Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Photos of an afternoon in Dundas, Ontario

Yesterday afternoon, I visited Dundas, Ontrio with some family members.  Dundas, formerly, an independent town, is now part of the City of Hamilton.  It was, of course, still decked out in its Christmas finery,

We stopped at Picone Fine Food at 34 King Street West.

Picone Fine Food

Picone Fine Food

We also stopped at Mickey McGuire's Cheese shop at 51 King Steet West.


Originally called Coote's Paradise, the town was renamed Dundas by John Graves Simcoe, (first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada from 1791 to 1796), to honour of his friend, Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville., a Scottish lawyer and politician who never set foot in North America.

Dundas was aptly nicknamed "the Valley town" due to its location at the bottom of the Niagara Escarpment at the Western edge of Lake Ontario.

- Joanne

2015: The Year Ahead - Anniversaries and Events



The Magna Carta (Latin for "the Great Charter") is considered one of history's most important legal documents.  It was issued by King John of England to a group of rebellious barons on the plain at Runnymede, near Windsor, on June 15, 1215.   Fearing that a rebellion by these disgruntled nobles would mushroom into a civil war, the unpopular monarch affixed his seal to the document.

The Magna Carta primarily secured the liberties of England's privileged classes.  It also effectively ended the era of absolute power for English sovereigns since they were no longer above the law.  It is Europe's first written constitution and has been used to form the fundamental principles of common law in constitutions world wide.  In fact, many of the provisions in the United States' Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution) find their basis in the Magna Carta.


This year marks the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo, which took place on June 18, 1815. The battle between a French army and an Anglo-allied army occurred in present-day Belgium (then known as the United Kingdom of the Netherlands).  The above painting by Robert Alexander Hillingford depicts the Duke of Wellington (ArthurWellesley) commanding the British and their allies at Waterloo.  Together with a Prussian army, under Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, they overcame the French forces led by Naoleon Bonaparte.

The battle marked the final defeat of Napoleon, hence the expression "he met his Waterloo.": After his loss, Napoleon was imprisoned and exiled to the island of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean.  He died there in 1821.


On May 7, 1915, the RMS Lusitania, a British ocean liner was torpedoed by German U-boat U-20 off the southern coast of Ireland.  A second internal explosion caused he doomed vessel, with almost 2,000 aboard, to sink in just 18 minutes.  Over 1,190 people lost their lives in the tragedy.

The luxury passenger ship had left New York for Liverpool, England on May 1, 1915 at a time of increased submarine warfare.  Germany had proclaimed the seas around Great Britain to be a war-zone and the German embassy had placed advertisements in newspapers cautioning people about sailing on the Lusitania.  

In attacking a non-military ship with out warning, the Germans violated international law known as the Cruiser Rules, which govern the the taking of vessels on the high seas during war.  It is also true, however, that the Lusitania, launched by the Cunard line in 1906, was carrying munitions and that the British themselves had also been breaching the Cruiser Rules, according to several books including World War One by Spencer Tucker and Pricilla Mary Roberts, The Age of Cunard: A Transatlanic History; 1839-2003 by Daniel Allen Butler,and World War 1 by Rodney P. Carlisle

The sinking of the Lusitania stirred up anti-German sentiment in the United States, especially since 128 Americans had been killed in the incident.  It influenced public opinion to support the U.S. entry into World War I in 1917.


A mushroom cloud billowing above Hiroshima on August 6, 1945

On August 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber, the "Enola Gay," dropped the first atomic bomb used in warfare on the city of Hiroshima, Japan.  According to the BBC, 60,000 to 80,000 people were killed immediately by the bomb, codenamed "Little Boy.  More died from the effects of radiation and the final death toll has been estimated at 135,000.

On August 9, 1945, the United States dropped another atomic bomb, this time on Nagasaki, an important Japanese port city,  According to the BBC, the second bomb, codenamed "Fat Man," was larger and it killed about 40,000 people instantly.  The final death toll was estimated to be at least 50,000.


On August 14-15, 1945, Japan agreed in principle to an unconditional surrender.  Japan formerly surrendered on September 2, 1945, bringing World War II to an end.


Sir Winston Churchill, British leader during World War II and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940-1945 and from 1951-1955, died on January 25, 1965.  He was 90 years old.  112 nations were represented at Churchill's state funeral and millions watched it live on television.  His body lay in state at Westminster Hall and the funeral service took place at St. Paul's Cathedral.

Churchill's funeral train of Pullman coaches

Photo Attribution: Ben Brooksbank


On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little), an influential American black leader, was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City.  As he was preparing to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity, a ruckus broke out and he was gunned down by three members of the Nation of Islam.  Malcolm X had recently repudiated the teachings of the controversial black supremacist organization, which called for the separation of blacks and whites. He was 39 years old at the time of his death.


On March 8, 1965, about 3,500 United States Marines arrived in what was then known as South Vietnam.

U.S. Marines landing at Da Nang


Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music, the famous film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, was initially released in the United States on March 2, 1965.


On August 11, 1965, race riots broke out in the Los Angeles neighbourhood of Watts.  The rioting last until August 17th and there was about $40 million in property damage.


On August 15, 1965, The Beatles performed the first stadium rock concert before over 55,000 at Shea Stadium in New York City.


New York City, November 1965

On November 9, 1965, there was a great power outage in Ontario in Canada and in the U.S. states of New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.



Argentina is scheduled to hold general elections on October 25, 2015.  There will be a second round on November 24, if necessary.  Primary elections will held on August 9, 2015.



