Who Lives Here? Green beauty in McKellar Park 

By Andrea Tomkins – 

The door of 651 Rowanwood Avenue swings wide open and there’s Rosemary Cotroneo with a ready smile. Rosemary and Joe are the proud owners of a lovely bungalow at Rowanwood and Dovercourt and they’re quite possibly the nicest couple you’ll ever meet. 

Many readers might recognize Joe as the owner of Pub Italia on Preston Street, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer. 

Joe and Rosemary were both born and raised in Ottawa. (In fact, they were born two weeks apart and may have crossed paths in the nursery at the Civic Hospital.) Joe grew up on Preston Street. Rosemary grew up in Centretown, one of eight children in an Irish family. The two met on a blind date at Joe’s brother’s wedding in 1971. 

Their first date had a rough beginning. Joe picked Rosemary up in his red 1965 Mustang, which failed to make a favourable impression on her conservative father. “I think my father nearly had a heart attack,” recalls Rosemary. 18 months later they were engaged. 

They were married in 1973 and their first home was an apartment at Baseline and Woodroffe. They lived there for two years before they bought their first home on Western Avenue. It was a busy time in their lives. 

“We had the house on Western, we had three boys under four, and Joe was in business for himself,” says Rosemary. “We just hit the ground running.” 

They moved to Black Friars Road and Knightsbridge area around 1980, primarily for the schools although they appreciated the parks and transit service in the area as well. Carlingwood Mall just a hop skip and a jump away, as was the Parkway and the Queensway. 

The family lived on Black Friars until four years ago, when they moved to the bungalow on Rowanwood. By all accounts, it sounds like it was destined to happen. Joe and Rosemary had admired the Rowanwood home long before they purchased it. Their daily walks often took them right past it. 

“Every time we walked by there was an older couple outside, always with their garage door open. Rose would say, ‘if ever that house goes up for sale, I want to go see it,’” says Joe. “It had never been for sale, in all of the years we’ve lived here,” adds Rosemary. One day in June 2014 she noticed it was up for sale. “I went immediately home to phone Joe,” she recalls. They went to an open house on a Sunday and bought it that week. As it turns out they bought it from the man who built it; the original owner. 

They undertook some renovation work when they moved in. The kitchen got a major facelift and Joe enlarged an opening from the kitchen into the dining area. 

One aspect that sets this home apart from others in McKellar Park is the green colour accenting the exterior of the house. This was the original colour, which was changed at some point to brown. (Rosemary made sure it went back to green!) 

The home is a charming mix of old and new. A timeless (yet new!) modern kitchen features gleaming marble countertops and black and white cabinetry. The vintage tiles in the upstairs bathroom are a shade of teal that belongs in a 1960s House and Home magazine. They didn’t have the heart to replace them. “They were perfect,” says Joe. “We had to keep them!” 

[Click images to enlarge.]

A full basement features a retro style bar, as well as a large living area complete with bedroom and bathroom for when family comes to visit. 

Perhaps the best way to describe the interior is “open concept with walls.” The front entrance opens to a light-filled living room and the dining room is a few steps further back, unless you take the kitchen route which leads to a sunken family room that looks out into the back yard. The bedrooms and main bath are at the back of the home. 

Of course, a story that mentions Joe Cotroneo also has to include his restaurant, Pub Italia, a popular destination on Preston Street.  He describes it as “something that just kind of started.” 25 years ago he was working in the electrical business and knew he couldn’t realistically continue in this line of work. The space for the restaurant was available and things came together. “It was a moment of insanity,” quips Rosemary. She adds that they knew “nothing” about the restaurant industry, only that they liked to go out. 

When the pub first opened it featured a coffee roaster, but within a short span of time he got rid of the roaster and started specializing in Belgian beers and collecting religious decor for the pub. The rest, as they say, is history.

As if Joe hasn’t been busy enough over the years, he’s also an avid collector. On April 14, Joe hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for his Italian Moto Museum, located in a former machine shop behind the Dollarama on Somerset St. W. Imagine rows of classic cars, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles, and all kinds of car-related collectibles. 

Joe’s collection began like many collections do, with one acquisition followed by another. “At first it was my own thing just for myself,” says Joe. Now it’s bigger! For the time being, the museum is open by appointment only as he mulls over its future.

Joe and Rosemary have lived in the McKellar Park area for over 40 years. Back then, they liked being able to visit some local shops, walk to the grocery store and to the park. Some things haven’t changed. 

“We take these things for granted because we’ve been here so long, but we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” says Rosemary.

The KT “Who lives here” series takes a closer look at some unique homes and the people who live there. Which Kitchissippi-area homes are you most curious about? It could be an old home, a new one, a big one, or a small one. Email a street address and a photo to editor@kitchissippi.com and we’ll do the rest. To read other stories in this series, click here.

*This feature is brought to you in part by Engel & Völkers Ottawa Central, Brokerage.

Editor’s letter

Dear readers,

As of this issue, KT is moving to a monthly format: A brand new design, a higher page count, and printed on better, whiter, paper. This means that photos and ads will be brighter and more beautiful and will result in a higher-quality reading experience overall.

Photo of Andrea Tomkins by Ted Simpson.

