This is the first column I’ve ever felt bittersweet about writing, my last column for The Standard Newspaper.
With a heavy heart, but eyes on the horizon, in this week’s edition of ‘Shoot First, Ask Later’ I will be announcing my fond farewell from The Voice of North Durham. After two wonderful years, It’s time for me to close the book on this chapter of my life – and begin a new page.
The past two years, beginning with my internship at the paper in April of 2013, have been nothing short of amazing. I’ve learned every step of the intricate process that takes photos in a card and scribbles in a notepad, to a full edition of the paper arriving on your doorstep.
This job has never seemed like work to me, because I enjoy all parts of my duties, and the wonderful people I have met, photographed, and interviewed along the way. North Durham holds a treasure-trove of local stories, personalities and photos – and I wish the best of luck to the reporter who is lucky enough to take my place.
Looking back on my first column, entitled ‘Have camera, will travel’, I held the mindset of a young and green Photojournalism graduate from Loyalist College – out to make a name in North Durham through my photos. Luckily, I was able to quickly expand my horizons to include Municipal Council meetings, the ‘Scugog Beat’, and in-depth feature stories.
The Standard has been the perfect opportunity to get my feet wet, become comfortable with approaching strangers, and learning to work on a tight deadline – but at 21, I’m a young photojournalist who needs to see as much of this ‘Big Blue Marble’ as I can.
I’ll try to answer the burning question – where will you see my by-lines appear next? For my next step, I’ll be taking a position that will allow me to focus on my photography - which will help me reach my goal of shooting with National Geographic.
Still, there's no ‘favourite’ or ‘best’ interview, no ‘greatest’ event, because there were simply too many over the past two years that left a mark.
Every person who I’ve interviewed, or stopped for a photo – whether they’re in the paper almost every week, or had never experienced their quarter-page of fame before – has been incredible. To all of those who have met me in person, or let me know they read this column, I’d like to extend a sincere thank you for helping me tell your story. It’s the advice and comments that drive me to push myself - as I strive to make the next leap.
Life in the news world carries its ups and downs – but it’s all a matter of perspective. Whereas some days, spending 13 hours straight hours in Council with only a coffee break can seem like a staggering prospect - when I’m hearing our local community voice their thoughts on the Greenbank Airways site, the Caesarea Skate Park, and the municipal budget - it’s all worthwhile.
There may not be a ‘best’ event to name, but there are a few highlights. One of the first which pops into my head is the Scugog election of a mostly rookie Council – as well as following the moves and shakes of those who held their seats before.
Other stories near to my heart are covering the annual powwows and drum social’s on Scugog Island, spending nights with the Port Perry FIRST Robotics team, and afternoons with the folks at the Port Perry Hospital, Kent Farndale gallery and Scugog Council for the Arts building.
Perhaps the most personally impacting moments were spending time with both Carol Hodgkins, and the men and women of the Port Perry and Uxbridge Legion - for our annual Remembrance Day articles.
The fact is, I’m proud to tell the stories of North Durham - and her people, and I owe it all to the readers. In a way, it’s all cyclical, and leads back to that first columns years ago. I have a camera, and it’s time to travel.
For those who wish to reach me, or stay in touch, I can be contacted via my web site - www.BenjaminPriebe.ca.
It’s been rumored for years, but it was made official on Monday of last week - the General Motors plant in Oshawa is losing production of the Camaro to Michigan, sometime before the end of 2015. Coupled with the forecasted shut-down of the consolidated line (which produces the Equinox and some models of the Impala) in 2016 - Oshawa will be reduced to only producing the Buick Regal, some models of the Impala, and the Cadillac ATS.
While the cost-savings and accounting behind the decision are sound, the future of the plant will remain up in the air for the time being.
I remember the pride that many GM workers felt when Oshawa got the Camaro contract - and I was one of the crowd who stopped and wandered over to the dyno when the first Camaro ZL1 was fired up in the plant - but all good things must come to an end, and the important part is what’s to come.
As a former GM employee, and as the son, grandson, cousin, and brother of GM employees - I’ve heard it all before. Rumors of GM closing, enforcing massive lay offs, or just ‘nailing the doors shut’ seem to circulate every six-months or so - often with little change to be seen, but the decline in market share for the ‘big three’ manufacturer has been steady over the past few years.
