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ACORN 2018 Conference

The 2018 Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network’s (ACORN) conference is being hosted in Charlo [ ... ]

Speak–Easy Toastmasters

Speak–Easy Toastmasters meet the first and third Wednesday of the month from 6:00–8:15 pm a [ ... ]

Holiday Hosts

Taking part in the PEI Association for Newcomers program

Difference Engines
by Nina Linton

Jeremy Griffin, Karrie Griffin, Peter Griffin, Heydar Esmali, Shahla Esmali, and Omid EsmaliAt a time of the year when many families flock together to celebrate the holidays, those whose loved ones are across the miles can find the much touted Christmas season to be disheartening. But for one Island couple who opened their home up to strangers during the season of familiar faces, their definition of family has now expanded.

Karrie and Peter Griffin, along with their youngest son Jeremy, left many of their friends and close family in Ottawa to make a life for themselves in Canada’s smallest province. As their first Island Christmas approached they felt out of sorts in their new home.

“We are used to hosting our whole family, so we were feeling a bit lost. Then we remembered that we had heard about the (Holiday Host) program the year before and thought it would be a nice thing to do. We can kind of commiserate how it feels to be at a new place at Christmas time,” reveals Karrie. “We just thought that if we are feeling kind of isolated here and we are Canadian and this is what we are used to, imagine how people feel who don’t speak the language are feeling, where everything is so different. They must be feeling this way times ten.”

Run by the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada (PEI ANC) the Holiday Host program has been a growing project over the last several years. Created to connect newcomers with Canadian families so they can enjoy the festive season together, this one-time PEI ANC volunteer commitment matches local families or individuals with new residents who are invited to join them for a meal, party or other festive activity between December 23rd and January 1st.

Feeling this program was for them, the Griffins signed up in 2009 and were matched with the Esmali family who had recently immigrated to the Island from Iran.

“I was kind of nervous before they came but as soon as I saw them I got so excited,” recalls Karrie. “It was kind of funny at first because their English wasn’t the greatest…”

“And we couldn’t speak Farsi but it is amazing how you manage to bridge that problem,” chimes Peter.

Sitting down to eat the Griffins shared with the Esmalis customary Christmas cuisine, with one of the Island couples favourite memories being the Esmalis’ son Omid’s immediate attraction to a favourite Canadian dish.

“When we served the stuffing, he was so excited about the stuffing. He said ‘What do you call this?’ He was just taken a back by it,” says Karrie.

“They were willing to participate in absolutely everything and they wanted to experience as much as they possibly could, how we do things here and learning about why we do things here,” says Peter who said that the family was keen in learning more about the decorated holiday tree and even accompanied the couple to the Christmas Eve church service at 11 pm.

Feeling that as much as they shared with the Esmali family, the Esmali family shared with them, Karrie and Peter embraced the stories about their homeland and culture, enriching their evening and lives. The two families formed a close friendship after their initial meeting, which included the Griffins attending a traditional Iranian meal at the Esmalis’ home.

“That was one thing that struck me, was that the cultural differences are vast but basically we are all the same,” he says. “I am not sure who got the most out of this, I really don’t. It was an equal exchange. We both enjoyed it and we both learned a great deal.”

Breakfast is Ready

Ruby Doucette volunteers with Breakfast for Learning PEI

Difference Engines
by Nina Linton

Ruby Doucette (photo: Nina Linton)Separating the halves of a bagel, Ruby Doucette drops them in an industrial toaster as two crispy pieces slide out the other end. She collects the done dough and adds it to a mound of other toasted O’s in a tray, as she prepares for the arrival of her hungry regulars.

Two mornings a week Ruby Doucette is up and out the door to Charlottetown’s Prince Street Elementary School, where for the past four years she has lent her time to Breakfast for Learning PEI, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to child nutrition. “I really think it is a great program and I enjoy the little ones and it is just, fulfilling. I guess you could put it that way.”

Over the 2008/ 2009 school year 500 volunteers like Doucette operated 46 child nutrition programs across the Island, serving 4521 children and youth with filling morning meals to keep students energized and engaged in class. “I think that it is very important that they have a good meal to start their day. Even myself if I get up that is one of the first things I have to do is to have a bagel or have an English muffin, or toast. I just starts their day and I think it gives them a better attitude when they go to the classroom.”