We are also now distributed by Canada Post, which means there is a higher standard of delivery for each of the 12,000 copies of KT distributed across Kitchissippi ward. What’s more, delivery routes include condos and apartment buildings that we weren’t able to reach before.

We’re also increasing the number of news boxes and racks throughout Kitchissippi. You asked, and we answered! You told us that copies on newsstands were disappearing too quickly, so an additional 4,000 copies will be available at ~130 news boxes and racks in various high-traffic locations across the ward. “Where can I pick up an issue” is a surprisingly common question around here, so we’re working on a digital map so you’ll quickly be able to find a copy of the paper when you want one.

This means that every month there will be 16,000 copies of KT distributed across Kitchissippi ward. Given that monthly publications have a longer shelf life and newspapers are often read by more than one person, we anticipate our readership will continue to stay strong.

Of course, this means that you won’t see KT on your doorstep as frequently as before – only once a month as opposed to twice a month. We understand that news happens, so we hope that you’ll bookmark this website for web-only content which will be updated throughout the month. If you are a busy person who likes to stay updated (and we suspect that many of you are), I recommend you subscribe to our e-newsletter so you won’t miss anything new.

What hasn’t changed, of course, is our commitment to you. KT is in its 15th year of sharing stories about this community we call home, and it’s no exaggeration to say that these are challenging times for community newspapers. (There should totally be cake!) I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you to our wonderful advertisers and readers for sticking with us. We exist because you care about your community, and we are grateful for every article you read, like, and share.


Andrea Tomkins
Editor of KT and Westboro resident

Arpi revives unused spaces, brings life to scavenged scraps

By Andrea Tomkins – 

If you crave deep conversations about art, society, the environment, big business, or all of the above, pop your head into 7A Hamilton Ave. A simple plywood sign with the word ART and an arrow points the way to what will certainly be an invigorating exchange of ideas.

Local artist, Arpi, has set up what he calls his “nest” in the former location of LOAM Clay Studio. In between projects he’s fixing up the place – even though it’s meant to be a short-term tenancy – and bringing it back to life.

A Montreal transplant, Arpi is known for his murals in Kitchissippi and beyond. They include a large composition over the entrance of Railbender Tattoo Studio on Armstrong, and on that same building, two finches adorn the wall of the former location of the Orange Art Gallery. Other murals add a splash of colour to Lowrey Street near Garland, and another near Maker House on Wellington Street West.

One of his biggest passions involves the reuse of found materials. He just got his drivers license this year, after 30-plus years of being a pedestrian. “When you’re driving, you’re looking at the road,” describes Arpi. “When you’re walking, you’re looking at everything else.” And of course, you find stuff. Like a modern day magpie, Arpi’s nest is stuffed with projects in various degrees of completion and the materials come from within a 500m radius. These may be locally sourced discards, but as Arpi explains, they are also well travelled: raw wood from B.C., shipped to China to make furniture for a big box store, and then back again, only to be thrown away after its life as cheap furniture is over.

“It makes me appreciate the true value of things,” says Arpi, who did a stint as a tree planter and has seen first hand the devastating effects of clear cutting.

It was while he was building frames for his canvases that he realized the scraps could be reused in a creative way.

“I found [the offcuts] really visually stimulating because of the echoes of all of the energy I put into it,” he describes. “Not just from me, but before… when it was in someone’s living room.”

Those scraps became the basis of a different kind of wall art. The name he’s given to this “wood fractal art” is “Neighbourwood: wood from the ‘hood.”

Birds and nature feature heavily in much of Arpi’s art, but these themes intersect even more in walls that span entirely from floor to ceiling. Those plywood offcuts and scraps of wood create a heavily textured surface punctuated with living plants. He invites visitors to smell the leaves of a lemon-scented geranium, touch the fern, and admire the shades of green of a spider plant.

Arpi enjoys working in these large formats and has two wooden wall installations under his belt: one at Loam and another at Beyond the Pale at the City Centre. Making art accessible to the masses is a major driver behind his work. “Considering the impact it has on a community, [murals] are such an incredible medium,” says Arpi. “Mural art, to me, is much more appealing because there’s no ownership,” he says. He feels keenly that this kind of art transcends barriers. “I love murals because you can basically transform a wall – which is a limitation, a kind of frontier – into a window to a universe of infinite imagination.”

He sees the role of the artist something akin to a public servant. It’s an interesting perspective, especially in the nation’s capital. “Beautification is in everyone’s best interest, and it’s also everyone’s duty,” says Arpi. “If everyone does their bit and makes their neighbourhood better, it’s so much better for everyone.”

“Beautification is in everyone’s best interest, and it’s also everyone’s duty,” says Arpi. “If everyone does their bit and makes their neighbourhood better, it’s so much better for everyone.”

Meet the ice master

By Andrea Tomkins – 

Taking a turn around an outdoor rink is a favourite winter pastime for many Kitchissippi residents, yet many don’t know the ice isn’t maintained by city staff. It is, in fact, a small army of volunteers who do the work. Recruits come and go, but there are a few people like Westboro’s Stewart Dewar who give their time freely.

He moved to the neighbourhood “twenty-some” years ago and raised two boys who went through a hockey program. “They were almost raised here at Dovercourt,” reflects Stewart. “They spent a lot of time on the ice and on the little hill.”