Should the plant not receive a new production model and the plant close - Durham Region will lose one of its largest employers, and largest tax-payers. The results could send ripples as far as Scugog, Uxbridge and Brock, leading to increased taxes and less money flowing into the local economy.
As a saving grace, Oshawa and Durham Region as a whole have diversified in recent years - and will have a vibrant college/university, tourism, arts and power generation industries to fall back on. This won’t spell a Detroit-like end of Durham Region, but if the stars align in just the wrong way, it could mean an economic downturn for the area.
“What does the future hold?” was one of the questions I asked Ron Svajlenko, president of the local Unifor 222 union, this week. He told me that enduring optimism is the way forward. He validated the fears that some union members have voiced, but assured me that the union is dead-set on negotiating for a new product, and keeping a two in the VIN plates of as many vehicles as possible.
Mr. Svajlenko told me that the reduction could add up to as many as 1,250 jobs in total - having an immediate impact on the Region of Durham as a whole. Far from dramatic, I predict that many of these lost jobs won’t come from employees thrown into the streets, but from retirement and a lack of summer student positions.
While my time working in the plant has come to an end, the opportunity to work as a student and earn some good money on the midnight shift helped to pay off my student loans, and even afford the camera gear which I used to advance in my current career.
As I write this, I remember that the Chevy Impala I drove to work this morning was assembled, maintained, and even re-built by my father - the true definition of a family car.
While the beige colour of my Impala may not be my favourite, and people still slam on their brakes when they see me in the rear-view (because I look like I’m driving an unmarked cop car in the right light) - I’m still proud to call it my own, and say that it was built by my family.
While the leadership’s “take the bailout and run” policies have left a sour taste in the mouth of many - it’s important to remember that nothing is set in stone, and negotiations between the union and headquarters are a constant endeavor.
For better or for worse, I forecast that Durham Region will endure and see a change in the local economy drivers, despite this bump in the road. It might be nice to see what else Durham has to offer put in the spotlight.
It’s reading week for students in Ontario, and many of my friends are spending their down-time filling out resumes, researching internships, and updating their LinkedIn accounts - in the hopes of scoring a summer job or post-grad position.
While working in the sector that you’re studying is a prime choice for many students - a minimum-wage and unrelated position is better than nothing. Despite the type of work, the number of attainable jobs or even paid internships seem to be few and far between.
Luckily, when I left Loyalist College with a freshly-printed diploma in photojournalism - I was lucky enough to be taken on as an intern with The Standard.
After graduation, my parents and friends told me on a near-daily basis how lucky I was to have a job in the sector I went to school for - something which I thought was no great feat. Most colleges and universities advertise their record-setting employment rates, but forget to mention that many of the positions they help to fill have little to do with their subjects of study. I was shocked to learn that much of my graduating class was unemployed, or moved halfway across the country to find work.
Unfortunately for most students - the reality will be minimum wage positions which won’t come close to covering tuition costs – much less living and other expenses. The other posibility, which faces many young students that I know of, is no job at all - despite their pavement-pounding efforts.
Let’s reflect on the fact that the youth unemployment rate in Ontario is currently over 15 per cent, more than double the national average - while government-sponsored tuition bursary programs urge more and more students into the academic fray.
While I believe that school should be a primary focus and should trump a pay cheque, the lack of lines on a resume can make it difficult to find that first job, which is meant to carry a young person to bigger and better things.
Even more troubling is the fact that only about half of young people in our province, aged 15 to 24, held a paid position in 2014 - meaning that many will graduate without any work experience to speak of. And if they do find a position, they will likely be working on their own dime and for no compensation.
I believe that summer jobs and field placements offer valuable experience for young people, helping them to discover what they want to do with the rest of their lives, and offering the chance to work in the real world.
They are also particularily valuable to students who have a lengthy tenure in post-secondary education, helping to ward off the dreaded question - “Can you explain this gap in your resume?” Employers will note that a busy worker is a hard worker, and “I couldn’t find a position.” is not the best response.
Without opportunities to gain relevant work experience, many students feel no other choice than to work for free after they graduate. A quick scan of Kijiji reveals hundreds of advertisements for unpaid work.
