Irish culture lovers – Siamsa registration tonight

If you live in Montreal and you’re interested in taking classes in Irish music or set and ceili dancing, Siamsa, Montreal’s School of Irish Music, is hosting a registration evening tonight at Marianopolis.

According to Siamsa’s website, it’s a chance to meet “to meet students and teachers, discuss musical instruments, our courses and play a few tunes together.”

Classes start next week. This winter season’s offerings includes classes – ranging from beginner to advanced level-  in fiddle, tin whistle, flute, bodhran (Irish drum), mandolin, guitar, tenor banjo, harp, choral singing (Siamsa Singers) or set and ceili dancing.

The cost for 12 classes ranges from $115 to $160 and there’s a discount if you take a second or third class.

If you can’t make it to the registration evening tonight, you can register online and pay in cash or by cheque when your class or classes start.

When: Tonight, January 28, 2016, 7-9 p.m.

Where: Marianopolis College, 4873 Westmount Avenue in Westmount. Bus 138 takes you there.


Siamsa Facebook Page

Siamsa website

List of classes

Online registration


Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be able to play like Van Morrison or The Chieftains



My favourite cookbook these days


I’ve blogged about being sick. A few months ago I finally found a family doctor and I’ve been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

For over a year now eating has been a game of sorts. I feel I’m becoming Marian McAlpin, the main character in Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Edible Woman. I’m never entirely sure what my body will accept. Being sick affects my productivity. I don’t always have a lot of energy. Just before the Christmas holidays I took a short-term gig filing for a medical clinic to pay the bills but finances have definitely been tight.

I love Leanne Brown’s Good and Cheap; Eat Well on $4/day.  Seeing tasty recipes that you can make on a budget appeals to the frugalista in me. And I’m especially grateful to find a cookbook with many recipes that soothe my crazy digestive system.

Leanne Brown is a Canadian ex-pat (originally from Edmonton) living in New York City and her cookbook impresses me on many levels. It’s all about helping people living on U.S. food stamps survive, thrive even, living on a food budget of four dollars a day. Some of the recipes I was already familiar with – for instance, carmelized bananas, or quesadillas, but the cookbook is well designed and creative and Brown infuses her book with energy and enthusiasm.

I’m a huge fan of Amy Dacyczyn’s Tightwad Gazette newsletter and books. Brown’s approach reminds me of Dacyczyn – besides helping you save money, she taps into your creativity too.

Good and Cheap is available online as a PDF, free of charge. I urge you to check it out.

After her PDF went viral, Brown launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a print run and the cookbook made the New York Times bestseller list. I have the printed version – it’s gorgeous. Brown’s website says there’s an even better second edition available in bookstores (Note, Jan. 28, 2016: I just noticed my copy is a second edition. The first edition was the self-published Kickstarter edition. The copy in stores now is a second edition with 30 added recipes). If you buy one, for each cookbook purchased Brown promises to donate a copy to someone in need.

Vaudreuil English school overcrowding: Part 2

Lester B. Pearson representatives sitting at table listen as Assistant Director General Carol Heffernan answers a question.
Lester B. Pearson representatives visible in this photo (one person is hidden), from left to right: Tom Rhimes, Senior Director, Educational Services; Mario Barrette, Director, Community Services; Carol Heffernan, Assistant Director General; Véronique Marin, Director, Region 1; (at end of table) Joshua Arless, Commissioner, Ward 3.

My Part 1 post gave an overview of the overcrowding problem at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary in Vaudreuil and the Lester B. Pearson School Board’s decision to rezone an area of Vaudreuil so that students from Zone 57 would attend Mount Pleasant Elementary School in Hudson instead.

Lester B. Pearson School Board officials drew a lot of criticism at a meeting with parents last week (Jan. 13). During the meeting, the board’s Assistant Director General, Carol Heffernan, told parents the history of the board’s attempts to resolve the overcrowding problem:

 You all live in Vaudreuil so you all understand how quickly this area is growing. We built this school I believe in 2005, 2006 and it filled up very quickly and we reapplied to the ministry for a request for a second school in the area. We built Forest Hill senior or junior I always get the two of them mixed up, we built P.E.T.E.s when we applied and were authorized for another school we went to the town of Vaudreuil and we asked them for land. That was approximately 2009, 2010 because this area was growing. Unfortunately we were not successful. There was no land available in Vaudreuil at the time so we ended up receiving, the city of St. Lazare offered us land and that was the origins of Birchwood Elementary. If you look at the school Birchwood Elementary, half the student population is from Vaudreuil.

