The 2012 Uniter 30
What does it take to create change? What does excellence look like?
For the third year in a row, we have put together a list of young Manitobans we think might have the answer to those questions.
The goal of this piece was to once again feature, in no particular order, people who are 30 years old or younger who are making a difference and impacting their community in some way, or who are outstanding in their field – whatever that field may be.
The list includes humanitarians, activists, entrepreneurs, community workers, visual artists, filmmakers, athletes, musicians, actors, comedians and more.
Other than the criteria that these people are making a difference in their community and/or are outstanding in their field, there wasn’t much else to go by when we were making our decisions.
At the end of the day, we looked for people we think you’ll find interesting.
We’re already starting to think about next year, and we’re always looking for suggestions. Who’s a Manitoban making a difference in Winnipeg or beyond, and who would you like to read about?
Let us know.
At 25, Melissa Bailey is a far cry from the gray-tinged lab-dweller one might imagine upon hearing the words “Oxford scientific researcher.”
Bailey, who sidelines as a member of an aerial dance troupe, completed her undergraduate degree majoring in genetics at the University of Manitoba’s faculty of science in 2011.
Currently, she’s working on a doctorate degree in neuroscience across the pond at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, which she was awarded last year based on her exceptional academic performance.
“Oxford is such a stimulating and invigorating academic institution,” Bailey says. “Even my social life tends to revolve around guest lecturers and academic discussions. Of course, usually over a pint or two.”
Also a graduate of the faculty’s Science Co-op Program, which affords keen students the opportunity to work on actual lab research - of which Bailey, who was awarded the 2010 Canadian Association of Co-operative Education’s Co-op Student of the Year Award, is among the keenest - the young scientist seems poised for greatness.
During her time with the co-op program, Bailey worked closely with new obesity-related research that saw her delicately isolating and observing mouse neurons in the lab, among other calm-handed tasks.
At Oxford, she’s still picking at nerves.
“I have become particularly interested in taking advantage of new technologies in order to answer basic neuroscience questions from a molecular, anatomical, functional and behavioural perspective,” she says.
Eventually, Bailey aspires to work in the cutting-edge fields of stem cell therapy and cloning alongside the World Health Organization before returning to good old Winnipeg as a professor, where she hopes to teach the next generation of Melissa Baileys the invaluable critical thinking skills they’ll need as scientists.
Or maybe she’ll just, you know, clone herself - and then win all the awards.
Regina native Thom Fougere, 25, is an emerging talent in furniture and lifestyle design.
During his environmental design degree from the University of Manitoba, Fougere was drawn to several areas of the architectural discipline, especially photography and furniture design. After landing a gig at the respected branding firm ClarkHuot/Cocoon, Fougere joined the contemporary Winnipeg-based furniture company EQ3 and was sanctioned creative director by the age of 24.
While at EQ3, Fougere has been paving a noticeable rejuvenation
of the brand. He shifted product shots from mansions in Asia to EQ3’s employees’ apartments in Winnipeg.
“It’s more tangible,” Fougere explains, adding that it shows that “this is furniture we want to use, and it can fit in everyone’s lives, big and small places.”
In addition to designing the new EQ3 flagship store in Toronto and travelling across the world for various projects, Fougere also freelances.
This spring he earned praise for his Prairie-inspired Tyndall Table at the International Design Show in Toronto, and received a Best New Prototype award for his Bench Rack design.
Fougere has a heartening take on Winnipeg’s inspirational nature.
“When you travel, there is sometimes too much culture to take in and you can spend all your time taking in culture ... and then no one produces. (In Winnipeg) there is time to actually make and do things. There is culture of doing and not so much a culture of consumption (of culture).”
For 2013, Fougere is shaping his freelance work into saleable production for the first time. He will also be showcasing a new piece at the RAW Gallery in Winnipeg this January.
The North End Cat Lady
“Can you make it say proud cat lady?” Jessica Thompson asks as the interview winds down during an early evening lull at the Machray Animal Hospital in the North End.
“People ask if I like being a cat lady, and I say, ‘Yeah, I’m a proud cat lady.’”
It’s interesting, considering the 27-year-old vet assistant - who has worked in animal hospitals since she was 14 - didn’t get her first pet, a dog, until she was 17, and a rescue cat, by chance, soon after.
In October 2011, Thompson launched C.A.R.E. (Cat Advocacy Rescue & Education) as a means to tackle the North End’s stray and feral cat population through a trap, neuter and return program.
Through Machray and the Winn-ipeg Humane Society, Thompson has fixed some 400 cats and adopted out 150 more. The work is paid through donations and adoption fees.
It’s a small dent in Winnipeg’s cat overpopulation, estimated to be up to 100,000. But it’s full-time philanthropic work Thompson deems necessary. The city seems unwilling to develop a low cost spay and neuter strategy available to all and opening a new animal shelter isn’t the answer, she says.
“We’re into prevention ... treating the root of the problem. The only way to reduce euthanasia (to control the population) is to make less cats,” she says.
And so, she canvasses the community, knocking on the door of any house where she spots a cat wandering about its yard. It’s a chance to educate her neighbours about her work and the importance of having their animals fixed. She’ll even do it for them.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people on drugs, or who look dangerous, but they see I’m from this neighbourhood and that I care,” she says.
“Everybody has the ability to be an advocate. It’s too easy to stay silent and say nothing.”
For more, visit www.facebook.com/CARECatAdvocacyRescueEducation.
