Touring through Time: Unearthing the Buried History of Toronto Cemeteries

How one woman is bringing the stories of the dead back to life

(CanCulture/Annemarie Cutruzzola)

(CanCulture/Annemarie Cutruzzola)

By Annemarie Cutruzzola

The grave of John Croft probably wouldn’t catch your eye among the countless other statuesque headstones and towering memorials of Mount Pleasant Cemetery. It’s a humble concrete grave marker lying flat on the ground, surrounded by fallen leaves. The plot is shared with two relatives, Sarah and Robert. Walking by, you wouldn’t know that a tragic story of a massive Toronto fire lies beneath. 

So, who is keeping buried stories like John Croft’s alive? Chantal Morris is the woman behind Toronto Cemetery Tours. Morris hosts a variety of tours at different Toronto cemeteries, mainly at Mount Pleasant and the historic Toronto Necropolis. She researches, plans, leads, and promotes the tours all by herself. Each tour has a theme. Some are focused on the stories of escaped slaves, others on significant women in Canada’s history — a tour she says is especially close to her heart. 

On the last stop of her Mount Pleasant Cemetery tour on Oct. 19, Chantal Morris tells the story of how Torontonian Andrew Young was murdered. (CanCulture/Annemarie Cutruzzola).

On the last stop of her Mount Pleasant Cemetery tour on Oct. 19, Chantal Morris tells the story of how Torontonian Andrew Young was murdered. (CanCulture/Annemarie Cutruzzola).

A crowd of approximately 130 people gathered near the majestic Yonge Street gates of Mount Pleasant Cemetery on Oct. 19, most huddled in groups or pairs. It was a perfect fall day, and a slight chill in the air meant a few scarves and Starbucks coffees could be spotted.   

As the group walked on into the late afternoon, the sun was slowly setting through the brightly coloured leaves, its reflection illuminating the tops of countless headstones they passed. The winding paths and abundance of trees gave the cemetery a park-like atmosphere. After a few minutes of walking, the sounds of the city faded away into a strange type of solemn quietude you really only experience in cemeteries.

The group was on Morris’ most recent tour called “Gone Too Soon: Tales of Murder and Unfortunate Death.” For the past three Saturdays, Morris has led hundreds of people, young and old on a tour of 13 stops around Mount Pleasant Cemetery, each one connected to the thrilling story of a tragic death that occurred in or around Toronto from 1763 to 1948. The stories focus on murder, both solved and unsolved, but there are interwoven themes of jealousy, revenge, greed and deception. Over the course of two hours, Morris tells tales of scams, poison, possible cover ups and a couple of unfortunate accidents — one of those being the death of John Croft.

The tour group visited the final resting place of John Croft at Mount Pleasant Cemetery on Oct. 19.(CanCulture/Annemarie Cutruzzola)

The tour group visited the final resting place of John Croft at Mount Pleasant Cemetery on Oct. 19.(CanCulture/Annemarie Cutruzzola)

In 1904, the second of three large-scale fires in Toronto’s history burned 20 acres of downtown and destroyed 125 businesses. Despite the fire lasting 12 hours, no one died in the blaze. The sole casualty was a result of the cleanup.

Croft was an explosives expert on a team responsible for the demolition of buildings destroyed in the fire. When one explosive didn’t go off as planned, Croft approached it to investigate, only to have it explode. He was badly injured and died in the hospital shortly after. Croft Street, near the intersection of Bathurst and College streets, was named in his honour and has a historic plaque with his story and murals depicting the story of the fire. 

One-woman tour company tells stories of Toronto’s cemeteries

Morris sets herself apart from other historic tours by focusing on telling stories rather than spouting facts. The information she conveys is still factual and research-based, but there’s a bit of dramatic flair to her storytelling that makes the tour entertaining and engaging. She sets the scene of her stories, including background information and details that paint the whole picture.

“I just want to immerse you in the story so that you can really feel it,” said Morris.

She says she often gets asked if she’s an actress. Although the answer is no, with her suspenseful narration style, it isn’t hard to picture her as the narrator of a murder mystery movie.

Morris says she’s baffled by how little some Torontonians know about the rich history of the city and those who lived here before us.

“I want people to become interested in their local history and their local background and the people who literally paved the way for them to live the lives they have now, especially when it comes to both women and people of colour,” she said.

Her company’s logo, which combines a classic skull and crossbones with the Toronto skyline, also reflects a desire for modern society to learn about and acknowledge the people who came before us.

(CanCulture/Annemarie Cutruzzola)

(CanCulture/Annemarie Cutruzzola)

Morris has been able to reach thousands of people through her tours, mainly by promoting the events on the company’s Facebook page. She accepts donations but her public tours are free to attend, and she also offers private group tours.

Since she started giving tours, she’s seen the impact that learning about local history can have. The cemetery management have told her they’ve noticed people showing more respect for the cemetery and interest in its preservation.

On a more philosophical level, Morris also hopes her tours will encourage people to think differently about death. “We're very sanitized when it comes to death. You get sick, you go to a hospital, you’ll probably die in the hospital. And it's very removed,” said Morris. 

Despite the beauty of the cemetery itself, reminders of death surround you at every turn. Walking through any cemetery can push you to acknowledge the inevitability of death. “Death is something that's going to happen to all of us,” said Morris. “ I don't think we should be afraid of it.” 

The winding roads of Mount Pleasant

The last Toronto Cemetery Tour of the year is scheduled for November 9, but Morris says she has plenty of material for more tours next season. However, writing and planning a tour is no easy task. Morris has to choose which graves to visit and plan the route carefully to keep it at a reasonable two hours. This October’s tour only covered the oldest half of Mount Pleasant Cemetery, which is the area closer to Yonge Street. 

First opened in 1876, Mount Pleasant is a sprawling 205 acres, stretching from Yonge Street to Bayview Avenue. Mount Pleasant Road cuts through the cemetery and was in fact named after the burial ground, not vice versa. The cemetery is also known for its variety of tree species and the beautiful fall foliage. 

Mount Pleasant is the final resting place for quite a few notable Canadians. There’s William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s 10th Prime Minister who appears on our fifty-dollar bill. The Massey family and the Eaton family have their own mausoleums in a section of the cemetery some call “Millionaire’s Row.” 

The Eaton family mausoleum towers over Mount Pleasant Cemetery on Oct. 19. (CanCulture/Annemarie Cutruzzola)

The Eaton family mausoleum towers over Mount Pleasant Cemetery on Oct. 19. (CanCulture/Annemarie Cutruzzola)

There is so much to be discovered in the depths of Mount Pleasant if you take the time to do so. The rows of trees currently flaunting peak fall colours, secluded alcoves, and countless little paths and detours give the cemetery the charm of a park and provide an escape from the chaos of city life. But the grandeur of the occasional mausoleum, obelisk or majestic statue creates an awe-factor you might not expect from a cemetery.

