Skele-fun Halloween Traditions in Canada

 Phillips and Scarsella’s Toronto house, decorated for Halloween night. Located at 10 Navenby Cres., in Toronto. (Photo: Sydney Brasil)

Phillips and Scarsella’s Toronto house, decorated for Halloween night. Located at 10 Navenby Cres., in Toronto. (Photo: Sydney Brasil)

By Ashley Alagurajah

Halloween is typically known as a time for horror films and excesses of chocolate. However, at its core is a holiday in which despite expectations, is a day fulfilled by time spent with family, friends and community.

It can be seen as a time where people can expect to dress up, party and be spooked by haunted houses.

To many Canadians, it is another celebration to cherish and take advantage of when it comes to spending time with those they love and care for. It can be a time to reminisce and build new memories, give back and spend time with loved ones.

Sydney Brasil, a second-year journalism student has watched her grandparents set up elaborate Halloween décor on their front lawn since 2005.

In October, their home is transformed into a dungeon “complete with a cemetery, drawbridge, and tons of spooky electronic figures,” said Brasil.

After nearly two decades of decorating, Debbie Phillips and Marco Scarsella, Brasil’s grandparents, have refined the process and now have the operation ready to go each Halloween.

“Marco loves doing this for the kids. He just loves the fact they can (go) through and have fun and get a scare,” said Phillips about her husband.

The couple starts by taking everything out of their storeroom in order to start setting up outside. Then, the process of turning their house into the spooky sensation begins.

According to Brasil, the home takes approximately three to five days to complete and Phillips even takes the week off work to decorate.  

For as long as she can remember, her grandparents have set up their display annually for their family, friends and neighbours to enjoy.

In fact, one year the couple caught the attention of Global News, who covered the action going on at the house.

“This is something that makes our family really happy. And I’m happy it can be shared with other people too,” said Brasil.

Now at 20-years-old, Brasil marvels at the transition from enjoying the fun of the frightening dungeon as a child to now experiencing the joy of the setup. As well as getting to watch young children enjoy it the way she once did.

Brasil expects this tradition to continue to carry on for much longer. “My grandparents are younger than most grandparents. So, I don't see it ending any time soon. I'll probably revive it once I have my own front yard,” she said.

For Karen Hirji, a third-year early childhood education student at the University of Guelph-Humber, Halloween nights are dedicated to giving back to her community.

For the past three years, Hirji has spent Halloween volunteering at her church, The Stone Church, in downtown Toronto.

The Stone Church has been hosting an annual Fall Fest  for the past four years.

 Visitors at The Stone Church’s Fall Fest of 2017 (Photo courtesy of The Stone Church via Facebook)

Visitors at The Stone Church’s Fall Fest of 2017 (Photo courtesy of The Stone Church via Facebook)


The night typically consists of free cotton candy, popcorn, chocolate, games and bouncy castles for the community to enjoy, families with young children in particular.

Fall Fest originated when lead pastor, J.D. Mallory thought it would be a good way to spread love and serve the community around The Stone Church.

When Hirji was recruited to volunteer, she said she agreed to do it because for her, volunteering and “giving her time to serve the community is a tangible way to see and experience God’s love.”

Hirji is one of 30 volunteers at the event. She describes her fondest memory of the Fall Fest as seeing the smiles on parents’ faces when she tells them that the event, food and games are free.

“Parents often tell us that many events are expensive, and they didn’t have anything else to do on Halloween night … I would only hope that our gesture of free facilities and fun only shows our love for the people in Toronto,” said Hirji.  

Every year the staff get together in order to brainstorm how they can make the Fall Fest as spectacular as possible. This year, their highlight was introducing a slime-making table for children.

The Stone Church is expected to keep the Fall Fest on track for many years down the road. The event is valued in the community as it offers a fun and inexpensive Halloween excursion.

For many Canadians, pumpkin carving is a yearly tradition during the fall. Some may even describe it as a vital activity to partake in during the season.

From carving a design to watching her grandmother roast the excess pumpkin seeds, Serenity Noble, an eleventh-grade student from Calgary, is one Canadian who has carried this tradition since childhood.

