Snowbirds’ boats targeted at borders to prevent invasive species from reaching Alberta waterways

Published on Monday, 17 November 2014

Government thinking of mandatory boat stops for next year

bowden billboard thumbnailsThe Alberta government is now targetting boats owned by snowbirds as they come across the border. This new initiative, preventing dangerous aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels from invading our water, is already gearing up for spring of 2015.

This provincial program, dubbed Clean, Drain and Dry, originated from Idaho was put into effect by initiating a media campaign to spread awareness, along with boat inspection stations in certain areas of the province.

The Calgary Journal in May did an exploration of aquatic invasive species and the threats they possess, as well as a look at Alberta’s efforts to prevent the spread. While one of the main species Alberta is threatened by is zebra and quagga mussels, some other species Alberta government has been keeping an eye on are Eurasian watermilfoil, spiny waterflea, and hydrilla among others.

Kate Wilson, Alberta’s Aquatic Invasive Species Program Coordinator, talks about the program and changes for the future.

*some answers have been edited for length and clarity

So why did you choose to adopt the Clean, Drain, Dry program?

The reason we chose this program was because it’s positive, and it tells people what to do in the message. We’ve seen titles in some states with aggressive slogans like, “Don’t Move a Mussel,” and that doesn’t really help people know what to do. One difference is in Alberta, our ads look a little different from others just to help distinguish that it’s new here.

Is this program mainly targeted to be educational?

While I would say it is largely an educational program, we’re more seeking for a behavioural change. The goal is to hope people will start doing this naturally as they travel around with their boats.

Boats and trailers are the most likely vector (source) for many harmful and high profile species. There are other potential sources as well, such as firefighting equipment, pump trucks used in industry, water-based construction equipment, float planes, etc. We have made headway on the firefighting equipment – our crews now use steam trucks to clean equipment such as air tankers when they have left the province.hinton2Kate Wilson, Alberta’s Aquatic Invasive Species Program Coordinator, spoke with the Calgary Journal regarding the dangers invasive species present, and ways to prevent them. 

Photo courtesy of Kate Wilson

How over the summer did you try to push this initiative? 

We implemented Clean, Drain and Dry over a variety of mediums. We placed ads on billboards on the highway, a few electronic ads on billboards in the cities. There were a lot of signs posted at boat launchers, and we had a booth at several boat shows. We also got Michael Short to do a television ad that aired on Sports Network. It aired on four provinces, so we might have overshot that one a little (laughs).

The goal is to have the majority of boat owners and anglers aware of the issue and the specific actions they can take to prevent the spread of all AIS. With the boat inspections out on the highway all summer, it was important to make sure we had a campaign explaining the issue and the solution!

Were there any bodies of water you guys were stationed at, or did you spend more time near the borders?

We had boat inspection stations focusing mainly on highways, trying to see if there were people with boats traveling back and forth. Because we’re more worried about species getting into the province, we stuck to areas close to borders, like Lethbridge and Lloydminster. We didn’t go too far on any back roads, we stuck mainly to existing commercial vehicle roads.

How many people did you guys inspect over the course of the summer?

We stopped about 3,700 people over the summer. Of those we intercepted two cases of aquatic invasive species on boats. That makes for 10 interceptions over the past two years.

When inspecting a boat and you guys do find an invasive species, what is the protocol that follows?

It depends on the situation. All boats that come in dirty or have standing water or plants/critters attached must be clean before they leave. We have equipment on site to decontaminate boats – hot water- high pressure wash units with attachments for different kinds of boats (e.g. inboard, outboard, sailboats, ballast tanks, jet skis, etc.). Most often we have boaters that are compliant with the process, as no one wants to be responsible for an introduction of invasive species! Especially mussels given the tremendous economic and environmental impacts (we estimate an infestation could cost Alberta over $75 million annually). If we have a boater who is not compliant but has come from a high risk area, our Fishery Officers have authority to hold the boat for as long as it takes to clean it, and depending on the situation, ensure that it is completely dry before it is released. Mussels can live up to 30 days out of the water.

So what happens after the summer month’s end?

Well after peak season, which usually ends after Labour Day, we wind down the patrols around the province. There is a focus on what to improve for next year, but we continue to patrol around the borders because of ‘snow birders.’