The Financial Wiz
When you’re in her presence, you can’t help but notice that Vanessa Kunderman exudes an infectious energy about life - and for good reason.
Only years after losing her dad to cancer, Kunderman, then a 16-year old songstress, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In her original X-ray, one of her lungs was completely collapsed and the other was only operating at 25 per cent. After years of grueling treatments, Kunderman’s strength and family helped her beat the disease.
But cancer isn’t the 24-year-old’s defining story.
Since then, she’s taken on the role of speaking to youth who are going through what she did via the Canadian Cancer Society and was one of their official spokespeople for Daffodil Month in 2012.
Former art director for the now-defunct SANDBOX Magazine as well as Fanfare Magazine Group, this creative force did a 360-degree career change after graduating from Red River College with a major in advertising.
“I was trying to get my own affairs in order financially and everything was 10 steps harder for me because of my medical history,” Kunderman explains.
“The more I asked around, the more I realized there was a huge hole in our society - and young people were missing a lot of important details.”
Now a thriving financial planner with her own business, Kunderman has chosen to help others, specifically young professionals, meet their financial goals and prepare for whatever their future might throw at them.
On top of an already packed schedule, she’s a killer musician who just started a lifestyle and wellness blog called BOSS, which stands for body, order, strength and spirit.
“As I get older, I’m realizing there are three things that are important to me,” she says. “Living my life surrounded by beautiful things, helping people and good grammar.”
For more, visit www.bringtheboss.com.
The Golf Wunderkind
While the greatest achievements of most Grade 8 students include arm-punching contest victories and beating the latest Call of Duty campaign on “veteran” difficulty, Brendan Kesterke is already teeing off his career as a world-class competitive golfer.
Soon after placing first in his age category at the Canadian Junior Golf Association and Manitoba Optimist Junior opens this past summer, the 13-year-old toured his way from the Callaway World Junior Championship in San Diego to the World Optimist Junior Open in Florida - going toe-to-toe with some of the best young players from across the globe.
“It felt pretty cool to get to fly around, playing in different tournaments like that,” says Kesterke, who aspires to go pro someday.
“I’d never done anything that big before.”
The young player has also accumulated numerous other local and national wins and podium placements over the course of his short career.
While there’s no doubt Kesterke is a natural-born talent, that sweet drive of his didn’t just come from nowhere.
“After school I basically go home, get dressed and then bike straight to the course,” he says, adding he usually hits the green with friends who share his interest.
Kesterke’s next major goal is getting a golf scholarship to a good university or college south of the border.
Until then, the down-to-earth links-dweller, who enjoys snowboarding and participating in team sports through his school, remains as humble as could be - even pretending for this reporter’s benefit that his superior game doesn’t give him an insurmountable edge up with the ladies.
As for duffers looking to improve their game, Kesterke keeps his advice simple:
“Practice lots,” he says. “And always practice the right way, not the wrong way.”
The Polyamory Advocate
Sexual health educator, polyamory advocate, animal activist, Occupy Winnipeg organizer, one-time Green Party candidate - Anlina Sheng’s many interests stem from their many identities.
“I’m polyamorous, I’m queer, I’m genderqueer, I’m mixed race - a lot of my identities are pretty marginalized,” explains the 30-year-old, who prefers gender-neutral pronouns over the conventional, binary “her” or “him.”
Sheng adds that as a result of these marginalized identities, working for the organizations they’re involved in is something they have a lot of personal investment in.
“Also, to me it’s just a core aspect of being a good, empathetic human being - to care about others and to strive for improving the world for everyone.”
Sheng works as a health educator at Nine Circles Community Health Centre, putting on workshops and presentations to promote safe sexual health.
When Sheng’s not freelancing as a graphic designer outside of her Nine Circles office hours, they sit on the board for the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association. Sheng also helped start PolyWinnipeg, a social, support and discussion group for polyamorous people in Winnipeg and the surrounding area.
“I think it’s really important to create communities to provide people with support and education, especially because there can be a lot of marginalization for people who are practicing polyamory.”
While living in Thunder Bay a few years ago, Sheng served on the board of directors at the Thunder Bay and District Humane Society and as a general volunteer. She was an organizer in last year’s Occupy Winnipeg camp, and also ran for the Green Party in the Assiniboia riding in the 2011 provincial election.
“I like to work from a grassroots level as well as interact with institutional political systems,” Sheng says.
Mike Green, 24, is a former University of Winnipeg student who “bailed on CreComm” (the joint Creative Communications program with Red River College) after traveling to Israel on birthright in 2008.
Green had decided it was time to pursue what he was truly passionate about: comedy.
“(After traveling) I learned that you’ve got a lot of days in your life to fill, so you’ve got to do something that doesn’t really bum you out,” Green says. “Why go to school? I’d rather just start moving around and see what I can learn.”
The native Winnipegger started playing open-mic nights at the King’s Head Pub and The Cavern, but officially kick-started his career by winning Rumors Comedy Club’s Funniest Person With a Day Job contest in 2009.
Flash forward three years - Green has performed at the CBC’s Winnipeg Comedy Festival twice (where he was the youngest comic on the bill in 2011) and won Crowd’s Choice for his set in Definitely Not The Opera in 2012.
He’s opened for former Saturday Night Live writer Hannibal Buress and was recently asked to open for Comedy Network personality Daryn Jones at the Park Theatre in 2013.
