South Huron’s sounds of success

School bands bring home gold, two silvers, and big awards from MusicFest Canada Story and photos by Casey Lessard

They’re the best percussion ensemble in Canada, and they’re right here in our backyard. Led by music director Isaac Moore and coach Dave Robilliard, South Huron District High School’s percussionists won the Zildjian Outstanding Percussion Section Award at this year’s MusicFest Canada national competition in Ottawa May 22; graduating student Jon Gill of Grand Bend, who is attending UWO for music in the fall, won the Zildjian Outstanding Percussionist Award. Judge and seminar leader Wayne Toews called the group the best student percussion ensemble in Canada, and could challenge any group in the world. If that’s the case, says Robilliard, it’s because the students are fully committed to success. “We challenge our students in a way that other percussion ensembles I’ve seen in Canada are not challenged,” says Robilliard. “We give them – and they’ve requested – very difficult material that requires extra time and rehearsal on their time. It’s one of the best things (judge) Wayne Toews has seen in high school percussion ensembles, so in his eyes, it’s world class. It’s a very flattering statement.” The accolades came hours after performing at the nationals; the percussionists performed last and earned a gold standard, while two other groups led by Moore and fellow teacher Matt Weston – the senior concert band and senior jazz bands – performed earlier the same day, each earning the silver award. “A lot of kids in the music program are goal-oriented students,” says Moore, “and they respond well to having a goal. Whether we go to nationals or regionals, that goal is one of the things that motivate them to continue to get better. MusicFest Canada is on a different level because you have 10,000 kids from across Canada who are passionate about music. Something really special gets created when you put them together in the same place.” To compete at nationals, the bands had to earn either gold or high silver with invitation at the regional competition in London. When the nationals are held in Ottawa, South Huron finds it convenient to attend, and a great experience as well. “Ottawa is a great place to play, and the National Arts Centre is one of the best concert halls in the country, as it should be,” Moore says. “The experience of playing in that building and hearing other bands in that building, it’s incredible for them. It’s probably something a lot of them won’t have the opportunity to do again, so it’s important for me that every student experience the nationals if possible.” During the years when the competition is not in Ottawa, Moore and Weston take the music students on non-MusicFest trips, including last year’s trip to Chicago. It’s part of Moore’s mission to give a rounded music education. “A teacher I had while at university asked, are you giving your students a fantastic four-year band program, or are you giving your students a fantastic band program for four years, as in the same program for four years,” he says. “A lot of what we do is based on routine and tradition, and it called into question for me how you maintain tradition and routine, but also offer the kids a different experience over the four years they are here. It opened my mind to the different options of where kids can go and what they can learn. In the four years you’ve got, you can do a lot.” This year’s trip to the nationals was the second for Robilliard, whose father Bob was music director at South Huron for many years. After returning to Canada from graduate school in Oklahoma, Dave Robilliard joined Moore and Weston – the three studied percussion together at UWO – three years ago to lighten their load. “I am able to focus on techniques and sound concepts that Isaac and Matt can’t focus on in the large classroom or band settings,” says Robilliard, who, unlike education majors Moore and Weston, pursued performance at university. He now works with the Stratford and International Symphonies, serves as a substitute for the Kitchener and Windsor Symphonies, and performs in a percussion group called DuO. His contribution has led to great success for the students. “We received a gold standard in 2008,” he says, “which was my first year working with percussion ensemble. There was still a large number of carryover of students this year – Jon Gill, Joe Pavkeje and Jeff Penn – and we won gold again. But we don’t do it for the awards. We want to see students grow as musicians and see their confidence grow on stage.” While South Huron has a full trophy case – and that’s just from this year – Moore agrees that they’re not looking for pats on the back. “The real measure of success is how we feel about our performances when we’re done. I measure our success as a teacher how we fare when we compete at a higher level (the 2008 bronze winning senior concert band competed in a higher bracket this year and earned silver). If we were not taking the kids to an uncomfortable place, it would be an exercise in self-confidence. It makes more sense to shoot a little beyond where you might be so you can develop.” The success can be attributed to the approach of the teachers, and the commitment of the students. “It’s a lot of practice, a lot of one-on-one with your section and Mr. Moore,” says graduating student Trish Pavkeje, who performed in the concert and jazz bands. “It helps that Mr. Moore and Mr. Weston are easy to talk to. It’s easy to ask them for help.” “Everyone’s on the same level and enjoys being there with everyone else,” says Joe Pavkeje, a member of all three groups, winner of the national honour award for the jazz band, and SHDHS student of the year. “Our school isn’t segregated into athletic kids and music kids. Everyone is doing everything. It feels cohesive for that reason.” Clarinet player Stephanie Pratt agrees. “Kids from all over the school are in this, so you get a sense of diversity,” Pratt says, noting music is attractive because of the lessons you learn. “Self-discipline is important, you learn a lot of patience and togetherness.” For Stephen Mills, who has experienced bullying at school, the inclusivity makes the music room a refuge. “We have to work together to do anything in the band,” Mills says. “We all have to talk to each other, and when you have to talk to someone, you appreciate them for who they are.” And that’s exactly what Isaac Moore wants to hear. “If a student is willing to commit themselves to the educational experience, we try not to discriminate in any way. Students can find their place in the band based on their strengths and weaknesses. Without your strong players and weaker players, you can’t maintain consistency. Eventually the weak players become strong and take over the leadership roles.” Now that many members of the successful bands are graduating, Moore, Weston and Robilliard look to the future. “We take it year by year,” Robilliard says. “The younger students will now have an opportunity to succeed at a higher level than they’ve had in the past. We’re going to do a lot of different pieces in different styles, and give everyone an opportunity to learn and grow.”

Strip leads at OCNA awards

The Grand Bend Strip leads all community newspapers in Ontario with eight nominations for this year’s Ontario Community Newspaper Awards, including best overall paper (a first for the paper) and photographer of the year for Casey Lessard, a two-time runner-up for this award. The paper also recently won two national awards, first prize ad design and third for photo essay in the Canadian Community Newspapers Association Better Newspapers Competition.The top three OCNA entrants were announced March 1. The Parry Sound North Star has the second most nominations with seven. Winners will be announced at the OCNA’s annual conference in Toronto May 14. CCNA winners were announced March 15 and will receive their awards May 13 at the CCNA conference. To learn more about the Grand Bend Strip’s history of awards since its first publication in May 2007, visit

The Grand Bend Strip and publisher Casey Lessard are nominated in the following categories:

Canadian Community Newspapers Association

Best Ad Design (circulation up to 3,999) 1st place – – ad promoting website Runners-up: The Chief (Squamish, BC), Wainwright Review (Wainwright, AB)

Best Photo Essay (circulation up to 3,999) 3rd place – Five days of good, clean fun – Parkhill Five Fun Days Winner: The Provost News (Provost, AB)

Ontario Community Newspapers Association

General Excellence (best overall) Class 1 [under 2,000 circulation] Other nominees: Cobden Sun, Manotick Messenger

Photographer of the Year Casey Lessard Other nominees: Belleville EMC and Peterborough This Week

Education Writing Chicago! – SHDHS music trip Other nominees: Parry Sound Beacon Star and Richmond Hill/Thornhill Liberal

Best Photo Layout Five days of good, clean fun – Parkhill Five Fun Days Other nominees: Ajax/Pickering News Advertiser and North York Mirror

