Tag

ontario

Browsing

Woman of the Week: Leslie Woo

Leslie Woo, Metrolinx’s Chief Planning Officer, approaches everything with curiosity. With an extensive background in both the private and the public sector, Woo is the kind of person who will move to a new position to fill an education gap and learn how everything connects. She calls it design or systematic thinking, something she acquired through her architectural background.

“Every time I twisted and turned in my career, it was because fundamentally, in my work, I identify something that drives me to solve some other underlying problem somewhere else,” she said.

Woo grew up in Trinidad with a middle class family surrounded by poverty, something she says is one of the reasons why she went into architecture and urban planning — to give back to the community. Architecture, Woo said, is an “interesting bridge between community and planning.” Her mother, who was interested in interior design, encouraged Woo in her love of math, art, and language, leading to a study abroad in in Canada.

When she arrived in this country, she found a hostile climate and a foreign landscape. Even the language was difficult, as she had a thick accent. But, Woo pushed through the culture shock, falling in love with environmental studies and city building.

“In reflection, everything in my life and career is about creating roots and being grounded and establishing a place for myself and for my kids and family,” she said. “This interest in urbanity and quality of space and access, that’s where it comes from.”

Woo’s career is extensive. Prior to joining Metrolinx, she worked with the Waterfront Regeneration Trust as well as Waterfront Revitalization, helped shape the Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan with the Ontario Growth Secretariat, and acted as strategic policy director for the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities.

At Metrolinx, Woo developed a large and expanding portfolio. She is responsible for the long-term vision of the provincial transit agency, based on The Big Move, a vast plan to create one of the “largest and fastest-growing urban regions in North America.” She is responsible for $31 billion worth of capital public investments and drives corporate sustainability and innovation.

“I don’t know that I have a love for transit planning to be honest,” she said. “I have a love for city building, and you can’t build a city without mobility. This job has changed three, four times as the organization has grown, as we have continuously demonstrated our capabilities and our expertise, and we have been rewarded to be a larger contributor to the success of the region. That energizes me. Transportation planning is part of the puzzle I have spent the last 10 years trying to solve.”

She is currently leading the 2041 Regional Transportation Plan, which will build on the foundations created between 2008 and 2018, and help create a fully integrated transportation system across the province. Woo says her biggest challenge was to separate herself from the original Big Move plan and take an objective view, focusing on fresh ideas. The first round of consultations has just finished.

“The people using the system, municipalities and public, they have real insights that are important,” she said. “Now we are focused on the ‘how’ – we feel like what we’ve got is a strong validation of the ‘what’ – the direction, the vision. The ‘how’ is about who is making the decisions, how will you prioritize, how will you develop the evidence, where is the money going to come from, what is the role of municipalities?”

In addition to her work, Woo is deeply interested in mentoring and building up women. She said she was blinded about the gender divide in her early career, as a woman from a matriarchal family. But then, she took part in The Judy Project, an executive program within the Rotman School of Management in Toronto that helps prepare women for executive and CEO positions. The program really opened her eyes to the challenges women face in business.

For example, she said data showed that when someone was meeting a woman for the first time, they judged them 60 per cent on how they looked, 30 per cent on how they sounded in terms of their voice, and only a small percentage of what they actually said. “That for me was disturbing but really helpful in how I speak with other women,” Woo said. “It’s a great time to be a woman right now, but it is going much to slow.”

She continued her development at Harvard through a custom designed leadership program. As part of this fellowship, she founded She Builds Cities, a website where she showcases female city builders, people she has admires within the profession. She also leads Metrolinx’s network for women in management, which includes a mentorship program.

“I have formally and informally mentored younger women, older women, I have been mentored myself – I’ve been reversed mentored by younger women, which is refreshing,” she said. “Coaching, sponsoring, those are all things that are important. In my career, I had many mentors…men and women!”

Woo celebrated her 10-year anniversary at Metrolinx this week.

