The 11 of 2011

Hello blogosphere, it sure is nice to visit again. No excuses for my sporadic care and attention to you – life is busy, passions get re-directed and ultimately, when you have spent your life writing, having another beast in the lair of your mind to feed might be one extra beast too many.

However, rest assured, though my fingers did not dance as frequently across this keyboard as before, while blogging like no one is watching,  it did not mean I was detached from the lovely, recession plagued, one per cent driven, 99 per cent wailing, Arab Spring jumping planet of ours.

What will 2012 hold? Who really knows but some things are assured: economies will remain tight, atrocities will still occur, politicians will still confound, the Toronto Maple Leafs will not win the Stanley Cup and you, the constant reader, the internet nomad, the blogging rogue, will still be out there. Happy travels and I hope you return.

For your review, by the warm glow of your tablet, smart phone, laptop or desktop, during this frigid January, is our humble submission for top stories of the year called The 11 of 2011. Better late than never….

THE DEATH OF JACK LAYTON

Who could have imagined the incredible public outpouring after the death of Jack Layton, NDP and official opposition leader, here in Canada. Gentleman Jack, as we fondly remember him, motivated and stirred passion among the Canadian voting public in the 2011 federal election. He WAS the Orange Wave that swept through Quebec and in other parts of Canada, pushing the New Democratic Party to unparalleled and likely never to repeat again heights.

The big screen at St. Andrew's for the state funeral nearby. Photo By: Vince Versace

Sitting in Toronto’s St. Andrew’s church to watch his state funeral on the big screen was a touchstone life moment. The celebration of his life in that church was an emotional rollercoaster I had never felt before for someone who was not an immediate family member or friend. From poignant audio and video clips, to rousing, almost Baptist-revival-like music and performances, Gentleman Jack’s memory was truly celebrated. He is still missed on our political landscape and for us political junkies, in our notepads and hearts too.

THE VANCOUVER STANLEY CUP RIOTS

An example of the public outcry after the 2011 Vancouver riot. Photo By: Vince Versace

Stupid is as stupid does. That best describes the neanderthals, hooligans and thugs who ripped up downtown Vancouver after their Vancouver Canucks lost in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals against the big, bad Boston Bruins. No one likes losing but someone has to in sport. However, tearing up your city on national television is no way to vent.

A common refrain after the Vancouver riot. Photo By: Vince Versace

We were on the ground in Vancouver the day after the riot as volunteers and normal citizens tried to reclaim and clean up their city. What had occurred just 24 hours before had left that community in shock. Watching and then reading the outpouring of emotion by citizens as they wrote on sheets of plywood or on homemade flags and banners, denouncing the idiots and proclaiming their civic love, was a moving sight.

FINISHED READING PARIS 1919

Every have a book you just can’t put down but at the same time, you cannot speed up to read through? Welcome to my life and the relationship I had with the book Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan. I LOVED THIS BOOK! However, before you rush out and buy it, take note, it helps to have interests in history and politics to read it. This is a dense, fact-filled book which is wonderfully researched and written.

A wonderfully researched and written book, perfect for the history-politico junkie in your life.

I learned so much, chapter to chapter, about the decisions and players that influenced and ultimately crafted the world we currently both enjoy and shake our heads about. The genesis of our mistakes, messes and some of our recent darkest hours, as a global community, can mostly be found in this book. If you do not like to read to learn, or do not enjoy history and politics, stay far away and go read another Twilight novel.

FORDVILLE  aka TORONTO

So, the mayor everyone loves to hate, in the heart of Toronto that is, is still apparently roundly loved by his suburban power base. Mayor Rob Ford rode to office with promises of eliminating the so-called “gravy train” at city hall. The head-shaking moments during his first year in office vary but one strikes us as troublesome, his war with the Toronto Star.

Mayor Ford refuses to be interviewed, let alone release his press releases and itinerary, to one of Canada’s largest dailies. He is still looking for a front page apology from the Star over a story he disagreed with. The mayor’s office is a public office paid for by the taxpayers…the same taxpayers who Mayor Ford holds dear (and I do believe his sincere care for them). They deserve to know the office they entrust to run the city is open to all…including media that the mayor may not agree with. Kudos to the Toronto Star city hall reporting team who have been doing an incredible job considering the obstacles in their way. Mayor Ford says he  respects the taxpayer, are the employees and readers of The Star taxpayers not worthy enough of his respect?

