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The Conversation: Canada left behind as ride-hailing services go global

[Andras Vas/Unsplash]
Ride-hailing services have gone global and is now a mobility option in 89 countries, serving more than 2,600 cities around the world. (Photo by Andras Vas/Unsplash)

Like it or not, ride-hailing has become an established, regulated and accepted form of transportation in most of Canada’s largest cities.

Canadian cities aren’t unique in this regard. Ride-hailing is now a mobility option in 89 countries, serving more than 2,600 cities around the world.

By adopting a global outlook, Canada can better understand, manage and benefit from the integration of ride-hailing as a component of urban mobility.

Global scale

In Toronto and in many North American cities, ride-hailing was initially seen as a disruption to the taxi industry, a heavily licensed and regulated municipal sector. But ride-hailing is maturing, and firms continue to innovate and expand through a variety of modifications to ride-hailing services such as pooling and subscriptions.

Ride-hailing companies are also investing in other mobility services including bikes and scooters. And they’re leveraging their network of drivers to provide other logistics services like food delivery.

Globally, ride-hailing firms abide by place and city-specific regulations and policies while simultaneously catering their services to appeal to local markets and cultural practices. In Canada, the United States, the U.K. and Singapore, ride-hailing means travelling by car.

However, in places like Indonesia, Vietnam and Uganda, hailing a ride can mean riding on the back of a motorcycle. Jakarta is a city of more than 10 million people known for crushing congestion and a dearth of reliable public transit. The arrival of ride-hailing firms has been credited for offering a workaround to congestion.

This is because ride-hailing is bringing products and services directly to customers. In India, passengers can even hail a tuk-tuk.

The unicorns of ride-hailing

As ride-hailing becomes an increasingly accepted mode of transportation with relatively low barriers to entry and expansion, ride-hailing firms have gone global.

Uber, with operations in 66 countries, exemplifies the global reach of ride-hailing. But Uber is hardly alone.

There are now 12 ride-hailing firms that have reached what’s known as “unicorn” status. This means that they are startup firms with a market valuation of $1 billion or more. These ride-hailing unicorns are Uber, Didi-Chuxing, Lyft, Grab, Ola, Go-Jek, Yandex, Cabify, Gett, Careem, 99 and Taxify.

Their headquarter locations range from San Francisco to Sao Paulo, Dubai to Beijing, exemplifying the global reach of ride-hailing. They are also the recipients of significant venture capital investments. Based on an examination of venture capital investment in urban tech, ride-hailing and mobility service firms attracted more than 60 per cent — or greater than $40 billion —of all urban tech investments between 2016 and 2018.

These firms also lead as innovators by building new mobility services. Others combine products and services in new ways, taking advantage of technology, algorithms, networks and concentrations of people.

In Indonesia, for example, credit card adoption rates are below seven per cent, and most people don’t have bank accounts. Therefore, local startup Go-Jek is not just a ride-hailing company, but also a financial services firm offering a cashless payment system woven into its app.

In Singapore, local ride-hailing unicorn Grab invested $6 million in an artificial intelligence centre and partnership with the National University of Singapore. The centre will focus on using data collected by Grab to address mobility challenges faced across Southeast Asia.

And in India, Ola has partnered with government agencies, civic organizations and private sector firms on social entrepreneurship initiatives that train drivers, promote female entrepreneurship and emphasize sustainability through fuel choices.

Tiny Estonia has a ride-hailing unicorn

There are no ride-hailing unicorns headquartered in Canada. While Canada may represent a relatively small market in global terms, the most recent entrant to the ride-hailing unicorns club is Taxify.

Taxify is headquartered in Tallinn, Estonia, a former country of the Soviet Union with a population of just 1.3 million. Tallinn is a city that was pretty much on nobody’s map of global cities. The city, and Taxify, are emblematic of a new global economic geography of innovative firms and cities. Taxify currently operates in 28 countries, including Australia, Nigeria and Canada.

The rapid globalization of local ground transportation services was unexpected. But thanks to what’s known as the “platform economy,” many local services have been reconfigured into global ones with consequences for markets, firms and places.

The platform economy is comprised of big data, algorithms and cloud computing. These come together to create new digital infrastructure on which entire new markets and ecosystems operate.

This digital infrastructure has created new value for its owners and is an essential part of a reconfigured globalization. The global economy is being reorganized so that the owners and operators of these platforms are also the owners of the data and power. This power may be even more formidable than that held by the factory-owners of the early Industrial Revolution.

Ground transportation has until recently been a local concern and deeply rooted in place. For instance, public transit agencies like the Toronto Transit Commission or Vancouver’s TransLink are operated locally or regionally. Taxi brokerages also tend to operate locally.

Ride-hailing, however, is part of the platform economy infrastructure. This unique form of digitization allowed firms to expand rapidly to multiple markets, multiple languages and multiple sets of regulations and guidelines.

Ride-hailing depends on mobilizing local citizens to contribute, but it’s also profoundly global, with powerful consequences for the platform owners and those cities that house them.

