Size Matters – Making the Big Small

Last week I spoke at a Bishop’s University recruitment event – I was one of three alumni who were tasked with answering questions from prospective students and their parents about the Bishop’s Experience.

Most of my conversations wound up with me talking about size – how it matters and how small is beautiful. And I talked about size because Bishop’s University – with 2,300 learners – is one of the smallest universities in Canada.

I kid you not, in alumni circles around the world we debate whether 2,300 is “ridiculously large” or “a bit too big” or “just pushing it” in terms of student numbers at BU. For the record, I graduated when the school had 1,945 students, which felt like a really good number.

So, the evening combined community-building with a genuine personal touch – more on that in about 150 words…

Earlier this week I read a post by Seth Godin called “What’s the right size? The quantum mechanics of growth” – the marketing guru explored ways in which organizations can know their size:

The physics and economics of a business determine whether it’s the right size or not, whether it ought to get bigger or smaller. Starbucks, for example, was not the right size when it had 11 stores. That’s too many stores for just one senior manager to handle, but not enough stores for centralized purchasing and marketing and organization. The cash flow from an eleven-store chain just doesn’t easily connect to the staff requirments necessary to make it efficient.

Also earlier this week, I read an article from the Academica Group about how some of Canada’s research intensive universities are endeavouring to “pull a Bishop’s” [Editor's note: ©Copyright John Horn 2012] and make the big small. Check this out:

How Ontario institutions are wooing top applicants: Last week, a York University recruiter drove to an admitted applicant’s high school to deliver the student’s $24,000 scholarship in person — it’s one of the ways York U has upped its game in the competition for the best and brightest students. University of Waterloo faculty send handwritten letters to top applicants to their faculty, and the personal touch pays off, says uWaterloo’s director of undergraduate recruitment. Ryerson and Western Universities are among institutions that court top students with the promise of an exclusive inner circle “where membership has its privileges — mentoring, advising, invitations to networking events with the president,” says a Ryerson spokeswoman. Other examples of PSE schools wooing applicants include Brock University stuffing confetti into its offer packages and Collège Boréal sending offers in the form of a packing box that says, in French: “Get packing; you’re going to college!” ParentCentral.ca

Size does matter. And Bishop’s University does all the things above with inclusiveness – as opposed to a priviledged inner circle building – in mind and with a sense of community at heart. This is funny, too, because I’m not sure if Bishop’s even teaches quantum mechanics, but I’m pretty sure that York does…

While Bishop’s searches for its sweet spot of size in an ever more competitive post-secondary landscape, I hope its leaders keep in mind that when you make the big small – or keep things small – there exists a natural setting for a vibrant and inclusive sense of community to be built. And this becomes an edge in the marketplace.

Stay small and stay beautiful, Bishop’s. You’re clearly doing something right when so many of higher educations giants are trying to emulate what you’ve been doing for over 150 years.

Masthead photo – of a small puppy – courtesy of RLHyde’s photostream on Flickr

Patrick Lacroix – The Community Historian

Who are you?

Identity is a process, no? Quite briefly, then, the process has made of me a happy graduate of Bishop’s University and Brock University, a graduate of history programs in both cases. I am also a product of Cowansville, located an hour’s drive east of Montreal. (I may or may not resent the latter’s accidental proximity to my hometown; to quote Graham Chapman’s King Arthur, “’tis a silly place!”) When I am not making unnecessary references to British film culture, I work as reporter in and around Cowansville for The Record, Quebec’s only non-Montreal-based daily English-language newspaper. Of course, one would expect there to be only one of those. Next fall I will be pursuing doctoral studies in History at the University of New Hampshire.

What do you do for fun?

Through the better part of the last decade I have sought, in my spare time, to address the deficiencies of my formal education. The most glaring omissions are literary: only recently have I become acquainted with Dumas, Faulkner, Maugham, Swift, and Zola. While I cannot minimise the enjoyment of conversations and occasional (er, yes, occasional) mischief with some very close friends, the fun I take away from intellectual pursuits fulfils a deep, visceral need. Some people, in addition, have the luxury of visiting exotic locales all around the world; I immerse myself in philosophy and history and at times I build, quite discreetly, an extremely abstract world that suits only me. Thrust into an exotic setting I would find a way to escape to a plane of pure ideas… I am an odd duck.

What is your favourite community? Why?

