Saturday, October 29, 2016

A busy week in the arts coming up

As October prepares to transition into November, there are plenty of reasons to stay inside and enjoy some great music, theatre and dance in the coming week, both here in Niagara and beyond.  So let's take a look at a few of the highlights.

This weekend the Elora Festival Singers kick off their winter season at their home base, St. John's Church in Elora on Sunday afternoon.  The concert, entitled Valiant Hearts, pays tribute to the valour of Canadians here in Canada and elsewhere in the world.  With Remembrance Day coming up soon, this is a perfect way to remember and honour those who have served so well over the years.

I was at St. John's Church a couple of weeks ago and it is still one of the nicest, most welcoming churches you'll find anywhere.  For tickets, call the Elora Festival Singers box office at 519-846-0331 or toll free, 1-888-747-7550.

The Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts in downtown St. Catharines has a couple of musical events coming up this week you will want to attend.  The first is the Tuesday Music@Noon recital in the Cairns Recital Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.  These recitals by faculty and students at the school of fine arts are always free and from what I can see, very well attended.

This Tuesday November 1st the recital will feature piano, vocal and instrumental students and it begins promptly at noon.

On Friday evening, the Encore! Professional Concert Series gets underway with the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts welcoming the Walker String Quartet to Partridge Hall at the PAC.  The Quartet, made up of Vera Alekseeva, Anna Hughes, Gordon Cleland and Andree Simard, are joined for this concert by Zoltan Kalman, the Department of Music's clarinet instructor at Brock.

The concert begins at 7:30 Friday evening and will feature music by Brahms, Mozart and Haydn.  For tickets, call the PAC box office at 905-688-0722.

The Hot Ticket series at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre has a couple of performances lined up this week as well.  Proartedanza, founded by former National Ballet of Canada dancer and choreographer Roberto Campanella will present a programme featuring two works, Diversion and Fearful Symmetries.

Diversion features choreography by Robert Glumbek and is described as an explosive, high-energy work; Fearful Symmetries, choreographed by Campanella himself, is actually a World Premiere.  It explores the choreographer's experience as an immigrant to Canada in juxtaposition with the current generation of young artists influenced by urban aesthetics and pop culture.

Proartdanza performs Wednesday night at 7:30 in Partridge Hall.

The following night the same hall will play host to the first of the season's Classic Albums Live concerts, this time paying tribute to The Band - The Last Waltz.  The film documented The Band's seminal farewell concert, of course, which many in the area still remember fondly.

The concert begins at 7:30 on November 3rd at Partridge Hall, and tickets to these and all the Hot Ticket concerts are available by calling the PAC box office at 905-688-0722.

And next weekend choral music is front and centre both here and in Guelph.  Here, Chorus Niagara kicks off their new season at Partridge Hall at the PAC with a performance of the magnificent Mendelssohn oratorio Elijah, with Robert Cooper conducting.

Chorus Niagara is the Niagara Region's premiere symphonic chorus, performing classic choral masterpieces, new commissions, modern and even seldom-heard works.

The season opener for Chorus Niagara is next Saturday, November 5th at 7:30 pm.  Tickets are available by calling the PAC box office at 905-688-0722.

And the Guelph Chamber Choir also performs next Saturday night at the River Run Centre in downtown Guelph, with a performance of the popular African Sanctus by David Fanshawe.  The work brings cultures together through a fusion of recorded African music, percussion, live choir and rock band.  Also on the programme will be Gary Diggins' Musical Postcards of Africa with soprano Sheila Dietrich.

Tickets to the performance are available by calling the River Run box office at 519-763-3000.

Have a great week!

October 29th, 2016.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

An Artful day in Niagara

Since I have another rather light week for delivering mail, as in no work as of yet this week, I have been taking advantage of the down time to experience some of the pleasures I don't often get a chance to enjoy when the workload is pretty steady.  Today that included attending a couple of arts-related events in St. Catharines.

Last summer you might recall the first season of The Foster Festival took place in downtown St. Catharines at the new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.  It is the first-ever festival devoted entirely to the work of Canada's greatest and most prolific living playwright, Norm Foster.  The nine-week season included three Foster plays, including one World Premiere in August to wrap up the season.

