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While the Cenotaph in downtown Red Deer is a tribute to those who fought in the wars of the twentieth century, it is also a visible manifestation of the spirit of a city that wrestles with the contemporary issues faced by cities around the globe - inclusion, urbanization, culture, history, and sustainability.

Since it was installed in 1922, the Cenotaph has weathered controversies in nearly every decade as the city has grown both physically and culturally around it. The creation of the new Veteran's Park has also been the subject of public discussion – how to use this space now and in the future, while honouring the rich historical and cultural diversity of Red Deer's past.

Creating inclusive, friendly, welcoming, and user-friendly spaces downtown is a major goal of the City planners, according to Charity Dyck, Downtown Coordinator for the City of Red Deer. “It's the perfect location, “ she says. “Being so visible to two main roads going right through the downtown, it's ideal for events that bring the community together, not only for paying respect to the veterans but to give the public and downtown workers access.”

City Manager Craig Curtis says that the Cenotaph “is still very much the focus. But now people can read and enjoy the plaques and new panels safely.”

“The Veterans Park has the ability to be more accessible to foot traffic, and it enables more visitors to enjoy a space in the community downtown,” Dyck adds. “We can see the natural linear path way downtown, from the renovated Community Centre and Alexander Way, to Veterans Park, to the outdoor patios in the public spaces downtown. Gaetz Avenue is now being revitalized as part of a vision for the downtown. “

Following extensive consultations with community organizations, institutions, and citizens, in 2009 an action plan was approved by Red Deer City Council, with recommendations from the Greater Downtown Action Plan Steering Committee. Distribution of pamphlets and other written information was enhanced by public “open house” style reviews of the plans, meetings with key stakeholders, and a “Greater Downtown Planning Week”. Feedback was generated through these forums, as well as by collecting questionnaires from the public.

Progress and Potential, a 2008 update of the Red Deer Great Downtown Action Plan, reveals that “at least 60 plans, studies, and related documents flowed” from the original action plan adopted in 2000 by City Hall. Recommendations that remained relevant to the 2008 plan included a downtown cultural focus by strengthening the connections between specific downtown spaces, but also by enhancing the “authenticity”, or historical identity, of the city. Comprehensive, long term strategies and funding for projects in the public realm to connect the downtown hub to recreational areas, and to create specific spaces that enhance social interactions were also recommended.

The 2008 Greater Downtown Action Plan identified six key themes: Great Streets, Great Places, Great Connections, Vitality, Authenticity, and Sustainability. The action plan update also noted evidence of a desire by residents to support the “growing up” of Red Deer, building a higher density urban centre with an emphasis on sustainable living. In fact, the authors of the 2008 document note that throughout the world successful downtowns are created through a lively and vibrant interaction of businesses and commerce, families, visitors, and citizens in multi-use spaces.

According to Dyck, the Veterans Park improves access to the downtown hub. “People can create connections here, experience their friends and neighbours. On nice days you can really see the change of activity downtown. We have seen with events likes Centrefest and Fiestaville that the space is ideal, and requests by community groups to use this space have increased because of the great layout.”

According to the 2008 action plan update, the “wide axis of Ross Street was designed not only for the day to day commercial life of the new frontier town, but also to hold markets, civic celebrations and parades.” The location of the Cenotaph has been contested and debated many times, yet during construction on Ross Street at 49th Avenue, feedback from the public indicated that many people appreciated the “slowing down” in the downtown core, true to the trend in contemporary urban centres, according to the authors of Progress and Potential.

“The Downtown Business Association has been responsible for many events,” says Dyck. “They recognize the importance of these events to generate business at the street level, as well as spin off business. It creates economic prosperity for local people. You can easily visit local businesses and see what our entrepreneurs are doing, and hopefully support local businesses first. “

According to Curtis, the design and consulting firm Stantec will inhabit the top five floors of Executive Place, a new office and retail tower beside Veterans Park. Along with the move downtown of the Red Deer College Donald School of Business, the flavour of the historic core of the city will be an eclectic mix of retail, commerce, and culture; what Curtis calls a “return of pedestrians to the downtown.”

Dyck points out that the goal has been to support art and culture, as well as business interests. “The aim to is see that culture is accessible to all residents,” Dyck says.

Other prairie cities, such as Winnipeg with its historical The Forks district, have made the shift into the 21st century, embracing the historic heart of the city to develop, evolve, and grow, as well as showcase their unique identity, diversity, innovation, culture and art. “It's being used exactly as we had hoped,” Curtis says of Veterans Park.

