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Sarah Thomson

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Reupholstering Wicker in Muskoka

We have a beautiful set of old wicker furniture that was built to last. The quality of the craftsmanship is excellent and the idea of throwing away anything that can be restored has never sat well with me.

The key to restoring furniture is finding a good upholsterer. I discovered Worth Upholstery in Bracebridge. Mary Henderson, the owner, is fantastic and does everything from marine and auto upholstery to furniture repairs, refinishing and revitalizing old furniture, and creating custom built furniture.

And she is FAST!

In just two weeks, I was able to get the entire wicker set reupholstered.  We had tried getting it done a couple of years ago, but the cushions came back far too hard and small, and we soon found that we didn’t use the furniture as much.  But now, with the new cushions made for comfort, I am happy to report that in the past four days we have played games of Apples to Apples, Settlers of Catan, and Spite & Malice all using the wicker furniture set.

Completed repolstered set
Completed upholstered set
Original set of wicker furniture
Original wicker furniture
Stripped down chair
Stripped down chair

 

A big THANK YOU to Mary Henderson of Worth Upholstery for doing such a fabulous job on our wicker furniture set.

And if you have any spare foam from pillows Mary will take it, clean it, and make it into dog cushions – with all the proceeds going to Sick Kids Hospital. Please share this with your friends and support a wonderful, strong and dynamic woman who is making a difference. Her contact information is:

Mary HendersonWorth Reupholstering
705.205.2777
WorthReupholstering@gmail.com
Facebook; Facebook.com/groups/WorthReupholstering

Edits I would make to Mayor John Tory’s Op Ed

Toronto Mayor John Tory wrote an op-ed Tuesday defending his transit plan. His writing was balanced and to the point — but I feel like there were some things that he really needed to say. 

Edits – Delete what’s between [ ]’s and add  in CAPS

“Throughout my time in office, I have tried to be completely honest with the people of Toronto so I will make this admission: The extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway is an issue [THAT OVER AMBITIOUS COUNCILLORS WANT TO USE AS A WEDGE ISSUE FOR THEIR 2018 MAYORAL RUN [with which I’ve struggled].

We are a city that likes to draw lines and take sides, especially when it comes to transit, and it’s easy to characterize people as either “for the subway” or “against.”

But this does a disservice to me and to everyone who cares about our city and its long-term success. WE CAN BUILD WITH IMMEDIACY TO SATISFY VOTERS TODAY, THE LRT WILL DO THIS — OR WE CAN DO THE HARD JOB OF ADDING TO OUR SUBWAY SYSTEM AND HAVING A MUCH MORE SIGNIFICANT  LONG-TERM IMPACT ON TRANSIT FOR OUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN.

There is no doubt the original decision to cancel a planned LRT in Scarborough and extend the subway instead was made without enough information or process, but I cannot let the mistakes of the past cloud my judgment on what Toronto needs for the future.

We are decades behind when it comes to [transit] EXPANDING OUR SUBWAY SYSTEM and as mayor I’m driven by one principle: to move this city forward, productively, responsibly and collaboratively.

There are those (IDIOT COUNCILLORS POSTURING FOR MEDIA ATTENTION) who argue we should cancel the planned subway extension into Scarborough because of its projected cost,  even as our city clearly requires a major SUBWAY network expansion to improve service and connectivity throughout the city.

I have considered the Scarborough extension with an open mind and have found compelling reasons to proceed.

Opponents of the Bloor-Danforth subway extension seem to take for granted that cancelling the subway would result in the immediate construction of an LRT. OPPONENTS OF SUBWAY EXPANSION COMPLETELY RELY ON THE JUDGEMENT OF TRANSIT PLANNERS, IGNORING THAT OUR PLANNERS ARE DUTY BOUND TO BASE THEIR VISION ON EXTREMELY LIMITED FINANCIAL PROJECTIONS. LONG-TERM VISION HAS TO STEP BEYOND 20 YEARS TO LOOK AT THE NEXT 50 TO 100 YEARS FOR OUR CITY. TRUE LEADERS COUNT THE PLANNERS AS ONLY ONE PART OF THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS.

There is no discussion of what the real aftermath of another about-face would be, whether the LRT remains feasible, or would have the support of Metrolinx and our government partners. THE IDIOTS OPPOSING SCARBOROUGH SUBWAY DON’T REALIZE THAT TORONTO MAY LOSE THE FUNDING PROMISED BY OTHER LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT IF WE FUCK AROUND WITH THIS ISSUE.

