TRENT Magazine Feature: Maryam Monsef and the Politics of the Personal

mmonsef cover The following article first appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of TRENT Magazine. For the full edition, plus an archive of previous editions, visit the magazine website.  As well, we hope you enjoy our bonus audio content from TRENT Magazine managing editor Donald Fraser’s interview with Ms. Monsef. The conversation is refreshingly candid and captures personal glimpses of public life, experiences unique to members of the Privy Council, and some of the foundational moments that led to Monsef’s current role in Parliament.

Since the federal election of October 19, 2015, there have been countless stories written that portray Maryam Monsef as a young woman who, during childhood, fled Afghanistan with her widowed mother and two sisters.

This isn’t one of them.

Instead, it is a story about a driven individual who has made the giant leap from fledgling local community leader to one of the most important politicians in Canada, the often bewildering pace at which life has changed for her, and the personal challenge of moving from behind the spotlight to directly in front of it.

It is also a glimpse ahead at the potentially nation-altering task she has in front of her.

This story actually begins a year or so before the federal election, on August 27, 2014, when Monsef was greeted on the steps of Peterborough City Hall by a crowd of enthusiastic supporters.

Her announcement to run for mayor shook the municipal political landscape.

Many in the community, frustrated by what they saw as out-of-touch leadership on council, viewed Monsef as a uniquely-stationed figure to rally around. Young, female, a new Canadian, she was seen as the antithesis to the perceived “old guard.” Not only that, she was the representative of choice for progressive lobbyists and activists—particularly the “No Parkway” side of a transportation debate that garnered both daily headlines and heated rhetoric.

“I have come to see that now is the time for me to run,” she announced. “The issues that I care about affect the whole city, every ward. These issues are at risk of not being properly examined and discussed in this election.”

Maryam Monsef  announces that she is running for mayor in front of City Hall on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 to a crowd of roughly 50 people who cheered after she announced she had filed her papers to run for mayor. Monsef, who turns 30 in November, is the youngest candidate to run in the Oct. 27 municipal election. Clifford Skarstedt/Peterborough Examiner/QMI Agency

Maryam Monsef announces her mayoral bid in front of City Hall.  Clifford Skarstedt/Peterborough Examiner/QMI Agency.

And with much of the City rallying behind her, she ran a campaign that seriously challenged the status quo.

Political experts will tell you that there is such thing as a successful losing campaign, and Monsef’s narrow defeat—by a mere 1,331 of over 21,000 votes cast—brought thousands of disenfranchised individuals back into the political process and paved the way for future personal political success.

Which came rapidly.

Six months later, Monsef barnstormed the Peterborough Liberal nomination process. Buoyed by an influx of recruited new party members, she rode the “Anyone But Harper” wave to become representative for Peterborough/Kawartha. Throughout the process, she gained the support of many of the local party faithful.

Again, it was a case of engaging those who were frustrated and alienated by the political process of recent years. And again, the decision was close, with Monsef winning by a mere 20 of over 1,500 cast votes.

She took the opportunity to engage all local Liberal members.

“For those who did not cast a ballot for me today, my job from here on will be to earn your trust and support,” she promised.

The rest, of course, is history. Monsef delivered on her promise, constantly building momentum throughout the longest electoral race in Canadian history, and taking the riding with a comfortable 44% of the vote.

All in all, it was a pretty impressive 14 months—and a journey that took an incredible amount of energy and dedication.

“It was a whirlwind to say the least,” she recalls. “The past year has been filled with many challenges, many obstacles—I called them mountains to climb—and I’m really proud of my accomplishments.”

Which is a rare admission from the young minister, who is a staunch deflector of praise and quick to turn compliments towards others—in particular, towards how proud she is of her community for embracing political change.

It is only when pushed that she offers more in the way of explanation.

“I’m an introvert,” Monsef confesses. “So more than anything, as the days go by—whether I’m at the grocery store or at the restaurant with my family, or walking the streets of Peterborough or Ottawa, or even online—the kind remarks, the support, the encouragement are all truly humbling. I’m humbled more than anything else.“

swearing in

The Swearing-In Ceremony of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet on November 4, 2015. Photo courtesy of Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall. © Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Canada represented by the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General, 2016.

Much of this humility is built into her personality. Those close to Monsef will tell you that what you see is what you get. She’s true to herself and to those around her. But much of this humility also stems from the responsibility inherited with her new position of privilege.

“I know that I’m not just representing Peterborough/Kawartha,” she explains. “I know that there’s an opportunity to make inroads for other women, for young women, immigrants, other muslims, and people who, in general, don’t see themselves as reflected within the democratic process. I take that responsibility very seriously.”

Indeed, it is this seriousness—this earnestness—that most likely led to her cabinet appointment.

For Monsef is a careful and poised public speaker; one who chooses her words as if they were precious stones—cognizant of their worth, knowing they are too valuable to be tossed about. Which is very much the truth when tasked with such politically sensitive portfolio.

Not that she’s had much time to reflect on this appointment, or even the steps that brought her to power.

“The election happened on October 19th. Around 10:30 pm we knew what the results were. At 7:00 am the next day I was working. I was on the job. I had a total of six days where I wasn’t working. During that time I did have an opportunity to process some of this. I think hitting the ground running means you don’t have much time to linger over what just happened. I’m aware of the magnitude of this change that Canadians brought about, both in the country and the riding.”

And then, before she knew it, she was in Ottawa, preparing to be publically named to a cabinet position that she honestly didn’t see coming.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Monsef confesses. “I just worked really hard to be the representative for Peterborough Kawartha and wasn’t expecting it.”