The season started a little slower than expected, I think, as people got used to a theatre festival in the summertime in downtown St. Catharines.  After all, it has been a long while since theatre of any kind took place over the summer months in the city core.  As The Foster Festival chugged along during its inaugural season, it indeed pick up steam and people were talking about the high quality of the performances and just how nice it is to go out on a summer evening and have a nice dinner followed by some great live theatre.

This is what downtown St. Catharines is all about now, and not just in the summer months, either.  The PAC and the neighbouring Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts are both offering plenty of reasons to come downtown all season long.  And just down the street at the Meridian Centre
entertainment of a different sort plays out courtesy the Niagara Ice Dogs and various road shows coming through town.

So today, many arts supporters gathered at Brock University's Rodman Hall on St. Paul Crescent to hear what is in store next season for the 2nd instalment of The Foster Festival.  It's safe to say you can plan to laugh at regular intervals next summer at the PAC.

While this past season saw one World Premiere, next season will see two.  The first, Screwball Comedy, opens June 21st and runs through July 7th.  The story is set in 1938 and centres around Mary Hayes, a budding reporter trying to break into the largely male-dominated world of newspapers.

The second play of the season will be Norm Foster's Old Love, a play he wrote about 7 or so years ago, and it will run from July 12th to the 28th.  The two main characters in Old Love, Bud and Molly, meet up at her husband's funeral and things just sort of grow from there.

The third and final play of the season will be the second World Premiere, Lunenburg, which is being described as a "work in progress".  In other words, Norm is still writing it so we don't have a lot of details on this one yet.  But we do know it opens August 2nd and will run to August 18th.

The Foster Festival is headed up by Artistic Director Patricia Vanstone and Executive Director Emily Oriold, and today they both expressed their gratitude for the support offered both by the City of St. Catharines and citizens of the city who have come together to show their support for the fledgling festival.

Some said it couldn't be done.  But they did it, and with style, too.  The productions last summer were exceptionally well done, and there is little doubt the festival will be a summer staple in Niagara for years to come.

You can already buy your tickets to next summer's shows by calling the PAC box office at 905-688-0722.  More details on the upcoming season can be found by going to

Speaking of the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, I took advantage of the free time today to attend the third Music@Noon recital sponsored by the RBC Foundation in the Cairns Recital Hall at the PAC.  Every Tuesday at noon through the Brock school year, faculty and/or students in the Department of Music at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts come over to the PAC to perform a free recital over the noon-hour.

Today, Patricia Dydnansky on flute, Colin Maier on oboe and Karin Di Bella on piano presented a delightful programme of largely trio pieces by Berlioz, Bach, Doing, Delibes and Franz Doppler.  The whole concert lasted about 40 minutes, and I was happy to see a very well-attended event once again.

This is a wonderful opportunity to do something different over your lunch hour if you happen to be downtown anyways, and it is absolutely free.  What more could you want?

Next week November kicks off with a recital by piano, vocal and instrumental students from the Department of Music.  The fall season runs through to December 6th, with the winter season starting up January 24th and running through to April 4th.

For a complete list of all the concerts and other events with the Department of Music, go to

Have a great week!

October 25th, 2016.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Lots to do in the city this week!

Although the weather may have turned and we now feel autumn has finally arrived, there is no need to stay inside and shut yourself off from the world.  Unless you really want to, of course.  But if you feel like getting out and experiencing some culture in the coming week, it will take several forms in downtown St. Catharines.  Let's look at a few examples of what you can do in the coming days.

The Niagara Symphony Orchestra kicks off their Pops! season in Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre tonight and tomorrow afternoon, with a programme entitled Close Encounters with John Williams.  Music Director Bradley Thachuk conducts the orchestra in music from a bevy of Williams' blockbuster scores, including Star Wars, Jaws, Superman, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, ET, Schindler's List, Harry Potter and so on.  You look at that list of movies and for many of us, that's what many of us grew up with over the years.

Maestro Thachuk will also be the soloist on the haunting theme from Schindler's List, by the way, one of the less bombastic of Williams' familiar scores.

Performances are tonight at 7:30 and tomorrow afternoon at 2:30.  Although tickets should be available for either performance still, better seats likely remain for this evening's performance.  Call the PAC box office at 905-688-0722.

Also at the PAC tonight in association with the neighbouring Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts, the Department of Music is presenting Guitar Extravaganza II.  The first edition of this concert last year was a huge success, so round two will once again bring together Brock University students, alumni and faculty members, performing with regional guitarists, guitar teachers, composers and special guest artists for an evening of solo and small ensemble guitar performances.

