it’s no way to govern a country or be responsible.”

He said that politics have fallen into easy sound bites full of superficiality, headlines and attacks. The goal should be to unite everyone for a common goal, and that can be done, he said, by having conversations about the direction we would like our country to take as a united front.

“[Short-term political goals] are no way to pull together all of our extraordinary diversity. It’s always easier to divide.”

He said the days of a political party or leader being able to change things is over. He cited the United States as an example.

“As extraordinary a leader as Barack Obama is, he’s not going to be able to do it alone. He cannot succeed in turning the enormous juggernaut that is the United States onto a more balanced and prosperous path without the input, mobilization and action of hundreds of millions of citizens, because they are part of the solution.”

He explained that the future of democracy and politics relies on the citizens being engaged and active. He told the students that they are not the leaders of tomorrow, even though they are told that in the hopes of inspiring them.

“Being the leaders of tomorrow is conditional. If you do your homework, graduate from college, get a good job and a promotion, then maybe you can be a leader.”

He says this mentality is false and detrimental.

“You’re leaders today. That’s what we need you to be. It’s how we need you to act. Take on responsibilities and shape the world around you.”

Unless young people do this now, the next century is going to be a depressing one, Trudeau said. “We need to collectively and individually step up.”

Labels:


Tremblay brothers rediscover childhood home on Décarie Blvd

October, 2009

On a recent Sunday morning, the Tremblay brothers – Gérald, who is Montreal’s incumbent mayor, and Marcel, a city councillor – revisited their childhood home. It’s the same dwelling on Décarie Blvd that is now shared by Senior Times publisher Barbara Moser and her husband, Irwin Block, a Gazette reporter.

The Senior Times office is at 4077 Décarie, below the residence. From 1950, for five or six years, the Tremblays lived in the upper duplex at 4079 Décarie. During a tour of their former dwelling, the Tremblays reminisced about the home where, at the ages of 7 and 9, they played and prayed before moving with their family to a home their parents bought on Marcil Ave.

“Michel, he was a Dominican and he had a small altar,” said Marcel, referring to their older brother who had been a candidate for the priesthood and who occupied the bedroom next to Gérald’s and Marcel’s. If Gérald and Marcel seem inseparable in politics today, consider that they spent a part of their childhoods sleeping side by side in twin beds in a tiny room overlooking the lane where they had played. Moser told them that their room was her daughter Molly’s for ten years, until she left home. A photo of Molly as a child is on the dining room wall where the brothers posed for the front page photo in front of the stained glass hutch they remembered well.

Tremblays on balcony they 'parachuted' from from. Photo: Scott Philip

They pointed out many details as they toured the upper duplex, starting with where their piano had stood in the alcove.

“Here,” Marcel said, stepping into Michel’s former sanctuary, now the master bedroom.

Marcel recalled how the previous owner of the flat had never heated it adequately. “My father in the morning around 5:30 went downstairs and put coal in the furnace so we could have warmth, because otherwise it was icy.” The Tremblays moved to Montreal from Ottawa, where they had lived on Holland St in the central part of the city.

Marcel was obviously the more mischievous of the two younger brothers, while Gérald was more serious. Marcel clearly remembers indulging in a pastime behind the home, which carried a certain element of risk. “To come into the house, we’d go up the pole,” he said, pointing to a two-storey steel staircase. From that vantage, according to Marcel, “we’d jump from there to the house.” Gérald continued, “I never did that.”

“We wanted to use parachutes to jump, so we’d take umbrellas,” Marcel added. About Gérald, Marcel confided, “He never caused problems.” “I was the quiet one,” Gérald acknowledged.

The Manoir, the community centre attached to Notre-Dame-de-Grâce church on the other side of Décarie, played a role in their upbringing. The two worked there as pinboys in the bowling alley. Gérald recalled how each evening their father would summon them into the house. “When we were playing outside, at 7 every night my father would call us and say we have to pray,” he said. “At that time, Cardinal Léger had a special prayer on the radio.”

“The Chapelet en famille,” Marcel chimed in.

“He’d say ‘come on in, you have to pray,’” Gérald continued. “It was only 15 minutes. We’d kneel here,” he said, pointing to the kitchen floor. “We did that every day except on Sundays, because we went to Mass.” Marcel called the apartment “beautiful,” adding, “You haven’t changed the way it was at all.” With a municipal election coming November 1, The Senior Times had a number of questions for the Tremblays, who are running under the Union Montreal banner. While the party’s platform makes no specific commitments to seniors, transportation issues are on the minds of many who will be voting, according to one expert we consulted. Seniors need better access to public transit. Shuttle buses are becoming more common, but additional vehicles are needed and routes need to be expanded. It has also been suggested that Montreal should follow an example being set in other parts of the world, where seniors ride public transit for free between rush hours. Montreal’s Métro stations also need more elevators for those wishing to avoid the potential hazards of the steep and excessively rapid escalators.

Barbara and Irwin are flanked by the Tremblays Photo: Martin C. Barry

In addition, the rules for using adapted transport for the handicapped need to be adjusted so that seniors have easier access. As it is now, the process for applying to become an adapted transport user is long and complex, and tends to leave out the frail elderly, while favouring those who have specific disabilities. Finally, more low-income housing for senior citizens is needed. The Tremblay administration has overseen the installation of elevators at Lionel Groulx and Berri-UQAM, and the mayor noted that Henri-Bourassa, Bonaventure and Côte Vertu are next in line. In all, there are 65 Métro stations on Montreal Island, and for each it costs as much as $15 million to put in an elevator, for a total investment of about $1 billion. “If we want to increase ridership and help the elderly, we have to give better service, more hours,” the mayor said. “That’s why in certain boroughs you have special buses for the elderly. It permits them to go downtown. We’re doing things, but we realize we have to do more.”

On adapted transport, the mayor said the city is discussing the issue with the Quebec government. “Most of it is paid by the Quebec government and we realize that we have to do more,” he said. “We just look at the number of elderly people and more and more people who are handicapped. So we’re doing that.” He said Montreal is investing more than $2 million a year to make public buildings more accessible. “We have public buildings that were difficult to access for handicapped people, but elderly also have more and more difficulty to move around.” On the need for housing, he noted the city has doubled its efforts in the last eight years to increase the number of subsidized housing units. New projects set aside 20 per cent for seniors. “Three bedrooms, that’s very important if we want to keep our families in Montreal,” he said. “We’re doing it for seniors, we’re doing it for families, we do it for people who are in need also, and we do it for single-parent families.”

Labels:


Montreal West planning for its own senior residence

October, 2009

After years of discussions among Montreal Westers about not having a retirement residence to call their own, town officials hope to sign an agreement in the next two or three years with a residence operator.

Montreal West itself is not going to build a senior residence but will encourage the construction of one through private interests. The town has tentatively designated a site for the future residence on Westminster S. near the intersection of St. Jacques. “We’re not necessarily convinced that’s the best place,” Mayor Campbell Stuart says of the location, which nonetheless has been re-zoned to accommodate a four-storey building. “We wanted to allow for the kind of density we knew would probably be necessary for it to make sense economically. But whether it means it has to be that big … all we’re doing is facilitating it.”

Montreal West is in the midst of creating a new urban development master plan, which integrates residence idea. According to town councillor Colleen Feeney, there is a will, an interest and a need for a retirement residence.

The proposed site of a new residence

“Now I think we’re really at the stage where we want to see whether it’s possible, feasible, and whether there is a place where we could have it,” she says. Two years ago, when town officials conducted a survey to evaluate the amount of interest there might be in such a venture, 76 per cent of residents said they were likely to eventually move into a senior residence. Federal census figures indicate that among the more than 5,300 residents in Montreal West, at least 20 per cent are over 65.

“There is a high population of seniors – in fact higher than in NDG,” Feeney says. “With so many seniors in the area and the fact that there are not many options for them to live within the community when they sell their houses, there’s probably a need for a whole lot of different types of senior housing here — maybe also condos.”

Besides attracting a developer, there’s another hurdle. This past spring and summer when the town held public hearings to gauge interest in its redevelopment plan, residents from nearby streets expressed concerns about a four-storey building going up behind their homes. The location itself on Westminster is occupied by the Montreal Westlibrary and a small park that was created where a gas station once stood, necessitating soil remediation.

As for alternative locations, town officials may not have many other choices. One suggestion is that an agreement might be reached with one of the three churches located in Montreal West for land they might be willing to part with.

Labels:


Silencing seniors with intimidation

Kristine Berey

October, 2009

As odious as finding the word “Jew” painted across her front door was, Suzanna Engel says she believes it was the tip of the iceberg of something much more commonplace, but no less insidious: the subtle and routine intimidation some seniors experience in their rented apartments. “It’s not about being Jewish, it’s about human rights,” Engel said.

She suspects the vandalism was committed as a warning for her to back off from criticizing the management for what she considered to be poor maintenance of her Lakeshore Road apartment building. At the time of the incident, she was in the process of collecting names for a petition asking for repairs. “One of the first warnings I got was that my bicycle was taken and a tenant warned me.” While Engel is exceptional in her refusal to be silenced – she has no plans to move – many seniors would prefer to avoid confrontation.

Adele, an eight-year advocate from Arnold Bennett’s Housing Hotline, says it’s not unusual for seniors living alone to be scared to demand their rights. “I’ve seen seniors intimidated by certain landlords. They’re afraid to make requests for repairs, things with which younger people would not have any problem. They’re told if they don’t like it, they can get out. I’m so used to hearing about it, you get to the point you know it’s a veiled threat, but the tenant doesn’t know.”

Certain problems, she says, such as cracked walls, peeling paint and miscellaneous repairs need to be taken care of over time. “But sometimes landlords want to jack up the rent when you’ve been living there for 40 years and tell you it’s you that has to take care of it.” The tenant doesn’t know who to call for assistance and sometimes they’re so shaken they don’t know what to do. “Not everybody has families to help them,” Adele said.

Cathy Inouye of Project Genesis says some landlords neglect to make repairs in the hope that a tenant will leave. “An older person living in an apartment for a long time can refuse a rent increase. If there is a continual refusal of the increase, which is a person’s right, the landlord may not do repairs … trying to get the person out of the building. The tenant feels the pressure.”

Inouye encourages tenants to write a letter to the landlord if there is a health or safety issue. “Maybe what could help people the most is the knowledge that they can’t be thrown out of their apartment if they’re paying their rents on time. Tenants have the right to maintain occupancy. … You have the right to enjoy the apartment.” There are many resources in Montreal, such as Project Genesis, Arnold Bennett’s Tenants’ Clinics and the NDG Senior Citizens Council, which can help tenants, even if they can’t come in on their own.

“Project Genesis has a home advocacy service for people who are housebound,” Inouye said. “A volunteer advisor can come, explain the tenant’s rights and help compose a letter to the landlord if necessary.”

Info: Project Genesis: 514-738-2036; Arnold Bennett’s Housing Hotline: 514-990-0190; NDG Senior Citizens Council: 514-487-1311.

Labels:


Neil and Catherine celebrate birthdays and launch book

October, 2009

click here to view a slideshow of images from Neil and Catherine celebrate birthdays and launch book

The Unitas Hall on St. Antoine was filled with well-wishers heading for the birthday buffet on Sept 20. They were there to celebrate Catherine Fleming McKenty’s 79th and Neil McKenty’s 85th birthdays. And there was another occasion — the launch of Catherine’s Polly of Bridgewater Farm: an unknown Irish story.

Before dessert was served, Catherine read from the biography to the almost 100 guests. “The book is meant for everybody in the way everybody relates to Anne of Green Gables,” she said later in a telephone interview.

“It has serious parts like how a family survives,” she explained. “A mother in her thirties who lives in Northern Ireland told me that this is the kind of book parents and grandparents could read together with older children.” Toasts were made congratulating Catherine on her achievement and Neil for being a powerful presence in the English media.

The Senior Times publisher, Barbara Moser, began her speech by cajoling Neil into sitting next to her. “Neil, I want to thank you for contributing your lefty, edgy, often provocative view of the world in The Senior Times for over 11 years,” she said. She then asked the audience: “How Catholic are we tonight?” When there was no answer, she added “...because you know you have a rebel in your midst,” referring to McKenty.

Then she shared her favorite lines and subjects from Neil’s column Pit Stop in The Senior Times, among them the line “Sexually arrested priests should be arrested.” “He has written about homosexuality, healthcare, euthanasia, and public policy,” Moser said. “His words are always full of candor and wit. He called George Bush the worst president of his lifetime, which wouldn’t be surprising if his memory didn’t go back to Herbert Hoover.”

“His writing is very personal, very intimate, and very unusual,” said Denis Biro. It’s amazing how he opens his heart to everyone. Guests commented they were astounded by the wit and liveliness of Neil and Catherine. “What’s amazing is he’s turning 85 but he’s still very active and very sharp,” Warren Allmand said. “He’s not like an 85 year old man.

“They’re not just content at their age to sit back and watch television,” Allmand added. “They are people who are committed to improving the lot of everybody.” “They deal with age extremely well,” Biro said of the couple. “This is an inspiration for a lot of people. We have to keep up with them.” “Winston Churchill once said ‘never surrender’,” said Stuart John Tigchelaar. “They bring so much inspiration to the community. [Catherine and Neil] please never surrender that zeal.”

Labels:


Trapped in a tragedy: no plan in place for disabled vet

Jillian Zacchia

October, 2009

No one individual or institution can prepare for what happened three years ago, on September 13, at Dawson College when Kimveer Gill walked in and started shooting.

Difficult as it was for those who could walk, it was impossible for Myron Galen, a teacher at the college who uses a wheelchair.

In order to leave the school safely, one had to listen to the police and follow protocol, but Galen didn’t have the option of following the orders. He was one of a number of people with mobility issues stuck in the school.

On the day of the tragedy, Galen was in his office on the fifth floor, aware of what had happened but unable to leave the school along with everyone else. “The elevators were shut down,” he said. “They always are during emergencies. There was no way for me to get out.”

Galen waited in his wheelchair with a colleague, Aaron Krishtalka, who stayed by his side for four hours until he was allowed to leave through the Atrium. Donna Varrica, Dawson’s manager of communications, admitted that there are “severe gaps” in the evacuation procedure for those with limited mobility, “Myron being one of them. Relying on the kindness of strangers shouldn’t be the case.” Galen said he felt vulnerable because he didn’t feel protected by the authorities or the school administration. “A lot of physically disabled people were in danger and I’ve been complaining about it for years.”

“The problem is that the protocol that exists now is prepared on paper, but we found that when it’s put into practice it has some large gaps,” Varrica said. “When we practise evacuations, we don’t actually bring people with limited mobility outside. This disturbs people in wheelchairs because they haven’t actually done the exercise.”

“Nothing has been done to accommodate those in wheelchairs in the event of an emergency yet,” Galen said, and according to Varrica, he’s partially right. “We’ve set up a task force with people who’ve encountered a problem, instead of able bodied people making plans for those in wheelchairs,” Varrica said. “Galen is one of the members.

“We’re trying to come at it from different angles to see if we can create a real procedure.”

The committee will meet in the coming weeks but no progress has been made to reform the evacuation procedure for those in wheelchairs since the Dawson tragedy, Varrica said.

“You can’t plan for an attack like this,” Galen said, “but you can plan for an evacuation, and Dawson hasn’t gotten it right for the mobility-impaired.”

Labels:


The keys to youth and happiness

October, 2009

If there were such a thing as a perfect art form, surely it would be the song. Short enough to learn by heart, it only needs to be whistled or hummed to be satisfying. Its lyrics appeal to the poet, its images to the visual artist, its flow to the dancer and its emotion to the actor. But perhaps it is the composer/pianist who can most profoundly experience a song, beginning with getting acquainted with the tune, colouring it with harmonies, altering it through rhythms while enjoying it all thoroughly, in a completely new way every single time.

“I love what I do; I still perform in New York six nights a week,” says Irving Fields, in town last month for a two-day gig at Ex-Centris. “I play one note I get six months younger, two notes, a year. Any more and I’m like Benjamin Button.” The 94-year old pianist no longer lies about his age. “When I was 80 I said I was 60 to get a job over the telephone. Now I flaunt my age. I’m happy, proud of what I do and it helps my career.”

Fields gets younger with every note he plays. Photos: Scott Philip

Fields, who was born on August 4, 1915 in the Lower East Side of New York, got his first break when at 15 he won first prize on the Fred Allen Radio Amateur Hour. The honour included $50 and the chance to perform for a week at the Roxy Theater.

“I knew I wanted to be in show business. People accepted me and my style of playing – they thought it was very unusual.”

Fields went on to build a solid piano technique through study at the Eastman school of music and worked on cruise ships as headline performer. It was on one of these trips that the then-18-year-old entertainer found himself in Havana and fell in love with the Latin rhythms that would determine his musical future.

Fields’ first recorded song was Managua Nicaragua, for RCA Victor. It became an international hit, as did other songs many readers may remember, like the Cugat Xavier hit Miami Beach Rhumba. Younger readers may recognize the tune from the Woody Allen film Deconstructing Harry. In 1959, Fields’s album Bagels and Bongos, on the Decca label, became instantly popular all over the world. “I pioneered a fusion of Latin rhythms and tempos with ethnic music. It started with Jewish music, followed by Italian music (Pizzas and Bongos), French music (Champagne and Bongos) and Hawaiian music (Bikinis and Bongos). Then I thought ‘Why can’t we do this with classics and jazz and ragtime? I took Blue Danube and played it as a merengue and Für Elise as a tango. Music has no language barrier; that’s its beauty.”

Fields’ songs have been recorded by artists such as Dinah Shore, Guy Lombardo and Sarah Vaughan. Gigs at the finest hotels all over the world, television appearances and Carnegie Hall (eight concerts) followed.

Pianist Irving Fields still performs six nights a week

Despite his pianistic prowess, Fields didn’t aim to be a classical musician. “I thought about it, but with classical music you have to live with the piano eight hours a day to really play. I love every kind of music, show-tunes, classical, popular. There is more versatility and I don’t have to tie myself down to one kind of music. Like this I’m diversifying. Like a good meal.” At his Ex-Centris performance, Fields served up a well-balanced musical feast, with music from Beethoven to Gershwin, and more for dessert.

Fields is renowned for his ability to improvise on any “request” his audience makes of him. He still remembers a few songs. “Thousands and thousands and thousands” he told an interviewer on his last visit here, when he was 91. Does he worry that beautiful songs are becoming extinct? “I’m sorry that we have deteriorated from melodic, beautiful, emotional, romantic music. Kids know music by the beat instead of the melody. The beat is louder than melody, louder than other instruments. There is very little romantic music. Thank goodness for the revival of Broadway shows.”

Fields’s “No. 1 favourite” composer is George Gershwin, and his favourite song the Pearl Fishers, from an opera by Bizet, in which he makes the piano sound like a mandolin. “The piano in itself is a symphony orchestra. I trill the notes. I produce shivers.”

Labels:


Vets uneasy over rumoured transfer of Ste. Anne's Hospital

September, 2009

There is apprehension among local war veterans and Royal Canadian Legion members following news the federal government has begun discussions on transferring responsibility for Ste. Anne’s Veterans Hospital to the Quebec government’s control.

Located on a 21-hectare site in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Ste. Anne’s was one of nine veterans’ hospitals built in Canada for casualties of the First World War.

Although it is the country’s last veterans’ hospital, the number of patients is expected to drop in the coming years. With 446 private rooms, there are currently about 415 residents at the hospital with an average age of 86, compared with 725 averaging 76 years in 1992.

“There’s been talk of this for many years,” said Stuart Vallières, president of the NDG branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. According to Vallières, speculation about Ste. Anne’s being turned over to Quebec has gone on since Queen Mary Veterans Hospital was transferred decades ago to the province.

“It’s still not a done deal. I think it’s very talked about and worked on. My personal opinion is that they seem to be delaying it as long as they can. The longer they delay it, the less impact it has on war veterans, particularly those now from the Second World War.”

“I’m sure that any veteran you talk to would not be looking forward to seeing that happen,” he added. “In this province – and this is a very personal opinion – we’ve had more governments here talking about separating than we’ve had being part and remaining part of Canada.

Second World War veteran Bob Thompson and the Royal Canadian Legion crest

“The veterans have the respect of the Canadian government, and as a result of our efforts over the years to express the needs of veterans, the desires of veterans, we’ve been able to form a very good association and a working agreement between the government and ourselves.

“And I think most veterans would have to admit that as far as treatment – and I’m talking now about seriously disabled vets – they’ve been very fairly treated by the government and we have no complaints at all and this association continues at Ste. Anne de Bellevue. The veterans there receive excellent treatment.”

Asked whether he felt veterans’ specific medical needs might not be fully recognized if their care were no longer provided by Veterans Affairs Canada, Vallières responded, “That’s right. That would be my very personal opinion.”

At the Royal Canadian Legion’s Lachine branch, similar apprehensions about a possible transfer were expressed.

“It should stay strictly as a veterans’ hospital,” said Bob Thompson, who served in Canada’s navy during the Second World War. “If the province were to take it over, that would mean anyone would be able to enter that hospital, and veterans might even have a hard time getting in with other people moving in and taking priority.

“The veterans would lose a lot of their power in there,” he said.

“They wouldn’t have preference, I believe. The way it is now, you have a good chance of getting in, but should they take over, I think it would be much harder.”

Ste. Anne’s Veterans Hospital would be likely to end up as a senior citizens home, another branch member suggested.

“Anyone would be able to go there,” she said. Another vet saw the potential for linguistic problems developing if English-speaking vets, who have been served until now by the officially bilingual federal Veterans Affairs, were to suddenly fall under the aegis of Quebec, which prioritizes use of the French language through Bill 101.

According to Bonnie Sandler, a Montreal social worker with extensive experience assisting the elderly, other changes of concern to veterans and their families are also happening now. Sandler regularly places seniors in retirement residences and works with many veterans.

Until recently, she was able to place clients in private residences. They would pay a portion of the total fee and Veterans Affairs would pay the larger amount.

“That was the story for all veterans until recently,” she said.

“My last case involved a visit to a few nursing homes. Then Veterans Affairs came out saying they are no longer taking up the slack of private placements. This man is sitting in one of the rehab centres right now. He should have been moved already. They’re saying he’s got to go into the public system.”

Labels:


Autistic adults find their place

September, 2009

As you walk into Darlene Berringer’s apartment on Sherbrooke near Greene, Yosef Robinson and Ansovina Dolce take you into the room where they are working on their projects.

Yosef is 27 and has a masters degree in urban planning and Anso is working on her art.

Darlene Berringer helps high-functioning autistic young adults lead full lives Photos: Todd Pritchett

“Each of them is brilliant in their own respect,” Berringer says of her autistic students. Her mission is to integrate them fully into careers where their talents and personalities can shine. Berringer was the founding director of Giant Steps, a school for autistic children and adolescents. It started small, she says, in a church basement in Pointe Claire. The school now has branches worldwide.

Before starting Giant Steps, Berringer taught music therapy at Concordia University.

The shortage of resources for young adults with autism prompted her to leave Giant Steps and begin her new career direction.

She got a letter from the director of Giant Steps in New York asking what was happening with the young adult graduates. “I hate to say this, but nobody wanted the adults.” That is when she turned her energies toward high-functioning autistic young adults.

The three cornerstones of her project are work, study, and socialization. Berringer says that socialization is extremely important.

Many autistic adults hunt for relationships online and it can lead to trouble, she says. “There are sexual predators that find [them] and say ‘come to me.’ ” Sometimes the young adults try to continue the relationship even though we discourage them from doing so, she adds.

Yosef interjects to say that he craves romantic relationships because he already has friends.