Ms. Monsef and The Honourable Jeff Leal ’74, minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and MPP of Peterbrough, at the Trent University’s Institute for Environmental Studies launch. Samantha Moss/Mossworks Photography.

Ms. Monsef and The Honourable Jeff Leal ’74, minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and MPP of Peterbrough, at the Trent University’s Institute for Environmental Studies launch. Samantha Moss/Mossworks Photography.

But appointed she was. And like anyone else would, she drank in the Trudeaumania experience and the celebratory air that surrounded Parliament Hill. The difference, however, is that Monsef was not merely witnessing the events unfolding; she was a part of them.

“That morning we all met at a hotel. It was the first time that it was being revealed to us who else would be joining the prime minister’s cabinet. We got onto two separate buses and had an opportunity on the way to Rideau Hall to get to know one another a bit more, and find out who was doing what—and who was responsible for what portfolio. We got there, met with the prime minister and his wife, had a chance for everyone to congregate and reflect on what was happening. And then we walked that walk.”

Monsef was thrilled to witness the buzz that this new government was creating, both on traditional and social media. But none of that could compare for witnessing the excitement firsthand.

“One of the most special moments of my life was that walk and seeing Canadians of all ages, of all backgrounds, that had travelled far and not so far to be there, to be part of that special moment. Just to see them lined up and be excited about their government. And appreciating the opportunity to be part of that moment, knowing that this is a moment in our modern history where we’re hitting the reset button and choosing the kind of government and the kind of country that we want to build.”

The party, however, was short-lived, and Monsef began work in earnest.

While the portfolio of Democratic Institutions has several mandates—all of which were integral to the Liberal electoral platform—two jump out as having massive impact on the shape of future Canadian governments: bringing forward a proposal to create a new, non-partisan, merit-based process to advise the prime minister on Senate appointments; and the establishment of a special parliamentary committee to consult on electoral reform, including an alternative to the “first past the post” electoral process.

“Ultimately,” she says. “I see my role within this portfolio as strengthening Canadians’ trust and appreciation for the democratic institutions that we are so fortunate to have.”

While Monsef recognizes the dedication that senators have long put into their roles, she also recognizes the importance of change.

“For generations, senators have worked hard to serve Canadians,” she notes. “But in the recent past, Canadian confidence in that institution has been hampered. And it has been hampered by that perception of partisanship.”

In January, she announced the creation of what the Liberals promise is an independent and non-partisan body to provide merit-based recommendations on Senate nominations. She calls it more “inclusive” and promises that it will change the “tone and culture of Senate.”

As for electoral reform, she says they are in “the process of designing the process.” And that it will take awhile.

“You know me,” she points out. “The grassroots initiatives that I’ve been a part of, the community-building work that I’ve done, has taught me that the process is just as important as the outcome… For me it is very important to include the voices of those individuals whose voices have not been heard in the past. People who are cynical about the way that our democracy and elections work. My goal is to go out of my way to include them.”

For Monsef, this notion of inclusivity started at Trent University.

Michael Cullen takes Monsef's photo for the cover of TRENT Magazine.

Michael Cullen takes Monsef’s photo for the cover of TRENT Magazine.

“It was a Trent that I learned that I really could make a difference,” she says. “That with these hands, and with the knowledge that you have and gain, working with stakeholders that have the same interest, you can move quite a bit forward. It was at Trent that I learned that, if you surround yourself with the right people—and if you are doing things for the right reasons—then you can change the conversation. You can change really difficult conversations, like those around mental health and the attitudes towards mental health” (Monsef was president of Active Minds, a Trent student initiative that works to remove the stigma surrounding mental health). “I also learned the connection between evidence-based decision making and social justice.”

In fact, much of what she knows about Trent’s history is echoed in her current mandate as Minister of Democratic Institutions and the personal philosophy she brings to her portfolio.

“At a higher level this is an institution that was built by the people. It was a collaborative process by the private and public sector and the citizens of this community. They came together, they dreamed a really big dream, and then they made it happen… Trent’s birth is a really good reminder of how important it is for us to dream big. And to work with a wide variety of stakeholders—labour groups and the private sector and the public sector and individuals.”

Monsef holds Trent’s notion of lifelong learning close to heart. She recognizes that she is surrounded by experienced leaders in the House of Commons, and open to all that they can teach her.

But she has also gained wisdom in some unlikely places.

“Just around the corner from my office is a cafeteria, and in that cafeteria, staff, elected officials, as well as the young people working on the hill, dine.   It’s a great opportunity to have conversations with pages. So you never know where you are going to have meaningful conversations, and that was a cool place for me to have one.”

Instead of merely taking the opportunity to impart wisdom upon the young political hopefuls, she instead takes time to listen.

“And the entire time I’m thinking to myself, ‘Oh, my, here I am talking to our future leaders!’”

When it comes to inspiration, she continues to look where the spotlight rarely shines. For Maryam Monsef, every voice matters.

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#TrentVoices Radio Show/Podcast Celebrates Trent Radio Pioneers

Listen to Interviews with Executive Producer (Degrassi, The Juno Awards) Stephen Stohn, Former Much Music VJ and Music Journalist Christopher Ward, and CBC Correspondent and 680 News Anchor Jack Roe

Trent Radio General Manager John Muir leads a team of mentors that help shape todays burgeoning media stars.  Here he is in his earliest days at the station.
Trent Radio General Manager John Muir leads a team of mentors that help shape todays burgeoning media stars. Here he is in his earliest days at the station.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve been welcomed by the fine folks at Trent Radio to produce a radio show/podcast featuring a wide variety of Trent alumni. These #TrentVoices one-on-one interviews have featured artists, politicians, academics, political activists, social media experts… really, notable Trent alumni of all backgrounds and careers.

