An Open Letter to Slow-Witted Ottawa Drivers

November 25, 2013 10:17 am

by: Stéphane Tessier

Ottawa is my home. I live here by choice because there are more things that I like and fewer things that I dislike than any other place I have lived in or visited.

That being said, Ottawa is home to the worst drivers on earth!

My bone fides justifying this lamentation are strong. My trembling hands steered free from harm in the streets of the Moroccan Intifada, symbiotically merged onto the FDR expressway from the Lower East Side at midday, slalomed by debris on D.C.’s Beltway (teapots, I presume) and dodged a gunfight on the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago’s South Side. (I have no idea who Dan Ryan was, but I am certain he was shot driving there.)

There is form in your ineptitude. “We are cautious,” you protest as you read these words. You are wrong.


Ottawa drivers are slow, indecisive and operate heavy equipment as though addicted to analgesics. You drive insecurely the way a junior staffer struggles with the regulations pursuant to the Public Service Employment Act. This is why you slow down the day before a snowstorm or fit your cars with snow tires in August.

Levity aside, consider the speed limit. I mean, would you please consider driving at the speed   limit? You only live once, so get there already.

The left lane is the passing lane. This is not a euphemism; it is intended for faster drivers, by law. However, on the Queensway—never to be confused with the Speedway—the left lane is perpetually clogged up by clueless, passive-aggressive barriers like trans fats welling in the arteries of an American teenager. If you want to get anywhere fast on the Queensway, stay in the right lane. Too many times, my wife and I have breezed past traffic on the right side, technically in the wrong lane, with contempt painted on our faces because there is no other place to be. And we get the dirty looks.

Minivan! Grandma! You in the BMW! The reason the objects in your rear-view mirror appear so big is that you are so slow. Move over and get out of the way of faster traffic. The far right lane is always the right choice for you. You can knit in that lane. If you follow my advice, the red-faced gesticulating maniacs playing in your mirror will be gone for good.

I think the Queensway is haunted by the ghosts of donkeys who got run over by Lemonade trucks. There must be apparitions of some sort to cause those mysterious bottlenecks that paralyze traffic only to clear up and melt away for no other reason than there is clear road ahead. But there was clear road ahead before! How does this occur? No accident, no impediment (a refrigerator in the middle lane, like what you see in Detroit), no police activity.


Oh, but there is a policeman – on the other side of the road. And you jump on the brakes, don’t you? Folks, the nice policeman is busy fining a naughty driver going in the other direction so please keep up the pace for the sake of those following you.

Merging traffic causes bottlenecks too, because for Ottawa drivers, merging a car onto the Queensway is more difficult than parking a spaceship in orbit around the moon of another planet in another galaxy. What are you waiting for, an invitation? If only the passing lane were the merging lane, then circulation would be fluid at all hours of the day.

One of my favorite past-times is having a summertime drink in the Market observing your travails with parallel parking. If you could only see yourselves. Consternation shatters your confidence as you attempt the manoeuvre, especially if you are on a first date; panic when you realize you are out of position; confusion over distances, angles and the pleas of mercy from the senior citizen you have trapped between two vehicles; and the vapid self-loathing when, vanquished, you flee that precious real estate for a safer and more expensive option.

Watching you trying to fit your car in a parking spot reminds me of someone trying to put the wider end of a cork back in the bottle. In, out, in, out, wriggle-wriggle, and after three minutes of this nonsense, your vehicle is still parked diagonally, one tire on the yellow line and centimeters away from your neighbour’s car. Take care to notice that in Ottawa, everyone’s winter jacket is smeared with slushy grime. That is from having to writhe into or out of a car sandwich. An “I Scream” sandwich (chuckle, guffaw).

At red lights, why do you wait for the car ahead of you to move before you accelerate? If you collectively accelerate when the light turns green, traffic will flow better and many more cars will make it past the light. But you don’t. Why? Because, collectively, you are bad drivers.

Responsible driving involves being aware of your surroundings, not impeding the progress of others, being technically apt to execute basic manoeuvres, driving sober, avoiding reckless speeding and respecting pedestrians. I see little of that in our city.

Ottawa, apply some mettle to the pedal, please. Be resilient. Be happy.


Stéphane Tessier is a comic, iconoclastic essayist living in Ottawa who would ride the buses more often if he had a few hours to spare.

Ottawa’s Own Sarah Smyth Shines

November 21, 2013 12:54 pm

Ottawa-born actress Sarah Smyth is one of Canada’s rising stars. She landed a coveted role as a series regular in Season One of Cedar Cove, an original TV-movie turned regular series, airing on the Hallmark Channel (USA) and W Channel (Canada).  Smyth plays the daughter of Judge Olivia Lockhart (Andie MacDowell). Based on bestselling author Debbie Macomber’s books, the show centers around Judge Olivia, who is considered the guiding light in the picturesque, coastal town of Cedar Cove, Washington.  However, like everyone else, Olivia fights the uphill battle of balancing career with family and finding love, all while doing her best to care for the township she calls home. Cedar Cove has been renewed for a second season and will resume production in March 2014.

2013 has been a busy year for Smyth, with a recurring role on Call Me Fitz, playing the character of Paula Childs opposite Michael Gross (Family Ties) and Jason Priestley (Beverly Hills 90210). Smyth appears in eight of 10 episodes in Season 4 of Call Me Fitz, about a morally bankrupt car salesman who is forced to become business partners with his inner conscience – an offbeat do-gooder intent on healing Fitz’s mangled psyche one hilarious disaster at a time. Call Me Fitz airs on HBO Canada and Direct TV (USA). Smyth also guest starred on an episode of CTV’s hit series Motive.

Smyth’s first onscreen roles included Vampire High and Big Wolf on Campus, and a scene opposite Sam Rockwell in George Clooney’s directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Smyth also spent three seasons in a lead role on the Showcase/Oxygen original series Naked Josh (filmed in Montreal). Ready for bigger and better opportunities, Smyth moved across the country to pursue work in Vancouver, where her screen credits included episodes of Smallville, Human Target, Supernatural, Shattered, Tower Prep and Endgame, and recurring roles on Durham County and SGU Stargate Universe. In 2009, she was hand-picked by executive producer Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) for a series-regular role as Lucy Daramour on the CBS horror/drama Harper’s Island. Roles in TV-movies followed, including The Pregnancy Project for Lifetime and Duke for Hallmark.

Film credits include The Covenant (starring Sebastian Stan and Chace Crawford), R.W. Goodwin’s Alien Trespass (starring Eric McCormack and Robert Patrick) and Chris Columbus’ Percy Jackson and the Olympians (starring Logan Lerman and Pierce Brosnan). Smyth also had a role in Jonathan Levine’s 50/50, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogan and Anna Kendrick, and filmed a lead role in Jack of Diamonds, a TV pilot for CanWest Global and France 2.

Smyth was born and raised in Ottawa. Her love for performance stemmed from a young age. She spent three years with the Orleans Young Players, followed by three years with the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama. Smyth now splits her time between Los Angeles and Vancouver.  Her pastimes include reading, listening to records (her current favourite Field Recordings from Alan Lomax’s “Southern Journey”,1959-1960), and spending time with good friends.

When she has time off, she loves to travel – some of her top trips include backpacking in Brazil, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. This past September, Smyth travelled to Kenya to visit friends in the Masai Mara, where she fell in love with the incredible landscapes and wildlife while on safari. Smyth’s most memorable experience was spending time with the children at the Wholistic Caring Centre/Orphanage. Since returning home, she does volunteer work for the With My Own Two Hands Foundation in California to help bring positive change to the lives of the children she met.

Smyth is represented by Shannon Richardson | Premiere Talent Management | 604-687-4909 in Canada and The Van Johnson Company | 424-279-9280 in Los Angeles.

Sarah Smyth on IMDb:

The Blue Story of the Ottawa River

November 19, 2013 11:45 am

As I travel the Ottawa River, I can’t help but be

impressed with its magnificent diversification.

Every turn in the waterway brings a rich new

experience. Along the shoreline are subtle signs

of those who came before us, and in the tranquility

of early morning one can almost hear the sounds of

the native peoples who for thousands of years

paddled this traditional trade route.

The Ottawa River is the definitive exploration route

– of yesterday and today – into the heartland

            of our beloved Canada.

– Len Hopkins

The Ottawa River has many stories to tell.

They are the stories of the Algonquin heritage, of colonialism, of nation-building and the Industrial Revolution. They are the stories of everyone who shares the river: whether fishers, kayakers or canoeists.

