Category Archives: Programs

Finding Home, at the Aga Khan Museum


On Monday, December 12, I went to the reception for 240 high school students from Greenwood Secondary School and Marc Garneau Collegiate, at the Aga Khan Museum. The students have been creating works of art, at the museum, that personally reflect the theme of Finding Home. Given that the students come from all over the world and have arrived here in all sorts of circumstances, the pieces of art are very powerful and evocative sculptures of how they each define “home” in this part of their lives defined by transition.

This art project is part of the Aga Khan Museum’s outreach and education program with Toronto schools, that we have been able to support, and a wonderful benefit will be welcoming the families of the students in the coming months to see their work in the amazing setting of the museum.

The Toronto Star had a great piece by Judith Timson on the show as well. To find out more about the school outreach program at the Aga Khna Museum, click here.

Green Teams Canada

I caught up with Lyda Salatian at Green Teams Canada this week. Chawkers has funded a strategic planning process for this innovative Vancouver/Victoria community engagement group. In order to get volunteers engaged in outdoor work and environmental connection, GTC co-ordinates community work events in parks and conservation spaces, using social media apps for a lot of their outreach. At this point in GTC’s development, Lyda is running a three-pronged strategic review focussed on communication strategies, event evaluation and leadership development. And just like ecosystems, the goal is to make the organization sustainable and resilient. In the long term, the powerful Green Teams model will be replicated to other Canadian cities.  This DSF video summarizes their model:

For more information on Green Teams, or to register with their Meet-Up app, here’s the link.

Yellowstone to Yukon: Highway 3


Last week, I had a chance to drop in to the new office of Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) in Canmore, Alberta, and have a coffee with Jennifer Hoffman and Stephen Legault. We’ve supported their work in land-use planning, and in wildlife corridor development, and we had a chance to talk about the recently completed work on Highway 3 in southern Alberta. Wildlife mortality was tracked with a new app that was used by land-owners, highway maintenance workers and local volunteers to identify the precise locations for wildlife underpasses. As you can see from the photo of the underpass construction, the big horn sheep are indeed ever present at the Crows Nest Lakes site, and this project is already a huge success story.

The strength of this work is the network of commitment that was established with all the community partners: the Ministry of Transportation, the highway maintenance company (Volker Stevin), the municipality, environmental groups and landowners.

This approach means that each project and site requires a lot of leg work  and each has its own dynamics, but that said, there will be a lot of carry-over from this successful project. The wildlife-tracking app for example, will be used in northern BC next.

For more information on making Highway 3 wildlife-friendly, and on Y2Y, here’s the link.

Ecojustice/Ontario Nature



On Tuesday, April 19, I spent the day at Osgoode Hall to hear the appeal of an Ontario Divisional Court decision on the Endangered Species Act. The appeal was launched by Ontario Nature, who were represented by Ecojustice lawyers, and we’ve supported both groups in their educational programs. At issue is the right of the cabinet to set regulations that give wide-ranging exemptions to major industries. ON argued that these exemptions are so broad that they gut the power of the Act and contradict the spirit and letter of the Act. We look forward to the decision.

Ontario Nature Youth Council Weekend


On Saturday, we had a chance to visit the Ontario Nature Youth Leadership Summit where about 40 motivated, articulate young people from all over the province shared a weekend of leadership training and campaign planning.

Intriguingly, when I asked a group of the students if their respective high schools had environment clubs, many said that they did not. That only underlined the need for ON’s Youth Council, which was started in 2010, in giving young people a way to be involved and transformative on environmental issues. The outcome of the weekend (at the beautiful YMCA Cedar Glen camp) will be the choice of a priority issue for the Youth Council work in the coming year. The leadership group will stay in touch by conference calls every month to continue to plan events and campaigns throughout the year. The next big youth event is the Summit in September. We’re looking forward to it already.

For more information on the Youth Leadership program at ON, here’s the link.

Jacquard Looms at Lang Pioneer Village Museum

One of the most important technical advances of the Industrial Revolution, and the ancestor of binary code use (by punch cards), is the Jacquard Loom, invented in France in the early 1800’s.

The “Head” of the Jacquard loom: 5000 knots!

On Saturday, two of our directors (the two Jim O’Reilly’s) had a chance to visit one of our old projects: the Replica Jacquard Loom at Lang Pioneer Village Museum, south-east of Peterborough. In 2002 and in 2011, we funded the re-building of Jacquard looms that were used in the Peterborough area in the 1880’s by Samuel Lowry. In the 1900’s they fell into disrepair, came close to being destroyed, and were bought for $10 in 1956, by Mrs. Dini Moes. She in turn donated what was left of them to LPVM in 1973. Incredibly, at the time the re-build project started, there were only 5 Jacquard looms in North America and Lang Pioneer Village Museum had 2 of them! And fortuitously, there was an expert weaver and cabinetmaker, Didier Schvartz, in the community, who committed his skill and hundreds of hours to the project.

What a testament to the imagination and commitment of the LPVM community and the County of Peterborough: what started as the rebuilding of the looms has grown onto the Samuel Lowry Interpretive Centre  for weaving, the Festival of Textiles and ongoing Master Classes in fabric arts and technology. Many groups and dozens of people contributed to this program, both financially and with huge amounts of volunteer time, and we are proud to have been a small part of it.

Celebrating an incredible achievement in heritage conservation and programming.

