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Neil Crone, Feeling funny

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Neil Crone, Feeling funny

By Cece M. Scott cecescott.com

You may know him best as the irascible, redneck radio host, Fred Tupper, on CBC’s long-running comedy sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie. Neil Crone, actor, comedian, columnist and author, says that he loved playing the character of Tupper because it reminded him a little of his dad, and also of himself. “I like to play characters who are close to home,” says Crone. “Fred was a kind person with a really big heart, but he was a little rough around the edges.”

When in an Indian curry restaurant in Toronto, Crone was approached by a young girl, whose mom was wearing a hijab. “She was shy and said, ‘I really like you on your television show.’ Wow, I said, you know who Fred Tupper is, and you still like him? That felt really great, like we were making a difference, bringing people together, as opposed to being divisive,” says Crone. “If this girl, who couldn’t have been more than eight or nine years old, could see the humanity in my goofy, rednecked character, then clearly we were doing something right – something good.”

As Fred Tupper, Little Mosque on the Prairie. Photo by Peter Stranks

At the age of 59, Crone subscribes to the theory of radiating happiness outwards, in order to attract the same back. He’s a nature buff, and is very conscientious of his impact on the planet. “I meditate quite often and am a big believer in affirmations,” says Crone. “I visualize my day every morning to make sure that I am clear about what I want to have happen, and then go forward to attract that.”

Crone began his career as a high school teacher, where he taught English and drama for three years at King City Secondary School. However, deep down, he knew that he really wanted to be an actor. “At that time, though,” laughs Crone, “the thinking around being an actor leaned towards getting a real job.”

As Bad Santa on Derringer in the Morning Q107 for which he won a Canadian Comedy Award. Photo by Peter Stranks

After nighttime stints at Theatresports and Big City Improv, Crone accepted a role at Toronto’s famed Second City Touring Company before moving on to the prestigious Second City Mainstage. Recurring roles on The Red Green Show, Wind at my Back, Goosebumps and Power Play heightened Crone’s visibility. Feature films followed, which included Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy (1998), American Psycho II: All American Girl (2002), Against the Ropes (2004), and Hollywoodland (2006).

Working alongside Burt Reynolds and James Garner are memories that will always resonate with Crone. “The minute I walked onto the set, James approached me and introduced himself. He was as big as you get, but he still had the graciousness to treat me like a peer,” says Crone. “That stuck with me. I try to do my best to extend the same kind of warmth to young actors working with me now.”

THE Yes MEN (an improv comedy show) with Patrick McKenna, Neil Crone and Kevin Frank. Photo by Jonathon Van Bilsen

For all the inherent acting ups-and-downs, Crone says it provided him with the flexibility, along with a positive environment, in which to raise his kids – Duncan, now 28, and Connor, 25. As a stay-at-home dad, Crone drew on his experiences with his boys in the creation of a number of children’s books. “I had this huge well of kids’ stuff to draw inspiration from.”

Crack a Smile Colorectal Cancer fundraiser. Photo by Jonathon Van Bilsen

These imaginings resulted in the writing of four books: Who Farted – Stories in Verse for Big and Little Kids; The Farmers Secret Midnight Dance; I Am Dead at Recess and Coby Builds a House.

Crone has also published a collection of his award winning columns (as appeared in Metroland papers) titled Enter Laughing – The Early Years. A spokesperson for the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada and Colon Cancer Canada, Crone also wrote Semi-Colon: A Writer’s Cheeky Journey Through Colorectal Cancer. “I had already had a scope and a resultant diagnosis,” says Crone. “I went for surgery to remove the lesion but when the surgeon opened me up he found a peach-sized tumour on the outside of my colon, eating its way in. I was only 43 at the time. Nobody saw it coming. It worked for, and against, me. I was healthy enough that they could give me massive doses of radiation and chemotherapy. But it was quite scary, especially with two young boys at home. It was a definite reset button.”

Crone believes that his ability to laugh, along with his positive attitude, were contributing factors in his recovery. At the time, he was living in an old Victorian home with his-then wife, Suzanne Crone, and their two sons. He says that he’d wile away the hours on their screened-in porch, and imagine all the things that he was going to do when he got better.

His perspective has changed, and he says that he has a better appreciation for what’s important, and what should be prioritized. “I have relaxed my attitude on life, completely understanding the bullet that I dodged,” says Crone. “I do my best to keep my body supple by riding my bike, canoeing, golfing and hiking with my fiancée, Kathryn.”

Moving into his sixth decade, Crone is dealing with an arthritic knee and soft tissue damage, a direct result of his chemotherapy. “It’s a challenge to maintain an active lifestyle with a body that can’t keep up. Trying to find ways to carry on, and wrestle with the pain, is ongoing. But, really, I still feel very young.”

Photography, Suzanne Crone

“As my footprint – I want to leave people feeling good.” – Neil Crone

Currently, Crone is working on a series called Endlings, which is now in its second season. He plays the part of Mr. Leopold, who runs a foster home. “I’m one hundred per cent behind the show’s message, which is about embracing differences and loving people – even broken people,” says Crone.

In 2008, Crone won the Canadian Comedy Award for his radio work as Bad Santa on Q107. He’s been a finalist on numerous occasions for his humour column, and placed second and third for Humour Columnist of the Year, from the Ontario Community Newspaper Awards, in 2001, 2002 and 2012.

Crone says that he absolutely loves acting, as a job, but admits that the types of roles he’s now getting are changing as the years go by. “I am auditioning for grandparent roles now. But I still feel like I’m 18 years old – that is, until I pass a mirror. But, I am content with my life now,” says Crone. “When all is said and done, I don’t think I will ever grow up.”


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Fred Penner, Both he, and the cat, came back

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Fred Penner, Both he, and the cat, came back

By Cece M. Scott cecescott.com

Fred Penner, started his career some 46 years ago. Initially, when he took to the stage, he considered himself an actor and a musician, and performed for audiences of all ages. “I didn’t study music formally; it was more that I grew up around a wealth of music,” says Penner. “My parents were into swing era and orchestral music, and my siblings played 50s and 60s music. This vast array of sound got inside of me and encouraged me to step forward and make a career out of music.”

Photo, Lisa MacIntosh

Now 72, Penner is best known as a children’s entertainer, and received the Order of Canada in 1991.

Penner’s sister, Suzie, was born with Down Syndrome, and was an important source of inspiration for him. Music deeply affected Suzie, often bringing her to joyful tears. “It gave me a sense of what music was capable of doing. It formed my foundation.”

Throughout high school and university, Penner worked with kids in treatment centres, who had physical or behavioural challenges. Music became a logical part of his connection with them. Towards the end of the 1970s, Penner and his ex-wife, Odette Heyn, founded the children’s dance company – Sundance. Shortly after, Penner recorded The Cat Came Back in 1979. “The value of the power of music, to connect with multiple generations, was highly evident,” says Penner.

