Simple Mother’s Day ideas in Toronto 2017

Use this Mother’s Day to celebrate with your loved ones, whether it be your own mom, your children, or other friends and family. It doesn’t have to be a big affair — the most important thing is to make time for that special person in your life, that person that gave you hope and encouragement. If you happen to live in Toronto, there is a plethora of events you can choose from if you are looking for something to do that’s a bit outside the box. Whether your mother loves art or nature, history or salsa dancing, there is a little something for everyone to enjoy. Here are a few of our favourites at Women’s Post!

Georgia O’Keefe at the AGO:

What better way to celebrate the power of motherhood and women then to look at the stunning art of Georgia O’Keefe? She is a phenomenal artist and the AGO is hosting their largest ever exhibition with over 80 works on display. There is also a floral Georgia O’Keefe cocktail that will be offered at the Mother’s Day brunch at the FRANK restaurant on May 13th and 14th. (327 Dundas St. W.) The brunch itself is pretty expensive (and reservations only), but if you are just looking for an after-exhibit beverage and a cozy atmosphere, you should absolutely check it out.

Spadina Museum:

The historic Spadina Museum is beautiful and elegant, perfect for a classy mom date out on the town. The museum is putting on a special exhibit called “The Language of Flowers”. A portion of the event includes designing a floral ‘talking’ bouquet where each flower has a message hidden inside. This event requires registration, but is a simple way to enjoy the prettier things in life while learning about the history of Toronto. (285 Spadina Rd.)

Check out the cherry blossoms:

The cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Trinity Bellwoods and High Park, and everyone is flocking to see how beautiful they are. It is also the perfect location for family photos. The cherry blossoms only come out for a limited time and they are breathtaking to witness in full bloom. If you go to Trinity Bellwoods, there are a host of delicious brunch spots. Maybe check out Trinity Bellwoods Brews if your mother fancies a pint on her special day. There is also delicious vegan ice cream at Olenka’s, which never disappoints.

Mother’s Day Chocolate Tour: 

Almost every mom I know loves chocolate — it is a fact. Luckily, there is a chocolate tour that will lead you and your mother through a sweet and delectable experience. There is a chocolate demonstration and many samples will be provided on route. It’s also one of the more reasonably priced chocolate-themed events this May. This tour promises to be a delight, just make sure you don’t eat too much sugar! (443 King St. W.)

Mother’s Day Roncesvalles Food Tour:  

Keeping in the food theme, maybe try something a bit less sugar-laden. This Rocensvalle tour pairs delicious foods and neighbourhood history all into one fantastic afternoon. Roncesvalles is a hip and trendy part of Toronto, full of delectable eateries. At $30 a person, it’s a great opportunity to do something different with your mom, while still enjoying the food nooks in the area.


Happy Mother’s Day from Women’s Post!

Ringing in the spring with adorable crafts

Spring is here and what better way to ring in the new season then to make decorative themed crafts with the kids. While Spring is known for its dreary, rainy weather, it doesn’t mean the family can’t have fun. Spring-themed, DIY projects are trending across the internet, and Women’s Post has helped you sort through Pinterest. Here are five craft-ideas that are sure to keep your kids entertained, and dress up your house for the flower-season.

A Bird House

Building bird houses can be done in so many different ways, but using a hammer and nails is a fantastic opportunity to teach kids (and brush up on your skills) of rudimentary carpentry. Simply get six pieces of evenly squared ply-wood and ensure one side has a door. Then use the hammer and nails to create a box and voila! You will have a state-of-the-art bird box. Make sure to get paint that is made for wood surfaces so that you can decorate your bird feeder with vibrant colours.

If you are not comfortable allowing your kids (or yourself) to use a hammer, head to a nearby craft store and purchase a pre-made box to decorate. Don’t forget to pick up some seeds so that the birds are enticed to hang out in your backyard!

