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New dean to focus on equity, research, and student experience

Barbara Crow was hired in July to become the Dean, Arts and Science. Dr. Crow joins Queen’s from York University in Toronto where she was most recently the Dean, Graduate Studies. The Gazette caught up with Dean Crow to find out how the first few months have been, and learn more about this new member of the Queen’s community.

Barbara Crow, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, arrives at Queen's from York University where she most recently held the position of Dean, Graduate Studies. (University Communications)

How has the transition been for you?

"One of the wonderful things about starting at this time of year is that it is a bit quieter. So, while faculty are doing their research and the students are working, I have been able to meet the senior leaders and the department heads. Everybody has been very welcoming and has come to the table with their ideas and concerns about how to strengthen and reinforce the values of the Faculty of Arts & Science. It has been great to get access to their perspective. I value working with people who tell me what they think.

I also met with the Arts & Science Undergraduate Society (ASUS) and the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) and have been incredibly impressed with their commitment to the student experience. I look forward to continuing a positive working relationship with ASUS and SGPS.

The campus is beautiful, and I have been trying every day to walk through a new building. I have a sense of the different kind of community here, one I am looking forward to working with.

I am also really enjoying the change to my quality of life here. I am walking to work and I have, literally, twice skipped home because I am so thrilled to be there in 10 minutes."


What attracted you to Queen’s University?

"It has such a fantastic student reputation – bar none. Our undergraduates benefit from excellent undergraduate teaching and we have many services. I said during my hiring I am not going to be able to help you with retention – you have got that all figured out – but I can make contributions to help strengthen research and graduate education.

I am also really excited that Queen’s is taking a leadership role in wellness through the creation of the new Innovation and Wellness Centre – this is an important initiative for students, for staff, and for faculty."


What do you uniquely bring to the role of Dean of Arts and Science?

"I love my work. I love universities. I believe publicly funded postsecondary institutions can be fundamental part of strong communities, vibrant cultures, through the important analytic and critical thinking skills we teach. When you look at the data around people who have been to university, you see that on average, they have higher incomes, they are healthier, they are happier, and they contribute more to citizenship issues. We need to remind ourselves of this – we have to remember many of the other elements we get from a university education."


For those who haven’t met you yet, what should they know about you?

"I am a really firm believer in professional development and giving colleagues – students, staff, and faculty – tools to make informed decisions about what we want to achieve in the coming years. I am compelled by evidence supported with data. I try to make decisions based on what the research tells us and I think that is important for us as a university.

On a more personal note, I have a son attending Concordia University. My partner and I met on Canada World Youth and is a faculty member in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design at York University. I have been a vegetarian for over 30 years. I also began taking piano lessons as an adult, and I do this to remind myself of what it is like to be a student. It is a humbling experience to remember what it’s like not to understand things and to be reminded how much work it takes to do something well."


What are your priorities for the year ahead?

"I would like the graduate student experience to have the same reputation as the undergraduate student experience. We have a fantastic Dean of Graduate Studies here who has been a leader in Canada and I look forward to working with her supporting the graduate student experience.

In light of the exciting Nobel news in Physics, I am really keen to support our research strengths and to provide infrastructure for all of our colleagues to do well in research across the Arts and Science.

I have come from one of the most diverse universities in Canada, and I think it will be important to take up issues in equity and diversity. I also think the Truth and Reconciliation Task Force report has called for some important changes to the way we do things that will enhance indigeneity at Queen’s.

Those are all really important to me and will drive many of the decisions we will make."

Ahead by a century: The Hip imagines a better future

"The Tragically Hip in concert"
A still from the documentary, Long Time Running, premiering at TIFF next month, captures frontman of The Tragically Hip, Gord Downie, as he leads the band through a concert in Vancouver last summer. Robert Morrison (English Language and Literature) attended The Tragically Hip’s final tour stop in Kingston. (Courtesy of TIFF)

This column was originally written for and published by The Conversation Canada, 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.