With an eye on Penner, CBC approached him in the mid 80s about a television series. Fred Penner’s Place ran for 12 seasons – just shy of 1,000 episodes. He was known as the gentle giant, and brought audiences together through his songs, lyrics and positive energy.

CityFolk, Ottawa Photo By: Michael Anderson

Penner was the first children’s entertainer to headline at the Los Angeles Amphitheatre. He’s recorded 13 albums, and performed live in thousands of shows. He is also a four-time Juno Award winner for Fred Penner’s Place (1985); Sing with Fred (best children’s album, 2004); Where in the World (2015); and Hear The Music (2018). In addition, Penner has received the Parents’ Choice Award four times, is a recipient of the Canadian Institute of Child Health Award (2000), and is an Order of Manitoba inductee (2010),

The people in the audience of Fred Penner’s Place were to feel like they were part of his show. He would invite them to imagine themselves crawling through the show’s secret hollow log into a safe place, where they would engage in songs, stories and receive a daily lesson from the Word Bird. “There was a sense that we were all in it together,” says Penner.”I do not condescend when talking to kids. I talk to them the way I would talk to anybody.”

Many of the young people who grew up with Penner’s music have their own memories of the show. “Many came from broken homes and did not have a strong father figure. They identified with me as a father – a gentle man,” says Penner. “People related to that, and felt a comfort from the energy that I exuded.”

With Rae Ellen in St. John’s

The show’s 12-year run was a rollercoaster of creative energy for Penner. When it was discontinued in 1997, he felt lost. “I have always been a resilient person, but that was probably one of the biggest hurdles that I’ve faced. I thought, what am I going to do now? Maybe it was time to retire, to sit in a rocking chair and wait for the phone to ring.”

Penner maintained his career by singing and touring festivals. He also started to receive emails from Fred Heads – those fans who were now in university and reflecting on their childhood influencers. “Many of their memories came down to me and Fred Penner’s Place. I thought that, maybe, going to visit a campus wasn’t such a bad idea.”

His first date was at the University of British Columbia’s Pit Pub, and more than 400 students jammed the place. “It was a love fest,” say Penner. “The students were into a little primal therapy. We had a musical dialogue around why certain songs resonated with them. It was clear that it was important for these students to feel the kind of vulnerability they had as children; for them to know that they could carry that childhood vibrancy into adulthood. Ultimately, this experience opened the door to playing pubs right across the country.”

The university students eventually graduated, and as parents, they introduced the Penner experience to their own children – and the cycle began again. “With the challenges of adulthood being massive, there is a desire to go back to simpler times,” says Penner. “Being a part of the Penner experience, again, allows audiences to remember childhood experiences, even traumatic ones, and move on from those memories to an understanding of how these experiences shaped, and helped, them to grow.”

Penner describes himself as a calm person with a commitment to helping others. His spiritual side is supported by his wife of two years, Rae Ellen Bodie. Penner takes frequent walks and does polarity exercises, after having stints in his heart, and is very mindful of his physical and his emotional well-being. He also continues to see the therapist who helped him through his divorce, as a means of understanding the positives that were garnered from his 30-year marriage, including his children.

Fred Penner
(Top right) L’Anse aux Meadows – Viking Landing, northern tip of Newfoundland. (Above) mycityphotos Canuck Place, Vancouver Group shot from Hear The Music album recording : Left to right: Fred, Hayley, Damien, Kendra, Danica. Back row: Ken Whiteley (producer), & Dan Wiebe (choral arrangements). Photography, (Group) Kendra Hope Photography; (Zambia) Damien Penner; (Viking Landing) Garry Tutte; (Vancouver) Leanne Zacharias

In fact, four of Penner’s children, Damien 37, Hayley 33, Danica 30 and Kendra 27, are featured on his 13th award-winning CD – Hear The Music. All four had sung on previous recordings, and now return as adults. “There is nothing like siblings singing together. All four children are really good people, who care about others.”

Penner’s songs may have grown in quality, and in depth, but his approach to performing hasn’t changed. Fred Penner’s Place sent a message of universality and inclusiveness, which still resonates today. “We need to feel compassion, to be connected – not put up walls between humanity,” say Penner.

With 100 tour dates in 2019, and a family movie in the works, relaxing isn’t in Penner’s near future. The cat is back, but thanks to thousands of Fred Heads, he never really left.



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South Georgian Bay, where the living is easy

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South Georgian Bay, where the living is easy

By Cece M. Scott cecescott.com

The south Georgian Bay area includes Collingwood, Stayner and Wasaga Beach, as well as some of the most popular destinations and four-season activities in Ontario. Less than two hours from Toronto, you can experience music festivals, farmers’ markets, beer tastings, hiking, golfing, swimming, skiing – and even Elvis sightings.

Annual Elvis Festival in Collingwood : Photography, South Georgian Bay Tourism

Summer Lovin’

The Blue Mountain and Collingwood areas are popular with hikers, mountain bikers, SUP (stand up paddle) boarders and golf lovers. The semiprivate, Cranberry Golf Resort (now known as Living Stone Golf Resort), is the first golf course appointed to the Audubon Society certified course list. It also won the Environmental Stewardship Award. The resort includes an outdoor swimming pool, a hotel, condominium suites, restaurants and shopping.

Blue Mountain Village : Photography, Blue Mountain Resort

Golfers can also head to Wasaga Beach to tee off at the The Links at Georgian Sands, followed by a stroll (and maybe a swim) along Wasaga’s 14-kilometre white sand beach.

Wasaga Beach, has long been touted as one of Ontario’s premier tourist destinations, and is the world’s longest freshwater beach. It really is a beach-inspired town with picture worthy views of Georgian Bay, sparkling clean water, and people of all ages enjoying this water-side town in their swim wear and flip flops.

Close by, is the legendary Nottawasaga River, which is great for fishing, and has sparked the odd tale about the one that got away.

From Farm To Table

Downtown Collingwood’s Farmers’ Market opens on Saturday, May 18th. Thornbury’s market opens on Sunday, May 19th; Meaford’s market on Friday, June 7th; and the new Lowell’s market is to open on Wednesday, June 5th. Get your fill of fresh vegetables, homemade crafts, freshly popped kettle corn, handcrafted signs, unique jewelry and sumptuous baked goods.

Stanyner’s ‘Music Market & Park It’ begins on the 6th of June, and is a weekly celebration of food, live music, local vendors, artists and entertainment for the kids. Classic trucks and cars are also on display.

Lodging and shops at Blue Mountain Village

Something For Everyone

A favourite pastime for many, is people watching. Sit yourself down in one of the colourful Muskoka chairs, hand painted by local artists, that are positioned along Collingwood’s downtown streets, and are part of the town’s Art on the Street installation (May 18th to October 2nd).

