Friday, August 24, 2007

Remembering Philanthropist Bluma Appel

This summer, in a trademark show of generosity, Bluma Appel donated $350,000 and assisted in raising an additional $170,000 toward the University of Toronto Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing's state-of-the-art Clinical Simula-tion Learning Laboratory.

Ms. Appel was honoured for that gift at an intimate cocktail reception in June, hosted by the dean of the faculty, Professor Siobhan Nelson. Guests were able to wander through the learning lab – which is unique in Canada – and offers nurses hands-on training in infectious diseases, among other conditions. Rubber mannequins lay prone on hospital beds, their chests raising and falling with imitation breath while beeping monitors signaled their make-believe pulses. Almost every person in attendance had kind words and praise for Ms. Appel, who sat close to her husband while friends and admirers drew near. It was the last in a number of historic contributions made by Ms. Appel to the Canadian social and political scene. The founder of CANFAR and a life-long patron of the arts, she was awarded the Order of Canada twice, the Order of Ontario, a Dora Award, and two Honourary Doctorates.

Bluma Appel died on July 15 at the age of 86.

Published Women's Post, August 24 2007

Jill Barber's sweet tune of success

Jill Barber has won several music awards, filmed two videos for MuchMusic, recorded a duet with Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy, and receives performance requests from all over North America. She has been swept off her feet by the CBC, recently released a second full-length album, and will embark on a European tour this fall. Yet the 27-year-old singer songwriter still gets a little nervous in front of her home-town crowd in Toronto.

She is the rare sort of artist to whom the industry, as much as the music, seems to come naturally. Soon after moving to Halifax at the age of 22, with little more than an undergraduate degree, summer romance, and passion for music, Jill's career took off. The day of this interview finds her running between an appointment with her stylist, an interview with CBC's Jian Ghomeshi, and several live performances. Yet she is relaxed and low-key, ready for a small drink and a long chat on a Queen West patio.

On the walk toward refreshment, we pass Victor Syperek, a well known club-owner from Halifax, and some others from the Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records (FACTOR), which, along with MuchMoreMusic, are responsible for funding her latest music video. The FACTOR group is welcoming and familiar. Though Halifax has clearly been a career catalyst and spiritual home for the artist, for Jill it was like starting over.

"I started playing at open mic shows and coffee houses when I was 16," she explains, "As a student in Kingston I played sold-out shows and people knew who I was." The small town loved Jill's unique blend of lyricism and folksy, jazz-influenced vocals. While earning her BA in philosophy at Queen's University, she was playing and promoting sold-out gigs. The summer after graduation, she embarked on the all-Canadian 20-something journey and went tree planting. There, she met the man who lured her to the East Coast.

"It had a happy ending, though" she says ruefully, on stage at a recent Toronto concert, "Well, it ended and I'm happy."

Although the romance that brought her to Halifax was short-lived, it was the first of many risky-but-calculated decisions which ultimately paid off. Upon moving, Jill began an unpaid internship with a local indie newspaper, The Coast. Known as the hipster-cum-activist rag around town, it was the perfect place to connect with the local music and entertainment scene. The internship quickly became a paid position, granting her instant access to every event in the city.

"When I moved to Halifax, I was following my boyfriend, not my career. I didn't know anyone. But I found an amazing community of artists and felt at home immediately. Ontario is the home I was given, but Halifax is the home that I chose."
It is the best sort of irony that, while at work in the depths of the accounting department for The Coast, a major source of entertainment information, Jill Barber was quietly recording an album that would earn her a place on the national stage. A few years after working at the newspaper, she would be featured on the cover. Twice, she was voted by Coast readers as Best Local Female Artist – quite the honour for one born in Port Credit, Ontario.

Although she left her fans, friends, and family in Ontario, she did bring a little piece of Kingston to Halifax, in the form of an EP that she had recorded in her dorm room. While working at The Coast, she dusted it off, cleaned it up a bit, and sent it into Atlantic Airwaves, a local CBC Radio show. Fate, it seemed, conspired to put it in the hands of a producer. She was soon performing as a guest on the show, and soon enough – "like a bit of a Cinderella" – her first full length album, Oh, Heart, was recorded in 2004 with the help of CBC studios, funding, and talent.

For a few years after, she played repeated shows around the Maritimes, teaming up with other young Canadian talent like Ron Sexsmith and Jim Bryson. She feels more at home on stage than anywhere else, so it should be no surprise that the logistics of managing a music career came just as naturally.

"I don't think people realize that the music industry is very entrepreneurial," she says. "The same skills you need to run a business are required in this industry, especially if you are the primary player. You need to have solid leadership skills and the ability, especially when on tour with friends and colleagues, to separate work time from play time. You also need to bring a good team to play."

Her second album, For All Time, has a distinctly different sound than the first. The album is a little more country-influenced, with slower melodies and more secretive lyrics. Her most personal expressions, the weight of all her savings, and a bank loan are riding on this most recent album. But the girl who believes that "one should always have a good book on the go" is not bothered. Early 2006 granted her two East Coast Music Awards and a schedule of back-to-back tours. This summer alone she played in the Yukon, Nova Scotia, and all parts in between. Her dusky, wise, and sentimental song style will also be featured on a series of CBC recordings called East Coast Sessions.

Her music resonates with many – musicians, writers, lovers, students, well-heeled professionals, hippies to hipsters. Self-taught, seemingly immune from the acclaim, and ever-grateful for the support, she stands in her flowered dress and cowboy boots under a single spotlight. Watching her perform, you can feel that Jill Barber is playing it by heart.

