Back in the 6ix: Toronto Attractions

My sister Amanda moved back to Toronto in the fall, and I promised to visit her in the spring. I was finally able to keep that promise in April. It’s no secret I love visiting the city, and each trip allows us to discover (and in some cases, rediscover) our new favourite spaces, places and events.

Toronto Trip

Nathan Phillips Square

Evergreen Brick Works Farmers’ Market

Many years ago, Amanda and I had complained our way through a covered-but-outdoors Toronto Underground Market at Evergreen Brick Works. I haven’t been back since then, but their weekly farmers’ market seemed like a great opportunity.

Evergreen Bick Works

Evergreen Brick Works

We probably shouldn’t have taken her boyfriend Jason’s vehicle, given the number of times we had to circle around, but it did make us wonder why anyone would drive there on a regular basis at all – it would incite road rage in most people. Inside, there weren’t as many produce vendors as we were expecting (recognizing that farmers are now down to their cellared products), and not one greenhouse producer. We did pick up some Best Baa sheep’s yogurt to try (not as tangy as the cow’s yogurt we’re used to), and refilled our supply of my favourite mustard, Kozlick’s.

Evergreen Bick Works

Shipping container vendors

The covered part of Evergreen housed vendors in shipping containers (great idea, though it must have still been chilly for the vendors), and some food trucks. It was our chance to try Eva’s Chimney Cakes, a genius marriage of Hungarian cinnamon-sugar doughnuts (available one year at K-Days) and soft serve.

Evergreen Bick Works

With my doughnut cone

The "cone" had to be cooled in order to not immediately liquefy the ice cream, and lost its chewy doughnut quality in the process. I did enjoy the mix-in of apple preserves though.

Gladstone Flea Market

The Gladstone Hotel is considered (along with The Drake Hotel) the anchor of West Queen West. They host a monthly flea market curated with unique, independent vendors.


Gladstone Flea Market

Amanda and Jason sampled some sustainable pasta sauce (with mealworms blended in), while Mack and I picked up some Toronto Bee Rescue honey, made from undesired hives rescued from homes or construction projects. Best of all, there was no entrance fee to the market.

The Social

Mack had never been to a television taping in Toronto, but was still a good sport when he agreed to accompany me to an episode of The Social. It’s not something I watch regularly, but on and off if I happen to be home during the day. Still, it’s always interesting to see how they produce the show behind the scenes (set changes, cues, etc.). Mack’s highlight was getting a high-five from actress Arielle Kebbel, who was the guest host that day.


With The Social hosts Melissa Grelo and Cynthia Loyst

Battle Sports

I stumbled upon the Battle Sports website after learning about their Rage Room on a segment on The Social. They were featuring 50% off their archery dodgeball, and Amanda and Jason were game, so we tried it.

Battle Sports

Our Battle Sports team

In hindsight, even an hour in the arena wasn’t a good idea for our out-of-shape bodies, as we were not used to all of the crouching and quick movements required of us to stay in the game. At any rate, this sport required the use of foam arrows and axes to fell opponents, and between the adrenaline-inducing music and some overly aggressive participants, it was much more stressful than I thought it would be. While I enjoyed the actual archery, I could have done without the format.

New Urbanism Film Festival

I convinced Amanda to join us for the New Urbanism Film Festival, in its second year. It was a screening of a collection of North American short films, ranging in topic from the blight of raised freeways to the failure of pedestrian malls. As expected, some films were more engaging than others, but I would have appreciated a more localized context following the screening. A panel discussion about ideas as they related to Toronto would have been fascinating.

Toronto Blue Jays

Mack hadn’t been to a live Blue Jays game before, so Amanda made sure that was on our agenda.

Go Blue Jays!

Our view at Rogers Centre

The tickets were so reasonably priced ($26), and there was even a giveaway that day – Josh Donaldson bobbleheads. It was great to be in a packed house (46,000+), much different than the last game I attended. And even better, the Jays beat the White Sox, 6-2!