“It's not just a piece of concrete,” says Dyck regarding the Cenotaph, the new park featuring an installation of panels depicting Red Deer history. “This is about creating spaces for the public to make their own."


First printed in Red Deer Advocate, Tuesday, September 20, 2011

May not be reprinted without prior permission of author


Local Karate Students Awarded Black Belts

A black belt in karate is like a Zen koan, or riddle. It is the hardest thing you may ever do but, paradoxically, anybody can do it. Even the name of a certain style of karate - Goju Ryu, meaning “soft and hard”- seems to be contradictory. For Val Joa and Darren Davis, grading for their black belts in Toronto this summer was a milestone, yet these two students of Central Alberta Martial Arts (CAMA) in Sylvan Lake say “its just the beginning.”

Sensei Christine Braun compares black belt training to completing a university degree, saying “Now they are ready for graduate studies, or a PhD.” Bearing the logo “life skills through karate”, CAMA offers not only self defense and tai chi instruction for individuals and families, but also bullying awareness programs, thai yoga massage, life coaching, and special programs aimed at fostering self esteem and confidence in kids. The Centre is a recipient of “Community Innovation and Involvement Award”.

Braun points out that the dojo kun, or karate school motto, reflects values which their students strive for – modesty, courtesy, respect, and spirit - and which have a positive influence in other areas of the karateka's, or student's, life.

“Its been a very emotional time,” says Braun, referring to the grading experience.“The gift to the community is that we can see that everyone can create changes. They inspire others to find the confidence to discover their path, and to ask how can you make yourself and the world better. “ Braun points out that one of the black belt candidates at the grading in Toronto was legally blind, underscoring her belief that karate is an internal, as well as technical, process.

Braun explains that the Japanese word karate means “empty hands”, but the translation of the term karate do is “way of the empty hand”, a subtle yet powerful difference that points to a life path, rather than simply sport. “This school concentrates on life lessons and the big picture. It molds a person, so I always have it in the back of mind about the fact that there is a proper way to act, and to present myself in this way,” says Davis.

“We all need a way in life to connect to,” Braun says. “We look at [the black belt candidates] uniquely as people, and we have helped them not only technically but in their character as well, leveraging their strengths and helping them to learn how to manage weakness. There has been lots of goal setting, discussing what they need to do both in and outside of the dojo.”

Of his ten year journey toward his black belt, Darren Davis says “it has been an interesting challenge. Its something that I never had to work hard to get out the door for. It was always a goal that I gave myself to keep training for, to get to that point. After a couple of years, it looked possible that it would become a milestone, not only to get there but now to go beyond as well.”

Davis feels that karate suits his tenacious personality. “You get out of it what you put in,” he says. “If you just go through the motions you are not better off, but if you give one hundred percent you will get one hundred percent back. Karate can be stressful, because of the challenge, but I always do the best I can.

Like Davis, Val Joa says the community at CAMA enmeshes with her personality. “I like the whole package, being taken out of my comfort zone. It has made me a stronger person, or at least it has made me recognize my strengths. Maybe its the discipline: its intensive, nothing else exists during that time I am in the dojo.” Joa discovered karate while attending college, then took time off from her practice while raising a family, always hoping to get back to it at some point when family commitments lessened. Her dedication and focus intensified over the past 3 years. “When I wasn't working, I was at the dojo,” she says, adding that this past year she added extra cardio conditioning as well as tai chi to refine her mental focus.

Davis and Joa are two of a total of five individuals who have attained black belts at CAMA since the days of part time lessons in the lower level of the Sylvan Lake Legion building approximately 15 years ago. Braun says black belt recipients must be at least sixteen years old, and that it takes about six or seven years to obtain this rank. In June, the two Sylvan Lake students participated in a three day belt grading with the teachers and other members of an associated dojo in Brampton, Ontario. Along with written assignments, attending seminars and practice, the formal grading consisted of performing basic self defense, sparring, demonstrating kata – a series of memorized, focused self defense movements – and use of special karate weapons.

Coincidentally, the pair happened to be among the older of the participants, but Braun says this was “a beautiful opportunity for them to provide patience and wisdom as a complement to that freshness, that dynamic thirst for life of the younger students.”

