Photography by Doug Bedard
Barrie, Ont., resident Jennifer Podemski uses her storytelling skills to give her ancestors a voice.
An actor, producer and director who has been making TV shows and movies since she was a preteen, Jennifer Podemski has a face you don't forget—though she didn't always think that was a good thing.
"My mixed heritage could never be ignored," says the native Torontonian. "I stood out everywhere; I looked different [from both sides of my family]. There were times I wished I looked 'normal' and could blend in, especially when I was younger. But it was something I couldn't run away from."
Part Saulteaux First Nation and part Polish, Podemski's unique looks eventually became one of the things that set her apart from other aspiring actors—and later, her dual heritage would lead to some of her most meaningful work.
She started acting at 12, when she took what was supposed to be a one-time gig cohosting Wonderstruck, CBC's kids' science show. She'd barely finished filming when she decided that was what she wanted to do with her life. But the movie business wouldn't just be a career. It would also be a means of accepting herself. "Ironically, I only got comfortable in my own skin when I started working professionally," she says. "I recognized that I had to embrace everything about myself, regardless of how ashamed or out of place I felt."
Her big break came at 20, when she was cast in Bruce McDonald's 1994 film, Dance Me Outside. Soon, she was appearing in The Rez, a TV spinoff of the movie, and taking high-profile roles in Cancon hits such as Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz and Arnaud Desplechin's Jimmy P., in which she played Benicio Del Toro's love interest. And all the while, she was running the first all-Indigenous production company with her friend Laura Milliken. Whether producing or acting, she quickly parlayed her success into projects that spoke to her own family history.
On her mother's side, Podemski's Saulteaux lineage can be traced back some 20,000 years. Her father's Polish Ashkenazi family hasn't been here quite as long—her paternal grandfather came to Canada after the Second World War, when he was liberated from Bergen-Belsen—but it's contributed just as much inspiration. He and his brother are the sole members of their family to survive the Holocaust. His story was the subject of Podemski's directorial debut for CBC; she and her cousins returned to the site where his mother perished in Germany, filming the journey for a short documentary. "I always had a sense I was here to be a storyteller and to share my ancestors' legacies. In terms of content, I don't discriminate," she says.
She also works to tell stories inspired by her mother's side of the family, and the experience of First Nations Canadians like her grandparents, who spent their childhoods in residential schools. Her production company, Redcloud Studios, is dedicated to strengthening Indigenous visibility, producing shows that centre the First Nations experience, such as Rabbit Fall and Moccasin Flats. She also helped spearhead the Indspire Awards, a platform that acknowledges Indigenous success stories. "I've always been very drawn and moved to tell Indigenous stories—especially because there's an extreme void of those perspectives on television and elsewhere," says Podemski. She recently received the Queen Elizabeth Diamond JubileeMedal for her work with Canada's Indigenous communities, but her job is far from done. "I don't think that Indigenous peoples and the rest of Canada can flourish until there's a common space with those narratives. It's all connected."
Jennifer offers a trio of options from Toronto to north of the city.
1. Bagel World (in Toronto)
"It's my all-time favourite. I've been going there for 40 years; I grew up down the street, and I still go with my dad. It's an institution."
2. Scandinave Spa at Blue Mountain (in Collingwood)
"It's a fantastic place to go year-round. I've suffered from Lyme disease for three years, and the healing waters at the spa work wonders on my body, giving me an overall feeling of wellness."
3. Painters Hall (in Barrie)
"It has become the place I like to go for special gatherings. I love the atmosphere and food, and there's a great space in the back with live music."
Beverages account for a huge source of our sugar intake. Image by: Getty Images
Sugary drinks contain a lot of empty calories and have been linked to numerous health issues. Learn how to kick these drinks to the curb with five healthy alternatives.Trading in your sugary chai latte for a chai tea made with steamed milk may seem like the end of the world. But, changing your diet can be easier – and yummier - than you think.
Getty Images Image by: Getty Images
Five timeless tricks for pulling off a stress-free, elegant and anything-but-stuffy evening with friends.
Whether you’re an entertaining newbie or a seasoned pro, hosting a dinner party can seem daunting. Follow these tips for planning and executing a seamless soirée your guests will remember for years to come.
1. Know your dietary restrictions. Contact your guests a couple of weeks before the party to inquire about any dietary restrictions before picking the menu. Keep your questions strictly to restrictions rather than likes and dislikes—it’s impossible to please everyone, so your best bet is to keep the main dish neutral (poultry and beef are good choices) and serve the sides family-style so your guests can pick their sides according to their tastes.
2. Keep cutlery simple. Nobody wants to sit down to a meal surrounded by an armoury of cutlery. Make your guests feel more comfortable—and avoid any confusion as to which fork is appropriate to use—by paring down the cutlery, recommends César Mésen, General Manager for Far Niente, a fine dining restaurant in Toronto, Ont. “Only put what you need at the moment on the table,” says Mesen.
3. Start with bubbly. Greet your guests with a glass of Champagne or sparkling wine at the door. It kicks off the fun, celebratory tone for the evening and its crisp, sweet taste and bubbly mouth-feel sets your palate for the meal ahead. Be sure to have sparkling water as well to serve to those who aren’t drinking.