If you are an outdoor enthusiast, try hiking, biking or cross-country skiing the 35-kilometre Georgian Trail, which offers magnificent views of Georgian Bay and Blue Mountain as it winds its way through Collingwood, and the neighbouring towns of Thornbury and Meaford.

Scenic Caves Nature Adventures, Photography by Image Ontario

The Blue Mountains, known as such, because of the ever-present eucalyptus trees whose leaves expel a fine mist of natural oils that oft-times appear as a blue mist on the horizon, is a favourite for downhill skiers. More than 40 trails are available over 364 skiable acres. Après skiing, spend time at Blue Mountain Village (Ontario’s largest mountain village resort) known for its eclectic shopping and dining options.

The menu at Twist Martini Restaurant and Lounge is influenced by classic French cuisine – showcasing the freshest of ingredients, as well as an extensive martini and wine list.

The mediterranean-inspired Tholos Restaurant, is owned by Crete native, Tholos. Here, you’ll enjoy an authentic, interactive experience that includes Greek dancing, as well as the Greek tradition of plate smashing.

There are some great shops in the village, including GO FISH GO, which showcases quirky, one-of-a-kind items – from home decor to Read Canoe clothing. At Brights Gallery, you can peruse original works of art by Canadian artists in a relaxed setting.

Rejuvenate your weary bones at the Scandinave Spa at Blue. Soak in the relaxing baths, while taking in the panoramic views of the escarpment – the perfect prescription for spiritual and physical wellness.

Scandinave Spa, Photography by JoAnn McHardy

Dates To Remember

Stayner will be rocking during their three-day Roxodus Music Festival from July 11th to 13th. Featured talent includes, Aerosmith, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Peter Frampton, Cheap Trick, Blondie, Billy Idol, I Mother Earth, Alice Cooper and Honeymoon Suite.

The Collingwood Elvis Festival is celebrating its 25th Anniversary from July 26th to the 28th.

Photo by South Georgian Bay Tourism


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Judy Marshak, multifaceted and multi-talented

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Judy Marshak, multifaceted and multi-talented

By Cece M. Scott cecescott.com

An award-winning actress, singer, song writer and ukulele aficionado, Judy Marshak has received positive reviews and accolades for her vast range of talents – from clown to torch singer.

Photo, Sarah Tacoma

Marshak gives credit for her decades-long musical career to childhood friend, Wendy Honickman, who convinced her to audition for the 1960’s musical play HAIR at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre. “Wendy knocked at my door and told me that we were going down to the Rock Pile, where the open auditions were being held,” says Marshak. “I was called back a couple of times, and became an understudy.”

Marshak had the opportunity to perform in Hair, but taking off her clothes in front of an audience was something that the young actress from the suburbs wasn’t comfortable with. So, instead, she studied clowning with Richard Pochinko. In her mid-20s, Marshak went on tour with The Royal Bros. Circus.

At the age of 69, Marshak says that she’s always loved to sing since she was a young girl. Apparently, her mother, Linda, would have friends over to listen to Judy sing herself to sleep. “I would dream that a Broadway producer was out in the driveway listening to me,” says Marshak, “I was a musical kid and had a strong fantasy that, one day, I would be up on stage performing.”

Marshak’s mother was a nightclub singer, who went by her stage name Linda Getz, and supported her own mother by singing from the young age of 14. Albert, Marshak’s father, was a Barber Quartet singer, with a natural sense of harmony. “I got my musical gifts from both my parents.”

Twice nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award, once for her role as Mrs. Potts in Beauty And The Beast, and for her portrayal of Fleur, the menopausal mama in Anne Marie MacDonald’s Anything That Moves (which won the Dora for Best Musical, 2001).

Marshak also received two ACTRA nominations for CBC radio musical performances. In addition to Beauty and the Beast (1995 to 1997), Marshak also includes her roles in Doubt and The Glass Menagerie as among her favourites. “Appearing as Mrs. Potts at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre, was probably the closest to portraying who I am – cheery, nurturing and motherly,” says Marshak. “I loved that role. It’s one of the big highlights of my career.”

The role of Marilla in Anne of Green Gables, which Marshak performed in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, from 2001 to 2005, also resonates with Marshak. Marilla is known to be a stern character, so Marshak worked to find the parts of Marilla’s personality that didn’t make her a caricature. “My challenge was to find levels in Marilla that portrayed her as a real human being. The best characters that you see in films, or plays, do not encompass just one aspect,” says Marshak. “It’s one of my most wonderful, outstanding roles.”

Selfie with husband, Andrew, Port Hope, 2019

Marshak found playing the head chorus girl in the play, Pal Joey, to be somewhat of a stretch for her. Marshak laughs at the memory, “I always felt chunky growing up and there I was up on stage, with five other girls, adorned in tiny pasties and fishnet stockings.”

She was being typecast as a musical theatrical actress, but was able to gain more experience and hone her craft in a number of movies and television roles. Marshak appeared with Ellen Burstyn in The Stone Angel (2007); with Daryl Hannah in All The Good Ones Are Married (2007); and with Richard Dreyfus and Graham Greene in the 2019 film, Astronaut. On the small screen she appeared in Degrassi: The Next Generation (2014) and Being Erica (2009). “At this age, there isn’t much opportunity to play the lead,” says Marshak. “It’s usually an older person role.”

A few years ago, Marshak tore her meniscus during a rehearsal for It’s A Wonderful Life – one of the most painful things that she has ever experienced. “Fortunately, I was playing an older lady, and I had to use a cane for the duration of the play.”

The injury, however, has limited Marshak’s ability to take on roles that involve dancing or a great deal of physical activity. “I don’t audition for those parts anymore,” says Marshak. “I just don’t think that I can do it.”

Marshak says that she’s still pretty good at remembering her lines as an actress, but is finding it more difficult to remember lyrics, even to songs that she has written. “It does get worse as I get older. I always have to keep a music stand in front of me now.”

After the breakup of her 25-year marriage, Marshak used the pain to inspire many of the songs on her 2009 CD, A Matter of Time, which was one of Richard Ouzounian’s (Toronto Star) top eight picks of the year for the Broadway musical crowd. Not all of the songs are bittersweet. When Marshak met her current husband, she wrote a joyous song for the CD called How Do You Know.

Marshak had her first child at the age of 34 (Nicholas, now 35), and her second child (Matia, 32) at the age of 37. She had an opportunity to go to Broadway when they were young, but leaving her children behind wasn’t an option. “It was a heavy load performing eight shows a week. I missed seeing my kids and putting them to bed, so I declined the opportunity, and the role went to my understudy,” says Marshak. “My career is not always first and foremost for me. My kids are my blessings in life.”