Homemade wind chimes
There are many ways to make a homemade wind chime, but one of the easiest versions uses materials found in your own backyard — a stick. Lay the stick flat and tie a series of strings around it with three quarters of the string hanging down. Thread beads, wooden toggles, and other noise-making materials from the strings. Make sure they are different colours and feel free to add a bell or two for that nice ringing sound. Tie up the ends of the string and make the pieces different lengths for more visual interest. Tie another string to the stick in order to hang the wind-chime. Be sure to put it outside or in a window so you can hear it clanging away.

Planters in jars 
If there are any glass jars left over from winter preservatives, a way to re-use and recycle is to use the old jars as planters. Simply buy a bag of soil and seeds that can grow in small planters indoors (herbs like basel, thyme, or lavender) and plant away. Try to find a variety of herbs or coloured indoor plants for a beautiful visual effect. Place the jars by a window in your kitchen or living room so they have access to sunlight. These planter jars can brighten any home and give your house a fresh spring look.

Painted rocks

Painting rocks is a simple and enjoyable family activity, and doesn’t require a lot of planning or materials. Simply go to a nearby beach and collect a series of rocks with a flat surface to paint. Use acrylics to paint the rock. There are several animal templates online to for cute rock animal, but be creative! These rocks can be used in the backyard as stepping stones or simple decoration when leaned against a wall.

Paper flowers

The classics! For paper flowers, gather a few different colours of tissue paper and pipe cleaners. Pile the tissue neatly one on top of the other and fold them together to make an accordion. Once the accordion is completely folded into one lengthwise fold, wrap pipe cleaners one third down the tissue to make three parts. Cut above the pipe cleaner. Fan out the tissue around the pipe cleaner and fluff the paper up to make a beautiful paper flower. Place it in a vase (no water) decorated with paint and paper.


What are your favourite spring crafts? Let us know in the comments below! 

The poetic justice of growing old and letting go in “The Analyst”

“It’s always backwards in analysis, isn’t it?,” poet Molly Peacock asks in her new collection.

The Analyst by Molly Peacock is a book of poetry that explores the evolution of relationships as people grow older over time, and how these emotions can be captured and understood through the process of creative license. The anthology of poems is based on the author’s relationship with her therapist, Joan Workman Stein, who she met in New York when she was a young woman and stayed in contact with for several years. Stein suffers a stroke and Peacock, once the patient, becomes a caregiver in helping her therapist recover.

The book is separated into four parts, Part One: The Pottery Jar; Part Two: The Hours; Part Three: Ruby Roses, Kiss Goodbye; and Part Four: Whisper of Liberty. Each section follows the two friends through the initial shock of having a loved one experience a stroke, helping them recover, letting go of their lost capacities and accepting their new self. Peacock helps Stein to rediscover her lost love of art, and it ultimately becomes the tool that brings her back to life.

Peacock ultimately realizes that Stein helping her all of those years prepared her to return the favour when her therapist reaches old age and needs someone to be there. In the final poem, “Mandala in the Making”, she states, “Only when something’s over can its shape materialize,” thus showing that life is a series of evolutionary cycles repeating themselves throughout time. The Analyst uses a deeply creative means to show how people can never know quite what certain events their lives truly mean until they have passed.

The set of poems employs subtle references and the author’s own experiences to lead the reader down a path of understanding long-term relationships and how they change as people grow older. Oftentimes, poetry seeks to avoid the more disgusting facts of aging, and focuses instead on the beauty of youth and love. Peacock avoids this pattern and faces the gruesome realities that lie behind having a stroke and losing the capacity to be fully functional that is ultimately a result of aging. In “The Canning Jar”, it is almost hard to swallow the description of the dead rabbit in the St. Lawrence Market, but the reader is forced to contend with death and ultimately reconcile with it.

Overall, Peacock takes the mundane and turns it into art. Growing old is by no means special, but her changed relationship with her therapist puts her in a position to see how letting go of the old self is always a singularly unique and beautiful experience no matter how it happens or who it happens with. The journey of The Analyst becomes exceptional precisely because it turns the tragedy of a stroke into the miracle of rebirth when Stein embraces becoming an artist and let’s go of being a therapist.

