Gymnasts’ year was a good one: coach

Published Monday, June 10, 2013 in The Cold Lake Sun

Above the Seniors’ Centre is a group of young people who are hard at work honing their gymnastics skills.  Under the guidance of their coaches they open their practices with several laps around the gym, limbering up while doing so.
The Cold Lake Gymnastics group had one of their most successful years yet, says head coach Krista Ramsay.  The competitive team has done more this year this ever before and has walked away with more then their fair share of medals and ribbons to prove it.  It was also a year of many firsts for the team.
“I’m so proud of the kids,” Ramsay said.  “They worked so hard.”
The total count of medals won by individuals and teams this year was 102, and those ranged from first to third place in a competition.  The number of ribbons won was 136.
The program, which has kids from the ages of five to 16, has a competitive team consisting of 22 girls from that age range.  In this past year alone they have travelled all over Alberta, from St. Albert to Canmore and several places in between, for competitions.
Ask any of the girls however, and their favourite place to visit was Florida, where they competed in their first ever Presidential Classic at Walt Disney World.  They walked away from that competition alone with 15 medals.
“It was a blast,” Ramsay said.  “We also got a nice vacation out of it.”
It was also their first year competing in provincials, which three  of the girls attended.  They walked away with a fifth and sixth place ribbon out of the entire province for their competitions.
However the club continued to face several of the same problems they faced last year, which all stem from a lack of space.  The club itself hosts over 300 kids.
“We just have no more room.  There’s nothing more we can give,” Ramsay explained.
However, in January 2014 they’re moving into the Energy Centre, where they space needs should finally be alleviated.
“We’re already designing it with them.  We’ve been discussing how much space we’ll need and so on,” Ramsay said.
Looking into the future, Ramsay has lots of ideas but also has several things to work out.  Twenty new girls want to join the team, but they only have the space for four more girls.
“Some girls (are) moving away, but that’s really the only space we have to open up,” Ramsay explained.
On the lighter side, next year Ramsay hopes for Cold Lake to host their first ever gymnastics competition.  She wants to bring in teams from all over, and help to make Cold Lake better known in the gymnastic community.
All in all it was a good year to be in the gymnastics club.  The girls travelled and competed, and got the medals and ribbons to show for it.  However if you ask any of the girls what their favourite part was, they’d probably tell you that it was that they got to go to Disney World.

Insufficient bus drivers in NLSD

Published Monday, June 10, 2013 in The Cold Lake Sun


In the past two to three years, almost every newspaper without fail as had an ad looking for new bus drivers for the Northern Lights School District.  There just aren’t enough bus drivers to go around, it seems.
This has begun to put a strain on the transportation director Matt Richter, as well as the other members of the transportation office.  With contractors constantly stepping down and employees hard to find, Richter and his co-workers have had to step up to get kids to school.
“I told the board we were going to hit the wall about a year ago,” Richter said. “And then we did.”
The NLSD has over a 100 routes that kids get picked up on their way to school.  However Matt Richter himself has filled in 50 fifty times in the past year for contractors who have dropped out at the last minute.
“It’s frustrating because it means I can’t get much else done.  My main job is the director of transportation but sometimes I’m barely able to do my job because of this,” Richter said.
This has also begun to put a strain on the parents of the kids.  Richter and his staff aren’t always enough to fill in the shoes of every bus driver who drops out, meaning the parents have to get their kids to school, despite whatever they need to get done that day.
However, the workers just aren’t there, Richter says.
“The problem is this area is so strapped for employees,” Richter said.  “We have lots of jobs, but not enough employees to fill them.”
The difficulty in finding a new driver is two fold.  For starters, it’s tough to find someone who has a licence to drive a bus.  Then it’s even more challenging to get them to work, as the pay is no longer as good as it was.
“The government cut off our fuel funding, so suddenly we had to pay for our own fuel.  That doesn’t leave much money to give to the drivers,” explained Richter.
In a recent hunt for a new bus driver, it took Richter between four to five months to find a new driver in Bonnyville.
“It’s not just us though; it’s every other industry as well,” Richter said.  “When my in-laws from Europe were here, they couldn’t believe all the help wanted signs they saw in store windows.”
Richter also has growing concerned that the downward trend might continue into the next school year.  During the summer he plans to look for new employees, but who knows if he’ll find any.
“Come September 1st, it’ll be very interesting,” Richter said.

Vancouver Aquarium gives local students a chance to look at sea wildlife

Published Monday, June 10, 2013 in The Cold Lake Sun

The Pacific Ocean may seem pretty far away from rural Alberta.  However students of LeGoff School had the ocean brought to them.  Thanks to the Vancouver Aquarium, students had a chance to touch, examine and learn about some sea creatures from habitats that can seem far away and from some that are closer to home.
“It’s great, because the chances some of these kids will get to the coast are slim to none,” Principal Maryanne Bushore said.  “It’s absolutely amazing.”
The Vancouver Aquariums’ AquaVan, a truck that tours western Canada between January and November, made this possible.   The van is sponsored by Cenovus Energy, and it tailors it’s program to the age group of students it’s working with.
Students got a chance to look at and touch starfish, crabs, sea urchins and snails, as well as several different pelts and skulls from sea animals like sharks and whales.  They learned about different areas of the Pacific Ocean and all sorts of animals that inhabit that area.
The kids were actively engaged with what they were learning.  They asked questions, looked at everything they could, and they learned quite a bit.
The AquaVan also explores the wetlands, an area of subject some of the students are learning about.
“It kind of recaps what the students have learned during the year,” Bushore said.
Lindsay Gibbons, one of the employees with the AquaVan, says it’s one of the best way to teach kids the morals of conservation.   Conservation is one of the main goals of the AquaVan, and how they go about doing it is what Gibbons says makes the difference.
“Because these kids get to actually see and touch these animals, it strengthens their connection with them,” Gibbons said. “They really understand what exactly they’re trying to save.”
The AquaVan is going to continue touring around the area, visiting other towns like Lac La Biche in the coming weeks.  It takes a break later in June and returns to British Columbia in August, before wrapping up its run in November in the Sunshine Coast.
If you’re interested in bringing the AquaVan to your school Gibbons promotes looking at for details.

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.