Best Feature Photo (circ under 9,999) Best Seat in the House – Dashwood soap box derby cover photo Other nominees: Aylmer Express and Bracebridge Examiner

Best Sports Photo Hockey Night in Zurich – Mark Buruma in dressing room Other nominees: Brampton Guardian and Mount Forest Confederate

Best Rural Story (circ under 9,999) Fields of Gold – Marcus Koenig, potato farmer Other nominees: Listowel Banner and New Hamburg Independent

Best Creative Advertising (circ under 9,999) – ad promoting website Other nominees: Mount Forest Confederate and Nunavut News/North

Grand Bend's School of Rock

The Band In You is building a following for bands that might hit their peak 10 or 20 years from now Photos and story by Casey Lessard

Sitting outside a basement studio in the Dalton Subdivision south of Grand Bend, four teenagers wait their turn in Ken Dinel’s domain: his professional music recording studio. Surprised by the success of his project, The Band In You music school, Dinel has had to abandon basement space to expand the studio and the lounge, which is still in the renovation stage. “I thought I might get five students and teach a little music,” Dinel says. “I didn’t expect a big turnout, but it just took off. And it took off fast. I didn’t do any advertising other than in the Strip, and the word of mouth spread. Kids started telling their friends they were in a band. My five-year-old group members are six now, and they went to Florida for a month; they drove their mom nuts telling everyone they’re in a band.” Their passion for being part of something bigger than themselves has led to performances by The Band In You students at various community events this summer, including at the Canada Day celebrations and the Relay for Life. “It’s different from what I’m used to, but a good different,” says 14-year-old Blake Percy of Grand Bend, a guitarist in the band Sweet ‘N’ Toxik. He joined the school after his mom saw the ad in this paper. “I’m learning a lot of new things. Before I would learn how to play the guitar and go home and practice for hours and hours. Here, you’re learning how to play with other people in a band. The timing is a whole different thing. It’s like comparing an individual sport like tennis to a team sport like soccer.” The band members range in age from three to 18, and there are seven bands in total. Band members come up with the names, such as Famous, Victim, and Rocket Stars. Everyone is involved in songwriting, which is the main thrust of the school. “They come in and sit down, and we start writing,” Dinel says. “We’ll rewrite together until the song’s somewhat complete, and then it’s introduced to the band. If the bands are less capable of writing, we each take a turn writing a line and then it’s edited that way. The Rocking Kids are five years old, and they all wrote me a bunch of lyrics about being rock stars and I put it together for them. With Sweet ‘N’ Toxik, Kyla came in with a semi-finished song (“Building My Time Machine”), and we tore it down and rewrote it with new elements. Then we sat down and worked on the music for it. It all came together very quickly. “From there, we go into the studio and lay down a bed track where the band performs the song together to a click track. Then we just start replacing parts one at a time. We redo it until it’s radio-worthy.” That level of professionalism and solidarity is what attracts Dinel’s students. “I thought I was the next Taylor Swift,” says Sweet ‘N’ Toxik singer Megan O’Brien, 15 of Zurich. “But then I got into the band and this is so much cooler because you get to share the hard work and pride with other people. I really want to hit it big with the band. I love sharing our music with people. When I’m listening to the radio, I’ll hear a song that makes me say, ‘I’m so glad they wrote that.’ I want to share that with people.” Sharing the music is part of the appeal for Kyla Hunt-Beach of Grand Bend, also a singer with the band. “I like being able to perform and entertain,” says the 17-year-old. “I like being able to work in a team as a band. It’s been really amazing. “The highlight is playing at concerts,” Kyla says. “The first one at the Grand Bend Public School Family Fun Day was amazing. I loved how there was a big crowd and how enthusiastic they were. I loved how they came up afterward and complimented us.” Blake Percy agrees. “It’s great seeing people come out to watch you play because I’m not used to that. Our band is good, so we get good applause and that’s a rush.” Dinel estimates the school’s show has about 200 loyal fans, so he’s looking forward to taking the bands on tour locally. Coming off well-received shows this summer, Dinel has started picking up paying gigs for his students. “The original goal of the school was to teach them how to write songs and record them,” he says. “Now that the school’s full, we’re going to develop a show. They’ll write and perform originals and covers, and each band will have its own set. “We’ve been promised radio. Next year, I want to take these kids on tour locally. Then it’s TV. They’re very young, but there’s an It factor. We’ve performed with some bigger bands, and the bigger audience seems to be when the kids are on. We don’t see kids play, so it’s a rarity. And it’s coming out of Grand Bend.” That said, the performers are still kids, so they’re not polished professionals, although there are a few prodigies. For Dinel, career longevity is the key, and that comes from accountability and desire, even if their age sometimes shows in the lyrics and sound. “There’s a lot of editing at this stage,” Dinel admits. “But they get better each time they do the process. They’ve been here six months, so imagine them in two years. Grand Bend’s going to have some serious music out of this. Victim is a very committed band; my daughter’s in that one. They’re the real deal, and in two years they’ll only be 10! “Most garage bands typically envision these ideas (touring, recording, etc.), but don’t go any further because they don’t have anyone to help them get there. I always push them to look forward. It’s more of a preparation mentality than a practice mentality.” “I had lessons before,” adds Megan O’Brien, “and you go home and play, but it’s not fun. With a band, people are depending on you. We’re looking at the bigger picture.” Mom Yvonne O’Brien is impressed. “On several occasions, our daughters have been jamming and performing with other friends who have a lot more formal or traditional training. Their experience with The Band In You’s format was very apparent, and helped produce a more confident performance.” Shannon O’Brien, 13, plays drums and is learning the bass. She agrees that the experience has helped boost her confidence in performance. “Before, friends would come over and I’d be totally lost,” she says. “Now I can play with bands and it’s a lot better.” “Ken is phenomenal,” Kyla Hunt-Beach says. “He’s really good to work with and easy to get along with. He gets you on track when you need to. It’s really fun and you don’t even realize when you’re practicing because you’re having so much fun. You get lost in the music because it’s so much fun.” Dinel believes his process helps students relax, creating a desire to come back for more. “When Kyla came in, she was conservative, safe and tense. Now, you see her in there and she’s a whole different person. “I’m trying to put together bands that really get along well. There’s no inner dating. They’re respectful to each other. For the sake of longevity, they have to share the limelight, be respectful and encouraging to each other.” That was a challenge at first for Kyla and Megan, who share the stage as singers in Sweet ‘N’ Toxik. “At first, when we didn’t know each other, we kind of competed,” Megan says. “Not too bad, but we’d almost scream trying to get over each other. Finally we said, we want to sound good, and we sound good together. We’re both equally in this, so let’s just do it. Now we hang out all the time. We’re good friends. It wasn’t like that before, but now it is.” Together they are stronger, they say, and they’re in it for the long haul. “I want our band to get big and become well known, ” Kyla says. “ To be able to travel and tour. I just hope it grows. It’s going to be hard, but that’s how you get big.” Thirteen-year-old Shannon’s prepared for the ride. “I’d like to see people know our band. That would be the coolest thing.” For Dinel, the end result is up to his students. “It’s a self-defined experience,” he says. “We have a great time, but I do have expectations. If they don’t come in prepared, it’s not cool. As a band, they all feel part of something greater than their everyday life.”

The school’s roster is full, but has a waiting list that could be drawn upon in the fall. To join the waiting list and be part of the process, contact Ken Dinel at thebandinyou (at)

Inside the House of (Tom) Love

Hard worker makes cozy nest for himself and cat by restoring century home across the street from his parents Now 23 years old, Tom Love got the idea three years ago to buy the home and acreage across from his parents after it came up for sale. After a year of hard work, with help from his parents and grandparents, he’s living a comfortable life with his cat Tye in the century home at the intersection of Highway 81 and Crediton Line. “There’s no house around here like this one,” says Tom’s dad John Love. “We knew Ila, who lived here before, and she had Alzheimer’s, so her son was taking care of the place,” Tom’s dad John Love says. “We said to him that if he ever wanted to sell it, we’d be interested. In 2006, he came along and said he was ready to sell. “It was a lot of work,” John adds. “We pretty much ripped it down to the 2x4 studs and started over. We put spray-foam insulation in the outside walls and went from there.” The restoration took a year and a lot of savings. “I’ve been pretty good with my money,” notes Tom, who has been working since he was six. “I was nine years old when I bought my first lawnmower. I sold pumpkins, cut grass, washed windows at the drive-in, worked at POG, Sobey’s and Best’s. Now, my dad and I do grass-cutting, leaf cleanup, painting. If I saved up enough, I could buy good things to make more money.” With a little bit of help from mom and dad, and a mortgage, the result is a spectacularly restored turn-of-the-century beauty.

As told to Casey Lessard Photos by Casey Lessard

This was once a village named Harpley. There used to be a post office on the northeast corner that was owned by my great-great-grandpa. There was a hotel across from the post office, and a shingle mill on this farm originally. David Hollenback started building the house in 1877, and when the supply of cedar shakes ran out, that’s when he decided to move. James B. Hodgins bought it in 1877, and it was in his family (Hodgins had three granddaughters, Nola, Beulah and the youngest Ila, who last owned the house) until I bought it. The house came up for sale in April 2006. It was a pretty good deal because we didn’t have to go through the real estate broker. It’s a good place to live and it’s right across from my parents’. I wanted it to be a nice place, a place that was good to live in. The house needed a lot of work. It needed all new electrical and insulation, and we had to put a new furnace in. The whole house had electric baseboard heating, so we tore that all out and have a gas furnace outside that also has air conditioning in it. We finished the floors and put new drywall in and painted it. We tore out the laundry room beside the kitchen. It was rough; the floor had tile on it and we needed an electric cleaner to get the glue off. We had to refinish the staircase spindles in place because if we took them apart, we figured we might not be able to get them back together again. My mom did it. There was a lot of wax on them and it was difficult for her to get it off. They are a mix of walnut and pine. I think the pine spindles were put in because the people who lived here wanted to stop the kids from getting stuck between them.

I figured since it was an old house, we should go with the antique theme. The trim we got made in Exeter to make it look like antique trim. We got an antique stained-glass window from an old hotel in St. Joseph, and made a matching one at Sunrise Windows in London. I have one grandfather clock in the living room that my grandpa made when I first moved in, and I have a wall clock for my bedroom that he made 10 years ago. The Hodgins family came to my open house last year, and they were very interested to see the place. We planted three trees to remember the girls who lived here: Ila, Nola, and Beulah.

It’s nice, and it’s convenient because my mother can do my laundry. John: Notice he doesn’t have a laundry room? It’s nice and relaxing. No one bugs me when I’m trying to watch TV. Eventually I hope to get a plasma TV to put on the wall, and I hope to build a new deck. The current one’s in rough shape. In my spare time, I enjoy cutting the grass, and going outside at night in the summer time. But I don’t have a lot of spare time. Nobody else has anything like it. Everything’s new these days. Figured I’d have something different.

Long live the king!

Grand Bend gambler Richard Webb will travel globe after winning the Canadian Poker Tour crown Richard Webb hit it big January 21 when he won the Canadian Poker Tour Invitational Finals at Ocean World Resort and Casino in the Dominican Republic. Webb was the best of Canada’s top 43 players, who were invited to the Caribbean resort to compete for the $60,000 title and a sponsorship contract worth $100,000. With the win, Webb will represent Canadian Poker Tour as the Canadian poker champion, and the company will pay his entry fee and all expenses when he competes in tournaments across Canada and around the world this year. He also gets to keep most of his winnings from any tournaments where he places “in the money”. It’s a high level of success for this 48-year old Dashwood native, who grew up playing cards and still plays poker weekly with his friends and family.

Photos and photo illustration by Casey Lessard As told to Casey Lessard

When did I start playing poker? Probably with my dad when I was a young child. He would deal hand after hand of seven-card stud, and practice and play. He was a card player, and I learned my card skills from him. As we were growing up, we played cards all the time: euchre, solo, hearts – all the card games you play as a family. Along came the charity casino days, and I played poker at those not knowing much of what I was doing. It was mainly limit poker, so there’s a fixed small blind and large blind, and there are only three or four raises. Each game would be $5 to $20 per game. We started playing out at a local establishment in Exeter on Monday and Tuesday nights, and we moved out here for a regular Tuesday night poker game (his basement has a poker room complete with a beautiful poker table, comfortable chairs, and a painting of dogs playing poker). We had been playing various types of games, but we could see that no-limit hold ‘em was where the future of poker was. In no-limit, you can raise any time. This was in the fall of 2004 after Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker, which really was the start of the explosion of the poker trend. In February 2005, I entered my first tournament, the Bluewater Championships at Point Edward charity casino, which was their first. There were about 400 people putting up $500 each. Lo and behold, I finished second. That was a good start. I took a good portion of the winnings and took a month long motorhome trip across Canada with my family. I played the Bluewater Championships again in February 2006, and won it that time. They had another one in September, and I won that, too. I think first prize was something like $50,000 each, so that set me off. I made headlines in poker magazines, and the international poker rankings mentioned it because it’s unusual to win back-to-back. In 2007, I made the money again at Bluewater, finishing 12th. Then I went to Regina, where I won a tournament. It’s not the biggest tournament in Canada, but it’s one of the best. In 2008, I came back and won the Bluewater for the third time. That gave me entry into the Canadian championships, which were put on by the Canadian Poker Tour. They decided to have a tournament for the top point getters throughout the year. In any given year, I’ve never been the top points person, but I’ve always come close. Historically, since I started, I am number one overall.

Canadian championships It was a very good field of experienced players, all of who had won tournaments or come close, and we played in Puerto Plata. It was well put together with a big reception party. I went through day one, not as the top chip player but as one of the top 12 moving into day two. By the time we got to nine players, I started to take the lead. When we made the final table, I was the chip leader. Not by a lot, but I was chip leader. I played well. I made two bad calls throughout that time where I actually got in the hand when I was behind. In one case I lost the hand, and the other I drew out on a guy from Toronto. He had an ace/nine versus my king/jack. You get two cards and you’re trying to make a five-card hand. Three cards are flipped – the “flop”. The “turn” brings another card, and then there’s the “river”. I got a jack on the flop to make a pair and that eliminated him. That was good luck. You want to get in when you’re the favourite. His hand was 55 per cent favoured to my 45 per cent because he had the ace. He had one card that was over my two, but my two were over his bottom card. He had to hit an ace to win. It worked out for me. I proceeded to knock out the rest of the field. I got down to playing heads-up with a guy named Robert Beveridge, who won two Grey Cups as a CFL player and now coaches football at the University of British Columbia. I trapped him on a hand. I had pocket queens and he had ace/seven. I was 75-80 per cent favoured to win the hand and luckily he got an ace in the flop. The very next hand I picked up pocket sevens and moved all in against his ace/queen. A seven on the flop gave me three of a kind and I won the tournament. With the $60,000 prize, I get a $100,000 contract to go around the world and play poker. I give them 20 per cent of what I win and I give 10 per cent to charity in the city where I win. If it’s an international win, I’ll donate it in Grand Bend, Dashwood or Calgary, where the Canadian Poker Tour is based. I’ve worked my schedule so I can still run my business (Stewart Webb & Sons septic systems, which he runs with his brother), and have already started touring. I went to Los Angeles for the LA Poker Classic, which is one of the premier events. The winner takes $1.7 million, and I played well, but didn’t make it into the top 63 to get into the money. I jumped on a plane a couple days later to Calgary and finished 38th, which was in the money, and came home. I’m going to Regina this month; to Sanremo, Italy in April, to play in the European Poker Tour event there; Calgary for the Canadian Open; Las Vegas for the World Series; Barcelona, Spain; hopefully the North American championships in Niagara; and a whole bunch of tournaments across Canada to represent the tour coast-to-coast. For the World Series of Poker, there will be 7,000 players putting up $10,000 each, so first prize is about $9 million. Last year there were two Canadians at the final table.

Keeping everything in perspective Cards are a hobby for me. You see the glamour and glitz on TV, but there’s so much more that goes into it that it isn’t something I would want to have to depend on for rent payments at the end of the month. It would certainly subsidize my income if I decided to retire, but the pressure wouldn’t be there to perform. I’ve been fortunate. But if I never won another tournament again, I’d be quite satisfied with what I’ve achieved. That said, the Canadian Poker Tour wants me to win. Next year they’re planning to do the same thing but offer contracts to all of the players that make the final table. If I walk into a poker room anywhere in Canada, they know who I am because of the previous years. I play as hard as I can, but it’s always about the W for me. I don’t look at the money – I look for the win. That might help me be more relaxed at the end, and I think that’s one of my strengths. Plus I have a lot of final table experience. I wear sunglasses and a hat, and I’m listening to music a lot of the time. I try to establish how good someone’s hand is, and if I’m right 60 per cent of the time, I’m doing well. The more hands you see, the better. In no-limit poker, there’s raising (the stakes) and folding (your hand); no calling. Calling will just get you into trouble unless you’re trying to trap somebody. A good fold is as good as a good call. Maybe better. You’ve got to be able to fold when you’re beat. If you don’t, you’re going to be out of the tournament in a hurry. It doesn’t matter if it’s for $10 or $10,000; it’s still about winning. I still like to play. Cards are a social sport. At tournaments, you’re sitting at tables for 10-12 hours, so I want to be able to talk to the person next to me. If you’re likable, maybe people don’t try to knock you out as hard. I always shake hands and say goodbye to everyone. I’m definitely living the dream. It’s always nice to take Jackie and Sarah with me to places where it’s nice and warm, or places they want to see. Jackie will be going with me to Italy, and hopefully Jackie and Sarah will go with me to Barcelona. When I’m there playing, I don’t do anything other than play, but if I take an extra week, we can enjoy the places together. The money I’ve won has been used for things for my family and extended family, so it goes to good use and isn’t wasted. We still play every Tuesday night with the boys, and they beat me all the time. I play with my father every Tuesday and he beats me quite regularly. I like the ability to play with my dad. I’ve taken him to some tournaments; he sees the success I’ve had, and he’s proud of that. If I win $50,000 Sunday night, I still go to work Monday morning. If I were given a long-term contract to represent an organization, I probably would take it. I like the ability to get out there and meet people. If they want me to do charity events, I’m happy to do it. If I have interviews to do, I’m happy to do that. If I win one of the big tournaments this year, it’s not going to change the way I am and I’ll probably still come to work the next day. Well, maybe I’d take a couple days off before coming back.

To see Richard Webb win the Canadian Poker Tour Invitational Finals, you can watch The Score in April. Air dates and times are not yet set, but will be listed at

Our boy almost played in the big league

The ultimate benchwarmer, Brett Leonhardt of Grand Bend lived a dream and almost became tallest NHL goalie The son of “Hardt of Huron” bed and breakfast owners Brian and Karen Leonhardt, Brett Leonhardt moved to the United States after receiving a hockey scholarship at NCAA Division III SUNY Oswego in upstate New York, where he majored in communications and media arts. His background made him the perfect candidate when the Washington Capitals made a push to improve their web presence last season. Now living in Washington, DC with his girlfriend Logan Kapinus, Brett Leonhardt made international headlines December 12 when his job put him in the right place at the right time.

As told to Casey Lessard

My parents got me into Learn to Skate when I was four years old, and I started playing tyke hockey when I was five. At six or seven I started liking goaltending. My older brother was a goaltender so it was natural for me to want to do it and I never looked back. I was invited to Kitchener Rangers camp, and I was there two or three weeks and it was down to three goalies. I played in an exhibition game, and that year they had two goalies that were drafted higher than me, so I just went down and played Junior ‘B’ in Cambridge and kept my college eligibility. Getting a scholarship was a goal of mine. I did well in high school and was definitely going to university afterward. I applied to Laurier, Waterloo, and U of T, but if I didn’t get a scholarship I was definitely going to go to university in Canada. I got a scholarship to SUNY Oswego, and after two years transferred to Neumann College near Philadelphia, about two hours from Washington. My girlfriend graduated the year before I did and took a job in D.C., so when I graduated, I looked for a job here in Washington. I called the Capitals, and from what I did in college and my résumé, the perfect job opened up. I went for two interviews and got the job.

Dream job There are two things I love doing. One is video and film, and the other is hockey. Not only at college, but after graduation, to be able to have the job I have is a dream come true. A lot of people forget that there a lot of people behind the scenes that keep everything going in the office other than what’s on the ice. You take away the fact that there is a pro hockey team playing, and it’s run just like any corporation. There are so many different departments: sales, marketing, and communications, which is on the rise right now. I do most of the video on the website and that’s something the NHL started last season. That was when my job opened up. Our owner was one of the founders of AOL (America Online), and everyone tells us that we have the best website in the league. We track our views and people are starting to rely on us for our video work. Whenever there’s an event, I cover it with video; our team writer is my boss and I try to include him as a personality in my videos so he is with us in this transition from the written word to video.

Special qualifications When I got the job, the sports information director at Oswego knew a guy named Nate, the director of media relations here. They went to school together and Nate told him that he had a guy from Oswego who had just gotten a job here. “What’s his name?” “Brett Leonhardt.” “Oh, he’s a good kid, a good goalie.” Nate was talking to our goalie coach and told him that a college goalie had just got a job if he ever needed anyone for practice, but he was just joking around. That’s when Olaf Kolzig, who was our goalie last year, started taking morning skates off; he was older and felt more energized when he didn’t skate the morning of a game. So last year, the goalie coach came up to me and asked if I wanted to go home and get my gear to practice with the team. I was floored. It happened once every few weeks and rolled into this season. It was crazy (facing NHL players). It was a huge jump. They shoot so hard and so accurate. The skating and shooting, everything is so fast. Everyone is so big and so good. You naturally just find a way to play better, so I started making saves and did what I knew what to do, and started to fit right in.

The fateful week Brent Johnson was a little sore after a game, and our coach was asked in a post-game press conference, “Johnson looked a little sore; what are you going to do?” He was like, “I’ll give him the day off. Our practice goalie is right beside you,” and they all looked at me and had a chuckle. That was Wednesday night. Friday morning, the goalie coach called me in my cubicle and said our other goalie, Jose Theodore had been nursing an injury, and that I should come down and take some shots. I knew something was up but they wouldn’t tell me. I ran down, and they still had my equipment from the day before, so I suited up two practices in a row. I showered and went back to work, editing the video of what the coach had to say at practice. The general manager, George McPhee, came up and put his arm around me and told me they were calling up a goalie, Simeon Varlamov. “Theodore cannot dress and cannot play, and the backup might not get here in time. Make sure your equipment’s ready because you might have to dress.” I had to sign a one-day emergency tryout contract and fax it to the league. At 3:30 they called to tell me that Varlamov couldn’t get here until just after 7:00 and I would have to be on the bench for warmup and for maybe the whole first period.

No. 80 When they have rookie camp every year, they make a jersey for everyone there. On the depth chart of the team, I guess I was the 80th guy, so they made me number 80. When I got there at 5 o’clock, I went back into the trainer’s room to get some socks because I only had dress socks on, and I there was the trainer sewing the letters into the back of my jersey. That was pretty cool. Warmup was the thing I was most nervous about. People are watching to see if you’ll make saves, and you’re skating around seeing Spezza and Alfredsson across the red line. I just did my thing from college, recreating my routine like where I stretch on the ice. I just tried to stop everything and look like I belonged. It was pretty cool. It’s so bright out there and to have an NHL jersey with your name on the back is pretty incredible. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.

Game time I had a pretty good warmup and coming back out to the bench, it was dark with no lights on. The fans were going nuts. Sitting there on the bench, it just felt like college again. You hear the guys talking, like “I need tape; my skates aren’t sharp.” The coaches saying, “Come on, let’s go.” I was on the bench when we scored a goal so the guys came down the bench giving high fives and they treated me like I was one of them. I later found out that Ottawa knew what was going on because we had three goalies on the lineup when you’re only allowed two. I wasn’t too sure how they were going to take it. Johnson would make a crazy save from outside, and Alfreddson would come in way after the whistle and bump into him. It started a couple of scrimmages and there were two goaltending interference calls. People were trying to say that it was something to do with me, but I just think there was some bad blood between the teams from previous games. During warmup, no one looked at me or stared at me; they just acted as if it was business as usual. People asked me if I was nervous when that was happening, and I can’t lie; I definitely was. I knew Johnson was sore earlier in the week, but he looked good in warmup. At around the 10:00 mark, Simeon Varlamov arrived; it was the first NHL game that he dressed for, too, and he was a first round draft pick. He walked down the tunnel and the trainer hit me and we just switched positions. I was a bit relieved because these guys are professional athletes and I’d been out of the game for more than a year. I’m not saying that I didn’t deserve to be there or belong there, but it was definitely right to see an NHL player replace me.

Post-game The local cable network always does one interview during the break, so when I came back into the room, they grabbed me and did an interview there. The VP of communications said to me, “You’re not going to believe this, but you’re the top story on ESPN, TSN, and SportsNet, so be ready when your equipment is off.” I got showered and put my suit on. Usually I do a lot of pre-game and post-game videos, but during the game I sit in the press box and watch so I know what to ask after the game. I went to the press box and our media relations officer said, “Everyone wants to talk to you. Let’s do one big scrum.” I did a quick interview with our radio guy and did the scrum. It was pretty crazy. Everyone had the story: our local NBC, Fox, and I even saw it on ESPN and CNN Headline News the next day. (Sports Illustrated later ran a brief on his appearance.) I never thought it would be this big.

Perfect storm We always joked that for this to ever happen, we’d have to have the perfect storm. A guy would have to get hurt the day of the game, and both of our farm teams, Hershey and South Carolina, would have to be in the middle of nowhere on the road in a small market. We always joked that someday it might happen. My parents are just floored. My dad was pretty happy when he found out that I got to practice with the team, so he couldn’t believe it. They were speechless. That’s the first time in my life I’ve seen them like that. I got all these emails and letters mailed into the office, like “You’re my hero,” and “You give regular guys a chance.” Around the rink I’ve seen three or four of my jerseys on people I don’t even know. I made sure my family all got one for Christmas for sure.

I love being around the sport every day. No one likes getting up Monday morning and going to work. It’s my dream job. I wouldn’t change it for anything. No matter how many days in a row you work or how many nights you’re out late after a game working, the next day it’s right back to hockey. I can look out of my office, and there’s Alex Ovechkin skating on the ice. I just love that I’m doing something that I’ve been passionate about since I’ve was so young.

Grand Bend holds a special place in Leonhardt’s heart. Growing up, the family spent summers here, and now that the Leonhardts are based in St. Joseph, Brett visits when he comes home. “I still have my membership at the Grand Bend Fitness Centre and I’d always work out there. Every time I come home, it’s Tim Horton’s, the gym and Sea Jewels. Our whole apartment in D.C. is decked out in Sea Jewels stuff.” He says he and Logan would like to move back to the area when they retire.

Hockey Night in Zurich

Draft makes beer league thrive “112 leagues below the NHL” Story and Photos by Casey Lessard

It doesn’t draw the crowds like Toronto or Detroit, but the Zurich Recreational Hockey League, or ZRHL, certainly draws the players. “We have a waiting list of sometimes 20 players waiting to get in,” says convener Jason Schilbe. “We have guys coming from London, Clinton, St. Marys, Exeter.” The league draws them in because they know they have a chance to win in any given year. Unique to beer leagues in the area, the ZRHL operates a draft every year where two captains from each of eight teams pick players from the pool. No two years are identical, and that keeps everyone on their toes. “The draft means you’re with different guys every year,” says Jamie Rader of Zurich. “Any team can win on a given night. Seems to work well.” The draft has helped Zurich’s league stay alive while others have faltered. “A couple leagues in Exeter tried it where you picked your own team,” Schilbe says. “The same team won every year so it faded out. This league has been around for 52 years, I think.” The league started after the junior team left town, leaving young men with nowhere to play. It started out with two teams and now has eight. “The idea is to pick a goalie first,” he says, explaining how to succeed as a captain. “If you have a good goalie, you’re all set, so usually the goalies go first.” One other twist was introduced a couple of years ago when the NHL did the same: shootouts to resolve ties. “You always have a winner,” Schilbe says. “When the NHL went to it, everyone saw it and liked the idea.” Varna’s Mark Buruma is impressed with his experience. This is his second year playing in ZRHL. “It’s probably the most organized rec league around,” he says. “It’s all about the beer. This is a beer league.” Brent Durand of Zurich concurs. “I’m a lifer. Love of the game and playing with friends. Plus the arena’s beside the beer store.” Then there’s the allure of winning it all in the league self-described as 112 leagues below the NHL. “I actually scored the overtime goal to clinch the championship one year,” says Bryan Denomme of Exeter. “We went undefeated that season.” Nevin Hodgins, a five-year veteran, hasn’t been so lucky. “I haven’t. This could be the year. It would be the dream of a lifetime.” Playoffs start this week with the Devils and Bruins leading their respective divisions. “Playoffs are best of five, so each team is guaranteed two rounds,” Schilbe says. “The season runs 17 regular season games, and up to 15 playoff games. It’s a long season.” Almost as long as the NHL’s.

For game times or more information, visit

“It all happened so fast”

How a day at the beach changed Reagen Robinson’s life Exeter toddler Reagen Robinson’s life will never be the same after an outing to a private beach near Grand Bend in August. Soon after arriving at the beach with his parents Brad and Katrina and brother Jordon, Reagen ran toward an extinguished, but still hot, firepit and suffered third degree burns to his hands and second degree burns to parts of his legs.

As told to Casey Lessard

Katrina Robinson: We’re lake people. It’s nice to live next door to one of the most beautiful places in the world, and we take advantage of it. We have two small kids and two dogs who enjoy to swim. We’re beachgoers. It’s a fun, inexpensive day to have family time. It was a Friday afternoon, and after Brad finished work we decided to go to the beach. We were at a private beach. We had just sat down and I noticed he went toward the fire pit and I literally just about had him. I couldn’t catch him fast enough. He fell into a fire pit full of ashes that were still fairly warm. I picked him up and threw him in the water with me. I didn’t know what else to do. Brad came down and took one look at him and said we had to go to the hospital. It all happened so fast. It seemed like we got there one minute, and the next we were driving back down the road with a screaming baby. Shock took over. Usually I’m a very queasy person, but for some reason I was the pillar of strength. I carried him into Exeter hospital and they took him from me so I could give them information. I went back and all you could see was his skin was charred. It was all grey. I don’t know how else to describe it because I try not to think about it; it’s so horrific. I remember having to stand in the hospital room and hold cold cloths of saline solution over top of him. They explained what they were going to do and gave him a drug called ketamine to knock him out. Before I knew it, he was being taken to Victoria Hospital. We dropped Jordon off at Brad’s parents’ house in Ailsa Craig, and it felt like forever to get from Ailsa Craig to London. We got lost and finally found where we were supposed to be. I don’t think the severity of it sunk in until the next morning, Saturday. Having been brought up to speed by his team, the plastic surgeon came in and had a look and said flat out that Reagen had to have skin grafting. He said he would wait until his normal surgery days, which were Wednesday and Thursday, but then he came back and changed his mind. He said if it was okay with us, he would do it the next day, Sunday. On his first surgery, they skin-grafted up his forearms, the back of his hands and the fronts of his fingers. They placed pins in his fingers to keep them straight so he didn’t move any of the skin grafting. It takes between three and seven days for the skin grafts to be fully attached. Originally they thought they would have to skin graft his palms, a spot on his knees and a spot on his toe. But after two hours, the surgeon came to us and was excited, saying he didn’t think his knee or his palms needed the surgery. We were in the hospital for four weeks. They were shocked at how fast he healed, and Dr. Scilley was calling him his Superhealer. They were pleased enough to let us go home, but reminded us that we would have to have home care come in every day because he had sores that would need dressings. We went home with some dressing instructions and we were to wrap Cobans (a type of compression bandage) to add some tension into form before we got into gloves. We were home doing that for about a week before we had to go see Dr. Scilley. The Coban, because it wasn’t wrapped properly, started to cut into the bases of the fingers and added new wounds. Unfortunately, because of the way the health system works, no one from the hospital could come out and teach our home care workers how to use them properly, and you have to be a pro at it for it to work properly. The physical therapist, surgeon and a couple of nurses went to a conference in Montreal, and discovered gloves that had some tension in them with silver to help the healing. These were eventually replaced by the full pressure gloves he uses now. His left hand was burned worse than his right hand; he has about 95 per cent use of his right hand, and we’ve had issues with his left hand. His web spaces grew in a bit and the gloves are cutting into the web space. We’re trying to get it to heal, but you need pressure on it to keep it functional. It’s just getting better now. The body is still trying to repair its own skin because it doesn’t understand skin grafting. The blood vessels are still up at the surface, so if he were to pick his finger, it would bleed like crazy. The gloves help put pressure on his blood vessels and add form to his fingers. His fingers will never look like yours and mine, but he’ll be able to bend them. With the home care workers, I hold on to him and we go through six exercises to bend his joints and stretch the skin to its maximum potential. Even in a 24-hour period, you can have a lot of contraction, so you have to manipulate it while it’s still not completely healed.

Inflicting pain daily They’re hopeful that he will have full mobility. With his left hand, he doesn’t do a whole lot because it’s still sore. He favours his right hand, and we hope the mobility’s there in his left hand, but he can’t talk so we don’t know. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s not an easy thing to watch a child go through pain. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t have to assist in inflicting pain on him. I honestly thought when they first taught me how to do the exercises in the hospital that it would get easier. It doesn’t. In fact, it gets worse because it’s been four or five months continuous. When you have a burn, you have a burn for life. He will require surgeries until he is fully grown because his fingers and arms will grow but his skin won’t grow with them. It has its downfalls for being as young as he was, but it has its upside, too. He’ll never remember what happened, and he’ll never know any different. He’ll just have to adapt. It’s life. You can’t go back and it’s never going to get any worse than it was that day. We just have to teach him that everyone is different, and you can do anything you want as long as you set your mind to it.

A November fundraiser in Parkhill raised almost $20,000 to offset the medical costs. Reagen needs gloves, which are covered 75 per cent by OHIP every six months, but the family has to pay for any additional gloves in the interim. Medical supplies and other expenses, such as parking for regular visits to the hospital, also come out of their pocket. Donations are still being accepted. Cheques made out to the “Parkhill Lions Club in trust to Reagen Robinson” can be sent to the club at P.O. Box 207 Parkhill, ON N0M 2K0. Tax receipts will be issued.


Grand Bend playwright Paul Ciufo nominated for Governor-General’s literary award for Reverend Jonah Born in Toronto, raised in Guelph and Mississauga, Paul Ciufo has called Grand Bend home for more than two decades. His first professional play, Reverend Jonah, was recently nominated for the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Drama. “It was probably the most pleasant surprise of my life,” says Blyth Festival artistic director Eric Coates of his response to Ciufo’s news. Blyth developed Ciufo’s and produced the play for the festival’s 2007 season. “It was one of the most gratifying moments in my career as someone who develops and produces new Canadian work.” Blyth scripts have been nominated for Governor-General’s awards twice over the years; both plays, The Drawer Boy and Quiet in the Land, won the award. “Competition is stiff,” Coates says. “Paul’s work stood out among the best new plays in the country. “This play really forced people to take a look at faith, tolerance and inclusion, and they responded very well to it.”

As told to Casey Lessard

Reverend Jonah is inspired by a couple of ministers, primarily a minister I know who got into conflict with the powerful families in the church where he was a minister, and there was a real clash, and it was quite devastating to him health-wise. It was quite poisonous for the church; quite a few members of the congregation stopped going over this because they disagreed with the antagonism toward the minister. I got incensed about that. This is a church, a place of love and support amongst its membership. I felt angry and sad that even that kind of human institution can be so flawed, that people can be seeking power there. I also had a relative who was a minister and it was quite taxing on him. He struggled with addiction issues and died at a young age. These are the starting points. I went to Blyth Festival and presented my idea for the play, and they said they liked it and would commission me. ‘We will work with you and we’ll get the first opportunity to produce the play when it’s done.’ That was a long process because it took me a long time to get this play right. When I started, what caused the conflict in the fictional church was much less controversial and smaller than what ultimately is the cause of the conflict in the church. The people at Blyth Festival were the ones who said, ‘Choose a bigger issue. It’s not realistic and it’s not incendiary enough.’ So I thought, why not choose the biggest issue facing churches right now, which is acceptance of gay and lesbian people. I’m really glad I did. This wasn’t the only thing I was working on for those years. I’d take a run at it and take it to Blyth, and they’d say, ‘It’s getting better, but it’s still not ready.’ We did readings of it with actors, and they did that several times. This process started in 1999, and it wasn’t until 2006 that Blyth said, ‘Yes, we’re going to go ahead with this.’ And in summer 2007, it finally made its way to the stage.

One thing I learned along the way was the process of a theatre company commissioning a writer. I always envisioned just sort of going off and doing your thing and then making the approach. I didn’t realize that you could go to a theatre company and say, ‘I’ve got an idea. Here’s an outline of the plot and the characters,’ and have them jump aboard with you in the process. I didn’t realize it would take so long. I almost totally lost faith in the project several times and gave up on it. The fact that it finally occurred was somewhat surprising. I got to a point where I thought, I just can’t get it to be good enough to be worthy of being on stage. But something about that story got me to give it another try. It finally paid off. The monetary payment is a very modest amount, and it’s in several installments. It’s not a lot of money (for seven years work). Do you want to do the hourly rate (laughs)? Knowing that someone is waiting to read your draft gives you extra motivation to get done, apart from your own satisfaction. Of course there’s always the chance that they might say, ‘It’s ready to be produced.’ That didn’t happen until the summer/fall of 2006.

My emotions would ebb and flow. I would be out for a run in the Pinery and suddenly think about the play and say, That’s how I solve that problem. I’d come home and spend all weekend working on that. I’d get excited and that process of working on problems, deleting some characters, adding some subplot would lead to a new draft. I’d take it to Blyth and wait expectantly. In the early days, the artistic director was Anne Chislett, and she has won a Governor-General’s award for her play Quiet in the Land. She would say, you’re on to something, but you just need to keep working on it. To show you how long it took, there’s a new artistic director there. Fortunately, Eric Coates, who took over, also saw the value and potential in the play and kept encouraging me. When they say there’s something here, but it’s still lacking, it’s like you’ve completed a marathon and there’s another one in front of you because you put your best into that draft and it wasn’t good enough. Sometimes that meant putting it away and working on something else. For example, I did a radio play for CBC in 2002. Or I got a new idea for a play and would work on that. But I always circled back to Reverend Jonah and tried to get it right. It was this flow of hope followed by despair, followed by hope, followed by despair. There was a further complicating factor, and I’ll never know how big of a factor it was. I believe Blyth Festival saw it as a risk to put the play on because they have a core audience that may be deeply offended by a play with sensitive religious issues. The play had to be bang on artistically, but there was always the question of what the impact would be. Would sponsors stop supporting the festival? Eric Coates had a public reading of the play in the summer of 2006, and that may have been as much to road test it from an artistic merit standpoint as from a community reaction standpoint. The feedback was incredibly positive. The ministers at that reading stood up and said, ‘Paul, you got that right. That’s what ministers go through.’ Or, ‘Thank you for tackling this issue.’ Or, ‘This isn’t a play about one issue; it’s about community and acceptance.’ A lot of people connected to it in all sorts of ways.

I’m also a rookie. I’ve only written one stage play before this called On Convoy. That got a tremendous non-professional production at the Livery Theatre in Goderich, and was produced as a radio play for CBC. But this was my first professionally produced stage play, so I had a lot to learn. I learned some things doing that CBC production working with very knowledgeable people there, such as executive producer James Roy and script editor Dave Carley. They really helped me understand parts of the craft, like how to structure a scene, how conflict works to drive a scene forward; basic things that are essential. I learned that writing is not just a talent. It’s a skill you have to hone and hone and hone. (When Blyth said it was ready,) first of all I felt joy. Yes! It’s going to see the light of day. It’s actually going to reach people and be seen. I was really excited and I essentially had the goal of having a play produced by Blyth for about a decade, so it was a realization of a long-term goal. I was very excited and very happy. Then there’s the buildup as the season was approaching. Then there was, surprisingly to me, a lot of work to be done on the script over the winter and spring. I was asked to be at the first week of rehearsals. I thought there would be some tweaking as the actors were rehearsing, but major rewriting happened that week. I’d wake up in the morning and email the new script to the actors and the process would start again. What you’ve written on the page, when it’s a play, doesn’t tell the whole story. Actors move around, insights emerge into what’s working and what’s not. The major realization was that with one of the characters, I hadn’t done a very good job with her. The actress bravely said, ‘I don’t know who this character is; she’s just angry all the time.’ I was taken aback, but then I realized it was true and I had known all along that was true. I tried in the course of a very short time to flesh out that character. That has impacts on everything else when you’re adding a character and scenes. She is the life partner of arguably the most important character in the play. Bottom line, I learned a lot that week about the process. It was very intense. They rehearse for several more weeks and opening night arrives. To my surprise, I wasn’t very nervous. I knew they were going to do a good job. I will never forget that night because I just sat and watched these incredible performers totally nail it. The audience was so receptive. They were laughing at the funny parts and very moved at the poignant parts. There was so much energy in that. I was sitting among my family and friends and I got to watch their reactions. It was odd because I knew where every line was coming from. Two of the characters are based on my in-laws, so when Fred sings in the shower, I’m laughing, and the character based on my mother-in-law says ‘I can’t get him to sing a note in church.’ And she actually said that. It was really neat to watch it and be there in the moment while thinking of the background leading up to it. Paula Citron, a reviewer from Toronto, wrote the review every playwright hopes for when she said, ‘The play was beautifully written.’ That’s a wonderful thing because so often theatre reviews focus on the performance.

I started sending the play out to other theatres, and nothing. I was told, ‘The cast is too big.’ A year goes by and there are no other productions. I had been hoping that since it was such a success that it would go on. I got contacted by Scirocco Drama publishing house that wanted to publish it. A play is in its most fully realized form on stage, so you don’t often think of plays in books except for Shakespeare. But plays are often published, and that’s how they are studied in classrooms and that’s how theatre people get access to them and get inspired to put them on stage. It was really exciting because since the age of seven, I dreamt of having a book published. My first book idea was a mystery novel in the Hardy Boys style called the Mystery of Shadow Ranch. I had never thought that it would be a play that would get published. I also thought it would be a real struggle to find a publisher. You hear all these stories of authors who get 49 rejections, but here was a publisher who sought me out, so that was great.

I knew theoretically (because only published plays may be nominated) that it could be nominated for the Governor-General’s award, but I had no expectations of that. The publication date was September 30, and I just got a phone call the other Tuesday (Oct. 21). The woman said, ‘I’m calling on behalf of the Canadian Arts Council,’ so my wheels started turning and I wondered why they would be calling, and ‘I’m calling to inform you that you have been nominated in the drama category…’ and I’m thinking, Oh my God, it’s the Governor-General’s awards, which it was. It was quite a moment. I was really moved. I was at a business conference in Toronto, so it was a voicemail message I was listening to, and I was immediately a mess. All my writing life flashed through my mind. I saw myself as a kid working on that novel, as a very nerdy high school guy working on a spy novel in high school, and studying literature in university. Whether you paint or write, artistically it’s completely subjective. It’s tough to know whether what you do is good. There are always varying opinions on it. I tend to suspect the negative opinions are right. When something like this happens, a national award, it’s tough to dismiss that. Perhaps now it will be considered for more productions, so that’s positive. For new work in the future, it will be easier to have people consider it. Blyth has commissioned me to write a play called The Five Day Whiteout. It’s a thriller/murder mystery. The plot is that four people traveling separately by car are blinded by a whiteout and stranded on the side of a country road. A retired schoolteacher brings these five people into his house, and there’s a killer in their midst.

