Saturday, December 19, 2015

Looking for a special gift this Christmas season?

The season of over-spending is upon us, and the next few days will see many late-season shoppers descend on their favourite mall or outlet centre to shop 'till they drop in order to make people happy this holiday season.

Or so they think.

Since today was arguably the busiest Christmas shopping day yet, I thought it would be a good time to take a step back, think about what we're doing, and maybe change things up a bit.  After all money can't buy happiness, they say, so what about saving some of that money instead and still making people on your Christmas list happy anyway?

Let's explore the possibilities.

Years ago my life companion and I agreed to keep our Christmas gift-giving to a minimum and whatever we would exchange would have to be in some way consumable.  We both met later in life and had much of what we need to make our way in the world anyways, so no need to add to it any more than necessary we thought.  So gifts that are edible, drinkable or in some other way usable to achieve the same would fit the bill.

Gift cards, though thought by some to be impersonal, are really quite practical.  Especially if they are for a service such as dining out, for example.  We've done a lot of those over the years as we try to discover new and interesting places in and around Niagara to dine.

But we can go further than that and really make a difference, not just with each other but with countless others as well.

Let's face it.  Most of us have more than enough stuff at this point in our lives, but others in the community perhaps do not.  So a few years ago I started a tradition of making a monthly donation to Community Care of St. Catharines & Thorold on behalf of my wife.  She would get the tax receipt, Community Care would get a monthly contribution to help those in need, and I had one less gift to buy.

Simple, right?  But look at the good that small contribution does on a monthly basis.  Think about what could happen if several more people, say 10 each month, did the same thing and donated just ten dollars to Community Care.  They would have $100 more per month to work with, or $1,200 more per year.

Doesn't sound too difficult, does it?  Just think of the people you could help by doing this one simple little thing.

Similarly, you could make a monthly or even a lump-sum contribution in that person's name to any number of charitable organizations.  Don't be afraid to ask your special someone what charity they like to support and then just go ahead and do it in their name.  The good that can come from this simple act of kindness can help others so much, and not just at Christmastime.

The problem with charitable donations at this time of year is you feel good about filling a need right now, at Christmas.  But the need goes on year-round, so a monthly contribution ensures your charity of choice benefits year-round, which helps them immensely.

How about a membership to a worthwhile organization such as the Garden City Food Co-op?  If they are not already members, why not introduce them to the value of such a facility in our downtown core and then buying a membership in that person's name and presenting it on Christmas day?  Doing so will help expand the food co-op's membership at a time when they could really use your help to achieve their goal of a 2016 opening in downtown St. Catharines.

Is your special someone a lover of the arts?  We now have a grand new facility downtown in the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, with a calendar full of great performances by any number of artists including our own Niagara Symphony and Chorus Niagara.  Why not surprise them with a pair of tickets to a performance in the New Year by one of the arts organizations that call the new PAC home?  Make it a package deal with dinner at a nearby restaurant as well if your budget allows, and voila, your Christmas gift is done and you can sit back and accept the accolades.

This next idea could be problematic if you don't know the person's preferences beforehand, but some careful investigation on your part could reveal the necessary information and make your choice that much easier.

How about saving a life this season by adopting a new lifelong companion from a local animal shelter  or your local humane society?   It need not be a dog or cat if that doesn't work for the person you are buying for, but perhaps a bird, gerbil or other small animal in need of a home could fit the bill.

If a dog or cat is on your radar, you especially want to be careful the person you are buying for is prepared for the commitment beforehand and if not aware of your intentions, at least aware of the growing need to rehome a large pet population in the area.

Adopting a new pet will make a world of difference to both the recipient and the pet you choose.  But keep in mind that pet is a living being, too, and deserves to be treated properly and fairly.

Unlike a lot of presents given these days, a pet is not disposable.  It is a lifelong commitment that can reap benefits for both the recipient and the pet for years to come, if handled properly.

Our shelters are full of animals in need of a good home, and if your gift recipient is happy about the idea, why not present them with a gift certificate to a local shelter and after Christmas go down with that person and take the time to choose the right pet?

Finally, you could offer to provide some kind of service for your intended recipient such as snow shovelling if they are elderly, or in the nicer weather cutting their grass if they cannot do it themselves.

Again, write up a personal gift certificate yourself and present it to them, highlighting the intended service to be provided, and stick to it.  Do what you say you will and all will be fine.

So there you go, a few ideas that involve just a little preparation but can reap great rewards for all concerned.  What better way to show how special Christmas is to you and how meaningful that person's presence in your life really is.

Merry Christmas!

December 19th, 2015.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Celebrating a couple of musical centenaries this weekend

December is a busy time for most people, so I wanted to take a break from the busy holiday schedule and offer up some thoughts on a couple of musical milestones we are observing this week, both involving singers who defined their particular genre and generation.

The first is the 100th anniversary of the birth of German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who was born December 9th in 1915.  She passed away in 2006.

Her body of recorded work, conceived with her husband, the legendary producer Walter Legge, was extensive.  From operas and operettas such as Lehar's The Merry Widow to the still-classic Christmas album Stille Nacht, recorded with Sir Charles Mackerras in 1957, to the wide variety of recital discs she recorded, Schwarzkopf did it all.  Her voice is still remembered for a richness and texture you just don't hear anymore.

It is perhaps the aforementioned Christmas album that brought her the most fame and for many of us, introduced us to the sound of an opera voice interpreting traditional Christmas music.  Now it is almost routine to hear the popular opera singers today record Christmas albums, but hers was a bit of a groundbreaker.  Growing up in the 50s and 60s, Schwarzkopf and Dame Joan Sutherland were two of the biggest opera stars around and both produced extraordinarily popular Christmas albums.

Happily, both of these Christmas albums are still in print and available through, or just email me directly at if you want to get a copy of either or both for the holidays.

In fact, Warner Classics has just released a lavish 31-disc box set of all of Schwarzkopf's recital recordings dating from 1952 to 1974.  Each of the discs comes in a sleeve with the original artwork, all housed in an elegant box.  It, too, is available now through

The second singer we salute this weekend is none other than Ol' Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, who would have turned 100 today if he had lived that long.  He in fact died in 1998 at the age of 82.

I became a huge fan of Sinatra years ago when I first started in radio and he was just launching his post-retirement comeback with the now-famous album "Old Blue Eyes is Back", arranged and conducted by longtime Sinatra colleague Gordon Jenkins.

I wasn't necessarily a fan of much of Sinatra's post-retirement recordings, as I found his voice had simply deteriorated far too much by then to be enjoyed fully.  Oh sure, Sinatra the consummate professional masked the shortcomings with his voice as he got older for as long as he could, but there came a time I really wish he had in fact quit while he was ahead.

The concert-stage for many entertainers is intoxicating and the thrill of the crowd at your feet is admittedly hard to walk away from.  But Sinatra didn't need to prove anything at that point and couldn't possibly have needed the money, so why risk his great legacy with an inferior voice after he returned from retirement?

We'll probably never know the real answer to that question.

What I do know is I have my most and least favourite Sinatra recordings, many of which are in my extensive record and CD collections and played regularly.

My least favourite Sinatra recording was 1984's Some Nice Things I Missed, which was basically a Sinatra take on many of the hits of the previous decade along with some new material.  The absolute worst track of all was "Satisfy Me One More Time" - yes, it is as bad as the title suggests.  Cringe-worthy Sinatra to be sure.

On the other hand, my favourite Sinatra recordings come from his justifiably celebrated Capitol era in the 50s.  Sinatra exited the 40s as a crooner with lots of "bobby-sox" fans but a damaged voice and no recording contract.  His Columbia years made him a star, but now he was at risk of being labelled a "has been".

Sinatra knew better, and set out to prove his critics wrong.  He wanted to act, and fought for the straight acting role in From Here to Eternity to show what he could do.  About the same time, he signed a recording contract with Capitol Records, founded a decade earlier and featuring a roster of largely faded 40s-era singers.  But Sinatra quickly rose to the top of the roster with a string of exceptional "concept" albums still revered today for their sound and innovation.

Of all the arrangers Sinatra worked with during the 50s, ranging from Axel Stordahl to Billy May to Gordon Jenkins, by far his definitive recordings had him paired with the esteemed arranger/conductor Nelson Riddle.

In fact, my two favourite Sinatra recordings from that era were arranged by Riddle, who just knew how best to showcase Frank's voice.  The first was the magical Songs For Swingin' Lovers, recorded in 1956.  Each and every arrangement is a gem, beautifully supporting Frank every step of the way, with the orchestra cutting loose every now and again as on the now classic recording of I've Got You Under My Skin.  Nelson's ground-breaking arrangement set the standard for orchestral arrangements, and you still hear his arrangement today as other singers emulate Sinatra on this Cole Porter classic.  There simply is no better arrangement of this song.  Period.

The second Sinatra/Riddle pairing I love is 1958's brooding Only The Lonely.  Here is Riddle paring the arrangements down to the bare minimum, but still backing Sinatra every step of the way.  His now-famous recording of One For My Baby (And One More for the Road) is exceptional in its simplicity, clarity and heart-wrenching loneliness.  Riddle used the same formula when he recorded with Linda Ronstadt in the 80s, and in fact both her and Frank's recordings of What's New? share much the same arrangement.