With our Bringer of Rain bobblehead

Toronto Raptors’ Jurassic Park

Before our date with Real Sports (a tradition whenever I’m in Toronto), we had the chance to visit Jurassic Park outside the Air Canada Centre before Game 4 during their series with the Pacers.

Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park

It wasn’t as packed as we expected (we learned later that the crowd is smaller for away games), but there was great energy in the square, with a live DJ, a big screen, and alcohol available.

Jurassic Park

Ready to beat Jason one on one

I know there are plans for something similar in Ice District’s winter plaza (if the Oilers ever get to the playoffs), so it’ll be interesting to see how an Edmonton version of Jurassic Park would play out. And yes, I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for an Edmonton branch of Real Sports in the District.

Jurassic Park

We the North!

I’ll be back with a food-centric post later this week.

Relish Fest: Food on Film

There’s a new film festival in town, and it’s all about food! Relish Fest, the brainchild of Maria Iacobelli and The Tomato’s Mary Bailey, celebrates food in all its incarnations on the big screen. Running November 13-16, 2014 in a variety of locations in the city, the festival will be highlighting a number of local, national and international films.

Relish Film Fest

Relish Fest organizers Mary Bailey and Maria Iacobelli with To Make a Farm director Steve Suderman

Although its inaugural year features a panel discussion and a Parmigiano & Prosecco party in addition to screenings, the organizers shared that their focus in coming year will be their “dinner and a movie” series, involving a dinner themed around a specific film preceding each screening. It sounds like a great way to spend an evening.

Relish Food Fest

Relishing some wine

On Thursday night, Mack and I were fortunate enough to be guests at the opening reception. The film To Make a Farm, was screened, a beautiful homage to small family farms in Canada. Director Steve Suderman did a wonderful job capturing the difficulties of farm life – the relentless demands, the unpredictability of mother nature, the loneliness – but also the joy and the rewards that can come from working the land and contributing to the community through food. I was particularly moved by a scene where one farmer said a heartfelt goodbye to the pigs she’d reared and loved, just before sending them to slaughter.

After the movie, a moderated discussion featured an all-female panel: Rhonda Zuk-Headon from The Cheesiry, Cathryn Sprague from Reclaim Urban Farm, Jenny Berkenbosch from Sundog Organic Farm and Vicky Horne from Tangle Ridge Ranch. The panelists expressed that they could very much relate to the stories they watched on screen (Jenny called them “kindred spirits”), and in the process of bettering their techniques, have undergone similar learning journeys. When asked a question about future growth, and in particular, “How big is too big?”, the goal for most was sustainability, while always improving operations.

Relish Food Fest

The panelists with Director Suderman

I felt the panel was a bit too rushed, and would have enjoyed more time with the panelists, but I recognize that the organizers were trying to keep things on time and moving along.

Although there was a second film screening to end the evening, we weren’t able to stay. Based on our first impressions, however, I think Relish is off to a great start! Congrats to Maria and Mary on this new addition to the city’s festival scene.

Check out the rest of the film line-up and ticket information here.

Star Wars Identities at the Telus World of Science

Mack made it easy on me to plan his birthday outing this year – he’d said from the beginning that all he wanted to do was check out the Star Wars Identities exhibit at the Telus World of Science. We’re both fans of the films, and had heard that there were quite a number of props and costumes worth seeing.

Star Wars Identities

The bikini heard ’round the world

What we didn’t know too much about was the “identities” portion of the exhibit. We knew we’d come out with some sort of character, but weren’t sure how this would happen. Turns out, it was quite seamless, and well-integrated with the displays.

We chose to head to TWoS early last Saturday afternoon, probably a mistake in hindsight. Parking was a nightmare, and the facility itself was quite busy (though not as busy as later that day; rule of thumb: the earlier, the better!). We had to queue up for at least twenty minutes before we were permitted inside the exhibit, located in the newest wing of the building. While waiting, we were given a rubber bracelet and an audio set.

The bracelet enabled us to create our character by choosing from different options at ten stations located throughout the displays. From mentors and personality to values, we would help define our Star Wars self. The creators also made sure the selections were placed at a height accessible to young children – everything proved to be deliberate and well thought-out.