I wish I could cite that ancient order of errant scholars who travel far and wide in the process of acquiring and disseminating knowledge – most universities have been and remain model United Nations by the diversity of their teaching corps. But of course, scholarly pettiness and intellectual pride have interceded, a sign perhaps that knowledge and wisdom are of two perfectly distinct species. My favourite community, then? I care deeply for my dear old Cowansville and its familiar faces, and the community I found at Bishop’s University, in Lennoxville, was beyond all expectations. In fact the sense of shared identity and mutual affinity at Bishop’s was unlike any other personal experience I might recall, and it taught me the many definitions of community. Yes, let’s say Bishop’s. ‘Tis a silly place as well as a sophisticated web of blooming individualities. (Perhaps should we consider putting that on the university crest.)

What is your superpower?

I am a committed seeker of knowledge, but my superpower would rather be that of expression. It is one thing to absorb, to amass information, and quite another to make sense of it, so as to ultimately share it without being redundant or reductive. While most superpowers must be used sparingly and with great caution, while literary inclinations are often misused and abused, I relish opportunities to harness language to thought, to put pen to paper, and offer a new vision, a new voice.

How do you use it to build community?

As a reporter for The Record, I use my pen to give expression to public trustees, small businesses, local community organisations, and concerned citizens. As an historian, I use my pen to give expression to ghosts – or so I would hope. I scour old, oft-dismissed documents and I find faint voices, rising, asking only to be carried forth into their future, our present. Readers need not worry; I have no interest in building a community of dead people… though I think I will have an advantage when the zombie apocalypse at long last strikes. Anyway, my point: community, like identity, is not a static fact, or a structure, but a process. Any present-day community exists in the past as much as it does in its acknowledged, tangible manifestations. Let forerunning voices speak, I say, and enlighten – in every sense of the word – the builders of today. Let there be a communion of the living and the dead in the interest of the former, a dialogue made only possible by the historian qua interpreter.

My Three Favourite Things About Patrick Are…

1. His favourite community! In spite of my incredible connection to – and powerful articulation-skills about – Bishop’s University, I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard the community described in such a perfect way: “‘Tis a silly place as well as a sophisticated web of blooming individualities.” Amazing.

2. Seeker, Amasser, and Expresser of Knowledge. Patrick seeks, amasses and expresses knowledge as a student of the most noble discipline in the humanities: History. He’s an Historian, too. The metaphor of giving his pen to ghosts is a great one. Patrick, for your noble pursuits of History – and your commitment to scouring the words of ghosts – I salute you.

3. So, He Made a Reference to the Zombie Apocalypse. I think that Patrick’s on to something with his idea of an Historian like himself colluding with ghosts to survive – if not lead – the Zombie Apocalypse. Pretty great. And this is all kinds of forward thinking genius.

- As told by John Horn

Samantha and Erin – Innovative Engagers

Who are you?

I’m Samantha Juraschka a fourth year student at Bishop’s University and my partner Erin Pollon graduated last spring from Bishop’s. We recently launched an online magazine Uconversation.com. We created this online magazine out of frustration as students. We wanted a way that we could gain experience while still in school, network and hear advice from people that you could relate to (alumni).

What do you do for fun?

Most of our fun these days are spent on our computers, especially up to launch date. We get excited over new technology… we are huge followers of techcrunch and mashable. Erin loves anime cartoons and I am obsessed with youtube especially Conan O’Brien clips. We both played varsity soccer here at Bishop’s so we try to run and play sports when we can separate ourselves from our laptops.

What is your favourite community? Why?

Our favourite community is the Bishop’s community, which is really filled with stories students and fellow alumni are dying to hear about. These stories are what inspired us to Uconversation because we think students can benefit enormously from hearing from alumni and get inspiration for life ahead.

What are your superpowers?

Both Erin and I have two very diverse powers which make us quite a dynamic duo in the superpower realm. Erin is all about action and endurance, sometimes I wonder if she works in her sleep. I myself would consider myself to have daydreamer powers where I am able to think about creative ideas and see the big picture.

How do you use them to build community?

We use these skills to reach out to alumni and share their story with the rest of the Bishop’s community. We hope our website allows more students to reach out and talk to alumni and start networking the moment they step onto campus.

