Out With The Old
100 CANADIANS TO WATCH
Taking their dreams and making them real, they are at the forefront of change
It begins with a spark, a flash of imagination. Whether they are taking cutting-edge technology and applying it to the modern world, changing the way people think about the personal space called home, reinventing cuisine to create tastes for the current age, or bringing a fresh take to the world of politics, the innovators are distinguished by their courage—the courage to try something new.
INTERIOR DESIGNER She likes to boast that she has no formal training in her trade. “This is so much about instinct,” says Newman, 31. “It’s an artistic thing—all about color and feeling and balance.” A law school dropout who employs three draftspeople and three assistant designers in her small Toronto firm, Newman strongly believes in her own “innate” talent. So, apparently, do the wealthy, high-profile clients who have hired her. Earlier this year, Newman beat out several of Toronto’s major designers, as well as a few from New York City, for one of the city’s most prestigious decorating jobs: an elaborate new house designed by American Robert Stern, one of North America’s most sought-after architects.
Her style is classic, with a twist of the contemporary. “I have an appreciation for fine, beautiful things,” says Newman, who remembers, every day after school, visiting showrooms with her mother, also a decorator. “But my mother didn’t do it with the same vengeance,” she says. “My commitment is all-consuming. I love it. It is a passion. I can’t wait to go to work in the morning.” That drive recently led Newman to start a construction company. “The goal is to design and build,” she explains. “I love construction—love it, love it, love it. When you walk into a space and it’s exactly what you’ve seen in your mind’s eye, it’s a rush.”
COMEDIAN/ACTOR After rising from obscurity with a one-man adult comedy show that played to more than 340,000 people across Quebec over the past three years, the 28year-old Montreal native has swapped his microphone for the starring role in Talk Radio, a psychological drama by American playwright Eric Bogosian. The play, which runs in Montreal until the end of August, coupled with lead roles in two recent Quebec films, represents a major transition. Married to Quebec singer Lynda Lemay, Eluard has been taking acting lessons in New York City for the past year and is determined to see how far his talent can take him. “I’d like to be known as an all-around performer,” he says, “except for singing—I couldn’t do that to people.”
FILM-MAKER The 25-year-old son of the late Quebec poet and singer Félix Leclerc grows indignant at the suggestion that his name rather than his talent is the main reason for his growing success.
“On the contrary,” he argues, “I’ve had to work twice as hard to prove myself.” In the past five years, the younger Leclerc has written, produced and directed more than a dozen short films and video clips. Last year, his moody Bientôt Novembre won the best Canadian entry award in the Montreal International Short Film Festival. Weeks later, he was hired by Quebec playwright Robert Lepage to do a television adaptation of Lepage’s eight-hour marathon play, The Seven Branches of the River Ota. “It was an amazing experience,” recalls Leclerc, who spent nine months on the $700,000 project. While he was shooting Lepage’s play, Leclerc also won a Félix—the Quebec music industry award named in honor of his father—for his video of Kevin Parent's Seigneur. Now writing his first feature film,
Leclerc says he is “mainly inspired by European film-makers like François Truffaut. Plollywood doesn’t do anything that interests me.”
SALVAGE CONTRACTOR She has
built a business out of trash. For the native of Revelstoke, Alta., it all began after she graduated with a master’s degree in architecture from the Technical University of Nova Scotia: a client asked her to design a home with an older, livedin look. “I went out and found old planks and doors,” recalls Corson,
30. “But I discovered that there wasn’t a concentrated source for these types of things. There was a lot of waste—and a potential market.” In 1994, she and her associate Susan Helliwell launched Renovator’s Resource Inc., a company that bids on demolitions, removing flooring and other fixtures for resale. Now, the firm has grown into a small architectural practice, a building materials company— and the mainstay of a weekly TV show The Resourceful Renovator, which Corson hosts. “People are getting more enjoyment out of old stuff,” says Corson, “turning a spool into a rocking chair or hockey sticks into hangers. For me, it’s a hobby. I’m just lucky enough to have found work in it.”
CHEF As co-owner and head chef of Vancouver’s Star Anise restaurant, 26-year-old Bond has become something of a star himself on the international cuisine scene. Last February, the U.S. magazine Gourmet touted his restaurant as one of the best in North America in 1996. Renowned for his imaginative combinations of tastes and textures, Bond changes the dishes on the menu— which currently range from sumptuous salmon roasted with beurre blanc sauce to an exotic fillet of ostrich—every few months. And Bond, who moved to Canada from London five years ago, is certainly attuned to his customers—frequently shedding his head-chef clothes and spending a few hours clearing tables. “As head chef, I think that people don’t want to hurt my feelings,” Bond explains. “But people seem to find it easier to tell things to a person clearing the table, so I get honest opinions.” Just one way to ensure that good cooking and good business go hand in hand.
COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR In 1992, Jean Chrétien looked old, tired and too rooted in the past. A concerned senior adviser phoned Donolo, a then-32-year-old communications whiz-kid and longtime Liberal whom Chrétien did not know. Donolo signed on as Chrétien’s communications director, and portrayed the leader’s age and extensive experience as advantages rather than liabilities. In office, his strategy again turned a potential problem into a public relations success by depicting the Liberals’ massive spending cuts as a triumph of fiscal management. Five years and two election majority victories later, the Montreal native still flourishes in what Marketing Magazine has described as “the toughest public relations job in Canada.” His fondness for awful puns, old jazz and even older movies belies a fierce dedication to his job: when his third child, Michael, was born less than two weeks after the June 2 election, he immediately nicknamed him “Majority.” Like any PR pro, Donolo credits his client. “If I have done anything,” he says, “it is to help Canadians see the Prime Minister’s real personality.” Sometimes, even when his boss disagrees, Donolo is right: he unsuccessfully urged Chrétien to apologize for his broken promise to scrap the Goods and Services Tax. “Peter has an uncanny ability to cut through bureaucratic gobbledygook and turn it into plain English,” says David Smith, the Liberals’ campaign chairman. “Couple that with his infectious enthusiasm, and he has been a perfect match for the Prime Minister.”
SOFTWARE DEVELOPER After spending three years as a software engineer at Apple Computer’s headquarters in California, Bigonesse returned to Quebec City in 1995 to establish his own software company. In May, after 18 months of public and privately funded research and development, Adrenaline Software began marketing its first product, Adrenaline Numbers & Charts, a Microsoft Excel-compatible spreadsheet that uses two-and three-dimensional graphics. “Because it’s compact, discreet and interoperable, it offers tremendous advantages for small and home office users, publishers, scientists and engineers,” says the 28-year-old president. Buttressed by new strategic alliances with both Apple and IBM, he hopes to build the company into a Canadian software giant. “With Quebec’s generous tax credits and stable employee base,” he argues, “there’s no better place to do business.”
PLAYWRIGHT/DIRECTOR By creating dramas that stretch the bounds of audience expectations, he has made small theatre in Canada big. And since 1985, Brooks’s plays have won him and his collaborators awards and respect. His much-lauded Noam Chomsky Lectures, co-written with Guillermo Verdecchia, won Brooks a Floyd S. Chalmers Award in 1992, while The Lorca Play, based on the life of the Spanish poet-playwright, garnered a Dora Mavor Moore Award a year later. This fall, his acclaimed production of John Mighton’s Possible Worlds will be remounted at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille. Brooks, 38, who grew up in Toronto and is currently writer-in-residence at the Tarragon Theatre, doesn’t like to delineate precisely what he does. “I’ve spent a lot of time,” he says, "rubbing out the lines between writing and directing.” That means mining a variety of influences—from Brazil, where he studied puppetry, and New York, where he studied acting, to the University of Toronto’s drama department. “There’s no single place that’s been more useful than another,” he says. “It all comes from different experiences, and that happens everywhere all the time.”
ENTREPRENEUR The name sounds like the latest grunge band. But the Rubbish Boys is, in fact, a growing Vancouver-based company focused on exactly what the name implies: garbage. Eight years ago, Scudamore’s idea of charging moderate fees to collect oversize garbage loads that municipal collectors reject proved so successful that he dropped out of university. “I didn’t want to sit at a desk all day,” he says, now 27. “I wanted to challenge myself.” His one-truck operation has since grown to a dozen vehicles and 40 employees in Vancouver and Victoria. With revenues of $1.2 million a year, the company now plans to franchise its concept. And Scudamore’s sense of fun has remained intact: for Canada Day, he is throwing a beach party for employees, featuring the strangest items collected in the previous couple of weeks, plus “lots of beer. And we’ll drink Molson Canadian.”
Peter van Stolk
ENTREPRENEUR He has tossed out the term Generation X, preferring to call his peers Generation 2000. ‘We were born in a different era,” says van Stolk. ‘We’re moving downtown, not to the suburbs.” At 34, van Stolk makes it his business to understand the next generation, as well—those aged 14 to 35. And his creation, Jones Soda, the alternative soft drink distributed by his Vancouver-based firm Urban Juice & Soda, is becoming a cult classic from British Columbia to Boston. Jones is as much attitude as drink, a brightly colored pop sold in a plain bottle with a variety of retro-styled labels. But neither Jones nor van Stolk’s Wazu spring water can be found on supermarket shelves. Instead, van Stolk distributes to repertory cinemas, tattoo parlors and coffee houses—and sells the soda personally to snowboarders at the top of a mountain or to techno-music freaks at all-night raves.
