‘It’s a huge thing’: Film starring 2 Nunavik teens screening at Sundance Film Festival


Two Nunavik teenagers are starring in a film about Inuit throat singing, which will be showing at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

The three and a half minute film, Throat Singing in Kangirsuk, features Manon Chamberland, 15, and Eva Kaukai, 18, singing on the tundra outside their home village Kangirsuk.   

« It’s a huge thing, » said Chamberland. « We had never heard about the Sundance before, but when we did it was so amazing. »

Wapikoni, a production company that makes films about Indigenous youth, shot the video in February 2018.

Chamberland said Kaukai was working with the film company in the community. She asked Chamberland to join her in the film as a throat singer.

« This is an Inuit village so every one of the young girls learns throat singing growing up, » said Chamberland. « Our grandparents taught us throat singing to keep the generation alive. »

Chamberland said they wanted to show how they are carrying on traditional Inuit culture in the video.

Watch the trailer for Throat Singing in Kangirsuk:

Though Chamberland and Kaukai shot the video in the winter, much of the short film shows Kangirsuk in the summer. Aerial drone shots show local hunters taking apart a caribou and young kids playing in the village.

« This is a great opportunity to show that we are here, » said Chamberland. « That we have our culture. »

Chamberland said it’s hard for her to put into words just how much this video has impacted her life. Kaukai and Chamberland will be traveling to Utah for the screening of the film on Jan. 24.

« Everyone in the village was so happy and excited about it, » she said. 

Throat Singing in Kangirsukwill be screened four times at the festival.


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Loud, smelly and ‘spellbinding’ — hundreds of huge sea lions converge on Powell River


Hundreds of sea lions have converged on a beach in Powell River, B.C., as photographers and nature lovers arrive to take in the sight. 

Powell River resident Lesley Armstrong says the sea lions started arriving around Christmas and their numbers have been growing to the point where the animals are covering nearly every inch of the barges, beach and breakwater at Second Beach. 

« It’s just become the most amazing visual spectacle. And everybody’s going down there, » Armstrong said over the phone from her home. 

« It’s really spellbinding because they’re so loud and they’re so raucous and they’re all playing in the water — those that aren’t sleeping and lying on the rocks. »

Armstrong says there were up to three dozen cars parked at the beach on Sunday morning to watch the large mammals snuggle up against each other.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans put up a sign warning people not to interact with them, but Armstrong says the sea lions are packed so tightly together that no one could even try to walk among them. 

‘I was just amazed’

It’s not the first time sea lions have converged in the area at this time of year, Armstrong says, but even long-term residents have never seen them in such great numbers. 

She says some of the sea lions appear to weigh up to a tonne. 

« I stood there with both my dogs on leashes about ten feet from them and they just didn’t even care that I was there. I was just amazed, » she said.

« When they wake up they bark and bark and bark and it’s very social. It’s very entertaining. »

Armstrong says her loud new neighbours appear to be a mix of Steller and California sea lions. 

Growing populations

According to the Vancouver Aquarium, Steller sea lions are quite common off the coast of B.C., but their populations had been mysteriously dwindling over the past few years. 

They were declared endangered in 1997, the aquarium says on its website, but their numbers are slowly growing. 

The Marine Mammal Centre says California sea lions are found as far north as Vancouver Island and as far south as Baja California in Mexico.

The organization’s website describes them as « opportunistic eaters » that feed on squid, octopus, herring, rockfish, mackerel and small sharks. Their numbers also appear to be growing.

Some groups say seals and sea lions have been booming in the past few years, to the chagrin of some fishermen who want to start hunting them. 

Advocates of a hunt are also pitching it as a way to help B.C.’s endangered southern resident killer whales, which feed mainly on salmon. 

‘You can smell it’

Armstrong says she doesn’t think the sea lions will be in Powell River much longer.

That may be a blessing — she says warmer weather in the past few days has led to a rather pungent odour from the huge beasts. 

« You can smell it. It’s much more fetid, » she said.


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Ontario’s fiscal watchdog says deficit is $1.2 billion lower than claimed, but warns of huge future shortfalls


Ontario’s fiscal watchdog says this year’s budget deficit is $12.3 billion — $1.2 billion lower than Finance Minister Vic Fedeli has projected.

But financial accountability officer Peter Weltman also warned huge shortfalls will continue into the future unless the Progressive Conservative government makes dramatic spending cuts or increases taxes.

In last month’s fall economic statement, Fedeli said the shortfall has ballooned to $14.5 billion. He did not include the value of the province’s $1 billion reserve fund, which would have brought the deficit down to $13.5 billion.