Green is also the host of Stand-Up at the Standard (now the Rose n’ Bee Pub), the only open-mic comedy night currently operating in the city. The weekly event runs Thursdays at 9 p.m. and welcomes stand-up rookies and veterans alike.
Though working in comedy can often mean lots of schmoozing, Green’s success can be attributed to his work ethic.
“If you’re undeniable, if you’re getting laughs, it really doesn’t matter if you’re making moves,” Green says.
“The only thing I’ve decided is to just go out and kill every show.”
Julie Lafreniere has won academic awards during her time in university, written a hip hop music column for the now defunct Uptown Magazine and worked as an on-air personality on STREETZ 104.7 FM, but it’s the countless hours she spends coaching basketball that have earned her a spot on this list.
When she’s not working as a marketing research coordinator at Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Lafreniere spends four nights a week coaching two different basketball teams that her 10-year-old son, Austin, plays on: the Junior Bisons Boys club team and the Fort Garry Community Club team.
An accomplished former player for the University of Manitoba Bison, Lafreniere does not get paid for her coaching.
“It’s a big time commitment, but I really enjoy doing it,” she says. “It doesn’t interfere with my life because it is my life.”
Lafreniere has worked with some of the boys she coaches for the past four years. Seeing them progress in their abilities is satisfying.
“It’s probably the most rewarding thing I’ve done, other than be a mother. You get to see them improve and grow as people. It’s really amazing.”
Lafreniere says she likes basketball because it’s a team sport and there’s always room for improvement. She tells the players she coaches that having the right attitude is more important than natural ability.
“If you have the right attitude and listen, you can improve yourself,” she says. “If you have that attitude, it can take you places.”
“It’s not just coaching basketball,” she adds. “Hopefully they take some life skills away from (the court) that will serve them well.”
The Global Educator
When he isn’t attending classes at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate, Roméo Bérard is working to make education accessible around the world.
The 17-year-old is one of the founding members of The Shining Leaders Foundation (TSLF), which works to provide school supplies to those who would otherwise not have access to them and increase the accessibility of education in impoverished countries.
“Education has always been number one for me,” says Berard. “I wanted to share what I have in Canada, what I got from Canada - and that’s education.”
Last summer, Bérard travelled countries in Southeast Asia garnering support for the foundation.
The trip, which earned the foundation backing from a number of dignitaries, including former Philippines first lady Imelda Marcos, surpassed Bérard’s own expectations.
“I did more than I had originally expected to do,” he admits, adding the project has since received recognition from Craig Kielburger of Free the Children.
According to Bérard, TSLF has so far sent 50 students to universities in countries throughout Asia, as well as one in Sudan.
He doesn’t plan on stopping there.
“I want to help educate as many people as possible,” he says. “I’ll take any opportunity I get to do so.”
Although his charity reaches far across the world, Bérard says it is important to remain active in communities closer to home.
He is a frequent volunteer at Siloam Mission and plans to pursue a political career in Canada.
“Hopefully I can give back to Canada,” Bérard says. “I’d like to give back to aboriginal communities and other communities where education is not always accessible.”
The Human Rights Advocate
University of Winnipeg Global College student Chelsea Caldwell, 20, is no stranger to human rights activism.
After serving as co-chair of her high school’s human rights team, Chelsea was nominated by her peers to serve as Status of Women Director at the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association.
“As a human rights student and a woman, I felt it was important to have a woman’s voice heard at the boardroom table,” Caldwell says.
She helped plan Take Back the Night and events for International Women’s Day in March, and has worked on campaigns speaking out against violence against women.
Caldwell is currently the co-chair for the Global College Student Advisory Council and is working to establish the Winnipeg Chapter of Canadian Voice of Women for Peace.
Working with the Global College, she’s also assisting in the formation of a new group, temporarily named Manitoba Women Moving Forward, to address issues like genital mutilation and domestic violence around the world.
Caldwell’s plate may be full, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This is something I’m passionate about,” she says. “Why not involve myself?”
In November, Caldwell received the 2012 Annual Sybil Shack Human Rights Youth Award.
She says it’s the students she meets through her work that inspire her activism.
“The engagement with the student body at the university has really opened my eyes to the world,” Caldwell says.
“I think I’ve learned more outside the classroom than inside it.”
In her spare time, Caldwell volunteers at the local chapter of Canadian Women for Afghanistan.
The Inner-City Foodie
Iain Brynjolson is using his passion for food to improve his community.
Food for Folks, a project Brynjolson launched in 2010 as a healthy food vendor at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, seeks to create an urban farm in Winnipeg’s North End.
The farm would encourage local food production, grow flowers and provide jobs for people in the area.
“I’ve grown up in the North End my whole life and I’ve seen a lot of people struggle to find nutritious food for affordable prices,” says Brynjolson, 23.
“It’s a problem for people who aren’t cooking for themselves, who go hungry, who didn’t grow up with parents who cooked for them.”
Through the initiative, Brynjolson is also involved in the creation of Eat Street, a downtown community zine answering questions about food security and affordable healthy eating.
For Brynjolson, these efforts are just a start.
“A lot more needs to be done in creating familiarity, knowledge and interest in healthy food,” he says, adding food security lies at the heart of many social issues.
Brynjolson is also involved in the organization of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities (AYO), the Neechi Food Co-op and Meet Me at the Bell Tower, the latter of which is a weekly march formed in remembrance of a murdered North End high school student.