Working alongside two or three other dedicated volunteers each Tuesday and Thursday during the school semester, Doucette feels good knowing that not only do the 50 odd children she serves have a full belly going to class but they are getting some much needed social interaction in lieu of a breakfast at home. “It gives the kids an opportunity to sit down and probably have a chat with another friend that they wouldn’t ordinarily have time to, they would just come and go to their classes and I think it is a very friendly thing along with nutritional value.”

Running the program five days a week, Breakfast for Learning PEI puts emphasis on the vital link between good nutrition and learning, giving students the fuel they need to get off to a bright start each day, improving their memory, problem-solving skills, and creative abilities through being well-nourished.

Enjoying her time working with the children, Doucette reveals she was impressed by the politeness the youngster show towards her and the other volunteers. Last year the children even put on a special concert for the Breakfast for Learning volunteers. “I enjoy every minute of it,” says Doucette. “And if it was something that I didn’t think was doing any good than I would have moved on to something else.”

She originally signed up because she was looking for something to do after retiring, what began as a way to fill the hours has quickly become a highlight in her week. “I just love it. Those two days for me during the winter are special days. When I come home probably at 9 or 9:15 I feel so good inside because you have done something for somebody, even if it was just making them a piece of toast.”

Witty and Delightful

Pygmalion

by Nina Linton

Reviving old classics is nothing new for The Montgomery Theatre but in their recent offering, Pygmalion, the company sets the bar high with outstanding cast performances in a comical collision of socioeconomic classes.

Returning this year in their newly acquired North Rustico venue, the Montgomery Theatre players, under artistic director Duncan McIntosh, with previous positions including Ontario’s Shaw Festival and The Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, take to the stage to recreate George Bernard Shaw’s work, in a fresh and modern production that features both local and imported talent.

As with previous Montgomery Theatre productions Pygmalion keeps to the theatre’s tradition of showcasing theatrical pieces that originated in the time of Island literary legend Lucy Maud Montgomery.

As witty and delightful today as it was at the time of its inception nearly a century ago, this play still provokes reflection on the discrepancies that exist between the low, middle and upper classes.

Set in England this tale centers around common Cockney flower peddler, Eliza Doolittle. A product of her East London environment, Eliza is marred by illiteracy, poor manners and her rough accent when she is whisked out of the gutter by an academic who promises to turn her into a refined lady who could pass for a Duchess. With the tutelage of Professor Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering the transformation takes place with hilarity punctuating the progression, however some poignant moments follow as Doolittle begins to expect more from life after her heightened reality and Professor Higgins remains reluctant to relinquish his living linguistic project.

Stratford native Rebecca Parent not only stars but shines as Eliza Doolittle in this production, playing the strident yet fragile flower girl aiming to elevate herself through the rigid social standings of the time. Parent authentically carries off her character’s duplicity well, highlighting the strong willed, assertive yet charming nature of the girl.

In the role of Henry Higgins, Manitoba’s Omar Khan embodies the phonetics-obsessed professor. Containing himself within the confines of the character, Khan believably portrays the robust, self-assured bachelor who is overly enthusiastic about science but lacks any inkling of interpersonal skills adding drama to the dialogue.

An audience favourite is sure to be actress Tanja Jacobs who wears, literally, many hats during the course of the production, sometimes shifting sexes within a scene playing such characters as Mr. Alfred Doolittle, Mrs. Pearce, and Mrs. Higgins among others.

Other noteworthy performances were given by Michael Iliadis, Shannon Taylor, and Rob Maclean who juggled several roles throughout the production.

With its exposed ceiling beams, thrust stage and staggered ground level seating creating an intimate setting, the former Stella Maris Hall, the new Montgomery Theatre location, makes a cozy home for this production. However when the seating layout in the small space is combined with actor’s stage positions certain seats’ views are obstructed for periods throughout the production.

Simplistic in nature, the production of Pygmalion has few sound effects and even fewer props as it unfolds on an ebony stage complete with black backdrop, consciously chosen by the director who has clearly focused on delivering the story through text and not the stage décor.

The Montgomery Theatre’s rendition of Pygmalion is a family-friendly presentation, an enduring class-conscious spectacle with both dramatic notes and loads of laughs that is sure to leave audience members smitten.

Speed the Plough

Founder of Eastern Antique Tractor and Equipment Club

Difference Engines
Nina Linton

Heber Ross in action with his tractor at the Lorne Valley Planting Day for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank held back in the spring (photo: Nina Linton)For Heber Ross there is not a more comfortable spot than the rigid, conformed metal seat of his restored 1952 tractor.

A long time antique machinery enthusiast, Ross remembers the days when this elder equipment worked the land of Prince Edward Island, providing farmers with horsepower to harvest their crops.