Just to show you how quickly this area is growing, we built a school in St. Lazare and half the students are from Vaudreuil. After that we addressed some of our issues but as you can see right now, it didn’t address all of our issues. So we went back to the Ministry and we went to Vaudreuil asking again for land. We were offered land near some type of new septic system and unfortunately when our architects and engineers went out they were feeling sick afterwards so we spoke with the Ministry (of Education) and we found out (Commission scolaire des) Trois-Lacs had already declined the piece of land so we similarly declined the piece of land because we were concerned about the children’s health. Vaudreuil told us we could put an addition on to this building but we had our structural engineers come out to this building and it would not support a third floor on this building. As you know the gym is not large here for the student population and unfortunately when this was built this was all the ministry was financing as far as a gym so we went back and we ended up deciding to build an addition onto St. Patrick’s Elementary School, which although this school is not huge, that was even smaller with a capacity of 275 students. So that’s just to give you a bit of context on how this area’s been growing.

Of course when we went last year, we still have the two portables we went to the Mayor (of Vaudreuil-Dorion) and they had asked us to remove the portables, we requested to have them remain for another few years. He (the Mayor) granted us a permit to keep them until the end of next year. We can reapply again and ask them but the residents in this area would prefer not to have the portables.

After the meeting I spoke with Lester B. Pearson Ward 3 Commissioner Joshua Arless, who related a story about the city of Vaudreuil-Dorion also offering the board land where there were power lines. Building a school there would have meant children spending time in a building built under Hydro-Québec power lines, Arless said.

What’s strange is during an interview with CBC’s Homerun program last Friday (Jan. 15) Vaudreuil-Dorion Mayor Guy Pilon gave a different account of the history of the school board’s attempts to build another school in Vaudreuil or extend on the P.E.T.E.S. site:

Sue Smith: When did you first hear about this zoning decision?

Guy Pilon: Oh I just heard about it three days ago. One parent called me about it but I didn’t know anything about it.

Sue Smith: Have you been in contact with the school board since?

Guy Pilon: Not personally, no.

Sue Smith: And what do you think?

Guy Pilon: What I think is from what I heard it seems that the Commission scolaire told the parents that. We have an agreement with them. When that school was built in 2002, in 2003 they came and asked us to put two temporary classes (portables) which we agreed. So it’s 2003, we are in 2016. That means that’s almost 13 years now. We always agree each time they came, every two or three years we always agree and we told them we understand the situation. But at one point we asked them ‘is it a good thing we say yes, if you want we can say no because it will put more pressure on the Ministère de l’Éducation to build a new school.’ But they said ‘No.’ They were hoping to have a positive answer from the Ministère to build a bigger school on the same site. We said ‘okay we’re going to continue.’ We never had another demand since that time for two more years or three more years, so we didn’t know anything about it. I heard from parents but I never heard anything else. So if they come and ask us to have one more two years’ extension we’ll say yes. If they want to have one more temporary classroom (portable) we’ll say yes too. From what I know I heard it’s a matter of ..I heard about 150 more children in the next three or four years who are going to need to be there,  so of course they don’t have enough (classrooms). For our part if they ask us for an extension or another temporary class, it’s yes, to answer the question because we don’t want our children to have to make a one- or two-hour (trip) of buses every morning to go to school.

Sue Smith: I take your point though that this was supposed to be a temporary measure. They already have a couple of these portable classrooms and we’ve done stories over the year about how overcrowded it is at Pierre Elliott Trudeau. What about that more permanent solution, then, building another school? We spoke this week to the chair of the Lester B. Pearson School Board and she said the board has had discussions with the city but that there’s just not enough land to build a bigger school in Vaudreuil-Dorion. What’s your reaction to that?

Guy Pilon: It’s not true. We offered them two possibilities about three years ago. At that point Mr Tabachnick (former chair of the Lester B. Pearson School Board) was there. We went to a meeting in St. Lazare…they were talking about it. He didn’t know I was there so at one point I stood up and I told them the truth. The truth is we offered them two (parcels of) land and they refused both for different reasons.

Sue Smith: I’m sorry, Mr. Pilon, I have misquoted. Actually what Suanne Stein Day said was the land was not appropriate. There was no appropriate land available for the school.

