The pros and cons of building high rises with wood


From the outside, the construction project underway at 80 Atlantic Ave. in Liberty Village looks like your typical new office building.

But peer through the large spaces where windows will soon be installed and you’ll notice that above the ground floor there is wood everywhere — walls, ceilings, support beams. Only the underground parking, ground floor and elevator core are concrete and steel.

Arbora, a massive mixed use development in Montreal's trendy Griffintown neighbourhood, consists of three buildings that are made primarily from wood.
Arbora, a massive mixed use development in Montreal’s trendy Griffintown neighbourhood, consists of three buildings that are made primarily from wood.  (LSR GesDev)

Designed by Toronto architectural firm Quadrangle, the soon to be completed five-storey office and retail project is a rarity in Toronto — most buildings in the city are still made entirely of concrete and steel.

Like Sidewalk Labs’s proposal to build a high tech neighbourhood in Toronto, with thousands of condominium and apartment units built with timber, the subject of wood buildings is creating a buzz.

Canada already has the world’s tallest wooden building — Tallwood House, an 18-storey student residence at the University of British Columbia — and there are wood structures in Europe and the U.S.

Proponents tout the environmental and esthetic benefits of using the product, but some builders say there are challenges.

“There are many additional things you don’t foresee when you start one of these projects,” said Marc-André Roy, president of Sotramont, a Montreal-based developer that’s one of four partners working on Arbora, a massive mixed-use project made primarily from wood.

“It is much more work,” Roy said in an interview. “We’re doing something new. It took more energy and man hours to get through everything … it’s more complicated.”

The wood used for Arbora is cross-laminated timber (CLT) a product made by gluing wood panels in an angled manner that provides stability and force. The panels are said to be as strong as concrete but five times lighter, making them ideal for floors and load-bearing walls.

But while it may be lighter, there’s debate about whether wood construction is actually cheaper.

Toronto architectural firm Diamond Schmitt has successfully used mass timber for projects including a law school in Kamloops B.C., a trades school in Alberta, and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Diamond Schmitt principal Michael Leckman said that in those cases, “timber prefabrication reduced construction times and reduced costs.”

He added, however, that “cost savings in timber construction are highly dependent on the local construction market, the readiness of bidders and trades to adapt to new methods,” and the ability of those involved to feel confident taking risks with an unfamiliar product.

Aly Damji, a senior vice-president with Toronto-based developer Hullmark, said the cost of using wood was “generally … on par with concrete and steel” for the 80 Atlantic project.

The wood used for Arbora is cross-laminated timber (CLT) a product made by gluing wood panels in an angled manner that provides stability and force. The panels are said to be as strong as concrete but five times lighter, making them ideal for floors and load-bearing walls.
The wood used for Arbora is cross-laminated timber (CLT) a product made by gluing wood panels in an angled manner that provides stability and force. The panels are said to be as strong as concrete but five times lighter, making them ideal for floors and load-bearing walls.  (LSR GesDev handout)

“Our construction estimates priced in the learning curve,” Damji said. “Contingency was built into co-ordinating how our consultants, architects, as well as our structural, mechanical and electrical engineers, would be able to co-ordinate with wood.”

But others take a harder view of wood’s costs in construction.

“It’s not cheaper,” said Annie Lemieux, president of developer LSR GesDev, which is also a partner in the $150-million Arbora project. “Wood ends up costing more than concrete because it’s more complicated and people don’t know how it works.”

Roy said an example of that complexity is the tubes (or “sleeves”) that are usually built into concrete walls for plumbing.

“You don’t put sleeves in wood because (the wood) comes in a slab, pre-made, so you have to bore holes in the wood,” he said.

“You can say, ‘That’s easier, it’s wood’— in theory, yes. But in practice, nobody has experience doing that, so I have to get a guy to bore holes using a special drill. It’s done by a carpenter who, in theory, doesn’t usually do that.”

