Tuesday, June 30, 2009

O Canada!

Somewhere between the dignified celebration of Canada Day and the rah-rah revelry of the Fourth of July, comes the realization that Canadians are simply too darn understated when it comes to celebrating what's so wonderful about our country.

O, Canada.

This year, more than ever, I am reminded that we live in the greatest country in the world. A recent trip through the Canadian Rockies, and the return flight over most of Central Canada was a breath-taking reminder of the vastness and beauty of this county.

Our home and native land.

My Mom and Dad were both immigrants from England. Because of their desire to learn everything they could about their new home, I was fortunate enough to travel from sea to shining sea (and many places in between) by the time I was ten. My father was a traveling salesman and he would organize his long trips around school holidays and summer vacations so that we could travel along with him. We traveled up to the start of the Alaska Highway, and explored the mighty Peace River country.

We drove through the Rockies while the Rogers Pass was being blasted out ahead of us. Every time we'd have to stop while road crews dynamited the next section of the highway, my father's old Meteor would overheat. While my siblings and I gave the universal chant, "Are we there yet, Daddy?", my father would unbuckle one of the canvas water bags roped to the grill of the car, and fill up the radiator.

We dipped our toes in the Pacific Ocean one year and in the Atlantic Ocean two summers later. In-between, we drove the endless expanse of the prairies and learned about the Canadian Shield first hand by traveling through Northern Ontario. Years later I even had a chance to visit the northern shore of Baffin Island, again thanks to my father's endless curiosity and his desire to share this great land with his children.

The true north, strong and free.

I didn't realize it at the time, but what my parents gave me during all those long road trips was a profound love for this country - and a true sense of how enormous it really is. Air travel and superhighways may have made traveling across this country faster and easier, but there's nothing like seeing it from the backseat of a '63 Meteor, to really make you appreciate how big Canada is.

From far and wide, O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

We are so privileged. We have plentiful resources; bountiful supplies of fresh water, fresh air and more trees than anyone could ever count. We have mountains, foothills, and endless plains of wheat. We have oceans - three of them, to be precise - and a collection of lakes so big we call them Great. We have the rocky shoal of Newfoundland, and the evergreen beauties of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. By simply visiting Quebec we can experience the flare and charm of Europe without ever leaving home.

We have a rich history, and a promising future. We also have two official languages, many wonderful cultures and religions and the freedom to express ourselves in any one way please.

God keep our land, glorious and free.

So thanks, again, Mom and Dad, for caring enough to teach me a deep and profound love for this country.

Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee.


The Dominion Institute was established in 1997 by a group of young people concerned about the erosion of a common memory in Canada. Its mission is to build active and informed citizens through greater knowledge and appreciation of the Canadian story. The Institute’s programs fall under three themes: memory, democracy and identity.

Earlier this month, The Institute released its History Report Card, a curriculum analysis of high schools in Canada. For more information, check out www.dominion.ca.

If you want to brush up on your Canadian facts and figures, visit Statistics Canada.

For information about our natural environment, including weather updates, visit Canada's Green Lane.

Mike Ford (formerly of Moxy Früvous) is the great Canadian troubadour. His Canada in Song project is a musical exploration of the history, land and peoples of Canada. For more information about Mike’s music and his curriculum based performances, check out www.mikeford.ca.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Candle Night

Long before there was Earth Hour, there was Candle Night.

It began in Canada as a simple protest against the Bush administration's proposal to build a nuclear power plant every month. The year was 2001 and the event was held on the summer solstice. The idea was to turn out the lights on the shortest night of the year from 8:00 to 10:00 pm.

A Japanese non-governmental organization (NGO) called the Sloth Club, embraced the idea and held its own lights-out event the same year. The following year another NGO, Daichi-O-Mamorukai (The Association to Preserve the Earth) called the gathering “Candle Night”, and a whole new movement was born.

The concept is elegant in its simplicity - enjoy some quality time with friends and family without the annoyance of artificial light and electronic devices. The idea has since spawned a network and a movement across Japan. Since 2002, Candle Night has been observed on both the summer and winter solstices.

According to the official Candle Night website, the goal is to replace the glare of artificial lighting with natural glow of candles.

“It's not a movement intending to force people to turn off their lights or to raucously protest against anything. Candle Night can offer people time to think about what really matters to them during quiet and quality time in the candlelight, something all of us tend to forget in our busy everyday lives. We hope it will eventually lead us to long-term solutions to current problems and give us a chance to overcome our "economic supremacy." Even though lighting candles may emit small amounts of CO2, we believe the benefits of the Candle Night activities are valuable to our societies and our futures.”