My Three Favourite Things About Samantha and Erin Are…

1. Entrepreneurial Spirit. Combining storytelling, higher education, mentorship, advice, and even a job portal just makes good sense. If not great sense. Being able to create your own work – as recognizing gaps/problems and turning them into opportunities/solutions – is one of my favourite things about twenty-first-century world-changers (people). With their endurace and creativity, Samantha and Erin are carving out some interesting territory in a dynamic social space.

2. Building Online Community. Through storytelling, uconversation.com connects people, ideas and opportunities in an innovative and engaging way. As I manipulate encourage my coming-of-age cousins to attend Bishop’s University, they will be able to get a powerful sense of what community – particularly BU community – means by exploring the stories and connections of this online space.

3. Leveraging The Awesome. Bishop’s University is awesome. Everyone knows this. But not all of the school’s students and alumni leverage such awesomeness in their daily lives. Samantha and Erin have made much of their university experience, the friends and connections that it earned them, and the awesome sense of community that Bishop’s provides. I can’t wait to see how this supercool project evolves over time.

Raise a toast, ladies!

As told by John Horn…

The UBC Lipdub is Awesome

On Friday, April 8 something amazing happened. I saw a lipdub made by world-changers at the University of British Columbia, where I work. And so did about 250,000 people who are part of the UBC or Lipdub or Youtube communities. You see, it’s a beautiful thing. I mean, when people and technology fuse with creativity, humour, public space, physical-feats, and shared organizational purpose, well, inspiring moments of community happen.

You know what? I’m just going to stop writi- … watch the video.

As a proud alumnus of Bishop’s University (the 2,000-student-anti-UBC) it is now my official duty to say things like “Nice video, but you know this kinda thing happens at Bishop’s every Frosh Week, right? We’re just not allowed to share it or Molson would sue us because of all the branded beer bottles in the shot…it happened before, when we invented lipdubbing in 1843″ or “I thought 50,000 people studied and worked at UBC – is 0.02% of the school in this video and, if it is, is this an acceptable level of engagement?” or “C’était un essai bon, bien sur, même si il n’était pas bilingue!”

Alright, I’ve served my alma mater well.

This experience moved me for many reasons. First, it’s so not UBC. Or at least how so many people think of this you’re-a number-not-a-name kind of institution. Second, since Bishop’s hasn’t officially recorded its lipdub yet, I enviously shared it with my parents (both UBC alumni) and, about 11 minutes after emailing it to my dad, they called me to share their elation about this brilliant new recruitment strategy.

Hmmm. Is it that? Perhaps recruiting new people with this sexy and social piece of new media was a part of the whole idea. The truth is, though, that this playful lip dup is a true reflection of how far UBC has come and where it is going. I don’t think that it’s a stretch to connect this supercool lipdub with the “Enriched Educational Opportunities” from Place and Promise: the UBC Plan. Because people who engage with their school like the ones in the video did were probably enriched by a small class experience, international learning, community service learning, meaningful undergraduate research, or experiential learning. And they’re way more likely to positively engage this community today and, probably, forever.

Well done, UBC. I felt enriched just watching the video! And it makes me proud to be a part of this place of mind.

Bill Starr – The Life Lister

Who are you?

Bill Starr is a founding partner and CEO of My Life List LLC (www.mylifelist.org), a Boston-based new-media company. He is a graduate of Bishop’s University in Quebec and is originally from Rothesay New Brunswick, Canada. Starr is an avid life lister, having lived in four countries, qualified as a Canadian Chartered Accountant, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, scuba dived the Great Barrier Reef, leaped the world’s highest Bungee and white water rafted two of the world’s most challenging rivers in Costa Rica and Zimbabwe. Most recently, he completed his 2nd Rolex Sydney Hobart Ocean Race aboard a former round-the-world Volvo 60.

What do you do for fun?

Running a start-up is pretty time consuming and I hate giving the standard, ‘I love what I do’ line, but having spent 15+ years in corporate finance and accounting I needed a new challenge, something that mattered to me something that can be fun. Running a startup is not for everyone so it has to be fun and the people I have built around me are keeping it fun for me.

Other than having fun at work, I am an avid offshore sailor. I love being on the water with good mates making a racing yacht go fast. Top speed so far is about 35MPH on a Volvo 60 surfing waves off coast of Tasmania.

What is your Favourite Community? Why?