Under his guidance, along with close friend Michael Champagne, Meet Me at the Bell Tower has become a youth-led event, focusing on issues important to the participants.
“Sometimes it has to do with serious issues like murdered and missing women, suicide or violence,” he says.
“But sometimes it’s just community building and a celebration of life.”
Looking forward, Brynjolson is partnering with AYO and Music First to develop a co-op arts and music production hall.
For more, visit www.tinyurl.com/Food-For-Folks.
The Accomplished Improvisers
When local improv group Outside Joke performs at the Gas Station Arts Centre on Saturday, Dec. 8, it will be capping off one hell of a year.
The group performed at the Regina Fringe Festival, Winnipeg Fringe Festival, Saskatoon Fringe Festival, Vancouver International Improv Festival and Winnipeg Improv Festival, and it spent time in Edmonton at the beginning of this month representing Manitoba in Rapid Fire Theatre’s Prairie Bowl Theatresports Tournament - an improv competition featuring groups from across the prairies.
“Our mandate is to present improvised theatre that is as polished and accessible as scripted theatre,” says 27-year-old RobYn Slade, who is joined in the group by Leif Ingebrigtsen (24), Andrea del Campo (28), Toby Hughes (28), Chadd Henderson (29) and Jane Testar (29).
“Improv is sometimes seen as just a tool or a form that only works in a casual setting, and we work very hard to bring a theatricality to it.”
Slade says that the group, which formed in 2002, likes to focus on two things: a strong narrative and dynamic songs.
“We certainly love making jokes, but there’s something so wonderful about letting the comedy come from the characters and the situations they’re in rather than pushing for a laugh,” she says. “In the longform style we use, we can really take our time exploring the things that make our characters interesting, and in turn, find the funny.”
Slade adds that the group is looking forward to what the new year has in store.
“We had a very full 2012 as far as touring goes,” she says. “We’re hoping 2013 will look the same. We’re also in early talks of offering a workshop series in the near future. 2013’s looking real good to us.”
The Dancer turned Filmmaker
A lifelong dancer, Kayla Jeanson decided to make the transition into filmmaking when she was out of high school. Her interest with YouTube vlogging inspired her to enter the University of Manitoba’s Film Studies program, which she graduated from
Most of the 24-year-old’s early work documents Winnipeg’s dance community, which included shooting videos for Un1te, a hip-hop dance company established in 2005.
“Dancing is a different way of communicating ideas,” she says. “There are things you discover through moving that you wouldn’t discover through speaking.”
Aside from her recent Winnipeg Fringe hit Trashbot Apocalypse, which blended film and dance components, Jeanson recently directed and edited Le Dernier Soir, a documentary-style music video for a band called Bazen en Helden from The Netherlands that features “an evening of revelry involving a shopping cart, masks, children and a unicorn.”
The clip won Best Cinematography and Best Documentary at the 2012 University of Winnipeg Student Film Festival. Jeanson hopes to create more of her own work and continue fulfilling her passion for visual storytelling.
“I love working for other people and it’s widened my perspective,” she says. “But there’s still this artistic need to get your own stories out.”
Right now Jeanson is working on her first official short film, which has received backing from the Winnipeg Film Group. She also partook in a filmmaking workshop in Victoria, B.C. earlier this year.
“It was a fantastic experience,” she says. “It’s given me a lot of new ideas for how I can blend dance and film together.”
The Finess Entrepreneur
Johnny Fukumoto, a 29-year-old fitness guru and owner of Elmwood gym Fukumoto Fitness, has brought a unique boot camp/group exercise program to Winnipeg that guarantees results within a positive, community environment.
“We like to call ourselves the anti-gym,” Fukumoto says, adding that too many fitness centres facilitate negative responses from clients, who dread the typical gym experience.
“We want to be the best part of people’s days,” he says. “When they are with us, it might be the only time in the whole day that someone says something nice to them.”
Fukumoto, an Ontario native who moved to Winnipeg several years ago, possesses a kinesiology degree from Wilfred Laurier University and is a certified personal trainer with the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology.
After several years working in various fields in Winnipeg, including two years with the Outtatown adventure travel program at Canadian Mennonite University, Fukumoto decided to channel his desire to help people with their health into the community-based group exercise program housed within the walls of Fukumoto Fitness at 4-521 Golspie St.
Fukumoto launched his business full-time in January 2011 and currently has 130 full-time members.
The typical workout involves 10-20 people and is meant to use short, intense rounds of exercise with short rest periods, which convinces the body to burn calories immediately in an attempt to recover, says Fukumoto.
“We’re results based, we encourage people to work as hard as they can in a safe way.”
This, he says, is coupled with a robust nutrition program.
“Choose one thing you feel you can be a success at every week, build on that for six months, and your life will be changed from a nutritional standpoint,” he says.
In his spare time, Fukumoto volunteers at Elmwood’s Community of Hope food bank. He also organized 10 workouts in the past year to raise funds for 10 different charities.
The Art Communiy Organizer
No Manitoban festival is as full of infectious spontaneity as the Rainbow Trout Music Festival (RTMF), which director Ben Jones, 29, is letting grow into a full-fledged community.
After studying fine art at Concordia University and the University of Manitoba, Jones began to focus on organizing art communities. He currently plays in several bands (including Ultra Mega) and manages youth art programming at Studio 393 (Graffiti Gallery).
Apparently Jones is serious about getting others in on some good old-fashioned fun.
