Posts tagged ‘ontario’

August 5, 2013

Eugenie Bouchard ready for the Rogers Cup

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Eugenie Bouchard is the top-ranked Canadian female tennis in the world and is 58th overall. (Adrian Brijbassi photo)

[This article first appeared on Vacay.ca on August 5, 2012.]

Many Canadians skip off to travel the world when they’re 19. Eugenie Bouchard, though, is doing so in a high-stakes, high-style environment that only professional athletes would be involved in at such a young age.

The tennis sensation from Montreal is in her first full year on the WTA tour, which covers 59 tournaments in 20 countries. This week, Bouchard joins the Williams sisters and other top-ranked players at the annual Rogers Cup tournament in Toronto. The rigorous schedule that’s filled with practice sessions, media commitments, more practice sessions, and whirlwind scheduling that keeps her hopping from one destination to the next limits how much Bouchard can enjoy her world travels. But she does try to get out and see what she can of the stops on WTA.

“It’s tough travelling all the time, because you are always living out of suitcase for your job, but I love it. I love travelling, and seeing all of these different cultures,” she said Sunday during a press conference that followed a practice session at York University’s Rexall Centre, site of the tournament whose main draw begins Monday.

Bouchard will play Russia’s Alisa Kleybanova in the first round and will also team with retired champ Monica Seles for an exhibition doubles match against Venus and Serena Williams on Monday night. At 5-foot-10, Bouchard is a rangy, powerful player who has made a blazing ascent up the rankings since cracking the world’s top 200 last August. She’s currently No. 58 on the WTA and is no longer catching opponents by surprise after upsetting 12th-seeded Ana Ivanovic at Wimbledon in June. In a conference call last week, Serena Williams said Bouchard was “a talented player with improving control of her groundstrokes.”

With Maria Sharapova, the No. 2 player in the world, pulling out of the tournament, Tennis Canada is leaning on Bouchard to be a face of the Rogers Cup. With a quick smile and witty personality (see her Gangnam Style video with British player Laura Robson), Bouchard is poised to be Canada’s sporting sweetheart for years to come. Having the fans behind her in Toronto this week will be a help, she predicted.

“Coming home is special. I know I’m going to have great crowd support and that always helps. I’ll be using that to my advantage,” she said.

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April 6, 2013

Lee Harvey Osmond brings on the folk

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Tom Wilson put together a stellar lineup during Lee Harvey Osmond’s recent show in Toronto. (Adrian Brijbassi photo)

[This article was originally published on Vacay.ca]

By its nature, roots music makes a statement through understatement. It uses poetry and art and subtlety to snake its way into a groove that listeners find themselves wanting to retrace time and again. If rock ‘n roll and hip hop are the Saturday night club, then roots and folk music are the neighbourhood coffee shop — the place we always wind up when we want to think and gain perspective and sense community.

Tom Wilson may look like Saturday night — and he’s no doubt enjoyed the rock lifestyle — but his songs have always had the elements of folk music, from their melodies to their characters who possess the depth necessary to connect a listener with their struggles.

On “The Folk Sinner,” the sophisticated second album by his Lee Harvey Osmond project, Wilson shows he’s at his finest these days when there is minimal bombast. With the goal of “serving the music first,” Wilson and his bandmates deliver an elegantly produced album with throaty vocals and a touch of First Nations texture in songs like “Big Chief.” It is reminiscent of Robbie Robertson’s brilliant self-titled album from 1987. “The Folk Sinner” also evokes another celebrated Canadian songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot. A cover of his song “Oh Linda” kicks off the album and was a highlight of Friday night’s performance inToronto that featured Wilson and several of his friends, who just happen to be among Canada’s most talented musicians.

Wilson’s Blackie and the Rodeo Kings bandmate Colin Linden performed “Oh Linda” while Michael Timmins of the Cowboy JunkiesOh Susanna, the Skydiggers‘ Andy Maize, and Paul Reddick were also on stage at the Great Hall for a 90-minute set that showed folk songs have no problem turning into rock music when infused with the energy of a live show and Wilson’s showmanship.

“That configuration has never played together before. They’re all friends of mine and have been for a long time. The idea was to serve the music, to put it first and see where it takes us,” Wilson told me on Tuesday.