Often people who drive down to spend the winter months in warmer places down in the states will take their own boats down with them, or buy used boats there and then bring them back here. These are usually the most at-risk boats for invasive species, so we have to catch them as they come back across the border.

What are some of the changes you’d like to make for 2015?

We’d like a bit more authority for boat stops. Currently it’s a voluntary inspection for us to check boats on the highway, but we’d like to make it mandatory. The states are good with mandatory inspections, and we’d like to emulate that.

We’re also hoping to expand our presence throughout the province, try to cover more vectors besides boats. We also have another campaign that we’re starting called ‘Don’t Let it Loose,’ which will focus on the exotic fish trade coming in and out of the province.

For more information on aquatic invasive species and Clean, Drain and Dry, click here.



Snow removal on residential streets in the north concerning residents

Published on Monday, 03 November 2014 in The Calgary Journal

Hilly communities prove to create hazardous conditions

SnowRemovalTHUMBWith the winter months approaching, Calgarians are starting to get ready for hazardous driving conditions but not everyone has faith in the city’s snow removal efforts.

Petroula Christakis lives in Hawkwood, a hilltop community west of Nosehill Park in the city’s northwest. She cited that every winter city buses getting stuck is a regular occurrence and that getting to work in the morning can be a frustrating endeavor.

“The snow removal is always really bad in this area,” she said.

As evidenced by the snowfall on Sept. 8, parts of Calgary can fall into disarray when there is snow on the road in the winter months.

Residents in communities like Hawkwood and Edgemont sometimes see the worst of it, with snow staying on the roads sometimes until the spring months.

The City of Calgary has a seven-day plan in the instance of a snow event.

Once the snow has settled, the first two days are spent plowing major highways that see over 20,000 cars a day and then secondary roads that see anywhere between 5,000 to 19,000 cars a day.

Residential areas are scheduled to be plowed from the third to sixth day. However, the plows will only knock snow ruts down to 12 centimetres, enough snow to warrant a winter warning in some cities.

Jessica Bell, the communications advisor for the roads department in Calgary, explained that it is rare to see actual snow removal in residential areas. Instead the snow crews “flat blade” the snow to try and make it easier for people to drive on.SnowRemovalPetroula Christakis is one resident of Hawkwood who has concerns about the city’s snow removal efforts in her area.

Photo by Jeff Medhurst

“At this time roads does not have any plans to change our snow removal policy, or lack thereof, in residential communities,” Bell said.

“The reason for this being that during a typical Calgary winter our planned response to snowfall is adequate.”

Bell said the city’s budget for snow and ice control is $34.6 million annually. Cities like Toronto and Montreal have snow removal budgets between $80 million and $100 million.

“At roads we have a measured, planned response to snowfalls,” Bell said. “We will continue to provide the best service we can according to our council approved snow and ice control policy.”

But, that response isn’t enough for a lot of people in northwest communities where flat bedding might not be adequate safety for a lot of drivers.

Another resident of Hawkwood, Kelly Dallison, has found that while she still has to be careful, the risk of sliding down a snowy hill isn’t as likely as it used to be.

“I have found that it has gotten better over the years,” Dallison said.

Communities like Hawkwood and Edgemont are built into hills. This creates extra slippery conditions especially when the snow gets patted down.

Hawkwood resident Christakis added that when the city spreads salt and sand on city roads, it melts the snow and ice, but then that water freezes overnight creating sheets of ice two to three inches thick on roads.

Dallison agreed with Christakis’ sentiment and said that it is the ice to watch out for, and in such cases she will use the snow as traction.

Greg Hartzler, the communications liaison for Councillor Joe Magliocca of Ward 2 in Calgary, defended the city’s snow removal policy. He said he hears little complaint from constituents.

“Actually the main complaint we receive is that walking pathways don’t see enough plowing,” Hartzler said.
AMA Insurance Communications Coordinator Alexandra Sochowski said that while insurance quotes are determined in case-to-case scenarios, she has found that most people in hilly communities will end up waiting to drive until the area is at least sanded.

“Most drivers in the areas mentioned are aware of the potential problems on snowy days,” Sochowski said. “However there are always exceptions.”