4. Mix formal with casual. The difference between a special dinner party and a simple gathering of friends is in the details. Opt for a white tablecloth for a touch of formality, but arrange wildflowers in unconventional vases, such as Mason jars, at the table to keep it from feeling too stuffy. “Fine dining isn’t dead,” Mesen notes. “Just make it fun.” Mesen recommends spinning some oldies on your sound system to give the room a playful vibe and serve as a fun conversation-starter for your guests.
5. Don’t sweat the starter. Cooking for a crowd can be stressful, so go easy on yourself by skipping the fussy appetizers and serving your guests no-cook cheese and charcuterie platters instead. Assemble the platters ahead of time, and then simply pull them out of the fridge a few minutes before guests arrive. Bonus: the platters will serve as a gathering point for guests, encouraging them to strike up conversations with people they don’t already know.
Illustration by Jeannie Phan
Rediscover Ottawa, which walks the line between charming town and cosmopolitan city, with first-class cultural and historic experiences.
Modern digs: Alt Hotel Ottawa
Rest your head at the Canadian-owned Alt Hotel in downtown Ottawa, where you can grab snacks (or full meals) in the lobby and keep up your yoga practice with the hotel's new Nama-Stay yoga videos. Bonus: The Alt is eco-friendly, with geothermal energy used for heating and cooling, plus energy-efficient lighting.
Historic haven: The Century House Bed and Breakfast Ottawa
With just four rooms, The Century House offers a quaint stay without skimping on modern amenities such as free parking and Wi-Fi. It's known for its gourmet breakfasts (think indulgent waffles or a hearty frittata), served up family-style in the dining room.
Morning munch: Benny's Bistro
Hidden behind The French Baker in the ByWard Market, this is a tiny gem that serves some of our all-time favourite brekkies. Order the buckwheat crêpe, which is stuffed with ham and Gruyère and topped with an egg.
Dinner hour: Absinthe Café
Stop by this Wellington West hot spot for French-inspired cuisine and a taste of its namesake drink. On Monday nights, there's a special fondue menu; go with friends and order cheese and meat varieties to share, then finish with the Valrhona chocolate fondue for dessert.
Sweet treat: Moo Shu Ice Cream & Kitchen
Try small-batch ice creams and ice cream truffles made with Ontario dairy and fresh, sometimes surprising, ingredients, like craft beer or lime leaves.
Spring: C'est Bon Gourmet Food Tours
Take a guided walking and tasting tour of one of Ottawa's famed foodie neighbourhoods: the ByWard Market, Wellington Street, Preston Street (Little Italy), the Glebe or Chinatown.
This outdoor music fest will celebrate the country's 150th anniversary with performances by Canadian artists, plus contributions by other international artists.
Fall: The Canada Science and Technology Museum
After $80.5 million in renos, the museum will reopen in November, just in time for its 50th anniversary of celebrating Canadian innovations, such as a prototype of the world's first pacemaker and a cobalt-60 therapy machine from the '50s—at the time, a revolutionary new way to deliver radiation to cancer patients.
Winter: Nordik Spa-Nature
Spend a day rotating between the spa's seven outdoor baths and eight saunas. Book a massage for ultimate R&R.
WHAT'S CLOSE BY?
If you have the time to range farther afield, here are three other spots to see in Ontario.
2 1/2 hours away: Thousand Islands
A pretty archipelago with ton of history (it was once pirate territory!), this region is now an ideal spot to go boating, hiking and exploring historic castles.
3 hours away: Prince Edward County
Visit a few of the dozens of artist studios and galleries in the region, where you can even take an art class—in between wine tastings, of course.
OTTAWA THE GREAT
To celebrate Canada's sesquicentennial—the 150th anniversary of Confederation—Ottawa is leading the charge with a full year of awe-inspiring events. Here's a small sampling of what's on in our nation's capital.
March 3 and 4: Red Bull Crashed Ice
Watch downhill skaters race to the finish line on a huge track that runs along the locks of the Rideau Canal— which will be the final leg of the 2016–17 ice cross downhill championship.
May 20 to Sept. 4: Inspiration Village
Located in the historic ByWard Market, Inspiration Village will pay tribute to our provinces and territories, while also showcasing special exhibits and performing-arts events.
All summer long: Kontinuum, an "underground multimedia experience"
Though the Confederation Line of Ottawa's Light Rail Transit won't open until 2018, one underground station will be transformed into a futuristic world by a 10-weeklong multimedia presentation.
Nov. 26: The 105th Grey Cup
This year, Canada's capital will host the CFL's annual championship game.
Ignite 150: In a series of 17 stunts spaced throughout the year—from yoga on a barge accompanied by a live orchestra to gourmet dining at a table suspended nearly 50 metres in the air—Ottawa will delight visitors and residents with once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Ottawa Welcomes the world: Ottawa's many embassies and high commissions will be given the opportunity to take over Aberdeen Pavilion and the Horticulture Building with multicultural celebrations including food, art and music.
Agri 150: More than 20 unique one-day outdoor events in 2017 will showcase Ottawa's food and drink, such as the Wine and Words Tour, which will take participants to local wineries to sample wine and cheese, with a local author to tell stories at each stop.
For more events and info, visit ottawa2017.ca.