The concert's grand finale will be "The Mighty Niagara Guitar Orchestra", collectively performing the North American premiere of the Fantasia para una dama for solo guitar and guitar orchestra.  The work is composed and will be conducted by Brock University guitar instructor Timothy Phelan and will feature Canadian guitar virtuoso Emma Rush.

The concert begins at 7:30 this evening in the Cairns Recital Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre and tickets are only ten dollars each for adults - you can't beat that?  Well actually you can, as the concert is free to current students of the MIWSFPA with a valid student ID card.  How cool is that?

Although this next item is more political than anything else, I think it will appeal to a lot of people due to the coming US elections and the fact it will be screened at the Film House at the PAC this coming Wednesday evening.

The Department of Political Science at Brock will be presenting the third film in the department's Politics and Film Series, The War Room,  the influential 1993 documentary about the first time a Clinton ran for President of the United States.  The film offers a behind-the-scenes account of Bill Clinton's insurgent and what many at the time thought was an improbable campaign for the presidency, in the process offering an illuminating contrast to the present campaign between Bill's wife Hillary and Republican candidate Donald Trump.

The screening will be followed by a discussion of the film as well as the current presidential race with Brock political scientists Stefan Dolgert and Blayne Haggart.  I interviewed Blayne for my show Inquisitive Minds on Brock Radio (CFBU-FM) a couple of years back, and he was always an engaging person to talk to.

Presented in conjunction with the PAC Film House, tickets are only nine dollars general admission or seven dollars for Film House members.  Call the box office at the PAC at 905-688-0722 for tickets.

The second season of ECT, Essential Collective Theatre in Robertson Hall at the PAC gets underway this week as well with another politically-charged event, the staging of a play entitled The Fighting Days by Wendy Lill.  ECT Artistic Director Monica Dufault will be directing the play that opens Thursday evening, October 27th.

The Fighting Days is set in Winnipeg during the years 1910 to 1917, and focuses on real-life characters Francis Beynon and Nellie McClung and their fight for women's right to vote here in Canada.  During that time period, of course, Canada entered World War I and the resulting conscription crisis divided the suffragists:  should all women have the right to vote, or just Dominion-born women who are sending their husbands and sons off to battle?

In this day and age it is hard to believe that argument was even necessary but times have certainly changed in the past 100 years.  In the overall scheme of things, that really isn't that long ago, really.

The Fighting Days is co-presented by the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, with performances running through to November 4th at the PAC before heading out on a tour of the Niagara Region.  It kicks off another season of compelling, local theatre by a dedicated team able to tap in to what matters to audiences today.

Tickets are available by going to

Finally, the next local performance of Johnny Cash:  Man in Black featuring Marty Allen takes place a week from tonight, October 29th at 7:30 pm at Grace Anglican Church at 238 Geneva Street in St. Catharines.

Marty Allen is North America's premiere Johnny Cash performer and has in fact recorded at the famed Sun Records studio in Memphis, the same studio where Elvis began his career as well years ago. Allen has toured the show extensively as far away as Australia, and is currently touring several Ontario communities.

Tickets are available at several locations, including the church office on Geneva Street, C&C Arts in the Fairview Mall, Rainbow Pure Water in Niagara Falls, the UPS Store in Niagara Falls, and Semenuk's Esso in Fonthill.  You can also order tickets by phone by calling 905-325-5704.

So there you go - lots to see and do just steps away in the heart of St. Catharines.

Enjoy your weekend!

October 22nd, 2016.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Believe it or not, I survived my first year at Canada Post!

Last week I and a number of my esteemed colleagues passed a milestone of sorts - we passed the one year mark as casual employees at Canada Post.  So with that in mind, I thought I would offer up a few thoughts on the first year and where life has taken me.

When I wrote in this space last winter that I had passed my probation period of 480 hours of service, thus entitling me to a full Canada Post uniform of my own rather than hand-me-downs, I remember writing at the time I was afraid I wouldn't make it through.  I still have to stop and think about that fact on a regular basis.

As mentioned in my earlier post, this is a very difficult job and I suspect few actually appreciate the work that goes into being a casual letter carrier.  I certainly didn't before I started the application process last summer.

Once you pass the several hurdles that get you to the training sessions, you soon realize the mail carrier culture is entirely different than any other you have experienced.  The colleagues I work with are without exception a dedicated, detail-oriented group of people who take pride in their work and the responsibility of delivering your mail day in and day out.