“Ever since I was a little kid, during the Halloween season I remember sleeping over at my nana and papa’s house (and) going to the grocery store to get like, four pumpkins. I would draw a face and then my grandpa would carve it out for me,” explained Noble.

This heartwarming tradition was altered in 2016 when Noble’s grandfather was diagnosed with cancer and passed away.

However, Noble continues the tradition of pumpkin carving, only without her grandfather by her side.

“Even though my grandpa isn’t alive anymore, I still enjoy being thankful about his life and doing the things we used to do,” said Noble.

Canada without a doubt has a wide range of both common and uncommon traditions and activities that people engage in around the country.
All of which contribute to the wonderful celebration of Halloween in the country each year.

A Look Into the Mosaic of Toronto

The Lives of International Students in Canada’s Most Diverse City

By Chloe Cook and Severina Chu

Every year, thousands of international students come to Canada in hopes of improving on their education and experiencing a new culture.

From their education to their lifestyle, these students encounter multiple challenges and changes that they must adapt to.

Being away from home has forced them to learn to face obstacles such as culture shock and living alone in order to engage in their new Canadian lifestyle. Each of these four international students have their own ways of adapting to life in Canada. Here’s a look into the challenges and rewards that they’ve experienced during their time here.

Divyansh Chandel

 Divyansh Chandel, 22, is an aerospace engineering student from Kuwait, India. (CanCulture/Chloe Cook)

Divyansh Chandel, 22, is an aerospace engineering student from Kuwait, India. (CanCulture/Chloe Cook)

Divyansh Chandel has spent the last four and a half years adding everything from president of the Engineering Student Society, to International Student Director at the Ryerson Students’ Union to his impressive resume. On top of that, he has two startups under his belt and he is currently organizing a presentation for retired astronaut and engineer, Chris Hadfield.

“Every time I’ve taken a step to do something innovative, Canada has helped me.” Chandel said about his multiple endeavours.

In 2014, he moved to Toronto from Kuwait, India to begin an aerospace engineering degree at Ryerson. However, Canada was not his first choice. He originally applied to schools in the United States but his parents urged him to look into a Canadian education stating that it was a much ‘nicer’ place.

“When I was in twelfth grade applying, my love for Canada started growing. Everyone's so friendly, everyone's so accepting and that's one of the reasons I came to Canada.” Chandel said.

However, Ryerson did not entirely live up to his expectations. “I grew up with these university party movies, I didn't expect Ryerson to be a commuter school. I thought it would be like Queen’s or Western. I thought that's what every weekend would be,” he explained.

When Chandel came to realize that he wouldn’t be bonding with his peers over beer pong and karaoke, he took it upon himself to meet other international students like himself. He started volunteering his time to various clubs and organizations to meet new people.

As the International Student Director, he has begun to implement events such as the International Students’ Welcome Lunch, that allowed students from all over the world to meet each other and form connections as they started their school year.

While Chandel has enjoyed his time in Canada, it has not always been easy. Moving to a new country is bound to give you at least a few culture shocks and difficulties. For Chandel, one of the most difficult things about the transition was keeping in touch with his family in Kuwait.

“It was very hard in the start. I tried to have one Skype video call every weekend and at least check in with them on WhatsApp or Messenger everyday. They would check in with me too. As I got busier, it got harder,” he said.

His mother and sister moved to Canada in January of this year, so it is slightly easier to stay in contact with them now, however with his father still in India, it’s still just as difficult.

Despite this, Chandel says that he has no regrets coming to Canada. When asked about the biggest advantage his move had for him, he responded, “If you take an initiative, Canada rewards you for that initiative and that's what I love about Canada.”

Adela Zyfi

 Adela Zyfi, 22, is a student from Albania who is studying biomedical science with a minor in Spanish. (CanCulture/Chloe Cook)

Adela Zyfi, 22, is a student from Albania who is studying biomedical science with a minor in Spanish. (CanCulture/Chloe Cook)

Adela Zyfi moved to Toronto from Tirana, Albania in Grade 12 in search of a better education.

“There’s a lot of corruption within the education system, so unless you pay a lot of money, you probably won’t get in,” she said, “There’s little to no chance you’re going to get a good education.”