There would be sunk costs from three years of planning and engineering work, on top of the $85 million incurred by the city after cancelling the LRT.

The proposed LRT corridor is now also shared by SmartTrack, which proposes to provide local commuter service on the Regional Express Rail network, with Scarborough SmartTrack stops at Lawrence and Finch East. WHY SPEND TORONTO FUNDS BUILDING AN LRT WHEN SMART TRACK, PRIMARILY FUNDED BY THE PROVINCE, WILL PROVIDE SERVICE IN THE SAME CORRIDOR?

Multiple lines in this corridor would require further study and would likely delay both projects, while cancelling local service on the SRT for years.  ME THINKS THAT SELF SERVING COUNCILLORS LIKE JOSH MATLOW (WHO REFUSED TO HELP AN ASSAULTED WOMAN — BY VOUCHING TO THE DRUNKEN STATE OF A CERTAIN GROPER) ARE USING THE SCARBOROUGH SUBWAY ISSUE AS A WAY TO GAIN MEDIA ATTENTION — PERHAPS THE COUNCILLOR COULD  LEARN TO STAND UP FOR WHAT IS  RIGHT INSTEAD OF POSTURING?

Trust and credibility

[The council-approved extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway has committed funding from our provincial and federal partners, both of whom continue to support the extension. With a change of plans, there is no guarantee their contributions would remain committed to Scarborough transit, and you couldn’t blame them for taking their investment elsewhere.] CITY COUNCIL HAS A FEW COUNCILLORS WHO ARE NOW REBUFFING THE COUNCIL-APPROVED BLOOR-DANFORTH SUBWAY EXTENSION. THEY PRETEND TO WANT TO  “SAVE THE LRT”, IGNORING THE FACT THAT THEY RISK JEOPARDIZING THE TRANSIT FUNDING COMMITMENTS WE HAVE FROM OTHER LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT, THESE SELFISH FOOLS PUT THEIR AMBITION BEFORE TORONTO’S NEED FOR AN EXPANDED SUBWAY SYSTEM.

Toronto is at a critical juncture, preparing to receive up to $840-million from the federal government over the next three years to make unprecedented investments in the reliability and performance of our transit system and advance the planning of our major transit projects.

With so much at stake, we cannot afford to deliver a self-inflicted blow to our credibility, resources and timelines. OR ALLOW COUNCILLORS WHO LACK VISION TO LIMIT TORONTO WITH EMPTY PROMISES OF IMMEDIATE TRANSIT.

It’s what people need

Earlier this year, Toronto’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat came forward with her department’s analysis of what good transit looks like in Scarborough.

They found most people taking transit downtown from Scarborough are students who want to connect directly into the core, which makes multiple stops along the way unnecessary — on an LRT or a subway. The analysis favoured an express subway extension above the original light rail. THERE ARE ONLY A HANDFUL OF PLANNERS WHO CAN THINK BIG – JENNIFER KEESMAAT IS ONE OF THEM, AND IGNORING HER IN FAVOUR OF THE LIMITED PROJECTIONS OF LRT-SUPPORTING PLANNERS IS EITHER A JUNIOR LEVEL MISTAKE THAT SHOWS AN INABILITY TO LEAD, OR A CALCULATED ATTEMPT TO SECURE LEFT-LEANING VOTES.

Transit ridership in Scarborough is also much lower than the rest of the city and greater high-speed connectivity from the Scarborough Town Centre will help get people out of cars and promote social equity and employment opportunities.

Development and investment in the region has stalled, a problem we cannot give up on considering our rapid growth and affordable housing challenges.

As an architect recently noted on Twitter in relation to the project, “Amalgamation was a deal for equality of conditions. Connect all City Centres.”

Of course, we will work with the TTC to bring down the $3 billion price tag for the extension. And yes, we need to talk seriously about how we will pay for transit projects, a process that is already underway. AND ONE WHICH I HAVE DEDICATED THE PAST DECADE TO WORKING ON!