Designed by Toronto architectural firm Quadrangle, the soon to be completed five-storey office and retail project is a rarity in Toronto — most buildings in the city are still made entirely of concrete and steel.
Designed by Toronto architectural firm Quadrangle, the soon to be completed five-storey office and retail project is a rarity in Toronto — most buildings in the city are still made entirely of concrete and steel.  (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star)

Another challenge is the assumption that wood will burn faster. Roy says fire testing has been done on wood buildings in Canada to ensure their safety, and notes that there are also fire risks associated with concrete and steel.

“A solid piece of wood will char, but not burn. If you remove the charring you’ll still have a solid structure,” he said. “With a fire in a concrete building, there are rods in the concrete that will dilate and make the concrete explode. With steel, the fire makes it melt.”

In theory, wood buildings should be quicker to construct because the product arrives prefabricated — unlike concrete, which takes time to form on site.

But acquiring wood products can be an issue because there aren’t many companies that supply it for big projects. A director for Timmerman Timberworks, which is located near Barrie and is providing wood for the 80 Atlantic project, said the firm needs more than six to eight weeks lead time to get the product to a builder.

Despite those challenges, proponents of wood tout its esthetics, as well as the environmental benefits of using a product that “sequesters” carbon dioxide.

In theory, wood buildings should be quicker to construct because the product arrives prefabricated — unlike concrete, which takes time to form on site. But acquiring wood products can be an issue because there aren’t many companies that supply it for big projects.
In theory, wood buildings should be quicker to construct because the product arrives prefabricated — unlike concrete, which takes time to form on site. But acquiring wood products can be an issue because there aren’t many companies that supply it for big projects.  (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star)

Damji said Hullmark went with wood for 80 Atlantic after the Ontario Building Code was changed in 2015 to allow wood frame structures as tall as six storeys from the previous four. He said the decision was based on the notion the product would bring something “unique” to the market and lure prospective tenants from the standard highrise towers on King St.

Spaces, a workspace provider, and Universal Music are among those set to move into 80 Atlantic when it’s finished later this year, along with Jackman Reinvents, a management consulting, design and branding agency.

Jackman Reinvents CEO Joe Jackman said 80 Atlantic will offer his business a “sustainable and healthful place in terms of construction and specification.”

In Montreal, Arbora’s three eight-storey towers are being built in Griffintown, a hip community where the sustainable and innovative nature of wood construction is appreciated, say Roy and Lemieux.

That’s key to projects like this succeeding, they argue.

“The wood environment is very calming compared to other projects made of concrete. These residents want that,” Lemieux said.

“So for this location and clientele, this works well.” Roy added.

And as for the future of wood buildings?

“As it becomes more mainstream, perhaps it will compete with steel and concrete,” Roy said. “But to penetrate the market. you’ll need a competitive advantage.”

Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent


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Canadian comedian Mark Rowswell admits to wearing blackface in high school


Canadian comedian Mark Rowswell, a.k.a. Dashan, admitted to wearing blackface and apologized for it in a series of Twitter posts on Friday.

Blackface explained: Racist tradition’s roots run deep in the U.S.

Rowswell detailed how he had worn blackface when he was in high school in 1984 as part of a costume that had him play a member of the band The Temptations.

“Four of us white kids growing up in the suburbs of Ottawa pretended to be The Temptations singing ‘My Girl’ at a school assembly,” he wrote. “I meant no disrespect, but it was wrong. I am sorry.”

Rowswell explained that he and his friends did not have an understanding of the “historical context or racist implications” of blackface.

WATCH: Gucci, Walmart and other brands pull items due to racial insensitivity

“I overheard one teacher quietly ask: Isn’t that racist?” he wrote. “I had no idea what they were talking about and thought the question was bizarre. How could this be considered racist?”

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Blackface has a controversial history. In the 19th century, white men in the United States would use it as a form of entertainment, creating caricatures of black people that included large mouths and lips. These performances would stereotype black people as ignorant, hypersexual, superstitious, lazy and prone to thievery and cowardice.

The Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the U.S. South got their name from a character played by a blackface performer.

Sex, blackface and a lottery: What’s going on in Virginia politics?

The act has gained more attention recently with the admission by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam that he wore blackface while in college after a photo surfaced from his page in a 1984 medical school yearbook of one man in blackface and another in a KKK costume.

Northam denied being in the photo but admitted he wore blackface during college to impersonate Michael Jackson.