Although once a staple on many Island farms, these powerful machines of yesteryear fell out of favour as new technology brought tractors from basic, open-air work horses to hundred thousand dollar mobile offices, including computers and air conditioning, that also happen to complete farm tasks.

Ross, a Cardigan native who was raised on a farm himself, recalls the old fashioned tractors he drove as a youth with fondness. Several years ago he recognized that these original pieces were quietly fading away, abandoned in overgrown fields, forgotten in barns or many facing a fate far worse, being cashed in as scrap metal taking with them the early mechanical era.

In 2004, Ross alongside a small group of like minded folks decided to start a club that would work to recover and restore this aging equipment. Since then, The Eastern Antique Tractor and Equipment Club’s 40 members have worked to refurbish 150 antique tractors, 40 engines, as well as countless pieces of early farm equipment including planters and combines which they bring out and show the public each year.

Members from across the province form a tight knit community striving towards a common goal, reliving and remembering their childhoods in rural PEI along the way.

“As young boys we used them ourselves and that is the key to wanting to keep them going again,” Ross says of the group. “We all seem to centre around the sound of each individual make, to me I love the sound of a Farmall H, that was the old one that I had down home.”

Setting aside time to work on his personal project, a Farmall Super A, Ross dedicated countless hours to bring it back to its former glory. With two years invested in restoring it, he says he took every nut and bolt off the body, sanded it down to the bare metal before painting the pieces and reassembling the tractor.

Ross says he uses original parts wherever possible to complete the job, hoping to maintain the integrity of the machinery.

Attending monthly meetings of their club, Ross and his peers, with a penchant for aged agricultural propulsion, have a place to swap parts, exchange repair techniques and trade stories.

With so many restored tractors on the Island the members of The Eastern Tractor and Equipment Club act not as collectors but educators, where Ross and the other members take great pride in sharing their refurbished machines with the public, keeping them alive in the minds of many.

One of their most celebrated occasions is the Dundas Plowing Match held each August, where dozens of plowmen take to their tractors and peel back the earth aiming to get the straightest, most precise furrows possible.

For Ross, it is an amazing sight to see the often discounted equipment doing what it was designed to, while people of all ages look on learning about the province’s rural roots.

“Yes, that is the reason we want to have them, because we want to use them not just for paint up and show but we want to be able to get them out there and show the people what our history was.”

Small is Beautiful

Mary Gallant’s M&M Lucky Hooves are welcomed visitors

Difference Engines
by Nina Linton

Mary Gallant introduces a visitor to one of her miniature horsesSometimes it is a glimmer in an eye, other times it is a wavering hand outstretched with purpose, but whatever the cues Mary Gallant knows she is making a positive difference in people’s lives. As founder of the Bloomfield-based non-profit organization, M & M Lucky Hooves, Gallant treks across the province with her miniature horses in tow, visiting institutionalised seniors, working with intellectually and physically challenged kids and adults as well as hospital bound patients.

Operating officially since 2009 under the watchword, “Where horses heal hearts,” Gallant has dedicated her days to brightening the lives of others through her four tiny equine, often boosting people’s spirits as well as their confidence with her Miniature Equine Guided Assisted Therapy program, which made 46 stops in her first six-month season.

“I hope to provide the very best therapeutic encounters that I can with these horses. They are small enough that people can interact with them and reach them, versus a big horse,” says Gallant whose miniature horses stand below 97 centimeters, a perfect size to access indoor locations while remaining face to face with people, encouraging even those with limited mobility to touch them.

Always having a love for horses, Gallant for many years had full size horses before switching to their pint sized counterparts in 2004 and she soon saw a big need in the Island community that her little horses could fill.

“I got a call from a recreational director from our local manor asking me if I would like to bring my horses for a visit and I said sure. I knew right there from the response that I had gotten from the seniors that this was something I wanted to do,” reveals Gallant. “There was one lady, and the horse just plunked her chin on her lap and there was no response out of her. We visited for a couple of minutes there and then I brought the horse over to somebody else and all of a sudden the case worker that was sitting beside the woman started hollering at me. ‘Mary, she hasn’t spoken in over a year’ and there she was talking. They knew she spoke about her husband because she mentioned his name but there was another name she was saying and they put two and two together that it must have been a horse she had way back.“

After witnessing this unbelievable instant, the powerful bond between an animal and human, Mary says she felt driven towards this type of work and certified in Miniature Equine Guided Assisted Therapy.

