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Leonard Cohen through a millenial’s eyes

How do you encapsulate the life and career of a Canadian icon that defined generations of poetry and music lovers?

Pouring over years of interviews, poems, songs and cultural tidbits, the task of writing an ‘Ode to Leonard Cohen’ becomes overwhelming. As a millennial writer, how could I possibly do the poet and singer-songwriter justice? I struggle to find the proper words to express how culturally defining and life-changing Cohen was for aspiring Canadian writers and singers. But then again, once upon a time Cohen was a young man too before he captured the world with his magical words.

Cohen was a young aspiring writer who graduated from McGill with his B.A, just an aspiring poet, like so many I sat and dreamed with in my own poetry classes in university. He was a dreamer who had a gift — and he changed the world. Suddenly, the man behind the song ‘Hallelujah’, which has been performed by over 200 artists, doesn’t seem so difficult to write about after all.

Cohen approached the world with fearlessness, pursuing his writing career despite other paths he may have taken. His first book of poems, Let Us Compare Mythologies, was published one year after he graduated from university in 1956 and didn’t fare very well. He pursued studies at Columbia and a variety of temporary jobs until publishing The Spice Box of the Earth that was well-received. Cohen could’ve given up after his first attempts at being a successful writer, but persevered. Imagine a world where he would’ve chosen otherwise and the likes of his novel, Beautiful Losers, or the poems from Book of Longing may have never been produced.

Cohen was a Canadian icon because he continued despite all obstacles. Moreover, he was described countless times throughout the years as a humble man. To be humble and successful is definitive of a cultural genius in my mind, and this sets a fine example for millennial writers looking for an example to follow. When asked about his own work, Cohen famously said, “I never had a plan. I had a certain kind of faith…if the work was good enough or, more specifically, if the work was appropriate to move into the world, it would move into the world…”. His persistent conviction allowed Cohen to create freely without being bound to a sense of greed or power.

Many Cohen fans were surprised with his move into music, and he was even discouraged from pursuing a career as a singer because he was getting into his 30’s (noticeably older than other first-time performers of the time). Again, Cohen ignored criticisms and followed his passion for music, leading him to produce hits such as ‘Suzanne’, ‘Bird on a wire’ and ‘So Long, Marianne’. His singing career spanned 50 years beginning in 1966 with Songs of Leonard Cohen to his album You Want it Darker released before his death on November 7, 2016.

Cohen teaches Canadian millennial writers and musicians to never stop believing that your passions and dreams can come true. With dedication, focus, passion, persistence, and stamina, anyone can achieve greatness. Cohen came out of a generation where Canadian singers and songwriters were often pushed aside by American contemporaries, but he never let that stop him. Instead, he used his Canadian identity as an emblem of greatness and even had a brief love affair with Janis Joplin along the way.

Cohen described his love of Canada often, and he really led the way for other Canadian writers and musicians. “I do love Canada, just because it isn’t America and I have, I suppose, foolish dreams about Canada. I believe it could somehow avoid American mistakes, and it could really be that country that becomes a noble country, not a powerful country,” he said.

If you are ever stuck for inspiration in the creative process, I urge you to follow a series of simple steps. Grab any Cohen volume, plug in New Skin for the Old Ceremony on vinyl, make a cup of coffee and open your heart to the world through this rare man’s eyes. Cohen will be missed by many, but he truly lives on in the hearts and minds of young Canadian writers and music lovers everywhere.

Woman of the Week: Jennifer Flanagan

Jennifer Flanagan, co-founder and CEO of the non-profit Actua, was exposed to science and technology at a young age, more so than other young girls in her class. Her father and uncle were both engineers, and as she says, “kids that grow up with engineers or scientists as parents are typically the ones that pursue it themselves.”

Flanagan’s plan was to go to medical school, combine her love of science and her affinity for helping people into one career. But, all that changed when she saw a poster on the wall asking the following question: Do you want to start a science or engineering camp? Her answer was a resounding yes.

That small group of students started up a few camps locally, but soon the model spread nationally among engineering programs at different universities. As of 1994, the camps had a policy for gender parity, with an equal 50 per cent divide between girl and boy participants. “That was unheard of,” Flanagan said.  “It was controversial, amazing, and it worked.”