A walk through Mount Pleasant Cemetery or any one of Toronto’s many beautiful cemeteries will bring you on a quiet journey through the history of Toronto. “Bring your friends out, make an effort to go. It's so easy to sit down and watch more Netflix,” said Morris. “But do it because it's worth it.”

Lilly Singh breaks the mould with new late night show

“A Little Late with Lilly Singh” offers diversity, energy, and a fresh perspective 

Photo courtesy lilly on Instagram

By Annemarie Cutruzzola

If Lilly Singh were to host a late-night show, what colour suit do you think she’d wear? If you said grey, navy, or brown, you’re probably new here — Singh is a fan of all things colourful. If you’re still wondering, she settled on a bright red ensemble for her show’s premiere — a bold outfit that reflects the spirit of the show.

You likely know Singh from her YouTube channel, where she built an audience of close to 15-million making relatable comedy sketches. Now she’s here to “throw some melanin up in your late night” as the first bisexual woman of colour to host a late night talk show. “A Little Late with Lilly Singh” premiered on September 16 and replaces Carson Daly’s slot on NBC. 

The episode on Monday, September 23 began with a six minute monologue about dating apps, with Singh effortlessly navigating between personal anecdotes and broad observations. After a satirical workout video sketch with witty commentary about the gender pay gap, Singh interviewed her first guest of the week, American actress Jessica Alba, before the pair were treated to some mini makeovers. 

Video courtesy A Little Late With Lilly Singh via YouTube

Singh exudes energy for the entire 25 minutes. After her opening monologue she high-fived audience members in the front row before running back behind her desk. This energy is reflected in the set of her show. It’s vibrant and colourful, a stark contrast from the brown desks and black suits you’d see on most late night shows. And perhaps it’s a coincidence, but the pink, blue and purple lights in the background seem to mimic the bisexual pride flag. 

Singh’s instincts from YouTube carry over to her show. She still has the authenticity and homegrown vibe of a YouTuber but she also has the confidence of a traditional celebrity. The result is an interesting mix of self-deprecating and self-assured humour. Her quick wit combined with audience interaction and occasional cheeky glances off to the camera during interviews make the viewer feel connected and in on the jokes. At some points it feels like you could be watching one of Singh’s YouTube videos. 

Checking boxes and breaking barriers

In an interview on her show’s premiere day, Singh told Seth Meyers that she wants to be known as a storyteller. But she’s making history, and history makes headlines. Singh is the first queer woman of colour to host a late night talk show, and much of the media hype has been focused on this fact. 

In her first opening monologue, Singh acknowledged this, joking that these descriptors are used so often she should change the name of her show to “A Little Late with a Bisexual Woman of Colour.” But hey, it’s 2019, and it’s been long enough. Not seeing yourself represented on screen can be isolating, and constantly hearing stories told from the same perspective can be exhausting. Singh fully owning these parts of her identity allows people who share these identifiers to see themselves reflected, which can be a significant and powerful experience. 

Steps towards diversity and representation in the media are finally being taken. But it’s not just what we see on screen. Singh is also advocating for diversity behind-the-scenes in Hollywood. She proudly describes the writer’s room for her show as a “mini United Nations”, as it consists of over 50 per cent women and over 50 per cent people of colour. 

Having people with different perspectives and backgrounds involved in the production of the show adds another crucial layer of diversity. Even the animated intros to the games she plays with her guests feature players with different skin tones. It’s the small details added by a diverse staff and Singh’s offhand comments about her experiences that make people feel represented. 

Tackling tough topics

It’s safe to say that Singh is a very proud Canadian. The CN Tower looms in the background of the “A Little Late” set while a loonie is embedded in the desk she sits behind. She’s a huge Raptors fan and she even named her dog “Scarbro” as a tribute to the Toronto neighbourhood she grew up in. 

But in light of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent brownface controversy, his pre-recorded segment was swiftly cut from Singh’s primetime special which aired just hours after the scandal first broke. The cancellation sent a clear message. She isn’t afraid to make tough choices. And she won’t tolerate intolerance. 

While talking politics or recapping the day’s news headlines may not be her style, Singh has already used “A Little Late” to speak about issues she’s passionate about in her own way. A rap song she made for the show’s premiere features her opinion on paid maternity and paternity leaves, public breastfeeding, and abortion rights all in 10 seconds flat. She clearly isn’t afraid to start conversations that may be considered uncomfortable or address controversial issues.

Video courtesy A Little Late With Lilly Singh via YouTube

Mixed reactions from viewers online

So how are viewers reacting to “A Little Late” so far? A quick perusal of Twitter, Imdb, or even the comments on the show’s YouTube channel reveals that the public’s reaction has been quite polarized. On Imdb in particular, many reviews of her show are either one star or ten stars. 

Among the one-star reviews there seems to be a common thread of criticism — that Singh makes jokes and references about her race, gender and sexuality too often.

Yes, segments like “The Wage Gap Workout” speak specifically about issues relating to her identity. But she’s also used her monologues to talk about personal experiences that are universally relatable, like using dating apps or getting high for the first time. Singh shines in these monologues, which bear the most resemblance to her YouTube videos (but with a bit of added maturity). She’s in her element when she can talk to the camera and just tell a funny story. 

Gif courtesy A Little Late with Lilly Singh via GIPHY

Like she says in her rap song, “A Little Late” is meant for everyone. Or at least those with enough of an open mind to watch an authentic, engaging, funny storyteller who also happens to be a brown, bisexual female. 

In a recent Instagram post, Singh said: “Beyond being from the internet, being a woman of colour, being bisexual, being Canadian... I’m a storyteller.” That part of her identity is just as important as the others. 

Singh is not simply late night’s diversity hire. She’s unapologetic, outspoken, and challenges the norms. “A Little Late” is just the beginning — Singh is ready to take on the world in whatever colour suit she pleases. 

Opinion: Is university drinking culture all just fun and games?

By Mia Maaytah

Binge drinking is a culture in universities and colleges around Canada, and though it seems like a fun pastime, the social and global pressure are making it hard to stop

I was at my first university party at a popular bar for students. There was no occasion except for the fact that we all had just begun school. It was a Thursday night and though the majority of us had class the next day, it was as if the next drink we bought allowed us to forget that fact more and more. I remember looking around, smiling and laughing but I wondered how every person there was tolerating the endless rounds of shots.