Good poetry is explosive. It makes us re-examine what we thought we knew, and in some instances it urges us to start again with a different, usually broader, viewpoint. Good songs — as Bob Dylan’s Nobel Laureate reminds us — have a similar impact.

One year ago, on Aug. 20, The Tragically Hip played the final gig of their 2016 summer farewell tour. Their lead singer, Gord Downie, had recently been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, and many thought it might be the last time they were together on stage. If you missed their shows, the documentary, Long Time Running, premiering next month at the Toronto International Film Festival, chronicles those exhilarating and emotional performances. I watched the final show on the big screen in Kingston’s Market Square. I wanted the Hip to play several songs, but none more so than “Ahead by a Century.” It is, I think, their greatest hit, and it was wonderful to hear them perform it as the last song of the show.

Why is it such a fitting way to finish? What about it is explosive? What does it mean to be “ahead by a century?” The song is so rich that there are a variety of good interpretations, but here is one way of thinking about it.

At its most basic level, “Ahead by a Century” is a song with a broad sweep, as it weaves together past, present and future. It is about time, memory, loss, disappointment and desire. But it is also about Canada’s identity and the politics of hope. It is a song in which the Hip asks us to shed what holds us back, and to imagine a future that sets us free.

Childhood’s golden years

Ahead by a Century
First we’d climb a tree and maybe then we’d talk
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life
That’s when the hornet stung me and I had a feverish dream
With revenge and doubt, tonight we smoke them out
You are ahead by a century
Stare in the morning shroud and then the day began
I tilted your cloud, you tilted my hand
Rain falls in real time and rain fell through the night
No dress rehearsal, this is our life
That’s when the hornet stung me and I had a serious dream
With revenge and doubt tonight, we smoked them out
You are ahead by a century
But this is our life and disappointing you getting me down
Songwriters: Gordon Downie / Johnny Fay / Joseph Paul Langlois / Robert Baker / Robert Gordon Sinclair
Ahead by a Century lyrics © Peermusic Publishing

The opening verse recalls childhood. It begins with the words “First thing,” which immediately captures the excitement children feel when they recount their day. The singer and his friend have played together many times: “First thing we’d climb a tree / And maybe then we’d talk / Or sit silently / And listen to our thoughts.”

Among other things, the two discuss what they will do when they get older, or what they think their future will be like. They have “illusions of someday” that as children cast “a golden light.” But as the rest of the song reveals, their ideas of the future are “illusions.” It will not be as they planned or hoped. Having been back to childhood, and then forward to “someday,” the verse closes with the present and an insistence on living as fully and genuinely as possible: “No dress rehearsal / This is our life.”

In the bridge, the “illusions” of childhood are inevitably and almost accidentally punctured. The voice of the child is again captured when he explains — perhaps to a parent — “that’s where the hornet stung me.” This unexpected and unpleasant experience marks the end of childhood’s “golden light,” and brings on the “feverish dream” of adulthood, where we are all addled by emotions such as “revenge and doubt.”

The final line of the bridge — like the final line of the verse — returns us to the present: “Tonight we smoke them out.” Literally, of course, the “them” in this line refers to the hornets, but it also refers to “revenge and doubt.” The singer plans to use smoke to drive the hornets from their nest, in the same way that he hopes to drive revenge and doubt from himself, in an attempt to return to an earlier time when he lived free of these emotions.

Political agitators were ahead by a century

The chorus is six words – “You are ahead by a century” – repeated three times. The singer is addressing his partner, who is perhaps the same person he climbed trees with as a child. Yet the two are now far apart. He is thinking of the past and struggling in the present. She is living 100 years into the future. She has broken free of at least some of what thwarts and binds us now.

She is already thinking and behaving in ways that will eventually gain broad political and cultural acceptance, but that are currently deemed unacceptable.

For example, in Britain in the 1810s, tens of thousands of women and men gathered in open-air protests to demand the right to vote, but it was 1918 before there was universal male suffrage and 1928 before there was universal female suffrage.

Those early 19th century demonstrators were ahead by a century (and more). They recognized a blatant social injustice and started campaigning against it, but it took one hundred years for the rest of society to catch up.

