Category Archives: Health & Security

A Ride Home from Prison

I don’t have any time to waste on jail anymore ~ Stanley Bailey, newly-released former inmate

Carlos Cervantes, a former inmate, says every ride home from prison is different. He picks up men released from life sentences after California reformed its three strikes law in 2012. Most of the men don’t have family or friends anymore; they’re starting from scratch.

Imagine what it must be like in those first few hours, after not having walked on grass, sat under a tree, or watched the comings and goings of modern life for nearly three decades. According to Carlos, and his latest rider, Stanley Bailey, it’s overwhelming.

More than half a million people are released from prisons in the U.S. each year, often without services to help them reintegrate. In a graceful act of personal kindness, Carlos helps make those first critical hours a little less terrifying.

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More Than Enough Refugee Blues to Go Around

Refugee Blues was published by writer and poet W.H. Auden in 1939, at the start of World War II.

It’s safe to say not much has changed and, perhaps, it never will if war and hatred continue to be our modus operandi. The million dollar question is this: Are we doomed as humans to this destructive cycle of scapegoatism and righteous indignation? Or is there truly a possibility – a probability – for something else?

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew:
Old passports can’t do that, my dear, old passports can’t do that.

The consul banged the table and said,
“If you’ve got no passport you’re officially dead”:
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
“If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread”:
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying, “They must die”:
O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren’t German Jews, my dear, but they weren’t German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.

Continue reading More Than Enough Refugee Blues to Go Around

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Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 3

Click here for Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 1

Click here for Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 2


Not Set in Stone: Memorials for the Future

The National Park Service (NPS), the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), and Van Alen Institute collaborated on Memorials for the Future, an international ideas competition that took place between March and September 2016. The goal of the competition was not to directly produce new monuments, but to reimagine how we think about, feel, and experience memorials. 

It called for designers, artists and social scientists to develop new ways to commemorate people and events that are more inclusive and flexible, reflect the country’s diversity in history, heritage and culture, and that enrich Washington’s landscape while responding to the limitations of traditional commemoration. 

The jury chose four finalist teams –  Climate ChronographAmerican WildThe IM(MIGRANT) and VOICEOVER – who offered distinct concepts and approaches.

Continue reading Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 3

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Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 2

Click here for Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 1


Having finally seen Washington, DC for myself this summer, it was great to connect with this presentation by Marcel Acosta, Executive Director of the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the Federal Planning Agency for America’s Capital. In it he discusses how the city came to be shaped, and how it will continue to be shaped in the future.

Acosta and Beth White, NCPC Commissioner, were guests of the National Capital Commission (NCC) in Ottawa, presenting in September as part of the NCC’s Capital Urbanism Lab public lecture series. Continue reading Capital Building: A View from Washington – Part 2

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Food Hub: Wendy’s Country Market

Wendy Banks, Rick Trudeau and their daughter Leigha are sixth- and seventh-generation farmers on their family property in Lyndhurst, Ontario. Wendy and her siblings grew up steeped in the value of land and food, her father, Neil, believing that one day there would be a shortage of both. While his hands worked the soil in the present, he and his wife, Gail, amassed a thousand acres and planted trees with an eye to the future.

The market occupies a heritage one-room schoolhouse on that land, repatriated to the family homestead when it was closed in 1956. Most of the other neighbourhood kids worked summers at the local Opinicon resort as waitresses, chambermaids and maintenance staff, but Wendy stayed put.

“I never wanted to leave,” she says, and she didn’t, watching others around her drift off the land to somewhere else.

It was a frozen January morning when I drove down to meet her. I had heard about the hub, and was intrigued by the year-round delivery option, being able to order food online by the week instead of being bound to a fixed subscription of defined offerings with a single CSA. If I needed twenty pounds of potatoes instead of five, or one bottle of milk instead of three, I could order exactly that.