The challenge for Canada

Canada is facing challenges because it’s simply become a consumer of platform ride-hailing products. We do not house any of the ride-hailing headquarters. We are not developing our own stand-alone mobility solutions for the world stage.

As multinational ride-hailing platforms firms take the lead on ground transportation services in Canadian cities, they also gain exclusive access to a treasure chest of data on people and places.

Our future economy depends on our public agencies having the knowledge and power to make informed policy choices around mobility investments. As our largest cities struggle with congestion, it’s now more important than ever to step up and invest in our urban mobility futures.

The sort of economy and society we create in this transition to digital platforms will be determined by the social, political and business choices we make. Canada needs to lead, not follow, in the global race for better mobility.The Conversation


Betsy Donald is professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at Queen's. She is also a Registered Professional Planner.

This article was originally published on The Conversation, which provides news and views from the academic and research community. Queen’s University is a founding partner. Queen's researchers, faculty, and students are regular contributors.

The Conversation, which provides news and views from the academic and research community. Queen’s University is a founding partner. Queen's researchers, faculty, and students are regular contributors. The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Living off the land

For 18 students, the great outdoors was their classroom as part of a field study course.

  • [Queen's University Global Development Studies Re-Indigenizing course Eel Lake]
    DEVS 480 student participate in a workshop on identifying and preparing medicinal plants. Many students were surprised to learn that many natural remedies often grow alongside harmful plants such as poison ivy. (Supplied Photo)
  • [Queen's University Global Development Studies Re-Indigenizing course Eel Lake]
    At Big Rock in the River, Professor Lovelace talks about recent conflicts over access to Indigenous food resources like Manòmin, also known as wild rice. In some instances, settlers have stood in solidarity with Indigenous peoples to oppose commercialization and unsustainable harvesting methods. (Supplied Photo)
  • [Queen's University Global Development Studies Re-Indigenizing course Eel Lake]
    After learning about Indigenous architecture, building a secure shelter is one of the first group activities students do when they arrive on the land. Global Development Studies major Wyatt Julien reviews some of the Indigenous theory readings that are an integral part of the course. (Supplied Photo)
  • [Queen's University Global Development Studies Re-Indigenizing course Eel Lake]
    Students get hands on experience harvesting Manòmin and learn how much work is involved to earn high quality calories like rice. Indigenous methods of harvesting are sustainable and preserve the health of the rice beds for future generations. (Supplied Photo)
  • [Queen's University Global Development Studies Re-Indigenizing course Eel Lake]
    Students and instructors pose for one last picture before heading back to Kingston. Cameo appearance by Professor Lovelace's dog Blue. (Supplied Photo)

Hunting, fishing, harvesting wild rice, and building your own shelter – DEVS 480 is a course unlike any other. These activities aren’t just worth marks, they are also what you need to do to keep your belly full and maintain a roof over your head.

The course, which has the full name “Re-Indigenizing People and Environments”, is taught by professors Robert Lovelace and Richard Day from the Department of Global Development Studies, and is supported by many community volunteers.

This field study begins with seven weeks of online study, readings, and discussion before taking students out on the land. Participants then travel to Eel Lake north of Kingston for the field portion of the course.

For the following eight days, students live off of the land in an Indigenous lifestyle, they participate in Indigenous cultural practices like sweat lodges, and complete an in-depth study of Indigenous theory.

“To secure good air, water, food, and relationships, human beings need a close relationship with the earth. Recognizing that we are dependent on the material earth but also upon the symbiotic processes – the interrelated actions – of earth is a beginning,” says Mr. Lovelace.

In addition to foraging for food and building a shelter, the students also hunted with a bow and arrow, learned about medicinal plants, and participated in workshops on tool making, managing soil, and growing food, harvesting, and preserving food.

Jessica Franko (Artsci’19) enrolled in the course seeking something “tangible” and “unique” in her university experience. The course was full of those moments, but what stood out the most for her was harvesting wild rice.

“It really changes how you think of the labour that goes into your food, and changes your connection to the food,” she says. “We all cooked for each other and quite literally fed each other – we had a day we were not allowed to feed ourselves – and this sparked discussions around food security and our relationship to food.”

Ms. Franko is quick to point out, however, the challenges are not just physical – they are also mental and emotional.

“There was a lot of theorizing in this class and I sometimes found it difficult to engage in the heavy hitting phrases like decolonization or re-indigenization,” she explains. “These are not easy terms to work through without the proper context, readings, and guidance. We had a lot of difficult conversations trying to figure out where, as settlers, we fit into the discourse.”

Max Lindley Peart (Sc’19, Artsci’19) similarly found the mix of theoretical and practical knowledge useful and challenging. After hearing about the course from upper year students, he had been hoping to enroll – and it didn’t disappoint.

“This course didn’t only privilege learning from a very intellectual perspective – it also gave lessons which were very emotional,” he says. “This came to a point for me when, on our last night on the land, we held a campfire and brought out music, stories, and jokes as a community. It really reinforced for me how we became a community – when we got back to Kingston, none of us wanted to say goodbye.”