The programs became more popular, and eventually the students started to receive funding from university chairs and Industry Canada. And that’s how Actua was formed — a national charitable organization that engages young kids and marginalized communities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). “We [engage] about 225,000 youth a year – that includes a huge focus on those underrepresented audiences, or the hardest to reach audience in Canada,” Flanagan explained. This includes a program called InSTEM, a customized, community-based educational program that engages First Nations, Metis, and Inuit youth, as well as a digital literacy program that transforms young people from passive consumers into real innovators capable of using and creating future technology.

Twenty-five years later, Flanagan is just as excited about her role in Actua as she was when she saw that poster on the wall. She says she has seen progress since the program went national.

“Big evidence of that progress is Actua,” she said. “When I first started doing this work, we had to convince people it was important. A summer camp was one thing, but no one saw the link to the future work force or economic development.”

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.”

Flanagan is working with a team on a special project meant to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary next year. Actua is building a “Maker Mobile”, a mobile workshop that will travel from one end of the country to the other in just over 18 months, stopping at schools and community centres along the way. “A maker space is a workshop that is filled with technology tools that allow you to build prototypes or allow you to build products,” Flanagan said. “We are celebrating past innovation by building skills for future innovation.”

The idea is to inspire young people to not only learn more about science and technology, but also to inspire them to innovate. The maker mobile will empower these young people and shift their attitudes. Too often, people tell kids to pay attention to math and science so they can do great things in the future, Flanagan explained. Instead, why not encourage them to do great things now?

“Today’s youth are incredible innovators already. They are amazing problem solvers and have natural abilities with science and technology.”

Flanagan’s passion often follows her outside of her work with Actua. She sits on the board of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, an organization that has a wide mandate, which includes empowering women, helping them escape violent situations, and ending poverty.

“The work with the Canadian Women’s Foundation is so fundamental — doing work that is creating the first generation of women free of violence requires more passion. The work that we do, engage girls in science and technology goes far beyond knowing there is enough female participation in these subjects. It’s about raising confidence.”

Flanagan is also a finalist for the Social Change Award for the 2016 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. She is reading a newly released book called “Girl Positive”, which tells the story of hundreds of girls across North America and finds out what they need, something Flanagan says is critical reading for parents and policy makers.

 

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People with mental health continue to suffer in Toronto

Imagine yourself sitting in the house alone day after day, jumping at every noise and wincing at bright lights.  You finally get up the courage to step out the house and go to the hospital to ask for help. Getting there is painful. You have to deal with the crowds of people on the subway and the constant fear of being watched walking down the street. Finally, you get to the hospital and wait for several hours before seeing a physician. You are given a list of phone numbers and then asked to leave. Clutching the piece of paper, you retreat back to your home and close the door.

In Toronto, people are turned away every day at hospitals and health centres and sent home with a list of contacts to call, only to be forced to sort through the maze of mental health on their own, oftentimes ending up on long waitlists with no aid. The issue in part has to do with the history of mental health in Canada. In the 1980s, mental health reforms across the world deinstitutionalized people from mental hospitals and many countries failed to provide a strong alternative. Many sick people fell into chronic homelessness, and a lack of replacement funding was offered.

In Canada, this is certainly the case. Other countries worldwide did implement strong healthcare systems that work to this day. Trieste in Italy created a network of 24-hour mental health facilities with inpatient beds and group home facilities for people with mental health in need of housing support. Because of constant access to mental health care, Trieste is known worldwide as the example to follow in managing the mental health needs of a population adequately.

It is no longer acceptable to place mental health as a secondary concern in health care. In Canada, mental health is a leading disability and affects one in five Canadians annually. According to the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), by the time the average Canadian reaches 40, one in two having been diagnosed with a mental illness. Finally, mental illness burdens individuals 1.5 times higher than all cancers, and more then seven times of infectious diseases. This is due to the number of years living with mental illness and a higher rate of early death.

How is turning people away from receiving help for mental health issues a proper response to a severe medical concern? If someone can’t leave their house due to aggressive anxiety, or is so depressed they are contemplating suicide, how is it remotely appropriate to put people on a waitlist?