In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. — another Nobel Laureate — spoke powerfully of his “dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Since then, 53 years have passed, and we are nowhere near living up to these words, as the recent bigotry in Charlottesville, Va., makes shatteringly clear. Will we live up to them by 2064, or will we discover — sadly and shamefully — that King was ahead by much more than a century?

"The Tragically Hip receive their honorary degrees"
Members of The Tragically Hip, from left, Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois, Gord Sinclair, and Rob Baker, received honorary degrees from Queen's during the 2016 Spring Convocation. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

A vision of Canada beset with tragedy and injustice

In the second verse, the singer continues to draw together the despair of adulthood (“Stare in the morning shroud”) with the exuberance of childhood (“I tilted your cloud”), before anchoring himself in the present (“Rain falls in real time”), and insisting again on the importance of using our time meaningfully: “No dress rehearsal / This is our life.”

The second bridge runs revealing variations on the first, and deepens the themes already in place: This time it is not “where” but “when the hornet stung me,” and the dream is not “feverish” but “serious.” Then, as the band and the singer build toward the close, the chorus is repeated twice, emphasizing with more and more urgency the distance between the singer and his partner.

The song might have ended with the repetition of the chorus, but the singer has one final thing to say: “And disappointing you is getting me down.” It is his acknowledgement that he wishes he was as far ahead as she is, and perhaps too it hints at her disappointment that he is unable to close the ground between them.

But thinking and feeling as he does, regarding the past as he does, misspending his time as he does, seeing a “morning shroud” instead of a morning sun as he does, he seems trapped while she moves into a far more expansive future.

More broadly, the Hip themselves in many ways invoke the dynamics that are at work within this song. They write about Canadian history, language, peoples, landscapes, and towns, and their sense of who we are, where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and where we need to go is at the crux of their music.

Their vision of Canada is beset by tragedy and injustice, but also lifted by beauty, humour, and courage. Most of all, at their finest, they urge us to rethink the present, and to imagine a more generous and accepting future that should not be ahead of us by a century.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Collaboration on sustainability and development continues to grow

  • Participants in the 3rd Sino-Canada Workshop for Environmental Sustainability and Development, including a delegation of faculty and graduate students from Tongji University, gather for a group photo in the Biosciences Complex at Queen's. (Supplied Photo)
    Participants in the 3rd Sino-Canada Workshop for Environmental Sustainability and Development, including a delegation of faculty and graduate students from Tongji University, gather for a group photo in the Biosciences Complex at Queen's. (Supplied Photo)
  • Stephen Lougheed (Biology), Director of the Queen's University Biological Station (QUBS) provides a tour of the facility for a delegation from Tongji University. (Supplied Photo)
    Stephen Lougheed (Biology), Director of the Queen's University Biological Station (QUBS) provides a tour of the facility for a delegation from Tongji University. (Supplied Photo)
  • Tongji University master's student Liu Jinling presents her research as part of the 3rd Sino-Canada Workshop for Environmental Sustainability and Development. (Supplied Photo)
    Tongji University master's student Liu Jinling presents her research as part of the 3rd Sino-Canada Workshop for Environmental Sustainability and Development. (Supplied Photo)
  • Interim Vice-Principal (Research) John Fisher welcomes Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson during the opening of the 3rd Sino-Canada Workshop for Environmental Sustainability and Development. (Supplied Photo)
    Interim Vice-Principal (Research) John Fisher welcomes Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson during the opening of the 3rd Sino-Canada Workshop for Environmental Sustainability and Development. (Supplied Photo)

A delegation of faculty and graduate students from Tongji University visited Queen’s on July 13-15 for the 3rd annual Sino-Canada Workshop on Environmental Sustainability and Development.

[Tri-Colour Globe]
Queen's in the World

The event, an initiative by the Department of Biology and School of Environmental Studies with their Chinese counterparts, featured presentations on current research projects and discussions for future collaboration opportunities. Also attending the workshop were government and industry representatives from China. Kingston Economic Development Corporation (KEDCO), Innovation Park and Queen’s Industry Partnerships hosted a very informative session at Innovation Park which showcased some of the water technologies that exist in the local economy.

