Cover

MAKING THEIR MARK

Canada’s under-30s know what they want and have the spirit and the smarts to make it happen

September 8 2003
Cover

MAKING THEIR MARK

Canada’s under-30s know what they want and have the spirit and the smarts to make it happen

September 8 2003

MAKING THEIR MARK

Cover

Canada’s under-30s know what they want and have the spirit and the smarts to make it happen

REACHING HIS GOAL

Small in stature but big of heart, Jordin Tootoo became a household name for many Canadians because of his gutsy playmaking in the final game of this year’s World Junior Hockey Championship. Delighted fans at the Halifax Metro Centre chanted his name as the five-foot, nine-inch, 195-lb. right winger helped power Team Canada to a silver medal finish this January. Expect much more of the same. The 20-year-old from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, the first Inuk to be drafted by an NHL team, hopes to make the Nashville Predators this fall. Regardless, he has become a role model for Native youth. “It’s something I take very seriously,” says Tootoo, who often visits reserves and schools. “I want the kids to know that dreams are always attainable—if you put your mind to it.”

Tootoo is proud of both sides of his heritage. His father, Barney, a plumber, is Inuit, while his stay-at-home mother, Rose, is Ukrainian. (“That makes me a Uke-a-mo,” he jokes.) Tootoo began skating at the age of four. For the past four seasons, he played with the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings. Teammates repeatedly voted him the most popular player. He’s also overcome personal tragedy: last summer, his elder brother, Terence, a hot hockey prospect in his own right, committed suicide at age 22. Now, Tootoo is on the cusp of achieving his childhood dream. “I hope to be in the NHL for a long time,” he says. “It’s something I grew up wanting to do and I’m ready to give it my best shot.”

THE NEWER WAVE

Disco still sucks and Hot Hot Heat knows it. But Victoria’s punky pop quartet has found other ways to make people move. The band’s frazzled dance-punk goes down like a tripleshot of espresso, mashing blaring, alarmclock guitars with plucky keyboards, tumbling percussion and nerve-wracked vocals. In step with other international rock ’n’ rollers, Canada’s skinny-tie-wearing sons— Steve Bays (vocals, synths), Paul Hawley (drums), Dustin Hawthorne (bass) and Dante DeCaro (guitar)—wear their hair shaggy and grind through college radioraves like Bandages and No, Not Now from their 2002 debut, Make Up the Break Down (Sub Pop/Warner).

After the band’s Juno nomination and praise from the global music critic mafia, audiences expect energy. The band delivers. “By the second or third song, we’re spazzing out and throwing sweat onto the crowd,” says Bays, 25. “They’ll just smile

and wipe their faces.”

Hot Hot Heat’s newer-wave sound was a happy accident, a by-product of the band’s zeal for melody. Together since 1999, they’re about to record their second album, and Bays says the band aims to explore new territory— so long as the music’s grounded by attitude and oomph. “The best artists are excited, passionate people, not dull and formulaic,” he says. “Anything that interests you can be inspiring. That’s where we want to go.”

INTO THE UNKNOWN

Alexandre Blais can be excused for sometimes feeling lonely—not just because he’s a French-speaking Quebecer from Sherbrooke now working in New Haven, Conn. Just consider the title of his last academic paper: “Cavity Quantum Electrodynamics for Superconducting Electrical Circuits: an Architecture for Quantum Computation.” It’s aimed at a very, very small audience.

Blais works on the frontier of research into the unknown, although that’s not how he describes his line of work. “If I don’t want to scare people away, I don’t mention physics,” says the 29-year-old post-doctoral student at Yale University. “I say I’m into computer development.” But the type of computer he’s working on doesn’t yet physically exist, and may remain an abstract, theoretical conundrum for super-brains like Blais for another 10 years. Quantum computers could be to today’s desktops what the space shuttle is to Lindbergh’s Spirit of

St. Louis—if people like Blais ever find away of applying quantum mechanics (the movement of the infinitely small particles of matter) to operating systems.

And to get his mind off work? “I can’t stand TV—I read novels,” Blais says. But his literary preferences are as fantastical as his intellectual pursuits. One of his latest reads: The Lord of the Rings—for the second time.

