York grad finds Haiti’s lost Declaration of Independence

Sitting at a quiet table in the National Archives in London earlier this year, Canadian graduate student Julia Gaffield (MA ’07) opened a bound book of documents from 1804 and unearthed the only known printed copy of Haiti’s Declaration of Independence, wrote The Globe and Mail April 2.

“I was surrounded by complete strangers who were all very wrapped up in their own work,” the 26-year-old said yesterday. “Inside I was bursting with excitement, but I’m not sure if anyone else in there would have been interested."

But her discovery, which comes more than 200 years after the document was signed and ends decades of historical sleuthing intent on its recovery, could not come at a more poignant moment for the nation of Haiti, still reeling from the latest blow to its national identity. Struck by a devastating earthquake in January, the country is struggling to rebuild, and historians say the document will serve as a much-needed reminder of what has already been overcome.

Haiti was the first slave colony to win independence when it fought off its French colonial rulers, culminating with its revolutionary leader, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, declaring independence on Jan. 1, 1804. In the weeks that followed, his statement and the Deed of Independence were printed in an eight-page brochure under the title “Liberté ou la Mort”. But while the documents were widely distributed at the time, no copy was known to have survived until Gaffield’s discovery in February.

Gaffield did her master’s degree at York University and is now in the third year of her PhD research at Duke University in North Carolina.

Where jazz meets hip hop music

Under the tutelage of Wynton Marsalis, Ron Westray adhered to the famed trumpeter’s central tenet: Everything but jazz is irrelevant, wrote the Toronto Star April 5.

Having come into his own, Westray, the inaugural Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts and an acclaimed composer who spent more than a dozen years as lead trombonist in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis Septet, is revisiting the music of his youth and curating a new series of shows that blend jazz with hip hop.

Westray’s Jazz Hop, which kicks off Friday at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, also features an acoustic band alongside two emcees and a turntablist.

At York, Westray is ambassador for the newly launched Oscar Peterson Scholarship, which provides one first-year music student $40,000 over four years, and up to four $10,000 scholarships to undergraduate music students.

Self-taught on piano, Westray never met Peterson, who served as an adjunct York professor and chancellor, and whom he ranks with great tunesmiths such as Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. “I consider it an honour and a privilege to carry that baton. I have huge plans to create arrangements, consolidate all of his body of work, so that York University can be a storehouse for his compositional merits, especially.”

Westray also co-directs the York U Jazz Orchestra, and teaches performance, composition, theory and history courses, including Contemporary Black Urban Music. “It’s basically hip-hop history,” he says of the course. “My chairman made no bones that they would prefer to have an African American teach that course and I’m so glad they gave it to me. It’s given me a chance to organize everything I know about hip hop into a curriculum and I’m a few steps closer to an anthology.

“Hip-hop guys are traditionally opposed to jazz guys, because jazz guys don’t know how to deal with them as non-musicians. And jazz guys are kind of snooty about the hip-hop world. I’m not like that: I’m passionate about rap and hip hop and urban music and soul music, but equally accomplished in jazz, so that gives me a chance to mediate both of these genres.”

Hence, the off-campus jazz/hip hop series running April 9, June 11 and July 9.

Bilingualism question looms in search for next governor-general

With the likelihood of continuing minority parliaments, a new governor-general must be seen to be scrupulously non-partisan, said Patrick Monahan, York’s vice-president academic & provost and a constitutional expert, in The Globe and Mail April 5. “Given the minority governments that we’ve had and the prospect that we may well have continuing minorities, we’ve seen the increasing significance and the real discretion that the GG may be called upon to exercise,” Monahan said.

“So you want someone that is a person of stature and will command respect, and a person who is seen as independent of any of the major political parties. I think that is going to be the overriding element that you would be looking for in this appointment.”

The law professor added that it would be a mistake to reappoint governors general because the prospect of appointment to a second term could call into question their independence when they are forced to make politically charged decisions with regard to minority parliaments.

The Voice, interrupted

“My voice? What’s it like to have my voice?” Barbara Budd (BA ’74) asks, repeating my question, wrote The Globe and Mail April 5.

The co-host of CBC Radio One’s "As it Happens", who announced her departure last Monday after 17 years on the air, leans forward in her bright red jacket, her face breaking into a wide smile.

“I understand why you ask,” the 58-year-old confides in a low murmur, pushing her glasses up onto her nose. “It’s sort of like why I’ve always wondered what it must be like to have grown up beautiful.” She pauses. “Or to have great breasts,” she booms with a loud laugh. “Or to be able to do great hand demos!” she says, fanning her hands out on the table between us.

After graduating from York University’s theatre program, Budd worked for five seasons with the Stratford Theatre Company in Stratford, Ont. Returning to Toronto, she did a variety of acting jobs and frequently performed in radio dramas for the CBC, a gig which led to employment as an on-air presenter for the public broadcaster.

Markham’s food fight

Professors from York University and the University of Toronto last month launched an academic alliance for agriculture, which would support the Markham foodbelt project and provide guidance to other municipalities , wrote the National Post April 3 .

Jose Etcheverry, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies who is leading the charge, calls it a “clear opportunity” to improve policies on agricultural preservation and enhance the lives of farmers. “What’s going on in Markham, it’s a precedent-setting case,” Etcheverry says. “It should be studied very closely and hopefully emulated throughout the province.”