Seven other notable stories:

  • The Norway massacre in which 77 people were killed in two separate attacks orchestrated by a crazed gunman. So much youth and innocence lost to a madman.
  • NASA’s space shuttle flies its last space flight. Thank you for all the space exploration, spirit, innovation and memories on those majestic big birds.
  • Canada’s federal Conservative party secures their long elusive majority government on Parliament Hill. Like them or hate them, at least some work will get done.
  • The beating up of President Barack Obama. The American president has been besieged by his critics and wing nuts who would not survive a day in his shoes under such relentless and unfair scrutiny. He is still a good man who simply needs to lead like he can and throw some haymakers along the way.
  • The death of Osama bin Laden. For some Americans, this provided both real and symbolic closure. President Obama’s cool walk after making the announcement was priceless.
  • The 10th anniversary of 9/11. A heart wrenching day burned into most of our minds. Hard to believe 10 years have passed.
  • The “occupy” movement, from mere embryo initiative in New York to worldwide phenomena in mere months…what were its tangible results? Not sure…plenty of awareness? Possibly…that is if you were interested in listening.

Saying goodbye to the old girl: so long Pontiac

Her name was Edie and now I have moved on.

No, this is not about a long lost or unrequited love. This post is about a car, my Pontiac Grand Am in fact, the one I chewed up many a kilometre of asphalt with, just over 285,000 km when we parted ways.

If you are “the driver” in your circles and enjoy it, if you smile wide when you hear the words “roadtrip” or “take me for a drive”, you will understand about the connection between a vehicle and a driver.

Ultimately, the memories that you make, as I did during my almost 11 year “relationship” with that car are about the people, places and things experienced along the way and not the actual vehicle itself. However, having it there as the one constant did add an extra layer of sentimentality when it was time to trade it in.

Now, Edie was not a high-end sportscar or luxury sedan. She simply was a four-door SE mid-sized sedan, ocean blue, with a great heart of an engine at 3.4 litres and a V6. When I told her to go, she went and when her ride was smooth and quiet, it was as regal a chariot you could find for a GM vehicle.

Chicago, Atlantic City, Buffalo, Ottawa, Montreal, London, Windsor, Detroit, Parry Sound, Parry Island, Minden, Hunstville, Kingston, Killbear Provincial Park, Campbellford, Niagara On The Lake, Cobourg, Port Hope and on and on. The first roadtrip in it was to Montreal, fall 2001; the last was to Hill Island last month. The number of reporter assignments I drove to in it must be in the tens of thousands, from murders to raging industrial infernos, from council meetings to Junior A hockey games.

This award winning photo I snapped during Cobourg's Horizons Plastics fire unfolded just a few feet away from my Grand Am. PHOTO BY: VINCE VERSACE

Some of my favourite car memories are poignant, such as seeing a child’s safety seat as a permanent fixture in the backseat for the first time, hearing a five year old giggle and squeal about “we’re having a picnic in the car” while on Lake On The Mountain as rain poured down outside, roadtripping to Chicago in the dead of winter to see The Cult, listening to post 9-11 car radio broadcasts days after buying it, photo roadtrips just because, knowing I was safe when I got to it after covering the G20 Toronto riot insanity, moving to Cobourg in it and the new friendships forged there, parking on the Cobourg pier as waves crashed against it, late night backroad rides in Northumberland, starry skies overhead and hilly, winding roads just beyond the headlights and on and on.

The last few years were far less poignant and frankly a pain including getting towed three times last year alone. In the end, way more repairs than the car was worth resulted.

If she could talk, what would Edie say? Likely they’d be tales that could make a sailor blush, leave a lump in your throat or have you in stitches shaking your head.

I’m not sad to see the old girl go; she was just a car…

If you’re a “driver” you just may understand.

Toronto – did you vote?…and why I did.

I could not wait to get home.

For political junkies most elections, from federal to municipal, are like your personal Stanley Cup final or Super Bowl Sunday. Voting in the election itself ensures you are player and not just sitting in the cheap seats.

Blame my parents for creating the political junkie I am and I am ever thankful they did. The best thing they ever did when I was young was dragging me out to the voting stations in downtown Toronto when election time came around.

All the colourful election signs would catch my eye; the smiling faces, the catchy slogans and then watching the results come in via television was the topper event for me. As I would wait in the gymnasium or church basement, watching Torontonians of various colours and creeds cuing up to get their voter cards are memories I still hold dear- I remember thinking I could not wait to get the chance and do it myself.