Weltman insisted his calculation, which is $1.2 billion lower than the government’s figure, is the correct one.

The difference is mainly due to the government’s lower forecast of tax revenue.

Fedeli emphasized the government is building “prudence” into its fiscal planning.

“As we have always said, and as the financial accountability officer confirms, we have inherited a structural deficit from the previous government,” the finance minister said.

“While we have already taken steps by finding more than $3.2 billion in efficiencies and savings, we still have more work to do,” he said, noting the Liberals “recklessly spent taxpayer dollars.”

But the new regime’s books have also been called into question.

As first disclosed by the Star last week, the province’s controller, Cindy Veinot, quit after refusing to sign off on the treasurer’s version of the public accounts.

Veinot, who was the government’s chief accountant, resigned because she “did not agree with accounting decisions made by the current government.”

“I believe that the consolidated financial statements of the province of Ontario as issued … materially overstate the deficit of the province for the year,” she said in a submission to the legislative “transparency” committee examining the province’s books.

The accountant says the shortfall is $5 billion lower than Fedeli’s estimates because he excluded the government’s share of the co-sponsored Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union Pension Plan and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan as assets on the books.

Neither Weltman nor Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk count the pension as assets even though they were booked as such until Lysyk changed her mind in 2015.

NDP MPP Sandy Shaw said “just like Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals, Doug Ford’s Conservatives have really cooked deficit numbers themselves.”

Shaw (Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas) accused the Tories of “fear-mongering” by citing such massive shortfalls.

“We’re concerned he’s using this to justify deep cuts,” she said.

Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter (Scarborough Guildwood) said the fiscal watchdog proves Fedeli is pushing an “inflated deficit number, which really provides the context for deeper cuts to programs and services that people rely on.”

Green Leader Mike Schreiner said “the Ford government is playing political games with Ontario’s finances.”

“It was wrong for the previous government to play political games with the budget. It is wrong for the Ford government do it only a few months into their mandate,” said Schreiner.

In his report Monday, the financial accountability officer projected next year’s deficit would be $15.1 billion, rising to $16.4 billion by 2022-23.

“While the government has not indicated when it intends to balance the budget, it has committed to not raising taxes,” said Weltman.

To get Ontario back into the black before the 2022 election without tax hikes would require that program spending growth be held at 1.2 per cent annually.

That would require Ford’s government to cut the equivalent of $850 per person from today’s levels by the next campaign.

The Ontario government currently spends about $10,000 per person for provincial programs.

Weltman notes that beyond forgoing the $1.9 billion in cap-and-trade proceeds, the government will also lose $500 million in revenue from its new income tax cut for people earning less than $30,000 a year.

The low-income individuals and families tax credit (LIFT) was one of the Tories’ signature campaign promises.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie


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El Mocambo’s neon palm returns as owner shows off huge, ambitious changes


There is, once again, light at the end of the tunnel — or above the front doors, at least — for Toronto live-music lovers eagerly awaiting the rebirth of El Mocambo.

A brand-spankin’-new replica of the El Mo’s iconic “neon palm” sign will be lit on Thursday evening amidst as much pomp and circumstance as rock ’n’ roll will allow, in its familiar perch since 1948 over 464 Spadina Ave. Most of the marquee and the art-deco entryway beneath it are finally restored to their former glory, too. A private party to celebrate the venue’s 70th anniversary will follow.

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble—Live At The El Mocambo 1983 is a high-powered performance from SRV’s early days, featuring Testify, Texas Flood, Pride and Joy and a fiery interpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).

It’s not the grand reopening of the beloved nightclub that owner Michael Wekerle — the Bay Street financier and former Dragons’ Den star who bought the dilapidated property in 2014 to rescue it from being turned into a computer store — would have preferred. But that’s coming. This time it’s really coming. Just don’t ask him for a date.

Read more:

Opinion | Edward Keenan: Preservation of Honest Ed’s sign part of new movement, ‘sign-ism’

“This is where everything’s starting to transform,” said Wekerle Monday, as the 2,300-kg El Mocambo sign — painstakingly recreated in every detail by Cambridge’s Pride Signs, save a few modern-day technical upgrades — was being hoisted into place outside the El Mo construction office. “It’s been very stressful, to say the least, for the last four-and-a-half years. It’s about four times the cost and about three times the time that we should have taken to do it. But you know what? At the end of the day, it was not to be taken lightly because we wanted to bring back the El Mocambo.”

El Mocambo rivals the 71-year-old Horseshoe Tavern and its comparably grotty Spadina Ave. neighbour to the north — the currently demolished Silver Dollar Room (required under City of Toronto law to return) — as Toronto’s most beloved rock ’n’ roll destination.

