Coach House makes it a home

The old, worn-down Coach House, with creaking wooden stairs and battered doors, has a homey feel to it that evokes the care and concern the press has for its writers. Since Stan Bevington founded the press in 1965, he has upheld the importance of interacting with authors to produce quality books.

This summer, Coach House Press finally purchased its property—two coach houses that contain the operation’s editorial and printing offices, as well as a small warehouse —at 80 bpNichol Lane, just behind Innis College. The aging buildings will require plenty of repairs, but for Bevington, tearing down Coach House and rebuilding is not an option. With its rich history of quality printing and publishing, the houses represent everything that makes the Coach House Press a huge asset to the community.

Part of what renders Coach House unique is their use of high-quality Heidelberg printing machines to produce their work.

alt text

“Our industry is going through many technological changes,” mentions Bevington, “and it is really a challenge for us not to get carried away with the latest and greatest. We use really standard machines in a really standard way rather than buying new things all of the time. Our presses don’t necessarily go as fast as the new ones, but that doesn’t matter.” Coach House Press Editor Alana Wilcox is quick to add that the Heidelberg presses do “just as good, if not a better job, than the current presses.”

This is not to say, though, that Coach House is averse to modern technology: the press had been using the Internet as a means of promoting, advertising, and selling the books for ages.

“We got started early on the Internet,” remarks Wilcox. “Our printing company had a spin-off company that wrote the rules…you can listen to our books online and you have always been able to, but they’re still selling.”

The website is continually updated with info on newly printed books, as well as book launches and other events hosted by the press. Many of these events feature authors reading from their books.

“At the fall launch, you get a chance to see the author so that you can attach a personality and a voice to the writing, and we think that is really important,” says Bevington. Another way that the press integrates authors with readers is the tours that the press gives to students of all ages: “[We give] tours endlessly; students go away with the touch and feel and smell of books…and they remember it easily,” says Bevington.

“It’s interesting, especially when we do tours for high school students or even grade school kids. They’ve never connected the book to the process of producing it, so they come in and watch the process from the computer files, to the paper being folded and glued together into a book. They’re just wide-eyed…really, it’s quite remarkable, it’s nice to see,” adds Wilcox.

Coach House Press also gives tours to some U of T classes. “It’s very helpful for the university students to see real production as opposed to historical study,” notes Bevington. “It gives them a sense of why the paper is folded the way it is.” “[This is a] continually social space,” adds Wilcox. “People are always dropping by. You’d be surprised who you might find here one day sitting at the coffee table.”

The press also enjoys showing off its efficiency to students: the Heidelberg machinery is jammed into just three rooms, and in the last one, there are three individuals working at cutting and gluing together books. The negatives for individual books are stacked on shelves in between pieces of cardboard, with labels indicating the titles for future reprinting. “Probably our most famous play book, The Farm Show, has been continuously in print since 1972 [or] ’73,” says Bevington, “so we keep our printing plates and negatives ready for making re-prints.”

Some books published by the press are reprinted countless times, but Bevington states that the press’s goal is to “try to find authors that are not published by anyone else.” Every year, Wilcox receives approximately 1,000 new books ranging from poetry, fiction, drama and non-fiction about the city of Toronto—the only genres that Coach House Press publishes—and chooses the 15 best that the press will go on to print.

Coach House helped launch the careers of such acclaimed authors as Michael Ondaatje and Anne Michaels, and every year it continues to choose unique and interesting writing by up-and-coming authors. In explaining the type of literature they seek, Wilcox mentions that they “try to do stuff that’s a little more unconventional, not straightforward historical fiction or something. We try to do stuff that’s a little more adventurous, experimental, avant-garde.”

“We look for novels that creatively use language to make a story that we would have never expected,” adds Bevington, “whereas many publishers accept the narrative as the way to do a novel.”

In addition to reprints and new literature, Coach House Press takes on special projects, such as publishing the Hart House Review and many of U of T’s literary journals. Furthermore, the press creates catalogues for the Fisher Rare Book library. “We do some beautiful work for the Fisher Rare Book Library,” notes Bevington. “They choose us because they want really prestigious work. We get to look at the finest books in the library and [make] catalogues of entire collections. Right now we’re doing a [catalogue] about Darwin—all of the books that Darwin ever published are going to be on display in the fall—and we’re going to do a catalogue that has an overview of all of [them].”