 

Do you enjoy these profiles? Subscribe to our weekly e-newsletter and have them delivered straight to your inbox along with the important news of the day! 

Doug Ford: King of cover up

Today, the worst candidate I can think of for leadership of the Ontario PC party – Doug Ford – has announced he is running. And I realize now why he didn’t come rushing to Patrick Brown’s side to defend him. Doug Ford is an overly ambitious man who would use his brother’s coffin to vault himself into the limelight.  Harsh words, but never have any truer words been written about the man.

Let me tell you about some of the secrets I’ve learned that happened in 2013, when I came out on Mayor Rob Ford’s drug induced grope.  Apparently, when the news hit social media, Doug Ford immediately started making phone calls to his “buddies” in the press. His strategy was to control and manipulate public opinion. He fed the press questions that cast doubt on me, he pulled the shadiest councillors he could find (from Vaughn) to twist the narrative, and finally he went on the Fords Newstalk 1010 radio show and made me out to be just another “crazy” woman.  Doug Ford knew that taking things out of context, and controlling the court of public opinion was the only way he could hide the truth. And for a while he managed to do it. 

But hiding the truth is a bit like trying to hold water in a broken bucket – it eventually leaks out. 

Doug succeeded in manipulating the public and hiding the truth about his brother and  his friends in the media made quick work of degrading me and making me out to be an opportunist.  They questioned my intentions and Newstalk 1010 in particular did some nasty public shaming. But that came to an end pretty quickly when the truth about Mayor Ford’s drug use finally came out.  That was when Doug Ford began claiming that he didn’t know anything about his brother’s drug use. By then most of the media realized they’d been used as his pawns. The Ford’s show on Newstalk1010 was cancelled and their power over the media went spiralling.  

When I learned about Mayor Ford’s drug dependency and the demons he was fighting, I forgave the Mayor. But I will never forgive Doug Ford for using his position of power to influence the media to demean and humiliate me.  I wonder how many women will actually support a man who demonstrated that he didn’t care about sexual assault, or that his brother was a drug addict?

I’ve always believed that Doug Ford’s lies put more stress on his brother than the truth ever did. Instead of encouraging the Mayor to tell the truth, I wonder if Doug counselled him to deny it?  When I think of the weeks that Mayor Ford had to carry the lie, and the pressure it must have put on him, I don’t understand how Doug couldn’t see what it was doing to him.

And make no mistake, there was a cost. Mayor Ford paid it. I paid it. But Doug Ford walked away relatively unscathed.  It is men like Doug Ford, men who abuse their power to twist and distort the truth, who need to be held accountable. He is a man so desperate for power he’s now decided that instead of running for mayor of Toronto, he’ll run for leadership of the Ontario PC party. 

The #MeToo campaign and #TimesUp campaign are a sign the world is changing, and women are no longer staying silent about corrupt men who abuse their power. It won’t be an easy road for men like Doug Ford.

Doug Ford is an example of a man who worked to hide sexual assault, drug use, and anything that might hinder his future ambitions. The world he once thrived in is changing and women are coming together to speak out.  Here at the Women’s Post we encourage women to step forward. To tell their story. If you have suffered, like I did, from the actions of Doug Ford please reach out to me. Let’s talk. Your identity will be protected.  

Ontario PCs elect Victor Fedeli as interim leader

The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party elected their interim leader Friday — Victor Fedeli, MPP for Nipissing, former mayor of North Bay, and the party’s finance critic.

The choice is a bit disappointing.

When former leader Patrick Brown resigned, Women’s Post called for the Ontario PC party to elect a woman to replace him.  The publisher recommended Christine Elliott, Caroline Mulroney, or Jennifer Keesmaat — three capable women with vast experience in politics.

Instead, the party chose a 61-year-old white man. Can you see why I’m disappointed? The party had a real opportunity to change, to make the face of the PC party one that doesn’t make Ontarians think of an old patriarchal political system. It also would have marked one of the first time all three party leaders were female, a milestone that would have been celebrated by the media.