The Evolution of Food Hubs

Food hubs are a fairly recent phenomena, taking a variety of forms but with a two-fold common mission: 1) to distribute locally grown food directly to end users (individuals, restaurants, institutional clients); and 2) to strengthen food security, reducing dependency on imports. Through aggregation, hubs provide the widest product selection and benefit both growers and consumers: Consumers don’t need to drive around the countryside to buy from individual farms and, likewise, growers find their market en masse. It’s about strength in numbers.

As we stood chatting, a few customers came and went, on the surface a ‘slow’ day compared to the crowds of 500 to 800 who show up from late spring through early fall, especially on weekends. But, as Wendy writes, life on the farm is never really ‘slow’:

For farmers with animals there is the thawing out of water , trudging through the snow or ice to feed them 365 days of the year (there are no snow days ). Winter is time to repair and do machinery maintenance. Greenhouses must be constantly monitered for snow loads. Anyone with wood fires knows that is a semi-full time job. For those still selling root crops , this is the time of year that the cold and icy water veggie baths are not so refreshing! It is also the time…to plan the year ahead figuring out what worked and what did not. It’s time to get all those seed catalogues out and try to figure out what is going to be the big sellers for this year. This is a gamble in itself.

Her grandmother’s red cedar-strip canoe is suspended from the turquoise ceiling above the chalkboards listing products from the dozen or so fridges and freezers arranged around the room. I open and close the doors and peruse the shelves, slowly assembling my order: two kinds of homemade ice cream (amazing!), wild leek pesto, whole milk in a glass bottle, turkey sausages, raspberry pie, sweet potatoes the size of a small cat, dried chilies, apple cider, brussel sprouts, leeks, artisanal cheese, and an assortment of colourful root vegetables. I’m too early by a week for the first greens of the season.

Lyndhurst is in the heart of cottage country, surrounded by lakes, campgrounds and second homes. During peak season, visitors flock to the market to purchase fruits, vegetables, poultry and meats as well as dairy, baked goods, pre-made entrees, fish and dry goods from more than seventy local producers. Three-quarters of the produce and two-thirds of the meat/poultry/fish is organic and traceability – knowing precisely where one’s food is coming from – is a big part of the attraction. Each week she delivers to about fifty local restaurants and offers location-based catering. And one Sunday a month, from April through October, she hosts thematic fairs featuring chefs, musicians and artisans.

Wendy’s goal is straightforward: to sell more local food to more people. But market development –  matching capacity to market share – can be tricky. There are currently more producers in the area than customers. One of her strategies is to partner with CSA’s (individual farmers) who have an existing customer base and a desire to expand their product offerings. Another is to sell more into her current catchment area – Napanee to Kemptville – leveraging community groups or businesses as single-point drop-offs for new clients. Once again, it’s about strength in numbers.

What you can do to support local food

1. Purchase from the market in person (see map below)

2. Advertise the mobile market to your neighbours; arrange home delivery, organizing group drop-off into your community (mobile market order form here)

3. Encourage your favourite restaurant and company cafeteria to buy local food (commercial information here)

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As the signs by side of rural roads remind us: “If you ate today thank a farmer.” It’s a tough but essential job, requiring strength of character, persistence and a long view of the world. Wendy was born on the land but what keeps her rooted there?

You may ask WHY do it . The answer is FARMERS LOVE WHAT THEY DO!! IT IS IN THE BLOOD! Farmers love the feel and smell of the earth and the outdoors. The joy of seeing seedlings sprout over and over again. The love of living where they work and being their own boss. The joy of little calves sucking on their shirt sleeves, watching hens scratching around the yard and the birth of newborn animals. The pure joy of feeding people healthy food. Seeing customers eating fresh dug carrots and introducing new veggies to children . These are some of things on why farmers are farmers. Next time you talk to a farmer ask them why and watch this big grin start as they explain WHY.

