Saturday, March 28, 2015

Visiting a downtown on the Thorold

Being a long-time resident and supporter of downtown St. Catharines, I have written often in this space about goings on - both good and bad - in our work-in-progress downtown.  I have often written as well about the lengthy and sometimes stalled revitalization of downtown Niagara Falls.  But I have not written about downtown Thorold...until today.

I had occasion to spend some time driving around after work this afternoon and decided since I had a delivery to make to my accountant, Lucy Popoli in downtown Thorold, I would get out of the car and explore a bit of the downtown core on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

I'm not a stranger to downtown Thorold, as I have enjoyed many a visit in the past for any number of reasons, ranging from the Santa Claus Parade to the old days when the Thorold Arts & Crafts Show was held on a July weekend at Battle of Beaverdams Park.  I was even a visitor from year one to the annual Italian Festival until it appeared to run out of gas a few years ago.

A lot of my favourite Thorold haunts are still there:  Riganelli's Bakery on Ormond Street and Clarkson Cycle at the corner of Pine and Richmond amongst them.  Sadly, some of my favourites from the past are now gone:  Ricky's Big Scoop on Front Street (formerly on Pine) and going way back, the old grocery store on Pine near Sullivan that was right out of another era.

But to every end there is a beginning, and change brings with it some welcome new additions and an opportunity to revisit some old friends you haven't seen in awhile.  So it was on my walk along Front Street this afternoon.

I began my walking tour with a visit to the local heartbeat of downtown Thorold, Henderson's Pharmasave, still looking grand 75 years after it all began.  It was great to see things were still bustling inside, as they have been almost from day one.

I was also happy to see the best hangout for a leisurely weekend breakfast, Cosmo's Diner, still going strong with their newer facade, and other mainstays such as New York Bar & Grill and Elio's Foot Comfort Centre keeping the locals happy on a Saturday afternoon.

But there are changes afoot in the downtown, I found.  Next to Henderson's, for example, a big new building is well on its way to completion and I'm told it will be a walk-in clinic with apartments above.

There will also be construction across the street in the near future, I'm told, as the building housing Home Hardware is apparently coming down and a new mixed-use building there will house a newly-expanded Shannon Passero enterprise, moving over from their present location in the old firehall building.

Along a stretch on the east side of Front Street you can now find a number of nicely updated storefronts housing several new businesses and a bistro, adding some new flavours to the downtown.  I stopped in to two of them today:  The Pie Man of Thorold and The Honey Bee Store.

I was acquainted with Old Angus, the original Pie Man when he operated his original shop next to Clarkson Cycle some years ago.  While he still supplies many of the pies for sale in the shop even today, there is a new owner and for the last year the Pie Man has actually been a woman, Jen Cottage, whom I met today.  The pies look just as great as ever, and I came away with a tourtiere I plan to get better acquainted with very soon.

There are now 28 varieties of meat pies and sweet pies for sale, and space now to sit and enjoy a coffee with your selection right then and there should you choose to.  You can find out more about The Pie Man by checking out their website at and also check them out on Facebook.

Just a few doors down I stopped in to chat with Chris Pezoulas, the affable owner of The Honey Bee Store.  The original Honey Bee store is still going strong on West Street in Port Colborne, but Chris tells me the new location in Thorold, open now since November, is doing just great, thanks.  He credits the obvious revitalization underway in downtown Thorold for his decision to open a second location in the town.

Chris stocks a large selection of locally-produced natural honey, as well as Canadian maple products, loose leaf tea and much more.  If you wish, you can sample many of the varieties of honey for sale in the shop.  I came away with my favourite from when I visited the shop in Port Colborne:  Basswood, which is particularly good.  It's in short supply, though, so get it while you can.

You can find out more by visiting the website at or check them out on Facebook.

Now I know Thorold has had a bit of a bad rap over the years for reasons either real or imagined.  But I have always liked the city and always enjoyed my visits.  I recall back in the late 1980s a downtown revitalization was well underway and I was impressed with the transformation back then.  But things seem to stall for awhile there and the downtown appeared to be sliding backwards a little bit.