Sinatra's 60s recordings for his own Reprise label produced some gems as well, including his 1965 Grammy winner September of My Years, arranged and conducted by Gordon Jenkins.  But he also released his fair share of much more pop-oriented albums with mixed results.  He was often on the pop charts during the 60s, but many of those albums I personally don't find as satisfying as his earlier Capitol recordings.

By the 90s, Sinatra was back at Capitol and recording his popular Duets albums, sharing the spotlight with a host of popular entertainers of the day, each basking in the glow of recording with The Voice.  Or, what was The Voice at one time.  By this point, Sinatra was a shadow of his former self, voice-wise.

He also recorded the now-classic Theme From New York, New York with a big, brassy arrangement and lots of swagger, but his vocal limitations were becoming quite obvious at this point.  He knew how to interpret the song better than anyone else, of course, and that is what made the recording the definitive version of the song, in spite of the fact he couldn't hold those notes at the end.

I remember years ago in my radio career when I produced a lot of Blue Jays radio broadcasts locally and one night they were playing at Yankee Stadium.  During the entire post-game show, the stadium loudspeakers were blaring Sinatra's ode to the Big Apple as they always do, and after about the 10th consecutive airing of the Theme from New York, New York, I was about ready to scream...but I digress.

Sinatra was without question the pre-eminent singer and interpreter of the Great American Songbook,  with many of his recordings unequalled even today.  Almost all of them are still in print, and many have a special place in my personal CD collection.  If you want to remember any part of his storied career, email me your preferences at and I will see about getting any and all of your favourite Sinatra recordings for you.

Beyond Sinatra the singer, there was Sinatra the larger-than-life Hollywood and Vegas star, always in the news for one reason or another, and causing gossip columnists to fall over each other for the latest juicy tid-bit on his personal life.  One wonders how this social-media driven world today would handle his many celebrated exploits.

I loved Sinatra the singer, and I loved Sinatra the style setter.  I still wear a fedora from time to time as a tribute to the man who practically lived in one as he hid his receding hairline from public view.

Perhaps the most interesting tribute to Sinatra late in his career was the Chrysler Imperial Frank Sinatra Edition.  Remember that?  A baby-blue over-the-top luxury boat with a stash of Sinatra recordings on cassette ready to pop into the cassette player when you were behind the wheel.  Who says previous generations didn't know the power of marketing?!

Sinatra was one of the best and most popular singers of his generation and his recorded output may never be equalled.  This weekend we celebrate the lanky lad from Hoboken, New Jersey who made it to the top and stayed there for such a long time.

Happy 100th, Frank.  You continue to do it Your Way.

Have a great weekend!

December 12th, 2015.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Looking for great entertainment in Niagara this weekend?

If you are sick and tired of hearing all about "Black Friday" sales and the related hoopla, you might be ready for a step back from the mass-consumerism brink and take in some entertainment instead.  That's what I plan to do this weekend, after changing my "Black Friday" evening to a "Snack Friday" evening.  I didn't accomplish much of anything last evening, but in the overall scheme of things, it was a roaring success.

But I digress...

Okay, lots to see and do this weekend in Niagara, and the variety is literally endless.  For example, tonight at 7:30 Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre will be rocking when Darlene Love returns to town to play the new venue.  In fact, this will be the first HOT TICKET presentation at the new hall and the 60s tunes will be flowing freely for the entire evening.

Since it is already the end of November, you can count on some holiday favourites thrown in for good measure, too.

Meantime, I will be at Robertson Hall at the FirstOntario PAC for the next-to-last performance of Essential Collective Theatre's premiere presentation at their new home, Gary Kirkham's Falling:  A Wake.  The show starts at 7 pm, with a matinee performance tomorrow afternoon at 2 to wrap up the fall run for ECT.

The play is being directed by ECT's Artistic Director, Monica Default, who suggests the play reaffirms our ability to care for one another.  Kirkham is an Ontario-based writer who premiered the play at Kitchener's Lost & Found Theatre in 2007.  It was later produced by the Blyth Festival.

The story involves Elsie and Harold, owners of a small Niagara farm who are awakened on a very quiet, star-lit autumn night by a very strange occurrence.  They meet a young man who has just literally "dropped in" on them.

Falling:  A Wake stars the real-life husband-and-wife team of Patricia LaRiviere and Alex Guard, both based here in St. Catharines and each of them sporting a lengthy resume of Canadian theatre, film and television credits.

Tomorrow afternoon at 2:30, the Niagara Symphony Orchestra presents their second Masterworks concert of the season, entitled Blaze of Glory.  The concert will be their first Masterworks performance in their new home, the acoustically-perfect Partridge Hall.

Canadian violinist James Ehnes joins Music Director Bradley Thachuk and the NSO for Lalo's ever-popular Symphonie espagnole, which Ehnes recorded years ago with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.  If you are interested in getting a copy of that performance for your own collection, email me at and I will see what I can do.

Ehnes will be bringing along his beloved 1715 "Marsick" Stradivarius violin for the performance, which will also feature Canadian composer Kevin Lau's Heroes and Angels and Ravel's vivid orchestration of Mussorgsky's epic Pictures at an Exhibition.

Tickets to all three of these performances are available through the FirstOntario PAC box office, or by calling 905-688-0722.  You can also purchase online by going to

Next door at the equally impressive Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts, the Centre for Studies in Arts and Culture presents Her Voice in Black:  Black Female Narratives in Opera by Carla Chambers at the DART Theatre.

This talk will take place Sunday afternoon at 3 pm and is open to the public and free of charge.

I really like what the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts has compiled in their ongoing Art is in the City series.  It is interesting, thought-provoking and covers literally all aspects of the arts.

 I encourage you to explore more of the offerings they have planned for this season.  You can find out more by going to

So there you go.  Lots of reasons to avoid shopping this weekend in Niagara.  After all, you can always do that some other time, right?

Have a great weekend!

November 28th, 2015.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

I love the new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. But...

It has been a week since the splashy opening concert with Serena Ryder followed by the Community Open House at our new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, so I thought I would offer up my impressions on the new facility this weekend.

First of all, I think a tremendous round of applause is very much in order for everyone connected to making this a reality.  From former St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullan and his council colleagues past and present to present Mayor Walter Sendzik and the current council, to workers, dreamers, planners, doers and general make-it-happeners, I thank you all for your dedication to a worthy cause.

There were doubters from the very beginning, I know.  But there were far more believers, all of whom were more vocal than the doubters, and collectively they made it clear this project simply had to be completed.  And you know what?  I hear far more believers than doubters now that the PAC is open for business.

Okay, the short review is I love the place.  Who wouldn't?  The longer review to follow here reveals some nit-picking because, well, my esteemed colleague Doug Herod can't carry that onerous load all by himself...

From the street, the new PAC looks impressive, even though all the finishing touches to the exterior still have to be completed.  The huge expanse of glass both front and back is what really sets the building apart, in my mind.  From behind, if you are travelling along Westchester or on the northbound 406 you cannot help but glance over at the graceful lines of the building, especially when lit up at night.

Inside, I love the clean, modern look and clearly marked signage.  Going from theatre to theatre last week at the Open House, the excitement over the design was palpable.  The use of wood, concrete and other materials is both creative and functional to provide an ideal acoustic ambience.

I love seeing the local art displayed throughout the PAC.  I love the view out into the valley from Robertson Hall.  I even love the idea of the drink transfer station, so you can transfer your beverage from a glass served at the bar to a plastic cup to take into the theatre with you.  That's assuming you don't finish your beverage before intermission ends, of course.

The overall impression is even with the scaling back to trim $10 million from the construction bid that resulted in a redesign, the facility just looks right.  I heard from one or two people who have said yes, the public areas are great, but the cost savings came in the back of house areas which are not nearly as well laid out as originally planned.

The cost savings had to come from somewhere, and this way although not perfect, means the public won't really be aware of the scaling back that was done.

Last evening, I finally had a chance to actually hear what Partridge Hall sounds like, as I attended the very first concert in the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts ENCORE! Professional Concert Series.  The concert featured Southern Exposure, featuring local musicians Timothy Phelan, Gordon Cleland, Patricia Dydnansky and Niagara Symphony violist Andree Simard.

The concert featured music of South American composers such as Piazzolla, Pujol, Villa-Lobos and Antonio Carlos Jobim, all arranged for guitar in combination with flute, viola and cello.  The music was inventive and beautifully played, and I especially enjoyed the North American premiere of Maximo Diego Pujol's Buenos Aires color pastel.  More, please...

Timothy's informative introductions heightened the enjoyment level considerably, making the music even more accessible for many in the audience there as part of their music courses at Brock University.

It was nice to see a good-sized crowd out for this performance, as I have lamented in the past up at Brock, few members of the public attended or even knew of these concert performances.  Now with more advertising and the highly-visible new venue downtown, hopefully that will change.  I didn't see
anyone in the upper balcony last evening, but since there was only general admission seating, there was really no reason to go up that far if you didn't want to.

The sound, in short, is impressive.  Every note, every word, every detailed musical passage can be clearly heard in Partridge Hall, which is exactly why we spent the money we did on the place.  This hall, along with the smaller Cairns Recital Hall, Robertson Hall and the still unnamed film studio all have their own unique qualities to contend with when it comes to acoustic tuning, and from what I have heard so far, the designers got it right in all the venues.