Despite government claims to have banned unpaid internships, a 2014 Ministry of Labour report found that 42 per cent of employers with interns were not meeting their legal responsibilities.
During my time as a student, searching for a placement was one of the busiest periods, I had little chance to think about what those employer requirements were - and no room to be picky. As getting a placement was neccesary for graduation, I had only accepted that if I couldn’t get paid for working, I would have to bite the bullet and work for free.
The Canadian way of thought is to stop discrimination in the workplace, pay is not to be based on age or sex - so why should a student be expected to work for free? Many companies consider internships as a sort of trial-run for employment - but the work they recieve is quite tangible.
If an employer can only facilitate unpaid-labour, perhaps they should look at opening a volunteer program - instead of offering temporary desks to the educated masses.
Aside from the ethics of unpaid internships, economists point out that such schools of thought are bad for the economy. Unpaid positions privilege those who can afford to work for free, and exclude promising young talent who need income to stay ahead of their loans, or pay the rent.
Is the ever-inflating cost of tuition, and the student loans which foot the bill, not enough?
For some young job-seekers, the sad irony is that unpaid internships rarely lead to employment.
In contrast, employers who invest in training their paid co-op students and interns are much more likely to keep them on staff - and to get a better product in return.
As a young person of 21-years-old, I’m not sure what the solution to these work-related woes could be. But the rate of unemployment, and the concessions people will give to work, is a rising tide - and something’s going to give, soon.
Do you ever have a moment when you wish you were a few years younger, or could go back and change your final answer? Everyone wants a time machine - be it a hot tub or otherwise - and I hope I’m not the only one who feels this way.
I recently learned that I want to go back to high school, be fourteen-years-old, and sign up for a team of robot builders - instead of that ill-fated karate class.
This past Friday, I was graciously invited by a local retired teacher to meet with the FIRST Robotics club of Port Perry High School. For those who don’t know, FIRST Robotics is a north-America-wide competition that pits teams of young students and their adult mentors in the construction of, you guessed it, robots.
Far from the metal carnage of Battle Bots, a favourite show from my Saturday mornings as a kid, these machines must be expertly programmed, built, and piloted to carry out tasks which us humans consider easy - with only six weeks from start to finish.
The 5051 team is local, but due to a lack of a workshop space, has taken over one of the mentor’s garages in north Oshawa for the time being.
After chatting on the phone and via e-mail with the local organizer, a gentleman who wished for some media coverage of the venture to see the group flourish in Port Perry - I happily agreed to take on the project. With any luck, you’ll see a story detailing the build in one of the next issues of The Standard. Here’s a preview and some personal ramblings.
After a long day of budget meetings and photographs, the sun had already dropped as I plopped into the driver’s seat of my car. I rubbed my eyes, sent a text to my my girlfriend Jordie letting her know I’d be missing dinner, and pulled onto Simcoe St. southbound to head home.
It took a lot of strength to turn right instead of left at Conlin Rd., but I’m quite glad I decided to make the appointment that we had discussed early last week.
After pulling up to the home and being greeted by an extremely friendly chihuahua (which I didn’t think existed) I was shown into the garage-come-workshop and introduced to the team.
Even in my tired state, my eyes opened wide. I was in a world of servos, pneumatics, machined aluminum and 3D printers - many of the tools I’ve only seen in my dreams. I resisted the urge to fiddle and play with everything while jumping up and down, and got to know the team.
Team 5051 is group of high-school and university students who formed the reincarnation of the former team 1006 Port Perry ‘Fast Eddie’ which disbanded a few years ago.
These young-adults were pooling their collective resources to build a seven-foot-tall robot named Chappy, and laughing while doing it. It was amazing to see how much talent they possessed, and I commend the team for how hard they worked to overcome the talents that they didn’t have quite perfected.
Looking around the shop filled me with nostalgia - zapping me back to my younger days when I would, in retrospect, do some awesome, but stupid, experiments.
To this day, I blame Bill Nye for the shorted-out power socket in my mother’s front hall.
In those days, weekends meant time to work on projects, such as; cutting open batteries to see what was inside them, taping bits of wire together to build a computer chip, and dismantling the TV remote to see if I could put it back together. Keep in mind, a six-year-olds definition of ‘dismantle’ is very different from my adult one, and involves a lot of smashing.