Of course, Fedeli is only interim leader. The PC party still has an opportunity to make the right decision and elect someone who will unite Ontarians and work towards creating a more equal, just society representative of the diverse citizenry within it. But with an election approaching in the next six months, will there be enough time to unify this province?

It’s unclear whether or not Fedeli will remain interim leader until the June 6th election. Either way, I’m not sure the PCs have much of a chance come election day.

Woman of the Week: Marie Bountrogianni

Marie Bountrogianni is the Dean of G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University as well as a former Ontario parliamentarian. She has a wide variety of passions and a true desire to make a difference in the world, which makes her the ideal candidate for both government and academia.

Dr. Bountrogianni was a Liberal MP from 1999 to 2007, representing the riding of Hamilton-Mountain. During that time, she served as minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Democratic Renewal, Children and Youth Services, and Citizenship and Immigration. Prior to entering the public life, Bountrogianni was the chief psychologist for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. She has a doctorate in Applied Psychology from the University of Toronto and was recognized as one of the top 10 most influential alumni at the University of Waterloo. Last year, she was honoured with the Gabby Award in New York City for her contributions on behalf of refugees, minorities, and people with disabilities.

Bountrogianni reached out to Women’s Post following the Golden Globe’s and Oprah Winfrey’s inspiring speech to discuss women in politics. As an educator, she hopes to inspire young women to be more active in world affairs, and discusses why academics and leadership go hand in hand. 

Question: Do you think Oprah’s speech and presidential campaign rumour will spark an interest in politics in young women? Do you think Oprah should run?

Answer: I am hoping young women – indeed, women of all ages – will consider running. It is very important for a democracy to be truly representative of its citizenry. If Oprah’s speech inspires women to run, then she should make more speeches. As for whether or not Oprah should run, that is really up to her and the American people. The fact that, like Trump, she is a billionaire TV celebrity (similarities stop here) may actually be an obstacle for her. Will the people accept another wealthy celebrity or will they want someone more experienced in governance?

Why do you think more women don’t run for office here in Canada? What are the factors?

As a former parliamentarian I can say it is challenging for women – particularly those with young children – to run for politics, for obvious reasons. My advice to young women is this: do not think of it as a life long career. Think of it as a term of service (or two or three terms), much like a military service to your country. Do it when you can “give everything you’ve got”, then leave. You will not only have made a significant contribution to your community but the benefits of your political experience will stay with you for the rest of your life. You learn how the system works. How it REALLY works. You will be able to assist any organization you work in or volunteer at.

You have a background in psychology and education, what made you run for office?

I ran for office because at the time I was the Chief Psychologist with a large school board and was frustrated by the effects of cut-backs on children’s lives. I was also on a hospital board and was similarly upset at how the cutbacks were affecting patients. I did not hold a party two membership and was never involved in politics before I ran. I had to ask, “How do I run?” I highly recommend the experience.

Did you experience any challenges as a woman?

The challenges I experienced are faced by working mothers every day. The guilt of long hours away from home, combined with balancing work and family life, etc. I did notice that younger male politicians experienced similar challenges related to their familial responsibilities, as it was more practise common for both partners to be in the workforce.

What needs to change?

Society has to once again respect the role of the politician. It is a challenging role when done properly. Politicians need to continue to remember why they entered politics and go back to basics. It was not (or should not be) for the partisan fighting, career and games – it was to represent their constituents. Social media often makes this difficult as everyone is under “a not so always fair“ microscope. We will all be better off if we bring civility back to politics. This takes leadership, however; when a leader takes part in rogue, self-serving and pedantic tweeting, “he/she poisons the well”.

How do we compare here in Canada to the U.S.?

Canada and the U.S have very different histories and political systems. We were born out of compromise and negotiations — the U.S out of revolution. There are pros and cons in each country. I am biased, of course, but I have to say that I am proud of our “just society“. We are a serious country.

As Dean of The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, you must witness the interests and drive of many students — do you think more women will run for politics in the future?