But Alexandra Cousteau, grand-daughter of the world-famous oceanographer and conservationist Jacques-Yves Cousteau, will help the Ottawa River tell its blue, untold story.

Through her not-for-profit organization Blue Legacy International, Cousteau continues to do what her grandfather and father devoted their lives to: conservation of the Earth’s precious resource – water. She traveled to Ottawa as part of River Mission – a joint initiative between the young generation of the de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation, Blue Legacy and the Ottawa Riverkeeper to raise awareness of the poor health of the Ottawa River.

In September, Cousteau and her team spent 10 days on the Ottawa River. During her stay, Cousteau shot three short films about the river’s water quality, dams and governance.

Cousteau traveled along the river, meeting community leaders and volunteers. She explored the river watersheds and studied the way hydro dams are built. Even though Cousteau and her team were happy to see frogs and turtles in the river just below Parliament Hill, Cousteau says there is still a lot of work to do to protect the Ottawa River.

“The Ottawa River faces challenges of improving water quality in the river, managing the impacts of dams on river ecology and biodiversity, and perhaps – most critical of all – creating a collaborative management strategy for the river that bridges the different government entities,” Cousteau says.


The Ottawa River Watchdog

“Life,” says Meredith Brown. “The Ottawa River signifies life for the people of Ontario and Quebec. We all need water to survive.”

Brown is the executive director of Ottawa Riverkeeper – a grassroots charity formed to protect and restore the health of the Ottawa River. For almost a decade, Brown has been bringing important issues such as sewage dumping and radioactive waste to the attention of the public and governments.

Brown says the Ottawa River faces almost every issue threatening its fresh waters: from dams to nuclear pollution, from municipal sewage to shoreline and floodplain development.

With Cousteau’s film crew, Brown sampled the river’s water for dissolved oxygen, water clarity, alkalinity, phosphorus and nitrogen. These are basic water quality parameters to monitor, Brown says.

But many toxic chemicals go into the river. Ottawa Riverkeeper simply doesn’t have the means to implement a thorough water quality monitoring program.

“We know our river contains pesticides, pharmaceuticals, ibuprofen, estrogen, tritium, and heavy metals,” Brown says. “There are many different compounds going into the river that come full circle to us as they can end up in our drinking water.”

The Ottawa River needs help. Brown hopes that Cousteau will put the spotlight on the river.


The Ottawa River Needs a Collaborative Government and One Strategy: Cousteau

Cousteau says that Ontario, Quebec and First Nations communities need to work together to preserve the Ottawa River but that, so far, governments have no common plan.

“My crew and I were struck by the lack of communication between the two provinces and especially between Ottawa and Gatineau regarding the work that each is – or is not – doing to address problems such as pollution, sewage overflow, E. coli, etc.,” Cousteau says. “There also seemed to be a lot of tension from both sides that is counter-productive, especially since people on both sides of the river share a sincere concern for the health of their river.”

Many government agencies are involved in regulating aspects of protecting the Ottawa River. Yet there is little accountability, Brown agrees.

“The federal government could do a better job regulating toxic substances, which I know is a big challenge, but critically important,” Brown says. “The federal government also needs to enforce its own regulations. There is a lack of understanding about the economic benefits that a healthy river brings to our communities and to our provinces.”


Will the Governments Keep Their Promise?

Last year, Ecology Ottawa launched a petition to support the Ottawa River Action Plan to stop sewage spills. Over 10,000 people signed the petition, calling on the federal and provincial governments to support the city’s plan.

Graham Saul, executive director of Ecology Ottawa, says Minister John Baird, who served as the Minister of Environment in 2007-2008, and again as an interim environment minister in 2010- 2011, promised in writing that he will make the Ottawa River Action Plan a priority in the in 2014’s federal infrastructure funding.

“I’ve been told that the challenges with the National Capital Commission are resolved, and really the last remaining barrier is the federal and provincial government coming up with the money,” Saul says.

Ottawa Life Magazine asked Minister Baird about his promise, and received an email from Rick Roth, a spokesman for Baird.

“We are proud to have been the first level of government to fund the Ottawa River Action Plan,” Roth writes. “Minister Baird has repeatedly urged municipal leaders to make protecting the Ottawa River – one of Canada’s heritage waterways – a priority. He views this as a moral issue.”

Roth writes that the City of Ottawa is urged to spend the $33 million that the federal government committed for the Ottawa River clean-up… and that the city has yet to seek reimbursement for even a fraction of that funding.

Dixon Weir, general manager of Environmental Services, says the City received $33 million from the federal and provincial governments five years ago. The funds were used to implement sewage separation projects that have resulted in a 70% decrease of sewer overflow volumes.

Now, the City of Ottawa is working on another project which will effectively reduce combined sewer overflow volumes to zero, Weir says. “The City has committed its share of the funding for this project as part of the draft 2014 Budget.”

As for Minister Baird, he still promises to support the Ottawa River Action Plan in the upcoming budget.


David McGuinty, Member of Parliament for Ottawa South, says he sees nothing specific regarding the Ottawa River in next year’s federal budget: “I know Mr. Baird says he is committed, but I think it’s time for Minister Baird to put his money where his mouth is.”

McGuinty says the federal government should do more than just fund the Ottawa River Action Plan. McGuinty has been long calling on the federal government (and other levels of government) to create a single united council with a holistic approach for the Ottawa River.

All It Needs Is Love, Love Is All the River Needs

A young generation of the de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation stepped up to raise awareness about preserving the Ottawa River among Quebec’s population. The foundation committed $490,000 to the River Mission.

Dominique Monchamp, the executive director of the de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation, says she and the fourth generation of the de Gaspé Beaubien family were inspired by working with Cousteau’s team and Ottawa Riverkeeper.

“The reason for these expeditions is we believe we must go on the river, feel the river, love the river, touch the river, and live the river to better understand how we can make a difference,” says Monchamp.

That’s why the next-generation de Gaspé Beaubien family believes the decision-makers should first listen to what the river has to tell them, Monchamp observes. “They want to find a way to bring these people on the river. The minute you are on the water – you just fall in love with that river, and you would want the best for it.”

Cousteau says people should take the time to experience all that the river has to offer, find out what initiatives exist in the communities and join the effort to protect the river.

“As my grandfather used to tell me: ‘People protect what they love, and they love what they know’,” Cousteau says.

“The Ottawa River needs Ontarians and Québécois to work together to protect it.”

Cousteau’s short films will be released in 2014. The final phase of the River Mission will be to host the Ottawa River Summit in 2015.

Hopefully, the summit will bring together key players and stakeholders of the watershed to come up with a united strategy to protect the Ottawa River.


Great Things to Do In Ottawa – Day and Night

October 28, 2013 12:24 pm

Ottawa is anything but the stereotypical, sleepy government town and there is a lot to do for everyone from millennial to senior. As the nation’s capital, Ottawa remains recession-proof and the city’s well-defined and unique neighborhoods (The Glebe, The Byward Market, Elgin Central, Kitchissippi, Kanata, Nepean and Copeland Park, etc.) have a thriving restaurant and food selection scene, including Le Baccara, one of only a handful of Canadian restaurants awarded the CAA-AAA Five Diamond distinction.

Then there are the numerous music clubs, rock clubs, dance houses, bars and other unique attractions that open to visitors daily…and nightly. If you are visiting the city and looking for things to do at night, there are a bevy of activities waiting to be explored. If you visit the city during the popular Winterlude festival (the largest outdoor winter carnival in the world), you can spend your day skating on the city’s 7-km canal, visiting the ice sculptures at Dow’s Lake, eating BeaverTails – a local deep-fried pastry treat – or take part in one of the many pickup hockey games being played out each day on the 100+ outdoor rinks that are spread throughout city neighborhoods. You can also go snowshoeing in the Gatineau Hills close by or take an afternoon stroll through Ottawa’s historic Byward Market, where you can visit the many shops while darting in and out of local pubs for a hot toddy or hot chocolate.

After a day of interlude activity, you can retreat to your hotel room and decompress by watching a movie or ordering room service. A popular option that you may wish to consider is UK’s top slot games provider – William Hill, which offers unique chances to win money and have fun or play free bingo at Online gambling has become incredibly popular, and will ensure that you remain entertained and relaxed while resting up for the next day’s adventures in the city. Alongside traditional methods of gambling, you can discover new and exciting possibilities.