Still, my parents let me continue the projects (or they just didn’t catch me, I’m not sure) because I clearly had a passion to build. As I write there are four ‘Frankensteined’ laptops on my desk at home - someday I’ll build that supercomputer I’ve always wanted.
The moral of the story is that it doesn’t matter if you can build a project with expert precision, sometimes the most fun is had during the trial-error-stage. I think there’s a Confucius-style life lesson somewhere in there, but I’ll leave that up to you to ponder.
Spending just a few short hours with the 5051 PPHS builders has convinced me that FIRST Robotics is an extremely valuable resource for youth in the North Durham community. Skills aren’t necessary, because mentors will step-up to teach their team how the tools and parts work together - from preliminary designs right through to completion, and friendships are forged along the way.
If any of my faithful readers are interested in following the team, or attending their competition, which runs from March 11 to 14 at UOIT in Oshawa, please contact Bryan Coughlin at email@example.com or e-mail me via Ben@TheStandardNewspaper.ca for more information.
I had the pleasure of spending this past Saturday morning in the basement of the Seagrave Church, sitting-in on a meeting between the former Seagrave Park Board, and three representatives from Scugog Township.
The topic du jour was the future of the Seagrave Park. specifically, the now-defunct committee who took care of the property - until a lack of funding and a restriction of their duties forced the volunteers to hang up their hats.
Even though I make the greatest effort to stay unbiased - watching the meeting upset me quite a bit. I can’t imagine how the residents who built the park with their own hands and wallets must feel. Sadly, volunteer and community groups being under-staffed, under-funded, or outright shut down is a story I have heard far too often lately.
I’m gracious that the powers-that-be have granted me this page to be as opinionated as I wish - and my opinion is that people are worth more than pennies.
Since I have been writing for The Standard, I have seen many community groups like the Port Perry Lions Club and sports leagues like the Scugog Hockey League beseech Council for a break on fees. The common denominator is that insurance rates are too high, and that these clubs have to pay most of their profit right back into permits, instead of boosting their communities.
The combined effects of ever-increasing insurance fees for public events, the hundreds of dollars it takes to rent a community hall, and increased taxes makes many residents feel as if they are suffocating in red-tape and bills. A fine thank you for throwing a fundraising dance or free community fun day. Ain’t that a kick in the head?
Fortunately for these community groups, budget season has struck in Scugog - and the new Council seems eager to please. The men and women who speak for their wards have stated that they strongly support community groups, and this reporter hopes it will become tangible.
It’s easy for Scugog’s current Council to shrug and say that these decisions were made by someone else. While that may be, I believe that taking no action is tantamount to approval, and a token of appreciation for Seagrave is a good move towards fixing a decades-long problem.
Some of these groups feel that they cannot count on their Township anymore, and must rely on private donations and revenue from their members. When thinking of a jilted ex-partner, the tale of the Terry Fox Walk springs to mind.
Since 1993, the Terry Fox Walk organization in Port Perry has raised $1,000,000 for cancer research - a goal that would not have been possible without the support of Scugog Township, and their event staging area being provided gratis. What else would a public park be used for, if not the Terry Fox Walk - many thought that was obvious.
Despite the not-for-profit charity receiving no funding, and doing the work on their own dime, the Township of the day decided to charge them a permit fee to gather in the park. Needless to say, this sparked protest, and almost spelled an end to Port Perry’s contributions to the national campaign.
Thankfully, the Port Perry Fair Board recognized the struggle of another community group and offered the Reach Street fairgrounds just in the nick of time. I believe that the current council will see that matter brought up again before their term is out.
I asked Mayor Rowett a few follow-up questions after the meeting in Seagrave. We spoke about lawsuits, permits and licenses becoming an increasingly large factor in many of the Township’s decisions.
Dismayed with the rising tide of bureaucracy, he sarcastically forecasted that putting liability costs on a podium would lead to banning the public from swimming in the lake or crossing the street, without express written permission, and a hired police officer on-scene. A funny joke, but also a sobering sign of the times.
It seems like the new council is joining the ranks of residents who are sick and tired of red-tape - good thing that they’re in the hot seat for cutting through it all.