But now Thorold appears to be back on track and grabbing opportunity in a big way, and it shows with a renewed sense of pride in the downtown core.  It isn't complete yet, for sure, but the signs are pointing in the right direction.  I expect in a few short years the downtown could be a very trendy, fun place to be all over again.

I plan to return again soon, to revisit some old and new friends, and check out some businesses I didn't get to today, such as Gypsy Alley and a really cool looking Panini Cafe that looks particularly inviting.

Nicely done, Thorold.  You should all be proud of what you're accomplishing downtown.  And yes, people are noticing.

Enjoy your weekend!

March 28th, 2015.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Haydn 68 continues in Kitchener-Waterloo

I received an email a little while ago from Jan Narveson, the irrepressible driving force behind KWCMS, the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, asking for a little publicity about their concert season up in the Waterloo Region, which is certainly one of my favourite areas to visit when I do leave lovely Niagara.

Although I have not made it up to any of the KWCMS concerts so far, there are plenty over the course of the season for anyone who does, and the line-up each season is quite frankly dazzling.  I often wonder how Jan does it, booking so many acts over the course of the season year in and year out.  I supposed that's his dirty little secret...

Seriously, though, I met Jan several years ago while helping out at the late, lamented Twelfth Night Music Shoppe in downtown Waterloo, and he is about as big a supporter of the local arts scene as you're likely to find anywhere.  How he manages to find time to handle all the details needed to pull each season off is beyond me.

One of the many ambitious projects Jan has on the go at the moment is programming all 68 of Haydn's complete string quartets, which will take about three years and 23 concerts to complete.  In most cases, three quartets per concert are programmed, with the schedule usually dependent on the availability of the busy Attacca Quartet, who originate in New York.  The quartet, made up of Amy Schroeder, first violin, Keiko Tokunago, second violin, Luke Fleming, viola and Andrew Yee, cello spend a lot of time on the road, and appear to be as excited about this project as Jan and his devoted audiences are.

This weekend will be the Fourth Haydn Weekend, running Friday evening through to Sunday afternoon, with performances Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 and Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2.  That's four Haydn quartet concerts per weekend, covering another dozen of the 68 Haydn composed.  Incidentally, there are pre-concert chats prior to the evening performances beginning at 7:15.

For the record, this weekend's line up looks like this:  Friday evening they perform Op. 17, No. 6 in D; Op. 55, No. 1 in A; Op. 74, No. 1 in C.  Saturday afternoon includes Op. 2, No. 2 in E; Op. 20, No. 5 in F; Op. 50, No. 2 in C.  Saturday evening sees the group perform Op. 54, No. 2 in C; Op. 9, No. 4 in D and Op. 71, No. 3 in Eb.  Finally, Sunday afternoon features Op. 1, No. 6 in C; Op. 64, No. 1 in C and Op. 33, No. 2 in Eb, subtitled "Joke", which Jan advises has the "funniest ending in the history of music."  With salesmanship like that, how can you go wrong?

The next two weekends have already been pencilled in for the ongoing series, with Weekend Five scheduled for October 30 to November 1 and Weekend Six scheduled for March 18 to 20 of next year.  All of the concerts take place at The Music Room at 57 Young Street West in Waterloo.  The room seats about 85 and is inside a large private home that also houses a Steinway piano, so it certainly is not your average concert venue.

Sound intriguing?  You can find out more by going to the KWCMS website at  You can also email them at  A pass for the entire weekend will cost you $95, or $75 for a senior and only $50 for a student pass.  You can get a pass for the entire weekend at the door prior to the first concert Friday night.

There are many options available to patrons to support KWCMS in any number of ways, and you can find out more on their website.  But supporting this ambitious Haydn cycle would be a great place to start.

I will have to get up that way one of these days to attend a concert or two myself, but if you plan to make the trek this weekend, you will certainly be treated to some absolutely sublime chamber music performed by a group of young musicians accomplished beyond their years.

Enjoy the weekend!

March 26th, 2015.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

My new career - one year later

I almost find it hard to believe, but earlier this week - March 17th, in fact - I marked my first anniversary at Meridian Credit Union.  So I thought it would be a good time to review the past year and look ahead to the future as this new adventure continues to unfold.