This book of poems is a great read, especially for someone looking to reconcile with an aging loved one. Peacock engages with the trauma of watching her friend be affected by a stroke and the reader can feel her desperation and eventual acceptance. Take a chance on The Analyst and it will leave you wondering which relationships will change and evolve over time and how each person will meet their own limitations of mortality.

How to handle March Break on a budget

As parents, we often hear ‘I’m bored mom’ or ‘why do we never do anything fun?’ when the kids are stuck at home. Instead, here is a survival guide to March Break that includes tips on how to entertain kids kids and celebrate the week off school on a budget.

March Break is here and there are many free or discounted events going on around Toronto to entertain kids on their days off from school. Are your kids bouncing off the walls at home? It’s important to get them out of the house and exercising — too much TV will just make them cranky or hyper. The City of Toronto is offering free swimming during March Break and free indoor leisure skating at their facilities. You can also simply go for a walk or a hike in a local ravine or park. My daughter and I like to walk in the ravine near our home and learn about different types of nature in the woods. This promotes a sense of attachment to nature from a young age and also helps us get fresh air.

If you have budgeted for March Break, head to the Ontario Science Centre, which is hosting a special exhibit on the biomechanics of the body, or pay a visit to the Legoland Discovery Centre Toronto. There are many indoor play zones with bouncy castles, tunnels and mini golf located around the city too in case the weather takes a turn and going outside isn’t possible.

Want to try something with a bit more of an end result? Try scheduling some spring clean or bring donations to a Salvation Army. My daughter made special art cards for the kids that would receive her old toys to prepare for our planned donation during March Break, which made her feel included and excited to give her things to kids that need them more!

Finally, put those aprons on and get messy in the kitchen. Baking and cooking healthy snacks always makes for a a fun afternoon or you can break out the arts and crafts after to complete the messy day. Children love art and collaborative projects always turn out to be pretty special bonding experiences.

No matter what, remember to enjoy the time with your kids and don’t feel guilty for not spending thousands of dollars on a luxury March break vacation. Most children just want to hang out with mom and dad and have a good time. Even if you can only take a couple days off work to enjoy quality time with the kids, it will be fun for the whole family to herald in the spring.

Tourism Toronto captures beauty and creativity in city

The perception of Toronto by outsiders and those actually living within the city are very different. As someone who moved year a little over a year ago, I can confidently say that Toronto is not the mean, green, and cold place many across Canada think it to be.

Toronto is hot, it is fresh, and it has an edge to it that offers people many creative outlets to express themselves. The new video “The Views are Different Here,” released by Tourism Toronto, truly manages to capture Toronto’s essence and shows a variety of different perspectives to living in the Big Smoke. The video is getting massive hits on social media because it shows the quintessential Toronto narrative of a multicultural city, where everyone is welcome. Tourism Toronto manages to capture the annual pride parade, the AGO, Caribana and a Drake concert in the video and it creates a narrative of what it is like to be a part of the multicultural fabric of this city.

When I moved to Toronto from Western Canada, I had certain assumptions of the city. I thought it would be big, mean, and greasy. It has the reputation of being the main hub of Canada where people go to work long hours and spend most of their time underground on the subway. I was completely surprised when I learned that Toronto isn’t just a chaotic and busy city, but actually exudes a vibe that is creative and beautiful; yet, authentic. Toronto is replete with people full of large ideas concerning art, the environment, music, and everything in between. Most of these folks manage to own their ideas, but are not pretentious or self-serving about it. In other words, they are real and genuine creators looking to collaborate and work with other like-minded people.