Although the press has significant projects to tend to, it is now fully responsible for an even bigger one: the upkeep of the actual coach houses. For 40 years, Coach House Press had a cooperative agreement with Campus Co-operative Residence Inc., which kept their rent low and rendered purchasing their building unnecessary. Changes occurred within Campus Co-op that left the organization saddled with debt, and at one point “the plan was for us to move so that they could make houses on the laneway,” says Bevington.

“But we wanted to stay. Many of our friends thought that we had published good books on Canadian literature and that we’re an asset to the community, so we encouraged the powers that be to let us stay.”

“Our industry is going through many technological changes and it is really a challenge for us not to get carried away with the latest and greatest.

Frosh it up!

“You can’t spell suck without UC!” Incoming freshmen delight in spirited cheers, chants and chimes during this year’s Frosh activities. Culminating September 5th, UTSU’s Orientation Day will feature a university-wide clubs showcase, campus parade, and free afternoon concert featuring Tokyo Police Club, Basia Bulat and Cadence Weapon. An after party will be held at the Hart House Great Hall. To all incoming students we say welcome—now don’t forget to wear flip flops in the shower.

A Brief Glimpse of Don McKellar

With a career in Canada that includes directing (Last Night, Childstar), acting (Exotica, Monkey Warfare), playwriting (The Drowsy Chaperone), and work in radio and television (Twitch City, Odd-Job Jack), Don McKellar could conceivably lay claim to Howard Stern’s self-proclaimed title of ‘King of All Media.’ His latest project, Fernando Meilleres’ Blindness (opening at the Toronto International Film Festival), is his highest-profile writing and acting venture to date. McKellar spoke to The Varsity about adapting the acclaimed novel by José Saramago.

THE VARSITY: First of all, I liked this movie a lot. But if I hadn’t known you’d written it, I don’t think I would have guessed.

DON MCKELLAR: Really? That’s interesting.

V: Last Night aside, I don’t normally associate you with this sort of bleak material. How did you become involved with this project? Was it brought to you, or did you lobby for it?

DM: I found the project. I read the book, and I guess you’re right, it’s not my ‘normal’ voice, but I definitely responded to it. I read it right after Last Night, and it’s dealing with some of the same themes with a similar storytelling strategy, but way deeper and darker. I guess I was excited about that.

V: Last Night depicted quite a polite apocalypse. Some critics have pointed out that it’s a very Canadian version of the end of time.

DM: That was sort of the strategy, it was more about denial. But this film is sort of the flip side to that. When I first read the book, I thought, ‘Okay, instead of these people being in denial, [they’re trying to] survive.’

V: This movie is definitely interested in the implications of that scenario. When you adapt a book like this, doing it as a major movie with big stars, is there pressure to make a product that will appeal to ‘the marketplace’ while also keeping the somber tone of the book?

DM: Well, there were tons of things in the book that people assumed I was going to cut, and people would always say, ‘Oh, you’re not going to have that big rape scene,’ or, ‘There’s not going to be that shit, is there?’ But I was proud to say that we sort of kept all that stuff. All the toughest stuff from the book is in the film. Actually, it’s the other stuff that I ended up cutting. The issue with the marketplace and whether you can get actors? I mean, not a lot of actresses are going to even want to do the part. So it has to do with the tone. To me, it was more about making the tone effective, and persuading people that the tone of the story wouldn’t be exploitive.

V: If ever there was a tastefully filmed rape-orgy, this movie has it.

DM: [Laughs] Wow, that’s good poster material. Please publish that!

V: I understand that the King of Ward 3 [the self-appointed leader of the third ward at the blindness containment centre, played by Gael Garcia Bernal] is a more villainous character in the book, and [director] Fernando Meirelles said that in the movie, he’s more like a kid with a gun than straight-up evil incarnate.

DM: He’s pretty villainous, but I think it’s more nuanced, for sure. In the movie, he’s more of an opportunist. He’s taking advantage of the situation. He’s a little guy: Gael is not someone who would be that intimidating if you saw him in a bar. But he’s frustrated by his lost eyesight, because he’s obviously got this kind of aggression. Also, I tried to make it so he’s doing [exploitive things] for a purpose: he’s trying to protect his ward. He’s sort of misguided, but he obviously has a sadistic side. In the book he’s just sort of bad, bad, bad.

V: It works with Bernal’s qualities as an actor.

DM: It works completely with Gael. I also always liked the idea that he starts [monopolizing the camp’s food supply] partly on behalf of the ward; he’s trying to keep their spirits up, in a way. But in a weird way.

V: How did you collaborate with Meirelles? Was there a lot of discussion of the material during pre-production and shooting?

