Archive for March, 2011

March 29, 2011

Touching charity event in Mono raises funds and spirits after awful attack

If you measure the strength of community by its capacity for compassion, then the tiny town of Mono is one mighty place.

In December, a horrific attack left area resident Shelley Lorraine Loder in critical condition in Toronto’s Sunnybrook hospital. On Saturday, I attended a fundraiser at the Mono Community Centre that drew 240 people and raised well over $20,000 for the Loders, according to co-organizer Hazel McGuiness. The event featured a five-course dinner provided by five of the Hills of the Headwaters’ finest restaurants, as well as a silent auction, a live auction, a cash bar, and an abundance of camaraderie and goodwill in a community that needs it.

“It’s really left people feeling shaken,” McGuiness said of the attack. “It’s true that no one here locked their doors before this happened and now they do. A lot of the women in the area are frightened.”

The unknown assailant, who broke into Loder’s home, has yet to be arrested, which is cause for anxiety.

When McGuiness learned that one of her Hazel Tree clients had been assaulted she immediately wanted to help. She got in contact with Wayne Biegel, everyone’s favourite pubkeep at Peter Cellar’s Pub at the Mono Cliffs Inn. Together, they sparked interest from businesses and benefactors, got Mayor Laura Ryan involved, and in just 11 weeks pulled off a really fine event that served as both a fundraiser and a spirit-lifter.

Glen Loder, Shelley’s husband, said during his speech on Saturday he was “overwhelmed by the generosity and support” his family received from Mono, a town of about 7,500 people.

Shelley Lorraine Loder, an accomplished photographer who often volunteered her services to community events, is steadily improving.

If you’d like to donate, a trust fund has been set up under her professional name (“Shelley Lorraine Trust Fund”) and you’ll probably be able to deposit money into its TD Canada account. Better yet, get to know this community.

Take a drive up to the Mono Cliffs Inn and drop in on Wayne (pictured here). You’ll find out why he runs the best pub going and he’ll let you know how to continue helping the Loders.

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March 28, 2011

2011 Juno Awards: ‘It’s a long way from Sneaky Dee’s’

Just got back from the top row of the Air Canada Centre. Some observations after the 40th anniversary Juno Awards:

Highlight No. 1: The acceptance speeches. They ran the gamut: From the humorous (Win Butler of Arcade Fire saying his band — arguably the hottest in the world at the moment — had come “a long way from Sneaky Dee’s, where we played our first show in Toronto.”) to the professorial (Humanitarian Award winner Neil Young’s instruction to fellow musicians to take care of their music first and charitable initiatives second because “music makes you look inside yourself” and “that’s where it all starts.”) to Shania Twain’s genuinely sweet deflection of praise upon being inducted to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

Lowlight No. 1: The presenters’ speeches. The scriptwriting was so awful and groan-inducing even the low-key Dan Hill had to crack a smile when reading the set up for the Pop Album of the Year award. And Alex Lifeson of Rush couldn’t help but add some sarcastic body language while presenting the final award for Album of the Year (which went to “The Suburbs” and was the fourth Juno this year for Arcade Fire). Plus, those sponsor blurbs are tacky and cheapen the show and the presenters who are made to announce them.

Awkward moment No. 1: Shania declaring she loves Canada’s “bush.” There’s your morning talk show punchline.

Highlight No. 2: The musical gem of the night was “The Shape I’m In”, performed by a host of artists, including the Sadies, Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo, Serena Ryder and Justin Rutledge. The classic by The Band was part of a tribute to Toronto and its music scene of the ’60s and ’70s that began with Sarah Harmer’s terrific rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Carey” and also featured “If You Could Read My Mind”, one of Gordon Lightfoot’s best songs performed by Cuddy and Sarah Slean, and Young’s “Old Man”, sung by City and Colour.

Lowlight No. 2: The lack of energy in the audience and the lack of imagination from the producers. Why not make the Toronto tribute the theme of your show? That way you spread out the songs throughout the night, giving the 40th anniversary cohesiveness and the opportunity to build up toward a big finish.