There are still some details inside the PAC that need to be finished before the end of the year including some doors and other details, but overall, the inside is as impressive as the outside.

Okay, so what's my nit-picking about?  Well, I found the steps leading down into Partridge Hall already look a little shabby, although that could be part of the detailing yet to come.  I felt last night someone forgot to turn the heat on.  It was so cool inside I almost reached for my overcoat, and for a $60 million facility that shouldn't happen.  Oh, I've been to many theatres where cooler temperatures are required because ballet dancers were performing for example, but here, I could not see the justification for the cool climate indoors last evening.

I thought at intermission I would warm myself up with a warm beverage at the bar.  That's when the grim reality of the drink list reared its ugly head.  There, I saw coffee...but no tea.  Yikes!  No tea?!  What year is this?  According to our new Prime Minister it is 2015.  But in this day and age, you can only get coffee at the bar, not tea?

As a die-hard tea drinker, I find this deplorable.  Even discounting the questionable quality of commercially-produced tea just about anywhere short of Tim Hortons, I still would like to make that choice.

No tea in the PAC.  The mind boggles...

But then, considering the details they got right, I think I can wait for saner heads to prevail on this one point.  After all, if the only casualty is my not being able to order tea at intermission, I would say the cost of such a fine new performance venue was justified and, I might add, well spent.

The busy weekend continues at the PAC of course, with a Guitar Extravaganza concert this evening in the Cairns Recital Hall, while the Niagara Symphony opens their new Pops! concert season in Partridge Hall with a musical tribute to the Beatles.  The symphony repeats the Beatles concert again tomorrow afternoon at 2:30, by the way.  In Robertson Hall, Essential Collective Theatre presents their season opener, the play Falling:  A Wake.  That play continues until November 29th, so there is still plenty of time to catch a performance.

That's what makes this new venue so special and vital to the rebuilding of our downtown:  three of the four theatres are in use tonight, and that translates into hundreds of people coming downtown for a performance.  It wasn't that long ago you had no reason to do that.  Get the picture?

Now, if they only served tea at intermission...

Have a great weekend!

November 21st, 2015.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Lots to see and do in Niagara this weekend...

As far as fall weekends in Niagara go, this has to be one of the busier and high-profile weekends you'll ever see.  And if you follow the arts at all, you know at least one of the events we'll be highlighting in this space this weekend.

It was a week ago tonight Chorus Niagara and the Niagara Symphony launched the new season at Partridge Hall in the new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines.  By all accounts it was an auspicious opening with congratulations all around for a job well done.

But the real celebration is this weekend, and in fact it is going on right now.  Serena Ryder is performing at Partridge Hall this evening, at a swishy gala concert designed to show off the new venue to some of the movers and shakers in Niagara society as well as just us plain folk who want to go and see the show.

Tomorrow afternoon, though, the Community Open House will be the highlight of the day at the PAC, and everyone is invited.  Needless to say, I will be one of those streaming through the doors to catch a glimpse of what everyone's been talking about the last little while.

Tomorrow from 2 to 7 pm, Chorus Niagara's Niagara Sings! offers lots of music, guided tours of the facility, door prizes as well as a Community Art Fair.  It's all free, and I imagine the event will be very well attended.

Niagara Sings! connects six Niagara-based choirs and over 300 voices performing throughout every room of the new PAC.  Chorus Niagara will be joined by Womenchant, Queenston Ladies Choir, Choralis Camerata, Robert Wood Singers, and Sing Niagara.  All of these voices will be simultaneously tuning each performance venue.

The day wraps up with a grand finale massed choir in Partridge Hall at 5 tomorrow afternoon.

The Community Art Fair will showcase some of the PAC's partnering organizations, including The Foster Festival, The Gallery Players, Niagara Symphony, Chorus Niagara, Essential Collective Theatre and others.

It will be nice to finally walk through those doors and bask in the glory of 95,000 square feet of cultural space purpose built in the heart of downtown St. Catharines.  I along with many others were at that first public information session several years ago when architects Diamond + Schmitt unveiled the original design for the PAC.  It had to be downsized later on though, but the redesign looks just as impressive from the street if not more so than the original.

So plan to walk a bit tomorrow, both inside and outside the new facility, as parking in downtown St. Catharines is expected to be at a premium during the afternoon.

Also tomorrow afternoon, Gallery Players of Niagara will launch their new season, not at the PAC but in their familiar confines at Silver Spire United Church on St. Paul Street.  The 2 pm concert is entitled, appropriately enough, Hello Cello! as it features no less than eight cellists along with the voice of Charlotte Knight.

For the record, the eight cellists are Sandra Bohn, Gordon Cleland, Grace Coveney, Margaret Gay, Keanna Hoffe, Helen Kopec, Mark Russom and Grace Snippe.  Collectively they'll be performing music by Villa-Lobos (the Bachianas Brasileiras #5) as well as arrangements of works by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.  Also featured will be a setting of Rilke by Canadian composer Michael Oesteerle.

Tickets should be available at the door, or in advance by calling 905-468-1525.  Incidentally, Gallery Players will be performing one of their upcoming concerts this season in the Cairns Recital Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on Valentine's Day, February 14th.  It's the concert entitled From The Heart and will feature Canadian baritone Brett Polegato with Gallery Players and musical guests performing music by Schumann, Schubert and Beethoven.

This weekend also sees the first MainStage presentation of the inaugural season for the new Dramatic Arts Theatre at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts, located right next door to the PAC.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, in an English translation by Arnold Weinstein and Lys Symonette, opened last evening at the new venue in the school complex, and additional performances include tomorrow afternoon at 2 as well as next Friday and Saturday evening and an early matinee performance Friday at 11:30 am.

Virginia Reh, tempted out of retirement to direct the new show (who wouldn't be with a new venue to play in!?) is joined by assistant Elizabeth Amos, designer David Vivian and music director Daniel Turner, and the cast is made up of students in the Department of Dramatic Arts at Brock University.

The opera/musical's title refers to the colour "mahogany", which is Brecht's reference to the German 'Brown Shirts.'  This production sets the action in 1957 on the Gulf Coast, close to Pensacola.

The epic tale follows the lives of the residents of Mahagonny as they are consumed by the power of money, winning out against all other motivating forces such as  friendship, family, morality and philosophy.

If you want to catch one of the remaining performances of The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, call the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office at 905-688-0722.

Next week, I'll offer my thoughts and impressions on the new PAC after joining everyone else at the big Open House tomorrow afternoon.

Enjoy your weekend!

November 14th, 2015.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Great music & things happening in Niagara and beyond this weekend

We're now diving head-first into the month of November, and the busy concert season schedule is upon us.  But music is not all that's happening over the next little while.  This weekend, in fact, you have your pick of any number of arts-related events in Niagara and beyond, so let's take some time to highlight some of the events you might like to partake in.

The long-awaited official opening of the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre is next weekend, but this weekend you get your first chance to hear what music sounds like in the largest venue, Partridge Hall, as Chorus Niagara and the Niagara Symphony team up for a concert appropriately titled Celebrate!

Artistic Director Robert Cooper will be marshalling the forces of 160 voices on stage tonight at 7:30 for the concert, featuring his own choir, Chorus Niagara, along with the award-winning McMaster University Choir under Rachel Rinsing-Hoff and of course, the Niagara Symphony.  Soloists include soprano Leslie Ann Bradley, mezzo-soprano Maria Soulis; tenor Adam Luther and the big voice of Niagara native and lyric baritone Brett Polegato.

Talk about star power.  As my esteemed colleague Doug Herod would write, "Yowzers!"

The musical programme includes Finzi's Ode for St. Cecelia, Bruckner's Te Deum, the Coronation Anthem from Handel's Zadok the Priest, and a brand-new commission written especially for the opening of Partridge Hall tonight, Canadian composer Allan Bevan's Bow of Sound.

The rehearsals have been going well at the new venue and so far and everyone is thrilled with the sound, which is important.  That's why we have a purpose-built venue just for this type of concert.

If you don't have tickets for tonight's performance you are out of luck, as it is completely sold out.  But you can get tickets for the remainder of the Chorus Niagara season by calling the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office at 905-688-0722.

In the Cairns Recital Hall at the PAC tonight, East-coast singing duo Fortunate Ones perform at 8 pm, so that will make for a busy evening at the new facility.

On a somewhat smaller scale, next door at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts, Harvest Time will be presented at 8 pm in Studio A at the new facility at 15 Artists' Common in downtown St. Catharines.

Harvest Time is a collection of four short plays directed by STAC instructor Renee Baillargeon written by local playwrights and scored and performed by Studies in Arts & Culture Students.  This free event is part of the Art Is In The City series of events scheduled throughout the season at the beautiful new Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts.

Although this is not arts-related, the Niagara Ice Dogs host the Peterborough Petes tonight at 7 pm at the Meridian Centre, so this should give us the first test of all three major venues with events the same night.  Considering the 406 is closed in both directions due to the final phase of the removal of the old span of the Burgoyne Bridge downtown, traffic promises to be a bit of a nightmare this evening, so all I can say is pack your patience and if at all possible, take public transit.  You'll be glad you did.

