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Giller Prize winner visits campus

Equipped with his whirring theremin, the winner of the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Sean Michaels, visited campus on Friday.

Sean Michaels performs a short song on his theremin. (University Communications)

Mr. Michaels, whose debut novel Us Conductors received one of Canada’s top literary prizes, kept an audience at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre riveted with a lecture, reading and question and answer period. He even gave a brief performance on his theremin, an instrument that plays a central role in Us Conductors.

The novel tells the mostly true story of Lev Termen, the Russian scientist, inventor and spy who created the theremin, as he rises to prominence in the Soviet Union and moves to the United States to promote his new electronic instrument and perform espionage for the Russian government.

Though not a musician himself, music has been important to Mr. Michaels’ career. He created one of the internet’s first mp3 music blogs, Said the Gramophone, and the creation and performance of music runs throughout Us Conductors.

“I guess I took the easier path, in that I wasn’t particularly gifted in performing music and I didn’t take that much pleasure from it,” Mr. Michaels says. “Playing music never clicked that strongly, whereas writing does … To me [making music] is less fun than being alone with my adjectives.”

That preference for writing has served him well, making him only the second debut novelist ever to win the Giller Prize, something he’s still in disbelief about.

“The Giller feels like something that happened to me, rather than something I actually did,” he says. “I’ve always wanted three things from my writing career: to produce work which I feel is good, to connect through my writing to other people, and to be able to have enough of a readership that I can support myself to write. The Giller’s made the third one that much easier.”

Mr. Michaels’ visit was facilitated by the Department of English Language and Literature, which has hosted the recipient of the Giller Prize annually for eight years. 

FIT TIP: Rest essential to your health

With the aim of helping faculty and staff ‘Get your 150’ (minutes of recommended exercise a week) to improve health and wellness, the Gazette and Athletics and Recreation will be offering a Fit Tip in each edition.

Are you getting enough sleep, giving yourself a chance to rest? Here are three things to consider to improve your wellbeing:

Sleep: Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day and remove all electronics from the bedroom.

Physical Activity: To sleep better try getting regular physical activity. Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity per week.  

Daily Rest: Research shows that there are significant benefits to including moments of rest into your day. Try taking a few minutes in a quiet space and practice deep breathing or spend time in nature.
Rest is critical for your wellbeing. Take care of yourself.

Raising awareness

[Aboriginal Awareness Week]
Aboriginal Awareness Week includes a bannock sale, medicine shield-making workshop and the Indigenous Celebration of Arts, Culture and Dance at the Tett Centre.  From left, are QNSA members,: Alyssa Jeavons; Leah Combs; Brittany Town; Holly McCann; and Melanie Gray. (University Communications)

This year, the Queen’s Native Students’ Association (QNSA) wants to get people of all backgrounds involved in Aboriginal Awareness Week. The week, which runs from March 16-21, celebrates indigenous histories and cultures with a wide array of events.

“I’ve often found that when I tell people about QNSA and the work we do, they feel like they can’t take part because they aren’t of indigenous ancestry, or if they are, because they don’t feel connected to that part of themselves,” says Leah Combs (Artsci’16), President of QNSA. “We want our events to be spaces where anyone can learn about these issues and not feel like they’re stepping out of their place.”

Among the week’s events are a bannock sale at University Avenue and Union Street, a medicine shield-making workshop at Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre and a panel discussion in Grant Hall about missing and murdered aboriginal women. The panel discussion, which concludes the Our Stolen Sisters radio series by CFRC, will feature Queen’s professors Robert Lovelace (Global Development Studies), Sam McKegney (English Language and Literature), as well as Dr. Dawn Harvard, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

Capping off the week will be the Indigenous Celebration of Arts, Culture and Dance, held for the first time at the newly-opened Tett Centre. Along with crafts and traditional food vendors, the celebration will have a performance by a Haudenosaunee water drummer, Metis jigging, and performance by the Red Spirit Singers and Dancers.

Throughout Aboriginal Awareness Week, QNSA will have a history exhibit in the lower ceilidh of the John Deutsch University Centre. They’ve worked with the City of Kingston to create a visual presentation of Kingston’s indigenous peoples throughout history.

“We’re trying to tie in histories of indigenous groups in Kingston to groups that are here now — we want to bring the past to the present and look towards the future.”

Along with raising awareness about indigenous issues, many of the week’s events will raise funds to support a new initiative started by QNSA. With the Northern Food Security Initiative, the QNSA is sponsoring an impoverished Inuit family who live in Taloyoak, Nunavut. Each month, the group is sending the family traditionally hunted foods, such as musk ox and caribou, or supplies of their choosing. Donation boxes will be present at each of the week’s events for those looking to make a contribution.