Without a second thought, my friends and I initiated a competition to see who could drink the most. The idea was enticing until one of us was throwing up in the washroom and the other was stumbling into an Uber that I hoped was hers. As for me, I had gotten escorted out for rowdy behaviour. The next morning, we replaced our rum and Cokes and shots of tequila with bottles of water and Advil. We reminisced only about the initial smiles and laughter we shared, and chalked it up to being a successful night out.

We agreed on this because alcohol is made to look like fun, especially for people our age. Its purpose is to make you feel warm and approachable in a society that says it is okay to drink excessively and to be somebody we would not usually be. In other words, alcohol is almost like an escape from reality.

I thought about the stress of being a young adult, caught somewhere in between having a handle on both nothing and everything at the same time. A can or two of beer to relax the mind wouldn't be such a bad idea to most. Alcohol is a break. It is a break from reality. It is a timeout from making those decisions, from thinking so much, from being anxious about showing up too early or too late, from talking to that special person, or even being that person.

However, for myself and my peers, alcohol has become a go-to. It has nestled itself deeply into the plans I make every weekend while at school. It has become a partner-in-crime, an ally, a friend.

I am not saying I drink to go out, but if I go out, I am drinking. It has been embedded in what I consider a good time and I have excused its presence because it is just something that everybody does. If I am meeting up with friends, we make sure there is somewhere to pre-drink and money to spend on drinks when we get to wherever we are going. If I go to my hometown to visit old friends, we arrange a wine night. If I just finished an exam, I agree to make use of happy hour to celebrate.

The level of drinking that occurs in both university and college students is overwhelming and I feel overly desensitized to it. I recently turned 20-years-old and after almost a full week of drinking, I asked myself if I have a problem. If we have a problem.

Fizza Ali, a first-year biology and psychology student at Western University, said it did not take her long to realize that everything at school revolved around drinking. Beginning with orientation week, an event that is marketed as the time to meet people and form connections that'll last a lifetime, alcohol has begun to make its grand debut.

She said it puts an enormous amount of pressure on people to be outgoing and courageous.

“Its dreadful enough and somehow drinking excessively is the only solution to making things less awkward,” said Ali.

On top of the initial week at school, Ali explained how much of her life at university involves alcohol. School events, sports teams, campus bars, and different clubs all do their part in supporting and promoting drinking among students.

For example, she said that the chemistry club at Western dedicates a night where students are allowed to drink with their professors. Also, sports teams raise their team fees for the season in order to afford alcohol for a party at the end of the season where they award the MVP with a big bottle of vodka.

Homecoming (HOCO), is an event that many universities and colleges partake in that was initially intended for  welcoming students back to another year. However, Homecoming has recently progressed from a day event to a weekend full of drinking, club crawls, and public rallying.

“HOCO is just an excuse for people to drink as much as they want and be reckless without being held responsible for any of it,” said Ali. “During HOCO we were woken up at 8 a.m. with a jello shot and then everyone just drinks until they can’t anymore ... The whole university participates so it’s weird to not take part, you don’t want to miss out.”

Advertising and Social Media

The action of promoting drinking in a school setting makes it clear as to why students begin to drink excessively amongst themselves. However, there is a global pressure seen in marketing techniques that demands to tie together the idea of fun with drinking.

Though the Government of Canada implements strict policy on prohibiting the use of marketing liquor to underage peoples, brands still manage to appeal to those who are looking for a good time.

For instance, beer brands such as Corona and Bud Light often portray scenes of young adults partying or relaxing on the beach. In addition, Wine or champagne companies often use two or more glasses coming together to showcase drinking with company. Even vodka companies use catchy slogans reciting how much better drinking will make you feel.

Not only is the idea of drinking romanticized on a global platform or normalized through school institutions, it is also perpetuated through social media.

Certain social media accounts often glorify dangerous situations brought on by intoxication. Yet, they tend to use captions that honour and laugh about it while posing questions asking who else can relate to being in these situations.

Video courtesy barstoolsports on Instagram

Video courtesy canadianpartylife on Instagram

Students in university or college tend to drink according to two principles: drinking often and drinking a lot. Blacking out is when so much alcohol is consumed that new memories are unable to be made within the brain.

An article posted on the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) stated that “blackouts are periods of amnesia during which a person actively engages in behaviours like walking and talking but does not create memories for these events as they transpire. Alcohol produces blackouts by shutting down circuits that involve the hippocampus, an area of the brain which plays a central role in consolidating memories for what happens in our day-to-day lives.”

The NIAAA stated that moderate drinking for women is no more than three drinks in a specific day and no more than seven drinks a week. For men, it is four drinks in a day and 14 drinks in a week. However, binge drinking occurs when women consume four drinks and men have five drinks within two hours. When this much alcohol is ingested in that short period of time, blood alcohol level increases to 0.08 which is enough to become extremely intoxicated and a danger to yourself and others.

Risky Drinking, Alcohol Accessibility, and Education

In the HBO documentary Risky Drinking, a new way to articulate how bad one’s drinking habits are is showcased. In the past, a patient was categorized as either having a problem or not having a problem. However, with the increase in binge-drinking in young adults in post-secondary school institutions, the danger of drinking has been placed on a scale of risk. The meter has five categories: no risk, low risk, mild, moderate, and severe, and after severe comes death.

The aim of the documentary is to provoke some sort of conversation about drinking patterns and drinking in general. The subjects within the film are a university student, a “wine mom,” an alcohol abusing father, and a severely addicted elderly man.

There is a theme in alcohol use in university or college students, which is shown in the film. Majority of people who consume alcohol within this environment tend to drink more than they can handle, and drink enough every weekend to become mildly at risk for developing an addiction.

The film showcases a young college student named Kenzie who is celebrating Halloween as a weekend event. On the Friday night, she gets drunk to the point of blacking out and during this begins hysterically crying. The next morning she wakes up and she laughs about the previous night.  

She is encouraged by her friend saying, “it happens,” and that, “We tend to drink a lot on our nights off and just sleep wherever we end up really. It’s kind of bad. We are alive. We haven't gotten raped or murdered yet.”

The girls then go about their day and begin drinking until once again Kenzie is blacked out, angry, and crying. Through this trend, she is beginning to showcase risky behaviour that nobody in her life seems to see it as a problem. Instead by shrugging shoulders and knowing other people are doing it too makes it seem okay.

Jefferson Ribout, a Toronto-based psychotherapist said that patients who deal with alcohol addiction knew right away in university that they had a problem. He said that they could tell their drinking habits were different than those of their friends. When the party was over, instead of going to sleep, they would stay up drinking, or they would often drink much more than their peers and often to a point of blacking out.