Berringer says that romantic relationships are a huge issue with autis- tic adults. “When you’re a so-called neurotypical person and you start out, slowly your system sort of automatically gets into it,” she says. “For these guys, it’s not automatic.”

They don’t know how to make romantic relationships work, she says. “There’s usually a sense in you where you feel passion,” she says about non-autistic adults. “Yosef will say, ‘yes, I’m passionate about this person’ but he’s only dealing with them online. How you can you be passionate with- out them even being there?”

“We’re like stray sheep,” says Loren Gabbaor, a member of the project or “collaboratory.”

“The black sheep,” Yosef adds.

Ansovina, also a member of the collaboratory, has a similar problem when it comes to making friends. She is an exceptional artist who also sells jewellery, and has limited speaking skills. Berringer says that at Anso’s work place, when everybody else is talking and laughing, she just stands by herself. “Not even a hello or a goodbye.”

Anso works on one of her drawings

Because these adults don’t fully understand how to interact with others, there can be some awkward situations.

Yosef is an urban planner and has to go out on assignment from time to time. Berringer was driving him down Ontario St. for a project he was working on. It was freezing. When he was almost finished, he told her that she could go and that he could finish the rest by himself.

“It was very cold and I needed to write some notes,” Yosef says. “I wanted to find a warm place to write them so I found a shoe store, and the clerk started to ask me, “Can I help you?” And I told her that I was writing notes. She was about to escort me out the door so I started touching her shoulder. I wanted to make her smile and not be angry. You know, let’s be friends. And she said ‘get out.’ And I told her ‘Je t’aime.’ Not good.” Berringer explains that this is a common situation and that Yosef was misunderstood. “He was panicked because he didn’t want that negative energy,” she explains. “So when he said ‘je t’aime’ and touched her shoulder, she went ballistic. What he was trying to say was, ‘Please, I don’t want to hurt anybody, I just want to write my notes’.”

The socialization aspect of the collaboratory would involve teaching how to avoid situations like these and help these young adults form relationships. “Kind of like a matchmaking place with people from the collaboratory,” Yosef says. “Set people up according to their sexual orientation, their likes and dislikes, their background.”

Berringer says the CEGEP and High School system should be tailored to fit the needs of the autistic people in the system.

“Usually they don’t get past high school. They [the schools] sort of leave them without anything. “What I want for a lot of the kids that are in high school with autism, is that in Grade 10 or 11, I want the school to change. I want to bring in a career technical education,” she says. “By this time they are starting to look at careers that they want to get into. It could be one or two or three that they want to look at, but I want to build that for them. Not let’s continue to do math when they don’t really like math. We already know math after all these years.”

She says that during that time, students should focus on those areas that interest them so that they can build on their skills.

This way, when they leave high school, they would have the ability to enter the job market. “It shouldn’t just be study, it should be work and study. That’s my belief.”

Another main component of Berringer’s project is finding jobs for her protégés after they are done school. She is starting small, but she has succeeded in helping several young people already.

“I’ve always liked cities. Since I was a young kid, I’ve always liked geography an awful lot. I love to learn about different cities … Cleveland or Monterey or Mexico City or Johannesburg – wherever!” Yosef says

Yosef is an urban planner. He works out of the office, often in Berringer’s apartment, and they go together to get his work from his boss at the main office. She goes with him to prevent any sticky situations.

“Darlene checks the reports very thoroughly to make sure that I am writing in a writing st yle that my bosses would accept,” Yosef says.

She also goes with her students to their interviews. “You go in and you explain. You’re honest and truthful,” she says.

“The key is to be pushy in a nice way,” Yosef elaborates.

When Loren was introduced to Berringer, his dad had got him a job where he was doing very simple tasks like photocopying. That job finished and his mother called Berringer for help. “His mother said ‘he’s not working and we’ve tried all kinds of places and it’s very hard to get him in.’” He was playing computer games all day long, Berringer adds. “This is something that you will hear over and over again about people with Aspergers (a form of autism), that they live and breathe computers.”

“It wasn’t my fault!” Loren says. Berringer agrees and explains the difficulty involved in autistic adults finding jobs without assistance.

“Loren wanted to get into an accounting firm and I was going to put him in one. But once we spent time here, we really look at his skill sets. No one ever really had. I told him that he was not an accountant,” she says.

“You have incredible information science going on in your head,” she told him. “He knows so much about so many things. I was so impressed. I told him that he could easily go into library sciences.

“I called Charles [Loren’s current boss] and he said that they really didn’t have any work. I said, ‘I don’t think that you know him wel l enough.’ I told him about all of his talents and he was shocked. I said, ‘I’d really like you to give him a shot, even if you don’t pay him.’

“He went in and once Charles found out what Loren had to offer, he said, ‘that’s amazing.’

“None of us knew that he was so technically aware. He’s so modest. You have to pull the information out of him,”she says.

“We want them to get a job and love it,” Berringer says. Not just sit at a job – build on a passion for it. Once they have a job and they have some money, they will be trained in financial literacy.”

“I hate it when people say that they are autistic so they can’t. We say, ‘No, no, no! They can.’”

Labels:


Earl Jones victims soldier on

September, 2009

The collective financial loss of the victims of fraudulent investor Earl Jones is thought to be as much as $50 million. But there is no accurate measure of the devastation the con man has hurled into the lives of the clients who trusted him for decades.

“We’re into the eighth week of this and the first six weeks were mostly shock, a lot of panic and fear, feeling sick to your stomach every day, waking up at 3am saying ‘Oh my God,’” said Betty Davis, a 78-year-old widow who lost 30 years of her savings and nearly half of her future monthly income to Jones. Seeing her stand tall, with her clear blue eyes and lovely smile, wearing a pink baseball cap, apologizing for the chaos created by workmen changing her kitchen door, one would never know she’s just had the carpet pulled out from under her.

“The only thing that kept me sane is playing golf. But now I figure things have calmed down and I’m starting to be active in redesigning my life.”

Whi l e she found meeti ng wi th other victims helpful, it was also a painful experience, Davis said. “Staying in touch with other victims is too heavy – the load of anguish and distress is too much to bear if you’re right up against it. It’s a very emotional matter, a tremendous blow to your self-esteem. It knocked your life apart and you have to rebuild it.”

Betty Davis with her son Joey Davis: "We want to give people hope" Photo: Kristine Berey

Still, Davis is one of the luckier ones. Her son Joey Davis is nearby and, along with other sons and daughters of Earl Jones’s victims, is taking the fight for justice for victims of white collar crime to a higher level while mobilizing public opinion.

“We effectively want to change the criminal laws in Canada,” Joey Davis said. “We want stiffer sentencing for white-collar crime, institute a single regulatory body over all financial institutions in Canada, and we want to see a charter of rights for victims of white-collar crime and a national compensation fund. We’ve got some big guns going – it’s not just an Earl Jones situation. White-collar crime is a scourge across the country.”

So far there have been over 225 cases, Davis says. He and other children of victims have formed an organizing committee and have met with government officials, including the Prime Minister. The group will organize a “march of generations” on Parliament Hill September 26 to launch the National Coalition against White-Collar Crime.

Davis has put out a call for victims to come forward and tell their story. “We want to give people hope. We’ll be starting a foundation, a one-stop shop for any concerned citizen. This affects everybody, not just the rich.” Though most victims were seniors, Davis says this is not a crime of elder abuse. “This man was in operation for 30 years. His clients were my age when he gained their trust, which grew over the years. Jones knew that over time these people would be vulnerable and elderly – he had a long-term strategy.”

The West Island Community Resource Centre and Sun Youth are working together to provide immediate practical help to victims. As well, emotional support is available at local CLSCs, says Brigit Ritzhaupt, program manager for adult mental health services at the CSSS Ouest de l’Isle.

“We have short-term counseling, spread over six to eight sessions, or long-term counseling. I know that some of the victims have come to terms with their anger and loss. They’ve looked at how they have coped in the past while at the same time looking at their strengths and taking charge once again.”

However, healing may take much longer for some, says Anne Davidson, director of the West Island Community Resource Services. “This debacle is a reminder that many older people do not have their families around because they moved away to explore a broader spectrum of opportunities,” she wrote in the West Island edition of The Gazette.

She invites Montrealers to continue reaching out to the victims, some of whom are struggling to maintain their most basic needs. “There are so many ways people can help. They can offer a service if they can’t offer money. We have some people who need medical equipment so they can stay in their home, people unable to keep dentist appointments because they have no cash. Similarly, they can’t afford glasses or go to medical appointments. We have a multitude of needs – right now some can’t pay for their groceries.”

Davidson says many are in crisis situations that could last up to a year. “A lot of the victims need advocacy. They say they’re ‘OK’, but they’re really not. Some are holding back; they don’t really believe they’re that badly off yet. It’s summertime and the harshness of reality is always less in summer. It hasn’t hit them yet.”

Reach the West Island Community Resource Centre at 514-694-6404 and Sun Youth at 514-842-6404.

Labels:


Putting the blame on mom

September, 2009

More than 50 years ago, when Lil Levinson-Garmaise was raising a family in late 1950s Montreal, she was also starting to do something most other women wouldn’t have dreamed of: making a name for herself as an author of musical comedies.

Carmen Cohen, which is probably her best known work, was initially produced in 1957 and revived five years ago as Carmen on the Main, with Rita Wasserman playing the lead role. Despite the fact it is light entertainment, it has achieved a degree of cultural significance, partly because of its theme, which centres on Montreal’s once-thriving garment industry.

Over the past 12 years, Levinson-Garmaise and several others have staged four shows at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors. In October, her latest effort, a musical comedy called Put the Blame on Mom, will be playing for four nights at Congregation Beth-El on Lucerne Rd. in Town of Mount Royal. A cast of 30 actors, singers and dancers, ranging in age from 65 to 93, will lampoon psychiatry and the burden of guilt members of that profession have tended to place on moms – at least in the cliché.

The production will feature at least one person who shared in Levinson-Garmaise’s initial success. Glenda Radin has agreed to return as musical director of soloists for the new show. Other collaborators include choreographer Lil Arfen, producer Rita Scott, musical director Nick Burgess and artistic director Lorna Wayne.

“When we went into production almost a year ago, Rita, Lil Arfin and I were looking for a musical director, and I remembered that 50 years earlier I had an excellent one in Glenda,” Levinson-Garmaise said. “I had a hard time finding her. I went through the phone book. One lady who answered was Glenda’s sister-in-law. That’s how we connected.”

Accordi ng to the author, Put the Blame on Mom tells the story of some women who decide to rebel against psychiatrists who (in typically Freudian lockstep) insist on blaming mothers when things go wrong in their children’s lives.

“Psychiatrists always blame mothers,” Levinson-Garmaise said. “I don’t know to what degree, but this is a known fact. But it’s all lighthearted. No doctor ought to take this seriously. We’ll have a disclaimer on the program. I’m sure they’re going to laugh. They’ll need a sense of humour, of course.”

Although they’ve done shows together before, “we’ve never done so much dancing, so much movement and had so much energy on stage,” Arfin said. “So there’s a good spirit. We’ve all enjoying it very much be- cause it’s so different.”

The difference between this show and all the others is that they’ve got professional people in charge and they’re teaching the others such things as how to move on stage, Radin added.

Levinson-Garmaise’s retelling of Carmen was set to the music of the famous opera by Bizet. However, in her version, the lead female character was Jewish and worked in the fictional (albeit very real-sounding) Atomic Men’s Pants Manufacturing Co. on St. Laurent, otherwise known as The Main. In 1957, the show ran for a week at the Beth Aaron synagogue, then located in Park Extension, but since become the Beth Israel–Beth Aaron Congregation.

While Act One of Carmen Cohen took place at the fictional factory, Act Two was set at Montreal’s famous, although now defunct, Ben’s Delicatessen. Hi Radin, who is cast in the upcoming show, had played Ben. “The show went over very wel l,” Levinson-Garmaise said. “It was reviewed by Sidney Johnson of the Mont real Star. For an amateur performance that was quite unusual.” A year later, a producer in Hamilton, Ont., got in touch, seeking the script. They staged the play there and made $3,000 in one week, equal to $30,000 today.

There will be four performances of Put the Blame on Mom. Three evening shows take place from Wednesday, Oct. 21 to Saturday, Oct. 24, with a matinée scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 25. Tickets are $20 for the evening shows and $18 for the matinées. For tickets and informa- tion, call 514-738-4766. Congregation Beth-El is at 1000 Lucerne Rd.

Labels:


From treadmill to dance floor ... discovering tango

Much has been written about the benefits of exercise, which include an improved sense of well-being and better sleep, keeping us healthy. Scientists have repeatedly demonstrated that regular physical activity can alleviate certain degenerative illnesses and fight depression.

MonTango owners Andrea Shepherd and Wolfgang Mercado Alatrista

Why then do some of us avoid “working out” like the plague? Could it be the robotic repetition? Is it the pulsating but monotonous rhythm of “aerobic work-out music”? Or is it simply the smell of a gym? Non-exercisers may want to trade in their running shoes for dancing shoes, as researchers are discovering that social dance delivers many of the same benefits as regular exercise, with a few pluses.

Last year, Madeleine E. Hackney of Washington University School of Medicine found that both exercise and dance, specifically tango, improved functional mobility in Parkinson’s patients. But the sense of balance of the dance group improved significantly more than that of the exercise group.

According to research presented at the 56th annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, dance can inspire sedentary adults to become more active, increasing their fitness level. “Using the tango to inspire people to get active and simultaneously improve their health may be a lot easier for some than being persuaded to walk into a gym,” says lead author Dr. Stephen P. Cobley of Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK. “Dance is something almost ever yone can do and enjoy, and use to their advantage.”

Researcher Patricia McKinley of McGill University’s school of physical therapy also found that dancing the tango was excellent for improving balance. Of the people she worked with, ranging in age from 62 to 91, those she assigned to tango class rather than to walking sessions experienced superior improvement in their balance, posture, motor co-ordination and cognition. “Walking over the long run will probably improve balance, but not as quickly as tango,” says McKinley, who took up tango for the first time when she was in her fifties.

The tango is enormously popular in Montreal, as evidenced by the presence of many tango schools around the city. In fact, our city is known as the tango capital of North America. The dance dates back to the many influences brought to Argentina by immigrants in the 19th century and was first danced around brothels in Buenos Aires. Like the European “sarabande,” it was originally associated with the seamy side of society and frowned upon. Following the First World War, it became all the rage in America and was adopted by the mainstream. While “ballroom” tango has formal steps as do other ballroom dances, the Argentine tango’s essence is improvisation and communication between the partners, keeping the dancers firmly in the moment.

Andrea Shepherd teaches Argentine tango in NDG at MonTango, the tango school she owns with her “life/dance partner” Wolfgang Mercado Alatrista. “People who dance Argentine tango are passionate about it,” Shepherd said. “It changes people’s lives.” She is a case in point: Last year, she left a 19-year career in jour- nalism to teach dance full time.

The seductive rhythms of tango music have captured the imagination of great composers like Claude Debussy, who incorporated its signature pulse into his musical vocabulary. Composer Astor Piazzolla, whose name has become synonymous with tango, brought these mysterious and exciting sounds from the wrong side of town onto the concert stage.

While the tango demands concentration, it is learnable at any age, says Shepherd, who believes that if you can walk, you can dance. In fact, in Shepherd and Mercado’s classes, simple walking with a partner is the first movement a novice dancer learns. “One of the things that drew me to tango more than to other dances is the fact you can dance it forever – you don’t feel old in a tango club as soon as you hit 30! Our students range in age from 18-80,” Shepherd says.

MonTango, located at 5588A Sherbrooke W., offers free trial classes for beginners from September 8 to 11 at 7 p. m. Info: 514- 486-5588 or www.montango.ca . For other tango schools in Montreal visit www. milonga.ca

Labels:


Frequently asked questions about garage sale-ing

When are the best times to go to garage sales?

Many of us wait not-so-patiently for garage sale season to begin in May. May and June are good months – as long as they’re not too rainy – as is September. The best time is Saturdays from 8:30 am to noon. There are bargains to be had in the rain as well, as we discovered last Saturday. Our finds? Costume jewellery (new) and a London Fog red, lined jacket with the $69 price tag still on it – for $5. When it’s raining, you’ll mostly get moving and estate sales, which are usually pricier and run by garage sale agents, who can sometimes be rough and unpleasant to deal with. Sunday’s a good day for sales advertised as Sunday only. For the two-day sales, the good stuff might be gone by the second day.

Albert, my garage sale companion and graphic designer for The Senior Times, shows off our purchases with me in Hampstead. Albert initially didn’t want the ed jacket, but I got him to try it on and he fell in love with it. He also found a beige Gap jacket. I picked up Parasuco jeans for $5, a Miss Sixty skirt for one of my girls in Havana, and several designer T-shirts. All of the above came to $20.

Which areas are best?

Hampstead, Westmount, Côte St. Luc, NDG, Montreal West. Hampstead especially has good prices and loads of clothes and toys, sometimes new from manufacturers and importers.

Should I bargain?

That depends on the price and how much you want the item. If the prices are low, say $1 to $5 for clothing and toys, it’s not cool to bargain, especially if the garage sale is for charity. But if you’re buying in quantity, you can always put ever ything you want aside and then ask that an amount be taken off the total. Usually the seller will do this without you asking. And the price ends up being much lower per item.

Is it better to go alone, with family, or with a friend?

Definitely go with a friend who loves garage sales as much as you do. My friend Albert Cormier, graphic designer for The Senior Times, and I have a system: We keep a small map of the areas we don’t know well, like Hampstead, and we get off to an early start Saturday mornings. We are fast and respectful of each other’s time, and we help each other find things we’re looking for. I’m always looking for toys and clothes for my Cuban friends. Often Albert will call me over when he’s found a box of small toys and help me pick out the best things. We even buy each other birthday presents at garage sales!

How will I stop myself and my family from buying things we don’t need?

The short answer is, “Don’t bring the grandkids.” The long answer: I have never regretted buying something at a garage sale. I have been garage sailing since my kids were babies and I firmly believe some of the best purchases I’ve ever made have been at garage sales. I outfitted my daughters when they were 2 and 4 from a garage sale run by a mother whose daughters were 4 and 6. It’s amazing how many gifts, still wrapped, people sell at garage sales. As for children’s clothes and toys, most of them look new or are new. I remember buying seven Barbies still in their boxes for children in Cuba – at $3 each.

At the Hampstead Sisters’ Blowout, held once a year in May or June, Albert and I purchased dozens of Indian blouses and scarves for his seven sisters as well as tablecloths and costume jewellery, all new and all for $1 or $2. New goods are perfect for birthday and Christmas presents.

I wanted to buy Charly, but, alas, he wasn’t for sale. I did buy a Chihuahua wardrobe ($5), for when Irwin lets me have another dog.

What’s the difference between garage sales, estate sales and moving sales?

Estate sales and moving sales usually offer more furniture and higher-priced items, such as antique knick knacks and costume jewellery. They have a more formal feel to them and prices are often marked. The best deals at estate sales and moving sales are towels and sheets – if it doesn’t bother you to sleep on someone else’s sheets. We have found new linens as well!

Will I find what I’m looking for?

If you’re looking for a particular item, you probably won’t find it. I remember we searched everywhere for a bicycle for Emily, the daughter of our Cuban friend Dr. Martin, who visited us for three weeks in June. We kept missing the bikes and couldn’t find anything to fit his daughter’s size. What we did find was a huge box full of Barbie furniture and accessories, all for $5. One week we found a lot of naked Barbies. The next week we found nothing but clothes. We spent the afternoon dressing them to send back to Cuba for every girl in Emily’s class. We also found a cap with “Emily” on it! The rule is, if you stop looking for it, you’ll find it. Dr. Martin sent us a picture of Emily playing with her Barbies and reported that she liked the new bike, but was in love with the dolls.

Barbara Moser has 30 years experience in garage sale shopping in west-end Montreal.

Labels: ,


Our Cover Girl

Photo: Amy Newborn

Cleo Petra McIntosh was born May 3 in Tarzana, California to Sheri Moser and Duncan McIntosh. The cover photo was taken by her mother when Cleo was 6 weeks old. Proud aunty: Barbara Moser; proud cousins: Amy Newborn and Molly Newborn.

Labels:


Dorshei Emet synagogue commissions female scribe

July 2009

On May 24, the Congregation of Dorshei Emet celebrated a unique and joyous event, the launch of the Torat-Imeinu–the Torah of our Mothers project. In anticipation of its 50th anniversary next year, the Reconstructionist synagogue has commissioned scribe Jen Taylor Friedman to pen a new Torah Scroll. In doing so, Dorshei Emet will be the first synagogue in Canada and the third in the world to receive a Torah handwritten by a woman. The project, to be completed by next spring, is meant to honour all women and illustrates the inclusive nature of the congregation, where women have always been full participants.

“Today we are joining together to link our lives with the Torah, linking ourselves literally with generations past, present and future,” Rabbi Ron Aigen said at the Two Hands on a Quill Family Day, where the congregation was introduced to Taylor Friedman. The event culminated in a moving moment where Hillel Becker, the son of Dorshei Emet’s founder Rabbi Lavy Becker, and a few other long-time members,were guided by the scribe in forming the first letters of the scroll. There is some debate in the different streams of Judaism as to whether a woman may write a Torah for ritual use, Rabbi Aigen explained in an interview. The differences in opinion are due to different interpretations of halacha, or Jewish law.

“Reconstructionism interprets religion as culture, and understands law to be interpreted in a modern context,” Aigen said, while in more traditional interpretations, the focus of women’s lives remains on the home and family. As women are exempt from time-bound commandments that would interfere with their domestic duties, they cannot be obligated, or counted. According to some this would disqualify them from certain actions. However, Reconstructionism looks to the social realm, according to Aigen. “The past is a vote but not a veto.”

Though Orthodox Rabbi Yossi Kessler of the Chabad Centre declined to comment on the legitimacy of female scribes, he did stress the importance of not deviating from the laws. “The laws have been the same for thousands of years; the same shabbes candles, the same blowing of the shofar, the exact same thing for generations. A son, father,grand-father and great grand-father doing the exact same thing as it was written. This is the mainstream of Orthodox Judaism. That’s what makes us last, otherwise we fall apart.”

But things are changing quickly even in the Orthodox world. “Currently in non-Orthodox Judaism, women are able to do everything, including being rabbis,”says Ira Robinson,professor of Judaic studies at Concordia University. “In Orthodox Judaism, women are not able to become rabbis, but they have achieved the ability to educate themselves in Torah, which was not the case a century ago. There is no explicit law barring a woman from being a scribe, and only historical custom restricts this. In non-Orthodox Judaism, this has become a non-issue. In Orthodox Judaism, it still is an issue but not a very prominent one.”

Mitzi Becker (left), Jen Taylor Friedman and Hillel Becker scribe the first letters Photo: Kristine Berey

Writing on the chabad.org website, Chana Weisberg suggests that women, including those without children to care for, should be given more place in Orthodox Judaism. “While circumstances in the past might have required all women’s time, energy and resources to properly fulfill [domestic] roles,with today’s comforts and technologies, extra talents or energy may be untapped. We need to open up opportunities for women, in prayer gatherings, in the educational arena, in becoming proficient in all areas of Judaic studies, and in areas of communal influence.”

The Torat-Imeinu project was conceived during a morning prayer service, as the Torah was carried by several women and a few men. It was suggested that a lighter Torah was needed, and someone knew of a female scribe.

“I was shocked to find there are not many women scribes, astounded and flabbergasted that in this day and age, where hundreds of women become rabbis, there are few female scribes. I started to pursue the idea three years ago, did research, and found the person we have now,”Aigen said.

