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Gail Singer- covering the arts spectrum

Gail Singer

By GERRY POSNER
I have often written in this paper about the huge contribution that Winnipeg Jews have made to the arts. To tackle this topic and omit Gail Singer would be a major omission.

I suspect many readers might be familiar with Gail’s works, but they may not realize that she is the same Gail Singer from Winnipeg and the same Gail Singer who ran a prominent business in Osborne Village for several years in the late 60s and early 70s known as Kitchen Things. Well, that was just the beginning.
Gail’s career has been both varied and long. To compress it into an article for the JP&N is not to do justice to all that she has accomplished (and, I might add, is still accomplishing to this day). As Gail likes to put it “her biography reminds the reader of Neapolitan ice cream: many colours and flavours.” In a broad way, her work has encompassed both life-changing documentary productions and late-in-life full time art school; through it all the undercurrent is food in all forms.
A product of the south end of the city (though the first eight were in the north end), a graduate of Kelvin High School, and later the University of Manitoba, Gail Singer had an entrepreneurial bent with her store in Winnipeg. Later, she moved into the early days of cable broadcasting (though she did not realize that then) with a cable-style local news show for what was then a newly “wired in” vast co-op housing community. She helped create an art video for the legendary “Assessippi Show” at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. She then made educational TV for isolated northern locations, worked with labour unions, Indigenous people and bureaucracies. She soon moved into documentaries.
But it was film that attracted Gail and which led her moving to Toronto. In Toronto, Gail began her film initiation with films championing the people of the north, their traditional aboriginal practices and the injustices committed against them. (Gail was ahead of her time). As a result of her work, she was approached by the National Film Board to delve into another area featured in the news even to this day, and that is battered women, a subject previously unknown to the River Heights-born and bred Singer. Gail spent time in a women’s shelter to understand better how isolated these women were.
The film that resulted, “Loved, Honoured and Bruised”, changed Singer’s life and indeed thousands of other women’s lives (the film was translated into a dozen languages).
Lawmakers took notice and the film was awarded a number of prizes around the world. It was not long after that Singer attracted the attention of John Hirsch, then the head of CBC Drama and a name familiar to readers of the JP&N, with the result that she was soon involved in making more award winning films such as “Portrait Of An Old Lady” and short dramas like “Is Everyone Here Crazy?”.
The next major project Singer launched was with with the National Film Board in Montreal: a story bout illegal abortion clinics operating in Columbia, Peru, and Thailand. That film was ultimately named as one of the ten most influential documentaries in the world, even garnering a special citation at the Oscars.
After a short break, Singer retuned to her roots and did her first feature film, set in Winnipeg in the 1950s. Does anyone recall the movie, “True Confection”, followed by a comedy, “ Wisecracks”, about female comedians? That was Gail Singer. Her first dramatic script was nominated for several awards and Singer was delighted when the BBC gave her film rave reviews. “Wisecracks” was her biggest financial success and the film still runs on network and cable television.
Along the way, Singer taught part time at Ryerson, York and the University of Toronto. Her success as a filmmaker was followed by an award as the YWCA Outstanding Woman of the Year and an appointment as the Barker Fairley Chair in Canadian Culture at the University of Toronto.
Singer briefly morphed her talents into TV as a director in a series about food. One of the more well known shows was “Loving Spoonfuls”, which told stories about ethnic grandmothers and the foods they brought with them to Canada from countries all over the world. Readers might recall other former Winnipeggers playing a large part in that show, including producer Allan Novak, and host David Gale.
Her Winnipeg links were recognized over the past decade when Gail was invited to headline the “Distinguished Speaker “ program at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. (Singer entertained the audience that night with an a cappella version of “These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You”). Recently, Gail was thrilled to participate on a panel at the invitation of former Winnipegger Leo Panitch on the significance of the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike.
Recently Gail was involved with advising on a project in which seniors were taught how to make a film on YouTube – thereby creating new skills for many people living in seniors’ residences. As well, she has directed various sequences of CBC dramatized productions over the years and, most recently (until halted in mid-film ) was involved in a documentary about the young heroes and heroines of Grassy Narrows: the politicians, writers, painters, singers, music producers and actors, all of them despite terrible neglect by all levels of government of this Ojibway community.
What does all of this add up to for Gail? If you ask her, she is grateful for a lifetime of unexpected projects in unrelated fields with twists and turns along the path. She presently lives in a home in Toronto with a dog, a fridge filled with good things for people to eat, a bar, and more books than she could ever read. And aside from making soup for less privileged folks in the pandemic, Gail has resumed another passion- art. In short, Gail Singer could be the poster child for versatility in the Arts. It has been a remarkable run and the run continues to this day.