DM: Yeah, totally. Fernando and I were very close. I don’t think that’s always the case. It’s certainly not always the case in Hollywood, and it wasn’t the case in Fernando’s last film, The Constant Gardener, where he had problems with the writer. We were in constant communication. It was so important because a lot of the stuff in the script is really visual, and I had to explain what I meant, because it’s hard to describe some of it.

V: The motif of the white light seems like something that was discussed very early on.

DM: Yeah, and a lot of that stuff is in the script, but it needs explaining. As a matter of fact, I think that’s one of the reasons he cast me, [because] he wanted me around.

V: I was curious if the part of the thief was one you wrote with yourself in mind. It’s not exactly the role I’d normally associate with the Don McKellar persona.

DM: I tend not to think of casting when I’m writing because I think it can block a writer, but Fernando saw a lot of Canadian films when he was shooting in Canada, and of course saw a number of mine, so he asked me. So you think it’s very different from my stuff? That’s good to hear.

V: Well, Twitch City?

DM: Yeah, I don’t think he cast me based on Twitch City.

‘Yes’ vote sparks potential Steelworker strike

Update: The Steelworkers have announced that members voted 87 per cent for a strike mandate if no agreement with U of T admin is reached. The deadline is midnight, Sept. 7.

After months of negotiation, the United Steelworker Local 1998 voted for a strike mandate last night. Though official results have not been announced, sources close to the union report that the union voted “yes” by a landslide majority. This could mean a strike as early as Sept. 8, the first day of classes, if admin and the union are unable to come to an agreement by then. The strike mandate would considerably increase the union’s bargaining power, demonstrating support for its negotiating team.

Both union and administration will be looking to avoid an actual strike, which will only happen if the parties come to an impasse in negotiations. “The most successful strike is one that doesn’t need to take place,” reads the Steelworkers website. “When the members of a Union demonstrate strong support for their bargaining team, there is often enough pressure on the Employer to reach a settlement.”

The site also notes that after a comparable strike mandate in 2005, the Steelworkers won a settlement by their deadline. U of T’s unions have been negotiating with the administration over the summer on issues ranging from salaries and pensions to job security and retirement. Steelworkers Local 1998 covers 3,500 administrative, technical, and student workers at U of T. Though the union cannot discuss gains due to bargaining protocol, representatives say there is still much ground to cover.

Allison Dubarry, president of the Steelworkers and member of the negotiating team, said that keeping wages in pace with inflation is a chief goal. “Our members feel [the effects of inflation] every time they go to the grocery store, go to fill up their car, or buy anything,” she said.

The Steelworkers have been at the table with admin throughout the past week and may continue negotiations into the weekend. “Obviously we want to reach an agreement with Steel, and they want to reach an agreement with us,” said Angela Hildyard, VP of human resources & equity at U of T. “We’re all working towards that common goal.” The VP was optimistic, stating “I am confident that we’ll reach a deal with them […] we’ve made a lot of progress.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees have also been negotiating with the admin. CUPE 3902, which represents part-time teaching staff, has a very similar list of grievances. The Local, in concert with the Graduate Students’ Union and others, recently persuaded the university to fulfill their 2006 promise to award graduate students $15,000 in addition to tuition for the 2008-2009 school year. Their website states that, “Although this is an important victory over the administration’s recalcitrance, it is not a new gain, but merely the defense of a previous one […] the current round of bargaining […] has only just begun.”

Steelworkers and CUPE have met with each other, and with other unions in the University of Toronto Employees, to talk bargaining strategy. Robert Ramsay, president of Local 3902, said of the partnership, “We have a shared vision with Steelworkers about what quality public university means, about what quality secondary education means… [It’s] not just quality instruction but also a quality environment, and so improving the condition for workers in Toronto across the board is a huge part of that.”

According to UTSU VP external Dave Scrivener, students also have a role to play. Union gains can mean student gains, like the $15,000 for grad students. Scrivener also mentioned strikes in which students came to the aid of unions, as was the case at Carleton University last September. The VP even compared student grievances to union ones, saying students’ tuition troubles are not so different from unions’ wage battles. “Steelworkers and CUPE have been major allies and supporters of students in the past,” said Scrivener. “It’s only appropriate that students are making sure that we’re there for the unions.”

New research helps track bees

A unique project is underway at York University. Researchers plan to obtain a “DNA barcode” of close to 20,000 bee species.