“It’s important to understand that the issues indigenous peoples in Canada face are the responsibilities of all Canadians, not just those with indigenous ancestry,” says Ms. Combs.

View the full schedule of Aboriginal Awareness Week events.

Springing into action

Were you cooped up these past few months, avoiding the seemingly endless snowy, cold conditions? Human Resources and Athletics and Recreation (A&R) offer wellness program to help shake off the winter slumber.

“Staying active during the winter months can challenge the most dedicated fitness enthusiasts. With warmer conditions just around the corner, there’s no better time to start thinking about getting fit and we’re here to help,” says Shannon Hill, the Learning and Development Specialist in Human Resources.

[Yoga]
Kirsteen MacLeod leads a yoga for managing stress class, one of many health and wellness offerings from Human Resources and Athletics and Recreation. Visit the HR learning catalogue to register for spring classes. 

Ms. Hill and Tiffany Bambrick, Coordinator of Fitness and Wellness Programs in A&R, work in partnership to offer extensive wellness programs. The university earned a Workplace Wellness Gold Award in 2014 from Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health for its ongoing commitment and support for workplace wellness initiatives.

One popular offering is the walking program, a lunch-time program that includes a circuit of strength training exercises and information on a variety of health topics.

“The feedback we have received about this program has been tremendous,” Ms. Bambrick says. “We’ve heard that staff and faculty find it refreshing to get active over the lunch hour while enjoying the spring weather.”

Other spring session programs include Pilates, gentle yoga and yoga for managing stress.

The warm weather also marks the return of grilling season for many people. HR aims to help staff and faculty spice up their grilling skills with its “Healthy BBQ” Lunch and Learn session on April 24. Other upcoming Lunch and Learn sessions include “Stress Busters” (April 16), “The Journey to Wellness (May 20) and “The Emotional Effects of Retirement (June 16).

Registration is now open for the walking, yoga and Pilates classes. Due to popular demand, the yoga and Pilates classes are now offered in 12-week sessions. Visit the HR learning catalogue online to learn more about the wellness programs and HR’s other workshops and certificate programs.

A spotlight on secrets

Secret Trial 5 is being shown at The Screening Room this Sunday and Queen’s University professor Sharry Aiken has a significant role in the film, discussing the human impact of the war on terror. The film examines the Canadian government’s use of security certificates, an immigration tool that allows the government to deport non-citizens it deems a threat to national security.

Following the 4 pm showing Sunday, March 15 at The Screening Room, Professor Aiken will take part in a question and answer period.

“The film had already been conceived and the filmmakers approached me about appearing in it based on my research and advocacy,” says Professor Aiken. “I’ve been involved in efforts to challenge the use of security certificates since the 1990s."

Security certificates have been part of Canada’s immigration legislation for decades; over time, they have morphed into an anti-terrorism tool. Evidence against detainees is never fully revealed and parts of the hearings are held in secret.

Professor Aiken says the film shines a true light on these immigration procedures. “The Canadian public doesn’t know about these measures that are extremely draconian. People can expect to see a gripping film and leave the theatre angry and shocked. The film makes this situation very real.”

Secret Trial 5 examines the lives of five men who were arrested under the security certificate provision and detained for nearly 30 years combined. The filmmakers also speak with the men's family members, friends and the wider community about the impact of their arrests.

The film is also timely as the federal government debates amendments to Bill C-51, an anti-terrorism bill that Professor Aiken says could make security certificate procedures even more problematic. “The biggest obstruction to justice is the secret evidence withheld from individuals subject to immigration security procedures. Bill C-51 proposes to make withholding of evidence even easier and the process even more unbalanced,” she says.

The showing at The Screening Room is set for Sunday at both 4 and 7 pm. Along with Professor Aiken, the filmmakers will be on hand to answer questions after the screening.

Disraeli Project focus of conference presentation at Oxford

The work of Queen’s University’s Disraeli Project will be the focus of a presentation at a special one-day symposium about the former British prime minister to be held at Oxford University.

[Michel Pharand]
Michel W. Pharand, director of the Disraeli Project, seen here in front of Benjamin Disraeli's writing desk at Hughenden Manor, will make a presentation at an upcoming conference on the former British prime minister at Oxford University. (Submitted photo)

Michel W. Pharand, the director of the Disraeli Project, was invited to speak to a group of Benjamin Disraeli scholars on March 24. This will be a great opportunity, Dr. Pharand points out, to get the word out on the research done at the Project.