Weird Al Yankovic to open for Calgary Comic Expo

Published on Wednesday, 14 August 2013 in The Calgary Journal

Expo performance will be comedian’s first live Canadian performance on current tour

Weird-AlresizedThe Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo running April 26 – 28 at the BMO Centre this year with singer/comedian, Weird Al Yankovic attending for the first time. Yankovic has become well known in pop culture via his trademark song parodies, spoofing a plethora of artists such as Madonna, Green Day and Lady Gaga.

Kandrix Foong, the Calgary Expo’s director and head organizer, said organizers have been waiting a long time to bring the artist to the expo.

“Whenever we’ve brainstormed bringing a musical element to our event, Weird Al was always our first choice. He is a staple in modern pop culture — his parodies have accompanied the changing musical landscape over the last 30 years,” Foong says.Weird-Al-PhotWeird Al is set to come to the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo April 26.

Photo courtesy of Antmantrunks/Wikimedia Commons

“Al will entertain 3 generations of our fans and we’re completely ecstatic that this will be his first ever comic-con experience.”

Yankovic, reached at his home in California, said he attended the Comic Con in San Diego but added the Calgary event will be his first gig as an official guest. Yancovic said he’s most looking forward to entertaining his fans with a concert at the Saddledome on Friday April 26, — the opening night of the expo.

“We haven’t done a live show in Canada for this tour. We shot our concert special in Toronto, but aside from that we haven’t done a whole lot of dates in Canada, so we’re looking forward to coming up there,” Yankovic said.

The Calgary event, now in its eighth year, has hosted some big names including the entire cast of Star Trek The Next Generation and Spiderman creator, Stan Lee who is returning this year for an encore appearance.


From comics to costumes

Published on Sunday, 16 December 2012 in The Calgary Journal

thumb E_Devon-Jopling_2bCalgary artist Devon Jopling details her adventure of drawing to creating

Devon Jopling and her husband Ryan Baker live in what seems like a typical townhouse located just off of Country Hills Blvd.. In the basement, however, you will see a small room located just off to the side filled with comics, homemade costumes, and an elaborate artist’s drawing board.

This is because Jopling is a comic book artist who recently drew the graphic novel Battle of Alberta, a story about a family that gets caught up in a futuristic civil war that erupts in Alberta. However, since the release of this book which was self-published by the author, Jopling’s interests have begun to shift away from drawing to other creative outlets.

“My mother’s an artist; I’ve been one my whole life. They put a pencil in my hand and I’ve been drawing ever since,” Jopling said, explaining her artist influences.

Artistic Inspirations

Jopling was like most children and would draw whatever she was into. E Devon-Jopling_2bAn artist since childhood, drawing the graphic novel Battle of Alberta was a dream come true for Jopling.

Photo by Jeff Medhurst

However it was when she attended Bowness High School that her shift focused to comics. After studying Geography at the University of Calgary, she started working at her local comic store. It was there she started to take comics more seriously.

“We started an anthology called Short Term Consequences. It was an assortment of short stories and comics done by writers and artists all through Calgary, and that was pretty much where I got my start drawing comics,” Jopling said.

One comic book writer, Jay Bardyla, worked with Jopling on his comic series Weightless.

“I asked her to do the book as I really liked her style,” Bardyla said. “It’s a clean line style but with some Asian influences. I enjoyed working with her, even from a distance, as she was very considerate to my script and has a great vision.”

However it wasn’t until Jason Ask, an Edmonton comic writer, contacted her with the script for Battle of Alberta in 2009 that the real work began. Noticing most comics were about things happening in the states, an idea came to Ask to write a story about a futuristic civil war erupting in Alberta – over oil of course.

“Things were happening in Alberta that were genuinely interesting and I thought, ‘Screw this – let’s try and make something for us,'” Ask explained.

Finding Jopling on an online comic forum, Ask thought she was the ideal choice. Her style of art meshed well with what he envisioned for the comic, and her Albertan heritage seemed to seal the deal.

When she was asked to draw the comic, Jopling asked for the money upfront, giving Ask full control over the end product. That didn’t matter too much to Jopling however, because she was finally getting to draw a graphic novel – a dream she had since she was little.

The writer and artist maintained constant communication throughout the two year project, one that began to drag on Jopling as time went on.

Drawing a graphic novel

“I did it in chunks,” Jopling said. “For the first month I did thumbnails, which means laying out the pages and making sure everything fit. When I got to pencils, I was drawing fourteen hours a day. And then when I got to inks, it was the same thing.”