I know I am totally biased, but I spend most of my time engaging with the MyLifeList.org community. Our site is the premiere social network for goal achievers and leads the next generation of social networks by focusing on what matters. People need somewhere to go with more depth of engagement than discussing what someone had for lunch, sending shallow b-day wishes or to monitor the activities of ex-lovers. We have more than 100,000 member goals and stories on the site so plenty of inspiring discussions, including my going to Bishop’s University story.

What is your Superpower?

I would have to say vision and persistence. Creating a new community like MyLifeList.org has been challenging for multiple reasons. So many would have us follow what already exists. Why not create a facebook app or why not sell to Google. So uninspiring and misses the depth we are trying to establish within our community. I love this quote as it sums up how we view what we are doing. “When all think alike, then no one is thinking.” — Walter Lippman

How do you use it to Build Community?

The fact that our site exists is a testimony to using my vision and persistence to get this far and keep going. A key benefit of the MyLifeList.org community is that the site allows you to meet people by goal. The challenge for most people is finding those who have accomplished their specific goal. Our site connects people to those who have accomplished every major life goal. If you want to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro or run the Boston Marathon you can engage with people who have done it. It is the quality of connections on our site that keeps people coming back and sharing what matters.

My Three Favourite Things About Bill Are…

1. Talking in the Third Person. John Horn knows that this phenomenon was made popular by Michael Jordan in the early ’90s. Bill Starr – in his answer to the “Who Are You?” question – makes it cool and popular today. And, that’s right, I just compared Bill to Michael Jordan. In all seriousness, what I like most about Bill’s next generation of social networking is that it lives up to one of my favourite community-building quotes: “we are the application of our intention.” A lot of people say they’ll do things. Leaders are the ones who actually do them. Speaking of which, way to clean out your garage, Uncle John!

2. The Bishop’s Connection. Of course a busy, successful, visionary entrepreneur in Boston had time to be interviewed by the Daily Gumboot – I mean, they all do, right? Not really. Even though we’re kind of a big deal, the Gumboot doesn’t typically get interviews with folks of Mr. Starr’s ilk. But Bill and I both went to Bishop’s University. This means that he is a class act alumnus who is willing to help fellow alumni and answer ridiculous questions. Bill’s project – MyLifeList.org – reflects a true sense of community that we both share. From Boston to Vancouver, the purple pride of Bishop’s University connects folks who would otherwise be strangers who would never talk to each other and who also probably went to McGill or Queen’s.

3. Love of Lists. My Life List is about goal-setting, adventure and community. The List by John Horn is about life, the universe and everything…as I see it. So, Bill and I both love lists and are really good at making them. Bill’s list-making is just plain better, though. Because the ones he makes – and encourages others to make – inspire life and world changing actions to be taken my people who connect through a vibrant online community.

…as told by John Horn

Harvard: The Bishop’s of America

The Principal's Residence at Bishop's has seen better days. This tends to be the case with Public English Universities en la belle province.

No, I didn’t flinch or stutter as I wrote the title of this article. It should be noted and emphasized that Harvard is behaving a little like Bishop’s University. Let me explain.

Last week, up-and-coming “newspaper” the The Globe and Mail published a story about the new Dean of the Harvard School of Business. This man, Nitin Nohria, made headlines because he did something that no other Dean of HSB has done in over 40 years. Mr. Nohria moved into a house on campus. “It was the only decision I made that my predecessors recommended against,” said Nohria.

Amazing. I know.

The reasons for Mr. Nohria decision to live on campus are pretty darn sound, whether you evaluate them with educational, business or community-development principles in mind. The Globe argues that Nohria argues that this marks his intention to throw-back the school to its academic and community roots. Here’s a quote of a quote from the article:

“There was a deliberate intent in which (HBS) was founded and the dean’s house was part of that. There was a feeling that this was a campus to which people would come to study and be part of a community,” says Prof. Nohria, 48, Harvard Business School’s 10th dean and the first to be born outside the US. “I always had the magical sense of this place.”

Let me tell you about a magical place. It’s called Bishop’s University and the school’s Principal – not President – is one of many faculty members and senior administration who live on campus. Today, Michael Goldbloom is the gentleman who occupies the Principal’s House these days – in my day it was the outstanding Janyne Hodder. Principals come and go, but the traditions don’t.