On February 15, 1965, the red and white maple design replaced the Red Ensign as the official flag of Canada.

The 42nd Canadian general election to elect members to the House of Commons is tentatively set for October 19, 2015.  However, Governor General David Johnston could call the election earlier on the advice of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Calgary Stampede will take place in Calgary, Alberta from July 3, 2015 to July 12, 2015.

The Canadian National Exhibition (also known as the CNE or The Ex) will be held from August 21, 2015 to September 7, 2015 at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario.

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the leading public film festival in the world, will take place in Toronto, Ontario from September 10, 2015 to September 20, 2015.


The 68th Cannes Film Festival {Festival de Cannes) will be held in Cannes, France from May 13, 2015 until May 24, 2015.


On September 10, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II will become the longest-serving British monarch ever, surpassing Queen Victoria's reign of 63 years, 7 months and 3 days.  Victoria, who was Elizabeth's great-great-grandmother, died in 1901 at the age of 81.

A general election will be held in the United Kingdom in 2015.  The election will be held on May 7, 2015 unless the House of Commons votes to have it at an earlier date.


Israeli's will go to the polls this year.  The election is set for March 17, 2015 and will determine the fate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government.


Milan, Italy will host Expo 2015.  The universal exposition will take place between May 1 and October 31, 2015.  Its theme will be Feeding the Planet, energy for life.


On January 1, 2015, Lithuania will officially adopt the euro as its currency, It will become the 19th Eurozone country.


Legislative elections are scheduled to be held in Mexico in July of 2015.  Voters will elect 500 deputies to the Chamber of Deputies for the 63rd Congress.


June 30, 2015 mark the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson's signing of the Social Security Acts of 1965 into law, establishing Medicare and Medicaid.

Pope Francis will visit the United States in September of 2015.  He is scheduled to attend the World Meeting of Families conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from September 25, 2015 to September 27, 2015.  The conference is held every three years in a different city, organized by the local Catholic diocese and the Pontifical Council of the Family, to focus on marriage and family life. The three-day visit is expected to include a public Sunday mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

There will be various elections in the United States and they will be mainly held on Tuesday, November 3, 2015.. There will be some state legislative and judicial elections and least three states, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi, will hold gubernatorial elections.  There will also be mayoralty races in such major cities as Charlotte, North Carolina, Dallas, Texas, Chicago, Illinois, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Phoenix, Arizona, San Francisco, California and a number of others.



TENNIS:  The Australian Open will be held from January 19th to February 1, 2015 at the Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia.


THE 2015 PAN AMERICAN GAMES - The Pan Am Games will be held in Toronto, Ontario and surrounding area from July 10 to July 26, 2015.

HORSE RACING:  The 156th running of the Queen's Plate, the first jewel of Canada's Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Horse Racing, will take place on Sunday, July 5, 2015 at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, Ontario.  The Queen's Plate is the longest continuously run stakes race in North America.

GOLF:  The Canadian Open will be played at the Glen Abbey Golf  Club in Oakville, Ontario.  The tournament will be take place from July 20 to July 26, 2015.

CANADIAN FOOTBALL:  The 103rd Grey Cup will be held on Sunday, November 29, 2015 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba.


TENNIS:  The French Open (also known as Roland Garros) will take place at Stade Roland Garros in Paris, France from May 24, 2015 until June 7, 2015.


TENNIS:  The prestigious Wimbledon tournament will run from Monday, June 29, 2015 to Sunday, July 12, 2015.  It will take place at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London, England.

GOLF:  The 144th British Open will be held at Old Course at St. Andrew's, Scotland from July 16 to July 19, 2015.


NFL FOOTBALL;  Super Bowl XL1X (the 49th edition of the Super Bowl will take place on Sunday, February 1, 2015 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

GOLF:  The 79th edition of the Masters Tournament will be held from April 9, 2015 to April 12, 2015 at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.

HORSE RACING:  The 141st running of the Kentucky Derby, known as the "Run for the Roses," will be held on Saturday, May 2, 2015 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

AUTO RACING:  The 99th Indianapolis 500 will take place on Sunday, May 24, 3015 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana.

GOLF:  The 115th United States Open Championship (U.S. Open) will be played from June 18, 2015 to June 21, 2015 at Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington (southwest of Tacoma).

BASEBALL:  The 86th edition of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be hosted by the Cincinnati Reds at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The game between the stars of the American League and the National League will take place on Tuesday, July 14, 2015.

TENNIS:  The U.S. Open will be held from Monday, August 31, 2015 through Sunday, September 13, 2015 at the USTA Billie Jean King Center in New York, New York.



The 57th annual Grammy Awards will take place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, United States on February 8, 2015.

The 87th Academy Awards are scheduled for Sunday, February 22, 2015 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles , California.

On March 15, 2015, the city of Hamilton, Ontario will host the 44th annual Juno Awards to honour the best in Canadian music.
The 69th Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Theatre, better known as the Tony Awards, will be held at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on June 7, 2015.

WHO TURNS 50 IN 2015?

