Meet Bronwyn, a former Montrealer battling Lyme disease

31 Jul

UPDATE: raffle deadline extended to August 3!

I tried to help Bronwyn’s mother Donna find media coverage for a raffle of gorgeous original art works she and her daughter Bronwyn were holding to raise money to help cover costs for Bronwyn’s expensive medical bills as Bronwyn fights Lyme disease.

But even though I approached some top-notch journalists and bloggers, as far as I know the raffle story received no media coverage.

To be fair, Quebec’s construction holiday happens during the last two weeks of July and many folks, including media types, take vacations in July. And even though Bronwyn, who grew up in Montreal,  most likely contracted Lyme disease at a Girl Guide camp as a child, she’s 28 now and lives in Kansas. Media here may not consider her a local, even though she’s from here and only moved away a few years ago. Her mom Donna is an artist who lives in Ste. Anne de Bellevue so that’s another local angle to this story.

So yesterday I posted on an article about the raffle, Donna, and Bronwyn on The deadline to buy raffle tickets was yesterday. I linked to Twitter and Google+

When I checked this morning the article had 40 views. I don’t know if anyone bought raffle tickets after reading the article. But you can still give via the main page of the Drawing for Bronwyn Fundraising Raffle site.

Fighting chronic Lyme disease is difficult and fundraising for it is even harder. It’s not like that Potato Salad Kickstarter campaign where a guy states he’s making potato salad and asks people to donate $10 towards the cost of ingredients and so far has raised over $53,000. It’s hard to find something funny about Lyme disease, an infectious disease caused by bacteria transmitted by ticks.

What’s inspiring is Bronwyn’s determination to get the word out and change things for the better. She’s put together a slew of videos on YouTube

But she needs our help.

The cats of Devil’s Hill

18 Jul

Brown tabby cat looks into kitchen windowI’ve written about Lachine’s unsung heroine – a woman who quietly helps lower the number of unwanted cats by finding abandoned cats and arranging to have them spayed and neutered. She’s the woman who helped when we found a young abandoned cat sleeping in the hallway inside our apartment building, just outside our apartment door. She arranged to have this cat spayed, vaccinated, and given preventive care for worms and fleas and we eventually adopted the small, grey kitten (she’s now a long and fluffy grown-up cat). In the “Devil’s Hill” section of Ville St. Pierre or St. Pierre or Quartier St. Pierre, which is part of Lachine and part of Montreal (some locals don’t appreciate any mention of Lachine/Montreal; it depends who you talk to), we have a weird problem: there are many cats that aren’t exactly abandoned because they have homes. But they’re not always fed or well cared for. So let’s say they’re semi-abandoned.

I tried to get an idea of just how many of these neighbourhood cats could be described as semi-owned yet semi-abandoned but it’s hard to tell. I regularly see 20 or 30 cats walking around Devil’s Hill. They’re hanging out in ravine-like areas behind buildings, playing in the grass, following people down the street. To be fair, some of those cats have owners who care for them, people who would put up posters and search for their beloved pets if anything happened to them. Many of these cats have collars and you see them hanging around outside houses or heading inside.

Every day at least three cats appear in my kitchen window, begging for food. As you can see in the photos I’ve posted, they’re cute. They don’t look like wild animals, just hungry kitties.

YesterCalico cat sits outside, crying in kitchen windowday a fourth cat joined other cats at my kitchen door and they were so hungry they tried to get into my apartment. Later on I saw a small kitten peering out of my neighbour’s window.

I don’t know whether I should feed them or not. A woman who runs a pet food store nearby in NDG says I’m enabling the cats since they’re outdoors a lot of the time and cats are able to hunt and catch a mouse or a bird when hungry, especially during the summer.

The cats’ semi-owner is my next-door neighbour, a young single mom on welfare who recently told people she’s giving away 11 kittens. She can’t afford to feed all these cats. So the neighbourhood takes over, acting as some sort of food security backup for famished cats.

Is this okay? I don’t know. 

We just discovered that one of the begging kitties, a young calico cat, is pregnant. 

I could grab the cats that show up in my kitchen window, find help to get them spayed and neutered and then return them. I don’t know if the cat’s “owner” would appreciate this. I could quietly disappear them to a friendly animal rescue group so that instead of climbing in and out of her kitchen window and seeking food around the neighbourhood, these cats would be with people who can afford to keep them. Before I take any action I should probably talk to my neighbour. I don’t doubt she cares for these cats on some level but there’s no question she’s neglecting them.