Zyfi chose Canada because it’s an English speaking country with some of the most lenient immigration laws in the world, which helped make her decision easy. She plans on becoming a permanent resident in Canada after she graduates to help her pursue career opportunities unavailable in Albania.

Something that was difficult to get used to in Toronto for Zyfi was the diversity. Up until around 20 years ago, Albania was a communist country with a very strict immigration system in which the country was almost entirely isolated from the rest of the world. Due to the fact that nearly no one new could come into the country, Albania did not have a very diverse population.

“Coming here, I was shocked. I was like, ‘Oh my God! I have never seen people that look different than me!’” she said, “It was really awesome and I love it, but it is one of the things that really hits you.”

Moving to Canada has given her a lot of opportunities, but it has also come with its own set of challenges and barriers. Although Zyfi could speak English, Albanian, and Spanish, she said that the language and culture barrier was still difficult to maneuver around during her first years in Canada.

“I may have known English from a book, but you miss little jokes or references from shows and movies and things that are in North American culture. People would make a reference to a food or thing or a person and I would have no idea, I’d be so lost,” she said.

Another barrier that Zyfi found difficult to overcome was the 20-hour work week limit put in place by the Canadian government to ensure international students are focusing on their studies.

“Our expenses are so high that 20 hours on minimum wage is not going to cover anything, especially living in Toronto,” she said.

She stated that this rule puts a lot of students in a tough situation where they must choose whether or not to accept “precarious, under-the-table work” in order to meet their needs.

While Zyfi is enjoying her life in Canada, it is just temporary. She aims to continue travelling and seeking opportunities around the globe once she gains permanent residency in Canada.

Paula Lozada

 Paula Lozada, 19, hopes to become a Canadian citizen in order to bring her family here. (Courtesy of Paula Lozada/Instagram)

Paula Lozada, 19, hopes to become a Canadian citizen in order to bring her family here. (Courtesy of Paula Lozada/Instagram)

Paula Lozada was just 16 years old when she came to Canada by herself.

Lozada was born in Dubai, where her family currently resides as she studies abroad. Currently studying business administration management at Seneca College, Lozada knew that leaving her family behind to come to Canada was a decision that would benefit her in the future.

“When I was in high school, most of my teachers were Indian. There was one specific teacher who was British but because she was white, she earned triple compared to other teachers,” she said, “Basically, if you’re coming from the West and you show that you have a degree from here, they’ll really invest a lot in you when you go back home.”

When talking about living alone in a foreign country, she admitted that there were difficulties.

“My first year here, I didn’t have any work experience from back home.” Lozada started out in door-to-door marketing, which she admits wasn’t the best experience. She then switched to retail and currently works at Nordstrom.

Another difficulty was contacting her family due to the ban in Dubai of multiple messaging platforms. Which leaves Lozada and her family limited to texting.

“It’s hard because back home, Skype is banned, calls on WhatsApp are banned, any social media calling or video chat is banned. It’s harder to keep in contact,” she said.

However, Lozada has still found ways to keep in touch with her culture and feel at home.

When she began volunteering at the Filipino festival, Taste of Manila, she was able to meet more people from the Filipino community. She also mentioned the Underground Dance Centre as one of her favourite places to go when she starts to feel homesick.

“Back home, my family and I would go dancing every weekend. (The Underground Dance Centre) is this non-profit organization where all of the people who are away from their families gather and dance,” she explained. “Whenever I can, I go to Underground because it makes me feel at home.”

But the one thing from home she can’t seem to get? The food.

There are several Filipino restaurants in Toronto, but nothing can compare to the authenticity of home cooking. “Sometimes I crave Filipino food or my dad’s cooking. I try to make it myself, but it’s not the same,” she said.

Despite the lack of home cooking, Lozada has made herself comfortable in Canada.

Her hope for the future is to become a Canadian citizen. She hopes to graduate and stay in Canada for a few more years in order to get her full citizenship. “I want to get the Canadian passport. Then, I’d help move my family here because life here is easier.”

Soumya Gupta

 Soumya Gupta, 21, is on exchange from India and is currently studying graphic communication management at Ryerson University. (CanCulture/Chloe Cook)

Soumya Gupta, 21, is on exchange from India and is currently studying graphic communication management at Ryerson University. (CanCulture/Chloe Cook)

When the opportunity came up to study abroad, Soumya Gupta took the chance.