When I and several others were let go from our radio jobs in St. Catharines in August of 2013, my initial intention was to try to stay in the radio game and continue to do what I know best.  I did secure a part-time contract position at Brock Radio, CFBU-FM for eight months, and it allowed me to grow as a writer, broadcaster and researcher in my new role as Spoken Word Co-ordinator.

It was a valuable experience as I rediscovered my natural inquisitiveness about things and honed my skills as an interviewer to uncover details others might have missed.  I made many great friends both on campus at Brock and off through that association, and in fact continue to do freelance work for the university as both writer and as moderator/host of a series of podcasts produced by the Department of Research at Brock.

But when it came time to look for something else more permanent knowing the eight-month contract could not be renewed, I knew deep down my broadcasting days were coming to an end.  The sad reality is the business has changed markedly since I began in radio broadcasting over 40 years ago, and much of it not for the better, I might add.

As is the case with many businesses today, corporate ownership can drain the local content out of a local institution so that in the end, it resembles almost an empty shell of its former self.  Not always, mind you, but often that is the case.

I knew I had strong local roots here in Niagara even though I grew up in Toronto and only moved to St. Catharines in 1981.  At the time I recall my mother saying I would be here for about ten years and I scoffed at that suggestion, thinking I would work my way back to Toronto and make my mark in radio in my home town in a few years.

Little did I know my love for Niagara in general and St. Catharines in particular would grow so strong over the ensuing 30-plus years the thought of moving away was just too hard to fathom.  Oh, I looked far and wide outside of Niagara when I was job hunting last year, fully prepared to commute every day if the job I wanted came outside the area, as I almost expected it would.

But a funny thing happened on that journey of self-realization and reassessment of personal and career priorities I embarked upon over a year ago:  I discovered you can make a difference right here at home and find gainful employment with a company that thinks like I do when it comes to community values.

I first took note of Meridian when it was announced they had secured naming rights for the soon-to-be-open spectator facility taking shape in the lower-level parking lot.  I thought about that grand gesture more than a little bit when I decided to broaden my career search and think, as they say, outside the box.

I knew if a company made that kind of commitment to the community, they were my kind of people.  So I embarked on a thorough research campaign to learn more about Meridian Credit Union and their culture, to see if I could see myself as a Member of the "team."  Once I did that, the decision for me was obvious.

There was a long process of networking, interviews and follow up emails in order to circumvent the usual process of simply sending a resume to Human Resources and hope for the best in order to secure a position with the company.  In short, I knew because of my age I would have to work my tail off to show a prospective employer I possessed the fortitude necessary in order to rise above the rest of the pack.

Yes, it was hard work.  I found the days long and often disheartening as I continued to apply for positions while watching the clock ticking on my contract position at Brock Radio.  But I never gave up hope and never stopped believing in myself.  More importantly, others continued to believe in me and that ultimately proved to be my future:  I didn't wait for the job to arrive at my doorstep, I fought long and hard to show people I brought determination to the table.

So a year after I began as a Member Services Representative at the downtown branch of Meridian Credit Union, I am feeling a little reflective this weekend.  If you'll indulge me...

I don't mind telling you, this is the hardest job I have ever had and it is not as easy as you think it is when you visit your favourite financial institution (hopefully it is Meridian, by the way...)  I recall talking to people a while after I started training, when I still possessed that "deer in the headlights" look, and they were surprised I had undertaken that kind of challenge this late in my career.

But I always tell people I knew in my heart I didn't want a menial job just to pay the bills.  I wanted a second career, and as such, the road to that goal would be longer and tougher to negotiate, the learning curve would be much steeper, and ultimately the rewards would be far richer.

Radio is fun, plain and simple.  But it is hard work, especially if, like me you got up at 3 in the morning for work every day.  The hours are much better now, yet I have found my present job much more difficult to master.

Integrity is paramount.  Communication skills are extremely important, as are analytical skills.  And some friendly persuasion comes into play as well.  While some of these skills I possessed prior to my new position, others were new to me and I had to adapt quickly to the new reality.

I am happy to say a year into the new job, I am still standing, I am still learning, and the future remains bright.  There is tremendous room for growth in my new position and within the organization, and I find that quite gratifying.