Queen’s and Tongji have collaborated on various projects in recent years including the 2+2 Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science, a long-standing Joint Biology Field Course that occurs in China and the Queen’s in alternating years, and the Sino-Canada Network for Environment and Sustainable Development.

Internationalization in one of the four pillars of the Queen’s University Strategic Framework 2014–2019. The Comprehensive International Plan was launched in August 2015 to help the university build on its international strengths and direct future internationalization efforts. The plan’s goals include strengthening Queen’s international research engagement and creating more opportunities for student mobility through academic exchange and study-abroad programs. The plan also aims to attract high-quality international students to Queen’s and to increase international educational opportunities on Queen’s campus. China is a region of focus within the plan. For more information on the Queen’s-China Connection and Queen’s international program overall, visit the International website.

A taste of Canadian culture and politics

"Australian students participating in Queen’s Political Studies Summer Institute hold a Canadian flag as they stand in front of Niagara Falls"
Students from Australian National University participating in Queen’s Political Studies Summer Institute (QPSSI) hold a Canadian flag as they visit Niagara Falls. (Supplied Photo)

An innovative program in Canada, Queen’s Political Studies Summer Institute (QPSSI) recently welcomed 10 students from Australian National University (ANU) to participate in a hands-on learning experience, studying the political landscape of Canada.

"Tri-Colour Globe"
Queen's In the World

The program, now in its second year, was developed by Jonathan Rose (Political Studies) and master’s student, Elisha Corbett.

“QPSSI is truly a unique experience because it is the first political studies institute in Canada. It’s also unique compared to other political studies institutes in North America in that its primary learning objective is a hands-on learning experience,” says Ms. Corbett.

The program, which ran this summer from June 30 to July 15, combined a lecture-style education with the benefits of interactive learning through field trips that complemented the material. The students learned about the Canadian political system before being taken on a parliamentary tour of Ottawa, and likewise were versed in Quebec nationalism before visiting Old Montreal. At the completion of the program, students return to their home institution with the equivalent of a Queen’s one term credit in Canadian Politics.

“After doing research on other summer institute programs in Canada, I realized they all lacked the fundamental component of experiencing Canada in a hands-on way,” says Ms. Corbett, “I felt compelled to create a program where Canada’s unique narrative and history could be learned without a textbook.”

The benefits of experiential learning in a cross-cultural capacity are not lost on the student participants.

“Because I have always lived in Australia, as much as I would like to say I’m well versed in the world, my world view is somewhat narrow,” says Kelvin Chen, a first-year political science and philosophy major from ANU and participant in this summer’s QPSSI program. “This program fit well into my university agenda in terms of being able to expand my world view along the lines of my academic and personal growth pursuits.”

“What attracted me most to this program was the cultural experience and knowing that a cross-cultural exchange is the best way to understand a new culture, through immersion,” adds Leah Huang, another ANU participant.

Of particular interest to the students was the first hand contact with Canada’s binational culture.

“As an Australian, it’s very interesting to me that both Canada and Australia are remnants of the British Commonwealth and so I was excited to draw the similarities of our cultures. What surprised me was the strength of the francophone culture in Canada. It was interesting to see the contrast of francophone and anglophone culture in one country. That was a bit of a culture shock,” says Mr. Chen.

“I understand Canada’s French and British colonial differences, but Canada has been federated for 150 years now, so the fact that Quebecers are so patriotic about their French heritage is very unique, I believe,” agrees Ms. Huang.

Ultimately, what Ms. Corbett and her team hope for the program is that the students come away with not just a credit, but a renewed idea of what Canada is and how Canadian politics work.

“I hope that the program challenges their preconceived notions of Canada,” says Emilio Frometa, a master’s student in Queen’s Industrial Relations and a QPSSI staff member. “Although Canada as a whole has its divides, we are blessed to be blanketed on the world stage by a narrative of Canada as a friendly peace-keeping nation. It’s important to really learn about and engage with the institutions of Canada as a unique country and not just a stereotype, and my hope is that the students form their own opinions about Canadian politics and Canada’s role in the world.”