 

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Remis Lecture Group at Gwen Secter Centre attracts large crowds to hear from two well-known speakers

Mayor Scott Gillingham speaking to the Remis Lecture group at the Gwen Secter Centre Thursday, May 16

By BERNIE BELLAN On two successive Thursdays in May (May 16 and 23), the usual fairly small number of attendees at the Remis Lecture Group luncheons more than doubled in size as large numbers of guests came to hear two well-known speakers: Mayor Scott Gillingham (on May 16); and Doctors Manitoba President Dr. Michael Boroditsky (on May 23).

The Remis group is open to anyone to attend, but anyone who is not a regular member of the group is asked to notify in advance that they will be attending by calling 204-291-4362.

I thought it might be interesting to provide readers with snapshots of what both Mayor Gillingham and Dr. Boroditsky had to say, despite my writing for a Jewish newspaper (and website) and trying to think desperately how I could tie in either speaker to a Jewish theme. How about if I mention that the mayor said he really enjoyed the kosher meal provided by the Gwen Secter Centre, which featured kugel as the main dish?

In a separate article I’ll write about Dr. Boroditsky’s talk. (I have posted about his having said that a new association of Manitoba Jewish physicians has been formed. You can read that article at https://jewishpostandnews.ca/faqs/rokmicronews-fp-1/jewish-physicians-in-manitoba-form-association-in-response-to-antisemitism/: )

Scott Gillingham began his remarks by telling the audience that he was born and raised in Brandon, where he honed his skills as a very good hockey player. First elected to Winnipeg City Council in 2014 and reelected in 2018, in 2022 he ran for mayor.

Readers might remember that former mayor Glen Murray had entered that race and was, at first, considered the heavy favourite to win the election.

Gillingham told this amusing story about election night, which was October 26, 2022: Apparently CTV News had called the election in Murray’s favour shortly after the polls had closed at 8:00 pm.

But, as events transpired, CTV was quite wrong, and it wasn’t long before Gillingham took the lead for good. As he noted to the Remis group, “By 8:30 I had lost and won the election all within a half hour.”

Gillingham explained to the audience of 38 that, as this year is the 150th anniversary of Winnipeg’s incorporation as a city, he wanted to give them a brief history of the city.

The first mayor of the city was Francis Cornish, Gillingham noted, elected by a total of 398 people who voted in our city’s very first election. The Gillingham family’s own history of settlement in Manitoba began in 1907, he said, when the first Gillinghams arrived from England, “and headed as far west as they could go until they ran out of money.”

The key event in Winnipeg’s history, he suggested, came when businessman J.H Ashdown convinced the federal government of the day to route the first trans-Canada railway through Winnipeg rather than Selkirk. Ashdown was instrumental in Winnipeg’s quickly building a bridge across the Red River, which turned out to be decisive in the government’s eventual decision. “That kind of vision and action built the city that we love,” Gillingham suggested.

Continuing on the theme of building upon that which has been laid down already by visionaries in the city’s past, the mayor said: “The fortunate thing for me is stepping into this role has afforded me the opportunity to inherit what’s already in place.”

For that, Gillingham thanked the many generations of entire families that have contributed so much to “the health and welfare of this city. Yes, we have challenges,” he admitted… “we have struggles, we have potholes,” but we still have a great city, he insisted.

He pointed to two specific projects in Winnipeg’s history that came about as the result of great vision and determination: the building of the gravity-fed aqueduct from Shoal Lake and of the Winnipeg Floodway. Gillingham also noted former Mayor Stephen Juba’s role in the building of City Hall in 1962 as another example of vision, as was the construction of the Manitoba Legislative Building in an earlier era.

“As we look back over these past 150 years,” Gillingham said, “we realize there’s a lot to inspire us.”

Turning to some of the more immediate problems that continue to fester here (as they do in almost all major urban centres), the mayor admitted “we don’t have enough housing…I’ve challenged our staff to approve 8,000 units of housing in 2024.” (He added that, as of the day he was speaking, 3,500 units had already been approved, so the goal of 8,000 was well within reach.)

He noted, as well, that new census figures for Winnipeg are about to be disclosed “next month” – which means they may already be out by the time this is read, and the anticipated fairly large increase in Winnipeg’s population is only going to add more pressure to build more housing.

As Gillingham put it, “I love my kids, but I don’t want them to live with me forever.”

The mayor also referred to some of the improvements in technology that are underway in the delivery of certain services to the public. He referred specifically to an enhancement to 911 service that will allow anyone calling that number to send a photo to the 911 operator, which should lead to a much better understanding of what type of emergency situation is being talked about. (By the way, Gillingham noted, the very first 999 service – which was the antecedent of the current 911 service, began in Winnipeg, under Mayor Juba, in 1959.)