Though she was already studying two hours away from her hometown back in India, coming to Canada would be a new challenge. She chose to study graphic communication management at Ryerson University, which was similar to the graphic design major she was doing back home. This would be her first time out of the country, and her first time having to adapt to a new culture.

“It’s been a journey of ups and downs,” she described. “Moving away in India was easy because you’re aware of the culture and you know what to expect. Moving here, I kind of experienced culture shock.”

The culture shock came in terms of the education itself, Gupta saying that things are taught “more detailed and precise” in Canada and how the content she was learning differed from back home.

Gupta has only been in Canada for a month but through her exchange program, she’s been able to meet international students from across the globe. “A month ago, I hadn’t met anyone from any other countries. Now, I have friends from five or six countries,” she said.

Even though she’s been exposed to so many new cultures, Gupta is still able to surround herself with people who remind her of home.

“The people that I’m staying with are both exchange students from India, and we have a few more friends from India as well,” she told us. Being surrounded by people from home has helped her adapt, especially since language is not a barrier between them. She told us that every so often, her and her friends will get together and have a night in.

There are also things in the city that have helped her feel at home. For instance, when the RSU Wellness Centre was offering an Indian dance activity, she was able to meet more Indian people while getting a good heart pump. In addition, she prefers to explore the cuisines in the city that she cannot get in India.

Due to Gupta’s exchange only being for one term, she will be going back to India by December to finish her final year to get her degree. She then plans to continue school and do her masters in graphic design.

When asked if she would consider coming back to Canada, she said that it was too early to commit, though it’s still a possibility. “I always want to go back to India because the attachment will always be there. But if the opportunities are better in places like Canada, I might come back,” she said.

The Myth of Being Rich

Although all four of these students’ experiences in Canada have been vastly different, one idea was consistent among them - that the stereotype that international students are rich should be laid to rest. The widely believed notion that international students are beyond affluent is, more times than not, inaccurate and often offensive.

For Lozada, the stereotype has always made her uncomfortable. “I’ve met people who are rich, but there’s also some people who are international students and are still struggling.”

Chandel shares the same sentiment. “Some international students are getting government funds, some of them their parents have scraped together everything they could to educate their child. So one of the biggest stigmas that I don’t stand with is that international students are rich.”

Zyfi noted that while many people think international students are rich, many of them are putting themselves at risk for a paycheque. “A lot of international students find themselves in a not safe or risky position because they need to make money to support themselves.”

No matter where they came from or what they came for, these four students and many others like them, have uprooted their lives to find better opportunities in Toronto and to improve the quality of life in the city we live in.

Enduring Freedom at Nuit Blanche

By: Chloe Cook

 Ze Mair, co-creator and performer during rehearsal (Photo by: Zahra Salecki)

Ze Mair, co-creator and performer during rehearsal (Photo by: Zahra Salecki)

What do the words, ‘Wonderland’, ‘Swamp Fox’, and ‘Enduring Freedom’ have in common? Although they sound like nonsense, they were actually military operation code names. As well as the basis of a 12-hour continuous dance installation at Nuit Blanche this year.

It all started with a list of 3,600 military operations that was compiled by Canadian poet Moez Surani. Operations: 1946-2006 was performed by approximately 60 people as a five-hour spoken word piece on the night of Trump’s inauguration in 2017.

“With the general feeling of anxiety and despair that followed the last American election, we wanted to do something that could create some solidarity,” Surani said, as well as a “physical reminder that we are not all alone in this.”

The idea was to make military operations more than just a name and to shed light on the effects that these operations had on real communities around the globe.

“The language that often gets used is from the poetic imagination: dawn, sunrise, freedom, purity. These kinds of poetic-seeming words help to create support for state violence,” said Surani.

 Dancers in their fifth hour of performing (Photo by: Chloe Cook)

Dancers in their fifth hour of performing (Photo by: Chloe Cook)

One of the readers that performed was Michael Reinhart, a performance creator and theatre instructor at Randolph College and the University of Toronto. Although the reading had finished, Reinhart knew that the life of the poem was not over.

