The Walrus Blog

The Walrus Blog


Russia, Ukraine, and changing currents in the political waters of Crimea

Published on March 19, 2014

The trip from Kiev to the Crimean village of Alupka, where I spent the past two summers, is long. First there’s a twelve-hour overnight train ride, then there’s a mad scramble in the capital of Simferopol, where countless hustlers—some shirtless with gold necklaces, others wearing fishing vests and flat caps—offer up spots in their hot, overstuffed shuttle buses for the two-hour trip to the south shore.

I went there to visit my girlfriend’s family and to finish a nonfiction book about Russia I’d been struggling with for five years. I’d started the project in 2008. (It’d grown out of “With a Light Steam,” a Field Note that I wrote for this magazine.) It was mostly about a guy named Igor, a barman in St. Petersburg who I’d become good friends with over ten years of working for a local summer literary festival. The book was supposed to be about the resurgence of Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin and the price that regular folks like Igor had to pay in order to go along for the ride.

But things change quickly in Russia. By the end of the summer of 2008, Russia was locked into armed conflict with Georgia, its first proxy brouhaha with the West since the fall of the Soviet Union. Soon the world tipped into global economic crisis. Russia was destabilized, the world was destabilized, and, of far less importance to Russia or the world, but of not insignificant importance to me, my book was destabilized…

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Off the Cuff

Fourth in a series of posts from the author’s long-form radio interviews with CBC broadcasters, featuring Carol Off

Published on March 10, 2014

Each weeknight at 6:30 p.m., the triumphant opening bars of “Curried Soul,” Moe Koffman’s classic (albeit recently remixed) jazz tune, signal the start of one of the country’s truly iconic radio programs—a program that takes close to a million listeners into the stories, politics, news items, and issues of the day.

This, of course, is As It Happens—one of the longest-running and most-successful programs in the history of CBC Radio. Remarkable in its simplicity, but ambitious in its scope and range, AIH (as it is colloquially known to listeners) is like no other show on the radio. It is at once irreverent, serious, moving, cheeky, journalistic, probing, and playful. Each ninety-minute episode comprises a series of interviews from around the world. From Canadian cabinet ministers to foreign dictators to people affected by disasters to quirky eccentric characters who have done things that baffle credulity, the range of voices heard on AIH is truly remarkable.

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Home Lands

A photographer traces his Mennonite roots from the Netherlands through Siberia

Published on February 20, 2014
Photograph by Ian Willms
Bust of Karl Marx in an abandoned factory, Zaporizhzhya region, Ukraine
In 1923, a year before Lenin’s death, Willms’ great grandparents and their children left Russia. The family sailed west, ultimately spending ten months in Mexico before being allowed to enter Canada. The Road to Nowhere is dedicated to Willms’ late grandfather, John. “I always wished that I could have shown him this [project],” he says. “In a way, I did this work for him.”

Read through Canadian photographer Ian Willms’ blog long enough and you’ll find the sort of detail that storytellers of all kinds search for and hold onto.

Of particular interest is a February 2012 entry that Willms, then twenty-six, made from Cologne, Germany. “As we transitioned into [the new year], I made the resolution to take a sweeping and drastic step towards carrying out the work I have always wanted to do,” he wrote. “It feels like every photograph I have made up until now has been practice. Wish me luck.”

Willms’ objective was an ambitious one: to retrace the historical migration of the Mennonite people from the Netherlands eastward. Persecuted for their beliefs over a number of centuries, the Mennonites resettled as far away as Russia. (In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many fled west to North America.) As a descendant, the general idea had been with him for some time. But soon after publishing his blog post, Willms briefly panicked. The scale of the project was daunting. “I didn’t know anything: where I was going to stay, how I was going to afford it, if I was even going to find anything. It’s like that old proverb: ‘The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step.’”

The final result is The Road to Nowhere, an exhibition of twenty-five photographs currently showing at Toronto’s Contact Gallery. In the end, the work required two trips over two years, totalling a great deal more than 1,000 miles. From March to June 2012, Willms travelled through the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and Ukraine. Late last August, he returned for three more months, flying to Barcelona and then travelling by train through Europe to Russia and right across Siberia.

Taken together, these photographs help us to understand—viscerally—the grisly truths in the historical record. With subjects like twentieth-century Russian history, the specifics can quickly blur to abstraction. Pictures like these remind us they are, in fact, real.

Photograph by Ian Willms
Davlekanovo, Bashkiria, Russia
Nine-year-old Regina, pictured above, is distantly related to Willms. He met the girl’s family through a local museum director. “When I was making the photo, I was running after her. I could feel tears in my eyes and I had to stop and think, ‘I’m really, really happy right now.’ [When] you’re photographing [something like this], it’s almost like, rather than feeling your feelings, they’re going straight to your eye: ‘Okay, what am I feeling? How do I photograph it?’ The camera delays the reaction, and then I’m able to take it in small doses, to sit back and think, ‘Wow, I just had this incredible, life-altering moment. I didn’t know she existed and then there we were.’”
Photograph by Ian Willms
Mennonite church, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
On black and white: “I got up the first morning [in Amsterdam] and…jumped out of bed, walked over to my desk, and turned around. There was this shape of me on the bed, but I’m not there. I was very interested in that in the moment. Looking back on it now, what I was interested in was [seeing] the human presence without seeing the person. And this is the essence of the project. So I took a picture of my bed in colour, then another in black and white. I looked at it on the screen and was like, ‘It’s black and white. That’s it.’” Willms found this church a few days later.
Photograph by Ian Willms
Vistula River region, northern Poland
On shooting: “I adhere very strictly to the traditional journalistic rules of a photograph. I really like the idea of creating a picture that adheres to those rules, while [also] being so surreal or otherworldly or dreamlike that people think you’ve messed with it. To me, that’s the best picture.”
Photograph by Ian Willms
Zaporizhzhya region, Ukraine
According to Willms’ research, members of a Mennonite colony were slaughtered at this spot some hundred years ago by Bolsheviks. “By the time I reached eastern Ukraine, I was getting really tired,” he says. “Some of those sites were super, super depressing. I had to imagine myself in those places at those times to try to bring the feeling out. At the end of the day, it’s just a picture of a willow tree, but if you think hard enough about the fact that people were murdered right there, and you think about what that meant for the survivors the day after, and just how sad it must have been, you can maybe get a more effective photograph. But doing that for months really weighed me down.”
Photograph by Ian Willms
Neudachino, Novosibirsk oblast, Russia
On how the project came together: “You start a story with an idea, but you’re open to seeing what it becomes. As soon as you crack the surface, it unfolds into this enormous thing. With the Mennonites, it was quick. I started reading whatever I could find on the Internet and then, all of a sudden, I realized that I can’t just go and find my family’s house. I had to start from the beginning, from where they started. I had to do this pilgrimage—see the land, smell the air, hold the soil in my hands, stand in those houses, just try to be there. I’m glad I waited. Even from the first to second trip, I could see a clear progression in how I was shooting. I would have never been able to do it justice a few years ago.”

The Road to Nowhere was photographed with digital Leica cameras. The exhibition continues through March 7, 2014 at Contact Gallery, 310-80 Spadina Avenue, Toronto.

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Tomorrow Never Knows

The importance of conserving the present to prepare for the unknown future

Published on
Universal Pictures Hoverboarding in Back to the Future Part II’s future world of 2015.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…

I love to watch reruns of the Back to the Future films every so often. Not just because I am a big fan of Michael J. Fox. But also because the future as envisaged in 1989’s BttF Part II, which seemed so distant when I first watched it as a young girl, is just around the corner. It’s funny to compare what director Robert Zemeckis thought 2015 would look like—hoverboards, smart clothes, and flying cars—with reality.

Tomorrow: it can be exciting to think that those images of advances in transportation, health care, and communication—once the stuff of science fiction—are becoming science fact. When you work in the business of conservation, there is much uncertainty about the world to come. With an increasingly changing climate and species extinctions on the rise, it is more and more difficult to predict the future of the natural places we are conserving and all that lives within them.

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The Master

On and off the set with Philip Seymour Hoffman

Published on February 19, 2014
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Sony Pictures Classics Philip Seymour Hoffman in Owning Mahowny (2003).

Before I watched Philip Seymour Hoffman play a character in a movie based on a book I’d written, and before I spoke to him about his craft, I imagined that acting was fairly straightforward—especially film acting, with its erasable takes. You feign being someone else. You imagine yourself into a story, a set of circumstances unlike your own. You memorize a script—verbal clues to this life you pretend to inhabit—and you recite it with all the conviction and consistency you can muster.

I met Philip in 2002, soon after he arrived in Toronto to shoot Owning Mahowny. Luckily, he saw me not as a journalist who would ask him a bunch of dumb questions but as someone who could give him insight into his character, a precocious young banker who was defrauding the bank to feed a gambling addiction. Philip flattered me by saying my book, Stung, helped persuade him to take the role; I wasn’t flattering him when I said that the film had been in development, off and on, for more than a decade, but came together only when he signed on. Even then, the acting world knew he was special.

In a hotel lobby, he asked me dozens of questions about Brian Molony’s background, his tastes, what he liked to eat. (Answer: Swiss Chalet chicken.) Then he asked how I’d sum him up in a sentence.

“Actually, believe it or not, I’d say he’s one of the most principled and trustworthy people I’ve met. Ten-million-dollar fraud and gambling addiction notwithstanding.”

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Verses from the Abstract

A young poet explains how he finds the words

Published on
Courtesy of ManifestoTVManifesto TV

My dad was a social worker. He used to give, even though we didn’t have much. I knew I wanted to help people too, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. And then I found poetry and I found the arts. I was writing about change, about Regent Park, the beauties of my life. Sharing my poetry, I felt like people connected.

I started off at ten years old, just writing to communicate with my sister. I thought it was cool and I loved doing it, but I also felt like I had a voice. As I grew older, my poetry grew as well.

When I’m dialed in, I love every moment of it. I just need to get in my own space and write. There’s this desperation: all of what’s inside just screaming at me to share my words. The most important thing is developing whatever feeling I have. If, as an artist, I’m unable to make myself vulnerable and allow myself to feel, I won’t be able to write.

A little while ago, I was in the studio with Illangelo. Hearing his music felt like a direct portal for my work. I was bursting with inspiration. The next day I woke up at 5 a.m. and wrote poetry the whole morning. There will be weeks when I don’t write at all. And then that will happen. You never know when it’s going to come, but the evidence is there. All over my phone and in my drawer, there are bits of text everywhere: drafts, scraps, pieces of paper. Sometimes my mind races faster than my hand.

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The ABCs of Fred Penner

Third in a series of posts from the author’s long-form radio interviews with CBC broadcasters

Published on February 10, 2014

Fred Penner was the gentle, bearded, sweater-wearing star of Fred Penner’s Place, the popular children’s show that ran on CBC Television from 1985 to 1997. Over the course of almost a thousand episodes, Penner, guitar often in hand, entertained young viewers with stories, music, and words—you might remember the famous “Word Bird.” In the process, he endeared himself to an entire generation of young Canadians.

Penner grew up in Winnipeg. It was through playing songs for his younger sister Susan, who had been born with Down’s syndrome, that he came to see music as a way to connect with and make a positive difference in the lives of children. After graduating from the University of Winnipeg, he started performing and touring around Canada, both as a solo musician and as a member of various groups. In 1979, he recorded his first LP of songs for children, The Cat Came Back. It became hugely popular, selling more than 150,000 copies in Canada alone.

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The One and Only Rick Mercer

Second in a series of posts from the author’s long-form radio interviews with CBC broadcasters

Published on February 6, 2014

Ever since the early 1990s, when he entered the national consciousness with a series of one-man stage shows and his role on This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Rick Mercer has been delighting Canadians with his quick wit, playful demeanour, and bitingly satirical take on the Canadian political system.

Mercer might just be the closest thing we have to a truly homegrown celebrity: someone who is known and beloved by millions of Canadians from coast to coast to coast, but who has never sought fame elsewhere, and is relatively unknown outside of the country. His program, CBC Television’s Rick Mercer Report—for which he has improbable adventures, meets remarkable and eccentric characters, pokes fun at the politics of the day, and delivers his trademark rants—is now in its eleventh season. It regularly draws more than a million viewers an episode. In fact, the Report is consistently the most-watched Canadian comedic series on television.

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The Many Faces of Rob Ford

The world’s most infamous municipal leader, in animated form

Published on February 3, 2014
Animated GIF of Rob Ford by Graham Roumieu

Upcoming in the March 2014 issue of The Walrus: the story behind the Rob Ford story. Ivor Tossell, author of The Gift of Ford: How Toronto’s Unlikeliest Man Became its Most Notorious Mayor, examines how a little-known Supreme Court ruling unmuzzled reporters—and changed Canadian journalism. The feature-length article includes a dozen illustrated portraits of Toronto’s beleaguered mayor by frequent Walrus contributor Graham Roumieu. See them all here, looped to infinity, in this special preview of coming attractions.

The March issue mails to subscribers this week, and will be available on national newsstands on February 17.

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About Rae

An interview with the director and subject of alt-musical documentary My Prairie Home

Published on January 23, 2014

Canada’s representation at this year’s Sundance Film Festival comes in the form of an unusual, melancholic music documentary. My Prairie Home, produced by the NFB, is a sad and sweet look at the life of transgendered indie-country star Rae Spoon.

The film follows Spoon, who resides in queer-friendly Montreal, on a tour across the Prairies, the same terrain where they (Spoon prefers the third-person pronoun) were raised in an evangelical family, and developed their performance chops in hostile country bars. Spoon travels vistas sparse enough to encourage deep introspection—an effect that is strengthened by director Chelsea McMullan’s occasional digressions into dream-like music video interludes.

Spoon, a pleading and vulnerable singer, has a reputation for being a little circumspect in interviews. To get them to open up for the camera, McMullan had Spoon write out anecdotes from their past. Those short stories became the film’s narration, and found life outside the documentary as a book, First Spring Grass Fire, which was released to acclaim in 2012.

Chris Berube: Chelsea, how did you come to do this film with Rae?

Chelsea McMullan: We knew each other, and had probably known each other for a year. We had been collaborating together on a film for which Rae was doing the score. We were becoming friends over that, so I had the idea (for My Prairie Home) and pitched it to them.

Rae Spoon: It started with us wanting to make music videos together. We started talking about the music industry in general, and we got into the story of the previous ten years and how unmarketable it is to be trans in the music industry.

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Mic Check

A lifelong CBC fan hosts in-depth radio conversations with the voices and personalities who bring Canadians together from coast to coast to coast

Published on January 21, 2014
”As the host of Drive on CBC Radio 2, Rich Terfry is known to Canadians not only for his work as a CBC broadcaster, but also for being the talented hip-hop artist known as Buck 65. In this conversation we speak about the rather unusual experiences he had growing up in small town Nova Scotia, his pursuit of baseball, his beginnings in music, and the uncertainty facing CBC Radio 2 in the wake of the cuts.”—Broadcasting Canada – 19 – Rich Terfry

I’m told that within the halls of our public broadcaster, there’s a loose term called a “CBC household,” a shorthand phrase to describe places across the country where listening to (or watching) CBC programming is a seamless part of the daily routine, a fabric of the home.

When I first heard of the term, I halfway suspected it may have been coined because of my family. CBC Radio essentially served as the soundtrack of my childhood. It was there in the mornings—World Report on the car’s dial as my dad drove me to rowing practice—and again in the evenings, with As It Happens filling the kitchen as we cleaned up after dinner. Radios were spread around the house—the garage, the bathroom, the kitchen, the bedrooms—to ensure that CBC was available in every corner.

Later on, when I left home for university and began to engage more with political and social questions, listening to interviews and conversations on programs such as The Current and The Sunday Edition became just as important as my course studies and interactions on campus. It was while procrastinating for my exams that I clicked on videos in CBC digital archives and first learned about the history of the FLQ and the October Crisis.

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HERE, Here

What does a labour victory look like in 2014?

Published on January 14, 2014
Photograph courtesy of UNITE HERE Local 75UNITE HERE Local 75

In an era of relentless outsourcing and widespread anti-union sentiment among employers, labour victories are few and far between. Certainly, when the Canadian Autoworkers and the Communications Energy Paperworkers merged to become Unifor last fall, the leadership of both unions felt that they needed more heft to advance a more labour-friendly political agenda.

In “State of the Unions,” my December 2013 feature for The Walrus, I documented not just the high-level amalgamation of Canada’s two most powerful labour organizations; the story also looked at the activities of UNITE HERE, a scrappy international union that represents the thousands of low-paid, predominantly immigrant and visible minority workers who staff restaurants, hotels, and casinos in our big cities.

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A Power Line to Nowhere

What coal mining means to British Columbia’s Sacred Headwaters

Published on December 18, 2013
Photograph by Brian Huntington
Brian Huntington British Columbia’s Sacred Headwaters.

