They met at York and became children’s entertainment moguls

Michael Hirsh displays almost none of the bravado one might expect from a guy often credited with building an industry in this country, wrote June 3, in a story about Toronto entertainment company the Cookie Jar Group. He is soft-spoken and reserved in conversation, and except for his garishly coloured shirts and ties, and chunky black glasses, he possesses few of the eccentricities common to kids’ entertainment execs.

In the late ’60s, he enrolled in philosophy at York University and met Patrick Loubert [BA ’69], a student who shared his enthusiasm for film. Loubert, who later became Hirsh’s business partner, recalls Hirsh as a bit of an oddball, saying he typically clomped around the city in a pair of oversized soccer cleats. Hirsh left York after three years to concentrate on filmmaking, and later he and Loubert formed a venture called Laff Arts.

Clive Smith, a British animator living in Toronto…signed on to make animated and live-action shorts for Canadian television networks. In 1971, they incorporated a company and named it Nelvana, after an old Canadian comic book character, Nelvana of the Northern Lights.

Corus Entertainment bought Nelvana for over half a billion dollars [in 2000]. At the time, Nelvana was the largest independent producer of kids’ entertainment in the world, and Corus was the largest kids’ broadcaster in Canada. But Loubert and Smith were burnt out after three decades in the business, and by the end of 2001, both had left the company. Hirsh had different plans for himself.

In 2004, they purchased Cinar for just US$143.9 million, with help from a syndicate of private equity partners…. For Hirsh, the purchase of Cinar’s assets was a victory of sorts. Cinar had always been Nelvana’s competitor.

His return to the business was hardly surprising to anyone in the industry. “I don’t know what else he’d do,” Loubert says. “He’s not a guy with a lot of hobbies.” The company was renamed Cookie Jar, and a host of well known names now fall under its umbrella.

Given the similarities between his old and new companies, it’s tempting to wonder if Hirsh regrets selling Nelvana and starting over again. “My mind doesn’t tend to go to ‘what ifs,’” he says, before slamming his fist on the table like a mock dictator and snarling sarcastically, “We could have been ruling the world!”

At his core, Hirsh enjoys the process of building and deal-making more so than presiding over an established empire, which makes Cookie Jar the perfect venture for him. “The programming itself is what drives me,” he says, “and I love the art of building a company.”

Former Osgoode dean mentioned as potential Supreme Court appointee

The Ontario Court of Appeal is talent-rich, wrote Lawyer’s Weekly June 2 in a story about potential appointees to the Supreme Court of Canada. Bilingual candidates from that court, who are frequently mentioned, include…Justice James MacPherson, a former Osgoode Hall Law School dean and ex-executive legal officer of the Supreme Court.

Community seeks light rail revival on Finch

The Finch Light Rail Transit line may be dead, but residents and institutions along Finch West came to City Hall this week to urge council to resuscitate the light rail line for the sake of west-end North York communities that have been living with inadequate transit for too long, wrote June 2.

The committee heard from York University Development Corporation [President] Bud Purves, who said the University needed better east-west transit, just as much as it needed the subway extension of the Spadina line.

"Not all of York’s people live on subway lines," he said. "York is a commuter university; it is characterized by students who live at home. York students need to move east and west on Finch for school, home, jobs and family duties."

Waffle founder thinks Layton’s success will dampen grumbling from NDP diehards

After voters placed the NDP squarely in the mainstream of Canadian politics, Jack Layton must now face a convention where some party diehards are urging a sharp left turn, wrote The Globe and Mail June 3.

One of the founders of the Waffle movement, York University political science professor James Laxer [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], said [NDP leader Jack] Layton’s political success will surely dampen any grumbling from the party’s left flank. “I think that tension is always there,” he said. “I think frankly that it’s going to be muted at this next convention.”