Though the idea behind RTMF is to hold a celebration of a group of friends, he describes it as non-exclusive and socially dynamic.
“We try to encourage active participation rather than passive attendance at all our events.”
The RTMF features all-Manitoban acts of various genres emerging from an indie approach.
“I would definitely call it a DIY festival,” says Jones. “It’s a collaborative effort between myself and a small group of close friends, and the fact that we can do it ourselves helps us avoid having to go through a lot of bureaucratic channels.”
Other annual RTMF events such as a bachelor/ette auctions, community yard sales, baseball classics, Christmas pop-caroling and wildly successful mass bike rides have become fixtures of the Winnipeg summer alongside the festival.
“Our last bike party had over 300 riders,” Jones says. “I try to take the things that are fun with a small close group of friends and imagine them to be 50 times bigger, then just make it happen.”
Despite whatever form the community takes next, Jones considers the bottom line spontaneous and quality fun.
“We have lots planned for 2013, but if a creative new idea pops up, nothing is really out of the question.”
The Animal Healer
Repairing broken wings, mending damaged limbs and feeding baby deer is just in a day’s work for Reesa Atnikov.
Since March 2010, Atnikov has been the centre supervisor for the Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre, after serving as a volunteer for a year.
She’s found her niche in working with wildlife and has never looked back.
“My favourite part is seeing so many species and how they are made to survive in the wild,” says Atnikov, 28.
“It’s really neat to see different adaptations of many species. You see how they are perfect for their niche.”
Like many animal lovers, Atnikov has had a strong connection with animals her entire life.
“In high school whenever someone had a problem with their pet, they’d ask me about it,” she says.
Atnikov also understands her role educating the public on wildlife issues and how to relate to animals.
She notes a trip to Costa Rica following high school where she rode her bike to the coast to watch sea turtles come ashore to lay eggs. Atnikov watched others along the shore use lights to disorient the turtles instead of watch them respectfully.
“It’s really important to teach people about wildlife,” she says.
“People need to have their misconceptions broken. We need to teach people to live respectfully with their wild neighbours.”
Atnikov is learning to prepare skulls for observation and education, and is considering taking up taxidermy.
“I like to show people the different developments in the skulls,” she says.
“You can see how different beaks and skulls developed and also show them the live birds right alongside.”
The Tech Savant
Marlon Wiebe, 30, grew up in Drake, Sask., before moving to Winnipeg in 2001 to study at Canadian Mennonite University, and later at Red River College for Digital Media Design.
In 2010, he helped create the Winnitron 1000, a repurposed arcade game fitted with 12 new video game programs, all made locally. The Winnitron was free to play at the Lo Pub; its premise was to re-inspire the gaming community.
“We wanted to promote social video games,” says Wiebe.
The trend soon caught on and new incarnations of the Winnitron were popping up all over the world. There are now Winnitrons in the Netherlands, Australia, China and the United States (in New York City).
“When others approached us with the idea (to make their own adaptations), our only rule was that they had to be installed in a public place,” he says.
Wiebe is also an accomplished videographer and animator, currently working for Winnipeg production company Coelement, making videos for clients.
“I’m trying to make the most of learning from other peoples’ projects, and trying to push myself for these clients,” says Wiebe.
He’s parlayed his movie making skills into creating some hilarious music videos as well for his band, The Secondhandpants. A “science-folktion” duo with brother, Curtis, the band plays kid-friendly tunes, having performed at the Winnipeg Jazz Festival and the Winnipeg Folk Festival several times.
“We play inside a jukebox, which has become sort of an institution (at Folk Fest),” he says. “Last year we had people laying out tarps in front of it.”
Soft-spoken yet compelling, Selkirk native Lyzie Burt is a 19-year-old multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and occasional painter who is making waves in the local music scene with indie shoegaze act The Blisters.
“Music has always been a big part of my life,” she says. “In recent years it’s been a therapeutic way of expressing myself. ... After high school I re-learned piano and gained a new perspective on songwriting.”
In 2011, Burt released her first full-length solo album - a 12-song collection of sombre piano and vocal ballads entitled Cigarettes and You. It was a project she says took her “musical life to a new level - ... it was written from my heart and soul.”
Burt cites Joni Mitchell, Emily Haines and Chan Marshall (Cat Power) as some of her most profound influences, but also finds pleasure in the ambient soundscapes of shoegaze, the brand of rock played by her other project, The Blisters.
Signed to Montreal-based Woven Records, the band is the brainchild of fellow Selkirk prodigy Daniel Monkman, who provides a progressive, expansive sound to which Burt supplies vocal and synth support.
The band’s 2011 EP, Insects, was locally toured and laid the foundations for a forthcoming Blisters project Burt is reticent to discuss.
“What I listen to is what I like to play,” Burt says. “It might be a cliché, but it’s a truth, and it’s important to stick with that.”
In the meantime, listeners should watch for The Blisters debut full-length release with Woven, and keep an eye out for Lyzie Burt - a dynamic local talent already with an impressive portfolio.
The Driven Canoeist
Hannah Guttormson, a 16-year-old student at St. Mary’s Academy and a canoeist with an unparalleled commitment to her sport, maintains a daily schedule no one would envy.
From Monday to Friday, Guttormson wakes up at the crack of dawn in order to train for more than an hour before spending another six in the classroom and then hitting the gym again in the late evening, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
“Paddling is something that, from the moment I started it, I knew it was something I loved,” she says, adding she started the sport through the Manitoba Canoe Kayak Club two and a half years ago.
