A Canadian environmentalist in his natural habitat

Today’s Canada week entry is consummate Canadian science broadcaster and environmental activist, David Suzuki.

David Suzuki

David Suzuki is my favourite Canadian scientist. Suzuki was trying to educate the public about the environment before it was cool and he is still a leader in the field. Through his Suzuki Foundation (founded in 1991) he is actively researching and trying to implement real solutions to our lack of environmental sustainability.

Here he is talking to George Stroumbouloploulos (the smartest interviewer on television today), on the CBC show The Hour, about alternate energy sources among other things.

In 1979, David Suzuki began hosting a TV show called The Nature Of Things. A science magazine show that focuses on the natural world, how we live in it, and how we can better live with it. The Nature Of Things is aired in nearly 50 countries world wide and is one of the most truly educational shows on television. For me, there were a few truly memorable episodes of the show.

As a proponent of medical marijuana (and legalized marijuana in general) the episode done in 1998 called Reefer Madness 2, which explored the effects of medical marijuana and people dealing with it’s legalization was groundbreaking, as it debunked quite a few myths about the plant.

As a huge fan of Charles Darwin’s work in the field of evolution, the 3 part episode entitled Darwin’s Brave New World, aired in 2009, was riveting television.

Below is a trailer for Darwin’s Brave New World.

Suzuki has been widely recognized and honoured for his work over the years. he is a recipient of The Order of Canada, The Order of British Columbia and UNESCO’s Kalinga Prize for science among many other international awards. He holds 26 honorary degrees from universities around the globe and is showing no signs of slowing down at the age of 76.

To say that I admire this man is a real understatement. Building a career he is, not only,  passionate about, but world renowned for,  from meager beginnings, David Suzuki is a tribute to what an education can accomplish. He is a scientist, a teacher and a true Canadian inspiration.

Who is… the most famous Canadian host on television?

Canada week continues with a tribute to a proud Canadian, Alex Trebek.

Trebek and one of his many Daytime Emmy Awards

Alex Trebek has been a fixture on American television since 1973 when he began as host  of the game show Wizard of Odds for NBC, though Canadians had seen him in their living rooms for a decade previous as host of a music program called Music Hop (1963-64) and the quiz show Reach for the Top (1966-1973). Trebek had a long history of hosting game shows before he was tapped as the host of Jeopardy in 1984 that included shows like, High Rollers, Double Dare, the $128,000 Question and Battlestars.

Alex Trebek hosting High Rollers

It is as the host of Jeopardy for which he will be most remembered. Trebek has been the host of television’s smartest game show for 28 years (or 6300 shows) and counting, having recently extended his contract with the show until 2014. Jeopardy has been good to Trebek, garnering him five Emmy Awards and stars on both the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame.

Trebek’s star on Canada’s Walk of Fame

As host of Jeopardy, Alex Trebek seems to take great pleasure and pride in his knowledge of all things Canadian. Both Trebek and Jeopardy have become part of pop culture. With no fewer than 26 cameo appearances as himself in his role as Jeopardy host, in movies and television shows, as well as shows like Saturday Night Live and Family Guy lampooning the show and even a Weird Al Yankovic parody song called I lost on Jeopardy, Trebek is much, much more than just your average game show host. Alex Trebek is an iconic television personality.

A clip of my favourite Celebrity Jeopardy as done by Saturday Night Live. Not the best quality, but still funny.

Trebek believes in giving back. As a spokesperson for World Vision, Trebek has travelled to many third world countries, providing aid to families battling poverty. He is also involved with the U.S.O and has embarked on several tours with the organization in order to support U.S. troops overseas. Education is another subject that is important to Trebek. He sits on the boards of the National Geographic Society Education Foundation and the National Advisory Council for the Literary Volunteers of America.

Trebek, surrounded by contestants of the 2010 National Geographic Geo-Bee

Bravo Alex Trebek. His career proves you can be successful for celebrating intelligence and that is something we need more of in this world.

A Canadian imagination that knows no bounds.

Armed with an incredibly fertile imagination and a gift for storytelling, today’s honoree for Canada week is author, poet, teacher, literary critic and environmental activist, Margaret Atwood.

Margaret Atwood

It would seem that this woman was a literary prodigy, as Ms. Atwood began putting pen to paper at the tender age of 6. Beginning her career as a poet, her first published work was Double Persephone, in 1961. Atwood had some success as a poet publishing four more collections of poetry before her first novel, The Edible Woman was published in 1969.

In this novel, Atwood explores the rejection of gender roles, loss of identity and alienation, themes that were ahead of their time when she originally wrote the book, in 1965, but right in line with where the women’s movement was by the time it was published, four years later. It is for this reason that Atwood rejected the description of this book as feminist, preferring, instead to call it protofeminist. Ms. Atwood has a knack of being able to see where society is headed before it gets there.