But many of the subway’s loudest critics do not live or work in Scarborough, where more than half the population is born outside of Canada. When they say this is too much to spend on a subway, the inference seems to be that it’s too much to spend on this part of the city. COUNCILLORS TREAT THEIR WARDS AS FIEFDOMS AND THIS HAS LED TO INACTION ON BIG PROJECTS LIKE SUBWAY EXPANSION, PROJECTS THAT ARE GOOD FOR THE ENTIRE CITY. THOSE OPPOSING THE SUBWAY IN SCARBOROUGH ARE DOING SO BECAUSE THEY WANT TO DIRECT FUNDING INTO THEIR WARD, TO GET RE-ELECTED BECAUSE THEY CAN’T GET A JOB ANYWHERE ELSE. THEIR THINKING IS SMALL-MINDED AND LIMITED – BUT WHAT CAN WE  EXPECT FROM COUNCILLORS WHO LACK REAL WORLD EXPERIENCE? WITH WORK HISTORY SO SCANT IT AMOUNTS TO WORKING AT A COUPLE OF NOT-FOR-PROFITS AND AS A SCHOOL BOARD TRUSTEE?  THE ONLY FOUNDATION THEY HAVE FOR THEIR JUDGMENTS IS LIMITED TO WHAT THE EXPERTS OF THE DAY TELL HIM TO THINK.

The optimized Scarborough transit plan is part of a proposed 15-year network expansion, one that finally presents projects, including the Relief Line, SmartTrack and Waterfront LRT as an interconnected network, rather than a zero sum game of competing priorities.

For those reasons and more, changing tracks on Scarborough is not the answer. It will delay transit for those who need it, introduce new problems, new costs and a weakened position for our city.

I will continue my work to find the best path forward for the people of Toronto. I WILL CONTINUE TO BUILD CONSENSUS; I WILL HAVE THE PATIENCE TO LISTEN TO THE BLATHERING OF FOOLS; AND CONTINUE TO BE OPEN TO IDEAS FROM DISRUPTERS WHO CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO. Those who fight to move backwards must ask themselves where that journey ends.

John Tory is the mayor of Toronto.

The value of a home

My husband and I bought a monster house 12 years ago. It was an old Victorian style, double brick with good bones, but in need of repair. In the 60s it was divided into four apartments and no one had renovated it since. The yellowed shag carpeting had seen better days, and the white stucco walls and arched doorways had gone grey over time. It still had all the old plumbing and knob and tube wiring so needed desperately to be gutted and restored.

A house has a personality, and ours seemed to be like an old oak tree that had been made to look like a Christmas pine. It had a solid soul, but the renovations were horrendous. Our goal was to restore it to the solid home it once was. It was the perfect project for a newly married couple!

We decided to live in it and tackle one floor at a time. Both of us were working full time, so it meant spending our evenings and weekends toiling away on the house.  After gutting out all the apartments, we found signs of the original stairs that were located right where we planned to put in the main stairwell. We repaired all the old fireplaces, putting new liners in all and using old bricks from the original construction that we found hidden away to repair the chimneys. We managed to save all the original leaded glass windows, and searched salvage yards for old six panel solid wood interior doors to match the original doors in the house.

Between electrical, plumbing, tiling and carpentry, we found that only a few of the trades people we hired could deliver the quality that we wanted and so did much of the work ourselves. There were months when we were too busy with our jobs to do anything on the house, and with the demands of toddlers, there was a year or two when very little was done. Our 10-month renovation project took us 12 years! And now that it is finally done, it feels like we’ve reached the top of the mountain. We’re looking around and enjoying the view, thinking cool we did it… but now what?

I don’t think I can sit quietly in a huge house, sipping tea and eating bon-bons, or give up the confidence I get from building with my own hands. What many think of as menial work —painting, sanding, tiling — is my way of keeping grounded and in shape! Being able to see the work that you have done take shape doesn’t happen often in politics, and there is nothing like taking down a wall to let out a little frustration!

Although we have built many terrific memories in our house, it was the journey, not the asset, that created them. And so we decided to put our house up for sale and continue our journey.

I feel that we have lucked out when it comes to our real estate agent. We have listed with Cheenee Foster. She is with Slavens and Associates and is one of the hardest working agents I have ever met. Cheenee spent years staging houses and has an eye for design. But what I admire most about her is her drive. She isn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and help, although she is always dressed to perfection. Watching her in an elegant summer dress and high heels as she set up my living room furniture, moving couches and chairs without hesitation, reminded me that women can do anything men can do — and we can do it in heels!

Cheenee spent a week helping me stage the house. From moving furniture to picking paint colour, she walked me through the process of preparing our house to sell. Few agents would invest the time that Cheenee gave to making sure our house looked terrific.  But, what truly makes her a top agent is her integrity. She knows that we aren’t in any rush to sell and has suggested that if we don’t get what we want, she’d recommend taking it off the market and trying again in the fall. I’ve bought and sold a lot of homes, and where most agents would try to coerce us down in price to make a quick commission, Cheenee sees the value in our property and in holding on for a better market if need be. What makes Cheenee Foster one of Toronto’s best real estate agents is that she puts her customers before her commission. So, if you are looking for a good agent to help you through the stressful process of selling your home, I highly recommend Cheenee Foster.