However, if you are one of those travelers who wants to keep going night and day while visiting,  Ottawa offers all kinds of winter Evening Attractions. Fifteen minutes from downtown Ottawa, you can hit the popular Camp Fortune ski hills which offer skiing or snowboarding until 10pm. If you like theatre, visit the National Arts Centre (NAC) on Elgin Street. The NAC presents over 600 performances on four stages every year and offers something for everyone – Music, Theatre and Dance. The NAC is home to the world-renowned National Arts Centre Orchestra, led by internationally famous violinist/violist, conductor and educator Pinchas Zukerman. The “Get a Live Rush” program ( allows students (ages 13-29) to purchase two last-minute tickets (for themselves and a guest) on the day of selected performances at the special rate of $10 each. The Ottawa Little Theatre is Canada’s oldest community theatre and presents a great mix of comedies, mysteries and dramas to entertain diverse audiences. If you are a museum buff, the Canadian War Museum (CMW) focuses on military conflicts that occurred on Canadian soil, involved Canadian forces, or had a significant effect on the country and its people. The CMW is open till 8pm every Thursday. The Haunted Walk of Ottawa continues to be popular with locals and tourists alike who are fascinated by the city’s darker history and the many tales of the “haunting” of the nation’s capital. Visitors can choose from the Original Haunted Walk, the Crime and Punishment Jail Tour (at the Old Carleton County Jail) and the Naughty Ottawa Pub Walk (for those 19 years or older). All stories are thoroughly researched and will delight even the skeptics in the group! These are just a few of the many options available to people visiting the capital – and we did not even mention the Parliament of Canada Tours or the hugely popular Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill. However, part of the fun of exploring Ottawa is to learn about its many treasures on your own during your stay.

Aubut Holdings: Translating Real Estate Into Profit

October 3, 2013 12:46 pm

 An Interview with Paul Aubut, President, Aubut & Associates

Paul Aubut: I started my career as a translator in 1970 and since 1976, I’ve been running Aubut & Associates. My specialty is the translation of specifications and drawings.  

How big is your translation business? 

Sept13_Paul Aubut_8413F_Paul CouvrettePaul Aubut: Aubut & Associates is one of the bigger translation firms in Ottawa. We have about 20 full-time freelancers. They all do their work independently and we’re a brokerage house for their services.

We do translation work for the National Capital Commission, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Public Works and Government Services Canada  —  just  some of the government clients — and then we have all the architects and engineers and other commercial clients. It’s sort of a 50/50 mix – government and industry. Our clients send their work here and we take it and assign it to different translators, depending on their specialties. It’s a network. My part is very technical – construction documents. But the volume of general translation is about the same as technical. General translation involves correspondence and press releases. It has to do with translating minutes of meetings, documents, requests for proposals, briefs to the Ministers of different departments, and so forth.

In 2012 and 2013, we had a super-big project which had to do with Target (the U.S. retail giant). As you probably know, Target is moving into Canada in 2014. In Quebec alone, Target has 25 shopping centres that were taken over and the Target Group is rebuilding these shopping centres to accommodate their needs.  They have huge displays and they sell frozen foods and all kinds of stuff. And we were involved in translating specifications and drawings for 13 of those shopping centres, that have to be retrofitted. So that was a huge job. We did it through Stantec, a big architectural and engineering firm in Canada and the U.S.

To what do you attribute the success of Aubut & Associates?

Paul Aubut: Working 18 hours a day, seven days a week is the norm. I’m sort of married to my job! In Ottawa, there are about 1,200 translators. Most of these professionals are within the government. Some work from the outside and I have 20 to 25 of them working with me, not dedicated full-time to us, but working with the company in a close relationship. Most of our translators have security clearance and the office has the top secret classification. We’ve worked on very sensitive material over the years and had many projects with the RCMP and CSIS. These are big names in my portfolio, so to speak. My first big project was the Lester B. Pearson Building Construction Project in Ottawa (External Affairs) in 1972. Since then, we have been involved in renovation work for that same building.

The steady translation work allowed us to branch out into real estate. We started in real estate in the 1980s, under the name Aubut Holdings. In 1985, we started acquiring some properties. In 1990, we acquired three properties in the same month. Then the market went sour and we had to sit tight until 2000! The interest rate was at 14 per cent and we held on to all our properties, but we couldn’t do much in terms of expansion. We were just in survival mode and barely able to sustain that period. Starting in 2000, we began acquiring more properties and since 2006, we started acquiring properties at the rate of one heritage house per year. What’s nice right now is that we’re at the point where the growth will become exponential. We know we are heading into a much bigger market and that is extremely exciting.

The renovation of old houses downtown has become our specialty. We’ve got a niche market, but there is more to real estate than just these houses. We feel a big change is coming. 301 Metcalfe Street is our jewel and pride and we’d like to promote it, not as something that we want to rent because it’s fully rented, but as a base for future acquisitions.

Almost all of the buildings that we’re managing right now are located in Centretown. They are all within two to three minutes’ walking distance of each other, which makes our life much easier.

We also have a good rapport with the banks now. I’ve been dealing with many of them forever and that has been my toughest challenge – convincing a bank that real estate is the way to go. Over the last two years, TD and BDC (The Business Development Bank of Canada) have been good to Aubut Holdings, which has permitted us to cruise at a faster speed when it comes to acquisitions.

What are the advantages of being a business working out of an old house? 

Paul Aubut: Many people don’t want to work in a high-rise. An old house is homier. We have found an older home  attracts a lot of medical tenants, like psychiatrists. We own and manage a property that is completely medical and another is almost fully rented to the medical profession. So that’s our market, so to speak. We want to develop that market further, by buying more heritage houses and retrofitting them to the needs of professionals.

This is a wonderful success story in bleak economic times. The bread and butter and gravy of this expansion all came from translation. Translation was able to sustain us in the weak years of real estate.

The objective here is to acquire more real estate. Translation is the backbone and it’s established. But the real estate business is up-and-coming.

Season 2 of The Prime Radicals – the Show that Makes Math Cool for Kids – Is Set to Launch

August 23, 2013 9:23 am
primeradicals 1

Keep an eye out for the upcoming launch of the second season of an Ottawa-produced TV show that makes math fun for kids. GAPC Entertainment’s The Prime Radicals will launch on TVOKids on Thursday, September 5 at 6:30 p.m. The series is entirely shot in and around Ottawa. It features local talent in all acting, singing and behind-the-scenes roles. It’s truly a “made in Ottawa” success story, having garnered international acclaim with seven awards for the innovative way in which it teaches kids all about math. You can catch a glimpse of the series in the Season 2 trailer on YouTube at

Kevin, Alanna and Uncle Norm (Ottawa schoolteacher Norm McQueen) making pizza.

Kevin, Alanna and Uncle Norm (Ottawa schoolteacher Norm McQueen) making pizza.

Each 14-minute, live-action episode takes viewers to Uncle Norm’s workshop, usually the scene of his latest misadventure. The Radicals—cousins Kevin and Alanna—come to the rescue every time. They enlist experts, such as a kite boarder, rancher or maple syrup expert, to help them solve Uncle Norm’s problems with mathematical solutions. This season, kids are in for a few surprises, including the radically cool Inventinator, plus a host of talented young singers. Every show ends with a fun math project kids can make at home.

The series was entirely shot and produced in Ottawa and surrounding area. The Shenkman Arts Centre was home to The Prime Radicals set, including the very cool Uncle Norm’s workshop. Five local singers recorded their radical tunes at GAPC’s studios on Laperriere Avenue. Ottawa viewers will also recognize many of the field segment locations, which include Pinto Valley Ranch, the CBC television studios, a local dairy farm and Fulton’s Sugar Bush.

Barrhaven singer Ayda Khan, who is singing a Radical Tune (on green screen).

Barrhaven singer Ayda Khan, who is singing a Radical Tune (on green screen).

The series is sold internationally and airs in Korea, Singapore and the Middle East. It’s also making strong inroads into educational markets in North America and abroad.

“Mathematics in school can be abstract and far-removed from everyday experiences,” says series consultant Dr. Lynda Colgan, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, Queen’s University. “The Prime Radicals shows children that mathematics is around us all the time—from cooking to magic tricks, and from making change to meteorology. The series dispels math myths by using real-world examples and by focusing on positive outcomes.”

Kevin Wang (who plays Kevin, one of the two "Rads") with the Normbot (an Uncle Norm creation). Kevin is a resident of Ottawa South and a student at Lisgar Collegiate.