Though Toronto typically has a reputation of being one of the more ‘unfriendly’ Canadian cities, its actually just the opposite. The majority of city dwellers are non-judgmental and very kind to each other. I have met so many lovely people since moving here and am struck nearly every day by how kind the average person really is. There is a level of openness and progressive discussion in this city (perhaps due to deep ties leaning to the left politically) that opens doors for a variety of topics. Any daily conversation could range from an 80 year old man about attending a drag show to discussing the future of classical music with a 20 year old woman with green hair.

I will even admit that the man bun has grown on me. It isn’t just a sign of the dreaded hipster, but has become a fashion symbol for the Toronto urban style ([note the clip in the tourism video of the older gentleman with the man bun, doesn’t he look suave?). It is important to notice that the video also includes a special focus on graffiti art in the city. To see the beautiful street art that exists in the city showcased as a tourist grab is phenomenal. It is a form of art that deserves celebration and there is a turn happening in Toronto where art is become an important avenue of expression for the city. Lastly, the video also manages to put a creative spin on the TTC with ballet dancers on the subway. This gives a more positive outlook for the subway system, and dare I say it almost makes commuting on public transit look enjoyable.

It really is incredible to see Tourism Toronto for giving other outsiders such as myself a more realistic glimpse of what this beautiful city has to offer. I am proud to live in this dirty, artsy, and fascinatingly multicultural city. It is busy, it is loud, and it is in your face. I would ask for nothing else in the years of my youth and I am astounded nearly every day by something new and fresh in this city that I just hadn’t noticed before.

What did you think of “The Views are Different here”? Let Women’s Post know in the comments below.

Roundup: 2016 Women of the Week

Every week, Women’s Post publishes a profile of a Canadian woman that has done something truly extraordinary. Our staff has spoken with a large number of inspirational human beings — some are volunteering their time, some have founded their own businesses, and some are trying to break down barriers in male-dominated industries.

Let’s start 2017 off right by rounding up all some of these amazing women into one post. Each one will include a link back to their original profile. Do you have a recommendation or suggestion for a Woman of the Week? Send it to kate@womenspost.ca.

Emily Ridout: Co-founder of 889 Yoga

Sometimes an idea just comes to you. In fact, it calls to you — and it can’t go unanswered. That’s what Emily Ridout said when Women’s Post asked her why she started 889Yoga, a yoga and wellness studio on Yonge Street in Toronto. For her, it was about bringing the practices she learned during her travels to the city she loved.

Marni Dicker: VP Infrastructure Ontario

The bulk of Dicker’s career has been in “a man’s world, with a hard hat on and steel toe boots.” A self-described “energizer-bunny”, she works full-time for Infrastructure Ontario (IO), chairs Women Build with Habitat for Humanity, is a distinguished visiting scholar at Ryerson University, is a mentor for the Women’s Executive Network, an executive sponsor of Women IO, and chair of IO Gives Back. All the while, she makes time to go to every single one of her sons’ football games.

Miriam Verburg: CEO of Bloom Digital Media

Do you remember those teenage years — all of the confusion, the expectations, and the social awkwardness?

That’s one of the reasons why Miriam Verburg helped to create the LongStory Game, a dating sim, choose-your-own-adventure type game that helps pre-teens and teenagers learn the ins-and-outs of dating. Users get to pick a character —boy, girl, or trans — and must solve a mystery while navigating social scenarios. Some examples include, bullying, backstabbing friends, alienation and immigration, and experimentation with their own sexuality.

Ana Bailão: Toronto City Councillor 

Ana Bailão moved to Canada, specifically to the Davenport area in Toronto, from Portugal at the age of 15 — and she hasn’t left. In fact, she now represents the ward as a city councilor. “It’s a part of the city that feels like home,” she said during an interview at city hall.

Jennifer Flanagan: Founder and CEO of Actua

More woman are getting involved in certain science, like medicine for example, but Flanagan says there is still a void in research and in technology-based industries. “Whether its health-based research that’s skewed because no women were involved — it affects research outcome. It’s really important to have those voices at the table. And so, that starts really early. Talking to girls – telling them that they can do science and we NEED them in science. We need to make sure women are designing the world of the future.”

