Wednesday, 19 November 2014

University sports in Montreal merits more media coverage

I spent the morning of November 18 at the Ed Meagher Arena of Concordia University watching the host Concordia Stingers play the Carleton Ravens in Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) Women's Hockey Action. It was part of an activity coordinated by my English Montreal School Board colleague Daniel Smajovits, linking university sports and the goal of "staying in school" with our youngster. More than 800 students were on hand for the 2-1 Carleton victory in a shootout, but our commitment does not end there. We will be working with Concordia athletes throughout the academic year as they begin to integrate themselves into school activities.


This was a nostalgic visit for me. Not only did I graduate from Concordia in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Journalism, but  for the following two years I worked for the Department of Athletics as sports information officer. My colleague from the time, Catherine Grace, is still there and at the helm.  While I was a student I helped launch The Concordian Newspaper, serving as founding sports editor. I always appreciated the quality of university sports, be it football, soccer, basketball, hockey, wrestling or rugby.

EMSB Commissioner Joseph Lalla and students at the ceremonial opening faceoff.
Concordia has come a long way these past three decades. While the arena can't necessarily hold more people, the $8 million upgrade it underwent is noticeable. All of their teams offer great entertainment and  I would recommend more parents bring their kids. Women's hockey, for example, showcases some young ladies who are truly elite at what they do. We were excited to work with them this year and it  was wonderful to watch the reaction of the many young girls who attended the game, motivated that they can set their minds to anything they wish.
It was great to catch up with men's hockey coach Kevin Figsby,  men's basketball coach John Dore (in his final season) and women's head coach Les Lawton, These are the ultimate gentlemen who work tirelessly year-round to plan their programs. They do a lot more than stand behind the bench, handling everything from travel arrangements to scouting duties.
I got to meet Patrick Boivin, the son of former Montreal Canadiens president Pierre Boivin. Patrick was named athletic director at Concordia last year and he is anxious to work with the schools and anyone else in the community who can give his program a boost. One of the sensational features at Concordia is the Stinger Dome, a heated indoor structure where their athletes can train year-round.
What I find really sad is how most of the Montreal sports media are ignoring university sports. All of the teams from Concordia and McGill should be getting regular coverage. Not everyone can afford to go watch the Canadiens play at the Bell Centre. The price is right at the university level. The three-pack of a hot dog, drink and chips cost me $5; one -third of what the Bell Centre would charge me.
If you have not been out to any university sports events, well then mark it down on your "to do" list. You will not be sorry.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Symposium on Inflammatory Bowel Disease provides valuable information

Nicholaos Contaxakis does not pull any punches. The Montreal businessman suffers from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and as the emcee for Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month Patient Symposium held November 15 at Hotel Ruby Foo’s he shared intimate details about his condition.

“We have to stop being ashamed of this illness and be willing to talk about it,” Nicolas told an audience of sufferers and family members of those with IBD.

Nicolas is correct. I have had Crohn’s Disease for 27 years, a mild case which fortunately has not interfered greatly with my day to day life.  When I was first diagnosed I did not know another person with the same problem. I kept to myself and for 11 years my main employer did not even know about my condition, which was all the more interesting given the fact I travelled internationally and usually roomed with my boss. I guess I did not want to get stigmatized or held back from anyone exciting travel experiences.

As time went on and I moved on to my next and current job I did not keep it a secret anymore. I felt comfortable bringing it up in conversation. When I had some preventive surgery a decade ago I even wrote about it in my column. By this time organizations like the Crohn's and Colitis Canada and the McGill IBD Research Group had high profiles. Not only were more events being held, but people with IBD were stepping forward

Despite all of this, there is still a lot of work to be done. As Nicolas rightly pointed asked: “How many people know this is Movember versus Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month?”
I was encouraged by the number of people on hand for the symposium, where sessions were held simultaneously in English and French covering the latest IBD research, financial planning for people living with IBD and pregnancy and fertility.