“I thought it was really kind of tragic that this naming was not done in public and that we as a community could not contend with the activities that we do as a community.” Reinhart said. “What I wanted to figure out is how to allow Operations to be social.”

Reinhart surely found a way to do just that on the night of Nuit Blanche. With the help of choreographers and co-directors, Magdalena Vasko and Ze Mair, and a handful of dancers, Reinhart turned Surani’s poem into a 12-hour ballet performance.

The dance piece is comprised of a sequence of movements that is repeated once for every military operation while the names are projected onto the wall. Which means that the sequence is repeated continually 3600 times, over a period of 12 hours throughout the night.

When it came to figuring out how to best represent the effects of war, it seemed that there was no better option than ballet to the creators.

“Ballet was an analogy for the military because it's skilled, rigorous, bodies that are able to do extraordinary acts that are deeply impossible yet it appears to have exceptional ease,” said Reinhart.

 Michael Reinhart, co-creator of  Operations  going over the timing of the piece in rehearsal (Photo by: Magdalena Vasko)

Michael Reinhart, co-creator of Operations going over the timing of the piece in rehearsal (Photo by: Magdalena Vasko)

According to Vasko, one of the creators of the piece, translating the number 3600 into a series of physical movements was one of the top priorities when choreographing.

Vasko said that being able to represent a statistic in a way that resonated with the audience was also important. “It's interesting to put it into your body, the number that you've been talking about,” she said.

In the piece, there are approximately 25 dancers who perform the sequence of movements across a square patch of grass in the middle of an auditorium. Throughout the performance, the grass begins to fall apart, representing the effects that these operations have on the land, the communities, and the people.

According to Sara Hinding, a dancer in Operations, the duration of the piece also contributes to the message of the dance as the performers get more and more worn down over time.

“By the end of the night we're avoiding each other and we're getting frustrated and we're tired and we don't want to do things and there's dynamics and we're looking dead into the eyes of people in the audience,” she explained.

 Volunteers clearing the sod off the floor after the performance (Photo by: Chloe Cook)

Volunteers clearing the sod off the floor after the performance (Photo by: Chloe Cook)

Carmen Leardi, who is also an Operations dancer gave an example of how the piece offers a “disturbing” contrast of the effects of the operations.

“(In) one year there were a lot of dancers coming in and the choreography was really quick. Then the next year everything tones down. There are a few dancers in the space and the choreography is stretched over a longer piece of time.”

Although most of the dancers had never danced for 12-hours straight, the tensions were anything but high. Everyone was exceptionally calm and focused.

Veronica Simpson, Operations dancer, said she kept herself busy through the night by experimenting with the choreography.

“I kept myself occupied by finding new places to make contact with the audience members and different ways to execute the choreography while maintaining the same overall form,” she explained.

Audience members were free to come and go as they pleased, allowing them to check the progress of the piece throughout the night.

According to Reinhard, there were around 1,400 people who came through the doors.

Mark Francis, an audience member called the piece mesmerizing and said that he could not stop staring at it due to the different moving parts and the relentlessness of the piece.

“I think the subject matter is obviously very dark and depressing but the form and the soundtrack and everything was super beautiful and I found it really meditative to look at,” Francis said.

Cassandra Alves, another member of the audience, noted the similarities between the military and ballet.

“It definitely parallels as if you're going through any kind of military operation which is kind of scary. The dancers literally go through it in a different form,” said Alves.

As for Vasko, who was also a performer in addition to being a creator, said finally performing the piece with all of the dancers was cathartic.

“To collectively be so devoted felt like we were on a battlefield fighting for the same cause,” Vasko said, “It was like a funeral, a remembrance, a memorial and a sacrifice all at the same time.”

Although no one is chomping at the bit to dive into another night long performance anytime soon, the experience is one that the audience, performers, and creators will never forget.
Hinding said after the performance that is was a test of her abilities, “In my opinion a piece like this is a true testament to the human spirit and what it is capable of.”