In many ways, the last two years have revolved around paddling for Guttormson, who describes a rigorous training schedule followed by a series of gruelling competitions.
Throughout the winter of 2011-12, she followed her Monday to Friday schedule and in March she departed for training camp in Florida, where she trained on the water three times daily for three weeks. This was followed by more training along the Red River upon her return to Winnipeg.
Then it was on to competitions in Saskatoon and Regina that qualified her for the Divisional championships, which were held in July. Guttormson placed first in all her races there, which qualified her for the Sprint Canoe and Kayak National Championships in Dartmouth, N.S. in August.
She came away from the Nationals with two medals, bringing home the only Manitoba medal in the single-person 6,000-metre race and a silver medal in the 1,000-metre event, which involves a partner. She was recently named Female Athlete of the Year at the Manitoba Paddling Association Awards Banquet.
Guttormson - who plans to be a teacher or nurse and compete in the Olympics once they admit women’s canoe as a qualifying sport - will be repeating her entire competitive effort in 2013, aiming to improve her times once again.
“Paddling is my dream,” she says.
While his work has been seen on book jackets, posters and T-shirts for such bands as Boats, Dan Mangan and Royal Canoe and in galleries all over the world, Ben Clarkson, 26, has made his professional living for the last three years as an illustrator for such publications as The Walrus, Canadian Dimension Magazine, THIS Magazine and most recently, The Globe and Mail.
While attending the Canadian University Press conference in 2009 Clarkson met Jason Chiu, design editor at The Globe.
“They brought him in to do a workshop and I had applied for a graphic design internship (at Chiu’s then place of work, The Toronto Star), but I didn’t understand that graphics meant infographics, not illustration, and that it’s a dead art at this point,” Clarkson says.
When Chiu made the move to The Globe, he requested Clarkson’s portfolio.
Hitting home that meeting deadlines and being consistently creative is important, what Clarkson takes the most pride in is his ability to balance what the client wants with what he wants to give them.
“It’s super important to provide a service and give people what they want while trying to convince them that what they think they want is terrible,” he says. “Something that’s really important to me is learning what is an illustration and what is just writing down an idea and when does it become art.
“I don’t think art should be relaxing, it should be like pulling teeth. I should smash my head against my table all the time trying to figure out how to be clever and make something that is strange and horrifying yet funny at the same time.”
The Art Maven
Janessa Brunet, 26, is a pillar on the Winnipeg arts scene. After graduating from the University of Manitoba in 2009 with a BA in Fine Arts (Honours in Photography), Brunet became the studio coordinator for Art City, where she has long been a volunteer.
Art City is a non-profit in the West Broadway area that offers accessible arts programming for all ages.
Brunet has also spearheaded a drawing collective, Places for Peanuts, and makes art on her own time as well.
Peanuts started as a fun social experiment in February 2012, and has quickly established itself as a veritable artistic tour-de-force.
“We started by bringing together artists from different backgrounds for weekly drawing games at Cousin’s Deli,” says Brunet. “Now we’re about to have a group showcase.”
Places for Peanuts artwork will be featured alongside other artists’ at the Frame Gallery’s Performing the Process exhibition, which opens Friday, Dec. 7 at 5 p.m., and runs until Monday, Dec. 17.
As for Brunet’s personal artwork, she likes to mix it up.
“I like to experiment with different mediums, like screen printing and textile work,” Brunet says. “I tend to always go back to photography though.”
She is currently a part of the MAWA (Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art) program, and is being mentored by interdisciplinary Winnipeg artist Suzy Smith.
Brunet hopes to keep her future projects under wraps until they’ve been completed, but reveals that her next undertaking will involve her go-to discipline of photography.
“My new body of work is focusing on intimate moments between friends and family,” she says. “I’m going to be taking a lot of pictures over the holidays.”
The Art Educator
Anna Wiebe, 28, is excited to be an official mover and shaker on the Uniter 30 list.
“I’m pleased to be included,” she says. “I feel really lucky to be a part of (Winnipeg’s cultural scene) and to be someone to bring this institution to the community.”
Born and raised in the city, Wiebe earned her BA in art history at the U of W, before traveling to Northern England to obtain an MA in art gallery and museum studies from the University of Leeds.
Her schooling resulted in a fantastic placement at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. As the head of education, Wiebe is in charge of adult programming, studio programming, integrating youth and school programs, and the gallery’s library and archives.
Top that off with coordinating tours, symposiums, panel discussions, and the ever-popular Nuit Blanche events, and this lady has got a lot on her plate.
In her spare time, Wiebe sings in a 10-person a capella group, Antiphony.
“We pride ourselves on having something for everyone; from contemporary and traditional choral music, to vocal jazz, to pop, to our own arrangements of pieces. It’s a lot of fun,” Wiebe says.
Antiphony’s first EP, Point in Space, is available on iTunes, and the group is currently at work recording its debut full-length.
Wiebe is enthusiastic about her future at the WAG, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year.
“It’s exciting to have had a hand in shaping some of its successes over the last four years, and in helping to set a foundation for the education department for another hundred years.”
The King of Campus Radio
His voice and personality is synonymous with community radio and the local music scene.
Kent Davies is currently the volunteer coordinator of CKUW and the audio technician for the Oral History Centre at the University of Winnipeg.
