Friday, 17 October 2014

Ottawa author Charlotte Gray wins the 2014 Toronto Book Award

It has been a good year for the Massey Murder


Ottawa author Charlotte Gray is the winner of the 2014 Toronto Book Award for her non-fiction book, The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Country. She is 40th author to capture Toronto's annual literature prize.  Gray $10,000 win was announced at last night's award ceremony, held at the downtown Toronto Reference Library. 
"I offer my warm congratulations to Charlotte Gray, who has drawn an unforgettable portrait of Toronto's social life at the beginning of the 20th century," said Acting City Librarian Anne Bailey. "In telling the true story of Carrie Davies, the maid who shot a (famed) Massey, Charlotte Gray captures the class conflict and societal upheaval that marked our city's reinvention of itself at the onset of the Great War. As the author notes:  'A single bullet fired on Walmer Road had an extraordinary significance.'" " In 1915 Toronto thought of itself as 'Toronto the Good'  but by our standards it was very far from the good," explained Charlotte Gray. "It was a city that had grown enormously in the last decade (since the year 1900 ). It had doubled in population, but it was a very class ridden society with the elite at top that totally believed it was absolutely right, and with a surge in working class immigration at the bottom, mainly from Britain.  These were people who were determined to make a new life in the new world,  and were escaping from the British class system."
1915 newspaper report of the Massey Murder
"Bert Massey (the murdered man) was  known as a man-about-town," she continued. "He was somebody who had a diamond stick pin in his tie, he liked driving fast cars,  and he was very representative of the young men of that period who got away with what they could get away with. By our standards his behaviour was unacceptable because he sexually harassed and tried to seduce this 18-year old servant.  In his day it was sort of seen as something that young men men did.  What was surprising is not that he had played around with an eighteen year old but that the Masseys had employed a young woman who had access to a gun and knew how to fire it."

The Toronto Award caps off a spectacular year for Gray's 9th book. It  won the Canadian Authors Association Lela Common Award for Canadian History; was long-listed for the B.C. Non-fiction Award, and shortlisted for both the Charles Taylor Award and the Evergreen Award.  Based on the success of the Massey Murder in 2014 she  was  also short-listed as "Author of the Year" by the Canadian Booksellers Association. She has been a judge for several of Canada’s most prestigious literary prizes, including the Giller Prize for Fiction, the Charles Taylor Prize for Non-Fiction and the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. 
cover of the award winning book
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Toronto Book Awards. Established by Toronto City Council in 1974, the Toronto Book Awards honour authors of books of literary or artistic merit that are evocative of Toronto. Each shortlisted author receives $1,000 and the winning author receives $10,000 in prize money. More information about the awards and what the jury members said about the shortlisted books is available at  
This year the Toronto Book Awards Committee looked at 70 entry before deciding on a short-list of five titles. The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Country  was chosen from a list of finalists that included Anthony De Sa for his novel, Kicking The SkyCarrianne K. Y. Leung for her novel, The Wondrous Woo; Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis for their social science, agriculture and food book, The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement; and Shyam Selvadurai for his novel, The Hungry Ghosts.

btw - earlier this year Elizabeth Gray was interviewed by videographer George Soca. A resulting 6 minute video was used by Huffington Post in its coverage of the RBC Taylor Prize (formerly the Charles Taylor Prize For Literary Non-Fiction.  In that video the author talks about impact the Massey Murder had upon Toronto's upper and lower classes in the days of the First World War.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Book Prizes and Outdoor Festival in Toronto. City Busy Busy Busy for Book.