Kevin Wang (who plays Kevin, one of the two “Rads”) with the Normbot (an Uncle Norm creation). Kevin is a resident of Ottawa South and a student at Lisgar Collegiate.

A Hero’s Hero

July 26, 2013 1:00 pm
a final salute to Barry Quinn

by Shauna Quinn

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” – Isaac Newton

When people speak of unsung heroes, they are speaking of someone who looks a lot like Barry Quinn, a former firefighter whose efforts, dedication and sacrifices helped improve the lives of his fellow firefighters immeasurably.

He was a happy soul known for his sense of humor.  His happy-go-lucky attitude and positive approach to life were inspiring.  His smile was devilish yet contagious.  His laugh was infectious.  Somehow, he could bring sunshine to the darkest of days.

Barry was a good husband, a dedicated father of two and little league baseball coach, but he was also the vice-president and secretary-treasurer of the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) District 2.

“He was one of those lucky people who knew what their purpose in life was,” said Cheryl Quinn, his wife of 34 years.  “His was to fight for his fellow firefighters.”

No stranger to the deadly world of cancer, Barry was 27 when he lost his mother to the disease.  She was 52.  This was his first of many encounters with this killer.

Many associations issue reports indicating cancer is steadily increasing among firefighters.  The OPFFA has been collecting the names of sick, dying and dead firefighters since 1999. Estimates out of the data show two-thirds of firefighters will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime. Among the general population, that number is closer to one third.

“Barry was a strong voice,” said Fred Leblanc, 13th District Vice-President of the International Association of Fire Fighters.  “He played a key role in respect to our overall strategy and lobby.”

Fred and Barry led a team of occupational disease committee representatives in an initiative with Steve Peters, then Ontario Minister of Labour.

Barry’s knowledge and background regarding Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) – along with his experience representing the members in Ottawa suffering from various cancers – proved to be an invaluable asset.

The Ontario legislature unanimously passed Bill 221 in May 2007.  The Bill passed all three readings on the same day in a very rare move of all-party support.  The Minister of Labour could now create or amend regulations that outline occupational diseases presumed to have been contracted by professional, part-time, volunteer and forest firefighters.

In June 2007, regulations were established that covered eight cancers including brain cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, colorectal cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, ureter cancer, esophageal cancer and heart injury.

The most significant part of this legislation was that it allowed the minister to make these changes retroactively, unheard of in WSIB legislative amendments, as the legislation was applicable to cases dating back to January 1, 1960. Firefighters who passed away from these cancers are now honored as having died in the line of duty and their families will receive some belated but important compensation.  Ontario’s legislation is groundbreaking in Canada.

Firefighters face a multitude of hazards as they carry out the occupational requirement of saving lives and reducing property damage. Even with premium respiratory practices and protective equipment, exposures to toxic elements are inevitable due to absorption through the skin when a firefighter becomes soaked during fire suppression operations.

Science continues to establish a direct relationship between firefighting and occupational disease, although it is extremely difficult to link chemical exposure and sickness. This connection is hard to prove because no two firefighters are exposed to the same mixtures of chemicals.  Every firefighter has a different medical history and it may be years between exposure and diagnosis of illness. That certain illnesses, such as prostate cancer, occur regularly in the general population makes it that much more complicated.

There is still much work to be done for firefighters.  Many have been diagnosed with certain cancers that are not automatically covered by the legislation and the families left behind do not receive compensation.  Currently, there are five cancers not included in the legislation: lung cancer, breast cancer, testicular cancer, skin cancer and prostate cancer.

Ottawa Fire Fighters Memorial, unveiled September 2012.

Ottawa Fire Fighters Memorial, unveiled September 2012.

Tom Quinn, a retired Fire Captain from the former City of Nepean, is part of a group of firefighters known as the Nepean “cluster.” This is a large group of firefighters from the former Nepean department who have been diagnosed with cancer. The only common denominator is that each firefighter in this group worked at some point out of the Viewmount Station. Tom was Captain out of this station for more than five years. He is also Barry’s older brother.

Tom was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002.  After taking medical leave, he retired in March 2003, after 32 years’ service.  In 2005, he was declared cancer-free.

“I am more than proud of Barry for all he has done for our brothers and sisters in the fire service,” Tom said. “You couldn’t have found a better man for the job.”

Because of Barry, our fallen heroes are now honored as such.  When it came time to honor the fallen, he was meticulous. Everything needed to be perfect.  He often referred to them as “his families” and he treated them as such.

“It takes a very special person to be able to relate to families dealing with tragic circumstances,” Fred said. “Barry had a unique gift in this regard.”

Barry always made families understand that he cared. He gave them his shoulder, and the shoulders of fellow firefighters, to cry and lean on. Somehow, he made it easier for them to cope.

“He would work tirelessly to ensure that they left this earth with dignity and grace,”  Cheryl said.  “No one but us saw what a toll advocating for firefighters with cancers did to him. He was with the firefighter until the very end, being a strong and fighting presence. Then he would come home and break down into tears for the firefighter and his family.”

Not everyone understands exactly what it means to lobby for something; nor will everyone comprehend the massive amount of time and dedication it takes to develop and apply new legislation. But one thing everyone should understand is that firefighters risk their lives helping others as part of the job. Now they are dying for doing their job.

Investigations and inquiries were set in motion. Doors were forced open, thanks largely to research brought forth by Barry. Thanks to his hard work and dedication, research will continue and will further establish the effects of chemical exposure and occupational hazards of firefighters.

But Barry‘s part in the battle ended. On the morning of June 16, 2012, the day before his son would celebrate his first Father’s Day, Barry suffered a massive heart attack. He died almost instantly. He was 56.

His life was celebrated by firefighters from across the province.  His name has been added to the Ottawa Fire Fighters Memorial.

To honor his memory, and to recognize his love of baseball, this June the Second Annual Ottawa Fire Fighters Baseball Tournament and BBQ will be renamed the Barry M. Quinn Memorial Tournament.

“We have decided it’s appropriate to name the tournament after Barry,” said Cassandra Greer, executive board member of Local 162 of the Ottawa Professional Fire Fighters Association and tournament organizer.  “Barry was a family man first and loved the brotherhood of the firefighters.  This would serve as a yearly reminder of all the work and dedication this man has given to all of us.  It will also remind us to take time out to enjoy each other doing a sport that he also devoted much of his time and effort to.”

More than 200 firefighters are anticipated to participate in this year’s tournament, including retired members and their families. Another 200 are expected for the family BBQ.

“When I think back, I can sum up Barry in this way,” Fred said. “He was a drop everything, do anything kind of guy who always left you laughing. When you think about it, that is an incredible legacy.”

Head Southbound With Ottawa’s Cooper Brothers

July 18, 2013 1:43 pm

Ottawa brothers Richard and Brian Cooper started their careers on the momentum of Beatlemania and played eastern Canada in such outfits as What The Cat Dragged In. They decided to form their own band in 1971 following Richard’s suspension from the University of Ottawa for spending too much time on the road instead of working on his Masters’ Degree in English Literature. By 1974, The Cooper Brothers had their own band and released three unsuccessful singles under the production guidance of Les Emmerson (he of the fabled Staccatos and Five Man Electrical Band). Richard Cooper felt that the material, which consisted entirely of cover tunes, wasn’t where they should be focusing and decided to start writing original material.

After attracting the attention of Polydor Records, The Cooper Brothers had a minor hit with their first release entitled Finally (With You). As a newly expanded seven-piece band, manager Alan Katz landed them a distribution deal in the US with Gary Cape’s Capricorn Records in Macon, Georgia. With Cape also acting as producer (right up through their final LP), by the summer of 1978 the Coopers finally had their first legitimate hit with Rock and Roll Cowboys. The follow-up The Dream Never Dies became an American hit for US country singer Bill Anderson but also charted on the Billboard Hot 100 for The Cooper Brothers as did Show Some Emotion and I’ll Know Her When I See Her.

With the collapse of Capricorn Records in 1980, the band lost its third album which was already completed – called Reach for the Stars – and floundered without a record deal. They brought in Les Emmerson as fresh blood and produced one more album – Learning to Live With It – on the indie label SALT, before the group disbanded following a long cross-Canada tour in 1983. They reunited for a one-off Children’s Wish Foundation charity fundraiser at the Ottawa Civic Centre in 1986.

In October 2006, The Best of the Cooper Brothers, under the supervision of Gary Cape, was released by Pacemaker/EMI and the band performed for the first time on stage in over 20 years. This led to a number of sold-out live dates throughout southern Ontario including a memorable Ottawa Bluesfest concert in front of 25,000 people while opening the show for James Taylor. The experience also sparked Dick Cooper’s songwriting muse and before long the Brothers had enough material for a new album.