Because many of these interviews have taken place at Trent Radio, I’ve gone out my way to showcase some of the pioneers of that station. Over the past months, I’ve been fortunate enough to interview many of the players that helped shape the fledgling organization. I’ve included some of those here.

What is incredible to note is the success that each of these pioneers achieved after their time at Trent Radio (and Trent University) – proof that this community station is truly a training ground for media success.

ayeshaAnd the successes continue to come. A future guest will be Ayesha Barmania (left) – who went from Trent Radio to the coveted CBC Gzowski Internship to a producer on CBC’s Cross Country Checkup – all in the span of the past year. Special recognition goes to Jill Staveley, James Kerr, and (of course) the legendary John Muir for continuing to mentor young talent.

The station was founded in 1968 by Stephen Stohn, Christopher Ward, and Peter Northrop. I managed to catch up with Stephen and Christopher last year. Jack Roe was – I think – the 3rd Station Manager for Trent Radio. I caught up with him earlier this week.

All three share memories of their time at Trent Radio, Trent University, and of their career evolution since then. All three also give advice to students and alumni who are trying to break into the field.

I hope that you enjoy these candid, informative, entertaining, and often very humorous conversations. Special thanks to everyone at Trent Radio for allowing this show/podcast to happen. Also to Michael Hurcomb for audio assistance in the Stohn/Ward interviews.

Be sure to check out all of my Trent alumni podcast interviews at our #TrentVoices page.

200px-StephenStohn2008Stephen Stohn

Stephen Stohn is an 11 time Gemini Award winner and executive producer of Degrassi: The Next Generation — as well as a nearly 20-year executive producer of The Juno Awards. He’s also one of Canada’s most respected entertainment lawyers.

We discuss his career, but also roll back the clock and talk about his involvement in launching both Arthur Newspaper and Trent Radio. It’s a glimpse into the world of Canadian entertainment by a true giant in the music/television sectors.

Listen now!


wardChristopher Ward

With tales that take us through an awkward Much Music debut with Bon Jovi to a strange encounter with Diana Ross‘ hair to a Robert Plant dinner that takes a turn to the strange, Christopher Ward offers an hour of entertaining talk.

Ward has written songs for Diana Ross, Hilary Duff, Wynonna Judd, The Backstreet Boys, Meredith Brooks, Tina Arena, Amanda Marshall, Roch Voisine and many others. His best-known song is the worldwide # 1 hit for Alannah Myles, ‘Black Velvet’.

Previously, Ward was a member of the ‘Second City Touring Company’, based in Toronto. In 1984, as Canada’s first ‘VJ’, he helped launch MuchMusic, where he interviewed artists as diverse as Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Tina Turner.

Listen now!


roe200Jack Roe

Jack Roe has been an on air presence for CBC Radio, 680 NEWS, CKPT (now Energy 99.7) and (back in 1973-5) Trent Radio, where this interview took place. The conversation ranges across his 40+ year career in radio and captures memories from the magical to the manic: from interviews with Chris Hadfield to interviews with a guy who traveled North America blowing himself up at county fairs, from carving out community radio to almost getting arrested in pre-unification Germany. Roe also gives a glimpse behind the scenes of the one of the most demanding radio studios in Canada, and then offers views on the state of modern radio — as well as advice for media studies/journalism students on how they can find their own way in the shifting media landscape.

It’s an honest, intimate, and often humorous conversation that shines the light on an individual who is much more used to shining the light on others.

Listen now!

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“Community Superheroes” Trading Cards to Raise Money for the Warming Room

cardSo… I’ve been turned into a trading card. And, yeah, I feel a bit silly. But it’s for a good cause!

Kawartha Local has created a series of “Community Superheroes” cards that will be sold as a fundraiser for The Warming Room. The six cards feature MP Maryam Monsef, Coun. Diane Therrien, CHEX weather analyst/actor/comic/everyman Mike Judson, PtboCanada co-founder Neil Morton, writer/marketing consultant/promoter of everybody/bombshell Michelle Ferreri, and some writer/communications dude/local food promoter (I’m being recognized for my work with Farm to Table Peterborough). It’s a limited run of 100 sets, with 600 cards signed and numbered by the artist.

The artist, by the way, is Jason Wilkins — he and card designer, Jeff Macklin, have made some lovely pieces of pop art.

Cards will be sold in packages of three for $17.70, online at, at NaKeD Chocolate and Black Honey.

The launch is TODAY (Saturday, February 6) at 4pm at Black Honey Dessert and Coffeehouse. It’s been confirmed that the entire “Super Six” will be popping by the launch — which means I can hide behind Diane Therrien.

I’d love it if y’all popped by to support this project — and gave some $$$! Or bought a couple of packs of cards at participating businesses.

Oh, and I’ll trade you four Donald Frasers for a Maryam Monsef!

See below for the rest of the series.

nm mf dt mj


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Electric City Magazine: A Difficult Potential of Success

12496044_934230636671933_3158978605231025943_oPeterborough’s newest arts and culture magazine was officially launched last night – and it was a hell of a party.

The Electric City kickoff packed Artspace with an exciting mix of youth, slightly longer-in-the-tooth Peterborough scenesters, and even longer-in-the-tooth established artists and writers (I was twice told that I fit into that latter age category).  The downtown arts scene, meanwhile, has been buzzing about the publication for the past week.  The excitement surrounding the magazine is genuine and far-reaching.

As for the product itself, the first edition was a solidly produced mix of stories on music, food, politics, and more.  It promises to be a thoughtful and though-provoking source of features.

I’m intrigued by the paper.  While you can count me in as a fan of the fledgling periodical, my experiences with Peterborough funding/advertizing and as both a participant and patron of the arts will have me watching its maturation process with genuine curiosity.  It has a difficult course to navigate — which, of course, is the case for any print publication these days.