DNA barcoding is a technique that originated five years ago at the University of Guelph. It uses a small sequence of a species’ DNA to identify and differentiate it from other species. This technique, currently in use at Guelph University, employs part of a mitochondrial gene as the coding region. The specific gene can be obtained from live specimens or certain museum specimens. Guelph researcher Mehrdad Hajibabaei and integrative biology professor Paul Hebert, along with researchers at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the University of Pennsylvania, were the pioneers of this research.

To date, scientists have identified 19,231 known species of bees, with between 1,500 and 2,000 already barcoded. In addition, approximately 521 different species of moths and butterflies in Costa Rica have been identified.

There are several reasons why this practice is beneficial. Arguably its greatest value is providing scientists with the ability to track endangered species. Bees also serve an enormous function in the food chain.

“About one-third of the food we eat has been pollinated either directly or indirectly by bees,” said Dr. Laurence Packer, a professor of biology and environmental studies at York University. “Even if you only ate beef, cattle often forage alfalfa in the winter, and alfalfa is pollinated by bees.”

A major obstacle concerns taking the project to a global scale. The process of collecting samples in war-torn areas such as Central Africa and Afghanistan is difficult, and the insects themselves are often tough to capture.

“Many species are known only from their male or female specimens, and until we see them mating, we won’t know for sure if they are the same species. Also, some species appear identical but have different DNA,” said Packer. “So there is a fair bit of chaos. We’re looking to create some real order.”

This research is also of concern in the context of declining honeybee populations in North America.

According to the Apiary Inspectors of America, the total loss of the insects among 384 beekeeping operations surveyed between September 2006 and May 2007 was 31.8 per cent, with 51.9 per cent reporting unusually significant losses. The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association reported that almost 27,000 of the 76,000 hives in Ontario were killed in 2006. Many of the remaining colonies were badly weakened.

Studies have been done to confirm the benefits of bee barcoding. According to Hebert, species-level identification is definitely possible with DNA barcoding, proving that categorization can go beyond simply naming genus or family.

In addition, he claims that in about 20 years, DNA bar-coding will be able to archive 10 million of the planet’s animal species. Only 1.2 million have been identified as of yet.

Frosh clashes with Ramadan fast

Frosh Week is almost over, but not all first-year U of T students have had the opportunity to partake in ice-breaker events. As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan overlaps Frosh Week this year, some Muslim students have been reluctant to participate, says Richard Chambers, director of the Multifaith Centre.

Observing Muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset for the entire month. That might be hard to do considering barbecues are staples of Frosh Week.

“A lot of Muslim students in the past have not attended Frosh Week, myself included,” said Ilyas Ally, president of the Muslim Students’ Association. The inaccessibility of halal food options make for an environment not all students are comfortable with, he said. But fasting is not the only reason why many students have chosen not to participate, said Ally, “Muslims want to be more engaged in worship during the month.”

Muslims follow a lunar calendar which is ten days shorter than the solar one, which means Ramadan falls at a different time each year. Last year Ramadan started a week later and thus did not conflict with Frosh events.

Chambers said that Frosh Week is not the only thing first-year Muslim students are missing out on. “Some aren’t even going to the dining hall regardless of the orientation events, and thus they are missing an important social opportunity,” he said.

However he was also quick to praise the MSA and UTSU for efforts to accommodate Muslim students. These groups have invited students to break the fast at Hart House at the end of Clubs Day. He expressed disappointment, however, with individual colleges’ efforts.

According to Chambers, the lack of an overarching body for frosh events earlier in the week has contributed to the difficulties faced by Muslim students. Friday is organized by UTSU, whereas the individual colleges were responsible for the rest of the week. “Clubs Day is a happy marriage between orientation opportunities and religious accommodation” he said.

Ally said colleges have been “somewhat interested” in letting Muslim students know where to find prayer spaces and halal food.

Woodsworth College Students’ Association has a notice on its website announcing accommodations for those who are fasting. WCSA social affairs VP Heather McCann said that frosh week will feature dinner after sundown throughout the week, and that a student lounge was made available for prayers during the week.

Both Ally and Chambers said that there is still room for improvement and a more coordinated effort. “It’s just a matter of being more intentional,” said Chambers.

Is HGH worth the risk?

Athletes are always looking for an edge on the competition. So when diet and exercise don’t cut it, the competitive nature of sports pushes some to bold extremes. Performance enhancing drugs range from mild energy boosters, such as ginseng derivatives, to potent hormones. While steroids are hormones naturally produced within the body, when artificially enhanced they can provide users with an unfair advantage by boosting levels of performance and fitness.