She’ll be hosting an open house at our home this weekend. Come out and meet her!

Eulogy to Rob Ford

 

Rob_Sarah

This week, the media is filled with images of politicians and personalities lining up to pay their respects to former Mayor Rob Ford. From friends to political rivals, they line up, touch his casket, and remember him. It’s the right thing to do, to drop their political differences and pay homage to a man who stepped forward to represent people frustrated with Toronto’s leadership.

I tip my hat to Rob, to his ability to capture and vocalize the discontent that so many Toronto residents were feeling.

I grew to know and respect Rob during the 2010 election and that is how I am choosing to remember him.

The 2010 mayoral race began in January and ran for 10 long months. The number of debates that year exceeded anything Toronto had ever seen before and it meant the top five candidates saw each other almost every day, and sometimes two or three times in one day. When we arrived at each debate we’d be ushered behind stage to the waiting room where we’d wolf down lunch, or dinner, and chat for a bit before going on stage

It was before the debates, in those quiet moments waiting, that we all grew to know and respect each other. A camaraderie builds up behind the stage that supporters rarely see and it lasted long after the election because we all shared the same experiences together. Joe Pantelone was always the gentleman. He would smile and joke and was an easy man to talk to.  George Smitherman always came into the room with a thick debate binder and an aid at his side. Rocco Rossi was usually loud and boisterous, friendly and full of energy. Rob on the other hand was usually very quiet. He was shy and after saying hello he would go and sit in a corner with one of his staff, drinking his “Big Gulp,” and checking his email. It took a while to get to know Rob, but eventually, over the months, we grew to respect each other.

The first opportunity I had to truly see Rob (without his stage personality) came after a debate. Following each debate the organizers would line us up for photos. Rocco Rossi was the tallest and when pictures were taken he would try to position himself beside Joe to make Joe look shorter. It was a political tactic that didn’t sit well with me. I noticed this and, wearing heels, I would try to jump in between them as a buffer.  Rob noticed what was going on, and one day as we lined up for a group photo I realized I couldn’t get there in time. I looked at Rob and without saying a word, he stepped in between Rocco and Joe. That is the Rob I hope people will remember.  He was a man who would quietly do the right thing.

Rob was a very shy man which made his outgoing actions during the campaign a testament to his inner bravery. He overcame his shyness in order to get on the stage and speak for the people.

As the hottest days of summer gave way to fall, our debates moved from small church basements to high school auditoriums. It was at one of the high schools that I learned a little more about Rob. He was standing in a hallway drinking his Big Gulp as we waited to go on stage. I was thinking about what the questions might be from the students and asked him if he were able to go back to high school and take another career path what he might chose to do instead. His eyes lit up and he smiled thinking about it. He told me that he had always loved the theatre and performing on stage. I nearly fell over, and he laughed, explaining that in high school he had a great drama teacher and had enjoyed every moment of it. The doors opened and we headed for the stage, Rob commenting — “it’s time to perform.”

Rob, your performance ended too soon. When Toronto needed you, you stepped up to the plate to fill the position. You loved this city and I hope one day, when your children look back at who their father was, they will know both your bravery and the quiet things that you did to help those around you.  I hope you are in the arms of an angel now – rest in peace.

International Women’s Day – true leadership and journalist integrity

When I think about strong women, I think of women who have stayed true to their profession, who lead with integrity. As publisher of Women’s Post, it would be easy to simply trash men, to talk about women’s rights and the need for women to have more power. But it would be wrong.

Ethics are tools that help people stay true to the balance our society relies on to move forward. When that balance is shifted so that women or men gain too much power, our society as a whole suffers. I am proud that Women’s Post not only promotes the successes of women, but defends men from the attacks of women using their power unjustly.

In journalism, there are far too many writers who give way to sensationalism, who twist their words for political gain and twitter followers. This was obvious today, as I read Jennifer Pagliaro’s fiction in the Toronto Star where she writes “Tory proclaimed his transit priorities were SmartTrack and the Scarborough subway. He said SmartTrack would provide relief on the Yonge line while knocking Olivia Chow’s support of the relief line subway.”  This is so blatantly false that the writer in me screams foul.