A Prize Week For Authors In Canada
By Stephen Weir 

Published September 17, 2014 Huffington Post Story

Yesterday it was the Giller. This morning it was the Griffin and the Weston Prizes and this weekend Word On The Street. This week is the busiest time of the year for authors, readers and the nation's book industry.
On Tuesday it was the Scotiabank Giller Prize announcing their longlist of a dozen authors for the 2014 Canadian Fiction Prize. The Giller also dropped a bomb - they aare doubling the prize purse given to the winning author - first prize is now $100,000. Runner-ups will receive $10,000 each.
The Giller is Canada's most prestigious fiction prize, and, with the new $10,000 award, it is now also one of the world's largest English language prizes. Usually the Giller announces here Toronto, but this year's shocker was made at McGill University'sMoyse Hall Theatre in Montreal. The award will be presented on November 10 and will be broadcast by the CBC.
This morning - Wednesday - the world's largest cash prize for poetry - the Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry - announced their 2015 jury. The three member jury is made up of Canadian poet / author Tim Bowling, American poet Fanny Howe and Polish poet/author Piotr Sommer.
There was also a press conference held this morning in downtown Toronto to announce the shortlist for the Honourable Hilary M. Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction. Held in the aisles of the Loblaws store at Maple Leaf Gardens in downtown Toronto (pictured), the press conference introduced the five Canadian authors now in the running for the $60,000 2014 Prize.
Hilary Weston at the podium. Press conference was held in the aisles of a downtown Toronto Loblaws food store.

Nominated Weston Prized authors are:
Susan Delacourt for Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them 
Naomi Klein for This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate 
Charles Montgomery for Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design 
Paula Todd for Extreme Mean: Trolls, Bullies, and Predators Online 
Kathleen Winter for Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage
The Weston Prize also announced that Indigo Books is now one of the marketing sponsors. As well they added two Canadian celebrities - CBC's Peter Mansbridge and Filmmaker Deepa Mehta - to their jury pool.
Four of the Giller Prize longlisted authors will be at the other big literary event being held this week in Toronto - Sunday's Word on the Street Festival. The free outdoor event will be held on University Avenue from Bloor Street south to College St. Word On The Street is a celebration of literacy and the written word and annually attracts over 200,000 book lovers of all ages to Queen's Park Circle in Toronto.
There will also be Word On The Street festivals in the cities of Halifax, Lethbridge, Saskatoon and Kitchener, The Word On The Street festival describes itself as the event that "unites the country in a national celebration of literacy and the written word'.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Monday Night At The Movies - Caribbean Tales Film Festival Continues In Toronto

Haiti, Guyana and America - Three Films, Three Views on Political People in The 
Caribbean - by Kevin Relyea

Caribbean Tales International Film Festival 

Films shown on Day 5 of the Festival at the Royal Theatre, Toronto

The Royal, home of Caribbean Tales International Film Festival- Relyea

Showing at the Royal Theatre as part of the Caribbean Tales International Film Festival, Political People is a trio of films that detail the domestic problems of a less than thought of region that deserves western attention. The three films are related thematically but are all drastically different in their  message, approach and style.

The Caribbean Tales International Film Festival is a celebration of Caribbean art and culture that will excite any casual movie-goer or anyone with a political background. The films shown are more than just entertainment as they can be educational as well featuring history and politics of the region.  Now in its ninth year the festival and related events have taken place in Toronto, New York, and Barbados.

The Joy of Reading
2014 | Haiti |   Kreyol with English subtitles | 14 minutes
Director: Dominique Telemaque

The Joy of Reading is a short film that tells the tale of a Hatian boy named Lolo who is kicked out of school after he loses a book and his subsequent attempts to find the money in order to buy a replacement. In just fourteen minutes this film is filled with ups and downs and ends off on a somber note with Lolo making a plea for parents to invest in children’s educations so they can better their lives.

The film is very well shot and edited to provide a very succinct yet deep in its emotion and colourful cinematography.

Rebecca’s Story

2014 | Guyana/USA | English | 12 minutes
Director: Alysia S Christiani

Rebecca’s story is much like the first film. It tells the story of a Rebecca, a young Guyanese girl who is forced to live with her abusive grandmother after he parents are killed in a tragic car accident. This film has the same message of the importance of literacy but also has a theme of personal freedom being essential to people advancing in life as well as advancing society as a whole.

