Don’t miss this weekend’s NDG Arts Week events

28 Aug

If you live in Montreal’s NDG neighbourhood you’ve probably heard of NDG Arts Week. If you’re from outside NDG, you’re going to want to check it out.

Here are a few highlights from this weekend’s events:

Friday Aug. 28

ndg off the wall

NDG Off the Wall

There’s a lot of talent in NDG and the neighbourhood’s many artists include filmmakers with works showcased in NDG Off the Wall. Bring a blanket or a chair and sit down on the grass at NDG Park to enjoy an evening of short films and music videos that have an NDG connection, projected under the stars.

When: Tonight, Aug. 28, 9 p.m.

Where: NDG Park (locals call it Girouard Park), take the 105 bus from Vendôme metro

Cost: Free

Saturday Aug. 29

ndg park art hive finissage

NDG Park Art Hive Finnissage

Since early July children and their families have enjoyed free art workshops on Saturdays at the NDG Park Art Hive, an open art studio located in the park’s chalet. Now that summer’s nearly over and children are heading back to school, the art hive is holding an end-of-season “finissage” party. Expect to find food, music, an art exhibit and surprises.

When: Tomorrow, Aug. 29, 5-7 p.m.

Where: Chalet in NDG Park

Cost: Free

Sunday Aug. 30


Country en Ville

It’s hard to believe this festival is already in its ninth year. If you enjoy terrific live acoustic music (ranging from Americana to Zydeco), corn on the cob and watermelon, it’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon with family and friends. Along with the music you’ll find activities for kids, yoga and dance sessions and “The Telling of the Bees,” the Cheap Art Collective’s Giant Puppet Show.

When: Sunday Aug. 30, 12-6 p.m.

Where: NDG Park

Cost: Free (donations appreciated)

Why I Blog

7 Aug

My life has changed tremendously since I first started this blog. When I began the blog I had returned to journalism after working as a community organizer for a non-profit social housing project. I was writing for and excited about learning new skills and writing online. The blog was a way of publicizing my work.

Sadly OpenFile and a number of other media outlets I wrote for, including Hour Magazine, the Montreal Mirror and Urban Expressions, no longer exist. For a while I wrote for the Free Press and the Westmount Independent. These days you’ll find my byline most often in Your Local Journal.

I’ve attended many events in Montreal’s tech startup community and I’m still very interested in open data, the semantic web, 3D printing, data visualization and WordPress. I am working on my HTML and CSS skills and am dabbling in Python and PHP. I would like to learn enough Linux to fix my old Dell mini-9 laptop. I would like set up a Raspberry Pi.

I used to live in NDG and am passionate about that community. I recently lived in the St. Pierre section of Lachine for 18 months. Now my life has changed once again. I live off-island in Vaudreuil-Dorion. It’s a completely different world.

I blog rather keep a journal because I want to share information with people and it’s an outlet for me as a writer.

I’ve been fighting some sort of illness that’s affecting my digestive system. I don’t blog about that because I don’t want to bore people with the details. But it’s affected my energy levels and the time I’ve spent on this blog.

I’m still interested in community, urban agriculture, environmental issues, native issues, technology, “underdog” stories, local artists and fun, frugal ideas.

I would like to connect with Montrealers and people across the world who are interested in building community. I would like to tell readers about volunteer opportunities in and around Montreal, let people know about environmental issues, inform readers about events and happenings related to urban agriculture, the environment, native issues and technology, tell people about “underdog” folks that could use your support and share ways people can have fun and save money so you can enjoy life even if your budget is limited.

Art and the new Montreal Children’s Hospital

30 Jul

My son had an appointment recently at the Montreal Children’s and we saw the Children’s section of the new MUHC hospital for the first time.

I knew the artwork would be different. At an appointment earlier this year at the old building, a doctor lamented the loss of the paintings on walls that made the old hospital special.

For instance, when you were waiting for a clinic appointment at the old Montreal Children’s Hospital on Tupper, you would see this, a mural that took up an entire wall.

A storybook-themed mural at the old Montreal Children'sMural at Old Montreal Children's Hospital

Painted by a guild of local artists who call themselves Montreal Area Decorative Painters, the mural had a storybook theme. It even included a “Where’s Waldo” sort of game where children would find different creatures and objects within the mural.