In September 2009, with old friend Colin Linden in the production chair, the Cooper Brothers went to Masterlink Studio in Nashville to begin recording with session musicians including Audley Freed (The Black Crowes, Jakob Dylan, Dixie Chicks), Dan Dugmore (Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor), Kevin McKendree (Brian Seltzer, Lee Roy Parnell), Lynn Williams (John Hiatt, Delbert McClinton) and Steve Mackey (Trisha Yearwood). Special guests included Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy, Delbert McClinton and Chuck Leavell. After additional recording back in Ottawa and Toronto, the CD was mixed in Los Angeles by John Whynot (Colin James, Bruce Cockburn, Lucinda Williams). The 12-song album In From the Cold was released in October 2010 and was well received.

This past year, the brothers began work on a new CD at The Tragically Hip’s studio in Kingston with producer Colin Cripps (Blue Rodeo, Junkhouse, Crash Vegas) at the helm. From the opening title track and first single, Southbound, this new release by the brothers is an 11-song masterpiece of precision country-rock that ignores the slick and lifeless country cliché conventions being churned out from Nashville and revisits the 1970s pop-leaning country that gave the Coopers their distinctive commercial appeal.

In fact, to this listener’s ears, the Coopers’ transition well between the Southern Rock guitar boogie/slide work of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers and 461 Ocean Boulevard-period Clapton on tunes like Southbound, The Last Time I Saw Georgia (about their dealings with Capricorn Records), Maybe This Is the Night, Five Point Five and Club Shangri-La through the Southern California folk-rock of The Eagles, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Poco on the amazing spaghetti Western guitar-driven Bordertown, the bittersweet prairie haunt of What I Leave Behind and the beautiful heart-breaking balladry of Bridges and Love’s Been a Stranger.

And just to keep listeners on their toes, the real surprise on the disc is a sneaky little McCartney-esque pop ditty buried late on the album entitled Havana Nights which recalls the intimacy of Macca’s self-titled debut in 1970.

Colin Cripps has handled the production masterfully, focusing on a dry, crisp sound – vocals front and centre with not much on them but a touch of reverb – giving the songs an intimate immediacy. Dick Cooper’s lyrics come alive on the tongue of brother Brian; lyrics that are some of the most articulate to grace an album since Don Henley wrote Desperado.
The Cooper Brothers have created a thinking man’s country-rock fusion. Southbound is the new New Country album we’ve been waiting for.

To find out more, visit

Michelle Valberg’s Excellent Arctic Adventure

June 13, 2013 10:45 am
Arctic Kaleidoscope COVER

By Julie Beun

In Michelle Valberg’s airy photography studio on Sherwood Drive, the silence is punctuated only by the gentle fizz of champagne bubbles in four tall flutes sitting on a coffee table.

It’s the Friday afternoon before the Earth Day launch at the Canadian Museum of Nature of her opus, Arctic Kaleidoscope: The People, Wildlife and Ever-Changing Landscape and we’ve all gathered—Valberg, her staff photographers, Val Keeler and Lindsay Gibeau, and me, as the book’s writer—to look at the finished product for the very first time.

No one says anything, initially. After all, the book has a weighty pedigree: It has taken five years of Valberg’s life and encompassed 27 trips that zigzagged to 40 remote Arctic locations—from Kugluktuk to Greenland and Resolute to Churchill—during which she took more than 100,000 images. To get them, she endured frostbite and raging northern winds, slept in tents on ice in polar bear country, tread through mountains of walrus dung and dived with narwhals. To say anything at this point seems as irreverent as whistling in church.

Finally, Valberg herself breaks the silence with a half laugh, half sob. “Oh my God. It looks so… I mean…” She cracks open a copy of the 224-page coffee table book and closes her eyes as she breathes in the “new book” smell. “It’s really here.”

Those words—they’re so telling of an epic and unexpected journey.  In the five years since Valberg first trekked North to photograph wildlife on the sinaaq or floe edge (where polar ice meets open sea), the Ottawa-based photographer has become utterly entranced with the North, its people, animals, landscape, vibrancy and mystery. In that time, she’s morphed from a renowned portrait photographer who took wildlife shots in her spare time to an internationally-recognized Arctic photographer who still relishes her studio work.

“I feel like I’m living someone else’s life,” she says. “It’s unbelievable. From wanting a picture of a polar bear from when I was young to actually doing it… realizing your dreams can be scary. You think of it so often, and then it’s there, playing itself out before you, over and over. For the past five years, I’ve been living the dream, doing what every wildlife photographer imagines doing. It’s like an out-of-body experience.”

So much of Valberg’s Arctic adventure has been like that. For one thing, there are the stories: standing her ground, with one of her guides, Jason Curley, as a massive male bear prepared to charge; stepping out onto the deck of an Adventure Canada ship navigating the Nachvak Fjord in Labrador’s wild Torngat Mountains; landing in a de Havilland Beaver airplane next to raw and inaccessible Akpatok Island in Nunavik’s Ungava Bay; seeing for the first time the last remnants of the ancient paleo-Eskimo Dorset and Thule settlements at Resolute in the High Arctic.

Pond Inlet Polar Bears Arctic Bay Fjord

Of course, no one is born an Arctic photographer. True, Valberg grew up loving nature and found her calling when she received her first camera at an early age. But it was never the “back to the wild” type of nature love, she admits.

“I’ve always liked to camp, but I like the cottage and hotels better,” she laughs. “I didn’t really like getting out there and roughing it. If I said otherwise, the people in my life would laugh. Camping on the floe edge was never on my radar. In fact, when I first told my husband, Scott, that I was going to camp on the ice for seven days, he fell off his chair, laughing.”

Even so, the city girl with “my high heels and my highlights” was immediately beguiled by the Arctic she came to know. Not the barren, white wasteland most Canadians imagine, but one saturated with color, texture and life.

“It’s changed my perception of Canada and the Arctic,” she observes. “It’s allowed me to feel that need to be quiet and find the solitude, to be on the land and to feel it. Having firsthand account stories from the elders and my guides—it’s a true gift to learn that way and not from a book.”

And in turn, Valberg shares those stories in text and photos. Over the days, weeks and months we worked on the book, the experiences Valberg had up North would take shape, mostly through half-finished stories, illustrated by those thousands of photos. “I don’t know how you can make any sense of this,” she’d remark, after offering a few descriptions and a lot of pauses in telling some tale. “Michelle,” I’d respond, on more than one occasion, “it makes perfect sense. Your voice is in my head. I can see everything in your face. The story tells itself.”

Arctic Bay Balloon

In the end, says Valberg, who has also started a not-for-profit organization called Project North, which brings hockey equipment to remote northern communities, her Arctic adventures aren’t just about her work, the book, the stories or her dreams.

“I have been lucky enough to love what I do every day. But what I’ve realized is that, every step you take is a step towards your dream, whether you realize it or not. Work hard, and when you’re ready,” she says, “it’s like a floodgate. It’s there for you. The right place at the right time.”


Arctic Kaleidoscope: The People, Wildlife and Ever-Changing Landscape can be purchased at Valberg Imaging (111 Sherwood Drive, 613-521-3117) or online at


Capital Clips – He Does Design

November 23, 2012 12:00 pm

Tim Sherstyuk took an Ontario Summer Company grant for a driveway sealing business and turned it into a web design agency. Confused? It goes like this. His driveway business needed an online presence and, while creating it himself, he realized his real gift was generating on-line traffic.

Tim describes Elonta Design like this: “I take the same principle into the web design business as I did with the driveway sealing. What I saw the competition doing was work quickly, spray down the black asphalt sealer and leave as quickly as possible. I wanted to differentiate myself from the others, so I focused on quality. Because I did a good job, people were really satisfied so they told their friends and neighbours and I got plenty of business. I still get calls, even though I’m no longer in the sealing business. I learned my lesson though – quality counts – and I adopted the same principles for my current business.”

The word Elonta comes from the universal language of Esperanto. Elonta is made up of two root words and means “from the future.” This is a constant reminder that innovation is key to the success of any business, and that in order for Elonta to keep on expanding, Tim and his team of web designers must constantly work to be at the forefront of the on-line design world.  And that’s exactly what they do.