Photo, Sarah Tacoma

“Stay creatively active. Part of me still feels like a child.” – Judy Marshak

Currently, Marshak is giving Ukeology workshops and lessons, and she performs on Vision Networks’ weekly singalong, Your All Time Favourite Hit Parade (Produced by Zoomer TV), which takes listeners back to some of their favourite pop music.

On July 26th of this year, Marshak will be doing a performance reading in Could I Have This Dance, a new musical at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The event is in celebration of the Anne Murray Centre’s 30th Anniversary. “The play is a compilation of several of Anne Murray’s songs. I play the mother of the lead actor,” says Marshak. “Anne Murray has given us a thumbs up – we have her support on the project.”

Marshak’s contagious positivity and free spirit has served her well. “The reality that we are not eternal is the hardest part,” says Marshak. “The trick is not to fall into the trap of aging. It’s a state of mind.”


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The natural wonders of Collingwood

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The natural wonders of Collingwood

By Cece M. Scott cecescott.com

Incorporated as a town in 1858, Collingwood became a shipping hub for products that were destined for the upper Great Lakes ports of Chicago and Thunder Bay. For more than a century, shipbuilding was the town’s main industry. In 1986 the shipyards were closed, and the waterfront is now a revered leisure destination.

Bring it on

Located on the southern end of Georgian Bay, Collingwood is the gateway to the Blue Mountains, where skiing, snowboarding, shopping and fine dining offer the best that winter has to offer.

Blue Mountain is Ontario’s largest village resort, just 90 minutes north of Toronto and 11 kilometres west of Collingwood. There are 43 ski and snowboard trails, 365 skiable acres and a vertical drop of 720 feet. At the base of the mountain, The Village features more than 45 distinctive restaurants, bars and retail shops. Along with the popular Scandinave Spa, visitors can also enjoy the village’s two onsite spas.

Off-hill winter activities include tennis, the aquatic centre, snowshoeing, and new Woodview Mountaintop Skating Trail at the top of Blue.

With the growing popularity of Winter Fat Biking, mountain bikers can now spin their wheels all year long. Fat bikes use tires that are inflated with less air pressure, which make navigating through snowy terrain a fun way to improve balance and strengthen winter legs.


The Whiskylicious festival, running from Feb. 1 to 12, is a whiskey-infused celebration of local food. The outdoor ice bars and culinary pairings are inspired by Collingwood Whiskey – a toasted, Maplewood-finished Canadian blend. Located in the downtown core, the festival is a showcase of signature chef dishes, music, arts and brewers.

It’s the 10th anniversary of the The Apple Pie Trail – and apple pie is just the beginning. Inspired by South Georgian Bay’s applegrowing history, the mighty apple is celebrated with a culinary adventure trail, farms, shopping and local experiences.

Take the five-kilometre trek across southern Ontario’s longest suspension footbridge, and through the trails of Scenic Caves Nordic Centre.


The distinctive shoreline and blue waters of Georgian Bay, mixed with the area’s rich marine history, are natural highlights for all types of boaters.

The Ridge Runner Mountain Coaster (Ontario’s first) is a one-km ride through the Niagara Escarpment’s diverse terrain. Drivers can reach an exhilarating 42 kilometres per hour.

Popular golf courses in the area include the 18-hole, par 71 Duntroon Highlands Golf Club, which offers spectacular vistas of Collingwood, Stayner and Blue, as well as the Blue Mountain Golf & Country Club, The Georgian Bay Club and Batteaux Creek Golf Club.


With 60 kilometres of four-season, well-marked, multi-use trails, touring around Collingwood is perpetually pleasurable. The downtown core is jam-packed with trendy clothing stores, spas, galleries, fine dining, artisan cafes, live music venues, pubs and bars, in addition to dozens of art galleries and studios. Colourful panels and murals are creative reminders of Collingwood’s historical past, spanning more than two centuries.

Visitors and residents are passionate about the The Good Food Stroll – a walking or biking tour that showcases Collingwood’s love affair with food. Much is sourced from local farmers, and includes restaurant pit stops, cafes, specialty food outlets, food markets, cafes and sweet shops.


The soil and unique climate associated with this region are key elements in the making of the distinctive wine at Georgian Hills Vineyards. During the winter, visitors can snowshoe through the vineyards and enjoy artisanal cheeses and a glass of wine after their trek.

Collingwood’s craft breweries, include Northwinds Brewhouse & Kitchen, The Collingwood Brewery and Side Launch Brewing Company Inc. (named for the town’s shipbuilding industry).

Meaford is the heart of Ontario’s apple country. Stayner and Thornbury, a short drive from Collingwood, offer eclectic variations of the small town experience, and numerous pick-yourown farms en-route.


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Cast in bronze – Ruth Abernethy, the artist and her art

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Cast in bronze – Ruth Abernethy, the artist and her art

By Cece M. Scott cecescott.com

Photo: Cassandra Koch

Ruth Abernethy’s multifaceted career has stopped at many creative stations. And, at each one, she’s proven herself to be an exceptional artist, musician and performer. Her first foray was with her family’s musical group – The Abernethy Family. Consisting of six family members, Abernethy’s mom played the accordion, she played the guitar, and the rest of the family sang and played various instruments. “We played mostly country stuff, everything from Charley Pride to Fleetwood Mac,” says Abernethy. “My parents were willing to have a lot of fun. I think that is something that we are missing today. We are all working so hard.”

Ruth Abernethy
Ruth Abernethy. Photo: JR Ribee

By the age of 17, Abernethy was immersed in theatre. She was head of props, when she was only 21, for the Manitoba Theatre Centre (now the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre). “I was like a duck to water in the theatrical world,” says Abernethy. “I wanted to make symbols, which is really what my work is about.”

By 1981, Abernethy had moved on to the Stratford Festival, and it was here that she refined her method of mapping, and carving, figures. She completed her first bronze sculptures for the festival in 1997, entitled Raising the Tent, of two workmen, and a young girl with a dog.

Glenn Gould
Glenn Gould’s music filled the studio during the sculpting of his portrait (1998). Photo: Ellen Hadley

Shortly after, Abernethy was commissioned to create a portrait of Glenn Gould – the internationally renowned Canadian pianist. This sculpture, situated outside the CBC Broadcasting Centre in Toronto, was the catalyst that launched her career. It quickly gained traction with another commission in 1999 to enlarge a small-scale sculpture of actor, Anthony Quinn. The original bronze sculpture was only nine inches tall, and it lacked Quinn’s definitive facial features. It was up to Abernethy to reimagine Quinn’s nude portrait, and cast the actor’s chiseled, well-worn features into a show-stopping profile. Quinn was intrigued with Abernethy’s skills, and invited Aberethy’s sons, Glen (now 26) and Alex (now 24), to his Rhode Island home to watch his portrait evolve.