There are catch-and-release programs but they appear to be for animals that are feral and/or truly abandoned. It’s unclear whether Lachine has an annual licence for cats and it’s doubtful that licencing would help this situation, since my neighbour can’t afford licences and vet care. A few months ago the borough sent out information mentioning a $20 annual fee but its website does not confirm this licence applies to cats at all – the site only mentions dog licences. The borough has a limit of three cats per dwelling but no one checks. I don’t think calling the city is a solution.

How do you deal with stray or hungry cats in your neighbourhood?

Small kitten climbs out of kitchen window

Wanted: great customer service

28 Jun
A police officer an a man peer at night into the brightly lit menswear display window at the Simpsons department store in downtown Montreal

Montreal Simpsons department store window in 1936

I don’t want to gripe but I just went through two experiences that made me wonder about businesses and customer service.

My son invited me to a movie this week. We hadn’t allowed ourselves enough time to eat anything before the screening (of Chef, of all things!) so we ended up with one of the movie theatre’s expensive popcorn/drink/candy packages. We paid $21.05 for a large popcorn, two soft drinks and a bag of M&M’s.

The straws and napkins were on this counter/island thing a small distance away from the concession counter, in the movie theatre’s lobby. We put our stuff down on the counter as we placed straws in drinks and got ready to carry our drinks, candy and huge bag of popcorn  to our theatre. Just as we were doing this, an employee said, “Excuse me,” and then proceeded to open up the base of the island thingy where we’d placed our stuff. It seems that’s where the movie theatre keeps its napkins and there was some sort of napkin crisis happening because he was very insistent on getting those napkins even though we were maybe half a minute away from leaving and there weren’t many or possibly any other customers in the theatre at the time. We had to move all our stuff to the other side of the island thingy to make room for him. I said , “Hey, we’re customers, can’t you wait two minutes for us to finish before you go in?” or something like that. This got him angry. “I said ‘excuse me,'” he replied before heading over to complain/gossip about me to another employee.

After spending more than $40 on tickets and overpriced popcorn, drinks and candy I thought maybe we would be treated like our customer needs counted. Silly me! My question to anyone serving drinks and food is why would you store supplies in the bottom of the counter/island where customers pick up their napkins, straws etc. It’s akin to Starbucks storing supplies below the area where people get sugar packets and stir their coffee. It’s not convenient for customers or for staff. It doesn’t make sense.

The other surprise came at a co-op I’ve been a part of since 2001. Though I bought a lifetime membership, in recent years the co-op introduced an annual fee members must pay if they want to enjoy members-only discounts. I’ll confess I don’t like this policy and I did boycott the fees for a while. My position is a co-op should either have annual fees (examples of this are Le Frigo Vert or Coop Le Milieu) or a lifetime membership (Mountain Equipment Co-op), but not both, as is my situation since I bought a $10 share in 2001 and now must pay an annual fee as well to receive discounts. I missed the vote and since a majority of co-op members okayed annual fees, in March I finally paid the fee.

But yesterday when I got to the cash to buy gardening supplies, the staff gave me a hard time. First the new employee, who was in training, could not find me in the system. She searched for me both by last name and then by member number. Then she asked another employee for help. That employee found my file but then told me flat-out that I’d never paid the annual fee and in fact it said on my file I’d refused to pay it.

I didn’t have a receipt because since it’s an environmental co-op you help the co-op when you refuse a receipt, but I knew I’d paid the annual fee. I told her to look up the first transaction I’d made this year. She found the proof and then told the young trainee I had been listed as a non-member. This irked me since my annual dues are not related to membership – some members of the co-op don’t pay the annual fee but still are considered members so it shocked me to hear I’d been considered a non-member. It appears the guy I paid the $10 to for the annual fee forgot to correct my file and it’s unclear whether I received the members-only discount during my last visit. But one thing that really needs correcting is this one employee’s attitude towards longtime members.  After years of good experiences at the co-op, yesterday this woman I’ve never seen before treated me like crap. I don’t buy much at this co-op and will probably visit even less often now even though I’m one of the first 100 people who supported the co-op.

I suppose I expect a lot. I expect businesses to hire friendly staff who answer customer needs. No second guessing. Basic respect.

One business that knows how to treat customers is the Simons department store in downtown Montreal (La Maison Simons). You could buy something small and inexpensive and the staff will still treat you well. Maybe they’re good actors. But it’s a lot of fun visiting places where the staff make you feel like you matter.