CGI owes debt to grandfather of special effects

American Ray Harryhausen, 89, was the visionary force who first figured out a way to insert scenes of lifelike models he painstakingly shot using stop-motion photography into movies with human actors, wrote the Toronto Star April 4. His creatures were able to tower over victims or interact with them as if they were real. It enabled a hero to engage in a thrilling sword fight with seven skeletons in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), allowed cowboys on horseback to rope a massive dinosaur in The Valley of Gwangi (1969) and made audiences weep for the mistreated gigantic gorilla in Mighty Joe Young (1949).

“His stuff is just amazing, even today,” says Seth Feldman, a film professor in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts. “The idea of doing all this by hand and figuring out how to put it in with live actors, I think he was a genius for being able to envision this.”

Feldman is especially in awe of the fact Harryhausen did his work alone. “With special effects films today, the credits go on for 10 minutes.”

The Bambi effect: To shoot or not to shoot

It’s been dubbed the “Bambi effect”, wrote the Owen Sound Sun Times April 3 in a story about a talk by York Professor Dawn Bazely, director of York’s Institute for Research & Innovation in Sustainability, to the 17th annual Grey-Bruce Woodlot Conference on the exploding deer population.

Anyone who raises concerns about the adverse impact the rising deer population is having on the woodlands and forests of eastern North America, including Ontario, and ends up advocating tougher deer management measures, must come up with “a better story than Bambi,” Bazely said.

One of the 165 people, mostly woodlot owners, on hand, asked the loaded question: What should be done to bring the deer population under control?

Bazely looked, well, like a deer caught in the headlights for a few moments. She hesitated, looked around nervously for a few moments and then finally said, “Shoot the does, shoot lots of them, keep shooting.”

“I probably just got myself into a lot of trouble,” she added, apparently second-guessing her candour. Bazely may have thought she was on pretty safe ground, that the rural audience she had driven up from Toronto to talk to might be sympathetic about the idea of shooting deer to keep their numbers down. There were no howls of outrage. I think it’s fair to say the vast majority of people at the conference…likely knew well enough something has to be done to bring what Bazely referred to as the “exploding” deer population under control.

In high enough numbers deer can prevent the regeneration of forests because of the quantities of saplings and underbrush they eat. “In summer that means anything with a green leaf,” Bazely said.

Sprinter holds records after 25 years

Former York student Josh Jonker is all about going fast, wrote the Brockville Recorder & Times April 3. He flies helicopters as part of his job and drives race cars – a 911 Porsche – at speeds topping 200 miles an hour for a hobby.

But, at age 42 now, he’s also learning to slow down, enjoying the scenery and wildlife near his British Columbia home. He carries the little-known distinction of having never lost a race to Glenroy Gilbert and Donovan Bailey, two of Canada’s best-ever sprinters.

With plenty of US universities after him, Jonker took the advice of national team coaches and stayed in Canada, attending York University.

Opposition to aboriginal schools is more paternalism, says York research fellow

Some consider aboriginal schools to be a form of racial segregation, wrote Jennifer Dalton, research fellow in the York Centre for Public Policy & Law in an article for The MarkNews.com April 2. Quite apart from the overly simplistic application of “race” and “segregation” to aboriginal peoples in this context, this criticism does not adequately consider the underlying premise of such schools.

While they are labelled “aboriginal-only,” their purpose is far from exclusionary. Rather, their overarching objective is to repair the historical decimation of Aboriginal cultures and address past assimilationist policies aimed at “killing the ‘Indian’ in the child” through the Indian Residential Schools system.

The assertions critics make are akin to the critical language espoused in the context of “special rights” for Aboriginal “minorities”. Such depictions represent paternalism at its worst. Aboriginal peoples are markedly different from any other group in the country because they are the original occupants of Canada.

Further, arguing against aboriginal schools under the guise of “equal treatment” constitutes little more than a superficial understanding of democratic liberalism, while disregarding the dire socio-economic conditions faced by so many aboriginal peoples across Canada. Equal treatment does not provide equitable outcomes for the most disadvantaged in society.

RIP, virtual me. So long, Facebook

Dylani Shea ended her virtual life after coming home late one night from a part-time bartending job to find a customer had tracked her down on Facebook, wrote The Globe and Mail April 5.

“Customers looking me up on Facebook and sending me messages is totally weird,” said the second-year York University student. “I decided I didn’t really want myself out there for just anyone to be able to contact me. I didn’t want to be part of it any more.”

Shea ended a five-year infatuation with social networking in January by deactivating a Facebook account that linked her to nearly 1,000 friends. She is one of the latest recruits to a small but determined movement of once-committed Internet gadflies who are redefining their relationship with social media to protect their privacy. Some are pulling out completely – sometimes with the help of social media “suicide” programs – while others are simply creating new accounts under pseudonyms with smaller networks of close friends.

On air

  • Bernie Wolf, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about the effects of new vehicle emissions standards, on CBC Radio April 1.
  • Ian Greene, political science professor in York’s School of Public Policy & Administration in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and co-author of Honest Politics, spoke about politicians and apologies in the name of previous governments, on CBC Radio’s “The House” April 3.