Awkward moment No. 2: Buck65 keeping his distance from co-presenter Deadmau5 (Joel Zimmerman) as they handed out the Group of the Year honour. You never want to be too close to a guy wearing a giant silver rat helmet.

Highlight No. 3: The absence of Justin Bieber. If he was there, all the many Bieberettes in the audience would’ve shrieked so loud they might’ve managed to crack Dallas Green’s glasses.

Lowlight No. 3: The absence of Justin Bieber. If he was there, the Junos would’ve actually been a hot ticket. As it was, there were sections of the ACC that were as empty as the Rotterdam theatre where Bieber recorded his acceptance speeches. The show may have been “sold out”, but a lot of people who got those tickets either didn’t use them or couldn’t get rid of them.

Awkward moment No. 3: Bieber losing Artist of the Year to Young, an outcome so incredulous the old man called it “incomprehensible.” It’s such an upset, you might think the fix was in because Young was there and Bieber wasn’t.

Highlight No. 4: All of the musical performers, proving the Canadian music scene is just getting better and better.

Lowlight No. 4: The production. This week, Eye Weekly asked in a headline if the Junos were “finally cool?” The answer is no. Canadian music is cool; the awards show that celebrates its best is still amateurish.

Awkward moment No. 4: The bromance between Drake and Bieber is so overboard that if they’re not careful they’re going to end up on a NAMBLA promotional poster.

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March 27, 2011

2011 Canadian Election: Why I won’t vote on May 2

I won’t be voting on May 2. And I won’t be alone.

The 2011 Canadian federal election will likely go down as the most unpopular in history in terms of percentage of voter turnout. In fact, it’s a given that less Canadians will cast a vote for representation in Parliament than will have watched some part of the Royal Wedding three days earlier.

Even when I lived in the U.S. for 10 years, I never missed a vote. I made sure to send in an absentee ballot for the elections in 1997, 2000 and 2004, voting each time for Liberal Karen Redman of Kitchener Centre. This time, my riding is in downtown Toronto and I’m not coming out.

According to a study from Simon Fraser University, the country witnessed a drop in voter turnout for four consecutive elections from 1988 until 2006, when there was a 3.8-percent uptick to 64.7 percent as Stephen Harper managed to rally the Conservative Party and win a minority government. The trend reverted in 2008, which marked the first federal election when fewer than 60 percent (58.8, or 13.9 million) of registered voters cast a ballot. Should the initial polling results play out on Election Day 2011, it’s conceivable Harper could win his long-sought majority government with a minority turnout of registered voters. (Since not all adult Canadians are registered voters, we’ve already had federal elections where more adults eligible to vote have opted not to do so than those who did.)

READ ‘5 WAYS TO GET ME TO VOTE’

If you’ve decided to stay away from the polls on Election Day, get ready for the name-calling. We’re going to be labeled apathetic by media and chastised by political wonks for not performing our civic duty. Few people who are into politics in this country will admit that the topic of their keen interest is, these days, banal, monotone, more dull than a senate committee hearing on the benefits of beaver crossing signs (bilingual, of course) in national parks and, most damning of all, spectacularly inconsequential.

Canada is orderly; it’s principled, it’s a good and decent country with enough checks and balances in place to keep it so. Canadians are, if not content, generally okay with how things are working, partly because we’re doing better than many in the States.

Harper will take credit, some of it deserved, for steering us clear of the worst of the Great Recession and winning our banking industry applause from around the world. He’ll run on the economy and Michael Ignatieff will run on being a Liberal, because he’s got nothing of substance on which to base a campaign. To win, he must convince us his red is warm and fuzzy and Harper’s blue colours are evil. And, thanks to such rhetoric, many of us will just run to something more interesting than the bickering of this pair. No, Jack Layton, that doesn’t mean you.

READ ‘5 REASONS NOT TO VOTE FOR STEPHEN HARPER’

Our nation’s politics are boring. Our two leading politicians, and the parties they lead, are so similar they would each slap you for suggesting they’re alike. Even worse, our politics have become clannish to the point where many of us don’t recognize ourselves in our Members of Parliament or our interests in their debates in Ottawa. Were many constituents in Northumberland-Quinte West really clamouring to see the detailed outline of the Conservatives’ federal crime bill? No, but the failure to disclose costs related to that bill is part of the reason the Harper government was declared in contempt of Parliament, sending millions to the polls for the third time in five years.