“People think there are predispositions to alcohol abuse. But I like to think that you aren't really born that way,” said Ribout. “But there is a term called epigenetics that says  you can be predisposed but there has to be another emotional or environmental factors that trigger that gene.”

Not only is drinking a regular activity for university students, it is also implemented into a vast number of activities meaning there is always an opportunity to drink.

Samantha Campbell, a second-year film studies at Ryerson University said drinking has become much more accessible since entering university.

“I think the association with alcohol and fun is embedded in everything which normalizes it, especially in university,” Campbell said. “It’s everywhere and it’s routine to go out at least once on the weekend. Be it going out to drink or going to watch a band play or even to a gallery, most of the events that I go to, alcohol is just part of the culture and experience.”

“I wouldn't say that I feel pressured to go out and drink all of the time or get drunk every weekend. But if I’m putting myself in the environment, I’ll likely be drinking while I am there.”

Ribout said alcohol is a kind of culture in university. He explained that alcohol use is almost systemic in a way where this routine of drinking during your degree is normalized, as students aim to mimic those before them.

He said that drinking while in university is an attitude or a way of life when inside schools, however, he said that students who do participate in drinking need to be educated early on in their drinking career.

“Education is important. But it’s also about how you approach it with your kids. That’s the key piece. I mean if it’s taboo then you're not doing yourself any favours,” Ribout said.

“I find that families that are religious based will use that, and that’s their view of how a person acts but how well does that really resonate with somebody in university? I don’t think its the school [that enforces drinking], I think it’s a mix of parents and peer group.”

He states that teaching with fear only makes the situation worse as youth will most likely want to rebel, however if the education is done by way of presenting facts and offering an opportunity for open communication, then perhaps students would not go into university feeling the need to drink excessively.

“Instead of saying no to drugs and alcohol and to be punitive about it, you can just educate people in a smart way. Make students self aware. That’s going to resonate more.”

5 ways to cope with stress during exam season

By Cheyenne Bholla

Stress 1.jpg

If you’re in university or college, you’re probably extremely stressed right now because all of your final papers, assignments and exams are aligning like the stars.

You’ve probably seen one of the many posts and articles about how to cope with stress, but now you have come to the final destination. Here you will learn the REAL tips.

Here are a few ways you can reduce stress before your exams.

Awareness and Mindfulness

Researchers found that when participants committed to an eight-week program of mindfulness, group discussion, and daily homework assignments, stress levels were reduced.

Mindfulness emphasized being aware of and living in the present. This may pose a problem for many students that have on-the-go lives. However, taking a step back and analyzing your situation could help.

If you’re always thinking into the future, whether it be to tests, exams, or essays, you’re going to overwhelm yourself and in some cases, this could cause you to turn to procrastination. This makes your stress worse in the long-run.

Taking a few minutes between study sessions or after you wake up to focus on your breathing and bodily sensations can help to keep you calm and in the moment, at least for a bit.

In the study, participants reported that the meditation helped them to get a new perspective on their academic career as a whole. The focus flipped from “driven by avoidance, to develop mastery” in their field.

This mindset is extremely important as it keeps your learning intentions in the right place. Down the line, it will ensure that you actually know what you’re doing on the job, whether you’re a doctor or a teacher.

In addition, another recent study found that mandala and free colouring both shown a decrease in anxiety amongst post-secondary students.

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Researchers suggested that mandala colouring was more effective in elevating state mindfulness because the structured circular design gives students a sense of direction, attention, awareness and organization.

Employ Good Study Habits

Having good study habits is vital to reducing your exam stress. By understanding the best way to study for YOU, you’ll be able to get in “the zone” and study for hours on end.

According to KidsHelpLine, some helpful study habits are: finding a good environment to study in, figuring out as much as you can on what will be tested in advance, and using mind maps.

Study Environment

Some people need to be locked away in a closet with pure silence in order to study whereas others need a little chatter in the background to focus. Figure out the environment that you work best in, and when you really need to dig deep in the books, put yourself in those spaces. One thing that will help everyone is turning your phone and laptop on do not disturb.

Ask Questions

It may be hard to approach your professor and ask questions in a lecture hall of a hundred people, but take advantage of office hours. Teachers are a resource in your education, so if you don’t fully know what you’re being tested on or there’s concepts you don’t understand, go to your professor. You’re not paying thousands of dollars to go home and google the things you learn in class. Always ask questions.

Mind Maps

If you have trouble organizing your thoughts, use mind maps to lay out all the information you’re studying while making connections where possible. Bright colours to signify links can help with memorization.

Timing

It may be hard to keep up with a to-do list, but time management skills are important. Prioritize your time on the most important assignments and papers, and break them down into smaller tasks. This will put less pressure on finishing the whole assignment at once, and you’ll probably finish quicker. Also make sure to take occasional breaks. Giving yourself incentives will train you to finish tasks on time. With each study accomplishment, treat yourself to something, like ten minutes of play time with your pet, or a bowl of fresh fruit.

Eat Proper Meals

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I know everyone reading this is probably rolling their eyes because of the tendency for self-care articles to imply that drinking water solves all of your problems.

It’s not completely inconclusive that water affects cognitive functioning, but dehydration can cause poor concentration, short-term memory problems and moodiness.

Skipping the junk food for nutritional snacks is also important. Make sure to eat a balanced meal with vegetables, protein and grain for a good source of energy.

Avoid Stimulants

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Drinking stimulants, such as coffee or energy drinks to pull your all-nighters may seem like it’s helping you in the moment. However in reality, the come-down will leave you feeling more tired and burnt out than you were in the first place.

Coffee can also worsen anxiety and trigger panic attacks, not to mention their effects on your health.

Packed with sugar and caffeine, there’s no evidence that energy drinks are more effective than other caffeinated drinks at maintaining high energy levels and improving cognitive function.

Get a Full Night’s Sleep

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Though you may be tempted to pull all-nighters in order to cram all the semester’s concepts into your brain, its effects reflect the opposite of what you hope.

The non-Rapid Eye Movement phase (non-REM) of deep sleep is known as slow-wave sleep (SWS). SWS allows communication in different parts of your brain that strengthen your ability to form and retain memories, such as vocabulary or grammar.

Rather than trying to make these connections on a sleep-deprived brain, you should review the topics, do questions, and have a full-night’s sleep.

Although power naps have shown positive results in children, it’s also important for memory and learning throughout one’s life.

Getting a full night’s rest will help to improve cognitive function and memory, both of which you’ll probably need for your evaluations.

All images courtesy Pixabay

Ryerson Formula Racing unveils new team car ahead of state competition

By Talha Hashmani

Nearly a decade ago, Michael Salameh and his family arrived in Canada from Lebanon. On Saturday, he stood in front of a crowd of sponsors, alumni and proud family members, with nearly 50 other students from Ryerson Formula Racing (RFR), Ryerson University’s formula racing team.