As a woman,Taylor Friedman has encountered difficulty on her journey to becoming a scribe. She had to learn the skills required on her own, from books, because she couldn’t find a teacher. Upon completing her first Torah in 2007, she told the Jerusalem Post “Even buying the necessary materials – kulmus (quill), klaf (parchment), giddin (animal sinew), and dyo (ink) – can be tricky. If it’s me buying, they won’t sell it to me. I have a faithful spy network and send people to buy it for me.”

Though she is,unintentionally,a trailblazer, Taylor Friedman’s motivation is a purely personal/spiritual one. She discovered halacha while studying mathematics at university and found her skills in calligraphy harmonized beautifully with her newfound knowledge.

“I love Jewish law; it’s like mathematics, looking at relationships,patterns, in ways things interact with each other. If I wanted to be a career feminist, I could be. Using the Torah as a means to that end would be very inappropriate.” What is she trying to achieve with her work? “Fundamentally what I want to do is make a decent living in a job I’m happy doing which uses the skills God gave me to the fullest extent possible.”

Labels:


Saying goodbye to the great Michael Jackson

July 2009

Thursday, June 25 started just like any other day. I arrived at work at the UCLA School of Medicine and conducted my experiments in the laboratory as usual. At 3pm I looked out the window and noticed several helicopters swarming around.

This was no strange occurrence at UCLA: Nestled between Bel Air, Homley Hills, and Brentwood, it is where many celebrities come for their medical emergencies. This time was different. I looked up and counted nine helicopters. By 4pm numerous camera crews were lined up next to the hospital. Dozens of police cars and motorcycles blocked off the street. Was it Obama? The Pope?

No. Thursday, June 25 was the day the world lost the most influential pop culture artist of all time, one of the greatest musical talents who ever lived, the man who is behind the soundtrack to my youth, the superstar who like magic walked on the moon, the legendary King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

Photo: Molly Newborn, click for larger version

At 5pm I looked out the laboratory window that faced the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center. A crowd consisting of several hundred fans, reporters and camera crews had gathered at the front doors. I joined them. Shocked and grief stricken, the crowd of all ages chanted his name. Michael Jackson crossed all borders and boundaries, entertaining and inspiring people in every corner of our world. I couldn’t believe it. It must be a hoax, I thought.

Only the great MJ could pull off a stunt like this – a promotional act, I assumed, to broadcast his upcoming 50 shows, which had sold out in only five hours for almost $90 million.

At 7pm, I looked over at the rooftop of the Medical Center and saw a helicopter take off and fly over the parking lot. It was no hoax at all. Our Michael was gone.

The crowd grew in front of the Medical Center as the night progressed. There was a strange mix of emotions. Some people were crying; others danced and sang to Michael’s music. Camera crews from all over the world recorded the scene to show their audiences back home. An Indian reporter asked me why I was there. I told him I was a big MJ fan, and at a time like this wanted to be with the fans as we shared our memories.

On Saturday I went to Hollywood Blvd. Michael’s star was completely covered by a mountain of flowers, cards, letters and posters. Camera crews were camped out next to it, recording the nonstop stream of fans as they came.

I drove down Sunset to the house he had rented. More flowers, posters, letters and cards were placed out front on the other side of the police tape. More media were camped out there as well. I placed a card next to a white candle that someone had left.

Millions of fans all over the world are having a hard time believing that the Michael Jackson has died. My grandparents had Fred Astaire, my parents had Elvis, and I had Michael Jackson. In essence he will live on in what he has left us – the music and dance that has influenced pop

Labels:


Celebrating Generations graduates

July 2009

The schools were alive with the sounds of graduation June 18.

The excitement was palpable. Adrian Bercovici, executive director of Generations Foundation, and I waited at the St. Gabriel Elementary School, a diamond in the rough and the only English Elementary School in Point St. Charles, for the graduates to arrive. We were warmly greeted by Principal Tina Ottoni.

The graduation decals on the walls and balloons in blue and white displayed the graduation committee’s planning and decorating skills. Student artwork was displayed everywhere as we entered. In the auditorium, the seats were well marked for the dignitaries, which included the regional director of the English Montreal School Board, Paola Miniaci.

George McRae had his cameras rolling as pianist Ann Stewart, at the keyboard of the grand piano, musically signaled the entry of the stylishly attired graduates.

Valedictorians Angelina Griffin and Hanen Salah gave their speeches, thanking those who had supported them throughout the years.

At Tina’s signal, Adrian and I were invited to present the Generations Foundation Citizenship and Community Award of a fully loaded laptop computer and plaque to each of two students, Britney Bourassa and Ramia Mathias. Each year, Generations Foundation presents a computer and plaque to a total of six students from three different schools, who are chosen by the school committees.

Adrian gave an off-the-cuff speech (which included the subject of food) and gave kudos to the kids and teachers. We bid everyone an apologetic farewell and scurried away to Nesbitt School.

On arrival, melodic tones of the piano wafted toward us and we were beckoned to the stage by the principal Mary Theophilopoulos and vice principal, George Koutsoulis. We sat alongside the teachers and dignitaries.

Award winners Kayla Richer and Alex Melgar of James Lyng, with Natalie and Adrian. Photos: George McRae

The students were greeted first by the principal and vice principal and then by police officer and governing board chair Judy Yankowski.

Awards were presented by the principal and the Home and School and then came the Generations Foundation award. We were invited to present our Citizenship and Community Award the two students, Kimberly Grimes and Tharsika Vadivel. Adrian gave a moving personal speech, which once again included our favourite subject – food – and encouraged the children to appreciate the support they had received from their teachers and parents. A piano solo, Albert Ellmenreich’s Spinning Song, was played by Chloe Sautter-Leger.

Farewell speeches were given by five students in French, English, Italian, Portuguese and Tamil.

Parents reached out to shake Adrian’s hand to express their thanks to Generations Foundation. All in attendance were invited to partake in the buffet table laden with cakes, pies and fruit prepared by parents and school committee members – a delicious and appropriate ending to the evening.

Award winner Ramia Mathias with Natalie, Adrian and principal Tina Ottoni

For the students, this was the beginning of the rest of their lives. For Adrian and me, it was a beautiful moment to share with the children and teens we support.

Natalie Bercovici is co-founder of Generations Foundation.

Labels:


Aging baby boomers’ health crisis avoidable, expert says

July 2009

Is a socio-demographic “apocalypse” at hand in Quebec because of greater demand likely to be placed on health and social services in the coming years by the aging “baby boom” generation?

Or are boomers destined to live out the promise of “Freedom 55,” as the healthiest and most economically privileged retirees ever? The truth, according to a McGill University sociologist, is probably somewhere in between.

Ever since the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2005 decision overruling the province’s prohibition of private medical insurance (Chaoulli vs Quebec), Amélie Quesnel-Vallée, an assistant professor of sociology and epidemiology, has been questioning a prediction made decades ago that the sheer numbers of baby boomers would precipitate a social crisis when they reached retirement age.

One of the corollary arguments put forth leading up to the Supreme Court’s decision was that Quebec’s public health care system would be straining under the burden of the aging population and that privatization would be needed to fix that.

From a demographic perspective, the baby boom (roughly 1945 to 1964) has been described as a “shockwave” or “the pig in the python,” because of the conspicuous bulge that stands out in population charts.

While acknowledging that the demographics speak for themselves, Quesnel-Vallée adds that “There is a portrayal of this aging of the population as a catastrophe. And what I’m trying to say is that this portrayal is in fact an interpretation of a situation that we know very little about, because historically we’ve never experienced it in Quebec.

“We could also see this demographic shift as an opportunity for much needed change. I’m not saying that we can all sit on our hands and everything will be fine. What I’m saying is it may not be a catastrophe, but we need to implement some means of dealing with this. We actually have time to react to it. If we don’t react there might be a problem.”

Freedom 55 was a retirement fund concept devised decades ago by the London Life Insurance Company. While Freedom 55 has become a catchphrase for early retirement, in recent years the idea has taken a bit of a beating because of unstable global financial conditions and more people discovering they haven’t enough money to retire.

One of Quesnel-Vallée’s principal arguments against the catastrophe scenario is that quantitative evidence indicates the health and overall well being of baby boomers is relatively high, so their impact on the health and social services is likely to be less pronounced.

This augurs well for those wishing to continue working past retirement and could result in a decreased burden on pension funds.

But she also bases some of her reasoning on an essay called The Compression of Morbidity, which was written during the early 1980s by James Fries, a professor of medicine at Stanford University.

Fries theorized that health care costs and patient health overall can be improved if the age of onset of a first chronic infirmity can be postponed before the age of death.

Sociologist Amélie Quesnel-Vallée hopes to dispel the notion that a catastrophe is at hand because of the coming of age of the Baby Boomer generation. Photo: Martin C. Barry

“There should be no mandatory retirement age,” he said in his essay. “Studies of plasticity suggest strongly the health and vitality benefits of continuing challenge, problem solving, perception of productivity, continued activity, and more money; for some, these features will be best obtained by continued employment.”

Labels:


Little agreement on assisted-suicide bill

July 2009

A Parliamentary private member’s bill that could legalize assisted suicide in Canada has the support of at least one Montreal-area MP contacted by the Senior Times, while a second says the matter merits further investigation, and a third remains firmly opposed.

Francine Lalonde, the Bloc Québécois MP for the east-end Montreal riding of Pointe-de-l’Île, is sponsoring the bill,which had its first reading earlier this year in Ottawa. Initially introduced in 2005, the legislation died twice on the order paper since then, when elections were called.

In a press release issued in May by the Bloc, coinciding with Lalonde’s latest attempt to get the bill passed, she said, “Over the years, there have been many debates, but also the anguish of all those persons who would like us to help them shorten their suffering and put an end to the degradation of their capacities when they have no hope of return.

“The draft legislation we are proposing has as its goal to help the person who is suffering from acute physical pain without the possibility of relief, or to help someone who is afflicted by a disease in its terminal phase to die with dignity when he or she consents in a manner that is free and clear.”

Lalonde insists that the proposed law isn’t anti-life and wouldn’t open the doors to abuse. The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg have had laws allowing assisted suicide since 2000. In the U.S., the state of Oregon has allowed assisted suicide since 1997, and the state of Washington allowed it last November after holding a referendum.

Outremont NDP MP Thomas Mulcair says the bill needs further consideration, while NDG-Lachine Liberal MP Marlene Jennings is firmly opposed. Photos: Martin C. Barry

NDG-Lachine Liberal MP Marlene Jennings had no hesitation to declare her complete opposition. “I think that human life has real value,” she said. “I can understand and have a great deal of sympathy for people who are terminally ill, for instance. But I think we should be putting more of our resources into ensuring that there’s proper pain management, for instance, rather than looking at extremes.”

Jennings claims there is evidence that in countries where assisted suicide is legal, doctors have not always followed the protocols. “There has been serious concern that family members have requested euthanasia of another family member and that person has not given their full consent,” she said. “I think that there’s just too much scope for abuse. While it may be something that the public may wish to discuss, I honestly have never had a constituent come to me that I can remember, saying they wanted the criminal code changed to allow for euthanasia.”

Outremont NDP MP Thomas Mulcair, who is also his party’s point man in this province, said,“I don’t think it’s something that one private member can stand up and simply do. I think we should sit down with experts on medical ethics like Margaret Somerville, people of that nature, and see if there’s anything that actually has to be done in Canada right now.

“As things now stand, I think that Canada has a fairly good balance in the world,”he added. “We’re not countries like Switzerland where they’re considered open on this subject. I don’t think that’s where we want to be in Canada. Are there times when medical professionals should have more leeway? In clearly indicated circumstances perhaps. But again that can only happen after very mature deliberation and I think we’re not there yet.”

While Jennings maintains MPs are not obliged to toe the party line when voting on private member’s bills, and that Lalonde’s appears to have little support in Parliament, Nicole Demers, the Bloc Québécois MP for Laval, said she’ll be voting in favour, as will many other MPs in her party. “It’s a private member’s bill, but Francine has had the support of our colleagues for a very long time,” she said.

Labels:


Protecting Elders

July 2009

To mark the fourth World Elder Abuse Awareness Day June 15, a community event was organized at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Park by the Table des Aînés du Centre-Ouest, consisting of the NDG Community Committee on Elder Abuse, CSSS Cavendish, the Montreal Police, Stations 9 and 11, the Foundation for Vital Aging and the Table de concertation des aînés de Montréal.

These and other organizations were on hand to distribute information about a vast array of resources available to seniors in the community.

Several entertaining activities were organized, including a performance by Montreal blues singer Dawn Taylor Watson, and a theatre presentation from the Ressources ethno culturelles pour contrer l’abus envers les aînés. The event was also an ideal time to launch The Seniors’ Community Notebook, a free publication spearheaded by the NDG Community Committee on Elder Abuse with the support of the Ministère de la Famille et des Aînés and the Foundation for Vital Aging.

From left to right: Lucy Barylak, Joanne Besner, Thurza Dufresne, Stéphanie Dupont and Alan Maislin from the CSSS Cavendish; Jean-Guy Saint-Gelais from the Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse; Marguerite Blais, minister responsible for seniors, Leonard Kantor from the Foundation for Vital Aging; Daphne Nahmiash and Rhonda Grief from the NDG Community Committee on Elder Abuse. Click image for larger version

“The idea of the notebook started by wanting to make people aware of elder abuse,” said NDGCCEA chair Daphne Nahmiash, who has worked in the field of seniors’ well being for decades.“One of the big issues is that seniors are not aware of resources. It became a more ambitious project in the end than we anticipated because we decided we would put information about emergency preparedness – so you don’t have 15 different notebooks on every issue.”

Nahmiash, who co-authored the first report on elder abuse in Quebec, says the problems it has highlighted have not gone away. “The issues are still valid. I think the incidence of elder abuse is the same, but more people are aware of it and report it.”

She says caregivers must be supported more than they are now. “Often the resources are not there. People become stressed and conflicts arise. There needs to be more and better co-ordinated resources when people need help. They should not be told ‘you have to do it for longer.’”

In the bilingual booklet, spiral bound and printed on durable glossy cardboard, awareness and prevention of elder abuse takes precedence. The National Seniors’ Council estimates in its 2008 report that between 4 and 10 per cent of seniors, or 345,000, have experienced some form of abuse,with financial abuse being the most common.

Health and safety issues are also covered, including warning signs of conditions that may signal an emergency, medication tips, what to do in a heat wave, cold snap or fire and a list of supplies to have ready just in case. Driving and fall prevention are also mentioned, with phone numbers, maps and lists relevant to all the information given.

Never ignore possible elder abuse, Nahmiash says. “Abuse exists in society in general, but there is a difference when it happens to older, frail people. The consequences are greater because they cannot defend themselves as easily. If you’re aware that someone is being abused physically, psychologically, financially or in an institution, you need to get help. Call the info abuse line or the CLSC and ask for the person to be assessed. If they don’t do anything, call our organization, NDGCCEA. It’s a reality; we need to lobby to make sure people get the help they need.”

Nahmiash says elder abuse is not just the government’s problem. “The community has to be involved to make a more caring community instead of each organization working separately. We must work in partnership.”

NDGCCEA: 514-483-1380 ext. 2016

Elder Abuse Hotline: 514-489-2287

Labels:


Pioneering performers push the envelope

June 2009

Anyone with open ears growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s knows the innovative pianist Dave Brubeck.

His LP on Columbia, Time Out, featured two compositions in odd time signatures – Take Five and Blue Rondo à la Turk – that presaged the freedom explosion in music that was to follow. Take Five, written by the lyrical alto saxophoinist Paul Desmond, was in 5/4 time, while most jazz pieces at the time were written in common, or 4/4 time, or in 3/4 or waltz time. Brubeck’s classic quartet, with which he turned Take Five into a pop hit, included Desmond, the drummer Joe Morello and bassist Gene Wright.

Dave Brubeck

The band stayed together until 1967, when Brubeck called it quits to focus on his first love – composing. The fact that at 88 he is writing new material and performing is extraordinary and his every appearance at this stage should be regarded as historic. Brubeck’s wife, Lola, recently said Dave used to make love to her counting these very odd time signatures. Four of his six children are jazz musicians, including cellist Matt Brubeck who plays avant music with Marilyn Lerner and drummer Nick Fraser, son of Graham Fraser, the Commissioner of Official Languages. Dave Brubeck’s 50-year tribute to Time Out is at Salle Wilfid Pelletier of Place des Arts at 7:30 pm, July 4 and tickets cost $49.50 to $79.50.

Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in Queens, N.Y., Tony Bennett at 82 is widely regarded as on of the best singer of standards the U.S. has produced. He has a superb voice, great control, and a way of turning every song into his own.

His route to the top was not an easy one, and his style fell out of favour in the rock-heavy 1960s. But jazz lovers recall his marvellous recordings with Bill Evans, in particular his rendition of Waltz for Debby, that helped propel him back into the picture in the late 1970s. The Boulevard of Broken Dreams was his first hit, but his signature tune became his unique reading of I Left My Heart in San Francisco. His vocal chords are not what they used to be, but he he remains a delightful and entertaining icon. Tony Bennett performs at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier of Place des Arts, July 3, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $74.50 to $124.50.

Ornette Coleman

Texas-born Ornette Coleman, 79, taught himself to play alto sax, moved to Los Angeles and while working as an elevator operator developed his own harmonic concepts. His idea was that an improvisation could develop independent of a tune’s chord structure. He tried it out at the Hillcrest Club in L.A. in a band with Montreal pianist Paul Bley and they all got fired. But history was made. Ornette remains a pioneer and hero to those who enjoy the outer edges of jazz. He played here in the 1980s with his harmelodic group, featuring a double rhythm sections and his session is a must. The Ornette Coleman Quartet plays at 9:30 p.m. July 9 at Théâtre Maisonneuve of Place des Arts. Tickets cost $49.50 to $69.50.

Lee Konitz, 81, rose to prominence as part of the Miles Davis nonet and the famous Birth of the Cool recordings that ushered in a new age.

In contrast to the hot passions of bebop, where Charlie Parker’s alto sax was seen as the ultimate, Konitz became the chief exponent of the cool school. His lean tone, dedication to the essence of a tune and pared down expansion has stood the test of time in more than half a century as a performer.

Lee Konitz

But Konitz never stands still, never repeats standard tunes ad nauseum and fits easily into modal playing rather than depending on chord changes. And he constantly challenges himself by playing with people who could be his grandchildren. His gig here is with American bassist Jeff Denson, German pianist Florian Weber, and Israeli drummer Ziv Ravetz.

Lee Konitz and Minsarah perform on July 3 at 10:30 p.m. the Gesù, Centre de Créativité. Tickets cost $36.50.

George Wein, 83, began his career as a jazz pianist but achieved his greatest fame as founder of the Storeyville jazz club in Boston and in 1954 the Newport Jazz Festival. It was the grandaddy of all jazz festivals and the one around which all others are modeled. Some of the great recordings of post-war jazz were made there.

Wein in 1960 created the Newport Folk Festival, which became a mecca for the burgeoning folk and youth culture, featured such giants as Pete Seeger and Bill Munroe and showcased emerging stars Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. In 1982, Wein reunited some of the jazz greats who played at Newport in its heyday, performing here and at other festivals.

He’s back this year playing straight ahead music with the so called Newport All-Stars, featuring the great tenor sax player, Lew Tabackin, the only other senior in the group. Wein, by the way, is also famous for his wine cellar.

George Wein and the new All-Stars perform July 10 at 8pm at the Théâtre Jean Duceppe for Place des Arts. Tickets cost $38.50.

Labels:


A music lover’s guide to the fest

June 2009

Like many Montrealers, Moz Taylor looks forward to that rite of summer, the Montreal jazz fest, but perhaps with a touch of trepidation.

Moz Taylor hosts a jazz radio show Photo: Kristine Berey

“It’s the busiest time of the year,” says the host and producer of Jazz Boulevard, a late-night radio-show for night owls, featuring news, interviews with jazz artists from near and far, and mostly, “music, music, music.” The program recently won the Best English Community Radio Show of the Year award at the 2009 SOBA (Sounds of Blackness Awards) Gala and will celebrate its 5th anniversary on Friday, June 12, with local jazz artist Susie Arioli co-hosting the show with Taylor.

Stevie Wonder

Surprisingly, Taylor is not the jazz aficionado you’d expect him to be. “I grew up listening to whatever was coming out of the radio,” Taylor said. “I knew about jazz all my life, but came to it from a populist background. I’m not a ‘jazz freak.’ I’m always looking for an accessible edge in a song.”

Though Taylor originally got a business degree, something was missing from his life. “Music became an irritating hobby – I wanted it to be more,” he said. So he got a second degree, this time in music. “I had to reinvent my life, to make a leap of faith.”

Ranee Lee

His instincts were right on, and in the years before accepting the radio gig, Taylor established his credentials as a composer, songwriter and audio producer here and in the States.

His definition of jazz is generously broad. “Jazz can be very elitist, like 20th century music,” he says. “There is the music our parents grew up listening to, like Billie Holiday or the other extreme, as soon as anything starts sounding recognizable, you’ve got to destroy it. I lean on the accessible side, globalization and cross pollination of all styles.”

Taylor says everything, hip-hop, African, Indian, can blend into jazz. “Just look at the jazz fest, with Stevie Wonder opening. It’s much more than a jazz festival, it’s a music festival.”

Taylor said the event’s success – in its 30th year it professes to be the biggest jazz fest in the world – is partly due to its musical diversity. “It’s been a longstanding discussion at the festival: How pure are they to their roots? Jazz is a very indie-driven music form. It doesn’t have the infrastructure of pop. You need to have a big music festival to bring in people, allowing you to invite big-name jazz artists. Jazz purists would disagree, but all the big jazz fests have broadened their appeal to draw in larger audiences.”

Angele Dubeau

This year’s festival boasts of “very robust” programming, Taylor says. He explains the program is organized into several thematic series. For example, Jazz d’ici features local performers, including Ranee Lee, Oliver Jones and Michel Donato. “Montreal artists never had as much access to the stage as this year.”

Some of Taylor’s picks include Eliane Elias, an artist from Brazil who brings the Bossa Nova beat to her music, Lee Konitz accompanied by the jazz trio Minsarah (Hebrew for “prism”) and the Battle of the Bands, featuring the music of bands “that have gone on longer than their founders, where two big bands go on stage and go through that whole canon of big band music.”

Though the Montreal International Jazz Festival ends July 12, there are two other festivals, one in Ottawa and another in Burlington, that Taylor will be covering. “This becomes a ver y busy time. I always feel like I need a vacation afterwards.”

The Montreal International Jazz Festival runs from June 30-July 12. For info call the Bell Info-Jazz line at 514 871-1881 or visit montrealjazzfest.com.

Tune in to Jazz Boulevard Fridays from midnight to 2am at 102.3 FM or www.radiocentreville.com. To listen to past shows, visit www.jazzboulevard.ca

Labels:


Montreal pain researcher joins Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

June 2009

Dr. Ronald Melzack’s interest in studying pain started off as a scientific problem, much like studying vision or hearing. “It was just plain curiosity about pain,” he said about his recent induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

It wasn’t until he was a postdoctoral fellow in medical school at the University of Oregon and “met all kinds of people in terrible pain that could not be treated” that the study of chronic pain became his lifelong passion.

Last month during a ceremony in Montreal, Melzack was inducted into this country’s medical hall of fame along with four other individuals recognized for winning their place in Canadian medical history. Located in London, Ont., the hall of fame is dedicated to honouring Canadians who have changed the world’s health care landscape.

“I’m thrilled,” Melzack said of becoming a member of the Hall of Fame that has honoured such medical pioneers as Banting and Best, known for their discovery of insulin. Melzack’s pioneering research into pain mechanisms and pain control spans more than a half century and has had a major impact on every field of medicine dealing with patients who suffer from pain, in particular chronic pain.

