From Vegas to Zombies to Simon Brault to Arts and Culture in Guelph


What did you choose to listen to, see or read as a preteen and a teenager?

That’s a question posed by Simon Brault, CEO of Canada’s national theatre school, in his 2009 book No Culture, No Future.

Introduce arts and culture early to kids, and you might help youngsters not only to widen their palate as kids but also to keep on broadening their tastes for the rest of their lives.

I read Brault’s book recently. I also found my own reading horizons expanding through a chance encounter with New York writer Colson Whitehead — first through a magazine article about Las Vegas, then through his zombie novel Zone One.

Never been to Vegas myself. Never been much for zombies — in film, TV or books. But interesting what happens when you’re treated to unaccustomed topics through a new and engaging authorial voice.

I riffed on early and not-so-early cultural influences, along with an interview with Marie Zimmerman, ED of this past weekend’s Hillside Inside festival in Guelph, Ontario, in my column last week in the Guelph Mercury here:

Hand-Drawn Map-Making Business Stems From Childhood Explorations

Remember exploring your neighbourhood as a kid? Finding all of the hidden and even forbidden places?

As kids, we create mental maps of our immediate Terra Incognita. My own childhood map included the wild ravine behind the apartment building, the stream we weren’t supposed to play in and the shack belonging to the old man whom we kids feared and pestered.

Jeremy Shute grew up in Guelph, Ontario, mapping his own world. But he went a step further. He and his childhood buddies drew actual maps of their neighbourhood, even popping into culverts to trace buried streams.

Now grown up, he still follows that pursuit through a side business creating hand-drawn maps of downtown districts and Guelph’s buried and forgotten streams. Read his story in my Guelph Mercury column today here:

Have you ever drawn a map of your childhood neighbourhood? During a creative writing class last year, we did just that, looking for the landmarks of growing up and the stories in and around them. What does your map of childhood look like — and what are its stories?

Sound, Music and a City Listening Tour Topics of CFRU Radio Show

Sue Smith, David Knight and Gary Diggins with Sue's homemade "bell tree" at CFRU radio station in Guelph, Ontario.

Sue Smith, David Knight and Gary Diggins with Sue’s homemade “bell tree” at CFRU radio station in Guelph, Ontario.

Did you know that the song of a blue whale swimming off Canada’s eastern coast can be heard all the way down in the Caribbean? The catch: You’d have to be another blue whale or at least the correctly tuned listening device to pick up the long-wave message.

“Sonic” is the theme of my radio show this week on CFRU 93.3 FM in Guelph, Ontario.

Singer-songwriter Sue Smith, music therapist Gary Diggins and David Knight, an archeoacoustician, joined me live in the studio to talk about sound, listening and music.

Whale music, too — including that bit of blue whale trivia from Sue, a fan of all things cetacean. We played Into the Dark, her track on a new recording called Towards a Little Light from Guelph’s Ondine Chorus due out this spring.

David Knight sang a sixth-century Ravennate chant recorded using the acoustic parameters of the Basilica of San Vitale — effectively the first public airing of this piece in centuries.

Gary Diggins talked about the benefits of sonic therapy for clients and about his new book to be self-published this year called All Ears: Listening as a Mindful Practice.

They also talked about the idea of a city listening tour. Close your eyes, walk around your town or city, and listen for the signature sounds of where you live. What does your city sound like?

Have a listen here:

53 Musical Bits. 52 Weeks in a Year. A Minimalist Concert Fit for New Year’s Day

In C, a musical work written by California composer Terry Riley, is considered among the forerunners of the musical minimalist movement of the 1960s and ’70s.

On New Year’s Day afternoon, an eclectic ensemble — when did you last hear an orchestra including cello, ukulele, synthesizer, glockenspiel and hurdy-gurdy — gathered at an alternative music venue in Guelph, Ontario, to play this intriguing piece.

Read the result in this week’s Guelph Mercury column here:

First Came the Baby Girl, Then the Teapot

 The new baby wasn’t due until after Christmas.

Mid-February 1964. That’s when Lois Etherington Betteridge expected to give birth to her second child.

That’s also when the Canadian silversmith was due to complete a commissioned teapot for a client couple in England.

The teapot was delivered on time. The baby had other ideas.