“I can’t explain it. I just see it happening. I have often had some seniors mention about their beautiful eyes, or the feel of their muzzle and breathe. I can’t describe it. The connection is just there. With seniors it is what they did have way back on the farm and for them to see that horse coming and actually touching that horse brings back a lot of good memories.”

Delighting in these special moments, Gallant most enjoys sharing her gentle horses with others for the reactions they garner, the smiles and the comments.

“There is always something at every visit, whether it be a story, or something that one of the horses does, or something the resident does, or just the benefit. There is always something and I could walk away from every visit with one or two stories. That is what keeps me going.”

Literacy Volunteer

Retired English teacher Irma Goodwin teaches adults to read

Difference Engines
by Nina Linton

Irma Goodwin (photo: Nina Linton)Not all stories have a happy ending, but for one Charlottetown area woman and her adult learning understudy their real life tale is almost too good to be true.

Brought together in October 2008, teacher Irma Goodwin and her mature student beat the odds in overcoming close to six decades of illiteracy, a life punctuated with fear, shame and shyness.

For the retired English teacher, this recent chapter in her life began three years ago as she routinely scanned through the local newspaper. As she flipped through the flopping pages her eye suddenly stopped on a small advert; volunteer literacy tutors needed. Picking up her telephone Goodwin called what is now known as the PEI Volunteers for Literacy and immediately registered for their tutor training seminar, hoping that her life long love of teaching could be put to use helping adults on the road to literacy.

Wrapping up the course, the fervent reader waited for close to a year and a half for a match to be made, finally getting the call that a keen learner had been selected for her.

Meeting twice a week in three-hour sessions, the duo have progressed from the very basics of the English language through to the fourth level of the adult learning texts, also tackling such tasks as internet and computer use, cursive writing, and map use.

“When she came to me she just couldn’t read but I pushed her and now she is fantastic. I can’t believe it,” beams Goodwin. “I always loved to teach and I am particularly interested in people who want to learn and she is very enthusiastic and of course that is great for me too.”

Often overlooked in a society where routine events like driving a car, buying groceries, and workplace demands hinge on word recognition and comprehension, people like Goodwin’s learner, who are affected by adult illiteracy, live their lives skirting this critical issue. It is estimated that 30 per cent of Islanders have limited literacy skills that prevent them from dealing with most printed material.

Since working with her mature match, Goodwin has noted a transformation in her learner’s character, saying what she has really enjoyed about tutoring her has been to watch her grow, literally.

“She has had such a change in her personality, and in her confidence. At first she wouldn’t speak. She was just really shy and now, wow,” gushes Goodwin.

“She has just learned to become that way herself. It is part of her personality and she is more sure of herself now.”

With the boost in confidence that literacy brings, Goodwin’s student now reads daily, a feat that the Islander once thought impossible. And the best part, says Goodwin, is that after picking up the printed pastime her learner enjoys reading.

“When you miss out on a book, you miss out on a lot,” says Goodwin. “People who can’t read are often as smart as can be, and probably a lot smarter than somebody who can read and doesn’t want to.”

Bird’s Eye View

Dennis Hopping works to preserve Island wetlands

Difference Engines
by Nina Linton

Dennis Hopping in his front yard, the wetland area he built to attract ducks to his property (photo: Nina Linton)Dennis Hopping knows what it is like to live a bird’s life. For close to four decades the retired military pilot with a fondness for flight shared the skies with feathered fowl, getting a peek at elevated avian existence while gliding high on streams of air.

From the air Hopping experienced the world in a way that very few others do, spying down on the patchwork plots, each piece connecting to another in an integral web teeming with life.

The veteran flyer vowed to do what he could to ensure a sustainable future for the province’s natural areas. “You couldn’t believe how beautiful this Island is from a relatively low flying helicopter,” says Hopping. “All the beautiful colours, it just pulls your heart strings to say, ‘Gosh, we better preserve this and have it for future generations.’”

An avid waterfowler since youth, Hopping credits his father with instilling in him the need for conservation, a lesson he still carries with him today through his volunteer work for Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC).

The Kensington area man, a founding member of the Prince County chapter of DUC, has for the past 27 years been involved in efforts to protect and preserve the often overlooked wetland areas and their resident wildfowl. As former Commander of the Canadian Forces Base in Summerside, Hopping even brought that message home with him, building one of the two ponds on his property in his front yard in hopes of attracting ducks to nest in his safeguarded area.

