Author: Sabrina

Waiting for Ryan at the villa

Waiting for Ryan at the villa

I turn the air conditioning on. Then I get cold and turn it off. I open the back door. It’s humid. My mosquito bites itch. I go upstairs. The Internet says I can treat the bites with toothpaste. I don’t try it.

I read  Austin Clarke to try and get a feel for Barbados. The book is absorbing, but ends up mostly being set in Toronto–in winter. I go back downstairs and look longingly at the rum smoothie sitting in the fridge. I resist the urge to day-drink alone.

I’m sitting in the villa and waiting for Ryan.

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Bell, let’s talk about fixing the system

“I wish someone had told me this simple, but confusing truth: Even when everything’s going your way you can still be sad. Or anxious. Or uncomfortably numb. Because you can’t always control your brain or your emotions even when things are perfect.” —Jenny Lawson

 

“Sabrina, can I talk to you?”

I walked into my office, expecting another thing to be added to my list. Being editor-in-chief of the Fulcrum, a student paper in Ottawa, meant I was doing a lot less reporting than I’d wanted and a lot more of being responsible for other people’s problems.

She launched into a series of apologies for bringing it up. She said she was sorry, but she couldn’t work this way. Why was I being so abrupt and unfriendly?

I looked at her through watery eyes and felt like someone was seeing me for the first time in months. I burst into tears

*          *          *

It’s not the kind of thing you worry about, having a bad day. Everyone has them.

An occasional bad day turned into bad sets of days. Eventually the good days were so rare that I wouldn’t want to go to sleep at night, terrified of losing the normal, good feeling.

And I should have been happy.

Everything was going great. I had a job I loved with great co-workers; our paper hosted a huge student journalism conference and I got to meet Peter Mansbridge, Diana Swain and Anna Holmes; I got paid to write my first freelance pieces; and I had my first press pass so I could report at the House of Commons.

It was all of the things I wanted, but I felt so awful. Not awful about those things, just awful about being alive. I opened my eyes every morning and wished I had never woken up. If this was going to be the rest of my life, I didn’t want it.

*          *          *

“Oh god, I’m so sorry Sabrina, I just say what’s on my mind, and it comes out,” she said it all in a flurry and it took me a few minutes to stop crying enough to respond.

It spilled out. All of the awful feelings, all of the unhappiness and the desperation. The trying more sleep, less sleep, staying home, going out. How none of it made me feel better or less numb.

The night before, in a moment of wanting more than this weak half-life, I had prayed for the first time in a decade. My co-worker felt like an answer to that prayer.

She knew a psychiatrist who operated out of her home and could be paid using OHIP. I could talk to someone, finally, without waiting weeks and months for a referral appointment through the university.

The last therapist I’d seen through the school had told me to start meditating and quit journalism. That experience hadn’t felt entirely helpful, but I was willing to try someone new.

*          *          *

This therapist worked out. Now I take medication and I try hard to go easy on myself. I’ve had to convince myself it’s OK to take breaks and get a good night’s sleep and ask for help.

But I was terribly lucky. Most students get six paid therapy sessions through the university and then they’re on their own. If you don’t see eye-to-eye with your therapist, you might have to wait weeks or months to see someone else.

This isn’t a personnel problem. My first therapist had the best of intentions. The problem is she’s probably seen thousands of people in the past few years and she’s limited by time and money, just like everyone else in the mental health field.

I hope the funds raised by Bell Let’s Talk go toward expanding and fixing a broken system. If I’d had to wait for months to see someone, I’m not sure if I would have believed it was worth it. I don’t know if I’d be writing this blog post. A long life of unhappiness stretching before you is a lot to face.

Open mic nights at Live on Elgin

Open mic nights at Live on Elgin

Live on Elgin at 220 Elgin St., hosts an open mic night every Tuesday starting at 8 p.m. The bar, owned and operated by father-and-son-team, Lawrence and Jon Evenchick, opened on June 5 with the intent of fostering the local music scene by providing a venue for up-and-coming performers. Most of the open mic performers have played at Live before–some have hosted their album release nights there and some are more casual musicians.

Click on a photo below to view the gallery.

