Gros Morne Mountain (James Callaghan) Trail hike

A view from the north side of Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
A view from the north side of Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

I don’t know if the locals warn every tourist they see, but many definitely warned me: Gros Morne Mountain (James Callaghan) Trail is incredibly challenging to hike. For my skill level, I’d say they were right. That said, and maybe it’s already implicit when viewing photos taken at the top of the mountain, completing the hike is incredibly worthwhile, too.

I got into hiking when I moved to Halifax in 2015. I was (and still am) a little obese, but I have decent amount of stamina and strength. I hiked regularly before doing this. The journey reminded me of the trail at Cape Split Provincial Park Reserve because it seemed to go on forever. It also felt similar, at times, to the intensity of hiking up the Grouse Grind. Gros Morne Mountain Trail is not something you should attempt to do without time, prior thought, and some hiking skills.

According to Parks Canada’s website, the 16-kilometre round-trip trail reaches a height of 806 metres, and it takes between six and eight hours to complete. I stopped many times to shoot photos and videos (above) of the trail, and I finished it in about seven hours.

(If you’re visiting the Gros Morne National Park and you’re unsure if you can handle this hike, the Green Gardens Trail is another option. It’s about an hour’s drive away. It’s a little grueling but shorter, less intense, and also quite beautiful.)

The hike begins

A map located at the beginning of the trail at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017.
A map located at the beginning of the trail at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017.

My journey started at approximately 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 31, 2017. There were about 25 cars in the parking lot at that point. I was told by several people in the tourism industry that the summer rush had already finished in the area. I came across fellow hikers about every 15 minutes on the trail.

The entrance area includes a map (photo above), the usual warnings, and toilets. There is one outhouse about a quarter of the way in and another around the mid-way mark. There are a few lookouts and exhibits.

The trail is shaped kind of like a traditional balloon tied to a string. The first quarter (or so) of the hike is the string, which hikers have to complete again at the end to get back to the the parking lot. The string portion is a relatively standard hike.

Decision Point at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
Decision Point at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

Eventually, I got to a place many people told me about: Decision Point. This is where the string connects to the balloon. It’s called Decision Point because it’s supposed to be where you decide to either continue the hike or go back. The next major chunk of the trail (the gully) is much steeper, and there are lots of rocks that shift around when you step on them. The signs warn hikers not to descend that path, only go up.

A lot of the hike to Decision Point was uphill. I definitely built up a sweat and was tired, but that didn’t compare to the difficulty right ahead.

The gully

Gros Morne Mountain's gully pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
Gros Morne Mountain’s gully pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

This is the most grueling part of the trail. The gully is made up of lots and lots of rocks. Many were small enough for me to occasionally slide slightly. It’s almost entirely uphill. I found myself taking many breaks. Closer to the end, I stopped to catch my breath every 30 feet or so.

The views were already lovely from halfway up. The trail twists at the top, so just as I thought I turned the final corner, there was another. It was brutal but doable.

Gros Morne Mountain’s gully has an S-bend near the top, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
Gros Morne Mountain’s gully has an S-bend near the top, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

For me, the key was to take my time. Even if I had to stop on many occasions, I knew I’d get to the top eventually.

The summit

Steve Silva at the summit of Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
Steve Silva at the summit of Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

The gully leads to the top of the mountain, which is identifiable thanks to a vandalized, “Gros Morne Summit” sign. A lot of people ate lunch there and, of course, took selfies. To my surprise, I had cellphone reception for a lot of the hike so far, not so much on the other side of the mountain.

It was about 20 C that day. I brought a sweater jacket because people said it’s colder at the top. It was a bit colder, but I only wore a t-shirt for the entire hike. I tolerate cold better than most people, though.

A view from the north side of Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
A view from the north side of Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

A relatively short walk away is the other side of Gros Morne Mountain, overlooking Ten Mile Pond. That’s where people took the most photos.

One person I spoke with here told me she had done this hike several times, and this was the first time the weather was decent enough for her to see so far.

It’s all downhill from here

The downhill portion of the trail past the summit at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
The downhill portion of the trail past the summit at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

Well, downhill for a lot it, anyway.

People told me that the portion of the trail beyond the summit is more difficult than expected, and I found that to be somewhat true. It’s far less intense than the climb, but I found that I had to pay a lot of attention in some parts to avoid tripping or sliding on things. There’s also a section that I had to walk across (photo below) that had the same kind of unstable terrain as the gully.

The eastern portion of the trail at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
The eastern portion of the trail at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

I drink a lot of water, probably more than most people. I took three litres of it on this hike, thinking that that would be enough. It wasn’t. I had to ration my supply after the summit. I probably should have brought five litres.

On the east end of the trail, there’s a campsite next to a pond. A sign says the water isn’t potable (it needs to be boiled to be safe to drink). There’s also an outhouse in the area; it was as gross as I expected it to be.

The eastern portion of the trail at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
The eastern portion of the trail at Gros Morne Mountain, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

The rest of the trail back to Decision Point was a bit muddy but otherwise uneventful. I didn’t see any animals throughout the entire journey. I was back at entrance by about 4:30 p.m.

The Gros Morne Mountain Trail was described to me by locals as the hike to go on. I found it hard to walk for a couple of days after, but it was an enjoyable experience. I’m proud that I was able to do this.

Know before you go

The view from Gros Morne Mountain's gully, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
The view from Gros Morne Mountain’s gully, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

A lot of journey is directly exposed to sunlight, so it might be wise to pack sunscreen.

Unless you’re planning on camping there, you probably don’t want to want to be on the trail at night, so make sure you know when the sun is supposed to set; plan accordingly.

There were only a few times times I took the wrong path; the trail is mostly straight forward, and there are trail markers.

Water. Take lots of it. Snacks, too.

The path on Gros Morne Mountain's gully, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)
The path on Gros Morne Mountain’s gully, pictured on Aug. 31, 2017. (Steve Silva)

Something I do if I’m going on a hike, especially if there’s no cell reception on it and I’m going solo, is let someone know where I’m going and when I should be back. I’d recommend doing the same.

My calves hurt for days after the hike. That might happen to you, too, so you might want to take that into consideration when planning other things to do afterward.

The ‘Six Feet Under’ house

The building that represented a funeral home in the TV show "Six Feet Under," pictured on Dec. 3, 2014. (Steve Silva)
The Los Angeles building that represented a funeral home in the TV show “Six Feet Under,” pictured on Dec. 3, 2014. (Steve Silva)

“You can’t take a picture of this; it’s already gone.”

But I shot a picture of the house anyway. Multiple pictures, in fact.

I visited the ‘Six Feet Under’ (SFU) house in Los Angeles on Dec. 3, 2014. It’s located at 2302 W 25th St. According to a plaque on the property, the building is called the Auguste R. Marquis Residence (Filipino Federation of America). It was built in 1904. Its historic-cultural monument number is 602. Something was being shot inside the house at the time (a short movie, if I recall correctly). A friendly crew member let me go into the lobby.

The Los Angeles building that represented a funeral home in the TV show "Six Feet Under," pictured on Dec. 3, 2014. (Steve Silva)
The Los Angeles building that represented a funeral home in the TV show “Six Feet Under,” pictured on Dec. 3, 2014. (Steve Silva)

It was known as “Fishers & Sons Funeral Home” in the show. From what I’ve gathered, the house was mainly used for exterior shots (the inside doesn’t look like the set used during shooting), as is the case in many productions.

The front porch of the building that represented a funeral home in the TV show "Six Feet Under," pictured on Dec. 3, 2014. (Steve Silva)
The front porch of the building that represented a funeral home in the TV show “Six Feet Under,” pictured on Dec. 3, 2014. (Steve Silva)

I started watching SFU when I was in my early 10s. Even though it portrayed lots of adult situations, I think I understood most of the drama. I watched SFU before online streaming services were a thing. I used actual DVDs to watch the show (I didn’t have whichever channel SFU played on in Canada) during my summers, so the show carries a nostalgic factor for me.

The building that represented a funeral home in the TV show "Six Feet Under," pictured on Dec. 3, 2014. (Steve Silva)
The building that represented a funeral home in the TV show “Six Feet Under,” pictured on Dec. 3, 2014. (Steve Silva)

It was well acted. Frances Conroy, who played Ruth, performed her role with such nuance. Approaching my teenage years, Claire’s story resonated with me the most. I understood her frustration. Her green hearse was neat, too. The series finale was the most fitting TV finale I’ve ever seen.

The view from the front porch of the building that represented a funeral home in the TV show "Six Feet Under," pictured on Dec. 3, 2014. (Steve Silva)
The view from the front porch of the building that represented a funeral home in the TV show “Six Feet Under,” pictured on Dec. 3, 2014. (Steve Silva)

I have a thing for visiting TV and movie filming locations. It helps me contextualize things better. It was surreal to stand there on that porch. It felt familiar.