There are plenty of quirky individuals, of course, as is the case in most organizations, so you regularly hear good-natured joking, singing, mock angst about the number of catalogues we have to deliver and so on.  The depot during the morning sort, which is how we all start our day, is a noisy and sometimes nerve-wracking affair.

Some days are easier than others, such as late in the week when the mail is usually somewhat lighter than say a Monday, when it can often be a nightmare and delay you actually hitting your route for the day.  Following a holiday weekend, the problem is compounded even more.

On the sorting aspect, I am still slower than most of the others, although I am better than I was this time last year for sure.  If I have the luxury of staying on the same route for a week or two at a time, as I was the last two weeks, I pick up my speed as I become familiar with the sorting case I am on.  But often, as is the case for the casuals who don't have a route of their own, you are working on a different route every day, and that brings with it a certain amount of difficulty for people such as myself.

You would think the sort would be simple and straight forward, but as those who have done it for years will tell you, doing a different route every day is not for everyone, as you have to get used to a new sorting case each time and once out on the route, you have to search out mail boxes and house numbers quite often.

Those are things the average person receiving their mail every day don't realize.  The person who does the route every day learns all the short-cuts, the lawns and other obstacles to avoid, and where the mail box actually is.  This means they are generally faster on the route.

For a casual such as myself, you take longer until you get to know the route, and each day you're on it you usually get a little bit faster each day.  It just makes sense:  familiarity is a decided bonus in this job.

Since I often hit the street later than the person who usually does the route, I am usually hitting the milestones along the route later than usual as well, which prompts some to ask why I'm "so late".  I'm not really late, as we are allowed to deliver the mail until 8 pm actually.  It is just later than you are used to.

I had many a route in the early going that kept me out there until that 8 pm cutoff, although thankfully I have not see that in quite awhile.  But even finishing at 4 or 5 as I often do now is considered late by most.  Part of it is unfamiliarity with the route, but it is also the fact I am not a young man anymore and walking in all kinds of weather carrying a good-sized load of mail with me tends to slow me down a bit.  Hey, I'm not a kid anymore!

Still, even I was taken aback this summer when I approached an older gentleman sitting on his porch and when I handed him his mail he said "You're late!"  I looked at my watch:  it was 12:50 pm.  Delivering the mail is about the only job I know where delivering over the noon-hour is considered "late".

I have over the past year come up with many explanations for my tardiness on the route when the inevitable "You're late!" crops up.  Most are true; some are gently fabricated to an extent.  But all are offered up with sincerity and a genuine hope they have a good day in spite of my late arrival.

The thing to keep in mind is not everyone is going to get their mail in the morning.  If I am delivering to a larger route of say, over 900 points of call, I physically can't get them all done before noon.  I would like to, but as I said earlier, I'm not a kid anymore.

I never realized while delivering mail at an apartment building I would become such an attraction for the residents.  Often when I arrive, especially if I am later than they are used to, many of them congregate in the general area of the mail room and their boxes and watch me do my job.  I have no problem with that per se, but I wonder why it is so entertaining.  I often hear a variation of "I never get any mail anyways" as the person patiently waits for me to finish my job in the mail room.

But what I have really discovered over the past year is the uncanny knack of many area residents to either camouflage or try to hide their mail box - if indeed they have one at all.  Along Bunting Road, for example, mail boxes are often dispensed with in favour of the old-style milk box at the side of the house.

The more obvious the location of the mailbox the better.  Hunting around the back of the house for a mailbox, as I have had to do quite often, slows you down even more.  I know it is your home and you can do what you want on your own property, but it is always appreciated when a well-presented and clearly marked mailbox is within easy view as we approach the property.

On the subject of mailboxes, I would like to suggest once again a nice mailbox needn't be fancy, just functional.  A lid that is rusted in the open or closed position, boxes barely hanging on the wall or on the ground somewhere on the property are regular occurrences on mail routes.  I marvel at the number of people who have a lovely new home, yet the mailbox is nothing but a rusty afterthought lying on the porch floor.

The issue of house numbers can be perplexing, too.  Or rather, the lack of them.  In a perfect world, every house would be numbered in perfect sequence.  In the real world, however, that just doesn't happen.  Double lots, later additions to the street and so on all affect the numbering system, yet if the house doesn't have a number clearly displayed, it presents a problem for your mail carrier.  Again, if it is the same route every day you grow accustomed to the anomalies and work with them; as a casual you have to figure these things out on the fly.