I’m hoping that Pagliaro just hasn’t done her homework, because I hate to think that she might be attempting to use her platform as a journalist to twist the truth.

When John Tory was running for Mayor of Toronto, he came out in strong support of what he coined the “Yonge Relief” subway line.  I remember thinking how clever it was that he had changed the name from the downtown relief line to the Yonge relief line. By calling it a relief line for Yonge Street he was explaining to the public the actual function of the line – to offer riders from Scarborough and Etobicoke an alternative way of getting across the city.

That’s why I cringe today as I read Pagliaro’s words in the Toronto Star because it assumes that just because Tory suggested Smart Track that he was against the relief line, which is simply not true at all. If she were to do her homework she could have discovered that he has promoted the relief line for years. Pagliaro even suggests that Olivia Chow’s support of the relief line was authentic. As a transit advocate, I remember well that we could not get Chow to come out in support of the downtown relief subway line, because her loyalty was to Transit City and LRTs. Tory was constantly knocking her support of the relief line. When Chow came out claiming her love for the relief line all I could do was laugh and wonder if the journalists would notice/remember, or if naive young woman might fall for it —  indeed Pagliaro did.

When I ran for Mayor in 2010, I was very fortunate to have Mayor Tory’s two sons – George Tory and John Tory running my campaign. I’m not sure how big a role their father actually played, but I always had the feeling that he was quietly advising them. We decided to make the relief subway line a pivotal part of our campaign, because most transit experts insisted it was the highest priority line in the city. I remember going into a debate with John Jr. instructing me to answer every question with “the relief line or a subway.”  I balked when he told me he didn’t care if the question was about social housing, or land use planning — that I should answer “relief subway line” to every question or he would quit the campaign. And before I went up on stage he grabbed all my notes and told me I wouldn’t need them.

The next day all the papers were calling me “Subway Sarah” and I jumped to third place in the polls.  I was in absolute awe of the Tory boys and their father.

Back then reporters said our idea for the relief line was wishful thinking.  But over the years, as CEO of the Transit Alliance, my team and I worked to build awareness and support for the relief line, hosting many events in which John Tory would take part. He always spoke in support of the relief line, emphasizing it’s importance. Tory never gave up on the relief line, and that is why I wonder what Pagliaro is trying to do in her column?

International Woman’s Day is about the strength of women to lead within our society. We do this by staying true to ourselves, our profession, and each other. But yet again, I find myself defending a man against the political attacks of a woman who irresponsibly uses her stage to distort the truth.

Becoming a good journalist takes hard work. It isn’t easy to get beyond your personal assumptions and report the facts without bias, and in the world of twitter it is hard to avoid the temptation when given a global stage to write from. But a true journalist doesn’t take advantage of the stage they stand on. She does her homework, uncovers the truth, and writes the facts.

Today, critics are piling on Mayor Tory simply because he is willing to admit that a campaign strategy – Smart Track — may not be feasible. They forget that when he announced Smart Track during the campaign he insisted it was an idea, a vision, and that studies would be needed to see if it could work. They want to ignore the fact that Mayor Tory coined the term the “Yonge Street Relief line” and that he was one of the first to advocate for it.  I want to remind the Mayor of a great quote from Jean Sibelius: “There has never been a statue erected to honor a critic.”

Villa Arches in Sint. Maarten

St. Martin or Sint. Maarten is the smallest island in the world to have two different countries each governing one half. The north side of the island is French, while the south side is Dutch. Our villa, Villa Arches, is on the Dutch side,  just south of the French border in Dawn Beach.

The villa is perched on the east side of a mountain and has a wonderful view of dawn beach and the morning sunrise. With warm red italian tiles and wide doors open to let in the cool breezes from the ocean, it is a terrific spot to watch the large boats come in to anchor in the protected cove far below, and also take in some sun and a swim in a good-sized pool.

The villa is well stocked with pots and pans, a coffee maker, and utensils and, unlike a lot of islands, the wifi and electricity was reliable and never went out during our stay.

We had dinner at “Big Fish” a fantastic seafood restaurant in Oyster Pond right beside Dawn Beach. The restaurant is owned by Teresa and Mike Wilson, a terrific couple from Toronto – who started the Fox and Fiddle chain of restaurants. Their sushi chef was terrific, but so too was the snapper, shrimp dinner and passionfruit sorbet. It’s a must visit when in St. Martin.

We drove around the island and stopped at a couple of beaches – Friars Bay, Le Gallion – which were too crowded for our liking. We read about Happy Bay beach, which is a short hike north of Friars bay, and were delighted to find it after a wonderful walk along the coast.