Outside Niagara but not far we have the next concert for the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, a special Remembrance Day concert that welcomes back to the podium former HPO Music Director James Sommerville.

Entitled Remembrance:  Songs of Courage & Honour, the HPO presents the Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture and Hamilton Philharmonic Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte's moving Songs of the Poets.  Also featured will be one of my all-time favourite orchestral works, Ralph Vaughan Williams' exquisite The Lark Ascending with Associate Concertmaster Lance Ouellette making his solo debut tonight.

The concert is at 7:30 at the Great Hall of Hamilton Place, and you can call the box office for tickets at 905-526-7756.

A little further up the highway my friends at the Guelph Chamber Choir kick off their new season at the River Run Centre tonight at 7:30 with the ever-popular Carmina Burana by Carl Orff.

Certainly one of the 20th century's most enduring and popular choral works, Carmina Burana is essentially 24 dramatic poems set to music, sometimes rather satirical and bawdy.  Quoting the choir's Facebook posting for the concert, the music was "written by 12th and 13th century students and clerics to express the fickleness of fortune and wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, the joy of the return of spring, and the pleasure and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust."

What more could you want from a concert, eh?  Personally, I would like to find out first hand about whether fortune and wealth are indeed fickle, but I digress...

If you want to hear a great chamber choir in a wonderful downtown setting in a city you'll quickly fall in love with, call the River Run Centre box office for tickets at 519-763-3000.

I have enjoyed many a concert with the Guelph Chamber Choir over the years, and their home at the River Run Centre is certainly a model for many other performing arts spaces in the country.

Enjoy your weekend!

November 7th, 2015

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Some collected weekend thoughts...

It is Halloween night, and after the trick or treaters have had their way, I will offer up a veritable potpourri of collected thoughts that have accumulated over the last few days...

Item:  How was Halloween at your house?  We live in a downtown St. Catharines neighbourhood that rarely sees a lot of trick or treaters, so buying for Halloween is a snap.  Since I usually end up eating what is left, I make sure to buy something I want myself.  This year, along with the Halloween-themed pencils, erasers, note-pads and such, I included those small boxes of raisins.  Might as well, I figured, there are 14 boxes in the package and since we had all of eight visits this evening, I have plenty for my morning cereal this coming week.

This actually is a busier than usual year around here.  Last year I think we had five and one year we actually had a total of one visit.  So eight is pretty good.  I know, those who have over a hundred kids come to the door have to shell out more money to shell out to the kids, but I am fine the way things are, thank you very much...

Item:  Last evening a huge number of caring Niagara residents came out to support a member of the team at Henley Honda on Lake Street in St. Catharines.  Owner and General Manager Alex Digenis put out the call earlier this month they were planning a fundraiser for Dawson and Joann Gruninger Trickett for the evening of October 30th at the dealership, from 7 pm to midnight.

When I arrived about 7:30 the place was already hopping and full to the proverbial rafters with supporters.  For weeks people in Niagara had responded with great gifts for the raffle draws, and they responded again last night with a record-setting turnout for someone many had never met.

Dawson, you see, lost a leg in recent months and although OHIP will cover the necessary medical expenses, Dawson will have any number of other expenses to contend with as he adjusts to his new life with a prosthetic leg, which is still to come.

Alex knew this and so did the rest of the staff at Henley Honda and across the street at Subaru of Niagara.  So everyone hunkered down to make this one-night fundraiser happen, and they did a stellar job.

From moving upwards of 150 cars out of the parking lot and even the showroom to make space, to catering by Antipastos to all the great raffle prizes supplied by the community, it all came together to make last night a night to remember in Niagara.

What I particularly enjoyed, outside of the obvious fact Alex and his team cared enough for Dawson to actually do this for him, is the fact the community responded big time.  This is what we do in Niagara, and indeed in Canada.  We look after our own.

From people to pets to any number of other worthwhile causes, Niagara residents know how to give from the heart and do their part to make this a community worth calling home.  You don't see this everywhere, but you do regularly in Niagara, and last night was a stellar example.

To everyone involved, thanks for caring.

Item:  As reported in this space a couple of days ago, the Niagara Symphony Orchestra kicks off their new season this weekend at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, in the Cairns Hall.  Tonight's Beethoven Marathon with pianist Stewart Goodyear began at 6 pm, and tomorrow's afternoon performance begins at 2:30 pm.  Both performances are completely sold out, which is nice to see.

Granted, many want to be there to see what all the excitement is about with the new PAC, but you can't ignore the fact this is a wonderful vindication for those who believe in our downtown.  Just think:  the last two nights the downtown was buzzing with Niagara Ice Dogs games at the nearby Meridian Centre; tonight and tomorrow afternoon the FirstOntario PAC packs them in with the first performances by the Niagara Symphony.  That's four days in a row the downtown is abuzz with activity.

If these two facilities had not been built and the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts had not been built, what would be happening downtown over those four days?  Not nearly as much activity, I would suggest.  See?  Investing in infrastructure comes with a cost, no question.  But the dividends are very much evident now as things ramp up this season.

Again, thanks to everyone involved.

Item:  This is the weekend we fall back, and turn our clocks back an hour before going to bed.  I already set the clock back in the car this afternoon, and it felt weird looking at the time after I did it.
I don't know about you, but I am really looking forward to that extra hour to sleep tonight!

I only hope the cats cooperate in the morning...

Have a great weekend!

October 31st, 2015.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Niagara Symphony set to kick off their new season in their new home this weekend

I wrote last week about attending the first production presented by the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, the Fixt Point/Suitcase in Point co-production of The Tale of a Town - St. Catharines.  It closed last Friday evening at the Odd Fellows Hall on James Street in downtown St. Catharines and was a terrific show.

It was supposed to be the first production at Robertson Hall at the new PAC, but things have been running a little behind schedule, it seems, so an alternate location had to be found for the show.  The Odd Fellows Hall, while not ideal was cozy and fun, but certainly reinforced our need for a purpose-built performance space in the city.

Construction continues apace for the mid-November official opening of the new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, with the signage going up in the last few days.  That indicates they are getting down to the finishing touches and the dirty work appears to be all but done.

The Niagara Symphony is the prime tenant in the largest space in the PAC, the Partridge Hall.  The space will seat considerably more than the old Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts up at Brock University, so the orchestra has had their work cut out for them making sure enough subscribers come on board for the inaugural season in their new home.

This weekend, they sort of arrive at their final destination.

Although they launch the new season in the new PAC, it won't be in Partridge Hall but rather the smaller Cairns Hall.  The reason appears to be fine tuning of the acoustics and final detailing in the larger hall still has to be completed, so the NSO won't get to play the bigger hall until their first Pops! concerts of the new season the third week of November.

No matter.   People just want to get inside this new jewel in the heart of downtown and see what the excitement is all about.  That they will with the performances this weekend and the Open House planned for November 15th.

The Niagara Symphony has justifiably pulled out all the stops this season, and that includes a blockbuster opening weekend of Masterworks concerts.  Usually just one concert, this weekend the concert will be performed twice due to the smaller space.  Saturday evening the concert gets under way at 6 pm; Sunday afternoon is the customary 2:30 pm.

The all-Beethoven concert is billed as the Beethoven Piano Concerto Marathon, as the NSO under Music Director Bradley Thachuk will perform all five of Beethoven's Piano Concertos with Artist-in-Residence Stewart Goodyear.  Yes, all five in one concert!  The concert will kick off each day with an appropriate and traditional piece for the new hall, Beethoven's Consecration of the House Overture.

To say the Niagara Symphony has waited a long time for a purpose-built hall to showcase their considerable talents is certainly an understatement.  But as was the case in so many other cities with great symphony orchestras such as Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton and Kitchener-Waterloo, they all had to wait for their new homes, too.

If nothing else, it indicates the orchestra has finally arrived; they are exactly where they need and want to be at this point in their long history in Niagara.  It will be exciting and heartwarming to see and hear them at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre this season.

No doubt Maestro Thachuk has rallied his troops to perform at their very best this weekend, as the entire community will be paying attention like never before.  This is a big new stage for them, and I have no doubt they will collectively rise to the occasion.

If you want tickets to either concert on the weekend, you are out of luck on Sunday afternoon which is completely sold out, but the Saturday evening concert still has some seats available.  It is Halloween, of course, so many will be staying home to deal with the trick or treaters.  But if you are free, why not be one of the first to hear the NSO at the PAC this weekend?

For more information and tickets, call the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office directly at 905-688-0722.  You can go to for detailed descriptions of the season's offerings, and on the Calendar page of my website at, the complete season for both the NSO and the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre are listed there.

Incidentally, Stewart Goodyear returns to Cairns Hall December 4th for a piano recital entitled Suite Dreams, featuring a solo piano version of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker.  Not coincidentally, the complete ballet score for solo piano with Mr. Goodyear is being released this fall on the Steinway & Sons label, and yes, I can certainly get that for you.  Just go to the website or email me directly at

Enjoy the great music in a great new music space this weekend in downtown St. Catharines!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre celebrates downtown St. Catharines

When the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre announced their inaugural season line-up earlier this year, it included a special presentation of The Tale of a Town, a joint venture with Fixt Point Theatre Company and our own Suitcase in Point Theatre Company.