I hope more women will run. Ironically, what is happening south of the border has attracted more interest in politics and more chatter everywhere. I do believe, like Oprah, that things are shifting – the strong (finally) response to allegations of sexual aggression is a promising step in the right direction. This may lead to women feeling more empowered to enter fields that are predominantly held by men.

Why return to education after politics?

I don’t think I ever left education entirely when I was in politics and did not entirely leave politics when I went back to education. Politics comes from the Greek word that means “citizen”. We are responsible for each other and we have an obligation to one another. Education is a tool. Political knowledge is another tool. Both are needed to affect change. I have been very lucky to have both in my toolkit.

What advice do you have to women interested in politics?

Do it. Get support from family and friends. Be prepared to exhaust yourself. But I promise you this: it will be an experience like no other. You will potentially impact the lives of thousands of your constituents and if get into cabinet, millions of citizens. It will shock you. Next to being a mother, it is the best decision I have ever made. It was truly an honour.

Don’t forget to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter to have these profiles and other goodies delivered to your inbox! 

Never have the Ontario PCs needed a woman leader like they do today!

The need for change within the Ontario PC party is hitting them hard today as news that allegations of sexual misconduct have pushed Patrick Brown to step down as leader.

Many of the party faithful are wishing they had elected Christine Elliott, who challenged Patrick Brown in the 2015 leadership race. There is no doubt the party will have a tough time in the coming election. If they elect a man, the cloud of scandal won’t dissipate quickly and voters will go to the polls questioning his propriety no matter how clean his reputation.  So, they must find a strong woman willing to lead them out of the scandal, someone willing to challenge Premier Kathleen Wynne.

It’s not a job many woman would want. Chances of actually winning the election are much lower today than they were yesterday.  But, this morning Christine Elliott is probably giving it a lot of thought. Leadership candidates who don’t win are usually pushed out of the party by leaders who don’t like to be challenged. Patrick Brown didn’t like to be challenged, and Christine Elliott was pushed out of the party.

She has to know the chances of winning the election with just five months to go with the Patrick Brown scandal hanging over them are low.

Whomever steps up will have to work hard to build their recognition and public trust.

If Christine Elliott doesn’t step up, the party will have to think outside their conservative scope to find a woman with a voice big enough and strong enough to convince female voters that she is bringing big change to the party.

As I muse over who might be a strong candidate, some are suggesting Caroline Mulroney as a possible leadership candidate. She has a pretty terrific resume – a working mother of four, she has a degree from Harvard and a law degree from New York University. And she has experience in politics. She, like Justin Trudeau, will be accused of riding on her fathers coat tails when in fact she has a very strong resume and could make a very good leader. The only issue is that she may not have enough recognition to build the public trust the PC party needs to get out of mess they are in and actually win the election.  But recognition can be earned quickly if she comes out with strong ideas that earn her support in the urban markets  – like supporting dedicated transit funding.

Today I have no doubt that Ontario PC decision makers are frantically searching for the right leader – they’ll have to find someone with enough public recognition and trust to challenge Premier Wynne.

An out of the box idea might be to look further than the tip of their shoes to someone like Jenniefer Keesmaat. She has a solid reputation in urban centres. She has experience being under fire, and she understands the importance of building strong communities. And she is a woman who would give Premier Wynne some strong competition with her core supporters.  That kind of out of the box thinking is what the PC party needs to show voters they are committed to changing the old boys club image that is haunting them today.

There is no doubt the party must find a woman leader. Whomever steps up to the challenge will be doing the Ontario PC party a huge service – I just hope the old boys recognize it.

Woman of the Week: Linda Hung

Linda Hung is a theme park enthusiast. While speaking on the phone with Women’s Post, she talked excitedly about Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando. The experience, she said, was made unique by the magical landscapes and the transitions from island to island.

And Hung knows what she is talking about. As Senior Director of Theme Parks for FORREC, it is her job to ensure theme parks and resorts are designed in a way that cultivates the best possible guest experience — and the most fun.