One year ago today, the Tahltan First Nation and its many supporters throughout northwest British Columbia rejoiced. Shell Canada, in a deal brokered by the provincial government, had agreed to relinquish its tenure and scuttle its plans to explore for coal-bed methane gas in the Sacred Headwaters, the birthplace of the three great salmon rivers, the Stikine, the Skeena, and the Nass. Shell’s decision was in part prompted by declining prices, but it largely came about because the company, as chairman Marvin Odum told me when we met in early 2012, had no interest in going where it was not wanted, and simply had not realized how important this land was to all First Nations of the Pacific Northwest.

This remarkable corporate gesture, so deserving of praise, left many hopeful that the eight-year-long battle for the Sacred Headwaters was over. Christy Clark’s Liberal government extended a four-year moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the valley, and in an announcement celebrating the agreement, suggested that further restrictions on mining activity in the Sacred Headwaters could well be forthcoming, even as it pledged to enter a lengthy dialogue with the Tahltan, all with the goal of considering permanent protection for the land.

Hence the surprise and disappointment when but weeks later it came to light that even as Clark’s government burnished its green credentials in the run-up to this spring’s provincial election, it was seeking to speed through the environmental assessment process a proposal from Fortune Minerals Ltd. The small, London, Ontario–based company sought to establish a 4,000-hectare open pit coal mine that would level entire mountains at the very heart of the Sacred Headwaters, on land within Shell’s original holdings. How could the same government ask one of the world’s largest corporations to abandon plans to extract natural gas from an established tenure, only to allow a minor player (which is backed by Korean money) to enter the same valley and extract coal that, once consumed in Asia, would add each year 10.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, or fully a sixth of British Columbia’s total annual output?

Asked to explain, Matt Gordon, communications director for BC’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, responded that the Shell agreement was all about oil and natural gas, and had nothing to do with other industrial initiatives.

A more plausible explanation for the sudden about face and abandonment of the Sacred Headwaters emerged from an August 2, 2013 press release announcing a tour of the region by BC Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett. In addition to inspecting the construction of the 287-kilovolt Northwest Transmission Line, the minister intended to visit the key industrial projects which the extension of the provincial grid is intended to power. These include Imperial Metals’ Red Chris mine, an open pit copper and gold proposal on Todagin plateau (home to the world’s largest population of Stone’s sheep), AltaGas’s Forrest Kerr run-of-river power project on the lower Iskut River, and Fortune’s Arctos Anthracite coal claim in the Sacred Headwaters. All of these projects are slated for development on Tahltan traditional territory.

The summer press release quoted a 2008 report by the Mining Association of BC which found that the extension of the NTL would attract $15 billion in mining investment, create 10,000 indirect jobs, and generate $300 million in annual tax revenues.

Missing from the release, however, was any reference to events over the last five years: developments in the marketplace and on the ground have rendered meaningless economic forecasts that were exceedingly optimistic when they were first issued. The most severe global recession since the Great Depression impacted the entire mining industry. Since 2008, commodity prices have proven highly volatile, with gold soaring from about $1,000 an ounce up to more than $1,800, then tumbling down to about $1,300.

Meanwhile, capital expenditures, such as the cost of building mines, have doubled. Investor sentiment has gone south, even as risk profiles have soared, leaving the entire mining sector scrambling to raise capital. What’s more, the inflated figures cited by the ministry’s release likely incorporated the projected economic activity of two major projects that have since been cancelled or mothballed—Shell’s coal-bed methane play in the Sacred Headwaters, and Teck Cominco Ltd. and NovaGold Resources’ massive copper and gold project at Galore Creek, which imploded in late 2007.

While the ministry’s press release notes that the construction of the NTL is on schedule, ready for service in 2014, it fails to mention that construction costs have nearly doubled to nearly $750 million, a figure that many analysts believe will reach $1 billion. Nor has the provincial government publicized the fact that of the $400 million originally budgeted for the NTL, fully $130 million came from the federal Green Infrastructure Fund, money set aside by Ottawa to reduce our national dependence on fossil fuels. The NTL mega-project, it has been officially said, will allow 350 Tahltan men, women and children at the small community of Iskut to get off diesel-generated power and reduce their carbon footprint, albeit at a cost of roughly $37,000 per resident.

Recalling the long-ago failure of BC Rail’s Dease Lake extension—the so-called “railway to nowhere” that collapsed in 1977—many local people now refer to the proposed 292-kilometre extension of the NTL as the “power line to nowhere.” Its terminus at Bob Quinn Lake is today but a highway yard.

On the assumption that the government would not spend more than $700 million to enable Forrest Kerr, a privately held hydroelectric project, to sell power back to the grid, observers recognize that the primary beneficiary the public expenditure is actually Imperial Metals’ Red Chris mine, a project that could not possibly proceed without access to power.

British Columbia’s government speaks of expanding provincial infrastructure. Imperial heralds private investment as it builds its own dedicated line 115 kilometres south from Red Chris to Bob Quinn, all part of an agreement that obliges BC Hydro to buy back the line for $52 million at the end of construction. There is no talk of subsidies, but that is precisely what the NTL has begun to look like, a massive public subsidy without which Imperial’s mine would never open.

But the real challenge for the government is the possibility that even with its power needs met by public funds, Red Chris may yet fail financially. Despite an investment of some $366 million—money that has already allowed Vancouver-based Imperial to explore the property and initiate a frenzy of site preparation and construction—the company has yet to raise the necessary capital to complete the mine. The entire project has largely been kept afloat by the investments of a single stakeholder, N. Murray Edwards, co-owner of the Calgary Flames and major benefactor of the Banff Centre, who has staked, through his companies, $200 million to support Imperial.

In the first half of 2013, the burn rate at Red Chris was close to $20 million a month. By its own admission, Imperial had yet to obtain long-term financing for the estimated $500 million in total capital expenditures necessary to construct the project, and has stated “there can be no assurance that such financing will be available on terms acceptable to the company or at all.”

All of which puts the provincial government in a slightly awkward position. Should Red Chris go the way of Galore Creek—which dwarfed the new project both in scale and anticipated production, and shut down when projected costs soared from $2 billion to $5 billion—the government truly will have helped build a $750 million power line to nowhere.

On the other hand, should Red Chris proceed—and yet, be the region’s only major project to do so—the public might recognize the NTL as being a subsidy in support of a single open-pit mine that will industrialize what is arguably the richest wildlife sanctuary in British Columbia, and bury in toxic tailings one of the headwater lakes of the Stikine River, lifeline of the Tahltan people.

With so much political and financial capital at risk, the Liberal government is clearly in need of a backup plan, which at this point must be Fortune Minerals, the only other major project in play. Is this why the same government that urged Shell Canada to abandon its claim has since fast tracked Fortune’s Arctos Anthracite coal project?

Public policy deliberations upon which rest the fate of one of the most unique and beautiful places in Canada—a valley revered by First Nations as the point of origins of the three great salmon rivers of home—should not be driven by the needs of political authorities keen to save face in the wake of egregious economic miscalculations.

In mid-August, the Klabona Keepers, the same Tahltan elders who stood up to Shell for a decade, occupied a protest camp at the headwaters of the Stikine and presented Fortune Minerals with an eviction notice. They have the support of the Tahltan nation, which at its 2013 annual general meeting, with the full agreement of the duly elected leadership of the Tahltan Central Council, voted unanimously to protect the Sacred Headwaters and exclude from it all forms of industrial development.

This does not imply that the Tahltan Nation is opposed to economic growth. Quite to the contrary, no community is more welcoming of new possibilities upon which to build their nation and secure the future of their children. But they do reject being forced to choose between unemployment and poverty, and jobs and short-term prosperity, through boom-and-bust industrial projects that by design violate their ancestral lands and ultimately impoverish their communities. The Tahltan want to provide their children with the opportunities that are the birthright of every Canadian, but not at any cost.

“We didn’t fight Shell for ten years so a coal company could come along and build an open pit mine in the heart of the Sacred Headwaters,” revered Tahltan elder Mary Dennis said during the Keepers’ protest. “We’ve stopped bigger industrial projects before and we’ll do it again with help from our supporters and allies.”

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Improving health care for Canada’s transgender population

Published on December 11, 2013
Photograph courtesy Jenna Talackova.

When a baby is born, the doctor doesn’t ask if the child is meant for its body, or the body for the child. But feeling at home in one’s skin is not a foregone conclusion; it’s a stroke of luck. For those diagnosed with gender dysphoria, life is largely defined by a conflict between biological sex and gender identity. Canada’s trans* population (the asterisk indicates inclusion of all gender-variant identities) further endures discrimination and under-representation. Physically transitioning to become another sex allows some people to reconcile inner conflicts, and to eventually find personal wellness. The Canadian health care system, though, doesn’t make that easy.

Ten years ago, at the age of fourteen, Jenna Talackova decided she was ready to begin her male-to-female transition. Interminable rounds of psychiatric assessment and hormonal therapy followed. The red tape and lengthy wait-lists for sexual reassignment surgery became overwhelming. The Vancouverite seriously considered leaving Canada to pursue more accessible practices overseas. In countries like Thailand, readily available SRS services often cost half the price of identical Canadian procedures.

“At one point I was going to go do everything in Thailand. I was trying to figure out a way to get myself over there. But then, without papers…you’re going to have to get it done somewhere sketchy. It was the most terrifying thing in the world,” Talackova tells me during a break from shooting her upcoming reality television series Brave New Girls, which will premiere on E! in the New Year. Many clinics in Thailand require documentation of diagnoses and prior treatments, as well as physician referrals. Others, though, are willing to forgo these protocols.

In the end, Talackova opted for the security of staying home. She had all of her procedures (except one) performed in Canada. After her SRS, she legally changed her driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate to reflect her preferred sex. Her newly acquired female identity, however, was not enough for Talackova to gain full acceptance on a broader social scale.

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Donald Winkler

An interview with the winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation

Published on December 5, 2013
Photograph by Cpl. Carbe Orellana, Rideau Hall, OSGG
Cpl. Carbe Orellana, Rideau Hall, OSGG Donald Winkler (left) accepts his prize from Governor General David Johnston.

Winnipeg-born translator and filmmaker Donald Winkler came to French through his mother, who moved from Romania to Canada around 1920, when she was fifteen, following the early death of her own mother. “She studied French there, and had this wonderful, idealistic attachment to the language,” he explains over the phone. “It was connected to her nostalgia for her youth.” Winkler subsequently took courses in university and, in the mid-1960s, spent a year and a half in Paris “teaching English and going to movies.”

Last week, in a ceremony at Rideau Hall, David Johnston presented Winkler with his third Governor General’s Literary Award for translation—for Pierre Nepveu’s poetry collection The Major Verbs (Les verbes majeurs). In Winkler’s remarks of acceptance, he said, “My responsibility is to treat every text as an offering, to be transformed, but hallowed, as it is shepherded from one tongue to another.” He is married to Sheila Fischman, an award-winning translator in her own right—in his words, the “doyenne of Canadian literary translation.” The couple live together in Montreal.

Julien Russell Brunet: Do you think about adopting another writer’s voice when you translate? Or do you approach it more literally?

Donald Winkler: You can talk about feeling your way into the identity of the writer you’re translating. But, for me, it happens more on the level of the language. I don’t want to diminish it in any way, and I’m not, but existentially translating is a very, very fascinating and sophisticated word game.

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Sally Forth

I was mad, and now I am sane.” The quixotic reign of Rob Ford

Published on December 2, 2013

And so it came to pass that Robert Bruce Ford, Toronto’s legendary chief magistrate, once again donned his suit of scuffed armour and set out to avenge his own honour while ridding the kingdom of gravy-slurping pinkos and miscreants.

In exactly one month, the City of Toronto’s eleven-month-long municipal election season will begin, and with it, the campaign by Canada’s most infamous mayor to reprise the shockingly decisive victory he mustered on October 25, 2010.

On that historic day, almost 400,000 Torontonians cast a vote for a man already notorious for televised tirades, ethnic slurs, arrests, lies and, above all, a pose of defiance—towards rules, laws, conventions, and all other forms of external constraint—that turned out to be deeply appealing to voters weary of being told what to do and how to think.

In the three-plus years since Ford’s win, he has broken every single rule of political decorum and defied the pundits (myself included) over and over again. He continues to touch many voters, despite a record of personal misconduct that goes well beyond anything Canadians have ever witnessed in a politician. Let’s trot out all the military clichés here: Ford charges headlong into minefields, draws friendly fire, and appears to be the undisputed master of the self-inflicted political wound. He somehow manages to survive, like the bumbling cartoon coyote who is forever getting crushed by falling boulders but still lives to see another episode.

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Teresa Toten

An interview with the winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Literature (Text)

Published on November 28, 2013
Photograph by Matthew WileyMatthew Wiley

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B is not a book about mental illness. The young protagonist, Adam, suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and struggles mightily against it. The illness is a crucial part of the novel’s contextual axis, both as a feature of Adam’s psychological makeup, as well as that of his peers. He is treated for OCD, wrestles with OCD, and develops relationships that are in some way informed by OCD.

However, author Teresa Toten refuses to let Adam or any of her characters, and the overarching structure of the novel itself, to be defined entirely by this illness. Instead, she crafts a book about narrative’s ability to return a sense of power and control to those who feel vulnerable. She writes about bravery under extraordinary circumstances, and how infinitesimally small actions can be the products of great courage. She writes about the complexity of relationships, the desperate and ugly parts of love. She writes with great respect from the perspective of her teen characters, giving gravity and weight to their heightened, vibrant worlds. So no, The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B—winner of this year’s Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Literature (Text)—is not about mental illness. It is about heroism.

Natalie Zina Walschots: What was your reaction when you received the news that you had been nominated for a GGLA for the third time? And what was your reaction when you won?

Teresa Toten: I can honestly say just getting on the list is pretty amazing. It’s a fight to the death in the room, while the jurors are deliberating. [Children’s text] is the largest field, and everyone is baring their passions in those books. You’d sell your soul just to get on the list, never mind a win. I was sure I was going to be a bridesmaid again: I’d been there three times, I know how to wear that dress. So when I got up there, I thanked the jurors from the bottom of my heart for transforming me from a bridesmaid into a beaming bride.

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Nicolas Billon

An interview with the winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama

Published on
Photograph by Trish LindströmTrish Lindström

Not all of the rifts that inform the title of Fault Lines, Nicolas Billon’s collection of three plays, are tectonic in nature. Many of them begin as tiny cracks, innocuous fractures of psyche or resolve, interruptions of thought or life path. When Billon finds these fissures, however, he presses into them eagerly, exposing vulnerabilities in his characters and flaws in their plans.

While the three plays that make up the collection, each named after an island—Greenland, Iceland, and Faroe Islands—are certainly not devoid of action, these brittle moments often take place before the characters’ epiphanies, whether powerful or painful, begin to translate into action or have an impact on the world around them. We get to see the first crack crawl across the glass of a character’s mind well before it finally shatters. Fault Lines is both shockingly intimate and utterly merciless. It’s also the winner of this year’s General General’s Literary Award for Drama.

Natalie Zina Walschots: What was your reaction when you received the news that you had been nominated for a GGLA? And what was your reaction when you won?

Nicolas Billon: It’s funny, because I’ve gotten the question, “How do you feel about winning? ” a lot. It feels great! I really don’t know how else to express it other than that.

Natalie Zina Walschots: All three of these plays engage with the idea of fracturing or cleaving in an entirely different way, from hairline cracks to massive crevasses. What is it about these moments of psychological or personal breaking that fascinate you?

Nicolas Billon: They’re moments of high drama, but those moments are not necessarily externalized. They are realizations. There’s a real shift inside how a person views the world, and I am really interested in that moment. The real difficulty with theatre is how to make something internal, external. In fact, when I first wrote Greenland, one of the things Ravi [Jain], who directed the play, and I talked a lot about was that we were really exploring the monologue. Neither of us had worked in the monologue form before, and what I was particularly curious about was this relationship that it creates between the audience and the actor, because there is no fourth wall. It is a direct address.…I find this interesting on several levels, one of which is that it can only happen in the theatre. You can’t really do it in film. I was curious about the intimacy that creates between character and audience.

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Sandra Djwa

An interview with the winner of the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-fiction

Published on November 22, 2013

“I am traveller. I have a destination but no maps. Others perhaps have reached that destination already, still others are on their way. But none has had to go from here before—nor will again. One’s route is one’s own. One’s journey unique. What I will find at the end I can barely guess. What lies on the way is unknown.”

—P. K. Page, “Traveller, Conjuror, Journeyman”

Canadian poet and visual artist P. K. Page wrote that in 1970, after living in Mexico for four years with her husband, the diplomat Arthur Irwin. It was around that time when she met the writer and scholar Sandra Djwa, who invited Page to give her first public poetry reading to a group of students at Simon Fraser University.