A playground in the centre of the waiting area made waiting easy for children. Volunteers provided children with all sorts of games they could play as they sat at child-sized tables. Close by, a giant glass case featured a tower of colourful origami whooping cranes.

Tower of colourful origami paper whooping cranes in glass case at old Montreal Children's Hospital

By contrast, this is what we saw at the new waiting area for clinics. It’s not child-centred in the least. It looks like something you’d see at an art gallery. Sure, it’s colourful but there’s nothing about it that speaks to children:

a painting at the new Montreal Children's Hospital

The waiting room has rows of chairs. There is a playground area one floor below the waiting area. The building has an atrium and plenty of light but the walls are often bare and lack character. The new hospital resembles a shopping mall.

After meeting my son’s doctor we headed to the blood test centre where we waited for over an hour. My son is nearly 18 and can handle waiting (he and the other teenagers in the room were on their cell phones) but we saw children who were under three years old have tantrums and many of the children waiting were under seven years old. Parents were playing videos on their cellphones or walking with their children and trying all sorts of things to keep their kids busy during the wait. The only things I saw in that waiting room that reflected children’s needs were two plastic chairs in the shape of cats and and tables that were lower to the ground so that small children could sit at them. One girl who looked like she was perhaps eight years old took her bracelet off and put it on the table, playing around with it as her entertainment.

The old waiting area near the blood test centre was a long hallway that featured paintings from the Little Prince, screened movies on TVs hanging above, and had tables with children’s books and toys. I hope they bring back the books and toys. At the very least the hospital could warn parents to bring some sort of entertainment because bringing your child to a clinic for tests can be difficult, especially if they’re sick. But waiting ages to have their blood drawn and having nothing available to help get through the long wait isn’t only hard for children, it’s hard on parents too.

When the price isn’t right – do companies care about customer service?

17 Jul

I’ve had two experiences lately that make me wonder about whether some companies even want to keep their customers.

The first happened at a Loblaw grocery store in Montreal.

I was having a dinner party. My budget was tight so I was thrilled to see a box of buffalo chicken wings priced at $8.99.

The box was on a shelf at the bottom of the freezer and the price jumped out at me because everywhere else I’d shopped the price was closer to $12. That should have made me read the price label below a little more carefully.

But I didn’t and when I finally got to the cash, after waiting in line for 15 minutes, I discovered the price was actually $11.99. I protested, saying the price was $8.99. The cashier went to check and she found it, higher up on a shelf on the other side of the freezer, but didn’t see the boxes I saw near the bottom. She said I was mistaken and suggested maybe another customer had put the box in the wrong place.

Instead of paying, I took back my items and headed back into the store to find out what was going on. I went back to the freezer and read the listed price more carefully. It seems the item at $8.99 was identified in French as “morceaux de poulet” (chicken pieces) and not Buffalo wings. There were at least four boxes of the Buffalo wings on a shelf above the tag listing the $8.99 price and no boxes of the chicken pieces or nuggets or whatever they were in that spot. I suppose they were out of stock of the other item and were using the space for their reserve. But they didn’t remove the tag.

I complained to the manager but nothing happened. It seems it was my responsibility to check that the item on the shelf above the price tag matched the price tag. His apology was disappointing. He made no effort made to remedy the inconvenience the store had caused me.

I remember when every item in a store had a price sticker on it. Sure there were mistakes sometimes but I don’t remember having to verify prices as much as I have to do now.

My second recent experience happened at IKEA Montreal.

white and orange cat sleeps on balck office chair that's showing its grey underbelly

The cover of my son’s office chair is disintegrating. The chair is super comfy (Max the Cat sure likes it!) but its black cover is coming off in tiny pieces. I’m finding the situation fascinating in a strange way. Who makes chairs with covers like this?

I’ve decided to rescue the chair by reupholstering it. It’s easy to do. You take the chair apart, put your fabric over the sections you’re covering and then you staple it on the chair and trim the extra fabric before you put the chair back together.

I was in IKEA’s textiles section when I saw several rolls of a cool black-and-white striped design for $3.99 a metre, a very good deal. Or at least I thought the price was $3.99 since the sign above suggested everything in that bin was $3.99 a metre.
Ikea black-and-white striped Sofia fabricI trusted the guy who cut the fabric and never checked with him whether I’d understood the price. I didn’t check what he wrote on the label.