The team celebrated their 25th anniversary, as well as the unveiling of their new RF-19 race car. The crowd gathered, eagerly awaiting what was hidden under the black veil.

The RF-19 prior to its unveiling at the Markland Wood Golf Club. (CanCulture/Talha Hashmani)

The RF-19 prior to its unveiling at the Markland Wood Golf Club. (CanCulture/Talha Hashmani)

“Thank you everyone for coming,” said Salameh, RFR team captain, as he nervously looked across the crowded room. Each face fixed attentively on him.

Salameh explained that the engineering design team builds a race car every year to take part in racing competitions attended by various university teams across the world. The largest competition, he said, takes place at the Michigan International Speedway from May 8 to 11 and hosts nearly 120 teams. The competition is hosted by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

Before the unveiling, Salameh delivered a speech about the RF-19 and explained its various features such as greater fuel efficiency and a faster acceleration period. He also said that the RF-19 is eight per cent lighter than last year’s car, despite its massive size.

The car sports a new paint job, ditching the team’s early renditions of a blue and white car body. It is painted with a glossy black finish and a sharp yellow stripe down its side. The car is also said to be lighter than previous years’ models, even though the frame at its front is larger.

Ryerson Formula Racing’s new car, the RF-19 which was revealed at the unveiling on Saturday. (CanCulture/Talha Hashmani)

Ryerson Formula Racing’s new car, the RF-19 which was revealed at the unveiling on Saturday. (CanCulture/Talha Hashmani)

Onlookers were encouraged to move closer to the car, take pictures, and sign their names on the car’s wings - with a small donation to RFR funds.

Sponsors questioned team members on the car’s features, inspecting the handy work of a group of university students who had acquired sponsored materials and technical support.

But for Salameh and his team, it was a celebratory afternoon. Students took pictures with their families and indulged in the euphoria of completion that had taken nearly 8 months to achieve.

According to Erica Attard, the recruitment manager for RFR, there will be four students from the team responsible for driving the car during competitions. Ariel Gill, head of design and testing, said that this will be his third year driving the race car.

Attard said that the RFR consists of students from any discipline. “You don’t have to be in an engineering program to be on the team,” she said.

However, she also added that for engineers, being a part of the RFR team “is the best way to get proper hands-on engineering experience and to learn things you will learn in [later years].”

RFR is funded by a number of sponsors, including the university itself and the Ryerson Engineering Student Society.

According to Attard, the team receives cash sponsorships, services and venues. Additionally, they rely on mechanical parts, materials and technical support from their sponsors.

Attard explained that Ryerson placed in the top 10 at the 2005 Formula SAE Michigan tournament while in 2017, they placed twenty-fifth overall.

The team is now looking forward to competing in this year’s Michigan tournament. In addition, RFR will be competing in Barrie and a small circuit tournament at the University of Toronto - St. George Campus.

To Attard, experiencing the features of the car the team had spent many months working on means more than simply winning each of the upcoming competitions.

How Torontonians can shop more consciously and locally

By Jessica Fonseca

In the very corporate driven world where most of the market is cornered by big box stores, there’s still a sliver of hope for Toronto-based companies to make their mark.

Last April, CBC reported that a Swiss-based website called StartupBlink collected data on the best places on the planet for starting a new business. Toronto’s startup ecosystem ranked 11th best in the world.

Three other Canadian cities made the top 100 list: Vancouver in 19th place, Montreal in 34th and Victoria in 95th. Canada overall as a country ranked third after the United States and the United Kingdom.

These statistics seemed surprising considering you can’t walk one block in Toronto without seeing a Tim Hortons or Starbucks on every corner.

So how could you as a Torontonian support fellow locals?

Well for starters, don’t go running to Yonge street for all of your shopping needs. There are plenty of niche stores and shops to catch your eye all over the city in unique spots you’ve probably never seen before or just passed by.

Did you know the Distillery District is more than just a Christmas village? This popular area is filled with 40 one-of-a-kind boutiques that cater to your fashion needs, food cravings or your knick-knack collection on your bedroom shelf.  

Photo courtesy distilleryto on Instagram

Another great way to support your neighbours is to find out more about who they are and how their businesses can be just what you’re looking for. This can be through doing a quick search on social media or Google.

If all that searching is too much work for you then check out a website called Seek Minimal that does it for you. They advocate for sustainable living and support many Toronto entrepreneurs who are in the clothing, beauty, and food industries to get their products and messages across.

On their website you can find all kinds of information on the people you may be buying from and where you can purchase their products.

“Seek Minimal always supports Canadian brands, especially those from Toronto. We’ve found incredible brands apart of the sustainable community and we hope Seek Minimal can bring them all together,” said Joss Bacalla,  founder of Seek Minimal.

Another way to shop more consciously is by going to food markets all across the city to get fresh, locally grown produce. This is a lot easier to do in the summer as there are many more options. However, some markets stay open and suffer through the winter with you.

St. Lawrence Market is the known spot for fresh food with its close proximity to Toronto’s busy city centre. An alternative worth checking out is the year-round Dufferin Grove Farmers Market which is all organic, locally sourced food. Moss Park Market Container is another great market that is very small, and by that I mean it’s the size of a shipping container.

St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. (Photo courtesy Wladyslaw/Wikimedia Commons)

St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. (Photo courtesy Wladyslaw/Wikimedia Commons)

This market may be small, but it packs a lot of fruits and vegetables for a very affordable price. Who said buying locally had to be more expensive?

No matter who you are or what you do, it’s important to support other people, especially those in your community. If you want to see your city prosper and its people to succeed, put your money where your mouth is.

Tickets can be expensive, but being a Leafs fan doesn’t have to be

By Lara Kuipers

Toronto Maple Leafs fans watch Game 2 between the Leafs and the Boston Bruins in the NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in 2013. (Photo courtesy KatieThebeau/ Wikimedia Commons )

Toronto Maple Leafs fans watch Game 2 between the Leafs and the Boston Bruins in the NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in 2013. (Photo courtesy KatieThebeau/Wikimedia Commons)

It’s a Saturday night in Toronto. The sun is just beginning to set, casting a golden glow over the busy people walking in the streets.

“Tickets, I got tickets!” a man yells as he waves two pieces of paper in the air feverishly. It’s not just any Saturday in Toronto, it’s a Saturday night and the Toronto Maple Leafs are playing hockey at home.