Star Wars Identities

Make your choice, padawan

The audio sets worked within certain ranges of displays or video screens, helping to keep the noise level to a minimum. Mack and I wondered why more galleries haven’t adopted systems like this – I have to say I much prefer listening to a narrative clip to reading a placard.

As expected, the costumes, models and sketches on display would make any Star Wars fan excited. I particularly loved seeing several of Padme’s costumes, while Mack jumped at the chance to pose with Darth Vader.

Star Wars Identities

Gorgeous costumes

Star Wars Identities

Darth Vader

Star Wars Identities

Anakin’s podracer!

Star Wars Identities

Millenium Falcon model

Star Wars Identities

Han in carbonite

The highlight for me was actually watching the brief videos detailing how the two Skywalker men, Anakin and Luke, could veer off into such different paths in spite of their similar roots and trajectories. I guess I never really thought about their characters in such an in-depth way, especially about how the their parenting influenced each of them so profoundly.

Star Wars Identities

Watching one of the videos

The last identity option participants could choose from was whether or not to accept The Emperor’s offer to join the dark side. Mack chose to succumb, while I held out.

The final part of the exhibit allowed us to project our character onto a screen, and e-mail the character to ourselves for online sharing.

Our Star Wars selves!

Before heading out, we checked out the newly renovated environment gallery. The spherical projection screen was pretty cool, and the aquariums added some visual appeal. But as a whole, I was disappointed at the amount of text screens versus hands on displays. It doesn’t help that we were exposed to Calgary’s Spark last year, which features a wonderfully interactive environment gallery.

TWoS Environment Gallery

Spherical projection screen

TWoS Environment Gallery

Too many words!

If you’re a Star Wars fan (or even just a fan of filmmaking in general), make sure you head to the Telus World of Science before the Identities exhibit closes April 1, 2013.

Date Night: El Rancho and Retro Drive-In

Mack and I love taking in a dinner and a movie as much as the next couple, but there are so many other interesting things to do in Edmonton. “Date Night” will be a semi-regular series highlighting some of these ideas.

Funny enough, the first of this series features the aforementioned dinner and a movie format, but with a bit of a twist. Last Friday, we headed toward the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood for dinner. Though our original intention was to dine at Cafe Amore, the restaurant was closed for a private function, so we ended up at El Rancho (11810 87 Street).

It has been some time since I’ve been to the El Salvadorian establishment, and this was Mack’s first visit. Clearly, it hasn’t lost its popularity, as all the tables had been claimed by the time we finished our supper.

We shared the Antojitos Platter for two amigos ($16.95), and ordered two mixed pupusas ($2.75) on top of that. It was a great way to reacquaint myself with their dishes. Though the flautas (fried, rolled tortillas) and tacos were good, Mack and I both agreed that our favourite was the crispy enchiladas, topped with shredded chicken, a pickled slaw and a touch of tart salsa was a lovely combination of flavours.

El Rancho

Antojitos Platter

The pupusas were also a nice treat, if not only because it meant we could help ourselves to a bit more of the pickled cabbage to accent the savoury combination of mozzarella, fried beans and pork.

El Rancho


We had just enough room for dessert, and split a slice of tres leches cake ($5.95). Mack doesn’t usually like desserts, but loved this cake, bursting with milky goodness and not all that sweet. The whipped cream was an indulgent finish.

El Rancho

Tres Leches

Service was friendly, and fast (the kitchen had been slow in my previous experiences). Even better, our entire meal came in at around $30 – a fantastic value for the variety and exceptional food quality.

After dinner, we headed over to the Alberta Avenue Community Hall, who was hosting a retro drive-in that night. Though Mack and I are far from being car people, there’s something about  a drive-in that appeals to me. I think it might have to do with the fact that my family lived pretty close to the Stardust Twin Drive-In (50th Street and Whitemud Drive), but I didn’t get to go before it was shut and torn down in the late 1990s.

