Saturday, July 18, 2015


It is entirely appropriate the Matt Sitler is comfortable sitting on the road. He has is a known news journalist with a respectful relationship with first responders including the traffic police with whom he speaks on a regular basis.

Born in Toronto, and raised in Montreal before returning to Toronto, Matt graduated from Durham College's journalism programme. After graduating, Matt worked at the Minden Times and Bracebridge Examiner newspapers before moving to the radio station, Moose FM to operate their news department.

Recognizing and responding to the shift in how people consume information, Matt recently joined as News Director for the 24-hour news service which covers breaking news, features and events for the entire Muskoka region of Ontario.

In a time when the internet is redefining the way people access news and information, Matt uses his experience, institutional knowledge, internet followers and deep contacts in the region to offer a forward-looking way people can access informed at home, on the road and in some cases even from across the country and overseas.

When not at a crime scene or working his contacts with police to break stories, Matt, a creative person, paints oil portraits. He is also working on a semi autobiographical novel pulling from his experiences in the news world in cottage country.

MATT FUN FACT: While living in Montreal, Matt was an accomplished figure skater and was a top contender for his age group. However, when the family moved back to Toronto, he could not resist the pressure to play hockey and eventually traded the toe picks for hockey skates.


Friday, July 17, 2015


There is "Throwback Thursday" which was yesterday, so there ought to be a "Fro-back Friday" too! In this case it is a look back to January 1st, 2015 when The Hello Project launched with a legend.

For those of, ahem, a certain age, Ken Dryden was the NHL legendary goaltender for Montreal Canadiens. Every kid playing street hockey, pond hock or even lacrosse wanted to be goalie, Ken Dryden.

So many basement tv rooms in friends homes had posters of Ken on their wall. He was larger than life. In this photo, Ken sits beside my desk in the newsroom and we chatted for a couple of hours.

A tall, imposing man, Ken's size is the thing of dread on the ice, but to speak with him, his soft voice and comforting manner are disarming.

Today, living in Hamilton, Ontario, Ken is a lawyer, a politician, a businessman, an author and a recipient of the Order of Canada and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.


Thursday, July 16, 2015


Not one to enjoy the spotlight, Biljana prefers to let her art speak for her. Once a University of Toronto employee, her life has taken a different path, one that has always been with her.

Born in Yugoslavia, in the 1950s, the family moved to Canada for more opportunities when she was still very young. Her father, knew nothing of Canada. He knew more about Australia and thought they would end up living 'down under'. But as fate would have it, the four family members and their four suitcases landed in Montreal, on their way to Kingston, Ontario. Not wanting to live in a big city, Kingston was between Montreal and Toronto. Speaking next to no English the family settled into the very quiet Kingston. 

Biljana headed west to the University of Toronto. "Like a good Yugoslavian girl, I studied math, computer science and business," she says laughing at the course of study that took her to various locations.

For 22 years, Biljana worked at the University of Toronto until she was "reorganized" and laid off three years ago. It is hard not to feel bitter, and as many people do, she tried to figure things out and tried to come to terms with her confusion and mixed emotions after a 22 year career she had enjoyed. 

"I have always been creative. My earliest memories is when I lived in a tiny town in Austria with one school. A single room school had several rows of students, one grade per row," she says, describing the school layout. "I wasn't allowed to draw after I finished my lessons early, but one of the younger teachers, recognizing my interest in drawing, allowed me to draw, but no more than 1" above the bottom of the sheets of paper in my workbook, " she explains, any higher than that, then she would get the stick!

Fostering her creativity, she now curates her small gallery of two narrow walls and a desk in the Arts Market containing many other artist's displays on Queen Street in the Leslieville neighbourhood of Toronto.

Her latest piece, seen in the upper right of the photo is highly interpretive. For her it is an underwater scene, looking up at things floating and suspended in the water. It is a richly painted and layered piece that one can study for ages and always discover new details.

BILJANA LIFE OUTLOOK: "I talk to people all the time. On the subway, on the street, total strangers. I'm curious about people and want to know their stories." Interestingly, Biljana's outlook embodies much of the thought behind The Hello Project: a desire to make contact with others, to say "Hello" and to humanize & personalize what is a disconnected world.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015


The fourth of six daughters, Bessi Chow knows a thing of two about working hard, people skills and being driven. From humble beginnings, working the family grocery store in Burnaby, British Columbia to outfitting Olympic athletes and polar expeditions, Bessi is more than just an involved mom of two and the "VP of Everything" as stated on her business card.

A natural leader and highly organized, Bessi organized her sibling's shift schedules in her parent's store at the age of nine. Born and raised in Canada, this Vancouver native took fashion design at  the Helen Lefeaux School of Couture while also working at Eaton's and Holt Renfrew. When her shift at Eaton's ended, she sprinted to her job at Holt's  which was  at the other end of the shopping mall. It was there she met a customer who offered her a job in their clothing company in Toronto. Her first response was ..”I have go home and ask my mother..”  After finishing her studies, Bessi moved. It was her first time east of Winnipeg, her first time going somewhere alone, and her first time on an airplane.

Working at Elen Henderson Ltd. In Toronto,  the "Cadillac of kids wear", Bessi honed her skills in clothing design, learned the intricacies of the clothing business from the cutting room floor to working with buyers and marketing. She learned the world of private label clothing and had her eye on the next stage of her evolution in the industry.