A charismatic frontman, Wilson keeps audiences engaged with his humour, some of it self-effacing (“I’ve been on a no-wheat diet and I’m trimmed down and feeling good, but before the show I had a burger for the first time in months and I tell you, I owned that bun, man”), and talents, whether with his vocals or his on-stage antics. On “The Folk Sinner,” “Freedom” is a funky foot-tapping number highlighted by horns and slide guitar, but in concert it smoulders. With a riveting and fiery delivery, Wilson urges anyone within earshot to unshackle themselves and move.

Timmins’ sister, Margo, will be making appearances on upcoming tour dates, Wilson said. Hawksley Workman, who performs on the album’s first single, “Break Your Body Down,” will also join this rambling group of aging and congenial musicians who will show audiences that great concerts are still about great musicianship, not distracting choreography and lip-synching.

“We’re really astonished by the response. To be able to put 470 people into that hall is quite something,” Wilson said about Friday night’s show, which was part of Canadian Music Week festivities. “The album has been No. 1 in Canada already on the Americana Roots charts and we’re getting airplay in the States.”

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February 17, 2013

Chef Michael Smith shows Canadians how to cook

[This article was first published on Vacay.ca on January 10, 2013 and then syndicated on the Huffington Post Canada.]

HUNTSVILLE, ONTARIO — Michael Smith told me he has built a career out of reminding Canadians that cooking is about the people you share the meal with rather than the perfection of the recipe. He then went about showing what he meant.

In a wildly entertaining weekend at Deerhurst Resort, Smith held court and kitchen in the Muskoka property most famous for hosting Barack Obama, Stephen Harper and the rest of the G8 leaders during their 2010 summit. Smith didn’t have the security detail of those politicians, although he could have used one given the fact his contingent of female fans have a voracious appetite for him as well as his food. Clearly enjoying the attention, Smith hugged, kissed and signed autographs of his latest cookbook, Fast Flavours — 110 Simple Speedy Recipes, for the roughly 200 people who showed up to be in the presence of Canada’s most famous chef.

Standing 6-foot-7, Smith came across as a gentle and affable giant with a great deal of admiration for his adopted country. He was the head of food operations in the Athletes’ Village at the 2010 Winter Olympicsin Vancouver, turning out up to 12,000 plates a day for the competitors and delegates in a role he called the highlight of his career. Currently the only chef on the Food Network Canada with an instructional cooking program, “Chef Michael’s Kitchen,” Smith has lived in Prince Edward Island since immigrating from New York more than 20 years ago. He elevated the Inn at Bay Fortune on PEI to recognition as one of the nation’s finest restaurants before his cookbooks and television shows took off, rocketing him to stardom.

“I miss some aspects about being a chef in a restaurant, but I don’t miss the hours or the lifestyle,” Smith said, reiterating that he has no plans to open an eatery.

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November 13, 2012

Road tales from the Tragically Hip

[Big thrill for me to interview the guys from the Tragically Hip a couple of months back. This article appeared in Vacay.ca on November 4, 2012.]

KINGSTON, ONTARIO — Armed with will and determination, the Tragically Hip embarked 30 years ago on a rock ‘n roll journey that has taken them around the world and across Canada more times than the band members can remember.

Those trips have resulted in songs and lyrics that will forever resonate with the group’s devoted fan base. “At the Hundredth Meridian,” “Last American Exit,” “As I Wind Down the Pines” and “Silver Jet”— with its continent-binding lyric about flying “fromClayoqout Sound to Cape Spear” — are only a handful of the Hip’s songs that reference Canadian geography and a sense of the nation’s vastness.

Another travel-inspired tune is “Broken Road,”which appears on guitarist Paul Langlois’ solo album, “Fix This Head.” The song was written “while I was in the middle of doing a lot of driving for these guys,” says Langlois, whose lyrics speak of being 700 miles away and homesick for Cataraqui — the river that flows through the Hip’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario. It recalls the quintet’s early days in the ’80s when they toured the country in a van, not the luxury bus or airline flight that takes them from stop to stop these days.