“Throughout the whole field study, my heart felt full because I was doing this with a community of friends I could be open and honest with,” he adds. “There is no better learning environment, and it’s the kind of environment I will strive to create wherever I go after this.”

DEVS 480 is only offered every second year. The course is open to all students but mainly attracts students from the Faculty of Arts and Science, and a mix of Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners. To learn more about Global Development Studies course offerings, visit the Department’s website.

An artful donation

The most prolific donors in Queen’s history have added to their legacy with a gift of just over $1 million (U.S.).

[Rembrandt van Rijn, Head of an Old Man in a Cap, around 1630, oil on panel. Gift of Alfred and Isabel Bader, 2003 (46-031).
Rembrandt van Rijn, Head of an Old Man in a Cap, around 1630, oil on panel. Gift of Alfred and Isabel Bader, 2003 (46-031). Photo by John Glembin

Alfred Bader (Sc’45, Arts’46, MSc’47, LLD’86), and Isabel Bader (LLD’07) have agreed to support four projects, all of which exemplify their passion for the arts. 

“The visual and performing arts are important for all people,” says Isabel Bader. “Sharing these opportunities is important. We all blossom when we are helped and encouraged. This is why we are supporting these programs.”

Alfred is a lifelong art collector with a special appreciation for Dutch and Flemish paintings from the Baroque period, and two of the four projects reflect this interest.

The gift includes a $645,000 donation to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre to promote The Bader Collection, The Agnes’s prized collection of more than 200 European paintings donated by the Baders. The money will fund a touring exhibition – the Collection’s first in 30 years – that will launch in Fall 2019 at The Agnes. The exhibition, Leiden, circa 1630: Rembrandt Emerges, focuses on a pivotal period in Rembrandt’s development as an artist and his artistic network in his native Leiden. It will also fund The Isabel and Alfred Bader Lecture in European Art, a lecture that will give Queen’s students and faculty access to some of the world’s most-acclaimed scholars. A portion of the gift is also earmarked for creating a digital platform for the Collection so that students, scholars, and art enthusiasts around the world can enjoy easy online access to these treasures and related research.

The gift also includes a $200,000 donation to the Department of Art History and Art Conservation to purchase a digitally assisted 3-D microscope and an electromagnetic multi-band image scanner. 

“These two pieces will transform our ability to examine works of art without destroying them,” says Patricia Smithen (MA’93), a professor in the department who specializes in paintings conservation. “No other school in Canada can offer students the opportunity to develop these skills.” 

While Alfred is a visual arts aficionado, Isabel is a long-time musician who enjoys all forms of the performing arts. The remaining two projects reflect her passions.

A third component of the gift is $70,000 for the Musicians in Residence Program at the Bader International Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle near Isabel’s former home in East Sussex, England. The funding will enable musicians in residence Shelley Katz and Diana Gilchrist to relaunch the long-dormant Castle Concert Series, host free masterclasses and lecture-recitals for students, and take students to off-campus cultural events.

The final component is $150,000 to fund Queen’s first-ever Indigenous arts festival and an ambitious exhibition. A collaboration between The Agnes and the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, the festival will take place at both venues in March.  

“With the Baders’ support, we can celebrate and affirm the vitality of contemporary Indigenous arts across music, dance, theatre, and film,” says Tricia Baldwin, Director of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. “We can all take part in thought-provoking conversations that will arise as Indigenous artists come together to define new protocols for resurgent futures.”

The exhibition, “Soundings: An Exhibition in Five Parts,” is co-curated by Candice Hopkins and Dylan Robinson, Queen’s Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Arts, and will take place at Agnes from January through April. Dylan Robinson will curate The Isabel's concurrent Ka'tarohkwi Festival of Indigenous Arts, which will include sound, performance, and installation art by leading Indigenous artists. 

“The Indigenous peoples were here long before ‘we’ came as explorers, conquerors, immigrants – however we came,” Isabel says. “They have not been well treated. Now we have at Queen’s the opportunity to celebrate and share their cultures. I believe it is important to support this.” 

The gift was made through the Isabel & Alfred Bader Fund, a Bader Philanthropy. Bader Philanthropies is a Milwaukee-based philanthropic organization dedicated to supporting causes that are important to the Bader family, including Queen’s University.

This article was first published on the Queen's Alumni website.

A hint of history for today's tech

Queen’s Human Media Lab unveils the world’s first rollable touch-screen tablet, inspired by ancient scrolls.

A Queen’s University research team has taken a page from history, rolled it up and created the MagicScroll – a rollable touch-screen tablet designed to capture the seamless flexible screen real estate of ancient scrolls in a modern-day device. Led by bendable-screen pioneer Dr. Roel Vertegaal, this new technology is set to push the boundaries of flexible device technology into brand new territory.

The device is comprised of a high-resolution, 7.5” 2K resolution flexible display that can be rolled or unrolled around a central, 3D-printed cylindrical body containing the device’s computerized inner-workings. Two rotary wheels at either end of the cylinder allow the user to scroll through information on the touch screen. When a user narrows in on an interesting piece of content that they would like to examine more deeply, the display can be unrolled and function as a tablet display. Its light weight and cylindrical body makes it much easier to hold with one hand than an iPad. When rolled up, it fits your pocket and can be used as a phone, dictation device or pointing device.

