Friday, 27 December 2013


Originally published in:

Toronto, It's Time to Sink This Ship .... and Captain John doesn't have to go down with Her.
Bow of Capt. John's Floating Seafood Restaurant
Sometime on my bum-busting boat ride out from Fort Myers, I realized that the city of Toronto could do something special for its diver tourism industry ... sink the Captain John Toronto Harbour Floating Restaurant.
I was in Florida last month, on board a small, open boat heading 21/2 hours out into the wilds of the Gulf of Mexico to scuba dive on a failed Florida Keys museum. I like hundreds of thousands of other divers will go just about anywhere to dive on a shipwreck.
Thirty miles out and 90 feet down, the USS Mohawk, sunk just a year ago, is now one of the most sought after underwater attractions in Florida waters. And for the last few months she has hosted an underwater art show that is garnering global attention!

The Mohawk is sunk to create reef for divers.
Officials from the Fort Myers Sanibel Island tourism department learned an important commerce lesson from other port cities -- shipwrecks are a boost to the economy, help create habitats for fish stocks and attract free spending scuba divers from around the world! Cities that already boast successful artificial reef programmes include Victoria, Vancouver, Kingston, Halifax, Seattle, Pensacola, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Key West, Nassau, and Georgetown (Cayman islands).
They are called artificial reefs -- unwanted ships that have been stripped of their engines and towed out to sea to be sunk with as much fanfare as possible. Within days of a ship's sinking, fish have moved in to seek shelter from predators and respite from underwater currents. Divers, snorkelers and fishermen soon follow.
Meanwhile back on shore, the community sees a boost in tourism, dive operators, fishing charter companies, marinas and hotels see an increase in business. For local government the creation of an artificial reef is often a judicious way to get rid of a dockside eyesore.
In the 1990s, I was involved in a project to investigate the possible creation of an artificial reef off Toronto's shoreline. Working with the Ontario Underwater Council, Ontario Place and the Canadian Navy, a Canadian Forces research submarine was sent down to examine the lake floor on the south side of Toronto Island.
We were looking for a flat firm stretch of lakebed 100 ft down where we could sink a decommissioned Canadian warship. The site had to be out of the shipping lanes, away from water intake pipes and close enough to shore to be easily reached by dive and fishing boats. There were three likely spots located in a day of diving with the submarine, all within a mile of shore.
What scuttled the plan to scuttle a warship off Toronto's coast was the cost of acquiring a suitable wreck. In those days the Navy worked with the internationally respected Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia to turn mothballed destroyers into diveable reefs. The Navy was willing to consider donating a decommissioned destroyer that was laid up in the Maritimes. However, the cost of making the ship environmental safe to sink, coupled with the cost of towing her to Lake Ontario and sinking her, was beyond the fund raising capability of the project.
Almost 22 years later the Ontario Underwater Council (OUC) is still hoping that a ship can be sunk for the enjoyment of some 200,000 active divers in the province, and for an even larger number of divers in North Eastern United States. The Canadian Navy is less inclined these days to donate ships because of the money they can be raise simply by selling worn-out vessels as scrap metal.

The bow of Captain John's - Andrew Weir
What is needed in Toronto is a large ship that won't cost much money to acquire, is docked downtown (to give cleaning crews easy access to her) and is considered by the city government to be an eyesore that deserves to be sent to the bottom.
Sounds just like the Captain John Toronto Harbour Floating Restaurant. The former cruise ship is permanently moored (some say permanently mired) in Lake Ontario at the foot of Yonge Street. The MS Jadran was built in 1957 and sailed in the waters off Yugoslavia until 1976. She was brought to Toronto, tied up at dock almost 40 years ago and has never sailed again.
Her owner is mired in debt, the restaurant is closed and the ship is unsailable. Attempts to sell her have failed and the city is looking for ways to move the ship off the waterfront and recoup an estimated $600,000 in back taxes that are owned on the hulk.
Sinking the ship would help the city, it would clean up Harbourfront and it would create an instant dive attraction. Dive boats departing from marinas from Hamilton to Oshawa would service the site.
If she were to be sunk in the lee of the Toronto Island, the steel hull of the Captain John boat would sit unmovable on a firm sand and stone bottom, away from any deepwater current. Her upper deck would be an estimated 30 feet from the surface, easily reachable for sport divers, yet deep enough not to impact on recreational boating in the area.

At 296 ft in length and some 70ft in height Captain John's is a seagoing sized ship, twice the size of the warship sank near Fort Myers. As a cruise ship she could accommodate 400+ passengers. As a restaurant 250 diners could be accommodated in single seating. As a shipwreck it would take two or three dives to see all of her and there is enough room that 50 divers could tour her underwater without bumping into one another at any given time.
The last time that the OUC investigated sinking a ship, the dive season in Toronto, was confined to the summer and fall, because Lake Ontario is so cold underwater. Nowadays, with the advent of affordable lightweight dry suits that keep divers both dry and warmish underwater, scuba can be an almost year round activity in the Great Lakes.