CAMH alone has an eight-to-ten-week processing time once a doctor referral is submitted.  If someone has a debilitating mental illness, it is left up to them alone to make a mental health plan. It often falls to families and friends to help strategize what to do, and finding resources and filling out forms for long waitlists is exhausting.How many people simply fall off the grid and never receive the help they need? If the person who needs mental health aid does not have anyone to support them, they have to shoulder to burden themselves with no help in sight.

The federal government has promised to make mental health a priority, but has come under criticism as of late for cutting the Canada Health Transfer annual increase from six per cent to three per cent. Health Minister Jane Philpott has said she is committed to supporting mental health help, but the federal government has yet to provide any specific amount of funding.

Mental health needs to be a primary concern in Canada. It is no longer a conversation to have in hushed tones in the corner, but a public discourse that needs to be dealt with in the immediate future. There is nothing shameful about living with a mental illness. Can you imagine a society where each person living in Toronto had access to free counselling in every neighbourhood? It could be the change our society needs, to put people’s mental health first and foremost in a world that definitely needs it.

Fact: The cosmetics you use are probably still being tested on animals

When you put on your make-up in the morning, do you ever wonder whether it was tested on an animal first? Do you ever wonder if the mascara on your eyelashes or the gloss on your kips caused the deaths of thousands of rabbits and guinea pigs? Though the winds are changing, animal testing is still happening and we need to know why.

Animal testing is becoming less popular in Canada (but is still legal), however, it remains a mandatory practice in China for international cosmetics products such as those provided by Estee Lauder and MAC. This is despite the fact that animal testing in cosmetics has long been known as an unnecessary practice. Fortunately, there are people who are fighting to get the practice banned in Canada and around the world.

#BeCrueltyFree is a campaign that was launched by the Humane Society International (HSI) in 2012. “It is important to be cruelty-free because animals are suffering. It’s unnecessary. There are so many safe ingredients to use for testing and animals don’t need to be used any longer,”#BeCrueltyFree Campaign Manager Aviva Vetter says. “When we are raising awareness to ban animal testing in Canada, the first thing people say is ‘I thought that was done 20 years ago. Isn’t that done already?’” The European Union banned animal testing in 2013 and since then 34 countries have done so. Isn’t it Canada’s turn now?

In December 2015, Canadian Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen introduced the Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act, also known as Bill S-214. The bill would “prohibit animal testing and the sale of cosmetics developed or manufactured using cosmetic animal testing” and is about to launch into its second reading. Bill S-214 would mean that cosmetics currently in stores would have to abolish animal testing in order to sell in Canada.

China is one of the countries that has mandatory laws to test imported cosmetics. “Companies [of imported cosmetics] are required to submit finished product samples to the government for testing in a CFDA-recognized laboratory,” U.K #BeCrueltyFree Campaign Director Claire Mansfield says. “Once approved for sale, provincial authorities also conduct post-market inspections of cosmetic products, which can include a further layer of animal testing.”

What does all of this mean?

It means that any large cosmetics company that imports to China is testing on animals. It also means that any small brand owned by a parent cosmetics company that sells to China may not actually be cruelty-free. Estee-lauder, Lacome, Revlon, Clinque, MAC, Covergirl, Victoria’s Secret, and Alamy are some of many large-scale cosmetics companies that are currently selling in China — and testing on animals in order to do so.

When I last bought Mascara at Shopper’s Drug Mart, I was told that Smashbox was cruelty-free. I excitedly purchased their make-up and, when presented with this article, contact them with high expectations. Instead of an interview, I was offered a written statement.

“Yes, we live for lipstick and are serious about primers — but we also love animals. That’s why we are cruelty-free. We don’t test on animals, only volunteers. Nor do we sell in any countries that require animal testing by law,” a Smashbox spokesperson wrote.

That’s when I found out they were owned by Estee Lauder. Spokesperson Alexandra Traber explained that Estee Lauder “may still conduct or require animal testing by law of cosmetic products or ingredients to demonstrate safety” in countries where regulatory authorities require it.