Securing stable advertizing revenue will be one obstacle.  As a culture publication that skews decidedly towards the “counter,” they may scare off traditional advertizers with their political leanings.  I do believe, however, that there are plenty of progressive local businesses that will recognize the purchasing power of Electric City’s potential regular readership, but it will take some serious advertizing sales effort on the part of the publishers to bring them to the table.

Balanced content is the other hurdle.  We have an extremely nurturing arts scene – one that is supportive almost to a fault.  As a community of artists, we celebrate our local productions and pieces with much gusto and back-patting – offering praise that is often not countered by a tougher critical appraisal.

If Electric City is to truly examine the arts, culture, and politics of Peterborough, it may have to take a less insulating stance.  And while this is a publication that will serve the greater Peterborough community, its success will ultimately depend on how it is embraced by its subjects and core supporters.  Which will make editorial balance particularly difficult.

While co-editor, Dave Tough, has told me that he doesn’t believe bad reviews are worthwhile (and, in fact, doesn’t see the role of the paper to offer reviews), he has said that the magazine will take a critical stance in its editorial practice.  How critical — and how this criticism is accepted — will be most interesting to see.

Should the right balance be struck, Electric City Magazine will act as a tremendous tool for nurturing the arts. It will not only be a spotlight, but an opportunity for artists to receive an honest, sober study of their work.  It will also be a great read.

It won’t be easy, though. And it will require a sometimes uncomfortable buy-in by both advertizers, artists, story writers, and editorial staff.  But the potential is definitely there.

I wish Electric City the greatest of success and prosperity.  Partially because I believe our community both needs and deserves such a publication.  But, also, because I very much look forward to reading in for years to come.

I hope that a future big party will be for a major milestone anniversary.



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Bowie’s Blackstar: The Still-Charmed Chameleon Continues to Blend New Colours

Blackstar_album_coverDavid Bowie has no business being this good so late in his career.

When his new album dropped earlier today, I was mildly excited – I’m always interested in what Bowie is up to and, after his last album (a solid, though hardly great, late-period outing), I figured he still had a few tricks up his sleeve.

Fishing my good headphones out from the music box and sitting back on the couch, the first thing I fired up was the brand new single, “Lazarus.”

Which was the precise moment I realized that this wasn’t the attempted return-to-form of New Day, but rather the work of an artist with something more to say.

I put my drink down and sat up, curious and surprised.  It was 40 minutes until I reclined again.

“Lazarus,” I’ve since figured out, is the only hook-laden track on Blackstar — OK, “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)” also makes use of a hook, though its main purpose seems to be to keep the song from flying apart at the seams.  But that hook – traded back and forth between misty foghorn saxophones, threateningly woozy horns, and angrily lumbering guitars – alternately lulls and then pounds you into attention. It’s a song that can’t decide whether it’s jazz, rock, or something altogether different.  And gives absolutely zero fucks in any case.

Which is a common theme on Blackstar: not adhering to convention.

Bowie has gathered himself a supporting cast that makes no sense on paper – and even less on record.  With some of New York’s finest jazz players (a quintet led by saxophone player Donny McCaslin), every-era Bowie wingman, Tony Visconti, and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy all on board, the proceedings take some very strange turns indeed.

The nature of the record is best summed up by its first track – the eponymous “Blackstar” that crawled out of nowhere as a single last November.  Scrambling out of the gate with flutes and Radiohead/Aphex Twin-esque skittering drums (which have Murphy’s fingerprints all over them), Bowie announces himself in almost Gregorian fashion.  His chanting melody is soon accompanied by a synth string section that wanders from cathedral to Moroccan marketplace to Hollywood symphony pit.  Electronic beats throb, drums fight each other for a dominant time signature, and then a saxophone manages to somehow envelop the whole menagerie in its smoky, late night embrace.

And that’s all before the song takes sharp turns into gates-of-Heaven balladry, Young Americans-tinged plastic soul, Davy Jones (no, the other Davy Jones) pop, and sinister jazz rock.

We then find ourselves back where we started – though this time the electronic backbeats are gone.  The soaring chants and strings are counterbalanced by thudding 4/4 drums and an eventual horns-meets-flute lurching breakdown.

It’s less a song than an experience.  But so then is the album – less a collection of traditional “songs” than an experiment in genre introduction and bending.  It’s the most out-there that Bowie has been since Low.

Those involved with the project claim that the record was influenced by hip hop artist, Kendrick Lamar.  And while it doesn’t share the same urban ethic or Parliament-inspired funk as Lamar, it does celebrate some of the same eclecticism.  Also listed as influences?  Pastoral ambient electro-duo, Boards of Canada (themselves students of Bowie’s experimental Berlin albums), the aforementioned LCD Soundsystem, and the pure jazz of Bowie’s backing band.

Each of these influences get its turn – and usually in competition with each other.  Each offer accompaniment to a different side of the still-charming, still-charmed chameleon singer/songwriter.  And each help produce the best Bowie album in years, if not decades.

“Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” pairs elemental drum and bass rhythms with a wall of horns and then tarts them up with synths that both gurgle and glisten. “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)” is propelled by sinew (bass) and muscle (drum) that manage to hold together its otherwise free-form flights of EDM/IDM (electronic dance music/intelligent dance music).  “Girl Loves Me” experiments with hiccuping electronica.  The last two tracks, “Dollar Days” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away” finally find the album settling into a more song-oriented vibe — though, even then, it continues to blur elements of electronica, dance, guitar rock, jazz, and pop.