Alberta Avenue Drive-In

Drive in on the Ave!

This article from Lawrence Herzog states that Edmonton’s first drive-in theatre opened in 1949. The Starlight Drive-in had room for 600 cars, and was so successful on its opening night it had to turn folks away! These outdoor theatres peaked in 1977, when Edmonton had ten drive-ins. But just two decades later, suburban growth and at-home entertainment led to the demise of drive-in theatres, the last screens at the Millwoods and Twin Drive-In shuttering in 1996.

So we jumped at the chance to relive a bit of nostalgia – for free! This community league-sponsored event was promoting safe, family fun, and was also a way for the neighbourhood to bring people out to Alberta Avenue after dark. They had set up a basic screen on the side of a neighbouring building, and had volunteers on hand to direct cars to make sure space in the lot was used efficiently. We bought some hot drinks from The Carrot and some candy from the concession stand and settled in for the movie.

Alberta Avenue Drive-In

The volunteers were too cute in their costumes

I was a little too giddy about the streaming of the film’s soundtrack on a radio station (I had no idea it was so cheap and easy to do this), while Mack enjoyed the retro pre-show advertisements screened before the feature presentation. Not only was there a rocket that flew over candy-dotted planets, but also a PSA warning audience members not to get frisky.

Alberta Avenue Drive-In

Warning all you young lovers out there

It almost didn’t matter at this point what the movie was, but Grease was an inspired choice, upbeat and easy to watch. To say the least, there was a lot of appreciative honking at the end of the night.

Alberta Avenue Drive-In

You’re the one that I want

Thanks again to the Community League for a successful screening! They indicated that this was their first annual drive-in, so you can look forward to checking it out next year!

El Rancho
11810 87 Street
(780) 471-4930

Alberta Avenue Community Hall (keep your eyes peeled on their website for next year’s flick!)
9210 118 Avenue

Film: “Food, Inc.”

Mack and I had the chance to attend an advance screening of Food, Inc. at the newly-overhauled Empire City Centre Cinemas on Wednesday night (the theatres look great by the way – seats where the springs aren’t loose, plus stadium-style seating!). A nearly full house took in director Robert Kenner’s look at the pitfalls of the industrial system of agriculture and its ramifications on an unsuspecting public, including obesity, food safety and environmental degradation.

Anyone who has read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation will not find anything surprising in the movie, as Pollan and Schlosser act as the narrative backbone for Food, Inc. However, it is worth seeing for the inglorious visuals alone – the overhead shots of CAFOs, the dire conditions in claustrophobic chicken houses, and the assembly lines of mechanized meat factory workers.

On one hand, the scope of the film is admirable to encourage awareness of issues on a grand scale. But touching on everything from corn to tainted meat to Monsanto’s seed monopoly meant the film wasn’t as coherent as it could have been. In addition, several tangential storylines seemed unnecessary to me, such as the raids of illegal immigrants and the family struggling to feed itself well on a low-income. That time could have easily been spent providing more detail on some of the more central material.

Someone like Mack, who watched the movie with further distance from the subject than me, was hungry for facts, and commented that like other documentaries focused on getting a rise out of the audience, it played too much to the viewer’s emotion. He wished for more balance of fact and reason. Mack did really like the piece on the Stonyfield Farms CEO working with Wal-Mart – though some might frown at that partnership, it does make some sense to take organics mainstream, especially if it means reducing growth of the alternative.

My biggest criticism of the movie (echoed by Ron Berezan during the Q & A following the screening) was the lack of explicit actions empowered consumers could take. Particularly because the film was billed as containing some “opportunities for activism”, the lines of black-screen text suggestions were put together as seeming afterthoughts. Why didn’t they show consumers making deliberate choices at local farmers’ markets or growing their own food, and end with a resonating vision of what’s possible? While it’s true that the movie is just a catalyst, and that further education would have to follow, listing a website address before the credits just seems like a cop-out.

At the end of the day, I don’t know if this film will reach the wide audience that it should, but the fact that it is getting attention from the mainstream media is a positive step.