Espace pour la vie’s Great Gardening Weekend & more

24 May

Yes, I realize I am posting a lot of garden-related info. I have another garden news that I’ll relate in a post next week. But I write about other stuff too,

I used to have a community garden plot and I love gardening. Or at least I find the beginning of the season exciting. The maintenance and weeding part of gardening, not so much.

Espace pour la vie’s Great Gardening Weekend

This event started yesterday and happens all weekend. It’s pretty amazing since it includes the sale of 12,000 plants grown by horticulturalists from the Montreal Botanical Garden. But it’s also a garden show of sorts with 100 exhibitors, how-to talks in French on gardening, horticultural awards and PlantCatching is hosting a plant exchange. The only drawback is admission is not free. You have to pay the entrance fee for the Botanical Garden and Insectarium.

Where: Montreal Botanical Garden,

When: Continues today  through Sunday May 25, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Admission fee to the Botanical Garden, $18.75 for an adult who is a Quebec resident (there’s a discount for Access Montreal cardholders)

On the cheaper side of the things…

Perennial Plant Sale in NDG (Happening Now)

The posters don’t say who is putting on this sale but 25 per cent of proceeds go to urban agriculture group Action Communiterre while another 25 per cent go to the Montreal West Horticultural Society.

Where: 6951 Terrebonne (at Mayfair)

When: Today, May 24,  9 a.m. to noon

In case of rain: sale happens tomorrow instead

Santropol Roulant Seedling Sale

I’ve mentioned it before but Santropol Roulant’s seedling sale happens today

Where: 111 Roy (at Coloniale)

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

More Montreal gardening news and an important free conference today

17 May

I realize this is last-minute.

I’ve been busy refinishing kitchen cabinets and yesterday I helped clean up the land around an eyesore building in the Devil’s Hill area of Ville St. Pierre/Lachine.

But there are a few events happening in Montreal today that are worth knowing about.

Santropol Roulant Seedling Sale

What: They’re selling all sorts of heirloom, organic and open-pollinated plants as part of an urban agriculture fair. The sale includes an impressive 40 varieties of tomatoes and funds help support gardening projects that provide food for Santropol Roulant’s Meals-on-Wheels program, fresh food baskets and frozen meals.

When: Today, May 17, 2014, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Maison de l’amitié,  120 ave. Duluth E.

If you can’t make tomorrow’s sale, Santropol Roulant is also holding two other seedling sales in front of their office at 111 Roy E. (near Coloniale):

Saturday May 24, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Saturday May 31, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Girls of the Hood Conference

This conference is not to be missed.

It’s an initiative of the Atwater Library and Computer Centre’s Digital Literacy Program and the whole thing is organized “by girls for girls,” i.e.  by young women under the age of 25 who are CEGEP students from Dawson, Marianopolis and Vanier.

The conference’s funding comes from a grant the Atwater Library and Computer Centre received from Status of Women Canada’s “Strengthening Girls’ and Young Women’s Economic Prosperity” Project. The Digital Literacy Project is a year and a half into this two-year project and the conference celebrates the project’s many accomplishments.

There are two aspects to the conference. Part of it showcases the achievements of different community groups whose participants include girls and young women from marginalized economic backgrounds. The groups include Head and Hands’ Young Parents’ Program, which has put together a photo-voice project called Through Our Eyes and even held a vernissage fundraiser for the project at Café 92 degrees in NDG.

The keynote speaker is Mélanie Joly and to give the girls and young women ideas for promising careers, there will be four panels on topics that  include Entrepreneurial Women, Women in Technology and Women in Alternative or Non-Traditional Careers

When: Today, May 17, 2014, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Atwater Library and Computer Centre, 1200 Atwater (metro Atwater)

Cost: Free, everyone is welcome

P.S. I wrote about it for the Westmount Independent. The story is on page 16

I quoted Liesl Barrell, Executive Director of Montreal Girl Geeks, but her quote was cut during editing. Here’s what she said:

The “Girls of  the Hood” event is an amazing way to showcase female leaders and inspire young women to succeed with awesome panels and activities featuring some of Montreal’s finest women in their fields. Digital literacy and visible role models and mentors make all the difference in getting girls to take on STEM careers (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math), where there are plenty of opportunities now and in the years to come. Add to that childcare on site and a keynote by Melanie Joly: well, that’s just not-to-be-missed icing on an already kick-ass cake! 