Van Stolk is shaking up the beverage industry by suggesting that the youth market can be lured not only by million-dollar marketers but by a counterculture maverick on a shoestring budget. Without the funds to take on Coke or Pepsi, he relies on word of mouth—and so far, the buzz is catching. The window dresser at Macy’s in New York discovered Jones Soda and placed it in the latest display window. “Three million people see that each day, and it didn’t cost a dime,” says the Edmonton-born van Stolk, who became an entrepreneur at age 12, buying cases of Bubble Yum in the United States and reselling them to his classmates. But he sees his future less as a profit-maker than a political trailblazer, bridging the corporate and New Age worlds. A supporter of Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and the SPCA, he is also an active member of the Social Venture Network, a group of North American businesspeople who believe 1990s firms must be socially responsible. “If Coke and Pepsi took even 10 per cent of what they spend on marketing, they could give needy kids hot lunches,” says van Stolk. “That’s how you create change.”
SOFTWARE DEVELOPER He is
not your average CEO. For starters, at 24 he is younger than all but one of his 80 employees at Coral Technologies, a London, Ont., company involved in software development and networking. And his road to success has been anything but conventional. At 14, Caldwell started a business in his parents’ basement, fixing and assembling computers. He dropped out of school in Grade 11, and after a failed investment in a software company, Caldwell bought out Coral Technologies with a promissory note and $30,000 in cash. Since 1991, the company has skyrocketed from five employees and $400,000 in sales to 80 employees and an estimated $19.5 million in revenue this year. Caldwell hopes to double the size of the company, which also has an Africa operation, within the next two years.
EDUCATOR Her objective was twofold: “I wanted people to understand why science is important, and I wanted scientists to be able to explain it to them.” To that end, Schmidt, now 31, founded Let’s Talk Science in 1991, while completing her PhD in physiology at the University of Western Ontario in London. In its first year, the program linked 10 Western students with publicschool science classes, where they conducted hands-on projects aimed at injecting fun into the lesson plans. Now in five provinces, the program has brought undergrads from nine universities into the classrooms of more than 300,000 students. And its Science Delivered conferences advise elementary schoolteachers across Canada on how to make the subject more relevant. “One of my frustrations lies in people thinking science is black and white—that there is not a creative and dynamic process involved,” says Schmidt, whose organization recently received a $ 1-million donation from Du Pont Canada Inc. “Our central goal is to shatter that idea.”
ENTREPRENEUR A single semester at Laval University was enough to convince Weiser that “school was just not for me.” So in 1992, the Quebec City native dropped out and co-founded Megatoon Entertainment Group, an animation studio intent on making interactive cartoons and comic books. Three years later, the company was generating more than $1 million in annual sales, largely as a result of the success of such Megatoon software products as Goferwinkel’s Adventures and Wallobee Jack. In 1995, he sold Megatoon Entertainment and launched Megatoon Station, which quickly became the largest Internet provider in the Quebec City area.
In 1995, Weiser sold that operation to Malofilm Communications for “multimillions,” stayed on for a year as president, then resigned. “I needed to get out so that I could reassess what I want to do in life,” he explains. During the past year, Weiser, now 25, has founded CH1WAWA Communications Inc., an entertainment development company, which partly financed Burnt Eden, an award-winning film, and opened a bar on Quebec City’s trendy Grande Allée. “I’m willing to try anything that comes along if I feel good about it,” he says. “That’s what being an entrepreneur is all about.”
EDITOR-PUBUSHER/MARKETER He looks like a typical Winnipeg 18-year-old: hangs out with friends, goes to movies, and mountain-bikes. But how many teenagers run their own marketing company and serve as editor and publisher of a burgeoning magazine, which they also own? “Yeah, it’s kind of weird,” acknowledges Strauss. “Most teenagers don’t call Michael Cowpland ‘Mike’ and talk to him about tennis and his favorite cars.” Two years ago, the bespectacled boy wonder, with some financial help from his parents, bought The Computer Post, a smallscale high-tech monthly magazine. Strauss took the then-foundering publication and turned it around, increasing circulation by about 100 per cent, to 21,000. For the past two years, he has organized the Winnipeg Computer Expo—the year’s largest technology trade show in Western Canada. And next year, he hopes to launch another technology magazine and organize more trade shows—while also studying political science at the University of Winnipeg. What drives him? “I’m having fun,” says Strauss matter-offactly. “I wouldn’t be doing it if I wasn’t.”