Native Earth Performing Arts


In June, I had a chance to sit in on one of the Animikiig  workshops for young playwrights of First Nations/Metis/Innuit  backgrounds. It’s a 2 year program with the goal of training playwrights to develop scripts for production. Some sessions are built around exercises, and some are readings and discussions, and I attended the reading/discussion of Blue Moon Girls, by Jessica Lea Fleming – the story of returning to a place of one’s youth, and remembering and confronting the reasons for leaving.

Isaac Thomas, the Executive Director of NEPA,  lead the discussion and analysis, helping us examine the strongest images, scenes and themes of the work – a process which is exciting and exhausting at the same time.

All the participants in Animikiig collaborate with a dramaturg as well, and are working towards preparing pieces for the Young Voices night of the Weesageechak Begins to Dance Festival (November 9 – 22, 2015), which is a fantastic chance to see the best work of young indigenous playwrights.

Walrus Talks Philanthropy

A few of the directors went to the Walrus Talks Philanthropy on November 25, at a full Koerner Hall in Toronto. As per the format of Walrus Talks, each of the 8 speakers had 7 minutes in which to address the subject, and as per the usual unusual perspectives at Walrus Talks, the speakers put forward some challenging points of view. It was a provocative evening and, in a nutshell, none of the speakers said that philanthropy is just giving money to good causes. Among the highlights, with the link to watch each one via the Walrus website:

Michael Koerner explained how entrepreneur skills and philanthropy could be used effectively together, and the hall where the Talks took place was the evidence (the brilliant acoustics were put to good use when the sound system cut out later in the Talks, and Bill Young was able to proceed perfectly audibly).

 Justin Poy tackled the subject of philanthropy among recent immigrant groups, and said that there’s no short-cut: getting to know the community and its values is the only way to make the connection.

Terry O’Reilly (no relation of mine) jumped right into using the power of the consumer and active choices to market philanthropic consumption.

Bill Young fearlessly challenged foundations to be more than growth-based mutual funds with a slightly-higher-charitable-rate-of-giving, and use their capitol for active projects.

And Tom Jackson framed all the discussions with the point that each person’s sense of community is the driving force behind charity, and the point is to always widen the community.

There’s no doubt that Walrus Talks bring out new points of view, and this was one of the best yet. We’re very happy to continue to be Walrus Foundation supporters.


Canadian Institute for Advanced Research


Last week, we had the chance to hear the news about the four new research themes at CIFAR. His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston was in attendance to express his enthusiasm for the network-creating philosophy of CIFAR and its impact on Canadian science. Dr Alan Bernstein (President and CEO) described the CIFAR as being a global university without departments – that is, scientists from a variety of areas work together on the most important themes in science today.

Chawkers funded one of the Global Scholars in the Earth System Evolution program this year, Ken Ferrier, whose area of research is earth surface topology changes and the implications for climate. Global Scholars are young researchers who are brought into the multi-disciplinary groups and contribute to the collaborative design of the research. They also work with mentors who will stress the development of leadership in their field.

At the dinner, CIFAR announced that it will be creating research teams in four areas: photosynthetic photovoltaics, the molecular basis of life, microbes and humans, and brain-mind-consciousness.


PACT Grow to Learn


Yesterday, I had a chance to visit the amazing schoolyard garden run by PACT. It is a huge (and growing) garden on the northwest part of the John Polanyi Collegiate property, near Bathurst and Lawrence in Toronto. Even as the garden winds down for the winter, the work put into the garden and the output (vegetable and human) are impressive.

Adam Dirks gave me a tour of the vegetable plots, the chicken house, the learning area and the compost facilities. He was on his lunch hour, between morning and afternoon programs with the high school students. Teachers at John Polanyi bring their classes out to work in the garden, cook, study nutrition, plan marketing, run markets, design community outreach, and sometimes just to use the space as a thoughtful place to be and learn. Students from many elementary schools also visit the garden regularly, and Isabella, one of the facilitators, says that the programs are designed to help students learn with all their senses, which gives them a powerful, positive and long-lasting learning experience about food, ecology and the outdoors.

Every type of vegetable that you can imagine, and many that you might not have heard of (cardoon, anyone?) are grown, and the range of fruit and nuts is expanding in the next few years as well. The produce is donated to food banks and some is sold at farmers markets and food co-ops in Toronto, with proceeds going back into the program.

After the tour, Adam made pizza in the oven (that the students built), and served it with one of the best salads (made of fresh young lettuce) that I have ever had!

As well as teaching the practical skills and knowledge that go into producing food, the garden is a community hub for the area, and outreach into the neighbourhood connects students and adults from across cultures and backgrounds. The garden gets great community support and attention, and through that, runs all summer, even when school’s out.

There are many ways that students can work in the garden: teachers can bring classes out occasionally, or on a regular basis, students can do a co-op course for a term, and young people can get paid positions or volunteer over the summer. What the garden proves so well is that many students learn best outside a traditional classroom, and the garden provides that opportunity in both a multi-faceted and an integrated way.

PACT runs four other garden facilities around Toronto, and is looking to expand its greenhouse so that it can run winter programs as well. The Chawkers Foundation helped to fund the development of more classroom materials for high school and middle school, which will be available for teachers to use when they plan a visit to the garden.

To find out more about PACT’s many other programs and their other 4 beautiful gardens, go to their website at .