Food, Inc. premieres in Edmonton on July 17 at the Garneau Theatre.

“Food, Inc.” Edmonton Premiere

I’ve been looking forward to the Edmonton premiere of Food, Inc. since I started reading about the buzz surrounding the movie at its June 12 premiere in New York (NYT review here). Michael Pollan of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defence of Food fame narrates, so those who have read either of those books will likely already anticipate the film’s content and thesis. For those who aren’t familiar with his work, here is a synopsis of Food, Inc.:

“You are what you eat. It is a simple expression that bears scary implications as you watch the acclaimed documentary, Food, Inc. Director Robert Kenner draws upon the searing reportage of authors Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) to explore how modern developments in food production pose grave risks to our health and environment. These writers aren’t radicals or even vegetarians (Schlosser admits that his favourite meal is a hamburger and fries), but they are crusaders when it comes to exposing problems and naming offenders. There are stories of heartbreak and outrage, but the film carefully channels these emotions towards opportunities for activism. Watching Food, Inc. gives you a strong appetite for better meals.”

If you have been as eager to see the movie as I have been, you will also be excited to know that there is a special screening taking place on Wednesday, July 15 at 7pm at Empire City Centre Cinemas, and I have been provided with 5 double-guest passes by a company representing Alliance Films in Alberta to give away! Following the screening there will be a Q & A with a special guest panel featuring food experts, including Ron Berezan, The Urban Farmer.

If you are available and interested in attending, please leave a comment with a valid e-mail address below (in the e-mail address field, not the comment itself) by noon on July 12. I will randomly select five names and contact the winners by e-mail on Sunday evening.

Good luck!

Food, Inc.
Classification: PG (Mature Subject Matter)
Premieres in Edmonton on July 17 at the Garneau Theatre

“Big Night” at Al Fresco on 104th

deVine Wine and Spirits organized a great day of fundraising for the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters called Al Fresco on 104th, with activities on the street ranging from an outdoor fashion show to yoga (on grass to boot!), and indoor wine and port tastings.

104th Street

After visiting the City Centre Market on Saturday, however, I didn’t stick around for the activities, choosing instead to run errands with a plan to return for their outdoor movie screening at 10pm. We really enjoyed the family-friendly Movies on the Square experience last year, and thought this would be a good opportunity to take in an adult-oriented drama instead.

Mack and I brought along chairs, and when we arrived, found that much of the good viewing real estate was taken up by a fenced patio that jutted out from TZiN. We ended up setting up our chairs just beside the patio, and threw in a donation for satisfying ice cream sandwiches, which we enjoyed while waiting for the movie to start.

2.5 storey inflatable movie screen

Big Night was a pretty good movie, with some food-centric scenes (I told Mack I now want timpano for my birthday, heh). I can’t say that I enjoyed the experience of watching it at this particular venue though – adjacent to the boisterous patio crowd who paid no attention to the fact that there was a movie screening, it was like trying to watch a movie next to a beer garden. In the end, it was just a poor set-up, something I hope the organizers will keep in mind should they attempt this again.

Ending on a Low Note: “High School Musical 4”

Mack bought me a copy of High School Musical 3: Senior Year over the weekend, and we watched it again for the second time. I really liked it when I saw it in the theatre, but I was afraid it wouldn’t hold up on repeat viewings. I am happy to report that it did!

I still think the songs are incredibly catchy, possibly even better than those in the first High School Musical. Being a sucker for dance numbers too, I love “A Night to Remember” and the reprise of “Can I Have This Dance”. As I’ve said in the past, there is something so innocent and hopeful about the series, and I can’t help but feel uplifted after I watch either film. I might even rent High School Musical 2 just to see if it’s as bad as I remember it to be.

Of course, Disney can’t seem to leave well enough alone and let the series finish on a high note, as it was released this week that they will be making a fourth film. Featuring an all-new cast (and potentially a storyline rivalry with another school – West High, perhaps?), I’m sure they will attempt to recreate the energy and excitement of the trilogy, but it just won’t be the same without the smiling faces of Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens greeting the audience. Will I watch it when it premieres on TV in 2010? Likely, but with bottom barrel expectations.