Food Hub: Wendy's Country Market Food Hub: Wendy's Country Market Food hub: Wendy's Country Market Food hub: Wendy's Country Market Food hub: Wendy's Country Market Food hub: Wendy's Country Market Food hub: Wendy's Country Market

 For more information:

Wendy’s Country Market

Wendy’s Mobile Market

Upcoming Events

Further reading:

The Popularity and Potential of Regional Food Hubs

Local food books from Chelsea Green Publishing

The Ontario Table: The Best Food From Across the Province by Lynn Orgryzlo

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Displaced Words

I spy with my little eye a billboard I don’t understand.

This inscription is “AP3851,” a remnant of Palestinian artist Emily Jacir’s recent installation ex libris (2010-2012) at Alexander and Bonin in Chelsea.

The 1948 Palestinian exodus, also known as al Nakba (Arabic for disaster, catastrophe, or cataclysm)1 occurred when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, as a result of the UN General Assembly recommendation for the partition of Palestine. The term nakba also refers to the period of war itself and events affecting Palestinians from December 1947 to January 1949.2

According to a number of sources, not only were land and properties taken during the expulsion, but cultural treasures, among them books, manuscripts, personal papers, photographs and works of art, were seized, first by individual looters, then through systematic seizures by the Israeli army and universities.3

From the exhibition press release:

ex libris commemorates the approximately thirty thousand books from Palestinian homes, libraries, and institutions that were looted by Israeli authorities in 1948. Six thousand of these books are kept and catalogued at the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem under the designation “A.P.” (Abandoned Property).

Jacir photographed these books with her cell phone during repeated visits to the library over the course of two years. Jacir’s explorations and her subsequent selection of specific images create an intimate register of fragments and traces. Her work not only addresses the looting and destruction of books but also raises questions regarding repatriation and restitution.4

The Great Book Robbery by Benny Brunner expands on Jacir’s explorations.

Today I studied maps of Israel/Palestine and read some history of the conflict for the first time. The concepts were vaguely familiar but I lacked all context. Nothing like a little High Line elevation to plant the seed of perspective.

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  1. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/al-Nakba 

  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_Palestinian_exodus 

  3. http://jfjfp.com/?tag=nakba 

  4. http://www.alexanderandbonin.com/sites/default/files/Emily%20Jacir%2C%20intervals.pdf 

Walking Jane Jacobs’ Hood

In setting forth different principles, I shall mainly be writing about common, ordinary things: for instance, what kids of city streets are safe and what kinds are not; why some city parks are marvellous and others are vice traps and death traps; why some slums stay slums and other slums regenerate themselves even against financial and official opposition; what makes downtowns shift their centres; what, if anything, is a city neighbourhood, and what jobs, if any neighbourhoods in great cities do. In short, I shall be writing about how cities work in real life, because this is the only way to learn what principles of planning and what practices in rebuilding can promote social and economic vitality in cities, and what practices and principles will deaden these attributes. ~ Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961

Back in May, I lucked into being in New York City during Jane’s Walk, the annual neighbourhood walking event held in cities around the world. It’s named in honour of Jane Jacobs, the celebrated urbanist, activist, and writer who established herself first in Greenwich Village, and then in the Annex neighbourhood of Toronto. While I caught a couple of the walking tours (Park Avenue and Manhattan Civic Centre), I didn’t make it to the village, to the pilgrimage site of her former home at 555 Hudson Street.

This week, Jane’s neighbourhood was my unfinished business and a Google maps walking tour my guide. I wish I could say I discovered the area as something more than a tourist, but that’s what I was, poking around to get an initial sense of the shape of the place.

I walked (of course) from E.61st down to 14th, via W.11th and Hell’s Kitchen. The torrential downpour slowed, and then stopped, by the time I joined the High Line at 30th. At Hudson I stripped off my raincoat, sweating in the summer-like heat and humidity.