Summer celebrations, from swinging jazz to sizzling shopping

Canada is in the midst of a swinging summer, with jazz fests running across the country. In Toronto, the Beaches Jazz Festival began on July 25 with a fundraiser for the Toronto East General Hospital Foundation. The event was held at the Balmy Beach Club and featured hot jazz and tasty samples from a selection of fine restaurants in the area. Sponsors such as Perrier, Trillium Foundation, Pizza Pizza and Mill Street Brewery helped to make the annual event a great success.

While the Beaches Jazz Festival is an occasion Torontonians can expect to look forward to every year, the city welcomed a new event this August with's chic Queen Street Shop Crawl. Launched in 2006, the website has already become the Canadian woman's go-to for advice on all things fashion and beauty. "I was looking for a new salon in Toronto, so I went online to see what I could find," explains the young co-founder of, Ali de Bold, "When I finally found a listing of salons with some reviews, it was American. There was nothing in Canada like it, so we decided to make one." quickly gained traction with Toronto fashionistas, female focused media, and national beauty retailers. The website allows women to share their experience and rate products "from electronics to electrolysis." A former insurance claims adjuster and current student of Radio and Television Arts, Ali brought the on-line community to life on August 9 with a "Shop Crawl" along trendy Queen Street West. An impressive crowd attended the three- hour event, which featured special retail discounts, freebies, and mingling opportunities. Sponsors included, SunSilk, Kiehl's, Lipstick Powder 'N Paint, Corner Office Beauty.

Published Women's Post, August 24 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Online Bargain Hunters Unite in Toronto!

Free public party attracts hundreds in search of good deals, and in support of Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation

Toronto, Canada, August 21, 2007 – If you thought clipping coupons saved you a lot of money, you haven’t met fanatical members of, Canada’s largest online bargain-hunting community. The six-year old website registered its 100,000th member this summer and boasts almost a million fresh eyes per month. Founder and President Derek Szeto decided to celebrate this milestone with The Bargain Hunter’s Picnic; a massive, public, outdoor party scheduled for August 26 at the newly renovated Varsity Stadium in Toronto.

“The community is an enormous part of our success,” he says. “Members share tips on good deals, make recommendations on what to buy, and are having a lot fun saving money and spending it wisely. We really wanted to show our appreciation for their loyalty and participation. While celebrating our community though, we also knew that it was important to give back to the community-at-large. For that reason we’re working with Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation to help make lives a little brighter. It is a wonderful organization and we are very happy to work with them.”

Within the first few days of event registration, ticket sales for the Bargain Hunter’s Picnic raised over $1,000 for Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation. The event will feature a gourmet BBQ, live entertainment, giveaways, games and more. It takes place from 12:30 – 4:30PM on August 26 at Varsity Stadium & Field in Toronto. Although it will act as a highly-anticipated meet-and-greet for the community, everyone and anyone is welcome to attend. features daily deals, coupons, and freebies for both online and in-store purchases. An editorial team, with the help of the community, locates the best deals; helping readers make smart purchases in a sea of online retailers. The Bargain Hunter’s Picnic will mark the end of Reader Appreciation Month at and is the first major, public and official community event.

What: Bargain Hunter’s Picnic – a free, public event with games, entertainment and more.
When: Sunday, August 26, 12:30 – 4:30 PM
Where: Varsity Stadium & Field, 299 Bloor St. West, Toronto
Who: and Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation

For more information please visit:

Launched in November 2000, uses the power of community to alert bargain-hunting consumers to Canadian retailing deals via the Internet. The site currently boasts over 2.5 million unique sessions and over 17 million page views every month. According to, is one of the 100 most popular websites in Canada. Visit at

About Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation:
We help seriously ill children and their families cope with their pain, fear and isolation through entertainment, education and family activities.

Published Clear Sky Media, August 21 2007

Friday, August 10, 2007

About Town and Around the World: Ladies at Lunch

Women in Film and Television (WIFT) held its international summit in Toronto last month, highlighting homegrown talent among an impressive array of industry professionals. WIFT is designed to encourage and support the work of women, and men, in screen-based media.

The summit provided an excellent opportunity for Canadian filmmakers and producers to network with other industry leaders, as well as a chance to show off some impressive exports. Among those who gave the Canadians bragging rights were Academy Award and Genie Award winner Torill Kove (The Danish Poet) and Genie Award winner Deepa Mehta (Water), both of whom were awarded Outstanding International Achievement Awards during a posh gala luncheon at the Park Hyatt Hotel. While the gala luncheon was a highly anticipated event for summit delegates, the general public also leapt at the chance to be in the presence of these controversial and compelling women. Every ticket available to the public was scooped up at a mere $215 each.

"We are very excited about presenting this important event," said Sue Sheridan, Executive Director of WIFT-Toronto. "In a global marketplace, it is essential for women and men in screen-based media to network, forge new partnerships, and learn from the experiences of colleagues in other parts of the world."

Another delicious event took place last month when celebrity chef Christine Cushing showed off her skills and skillet on July 11 for a Pre-Bastille Day cocktail event at the Alliance Francaise. World renowned cookware brand T-fal was the generous sponsor of this exclusive event. Cushing provided scrumptious pairings of French cuisine and wine while Xavier Sabourin, vice president of T-fal, showed us why the "Made in France" cookware is reason enough for a Fête nationale. While the food, wine and joie de vivre were intoxicating, Cushing proved herself to be an inspiration. Trained at George Brown college and the Paris-based École de Cuisine La Varenne, she has launched a catering business, hosted a live show on the Food Network, written three best-selling cookbooks, and now runs her own line of food products called "Pure." She volunteers her spare time to terminally ill children through the Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation.

Published Women's Post, August 10 2007