There are two major shipwrecks in Toronto waters, but, there is little left to see of these 19th century wrecks. No, most Toronto wrecks divers head to Tobermory (site of a Federal underwater shipwreck park), Kingston and the St Lawrence River to dive on accessible and more intact shipwrecks.
There are already dive shops and fishing charter operations that could take visitors to any new wreck near the Toronto harbour. A U.S. government study on the economic impact of the sinking of the USS Vandenberg near the city of Key West found that over 100 new permanent jobs in the dive and tourism industries have been created because of the interest in the artificial reef, with over $7 million being injected into the local economy each year.
While no economic studies of a similar nature have been conducted in Ontario, anecdotal information indicates that the creation of an artificial reef near the Kingston Harbour (the sinking of a decommissioned Wolf Island ferry boat) and another in Tobermory (the steel hulled 187 ft Niagara II) have taken pressure off existing historical shipwrecks, increased dive tourism and created fish habitats.
Meanwhile, back in Fort Myers the art work that was on the wreck of the Mohawk will soon be on display, above water, in a local art gallery.
When I visited the Mohawk I spent my half-hour underwater taking in the sunken art show. Dodging large 300 pound Jewfish and always mindful of a man-sized bull shark that is known to cruise the decks of this WW2 cutter, I photographed a dozen different pictures by Austrian photographer Andreas Franke that hung (using big magnets) on the hull of the ship. There were two other dive boats and a fishing charter around the wreck when I dove on her.

A tourist swims on a Cayman Island artificial reef - Stephen Weir
So popular has the Fort Myer's artificial reef project been (they have been creating artificial reefs sinc1981including 6 ships) that they already have plans to sink more ships near the Mohawk. This time though, they plan to bring a bit of Hollywood to the scuttling of two derelict ships -- a pirate battle where both vessels lose, and the dive community wins.
Would a modern day Jack Sparrow raise his Jolly Roger flag and make the Captain John an underwater attraction? Aye matey and the dive community would pay to daily act as her ghostly crew.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Jason Baldwin (West Memphis Future) is Going Back The Future With the Assocation in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted

Harold Levy and John Artis Photo by George Socka


Originally published in Huffington Post. 
BY Stephen Weir.     Over the past 20 years, the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) have quarterbacked 18 post-conviction exonerations of people convicted of murder here in Canada. As AIDWYC gets set to mark its 20th anniversary, there are appeals before the courts that could cause that successful case count to rise.
On Friday morning, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered that Leighton Hay, a Toronto man found guilty of first-degree murder in 2004, will have a new trial. For 12 years Mr. Hay and AIDWYC have been fighting to clear his name and the Supreme Court of Canada's decision is an important step towards establishing his innocence.
AIDWYC success stories are becoming more familiar to Canadians as more innocent people gain their freedom from Canadian prisons. Stephen Truscott, David Milgaard, Guy Paul Morin and Robert Baltovich are household names in Canada and are five of the eighteen prisoners who have been rescued by AIDWYC.
Unfortunately, these cases are not proof that police investigation and crown prosecution techniques are improving overtime. More often or not, at least according to experts like the Innocence Project, "the common themes that run through these cases -- from global problems like poverty and racial issues to criminal justice issues like eyewitness mis-identification, invalid or improper forensic science, overzealous police and prosecutors and inept defense counsel -- cannot be ignored and continue to plague our criminal justice system."
AIDWYC is hosting a day-long educational conference and gala dinner at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Toronto on November 23 to study and discuss the underlying causes of wrongful conviction.
Over the course of the day everything from a discussion of Shaken Baby Syndrome, to a symposium about false confessions and plea bargains, will take place. Many of AIDWYC's clients and their families will be at the conference to share their stories.
Toronto lawyer and retired Toronto Star investigative reporter Harold Levy has written about AIDWYC and the wrongly convicted over the past two decades. He also writes an award-winning blog about exoneration cases involving disgraced Ontario coroner Charles Smith.
In preparation for the November 23 conference Levy has worked with videographer George Socka to interview four people about the plight of the wrongly convicted in Canada and the United States. Over the course of two weeks they interviewed Rob Baltovich, John Artis, Ralph Steinberg and Sean MacDonald.
"When you are accused of a serious crime, I think the general consensus for people who don't know you that well is that you are guilty," Robert Baltovich told Harold Levy. Baltovich was wrongly convicted of second-degree murder in 1992 for the murder of his girlfriend, Elizabeth Bain. He spent eight years in prison and nearly another decade clearing his name. Baltovich was found not guilty in a retrial in 2008.
John Artis was 19 in 1966. Back then there was no AIDWYC, no Innocence Project. Artis was just a high school athlete facing murder charges in New Jersey alongside boxer Ruben Hurricane Carter. "I was scared to death. My fear, and any black person's fear at that point was to be incarcerated for the murder of three white men."
Artis served 14 years. Carter even longer. Both were eventually exonerated. Carter moved to Toronto and eventually worked with AIDWYC. Artis (pictured with Levy) is now in Toronto assisting an ailing Hurricane Carter. Ralph Steinberg and Sean MacDonald, both Toronto lawyers and directors with AIDWYC, see the upcoming conference in Toronto to be of the utmost importance for justice in this country.
"We want to make this (exoneration) part of the public consciousness and we want to coordinate ourselves to go forward and uncover more miscarriages of justice in the future in more efficient ways," MacDonald told Levy.
Movie Poster  - West Memphis 3
In the US, more so than in Canada, film stars, authors and musicians have lent their celebrity support to help bring attention to the plight of the Wrongly Convicted. Jason Baldwin, once sentenced to life in prison for the murder of three children in West Memphis, Arkansas, had the strong support of Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder and the Dixie Chicks in his ongoing bid for freedom from a life sentence in a US jail.
Canadian Film Maker Atom Egoyan has just made Devil's Knot, a film about the West Memphis Three starring Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth. Both Egoyan and Baldwin will be at the conference, Baldwin as the Keynote Speaker and Egoyan will introduce him.
Also participating, amongst many others will be Toronto lawyer and AIDWYC co-founder James Lockyer, New York lawyers and co-founder's of the Innocence Project Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, the founder of Centurion Ministries, James McCloskey, co-host of the Fifth Estate, Linden MacIntyre, and Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