Margaret Atwood has been a finalist for the prestigious Booker prize five times. Her first appearance on that list was in 1986 a year after The Handmaid’s Tale was published. Her most famous work, The Handmaid’s Tale also won the very first Arthur C. Clarke award in 1987 for science fiction writing, was nominated for the Nebula Award in 1986 and the Prometheus Award in 1987.

Inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, The Handmaid’s Tale takes that inspiration, turns it on it’s ear and goes places Chaucer would never dare to go. Because of it’s controversial, often sexual nature, The Handmaid’s Tale  is listed as one of the 100 ‘most frequently challenged books’ from 1990 to 1999 on the American Library Association’s website. It has been accused of being anti- Christian and anti-Islamic as well as pornographic.  What it is, is another book that was ahead of it’s time that challenges the status quo. It’s a book that is typical of the kind of literary bravery one can expect from Margaret Atwood.

The novel that finally won Atwood the elusive Booker Prize was The Blind Assassin, published in 2000. Another novel that was showered with awards, The Blind Assassin also won The Hammett Prize in 2001 and was nominated for The Governor General’s Award in 200, The Orange Prize for Fiction and The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2002. Time Magazine named The Blind Assassin the best novel of 2000 and included it in its list of the 100 greatest English-language novels since 1923.

The ambitious thing about the Blind Assassin was the inclusion of a novel within a novel. The book also deals with the guilt and shame of an extramarital affair during the 1940’s in a unique and intriguing way. The Blind Assassin shows that Atwood is as skilled at historical fiction as she is at fiction set in the future.

Margaret Atwood is also adept at telling a true story. The novel Alias Grace recounts the notorious 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Upper Canada. Although the novel is based on factual events, Atwood takes some creative liberty with the addition of a fictional narrator who is investigating the case.

Some of my favourite books are ones that expertly weave fictitious characters in with actual events and Alias Grace is no exception. Atwood often writes in multiple points of view. In this novel she shifts between first and third person narrative seamlessly.

Though she is primarily known for her novels, Margaret Atwood has written in many different mediums from collections of poetry and short stories, to children’s books, non-fiction, anthologies and television scripts.

One of Atwood’s seven children’s books

This year, Atwood was honoured with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for Canada. This is fitting, because Margaret Atwood and her work have become synonymous with Canada and the Canadian experience.

And you can follow her on twitter at @MargaretAtwood

A Canadian director’s horrifically beautiful body… of work.

Another quintessentially Canadian artist is the focus of today’s Canada week entry. There are quite a few famous Canadian film directors, James Cameron, Atom Egoyen, Norman Jewison, Ivan Reitman (and his son, Jason), but my favourite, by far is David Cronenberg.

David Cronenberg.

I am a lover of dark subject matter, that questions the mainstream perception of beauty, in both books and movies. So, it would seem, is David Cronenberg. His films often deal with topics that challenge people’s of fear of body transformation and infection and have been labelled ‘body horror’.

I still remember the first Cronenberg movie I ever saw. It starred Jeremy Irons (one of my favourite actors on the planet) as twin gynecologists , Dead Ringers. That movie haunted me for weeks after the first viewing. So much so, that I found myself watching it a second and third time, just to try to figure out what it was that triggered me so deeply.

That’s the thing about a Cronenberg movie, they really mess with your mind and challenge your perception. After Dead Ringers, I sought out more of Cronenberg’s films. The next one I saw was Videodrome, a movie that challenges the psyche on a very base, sexual level. Another thing I like about Cronenberg’s movies is that he takes as many risks with his casting choices as he does with the subject matter. In Videodrome, Deborah Harry (of Blondie) is cast as a sado-masochistic psychiatrist and radio show host… a non-singing role for a celebrity mainly known for her singing was risky at the time. Perhaps, a more famous casting risk that payed off for Cronenberg was in the movie Rabid, when he cast porn star, Marilyn Chambers in the lead role.

In 1999, the same year the Matrix was released, Cronenberg released a movie called Existenz, which also dealt with the perception of reality (among other things). It didn’t do near as well in the box office, perhaps due to less CGI effects, less of an advertising budget and less black patent leather, but for my money it was the superior of the two movies. The story was riveting and far less convoluted than that of the Matrix and much more cleverly written (by Cronenberg, himself).

By far, my favourite David Cronenberg movie is Crash.

I am a fan of the author J.G. Ballard, whose novel of the same name, the movie is based on. I saw Crash in a theatre in Toronto the day it was released. There was not an empty seat in the house. I knew exactly what to expect from having read the book and was very much looking forward to seeing how Cronenberg would deal with showing some of the more graphically sexual scenarios. The film did not disappoint, even in showing the two male leads in a steamy scene, which I was almost sure wouldn’t make the final cut. Kudos to Cronenberg for, not only remaining true to the original text, but for being brave enough to show two men having a sexual encounter and not just imply it.