613.261.7968 •

Capital Clips – Ottawa’s Randy Shaughnessy named Photographic Artist of the Year

November 20, 2012 10:00 am

Ottawa-based photographer Randy Shaughnessy has received the award for the Ontario Photographic Artist of the Year at the 2012 Annual Awards Banquet of the Professional Photographers of Canada – Ontario (PPOC-ON). Randy also received an award for Best in Class in the Animal-Wild/Domestic Category. The noted photographer is an accredited member of the Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC) in the categories: Wedding Story, Portraiture, Fine Art/Photo Decor, Architecture, Pictorial/Scenic, Nature, Wildlife, Night Photography and Animals. When asked about his craft, Shaughnessy told Ottawa Life: “I live to create something special every time I peek through the viewfinder. I am constantly refining my techniques to develop a fresh approach to set myself apart and create a defining style for Shaughnessy Photography.”

Professional Photographers of Canada – Ontario

Ottawa’s Shaughnessy Photography is a husband-and-wife team who loves working with people and capturing the moment with an emphasis on personal service. They specialize in corporate events, portraits and weddings. Their passion is the secret to their success in creating timeless memories for their clients. You may also view Shaughnessy Photography’s Fine Art, available for purchase, in their private gallery.


Capital Clips: Experience Culture & Tremendous Athleticism

November 19, 2012 10:14 am

The world-class Shen Yun Performing Arts returns to the National Arts Centre over the December holiday season. As part of the New York-based dance company’s annual global tour, there will be five shows at the NAC December 27-30, 2012. Shen Yun Performing Arts offers an exhilarating production that celebrates the pure excellence and grandeur of classical Chinese dance and music. The show attempts to renew a largely lost cultural tradition that pays honour to timeless virtues and human dignity. The universal themes of compassion, courage and hope are hallmarks of Shen Yun. “Shen Yun presents 5,000 years of traditional Chinese culture and history through beautiful dance and music and an uplifting spirit,” said Dr. Jean Zhi, speaking on behalf of the Ottawa local presenters. Tickets may be purchased at


Adrienne Clarkson: Room for All of Us

January 10, 2012 9:29 am
room for all of us

In her latest book, Room for all of Us, Canada’s former Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, shares her poignant views on immigration, displacement and belonging. The novel follows the lives of ten extraordinary individuals, revealing some of the most harrowing experiences in their journey to get to Canada.  The book shares their arrival and ultimately their success. An immigrant herself, Clarkson provides encouraging and optimistic stories of struggle and survival from the perspective of some remarkable people who have come to transform our nation despite their hardships. Room for All of Us is an intimate and insightful narrative, reflective of Canada’s rich immigration past and present.

Adrienne Clarkson. Photo: Calgary Herald

Recently I had the chance to sit down with Ms. Clarkson and discuss the motivation behind her work. When asked what inspired her to write a novel about the Canadian immigration experience from the perspective of others, Ms. Clarkson revealed two specific reasons for writing Room for all of Us. First, after writing her autobiography, many people approached the author about the extraordinary nature of her life story. “I thought right away, well no, it’s not that extraordinary but there are people who have had the most extraordinary experiences in our country and I wanted to tell some of them!” she claims. Seeing as Clarkson knew most of the people already, she decided to put together a collective of the most unusual and inspiring tales from some of these remarkable individuals.  Moreover, Clarkson felt identification with these people, that on many levels they were not only just like her but their lives somehow overlapped.

The second inspiration for her book came out of her identification with loss, shock and brutality. As Clarkson points out, “I lived through a war, where we lived we were afraid. All of those were common things I really understood.”  She goes on to note that without the stories of people’s struggles it is hard to understand the peace of Canada, which we are so fortunate to have. What’s more, with so many overlapping immigrant experiences, there is a sense of commonality between the people that help shape and transform the Canadian landscape. When asked why she chose the specific group of individuals who appear in her book, Clarkson didn’t hesitate and responded: “as you know I’ve had a long career in television, then I did a lot of public service, then I was Governor General so I wanted to cover certain events in the world that had brought us immigrants, but these people all had to be living.” Essentially, her book details specific world events that brought people to the Canadian shores.

“I wanted the readers to feel as if I was telling them a story.”

Throughout the book, the author makes references to various tragic events, including the Holocaust, the Vietnam War and the Exodus from East Africa. When asked about these, Clarkson points out that these events were especially important not only in transforming the world but shaping Canada as a nation.  She states,  “at one point, I said to myself, ‘well I have got to cover this’ because I noticed how they (immigrant communities) are adding so much to our Canadian communities.” More importantly, however is the fact that each of these individuals comes out of a situation where Canada has had some sort of involvement, as a result, the author’s main goal was to try and “show the human side of each of these altercations.”

Although the book does a great job in providing a comprehensive sample of individuals from varying backgrounds, I wanted to know who was missing from the narrative. Clarkson felt that there were many voices she could have included, for example survivors of the Rwanda genocide, but she “wanted to make the book very readable to people, something that you could pick up and you would understand.” What she really wanted was for her readers to feel as though she was “telling you their story.” She is adamant about the fact that the book is not a history book, or an academic look at immigration but rather it is about an extraordinary group of people and “how they opened their lives to me (Clarkson) and I was able to tell their story.” And that certainly comes across in the book.

Room for All of Us is available at all major bookstores across Canada.

Laughing all the way

March 6, 2011 1:47 am

Imagine standing in front of a microphone, cracking your best jokes, hoping gales of laughter from a live audience will greet your attempts. Instead, your words are met with stone cold silence, not a chuckle to be heard in the house. That is probably a frightening experience for anyone, but if you are a stand-up comedian, it’s your worst nightmare. But night after night, comedians give it their best shot and for close to 27 years, in Ottawa, it is to Yuk Yuk’s they head to work their magic. Howard Wagman, co-founder and general manager of Yuk Yuk’s, says that “Ottawa has a pool of unbelievably talented people who never had a voice before and the club is here to give them a chance”. It is tough work. “Stand-up comedy involves complete nakedness – there’s a feeling of vulnerability when on stage in front of strangers, trying to make them laugh. It is the most difficult thing to do in entertainment and a lot of people have no idea.”

Wagman takes pride in the success of the club’s talent program that works with comedians on an individual basis to teach and hone their skills on stage. “It’s always difficult to tell anyone something they don’t necessarily want to hear but it is even more so with a comic’s act because you’re cutting into their soul,” he said. “This isn’t just some job they’re trying out for, it’s their innermost feelings, thoughts and words – it’s personal. When you tell them they’re not quite ready, it’s hard but you give them a reason. Some of them will never get it, but they get their 6 minutes of stage time and if they’re passionate about it and work at it then I’m not going to take that away from them.”

The talent selection begins with intensive training and includes hours of practice before comics can get on the roster. Currently, Wagman has a pool of 100 comedians to draw from. Once comics improve, they progress to opening professional shows, then to weekend acts and finally touring on the road.

“We’ve done this since the beginning because the only way to grow your business is to grow from within,” he adds. “It’s a process and takes time – maybe 10 years to develop a routine that works consistently everywhere and in front of everyone. It could be changing a word, sentence or shifting jokes to different patterns. It’s always a work in progress but when they get on our stage in front of a weekend paying audience, they’re ready and virtually bombproof.”

Over the years, Wagman has developed an iconic reputation for discovering potential through a positive, supportive approach and mentoring with respect. (Of course, the years of valuable experience in the entertainment industry also help.) His influence and popularity are obvious to every comedian (or to anyone for that matter) who walks through Yuk Yuk’s doors.

“Howard is very knowledgeable. If there’s something about comedy he doesn’t know, I don’t know what it ever could be,” said Oliver Gross, a 12-year comedy veteran who calls Ottawa’s Yuk Yuk’s his home club. “He’s incredibly good at spotting talent, as you can tell from the successful comedians he’s discovered. There’s been a few times where he’s said ‘that’s a great comedian’ and I just don’t see it but a few years later, they’re on the Comedy Network.”

Talented people from other cities and surrounding towns head to Ottawa to participate in Wagman’s program and booming business. Mark Nesseth travels from Kingston as often as he can to perform at the club. He says Howard has helped him with his act and has been a strong supporter of his passion.

“Howard took a guy he didn’t know and trusted me with his patrons and I think that’s a real leap of faith,” explained Nesseth. “He helped me get timing down and to stick to the time allotted. He doesn’t input on any of the jokes and I’ve appreciated the opportunities he’s given me.”