Dr. Maya Saleh, an Associate Professor in the Departments of Medicine and Biochemistry and Director of the Inflammation and Cancer Program at the McGillUniversity Health Centre, was the first speaker. She is Associate Member in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Associate member of the Goodman Cancer Centre and a member of the Center for the Study of Host Resistance and the Division of Critical Care of the MUHC Research Institute. She joined the faculty of Medicine at McGill University in 2005 and is a McGill University Dawson Scholar, a FRSQ Chercheur-Boursier Junior 2 and a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Investigator in  the Pathogenesis of Infectious diseases.

Left top right: Nicholaos Contaxakis (English MC). Andrée Mathieu (Janssen, event sponsor), Dr. Maya Saleh (McGill University) , Yael Mamane (Vertex Pharmaceuticals), Richard Chiasson (Sunlife Financials), Anick Murray (French MC).
Dr. Saleh gave a general overview of the GI tract and then spoke about the genetic effect of children and IBD and the environmental triggers for adults who get the disease. “As we get older our immune systems become weaker and weaker,” she explained.

How heritable is IBD? As a matter of comparison she listed bladder cancer as very low in this category compared to Celiac Disease, which is very high. Colitis and Ulceritis Colitis fall in the middle at 50 percent.

While reviewing the  different medications used to treat IBD, Dr. Saleh spoke optimistically about research currently being done at McMaster University in Hamilton about fecal transfers and success in this area thus far related to cases of C Difficile. “It is in the really early stages,” said Dr. Saleh, “but the hope is fecal transplants could prove to be a cure and administered in the form of a suppository. How often will you need it? Once a year? Once a week?”

This experimental therapy involves injecting fecal matter into the GI tract of sufferers of ulcerative colitis. According to reports, the McMaster study has involved participants suffering from ulcerative colitis receiving fecal material from specially screened donors, while others received a placebo mixture. Similar to an enema, the mixtures are infused into their colon with a syringe.

The idea of a fecal transplant is that "good" bacteria from healthy stool move in and take up residence, crowding out "bad" bacteria such as C. diff. The donor (typically a patient's family member) is screened for conditions that could disqualify them, including hidden disease or parasites. They are instructed to produce a sample at home, put it on ice and take it to the hospital for the procedure.
Current treatment for IDB includes prednisone, imuran,  mercaptopurine (6mp), methotrexate, remicade, humira and stelara (ustekinumab).

New treatments coming down the pipe include vedolizumb, which was approved  in the US last May 2014 for patients with moderately to severely active Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.  Vedolizumab is described as an option when conventional therapy is not tolerated or does not provide sufficient release of symptoms.  

Tofacitinib (Xeljanz) is a Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drug (DMARD) first available in 2012. It is currently approved for the treatment of moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis with or without methotrexate and now in trial phases for IBD.

Richard Chiasson from Sun Life Financial presented some tips on financial planning for Crohn’s and Colitis patients.  Chiasson was a nurse for 21 years so he is in a good condition to advise clients with different illnesses. “The greatest list to depleting your wealth is your health because you cannot control it,” he noted.

What can derail your retirement plans? “You live too long, die too soon or become sick and disabled,” was Chiasson’s response. “Our lives can turn on a dime.”

Dr. Talat Bessissow is  an Assistant Professor to the Division of Gastroenterology. He  completed post-graduate training in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology and a fellowship in inflammatory bowel disease and   advanced endoscopic imaging at the Gasthuisberg University Hospital in Leuven, Belgium. His current research focuses on the role and outcomes of mucosal healing in inflammatory bowel disease. He has clinical duties at the MUHC, teaching students and supervising medical residents and will part of a new IBD Centre being set to be established at the Montreal General Hospital facility next April. 

Dr. Bessissow stated from the outset that there is no difference between the average person and someone with IBD completing a normal pregnancy. However, fertility can go down significantly when surgery involves the removal of the rectum because this creates inflammation and scarring.  The solution for a woman who has not had her family yet is to consider a temporary ileostomy – a temporary bag or pouch that allows the rectum to stay in place.

The goal in pregnancy, Dr. Bessissow’s stressed, is to be in remission and maintain that for the entire nine month period. Statistics indicate that that there is a 14 percent chance of an IDB post-partum flare. Reduce x-rays and if you need a colonoscopy only do so in the second trimester. In contrast, flex sigmoidscopies are low risk. Women with a pouch and those with parianal disease should have C-sections.