“We were inspired by the design of ancient scrolls because their form allows for a more natural, uninterrupted experience of long visual timelines,” says Dr. Vertegaal, Professor of Human-Computer Interaction and Director of the Queen’s University Human Media Lab. Another source of inspiration was the old rolodex filing systems that were used to store and browse contact cards. The MagicScroll’s scroll wheel allows for infinite scroll action for quick browsing through long lists. Unfolding the scroll is a tangible experience that gives a full screen view of the selected item. Picture browsing through your Instagram timeline, messages or LinkedIn contacts this way!”

Beyond the innovative flexible display, the prototype also features a camera that allows users to employ the rolled-up MagicScroll as a gesture-based control device – similar to that of Nintendo’s ‘Wiimote’. And the device’s rotary wheels contain robotic actuators that allow the device to physically move or spin in place in various scenarios, like when it receives a notification for instance.

“Eventually, our hope is to design the device so that it can even roll into something as small as a pen that you could carry in your shirt pocket,” says Dr. Vertegaal. “More broadly, the MagicScroll project is also allowing us to further examine notions that ‘screens don’t have to be flat’ and ‘anything can become a screen’. Whether it’s a reusable cup made of an interactive screen on which you can select your order before arriving at a coffee-filling kiosk, or a display on your clothes, we’re exploring how objects can become the apps.

Dr. Vertegaal’s Human Media Lab collaborator Juan Pablo Carrascal presented MagicScroll at MobileHCI, one of the leading international conferences on Human-Computer Interaction with mobile devices and services, in Barcelona, Spain on September 4, 2018.

Canada is a more suburban nation

New research shows more people than ever are living in the suburbs.

Using updated Canadian census data, Queen’s University urban planning professor David Gordon has determined Canada is a suburban nation and, despite the planning policies of most metropolitan areas, its population became more suburban from 2006-2016.

More than 80 per cent of the population in large metropolitan areas, including Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal, live in the suburbs. The study also shows the number of people living in metropolitan areas in Canada grew by 15 per cent, or 3.2 million people, between 2006 and 2016. That’s more than the entire population of Toronto, Canada’s largest city.

“Canada is a suburban nation,” Dr. Gordon says. “Its downtowns may be full of new condominium towers, but there is often five times as much development on the suburban edges of the cities. The good news is that some of the largest cities (Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver and Ottawa) have increased growth in more sustainable active core and transit suburbs in the centres of the metropolitan areas and some sustainable cores are emerging in Vancouver suburbs such as Richmond, Surrey and Burnaby. But the contrast in most peripheral areas is extreme. Their populations are growing far more quickly and in less sustainable automobile suburbs and exurbs. For example, more people now live off the Isle d’Montreal than on it, and in the Toronto region, far more people live in the 905 area code than the 416.”

The purpose of Dr. Gordon’s new research was to update the article Suburban Nation? Estimating the Size of Canada’s Suburban Population, published in the Journal of Architecture and Planning Research (JAPR) in 2013. The JAPR article was based upon 1996 and 2006 census data, while the new working paper updates the research using the 2016 census data that was released in late 2017.

His research for the 1996-2006 period estimated that 66 per cent of all Canadians lived in some form of suburb. This proportion rose to 67.5 per cent by 2016. In the new census data, his research team found that within Canada’s metropolitan areas, 86 per cent of the population lived in transit suburbs, auto suburbs, or exurban areas, while only 14 per cent lived in active core neighbourhoods.

“Politicians, planners, academics, and journalists focus much of their attention on inner-city issues, while ignoring suburban expansion,” Dr. Gordon says. “Partly, that’s because it’s too easy to see the growth in the inner-city. There are all those tower cranes in Toronto and Vancouver, and every single building is a political controversy; an article in the newspaper. Meanwhile, as city council argues furiously over whether to permit a new tower with a few hundred residents in the downtown, thousands of new homes replace farmland on the urban edge, and not enough attention is paid to that.”

This new data was recently presented at the Canadian Institute of Planners national conference and will inform debates on regional planning across the country.

To obtain a copy of the study, visit the Council for Canadian Urbanism website and for more details on the research program visit the Canadian Suburbs website.

Looking back in time

Lauded limnologist John Smol reflects on career and environmental change following lifetime achievement award.

Queen's professor John Smol
Queen's University professor John Smol.

Limnologists study the biological and chemical features of lakes. Queen’s University professor, John Smol, has built his career in the sub-discipline of paleolimnology, examining lakebed sediments for a glimpse into the Earth’s past. Within the sediment layers, paleolimnologists are able to track the effects of climate change, human impacts, and natural processes long before historic recordkeeping began – all of which may hold the secrets to our environmental future.

On August 20, 2018, Dr. Smol was recognized by the International Society of Limnology (SIL) with a Naumann-Thienemann Medal – the highest honor awarded for outstanding contributions to limnology – adding another layer to a storied career that has seen him win more than 60 national and international awards for scientific and teaching excellence.

