Saturday, August 8, 2015

ROBIN

With a warm and radiant smile Robin Stevenson is most at home with the city as her backdrop. A Toronto-born journalist, she is doing what she loves – interviewing and telling the stories of others.

A student of history, but knowing there was little practical application for such a degree, the Western University-educated Robin eventually chose another path. A much loved career journalist for the Toronto Star, Robin's uncle, George Gamester, inspired her new direction. "He always had the most interesting job of anyone I knew. He is absolutely the inspiration for what I'm doing now," she says of "uncle George". Following her heart, she entered the Ryerson journalism programme.

Robin is currently a freelance writer and editor who, like many in print has been recently "restructured". Most recently she worked at Canadian Living magazine, was an editor at Canadian Family magazine and also an editor at Tribute magazine. "I've been in the business a long time," she says looking back over her accomplishments.

Enjoying the summer with her family, she is off momentarily to take the ferry to the Toronto islands, "This summer I'm exploring my city."

A digital journalist professionally, working to deadlines, she still loves the experience of the printed pages of magazines and newspapers. "I just love the smell of the paper when I read". She is raising her daughter with the same love of reading. Routinely they go to the library where they can actually put their name on a list to request a book, with pages, be put aside for future reading!

ROBIN FUN FACT: "I have an odd assortment of things my mom collected for me, marking the first man to walk on the moon," she says of the same historic week she also was born in 1969. " I have newspapers, magazines, glasses, medallions, odds & ends commemorating the landing". Everything is in a box at home. "I't just kind of cool," she says smiling at her charming connection with American astronaut, Neil Armstrong.

PHOTO: SPENCER WYNN



Friday, August 7, 2015

AVILA & TREY

Enjoying the waning hours of afternoon sun on the lawn at the Shops at Don Mills, friends Avila Sanchez and Trey Larmond talk about their summer, their school and their aspirations.

Avila, a Toronto native has enjoyed a busy summer of travel and relaxing thus far! With her family, she has spent time in the Muskoka region of Ontario at a sprawling resort, spent time in Ottawa visiting her grandmother and then Montreal. The summer is just half over and looking ahead she will just hang out with friends and looks forward to returning to high school in the Don Mills area.

Don Mills Collegiate offers a programme called Cyber Arts which Avila is looking forward to taking. It combines her interests in art and science. She is on the right path to what she sees as a career choice at this point, that of a scientific illustrator. The University of Toronto's biomedical illustration programme she is considering would take her to her goal along with an undergraduate degree in biology.

Trey, a thoughtful guy with watchful eyes has been enjoying his summer here in the city spending time with friends. "For the summer, I have been taking life one day at a time, just enjoying everything that I can," he says of one of the last non-working summers he'll enjoy. Also interested in art, Trey came into Don Mills enjoying animation and though he has now dropped it, he also took the cyber arts programme.

AVILA FUN FACT: Trying to come up with something interesting about herself,  "I have a bunch of lame ones for you..." she says before settling on one. "I speak three languages," Avila is proud to say. Spanish from her dad's side, English and she is fluently French because she started school in French immersion in senior kindergarten.  At home the family speaks English and about 30% Spanish.

TREY FUN FACT: "My parents are both from Jamaica though I've never been there" he says of his travels thus far. Without a real interest in visiting Jamaica, Trey says, "I'm kind of a picky eater. My parents say if they took me to Jamaica I'd probably starve!" Asked what his favourite food is, considering the wide range of Caribbean alternatives, he opts for the ubiquitous student staple, pizza! "I really enjoy a nice pepperoni pizza," he says laughing!


PHOTO: SPENCER WYNN

Thursday, August 6, 2015

PAUL

"This is a great place to watch people," Paul says as he watches from the metal chair and table in the middle of the Distillery District in Toronto's downtown east.

Born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Paul came to Ontario in 1986 for art and design at Sheridan College. As so many people have done, Paul is on a second career that he loves. He is owner and certified instructor at PB Kiteboarding ( http://pbkiteboarding.com/ ). His passion for the sport of kiteboarding and snow kiting flows when he speaks about it.

"I have people who get into it and the sport changes their lives. It makes them healthier and happier – thats the best part of it." Paul has a loyal clientele and services each client with individual care, service and instruction when needed. 

If you have ever seen people race along the water in Toronto on a board, pulled by a gracefully curved wing-shaped kite, chances are Paul has inspired them. In the winter, the sport continues as snow kiting and can be found north of Toronto, on Lake Simcoe where Paul also instructs.

PAUL FUN FACT: "I guess I can say that out of a city of 5 million people, I'm the only one who does this for a living full time," he says laughing and proud of  his past 12 years in the kiting business. "My focus is on the experience – focusing on the customer. In one case a customer's cholesterol dropped dramatically because he was getting out more and is happier and healthy."

PHOTO: SPENCER WYNN

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

ANDRES

Towards the end of a warm sunny day, Chilean wheelchair rugby player, Andres Guerra, heads back to the Pan Pam Athlete's Village after exploring the nearby Distillery District.