Later, Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to wearing blackface in college in 1980 while dressing as a rapper.

WATCH: Pressure increases as political scandals mount in Virginia

Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel resigned last month after a photo surfaced showing him wearing blackface and dressing as a “Hurricane Katrina victim,” and an old photo of The View host Joy Behar has surfaced of her wearing blackface for a Halloween costume.

Rowswell has found immense popularity in China, where he is known as Dashan. He has received the Order of Canada and was named Canada’s goodwill ambassador to China by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2012.

—With files from the Associated Press

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Child care costs dropping across Canada, but prices still high in some provinces: study – National


Daycare fees have dropped — or barely inched up — in some Canadian cities in what might be early signs of the influence of federal child-care money, a new survey says.

The fifth annual survey of child care fees from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives being released Thursday says that fees for full-time, regulated child-care spaces have risen faster than inflation in 61 per cent of cities reviewed.

READ MORE: Children who go to daycare are better behaved, more advanced, study says

The left-leaning think tank found that costs were the highest in Toronto and the surrounding area, where fees for children under 18 months average $1,685, and $1,150 a month for older preschoolers.

Cities in Quebec had the lowest fees for full-time, regulated spaces across the country, followed by Winnipeg and Charlottetown – in the three provinces that have fixed fees for years.

The federal treasury is set to spend $7.5 billion over a decade to help fund child-care spaces across the country, with the money flowing through one-on-one agreements with provinces.

WATCH: A look at child care costs across Canada in 2016

The first three years of spending will be $1.3 billion and potentially create or maintain 40,000 subsidized spaces, a target the Liberals say is on its way to being achieved. Once the three years are up – after this year’s federal election – new funding deals will have to be signed.

David Macdonald, a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said he expected that government policy aimed at lowering fees will lead to an overall decrease in prices for the first time in five years.

“For the survey that we’ve been doing, it’s just been fees going up every year, year after year, far more than the rate of inflation and we’re seeing fees actually start to go in reverse in a couple of the provinces,” Macdonald said.

He says the initial federal spending appears to have helped provinces moving to regulate the prices parents pay for child care.

How much child care cash do you qualify for? New website, application process goes live

The federal Liberals didn’t expect provinces to set lower fees when it signed funding agreements with all of them last year, but did envision that provincial governments – which are responsible for child care – would find ways to make daycare more affordable for those who need it.

A set-fee regime in St. John’s, N.L., led to a 13-per-cent decline in the fees parents pay, the report says, even though the costs still remain similar to those found in Ottawa, where the rates are set by the market. Reductions were also noted in Edmonton where the provincial NDP has rolled out government-supported $25-a-day daycare.

“There’s a measurable effect,” Macdonald said of federal funding.

“While federal money is certainly flowing out, it in all cases supported pre-existing provincial efforts. So it’s not that the federal money initiated those efforts – the provinces initiated those efforts usually several years prior to the federal bilateral agreements being signed.”

WATCH: More than 40% of kids live in ‘child-care deserts,’ study says

Other provinces are using federal funding towards other efforts, such increasing subsidies for low-income families, Macdonald said, although the impacts won’t be captured in the centre’s survey of what providers charge.

Groups interested in seeing the Liberals boost their child-care pending have come away from talks with the view that the government won’t unveil any new measures in the 2019 budget.

Other groups argue that providing more money to families and letting them make their own child-care decisions is better federal policy.

How did Trudeau’s taxes and benefits affect you? Find out with our calculator

Cardus, a non-partisan, faith-based think-tank, released a report last month arguing that federal spending should be used to expand the income-tested child benefit, allow parents on leave to earn more income before their employment-insurance benefits are clawed back, and allow for a market-based, independent child-care system.

“We are witnessing unnecessary discrimination against market-based, home-based, or other private/independent child care,” the paper argues. “These forms of care are some of the most popular for parents as they often mimic the home environment more closely.”


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Shooting suspect Daon Glasgow in custody after ‘high risk’ arrest in Burnaby


Surrey RCMP have arrested Daon Gordon Glasgow in connection with the shooting of Transit Police Const. Josh Harms on Wednesday at the Scott Road SkyTrain Station in Surrey, B.C.