"Back to the Future" is open to the public.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Junk Store Gyro, Tom Clancy And A Replica Avro Arrow

Boomer Memories of the Cold War Aerospace Industry as it spins, flies and slips off the Mortal Coil

Litton gyro spins in junk store

I spent over 15-years working for a company that made very expensive, highly accurate navigation systems for military and commercial aircraft.  Towards the end of the Cold War, Litton Systems Canada modified an aircraft navigation system for the US cruise missile programme. Employment and profits soared - but as with most things Boomer, it all eventually leads to Bust.

The cruise missile was the first low cost missile to use a terrain mapping system (think of it as a precursor to Google Maps) that allowed it to fly close to the ground, past mountains and even tall buildings to blow up a target.  The Litton spinning wheel gyroscopes made sure that the missile knew where it was at all times.
It was a technology leap forward in modern warfare. Mindful of the "Red" menace, very little news of the Canadian made navigation equipment was made public.  We were under watch, even the PR department had to get NATO clearance to take product to classified military trade shows.
Weapons evolve. It wasn't long before ring laser and fiber optic gyros replaced the cruise missile’s Canadian spinning wheel gyros. Business slowed down, Litton was sold a number of times, and the workforce drifted away.  I kept track of the people but I have always wondered where did the used military gyros go?
Turns out my late company's biggest competitive edge is now a dusty curio! While in downtown Toronto last week I found inside a Queen Street junk store, a Litton Canada military inertial navigation system. The LN3 with its G2 gyros was on a store shelf, hooked up to a battery and spinning away. High performance Cold War military aircraft used the G2 to accurately fly.  This one was probably inside one of Canada's CF 104 Starfighter jets (a much later generation was used in cruise missiles).
It was a week for thinking about the past glories of Litton.  On Tuesday Tom Clancy, the best-selling author whose espionage thrillers set the bar for military spy novels died at the age of 66.
I worked with Tom Clancy once in the 80s at a hush hush military trade show in the US. Our company, along with many other sister divisions, had come up with an all-Litton military drone.  We all pooled our marketing monies to put on a BIG show for the Pentagon and Free World military attaches.
Marketing a drone is no different than selling pizza.  You promote the sizzle, with glitz, glam and pizzazz.  One of our competitors used Booth Babes - attractive models to lure the military buyers in to see their products. We went with a juggler, a drunken robot, the Lone Ranger and Tom Clancy.
 Mayor Hazel and the Avro Arrow replica
The juggler did a routine that had him keeping a buzzing chain saw, an apple and an egg in the air while he gave our sales pitch. He ate the apple while it was flight (it stood for Litton) and ended it all by smashing the egg onto his face (which is what happens if you were dumb enough to buy the competition's nav system).
We did have Robbie the Robot at some of our events. We dropped the talking, walking, colourful machine (voiced by a hidden operator) when a general's wife took offence at his tipsy comments about her figure.
I then did one trade show in California with  Clayton Moore and his dead horse. Moore was an American actor who played the Lone Ranger in movies and a long running TV show of the same name.  The show went off the air in 1959.  For the next 40 years Moore, despite trademark battles, made public appearances as the Lone Ranger.  
We had a paddock in our Litton booth for his fibreglass horse (supposedly Silver). Every so often Moore, complete with his Texas Rangers outfit and black mask, would come out and pose for pictures with the Military Brass. Clayton was very adept at getting 4-Star Generals to line up for pictures with him and the horse. The best Generals got a silver bullet bearing the Litton logo, from his gun belt.
While the Lone Ranger, the juggler and the robot helped push sales of Canadian made military technology, the best Booth Babe we had was Tom Clancy.
It was Washington, a military exhibition dubbed the Quad 4 because it catered to buyers from the Navy, Air Force, Army and Marines.  The Litton divisions had teamed up again and wanted to go big and come home with a full order book.

