Monday, July 21, 2008

First Person Narrative: Charles Roach

Published in Sway: Summer issue

The First Caribana

Charles Roach, one of the founding chairmen of Caribana, has been a part of the festival since its earliest days. Here the prominent Canadian civil rights lawyer reflects on the unity, perseverance and passion behind the creation of the first Caribana celebration.

The first Caribana meeting took place in the fall of 1966. My role was to call to the meeting various people in the community who would form the Caribbean Centennial Committee in December that year.

The reason that the whole thing came about was because we were asked by the federal government to be involved in Canada's Centennial celebrations, but to celebrate in our own cultural way. People from other groups were invited too, and the first Caribana was designed to coincide with the World Expo Festival in Montreal.

People were excited about Caribana because it was a little bit different from what was going on at the time. In those days, Toronto was a quiet place in the summertime, in terms of outward demonstrations. We had Caribbean stars come from time to time to play at Massey Hall and there were some clubs along Yonge Street, but back then Toronto was very conservative as far as alcohol [and events] was concerned.

There was a men's temperance movement in play, and it was a bit of a troubling time. Martin Luther King was still alive and this was the Civil Rights era. There were a lot of demonstrations throughout the United States and Canada, including those produced by the women's suffrage groups and the Quebec separatist movement. The year 1967 was a year of progression, and the celebration of Canada's Centennial was an encouraging occasion for the city.

Everyone welcomed Caribana, but there was definitely some apprehension about the large numbers of people of African heritage on the streets during the Civil Rights years. To have people taking over the street where you would normally have vehicles was pretty dramatic at the time; they would close the streets for the Santa Claus parade, but it was amazing to see Yonge closed from Bloor to Queen for a party. Something that many people don't know is that police officers on horseback led the first two Caribana parades. However, because it's more of a street dance party instead of a marching parade, we had to stop leading with horses.

Back then, the carnival wasn't so dominant as it is now. For commercial reasons, Caribana has emphasized the carnival part, but back then it was more of a festival of arts: storytelling, music, culinary displays and other artistic disciplines were given the focus.

However, we never received any arts funding; that was the biggest issue, so there was the question of how it was going to be funded. We were not seen as an arts festival, but as a multicultural show. So, especially in the early years, people like myself and the other organizers put money from our own pockets into Caribana. We weren't rich, but there were many professionals in that first group that put up their money, especially Dr. Al Liverpool.

One of my favourite moments from that first Caribana was going to Olympic Island and having that entire island set up like a place in the Caribbean. We brought in palm trees and the festival lasted a whole week after the parade. The Caribbean came to Canada, and that made a lot of people from the Islands who were homesick feel good. The first festival changed a lot of lives because it showed all of Canada that our culture was positive and impacted part of this nation's growth.

Today, I'm so proud of the progress that our festival has made and how it has spurred other festivals to grow larger. I think it inspired a lot of the street festivals that we've become accustomed to over the last few years. You could say that Caribana served as a model for many of the street festivals in Toronto.

We've always been innovative; I think now, everyone would agree that Caribana set the bar and the trend of festivals in this city.

Link to story in Sway here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Standing Engagement: Casa Loma Archery

Published in National Post. [Toronto magazine, July 19, 2008.]

A different kind of point & shoot

Throughout its existence, Casa Loma has been one of the city's stranger sights. A majestic castle built in 1914, its stables alone have been home to everything from regal horses to Second World War-era sonar research. That the stables are now currently home to an archery program seems normal.

Casa Loma's resident archer is Sir Shawn Adams, a self-appointed knight and an aspiring stuntman, who offsets his regal title with a relaxed attitude and beach shorts. A former medieval dinner theatre actor, Adams fell into archery after sustaining a competitive jousting injury in Alberta. Forsaking horse and lance for bow and arrows, Adams first brought his archery skills to Casa Loma four years ago during its Renaissance fair. Last year, he struck a deal to operate a drop-in archery range for interested visitors.

"I take pride in what I do here because the customer really leaves getting some knowledge out of it," he says.

On the days that he's around the stables, Adams offers what he describes as "a five minute introductory lesson to archery." For $7, a participant receives a lesson and 10 arrows. Within minutes, participants learn proper archery form and how to load a bow.

"It doesn't take very long to show someone the basics and get them shooting relatively effectively," Adams says. "It's a good introductory lesson and for people visiting out of town that are interested, I always refer them to a club in their area."

Although lessons are short, Adams doesn't skim over details. Participants shoot at 60 cm targets from a distance of approximately 10 metres using lightweight arrows with reverse curve bows, the same type used in the Olympics. While he admits that he intentionally uses larger than necessary targets, Adams feels that it adds to the workshop's appeal.

"It's that feeling of learning something and succeeding," he says. "When people start, they're really not that good but by the end of those 10 shots, they've really achieved something."