Canmore Cave Tours’ Adventure Tour

A guide uses her headlight to illuminate a formation in Rat's Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)
A guide uses her headlight to illuminate a formation in Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)

I stayed in Canmore, Alta., for a few days during the first half of May 2015. I was told by several people in the industry that, tourism-wise, it was an in-between period for the town and the Canadian Rockies overall. While there were deals to take advantage of (hotels, in particular), there weren’t too many tourist attractions actually open. I stumbled across Canmore Cave Tours online while searching for things to do in Canmore. At the time of this writing, it operates year-round. The uniqueness of the activity and significant online praise caught my eye, so I booked a tour. I’m glad I did because, of the tourist attractions I’ve experienced so far in the Canadian Rockies, this was the most worthwhile.

The two main tours at Rat’s Nest Cave available that day were the Explorer Tour and the Adventure Tour, priced (before tax) for adults at $125 and $155, respectively. The latter included more time exploring underground, rappelling, and a trip through a tunnel known as the Laundry Chute. I chose the Adventure Tour because I thought that the extras were worth the added cost — and they were. I felt that the tour spent the right amount of time inside the cave, rappelling in the dark was a novel experience, and the Laundry Chute was fun to pass through.

We started the day getting our provided attire (coveralls, helmets, and such) at Canmore Cave Tours’ office at 10:15 a.m. The group consisted of one guide (another guide also came along to audit the other one that day), three couples, and yours truly. Rental cameras durable for caving were available at the office.

We eventually drove (in our own cars) about five minutes away to the base of Grotto Mountain (map above). We hiked up a trail for roughly between 30 and 45 minutes, stopping every so now and then for the guide to tell us facts about the area. The hike was no Grouse Grind, but I found it to be the most physically demanding part of the entire excursion.

The main entrance to Rat's Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., pictured on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)
The main entrance to Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., pictured on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)

We put on our caving attire in a partly tented spot near the padlocked cave entrance (pictured above). People aren’t supposed to urinate inside the cave, so a few people in the group relieved their bladders in the surrounding forest. According to the guide, the cave’s temperature inside is 5 C/41 F all year. I was slightly worried that I would feel cold with only my jeans, t-shirt, and sweater-jacket under the coveralls, but I probably didn’t even need the jacket, in hindsight. That said, I get hot extremely easily, so most people should probably stick to at least a t-shirt and a sweater up top. Also, I basically do every outdoor activity wearing jeans; most people going on a trip like this would probably be better off wearing something more flexible.

The gates at the main entrance to Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., pictured on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)
The gates at the main entrance to Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., pictured on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)

To get into the cave, we had to crawl up a smooth and slippery small hill (partly pictured under the rope in the photo at the very bottom). The entrance is home to bushy-tailed woodrats, the guide said. Shortly before entering the cave, we saw one stare at us on a bar of the cage about 20 feet away and then run away. The guide said that these animals stay away from people, and I did not see any more of them after that.

The foyer (of sorts) at the main entrance to Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., pictured on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)
The foyer (of sorts) at the main entrance to Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., pictured on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)

What I did see were daddy longlegs — dozens, maybe hundreds of them along the upper parts of a slanted wall inside the entrance. It felt a little creepy to slide by them while leaning nearby on the opposite slanted wall, though the spiders stayed at the entrance and didn’t crawl on anyone (well, to my knowledge).

When we journeyed through steep portions of the cave where we faced a greater risk of falling off, we had to attach two ropes to a rope system along the walls. After the first major descent, the guides showed us a collection of what they said were animal bones that the woodrats brought into the cave over the years.

A variety of bones in Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., pictured on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)
A variety of bones in Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., pictured on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)

We completed the rappelling portion early on. The guide said that the drop was about 18 metres/60 feet. The guide connected me to two ropes: one that I controlled, another controlled by her. I don’t think I had ever rappelled before (maybe once in high school?). The wall was bumpy, and finding the proper footing was somewhat difficult, but I found the descent relatively easy to handle. Not being able to see where I was supposed to land was first worrisome before becoming quasi-liberating. From the rappel’s start-up to the last person (the guide) touching ground, the process took about an hour. I have no idea if they could have sped up the process much, but waiting for everyone to complete this part was pretty boring. I spent that time getting to know the other participants; they were all from Alberta, I learned.

Participants descend further into Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)
Participants descend further into Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)

The next highlight was our first trip through an extremely tight tunnel to get to a chamber. It was opened by someone years prior, the guide said. It was several feet long. So began the most nerve-racking part of the trip. At one point during the crawl through the tunnel, my posterior got stuck between the ceiling and the floor. I felt my heart rate increase and a sense of panic ready to emerge, if I let it. It took what felt like minutes in my mind (only a few seconds in reality) to wiggle free… and then I had to do it again to get back out, getting stuck again. At least one person who attempted the crawl stopped at that unforgiving point and backed out.

At the time, I was about 5’11” and 230 pounds. The guide told me that people bigger than me had been able to travel through every tunnel on the trip. This first tight tunnel and the very last one we did were challenging but not impossible for my frame. Of course, the larger you are, the more challenging these kind of tunnels will be to go through, I imagine. For me, the key was to stay calm and realize that I could always wiggle myself out backwards if need be. The tight tunnels were optional.

A ceiling in Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., pictured on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)
A ceiling in Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., pictured on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)

The ‘stuck butt’ incident made me rethink attempting the pièce de résistance: the Laundry Chute. The L-shaped tunnel was said to be an extreme squeeze. I was assured that I could do it, so I let go of my inhibitions, then wiggled down. We started at the top of the tunnel, going down feet first until we reached the bottom. Despite going straight down at parts, the tunnel was so tight that the descent was slow. (I can confirm that it did live up to its reputation of inducing wedgies.) At the bottom, I had to maneuver my legs into a crevice to straighten out my body for the horizontal crawl; a two-point turn, essentially. Oddly, I found the Laundry Chute easier to pass through than the aforementioned first tight tunnel.

There are a couple of videos (not shot by me) on YouTube that show the tunnel’s entrance and one person’s journey through it.

Participants descend further into Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)
Participants descend further into Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)

Later, there was a steep, rope-assisted slide down to another room (pictured above). Near the end of the journey, we saw the grotto (pictured below). At one point, we turned off all of our lights for a few minutes to take in the utter darkness (and the sounds of dripping water).

The grotto in Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., pictured on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)
The grotto in Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., pictured on May 9, 2015. (Steve Silva)

Although you could bring a camera with you, only something small, such as a cellphone or a GoPro camera, was practical. The guide had no problem using my cellphone to take photos of me when I asked. There were several opportunities for cool photos. (All of mine in this post were shot on a Nexus 6.)

On our way out, there was another optional trip through another tight tunnel (that’s me, below, exiting it into a small chamber). This was probably the most difficult one to go through. It was so tight, I felt my sternum area press against the top of the tunnel as I wiggled onward. It wasn’t wide enough at certain points to even manage an army crawl.

Steve Silva going through a tight spot in Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., on May 9, 2015. (Supplied)
Steve Silva going through a tight spot in Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., on May 9, 2015. (Supplied)

Finally, I went on an optional ride down a small slide of sorts carved into a cave wall that required a challenging initial climb sans rope.

Earlier, one person in the group said she suffered a minor injury. As she was trying to sit down in a small chamber we explored, she said she sprained her thumb. It was an isolated incident, and the guide aided her. I felt safe throughout the entire trip, though scrapes and bruises were a given.

Steve Silva after he finished a tour in Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., on May 9, 2015. (Supplied)
Steve Silva after he finished a tour in Rat’s Nest Cave in Grotto Mountain, near Canmore, Alta., on May 9, 2015. (Supplied)

Going on this tour was another round of not listening to my brain. Caving for the first time elicited red flags in my mind akin to the ones that sprouted when I leaned off of a bungee-jump platform a few days prior. I enjoy playing with my comfort levels and seeing how far I can go, and this trip was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.

A visit to the ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’ Command Center filming location

The building called the 'House of the Book' on the American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley, Calif., pictured on Dec. 4, 2014. (Steve Silva)
The building called the ‘House of the Book’ on the American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley, Calif., pictured on Dec. 4, 2014. (Steve Silva)

The “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” was a childhood favourite of mine. Regardless of how it has aged, the TV show will always be special to me for its nostalgic value.

I have a fascination with seeing firsthand the settings featured in movies and TV shows, and the show’s Command Center has been on my radar for years. During a road trip through western United States, I visited the filming location of the exteriors of the fictional hub on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014.

The building called the 'House of the Book' on the American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley, Calif., pictured on Dec. 4, 2014. (Steve Silva)
The building called the ‘House of the Book’ on the American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley, Calif., pictured on Dec. 4, 2014. (Steve Silva)

The building is called the House of the Book. It’s located on the American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley, Calif. This detour was slightly unplanned. When I got there, I found out that the campus was gated. I called the university and asked — ahem, maybe more like pleaded — to be allowed to enter to take a few photos for a short amount of time. The person I spoke with on the phone said tourists ask to visit the building all of the time. Eventually, I was allowed in. I’m not sure if that is usually allowed.