More information on the institute and its programming, is available online.

Internationalization is one of the four pillars of the Queen’s University Strategic Framework 2014–2019. The Comprehensive International Plan was launched in August 2015 to help the university build on its international strengths and direct future internationalization efforts. The plan’s goals include strengthening Queen’s international research engagement and creating more opportunities for student mobility through academic exchange and study-abroad programs. The plan also aims to attract high-quality international students to Queen’s and to increase international educational opportunities on Queen’s campus. Learn more on the International website.

World-class research facility receives funding

SNOLAB receives provincial funding worth $28.8 million.

Today, at Science North, Reza Moridi, Minister of Research, Innovation and Science, announced $28.8 million in provincial funding over the next five years to support the operation of the Queen’s-affiliated, SNOLAB, a world-class international facility for deep underground science. The laboratory is located two kilometres underground in the Vale Creighton mine in Sudbury.

"Provincial government and Queen's University representatives announce funding for SNOLAB"
John Fisher, Interim VP (Research), Minister Reza Moridi and SNOLAB director Nigel Smith (Physics) explored the underground laboratory prior to the funding announcement.

“SNOLAB is a world-renowned underground laboratory specializing in neutrino and dark matter physics, and our government is proud to continue supporting this important research,” says Minister Moridi. “Through investments in facilities like SNOLAB, Ontario is paving the way for future discoveries that can add to our understanding of the universe, as well as strengthening our province's competitive edge."

Born out of the Queen’s-led Sudbury Neutrino Observatory – for which Queen’s Professor Arthur McDonald was named the co-recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics – SNOLAB is one of only a handful of underground laboratories worldwide capable of supporting the current and future generations of subatomic and astroparticle physics experiments, seeking to unlock the mysteries of the universe.

The work conducted as part of the SNO collaboration and subsequently at SNOLAB has led to groundbreaking results cementing Canada’s, and Queen’s, reputation as a world leader in the field.  Building on this history of success, Queen’s is home to Gilles Gerbier, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Particle Astrophysics. SNOLAB continues to attract top-flight scientific collaborations, including the Canadian Particle Astrophysics Research Centre (CPARC).

"SNOLAB neutrino detector"
A researcher works deep underground in Sudbury.

"The provincial support for operations is crucial to Ontario's leadership in high impact fundamental research, the long-term competitiveness of Canada’s research facilities and affiliated universities such as Queen’s,” says John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “The work happening at SNOLAB has, and will continue to have, a real and substantial impact on how we detect and understand the fundamental components of our universe, with a remarkable potential for wide spread impact.”

The funds will be used to employ the 96 staff at SNOLAB and support the operations and maintenance of our world-leading facilities, allowing Canadian researchers and their international partners to undertake world-class research into astroparticle physics, nuclear and particle physics, astronomy, genomics and mining innovation.

“SNOLAB is really delighted to be the recipient of continued operational funding from the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science,” says Nigel Smith (Physics), SNOLAB director. “Coupled with support from the federal government and in-kind support from Vale, our mining hosts, the $28.8 million award from the ministry will allow continued operations at SNOLAB over the next five years. This will allow us to attract and support world-leading experiments and researchers to Northern Ontario and maintain Canadian leadership within the global deep underground research community."

For more information on SNOLAB visit the website.


SNOLAB is an underground science laboratory specializing in neutrino and dark matter physics. Located two kilometres below the surface in the Vale Creighton Mine located near Sudbury Ontario Canada, SNOLAB is an expansion of the existing facilities constructed for the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) solar neutrino experiment. SNOLAB’s member institutions include Queen’s University, Carleton University, Laurentian University, Université de Montréal and the University of Alberta. Researchers at these institutions are active participants in the SNOLAB research program.

Taking a closer look at who's studying online

Arts and Science Online (ASO) continues to grow at Queen’s, both in terms of courses and enrolment.

"Arts and Science Online Survey Results Graphic"
The second annual survey by Arts and Science Online provides a clearer picture of who is taking Queen's online courses and why. Click on image to enlarge.