Rogers TV Ottawa will also be playing a new series about the open mic nights, showcasing local performers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjgYCU-8_bM

Celebrating Ottawa’s cat fancy

Celebrating Ottawa’s cat fancy

Cats may win the Internet, but cat lovers were the winners at the Ottawa Valley Cat Show.

On Oct. 31, 117 cats competed in categories for purebreds, domestic cats and kittens at the Nepean Sportsplex on Woodruffe Avenue. Thousands of attendees dressed up for Halloween and owners dressed up their cats and decorated cages, including Cassandra Kluke, a local Sphinx breeder showing 10 of her cats at the show.

Kim Monkhouse helped found the Ottawa Valley Cat Club in 2000 and they held their first show in 2002. But cats have always had a place in Ottawa. They were brought into Parliament from the 1920s to the 1950s to control rodent populations and a cat sanctuary on the Hill took care of local strays until 2013. 

The cat show is an opportunity to see how different breeds of cat behave. Some breeds are calm and quiet, while others, like Kluke’s Sphinxes, are much more lively.

In addition to showing purebred cats, the Cat Rescue Network shows cats in the domestic cat competition and showcases them for potential adoption. Jason Del Bosco, a volunteer for the organization, tells the story of one of the cats they brought to the show.

Elaine Gleason, a cat judge from London, Ont., was working most of the day judging different breeds of cats on how closely they match the breed standards set by the Canadian Cat Association. The owner of five cats, she got into cat judging by happenstance.

Gleason explained the process of cat judging, which has to be extensive in order to have enough knowledge to judge the wide variety of breeds.

Stephen and Laureen Harper are noted cat lovers. Laureen Harper was active with charities for cats and a section of 24 Sussex Dr. was set aside to foster “dozens of cats,” with litter and toys, according to the Washington Post.

Given that the Trudeau family currently has no pets, Monkhouse, Gleason, Del Bosco and Kluke each recommended a breed to the Trudeaus, should they consider adopting a cat. 

Please click on a photo below to enlarge and scroll through the gallery.

Liberals follow the national trend and win majority in Nepean

Liberals follow the national trend and win majority in Nepean

Andy Wang pumpkin 2Maybe Andy Wang just wasn’t ready.

After a close race leading up to the election, Wang, the Conservative candidate in Nepean, lost to Liberal candidate Chandra Arya.

The 27-year-old’s age didn’t appear as a deal-breaker from the outset for voters: there’s been a trend of young Conservative leaders in the west end of Ottawa. Former MP and Foreign Minister John Baird won a provincial seat for Nepean at age 25, before moving to federal politics at 37 years old, and Pierre Poilievre first won his federal seat in Nepean-Carleton at 25.

Throughout this year’s campaign, Conservative attack ads accused Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau of being “just not ready” for leadership, due to his perceived inexperience and youth—he’s 43.

“It’s a sad day for the country. This young boy that we have as a prime minister is not ready and it’s going to be terrible,” said Darrell Bartraw, a Wang supporter who helped distribute signs for the campaign.

Andy WangWang and his campaign manager, Ashton Arsenault, who celebrated his 30th birthday with supporters on election night, are both more than a decade younger than Trudeau, while Arya is 52. However, supporters see Wang and Arsenault’s youth as an advantage.

“What a great bunch of young kids that worked on this campaign,” said Bartraw.

Arriving to the Broadway Bar and Grill on Strandherd Drive to cheers from supporters, Wang didn’t see Arya’s win as related to age at all.

“I think for this election it was clear that they didn’t really understand who they were voting for,” he said, “but they knew who they were voting against.”

The Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Professional Institute of Public Service of Canada targeted Nepean as a riding in which their members could have an influence and encouraged them to vote for anyone but Stephen Harper. PSAC has around 2,700 members in Nepean while PIPSC has about 3,300.

Harper wrote an open letter to the public service on Oct. 1, expressing gratitude and support from the party, as well as stating that unions have made misleading statements about sick leave and pensions. Wang joined Poilievre and other local Conservative candidates to publicly release the letter at a press conference that day.

However, it didn’t seem to be enough.