Stewart Dewar is the volunteer co-ordinator and one of a core group of regulars who maintain the ice. at Dovercourt Recreation Centre. “No one person, or even a small group, can do it by themselves,” says Stewart. “You need to get as many people involved as possible.” Photo by Ellen Bond

It was during this time he noticed his neighbours working on the outdoor rink – commonly referred to as the ODR – shoveling and scraping and flooding it at night. He started helping once a week. As time went on, the original organizers moved on and he became the volunteer co-ordinator. Stewart’s sons are in their twenties now, but he’s still involved.

It takes a village to keep an outdoor rink in top shape. Not only is it a multi-step process that starts with shoveling the snow, scraping the ice and chipping away lumps and bumps, but there’s the flooding – connecting a heavy hose and spraying water over both surfaces – and draining the hose and putting it away. Depending on the weather, the process might happen multiple times a week. If there’s a thaw, which seems to be happening more often, it requires time and effort to rebuild.

Some outdoor rinks in Ottawa didn’t open this season due to a lack of volunteers. Many are maintained by community associations but this isn’t the case for the Dovercourt ODR.

The number of residents coming forward to pitch in is not a “torrent of volunteers by any means,” describes Stewart, although Dovercourt has an enviably good-sized crew. He estimates there are about 20 in rotation and half a dozen regulars but he’s hoping to bump his core crew and spread the load. “No one person, or even a small group, can do it by themselves,” says Stewart. “You need to get as many people involved as possible.”

A large new sign by the shack is a direct appeal for volunteers and even goes so far as to have Stewart’s email address and phone number printed right on it.

He understands why it can be hard to get folks to come out and pitch in. Rink prep time is “prime time” for many people. Rink volunteers are bundling up and heading out for their shift at a time when most people are just sitting back to binge on Netflix.

“You gotta go at 8:30 or 9 p.m. and spend an hour and a half or two hours outside in the dead of the winter,” Stewart laughs. “It’s not everybody’s cup of tea but it’s actually not bad if you dress for it.”

Even a short stint cleaning the snow off the ice is welcome and there’s no need to be on a call list. 15 minutes with a shovel in the evening makes a big difference. Parents can lead by example by picking up a shovel while their children play. It’s a good lesson for kids in community building and an easy way to give back.

“That’s often the sentiment,” says Stewart. “People say they want to give back to the community and this is how they’re going to do it.”

It’s a busy rink. The variety of people who use them is always a wonder, says Stewart. The ODR is enjoyed by everyone from skilled young hockey players playing a fast-paced game of pick-up, to people who’ve never been on skates.

Stewart is especially thrilled to see new Canadians tie on a pair of skates. He remembers a group of kids who were new to Canada and to hockey. “Honestly, they were just howling with laughter, having fun. To me, that’s awesome,” recalls Stewart. “You don’t have to register or pay hundreds of dollars to sign up for hockey and then hundreds more to get all the gear; they just came out. I was tickled pink every time I saw those kids.”

Intergenerational games of shinny are also a treat to watch: “When the little ones get the puck, they get to keep it for a little bit.”

Ice skating is a lifelong tradition for many of us, a new tradition for others. Stewart reflects fondly: “Keeping that tradition alive is definitely what motivates me and a lot of other people to come out and do the work that they do.” Of course, that begs the question: Where would we be without our community ice rinks?

“Communities need lots of threads to hold them together,” he says. “The outdoor rink is a thread in the fabric of the community.” But it’s more than just a physical space, says Stewart. It’s also the interaction. “People don’t just sit there; they merge together. It’s social.”

Where else do people just show up and join a game for which there’s no schedule or time frame? “You just join and it sorts yourself out,” explains Stewart. “You see what side needs a player and all of a sudden you’re playing a game with your neighbours and you’re connected with them. Where else can you do that?”

Andrea Tomkins volunteered to flood the rink at Dovercourt. Read about her experience right here. The February 1 print and digital editions of KT contain our outdoor rink map and guide. Don’t miss it! Download the digital edition right here

What’s it like to flood an outdoor ice rink? Read on.

By Andrea Tomkins – 

I made a swishing sound as I walked to Dovercourt Recreation Centre. I wore the warmest clothing I owned, including a thick pair of ski pants, a long down-filled puffy coat with the hood drawn up, and four layers of clothing underneath it, not to mention wool ski socks, winter boots, and thick gloves.

It was a beautiful night; as clear and dark as they come here in Westboro. It was 9 p.m., and quiet, -16C, and no wind. By all accounts, it was the best kind of night to flood the rink.

I recently met Stewart Dewar, an area resident and one of the volunteers who maintain the ice at Westboro Kiwanis Park, which is the name of the park behind Dovercourt. He’s also the “keeper of the list,” meaning he’s the one who watches the weather, recruits volunteers, and decides when and if the ice needs flooding. It was during our chat for an article in the recent issue of KT that I decided I would come along one night and see the process up close and experience it for myself.