Guy Pilon: From their point (of view). The real thing about it at that meeting the good question (was) asked by a citizen, by one of the parents, he read it and he asked Mr. Tabachnick at that point, where in your dreams that school should be, where is the site of the next school and at that point for the first time the Commission scolaire told everyone the best place will be near St. Lazare, Hudson and Vaudreuil. That means in the west. The land we were offering them was completely in the south. If they had told us at that point, forget about your land you proposed in the south, we want something in the west, we didn’t have that information before that night. From that point on I understood why they were saying no to our propositions. Like I said at that point they should have asked us for something in the west, we have looked with St. Lazare and Hudson, the possibility of the land. We offered them land. They said no, one for electrical reasons, one because the land seems to be too low, which for me was ?? You can see the land and build whatever. At that point it was more because the south was not a nice place, if you have to be in the west, which I understand, I’m fine with that.

Sue Smith: Mr. Pilon, it’s actually kind of ironic I find because both your city and the Lester B. Pearson School Board seem to be victims of your own success. You have so many people moving in there, so many people wanting to be there. Are you planning on meeting with the board so maybe you can iron this out to avoid losing a bunch of students so that they’re not bused to Hudson?

Guy Pilon: You know, Madame, my role, the role of the city is to on that specific subject, is to make sure we agree on keeping those two temporary (portables) and if they want to add one, no problem, that’s my role, the role of the city. The role of the Commission scolaire is to find a new place or to go to see the government and ask to enlarge that school, they have applied to enlarge Pierre Elliott Trudeau. We have always offered them. We have over 350,000 square feet of land just beside that school. Pierre Elliott Trudeau didn’t have any park so we built a park on the side, we have water games, we have everything and the young people who are there are going on our side which is okay, because those are our citizens. So if they want to enlarge Pierre Elliott Trudeau, which will be a very good idea and from what I know the only matter is the government plans differently. From what I heard when you have up to 85 percent occupation in a region, you agree to build another school. Right now at Pierre Elliott Trudeau from what I heard they are at 105 or 110 percent but some other place in the same region, they don’t go to 85 percent. So that’s why they want to transfer. The day the average will be 85 percent, they will look at a project at Pierre Elliott Trudeau or another place. That part I know. I always said to different directors from the Commission scolaire we’re going to help you find a place, to change the zonage, to bring the sewers, to bring the roads, everything as soon as you decide where you want to go.

I find it weird that the school board and the mayor’s accounts don’t quite match up. It seems too that neither the school board nor the city have much power to fix this situation on their own. Quebec government rules appear to be at the heart of this mess. I think a new school is in order but it’s hard to tell when it will happen.

I don’t like the idea of building in a park though.

One thing I find very strange about Vaudreuil-Dorion is the lack of parks throughout the city.  Or maybe I’m misinterpreting things. Last summer the little park had a ground wasp problem and was closed. There’s a gorgeous area near water that has bike paths which people walk on but to get there from our house you have to walk in the street for the most part.  We don’t have very many sidewalks and bike paths are in certain areas and it can be dangerous and awkward to get around as a pedestrian. I hope this part of the world becomes more pedestrian friendly. It would make it safer for everyone, especially young families.

Vaudreuil English school overcrowding: Part 1


Frustrated P.E.T.E.S. parents listen to Lester B. Pearson School Board officials last Wednesday (Jan. 13. 2016)

Last week I covered a meeting between angry parents from Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School (P.E.T.E.S.) in Vaudreuil and Lester B. Pearson School Board officials for Your Local Journal. The parents were furious because the school board had decided that everyone living in a particular zone of Vaudreuil, Zone 57, would no longer be zoned as having P.E.T.E.S. as their elementary school. Instead, starting next school year their children will be zoned to attend Mount Pleasant Elementary, a schoool 18.6 km away in Hudson.

I was assigned the story last minute and unfortunately didn’t know many of the parents as well as other media did but I’m somewhat familiar with the issues. My boyfriend’s niece and nephew attend P.E.T.E.S. and school zoning was a big consideration when his sister moved into a new house here in Vaudreuil (the city’s official name is Vaudreuil-Dorion but since what’s happening with the school is happening on the Vaudreuil side, let’s call it Vaudreuil). As well, we happen to live in the school zone at the heart of the controversy.

Quebec is weird compared to other parts of Canada. In most Canadian cities if your child is in the public system they probably attend the elementary closest to where you live.