As it turns out, the fabric was on sale for $5.99 a metre, down from $7.99 a metre. From what I can tell on the label, the guy was going to charge me $3.99 a metre but corrected himself. I wish I had noticed it when I picked up the fabric.

I complained to IKEA but got nowhere.

Here’s their response:

Hello Ms. O’Hanley,

Thank you for contacting IKEA Canada.
We regret to hear about your recent experience at our IKEA Montréal store. As we strive to offer the best in product quality and customer services, we not only appreciate but encourage customer feedback so as to make necessary improvements.

After verification, please note that the SOFIA fabric (001-600-22) you purchased is currently on sale for $5.99. We apologize that this information was not visible at the time of your visit. In some cases, items are moved from one bin to the other, therefore we encourage customers to check the article numbers against the tag on the said bin.

Please note that your feedback will be shared with the appropriate department.

We truly value your opinion, as well as the opinion of all our customers. We look forward to serving you in the future.

If you have further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.


IKEA Canada Customer Service

My advice to shoppers:

  1. Verify prices carefully before heading to the cash. If you’re not sure about an item’s price, ask a store clerk to verify the it for you or visit the store’s price checker machine.
  2. If you’re in Quebec and it’s clearly a case of sloppiness on the store’s part, make a fuss. Quebec consumer law says that if an item costs less than $10 and the wrong price accompanies it, under the price accuracy policy the consumer is entitled to a refund and gets the item free of charge. If it costs more than $10, they’re supposed to give it to you for the price shown, i.e. the price you understood as the correct price.
  3. If you can find what you’re looking for elsewhere, then head to the competition, provided they’re better at labeling items.
  4. I prefer shopping in person but maybe you’re better off shopping online. Mind you, this doesn’t always lead to savings. In terms of my IKEA example, the fabric was listed online at $7.99 a metre so savings only happened in store.

I realize stores are having a hard time finding people to stock shelves properly but I don’t understand why store managers think customers will put up with incorrectly listed prices. I expect stores to label their shelves and bins in a clear way so there is absolutely no confusion.

If I’m going to do a store’s work for them, I want a discount!

Hey Montreal pet lovers, don’t forget the BEA Foundation’s fundraiser this Saturday

18 Jun


I’m in the middle of a slow move, literally. Moving is taking forever (will post about it soon) and I’ve been swamped with decluttering, painting and cleaning as I get ready to leave my apartment.

But I wanted people to know about a fundraiser that’s happening across Quebec tomorrow (Saturday June 20, 2015).

The Montreal area has a lot of animal rescue groups and I don’t know much about the BEA Foundation (Fondation BEA Québec), which is dedicated to the well-being of Quebec’s companion animals and supports animals in need. While it’s a relatively new player, it’s connected with established groups that work to better the lives of animals.

This Saturday’s “La grande journée BEA” offers people a chance to donate to a worthy cause while they get their furry loved ones’ nails clipped free of charge. There will also be activities and pet items and services for sale at each participating location.

In the Montreal area participating stores include Animal Expert, Nature Pet Centre and Croque en bol locations but there are also a number of vet clinics taking part as well.

You’ll find the full list here.

You may want to call ahead, in case they’re taking appointments or for individual details of a store or vet clinic’s event. And be sure to check the store or veterinary clinic’s Facebook page or website (on the list above) for more information.

If you head to the Nature Pet store at Place Alexis Nihon in Westmount tomorrow, I’ll probably see you there. Our cat is having too much fun avoiding the scratching post and shredding my office chair, paper, cardboard boxes and anything else she can dig her claws into.

Tomorrow & Saturday: Don’t forget Concordia Greenhouse’s Epic Seedling Sale

14 May
Concordia Greenhouse plants

Photo from The Concordia Greenhouse’s website

It’s that time of the year, folks.

If you didn’t start your plants from seed or you could use a few more seedlings to round out your garden plantings, this sale is not to be missed.

Concordia’s City Farm School interns have been busy. This year there will be more than 140 varieties of organic heirloom veggie, herb and flower seedlings available, offering incredible choices for gardeners. The greenhouse is a non-profit entity, is largely student-funded and plays a big role in Montreal’s urban agriculture landscape.