Arya won his seat in the new riding of Nepean with 52 per cent of the vote.

Pierre Poilievre’s riding split in two this year, and he stayed on in Nepean-Carleton, while Wang, his former constituency office manager, represented the Conservatives in the new riding of Nepean.

The 27-year-old capitalized on his Chinese heritage to engage the large Chinese-speaking community in the riding—outside of English and French, Chinese, both Mandarin and Cantonese, is the most widely spoken language there. He won as local leader of the Conservatives over Bob Plamondon, a consultant and author, who at 57 years old was a more experienced contender for the position.

While Wang said he would be taking a break with his wife following the federal election, he said he still intends to stay involved with the Conservative Party.

“I still believe in the message, I still believe this is what we need to fight for and four years is not very long,” he said.

Farmers’ market vendors not worried about losing business to foreign producers

Farmers’ market vendors not worried about losing business to foreign producers

On Sept. 29, a group of farmers rode tractors on Parliament Hill and brought cows to downtown Ottawa to protest a new trade agreement. Other farmers weren’t worried at all.

“It’s mainly an issue for the big players,” said Josef Regli of Canreg Station Farm and Pasture Dairy. “For the small ones that make a unique product locally, it’s not really competition.”

On the dim north side of the Museum of Nature on Saturday morning, Regli kept his hands in his pockets until customers came up to his table at the Main Farmers’ Market. Once one person came up, others followed and stood shivering in line waiting to buy his wool blankets, lamb and cheese.

His cheese is the big draw—it’s handmade and comes it varieties customers are unlikely to find in the grocery store, like Stinging Nettle and Bee Balm. It’s also less expensive than store-bought artisanal cheese.

“Our cheeses here go for $44 a kilo, whereas in the store, the same cheese has to go between $57 and 65,” he said.

He sells his cheese through supermarkets in Kingston, Brockville, Guelph and Toronto. Closer to his home in Finch, Ont. though, he prefers to sell his cheese at the farmers’ markets because he can cut out the middle man and sell each wheel for much less than the stores.

This is partly why he remains unconcerned about the potential effects of Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between Canada and 11 other countries. The TPP is set to allow imports of approximately 3.25 per cent of current Canadian dairy production.

“I think for us it’s an advantage,” said Regli. “So I’m not afraid at all.”

Some small dairy and poultry farmers who are governed by a supply management system are concerned about being undercut by foreign producers, but for small farmers like Regli, his closeness with his animals and his product allow him to build relationships with his customers.

“I can exactly tell the customer what’s in there—it’s only milk and the herbs, or whatever you use, and nothing else,” he said.

This is one of the concerns he sees with importing American cheese. He said that since the U.S. has different regulations on their dairy products, there may be concern about growth hormones in imported milk and cheese at grocery stores.

“People who are a little bit more conscious are getting a little bit more afraid,” he said, “so they will stick even more to local or transparent processing.”

The TPP still needs to pass through Parliament after the election, but both the Liberal Party and the NDP have said they will support it. For now, all the parties have said they will continue to support supply management, which allows farmers to collectively plan in advance for how much they believe Canadians will need of things like milk and eggs each year and produce accordingly.

“In the farming business, either you grow and you get bigger or you find a niche,” said Regli.

The farmers’ markets and the local food movement have allowed him to make use of his own niche without having to rely on either the grocery stores or the government. Once the Main Farmers’ Market closes on Oct. 31, he’ll continue to sell his cheese at the Ottawa Farmer’s Market at Lansdowne each Sunday.

“It’s a huge opportunity,” he said. “For the middle- and small-sized farms, it’s the only way to survive.”

How Fringe succeeds where others have failed

Ottawa Fringe Festival announces best-ever ticket sales in 2015

2015-10-05 20.20.59
Kevin Waghorn (left), managing director, and Patrick Gauthier, festival director, announce final numbers from this year’s Ottawa Fringe Festival and plans for the upcoming 20th year in 2016.

“We don’t say there’s something for everyone at the Fringe Festival; we say there’s something for you,” said Patrick Gauthier, festival director.