Laxer said Layton’s success at avoiding those internal splits is partly because he won with left-leaning credentials, meaning many gave him the benefit of the doubt as he edged the party toward the centre. “When you’re winning, it tends to mean that people who are going to suggest that ‘Hey, we should be doing different things,’ are less likely to get much exposure and less likely to even make the effort in a kind of serious way,” he said.

York prof comments on plight of hotel housekeeping staff

Housekeepers in Canadian hotels are at a disadvantage on multiple fronts, says York University Professor Steven Tufts [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], because they’re overwhelmingly female immigrants. For some, English is a second – or third, or fourth – language, wrote The Globe and Mail June 2, in a story about a public demonstration by hotel housekeeping staff in cities across the continent to demand more be done to stop assaults. The work itself is menial and often solo, cleaning the most intimate possessions of a total stranger who takes brief possession of a room before moving on.

RFP for stadium renovations due out this summer

Infrastructure Ontario, which is leading the construction of all Pan Am Games sports venues, is scheduled to issue a request for proposals for renovating…the athletic facility at York University…by either July or August, wrote Hamilton Mountain News July 2. The request for qualifications from bidders for the projects was closed May 12. Infrastructure Ontario is reviewing the submissions now. All the Pan Am venues need to be completed by 2014, one year before the 2015 games are held.

York scholars will explore ItalCult at conference series

Professors Roberta Iannacito-Provenzano and Jana Vizmuller-Zocco of York University [Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], will speak on Italianità on Facebook as part of “Language and Ethnicity in Social Media: Italian Canadians on Facebook”, wrote Toronto’s Italian community newspaper Tandem June 2, in a story about the ItalCult series of conferences to be held next week at the Italian Cultural Institute of Toronto.

Grad named interim chair of health network

Randy Kapashesit [BA ’86] is the new interim chair of the North East Local Health Integration Network, wrote The Sudbury Star June 3. Kapashesit is a long-standing NE LHIN board director, appointed in September 2006. He became vice-chair in September 2010.

Kapashesit, who is from Moose Factory, is involved in First Nation activities, is a graduate of York University and is chair/chief of MoCreebec Council of the Cree Nation.

After a degree at York, she will take part in Fulbright program

Four Emirati students will study in the United States in the autumn as part of the Fulbright academic exchange program, wrote the United Arab Emirates’ June 3.

Butheina Kazim [BDes Spec. Hons. ’07], a student who has earned degrees from York University and [the UAE’s] Higher Colleges of Technology, said the year-long application process for the grant helped her to re-evaluate her goals and ambitions.

From Sicily, with love

Dominic Mancuso…is, quite simply, magnificent, whether he is performing a ballad or a more upbeat song, the kind you can almost imagine being played at Connie’s wedding in The Godfather, wrote BC’s Kamloops This Week June 2, in a story about the former music student. He brings every nuance of Sicilian music to the stage, backed by a superb band.

It’s just one of many tracks, all in Italian, that comprise Comfortably Mine, a release that won Mancuso a Juno Award for best world music – and the only recording in Italian only ever nominated for any category of the Canadian music awards.

Music wasn’t always what fuelled the fire inside the Toronto-born son of a family that claims its roots in Sicily. Hockey was all-consuming at one point, until an accident left Mancuso with a broken back and a year of rehabilitation.

The accident came at a bad time – Mancuso was preparing to play hockey at York University. As he recovered, he picked up the guitar – and discovered a deep-seated love of music.

On air

  • Ananya Mukherjee-Reed, professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about Rabindranath Tagore, Bengali poet, novelist, musician, painter and playwright, on Radio Canada International’s “The Link” June 2.
  • New Brunswick’s French language radio CJEM-FM reported on York student Danyka Nadeau’s selection as one of the top three contestants in the COVERS MuchMusic Video Award, June 2.
  • Excerpts of a keynote speech by Stuart Shanker, Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy and Psychology in York’s Faculty of Health, given at the University of Waterloo’s Footprints symposium, was aired on CBC Radio’s “Ideas” program June 2.