At midday the streets were mostly sleepy, dotted by women-of-a-certain-age and their tiny dogs taking lunch at streetside tables and benches. A solitary man in sunglasses and his shaggy pooch ruled over the sun-soaked patio of the iconic White Horse Tavern, traditional haunt of longshoremen and poets and writers like Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer and Anais Nin. A few blocks on, a crew shot a television series, crowding the sidewalk with imaginary activity. High sun and deep shadows framed the sidewalks; every hour or so the spotlight would shift, illuminating a different person, place or thing.  By dinner time, the bright orange rays beamed low and magically along the east-west axis and the sidewalks teaming with people of all ages: suited men whisking uniformed children home from school and day care, office workers picking up groceries, college students taking advantage of happy hour prices, elegant high-heeled women rushing home from work.

Greenwich/West Village ranks as some of the most expensive real estate in the United States. The inevitability of gentrification has priced it out of the hands of everyone but the very wealthy or those lucky enough to benefit from rent controls.  I can understand the attraction of the place. The scale remains intimate, human, the roads organic, confusing and enviously leafy, brick townhomes uniform yet eclectic, all molded by history. Everything is at hand: There are restaurants, taverns, shops, churches, schools, pocket parks, public transport, and the river. Charming, pretty, yet solid, it’s a fairytale village where communion with other souls seems possible. And all in the heart of a city of eight-and-a-half million.

Jane’s former home is plain painted brick, two floors over vacant retail space and, at this moment, burdened by scaffold.  In quick succession, it has recently housed a specialty baby shop, a seller of glass wear, and a purveyor of ladies clothing. One has to sell a lot of chotchkes to make the pricey rent, never mind a reasonable living. Unfortunately, it’s the predictable, vanilla chains that can afford this, simultaneously putting dollars in the jeans of landlords while chiselling down the rough edges that lend neighbourhoods their uniqueness and real interest. It’s not exactly what Jane envisioned back in 1961 when she rallied for the preservation of old (old, low-rent and therefore useful vs. old, fancy, expensive) buildings in her famous treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

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I felt the urge to genuflect on her doorstep, but settled for taking coffee in the adjacent cafe and effectively becoming a pair of her famously-invoked eyes on the street. How’s that for life imitating art?

I wandered for several hours photographing to my heart’s content before ending the afternoon with a glass of wine and some charcuterie at the delicious and artfully-styled Buvette. Then I hoofed it back uptown in the day’s remaining light.

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Greenwich Village
The not-so-secret private/public gardens of St. Luke-in-the-Fields.
Greenwich Village
Everyone’s getting in the Halloween spirit
Greenwich Village
My hands-down favourite? The formerly low-rent Grove Court. Now gated and oh-so-private.
Greenwich Village
The ‘Friends’ apartment building
Greenwich Village
Home of the infamous John Wilkes Booth. Where he planned the assassination of President Lincoln.
Greenwich Village
A rare wood-frame house, formerly a civil war brothel. Wood buildings were phased out after the fire of 1845.
Greenwich Village
Buried under scaffolding: At 10-feet wide, the narrowest building in NYC. Former home of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, Cary Grant and others.
Greenwich Village
The apartment building where John Belushi drew his last breath.
Greenwich Village
Home of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, convicted and executed in 1953 for passing atomic secrets to the Russians
Greenwich Village
Home of Washington Irving, author of Sleepy Hollow and Rip van Winkle. A great companion piece to our Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow visit in 2013.
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The Invisible Man and His Dog

I hadn’t thought about him for years, the old man with the three-legged dog.  That summer I laid interlock and dug beds in my front yard I saw him regularly. He always walked north to south, across the bridge towards the general store, and back again. I mentally catalogued the possibilities of where he might live in such an intimate community, to no conclusion.

I imagined he was a house painter owing to his habitual uniform of white, disposable jumpsuit and broken-in, workingman shoes.  He was grey-haired and lean, but not so old that employment was out of the question.