Shania Twain, Canadian country-pop singer,, born August 28, 1965 in Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Charlie Sheen, American actor, born September 3, 1965 in New York City, United States

Lennox Lewis, retired boxer, holds British and Canadian citizenship, born September 2, 1965 in London, England, United Kingdom

Kyra Sedgwik, American actress, born August 19, 1965 in New York City, United Stated

Peter MacKay, Canadian politician, born September 27, 1965 in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Canada

Patrick Roy, Canadian former hockey goaltending star, current NHL coach, born October 5, 1965 in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

Christy Clark, Canadian politician and current Premier of British Columbia, born October 29, 1965 in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

Ben Stiller, American actor, born November 3, 1965 in New York City, United States

Katarina Witt, retired German figure skater, born December 3, 1965 in Berlin, Germany

Elizabeth Hurley, British actress and model, born on June 10, 1965 in Basingstoke, England, United Kingdom

Kevin James, American actor, born April 26, 1965 in Mineola, New York, United States

Linda Evangelista, Canadian model, born May 10, 1965 in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada

Todd Bridges, American actor,born May 27, 1965 in San Francisco, California, United States

Steve Yzerman, retired Canadian hockey player and current NHL general manager, born May 9, 1965 in Cranbrook, British Columbia, Canada

Julia Ormond, English actress, born January 4, 1965 in Epsom and Ewell in Surrey, England, United Kingdom

Robert Downey Jr., American actor, born April 4, 1965 in New York City, United States

Michael Bay, American film director and producer, born February 17, 1965 in Los Angeles, California, United States

Sarah Jessica Parker, American actress, born March 25, 1965 in Nelsonville, Ohio, United States

- Joanne

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Reflections and Quotes at Christmas

O Holy Night

O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees

O hear the angel voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine
O night divine

These are the words to my favourite Christmas hymn, "O Holy Night."  When that song is sung, I am touched by its beauty and its joy.

If you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed by all the hustle and bustle of the season, or if you are tired from all your Christmas shopping, take a minute to quietly reflect with me.  Stop and relax for a bit.  It will do you good.  Close your eyes for a moment.  Think of a starry night and listen to the sound of angels singing . . .

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!

- Charles Dickens (1812-1870), English writer
From The Pickwick Papers

I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year. And thus I drift along into the holidays — let them overtake me unexpectedly — waking up some fine morning and suddenly saying to myself: "Why, this is Christmas Day!" 

~ David Grayson, (pseudonym of Ray Stannard Baker (1870-1946), American journalist and author

We hear the beating of wings over Bethlehem and a light that is not of the sun or of the stars shines in the midnight sky.  Let the beauty of the story take away all narrowness, all thought of formal creeds. Let it be remembered as a story that has happened again and again, to men of many different races, that has been expressed through many religions, that has been called by many different names.  Time and space and language lay no limitation upon human brotherhood.

New York Times. December 25, 1937

The poet Henry Woodsworth Longfellow wrote the beautiful poem "Christmas Bells" in the midst of the American Civil War, at a time when there wasn't much peace in the United States.  His eldest child, Charles Appleton Longfellow (1844-1893), joined the Union side of the conflict and was severely wounded in battle on November 27, 1863.  Charley, 19, a lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, was shot through the left shoulder while participating in the Mine Run Campaign in Virginia.  He narrowly missed being paralyzed.

Charles Appleton Longfellow

H.W. Wadsworth

On December 1, 1863, Longfellow, a 56-year-old widowed father of six (his wife Fanny had been fatally burned in an accident in July, 1861), received a telegram informing him of the wounding of his son.  With a heavy heart, but after receiving a more positive report on his son's condition, Longfellow wrote "Christmas Bells" on Christmas Day, 1863.  The well-known carol "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is based on the poem.

  Christmas Bells

    I heard the bells on Christmas Day
    Their old, familiar carols play,
        And wild and sweet
        The words repeat
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And thought how, as the day had come,
    The belfries of all Christendom
        Had rolled along
        The unbroken song
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Till ringing, singing on its way,
    The world revolved from night to day,
        A voice, a chime,
        A chant sublime
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Then from each black, accursed mouth
    The cannon thundered in the South,
        And with the sound
        The carols drowned
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    It was as if an earthquake rent
    The hearth-stones of a continent,
        And made forlorn
        The households born
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And in despair I bowed my head;
    "There is no peace on earth," I said;
        "For hate is strong,
        And mocks the song
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

    Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
    "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
        The Wrong shall fail,
        The Right prevail,
    With peace on earth, good-will to men."

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), American poet
From the poem Christmas Bells

With all the strife in the Middle East and Ukraine, and all the many egregious acts of terrorism, it's difficult to find much peace in the world.  However, the person who has inspired me the most this year is a Muslim teenager from Pakistan named Malala Yousafzai.  Malala almost lost her life due to her relentless advocacy of female education and human rights.

Malala comes from a region of northwest Pakistan where the Taliban has attempted to prevent girls from attending school.  Her family runs some schools in the area and she wrote a blog for the BBC (under a pseudonym) providing details of her life under the Taliban.

On October 9, 2012, the then-15 years old, Malala boarded her school bus and was shot three times by a gunman.  She was left unconscious and in critical condition.  She improved enough to be sent to a hospital in Birmingham, England for recovery and rehabilitation.

In July of 2013, Malala addressed the United Nations and called for worldwide universal education.
On October 10, 2014 (almost two years to the day of her shooting), 17-year-old Malala became the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate when it was announced that she was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with Kailash Satyarthi, a children's rights advocate from India.who is an activist against child labour.


American journalist Jimmy Cannon (1909-1973) once described Christmas as "a holiday that persecutes the lonely, the frayed, and the rejected."  It is true that for many, Christmas is a lonely and difficult time of year.  Although 'tis the season to be merry, the true joy of the season has to be natural and spontaneous, not phony and contrived.

Jimmy Cannon

Isn't it funny that at Christmas something in you gets so lonely for - I don't know what exactly, but it's something that you don't mind so much not having at other times. 