Buddies by Bessi was her own funky kid's wear line of clothing and gained an impressive following. She was often referred to  as, "The darling of the kid's wear industry" at the time.  During this time Bessi was featured on the daytime talk show - The Jenny Show, with other top  clothing designers. "I'd almost rather have died than be on that show. I felt I was so bad I wished the floor would open up and swallow me alive," she says, laughing about the nervousness of the experience. Bessi felt after two years she had to leave because she was burnt out and exhausted. After a comatose state of about 4 weeks and a first holiday in Florida, she resumed the working world and  joined Duvet Comfort.

Counting in her head back 25 years, she dates her association with her current company by the age of her car – a 24 year old BMW convertible, which was her gift to herself after designing and producing the first BMW clothing line. To this day, she still proudly owns the now vintage car. After two years, she  left Duvet and incorporated her own company, working from her home office, focusing on Corporate Accounts.  In that period, she finally slowed down long enough to get married and pop out a couple of kids (now grown, 18 and 20).

10 years later after her departure, Johnny, owner of Duvet Comfort, meanwhile had seen  tremendous growth and potential in his business but needed Bessi's expertise to realize the dream. "He called me, like every day to wear me down before I said 'yes', and agreed to return to work with him again," says Bessi....and “like a marriage, everyday there are challenges, but also many rewarding moments”.

Today, Bessi is focusing her efforts on the company's line of premium outdoor winter gear. The build quality of the -40 degree-rated clothing is exceptional and built to last. Outfitting a team to the South Pole was one of the tests for the Outdoor Survival Canada clothing systems she oversees. These particular parkas are rated to -60. Of note, everything is made in Canada, a fact she is very proud of.

BESSI FUN FACT: "I pop out a kid (her first), and when she was six weeks old, I got a call from Champion Canada," they were the official supplier of the Canadian Olympic Team. Champion asked her to design the  clothing for the Canadian Olympic athletes for the 1996 summer games in Atlanta.  She said...”uhhh..let me find a Nanny first..”.   "If you recall Donovan Bailey and the suits with the flames, that's me!”
For more information on the Outdoor Survival Canada line:

Bessi Chow in the facility where Outdoor Survival Canada line is hand crafted.                       PHOTO: SPENCER WYNN

Photo courtesy of Library & Archives Canada.
Sporting Bessi Chow's design, Glenroy Gilbert, Donovan Bailey, 
Bruny Surin and Robert Esmie win gold at the 1996 Atlanta Summer 
Olympic Games in the men's 4x100m relay.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


At sunrise, while people are still in bed and the otherwise clogged downtown streets of Toronto are unsettlingly empty, work is being done to prepare for the day.

In the enormous space which is the St. Lawrence Market, most of the lights are still off and most vendors have not yet arrived. But near the rear left of the cavernous historic market building, Derek, an admittedly shy gentleman is hard at work.

A rosy cheeked man, Derek is a proud Newfoundlander from the interior of the province. He has been a butcher at Whitehouse Meats for 15 years. 

At the time of writing this, the Market is beginning to come alive with early morning visitors wanting fresh coffee and baked goods and early shoppers wishing to beat the crowds. If you listen closely, you just might hear the high-pitched sound of Derek's bandsaw as he expertly cuts meat that may end up on your bbq tonight.

You can visit their website at:


Monday, July 13, 2015


Returning home for a visit and taking in the classic boat show in Gravenhurst, JD Gilmour is happy to be visiting friends and family in northern Ontario again.

Having studied psychology and recently graduating from the University of Prince Edward Island, JD is excited to begin a new job in August. JD will be working as a case coordinator for the Workman's Compensation Board of P.E.I. He will be working with clients how have been off work due to disability and trying to get back to work. 

Not a fellow to just sit around, JD has been a professional figure skater and is also a professional coach for Skate Canada. Off the ice, he trains horses for racing and riding.

In Prince Edward Island, JD has a unique way of feeling connected to life back home in Muskoka. Every day, JD follows online and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to keep tabs on breaking news, events and traffic, "I especially like to hear the moose vs car reports - that really makes me feel like I'm back home," he laughs in appreciation for the 247 news service.

Before returning to Prince Edward Island, JD savours the last of his time in Muskoka, including taking in the boat show, "Kinda my favourite place in the whole world," he says watching the boats on the water and people enjoying a perfect sunny day in cottage country.

JD FUN FACT: At the age of seven, JD beat the captain of the RMS Segwun steamship at a game of trivia. As the reward, the captain allowed JD to steer  the ship past the family cottage, a distance he figured that took about 10 minutes. 


The RMS Segwun at the dock in the early morning

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Not knowing these beautiful woods and waterfalls were here, both Nancy Wickstead and friend Ben Lubberts sit and enjoy the spectacular views above the water falls with the water rushing by just inches away.

Nancy, a teller at Money Mart for eight years in Timmins, Ontario loves to be outside enjoying nature and exploring new places. “I love being outside, outdoors, exploring. Thats what I’m all about in the summer,” Nancy says, explaining how she likes to spend her time when not working.

Born in a different version of paradise, Ben was originally from Saint Maartin in the Caribbean. At the age of six he and his mother moved to Timmins where his mother is originally from. Ben is a mechanic for Timmins Expert, a Freightliner dealer. In an area of the province where transport trucks are vital to keeping goods and economy moving, Ben is involved with maintenance, diagnosis and repair of Frieghtliner rigs.

Ben has a love for motocross dirt bike riding as well as spending time with his two children. Only seeing each other for a year now, Nancy is a rock. “Nancy is always willing to help me. I found a good girl who’s always there to support me,” Ben says proudly as Nancy smiles.

NANCY & BEN FUN FACT: Together, the have discovered this location on a trip back home from visiting family in Toronto. This is something fun they both love to do together - discovering special places.