One of the first challenges Jopling faced when drawing the comic was one of its main highlights – drawing giant mechanical robots.

“I knew they were going to be a challenge going in. We ended up just tossing out a twenty page battle out of the story because it was easier to just rewrite a few words,” Jopling said.

As the process grew busier Baker saw less and less of his wife.

“For the most part she was head down and working late pretty much every night. So she was getting pretty burnt out, I never really got to see her very much during that time, except for dinner,” Baker said.

It was near the end of the processthat the work was beginning to take a physical toll on Jopling.

“I was starting to have some serious hip pains. I couldn’t sit in my chair physically for the hours required to draw, and it sucked because at that moment I had fallen into a groove,” Jopling said.

Her husband Baker did what he could do to make it easier for her.

“Well when Devon complained I would do the usual husband thing. Back rubs, foot rubs, take her out for dinner, mainly anything to try and cheer her up,” Baker said.

It was when she was forced to step away from the drawing board for long periods of time Jopling explored another creative outlet, costume making.

Having already made costumes for herself for Halloween and comic expos, Jopling took the opportunity to make costumes for others. Her costume’s quality have made them popular in the expo community, so much so that she has shipped costumes as far as Germany for clients.

As for Ask, the periods where Jopling was forced to work on her costumes instead of the comic were long, but he knew they were necessary.

“When she told me what the problem was, there really wasn’t anything to do but encourage her to get her body straight. Pain might work to create great art if you’re a painter and can redirect it into one piece, but sequential art is a long term game,” Ask said.

Moving on

When she was finally able to finish the comic, Jopling says it was a massive relief to have it out of her hands.

EDevon-Jopling 1Jopling works hard at inking her drawing, a sketch of what the next costume she’s going to design will look like.

Photo by Jeff Medhurst

“When I scanned in that last page, I was so done. I was like ‘it’s your baby now. Whatever you do with it, good on you man. I can’t wait to see it published, but I totally wash my hands of this,'” Jopling said.

Since the comic has seen release, Jopling has focused more on her costume making career instead of her comic drawing.

“I did a short comic about cleaning and maintaining costumes, but mostly I’ve done more costume work then comic work,” Jopling said. “The problem with comics is you devote so much time, and you maybe see a profit. With things I do with costumes, I can make a costume in a week and I see my money back in a week.”

Despite the fact that her interests have shifted away from full time comic drawing, and that she’s not eager to go through the process again, Jopling is glad she at least did it once.

“As much as I complained about it and as much as it pains me to read it now, I learned so much doing that. You know, I learned how to manage my time and how to draw certain things when I didn’t necessarily want to draw them. So all in all it was a completely worthwhile experience to do,” Jopling said.

The Battle of Alberta can be found in your local comic book store and public library.

Small local businesses travel out of Calgary to turn a profit

Published on Friday, 26 October 2012 in The Calgary Journal
a chance to market themselves

SKULL thumbnailFor a few small Calgary businesses the weekend of Oct. 19th was a chance to pack up shop and drive north to Edmonton.

Companies like Redd Skull Comics made the journey to attend the first ever Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo where it showed off their wares to fans from all generations.

The owner of Redd Skull Comics, Kelly Dowd was on hand to help his staff sell their wide variety of comic books, toys and t-shirts, which typically sell in its store in northeast Calgary, just off of Edmonton trail.
“Basically this is a testing ground to see if we could take the store to Vancouver, or maybe some of the other different cons,” Dowd said.

“It’s a nice opportunity to test the market and show people who we are.”EDITED Edmonton-Expo 2The expo’s halls were filled with people, many in costume, as they looked at everything the expo had to offer.

Photo by: Jeff Medhurst

The media and guest relations expert for the Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo, Steve Hodges, also has the same role for the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo.

This is due to the fact that the founder of the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo met with Edmonton’s Toy and Comic Expo founder and the two of them decided to give Edmonton a much bigger expo for the fans.

This is also what led to several of Calgary owned and operated stores driving up to Edmonton to help the expo.

“Edmonton has always been a supporter of the Calgary show, so it’s very nice to see Calgary come up and support the Edmonton show,” Hodges said.

Attendees, some in elaborate costumes showcasing their favourite characters, wandered up and down the Edmonton Expo Centre’s halls.

