Montreal Halloween happenings for the last-minute crowd

31 Oct

Tonight is Halloween and Montrealers have plenty of fun ways to celebrate.

If you can’t score a ticket to a Rocky Horror show, here are a few West End happenings you may not have heard about:

Dia de los Muertos poster auction at Cafe 92°

While Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos has nothing to do with Halloween, you’ll probably see some Halloween costumes at this fundraiser for the NDG Food Depot.

Two of Cafe 92º’s owners, Claudia and Maria, hail from Mexico. For several years now they’ve turned their café into a place that educates people about Mexico’s Day of the Dead. The cafe’s decorations help explain the tradition and they sell Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead), a delicious sweetbread. Artwork from local artists is replaced with artistic posters created in Mexico to honour the Dia de los Muertos.

The gorgeous posters are auctioned off to the highest bidder with all proceeds going to the NDG Food Depot.

When: Today (Oct. 31, 2015) @ 5 p.m.
Where: Cafe 92º, (Sherbrooke & Montclair, take the 105 bus)

Get there early, bring plenty of cash (I’ve seen bids go as high as $100 as people compete to win a poster) and have a good time.

colourful skeleton Dia de los Muertos poster on wall at Cafe 92 degrees (2012)

NDG Food Depot’s 7th Annual Thriller Halloween Dance

Get your zombie on and march 4.5 km with other zombies through the streets of NDG, dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. If you haven’t done the dance before you may want to get there early. A hot meal will be served and the NDG Food Depot will have makeup artists and materials so you can make signs (for instance, “Solidarity with Zombies.”)

When: Today (Oct. 31, 2015). Be there at 4 p.m. to rehearse, get your makeup on etc. If you’re Walking Dead ready, meet the group at 5:30 p.m.

Where: 2146 Marlowe (Trinity Church),  near the Vendôme metro

Visit the Melrose Tunnel

For a few years now locals in the St. Raymond section of NDG have decorated the normally horrible pedestrian tunnel under the railway tracks that separate their community from the rest of NDG. The tunnel is usually a spooky place but it will be family-friendly and spooky and festive tonight, thanks to NDG community efforts.

When: You can visit anytime (folks from the NDG Park Art Hive are decorating it this afternoon) but after 5 p.m. is good.

Where: Melrose Tunnel. Walk south on Melrose Ave. to De Maisonneuve Blvd if you’re coming from Sherbrooke St. or find it by walking to Upper Lachine Rd. and Melrose Ave. and then head north on Melrose toward the railway tracks.

Update, Nov 2, 2015 Yvette Salinas posted a video of what the tunnel looked like in 2015:

A medical solution? (I’m back, slowly)

23 Oct
1870s photo of American orthopedic surgeon Lewis Albert Sayre observes the change in the curvature of the spine as a woman patient who has scoliosis self-suspends herself prior to being wrapped in a plaster of Paris bandage as a treatment for the curvature of the spine. Source:

1870s photo of American orthopedic surgeon Lewis Albert Sayre observing the change in the curvature of the spine as a woman patient who has scoliosis self-suspends herself prior to being wrapped in a plaster of Paris bandage as a treatment for the curvature of the spine. Source: Wikipedia

I’ve meant to blog for a while. An illness I’ve been facing on and off for over a year got so bad a few weeks ago I headed to the emergency department at the MUHC here in Montreal.

Today I received a call from a medical clinic offering me a chance to see a family doctor. I was thrilled at first – until I researched online and learned their brand spanking new clinic is tied to the private system. What this means is even though seeing a doctor is covered under medicare, any tests will probably come out of my pocket because I don’t have private health insurance and the clinic’s affiliated private lab does the tests. This is exactly the problem I faced with a previous medical clinic. Because I have to pay out-of-pocket for tests, or in some instances, wait a very long time if I use the public system, my health problems remain unresolved.