Decades of research by the Project’s team of scholars has involved annotating the more than 12,000 letters written by Disraeli, half of which have now been published in 10 volumes in the University of Toronto Press’s series Benjamin Disraeli Letters.

Another great opportunity the symposium offers, says Dr. Pharand, is to make connections with other experts in the field.

“There’s going to be a number of scholars there. All of us giving papers are Disraeli people. Although I’ve not met any of them, I know many of them by name and reputation. I’ve read some of their books,” Dr. Pharand says. “It’s essentially a one-day opportunity to bring the world’s Disraeli experts together in a public forum open to all.”

There is also a big development on the horizon for the Disraeli Project: this year it celebrates its 40th anniversary with the online publication, most likely in September, of most of the project’s published letters and all of its unpublished ones.

“That has become a very important aspect of the Disraeli Project: world access to our collection. Of course none of the letters will have annotations, the scholarly material that make our books so valuable,” Dr. Pharand explains. “For that, people will have to wait until the books are published.”

'Harrowing stories' on the Ebola frontline

The battle against the spread of the Ebola goes on in Sierra Leone with posters in the capital city Freetown providing information on how to reduce the chances of spreading the deadly virus. (Submitted photo)

While the Ebola crisis in West Africa has primarily disappeared from the headlines, the ravages of the deadly virus continue.

Mainstream media attention has moved on, yet the international effort to contain the outbreak continues and a Queen’s University professor is in Sierra Leone and Liberia working to improve the response to the disease.

Udo Schuklenk (Philosophy) traveled to the affected areas to produce a report on expanded access to experimental drugs for Ebola patients for Medecins Sans Frontieres. Dr. Schuklenk has done continuing research on the issue of access to experimental drugs for catastrophically-ill patients ever since he undertook his doctoral research in the 1990s.

It’s been an eye-opening experience he says. Hearing the stories from survivors first-hand and seeing the effects of the virus will certainly have a lasting impact.

“As part of the consultancy work I am undertaking I had to talk to a number of Ebola survivors. The harrowing stories of whole families being wiped out one after another is not something that I will forget for quite some time to come. Truly devastating experiences,” he says. “It will take a long time for those survivors’ wounds to heal, if they ever will.”

Those who enter the outbreak zone are walking into another world, one where nobody is allowed to touch another person. Dr. Schuklenk says the no-contact policy takes some getting used and affects daily interactions.

Also, to prevent further spread of the virus there are “endless disinfection rituals,” involving chlorine solutions of various strengths. Hand washing is so regimented and rigorous that it takes up a significant portion of the day. Even shoes are sprayed pretty much continuously, he says.

There are reminders that the crisis is far from over.

A day after Dr. Schuklenk sent his replies to the Gazette’s questions Sierra Leone’s vice president was put into quarantine after his bodyguard died of Ebola. On the same day in the capital city Freetown all public transportation was halted at 6 pm and parts of city were quarantined.

As he has traveled through the country he has also gained a better understanding of its people’s plight, even without the virus. Sierra Leone was devastated by a civil war and average life expectancy is around 40 years while basic necessities of life like reliable electricity or water supply do not exist in many parts of the country.

“One village we visited had neither electricity nor access to clean water,” he says. “People fetched their water from a nearby swamp. In that same small village 40 people died of Ebola virus disease. I met a few of those who survived it, all complained about their infection’s continuing negative effects on their quality of life, including severe joint pain, problems with their eye sight and other issues.”

Still Dr. Schuklenk says there are positives to be seen.

Despite all Sierra Leone has been through Dr. Schuklenk says he “can't help but feel optimistic about the country.”

Roadblocks where people are checked for signs of Ebola infection are everywhere yet infrastructure work continues. Schools have been closed for about 10 months due to the outbreak but the government is considering re-opening them by the end of March, he says.

And, amazingly, there are chance encounters.

Dr. Schuklenk met a Queen’s nursing alumnus, Rebecca Ngan (NSc’07), at an emergency medical centre near the village of Makambo where she was taking care of Ebola patients, donning her protective ‘space’ gear in temperatures over 30C.

Students show their appreciation

The Alma Mater Society presented four Queen’s staff with awards this week for “going above and beyond in support of students.”

Recipients of the award were (l-r): Vicky Andrews, Sarah Indewey, Dan Langham, followed by the three AMS executive members and David Patterson. (Photo Supplied)

Recipients of the AMS Staff Award, who were nominated by students across all years and disciplines, come from different corners of the university.

Vicky Andrews, Concurrent Education Assistant, says winning the award was special.