Fact is, the majority of Ontario’s municipalities are under pressure from the downloading of fees, dwindling funds from the Province of Ontario, and the need to meet higher standards across the board.
Scugog and Uxbridge are not in the same position as the rest of Ontario’s municipalities - the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine legislation places limits on growth and expansion, and makes costly environmental studies necessary for even looking at a development the wrong way. Would this be considered the fault of the province failing their lower-tier governments?
I understand that times are tough all over - but Scugog pushing prices past their tipping point means fewer users, fewer charities, and fewer people to spend money.
The 2015 budget season holds a chance for council to either re-invest in the residents who call Scugog home, or else be left with one-hundred percent of nothing.
When you walk into an arena with a camera, you have options.
Do I stand on the top level and get clean mid-ice and net shots, but nothing too dramatic, or do I stand at ice-level and miss a majority of the game based on focal-length alone, but get some great faces and angles?
I’ve had the pleasure of spending the last couple of weekends taking in the greatest game in Canada, while shooting the MoJacks on their home turf.
If you’re a fan of local hockey, I would hope that many of my readers have seen me at a game. If you haven’t, I encourage you to come out to watch a game for yourself, and support North Durham’s local teams - be they from Uxbridge or Scugog.
Sports photos are a touchy subject for me - it’s exciting, rewarding, and fun - but I’m not exactly up on my hockey stats and lingo. As you will read, this can cause occasional confusion, and a tendency to turn and ask someone next to me “what’s going on?”
My relationship with sports began, like most, with a honeymoon period. When I attended Loyalist College, I was shooting the Belleville Bulls every week at the Yardmen Arena, and having the time of my life.
The weekly ritual and familiar, Olympic-sized, evenly-lit rink provided a chance to experiment and see incremental changes in my work, depending on what technique I used or where I decided to stand. Thanks to the endless scrum of college students who depend on the games for photo assignments, the rink staff even cut lens-sized port holes through the glass.
That’s when, as they say, the itch set in - maybe hockey and I just were never meant to be.
After a pleasantly simple experience at the Yardmen, I had a dose of reality the first time I walked into Scugog Arena to catch my first COJHL game.
With absolutely no disrespect to Scugog, the MoJacks, or any other team that graces the ice - it’s dark in there, and the plexiglass has a lot of puck-marks on it - the bane of any small town photojournalist across Canada. Due to the layout of the benches, a few of my frames will end up with baseball caps and other debris blocking the players - there’s been more than one occasion where an overzealous fan ‘whoo-hooing’ before me has given my nice DSLR a nice coating of snack bar poutine.
If you’ve been keeping up with Shoot First, Ask Later, you probably know that I consider music up there with food and oxygen on my list of dire needs. As such, concert, arts and festival photography is a particular favourite of mine.
Shooting sports is very similar to concert photography in a few ways - your subjects move fast through a dimly-lit room, and the best moments happen without warning.
The best moments happen when a photographer isn’t ‘working’ but ‘shooting’. In this state, you become a part of what’s going on around you, the camera settings are dialed in, and the camera body becomes an extension of one hand, while the zoom ring becomes part of the other. For a photographer, this is as close to nirvana as we get.
The reason that sports photography tends to come with a few hurdles stems from the fact that I’m not very athletically inclined to begin with. Combine that with a lack of working knowledge of the game - and I don’t have that sixth-sense to know what the next play will be, the way that a veteran hockey fan or player might.
Shooting hockey is a game of taking chances, as you never know who’s going to intercept a pass or when the player will shoot take a shot. It’s almost like they’re trying to fool us photographers as much as the other team’s defencemen.
On Sunday evening, Clarington Eagles forward Brodie Myers got chance at a penalty shot on the MoJacks’ net. While most of the arena started either cheering or booing, I just became bewildered when, halfway through the period, both teams cleared off the ice. Was there a fire alarm I didn’t hear?
After quickly turning towards Darryl Knight, and apparently shooting him a look of confusion, I was assured that this was supposed to happen. You’re allowed to chuckle now.
While my relationship with hockey is stressed, I’m willing to put in the effort. As much as our therapist says it’s time we took a break, I think there’s some work to be done on both parts.
