Archives For August 2010

As the late summer sun went down on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, the crowds came out to enjoy the Mix’ Arts street festival, which had the bustling boulevard closed to cars and open to pedestrians from August 26-29 between Sherbrooke Street and Mont-Royal Avenue.  Full of music, food, art, drinks, and especially people, the four-day festival is the Société de développement du boulevard Saint-Laurent’s way of showcasing the street’s mix of shopping, restaurants, bars and culture.

“We need it, we need it more often, we have to enhance the business, you know,” said Bill Fernandes, owner of Papas Tapas and Martini Bar, echoing the sentiments of business owners up and down the Main.  “It should close all the time.  It should be a closed street.”

Daniel Ma, part owner of Dyad Electric Scooters and Bicycles, noted that the street festival is even more important for new businesses.  “Because we just opened, we need more people to know the products.  A lot of people pass by and ask and try, and so it’s good advertising”, said Ma.

crowds stroll along St-Laurent boulevard

Yes, that's St-Laurent boulevard

The Montreal Urban Ecology Centre advocates creating more public spaces like the street fest, spearheading projects like Green, Active and Healthy Neighbourhoods, aimed at increasing public spaces for pedestrians and cyclists.  The Centre’s website states, however, that, “In order to make this transition possible, adequate infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists is a prerequisite”.

Montreal graffiti artist, Fluke, was on the street for the June version of the street festival displaying his spray-painting skill on a temporary wall set up for demonstrations. “We just came to show off a little bit of our skills and showcase what we do”, said Fluke.  He also said local artists have a long history with the street festival.  “It’s helped us a lot over the years because there’s a lot of downtown crowd that passes through here that we don’t necessarily have a chance to talk to and show our stuff to on a regular basis”.

Visitors were also enjoying the pedestrian space.  In town for the weekend, David Ryning of Edmonton, Alberta said, “This is fantastic, from a tourist’s point of view”.

Of course, not everyone in the area was walking on sunshine.  Colleen Steacy has lived in two apartments on the Main and says noise is the main problem. “The last place that I lived was better because my bedroom was at the back of the apartment,” said Steacy.  “At the new place that I’m living I’m bothered by noise constantly and it’s the reason I’m moving.”

She plans to stay in the area, however, and said she loves the shopping available during the street festival.  Even at the quietest of times Saint-Laurent is buzzing, but with cars removed from the equation the Main showed it has the potential to become an even more vibrant public space and showcase for Montreal’s best.

Watch and listen to a mash-up of the sounds and voices of the Mix’ Arts St-Laurent street festival:

Even before spectators arrive at the gates of Uniprix Stadium for the Rogers Cup tennis tournament in Montreal this week, they may already have become part of Tennis Canada’s ambitious green plan for 2010.  That’s because ticket-holders ride free of charge on the Société de Transport de Montréal’s (STM) network, which many spectators take advantage of to get to the big event.  Maryse Lemay, head of Tennis Canada’s green plan, says the site is also equipped with a special event Bixi bike station and a bicycle parking area.

These are all parts of the tournament’s green plan aimed at cutting transportation emissions and encouraging public and active transport.  Last year, nearly half of  the tournament’s 200,077 spectators used public transit at least once to get to the site.  “This year, Tennis Canada has committed to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions related to the air travel of players, in partnership with the Women’s Tennis Association,” says Lemay, “so both organizations will share the cost of carbon offsets for the air travel emissions.”

The green plan’s main objective, however, is waste reduction. “We’ve done some more focused awareness-raising in terms of waste reduction to encourage people to use the recycling bins and the composting bins more frequently,” says Lemay.  Though recycling has become a common feature of major events in Montreal, the Rogers Cup is one of the first to include composting for public use to help divert more waste from landfill, which began at the tournament in 2009.

four people and a mascot

Green team members and the triple bins at the Rogers Cup

Food vendors have been cooperative in purchasing a variety of mainly compostable food containers. “They’ve replaced all kinds of items like take-out platters that were difficult to recycle with corn-based compostable containers,” says Frédérik Bélanger of RCI Environment, the tournament’s waste management service.  “You’ll also find all plates, containers, and utensils are compostable, the wine glasses are recyclable, compostable fry and poutine platters, which mean that food providers are creating almost no waste that will go to landfill.”

“Last year we sent 47% of our waste to landfill and we were able to divert 53%,” says Lemay.  “This year we are trying to raise that level to 60% diverted from landfill.”  In order to achieve the waste reduction goal, the number recycling and composting bins has been increased all over the site and more signs dot the grounds at entrances, in bathrooms, near eating areas and on many of the bins themselves.  However, signs are conspicuously absent at concession stands where visitors could look at them while waiting in line and before they eat.

The tournament does have a team of volunteers helping to raise the public’s awareness of environmental issues and what Tennis Canada is doing, especially in terms of waste reduction and properly sorting waste at the source.  “So [green team volunteers] walk around the site on the patios and near the concession stands and advise people where to put their empty beer cup, in the recycling, because it’s a number 5 plastic, for example.”

Several other measures have been taken to raise awareness including humourous ads on the giant stadium screens encouraging composting and recycling, and ‘did you know?’ tips in the daily program.

2010 is the final year of Tennis Canada’s three-year green plan and in the fall the not-for-profit organization will be releasing a complete report on all its green plan activities and results.

Sound: Check out the sounds of the Rogers Cup and Tennis Canada’s green plan

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YPb0xRzwCA]

An earthquake in China, Haiti, or Chile, though tragic, seems far from home and difficult to imagine, even given the flood of multimedia that came from each of these disaster areas earlier this year.  On June 24, it all became frighteningly clear for residents of Quebec and Ontario.