Nesseth first contacted Wagman after performing in a comedy contest in Kingston where a fellow competitor suggested he head to Ottawa. “I made the phone call to Howard and he said I had to know what I was getting into,” said Nesseth. “He insisted I come to Ottawa and sit through one show. I met him afterwards face-to-face and he asked if I still wanted to do it. That was 5 years ago.”

The Hometown Advantage

For Canadian comics, chances to break into the scene are minuscule. Gross says there are no venues for amateur comedians aside from big name clubs.

“As comedians, we try to do our acts in small rooms around town but they never last very long because it’s a lot of work to set it up and it’s difficult to get people out to see shows,” he explained. “You need the larger clubs and their ability to draw larger audiences.”

Some of Hollywood’s big names in comedy got their start at a Yuk Yuk’s club. Golden Globe award recipient and celebrity actor Jim Carrey worked his act in the Toronto location in 1979 (he was a mere 17-year-old kid) before Rodney Dangerfield signed him to open his tour in the early 1980s. Jeremy Hotz, Howie Mandel and Jon Dore also got their start with Yuk Yuk’s.

“They all gravitate towards the larger cities when they get good because that’s where the work is,” said Wagman. “When Jim Carrey went to L.A., he was an unknown but he was already great. He got great in obscurity because they don’t know anything about what goes on up here. He was new to them but unbelievably good right off the bat and exciting for them.”

Competing with larger cities is not seen as a challenge for Ottawa’s club because it has proven itself to be a mainstay in the capital as it approaches 27 years of business. In a larger city, a comedy club or small nightclub can get lost in the array of other entertainment options.

“Here, I think we’re a big fish in a small pond — we’re one of the top clubs in the city, extremely well known and probably one of the top ten choices on people’s minds for the weekend,” according to Wagman. “In Toronto, the choices are much more vast and they have ten times as many nightclubs let alone comedy, plus live theatre, more concerts and other forms of nightly entertainment.”

So, just what makes Ottawans laugh? Surprisingly, Ottawa audiences defy their political roots. While it is strange, the only topics that don’t seems to pull a laugh from locals are politically (and racially) oriented jokes. Gross explains that “no one does political humour in Ottawa, which is odd, but people are so inundated with politics that it doesn’t do well”. He also said that “it depends on the comedian, some can do raunchy stuff well and the audience is roaring with laughter and others don’t get a reaction. It all centres on how they are able to sell their material and connect with the audience.”

Amateur comic Scott King focuses his material on fast food, a topic easily relatable for all audiences. Performing for just over a year, Yuk Yuk’s was the first stage he stood on, thanks to the supportive environment created by Howard and his honest feedback and support.

“Since I started, I do less bathroom jokes. I used to write a joke and perfect it while in the shower,” he said. “My wife is trying to get me to swear less but I don’t do it because I have to, I do it to accentuate the point.” A seasoned comic, Gross said, feels most feel comfortable on stage when at ease with his/her material.

“What’s nerve wracking is when you have new jokes and have only gone through them in your mind,” he said. “If they bomb for the first time, it’s an awful feeling. It’s very important to have a joke to make up for it and the audience will forgive you if you acknowledge you bombed. If not, there’s a weird tension that rises. The audience is on your side in the beginning, they want to see you succeed but you have a small window to impress them.”

Wagman says stand-up comedy is one of the purest forms of entertainment because it involves impressing the audience through monologue – a one-person act on stage. Sketch comedy is scripted and improv generally involves more than one person to feed energy from one another. For him, the best part of his job has been watching the talent develop as they work with their strengths and weaknesses. “Some are good writers while others are more physically animated,” he said. “I tell them ‘don’t try to be something you’re not,’ because it won’t be as effective. I think the greatest things are just seeing the new things we see before anyone else does.”

From community centre to big time club

1976 was a leap year, when Montreal hosted the summer Olympics and Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford to become the first candidate from the Deep South to hold the presidential title since the Civil War. The punk movement was in full force as the Ramones released their first self-titled album and David Berkowitz began terrorizing New York City as the “Son of Sam.” It was a time of experimentation of many sorts and the perfect milieu for stand-up comedy to take its edge on the scene.

Alongside his uncle Mark Breslin, Wagman began a small weekly club in the basement of a Church Street community centre in Toronto. Breslin was also the director of theatre and music at Harbourfront Corporation during the early ‘70s and booked acts of all kinds for events and activities at Toronto’s waterfront. Realizing there was a large number of comedians with no place to go, he decided to open up a new venue to give them an opportunity to perform.

“It was kind of ground breaking because there were a lot of people who were really good but had nowhere to go, like Larry Horowitz and Steve Shuster because there was no real business to speak of,” Wagman added. “There was no professional comedy scene at the time and we charged
$1 to get in. It wasn’t a business, it was just a fun thing, a hobby.”

The sideline pursuit quickly became successful as Wagman and Breslin were turning people away from the overcrowded basement. It was time to open a real club and in March of 1978, they established a full-time comedy club in Yorkville.

“We had no liquor license,” said Wagman. “It was milkshakes, sandwiches, salads and anatomically correct gingerbread people for food fare. The talent was unbelievably good — it was fresh, new and exciting.”

After experiencing more success with their new business venture, the decision was made to expand to Montreal. Wagman moved to the culturally vibrant city in 1980 to do it but ran into some major roadblocks.

“We learned a lot from that mistake,” he said. “First of all, it was a referendum year — not a good year for an English company to move in to Québec. Secondly, we didn’t understand that if you’re a club in downtown Montréal and not open every night, you’d be in trouble when paying high rent.” The club was moved into the St. James pub at the corner of Drummond Street and De Maisonneuve. Filled to capacity on weekends, the space was empty during the week and after one and a half years the Montreal location was closed.

Wagman returned to Toronto to operate things there, but in 1984, Breslin approached him again to try opening a new club – this time, in the nation’s capital. “It seemed like a good idea – a white collar town with money and people with brains”.

Howard and Breslin partnered with Harold Levin of Bass Clef Entertainments fame to open Yuk Yuk’s first successful venture outside of Toronto. Levin’s vast knowledge of the Ottawa entertainment market and his many years as a concert promoter in the region proved invaluable and he was highly instrumental in the success of the club. He remains a hands-on partner to this day.

“In March, we opened at the Capital Hill Hotel which was then called the Beacon Arms on Albert St. Once again, it was a huge success and packed every night. We learned from our mistakes and knew what we were doing this time.”

Shortly thereafter, the scene exploded during the biggest comedy boom in the history of the business. Stand up became a hot commodity in the mid-80s and clubs were opening up everywhere. Discos were closing down and cashing in on comedy nights. The public craved a new form of entertainment to accompany their nightly drinks and laughter was the answer.

Wagman and Breslin also established a booking agency called Funny Business, which Wagman still runs from his Ottawa office, booking comedians for corporate events and other engagements. Business was booming but as with all cyclical scenes, it would soon bust.

“In the mid to late 90s, there was an oversaturation of clubs and artistically, there were so many comedians and so much had been done already, that it wasn’t as exciting and cutting edge as it used to be,” he said. “I think we lost a segment of our audience. But everyone wants to laugh and be entertained, so it came back and over the course of the late 90s, early 2000, we opened up more clubs that were very successful.”

In the last ten years, the company has made a huge comeback and currently boasts 17 clubs across the country in addition to an on-tour office. Kathleen O’Brien, who has been the manager at the Ottawa location for six years, says Wagman was instrumental in the club’s growth and making sacrifices to ensure its success.

“It’s all about the comedy and as long as the show is running well and the comics and customers are happy, then everything is laid back,” she said. “He does take it seriously but that only comes out when needed. It’s more than his job and his career, it’s his life and he puts his entire heart into it.”

Times have certainly changed from the confined space of the community centre to a household brand popular in major North American cities. The advent of new technologies has also had effects on both the subject matter of comic material as well as the audience. Often, there are people who are caught using cell phones and cameras during performances.

“We have to constantly watch people and make sure they aren’t recording or using cameras and making YouTube clips,” said O’Brien. “The attention span of the audience has dropped a lot in recent years.”

Wagman agrees and noted there is a difference in what is appealing to the younger crowd. In terms of content, longer stories and monologues used to garner more laughs but the audience now demands quicker payoffs and sharp punch lines.

“There’s texting during the show, which I hate because it’s disrespectful and sometimes taping of the show,” he explained. “It’s distracting for the comedians. People don’t have the patience to sit through something and wait for the payoff. You have to give people what they want and there are some very good young comedians who relate to the younger audience.”