MAKING A POINTE

Xiao Nan Yu is tall for a ballerina. Asked if her five-foot, seven-inch frame is a hindrance, the principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada points out that she’s the same height as dance legend Karen Kain. “I’m a couple of inches too tall, but it’s only been an issue trying to find a partner in China,” says the 25-year-old, equally as graceful in a summer dress and heels as she is in a tutu and pointe shoes. “Luckily for me, Canada is blessed with quite a few more tall men.”

Named a principal dancer in 2001, Yu has enjoyed a meteoric rise and critical acclaim similar to Kain, who debuted in 1971. Courted by the ballet school’s director, who saw

Yu perform as a 15-year-old in Europe, she came to Canada on a full scholarship with the company from her hometown of Dalian, China. (She hopes to have her Canadian citizenship by the end of this year.) Breathtaking as the lead in Madame Butterfly and Swan Lake, Yu says: “Once on stage I become the character. The audience doesn’t come to see Nan or Karen. They want a fantasy world so I try to give them that.”

Sitting in the National Ballet offices in Toronto, Yu says she’s often distracted by the black-and-white photographs that hang on the walls around her. The collection of framed prints catalogue the company’s past stars. “This is its Hall of Fame,” says Yu, who plans to teach dance following her final professional pirouette in about 10 years time. “One day my picture will be up there.”

CIVIC SERVICE

As a teen living at home, Terry Beech paid for cable television—to watch Question Period in the House of Commons. “Ever since I was a tyke,” says Beech, now 22 and majoring in business and economics at Burnaby’s

Simon Fraser University, “I’ve always been enthralled by Canadians getting involved and making things happen.”

He fed his political passion on the debating team at his Nanaimo, B.C., high school. There, backed by a dedicated group of fellow debaters, he launched a run for city council. He spent a year researching issues and reading two decades of local papers to learn what preoccupied older voters. It worked. In 1999, Beech, at 18, became a Nanaimo councillor.

A suggestion that politics is often viewed cynically takes him aback. “Really?” he asks. Beech says his three-year council term convinced him only of the good that can be accomplished. He saw civic life being enriched by things like the aquatic centre built during his term, as well as the caring of countless volunteers.

University has put his political ambitions on hold. He’ll spend the winter semester on an exchange in Thailand, and the following summer in Ottawa on a work-term scholarship with Export Development Canada. He plans a career in international trade, with a return to politics after he’s established his credentials in business. “I don’t want to rely on politics as a job,” he says. “I want to do it as a service.”

AN APPETIZING ART

“I’m in heaven,” proclaims Lesia Burlak, two steps into the upscale Williams-Sonoma kitchen store on Toronto’s Bloor Street. The 23-year-old begins zigzagging through the aisles, flipping through cookbooks, testing spices and checking out the cappuccino makers before stopping in front of a case of knives. “I have that one, that one and that one,” she boasts, pointing at the steely blades. “I just love knives.” An odd fetish? Not when you consider Burlak’s line of work. As a cook at a chic downtown restaurant, and to better compete in international culinary events, Burlak spends a large part of her income on kitchen tools and cookbooks.

It’s paying off, only four years after she started cooking for a living. A member of Canada’s national team at Expogast 2002 in Luxembourg, Burlak won a team gold as well as the highest honour for individual chefs: the Culinary World Cup, in this case for her original appetizers. (Crispy tuna tempura with sweet sake and wild mushroom chaser is one winning example.) After growing up in Ukraine, she moved with her

mother to Toronto in 1990 following the fall of the Berlin Wall. “In Ukraine a chef is not a career—a chef is a housewife,” laughs Burlak, whose passion for cooking emerged early in life. “When I was about four, I was fascinated by what my grandmother was doing in the kitchen. I always wanted to help, but she never let me.” Now, when she’s in the kitchen, nobody gets in her way.

THINKING BIG

For a swimmer who has set dozens of provincial records, you’d think yet another accolade would be no big deal. But the silver medal

Halifax’s Brooke Buckland won last February at the Eastern Canadian Swimming Championships certainly was. Her time in the 15and-under division of the 100-m backstroke broke a 27-year-old Nova Scotia record held by Olympic champion Nancy Garapick, the best swimmer to ever come out of that province. “It’s a checkpoint,” says Buckland, 14, “a chance to see how we both compare at the same age.” A silver medallist at the 2002 senior nationals, she currently ranks

first for her age in Canada in both the 50and 100-m backstroke.