- Kate L. Bosher (1865-1932), American novelist

I am not alone at all, I thought.  I was never alone.  And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone.  Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent.  For this is still the time God chooses.

- Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985), Anglo-American author
From My Christmas Miracle

Number 16 would like to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas!  May you find find peace in your heart and in your soul.

- Joanne

Saturday, December 13, 2014

All About Christmas Trees

                                  O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!
                                  Thy leaves are so unchanging
                                  O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
                                  Thy leaves are so unchanging
                                  Not only green when summer's here,
                                  But also when it's cold and drear.
                                  O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
                                  Thy leaves are so unchanging!

This is one of several versions of the English lyrics to "O Tannenbaum" ("O Christmas Tree"), a Yuletide song based on a traditional German folk song.  By the beginning of the 20th century, the song came to be sung as a Christmas carol.  "Tannenbaum" means "fir tree" in German - Tanne ("fir:") + Baum ("tree").  The modern lyrics were written by Ernst Anschütz, a teacher, composer and organist in Leipzig, Gerrmany.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, "evergreen trees, wreaths and garlands" were used by the ancient Egyptians, Chinese and Hebrews as a means of symbolizing eternal life.  During the winter solstice, pagans decorated their dwelling places with tree branches as a reminder of the spring to come.  

Tree worship was prevalent among European pagans.  Britannica says that even after the advent of Christianity, the custom of decorating a house or barn with evergreens to ward off the Devil at the New Year continued in Scandinavia.  Trees were also set up to feed birds at Christmastime.

The tradition of decorating Christmas trees originated in early modern Germany.  The trees were originally decorated with edible ornaments such as gingerbread, apples and nuts.  A figure of the Baby Jesus was placed at that top of the tree.  This eventually changed to an angel or a star to represent the Star of Bethlehem that the Wise Men followed.

The first Christmas trees appeared in Britain in the 1830s.  They were popularized by Prince Albert, the German husband of Queen Victoria.  In 1841, Albert had a Christmas tree set up in Windsor Castle  In 1848, the Illustrated London News published a drawing of "The Queen's Christmas at Windsor Castle."  The drawing later appeared in an American publication, which helped spread the custom of having Christmas trees to the United States and beyond.

Victoria and Albert Christmas tree drawing

Christmas trees in Victorian England were festooned with little gifts and toys.  They were also decorated with candles to represent stars.  These, of course, were replaced with electrical lights, although candles are still used in some parts of Europe.

German settlers brought Christmas trees to North America as early as the 17th century. The tradition of Christmas trees was introduced to Canada by Brunswick soldiers in the Pre-Confederation winter of 1781.  They were stationed in the Province of Quebec to defend the colony from an American attack.  General Fredrich Adolf Riedesel, a German, was the commander of these mercenary soldiers who had fought alongside the British in the Revolutionary War.  He and his wife, Baroness Frederika von Riedesel (also known as Lady Fritz), hosted a Christmas Eve party at Sorel in which they served traditional plum pudding for the English and entertained their German guests with a small candle-lit fir tree adorned with various fruits and candies.  Below is a drawing of the Von Riedesel family at Fort Sorel.

By the 19th century, Christmas trees were very much in vogue.  The had become popular in in Austria, Switzerland. Poland, and the Netherlands.  Christian missionaries from the West introduced Christmas trees to Japan and China in the 19th and 20th centuries.  They had ornaments of detailed paper design.

Did you know that the sparkling tinsel wrapped around Christmas trees also originated in Germany. Tinsel was first made in Nuremberg in the early 17th century.  The tinsel, made from strands of silver, was first used for decorating sculptures.


Below is a photo of the Christmas tree in London's Trafalgar Square.  It is a gift from the people of Norway to the people of Britain, and has been  token of  the friendship between the two countries since 1947.  The tree is taken from the forests surrounding the city of Oslo and every year there is an official ceremony to light it up.

Trafalgar Square, London, England

Below is a photo of the U.S. national Christmas tree at the White House in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. national Christmas tree in Washington, D.C.

The most famous Christmas tree of all may be Charlie Brown's tree from the 1965 animated Peanuts special A Charlie Brown Christmas.  There's something sweet about it, isn't there?

- Joanne

Friday, November 28, 2014

Banks are making huge profits and cutting jobs.

Scotiabank is richer than you think.  The Bank of Nova Scotia, as it is formally known, made a record net profit of $6.7 billion in the fiscal year that ended October 31, 2013.  Yet, earlier this month, it cut 1,500 jobs worldwide, about 1,000 of them in Canada?

The bank also plans to close or downsize about 120 branches in its international banking division. Scotiabank is  restructuring, you understand.  Well, let's call a spade a spade.  The truth is that words such as "restructuring" and "reorganizing" are convenient euphemisms for layoffs and firings.

Bank of Nova Scotia logo

You can bet your bottom dollar that none of Scotiabank's highest paid executives will see a decrease in their salary or lose their jobs.

The Bank of Nova Scotia is by no means the only Canadian bank taking such actions.  At the end of 2013, the Bank of Montreal (BMO), quietly cut about 1,000 jobs.  BMO, founded in 1817, is Canada's oldest bank.  In July, 2013, it had 46,628 full-time employees.  By the end of the quarter ending in October, 2013, that number was speedily reduced to 45,631 (a decline of 997 full-time jobs or two per cent of the total work force).

A spokesperson for the Bank of Montreal issued the following statement to CBC News.