The host of Amateur Hour and Peg City Groove, the energetic DJ and audio producer has been creatively providing entertainment to Winnipeg’s airwaves since he was drafted from CBC’s version of radio camp when he was 16.
“Amateur Hour is full of weird shit no one else will play, but someone put blood and sweat into this stuff so I’ll play it even if it isn’t great,” Davies says.
Now 30, Davies was recently named the city’s third-best radio personality by the now-defunct Uptown Magazine. In 2009, Davies won the National Community Radio Association Creative Production Award.
Nine Villages ranks as a personal favourite show of Davies, which he co-hosted with Geoffrey Young and was based on listener interaction.
One memorable show included a 30-minute search for a job live on air.
Peg City Groove, which he co-hosts with Daryl Reilly, “is a content and concept driven show dedicated to promoting local musicians and making sure there is always space for local music.”
Davies is proud of his involvement in Solidarity Rock, a cross-cultural exchange between punk rockers on the prairies and in Cuba. The project centers on mutual aid between the countries musicians and has helped Cuban bands tour Canada and helped send instruments to Cuba.
“Cubans do a lot of work,” Davies says.
“There are equal efforts from both sides, it’s a true cross cultural exchange - it breaks down barriers. It’s political because it is apolitical. It’s brought the prairie scene closer together.”
The Union Man
Having already left his impression on the University of Winnipeg campus, David Jacks continues to serve others with his passionate brand of activism.
Jacks was elected president of the University of Winnipeg Student’s Association in 2007 after running on a platform that addressed tuition increases for international students.
He was also involved in a number of campaigns on campus that ranged from democracy building and environmental protection to economic justice and education funding.
“Campuses are places for students to tackle new issues,” says Jacks, 29. “Not only learn about them in the classroom but put them into practice.”
Following his term, Jacks was heavily involved in the campaign to remove bottled water from the university’s campus.
“Water is a basic human right,” he says. “It’s not a commodity to be bought or sold.”
Joining the Canadian Federation of Students in 2008, Jacks had the opportunity to represent students across the country and focus on issues of a wider scope.
Now working for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the move from representing students to representing workers was a natural progression for Jacks. He considers the issues dealt with by the union to be important to students as well as workers.
“Affordable housing, racism, homophobia, transphobia - all of these can affect students going into
the labour market,” he says.
Jacks is currently devoting his spare time to the Canadian Community Economic Development Association and is working to solidify the Downtown Community Residents’ Association (DCRA).
He hopes the DCRA, which started as an informal gathering, will serve as a collective voice of the downtown community.
Milos Mitrovic & Fabián Velasco
The Art House Filmmakers
Although they probably won’t admit it, Milos Mitrovic, 22, and Fabián Velasco, 24, are two of Winnipeg’s youngest and most intriguing experimental filmmakers.
Originally hailing from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Buenos Aires, Argentina, respectively, Mitrovic and Velasco are products of the University of Winnipeg’s film program, and have already garnered attention in local circles and in festivals outside of Canada.
Characterized by an art house aesthetic similar to David Lynch, the work of the two filmmakers has led them to their most acclaimed release yet: Plasticmann 2. At 25 minutes, the short film is a dystopian-themed, “part sci-fi, part experimental” story of a lonely man searching for a soul for his dismembered mannequin companion.
“At this point, the weirdness comes naturally,” says Velasco of he and Mitrovic’s latest effort. “We’re always half-joking. We don’t want to be all that serious, but we also don’t want to sound pretentious. We’re trying to make experimental movies about loneliness and our own inner-tensions.”
Mitrovic and Velasco have completed numerous films together, including two 16mm projects and one on 8mm entitled Confessions of a Shopaholic Pt. II, but none have reached the same popularity as Plasticmann, which has screened at the Landlocked Film Festival in Iowa City, and will be part of the World Kid’s International Film Festival in India in 2013.
As for future plans, Mitrovic urges they’re “all in the noggin,” but expect big things from these lighthearted art house enthusiasts who have accomplished a lot without any government grants.
The Lifesyle Experimentalist
Several years ago, Lyndon Froese, now 27, recalls pulling the trigger on the nine-to-five life after a year and half of careful consideration.
“You don’t get a lot of positive affirmation when you quit a good job with no plan,” he says.
Minimizing work hours as a self-employed web designer, Froese now prioritizes personal projects, living experiments and fun.
Froese challenged Canadian politics last election by running with his own campaign.
“I founded the House Party of Canada platform based upon the feeling that elections had degraded into a game of ‘who’d you rather?’” he says.
Froese has also launched a hitchhiking stats collection website, programmed the IdeaCapture creative organization app, and is editor and writer of Biped, a monthly online magazine.
For him, living off the consumerist treadmill is true luxury.
“Biped ... is the antidote to the bullshit we see on billboards about what the good life is,” Froese explains.
“I’m thankful that my environmentalist and anti-sweatshop/suicideville factory stances force me to live differently,” says Froese. “Staying on the beaten path is unbearably boring for me.”
Now he plans to write a book about how people make decisions on ethical issues.
“I want to show that you can possibly have your cake and eat it too if you have an environment and system that encourages the personal choices that will solve the big issues.”
Because Froese understands how influence works, he favours honest living over dull preaching.
“We’re all on stage; everything we do, whether mundane or fantastical, gets absorbed by our audience, so I’d better stay true to my beliefs in every new episode of the show.”
The Broadway Acress
Like most actresses, Samantha Hill, 25, started performing young.