Djwa grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland, left the province for the West Coast in her late teens, and now lives in Vancouver. She taught English at SFU from 1968 through the turn of this century, and is the author of three biographies, includingThe Politics of the Imagination: A Life of F. R. Scott and Professing English: A Life of Roy Daniells. Her study of Page—Journey with No Maps: A Life of P. K. Page— was recently named this year’s winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for (English-language) Non-fiction.

Julien Russell Brunet: How did you respond to Page’s poetry when you first read it?

Sandra Djwa: I liked it very much. There was a crispness to it. She was so precise in her language and metaphors. Her images were sharp. They were almost metaphysical. She had this way of beginning a poem. It wasn’t quite “For God’s sake hold your tongue,” but it was conversational and quick.

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Katherena Vermette

An interview with the winner of the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry

Published on

The love that sits at the core of Katherena Vermette’s North End Love Songs—winner of this year’s Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language poetry—is not simple or serene, but pugnacious and ferocious, something to be alternately fled from as well as embraced. Set in and inspired by Winnipeg’s North End, Vermette’s poetry explores a landscape that she at once rejects in pieces like “Poised for Flight,” but elsewhere speaks of with a great sense of love and longing. Populated by riot grrls and heavy metal boys, these North End Love Songs are loud and heightened, but also possess a surprising vulnerability. The collection’s subjects are often wounded and sometimes disappear, as both the inner and outer landscapes that Vermette explores have the tendency to turn hostile. As young women transform into clever, daring birds, and memories are as strange and muffled as music heard through a wall, North End Love Songs embraces the difficulties, the stumbling and the groping, and all the chilly, ugly elements than can nonetheless combine into a sense of place and home.

Natalie Zina Walschots: When North End Love Songs was nominated for a GGLA, you described your reaction as shocked, that the honour as completely unexpected, and you first heard the news via social media while at brunch. How did you receive news of the win, and is the shock still present, or has it become something different?

Katherena Vermette: I was eating breakfast when I read about the nomination on my phone. Brunch makes it sound much fancier than it was! When I got the call about the win, I gasped. I didn’t have much time to process it because I had to figure out how to get myself to Toronto, and my life’s pretty jam-packed these days. I am not as stone-cold shocked as I was before, but I’m thankful I have so much to do so I can use up all my nervous energy.

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Matt James

An interview with the winner of the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Literature (Illustration)

Published on November 15, 2013
Toronto Public Library

The studio of Toronto-based painter and illustrator Matt James sits above a bar in Parkdale. There’s a beat-up drum kit in the kitchen, along with a couple of electric guitars and three separate collections of vinyl, tapes, and CDs. James’s fine art lines the hallway. A few drawings by his eldest son are taped to one wall.

I visited on a cold night last weekend. This Wednesday, James was officially announced as the winner of the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award for children’s illustration (English language). Local cover band The Neil Young’uns was playing downstairs, and my host exuded the kind of cheerful, goofy warmth you’d hope from someone in his line of work.

“I really love my job,” he said. “In fact, I sort of have to pretend sometimes like it’s not fun. You don’t want people thinking that your work is too fun or whatever.”

James’s third children’s book, Northwest Passage, sets the lyrics to Stan Rogers’ iconic song against beautifully detailed paintings—complex blues, ghostly outlines. This is the third time James has been nominated for a GGLA, but the first time he has won. He is now at work on a fifth children’s title.

Julien Russell Brunet: How did Northwest Passage come about?

Matt James: They came to me with the idea. I looked at the song. I looked at Stan. I thought it over. Can I be respectful? Can I get into this? I saw how heavy the tune was and what a heavy guy he was and I just jumped in.

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Luminous Ford

Whiteness, race, and Toronto’s mayoral meltdown

Published on November 9, 2013

A few months ago, the press in Winnipeg received a leaked email written by Eric Robinson, Manitoba’s deputy premier and a senior member of the provincial government. In it, he made reference to “do[-]good white people.” Robinson is Indigenous, and his invocation of the word “white”—even in a private email intended for a co-worker—caused the Earth to shift on its axis a bit. The first rule of white club, after all, is you do not speak about whiteness. This is perhaps especially true in Canada.

I write this from Winnipeg, where I have outstanding work projects, a towering stack of laundry, and greater interest in things other than what’s happening in Toronto. I have not followed the Rob Ford fiasco very closely, though this has been oddly difficult. Outrage and what I can only call shame about Toronto’s mayor have filled my screens and pages for almost a year now, and most of it has left me sort of cold. This is not because I am a fan of Ford’s government or person (really!), or because I am weary of hearing about Toronto from a parochial Canadian media, though there is probably some of that. More than anything, the Ford debacle seems to be a troubling example of a mainstream Canadian unwillingness to name and discuss race. The mayor is luminously white, maybe even as white as his friend Don Cherry. Without taking Ford’s whiteness seriously, even insightful discussions like John Doyle’s reading of Ford as newly ascendant, mean, and powerful “hoser” lack the critical bite they could have.

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Rookie’s Intuition

Tavi Gevinson’s brave new world for beaming young women, in pulp and pixels

Published on November 1, 2013
Rookie Yearbook Two cover artDrawn & Quarterly

In the lower desert of southern California, in a small town called Niland (population 1,006), there is a hill made of straw and dirt and adobe clay, painted in a dozen layers of chromatic rainbow. Fifty feet tall and 150 feet in breadth, it is known as Salvation Mountain.

The structure was built by a man named Leonard Knight, as a tribute to God, in the 1970s. For decades Knight took care of it, until dementia rendered him unable to do so. Today the monument is nurtured by a community of strangers—curious tourists, committed locals—who donate their paint and their time so that Salvation Mountain stands eternal.

In October, at a theatre in Manhattan, images of the hill played across a screen during a New Yorker Festival interview with Tavi Gevinson. The photos came from a 2011 Rookie feature called “Daydream Nation,” the subheading of which called it “Secret magic in the middle of the desert.” Gevinson, the seventeen-year-old founding editor of lauded online teen magazine Rookie, told the sold-out audience that she likes the idea of a secret place, separate from the rest of the world.

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The Sun Will Come Out #tomorrow

An interview with science and technology author and optimist Clive Thompson

Published on October 30, 2013
Smarter Than You ThinkThe Penguin Press

In his debut book Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better, science and tech journalist Clive Thompson offers a compelling rebuttal to the skeptics of today’s technological landscape. (See the November issue of The Walrus for Jeet Heer’s review, “Happy Medium Is the Message.”) The Canadian expat, a regular contributor to Wired and The New York Times Magazine (and an occasional contributor to The Walrus), focuses on insightful anecdotes about “what’s observably happening in the world around us.” During a recent interview over Skype, he talked about the book, his texting habits, and how technology affects his life and his work. “It’s easy predicting the future—frankly, who’s going to tell you you’re wrong? ” Thompson joked. “It is much harder to predict the present.”

Jonathan Wu: What was the genesis of this book?

Clive Thompson: In one sense, I had been researching this book for [my entire career]. When I graduated from the University of Toronto in the ’90s, the Internet was coming to the mainstream. I became interested in reporting the effects of new technologies on everyday life for magazines like Shift and Report On Business. I started off being extremely pessimistic and misanthropic about technology and cognition. I didn’t think it was a good idea for the average person to be communicating in public. I thought our attention spans were going to shrink into nothing. That good, quality online speech would be drowned out by stupid and corrosive talk.

While many of my concerns came true, I consistently failed to predict the amazing things that would happen. I failed to predict that messaging would turn into this interesting form of persistent contact. I didn’t see things like Wikipedia coming—these massive collaborations by individuals to produce these towering documents. I didn’t get that there was something transformative about how blogs enabled people to move their internal thoughts into public spaces.

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Parable of the Queen of the North

Excerpted from the author’s new book, The Oil Man and the Sea

Published on October 17, 2013
Photograph by Ilja Herb
Ilja Herb Dozens of islands dot the Northern Gateway’s tanker route through the Great Bear Rainforest.

A light tail wind came up. We raised the sails and killed the motor. Instantly, the brrrroop RRRRUUUUUP, bbrrrrrooooowwww roar of a sea lion colony reached our ears. A rocky island 16 kilometres off our port bow was covered in their fat brown bodies. They looked like slugs through the binoculars.

Just behind them, Gil Island.

This was the heart of the tanker route. One day, if we came back here, we might see the iron leviathans coming around Gil on their way in and out of Kitimat, not dwarfing Foxy so much as eclipsing her. The Northern Gateway proposal called for three classes of oil tanker: Aframax, the smallest, averages 220 metres long with a carrying capacity of 700,000 barrels; Suezmax (some classes of tanker are named after the canals they’re designed to fit through), 274 metres long, would carry up to 1 million barrels; and the Very Large Crude Carrier, 344 metres long and weighing 320,000 metric tons, with a capacity of 2 million barrels. It is more than six times bigger than the largest ship yet to call on Kitimat. A VLCC has a two-kilometre turning radius and, when fully loaded without assisting tugs, takes up to three kilometres and fifteen minutes travelling at speed to come to a full stop.

Even so, the thought had crossed our minds that if the weather was always this good, this wouldn’t be such a bad tanker route. If we could sail these waters without incident, surely teams of experienced professionals with vast arrays of modern technology at their disposal could as well. But the sight of green Gil Island dead ahead undermined our confidence.

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Much Ado About Music

At the tangled intersection of art and commerce, Godspeed You! Black Emperor crashes into the Polaris Music Prize

Published on October 1, 2013
'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
Constellation Records Cover art for Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Polaris Music Prize–winning album, ’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

Behind every insurrection, there’s always a trust fund.

Every freegan has unwittingly dumpster–dined on Monsanto; no pair of storied Doc Martens came cheap. Even Toms, the “ethical” toothpaste that tastes like chalk, is owned by Colgate-Palmolive, a multinational corporation with a history of testing on animals and a headquarters on Park Avenue.

It’s hard to live honestly in a system bolstered by swift conglomerates. It’s hard not to be a hypocrite when this very structure thrives because it tricks consumers into thinking they’re bargaining with it. We are all just tossing quarters into the same food court fountain.

But it is admirable to live with intent. You can either be a brand-happy mallrat who buys Starbucks lattes with an iPhone app and dresses like a Marianne Faithfull mannequin—care of Urban Outfitters—or you can endeavour to live otherwise. The latter is much more difficult, and no one knows this better than companies who market the illusion of living honestly and ethically within a capitalist society. This is how Red Bull—an energy drink initially popularized by the Thai working class, because it helped people labour beyond their physical limits—has managed to penetrate independent music culture with DJ schools, its own record label, and a tour bus that carts bands around the country to play for thirsty crowds. This is why Samsung—a brand not typically associated with Canadian music—simultaneously projected a Feist hologram across Canada, beaming the singer’s likeness into three different product launch parties this year. This is how Mountain Dew (owned by the mountain-sized PepsiCo) became the hipster class’s go-to ruling soda at South By South West’s annual emerging-band buffet.

Scion, an automotive brand owned by Toyota, has become the underwriting overlord and saviour of North American indie music. More topically, it is the presenting sponsor of Canada’s Polaris Music Prize. The business between Scion and Polaris has been discussed at length, with both gratitude and contention, in the week since the announcement of this year’s prizewinner, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a radically minded, self-proclaimed anti-capitalist, experimental, reclusive, post-rock-ish collective from Montreal. Full text & comments

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An excerpt from the author’s forthcoming novel

Published on September 24, 2013
Photograph by bobbie vie
bobbie vie

Ronnie didn’t know what the word ennui meant before she met Charlie. More importantly, she didn’t know she was experiencing it before she met Charlie.

One day at the salon a teenage boy in a Smiths T-shirt and a pair of scuffed Converse All-Stars came in for a cut. His hair was long and soft, the kind of hair that teenage boys have because they fail to wash it regularly and never style it. It was light and feathery and beautiful, a sort of non-colour, a uniform grey-brown. He collapsed heavily in her chair and she found herself running her fingers through it lovingly, carefully concealing this love from him as he stared severely at her in the mirror.

“Is there something wrong with you? ” was the first thing he said. The question shook her from wherever she was.

“What do you mean? ” she said, pulling her fingers quickly from his scalp.

“You don’t look well. You look sick.”

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The Beginning of The End (of Pinky)

An interview with Heather O’Neill and Claire Blanchet, about the former’s Walrus story that has become the latter’s 3D animated film

Published on September 16, 2013
Photograph courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada
National Film Board of Canada Production still from The End of Pinky (2013), directed by Claire Blanchet.

Heather O’Neill’s short story “The End of Pinky” walks the careful edge where all of her work takes place, between childlike innocence and bleak poverty, bedtime stories and social realism. The piece, about an amoral lowlife trying to find his conscience, debuted in the January/February 2008 issue of The Walrus. Now it’s become an animated short film, directed by Claire Blanchet, which screened in stereoscopic 3D at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Last week, I sat down with O’Neill and Blanchet to discuss the adaptation.

Chris Berube: Claire, when did you think Heather’s story might make sense for animation?

Claire Blanchet: I thought that when I read the story for the first time. The atmosphere I read it in was very evocative—it was this amber-pink, glowing, snowstorm-y night in Montreal. I fell in the love with the story—Heather’s language is very evocative. She creates a clear visual universe, and sounds and textures.

Chris Berube: There’s a clear film noir overtone to the adaptation. Heather, when you were writing the story, was this film noir universe what you had imagined?

Heather O’Neill: What you look for in collaboration is someone to bring something completely new to your work. It’s odd and different—it made me look at the story in a different way. But yes, I was having fun with the genre. It was half film noir, and [half] fairy tale. Claire got that. Her universe is so childlike; the characters look like children in the drawings.

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The Reciprocal Gaze

Basking in two oases of calm at the Toronto International Film Festival: Manakamana and Visitors

Published on September 11, 2013
Image courtesy of Visitors, directed by Godfrey Reggio.

I’ve attended several Cannes Film Festivals in the past, which is where I began to gravitate towards movies in which little happens. This has partly to do with context. During the festival, Cannes becomes a sea of humanity, with 4,000 journalists funnelling into twenty-two Competition screenings. I found myself increasingly grateful for the films that offered an oasis of calm and stillness. (What some would call “boring.”)

For instance, I loved Climates (2006), by the great Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, as well as his slightly more action-packed, nocturnal drama Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011). Both are slow-moving, pensive films that allow us to sink into Ceylan’s long, exquisitely composed shots as if they were paintings.

I liked Meek’s Cutoff (2010), Kelly Reichardt’s minimalist film about American homesteaders inching their way across the West, for the same reason. Long scenes with few cuts and scant dialogue show a trust in the viewer’s ability to step into the film’s world. It engages us in a more collaborative, less manipulative way.

In fact, the fewer edits per minute a movie has, the more likely I am to embrace it, because our real life more and more resembles a car-chase flick—heavily edited, clamorous, and fast-paced.

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Is TIFF Worth the Effort?

Working the festival—and this year’s films about work

Published on September 10, 2013
Illustration by Heather HortonHeather Horton

On the second day of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, I was biking home from a screening close to midnight when I passed the Ryerson University auditorium on Gerrard Street. A long, long line of chilly filmgoers snaked around the block, waiting patiently to get into a midnight screening. The intermittent glow from their phones was like fireflies. It’s a familiar sight in Toronto in early September, these refugee TIFF lineups. I was both touched and slightly baffled by the effort that the people in this city will go to watch a movie.

Consider the work involved: first you do the research, wading through a Proust-sized program book to choose your films. Then comes the paperwork, filling out lengthy online forms and plotting a course through TIFF’s leviathan schedule of 300-plus screenings. Next you have to navigate the city’s crazed, meth-paced September traffic, or search in vain for an available bike ring, in order to line up for an hour or more in sun or rain before getting into the theatre. Have we all become unpaid TIFF interns?

It’s a lot of work to work the festival.

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Watching Like a Girl

How mainstream sports reporting gets female fandom wrong

Published on July 22, 2013
Photograph by Joel DindaJoel Dinda

Earlier this year, I was at a Blue Jays home game when a kindly usher took it upon himself, unsolicited, to explain to me how many strikes make up an out, and how many balls are a walk. While I’m sure he had the best intentions at heart, the trouble with his instruction was that he assumed I needed it—I’ve been going to games for about thirty years.

Men tend to make these assumptions, but like most female baseball fans I know, I actually have a specialized knowledge of the game that my male counterparts may not. For example, I know what sections of the ballpark are the safest to sit in, where I am least likely to be harassed by men, or to overhear sexist, homophobic or racist remarks from the male voices around me (at the Rogers Centre, 515 and 113 are both good places, if you’re interested). I know that weekday evening games tend to be most comfortable for women, that Sunday afternoons are generally better than Saturdays, and that Friday evenings should be avoided all together. I know that the new centre field porch on the 200 level—although equipped with a beautiful view—is generally out of the question if you’re interested in avoiding aggressive, drunken masculinity. Female fans navigate the game differently by necessity, as media messaging consistently tells us this is a male space that we’re being “allowed” to enter. I am a devoted fan of the game despite and not because of the culture that surrounds it.

Men hold an overwhelming majority of the power when it comes to creating mainstream sports culture, whether it’s by being a player, a fan, or a sportswriter. Take, for example, Tom Maloney’s piece in last Friday’s Globe and Mail, titled “A new generation of baseball fans in Toronto are young, hip and cool.” The article, which breaks down results of an in-stadium survey conducted by Ipsos-Reid, reinforces the very same exclusion and hostility that I have front of mind every time I pick my seats. In it, the author attempts to explain an “astounding” jump in women’s attendance at Rogers Centre from 2010 to 2012 by lazily hypothesizing that these young women aren’t really baseball fans at all. Full text & comments

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The Importance of Being First

Anita Adams’ First Weekend Club works to improve the profile of Canadian films

Published on July 11, 2013

After spending four years writing, directing, starring in, and producing the Canadian indie Hit ’n Strum, Kirk Caouette couldn’t find a single film festival that would screen it—not Toronto, not Whistler, not Vancouver. The film, about a Vancouver busker’s relationship with a lawyer who hits him with her car, was seemingly doomed to an eternity of screenings in friends’ and family members’ basements and living rooms.

But just as Caouette was giving up hope, the Canadian Film Fest slotted Hit ’n Strum into its 2012 schedule. After a successful debut at the tiny Toronto fest—Caouette won the best actor award, and the film won for best cinematography—a screener of the film made it into the hands of Anita Adams, founder of First Weekend Club, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting Canadian films. Adams fell in love with Caouette’s movie, and lobbied Paul Gratton, director of programming at the Whistler Film Festival, to include it in the 2013 festival. He did. Finally, a film that had been categorically rejected the year before had an audience in Western Canada.

First Weekend Club then got to work promoting the film for its theatrical release. The club got a sponsor on board, and used the sponsorship money to buy tickets to the premiere for important media types; they organized contests and promoted the film on Twitter. This March, when Hit ’n Strum opened at the Fifth Avenue Cinema in Vancouver, it screened to a sold-out audience. It lasted five weeks in theatres in Vancouver, then opened in Toronto and other Canadian cities. “Most Canadian films have two weeks if they’re lucky,” says Adams. “I feel like First Weekend Club played a really active role in helping that film succeed.” Full text & comments

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What Are You Reading?

A summer survey of Walrus writers, artists, and readers

Published on July 10, 2013
Artwork by The WalrusSummer Reading: Ten years of fiction, poetry, memoir, and escape from the magazine

David Macfarlane, author, novelist, and magazine writer: I’ve been saving Don Gillmor’s Mount Pleasant for a good long read on the dock.

Mark Jaccard, Royal Society of Canada fellow, author of “The Accidental Activist”: I am reading Eric Newby’s Slowly Down the Ganges. Then I will read Eric Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush.

Dani Couture, poet, novelist, fiction and poetry editor of This Magazine, office manager of The Walrus: I’m reading The Winter of Our Discontent, John Steinbeck’s last novel. I thought I’d read everything by him, but on looking through my books for something to read this summer, found it and realized that while I’d purchased it, I’d never read it. A strange, rare treat. Full text & comments

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Yesterday’s Man

Superman’s struggle for relevance in the twenty-first century

Published on June 28, 2013
Superman Vol. 2, No. 75 cover artDC Comics

In January 1993, waiting in line at Lawtons Drugs, I begged my mom to buy me a copy of Superman Vol. 2, No. 75. She was well aware of its storyline, which had made the evening news: Superman was dead, killed in a brutal duel with an alien villain named Doomsday. She took one look at the now-iconic cover, with Superman’s tattered cape tied to a stake like a flag at half mast, and flatly refused.

“Too violent,” she said.

I was only six years old, after all.

Of course, Superman wasn’t actually dead. DC Comics’ writers soon brought him back to complete the three-part arc, later collected as The Death of Superman, World Without a Superman, and The Return of Superman. With more than six million copies printed, Superman 75’s record for largest single-day sales for a comic book was the industry’s swan song for print. However, in many ways, Superman was dead—or at least his relevance was. Full text & comments

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The Summer of Our Discontent

The Charbonneau Commission on corruption in Quebec’s construction industry ends its spring session

Published on June 20, 2013

“I wish you a hot summer and much sunshine.”

With those words, France Charbonneau, madame la presidente of the commission looking into widespread corruption in the awarding of public contracts in Quebec, brought the province’s most popular show to a temporary end. The spring session had no less than eighty witnesses and featured the gamut, from outright denials to admissions of complicity, delivered with a shamed shrug, as if to say there was no other choice.

Some were penitent, some couldn’t stop talking, and some didn’t want to talk at all. Recall Nicolo Milioto, a grey little man known as “Mr. Sidewalk,” who is an alleged middleman between the Mafia and construction companies. He kept a straight face as he explained that old men had stuffed cash into their socks at a known Mafia hangout—scenes of which were captured on grainy RCMP video—simply because they didn’t want to lose it. It’s like when women stuff money into their bras, he continued.

Huh? I certainly don’t do that, and I’ve never heard of other women doing it, either. Full text & comments

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Et tu, Applebaum?

Montreal’s incumbent mayor joins the lengthy list of politicians charged by Quebec’s anti-corruption squad

Published on June 17, 2013
Photograph by Montreal metropole culturelle
Montreal metropole culturelle Michael Applebaum, interim mayor of Montreal.

Call it the political perp walk—something that we in Quebec have sadly become accustomed to. Early this morning, Montreal’s interim mayor, Michael Applebaum, was arrested at his home and charged with fourteen criminal counts that range from breach of trust to fraud. And to think, this is the leader who was supposed to steer the city right—after graft, corruption, and blind complaisance prompted the previous administration’s ignominious fall.

Plus ça change, as the saying goes. Or, shameful is as shameful does. You’d think that by now, Montrealers would simply shrug our shoulders and get on with our day. It’s just another allegedly corrupt politician. Or, to be more precise, two, given that Saulie Zajdel, another former municipal pol, was also arrested as part of today’s mini-sweep by UPAC, the province’s anti-corruption squad.

However, setting aside the tenet that Applebaum is innocent until proven guilty, the very fact of his arrest is the biggest betrayal of all—bigger, even, than former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt’s, because Applebaum took on the city’s top job for the specific purpose of setting it straight. He was the Anglophone choirboy, the man with a plan, the politician who was outraged at what had been happening here for years, while his former boss, ex-mayor Gérald Tremblay, hid his head in the (below-par) sand and asphalt. Full text & comments

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Cause = Time 
Time = God 

Presenting the winner of the Broken Social Scene Story Contest

Published on May 30, 2013
Arts & CraftsBroken Social Scene, Cause = Time (2002).

“The universe is infinite,” says the woman on television. She is a doctor of some kind. “It’s like the monkeys flipping coins. Eventually, one monkey will flip tails one million times in a row. Anything that can happen will happen. The cause is literally time itself.”

The woman is holding a clear glass jar with a beta fish in it. The camera zooms in on the fish. It’s blue. The woman’s hand is shaking. The fish used to be this woman’s husband. He was one of the first to turn. That was four or five months ago now. Reports of people turning into fish were sparse at first but have steadily been increasing. That’s to go along with everything else that’s been happening.

The camera pans out to show a man in a white robe sitting across from the woman.

“Science cannot explain this away,” he says. As he speaks, he seems to grow larger. “This is the undeniable wrath of God. Revelation 1:7: ‘Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.’”

“With all due respect,” says the woman with the fish, “I’ve seen nothing but rain and spoons fall from the clouds—oh, and a tin soldier coming down clipped my ear the other day. Where are tin soldiers falling to earth in your book of Revelations? ”

Anna switches off the news. Her clothes are still in her suitcase or else in a pile beside her suitcase. She’s been living in this apartment for seven weeks, and she hasn’t unpacked. She sleeps in the bed that came with the place on the sheets she bought at a store that’s now closed. The sheets are bright green. They were on sale.

Anna tries not to think about who used to sleep in this bed. She didn’t ask what happened to them. There are places on the coast where people have been going to pray. Most likely, whoever was in Anna’s apartment before her went there. That or they were turned. There have been 1,258 cases of turning in the city so far; 1,258 out of half a million.

All that’s left of the person who used to live in Anna’s apartment is a box of VHSs Anna found on the top shelf of the closet. Full text & comments

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Return to Fukushima

More than two years after fleeing from Japan’s radioactive disaster, a Canadian professor contemplates going back to the scene of the quake

Published on May 24, 2013
Photograph by Andrew Dewar
Courtesy of Andrew Dewar Andrew Dewar’s living room in Fukushima, photographed after the fateful quake.

At 2:46 p.m. on a Friday afternoon in Fukushima, Japan, Andrew Dewar was sitting in his office at Sakura no Seibo Junior College. It was the day before graduation, and he could hear his students rehearsing above him in the third floor auditorium. Then, from nowhere, the room started shaking. It stopped after a few minutes, only to start again. The second time, it lasted five minutes.

Earthquakes are part of life in Japan. There are about 1,500 of them each year. To feel the ground and walls shake is usually no cause for alarm, because most are either short tremors or have no real impact. But this quake was different. The room started moving. Dewar’s office shook to the point of collapse; his books, shelves, and walls were thrown about like confetti. Nothing was spared.

Dewar hails from Toronto, where he studied journalism at Ryerson University before earning a master’s degree in library science from the University of Toronto. That afternoon, the fifty-year-old professor had been alone on the second floor. Before he headed outside, he heard a TV news broadcast blurting from a nearby office: a tsunami had hit the mainland. He halted his run down the stairs to watch the report.

“I saw this wall of water going past the camera. It was a pretty big tide,” Dewar tells me, over the phone from Waterloo, Ontario, where he, his wife, and three young children now live. “Then I saw planes from Sendai Airport floating by the camera and thought, this is really bad. I didn’t know how to react. It was all very apocalyptic.” Full text & comments

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The Collector

Retired bagman Roger Desbois takes his turn in the Charbonneau Commission’s hot seat

Published on May 22, 2013

Montreal may have Bernard “Mr. Three Percent” Trépanier, the former municipal party bagman who told the Charbonneau Commission—a provincial inquiry into rampant corruption in Quebec’s construction industry—that lawyers could question him until they were blue in the face, but he’d never admit to accepting cash-stuffed envelopes from engineering firms.

But Laval has Roger “the Collector” Desbois, a retired engineer who is now revealing all. Understandably nervous when he took the witness seat before the commission on Monday, he was soon in the zone, testifying that back in 2003, he began to collect two percent kickbacks from companies who’d won contracts via a thoroughly rigged bidding process. Thin, bespectacled, and softspoken, Desbois revealed that Claude Asselin, who was Laval’s city manager at the time, asked him to take on the job of—well, bagman is as good a word as any. Full text & comments

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Gangland, QC

As the Charbonneau Commission probes deeper into corruption in Quebec, police arrest former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt and thirty-six others

Published on May 9, 2013

It seems there was a worse mayor in Quebec than Montreal’s own former leader, Gérald Tremblay. Where Tremblay appeared witless, gutless, and naïve during his testimony before the Charbonneau Commission, he’s been trumped by Gilles Vaillancourt. The latter, who was first elected mayor of Laval in 1989, and stepped down last November, was one of thirty-seven men arrested earlier today—politicians, bureaucrats, and construction bosses who all stand accused of conspiracy, fraud, abuse of trust, gangsterism, and other bad things.

I know. Gangsterism? The federal government introduced the charge back in 1997, after a bloody turf war between Quebec biker gangs, to impose longer sentences on members of organized crime. And now it’s been laid on the man who was once called Laval’s “Mayor for Life.” Full text & comments

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Game of Stones

Gilles Cloutier brings dapper destruction to the Charbonneau Commission on corruption in Quebec’s construction industry

Published on May 3, 2013

Finally, the Charbonneau Commission has moved beyond Montreal municipal politics—and the testimony of Gilles Cloutier has set Pauline Marois’s Parti Quebecois government positively on edge.

This week, the corrupt, dapper, and extremely talkative former political organizer dragged the party into the spotlight with a series of startling revelations. Two of the biggest: that former PQ transport minister Guy Chevrette had a hand in the fixing of a contract for highway repaving; that a friend of Chevrette’s had demanded a $100,000 bribe to get Cloutier an audience with the minister.

All of which is to say: be careful what you ask for. Full text & comments

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The Walrus Magazine Congratulates Award Nominees

Our contributors and staff members were nominated for fifteen written, five visual, and three integrated awards

Published on May 1, 2013

The Walrus Foundation is pleased to announce that The Walrus magazine has received twenty-three National Magazine Award nominations for our work in 2012. Our contributors were nominated for fifteen written, five visual, and three integrated awards. The winners will be announced at the thirty-sixth annual National Magazine Awards gala on June 7 in Toronto.

“We want to congratulate all of our nominated contributors, without whom we couldn’t produce The Walrus magazine,” said co-publishers John Macfarlane and Shelley Ambrose. “As The Walrus celebrates its tenth anniversary year, we remain committed to the public square, and to providing a print and digital forum for the country’s best writers, artists, and journalists to bring their talents to Canadians.”

The Walrus won the 2006 award for Magazine of the Year and has won more National Magazine Awards since its inception than any other publication, including fifty-nine golds, thirty-six silvers, and 202 honourable mentions.

The Walrus congratulates all of our nominated contributors and staff members, listed here:

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Under Fire

Junk science in the courts

Published on April 29, 2013
Illustration by Adrienne Kammerer

Louis Cuen Taylor celebrated his fifty-ninth birthday earlier this month. Nothing special for most people. But for the Arizona resident, it was the first time he could enjoy his birthday celebration as a free man in more than four decades.

Taylor had been released from prison days earlier, the latest in a sorry list of Americans who have been found to be wrongly accused and convicted of murder by arson—often on the basis of faulty, so-called scientific evidence. “Junk science” in the courts is an issue I explore in the latest issue of The Walrus, focusing in part on bad arson evidence.

Like Taylor, a Saskatchewan man named Leon Walchuk was sent to jail after being found guilty of setting a fatal fire in 1998. Unlike Taylor, he remains in prison. Expert testimony convinced a judge that Walchuk’s estranged wife, rendered unconscious during a fight with him, died of “death by fire,” in a blaze he deliberately set in their prairie farmhouse. But leading fire scientists—including one who was hired by the federal government, after the Innocence Project at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School filed an appeal to the justice minister for a review of Walchuk’s case—have pointed out serious flaws in the initial arson investigation. Full text & comments

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Why Do We Cook?

Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, reviewed

Published on April 26, 2013
Penguin PressPenguin Press

Why do we cook? The obvious answer—because we must eat—is less obvious than it once was. There are chefs who can marry flavours and master techniques that we can only dream of, and corporations that can consistently deliver food more cheaply and conveniently than we ever will. So, on a practical level, there are some very real arguments for not cooking.

Of course, most of us instinctively know that we lose certain things when we outsource our nutrition—nutrition itself, for one. And studies show that as we spend less time in the kitchen, we seem to spend more of our time eating, and we eat a lot more. We also spend more time watching other people cook: on television, on YouTube, and on all those supersaturated food porn blogs.

But if you’re not in the habit of reading up on changing food consumption habits, and you’ve somehow avoided reading those monthly headlines about the obesity epidemic, or if you’ve never heard of Michael Pollan—the author, most famously, of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and now of the newly released Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation—you may wonder why it is anyone’s business whether or not the food you eat is warmed in a neat microwaveable tray or simmered messily on a stove.

Before I had children and a husband (I was going to say before I had a decent paying job, but I work for a magazine in Canada, so there really is no such thing), the arguments for cooking seemed fairly plain, and they had nothing to do with health. It was a cheap way to eat well; I could feed myself and my friends a better meal than I could afford to buy in a restaurant. I did have plans to splurge, one day: my roommates and I kept a glass jar for stray loonies and called it the Lotus Fund, after Susur Lee’s fabled first restaurant, on a desolate block of houses in downtown Toronto. But it closed before we had collected enough coin; the only thing I ever ate from Lotus were the peppery nasturtiums I pinched from the window boxes outside. Full text & comments

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All and Nothing

Montreal’s former mayor, Gérald Tremblay, finally appears before the Charbonneau Commission on corruption in Quebec’s construction industry

Published on
Photograph courtesy of
Former Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay appears at the Charbonneau Commission.

Gérald Tremblay was anxious—and for good reason, too. Yesterday, at long last, the most prominent casualty (so far) of a corruption scandal that has enraged Quebecers took the stand before the Charbonneau Commission.

The former mayor of Montreal gave quite the performance: at times passionate, eager, and wounded; at other times sounding incredibly naïve, despite insisting that he is not naïve in any way.

