Friday, June 1, 2007

Graduates: Claire Cameron

Published in North Toronto Post. [June 2007]

The rolling stone
Ersatz rocker turns travelling author

Report Card
Student: Claire Cameron
Graduated: Northern Secondary School, 1991
Best Subject: English
Worst Subject: Math
Current Job: Author

Claire Cameron's debut novel, The Line Painter, has received a great deal of praise, but that hasn't stopped the neophyte author from promoting her book in some unlikely places.

You can find her visiting Husky truck stops to sign and sell her books to truckers who stop there. Although unorthodox, Cameron has found it to be surpisingly successful.

"Truckers spend a lot of time driving alone, and they like to sit around and chat," explains Cameron. It doesn't hurt that the author and truck drivers share a nomadic spirit that is captured in The Line Painter.

Cameron has come a long way from her high school days at Northern Secondary School.

There she c ould be found doing silly things like appearing in embarrassing skits. "I was dressed in gold disco pants in front of the school," she says.

Although Cameron showed confidence in her skills in high school, she found that she wanted to leave the city to explore the world. It was during a cross-Canada trip that the seeds of her debut novel were planted.

"I bought a van after high school, and I was driving across Canada. During my trip, I was stuck behind a line painter, and I was just watching him go," Cameron explains. "The image just stuck in my head."

After graduating from Queen's University, Cameron has scratched her travelling itch.

"I tree planted in Hearst where I met a lot of people that the characters are loosely based on," she says. From there, Cameron worked for a publishing company in San Francisco that would send her to London, England. It was in London that her life quickly accelerated.

She started writing songs, hoping to fulfill her rock star dreams. Sadly, it didn't take long for her to realize she wasn't all that good. So she put down the mic and picked up her pen.

"I only planned to live in London for two years," she says. "But I ended up staying for seven. When I started writing The Line Painter, I was writing about a place that I really missed. I was feeling homesick at the time and that definitely affected the book."

Back in her hometown, Cameron finds that she's more appreciative of Toronto than when she left.

"Growing up, I took living here for granted," she says. "After travelling, I appreciate how multicultural Toronto is and how much there is to do."

Cameron recently launched her book at the Gladstone Hotel. Surprisingly, it was the culmination of two dreams. "There was another author [Sean Dixon] having an event downstairs," she says. "He was playing the banjo, and I snuck down to join. We sang "Not Ready to Make Nice" by the Dixie Chicks, and it was the first time I sang into the mic."

Of course, Cameron hasn't quite ditched her plans to start working on a second novel to live the rock star life. She says diplomatically, "Being a good writer is knowing what you're not good at. It's about editing yourself."

Link to copy of article is here.

Graduates: Mark Cohon

Published in The Village Post. [June 2007]

Set to tackle CFL
Gridiron gadfly now top football boss

Report Card
Student: Mark Cohon
Graduated: Upper Canada College, 1985
Best Subjects: Economics and History
Worst Subject: Calculus
Current Job: CFL Commissioner

When graduating from university, conventional wisdom dictates that you get a lucrative job. Mark Cohon, current commissioner of the CFL and chair of the Ontario Science Centre, is not a man of convention. Instead, he organized a charity that took 30 Canadian and Soviet students to the pristine peaks of the Arctic and Siberia.

It is this type of bravado that has come to typify Cohon. Mark is the son of McDonald's of Canada founder George Cohon.

As a student at UCC, Cohon described himself as a well-rounded student who was active in the community.

"I was the captain of the football team and was on the board of stewards. I was also a B average student," he jokes.

Although he enjoyed his time at UCC, he prefers to take his lessons from the school of life. Right after graduation, Cohon partnered with Dr. Joe McGinness. The two would form the Toronto-based charity Youth Challenge International, which led the expedition to the frozen Arctic.

"I learned so much more from that experience about leadership, business, media relations than I would have if I had taken a job straight out of college," Cohon reflects.

This experience came in handy when in 1994, he ran into NBA commissioner David Stern while waiting for a plane in Tokyo's Narita Airport. This chance meeting led to Cohon joining the NBA as head of international marketing and head of the NBA's business development branch.

Cohon has also had successful stints leading companies like Petopia and Audience View but always seems to yearn for the next challenge.

Today, he is busier than ever. Cohon now holds the keys to two of Canada's most prestigious institutions: the Ontario Science Centre and the CFL.

"The Ontario Science Centre is the most visited cultural attraction in Canada, and we have raised about $47 million dollars," Cohon explains. "So far, we've transformed about 30 percent of the place, and we want to create an institution that teaches innovation and creates innovators."

While Cohon is clearly enthused about the endless possibilities that come with being the chair of the Ontario Science Centre, he is also excited about becoming the new commissioner of the CFL.

"I feel fortunate to be a part of the CFL because I love sports and I love the game," Cohon says. He is especially excited about this year's championship Grey Cup, which lands in Cohon's hometown on November 25, 2007.

While still a young man and a recent honouree of Coldwell Partners' Top 40 Under 40, Cohon offers this advice: "Have fun in what you do and always stay principled."

Graduates: Suba Sankaran

Published in North York Post. [June 2007]

A fusion reaction
Sounds of the world unite

Report Card:
Student: Suba Sankaran
Graduated: Earl Haig Secondary School, 1993
Best Subjects: Music, Dance, Drama
Worst Subject: Math
Current Job: Vocalist for autorickshaw

It takes some people nearly a lifetime to find their calling. Suba Sankaran found hers at the age of four.

While at the Nava Ratri Festival in Connecticut, she got her first taste of life as a performer. She sang God Save the Queen in Sanskrit lyrics.

"That was my first time thinking that I can see myself doing this," she says.

Today, as the vocalist for the acclaimed Toronto-based world music ensemble autorickshaw, Sankaran has been making a name for herself throughout the city recording tunes that fuse Indian music with modern sounds for radio, theatre and film.

Sankaran grew up in a musical family. Her family is Trichy Sankaran, a man who is widely considered to be among the top players of the Indian percussion instrument the mrdangam.

Once at Earl Haig, Sankaran found like-minded musicians who were into similar kinds of experimentation.

"I had a rock band. It was a Queen cover band. We were named Racial Harmony, and we did the whole battle of the bands thing," she says. "I remember that we worked hard to do the whole orchestra thing for Bohemian Rhapsody."

After leavin Earl Haig,she's branched out with as many musical projects as possible. Though her main focus, autorickshaw, is what she's best known for in the city.

Now on their third album, autorickshaw has a comfortable repertoire: which is either "steeped in Indian music and taken to a modern place or rooted in more contemporary music, like jazz or pop or funk," Sankaran says.

In addition to autorickshaw, you can find Sankaran on stage with a number of different projects.

She works with her father's band, Trichy's Trio, which has a more traditional South Indian classical repertoire. As well as a group called Nathaniel Dett Chorale.

"It's an Afro-centric gospel chamber choir based out of Toronto led by Brainerd Blyden-Taylor," she says. "We sang for Nelson Mandella, Bishop Desmond Tutu and for Peter Gabriel."

Sankaran is full of fun stories but admits that the life of a self-sufficient musician can be difficult. "As an artist, you want to be creating," she says. "But I spend more of my time doing e-mails and corresponding with people, working out rehearsal schedules and things like that as opposed to just sitting down and playing."

Of course, considering all of the happy and unique experiences she has had as a musician, she is still optimistic.

"Never give up. You never know which person or what contact is going to lead you to the next person," she says. "Keep trying and keep asking questions. Don't be shy because there's no harm in asking somebody who may know the answer or may lead you to a person who knows the true answer."