While, I have yet to see all of the films in his catalogue, there is no denying David Cronenberg’s impact on the way I view the world around me and the people in it.

A Canadian woman who defined an era and herself

Today’s entry for Canada week is a true Canadian icon, artist and writer Emily Carr.

Emily Carr

Best known for her paintings of aboriginal themes and landscapes, Carr, through her autobiographical writing, was also one of the earliest chroniclers of life in British Columbia.

Klee Wyck- by Emily Carr

As noteworthy as her writings were, it was her paintings that she is primarily remembered for. She explored themes in a unique modern style that no one else was exploring at the time. She had a real affinity for the indigenous peoples of British Columbia and celebrated their totems and villages in her work.

The Crying Totem- 1928

Kwakiutl House

Carr’s work can be divided into three distinct phases. her early work, before she studied in Paris.

 Canoes- 1908

Her work from her time in Paris from 1910 to 1912.

House In Brittany- 1911

And finally her work after her encounter with the Group Of Seven, in the 1930’s… the work, for which she is best known.

 A rushing sea of undergrowth- 1932

The Mountain- 1933

Cedar Sanctuary- 1942

Self Portrait- 1938

Her association with the Group of Seven (Canada’s most recognized modern painters of the time) took her out of a 15 year artistic isolation and put her in a social circle of her peers for the first time. This acceptance by her peers reinvigorated her sense of purpose as an artist and inspired her most recognized works.

Carr’s most famous painting, Big Raven-1931

Carr was not only a great talent, but a darling of the women’s movement, as she was succeeding against the odds. She was a successful artist in a decidedly inartistic society. She lived in seclusion, far away from any major art center, carving out her own path. In a time when women’s roles were clearly defined, Carr was undefinable.

A Canadian that “Everybody Knows”

Canada week continues today with a tribute to my favourite Canadian singer/songwriter, Leonard Cohen.

With his deep, gritty voice and dark songs, Leonard Cohen has carved out his own niche in the landscape of Canadian music. He has accolades upon accolades, being inducted into multiple Halls of Fame (American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Canadian Music Hall of Fame and Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame) as well as being a recipient of Canada’s highest civilian honour, the Order of Canada.

A native of Montreal, Cohen’s unique style is unmistakable. While listening to his songs, I find myself transported to a dark, smoky club filled with a distinctly French, world weariness and an underlying sexual tension.

His songs are often topical. Everybody Knows, for example,  is about sexual relationships during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s in which “the naked man and woman are just a shining artifact of the past.”

Cohen’s songs have been covered by many other artists over the years, most efforts falling far short of Cohen’s original, both in style and artistic impact. His song, Hallelujah has been covered by almost 200 different artists in various languages. For me there is only one that can hold a candle to his original. Ironically that cover is by another iconic Canadian artist, k.d. lang, because she is able to make the song entirely her own. Below are versions by both singers.

Leonard Cohen is a gifted artist if he can get an atheistic heathen like me to share not one, but two versions of a song entitled Hallelujah.

All kidding aside, Leonard Cohen truly is a living legend and a national treasure.

As Canadian as Hockey

With Canada Day fast approaching, I have decided that this week will be Canada week. Each day I will blog about something or someone distinctly Canadian.

What is more Canadian than hockey?

Team Canada 2010 celebrates Olympic gold

Hockey is such a big part of the fabric of our society. All year long on suburban streets throughout the country you will hear the cries kids saying, “Car!” and “Game on!” as they play street hockey, fantasizing that they will one day be playing for real on the ice.

The NHL has more players from Canada than any other country. So much so that it is not sacrilegious to root for an American team because they are all filled with Canadian players. The Canadian men’s national ice hockey team (or Team Canada) has won more Olympic gold medals than any other country with a total of 8. Yes hockey is a point of pride in Canada.

Hockey players are treated like kings here. Little boys across the country grew up idolizing men like Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Mario Lemieux and of course, the Great One, Wayne Gretzky.

Wayne Gretzky

Even the Canadian restaurant chain, Tim Horton’s was started by a hockey player… Tim Horton played for 22 seasons in the NHL for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres.

 Tim Horton in 1965

So here’s to hockey, our national pastime. I can think of no one better suited to end this post than Canadian country and folk singer Stompin’ Tom Connors singing the Hockey Song.

My top ten favourite things about living in Canada

I live in Quebec, which, despite what some people may say, is in Canada. In this post I will be listing some of my favourite things about living here, in no particular order.


In Canada we have universal healthcare. Our essential medical needs are taken care of no matter what.


Henry Morgentaler

Women in Canada can have an abortion if need be and it will be covered by Universal Healthcare.


In Canada we have the separation of church and state… and we mean it.


