Before seeing the acclaimed “Maudie,” I knew a little about Maud Lewis and her folk art but I was unaware of her life story and the everyday struggles that she faced from a very early age.  Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke each give deft performances in this emotionally touching movie about persevering and finding happiness in the face of difficult circumstances.  There are notes of grace here, along with a number of tear-jerker moments.

Lewis received some early art instruction as a child from her mother, with whom Lewis would make homemade Christmas cards to sell.  From this basic foundation, Lewis’s many, mostly smallish paintings of bright-colored animals, plants and farm and shore scenes provided her solace in the face of a hardscrabble life in rural Nova Scotia.  The occasional sale of her artworks eventually provided a modest income for her and her husband, Everett, in the later years of their lives.  The movie does a nice job exploring the initially reticent relationship that the two shared and the deep interdependent love that they came to nurture.  A more thorough overview of Lewis’s life can be found in the online Canadian Encyclopedia.

(On a side note, for those familiar with the Maritime Provinces, the rocky shoreline and cozy coastal villages featured in the film will be recognized as distinctively those of Newfoundland, which is where much of the movie was filmed.  Quite ironic given the subject matter and that there are, of course, many beautiful vistas in Nova Scotia.  The explanation for the filming in a different province appears to be the greater availability of film production tax credits in the more northern province.)

Similar posts on O’Canada:

Denny Lunn’s Buoyant Folk Art

Come From Away (and Stay Awhile)

“Heartwarming,” “human,” “genuine” and “community” are among the words that come to mind to describe “Come From Away,” the Canadian-produced musical that just opened this week on Broadway after a preliminary tour across Canada and the U.S.   The musical tells the story of how the small town of Gander, Newfoundland (about 10,000 people), with good cheer and resourcefulness, memorably accommodated during a week-long stretch the more than 6,500 air passengers from all over whose planes were unexpectedly diverted there following the 9/11 attacks.

The reader comments on the NY Times review of the production are striking by how moved people have been by this story. Having visited Newfoundland on multiple occasions, I can attest that the people of this ruggedly beautiful province are as sincerely friendly as this musical depicts.

“Come From Away” Official Site

The Sweet Lowdown: “Red Shift Blues”

The Sweet Lowdown

The Sweet Lowdown is an amazingly talented folk and roots music trio based in Vancouver Island, B.C.  The group consists of Amanda Blied on guitar,  Shanti Bremer on banjo, and Miriam Sonstenes on fiddle.  Their wonderful harmonies and skillful musicianship and songwriting are starting to attract much-deserved wider recognition, including coveted nominations by the Canadian Folk Music Awards as 2015 Ensemble of the Year and 2015 Roots Group Recording of the Year by the Western Canadian Music Awards for their album “Chasing the Sun”.

The video above is for “Red Shift Blues”, a soulful tune from the band’s 2011 self-titled album “The Sweet Lowdown”.  More info on them and their music can be found on their official band website.

(Photo Credit: Ashli Akins)

“Woke Up This Morning” on CBC Radio

Although I’ve not posted much about music on O’Canada, exploring music and its many genres is one of my favorite pastimes.  While I’ve been clued in to some great Canadian music through CBC Radio over the years, the diverse programming of CBC Radio One is such that I’ve also discovered from time to time new (for me) American pieces. Such was the case earlier this week as I listened to “As It Happens” , which is hosted by Carol Off and Jeff Douglas.  On that particular evening, the show payed homage to Claude Sitton, a journalist who passed away this week and who covered many of the key events of the early 1960s civil rights movement, by closing out with “Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind on Freedom)” performed by The SNCC Freedom Singers.  It’s a powerful song. Video below.

“Stories We Tell” and How We See Things

Earlier today I saw — and highly recommend — “Stories We Tell”, a riveting and thought-provoking 2012 documentary directed by Sarah Polley of Ontario with major support by the National Film Board of  Canada.   While the surface-level story is about the members of a family recounting their personal perspectives on the once carefree and now-deceased family matriarch and a secret that she kept from them, this wonderful, award-winning film goes further by gently prompting its viewers to reflect on the nature of truth, memory, relationships and certain aspects of the human condition.  The way in which this loving family and friends deal with these perplexing issues is a beautiful example of a kind of grace to be treasured.

“Stories We Tell” also very much brings to mind Jeff Lemire’s Essex Countywhich eloquently uses the graphic novel  genre to ponder tricky issues of truth and memory and which, coincidentally, also involves the search for meaning after the revelation of long-held family secrets.

Official website for the film and more info is here.

“Shapeshifter” Ben Marr Shreds the Mistassibi River

Like all the exceptional videos in the “Of Souls + Water” series, this eye-opener showing Ontario-based pro-kayaker Ben Marr’s playful mastery of Quebec’s Mistassibi River features dramatic narration, artistic filming and lighting (directed by Skip Armstrong), and an excellent soundtrack (this one: “With You” by Crystal Fighters).  On a side note, with all its hydro power, I knew Quebec has its share of massive rivers but until this video I was unaware just how big.  These waves rival some of the major whitewater swells that I’ve seen on West Virginia’s New River and stretches of the Colorado River coursing through the Grand Canyon.