Tom Clancy was riding high; he was a worldwide writing star. Ronald Reagan said he was his favourite author. Military officials found his novels - Hunt For Red October, A Clear and Present Danger, and Patriot Games - so accurate, they investigated to see if there was a mole in the US Forces, feeding Clancy classified information.
We set up a table, piled high with copies of Hunt for Red October in the middle of our space within the Washington Convention Centre. I gave Clancy a pack of Sharpie pens to autograph the books.  Within minutes of the doors opening, the line-up began to form.
Majors. Generals.  Rear Admirals. Captains. They all sent their batsmen to line-up for them. Colonels and Lieutenants suffered the embarrassment of having to stand in line themselves!
The Hunt for Red October sold 5-million copies before we hired him.  Clancy didn't need the money.  I asked him why he bothered. He said that he got a wealth of information talking to 4-Star Generals. "Top Secret?" I remember him saying, "These fellows don't need much prompting to sing!"
Tom Clancy never wrote about the Avro Arrow.  His beat was the toys of the big boys - somehow he missed our made-in-Canada CF-105.
The delta-winged interceptor jet was developed in the 50s. It was rumoured to be able to reach Mach 3 and could fly 60,000 feet above land.  It would have made our air force a contender, but was killed off in 1959 by the Conservative government in favour of American made defense missiles.
The preproduction Arrows were broken up for scrap. Thousands of men and women lost their jobs on Black Friday, 54 years ago. Other Canadian aerospace firms, including the company that would become Litton Systems Canada, picked up many of the engineers and designers.
Last week, while the dusty gyros spun away, and flowers were placed on Clancy's Maryland grave, a life-sized replica of the Avro Arrow rolled into the parking lot of the International Centre. The International Centre was at one time the Avro factory, now an airport strip convention centre; the building used the jet as a free display for this year's Mississauga Open Doors festival.
Unveiling the Avro Arrow Replica

" Unfortunately, somebody decided, we won’t say who (to kill the Avro project)," said Mayor Hazel McCallion (in a veiled reference to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker)  at last week’s event. 
"Welcome Home Arrow!" She told an applauding standing room only crowd of boomers.
Thousands of hours of volunteer work went into the building of the replica, some of the workers were former Avro employees and many were in the audience. I helped George Socka in a very minor way interview some of the men. Looking back at those Cold War times, there was a Boomer song that was quoted several times. Those were the days my friend,  we thought they would never end!
Avro Arrow video report by George Socka: 

Monday, 2 September 2013

The gallery with no air(s) and 24 minutes of viewing time

Art Exhibition on the sunken hull of the USS Mohawk - 30 miles into the Gulf from For Myers

Fort Myers shipwreck
Enjoy the 12 -work exhibitions but always mind the sharks

By Stephen Weir
It is an international happening -- an art show that will have you holding your breath -- but only for so long.  People in-the-know and who have access to dive equipment, a big boat and the willingness to swim with big fishes, have been making underwater pilgrimages all summer to see the hidden work of Austrian artist Andreas Franke.
Underwater closeup of hull art show
Considered one of the 200 best photographers in the world, Franke has taken his art underwater in the new show: The Sinking World Of Andreas Franke - Mohawk Project – Life Above Refined Below (  This is the third time that he has put together a composite photography exhibition that can only be seen underwater.
Underwater closeup of hull art show
The present show (which closes September 14th) is on the remains of the Mighty Mo’, the USS Mohawk (WW2 Coast Guard Cutter).  She saw action in the North Atlantic throughout the War, and last year she was scuttled to create an artificial reef 28 miles east of Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, Florida, in the wide-open blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The wreck has quickly become a habitat for game fish and a popular dive destination for scuba divers.  Franke toured and photographed the ship prior to her sinking and then once again once she was on the bottom. 
Back in Vienna he imagined the life of sailors past, aboard the 78-year old Mohawk – their daily lives and their dreams of home. He superimposed studio shot images he took of models in period clothing onto his original photography of the ship.
These mashed–up scenes are ghostly apparitions of Franke’s whimsical view of the War.  The Mohawk becomes an underwater version of the Flying Dutchman – a ship, a crew and somehow some pretty female passengers doomed to sail the seas underwater for all time eternal.
Not guts and glory, these are pictures of svelte sailors and sunbathing women lounging on a ship that isn’t fighting the foamy rage of the North Seas, hidden Nazi submarines and the sardine-close quarters aboard a 165ft long 5-storey floating tin-can.
According to the artist, he is exploring themes of love, loss, and youth at a time when the world was at war.  “I imagined these sailors waiting in the North Atlantic for a German sub to attack them, so in these images I tried to make their lives a little bit nicer with the girls on board.  If I was there, what would I want?  It’s a dream, a fantasy land for sailors.”
After 2 months the sea has begun to take over .
The dozen works of art originally installed on the Mighty Mo depict the fighting men and women of the 40’s as buff and barely dressed, on board a steel hulled vessel that is more party boat than warship. One sailor, wearing only rolled up white pants, comes onto a sunken deck with a 30 lb wrench casually carried on his shoulder, his well defined six pack barely showing any strain.
Another has a sailor and gal smooching on the stern while a school of fish swoop over the deck. Two men arm wrestle on deck, a captain grabs a smoke outside the wheelhouse, and everyone is oblivious to the fact that they are pictured underwater!
Women sunbathe and drink fancy drinks on the bow of the sunken ship. In another composite photograph, two sailors and their girl nap with the fishes on the bow. There are pictures of deck brawls, tattoo sessions and sailors courting the women in a style that is as lost in time as the ship they stand upon.
Franke original before it was taken below!
"In case of the Mohawk everything went out very well from the beginning," said the artist. "I had the chance to see the ship before it was sunk. The first time I saw the ship I thought it was a great ship.  We have a very close relationship with Joe Weatherby, who was responsible for the sinking of the Mohawk. We were also very lucky that we got a lot of support from Lee County So we were able to get the permission to hang the art on this wreck very short-term."