My favourite Montreal seedling sale starts today

15 May

If you’re on a budget but want to grow your own food, this seedling sale is for you. Not only will you find affordable veggie and herb plants at $2-$3 each (!) but you’ll take home varieties that are open-pollinated and organic. This means you’re supporting varieties of plants that in these days of commercial supermarkets have become rare, you don’t have to worry about pesticides on the plants and you can save your seeds to plant future crops or trade them. As well, you’re supporting non-profit, urban gardening projects.

Before gardening shopping think about your gardening space, how many plants do you have room for – do you have a garden in your yard or are you using containers? What kinds of plants do you want to grow? Make a list of what you want. Then bring that list, along with some cash and a bag or a box to carry the plants and enjoy the adventure.

Concordia Greenhouse Epic Seedling Sale

This sale starts today and is incredibly popular. So much so that if you wait for the second day of the sale you may not find much left. They sell many plants that suit container gardening – they have all sorts of melons, peppers, squash and tomatoes but there are many varieties, over 100 in fact, of veggies and herbs. You’ll find a list here.

When: May 15 & 16, 2014, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where Concordia’s Hall Building, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., 13th floor


Santropol Roulant is having sales over the next three weekends. I’ll post details on their sales later. But run to Concordia’s Hall building if you want a truly great deal on heirloom and organic plants.

Montreal weekend eco events round-up

3 May

If you care about the environment, love gardening or want to help fight poverty, there’s a lot going on in Montreal this weekend.

Here are just a few happenings:

Today, Saturday May 3

Empty Bowls Fundraiser, an annual fundraiser to fight hunger

A bowl of soup with bread may seem meagre but it’s more than what a lot of low-income people eat every day. Proceeds go to:

Dorshei Emet Hanukah Food basket
NDG Food Depot
Patricia Mackenzie Pavillion
Nazareth House 

Where: May 3 at the Unitarian Church of Montreal, 5035 de Maisonneuve W. (Vendôme metro)

May 4 at the Congregation Dorshei Emet, 18 Cleve Rd. in Hampstead

When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. – please note there’s a different location each day

Tickets: $25 at the door includes a beautiful, handmade ceramic bowl you get to keep and a meal of soup and bread; $5 (soup and bread only) for children


Jane’s Walk in NDG

A number of Jane’s Walks are happening this weekend in honour of writer and activist Jane Jacobs, who defended urban neighbourhoods and wanted people to live in places where people could easily connect with their neighbours. It depends on the guide, but many expect you to register ahead and if a walk is  listed as full, don’t bother. Other guides are more flexible about extra people showing up.

Fielding-Walkley, A Walk Around the World, is perhaps off the beaten track compared to some of the other walks on offer this year. The gardening-related aspect is there are plans to set up gardens up and down Walkley Avenue this summer.

Where: Starting point, Walkley Community Centre, 6650 Côte St. Luc Rd.  (from Snowdon, Villa Maria or Vendôme metro stations buses: 66,103,104,138, 51)

When: 12 noon (English); 4 p.m. (French); walk is about two hours

Cost: Free. Register here for English version of walk and here for the French edition.

Action Communiterre’s Urban Gardening Crash Course

Broaden your eco-gardening knowledge and skills. Part of a series of workshops to help people become “real gardeners” but gardeners of all skill levels welcome.

Where: NDG Food Depot, 2146 Marlowe Avenue (Vendome metro – walk there from de Maisonneuve)

When: 1-4 p.m.

Cost: Volunteer contribution appreciated


Sunday May 4

Corvée du Mont-Royal

This annual event started with a few volunteers cleaning up Mount Royal and planting trees. Now it’s a lot bigger. You can volunteer to do tasks that include cleaning up trash, cutting down invasive species, planting trees, checking areas where trees were planted, the list goes on. It’s a popular event so get there early, especially if you’re going with friends because you can find your group split up if you don’t sign up at the same time and there are no places left in an activity. It’s a good idea too to bring along a water bottle and comfortable closed-toe shoes for hiking.

In return for your efforts you get a free light lunch and a t-shirt. From noon to 3 p.m. you can enjoy the Kalmunity jazz band or visit an educational kiosk.

Where: Chalet du Mont-Royal (metro Mont-Royal, bus 11; or metro Côte-des-Neiges, bus 165 and 11).

When: Register between 8:45 and 9:30 a.m.


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