It’s no secret that Bowie is only as strong as his collaborators — Messrs. Ronson, Visconti, Eno, et al are evidence of that.  On Blackstar, the musicians sound hungry and capable of effortless innovation.  Their energy and swagger propel the recording into something stronger than usually seen by mainstream artists in the twilight of their careers.

Lyrically, Bowie is even more cryptic than usual — though there are certainly hints that this is a summation or wrapping up of his career.  The latter half of Blackstar, for instance, seemingly finds him offering a list of what he is (and isn’t) while assuming a few bragging rights along the way.  “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” reminds us of his experiments in gender fluidity and fascination with sex.  With “Lazarus” he muses about his own mortality — and of the image that will far outlive his body.  While the music propels him forward in artistry, the words seem to be a creative look back.

I’m not going to lie: There is no way that the David Bowie of 2016 will ever match the sustained creativity and intensity that was produced in his prime.  But there are a number of moments on this album that briefly reach those heights.  There are plenty of others that will both challenge and exceed the efforts of his modern-day acolytes.  Really, it’s a damned good album by anyone’s standards.

And the reason is simple.  For the first time in a long time, Bowie doesn’t try to be the artist he once was.  But instead the one he wants to be.

The results are rewarding.  And worth repeated listens.

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Of Trees and Traditions: My Latest Fathering Column in LocalParent Magazine; Plus Barrett’s Christmas Tree Farm

The happiest reason to have your holiday plans go off the rails.

The happiest reason to have your holiday plans go off the rails.

69IssuePK.inddThere was a time, I will admit, that I would have left all of my Christmas preparations until the last minute.  Waiving the stereotypical “dude” flag, you’d find me immersed in the Christmas Eve pandemonium, fighting for parking spots and feeling a strange combination of good cheer and desperation.

The truth is, I still keep some of my shopping for Christmas Eve.  Oh, not the big purchases.  Not the trips to the mall.  But rather the handcrafted chocolates that I pick up from Naked Chocolate or gift certificates from any number of friendly downtown retailers.

Last year, though, everything was pushed to the last minute.  And I mean everything.  Krista, who is usually way ahead of the game with these things, found herself with barely a present bought.  The house was bare of decorations and the cupboards empty of holiday food and drink.  As for my shopping?  I had nothing.

It was 100% holiday “fail.”

I would, however, like to point out that our procrastination wasn’t really the fault of, well… procrastination.  Instead, it was a result of our days-old infant ending up in the hospital.  Born on the 12th of December, Clara blissfully scuttled much of our usual holiday planning (in all of the most adorable ways).  And by throwing us a scare and spending the two days before Christmas in the hospital, she managed to scuttle the rest (and to this day, I remain thankful that it was only a scare).

As a result, some of the traditions that we hoped to begin last year were put on hold.  Others that we never anticipated were begun.  I captured some of that story in my latest LocalParent fathering column (you can read the entire magazine here).  It’s a light and enjoyable read.  I also chronicled the scary but eventually joyous story in full.  Check back here, just before Christmas, for Christmas Eve in the Hospital (or Clara and her Ambulance Reindeer) — what is soon to become a holiday favourite…  at least to us.

Tree expert and pony whisperer, Julie Barrett, takes some down time at the petting zoo. Don’t let her gentle demeanor fool you — she also wields a mean hacksaw.

Tree expert and pony whisperer, Julie Barrett, takes some down time at the petting zoo. Don’t let her gentle demeanor fool you — she also wields a mean hacksaw.

Now here is where we move from this article being a plug for my column into being a plug for some wonderful folks, just down the road in Cobourg.  In my story, I refer to the fact that we’ll be taking Baby Clara Grace out to chop our own tree.  What I didn’t include in the article was the fact that we’d be going to our favourite tree farm.  Really, I didn’t have to.  Barrett’s Christmas Tree Farm has a prominent ad right below my column.  I believe this is referred to as serendipity.

Barrett’s has pretty much everything you’re looking for in a traditional Christmas tree outing, including a great selection of tree varieties.  They’ve got five types of Spruce: White, Black, Blue, Norway, and Meyers. You can also add Scotch and White Pine, and Balsam Fir to the list.  Being Frasers, we picked out a lovely Fraser Fir for ourselves.  Now that’s tradition.

Acres of land to tromp around?  Check.

Horse Rides? Hiking Trails? A Petting Zoo? Campfire? And hot chocolate?  Check, check, check, check…  and… check.  Plus some hot apple cider to boot.

But what appeals to us most is the close-knit, family-friendly vibe.

During our most recent visit, Bob (father) was seen driving a hay/tree wagon, stoking a campfire, and striking up conversation with just about anyone within hollering distance.  Diana (mother) was twisting up long strands of garland, handing out hot chocolate, and acting as hostess extraordinaire.  Julie (child #2) was introducing kids to ponies and giving advice on trees.  Ryan (child #1) was away at school, but will be joining in upon his return.

Alongside the family were a crew of friends and neighbours — everyone quick with a smile and a bit of tree talk.

About that tree talk.  Julie offered us plenty.  And most of it came in the form of good advice.

Asked about what kind of tree will last the longest, she replied “one that is kept in water.”  She’s wise beyond her years, that kid.

tree farmVariety isn’t as important as care, she explained.  “It doesn’t matter what kind of tree you have. Unless you make sure that it is watered, it is going to drop its needles.”  She insists that any variety will last the season if treated right.

As for treating it right, Julie suggests making sure the cut is fresh.  “If you’ve let it sit a few days before putting it up, be sure to saw it again, about an inch from the bottom.”  She also explains that the first drink that you give the tree should be a hot one.  “Once your tree is up, fill your stand with the hottest water that your tap can pour.  It helps open the pores of the tree and prevent scabbing.”

Finally, don’t let that tree dry out.