On Monday, Gauthier announced this year saw the best festival attendance ever with 13,700 ticket sales. This puts the festival in a good place to go into their 20th season next year.

The Ottawa Fringe Festival is part of a worldwide theatre movement that allows any artist to submit a proposal for a show. The shows are chosen by lottery rather than by quality of content or notoriety of the theatre company. If their plays are not chosen, artists can also apply to “bring your own venue,” also called a BYOV.

“If you’re an artist and you have no money and no one knows you, then Fringe gives you that very rare and vital opportunity to express yourself in a public setting,” said Meagan McDonald, a University of Ottawa master’s student who showed Ophelia’s Flowers in 2014 as a BYOV.

Unlike other arts and culture events that suffer from poor attendance and ticket sales, Fringe has been extremely successful. They had 56 companies performing 373 showings this year with 40 sold-out shows. This year there’s even a Fringe Encore performance Oct 8-10 showcasing two popular shows from past festivals, including I Think My Boyfriend Should Have an Accent, which sold out all seven of its performances in June.

Large arts and culture-related events in Ottawa have had their share of troubles with profitability, including most recently, the Neat in the Woods festival in September; Capital Pride declaring bankruptcy last year and being run this year with help from the Bank Street BIA; and the University of Ottawa chapter of Her Campus, a female-focused online student publication, taking over Ottawa Fashion Week after ticket sales didn’t meet the event’s expenses.

The Ottawa Fringe Festival is also non-profit and ticket revenues go to the artists putting on the shows. The festival is largely volunteer-run and takes care of marketing, promotion and ticket vending for the artists.

The biggest challenge facing the Ottawa Fringe Festival in 2016 is the redevelopment of Arts Court. The project will expand the current building to include a 250-seat screening room, a 120-seat theatre, condos and some classroom space for the University of Ottawa.

It’s expected to be completed by 2017, but for now the construction will mean fewer venues, and therefore fewer shows. Gauthier said it’s hard to know for certain what state the building will be in next summer since they haven’t been given a construction schedule.

“(It’s a) whole demilitarized construction zone we are living in right now,” he said.

The lottery for the festival opened on the same day as the announcement, allowing artists to submit proposals in hopes of getting a spot at an Arts Court venue—these are set up with sound and lighting boards.

The unknown hasn’t put artists off from applying: the Black Sheep Theatre company, who have been involved in every year of Ottawa’s Fringe Festival, will be coming back, as will McDonald.

“I had a really good experience,” said McDonald. “So good that we’re actually applying again for this year.”

Building a better commute and saving time by cycling

Tim Moore works as a bike technician at Foster's Sports Center, Ottawa's oldest bike shop.
Tim Moore works as a bike technician at Foster’s Sports Center, Ottawa’s oldest bike shop.

Tim Moore rides his bike 15 kilometres into Ottawa from Aylmer every day for work. It saves him a lot of time.

“If I drive in, it would be an hour. I take the bus, it’s 45 minutes. I cycle in, it’s 25,” he said. “All the traffic is bottle-necked on the bridge, so there’s line-ups and line-ups and line-ups. Get on the bike and just whiz by.”

Moore works as a bicycle technician at Foster’s Sports Center, at the corner of MacLaren and Bank Streets. It’s the oldest bike shop in Ottawa, with long front windows full of shiny, multi-coloured bicycles. The inside of the store has wide, empty aisles designed to allow customers to wheel in their bikes so Moore and the other techs can work on them.

As a bike tech he mostly builds and services bikes in the shop. The most common fixes are for flat tires when people run over glass or construction debris, but he also builds and test drives some of the higher-end bikes for avid cyclists who will pay for a technician’s expertise in assembling their new purchases.

The shop is quiet on a weekday morning, interrupted occasionally by the sound of the doorbell, and customers coming in with bicycles, skates that need sharpening, and requests for bike accessories. Office workers in pressed dress pants come in on their breaks to get Moore to take a look at their bikes.

Cycling to work allows Moore to bypass traffic congestion and intimately understand the vehicles he works with. While people could fix many things on their own, he said he’s able to do it very quickly: “What could take somebody an hour, we can generally get down to about five minutes or so.”
With all of the people on the road commuting, Moore doesn’t worry much about getting hit.