Much media attention has been devoted over the past few decades to steroids in the domain of sports. These drugs have been officially banned since the 1989 Olympics, with mandatory testing in almost every sport. Another hormone, called Human Growth Hormone (HGH), is now taking its place. HGH is naturally produced within the body, used as early as the 1960s for treating children for stunted growth. It stimulates the growth of bone, cartilage and muscle tissue, hence its importance to muscle development in children as well as the adult metabolism. Prior to the advent of genetic engineering, the sole source of HGH was cultivated from human corpses. Synthetic HGH can now be made in laboratories.

While this hormone might not do much for strength, HGH acts to decrease body fat and increase lean muscle tissue. Its correlation between muscles and strength makes the hormone an attractive alternative to steroids, allowing athletes to train harder and longer. Tired muscles are able to recover more quickly, hence its role in “reversing” the aging process. In a study conducted at the Medical College of Wisconsin, men over the age of 60 benefited from regular dosages of HGH, since normal hormone levels naturally produced in the body decline with age. After a six month period of HGH injection, subjects had denser bones, less fat, thicker skin and leaner body tissue. In 1996 the FDA approved HGH as a replacement therapy drug for adults whose secretions were below normal. It has also been used in patients suffering from injury, due to its benefit in tissue growth and repair.

While HGH doesn’t pose the same risks as steroids, it still has a plethora of potential side effects. Acromegaly, a disease which results in the visible enlargement of hands, feet and face, as well as thickening of the skin, is associated with high HGH levels in the body. Internal organs, such as the heart and kidney also experience growth, disrupting normal bodily processes and functions. Any type of abnormal cell growth in the body is dangerous, as this translates to an increased risk of cancer.

Unlike steroids, HGH is more difficult to test for as the hormone already occurs naturally within the body. The blood stream concentration of HGH varies, depending on a multitude of factors such as diet, fitness and sleep. Therefore, determining normal or above average HGH levels is almost impossible. HGH release in the body is pulsatile and follows a circadian rhythm as the body increases its HGH level up to 100-fold depending on bodily needs and condition. These complications reveal why a reliable testing method has yet to be found.

According to the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, “what many athletes and coaches have failed to understand is that athletes can employ specific training regimens and dietary strategies to optimize their natural secretion of HGH, so inducing those very adaptations to training [can provide the results] that others are cheating to achieve.” HGH is believed to only benefit sports which require short and explosive bursts of energy, such as sprinting. Such increased strength doesn’t automatically translate into better cardiovascular fitness or enhanced performance. Regardless, many athletes swear by this drug.

So why do so many athletes take HGH when there’s no concrete evidence that it even enhances performance? Some would say superstition. While HGH doesn’t necessarily improve performance, many athletes may be willing to give it a try, because if banned, it must have some exclusive benefits.

APUS to keep Erindale part-timers

After a year of infighting between student unions, on Aug. 27 the Superior Court of Ontario ruled that part-time students on U of T’s Mississauga campus must remain members of EPUS, the Erindale chapter of the Association for Part-time Undergraduate Students.

The conflict began in fall 2007 when a handful of UTM part-time students, dissatisfied with EPUS, requested that they be represented by the larger UTMSU.

In February 2008, UTMSU held a referendum on behalf of EPUS, and in a landslide decision, the part-time students voted to join UTMSU. The decision was approved by the University Affairs Board and put through Governing Council in June.

APUS, for its part, contests the referendum’s legitimacy because it was held in accordance with EPUS and UTMSU bylaws—not its own. “Any union is guided by its members. We have obligations to our membership, and when an external party decides to dip into our membership pool without any discretion, it very alarming,” said APUS executive director Yolisa Dalamba.

APUS also contends that the UAB stepped outside its jurisdiction by deciding the membership of student unions.

What started as a benign movement grew into a full-fledged legal battle that touches on issues of representation and inter-campus politics. Ruling in favour of APUS’s claims, Justice Allen stated the referendum did not follow APUS bylaws and thus should not be held valid, and declared that UTMSU did not give APUS proper notice or information. “The judgment set a precedent for protecting all student unions in the future,” said Dalamba.

Meanwhile,APUS faces other on-campus battles, most notably where it will call home. At the beginning of the last school year, APUS was evicted from its offices in Woodsworth College and moved into the Margaret Fletcher building on Devonshire Place, only to be told that they will be evicted once more to make way for the new Centre for High Performance Sport.