That number reflects reductions due to a combination [of] productivity initiatives, attrition and a decline in part-time work hours due to seasonal fluctuations," 

BMO's chief operating officer, Frank Techar, defended the move during a conference call to discuss the bank's fourth quarter results.  He argued that the cuts were necessary to decrease expenses and to make banking operations more efficient.   Techar stated that the total reductions were "full-time equivalent" positions (jobs that are calculated on an average work week and which can include part-time positions).  "We did see a big reduction in head count," Techar admitted to analysts.  He actually conceded that the Bank of Montreal laid off too many employees at one time.  Here are his exact words as quoted by the CBC:

For the quarter we overshot a little bit.  We do have some outstanding vacancies that I would expect will fill as we go into the first quarter.

Those were comforting words for the employees who lost their jobs, weren't they?  By the way, in BMO's 2013 earnings report, the bank announced its full-year profit hit a record of $4.2 billion. In addition, the bank increased its dividend by two cents per quarter.

The Royal Bank of Canada, the country's largest bank, has also recently gotten into the act.  On Friday, November 21, 2014 (just before the weekend - How convenient!), RBC announced its plans to close down its international client-wealth management business in the Caribbean, along with some international advisory businesses in Canada and the United States.  The Financial Post reported that the cuts could involve about 300 employees, including many brokers and private bankers located in Toronto and Montreal.

Ed Clark, who recently stepped down as head of TD Canada Trust,was asked if bank CEOs are paid too much.  His answers was an unequivocal "yes."  In an interview on CBC's The Exchange with Amanda Lang,  He candidly admitted that he was paid to much and that he makes up for it by giving back.  His personal solution is to "give money to people who need it more than you do."

Clark, who does seem to have a social conscience, contributes greatly to Egale, a crisis counselling centre for the homeless in downtown Toronto.. That's all very noble and to his credit, but how does it help bank employees who have lost their jobs?  How does it bridge the growing gap between the haves and have-nots in our society?  Donating to charities is fine, but it will not solve the problem of poverty.  Improved social services are needed.

Clark told Amanda Lang that he hasn't found a way to deal with the disparity between average incomes and executive salaries at TD Canada Trust.  "If you said if I could remake the world would I have a narrower income distribution, I would,” he declared."  And as you know, I’d love to try to figure out how to do that singlehandedly, but you can't, because if I do it for myself do I do it for the next level? At what point are you no longer paying market rates?”

I don't buy his explanation.  Where there's a will, there's a way.  I believe banks could find a solution to the problem if thy really wanted to.  It seems that they don't really want to.  Could the reason be greed?

- Joanne

Friday, November 14, 2014

Reflections on November: Trying to find beauty in a gloomy month

October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.

- J.K. Rowling
From Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

We are about halfway through November, which I will freely admit, is not favourite month.  Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the eleventh month is often dark and dank and dreary.  It is the death month.  It is the melancholy month.  Some people describe it as hauntingly beautiful; and yes, it is that at times. November is part of the natural order, a rite of passage.  There has to be a November so that there can be spring and rebirth.  Still, I can't deny that I find the lack of sunlight difficult and that the bleak, damp weather can be depressing.

Even the holidays in November tend to reflect the solemnity of the month.  November 1st is All Saints Day and November 2nd is All Souls Day.  Then we have November 11th, the mournful day in which we reflect on those who have died in wars.  Here in Canada, it's called Remembrance Day.  The Americans call it Veteran's Day.  South of the border, of course, Thanksgiving comes on a Thursday in late November to usher in the Christmas season, and it is a more festive holiday. However, Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October, which is fine with me.  Our Thanksgiving coincides with the harvest and the magnificent colours of the autumn leaves.  By the end of November, the promise of the Winter Solstice and the lights of Christmas and  are just around the corner anyway.

November, therefore, is inextricably linked to spring.  Edward Way Teale (1899-1980), an American naturalist, photographer and Pulitzer-prize winning author, wrote:

How sad would be November if we had no knowledge of the spring!


L.M. Montgomery

Canadian author, L.M. Montgomery (1874-1942) must have experienced some harsh Novembers in her beloved Prince Edward Island.  The woman who wrote Anne of Green Gables expressed some thoughts about the month of November in her works.  It seems she found something cathartic about it.

But there is always a November space after the leaves have fallen when she felt it was almost indecent to intrude on the woods…for their glory terrestrial had departed and their glory celestial of spirit and purity and whiteness had not yet come upon them.

- Lucy Maud Montgomery
From Anne of Windy Poplars

It was November - the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines.  Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.

- Lucy Maud Montgomery
From Anne of Green Gables


Emily Dickinson

In an 1864 letter to her friend, Elizabeth Holland, the great American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) wrote:

It is also November. The noons are more laconic and the sunsets sterner, and Gibraltar lights make the village foreign. November always seemed to me the Norway of the year. ------ is still with the sister who put her child in an ice nest last Monday forenoon. The redoubtable God! I notice where Death has been introduced, he frequently calls, making it desirable to forestall his advances.

Why did Emily Dickinson describe November as the "Norway of the year?"  What did she know of Norway, this reclusive woman who was born, lived most of her life, and died at her family's homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts?  What did she know of life outside of New England? Dickinson's words are intriguing, though, and tantalizingly ambiguous.  Did she have some romantic notion of Norway and its Nordic climate?  Was she expressing the beauty of life after death?

One thing is certain. A frequent theme of Dickinson's poetry is death and immortality.  There is little doubt that she linked November with death. and the afterlife.