FORREC is an international entertainment design agency based in Toronto, responsible for designing some of the world’s most attended and admired theme parks. This includes Canada’s Wonderland, Universal Studios in Florida, and several LEGOLAND properties, among many others.

Hung was always fascinated with design and architecture. “It was the idea of being able to create something with your imagination and then believing you can transform that image into a real place,” she said. “I day dreamed a great deal when I was young. I had an interest in art, design, and drawing, coupled with technical skills in math. I fell into landscape architecture.”

After graduating from the University of Toronto with a bachelor degree in Landscape Architecture, Hung moved to Asia. Employment in Canada was scarce, and in Hong Kong she was able to get a job as a Junior Architect and Intermediate Landscape Architect, while learning more about her family history.

While she loved her work, she loved theme parks and resorts more. Ever since she was young, she visited these attractions as much as possible. When a position opened up at FORREC for a master planner, Hung jumped at the opportunity. That was 19 years ago.

“I often think of how lucky I am and stay engaged and inspired in one place all these years. I’m constantly learning from my peers and clients. Projects are so diverse, I’m never bored.”

Now, she serves as Senior Director of Theme Parks, a role that incorporates her knowledge in design and architecture with business and finance. “I’m not just trying to sell them a theme park. I understand what they need to make their project and development viable, efficient, and compelling to guests. Plus, I love the whole industry, bringing entertainment to projects. We have a unique skill set with FORREC to marry it with our projects to make it stand out.”

With so many options around the world, the theme park industry is highly competitive. Each project needs to be looked at through different lenses and must cater to the client, location, brand, culture, and story. With so many entertainment offerings out there, Hung needs to constantly think about what is going to make their parks unique. How will they capture the free time of their guests?

According to Hung, the key to a successful resort is integration, ensuring guests are entertained and occupied from when they get up in the morning to when they return to their rooms at night. At a theme park, great rides and attractions are absolutely necessary, but Hung says it is about more than that. “The park in itself is also a destination. We look for things that create a whole story or environment so that once you walk in you are entering a different world. You are escaping your world and walking into a fantasy.”

FORREC also helps design smaller, local projects such as a playground at Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto. The playground included elements of waterplay, handwork, and food, set around a chimney, which acts as a central gathering space. Hung says that working internationally is a thrill, but it is even more rewarding to work in your own backyard.

Hung also helped create Splashworks at Ontario Place, an experience she enjoyed greatly.

“I remember working on that project and bringing the master plan home and my kids were inspired by it and said we have our ideas, and this is what we would love to see in a splash park. And I implemented some of their thoughts. Years later they recognized some of those things in the waterpark. Those are the little moments that make it really special. Creating things in your mind and having it built into a physical place. You can experience it in design.”

Hung has an entrepreneurial spirit, and encourages creativity and adventure within business. “I would encourage a curious mind. If you have a new concept, whether it;s landscape architecture or entrepreneur. You shouldn’t stop there. Always think what could make it better. For women, being sensitive is a good thing. It’s what makes us keen observers, that’s what enables us to explore.”

When Hung isn’t working, she spends a lot of time volunteering. She does work with World Vision, Toronto City Mission, The Scott Mission, and Sketch Toronto.

Enjoy these profiles? Sign up for our weekly e-newsletters to have them delivered right to your inbox!

No, I will not forgive greedy Tim Hortons

On Friday, Tim Hortons released a press statement to counteract the complaints regarding the slashing of benefits and paid breaks for employees at an Ontario store owned by the children of the franchise’s founders.

The statement reads: “Let us be perfectly clear. These recent actions by a few Restaurant Owners, and the unauthorized statements made to the media by a “rogue group” claiming to speak on behalf of Tim Hortons®, do not reflect the values of our brand, the views of our company or the views of the overwhelming majority of our dedicated and hardworking Restaurant Owners. While our Restaurant Owners, like all small business owners, have found this sudden transition challenging, we are committed to helping them work through these changes. However, Tim Hortons® Team Members should never be used to further an agenda or be treated as just an ‘expense.’ This is completely unacceptable.”