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The building called the ‘House of the Book’ on the American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley, Calif., pictured on Dec. 4, 2014. (Steve Silva)

Passed the main gates, the drive up to the building took about four or five minutes. The campus was well-maintained and picturesque. Stepping out of my car and walking up to the building was surreal. The rush of memories flooding back into mental view was a lovely experience.

The building called the 'House of the Book' on the American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley, Calif., pictured on Dec. 4, 2014. (Steve Silva)
The building called the ‘House of the Book’ on the American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley, Calif., pictured on Dec. 4, 2014. (Steve Silva)

The building was closed at the time of my visit, so I cannot verify if Alpha 5 and Zordon actually exist and were inside.

The building called the 'House of the Book' on the American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley, Calif., pictured on Dec. 4, 2014. (Steve Silva)
The building called the ‘House of the Book’ on the American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley, Calif., pictured on Dec. 4, 2014. (Steve Silva)

I’m not sure if there is any way to see the building from public land. Hiking a few hills at Sage Ranch Park might provide a view similar to the one pictured below but from the opposite side.

The building, partly masked by trees, called the 'House of the Book' on the American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley, Calif., pictured on Dec. 4, 2014. (Steve Silva)
The building, partly masked by trees, called the ‘House of the Book’ on the American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley, Calif., pictured on Dec. 4, 2014. (Steve Silva)

A hill on the north side of the road beside the building offered a lovely view of east Simi Valley.

East Simi Valley, Calif., viewed from the Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus on Dec. 4, 2014. (Steve Silva)
East Simi Valley, Calif., viewed from the Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus on Dec. 4, 2014. (Steve Silva)

Driving from from Toronto to Regina

In October, I moved from Toronto to Regina for a new job. Here’s how the drive to the city went.

The drive

I had never before attempted a drive of this length, so I was a bit worried. In the end, it turned out to be a fine experience. I saw a decent chunk of the country, and it was nice having some time to myself. There were some boring parts, but they weren’t as bad I thought they would be. Probably the best tip I could give anyone going on this journey, especially solo as I did, is to not pay attention to how many more kilometres are left; just keep going.

Based off what I read online, along with what a friend who completed the drive told me, the general route for people travelling solo is:

Toronto to Wawa, Ont. — 910 km, nine hours and 46 mins

Wawa to Dryden, Ont. — 812 km, eight hours and 50 mins

Dryden to Regina — 933 km, nine hours and 23 mins

Those times don’t include any stopping. There is a slightly quicker journey through the United States, but I wasn’t keen on having to buy health insurance, buy extra car insurance coverage, and having to pass through border security with a room’s worth of stuff crammed in a Honda CRV (I’m one of those people who always gets searched at airports, so). With those extra steps included, that journey would actually require more time than the Canadian route, I suspect.

The route I took:

Toronto to Wawa — 910 km, nine hours and 46 mins

Wawa to Brandon, Man. — 1,385 km, 14 hours and 46 mins

Brandon to Regina — 362 km, three hours and 33 mins

I find that my body generally works better in long durations for this kind of thing. I can work for 18 hours straight, but then I need 12 straight hours of sleep at some point in the week. It doesn’t work for everyone.

Toronto to Wawa — 910 km, nine hours 46 mins

The day was Oct. 17, 2013. My drive didn’t start off on a good foot because I couldn’t sleep the night before (I got about two hours). Still, I wanted to stick to my plan. The journey out of Toronto wasn’t difficult because I left after the morning rush hour. I was in the boonies (of sorts) relatively quickly after driving past Canada’s Wonderland. Once I passed Barrie, there were few buildings taller than three storyes visible for hours. Overall, the road conditions were fine. I was a bit annoyed at having to occasionally wait at bridges for up to five minutes due to one lane being closed for construction.

Before this trip, I didn’t know how gorgeous Ontario is. I struggled to keep my eyes on the road as I passed what looked like untouched lakes that perfectly reflected the surrounding trees and sky. I felt like I was driving past postcard covers for the first leg of the journey. The mountains were beautiful yet occasionally a little creepy. It got dark outside fast, and snaking around the mountains felt like the opening scene of a movie (you know, that cliché overhead shot a lone car being driven by the main character heading to some secluded mansion in a forest). I came across one car on the other lane about once every 10 minutes at night. I was a little tired once I was an hour away from Wawa.

When I was far away from cities and towns, the only times I saw lampposts and other stationary sources of light were at intersections, gas stations, and the like. Speaking of gas stations, it was a challenge to find the 24-hour variety and, when not driving in or near communities, finding any at all was difficult. Running out of gas was a big worry, so I made sure to fill up by the 50 per cent mark during the day, and even sooner at night.

What I found floating in the toilet in my "non-smoking room."
A toilet at a Wawa, Ont., motel pictured on Oct. 17, 2013. (Steve Silva)

I chose an externally well-lit Wawa motel in the hopes that that would deter any potential thieves. I brought my valuables inside my room, but my car was still packed with things, mainly the kind that I could replace relatively inexpensively. I was worried that someone would try to break in. I could survive without my nearly decade-old vacuum and my two bathroom mats, but I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of dealing with broken glass everywhere. I’ve read that it can sometimes be wise to leave the doors unlocked to alleviate that. I see the logic: The thief breaks in, maybe messes things up, finds nothing of value, and leaves sans breaking any windows. Then again, maybe the thief will actually be so incensed that there was nothing worthy of taking, they smash a window. Anyway, I found a cigarette butt in my non-smoking room’s toilet, and that was the extent of my issues, thankfully.

I didn’t pay attention to this too much, but I did lose cellphone reception several times (on Rogers’ network) while driving, though it generally only lasted for about five minutes at its worst. Getting a decent radio station signal was tricky in many parts of the journey, but there was generally at least one station always available. I found it quaint that so many of the stations I listened to were named after animals (The Bear, The Moose, etc.). I didn’t expect to get bored of music so fast, but I did, so I downloaded a bunch of CBC Radio’s “The Irrelevant Show” podcast episodes when I stopped at my first motel; the show got me through the rest of the journey. Also, Google Maps’ directions were accurate.

Wawa to Brandon — 1,385 km, 14 hours and 46 mins

Minus more of those occasional bridge construction waits, this leg of the journey was uneventful. As I crept closer to Manitoba, the number of scenic views got more sparse.

Before I left Toronto, I checked online for other people’s experiences completing this leg of the journey. I kept reading warnings about hitting moose and deer. I made sure to keep that in mind throughout the entire drive. The animals can come out of nowhere, and hitting a moose can kill you. There were many signs that warned drivers of particular moose/other animal hot spots. Thankfully, I did not see any large animals except for the fenced-in farm variety during the drive.

(Update: I drove back from Regina to Toronto in 2015 on the same route. I drove from Brandon to Toronto on May 31 and June 1. I saw many moose in Ontario during the day and especially during the night. They were difficult to see from a distance, even on a clear night, and they had no problem walking onto the road as my car approached. I witnessed one driver sideswipe a moose. I drove well below the speed limit during many parts of that drive. I now understand why people warn others so much about taking care not to hit a moose.)

It was dark by the time I crossed the Ontario-Manitoba border about 11 hours later, and I felt fine to continue. The further I drove, the far less tightly the trees hugged the highways; that was helpful because it let more moonlight in.

I reached Brandon by about 10 or 11 p.m., and I was still good to continue the rest of the way to Regina, about a four-hour drive away. I called my new landlord to see if he wouldn’t mind leaving the key somewhere for me to move in when I got there. Alas, he wasn’t able to accommodate that. Subsequently, I called it a night and searched for a place to stay. I was fooled into thinking that finding a place wouldn’t be difficult in Brandon because there were many motels and hotels on that stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway, but I was only able to find one place that had a room available.

Brandon to Regina — 362 km, three hours and 33 mins

It was obvious from the previous night that the rest of the journey would feature plain after plain after plain, but I guess the darkness of night masked the true extent of that. Meandering around Ontario’s mountains one day, and being able to see the tip of the CN Tower from the flatness of Saskatchewan and Manitoba the next day was a bit of a visual shock. (OK, I’m exaggerating.)

Eventually, the Trans-Canada Highway turned into Regina’s Victoria Avenue East, which is kind of the city’s equivalent to Toronto’s Bloor Street, and the traffic got significantly busier.

On Oct. 19, that was that: I made it to Regina.

Regina observations

I’ve lived here for more than three months now, and there are some notable differences regarding what it’s like living in Regina than in Toronto.

I found that most of Toronto’s roads that I used were cleared of snow within a day or two. Here, it feels as if the roads, including many parking lots, are completely coated starting in November — and they stay that way. There is one road that I started using in November every couple of days or so, and I’ve never not seen it coated in ice at least an inch thick. A friend of mine told me that people drive much slower in Regina than in Toronto, an observation which seems to have anecdotal merit.

When I lived in New York City, I thought that my friends there complained too much about snow and such. “Try experiencing a Toronto winter,” I, the know-it-all, told them. Having now experienced much of a Regina winter, I’ve come to realize that I knew nothing.