We had lunch in Grand Case and ate at a beach bar with an amazing chef. The beach is narrow with restaurants built right up against it. The only drawback was that it lacked beach chairs, so it is not a great place to take elderly visitors – although the kids enjoyed it.

The butterfly farm is a great place to visit on a sunny day and the market in Marigot (French side) and Phillipsburg (Dutch)- filled with colourful wraps, bags and jewelry were filled with activity.

Photo by Sarah Thomson
Photo by Sarah Thomson

Villa Arches is conveniently located so that excursions around the island didn’t take more than 30 minutes and it was nice leave the bustle of Marigot and come home to a quiet villa with the sound of waves breaking on the shore far below.

The only negative draw back is for those who must get sun –  the villa is tucked onto the east side of the mountain so by 4 p.m. the sun is blocked by the mountain, making late afternoon sun tanning impossible. But, we found that by that time in the day we’d had enough sun that it was rarely missed and the warm breezes with a cocktail sitting out on the deck more than made up for the lack of sun.

Wherever we go, I find it is the people who make or break a vacation. We rented a car from Dollar-Thrifty SXM and unfortunately had a tire blow out on the road. They were terrific people and delivered a new car to our villa. While we waited on the side of the road for our taxi to arrive – numerous locals stopped to make sure we were okay and offer help. The locals are terrific.

The only negative attitudes we experienced during our trip came from the people representing the Westin Resort at Dawn Beach. We were flagged down by two of their sales people – they were friendly but wanted us to scratch some tickets to win a prize once we had taken a 90 minute tour of the Westin Dawn Beach and learned about their fractional ownership units. The sales people warned us that other staff might try to take their commission so we should hold on to our scratch tickets and we could win a stay at the resort, an Ipad, or a$1000. We received two sets of cards – two weren’t winners and two were. But the prize was a stay for four at the Westin Dawn beach that could not be used in the week that they are issued. They were also non-transferrable.

The Westin Resort at Dawn Beach is just down the hill from Villa Arches and I wanted to check out their beach to see if my mother could swim there. I also wanted to check out their service, thinking that if they had to sell fractional ownership it might be abysmal. Customer service is so easy, but can be completely messed up if the staff don’t feel encouraged or supported. We poked around and found the restaurant and beach practically empty. I decided to talk to a supervisor about getting a day pass to review the resort.  When I spoke to him to see if we might purchase a day pass in order to review the resort, he claimed they were completely sold out. I told him the place was practically empty, but all he did was shrug. So we decided to ignore him and use the beach facilities anyway.

The beach chairs were mostly empty and the waves were pretty rough, but we had a nice swim and left without anyone the wiser. What irked me most was that the supervisor refused us access to review the resort while, at the same time, they are paying people to go out and lure possible customers into the resort. Terrible management and customer service. If a resort like the Westin at Dawn Beach has to sell fractional ownership  then they obviously aren’t providing the highest possible service at the best possible price.

Instead of luring people to the resort with “scratch tickets,” simply try welcoming everyone who walks through the door, offering them a free drink at the beach bar, and enticing them to come back everyday and spend money at the restaurants, on beach chairs, and towels — giving them great service the entire time. It’s much more likely their next stay will be with you. Instead the Westin Dawn Beach gave the impression they were trying to be an “elite” club while behind the doors the room was empty.

I highly recommend spending $3500 and renting Villa Arches for a week – where the customer service from the owner far exceeded anything the Westin Dawn Beach can offer!

 

Mayor Tory creates a win for Scarborough transit

When it comes to transit in Toronto the Scarborough subway line has been the most contentious issue over the past decade. Ridership numbers barely supported the need for a four stop subway, and the lack of transit further west left a gap in the transit map that shamed many.

The plan brought forward today by Mayor Tory and Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat is one that will fill in the transit gap west of McCowan. Not only does it rely on well thought out research by transit experts in the form of the Eglinton LRT extension east to the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, but it also allows a high-speed subway extension from Kennedy to the Scarborough Town Centre.

Creating a one-stop subway line will free up funds (subway stations cost approximately $200 million) to allow the addition of a 17-stop extension of the Eglinton LRT east to connect five high-priority neighbourhoods in Scarborough.

The new plan will bring rail transit to 64,000 people in Scarborough who currently aren’t using it. And the plan unites those wanting subway with those wanting LRT on council. It is a transit plan founded on informed, good judgement from transit experts that was designed to build consensus rather than create division at city hall.
With this plan for Scarborough transit, Mayor Tory might accomplish what no other mayor in the past few decades has — unite the city around a transit plan that everyone can support. His plan is the right, reasonable, and responsible approach to building the transit Toronto so desperately needs.