The American poet. Robert Lee Frost (1974-1963) first published "My November Guest" in the November 1912 issue of The Forum.  It then appeared in A Boy's Will, a volume of Frost's work, published in 1913.


My November Guest

My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
   Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
   She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
   She talks and I am fain to list:
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted gray
   Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
   The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
   And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
   The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
   And they are better for her praise.              

In the poem,"Sorrow" is the personification of a female guest who sees great beauty in November days.  In a way, I'm trying to imitate the "guest," by trying to find the best in a gloomy month.

- Joanne

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Cat came back - Cat Stevens, that is . . . or did he?

True, at one time – following my embracing of Islam – I was ready to cast the whole music thing behind me and get on with my new life far away from the spotlights, public appearances and adoring crowds.

In a letter to my record companies, I asked them to let me off my obligations, which involved producing another three albums. They graciously agreed… perhaps thinking that this was just another short-term spiritual excursion.

It wasn't. The Cat never came back. Instead, I changed my name to Yusuf, decided to get married, and bought a small semi-detached house in Hampstead Garden Suburbs, London, a few doors away from my mother.

- Cat Stevens/Yusuf
Rolling Stone Magazine
April 4, 2014

During the late 1960s and much of the 1970s, Cat Stevens' gentle folk rock sound filled the airwaves. He was one of the most successful songwriters and recording artists of the era with hit song after hit song. His hits includes "Moonshadow" (1971), "Peace Train"(1971), "Wild World" (1971), "Morning Has Broken" (1972), "Oh Very Young" (1974) and more. There were hit albums too: Tea for the Tillerman, Teaser and the Firecat and Catch Bull at Four.

Then it all ended abruptly before Stevens had even reached the age of 30.  The popular balladeer announced his conversion to Islam and declared that his religious beliefs were not compatible with his career as a singing star. How and why did he transform himself from a hard-living bohemian folk-rock singer into a devout Muslim?  Let's examine his background to find some answers.

Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, was born Steven Demetre Georgiou on July 21, 1948 in a district of London, England called Marylebone.  He was the third child of a Greek Cypriot father, Stavros Georgiou, and a Swedish mother, Ingrid Wickman.  Along with his older siblings (his sister Anita, and brother, David),  young Steven lived above the restaurant his parents operated.  The restaurant, called The Moulin Rouge, was located at 245 Shaftesbury Avenue (with a second entrance on New Oxford Street), just steps from Piccadilly Circus and the Soho theatre district of London.

In an October 2014 interview with Ken Sharp for Rockcellar Magazine, the former Cat Stevens was asked what it was like growing up in the lively London theatre district.  Here is his reply:

It was the backdrop. And in a way one of the major influences of my life and career was the fact that I grew up in the center of London and the hub of the West End where theatres and coffee bars and jukeboxes played throughout the night. So in a way it was natural that I fell into the entertainment world. It was a natural step

Steven Georgiou was raised in a Christian home.  Although his father was of the Greek Orthodox faith and his mother was a Baptist, they chose to educate their son at a private Catholic school in London (St. Joseph Roman Catholic Primary School on Macklin Street).  Steven also attended other local schools in the West End, where he received poor grades in everything but art.  At a young age, he took an interest in piano and later, influenced by The Beatles, he was became drawn to guitar-playing.  While in his early teens, he persuaded his father to purchase a guitar for him.  He eagerly learned how to play the instrument and began composing his own songs.

Steven's parents broke up when he was about eight years old. They remained business partners, however, and the entire family, helped out at the restaurant.  Meanwhile, the teenage Steven aspired to become an artist like his uncle Hugo Wickman (his mother's brother), who was a well-known painter in Sweden.  He enrolled at Hammersmith Art College, considering a career as a cartoonist, but he couldn't get music out of his system.

In July of 1964, while still at Hammersmith, he made his folk music debut at a local London bar called Black Horse, performing under the name "Steve Adams." He began singing in small coffee houses, clubs and pubs around the city, and his music attracted attention. In 1965, he signed with Decca records and adopted the stage name "Cat Stevens," partly because a girlfriend had remarked that he had eyes like a cat.   Stevens certainly had the look of a troubadour. With wavy black hair and soulful eyes, he appeared sensitive and thoughtful.  The up-and-coming singer soon released his first album, Matthew and Son.  

Two tracks from Matthew and Son became quite successful as singles.  In October 1966, his composition "I Love My Dog" reached the British charts.  His next single, "Matthew and Son," was even more successful.  It entered the charts in January of 1967 and just missed becoming number one in the U.K.   In the United States, "Matthew and Son" straddled at the bottom of the charts. Although Stevens had been popular overseas, it was not until the American release of Tea for the Tillerman in 1970, with its hit single "Wild World," that he became a true star in the U.S.  The album went gold, and created interest in the singer's previous recordings.

By his late teens, Cat Stevens was headed for stardom and he was tasting the fruits of fame.  ''My first experience was a dazzling one, as an 18-year-old with a hit record and girls chasing me all over Europe,'' he told Karl Quinn in a 2012 interview for the Sydney Morning Herald. ''There I was on tour with (Jimi) Hendrix and everything that was a consequence of that. I didn't learn that much, I just succumbed to the moment, and that was stardom."

Stevens did not only fall under the spell of stardom, he also succumbed to the lure of alcohol and drugs.  "For sure we did all that," he admitted to Karl Quinn.  "And because of that I contracted tuberculosis at (21). That was an important inoculation, because I knew then that whatever I did next I must keep more control, I must keep my own interests at heart, and not worry too much about what the manager and agents, and even the public, were saying.''