Nothing.

I still don’t think anyone truly “handles” an outdoor temperature (with windchill) of -50 C, but Saskatchewanians do. Those temperatures bring the requisite flight cancellations, water main breaks, and such, yet people here just go on with their lives. Somehow.

Subsequently, my new temperature tolerance entails:

-50 C — I’ll make my grocery run a quick affair.

-30 C — Nothing out of the ordinary.

-2 C — Practically t-shirt weather.

Many things are less expensive in Regina than in Toronto. With a few exceptions, every major store chain has a presence in the city. Also, there are a lot more things sold by the government here, including home insurance, car insurance, and cellphone, cable, and internet plans.

Lastly, it took me a while to accept that everything is nearby in Regina by car, like 10 minutes or so away pretty much anywhere you’re at. I fault the Torontonian in me for thinking that I have to leave an hour early for everything. That said, there are regularly-used train tracks that cut through the middle of the city. Trains crossing those tracks have delayed my trips by up to 30 minutes before.

1 train derails in Morningside Heights, no reported injuries

A 1 line train derailed in New York, New York, on May 29, 2013. (Steve Silva)
A 1 line train derailed in New York, New York, on May 29, 2013. (Steve Silva)

UPDATE: The MTA plans to restore service by Thursday morning rush hour, according to its website.

A southbound 1 train derailed during Wednesday afternoon rush hour, leaving hundreds of passengers stuck inside — all said to be uninjured — for more than an hour.

The train stopped partly inside the tunnel that starts at West 122nd Street and Broadway in Morningside Heights.

“It almost felt like, for people on the train, like somebody pulled the emergency break. That’s what it seemed like. In fact, that’s what we first thought it was,” F.D.N.Y. Deputy Chief Dan Donoghue said near the scene.

“Upon further investigation, there was possibly a compromised rail, or something happened there, and there was a derailment.”

The train was carrying between 350 and 400 passengers toward 116th Street station when the front wheels of the lead car went off the rails at 5:50 p.m., according to the MTA.

Donoghue said the train will be “out of service for a while” as the NYPD and the MTA investigate.

On the other side of the tracks, uptown 1 trains continued to travel throughout the afternoon.

A 1 line train derailed in New York, New York, on May 29, 2013. (Steve Silva)
A 1 line train derailed in New York, New York, on May 29, 2013. (Steve Silva)

Two empty trains connected with the immobile train, creating one long path to the nearby 125th Street station for the passengers to exit.

The passengers were ushered into part of a nearby street sectioned off with white and blue police tape where they were questioned by officers.

Donoghue said the passengers had to wait for over an hour to be let off, “which, to them, must have seemed like forever.”

Passengers exit 125th Street station after a nearby 1 subway train derailed in New York, New York, on May 29, 2013. (Steve Silva)
Passengers exit 125th Street station after a nearby 1 train derailed in New York, New York, on May 29, 2013. (Steve Silva)

During the wait, the subway cars were cut off from electricity and, subsequently, there was no air conditioning.

“It got hot in that train,” Donoghue said.

How to create levitation photos

steve_morningside

One photo manipulation trick people often ask me about is levitation photography. You know, those photos of people seemingly levitating above ground. I don’t remember how I learned to do it. Most of my photography and photo-editing skills are self-taught, so I probably saw it online first, then figured out how to do it via trial and error. It can be an easy effect to create under the right circumstances. This is my tutorial for it.

What you’ll need

  • Camera (preferably a DSLR or another that has a manual mode)
  • Tripod or a spot where the camera will stay still
  • Chair or something else for you to pose on
  • Adobe Photoshop or other photo-editing software with similar features

I would also recommend getting a remote to trigger the camera.

upsidedownmanip1

Taking the shots

Long story short: Take one photo of the scene without you in it, take another photo of you on the chair (the levitating pose), then merge the two photos together via Photoshop, making sure to edit out out the chair. As long as you follow a few rules when taking the photos, it’s a relatively painless process.

Firstly, focus the camera lens on where you’ll be, then take the shot. I generally shoot solo, so I focused on the street post on the right side of the image (above) because it was in range of where I would be. You need to keep autofocus off to maintain focal continuity in both shots. The photo on the left, which I’ll call the establishing shot, was the first one I took (1/100th shutter speed, 400 ISO). This photo is needed so that when the chair is erased in the next image (right), there’s imagery to fill the void.

Now, bring in the chair and start posing on it. Let’s call this the levitation shot. Take a bunch of photos with you in the pose you want. I used a 10-second timer that would take several shots at a time. It can take some time to set all of this up, so it might help to turn off the camera’s automatic shut-off function.

Keep the camera as steady as possible on the tripod throughout the entire process because even a little bit of wind can adjust the image enough to make editing more difficult than it needs to be. Make sure to use a remote control or a phone app to take the photos on your camera, if possible.

upsidedownmanipex

Try to never have the chair (or whatever you’re using to prop you up) in front of your body from the perspective of the lens. Remember that you have to erase the chair afterwards — if you’re behind it, you’ll have to manage some clever Photoshop-ing to fill that empty space with your body again. When the the chair was removed in the example above, so was part of my back. I was able work my Photoshop magic to create more of my jacket (see the finished product below), but that added some time, and the coat indenting into my back looks a little odd.

steve_morningside

One key to making levitation shots work is properly angling your body. When I laid on the chair for my levitation shot with the lamppost, my legs and my arms naturally wanted to lean toward the ground. If I left my body in that semicircle shape, it would look like only the middle part of my body was going up. So, I had to straighten my body for each shot. After several shots, it became a bit of a workout.

Another thing to look out for is the part of your body resting on the object you’re posing on. I gave my coat some slack on the chair (photo below), so that it flowed a little in front of my stomach. Ideally, your clothing should flow slightly over the tip of the object you’re posing on. If you don’t, the clothing that’s touching the chair will stretch in a straight line, looking unnatural, which happened to a degree in this photo. I had kind of the opposite problem with my pants. I should have put a scarf or something along the right side of my legs inside my pants because in the photo below, it’s obvious that gravity is pulling the pants closer to the sidewalk.

upsidedownmanip2

I shot all of the photos as quickly as possible because lighting can quickly change outdoors. It’s a good idea to take another establishing shot at the end; often, that turns out to be the better establishing shot.

Editing

Several photo-editing programs offer enough of the same features these days that, despite this tutorial being geared toward Photoshop use, you can probably get by with another program.

First, edit the levitation shot’s brightness, contrast, etc. to your liking, and make sure you apply the same edits to the establishing shot. If you’re using the raw photo editor, save the Camera Raw Settings (.xmp) file when you’re finished, then load the file’s settings to your establishing shot so they look the same. Next, place your levitation shot as a new layer on top of your establishing shot, then start erasing the chair from the image.

upsidedownmanip3

As you can see in the image above, the shots did not match up perfectly (thank you very much, wind). Move the levitation shot layer around until it fits correctly. Use the eraser tool (soft round) to blend the two layers together. You might have to erase a lot to match the different lighting and correct the other parts that don’t match.

Now, it’s time to add the shadow. As you can see below, there is a noticeable difference between the levitation shot and the establishing shot. In erasing the chair, you also get rid of the natural shadow. It’s important to reintroduce the shadow because those are the details that make the photo look more realistic.

upsidedownmanip4

Use the burn tool (soft round) with an exposure between 40 and 60 per cent to add in the shadows on the establishing layer. You want to create the shadows that would have been there if you were really floating there.

I would recommend saving a raw copy or two of this version (with the multiple layers) in case you want to edit it differently in the future. Finally, flatten the layers and make any last edits. For this photo, I wanted it to appear as if I was dangling off the post, so I rotated it counter-clockwise by 90 degrees.

In hindsight, I think it would have worked better had the camera been set at a lower angle, and I already mentioned the problems with the pants.

stevesideup2

It takes patience and time, but levitation photography, sometimes also called floating photography, is relatively easy if you’re in an environment without many things moving. Photo editing skills help, too. Remember to keep the camera still for every shot, and position your body and your clothes so that, minus the thing holding you up, it appears that you are levitating.

Examples of other levitation photos

steve_float

steve_throw

Ten different people on 10 different streets in Manhattan

For a grad school assignment in August, I had to produce a photo essay. I chose to photograph one different person I came across on each street from 1st Street to 10th Street in Manhattan. I also included a number of things I had in common with each person based on the street number.

East 1st Street

Noman Tara pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)
Noman Tara pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)

Noman Tara said he is currently taking a liberal studies program. His goal is to become a cop because, as he said, “I want to protect people.”

1. Enjoyed the original “Spider-Man” (2002) movie more than this year’s reboot.

 

East 2nd Street

Kirk Sterling pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)
Kirk Sterling pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)

Kirk Sterling said he studied acting in school, and he now works as a banker and a writer.

1. Dislike black licorice.
2. Like wearing shirts more than T-shirts.

 

East 3rd Street

Nina Tiari pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)
Nina Tiari pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)

Nina Tiari said she studied fashion and is currently working on completing her fashion design collection.

