French version of Vagina Monologues in Verdun Feb 24

Les Monologues du Vagin,” the French version of The Vagina Monologues will be shown in Verdun on Saturday, February 24 at 7 p.m.

Entrance costs $20.

The play takes place at the Casa CAFI’s theatre, salle Manuel Fierro, 4729 rue de Verdun.

I saw Eve Ensler’s 1996 play about female sexuality, sexual mutilation and the role of vaginas in our lives the English play in Toronto several years ago and found it funny, tragic and uncomfortable all at once.

Glad to see that it’s been translated.

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The struggle to create safe clean social housing in Quebec

Four years ago, Verdun borough mayor Jean-François Parenteau agreed to build social housing on a municipally-owned lot on Gaetan Laberge instead of a larger project containing both condos and social housing.

It isn’t built yet in part because the land in question has to be decontaminated before residential units can be built. Add that price, which is likely to be in the millions of dollars to the cost of the social housing buildings, whatever form they take, and you get a challenging fundraising goal.

And that’s in addition to the many emotional and security barriers to building fully-subsidized apartments for vulnerable and impoverished people.

No matter where they live, or what their income might be, people can occasionally experience personal crises due to addiction, mental health challenges, and uncontrolled anger. Unfortunately, it can be much harder to hide these kinds of crises in a public building, even when most of the residences within it are private. That means that neighbours find out about every incident, and assume that unusual situations occur more often than they do. The stigma makes it hard to build social housing into the fabric of communities.

People don’t want those units too close to home,” said a condo developer in response to a question about integrating social housing into his projects when I first looked into this issue four years ago. “They’re afraid their property values will go down.”

Boroughs don’t like lower property values either, nor do they appreciate handling security and social problems that are difficult to hide in large impoverished neighbourhoods.  Despite a 2005 City of Montreal policy that requires 15% of social housing and 15% of affordable housing in all new developments with more than 200 units, boroughs and cities can make exceptions. Often, they require cash payments towards parks and public spaces instead.

The result is a waiting list of 25,000 people for social housing while there’s a glut of condominiums for sale. That’s 3,000 more people on the waiting list than when I covered this issue four years ago. And things then were bad:

Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI each have more than a year of inventory to absorb,” wrote Robert Kavcic, a senior economist with BMO Financial in June, 2014. “In most cases, those are decade highs that exceed even levels seen at the height of the Great Recession.”

Maintaining pure social housing after it’s built can also be a challenge; in that model, tenants pay only 25% of their income in rent, regardless of how little they earn. Today, the social housing banner also includes low-income apartments, cooperative housing projects and seniors’ residences run by non-profit entities.

Some non-profit housing options exist, but most of today’s pure social housing units were created with federal and provincial government financing in the sixties and seventies. In 1969, the federal government set up social housing neighbourhoods across the country through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

By 1982, people weren’t as concerned about social housing as they had been earlier. The CMHC began selling all of its buildings to local non-profits, a process they completed in 1994.

Some imaginative local politicians reacted to ensure that the units remained accessible to low-income people. In Pierrefonds for example, local politicians helped tenants turn a 750-unit building called Cloverdale into Canada’s largest housing cooperative.

As inspiring as that project was, other regions didn’t duplicate it. LaSalle Heights was owned by the same person, but instead of following the coop creation model, it was sold to private for-profit interests in 1988. The Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation battled the decision in court for years, but ultimately lost the right to keep the units reserved for low-income tenants. Instead, the CMHC set up grants for tenants and partnered with the owners to keep the complex open for another fifteen years. That agreement officially expires next year and locals worry that the site is targeted for major gentrification, especially since the 750 units are no longer tracked by any public agency.

The only social housing that is tracked carefully is that managed within the provincial HLM program. The Office municipal d’habitation de Montréal (OMHM) operates 20,810 low-rent apartments within this program, while the Office municipal d’habitation de Laval (OMHL) operates another 1,120.

Unfortunately, almost all of the apartment buildings in the program were built in the seventies, so they require annual maintenance and occasional renewal projects that creates inconveniences for everyone and give the program a bad name. Renovations, when they occur, cost millions of dollars.

Hundreds of residents of a building on Plamondon, for instance, only just moved back into their units last June after three-and-a-half years and $10 million dollars in renovations that included removing mold.

Many other buildings need the same treatment. At the same time, Montreal faces a severe shortage of affordable family-sized rental units.

Verdun’s project remains one to watch to see whether any social housing solution can be found.