Meridian is a progressive company with some pretty ambitious goals, and I am grateful to be allowed to be part of the team as we work together to achieve those goals.  There is a culture of caring you don't often find in a corporate environment, and I find that aspect particularly appealing.

Where I go from here is up to me, really.  There is opportunity to grow and I plan to pursue those opportunities when I feel the time is right.  But for now, I continue along this path of self-discovery I first charted over a year ago.

If I can offer one bit of advice to those looking for work today, it would be research the company you want to be a part of, network like you've never networked before, and never stop believing in yourself.  Don't fall victim to the negativity that might occasionally gnaw at you; remain positive and you will achieve positive results.

If nothing else, I have proven to myself I can learn a completely new career and do it well, if I am willing to work hard and never give up.  There is no reason why you can't do the same.

Oh, and if you ever need convincing Meridian is a good place to achieve your financial goals as your financial institution, by all means drop me line.

Have a great weekend!

March 21st, 2015.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Events coming up in the arts over the next week

We've passed the half-way point of March and at least the cold is done for the time being, and Spring even arrives late Friday afternoon!  What more could put you in a good mood?

How about some great music and theatre right in your own backyard over the next week to get you out and about in Niagara?  I thought so...

A few things you might consider as your March marches onwards towards Easter and the warmer weather include the Niagara Symphony, Marilyn I.Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock and Niagara University Theatre in Niagara Falls, New York.

First off the Niagara Symphony presents the 4th Masterworks concert of the current season this coming Sunday afternoon at 2:30 at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University.  The NSO directed by Music Director Bradley Thachuk presents Simple Gifts, with the highlight being the timeless music of American composer Aaron Copeland and his Appalachian Spring.  Even if you don't think you are familiar with the music, more than likely you are, as the beautiful Shaker melody "Simple Gifts" is the highlight of the work.

Also on the programme Sunday afternoon is Sea of Blossoms by young Canadian composer Kevin Lau, whom I believe currently lives in the Toronto area.  I recall contacting Kevin a few seasons back regarding one of his compositions a customer of mine at A Web of Fine Music ( heard on the radio and was interested in getting a copy of the work.  Sadly there were no commercial recordings available of Lau's composition, but we had a great conversation back and forth via email for a little while there.  Lau is an engaging personality and his music is well worth discovering.

The concert wraps up with Haydn's last symphony, No. 104, "The London Symphony", certainly one of the finest examples of the symphonic form prior to Beethoven rewriting the book on symphonies early in the 19th century.

Tickets should be available from the Brock box office prior to the concert, or you can call them and reserve in advance at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.

The Industrial Fabric Festival of the Arts continues at the Marilyn I.Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock University through to the end of April, and over the next week alone, there are student recitals this Saturday and Sunday at the Concordia Seminary Chapel on the Brock Campus, as well as two other series concerts next weekend.

This weekend, soprano Victoria Hoshowsky performs with pianist Lesley Kingham on Saturday evening at 7:30, while Sunday evening Negin Rezaei Asl will give a piano recital at 7:30 pm.  Both of these recitals are free of charge and open to the public.

The usual Tuesday Music@Noon recitals sponsored by the RBC Foundation continue next Tuesday with a recital by Instrumental Students at noon at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at Brock.  This as always is a free community event.

Next weekend, the ENCORE! Professional Concert Series features Trio Surgite in a performance Friday evening, March 27th at 7:30 pm at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at Brock.  Entitled Voices of Eastern Europe - Transcendent Music from Troubled Times, the concert explores the music of Dvorak, Kodaly and Enescu.

Performers are cellist Gordon Cleland on the Kodaly Sonata, certainly one of the most challenging solo pieces in the cello repertoire, along with violinist Vera Alekseeva and pianist Erika Reiman.

The following night, Saturday March 28th, the Viva Voce! Choral Series presents the Brock University Choirs with guest conductor Glenda Crawford performing their annual Spring Choral Concert.  The performance takes place off-campus at Knox Presbyterian Church on Church Street in downtown St. Catharines at 7:30 pm.