Chantal Kreviazuk: Canadian Musician

Chantal Kreviazuk. Photo provided by Chantal Kreviazuk.

Singer and song-writer Chantal Kreviazuk is a Canadian icon who never fails to bring her listeners home. She is someone who loves the euphoria of performing, which is why after a seven year hiatus, she will be back to touring, promoting her new album Hard Sail. “To get to that moment [on stage], it is what we call enlightenment. It is so outer-worldly for me. It is like Christmas every day when touring. It’s scary as hell and exciting,” Kreviazuk says.

Kimberly Caroll: Body/Mind/Spirit Coach and Animal Activist 

Body/Mind/Spirit coach Kimberly Carroll has a voice that is calm, but focused. It has a powerful quality to it that helps each person she speaks with realize how important it is to care for themselves in order to impact change in others. After listening to her speak, it’s easy to understand her transition from a career in radio and television into a profession that allows her to motivate and help people.

Julia Langer: CEO of TAF

The Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) is celebrating its 25th anniversary — and with that milestone comes an opportunity to expand its mandate to include the greater Hamilton area. TAF is an organization that looks for urban solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and while it focuses most of its efforts on Toronto, Julia Langer, CEO of TAF, knows that it’s time to expand.

“It’s about recognizing that opportunities for solving climate change are not limited to the 416.”

Erin O’Neill: Chief of Planning, Regional Emergency Operations during Fort McMurray Fire

Erin O’Neill was in Red Deer when she heard about the fire, accepting her new role as president elect of the Alberta Professional Planners Institute. She couldn’t go home and couldn’t get any information. “I was following twitter. I watched the news like everyone else,” she said. “I remember going to sleep thinking I would wake up and not have anything.” Her official position, Chief of Planning for the Regional Emergency Operations Center, meant she was in charge of all re-entry procedures — creating a Recovery Task Force, getting critical businesses like pharmacies and grocery stores up and running, and eventually helping people back into their homes.

Anita Krajnc: Founder of Toronto Pig Save

Anita Krajnc, animal rights activist and Toronto Pig Save Organizer.

Tragedy struck in Burlington last week when a truck carrying pigs to slaughter overturned on the highway. Forty pigs were killed in the accident. Fearman’s Slaughterhouse then walked the 100 remaining pigs to be killed in their facility. Animal rights protesters were on the scene to witness a terrible lack of mercy on the part of the slaughterhouse workers. Anita Krajnc of Toronto Pig Save tried desperately to save any of the traumatized pigs from being murdered. She was arrested for crossing police lines and trying to see the pigs that were being hidden from sight behind cardboard barriers. Krajnc was charged with obstructing a peace officer and breach of recognizance. This is the second time she has been arrested for her humane acts towards these animals.

Jazz Kamal: Boxing Coach, Spoken Word Artist, Musician

Kamal destroys the boundaries of what it means to be a repressed woman, and instead lives a life of truth and integrity. Her story is reminiscent of the fiery phoenix renewed, rising from the ashes stronger and ready to help others find their own light in a time of darkness. Kamal is a boxing coach and helps create a space for women to embrace their power and strength at Newsgirls, a women-only boxing studio in Toronto. She is also a profound lyricist and musician, creating political word-spins worthy of the hip hop greats.

Jennifer Keesmaat: Chief Planner for the City of Toronto

Photo provided by Jennifer Keesmaat’s office.

As Toronto’s first female chief city planner, Keesmaat is keenly aware of the importance of mentorship and constant learning. Of the directors she works with, only two are women. This gender gap is difficult to break. As Keesmaat explains, when you are in a meeting and 90 per cent of the people around the table are male, it can generate stress for women.


To see more Women of the Week, visit this page and subscribe to our weekly newsletter:

Celebrating Women: Chynna Howard

Chynna Howard is a defining example of what is possible when courage and selflessness are the primary qualities of a person’s make-up. This millennial woman is going to change lives with her accomplishments, and has already made an integral space for herself in Edmonton’s affordable housing community.