In Canada same sex marriage is legal. The LBGT community enjoys the same human rights as every other Canadian.


Canada has become a successful melting pot of people from all races. Sadly, we are not yet entirely free of racism, but we are working toward that goal.


Canadians are known world wide for being a friendly people, and it’s true.


One of my favourite New Year’s Eve rituals is a chilled glass of single malt scotch and a Cohiba cigar. In Canada we have no trade embargo with Cuba, so I can indulge all I want.


I love time alone. In some countries it is next to impossible to escape the crowds. In Canada, there are still plenty of wide open spaces in which to enjoy your me time.


Canada has some of the most spectacular scenic views to inspire even the most jaded among us.


The geek in me (not so) secretly loves that we Canadians get to claim our country as the birthplace of Captain James Tiberius Kirk, himself, William Shatner. Sure there are many famous people who come from Canada, but in my eyes, none are cooler than Shatner.



Along with Anne of Green Gables and the Beachcombers, Corner Gas takes it’s place among television shows that have achieved the status of Canadiana… plus it’s frickin’ funny as all get out.



A store that sells literally everything under one roof. A store so big it even has it’s own money. What’s not to like?

I will leave you with this hilarious video of the aforementioned, William Shatner talking about being Canadian.

Vagina Schmagina. This means war.

Rep. Lisa Brown

The Republicans in America have been vehemently denying that they are waging a war against women. They claim it’s a Democratic red herring. All the while they are trying to legislate away the rights of American women. Recently, in Michigan, there was proposed legislation on abortion regulation that would make the rights of a fetus past the age of 20 weeks override the health of the potential mother and female house democrats were understandably fighting against this. Two of those women, Rep. Barb Byrum and Rep. Lisa Brown were subsequently blocked from further speaking on the house floor because they did not respect the “decorum” of the house.

What was it that these two women did that was so horrible that got them barred? In Barb Byrum’s case it was the possibility of saying the word vasectomy (she never actually got to speak, so she never actually got to say the word). In Lisa Brown’s case it was saying the word vagina.

Republican men seem to have absolutely no problem drafting and passing legislation that tells women what they can and cannot do with their vaginae, but turn into sniveling little babies when a woman dares to speak the word aloud in their presence. If they really don’t want to hear the word, then maybe they should keep their laws out of the vaginae of American women. Without further going into my own opinion on the matter, I will instead show you their rebuttal, as they say it so well.

Just how stupid do Republican men think women are? We know that men speak with their actions. It’s actions like this, the silencing of women, who, by the very nature of their elected off ice are perfectly within their right to speak, that make it clear that, not only are they waging war on women, (who make up 50.8% of the population) but that they have no idea just how hard women will fight back.

A while ago I posted a blog entitled Is it just me? in which I stated that I think the Republicans don’t really want to win this time around. It is stunts like this that make me continue to think that this is true.

A moo point

Holy Cow

In my last blog, I talked about how I think assisted suicide should be legal. On Friday June 15, the British Columbia Supreme Court took the first step toward making that happen by calling the current law, which bans assisted suicide, unconstitutional. To read about the ruling, click here http://ca.news.yahoo.com/laws-banning-assisted-suicide-infringe-charter-rights-b-183058665.html I was very encouraged by this ruling. Then, today, I read on the Huffington Post that the Catholic Church is weighing in on the subject. While I do believe that they are entitled to voice their opinion (as I am doing right now), it is my fervent hope that the legislature sees it as just that… an opinion. To read the article, go here http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/16/archbishop-michael-miller-assisted-suicide_n_1603063.html?utm_hp_ref=canada

In Canada, a secular nation, we take the separation of church and state seriously. No election is ever won because of the religious beliefs of the candidate. In fact, I couldn’t tell you what religion Stephen Harper is, even if you had a gun to my head. There is no prayer in our public schools… and that’s the way we like it.

In the article Roman Catholic Archbishop Michael Miller states that  the decision “sadly reflects a distorted view of equality rights that emphasizes autonomy over human dignity and the value of life.” I don’t understand how he can say that it is more dignified to die in excruciating pain, begging for death with medicine prolonging the inevitable, than to die peacefully, without pain with help from a morphine drip… when YOU decide enough is enough. Of course, I am an atheist heathen who thinks that it’s my life and I will end it when I see fit and does not believe that a god exists… any god. But that’s also part of my point about the separation of church and state. I do not want any church telling me what I can and cannot do with my life, and thankfully, this is not something I have to worry about. The church’s opinion in this case is a moot point because the legislature must rule for everyone, not just those who believe in religious doctrine. The Church already has quite a few members who live their lives according to religious rules, why does it feel the need to tell the rest of us how to live… or die?

So speak up and voice your opinion all you want, Mister Archbishop. Thanks to the separation of church and state, the lawmakers will be forced to see it as they would a cow’s opinion… a moo point.