“Being awarded the Naumann-Thienemann Medal is very special to me,” says Dr. Smol, who was also recently named a Fellow of the Royal Society. “I have been a member of SIL since I was 21 years old and have watched many of my heroes receive this honour in the decades since, so I am humbled to be recognized at this level among my peers.”

During the early years of his career, Dr. Smol often felt that many limnologists thought the developing sub-discipline of paleolimnology was some odd offshoot of the field, and that its sediment predictions were more akin to alchemy than proven science. Over time, however, major scientific breakthroughs saw the discipline move from a largely descriptive discipline into a quantitative and precise science, and a vital part of environmental studies.

“Acid rain was one of the first environmental problems that made headlines, and we believed we had methods that could provide policymakers with information they needed to curb it,” says Dr. Smol. “By analyzing lakebed sediments we were able to look back in time to the 1800s, before acid rain, to show how pollution had harmed inland aquatic ecosystems and that lakes acidified because of acid rain and not because they were naturally acidic.” His collaborative work on acid rain went on to influence the implementation of environmental regulations, which are now showing positive results, with lake water acidity levels returning to background conditions.

Over time, environmental issues have only become more numerous and complex.

“Early limnologists, including the medal’s namesakes Einar Naumann and August Thienemann, often focused on issues separately,” says Dr. Smol. “They would examine things like the over-fertilization (eutrophication) of lakes and rivers within its own bubble, whereas today we are forced to address multiple environmental stressors simultaneously – not least of which is climate change. We have opened Pandora’s Box of evils on our planet, and now have to deal with these issues in increasingly innovative ways.”

Currently, Dr. Smol and colleagues are examining how they can help answer questions posed by conservation biologists, like those focused on vulnerable fish and seabird populations, amongst many other applications.

“The missing information with almost every environmental problem is a careful understanding of how we got to where we are,” says Dr. Smol. “Using lake sediments as a history book, we’re helping to track how ecosystems have changed over time, and why. Ultimately, we hope to shed light on how best to deal with multiple environmental stressors, as our climate continues to change.”

Much like examining sediments from time past for clues about the future, Dr. Smol attributes much of his career successes to younger limnologists and students who have added to his work.

“The real credit for this medal goes to an amazing group of current and past students, post-doctoral fellows, and staff” says Dr. Smol. “Over 100 graduates have passed through my lab thus far, and I hope many more still will. I have benefitted greatly from their hard work and ideas, and their successes remain my proudest achievement. It convinces me daily that the future for limnology is very bright.”

Dr. Smol was presented with the Naumann-Thienemann Medal at a SIL ceremony in Nanjing, China.

Staying healthy with video games

Children with autism test new “exergaming” system that encourages fitness and friendship.

Helen Coo, Nick Graham, Dawa Samdup
Queen's professor of computing Nick Graham (centre) with Kingston Health Sciences Centre
collaborator Dawa Samdup (right), and Queen's pediatrics research assistant Helen Coo (left). (University Communications)

A group of local families is helping a Queen’s University and Kingston Health Sciences Centre research team study the effectiveness of a novel “exergaming” program – a technology that combines fitness and video gaming – to help improve physical activity and health in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Led by Dawa Samdup, a clinician-scientist with the KGH Research Institute and co-investigator Nick Graham, professor of computing at Queen’s, the study involves five children aged 9-12, playing specially-designed “exergames” using a recumbent bicycle fitted with a tablet computer and gaming controller. For 45 minutes per day, three days a week for six weeks, participants will play at the same time from their own homes, and their usage of the system will be monitored in real-time by the research team.

“We originally developed this system, and a suite of exergames called Liberi, to promote better cardiovascular fitness in children with cerebral palsy, whose motor skills may have prevented them from operating commercially available exergames,” says Dr. Graham of the EQUIS Lab in the School of Computing. “With this technology, players pedal to power an avatar, and the pedal-power necessary to propel a player’s avatar in the game is customized for each of their own physical abilities.”

Exergaming system being demonstrated by members of Dr. Graham's lab.
Members of Dr. Graham's lab, Neven
Golubovich and Adrian Schneider
demonstrate the exergaming system. (University Communications)

A sensor in the bicycle relays pedaling speed information to a computer, which also captures heart rate information via an arm-mounted monitor. The research team then assesses the children before and after exergaming using the collected data. This data will then be used to design a larger study looking at exergaming and physical fitness in children with ASD who can experience similar motor challenges to children living with cerebral palsy.

“Children with ASD face numerous barriers to engaging in physical activity,” says Dr. Samdup, of the KidsInclusive Centre for Child & Youth Development at KHSC’s Hotel Dieu site. “Many have poor motor skills, and sensory and social impairments that lead to avoidance of team-based sports or other physical activity. Food choices, medications, and low levels of physical activity put children with ASD at risk of unhealthy weight. We know that there are higher rates of overweight and obesity in this population, yet there’s a surprising lack of proven strategies for promoting exercise and fitness in children with autism.”

Children and families involved in this study will have the opportunity to make suggestions about how the games could be improved, as well as provide feedback as to how the project could be designed into a larger study, or even an innovative rehabilitation program for children with ASD that could be offered in schools, homes, and in clinics.