This film features comparison shots of a jungle serving as a great tool for the narrator’s metaphorical dialogue and the internal shots and cinematography give the impression of a person who is living in a cage. Great care was given to ensure that this short feature’s visuals fit the tone.

Thunder in Guyana

2003 | USA | English | 50 minutes
Director: Suzanne Wasserman

If you are a history buff then Thunder in Guyana is a hidden gem among political documentaries.  The film covers the lives of the late Janet Rosenberg Jagen and Cheddi Jagen and their   fifty year stuggle to free Guyana from the influence of British Imperialism and an American backed rightwing dictatorship. 

The film shows off the early life of Janet Rosenburg. Growing up in Chicago, intellectual adventurous free spirited woman with a tendency to push the boundaries set by society. She ran off to Guyana with her husband Cheddi and never looked back. 
Cheddi being the first peasant worker to gain an education returned to Guyana and dedicated his life to improving his impoverished country to gain independence from Britain and put an end to racial violence between the Indian and African population. His efforts over the course of four decades are sabotaged by British military intervention, and CIA covert ops due to his unabashed Marxist-Socialist beliefs. The film focuses heavily on the progressive leadership and unprecedented actions and unorthodox lives of this beautiful couple.

Thunder in Guyana features a great depth of footage and pictures that elegantly portrays the lives of these revolutionary political figures in stunning depth.  The interviews glean a further understanding of their personal character, motivations, and the overall political climate over the course of five decades. This film does a fantastic job of blending history of a nation and personal biography. What I loved about this film is that Guyana is not a country you would learn about in a history class as it is simply not taught. This film shows just how important Guyanna is in terms of political and racial turmoil Guyana suffered combined with the personal struggle of Janet and Cheddi Jagan whose actions could be compared to Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi. 

When the lights come on you begin to wonder if their actions set Guyana on a better path or these two people were foglights in a haze of corruption. What is truly unique about the documentary is that the production of the film as well as its content displays a bond between the Caribbean and Jewish community. Perhaps this is the reason why all those Caribbean people kept asking me where the manischewitz wine was when I worked for the LCBO

Political People enlightens the audience as to a basic plight of Caribean people such as literacy, something that we take for granted and the political reasons as to why the people of these nations still suffer. The overall message this group of films displays is the need for society to be flexible and progressive for development to occur as holding on to political and social tradition invariably is a recipe for human suffering and stagnation of society.

I whole heartedly recommend this trio of films although Thunder in Guyana is the clear frontrunner due to its content and length and is definitely something you might want to better educate your friends and family with or just something worthwhile for yourself. At the very least it might help you one day beat the Jeopardy contestants in the comfort of your living room. 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Watch This Documentary Before the Glamour is Gone