Those are my main pet peeves after the first year on the job.  It has been a year of discovery to be sure, and I look forward to more "discoveries" in the year ahead.  But if I may offer a few gentle suggestions here in conclusion, your friendly neighbourhood mail carrier will serve you more efficiently day in and day out:

- Clearly display the house or unit number and don't paint it the colour of the house itself.
- Maintain your mailbox and think about where it is situated in relation to the access points.
- In the winter, be sure to clear the snow on walks and steps, salting if necessary.
- In the summer, consider leaving water bottles for your overheated mail carrier.
- If there are any special instructions the carrier should follow, they should be clearly marked.
- If you get misdirected or mail for someone no longer living there, simply display it prominently on the box for pickup by your mail carrier.  Marking it Return to Sender leaves no guesswork for us.

So there you have it.  I have learned a lot over the first year, and it has been fun.  This is really a great job, even with the weather conditions and obstacles we encounter throughout the year.  So I don't regret the decision to join the fraternity for a moment.

Tomorrow morning a number of us who started roughly the same time will be gathering in Niagara Falls to celebrate our first year together, and swap stories from the routes we cover.  Nothing I would rather do with some great colleagues I now call good friends.

Have a good week!

October 20th, 2016.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Culture Days is underway!

This is a big weekend not only in Niagara but around the country as we celebrate Culture Days.  So before the day gets any older, let's take a look at some of the events happening today and tomorrow in and around Niagara you might want to support.

Culture Days is a Canada-wide celebration that just happens to be the largest-ever public participation campaign courtesy the arts and cultural communities throughout the country.  Events include free hands-on activities that invite the public to see what goes on "behind the scenes" in the artistic community, including artists, creators, historians, architects, curators and designers to name but a few.

Here in St. Catharines, much of the activity will be happening downtown, the heart of the arts district in Niagara.  Events are already underway or will be shortly at various locations including the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts, Rodman Hall and many other venues.  You can access a full listing of events in the city this weekend at the City of St. Catharines website at

One of the biggest events will happen throughout the afternoon at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre as they celebrate their first anniversary this weekend - hard to believe it has been open for a full year already!  There will be events happening throughout the venue including tours by staff and volunteers, so that will be a great place to start your Culture Days experience.

One of the more interesting events at the PAC is the Instrument Petting Zoo, a free event running through to 3 pm presented by the Niagara Symphony Orchestra and the Niagara Youth Orchestra, with instruments on loan from Long & McQuade in downtown St. Catharines.  Musicians and staff from both organizations will be on hand to guide visitors in an interactive, hands-on exploration of orchestral instruments.

This is a great opportunity to see up close how the instruments work and perhaps light a fire under a young, aspiring musician in your family, or just find out for yourself what a bassoon really looks like, for example.  The event takes place on the stage of the Cairns Recital Hall at the PAC and is perfect for kids of all ages.

You can walk next door to the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts as they welcome guests for guided tours as well, and you can say hello to Boomer the Badger at the David S. Howes entrance off the Raceway.  You might prefer to tour the facility on your own or experience the more formal guided tours by staff, which are now underway.

There is also a poster exhibition of research from the Faculty of Humanities, and an exhibition of contemporary art in the MIWSFPA Art Gallery, open until 4 today and tomorrow.

Both the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre and Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts are fully wheelchair accessible.

The events happen elsewhere in downtown St. Catharines as well, with my neighbour Sandy Middleton hosting events at her cozy photographic and art studio above the OddFellows Hall on James Street throughout the afternoon today, and my friends at CFBU-FM, the Brock Radio Station, are holding an open house from noon to 2 pm today.  The station is located in the downtown student residence, the former Welland House Hotel, at 30 Ontario Street.

Down in Niagara Falls, the Niagara Falls Museums are also participating in Culture Days this weekend.  Today and tomorrow the Niagara Falls History Museum on Lundy's Lane will feature free admission, and offer behind the scenes tours by the curator twice daily at 11 am and 1 pm.  The renovated space at the museum is an exceptional space, so if you have yet to experience it for yourself, this is the weekend to do it!

Culture Days is happening around the country with over 900 cities and towns participating.  You can find out more what's happening by going to

Enjoy your weekend!

October 1st, 2016.