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Wilder Penfield: the man who taught us how the brain works

Wilder Penfield, January 25, 1891 – April 5, 1976

Thanks to Google’s wonderful doodles in their search browser, I got to think about Wilder Penfield today.

The great neurosurgeon would have turned 127 years old today if humans had figured out longevity in his lifetime.

We have Penfield to thank for what we know about how the brain works, thanks to his work with epilepsy patients in the 1930’s. He then worked at McGill University, where he established the Montreal Neurological Institute in 1934.

That same year the Spokane-born Rhodes Scholar became a Canadian citizen.

Friendship with William Osler

His links to McGill may have began at Oxford, where he met and worked with William Osler. Newspapers mistakenly reported Penfield dead in 1916 after a torpedo attacked him while crossing the English Channel on a Red Cross mission in 1916. He recovered in Osler’s home.

He worked at a Paris military hospital during World War 1.

The Montreal Technique

After that, he worked with a German mentor, Otfried Foerster, who got good results using brain surgery to treat spinal injuries.

Penfield refined his work and became up with the Montreal Technique, which involved electronically stimulating the brain and asking patients to describe what they felt. This procedure not only allowed the surgeon to remove sections of the brain that caused epileptic seizures, but also helped him map which parts of the brain were responsible for various activities.

After he retired, he remained in Montreal helping students until his death of prostrate cancer at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

During his lifetime, his contributions were honoured when he received Britain’s Order of Merit and became a Companion of the Order of Canada. Fifteen years after he died, a heritage minute appeared about his work. He was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame three years later.

1991 Heritage Minute

The Google doodle highlights a quote from a 1991 Heritage minute television spot:

“Dr. Penfield, I smell burnt toast.”

According to Historica, where you can see the spot for yourself, the statement has become their “most famous line.” It was originally scripted:

“Dr. Penfield, I smell bacon and eggs.”

 

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Happy on the farm

 

When my aunt turned ninety-six a few years ago, I prepared a short bio of her life, including photos of the farm where she grew up, baptism`s, confirmations and a wonderful photo of four people working in a farm yard.

Handwriting on the photo says “maman a l’age de 20 ans” and “papa” to identify my great grandmother, Marie-Berthe Charette and my great grandfather, Jean Baptiste Hurtubise with her two sisters “tante Eva” and “tante Ida.”

They are all on their knees, looking at the photographer. Jean is staring towards Marie-Berthe, who was also called Martha, with an extremely happy look on his face.

The shot is the only happy photo I have of the couple. In every other shot, they look solemn or downright miserable.

Martha was born on October 3, 1889, so if the note about her age is correct, the photo would have have been taken in 1909 or 1910, five years prior to their marriage. There’s no indication where the photo was taken. It could have been his parents’ farm, her parents’ farm, or given that they are also in the shot, perhaps even the farm where his brother Gustave and her sister Ida moved after they were married.[1]

Both Charette farms were in Clarence Creek, where their families had lived since at least 1891. His family farm was located in Sarsfield, a town right next door near the current Ottawa, Ontario.

The first Hurtubese/Charette couple was already married by the time of the happy photo in my grandmother’s photo album. Later, it would be Jean-Baptiste and Martha’s turn, then his younger brother Francois and her younger sister Dora.

All three couples would eventually follow middle Charette son Ernest, who began farming in Alberta.

My cousin says his mother used to talk about a horse and buggy ride after their family lost a farm due to a train expropriation. My aunt spoke to him about remembering her mom’s tears. I don’t know whether that trip precipitated their move to Alberta or took place afterwards.

All I know for sure is that after this photo was taken, the couple had two little girls, Donna and Marguerite. Then, sometime after their second daughters’ birth in 1917 and the 1921 Canadian Census, they bought a farm with a three-bedroom wooden house on it in Bow River, Alberta.[2]

After that, their life took a turn for the worse, and they lost everything. The dust bowl, the Depression, locusts…take your pick, they saw it all.

By 1941, the family was renting part of a house in Edmonton. He did odd jobs to get through the war years and beyond. They remained in Edmonton until her death in 1957 and his in 1959.

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[1] Data from the 1911 Census of Canada, Enumeration District 21, Cumberland Township, Russell, Ontario, Sarsfield Village, Léonard Village, Bear Brook Village, page 7, line 48.

[2] Data from the 1921 Census of Canada, Enumeration District 2, Bow River, Alberta, section 7, township 22, range 21, Meridian 4, page 6, line 28.

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