Dear Hockey, I’ll learn the proper positions and terms, if you take off those shiny cages and visors, and start using some pyrotechnics and strobes. Sincerely, Benjamin.
My best advice for photos - wait for a body check. When two skating objects collide, it usually makes them quite stationary.
New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken, and I usually avoid making any promises to avoid the trend.
After many years of short-lived resolutions, like the two days I decided I was a vegetarian in Grade 6, I think I’m due to make a few changes that stick. To reinforce this thought, I’ll try to explain the how and why these new rules are important to me. Maybe the rambling is as much for me as it is for you.
In my books, 2014 was the year of The To-Do List, who’s main feature is the mass of 1,447 unread e-mails waiting in my inbox, and pile of phone call reminders next to my laptop. My initial and main goal is to clear my desk and sort through the spam, to regroup and refocus my efforts.
In this new year, my first resolution is to not only make more time, but to make more use of the time I’ve got.
My mother has always old me that if procrastination was an Olympic sport, I’d get a medal - but after several years of video games and cold pizza at 2 a.m. I think the first step is to make midnight procrastination a little more useful. This means things like spending less time reading Buzzfeed’s ‘Top 10 Ways To Waste Your Time’ and more time reading Wikipedia articles, or putting my collection of computer parts back to work. Who knows, I may even log in to my LinkedIn account at some point in the next twelve months!
Even so, I think something valuable we can all pledge this year is to spend more time disconnected. While smart phones and laptops are powerful tools, it’s important to try and remember that they’re just that; tools.
During this season’s Christmas dinners (all six of them!), the best moments weren’t spent with the TV on or scrolling through Facebook - but sitting around the table playing cards with family, and giving my nieces piggy-back rides around the house. It’s all fun and games until someone knocks their head off the chandelier - that’s when it becomes a sport. That’s also when Uncle B spends the next two hours carying four little girls around the house, and getting his head used as a cup holder for those eternally sticky sippy cups.
Moving on, for my second resolution, I am endeavoring to work my way through my bed-side stack of ‘Books to be Read’ and get back into literature. Truth be told, I’m probably in the middle of about twelve novels - and I’ve run out of bookmarks.
With a collection of over 100 paperbacks and dusty tomes in the bookshelf, it’s clear that someone who looks a lot like me used to find the time to read. I actually tend to re-read books, and never get rid of them - something which has no doubt puzzled my girlfriend Jordie for the past few years.
Believe it or not, I even fancied myself a bit of a poet in high school - if ‘borrowing’ ideas from Jim Morrison lyrics and Tom Wolfe books could be called poetry.
My writing and art teachers seemed to enjoy it at least, and it’s a great feeling to find the perfect work or hard-hitting sentence. However, since college, the combination of relationships, work, and being constantly clawed by a cat who’s convinced she’s a dog has left little time to write or read, outside of my work here at The Standard.
Because books are the cause of many sleepless nights in the first place, finishing that Edgar Allen Poe anthology might be the perfect pairing for some useful procrastination this year.
In 2015, I hope to spend less of that precious time with my new time-burglarizing friend Netflix - and more of it getting reacquainted with books, friends, and that massive To Do List (I’m hoping it’s gone by 2016).
There you have it, a few musing thoughts on how I hope to affect a sea change on my new year - how do you, the reader, hope to change yours?
Wishing you and yours all the best in 2015.
For a brief hour over the weekend, I was eight-years old.
This past Saturday morning, I headed out to Scugog Line 10 to cover the annual Nonquon Bird Count - one of my favourite events of the season.
Shortly after parking the car and grabbing my camera bag, I found myself taking slow steps along a frozen board walk in an icy marsh, and I started to feel nostalgic.
I remembered how I used to hike and play in the woods on class trips, at Purple Woods, or in the marshes around Scugog Point. The combination of nature and imagination can be the most fun you have as a kid - especially in the woods of Scugog, hence the first line of this week’s offering.
Anyway, back to the present. I was keeping my ears sharp for the sounds of birds, and my eyes up for the flutter of wings - sort of like a stalking hunter, but with a lens barrel instead of a firearm.
The woods were still and covered in ice, and after a few attempts - it made for some beautiful photos of the colourful birds roosting in grayish brown trees. While feeding a few chickadees perched on my fingers, I learned quickly that they could in fact hear a shutter click, and were very annoyed by it. Small birds have sharp talons.