Inside the home venue of the Leafs, Scotiabank Arena, men, women, boys and girls of all ages are walking around with a jump in their step. Holding a cold beer in one hand and a hotdog in the other, it’d be hard pressed to find someone not sporting the home team’s jersey – either in the royal blue they wear at home games or the sharp white they wear at away games. Occasionally a rare fan may be seen wearing the other team’s jersey, usually getting heckled by Leafs fans in the hallway that circle the perimeter outside the rink.

With beers in their hands, fans find their seat sections and wait in line as ushers point them to their seats. Through the curtains to the sections the ice is unveiled. The bright lights, the white ice and the screaming fans hits like a rush of adrenaline. The players are already out there warming up – shooting pucks hard at the empty net – never failing to miss their shots. The favourites are all there including the young guns, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Frederik “Freddy” Andersen stretches on their end in the neutral zone. John Tavares and Nazem Kadri are chatting as they skate around. There’s a vibe in the arena, it’s only a vibe you can get from being in the rink to watch a game live. That is, if you can afford it.

For anyone who’s a Leafs fan, seeing a home game in person is a must. However, unfortunately for Leafs fans, they have one of the most expensive tickets in the National Hockey League (NHL). A ticket in the nose bleeds (the seats at the top section of the stands) is still going to cost around $100 per person and better sectioned seats are hard to come by. However, in recent years, an alternative approach to watching the game at Scotiabank Arena has evolved, Maple Leaf Square.

Maple Leaf Square is located at 15 York Street in Toronto, in the area right outside the front doors to the arena. During playoff time it is sectioned off from traffic and designated as a “tailgate” area for Leafs fans to gather during the game. Above the front doors hangs a large screen that plays the game while it’s on. For the past few years the crowd has been packed with fans and the best part is, it’s free.

21-year-old Ryerson University student Haley Bretney has been a fan of the Leafs for most of her life and has visited  Maple Leaf Square to watch a game on three separate occasions.

Bretney said that she didn’t know what to expect the first time she went but remembers that as soon as she walked in, a worker handed her a rally towel with music blasting on the speakers.

“Everybody was really into it. I almost felt like that was more exciting than actually being inside because those were the true fans – trekking out to go to the square and watch. There weren’t a lot of people on their phones or whatever, not watching. If you went to the square you were going to stand for three hours and you were going to watch,” said Bretney.

“I know I would rather be inside, but the atmosphere is so much better outside because those are really the true fans.”

Like Bretney, Ryerson student Mat Rodger, a 20-year-old Leafs fan, said he prefers watching the game in Maple Leaf Square rather than inside the arena.

“I feel like that’s where the real fans go. Inside the rink, the tickets are so expensive, you don’t really get the blue-collar fans,” Rodger said.

But to get to see a Leafs’ game at Maple Leaf Square during the playoffs, the team has to make the playoffs first. That shouldn’t be an issue this season as the Leafs are having one of their best seasons in recent years. They are currently sitting in third place in their division with 89 points. They sit four points behind the Boston Bruins – one of their biggest rivals in the game – with 12 games left in the season.

The results so far this season are not surprising when a deeper look is taken into the dynamics of the team. This season started on a high note before it even started when highly sought after free-agent forward John Tavares signed with the Leafs on July 1, 2018 after playing nine seasons with the New York Islanders.

Tavares is now having one of his best seasons in the NHL as he currently sits fourth in the league with 39 goals scored. But this 2018-19 Leafs’ team is one with a lot of depth because Tavares isn’t the only one on the NHL’s statistics leaderboard. Mitch Marner, playing his third season in the NHL at only 21-years-old sits fourth in the league with 60 assist.

Auston Matthews who is also playing his third season in the NHL, recently became the first player in the Leafs’ long history to score at least 30 goals in his first three seasons in the NHL. In the plus-minus category, not one but two Leafs players cracked the top ten in the league with veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey topping the league with a +33 plus-minus, and defenceman Morgan Rielly sitting in fourth with +30. This comes to no surprise as the team sits third in the league in goals against average with a +46.

In addition to being fourth in the league with plus-minus, Reilly is having one of his best seasons as he sits first in the league with goals by a defenceman at 19. Backing them up, Freddy Andersen sits third in the league with goaltender wins at 33.

With a team channeling such depth and skill with just a few weeks left in the regular season, a playoff run seems very likely. So, you might want to consider hopping on the subway or GO Transit train and riding to Maple Leaf Square to watch the game in a crowd of fellow Leafs fans. Just remember to bring your jersey.

Rupi Kaur: Authenticity through the lens of poetry

By Mariah Siddiqui

Rupi Kaur is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and illustrator. The Indian-born Canadian poet released two poetry collections: Milk and Honey and The Sun and Her Flowers that caught the eyes and hearts of people on a worldwide scale.

Two illustrated bees can be seen on the dark cover of  Milk and Honey.  (CanCulture/Mariah Siddiqui)

Two illustrated bees can be seen on the dark cover of Milk and Honey. (CanCulture/Mariah Siddiqui)

Milk and Honey is raw and unforgettable. It was released in 2014 and jumpstarted Kaur’s career as people resonated with the poetry and prose she poured her heart into. The book is separated into four parts: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, and the healing.

‘The hurting’ deals with the themes of sexual assault and trauma. The pages hit you in a way you don’t expect because they are so real and authentic. There is no filter when it comes to this section and the experiences are uncensored and heartbreaking.

‘The loving’ explores the feeling of being so wrapped up in love and the happiness that comes with being with someone. It not only explores romantic love but the kind of love you feel from a maternal perspective. People can relate to love as it is something so commonly felt and experienced. However, with love also comes heartbreak which people can heavily relate to as well.

‘The breaking’ is all about that heartbreak. Breakups suck but most people have gone through one and know how hard it is to get over sometimes. This section pours that all onto the paper through the dark illustrations and truthful emotions within the poems.

‘The healing’ is warm and inviting. It talks about dealing with that trauma and heartbreak and finding yourself again through all of that. It is a reclamation of loving who you are and where you come from. Reading the words is almost therapeutic as you witness Kaur overcoming battles in an inspirational way.

The stark white cover can be seen with illustrations of sunflowers. (CanCulture/Mariah Siddiqui)

The stark white cover can be seen with illustrations of sunflowers. (CanCulture/Mariah Siddiqui)

The Sun and Her Flowers is full of metaphors and powerful messages. The poetry book was released in 2017 and is set up in a similar way to her first collection. This book is separated into five parts: wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming.

‘Wilting’ is all about pain and the subject of heartbreak is revisited once again.

‘Falling’ is about being at your lowest. It visits the subject of depression and loneliness in an intense way.

‘Rooting’ talks about searching for your identity and beginning to manifest the idea of who you are again into your own mind.