His Yorkshire Terrier hippity-hopped behind him, slowly but earnestly, on her good legs, the fourth jutting from her chest at a sad, unnatural angle.  “She got hit by a car,” he told me, the only factual thing I knew about him.

I can’t remember when it occurred to me that this fellow might be squatting in the abandoned white and black frame house up the road. Later that year, a friend and I stopped at the property to look around.

I couldn’t bring myself to enter the house. I thought it was reverence for an individual’s privacy, but I know now it was discomfort, shame and fear. I feared the basic human obligation that arises from knowledge.  If I were complicit, I would have to act, wouldn’t I?  But if I didn’t know that a fellow human being – a neighbour – lived like this, then I wouldn’t have to do anything, would I? A few minutes later my friend returned, alone.  He said it looked as though someone had lived there recently, and I wondered if its occupant was hiding in the hay fields, watching us trespass against him.

Was I the only one to notice this ghostly wisp of a man? In a small village his presence should have been of consequence, a talking point, but no one ever raised the subject, including me. I made small talk with him but never asked him his name, shared a sandwich, or offered to take his beloved companion to the vet.

I see that the hole in the roof of the abandoned house is growing, although the walls are as straight and plumb as ever. It won’t be many rainstorms now until a perfectly usable house – a shelter for someone who had none – breaks down completely, returning to the earth, no longer useful to anyone.

I wonder where the old man and his three-legged dog have gone, and when exactly they left.  And I ask myself: How did it come to this?

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The Best Place on Earth

Like the man says

The more I travel across this country – and abroad for that matter – the more I am dumbfounded by the human ability to choose just one place to call home.

There are a hundred magical villages, towns, cities and regions that strike a frisson of excitement in my gut, triggering the feeling that “I could live here.”  They include: almost anywhere on Vancouver Island; the Gulf Islands; the Cariboo; Crowsnest Pass; the Kootenays; Banff; Revelstoke; Crescent Beach; Montreal; Quebec City; L’Isle D’Orleans; Cape Breton; Chelsea; Haida Gwaii;  Grasslands; the Qu’Appelle Valley; Manitoulin Island;  Queen Street West;  the north shore of Lake Superior; Wolfe Island; and Toronto Island.  And I still haven’t seen the Far North, Newfoundland and much of Quebec.

So for that guy who proudly, loudly and frequently proclaims to me “I live in the best place on earth!” I’m glad you’re thrilled.  It’s good to be satisfied with what you have.   But I am very familiar with where you live and I have to ask: “Are you kidding?  Have you taken a good, hard look around?  You’ve managed to scour the earth, conduct a thorough, systematic comparison based on a variety of factors, narrow it down to one place, and actually pick up and move there by choice?  Really??”

I think it’s human nature to want to justify our choices, to make ourselves feel good about the path we’ve actively chosen or the life we’ve passively fallen into. But I find his declaration weirdly competitive, divisive and smug, not to mention conversation-crushing.  The reality is we are likely to live where we live because of cheap land and taxes, safety concerns, family ties, and employment opportunities, making decisions on a fairly narrow set of criteria which are listed here and here.  And I suspect fear – of change, of the unknown – is an enormous driver around whether we stay put or push off.

I think daydreaming of other places to live is about being open to the spectacular creation around us – call it God-given or otherwise – and having the courage to try other options on for size.  I think it’s about challenging complacency and assessing whether our choice of where we live, which significantly contributes to our personal narrative, still matches our value set.  It’s about smashing the “have to’s” and “musts” and seeing what other kinds of happiness, life-experience, and growth fall out.

After 14 years in Ottawa I am frequently asked “Don’t you miss Vancouver?”  No, I don’t.  I miss my friends and family, and I recognize the opportunity costs of not being there, but I don’t pine for the place.  It’s not me anymore.

And I don’t believe there is a “Best Place on Earth.”  There is just the place I live –  by choice or circumstance – until I no longer do.