Gillingham spoke of the need to challenge the Chamber of Commerce to come up “with an actionable set of recommendations which Winnipeg should focus on.”

He noted, as well, that in meeting with business leaders throughout North America, he has learned that they are specifically “interested in Winnipeg – and not Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, or Calgary” and each time he’s asked them “what it is they’re looking for and how we can provide it in Winnipeg?” Later in his talk he returned to this topic and elaborated on what it is that business leaders are looking for, saying they’re looking for “skilled labour and are we connected to markets?” As well, he noted, many are looking for “green energy and a quality of life for their employees” which, he suggested, Winnipeg has in abundance, with “world class arts, pro sports, universities, a diverse population, and cottage country within an hour and a half.”

At that point the mayor began to field questions from the audience. The first question posed was “Whether, in concentrating on growth for the future, are the needs of the inner city being ignored?”

Gillingham answered that there is currently a major investment in housing in the downtown. “There is $122 million in federal funding” earmarked for downtown housing, he said, of which “$30 million has already been received – which will lead to 600 new units of housing downtown.” He added that there will also be “new spray pads in the north end” this year.

The mayor also noted the creation of a new “concierge service” for anyone wanting to build something, whereby if “you call one number you can correlate all the housing requirements,” rather than having to contact a number of different city departments.

He also mentioned the next “round of funding” from the federal government, which “will focus on transportation infrastructure for rapid transit.”

Someone asked Gillingham to define what the term “affordable housing” actually means?

The mayor answered that it would be “80% of the market rate,” so that if housing is renting for $1,000 then $800 would be affordable. He pointed to new housing that will be going up where the old Public Safety Building once stood. “It will include units for less than $1,000 a month,” he said. “If a builder can include at least six units of affordable housing we’ll give them money to offer those,” he added.

Another question was about the Arlington Bridge and what will happen to it?

The mayor answered that “we’re waiting for a consultant’s report.”

I posed a question about cycling, noting that both the mayor and I are ardent cyclists, but for anyone who wants to take their bike downtown, it is extremely difficult to find a secure are in which to leave it. I suggested that the city ought to take one of the many vacant lots downtown and build a secure (above ground) compound, in which cyclists could leave their bikes. I even proposed to the mayor that it could be called “Gillingham’s Island.” (For anyone under a certain age that reference might be totally lost, but lucky for me the Remis group – and the mayor, are of sufficient age to have got the joke.)

Gillingham did address the issue of bike thefts in the city (and I just had another bike stolen not too long ago), saying that anyone can register their bike for free by going to 529garage.com. It would help police in locating the owner of a stolen bike if it’s recovered.)

The final questions were about Portage and Main. The first questioner wondered why this time around the mayor was in favour of opening up Portage and Main whereas in 2018 he was opposed?

Gillingham responded that “something happened between the plebiscite (whether to open Portage and Main to pedestrian traffic) in 2018 and today that’s shifted people’s attitudes.”

He was also asked “When you open Portage and Main will you be closing the concourse?”

The answer was “No, more information is needed.”

Finally, someone wondered whether the skywalk system could be extended to connect the west side of Portage Avenue to the east side – and thus to the skywalk system which connects east of Main Street.

Gillingham said that “We’re open to the conversation. The only date we have in mind is the reopening of the street at street level.”

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Connecting the Dots: Ari Posner- Meet Ari Posner

Ari Z. Posner, son of Barry and Bebe on the left and Ari P. Posner, son of Gerry and Sherna with the cap on the right

By GERRY POSNER I suppose we are not the only family to have inter-related connections. At least, not in the old days of the shtetl. What I do know is that finding my way through these family relationships took me years to figure out and understand. Recently, the dots got connected once again.

It all started (at least as far back as I can go) when around 1905, one Isaac Posner married one Kayla Shulman. They were living at that time in the same shtetl or at least close to the same shtetl of what was then known as Propoisk (now Slavgorod) in present day Belarus. From this marriage emerged three children: a daughter, Lillian Posner – later Romalis;l a son, Samuel L. Posner; and another son, Solomon Posner. That was simple enough. As it turned out, Issac Posner was an older brother of my grandfather, Herman Posner. Isaac’s wife, Kayla, was the sister of my other grandfather, Harry Shulman. Even that was not terribly complicated. In short, my father’s uncle Issac, married my mother’s aunt Kayla. That marriage linked the Posners to the Shulmans in Round 1.