From his home in Santiago, the capital of Chile, Andres is over 8,600 kilometres north east here in Toronto. Arriving on August 1st, he will train and prepare for his first game on August 8th.

Andres is relatively new to competitive rugby, having only been playing for a year. The wheelchair rugby national team is three years old and they are hoping to make a big show of their skills when they compete on the 8th. This is Andres' first international competition though he trains in Argentina and Brazil. 

As we speak, two others athletes from the 58-strong Chilean national team roll by, taking this free day to explore their temporary neighbourhood. "More than 70 million people in my country," Andres says laughing of the high population of his small country compared to Canada's relative emptiness with less than half the people. "I love this country, it's beautiful. Beautiful people."

PHOTO: SPENCER WYNN

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

DANNI

Sitting in the sticky heat of a Beijing night under a few spindly tress in a trendy artist district, Danni Xi talks of dreams, aspirations and exhibits yet to launch. She is a highly regarded and talented artist based in Beijing, China. Her artistic talents have taken her beyond China to locations in the United States and Finland. 

Danni has an eclectic studio in Beijing where she works, transforming field sketches and other sources of inspiration into paintings, collages and other mixed media pieces. The studio is small but filled with music, friends and many works of art in progress.

With other artists, she meets to socialize, exchange ideas and support each other's exhibits in the various art districts in Beijing. Life in Beijing is big, bold, colourful and vibrant. Her inspirations come from the hutongs, street life and ordinary life happening in the shadows of this enormous city.


We meet at a gallery in the Caochangdi art district. This is one of Beijing's cool art districts, hosting multiple galleries and studios. The area, designed by Ai Weiwei is a maze of red brick walled alleys. Attending a friend's exhibit, we meet many artists before heading out for the afternoon with the promise of meeting up at night to meet more of China's rapidly growing avant-garde  creators.

DANNI FUN FACT: She lived in a big white house in Fayette, Iowa for several months as a guest artist at the Upper Iowa University. Not having a car, she bought a $10 bicycle and would often be seen traveling large distances along cornfield-lined roads for inspiration!


PHOTO: SPENCER WYNN

Monday, August 3, 2015

ISSAC & ZAINAB

Taking in the view ahead of what would become a pounding rain storm, Issac Ali and his wife Zainab enjoy Lions Lookout in Huntsville, Ontario, a town in the Muskoka region.

Proud Somali-Canadians, Issac and Zainab live in Oakville, Ontario, west of Toronto. Issac used to teach at Humber College and do consulting work. They have a cottage in the area and love to spend time absorbing the natural beauty in the area and nature. Hiking, swimming and pick-up games soccer with friends is what Issac enjoys.

A child welfare social worker, Zainab's smile and warmth are infectious as she speaks of the work she does in Toronto. For 19 years her family has enjoyed the Muskoka area and the relaxing pace of life in the region.

ISSAC FUN FACT: "There is nothing more fun than having a good game of soccer," he says of the way he best enjoys time with his friends and children. "Especially being brought up in Africa, it's the only sport where you didn't have to have any special gear," Zainab says with a smile.

ZAINAB FUN FACT: "I used to be part of the Rangers and Girl Guides club in Kenya, I really enjoyed that," Zainab says of the activities and outdoor experiences she had. The love of outdoors and appreciation of nature continues to today standing at the lookout overlooking Fairy Lake.

PHOTO: SPENCER WYNN

Sunday, August 2, 2015

MAESTRO

To say he is a talented musician is a narrowly defined understatement. A Canadian music pioneer and trailblazer begins to fill out the dynamic personality and motivational charisma that is Maestro Fresh Wes.

Born in Toronto, Wesley Williams, better known as Maestro is a hip hop artist, actor, producer and motivational speaker among other accolades. Maestro enjoys the revered status given to him as the Canadian Godfather of Hip Hop in Canada. Whether you are familiar with his music or not, his universally iconic hit, Let Your Backbone Slide enjoys anthem status.

Beyond his musical career, Wesley, credited as Wes Williams, plays Paul Dwyer in the current CBC television series, Mr. D., currently in its 5th season.  He has also had roles in other series such as Metropia and Blue Murder as well as roles in the films Get Rich or Die Tryin' and Four Brothers.

Yesterday he was in Bracebridge, Ontario as special MC for the Muskoka Beer Festival organized by the Griffin Gastropub. The crowd ranging from post pubescent late teens to aging boomers and grandparents all came to enjoy the range of craft beers on offer and to enjoy the live music. As MC, Maestro whipped all the fans into a frenzy with his unexpected Let Your Backbone Slide and other monster hit, Drop The Needle. One older, silver hair Lion's Club volunteer serving hotdogs had the moves down as he rhythmically rocked to the lyrics of Backbone while serving!

When not on stage, the soft-spoken Wes takes time away from the volume to be with his family. Emerging from the inflated bouncy castle, he shakes shakes head marvelling at the energy of the kids after a long day!

PHOTO: SPENCER WYNN