‘Rising’ is putting those thoughts of who you are into the real world as you make changes that encourage your personal growth.

‘Blooming’ is succeeding in doing so and looking back at everything you have gone through, knowing you are stronger because of it. This section discusses femininity and empowerment through having important discussions and putting those thoughts into action.

When comparing the two poetry collections, there are many patterns and similarities between them. The first book cover is dark black and the second opposes that with its stark white cover. They both are organized in sections and each book tackles sensitive issues in a way a lot of people haven’t seen before. Both discuss the way love feels and the pain of a heartbreak, but they both do it in a way that can be easily related to.

While Milk and Honey is straightforward with the process of growth, The Sun and Her Flowers embodies the process in a beautiful way. The life of a flower is used as a metaphor to explain the way humans feel. First, we wilt due to pain and trauma, then we fall before we begin to root. Then we begin to grow and find ourselves and we rise and bloom. The image of a flower is a known image of beauty and strength. The comparison was done effectively and draws a powerful parallel.

Many share the opinion that Kaur writes mainstream poetry that isn’t that special, but it takes immense strength to write these poems down and share them with others. When people share their truth, it is never guaranteed that every single person is going to get it and relate to it. There are no rules to expression through art. It takes courage to tackle such significant and broadly misrepresented issues in the bold ways Kaur has.

If you want to check out one of these books, I suggest you start with Milk and Honey first for an insight on how Kaur progressed as a poet. Personally, that one resonated with me on a deeper level and I felt connected to many of the pieces in it. I hope it does the same for you.

Things to do over reading week that don't involve reading

By Mariah Siddiqui

With every semester, the time comes where students get a week off to study, or rather attempt to. For those of you who have been counting down the days until reading week, it is finally here!

If you find yourself with some time to spare while cramming for midterms and are in need of a break, here are some fun things you can do.

TIFF Next Wave Film Festival

The sixth annual TIFF Next Wave Film Festival will be from Feb. 17-19. The festival includes a Battle of the Scores competition, a Young Creators Co-Lab, free films for anyone under 25, a captivating movie marathon, and a whole lot more. If you are a big film junkie this is definitely the event for you.

Museum of Illusions

The end of the museum will have you doubting reality as the room twists and turns when you walk through it. (CanCulture/Mariah Siddiqui)

The end of the museum will have you doubting reality as the room twists and turns when you walk through it. (CanCulture/Mariah Siddiqui)

You will not believe your eyes when you walk through the rooms and observe each installation at the Museum of Illusions in Toronto. The tour includes a collection of holograms, optical illusions, and many more rooms that will be sure to drive your brain crazy trying to figure it out. Tickets can be bought here.

5th Annual Toronto Black Film Festival

This festival showcases outstanding, powerful black films and creates a safe space to discuss major cultural, social, and socio-economic issues. This festival celebrates Black History Month and gives unique voices in cinema a chance to express new and refreshing ways of viewing the world. It runs from Feb. 13-18.

Toronto Light Festival

The striking lights glow and catch your eye as soon as you walk through the entrance. (CanCulture/Mariah Siddiqui)

The striking lights glow and catch your eye as soon as you walk through the entrance. (CanCulture/Mariah Siddiqui)

This event will run until March 3 and will catch your attention the moment you arrive. You will see the Distillery District transformed into one of the largest open-air galleries in North America. Local and international light artists show off their innovative ideas in a visual journey. Walking through the brightly lit up neighbourhood will surely be unforgettable.

The Bentway Skate Trail

The Bentway sign can be seen when you walk under the Gardiner Expressway and onto the rink. (CanCulture/Mariah Siddiqui)

The Bentway sign can be seen when you walk under the Gardiner Expressway and onto the rink. (CanCulture/Mariah Siddiqui)

Whether you’re a pro-skater or the absolute opposite (like myself), I’m sure you wouldn’t mind falling once or twice on this amazing figure-8 shaped skate trail. It is open daily from noon to 9 p.m. on weekends and from 5 to 9 p.m. during the week. They offer skate rentals and skating lessons and you can even grab a snack or drink when you’re all done. The trail will be open until Feb. 18.

The Rec Room

The Rec Room building stands tall across from the Rogers Centre. (CanCulture/Mariah Siddiqui)

The Rec Room building stands tall across from the Rogers Centre. (CanCulture/Mariah Siddiqui)

Good Drinks? Tasty Food? Fun Games? Say no more, The Rec Room is the place for you. If you have a competitive side and like to have a good time with friends, this is the place to suggest when your group can’t decide on what to do. Between eating, the arcade games, and the various live acts, time will fly by. This classic venue is also hosting a Raptors vs. Spurs watch party on Feb. 22, so if you were going to watch the game you might as well do it here.

Denthreesixty

Denthreesixty, the GTA’s very first video game console arcade opened on Feb. 18. They offer dozens of games on game consoles or on classic arcade machines. If you are a video game lover make sure to check out this spot with your friends for a day of fun and some friendly competition.

Ice Breakers 2019 Art Exhibition

“Tripix” by Ryerson University stands out as a staple installation along the Harbourfront. (CanCulture/Mariah Siddiqui)

“Tripix” by Ryerson University stands out as a staple installation along the Harbourfront. (CanCulture/Mariah Siddiqui)

Go check out the five art installations along Queen’s Quay West from Harbourfront Centre to HTO West but make sure to bundle up! The theme of the exhibition is “Signal Transmission” and the installation, “Tripix” is by our very own Ryerson University.

Enjoy your reading week and make sure to check out some of these fun spots.

6 Fun and Affordable Date Spots in Toronto

By Sarafina Romano

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, CanCulture has got you covered with the best date spots in Toronto.

With midterms just around the corner, it is easy to get sucked into a dizzying vortex of cue cards and iced coffee. Here’s a gentle reminder that the red hearts stuck to coffee shop windows are not the product of a sleep-deprived hallucination. Yes, it is almost V-Day folks.

Valentine’s Day gets a lot of criticism for being a ‘Hallmark holiday,’ but who doesn’t love, well, love. Whether you are in a long-term relationship, flirting with your crush or forever single, this is a great time of year to celebrate “La Joie de Vivre” in one of the funkiest cities in the world.

Below is a list of unique spots for a cute Valentine’s Day date with your significant other or maybe, your squad. And no need to worry, they are all cheap.

The Clay Room - 279 Danforth Ave

The inside of The Clay Room on Danforth Avenue in Toronto. (CanCulture/Sarafina Romano)

The inside of The Clay Room on Danforth Avenue in Toronto. (CanCulture/Sarafina Romano)

This one is for all you artists or wannabe artists out there and for the adults who never grew out of their paint-by-numbers phase. You know who you are. Located in the heart of the Danforth, The Clay Room is a fun and creative way to spend Valentine’s Day. Choose anything to paint that your heart desires, from plates to dog figurines to vases. After you complete your piece of art, you can pick up your shiny masterpieces a week later. Prices vary from $8.75  to $20.75 depending on the size of the piece.

Skating at Nathan Phillips Square – 100 Queen St. W

The skating rink at Nathan Phillips Square in located right in front of Toronto City Hall. (John Vetterli/Flickr)

The skating rink at Nathan Phillips Square in located right in front of Toronto City Hall. (John Vetterli/Flickr)

If being outdoors is more suitable to your liking, try skating at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square. Just minutes away from Ryerson University, this skating rink is surrounded by tall arches and twinkling lights. If you do not have your own skates, you can easily rent a pair for $10 at the rink.

Star Gazing at University of Toronto - Bahen Centre for Information Technology (50 George St.)

At the University of Toronto’s Bahen Centre for Information Technology, they have a small observatory for stargazing. ( Sabrerider /Wikimedia Commons)

At the University of Toronto’s Bahen Centre for Information Technology, they have a small observatory for stargazing. (Sabrerider/Wikimedia Commons)

On the first Thursday of every month, the University of Toronto hosts free stargazing at their planetarium. This is a great option for those who are not into candlelit dinners in packed restaurants on Valentine’s Day. Or, for those who forgot about the holiday - oops! Head up to room 1160 of the Bahen Centre for Information Technology for the next out of space tour on March 7th.

Rooster Coffee House – 568 Jarvis St.

View of Rooster Coffee House from the upper level of the café.  (Photo courtesy @Roostercoffee via Twitter)

View of Rooster Coffee House from the upper level of the café. (Photo courtesy @Roostercoffee via Twitter)

New relationships can sometimes get fuzzy around Valentine’s Day, with a lot of uncertainty surrounding expectations. A chill coffee shop that’s just far enough away from campus is sure to be reassuring in that department. Rooster Coffee House is a cute, two-floor café with a mixture of barstools and comfy chairs. CanCulture recommends the tea lattes, which range from traditional chai lattes to toasty almond lattes.

Art Gallery of Ontario – 317 Dundas St.W.

Wooden arch hallway designed by Frank Gehry for the Art Gallery of Ontario. (Photo via Pixabay)

Wooden arch hallway designed by Frank Gehry for the Art Gallery of Ontario. (Photo via Pixabay)

Take a relaxed stroll through the Art Gallery of Ontario, situated near Kensington Market. The famous artwork and unique architecture will give you and your date plenty to talk about, not to mention tons of photo-ops. The current rate for students at the AGO is $11. Insider tip: if you show your Presto card at the ticket counter, you can get 20 per cent off your ticket!

Allan Gardens Conservatory – 160 Gerrard St. E.

Allan Gardens’ Cool Temperate house. (CanCulture/Jessica Fonseca)

Allan Gardens’ Cool Temperate house. (CanCulture/Jessica Fonseca)

Allan Gardens is just a few minutes away from the Ryerson University campus and is the perfect escape from the hectic city life. The conservatory consists of six greenhouses with flowers, cacti, and even papaya trees. It is a perfect spot for some romancing and warmth in the February chill. Allan Gardens is open every day of the week, free of charge.  

Alternative ways to get fit: Pole dancing

By Madi Wong

Madi Wong, managing editor and Chloe Cook, arts editor ventured out to Brass Vixens Queen Street West studio to participate in a beginner pole dancing class. Watch them test their skills and moves and meet the Vixens  community.

Each person will differ and be at their own pace when it comes to working out. Whether you are a fitness enthusiast, a gym goer looking to try something new, or someone trying to find the right kind of exercise that motivates them.

Going for a run and weight lifting are typical go-to forms of exercise, but if you are not too keen on either of those options, there are plenty of alternatives to get you sweaty and in shape.

Indulging in a form of fitness that revolves around dance is a very popular, and very successful way for people to not only work out but thoroughly enjoy exercising.

For fourteen years, Brass Vixens, a Toronto-based pole dancing and fitness class studio, has boosted numerous bodies and minds with their high-energy and challenging classes.

With four studio locations across the GTA (Queen Street West, Yonge Street, Vaughan and Mississauga) they have become Toronto’s largest pole dancing and fitness class studio.

“Pole dancing is an amazing form of fitness. It works all aspects of your body; working on  toning your arms, back muscles, getting your abs conditioned, your legs as well,” said Melissa Jones, manager at Brass Vixens Queen Street West studio.

Pole tests your balance, coordination and flexibility. It also challenges every part of your body; abs, back, arms, legs. Through each elaborate and rhythmic move, you learn to discipline yourself to focus on accurately showcasing each movement.

Jones, who has been with Brass Vixens since day it first began, teaches all levels of pole dancing, stretch and conditioning classes.

Students are not limited to just pole dancing, each studio offers a variety of other classes including aerial, burlesque and lyra.

“For me, getting into actual teaching was built here. I loved being able to make people happy, make them smile. People being appreciative of me and what I was helping them with sparked a love of teaching,” said Jones.

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CanCulture/Madi Wong

Abby Ramzi, an instructor at Brass Vixens, said that pole dancing is more than just a dance form to her.

"When I first started pole dancing, I had kind of negative perceptions about my body and myself and I just wasn't very comfortable being a woman. Just being in a time, growing up, [and] being in a culture where there’s a lot of pressure on women to look and behave in a certain way,” Ramzi said.

Before she became an instructor, she was a student who tried out a class after discovering the studio on Groupon. “I tried the first class and I was hooked ever since .. I just can’t get enough. I never stop,” she said.

Ramzi said that with pole, she is able to just be herself and strives to share that same feeling with her students. She wants each person to feel comfortable, grow and transfer their energy and perception into a more positive outlook on themselves.

Pole dancing is empowering, it releases your inner power and takes you to a new level of body confidence and positivity.

“People come in here, all shapes, all sizes, all ages. Men and women and everything in between. They come in with maybe low-self esteem and they leave with friends, they leave with a new version of themselves after their first class,” said Jones.

“So, we’re not just working on your physical fitness, we’re working on your health, well-being and state of mind.”

Both Ramzi and Jones said that their favourite part about Brass Vixen’s is the community and people they meet along the way.

Being in the studio, where the atmosphere is as lively and as engaging with all types of people allows for the Vixens workers and students to forge bonds and build relationships.

“You meet women in their 60s who just want to try something different. You meet young guys who, you know, just want a different form of fitness. Everybody has their own story and it is all unique … The relationships you build here are like nothing else,” said Jones.

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)

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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)