Principal Michael Goldbloom congratulates graduating students at his home - on campus - in Lennoxville, Quebec

During every Orientation Week first-year students visit the Faculty residences – located in the heart of campus – and seranade the Principal with the Bishop’s University school song. The Principal also invites the graduating students, by Division, to a champagne reception at his home on campus at the end of the semester – it’s a chance to congratulation them and wish them well for the journey ahead…the school’s modest goal is to host every student at a function at the house before they graduate. The home isn’t just a home, it’s a hub of scholarly community building.

And these are just two examples from what is perhaps the most vibrant campus communities in Canada.

Should Harvard Business Students seranade Dean Nohria now that he lives on campus? Yes, absolutely (it would make a great Organizational Behaviour case study). But, more importantly, people setting our to sculpt and shape and mould and impact certain communities should really live there while they do it.

Congratulations, Harvard. You just got a little bit closer to Bishop’s today.

Purple Kicks Ass

As many of our loyal readers know, a large part of the Daily Gumboot team are products of Bishop’s University. Located in the Eastern Townships of the Nation of Quebec (you’re welcome, Monsieur Renauld), Bishop’s is the smallest university in Canada and was once used to film a B-Movie about, I think, prep-school witches starring that girl from Coyote Ugly. Needless to say, the place is legendary for myriad reasons; from the poutine of Lennoxville to its vibrant-and-adventurous-community-building to the student-first faculty to the engaging – at times, ahem, intoxitcating - social life. But, not long ago, Bishop’s University had sputtering enrolment, corrupt and incompetent leadership and was on the brink of bankruptcy. The end was near.

Bishop’s Builds Community

The thing about Bishop’s, though, is that even though up-and-coming “print magazine” the Macleans‘s university rankings placed BU dead last in leaders of tomorrow (Editor’s note: this was my frickin’ grad year, too), well, the school’s delivery of a world-class, innovative and very, very, very social student experience ensures that people really, really, really like – and liked – going there. So, when the National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE) published its results in the Macleans last winter, well, Purple Kicked Ass! Bishop’s was the only school to rank in the top six in each of the survey’s benchmarks. Sure, the library doesn’t have “books” or “computers,” but that’s what research-oriented-behemoth-money-making-student-second schools are for! BU is about classrooms.

Needless to say, the community on campus and in the town of Lennoxville rallied around its storied educational institution and thanks to key players like Principal Michael Goldbloom, My Personal Hero Michael Childs, Jamie Crooks, David McBride, and some Awesome Alumni, Canada’s coolest school has “rowed back from the brink.” And those aren’t my words. Those ones are from up-and-coming “newspaper” the Montreal Gazette – hey, if CanWest News prints something like this it must be true.

For these reasons and more, you should care about Bishop’s University.

Reasons to Attend Bishop’s University

1. Small Class Sizes means that you actually get an education from a teacher, rather than a lecture from an expert…or that expert’s PhD student…or that PhD student’s TA…or that TA’s cousin, Phil (editor’s note: I heard that this may or may not have happened once at Queen’s University).

2. The History Department is unofficially ranked as tops in Canada – mostly because of

My wife Michelle didn’t go to Bishop’s. And she hasn’t really gotten over it.

its street credit as the only place you can find a Canadian Native and Environmental Technology specialist teaching a class about American Foreign Policy. Sure, it was dealt a blow by losing perennial all-star Michael Childs to the university’s administration and it hurt when cantankerous veteran storyteller Karl Wegert retreated past the Maginot Line on the Quebec border, through the sprawling wheat fields of Eastern Ontario before settling on the Steppes of Russia Manitoba to reflect on all things socialist. And even if you’re not in the faculty, well, the History Department has, um, a history of knowing how to have fun.

3. Powerful Alumni Connections means that people from Bishop’s take care of people from Bishop’s and that any time you happen across a fellow Gaiter Grad adventure, debauchery and/or a new creative enterprize is always a possibility. Our alumni are natural connectors and we open doors for the school and its students – past, present and future. If you haven’t already, join the BU groups on Facebook and LinkedIn today!

SUPERAWESOME BONUS REASON: The Innovative B.E.S.T. Program combines experiential learning, community service and overachievement to help the best and brightest of the institution transform from good to great and begin their post-BU journey at an amazing new level. Do you have what it takes to be the B.E.S.T.? Find out here.

Congratulations on your almost-being-out-of-debt and biggest-enrolment-ever, Bishop’s University. I’m raising a toast for you right now.

- JCH

Catherine Hawkins – The Wilderness Ambassador

Who are you?