I’m feeling conflicted because if I had private insurance I would choose this clinic. Their fees are lower than the previous clinic I visited in Westmount which charged $20 for a urine test (they’re charging $10) but I fear the same problems. I went to the CLSC for blood and urine tests, which were free of charge to me since they were covered under medicare. The CLSC sent the results to my clinic but it took the walk-in clinic in Westmount over a month to give me the results. Had I paid I would have had the results right away or within a few days. This makes me angry because previous family doctors never charged me for tests and always referred me to the public system. We definitely have a two-tier medical system in Quebec. This illness is affecting my ability to earn a regular income and I feel I’m caught in the middle of a nightmare. I’m not sick enough for a hospital but whatever this is, it’s affecting my energy levels and because I don’t have private health insurance I can’t easily access the tests I need to find out what’s wrong.

It’s been a strange journey. For over a year I’ve had unusual symptoms. My abdomen is distended and I gained 20 pounds practically overnight. I’m not a big person and the extra weight is uncomfortable. I had a hard finding a family doctor until a friend recommended a walk-in clinic, one that is part of the Quebec government’s Réseau system, clinics that are supposed to make it easier for people to see a doctor. When I visited the clinic the doctor ordered blood work, a urine test and an ultrasound. The problem was this clinic had its own private facilities and was geared to people with private health insurance. If you weren’t insured and you couldn’t afford to pay the clinic for tests you might have a hard time. Sure medicare covered the doctor’s visit and I could go to a publicly funded CLSC clinic for the blood work and urine test,  but I was told it could take anywhere from six months to a year to get an ultrasound  in the public system. If I’d had private insurance or enough money to pay for everything out-of-pocket the private clinic would have done the tests right away.

I tried a lot of things to combat the bloating and fluid forming a doughnut around my abdomen. I changed my diet, following a low-fat, mostly vegetarian diet, started drinking warm water with lemon juice in the morning, drank smoothies and drank juiced veggie and fruits and sometimes followed a belly soother, low FODMAPs diet. I did yoga. For a while this seemed to work so I procrastinated on the blood work and urine test. But in August the problem came back full force and got so bad sitting was sheer agony. I was exhausted all the time and writing anything would knock the stuffing out of me. I had energy early in the morning and late in the afternoon and sometimes late at night so I would work odd hours to get things done. By the time I finally had the blood work and urine test I was worried. I had read about ovarian cancer and I had many of the symptoms associated with it though I wasn’t sure I had it. I’m a carrier for kidney disease and the carriers sometimes get sick.

It took the walk-in clinic over a month to tell me my test results. I had phoned and written to them, leaving messages on their voice mail, sending them emails, filling out their website contact form and finally sending the doctor a letter in the mail.  But no one got back to me. When I asked the Quebec government what to do, they suggested filing an Access to Information request for the test results!

It was late on a Sunday afternoon a few days after I’d spoken with the government that the clinic finally told me my test results revealed my blood tests were normal but I had an infection. They had me come in the next day to do another urine test and see a doctor. That doctor prescribed an antibiotic, more urine tests and an ultrasound. When I took the antibiotic my abdomen swelled up more than ever before and became hard. My mother used to work as an emergency room nurse and I told her I was worried since the problem was worsening and the antibiotic didn’t seem to be helping and should I go to a hospital? She suggested I give it a few more days but to go in if things didn’t improve. I called the Lakeshore Hospital and learned the average waiting time for an ultrasound there is 10 months.

I didn’t get better, my abdomen kept swelling and hurting more, so I headed to the MUHC’s Royal Victoria emergency. The first doctor I saw took me seriously and ordered an ultrasound for the following morning. Through that ultrasound I learned a lot of what worried me could be ruled out. I don’t have ovarian cancer or uterine fibroids. My reproductive system is fine. After discussing the ultrasound with a doctor, I was sent back to emergency where an annoyed resident physician at first lectured me about not having a family doctor and ultimately determined I was simply constipated since my blood work was perfect, as was my blood pressure and urine test. He prescribed a month’s worth of laxatives.

This doesn’t seem to be the answer. I’m taking probiotics and they seem to be helping a bit, I’ve learned about colon massage and read about how to reduce colon inflammation. I learned from reading online message boards that if you have scoliosis as I do, you may be susceptible to these sorts of problems. The doctors didn’t appear to be aware that scoliosis can affect the digestive system.

I’m still searching for a family doctor connected with the public system, i.e. with a hospital and not with a private lab, private radiology clinic etc. So if you live in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges area and you’ve heard of such a doctor and they’re taking new patients, please let me know.

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.


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