Tickets to either of these concerts next weekend are available at the door or in advance by calling the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 or by going to

Finally, next weekend through to March 31st Niagara University Theatre in Niagara Falls, New York, presents the play Cyrana, a new adaptation of Edmund Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, by Doug Zschiegner.  This adaptation is billed as a gender-bending twist on the classic tale of love, poetry and panache, and certainly looks to be worth investigating if you, like me, have always loved the original Rostand tale.

For more information or tickets, call 1-716-286-8685 or go to or email

There you go, several ways to celebrate the beginning of Spring and the arts in Niagara before April even arrives.

Have a great weekend!

March 19th, 2015.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Music Matters panel hosted by Goodman School of Business at Brock coming up this week

As many readers of this blog know, I have had more than a passing interest in the music business for most of my adult life.  I worked for 40 years in radio, both music and talk formats, and have been involved in one way or another in the sale of recorded music for about 20 years now.

While I don't play a musical instrument myself (my mother once suggested I take up the accordion; thankfully Walter Ostanek 2 was not borne out of that suggestion), I have always told people I play CDs instead.  For years people knew what I was referring to but as the next generation comes along, one wonders how long CDs will remain relevant in the music business.

When I began in the retail music business, cassettes were quickly being phased out in favour of the CD format, which began to overtake other formats around 1982.  At the time we all thought CDs would be around for a long, long time, but it turned out we were wrong.  Oh, other formats have tried to dethrone the mighty CD, such as minidisc and DAT format tapes, for example, but nothing else was able to grab a foothold on the market the way CDs had done years ago.

All that changed, of course, with the dawn of the digital age.  It was the widespread availability of iTunes on your PC as well as your Mac in 2006 that dealt a crushing blow to the traditional music business as we knew it, although the downward slide had begun before that with illegal downloading of music from sites that began popping up like musical weeds, as it were.

There was a time when you paid for your music like you paid for everything else you consumed, like gas for your car or food at the grocery store.  The ability to download music for free changed the playing field forever so that now, an entire generation is growing up not knowing what it's like to actually have to pay for music they are listening to.

There is a practical explanation for why digital downloading is so popular, aside from the obvious fact it is often free.  It enables the listener to pick and choose only the titles they want to hear; you in effect create your own playlists and nobody else makes that decision for you.  Gone are the days you bought a recording containing about a dozen or more tracks just to get the one track you fell in love with on the radio.

I get that.  You're essentially renting the music for free or a small fee rather than buying it forever.

But at what cost do you achieve that freedom of choice?  If you are not willing to pay for the creation of the music you are listening to, how long before there is simply no new music to listen to?  And how do musical acts in this digital age make a go of it if people are not willing to pay for what they listen to?

These and many more questions will be addressed this coming Thursday evening at 7:30 at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at Brock University, as the Goodman School of Business at Brock hosts a panel on success, marketing and making money in the era of free music.  The panel discussion runs through to 9 pm and costs only $5, with all proceeds going to MusiCounts, a non-profit organization that supports music education in Canada.

The panel will discuss the challenges facing the industry, ethics and social responsibility, what's involved in making music in this new digital age, and how to ensure new talent is nurtured in this new economic climate.  Don Cyr, Dean of the Goodman School of Business and a musician himself, describes the panel as a candid look at the intersection of art and business.

The panel will be moderated by Todd Green, Goodman School of Business assistant professor of marketing, who researches corporate social responsibility in the music industry.  He is particularly interested in exploring the difficulties musicians now face in this new reality as they try to earn a living.

Joining Todd on the panel will be broadcaster and musician Alan Cross, who has spent more than 30 years in the music business and is perhaps best-known for his radio show "The Ongoing History of New Music"; musician Murray Foster of The Cocksure Lads, Great Big Sea and Moxy Fruvous; Ivar Hamilton, vice-president of marketing for Universal Music Canada; Noah Mintz, an audio mastering engineer; and Eric Alper, director of media relations for eOne Music and a well-known music commentator.

Whether or not you feel downloading music for free is considered "stealing" or not is a big issue here, and one I am certainly expecting will be addressed during the panel discussion on Thursday evening. I have my views on the subject as no doubt you do, too, and they might very much differ.  But perhaps it is time for that frank, open discussion of the matter and see where we go from here; clearly we cannot go down the path we've been following the last several years without some effect being felt by the musicians and the industry they are a part of.