Ronald Melzack is “thrilled” with his induction into the medical hall of fame Photo: Martin C. Barry

Born in Montreal, Melzack first became interested in the connection between pain and environment at McGill when he studied the reactions of dogs to pain stimulus. For the first six months of their lives, one group of dogs was raised in kennels while the others were raised in homes with small children. The dogs who had no interaction with children reacted more to “being pinched.”

A leader and visionary in his field, Melzack made four major contributions in the field of pain.

With the support of Dr. Joseph Stratford, Melzack co-founded the first pain clinic in Canada known as the McGill University Montreal General Hospital Pain Center where he served as research director from 1974 to 2000. The clinic is known to be one of the best organized centres for pain treatment in the world.

In 1965, Melzack developed the gate-control theory of pain in collaboration with neurophysiologist Dr. Patrick Wall.

The theory produced an explosive growth in research and resulted in experimental and clinical psychology becoming an integral part of pain research and therapy. Then in 1968, Melzack published an extension of the gate theory, proposing that pain is a subjective, multidimensional experience produced by parallel neural networks.

Another breakthrough was the development in the mid-70s of the McGill Pain Questionnaire, now the most widely used method worldwide for measuring pain in clinical research. It was developed during Melzack’s postdoctoral years, when he recorded more than 100 words to describe pain. Then with the help of a statistician, he obtained quantitative measures for each descriptor.

His fascination with phantom limb pain led to the publication in 1989 of the “neuromatrix theor y of pain.” In it he proposes that we are born with a genetically determined neural network that generates the perception of the body, the sense of self, and can also generate chronic pain, even when no limbs are present.

The world’s knowledge of pain might be a different today if Melzack had chosen to pursue a different path. While working toward his postgraduate and doctoral degrees during the early 1950s, his brother, Louis, was establishing the foundations of the Classic Book Shops chain that would eventually become one of Canada’s leading retailers of paperbacks.

“They wanted me to go into the book business and I didn’t want to,” he said. “By this time I was really hooked on psychology. Louis thought an academic life was nice, but I would never really earn a living.”

That’s when Dr. Victor Goldbloom, who was then a young pediatrician and a regular customer at one of the book shops, advised the family that they should give the future Dr. Melzack their full support. Goldbloom remains in touch with him to this day.

Mrs. Hull, whom Melzack had met in the course of his postdoctoral research, was instrumental in developing the McGill Pain Questionnaire. A diabetic, she experienced phantom pain following the amputation of her legs. “She would get throbbing pain, burning pain, crushing, all these adjectives,” Melzack said. “And then I began to write down all these adjectives. And then other patients would use other adjectives – a variety of them.”

Pain researchers are getting a better understanding of a condition known as fibromyalgia, according to Melzack. “The stress system is highly involved in it,” he said. “We know that there are trigger points, sensitive areas in the body where you’re likely to find the same pattern in virtually everybody, which means that these muscles seem to be under some strange tension for reasons not known. It produces depression and is activated by depression. But now there’s so much more research on it and it’s become so prevalent.”

Labels:


Dawson icon fears retirement: “I’ll miss them too much.”

June 2009

After 52 years of teaching, Greta Hofmann Nemiroff says she still likes everything about it – except maybe marking.

“It’s pretty difficult to think of retiring,” says Nemiroff, a teacher at Dawson College. “I’m not afraid of not having things to do. I’ve spent most of my life with people between the ages of 16 and 25 and I’ll miss them too much. That’s my fear.” Nemiroff is the coordinator of the Creative Arts Literature and Languages program at Dawson College and a New School Teacher. In New School, students have the option to take their humanities or English courses using the principles of humanistic education.

Nemiroff stumbled into New School almost by accident. She was instrumental in setting up Vanier College and organized the English and Creative Arts departments. She was there for three years when she fell ill and was became temporarily blind. “I was at home crabby and grumpy because I couldn’t do anything,” she says. Her ex-husband was meeting with a Dawson teacher who was setting up a new program called New School. So Nemiroff advised him. “And that was that,” she says.

She saw an ad looking for staff for New School and didn’t apply. “The coordinator phoned me and asked why I hadn’t applied. I said that I was quite comfortable at Vanier and he said, ‘That’s the trouble, you shouldn’t be comfortable.’”

She began teaching at New School in 1973 and was asked to be the director in 1975, a post she held until 1991.

She says she recognizes the generation gap between her students and herself. “I am really very bored with teenage culture. I don’t find it very deep or very interesting. So I told the kids that I wanted them to learn about my old lady culture.” She explains that she wants to show her students what Montreal has to offer because many of them only know a very narrow world. She takes them to the theatre, the symphony and museums. “My job as an educator is to help people stretch their worlds, not retract them into even smaller little circles.”

Greta Nemeroff takes her Dawson College students to museums, the theatre and the symphony Photo: Scott Philip

Being with young people doesn’t make Nemiroff feel younger. It reminds her how old she is. “I think that I am 71 years old. There is nothing like being with young people to realize that you are not a young person,” she says. But she always tries to pick topics for her classes that her students can relate to. “I want to find something that’s important to them. First I come up with a theme: friendship, love, home...” She explains that she still faces a lot of challenges when trying to appeal to CEGEP students. “I’ll often ask kids, ‘How many of you have read a whole book beginning to end?’ Most of them haven’t. I just feel that a whole culture is closed to them.” She says that if the students had the motivation or self-discipline to read a great work, or to go to a museum, they would discover interests and broaden their understanding of what happens in the world. “It’s hard to sell that to students because they’re dealing with so many things in their lives. They’re dealing with a world that can spin very much out of control very quickly for them.”

She finds that it can be a challenge to get them to focus, one of many Nemiroff faces as an educator. “Each human being is a mystery and learning to understand that person and where that person is coming from is a task. I learn a lot about human motivation.”

She loves to learn about people and what makes them tick. “To me, it’s extremely exciting to see people grow. What could be better than to see young people grow and see their consciousness change? I’ve been in touch for 30 years with people I have taught and saw them through having babies.”

She says that following the lives of past students and getting to know so many people is interesting. “It’s like living in the centre of an extremely complicated novel.”

Nemiroff is a big supporter of the CEGEP system, but says that it has many flaws. “I’m not sure that they realized how expensive it would be to put in this new level of education. What’s happened is that teachers’ workloads have doubled.”

She explained that when the CEGEP system was relatively new, the teacher/student ratio was 25 to one, and has now increased to 45 to one. “I just don’t think that we are able to give the students the kind of attention that many of them need. “I think that CEGEPs have been a success story overall, but I also think that the resources that are going into them are diminishing and that’s really a shame.”

Between 1991 and 1996, Nemiroff took a five- year break from Dawson to chair the Women’s Studies program at Ottawa University, but returned to New School. “It’s the love of my life.”

Nemiroff says she adores teaching, but is finding it harder to multitask. “What happens when you get to be my age is that you get tired. I used to be able to juggle a whole pile of balls in the air.”

She says that the realization that she can no longer handle many tasks at once is shocking.

But she doesn’t envy the young people that she teaches one bit. “One year, my students asked me if I feel jealous of them, because they’re 18 and in a wonderful state and I’m a hag. And I said ‘Well, if I were a believer, I would be down on my knees thanking the goddess that you only have to be 18 once in your life.’”

Labels:


MTC’s new electronic fare system is no magnum opus, seniors say

June 2009

Despite a claim by an official of the Montreal Transit Corp. (MTC) that implementation of its new Opus electronic fare card is proceeding smoothly and there have been few if any complaints, some Montreal seniors say they have run into difficulties obtaining the card while having their I.D. photo taken.

Following the introduction last year of the Opus card, bus tickets, as well as CAM bus/metro passes, have almost disappeared. And electronic cardboard passes loaded with six fares, which the MTC had also deployed, are gradually being phased out as the MTC adopts Opus as its pre-paid standard.

The Opus card, designed to be loaded with 10 fares at a time for $20, has been available until now for $3.50 but is rising to $7 on July 1. After that date, an Opus card will be the only way to get on the bus or metro, unless you’re paying one fare at a time for $2.75 in cash. While regular users don’t require a photo on their Opus pass, seniors and students who pay a lower fare do.

Josephine and Hugh McQueen, two retired residents of Notre Dame de Grâce, went to the Monkland Centre one recent Saturday morning to be photographed. They had also decided to take up an offer the MTC had made to seniors of a free Opus card in exchange for their old golden age public transit I.D. passes. The Monkland Centre shoot was one of several the transit agency set up to accommodate those unable or unwilling to travel downtown.

“They advertised they were going to start at 10 in the morning, so we decided to get there at 9,” Hugh said. “There were about eight people ahead of us, but unfortunately nothing had been set up by the Opus photographing unit. Nor had anything been set up by the caretaker of the place. And so people kept arriving and filling up the seats and there weren’t enough seats for everybody.

“Of course, there was a great deal of confusion because no one knew who would be coming first,” McQueen added. “I think for some of the people who came later than us, it was extremely confusing and when we left there were still more people arriving, and they had perhaps ten times as many people waiting as had already been served at that point.” Even now that the McQueens have their Opus cards, they remain confused about charging them with fares.

Norm Shacter, a retired Westmounter, complained of being forced to wait in line after going to have his picture taken at the Opus card photography outlet on University St. He said he wasn’t aware there were any other options even though he tried to find out on the MTC’s website. “I felt it was unfair because we’re very elderly and waiting an hour for us is a lot harder than waiting is for students, most of whom were listening to their iPods,” he said, adding that there were no seats.

A glance over the last few weeks at the Montreal Gazette’s Squeaky Wheels question-and-answer column suggests that many transit users in Montreal are also mystified by the Opus system. The card can be purchased at metro stations and at some private retail outlets. Once you have a card, you must put put the monthly fee on the card at the beginning of each month at an automated console, located in the metro station.

While instructions on the console invite users to purchase fares by inserting $20, it is not clear that you must first have an Opus card.

The MTC also has a secondary system of electronic passes made of cardboard. Initially designed to hold up to six fares at once, these cards are now being issued with just one fare at a time.

The MTC has encountered other problems with the Opus system. For technical reasons, some combination train, bus and metro fares can’t be on an Opus card at the same time.

According to Marianne Rouette, an MTC spokeswoman, nearly 672,000 Opus cards have been sold by the MTC since last year when they were launched. She expressed surprise upon being told of the complaints. “We made a lot of publicity about the fact that we were going to have different places where the picture and the Opus card could be issued,” she said about Shacter’s remarks.

Concerning the seating problem, she added, “It might have been a busy day.”

Labels:


Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre at 50: Le Chayim!

May, 2009

While she lived, Dora Wasserman (1919-2003), founder of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre, believed in tomorrow. “She always said ‘what was – was’ and that you have to focus on the future,” recalled her daughter Ella Wasserman. Though she resides in Israel,Ella was summoned to Montreal by her sister Bryna, to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of their mother’s labour of love.

“What better way to honour Dora than to assemble the five existing Yiddish theatres of the world,” said Bryna Wasserman, now artistic director of the award-winning theatre.

Dora Wasserman in 1955

In a bouquet of firsts, The Montreal International Yiddish Theatre Festival, beginning June 17, will feature 36 events over nine days, including theatre performances, concerts, exhibits, films, and lectures. “It will be the first ever international Yiddish theatre festival that has an academic side to it, where practitioners and scholars are brought together with everyone being asked to participate in the entire festival,” Bryna said.

Invited Yiddish theatres from Poland, Romania, France, Israel and the US will each present a main stage performance as well as a second, “more cutting-edge,” production. Of special note are an anticipated reunion of Yiddish Theatre “alumni” (anyone who’s ever had anything to do with Dora’s theatre in the past) and an exciting multi-media outdoor event on June 21 in the park behind the Segal Centre, organized by the third generation of performers, the Young Actors for Young Audiences (YAYA), in a special welcome to the community at large.

Lies My Father Told Me 1984 Philip Goldig & Benji Gonshor

A larger cause for celebration, Bryna said, is that the Yiddish language has survived its “tormented” history. “[The festival] is a very strong statement of survival; we’re looking at the past with the intention of creating a future.”

In the early part of the 20th century, Yiddish, the language of European Ashkenazi Jews, was spoken by 18 million people, but it was nearly decimated by the Holocaust. Now there is renewed interest in the language that originated between 900 and 1100 C.E. and whose roots, for many, reach into the very heart of Jewish identity (the word Yiddish means Jewish). Yiddish studies are now taught in major universities, including Columbia, Oxford and McGill.

King & The Cobbler

“Yiddish is a very interesting language,” says Howard Richler, author of several books on language. “Originally it was the women’s and children’s language in the shtetl, while Hebrew was the language of the men studying in the synagogue. Virtually every Yiddish term you could think of is in the Oxford dictionary. Yiddish words are fun, very onomatopoeic [their sound evokes their meaning], and you may not have an exact word in English that would express some concepts.”

Writers like Isaac Bashevis Singer and Sholem Aleichem who write in Yiddish and performers like the young people nurtured by Dora and now Bryna Wasserman continue to make the language – and the culture from which it is inseparable – accessible outside the ivory towers.

Ben Gonshor and Elan Kunin in On Second Avenue

Like Dora, Bryna sees the theatre’s role in keeping the Yiddish heritage alive as central to its existence. “One of our missions is the survival of the language,” she says, “to keep it vibrant and in the forefront.”

Singer, a Nobel-prize winning writer, was not worried about declining Yiddish audiences. “The leaves are falling, but the trunk and roots always stay. It looks bad but our situation looked bad already 3,000 years ago,” he once said in an interview.

Preserving Yiddish is imperative now, but just as the language borrowed freely from other languages – perhaps accounting for its richness of expression – Yiddish theatre has historically adapted and produced great works of literature from various cultures. “It’s important to maintain and tell our stories, culture and song, but also to interpret literature from a Jewish point of view,” Bryna said.

Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles Soeurs was one of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre’s earliest productions. The playwright called it one of the best interpretations of the play in a foreign language.

Dora

Dora is remembered as artistically demanding and infinitely loving, doing whatever was necessary to advance the cause of her great love, theatre. “By the sheer force of her charisma, we were all her children,” one longtime participant, Shirley Gonshor, once said. Dora had no qualms about bribing (and ultimately inspiring) budding young performers with French fries and hot dogs, or adapting and staging, without permission, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s work. After meeting with her, the great writer was charmed, and gave her – the only person in the world so privileged – carte blanche to carry on.

Yiddish Theatre continues to attract non-Yiddish actors and audiences, a testament to Dora’s belief that its universal appeal extends beyond any one element. “Theatre has nothing to do with language. If language is the problem – it’s not a problem. If a play is good, you will feel it.”

The Montreal International Yiddish Theatre Festival runs from June 17 to 25. All Yiddish performances have English and French super-titles. For information, call 514-739-7944 or visit www.segalcentre.org

Howard Richler on keeping languages alive.

Labels:


Retirement: a time to climb to new heights

May, 2009

Donald Flam and his wife, Randi Greenberg Photo: Martin C. Barry

A 65-year-old man who is taking part this month in an expedition up Mount Everest demonstrates how some retirees continue to enjoy physically challenging activities.

“Before I made the decision to get involved in this adventure to go to Mount Everest, I didn’t really work out or do much exercise,” says Donald Flam, a Hampstead resident.

“Your choices are to stay at home and vegetate and mentally grow old fast, or do some physical activity. It’s difficult not to dream about going on such an adventure. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined not only having this opportunity, but being capable of doing it.”

Flam is going to Everest as part of a group of 25 people who are raising funds through donor pledges for the Make-A-Wish children’s foundation. He is the oldest member of the group. Make-A-Wish hopes to repeat the success of their 2007 expedition, when another group of climbers reached the summit of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro.

Located in the Himalayas, Mount Everest is situated between Nepal and Tibet. A seasoned professional climber will lead the group up the world’s highest mountain. After answering an advertisement in a local paper, Flam spoke with the guide, who assured him he’d be able to endure the trek, which is only to the 17,000-foot base camp, and not to the summit of the 29,000-foot Mount Everest.

Flam is remarkably fit even though he never bothered much with physical activity till he turned 60. “I was always careful about my diet,” he says. “By nature I am slim. I was never overweight. But I guess when you get to be closer to 60 and you go to the doctor every year you start getting concerned about your health. I became more conscious of what I was doing and I did start to do some walking around. But never would I in my wildest dreams have thought that I could undertake such a venture.”

Before committing himself about eight months ago to the trek, walking was his principal mode of exercise. “I’d walk on a Saturday or Sunday for an hour-and-a-half,” he says, adding that he increased his level of activity during annual winter vacations in Florida.

“There’s no question that if you do any kind of physical activity, it’s good, not only for your body, but for your mental well-being.

“At 65 you do get some aches and pains,” he adds. He recently received a clean bill of health and his doctor’s OK to go on the trip.

While Flam had some exposure to outdoor living in his youth, he’s done nothing comparable to what lies ahead. The training he’s undergone in preparation has included a trip to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, scaling Mont Saint-Hilaire, and climbing the back of Mont Tremblant, which took nine hours despite its minuscule stature compared to Everest. There have been five major treks altogether.

“Part or the reason you do the treks is to learn some climbing techniques,” Flam says. “The other reason for these full-day treks is to get to know your climbing companions. We’ll be gone for 21 days, of which 17 involve severe climbing up to the base camp.” He’s aware that oxygen starvation will be the greatest concern as the climbers get closer to their destination.

How does his wife feel about her husband going off on such a demanding adventure?

“I’m the athlete in the family, the one who climbs and jogs and does boot camp,” she says. “But when he decided to do this, I said ‘okay’, and there were times when in the back of my mind I said ‘he’s not going to do it.’ But slowly I saw that he was persevering and he is going to. I think it’s just great – and it’s for a great cause.”

Flam says he’ll be relying on mental strength as well as his physical prowess. He’s paying nearly $9,000 out of his own pocket for the adventure, and he’ll be raising about $14,000 in pledges for Make-A-Wish. His group aims to raise more than $250,000 altogether. For more information or to pledge a donation, visit the expedition’s website at

www.makeawish.ca/news_and_me dia/news/read/1006

Labels:


Residence certification program on track at CSSS Cavendish

CSSS Cavendish is ahead of schedule upgrading professional services offered at nearly two dozen West End Montreal private senior citizens residences, in compliance with provincial health ministry regulations, an official says.

The local health and social services agency, which oversees 24 private seniors residences in its territory, has been participating in a wide-ranging certification program. The overall goal is to improve a range of measures for health and security needs at the residences by mid-June.

In the fall of 2005, Quebec announced the action plan, meant primarily to improve conditions for seniors with reduced autonomy. As of last week, a few homes in CSSS Cavendish’s territory were still in the process of completing the certification process.

“We certified some in March and April,” said Joanne Besner, a CSSS Cavendish administrator responsible for overseeing certification on two specific points at the residences. Fourteen more certificates are being issued in May and June.

“We’re going to be able to do it. We’ve made it a priority and we’re going to push ahead.”

To validate the certification, the CSSS is signing an agreement with each of the residences. Certification varies with each, depending on the professional staff at the residences. Staffing is not the same at all of them. Some employ registered nurses, while others have trained health care attendants. A re-certification must take place every two years.

An entente will be signed by CSSS Cavendish with 22 of the residences for two specific articles of certification. They concern the administration of medication and invasive care.“For anyone receiving medication or invasive care delegated to a nonprofessional, it has to be done within the program and has to have an encadrement,” Besner said. “That’s where we come in.”

Twentyfour other articles for improvement, ranging from fire safety to nutritional standards, must also be completed before the residences can attain certification. That process is being overseen by the Agence de la Santé et des services sociaux de Montréal, which is responsible for Montreal Island.

Besner said the CSSS’s role regarding those issues is mostly consultative. “In the attainment of their certification we are here to support them,” she said.“For other articles they may ask us for information and references.”

According to Besner, certification should reassure families that the standards and quality of services are higher than ever at the residences. “The great thing is that now every single residence that operates has to be certified,” she said. “They have to conform to these 26 articles. The beauty is that it’s formalized. They have to be re-certified every two years and a residence cannot operate legally without this certification.

“This is definitely a positive thing. This doesn’t guarantee the best quality, but it certainly provides a guideline and access.”

Labels:


Quebec steps in to regulate the practice of psychotherapy

May, 2009

For decades, the prevailing view among psychotherapists was that their profession could never effectively be regulated. But Quebec’s Justice Department is forging ahead to do just that.

Newly appointed Justice Minister Kathleen Weil announced in March she was resurrecting a draft bill that diedon the order paper when the National Assembly was dissolved for the 2007 general election. The proposed legislation would modify the province’s code of professions for the mental health and human relations fields.

While the bill has wider implications, the Justice Ministry’s Office des Professions said in a press release that it is aiming first and foremost to define what psychotherapy is and who will have the right to practise it.

The title “psychotherapist” would be granted exclusively to doctors, psychologists, social workers and a few other licensed professionals such as educational and family counsellors. One of the minimum requirements will be a post-graduate degree.

Under the law, a mandate for licensing psychotherapists would be granted to the Ordre professionel des psychologues du Québec,which would regulate psychotherapy through a committee put in place for that purpose. An acquired right would be granted to anyone who was practicing psychotherapy up to the date the legislation is enacted. But the Office des Professions suggests the competency of such practitioners would hence-forth be subject to scrutiny.

While Weil said in a statement that the government wanted to be sure no one was prevented from providing psychotherapy within the scope of their abilities, she acknowledged in interviews that one goal is to protect the public.“The risks for people, who are sometimes fragile, were important,” she told Radio Canada.

As the order of psychologists noted in reaction, anyone in Quebec can practise psychotherapy, call himself or herself a psychotherapist, and receive clients who are often struggling with psychological problems. Clients currently have no effective means for verifying the credentials of psychotherapists and no recourse for making complaints.

“Any prosecution for the illegal practice of psychotherapy or for misuse of the title … will be launched by the Order,” said Rose-Marie Charest, the organization’s president. She said the system until now made it “too easy to take advantage of the vulnerability of persons in the grips of serious mental health problems.”

Quebec is not alone in imposing rules on psychotherapists. In Ontario, where a similar provincial government effort resulted in the passing of legislation, the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office (PPAO), an arm’s length department of Ontario’s Ministry of Health, wrote in a 2005 submission that “the development of an accountability framework and complaint mechanism is fundamental to the protection of consumers and the public.”

In making recommendations, the PPAO said the practice of psychotherapy and counselling “carries with it a significant potential for harm to consumers.”

In interviews with The Senior Times, two Montreal-based help counsellors said they already do not refer to themselves as psychotherapists. Howard Riback, a former gambling addict who obtained a certificate in gambling therapy from the University of Windsor, describes himself on a business card as a therapist. “I never use the word psycho,” he said, adding that he prefers to introduce himself as a motivational speaker.

“I dropped the title of psychotherapy altogether,” said Yannick McCarthy, whose card states simply that she offers “counselling,” even though the situations she deals with include depression and relationships. McCarthy’s view, with which Riback and a third counsellor concurred, is that psychotherapy is inherently difficult to regulate.

Its ancestor, Freudian psychoanalysis, from which the hundreds of psychological therapies in existence today originate, was traditionally regarded as an unrestricted and highly subjective discipline. Hence the difficulty facing the government: How do you define psychotherapy as a first step towards regulation? This might also explain why it took so long for the process to reach this stage.

Dr. Henry Olders, a Westmount psychiatrist, suggested the Order may have other motives in seeking to regulate psychotherapy. If the problem is consumer protection, there are other ways of going about it such as “voluntary adhesion of therapists to standards-setting organizations (as is done for health facility accreditation),” he said in an email.