Tremblay is a former provincial cabinet minister who became mayor of Montreal after the city’s 2002 merger with its suburbs. It was, and remains, a time of financial turmoil. He started his day at the commission stating that he had not been involved with political financing, and asserted there was no way his Union Montréal party had skimmed 3 per cent from construction contracts that his administration awarded.

“It’s impossible!” he said. “What would we have done with all that money?” Full text & comments

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Imperfectly Frank

Frank Zampino ducks and dodges at Quebec’s corruption inquiry

Published on April 24, 2013
Photograph courtesy of the Charbonneau CommissionCharbonneau CommissionFrank Zampino.

During testimony this week before the Charbonneau Commission, Frank Zampino, the former number two man at Montreal’s city hall, admitted that vacationing with former construction boss Tony Accurso on the latter’s yacht—a luxurious vessel with four king-size cabins and a six-person Jacuzzi—was maybe an error in judgment. As it is said: You think?

Tuesday was a day of denials, dissembling, and contradictions. Yes, Zampino was buddies with people like Accurso and disgraced engineering firm magnate Rosaire Sauriol, but no, he never let those ties influence which companies won public service contracts. Yes, his family had holidayed on Accurso’s yacht, aptly named The Touch, back in 2005. But no, he never thought to come clean about that because, unlike another vacation on the yacht two years later, his buddy wasn’t with him at the time.

No, Zampino insisted in repeated denials, he didn’t know anything untoward was going on regarding collusion at city hall while he was in office. But yes, he acknowledged having seen at least the conclusions of a 2006 internal report about that very problem.

Oops. Full text & comments

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Sunny Side Up

Finding hope in Morris, Manitoba, where homophobia provoked the closure of a popular eatery

Published on April 18, 2013
Photograph courtesy of Aerial view of Morris, Manitoba.

Reservations were required on the final day of service at Pots N Hands in Morris, Manitoba. When the diner served its last meals on April 13, locals in the town of 1,800 packed into the restaurant’s red vinyl booths and left bouquets of flowers and bottles of wine on the counter. Around noon, as co-owner Matt Rietze circled the restaurant offering hugs to loyal customers and asking how was the special—chicken salad with almonds and apple—three young guests arrived in bright clothing with fuzzy, rainbow-coloured tails attached to their waistbands.

It was a sign of support for Rietze and his partner Dave Claringbould, a gay couple who have shut down their restaurant after just five months because of homophobia. Initially, Pots N Hands was so popular that it had to turn away customers on busy nights, a rarity for a rural area. Some residents knew the owners were gay and didn’t mind, but as word spread around town, a whisper campaign began to derail the business. Regulars cancelled standing reservations, and Rietze and Claringbould became the targets of homophobic slurs. People would call for large reservations, then never show. One customer even asked if they could “catch something” off a plate. Full text & comments

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Cool Hand Frank

Testimony continues at the Charbonneau Commission on corruption in Quebec’s construction industry

Published on
Photograph courtesy of the Charbonneau Commission
Charbonneau Commission Frank Zampino testifies at the Charbonneau Commission.

Wednesday, April 17: At long last, Frank Zampino, the former second-in-command at Montreal’s city hall, has taken the stand at the Charbonneau Commission. In an impeccably tailored charcoal grey suit, the politician whom previous witnesses have described as the “most powerful man in Montreal” lives up to his reputation as a sphinx, inscrutable and calm as he answers questions without missing a beat, even when pressed about his alleged associations with the city’s Mafia.

This is the guy who infamously holidayed on a former construction magnate’s yacht, while he was still president of the city’s executive committee, then abruptly quit politics without explanation in 2008. Last year, Zampino was charged in connection with a land deal in east end Montreal, for having accepted “unspecified favours” during his political tenure.

This is also a guy who’s really well-prepared. Full text & comments

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Break Time Is Over

In Montreal, the Charbonneau Commission on corruption in Quebec’s construction industry resumes after a holiday hiatus

Published on April 15, 2013
CBC NewsBernard Trépanier denies his nickname, “Mr. Three Percent.”

In the wake of a recent news story that corruption in Montreal has cost taxpayers as much as $500 million dollars, the Charbonneau Commission resumed today after a two-week Easter break. Up first: Bernard Trépanier, otherwise known as Bernie to the Max and Mr. Three Percent, a former municipal party fundraiser who has been mentioned in testimony time and again. Trépanier, who allegedly had a habit of skimming 3 percent off the top of infrastructure contracts, is an old style, almost avuncular politico who has been well-coached by defense lawyers. He continues the testimony—filled with memory lapses, denials, and contradictions—that he began before the holiday.

Once Trépanier is finished, Frank Zampino and Gérald Tremblay have both been subpoenaed to appear in the hot seat before commission head France Charbonneau. Zampino, the former second in command at Montreal’s city hall, is not expected to say much, given that he faces criminal charges in connection with a land deal in the city’s east end.

Tremblay, the former Montreal mayor who resigned last year, is another story altogether. His departure came amid questions of what he knew and when he knew it, and at least one colourful image of a party safe so stuffed with cash that it would not close. Since then, Tremblay, who was a provincial Liberal industry and commerce minister before entering municipal politics, has clamoured for a chance to publicly tell his side of the story. Of course, if he really didn’t know anything, as he has steadfastly maintained, that in itself is a bit of a problem. He was the guy in charge, after all.

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The life and works of experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer

Published on April 11, 2013
Still from Nitrate Kisses (1992) Veteran filmmaker Barbara Hammer addressed ageism within her radical queer artist community.
Still from Nitrate Kisses (1992), directed by Barbara Hammer.

In 1979, American experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer came to a feminist film conference in southern Ontario, hoping to screen her seven-minute film, Multiple Orgasm. Had things gone as planned, her audience would have watched eight female orgasms through close-up shots of women’s faces and vulvas. Instead, a woman representing the Ontario Censor Board marched up to Hammer and threatened to confiscate the film if she tried to show it. Hammer took the stage in response, then spent her allotted time recounting in detail the erotic stories she had masturbated to while making the documentary. The censor board couldn’t take her spirit—a spirit that Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox attempted to present last weekend, in “Brave New World,” a retrospective of selections from Hammer’s eighty films.

As she writes in her 2010 autobiography, Hammer! Making movies out of sex and life, nudity, sexuality, and bodily exploration have always been important subjects to Hammer. Nearly forty years ago in Oakland, California, at her first screening of a set of Super 8 films in a pop-up lesbian café, she watched woefully as nearly all her audience members walked out in disdain. It wasn’t the frolicking nude bodies with antler headdresses that offended them, nor the fact that her subjects were co-opting a Catholic ritual and baptizing themselves—after all, this was the ’70s, a decade after hippies across North America had abandoned societal restraints like monogamy and organized religion. The problem was that some of the films included images of men, and the separatist feminists in the crowd were simply uninterested in watching them. The one couple that remained till the end of the final film told Hammer they’d stayed because they had boy children. Full text & comments

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Mr. Three Percent to the Max

Bérnard Trepanier testifies at the Charbonneau Commission on corruption in Quebec’s construction industry

Published on March 28, 2013
Video still from CBC News
CBC News Bernard Trépanier testifies at the Charbonneau Commission.

Next month, The Walrus will publish my story about Quebec’s year-old commission on corruption in the construction industry and France Charbonneau, the Superior Court judge who is running the show. The commission hearings, which are broadcast live, have riveted the province. How could they not? There has been video evidence of Mafiosi stuffing cash in their socks, a description of a municipal party safe so stuffed with cash, it wouldn’t close, and testimony of grossly inflated public works contracts and false invoices.

Full text & comments



A stage adaptation of J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians makes its North American debut in Montreal

Published on February 5, 2013

Waiting for the Barbarians, published in 1980, is South African author J. M. Coetzee’s third novel. At the outset, the text gives its reader few precise details: the date, unspecified; the place, a settlement on the frontier of an unnamed empire; the narrator and main character, simply “the Magistrate.” But, as reviewers at the time noted, a universalized South Africa emerges off the page: the book is an allegory of apartheid.

About two years ago, Russian director Alexandre Marine approached South African theatre veteran Maurice Podbrey with the idea of adapting Waiting for the Barbarians into a play. Marine was subsequently invited to Cape Town, where Coetzee—the 2003 Nobel laureate in literature—was born, grew up, and later taught. The play premiered in the city’s leafy southern suburbs last August. And now, a few months later, the production has come to Montreal, where Marine and Podbrey have both spent a great deal of time.

The story begins with the arrival of a representative from the capital. There is unrest, the audience is told, among the barbarians living on the Empire’s edges, and concern that the tribes are uniting and arming themselves. The representative tortures prisoners to extract confessions; the Magistrate is implicated when he enters into a confused relationship with a barbarian girl, then journeys to return her to her people. Fear takes hold and the society breaks down. Forces are sent to “sweep the barbarians from the valley and teach them a lesson they and their children and grandchildren would never forget,” but the soldiers give up, return to the settlement, then withdraw altogether. In the end, the Magistrate is left to preside over an all-but-abandoned town. Full text & comments

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The trouble with female celebrity profiles and the men who write them

Published on January 31, 2013
Photograph by Thierry CaroThierry Caro

In the first three paragraphs of Thomas B. Morgan’s 1960 Look profile of Brigitte Bardot, the writer refers to the actor’s “magpie hairdo,” her “girl-woman earthiness,” her rich father, her promiscuity (his inference, not hers), and her refusal to embrace a traditional motherhood role. He calls her “the sassy kitten,” puts her in a category alongside French wine and small cars, and resents her for being so wildly popular. One rather important detail is missing from this heap of vitriol: her name.

Fifty-three years later, in an Esquire profile of Megan Fox, Stephen Marche (a Walrus contributor who once wrote a piece—for Esquire—about “the rise of men and the whining of girls“) calls the actor “a screen saver on a teenage boy’s laptop, a middle-aged lawyer’s shower fantasy,” and “a sexual prop used to sell movies and jeans.”

How far we’ve come.

The garish similarities between Look’s 1960 piece and Esquire’s 2013 profile reveal a disheartening lack of progress in between. Male writers have had decades to remedy themselves, but still write jejunely about women, accentuating one isolated, exploitable trait (attractive, rebellious, sweet, rude, slutty, rich) for the sake of producing more easily understood subject matter. Until they learn (or at least try to learn) how to write about female subjects in a way that does not purposefully weave paternalistic generalizations into every paragraph, I propose a moratorium on this stagnant approach to literary writing. Let’s allow women to write about women for a little while. Maybe then we can swap the prevalent illusions of femininity for realistic portraits of women as complex human characters.

I’m not saying that women are better writers than men, and I’m not saying all men lack the will to rise above stereotypes in their work (do you hear that, comment section?). I’m saying that something needs to change in the way literary profiles are written and the way the lives within them are handled, and that this would be a good step toward smoothing out what is currently an unbalanced gender structure in literary journalism. Too often, the privileged male writers whose bylines dominate the publications we read fail to write about women in a way that doesn’t simplify female existences into condescending phrases like “sassy kitten” and “bombshell.” Full text & comments

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Catherine Banks

The Governor General’s Literary Awards interview series

Published on January 28, 2013
Photograph by MCpl Dany Veillette, Rideau Hall
MCpl Dany Veillette, Rideau Hall Catherine Banks, winner of the 2012 GGLA for English-language drama, receives a specially bound copy of her play It Is Solved by Walking from David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

It’s a common enough pattern. When asked about their childhood, medical school students speak warmly about the wonderful pediatrician, the caring family doctor. Young writers cite the complexity of the characters in Austen, the simple elegance of Hemingway, or the adrenaline of Kapuscinski. Teachers talk about their teachers. And so it is with Catherine Banks, who taught before she became a playwright. To be sure, she was influenced by Tremblay and Fornés, but those names aren’t mentioned before the school teacher who never criticized her early poetry, or the instructor of a six-week playwriting course who first asked her to write in dialogue.

Inspired by, and structured around, Wallace Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” It Is Solved by Walking is Banks’ second Governor General’s Literary Award–winning play. (In 2008, she was awarded the prize for Bone Cage). The newer work was praised by the jury for creating “a singular and inspired love story that is also a meditation on the need to give full expression to the complexity of one’s inner life.” Banks is now at work on two projects: Miss ’n Me, a play borne out her love for the music of Missy Elliott, and an adaptation of Ernest Buckler’s The Mountain and the Valley. She grew up in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and now lives in Sambro, a fishing village outside of Halifax.

When did you first read “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”?

I was probably sixteen or seventeen.

Has your understanding of it changed over the years?

It’s a very beautiful poem. For a long time, I was just at surface level—I read it as a series of images. And, actually, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I read what Stevens wrote about the poem being a collection of sensations. I was amazed by that. It sent me back to the poem, and I started thinking about the sensation resident in each one of its thirteen stanzas. That was the beginning of It Is Solved by Walking. Full text & comments

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We Are Alive

Reflections on the first week of new NHL hockey

Published on January 25, 2013

As the first, belated week of the 2012-13 NHL regular season comes to a close, is there anything left to say about hockey’s return and what the game means to this country? Yes, the 113-day lockout was a “stupid, useless waste of time.” Yes, despite threats of abandonment—of empty arenas and meagre TV numbers—Canadians everywhere celebrated the good news of January 6 and came back, smiling beatifically. And, yes, the parties responsible for yet another costly labour dispute should be “grateful as hell to anybody who still loves them.”

Writing about hockey in Canada is a daunting task. For one, the game and country are so inextricably intertwined, so much a part of each other, that any sort of disentangling work is fraught with peril. For another, these things have been examined and studied as closely as any other subject in our country’s history. The literature is exhaustive; there is very little ice left for the rookie to skate on. Full text & comments

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The Walrus Blog’s weekly roundup of foreign and domestic affairs

Published on


On Monday, Algerian prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal said that the terrorists who laid siege to a Saharan natural gas facility last week were from Egypt, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Tunisia, and Canada.

According to Sellal, Mokhtar Belmoktar—a militant Salafist who is known to have fought in Afghanistan in the ’90s—orchestrated the “botched” attack on Tigantourine gas plant. Nearly 100 of the 132 foreign workers at the plant were kidnapped. Twenty-three captives have since been killed, and some hostages are still missing.

Stephen Harper’s office announced that it hasn’t received proof of Sellal’s assertion that two Canadians were among the twenty-nine militants killed by the Algerian army’s rescue mission. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney called the claim “completely incomprehensible,” though Ray Boisvert, former assistant director of Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told CBC News that more than fifty Canadian passport holders “who have either left the country or who have attempted to leave the country to engage in some form of violent jihad or… activism leading to violence.”

Also this week, in East Asia, North Korea said it would carry out a third prohibited nuclear test, despite financial and food sanctions imposed by a UN security resolution. The tests are supposedly aimed at perfecting a tiny nuclear warhead that will be light enough to reach the country’s “sworn enemy”—our neighbours, the United States of America.


Chief Theresa Spence ended her six-week-long, liquids-only fast yesterday, but vowed to continue fighting for First Nation treaty and non-treaty rights. Spence agreed to eat solids after Liberal and National Democratic Party allies signed a thirteen-point declaration committed to addressing Canadian Aboriginal concerns, including: improving education and housing infrastructure, tackling violence against Native women, and implementing the United Nations declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples. Full text & comments

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The Banquet

Excerpted from The Deadly Snakes: Real Rock and Roll Tonight

Published on
The Deadly Snakes/Band photo by Jannie McInnes Band photo: Jannie McInnes/

In the late summer of 2005, Toronto’s celebrated garage soul combo the Deadly Snakes gathered for ten days in a rural Ontario cabin to record their album Porcella. Though nobody said so at the time, each of the band’s six members knew that it would be the last time they made a record together. It was still more than a year before they’d play their final shows, but even in the cabin each young man knew already what he would eventually admit to his bandmates: touring and sharing a stage wasn’t fun anymore, and they feared losing the friendships that had been the band’s core since its inception a decade before.

There are hints of the Snakes’ coming end throughout Porcella, a rich and moody album larded with sadness and resignation. Yet each member of the group recalls the time spent in the cabin recording the record as a blissful interlude. Singer/organist Max McCabe-Lokos says of the Porcella session, “It was one of the best times of my life. I loved it.” The atmosphere of satiation and constant practice in the cabin, he maintains, worked magic on his musical ability. “The things my hands were doing, that I didn’t even know I could do, by the end of it, were amazing. I was doing stuff that I didn’t even understand how I was playing.” Piecing together an album whose lyrical themes dealt with emptiness, regret, and the dread of growing old, the band drank fine wines and spirits and dined every night on huge and sumptuous meals.