The Virgin Way: Inquisitive – Curious – Passionate

I decided to take Richard Branson’s The Virgin Way on holiday with me because a friend suggested I might find him a kindred spirit. I’m not sure if this is because I think having fun is just as important as making an income, but I did find that his attitude towards life is something a lot of people would do well to follow.

The Virgin Way: Everything I know about leadership reflects the positive attitude Branson has carried throughout his life. His ability to learn from failure and take risks are the foundations of a successful business leader able to adapt to any situation. Branson also believes in having fun, and some of his April fools stunts had me rolling off my beach chair in fits of giggles.

The Virgin Way and the choice of business name seems to pee all over the entire British class structure — fantastic, fun and edgy. Carefree and curious about life, Branson enjoys making people happy. If there is a secret to be learned from him, it is that true wealth comes from the happiness you create. Making someone smile, laugh, or even helping your staff excel is what  “The Virgin Way” is all about. The book is filled with stories about how offering good service and having fun go hand in hand.

I remember my first boss at a gas station telling me to smile until I felt it or I’d lose my job. He wasn’t exactly a great people person, but he taught me that serving people and smiling has a real impact on how you see the world.  I went on to build a multi-million dollar company putting convenient stores into gas stations, and I know that our success wasn’t just due to the fact that we were first in the industry to combine these two businesses. It was tied to the fact that staff had fun and took pride in providing terrific customer service. As I was reading Branson’s book, I couldn’t help nodding in agreement … when I wasn’t giggling.

Branson demonstrates that true success isn’t about being focused on making dollars, but more about creating happiness — happy staff, great experiences, happy customers. Taking risk, shaking things up, not taking yourself too seriously and above all making other people happy, is the key to true success — and Branson has a lifetime of experience to back it up.

He is a man that seems perpetually young because he hasn’t allowed negativity to affect him. While many people have tried to poke fun at him or scoff at his antics, he hasn’t allowed them to change him. And that is a true testament to his strength of character.

The Virgin Way is a book that every entrepreneur should read. If you want to leave the world better than you found it, Branson’s insights will inspire or rekindle the spark deep inside.

The Fountain residence – Anguilla

Warm breezes greet you as you exit the airport in St. Martin, add in a short 20-minute ferry ride and you will reach the white sand beachs and aqua-blue waters of Anguilla — pronounced AN-GWILL-A. We drove (on the left hand side of the road) from Blowing Point, the southern tip  of the island, up the main road to Shoal Bay on the north east side. The road was dotted with small homes, with free range goats and chickens everywhere.  The island is relatively flat, but the roads curved around small hills with beautiful ocean views visible with each turn. Once we reach the main turn off to Shoal Bay, the larger villas and hotels start to appear, followed by a beautiful view of the white sand and amazing blue water.

Fountain residences is located at the southern end of Shoal Bay Beach. There are two complexes, each with beautiful landscaping. The only difference was the view: one had an open ocean view and the other behind it was limited to a pool view. There is a hill to the west that blocks out  the sunset, but we were able to see the waves breaking on the shoal far out in the bay. It’s a short walk down a path to the white sand beach of Shoal Bay.

Our two bedroom unit was clean and furnished nicely with teak and wood trim. The appliances are new and our concierge, Whitney, was a terrific help. She purchased groceries and stocked our fridge for our arrival. Her advice on the best restaurants on the island was excellent. The villa; however, wasn’t truly big enough for six people. We found the sitting area on the deck outside a bit small for all of us, with only four chairs around the dining room table the space was limited. We had to ask the staff for chairs so that all six of us could sit around the table.

The windows lacked screens – this is a pet peeve of mine. I don’t  want to fly south and stay close to the ocean just to shut all the windows and blast the air conditioning. I’m not alone in wanting to have the windows open, but there were too many mosquito’s to do this without screens. This meant we had to leave the screendoors open all night, which made us a bit uncomfortable. It may be a small detail, but towel racks on the outside decks to hang up wet bathing suits are also needed.

The manager of the residences was extremely friendly – giving us access to the barbecue, extra dining chairs, and a free bottle of wine that we enjoyed immensely! The cleaners come everyday and were friendly and kind, providing us with extra towels and frying pans when needed. Given the location close to the beach I suggest they mop the floors daily as the sand fleas tracked in from the beach dotted our legs with bites.