READ ‘5 REASONS NOT TO VOTE FOR MICHAEL IGNATIEFF’

This election isn’t about that bill, of course, or a budget (which was immanently passable). It’s about gang warfare, the Parliament Hill way. That means lots of subterfuge and self-serving banter that does nothing to further the policy debate in our country or improve the well being of the poorest of us or the ability of the richest of us to expand upon success.

Not only is this about Liberal vs. Conservative, it’s Liberal vs. Liberal: Those who want Ignatieff out even if it means sticking taxpayers with a bill of $300 million (what the 2008 election cost) pitted against those Ignatieff supporters, a dwindling number who stand by him for who-knows-what reason. It’s also about Harper sensing opportunity, both for a political kill and to exercise the most contemptible aspect of his personality: a vindictiveness that alone scares me away from siding with him. But about 5 million of the 13 million or so who will vote will put a check beside a Conservative Party candidate.

So, two days after he celebrates his 52nd birthday, Harper could be prime minister with a majority mandate and potentially five more years in office. I won’t vote for that election result, but I would bet on it and, if that becomes the case, Canada won’t be significantly different on May 3 than it is today, and that’s neither good nor bad. It’s okay.

READ ‘5 REASONS NOT TO VOTE FOR JACK LAYTON’

Harper’s right, we don’t need an election. What we need is a politician to energize us, to motivate us to secure the health of the environment and help us capitalize on our abundance of resources to realize fantastic economic prosperity in this century. Sadly, he’s not such a force, and neither are the alternatives.

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March 24, 2011

Juno Awards: Top 40 songs about Canada

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkltavMBHDs&feature=related]

The Juno Awards celebrate their 40th anniversary this week in Toronto, so here’s a Top 40 list of songs by Canadians that reference the country. The first 25 or 30 songs are pretty much off the top of my head, which might explain the questionable ordering (that and some differences in taste!). Debate welcome.

1. Helpless – Neil Young (There is a town in north Ontario …) [Cool duet with Bruce above]

2. It Hasn’t Hit Me Yet – Blue Rodeo (Snow falling in the middle of Lake Ontario)

3. Wheat Kings – The Tragically Hip (Sundown in the Paris of the Prairies)

4. Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – Gordon Lightfoot (when the Gales of November came slashin’)

5. Coyote Joni Mitchell (On the road to Baljennie near my old home town)

6. Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) – Arcade Fire (Growin’ up in some strange storm, nobody’s cold, nobody’s warm)

7. Acadian Driftwood – The Band (Canadian cold front movin’ in)

8. Lakeside Park – Rush (Everyone would gather on the twenty-fourth of May sitting in the sand to watch the fireworks display.)

9. The Night Paddy Murphy Died – Great Big Sea (They stopped the hearse on George Street outside Sundance Saloon)

10. Oh … CanadaClassified (I know where I’m from and I told ya before North of America hard to ignore)

11. Your Ex-Lover Is Dead Stars (Captured a taxi despite all the rain we drove in silence across Pont Champlain)

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March 22, 2011

Duke tops Sweet 16 Picks and 2011 Final Four Predictions

SOUTHEAST: No. 2 Florida vs. No. 3 BYU (Thursday, 7:27 p.m., TBS/TSN2)
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Butler (Thursday, 9:57 p.m., TBS/TSN2)

The Jimmer Fredette Mission hits the Big Easy looking to convert as many non-believers as three-pointers. Fredette’s sensational; one-man shows go only so far in the NCAA Tournament. He’ll need help from inside, because the Gators will look to win this game with power forwards Vernon Macklin and Patric Young, who can jump so high he left the “k” in his first name behind. Expect Erving Walker to pressure the Cougars’ defense and Billy Donovan to march back to the Elite Eight while some shrewd reporter goes to find the real story about this game: How many of BYU’s fans can stay true to their school’s Honor Code in the French Quarter (take the under on that one).