“It’s a long holiday season,” she reminds.  “And when it comes to caring for our Christmas tree, you’ve really only got one job.”

Unlike the Barrett family of course.  They’ve got a tonne of them.  All of which go into making your Christmas visit a memorable one.

Barrett’s Christmas Tree Farm is a family owned and operated Christmas tree farm.  Located at 3141 Williamson Rd., just north of Cobourg. They are open every day of the Christmas season during daylight hours.  For more information, please visit their website.  Or “like” their Facebook page.

To read the entire edition of LocalParent Magazine, please visit their website.


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Fathering Column in LocalParent Magazine: Daddy/Baby Mojo

Daddy_Baby_Mojo#TBT to two months ago, when I forgot to post my Fathering column from LocalParent Magazine.  The new edition has just been released, so I’ll be posting the latest column soon.  SPOILER ALERT: It’s about Clara’s first Christmas.

These columns have been a tonne of fun to write — and I hope they are just as enjoyable to read.  And because I’m enjoying the fact that Clara will be able to look back on them some day, I’m making sure they make it to the Small Print blog.

Local Parent is a parenting magazine that goes out to Central and Southern Ontario.  Look for your copy on newsstands today.  Or visit their website any time.

For the full edition of the magazine, please click here.

Daddy/Baby Mojo
How to have fun while getting a good night’s sleep

Festival food!  Or, in this case, make-believe festival food.

Festival food! Or, in this case, make-believe festival food.

One of the things I worried about heading into fatherhood was how life would change for Krista and me. I’ll be honest here: I also worried a bit about my own leisure time. Sure, I planned on being 100% dedicated to our new child – and to our new family – but as a guy who is passionate about music and sports, I was scared of losing my mojo.

As it turns out, no mojo was lost in the making of this family.

Clara was only two months old when she got her first shout-out from the stage at a rock ‘n roll concert. Sure, she might have been asleep and offering up cute little baby snores at the time, but it’s still an impressive feat.

At the tender age of 8 months, she was present for a handful of Canadian gold medals at the Pan Am games. Again, she may have been napping for most of them.
By 9 months, she had been to three different folk festivals and a huge street concert. Those, she caught quite a bit of. She even did some dancing in her baby carrier.

She lives a pretty active social life, that Clara Grace. And, just as importantly, so do her parents. How have we accomplished this?

First, we invested in our most important music and sporting event purchase: a pair of baby-sized noise-cancelling headphones. And, let me tell you, those bad boys work like a charm. They block out loud music, and also eliminate any other sounds that might prevent a baby from sleeping.

Daddy/baby shopping.  Clara's in charge of the list.

Daddy/baby shopping. Clara’s in charge of the list.

Next, we let Clara’s sleeping habits guide our music and sporting adventures.
Through careful attention to her sleep cues, we have a 9-month-old that sleeps from roughly 7 pm to 7 am. And there is no way that we are going to mess with the success that a predictable routine has given us.
This means that we usually check out a few daytime acts at a festival and head home before the main stage kicks into gear. It also means that we tend to hang around at the back of the crowd. Surprisingly, we’re usually surrounded by other parents, with other babies, all checking out a band or two before heading off for bedtime. Little infant headphones are a common fashion accessory. As are baby-carrying slings, knapsacks, and strollers.

When it came to the Pan Am Games, we only went to the morning events. This allowed us to best stick to scheduled nap times and also allowed Clara to experience some of the excitement.

But not all entertainment happens during the hours when babies are expected to be out and about. Which is why I was so thankful when Krista recently suggested I take a night off to go check out a favourite band that was playing at a local bar. And why she was able to spend extra time at both the Pan Am Games and a folk festival while I stayed home to write.

It’s a system of little compromises. And it is a system that works.

The best part, though, is being able to share the things I love best with my child. And having her grow into an appreciation of music and sport.

Looks like I’m in the market for a little Montreal Canadiens jersey and a teenie-tiny Neil Young T-Shirt. This family has some fun times ahead!

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B!KE: Building Community, Two Wheels at a Time

B!ke’s executive director Tegan Moss, left, leads a bike parade of volunteers and community members across Charlotte St. on Sunday. The parade was a way to move the shop’s 60 bikes and parts to its new location. B!ke is leaving its Rubidge St. space for a bigger spot on George St. Photo courtesy of Jessica Nyznik/Peterborough Examiner

B!ke’s executive director Tegan Moss, left, leads a bike parade of volunteers and community members across Charlotte St. on Sunday. The parade was a way to move the shop’s 60 bikes and parts to its new location. B!ke is leaving its Rubidge St. space for a bigger spot on George St. Photo courtesy of Jessica Nyznik/Peterborough Examiner

I have a soft spot for B!KE: The Peterborough Community Cycling Hub. And while I haven’t been a part of their membership in awhile, or even darkened their door, I remain inspired by the work they do in making Peterborough a better place — and not just for cyclists. They are a passionate and hardworking crew that have a powerful impact on issues ranging from health to poverty reduction to education and, yes, cycling advocacy.

For those who don’t know, B!KE is an incorporated not-for-profit, member-based cycling education and support organization. Their mandate? To get bicycles into the hands of as many people as possible and to empower them to ride safely and with confidence. They believe that transportation is a right — and that cycling is a sustainable (and affordable) way to help ensure that right.

When I first encountered them, they were located in the tiny garage at the back of Sadleir House. Their finances, I was astonished to note, consisted of a wad of money and receipts folded away in a tire patch kit.

Sarah Follett was doing the heavy lifting for the very fledgling operation — fixing bikes, doing the books, and working her butt off to keep the lights on. She was a grease-stained hero and a champion for the two-wheeled. Incredibly overworked and under-resourced, she often got by on a combination of passion and perseverance.