The sale is not just about veggies, herbs and flowers. You’ll also find:

  • houseplants
  • seeds for direct sowing
  • small bags of soil and compost
  • mushroom and sprout growing kits for indoors
  • fruit and permaculture plants via Jonah Neumark of Neumark Design. See details here.

Prices for vegetable, herb and flower seedlings range from $1 to $5, while houseplants sell for between $2-$30.

Some survival tips:

  1. Get there as early as possible. It’s no fun to come by later in the day only to learn everything is sold out or the plants you want are gone.
  2. Bring a box or boxes (ideally) or a sturdy bag or bin to hold plants. You may also want to bring some extra plant containers (the ones seedlings are often sold in, for instance) in case you end up with a plant that doesn’t have a sturdy container to begin with and you don’t want to end up with the plant escaping its pot, wilting and leaving dirt everywhere.
  3. It’s cash only. Bring extra moolah, you will probably walk out with more plants than you expected to buy.
  4. Bring some water to drink. It can be very hot in the greenhouse, especially when there’s a crowd.
  5. Don’t forget to bring a sense of humour. Some plants are labeled right but some will be missing their labels, people can be aggressive about claiming plants and it can be crowded.

When: Friday, May 15, 2015 and Saturday May 16, 2015,  10 a,m. to 7 p.m. (as long as supplies last).

Where: Concordia Greenhouse, Hall Building, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. , 13th floor (take the elevator as far as you can go, to the 12th floor, then look out for signs leading to the staircase that takes you to the greenhouse).


Saving La Gaillarde

9 May
white dress adorned with donors's names in black writing on pink pieces of paper or fabric

La Gaillarde’s Robe des donateurs (Donor Dress), from La Gaillarde’s Facebook page

Update May 10, 2015: La Gaillarde is having a party to celebrate its 15th anniversary. Expect cocktails, cupcakes, door prizes, music and models showcasing the latest spring fashion lines. Everything in the store is 15 per cent off, they’ll be displaying a photo album of La Gaillarde memories and wrapping up their crowdfunding campaign by displaying a dress laden with the names of donors.

When: May 15, 2015, 6-8:30 p.m.

Where: 4019 Notre Dame St. W. (Place St. Henri metro)

RSVP: (514) 989-5134 or

Montreal is losing many of its independent brick-and-mortar stores. It seems only the strongest and those with the best business moxie survive. So it’s no surprise to hear that La Gaillarde, a non-profit boutique based in St. Henri that sells all sorts of fashionable upcycled (recycled, but better) clothing and jewellery by eco-designers and affordable vintage and secondhand modern-day clothes for women, men and little ones, is struggling.

Though La Gaillarde has many volunteers, it depended on a grant from the Quebec government for its core survival and that grant was cut no thanks to the Couillard’s government austerity measures.

La Gaillarde is counting on a crowdfunding campaign to save its organization and the jobs of its four employees. As organizers point out, for 15 years La Gaillarde has supported Quebec designers (it features the works of more than 40 Quebec designers, many of whom are at the forefront of ethical fashion brands here) and by recycling clothing into new creations and by selling vintage and secondhand clothing, it keeps clothing out of landfills.

It has serious green cred. Every aspect of the business follows ecological principles. And it creates jobs because by buying from local designers we help them (I believe most, if not all, are women) make a living.

It puzzles me though that La Gaillarde is not better known. A few years back its designers made a splash at the Festival Mode & Design Montréal (you may remember a dress made solely made from men’s ties) but it’s never quite arrived.

I’ve watched it change over the years. A prior version was located near the Lionel Groulx metro and sold clothes but didn’t seem to be about fashion (apparently they used to help female convicts reintegrate into society). For a while it was very grassroots, with sewing classes and tips on how to recycle your wardrobe into something exciting and new. But they stopped making sewing machines available to customers and became sort of high end, to me, anyway. Instead of workshops for the general public, the focus seemed to be more on fashion shows. That’s when I stopped dropping in as much.

They are definitely a great place if you care about the environment, have a sense of style and you want to support local designers. If you live in Montreal they are just a few steps away from the Place St. Henri metro, at 4019 Notre Dame St. W.

I hope people will donate and support them. Montreal is losing too many of its cool businesses. Hipster businesses and big box stores don’t tug on my heartstrings. We also need businesses that make a real difference to our society and communities.


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