It could be the city’s best-known venue internationally, in fact, as it was the site of some of the recordings found on the Rolling Stones’ 1977 album Love You Live — not to mention a rumoured dalliance between Mick Jagger and Margaret Trudeau, then the wife of then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau. Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy graced its stage when it was predominantly a blues club during the 1970s but, by the time the New Wave era came around, the El Mo would play host to the likes of Blondie, the Ramones and Elvis Costello. U2 was paid $500 to play its first gig in North America there in December 1980.

The club has escaped extinction a number of times. It was declared dead in 1989 and 1991, and bounced back during the late 1990s as a choice underground punk-rock spot under the stewardship of promoter Dan Burke, who actually hosted a Neon Palm Festival in 1999 to relight the original El Mocambo sign.

El Mocambo owner Michael Wekerle is seen riding the sign Monday as it is first lifted off the truck. The famed music venue on Spadina installed the updated iconic sign and will light it up on Thursday — one more step toward reopening.
El Mocambo owner Michael Wekerle is seen riding the sign Monday as it is first lifted off the truck. The famed music venue on Spadina installed the updated iconic sign and will light it up on Thursday — one more step toward reopening.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

It was sold again in 2001, got a major renovation that stripped off some grime and it was never quite the same again — the upstairs room briefly became a dance studio — despite still luring Queens of the Stone Age for a memorable gig in 2008. Cadillac Lounge owner Sam Grosso bought the building in 2012, pledging to restore El Mocambo to its “former glory” but the bookings never happened.

Billy Idol at the El Mocambo in the 1980s.
Billy Idol at the El Mocambo in the 1980s.  (Toronto Star file photo)

It’s actually rather fitting that a replica of the old neon palm will adorn the new El Mocambo because, much like the original sign, the original El Mo was in such rough shape when Wekerle bought it off Grosso for $3.6 million that he essentially had to oversee the construction of an entirely new “building within a building.” It’s more or less a replica of the old El Mocambo itself and, while the space is still pretty raw, you can see it taking shape — especially if you’re lucky enough to sneak a peek at the top-secret renderings for the final product — and the broad outlines are comfortingly respectful of the old layout.

There’s still a smaller room in the 400-capacity range with a stage on the west side of the ground floor, while upstairs a long, wide room in the 600-700-cap range will maintain the stage — which will be flanked by the original El Mo sign, “butterflied” into two halves — in its familiar position in the middle of the north wall, albeit now with a third-floor VIP balcony where the low ceilings used to be. There’s now a freight elevator backstage to spare bands hauling their bass amps up three flights of stairs, too. Oh, and there’s a recording studio overseen by legendary producer/engineer Eddie Kramer and John Storyk, the chap who designed famed New York studio Electric Ladyland, tucked in the corner behind the balcony.

That’s the 21st-century angle on the new El Mocambo: when finished, the entire thing will be “a recording studio that happens to be a nightclub,” as Andy Curran, the one-time Coney Hatch frontman who now heads the nascent El Mocambo Records and El Mocambo Entertainment operations, puts it. Even the third-floor dressing room is wired into the control room on the top floor. It will be a cinch to record, stream or broadcast top-quality audio and video from pretty much anywhere in the building.

Mick Jagger leads the Rolling Stones at the El Mo on Mar. 4, 1977.
Mick Jagger leads the Rolling Stones at the El Mo on Mar. 4, 1977.  (Ken Regan photo)

“In reality, (Wekerle) has actually built a recording studio,” says Curran. “The whole thing is wired. Each floor is soundproofed. The amount of work that went into soundproofing is, as our production manager says, so crazy that you could potentially have the Dropkick Murphys on the ground floor and Diana Krall playing a jazz set upstairs and you would not hear anything.”

All the technology going into the new venue is thinking ahead of the curve, too. Obsolescence will not be a problem.

“There will be no issues for the next 15 to 20 years” besides any cosmetic updates, says Wekerle, who’s cutting deals that he hopes will make “Live from the El Mocambo” content as familiar as the Austin City Limits or Live From Abbey Road brands.

“This is being built for the next 50 years. We have probably overspent in the short term, but we’re probably saving in the long term.”

Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age performs at the El Mocambo on Friday May 9, 2008.
Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age performs at the El Mocambo on Friday May 9, 2008.  (Carlos Osorio/Toronto star file photo)

He’s coy about how much this project has actually cost him, but he’ll freely admit it’s a lot.