It was just after nine when I arrived at the Dovercourt trailer, which serves as a warm-up hut during the skating season and also houses the giant hose that’s used to flood the ice. Stewart introduced me to the newest volunteer on the roster, Skylar Michaels, and we went to work. There are two parts to the rink maintenance routine: shoveling and scraping, followed by flooding. I counted myself lucky that the shoveling part was already done when I arrived, but it was clear that it’s an enormous part of the job. Too much snow on the ice, not to mention ice chunks, would affect our goal: a smooth sheet of ice for skating.

The first step is to unspool the hose. This may be obvious to some, but this is not your garden variety watering device. I’m guessing it’s a lighter weight fireman’s hose. It’s several inches wide and made out of a thick canvas-type material that looks virtually indestructible. Stewart estimates it’s about 200’ long. Once it’s connected and has water running through it, it’s heavy.

My first task: to drag the hose to the far corner of the enclosed rink. Here’s where I should point out that Dovercourt has two skating surfaces: the rink, which is enclosed by tall boards and is intended for hockey games, and what’s commonly referred to as a “puddle,” an open area between the rink and the small sledding hill. Stewart and I chatted about the choice of the word “puddle” to describe the second skating area and he told me he prefers the word “pond” because it’s a bit more upscale. This is not a mere puddle! (I don’t disagree.)

The hose was turned on and the flooding part of the evening officially began.

Stewart showed me the ropes and gave me a chance to flood as well. A successful flood, said Stewart, is all in the prep. “It’s just like painting.” [Click the image below for the  “hose cam” perspective.]

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Guess what I did last night? #ohcanada

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Pointing a stream of water at the ground seems like a relatively simple idea, and it is, but I was wary that my inexperience would ruin someone’s game of pick-up the next day. Accumulated piles of snow at the base of the boards had to be pulverized by a concentrated jet of water to get rid of them (“otherwise the puck flips up during a game”) and otherwise it’s a matter of covering the rest of the ice with a good layer of water. Some folks choose the “side to side” motion of hosing while others just let it flow. It’s a matter of personal preference. The question of how much water is a tough one to answer, and rather unscientific. “Until it starts to flow away,” said Stewart. The idea is for the water to fill the cracks in the ice and create a smooth solid layer so the answer to the “how much water” question varies depending upon the weather, whether the ice was heavily used, and if it had been flooded recently.

Stewart Dewar shows me the ropes.

No word of a lie: I enjoyed my turn with the hose. Stewart told me that it’s a very peaceful task, and it is. The spray of the water makes a gentle sound and you tend to get lost in your thoughts as you watch it hit the ice and flow this way and that. While I watered the ice, Stewart and Skyler were the “hose support” crew, making sure the hose was straight and out of my way as I systematically covered the ice with water. Like a garden hose, a kink in the hose impedes water flow, but because it’s so heavy it’s not easy for the person holding the hose to straighten it out again.

It’s hard to look serious while wearing four layers of winter clothing and clutching a hose.

I did most of the enclosed rink before handing the hose back to Stewart. My arms were starting to ache but I don’t know if it was from the weight of the hose or a result of the yoga class I’d finished earlier that evening. Amazingly, I didn’t spray myself – or anyone else for that matter – and I think I did an ok job (at least Stewart said as much although to be fair I wasn’t sure if he was just being polite).

Stewart flooded the pond himself. The three of us chatted about all kinds of things – Westboro development, the future of the news business, municipal politics – and I realized that although the task of flooding is work, it’s also very social. The time goes by quickly, even quicker when there are more people on hand to share the work! It is also rewarding. I felt good knowing that the hour or so we spent out there means there’s a place for kids to gather for some outdoor fun after school. It means people of all ages can gather and play hockey. Maybe a new neighbour will learn how to skate in a relaxed environment. My kids are grown up now, but they learned to skate here. It’s good to pay it forward.

The last part of the evening was probably the hardest for me, as a newbie. The hose, which is comprised of several segments, is disconnected and disassembled so each part can be drained and put back on the reel. This is where wet mitts happen! My task was a small one. I disconnected each segment and stretched them out so they were straight and flat, at which point Stewart or Skylar would take it and string it up on a tree branch to drain the water from it. Each segment is then brought back to the trailer and wound back on to the spool.

Soon it was time to go home; good timing too, because my toes were starting to get cold. The front of my scarf was frozen; otherwise, I was in good shape. We all parted ways and wished each other a good night. Happily swishing home again, I thought how fortunate we are to have an outdoor skating rink in our community, and most importantly, that are people who are willing to put in the effort to maintain it.

The finished product!

New initiative at Nepean HS kickstarts important conversations

By Andrea Tomkins – 

A group of students at Nepean High School has launched a new initiative to educate their peers – and get them talking – about healthy relationships.

The official goal of SWAT, which stands for Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team, is to create a “safe, respectful and sex-positive environment at Nepean” and initiate discussions about issues such as consent and healthy sexuality.

The members of S.W.A.T. at Nepean High School. Front row: Iqra Yaqoob, Julia Mela, Eva Vahidi, Aliyah Poon Young, Julia Paris, Maya Seymour, Hannah Thomsen. Back row: Shemond Charley, Jamal Koulmiye-Boyce, Elias Hancock. Photo by Andrea Tomkins
The members of SWAT at Nepean High School. Front row: Iqra Yaqoob, Julia Mela, Eva Vahidi, Aliyah Poon Young, Julia Paris, Maya Seymour, Hannah Thomsen. Back row: Shemond Charley, Jamal Koulmiye-Boyce, Elias Hancock. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

Three founding members of the group – grade eleven students Hannah Thomsen, Maya Seymour, and Julia Paris – sat down with KT to talk about how this initiative began and what they hope to achieve.