WireTap’s Wry Perspective on Life


Into the third month now of my trial subscription of Sirius XM radio and I’m gaining a greater appreciation for the varied programming offered on CBC Radio One.  The closest thing we have in the States is National Public Radio.   However, my sense is that a richer variety  of offerings is to be found on CBC Radio.  Not sure if that’s because of the limited funding that NPR receives here or the different traditions out of which these two public radio services developed, but there’s certainly a notable difference. Continue reading

The Glories of Hockey

While I’ve previously written about the significance of hockey to Canada, the abundance of hockey stories of late seems greater than usual and so caught my attention.  Maybe it’s because as regular season NHL play winds down, sports writers and others with commentary to share on some slice of the hockey world feel pressed to get their pieces wrapped up before the post-season dictates a more focused narrative.    Among the more interesting stories I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks is one from the March 1 edition of the NY Times on the rough-and-tumble Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey.   That Quebec-based league, which is not well known below the border, averages about 3.2 fights per game as compared to about 0.6 fights per comparatively tame NHL game.  Continue reading

Getting Sirius About Canada

A little more than a month ago, I got a trial subscription to Sirius satellite radio for my car but until the past two weeks I had not paid much attention to it.   Then I downloaded a channel guide and skimmed through the varied options and was intrigued that in addition to channels devoted to music and musicians I like, there are several channels devoted to Canadian music, news and sports.  It seems fitting that my attention would be drawn to these channels given that the first occasion I had to listen to satellite radio was in a rental car on a trip to Nova Scotia a couple of years ago.   During that initial experience with Sirius’s offerings I hopped around from channel to channel appreciating what was for me a sense of novelty, but because I did not have a list of channels I was unaware of satellite radio’s breadth.

So, here are some of the Canada-related channels I’ve been sampling of late (descriptions and Sirius channel number in parentheses):

  • Iceberg Radio (Canadian Alternative Music, Ch. 85)
  • CBC Radio 3 (Canadian Indie Music, Ch. 86)
  • Bandeapart (Radio-Canada New French Music, Ch. 87)
  • L’Oasis Francophone (French Contemporary Music from Canada, Ch. 88)
  • The Score (Uncensored Canadian Sports Talk, Ch. 98)
  • CBC Radio One (Canada News, Ch. 137)
  • Canadian Weather Network (Canada Weather, Ch. 138)

Although I need to explore each of these more, I’m already impressed at the way these channels add another dimension to my understanding and learning about Canada’s diverse culture.   I’m not certain whether I’ll keep the Sirius subscription after the trial period but if I do I’m sure that being able to tune into Canadian radio will be the balance tipper.

Cirque’s “Ovo” Opens


Last night my wife and I attended, along with a group of  ten or so with connections to Canada, the preview / dress rehearsal of Cirque du Soleil’s “Ovo,” which opens its regular shows in Atlanta today.  As with so many Cirque shows, the insect-themed “Ovo” features incredible acrobatics that are amazing to watch both for the highly practiced skill of the performers and the colorful creativity of the costumes and dance routines.  The accompanying music was high energy and Brazilian in flavor.  There were so many terrific performances that it’s difficult to choose highlights, but the standouts for me were the “loose string” balancing performance, the rock wall climbing- jumping-dancing number and, for its wonderful freakiness factor, the “slinky” creature.  While the trailer above doesn’t do the show full justice, it provides a good sneak peek.

For those that don’t already know, Cirque du Soleil, like many other mainstays of American entertainment (William Shatner, Celine Dion, Barenaked Ladies, Shania Twain, Alex Trebek, etc.), is a Canadian import.  Formed in the early 1980s in Montreal and still based there, the troupe struggled financially for more than a decade before it found stable footing.  As a testament to the perseverance of its founders and creative visionaries, Cirque du Soleil is so popular now that multiple shows can now be seen in numerous cities throughout the world at any given time.  C’est fantastique!

TIFF 2010 Wraps

The Toronto International Film Festival concluded its 35th annual convocation of film industry movers and shakers and film aficionados from across Canada  and the world this past weekend.  This year’s TIFF received glowing reviews across a wide swath of the media that covers arts, film, media and business.   Not only has TIFF thrived over its history but it has arguably become the most influential festival as far as North American film dealmaking goes, even if the perception of the general public has not yet caught on to this reality.

A particularly cool aspect about the TIFF organization is that its programming extends beyond its annual Fall exposition and encompasses programming throughout the year.  Notable in this regard are the Essential Cinema and Canada’s Top Ten showings.  Essential Cinema is a compilation of the top 100 films as selected by TIFF programmes and festival-goers, all of which TIFF is screening at its new five-story Bell Lightbox venue in downtown Toronto.  Canada’s Top Ten showcases the top ten feature and short films produced in Canada in the prior year.  Between the robust programming of TIFF and the equally stellar and extensive array of film offerings supported by the Film Board of Canada, one can only marvel at the depth and vibrancy of the film arts and industry scene in Canada.

Link to TIFF website:  http://tiff.net/

The Children of Fogo Island

I just finished watching a short documentary, The Children of Fogo Island, that consists mainly of observing children going about their daily play activities on this major island off the northern coast of Newfoundland.   Directed by Colin Low in 1967 in cooperation with the National Film Board of Canada, the film dispenses with narration in favor of a simple and melodic music track, which gives the black and white images an elegiac feel.  Aside from the nostalgia that the film evokes, there is also a sense of sadness in contemplating the tenuous hold on survival managed by the people living on this outport island.  Several years ago I had the good fortune to meet a businessman about my age in St. John’s, Newfoundland who had grown up on Fogo Island and who still held great affection for the place.  He spoke wistfully about his childhood there and how so many young people have left  due to their inability to make a living in that remote place.  This film brings me back to that conversation as well as the simpler times of a generation or so ago — which all children amazingly reinvent in their own way.

Link to video:  http://www.nfb.ca/film/children_of_fogo_island

%d bloggers like this: