Tag Archives: Canada

What variety of pumpkin is best for beer?

Pumpkin Beer Canada

I wrote a story for today’s Globe and Mail on our growing obsession with pumpkin beer in Canada. I started by talking to world-famous pumpkin grower, Danny Dill, who grows the giant pumpkin variety — Howard Dill’s Atlantic Giants — invented by his Dad, a farmer/mad scientist, in the ’70s. Dill Jr. also grows 50 other pumpkin varieties, and he doesn’t necessarily think Giants are the way to go when it comes to making a beer.

Here’s his advice:

“Well I really personally don’t think that Atlantic Giants are as good for pies or beer-making, they’re not as flavourful. But it depends on everything else you’re going to put into it.

“I grew a variety of pumpkin this year and it should be the top pumpkin to do stuff with, I’m already starting to hear some rave reviews. It’s called Winter Luxury, it’s a little larger than a pie pumpkin size, and it’s not really orange, but a tan, buff colour with netted skin, it’s an old time variety from 1862, and just the reviews of it convinced me to grow it.

A blind pumpkin beer tasting I did for the story


I get people coming here to buy pumpkins specifically for pies…   we have a dessert contest every fall and it lets people put pumpkins to the test. One chef told me it was incredibly awesome to work with these pumpkins.”



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Best beers to convert wine lovers

There are a lot of oenophiles out there — and it’s sometimes tough to convince them that beer can be just as complex and sip-able as a glass of their favourite vintage. In my experience, especially, a lot of those drinkers are women who got wasted off six-packs of Labatt Maximum Ice in high school and have since sworn off beer for life.

OK, so I don’t have any pictures of wine. Instead I’ll show the sophisticated side of beer-dom, food pairings! Here’s one from a Hacker Pschorr dinner at Toronto’s Beer Bistro, I wrote about it here: http://www.thegridto.com/life/food-drink/five-things-we-learned-at-the-celebrate-women-in-beer-dinner/

That’s frustrating because the world of beer is as wild and wonderfully diverse as that of wine (I swear)! So to help convert wine-lovers into beer-swilling diehards I decided to recommend six very different craft beers to a series of wine styles for the August issue of ELLE magazine.

But then I realized I knew very little about wine, so I asked my curling buddy, and talented sommelier, David Black, who runs the Italian Wine Academy, to help me match some of my favourite Canadian craft beers to certain wine styles.

And the most sophisticated beer event on the Toronto scene, the annual Brewer’s Plate, my take on that is here: http://www.thegridto.com/life/food-drink/five-things-we-learned-at-the-brewer%E2%80%99s-plate/

I chose Paddock Wood’s Czech Mate Pilsner from Saskatoon, Montreal’s St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, Propeller’s Extra Special Bitter out of Halifax, Beau’s Lug Tread Lagered Ale from Vankleek Hill, Ontario, Red Racer India Pale Ale from Vancouver’s Central City and Blanche de Chambly from Unibroue in Quebec. To see which wine styles we matched to each of these brews, click on the pdf of the story.

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Bay Street Mamas: Can female lawyers have a baby and a killer career?

My latest feature, “O Mother Where Art Thou?” is in Precedent magazine.  It’s been one year since the Law Society of Upper Canada introduced its “Justicia” initiative in an effort to reverse the high attrition rate of female lawyers in private practice in Ontario.  This piece finds out how it’s working.

Finding female lawyers willing to talk on the record about the realities of an 80-hour work week and the prospects of having a family were understandably few.  But the endless phone calls and sleuthing paid off.

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Susan Ouriou wins GG award for translation

Perhaps the most humble translator Canada has ever seen, Susan Ouriou is dedicated to the words and meaning of the texts she translates. I had a chance to see her in action as part of the Emerging Aboriginal Writer’s program in Banff this September. She worked with one French speaking student in particular, taking care to make his words heard to us and ours to him.  She translated all of the French writer’s works for presentation tackling perhaps the most literary of literary forms with flair: poetry.

Susan told me she absolutely loved the young adult novel for which she won the English-language translation award: young adult novel, Pieces of Me, a translation of La liberté? Connais pas by Charlotte Gingras.

Ouriou, who studied at the Sorbonne, is also a novelist and is working on her second novel after penning Damselfish.  Perhaps another reason for her dedication to preserving the author’s intent in translation.

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Girl Guides of Canada on its deathbed and it’s killing me inside


When I heard the news that the Girl Guides of Canada have lost 40 percent of their members in the last ten years, I felt kind of sad.  It’s slightly hypocritical of me to mourn the death of this 100-year-old citizen building organization though.  I followed my older sister into Brownies (they didn’t have Sparks then) and quickly moved up the ranks from Seconder to Sixer.  Both proud moments.  How I loved that little brown change pouch on my belt, although I don’t recall what the hell it was for.  I took pride in tying my scarf correctly, standing in line while our Guider checked our knots.  This was as far as our camping skills went.  We mostly just hung in the church basement with our “Brown Owl and a toadstool made of cloth.  We sat in a circle, sang songs, told stories.  On Halloween the leaders turned the whole thing into a Haunted House – we put blindfolds on and stuck our hands in bowls of eyeballs (the hours one mother must have spent peeling those grapes).


When it came time to become a Girl Guide, I was bored.  I wanted out.  But my mom went and signed me up anyway.  I was pissed.  My older sister, who loved Guiding, was smug.  After that, for a reason I still can’t quite fathom, I stuck with it.  Yes.  I was a Girl Guide (OK technically a Ranger) until I was 18.  I wasn’t a particularly good one.  I never won a trip or a scholarship.  Our troop won second in a singing contest once I think.  I even coaxed my best friend to join.  My first boyfriend was a Scout. We went camping in the winter, spring, summer and fall.  I won a bronze in the cross-country ski race at the Jamboree and then danced with pimply-faced Boy Scouts to Stairway to Heaven and first heard the swear chant to AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long.  My older sister and I were in cahoots when it came to the rest of our group – a rare time of sister solidarity among the hormonal teenage infighting at home.  I did my first backpacking trip and sold flowers for cancer at the mall.  Most of the time I was pretty bored.


The whole thing feels a little grey.  So why then do I feel sad at what looks to be the slow death of Guiding?  I suppose my patriotic, community-oriented, girl-needing-guidance-outside-of-Teen-Magazine-and-Barbie is upset that there aren’t many spaces for girls to hang out together without hating on each other, to do stuff that doesn’t involve tube tops and bikini waxes in your pre-teens; to work toward a shitty little badge in cooking, volunteering or even bird-watching.  Life should slow down when it comes to growing up.  Guiding helps.


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Girl Guides & eating disorders; Big Pharma busted in Ontario; female breadwinners on the rise; Cda to takeover GM?

Girl Guides of Canada, Love Yourself Challenge badge

Girl Guides of Canada, Love Yourself Challenge badge

Here are my picks for National News, written for air this morning on Take 5, CIUT 89.5 FM

Big Pharma bilks the system – but Ontario busts them for $34 million
The Ontario Health Ministry has busted some pharmacies, drug manufacturers and wholesalers for a scheme where they ordered more drugs than they needed so they could collect the drug maker’s rebate, before selling the drugs they didn’t need back to wholesalers – collecting the rebate up to three times.

Seven generic drug companies, four wholesalers and one pharmacy – Kohler’s Drug Store in Hamilton – have been fined to the tune of $33.8 million and 20 charges have been laid.

Toronto’s Tamil Protest continues and could go on for days
Last night Take 5 interviewed a Officer Fields at the scene.  He expects the protest to last for another 2 to 3 days, keeping University Avenue between Queen and Dundas closed to traffic.

The demonstrators want President Barack Obama to intervene and help stop the fighting between government and Tamil forces.

Eating Disorders and Girl Guides – a killer combination?
On May 12th Girl Guides can start earning points toward a new body-image badge (see image up top).  A tag team effort by the 100-year-old Guiding organization and the National Eating Disorder Information Centre – the badge fights back against media images of extremely thin women or sexy teen queens and childhood obesity.

Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness for teenaged girls.

The 100-year-old citizen buildiing organization hopes becoming more relevant will stave off ongoing attrition: Over the last ten years it’s membership has declined by 40 percent – from 150,000 to roughly 90,000.

General Motors Canada will cut its workforce in half and close about 310 dealerships by the end of 2010 as part of its bailout restructuring plan.
Announced yesterday, the plan would cut 57 percent of GM’s Canadian workforce over the next five years – dropping its payroll to 4,400 from 10,300.

The new plan would also see the U.S. Government taking over 50 percent of the company in a debt-for-equity swap.  Canada, meanwhile, is considering taking a stake in the Canadian arm.

A radical procedure offers new hope to Multiple Scleorosis patients
A Canadian-run trial that replaces a Multiple Sclerosis patient’s bone marrow with healthy marrow from stem cells is showing stunning results.

The experimental Ottawa treatment trial on 24 patients began in 2000.  Open only to patients with rapidly progressing MS who failed to respond to therapy and who were likely to become severely disabled, the trial has so far resulted in significant improvements in most patients – and none have relapsed.

The experimental treatment has not been approved.

Northern Ontario – separate and unequal?
Twenty percent of all CBC Radio job cuts nationwide are slated for Sudbury and Thunder Bay – and that’s just not fair say Northern Ontario municipalities.

They’re linking up to sign a resolution going to CBC President Hubert Lacroix asking him to cut jobs proportionately.

Female breadwinners on the rise but still getting a raw deal
Four out of five jobs that have been lost since October 2008 were held by men. That’s because male-dominated manufacturing, construction and natural resource sectors have been hardest hit.  Meanwhile, female-dominated sectors like health and education haven’t been effected yet – leaving some women the sole breadwinner.

The Citizens for Public Justice latest blog says the continuing gender income gap means women are still more likely to be poor.  More women tend to work in part-time or temporary jobs making them ineligible for employment insurance and leaving them with little job security.

And the economic downturn is hurting women – last week the Toronto Star reported a rise in the number of women reporting they were fired because they were pregnant – with their employer using the recession as a scapegoat.

Honourable Mention – High-flying charity grounded, TorStar.

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Beaver trapping in Northern Ontario

beaver tail

Stripped of their tail, fur and legs, the six small beaver strung up side-by-side over the open fire look remarkably like the small pig carcasses commonly dissected in high school biology classes.

“They’re done when the blood stops dripping,” says Leonard Naveau, who cooks the meat slowly over four hours, watching as it turns from pink, to deep red, to near black. A retired logger, life-long trapper and former band chief, Leonard is also one the founders of the Mattagami First Nation’s annual Beaver Festival, being held this Saturday April 25th.

Many of the youth in this 450-strong band move away, seeking jobs or better schooling in the nearest cities, Sudbury and Timmins.  Today just 175 members live on the reserve, overlooking the 64-kilometre long Mattagami Lake.

Worried about the declining interest in traditional hunting and trapping among youth on the reserve, Leonard, his partner Linda Penasse, and another couple, Evelyn Boissoneau and the late Willard Harnack, came up with festival six years ago.

But the taste for beaver is highest among the newest residents to the area. The growing community of Polish-Canadians, who left cities like Hamilton and Toronto for the simple life in the nearby railway town of Gogama, are heartily embracing their new digs.  “The Polish women are crazy for beaver,” says Leonard. He expects they’ll be the first in line again this year.

McPhee Lake
On the Beaver Trail

As we zipped over snowmobile trails the sun winked at us through the thick pine, birch and poplar forests, and blinded us as we bounded across wide frozen lakes in search of beaver.

Leonard, his son Larry, and I had left the reserve early that morning. My nerves over snowmobiling for the first time were quickly subsumed by incredulity at the beauty and freedom of driving on the wide-open lakes, their white surfaces sparkling in the late March sun.  I revved harder.

Besides, I knew I was in safe hands.

Leonard spent half the year for the first 17-years of his life, deep in this bush.  The oldest in a family of seven, he was his father’s right-hand man, trapping and hunting for food and fur.  Nearly every family in Mattagami lived that way then, says Leonard.

Today it takes Leonard 40-minutes to get to his family’s trapline on skidoo.  It used to take two days; Leonard snowshoeing miles ahead of their four-dog team, to pack down the deep snow.

But out on the trapline, not much has changed.

Father and son scouted four beaver houses on McPhee Lake the day before, looking for telltale signs of gnawed trees and snow domes on the lake’s edges.

We park the ski-doos about six metres away from the first den, where the ice is still thick.  Leonard bangs a heavy metal bar against the ice listening for hollow sounds.  He hears them near the edges of the rounded den.  He and Larry chop through two sweet spots with axes, ice chunks flying.  Using oversized ladles, they scoop the beaver’s trash out of the fresh holes – dozens of poplar twigs, picked clean of bark.

Leonard Naveau
On thin ice now, each man lies on his stomach peering into his hole, looking for the passageway.  Staring past their reflections in the clear, spring-fed lake they pass a long L-shaped stick between them, poking at the den’s walls until each finds a doorway.

Designed for an instant kill when a beaver, otter or marten swims through and hits the trigger, the jaws of the conibear trap snap around the animal’s neck packing 90 pounds of pressure.  The Naveaus use large metal pliers to spring the traps, mount them to the bottom of long pieces of thin, dead trees, and fix them under water in front of the passageways.

We set nine traps that day.  The next morning we pull a disappointing three beaver from the ice.  Two are adult-sized, their meat too tough for the festival.  Three more traps are set on a nearby lake.

Over the next two days we catch nine beaver.  Leonard and Larry keep the smallest one for roasting, a sickly one is fed to the dog, the large beaver are given to people on the reserve to eat, and six of the best kits are skinned, frozen and stored until the Festival.

Last week, the North Bay Fur Harvester’s truck stopped by the reserve to pick up the Naveaus’ fall and winter pelts – about 30 in all.  The fur truck makes this trip four times a year, stopping for just 15-minutes in small and large communities in a wide loop from North Bay to Fort Frances.

Beaver pelts, if they’re sold at all, are currently fetching about $29 a piece at auction.  Leonard and Larry will be lucky to get $870 for their weeks of work.  North Bay Fur Harvesters is a co-op, trappers only get paid once their furs are sold.  But trappers like Leonard and Larry form the backbone of Canada’s modern-day wild fur trade.

So why do they do it at all?  To maintain their traditional practices, to get outside, and for Leonard who is looking to keep busy during retirement, to keep busy.  Any money they do make will go to spruce up their camp, a wooden cabin near Grassy River where Leonard’s father and grandfather’s traplines sit today, and where they bring their family to relax, fish, hunt and trap.

Eating Beaver
The Festival starts around 10 a.m.  The large, Community Centre hosts skinning and stretching demonstrations and friendly folk man craft, sales and information booths lining the gym.  Local Trapping Councils encourage you to run your hands along their tables full of lynx, marten, wolf, fox, beaver and otter pelts.

A beer garden and hot, fast food will keep you full until the feast.  When the beavers are cooked, usually around 5 p.m., Mattagami residents put out a homemade spread. Turkey, ham, bannock, and salads – lots of salads – are served alongside bite-sized beaver samples.

The houses on Mattagami Reservation tell stories of the lives lived here.  A few mansions perch on the edges of the Lake, bought with money earned in the fly-in mines, like de Beer’s Victor Diamond Mine just south of James Bay in Attawapiskat.  Most houses are modest and well kept, with requisite pick-up trucks and four-wheelers in the driveways.  A few are small and run-down.  One or two have no running water.
Aside from a few elders, you won’t hear much Ojibway spoken.  “I wish I could speak my language fluently,” says Larry, who understands but has trouble conversing in his father’s first language.  A lot has been lost in one generation.  But it’s not yet forgotten.

Last summer, two teenaged boys from the Reserve asked Leonard if he would take them moose hunting.  They took a government-sanctioned week off of school to practice learn from their elder.  Larry’s stepsons and Linda’s grandsons love to fish and hunt.  They like to watch Leonard when he skins.  In May and June, Clara Wesley, an elder from Attawapiskat, will teach moose and deer-hide tanning here, restoring a skill lost to the band.  And by summer’s end, a Trapper’s Museum will house elder’s stories and knowledge about a traditional skill that shaped their community – and the country.

Click here to see a slideshow of my pictures from the trapline.

Mattagami First Nation is 180 km north of Sudbury and 80 km south of Timmins on Highway 144.  Exit on Mattagami First Nation road, it ends at the reserve.

Basic hotels can be found in the nearby town of Gogama.  Stardust Motel is noteworthy for its well-kept 1960s architecture, tel: 1-877-820-4311; Morin’s All Seasons Resort offers full suites complete with kitchens for $105.00/night, tel: 1-888-221-6004.  But the best bet is the newer Lise’s Lakeview Retreat, tel: 705-894-2413.


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