Before she landed her first professional acting gig at 15 in the Jeff Erbach film The Nature of Nicholas, she made a memorable stage debut in a dance recital at age three.
“I took one look at the audience and burst into horrified tears,” she says. “My instructor had to carry me offstage to the safety of my parents’ arms.”
After productions with Manitoba Theatre Centre, Rainbow Stage and the University of Alberta, the actress/singer is now on Broadway (yes, New York City’s Broadway) as the alternate Christine in Phantom of the Opera.
Having traveled to Toronto to audition for a new production of Les Miserables, musical director David Caddick, who was also working on Phantom, recommended her to casting agents in the Big Apple.
“I flew into New York on my birthday,” Hill says. “This is why I try to remind people, including myself, that even if you don’t get a role, perhaps despite all that money you spent to get to the audition, if you take that chance and really rock (it), you will reap the benefits eventually.”
Despite living in one of the greatest cities in the world, Hill is still a Winnipeg girl.
“One of the reasons I am where I am is because of the people of Winnipeg and the opportunities I have been given there,” she says. “Winnipeg will always be in my heart and I am a huge cheerleader for our cultural scene.”
The Fundraising Runner
Five years ago and tipping the scales at 225 pounds, Jonathan Torchia never thought he’d run a marathon let alone organize one.
Now 25, he’s slimmed down to 165 pounds. He’s also knee deep in the trenches of planning his follow up to the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Half Marathon, held for the first time in October to support the local Heart and Stroke Foundation.
“It’s been quite a journey,” says Torchia, who has run in more than 24 marathons since deciding to get in shape.
Torchia’s health journey has kept pace beside his grandfather’s, whose five-year battle against a stroke, heart attack, bladder cancer, a broken hip and more finally ended in January of this year.
Torchia was in California for a marathon when he got the call from his parents.
“It was one thing after another. He fought all the way to the end,” Torchia says.
“I told myself I’m going to stay, get my mind off things, and run this one for my grandpa. But, upon returning to Winnipeg, that wasn’t enough.
“I wanted to do something greater, something big.”
With the blessing of city administration, the WFPS member hit the ground planning his marathon.
Torchia only anticipated 500 runners to sign up for the first annual event. Instead, close to 1,700 runners hit the streets of Charleswood on a chilly, rainy fall day to help raise $25,000 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
“I’m ultimately hoping to raise awareness of cardiovascular disease, and to get people out running,” says Torchia, who runs up to 50 miles a week.
“Go out, try a 5K run, or a 10K run and grow and experience that euphoria you get from running.”
The Conscientious Farmer
For 27-year-old Lydia Carpenter, farming is a lot more than just food production.
Carpenter, who does not come from a farming family, entered into farming as a way to be a responsible land steward and nourish herself both physically and emotionally.
Her studies have taken her to rural areas of Mexico and Brazil. It was in these places that she gained an appreciation for an agrarian lifestyle and small-scale agriculture.
During this past year, Carpenter and her partner, Wian Prinsloo, secured a piece of land and established Luna Field Farm, a very small livestock farm just outside of Brandon.
“Our production practices are guided by responsible environmental stewardship, integrated pasture management and perennial polycultures,” she says.
“We were able to use savings to invest in a sufficient number of animals to make this endeavor financially viable,” which included pasture-raised chickens and sheep in a rotational system.
Carpenter recognizes the barriers of regular farming.
“Even if we wanted to we could not enter into the inherently cost-prohibitive world of large scale monocultures.”
However, “with some entrepreneurial spirit, and an interest in systems ecology (and food),” small-scale farmers can be successful.
“Many of us are very disconnected from rural living and doubt is often cast on the viability of small-scale farming and rural lifestyles.”
With a full season of farming under her belt, it is clear Carpenter’s heart is still in it.
“I want to keep producing food, maintain a viable livelihood and create a conversation. I think we need to look at ecological systems and see ourselves in them, not outside of them.”
The Swim Champion
To meet Thomas Osborn, a 16-year-old Kelvin High School student and deaf swim champion, in his natural environment - the pool - is to meet a kid with a single-minded determination to succeed.
“The more I got involved in it (swimming), the more competitive it became,” he says in the lobby of the Pan Am Pool on Grant Avenue, explaining that he comes from a long line of swimming enthusiasts, including his mother Carolyn Osborn, his uncle and cousins.
“I began to see results very quickly and, because of all the help I was getting, I was able to go further and further.”
Osborn, who has been involved in the sport for roughly eight years, has repeatedly competed at the international level in deaf swimming. Most recently, he came home from the Pan American Games for the Deaf in Santos, Brazil, with medals in several competitions, including silver in 400- and 1,500-metre freestyle and 200-metre individual medley.
Osborn has qualified every year for the last four years for the Manitoba/Saskatchewan provincial championships, and has competed in several national championships, along with the World Deaf Championships last summer.
“It was a mind-blowing experience,” he says, adding he hopes to compete in the Deaflympics and possibly the Canada Summer Games in 2013.
Osborn can hear and communicate relatively well with the assistance of a hearing aid and cochlear implant but, once he starts swimming laps, he must take them out. As a result, he trains and competes in virtual silence, which proposes a unique set of challenges that have been addressed in various ways by his trainers at the Manitoba Marlins and Elite Development Training Centres.
“I’m extremely thankful for all the help I’ve gotten so far,” he says.
Published in Volume 67, Number 14 of The Uniter (December 7, 2012)