“These are tech-savvy kids, and these games enable them to get active while enjoying themselves,” says Dr. Samdup. “It also gives them the option of playing with others, which helps them to find buddies and build social skills with peers with similar interests. It’s a perfect fit.”

The $44,000 pilot study is being funded by the Southeastern Ontario Medical Association (SEAMO) Innovation Fund.

Promoting research partnerships

Four Queen's University researchers receive Strategic Partnership Grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

Four Queen’s University researchers have been awarded Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Strategic Partnership Grants totaling over $2 million in funding. Announced Friday by Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, these grants promote partnership between academic researchers and industry or government organizations. Funding will go to six networks and 80 projects from across the country with the goal to enhance Canada’s economy, society, and environment within the next 10 years.

“The Strategic Partnership Grants facilitate and promote important collaborations for Queen’s researchers and their partners,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “These collaborations are critical for the translation of basic research into the technologies, jobs, policies and services that benefit all Canadians.”

Mohammad Zulkernine (School of Computing) $535,500 – Dr. Zulkernine’s research is creating a more secure environment for connected vehicles using the Cloud. In this project, he and his research team will propose countermeasures for attacks on connected vehicles by providing access control, availability, and privacy components. This research will play a major role in improving the next generation of connected vehicles by providing useful information to drivers and vehicles, enabling them to make safer, faster, and more informed decisions. His co-investigator on the project was Hossam Hassanein.

Dr. Zulkernine’s approach will position Canada as a leader in securing connected vehicles against increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks and will train highly-qualified software engineers and network security engineers in techniques in automating modern connected vehicles.

Dr. Zulkernine is also co-applicant on another Strategic Partnership Grant on a project that promises to enable ‘Internet of Things’ systems (that connect devices such as cellphones, appliances and vehicles to the Internet and to one another) to perform more effectively and at a lower cost.

Ian Moore (Civil Engineering) $590,100 – Using new technologies developed to assist with pipeline rehabilitation, Dr. Moore and his research team are addressing knowledge gaps that exist as communities assess, rehabilitate, and replace water and sewer pipelines. The present knowledge gaps create challenges for consulting engineers advising on specific projects, and significantly magnify the 'new technology' risks perceived by city engineers and others charged with public safety.

Unique buried pipe and polymer durability test facilities will allow Dr. Moore’s industry partner and eight PhD students to undertake experimental work and analyses to study and address these challenges. The project outcomes can be incorporated into standards, practice guidelines, and specifications for use by industry partners and others. Drs. Richard Brachman and Neal Hoult worked with Dr. Moore on the project.

Kevin Mumford (Civil Engineering) $537,475 – Dr. Mumford is studying gas migration in groundwater related to the extraction of natural gas from previously inaccessible formations (shale gas). Natural gas from deeper formations can move along damaged or inadequately sealed wells and enter shallower aquifers. This gas can then dissolve into the groundwater leading to chemical and biological reactions that reduce groundwater quality. Focused research is needed to better understand the factors influencing this gas migration and dissolution to develop best practices for risk management and monitoring for potential effects on groundwater quality. 

A series of laboratory experiments will track gas flow and dissolution using high-resolution visual techniques as well as the analysis of gas and water samples. Dr. Mumford will also use numerical models to simulate the experiments and to investigate larger-scale, longer-term field scenarios to develop monitoring strategies and establish a framework for risk assessment.

John Smol (Biology) $520,000 – Dr. Smol and his research team will incorporate the use of forensic paleolimnology to determine the impact mink farming may be having on natural environments in Nova Scotia. Working with local stakeholders, Dr. Smol and his colleagues will use both established and newly-developed “fingerprinting” tools to determine the relative impacts from mink farms – nutrients, metals, and persistent organic pollutants – that may lead to algal blooms and overall deterioration of water quality, including potential loss of fish habitat and alteration of aquatic food webs.

The research will allow Dr. Smol to provide regulators and stakeholders with the critical information to determine management and potential additional mitigation policies needed to help resolve the polarized debate on the environmental impacts of mink farms. The techniques developed in this project will be readily exportable to other agricultural regions in Canada and elsewhere faced with water quality issues.

For more information on the Strategic Partnership Grants visit the website.

Breathing new life into Indigenous languages

Queen's University is working with a local Indigenous cultural organization and Indigenous leaders to help with language revitalization.

[Queen's Tyendinaga Indigenous languages Haudenosaunee]
Dakota Ireland, an Oneida representative, makes notes during one of the conference's discussion sessions. (Supplied Photo)

Queen’s and Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na Language and Culture Centre played host to a historic meeting this week as six Indigenous nations met to help plan the future of their languages.

The three-day meeting and conference was part of a collaborative project between Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na and Queen’s, which began this spring and was funded by Ontario’s Ministry of Education Indigenous Languages Fund. Establishing this meeting and bringing together the Six Nations was a key milestone in the project’s overarching goals of developing community-specific plans for language revitalization.