Read about an early Christmas gift delivered 50 years ago this month — and how the commissioned teapot travelled full circle more or less back to its maker — here:

For an earlier article about Lois Betteridge, including a photo of her travelling teapot that followed her from England to Guelph almost 50 years later, click here: Fox- Betteridge

Claude Lorrain Prints on Display at Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in Guelph, Ontario

Claude Lorrain, Le Départ pour les champs [Departure for the Fields], circa 1638-41 (etching on laid paper, state 3C, 12.6 cm x 17.8 cm)
Claude Lorrain, Le Départ pour les champs [Departure for the Fields], circa 1638-41 (etching on laid paper, state 3C, 12.6 cm x 17.8 cm) Purchased with funds donated by Andrew and Helen Brink in memory of R. Alexander Brink and Edith Margaret Whitelaw Brink, and with support from the Florence G. Partridge Fund, 2007 Macdonald Stewart Art Centre Collection

A collection of 50 Claude Lorrain prints will be on display at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in Guelph, Ontario, early in 2014. The works by the 17th-century French artist are part of a collection of 1,000 European prints collected by Andrew and Helen Brink and donated to the art centre.

Claude Lorrain, Mercure et Argus [Mercury and Argus], 1662 (etching on laid paper, state 3, 14.9 cm x 21.6 cm) (Published by G. Schulze, London, 1816)  Gift of Andrew and Helen Brink in memory of R. Alexander Brink and Edith Margaret Whitelaw Brink, 2012  University of Guelph Collection at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre

Claude Lorrain, Mercure et Argus [Mercury and Argus], 1662 (etching on laid paper, state 3, 14.9 cm x 21.6 cm) (Published by G. Schulze, London, 1816) Gift of Andrew and Helen Brink in memory of R. Alexander Brink and Edith Margaret Whitelaw Brink, 2012 University of Guelph Collection at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre

To read more about the Brink collection and the current Lorrain exhibit, click here:

Dark Knight of a Modern-Day Gotham City Re-issues John Galt’s Novel The Omen

Gotham City in Guelph, Ontario? David J. Knight, editor of a re-issue of John Galt's The Omen, sees Batman's hood -- and part of Guelph's Gothic-Dantesque soul -- in the Petrie Building facade downtown.

Gotham City in Guelph, Ontario? David J. Knight, editor of a re-issue of John Galt’s The Omen, sees Batman’s hood — and part of Guelph’s Gothic-Dantesque soul — in the Petrie Building facade downtown.

How do you describe the soul of your town? “Gothic” is how David J. Knight views the soul of his hometown Guelph, Ontario.

Last night David spoke during an event held to re-release The Omen, an 1825 novel by Scottish writer and Guelph founder John Galt.

A decent-sized and varied crowd came to Silence for the launch. The downtown arts venue is home to Publication Studio Guelph, a books-on-demand venture that has published The Omen as well as Sound Guelph, Knight’s earlier history of alternative music in this city.

Knight talked about Guelph’s roots not just in Gothicism but maybe in Dante as well. For more on a city’s Dantesque-Gothic soul, read my Guelph  Mercury column from this week, here:

The event also featured a dramatic reading from The Omen by local schlock-meister The Great Orbax and hurdy-gurdy music by Ben Grossman, owner of Silence.

Not quite Notre Dame but Church of Our Lady in downtown Guelph evokes something old-worldly on a grey early December morning.

Not quite Notre Dame but Church of Our Lady in downtown Guelph evokes something old-worldly on a grey early December morning.

Genius Loci: Sense of Place Draws My Footsteps and a Murdoch Mysteries Film Crew

Genius loci. That’s what the ancient Romans called it. Spirit of place.

I call it centre of gravity. The tug that pulls you back again and again to the same place. Like a moon linked to a planet, you feel yourself drawn into orbit around the same location.

Douglas Street here in Guelph, Ontario. Red Brick Cafe, marked near top of the RBC napkin sketch above. This morning I walked down from the Second Storey, lower right.

Had taken the same  route yesterday on my way to work. Normally I take the Heffernan Street bridge across the Speed River, then duck down Douglas past the Red Brick. Yesterday I was diverted by a crew spending the entire day filming part of a Murdoch Mysteries episode on the street.

Filming Murdoch Mysteries on Douglas Street in Guelph, Ontario

Filming Murdoch Mysteries on Douglas Street in Guelph, Ontario

Steaming horses in early morning air. Victorian skirts skimming the pavement of Douglas Street. Horse carts, bowler hats. Had genius loci brought the crew here to this stretch of limestone and red brick — the same tug that pulls me here?