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March 21, 2011

One night at the Ritz-Carlton in Toronto

[My review for the Toronto Star on March 17, 2011 of the $6,000-a-night Ritz-Carlton Suite at 181 Wellington Street West in Toronto. Thanks to all the folks at the Ritz for making this happen.]

Like a lot of people, I wondered who would rent it.

At $6,000 a night, the Ritz-Carlton Suite at the luxury brand’s new Wellington Street location sounds outrageous and out of step with these times, when wounds of the recession remain fresh. The suite is intended for political dignitaries as well as business executives and celebrities who want to show off. So, when I was offered the opportunity to be the first person to spend a night in the suite, I first pondered what I would do with it, and then I thought of “Risky Business” and Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll,” the film’s signature song whose first few chords evoke musings of mischief behind closed doors.

I concluded that I should test the 2,500-square-foot space by using it for a party — one without Hollywood-inspired shenanigans. The suite has a full kitchen, dining room for eight and living room with a 50-inch LG HDTV. A handful of guests from different walks of life joined me.

The Ritz is exquisite, of course. Chef Tom Brodi, whose restaurant Toca (the name stands for Toronto, Canada) is on the second floor of the hotel, and his team prepared canapes that included bite-size bison tartar topped with a sunnyside-up quail’s egg and tasty portobello carpaccio with pinenuts, argula and parmesan.

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March 21, 2011

Only 2 Canadians left in 2011 March Madness as Sweet Sixteen nears

Arizona’s stunning victory over Texas on Sunday eliminated two of the most talented college basketball players to come out of Canada. Brampton’s Tristan Thompson, a potential first-round NBA draft pick one day, and guard Cory Joseph of Pickering saw their freshman season with the No. 4 Longhorns end dramatically when Derrick Williams converted a three-point play that gave the fifth-seeded Wildcats a 70-69 win and a berth in the Sweet Sixteen round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.

Only two Canadians remain in the tournament: Marquette sophomore guard Junior Cadougan, a Toronto native who played his high school basketball in Georgia and Texas and was one of the top 75 recruits among the 2009-10 freshman class; and  Richmond small forward Francis-Cedric Martel, a 6-6 junior from Montreal who averages 4.7 points coming off the bench.

If either Cadougan or Martel becomes the first Canadian since Denham Brown (2003-04 UConn) to be part of a national championship team, then this tournament will go down as the most shocking in history. The Golden Eagles are an 11 seed who will face No. 2 North Carolina in the East Region while the 12th-seeded Spiders take on No. 1 Kansas in the Southwest. No double-digit seed has ever won the tournament.

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March 17, 2011

5 best Irish pubs in Toronto on St. Patrick’s Day

No, I haven’t had a pint in all of them. Of the many I have visited in Toronto, though, these five have earned repeat business.

  1. Watermark. Great location at Queen’s Quay Terminal with the best food of any Irish pub I’ve tried in Toronto. When it’s warmer, get a seat on the patio for a view of the activity on Lake Ontario and the bustle on the Harbourfront. For a late-night summer drink, the Watermark’s a terrific spot. Try the Lobster Club ($15). It’s my spot for St. Patrick’s Day this year. (207 Queens Quay West, 416-214-2772)
  2. The Roy Public House. It’s got a Deep-Fried Mars Bar ($6.95). With Guinness ice cream. How authentic is that? And it’s as gooey and sticky as you’d think. Although the Roy is pretty new, it’s décor in this old Leslieville building is antiquey, giving it some great ambience. For an Irish pub, it’s also got good service. (894 Queen Street East, 416-465-3331)
  3. Irish Embassy. Since the Real Sports Bar opened I haven’t been here as much, but the Irish Embassy is still a reliable place for a good pint and food that’s better than the usual pub grub. Aside from Thursday nights, when Bay Street jams in, you can usually find a seat right away or without too long of a wait. The best part is you can get food from the late-night menu until 1 a.m. (49 Yonge Street, 416-866-8282)
  4. The Unicorn. When I moved back to Toronto, one of the first places I wanted return to was the Uni. Although it’s showing its years, it still seems lively on the weekends, with some good music. There’s some nostalgia here for a lot of us who went to university in Toronto and that’s part of the appeal. (175 Eglinton Ave. East, 416-482-0115)
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