This celebration of downtown St. Catharines has been a work in progress for a few years now, as it was one of the projects undertaken at the annual In the Soil Arts Festival back in 2011.  Since then, it has developed into a fully-fledged one-act play that just completed a run at the Oddfellows Hall on James Street in downtown St. Catharines.

Fixt Point is a professional theatre and media company based in Toronto, and they have been working with the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, aiming to capture the collective community memory of Canada's Main Streets, one story at a time.  In each community they go to, they gather stories and audio clips from locals from which they weave together the story of that community's main street.

In St. Catharines, Fixt Point joined with our local theatre troupe Suitcase in Point to produce the St. Catharines edition of the show, recording stories and gathering information from locals from many walks of life at this year's In the Soil Arts Festival back in April.

I was one of those invited to offer some memories of St. Paul Street for the show, and I was especially interested in hearing and seeing the end result of all that collaborative work that has gone on the past several months.

The past two weeks The Tale of a Town - St. Catharines has played to often sold-out houses downtown, and the run concluded last evening with yet another sell out.  Sophie and I were invited to this final show, and along with 80 or so others crowded into the upper-level auditorium on James Street, we sat back and enjoyed, as well as participated in - the local production of The Tale of a Town.

The concept is deceptively simple:  fashion the story-line around the reminiscences offered by the people you interview, and add some artistic touches to make the whole one-hour-and-a-bit show highly entertaining.

The devil is in the details, of course, and the details along with execution both make for a compelling celebration of life in downtown St. Catharines.

As the story begins, we are in the newsroom of the St. Catharines Standard newspaper, newly reacquired by Henry Burgoyne III from those nasty corporate giants in order to publish a "quality" daily newspaper the old-fashioned way.  That means bringing back the old printing press many of us remember hearing and seeing through the glass on William Street up until about 20 years ago.

Ah yes, those vivid memories I have of that venerable old printing press!

The cast of characters here, Henry Burgoyne III (Dan Watson); his wife Betsy (Deanna Jones); reporter Ron (Robert Feetham); green intern Johnny Knickers (Dawn Chrysler) and photographer Skip (Edwin Conroy Jr.) work together to produce the first edition of the "new" old Standard, but they need a lead story (mistakenly referred to here as a "cover story") and that causes the memories from those recorded earlier to flow freely.

It was nice to hear all the memories of Art Smith, who ran Art's Diner on Geneva Street until he passed away a few years ago at the age of 88.  I never met Art, but you really didn't have to.  He was certainly larger than life, with a heart larger still as he gave back to the community in so many ways.  I often feel Art was not recognized enough for his charitable work in the community,  but the play does a nice job of paying tribute to him.

Next, we hear of the rivalry between downtown St. Catharines and the Pen Centre as the penultimate shopping destination in St. Catharines.  Sure, the Pen drained many of the retailers and ultimately shoppers from our downtown core over the years, but the play correctly suggests they can co-exist quite happily as the downtown reinvents itself as an entertainment hub for the city, with specialty shops designed to cater to that clientele.

You can't find everything you need downtown like you used to (going to Beattie's Basics, for example, or Coy Brothers, but you can get world-class doughnuts now at Beechwood Doughnuts and dine at any number of quality establishments such as Rise Above.  Both businesses get special mention in the show, as does the Garden City Food Co-op, set to open downtown early next year.

What I like about the show is although it is pretty madcap comedy, it drives home the message we have plenty to enjoy downtown today, and a lot to be proud of.  When the new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre opens next month, there will be even more to explore downtown.

On that topic, the PAC announced just yesterday Serena Ryder will kick off the new venue's season with a concert at Partridge Hall on Saturday, November 14th at 8pm.  The performance will cap off a day full of ribbon cuttings, toasts, interactive performances and more throughout the PAC.

The next day, Sunday November 15th, an Open House will be held at the PAC, which will be free and open to the public.  One of the highlights will be Niagara Sings! from 2 to 5 pm, bringing together Chorus Niagara and five other Niagara-based choirs totalling over 300 voices, performing throughout the PAC that day.  There will also be an art fair throughout the venue showcasing many of the groups who will call the PAC home in the future.

From 5 to 8 pm on Sunday, the grand finale massed choir will perform in Partridge Hall, again free and open to the public.

If you want tickets to the Saturday performance by Serena Ryder, you'll have to wait until those signed up as Members get first crack.  Any tickets left over will go on sale to the general public the week of the performance.

So if you thought the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre wasn't going to make a huge impact on our downtown, think again.  This is only the beginning, and lots more to come this season and for many more seasons in the future.

What a nice way to celebrate downtown St. Catharines!

October 24th, 2015.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

My post-election thoughts and suggestions

Since the federal election Monday, I have been reading so many scathing posts in social media from those who feel the outcome was not to their particular liking, I thought I would take a step away from my arts reporting duties to offer up some thoughts of my own on the subject and hopefully bring some semblance of balance to the issue.

Long before I started earnestly covering the arts beat here in Niagara, I was by nature a political animal, having spent the better part of 40 years involved in covering elections on all levels in one form or another.  As such, I tend to take a more pragmatic approach to the outcome each time and look at issues from both sides, something I find rather lacking in so many of the postings lately.

My first election coverage as a young, aspiring broadcaster came in 1974 while still working in Toronto radio, when Pierre Elliot Trudeau (Justin's father, of course) soundly defeated the Progressive Conservatives lead by Robert Stansfield.  Mr. Stanfield, from the Maritimes, had proposed a form of wage and price controls to help stem the rampant inflation gripping the country at the time.  I still remember the radio and television ads from the time when Trudeau, speaking at a Liberal rally during the election campaign, railed against Stanfield's plan.  The resulting shift in poll numbers was almost immediate, and Trudeau rode the wave into another majority government term.

The popularity didn't last, of course, as Trudeau himself introduced his own form of pretty much the same thing the following year, and the party never seemed to recover from that.  Thus, in the 1979 election the Liberals were so unpopular generally and Trudeau in particular, the television and radio ads of the day mentioned only the Liberal Party of Canada with no mention of Trudeau himself.  They lost anyway, setting the stage for the Progressive Conservatives under the young and inexperienced Joe Clark to win a minority that would last barely nine months.

Trudeau announced he was stepping down as leader of the party until Clark's government tried to introduce an 18-cent per gallon (about four cents per litre) tax on gasoline, which went over like the proverbial lead balloon with Canadians.  Seeing an opportunity present itself, opposition parties defeated the Clark government and the leaderless Liberals begged Trudeau to reconsider his resignation.  He did, of course, and rode the Liberal tide to another majority government in 1980, before finally retiring for good prior to the 1984 election.

I remember vividly covering that 1980 election for the radio station in Oshawa I worked for at the time.  No cell phones back then, by the way.  We each had a black rotary-dial telephone on the table at our disposal to call in reports to the radio station back in those days.

I'm offering up this short history lesson by way of illustration that yes, I have been following Canadian politics for quite awhile now, and political angst is nothing new.  The difference now is we have social media in which to vent our collective spleens before, during and especially after the vote.

So let's fast-forward to the most recent federal election of Monday, and look at the winners and losers.

The Conservatives lost the support of the majority of Canadians for one simple reason:  their best-before date had come and gone.  It happens to all political parties once they have been in power long enough.  It's nothing new.  Canadians were just tired of the status quo and wanted a change after almost ten years of Stephen Harper, just as they got tired of the Liberals about ten years ago.  The political cycle of life has a shelf life of only so long, no matter which party is in power.

I'm not taking sides here, incidentally.  The newly-minted Liberal majority government will hit their fair share of potholes and scandals in the coming term also, and should Justin Trudeau run two or three more times, his political currency will eventually be depleted as well.  That's the cycle of political life.

The key is of course, as Kenny Rogers sang in The Gambler years ago:  "You've got to know when to hold them; know when to fold them."  Pierre knew his time was up in 1984 just like Brian Mulroney knew the time was right to exit as leader of the Progressive Conservatives in the 90s.

The Conservative cause was not helped this time round by a mean-spirited attack ad campaign directed most often at Justin Trudeau, something they frankly spent too much political capital on.  As Mulroney himself pointed out on election night, the Conservatives underestimated Trudeau during this campaign, and it hurt them badly.

Canadians don't like attack ad politics.  It is an American thing, really, and we like to think of ourselves as better than that.  We are, and we rejected the notion of attacking the opposition at all costs as a result.

The Trudeau resume spots with the requisite tag-line "Nice hair, though" became a political joke during the campaign, so much so the NDP lampooned the ads with their own version directed at Mr. Harper.  It was bad enough listening to the tired old joke for months on end before the campaign started; continuing with them after the campaign started - even producing new ones with the same tag-line - suggested to me the Conservatives had simply run out of ideas.  With all the money behind the Conservative campaign, was that really the best they could do?

Thankfully, the Conservatives stopped short of using the same approach once they set their sights on Mulcair and the NDP by using the line "Nice beard, though"...

On the other hand, the one-on-one radio spots Stephen Harper voiced on a daily basis during the latter stages of the campaign were very effective.  They dealt with issues and I think made him appear more human and down-to-earth.  In the future, the Conservatives would be wise to adopt that strategy with all their advertising.