According to Surrey RCMP, Glasgow was arrested at a home in the 7500 block of Boundary Road in Burnaby at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday morning.

In a press conference on Sunday morning, Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald with Surrey RCMP said that no one was injured in what he described as a « high risk » arrest.

He said the home where Glasgow was arrested was a fourplex, and that the residents of the other three units were evacuated prior to the arrest. Three other people were detained by police, but released shortly afterwards. McDonald said he did not know how long Glasgow had been in the home.

The Surrey RCMP Serious Crimes Unit, the Lower Mainland Emergency Response Team, the Lower Mainland Integrated Police Dog Service, Air 1 and Burnaby RCMP assisted in the arrest.

McDonald said Glasgow, 35, is currently being held in connection to an outstanding warrant of being unlawfully at large before Wednesday’s shooting.

Police are now working with the BC Prosecution Service to lay charges in connection with the shooting.

A photo taken by a neighbour in Burnaby shows police vehicles deployed to the scene of the arrest. (Submitted)

Harms, 27, was on regular patrol duty Wednesday when a suspect shot him on the platform of the Scott Road SkyTrain station around 4:20 p.m. PT.

His injuries were not life threatening. 

In the press conference Barry Kross, chief of the Metro Vancouver Transit Police, said that Harms is « doing well » and recovering at home.

In the following days police released surveillance footage of a shooting suspect and said they were looking for Glasgow. A sweeping four-day manhunt of the area involved at least 80 officers. Schools and residences were temporarily put on lockdown on Wednesday evening.

Shortly after the shooting at the Scott Road SkyTrain station, police released images of a suspect, who police identified as Daon Gordon Glasgow. (Surrey RCMP)

« It certainly takes a team effort for an investigation of this magnitude to come to a successful completion, a successful conclusion, as it has today, » Kross said.

Investigation ‘extremely complex’

McDonald wouldn’t comment on how Glasgow was arrested from the home, but said police « pulled out all the stops given the risk to public safety. »

« In Wednesday’s shooting we had to consider that this was not a targeted event, that the suspect was armed with a firearm and at large in public, and there was a heightened risk for violence, » he said.

« These factors pose an extremely serious risk for public safety and from the outset this has been an extremely complex investigation. »

Glasgow has a previous conviction for manslaughter in the 2010 death of Terry Scott at the McDonald’s near 110th Avenue and Scott Road, just blocks away from where Harms was shot.


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Former students start petition to save Riverdale High School – Montreal


Jason Comm, Amanda Lovelace and Sam Godon have fond memories of attending Riverdale High School.

“There are families and generations that have gone to this school,” said Lovelace while at a meeting with Liberal MNA Monsef Derraji.

The three former Riverdale students met with the Nelligan MNA to see what steps can be taken to save their old school.

Riverdale High School building to be handed over to French school board

Francois Legault’s CAQ government announced Monday that it was closing the English school in Pierrefonds, and giving it over to the over-crowded French Marguerite Bourgeoys school board.

“This is an English institution. We have to keep it around because we are Quebecers, too, and deserve to have our institutions maintained,” said Comm.

WATCH: Quebec a key battleground in federal election campaign

The group has started a petition to try and keep the school open, and Derraji says the petition could help him make a case to the minister.

“It is something I can take to the minister and say, ‘this is serious and from our community,’” said Derraji.

While at a caucus meeting in Gatineau, Premier Francois Legault told reporters that the party considered having the French school share space with the English school, but that after months of negotiations, realized that it wouldn’t work.

English schools in West Island will fill empty classrooms with French students

“We were open to this scenario, but after reviewing the number of students in the different schools, it was possible to have the school only for francophones,” said Legault.

Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge says that the overcrowding situation at the French school is a “crisis” and so the government had to take action.

Comm and his friends are convinced that there has to be another solution — one that keeps Riverdale open and in the English community.


© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Kingston high school students create their own instruments in guitar-building class – Kingston


Rocking out on their very own handcrafted guitars is music to the ears of several students at Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute (KCVI), who created the instruments from scratch as part of a guitar-building focus program at the school.