If you want to attend, you can pick up tickets either in person at the Brock Centre for the Arts box office or by phone at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.

I hope to be there Thursday evening, and I hope you will be too.  Let's discuss it, shall we?

Have a great weekend!

March 14th, 2015.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The future is now for the new St. Catharines Performing Arts Centre

It's been a little while since I last wrote about our still-under-construction Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines, so it seemed like a good time to bring things up to speed in this space.

I was reminded of this fact by two events in the past week.  The first was Sunday afternoon while my far better half and I enjoyed a late lunch at the much-loved Carlisle Cafe on St. Paul Street right across from the future home of the PAC.  Above the hoarding you can see the building taking shape, alongside the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts Brock University is constructing.

To say the progress has been steady and impressive would be understating the case.  The new structures both look magnificent, both from down below looking up from Race Street or from up front on St. Paul Street.  You can finally see the future of downtown St. Catharines being transformed before our very eyes, and it is exciting to see.

Coincidentally, the nearby Mahtay Cafe was the scene of a fundraising campaign launch just last week in order to get the greater public involved in the fundraising efforts for the PAC.  Many notable local arts supporters were on hand along with those who have already contributed significantly to the campaign to fund the new venue.

Top billing goes to Peter Partridge, Chairman of the new Performing Arts Centre Fundraising Cabinet, whom along with his wife Janet donated $1-million in April, 2013 and in turn were honoured with the main theatre being named Partridge Hall.

Other large donations soon followed, with Jeff and Kitty Cairns of St. Catharines and Joe and Anita Robertson of Niagara-on-the-Lake both giving $500,000 to the new project in 2014.

Those are the headliners, if you will, but many, many more so-called "community champions" did their part as well, including Mark Brohman, Margaret Reid, Rachel Delaney and Ineke Brinkman.  All of these donors share the desire to help build a better community and do their part to support the arts in Niagara.

I say "arts in Niagara" rather than "arts in St. Catharines" because I firmly believe the entire Niagara Region will benefit from the new Performing Arts Centre once it is open for business next fall.  Sure it will go a long way to help revitalize our downtown core in a number of ways, but it also gives the entire region reason to celebrate.

Just two years ago, the Niagara Region commissioned a study that spelled out the importance of arts and culture on the entire region to the tune of $600-million.  With the opening next fall of the PAC, there will be a noticeable and hopefully significant impact on the local economy.

I have seen first-hand the transformative powers of an exceptional arts facility in the heart of Guelph, where the River Run Centre opened to much acclaim back in the fall of 1997.  I was there on that opening day and have been back several times since, always thinking what a wonderful addition such a venue would make to downtown St. Catharines.

Need more convincing?  Just look at the Meridian Centre, the home of the Niagara Ice Dogs and other big events that opened its doors last October.  People are coming from all over the region to attend a game or an event at the Meridian Centre, and that is just one venue.  Just think what three new venues will do to the regional economy when everything is up and running.

So here is where we can all do our part.  The launch of the Community Fundraising Campaign last week is a signal to the rest of us to do our part to help make the dream a reality.  Basically, they are looking for 100 families and organizations to step into a leading role by donating $10,000 or more to the PAC.

That is a large sum of money in its own right, and you and I likely would not likely be in a position to make a donation of that size.  But some community members would be able to, as well as smaller organizations that could very well have a stake in the local economy and would see real benefits from supporting this cause.

So let's get the word out and do our part in whatever way we can on an individual basis to help make this dream come true.  It is no longer a pipe dream; it is a dream nearing completion later this year.  Just stop down to St. Paul Street at Carlisle and see for yourself.

Come next fall, the doors will open to the 95,000-square-foot centre housing four state-of-the-art performance spaces that will host everyone from music, theatre, dance, film and more.  Not all the performances will necessarily be local, either.  Many international performances will likely be booked for the PAC as well, further broadening the draw and appeal of the centre.