John McCrae Statue
John McCrae, author of In Flanders Fields, Guelph, Ont. A duplicate was installed in Ottawa (2015). Photo: Cassandra Koch

Lucky for us, many of Abernethy’s works of art are part of the public domain. They present in such a way that that those passing by have no option but to stop, and revel, in the emotional intimacy that each sculpture elicits. Jazz virtuoso, Oscar Peterson’s portrait is located outside Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, and is crafted at eight per cent larger-than-life size. At any moment, you get the sense that the pianist will turn to his piano and play Sweet Georgia Brown.

Other Abernethy portraits on public display, include Canadian Prime Ministers; Mackenzie King, Lester B. Pearson and John A. Macdonald, as well Canadian actor and director, Al Waxman, and Queen Elizabeth II. “Meeting the Queen was a highlight,” says Abernethy. “She and Prince Phillip were remarkable in their sincerity, making it a real moment. It was surreal, and yet real.”

Daurene Lewis Bust
Daurene Lewis, installed in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia (2018). Photo: Cassandra Koch

Each portrait that Abernethy sculpts is centred around the little eccentricities, and physical attributes, unique to each subject. Abernethy studies candid photos to ascertain the subject’s centre of balance, and to discern his/her public, and private, personas. For John A. MacDonald’s portrait, Abernethy explored why he usually sat down in a crowd, rather than place himself centre stage. It’s these subtle details that incite familiarity for both the sculptress and her audience. “It’s 80 per cent patience and 20 per cent aptitude,” says Abernethy. “And while the 20 per cent matters, it’s about the 80 per cent – the effort that allows people to attain their goals. Much of what I do is a pragmatic, patient observation. Three dimensional work takes so much time. I am making structures that will last 10,000 years.”

Ruth Abernethy
James Till and Ernest McCulloch, discoverers of transplantable stem cells, MaRS Discovery District, Toronto (2017). Photo: Cassandra Koch

Now 58, Abernethy has often been billed as the youngest artist, and the only Canadian artist, to participate in various disciplines and exhibits. She was the first Canadian artist to exhibit in both Sculpture- By-The-Sea in Sydney, Australia (2004), and Sculpture in Context in Dublin, Ireland (2007). She was the only Canadian artist short-listed for the Beijing Olympic Sculpture contest in 2008, and received an Award of Excellence for her submission. “I always felt that I had more than enough talent to pay my way.”

Ruth Abernethy
Detailed military regalia was required on John McCrea’s uniform. Photo: Cassandra Koch

Reflecting on an absence of women’s portraits, Abernethy released her Canadiana Collection in 2004, which spoke to a broader, social narrative through a compilation of handmade lace, textiles and stainless steel. Intrigued by deep-rooted perceptions of traditional brides being miserable or powerless, she created Nuptials #1, #2 and #3. The first 10 pieces of the collections were shown together in 2007 at Stratford’s Gallery 96, and five pieces of the Canadiana series are now housed at the ROM. “I wondered why we were having skewed conversations about marriage that were rooted in procreation, or the bride being akin to personal property,” says Abernethy. “Could we not, instead, have a conversation about perfect partnerships? And the beauty of watching two people do something together, that is more than the sum of their parts?”

Canadiana Collection
Nuptials #3 (2012) Canadiana Collection. Photo: JR Ribee

In 2016, Abernethy wrote Life and Bronze: A Sculptor’s Journey (Granville Island Publishing). In 2018, she received a Honourary Doctor of Laws Degree from Wilfrid Laurier University.

Her husband, Mark Smyth, lives in Vancouver, and Abernethy splits her time between there and Wellesley, Ont. Smyth builds prototype equipment for stem cell research. Smyth also has a crab apple business in Shakespeare, Ont., called Appleflats. “I am so connected with my family that I’m not dependent on my work. I have two sons who I am immensely proud of, and a husband I adore.”

Canadiana Collection
Canadiana #1(2005) Canadiana Collection. Photo: Ruth Abernethy

Moving her studio to her great room has been advantageous. The natural light helps with her waning eyesight, and the wood stove keeps the room warm, which is preferable for the sculptress’ hands. “It’s more about my knees. I am finding it harder to get up and down. I can see a time when I won’t be able to do what I do now. But that is a few years out,” says Abernethy. “What I do never gets easier; I just get familiar with how difficult it is.”

Abernethy relies on her assistant to handle her social media and communication tasks, and finds that she can’t work the long days that she used to. Supporting, and encouraging, up-and-coming artists is very important to her. “At some point,” says Abernethy. “My contributions become the making of opportunity for other people.”


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Tedde Morre strongly rooted In Canadian theatre

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Tedde Morre strongly rooted In Canadian theatre

By Cece M. Scott 

Granddaughter of the theatrical icon, Dora Mavor Moore, Tedde Moore has spent much of her life in, and around, the acting world. “I first appeared on stage on the CBC’s children’s show, Travelin’ Time, when I was 13 years old,” says Moore. “I’d been around the theatre since I was two years old, so acting was like old hat to me. I was hilariously casual about it and failed to learn my lines, which wasn’t good, because it was live-to-tape. The cameramen knew that as my eyes got wider and wider that there would be no more coming from me – that I’d dried up, with nothing more to say. It took me quite awhile to understand that I had to work at it.”

Photo: Jake Martella

Moore’s grandmother was the Canadian pioneer of live theatre, and for whom the annual Canadian live theatre awards are named – the Dora Awards. She greatly influenced her granddaughter with words of wisdom. “Her attitude towards human kind, life and death, were also a big influence on me,” says Moore. “She was a remarkable woman.”

Tall and slim, Moore’s grey hair is swept back with a barrette, and she looks very elegant dressed in black, when she answers the door of her 1883, 450-square-foot worker’s cottage in Parkdale. Her initial demeanour is somewhat reticent, but ten minutes into the interview Moore’s cool deportment implodes into a hearty laugh, which instantly changes the dynamics of the conversation.

Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann


Moore’s career encompasses a wide body of work in theatre, film and television. She won the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Female Performance, in The Walls of Africa. She also won the Canadian Film Award for Best Supporting Actress, in Second Wind. During her 50-year career, the experience that resonates the most with her is the time that she spent acting in Stratford. “I was 22 at the time,” she says. “It was all wonderful, because I was just starting out. When you start at the top, you don’t realize that the whole of your life won’t be this wonderful. You have no frame of reference. It was a time never to be created again.”

In Man and Superman, 1976. Photography Photo Features Ltd., courtesy Tedde Moore

Playing Juliet to Christopher Walken’s Romeo, was Moore’s favourite role at Stratford. She talks fondly of her character in The Castle, her role in the Shaw play, Man and Superman (performed in Ottawa), as well as her last major, theatrical role in The Walls of Africa. “I was working with some remarkable people, including actor/director, Layne Coleman,” says Moore. “Our acting techniques were so different. I needed everything to be rehearsed and organized. Layne was completely the opposite – very free spirited. He believed in doing what he felt, a style that I was allergic to.”