“The doctors and the psychologists seem to be heavily represented in the conseil consultatif, and the Ordre des psychologues will have a great deal of power over the whole enterprise.

“When a professional corporation prevents people who are not part of their professional group from practicing, it might be simply to protect the public from frauds, charlatans and incompetents, or it might be to protect their market, or some combination of the two,” he added. “It may be hard for the public to know exactly whose interests are being served.”

One area of Quebec’s mental health services sector that could be impacted by the regulation of psychotherapy is alcohol and substance abuse rehabilitation.

In March 2008, after the government wrapped up public hearings for its proposed code of professions changes, the Fédération québécoise des centres de réadaptation pour personnes alcooliques et toxicomanes, which represents 21 rehab centres, complained that addiction counselling was not among the professions recognized for accreditation. There are several hundred private and community-based alcohol and drug rehab centres in Quebec. While most offer psychotherapy as part of their treatment, there is no immediate word from the government as to how they will deal with regulation.

Labels:


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.”

Labels:


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.

Labels:


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.

Labels:


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 jgh.ca/minimed or 514-340-8222, ext. 3337. Space is limited.

Labels:


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.

Labels:


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.”

Info: photosensitive.com

Labels:


Shopping smart, shopping green

Sandra Phillips is no shopaholic

March 2009

Few people know as much about purchasing wisely as Sandra Phillips, known to many as Montreal’s “shopping guru.” Since summer 1986, she has combined her feminine intuition, hunting and gathering instincts and tireless footwork with a great dose of common sense, providing Montreal with its very own annual buyer’s bible, Smart Shopping in Montreal, updated every year.

“I learned at my mom’s knee,” she says of her early introduction to the art. However, she stumbled upon her vocation quite by accident.

As program director of a study group, she booked a speaker who talked about shopping-ops on one particular street. “She had a small stapled pamphlet about a word I had never heard – ‘Chabanel!’ ” This was a defining moment. When the opportunity to buy this tiny business came up, Phillips didn’t hesitate. “I knew nothing about writing or the book industry – so of course I said ‘yes’.”

She spent one year doing research to expand the information, armed with a map of Montreal and a kid filled stroller in tow. The rest is history. The book was an instant success, turning Phillips into a local celebrity – to her amazement. “When I first put it together, it never occurred to me that this was an ‘evergreen’ book,” she says. Since then, Phillips has appeared on radio, television and has written her own newspaper column. She currently dispenses retail advice through her blog, smartshoppingmontreal.com.

The project, directing consumers to the best deals in town, continues to be challenging. “I visit 1,500 stores and factories a year,” she says, adding that she does all of her investigations “undercover,” trying to appear as nondescript as possible. When “workshopping,” she looks at price, quality and service. “I have to capture the essence of an entire business in a single paragraph.” Surprisingly, when it comes to shopping, Phillips is a minimalist, believing that sometimes less is more. She operates by the old carpenter’s adage “measure twice, cut once,” or rather “know more, pay less. “Shopping is something everyone has to do, but nobody has the time,” she says. The green movement’s three Rs, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, can be applied to Phillips’s shopping philosophy, with the happy result of saving time and money. “I buy what I love, use it for a long time, and get it fixed,” she says.

Knowing where to go is part of the plan. Phillips says shopping at liquidation centres, factory outlets and discount stores can shave 20 per cent off bills for everyday necessities. Knowing when to go, as outlined in her book’s “shopping calendar” indicating the times of year different items can be had for the cheapest price, is key.

Nor is it any longer a stigma to buy used clothing at places like Village des Valeurs or at “friperies,” Phillips says. “The entire younger generation shops there. Buying second-hand, shopping locally, fixing things, you’re not using any more of the Earth’s natural resources. There’s a whole trend of young shopkeepers opening stores with a ‘green’ concept.”

What about the “shopaholic” gene? How does she separate business from pleasure? “You’re assuming shopping is a pleasure,” she answers. “If you’re asking if I like shopping, the answer is ‘no’ – that’s why I wrote the book.”

Labels:


Why should a woman be more like a man? Sexual differences uncovered

Men and women are different, Susan Pinker says

March 2009

“Yes, I’ve paid the price, but look how much I’ve gained. If I have to I can do anything. I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman!”

Women who came of age in the early 1970s will remember the bold mantra of Helen Reddy’s 1972 hit. After all, it was the sexual revolution and we had stepped into the Age of Aquarius, into the freedom that allowed us to do anything aman could do. But do women really want to be like men?

In The Sexual Paradox: extreme men, gifted women and the real gender gap, Susan Pinker turns this notion on its head, disputing the 40-year-old assumption that there are no behavioural or learning differences between the sexes.

Pinker says her book, an interesting mix of research and real-life profiles, “tells the story of sex differences and why we feel the way we do and why we make some of the choices that we make.”

Pinker’s first chapter describes her coming of age in the feminist movement of the early 1970s at a time when she was graduating from high school and “stepping into adult choices.” As she looked back to this time, she saw herself as part of a huge change in what was expected of young women and what they expected of themselves both in the workforce and in their educational choices. “The people of my generation were the foot soldiers of a massive change in what women were deciding to do with their lives. We were the ones who really shifted the entire landscape.”

At the time women felt they could be just like men, Pinker says. “It was expected of me and I expected of myself that I would act just like a man. I would make the same choices. I had all the freedom in the world. Nobody ever said I couldn’t do what I wanted to do and it was expected I would do what a man would do.”

Pinker says that it was “a huge shock” when she discovered she “didn’t have the same feelings” as her husband when their first child was born.

“The fact is, we are not men.”

Then how are the sexes different? Where we see the greatest differences, says Pinker, is at the extremes. Men are more variable, “more dumbbells, more Nobels.” She writes that men “demonstrate a wider range of strengths and disabilities. So there are more very stupid men and more very smart ones, more extremely lazy ones and more willing to kill themselves with work.” Women, she says, are “more clustered around the central scores, average and above average.”

Perhaps the greatest difference is what motivates career choices and the sacrifices men and women are willing to make to climb the career ladder. Women, she says, are more likely to choose people oriented professions and more willing to change or leave jobs when they threaten to destabilize their families or infringe on their relationships.

“Over 80 per cent of women will make adjustments to their careers because relationships are important to them,” she says, “some deciding to stay at home with children or find a job that allows them the flexibility and autonomy to look after aging parents. They want to have involved, engaging family lives and they are not willing to give up their relationships in order to have a career.”

But it’s not all about relationships. A woman, she writes, is more likely to change careers or adjust her career “opting for what (is) meaningful for her over status and money.” She is also more likely to have a variety of interests while a man tends to have one passion and pursue it doggedly.

In her book she describes women in high-powered business and academic careers who give up the fast track to spend more time with their children or pursue interests. As expected, married male academics publish more than their female counterparts, who tend to put their families before their published papers. “Research on women of our generation showed that women our age have an average of 10 to 12 career interruptions where men of the same education have two.”

For 40 years, women have paid the price for trying to be “clones” of men with “huge stresses,” Pinker says. “Many years ago when women were so far behind and so excluded, to get what men had we had to act like them. We had to dress like them, we had to have careers like them, we had to make the same choices, we had to work the same hours, and I think now 40 years later, this can have huge costs for women and, paradoxically, can be more discriminatory. If you expect women to achieve tenure or achieve promotions in their 30s when in Canada we know that that’s when women have their babies, that’s discriminatory.”

And their mental health suffers as well. Pinker says women are much more likely to suffer from depression, part of the cost of trying to be like men or worse, trying to “be everything. This is an example of where biology and socio-cultural issues interact.” But men don’t have it easy either. One misconception about biological sex differences is that they favour males, Pinker says. “On the contrary there are biological reasons why men have shorter and more fragile life spans and more developmental problems and some of this … is because women have more of the long view and are more moderate. This ability to invest in your environment and your relationships actually has a biological impact.”

This sexual difference in women is what Pinker calls “the empathy advantage,” giving women, as they age, more psychological and cognitive strength than men. “The social connections that women make and the biology that promotes those connections promotes a long life and psychological health,” she says.

Pinker’s career decisions have reflected her ideas about what motivates women to make certain choices and takemore risks thanmen. “I was a psychologist. I was teaching at a university. I was very successful in what I did, and I had started writing a column for the Gazette called Healthwise, on psychological problems in children and families. I discovered it was more fun than my real job.”

Now, Pinker writes a question and answer column on interpersonal and ethical issues on the workplace for The Globe and Mail. She gave up her private practice when she began writing her book in 2002. She says her book “has a lot to say to grandparents who want to be engaged with their grandchildren, to understand them in a more profound way.”

This is especially true of learning disorders.“ Many of them grew up in an era where attention deficit disorder didn’t exist, or was just on the verge of being identified. Certainly we know a lot more about the genetics and the biology of a lot of these disorders than we ever did before.”

Her research on boys with developmental problems is encouraging. “Each chapter on men focuses on a different kind of developmental disability and how these boys managed to succeed. I’ve had emails from men who have struggled in their past and they find it extremely hopeful because I tell the stories of men and how they manage to succeed despite these vulnerabilities.

Pinker always comes back to her point. Women must follow their own biological paths that give them more pleasure, more comfort and more meaning. The news for older women is that they have a definite advantage over their male counterparts. “Women are living very long lives and it’s possible that women of 60 have another 20 years of working life, and they’re not ready to retire. A lot of them have a lot of life and creativity and energy. There’s room for second careers.

“Provided women take care of their health, they have a lot of time and energy to pursue their interests. Women may want to pursue something that they didn’t get a chance to do earlier.”

Labels:


Are we cultivating Dr. Faust’s garden?

March 2009

Elizabeth Johnston is fascinated by the potato. Photo: Nicole Ferrero

A rose may be a rose, but a potato can be so much more. In No Small Potatoes: A Journey, Elizabeth Johnston transforms the much-loved but seemingly insignificant spud into a prism that reflects the social, political and medical concerns surrounding the biotechnological manipulation of the world’s food supply.

In her introduction she states that she will explore the potentially irrevocable changes creeping up on us, initiated by agriculture and business practices driven by corporate interests.“Global corporations are changing the face of the potato through monocrops, factory farms, patents and genetically modified organisms (GMOs),” she writes. “These issues may seem far away from the concerns of most people today, especially in the Western world, where the gap between rural and urban communities, and their respective lifestyles, continues to widen. But what is invisible to the naked eye can have the profoundest effect on our daily lives.”

Johnston takes the reader on a journey to PEI, Saskatchewan, Ireland, Scotland and Peru, introducing us to “heroes and whistleblowers” who are touched by issues she raises. These people demonstrate that it is possible to take a stand in the face of big business and reclaim one’s voice and dignity. Genetic modification differs from traditional cross-breeding practices in that it is done across different species, producing an organism that has never existed in nature. Plants are manipulated to resist herbicides (often made by the seed company), allowing the farmer to kill weeds without damaging his crop. They can also be engineered to produce a toxin in order to fight pests.

The biotechnology industry’s claims are compelling, especially with the promise of new medicines on the horizon. An ad by the Council for Biotechnology Information in Canadian Gardening magazine read: “Would it surprise you to know that saving a crop from a virus helped save a community from disaster?” The industry claims that genetic engineering can reduce the need for pesticides and obtain greater yields in areas where crops are difficult to grow, potentially alleviating world hunger. On the other hand, Greenpeace, organic farmers and public interest groups are concerned that the safety of the technology has not been proven in the long term and may pose an environmental threat by accidentally contaminating non-GM crops. Some examples of this, cited by Johnston, who footnotes her statements scrupulously, have already happened.

Though proponents say GM foods have been safely consumed for years, some scientists would take things slower. “Genetic manipulation of food ignores millions of years of evolutionary context,” David Suzuki notes on his website. “It is bad science to assume rules of heredity acquired after thousands of years of agriculture are equally applicable in the infant field of transgenic strains.”

Richard Béliveau, a UQAM biochemist and author of Foods that Fight Cancer, is not worried about the safety of GM foods since “no study has succeeded in establishing any carcinogenic character in these foods.” But he says in his book that the technology is potentially devastating to the environment. “In our opinion, it is imperative that the efforts now deployed in the production of genetically modified organisms be limited to a strict minimum in order to avoid a potential ecological catastrophe.” The UN estimates that 75 per cent of food crops have already been lost over the past several decades.

For many the main issue is one of personal choice. To date, over 70 genetically modified and other novel foods have been approved for sale in Canada. Consumers have consistently asked that GM products be labelled here, as they are in the UK and in 45 other countries. The majority of those polled say they would not eat such products if they could avoid doing so. Yet in Canada genetically modified soy, corn, grapeseed or canola and cotton are grown and may be present in up to 70 per cent of the processed foods in supermarkets, including infant formula, breakfast cereals marketed to children and the old standby, Kraft Dinner. These crops may be used in animal feed as well.

Johnston became intrigued with the potato 20 years ago when she viewed it through the lens of her camera while taking a dark-room photography course. For years she learned all she could about what the potato stands for in our collective consciousness. But it was at an “amazingly informative” conference organized by the Council of Canadians on “Science and the Public Good” that the book took shape. At the conference she would also meet some of the people who inspired her to broaden the scope of her research.

“It became less of an aesthetic inquiry and more focused on health and safety,” Johnston said. “I felt I had to pass on the information I found, realizing that something can be done, that it’s not too late to have a say in how our food is grown.” The potato, supreme comfort food with associations to nourishment, folklore and history, has the capacity to elicit strong imagery and emotions. As a point of departure in a work that explores the human costs of a relatively young but revolutionary technology, it is a stroke of genius, a metaphor that reveals the writer’s literary orientation. For any food shopper who has read the book, the humble potato will serve as a daily reminder to remain informed and vigilant.

Labels:


Sculpting the bonds between students and seniors

March 2009

Students and seniors often have misconceptions about each other. The Yellow Door and N.D.G.’s Centennial Academy are coming together to break the generation barrier.

“This project came about when I wanted to match the group of seniors that I was working with on a weekly basis with students because I felt that they were such a dynamic and lively group,” said Dominique Desroches, coordinator of the Yellow Door seniors social club.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts gives organizations such as these a chance to use their resources and tailor projects to their needs.

“I really believe in the value of intergenerational programs because of what it gives to both the students and the seniors – a better understanding of different generations,” Desroches said. “There are a lot of stereotypes going both ways.”

She says the seniors she works with were ambivalent about working with students when she proposed the project. “They imagined loud, boisterous kids who maybe weren’t very respectful.”

Ben Sklieas and Claude Serebrykoff

“I don’t usually talk with seniors,” says Ben Sklieas, a Centennial student. “I spend most of my time with teens. It’s fun getting to learn about different types of people. Over the past few months I’ve been forming friendships with everyone – seniors included.”

The group has been meeting at the museum at the end of every month since October. Past art projects include a still life drawing of an object that they felt represented them, and a collage of newspaper clippings, drawings, and pictures that were important to them.“The whole theme of the project is around telling your story,” Desroches said. “I really wanted it to be about sharing lived experiences. A teenager’s lived experience is very different from someone who has lived in 10 countries and is 85 and retired.”

Desroches explained that while the students don’t have as much experience, they can still bring their diverse backgrounds and personalities to the project. And she said they have a great deal to learn from the seniors. This month, the group members were instructed to make clay sculptures of people who had influenced their lives. Leona Olioff, a Yellow Door member, said she enjoys the entire experience. “I love to create things. It can be so ridiculous, but it’s wonderful to get your hands dirty. I’m not really good at following rules and instructions, but I make something – and that’s just about the best thing there is.”

Desroches said that at the first meeting it was a group of “seniors” and a group of “students” getting to know each other. “But now it’s not really a group of seniors and a group of students – it’s a group that’s working together. It’s really nice to see the barriers broken down

Labels:


Labour voices lay blame for crisis

While conventional wisdom blames a momentary lapse of reason for the subprime mortgage debacle, Canadian labour is taking aim squarely at the banking system as a whole, characterizing the crisis as simply the latest speculative bubble created by a financial sector run amok.

Canadian Auto Workers economist and Globe and Mail regular Jim Stanford’s latest book launch at the Atwater Library drove the point home with a lighthearted slideshow and Q&A, and no shortage of solutions for the politically brave. The big idea of his new tome Economics for Everyone – bringing banks under state control – may not be new, but it is newly popular.

“The myth is that the profit motive always leads people to do things that are efficient and useful,” Stanford insists. “But it leads people to do things that are profitable, and that’s an entirely different question. We’ve outsourced credit creation to the private banking system, and it’s their aggressive, irresponsible behaviour that created this bubble and previous bubbles.”

“All the regulations that limited how much credit could be created, and what it could be used for, were dismantled over the past 20 years,” he laments. “That allowed banks to securitize debt, which is this very creative process of inventing new forms of assets, like bundled subprime mortgages, where the banker only wants to sign up the borrower, then turn around and sell the debt to someone else. Then globalization spreads each end of the transaction even further apart.”

“It’s mass psychology that drives the whole thing forward,” he contends. “When the banks are too optimistic, we risk having them create too much credit, and when they’re too pessimistic we risk them creating too little.” These factors, he says, and not so-called business cycles, are behind the “speculative bubbles” that have been popped time and again in the past two decades. “The current one was rooted in US real estate, the previous one in dotcom startups – it can be anything. In the 1620s it was Dutch tulip bulbs. Same reason – people simply assumed they could sell them for more than they bought them for. Then when the bubble pops, the whole thing shifts into reverse: all the people who came in to make money because the price was rising, they panic and run for the exits.”

In both cases private lending institutions are prone to irrational overreaction, doing greater and greater economic damage over time due to their inexorably expanding share of economic “activity” – something Stanford and other left economists call “financialization,” referring to the spread of speculative activity (flipping the same assets over and over) at the expense of productive activity (such as issuing a corporate bond to finance new infrastructure).

So is Canada ready for state-owned banks? Stanford offers an unequivocal yes: “The government’s already taking an equity stake in the banks, so it should exercise its rights as a shareholder, for starters.”

Buzz Hargrove, retired CAW head and newly minted part-time professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, agrees. As with the auto sector, he observes, the Tory government is in the habit of handing over cash to big business with no strings attached. “I’ve been around bargaining a long while and if you give up everything to start out, there’s no pressure to agree to anything. They’ve already got the money.”

Once outside the pale of polite political debate, a state takeover of the banks now sees mainstream media coverage on a regular basis compared to just a few years ago, when right-wing think tank commentators seemed to dominate the airwaves. “You see people like Jim on media panels now, and people from the Center for Policy Alternatives, which definitely wasn’t the case before, so that’s a change,” says Hargrove. But he sees little chance of that shift transferring to Parliament as long as the left remains split.

“If we educate ourselves and organize ourselves,” asserts Stanford, “and we demand change from the system when the system is broken, like previous generations did, we’ll have the means to socialize at least some of the process of credit creation, so we’re not held hostage to the mood swings of the banks.” If it seems like a tall order, he stands unfazed. “I’m a labour economist,” he jokes, “so I’m perpetually optimistic that the right graph can start the revolution.”

Labels:


Helping African grandmothers cope with pandemic

When NDG artist Thérèse Lambert heard about the struggles of her fellow grandmothers coping with the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, she didn’t just send a cheque and good wishes.

During the 2006 World HIV/AIDS Conference in Toronto she was inspired by a group of Wakefield grandmothers traveling to raise awareness of the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign. Launched that year, the nationwide effort mobilizes Canadian grassroots support for projects to help African women raising grandchildren on their own.

Given pause at the scope of the crisis, Lambert decided to get involved hands-on. “There are 20 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa,” she relates, “and the grandmothers are left to bring them up because the parents have died of AIDS. It’s appalling, disastrous.” On contacting the foundation she was put in touch with two volunteers who helped her organize a local group. After an initial meeting, the effort garnered some press coverage, “and from then on people started calling,” she says. “So now we’re 16 members. They come once a month and we do fundraising for the foundation. Altogether there’s over 200 groups, and they’ve collected more than four million dollars.”

Among this veritable army of Canadian grannies, Lambert’s team is distinctly energetic. “My girls are terrific – I call them my girls because they’re all younger than me,” she jokes. Besides promoting the campaign they keep in touch personally with the grandmothers they support, sending necessities such as blankets collaboratively hand-knitted in Quebec and assembled in Africa, she says, while trying “to show them solidarity, that we know what they’re going through.”

Their correspondence with the villages they help is sobering. In some areas up to ten percent of children are orphaned by HIV/AIDS, and a whole generation of women have had to take on parenting a second time after having nursed and then buried their own children, often amidst a climate of ostracization and denial.

“They’re afraid to tell people they have HIV – even the kids,” says Lambert. The stigma associated with infection, in a region where transmission and treatment are poorly understood (the recently departed South African Health Minister, for instance, was infamous for denouncing antiretrovirals in favour of beetroot and garlic), ends many patients’ economic lives before the disease takes hold. In areas reliant on subsistence farming, refusal to trade with known infected persons means an even greater burden on grandparents.

“Imagine at that age, having to take care of your children as they die, and then look after your grandchildren, with nothing,” Lambert reflects solemnly, noting the stamina required. “When you get to this age, you still think you’re young. You forget. Sometimes I get up to get moving and I realize, my God, slow down, you just can’t do it! But in my heart I’m still able. It’s not easy to accept it,” she admits. “A lot of people do accept it, they say, but I don’t believe them. It’s such a change in mentality.”

Besides the physical challenges, she sees women of her generation facing similar struggles for respect and recognition across cultures. “Other generations are born and have other ideas, and your way is the way of the past – what you say doesn’t count, it doesn’t apply. People say, ‘things have changed, that was years ago...’ and they stop listening before you finish, and they miss important stuff.” Fighting to assert their voice and visibility is one bond they share, she says. Another is the long-term perspective to maintain the hope and certainty that attitudes can change over time.

Ever on the lookout for new recruits, she’s currently organizing her semiannual “Play Your Own Game” fundraiser – a day for folks to bring their favourite game, socialize, and talk about practical ways to help.

“We’re very active,” she says, “and there’s lots that people can do. I think we’ll have a great turnout.”

The Play Your Own Game fundraiser for the Stephen Lewis Foundation takes place Saturday, April 25 at 4400 West Hill in NDG. Info: 514-487-0258. For more info on Grandmothers to Grandmothers regional groups visit grandmotherscampaign.org.

Labels:


Transportation manners: depends whom you ask

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labels:


Local charities feel the pinch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adrian Bercovici of Generations Foundation (photo: Peter McCabe)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Epona Foundation:
514-421-7433 or eponafoundation.com

Generations Foundation:
514-933-8585 or generationsfoundation.com

Salvation Army:
877-488-4222 or armeedusalut.ca

Share the Warmth:
514-933-5599 or sharethewarmth.ca

Sun Youth:
514-842-6822 or sunyouthorg.com

Labels:


Liberal catch Weil "not a policy wonk"

(photo: Robert Galbraith)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m looking forward to it!”

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

Labels:


NDG Legion metamorphosis draws on community

Dave McCrindle – First Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Kris Petersen – Danish Navy, Branch Vice-President Frank Stanway – Second Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Jim McCann – First Canadian Parachute Battalion, Branch President Stuart Vallières – RCAF Bomber Command Sixth Group 427 Squadron, Helen Miller – Widow of navy photographer Eugene Miller, and Bob Venor – First Batallion PPCLI (photo: Robert Galbraith)

NDG’s Royal Canadian Legion has felt the pinch of demographic shift and declining membership as much as any other. Now, after taking stock and revamping, it’s rebounded in the neighbourhood with a fresh facelift for the premises, more community events, and an opening up of the ranks.