So impressed was I that I offered to lend a hand helping with a bit of organizational development, eventually helping to found their Board of Directors and gain both non-profit and charitable status.

As the eventual first Chair of B!KE’s Board, I definitely knew my role. And, in comparison with Sarah — and then with almost everyone else in the organization — it was a lightweight one. Mine was to mostly stay out of the way.

The folks spinning wrenches, guiding volunteers, and teaching people of all stripes about bicycle life — they were the ones doing the difficult work. They were the ones making a difference in countless individual lives and in the community as a whole.

It was inspiring to watch the early B!KE crew grow the organization into a new ramshackle home at Knox United Church and then, well after I was gone, into a higher profile home on Rubidge Street.

I really can’t express how excited I am that they are moving again — this time to George Street, where they will gain an incredible amount of exposure to passers-by and a more prominent place in our downtown community. I know that Executive Director, Tegan Moss, the staff, the Board, and all of the volunteers have worked hard to make this happen. They deserve hearty congratulations — and more than a few pats on the back.

B!KE is celebrating their grand opening this Friday, December 4th. They’ll be offering up hot cider and giving tours of their new digs. As downtown welcomes them, they’ll be welcoming the community as a whole… As they always have.

I’m hoping to pop by. And I’m hoping to see you there.

Celebrations are in order.

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Christmas, Remembrance Day, Starbucks, and the Fab Four: Fa la la la, Hey Jude!


Photo credit: Sam Skyler. Check out her Etsy site.

“Stairway to Heaven” doesn’t stir me anymore. Neither does “Heart of Gold” or “Old Man.” When “Smells Like Teen Spirit” first broke, I went gaga. Within a few weeks, it was the only song on Nevermind that I regularly skipped over. For a guy who lives for classic rock, alt-country, and grunge, this is saying a lot. After all, these are some of the prototypes for their respective genres.

Now, do me a favour.  Hold that thought. We’ll get back to why I feel this way in a moment.

In the meantime, please humour me as I try to address the latest round of social media outrage to flash across our screens.  Maybe afterwards we can all hug it out.  Or start up a rousing chorus of “Kumbaya.”

Most of all, don’t try to take this to heart — or too seriously.  I’m just another shmuck writing about Christmas.

With that out of the way:

I really can’t get worked up over the Starbucks cup so-called fiasco — really, people are trying to somehow rescue Christmas* by bitching about symbols that are either pagan in origin (I’m looking at you holly and mistletoe) or were introduced/popularized by department stores in order to entice you to shop more (hey there non-specified reindeer and snowman). Not only that, but these secular images are enjoyed by countless non-Christians as a way of celebrating a generic capitalism-fueled winter break.

In short, beverage cups are as representative of the day that Christ was born as, say… well…

Actually, they have absolutely nothing to do with the day that Christ was born. In truth, they’re a lot closer related to Black Friday.

Similarly, I don’t even really understand the whole “won’t someone think of the troops?” Christmas-before-Remembrance-Day meltdown.  I mean, it’s a false dichotomy.  One has absolutely nothing to do with the other.  I’ll just say this: Humans are complex beings capable of switching emotional gears from celebratory to solemn as needed. It’s what separates us from the chimps. Actually, come to think of it, chimps probably display this trait too.

It’s what separates us from fungi.

For reference, please see: pre-funeral wakes and/or Easter (show me a pious Christian and I’ll show you a dozen kids drawing Easter bunnies before Good Friday).   Actually, the best bet would be to check out an average Leaf season, where the fans start celebrating in October and then begin mourning by November.

portrait-santa-claus-holding-money-bag-against-white-background-32651505If we really want to end the pitchfork and torches juxtaposition of Christmas and Remembrance Day, we could start by taking a healthy portion of the money that we spend on (quite often) gratuitous presents and (you guessed it) scandalous Starbucks beverages and donate it to organizations that help soldiers battling mood disorders and the ravages of poverty. Make that donation every Movember… er… November 11th.

Lest we forget?  Man, the number of living vets we forget about on a daily basis is staggering.  But, oh, the traditions we could start!

It’s a silly debate really — one that was scoffed at by a veteran I spoke to at market this past weekend.  One who, it just so happens, was selling Christmas fruitcakes.


You’ll note I said the veteran at market was selling Christmas fruitcakes. He was one of several, actually. And had no qualms about it in the least. None of them did.

“What kerfuffle over celebrating Christmas before Remembrance Day?” he asked.  He was slack-jawed with incredulity. “I don’t care what kind of holiday nonsense you get up to beforehand.  Just be sure to come out on the 11th.”

No, my beef with the whens and hows of Christmas celebrations are more about the watering down of passion and the lessening of unique experience through over-saturation.

I remember the first time I really listened to Neil Young’s Harvest. It filled me with delight, bliss, and an urge to share it with as many people as possible – I told you we’d return to that musical thought.  It was like Christmas to my 12-year-old soul. These days, when “Old Man” comes on the radio, I’m usually quick to turn the station. The same thing happens with Sgt. Pepper, far too much early Bob Dylan, and the weeping twin guitars of Derek and the Dominoes’ “Layla.”

Quite simply, these classics have been played far too often and usually out of context. The same can be said about many great pieces of popular music.  That which was once truly special has become commonplace, ordinary, and even mundane. Some is downright annoying (“Na-na-na-na… Hey Jude”).

For me – for many – the same has happened to Christmas. As a holiday, it’s become a lot like that summer when “Losing My Religion” was released and rock fans went from loving R.E.M. to wishing that Michael Stipe would be banished to a frozen asteroid floating somewhere on the fringes of the Kuiper belt.