The Liberals took advantage of great campaign footage of Justin rallying the troops during the final days before the vote, and that too, I felt, was especially effective.  It showed him in control and on his game at a critical juncture of this very long election campaign.

The Liberals for their part ran a generally clean, attack-free campaign and I think it won them a lot of votes because of it.  Their message resonated with a lot of Canadians and struck a more optimistic tone.  Canadians like and want that.

It doesn't hurt that Justin is young and good-looking, of course.  But that's not new, either.  His father Pierre cut a dashing figure when he ran for leadership of the party and successfully ran for Prime Minister in 1968.  Remember too John F. Kennedy looking much younger and so much more dashing than the dour Richard Nixon in the 1960 American election.

I think people looked at Justin, his wife Sophie and the family and saw a bit of themselves.  A young successful family making it in the world and reaching for a better life.  That's why the youth vote looks to have gone to the Liberals in this election:  younger voters simply identified with him.  There is a bit of a perception amongst young people, I think, that politics is often the domain of grumpy old men, many of them lawyers.

This time, they saw something different, they saw what they themselves could someday be.  There's nothing wrong with that.

Justin grew up at 24 Sussex Drive so knew early on what a politician's life was like and learned much from his father.  He also distanced himself from politics earlier in his career in order to make a name for himself away from the public spotlight.  Sure he wasn't a lawyer running for office as is so often the case.  But is that such a bad thing?

So what of the NDP and their collapse from the 2011 election?  I think first of all the "Jack" factor wasn't present this time.  As effective as Thomas Mulcair was during the campaign, he didn't have that magic the late Jack Layton possessed in 2011.  We'll never know if NDP fortunes would have been different this time around had Jack lived to fight another campaign, but you have to think things would have been somewhat different.

Secondly, perhaps people sensed this time a vote for the NDP was not the most effective way to stop Harper, if that was their personal game-plan.

So as it stands right now, Mr. Trudeau will have a brief honeymoon and will have to deliver on his promises sooner rather than later in order to take advantage of the goodwill generated by his big election win.

Look, he's not perfect, I know that.  Mistakes likely will be made in the coming four-year term of office.  But what party has not made mistakes while in office?  None that I can think of, frankly.

Justin Trudeau represents a younger generation, to be sure, but his appeal this time around seems to have crossed many age barriers, and that is something you can't ignore.

He deserves a chance to show what he can do.  Whether you voted for him or not, he has a majority government and as such the next election will not be for another four years.  Might as well get used to him for awhile.

You know, I often wonder how politicians find the strength and will to run for political office, and especially so now with attacks coming from all directions every day by way of social media.  It will be relentless for the next four years, I'm afraid, and I suggest you do as I do and try to scroll right by the partisan rants.

On a local level, Conservative MP Rick Dykstra and NDP MP Malcolm Allen both fell in the red wave that swept across the country, and that is indeed unfortunate.  I have had the pleasure of knowing both gentlemen during my days in the media and I appreciate their service to the community.  Both will land on their feet, to be sure, and I hope in both cases both Rick and Malcolm find new ways to serve their respective communities with the dignity and skill they brought to their roles as Members of Parliament.

Let's get past the rancour and partisan political rants and give the new government a chance.  Is that too much to ask?

October 21st, 2015.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Some random weekend thoughts...

I don't have a lot of brain power this evening, after a very hectic and somewhat stress-filled week, but a quiet Saturday evening with some appropriate music in the background will allow me to offer up a few random thoughts on happenings in Niagara and beyond this weekend.

Earlier today at the Pen Centre, men from all over Niagara came together for a common cause:  to raise funds for the good work done by Gillian's Place, the women's shelter in St. Catharines.  For ten years running, men with a conscience have strapped on high heels in varying degrees of height and literally Walked a Mile in HER Shoes.  Each sought pledges for the walk, raising a lot of money for Gillian's Place over the years.

The first year was held in downtown St. Catharines, leaving Market Square and walking around a city block before returning to the market, trying to avoid pot holes along the way.  After that first year, it was decided to move the event to the somewhat safer and certainly warmer climate of Pen Centre, and the event has grown in size at that location every year.

I don't have a tally on how many walkers we had this year, but I do know those who did walk raised an impressive $60,000 for Gillian's Place today.  That is an investment in a community resource and refuge that is unfortunately still very much needed in this day and age.  We can't eradicate domestic violence elsewhere in the world, but right here at home we can all do our part to show domestic violence can not and will not be tolerated on any level.

My congratulations to all those who participated this year, both as walkers and as volunteers.  It was a great event and it is always wonderful to see the community come together and rally around a very important cause.  Men in heels; not being heels...

I was there today, but didn't walk this year.  The reason for that will be explained in greater detail in my next blog posting this week, but suffice to say I had to be extra careful with my feet this year.

Now, on to an arts event currently underway that is gaining a lot of notice in downtown St. Catharines.  The FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre commissioned a production that celebrates the living memory of downtown St. Catharines and the show, entitled The Tale of a Town, opened earlier this week.

The show, staged at the historic Odd Fellows Hall on James Street in downtown St. Catharines, continues throughout the next week until Friday, October 23rd.  Most days have both afternoon and evening performances so it should be relatively easy to find a performance that suits your schedule.

The Tale of a Town is a collaborative effort between nationally-known theatre and media company Fixt Point and our own Suitcase in Point Theatre Company, in order to capture the collective community memory of Canada's Main Streets, one story at a time.  The production was developed during 2011 and 2013 at our own In the Soil Arts Festival.  In 2014, Fixt Point launched a national tour in collaboration with The National Arts Centre and presenting partners across the country.

St. Catharines was the focal point during last spring's In the Soil Festival, as the company set up a small trailer on James Street in order to record audio and video recollections of local residents of downtown St. Catharines.  In all, over 100 interviews with business leaders and community members ranging from Walter Ostanek and Doug Herod to the late Marilyn I. Walker were conducted.

I, too, was amongst those asked to provide some recollections of our downtown, and I happily spent part of a spring Saturday afternoon offering my own memories of our main street.  It was fun and interesting to see the different perspectives on the downtown core offered up during the interviews.

I have not seen The Tale of a Town yet; that will come next Friday evening when neighbours Sandy Middleton and Mark Allaart invite my far better half and I to catch the final show in the run.  I am almost afraid to see what part of my interview they chose to use for the production!

Tickets are only $20 plus hst and are on sale through the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office by calling 905-688-0722 or 905-688-5601, ext. 3700.  You can also purchase your tickets in person at Suite No. 1, 101 King Street, downtown St. Catharines.

Tied in with this show, the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre is supporting the show by providing various historic photographs from its vast collection for use in the production and also for a small photo display during the run of The Tale of the Town.

The Museum will also present its award-winning aMUSE pop-up museum experience featuring artifacts and photographs with a special connection to the stories featured in the production next Saturday evening at 7 at the Mahtay Cafe on St. Paul Street.  This free event is open to the community.

This should be a fun way to reminisce about the so-called "good old days", or if you are new to St. Catharines, find out a little more about the history of our downtown here in the Garden City.

Before I get to the show next Friday of course, we have something else to deal with here in the city as well as across the rest of the country on Monday.  That's election day, and we have the power to shape the future of this country by taking part in the democratic process our parents and grandparents fought many years ago to preserve.

I don't have any great insights on how to vote in the coming election; heck I have even been undecided for much of this very long campaign myself.  But I do know by not voting, you don't contribute.  So get out and cast a ballot for the candidate of your choice.

Don't be complacent and say to yourself your vote doesn't matter or won't change anything.  It has the power to be and do both.  Just consider the many people around the world who don't have that democratic right we tend to take for granted, and just get out and do it.

Monday is an important day.  Please be a responsible citizen of this country and vote in the federal election.

Have a great weekend in the meantime!

October 17th, 2015.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Local boy makes good: Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra hosts Canadian singer Ian Thomas next weekend.

With Thanksgiving well underway this weekend, I'll look ahead to next weekend and touch on a concert coming up in the new Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra season.  Entitled A Life in Song:  Ian Thomas and the HPO, proud Hamiltonian Thomas and his band will perform with the HPO conducted by Darcy Hepner.

The concert will premiere his work A Life in Song with live orchestra, and it's only fitting to be taking place in Hamilton, where Thomas has lived and worked for many years.  The music offers audiences a rich cross-section of Thomas' life as a singer-songwriter from the 1970s to today.

We all know some of the great hits Ian had back in the 70s; hits like Painted Ladies, Long Long Way, Pilot, Hold On and Right Before Your Eyes.  What won't be familiar will be the arrangements.  This will be Thomas hits in formal dress if you will, or at least a tuxedo jacket paired with blue jeans and sneakers.

I had a chance to talk to Ian earlier this week by phone and email, and I asked him about the new work, A Life in Song.  He describes it as a "cross-section of my songs from 45 years of writing."  Yikes! I thought, has it really been that long?  "Well" he continues, " the tell-tale signs of dated arrangements and vintage production are gone."

Yes, we all remember those songs in the original form, really a product of the age they were written in.  But the arrangements indeed belie their age; now with better production values at his disposal and the ability to reflect on life since those days long ago, the old songs take on a sheen today like newly burnished gems.