From shopping for comic books, toys, figurines or other memorabilia, to meeting some of the special guests and getting their autographs or even attending one of the panels, there was no shortage of things for patrons of the expo to do.

“Calgary and Edmonton are very isolated, but they’re a very supportive community of creative individuals. Whether its clothing vendors, or pop culture vendors, or artists. So Calgarians want to go to Edmonton, or Edmontonians want to go to Calgary, to meet the fans and hopefully turn a profit,” Hodges said.

For some of the Calgarians to travel to Edmonton, like Erik Scheelar, the Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo made for a good chance to make up for not being able to get into the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo last April when record shattering crowds made the expo turn people away.

There is an increasing confidence that Edmonton’s expo will grow based on how much more Calgary’s expo does.

“I think Edmonton will really be able to ride off Calgary’s success. They’ll be able to get bigger people and it’ll be nice for Calgarians because it’s an easy day trip to see the expo and then drive home,” Scheelar said.

Now that Calgarians have the chance to go to big expos twice a year, one will have to wait and see how much the expos, and the small local Calgary businesses that travel with them can grow.

Traffic concerns rise for local northwest residents

Published on Thursday, 11 October 2012 in The Calgary Journal

Robert Thirsk High School opens September 2013, which has many members of the community worried

TrafficTHUMBIn September of 2013, Robert Thirsk High School is planned to officially open in the northwest end of the city, just off of Nosehill and Hawkwood Drive.

The school is being built on 8777 Nose Hill Drive N.W., beside the Nosehill Public Library and the Crowfoot YMCA.

The plan is for the school to cater to students from several new communities including: Hawkwood, Arbour Lake, Citadel, Scenic Acres, Ranchlands, Rocky Ridge and Royal Oak.

The designs and plans for the school have been well-received by members of surrounding communities, but its location is creating concerns among residents.

Concerns from the surrounding community were brought to the Calgary Board of Education’s attention at an open house back in 2009. It resulted in feedback on an anonymous page posted on the school’s website.

Residents’ conerns:

While the anonymous feedback to the school’s designs and its goals have been positive, there have been many complaints regarding the school’s location and the potential traffic problems that may occur in the area.

“Only one entrance is not enough, we already have traffic problem in this area. Need two entrances at least,” said one concerned resident in the online forum.TrafficIMAGETraffic concerns in the area of Robert Thirsk High School are already on the rise. Many are concerned with increased traffic flow when the school opens in 2013.

Photo by Jeff Medhurst

Others have cited that there will be an overflow of traffic in Arbour Lake and Hawkwood, as students looking for free parking are likely to double park in the neighborhoods, causing trouble for the residents.

Kevan Newman, president of the Hawkwood community association said, “Naturally there’s some concern the parking lot is too small. We’re considering issuing permits to the residents in the area.”

Response from the Calgary Board of Educatiion:

In response to concerns about parking, Melissa Malcolm, communications advisor from the Calgary Board of Education, said in an email,
“In terms of student parking, those decisions have not yet been made. With the school not opening until next fall, those particulars will be dealt with in the coming months in collaboration with the YMCA.”

Robert Thirsk High School is part of the Alberta schools alternative procurement initiative, which uses a public-private partnership to build the schools and maintain them for 30 years.

In other words, the school’s construction is done by private companies and then ownership is given to the city’s respective school board.

However, this has not changed the attitude that some community members have towards the school.

Many complaints are being cited towards the likely traffic problems and the possible decrease in resale value in some homes.

For some, this also means the loss of the park outside their house.

“We bought in Arbour Lake estates because of the park behind us. Now we will have to deal with the garbage and traffic and noise and bodies all day long. There must be something more you can do for us,” said one concerned resident in the anonymous forum.

Malcolm said that any traffic issues will be dealt with when the time comes.
“The CBE will work with the City of Calgary, the community including the library and YMCA to ensure we address traffic issues to the best of our ability,” Malcolm said.

Though Newman of the Hawkwood community association thinks the real test will be the school’s second year of operation.

“That first year it will just be grade 10 and 11, and not many people that age drive. It’ll be the subsequent year that will be a pain, and we’ll have to decide how to really react from there,” Newman said.

At time of publishing, the CBE said that student parking will be decided close to the school’s opening date, and inquiries into the total number of parking spots for the school had not been answered.