 The Mighty Sparrow on stage at the Royal Theatre - Photo by Weir

From my Huffington Post feature about the Mighty Sparrow and Lord Superior in the movie The Glamour Boyz Again -
Toronto's Caribbean Tales International Film Festival kicked-off its ninth annual season last night at the Royal Theatre with a world premier screening of a new documentary about the Mighty Sparrow (Dr. Slinger Francisco) and Lord Superior (Andrew Marcano). Once dubbed the Calypso King of the World, an obviously failing Mighty Sparrow appeared on stage after the first showing of the Glamour Boyz Again: The Mighty Sparrow and Lord Superior on the Hilton Rooftop.
Written and directed by American author/filmmaker Geoffrey Dunn, the feature length movie follows a very simple format: two famous aging Calypsonians on a roof with one guitar and a bucket of Caribe ale. The two men are on top of Trinidad's swankiest hotel drinking beer and fruity cocktails while they sing and swap memories of the emergence of Calypso music in Trinidad back in the 1950s.
While the movie might has a basic premise its message gives deep deep insights into the maturation of Calypso, Carnival and the cultural independence of Trinidad and Tobago. Dunn filmed the Mighty Sparrow and his long-time friend and accompanest as they joyfully sing songs they had written while Trinidad was starting to come out from under strict British Colonial Rule.
"The Glamour Boyz," Dunn recently told the Trinidad Express Newspaper, "presents this single acoustic performance by these two giants of the art form. It's an absolutely brilliant performance. I still can't get enough of it! The energy between the two of them -- their friendship now goes back nearly 60 years -- is lively and dynamic."
The concert was was filmed in Port Of Spain during Trinidad's 2002 carnival. The two men are seen in excellent health, fine voice and high spirits. A dozen years later, both men face serious health challenges. Lord Superior was not well enough to travel to Toronto, the Mighty Sparrow did make an appearance but needed considerable help to make it into the theatre and onto the stage.
Macomere Fifi sings Before Yuh Gone while Sparrow sits on stage - photo by Weir
Macomere Fifi (Tara Woods), Canada's ruling Soca Monarch joined Sparrow on stage last night following the screening of the Glamour Boyz Again. Often with her arm around a seated Franciso Fifi performed the song she sang to win her 6th Calypso Monarch title during Toronto's Carnival this summer. The song? "Before Yuh Gone" - a tribute to the Mighty Sparrow. In that song she prophetically says she wants to tell the Mighty Sparrow before he dies how great he really. She got that wish, and the Mighty Sparrow seemed to enjoy her singing about his impending doom!
Geoffrey Dunn is a Santa Cruz, California award-winning author and documentary filmmaker with more than three decades experience as an investigative reporter. His books include the American bestseller "The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind Her Relentless Quest for Power". His documentary films include the award-winning "Calypso Dreams," "Miss...or Myth?," "Chinese Gold," and "Dollar a Day, 10¢ a Dance."

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Sci-Fi Movie The Moon Would Have Been Put Into Orbit

... If the Litton Logo Police Were Still Patrolling Outer Space
but say what you want it still looks like a man on a toilet

Logo for Sci-Fi Movie The Moon

I was never a card carrying member of the Logo Police when I worked at Litton Systems Canada Ltd and later at Litton Industries.  Oh, I did a bit of sleuthing for the Force now and again, sniffing out internal fliers, memos and shower invitations that took liberties with the Li.  But, when it came to taking on companies that monkeyed with our trademarked symbols, it was a crack team of lawyers and PR directors from both sides of the border who manned the walls firing off lawsuits and writs at anything that moved.
Hollywood's man on toilet logo

Pre-Internet, a logo, its pantone colours and its careful designed typeface were as much a part of the company treasures as the patents for everything from dithering mechanism in ring laser gyros to the secret recipe of the chicken pot pie sold by Stouffers back in the sixties (when Litton owned Stouffers hotels, their frozen foods and their chunk of the Cleveland Indians). 

In the 70s and early 80s Litton Industries and all its divisions used a stylized i atop a capital L. In Canada, our division was allowed to put the Li inside a maple leaf (see picture of the logo on a shoe bag we used to handout at trade shows).  

As I heard it after I (unsuccessfully) moved down to corporate, Maple Leaf outline or not, the Li logo was doomed when a member of the Board in Beverly Hills opined that he thought the logo looked like a man sitting on a toilet.

The infamous Li Logo

Within the PR world it was a giant stop-the-presses moment. All around the Free World our martinis were put down. Our Export A's were left to smoulder in executive dining room ashtrays. Slide projectors were fired up and everyone careful examined the Li logo.  

Who would question a board member? Every man, woman and AI module suddenly agreedthat the Li did look a man sitting on a toilet.  
The logo that replace the Li

It didn't take long before all the divisions worldwide were flushing the toilet logo for a simple Litton with conjoined tees and an overly tall i.  Logo police were given scorched earth orders.  Soon no Li was to be found on building signs, PN and SN plates, letterheads and in our case in Toronto even service award clocks. 

So thorough was the removal, the only Li I could find in my collection of Litton ephemera is that same shoe bag mentioned previously.

I was watching the sci-fi movie "Moon" on Netflix last Wednesday evening. It was a good British yarn about a bad American company. Lunar Industries had a mining operation on the moon. They were using short shelf life clones to do their work.