Davis, who is asthmatic, says that sparring three times back to back, made that component of the grading a challenge, but for Joa “going on the ground” during the self defense component was a mental demand. “I have been frustrated at times with that, and have an emotional response to grappling and ground work. It has taken me a couple of years to get past that,” she says. Both Davis and Joa are emphatic, though, that giving up was never an option. “You just keep going,” according to Davis. “At this level I wasn't going to ever stop. The worse thing is to quit.” Joa adds that all their mental and physical training up to this point has taught them to push through nervousness and doubt.

“There has got to be a lot of trust between a student and their Sensei,” she says. “And you know that they won't ask you to do something that they don't believe you can do. So, if you are invited to a grading, you just know that is what you are going to do. In fact, I was the most nervous at my yellow belt grading, because I didn't know what to expect back then. But you don't have to be perfect, you just have to come to it with all you have, and then make of it the best you can.”

The physical demands, the essay writing – never mind having to complete 1000 push-ups over the days of the grading - would be more than enough for most of us. But Joa says she was inspired by the other belt candidates of all ages and physical conditions, making their passion for martial arts a priority in their lives. Upon their return from Toronto, the pair gave a grading and board breaking demonstration in Sylvan Lake, attended by friends, family members, and other CAMA students. They were then presented with their black belts by Sensei Dennis Braun and Sensei Christine Braun, who noted that it was a great pleasure to present a black belt to another woman.

“The biggest thing I learned was that I have so much to learn!” says Davis, of the experience. “In a gym, full of aspiring black belts, I would look at the depth of knowledge there, whether a new kata or in knowledge of the weapons or tai chi, and it was mind blowing to know that there is so much to learn, I can do this the rest of my life and still not learn it all.”

In the past, the pair have assisted in teaching at Sylvan Lake and Rimbey dojos, and both state they will continue to look for ways to serve. “I'm a big believer in giving back to the community, and this community really supports us,” according to Joa, a sentiment seconded by Davis, who adds that karate teaches one to be humble. In fact, he says, “The higher you get, the more humble you become. Black belts are among some of the nicest people I have ever met. They go out of their way to help you, and totally lack arrogance.”

“Although the modern age stresses a sport or tournament competition in karate, the traditional art aspect embraced the internal process of perfecting your character, as well, “ Braun explains. “Beyond the technical aspect, it is important to have awareness, and focus, to never, ever give up, to put spirit first. Combined with technical growth, the development and strengthening of character can give you a positive outlook. When you learn how to cultivate your spirit, you create a positive life, and a positive impact on others.”

“A black belt student commits to the Samurai kun to serve,” says Braun. “They have a responsibility to know their own self, to heal themselves, to live with passion, and to help others do the same.”

 Article appeared in Central Alberta Sports NewsSylvan Lake News September, 2011

Cannot be reprinted, in whole or in part, without author's consent


Women at the Wheels


"It's no place for a girl!" That was the opinion of Joanne Courtoreill’s father, a heavy equipment operator. As a girl, Joanne often voiced her aspiration to someday follow in his footsteps. “I had always been interested in being an equipment operator when I was younger. But he said that the oilfield, especially, was no place for a girl, so I decided to wait until I was older.”

Many years later, after her father passed away, forty-four year old Courtoreill realized, “it was time to look after myself.” Frustrated with her warehouse job, she began researching training programs while putting away cash to fund her dream. Earlier this year, she successfully applied to the heavy equipment operator training offered by Olds College in collaboration with Women Building Futures (WBF).1

A classmate of Courtoreill, forty-seven year old Sandy Dodd is one of three female students in the same program, learning how to operate imposing-looking equipment – bulldozers, scrapers, loaders, excavators, graders, and packers.

Dodd felt motivated to earn a bigger pay cheque following a divorce. Growing up on a farm in Central Alberta, she entered the program with some prior machinery experience, as well as summer jobs in road construction. “Before taking this course, I did a little bit of everything, waitressing, working part time, raising kids along the way. Now I want to make some good money, and not be stuck indoors all summer.”

While women represent fifty percent of the provincial population, and an equal percentage of the labour force, less than eight per cent of Alberta’s trades-people are females. A growing number of women are drawn to trading up for jobs in construction, effectively showing that it is indeed a girl’s place. Wanda Wetterberg, Chief Executive Officer of WBF, says intensive training gives women a realistic understanding of the industry and the workplace environment.