Each image measures roughly 2.5 by 3.5 feet and is encased in steel-framed Plexiglas. Industrial grade magnets firmly affix the works to the hull. "During their time at sea, the photos will evolve with accumulation of marine life," explains the artist, "which will give them a seaworthy patina and life of their own and ennobles the art work to unique pieces."
At the end of the underwater exhibition, “The Sinking World” images will be brought to the surface for display at the Lee County Alliance for the Arts galleries in Fort Myers on Oct. 4, 2013. The mashed-up photographs will remain on display until Oct. 26, 2013. 
Franke original before it was taken below!
At the wreck site you need scuba gear to make it down to the deck of the ship to see the works.  When the exhibit was set up at the beginning of the summer there were 12 works of art hung on the iron walls of the ship - earlier this week I assisted in the removal of two of the pieces (because of magnet detached).... so now divers can only take in a 10-piece exhibit.
Given the time constraints involved in the science of diving, when breathing compressed air, the longest one can dally at 90 feet down, is about half an hour. And, since the composite photographs are scattered throughout the 5-decks of the ship, there is quite a bit of swim time required to take in the whole show.
Franke original before it was taken below!
Seeing this exhibition is much different than breathing fresh air and contemplating a masterpiece in a museum.  The works have only been up for two months but already sea creatures and plant life have attached themselves to the pictures - I had to rub off a thick layer of growth to take the pictures posted on this page.
Having worked for years within an art gallery environment, I felt like I was damaging the work of art and offending the artist.  Not so, according to Franke.
"That divers clean the art work is not too bad at all," he told me. "As long as they only clean the main part of the images it doesn't bother me a lot. On the contrary, it is finally a part of the whole concept. My work is done as soon as the artwork is fixed on the wreck. Then the ocean and the diver decide how the final image will turn out. "
"During the time under the surface, the salt water coats and redefines the images with a patina made of algae and microorganisms. This and the touch of the divers transform each work to an entirely inimitable and absolutely unique art work," he continued.  When the pictures are brought to the surface "again, the art work will be dried and sealed professionally so that they can be shown in a gallery.”
Franke original before it was taken below!
Being on scuba changes everything.  One doesn’t sit and contemplate the art; you have to use your flippers to maintain an upright position (there can be a current washing along the deck of the ship). Because colour disappears with depth the pictures look like they are shot in black and white.
More importantly you must be mindful of a family of massive jewfish who have taken up permanent residence on the ship. These 500 lb behemoths thinking nothing of getting between you and the art show.
The day before I visited the ship, divers reported seeing a 6ft long bull shark swimming slowly over the stern deck near one of the art pieces. No divers were lost, so obviously the shark was a kind critic!
“Hope (that all) the art critics will be as gracious with me!” said the artist. “Anyway, I am glad you weren't there the day before! "
The artist at the wreck site
SIDEBAR #1 – What is Next?

I am completely fascinated by that mystical underwater world, the very peculiar emptiness and a tragic stillness but also by the shipwrecks. The depth has no big influence at all as long as divers can reach them.”
Frankes has held three different underwater exhibitions.  Prior to the Mohawk he has presented two different shows on the massive underwater wreck of the USS Hoyt Vandenberg (Florida Keys) and the SS Stavronikita (Barbados).Time consuming and costly to mount, Frankes looks forward to producing more underwater exhibitions.
“You are right assuming the projects are rather expensive,” he told me. “I don't want to go into details but so much, all the money comes out of my pocket. There are no sponsors at all.”
“So our goal is to find a sponsor for every upcoming exhibition. I am convinced this will be possible as especially the tourism and dive industry has a lot of advantages, not only due to the really amazing international media interest.”
The artist won’t say what he has planned but does admit that there are some new projects in the works “ It is too early to talk about them. But you can stay tuned for more to come!”