“It’s a momentous event and a historical moment. It is the first time in our memories that members of all six language families are in one room talking about preserving our languages,” says Kanonhsyonne (Janice Hill), Director of Indigenous Initiatives.

The representatives of the six language families included learners, academics, policy makers, administrators, and teachers. The six language families of the Haudenosaunee, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy, are the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. The word Rotinonhsyón:ni is the Mohawk word for Haudenosaunee, while Haudenosaunee is the agreed upon Iroquois Confederacy Council term.

The agenda for the conference included discussions around how to move language beyond the classroom and language legislation, building resources such as a teacher’s association and online resources, and opportunities for group discussions.

“Queen’s is proud to be a partner on this project, which is enabling the revitalization of all of the six Rotinonhsyón:ni languages and meeting the calls to action in the national and Queen’s Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) reports,” says Gordon E. Smith, Vice-Dean (Faculty Relations) with the Faculty of Arts and Science. “We’re excited about the Rotinonhsyón:ni Language Cooperative meeting happening here at Queen’s, supporting Onkwehonwe/Rotinonhsyón:ni language family revitalization and uniting the work of these communities to share resources.”

The collaboration between Queen’s and Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na has already seen the creation of a certificate in Mohawk Language, which will be delivered in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory starting this month. Over the next two years, the project will also develop an indexed online archive of Mohawk language resources; and will research best practices for teaching, assessing, and evaluating Indigenous language learners.

“We have come to the table in the spirit of sharing,” says Callie Hill, Director of Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na. “We are sharing knowledge, experiences, and resources for language revitalization and we are encouraging and supporting each other in revitalizing our languages”.

Some next steps for Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na, the six Rotinonhsyón:ni/Haundenosaunee groups, and Queen’s include the formation of four working groups to continue this work, as well as additional conferences.

The conference was held as the world marked the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

[Queen's TTO Haudenosaunee Indigenous languages conference]
Representatives from across the Haudenosaunee nation gathered in Robert Sutherland Hall for a three-day conference centred on language revitalization. (Supplied Photo)


The Conversation: Neil Sedaka’s 1975 song revived for anti-immigrant era

Top-30 hit seems even more relevant today, as debates rage in the United States over immigration, repatriation and racism.

[Immigrants arrive in America]
A top hit in 1975, Neil Sedaka’s song “The Immigrant,” proves its continuing relevance, with the rise in xenophobia in the United States. Here people on an Atlantic liner arrive at what is probably Ellis Island, the gateway for over 12 million immigrants to the U.S. from 1892 to 1954. Library of Congress

Neil Sedaka is an American singer-songwriter who has written dozens of hit songs. Many of them he sang himself. Others are better known in cover versions by artists ranging from Elvis Presley to Ariana Grande.

Sedaka’s wholesome image and infectious cheerfulness are easy to slight and have too often belied an extraordinary career. His song “The Immigrant” was a Top 30 hit when he released it in 1975, but today it seems even more relevant, as debates rage in the United States over immigration, repatriation and racism.

[The Conversation]Recent events along the U.S.-Mexican border have revealed how easy it still is for restrictionists and xenophobes to gain the upper hand, and to enact hard-line policies that inflict misery on people drawn to the U.S. in hopes of a better life. Sedaka dedicated “The Immigrant” to John Lennon, who at the time was mired in a bitter dispute with U.S. authorities over his application for permanent residence in America. “I thought the song was beautiful,” Lennon told Sedaka after watching him perform it on TV. “Yoko and I were watching and we loved it.”

A musical talent at eight-years-old

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1939, Sedaka was only eight-years-old when he began to attend the Juilliard School of Music on a piano scholarship. By the time he was thirteen, though, his interests had shifted decisively from classical to popular music, and after teaming up with his neighbour, the 16-year-old lyricist Howie Greenfield, they found work in the fabled Brill Building on Broadway, where professional hit-makers wrote rock ‘n’ roll songs for an exploding teenage market.

Sedaka composed songs for some of the great Black female singers of the late 1950s, including LaVern Baker (“I Waited Too Long”) and Dinah Washington (“Never Again”), but he scored his biggest success with Connie Francis, for whom he and Greenfield penned the trivial “Stupid Cupid.” Their range and growth as a songwriting team, however, was evident by 1960, when they wrote the lush ballad “Where the Boys Are,” which Francis recorded for the “spring break” movie of the same title, and which many artists have since covered.

[Neil Sedaka and other stars]
Neil Sedaka, right, is seen here with, from left, Nigel Olsson, May Pang, John Lennon, Jozy. (Twitter/@NeilSedaka)

Sedaka’s career as a singer took off during these same years. Beginning in 1959, he produced a string of bubbly, doo-bee-doo-wappy hits such as “Oh! Carol,” “Calendar Girl,” and “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen,” before achieving his first number one record with “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.” During these years, Sedaka sold 25 million records, second only to Elvis, and unlike Elvis, he wrote or co-wrote his own songs.

And then the wheels came off. The Beatles arrived, revolutionizing the music scene in America as they had already done in Britain, and immediately casting successful solo acts like Sedaka (as well as Paul Anka, Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Elvis and others) into cultural obscurity.