Currently offering 125 fully online courses in three academic terms, ASO recently conducted its second annual survey to gain a clearer picture of who is taking these courses and why.

A total of 154 respondents participated in the survey and provided information ranging from age and gender to why they chose online studies at Queen’s .

Among the findings is that the majority of online students are female, making up 78 per cent, while those identifying as gender neutral increased to two per cent. The average age was found to be 33 years old while nearly 60 per cent of respondents were working full time.

The survey also revealed that the two main reasons for the respondents continuing their education through online studies were “to support a career change” at 36 per cent and “to finish or upgrade a degree” at 26 per cent. The results also showed an increase in the number of students who already have post-secondary education to 90 per cent, including 48 per cent with a college diploma, 11 per cent with a bachelor’s degree and six per cent with a master’s degree.

Leading the way in terms of why the students chose Queen’s was the university's reputation for quality.

“We know the profile of our distance students is very different from the profile of our on-campus students. We want to ensure our distance students have a great Queen’s experience,” says Bev King, Assistant Dean (Teaching & Learning) for the Faculty of Arts and Science. “Having two years of data now allows us to better understand our students, and enables us to innovate curriculum, make better marketing decisions, and improve our student services.”

Visit the ASO website to learn more about online learning and the courses available.

Record number of first year students to study at the castle

  • For hundreds of Canadian students this upcoming academic year, this will be home - historic Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex, England.
    For hundreds of Canadian students this upcoming academic year, this will be home - historic Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex, England.
  • Imagine this as your classroom as you study history, arts, or science. The Bader International Study Centre is 'a unique and special place to study and work'.
    Imagine this as your classroom as you study history, arts, or science. The Bader International Study Centre is 'a unique and special place to study and work'.
  • Why learn about historic art through a screen when you can see it in person? Students on a field trip visit the Musée Guimet in Paris.
    Why learn about historic art through a screen when you can see it in person? Students on a field trip visit the Musée Guimet in Paris.

With a new school year soon to begin, there is a renewed sense of enthusiasm and pride for staff and faculty at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC). The incoming class for the 2017-18 academic year is 139 first-year Queen’s students – the largest yet – and, with new Vice Provost and Executive Director Hugh Horton having just started his term, the next year looks to be a significant one in the campus’ history.

“This is a unique and special place to study, and to work, and I am excited to be joining the team at the BISC,” says Dr. Horton. “My first priorities include building on our recent strong enrolment performance, expanding our partnerships locally and with the Kingston campus, and continuing to refine and enhance the unique and personal student experience we have established at this campus. I look forward to building on the progress which has been made in recent years.”

Next year will mark 25 years since Queen’s University alumni Alfred Bader (Sc’45, Arts’46, MSc’47, LLD’86) and Isabel Bader (LLD’07) donated Herstmonceux Castle to Queen’s – now known as the Bader International Study Centre. Since then, the castle has undergone renovations, generated many new partnerships, and established itself as a significant and distinct member of the Canadian higher education landscape.

In addition to providing a home and educational campus to about 250 Canadian university students each year, the BISC is involved in a number of other business ventures year-round and additional revenue-generating plans are in the works to help offset the cost of operating the castle. For example, when not in use by students, the site serves as a centre for academic and business conferences, a venue for festivals, weddings, concerts, plays, workshops, and exhibitions, and as a bed-and-breakfast facility and a tourist attraction for visitors. It was recently named one of the top 10 castles in the UK for a family day out by The Guardian

“The BISC is a key part of Queen’s internationalization strategy, supporting the aims of our strategic framework,” says Teri Shearer, Deputy Provost (Academic Operations and Inclusion). “Our new programs have been very successful, both in terms of attracting excellent students, and in student outcomes.”

In recent years, programming at the BISC has expanded to include a first-year science program in 2015, and a concurrent education (arts) program in 2016. These two programs join the existing first-year arts program, and an international law program. All programs offer a unique educational experience: small class sizes and close contact with professors, an interdisciplinary and community-oriented environment, and the opportunity for experiential learning activities in an international setting, whether at the castle or in sites across Europe.