In Quebec we now have two school board systems – French and English. Before Bill 101, Quebec’s language law, children from non-Catholic backgrounds most often would attend schools in the English system, often English Protestant schools but also English Catholic schools and English Catholic kids would often attend English Catholic schools. When this Charter of the  French language passed in 1977, it dramatically changed who had the right to attend English schools. English-speaking people are a minority in Quebec, people with English as a mother tongue make up about eight percent of the population in the entire province, so when Bill 101 came about, it not only declared French as the official language of Quebec, it led to rules that said new immigrants who did not study in English in Canada could no longer send their children to Quebec’s English public schools.

In the late 1990s Quebec’s public school boards were reorganized so instead of being Catholic and Protestant they are now linguistic, based on French and English.

Many English schools are dying. They are being closed because they have nowhere near full enrollment. This declining enrolment may explain why school zones seem bigger geographically than what you in other places. Or maybe I’m wrong on this. I get the impression the geographical distances children in Quebec travel to and from public schools are quite large.

What’s weird about the Vaudreuil situation is this place is so popular with the English community we have too many children for the local elementary school, a draw for many families moving here and building homes here. P.E.T.E.S. has been overcrowded since its beginnings and has two portables on site. Demographic projections suggest it will continue to be at 105 or 110 percent capacity or more if the board doesn’t do something. As well, Quebec has rules that say a permanent extension to the school may not be built or a new school built unless other schools within an 20 km radius are full (some sources say the schools have to be at 85 percent capacity). So what that means for the parents of Zone 57 is that until other English schools of the same type (French Immersion), the struggling schools within 20 km, are fuller, for instance the school in Hudson or one in the West Island, in Kirkland, there won’t be a new school in Vaudreuil.

You’d to visit to understand just how ridiculous the situation is. Vaudreuil used to be farmland and there is land all over the place, mind you a lot of it is zoned for commercial purposes, for say hotels or big box stores or car dealerships, but definitely enough land to build a few more schools. While Vaudreuil is “off-island,” i.e. off the Island of Montreal, it’s not that close to Hudson, which is also “off-island.” It takes at least 20 minutes by car to get to Hudson from Vaudreuil. As well, most parents living here work in the West Island or in downtown Montreal and you have to go over a bridge and negotiate traffic to head to work.  We have access to a commuter train but getting to work takes time.

But because P.E.T.E.S. is part of an anglophone school board, efforts to tackle overcrowding mean trying to convince unhappy suburban parents that their children need to help fill up other English public schools for the sake of the entire anglophone community. This doesn’t wash with parents who are worried about the time it will take to commute to and from school and work. It destroys people’s dreams of walking or biking with their their young children to and from school, and their children having friends from the same school in the same neighbourhood.

As someone who grew up in Montreal, this story is foreign to me. As a child attending Willingdon Elementary I took a school bus (sometimes even a repurposed city bus) to school. Our bus made many stops and I probably spent 20-25 minutes each way on the bus from Grade 1 through Grade 6 though driving to my school would have probably taken about six minutes. I realize this is a big difference from the 20 minutes it takes to drive to Hudson. Still as a child I really enjoyed taking a school bus and my parents had no problem with it.

In recent years the school board for my old elementary school, Willingdon, rezoned some areas and children living where I grew up now have to attend a different school. When my son attended Willingdon I remember another mom who lived outside Willingdon’s school zone, just a block north of us, used a false address, the address of a friend living in the school zone, so that her daughter could continue to attend.

Unless Quebec’s rules change these parents are stuck. It’s ridiculous that P.E.T.E.S is a victim of its own popularity. It’s too bad building a new school has become such a challenge. A number of Zone 57 parents are threatening to place their children in local French schools. Others may leave Vaudreuil altogether, abandoning their suburban dream.

In Part Two I’ll go into into discrepancies between an account given by the school board of efforts to build a new school and comments Vaudreuil-Dorion’s mayor, Guy Pilon, made to CBC last week.

More about this story:

Petition initiated by Zone 57 parent Lorina Walker

Article I wrote (I made an unfortunate typo in one of Lorina Walker’s quotes. It needs to be corrected but does change the meaning of the quote – explanation may be found on Your Local Journal’s Facebook page).

CBC coverage:

Vaudreuil to Hudson student transfer could be avoided, mayor says

Vaudreuil parents rally over Lester B. Pearson zoning changes

Global TV coverage:

Vaudreuil family launches petition to stop school transfer

Parents demand answers over Vaudreuil zoning change