Sunday, September 18, 2016

News and Notes from the Arts

With September now well underway, the local arts scene starts to heat up with lots of events happening throughout the Region.  In St. Catharines especially, there is plenty to see and do in the coming weeks, so let's take a look this weekend at some of the news items that have visited my inbox relating to the arts in Niagara:

- The Niagara Symphony launches their 2016/2017 season this afternoon at Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines at 2:30 pm.  Entitled "Light Transcendent", the first Masterworks concert of the new season features Music Director Bradley Thachuk conducting the NSO and special guest soloist Anthony McGill, Principal Clarinet of the New York Philharmonic.  Bradley and Anthony have been friends for many years apparently, so this will be an interesting and genial meeting of the musical minds on the Partridge Hall stage.  The feature work will be Mozart's ever-popular Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622, one of his very last works.  Also on the programme will be the Symphony No. 6, "Pathetique" by Tchaikovsky and a Canadian work, Toward Light by Royden Tse, receiving its World Premiere performance, in fact.
The NSO had a huge season last year, their first in their new home, with ticket sales up considerably.  Now we'll see if the first-year momentum can be maintained now that people are familiar with Partridge Hall.  For tickets, call the PAC box office at 905-688-0722.

- Brock University's Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts announced their new season recently, entitled "Breaking the Surface", celebrating the bond between the community and the new arts centre in downtown St. Catharines.  The plan this season is to build on last season's momentum with the new arts school next to the PAC and hopefully broaden the community's understanding of how the arts relate to urban issues and contribute to cultural development in the Niagara Region.  There are more than 45 events planned this season ranging from live performances, exhibitions, concerts and artist talks, on stage, in studios and galleries and at regional venues.

A few of the events planned this season include The Ash Mouth Man presented by Stolen Theatre Collective and Brock's Department of Dramatic Arts continuing today and again from September 23rd to the 25th; Guitar Extravaganza II October 22nd in the Cairns Recital Hall; and the In Light and Darkness Exhibit from November 22nd to December 9th in the Art Gallery.  The Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts will also be front and centre for the Culture Days Open House this year, held at 15 Artists' Common from September 30th to October 2nd.  For more on events coming up at MIWSFPA check out their website at, or find them on Twitter and Instagram @miwsfpa and on Facebook at miwsfpa.

- Speaking of Culture Days, the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre will be participating again this year and celebrate their first birthday Sunday, October 1st from 11 am to 3 pm.  Lots of free activities are planned for the Culture Days and birthday celebration, ranging from interactive drama workshops to National Film Board short screenings in The Film House to the Niagara Symphony Orchestra's Instrument Petting Zoo!  There will also be guided tours by PAC staff and volunteers, as well as facility tours of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts next door.  Oh yes, there will also be cake at 12 noon.  Need I say more?  You can find out more about events coming up this season at the PAC by going to their website at and more on Culture Days events at

- Another of the primary tenants at the PAC is Essential Collective Theatre, performing in Robertson Hall.  I received my new season package in the mail this week, and ECT will kick off their second season at the PAC with The Fighting Days by Wendy Lill, directed by Monica Dufault.  Set in Winnipeg during 1910-1917, the play looks at the real-life characters of Frances Beynon and Nellie McClung and their fight for women's right to vote.  The play runs from October 27th to November 4th and then will tour the Region in November and is co-presented by the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.  In the new year, ECT will be staging The Drawer Boy by Michael Healey, again directed by Monic Dufault.  The award-winning play deals with Miles, a young actor from the city who comes to live and work on a Southern Ontario farm as research for a play he is writing called The Farm Show.  The play will run at the PAC from February 24th to March 3rd of next year and again is co-presented by the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.  For tickets and more information call the PAC box office at 905-688-0722 or go to or

That should give you a sampling of just a few of the events coming up in the coming weeks.  Many of these will be included shortly on the Calendar Page of my website,, and I will be writing more about these and other upcoming events as the dates draw nearer.

Have a great weekend!

September 18th, 2016.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Some Niagara food for thought...

After taking the Labour Day weekend off from writing, I thought I would get back into the swing of things this weekend with a look at some of my favourite foodie things I have had the pleasure of discovering or rediscovering over the past several months.  Here in Niagara we are truly blessed with everything you could possibly need to set the perfect harvest table!

Over the past year or so I have been enjoying the best locally-made, Montreal-style bagels made by The Bagel Oven here in St. Catharines.  Owned and operated by Jess Bretzlaff and her husband Steve, they operate out of the commercial kitchen at the Congregation B'nai Israel and Jewish Community Centre on Church Street in downtown St. Catharines.

Jess is an optimistic and positive force of nature, and you can't help but feel good about dealing with someone who signs their emails with the line "Take good care, and remember to enjoy life's simple pleasures."  That's just the type of person she is and her optimism translates into superlative baking.

The bagels are available in several different varieties including vegan, and she also bakes amazing challah bread with or without raisins.  In fact, right now Jess is preparing for the Jewish New Year coming up on October 3rd, which will mark the first day of the year 5,777 on the Jewish calendar.