Essentially, the actions of a few spoiled children have resulted in a public relations nightmare and head office decided they needed to respond — without actually offering any assistance, solutions, or guarantees.

Last week, I wrote an article about how the Tim Hortons franchise was being greedy. I said a company that made roughly $3 billion (US) in revenue last year shouldn’t be so quick to devalue their employees. I also said I would not be purchasing any more product from the franchise.

Cue the comments from people defending Tim Hortons, many of whom I would bet make more than minimum wage.

A common argument expressed on social media was that I shouldn’t boycott all Tim Hortons based on the response of one or two store owners. While it is true that not all stores have decided to react to the minimum wage increase in this manner, the franchise itself is partially to blame. Most people have expressed a willingness to pay an extra 10 cents for a cup of coffee or a donut to make up the costs lost to the owners. People are actually asking Tim Hortons to raise prices so that their employees can afford their rent.

These people are the heroes Ontario needs.

Tim Hortons, on the other hand, has not raised prices. They have not promised to absorb the cost of the minimum wage increase. Instead, they chastised store owners for having to make difficult (and wrong) decisions. They claim no responsibility, merely saying they were “saddened” to hear of the actions taken by a “reckless few.”

Cry me a river.

It’s not like businesses didn’t see this coming. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne made the announcement back in May 2017, saying the minimum wage will increase to $14 on Jan. 1, 2018. That was seven months ago. Did no one do the math? Did no one think: “maybe I should look at the books to figure out how I’m going to make this work?”

And it’s also not just Tim Hortons. Other big chains are dipping into their employees tips and laying off staff,. Sunset Grill is increasing their servers’ tip out by one per cent. This is part of a process called tip pooling, in which servers pay a portion of their day’s tips to support staff like bussers, cooks, and dishwashers. This tip out increase comes in addition to menu price increases at Sunset Grill. The Clocktower, a restaurant in Ottawa, is now removing dishwashers from the tip out, saying they make enough now that minimum wage has increased. They also increased their tip out by one per cent. Smaller businesses have cut store hours and even changed to commission-based wages rather than increase their hourly rate.

Unfortunately, this is how it will be for a while. Corporate head office will blame store owners. Store owners will blame the government. The government will call the store owners “bullies”, and then corporate head office will step in with a nicely worded press release. But, at the end of the day, who is actually left hurting? The employees caught between the madness.

It’s a few dollars per shift. If you can’t figure out the math and get creative, you don’t deserve to own a business.

So, to conclude — thank you for all the comments and remarks, but I’m going to keep boycotting greedy Tim Hortons. And if you had respect for the minimum wage workers in this province, you would do so too.

What is the deal with eco-tourism?

It’s a term being thrown around a lot within the tourism industry — eco-tourism. But, what exactly does that mean?

In the simplest terms, eco-tourism is the idea that your travel will not impact the environment. Instead, it will actually contributes to the local community.

When people travel, they tend to bring a lot of their baggage with them. And no, I’m not talking about emotional baggage or your carry-on.

Tourists tend to focus on only one thing. Sightseeing. They want to hit the most popular destinations, take perfectly filtered images for their Instagram account at the nicest restaurants, or visit franchise stores to do some shopping. These tourists take taxis, trains, and planes, and sometimes even use products with dangerous chemicals that could contaminate oceans. Don’t even get me started on the number of plastic straws used in beverages.

Most tourists create a carbon footprint that has the potential to damage a community, especially in remote locations or islands that depend on their natural beauty to attract revenue. While there isn’t much that can be done about completely eliminating this footprint, there is a way to reduce it. The answer is, obviously, eco-tourism.

According to the International Ecotourism Society, for an activity to be a part of “eco-tourism”, it has to have an educational aspect. It should promote conservation and community, while trying to adopt sustainable practices. Guides and participants must recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People There should also be some financial benefit towards these practices. 