The Artist Alley gives artists a chance to branch out

Published on Friday, 09 March 2012 in The Calgary Journal

The Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo provides local artists a venue to sell their art

THUMBEDITArtist-Alley Johnny-LuuWhen John Luu isn’t working his day job as a sales representative for Sony’s PlayStation gaming system, he is focusing on his art.

An artist from a young age, Luu said that he was the type of person to often neglect other high school classes in favour of art class.

“I often just draw comic book characters, but this is the year I’m trying to get into drawing more of my own creations,” Luu said.

A look through his workbook reveals drawings and sketches of famous superheroes, such as Batman or Wonder Woman, which he is preparing for this year’s Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo.

He originally started off at a smaller expo at the Red and White Club, then moved to the Calgary Expo when it first started in 2006.

Luu is taking part in the Calgary Expo’s Artist Alley, a collection of local artists who participate in the expo by showcasing and selling their art. A walk down the alley reveals different and unique takes on characters in pop culture today, ranging from the cute characters of “My Little Pony” to lesser-known cult favourites like “Deadpool.”EDITArtist-Alley Johnny-Luu

Johnny Luu and one of the drawings he’s preparing to sell at this year’s Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo.
Photo by: Jeffrey Medhurst

The Artist Alley is one of the few chances Calgarians have to see local talent in the city. There are only a few conventions a year that give this type of opportunity.

“There’s a lot of talent in the city that people don’t see unless they come to the expo,” Luu said.

Stephen Hodges, spokesperson for the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo said the Artist Alley came into existence when the show itself was created. The show’s founder, Kandrix Foong, was once also a comic book writer who travelled the country adding similar conventions in other cities, all of them having an Artist Alley where the local talent would showcase their art.

“When Kandrix came back to the expo and had the vision for the expo in his big, beautiful brain, he knew that it needed an Artist Alley,” Hodges said.

At this point the Calgary Expo has sold 90 per cent of the tables available to artists in the expo, with the event itself still being two months away.

Opportunities for local artists

Another expo veteran, Michael Rieger, said that he usually walks away from it with an extra $1,000 or so in his pocket.

“I couldn’t make a full time job out of it, but I make some good money,” Rieger said.

EDITArtist-Alley Mike-Rieger

Mike Rieger shows off his cartoonish renders of the cast of Firefly for this year’s expo.
Photo by: Jeffrey Medhurst

More than just a chance to earn some money, however, the Artist Alley is also a chance for artists to network with one another – and for a lucky few, it could be a chance to break into the comic book industry. Luu has been working hard every year to try and get his name out there.

“I promote myself as much as possible to try and get that network base and hopefully branch out into the industry,” Luu said. “It’s one of the hardest industries to get into, so the expo is really good for that.”

One of Marvel Comics’ talent scouts will be at the show this year looking for fresh new faces and ideas to enter into the expo itself, said Hodges.

“What’s great about having an artist’s alley at the show is a chance for the local artists to network with the industry bigs.”

Even if they aren’t trying to break into the comic industry, other local artists such as Rieger, who works professionally as a graphic designer, can still use the opportunity to further network themselves in different areas.

“I hand out more business cards then I can count,” Rieger said.

Fun’s the name of the game

Despite the challenge that comes with breaking into the industry, artists like Luu still say the Calgary Expo is still a lot of fun.

“Every year’s been great. They pull off a good show. Even those of us in the Artist’s Alley get treated pretty well,” Luu said.

“Even if you’re not a comic fan, you were once a fan of Digimon, or Spider-Man, or He-Man,” Hodges said. “Everyone has that inner geek, so I think when you stroll down Artist Alley you can embrace that inner geek and remind yourself of your childhood and then post it on your wall proudly back home.”

And Hodges said he thinks meeting the artist who drew that new poster on your wall is just as valuable as an Adam West autograph.

The Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo takes place April 27 – 29.

Lester B Pearson High School students going to the Big Apple

Published on Monday, 30 January 2012 in The Calgary Journal

A trip to NY is a rare chance for teens to see the fine arts at its ‘highest level’

NYthumbLester B. Pearson High School was closed due to the semester break but a group of 41 students had gathered in the school’s theatre none the less. They were excited and filled the room with energy — and for good reason.

They were planning their upcoming trip to New York in March.

Spearheading the trip are teachers Kathryn Riben and Joel Abrams, both are seasoned New York travellers. Riben remembers the experience as “the fine arts equivalent of a religious experience,” as Riben described it.