In terms of medications, those taking a biologic like Remicade should stop that treatment after 32 weeks and resume once the baby is born. As for Humira, this should be halted between weeks 36 and 38. Naturally, if the illness flares up the treating physicians will decide how to handle this.

Communication between the obstetrician and the pediatrician is paramount in cases like this.

The program concluded with can emphasis on the need for volunteers. It was interesting to see the new Generation C Group, a gathering of young adults who have started to meet and have a fitness-oriented fundraiser planned for January. In keeping with the bilingual nature of the organization, the conference ran French sessions concurrently with the English ones.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Corpus: Quebec premiere of provocative play on the Holocaust is a real winner

Teesri Duniya Theatre has a real winner on its hands with the Quebec premiere of  Corpus, the award winning play with  a unique storyline related to the Holocaust.

Corpus continues at the cozy MAI (Montreal Arts Interculturels) in the McGill Ghetto   (3680 Jeanne Mance) through November 30. Playwright Darrah Teitel, who penned the script while she was studying at the National Theatre School in Montreal, was at the November 13 opening I attended and will stay her through the weekend and participate in some panel discussions.
Chiazzese and Paulson. (Photos by Mateo H. Cassis)

While Teitel notes this is not based on a true story, such a scenario could have very easily occurred.  The MAI stage is divided into the present and the past. We see Megan (Holly Gauthier-Frankel), a brilliant Canadian genocide scholar who obsessively collects the stories of war crimes through the internet. She stumbles across an unlikely relationship between a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz and the wife of a Nazi officer. That plays out on the other side of the stage and behind a draped backdrop. The music used is effective and so are the video projections which constantly flash across the screen. This all works really well for in no time at all the audience is wrapped up into the compelling relationship between Eli (a very effective Davide Chiazzese) and his forbidden romance with Eva (Melissa Paulson).

We are also introduced to present-day Eva (Susan Bain), Megan’s thesis advisor Homer (Gilles Plouffe) and her online  lover and Eva’s grandson  Heinrich (Ian  Geldart). Artistic Director Rahul Varma, whom I got the chance to meet for the first time, did  a top-notch job selecting the cast with director Liz Valdez and their team. The flashback scenes are well played out and Chiazzese, an Italian boy from East End Montreal whom I just saw in Billy (The Days of Howling), is clearly a true talent. His roles in Billy and Corpus are completely different which well illustrates his versatility. Gauthier-Frankel is a ball of fire and showcases so much energy in her role that one gets really attached to the character and the significant challenges she faces towards the ends of the story –not to mention a surprise revelation.

Geldart and Gauthier-Frankel.

There are Q & A talkbacks after each Friday evening performance and panel discussions after each Sunday performance. Varma and General Manager Linda Levesque told me that they really want to develop a pedagogical exercise around this play. In keeping with that, some matinee shows will be attended by high school students. I brought my colleague  Tino Bordonaro, the social studies consultant at the English Montreal School Board and he was quite impressed with what he saw. See their teachers guide.

As for the panel discussion, the one slated for after the November 16 show  will feature an artist’s panel answering the question of  What sort of responsibility does an artist undertake when creating or participating in a piece of art involving war? What needs to be taken into account when recounting events through art that have had such long-lasting effects on a community? It will be moderated by CBC’s Sudha Krishnan and include as  panelists Geldart, Bain, playwright  Teitel,  director Valdez, Myrna Selkirk (Professor). On November 23 the question of Where do we Draw the Line?  will be dealt with. As much as we attempt to do so, we cannot enter into the past or view it through a transparent window. Do you think it is a help or a hindrance to historical memory to apply personal stories in modern day research? Where do we draw the line between personal stories and academic work? Again, Krishnan will moderate and her panelists will be Sarah-Jane Kerrlapsly from the Canadian Jewish Association, Bob McBryde of Amnesty International and Jacqueline Celemencki  from the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre. Finally, on November 30, the focus will be on Digitizing the Past. We are now living in a society that has access to technology that was not available to the previous generations. With this in mind, do you think it is this generation’s responsibility to continue interpreting the events of the Holocaust and other historical atrocities? What barriers does technology break down, and what drawbacks does it create? The moderator will be Meghan Pearson and two professors as panelists: Stacey Zembrzyckia and Ted Little.  