1. Moved to New York City for grad school.
2. Haven’t watched any 2012 Summer Olympics TV coverage.
3. Had or currently have a permanent retainer; she recently took hers off.

 

East 4th Street

Gretchen Vonbrun pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)
Gretchen Vonbrun pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)

Gretchen Vonbrun’s said her friends call her “Ms. New York” because of how well she knows the city. The writer and sketcher said she considers herself a punk rocker. Vonbrun said she used to work at the doors of venues that hosted the B-52s, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Clash. She is pictured with Lucy, her dog.

1. Cool.*
2. Approachable.*
3. Well-spoken.*
4. Unable to handle hot peppers well.
*Her words, not mine.

 

East 5th Street

Ancela Nastasi pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)
Ancela Nastasi pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)

Ancela Nastasi, a lawyer, was trying to hail a cab when we met. I neglected to ask her why she was holding so many flowers.

1. Ivy Leaguers.
2. Have astrological fire signs.
3. Dog people.
4. Of European ancestry.
5. Enjoy Italian food.

 

East 6th Street

Mona (last name not provided) pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)
Mona (last name not provided) pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)

Mona, who did not want her last name included, said she had a stroke six years ago. It paralyzed the right side of her body, requiring her to use a wheelchair. Still, that hasn’t stopped her from going on walks, which she said she does often with the help of a cane. Mona said that the apartment she lives in does not have an elevator, and she has to climb down four flights of stairs, which can be tricky. Opening her front door is the hardest part, and that prevents her from true independence, she said, though she has friends to help her with that.

1. Visited Spain.
2. Enjoy country music.
3. Able to speak “un peu” of French.
4. The youngest sibling.
5. Other than Manhattan, consider Brooklyn to be our favourite borough.
6. Enjoy Quentin Tarantino movies.

 

East 7th Street

Alex Poindexter pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)
Alex Poindexter pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)

Alex Poindexter said he works at a pet foods store. That may no longer be the case by the beginning of 2016. He said he plans to attach a trailer to his bicycle, then ride it to his native San Francisco. Is it to increase awareness of a cause? Raise money for something important? No. The man said he just wants to do it.

1. Put our cellphone volume low enough on the subway so others don’t know what music we’re listening to.
2. Owned a pet frog at some point. His was “a big bullfrog named Kermit.”
3. Had at least two family cats.
4. Failed at least one high school course.
5. Lost a Game Boy and never got it back. He said he lent his to a friend who never returned it. My Game Boy Advance was most likely lost on a school bus during a field trip in Grade 6 to Centre Island in Toronto on the last day of school that year.
6. Became licensed drivers at age 16.
7. Consider Pokemon had the better video game while Digimon had the better TV show.

 

East 8th Street/St. Mark’s Place

Keith Larick pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)
Keith Larick pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)

Tourists love to get pictures taken with an NYPD officer or their cruiser. Keith Larick said he knows that quite well, having been a New York City cop for decades and, subsequently, the star of many tourists’ photos. In his spare time, he enjoys watching sci-fi movies and probably doing many other things I neglected to ask about. He is also a big Spider-Man fan. Did you know that Spider-Man’s actions may have, technically, resulted in Gwen Stacy’s death? I didn’t, but Larick did. And he said he has the original comic to show it.

1. Didn’t enjoy “Alien: Resurrection” (1997) as much as the other entries in the movie series.
2. Dislike eating mushrooms.
3. Have O+ blood.
4. Attended high school summer school at least once (English was his tricky subject, mine was math).
5. Have no tattoos.
6. Don’t wear leather unless absolutely necessary (he said he has to wear his leather utility belt for work).
7. Been a vegetarian for at least three months and then stopped (I went one and a half years).
8. Not superstitious about numbers.

 

East 9th Street

Joyce Wadler pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)
Joyce Wadler pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)

Joyce Wadler has been with The New York Times since before I finished elementary school. She said, at times, she wishes she became a TV news writer. Wadler said she was two minutes from being late to a meeting when I asked her if she would like to be part of this project. Her involvement lasted well over three minutes.

1. Saw “Mamma Mia” on stage.
2. Prefer window seats.
3. Wearing green at the time (I think mine was more of a teal colour, to be fair).
4. Have an iPhone.
5. Wearing soft-soled shoes at the time.
6. Enjoyed “Some Like It Hot” (1959).
7. Don’t pay much attention to astrology.
8. Experience deadline nerves.
9. Like rain.

 

East 10th Street

Helen Luchars pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)
Helen Luchars pictured in New York, N.Y., on Aug. 11, 2012. (Steve Silva)

Helen Luchars said she has had two bouts with cancer, and she doesn’t have a bucket list. “I enjoy the things I have and experience things as they come,” she said. Luchars said she embraces the fact that life plans never work out the way originally envisioned. Her cancer is in remission, she said.

1. Had friends warn against cutting off a dramatic amount of hair. After cutting it, the same friends said they liked the look.
2. Watch “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” if time warrants.
3. Visited Mississippi but didn’t go on the Graceland tour.
4. Love celery.
5. Have one sister.
6. Save seeds from avocados to plant them.
7. Never broke a bone.
8. Return carts to the front of grocery stores when done with them.
9. Haven’t walked the George Washington bridge.
10. Never experienced acupuncture.

Ryerson University’s journalism program (2008-2012)

The Ryersonian’s newsroom pictured on Dec. 8, 2011. (Steve Silva)

By Grade 10, I knew that I wanted to go to Ryerson University. Many people told me that I should check out the school. Subsequent months of researching universities convinced me that it would be the best J-school in Canada for me. Lots of vouching from journalists further solidified this. Four years later, having recently graduated from the program, I’d say they were mostly right. There were a number of things about the program that I didn’t like, but I left fulfilling my goal of feeling that I am a qualified journalist.

I find that there’s a divide among people in the industry over whether journalism is worthy a university or a college degree. I think the answer falls somewhere in the grey. On the one hand, the most important thing you need to know is, well, how to report. Writing an essay probably won’t teach you the basics of writing for print or radio. That said, it will strengthen your critical-thinking skills (and such). College may prove to be a better fit for others. For me, I wanted a university degree to keep my options open for a master’s degree down the line. I also desired to examine more aspects of the craft with more nuance than what I believed would be offered in college programs. Ultimately, there were about five journalism classes that offered that to the extent that I wanted.

The only other university I considered was Carleton University which, at the time, I felt was too academic for what I wanted. I met a few Carleton expats at Ryerson during my first year. They transferred because, as one of them told me, “We wrote only one report in first year.” The student was probably being a tad dramatic. At Ryerson, I had to write one report every two weeks during the first year. (Carleton has a terrific reputation, different programs have their own benefits, and programs change all the time, so do the research yourself on the Ryerson vs. Carleton debate; I’m no expert on the latter.)

Lake Devo at Ryerson University in Toronto pictured on Aug. 21, 2008. (Steve Silva)
Lake Devo at Ryerson University in Toronto pictured on Aug. 21, 2008. (Steve Silva)

The program

The program changed a year or so before I started. Before, based on how professors and students explained it to me, students started with print reporting and, later in the program, chose one journalism medium to focus on. It seems like an antiquated system because I find journalists these days are expected to, to some degree, know how to file for several mediums. The program I completed forced students to learn the basics of almost every medium (no, you couldn’t “just do print”). Students could dip all toes into all mediums, which is what I did. By the end of the second year I had to pick at least one medium I wanted to fully explore in order to get all of the necessary credits for the final year. For example, to get into “TV Documentary” in the final year, I had to take a specific third-year TV reporting class. As flexible as the program is, I eventually had to form a game plan.

During the first year, students learned the fundamentals of print journalism (and a bit of its long-form counterpart), and how to handle daily reporting. We also got our first taste of standard university classes. The second year introduced us to broadcast journalism and feature writing. The third year was better because I had more say on the courses I wanted to take; many of those were workshop courses. My final semester was split between doing an internship and producing the school’s newspaper the Ryersonian. Because I took so many courses ahead of time (during the summer), I had all of the required credits one semester early, though I still had to graduate with everyone else a semester later. Other students spent their time finishing a final semester of class and/or producing the Ryerson Review of Journalism.

An attempt to break the record for the world's largest sword fight happened during Frosh Week at Ryerson University in Toronto on Aug. 26, 2008. (Steve Silva)
An attempt to break the record for the world’s largest sword fight happened during Frosh Week at Ryerson University in Toronto on Aug. 26, 2008. (Steve Silva)

First year

Many students weren’t smitten with the first year’s offerings; they wanted something more intense. Ryerson started us off with learning how to report for print. The professor for “JRN 120 – The Culture of News” sent us out onto Gould Street on the first day to get quotes from streeters (streeters are people, often found by reporters on sidewalks, asked to provide their opinions on something). This class provided many students with their first taste of reporting. Every two weeks, students would be assigned to report on one of the day’s news stories (two or three students would get the same one). My first story was on the then-new National Do Not Call List. I arrived at 10 a.m., researched my topic a bit, went outside to get quotes from streeters, and then finished writing the report inside. I don’t remember if I had many experts (or “talking heads”) in my pieces at first, but my reports got better week by week; they really did eventually resemble something I’d read in a daily newspaper. Minus the streeter interviews aspect of it, the toughest part for many students was the 6 p.m. deadline; students would lose half a grade point for every minute it was late.