 Dancers in motion during a rehearsal (Photo by: Magdalena Vasko)

Dancers in motion during a rehearsal (Photo by: Magdalena Vasko)

WITCHfest North 2017: Out of the Broom Closet

By: Luke Elisio

The inaugural celebration of Witch pride in Toronto brought together Witches, Wiccans and Pagans to bring visibility to one of Toronto’s most unknown communities.

In Canada, it used to be illegal to fraudulently pretend to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration. Strangely enough, this law isn't from 1692 as most would expect. It’s from 2017.

This unusually specific law, listed in section 365 of The Criminal Code of Canada, was repealed this past summer, sparking a wildfire of celebration amongst practicing Witches across the country. One of the brightest sparks of celebration was right here in Toronto.

Monica Bodirsky is a practicing Witch and founder of the Dark Moon Coven. She is also the program director and founder of WITCHfest North, a city-wide arts festival that wrapped up its inaugural celebration this past Sunday. The idea behind a festival that celebrated Witch pride grew out of Bodirsky’s desire to breakdown stereotypes and misconceptions that have surrounded Witch culture for decades.

“I thought, ‘let’s just jump onto this,” Bodirsky said. “I will bring a lot of women in the art forward so not only are we going to showcase talent, but let people know that we’re not so horrible and scary and we’ll show our diversity.”

Co-ordinating with the cycles of the moon, WITCHfest North held events throughout October and into early November. These events celebrated women in the arts and created a safe space where the Witches of Toronto could come together and be seen as a visible group. To kick off the celebration, an introductory meet-and-greet was held at Wonderworks, a metaphysical supply store that served as the central hub of the festival. Rochelle Holt, the owner of Wonderworks volunteered the shop’s services based on their long-standing relationship with Bodirsky.

 Wonderworks, located at 25 Baldwin St. (D. Dejene).

Wonderworks, located at 25 Baldwin St. (D. Dejene).

“We’ve known Monica for years and she in the past has taught many courses at Wonderworks on different Pagan practices and has also done Tarot card readings and workshops,” Holt said. “She talked to me a long time ago about this and I fully encouraged her, I loved the idea.”

Other events included oracle and Tarot card readings hosted by the Lucky Divination Parlour, a panel discussion entitled “The Legacy of the Witch,” The Witches Attic Antique Sale, a pop-up shop where crystals, literature and spiritual supplies could be sold, and even a masquerade ball which included a dark art exhibit.

The main draw of the festival however was the WITCHwalk held on Halloween night. A crowd of Witches, some festively sportingpointy hats and broomsticks and others dressed simply in black, gathered outside Wonderworks to begin their march through the city streets. An entirely peaceful outing, the Witches paraded through the city, not to protest or argue, but simply to gain something that their community has been sorely lacking: visibility.

 Stephanie Dayes, representing the Dark Moon Coven on the WITCHwalk (D. Dejene).

Stephanie Dayes, representing the Dark Moon Coven on the WITCHwalk (D. Dejene).

Real-life Witches share zero similarities with the otherworldly beings that have been portrayed in popular film and television series such as The Wizard of Oz, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and American Horror Story: Coven. Green skin, talking cats and the power to raise zombies from the deadare nothing more than imaginative works of fiction. Bodirsky’s personal definition of a Witch is a woman who is empowered and uses traditions of herbalism and energy to heal people and to change their environment for the better. Bodirsky’s made it clear though that women who identify as Witches each have their own definition for the term and her’s is not universal. For each Witch, the meaning and beliefs are different.

“I find one of the core beliefs in Witchcraft, Paganism, Wiccan, etc. is self-empowerment, being very proud of the being that you are, however strange or abnormal, however people perceive you,” said Brett Seivwright, one of the few male Witches attending the WITCHwalk.

Beginning at Wonderworks, a crowd of about 20 Witches set out on the WITCHwalk, their destination was the Toronto Public Labyrinth in Trinity Square Park. Bodirsky, proudly displaying a banner with the festival’s logo, briefly addressed the assemblage of Witches.

 Raquel Ellesmere and Brett Seivwright show off their Witch pride (D. Dejene).

Raquel Ellesmere and Brett Seivwright show off their Witch pride (D. Dejene).

“It’s time we came together as a unified group and come together at least once a year to discuss our points of view as a unified group. Being proud of who we are is vital,” said Bodirsky.