Two shows  are already sold out and tickets for others in this 139 seat venue are going quickly. Wednesday to Saturday all shows are at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees are at 3 p.m. Tickets are   $25 for adults; $20 for students/seniors; and $15 for groups (10 or more). There are also group specials. For more information call  514-982-3386 or visit

Here are some clips from the show and interviews with the director and the actors.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Cat Spencer to mark 30 years on radio

Congratulations to one of the nicest guys in radio, The Beat  925 FM morning man Cat Spencer. On Thursday, November 13 he will mark an incredible 30 years in radio.

Cat, whose co-host is the adorable and charismatic Sarah Bartok, has been with The Beat for four years now. He came aboard just as they were about to launch the new name and format to replace Q 92.  In fact, he had been named the successor to Aaron Rand several months earlier but because he was still under contract to Virgin Radio at the time he had to stay home and wait for a certain period of time to expire.
Cat has called Montreal home for decades,  but  he was born in Saskatoon. He got his first job at the age of 17 in Fort Frances, Ontario. From there, it was on to the bright lights of Moose Jaw, Edmonton, Toronto and, of course, Montreal. Cat often brags that for the first 18 years of his career he never missed a day of work! Now that streak is over: he has two young kids who bring home germs from school so he calls in sick all the time!  

For those who listen to the show, you will know that Cat has tremendous chemistry with Bartok and news/traffic reporter Natasha Hall and their cast of many others. He always good for a few gags each morning, notably his hilarious prank phone calls for which he comes clean at the end.

Good luck Cat!!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Yeh! Yogurt introduces grilled cheese to its menus

I dropped by the Quartier Cavendish location of Yeh! Yogurt today just before lunch time and was pleasantly surprised to see that grilled cheese had been added to the menu at the special introductory price of $2.99.

Yeh! stores boast a self-serve format offering over 60 revolving flavours of frozen yogurt.  At Yeh! the customer can choose from a wide variety of healthy and sweet toppings in an attractive and hip “urban cool” funky pink setting  –pink being the official colour. The debut of grilled cheese shows that this place is a lot more than just yogurt.  At most locations you can purchase healthy shakes, both sweet and savory crepes, premium coffee, iced coffee and waffle cones or bowls.  There are even soups at some locales.

Ariel showcases a grilled cheese sandwich and chocolate shake.
Ariel, the shift manager when I visited, said that the grilled cheese sandwiches are catching on. At the Cavendish location they should become popular with students from the nearby schools in particular. Mimi Cohen (no relation), the marketing director for Yeh! Yogurt, said that the company has developed  "a secret signature grilled cheese recipe that makes ours so mouth watering delish."

Asked to elaborate, Mimi said: "We have  a unique grilling technique using our Waffle-Irons. The extreme heat emitted from the iron combined with the perfect level of pressure carmelizes the butter and adds a crispiness to the bread. The result is a unique flavour and a mouth watering grilled cheese experience like none other out there!"

Having taken the taste test today, I must agree. It was one of the better grilled cheese sandwiches I have had in some time. 

Owners Jon and Marvin Gurman are looking at worldwide expansion for Yeh!Yogurt, with destinations as far as Lebanon and China about to join the family.

Friday, 7 November 2014

John Molson Sports Marketing brings in big names: here is what Marc Bergevin had to say

Remember the name Ryan Garellek. The Côte Saint-Luc resident works for  John Molson Sports Marketing,  which is a subsidiary organization at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University. The organization's bread and butter in terms of events is its Annual Sports Business Conference, known as JMSM14.

Each year JMSM brings together some of North America’s best and brightest sports marketing students to network, interact with, and learn from industry executives. From president  to general managers, the conference hosts speakers from all of North America’s major leagues, whose insights prove useful for aspiring students. 

Somewhere between lectures, tutorials, and campus libraries is where you'll find  Garallek’s committee.  
From the heights of the bleachers to the depths of the field, sports is the common passion that unites, defines, and drives these youngsters. As their website says,  “Money makes the world go round more than that it fills stadiums, wins games, and builds dynasties. Sports and business will forever be intertwined.”