Rebecca Amell is one of the students taking the course. Amell can’t believe she is finally strumming along on her new custom-made instrument.

“It’s honestly amazing because you just hold it and you’re like, ‘Wow, I made this,’” said Amell. “It just warms my heart.”

It took several months for these guitar builders to get everything right, from brainstorming an idea to building practice stencils to putting together the finished product.

String by string, students poured their blood, sweat and tears into what are now recognizable styles of the musical instrument.

Kingston’s ‘Visual Paradise’ showcases high school students’ fine art, design

“It was a really fun build. It was time-consuming and stuff, and it costs a lot to do,” said Danny Vaughan, a student in the class. “It’s a fun program.”

Building guitars isn’t new for KCVI students. Pat Tanden has been teaching the class for a number of years now, and it has evolved from building acoustic guitars to electric ones. He says when students realize what they’ve made, it’s a satisfying feeling.

“When they plug in and realize that this instrument plays as good as any in a store, it creates that specialness that we have within us,” said Tanden.

High School coaches headed to the Kingston Sports Hall of Fame

A total of 17 electric guitars were made in the class. Several models of guitars were designed and built, including Gibson SGs, Explorer Gibsons and Fender Telecasters. Some of them are quite unique, including a guitar made with wood and a blue resin that gives the instrument a glow as if a light is shining behind it.

If any of these instruments were sold in a store, they could be priced at hundreds or even thousands of dollars. When asked if he would trade in his hard work for cash, Vaughan said not a chance.

“It’s just my guitar I built myself. I couldn’t put a price on it,” he said.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Storm sweeps across Maritimes bringing snow, freezing rain and high winds


A winter storm is hitting the Maritimes with blowing winds, freezing rain, snow and rain expected through the day, with as much as 40 centimetres of snow in northern parts of New Brunswick.

Environment Canada has issued winter storm warnings for all of New Brunswick and western P.E.I. There are rain and wind warnings in effect across Nova Scotia but snow is expected before the transition to rain happens later in the day.

CBC meteorologist Tina Simpkin said warmer air Sunday afternoon will transform snow to ice pellets and freezing rain in southern New Brunswick, the eastern half of P.E.I. and all of Nova Scotia. 

Simpkin said most of mainland Nova Scotia will see five to 10 cm of snow, mixed with some ice pellets, before 10 to 15 millimetres of rain later on Sunday. An additional 30 to 40 mm of rain is expected tonight.

Cape Breton will see the storm arrive later in the day with heavy downpours resulting in about 25 mm of rain tonight, she said. 

Freezing rain as temperature rises

Southeastern parts of New Brunswick and P.E.I. will also see five to 15 cm of snow and ice pellets before the changeover, which wlll include freezing rain before about 20 mm of rain, Simpkin said.

Fredericton and northern New Brunswick will see more snow, but some freezing rain is also expected in the Fredericton area this evening. Up to 40 cm of snow is forecasted for northern parts of New Brunswick. 

High winds will peak tonight with gusts up to 90 to 100 km/h in parts of the Maritimes, she said. 

Travel affected

Environment Canada warns localized and flash flooding could cause water to pool on roads.

Airlines have issued travel advisories for aiports in all three Maritime provinces. Flights at some airports are already affected. 

The high winds are expected to create rough seas. Marine Atlantic is planning to sail ealier than usual this morning between North Sydney, N.S., and Port Aux Basques, N.L., to try to keep ahead of the messy weather.

Bay Ferries has cancelled its crossings.

The Confederation Bridge expects to start restricting traffic at noon. 

The weather system is expected to continue well into Monday.


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Pierrefonds Comprehensive High School hosts fair to guide students toward career options – Montreal


Pierrefonds Comprehensive High School picked up where the Lester B. Pearson School Board dropped off.

The school held its own career fair day for students in grades 9, 10 and 11 when the school board cancelled its career day last fall.

READ MORE: The $100K entry-level job you can get here in Canada

Hundreds of kids had a break from class as they toured more than a dozen kiosks made up of CEGEPs, trade schools and vocational job opportunities.

The annual event aims to help students continue their education or find future job opportunities as traditional career paths often don’t fit all student needs.