“Oh, man. You couldn’t even guess. The over/under is $20 million. But it’s over. It’s over. I’m eating every Thursday and Saturday, but it’s OK,” says a laughing Wekerle, conceding that there have been moments when he worried that he was in way over his head. “I don’t think a day has gone by when I haven’t been stressed out about what’s the next issue here? ‘Oh, we hit a pipe? OK, we gotta do this differently.’ ‘Oh, this permit hasn’t come due? Well, we’ll have to hold off on the drywallers.’ It’s just been issue after issue. Maybe I would have changed my mind if I’d known how big a job it was at first.

“But it’s great for the city. I really believe in it. And thank you to anyone in the city who’s come up to me and said, ‘Thank you for bringing the El Mo back.’ It’s not me, it’s a whole team of people, but it really means a lot to me that people have reached out to say I’m doing something right. Yes, we could have done it cheaper. Yes, we could have opened it earlier. But it would have been lacklustre if we’d opened it earlier with just a touched-up facade, and it wouldn’t have had the kind of impact I think we’ll have.”

So when is the new El Mocambo going to open?

“I’ve been reluctant to say,” he sighs. “I keep saying ‘spring 2019.’ I’d like to have it open to do something during Canadian Music Week in May, but the date I’ve been giving is April 2. Maybe I should say April 1 because it gives me an out.”

Ben Rayner is the Star’s music critic and based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @ihateBenRayner


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Rain, wind destroy huge landmark Canadian flag in Surrey


The huge Canadian flag in Surrey’s Guildford area ripped off during the storm Thursday night.

Flooding closes off streets in Maple Ridge

Larry Holcroft, the manager of the Barnes Wheaton General Motors dealership where the flag flies, said it’s not cheap to replace.

“This particular storm, it’s gonna be a whole flag that needs to be required, and typically it’s about 6,000 bucks,” he said.

Holcroft added the landmark flies 280 feet in the air.

Surrey city council votes against flying Pride flag

The flag is set to be fixed Saturday morning.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Why students jumping off roofs is ‘a huge social media thing’


As students raise the roof at last Saturday’s unsanctioned and booze-fuelled street party east of the Western University campus in London, some of them literally took the party to the rooftops in what some people think is becoming an increasingly common and dangerous part of student party culture known as ‘brewfing.’ 

The so-called « fake homecoming » celebration on Broughdale Avenue, a small street of mostly student rental homes, saw at least 52 people taken to hospital for injuries related to the party, including a number of people who fell, or in some cases, jumped from rooftops. 

« It’s a decently common thing. It’s a party thing, » said Dylan White, a Western student who lives not far from party’s epicentre on Broughdale Avenue.

« There’ll be tables that’ll be in backyards, and people jump off the roof and land and break the table. It’s a huge social media thing. » 

‘Everybody wants to see something funny’

Western University student Mel Nolan said people will often jump off roofs to perform for crowds of people who cheer them on. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Websites such as Canadianpartylife, which bills itself as « Canada’s #1 party social media, » has attracted 112,0000 followers on Instagram in a little over two years by posting videos of real life party shenanigans captured on cell phone cameras by students around the country.

Some of the videos rack up tens of thousands of views, and some believe it’s the audience that drives students to engage in such reckless behaviour.

« I think it’s because everybody is watching them, and everybody wants to see something funny and something cool, » said Western University student Mel Nolan, who lives in a rental home a stone’s throw away from Broughdale Avenue. 

« The crowd gets them going and just hypes them up. They just want to show what people want to see, » she said. 

‘It’s just gotten worse and worse’

Gustav Schiede has lived near Broughdale Avenue since 1958. He’s seen thousands of parties but he says they’ve become much wilder and larger since the administration pushed homecoming from late September to late October. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

It’s not just students who are talking about the increasingly risky behaviour either, so are people who have lived in the area for decades.

Gustav Scheide has lived on Audrey Street, a small street that connects Broughdale Avenue to Huron Street since 1958. In that time, he’s witnessed thousands of student parties over the years and lately, he says, they’ve become wilder. 

« It’s just gotten worse and worse, » he said. « In the last five years it’s just gotten out of hand. » 

Scheide says the biggest change came when the administration at Western University moved homecoming from late September to late October, in an attempt to curb the student excesses that happened at the start of the academic year. 

The students are doing it on purpose to get even with the university.– Gustav Schiede

« I think it backfired, » he said. « Now the students are doing it on purpose to get even with the university. » 

Scheide said he sees students drinking on their roofs, but only during fake homecoming.

« Only on the weekend for the homecoming party, for the rest of the year we have no problems, » he said. « I guess the students want to prove something, they didn’t like what the university did to make homecoming later. » 

What exactly some students are trying to prove by jumping off rooftops isn’t clear, but at least one man paid the price for his choice on Saturday. He was rushed to hospital with serious injuries, including a number of broken bones, after he lept from the rooftop in front of a cheering crowd. 