“The field studies offered while I was studying art history at the castle were truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and being lectured in front of the historic paintings I was studying were some of the most amazing academic experiences I have ever had,” Maddi Andrews (Artsci’19) said in a recent news article, reflecting on her experience learning about Claude Monet’s “Water Lillies” series.

To learn more about the BISC, visit queensu.ca/bisc.

A musical tribute to Canada

[Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag, painted by Maxwell Newhouse]
Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag, painted by Maxwell Newhouse.

Over the years, John Burge, composer and professor of composition and theory at the Dan School of Drama and Music, has created several pieces that bring various aspects of the Canadian experience to life.

His latest work pays tribute to Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation and is a joint commission by the National Youth Orchestra of Canada (NYOC), the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra and The Kingston Symphony Orchestra. It is called Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag, and it’s based upon four paintings of the same name created by Maxwell Newhouse in 1975 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Canadian flag.

The original artwork focuses attention on the iconic maple leaf in the centre of the Canadian flag as it progresses through the four seasons: beginning in full summer splendor with the normal rending of the flag; the leaf falling in the autumn canvas; absent in winter; and returning anew in spring as a small sprig.

Not a complex painting perhaps, but the impact is clear.

For more on the creative process and inspiration behind John Burge’s composition Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag, read his first-hand reflection published in The Conversation.

“It’s such a simple concept,” Dr. Burge says, “but one that resonates deeply with many people who view it for the first time.”

Dr. Burge was tasked with writing two versions of the piece – one for a large Romantic orchestra and another for a smaller orchestra. Written together, Dr. Burge has spent much time over the past two and a half years creating the piece to reflect the artwork and meet the requirements of the commissioners.

Mr. Newhouse has shown complete support for Burge’s musical interpretation of his artwork and even painted two new smaller versions of Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag for Dr. Burge, including one that currently adorns the wall of his office in Harrison-LeCaine Hall. Throughout the music-writing process, actually having the artwork at hand provided many points of inspiration as well as a reminder of the task ahead.

“I don’t think Max intended this, but the subconscious effect of having his artwork in my home and university office meant that every time I looked at the painting, I was reminded that I had to get composing the music even if I really didn’t have time on that particular day to work it,” he says. 

The smaller orchestra piece premiered on May 13 in Saskatoon, while the Kingston performance is set for October 22 at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. The NYOC will perform the larger scoring of the piece three times during its summer tour: July 20 in Stratford; July 23 in Montreal (which will be recorded by CBC for broadcast on a later date); and August 13 in Nanaimo. 

After taking in the premiere performance in Saskatchewan, Dr. Burge feels confident that the message that he found in the painting comes through in the music as well.

“Canada is a big country with lots of nationalities, ethnicities, and Indigenous peoples, and yet in composing this work I was struck with the thought that there are perhaps two things underlying the music that most Canadians can agree upon," he says. "First, there is a strong sense of pride in the maple leaf as a beautiful emblem for our country. Secondly, we seem preoccupied with the weather and, by extension, the changing seasons. Dealing with the environment and making the most of what can be both a harsh and nurturing climate seems a particularly Canadian trait. To have a piece of music that combines the flag with the seasons is, I think, a perfect pairing.”

Dr. John Burge

And while it was a labor of love there were challenges along the way.

Foremost, Dr. Burge explains, is that the piece could not be longer than 20 minutes in order to fit the NYOC’s programming demands. With four movements in the range of five minutes each, he struggled to meet the target and with the deadline just months away he still had too much music. 

Then he had a breakthrough.

“It was around Christmas time, and I still had all the sketches spread out on my piano. I had been playing through the piece for six months, basically finished, and I still had a minute and a half to two minutes extra,” he says. “I just knew that I had to go back and make cuts – an often painstaking process for any artist. The 'eureka' moment occurred when I realized that since summer is the most precious and shortest time that we experience, I had to make it the shortest movement as well. Instead of making little cuts to all four movements I took a big pair of scissors to summer which now clocks in at three minutes and 30 seconds, or even shorter if the conductor and players are really inspired to play quickly. As a result, I could keep the slightly longer movements that remained intact and the entire piece takes just under 20 minutes. If I’m proud of anything it’s that I was able to make the piece stay within the 20-minute goal.”