I couldn't enjoy the film because every time I saw Lunar Industries' logo on moon vehicle bumper, I had an uncontrollable urge to unfreeze the Litton Logo Police and get them back to work.  You see the Lunar Industries logo was everywhere on the moon and it was a logo we have all see before. The Lunar Industries Li and the Litton Industries LI are only an orbit or two apart.

And you know, sitting here in my attic office looking up at the waning moon through my tiny little window, I can't help but think that be it down here or up there, the Li still looks like a man sitting on a toilet.

Pix of the logo on a give-away shoe bag. Popular at air shoew and bowling lanes around the Free World

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Scuba Diver Gets ID Tattoo On Tooth Implants (Just In Case)

Shark Encounter Has Diver Using The Word Of Mouth

Backside of Stephen Weir's Dental Implant. Some numbers obscured for privacy

If you can see my social insurance number, it means you are my dentist, or I am dead. Eaten by a shark. Lost at sea. Or, maybe I was onboard an exploding airplane that somehow missed the crushed coral runway on a distant atoll.

Late last year I got my Toronto dentist to tattoo my social insurance number onto the backside of my new upper left implant. You can’t see it without a mirror and me opening my mouth wide.

It wasn’t cheap. But, as a diver who has had a few close calls underwater (all of them my fault), the tattoos give me peace of mind knowing that if my body washes up on a faraway beach, or if fishermen find my jaw in the gut of a shark, there is a good chance that I will be identified and my remains returned home for cremation.

I have had two encounters with sharks over the past decade – a large Tiger Shark in the Gulf of Mexico and a pair of small Great Whites that I accidentally got between while they were feeding on baby sea lions just off shore in the Galapagos Islands.  Both encounters left me shaken; concerned about my own mortality and the real fear my body (or what is left of it) will never be identified.

Dental outfits in the United States specializing in making ceramic and gold implants, crowns and bridges, know about this fear and are now able to put custom artwork in your mouth.  Here in Canada there aren’t many companies offering the service. My dentist, Toronto's  Dr Evelyne Bourrouilh was originally going to place an identification chip (similar to what pet owners use to tag their dogs and cats) on my implant but opted for the tattoo when she found a local lab willing to permanently mark the tongue side of soon-to-be-installed ceramic tooth. The picture you see above was taken just before the two-tooth tooth implant was screwed into my upper jaw.

“Our first request for a dental tattoo was by an airline stewardess in about 1990. She requested that her initials be engraved on her crown, so that her body could be easily identified if the plane crashed. We put her initials on her molar and she was thrilled,” says Tom Kowalkowski, the president of Westbrook Dental Studio in Chicago.  I contacted his company when I  first went looking for a tooth tat – however I decided to work with my dentist and a lab in my home city.

“Anyone can get a tooth tattoo on their crown, bridge, or dental implant,” he continues. “The tattoo stays on your tooth permanently if you want it to be there, but if you want to get rid of the tooth tattoo, your dentist can grind it off in a matter of minutes.”

There are a growing number of labs in the US that work with dentists to put the small tattoos on manufactured teeth.  Dentists and their patients choose suitable artwork  -- fraternity letters are popular and so are cartoon characters – or they can design their own.  The implants and crowns are delivered to the labs and the tats are put into the surface of the ceramic teeth and then returned to your dentist for insertion.

The cost in the US can run from $85 to $200 more per tooth.   The lab that my dentist found in Toronto charged about $300 to print my SIN number, like a stain, onto my porcelain implant. It was then covered in a clear porcelain and baked until it became part of the tooth.

When viewed in a mirror the SIN numbers are backward.  I probably should have had them done the other way! No worries I still have four more implants on the way. My next tat? My email address frontward and backwards and my website URL!

Brucie, the Shark (Jaws Ride at Universal Studio)

Tigers, Great Whites and the Galapagos Sharks have been known to attack divers.  They don’t necessarily intend to eat the neoprene wrapped human, but the simple act of tasting is usually fatal.  I survived my meetings intact but they left me with a deep concern that I might die diving and that my remains might not be found and identified for a long time.