“I have taken pamphlets and have people explain stuff, so it’s cool,” Jayden Alleyne, a Grade 11 student, told Global News.

This year, only students from PCHS could attend after the school board cancelled its event in November due to bad weather.

WATCH: EMSB holds career fair

Staff members and students of PCHS were thrilled to attend and be part of the abbreviated career day.

“It’s not a one size fits all thing for kids,” said PCHS principal Colleen Galley. “Every kid is different and I think what has happened over the years is we’re moving from thinking you have to go CEGEP and university to be successful.”

“There are so many different pathways to success.”

LBPSB officials hope to host a much larger career fair day next year with students from all of its member schools.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Afroman was gonna come to Newfoundland, but then he got high


Afroman has a simple, albeit expected, reason for cancelling a sold-out New Year’s Eve performance in Corner Brook, N.L., three days before the show was to take place.

« I was gonna check Canadian plane tickets, but then I got high, » he sang in a video posted to Facebook on Saturday.

The Los Angeles-based artist, who earned a Grammy nomination for his hit single Because I Got High, waited until this week to price plane tickets to Newfoundland, and realized it cost about the same amount he was set to be paid for the show.

As a result, he bailed on the show on Dec. 28, leaving bar owner Dave Young scrambling to refund money to eager ticket holders.

« Everything will be refunded. There’s not one person who won’t get their money back, » Young told CBC News.

Young said it could take a few days, as Afroman — real name Joseph Foreman — has to transfer the money he was paid before the show back to Young, and U.S. to Canadian transfers take time.

Owner disappointed, but makeup show in the works

The concert was set to be the first big event for Young at The Studio, a bar he purchased in the fall.

« Bringing him here to this bar, it would have been really good because it would have put us really on the map hard, » Young said. « Having a celebrity walk through your door to do shows, that’s kind of a big thing. And of course, not having him show up now is kind of a kick in the teeth. »

In his video, Afroman said they are working to put together a make-up show at The Studio for mid-January, while he’s already in Canada for a brief tour. Young said he’s hopeful they can pull it together.

The Studio was formerly known as Starlings, but changed hands in the fall. (The Studio/Facebook)

Young said some people are mad about their New Year’s plans being axed, but he believes the rapper is genuine in his remorse for making a mistake.

« He’s very apologetic about it. He’s very sorry. »

Young said he expects a make-up date will be announced in the coming days.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris’s classmates from her Canadian high school cheer her potential run for president


WASHINGTON—In the yearbook photo of the 1981 graduating class at Westmount High School near Montreal, the left hand of a beaming Kamala Harris is resting on the right shoulder of Hugh Kwok.

Kwok went on to run a Montreal car business with his father. Unbeknownst to him, Harris went on to be a U.S. senator. She’s now contemplating a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, seen here in a May 5 file photo.
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, seen here in a May 5 file photo.  (CHRIS DELMAS / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

When Kwok was asked in December for his thoughts on his old pal’s potential run, he answered a reporter’s question with a question.

“She’s running for president of what?” he asked in a tone that suggested he thought the answer might be the local Rotary Club.

Informed that it was the presidency of the United States, his voice rose. “No way. Oh my goodness. I can’t believe it,” he said. Then he decided he was supportive of this idea.

“We could use a good president,” he said. “She was a sweet, kind person. Very happy, very social. I’m just very excited for her, if that’s what she wants to do with her life.”

Harris has said she will decide over the holidays whether to run for president. If she does, she will be considered one of the major candidates in what is expected to be a crowded competition for the Democratic nomination. It is now possible that Westmount, the 145-year-old public school where singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and hockey legend Art Ross also studied, will produce a U.S. president before it produces a Canadian prime minister.

Harris returned to her native U.S. for university, and she long ago lost touch with most or all of her Westmount acquaintances. But some of them have traded delighted texts and Facebook posts about her ascent. And they are generally not all that surprised.

They remember the California senator, now 54, as an assured, cheery teenager who thrived both in school and on the dance floor. They say she maintained an easy popularity across the subtle divides of a racially and economically diverse student body that drew from both wealthy and lower-income neighbourhoods.