“I’m lit up like a Christmas tree and I obey the rules of the road,” he said. “When I can, I cycle in the bike lanes.”

While it doesn’t make him nervous, he’s had many close calls and has been “doored” a few times. “I saw it coming, so basically just (got) bumps, as opposed to lying down on the asphalt.”
He said there’s a section on Richmond Road where the city has put in dooring lanes that are helpful in giving cyclists more space.

In general, he likes the fact that the City of Ottawa has taken a “more proactive role in cycling, particularly downtown,” adding bike lanes and green bike boxes—designated areas at intersections for bicycles to stop for red lights. But he doesn’t think the federal election is likely to impact infrastructure in any new ways.

“Looks like the Conservatives are going to take it again,” he said. He doesn’t see them putting much more money into infrastructure.

Of the 15 million Canadians who commute to work, 74 per cent of them drive a vehicle and 12 per cent take public transit, according to the 2011 National Household Survey. It’s a lot of traffic concentrated in urban centres and a lot of money—on average, Canadian households spend $2,606 a year on gas and $1,077 on public transportation. Fewer than two per cent of Canadians commute by bike.

Though the NDP has said it will work with provinces and territories to create a transit plan which could incorporate cyclists, the Conservatives and Liberals have focused more specifically on public transit.

Moore hoists a bicycle up on a stand to work on the wheels, then empties bags of silver screws, nuts, and bolts onto the counter gently, so they don’t roll off. He chooses what he needs, then returns to the bike.

For those looking to start commuting by bike, but nervous to drive in downtown traffic he said, “Take your spot in the right-hand wheel track … go as fast as you can safely and just be visible, just be lit up. Have a visible helmet and maybe a traffic vest of some sort or just bright clothes.”
“I know the apprehension about it,” he added “but you’ve got to do it a couple of times in order to alleviate the fear.”

In need of a home: Affordable housing a key election issue in Ottawa Centre

There is a waitlist of nearly 10,000 people in Ottawa for subsidized housing and many stay on that list for more than five years, according to the City of Ottawa.

“I’ve got something like one project a week that we’re not able to do because funding or the economic circumstances don’t support it, said Ray Sullivan, executive director of the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC). The non-profit affordable housing organization hasn’t been able to develop any new homes this year due to decreased funding by the Conservative government.

In Centretown, in the Ottawa Centre riding, 35 per cent of tenant households are spending more than 30 per cent of their total income on housing, according to the 2011 National Housing Survey;  The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Canada’s national housing agency, sets affordable housing as a shelter that doesn’t cost more than 30 per cent of household income.

“We’ve knocked on 70,000 doors and I go to affordable housing and social housing that is literally falling down,” said Catherine McKenna, the Liberal candidate in Ottawa Centre.

On June 19, McKenna released a statement calling for a national housing strategy, well in advance of the Liberal Party of Canada’s housing platform, Affordable Housing for Canadians was released on Sept. 9.

Both Sullivan of CCOC and Simone Thibault, executive director of the Centretown Community Health Centre (CCHC), a non-profit health and social service organization, said a national strategy for housing is essential.

“It’s important to maintain what stock we do have, it’s precious to people who need to access it,” said Thibault. She identified two important affordable housing issues in Centretown: maintenance of older buildings and a mix of housing in the area, including high-, middle- and low-income units.

“It’s not just a case of social housing, but affordability of housing right across the spectrum,” said Sullivan, adding that a national housing strategy should address the affordability and accessibility of both tenancy and home ownership.

As a party, the Liberals have also adopted a policy recommendation to create an affordable national housing strategy, although it has not been directly included in their election platform.

While the NDP has not yet released a housing platform, party leader Tom Mulcair has promised to commit $5 billion to housing and other municipality infrastructure, according to the Toronto Star. Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre NDP incumbent has been active in supporting organizations involved in providing affordable housing in Centretown, like CCOC and CCHC.

“He’s actually a former CCOC tenant,” said Sullivan, “so he understands what we’re doing and the importance of affordable housing.”

Paul Dewar did not respond by press time.