The first item on their list: to find ways to change the words some students use to describe a bad situation. In fact, the idea of SWAT came out of  a casual reference to rape made by a classmate while tests were being handed back.

“I heard somebody in the class say, ‘man, that test just raped me,’” describes Hannah. “I thought about it, and I told Maya, and we both got really angry.”

“The term “raped me,” used in that context – those casual references – that’s part of what the girls really wanted to raise awareness of,” says Nepean Principal Patrick McCarthy. “This is a really serious issue and it affects a lot of people and a lot of lives, and to use it as a punchline is not acceptable.”

The SWAT initiative is still very new. The students’ original plan was simply to create posters and hang them around the school, but they were encouraged to do some research, have discussions, and take it further. The group now plans to invite guest speakers to the school and roll out issue-specific “blitzes” that will include information about rape culture, consent, and victim shaming, all keeping within their overall objective to “think globally and act locally.”

Although healthy relationship posters are not an uncommon sight at OCDSB high schools, this kind of targeted student initiative is a first for the board. The SWAT members are hoping it will spread to other schools next year.

The group’s teacher advisor, Jessica Houghton, who also runs Nepean’s Gender Sexuality Alliance Club, is also encouraging the students to think beyond a poster campaign. For example, a survey will help gauge where the school is at in terms of their understanding of the issues and help SWAT determine where they should be focusing their efforts.

Early feedback from teachers and peers has been positive so far. “The people we’ve talked to about it appreciate what we’re doing,” says Maya. “Understandably, students seem to have a lot of questions about rape culture and what it means in the context of going to school at Nepean.”

Hannah defines rape culture as a “society that validates and perpetuates rape culture and can, in some situations, encourage the concept of rape by casual references.”

“We’re addressing this here, but it’s a bigger societal problem, not a Nepean problem,” adds Julia.

Patrick is careful to point out that SWAT students are not the only source of support for peers who come forward with bigger questions. One of SWAT’s goals is to give students a way to get help. Posters refer students to sexual assault hotlines and organizations such as Ottawa Public Health, Youth Services Bureau, and the Kids Help Line. The message: help is here if you need it.

“We want to provide a safe space so students can educate themselves and talk about their opinions and be able to develop their skills in dealing with these kinds of issues,” says Julia.

Although the initiative is still in its early stages, the key players have already learned a lot about themselves.

“I’ve never realized how sensitive a topic [sexual assault] was for some people,” describes Maya. “I grew up in a very liberal family and we’re very open about discussing these kinds of things, but I’ve been made aware that certain people and certain families are not comfortable about talking about sexual assault…. we’ve learned how to address it in the right way.”

“I’ve become much more aware of these issues,” adds Hannah. “And they’re complex issues you can spend years learning about. There’s a lot I didn’t know. Sometimes, unless you go out looking for the information, you won’t see it.”

Here’s the big question: are the SWAT students better equipped now that they’ve spent so much time researching and planning their awareness someone compare rape to a poor grade on a test today?

“I’ve had people say it to me, and I ask them if that’s really an appropriate word to use,” says Hannah. “You can’t use the word ‘rape’ when describing a test or a basketball game. They don’t think about it, they just say it. Most people will realize that it’s not an appropriate word to use.”

Julia adds that when addressing people who use a derogatory term, the most important thing to do is not shame them. She admits it’s better to “be kind” about it.

The members of SWAT (Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team) in front of their display case at Nepean High School.

“I’m very passionate about this [issue]. Before, I’d attack them, which just makes them defensive and makes them want to prove you wrong,” says Julia. “Whereas if you just ask them about their logic in using that specific word or just prompt them to reconsider, they’re probably going to work with you and be more open to change.”

Principal McCarthy is proud of the work the SWAT group has done so far.

“These are strong students, strong people, and the easiest thing in the world for them would have been to walk past this, to ignore it. They took this as an opportunity to have a really positive impact here [at Nepean] and they took that challenge on. They’ve really taken on a leadership role in helping other people understand this issue in a more mature way. And that’s been really impressive to watch.”

What does a high school principal read over the summer? (Hint: It’s all about spies, leadership, and exploration)


Story and photo by Andrea Tomkins –

Nepean High School Principal Patrick McCarthy isn’t resting easy this summer. In fact, he’s still working, as the summer school principal at the Adult High School on Rochester Street.

McCarthy is a cottage reader who takes his books back and forth over the summer.

Reading at his Sharbot Lake cottage is very much a family affair, although McCarthy’s daughter Molly, 13, is currently volunteering at a summer camp. (He describes her as a “voracious reader” who just finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.)

“I am very purposeful about my time at the cottage. It belongs to my daughter and my family,” says McCarthy. “But in the evenings, we read a lot.”

McCarthy works on cottage projects from 7 a.m. to noon and afternoons are spent on the dock or with friends on the lake.

“After dinner, it’s all reading.”