At Ryan’s invitation I dropped by the D.B. Clark Theatre at Concordia’s downtown campus on Friday, November 7 to hear Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin and Tampa Bay Lightning Assistant GM Julien BriseBois speak on a panel moderated by TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger

Julien BriseBois, Darren Drager, Marc Bergevin and Ryan Garrellek
This was a great opportunity to see how hard these guys actually work. BriseBois, who spent nine yers in the Habs head office, is constantly on the road scouting, overseeing the Lightning’s AHL minor league team in Syracuse and checking on prospects in junior. He credited his wife’s support and noted how he still tries to find as much time with his two boys, aged 7 and 5, as possible. “We even moved close to the rink,” he said.

Bergevin spent 20 years as a player in the NHL and then immediately moved into scouting and management (with one year as an assistant coach) so he says his kids were used of him being on the road. Referring to his present situation he said : “At the end of the day I am with the team most of the time.”

August, notes Bergevin, is usually the lightest month for GM as the roster is basically set.

Asked about what is the most important thing about the building and development of an organization, he noted how the draft is crucial. “The backbone of a franchise is the draft,”  he said. “It is very tricky.”

What has been his toughest decision so far? “Letting Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges go,” he said. “We discussed it in our war room, but ultimately it was my decision.”

Bergevin got some chuckles when he talked about the difference between  hockey in Chicago and Montreal. “If you go to the United Centre they have 21,000 fans; so do we at the Bell Centre,” he said. “They want their team to win; so do we. But after a game they go home, take off their Black Hawks jerseys and wait for the next game. They have the Bears, the Cubs, the White Sox. Our fans go home and they talk about the game. Their passion is off the charts. But there is no place I’d rather be.  I was gone for 28 years, but it is like I never left.

Others on the agenda include Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman, LA Dodgers GM Ned Collettti, Director of Content and Analytics for Bloomberg Sports Alex Burwasser, TSN Hockey Analytis writer  Travis Yost, Columbus Blue Jackets Executive VP of Business Operations  Larry Hoepfner, Director of Corporate Partnerships for the Boston Celtics Chris Baker, Tampa Rays Director of Marketing Carey Cox, hockey agent Don Meehan and Cleveland Cavaliers President of Business Operations Kerry Bubolz

Activities continue at three venues: the DB Clarke Theatre, the Holiday Inn Expres at   155 Boulevard René-Lévesque Est and the Sports Station at 2051 Rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest through Saturday night, You can see the full schedule at

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Global TV and The Beat 92.5 FM morning crews share their secrets about getting up early

As an avid follower of the Montreal media, specifically through my column in The Suburban and this blog, it is always a pleasure to spend some time with the people whom I watch and listen to. For  a high school Career Fair I helped organize,  I invited The Beat 92.5 FM's Cat  Spencer, Sarah Bartok, Shaun McMahon, Natasha Hall and Claudia Marques while Global TV's wakeup crew of Jessica Laventure, Camille Ross and Richard Dagenais were on hand as well.

Jessica Laventure, Richard Dagenais, Camille Ross, Cat Spencer and Sarah Bartok

The Beat continues to bring us great music and dynamic on air personalities. Cat and Sarah have been a team for the past four years. Natasha handles those neat news updates and traffic while Marques is out and about in the city all week long for promotional stops and ticket giveaways; McMahon was recently promoted to weekend morning show host. Cat and Sarah have terrific chemistry together. Cat is a towering figure who came over from Virgin Radio while Sarah is as beautiful as she sounds. Over at Global, the team has been together for almost two years now and they have bonded. Dagenais is the veteran of the group, has a great sense of humour and always keeps us guessing as to what important international day it is. Ross, a breathtaking beauty with an infectious laugh, adapted perfectly to her new role. As for Laventure, she is a ball of fire and addictive to watch.

I thought it would be interesting to pull these five aside and ask them what it is like to have to wake up so early weekday mornings.What time do they get up? Do they nap? What time do they go to sleep?  This was an absolute blast and I am sure you will get a kick out of the video below. There appears to be a potential partnership here as the two morning show crews are big fans of one another.