On this particular chilly Saturday morning, our travel group was lucky to have a very knowledgeable guide named James, who was ready and willing to teach the group of birdwatchers what the various bird calls were, and what a variety of different tree markings meant.
Following in tow, a few adults served as shepherds, for the flock of young children, who played the part of very wilily and excited sheep.
Along our hike, and in between tripping over tree roots and muck, I learned a bit about our local environment and saw how much fun children and young adults can have doing the same.
I personally believe that Outdoor Ed, which takes students out of a classroom and throws them into the woods for fun and hands on learning, has never been more important to our young people.
With the environmental dangers that face our landscapes today, and the ones that will surely develop in the future (if we’re not careful) it really is crucial that we educate and inform kids. When you’re eight-years-old and the teacher tells you to take an extra five steps to throw that water bottle in the recycling and not the garbage, you don’t get it. When you’re eight-years-old and you see mounds of plastic trash piled up beside a walking trail, or beside the causeway, it tends to stick with you.
Try as you might, no amount of theory will ever help a child learn like showing them will. Textbooks and slide shows are excellent for math, English and history - but when it comes down to helping kids grasp the world around them, sometimes they need something to grasp!
While being freezing cold and tripping an awful lot might not be everyone’s cup of tea - this annual event has been a favourite of mine since I first took the hike, and I imagine many other people have similar experiences.
This is going back a few years, but I’m fairly certain I first walked through the Nonquon on an ‘Outdoor Ed’ trip in Grade 4. Back then, the best part of the year was when my classmates and I got to run around in the woods and learn how maple syrup was made, how squirrels pass the harsh winters, and which birds made which noise.
The only part that puzzled us was that we never found out who ‘Ed’ was - we ended up deciding he was a large, hairy, smelly and sasquatch-like creature who roamed the woods.
Later, I discovered ‘Ed’ was actually just short for boring old education. They really had us tricked.
The holiday season is ramping up, and soon we won’t be able to avoid the constant runs of Christmas carols on the radio, and Christmas movies on TV.
In fact, I think I’ve watched ‘Elf’ three times in the past couple weeks - and it isn’t even December yet!
I myself am one to re-watch old movies, and enjoy the nostalgia from Christmas past - but I’m noticing something different in the air this year, charity.
As some readers may recall, last week’s issue had two stories of fantastic local youth whose Christmas wishes were completely selfless.
The story of Macy Scarlett, a Blackstock student who is throwing a party on Nov. 22 to benefit Sick Kids Hospital, and Brooklyn Jacobs, who wrote a Christmas wish letter and gave her local food bank $5,000, and her classmate Anthony a train ride - has officialy rekindled my seasonal spirit.
I’ll admit I’m usually the one with the ‘bah-humbug’ attitude for Christmas, right up until mid-December.
I’m not exactly a Grinch, I just to get frustrated with the constant Christmas commercials and shopping sales that strive to remind people ‘it’s not the thought that counts, it’s the price-tag!’
The combination of these local students trying to make the world a better place, and spending this past weekend helping my four neices build gingerbread houses and stuff their faces with candy, has softened my heart for the holidays. The girls’ sugar rush is the best part, because Uncle B and Aunt Jordie get to go home when it’s bed time!
Maybe this is an effect of growing up , but I’m beginning to see that Christmas is really for the kids, the gifts they give, and the gifts they recieve. My neice Leah actually informed me that all she wants for Christmas is her two ‘vampire fangs’, or eye teeth.
For those who don’t know, I celebrated my 21st birthday on November 7, and I’m excited to announce that I’ll finally get to see The Tragically Hip in just a couple of months! Unfortunately, since the tickets didn’t come with a time machine, it’s going to be a long wait ‘till February.
My wonderful girlfriend Jordie got ahold of a pair of tickets for a concert in St. Catharines - and tickets to see The Hip are harder to find than a polar bear in a snowstorm.
This season, I would like to encourage the people of North Durham to help a stranger. Whether it’s a random act of kindness, a smile and a handshake, or even a donation to one of our local food banks - give a little something and see how it feels to help your fellow man.