McCarthy already has a few books under his belt. First on his list for summertime reading are paperbacks by American novelist Brad Thor. Think 24/Jack Bauer/Kiefer Sutherland kinds of stories, or as McCarthy puts it: “good, mindless, summer reading.” It’s New York Times best-seller “counter-terrorism stuff” which McCarthy says he “mows through rather quickly.”

McCarthy is partway through Personal, by British thriller author Lee Child. Child is the author of the Jack Reacher series of novels, a character who was the basis of a film starring Tom Cruise called Jack Reacher. No spoilers – in case you haven’t seen it – but McCarthy warns the die-hard Reacher fans will be upset because Tom Cruise is 5’9” and Jack Reacher is 6’5”.

“A big part of the character is that he’s this really big guy,” says McCarthy, who goes on to describe it as “a fluff movie. It wasn’t a great movie.”

The book he’s wanted to read for years is Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, first published in 1959 by Alfred Lansing. Sir Ernest Shackleton, born in 1874, was a polar explorer who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic. McCarthy was at a leadership conference in Calgary with a student group seven or eight years ago when he first learned about the book while in conversation with the director of the Calgary Zoo.

“He spent 15 minutes talking to the kids about Ernest Shacketon,” remembers McCarthy. “About how leadership can be daunting, and how it’s sometimes not about how technically a good leader you are, but sometimes it’s about endurance and tenacity.”

McCarthy says he’s been captivated by the story ever since, and even though he’s only 40 pages in, says he is very impressed with the author’s style and high degree of detail and research.

“Alfred Lansing, the author, writes about it just beautifully,” says McCarthy. “He is such a natural storyteller, and makes you feel like you’re in the room with him, which is something I really enjoy.”

The final book on McCarthy’s list is related to the story of the Endurance, and it’s called South: The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914-1917, and was written by Sir Ernest himself. McCarthy hasn’t started it yet, but wonders if there might be some lessons to be drawn from Shackleton’s experience.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that you have to like what you do,” says McCarthy. “If you are fighting to be where you are every day, you’re going to grind down pretty quickly no matter what field you’re in.”

This post is part of our KT summer reads issue. Read all of our other profiles right here.

Stephen Beckta’s reading list is a buffet of diverse interests (Think: golf, politics, history, and of course, food)

Story and photo by Andrea Tomkins – 

Stephen Beckta doesn’t have a lot of time for golf or reading, but we have a feeling he’s going to manage both just fine this summer. Photo by Andrea Tomkins
Stephen Beckta doesn’t have a lot of time for golf or reading, but we have a feeling he’s going to manage both just fine this summer. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

It might seem surprising to learn that Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game, by Joseph Parent is at the top of Stephen Beckta’s reading list, but there are actually quite a few lessons which can be shared both on the green, and off.

“There are lessons learned in golf that can be applied to work and life elsewhere: whether they are lessons about patience or being in the moment,” says Beckta. “To play golf well you need to be very much in the moment and be attuned to your emotions and how they influence others – or the golf ball.”

“Things happen when you believe they will happen.”

Beckta, a restaurateur and Westboro resident, has been golfing for twenty years.  (“It’s been erratic, just like my swing,” he jokes.)

Last year he says he hardly golfed at all, so this year he’s making more of an effort, and he’s picked up some reading material to go with it.  He’s just started reading Zen Golf, but it’s already making him rethink his game. Contrary to what one might think, it’s not a light read.

“It’s heavy. It requires digestion. You read a couple pages then you need to sit and think about it for awhile and really integrate it. Because it’s not an easy page turner.”

Although he likes to have a paper book on hand for stolen moments of reading – or when his young son borrows the iPad – Beckta actually prefers to do the bulk of his reading on the family iPad. He reads whenever he can find the time: in “ten minute snippets” before he falls asleep and in the half hour after he gets his son off to school or camp before work (they are reading vintage Hardy boys together). Beckta is determined to string up a hammock this summer – which he hopes will increase time and frequency of weekend reading.

Also on his reading list is The Third Plate by Dan Barber. Beckta says the book really helps readers understand how we eat and why we eat.

Barber is a chef who owns a restaurant in upstate New York called Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

“It’s my favourite restaurant in the world,” says Beckta. Blue Hill serves food that is harvested and raised on the farm.

“It’s on a 100-acre working farm, a former horse farm that the Rockefeller’s donated in order to encourage more agricultural production in Hudson Valley.”

In his book, Barber suggests that vegetables should be the centre of plate, with protein being “merely the garnish, the accompaniment.”

“[Barber] has changed the way people think about food,” says Beckta. “For sustainability, for health reasons, and for interest sake, it really changes the way you think about food. Why is it that vegetables are the things you have to eat, whereas protein is the thing you want to eat? How about we flip it around and make vegetables the most compelling thing?”

Last on Beckta’s reading list is Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom by Conrad Black. It’s actually his third time reading it.

“Every time I need that history fix or political fix, it’s been a good one to go back to,” says Beckta, who is a self-described history buff. “I’m not a huge Conrad Black fan in general, but he is a pretty incredible writer…. It’s an extraordinary book, incredibly well-written.”

This post is part of our KT summer reads issue. Read all of our other profiles right here.

Hilson Avenue Public School: Celebrating community and a special anniversary through art

Area residents walking past Hilson Avenue Public school recently may have seen a whole lot of faces staring back at them as they looked into the yard: black and white, two dimensional faces.