While school trips are common, it’s not very often that students get to experience a trip of this magnitude. The trip will include multiple Broadway shows and several backstage tours as well as sightseeing of all the major New York landmarks.

Although planning the trip was no easy endeavour, Riben thinks it was worth the effort.

“Abrams and I teach the music department, and both of us have been to New York just for trips by ourselves,” Riben said. “So we thought as an opportunity for our students to experience the highest level of the performing arts, we thought that’d be the place to take them.”

 Planning the trip

When it came to actually planning the trip, Riben went back to New York City again to get an idea of all the activities she wanted to do with her students.

“We spoke to our students to see who would be interested, and asked our tour provider, ‘What can you put together for us?’ and they’ve been fantastic,” Riben said.

After filling about 90 pages of paperwork and meeting with parents of the students interested in traveling, Riben and Abrams got ready to take their students to the big apple.

“It was momentous,” Riben said. “Until we had that final signature, we were always worried that it wouldn’t happen.”

NY2The teaching staff and painter Janell Bye are preparing for their trip to the Big Apple.
(From left to right) Joel Abrams, Kathryn Riben, Janell Bye, Mark Mason, Michelle Hornby, Shannon Lloyd.
Painting by Janell Bye.

Photo by: Jeff Medhurst

Getting the students ready

Now it’s matter of getting their students ready for the big trip.

The students themselves are the ones paying for the trip, which is no small charge. But Riben hasn’t completely left her students out to dry. Riben has given the students a few chances to fundraise money for the trip, but has left it to them to do it independently. Riben said that’s she done her best to make sure that even if they can’t fundraise that trip would still be affordable for students willing to work for it.

Shennia Shannon, Chantel Dixon and Caylie Kornelson, said they think it’s going to be worth the cost.

Shannon had to find a job and convince her father it would be a worthwhile investment, and Dixon and Kornelson poured hours into the paperwork for the trip to help smooth out the process.

Kornelson described it as, “It was a lot of homework. It’s not just fun. We’re all really dedicated towards this.”

Time and money well Spent

Despite the work that was involved in getting this trip together, teachers and students alike couldn’t be more excited.

“I’m excited to see the reaction of everybody else because I know what my reaction was and because I know when you see the lights of New York City for the first time, it’s one of those places that just doesn’t disappoint,” Riben said.

“There’s this café that Riben told me about where the waitresses sing to you, and I am really excited to go there,” Dixon said.

For Shannon it’s just simply going to New York. “I don’t think I could actually just choose one thing. There’s so much I want to do.”

“Now that we’re approved, the challenges are worth it because we can say ‘It’s okay. It’s worth it. We’re going to New York!'”

Students push themselves in high school’s latest theatre production

Published on Friday, 02 December 2011 in The Calgary Journal

Jane-Eyre copyLanguage and themes of Jane Eyre challenges young actors, teacher says

Starting early next week, Henry Wise Wood High School‘s young actors will be performing Jane Eyre, a play considered challenging by the students and its director for its sophisticated language and mature content.

“The language is difficult, it’s mid 19th century, when the language was much more sophisticated than students this day and age understand and are able to speak,” said Brenda Calnan, the drama teacher at Henry Wise Wood High School and the play’s director.

“That was a challenge, for them to find the meaning behind the dialogue.”

An old story

Calnan has worked for the past school semester to get this play up and running, and with the curtain going up in only a few nights, she reflects on why she picked a tough play for the students to do.

“It’s always been a story that has a lot of deep meaning in terms of relationships. It has always just been a terrific story, a heartfelt story and it always just struck a chord with me,” said Calnan.

The novel Jane Eyre was originally written in London, England in 1847 by Charlotte Bronte. Considered ahead of it’s time for its portrayal of a young independent woman, Jane Eyre has been adapted several times into movies, T.V. specials and plays.


The lead actors of Jane Eyre.

Photo by: Jeff Medhurst

The challenge for Calnan to adapt this gothic romance into a high school play stemmed from several factors, most notably from its time period.

Teenagers in love

A greater challenge arose from the meaning behind the dialogue. The students and Calnan have both struggled to tackle themes that many would consider beyond a high school student’s understanding.