It’s the prosciutto, though, that first comes to mind when any ex-Snake talks about the recording of Porcella: McCabe-Lokos acquired an entire leg of cured pork as the session’s icon of excess. He hung it directly over the mixing board and left a knife nearby, allowing anyone passing to cut a piece for himself as he wished. Engineer Josh Bauman recalls he began each morning by wiping up the puddle of pork grease that had dripped onto the cover of the mixing board overnight. Full text & comments

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Susin Nielsen

The Governor General’s Literary Awards interview series

Published on January 17, 2013
Photograph by MCpl Dany Veillette, Rideau Hall
MCpl Dany Veillette, Rideau Hall Susin Nielsen, winner of the 2012 GGLA for English-language children’s literature, receives a specially bound copy of her book The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen from David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

Bios of the author and screenwriter Susin Nielsen typically begin with some variation on this sentence, cribbed from her website: “Susin got her start feeding cast and crew muffins and bologna sandwiches on the award-winning television series, Degrassi Junior High.” What they omit is that prior to her time on Degrassi, she was an assistant on what she describes as a “horrible, horrible, schlocky, B, B, B, straight-to-video, slasher, booby flick called either Night Shift or Graveyard Shift.”

Nielsen, though, didn’t cater for long. She started writing for Degrassi during the show’s second season, and has since written for several other television series. She has also published three children’s books and three young adult novels. In November, her latest book, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, was awarded the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language children’s literature. Praised by the jury for addressing “the effects of bullying in a realistic, compelling and compassionate way,” and “exemplifying the adage ‘There are two sides to every story,’” the book tells the story of thirteen-year-old Henry as he and his family try to build some semblance of a life after a school shooting—one in which his older brother is seemingly the villain. Nielsen is now at work on her fourth YA novel. She lives in Vancouver.

How did the idea for The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen arise?

I’d been reading Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed, and he sets one of his characters in the very real circumstance of Columbine. He mentions that one of the killers had an older brother and that just really stopped me in my tracks. I realized I had never thought about the surviving sibling in a situation like that, and what it would be like for them.

Where did you go from there?

I started writing random bits that would occur to me—just Henry’s thoughts on different things—as a way to get his voice. It was a building block process.

Was this book harder to write than your previous two YA novels? Did writing the story as a journal present any particular challenges?

I get rose-coloured glasses after they’re done, but this one was probably the most challenging. My first two books were also written in the first person, but I could talk about things as they were happening. You can’t do that in a journal. You have to write [largely in the past tense] and, yet, keep the momentum going and keep it well-paced. Also, I was dealing with a much darker subject than I’ve dealt with before, and still imbuing it with a lot of humour.

Why young adult fiction? Why focus on the teenage experience?

It’s just such a great time of life—an egocentric time with a lot of first experiences. On the one hand—and I don’t say this with any disrespect—you think you know it all, you think you’re much more mature than you really are. But, of course, there’s a big part of you that’s still a child. And the world is opening up so rapidly, especially these days. Full text & comments

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“The Government of Canada Deeply Regrets…”

Mitch Miyagawa turns his 2009 Walrus essay, “A Sorry State,” into a feature documentary for TVO

Published on January 9, 2013
Trailer: “A Sorry State,” directed by Mitch Miyagawa.

In 2009, Mitch Miyagawa pitched The Walrus on writing about the practice of governments issuing apologies to help right historic wrongs. The writer and filmmaker was, quite literally, at the nexus of the story: his biological father was interned during World War II along with 22,000 other Japanese Canadians, his stepfather’s family paid the Chinese head tax, and his stepmother was the third generation of her family to be educated in a Canadian residential school. Given that each of these groups has received an official apology from Ottawa (in 1988, 2006, and 2008, respectively), Miyagawa has perhaps the most apologized-to family in the country.

Now, three years after “A Sorry State” was published (as the cover story of The Walrus’s December 2009 issue), Miyagawa has turned his essay into a documentary film of the same name. It premieres tonight at 9 p.m. ET on TVO.

In the film, we meet some of the characters that were introduced on the page: Miyagawa’s children and father, his stepfather and stepmother, and Roy Miki, a leader in the movement for Japanese Canadian redress. Interviews draw out the varying opinions on the meaning of these official apologies. Haunting footage of Aboriginal children in residential schools and testimony from survivors remind us that some things are in fact irrevocable—and of the deep truth underlying overused and banalized phrases like “talk is cheap” and “actions speak louder than words.”

On the phone from Victoria, Miyagawa summarizes the conclusion he reached while working on the project. “Apologies really need to be about beginnings rather than endings,” he says. “It has to be about the start of something new, following through, acting and creating change.”

The real concern here, of course, is insufficient reflection—not learning from the event we have apologized for. It’s a thought that was perhaps best expressed by the late historian Tony Judt when, in another context, he wrote “official commemoration does not enhance our appreciation and awareness of the past. It serves as a substitute, a surrogate.”

The Walrus Blog


The Walrus Blog’s weekly roundup of foreign and domestic affairs

Published on December 14, 2012
RussiaTodayNorth Korea successfully launches its long-range Unha-3 rocket.


On Wednesday, North Korea successfully launched a rocket into space, and deployed an earth surveillance satellite into orbit. The Unha-3 launch proved at once that North Korea has: (1) scant regard for international policing, and (2) viable long-range missile technology (feared capable of reaching the United States).

Analysts deduced that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s iron-fisted regime may be on its last legs, and that their strongest ally, Russia, was “waking up to the reality” yesterday, after overhearing the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister address a Kremlin chamber. “There is a trend for the [Syrian] government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory,” Mikhail Bogdanov told the assembly. Today, Russia denied that its stance was changing, and said that Bogdanov’s statements were taken out of context.

The US, joined by many European and Arab nations, has recognized the legitimacy of the opposition Syrian National Coalition. Canada, however, has not. This week, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird travelled to Morocco to explain the Harper government’s preconditions for official recognition. Meanwhile, Ottawa has pledged another $15 million in humanitarian aid for refugees escaping Syria, bringing its total obligation to $22 million.

In Egypt, President Mohamed Morsi is forging ahead with a constitutional referendum. The opposition has pulled out all stops to defeat passage of the Islamist-backed draft constitution. The National Salvation Front has organized rallies, and bought TV ads, while unionized workers have declared an independent city, all to urge Egyptians to say “no” to the document. Voters will cast their ballots tomorrow.

Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa and leader of that country’s anti-apartheid movement, is in hospital and responding to treatment for a recurring lung infection. “Madiba,” as he is reverentially called, is a Companion of the Order of Canada and an honorary Canadian citizen.


In Ottawa, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the country’s anti-terrorism law after two men challenged its motive clause, which states that terrorist activity is committed “in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause.” The men said the law inhibits freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom of association, and that it “would legitimize law enforcement action aimed at scrutinizing individuals based on their religious, political or ideological beliefs.” Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin rejected their appeal, writing, “While the activities targeted by the terrorism section of the Criminal Code are in a sense expressive activities, most of the conduct caught by the provisions concerns acts or threats of violence.”

Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley presided over a hearing in the robocall scandal that could see the results of the last federal election invalidated in a half-dozen ridings. Lawyers representing eight voters and six defeated NDP candidates argued that a series of misleading and harassing phone calls deterred voters from casting ballots in May 2011. James Duggan, acting on behalf of the NDP, urged Mosley to hold MPs from the Conservative Party—which won all six ridings—liable for the alleged suppression campaign. The court is extending hearings till Monday. Full text & comments

The Walrus Blog

Julie Bruck

The Governor General’s Literary Awards interview series

Published on December 13, 2012
Photograph by Kara SchleunesKara Schleunes

San Francisco-based poet Julie Bruck was born to American parents in Montreal. The life experiences of being an anglophone in Quebec, an assimilated Jew in Protestant Westmount, and more recently, a Canadian in America have, she says, positioned her as an outsider, looking in on society.

Bruck’s perspective lends eloquence to Monkey Ranch, her third collection of poems—and this year’s winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language poetry. The book offers concise-but-revealing sketches of the fascinating animals that human beings are; the poems strip our familiar, daily encounters down to their peculiar bones, revealed through Bruck’s witty, considerate, and sometimes heartbroken vision.

When did you start writing poetry?

In my early twenties, I was studying visual arts and art history. I took one fiction class and realized that I was terrible at it. I was really interested in those little lyric moments—catching and magnifying small things through language. So I went to a poetry class, and I loved it. In the end, it was not very different from visual arts—I was still putting a frame on things and thinking visually, but in language.

How do you pick the moments you write about?

I think the moments pick me, in a funny way. I get drawn to a particular incident or a moment, or the language I encounter on the street—bits of overheard conversations, a line on the news, something curious or provocative. Engaging in language helps me forge some kind of understanding. I like to say that I was born bewildered, and that writing is how I create some order in what I’m seeing around me.

So you’re processing through your writing?

What I think I’m doing is transcribing the movement of mind as I undergo an event. [My] poem “How to Be Alone” came about because of this crazy language in a parenting manual about how to put a child to sleep. The line in the manual was, “There is no more today,” which I found terrifying. But I’m not interested in these poems just being transcriptions of what happened to me. A poem about letting a child cry itself to sleep can be about any paternal or maternal feeling of powerlessness. I hope I’ve made them solid enough that readers can own them. Full text & comments

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Quillcast Video No. 3

Book designer Michel Vrana reveals one of his all-time favourite covers

Published on December 11, 2012


Book design by Michel Vrana

Quillcast is a podcast and video series from Quill & Quire featuring behind-the-scenes conversations with authors and publishing insiders.

In the third video of the series, freelance book designer Michel Vrana discusses the creative process behind one of his favourite covers, for Sarah Selecky’s short-story collection, This Cake Is for the Party.

Vrana, who moved to Toronto from Montreal a year ago, has focused on book design since 2009, creating memorable covers for award-winning titles such as Tamas Dobozy’s Siege 13 (illustration by Allan Kausch) and Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues.

Quillcast is produced with media partners Quill & Quire, Open Book: Ontario, and Open Book: Toronto, with support from Toronto Life. This project is generously supported by the Ontario Media Development Corporation’s Entertainment and Creative Cluster Partnerships Fund.

The Walrus Blog


The Walrus Blog’s weekly roundup of Canadian and foreign affairs

Published on December 7, 2012
Photograph by Gigi Ibrahim
Gigi Ibrahim A scene from Cairo, recently uploaded to Flickr.


This week: Egypt’s turbulent passage to democracy encountered further obstacles. Protests continued in Cairo, after President Mohamed Morsi refused to cede the supreme powers he granted himself on November 22. Seven people died and over 600 were wounded in new violence between pro- and anti-Morsi factions. Secular opposition groups believe that Morsi’s assembly will push through a constitutional referendum that gives Islamist groups extra power. Protesters have refused the president’s offer to dialogue, demanding that he delay the referendum and immediately restore a judicial check to his power.

Last Saturday, in a surprise twist, Prime Minister Stephen Harper phoned his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, to insist that Canada does not support Israel’s controversial plan to build 3,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The effort was to no avail. On Tuesday, Netanyahu’s office announced in a statement that “Israel will continue to stand by its essential interests even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision that was taken.”

In a Q&A published by Bloomberg Businessweek, Apple’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, announced that the company—well known for having outsourced jobs overseas—will reboot domestic production of its computers next year, investing more than $100 million (US) to bring the Mac back to America. Asked about the obligations of a US company to be patriotic in the era of globalization, Cook added ”I don’t think we have a responsibility to create a certain kind of job, but I think we do have a responsibility to create jobs.”

During last month’s US presidential election, Maine, Maryland, and Washington all passed laws approving gay marriage by popular vote. This week, Washington became the first of the three states to put its new rules into effect. Hundreds of same-sex couples began collecting their marriage licenses on Thursday.

Meanwhile, it seems every dog could have his Hyundai: a New Zealand charity is teaching rescued pooches how to drive. Full text & comments

The Walrus Blog

Linda Spalding

The Governor General’s Literary Awards interview series

Published on December 6, 2012
Photograph by MCpl Dany Veillette, Rideau Hall
MCpl Dany Veillette, Rideau Hall Linda Spalding, winner of the GGLA for English-language fiction, receives a specially bound copy of her book The Purchase from David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

“It’s been a little hard to let it absorb and soak in. I’m so used to myself as somebody who will never really make it. I’ve spent my life working on the margins, and I’ve gotten used to that. So this is weird. I don’t know how to explain it.”

Linda Spalding is on the phone from Petaluma, California, a town sixty kilometres north of San Francisco. She says she loves her annual visit there during winters, and that she’d planned this particular trip before her big win of this year’s Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction. Petaluma is now providing a richly deserved break from a whirlwind of readings, interviews, and general attention for her novel, The Purchase.

“The margins is all I’ve known,” she continues. “I’m a bit old to change my way of thinking about myself. But I’m trying. I’m swearing that I’m going to become a diva any minute.”

From what I can tell during our conversation, the sixty-nine-year-old Spalding has a pretty remote chance of becoming a diva. I soon learn that while she’s grateful for the accolades, she has a healthy perspective on major literary awards and what they mean for Canada’s writers.

“Certainly in the short run, it’s going to change things a little bit. People are really responding, which is fantastic,” she says.

Spalding understands intimately the pressure Canadian writers put on themselves to win prizes, seeing it both in herself and her writer friends. (Not to mention her husband is Michael Ondaatje, who is no stranger to literary accolades.) She notes that the burden here far outweighs that of our southern counterparts, simply because of the vast difference in market scale. The all-caps LITERARY AWARD is a one-in-a-million chance for American writers, and while Canadians may have an easier time collecting individual honours, they’re much harder on themselves as a result. Full text & comments

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Cape Breton Pastoral

Filmmaker Jem Cohen’s beautiful ode to Nova Scotia, We Have An Anchor

Published on December 4, 2012
Clip from Jem Cohen’s We Have An Anchor.

Last winter, two rock musicians, a composer, and a filmmaker holed themselves up in an oceanside cabin in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Their mission was to render a snowstorm in guitar chords and drumbeats.

The filmmaker was New York–based Jem Cohen, who is known on the art house circuit as an urban auteur and photographer. His documentary work typically explores street life and the homogenization of civic spaces. He had visited Nova Scotia numerous times during the prior decade, and filmed a series of quiet, breathtaking moments while he was there. Cape Breton in particular had astonished him.

“Beneath this beauty, there is a good deal of isolation and fierce independence,” Cohen says. The project, he explains, became “kind of a collage, and kind of a ramble—because that’s the kind of thing I like to do.”

In Wreck Cove, Cohen needed a soundscape to help turn his ramble into something meaningful. The musicians were punk rocker Guy Picciotto of Fugazi and drummer Jim White of Dirty Three; the composer was T. Griffin of the Quavers. “I want a deep, internal ocean-heartbeat rhythm,” Cohen told the trio.

The ultimate result is We Have An Anchor, a stirring montage of Cape Breton’s history, folklore, and literature, presented through multiple projections of 16 mm and HD footage. The film’s score captures what Cohen perceived as Nova Scotia’s regional quality, pulling from Cape Breton traditions, with Scottish and Irish music at its heart (Nova Scotia is, of course, Latin for New Scotland). For his part, White replicated the mute, bass tones of a bodhran—the traditional Irish drum comparable to an Iranian daf—on his kit, drawing from cross-fertilized Eastern and Western traditions. All three musicians retained their assorted amps and pedals, honouring their own punk/post-rock roots. The sound spectrum they created ranges from the hymnal to the heavy metal. Full text & comments

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The Walrus Blog’s weekly roundup of Canadian and foreign affairs

Published on November 30, 2012


This Thursday, the United Nations recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state. Predictably, Canada, the United States, and Israel were three of the nine countries that opposed the symbolic bid, while 138 countries voted in favour. Israel responded by announcing 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank. And Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, upset at what he called the UN’s “utterly regrettable decision to abandon policy and principle,” recalled our diplomats from Israel and the West Bank.

Earlier, Palestine Liberation Organization spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi told the Toronto Star that she was disappointed, but not surprised, by Canada’s opposition to the vote. “For the last few years the Harper administration has taken a shrill and hostile tone which is seen by the Palestinians and the Arab world as being blindly in support of the occupation,” she said. “We know the Canadian people do not think that way.”

Meanwhile, Syrian communications have been disrupted since Thursday, in a nation-wide Internet and phone blackout. Several times during the country’s current uprising, such blackouts have heralded the launch of government attacks. This time, some offshore Syrian servers have survived, and protesters are also using satellite connections to post YouTube videos of public demonstrations.

Closer to home, Canadian environmentalist Rebecca Jeanette Rubin, allegedly a member of the radical Earth Liberation Front, has surrendered to the FBI after hiding in Canada for ten years. She was wanted for arson, among other charges, in the “largest eco-terrorism case in United States history,” according to a statement by the Justice Department.