The difference is that I don’t want to banish Christmas.  I want to preserve some of the unique emotion that comes with its rare magic.

Joy and wonder are not sustainable conditions. Nor would we ever want them to be.  One cannot survive on Pumpkin Spice Oreos alone.  We crave emotional variety.  We depend on it.  Joy and wonder stem from those moments that are sparked by the special, the extraordinary, and the unique. Stretching or repeating the conditions that produce joy and wonder don’t produce more of these moments. Rather, the opposite occurs. It makes these moments less special, less spontaneous, less noteworthy, and all the more commonplace.

These days, with people pushing an early-November holiday start time, it’s like being stuck in a car for two months with someone who only listens to top-40 radio.  By the time we get to the actual holiday, it’s a whole lot like watching the Grammy’s – an overly-commercialized celebration of moments that have been played to death, all in a pageant that is so often devoid of novelty, surprise, or creativity.  And let me tell you, there is nothing at all novel about a song you’ve listened to 347 times.  Or a decorated cardboard coffee cup for that matter.

I’ve often argued that if we spent as much energy making the week around Christmas as special as we currently do making all of November and December, every Christmas would be “the best Christmas ever!” Instead, we water it down further by constantly trying to pour in extra calendar days.

I know… I know… “Donald is a Grinch.”

To which I respond “haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate.”  In the spirit of this metaphor, I’ll “Shake it Off.”

And then go on ignoring the Christmas hype until the week that (for me) it really matters.

Radiohead's Thom Yorke wishes you a happy holidays. Photo courtesy of

Radiohead’s Thom Yorke wishes you a happy holidays. Photo courtesy of

There are a couple of albums that I absolutely refuse to listen to for about 363 or 364 days of the year. OK Computer is one of them. So is Rubber Soul. Once or twice a year, I’ll dust these recordings off, pour a bath, pour some wine, put on headphones, and absolutely bliss out.

The reason I refuse to listen to them at any other time is because I want to maintain that spark of electric magic that comes with hearing these works through fresh ears. I want to feel the wonder of being moved – and even surprised — by the harmony between, say, vocal and glockenspiel. I do so in order to keep them special.

And such is the way I approach Christmas.  It is not about a month and a half of eggnog frappuccinos, but rather a few days where we throw off the day-to-day ordinary and celebrate the magic of being together and sharing laughter, good cheer, and song.  It is a time when we can give our full attention to loved ones.  And it is a time when we can celebrate in ways that would lose their spark if they were attempted every day — not to mention causing mass obesity and rampant liver disease.

No, I’m not going to get worked up over what Starbucks is pouring their coffee into – chances are good, I wouldn’t have noticed in the first place. And I’m sure not going to tell people when or how they should be switching the dial from serious to celebratory – that’s something that really should be dictated by how you feel, rather than what others say or choose to stick in their storefront windows (though I do hope that your Remembrance Day solemnity is not that easily distracted).

But nor am I going to get all holly jolly Christmas anytime soon. In fact, I’ll probably stay away from all holiday-themed shenanigans until a heck of a lot closer to the actual date.

And then, when the holiday season truly arrives, it’ll be like listening to the Beatles with fresh ears – vibrant, unique, and magic.

By then, I’ll truly be ready to rock.


*I’m calling it Christmas, because that’s what we call it at home. If I go to someplace where they are celebrating Kwanza, Hanukkah, or Festivus, I’ll wish them joy and peace on whatever occasion they honour.

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Dub Trinity Explores New Sounds, Releases New Album

Dub Trinity are set to release a brand new album, recorded by Peterborough sound maestro, James McKenty.  Their new album is packed with sounds that stretch the sonic horizon — it’s a huge musical growth for them.  The album officially drops this Friday, with their record release show at the Red Dog.  You can get a sneak peek on their website.  I was pleased to write some of the promo material for the album/release.

Dub Trinity deliver message-based music of solidarity that transcends both borders and genres – a modern, hybridized folk music. Rooted in dub reggae and ska, the band has made a career of incorporating diverse elements into their eclectic sound, from activist funk to revolutionary R&B. With their latest release, The People Hold The Power, this diversity expands to include elements of Stax-style soul, 60’s-influenced rock, and experimental alternative. Uniquely independent, they’ve created a genre wholly of their own – one that draws audiences of all musical backgrounds into a celebration of community empowerment.

Made up of veterans of the Canadian music scene, Dub Trinity has many influences. Band members have been a part of outfits ranging from the Cheap Suits to the Conestokers to the Silver Hearts – and yet they hold an iconic position of their own. After 15 years of making music, there is still no one else like Dub Trinity.

The People Hold The Power showcases the band playing to each member’s strength and experience. The result is a stylistic synthesis that sees Dub Trinity genre-hopping from track to track – and often within individual songs themselves.

Run For Cover kicks things off with a sound that blends modern alternative with driving Detroit soul before exploding skyward into pure anthemic rock. Socialize harnesses plastic soul to driving horn-section funk in a call to political and economic revolution. The reggae and ska feel of the band are more pronounced on several other tracks – but even then, with some stylistic shifts. The sway of Gone Clear features snaking guitars and keyboards; the Kevlar Clad Jamaican rhythms erupt into a tower of power chords; while the Land of Look Behind takes on a head-bopping storytelling vibe.

The diverse sounds of the album are tied together by tight rhythms that are guaranteed to fill dance floors and stage-fronts. Dub Trinity remains a band that deserves to be seen as well as heard.

Dub Trinity are releasing The People Hold the Power to their hometown crowd in Peterborough this Saturday, November 7th at the Historic Red Dog Tavern. The night includes a tribute to the Clash to finish the evening. CD releases in other cities such as Toronto will be announced soon.

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