“The students performing in this play have never been in love themselves,” said Calnan. “So for them to draw upon those feelings, they have to go different places to try and draw up that type of emotion.”

The students, some of whom are more used to doing comedy roles as opposed to dramatic ones, admit to struggling.

“I haven’t done many roles that have been serious, or serious in a romantic way. Especially because it was a big role, and I had to learn to do it quick,” said Maria Georgescu, a Grade 12 student who is already a veteran of 11 productions. Travis LeBaron, a fellow Grade 12 student who marks “Jane Eyre” as his fifth play agrees with his co-star.

“I’m usually going for the laughs as opposed to the tears. It’s a really serious play, it’s really emotional, and just trying to find that emotion and project it, it’s been a struggle. But we’re getting there,” agreed LeBaron,

Determined to make it happen

However despite the challenge the play presents, students such as Jill Moch are confident that people will enjoy the production.

“It’s so heartfelt and you feel so much for the characters. You can connect with every character in the play, whether you love them or hate them,” said Moch, another rising theatre veteran who has done eight plays prior to Jane Eyre.

Determined to make the play the best they can, students continue to rehearse every day after school until the production hits the stage to help ensure a high quality production.

“We put so much into these plays. We’re here day-in, day-out, you know we put so much effort in and we’re looking for this outcome and we’re not going to accept anything less,” said LeBaron.

The play opens Monday, Dec. 5 at 4 p.m. and then plays Dec. 6 – 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for those under the age of 18. To get tickets visit the drama room at Henry Wise Wood during their lunch hour at noon or call Brenda at 403-253-2261, ext 2138.

Lord Beaverbrook High School drama reaches out to the community

Published on Friday, 18 November 2011 in The Calgary Journal

Students put on two plays aimed at families and children

lordbeaverbrookthumbAt Lord Beaverbrook High School the drama teachers and a group of students are hard at work rehearsing for two upcoming plays set to go up in the first week of December.

The two plays, “How to Eat Like a Child,” a play about a group of kids teaching the audience how to act like children, and “A Promise is a Promise,” a play based off the children’s story by Robert Munsch and Michael Kusugak, are aiming to bring in a large draw for the community with a focus on families.

“It’s two shows designed for families and children,” said Owen Chan, the director of “A Promise is a Promise.”

This year Lord Beaverbrook High School’s fine arts department is working hard to try to get the community aware of its program.


We have a department goal, not just drama but all the performing arts, of bringing the community into Lord Beaverbrook more. So it’s more of a community school, and not just the place where ‘those teenagers’ go to school,” said Karen Towsley, ,the director of “How to Eat Like a Child.”

“There are amazing things going on this school, and you never hear about them.”

Community Awareness

Last year, after having built up their program, the fine arts department realized that they weren’t getting as much of a draw from the community as they wanted, or as they were used to when they were teenagers.

“When I went to school, the community was in the school. Everyone went to the football games, everyone went to the plays whether your kid was in the school or not,” said Towsley.

The challenge that the drama teachers have faced however, is how to get the word out there to the community. Aside from putting up posters and getting their students to take brochures door to door, the drama teachers haven’t been able to do much more to advertise their plays. It has been recommended to the teachers that they hold a fundraiser, but when they get home at 8:30 every night it’s hard to find the time.

“We do everything for the show, so to do marketing when it’s not our area of focus is quite difficult,” said Chan.

Working Hard to Impress

Despite this, the excitement for the upcoming shows hasn’t been quelled and the teachers and students remain positive and hopeful for a strong community turn out.

“I think that we do put out really good work and it’s something that I’m proud,” said Emma Patterson, a student in Grade 11 acting in “A Promise is a Promise,” a story about an old Inuit legend.

“People really enjoy our shows so I think that if we get more people in, more people will be more aware of our program and more people will enjoy theatre the way we do,” said Patterson.

Every day after school the students go back and work hard to make the plays the best they can, with the hope that their efforts will pay off with a big audience full of kids and families on opening night.

“I’m looking forward to 400 people, excited to see the work and very satisfied at the end,” said Towsley.

The plays go up Thursday Dec. 1, and go until Friday Dec. 9. Tickets cost $5 for anyone under the age of 12, and general admission tickets are $10 and can be bought in the office at Lord Beaverbrook during school hours, or at the door before the show. Both shows play on a single night, with a twenty minute intermission between them.