News broke on Monday that Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney has been appointed to lead the ailing British economy as the Governor of the Bank of England. George Osborne, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, praised Carney “as quite simply the best, most experienced and most qualified person in the world to do the job,” while Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said, simply, “his loss will be felt.” Carney starts work in London next July. He already has his work cut out for him: inflation in Britain is high, as are fears of another recession, and the financial district is in disarray. Full text & comments

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Ross King

The Governor General’s Literary Awards interview series

Published on November 29, 2012
Photograph by MCpl Dany Veillette, Rideau Hall
MCpl. Dany Veillette, Rideau Hall Ross King, winner of the GGLA for English-language non-fiction, receives a specially bound copy of his book Leonardo and the Last Supper from David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

As an expert on the Italian Renaissance, Ross King is sometimes asked this baffling question: If he could go back in time, would he rather have dinner with Michelangelo or Leonardo? Deeming the former a “lugubrious, paranoid individual,” and the latter a “kind, witty courtier,” the bestselling author says the answer is obvious. King’s insight into da Vinci’s personality, and his revealing account of the turbulent political backdrop against which the master painted one of his greatest works, anchor his most recent book, Leonardo and the Last Supper.

Last night in Ottawa, King received his second Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language non-fiction, for writing Leonardo. (His first, in 2006, came for The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism.) Born in Estevan, Saskatchewan, he now lives near Oxford, England.

In Leonardo and the Last Supper, you’ve cited everything from the Bible to The Da Vinci code. Was it extensive reading?

It was. I spent more time on this work than any other of my books. I found out that Leonardo bought a Bible in the autumn of 1494, when he was starting work on The Last Supper. He wanted, literally, to get the gospel truth of what had happened between Jesus and his disciples. So it behooved me to follow in Leonardo’s footsteps and read the gospel as well. I had to investigate many of the things Leonardo had investigated 500 years earlier, including existing versions of The Last Supper.

I’m inevitably asked whether the person to the right of Christ is a male or female figure—a doubt cast by the conspiracy theory in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I’ve tried to convince people that the figure is St. John—not Christ’s wife—who has crashed the supper and elbowed an apostle out of the way.

How much of this book is your own speculation or inferences?

I think speculation is inevitable when you’re writing about history, especially when that history is more than 500 years old, and the record is scanty. It’s necessary and I think it’s warranted. But it’s important to let the reader know where there is a gap in our knowledge, and then propose to fill the gap using logical inference. We simply don’t have all the evidence and records needed to state things categorically. Full text & comments

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Nigel Spencer

The Governor General’s Literary Awards interview series

Published on November 28, 2012
Photograph courtesy of the Canada Council for the ArtsCourtesy of the Canada Council for the Arts

In “How to Read a Masterpiece,” her 2009 article for The Walrus, Marianne Ackerman appealed to Nigel Spencer for help understanding the craft of Marie-Claire Blais, one of Canada’s most celebrated—and most challenging—writers. “Let it wash over you,” the veteran translator, author, and professor of English advised her. “Like body surfing, let the waves take you. Don’t try to touch bottom, and you won’t hit the rocks.” Spencer has translated four novels in Blais’s current cycle from French to English, and is now at work on her latest instalment, Le jeune homme sans avenir. This evening in Ottawa, he will receive his third Governor General’s Literary Award for translation—for Blais’s Mai at the Predators’ Ball (Mai au bal des prédateurs). He lives in Montreal.

You were born in England. When did you learn French?

In England, we had about half an hour of French instruction a week, so I had a lot of catching up to do when I got here in grade five. Maybe that helped me. French was always my best subject after that. Like a lot of anglophones in Montreal, I could write literary essays in French, but I couldn’t order a hamburger until I got a summer job where I had to speak without translating first. You know what it’s like if you’re learning another language—when you start dreaming or thinking in that language, then you know you’ve made it.

How did you get into translation?

I’ve always enjoyed fooling around with language. Way back in the early ’70s, I did some translations for my own pleasure; I think the first book was a manual on filmmaking. I translated some poetry, again just for fun—I found myself doing it in my head as I read it. Then, I read a play by Marie-Claire Blais called L’île. I enjoyed it, translated a bit of it, and sent it to her. She replied, “I really like this, but somebody is already working on the book.” She suggested some other things for me. And now we’ve made it to this novel cycle of hers.

Why were you drawn to Blais’s writing?

The way she plays with stream of consciousness and shifts voices, but makes the voices quite identifiable. I think that appeals to my sense of style and tone.

Can you describe the challenge of translating a 328–page book that’s written as just one paragraph, with maybe fifteen or thirty periods?

The sentence structure in English and French is sometimes radically different. When you’re dealing with a sentence that’s, say, fourteen pages long, it’s like taking Lego apart and putting it back together. Then, you’ve got to fix the joins and make sure that the voices transition and the inner and outer consciousness works. You change times, you change characters, and so on. Full text & comments

Visual Art

Julie Trudel

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Published on November 23, 2012
Painting by Julie Trudel
Painting and photograph courtesy of Julie Trudel Ellipses en transit MCY et CMY, du projet CMYK, acrylic and ink silkscreen on plywood (163 x 74 centimetres).

Julie Trudel has held two solo and several group exhibitions in Montreal, Quebec. She received an MFA from University of Quebec at Montreal.

Why did you pick painting as your medium?

As an abstract painter, I work with colours, without restrictions. It’s what I have the most fun doing.

Can you describe your piece that has been shortlisted for the RBC Canadian Painting Competition?

It’s a diptych—with two circular round paintings. I’m interested in colour systems and charts, and I was working with the colours used in printing: cyan, magenta, and yellow. I poured it out drop by drop.

Why focus on colour?

Colour is such a basic element in painting. There’s a colour wheel, with well-developed colour harmonies. I’m trying to avoid the usual mix of colours to achieve a visual effect that hasn’t been done before.

What works have inspired what you’re doing today?

Contemporary painters, who explore the new possibilities of paint without working with a paintbrush. Bernard Frize, a French painter from the ‘80s. He made very interesting paintings using liquid paint. Also, François Lacasse from Montreal. I’m inspired by optical art, the way colour would work in the ’60s and ’70s—painters like Bridget Riley. Full text & comments

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The Walrus Blog’s weekly roundup of Canadian and foreign affairs

Published on
Rob Ford GIF
CityNews From the Department of Tidy Metaphors: Toronto mayor Rob Ford is sacked by… Toronto mayor Rob Ford.


This week: Marty was (temporarily) blocked from entering Toronto’s Royal York Hotel, because Marty is a horse. Calgary’s Grey Cup committee chairman, Fletcher Armstrong, had wanted to ride a horse into the hotel’s lobby to repeat an infamous stunt from the 1948 Grey Cup. Management initially denied the request, citing safety concerns for staff and guests, but eventually yielded to pressure from the media (see below) and Stampeders fans. The Stamps and the Toronto Argonauts will battle for the 100th Grey Cup this Sunday at Toronto’s Rogers Centre.

Next week: Toronto’s mayor, football enthusiast Rob Ford, may be forced to resign and banned from competing in future elections when the verdict comes down on his conflict of interest hearing. The mayor has been accused of soliciting donations for his football foundation using the city’s letterhead. Justice Charles Hackland is expected to deliver his decision Monday morning.


In northern British Columbia, Wet’suwet’en Nation members have asserted their right to make decisions about their traditional territories. The Unis’tot’en clan has evicted natural gas pipeline surveyors from its land, seized their equipment, and blocked their reentry. The Globe and Mail reported that the clan has been against plans for numerous pipelines that would cross their territories, including the Pacific Trails Pipeline and Enbridge’s Northern Gateway.


CTV’s Don Martin logged a complaint about Canada’s political leaders. He made public a video showing Minister of State Maxime Bernier being spoon-fed answers as he prepared for an interview on infrastructure funding. Martin called it a sad state of affairs when experienced ministers agree to be coached on simple topics, allowing their aides to “ram fibs as facts” down their throats, and enabling “mind control from the centre.”

A Liberal leadership candidate, however, may have benefitted from some coaching a couple years ago. In 2010, while being interviewed by French-language television network Tele-Quebec, Justin Trudeau commented that Canada wasn’t doing well because “it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda.” Those comments were rebroadcast by Sun Media News yesterday afternoon. Trudeau apologized from Vancouver earlier today, saying he should have clarified that when he said Albertans, he meant Stephen Harper.


Egypt’s president brokered peace for the Middle East. Mohamed Morsi, in liaison with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and officials from Turkey and Qatar, negotiated a ceasefire in the latest round of fighting between Israel and Palestine. The agreement arrived too late for at least 105 dead and 850 wounded Palestinians, and five dead and over sixty wounded Israelis.

But the truce holds, even as another Palestinian man was killed today for approaching the Gaza-Israel border: an echo of an earlier shooting, from over two weeks ago, that may have triggered the violence.

Meanwhile, a Postmedia report speculates that Canada’s involvement in the mediation could have been undermined by our unflinching “pro-Israel stand and abandonment of previous Middle East peace initiatives.” Against the background of peace talks, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird attended a fundraiser in Ottawa, where he told the guests that a “litany of hatred” would not affect Canada’s support for Israel. The Conservative government had earlier refused to call for an immediate ceasefire, choosing instead to support Israel’s right to defend itself.

Visual Art

Corri-Lynn Tetz

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Published on November 22, 2012
Painting by Corri-Lynn Tetz
Paintings courtesy of Corri-Lynn Tetz Housefire 3, oil on panel (33 x 66 centimetres).

Corri-Lynn Tetz lives in Montreal. She received a BFA from the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, and is currently an MFA student at Concordia University.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

It’s the first way I connected to art as a kid. My grandma was a painter, and I remember that just always being around, and her paintings being around, and I remember seeing her brushes and smelling the oil. I didn’t really know artists could do other things. As I started painting, I just became more and more compelled and obsessed with meeting the challenges and finding solutions. It takes so much time to be a good painter that the idea of starting something else seems really difficult because I feel like I have such a long way to go in painting.

Tell us about your influences.

They’ve changed a lot through the years. In my early twenties at art school, I was interested in early abstraction. Then it moved towards classical painting. There was a time when I was interested in the symbolists, and recently I’ve looked a lot at Michaël Borremans and Wilhelm Sasnal, both of whom are figurative painters.

When you look at your work, past and present, do you feel there are any reoccurring themes or obsessions?

Bad photos and awkwardness, and absence and presence. Looking over my work from the last year, there have been several references to nostalgic utopias. It wasn’t something that I really started thinking about, but it just kept popping up. I have all this work that appears different, but when it all fits together I can see this connection. Full text & comments

The Walrus Blog

Isabelle Arsenault

The Governor General’s Literary Awards interview series

Published on
Illustration by Isabelle Arsenault Artwork from Virginia Wolf.

Isabelle Arsenault’s artwork for Virginia Wolf (text by Kyo Maclear) has won her this year’s Governor General’s Literary Award for children’s literature (illustration) in English. Arsenault studied graphic design at the University of Quebec at Montreal. In 2004, she won a GG for Le coeur de Monsieur Gauguin, her first children’s book in French; she has been a finalist twice more since then. She lives and works in Montreal.

How did you become a children’s book illustrator?

After I graduated with a graphic design degree, I had assignments as an editorial illustrator for magazines and newspapers from around North America. Then I had my two children, and decided to leave the editorial field and focus on children’s books. I have been drawing children’s books for five years now.

What do you enjoy about illustrating books for children?

I enjoy my freedom to do whatever I have in mind without any constraints or requests from an art director. Also, I like working on long-term projects rather than day-to-day drawings that are due on short notice. For magazines, I would only illustrate a specific topic. Now I get to draw the whole story, based on my vision. I feel more like an artist than an illustrator.

How does your relationship with Virginia Wolf’s writer, Kyo Maclear, affect your artistic freedom?

Kyo is an artist herself, so she visualizes her stories. But she is also able to give full freedom to my ideas. When I first read the Virginia Wolf manuscript, I was shocked, because I felt like I could have written the story myself. I later found out Kyo was inspired by my artwork while writing it. After we had published [our 2010 book] Spork together, she wanted to work with me again, so this script was custom-made for me. Full text & comments

Visual Art

Nicolas Ranellucci

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Published on November 21, 2012
Painting by Nicolas RanellucciPainting and photography courtesy of Nicolas RanellucciSi je tue un canard, je te donnerai les plus belles plumes (If I kill a duck, I will give you the most beautiful feathers), acrylic on canvas (152 x 152 centimetres).

Nicolas Ranellucci graduated from the Université du Québec à Montréal in visual and media arts. His work is represented by Galerie Dominique Bouffard; he lives and works in Montreal.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

One day I was doing graffiti with my friends, having fun, vandalism and everything, and I got into a bar and there was live painting. I discovered that we could work on a canvas and create a universe. I really got excited about it. The next day I bought canvas and paint and brushes and I started to have fun. And then I was pretty much serious about it.

What are your influences?

My influences are mostly from the Renaissance and from the Middle Ages, from Italy. But the whole history of painting is quite an influence for me. Part of my work is to recreate details from old school masterpieces.

What challenges you, as an artist?

An artist who challenges me, maybe God? No, probably all the artists from my generation, I think that’s the best answer I can say about my challenges. Full text & comments

Visual Art

Philip Delisle

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Published on November 20, 2012
Painting by Philip Delisle
Painting and photograph courtesy of Philip Delisle NSCAD MFA Studio, acrylic on canvas (164 x 183 centimetres).

Philip Delisle received an MFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design University, and a BFA from the University of Waterloo, Ontario.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

I like the flexibility of painting, and the speed with which I can make changes. I work towards a plan, but I like to follow tangents. With painting, I can change direction and transform a canvas in a matter of hours.

What’s your creative process?

I work from photo collages that I make myself. They are a starting point for painting. I build upon the images as things occur, so the final piece doesn’t look much like the photographic source.

Do any themes come through in your work?

The idea of self-reference keeps coming up in my work. Whether it’s painting myself painting, or painting my own paintings, or writing, it’s always there. It’s my way to investigate what I do and why I make things. Full text & comments

Visual Art

Betino Assa

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Published on November 19, 2012
Painting by Betino Assa
Paintings courtesy of Betino Assa Gathering in the forest, 12 am, acrylic on engraved Plexiglas (81 x 124 centimetres).

Betino Assa lives in Montreal. He received a BFA from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, and is currently an MFA student at Concordia University.

Did you always want to paint? How did painting become your chosen medium?

I did printmaking in undergrad, and I was experimenting with different methods of printing—copperplate, aluminium plate, engraving on Plexiglas. That led me to keep the ink on, paint on the surface, flip it, and consider the whole plate with the paint as my final image. I experimented with several colours and, basically, painting was the natural extension of this print process.

Tell us about your influences.

They come from different parts of the art world. I’m very interested in architecture and in film. It’s always different combinations or different works by different people.

Whose works have challenged you?

I’m challenged by my own work, in a way, by my ideas. If I want to do something, how do I do it? What’s the point of doing it? There’s always this justification of my own work.

What unifies your work, past and present?

I’m very interested in narrative and in developing a story with characters and reoccurring themes. And this is actually a big part of my work: it’s not just one image or two images that are maybe connected, but there’s a story that floats. Full text & comments

The Walrus Blog


The Walrus Blog’s weekly roundup of Canadian and foreign affairs

Published on November 16, 2012


This week, Israel launched—and live-tweeted—“surgical” air strikes at Hamas targets in a bid to quell rocket fire from Palestine’s Gaza strip. Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay pledged continued support for Israel, but appealed for calm and diplomacy to prevent an escalation of violence. Three Canadian activists who recently returned from the Gaza strip signed a letter contending that the prolonged conflict was reignited on November 5: that’s when Israeli forces killed a mentally “unfit” Palestinian man who continued to approach their border after they fired warning shots.

The United States’ Director of National Intelligence revealed this week that he had no warning his chief of staff, David Petraeus, was under investigation by the FBI. Petraeus is scheduled to testify today about an attack in Benghazi, Libya, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. The former general resigned as director of the Central Intelligence Agency after a bizarre series of events: Petraeus had an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, who then sent anonymous, harassing emails to Florida socialite Jill Kelley, who also received a shirtless photo from an FBI agent. The sordid mess is best explained by this Gawker flowchart.


Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has also sent scathing letters—but to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan, to remind them of the PM’s unfulfilled promises to improve education, implement treaties, and promote economic development for Canada’s First Nations. In his letter to Harper, Atleo decries “the federal government’s broader legislative agenda, which has the potential for harmful impacts on First Nations, including changes to environmental regulation, fisheries and criminal justice.”

Meanwhile, Ottawa is topping up its $5 million advertising campaign for responsible resource development with another $4 million. Past Natural Resources Canada ads have promoted pipelines, safety measures like double-hulled oil tankers, and changes to environmental laws. NDP natural resources critic Peter Julian says it’s problematic that the government has cut the environmental assessment process, and is now spending millions to “convince Canadians that this is a good thing.” Full text & comments

Visual Art

Jenna Faye Powell

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Published on
Painting by Jenna Faye Powell
Paintings courtesy of Jenna Faye Powell The Ideology of the Sublime Wilderness II, acrylic and oil on canvas (137 x 137 centimetres).

Jenna Faye Powell lives in London. She received a BFA from Western University, and an MFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design.

Tell us about your work flow.