With Mairtin O’Carrigan in Mistletoe Over Manhattan, 2011; Photography Photo Features Ltd., courtesy Tedde Moore

The role that Moore is most famous for, is that of the beloved Miss Shields in the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, for which she garnered a Genie nomination. The movie, hugely popular in the States as well, has achieved a cult following. Moore attends some of the events, and is buoyed by the number of people who say that they became a teacher because of her. At the time of filming, Moore was eight months pregnant. Being a single, pregnant woman in a movie that is set in the 1940s would not have been acceptable. “The director, Bob Clark, told me not to worry about it – I could sit behind a desk,” says Moore. “But I had never been in an MGM movie, and I was not about to do that.” Instead, Moore padded herself to give the allusion of chubbiness, a state that she thoroughly enjoyed.

Midsummer Night’s Dream, photo: Douglas Spillane


In 2001, Moore was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), which, along with arthritis, has affected her life on many levels. She can no longer drive or walk far, and finds it difficult to plan ahead. However, she was most impacted by the fact that she had to give up acting and teaching – the two careers that she dearly loved. “I am a whore for acting,” says Moore with a jovial laugh. “But the MS, which affects the nerves, made it extremely difficult to do all the things that I was called upon to do. Giving up both my acting and teaching careers was the biggest challenge I have ever had to face. I always thought that when I got older in life, I could focus on my acting, and now I can’t. It has been awful.”

Another hurdle that Moore has successfully climbed, is her dedication to becoming sober. She describes her former life as haphazard. With the assistance of a good therapist, she now feels happier and more present. “I could always drink everyone under the table. And then, it always seemed like a dandy idea to get some marijuana,” says Moore. “It is the irony of my life that now that I’ve stopped smoking weed, it has become legal.”

Under the care of a naturopath and acupuncturist, she’s also experienced relief from the symptoms related to arthritis and inflammation. Moore says that getting clean and sober was the best thing that she ever did.

As Juliet, 1968. Photo: Patrick Christopher

“The idea of doing things on the edge has always appealed to me.” – Tedde Moore


Albeit physical restrictions, Moore is surrounded by friends and family. She describes her daughter Zoe, 45, as an extraordinary woman. Suzanna, 39, is a high school science and math teacher, as well as the manager of the school’s football team. Her son, Noah, 35, is a music producer and Drake’s creative partner. Moore accepted responsibility for a young girl named Chaunce at the age of three, and she is very much a part of their family. Moore also has five grandchildren.

Left to right, Don Shebib, Tedde, Suzanna Shebib, Noah Shebib, Zoë Carter, 1999. Photo: Tedde Morre

Moore was with filmmaker, Donald Shebib, for 40 years, and he is the father of Suzanna and Noah. While they no longer live together, Moore is still very fond of him and calls him her life partner. Now, at the age of 73, Moore lives on her own in her tiny cottage in Toronto.

“I was gifted with an extraordinary amount of privilege, including my creativity, the period of life that I lived in, the world of theatre – the culmination of all things,” says Moore. “It has been a rich, extraordinary time to be alive. I have been deeply, and extraordinarily, loved, which is a gift not everyone enjoys.”



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Cover Story: Molly Johnson

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Cover Story: Molly Johnson

Self-identification for women seems to be somewhat more complicated than it is for men. And for Molly Johnson, her list of accomplishments can’t be distilled into one word. Johnson is an artist, a singer, a songwriter, a mother and a philanthropist – to name a few.

Photo, Chris Nicholls

By Cece M. Scott www.cecescott.com

Molly Johnson is also a five-time Juno nominee, and in 2009 she received a Juno award for vocal jazz album of the year (Lucky). In 2007, Johnson was named as an Officer of the Order of Canada in recognition of her contributions to Canadian music, as well as for her work with the Kumbaya Foundation – an AIDS charity that she co-founded in 1992. She is also a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal recipient (2012). Johnson has performed for the likes of Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana, and alongside many notable artists, such as Tom Cochrane, Anne Murray and Peter Appleyard.


At the age of 59, Johnson’s career has spanned more than five decades. By the age of four she was appearing in musicals, including Porky and Bess at the the Royal Alexander Theatre in Toronto. Performing was a family affair, and her brother, Clark (age seven), and her sister, Tabby (nine), were in a number of productions alongside her. When Johnson and actress, Cynthia Dale, were both seven years of age, they appeared in South Pacific and Finian’s Rainbow, and a lifelong friendship ensued. “I remember the props, especially in Candy Man, the orchestra pit, the music, and my beloved Ed [Mirvish] and his beautiful theatre,” says Johnson.

Molly and her brother, Clark, at the 2018 Canadian Screen Awards. Photo courtesy of Molly Johnson and the Canadian Screen Awards

In addition to acting, Johnson aspired to be a choreographer, and attended the National Ballet School of Canada until the age of 15. While at the school, Johnson learned more about how to use, and enrich, her diaphragm as it related to modulating her singing. “I would creep into the back door of the Colonial where the brother and sister team of Shawne, and Jay Jackson of The Majestics were singing. I would watch Shawne sing her own songs, and she made her own clothes. And, I realized that I could make other things, too. I could make songs,” says Johnson.

Childhood photo of Molly and Cynthia Dale. Photo courtesy of Molly Johnson

Johnson became a guest singer of the disco group, Chocolate Affair, then went on to perform gigs with Billy Reed and The Street People. By the late 1970s Johnson was writing her own material and had formed the eclectic funk-rock group, Alta Moda. Her interpretive, smoky voice earned her the nickname – Diva of Queen Street.

Molly performing with JUNO award-winning bassist Mike Downes. Photo courtesy of Molly Johnson


Johnson doesn’t drive, and walks everywhere. She considers herself extremely fit for someone who doesn’t go to the gym, and says that her life is her gym. She does admit that she’s had to make some accommodations as she’s aged. “I drop my songs a semi-tone to accommodate my vocal range. I call it my old lady key,” says Johnson. “And while I miss a lot about my youth, I am really tired of the attitude that women are past their prime at 26. How can I talk truth and be authentic if I colour my hair? When I turned 50, I felt like I had arrived.”

Photo, Chris Nicholls

While fiercely private about her family, Johnson is extremely proud of her sons. Henry recently graduated from grade 12, and Otis is in his third year at the University of Ottawa. “They are both beautiful, kind, empathetic gentleman – that was my goal.”