The 2012 sinking of the USS Mohawk


There are at least five dive boats visiting the wreck of the Mohawk on a regular basis.  People wanting to see The Sinking World Of Andreas Franke - Mohawk Project – Life Above Refined Below, must be certified divers and prepared for a 4 hour round trip to the site
Because the wreck is almost 30 miles out to sea, the dive departures are weather dependent.  When I dove on the Mohawk it was 86 degrees Fahrenheit on the deck of the ship.  I dove with Hard Core Hook & Line Charter. Cape Coral, FL 33909 Phone: 239-896-7889/239 839-9544

PHOTOGRAPHS  - Lee County Tourism, Andreas Franke and Stephen Weir

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The summer of the pinball tilts out Monday

Game On 2.0 Game Outs end of Monday in Toronto

Game On 2.0 has been the most popular summer kids' exhibition to play in Toronto for years and years. Sadly the Ontario Science Centre's interactive exhibition flippers out end-of-day, Labour Day Monday.
"Outstanding, that is all I can say," exclaimed Anna Relyea, the Science Centre's director of public relations.  " Kids, and their parents took to this exhibition right from our opening press conference back in the spring."
This fingers-on show traces the 60-year evolution of the computer game beginning with the pinball machine, moving onto Pong and ending with a futuristic 3-D dome game called Virtusphere.  Virtusphere is played  from the inside of 10-foot hollow sphere -- the user runs freely inside while wearing a wireless, head-mounted display.
In all there are 150  games and all of them work.  Gamers can learn about the science that goes into making a computer game, or they can simply sit at a console and blast away at flying Asteroids,  hulking Street Fighters and even Laura Croft!
"Game On 2.0 is an exhibition organised and toured by the Barbican Centre which is owned and funded by the City of London Corporation," continued Anna Relyea. " The secret to the success of the show is in no small part to making sure that each game works!  With all of the machines being played on a continual basis, we have to work quickly to get a game back on line if it goes down. Barbican provided a game technician who has stayed here in Toronto since the show opened to keep things up and running!"
Life-sized model of Laura Croft in the show hall
Although the presentation is aimed at the younger segment of the population,  it does have its appeal to parents (and grandparents) bringing their children to Toronto's Science Centre.  One of the first games you see entering the exhibition hall is a pinball machine from 1961. Gottlieb’s “Egg Head” pinball machine has a simple concept,  one plays tic-tac-toe against a robot!  Tilt control a little too sensitive on Egghead for my liking but what a way to spend a summer afternoon!

BTW - Ontario Science Centre not the only ones to pay homage to the pinball machine this summer.  Stratford has revived the Who's Rock Opera Tommy which will continue to be performed at the Avon Theatre until the end of October.
My wife and I took the show in as an anniversary present to ourselves at a sold-out matinee performance in June.
Time  has not been kind to the fans of the 60s Who concept album. We were mildly shocked to find we were amongst the youngest in the theatre!  Extra uniformed  ushers were on hand to store walkers, canes and wheel chairs as theatre goers entered the hall.
Who knew that 80+ year olds knew the words and were happy to sing along  to "Tommy Can You Hear Me"? Mindful of the age of the audience, and to make sure that Tommy's older fans could hear the words Stratford players did played it really loud  (enough decibels to shake your dentures and make your hearing aides squeal in pain)!
According the to programme this musical is "based on The Who’s 1969 concept album Tommy, mostly composed by Pete Townshend, the groundbreaking stage musical was created by  Townshend and Stratford's Des McAnuff, who together wrote the libretto. Working largely out of La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, where McAnuff was then Artistic Director, the two transformed the album  into the most technically advanced musical Broadway had ever seen.
It’s been almost twenty years since Canadian fans have had a chance to see Tommy on stage. This latest revival got great reviews (only the Globe hated the show) and continues to sell out most performances!

The Virutsphere in the Ontario Science Centre

Friday, 23 August 2013




Toronto, August 23, 2013


The Toronto African Film & Music Festival which was slated to be held August 30 – September 1, at the Toronto International Centre has been postponed. A new date will be announced shortly.

There is one major reason why we are once again postponing the festival. The Federal Government’s Visa services staff are currently on strike and the pending visas for the African performing artists have not been processed as of yet. It has been decided to push back the dates, until the visa’s can be issued for the visiting performers.  This is the third time the event has been postponed and/or moved.

Purchased tickets will be refunded over the next few days. For any further Information please contact Paris Rogers TAFMF Festival Director at 647-852-4072 or

Posted by Stephen Weir for:

Steven McKinnon
Kinron Associates Event Services Management

Friday, 9 August 2013

Science and the King and Queen Competition

The Award for Innovation in Mas
Goes to ‘The Hyper-Physical Being’

Hyper-Physical Being - photo by Anthony Berot

Toronto, ON (August 2, 3013) – With its ambiguous coils unraveling outwards and colourful wings reaching upwards, “The Hyper-Physical Being” is the winner of the Ontario Science Centre’s Award for Innovation in Mas presented last night at the King and Queen Competition at Lamport stadium. The spectacular creation was designed and built by Danzo Balroop and the team at Louis Saldenah’s Mas-K Club.
The judging panel was made up of Walter Stoddard and Bernie Hillar of the Ontario Science Centre’s Science Content and Design Branch, and Dr. Marsha Haynes, Medical Liaison for Merck Canada, who participated in many carnivals in her native Trinidad.

“Tremendous research, problem-solving, experimentation and collaboration were clearly displayed at every camp we visited in the days leading up to the competition,” said Walter Stoddard. “’The Hyper–Physical Being’ incorporates structurally-challenging elements using twisted and coiled masts and rods, adding an element of complexity that made it stand apart.”
The annual Award goes to the Mas designer who best demonstrates the application of problem-solving, risk-taking and inspiration. The costume must show innovation in the use of materials, mechanics and engineering that permit movement, flexibility and durability. The award was created in 2010 to put a spotlight on the science of Mas, drawing attention to the processes involved in costume-making and recognizing the scientific merit of the engineers of these creative masterpieces.