According to Heidi Harris of Alberta Roadbuilders & Heavy Construction Association (ARHCA), attitudes are changing regarding women in construction trades. Feedback from employers says that women are reliable, easier on the equipment, and safety conscious.”

Some barriers remain for women entering what were once regarded as non-traditional occupations. “You need to have backups or a network, for example for childcare, and you have to realize that the job is mainly outdoors. Work is often seasonal so there are layoff times,” says Wetterberg.

Dodd and Courtoreill acknowledge that men on the job tend to be more direct than women, but say that they are not intimidated. “I’m sure I can do this,” says Dodd. Courtoreill has a positive outlook, as well. “After all, my boyfriend and I were drawn together because we both like working with equipment.”

Sixty-four year old Martha Mikkelson, attending training following a layoff after thirty years in the B.C. lumber business, isn’t put off by the seasonal factor. “There’s always snow-plowing in the winter, landscaping and road work the rest of the year,” she says.

The women view the seasonal aspect as an opportunity to spend extended focused time on family or other interests. Dodd, for instance, has the learning bug and is considering taking further courses in the safety field. Courtoreill is looking forward to the freedom, perhaps to travel. “You can work anywhere with these skills.”

What are the employment prospects, given all dire economic headlines? Heidi Harris maintains, “We [in road building] are pretty lucky. The provincial budgets for road building are close to last year’s. In economic tough times, governments focus on creating jobs in infrastructure. So we haven’t slowed down very dramatically, especially compared to other industries. The industry interest in hiring women equipment operators is high.”

Harris cautions that it isn’t for everyone. For women like Courtoreill, with family commitments, the appeal of lucrative wages is measured against those needs. But the income can mean a choice of more quality childcare, or even lift a family out of the poverty cycle.

Tess Flewelling, an Instructional Assistant in the Olds College program, says she has always been well treated on construction sites.” It’s still a men’s industry, and there are always a couple of guys who will make you prove yourself. It just takes patience; mostly the guys are pretty good.”

Dodd agrees, and laughingly refers to the ubiquitous blue porta-potties found on most construction sites, “I’m still a girl, I really like flush toilets, but I guess I’ll just deal with that!”

Printed May 2009, Real Women on the Run magazine

May not be copied, partially or in full, without consent of author


Aphasia: A Misunderstood Condition


Do you recognize this particular nightmare? You are trying anxiously to communicate that you need help, but when you open your mouth no sound comes out, maybe just a string of gibberish. In any case, no one is able to understand your desperation. For people experiencing aphasia, this is not simply a bad dream, it is a reality.

Karrie Page, a Registered Speech-Language Pathologist at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre describes aphasia as a condition where your brain holds your words hostage. “A stroke may impair not only mobility, but the ability to communicate,” she says. “The stroke renders its victims prisoners in their own bodies.”

Red Deer resident June Fowler describes her condition following a stroke in 2009 as “a mess”. Not only did the resulting aphasia leave her scrambling her words, but also unable to comprehend the speech of family members and hospital staff, or to read. Her road to recovery included weeks of intense speech therapy, as well as re-learning the practical and emotional fundamentals of communication.

Strokes are the most common cause of aphasia, but neurological diseases such as Parkinson's, tumours, dementia, or a sudden head trauma are other causes. Brain cells die when the supply of oxygen and other vital nutrients carried through the blood supply is stopped. The lobes of the brain which are concerned with language are affected by the resulting lesions or scarring from dead cells.

While not all strokes will result in aphasia, Page says approximately 1,100 of the 5,500 Albertans each year who suffer a stroke will have some form of the communication disorder. The Heart and Stroke Foundation estimates that 100,000 Canadians live with this “frustrating and misunderstood” condition.

Page points out that aphasia is an impairment in language, not necessarily in cognition. A person with aphasia can still think clearly, but has difficulty understanding incoming messages, in sending messages out, sometimes one or the other, and sometimes a combination of both. Frustratingly, the individual knows what he is thinking of saying, but is unable to express the thought.. He may speak in long, meaningless sentences, use incorrect or even made up words. Another individual may speak in short sentences, substituting a word or two to replace a sentence. The person may or may not be aware of their mistakes in language, depending on the severity of their condition.

Fowler's daughter, Cheryl Daoust, says her mother's speech sounded “like Martian [after the stroke]. Really, we had difficult understanding her half the time. It was like a toddler, learning to talk.”