“For example, before we are able to import any of our products into China, the Chinese government requires all importers of cosmetics, including us, to pay for animal testing that is conducted by a government-mandated laboratory in China,” she said. “As a global company, we are committed to providing our products and services to our consumers where they live, and we must comply with all legal requirements in the countries where we do business.”

Smashbox does not sell their product in China, but refused to elaborate on the particulars of their policy, which I found confusing. Is this true cruelty-free advocacy? Needless to say, my Smashbox mascara landed in the trash the next day, just to be safe.

Instead, I turned to a smaller grassroots business. Many cosmetics companies in Canada are already using cruelty-free practices and choose to comply with a standard known as Leaping Bunny. This animal coalition is made up of seven animal protection agencies in Canada and the United States, and certifies companies to ensure they aren’t testing on animals. The coalition has grown over the last 20 years to encompass over 800 cosmetic companies. There is also no cost for a company to become certified.

“If we are working with ingredients that are synthetic and dangerous for the earth and our bodies, why are we animal testing? Two wrongs don’t make a right,”says Milena Lye, owner of Leaping Bunny certified cosmetics company Just the Goods. “I sought out Leaping Bunny personally. I went to their website, and found it is actually easier than I thought to become involved. You document all of your suppliers, assuring that they don’t test on animals. . It is a 2-3 year period, and companies are spot-checked. I found about 80 per cent of suppliers are willing to be cruelty-free, no reason for it to be tested anymore.”

By purchasing cruelty-free and taking part in the #BeCrueltyFree campaign, you are supporting positive change for the way people treat animals. With various in-vitro alternatives to animal testing already available (and cheaper as well), banning animal-testing in places like Canada and China seems to be the only option.

I’m going home to get rid of all of my animal-tested cosmetics, are you?

What is a “women’s publication?”

As the editor of a women’s publication, I often struggle with its content. Should I appeal to the masses and publish fashion and beauty tips, tips for great sex, or outline the best weight loss diets? Or should I break the mould?

When Women’s Post was founded in 2002, it was done so with a single purpose — to showcase talented women across Canada. The founder of this publication, Sarah Thomson, started it after noticing the disappointing selection of magazines targeting women. They were all pitting woman against woman, competing for the newest fashion trends and workout regimes.

Women’s Post was meant to show that women are interested in more than just their looks. The publication would feature profiles of professionals, asking what they do to help other women succeed in their respective industries. Since then, Women’s Post has grown into so much more. We still feature talented women and have a clear focus on mentorship, but we also publish articles on city politics, the environment, technology, business, and, yes, fashion.

I draw the line at weight loss diets though.

The key is balance — admitting that women are interested in a variety of things, whether that is the latest hairstyles and trends or the rising stock prices. It’s also about recognizing the influential power the media has on women, particularly young girls.

An image has been circulating social media over the past few weeks that has caused a lot of outrage, both inside and outside the newsroom. The image shows the front page covers of two different magazines: “Girls Life” and “Boys Life”.

Girls Life focused on makeup, hair, and overall beauty tips while the Boys Life cover featured job opportunities in the sciences and in technology. While the magazines are not owned by the same company, it displayed some of the blatant gender differences that are engrained in the media.

In Canada, we do a slightly better job. Our “women’s magazines” have articles that encompass a variety of interests, from work advice to recipes. Of course, there will always be specific fitness and health magazines that target specific female demographics, but Canadian publications seem to understand they don’t need to compete with these pre-existing celebrity gossip magazines.

Women’s Post proudly joins the list of Canadian news organizations that have come to understand that gender doesn’t dictate interests. But, I’m even more proud to be part of a publication that also focuses on making sure others know this too. Women’s Post profiles women from every profession, focusing not only on the challenges they had to overcome to get where they are now, but also their many accomplishments.

Women compete enough without the aide of rows of magazines telling them they could be thinner or smarter. With an ever-growing wage gap and the constant discrimination women face in the workplace, isn’t it more important to celebrate womanhood rather than destroy it?

Women’s Post strives to not only be a publication that supports and showcases great women, but a publication where anyone, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, can find news that interests them. I truly believe this is the future of journalism — anything else is simply insulting, don’t you think?

New portable housing for domestic abuse survivors and their families

Imagine packing your belongings in the middle of the night and waking your children to escape the place you call home. Frightened and without any place to go, 3,491 women and 2.724 children arrive at the doorsteps of emergency domestic abuse shelters each night. About 300 of those women and children are turned away.

Once they actually get up the courage to leave their abusers, survivors of domestic abuse and their families face a number of challenges. They must find a safe place to go, obtain a new home and all while living with the fear that their spouse is trying to find them. The government of Canada and Ontario are trying to help the situation by investing $20 million over two years into the Survivors of Domestic Violence Portable Housing Benefit Pilot project. The pilot project will provide 1000 survivors of domestic violence per year with immediate affordable housing.

As is stands, when women and their children find temporary housing in an emergency shelter it can take several months to find another place to live. Going back home is often not an option. This leaves families stranded in very unstable living situations. Domestic abuse survivors are placed on the waitlist for rent-geared-to income and must wait for social housing to become available. Though domestic abuse victims are given priority on the waitlists, the state of social housing waitlists in Canada leaves many of these families stranded for months.

It also leaves the victim of abuse in a vulnerable situation because they don’t have access to permanent housing. In Canada, 26 per cent of women who are murdered by their spouse have left the relationship and half of these women are killed within two months of leaving their abuser. Women are also six times more likely to be killed by an ex-partner than a current partner, placing the victims in a vulnerable situation after leaving their abuser. Women and children are still in danger after leaving an abusive partner, and obtaining safe housing is paramount for their safety.

The federal and provincial government are taking steps in providing better resources for domestic abuse survivors and the affordable housing situation. Though the new pilot program is a step in the right direction, more efforts to provide victims of domestic abuse with optimal support is of upmost importance.

My life through the words of The Tragically Hip

Over the years, I’ve often looked at a mountain view in Alberta or a downtown Toronto landscape, and at each of those moments, I think of one of the many of  Tragically Hip songs that really encapsulates how it feels to be there.

The iconic rock band The Tragically Hip defines the Canadian sound. It is as if Gord Downie and his bandmates took rocks from the mountains, soil from the prairies, and water from the Great Lakes to create a melodic elixir of Canadian essence and feed it to our starved northern souls. Canada was lost before this band existed, and boy, do they ever bring us home.

Along with 125,000 Canadians that watched the live streaming of CBC’s final Tragically Hip show on August 23, I cried, laughed, remembered, and mourned. It truly is the end of an era. Gord Downie’s tragic diagnosis of Glioblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer, has rocked Canadians to their core. The show was rumoured to be their final performance, and the band will be duly missed for their years of dedication to the local music community.

You could say I was born listening to The Tragically Hip. As the millennial daughter of two parents who were in their twenties in the 1980’s, “The Hip”, as they are commonly referred to, were all the rage. The band began their journey in 1984 and produced 14 albums during the course of their thirty-year career.  I am proud to say I have been listening to them my entire life.

My first memory of The Hip is when I was about six years old at our family cottage in Ontario. I have a fond memory of walking out to the campfire hearing “100th Meridian” blasting from the speakers and my dad and uncle rocking out in their blue jeans and mullet-styled hockey do’s. Later on, I would realize how much this song defined my own life. “At the hundredth meridian, where the Great Plains begin” is about the journey from east to west and the division between the two parts of our country. Spending my summers in Ontario with my dad and living the rest of the year in Alberta made me realize the contrast and tension between the two regions, and The Tragically Hip helped me identify with those differences.

I considered one particular Hip song the soundtrack to my life; “Wheat Kings”. This song is for the people in “the Paris of the Prairies” and reflects how it feels to cruise across the yellow sea to my home in the foothills of Alberta. I can recall listening to this song with my cousin and best friend, who was also forced to watch our dads rock out together to The Hip. Needless to say, she is as die-hard as I am when it comes to our love of the music. If I close my eyes while listening to “Wheat Kings”, beginning guitar riff and Downie’s haunting voice floating across the speakers, I’m transported home to a creaky prairie heritage home watching the mountains through the window with the curtain blowing in the wind.

My dream to see the Tragically Hip finally came true when I moved to Toronto and saw them play at a free concert in Dundas Square two years ago. I had just moved to Canada’s largest city, and what better way to celebrate than watching The Hip. When “Bobcaygeon” came on and Downie howled “that night in Toronto, with its checkerboard floors”, 10,000 people were singing along with him — I was one of them. Interestingly, the checkerboard floors are in reference to the Horseshoe Tavern on Queen St., a favourite bar of mine as well. This iconic tune has continued to be loved, now reminding me of what it is like to fall in love in Toronto. “I left your house this morning ‘bout a quarter after nine, it was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time” is a lyric I often sing to my partner. It reminds me of the first time he told me he loved under the stars at his cottage on Georgian Bay (cheesy, I know).

Not all of my memories associated with Tragically Hip are happy and sweet. The band had a way of pulling at your heart strings in tough times as well. When a close friend died, I played “Fiddler’s Green” and at that moment, I think only Downie’s voice could soothe me. Later on, I found out the song was written in memory of his nephew that passed away. Downie refused to play it for 15 years, only to sing it at a show in Calgary much later.

In The Tragically Hip’s final show, “Grace, Too” was one of the final songs that caused an uproar of emotion to flood the Rogers K-Rock Centre in Kingston. Downie was visibly upset, and almost every person I know who loved this band cried along with him at that moment.  Belting out the lyrics one last time, I felt the unfairness of it all. How is an amazing musician cherished by his country condemned to get sick and die of terminal illness? I could talk about his legacy as others have done in their courageous soliloquies to Gord Downie, but honestly I am angry. Cancer seems to claim us all.

I will say though: one comfort that The Hip fans can have is the absolute immortality of the band’s music. The Tragically Hip will live on as I raise my child in Canada. It is my turn to wear acid wash blue jeans and rock out to the “Hip” at a campfire while my daughter dances too. [It is her turn to listen to “Boots and Hearts” and learn to line dance. It is my daughter’s destiny to close her eyes and think of our home in the prairies when she hears “Wheat Kings”.

“Does your mother tell you things? Long, long when I’m gone?”

I hope Downie can take comfort in his legacy — he surely has given the world something that will never be forgotten.

The hidden Canadian landscapes to explore

When tourists visit Canada, there is a typical route that they follow. From east to west, people visit Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Banff and Vancouver. These are the main cities and they are amazing in their own right. But what about the hidden treasures of our beautiful and vast country? Those are the places that fascinate me and, as a Canadian, I’ve made it my life’s mission to search out as many of these less-popular places as possible.

Take a ride with me on my adventures across Canada:

Beginning in beautiful British Columbia, imagine yourself lying on a secret nude beach resting on the crest of the mountains, surrounded by a midnight black lake. I decided to ditch the tent that night and slept directly on the beach, watched by the rare and beautiful gypsy travellers that populate B.C. I’m looking at the stars, and they are so clear it feels as if I can reach out and touch them.

I’m just outside Nelson, B.C, the unofficial hippie capital of the west. It is a place built entirely on a steep hill, which is absolute hell to climb with a backpack, but is nonetheless worth it once you see the view from the top. Several incense and weed shops line the streets and the town is dedicated to promoting local goods and community, with almost no corporate businesses in the vicinity. The town is nestled deep in the Kootenay mountain pass and is surrounded by large round mountains buried with trees. They look much different from the neighbouring Rockies. Nelson is as close to heaven as you can get. It is an escape from reality, and seems to only exist in a dream where nature and people finally seem to respect one another.

Another one of my favourite spots is in the Okanagan. The hills have grown much smaller, but I’m still awestruck by the contrast between the orange and red rolling desert mountains and the crystal blue lake that snakes through the valley. As you drive on the Coquihalla, the highway through the Okanagan that leads you to Vancouver, you will hit Penticton. It is a town surrounded by hot desert hills and is the home to the deepest lake in Canada.