The temporary photography display includes photos of students, teachers, support staff, volunteers and other people in the community. It’s part of Hilson’s centennial celebrations and is intended to pay tribute to the connection between the school and its community.

>Hilson School Council Chair Tara Tosh Kennedy and Principal Lisa Clayton on the site of a unique photography exhibit in the Hilson yard. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

The exhibit is part of a global art project called “Inside Out” that was launched in 2011 by a TED Prize winner and Parisian “photograffeur” known as JR, a street artist who made a name for himself by pasting, graffiti-style, larger-than-life portraits in various locations around the world.

Hilson School Council Chair, Tara Tosh Kennedy, saw JR’s TED talk and “just knew” she had to try this project at Hilson. Tosh took photos of all of the children on photo day and had them printed at Allegra. A team of Hilson adults pasted up prints using wheat paste and rollers on Oct. 29.

“It really is beautiful,” says Hilson Principal Lisa Clayton. “It’s a statement of community and diversity that celebrates the fact that we’ve been part of the community for so long. “

The weather’s effect on the posters will determine how long the installation will last. There is also a rotating display inside the school. [story continues below]


The school will be hosting an open house and anniversary celebration on Nov. 26, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., with memorabilia, performances, and local speakers. For info go to hilsonaveps.ocdsb.ca or the Hilson Avenue Centennial Celebrations page on Facebook.

Readers interested to learn more about JR’s “Inside Out Project” can find more information at insideoutproject.net. To see the TED talk that inspired this project, view the video below.


That’s amore! NHS hopes Knight at Nepean event will raise $16K

By Andrea Tomkins –

One night a year, Nepean High School parent council hosts a special fundraiser called Knight at Nepean. Without it, many programs wouldn’t get the funding they need.

Knight at Nepean is an adult-only evening that takes place at Nepean High School and includes dinner, a cash bar, and a silent auction.

“It’s a really wonderful community event,” says Jackie Barwin, chair of Knight at Nepean. “We create a festive atmosphere with great food and drinks, and it’s a great chance to connect with other parents.”

Meet Jackie Barwin, chair of Knight at Nepean. This year’s event is taking place Nov.27. Photo by Andrea Tomkins.
Meet Jackie Barwin, chair of Knight at Nepean. This year’s event is taking place Nov.27. Photo by Andrea Tomkins.

This year, organizers hope to raise $16,000, which will fund all kinds of equipment in the school, across all departments.

“Knight at Nepean has given the Nepean High School Council the means to enhance the school’s learning resources and support initiatives at the school that would not otherwise be covered,” says Barwin. “We’re really trying to enhance learning across every sphere of school life.”

Items that have been purchased through this fundraiser in the past include microscopes, laptops, smart boards, and microphones.

The theme of the 2014 edition is “Under an Italian Sky.” La Bottega Nicastro will serve up dinner in the school cafeteria, which will be transformed into an Italian trattoria.

Barwin says the community is the reason this event continues to be so successful, year after year.

“The success of Knight at Nepean in the past is directly related to the active involvement of many parent volunteers, the generosity of individuals and businesses,” says Barwin.

Knight at Nepean is taking place Nov. 27 at 6:30 p.m. and tickets are $40. Anyone who is unable to attend but would still like to support this event can make a donation online at knightatnepean.com. For special consideration regarding ticket price, send an email to jackie@barwin.ca.




How to meet random strangers, one cup at a time

Meet Melanie Burston. She’s on a mission 
to have coffee with 52 perfect strangers. Photo by Andrea Tomkins.

McKellar Park resident Melanie Burston has a goal. She’s challenged herself to bring 52 friends along for 52 coffee dates with 52 strangers.

Her project started innocently enough. She was in a coffee shop with a colleague when a stranger caught her eye. She noticed the stranger’s pants had a long adhesive size strip still attached to them, thus, he was unknowingly advertising waist size and inseam to all and sundry.

“I said to [my colleague] why don’t you go over and tell him that he still has the strip on his pants,” describes Burston. “He said, ‘I can’t do that!’ And I said, ‘what do you mean you can’t do that? Just tap him on the shoulder.’”

This small exchange inspired her to try to meet more strangers and make new connections. Her colleague’s reluctance to get involved got her thinking about what it all means.

“What is wrong with us, in society, that we can’t feel comfortable enough to talk to people,” wonders Burston. “Why won’t people talk to one another anymore?”

The way she approaches strangers for her coffee project  is simple enough, although she admits her technique needs tweaking. She’s been strategically leaving an envelope on a table that contains a written introduction and a gift card. Burston and a friend sit together near by. When – and if – she sees a stranger read the note, the conversation begins. Burston, however, has realized that meeting strangers is harder than it looks.

“This is not easy,” says Burston. “Is it the city, is it the demographic I’m in, is it the approach I’m using?”

Burston says the strangers who find her note are totally mystified; afraid to pick it up and looking around (for hidden cameras perhaps?) with an air of distrust.

“One time the envelope was there, for an hour, in a busy coffee shop, and no one would sit at that table,” says Burston. So far she has no solid theories why it’s so hard for people to take a leap.