But Ian, I asked, you've got a lot of life left in you; what else would you like to do with your life you have not already done?  He replied "Actually I am feeling, at this age, not to be presumptuous about how much time I have left.  I do have three books in the works and as crazy as it sounds, after months of writing for orchestra I want to set my amp at 11, plug in my guitar and write some serious rock 'n' roll.  I have often felt the same way after many a film score.  My brother said once that creativity is as much an affliction as a talent.  I think that rings true.  Even when I am trying to relax, I still write.  It's like breathing, it's how I howl at the moon and all I will ever know."

Makes sense to me.

I asked Ian about growing up in Hamilton, a city that has undergone massive changes over the years, and what to his way of thinking defines Hamilton today.  He said "Hamilton has always been very multi-cultural, in part because it has a higher influx of immigration than many (other) cities in Canada.  This has often meant that culture in the city was quite scattered.  But it seems in the last decade, there has been a migration to Hamilton of so many artists and musicians seeking cheaper housing.  This has resulted in the art crawls and an awakening in the arts community at large...It is wonderful to see this happening on many fronts."

Anyone who worked in Canadian radio back in the early 70s like I did remembers the push to make Canadian content more mainstream for radio listeners by instituting the M-A-P-L logo and classification on recordings of the day.   M-A-P-L, or simply "Maple" referred to the parts of a recording that would actually qualify as Canadian content, and two of the four categories had to be Canadian in order for the song to be classified as Canadian content.  M stood for music; A for artist; P for production and L for lyrics.  If only one was present after a particular date, the song would not be considered Canadian content.

The concept did have its detractors, of course, with many of them citing Canadian content regulations being thrust down broadcasters' and the public's collective throats in this way was not the solution to the problem.

Ian has a different perspective on the debate, of course, being a Canadian singer/songwriter who made his mark in the 70s and beyond:  "Can-Con quite simply fed my family" he said, adding "One could make a living, albeit a comparatively meagre one, from Canadian radio play.  I know my family lived on airplay residuals for a time.  I am so grateful to (Pierre) Juneau and the government of the day.  Canada soon began to be proud of their 'own', without the stamp of approval from the USA first.  Now we even have bands who are huge in Canada and do nothing much in the USA at all."

All that being the case, I asked Ian what he would most like to be remembered for.  He quickly offered "As a good Canadian songwriter, grateful for all this incredible land we live in has given me.  Canada has offered me a wonderful life and a safe environment of moderation from which to observe the world and sing about it."

Sounds like Ian plans to sing about Painted Ladies living life Right Before Your Eyes for a long time yet.

For tickets to the concert A Life in Song:  Ian Thomas and the HPO next Saturday evening, October 17th at Hamilton Place, call the box office at 905-526-7756 or go online to

In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

October 10th, 2015.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Mourning the loss of a local friend and supporter of the arts in Niagara

The Donor Dedication and Season Launch planned by the Department of Music at Brock University this coming Monday evening at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts will be a bittersweet affair.  The woman who made the arts her life and whose name adorns the new arts school in the heart of the city she loved has passed away.

It was early yesterday morning as I was hurrying to get ready for an appointment in Hamilton that I heard the news on the radio:  Marilyn I. Walker left us on Thursday at the age of 80.  I stopped what I was doing and thought for a moment how she had touched my life and those of so many others with her talent and generosity over the years.

I never had the pleasure and honour of meeting Marilyn in person, although I attended countless concerts and events she also attended, and I could well imagine the lively conversations that would ensue when she was in the room.  Marilyn just had a love of life and especially the arts that knew no bounds, and was totally infectious.

It was her smile you noticed most, I think, as she clearly loved any activity that showcased the arts in general and her own art form in particular:  quilting.  In fact, she raised quilting to an art form, and was the author of Ontario Heritage Quilts, which won the Canadian Historical Association Award of Merit in 1992.

One of Marilyn's most elaborate quilts is now on display in the main lobby of the arts centre that bears her name, a gift she worked on tirelessly prior to the opening last month.  It is huge, detailed, and clearly the work of a master craftsperson.  If you have yet to see it, do make the effort the next time you are in the area, as it is magnificent.

Quilting was not her only love, of course.  She loved anything to do with the "arts and those who studied it.  Her vision was to find a way to bring culture into everyone's life," according to Derek Knight, director of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts:  "I can't imagine a more thoughtful, compassionate person than Marilyn," he said in a statement, "she has changed all of our lives for the best."

Brock University President Jack Lightstone stated plainly her loss is one "that will never be replaced."  He said "Marilyn leaves a huge legacy for the University and for the whole community.  She not only altered Brock's ability to accelerate learning for future generations of students, she changed the course of history for the University and for the Niagara Region."

It was back in 2008, the same year Brock awarded her an honorary doctorate, she donated $15 million to the university in order to launch the funding for a downtown arts school that would benefit not only the university and its students, but the community at large as well.  "It was transformational" Lightstone said at the opening ceremonies just three weeks ago, and led the way towards gaining funding from other sources to build the arts school in the heart of downtown St. Catharines.

She knew that, of course, and I suspect she also knew if this project was ever to become a reality, she had to do her part to get the ball rolling so others could follow.  She did, and they did.  The rest is history in the making as another valuable infrastructure investment in our community is now open and in full use.

Marilyn was in poor health at the opening and did not make any public comments.  But you could see she was clearly elated when everyone gathered around her to cut the ribbon at the official opening.  There was that radiant smile again.  A knowing smile.  A smile that said to one and all, job well done.

So it is indeed bittersweet the season launch for the Department of Music in their new home at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts this coming Monday evening will go on without her.  But it will pay tribute to another generous donation made by another prominent Niagara family.

The performance, to be held in the Cairns Recital Hall at the adjacent FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, will also be the first public event at the arts centre as it nears completion this fall.

This performance will be the first to feature Brock's new Steinway D piano, purchased through donations by Art and Val Fleming.  Although Art himself passed away in 2014, Val remains an active member of the Brock community, and in fact a 75-seat lecture hall at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts is named in honour of the Fleming family's generosity.

The concert, scheduled to begin at 7:30 pm, features Music Chair Dr. Karin Di Bella, violinist Vera Alekseeva and cellist Gordon Cleland, and all proceeds will be donated to department of music student scholarships.

Tickets are only $15 each and are available at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office by calling 905-688-0722.

Marilyn would like the affordable ticket price, making it possible for music students to attend, and would love the fact by getting the ball rolling herself back in 2008, she paved the way for others to step up and make their contributions to the betterment of arts education in Niagara.

Monday's performance will be tinged with sadness, I'm sure.  But something tells me Marilyn's smile will not be far away, and she'd like everyone else who visits the arts school that now bears her name to smile, too.

That's just the way she was.

October 3rd, 2015.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Four down in the Niagara Restaurant business

I don't often write about dining out and restaurants in this space, which I probably should since my wife and I have frequented more than a few over the years.  So this weekend, as the Niagara Wine Festival reaches its climax and everyone is out and about and enjoying themselves, I'll bring the mood down a bit with news of the passing of four local eateries of note.

Let me state first of all it is well known running a restaurant in this day and age is not easy.  Many of our favourites are owned by large corporate entities and the individual, locally-owned success story sometimes appears harder to come by.  When locals discover a locally-owned establishment they tend to want to keep it to themselves and not let the secret out.

One local restaurant that has experienced tremendous success over the years at several ever-larger locations is Cafe Amore, now on Martindale at Erion.  Previous locations were closer to the heart of the city and possessed a more urban, almost bohemian feel to them.  Owners Al and Nadia Sawatsky have been good friends of ours for years and they continually reinvent themselves in order to make their restaurant an absolute must-try on a regular basis.

In my bachelor days I tended to frequent Cafe Amore almost weekly as well as a couple of other so-called "family" restaurants in Niagara I was fond of, usually trying to keep my dinner tab down to $15 or so each time.  Yes I know, the last of the big spenders...

My wife, however, comes from a family deeply entrenched in the restaurant trade and she herself served for many years in what she refers to as "fine dining" establishments throughout the Niagara area.  So it came as no surprise when we started dating, some of my restaurant choices needed serious upgrading.  They did, and I will be the first to admit I have experienced so much more since we met than before, and my palette has grown as a result.

Be that as it may, I still enjoy what I call "slumming" on occasion if I happen to be out on my own and in need of some familiar fare from some trusted restauranteurs in the Region.  They say you can't go home again, but they never said anything about not going back to your favourite hangouts on occasion.  Besides, I have forged tremendous relationships with the owners of some of my favourite hangouts, and that means a lot to me even to this day.

Now, the four restaurants I wanted to touch on in this space all had their specific clientele, and all but one of them included me as a regular customer.  The one that didn't was Nini Panini on St. Paul Street, next to one of my wife's favourite hangouts, the Carlisle Cafe.  Not knocking Nini Panini; I just never got the chance to stop in while they were open.

But passing by this week while walking downtown, I noticed the windows papered over and thought that must be rather recent.  The next time I walked by later in the week, I noticed a sign in the window indicating it will reopen shortly as a new pizza destination.  No idea when, though.

Nini Panini, Carlisle Cafe and the newly-relocated Dani's Bistro all share space in that block overshadowed by the venerable Leonard Hotel, right across the street from the soon-to-be-open FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.  Savvy restauranteurs know location is everything, and getting in on the ground floor of the old Leonard Hotel right across the street from where lots of people will be attending concerts and things on a regular basis seemed like a good idea.