As part of the lesson, Adams uses his training from South Nation Archery, an archery school outside of Ottawa, to provide hands-on tips on proper form. "Your form comes first," he explains. "I do a lot of exercises with t archer having his or her eyes closed. It sounds crazy, but in the beginning you're not worried about aiming. And when te form tightens up, we start working a lot more on the aiming."

Due to the popularity of the drop-in lessons, Adams offers specialized three-hour archery workshops throughout the summer for $30. Groups of up to 18 students shoot at balloons that cover the range. The workshop includes extensive instruction on form, but as Adams says, "I try to have a little more fun and incorporate games."

As Lou Seiler, Casa Loma's director of marketing, knows, the fun seems to be contagious. "The program has been so popular we had requests to expand it," he says. "We introduced an adult class that just sold out, so we may look at adding another adult program."

Shawn Adams' archery program runs throughout the summer. Visit for dates he's available, or call 416-923-1171 ext. 215 or 205 for details.

News story: Streets Are For Picnics

Published in National Post. [Toronto magazine, July 19, 2008.]

A function for construction
Take the space over for a street party!

For the past three weeks, residents along Bathurst Street south of Dupont have been dealing with road construction. Last Sunday, the three lanes of construction were taken over by Street are for People, a public space advocacy group that provided a gigantic Scrabble board, bands and a croquet course in the middle of a dug-out street car track as part of its fifth annual Streets are for Picnics event.

Neighbourhood resident Anne Birnie-Lefcovitch, who's "frustrated" with the construction, appreciated the event. "I think this is great," she said. "Usually Bathurst is an eyesore."

Shamez Amlani, co-founder of Streets are for People, also responsible for the popular Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market, said the event began as "a small, little fun afternoon goof-off," but it has become an annual tradition.

Among the attractions during the party was Adrian Rockman, a budding rapper named Mayo, who joined the New Kings for a spontaneous performance.

"That's the best way to do a concert because everyone's driving by and can see you," he said. "You just have the sky above and it's just dope."

The day brought Scott Macdougall back to his childhood. Playing a game of gigantic Scrabble, Macdougall got some help from an unexpected source. "People were driving by, reading my letters and giving suggestions," he said.

While local residents had a brief respite from construction that will continue until the end of August, Amlani hopes events such as this will inspire Toronto to follow the leads of other international cities.

"Bogota, Colombia, is a shining example," he said. "They invented this thing called Ciclovia, where on Sundays they make huge swaths of the downtown core car-free. The mayor's philosophy is, 'We're a poor country, but we can do things that will raise people's quality of life.' It's a mentality shift. It didn't cost them anything."

Saturday, July 5, 2008

News Story: Million Dollar Round Table

Published in National Post. [Toronto magazine, July 5, 2008.]

Power suits and ties that bind
Why financial planners were spotted on a playground

For four days last week, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre was full of members of the top 1% of financial service providers from around the world. The Million Dollar Round Table's (MDRT) annual meeting brought out an eclectic crowd. In addition to thousands of life insurance providers from around the world, the meeting imported an Olympic gold medalist, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone, a survivor of the 1972 Andes plane crash that was turned into the movie Alive and Stephen Lewis.

"This is our annual crown jewel event," said James Rogers, MDRT president and Vancouver native.

Although professionally themed workshops such as Redefining Wealth Transfer: Planning That Goes Beyond the Estate Tax and the Role of Life INsurance in Business Succession Planning were well-received, it was the inspirational talks given by gold medalist gymnast Mary Lou Retton and ex-child soldier turned human-rights activist Ishmael Beath that inspired member Mukeshkumar Ratilal Sharma to give a thumbs up.

For Jerry Setton, another MDRT member, the meeting is about relaxing. Musically inclined MDRT members performed sets as part of the meeting's entertainment, and some, like Sletton acted as roadies.

"It's like one of the speakers said today: MDRT is an oasis," Sletton said. "It's a place in the desert where you can refuel."

This was the first MDRT meeting held in Toronto since 2001 (that event was rated the No. 1 meeting in the organization's 81-year history). While members spent the evenings riding on rickshaws and exploring the city, the organization had already left its mark in Regent Park.

"We spent a week building a playground at Lower Dufferin Public School and had financial service professionals building structures and using power tools," explained Nick Falco, MDRT Foundation executive director. "It's a sight to see."

Link to National Post story here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

2008 Summer Guide: 50 Great Summer Dates

Published in Post City Magazines: July 2008.

50 Great Summer Dates

This summer guide ran in all of the editions of Post City Magazines. It was co-written and co-compiled with Sam Toman, the magazine's Features editor, who wrote most of this thing. It's actually much better that way. However, due to page layout design issues, there was only enough room for one name in the author's role and that was me. I will also say that "Spachina!" is mine. Spachina!

To download a .pdf of this article, click here.