My family is really excited for me. Julie is really happy for me and it’s her success, too, because she has to make sacrifices when I’m writing. I get the sense that she also thinks the sacrifices are worthwhile.

Paul Ciufo will find out November 18 whether he has won the Governor-General’s award. The winner will attend a December ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa hosted by Governor-General Michaëlle Jean. The awards are Canada’s oldest and one of its most prestigious literature awards.

The secret of their success

Chamber’s top entrepreneur and business agree: it’s about customer service and quality 2008 Entrepreneur of the Year Shannon Ryan The Garden Gate Gifts & Florals 15 Ontario St. S., beside New Orleans Pizza Opened March 2007

“I think people wish Grand Bend were a more intimate town like Bayfield,” Ryan says. “I wish there were more stores like this that would draw a different age group than already comes here faithfully every summer.”

Challenges: “Renovating the store was a huge challenge. So was trying to source the products that I wanted and trying to figure out what customers wanted before I got here.

What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? “We definitely strive for the best customer service possible, and the best quality product. Listen to your customers, and if they come in and say so-and-so has this product for this amount, try to source it for that price. It’s also important to be able to have an appreciation for your staff so they’ll give the same customer service when you’re not there.”

About winning the award: “After they called my name, I said to the president, Are you sure? I was so nervous I couldn’t say anything. I’ve been dreaming of what I would have said, and I would have thanked my staff because I couldn’t do it without them. “It’s just been such an exciting adventure, from finding the building and painting, to finding staff and learning how to use the till. “I’d like to say thank you to the people who nominated me, to my girls, and to my family and husband who gave me that little kick that I needed to finally get out and do it. “I wish I had done this earlier.”

2008 Business of the Year Grandpa Jimmy’s Scottish Bakery Bob & Ruth Hosford 36 Ontario St. N. since May 2008, previously at Dale’s Antique Market on Hwy. 21 S.

What does it take to succeed in Grand Bend? Bob: “Customer service and quality are both on the same level. Be nice to people and helpful, and get to know your customers.” Ruth: “Uniqueness. We have something no one else has. We appeal to the Scottish/Irish community, but we find a lot of Canadians trying our product and really liking it.”

About winning the award: Ruth: “We were told one day by Carol MacDougall that we had been nominated and that in itself was a huge surprise, and we were floored, really, because this is what we do. “This is our work, this is our business. We weren’t expecting any honours for it. We were totally overwhelmed. We didn’t realize we had so much support behind us.”

You've gotta have Faith

Story and Photos by Casey Lessard It was a leap of faith, but a former Hollywood actor, a New York musician and a London (Ontario) camerawoman converged on an Ipperwash trailer park this summer in hopes of creating a music video that will also showcase the park to the nation and the world. Stephen Shellenberger, whose art is regularly shown at group shows at Bliss Studio in Port Franks, left Hollywood several years ago and directs the video for “Faith” by Joseph Arthur, a folk-rock musician based in Brooklyn. They teamed up with a friend of Shellenberger who owns London’s video production studio CIVA Communications, and who provided the team with Sylvana Liebregts, who shot and edited the video. It should hit MuchMusic this month if accepted by the music network, and there’s word it will air in the United States and France. “I’ve done some music videos in the past,” Liebregts said, “so I was thrilled when I was asked to do it. I’m crazy about music, so to be able to do this and combine my passion for filmmaking with music is incredible. Joseph’s a really nice guy and talented so it was an easy job to take.” Arthur has enjoyed moderate success in the U.S., with one of his songs featured on an EP as a tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The song was recorded and remixed six times on the EP by such artists as Peter Gabriel (who signed Arthur to his Real World label), Chris Martin of Coldplay, Justin Timberlake, and by Arthur himself in a duet with Michael Stipe of REM. “I kept telling Stephen about Joseph,” said Arthur’s manager Peter Wark, whose office is down the street from Shellenberger’s Montreal home, “and he came out to see him play solo at the Montreal Jazz Festival. We gave him the record and Joseph said we should do a video. Stephen started calling me and he brought a lot of energy to the process. He had the idea from day one to do it at this trailer park.” “It’s amazing,” Arthur, born 36 years ago in Akron, Ohio, said of the area. “It’s a beautiful lake and I like this trailer park because I like the characters and the people here. It was Stephen’s idea to come here. It’s a song about faith, and I just trusted his instinct and I feel like it’s something interesting we’re making here.” Shellenberger lives part-time at the Huron Shores Trailer Park. He recruited some locals, including his neighbours and Miss Kettle Point, to perform in the video, which was filmed over several days at the park and at Ipperwash beach. “I’ve never shot a rock video before,” Shellenberger said, “and I love Joseph’s song and I though if we’re going to do it, let’s do it at my trailer park.” Shellenberger turned to art while acting in Hollywood, with roles in 30 films including A River Runs Through It with Brad Pitt, directed by Robert Redford. “I was always painting along the way,” he said, “and then I went through a rocky breakup and my kids were taken to France and I started painting more and more. If you’re an artist, you will do whatever is necessary to create. Arthur hyper-focuses and puts out three albums a year. It’s a compulsion to do it.” Arthur’s album Temporary People will be his first full-length album for 2008, following four EP-length albums released in March, April, June and July. “When you’re really productive, you flood the market with your psyche,” Arthur said. “The Internet is a digital manifestation of humanity’s subconscious and it’s limitless. You can do as much or as little as you want. You could put out a record every five years or blog like crazy every day.” Arthur is a busy man, not only touring and producing music, but also running a New York art gallery, which is shutting down this month because of problems with the landlord (according to He sets off for a tour of France and North America October 6. “Joseph does well, but he’s still struggling to get to the next place. I think everyone is,” his manager Wark said. “Success for artists is getting to the point where you can do your art and you don’t have to work a day job. Then you aim for the sky and hope you play for thousands and thousands of fans every night.” Canadian fans should get at least one glimpse of Arthur when his video hits the air on MuchMusic; he recorded an interview that is expected to air when the video makes its Canadian debut. The album hits stores September 30. “Our aim is to do something more with this and see if we can expand on the idea of what a music video can be and is,” Arthur said. “Through all these avenues of distribution, we’re no longer limited as artists to formulate our products into a fixed idea of what is commercially viable.” “Having the video air on national television is probably the coolest thing to happen in my career to date,” camerawoman and editor Sylvana Liebregts said, “and it motivates me to make it really cool and really good. “The theme of the video is faith, and it’s a spiritual, personal song to him. I like a handheld feel; it’s more intimate and you can get into the action. A steady, tripod look is nice, but it’s sort of dry and more standard; there’s not much too it. In post-production we’re going to give it quite a distinct look. I want to make it look really cool, so I’ll spend a lot of time on it.” For first-time music video director Shellenberger, who has directed some shorts, it’s a brand new experience. “I’m flying by the seat of my pants,” he said. “I don’t watch a lot of videos, but I know what I would like to see. You have to trust yourself and believe it’s all going to be perfect. I’ve worked on films where you have so many cooks that the flavour is cooked out of it. You have too many people overseeing everything. The beauty of this is I do what I feel and that’s how it’s happened.”