The activities must also operate within low-impact facilities.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) describes eco-tourism as “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”

The definitions are still open to interpretation. Some agencies choose to describe any nature-related activity or tour as eco-tourism. For example, whale watching in Hawaii is described as an eco-tourist activity. However, the cruise boat itself could be impacting the ecosystem below the surface of the water. A more ecologically-friendly activity would be to kayak or canoe the waters with a guide who talks about the wildlife or the conservation techniques in place to protect the natural beauty of an area.

Tourists can take tours of plantations or farms; but they can also participate for a day, learning hands on how food grows and gets to their plate. Visit an indigenous settlement and listen to stories from the community. If you go on a nature walk, stick to trails — don’t wander into a natural environment without a guide. Remember, the purpose of eco-tourism is to learn and give back to the community.

Here are three eco-tourism activities you can do in Ontario:

  • Redwing Institute Culture and Nature Discovery Walk: Take this 3-hour journey and learn about the Indigenous people of Humber Valley. Participants will explore the river valley, participate in a traditional ceremony, sample food and music, and explore history through oral storytelling. Part of the fees go towards a skill-development program for women from the Indigenous community living in Toronto.
  • Visit a Biosphere Reserve: Wilderness Eco-Adventures offers half and full day guided excursions of the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Reserve. Climb cliffs, explore caves, and see rare wildlife. They also offer more intensive workshops where you can learn a new skill like geology or bushcraft. Looking for a challenge? Spend three nights under the stars this winter. Proceeds support the Biosphere Association’s environmental projects.
  • EcoCab through Toronto: Instead of taking a bus or renting a car, see downtown Toronto up close with a pedal-powered bicycle. Don’t worry about the physical activity as each tour guide will also be your navigator and official pedal-er). There are four routes to choose from.

Have you participated in eco-tourism? Let us know what your experience was like in the comments below!

Weather bomb brings out the Canadian wimps

I am a Canadian. I live in the North. Therefore, I should expect it to be a little cold in the winter.

That’s the theory at least.

This is what I don’t understand. Those living in Florida have a slight right to freak out at the sight of a small flurry, but those in Canada? They have no excuse! Winter is something people should be preparing for in September, especially with the impact of global warming!

The fact is, it is cold in Canada. It snows in Canada. There are storms that hit every year in Canada. And yet — no one is ever prepared for them. These storms shut down subways, cause car accidents, and down hydro lines. Politicians seem shocked when suddenly they have to deal with homeless shelters at capacity, as if this is something that has never happened before. And this is just a regular Canadian winter.

So, imagine the panic when a meteorologist says a storm called a “bomb cyclone” was about to hit the East Coast.

A bomb cyclone was a term created more for social media than anything else. The actual term for a storm like this one is cyclogenesis or bombogenisis, and refers to a low pressure cold front that falls “24 millibars in 24 hours or less”. In simple terms, it means a cyclone in which the air moves up into the atmosphere to create precipitation. Due to the cold weather, this precipitation falls in the form of snow or hail.

Millibars measures the pressure of a cyclone. The standard pressure on Earth is 1013.2 millibars, so dropping to 24 millibars would indicate an incredibly “explosive” storm; hence the term bomb cyclone.

The so-called bomb cyclone dropped about 60 cm of snow to parts of New Brunswick over a period of 24 hours. The winds were a hurricane force of 170 km/h in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.The power is out for tens of thousands of residents and certain regions are still under blizzard warnings.

While the storm did result in some crazy photographs and video on social media, there were no deaths.

This is what irks me. Storms like these, albeit a bit frightening, happen every year. Maritimers survived, just like they always do. But, the Maritimes are different from the rest of the country. When a storm hits, they stand strong. They know it is coming and they work double-time to make sure neighbours are safe and infrastructure is repaired. The rest of the country? Big wimps!

With weather reaching -30 degrees with windchill, Ontario is freaking out. Politicians and news anchors are pleading residents to stay indoors. Events are being cancelled. All because of a little cold weather.