The High Holidays will mean a busy schedule for Jess and her team, but she always seems to find time to fill orders as they come in, so you can contact her through the website at or directly by phone at 289-696-4518.

Jess offers delivery to your door and also provides her bagels and breads at several pick up locations throughout Niagara, including Mahtay Cafe downtown and Richard's Deli on Lakeshore Road.

What to put on your fresh local bagels?  How about fresh local honey?  I became reacquainted with the exceptional creamed honey offered by Rosewood Estates Winery in Beamsville recently, and it is just wonderful.  The winery specializes in artisanal meads, and that requires honey, of course.  They have their own apiary on site operated by 3rd-generation beekeepers and have made quite a name for themselves with their several varieties of mead available for purchase.

The side line of course is if you're producing honey for making mead, you might as well offer it for sale on its own as well, and they again have several varieties available at the winery located in a spectacular hilltop location overlooking the Beamsville Bench.

My favourite is the estate-produced creamed wildflower honey, which is great on toast or of course, bagels.  Liquid varieties are also available if that is your preference.

You can find out more about Rosewood Estates Winery by going to their website at

Speaking of honey, I became acquainted with another operation in Niagara-on-the-Lake recently when B-Y's Honey Farm held their open house at the farm in late July.  During the open house you could tour the grounds, sample their many varieties of honey produced on site, and learn more about the work that goes into producing honey of exceptional quality.

The family-owned and operated business also provides beekeeping supplies and classes, pollination services, bee removal and of course, honey products such as liquid honey, pollen, Royal Jelly, candles and wax.

I brought home a jar of the liquid clover honey, which is unpasteurized and free of additives, as are all their honey products.  The farm does not spray, keeping their operations totally organic.  In their brochure, they use the clever slogan, "Don't be a hater, save the Pollinator" and they mean what they say.

Local beekeeper Ed Unger started the business in 2009 after noticing the decrease in honey bees and knowing how important they are to our very existence.  As a result, they educate the public as well as provide premium-grade local honey at the farm gate.

You can find B-Y's Honey Farm at 996 Concession 6 Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and their website is  You can also call them at 905-984-4408.

We are now blessed with a number of supper markets throughout the region throughout the summer months, and it was while visiting the Port Dalhousie Supper Market this summer I was introduced to the relatively new food truck business Ello Gov'na, owned and operated by chef Charlie Clowes.  They claim they provide "smashing good nosh" and hope to put to rest the eternal notion all British food is either uninteresting or unhealthy.

On the night I visited, I was able to sample their creative take on the traditional English banger, which of course is a form of sausage.  It was delicious!

Started earlier this year, the hope is to grow the business to the point they can open up their own stand-alone restaurant, but for now they travel the Niagara supper-market circuit to build their clientele.  That should be no problem if they maintain the quality I enjoyed this summer.

You can find out more about their food-truck business at

Also this summer I visited Chocolates Etc. on Welland Avenue, just steps away from our home in St. Catharines for their Customer Appreciation Day back in July.  If you remember the venerable Yurchuck's Candies from years past, this is the business that replaced Yurchuck's at the corner of Clark and Welland Avenue.

Many weekends in the summer you can hear music on the patio as you enjoy the locally-made chocolate and gelato available year-round.  Espresso, cappuccino and other drinks are also available.

The gelato varieties include regular and vegan options, including a dark chocolate ice I sampled that will knock your socks off.  I still have to stop in to try the vegan shake made from the chocolate ice, and that will happen soon!

This is one of the happiest corners in the city, and a must-stop on these hot evenings even as September marches on.  You can find them at 100 Welland Avenue.

Finally, I want to offer a tip of the hat to all the organizers of the first-ever Facer European Festival held the Monday of the August holiday weekend.  The festival, running from noon to 9pm, ran almost the entire length of Facer Street in St. Catharines, one of my favourite food destinations for many years.

One of the main champions of the festival is Roberto Vergalito, who runs Roberto's Pizza Passion on Facer Street, who envisions this becoming an annual summertime tradition in the city.  Judging from the crowds on hand strolling Facer Street when I visited late in the afternoon, I think that's likely to happen.

Vergalito and his team baked a 50-foot calzone to set a world record, and from what I have heard they  achieved their goal.  How they plan to top that next year is anyone's guess!

Everyone seems to have a connection to this part of the city known affectionately as "Little Europe", and it is hoped the annual festival will act as a fundraiser to improve infrastructure on the street.  The volunteers were organized by the Facer District Merchants and Residents Association and they worked tirelessly throughout the day to make the event a huge success.

This year's festival is in the history books, but you can anticipate an even bigger and better festival next year on the August holiday weekend.  It is just the type of family-friendly event we need in the city at the mid-way point of summer.

So there you go - just a few of my favourite foodie things I discovered this summer.  Oh there are more, of course, but I'll save those for a later date.  For now, I'm getting rather hungry...

Have a great weekend!

September 11th, 2016.