If you have seen some of the drawings and models shown by Diamond & Schmitt Architects of Toronto over the last couple of years, you know just how exciting this project is for Niagara.  They are world-renowned for creating exceptional people-friendly arts spaces that simply work, including  the Daniels Spectrum Cultural Centre in Toronto, which is helping to transform the Regent Park area of the city.

That project, incidentally, received a Civic Trust Award recently at The Globe Theatre in London, England.  So we are in good hands as this project in downtown St. Catharines continues apace.

The future is now, and it's exciting to be a part of the cultural rebirth of downtown St. Catharines later this year.  Come along for the ride, and remember to fasten your seat belts!

March 11th, 2015.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The unrelenting winter of our discontent

I'm taking a bit of a diversion this weekend from the arts and tackling a problem that is for many of us the bane of our existence in Niagara this winter...Winter.  It seems to have gone on forever, although in reality it was just one month that did a lot of us in.

I recall a reasonably mild Christmas this year, and in fact driving the car over to the wash bays to wash it on Boxing Day the temperatures were so mild.  January did get cold, but we didn't really get a lot of snow and we had a fair amount of sunshine, so that helped get us through those long, cold winter days.  And the proverbial January thaw never really materialized.

It wasn't until February rolled around that things took a turn for the worse and most of us decided we had had enough of winter this year, thank you very much.  Something like 30+ cold weather alerts, a major snowstorm along with several lesser snowfalls, and bitterly cold temperatures for the entire month.

Dealing with the public on a daily basis, I found people became rather, well, surly might be the best way to describe it, as the month of February wore on.  Thank goodness it is a short month!  That's about all the good we can find in the month that was.

Once March arrived, there was at least a modicum of hope; the days are getting longer and Daylight Savings Time arrives overnight tonight, in fact.  The sun, now higher in the sky than in January and a little bit stronger because of it, is starting to melt the mountains of snow that surround us.  Oh we'll have snow on the ground for a while yet, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Traditionally we still get snow in March and I venture a guess this year will be no different.  But snow in April?  It has happened in recent memory, so be prepared.  That being said, I always take it upon myself to not shovel snow after Easter no matter what, since it will generally quickly melt at that point anyway.

But that brings us to the crux of the problem I want to address here this evening.  I know we are into March and the snow is starting to melt just a little bit, but as I discovered on my late-afternoon walk today, many people have either forgotten or chosen to ignore clearing the snow on their sidewalks.

I counted several households on my 20-minute walk having made what appears to be no attempt to clear the snow on sidewalks whatsoever.  While they are still negotiable, it is not as easy as on bare concrete, which is what you as a responsible homeowner are expected to provide.

Years ago we had a gentleman living on our street who simply refused to clear his corner lot sidewalks of snow for the duration of the winter, and eventually the city came by with a warning to clear his snow within 24 hours or they would do it for him and add it to his property tax bill.  That is the protocol, as I understand it, in a situation like this.

Problem was, the bylaw officer after issuing that notice to the offending homeowner, then proceeded to drop notices in mailboxes all along our street that we also had 24 hours to clear our sidewalks as well.  This did not sit well with a lot of us, since we were all being diligent clearing the snow quickly and to the best of our ability given the frozen conditions.

The issue was with the bare concrete - or rather, the absence of it.  Most of us, myself included at the time, cleared as much as we could, but if the layer of snow and ice could not be totally cleared down to the concrete, we felt we could live with it.  Once the notice came, however, all that changed.

I still remember being out there that evening after work with my ice chipper and shovel, braving the cold to clear the rest of the frozen stuff on the sidewalk before the next day when the officer was expected to return and inspect the sidewalks.  I had more than a few unkind things to say about the person at the time as I recall.

Since then, I have taken it upon myself - as have others on our street - to clear the snow right down to the concrete as quickly as possible after a snowstorm.  Even the guy who caused the city visit in the first place has been doing his part to clear his sidewalk as well.

I can't count the number of bags of salt I have gone through the past few winters, but I know the four giant bags of ice melter I had prior to this season is now down to barely half of one bag now with several more weeks of winter expected.  I shudder to think what might happen should I run out before the snow gives out this season.

But I will not get caught again, so I remain diligent in the clearing of snow as quickly as possible after a so-called "snow event."