Although Cat Stevens was experiencing success as a pop star, he was not satisfied.  He longed to release some of his more mature songs. Decca, however, refused to accommodate him.  They preferred that the singer continue to focus on a teenage audience.  This disappointed Stevens and caused him to sink into a depression.  The depression, combined with his stressful and hard-partying lifestyle, had a negative effect on his health.

After contracting tuberculosis in 1968, Cat Stevens became gravely ill.  According to the BBC' News website, "the singer 'spent three months in hospital and another year recuperating."  The illness prompted him to take a look at his life and to embark on a spiritual journey.  He underwent an existential crisis and spent years searching for answers.  During his quest for enlightenment,
Stevens investigated eastern faiths such Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism, and he also looked into astrology, tarot cards and numerology.

While vacationing in Morocco, Cat became captivated by the sound of the Muslim call to prayer. He was deeply impressed by this "music to God."  In 1976, he came close to drowning off the Malibu coast in California.  He vowed to do God's work if his life were spared.  A wave soon came and transported him safely to shore.  The near-death experienced strengthened his resolve to find spiritual fulfillment.

That same year, following a visit to a mosque in Jerusalem, Cat Stevens' brother David gifted him with a copy of the Qur'an as a 28th-birthday present. Stevens read it, and after an intense study of Islam, he decided that he had found the answers to his questions about the meaning of life. On December 23, 1977, Stevens officially converted to the Muslim faith.  He auctioned off his guitars and devoted himself to charitable and educational causes within the Islamic community.  On July 4, 1978, he changed his name to Yusuf Islam.

In order to fulfill contractual obligations, Yusuf produced one more album under the name "Cat Stevens."  The album. Back to Earth, was recorded in November of 1978 and released on December 3, 1978.  On the very day of the album's release, the singer's father, Stavros Georgiou, passed away.

On September 7, 1979, the former Cat Stevens wed Fauzia Mubarak Ali, the daughter of a Surbiton accountant (Surbiton is a suburban area in south-west London).  Their marriage has been falsely described as an arranged one,  In a November 10, 2006 story by Alexis Pedridis in The Guardian, Stevens himself said: "I simply had two girls that I was, in a way, interested in marrying. I invited them home separately and asked my mother which one she thought I should marry and, by God, she was perfectly right.".

The nuptials took place  at Regent's Park Mosque in London, The couple raised five children (four daughters and son named Muhammad) and are now grandparents. (There was a sixth child, their youngest, who died at 13 days).

Fauzia Mubarak Ali

Since his conversion to the Muslim faith, the former Cat Stevens has become embroiled in some bitter controversies.  In February of 1989, he received a great deal of media criticism for seeming to condone Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa on author Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses.  He later claimed to be misinterpreted and that the statement was the result of his naivety at the time.  He denied ever calling for the death of Salman Rushdie.

Yusuf unequivocally condemned the 2001 World Trade Centre terrorist attacks and the July 7. 2005 London bombings.  Here is his statement at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

I wish to express my heartfelt horror at the indiscriminate terrorist attacks committed against innocent people of the United States yesterday. While it is still not clear who carried out the attack, it must be stated that no right-thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action. The Qur'an equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of the whole of humanity. We pray for the families of all those who lost their lives in this unthinkable act of violence as well as all those injured; I hope to reflect the feelings of all Muslims and people around the world whose sympathies go out to the victims of this sorrowful moment.

On September 21, 2004, Yusuf  boarded a United Airlines flight from London to Washington. D.C. He was scheduled to meet up with Dolly Parton, who had recorded "Peace Train" and was planning to include him on her new album.  However, during the flight, his name was tagged as being on The No Fly List.  The plane was rerouted to Bangor, Maine and Yusuf was detained by U.S. Department of Homeland Security officers.  The next day, he was refused entry into the United States and was flown back to Britain.  Homeland Security later said there were "concerns of ties he may have to potential terrorist-related activities" and added him to a "watch list."

In October of 2004, two British newspapers, The Sun and The Sunday Times, endorsed the United States' refusal to allow Yusuf entry into the country, accusing the singer of supporting terrorism.  He responded by launching a successful libel suit against the two papers.  An out-of-court settlement was reach and both papers issued apologies to him.

The incident sparked an international controversy and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw complained to his American counterpart, Secretary of State Colin  Powell.  However, in 2006, Yusuf had no problem entering the United States for performances and interviews

In the 1990s, Yusuf Islam began his gradual return to a musical career.  He was driven. he told interviewer Karl Quinn, "by a desire ''to start bridging some of my dreams unfulfilled."  He was especially motivated by his desire to write a musical - and yes. he did write that musical.  He called it Moonshadow: The Musical, .after the blockbuster hit from his 1971 album Teaser and the Firecat.

In the same way Mamma Mia highlights the music of ABBA, Moonshadow: The Musical, consists of a story based around a long list of Cat Stevens songs.  It premiered at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne, Australia on May 31, 2012, with Yusuf in attendance.  The show received mixed reviews and closed early.  

When he returned to making music, Yusuf's initial works featured only percussion sounds and Islamic-themed lyrics.  ln 2006, he recorded and actively promoted An Other Cup, his first pop music album of new songs in 28 years.  In 2009, he released Roadsinger (To Warm You Through the Night). The album made its debut on the Billboard 200 at position number 41 and on the UK charts at nuuber 10. One of the tracks, "Everytime I Dream," was inspired by the Salmon Rushdie controversy.