The Ontario Science Centre delights, informs and challenges the communities we serve, enriching people’s lives and understanding through engagement with science of local, national and global relevance. Since 1969, the Ontario Science Centre has welcomed over 45 million visitors, with an interactive approach that was the model for Science Centres around the world. It is the public centre for innovative thinking and provocative dialogue in science and technology, aiming to inspire a lifelong journey of curiosity, discovery and action to create a better future for the planet. The Ontario Science Centre is an agency of the Government of Ontario. Please visit us at

Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival is an exciting three-week cultural explosion of Caribbean music, cuisine, revelry as well as visual and performing arts. In its 45th year it has become a major international event and the largest cultural festival of its kind in North America. As Carnival is an international cultural phenomenon, the great metropolis of Toronto and its environs will come alive as the city explodes with the pulsating rhythms and melodies of Calypso, Soca, Reggae, Hip Hop, Chutney, Steel Pan and Brass Bands. For complete listing information, visit

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


worker in the shark lagoon - Toronto

§      There is a gift shop and food services in the aquarium. They are prepared to accommodate meat eaters and vegetarians

§      The Aquarium will be open 365-days-a-year, starting in the early fall of 2013

§      The 96-metre-long (315 foot) moving walkway through an acrylic tunnel – which you will be able to step off and admire the sharks will be, according to Ripley’s, the longest indoor underwater tunnel in North America.

§      Ripley’s has two other aquariums – one in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and the other in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

§      Robert Ripley was a cartoonist, an adventurer and collector. He was born in 1890 in California and died in 1949.  His Believe It Or Not cartoons continue to be published. Two recent panels show a bull shark fetus with two-heads and a one-eyed shark (called Cyclops the Shark). Neither are coming to Toronto!

§      Ripley’s Aquarium has pledged not to have dolphins or whales in Toronto

§      Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is expected to draw nearly two million visitors each year

§   Well-trained staff dedicated to the highest standards of aquatic husbandry will include biologists, scientists, divers and aquarists who will work to ensure all the animals are safe, well-tended to, and allowed to flourish

§  The Aquarium will conduct breeding/conservation programs for endangered species, including ongoing tagging and tracking programs for sand tiger sharks in conjunction with universities and government agencies.

Diver Magazine Takes A Back Lot Tour


Toronto, Believe It Or Not, You’re Gonna Get An Aquarium. Any Day Now!

By Stephen Weir

For once, the corporate name really does say it all.  Ripley’s is about to open a new aquarium in Toronto, and given the number of companies that tried and failed, it really is a case of Believe it Or Not!
The Toronto Aquarium - How it Will Look This Fall

Construction continues on the Aquarium. The base of the CN Tower in back

“Yes we have been working non-stop on this for almost two years, but the project has been a ten year struggle.” said Andy Dehart, the Ripley’s shark expert who is overseeing the daily arrival of live fish at the soon-to-open aquarium. 

“Some people thought it would be built in Niagara Falls, with our other properties {the Ripley’s Museum and the Great Wolf Lodge), but here we are at the base of the CN Tower, only a few weeks away from (our debut).”

Several companies have been jockeying to build an aquarium in Canada’s largest city over the past 10 decade, but one by one ended up floating to the top of the tank. There was a plan  by Aquarium Developments Corporation to take over the basement and first three floors of CBC’s downtown Toronto headquarters for a subway level aquarium. Another company wanted to put a $60 million aquarium inside the now close theme park Ontario Place them park or the adjacent Exhibition Place – the hallowed grounds of the city’s annual Canadian National Exhibition Place.
Put your hand inside: see what the shark had for dinner
With the support of the Federal and Provincial Governments and the City of Toronto, the funding and the land were finally found for this project. In September 2011 ground was broke for the state-of-the-art facility and the construction has steamed ahead on schedule.

It is a 100% Canadian installation (Ripley’s is owned by the Jim Pattison Group, Canada's third largest privately held company) and it is being built on the most recognized plot of land in the country. The CN tower looms directly overhead. The Metro Toronto Convention Centre is next door and there is an enclosed walkway to Union Station. The Maple Leafs” Air Canada Centre is at the end of the block and the Harbourfront district and Lake Ontario is a short walk away.

This is Ground Zero for tourism in the “Big Smoke” and although it’s not yet open, the building is attracting attention. School groups. Convention planners. Brides-to-be.  Bookings at the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada (the Believe It, Or Not is silent) have been made well into 2015. 

As of writing, only a few of the 13,000 fresh and saltwater fish have moved into their new home.  The fish arrive several times daily from holding facilities in New York State and Nova Scotia.