In the case of the Tiger Shark, it was late summer in 2013 and I was diving with three experienced Fort Myers divers– a cop, a bondsman and female underwater archaeologist. We were three hours out into the Gulf of Mexico from Sanibel Island. It was hot, the seas were up and storm clouds were blowing through the area. We jumped into the sea, grabbed onto the anchor line and pulled ourselves downwards. The boat was empty, bouncing in the incoming waves. My companions were going to spearfish; I was going to photograph them catching their dinners.

There was an artificial reef made from long concrete pilings 60 feet down. Before we reached the bottom  we were surrounded by frenzied schooling fish madly swimming between our legs, over our arms and buzzing past our heads. 

Fish faces don’t usually show expression, but, these metre long fish looked frantic, and with good reason.  As we punched through the thrashing ring we could see through the gloom a large 8 ft tiger shark herding the fish. Behind the tiger were four smaller sharks, including a 6 ft bull shark. They were the next step down in the food chain – following the hunting tiger for bloody seconds.

We touched bottom and instinctively formed a circle, our backs touching and fronts facing the lazily circling sharks. I had a cop on one side and a huge bails bondman on the other. The young archeologist was gone, she had somehow gone missing.

The sharks continued to circle us in the gloomy warm turbid water, just within eyesight. Spear guns were put away and through pointing and sign language we decided to surface, hoping to find our companion on the boat.

Swimming upward we encountered a strong current. Breaking the surface we looked for the craft.  Rough seas had pushed us a mile away from the anchored dive boat.  It was so far away we could only see the boat when we bobbed on the crest of a wave and looked down at her in the trough of another wave.

With waves splashing hard into our faces, we had to continue to breath through our regulators as we started a long difficult swim against the current. It was a tough slog, made more difficult by the sharks that swam 2 or 3 feet directly below us. My companions disappeared under the waves several times to push at the pesky sharks with the butt ends of their guns.

It took 40-minutes to almost reach the stern of the boat. A few feet from safety I ran out of air.  I was dragged to the ladder by my buddy. Climbing into the boat I called down into the cabin for our fourth diver. No answer. She wasn’t there.

We all stood and searched the horizon for a dive safety sausage (a 10ft tall signaling device). North. South. East and West. Nothing. We were going to issue a May Day when suddenly we could hear her yelling far off the stern.

Our missing diver was coming home. She swam through the same sharks that had escorted us to the boat. She climbed exhausted aboard.  Smaller and lighter than we oversized men, the current blew her farther away from the boat as she surface.

It was a long, bumpy butt-busting ride back to Sanibel Island.  Three hours in 6 ft swells.  Time enough to plan my next dental visit.


Shortly after completing this blog I decided that it was time that I slowed down a bit, and avoided life-threatening adventures.  So, in April, when I got permission from the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge to take part in one of only two yearly public visiting days, my wife and I flew off to tour the rain forest preserve on the slopes of Mona Kea (where the Canadian observatory is located) on the Big Island, Hawaii.  It was 4-wheel drive only invitation limited to about 80 people. We meet up with bird experts and photographers from across the State. We were assigned to a Hawaiian University bird expert and set out down the mountain to find and photograph endangered birds.

Our companions saw four of the seven endangered forest birds--the `akia pola`au, the Hawaii `akepa, the Hawaii creeper, and the `io-.  I didn’t see any. Too small. Too high in the canopy. 

Of course I didn’t spend much time looking, because we left the park early. I had climbed a small incline to look for an ‘akepa, I slipped and fell hard on my ankle. It was broken.

I suppose the other bird watchers got to see my tooth tat; my mouth was open wide when I yelled out in pain.  But they were probably too annoyed to look - I had scared off the birds with my yelp. I didn’t get any bird pictures. I didn’t get any sympathy.  I did get an air cast though and once it is off I am going back to shark diving. It is safer.