High-pitched cackles and chants of, “we are the weavers, we are the web, we are the witches back from the dead,” filled the air as the proud group marched on, smiling and waving to their curious onlookers.

When the group finally arrived at the Toronto Public Labyrinth, they formed a circle and began the ritual of Samhain, which marks the end of the harvest season. The ritual is a way to honour their ancestors and those who have become before them whether they know them or not. Offerings of roses for love, sage for cleansing, and mugwort which gives the overall offering a special boost, were among the gifts left for the ancestors during the ritual.

 Monica Bodirsky leads the group of Witches on the WITCHwalk (D. Dejene).

Monica Bodirsky leads the group of Witches on the WITCHwalk (D. Dejene).

“This time of year the veil [between worlds] is very thin and we can actually communicate with them a lot easier so we leave them offerings,” Sharmila Dey, one of the Witches participating in the ritual, said.

Whether it’s food, herbs or, flowers, the offerings left behind are a way of acknowledging and thanking the ancestors letting them know that just because they are gone does not mean they are forgotten.

Dey left offerings for her grandparents and great-grandparents, both of whom she had never met.

“I just let them know that I know they’re still around and if they want to communicate with me through any signs or if they want to come to me in my dreams, that I’m listening and I’m here for them and I thank them for the opportunity to be here today,” Dey said.

The following night the festival concluded with an intimate town hall meeting at Wonderworks where the organizers and participants could discuss the successes and missteps of the event as a whole. The group agreed that the opening and closing ceremonies were highlights, but press coverage was definitely lacking. Bodirsky pledged to not rest until WITCHfest North 2018 ends up on the front page of The Toronto Star.

Keeping the ideals of visibility, diversity and pride are at the heart of preparations for next year’s event, as Bodirsky has already eagerly begun planning the celebration.

“I really want to be creating a physical community and provide education in a respectable space for all of us. It’s why I called this first festival Out of the Broom Closet,” Bodirsky said. “Not only to support young women in the arts but just to start the whole conversation so people get past the word [witch] as a negative thing when actually it is something women are embracing. We’re basically reclaiming the term and showing people something other than green faces and warts.”

Nuit Blanche: One Sleepless Night in Toronto

By Kieona George

From dusk to dawn, Nuit Blanche illuminated Toronto’s streets with the theme of Many Possible Futures. A host of artists and activists amplified their voices through new formats, materials and technology, evoking the untold stories of history and bringing a new face to movements, people and places.

  Social awareness ran thick through the veins of every exhibit; splendor manifested into political consciousness and left every observer with a message and a memory. Monument to the Century of Revolutions reflected on some of the revolutions of the 20th century.

  “It’s important for the city to recognize that the people are suffering, and then to make it a space where people can talk about those things,” said Nato Thompson, curator of Century of Revolutions.

  The Viminal Space dove headfirst into the decriminalization of sex workers, putting a human face on an industry that is so often reviled. More or Less allowed viewers to post a selfie with resistance to poverty from the past as a backdrop, allowing the viewer to become an indelible part of a campaign to increase homeless shelters in Toronto with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

  Thompson talked about his Bolshevist inspirations, with 2017 marking the 100-year anniversary since the revolution in Russia. It took two years for Thompson to create and finalize the idea, and more seven months to produce Century of Revolutions, which was formed in collaboration with the Russian collective “Chto Delat” (in English: “what is to be done?”).

Thompson’s original idea was to to recreate the raid of the Winter Palace by having cast members invade City Hall, but for obvious reasons, the deal was rejected. Thompson decided to present the curations in old cargo shipping containers, painting them as vessels of cultural spirit rather than vessels of material export. His piece inverted perspective, challenged the western archetype of excess and radically engaged our deeply-held notions of poverty.

Century of Revolutions crafted its own city from Thompson’s creative and political vision. The exteriors of the shipping containers were denude of their own significance; many containers of them were masterfully interwoven in mosaics of revolutionary paraphernalia like banners that read “There are cracks in everything, that’s how the light gets through.”