It’s a cumbersome, time-consuming process, but also satisfying. I build miniature dioramas, photograph them, and spend hours filtering through hundreds of pictures. Then, I project a photograph on the canvas, and finally paint.

What inspires or influences you?

Just strange day-to-day things. For the last few years, I’ve been obsessed with Wes Anderson movies. I feel like we have a similar aesthetic—really awkward and beautiful colour pallets—and both deal with whimsical subject matters that can sometimes come across as offbeat or spooky.

Your work that’s been selected for the RBC short list comes from your Welcome to Chesterfield series. What can you tell us about it?

This fictional city of Chesterfield was invented to contain my obsessions and the narratives I’ve been interested in over the last few years: domestic architecture and colour, middle-class lifestyle, what it means to grow up in the suburbs, and the strange, sublime things that can happen in suburban territories.

Is there anything that surprises you about this body of work?

I invented Chesterfield to get away from reality and autobiography. I was making some paintings off of imagery from where I grew up in Sarnia, and I found myself tangled in Sarnia’s histories and stereotypes. But, I realized that you can never get away from the autobiographical. All those things slowly crept back into these paintings and, in the end, Chesterfield is really just a reflection on my history. Full text & comments

The Walrus Blog

Video: Feeding Nine Billion

Evan Fraser’s four-part plan to solve the Global Food Crisis

Published on November 15, 2012

In the past five years, a combination of rising energy prices, awful weather in key grain-producing regions, and bad economic and agricultural policies has plunged the world into a food crisis. The Arab Spring of 2011 began with street demonstrations about food prices, and ultimately foreshadowed a new and dangerous phase of human history, in which we consume more food than we produce.

Evan Fraser and Andrew Rimas investigate the problem in the December 2012 issue of The Walrus, now available on national newsstands. (Read an excerpt of their cover story, “How to Feed Nine Billion,” here. For full text, download The Walrus App for iOS devices.) In this video, produced for Fraser’s, the University of Guelph geography professor describes a four-part plan to solve the crisis.

Visual Art

Vanessa Maltese

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Published on
Painting by Vanessa Maltese, BalaclavaPaintings and photography courtesy of Vanessa MalteseBalaclava, oil on panel (58 x 46 centimetres).

Vanessa Maltese lives in Toronto, Canada. She has a BFA from the Ontario College of Art and Design University.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

I wouldn’t say that painting is the only medium I work in. I also work sculpturally. I used to make paintings where I would build sculptures and then make still life paintings of them. But now I find the paintings are informing the sculptures. They go hand in hand for me.

Tell us about Balaclava, the work selected for this year’s RBC Canadian Painting Competition short list.

At the time I was making this painting, I was collecting textiles and photocopying them at Kinko’s. I would crumple them up and lay them out on the flat surface. I was exploring how the pattern defined a movement or a mass that may or may not exist underneath it. Then I imagined the pattern as a fabric that could be stretched over the surface, like a canvas. I’ve cut holes into the surface, and you can see through into whatever’s beyond the stretched fabric. The name came after the fact, because it looks like a mask you would slip over your face.

Whose works have challenged you?

I’ve been fascinated by Richard Tuttle. He’s interested in some of the things I’m interested in, like the frame, and where and how things are hung in the gallery. His scale is similar to mine: very small, very modest. Something you can hold and turn in your hands. He’s amazing. Full text & comments

Visual Art

David Hucal

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Published on November 14, 2012
Painting by David Hucal
Painting and photography courtesy of David HucalUntitled, oil on canvas (91 x 89 centimetres).

David Hucal lives in Hamilton, Ontario. He majored in painting during his BFA at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. He is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Guelph.

Why did you choose painting as a medium?

Painting has the ability to confound us as viewers. It is a confounding medium; it can be elusive and slippery, hard to pin down and unpredictable. For me as a viewer and maker of paintings, traditional oil paint on canvas remains interesting.

Whose work interests you?

Michael Conrads in Germany, and Sam Windett and Gabriel Hartley in Britain, who incorporate figuration, abstraction, and representation in interesting ways. They border on the quotidian but are still very inventive in the way they use imagery.

What about work outside of visual art?

I read a lot of fiction. It’s a wonderful way to view the world. Fiction is an escape from what I do. But in a roundabout way, it’s also connected to what I’m doing as an artist—creating an account that’s half true.

What are you reading right now?

Slaughterhouse Five. Someone left it in the studio at school. I put it in my satchel, and I’ve been reading it on the bus. Full text & comments

Visual Art

Aleksander Hardashnakov

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Published on November 13, 2012
Painting by Aleksander HardashnakovArt courtesy of Aleksander Hardashnakovuntitled 23 string piece 2, canvas string and enamel on canvas (122 x 91 centimetres).

Aleksander Hardashnakov lives in Toronto. He is the co-founder of Tomorrow Gallery. His work has been displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art and Clint Roenisch.

What are your influences?

Everything influences me. I am very impressionable.

How does theory inform your work?

I think theory in some way, shape or form, influences everyone and everything. I don’t ignore it and I don’t pay much attention either. I’m sure it seeps in or can be imposed by viewers. Most of the time when I am making a painting or drawing, I think about average things like what I should eat for dinner later, or what colours would go nicely together. I also think most of the things I make don’t immediately crystallize. Inevitably, over time a web of ideas or theories will emerge.

What themes or narratives have you conveyed through your work, perhaps without actually thinking about them?

I think it’s probably better for my work to continue to think about things I am not actually thinking about without telling you what I think I thought I was thinking about.

What do you think this year’s RBC Canadian Painting Competition short list says about where painting is in Canada right now?

I don’t know what it says. Full text & comments

Visual Art

Colin Muir Dorward

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Published on November 12, 2012
Painting by Colin Muir DorwardPainting and photography courtesy of Colin Muir DorwardGrievance Calculator, oil on canvas (180 x 163 centimetres).

Colin Muir Dorward is an Ottawa-based artist; he was born in Edmonton in 1979. He holds a BFA from Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and is currently an MFA student at the University of Ottawa.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

Painting offers a chance for a slow-burning career. Many painters do their best work late in life, and that seems like a nice carrot at the end of a stick to chase after. I’m better at endurance-based activities, and painting is a bit like that.

What are the recurring themes in your work?

The work I’m doing now is similar to what I was doing badly during my undergrad, which is trying to tell life stories. Then, I was attempting the biggest stories, like love and death, but I stopped because I was terrible. Recently I’ve been doing that again, but focusing on smaller, more mundane stories—simple ideas like getting hungry, or wanting to go for a run, or the frustration of not doing something properly. You can’t necessarily see that articulated in the picture, but it comes through in the work’s sensibility.

What do you think this year’s CPC short list says about where painting is in Canada right now?

Maybe we don’t have to reference the Group of Seven any more, or address what they’ve done. I think that Canadian painting has always been a lot about the land, and now some very good art comes out of approaching the land in different ways. Full text & comments

The Walrus Blog


Introducing The Walrus Blog's weekly roundup of Canadian and foreign affairs

Published on November 9, 2012


This week, an unsurprising election process—considering New York Times blogger Nate Silver’s spot-on forecasts—culminated with Americans voting to become more Canadian. At, David Beers summed up six takeaways from this year’s US election, though we already know the most important result: Beyoncé joined Instagram.

Elsewhere in the world, Michael Ignatieff predicted the death of parliamentary politics at the BBC’s annual Free Thinking Festival. The former Liberal Party leader later emailed Postmedia News to explain: “loosening of the party whips may be necessary to keep our democracy from suffocation.”


Stephen Harper proved that he has more important things to do than wait around for foreign election results. The Prime Minister visited India this week, to finally close a uranium export deal that had been stalled since 2010. Harper referred to India and Canada as lovers from a Bollywood film (“they know they are meant for each other, but they have obstacles to overcome”), hoping to compel further trade through a Foreign Investment and Protection Agreement. The effort was to no avail. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh heads a minority government, and is having trouble pushing economic reforms through his parliament.

Indian obstacles aside, Harper is on a roll: the PM has been busy promoting Canada internationally as a resource-rich country, and pushing for a controversial trade agreement with China. Some say Harper has a vision for Canada; the Boston Globe reported it might be world domination.

At home, Canadians will be frequently reminded of our militaristic heritage, with the new $20 bill coming into circulation this week. Full text & comments

Visual Art

Katie Lyle

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Published on
White NightPainting and photography courtesy of Katie LyleWhite Night, oil on canvas (41 x 30 centimetres).
Katie Lyle lives in Vancouver. She received a BFA from Concordia University in Montreal, and an MFA from the University of Victoria.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

There’s a real connection between your body and your hand and the paint. There’s an immediacy to painting—the connection between you and what you’re making—that appeals to me.

Describe your practice.

There’s this history of images that people have stockpiled. And so, as a representational painter, my greatest challenge and interest is to try to take all of those images, then filter and rework them.

Does theory inform your work?

For me, it’s just about knowing as much as I can about the conversations that have happened and the research that has been done, but at the same time separating myself from it and working with my own experiences. Full text & comments

Visual Art

Andrea Kastner

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Published on November 7, 2012
DemolitionPaintings courtesy of Andrea KastnerDemolition, oil on canvas (183 x 152 centimetres).

Andrea Kastner lives in Edmonton. She received a BFA from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, and an MFA in painting from the University of Alberta.

Why did you make painting your chosen medium?

It’s the most magical, delicious medium I can find. I enjoy the process the whole way through, from the underpainting to the end.

Tell us about Demolition, the work selected for the RBC short list this year.

You see this building that was a business and also a home, which is being torn down. It was painted from a photo I took of my old neighbourhood in Montreal. Half of the building is gone, and you can see through it to the sky beyond, and into the different rooms and the staircases. It’s this surreal image, but it’s from everyday life. At the bottom of the painting is a pile of garbage from a garbage excavation series I did. It’s about how you can observe something you would never usually look at in your daily life and see the secrets people have hidden behind the facade of the way they live.

What do you think this year’s RBC Canadian Painting Competition short list says about where painting is in Canada right now?

I was overwhelmed at how good the other work was. I’m happy to live in a country where painting is so varied and where people get so good at it.

Whose works have challenged you?

Greg Curnoe’s. He did all of these detailed paintings of his bicycle and things that were in his drawer. He paid attention to the little things in daily life, and that feels like the sort of artist I am. Full text & comments

Visual Art

Jordy Hamilton

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Published on
Painting Painting 49 Hat to Block the SunArtworks courtesy of Jordy HamiltonPainting Painting 49 Hat to Block the Sun, oil and acrylic on linen (152 x 122 centimetres).

Jordy Hamilton lives in Vancouver. He received a BFA from the University of British Columbia and Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and an MFA from UBC.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

Painting isn’t really my chosen medium. I make paintings, but painting figures into my practice as just one part of it. The last three exhibitions I’ve been in included some painting, but they were more installation based. They involved sculpture and photography and appropriated video.

What guides your work or unifies it?

The basic thing that guides it is this desire to understand positions and desires, like artistic desires or political desires.

Does theory inform your practice?

As a painter, I think it’s impossible to avoid theory now. Every painting is a kind of theoretical proposition. As an artist, you inhabit positions that have theory, and so it seems essential to deal with it.

Tell us about the work that’s been selected for the RBC Canadian Painting Competition.

There’s mono printing and some staining, and different types of processes of chance that happen on top of each other. It hopefully produces something surprising, but also something compelling. It maybe speaks to the history of painting or the history of image-making more broadly. Full text & comments

Visual Art

Thomas Chisholm

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Published on November 6, 2012
Painting by Thomas Chisholm
Paintings courtesy of Thomas Chisholm Interference 1, enamel on aluminum (91 x 91 centimetres).

Thomas Chisholm lives in Victoria. He received a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design in Halifax, and an MFA from the University of Victoria.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

I identify as a painter because my work really focuses on the interaction of illusionistic space in the painting and the relation to the physical space of the painting’s display. Since the Renaissance, one of the concerns of painting has been creating space and working with that illusionistic space. And so, for my investigation, it doesn’t make sense to approach it with any other medium.

Are there any limitations to painting?

I don’t think so, it’s more that you draw your own limits and work with those. Particularly now with digital and performance-based practices, you can do almost anything and call it painting.

What are your influences—current and historical?

American West Coast artists like Robert Irwin and James Turrell. And German painters—Blinky Palermo, Gerhard Richter—have also had an influence. Historically, I think my practice is based in some of the ideas that came out of post-abstract expressionism. They’re really working with space and removing everything else.

What about works outside of visual art?

A lot of fiction has had an impact on my work. I’m thinking specifically of Haruki Murakami, whose novels challenged my understanding of sequence and finality. Full text & comments

Visual Art

Ahbyah Baker

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Published on November 5, 2012
Dripshape 25Painting and photography courtesy of Ahbyah BakerDripshape 25, gouache on wood panel (41 x 41 centimetres).

Ahbyah Baker lives in Vancouver. She received a diploma from the Kootenay School of the Arts in British Columbia, and a BFA from Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

The medium itself is very accessible. The materials are simple. You don’t need a lot to achieve what you want to do. The minimal aspect to it—it can be very clean.

How has your work progressed?

I used to be more of a representational painter. But, over the years, I stripped away a lot of what I felt were the unnecessary elements. I got to the point where it was almost just purely formal—composition, line, and colour.

Whose works have influenced you?

Agnes Martin, Morris Louis. Whistler was a huge influence in the beginning. They all share that kind of paring down—that watering down of the medium. For a while, I was really attracted to Carl Andre and the idea of just using the natural beauty in a material. I found that really intriguing and wanted to somehow incorporate it in my own work. Full text & comments

The Walrus Blog

A Curfew for Men

A great idea from the future

Published on November 2, 2012

November 2, 2032

Good morning, distinguished guests.

My name is Ms. Anh Dri, and I’m honoured to be speaking here at Great Ideas: A Conference about Solutions, Not Problems. I’m here on behalf of the Legitimate Rape Reduction League in Toronto, Canada. This is a very special day for the LRRL, marking both the twentieth anniversary of our organization and the fifth consecutive year that Toronto has had fewer than ten reported sexual assaults.

It’s an unbelievably low figure, I know, and one that all of you have been trying to emulate, with little to middling success, for two decades now. I’m here to remind you that Toronto’s model of Legitimate Rape Reduction requires a certain moxie that none of your governments have yet summoned. It requires vision. It requires courage. It requires severely limiting the rights and freedoms of half of your population.

To recap: in 2012, the issue of Legitimate Stranger Rape came to a head in Toronto after a series of high-profile sexual assaults. At least one rapist was breaking into the homes of sleeping women, while a downtown park became a site of fear and dread, and a woman was brutally murdered while walking home from work one night. Standard responses—such as increased police presence, and terrified women restricting their activities—had little effect. And so, a group of female lawyers, anti-violence activists, politicians, policy makers, and rabid, feminazi man-haters joined together to form the LRRL.

In early 2013, the LRRL proposed a simple solution: a curfew for men. Every male person over the age of thirteen would be legally required to be accompanied by at least one female person over the age of eighteen when leaving his home between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Full text & comments

The Walrus Blog

Quillcast Video No. 2

David Gee on designing Corey Redekop's Shelf Monkey

Published on

Quillcast is a podcast and video series from Quill & Quire featuring behind-the-scenes conversations with authors and publishing insiders.

In the second video of the series*, freelance book designer David Gee discusses the creative process behind one of his favourite covers, Corey Redekop’s debut novel Shelf Monkey (ECW Press).

Gee, who works fulltime as director of creative services at the Toronto International Film Festival, designs books for a variety of clients, including HarperCollins Canada, Penguin Canada, and ECW.

Full text & comments

The Walrus Blog


Welcome to, the new online home of all things Walrus

Published on September 13, 2012

Hello, friends. Welcome, strangers. This website you’re visiting is the new online home of the Walrus Foundation, the charitable non-profit organization that publishes Canada’s most-honoured magazine, The Walrus. Here you will find stories from our newest issue* surrounded by the foundation’s many other activities. Watch Walrus TV, listen to the Walrus Podcast, download Walrus Ebooks, check out our national event listings, peruse our digital projects—learn about our mandate and support its goals.

This launch marks the end of one development phase, and the beginning of another. In the months to come, we’ll be adding several features to that were beyond the limits of our old dirty content management system. Follow The Walrus on Twitter and Facebook for announcements of new bells and better whistles as they happen.

There will be bugs. We will seek and destroy them, though we’d be happy to have your help: please report any errors to

Finally, great thanks are due to John Piasetzki, the Toronto web developer who built the back end of this project—and contributed many good ideas to the front. This work would not have been possible without Ryan Chong, the consultant who helped me develop its framework in late 2011, or past and present interns and volunteers including Alan Wu, Alina Konevski, and Daniel Murphy.

* Complete magazine and blog archives will return shortly: we will replace our back issues and posts as we work our way through nine years’ worth of broken links, missing artwork, and faulty HTML. We are keeping our old site,, alive in the meantime.