Best Shot

What’s behind modern vaccine fear, and why it matters

In April 2011, the worst measles outbreak to hit North America in a decade ignited at a Quebec high school. It likely started when a staff member at L’école Marie-Rivier in Drummondville, a rural town 100 kilometres east of Montreal, picked up the virus on her way back from the Caribbean, waiting for her luggage at the airport amid thousands of travellers returning from spring break. She had been back on the job for three days before going to the emergency room with a high fever and the telltale rash that starts around the face and creeps downward. Measles spreads mainly from person to person but also travels on droplets in the air, making it highly contagious—particularly in the swarming halls of a school. For most people, measles is like a lingering itchy flu, but others can suffer from pneumonia or, less commonly, swelling in the brain. In developed countries, it is fatal in one to two cases out of 1,000. Doctors quickly isolated the staff member in intensive care, and a public health official notified the principal. Continue reading


Gentrify Me

How a savvy group of Toronto residents took neighbourhood revitalization into its own hands through pop-ups and social media

When Natasha Granatstein was on maternity leave in 2006, venturing out with her baby was a fairly dull affair. Though she lived minutes from the Danforth, she was east of Greenwood where the commercial pep of Greektown had well petered out, yielding to empty storefronts and discount variety stores. She could get coffee at the Tim Hortons kiosk in the Shoppers Drug Mart, but what she really wanted was a place with couches and Wi-Fi where she and other parents could sprawl for a few hours. “There wasn’t a decent restaurant for four or five blocks, and the places that were there didn’t necessarily have things that you needed,” she says. “People didn’t really walk on that part of the Danforth.” Continue reading

Flirting With Disaster

The irresistible drama of TV plane crash recreations

IT WAS NOT A SINGLE HORRIBLE INCIDENT that triggered my fear of flying. It was a gradual accumulation of minor uncomfortable episodes that have cured over time to become a stiff, immovable anxiety. While working out of Yellowknife as a journalist, there were too many unsettling Arctic flights, bumping through thick weather, or onto crude gravel runways. There was an attempted landing through a thunderstorm in Montreal, when I pressed my face into the chest of my blessedly calm seatmate, who cradled me as we were tossed around inside black clouds before detouring to Ottawa. There was an overseas flight that made an emergency landing in Goose Bay, Newfoundland, after a chemical odour filled the cabin. (We later learned that a passenger had spat medicated mouthwash into the lavatory sink, and the fumes had seeped into the ventilation system.) Add to this that I come from a family of worriers, who have handed down an alarmist mentality with a default setting to worst case. Continue reading

Toronto’s Office Tower Boom

Why businesses are trading suburban office parks for downtown highrises

IT TURNS OUT THAT PETER MENKES was onto something in 2005 when he bought a swath of deserted land south of Union Station with the kooky idea of developing office space. As early blueprints were being drafted, Telus signed on to be his anchor tenant. The telecommunications giant had been looking to consolidate its 15 GTA locations, preferably somewhere cool, and pushed for an edgy and eco-forward design. By 2009, Menkes’ 30-storey Telus House had surfaced and spurred a wave of office tower projects now rising from waterfront brownlands. Count them: PwC’s glass-encased building on York, the nearby Bremner Tower under construction, and, south of the Gardiner, RBC’s WaterPark Place III and another Menkes office building on lower York Street that will stretch the boundaries of the Financial District. Continue reading

The Return of Frozen Yogurt

Why fro-yo’s making a comeback 

ALEX SHNAIDER WASN’T LOOKING FOR NEW business opportunities when he first strolled into a Menchie’s. It was last spring and the Toronto tycoon was busy enough juggling the varied dealings of his multinational holding company, The Midland Group, while also fending off a legal challenge from disgruntled investors in the Trump Tower, the 65-storey hotel/condo Shnaider started developing in 2004. It was Shnaider’s first foray into luxury real-estate, and with it his first step into the limelight. Until partnering with Donald Trump on one of the swankiest real-estate deals in the country, Shnaider was a largely unknown, yet savvy young investor who quietly made his fortune in high-stakes commodities trading in post-Soviet republics. He flipped cheap steel-mills and factories in the Ukraine, bought the national electricity distributor in Armenia, and made billions by age 36. Today, the 44-year-old Russian-born entrepreneur is known, in the way billionaires are, for his indulgences—the cars, the yacht, the private jet—for buying a Formula One racing franchise, for his longstanding reign as a steel magnate and maybe the next king of frozen yogurt. Continue reading