It still does.  Sadly, though, Nini Panini didn't make it to the arts ball.  Just why it closed I can only guess, but at least it will reopen under a new name shortly, so the space will not be empty.

About a month ago the owners of Frado's Dining Lounge on Queenston Street at the Homer Bridge also closed for good, having been open at the busy location since the 60s.  Business was still good and the view of the Welland Canal is still amazing, but the owners were tired and ready to pack it in, so a sale to new owners was arranged and a new eating establishment will presumably open in the old Frado's location in the future.

I only made it to Frado's once, but it was certainly enjoyable.  If I remember correctly I ordered a sampler plate of their most popular pasta dishes, and the food was exceptional.  They were not cheap, but the quality was very good and I loved sitting there watching the occasional traffic on the Welland Canal.

Next on the list is the venerable Dom's Resto-Bar and Grill on Academy at King, right beside the bus terminal.  Dom's had been a mainstay of downtown St. Catharines for about eight years now, after moving from a previous location on Schmon Parkway.

The building where Dom's was located, of course, is the old Yorkshire House location, much in need of repair before owner Heather Fasulo took over years ago and made a going concern.  Heather worked tirelessly seven days a week, as many in the restaurant trade often do, to make a go of it in the historic downtown location, but the end has come.

I ran in to Heather a couple of weekends ago and asked about the For Sale/Lease sign on the building, asking if she was indeed still open for business.  No came the answer, with Heather explaining she ultimately couldn't make a go of it.  So Dom's served their last pasta dish about midway through the summer.

I loved Dom's both for the food and the atmosphere, both of which were in abundance when Heather ran the place.  There is no more warm-hearted, good-natured individual in the business than Heather, and her presence in the downtown core will be sorely missed.

Of course, margins are thin in the food business and everyone wants a deal, but Dom's just seemed to rise above the rest with their quality and service for so many years, it's hard to imagine not going there in the future.

I hope Heather finds a new gig somewhere.  She knows the business inside out and always had a large and loyal following at Dom's.

The final restaurant to close recently was the venerable Regal Diner on Main Street in Niagara Falls.  A local institution since about the 40s, Angela Peebles and husband Simon purchased the restaurant a few years ago after driving to Ontario from B.C. with their own food truck.  Settling down in a bricks-and-mortar location made sense to the couple, and picking up the Regal Diner just seemed to be the right move at the right time.

I got to know Ang through social media when I was in the radio business years ago, and when I finally visited the restaurant after several months of conversing on Twitter and Facebook, Ang immediately knew who I was.  I was more than a little taken aback by this.

But I soon realized what others in the busy Main & Ferry business district knew:  the Regal Diner was your go-to place for breakfast or lunch of exceptional quality.  The menu was not large, but filled with great items with a healthy helping of attitude.

The location is small - well, tiny, really - and can not seat really all that many at one time compared to more familiar breakfast and lunch establishments.  But the diner developed a loyal following over the years, both for the food and Ang's politically-skewed social media posts.  She was nothing if not interesting!

Over the years we learned about her garden woes, the so-called "diner orphans" and long-suffering Simon toiling away in the cramped kitchen quarters at the diner.  We also learned about another problem when you own a local restaurant:  people who pretend to be a customer, requesting a menu and then excusing themselves to use the washroom, mysteriously disappearing out the door without ordering.  Yes, people actually do this sort of thing.

If I am in need of a washroom while out and about, I usually find a Tim Hortons and make sure I give them some business before leaving.  Not doing so is an abuse of the privilege in my view.   But I digress...

Last month, Ang posted they have had enough of the long days and constant work and are preparing to return to B.C.  The restaurant would close September 24th, with what she called a "Grand Closing Party" during the annual Niagara Night of Art.  The Regal Diner had always been an integral part of the Night of Art in the past, so Ang figured why not go out on a high note and throw a party to celebrate all they have achieved in Niagara Falls with the restaurant and as citizens.

People who know Angela Peebles will not be the least bit surprised by this fact.  Go big or go home seems to be their motto, and Ang and Simon plan to do both.

I stopped by for lunch one last time on Wednesday afternoon, prior to an appointment I had in Niagara Falls, and enjoyed my time at the old hangout.  The food as always was excellent and eminently affordable.

I'll miss the old place, not that I got there all that often, really, but it always seemed to be your go-to place if you wanted exceptional quality on a budget and/or you were short on time.

Today they held a garage sale at the restaurant to sell off the tools of their trade, and then they are off to B.C. and to new adventures.  Lots of people including myself will miss them and their dedication to the community.

Safe trip home, Ang and Simon, and thanks for the memories.  Oh and the amazing burgers, too.

Enjoy your weekend!

September 26th, 2015.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Opening of Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts redefines downtown St. Catharines

There were several adjectives and phrases used to describe the new Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts, which opened to the pubic at a gala event yesterday afternoon and evening:  cool,  amazing, transformative, and my personal favourite, mind equals blown.

Yes the new facility, not to be confused with the still-to-open FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre next door, is impressive any way you look at it or choose to describe it.  So in this space this weekend, my own personal thoughts and impressions after attending the opening yesterday and taking the afternoon tour.

Although I have heard the odd student worry about being disconnected physically from the rest of the Brock campus up on the hill, the new purpose designed arts facility gives them so much more than they ever had up there, as will become more apparent the longer the new facility is in full use as it now is.

Here are the numbers that tell the tale:  95,000 square feet of education space; 500 students learning from 50 full-time faculty members, part-time instructors and staff;  $26.1 million investment from the Ontario government along with countless corporate and private donations; a $45.5 million facility that came in on time and on budget.

To say this is a modern miracle might be overstating things a bit, but there is no doubt a lot of hard work, dedication and devotion went in to seeing this dream become a reality.  The speeches delivered at the opening yesterday cite all these attributes and more brought to the table by so many individuals and groups connected to the project.

The vision of former Dean of Humanities Rosemary Drage-Hale and her colleagues was taken up by then-new Brock President Jack Lightstone in 2008, who also believed the vision should and would be part of a larger picture, the revitalization of downtown St. Catharines.  Brock in downtown St. Catharines was not a new concept; after all, the first offices for the fledgling university were in fact located in central St. Catharines back in 1964 when the dream for a university in Niagara became a reality.

But becoming part of the fabric of downtown St. Catharines took more than vision.  Investors were needed, both public and private, and St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley, named by Jack Lightstone yesterday as the "Minister of Brock", took up the cause at Queen's Park culminating in securing the $26.1 million in government funding needed to get the ball rolling.

When Marilyn and Norris Walker, both long known for their philanthropy in St. Catharines and Marilyn's love and pursuit of excellence in art, stepped up and made the astounding $15 million donation to help fund the new facility, Jack Lightstone said yesterday everyone connected with the vision knew they simply had to succeed in this.  Failure was simply not an option.

The acquiring of the former Canada Hair Cloth building, an icon of local manufacturing lore dating back to the late 1800s, proved to be the perfect option for bringing the new arts school into the downtown core.  Former Mayor Brian McMullan and the council of the day worked to make the building and surrounding land available to Brock in order to move the project forward.

From there the vision grew, with the decision to hire renowned Toronto firm Diamond Schmitt Architects, also the designers of the neighbouring FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, signalling the project would not fail.

And indeed, it did not fail.

Early on, it was decided the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts would be closely aligned both physically and artistically with the new Performing Arts Centre.  The arts school would be able to take advantage of the performance spaces available next door during the day when they would be vacant.  Being located beside each other, students could travel between the two venues as needed during classes with little effort.  This cooperation with the city-owned facility was necessary for both, saving each venue millions of dollars and needless duplication.

So touring the new arts school yesterday, you cannot help but be excited by what you see.  The blending of old and new, traditional and contemporary is evident throughout the facility.  The bright white walls, wood or concrete floors and tall windows all combine to bring yesterday and today together in perfect harmony.

It is evident nothing was left out in the pursuit of the perfect space for learning in the 21st century, with the departments of Dramatic Arts, Visual Arts, Music and the Centre for Studies in Arts and Culture all finding their home here in downtown St. Catharines.  Each floor has ample space devoted to each department, a far cry from the cramped quarters endured up the hill for so many years.

I particularly enjoyed touring the lower level with the myriad of soundproof music studios and labs available for students to learn in, and the compact but well-designed DART theatre, used last evening for the cabaret show running through to 11 pm.

On the 4th floor you find ample space for the Visual Arts department, each room bright and airy with a blend of the old and the new.

The spacious and bright lobby, located on the south side of the building facing McGuire Street houses the latest creation by Marilyn I. Walker herself, a mammoth nine-foot tall handmade quilt.  The Tree of Learning incorporates uncommon fabrics and techniques from textile and fibre art to depict a dream about learning that floats between reality and fantasy.  It is spectacular, and holds pride of place along the main corridor.

There are events planned all weekend long to celebrate the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts coming downtown, and if you have not already done so you should take advantage of the opportunity while you can.  It is a vision fulfilled, and another part of the revitalization of downtown St. Catharines.

Seems Marilyn is a downtown gal after all...welcome home!

September 19th, 2015.