I have fond memories of driving to Penticton with my boyfriend at the time and our friends to music gigs at rustic bars on the main strip that has since closed. We would climb on the roof while the boys played, and roofhop because the businesses were all connected ( though I don’t condone this behaviour. I had a friend fall of a roof years later). There is nothing better than watching a harvest moon, surrounded by desert hills and listening to B.C folk music, laden with banjos and violins. It is a sound that seems to emit from the very roots of the Okanagan’s heart and I highly recommend seeing one of the local Okanagan bands if you are in the region (Wild Son is a good example).

My next destination takes you on the Trans-Canada highway through the Rogers Pass into Alberta, my home province, the place where my heart rests no matter where I live in this crazy world. A tour of the Rockies will take you to some breathtaking sites and locations, but my absolute favourite town in Alberta is Jasper. Home of black bears, it is the best place for a sighting from a safe distance. Another favourite is Kananaskis, a tiny resort tucked away between Calgary and Banff. Kananaskis is in the entrance to the mountains, also known as the foothills. The vast prairies that rise into rolling hills and then morph into the majestic Rockies is a worthy site to see. Kananaskis has top level climbing, hiking trails and mountain sites.

Both Jasper and Kananaskis remind me of my mother. You haven’t met her, but she is amazing. My mom taught me the worth of driving to the places you love. She taught me to hike,and to respect and appreciate nature. I’ve seen every wild animal in the mountains because of her, from mountain goats to a grizzly bear. As she gets older, I often think of our drives through the Rockies, listening to Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, and I realize no matter what happens these places will always remind me of her.

As I got older, I began to crave a different kind of Canadian adventure. I wanted to see the cities — the brick and the old stone edifices in the origins of this wonderful country. It was time to venture east. I packed the car, waved goodbye to my family and friends and took off across the prairies, listening to Janis Joplin. I saw the immense and endless splendour of the corn fields, or the yellow ocean as my daughter says. I landed in Brandon, Manitoba to see a friend of mine and it was there that I found this next hidden gem.

Brandon is a small city with a very tight-knit and loving community. I stayed with a friend who lived in the old city hall. The grand building had been converted to a house for people who studied the arts. It had several floors and rooms, and was run by two professors from Brandon University. Walking in the city, I saw my first glances of the historic buildings that helped build this country.

Ontario was next. The first thing I noticed was that the Great Lakes seemed to go on forever. The immensity of these bodies of water nourishes the land, creating a green and vivacious landscape. Kenora, Ont. is on the border between Manitoba and Ontario, and is my secret gem of the north. Surrounded by Lake of the Woods, this body of water winds around the town, which is a series of bushy islands. The Canadian Shield dominates the north as well and massive boulders of rock that jut from the ground create a complex and visceral topography, which is great for hiking and bouldering.

Speaking of history, Quebec City is the oldest city in Canada. I call it the city of all glories, because it has a beautiful waterfront dotted by old shipping boats (who doesn’t love a good boat?), it is built on a hill with narrow and old-fashioned streets, and is the home of the Chateau Frontenac. It is most definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Canada and has a distinctly European flair. Visiting Quebec City, it was exciting to hold my daughter’s hand and explain first-hand how Canada came to be. Plus, ordering a croissant and an Americano in French is always a treat.

Finally, there is the Maritimes. My mother is a born maritimer, and while I may be biased, I stand by this following opinion — people born and raised in the Maritimes are often the sweetest and friendliest people. I often visit Dalhousie, a city that borders Quebec with the Restigouche River between the two provinces. The Restigouche leads into the ocean, and migrating whales stop in the bay annually. My Grandmother has a cottage right on the water that she dubbed “the Hollow”, and I remember hiking with her to pick beach glass and find fossils. Visiting a couple years ago, it is unforgettable to stand at the pier of the lighthouse and listen to Acadians sing French folk songs as sail boats line the bay. You can almost see the ghosts of the first ships to arrive along the Restigouche River hundreds of years ago on ethereal nights such as these.

There are always more stories and more places to share. Canada is a vast and unforgettable country and you never know where the twists and turns will take you. My best advice when traveling Canada is to take the backroads. That is where you will see a proud old man in his electric wheelchair scooting down the street with a Canadian flag on the back, or a wolf standing watch by the roadside. My next stop is the Yukon. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Stay tuned for my photo project of my travels across Canada entitled Shades of Blue: my journey across Canada.