Okay - so a little of the language gets lost in translation. But the idea of being totally unplugged for two hours (or more) is seductive. My mother calls it, "being there". It's that rare occasion when everything stands still and your senses drink in your surroundings until you're completely filled with the moment.

Count me in. I love the idea almost as much as I love the summer solstice – that lazy hazy night when magic is in the air and the fireflies call us to dance in the twilight between the seasons.

In my estimation, Candle Night is a gift that we can choose to accept and embrace. That gift of two whole hours can be used to make love, lie on the grass, the beach, or the roof and watch as the world slowly darkens without the jarring aggravation of artificial light. You can choose to count the stars as they come out, one by one, or sit quietly and listen to the sounds of the evening as the bugs begin to hum in the trees, dogs bark in the distance and leaves rustle overhead. Take off your shoes and wiggle your toes in the grass, the sand or the mud. Hug your children, the dog or your grumpy neighbor.

If the night begins to get chilly, enjoy the luscious coolness of the evening. If it's hot and sticky, revel in the warmth and joy of summer. If it's raining, soak in the magical power of water to renew and refresh both body and soul.

If you really want to dance in the dark, visit a dark skies reserve. These are parks that prohibit artificial light, thus enabling the celestial light of the stars to shine through.

Candle Night is a unique way to mark the Summer Solstice – and the days beyond - by unplugging from the world. From 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm, on any night from June 20 to July 7, join in by turning off the lights, unplugging the phone, muting the Blackberry and celebrating by candlelight. Enjoy.


For more information about this unique event, visit www.candle-night.org.

International Dark-Sky Association

For more information on light pollution, check out the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Light Pollution Abatement Program.

Established in 1999, The Torrance Barrens Conservation Reserve, located near Bracebridge, Ontario, is the world’s first Dark Sky Reserve. Visit www.muskokaheritage.org.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I love flying into Pearson International Airport. Almost as soon as the jet descends through the cloud cover, you can begin to see the intricate network of buildings, roads and highways that make up Canada’s largest city. With my face pressed to the window, I usually spend the last few minutes of the flight trying to organize the jumble of images below, much like you would pre-sort the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle before attempting to assemble them into one complete picture.

Last week was different. As the rooftops of Toronto’s west end warehouse district came into view, it was as if I saw them for the very first time. I urged my husband to look out the window and asked him if he saw the same thing that I did. We both nodded at the same time.

“Opportunity,” I said. Brian agreed. Thousands of squares meters - perhaps even kilometers – of flat rooftops stretched out as far as the eye could see.

“Solar panels,” I said.

“Probably enough to power the entire city,” he replied.

What made our revelation so interesting (at least to me) is that I’d never had it before. I’ve been working on finding environmental solutions for 20 years, and have probably flown into Pearson at least a dozen times during those 20 years. It had never once occurred to me that this was a perfect way to effectively utilize a whole lot of wasted real estate.

While I’d like to take all of the credit for my stroke of genius, a little credit must also go to Daniel Pink, the author of “A Whole New Mind” (Riverhead Books, 2005). It was Pink’s book that helped me to see opportunity where once I only saw rooftops.

What’s interesting is that Pink’s book (subtitled “Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future”) isn’t about environmental solutions at all. It’s about transcendence. In it, he argues that three factors have joined forces to push us towards a brave new world.

The first factor, abundance, has provided us with so much stuff that simply having things is no longer enough.

“For most of history,” writes Pink, “our lives were defined by scarcity. Today the defining feature of social, economic, and cultural life in much of the world is abundance.”

The result, according to Pink, is a society that craves design, empathy and play in the most mundane of items. Pink points to the toilet brush designed by renowned architect Michael Graves as a shining example of this need for extraordinary excellence in ordinary things.

Pink says the second factor is Asia. With literally millions of white collars jobs being outsourced to low-cost countries like India, China and Russia, North American society must transform or die. Instead of solving routine problems, we must learn how to synthesize the big picture, according to Pink.

The third and final factor is automation. It is Pink’s position that computers are so much better, faster and stronger at jobs that require logic, calculation and sequential thinking than we humans.

“What’s more,” writes Pink, “computers don’t fatigue. They don’t get headaches. They don’t choke under pressure or sulk over losses.”