Released this past spring, her new album, Meaning To Tell Ya, reflects Johnson’s attitude towards life, as well as her musical explorations. The title references the positivity that Johnson emanates in terms of her intention of wanting to ‘tell ya’ how brave you are, or how fabulous you are, or that when you walk into the room, you own it. The album is a mix of funk, soul, groove and jazz, and includes a Marvin Gaye song, Inner City Blues. The album was produced by Larry Klein (once married to Joni Mitchell). “I couldn’t believe that I had the opportunity to work with Larry,” says Johnson. “Marvin was the master of telling stories that are both relevant, and still very meaningful, in today’s world. That, in itself, is a strong message, not just about how far we’ve come, but also for how far we still have to go.”


Johnson is also a consultant and story teller for the TD Bank’s Black History Project (an initiative she co-founded with TD). She uncovers interesting, and impactful, stories that relate to Canada. “This country is rich with black history,” Johnson says. “In fact, Canada abolished slavery 76 years before the States.”

She recounts the story of Viola Desmond (featured on the Canadian 10-dollar bill). Desmond was a successful black Nova Scotian businesswoman who challenged racial discrimination by sitting in the main level of New Glasgow’s Roseland Theatre, an area supposedly reserved for white people. “Desmond was dragged out of the theatre and put on trial,” says Johnson. “Her stand against racial discrimination actually happened ten years before Rosa Parks took her stand.”

Johnson is advocating to have The Book of Negroes, by Lawrence Hill, included in the grade 11 curriculum.

In 2016, Johnson started the Kensington Market Jazz Festival – an extensive undertaking that involves programming 400 Canadian musicians in more than 12 venues. The 2018 festival runs from September 14th to the 16th. “It’s a community vibe with curated busking,” says Johnson. “Tom Mihalik, of Tom’s Place, is the patron saint of my festival. He also pays for piano lessons for kids in the neighbourhood.”

A huge supporter of both established, and aspiring, musicians, Johnson does not perform at the festival. “This is about others – my community and my talented friends.”

Photo, Chris Nicholls

“A good song can change your mood, and in fact, your whole day.”
– Molly Johnson

Johnson has upcoming concert dates scheduled in Canada, the United States and Europe. When not touring, recording or working on her many philanthropic initiatives, Johnson loves to hang out with her kids. Gardening is a favourite past time – both vegetables and flowers – especially the Oscar Peterson rose with its creamy white blooms.

The creative and inspiring people of Toronto, along with its diverse cultural, food and musical events, keeps Johnson centred. “Toronto is like a charm bracelet around the lake,” says Johnson. “And every charm is a neighbourhood with its own flavour.”

Feisty, self-deprecating, witty and always the optimist, friends tease her of being a Mollyanna. “I’m definitely a yes person. I like a challenge.”


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Cover Story: Holly Cole

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Cover Story: Holly Cole


By Cece M. Scott www.cecescott.com

Raised in a creative family, alto soloist, Holly Cole, fell in love with jazz at a very early age. Her father, Leon Cole, a classical pianist, composer and Halifax-based broadcaster, also hosted two popular radio programs on CBC. Her mother, Carolyn Cole, was an arts’ curator in New Brunswick. And her brother (and best friend), Allen, was her co-conspirator in much of her musical journey.

A two-time Juno Award winner, including Best Contemporary Jazz Album for Don’t Smoke in Bed (Holly Cole Trio,1994), and Vocal Jazz Album of the Year for Shade (2004), Cole has also won two Geminis, two Japanese Golden Disc Awards, and is the recipient of the Montreal Jazz Festival’s 2013 Ella Fitzgerald Award.

Shooting live at the Glenn Gould Studio – Photo By, Tim Martin

Cole describes herself as a rebellious, free-spirited teenager, who hit the road at the age of 15 with $20 in her pocket. She hitchhiked from New Brunswick to Boston to visit her brother who was studying at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. “Allen had long hair at the time and so did I,” says Cole. “He was staying in the dorms. He’d go in, give his ID to his friend, who would then come out and give it to me, so I could sneak in. I slept on the floor of Allen’s dorm for weeks. While I was there, I was exposed to this rich culture of jazz music. I was mesmerized by the whole thing.”

For Cole, jazz provided her the freedom to express her individualism. “To me, jazz seemed like classical music for people who were bad, which totally appealed to me,” says Cole, with one of her never-far-from-the surface, smoky laughs.

It was Allen who was responsible for Cole’s first public singing gig. “I was 17 at the time. Allen, who was playing at a local New Brunswick coffee house, called me up on stage. I was so scared that I announced to the audience, ‘OK, I’ll sing, but I have to stand behind my brother.”’

Originally from Fredericton, New Brunswick, Cole and her family spent several years in Nova Scotia, before she, at the age of 19, and Allen (21) moved to Toronto in 1983. Holly was enrolled in Humber College’s vocal jazz program. The improvisation of jazz music appealed to Cole. “I love to interpret songs,” says Cole. “My best friend is subtext, which allows listeners to hear, and to imagine, whatever they want. It’s a subtle thing – sexy, exciting, mysterious, emotional. Subtext is always there. It’s part of my personal life as well.”

Photography, courtesy of Holly Cole; (Holly and Allen) Bob Johnson

Cole has many anecdotes about her and her brother sharing on-stage time, including performances of German cabaret music in the 1980s – A Weill Evening with Allen and Holly Cole, which featured the music of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. “We performed the show in art spaces and clubs, mostly along Queen Street. We would push an old upright piano onto the stage, and Allen would play and I would sing.”

One of Cole’s popular songs, Onion Girl, acts as a personal metaphor for the many layers she has peeled back in her life. “I had an epiphany when I was 26,” says Cole. “I remember the day vividly. My ex-boyfriend asked me why I always had to be right – why I always argued and never discussed things. It was then that I realized that the world is not black and white. There are many subtle layers to this thing called life.”

With age, and life experiences, a mellowing attitude often follows. With more than 15 albums to her credit, both as the Holly Cole Trio and as a soloist, Cole’s approach to her 2018 CD, Holly, took her in a new direction.“I hired Larry Goldings to do the arranging. He also plays the piano and organ,” says Cole. “It was hard for me to give up the reins. I’m used to steering the ship. But I wanted the experience of working towards someone else’s aesthetic. Once I relaxed, I loved it.”

In 2016, Cole took a sabbatical to care for her mother. “It was one of the most important decisions I’ve made in my life – to take time off from my music to look after mom,” says Cole. “I got to know so many things about her that I didn’t know. It was beautiful. My advice is to spend time with your parents – you will never regret it.”

While she was on hiatus, Cole studied hypnotism, with a focus on pediatric hypnosis. “As a tool, it enriched my life so much. It helps me to stop doing things that I don’t want to do.”

With the loss of family and friends, Cole has changed the way that she views her life priorities. Her loved ones come first, followed by her passion for music and, of course, some out-sized fun. She feels that everyone needs to have personal interests – ones that nurture self-actualization and a sense of wellbeing. “People around you want you to get what you want – to have your own thing,” says Cole. “It makes them happy for you.”