Yuk Yuk’s is known for developing the kind of ‘in-your-face’ acts with sometimes shocking and outrageous lines. Nothing is ever censored, limits are never reached and all topics are on the table, depending on the discretion of the comic of course.

Wagman said he believes there will always be a place for stand-up comedy as a form of raw, unapologetic entertainment. Wagman says he remembers the 1960s with the late George Carlin. He was a comic legend who Wagman says was one of the most amazing people he has ever met. Carlin was defiant, radical and courageous, creating jokes from societal taboos and sensitive subjects like sex, drugs, religion and the Vietnam War. It was a stark contrast to the drab one-liners of the Ed Sullivan Show.

“I think the industry is going to continue to grow but also change and in ways I won’t understand,” he added.

Whatever new subculture emerges, defining the next generation, people will need comedy to escape from the daily mundane grind and to provide an accurate reflection of society through a different art form. In the end, it really is all about people.

“I’ve been extremely lucky to my living doing something I enjoy and getting to travel,” he said. “The highlights of my career have always been about the people and I have met those who do this better than anyone in the world.”

Unlimited and uncomplicated: How Mobilicity is Changing the Cellular Market

12:05 am

Emerging as an unlimited 3.5G mobile operator without strict contracts, credit checks or devious hidden fees, Mobilicity is changing the face of the wireless market and proving it stands out among the competition with affordable options and quality service for Canadian consumers. Last year, the company was named one of Canada’s Top 25 Up and Coming Information & Communication Technology start-ups by the Branham Group Inc.

Sara Moore, vice-president of marketing at Mobilicity, said the company operates on a mandate to bring fair service, fair treatment and great value.

“Canadians have been in the unfortunate position for far too long of paying the highest rates for wireless service in the western world and having the slow adoption and introduction of technology,” she explained. “They haven’t had the choice or opportunity to be given the value that everyone else has had. We want to bring that choice and certainty to Canadians as well as value.”

Launching wireless service in Toronto last May, the Canadian business began offering Ottawa residents unlimited coverage in November. Moore said the recent move for the company has been advantageous, as it has entered the market at a time when many wireless customers have felt frustrated and cheated by their wireless provider.

“Other companies don’t give any simple way to keep track or control usage,” she added. “They bank on the fact that you will go on the wrong plan and pay more. We had decades of customer abuse to be able to inform us and help create our service.”

Mobilicity has tailored its plans to customers with better pricing and service. Through the mass influx of customers porting in their numbers from companies including Rogers, Bell and Telus, Moore said they have realized tremendous opportunity as many are willing to pay penalty fees to cancel their current contracts and transfer. The company also noticed an underserved portion of the Canadian population and has adapted its services to appeal to all needs.

“Clearly there hasn’t been a compelling reason to get those people to use phones and we really concentrated our efforts to bring wireless to all Canadians,” said Moore. “Canadians have one of the lowest penetration rates in the world – only about 70 per cent have a wireless phone. We thought bringing in an offer that had value, didn’t require credit checks or contracts, would bring a whole group of Canadians — the 30 per cent who didn’t have phones — into the market.”

While being a fairly new service has been positive for Mobilicity, the company was still challenged by consumer skepticism, as customers were weary of guaranteed unlimited talk, text and data packages without contracts or excess fees.

“For us, being fair, transparent, not hiding behind fees and not locking people into contracts is one thing, but treating customers with respect takes it to a whole new level,” added Moore. “Customers pay in advance, there’s no bill. We tell people upfront what you will get, you pay and we deliver it.”

Cellular service options have been next to nil in Canada as control has been in the hands of a communications oligarchy. Moore said although the country’s large land mass and its infrastructure was once blamed for poor service, the first national network was constructed in the 1980s.

“We can’t blame our geography,” added Moore. “What we can blame is the small number of players whose interest it was to keep prices high, to have huge profits on the backs of consumers.”

The introduction of new players like Mobilicity are seeing benefits for Canadians who are being freed from the constraints of cell phone contracts with increased options.

“People need to be mobilized and are using their phones to accomplish more tasks throughout their day,” she said. “They need to stay connected globally.”

Mobilicity will be launching in more Canadian cities in the coming months.

“We don’t think compromise should ever be asked of our customers,” said Moore. “We have taken the prices way down, the experience way up and brought respect into the relationship.”

Better to Give then to Receive

December 18, 2009 11:55 am

Hoopla Guru Lainie Towell gave the gift of Ottawa Life, and introduced her new company Stunt Woman
in a Pencil Skirt
, on one of December’s most frigid mornings. It’s not everyday that you find a tinsel clad
woman offering presents (with Ottawa Life Magazine subscriptions inside) outside your car when you are
stuck in traffic! This live product placement initiative definitely caught commuters’ attention, and warmed
them up to SWiaPS theatrical approach to PR. Ottawa Life will never be the same!

The Canadian War Museum : An Inspirational Walk Through Time

October 7, 2009 12:00 am

In a quiet corner of the Canadian War Museum, Julian Krajewski stares at a poster from the Second World War. “Yes, you boys and girls can help win the war,” the poster declared. Krajewski, a 16-year-old resident of suburban Montreal, scrutinized the poster with 21st-century eyes. “That’s actually a really good ad,” he said finally. “It hits everyone. It’s cool.”

High praise from a smart boy who, until a recent visit to Ottawa, was more familiar with World of Warcraft than with any human war. When I accompanied him around the museum, I was struck by a few things he already knew – and a lot he didn’t. What little history he had studied in school had mostly concentrated on New France. Julian didn’t know there had ever been a devastating explosion in Halifax in 1917 and he’d never heard of the Korean War. He was surprised to learn about the forced relocation of Japanese Canadians in the 1940s, and intrigued to discover that Canada had once had a prime minister (Lester Pearson) who was also a Nobel laureate.

Informing and inspiring young people like Krajewski is a key part of the War Museum’s mandate. For, whether they like it or not, the young are the recipients – and sometimes the victims – of history. In its previous incarnation on Sussex Drive, the museum could show off only a small part of its extensive collections. Sure, Hitler’s black limo was on display – but the vast majority of paintings and artefacts languished in storage. While the old museum appealed mainly to those few people who already knew a lot about Canada’s military history, it didn’t have the money or the space to attract a large audience.

The new museum – it opened its doors on LeBreton Flats in May 2005 – has wider ambitions. It aims to tell a coherent story about Canada and Canadians and how they have been affected by war and conflict. And to judge by the attendance figures, it has been doing a superb job. Each year about 500,000 people pass through its doors – roughly four times the number who bought tickets to the old museum.

Equally important, the War Museum is now a key destination for Canadians from outside Ottawa who are visiting the nation’s capital. “You could say it’s a place of secular pilgrimage,” suggests Mark O’Neill, the museum’s Director General. Part of the reason involves the homage the museum pays to our fighting men and women from past decades and centuries. Beyond this, its displays emphasize the huge impact that armed conflict has had on all Canadians, including those who never left the home front. We can question the usefulness of war, but we can’t deny its reach.

Unlike some of the nation’s older galleries and museums, the War Museum is determined to be user-friendly. No guards rush in to stop a proud father taking pictures of his daughters as they pose amid the silver twilight of a World War One trench. Nobody stops a little boy loudly explaining the intricacies of a model warship to his baffled mother. The sense of pilgrimage coexists with a sense of discovery.

When Krajewski began his tour of the museum, he was interested mainly in the hardware. “Do you know the parts of a gun?” he asked a friend, expertly pointing out the locking lever on a model from a century ago. The unusual shape of a Polish mine detector aroused his highest praise – “See how cool that looks?”

Canadian War MuseumBut as the teenager made his way around the six main galleries, he became more and more intrigued by the human element. From the tiny teddy bear kept by a Canadian soldier in the First World War to the well-hidden face of Soviet defector Igor Gouzenko, the displays show the very personal consequences of world events. They also give physical coherence to the museum’s vision of our national history. By the time Krajewski reached the austere silence of Memorial Hall, he was ready to ponder the tombstone of an unknown Canadian soldier who died in Europe nearly a century ago, whose remains now rest at the foot of the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

In its gallery for temporary shows, the museum is now presenting an exhibit on camouflage. Featuring such items as a chiffon gown and a Christian Dior bikini with camouflage motifs, the exhibit stretches the notion of “military history” far beyond its usual limit. Krajewski was impressed by the papier-mâché head of a British soldier smoking a cigarette. “That’s cool,” he said with a slight grin.

By the time he left the museum, he was willing to say the same about a lot of its contents.

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