“I am not a tree hugger but I am passionate about what we do, why we do it and for the reasons that we do it,” states Hopping. “It is to protect and enhance the environment and the wetlands for our fine feathered friends. That is important to me, it is not to everybody but it sure is to me.”

Recognizing the significant role this crucial yet sensitive habitat has in our Island’s ecosystem, Hopping works to educate others while also lending a hand to help aid wetlands wherever possible, whether that be banding ducks for the purpose of determining their flyways, rebuilding washed out dams, removing rubbish from rivers or fundraising for the continuation of the above programs.

The Prince County DUC chapter first met in 1983 with six original members. To raise money in support of wetland restoration they organized an annual fundraising banquet, which, now in its 26th year, has raised approximately half a million dollars.

Calling his volunteer work to keep wildlife and wetlands intact a purpose in life, Hopping aims to spread the word of the fragile environments that often need a little help from humans. Hopping prefers to work at this grass roots level, finding it satisfying to know he is one of 7,400 other volunteers that work to protect wetlands across the country with DUC each year. “Often our work goes unnoticed except by the ducks,” he reveals. “It is just self gratification when you see the results of the little input that you had and you know there is a lot of it going on in Canada. That is a great feeling.”

The 26th annual Prince County DUC Banquet and Silent Auction will be held Saturday May 1, 2010 at the Summerside Legion starting at 6 pm with proceeds going to wetland conservation projects.

Meet the Matchmaker

Michelle Morrison brings people together for good reasons

Difference Engines
by Nina Linton

Michelle Morrison amid the posters at Back Alley Music.Michelle Morrison sees herself as a matchmaker of sorts. However, she is not one to make romantic links, instead concentrating on community connections.

A counselor by trade, outside of the office Morrison lends a hand wherever she can, donating her time, expertise and contacts to many local groups and charities, as well as furthering many self started initiatives with aims of bettering the populace.

Involved in everything from aiding Columbian refugees on the Island, to volunteering in her local church’s women’s association, to being a part of Breaking the Silence, a Maritime group dedicated to focusing on social justice issues in Guatemala, Morrison has a wide array of interests and endeavors.

Preferring to work at the grass roots level, Morrison was raised in a rural community on Prince Edward Island where helping your neighbour was a part of daily living.

“You just feel like this is how people need to live,” recounts Morrison. “It just comes naturally and doesn’t really seem like you are striving to do it but just that it is something important to do.”

Working to connect the dots between people in need and people with something to share, whether that be between someone looking for a space to hold a meeting or someone looking for a meal, Morrison believes a web of people supporting each other is key.

One of her biggest projects to date was re-opening Charlottetown’s Back Alley Music (formerly Back Alley Discs.) As a champion of local music, the socially active Islander and current co-owner of the eclectic music shop saw a chance to make a difference for local musicians, inturn providing them a platform to give back to the community.

In the four years that have passed, the store has evolved into a hub of vibrant social activity, both musically based and otherwise.

Hosting everything from sound yoga classes, to their once a month fundraiser famously known as “Soupy Saturdays,” where local chefs donate lunch, local musicians donate melody and keen supporters donate dollars towards local charities, Morrison says she measures success not in personal monetary gain but in goodwill and community backing.

“None of this is possible without the community themselves being participants,” reveals Morrison. “To give people the chance to take part in something that is going on is all I need to do, linking people who are willing to give and co-ordinate that in one spot. It raises awareness at the same time as it brings people together for something fun.”

Encouraged by what she has seen so far, Morrison believes that every person has ways in which they can contribute to society. For herself, sometimes it is as simple as getting people interacting, and giving them opportunities and encouragement to be involved.

“It is not just helping other people but engaging people to participate. I like to draw those people in who are on the outside, who are marginalized, help them find their voice, and not to speak for them,” says Morrison. “And hopefully, they can find their own place in the world.”

Events Calendar

November 2018
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Some Upcoming Events

Together Again

Kenny and Dolly Tribute Concert at the Confederation Centre November 29
Homburg Theatre  On No [ ... ]

Wintertide Holiday Festival

November 24 & 25
Charlottetown Wintertide Holiday Festival begins November 23 with a Wintertide  [ ... ]

Come Home to Us

Christmas programming at the Celtic Performing Arts Centre Select dates
Celtic Performing Arts Centr [ ... ]

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October is Learning Disabilities Awarene...

This October, the Learning Disabilities Association of PEI (LDAPEI) will be marking Learning Disabil [ ... ]

Young Company headed to National Child W...

The TD Confederation Centre Young Company is hitting the road again. After a busy 2017 season that s [ ... ]