Harris “gave off an aura suggesting she was poised for success,” said Paul Olioff, now an academic adviser at McGill University, who recalled her as a “terrific, confident presence” with an advanced fashion sense.

“Westmount High was a very racially segregated school when we attended, not in a hostile way, but more because of socio-economic divisions. Ms. Harris transcended this, as there were few students she didn’t get along with,” Olioff said in an email.

This is at least the fourth consecutive presidential election in which a major candidate has had family ties to Canada. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who lost the Republican primary to Donald Trump in 2016, was born in Calgary. Former president Barack Obama has a brother-in-law from Burlington.

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As Obama and Cruz know, the “America First” Trump has a talent for portraying an opponent’s links to foreign countries as grounds for voter suspicion. Asked via email how her Westmount years influenced her, Harris expressed no particular fondness for Montreal, Quebec or Canada.

“While my sister Maya and I made great friends and even learned some French, we were happy to return home to California,” she said through a spokesperson.

She did add: “One of the women’s auxiliary groups at the hospital my mother worked at ended up inspiring me to help create an auxiliary group at the Highland Hospital in Oakland later in life.”

Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general, is the California-born daughter of two immigrants to the U.S., both of whom earned PhDs: India-born scientist and breast cancer researcher Shyamala Gopalan Harris and Jamaican-born economics professor Donald Harris.

They divorced when Kamala was a young child. When she was 12, she said, her mother moved to Montreal for a job researching at the Jewish General Hospital and teaching at McGill. Her mother spent 16 years in the job, according to a 2009 family obituary.

Both of Harris’s parents were involved in the U.S. civil rights movement. Sister and fellow Westmount student Maya Harris, who became a lawyer, adviser to Hillary Clinton and television commentator, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Kamala became something of an activist in Quebec at 13 — organizing a successful children’s protest against a no-playing-in-the-yard policy at their apartment building.

In the 1981 Westmount yearbook, Harris thanked her mother and listed “California” as a cherished memory. She said a favourite pastime was “dancing with super six; Midnight Magic.” Old friend Wanda Kagan told the Canadian Press last year that Midnight Magic was their amateur dance troupe, which she said performed at fundraisers and for seniors at community centres.

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, who is running for president, graduated from Westmount High School in Montreal in 1981.
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, who is running for president, graduated from Westmount High School in Montreal in 1981.  (Submitted by John Dila)

Eyal Dattel, a human resources director in Vancouver, said he recalls his drama classmate as “always a truly nice person” and now sees her as “an ideal candidate for a progressive future.” Dean Smith, a Montreal basketball coach, said he remembers Harris as a hard-studying and likeable student who helped classmates with schoolwork and preferred to spend time with average kids rather than with moneyed elites.

“In my opinion, she’d be a great president, because she’s fair,” he said.

John Dila, a Harris classmate who is now a Harris constituent as a businessman on the California startup scene, said the Westmount students of the day regularly discussed politics.

Harris lived in Quebec at a tense time in local affairs: the provincial government passed its French-language law in 1977, held a referendum on independence in 1980, and, in 1981, opposed the patriation of the Constitution. Dila, who praised Harris at length, said he thinks she understands policy issues better than American colleagues who have had narrower life experiences.

“Having lived in Canada — those are seminal years, and I can’t believe she wasn’t deeply shaped by the handful of years that she was there,” he said.

At least one Westmount classmate is cool to Harris’s candidacy. Gail Clarke described the teenage Harris as “pretend sweet,” lamenting that the senator decided in Grade 11 that she was too unexciting to continue hanging out with. Clarke added: “I do wish Kamala the best.”

Before Harris, Westmount’s most successful politician graduate was Stockwell Day, the Conservative former federal minister and former leader of the Canadian Alliance party.

Even Day, Class of ’67, had positive words about Harris’s bid. He said her experience at a school at once diverse and harmonious would have “given her some great insights into how a multinational population really can work and live together.”

“Her policies as Attorney General in California on things like gun control and criminal justice reform would fit in quite well in Canada,” Day said in an email. “If she runs and wins the presidency, I will definitely reach out to her to see if Westmount High alums can get tickets to her inauguration!”

Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8


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