Sure, you can argue that -30 degrees is incredibly chilly. I would agree with that statement; however, this doesn’t just happen when the temperature drops below 30. The first snowfall in Toronto is hell! It’s like everyone forgets how to drive or dress for the winter. During the first snowstorm, it took me two hours to get home. It is usually a 30 minute commute. I look out my window and see teenage girls wandering around in short dresses and heels, and then complaining about frostbite!

Can the rest of Canada pull itself together and act…well, Canadian? Winter is not going anywhere, and you can’t hibernate for the next three months!

And if you do decide to hibernate, here is a tip: Next January, it may also be a bit nippy.

5 yurts that offer idyllic winter escapes

Winter’s harsh elements may drive plenty of North Americans inside the house and under the covers. This is the season where homebodies take refuge and more travel-savvy folks might head south of the equator. But, in the snow-covered territory of the great white north lies quiet, wintery lands to be explored — and there’s perhaps no better way to go about it than by booking a yurt-style retreat. From toasty lodges in northern Ontario, to rustic cottages in the Alaskan woods, to remote cabins in a most idyllic pocket of Vermont, AirBnB’s grand selection of winter yurts is bound to appeal to travellers of all sorts. These Instagram-worthy lodgings beckon both the woman in need of a cozy weekend escape as well as the seasoned outdoor adventurer looking for a new experience in nature.

Here are five winter-yurts that will have travellers saying yes to a winter getaway:

Stowe, Vermont

Skiers and beer connoisseurs alike have reason to escape to this Stowe, Vermont dwelling. The area is famous for its multitude of powder-covered mountains and The Alchemist brewery is one of the most sought after in the United States. (don’t leave the state without sipping its infamous Heady Topper double IPA!). As for the yurt itself, it’s a rustic one with no electricity where visitors can enjoy the views of the Nebraska Valley while sipping hot chocolate by the wood stove. This is certainly the ideal spot for those in need of a tech-break.

The Buffalo Farm: Mattawa, Ontario.

This yurt looks like a scene taken straight out of Pinterest and it happens to have all the makings of a perfect wintery escape: hiking trails nearby, the sparkle of the Amable du Fond River, an animal sanctuary with horses and buffalo and a wood-burning stove for snug winter nights. Going with a large group? This two-storey accommodation in Ontario’s coveted Algonquin region can sleep 12. With the owners having more than one property, there’s no reason not to book a stay in this beautiful part of Ontario.

Bolton, Quebec

A weekend in Quebec will feel like being plopped down somewhere in the middle of Europe and yet this yurt is just an hour outside of Montreal. After a good snowfall, this lodging looks like a scene straight out of a fairytale. One thing that makes this adorable abode stand out: it’s near to Quebec’s wine route. So make sure to stock up on local wines, jams, and cheese during the stay.

Talkeetna, Alaska

This yurt is so picturesque it barely seems real. Situated in the midst of a forest in rural Alaska, this cottagey yurt is intended for the traveller with a strong set of outdoor skills who doesn’t shy away from vacationing in rustic settings. Those who stay here can expect to be wowed by views of the northern lights through the skydome. In the morning, the local coffee shop is within walking distance. Talkeetna attracts other outdoor adventurer types and visitors are most likely to bump into like-minded folks at the Talkeetna Roadhouse – a one-stop shop for a shower, satisfying breakfast, and warm, homemade pies. When staying here, strap on a pair of cross-country skis and check out the local trails to get the full experience.

Maple City, Michigan  

Experience farm life while staying on this Maple City property that’s home to pigs, ducks and goats. If contemplating a winter escape, consider that this quaint lodging is so idyllic it even has its own sugar shack for homemade maple syrup. The owners also make their own cheese (yum!). The yurt itself has everything a visitor needs – if roughing it in a yurt without running water or electricity is a no-go, this one with its modern bathroom and private bedroom will make visitors feel a little more pampered.  

Where are you heading this winter? Let us know in the comments below!