Catherine Hawkins, not Cathy or Katie or Kate for short. It’s Catherine. People always try and shorten my name and it’s very frustrating. I live in small-ish mountain town in Alberta called Canmore. I love living here because I can basically start any mountain adventure from my back door. I work at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies as the Education and Interpretation Coordinator.

What do you do for fun?

I spend time in the backcountry either hiking, camping, skiing or biking. Most of these activities I like to do with my black dog. I am very passionate about good food and love to cook. I like to knit while listening to the radio, usually the CBC. I volunteer my time to things that are important to me. Sometime I classify my work as “fun”.

What is your favourite community? Why?

The Wildlife Ambassadors. This is a volunteer group that I have been involved with for three years. It is made up of Canmorites who are concerned about the human/wildlife conflicts that inevitability happen in a town that sits right on top of important wildlife habitat and corridors. Every weekend in and around Canmore you can find the Wildlife Ambassadors out on trails chatting to locals and visitors about wildlife safety and in a lot of cases, respect. The Wildlife Ambassador volunteers are a great community because of the very diverse range of people it has attracted; there are mechanics, teachers, reporters, fish and wildlife officers, administrative assistants, filmmakers and high school students.  All these people have different backgrounds, interests and perspectives but all have the same passion and motivation for volunteering which is ensure the survival of wildlife in this area.

What is your superpower?

Badass knitter. Both of my grandmothers and my mother were/are amazing knitters so I think I have good knitting genes. I like to knit small things that don’t take too long to finish so tea cozies are ideal, though, I also enjoy knitting other small things like socks, toques, mitts and anything for babies. But the tea cozies are my favorite because my Momsie and I design different patterns for them and I either give them away to people that I love or sell them to strangers.

How do you use it to build community?

People need to chat and connect in order to build community. People chat and connect over tea. So the longer a pot of tea stays warm in it’s stylish handmade tea cozy the longer people will chat and connect. Also note. There is a café in Canmore called “Communitea” which I think is very fitting and supports my theory of how connected tea and community really are.

My Three Favourite Things About Catherine Are…

1. Her love of bears. I will say “love of the outdoors” here, too. Not only does she love bears, but Ms. Hawkins is also incredibly knowledgeable about these misunderstood, mostly peaceful teddies of the North. For example, she does not think they are “peaceful” or “nice” and is good at reminding people of these facts. Catherine is a hiker extraordinaire and has navigated some of the coolest peaks and trails in Alberta and BC.

2. Dry. Deadpan. Wit. This one time, at Bishop’s University, I shaved off my beard and left a “soul patch” under my chin. It looked stupid. There were a few comments, but, using my well-honed-made-fun-of-in-high-school-a-lot-wit, I repelled the slings and arrows fairly effortlessly. Until Catherine started lampooning the ridiculous facial hair. Much to the delight of the thirty-or-so partygoers in my house, her well-timed, perfectly delivered barbs were so much that I had to go back to the bathroom to shave off the silly looking triangle of hair under my lower lip. I have never grown one since and I have certainly remembered that Catherine Hawkins is a very, very funny lady.

3. Friends Forever. Catherine is a member of a very, very, very special group of ladies. They met at university and, since 2003 (when we graduated) they have spread themselves across North America and – from time to time – around the world. But they stay connected in myriad ways – emails, phone calls, Facebook, letters, surprise-cheer-up-visits. And it’s a beautiful thing. Such diligence in maintaining meaningful connections to the point that they are (and will be) foreverlasting is the truest kind of community out there. Eat, Pray, Love and Yah-Yah Sisterhoods and Stella’s friends and people with traveling pants ain’t got nuthin’ on Catherine and her incredibly community-oriented team of world-changers.

As told by John Horn…

Evelyne Aikman – Designer, Artist, Seamstress, Entrepreneur, Awesome!

Who are you?

Eek. I am probably the Eel, in Eel & Ermine. I am a seamstress and designer,  I am also someone who very recently became an entrepreneur in small clothing shop sort of way without quite knowing what that might entail (daily gumboot assignations included). I guess that I am a person or thing that lives and breathes and eats and thinks, I think, and is somehow a grownup now. I am also a person who is lucky enough to have made the acquaintance of John Horn before it was even cool to do so (before it was cool to know it was cool), and am now feeling/suffering from/ benefitting from the aftereffects.