Film: “High School Musical 3: Senior Year”

Though I handily declared in my review of High School Musical 2 that I would not be shelling out cash to watch the third (and final?) instalment of the Disney franchise, I was sorely mistaken. Thankfully, I think this movie was well-worth my money, and did much in the way of redeeming the sad excuse for a second film.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year is set at East High (instead of say, a country club), and chronicles the musically-inclined friends as they ponder their futures and put on a final show together. My simple litmus test for an enjoyable movie of this calibre is whether or not it manages to put a smile of my face; it did.

Like the first film, Senior Year didn’t take itself too seriously – it was lighthearted and filled with catchy tunes. Some of the voices were obviously synthesized, but at this point, I felt I could overlook that for the spectacle of the musical numbers. There were a few “edgier” songs as well – Troy (Zac Efron) and Chad’s “The Boys Are Back”, performed in an automobile junk yard (as an homage to Stomp, perhaps?) and Efron’s anguished “Scream”, sung with lightning and strobe lights blazing in the background. Efron deserves special mention, as to both Mack and I, it seemed he was performing as if his career depended on it – he obviously put his heart and soul into this movie.

My favourite song was the clever “A Night to Remember”, which showcased the dual points of view girls and boys harbour with regards to prom night. The visual spectacle of “I Want it All” was also a high point. Mack liked the titular inclusion in the end number, “High School Musical”, but both of us wondered why the performers were made to wear their graduation gowns throughout the song – it was impossible to discern their dance movements as they flailed around, and I felt especially sorry for Vanessa Hudgens, as she was absolutely dwarfed by the cloth robe.

The movie also decided to (wisely) incorporate references and refrains to the original High School Musical, rewarding loyal audience members who have followed the franchise thus far. Mack thought this went too far, in the sense that some of the issues presented this time around were ones that had already been dealt with, such as Troy’s overbearing father.

While I won’t be running out to buy the soundtrack or the DVD when it is released, I am happy that the movies that bookend the trilogy are as positive and enjoyable as they are. If I ever feel the need to taste innocence and unbounded optimism, I know where to turn.

The Edmonton International Film Festival: “Rachel Getting Married”

The Edmonton International Film Festival, arguably the most accessible festival in Edmonton’s catalogue (“we’re going to…a movie”), began last week, screening independent and light-Hollywood films for nine days. I usually take in at least one fairly mainstream movie per festival, and this year was no different.

We chose Rachel Getting Married, an Anne Hathaway-feature that garnered much praise after it screened earlier this fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. After reading the synopsis, I figured the wedding would be simply a backdrop to the real drama, but in actuality, the ceremony and everything that surrounded it (the rehearsal dinner, the reception) was showcased in full glory. This was both a strength and weakness of the film: while the scenes appeared so emotionally genuine (to the point where I wanted to be invited to be a part of the family), I think Mack was right in saying certain scenes could have used more liberal editing (was listening to a dozen rehearsal dinner speeches necessary? Or watching a lengthy dance floor montage?).

The core of the story, however, focused on Hathaway’s character Kym, a young woman returning home from rehab on the occasion of her sister’s marriage. Over the course of the movie, it is revealed that when Kym was sixteen, while high on drugs, ended up causing an accident that killed her younger brother. Each member of the family coped with this tragedy in a different way – Kym with her addiction, Rachel in studying psychology (an area that allows her to learn about human behavior) and the mother with separation and denial. How each member of the family related to each other was fascinating to watch, and in light of all of the wedding fun, I wished for more moments like the quiet one between Rachel and Kym preparing up for the ceremony.

The shaky camera (and seemingly unnecessary close-ups) had thankfully dissipated for the most part by the end of the movie, but I know Mack was happy when the film was over for this reason. While it’s not a must-see, Rachel Getting Married is an interesting window into a fictional family doing its best to move forward from a past tragedy.

The Film Festival runs until Saturday.