“It’s been fun, but it’s a struggle. I really didn’t think it would be such a struggle to get people to chat.”

She’s had some takers, with conversations that have been fun and interesting, but the shyness has prevailed.

Moving forward, Burston says she might exchange the card for a larger sign placed right in front of her that would be harder to ignore.

She eventally hopes to get a better understanding of the city and the people who live here. Burston plans to start a blog about her journey and someday hopes to tell the stories of the people she meets in book format. But in the meantime, she needs to find a few more takers, and give away a few more coffees.


WEB05-DSC_4204 WEB05-DSC_4208


West End Studio
 Tour preview: Clare Brennan

By Andrea Tomkins –

Clare Brennan is a collector and a scavenger as much as he is an artist. His sculptures – wooden beings which hover somewhere between playful robots and curious cousins of Pinocchio – are all made out of found objects, bits and pieces Brennan often finds on his walk to work. In fact, he has been known to peek in neighbourhood garbage cans, which can throw home owners for a bit of a loop if they see him.

Wood makes up the base of most of his work, but it has to be the right wood.

“I want a piece of wood that has a history. An old fence post, or hockey stick, it’s all fair game,” says Brennan.

Clasps, knobs, metal scraps that lived a life before, are reincarnated and turned into teeth, noses, hair, and other body parts.

“I just find these wonderful little bits of things, and the fact that they’re broken and rusty makes them even better,” says Brennan.

WEST artist Clare Brennan gives new life to the rusty bits we throw away. Photo by Andrea Tomkins.

Sometimes Brennan begins with an idea (“I want to do a guy with a curly trumpet”) or he finds a special item and builds something around it.

“Once you start looking, there are so many great things to see,” says Brennan.

Visitors to his stop on the tour will spot a sculpture of a fish that’s hanging over his front door. “The scales used to be shiny, but it has rusted and evolved over time,” says Brennan. “There’s a wonderful level of decay with rust.” [story continues below]

Brennan’s latest beings have been given centurion names and rusty armour. Photo provided by Clare Brennan.
Brennan’s latest beings have been given centurion names and rusty armor. Photo provided by Clare Brennan.

The layer of rust is the secret sauce, the added dimension to his work, and the reason why there are “aging” bikes in his backyard. “They are waiting to be ripened to just the right point,” he laughs. There is logic in his seemingly chaotic collection of heads, buttons, and old street sweeper bristles.

Brennan is looking forward to this year’s WEST, and says it’s a great way to meet people. He recommends visitors on the tour take a moment to chat with the artists.

“When you talk to them, they’re usually very open and wonderful to talk to.”

For more information about Clare Brennan, visit cbrennan.tumblr.com or westendstudiotour.ca.  

Click here to read profiles of the other artists on the West End Studio Tour.

Gnome-napping in Westboro

p 8 Where's Walden


When Andrea Tomkins placed Walden – a garden gnome complete with shades, jeans, and arms crossed in clear attitude – in a local flowerbed, she wasn’t expecting a gnome-napping. The well-known Westboro blogger had intended to hide Walden in various locations around the neighbourhood throughout the summer, and had invited her followers to join in, tracking Walden and discovering his hiding places.

Andrea Tomkins described the game as a mix of geocaching and a continuation of her previous Trust Experiment. In March of 2007, Tomkins left a wallet with a ten dollar bill in a local coffee shop and waited to see whether someone would take it or not. The wallet lasted eleven days. Walden lasted one.

“It is disappointing,” Tomkins says. She had been hopeful that Walden would become an incentive for people to get outside and explore their neighbourhood. Walden’s first – and last – location had been outside the local Highland Lawn Bowling Club, and Tomkins had intended to place him in other Westboro landmarks and places tied to local history or modern trivia.

“I was going to have him up at Dovercourt, under a stand of Saskatoon berries,” Tomkins says, mentioning that most people aren’t aware that the berries are edible. Walden’s premise was an example of synthesizing the virtual world with the local community. An experience that had the quality of an inside joke for local followers of her blog, and one that would have had to be experienced both online and off.

“I live a lot of my work life within social media, and I think there’s a huge value to getting off the computer and doing something ‘in real life’.”

Tomkins’ blog, “A Peek Inside the Fishbowl,” has become a popular source of family projects and local life. “Fishbowl” is another example of that intersection point between virtual spaces and reality. “I think blogs and twitter are really important in a neighbourhood setting. Quite often, big media aren’t covering the neighbourhoods in the same way, so the smaller media becomes even more important.”

In her eyes, social media has become a way to spread local news and more grassroots initiatives. “That kind of stuff is really important to a lot of people.” The trick is not just spreading the news, but encouraging neighbours to come out and also be a part of it. In an age where social media is so instantaneous and easily accessible, one can quickly become a spectator instead of a participant.

Little projects, like what Walden could have been, are surely a part of continuing to connect and encourage neighbourhoods to strengthen their ties across modern mediums. Though Tomkins happily insists she starts these activities simply to satisfy her own curiosity, it’s always “more fun” once people get involved or follow along.

Now, with Walden travelling on his own, Tomkins doesn’t know where she’ll apply herself next.
“I don’t have anything in mind, but my brain is a wonderful place! So there might be something around the corner. I don’t know yet!”