“Because this award is one that’s given by students, I think it’s that much more meaningful,” she says. “We’re unique here in that we have such a small faculty size, so the students know who I am and I get to know them too. It’s a nice, personal relationship.”

Another of the winners was Sarah Indewey (Advancement), whose nomination called her “the most enjoyable person to work with.” Ms. Indewey was praised for her energy, commitment and for the unparalleled support and guidance she provided to student-led initiatives.

The final two winners were Dan Langham (Environmental Health and Safety) and David Patterson (Campus Security and Emergency Services), who were recognized for their contribution to the ReUnion Street Festival.

“Both Dan and David were more than willing to help make sure the festival ran smoothly,” says Philip Lloyd (ConEd’13) and Vice-President (University Affairs) of the AMS. “They came in early, stayed late, and always made sure we asked the right questions.”

Mr. Lloyd’s gratitude extended to all of the winners.

“All four of these people are incredibly deserving,” he says. “There are lots of staff here at Queen’s who are excellent and I hope students continue to go the extra step to recognize them. This sort of appreciation goes a long way.”

Full award citations can be found on the AMS website

New edition of the Gazette

The March 10 edition of the Gazette is out and distributed around Queen’s campus, as well as a number of off-campus locations.

[Gazette 03-24-2015]
View the Gazette online.

The newspaper is filled with interesting Queen's-focused items including:

  • A look ahead to the events planned for Aboriginal Awareness Week, starting March 16
  • The first in a series of profiles of staff, called People of Queen's
  • A look at efforts to improve the amount of waste that is diverted from the landfill.
  • Articles on the latest research, awards and achievements of student-athletes.

The Gazette is published bi-weekly; the next edition will hit the newsstands on March 24.

Anyone looking to get a story, photo or information in the Gazette can contact the paper's editor Andrew Carroll or Senior Communications Officer Mark Kerr.

Also visit the Gazette Online for more stories and photos and follow us on Twitter at @queensuGazette.

Getting back to Gaelic

With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, Danny Doyle (MAC’15) is reminding campus that we’re more Irish than we realize.

Danny Doyle stands in front of the official Gaelic translation of "O Canada". (University Communications)

On Thursday, March 12, he’ll be delivering a public lecture on the history of the Gaelic language in Canada, from its early spread and use, to the large influx of speakers during the Great Irish Famine and the causes for the language’s eventual decline.  

“It’s accepted in scholarship that people left Ireland speaking Gaelic, but what’s never been discussed is what happened to them when they arrived in Canada,” says Mr. Doyle. “It’s not as though they got off the boat and stopped speaking the language.”

On the contrary, Mr. Doyle says that Gaelic, in its various dialects, was once Canada’s third-most spoken language. One in 10 Canadians were fluent in Gaelic at the time of confederation and it was the mother tongue of many of the country’s political founders — Sir John A Macdonald himself spoke Scottish Gaelic. There was once even a bill in the House of Commons that proposed making Gaelic Canada’s third official language.

The beginning of the decline in Gaelic’s popularity came with the Great Famine, a period of mass starvation that afflicted Ireland from 1845-52 when a blight ravaged the country’s potato crop.

“The famine did horrible things to the language, because it primarily affected rural farmers who were mostly Gaelic speakers. People’s opinion of the language was devastated. It was an ancestral indigenous language which people believed had been spoken since the Tower of Babel,” says Mr. Doyle. “Suddenly, after the famine, it became the language of death and poverty. Speaking English symbolized moving on with your life.”

Mr. Doyle is part of a small but dedicated group who are trying to revive Gaelic in Canada. As the group’s unofficial heritage officer, he began assembling a record of the language’s use, a project that grew and grew until he had enough content for a manuscript, which will be published later this year. Thursday’s lecture is culled from the content of his book, which brings to light information about the country as a whole as well as some places close to home.

“In 1847, more than 49,000 Gaelic speakers came through Kingston as they travelled along the Rideau Canal. They stopped here before redistributing to other communities, but Kingston became a big centre for Gaelic speakers,” he says.

Along with having a Gaelic newspaper, Kingston began celebrating traditional Irish holidays, and Mr. Doyle says the first recorded celebration of Halloween (derived from the Irish festival of Samhain) in North America was in Kingston.

By bringing to light Gaelic’s history in Canada, Mr. Doyle hopes to reignite people’s interest in a language that was fundamental to the country.

“It’s said that Gaelic culture is a tapestry that’s been ravaged by time, so we have to gather together all those threads lest we lose it,” he says.

Mile Mile I gCein: 500 Years of Irish Gaelic in Canada is Thursday, March 12 at 7 pm in 517 Watson Hall.

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