“We had too few people doing too much,” says Branch President Stuart Vallieres of their efforts to cope. “In the past we’ve been seen more as a place exclusively for veterans, centered around, you know... drinking.” But that’s the old Legion. “Now it’s more of a community centre, a little more ‘dignified.’ We opened up the rules a lot. You don’t have to have any military affiliation – in the past you had to have served.”

Since a bit of outreach was in order, “we examined our options and figured our greatest asset is the building, and that if we made it more appealing that there’d be opportunities for renting it... so we put a lot of effort into improving the property. When you walk in, it doesn’t smell like a dirty ashstray anymore.”

The makeover has attracted a slew of bookings as a reception and performance venue, but the mainstay of the establishment remains the fifty-plus crowd. “For seniors it’s a wonderful place. They can come here Friday afternoons, the most popular day, and make a meal of it, and they have comfortable surroundings and activities that are senior-friendly,” he says, citing bingo, darts, and cribbage as top draws.

The higher profile is “probably one of the best things that’s happened to NDG,” according to the branch’s barkeep and Booking Officer Serge Lewenszpil. “It’s kind of giving it a resurgence. We went through a dry spell, with the policing actions all over the world... people who served in Cyprus or the Middle East,” he says, haven’t exactly swelled the membership rolls. “The guys who come back from Afghanistan are a lot like the vets from Vietnam – shell shocked, quite a few committed suicide – PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] is a big problem... a lot of them don’t realize that the Legion is the one place they can come out and relax, and I think it’s going to take another year or two before they actually find their way into the Legions. A lot of them are still in the service, so they haven’t come out yet.”

An impromptu roundtable on the Afghanistan mission finds every position on the spectrum represented.

For the dean of the group, 96-year-old Arthur Cochrane, it’s a matter of respecting alliances: “If the Americans are there we should be there. If anything ever happened to us, we would lean on them.” Compatriot Jim McCann concurs on the importance of supporting the US, “because Canada’s its number one ally.”

“It’s a UN-backed war,” says First Batallion PPCLI vet Bob Venor, referring to the Security Council resolutions that sent troops in originally. “These are fighting soldiers that are in there, well trained guys – they want to go, and they’re all volunteers.”

But such sentiments have dwindled well into minority territory with this group. “Why we’re there is a wonder to me,” says Vallieres, citing prior failures of the British and Soviets to exercise control over the area. “Why would anybody else get involved?” Having gone in “because they thought a lot of human rights were being abused,” he says, “now we’re finding out the people we’re trying to help are the very people that are keeping the war going.”

Branch VP Frank Stanway shares that disillusionment. “I don’t think they’ve figured out a way to win it. They don’t seem to have, because we’re still there after all this time... and we don’t seem to have done a great deal of good promoting our own image, with the Taliban making us out to be a bunch of bandits and murderers.”

Others were never on board in the first place. “My view hasn’t changed – I was against it then, I’m against it now,” says the West Nova Scotia Regiment’s Mickey Laughlin. “There’s no purpose for the war in Afghanistan – just following along with the Americans.”

Thin support on the home front doesn’t help recruitment either. “It’s hard to get the younger people,” Venor says of Afghanistan vets. “Sometimes they like to make a cut and forget about it, to say ‘I’m finished with it...’ When I came back I didn’t want anything to do with the Legion... but later on you realize, this is where you can find brothers in arms. The Legion might not exist in 20 years – a lot of them are closing. In the small towns it’s very active, but in the big towns there’s too much going on. A lot of us have reached a stage where we’re less mobile and less able to get here.”

Still roughly 200 strong, the NDG Legion remains active with youth outreach as well, with efforts at Canadian military heritage preservation, scholarships for students, awards for RCMP cadets, and sponsorship of a cadet squadron. Their hall is “a very good space” for public functions according to Vallieres, and available cheap at around $200 a night including bartending. Saturday, November 8 at 7 pm the branch holds its annual Remembrance Dinner Dance, and Sunday, November 9 at 2 pm a march to the cenotaph at Girouard Park will be followed by an open house. A second open house follows Tuesday, November 11 at 1 pm. Senior bingo is every Friday at 1:30 pm, and cribbage and darts are every Tuesday from 7 pm. The NDG Legion is at 5455 de Maisonneuve W.

Info: 514-489-9425

Labels:


Pistols and blue berets?

Retired general and military historian speak out

This Remembrance Day will be observed by Canadians deployed abroad in over a dozen countries – many in UN contingents that wouldn’t fill a minivan. When it comes to tackling modern conflicts like the Balkans, Somalia, Rwanda, and Afghanistan, has the political expediency of Canada’s peacekeeping image left our soldiers fighting – and losing – yesterday’s war?

“The politicians who make these decisions – who decide for instance, ‘We’re going to declare the [Afghan] war over in 2011, folks’ – do not usually get challenged with the consequences,” observes military historian Desmond Morton of McGill University. “These small [UN] operations that have two guys or a sergeant and a corporal are cheap, and they can say ‘We were involved in 93% of all UN operations.’ When they want two Canadian staff officers to go to Goma or some such place, it seems like a small commitment and a little bit of profile.”

But such peacekeeping posturing excuses neglect on the ground. “Successive governments have created this myth – of both political stripes,” maintains retired Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, who detailed the aftermath in his recent memoir Soldiers Made Me Look Good, “because you can slash and burn the defence budget if the country is convinced that we’re just peacekeepers and we only need pistols and blue berets. Nobody much complains... Northern Uganda, the Balkans, Somalia, Rwanda, and it just went on and on and on... the only way to save money was to cut personnel.”

“Today the infantry is 2000 smaller than the Toronto Police,” he laments. “As far as the army itself goes, it really has to be rebuilt – it needs at least five years. I say it’s broken because it’s turned itself inside out. The army commanders have a horrendous challenge these days. There’s very high attrition. A lot of soldiers are on their fourth tour, and when they come home they’re only with their families for two weeks. You do that for five or six years, and your spouse looks at you and says, ‘You’d better make up your mind.’”

The theory that a peacekeeping nation does more with less takes its toll on fighting cohesion too, according to MacKenzie: “It used to be that soldiers slept, trained, and fought together for three years. Now we have units we patch together from all over the country – a lot of them are reservists. The troops call it ‘plug and play.’ And then when we bring them back they disperse.”

At the same time, much of the Forces’ infrastructure is getting outsourced. “A general told me recently he was working on his business plan,” says Morton, recounting cost-cutting efforts that required trainees to return to the mess hall mid-day rather than cook in the field. “That’s what I mean about privatization,” he says. “Generals who have to think about nickels. The military have lost all their battles in Ottawa since the early nineties.”

The Pearsonian myth has done worse than send peacekeeping-equipped soldiers to do counterinsurgency work, insists MacKenzie – it’s politicized the treatment of war dead as well. “In the Balkans when we had 27 killed and over 100 seriously injured, nobody but nobody except for the families in Canada knew about it. In fact bodies were brought back in the hours of darkness as a matter of policy, and sent to the home towns where they were buried with proper dignity and military funerals. But it sure as hell wasn’t a media event, because it was deemed – erroneously, what we were doing – as peacekeeping. But it wasn’t – it was two factions fighting each other. That was not deemed to be in Canada’s image, so there was a blackout as far as media reporting, that went on for about two years.”

Warring factions with no clear lines of authority are the players in many modern conflicts, notes MacKenzie, not warring states capable of brokering a truce. “Factions don’t have a flag in front of the UN, they don’t have a delegation, and if you broker a deal with them, there’s a very good chance that you’re not even going to be able to find them... Because they’re factions. And as a result – I know people are critical of me for saying it – but when we go into missions like this now, we have to be strong enough to say to the factions: ‘Keep the peace or we’ll kill you.’ That’s the only way to control these bullies and drunks and war criminals. You can’t go in and negotiate, like you used to be able to do with countries when they went to war. Not many countries are going to war these days­.”

A case in point being Kosovo, where both experts agree Canada failed to act in its own interest. Says MacKenzie: “We got sucked into protecting a state run by a terrorist organization... Now it’s sort of a mini-state with, unfortunately, prostitution and the slave trade and drugs and foreign troops as their source of income.” Says Morton: “CNN wanted war – it wanted people to go to Kosovo for various news-type reasons, and it presented Kosovo as a shocking case of Serbian genocide on humble, beautiful and lovable Albanians. The media went along with it.”

Where opinions diverge is on the lessons to be applied to the situation in Darfur – MacKenzie favours another NATO intervention, where Morton sees more of the same, merely “a crude Sudanese attempt to put down a separatist insurrection” with bad actors on all sides.

MacKenzie believes it’s possible and necessary to secure the refugee camps. “We’re not going to put [soldiers] into Sudan and fight the Sudanese army and occupy Khartoum,” he says. “The UN decided to augment the African Union force that’s there, and that’s where General Dallaire and I have a lot of significant debate, because before he became a senator he was very much on the side of NATO forces assisting [in Darfur] but then the Liberal Party changed its mind, and decided that they’d only send some armored vehicles and a few staff officers, and it was declared that that was enough. And I still very much disagree with that.”

“The area’s so large and the force is so small, they’re spread so thin that they’re vulnerable – a number of AU troops were ambushed and killed just over a month ago. Aside from the country and the challenge, it just can’t be handled by the AU troops because they just don’t have the transportation or the communication or the means to do detailed patrolling. So we’re supporting a UN resolution and a UN mandate, but it’s frustrating in the extreme because it’s not effective.”

Both veterans still see value in Canada’s wafer-thin UN deployments. “It’s tokenism, but they’re valuable assets on the ground,” MacKenzie asserts.

Morton agrees. “They do useful work. They speak English or French – useful languages in much of Africa and elsewhere – and Canadians have a good reputation for taking these jobs seriously, and doing them pretty well. I encounter people even here at McGill who’ve met Canadians in Africa and come to Canada because of it.” And past glories continue to pay diplomatic dividends, with Canadians still counted on to get the ball rolling: “There’s a feeling that if Canada’s involved, we’ll involve others, we’ll pull the rest of the lot in.”

But foreign policy under Stephen Harper could change all that. “I don’t think he cares very much about Canada’s profile among the right-thinking people of the world, to put it mildly.”

Labels:


Fading from blue to black

As the weather changes and there is more darkness than light to our days, it’s not unusual to feel somewhat grumpier or a little discouraged. Most of us carry on and get through it as best as we can. But when sadness, exhaustion and hopelessness refuse to lift, interfering with daily activities, they may signal an underlying depression.

Here is how Jason Finucan, 33, describes his bout with this illness: “For me, depression descended suddenly, like a plexiglass prison from which I could see and be seen in a world I could no longer touch, smell or feel.” This dark mood could last for months, then lift suddenly, he says. “When depressed, all of my basic physical, emotional and cognitive abilities were severely muted so that everyday life ranged from difficult to impossible.” Finucan, who had experienced heart surgery, says the complete loss of joy he had felt made his operation seem like “a trip to the dentist” in comparison. “I have never experienced anything more painful or daunting or terrifying, before or since.”

This chronic condition ranges from mild to severe, touching approximately 1 in 10 Canadians within their lifetime. In 2007, over 27 million prescriptions for antidepressants were filled across the country. According to the World Health Organization, depression will become the second leading cause of disability worldwide by 2020.

The problem with depression is that it may worsen if it is ignored – which is a pity, since there are many forms of help available in the community if one is informed.

To raise awareness, the CSSS Cavendish is organizing a free “Singing the Blues” concert on Wednesday, November 26. Award-winning singer and songwriter Rob Lutes will be on hand to lift spirits with his soulful, bluesy ballads.

Before the concert, community organizations will display information on the services they offer for those living with mental illness and to their families. Psychiatrist Floriana Ianni will speak on how to distinguish a passing phase of “the blues” from clinical depression and Jason Finucan will share his insights in navigating this sometimes crippling disease.

The event begins at 6 pm at River’s Edge Community Church, 5567 Cote-St-Antoine.

Labels:


Running their own lives

St. Patrick’s Square tea party (photo: Georgia Remond)

On a Sunday afternoon in October, residents of St. Patrick’s Square enjoyed an autumn tea organized by the St. Patrick’s Square Seniors Recreation Association. The next afternoon a group of knitters at Place Kensington finished blankets, scarves, and mittens they will present to Father Emmett Johns of Dans la Rue on November 12.

At Manoir Westmount, resident volunteers are organizing a bazaar that annually supports 10 local charities.

Outside volunteers are crucial at residences like St. Margaret and Father Dowd. But at independent residences it’s tenants who plan social events and fundraisers.

Residents at St. Patrick’s Square prepare their own meals in their apartments. While the administration organizes programs including speakers and events, the tenants have created a recreation association that organizes social activities and other inside events.

The association coordinates mixed pool tournaments, dinner dances, line dancing, and religious services, based on suggestions from tenants, and informs them through a monthly calendar.

The committee meets monthly assess, but to consider suggestions – and complaints – from the residents. “We consider each idea,” said Rita Halliday, secretary of the committee. “And then we look at its feasibility. An overnight trip was not very practical for us, but a Chinese food takeout dinner was.”

A Christmas dinner with two sittings, a New Year’s Eve party and a Christmas Fair are all in the works.

At Place Kensington retired social workers Miriam Berger and Elinor Cohen realized the residents were not socializing outside of planned events by the program department. And they realized many of them were knitting alone in their apartments. So they invited the women to meet one afternoon a week to knit together over a cup of tea. Today the women enjoy fellowship that has extended to knitting with the McGill Knitters and students from Westmount Park Elementary School. Residents on the assisted living floors are able to participate as well by helping wind balls of wool.

Other activities at Place Kensington include a Saturday international movie afternoon, a welcoming committee and a talent show.

Labels:


Dewey the cat loved books and book lovers

Vicki Myron and Dewey

Last week I wandered into Studio City’s Bookstar bookstore in Los Angeles, California, where I reside and was directly drawn to a picture of a beautiful bright orange cat looking straight back at me on the cover of a book called Dewey.

I have many wonderful books on the shelves at home waiting in line to be read, but there was something about the way this cat was looking at me that told me I had to learn of his story.

This is the true story of a library cat in the small town of Spencer, Iowa. One bitterly cold January morning in 1988, Vicki Myron, director of the Spencer Public Library, found a near frozen kitten shaking uncontrollably in the book return box. His frostbitten paws didn’t stop him from hobbling over to each member of the library staff to show them his gratitude for saving his life. They named the kitten Dewey, after Melville Dewey.

This is the story of Vicky Myron, a single mother who survived an alcoholic husband and numerous medical hurdles including breast cancer. This is the story of a woman who persevered through the toughest of times. This is the story of The Spencer Public Library, and the humble town of Spencer, in farm country Iowa that had suffered a major economic downturn during the farm crisis of the 1980’s.

Did you know that it is a common practice for libraries and used bookstores to adopt homeless cats? Dewey was adopted by the town of Spencer and called the library his home for over 19 years. He won the hearts of the staff and the patrons not just with his good looks, but also with his ability to know who needed him most. He soon became the most famous resident of Spencer. As word spread of this lovable library cat in the local newspapers and radio so did his fame to the nearby towns, then states, then all over the country and the world.

Why would people travel all the way from Japan to meet a cat? How can a friendly feline touch the lives of countless people around the world? You’ll just have to read this New York Times bestseller to find out! I am the self-proclaimed slowest reader in the world. I polished off this book in just a couple of nights. I even tried to slow down my reading, to stretch out and enjoy every Dewey moment. I read while sipping my hot chocolate at Starbucks, laughing out loud and then choking back my tears. Myron writes the story of Dewey with heart, humor, and sincerity. This book is for anyone who has been blessed with the love of an animal, and for everyone else who has yet to know this love.

Labels: ,


Housebound seniors can stay active

Icy roads make walking treacherous for seniors during the winter months. Many of you find yourselves housebound and lacking the outdoor activity you get easily in better weather. But staying in shape at home is possible by doing a few targeted exercises. Pump up your health with a little determination and a small investment in time and equipment.

Strength, stamina, balance and flexibility are the cornerstones of any health program. As you age you may lose strength, balance and some flexibility in the extremities and joints. You may find yourself easily winded because you don’t get enough cardio training.

Strength exercises usually consist of resistance training using weights, floor exercises and swimming or water aerobics. Basic leg lifts using leg weights (which can be purchased at Canadian Tire) are good training for the quadriceps. Dumbbells can also be used to strengthen your arms (biceps). Exercise elastics (used in Pilates) are useful for resistance training.

To improve stamina a treadmill excellent choice, however a more economical alternative is to purchase a rebounder which is a small trampoline. According to NASA rebounding is 68% more efficient than jogging. There are many benefits to bouncing up and down which include: fighting fatigue, relieving neck, back and head pain, improving blood circulation and oxygen flow and promoting weight loss.

To work on improving your balance try the following exercise.

Stand perpendicular to a kitchen chair with its back facing you. Hold on to the back of the chair with your right hand for support.

Make sure your feet are side by side and a shoulder-width distance apart. Advance your left foot ahead by two feet.

Transfer your weight by pushing your right heel down into the floor and shifting your weight over to your left leg (make sure you bend your left knee). Do not lift your right heel during the transfer.

Push down on your big left toe back through your left heel and transfer the weight back to your right foot. Repeat this weight transfer movement a number of times.

Repeat weight shifting on the other leg.

To boost upper body flexibility, try this exercise. Start with your feet together. Interlace your fingers together and stretch upward by pushing your palms up to the ceiling. Do this for 3 times and then relax.

Always warm up before you start an activity and if you feel pain or you are out of breath, take a rest. Don’t over do it and don’t forget to cool down after you exercise.

If you are experiencing any health problems such as: arthritis, heart or circulatory disease, kidney disease, lung disease or osteoporosis, or have not exercised in over a year, consult your physician before starting an exercise program. Once you have been cleared for exercise keep in mind some basics: drink a lot of water, wear comfortable clothes and proper footwear.

A few good exercises are all you need to stay in shape. Look into making them part of your daily routine.

Labels: ,


Is your apartment too cold?

Many people think that a landlord is only required to heat an apartment during a certain time of year. This is not true! If the lease provides that the landlord is responsible for heating, the temperature must be maintained at 21 degrees Celsius all year round.

For those who believe that their apartment is too cold, there are many steps that can be taken. The first is to measure and record the actual temperature of the apartment. The Rental Board recommends that a person check the temperature in his/her apartment by placing the thermometer in the centre of a room, 1 metre above the floor (for example, by placing the thermometer on a chair). It is also recommended that the temperature be measured indoors and outdoors so that the two can be compared.

After finding out how cold the apartment is, the next step would be to advise the landlord. Sending a letter by registered mail (and keeping a copy) can help a tenant prove to the Rental Board and to the City Inspectors that the landlord was informed of the problem, in case this later becomes necessary. If the problem continues, a tenant should call in the City Inspectors, file an application with the Rental Board, or both.

To file a complaint with the City Inspectors, the tenant should make another copy of the letter and mail or fax it to the borough Division des permis et inspections, with a cover letter stating that the apartment is still cold despite the fact the landlord was notified. The inspectors will then contact the landlord and ask him or her to take care of the problem. Next, the City will mail the tenant a form letter to find out if the problem is fixed. The tenant must complete the form letter and return it to the City Inspectors. The inspectors will then schedule an inspection of the building.

To find out how to contact your local City Inspectors office, call the 311 Montreal information line.

At the same time, it is also possible to file an application with the Rental Board. To start a case, the tenant can make another copy of the same letter and take it to the Rental Board office with a copy of the proof of registered mailing. The clerk helps applicants complete the paperwork at the Rental Board. On the application, the tenant can ask the Rental Board to order the landlord to provide sufficient heat, to order a rent reduction, ot to force the landlord to pay for space heaters to heat the apartment until the problem is fixed, etc.

The Rental Board is at Olympic Village, Wing D, 5199 Sherbrooke East, Unit 2095.

Because the Rental Board can take a very long time to schedule hearings for these kinds of cases, if the situation is urgent, other actions may need to be taken in the meantime. If the apartment is freezing cold with no heat at all, a tenant can try to go to the police as well as to the City Inspectors, who may contact the landlord personally about the problem. In addition, a tenant in this situation who files an application with the Rental Board should state that the situation is very urgent, and ask that the case be expedited. If, in an extreme case, it becomes necessary to abandon an apartment, it is important to first have the City Inspectors visit the premises and witness the problem. This will help in case the landlord later tries to hold the tenant responsible for the rest of the lease.

Labels:


Gay seniors historically marginalized and isolated

Aging can be hard enough without being childless, estranged from family and marginalized by society.

“Until 1973, homosexuality was on the list of mental illnesses,”says Karen Taylor, Director of Advocacy and Training for SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment). “If we look at the timeline of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual) senior, a 70-year-old person would have been brought up to believe that homosexuals are sick, mentally ill, and could be institutionalized.

Taylor explained that SAGE is very important because we [as a society] pay very little attention to older people, especially minorities and the challenges they face.

“SAGE is the largest organization in the United States serving LGBT seniors,” says Taylor. “Our mission is to provide greater quality of life to the aging LGBT community and to promote positive images of LGBT life in later years.”

This past October SAGE hosted their fourth annual conference for gay seniors in NYC. The keynote address was delivered by the AARP President Jennie Chin Hansen, who discussed the spirit of inclusion. There were 75 workshops and presentations aimed at encouraging cooperation with conventional senior organizations to deal with LGBT issues.

By 2030 the number of gay seniors in the U.S. is expected to grow to an estimated 4.7 million, according to the SAGE website.Taylor emphasizes that gay boomers’ needs can only be expected to increase as their as their numbers surpass previous generations and are more accepting of their sexuality.

“LGBT seniors have different life experiences and challenges,” she says. “They are twice as likely to live alone and four times less likely to have children. Between those two things, elders are treated differently. Healthcare services assume that there is at least one person at home.” This assumption hinders the ability of gay seniors to recover after a hospital stay.

“There is a longstanding history of isolation for LGBT seniors,” Taylor notes. The attitudes with which they were raised often make it tough for them to be honest about their sexuality. This becomes a significant problem when being placed in residences where most of the residents are heterosexuals. “Their heterosexual counterparts were brought up the same way, so it’s challenging for LGBT seniors to go to regular community centers and residences without feeling ostracized.”

Montreal is home to one of very few retirement homes for gay men. Urban Home Papineau (urban-home.ca) is an autonomous and semi-autonomous residence featuring secure access, a concierge, an infirmary, and a full-service dining room. Montreal also has an English-speaking phone counseling service, Gayline, which offers support from trained volunteers about sexual orientation issues. They can be reached from 7 pm to 11 pm daily at 514-866-5090.

Labels:


Candidates show at Generations breakfast

Thursday September 18, St. Viateur Bagel on Monkland was filled with morning diners. But none of the profits were going to the restaurant. Everyone who decided to buy their breakfast that morning between 6 and 10 was helping feed 7000 Montreal kids.

It would look like an average bustling restaurant if you didn’t notice the presence of Q92 and four federal election candidates – Irwin Cotler, Marlene Jennings, Anne Lagacé Dowson, and Claude William Genest.

Ironically, “Generations gets no government funding whatsoever,” according to co-founder Natalie Bercovici.

Every year St. Viateur hosts a breakfast where all the proceeds go to Generations. This year $15,000 was raised. The foundation has come a long way since it began in 1999. “It started in our basement where it was for two years,” recalled Adrian Bercovici. “Now we occupy a building on Notre-Dame and serve children in 75 schools and centers across the island.”

Kids receive breakfast, snacks or a hot lunch. “There are no limits,” Adrian said. Adrian and Natalie were inspired to start Generations because they have always felt that “an empty stomach can’t think – how can we expect them to meet the challenges of their day if they haven’t eaten?”