Property owners could be fined

The London Police Service has released drone footage showing a bird’s eye view of the crowds on Broughdale Avenue during so-called fake Homecoming. 0:41

Physical injuries aren’t the only consequence of rooftop partying, which is illegal under city bylaws and the Ontario Fire Code.

The London Fire Department has embarked on a month-and-a-half long investigation looking into allegations of rooftop partying this past weekend, which could see not only tenants, but property managers and even owners charged.

« We’re actively investigating right now a number of Broughdale residences and Huron and the greater Broughdale area for fire code related charges, » said London Deputy Fire Chief Jack Burt. « We’ll be charging multiple parties. »

He said investigators will spend the next 45 days looking at who owns the properties and who lives there, before the actual fines are issued. 


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Residents of Old Fort, B.C., remain isolated as huge, creeping landslide continues its slow march


VANCOUVER—As a slow-moving landslide continues to creep down from the cracked hillside towards the Peace River more than 24 hours after its descent began, the residents of the nearby Old Fort community outside Fort St. John, B.C., are still stranded with no safe way to leave their area.

Gordon Pardy, a longtime Old Fort resident who spoke with the Star on Sunday, said he and his wife, Bobbi, are staying put for the time being despite a conditional evacuation alert that had been issued by the Peace River Regional District.

A pair of Old Town residents walk by the landslide which has buried the only access road to their community, just a few kilometres outside of Fort St. John, B.C.
A pair of Old Town residents walk by the landslide which has buried the only access road to their community, just a few kilometres outside of Fort St. John, B.C.  (Courtesy Bobbi Pardy)

“We’re doing OK, hanging in here,” Pardy said by phone. “We’ll probably manage better than some people.”

The whole community has its water trucked along Old Fort Road — the only access to or from the Old Fort community — which the landslide had buckled and then buried over the past two days, he said. The asphalt buckled and heaved throughout Sunday, and is now buried under earth, trees and debris far higher than a person stands.

And since the community’s water is only delivered every two weeks, Pardy said, some residents are eyeing their personal reservoirs worriedly. The power was also cut Monday, he added, since the lines were directly below the oncoming landslide. That means Old Fort residents no longer have heat for their homes, he pointed out, and it’s -6 C in the Peace River area. It has also begun to snow.

The Peace River Regional District (PRRD) — the administrative body responsible for the area — issued a conditional evacuation alert for the Old Fort area Monday morning. The alert says residents may evacuate the area “if they feel it necessary to do so.” Those residents who evacuate will be provided with food and lodging by the PRRD. Alternatively, residents may remain in their homes, though the alert notes they must be “self-sufficient,” as there is currently no vehicle access and the road may not be repaired for several days.

“Residents who choose to stay will not be provided additional support (supplies, medication, etc.) at this time,” the alert reads.

Trish Morgan, director of the PRRD emergency operations centre, said the PRRD strongly encouraged residents to evacuate regardless of whether the landslide posed greater danger than simply isolating Old Fort.

Pictures provided to the Star by Bobbi Pardy show that the slide is moving slowly enough that trees brought along with the massive movement of earth actually remain upright. Bobbi likened the material to slow-moving lava; a person could outpace it at walking speed, she said, but there was so much earth it was just unstoppable.

But landslides in that part of the province — especially along the Peace River — are not uncommon, said John J. Clague, emeritus professor in the department of earth sciences at Simon Fraser University. Clague emphasized he had not visited the Old Fort slide, so couldn’t comment directly on that specific event.

“The soils up there are particularly prone to landsliding,” Clague said in an interview. “They’re very clay-y soils. A thick package of non-rock material — we call them sediments.”

These sediments, Clague said, are particularly thick in the Peace River Valley area. This is the kind of sticky soil, he said, that will make a mess of your boots when you walk through it. And because these soils have very low strengths when they’re deposited at the bottom of steep slopes (as they are in the area around Old Fort) they can be prone to fail, crack and provoke a landslide, as in this case, he said.

The fact that the trees remain vertical as they move down the slope aligns with the kinds of conditions that might typically be seen in landslides in that area, he said.

Gordon and Bobbi Pardy, meanwhile, said they are spending their hours checking in on neighbours and making sure everyone in the Old Fort area has what they need to stay safe.

“Some people are leaving,” Gordon said, noting the power outage had really changed the equation for some residents.

But at the moment, he added, the slide only appeared to be threatening them with isolation, and posed no direct danger to their home.

Perrin Grauer is a Vancouver-based reporter covering Canada’s cannabis economy. Follow him on Twitter: @perringrauer


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