What do you do for fun?

I like to paint pictures and sew things and cook foods, and bake foods with sugar and then decorate those foodstuffs so that they look inedible. I also like to run, a lot. I like to read beautiful prose by amazing authors and then write long stories without plots or endings in a fruitless effort to emulate their talents. I like to go hiking and camping with my lovely husband Adam and mischievous dog Kolya. I would like to go bike riding, but find the steep and uninviting hills of San Francisco more than my antiquated bicycle can bear, so I settle for the flatlands of wine country whenever I/Adam have the chance. I like to think about things too much and wax poetic about them if anyone will listen. I like to travel whenever I have the means to do so.

What is your favourite community and why?

My favourite community is my family. Is that allowed? Anyone who has met anyone in my family can attest to the fact that they are amazing. I grew up on a farm in the wild woods of Cape Breton Island with a super pair of parents and more siblings than I can sometimes recall (or at least recall to call), and all of them are unique and wonderful in so many different ways that I’m not even sure where to start. Let’s just say that the super pair of parents were, and are, adept at making everything we need (ed) and we lived off of the land as best we could, in the rural modern sense of the term. And that the siblings wandered to all corners of the Earth (except Antarctica), where their charms and talents prevailed above all and their deplorable inter-communication skills were overcome by brotherly, or more often, sisterly, affection.  To paraphrase; my parents have always embodied and instilled in us a sense of self sustainability that is an invaluable asset in a world where so many humans have become divorced from the processes that keep them alive. They have also given me a good sense for what is ridiculous and what is not.  I am very grateful for that knowledge and wisdom, as well as the inspiring and surprising things that it has engendered in my lovely sisters and brother, who are always there for me and each other, no matter how sporadically we manage to see each other.

What is your superpower?

My superpower is making things. I am really good at making lots of different things. In my life I have been historically good at making artworks, specifically oil paintings that look like things that I think I feel like. But then I learned, while working in a cake shop of really over-the-top decorated cakes for people who want to think that they are eating artwork, that making all things is related. And that if you are not afraid to attempt making something, you will often succeed. And once you start making a lot of things for yourself your idea of wanting and needing changes quite a bit. For example, I rarely buy anything that I think I can make for myself, but then if it doesn’t seem like a good use of time to make, I won’t, and then I know I didn’t really need it. So much energy is wasted so that people can acquire useless objects; it can be baffling.

How do you use it to build your community?

I have very recently channeled my superpower into the opening of a small shop in San Francisco called Eel & Ermine, where my business partner, Elinor, and I, make all of the clothing that we sell.  We also made or repurposed almost everything in the shop including our work table(recycled door), counter(recycled crate and window), dressing room situation, racks and other display style things (with some assistance from our husbands when any power sawing or model boat assembly was required). We also stock hats by a local friend and milliner, Kitty Andrews, who makes everything from scratch. Our goal is basically to reintroduce our community to handmade goods, to the point of possibly seeing your garment being made (by us) while you wait. The idea is to make a shopping experience as enjoyable as possible, as well as make people aware of where their goods are coming from, and how they are produced. In this way they can also be a part of the process by choosing fabrics or requesting alterations, producing a unique and customized piece. We want our store to be accessible to as many people as possible (well, just women for now) who buy clothing, so our price point is relatively low. We’re hoping to get a few people at least away from the mass-produced, customer eating machine of big time retail stores. And maybe even inspire them to start making clothes themselves. We have already had such good feedback from people stopping by and most are amazed that we make things ourselves, but that’s what everyone used to do!

That's right. It's a duck-shaped zucchini. Do you have a problem with it?

Since we also want to save the world we also have several designs made from recycled materials, and none of our clothes are made from styrofoam, so rest easy John. For example, our boyfriend shirt is a men’s dress shirt, re-tailoured and jazzed up for gals. Our customers can also bring in their guys’ old shirts for us to remake for them, which aside from the obvious goodness of recycling, is also pretty nice sentimentally, provided you have fond feelings for the former occupant of the shirt you have commandeered.

We would also love for our shop to be the kind of place where friends from our neighbourhood can stop in for a chat or a coffee, and since Elinor and I both love to bake, we always have some sort of sugar based item available for consumption as well. For this dropping by and hanging out purpose, as well as for those not actively participating in a shopping trip, we have set up a small seating/relaxing/snacking area. Just nice, you know?