“All the evidence shows that kids who haven’t eaten properly don’t last till lunchtime,” said Anne Lagacé Dowson, NDP candidate for Westmount–Ville-Marie. “They can’t concentrate. The evidence is incontrovertible – a seemingly small thing can make an enormous difference.”

“I’m a big supporter of Generations Foundation,” said Marlene Jennings, Liberal candidate for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Lachine. “I thought it was important that I come and show my support.”

Staff from the Monkland RBC branch were sitting on the terrace. “Our boss told us about this cause several years ago and we love to come and show our support,” Patricia Rodriguez said. “Kids need to eat when they go to school.”

Generations runs a summer camp program for the students. “The Foundation helps send approximately 350 kids each year to summer camp,” Adrian said. “Kids go for a minimum of two weeks to two different camps where they learn various life skills. They have to make their beds, clean their area and they make friends. It’s a bridge between the end of one school year and the beginning of another.”

“We recently started a program with the Montreal Juniors [hockey] where NHL players donate money to Generations which is used to purchase tickets for Junior Hockey games,” Adrian explained.  “So far this year we’ve sent close to 350 kids to hockey games. By the end of the season, we expect several thousand kids to attend the games.”

“To help these kids we must keep them off the streets and we must definitely keep them out of metro stations, where they get into trouble with gangs,” Adrian said. “It’s all about the kids.”

Labels: ,


Conversation with Peter Deslauriers

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Lachine NDP candidate Peter Deslauriers says there are good reasons to vote NDP but fear is not one of them. 

“One thing that makes me very angry is the way [other parties] play on the fears of elderly people in particular,” Deslauriers says. “It’s not hard to whip up fears. It borders on the unconscionable.” He cites Harper’s “get tough on crime” policy as one example of fear mongering: “Violent crime is in fact going down.”

The current American economic upheaval doesn’t change the NDP’s vision fiscal vision. Deslauriers suggests that though there are implications for the Canadian economy, voters keep things in perspective. “Certainly none of what I said [about NDP plans] is meant short term.”

The “big-picture” issues like climate change preoccupy Deslauriers, a retired history and economics professor. He sees the NDP Cap and Trade proposal as the most efficient way to combat fossil fuel emissions. “The environment has been neglected for 20 years. We need rigorous legislation in place,” he says, describing the NDP plan that requires multinational companies to trade a limited and gradually shrinking number of carbon credits, in effect paying for the permission to pollute and being penalized if they exceed their quota. The revenue collected would promote green alternatives over time. Deslauriers rejects critics who say the plan takes too long, saying it’s a matter of months, not years. “A lot of the infrastructure to implement a Cap and Trade system already exists. There is a carbon trading centre in Montreal at Place Victoria in the old stock exchange tower.”

He criticizes Stephane Dion’s Carbon Tax. “The Liberals are relying entirely on market forces and taxing individuals regardless of their income.” Targeting “big polluters” makes sense, Deslauriers says, since 55% of emissions come from corporations, 10% from cars and 9% from home heating. There is no danger of oil prices increasing, as these are determined by world market prices in which oil companies must remain competitive. 

Provided incentives to use greener technology, these companies may discover other savings, Deslauriers says, adding that oil companies now make $20 billion a year while polluting. “The Tar Sands in Alberta need a lot of energy to extract oil, which must be heated in order to remove it from the solid material it’s embedded in.”

Deslauriers dismisses as “nonsense” Dion’s warning that NDP intentions of rest­oring previous tax levels to large corporations —“we’re talking 22%” — would be a job killer. “Since taxes were cut, has there been a benefit?” he asks rhetorically, adding that banks made $20 billion last year. 

Deslauriers says corporations benefit from the presence of government and gave as one example the hiring of skilled people trained in the public education system. He said the $50 billion in re­venues generated by restoring taxes would enable the government to better assist people.

“It’s important to recognize we know exactly where money would come from,” Deslauriers says, citing the pulling of Canadian troops from Afghanistan as another significant source, up to a billion a year.

He says the NDP supports the military but questions the nature of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, originally supposed to end by February 2007. “The presence of NATO troops makes things worse because we are essentially taking sides in a civil war — because that’s what’s going on there, like the Americans did in Vietnam. We know that when Americans withdrew, the total level of violence dropped and once [the Vietnamese] were left to resolve their own problems, they did.”

Labels: ,


Collecting can tabs for charity

Solomon Isenberg has been collecting can tabs for Mount Sinai hospital for the last six years.

“I’m giving back as a senior citizen,” Isenberg, 90, said of his charitable contribution. He takes these can tops to the Mount Sinai Hospital where they are sent to an aluminium factory, weighed and converted to their cash value. They are then given back to the hospital in order to buy walkers, canes and “whatever they need for handicapped people,” Isenberg said.

His collection is up to 3000 can tabs, which he will bring to “the fellow that works in the food court,” to be sent to the hospital. 

“I don’t have a car anymore, so sometimes they have to come and take them from me,” Isenberg said. “Everybody recognizes me. A lot of them are patients too.”

Living in Côte St-Luc since 1966, Isenberg has kept himself busy. He has been a member of the Côte St-Luc Seniors Men’s Social Club for the last 18 years. He attends the weekly meetings and the end of month breakfasts. He collects around 50 can tabs a day.

To help Solomon Isenberg with his collection of can tops, go to Cavendish mall food court or the Côte St-Luc Seniors Men’s Social Club and he’ll surely be there to accept donations.

Labels:


Fighting for children’s rights runs in the family

EMSB school commissioner Ginette Sauvé-Frankel is not satisfied with just championing the rights of children and youth locally. A year into her second term, her efforts are focused on Canada’s compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and creation of a Children’s Commissioner for Canada.

Sauvé-Frankel’s life has been dominated by her passion for children’s rights since she herself was a child. “[As] a grade five student at boarding school I witnessed a little girl who had been tied to a chair by the teachers and was just crying. I couldn’t believe what I saw and I can still see her there sobbing. I don’t know what was worse, seeing her tied to the chair or realizing I had not done anything to try to stop it,” she recounts.

Sauvé-Frankel grew up in a family actively involved in social changes in Quebec, particularly those concerning education. Her grandfather was Arthur Sauvé, MNA for Two Mountains and leader of the Quebec Conservative Party before becoming a federal politician and later Postmaster General and Senator. Her father, former Quebec premier Paul Sauvé, was also the first ever Minister for Social Welfare and Youth, and her mother Luce Pelland was president of the Conservative party in Quebec in the 1960s.

Sauvé-Frankel was studying fine arts at the Ecole des Beaux Arts when she met and fell in love with one of her professors, celebrated photographer Hugh Frankel, 25 years her senior. The two would later marry and raise two sons.

After pursuing a career in the arts and completing an MBA at Concordia, Sauvé-Frankel settled down to run her own graphic design business. What altered her career path was an exhibition in 2003 featuring her family’s heritage of service to the province, which prompted her to think about how she too could make a difference.

Shortly after, longtime School Com­missioner Joan Rothman told Sauvé-Frankel she was retiring, and encouraged her to run for the position.

Sauvé-Frankel ran an effective campaign and won with a strong majority. She spent the first year getting to know the schools and finding out specific needs. As an advocate of literacy, she became particularly involved in trying to increase librarians’ hours. “I didn’t see the sense of pouring money into books in libraries if there wasn’t a trained librarian available at all times to teach the students how to use it.”

Sauve-Frankel has been on the board of the Quebec English School Boards Association for the last five years, and is the commissioner who introduced the inspiring Roots of Empathy program to inner city schools. The Vancouver-born program brings 3- to 4-month-old infants into the classroom in monthly sessions with a trained facilitator, who helps students learn about child development firsthand over a nine-month period. The results are impressive, reducing levels of aggression among students by increasing social competence and empathy skills.

Looking back, Sauvé-Frankel can credit her own unhappy school experience with motivation to help ensure it’s not repeated for others. “I’ve become a fierce defender of children,” she says, “giving them the voice that little girl in the boarding school didn’t have.”

Labels: ,


The unusual suspects

Almost daily there is a new report linking chemicals in our everyday environment to cancer, from our shower curtains to the canned food we eat. This illness has been steadily on the rise since the 1950s.

Consider these facts, published by Health Canada and Canadian cancer agencies in 2004:

  • In the 1930s, 1 in 10 Canadians could expect to develop cancer over their lifetime.
  • By the 1970s, that number was 1 in 5.
  • By 2004, 1 in 2.4 Canadian men and 1 in 2.7 Canadian women may be diagnosed with cancer.

Over 23,000 chemicals are present in Canadian industrial and consumer goods such as pesticides, cleaning products, food, personal care products and plastics. Not all chemicals in all products have been tested adequately, as even when safe levels are established for a substance, time or length of exposure and interaction with other chemicals is not always taken into account.

The good news is that as public awareness grows, the rules change. Health Canada is in the process of compiling a "hotlist" of suspected toxins. And cosmetics companies must now declare the ingredients that make up their products.

For now a consumer's best defense is to read the label. Here are a few substances to avoid, from the Cancer Smart Guide published by Vancouver's Labour Environmental Alliance Society and available locally from from Breast Cancer Action Montreal:

  • Bisphenol-A, an endocrine-disrupting chemical present in plastic bottles and containers identified by the number 7 in the recycling triangle symbol on the bottom.
  • Benzyl Violet, also listed as Violet 2 or 6b, is a colouring in various products including nail treatments, and a possible human carcinogen according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
  • Coal tar derivatives, present in products such as hair dye.

Although the link between dark hair dyes and cancer has been debated, a study published in the International Journal of Cancer (2004) stated that "in women, use of rinse-type hair dye was associated with a modestly elevated risk of bladder cancer." According to the Cancer Smart Consumer Guide, a 2001 California study found that longer-term use of hair dyes increased the risk of bladder cancer in hairdressers, who were five times more likely to develop the illness after working for 10 years or more.

More info is available from the Breast Cancer Action Montreal website at bcam.qc.ca or by calling 514-483-1846.

Labels: ,


Canada 55+ Games celebrate

On your marks! Senior competitors get read to rumble at opening ceremonies (photo: Gary Black)

The 6th annual Canada 55+ Games wrapped up in Dieppe, New Brunswick August 31, with a record 1503 participants competing in 20 categories, from track and field, swimming, and hockey to more sedentary activities such as cribbage, scrabble, and bridge.

Athletes of note included Florence Storch of Alberta, javelin gold medalist in the women's 90+ competition, and Doreen Erskine of Saskatchewan, silver medalist in the women's 85+ shot put.

Formerly the Canada Senior Games, the event was renamed in 2006 due to "too many participants complaining about being called 'Senior!'"

Info on next year's games will be available at 506-382-2008 or canada55plusgames.com.

Labels:


Goldilocks goes mattress shopping

When I moved into my condo I decided to treat myself to a new mattress. There was nothing really wrong with my old mattress but it was 10 years old and I had it topped off with a memory foam pad. I disliked having the foam topper separate from the mattress so off I went mattress shopping.

I visited a few locations of a major mattress chain, did some web research and followed the advice of salespeople. I was torn between the semi-firm and the plush model. I was told that as a side and occasional stomach sleeper, I'd be better off with a firm mattress. I specifically said I didn't want a mattress that retains body heat.

Each mattress comes with a warranty, but if there is any stain or tear it voids the warranty even if defective. The only way to have the warranty upheld is to buy a protection plan. I opted out.

Many stores guarantee the best price and will undersell any competitor on an identical bed. But manufacturers rename the mattresses for different stores so comparison shopping is almost impossible.

After a few nights of poor sleep, the verdict was in on my new mattress. I hated it. It was way too firm. I needed a mattress that relieves pressure points. This one didn't. On returning to the store, the softer model felt good, but how can one know after just minutes of lying on it? You're only allowed one comfort exchange, What would happen if I hated the second mattress too?

There were no marks on my first mattress and I was able to exchange it for $35. I talked myself into loving the softer mattress the first few nights. But who was I kidding? It was way too soft. I was beginning to feel like Goldilocks. It was impossible to turn around in the bed without being fully awake since it required sitting up to do so. No matter how I slept I ended up down in the sagging middle which felt like a steam bath. After sha­ring my problem with customer service, I was sent an inspector, who after one glance at the mattress declared it to be defective.

Back to the mattress store. Not wanting to take chances this time, I opted for the newest mattress – full latex, no springs – and took the middle model, semi-firm. My full-body pain disappeared within a couple of nights. But the upgrade cost close to $600.

After a few weeks of sleeping on a latex mattress I can say that it's as cool as promised. However, I began to notice a sag in the middle and began experien­cing lower back pain. Thinking I was going mattress crazy, I took a long, straight wooden stick and performed my own inspection. Sure enough, the stick did not lie flat across the middle of the bed. At this point I would do anything to have my old mattress back.

I phoned customer service and was told the inspector would contact me in a week. A week later I left a voice message. After finally speaking with customer service I was told that there was no record of my request. I sent off a cranky e-mail to customer service and with the aid of a store manager I was offered an immediate exchange. Now it's a matter of deciding whether to just switch it for the same brand or go with a different make and model. The online reviews are very mixed for all brands, and difficult to read when sleepy and in pain.

I've never felt so confused about a purchase, worried about making a choice with such impact on my quality of life. My helpful store manager told me she'd try to work something out to my satisfaction and get back to me early next week. So the story ends in suspense. If it doesn't all work out I may end up sleeping on the floor.

Labels:


Kids having kids

Claire (not her real name) is 16. In two months, she will graduate from high school at the top of her class. This summer, she will travel abroad on an internship with Doctors without Borders. In September, she will begin studying Pure and Applied Science at Dawson. In October, she will give birth to a baby boy.

"I've always been more mature than most people my age so I don't see a problem with having a baby," Claire says. "The way I see it, if I start having kids early, I finish having kids early too and I'm not too old and ugly to have fun by the time my kids go away to college."

Claire says she is going to work as the manager of a Shell gas station and move out of her house to marry her boyfriend, who is 26, as soon as possible.

According to Angela Freeman, a pediatric psychologist, the phenomenon of teens wanting to become parents is neither a new trend nor a rare one.

"I've dealt with cases where 12-year-olds came to me, telling me they felt they were ready to become parents," Freeman said. "Most of them don't go through with it, but sometimes it happens." Freeman explained that this usually appears when a child did not have a real family life, or had a bad one. Having an older significant other is also a reason teens may resort to having children. She says that being involved with an older person and trying to keep the relationship interesting is a lot of pressure.

"Teens often agree to do things per the demand of their older significant other, but the drastic decision of having a child at 15 or 16 usually indicates that the person has extremely advanced emotional dependency," Freeman said. "The most likely scenario is that these teens have never felt loved by anyone until they met this man or woman and they are not willing to give that up."

Claire, who is already four months pregnant, says she decided to have a baby because she felt it was the right time in her life. Her parents say the young girl never showed any signs of emotional instability and claim they were not aware she had been dating an older man for over a year.

"I knew they wouldn't approve of my boyfriend and that they wouldn't approve of me having a baby, that's why I didn't tell them," Claire said. "It has nothing to do with me being ashamed. I am so proud of being pregnant. It's the only good thing that's ever happened to me." After meeting Claire, Freeman says she is not surprised by her decision. She was an overachiever being run into the ground.

"Often, overachieving teens feel like the love of their parents depends on their achievements and they seek the unconditional love a child will give them," Freeman said. "They feel the need to start a family so that they can avoid making the same mistakes with their children that they feel their parents made with them."

Freeman says teens will continue having children younger and younger as family values disintegrate in North America due to the lack of family bonding or parental presence in a child's life. "I was never very close to my parents and I really want to be very close to this baby," Claire said. "I want to be like the Gilmore Girls with my son. Yeah, that would be nice."

Labels:


Chinatown belongs to everyone

photo: Rachel Lau

Chinatown, the place to discover Asia in Montreal.

At least, that’s what I thought until I found out that the small streets near metro Place d’Armes no longer accommodate only Chinese, but are filled with Montrealers of all backgrounds itching for an oriental experience.

“On some days there’s a half and half mix,” says Kico, an employee at Commerce Chung Fung. “But I have mostly Caucasian customers.”

They are attracted to Chinatown by the current craze in Japanese fashion and cartoons. There’s no better place to buy jewellery, clothing, books and more, directly from Japan, Taiwan and Korea.

“There are somany white Harajukus, Bishies and Otakus,” he says – Harajuku and Bishie are two styles of Japanese dress, while Otaku is a derogatory term for someone obsessed with Japanese cartoons. Outside the Japanese community people seem to be proud to call themselves Otaku. “It’s odd to see French kids wearing J-Rock outfits. Mainly they buy plushies, stickers, Japanese dramas and posters with Naruto or Final Fantasy on them.”

The first time I went to Chinatown, two of my friends took me to a small café called L2. For someone who was brought up in a traditional Chinese family, I have to say that for once in my life, I had no idea what I was eating. This is because some restaurants have had to westernize their menus to accommodate Western diners.

“They always want to eat General Tao Chicken,” notes Xiu-Lan, a waitress at Magic Idea. “Sometimes they bring their Asian friends and even they ask for General Tao. It’s funny, because we’ve westernized Asian children.”

The original dish is General Tso’s Chicken, dating back to the 1600’s Qing dynasty. The modified version is a popular dish introduced to North America in the early 70s as an example of Hunan and Szechuan-style cooking. Unlike our beloved sweet, honey-covered General Tao Chicken, traditional Hunan meals are quite spicy and not very sweet.

Xiu-Lan says that the influx of Westerners into Chinatown is good for business. “Every day I get more and more Caucasians coming in. They come here to try something different. Like bubble tea, they don’t know what it is and they come here to find out.”

One amusing result of the intermingling is the sight of non-Asians fluent in Chinese or Japanese addressing us in our “mother” tongue and getting nowhere, since some of our families haven’t spoken it in generations. Montrealers, thinks Xiu-Lan, are exceptionally open to other cultures and quick to adopt some of their features. “People who come from Asia dress like Caucasians and try to fit into the society. But people from here are trying to find something different so they can stand out. I think it’s definitely a good change.”

Today’s Chinatown, like much of the city, has become less an ethnic enclave than a multicultural marketplace. For those who haven’t been lately, it’s worth a trip to see the change firsthand.

Labels:


Larry's Shoes closes after 68 years

Al Levy

Larry's Shoes, a fixture on Queen Mary since 1940, closed its doors on August 31.

Back in the 1920s, Alan Levy's grandfather, a recent immigrant to Montreal, founded M. Levy Shoes on St-Laurent near Napoleon, not far from Moishe's Steakhouse. His son Larry followed Horace Greeley's famous advice to 'go West, young man' and opened the Queen Mary location in 1940. Alan joined in 1961 and assisted until 1986, when Larry retired at the age of 86. Alan then ran the shop on his own for 22 years. Until now – truly the end of an era.

The store was always family oriented. In 1997, the focus shifted to seniors, reflecting the changing demographic of the neighbourhood. In this age of Asian imports, Al Levy reminds us that Quebec was once a center of quality shoe manufacturing with brands like Slater, Tetrault, McFarland-Lefevbre and White Cross. In the 1970s, the U.S. invaded with names like Florsheim and Brown. More than shoe offerings are disappearing with this closing. Al Levy is known in the district for his humourous schmoozing and recollections of history. Larry's was always good for shoes and sympathy, and will be sadly missed.

"Summing it up, my clients were my extended family, and many are upset. When you build up a lot of trust, it goes a long way — the handshakes and the hugs hurt. This is the end of one chapter, and the beginning of another."

Labels:


Westmount--Ville-Marie spoilers like their chances

Lagacé Dowson talks with constituents Ginette Carrier and Carole Henelly

At press time it seems certain that the four byelections scheduled for September 8 will be canceled, and a general election called for October 14, following Thanksgiving weekend. Two Westmount—Ville-Marie candidates visited The Senior Times prior to the call, when it was still the only race in town, to talk in depth about policy differences and their shot at victory.

What emerged was a picture of unprecedented scale, presence and funding for the NDP and Green campaigns. Both have targeted the riding with an expectation of record gains, at the very least.

If there's any seat in Canada to which the Grits feel entitled without a fight, it's Westmount—Ville-Marie, red since 1962 under its former names and boundaries and home to institutions like Don Johnston and the departing Lucienne Robillard. But after the Liberals' 2006 slide to under 50% in the riding, and the stunning NDP upset in Outremont, massive resources are pouring into previously moribund campaigns, betting on the possibility of a protest vote — against the Opposition.

Much-hailed CROP and Léger numbers showing the Liberals and NDP neck and neck on the Island — at a dilute 18 and 19 percent respectively — make anything seem possible. "We saw what happened in Outremont with Thomas Mulcair last year, a supposedly untakeable Liberal bastion — it's a little bit the same kind of phenomenon," declares the familiar voice of CBC Radio Noon. "I think they have this feeling that all this time voting Liberal hasn't served them necessarily as well as they were hoping, especially with this last minority government — they voted Liberal and they've gotten a de facto Conservative majority."

If the sound is newly partisan, it's because that voice, Westmount's Anne Lagacé Dowson, has been freed from the bonds of journalism and thrown into the race on behalf of the New Democrats, aimed squarely at the Liberals' opposition record and the once-assured seat of former space chief Marc Garneau. On leave from the CBC as rotating guest hosts take her place, Lagacé Dowson puts forth a soaring critique of the Dion era: "The Liberals are not the party they once were. On 43 confidence motions they've absented themselves. People feel taken for granted by the Liberals — they didn't send them to Ottawa to pass Conservative legislation. The NDP is a party that's been steadfast in its resistance to the Harper agenda."

She discounts any concerns over splitting the federalist vote in the riding, citing Bloc candidate Charles Larivée's low-profile, barely existent campaign. She sees the meager Bloquiste vote (13% in 2006) as up for grabs and uses the phrase une perte de vitesse as an apt summation of their woes. The same lack of returns felt by longtime Liberal voters, she says, is felt among Bloc support, with a "sharing of progressive values" making her party the likely beneficiary.

On the environment, Lagacé Dowson argues that the NDP's Five-Point Green Agenda is "more all-encompassing" than the Liberals' Green Shift plan, but eschews the infamous Carbon Tax, which has been "a mixed success elsewhere" in reducing emissions. "Rather than going after people with less latitude to fix the problem," she says, the NDP Green Agenda puts the burden where it belongs — on polluters. The plan also calls for a transfer of one cent per dollar of the gas tax to municipalities, and the development of so-called "green-collar jobs" through funding and tax incentives.

Clearly more self-assured than the average neophyte, Lagacé Dowson makes the case that "journalists have made good MPs" and know how to listen. Their presentation skills are often above average as well. But what about actors? The spoiler to the spoiler is former Sirens star, current host of the cable series Regeneration: the Art of Sustainable Living, and Green Party deputy leader Claude William Genest, a veritable Gatling gun of eco-soundbites and, as a fifth-time candidate, the veteran of the race.

No "shackles and handcuffs to special interests" — Genest

No longer a contender for first Green MP, with Saturday's announcement of ex-Liberal Blair Wilson's jump to the party, Genest could nonetheless see such "momentum" — a term that comes up frequently — raise his chances even further in an especially Green-friendly area. "This is the greenest riding in Canada," he says. "Our highest numbers. Second place Green finish provincially. It's our biggest campaign in the history of Quebec, by orders of magnitude. We're the second choice of 50% of Canadians. We're the only party that's growing, nearly doubling every election. People respond to us," he professes, "because they see we're citizens looking to take responsibility, not politicians trying to take power."

With the Liberal Green Shift and the NDP Green Agenda on the table, have the Greens not been marginalized on their own issue?

"Everybody's green now. It's more of a green veneer on things." The Liberal plan, he maintains, is insufficient. "You can shift taxes till the cows come home. Without ending subsidies to Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Agriculture, you're still rewarding polluters and rewarding excess consumption. Scandinavians use one-third to one-half the energy per capita we do. Why? They're not better people. They've made policy choices that make them competitive. Why aren't we at those levels? Where was Liberal green policy all those years we fell behind?"