Canada’s Most Unwanted

As infertility rates rise and foreign adoptions become more difficult, some 30,000 Canadian foster kids may have a better shot at finding a family

WHEN JEFF AND ELIZABETH FENNELLY applied to adopt a child in 2010, they were young (both twenty-nine) and, as far as they knew, fertile. Elizabeth had always wanted to adopt, and she didn’t necessarily want an infant. Growing up as the third of seven siblings, she was used to babies and felt no urge to revisit diapers. In Jeff’s case, adoption ran in his family. He was adopted as an infant, as was his father. “It’s not that I felt some sort of duty or obligation to adopt because I was,” he says. “We just felt we had the skill set to be able to help a child.” This is his way of saying that they are intelligent, loving, adaptable people who would make good parents. For a thirty-one-year-old, Jeff, a clerk for Statistics Canada, speaks with the buttoned-up air of someone older: crisp and clinical, but without sounding cold. Elizabeth, a legal assistant, is small, pert, and also beyond her years. She is the emotive one in the pair. Throughout the adoption process, she blogged with stark honesty about what she and Jeff wanted in a child. “We would adopt internationally, two little boys who wouldn’t have a home without us,” she had written confidently, and now, she will admit, naively. Continue reading

Making Bicycles in Motor City

A Calgary entrepreneur sets up shop in business-friendly Detroit

TO CONVEY THE SPIRIT OF HIS PLAN to make bicycles in Detroit, Zak Pashak feels a tour is in order. At the wheel of his worn Toyota Prius, the 32-year-old entrepreneur narrates as the sprawl of Detroit unfolds, revealing a city broken but not dead. We pass the obvious blights symptomatic of a long-depressed city: rampant vacancy, overgrown land and lots of people sitting on stoops with nothing to do. But there are also signs of life, including a patch of downtown streets that people have taken to walking again and new businesses spun from an emergent entrepreneurial spirit. Local leaders are hoping these seeds will help to pull the city out of its 40-year funk. It was partly this spirit, partly an “irrational fascination with Michigan” and partly a need for change that drew Pashak to the Motor City from his hometown of Calgary two years ago. Continue reading

Wild Brewing

Toronto brewers make beer in the back-breaking style of old-world Belgian breweries

ON A GREY OCTOBER AFTERNOON at the Good Earth vineyard in Beamsville, Ontario, a crowd gathers around a cluster of steaming stainless-steel vats set up mere feet from the rows of swollen grapes. Iain McOustra, a brewer with Toronto’s Amsterdam Brewing Co. and one of the architects of this madcap plan, periodically stirs the boiled concoction of grains, hops, and water that has the hue of milky coffee and smells faintly like shredded wheat. If McOustra is giddy, it’s because he’s exhausted and exhilarated by this, the culmination of three years of research and planning to make a sour beer in the back-breaking style of old-world Belgian breweries. Continue reading

The Rise and Fall of Annie Pootoogook

She shot to fame, then vanished just as quickly. What happened to Nunavut’s greatest modern artist ?

MY SEARCH FOR ANNIE POOTOOGOOK begins at Feheley Fine Arts, an elegant red-brick gallery in downtown Toronto that deals in high-end Inuit art. The owner, Patricia Feheley, is a veteran in this business. Slight and stylish, she has the refined air you’d expect of a gallery owner. She became one of Pootoogook’s most fervent champions as soon as she laid eyes on the artist’s ink-and-crayon drawings in Cape Dorset more than a decade ago. She recalls going “absolutely crazy” for them: “It was the base honesty. She was drawing exactly what she wanted; she didn’t care what other people were doing.” The images offered a blunt, sometimes jarring, portrayal of modern life in an Arctic settlement: Ski-Doos and Coleman stoves, TV and sex, alcohol and domestic abuse. The style was fresh, uninhibited, modern. There were no dancing bears; none of the trite themes that the Inuit art industry has long relied on. Giddy with her discovery, Feheley left Cape Dorset with half-a-dozen of Pootoogook’s drawings, which she showed in an exhibition called “The Unexpected.” The pictures were a hit and all of them sold. Over the next few years, Pootoogook’s work would catch the eye of the contemporary art world and rocket the young artist to fame. Continue reading