Revisiting three P.E.I. stories from around the province in 2013

Mary MacKay
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In the running

It was a neck-and-neck nail biter all the way to the 2013 Aviva Community Fund finals for Souris Consolidated’s Playground for All project.

But at the point when the Aviva servers crashed in the final hour of the 10-day online semifinal voting process, it looked like the campaign for an inclusive playground in this Eastern Kings County town had leapfrogged over a Raft River, B.C., project, which was also in a back-and-forth first-place race to the finish.

“At the very end, when we were sorted by votes we were at the top, but we don’t know if that was just a computer glitch or if we actually passed them,” says Shelly Keenan, co-chair of the Souris Consolidated Home and School Parent Council, which championed the all-inclusive playground plan to this year’s Aviva Community Fund.

The Souris Playground for All project, like the other 29 finalists from across Canada, including Summerside’s Youth Engagement Centre Project for At-Risk Youth, now has a guaranteed $5,000 in its coffers, but the prizes of up to $150,000 are still up for grabs. Winners will be announced Jan. 28, 2014.

From the get-go, the entire population of Souris and the surrounding areas was on the voting bandwagon for the new fully accessible playground project, including the consolidated and high school students. This propelled them to first place in the recent qualifying rounds.

“A playground is the centre of the town, that’s where everybody goes — the playground and the rink. So everyone just got onboard and got so excited. They had (relatives voting elsewhere in Canada) and they were sending emails, it was great,” Keenan says.

There were more than a few anxious moments during the 10-day voting period, but perhaps none worse than a 10-hour power outage.

“That’s the day we fell behind (the B.C. project), but the first round they had a power outage so it was like karma, right?” Keenan laughs.

“In the end we ended up with 22,582 or something. It was just an unbelievable amount. After that we spoke with Aviva and they had said never in the history in their competition had they had so many people vote in one round.”

The voting process for the Aviva Community Fund is now over.

A panel of judges will now award a special at-risk-youth grand prize of up to $150,000, a broker grand prize of up to $150,000 and grand prizes of up to $50,000 for one small idea, up to $100,000 to one medium idea and up to $150,000 for one large idea, the latter category of which the Souris Playground for All is in the running.

There is still one final task for the Souris Consolidated Home and School Parent Council.

“They have a thing called your last chance, so you get to write a paragraph on whatever you want; you can say thank you to Aviva, why you deserve it or whatever you want at that point. We’re still mulling over what we want to put in that because everybody deserves to win, everybody does,” Keenan says.

With the whirlwind roller coaster voting ride completed, Keenan is thrilled at how everyone — young and old — worked together to get to where they are in this national competition.

“I don’t think we have any regrets. We played by all the rules and we let the kids lead the way,” she says.

“We are very proud of how we did.”


Sticking around

The Prince Edward Island-based film Just Passing Through has been getting more than just a passing glance by the online viewing audience.

Since the mid-November launch of this web series, which follows the hilarious adventures of two P.E.I. cousins, Terry and Parnell Gallant, who become stranded with their stuffy and totally-unprepared-for-company Toronto cousin Owen Stephens on their way to making their fortune in Alberta, has racked up 200,000 hits on the seven full 22-minute episodes.

“But I’d say that probably 300,000 to 500,000 people have watched it because people are watching it with more than one person. They’re watching it in groups. I’d guess that probably 25 per cent of the population of P.E.I. has watched at least part of an episode,” laughs Jeremy Larter, who with his brother Jason Larter and high school chum Geoff Read created Just Passing Through, which stars Dennis Trainor, Robbie Moses, Tyler Seguin, Bridget Tobin and Sydney Dunitz.

Just Passing Through, which had a budget of $50,000 from the Independent Production Fund and a $100,000 grant from Innovation P.E.I., also caught the eye of John Doyle from The Globe and Mail, who put the series on his top 10 list shows of 2013.

“He’s the main TV critic from The Globe and Mail and probably the most influential TV critic in Canada, so that was really neat. He originally had done the article back in November (entitled) Maritime Madness. It was about the Trailer Park Boys, but it was also about Just Passing Through,” Larter says.

“I thought it was just going to be a little small mention, but he actually did quite a little write-up about Just Passing Through. He talked about how much he liked it and how great he thought it was. I was really surprised by that. And then he put us number six on top 10 shows of 2013. So that was huge.”

This brought Just Passing Through to the attention of the Toronto media

“So people who are in the film and TV industry in Toronto saw that article so now that’s given us an in — a few broadcasters are now interested in the show . . . ,” Larter says.