Writing a newspaper column such as ‘Shoot First, Ask Later’ can be a double-edged sword - it’s a powerful and exciting soapbox when you’ve got something to say, but a dreaded deadline when it’s been a slow week.
Therefore, I’d like to announce a new concept to my column this week - I’m asking the readers for their thoughts and opinons, and will do my best to discuss them in my next edition.
In short, if you have any questions, comments, queries or rants that you would like to see on this page, please drop a line to Ben@TheStandardNewspaper.ca.
To kick-start my correspondence - my question to the readers this week is, are you doing anything exceptional for Christmas this year? Are there any special holiday traditions which come around when the snow flies?
When you roll a snowball down a hill, it gradually gains speed and weight. Eventually, a few dozen snowflakes can become a full-scale avalanche, which buries all in its path.
This week, I would like to tackle a large and sensitive topic: the ongoing reports and investigation surrounding CBC host Jian Ghomeshi.
For those who haven’t been following this story, Jian Ghomeshi, the popular host of ‘Q’ on CBC Radio, took a leave of absence on October 24, which left the news world buzzing with the question ‘Why?’. Two days later, the CBC formally announced that Ghomeshi had been fired due to questionable conduct.
To counter his termination, Ghomeshi has launched a $55 million lawsuit against CBC, saying that he was wrongfully fired due to a ‘smear campaign’ by an ex-girlfriend.
This brings us up to date, with the court of public opinion strongly influenced by the media in this case.
The Toronto Police, Carleton University and the CBC have each announced investigations.
First let me state that I will not be forming an opinion on the credulity of the women who have come forward to speak against out against the crimes which Ghomeshi may or may not have committed, for one simple reason. That reason is, I wasn’t there.
The first thing you learn in journalism school is to report only first hand and verified facts, and avoid misleading ‘colour’ - this is what we refer to as ethical journalism.
For example, running an anonymously sourced post about ‘Big Ears Teddy’, purely for the shock value might be considered a misstep.
It is the role of the media to report facts as they happen, and to always attribute sources. To date, only one woman, actress Lucy DeCoutere has put her name to the accusations - sparking the investigation. Frankly, I find The Toronto Star reckless in running the reports of these other women anonymously. If a source lacks the faith to put their name to a quote, how much faith can you have in the quote?
On the forefront of our criminal justice system is the presumption of innocence. While Ghomeshi remains technically innocent until the court renders a guilty verdict, this won’t stop major media sources from jumping on the bandwagon and the slippery slope of incredulity and tabloid journalism.
Many have questioned the CBC’s decision to terminate Ghomeshi’s contract, but I feel that CBC is fully within their right and responsibility to conduct an investigation, and suspend an employee, for the safety of others.
There is something to be mindful of here, a point to remember and a grain of salt to take with any news stories you read - to reach a conviction, police must gather proper evidence, not just reports, this leaves two ideas riding on the forefront.
First, regardless of celebrity status or talent, we are all equal in the eyes of the law, and crimes cannot be given a free pass, no matter how well-liked the criminal is.
Second, while people rely on information from the media on a daily basis, the justice system does not. Even the most airtight investigative journalism pieces cannot be admitted into a courtroom.
When an investigation has numerous reports and complainants, they are often grouped together and looked at as a whole - rather than several individual cases. This is an important part of justice, and tells us that the whole story is greater than its individual parts.
If we’re not careful, this policy can become a double-edged blade, and can turn into a medieval witch-hunt if evidence is not carefully checked - suddenly people forget to form their own opinions, and go only by what they read.
Ghomeshi may be a terrifying sadist who needs to be locked up, and those women may be bravely telling the truth. But, as far as we know, he could just as easily be suffering under a smear campaign having committed no crime but living alternatively and jilting an ex-girlfriend.
The fact is, only a handful of people know the truth - and you can’t hang someone on speculation. Not in the Canada I know and love, with due process and justice for all parties.
As we consider the snowball effect, let’s hope that big media jumps out of the way before it’s overtaken.
is a photographer, journalist and jack-of-all-trades at your Standard Newspaper! You may have seen him around taking photos and asking questions, if not, here's hoping you meet soon. He grew up in both Oshawa/Courtice and Caesarea, back and forth. Scugog has always been an important part of his life.