On October 27, 2014, Yusuf/Cat Stevens released a  a new album called Tell 'em I'm Gone, produced by Legacy Recordings.  The  ten-track album, his first since 2009's Roadsinger, contains a mixture of cover songs and new material.  The Cat id definitely back, but he has been changed by age, experience and his conversion to Islam.  His hair and beard are grey now, but his voice is intact.

In 2011, the former Cat Stevens embarked on a European tour, performing in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Sweden.  He is about to embark on another tour, which includes North America, where he hasn't performed in 36 years.  It's called the "Peace Train... Late Again Tour" and its first North American stop will be my city, Toronto.  Here's the schedule, according to his website.

Nov 4, 2014 - London  Hammersmith Eventim Apollo
Nov 5. 2014 - London  Hammersmith Eventim Apollo
Nov 9, 2014 - Brussels  Forest National
Nov 11, 2014 - Milan  Mediolanum Forum
Nov 13, 2014 - Vienna  Stadthalle
Nov 16, 2014 - Paris  Zenith
Nov 20, 2014 - Berlin  Tempodrom
Nov 23, 2014 - Hamburg  CCH1
Nov 25, 2014 - Dusseldorf  Mitsubishi Electric Hall
Dec 1, 2014 - Toronto  Massey Hall
Dec 4, 2014 - Philadelphia  Tower Theatre
Dec 7, 2014 - Boston  Wang Theatre
Dec 9, 2014 - Chicago  The Chicago Theatre
Dec 12, 2014 - San Francisco  Masonic Auditorium
Dec 14, 2014 - Los Angeles  Nokia Theatre

After all these years, how does Yusuf/Cat Stevens view his musical legacy?  He has said that "Moonshadow" is his favourite of all his old songs. In a July 1, 2006 article for American Songwriter ("Cat Stevens: Full Circle," by Ken Sharp), the singer/songwriter expressed his pride in the 1971 ballad.  He declared, "'Moonshadow"' is what I call the eternal optimist's anthem, which is fine.  If that's the final word on my music, I think that's what should be remembered."

In 2009, when Yusuf appeared on The Chris Isaak Hour, he explained how the song came about:  "I was on a holiday in Spain. I was a kid from the West End (of London) - bright lights, et cetera.  I never got to see the moon on its own in the dark, there were always streetlamps. So there I was on the edge of the water on a beautiful night with the moon glowing, and suddenly I looked down and saw my shadow. I thought that was so cool, I'd never seen it before."        


Some sources list Cat Stevens' birth date as July 21, 1947.      

*  His mother, Ingrid Wickman, passed away c. 1989.  She was a native of Gävle, Sweden.

*  Stevens' former girlfriend, American actress Patti D'Arbanville, was the inspiration for the song "Lady D'Arbanville" from his 1970 album Mona Bone Jackson.  She apparently also inspired two of his other songs - "Hard-Headed Woman "and "Wild World."

*  For several months in 1971, Cat Stevens was romantically linked with another American - singer Carly Simon.  The two met while Stevens was preparing for his first American shows at the Troubador in Los Angeles.  During their relationship, they wrote songs about each other.  For example, Cat Stevens wrote the song "Sweet Scarlet" from his album Catch Bull  at Four for Carly. Simon, however, married James Taylor on November 3, 1972.

Cat Stevens with ex-girlfriend Carly Simon

* Although Cat Stevens chose a music career over and art career, he is a talented artist.  He drew and designed his album covers, most famously for Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat.

*  In 1965, Cat Stevens signed a publishing deal with Ardmore & Beechwood and recorded several demos of his compositions, including "The First Cut is the Deepest."  He had originally planned on being a songwriter and wrote the tune with the intention of promoting it to other artists.

"The First Cut is the Deepest" has the distinction of being a hit for four different artists: P.P. Arnold (1967); Keith Hampshire (1973); Rod Stewart (1977) and Sheryl Crow (2003).  In May of 1967, the P.P. Arnold version reached number 18 on the UK Singles Chart.  Stevens himself did not record his own version until October of 1967.  It appeared on his second album, New Masters, which was released in December 1967.  He has never released his original recording of the song as a single.

By the way, Cat Stevens reportedly sold "The First Cut is the Deepest" to P.P. Arnold for 30 pounds.

*  In 1978, after his conversion to the Muslim faith, Cat Stevenss adopted the name Yusuf Islam. "Yusuf" is the Islamic translation of "Joseph."  Stevens chose the name because he identified with the Joseph whose story is told in the Bible and the Qur'an and who was sold into slavery.  He now calls himself Yusuf/Cat Stevens professionally because so many people recognize him as "Cat Stevens."

*  Yusuf/Cat Stevens and his wife, Fauzia (who's of Afghan and Turkish descent). currently reside in London and spend part of each year in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  Their son, Muhammad Islam, is a singer-songwriter who has adopted the name Yoriyos,  Yusuf credits Muhammad with inspiring him to pick up the guitar again after so many years.  His then-17-year-old placed his own guitar where his father couldn't help but notice it.  "He bought a guitar back into the house and was writing songs in his bedroom," Yusuf has said.  "I had no idea he was doing it or that he was so talented."

On November 27, 2006, at the age of 21, Muhammad released his debut album, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, under the name Yoriyos.  The release of Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee came just a couple of weeks after Another Cup, his father's first album in 28 years.

The former Cat Stevens with his son

*  In April of 2014, Yusf was inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame for his work under the name of Cat Stevens.  He was inducted by Art Garfunkel at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

- Joanne