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Once joined in trauma, a group of veterans in St. John’s now bonded by music

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Michael Hanlon admits he was just floating by in life until he found new purpose in a group that’s brought together music and friends who have been joined in commonality. 

Every Thursday night, the sounds of strumming, drumming and the occasional accordion can be heard throughout the halls of Keyin College in St. John’s. It’s where a dozen or so members of Music Healing Veterans gathers each week. 

“Our students generally have developed either psychological, physical — or both — challenges as a result of their duties,” Hanlon said.

“We are providing this music instruction as way for people to channel themselves better and achieve calm where they probably haven’t been successful before, and give them something to focus on, on a daily basis.”

A group takes basic guitar lessons from instructor Bob Candow. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

Hanlon himself can attest to how the program works.

He spent 13 and a half years in the Canadian infantry, after which he left on a medical release for post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“With my graphic design and web skills, I thought I would be able to support myself that way but it turned out I was a lot sicker in those days than I realized,” Hanlon said.

“I ended up going the disability route and have been free-floating for a good few years now until I found this program and a focus for my day. I love seeing the smiles on the students.”

‘No drama, no trauma’

Music Healing Veterans Canada has several chapters across the country, all of which are run by veteran and civilian volunteers. The goal is to bring free music instruction to veterans, first responders, correctional officers and members of Canada Border Services. 

Melissa Fitzgerald, a volunteer civilian co-ordinator who helped start the St. John’s chapter, is amazed by the amount of progress the group has had since its first meeting Sept. 13. 

“The best part about this group is everybody’s so understanding and no one interrogates you,” Fitzgerald said in an interview between intermediate guitar lessons.

“You walk in and you say I’m having a bad day … they nod and they’re there, and they don’t they don’t question it.”

Instructors give up their time to teach basic and intermediate guitar, accordion and bodhrá​n, an Irish drum.

From left, Hugh Scott, intermediate guitar instructor; Melissa Fitzgerald, assistant chapter manager; and participant Maxwell Cranford. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

For musician Hugh Scott, the group has become more than a weekly teaching activity but rather a chance to be with new friends. 

“I had a brief career in the military myself and I understood the the way this program was working so I had no absolutely no problems coming in here,” Scott said.

“It’s been very, very self-fulfilling, actually, working with these people because I consider them friends now and we’ve actually started writing songs together and everything.”

I might be having a bad day pick up the guitar and just practise one chord over and over … next thing you know it was like I took medication or something.– Hugh Scott

Music provides an outlet for healing without having to sit in a circle and talk about trauma, Hanlon said.

“But if you need to talk you can step outside and have your chat and there’s just no judgment at all. 

“No drama, no trauma — just good music good company, and that’s our mantra.”

The Music Healing Veterans chapter in St. John’s wraps up a Thursday night instructional session. (Submitted by Michael Hanlon)

If someone wants to get something off their mind, Hanlon said, they now have a new group of friends to lean on. But during lessons, it’s all about the music.

“Medically, they say, playing guitar engages so much of your brain and your body that you rarely have time to think depressing thoughts because there’s so much concentration involved,” he said.

“It is true … I’ve proved to myself. I might be having a bad day, pick up the guitar and just practise one chord over and over … next thing you know it was like I took medication or something. It’s amazing.”

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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