Spoken word recitals, musical performances, and various other resonances filled the ears from every direction. Every sense was encumbered by the extraordinary voice that found its way into each element of the exhibit. “Revolution is already happening," Thompson said. "The real question I ask is how can we connect our struggles so that we can achieve social justice not only in Toronto but across the world." Another artist delivered a moving spoken word performance about gun violence and her family’s experiences. Faduma Mohamed, a third-year English student at the University of Toronto, merged her personal struggles with gun violence to a hopeful future at RISE Edutainment’s installation.

“The voices of anyone feeling like they don’t belong in Canada are the most important voices,” she said. Despite her harrowing stories, Mohamed emitted an tone of acceptance and hope, her spirit permeated in those who heard her." “This world has multiple ways of making us feel small, but we don’t need to feel small,” Mohamed said. “We are larger than life.”

In keeping with the theme of social revolution, the exhibit Taking to the Streets expressed the intersection of art and protest, and how art imitating life allows people to promote tangible change.

  Curator Barbara Fischer said in her curatorial statement that the streets are the primordial for celebration and remembrance, making Nuit Blanche a fitting opportunity to highlight social justice.

  “When there is no justice, the street becomes the place where we rally and throw our voice together in a show of force,” Fischer said. “Festival and protest meet in the street, and art is associated with both, remembering by way of images, words, whispered histories, or monuments, the points where anger and power clash.”

  The exhibit included eight different projects. Holding Still/Holding Together, created by Annie MacDonell, was a performance that brought emphasis to the passivity of street protestors who offer little resistance when being subverted by police.

Horses was another one of Fischer’s installations, which featured a live group of horses, believe it or not. It took stock of the agitation that marks its own existence. It could be an homage to the understanding that strange times demand strange art, or it is situating the embodiments of visceral strength, power and wisdom in a place where these qualities are ironically lacking.

  Indigenous representation at the event was showcased in Life on Neebahgeezis, curated by Maria Hupfield. It was an Anishinaabe interpretation of David Bowie’s song Life on Mars, using the surreal qualities of the night to make Native stories present and urgent. One of the projects, Serpent People, included a series of theatrical performances as well as sculptures to showcase Indigenous identity. According to the Nuit Blanche website, the project was constructed from “Anishinaabe Intelligence” and fashioned from the stories of The Black Sturgeon from Nippissing First Nation.

  Participants from outside of Toronto may have been intrigued by the idea of an all-night event.

“If we have a night market where we’re from, it’s until 8 p.m.,” said first-year hospitality student Maya Donald-Hamblin who comes from Victoria, B.C.

The idea of staying out into the wee hours of the morning may offer a radical idea in on its own. Others weren’t aware of the purpose of the event entirely. Taye Robin, 18, thought that Nuit Blanche was an outdoor party, akin to a music festival or concert. His friend Devon Earle, 18, had previously been to Nuit Blanche and wanted him to discover it on his own. He said that the French name of the event draws people in with curiosity, and so it is something people have to plunge into without expectation.

  The Netflix program Stranger Things had its own installation on Osgoode Lane called Red Forest. Due to the show’s popularity, waiting in the line for the exhibit would be a time-consuming and tedious task. In fact, some people spent most of their night simply waiting in the admission line.

  Runnymede Collegiate student Shae Hayes said that she waited with her friends for two hours to walk through the show’s “Upside Down” imitation. The Upside Down is the fictitious alternate dimension in Stranger Things, filled with terrifying and alien creatures. At the end of the installation, there was a “plot twist” as the forest changed into the Twilight Drive-In from Netflix hit Riverdale. As a fan of the show, Hayes rated the exhibit highly.

  Torontonian Julian Gannon said Nuit Blanche shows the city in a different context to those who attend. Nuit Blanche undoubtedly spoke to a carefully curated mix of hip and heart, without for a second sacrificing the enduring cultural identity of Toronto.

  At its core, speaking truth seems to be what Nuit Blanche is about. Through the endless variety of art in all its forms — whether that is sculpture, paintings, projections, spoken word, or any other mode in the imagination — artists demand for their voices to be heard. The beauty of the night spoke to reflections and prospects for the future.

  “I think that when people come here, they end up learning what they wouldn’t learn otherwise,” said first-year dance student Katia Puritch. “They come for the art, and the art has a message.”