Fast-forward to now, a 15-year journalism career in my backpocket- most of it willingly and excitedly centred on politics, and the excitement is still there on election night. Whether I was in Toronto, covering the megacity elections or in Cobourg, in its beautiful Victoria Hall, my writing hand in a splint covering the results, politics, especially municipal ones, is my intellectual drug.

Who will win tonight in Toronto’s mayoral race? Will it be Furious George (Smitherman), Raging Rob (Ford) or Joey Pants (Pantalone)?

The two frontrunners of Smitherman and Ford are an interesting pair from a lacklustre slate of candidates to choose from…John Tory how I miss you right about now. Which of these two has the better vision for Toronto? Which one can represent this city and start its rebuilding before it completely crumbles? Which of these two has the political acumen, the chops basically, to work Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill for the help and funding Toronto needs to ascend to greatness it has an ever-limp grasp on?

Unfortunately, the longshot third place runner Pantalone could be the kingmaker. His left leaning NDP background is so admirably engrained that he could not support the Liberal-minded Smitherman or Conservative-leaning Ford. If he had put his weight Smitherman, the former deputy premier of Ontario would surely have won. Without pulling out of the race, he has given Ford the chance to become mayor.

After voting tonight I watched people coming and going from the voting station. Young and old, the disabled, the blind and once again, that wonderful colour of ethnicity which makes Toronto so wonderful, flowed to-and-fro…then, a few parents with their kids in a tow, yet again, hopefully, some new political junkies and aficionados are born.

G20 Notebook: A final entry

Riot. Bomb scare. Policy making. Debates. All you can eat buffets. A fake lake. World Cup drama. Writing up a storm. Seeing a side of one’s home they’ve never seen before. Welcome and farewell  to my first G20 all in 48 hours.

This final G20 Notebook entry is a bit late but sometimes a writer hits the wall, runs on fumes and the crash is sometimes worse than the fall itself.

Kudos to G20 riot cops who could've kicked butt and taken names later at anytime as they were subjected to uncalled for abuse while doing their jobs. PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

BOBCAYGEON &  G20 VIOLENCE: Isn’t it funny that the acts of marauding wannabe anarchists end up overshadowing legitimate, credible protest on issues which were G20 related?

The fact you live in a democratic state, not a police state, allowed you the platform to be losers and unfortunately, hundreds of misguided, naive, rhetoric-filled protestors defend you, the same people who truly did abuse THEIR RIGHTS to free protest and dissent.

Riot cops watch the University Avenue march. PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

Our cops are tops. The professionalism and poise by the ones I saw and engaged with was beyond reproach for my eight hour experience, just mere feet and sometimes inches away from me. As I said, the only cop action I can judge is what I saw right infront of me.

As I avoided and engaged in arguments with protestors. Avoided stampedes and debris thrown by protestors and was sometimes trapped by riot cops… one line from a favourite Tragically Hip song, called Bobcaygeon, echoed in my mind, “In the middle of that riot, I couldn’t get you off my mind.”

Jack Layton and his Fake Lake photo op. CELLPHONE PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

FAKE LAKE SHORE SIGHTS: Above you will see a photo of NDP leader Jack Layton near the $57,000 G20 media centre “fake lake”. Remember the evidence of this Jack photo-op if ever he complains about the lake, it sure didn’t seem to bother him that afternoon.

Along the fake lake shore, on World Cup Sunday, the potential for World War Three was set. England vs. Germany were playing and scribes from both nations filled the lake and coffee bar area of the media centre.

Brit fans catch the game seated on the fake lake deck. CELLPHONE PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

Each goal and near miss produced cheers and groans which echoed throughout the centre. Needless to say, G20 coverage for both of those nations suffered a tad that morning. When England got robbed by a missed call on a legitimate goal they scored, we all got worried. Thankfully, all Austrian reporters avoided the game viewing area.

Chilling by the $57,000 fake lake. A great respite from the writing grind. CELLPHONE PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA CENTRE RANDOMNESS:

The hub of the media centre. CELLPHONE PHOTO BY: Vince Versace

The hum and noise you get when you have almost 400 journalists typing away on their laptops or conducting interviews in various languages, all in one large space, creates a unique experience. However, make all these journalists evacuate early in the morning, before they have had their first coffee, thanks to a bomb scare and the true danger is not the bomb, that I can assure you.