“Travel is a big part of lucky people’s lives. We’re lucky enough to travel. I’m quite happy to know the country pretty well. Certainly not all the areas, but the places along the highways for sure,” Langlois said after a performance of his own songs at Kingston’s Market Square in August that featured Hip bandmates Robby Baker and Gord Sinclair on stage while Gord Downie watched with the rest of the crowd of about 400 people. “Every writer is different, but i think travel’s a big part of a lot of songwriters’ lives because you do that so often and it does influence your outlook on the world.”

Travel, according to Baker, should be an essential rite of passage for Canadians.

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June 18, 2012

French River is one of Ontario’s jewels

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Recollet Falls, the rapids of French River, were a major hazard for explorers ferrying down the Fur Trade Highway centuries ago. (Julia Pelish photo)

[First published in Vacay.ca earlier in June, 2012]

ALBAN, ONTARIO — Brian O’Rawe blames it on the Glenfiddich. The scotch went down easy and took with it any inhibitions he had about buying the Sand Beach Lodge more than five years ago.

“I went to bed that night and woke up in the morning and told my wife, ‘I think I just bought this place,’” O’Rawe says with a storyteller’s bemused expression while sitting on the same bar stool where the deal was struck. It’s a warm day in early June when we talk and outside a boat grrrrs past, carrying a quartet of fishermen down the 105-kilometre-long French River that historians have nicknamed the Fur Trade Highway. The Voyageurs, those French explorers and trappers sent out first by Samuel de Champlain in 1615 to discover what stirred in this giant country, trekked down the river and back to Quebec, hauling pelts of beaver, wolf, and elk — and stories of aboriginal encounters and unforgiving land. Despite the dangers, the Voyageurs kept coming and coming, for more than 200 years until the merger of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Northwest Company in 1821 shifted the trade route north.

A Scotsman, O’Rawe has latched onto the spirit of those adventurous men. He visited the lodge many times after moving to Toronto about a decade ago, and realized he was happier spending his days in the pristine wilderness setting of French River Provincial Park than in the bustle of Canada’s largest metropolis. O’Rawe also knew a good thing when he saw it. A former consultant for international hotel companies, including Mandarin Oriental, O’Rawe was convinced the lodge and its setting would be a draw.

Once you’ve gazed on French River, you’ll be convinced it was his business savvy not the scotch that steered him to purchase the property that was built by the Seagram whiskey clan in the 1920s as a family retreat. French River is quintessential Canada: big, empty, beautiful, welcoming, and calm.

“If this was in Europe, cars would be lined up for days to get here,” O’Rawe says. “You just don’t find nature like this over there.”

It’s not just Europeans who should be making their way to discover French River. Canadians will appreciate a visit too, especially those who are seeking the solitude and natural beauty that commercialization has taken from parts of Ontario’s most popular cottage destination. One hour north ofMuskoka, French River gives you the kind of escape many Ontarians now feel they must fly away to enjoy.

When I make the three-hour drive from Toronto, I find the summer rush has yet to come. Except for a few visiting journalists, the only guests at Sand Beach Lodge are a couple from Michigan who happened to show up only because the French River Visitor Centre directed them to O’Rawe’s spot.

“We asked for a nice place with good food and this was where they recommended. We’re very lucky. This is a beautiful lodge,” Barbara Taylor said.

The lodge has had its starring moment, hosting a Disney crew during the filming of the Jonas Brothers’ teen flick “Camp Rock 2″ (the brothers, though, didn’t stay at the lodge because the movie’s security staff believed the river presented too many opportunities for crazed teenage girls to make a mad attempt at invasion, O’Rawe informs with a laugh). Sand Beach’s usual clientele includes families, couples, fishing groups, and corporate types looking for group getaways. Retention rates are exceptionally high, O’Rawe says, noting that guests return time and again, including a German family that has been coming back for four generations.

Although it’s a fishing lodge, many Sand Beach guests arrive aiming to escape the pace of urban life and to indulge in chef Ryan Trotter’s cuisine. Dinners include four courses that are all delightful, making you wonder how food so good can be found so far from a big city.

“We try to be as local as we can be, but it’s hard out here. So we will go out and get the best products in Canada we can find,” says Trotter, whose beef tenderloin is a thick cut from Alberta, served peppery and flavourful.

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