“I was in the kitchen.  I was having a late breakfast,” says Albin Dzurnak, resident of Ottawa who experienced his first-ever seismic event in June when a magnitude 5.0 earthquake hit the region, with an epicentre near the Ontario-Quebec border about 60 km north of Ottawa.

“It was kind of strange, things were shaking, so I figured, well, this is not normal so it must be an earthquake,” says Dzurnak.

While media reports often focus on the magnitude figure of an earthquake to communicate its strength, the shaking is the first thing one feels.  And this is also central for engineers.  “From the engineering point of view, the magnitude of the earthquake is not the controlling parameter and becomes almost irrelevant information,” says Carlos Ventura, professor of civil engineering at the University of British Columbia.

“What is important is how far from the epicentre or from the rupture zone a building is located and the severity of the shaking at that location,” says Ventura.  “For example, the level of shaking experienced by the [8.8 magnitude] earthquake in Santiago, Chile [this year] is very similar to that experienced [there] in 1985, which was 7.8-magnitude.

Earthquake magnitude is a measure of the energy released by the seismic event, but the amount of shaking this creates in a given location depends on many factors, says Professor John Clague, Canada Research Chair in Natural Hazards Research at Simon Fraser University.

Shake map and location map for Ontario-Quebec earthquake

The ShakeMap and location map for the June 24, 2010, 5.2-magnitude, central Canada earthquake (depth: 16 km)

The severity of shaking depends on the distance from the epicentre, its depth, and other factors. Around the recent earthquake, “The crust is not as highly faulted and broken up, it’s less heterogeneous,” says Clague. “You’re right in the middle of a plate, the North America plate.”

“You’re not in an area where the crust is overly thickened, where it’s [not] particularly hot, and that allows seismic waves to propagate with less attenuation, less loss of energy over larger distances,” says Clague, which is why the central Canada quake was felt as far as New York City. “On the west coast, an earthquake like [that] would not be terribly remarkable.”

Most people have heard of the Richter scale for measuring the size of an earthquake, but in fact, the popularized scale, which originally applied mainly to California’s seismic landscape, has long been supplanted by the more accurate moment magnitude scale.

“If you’re to think of a fault as being the slipping of two surfaces, one against the other, the moment magnitude is the product of the area of the whole fault, times how far it slips, times how strong the rock was that it broke,” says professor and seismologist Olivia Jensen of McGill University. “The stronger the rock was that it broke, the stronger the earthquake.”

“For big events the numbers would be pretty much the same as Richter numbers,” says Jensen.

Summing up his feelings on his first earthquake experience with tongue slightly in cheek, Dzurnak says,  “I was happy about the earthquake and I wish there were more of those so that people are reminded that, ‘hey this is Mother Nature talking to you,’ and you have to deal with it.  You either deal with it or you die, that’s how it works.”

Sound: Listen to Professor John Clague to find out how a train can end up beside its track instead of on it and how man-made reservoirs and oil exploration can make earthquakes more likely:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1RP4YYoNo0]

Standing in line to buy a t-shirt the atmosphere begins to sink in: driving rock music, a buzzing crowd, squealing wheels and a decidedly tough team cheer.  Welcome to Montreal Roller Derby.  Picture it: a flat donut of a track with five scantily clad women per side bumping and bruising to prevent the other team’s “jammer” from skating past them and scoring points.  And next Saturday night (August 7), the city’s Mile End neighbourhood will welcome people from all walks to watch local teams Les Contrabanditas take on Les Filles du Roi for the Montreal Roller Derby championship.

The all women’s league has come a long way since its first season in 2007 and though some things, like clever player names and cheap beer, haven’t changed, others certainly have.  “The skill level has improved tremendously and a lot of the people that weren’t necessarily athletes then have turned into athletes,” says league founder Alyssa Kwasny, who goes by Georgia W. Tush on the track.

Logo for Montreal Roller Derby, a roller waitress with a skull on a platter

Montreal Roller Derby

This year, the New Skids on the Block, the league’s top travel team, became the first international team to join the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) in the U.S.  “We went from a little road team, a little cutesy team from up north to a very competitive team,” says Cheryl Gladu, captain of Les Contrabanditas, whose player name, Ewan Wotarmy (you and what army) is representative of the league’s tough but playful reputation.  The “we-think-we-can” attitude is what roller derby is all about.  Gladu, who is also the communications person for the league, says, “The resurgence of derby is a do-it-yourself kind of sporting league and it’s one that’s run for the players by the players.”

And in Montreal people have taken notice.  The frequently packed house at Saint-Louis Arena lines up early to secure good seats.  Why not try the “suicide” seats directly next to the flat track? You might get to meet a player as they crash into your lap.  The key is not to knock over one of the beer can “beeramids” that rise up from around the track as the night rolls on.  And just behind the suicides, the kids run back and forth, making the most of the electric atmosphere and the open space.

With such popularity and a string of sell outs, the league is now toying with the idea of moving to a larger venue to accommodate its growing fan base.  What is certain, however, is that no matter who you are, derby is a whole lot of fun.  Thirtysomething fan Tanya says, “It’s very exciting and there’s so much to look at, even if you’re not looking at the girls skating. It’s fun.”  Tanya’s silver-haired mother Erika, attending her first derby, agrees. “It was fascinating, oh yes I loved it.  I certainly would like to come back.”  And with an atmosphere as entertaining as Montreal Roller Derby, you’ll certainly want to as well.

Check out the Sounds of Montreal Roller Derby with this rockin’ radio mini-documentary:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlUL8dX5-YA&hl=en_US&fs=1]