Canadian government finally lets its youth speak

When I was in university, my biggest pet peeve was how politicians completely ignored youth. I was a political science major, and more than anything I wanted the people sitting in Parliament to ask for my opinion — what did I think about the cost of tuition; what did I think about the latest tax increase; what did I think about the democratic process?

But no one ever asked me. This is why young people are so apathetic. They want to speak — if only someone would listen.

Well, it looks like someone finally has. Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that he was spearheading a Youth Council, consisting of 30 people between the ages of 16 and 24. These youth will meet a number of times a year, both in person and online, to discuss important issues and then propose recommendations to the Prime Minister’s office.

According to the government website, the council “will advise the Prime Minister on national issues such as employment, access to education, building stronger communities, climate change and clean growth.”

The council is supposed to be non-partisan.

I would like to give Justin Trudeau a hug — a very big bear hug — for not only coming up with this idea, but for ensuring it is actually put into practice.

During the 2015 federal elections, I went to a debate held in my riding. It was a town-hall style debate, where constituents could ask questions of the candidates. To my surprise, a large number of young people showed up.  They asked about what the candidates could do for them and most could not give them answers. They had all prepared stump speeches that were relevant to working moms, single parents, and old people with a pension. They didn’t know what to do when a 16- or 17-year-old asks about transit or funding for education — despite the fact that most of these young people pay taxes and deserve to be part of the conservation. This type of question-shock shouldn’t be possible in 21st century democracy.

The average young person is informed. They read the news online and they talk about it with their parents and friends. They are involved in school clubs and university groups, and they advocate for freedoms and rights others may not have. They WANT to be active in politics, but they also want to feel as if what they say (or ask) matters.

This Youth Council should, hopefully, provide these young people with a national platform to voice their opinions. They can finally contribute to national policy in a meaningful way. Who knows what kind of results will arise from these council meetings, but if anything it is the first step to altering political stereotypes of apathetic youth. And that is an amazing thing.

Would you hang a Canadian flag in front of your mosque?

What does the Canadian flag mean to you? For Jawad Rathore, it represents all things Canadiana — and he thinks it should be flown in front every mosque in Toronto.

“We see Muslims right now being subjected to harassment. Hate crimes are up, [and] rhetoric publicly and privately is up. There are terrible things happening around the world in the name of Islam,” Rathore said in an interview. “[Putting up Canadian flags is] a wonderful way to remind our neighbours that we are Canadian. There is nothing to fear.”

Rathore, who is also president and CEO of Fortress Real Development, presented the idea to the Canadian Muslim Vote last week and received an overwhelmingly positive response. Rathore says he has already received funding from the community for over 50 flags and he has received messages from mosques across Canada asking to participate.

The Canadian Muslim Vote is a non-partisan organization whose objective is to promote greater community engagement among the Muslim-Canadian population. It was founded last year as a response to low voter turnout with a goal to increase attendance and engagement during the 2015 federal elections. And they did the job. According to Rathore, turnout was close to 79 per cent.

JR
Jawad Rathore

Now, the organization is focusing on integrating communities through a “very simple” campaign. At its core, the campaign is about unity and pride during a time in which people are being marginalized. Hate speech is rampant, even in Canada, a country whose foundation is based on religious freedom. As Rathore says, there is a lot of fear among those who don’t understand the Islam faith and putting up a Canadian flag symbolizes unity in a time of uncertainty.

“It’s a way to let our community know we are their neighbours,” he said.

Rathore may be spearheading this campaign through Canadian Muslim Vote, but he says every corporation and community member should be giving back.

“Give what you can afford — give a little, give often, give once a year,” he said. “Many of us in the corporate world are incredibly blessed and if we turn our minds over to the community. Whether initiative like this or any other benefits – the world would be a better place.”

Rathore is confirming a list of mosques that are willing to participate in the campaign and is working out the physical details for installation. He has also committed to do the first 10 flags himself.

The first flag should be installed by the end of September and, if the campaign goes well, Rathore hopes to be able to install flagpoles in front of mosques across Canada.

If you are interested in contributing to the campaign, email canadaflag@canadianmuslimvote.ca.