The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: July 2012

Courtney: Red Dress, Normal Girl

A photographer’s search for the consequences of life within and around Ontario’s Chemical Valley

Sarnia, Ontario has often been called the dirtiest place in Canada: it has the worst air quality of any city in the country. The community of approximately 70,000 people sits adjacent Chemical Valley, an enormous cluster of refineries and industrial facilities — including Imperial Oil, Dow Chemical Canada, Suncor Energy, and Shell Canada — which collectively represent 40 percent of Canada’s petrochemical sector.

Courtney Gilmour was born in Sarnia in 1984. Her right arm ends just above the wrist. Her left arm ends immediately below the elbow. She has one fully functional leg; the other ends mid-femur. Courtney uses a prosthetic to assist in walking. As seen in the above video, she performs trivial and complex tasks with only the “nubs” at the end of her arms.

Courtney’s mother routinely drove through Chemical Valley during her pregnancy. Shortly after their daughter’s birth, three geneticists visited the Gilmours to analyze their blood, hair, and other genetic markers. All three experts independently concluded that consistent exposure to pollutants led to Courtney’s birth defects. Her parents accepted these findings, and raised her to become a confident, independent woman. They noted her mental and physical perseverance from an early age. (more…)

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Posted in Moving Pictures  •  No Comments

Beyond the Pale

A librarian recalls the War of 1812’s invasion of York, and US soldiers’ looting of the first-ever Toronto Library
Elmsley HouseToronto Public LibraryOriginally built in 1798, Elmsley House served as Upper Canada’s Government House from 1815 to 1841. (Photograph of photo-mechanical reproduction of a drawing by Jane Harris.)

Throughout human history, libraries have been targeted in seemingly personal attacks by invading forces. The immense Library of Alexandria was burned in 48 BCE — whether by accident or on purpose is not entirely clear; the Japanese army destroyed many Chinese university libraries during WWII; the Khmer Rouge burned most of the National Library of Cambodia in the 1970s; and Iraq lost huge portions of its national archives during the 2003 war, perpetrator unclear.

The invasion of York during the War of 1812 contained a touch of “comic opera” quality, as historian and former University of Toronto professor George Glazebrook called it in his 1971 book, The Story of Toronto, that was especially evident in the looting of the first-ever Toronto Library. As a long-time librarian, I often think that libraries are special; this part of the war’s history suggests that they may indeed be considered sacrosanct in the conduct of warfare.

The fifteen-ship American fleet first appeared in the York harbour on April 27, 1813. According to Glazebrook, York was “defended by a few obsolete cannons and 300 regulars, with the shaky support of an equal number of inexperienced militia against an invading army of 1,700 supported by powerful guns on a ship that moved at will.” Despite the weak defensive line, Canadian and British casualties in the invasion were less than half those of the Americans.  (more…)

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Posted in History  •  3 Comments

Publishing Into the Flood

Presenting Episode 11 of Quillcast, featuring Mike Shatzkin
Mike ShatzkinMike Shatzkin

In this episode, US publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin takes stock of the industry’s current environment. Shatzkin is founder and CEO of the Idea Logical Company and author of the ebook The Shatzkin Files. He delivered this talk, “Publishing into the Flood,” at Book Summit, presented in partnership by Humber College and the Book and Periodical Council, and held at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre on June 21.

(more…)

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Posted in Quillcast  •  No Comments
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