He's thinking about the perfect lede... CELLPHONE PHOTO BY: Vince Versace


G20 Notebook: Saturday, June 26 (My Toronto)

Dispirited.

Disappointed.

I love this city.

Toronto is my hometown and notice I use the term “hometown” not city. I have travelled extensively and seen some of the best global cities this world has to offer but “Muddy York”, “Toronto the Good”, the “T-dot”, will always be my favourite and always will be my home, whether I live here or not.

Whenever I fly into Pearson and see the 401 or downtown below me I always quietly say “hello home”.

After a day of watching, hearing and feeling the mayhem which erupted on my hometown’s streets I’m left angered, hurt and spent.  Thanks to today’s G20 summit there was a peaceful protest delivered and riot cops armed to the teeth proudly being professional. Two very opposite images but two very vibrant examples of what makes Toronto so awesome.

However, the hooligans, thugs, wannabe anarchists and cowards who defaced, defiled and sullied my hometown, My Toronto, can simply go to hell. This city is better than you will ever be. You speak nor stand for any legitimate issue or argument against the G20. What you unleashed today on Toronto’s streets was not anarchy but terrorism.

Cop cars set ablaze. Storefronts greedily smashed. The cowards change from their black garbs hoping to return again. This city is not yours to take nor disrupt. Police forces will not allow it, nor will Toronto citizens.

I was a few feet away from some protestor versus police head-to-head meetings and let me tell you, the poise, professionalism and patience of the summit’s security detail are to be commended.

The vulgarities thrown at these officers, let alone the trash and some were even spat on, simply astounded me. “Is this happening?”  I kept thinking every time I saw such actions.

Random acts of violence thinly veiled behind legitimate demonstration slogans and epithets. I am sure a majority of these pick-axe wielding, rock throwing imbeciles would not know what the G20 was …or could even list three of the con or pro issues about it, even if they fell on their heads.

Today my hometown changed. Today you debased a great city. However, as I wind this blog post down, with heavy eyes and heart, I find comfort in the views and thoughts of fellow Torontonians, both journalists and citizenry, who were as appalled and disheartened as I was.

This city is not yours to take because it is greater than you can carry.

This city is not for you because though it is good, the likes of you have no place in it.

This is my hometown, from the riot cop to the peaceful protestor who calls it home.

Toronto…United…Will Never Be Defeated.

Sisterhood on Wheels – The GTA Rollergirls part two

Here is the second part of On Deadline’s look at GTA Rollergirls. Last year we took in some GTA Rollergirls roller derby action and came away very impressed. The action was fast and hard but the personalities which make the league and competition possible is what compelled us to take an even closer look.

Photographer extraordinaire Mike Pochwat captured the action wonderfully with his lens of this grassroots roller community, hopefully our words will entertain you as well.

If you would like to see or meet members of the GTA Rollergirls family, catch them on April 4th in the Beaches Easter Parade or check out Come Get Down-N-Derby on April 8 at the El Mocambo.

Here is the final part of our look at the GTA Rollergirls.

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‘I get to leave that ‘good girl academic’ I am in the day behind and…with derby…let go on quad skates in the evening.’

A new Debutante this past season is Liz “Canadian Psycho” McFarland, a PHD student in architectural history from Cornell University. She chose to finally suit up for a derby squad, after watching a friend’s squad in Ithaca, New York.

“I lived in quad skates as a kid but had not worn them in 20 years. It has been a bit of change but tonnes of fun,” says McFarland. “The speed and contact of the sport is actually quite humbling, even coming from an inline speed skating background. The track is so small and tight and the speed is really deceiving when you watch it from the stands.”

A pleasant discovery for McFarland as she practiced leading up to her first taste of match action this summer was the escape and camaraderie the sport provides.

“I get to leave that ‘good girl academic’ I am in the day behind and have the chance with derby to let go on quad skates in the evening,” explains McFarland with a smile. “The girls have really been great and supportive, we are like a big family. Also, it is a great way to alleviate writer’s block.”

GTA Rollergirls was formed in spring of 2007 and is a separate entity from the Toronto Roller Derby league that has six resident Toronto teams. GTA Rollergirls and its current sole representative, the Derby Debutantes, instead face off against select teams from across Ontario who skate and crash about in their own home independent leagues. The Debutantes season consists of home and away matches against squads like the Thames Fatales (London), Slaughter Daughters (Ottawa), Capital Carnage (Ottawa) and TCRG Thunder (Kitchener-Waterloo).