The professor said we’d need to get the phone number of each person we quoted — yes, even streeters — because he warned that he might request the numbers to then call to check our facts. He never did that for any of my stories. I think I stopped asking for numbers after a while. One student in the program told me she faked all of her streeters’ quotes in her articles; that probably wasn’t the norm (and I never did, by-the-way). Streeter interviewing can be an awkward task, but it’s important to learn how to do it.

A performer of Ryerson' University's Eggy the mascot pictured in Toronto on Aug. 29, 2010. (Steve Silva)
A performer of Ryerson’ University’s Eggy the mascot pictured in Toronto on Aug. 29, 2010. (Steve Silva)

On days we didn’t have to report, we’d study Canadian Press style, learn how to use quotes properly, and such. The class was bland at times because I already knew a lot of what was being taught (I wrote for a couple of print publications prior to university).

The sequel to the class, “JRN 121 – Introduction to Reporting,” was essentially the same rodeo; we reported every two weeks during the second semester. We learned a bit about Canadian law relating to journalism. We reported on a court case for one assignment. Our major assignment was to write a profile on someone or write a feature.

“JRN 100 – Information and Visual Resources for Journalists,” back in first semester, taught us about different search engines, ways to research, etc. — important things to learn, though it felt like a bit of retread for me. We would have regular 10-question quizzes on stories that were in the news (this counted for participation marks). The most valuable part of this class was learning the basics of writing a feature. Our final assignment was to write a “Big Question” story. Students had to come up with a question, then answer it via a 2,000-word feature. Mine was: “Why do we watch scary movies?” The professor was fantastic, and there was one particularly cool thing she did during a lecture that I won’t ruin.

Ryerson University's campus in Toronto pictured on Nov. 12, 2010. (Steve Silva)
Ryerson University’s campus in Toronto pictured on Nov. 12, 2010. (Steve Silva)

Typical journalism classes that had a hands-on approach, which often lasted between five and eight hours, required students to be there to get full marks (attendance was taken). We had lots of in-class work and, generally, not much homework. That said, there was normally one big assignment for the final class. For instance, with JRN 121, most of the grade was based on reports we had to complete every two weeks, about 10 per cent from participation, and 30 per cent from said big assignment.

Non-journalism classes were much different. Generally, the first major mark came from writing the midterm, normally consisting of answering five questions with a paragraph each, and then writing an essay. Winter midterms often came before reading week (our week off). (Ryerson didn’t have a fall reading week when I attended.) Then came the take-home essay. A week or two later, exam time arrived. The work was generally worth 25, 30 and 35 per cent, respectively. (For all you know-it-all mathematicians out there: I’ll explain the missing 10 per cent in a sec.)

Journalism classes that were more theory-based often followed this pattern but had students write the exam in the final class. It was great to be done a class early… having to study so intensely weeks before the time you’d have off to study for exams, not so much. (One could argue this was a good thing because exams were slightly more spread out as opposed to being held all within the same week or so). The other 10 per cent came from participation. Yes, participation marks. Professors claimed this mark came from, well, participating in class (answering questions, adding to discussions, and such), but I feel like everyone knew it was mainly earned by simply attending. Students had to sign in by writing their name on a piece of paper that was floated around, normally at the beginning of class (some profs switched up when they handed out the sheet — the start or the end of class — so people couldn’t sign in and then leave right away or only come at the end). Some professors really did only give students the full 10 per cent if they participated (this was truer with the smaller classes) but, based off of my experience, if students signed in for each class, they got at least eight per cent.

Toronto mayoral candidates Rocco Rossi, George Smitherman, and Sarah Thomson participated in the Design Exchange's mayoral candidate panel discussion on Sept. 17, 2010. (Steve Silva)
Toronto mayoral candidates Rocco Rossi, George Smitherman, and Sarah Thomson participated in the Design Exchange’s mayoral candidate panel discussion on Sept. 17, 2010. (Steve Silva)

Non-journalism classes were typically three hours long. They were called lectures. I’d sit, listen, and take notes off of a professor’s PowerPoint presentation for those 165 minutes (we’d normally get a 15-minute break), then spend an hour in the accompany class, with a smaller number of students, called the tutorial, which is usually taught by a teaching assistant (TA). TAs, often grad students, would go through some of the topics explained in the lecture, answer questions from students, etc. Most of my TAs didn’t attend the lecture. Many would mark exams and essays. I often wouldn’t be satisfied with the mark my TA doled out, so I’d ask the professor to mark it again; that normally resulted in my mark getting bumped up at least one grade point.

Annoyingly, my tutorials were almost always held at an inconvenient time (not right after the lecture, which makes the most sense). I once had a Friday lecture between 2 and 5 p.m., and the tutorial was at 8 a.m. on the following Tuesday. Over the years, I wasn’t able to take several classes I wanted because of a tutorial conflicting with another course. Some of the larger lectures offered tutorials at different times but, of course, the tutorials with the times I wanted were already taken. Of course.

“ENG 108 – The Nature of Narrative I” was a required class for journalism students. This was a good class to get used to typical non-journalism classes at Ryerson. We read Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein,” and other texts. Part II of this class featured one book from Michael Ondaatje, some Margaret Atwood works, and others. We also watched “Jarhead” (2005). The class was more of the same.

Ryan Reynolds signs autographs outside of Ryerson Theatre in Toronto during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 14, 2010. (Steve Silva)
Ryan Reynolds signs autographs outside of Ryerson Theatre in Toronto during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 14, 2010. (Steve Silva)

My electives for the year were “POG 100 – People, Power and Politics,” and “POG 319 – The Politics of Work and Labour.” The first was a good starter course to understand world politics. I liked that it looked at political concepts. (In hindsight, taking “POG 110 – Canadian Politics” first might have been a better idea.) As for the latter, I find the politics of unions interesting, so this was right up my alley. I should have worked my way up to this course, though, because they generally got progressively harder the higher the number.

First semester also featured “JRN 199 – Grammar.” This wasn’t a class per se, but rather a test on grammar. Students had to earn 75 per cent or more in order to pass. We got three chances. I got 72 or 73, I think, on my first try before passing it on my second attempt. Students who didn’t pass it supposedly couldn’t go into the second year of the program.

Books (also called “texts,” and “course readers”) sometimes added more than $300 to the cost of a class. I typically spent between $80 and $140 for non-journalism classes. Several journalism classes didn’t require students to buy any books. Some professors forced students to buy the latest edition of a course reader as opposed to buying the much cheaper, used counterpart used in prior years’ classes. The latest versions often had barely any different content. One professor made us buy a book that was in the public domain because it had an extra essay at the end. We used that “important essay we’ll be referencing in class” once in the semester for about two minutes, and it had absolutely no impact whatsoever on any exam or coursework. Many students photocopied their books to save money. There used to be a textbook grant given to students by the provincial government. It became exclusive to students on the Ontario Student Assistance Program the following year.

Ryerson University's Mattamy Athletic Centre under renovations pictured on Nov. 29, 2011. (Steve Silva)
Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre under renovations pictured on Nov. 29, 2011. (Steve Silva)

I determined that I wouldn’t be able to take all of the courses that I wanted if I followed the journalism program’s regular itinerary, so I took some of the required liberal studies courses during the summer. Although I found many faculty members and students to be relatively left-leaning (one politics and governance professor I had actually told the class they were), liberal studies courses didn’t entail memorizing Bob Rae’s speeches or reigniting Trudeaumania. No, they were simply there to “broaden your horizons; they open up the world to you; they enable you to look at the world from a variety of perspectives, to pursue ideas and interests beyond your specific career studies.” I had to take six courses (two lower level and four upper level courses). Many students detested taking them, especially journalism students, but I found a few classes to be fun.

“CSOC 103 – How Society Works” was my first and only ever online course at Ryerson. I attended the lectures by listening to MP3 files and scrolling through the related PowerPoint presentations in sync at home. The MP3 files seemed to have been recorded years prior. They weren’t edited well. The professor sometimes coughed right into the microphone or stopped speaking for a while. I sometimes heard ambulance sirens. What was presumably the professor’s cellphone would ring every now and then, too.

“CSOC 202 – Popular Culture” was a terrific class, mainly because of the instructor. I took this class in the Podium Building on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a little more than a month. I enjoyed examining pop culture, something I think is relevant for a journalist, and the material we studied was diverse. Coincidentally, students found out about Michael Jackson’s death during one of the first few classes.

For people with prior journalism experience, the first year of the program felt a bit repetitive, but it was a decent start. I got a taste of university life, and I developed a better understanding of the fundamentals. I filled my free time with writing for university newspapers, such as The Eyeopener and the Ryersonian.