When Isaac and Kayla’s kids married, a son, Sol, married a woman from Iowa City Iowa, named Rhea Markovitz. Not long after, in December, 1937 a son of Herman Posner (my grandfather) – Samuel R. Posner, (my father), married a woman named Rhea Shulman ( my mother) also from Iowa City, Iowa. She was a daughter to Harry and Anna Shulman of Iowa City. Thus, in Iowa City there were two first cousins – Rhea Shulman and Rhea Markovitz, born less than a year apart and both of whom later married men from Winnipeg, both with the initials SP – one Sol Posner and one Sam Posner. Of course, the marriage of my mother, a Shulman, to my father, a Posner, created Round 2 of the Posners and the Shulmans joining together. Are you still with me?

When, in the course of time, Sol and Rhea and Sam and Rhea began to have children, they created a relationship for their children in what might be considered by some to be almost incestuous. Rhea and Sol had two sons, Barry and Craig (of blessed memory), both of whom were and are likely still known to many readers to this day. My parents had Linda, my brother Michael, and me. We were, and still remain, cousins to Barry to this day. I was, and still am related to Barry and Craig in no less than three ways. Why? First of all, Barry’s father Sol was a first cousin to my father Sam. Secondly, Barry’s father was a first cousin to my mother Rhea. Thirdly, Barry’s mother Rhea was a first cousin to my mother Rhea. So the ties are deep. Confusing as well.

Of course, what solidified these roots even further was the fact that Sam and Rhea, my parents, and Sol and Rhea, Barry and Craig’s parents, all lived for the rest of their lives in Winnipeg. So, there were two S. Posners – three in fact, as Sol had a brother, Samuel L., a pharmacist. But, let’s not get sidetracked. The two Rheas were very close and I suspect there had to be much confusion about these two women with the same name and almost the same age. Moreover, the two families shared similar experiences each summer. That was because Rhea Posner – Barry and Craig’s mother, took her kids to Iowa City to spend part of the holidays with her parents, while my mother – Rhea, would also take my siblings and me to visit her parents in Iowa City, Iowa. My cousin Craig and I were the same age (born one month apart ) and hence spent much time together, both in Winnipeg and Iowa City. I never could quite get the picture as to why I saw him in both locations. All I knew was that he was my cousin.

Well, we all grew up with this similar history and genetic connections. When Barry married the former Bebe Melmed, three kids followed. The eldest son was Ari Z. Posner, who grew up in Montreal – where Barry and Bebe lived. When I married Sherna Bernbaum, we also had three kids, the eldest of whom was Ari P. Posner. The fact that these boys had the same name – Ari, was more of a fluke as they were not named for the same person. Oddly, (or maybe not given the past history) Ari Z’s middle name is Zvi, the same name as my son, only in the case of my son, Zvi is his Hebrew middle name. Ari Z. is about 5 years older than Ari P. That difference is about the age difference between Barry and me.

Recently, and to my delight, my son Ari had a good reason to go to L.A. to receive a music award and, to my greater delight, he expressed an interest in seeing the other Ari, whom he had never met. L.A. is where the other Ari Posner resides. As it turns out, their names were not the only dot that connected them. Both have made a career in the arts, Ari Z has done it in writing, creating and producing for TV primarily – and has been very successful in his field. Ari P. is a composer. He is not that far removed from the other Ari since he often writes music for TV in the US and Canada.

I think of grandfather Herman Posner and his brother Isaac. Would they not be amazed at this connection? Or better yet, what would my great-grandfather Shmerya and wife Yudasha have to say about two of their descendants now – approximately 170 years after their births, meeting and reinforcing the family ties. As much as so much has changed, this little bit of Posner history is the same.

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New website for Israelis interested in moving to Canada

By BERNIE BELLAN A new website, titled “Orvrim to Canada” (https://www.ovrimtocanada.com/ovrim-en) has been receiving hundreds of thousands of visits, according to Michal Harel, operator of the website.
In an email sent to jewishpostandnews.ca Michal explained the reasons for her having started the website:
“In response to the October 7th events, a group of friends and I, all Israeli-Canadian immigrants, came together to launch a new website supporting Israelis relocating to Canada. “Our website, https://www.ovrimtocanada.com/, offers a comprehensive platform featuring:

  • Step-by-step guides for starting the immigration process
  • Settlement support and guidance
  • Community connections and networking opportunities
  • Business relocation assistance and expert advice
  • Personal blog sharing immigrants’ experiences and insights

“With over 200,000 visitors and media coverage from prominent Israeli TV channels and newspapers, our website has already made a significant impact in many lives.”
A quick look at the website shows that it contains a wealth of information, almost all in Hebrew, but with an English version that gives an overview of what the website is all about.
The English version also contains a link to a Jerusalem Post story, published this past February, titled “Tired of war? Canada grants multi-year visas to Israelis” (https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/article-787914#google_vignette) That story not only explains the requirements involved for anyone interested in moving to Canada from Israel, it gives a detailed breakdown of the costs one should expect to encounter.

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