Maurice and Nate know what I mean. Ran into them at one end of the Heffernan Street bridge as I headed across to the cafe this morning. They were just returning. They’re landscape architects here at the University of Guelph.There they are in the sketch above.

“Genius loci,” said Nate. Landscape architects still use that ancient Roman label to capture that sense of place. We talked about urban maps, the spaces and places you encounter on your travels, who you meet, where you end up.

Everyone follows their own map, inscribed somewhere in their head or heart. The maps differ for each of us. Sometimes they intersect, maybe where gravity pulls two or more moons close to the planet for a time.

What do others’ napkin sketches look like? What would you draw on a napkin to illustrate what draws you to a place, time and again?

From Blood: The Stuff of Life to Hue: A Matter of Colour

If only we could keep our blood in our bodies where it belongs. But the stuff insists on getting out, through accident, design or metaphor.

Lawrence Hill’s new book, Blood: The Stuff of Life, is a cry for common sense over beliefs and prejudices. We cannot live without our blood. But this life-giving substance has also been used to divide us, to spawn ethnic and racial hatred, and to justify all kinds of crimes and atrocities.

Hill’s book, published by House of Anansi Press, comprises the 2013 Massey Lectures aired on CBC Radio’s Ideas series.

His earlier books include the novels The Book of Negroes and Any Known Blood, and the memoir Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada.

In this volume, Hill follows what he calls a lifelong obsession with blood into numerous fields. He write about how our notions of blood have evolved and how blood is tied up with truth and honour.

Yes, Lance Armstrong and crew appear in this discussion. No mountain in the Tour de France was too high for Armstrong and his teammates to cheat their way over. Hill writes about one day in 2004 when the crew’s bus driver feigned engine trouble in order to give the riders time to remain inside and undergo blood transfusions.

Hill also writes in this chapter about stem cell research, tainted blood scandals and blood donation policies.

“Blood, to us,” he writes, “is sacred.”

It’s also the perfect metaphor for identity and belonging — so muuch so that we buy into the metaphor completely.

Hill relates a volunteer trip to Niger at age 22 with several Quebec volunteers. For him, the journey was a voyage back to roots and his father’s  ancestral slave forebears. Back to an African identity for a boy who had grown up in a mixed-race family in a white suburb of Toronto.

He wound up in hospital in Niamey with gastroenteritis. He needed blood transfusions. He also needed those travelling companions, who ended up sleeping on the floor of his hospital room and basically keeping him alive.

Everything changed in Hill’s body and mind during that hospital stay. Staring at those blood bags — and thinking about where that blood might have come from — gave him a different view of blood, in all of its shades.

“If the donor had been a black man or woman, did the transfusion make me more African? Of course not. My blood had been boosted and changed, but I was the same person. Its real impact, in terms of my body and soul, was an entirely private matter. Race has nothing to do with one’s true blood, or skin colour, and everything to do with perception — self-perception and the perceptions of others.”

That’s the theme that sustains Hill’s ramble through blood matters for the rest of the book. He covers a lot of ground, from adoption, citizenship and discrimination (his mother, Donna Hill, argued against federal immigration policy in the early 1950s while working for the Toronto Labour Committee for Human Rights) to First Nations.

One chapter discusses our fascination for bloodshed in fairy tales and Twilight tales, the French Revolution, sports and sacrifices. He ends by discussing bllood screts, from Thomas Jefferson’s slave mistress, Sally Hemings, to Holocaust survivors to long-lost ancestors.

He draws on plenty of Canadian examples. He writes in a lucid, conversational voice that I also heard in person here in Guelph two weeks ago when Hill spoke during the Massey Lectures.

Also here in Guelph this past weekend, I caught a tie-in to Blood. The local film festival included a screening of Hue: A Matter of Choice by Canadian filmmaker Vic Sarin.

He took us around the world to look at colourism, a form of discrimination within ethnic groups based on skin colour.

We met a skin-whitening mogul in the Philippines who launched her business mostly as a backlash against childhood trauma over having been called dark. Ethical questions? Her daughters are now part of the business.

Sarin also took us to a compound housing albino children in Tanzania, who must be protected from threats of mutilation and murder by witch doctors using their body parts for “healing” rituals.

From blood to skin, plenty of paradoxes and questions about what’s barely beneath the surface.