Mayor-elect Rob Ford with his wife, Renata, shortly before he gave his victory speech in Toronto on Oct. 25, 2010. (Steve Silva)
Mayor-elect Rob Ford with his wife, Renata, shortly before he gave his victory speech in Toronto on Oct. 25, 2010. (Steve Silva)

Second year

The program got more interesting in the second year. “JRN 125 — Introduction to Television Journalism” quickly became many students’ favourite class. For the first TV news report assignment, I went out with a team of about five others, and we shared roles (producer, photographer, etc.) except for the role of the reporter, which was filled by one person. We covered the preparations for 2009′s Nuit Blanche. Having five journalists tackling one report was tricky (we each had our own visions for the report), but it was a fun experience. I covered the next story, which was on the completion of a scramble intersection at Yonge and Dundas streets. After we played the finished report to the class and received our in-class critiques, we were tasked to submit a new edit of it by the following week. Our last day of class, probably the best day of my university experience at that point, required students to produce a full newscast.

“JRN 124 — Elements of Feature Writing” was another class I had been waiting for. It was particularly valuable because the professors involved definitely understood the craft. The class culminated with students writing two versions of a feature about a specific place; a 1,000-word version, then an edited-down 800-word version.

“JRN 112 — Introduction to Online Journalism” emphasized that online journalism can and should offer more than standard print reporting. Our final assignment was to upload our features from JRN 124, adding in all of the online bells and whistles (Google Maps links, YouTube videos, etc.). I already knew lot of what was taught (I had coded websites and blogged for years prior), so I didn’t gain as much from this class as others did.

Fire damage at 200 Wellesley St. E. in Toronto pictured on Sept. 25, 2010. (Steve Silva)
Fire damage at 200 Wellesley St. E. in Toronto pictured on Sept. 25, 2010. (Steve Silva)

As for the electives, my favourite was “JRN — 400 Critical Issues In Journalism.” The class was divided between two professors swapping lecturing duties every week. The class would split up for the tutorial portion with each professor helming a different class. I had a fantastic former Globe and Mail journalist. We tackled subjects including reporting on disabilities, celebrities, and mental illnesses. Our final assignment was to write an overview on a community — the issues, the important places to know about, etc. The assignments themselves weren’t that interesting, but the class was worth it simply because of the professor.

JRN 201 — Introductory Photojournalism” was a lot of fun. Each week, we would be assigned a topic/story/photo technique to cover. We’d email our best three or four photos to the instructor each week. The entire class would then view every photo together to critique. The instructor had loads of experience, and his stories were enjoyable to hear.

“JRN 310 — TV Production Techniques” taught students more about shooting, lighting, editing, creating sequences, and using green screens, among other things.

“POG 110 – Canadian Politics” should be mandatory for all Ryerson students because I found that a lot of people in their first year at the school didn’t understand how our political systems work. Then again, I think discussing the advantages and disadvantages of a mixed-member proportional representation electoral system to be exciting, so I’m biased.

I found the formulas that students learned in “POG 340 – Intro to Comparative Politics” to be interesting. It was a confusing but fun way of examining politics. Oh, and watching a professor try to get a class to understand the difference between valid and invalid arguments is always enjoyable.

Ryerson University students play a round of Quidditch, inspired by the "Harry Potter" series, in Toronto on Sept. 19, 2010. (Steve Silva)
Ryerson University students play a round of Quidditch, inspired by the “Harry Potter” series, in Toronto on Sept. 19, 2010. (Steve Silva)

I decided to not have a summer again, so I took my remaining liberal studies courses during those months. I think it was the allure of the class being held only one day a week (Wednesdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.) that made me take “CGEO 802 – Geography of Recreation and Leisure.” The concepts, texts, and PowerPoint presentations weren’t as inspiring as I thought they would be — and I actually like geography.

For students who understood music concepts and were awesome at remembering music eras, “CMUS 506 – Popular Music and Culture” was the course for them. Me, not so much.

I think that, deep down, I took “CPHL 606 – Philosophy of Love and Sex” just to fill that requisite “edgy university class name” quota. Students delved into fascinating concepts that challenged many of their ways of thinking. The class was refreshing because of the presentation skills of the professor. His midterm/exam format was helpful, too. He gave the class 16 questions well ahead of time; eight would appear on the test but only five would need to be answered. He also taught “CPHL 709 – Religion, Science and Philosophy,” another class that I enjoyed. There was a good mix of students from different backgrounds and religions. The discussions got heated at times.

A raccoon attempts to climb Ryerson University's Kerr Hall South in Toronto on Nov. 11, 2010. (Steve Silva)
A raccoon attempts to climb Ryerson University’s Kerr Hall South in Toronto on Nov. 11, 2010. (Steve Silva)

Third Year

There wasn’t much room to change things up once the first semester of the third year finished because many fourth-year classes required specific prerequisites, and not all semesters offered the same classes. For example, let’s say I wanted to take class B in the fourth year. Thing is, it requires class A, which is only offered in the first semester, likewise with class B. If I didn’t take A in first semester of the third year, I’d be out of luck. Some people took an extra semester/year to fix this. I was mostly only taking the classes I wanted at that point, mainly because I planned ahead.

Essentially JRN 124 Part II, “JRN 303 — Feature Reporting Workshop” developed my feature-writing skills quite a bit. We learned how to better use scenes, description, and the like.

“JRN 306 — Reporting for Radio Workshop” should have been a required class in second year, at least for anyone interested in broadcast journalism (yes, even TV people too). It taught me how to get better characters, maintain the audience’s attention, develop scenes, and more. About half of the semester was devoted to learning how to report, and how to use professional audio instruments and software. The latter half of the semester required students to produce weekly newscasts. Our final assignment was to create a mini-documentary (five minutes or so). Although learning how to produce newscasts with real deadlines was important, I wanted this class to focus more on innovative ways of telling stories, which I found wasn’t welcomed.

“JRN 314 — Reporting for TV Workshop” was probably my favourite university class ever, mainly because of its brilliant instructor. It was structured almost exactly the same as JRN 306 but with cameras. We already learned how to report for TV (see: JRN 125), so deadlines were easier to swallow. The major assignment was to produce a feature story (under five minutes) of our choosing; my team chose home-brewed beer.

"Later That Night At The Drive-in" was an art installation in front of Toronto City Hall for Nuit Blanche on Oct. 2, 2010.  (Steve Silva)
“Later That Night At The Drive-in” was an art installation in front of Toronto City Hall for Nuit Blanche on Oct. 2, 2010. (Steve Silva)

“JRN 807 — Advanced Photojournalism” was not much different than its predecessor. It was more focused (pun intended) on the art.

A lot of students disliked “JRN 123 — Ethics and Law in Journalism” mostly because its format was rather non-journalism-like (an essay, ahh!). Thing is, I can’t think of a more effective way of teaching libel law and such.

“JRN 405 — Special Topics in Journalism Theory” should have been renamed “Special Topic in Journalism Theory” because all we focused on was public relations and journalism. At first, I didn’t think the topic was worth exploring for an entire semester, but the class grew on me thanks to some interesting units, and insightful guest speakers. And, oh yes, there was an essay.

“POL 332 – Power and Influence in Canada” was basically POG 110. In fact, we used the same book.

Finally, there was “JRN 800 — TV Documentary.” Students were put in teams of four or five. Each person in their team had their own job(s): producer, photographer, reporter, researcher, or editor. The first few weeks were dedicated to learning about documentaries and the technical things. Then, minus weekly (or so) meetings with the professor, we were on our own shooting a documentary. We submitted two versions of it. Each team watched the rough draft with the professor, got some feedback, then submitted a final version, which everyone eventually watched together in the final class. There was a final journal assignment worth 10 per cent or so.

A TV news control room in the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto pictured on Dec. 5, 2011. (Steve Silva)
A TV news control room in the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto pictured on Dec. 5, 2011. (Steve Silva)

Fourth year

My final year consisted of just one semester because I already had all of the credits needed. If I took one more class in third year, I could have graduated back then, but I’m glad I didn’t because my last semester was important. The semester was split between “JRN 850 — Internship” and “JRN 910 — Integrated Masthead.” The first course was exactly that: an internship. We were told about it in third year and, for those who picked the first semester of the last year for the internship, had to find a placement over the summer with the help of the instructor. I knew for years that I wanted to intern at CBC News Toronto, so that’s all I aimed for. In hindsight, I should have applied to at least two other newsrooms in case it didn’t work out (but it did). The internship was supposed to last six weeks, but I convinced the CBC to let me start a week early because the internship was split between the local TV newscast and CBC Radio’s Metro Morning (I wanted to get more TV news experience).

My experience in the TV side of things was great at times. The internship got better each week. I went around Toronto with photographers getting clips from streeters, experts, and spokespeople for reporters’ stories. I also found interview subjects for stories and pitched stories during the morning meetings. I got to know several great journalists. I felt like I didn’t get enough opportunities to show off what I could do, but that came with the role. In hindsight, maybe I should have interned at a smaller station in a smaller city where I could have gotten more to do. I left a good enough impression that I was offered an editorial assistant job (on a casual basis) by the end of my first week.