“So that article was crucial for us, and The Guardian article (on Nov. 16) gave us a big bump in views (too).”

There have been spin-off sales of Just Passing Through T-shirts and a sold-out Boxing Day bash at The Guild, where people got to see a back-to-back screening of the entire series. The event raised more than $1,200 for the Upper Room Soup Kitchen.

“I think for a lot of people it was the first opportunity to watch the series on a big screen with a room full of people. (People were typically) watching it by themselves or with friends in their own living room or bedroom, so I think it was a big opportunity for people to share the laughter,” says Larter, who like most of the main cast presently lives in Toronto so they don’t get the face-to-face fan reaction that local cast members do.

“Linda Wigmore who plays Parnell’s mother — she’s in the opening scene and then another scene later — she says she gets recognized all the time just people yelling lines at her,” Larter adds.

Although Just Passing Through hasn’t reached the YouTube viewing level of his other productions, Ponderings and Leafs Beefs, which have about 400,000 views each, this seven-part series is his biggest project to date.

“For a full-length show in Canada it’s kind of unique. I think it might be the only online full-length show, so it’s kind of like a new thing for everybody,” Larter says.

“We (also) really haven’t started our marketing campaign west of the Maritimes yet. There’s a big market in Toronto. We’re just starting to see some people from Toronto watching the show and liking the Facebook page.

“So our goal is really to start getting into some Toronto newspapers and entertainment papers. If we’re able to break through there I think it would boost it greatly.”

The second season of Just Passing Through is now in the early writing stages.

“I think the best thing is to have done the project and put all that work into it and get the response from the people that it’s getting — that positive response,” Larter says.

“Because you really don’t know. It’s very easy for something to be put out on the Internet and just disappear.”


Taking off

The folks at the Prince Edward Island-based Ooka Island Inc. are still all fired up one year after appearing on the popular television show Dragons’ Den.

“It’s been a busy year,” says Joelle MacPhee, corporate director of reading partnerships for the Ooka Island, which is a comprehensive, early literacy program that is offered exclusively through technology to children ages three to seven.

The airing of their Dragon’s Den episode and the media coverage that followed sparked an almost immediate 900 per cent surge in web traffic and 500 per cent in e-commerce sales.

On the business development side, Ooka Island has partnered with the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, Ont., which is “the innovation house of Canada.”

This charitable organization was created to better connect the worlds of science, business and government, helps to remove barriers, nurtures a culture of innovation and helps create global enterprises that would contribute to Canada’s economic and social development.

“It houses about 1,000 entrepreneurs and they have a whole education division with 170 Canadian companies in ed-tech (education technology). They selected five to go with them to New York in partnership with them to help find investments and partnerships. That was really exciting because we were bumped to that top five out of that portfolio for Canadian ed-tech companies,” says MacPhee, who spent the first week of December in New York meeting contacts with help from the MaRs Discovery District.

“It’s almost like a matchmaker program because they guide you through . . . . They can do a lot of the networking for you when you don’t have anyone on the ground in all the cities that they go to. It’s like an extension of your company but they’re doing it as their mission as a charity, so it’s really unique . . . . They want to improve the economy for Canada. They don’t have a stake directly in your company but they really, really want you to do well.”

This was MacPhee’s first time on any type of roadshow that was exclusively devoted to showcasing education companies.

“With this area everyone was trying to improve education . . . . It was amazing because I got to talk and get to know other people that really, really got it. Education and health will always (involve) a lot of different barriers, red tape and (other hurdles) to go through.

With good headway being made in the Canadian marketplace in 2013, for 2014 Ooka Island Inc. is focusing on the larger North American market and beyond.

It is still making a difference on the home turf, especially following the recent announcement that P.E.I. students scored last in the country in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which is an international standardized test of 15-year-olds that takes place every three years.

The province was repeatedly highlighted in the PISA results for coming in below the OECD average in all three areas of testing.

“We’ve found a really big increase in Islanders’ subscriptions (for Ooka Island) happening again because that was kind of a shock to people’s systems,” MacPhee says.

“For us it was good to see that response because they understand that a lot of PISA scores are Grade 8 reading and we’re for three- to seven-year- olds. So people understand that we need to take preventative measures.”

Organizations: Aviva, Souris Consolidated Home and School Parent Council, Globe and Mail Ooka Island) Independent Production Fund Trailer Park Boys The Guardian The Guild North American OECD

Geographic location: Canada, Toronto, Eastern Kings Raft River Prince Edward Island Summerside Alberta New York

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