The result, says Pink, is that we need to think differently. We need to connect the dots (or the rooftops) by understanding, “the connection between diverse, seemingly separate, disciplines. Only by learning how to link what appear to be unconnected elements can we create something new.

Pink offers something he’s calls The Six Senses: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning; critical tools for transcendence. And that, according to Pink and others that he quotes in the book, is what we crave.

“The most striking feature of contemporary culture is the unslaked craving for transcendence,” stated Columbia University’s Andrew Delbanco.

“A Whole New Mind” isn’t your ordinary book. It contains exercises, recommended magazines and other publications, websites and self-assessment tools.

While Pink’s analysis is based on social and economic transcendence, his approach can easily be applied to environmental solutions as well, which perhaps proves his point about looking outside the box for unique and creative solutions.

As another great mind (Albert Einstein) once observed,

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

From my view, “A Whole New Mind”, provides a whole new way to look at those problems – and rooftops, too.


For more on the transcendent work of Daniel Pink, (including some amazing travel tips) go to www.danpink.com

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Open the Window on Energy $avings

With summer only just around the corner, can the revving of air conditioners be far behind? Thanks to rising temperatures and the increasing demand for air conditioning, our peak demand for energy has shifted to the summer months. With energy costs continuing to rise, and concerns over climate change growing, energy efficiency is becoming increasingly important. While we all want to spend less on home utilities, most of us don't know where to begin.

The answer is clear. In the average home, heating and cooling costs account for at least 60 percent of your energy bill. An estimated 25 percent of all heat loss literally flies out the window, thanks to old, builder's quality or ill-fitting windows.

From an energy saving perspective, standard thermal pane windows only provide an insulating R-value of between 1.6 and 2. The R-value of a window measures its resistance to heat flow. This can also be referred to as thermal resistance. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power.

Another way to measure energy efficiency is by gauging the shading co-efficient of your windows. This measures a window’s ability to let light in while rejecting heat.

Depending on your budget, there are a number of ways that you can improve the efficiency of your windows. You can recoup about half the heat loss in older windows by sealing the cracks and crevices with caulking and weatherstripping.

If you already have blinds on your windows, use them on hot summer days. Drawing blinds in the morning, as soon as the sun begins to shine, can dramatically reduce your need for air conditioning.

While we usually try to keep the heat out in the summer, it’s important not to overlook the benefit of passive cooling strategies. After the sun goes down and the temperature drops in the evening, an open window can provide a cooling breeze as well as fresh air, and the wonderful smell of summer flowers and fresh cut lawns.

Depending on what coverings you choose, upgrading your window treatments can triple the R-value of your windows while enhancing the beauty of your home. This can cut your heating costs in the winter, and substantially reduce your cooling costs in the summer.

Selecting the right window covering can also help protect you from the damaging effects of the sun. The newest generation of window coverings can cut ultra-violet (UV) radiation from 65 to 99%. This protects your furniture, hardwood flooring and carpets from sun damage and fading. Choosing the right window fashions can also provide you with privacy and sound absorption when you need it, and a window on the world when you want it.

To complete your window treatments, window tinting and security films, retractable and fixed or exterior awnings are all great ways to enhance the beauty of your home, reduce UV radiation and cut heating and cooling costs.

If you really want to get serious about reducing your energy bill, you may want to consider replacing your existing windows. Thanks to improvements in window design and construction, the newest generation of energy efficient windows offers R-values of 4.5 to nearly 12.

Through the Office of Energy Efficiency’s ecoENERGY Retrofit – Homes program, homeowners can receive up to $ 5,000 in grants to help offset the cost of replacing windows and other energy efficiency improvements. The grant is based on the effectiveness of the upgrades, not just the cost. In order to quality, homeowners must first have a home energy audit completed by a certified evaluator.

There’s more good news. Homeowners participating in the ecoENERGY Retrofit – Homes program are also eligible to receive the federal Home Renovation Tax Credit (HRTC).


For more information on the Office of Energy Efficiency and the ecoENERGY Retrofit – Homes programs, to go www.oee.nrcan.gc.ca.

The Home Renovation Tax Credit (HRTC) applies to eligible expenditures of more than $1,000, but not more than $10,000, for a maximum credit of $1,350.

The Ontario Home Energy Savings Program will pay half of your pre-retrofit audit, up to $150.

To find a reputable contractor to do your work, visit the Siding and Window Dealers Association of Canada.