A man said he accidentally drove his car into Lake Devo in Toronto on Nov. 21, 2011. (Steve Silva)
A man said he accidentally drove his car into Lake Devo in Toronto on Nov. 21, 2011. (Steve Silva)

Oddly, I felt I got more out of my experience as an intern with Metro Morning. Most of the stories I pitched aired. I felt that some people got to know me better here. One employee spent half an hour detailing their methodology behind asking questions (the icebreaker, not asking yes/no questions, and such) to me, which was lovely. I also loved that I got to produce segments all by myself — pitching, guest-chasing, writing the script, and even booking the guest into the security system. Both experiences gave me first-hand knowledge of how the industry works, and I’m grateful for them.

Then came JRN 910, which entailed producing the school news outlet’s newspaper, TV newscasts, and website. The class was a bit of a buzzkill after getting to produce content for CBC News for several weeks, but it provided closure for me. Students had to file their stories for every Ryersonian platform; it was a pain at first, but now it’s how I produce all of my stories. I was a CP (content producer) for three weeks, which entailed pitching and reporting. The idea was to have the report online as soon as possible and then file it for the Wednesday paper (Saturday/Sunday deadline) and/or the Wednesday/Friday newscast. The next three weeks were for holding an editor or other supervisory role (the photo editor, in my case). The teamwork part of it was challenging for several people, and there were a few heated moments. Us undergrads made up half of the team while grad students made up the rest. It was tiring but also fun.

The Ryersonian being printed in Toronto on Nov. 29, 2011. (Steve Silva)
The Ryersonian being printed in Toronto on Nov. 29, 2011. (Steve Silva)

That minor that I didn’t get

Ryerson offered only a few minor options for journalism students. Since I had to take a certain number of non-journalism courses anyway, I thought it was worth getting a minor. Every minor required six (or so) credits, so I had to plan it out early to fit my schedule. The two English classes journalism students had to take counted toward the English minor, so going for that minor only required four extra classes, but I decided to go after a politics and governance (POG) minor (those courses also counted as electives). I saw only one journalism class ever offered at the Chang School (Ryerson’s continuing education school) during the summer, so I made journalism classes a priority during the school year, knowing that I could always take POG classes during the summer if I got behind.

Ryerson’s course calendar showed the courses needed for each minor. Problem is, I didn’t realize until several course completions later that minor requirements can differ depending on the year. In the end, I took five POG classes with either two or three of them counting toward my minor depending on the year’s requirements I wanted to fulfill. I contacted the POG program’s administration about my mistake. I was told that they would not let me cross-pollinate the required courses. So, even though I had taken five POG courses (the POG minor requires six) and was planning on taking one more POG course, my only option was to choose a calendar year and take either two or three more courses. I was dismayed by the outcome, and I decided to dump my minor aspiration.

Students climbed the Egerton Ryerson statue in Toronto on Aug. 26, 2008. (Steve Silva)
Students climbed the Egerton Ryerson statue in Toronto on Aug. 26, 2008. (Steve Silva)

Bachelor of journalism vs. master of journalism

I made a number of friends from the grad program during my time producing the Ryersonian. Having heard about their experiences, I felt their program was basically the four-year undergrad program condensed into two years, plus a master’s project. I had another class or two with some grad students, and I found our assignments to be the same. Sometimes they had an extra assignment and/or a longer word count for the final assignment. Although four years of J-school gave me more time to focus on my craft, I think that the bachelor program could have been turned into a two-year program and still delivered the necessities. Of course, I’ve never taken their program, so my thoughts are what they are.

Part of me wonders if I should have spent four years studying politics (undergrad degree) and then taken the master of journalism program. I would be significantly better at covering politics, I reckon. Despite my path having course-corrected itself in a way (I received my grad school acceptance email), I consider not giving enough thought to which level of ‘jeducation’ I should pursue my biggest regret during my aforementioned university-hunting period all those years ago.

Ryerson University's Rogers Communications Centre  in the foreground pictured March 10, 2011. (Steve Silva)
Ryerson University’s Rogers Communications Centre in the foreground pictured March 10, 2011. (Steve Silva)

The campus

“The heart of the city” is a subjective location, but it’s fair to say that the campus is at least in one of the valves. The Rogers Communication Centre (RCC) is where almost every journalism class was held, so that’s where the J-school students would congregate (the lounge, namely). The campus was usually well maintained, and I hardly saw any garbage or graffiti anywhere (minus, of course, the bathrooms for the latter).

I felt safe on campus most of the time. That said, one night at about 9 p.m., three young men in the area east of Yonge and Gerrard streets gave me some trouble across the street from Ryerson. One of them knocked food out of my hand, and I could tell they wanted to attack me, but I was able to de-escalate the situation by myself (thanks for all of your concern, quiet passersby). Incidents like this can happen anywhere, though I’ve witnessed other similar incidents in that stretch.

The "Thriller" dance is performed on Gould Street in Toronto on Oct. 27, 2011. (Steve Silva)
The “Thriller” dance is performed on Gould Street in Toronto on Oct. 27, 2011. (Steve Silva)

Getting around campus was relatively easy because the main buildings were located within a few blocks of each other. During the winter, it was handy to walk from the Podium Building to the RCC via bridges connecting to Kerry Hall South. Several students said they wanted a tunnel from Dundas Station to the Podium Building.

I heard about Salad King approximately three milliseconds into the first day of school. The Thai restaurant is a favourite among students. Ryerson’s cafeteria (“the hub”) in Jogenson Hall offered generic food that I could find anywhere. It was a good place to hang, though. Journalism students often got their coffee fix at a mini-Tim Hortons in Kerr Hall South near the bridge connecting to the RCC. There was also a grocery store across the street from the RCC.

Journalism students who lived in residence at Pitman Hall had the benefit of being able to wake up five minutes before class (the building was adjacent to the RCC). Several out-of-towners I met chose to live in residence for the first year, then they found housing elsewhere for the second and later years once they were familiar with the city.

Students complained that there weren’t enough athletic facilities on campus. I only discovered the Ryerson Athletic Centre in my second or third year. It’s located under the Kerr Hall Quad, and it houses several gyms, a track, and workout equipment. It felt like a secret lair because it was so big yet hidden. Annoyingly, there were only four treadmills available when I used to visit it.

Ryerson University students parade on Yonge Street on Sept. 10, 2010. (Steve Silva)
Ryerson University students parade on Yonge Street on Sept. 10, 2010. (Steve Silva)

Ryerson Students’ Union

Students were forced to get a health insurance plan (unless they proved they already had one) costing more than $200 a year. The Ryerson Students’ Union offered a bunch of services, including free legal advice. I made use of the discounted Cineplex movie tickets the most, which cost $8 at the time. The executives of the union were often open to interviews for journalism students working on assignments.

People pose with Eggy the mascot in Toronto on June 8, 2012. (Steve Silva)
People pose with Eggy the mascot in Toronto on June 8, 2012. (Steve Silva)

Convocation

Also called graduation and commencement, convocation is the culmination of the program. Mine was held at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, June 8, 2012. Students had to be there two hours early to get gowned. I must admit I was slightly bitter that we didn’t get those hats graduates always throw up in the air just before by a freeze frame at the end of movies. After a march around the quad, we entered the (thankfully) air-conditioned Ryerson Theatre and found our seats. Ivan Reitman got an honorary degree. Students then got called up for the walk-handshake-degree-handover dance. I walked, shook hands, suggested to Ivan Reitman that he should produce Ghostbusters III, then received the most expensive paper I’ve ever owned. From the march to the exit, the entire ceremony lasted about an hour and 45 minutes.

Steve Silva pictured with Eggy the mascot at Ryerson University in Toronto on June 8, 2012. (Supplied)
Steve Silva pictured with Eggy the mascot at Ryerson University in Toronto on June 8, 2012. (Supplied)

Conclusion

I went into the program expecting to continue my journey of becoming a professional newspaper reporter. I left with an unexpected thirst for becoming a professional video journalist. Much of that was because of one remarkable third-year broadcast journalism instructor. My other skills were developed and polished thanks to a few other terrific instructors and professors.

I learned how to report for every medium while using Toronto as my reporting playground. My skills improved, and I learned a lot by challenging myself to try everything.

I felt that the theory-based part of the program lacked in some areas. The professors didn’t always give me the opportunities I was looking for to try new things and question more aspects of the craft. Thankfully, I got into a J-school graduate program, which will give me another opportunity to explore journalism in an academic setting.

Students were well aware that the journalism industry is changing and positions are being cut. This degree is a long-term investment, one that’s already paying off in multiple ways. I chose what I believed was the best path for me at the time. Now that it’s over, my initial feeling is that I can handle this job, and the degree was worth attaining. Having directly worked with professional journalists in my final year, I know that I can do what they do.