Sedaka continued to write and record songs, but his most notable airplay during these years came when other people sang his music, including The Monkees, The Fifth Dimension, Tom Jones and Tony Christie (“Is This The Way To Amarillo”).

By 1971, Sedaka had abandoned hope of making his comeback in the United States and moved his family to England, where he played rough working men’s clubs in the north, and tried hard to get his voice back on the radio. His luck turned when he recorded an album with the future members of 10cc (best known for their number one hit, “I’m Not In Love”), and met Elton John, who signed him to his Rocket Record Company, and re-launched him in America.

‘Sedaka’s Back’

The comeback attempt worked, and Sedaka stormed again to the pinnacles of popular success with his album Sedaka’s Back and singles like “That’s When the Music Takes Me,” “Laughter in the Rain” (his first number one since “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”), “Bad Blood” (another number one, with Elton John on backing vocals), “Solitaire” (covered by The Carpenters, Jann Arden, Sheryl Crow, Clay Aiken and many others), and “Love Will Keep Us Together” (the best-selling single of 1975, not for Sedaka, but for The Captain and Tennille).

“The Immigrant” belongs to this period. Strikingly different from the love songs and ballads that make up the bulk of Sedaka’s output, it was among the finest products of his new songwriting partnership with the lyricist Phil Cody, and it took Sedaka as close as he ever came to political controversy.

The issue of immigration was important to Sedaka and Cody. Sedaka’s parents both came from Jewish families who relocated to New York. His mother’s origins were Russian-Polish. His father’s were Turkish.

Cody’s father, meanwhile, emigrated from Sicily to New York in 1930 with dreams of becoming an opera singer, but he spent his career as a carpenter. Cody said he wrote the lyric for “The Immigrant” with his dad in mind, but it also clearly arises from painful personal experience. “I spent a lifetime being teased about being a little dark Italian kid in a white Protestant neighbourhood,” he remarked recently.

‘The Immigrant’

In “The Immigrant,” Cody and Sedaka do not go back to the beginning of international migration to America when roughly 30,000 years ago, the ancestors of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas crossed over from Asia.

Lyrics to “The Immigrant”
Harbors opened their arms to the young searching foreigner
Come to live in the light of the beacon of liberty
Plains and open skies, billboards would advertise
Was it anything like that when you arrived?
Dream boats carried the future to the heart of America
People were waiting in line for a place by the river

It was time when strangers were welcome here
Music would play
They tell me the days were sweet and clear
It was a sweeter tune, and there was so much room
That people could come from everywhere

Now he arrives with his hopes, and his heart set on miracles
Come to marry his fortune with a hand full of promises
To find they’ve closed the door, they don’t want him anymore
There isn’t any more to go around
Turning away, he remembers he once heard a legend
That spoke of a mystical, magical land called America

[Chorus x 2]

©Neil Sedaka and Phil Cody

Instead, they concentrate on the powerful allure of what for more than two centuries has been known as “the American Dream” of freedom, equality and opportunity, and the ways in which that dream — then as now — was being betrayed by intolerance and self-interest, as indeed it had been betrayed from the start by vigilante and legislative agendas that were virulently anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-African, anti-Asian and anti-communist.

Cody begins the lyric with a vision of what the United States was like when his father (“the young searching foreigner”) arrived “to live in the light of…liberty.”

There were, he imagines, harbours with open doors, billboards with advertisements, “plains and open skies,” “dream boats” travelling “to the heart of America,” and people “waiting in line for a place by the river.” “Was it anything like that when you arrived?” he asks his father.

In the chorus, Cody is much more confident. Steeped in nostalgia, he asserts that, when his father settled in New York, “It was a time when strangers were welcome here.”

Sedaka’s music enhances the optimism of Cody’s words, lifting the emotional register of the song, and displaying his immense gift for the memorable melody. Above all, the chorus speaks directly to the belief that shaped the U.S. as a nation of immigrants: “people could come from everywhere.”

In the second verse, Cody makes it plain that those days of acceptance are gone. “Now,” in the 1970s, people still arrive with hearts “set on miracles,” but they are turned away, and the promises of the “magical land called America” are denied to them.

Sedaka closes the song with a return to the hope of the chorus, and a reaffirmation of the America Dream that places “The Immigrant” in the same tradition as Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” (1883), the sonnet affixed to the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The promises of the U.S. have always been threatened by powerful forces both within and without the country. Cody and Sedaka’s song concerns the liberal ideals of freedom and cultural plurality that drew people like Cody’s father and Sedaka’s grandfather to America, and that in the current political climate are once again under siege.

Like many great songwriters, Sedaka has fallen in and out of favour. But at his finest, he composed songs that lodge themselves firmly in the mind, and that remain moving and relevant. In “The Immigrant,” he speaks out on one of the most controversial issues in all of American history and champions a vision of the country that prizes compassion and diversity.


Robert Morrison is a professor in the Department of English Language and Literature..

This article was originally published on The Conversation, which provides news and views from the academic and research community. Queen’s University is a founding partner. Queen's researchers, faculty, and students are regular contributors.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca


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