Crocus Bay Beach.
Crocus Bay Beach.

Anguilla is a beach destination. Most of the beaches have restaurants with beach chairs out front. Crocus Hill Beach is by far the best for anyone wanting a calm peaceful swim in a protected bay. Da’Vida restaurant and its neighbouring beach bar occupy most of the beach and their food was exceptional. We stayed and watched the large sail boats come in during the afternoon, and rented some paddle boards to venture around the point to paddle through caves filled with birds. Small manta rays floating under the boat dock entertained the kids for hours.

Unfortunately, the Fountain Residences don’t supply beach chairs, but they suggest you hike to the other end of the beach where there are chairs to rent ($10U.S./day) at the Merriman Beach Bar. I’d recommend they invest in a few chairs and sun umbrellas, as it was impossible for my elderly mother to make the hike all the way down the beach. But, if you like playing in the waves and body surfing – Shoal Bay Beach is the place to go.

Anguilla has art galleries around every corner and a lot of very good restaurants – Cafe De Paris in the west end is a must for chocolate croissants.

We visited and swam at dozens of  perfect white sand beaches, surrounded by aqua-blue water. If it is a beach vacation you are after, Anguilla is the island for you!

SmartTrack is the fast track to relief

As the liberal government adjusts to leading the country, cities from coast to coast are scrambling to have shovel-ready infrastructure projects to pitch our new leaders. Prior to the 2015 election, the  Liberals spent months in public consultations and identified transit and infrastructure expansion as a top priority. In Toronto this led to our highest priority – relief line – made it onto their policy platform.

Most, if not all, transit planning experts believe that the relief line is Toronto’s highest priority transit line, and with growing density predicted the it will be absolutely vital by 2030. The relief line is a subway route that would run east-west across the core and then turn north at both ends to meet up with the Bloor subway line.  It was first introduced in 1910, and again in subsequent years ever since, with municipal politicians continually deferring the plan because of it’s cost and the time it will take to build.

I’ve spent over five years advocating, campaigning, and even singing for the relief line. I’ve ignored aging politicians who told me it was impossible, and media columnists who mocked my determination and campaign tactics. I’ve spoken to hundreds of planners, transit experts and historians and understand how easy it is for such an important subway line to be pushed aside by politicians wanting to garner immediate votes.

So when Mayor John Tory first announced his idea for SmartTrack, I was confused. Confused because I have grown to know and respect him over the years, and I know that he is a man of principle. He loves Toronto and he has given his life to this city. He isn’t a man who would simply cast aside the most vital transit line in Toronto just to garner a few votes. So, why would he suggest another plan that could risk delaying the relief line? The answer is simple. He isn’t deferring the relief line, but simply trying to provide a quick solution while we wait for the relief line to be built. He confirmed in a text message, “SmartTrack isn’t going to replace the relief line which will take over a decade to build, but by using existing transit corridors SmartTrack will provide a much quicker way to ease the overcrowding on the Yonge line.”

From planning studies, to land acquisitions, and environmental assessments the relief line will take almost a decade before shovels get in the ground, it could take 15 years or more to build. Now,  consider the fact that the Eglinton Crosstown will add even more people onto the Yonge Street corridor. It’s easy to see why Mayor Tory must try to provide another form of relief to bridge the gap between our immediate need and the time that it will take to build the relief subway line.  By using existing rail corridors SmartTrack will avoid the lengthy process of land acquisitions and environmental assessments that the relief subway line requires.

It should be noted that SmartTrack has forced the City, TTC, and Metrolinx (the provincial transit body) to work together in collaboration — a procedural success that many didn’t think possible. The fact that Mayor Tory has insisted that SmartTrack does not have a defined route, gives planning experts an opportunity to create the best and quickest way to create an east-west line across the city.

As Mayor Tory mentioned, “there will be issues with SmartTrack, as there are with all big transit projects,” but the idea itself is good and like all good ideas it must stand up to rigorous analysis. However is must also stand up to the politics of city council. The mayor has to bring city council together around a unified transit plan that includes SmartTrack and the Yonge relief line. The plan must focus on the priority lines that our transit planning experts have identified. It will need to create connectivity between all modes of transit, and address the shortage of east-west transit routes while providing alternative ways to travel north — a North x East x West transit plan. Mayor Tory has promised to consult the experts when it comes to all the transit Toronto is planning. And I know that he will, because he is a man of his word — and that is why I will back him every step of the way.