My Three Favourite Things About Evelyne Are…

1. Bottomless Talent. She’s one of those people who is just good at so, so many things. Painting, writing, sewing, building, singing, debating, hugging, drinking, problem solving, and, probably, math, science, and sports – but I mostly know her passionate artistic side. When you hang around Evelyne, sooner or later (usually sooner) you will be inspired to do something creative.

2. The Aikmans. True story, they’re the best sort of folk – local with global minds, organic and delicious. That’s right. I’m talking about people.

3. Randomness. Every now and then I will receive an email or typed (on a typewriter, it looks like) letter from Evelyne Aikman. And it will be a stream of consciouness narrative of some sort. And it will go on for pages/screens. And it is brilliant in its honest simplicity. And such a random, delightful surprise really makes my heart smile. So, Evelyne, thanks for that.

As told by John Horn…

The Gumboot Community Expands!

Deutschland ist wunderbar!

Deutschland ist wunderbar!

Yes, that’s right. Just like Starbucks, we’re expanding exponentially. That means more voices and more time for John and I to hit the pavement and promote the Gumboot’s unique offering in the wilderness of the world wide web (isn’t alliteration wonderful). In fact, in the coming weeks watch out for more and more new contributors coming online (and if you want to be a contributor – make sure to email us!).

In the meantime, I’d like to belatedly introduce our newest correspondents, Peter Joerdell, Jim Clifford, and Katie Burns. Our newest correspondents hail from Germany and Toronto expanding the Gumboot community from Vancouver to a global network of community correspondents.

Peter’s a nifty fellow. I’ve known him for years – since my young formative years at Bishop’s University. I’ll always remember sampling the apple wine (at least I think that’s what it was) – which felt like rocket fuel going down – as Peter and I along with three other Germans cruised in a dirty pickup truck through the back country dirt roads the rural Eastern Townships. Peter and I were stretched in the back, bundled up tightly and clinging to old Mauser rifles, a shot gun and some sort of tricked out sub-machine gun (yeah – in retrospect I’m not sure if it was legal either). The whole scene had a vague Stalingradish feel. It was cold, wet, and dirty; except we weren’t there to shoot Russians, but tin cans. A preferable endeavor particularly considering tin cans don’t shoot back.

Peter Joerdell - our German Correspondent.

Peter Joerdell - our German Correspondent.

Since then Peter, like all of us, has gone on to new and exciting things. He’s now a journalist and PR guy who works as a freelancer on top of it all. He lives in Germany in the north, where they don’t like Southerners and dress in black and are inordinately serious.  The Gumboot managed to snare him after offering more than the New York Times and Washington Post were able to shell out for his journalistic talents. Sorry Arthur Sulzberger – maybe next time.

Peter will be providing the Gumboot’s fabulous audience with a fresh new perspective on the Fatherland and the countless communities that connect it. We’d highly recommend you consider checking out his first piece on Oki, a local German punk who lives in a train station and keep tuned to his next article coming up this Friday. On behalf of the whole Gumboot staff and audience (with the exception of the “real Pete”) welcome to the team Peter.

Jim and Katie – well, I need not say much more than they are both awesome and (almost always) reliable.

You can find out more about Jim here and more about Katie here.

That’s right – they were such hot stuff, we had nailed them down for a Get To Know Your Community segment early on. Who says John and I can’t spot rising stars?  Turned out they were so blown away by our site they begged us to come on as full time correspondents. At least that’s the story I’m planning on telling anyone who’ll listen.

In the spirit of this post I’d like to elaborate on these two characters to explain my own personal connection to their awesomeness.

Sure they look a little shifty - but who isn't?

Look at that cute couple.

I found my love of cooking from Jim and my interest (it’s not full blown love yet unfortunately) in baking from Katie Burns. For them, I traveled across the entire continent packing a camoflage knife bag with my favorite chef’s knife so I’d have the opportunity to whip up a tasty treat or two at their wedding several years ago.

Both of the dynamic duo bring a unique and interesting organic/sustainable/friendly-folk-in-the-city angle to the Gumboot and frankly we love em for it. Jim’s able to do all of this while he’s publishing ActiveHistory.ca – a website dedicated to expanding history into new non-academic communities. As a former history student I must say I admire this mission – one which may well be as difficult as any James Bond ever came across. On behalf of the rest of the group – we’d like to welcome you to the team!