Howard, 27, is tackling the housing crisis head on through the founding of ‘Jill’s Place’, a rooming house located in Edmonton that she named after her mom. The rooming house will help homeless women that are in desperate need of housing in the city’s core, and is set to open in January 2017. While most people feel powerless to change the homeless crisis in Canada, Howard’s absolute selflessness is nothing short of mouth-dropping.

Howard started working in housing as a social worker at the Bissell Centre, a non-profit that provides a variety of services for the homeless, working for the outreach housing team in Edmonton. She began to notice a gap for women looking for housing in inner-city Edmonton and decided to tackle the issue herself. “The waitlists for housing are ridiculous. I was finding that these women didn’t have enough money and couldn’t find housing just for women,” Howard says. “They didn’t fit under the ‘domestic’ umbrella and didn’t want to be in a shelter. There was a lot of discrimination finding a roommate due to being aboriginal and homeless.”

Jill’s Place will provide a clean and safe home to women who are homeless in downtown Edmonton, and will help marginalized women with a place to live. Howard plans on using her skills as a social worker to help women in the home meet basic needs such as meal planning and groceries. She is also considering starting a crowdfunding campaign to help fund a welcome package for each woman that would include a towel, and other products. “I’m trying to benefit inner city women by providing safe and clean rooms. I know it is a really tough work, we need to provide clean and safe rooming homes,” Howard says. “I can fill out a rent report for them [the women who need help with rent living in the house] and take it to Alberta Works. For the most part, it will be a home. There will be a resource room with internet and a phone.”

Howard also decided to purchase the rooming house as a way to honour her dad’s memory, a high school teacher from Kelowna who passed away from cancer in 2014. “When he passed away, I was left money from his pension. I thought this would be the perfect way to use and honour that. It never felt like my money so I’m glad I found a way to honour it. I use everything he taught me to make this community better,” Howard says. “I wanted to make sure my dad’s legacy is carried on. People wonder how I’m able to financially do this. I’d give it back if I had him, but it isn’t that way so I will do this.”

In honour of her dad’s memory, Howard began the annual Clyde Howard Memorial Bursary intended for a female student in the Okanagan area entering post-secondary education.

Howard’s portrait of her father, Clyde.

Howard also happens to be a great artist and hopes to integrate an art studio into the rooming house for the women to use. “ I really like making art that has a message and makes you think,” Howard says. “I want to start making art that reflects this community. They also have an art walk in Edmonton and the women could show their work.”

Shadow Puppets and a Rogue Imagination. Artwork by Chynna Howard.

Howard is also an avid reader. She is currently reading “Starlight Tour” by Susanne Reber and Robert Renaud, the story of Neil Stonechild and the ‘Starlight Tours’ in Saskatoon. Howard claims it is a must-read for all Canadians. She enjoys listening to Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald in the midst of a busy life.

When I met Howard, I had this feeling that she was one of those beautiful people that seem to be put on the planet to make it a better place. I had once heard the term ‘indigo child’ used to explain people who have an almost ethereal power to rid our society temporarily of its ugliness, and leave it with just a little more beauty. That is most definitely Chynna Howard and the future success of ‘Jill’s Place’ will surely help many women in need.

What the hell happened to Nuit Blanche?

I remember the first time I went to Nuit Blanche. My sister and I headed out around 10 p.m. and stayed out until 2 a.m. wandering the streets of Toronto, taking a look and even taking part in some of the art. University Ave. was completely closed off and all of the exhibitions were placed on platforms outdoors. There were performance pieces, sculptures, photography galleries, and some really neat interactive installations. A few of the pieces were inside a few select buildings, but the majority was outside. Enjoying art under the stars — there is really nothing better.