According to Page, the symptoms of aphasia can range from mild to so severe that communication with the individual is nearly impossible. Depending on the specific language areas of the brain affected, while one person may struggle to retrieve the names of objects, another person may find it difficult to speak, read, write, or understand the speech of others.

Understandably, someone struggling with aphasia can feel awkward and isolated, resulting in low self esteem and frustration. They may also have to deal with the negative attitude of the people around them, creating additional barriers to communication. “The loss of language diminishes one's ability to share information, to create intimate relationships, and fulfill societal expectations,” says Page. “Individuals with aphasia lose a part of themselves.”

She stresses, however, that an emphasis on “what aphasia is not” can help dispel common misconceptions about the condition. “One of the most common misconceptions associated with aphasia is the belief that the person is reduced to the capacities of a child. Many family members believe that because the person with aphasia has impaired communications skills, his ability to think is also impaired.”

Sometimes people who encounter an individual with aphasia respond as if he or she is mentally challenged, psychologically ill, demented, deaf, or drunk, says Page. As in Fowler's case, the sufferer may be completely aware of the deficit in communication, because while their language is impaired, their intelligence remains intact.

Saying inappropriate things, crying or laughing at the wrong times, perhaps swearing for no reason, are not uncommon symptoms. Speech may sound slurred, or contain mispronunciations. “They might require help from other people in order to communicate effectively.”

“You have to make light of it”, says Daoust, referring to the first few days following Fowler's stroke when the family was struggling to come to terms with her recovery.

Not surprisingly, people with aphasia often experience a dramatic change socially. Friends and relatives may become afraid of interacting with them from a lack of understanding about the condition. The reduced means of communication can lead to meagre opportunities not only in day to day life, but also in the access to meaningful activities and the ability to simply participate actively in conversations, according to Page. “Humans are naturally social beings who thrive on communication and interaction. When this is taken away, the effects can be devastating.”

Both Fowler and Daoust emphasize the importance of seeking out opportunities to re-learn communication skills. Under the speech-language pathologists' care, Fowler was encouraged to re-establish her routines such as preparing meals, phoning family members to talk, and socializing with others. Fowler has developed strategies such as saving voice mail on her answering machine and then double checking her accuracy in understanding the information with her daughter. She looks forward to sharing meals with friends, volunteering, or just visiting others as opportunities to improve her condition. While some activities, like watching a movie with her granddaughter, are difficult at times, Fowler nevertheless is eager to keep learning and improving, including asking others to correct her when she chooses a word incorrectly.

“The changes that result from having aphasia are sudden, unexpected, unwanted, but basically invisible,” Page says. “This makes it hard for people to recognize it, and to know how to help.

In Red Deer, aphasia support groups provide encouragement and conversation for people living with the condition. Page hosts a group called Coffee Chat at the Golden Circle, while another one meets at various venues in the community and is facilitated by individual members. Page says that usually a person will first attend traditional, individual treatment with a speech-language pathologist, and then progress into group treatment.

“Basically, our goal is to keep our clients talking. Often, people will protect what has been injured – for example, if you sprain your wrist, you tend to protect it, not use it as much – and the same is true for clients who have had a stroke. They have had their language injured, and tend to not want to use it. As a speech pathologist, I want them to not only keep using their words as much as possible, but to supplement their words with any form of communication that may be helpful.”

That may include using gestures, writing, drawing, or using technology such as a computer to express themselves. Speech-language pathologists assess and observe their clients' abilities in comprehension, fluency, repetition, naming, reading, and writing.

Fowler notes that following intense work in speech and language therapy, she challenges herself to instigate conversations, to read the paper, and to listen to the conversations of others as part of her rehabilitation. “I'm now feeling comfortable, and I have really come a long, long way.”

“The plan is to help the client to fully utilize their remaining skills and to learn compensatory means of communication,” Page says. “Typically, the impact on their life can be reduced through treatment - either through recovery or by lessening the severity of the disorder, by compensating for the condition by learning alternative forms of communication, and by teaching others to help – slowing their rate of speech, writing key words down, using cueing techniques to help the person get their words out.”

“Adjusting to a life with aphasia is difficult for the person and their family. Despite communication barriers, there are always ways that family members can help their loved one.”


 Article appeared January 25, 2011 Red Deer Advocate

An edited version appeared in the July 2011 issue of the national journal Communique

May not be reprinted, partially or in full, without permission of author

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