The Derby Debutantes clash against Ottawa's Capital Punishment at Ted Reeve Arena last summer.
“There are plenty of community based leagues and that is who we really want to play,” explains Kirk Narayansingh, Debutantes coach. “We think this is great exposure for the sport and is appealing for fans. It is nice to have visiting teams coming into town and fans can see something different every weekend.”

Narayansingh, also known as the Marquis de Slammer, is an optometrist and his wife, Brooks, drive the organization and outreach for GTA Rollergirls. The league proudly boasts its transparent practices of full disclosure of expenses to its entire member players and sharing the load of those expenses across the board.

“We have monthly fees which are assessed on the operating costs for that month, in summer it’s a bit more and little less in winter,” he notes. “About 95 per cent of our costs are based on building rentals and costs.”

A primary goal over the next 12 months for the league is to secure a venue where they can practice and play in the winter as well. Ted Reeve Arena has been a great venue to roll in but like most arenas in a hockey mad nation, by the end of the summer, ice goes in for hockey. Beyond that, it is steady as she goes around the flat track for the GTA Rollergirls.

“We are on the cusp of growing bigger but we have seen a lot of explosions and implosions when it comes to roller leagues,” says Narayansingh. “Some leagues grow quickly to four teams and the next thing you know the whole thing collapses, usually over control issues. You want to do it in a way that hopefully your players and you all see the same big picture.”

The Derby Debs banner flies high.

Sisterhood on Wheels – The GTA Rollergirls part one

On Deadline had the pleasure last year to take in some GTA Rollergirls roller derby action and we came away very impressed. The action was fast and hard but the personalities which make the league and competition possible is what compelled us to take an even closer look.

Photographer extraordinaire Mike Pochwat captured the action wonderfully with his lens of this grassroots roller community, hopefully our words will entertain you as well.

If you’d like to see, meet or hang out with the GTA Rollergirls, catch them on April 4th in the Beaches Easter Parade or check out Come Get Down-N-Derby on April 8 at the El Mocambo.

The following is the first of two parts looking at the GTA Rollergirls.

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Über-amazons need not apply.

When a diverse collection of Toronto area women get together at Ted Reeve Arena to don their roller derby gear they not only find themselves in a sport often misunderstood, they are rolling in a sisterhood on wheels.

“This is about real women, the women you work and deal with daily,” explains Cindy “Splat Benatar” Brooks, captain of the Derby Debutantes. “We are derby family and a real tight unit.”

Brooks’ team is the founding squad in the GTA Rollergirls, a not-for-profit roller derby league created to push a grassroots movement to popularize the sport beyond its stereotypical expectations of glam, sex and violence. She wears her derby colours with pride and always laughs at the reaction she gets from people who find out she is roller derby player.

“People’s eyes always get big and are surprised,” she says. “They tend to not realize derby still exists and what they do know is from the old theatrical derby of the 1970s.”

A Derby Debutante gets some last minute family time before rolling out.

The only things more colourful than the Debutantes bright pink jerseys and colourfully decorated quad (roller) skates and helmets are the names they assume on the flat track such as Daisy Dukes-it-out, Maykilla the Hun, Cherry Blight and Getcha Kicks. Away from the rink, team members are not in careers where the skill set to keep your balance and knock someone on their backside, while going in circles, is necessarily required.

These roller derby warriors by night are office clerks, teachers, writers, developers, students, nurses and mothers by day and range in age from 18 to 42.Their athletic history is as varied as the careers they leave behind before entering the change room. Some were high schools athletes, others weekend warriors, while others never excelled at sports or felt accepted in organized sports. However, in roller derby, they say they have found a new home, confidence and acceptance like never before.

“This is about helping grow the sport and each other as team mates and women.”

Brooks stresses that GTA Rollergirls is about setting personal and league paths forward together, one match, bootie block and crossover step at a time. Olga Royale, says the Debutantes and the teams they collide with believe in the sport being “for the skaters by the skaters.”

“This is not about necessarily about sport but ‘our sport’ and we want to build this our way,” says Royale. “When players come on board, they discuss fitness goals, personal goals and what they hope to achieve and see as they train and practice. This is about helping grow the sport and each other as team mates and women.”

(Part two of Sisterhood on Wheels runs this Friday, April 2.)