Genest's disdain extends left as well: "I'm so disappointed with the NDP," he says. "They take Thomas Mulcair, this supposedly great passionate advocate for the environment, and what do they do with him? They make him Finance Critic just to shut him up."

NDP policy neglects innovation in his opinion. Countering the notion of giant green bureaucracy, Genest overflows with market-oriented ideas that he urges those on fixed incomes in particular to consider simply for economy's sake. Green windows, lightbulbs and appliances are just a start. The slow adoption of hybrid technology is curious to him. "My Prius gets me 45 miles to the gallon. That's money in my wallet. People talk about investment when they really mean speculation — like the stock market. This is a real investment, with returns that are guaranteed, starting right away, aside from the ecological benefits." Genest also cites leadership in "net metering" initiatives elsewhere — Germany, California, and now Ontario and BC — which require electricity providers to purchase back power generated by customers who use solar and wind installations, which feed surplus electricity back into the grid, typically at night. "It's your meter literally spinning backwards. That's money in your wallet too. Why aren't we doing this everywhere?" he posits rhetorically. "In Germany, they have to buy it back at eight times the billing rate. And guess who has the highest rate of solar-generated power in the world now?"

Reducing consumption and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy isn't just an environmental imperative but a "tremendous economic opportunity," says Genest — and an alternative to mounting ecological costs, mounting waste, and further resource extraction that won't pay off for years. "It's more of the same," he insists with evangelical fervour, "versus pots of gold under our nose tomorrow! It takes policy choices. The Green Party doesn't have the shackles and handcuffs to special interests that keep it from happening."

Election day in Montreal will hinge on the recovery of the Liberal machine and its ability to get out the vote. For the Garneau campaign to match NDP and Green efforts in this respect is a tall order. Whatever the result, Westmount—Ville-Marie constituents can count on sending a star MP to warm the benches this October.

Polling station info will be available online at www.elections.ca and tollfree at 800-463-6868.

Labels:


To our Shirley Cohen on a special birthday!

Congratulations to our beloved Shirley Cohen, who celebrates her 80th birthday September 13.

Shirley has been a devoted member of The Senior Times team for 15 years, coming out of retirement to learn and master the art of selling for a market she knows formidably well, along the way endearing herself in particular to our Members of Parliament and Members of the National Assembly.

Shirley is always positive, hard-working, and insistent on ensuring that our paper grows and prospers with every issue. We miss her dearly when she vacations in Florida for three months each year, but even from Florida she manages to stay in touch with her clients and make sure they don't miss an issue of The Senior Times.

Shirley never fails to call and check up on those in trouble and in need of a kind word of support. She has been a great and loving care giver to her husband Marvin as he has undergone serious health problems. Her eyes sparkle with love and pride as she shows us pictures of the latest brilliant moment of her youngest grandson or recounts the achievements of her older grandchildren.

Marlene Jennings, MP for Notre-Dame-de-Grace–Lachine, has these words to say about Shirley in a special message for the occasion:

"Those who know you well and are fortunate to be close to you day in and day out speak of you with great admiration and respect. Your love and commitment to family and friends never fails to impress them.

"For my part, I can vouch for the fact that you are a salesperson extraordinaire! We hear from you, in my office, as regularly as the seasons change. From what my staff tell me, you master the art of friendly persuasion. Yes, you know how to shower them initially with warmth and poetic kindness, but they know that when Shirley Cohen beckons, she has a mission, and the earth trembles! It is very difficult to turn you down!

Happy Birthday to a great and wonderful lady. We love you, Shirley. Many happy returns!"

And from each of us at The Senior Times, past and present, our warmest wishes and deepest appreciation for all the Herculean efforts, exemplary patience, and kindhearted wisdom.

Labels:


Health Canada, seniors, and listeria

Health Canada's now-infamous 2005 advisory to seniors, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals, warning against consumption of non-dried deli meats, has come under predictable criticism as insufficient in the wake of the listeriosis outbreak.

The warning remains posted on the agency's website at health.gc.ca, a few clicks away from the main page, but consumer advocates are asking if that's enough publicity for a potentially fatal risk.

"Maybe we need warning labels (on the food), because the message isn't getting out there," Dr. Doug Powell, associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University, told Canwest News last week. "And the consequences are bad. The kill rate is about 20-30%. That's really high for a food-borne pathogen." According to Powell, the listeria bacterium can grow on food even when refrigerated.

Health Canada defends its communication efforts, maintaining that "there are a number of food safety tips and fact sheets and a lot of consumer education on (listeria)."

Its inspection standards are also currently under fire, but experts warn against a more draconian approach. Keith Warriner, University of Guelph professor of food microbiology, defends those standards as judicious and safe. "Once (listeria) becomes established in a processing environment, it's very difficult to remove," he told the Toronto Star. "You can reduce numbers to low levels by sanitation and good practices, but it's hard to eradicate. What we do in Canada is say, 'We know that listeria is ubiquitous, that it will be in processing plants regardless of what preventive standards we have.'" Only hazardous concentrations, defined by federal regulations, will prompt a recall.

This is a different policy than in the US, where plant inspections enforce a zero-tolerance policy on listeria. One single cell of it triggers a shutdown. Since it lives everywhere, meat recalls are a spectacularly regular occurrence stateside, climbing to 118 per year in 2006. As a result, companies minimize self-reporting whenever possible, and consumer confidence turns to consumer fatalism, tuning out the risk more and more with each new announcement.

While defence of a more nuanced approach may be unpopular in the wake of the recent tragedy, it's important to note that listeriosis is a regular occurrence, mostly running its course without treatment but occasionally proving fatal, almost exclusively among high-risk groups with weakened immunity. Demands for more stringent protocols, in the belief that 100% eradication is possible, offer little increased protection to those most vulnerable. Public service broadcasts on every risk to their condition are no more reasonable an option.

Successful future efforts at reducing contamination will likely depend on two things: technology to prevent listeria growth in packaged foods, and standards of education for food handlers and caregivers equal to our standards of inspection and disinfection.

Labels:


Generations kids go to camp

Experience and testimonials have proven that when children are fed healthy meals and snacks, they are more productive in class and achieve better academic results.

During the school year of 2007-2008, Generations Foundation fed approxima­tely 6500 children daily in 72 schools and centers. Our food programs give children a chance to interact and enjoy a healthy meal or snack at school. Many parents face hard choices, with rent expenses amounting to half or more of their income. Emergencies and soaring food and fuel costs also reduce the ability of many inner-city parents to feed their children properly.

Single parents continuing their educa­tion in college and university, and their children, benefit from a healthy snack and light lunch program that eases their economic condition. In high school, single moms cook on a budget and learn valuable information about nutrition. We also supply healthy food to women’s centers for study groups in parenting, wellness and nutrition. Children are introduced to healthy foods at a tender age. The results are astonishing and the feedback received from those involved makes it clear that Generations Founda­tion enriches the lives of many needy young people. 

Our food programs help kids become more self-sufficient and support leadership programs, whose students and volunteers run breakfast programs, preparing, serving, and cleaning up. At hearing-impaired centers for adults and kids, we support cooking and social programs. Special needs kids in high schools prepare breakfast or light lunches in life-skills programs. After-school snack programs provide nutrition while advanced students and teachers help younger kids with homework. 

Since 2000, we have sponsored several thousand children to summer camp in the country, providing them with a safe, healthy environment to bridge the gap between school years. This summer brings a large demand for sponsorship – 300-400 inner-city kids will attend camp sessions at Amy Molson Camp, Trail’s End Camp and Camp B’nai Brith. For two weeks or more, these children enjoy a camp experience they might not ordinarily have, while being well fed, bringing respite to parents during difficult times. Summer sleep-away camp is highly undervalued. It differs from day camp in that children develop a sense of themselves, away from their normal environment. They form new friendships and enjoy challenges such as swimming, boating, and hiking.

Many thanks to the generous donors, volunteers, police, government officials and media who participated in our March 2008 La Stanza Camp for Kids Breakfast. We invite you to continue together with us to build a better future for these kids and our community.

– Adrian and Natalie Bercovici, Generations Foundation

Labels:


Cataract surgery light years ahead

Two leading ophthalmologists, McGill professors Dr. Darren Albert and Dr. Marino Discepola, spoke about cataracts at St. Mary’s Hospital recently.

Cataracts, a clouding of the eye lens behind the iris, prevent light from properly focusing on the retina.

The professors have each performed over 8000 cataract surgeries. Their recounting of the history of their operations, as well as the recent leaps in technology, was fascinating.

For thousands of years, primitive procedures involved sticking long, thin needles into the eyeball, clumsy suturing, infection and lengthy recuperation.

Today, with local anesthetic, antibiotic eye drops and computerized micro-technology, procedures have become routine and safe.

A big breakthrough came in 1948 when Sir Harold Ridley in London observed that plastic fragments from plane windows, lodged in the eyes of Royal Air Force pilots, were not rejected by the body. This led him to develop a hard plastic lens to replace the natural one. In 1967, Charles Kelman in New York developed an ultrasound technique to dissolve cataracts, thus eliminating large scalpel incisions. Then in 1983, affordable soft lenses became available to replace damaged lenses with only a micro-incision.

Alcon, the presentation’s sponsor and the world’s largest manufacturer of optical lenses, presented a new soft lens refined to not only provide clear vision, but to be individually tailored to eliminate most nearsightedness and farsightedness. The need for prescription glasses may eventually be eliminated altogether.

The Quebec medical system pays for the surgery and the insertion of hard lenses, but unlike other provinces, not the soft lenses, which cost about $300 each.

Labels:


SPCA tries to put the past behind it

After the sacking of SPCA Montreal executive director Pierre Barnotti, the organization put up a fresh face and called their services “new and improved.”

Alanna Devine, acting executive director, explained that the Montreal chapter, after making recent headlines over funding irregularities, has changed its ways. “We’ve become transparent. Any questions people have, we want to answer. We want people to know exactly where the money is going so that there are no secrets.”

On July 3, SPCA Montreal met with the public asking for help with their updated services and donations to patch up their facilities, firstly by repairing the aging ventilation system. New volunteering programs include a multi-task group to successfully place animals.

Although SPCA is a non-euthanasia association, animals are still put down everyday. Devine says the euthanasia rate for dogs is down to one to two percent, but the rate for cats is still quite high. “We’re looking for more people to adopt in order to change this.”

The chapter works with 30 other animal rescue groups, including CAACQ, Animatch, Rosie Animal Adoption, Tiny Paws and Toronto Animal Services, all of whom have a wider variety of resources, in order to increase adoption and save more animals. For more information visit spcamontreal.com or call 514-735-2711.

Labels:


Molly's Istanbul sparks reader's memories and reflections

I was deeply touched by Molly Newborn’s June travel article Istanbul – the magic, the madness & the mosques. I was in Istanbul in 1958, exactly 50 years ago, my head full of Pierre Loti, taking a summer course in Turkish for foreign students at Istanbul University. It was the most beautiful city I had seen, at least its skyline of domes and minarets.

By the way Bosporus is a strait between two seas, not a river (Mr. Richler, please correct me if I am wrong) although it may look like a river if you don’t taste its salt water.

Ms. Newborn’s first impressions were bitter. She was hassled by peddlers offering to sell her a carpet and by cavaliers hoping to date her. They could tell she was a tourist. Maybe the way she was dressed in jeans or her typical tourist behaviour, looking around with curious starry eyes the way no local would. Judging by her photo we would expect her to draw admiring glances not only in Turkey, though we can’t expect her to accept an invitation for a date, especially a crudely formulated one from a stranger. She goes back to her hotel room to cry for the rest of the day. She is obviously a sensitive young woman. It may be her weakness as a journalist, but it is her strength as a writer.

Well, carpet sellers or other peddlers did not run after me. I was a student, and students, even foreign students, were not expected to have much money.

Ms. Newborn is rescued by Ahmet, a former Turkish classmate from UCLA, who gives her a guided tour of the city. She is “stunned” by the grandeur of the Hagia Sophia. I remember how excited I was, as a Christian, seeing what was perhaps the most beautiful Christian church ever built. Mehmet the Conqueror had transformed the church into a mosque, adding the first of the four minarets. The secularist President Ataturk turned it into a museum.

A house of worship has a soul that a mere museum cannot have. Something Ms. Newborn missed. She shows us a photo of the Blue Mosque, illuminated at night, displaying the inscription “DONYA AHIRETIN TARLASIDIR” (“The world is the ploughed field for after-life”). Yet, one of the wonders of the Hagia Sophia is its Christian mosaics which had been plastered over during the four centuries when the building was serving as a mosque. The subject matter may not have been objectionable to the Muslims who venerate the Prophet Jesus and his Mother but a mosque may not contain any pictorial representations, viewed as idolatry. To most if not all Turks, it would have been tantamount to a symbolic surrender of the city to the Greeks, a nightmare, which had almost happened at the end of World War I. Ataturk’s victory over the Greeks and their British and French allies saved the city for Turkey and for Islam.

When visiting the Blue Mosque, Ms. Newborn feels “uncomfortable” at being asked to cover her head. Come on, young lady! Haven’t you ever wrapped your head with a scarf to protect yourself from Canadian wind? I don’t remember whether Western women tourists were asked to cover their heads when visiting mosques in Turkey in my time. I remember that we all had to take our shoes off.

Ms. Newborn is not much impressed by the Islamic call to prayer, appreciated by so many non-Muslims, including Byron who had fought against the Turks in the Greek War of Independence:

“’Twas musical, yet sadly sweet...” (The Siege of Corinth)

On her own Ms. Newborn takes the train across the Galata Bridge to the Dolmabahge Palace. A train across the Galata Bridge? I am sure the “train” here is a misprint for tram, or is it an innovation since my time?

After her guided tour of the city Ms. Newborn spends the night partying with Ahmet and his friends in the bars of Taxim (her spelling). That is quite in character with the society. Unlike most Muslims (Arabs, Iranians, Pakistanis) the Turks drink openly, without inhibition, even taking pride in their drinking prowess. Except that those were strictly men-only sessions. It was not considered dignified for Turkish ladies to drink raki. I wonder if there were Turkish girls partying that night?

Please note the spelling: Taksim. There is no X in Turkish. It is an Arabic loanword meaning “division” or “partition.” Taksim Square is the centre of Pera or Beyogiu, the formerly “Frankish” suburb of Istanbul with more bars than mosques.

In the end Ms. Newborn forgets her initial disappointment and is won over by the city: “Istanbul is magical. There is no other place that compares.” I haven’t been back to Istanbul for 50 years.

Ms. Newborn has captured the spirit of the place and brought back precious memories of my youth.

Thank you, Molly!

Çok tesekkür ederim!

– Jan Witold Weryho, NDG


Dear Ms. Weryho,

You are so very welcome! I was delighted to learn about your experience in Istanbul 50 years ago. It seems as though things haven’t changed too much.

We were asked to take off our shoes and cover our heads upon entering all mosques. Taking off my shoes made me as uneasy as covering my head. There were water fountains outside all mosques where the men washed their feet (and face and arms?) before entering. I found a crowd of about 30 women jammed into the ladies’ restroom with three sinks outside the Blue Mosque washing their feet. As a foreigner it is not my place to complain, especially since entering the stunningly beautiful mosque negated any uneasy feelings.

Ahmet presented me with my first glass of Raki during our lunch under the Galata Bridge. The first of many. There certainly was no shortage of alcohol for the ladies in Taksim! There were girls in Ahmet’s circle of friends who joined us in the festivities, and they could have easily passed as Americans. This took me by surprise since I was advised to “cover up” while traveling around Turkey, but when it came to Istanbul the girls definitely weren’t shy to be sexy. This is a far cry from Urfa, which I will be writing about in a future issue.

I did come to enjoy the Islamic call to prayer. It was a bit of a jolt when I heard it for the first time without  warning. It was a constant reminder wherever I went, saying “Listen! You’re in Turkey!” And I certainly appreciated it when it woke me up to catch my flight.

Thanks again for your reply! I am so happy we were able to share our stories with one another.

– Molly, Los Angeles

Labels: , , ,


The enchanted world of Cappadocia

If you have ever dreamt of traveling to the moon and then realized that the 384,403 km, eight million dollar space shuttle ticket might be a bit out of budget, might I recommend a trip to Cappadocia? Located in the center of Turkey – the middle Anatolian region spanning five cities – you will find this lunar-like landscape.

After a grueling overnight bus from Antalya, my tour group of 14 was deposited at what at first looked like a boring little Turkish town. I rubbed my eyes as we walked down the empty street at 5 am and realized this was no ordinary place. It looked like some of the houses were built right into mysterious and unearthly looking rocks. Look a little closer and this bizarre scene stretches for miles and miles.

Volcanic eruptions, erosion and winds from millions of years ago somehow created the wondrous rock formations of Cappadocia. The Fairy Chimneys – the most common and absurd looking structures – are natural cone formations made from the volcanic eruptions smoothed over time by wind and rain (good thing this article comes with pictures because otherwise you would be lost).

Houses carved into the stone

The Hittites were the first known civilization to inhabit the volcanic rock structures of Cappadocia about 3800 years ago, followed by the Persians and the Romans. They discovered the volcanic rock was easily carved and shaped yet sturdy enough to hold permanent structures. Whole towns were carved into these rocks with houses and tunnels and churches with frescos. People still live in houses carved into the stone, and some lucky tourists can even book a room in one of the pricey carved rock hotels.

After a short 30-minute hike through the landscape, our tour guide took us to the old deserted town of Zelve. Zelve was inhabited until 1952. In 1967 it was turned into an open-air museum. I felt like I was 6 years old again climbing up the cliffs to the caves (or houses), exploring each room and tunnel, ima-gining the lifestyle of the cave dwellers while admiring the views as I climbed.

Fairy Chimneys

We then piled back into our rented minibus and headed to a town called Avanos. This is a town famous for its colourful pottery made from the red clay of the Kyzylyrmak River – the longest in Turkey. We visited a shop that allowed us to watch and learn how the intricately decorated pots were made. We were all so impressed with the show and the artwork that each of us bought a souvenir pot. As we explored the tourist kiosks that seem to be around almost every Cappadocia corner we realized that they were selling the same pots at a half to two thirds the price we had paid in the shop.

Our next excursion took us to one of Cappadocia’s 36 identified underground cities (only four are open to the public). It was like climbing through a giant ant farm, crawling through holes and tunnels and more holes. These cities were actually fully functioning civilizations equipped with communal kitchens, ventilation systems, and common rooms. These cities were built to live in during invasions and could sustain hundreds of people for up to six months! They are not for the claustrophobic. The tall might emerge with a bit of back pain. Our tour guide – about 5’3” – appeared to be standing comfortably in the rooms while the rest of us had to hunch. I did however get a kick out of crawling down the maze of tunnels and rooms carved eight levels down into the earth!

Whirling Dervishes

Our final night in Cappadocia was spent watching the mesmerizing prayer dance of the whirling Dervishes. The Dervishes belong to the Sufi sect of Islam. The whirling they do is a type of prayer to achieve a meditative trance state, connecting with the ever revolving motion of all existence – from the protons and electrons around the nucleus, to the planets around the stars. Their long flowing angelic white skirts seem to send them soaring into mystical flight. The “show” is incredibly beautiful and relaxing. Sweet cinnamon tea is served to the audience to conclude the show. My sweet tooth couldn’t get enough of it. It cost 35 lira (about $35). I stumbled across more Whirling Dervishes a week later near the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. That show was free and it did not skimp on the tea.

Although I opted out of the $250 hot air balloon ride (apparently a must see), and may have fallen into a couple of tourist traps, my Cappadocia experience was nothing short of extraordinary. From the giant ant farm to the towering Fairy Chimneys, Cappadocia took me to another world, and back to the playground.

Labels: , ,


Love letter for the Times

Six years ago, a reader met a gentleman through our Meet a Friend column. They dated for six months and then married. Sadly, two years ago, her beloved husband passed away.

Our reader writes that he was the most gentle, wonderful, patient, kind man she had ever known. She vows that she will never meet another like him but she would like to meet a friend. They really loved each other, she writes. Our reader, let us call her ‘Mary Ann’, would like us to start up Meet a Friend again and in tribute to this loving relationship, we have decided to do just that.

Mary Ann is in her 70s, independent and in search of a friend for coffee, movies or driving.

If you wish to contact her, send your letter with a recent photo to Mary Ann at Meet a Friend, 4077 Decarie Blvd, Montreal, QC H4A 3J8.

Would you like to Meet a Friend? Send your bio of 25 to 30 words and a cheque for $20 to the above address or call Rachel at 514-484-5033 or email your bio to editor@theseniortimes.com and call to give us your credit card number. We reserve the right to edit for clarity and brevity. No phone numbers will be given out. You will be assigned a number and all your mail forwarded to you from our office.

Labels:


Crosby, Stills & Nash look backwards and forwards

Crosby, Stills & Nash’s performance at Place des Arts Tuesday, July 22 brings more music and less politics to the stage than their 2006 Freedom of Speech tour with Neil Young, which bitterly divided critics and audiences over its focus on the Iraq War.

Renowned for its three-hour marathon shows, the group tested the limits of its unity and stamina during the tour – choosing to include large chunks of Young’s Living With War album, noted for its single Let’s Impeach the President – and drawing the ire of many fans. The turmoil is captured in the tour’s documentary CSNY: Déjà Vu, slated for theatrical release in 15 cities the weekend after their Montreal show, with a simultaneous video-on-demand release and streaming video via Netflix. The DVD comes just in time for November elections in the US.

Premiering to mostly positive reviews in January at Sundance, the film features ex-ABC News Iraq reporter Mike Cerre “embedded” on the tour bus and showcases both sides of the critical reaction, including one infamous judgment that “the huddled sixty somethings look like they’re comparing prescriptions on stage.” Besides strong lyrical content, the tour featured backdrops of war scenes, casualty counts and clips of the Bush administration’s finer moments. Reception in some cities, particularly Atlanta, was openly hostile. The strain on the foursome’s solidarity, and the resulting internal political struggle, is documented cinema-verité style in moments backstage. Produced by Young, the film was judged by one critic as “not so much the chronicle of a newsworthy tour as a committed political artist’s sincere attempt to get to grips with an America whose mood seems to have changed utterly since the band’s debut.”

The current tour, minus Young, picks up some elements from 2006 and introduces new ones, notably sharing one microphone on some acoustic numbers for the first time. “It screams of how much we’re getting it on together,” Nash said in a recent interview. “Instead of our sound man trying to blend three sources, we’re doing it ourselves. It’s not easy to sing so close to each other. But it sounds great.”

A feature of the 2006 tour sure to be repeated is its compelling example of eco-responsibility. Pioneering the modernization of the notoriously messy touring business, they achieved a zero carbon footprint by using 100% biodiesel for the entire convoy of vehicles and offsetting 100% of the tour’s greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing and permanently retiring credits from the Chicago Climate Exchange – a “registry, reduction, and trading system” similar to the Montreal Climate Exchange, that allows emitters to “neutralize” their carbon footprints through large-scale sustainability projects.

Reviews of the current tour have been favourable, often commenting on the trio’s newly trim physiques and lauding their unabated vocal form, impressive musicianship and wise musical choices. Setlists are partly chosen by fans – the group has been soliciting requests online for upcoming shows at crosbystillsnash.com – and Nash has found “some surprises” from this, noting “we’re doing about four or five suggestions of stuff we haven’t done in years.”

Special VIP seats are still available online through two charity beneficiaries of the tour, the Guacamole Fund and World Hunger Year.

Labels: ,