While Diver Magazine was touring the Ripley’s Aquarium a few weeks ago, Dehart was in the delivery bay watching as his team of fish handlers “matched” the water in which a school of small Florida Keys reef fish swam inside a towable metal aquarium-on-wheels, with the water in their new home. Salinity and temperature levels are duplicated to reduce the physical stress of the fishes’ transition.
Andy Dehart, Shark Advisor and the man in charge of the fish in Toronto

Andy Dehart, who is a former marine biologist at Washington’s National Aquarium, and also the on-air Discovery Channel’s “Shark Advisor”, is happy to see that his little charges survived the road trip, but he is waiting for the Big Guys: the 10ft long sharks.

Dehart likes sharks. No, no make that he LOVES sharks. He lives to study them (often very close up). And he especially likes swimming with sharks, in fact, the 40-year old PADI trained master diver has hand-fed Tiger Sharks in the Caribbean.  He knows that his sharks are going to be the big draw in Toronto.

The largest tank in Canada’s largest aquarium will be home to sharks, rays and other large fish and turtles. Called Shark Lagoon/Dangerous Reef, the visitor experience will begin inside a acrylic underwater tunnel, which leads into the main viewing gallery. This will be the home of 14 different species of sharks, including Sand Tiger, Sandbar, Nurse and Reef Sharks.  Dehart is awaiting delivery of sawfish, barracudas, moray eels, spadefish, tarpon and green sea turtles (who are currently in Nova Scotia awaiting transportation).
Andrew Dewart under curved dome window
“We will have quite a number of sharks in the aquarium. The species that we have chosen, noteably the Sand Tiger Shark, will live longer in captivity than they would do in the ocean,” said Dehart. “ With excellent food, and good medical care (the aquarium has two Toronto vets and a US based fish expert) there is no telling how large these sharks will get and how long they will live.” The Aquarium has pledged to conduct ongoing breeding programs for the sand tiger sharks and other species in their collection.
 “This is a for-profit company , so we are very much aware of the visitor’s experience,” explained Dehart. “ Guests can watch the sharks being fed. They can interact with divers inside the tanks and we plan to have all night programs where kids can sleep with the sharks.”

There are a lot of theres! There are over 100 visitor experiences where people get to interact with the fish.  There are clear acrylic tunnels where children can crawl through a tank filled with fish.  There is a concave window that you can stand under and watch alewife fish as they school in a moving ball over your head.  The upward wow in the window will make it all look larger than life size, and the slope allows for waste and food matter to slide out of view.

There are petting ponds with rays, and a life size model of an open mouth shark where you are encouraged to reach into its stomach and pull out its last meal. Remember in the movie Jaws how one Great White fish had swallowed a license plate” This exhibit lets you find out first hand what a shark may swallow.
Mobile Fish Transport Tank
There are no plans yet to allow divers into the tanks.  Ripley’s is aware that other aquariums have found scuba programs profitable and in demand.  The aquarium has a huge locker /change room for divers and will be hiring divers to clean the tanks and put on demonstrations for the public. Escorting scuba tourists could soon be in the cards.

“ We will provide guests with an interactive, educational experience while building an understanding of the aquatic world” says Dehart. 

The 12,500-square-metre (135,000- square-foot) building with 5.7-million litres (1.5-million gallons) of marine and freshwater habitats is soon to be one of the largest aquariums in North America.  It is larger than the Vancouver Aquarium (Canada’s only other large aquarium) in terms of floor space, but the BC public aquarium has larger tanks and more species. (6000 compared to Toronto’s 450).

What will make the Toronto experience different than most other aquariums is its large Great Lakes exhibition tank.  There are 17 exhibition tanks featuring Canadian fish and one of the largest has fish that one might see if you walked five minutes south of the Aquarium and dove into Lake Ontario.

Great Lakes fish aren’t sexy in terms of their colouring and their body shapes.  Most aquariums take a pass on pike and rock bass, but not Ripley’s.  They are working to make the fresh water tanks visually exciting and educational.

Large mouth bass, freshwater salmon and even the hulking, long-living sturgeon will soon take up residency in Toronto.   Dehart’s team has taken some liberties with what a Great Lakes fresh water fish is, and will be bringing invasive species such as the carp, and fish that are no longer found in the Lakes such as the  strange looking primitive Paddlefish (Mississippi Spoonfish).
Behind the fish exhibits there are rows of water tanks
It appears that the new aquarium has been designed to do two things – to move large groups of people efficiently through the building and to have the tanks and pipes constructed in such a way that as much water as possible can be reclaimed, cleaned and reused.

Touring the building during construction is much like getting a back lot tour of a Hollywood movie studio. No need to wind your way from the shark experience to the Jelly tank to the kelp forest – there are doors that lead to the employee short cuts.  Being back stage one is struck by just how many water pipes, heating ducts and electrical units are needed to keep the fish happy, the customers warm or cool and to keep the lights on in the brightest part of Toronto.

Being behind the scenes one sees that there is indeed a lot of Hollywood involved. The brightly coloured coral reefs are not real.  The kelp is synthetic too.  The Aquarium will be growing live coral, but, the majority of what you see is the reality of being in a northern climate and is meant to enhance the viewing experience (and fool the fish).

“ The thing is that this is a labour of love, a job of passion, an understanding of marine biology,” said Dehart.  “ Our marine unit are crazy about the subject matter and we want to pass on that passion to our guests.”