For more information about the musical creation of Four Seasons of the Canadian Flag, visit John Burge’s website. 

The July 23 Montreal performance at Maison Symphonique will be streamed live and later archived on CBC.

Mean green protein

 'Team Duckweed' features, from left, Alex Stothart, Hana Chaudhury, Gilad Streiner, Santiago Spencer, and Rachel Amirault. These five Queen's students are participating in the Queen's Innovation Connector Summer Initiative, which is helping to kickstart their business. (Supplied Photo)

It’s full of protein and fibre. It’s a leafy green, and a rich source of Vitamin A and B. It’s a hearty plant – you could even say it grows like a weed.

The one remaining question on the mind of Queen’s students Hana Chaudhury (Comm’18), Rachel Amirault (Sc’18), Gilad Streiner (Artsci’17, Sc’17), Alex Stothart (Sc’18), and Santi Spencer (Sc’18) is: would you like to try some duckweed?

“We initially came across duckweed as a commercial opportunity from [an industry trend report] that highlighted alternative, plant-based protein sources,” explains Hana. “After conducting research, we were surprised – and delighted – to find that duckweed as food is a largely untapped market in North America. We saw it as both a great market opportunity, and as a chance to provide a much more sustainable protein alternative with little sacrifice on nutrition and a lower environmental footprint than most plant-based protein alternatives.”

The members of ‘Team Duckweed’ are currently participating in the Queen’s Innovation Centre Summer Initiative (QICSI), a summer-long bootcamp for budding entrepreneurs. They are using the time, and the feedback of QICSI mentors, to validate their market, conduct tests, research their product, and design the system that will eventually help them grow their crop. Hana and the team are grateful for the opportunity they have had through the QICSI program to learn these lessons and develop their business in a safe environment.

A successful expedition to gather duckweed. The next place you see it may be a store shelf near you. (Supplied Photo).

“It’s an unparalleled opportunity for young people interested in entrepreneurship,” says Hana. “We have loved having the feedback from mentors who have worked in this field and have a wealth of knowledge to provide us with, as well as the quality of the speakers and entrepreneurship education the program has provided. We quickly built a strong community with the rest of our cohort, and seeing everyone’s hard work definitely fuels the competitive fire and has pushed us to work harder.”

But, of course, before their business gets off the ground there’s that million dollar question: how does it taste?

“We have tried duckweed in small quantities and, to us, it tasted like nothing,” adds Hana. “Granted, when we taste it in larger quantities we will probably get a better sense of its taste profile. We initially began with the idea of developing a taste neutral nutritional powder that could be added to any meal in small quantities. We are exploring some other options such as incorporating it into a sauce, breads, or another food product, but are still in the process of researching what end-product consumers will gravitate towards most.”

QICSI runs until mid-August, and ‘Team Duckweed’ is one of eight teams participating in this year’s bootcamp. Learn more about QICSI at queensu.ca/innovationcentre

The next superfood? A photo of duckweed harvested by 'Team Duckweed'. (Supplied Photo)


Last chance to see New Eyes on the Universe exhibit

The New Eyes on the Universe exhibit – featuring the groundbreaking work of Queen's Professor Emeritus and Nobel Laureate Art McDonald, and his team at SNOLAB – will be on view at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre for one more week, until July 9.

The interactive exhibit highlights the discoveries of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) project. Dr. McDonald shared the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics for this experiment, which proved that solar neutrinos change their flavour en route to Earth, an important discovery for explaining the nature of matter and the structure of the universe.

Created by SNOLAB with Science North, this touring installation in the Agnes atrium features a special component for the Queen's setting: a real-time cloud chamber that makes visible some of the subatomic particles that continually bombard us.

Admission is free. More information available in the Gazette or on the Agnes website.


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