So what of the others?  I would rather not rat them out to city hall, although I am sorely tempted to do so after the dismal shape I saw the sidewalks in after my walk this evening.  Surely they have the ability and drive to make the sidewalks safer for everyone, right?  One would hope so.

I recall the late Canadian author and cartoonist Ben Wicks, whom I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing on several occasions years ago, who voiced the now classic television commercial extolling Toronto residents in his uniquely British accent to "Be nice, clear your ice."

Ben had the right idea.  I hope others will pay heed to that wise suggestion and get rid of that snowy slop on our sidewalks so it is safer for walking very soon.

Surely that isn't too much to ask at this point in it?

Have a good weekend!

March 7th, 2015.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Things to see and do in Niagara this weekend in the Arts

With the first weekend of March set to get underway, I thought I would touch on a few things coming up in the very near future you might want to take in here in Niagara.

The first is actually underway now, the 5th Festival of the Arts known as Industrial Fabric, held under the auspices of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock University.  It runs throughout the months of March and April at several venues both on campus and off at Brock, and encompasses the visual arts as well as music, drama and more.

I first became interested in Industrial Fabric last year when I was working part-time at the Brock radio station, CFBU-FM.  I interviewed Derek Knight, director of the MIWSFPA at Brock on my weekly radio show, Inquisitive Minds, and the breadth of arts available to enjoy was quite extraordinary.   This year promises to be even more so.

The Dramatic Arts department will be hosting their One Acts Festival starting March 20th and 21st, and continuing throughout the rest of March and on through April at several locations.  Upper year directing students present a series of short plays featuring student actors for the Festival, and admittance is by donation.

The free community events include Student Recitals from March 14th to the 22nd at the Concordia Seminary Chapel at Brock, as well as the RBC Foundation music@noon recital series each Tuesday over the noon hour until March 31st.  In the visual arts sector, the Walker Cultural Leader series continues with several presentations including Painting the Imaginary Portrait with acclaimed Canadian painter and Concordia University professor Janet Werner.

There will also be a juried art show at the Niagara Artists Centre through to March 6th, with an Opening Reception on March 6th at 7 pm.  In addition, graduating Brock Visual Arts students will be holding a two-part exhibition at Rodman Hall entitled Honours.

The University Wind Ensemble under Zoltan Kalman will perform at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at Brock on the evening of March 31st, and the Encore! Professional Concert Series concludes with a performance by Trio Surgite entitled Voices of Eastern Europe will perform at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre the evening of March 27th.

Finally, the Viva Voce! Choral Series continues with the Brock University Choirs performing their Spring Choral Concert Saturday evening, March 28th, and the Avanti Chamber Singers directed by Harris Loewen will perform a collection of Folk Songs on the evening of Saturday, April 25th.

For more information on the entire Industrial Fabric, exhibition, you can call the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts at 905-688-5550, ext. 4765, or check them out on Facebook.  No matter which performance or performances you decide to attend, you will be impressed by the breadth and variety offered under the Industrial Fabric umbrella at Brock University.

Friday evening, in order to celebrate the coming of Spring, there will be a concert entitled Celtic Colours at Bethany Mennonite Church on East-West Line, beginning at 7:30 pm,  The concert will feature airs, jigs and reels, as well as sacred songs performed by musicians Julie Hoff, Scott Vernon, Steve Abma, Anne Adams and Gail Poulsen.   There will also be a photography exhibit featuring the work of Judy Lunshof as a backdrop to the music that evening.

Tickets are available in advance by calling 905-468-0159, or pick them up at the door.

Finally, The Gallery Players of Niagara in association with Capella Intima will present their first Opera in Concert presentation of Henry Purcell's most famous opera, Dido & Aeneas this coming Sunday afternoon at 2 at Silver Spire United Church on St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines.  Performers include Jennifer Enns Modolo as Dido, David Roth as Aeneas, as well as sopranos Sheila Dietrich and Emily Klassen, tenor Bud Roach, and a host of talented instrumental musicians.

For tickets or more information, call 905-468-1525 or log on to

That should keep you occupied in the coming days as we all work together to celebrate the arts in Niagara.  

Enjoy some great music and then some this weekend in Niagara!

March 5th, 2015.