Photography, (top right) Jonathan Warden; (in red dress) Edward Gajdel; (right middle and with Rhoda) Andrew MacNaughtan

The lens in which Cole sees herself through has also shifted. Within a short time frame, she experienced a broken wrist and then a broken kneecap. “If I had fallen off my bike when I was 22, I don’t think my wrist would have broken,” says Cole. “But at 55, my bones aren’t made of rubber anymore. Breaking my kneecap last summer was brutal. I sure miss being resilient – not having to be careful.”

In an effort to maintain a healthy stamina, Cole incorporates a three-hour exercise regime into her day, which includes 90 minutes of physical exercise, and 90 minutes of breathing and vocal exercises.

“My voice, which is a muscle, has become more resilient,” says Cole. “I’m feeling a lot stronger and I’m really enjoying it.”

Cole is currently involved in an extensive renovation project on her 1845, south shore, Nova Scotia home. “It’s a big old house that feels like a friend – it’s so cathartic,” says Cole. “It was originally a barrel factory, and then a coaching inn – kind of like a Motel 6 before there were cars. My concept for the house’s aesthetic is old meets new, which is very much like my music – the craft of bringing disparate elements together.”

With a large, grassroots fan base in Japan, Cole will be touring there, as well as Canada, Europe and the United States this year. “I love performing live more than anything. I never, ever forget where I came from.”



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Cover Story: Making it Work HAL EISEN and ANDREW BOTTECCHIA

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Cover Story: Making it Work HAL EISEN and ANDREW BOTTECCHIA

By Cece M. Scott www.cecescott.com

WHEN YOU LOOK AROUND the sun-splashed condo of Hal Eisen and Andrew Bottecchia, you can’t help but be struck by Eisen’s outsized collection of eclectic art. Located in an 1873 heritage building in the west end of Toronto, the couple’s penthouse also includes a spectacular 1,200-square-foot, wrap-around terrace.

On the wrap-around terrace of their condominium. Photo, Steve Russell

Partners in business, and in life, Eisen ( 61) and Bottecchia (54) met some 16 years ago. True to his acting roots, Eisen is gregarious and animated, while Bottecchia is the gracious parenthesis. When speaking about their relationship, Bottecchia says, “It took a while to figure things out. We had to set some boundaries.”

The couple’s personal commitment was cemented when Eisen was performing in a play in Ottawa called It’s All True, which won the Governor’s General award. “I knew Hal wasn’t in a good place, mentally,” says Bottecchia. “So, I got up on at 2 a.m. on a Saturday and drove to Ottawa. I called Hal from outside his house and said, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have breakfast together this morning?”

“Talk about a big romantic gesture,” says Eisen. “Andrew’s visit gave me the opportunity to let go, and to step away from the role for awhile. I had a whole new energy. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he was good looking, funny and charming. His goodness is what you fall in love with.”


Bottecchia is president of Bottecchia Artistic Group Inc., and has worked on such shows as The Designer Guys, This Small Space, and on Life T.V. and The Food Network. At the height of the SARS epidemic in 2003, major film productions were being pulled out of Toronto and acting opportunities were scarce. Bottecchia, who was the art director on Love by Design, recommended Hal as the show’s host. “They wanted someone who had done interior design and was also familiar with television,” says Eisen. “I had experience in both, as I’d put myself through acting school by doing design work.”

By the end of 2009, both Bottecchia and Eisen stepped away from lifestyle T.V. and immersed themselves in their individual careers. However, the door was never really shut when it came to collaborating on design projects. “We don’t even know how we agree on stuff,” says Eisen. “We each have strong opinions and we filter things through our own aesthetic. But, ultimately, the client decides.”

Eisen has been acting for four decades in theatre, movie and television, and has appeared on Saving Hope, DeGrassi and Murdoch Mysteries. Eisen admits that the opportunities for auditions for his age group are dwindling. “It’s not like when I was in my 20s and 30s. I went out there knowing I’d get the roles – I just expected it. There’s a lot more competition now,” says Eisen. “But the good thing is, I am at a point where I can turn down a role that doesn’t speak to me. That’s why it’s wonderful to have another creative outlet.”

Bottecchia established his design company in 1994. What he’s now noticing is that he’s designing for the offspring of the families that he initially designed for. “It’s exciting, and an honour, to be working with the next generation,” says Bottecchia. “We’ve become part of their families.”

Both Eisen and Bottecchia are aware of the pros and cons of being self-employed. “When you have a relationship with someone who understands the freelance life, it certainly helps,” says Bottecchia. “Hal gets the hardships of it. He’s my rock – my mushy rock.”

“You’re fighting time – your mind says one thing and your body says another.” – Andrew Bottecchia


The opposites attract theory holds some merit with regard to the way that they each approach life. Bottecchia sees the glass as half full, while Eisen is a self-declared worrywart. As a child, Eisen says that he was overweight, and had glasses and big teeth. “I was never the first choice, so I spent a lot of my life achieving things.”

Whereas Bottecchia says that he could be sitting in their lovely home with only a nickel in his pocket, and would consider himself rich. “I call him Pollyandy,” says Eisen. “Andrew always looks at the good side of everything. He’s incredibly loyal.”

On their off hours, Eisen likes to swim, and Bottecchia enjoys going to the gym and roller blading. When at a cottage in Haliburton, Bottecchia hikes and kayaks, and Eisen reads and sleeps. “I’m a city guy, and Andrew is the country boy,” says Eisen.


Eisen is now the same age as when his mother passed away. Aging is on his mind, as are his aches and pains. “I miss that gung-ho ability to throw myself into everything. And, I miss the realization that not everything is possible.”

“I haven’t found any aging challenges, yet,” says Bottecchia. “But when I do, I am going to deal with it like I do everything else, which is basically screw this, I’ll handle it. There’s nothing I miss about my younger years – it’s all in how you set your mind.”

Their retirement dream is to secure an eight-bedroom guesthouse in Barbados. It will be a bed and breakfast, as well as an art gallery that features Bajan and Canadian artists. Bottecchia will reside there, while Eisen will travel back and forth. “I need to be around my acting, and my city friends,” says Eisen. “I need my six months in Canada.”

Photo, Jake Martella

“You come to an age when you either get it or you don’t,” says Bottecchia. “When we are young we aspire to material things. I’ve achieved all that, and now I am thankful for the wisdom, gratitude and understanding. I say prayers every morning. Everybody needs something that they can connect to.”

Eisen interjects and says that he connects with their dog (Boy), and the couple breaks into laughter. Both are grateful that they live in a country that is so accepting, and where seniors are not a throwaway generation. “I feel there is more that I can do,” says Eisen. “In many ways – to teach and to share.”

Photography, courtesy of Hal Eisen and Andrew Bottecchia.


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