As we made our way through the intense crowds, we were handed free samples of coffee or hot chocolate, pamphlets from sponsors, and a bunch of other goodies. There was live music and a few DJs, but mostly it was the atmosphere. All together, it seemed like an incredibly late night festival celebrating Toronto’s art community.

And I have to say I enjoyed it immensely.

This year, I left my house late at night hoping to experience something similar. And boy, was I disappointed.

I’m not sure if lack of funding was a factor, but there was very little that was good about this year’s Nuit Blanche. First of all, there was very little organization or signage. I managed to grab a map from a lone volunteer standing on a street by herself downtown, but aside from the rare volunteer and the odd Nuit Blanche square (it was an actual lighted square with a map and nothing else), there were no directions, arrows, or instructions as to how to find and/or enter each instalment.

Second of all — the lines!! If the point is to present art for the masses, this year’s Nuit Blanche failed. Most of the artwork was held inside, and therefore people had to line up to simply enter the building. Some of the interactive installations only let a dozen or so people in at a time.

The lines extended a few blocks and by the time I walked to the front to read the vague and artistic sign that explained what I would see if I decided to wait 45 min. outside in the cold, my mind was already made up. Like most people, I’m not willing to wait in line that long to see a few lights projected against a wall, no matter how modern it is.

The advantage of having art on the street rather than inside a building is that people can actually see it. There are no lines necessary. It also doesn’t make you feel as though you have to rush when you finally enter the building. I think in my total three hour Nuit Blanche experience, I only truly witnessed four or five installations.

And finally, there was no sense of community. Previous years, there were conversations about art, people spoke to one another, discussed what they were seeing, danced to the music, and celebrated Toronto’s culture.

The music, the atmosphere, it was all missing. Most of the time, I was left wondering: is this art or is this just a random group of people playing music dressed up as deer?

Sure, there were some really cool exhibits. “Pneuma” by Floria Sigismondi, a series of projections onto a steady stream of water being sprayed from the pool at Nathan Phillips Square, for example, was truly beautiful and mesmerizing Luzinterruptus’s Literature vs. Traffic was a treat for us book lovers and was quite the compelling installation.

But it wasn’t enough to warrant a whole night out. And by the end, I felt more exhausted than enlightened.

I realize that Nuit Blanche lost a significant amount of funding when Scotiabank pulled out, but if you are going to do it, make sure it is worth seeing. Because next year, some of us may not bother to show up.

Sarah Hall: making art out of renewable energy

In an age where technology seems to be getting smaller and sleeker, renewable energy is lagging behind. Even though people are constantly encouraged to live green, no one wants to see giant windmills in their parks or have metal panels on top of their roofs.

Limited resources and cost restraints in North America have created challenges for architects, engineers, and even artists in the design of sustainable buildings.

“Solar in North America often looks ugly, and then people reject renewable energy,” Toronto artist Sarah Hall says. “We have to start using as many renewables as possible, and I thought ‘well, if it’s beautiful, we can change people’s minds and help transform the industry as well’.”

Hall is one of the few innovators  incorporating renewable energy into artwork. One of her most notable pieces is “Waterglass”, a stained glass piece that can be found wrapped around the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront in Toronto. While seemingly unnoticeable during the day, the piece comes alive at night. LED lights powered by the sun reveal 360 archived photographs of Lake Ontario, all stunningly preserved on di-chroic glass, the most expensive glass in the world at $1,000 per square foot.

The piece will create 1,750 kilowatt hours worth of electricity annually, enough to power the plug outlets within the building, according to Livio Nichilo, an engineering manager at Interenat Energy Solutions Canada. Nichilo consulted on “Waterglass” and analyzed the environmental impact of the project. He said that one of the biggest challenges was not to compromise artistic vision or technical efficiencies.

“The glass we designed for this project is the first of its kind in the world and we had to incorporate many technologies at once,” Nichilo says. “From my knowledge it hasn’t been done yet.”