Buckland wants to follow Garapick to the Olympics, to be held in Athens next year. But, for now, money may be the biggest obstacle: her mother, Theresa, who has already moved her family twice so Buckland can take advantage of coaching and training facilities, is a single parent of two. A community development officer, she struggles to keep up with the financial demands—mostly travel expenses—involved in supporting her daughter’s exploding swim career. As for Buckland, she’s clearly got the desire to make it

big—in the pool at 5:30 a.m. and training six days a week. And, at six foot one, with feet that already measure a men’s size 12, she’s got the proportions, too.

A KID’S BEST FRIEND

Some of us have role models. Laura Hannant has a saint. Since meeting Mother Theresa in 1995, Ottawa’s Hannant has, among other things, launched a branch of Free the Children (an international network of children helping other children escape poverty and exploitation), spoken out against child labour before Parliament, chaired the jury of the Swedish-based World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child, raised money for Turkish earthquake victims, organized a toy and clothing drive for kids in Kosovo, and written the final draft of “A World Fit For Us,” presented at the 2002 UN’s Special Session on Children.

Now a student at Victoria’s Lester B. Pearson United World College, a progressive high school with students from more than 80 countries, her next cause is youth participation. “I want to make sure that kids are

heard not only on children’s issues, but on community issues in general,” she says. Her experiences have created a healthy dose of skepticism about the adult world: “I can’t pretend that I have faith in the commitment of adults. They have to prove they are serious when they make promises to children.” That’s something at least she should have no trouble doing. On turning 18 in July, she joined the ranks of Nobel peace prize winners Nelson Mandela and José Ramos Horta when the World’s Children’s Prize made her an Honorary Adult Friend.

HONING HIS CRAFT

It’s a Canadian story with a Hollywood ending. A scruffy, artistic vegetarian from Gander, Nfld., heads to the big city of Toronto to pursue his dream. Brad Peyton (a direct descendant of one of Newfoundland’s first families) wants to be in the movies. Rarely leaving his funky Queen Street apartment, Peyton spends his days painting, drawing and writing “progressively strange films” while registered at the Canadian Film Centre. One day, an animated short he wrote

and directed, Evelyn: The Cutest Evil Dead Girl, lands in the lap of executives at Playtone, Tom Hanks’s Hollywood production company. Suddenly, Peyton’s the hot new thing in cool L.A.

Hired to write and direct the future multimillion dollar animated feature film, The Spider and The Fly, the 25-year-old is now pulling in a six-figure salary. “It’s been a really crazy nine months,” he says. “It’s all a little weird. I’ve heard, ‘This never happens, Brad,’ about 15 times in the past year. But I believe it does. This is the most unreal profession in the universe. If you believe in your stuff, there’s no ceiling.”

Peyton credits his home province for his creativity. “In Newfoundland, they largely let the eccentric be eccentric,” he says, which gives people permission to experiment. What’s more, he adds, the culture is “very arts and crafts. If you’ve got glue, paper, cardboard and wool, put it together and a picture comes out of it.” And if you’re Peyton, just add dialogue and celluloid.

A SAVING PAY-OFF

At 10, when most kids are squandering their finances on cards, toys and candy, Calgary’s Lesley Scorgie pooled her Christmas, birthday and chore money to buy a $100 Canada Savings Bond. Four years later, she got a part-time library job and began plowing most of her $350-per-month salary into mutual funds. Then, at 17, Scorgie appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show where a financial guru declared her well on the way to becoming a millionaire by 25. The market downturn has likely set that timetable back, but the third-year University of Alberta commerce student is still sitting pretty compared to many of her more spendthrift peers. “It’s definitely about having choices,” she says. “I’d like to do whatever I want when I finish school. The best way to do that is to make sure I have no financial constraints.”

Meanwhile, Scorgie is happy to dispense financial advice to friends as well as her parents. She also visits the province’s schools to talk about the importance of financial planning. “Young people are not exposed to this sort of thing,” says Scorgie, who has written a book and would like to develop a curriculum on the subject. “And kids really need to be. Because of the pressures the baby boomers will put on the system, our generation is not going to have the same pensions and securities when we get old.” fl]