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Walking the Walk


Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) was an urbanist and activist whose writings championed a fresh, community-based approach to city building. She had no formal training as a planner, and yet her 1961 treatise, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, introduced ground-breaking ideas about how cities function, evolve and fail that now seem like common sense to generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists. Source

So why walk?

Jane Jacobs believed that in order to truly know a city you needed to get out and walk it.  Following her death in 2006, a group of her friends inaugurated Jane’s Walk in Toronto to honour her ideas and legacy.  On May 5th and 6th 2012, there are over 600 walks scheduled in 85 cities around the world.

Volunteer guides design and plan the neighbourhood walks, which vary widely in subject and duration.  Ottawa’s smorgasbord of subjects include: urban foraging, a foodie tour of Hintonburg, a forest walk in Kanata, a railway history walkabout, an art tour, and the cats on Parliament Hill.  It’s challenging to pick two-days’ worth of itinerary when you’re painfully aware of what you’re not choosing.

Yesterday my daughter and I joined the tour on homelessness.  Jane Scharf, a community activist, walked us between shelters, housing and treatment facilities in downtown Ottawa.  She introduced us to several individuals who face a devastating daily array of personal problems which are mostly foreign to our experience.  We listened and observed and asked questions about the challenges of finding stable housing, the reasons people end up on the streets, and about what works in the system and what doesn’t.

Elizabeth, who met us on front of The Shepherds of Good Hope, explained that she is a recovering crack addict.  She said her biggest challenge stems from the temptations she faces where she lives.  Everyday she gets into the elevator or walks down the street and she is asked if she wants some “food” (crack).  She wants to move to an apartment in a cleaner/safer part of town where she isn’t surrounded by people with the same problems she faces.  But buildings and places, not individual people, are subsidized by the government, so she is stuck where she is with scant opportunity to move.

Elizabeth also pointed out the lack of secure storage space for the homeless.  People that live in a shelter have a place to lock up their stuff.  But if they don’t make it back to their shelter bed before closing, it gets thrown out.  If they live on the street they have nowhere to leave their stuff.  They have to keep it with them at all times, or it’s stolen.

Joe sat in the sun in his wheelchair outside the The Salvation Army Ottawa Booth Centre Men’s Hostel.  Before he came to live here full-time he was in the Ottawa Civic Hospital for 18 months.  He requires 24/7 supported care, including help with his most basic hygiene needs.  He said there are plenty of ‘good’ people who live on the streets and in shelters.  He said mental illness, childhood abuse, illness, drug and alcohol abuse, economic challenges, and lack of family support all have a part to play in homelessness.

Nicki G is bi-polar and described herself as a sinner before she was a saint.  A singer and guitar player, she busks under the Rideau Street pedestrian underpass and works part-time with Krackers Katering, a social enterprise of the Causeway Work Centre.  She is charismatic, engaged and was clearly pleased to have an audience and answer questions.

Stewart Poulin is known as The Artist on the Bridge.  If you’ve walked from the Market across the bridge to Parliament Hill, chances are you have passed Stewart. Peoples’ past histories are complex and aren’t easily summarized in two or three facts.  Stewart trained as a cabinet maker but eventually ceased working and ended up on the streets.  He is a self-taught artist who does pencil sketches and watercolours of local architecture and pastoral scenes and sells reproductions for $10 each.  He possesses a natural and distinctive eye for detail and has caught the attention of many passerbys, some of whom have offered help.  Unfortunately, as he has learned the hard way, sometimes those who wish to help also seek to serve their own self-interest.  Most of his precious originals have fallen into the hands of others. The few originals he keeps are damaged.  A common theme for the day emerges.  It is incredibly difficult to keep precious things safe when living a street-oriented life.

The wrap party for Jane’s Walk Ottawa is at the Lieutenant’s Pub, 361 Elgin at Waverley, from 3:00pm to 5:00pm today.

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