“Waterglass” is one of six pieces Hall has created in North America using photovoltaic cells, which convert the sun’s rays into electric voltage. Each piece is connected into the power distribution of the building. For example, her piece “Leaves of Light” can be found outside the Life Sciences Building at York University illuminating the entranceway. Solar panels allow energy to be collected from the sun, which powers the LED lights that were placed between two beautifully painted pieces of glass.

“Leaves of Light”, by Sarah Hall, lights up the entranceway of the Life Sciences Building at York.

Hall is also experimenting with bird-friendly glass that, in addition to collecting solar energy, will alter the reflections on large buildings in an effort to decrease the number of bird deaths in Canada.

About 10 million birds die in Toronto because they fly into glass buildings, particularly high-rise condominiums that are reflective and transparent. “I was astounded by that information and thought I may be able to do something in that direction and began thinking of al the technologies I’ve worked in and I knew these organic solar things were being done in the labs and I’ve never thought of using them”

The challenge is to make the glass transparent enough for people to see out of, but still opaque enough that birds won’t be tricked into flying towards it. Hall will be using organic photovoltaic cells used for this project — a relatively new technology developed by Oxford Photovoltaics in London. Once the prototype is complete, it will be tested at the American Bird Conservancy in New York before Hall can start to create proposals; although she has already provided a few sample designs.

A sample design of TD Tower in Toronto, provided by Sarah Hall.
A sample design of TD Tower in Toronto, provided by Sarah Hall.

Hall fell in love with glasswork at the age of nine. She studied in Canada, as well as in the United Kingdom and Jerusalem, and ended up opening a studio in Germany. It was there that an engineer named Christof Erban approached her with a way to integrate photovoltaic cells into glasswork. While other artists in the studio believed this would hinder their artistic abilities, Hall saw it as a challenge.

“All those guys said no. They said it would be an imposition to have a grid on their work, but I liked the idea of trying to work with that grid of technology in art and trying to change people’s mind about solar,” Hall says.

The challenge with using photovoltaic cells in art is that the designs have to be geometrical. Solar cells are square and require the use of wiring, which can hinder creative freedom.

“My artwork for many years was always geometry and organic, naturalistic work. To combine this geometry wasn’t as hard as another artist.”

Before she begins a design, Hall has to consult engineers and ensure that the electrical wires are properly introduced into the building’s systems and that they adhere to city codes. The traveling can also be tedious, as most of the work has to be done overseas. Hall’s main studio is in Germany. She had to move from Toronto because her studio on Dupont St. just wasn’t big enough for the scale of glasswork she wanted to complete.

“Germany and Austria was where the work had to be done,” Nichilo explains. “The biggest challenge was that what we were asking to do in terms of design couldn’t be completed here locally. We didn’t have the skill or equipment needed to do it.”

Unfortunately, it’s been up to artists like Sarah Hall to ensure that the architectural field is aware of its options and doesn’t shy away from using renewable energy for fear it will interfere with the functionality of a building. But at the same time, Hall is simply an artist, and above else she just wants to be creative and

“At first, there was quite a bit of scepticism taking something traditional like stained glass and moving it into an environmental positioning,” Hall says. “I also hope that other companies will get interested and figure this stuff out for themselves. As an artist … the commercial aspect isn’t the reason why I do it, but I hope that others will do it commercially — and I think they will.”

Top exhibitions to check out at CONTACT photography festival

Do you love photography? Look no further! Women’s Post has found the best venues in the city for the annual CONTACT Photography festival.

CONTACT Photography Festival runs from May 1 to 31 and is the largest photography festival in the world. CONTACT is celebrating its 20th year with 20 primary exhibitions and 20 public installations. Most of the primary exhibitions are free except for the one at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the McMichael Museum, which are providing discounted tickets to exhibitions on certain days. Public installations feature photographic images on walls, billboards and subway platforms for the people of Toronto to enjoy. The festival explores a variety of topics through the lens of photography and is well worth checking out.

Here are some of the best spots for the festival, enjoy yourself and let us know what you think!