Academy Forums

Academy for Lifelong Learning Toronto webinars offer stimulating food for your brain, featuring presentations on a cornucopia of topics. Participants are encouraged to ask questions at the end of each talk.

Presentations are via Zoom during the COVID pandemic. Academy members automatically receive an invitation to each Forum via email. If you want to attend one of these forums and are not currently a member of the Academy for Lifelong Learning Toronto, please scroll down to the bottom of this page for more information.

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Academy Forums - 2022

Winter Forum #2 - february 2, 2022 At 2:15 pm On Zoom

Celebrating 50 Years Of Tartu College...Estonia and Toronto with Piret Noorhani, Chief Archivist, Museum of Estonians Abroad (VEMU).

The history of VEMU's collections reaches back to the beginning of the 1970's when the Tartu Institute Archives and Library was established at Tartu College. These archives include art, films, significant artifacts that convey the cultural history of Estonians in Canada. Eventually, a new museum will be constructed adjacent to Tartu to host these collections.

Piret  Noorhani has been the Chief Archivist of VEMU for a dozen years. She has developed expertise in helping non-Estonians explore the rich culture and contributions the Estonian community have made in Canada and continues to develop research for students and faculty who resided at Tartu College during its early years.

Winter Forum #3 - february 16, 2022 On Zoom

An Academy Pioneer in Women’s Medicine – a special double bill presentation: screening of the documentary, The Gender Lady: The Fabulous Dr. May Cohen, followed by a Q & A with former Academy member, Dr. Cohen herself

Dr. May Cohen graduated as a gold medalist from the University of Toronto’s medical program and followed her internship with a fellowship in endocrinology from the Medical Research Council of Canada.  After 19 years in a busy family practice with her husband in Toronto, she decided to pursue her passion for teaching by accepting a position at McMaster University, which allowed her to teach undergraduates as well as residents.  She also managed to maintain a clinical practice.  In this setting that combined academic and clinical work, she became a highly respected pioneer in the field of women and medicine, developing sound theories and practices in issues that affect women’s health.

Among many awards, she was inducted into the Medical Hall of Fame in 2016, and invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2017.

Winter Forum #4 - March 2, 2022

Transforming Democracy: From Conflict to Collaboration

Dave Meslin, a seasoned  political activist and best selling author, will speak about  how we can build  a better democracy to amplify our voices, build bridges, and work more effectively for everyone.

Dave Meslin is the Creative Director of Unlock Democracy Canada and the best-selling author of Teardown: Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up. In his earlier days, as a community activist, he was the founder of the Toronto Public Space Community and Cycle Toronto. He also founded the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto and has worked for political parties in an advisory capacity. He has spoken extensively across Canada, at TED Talk conferences and is a frequent guest on radio and television on the subject of electoral reform.

Winter Forum #5 - March 16, 2022

Presenting the Presenters

The following presentations by fellow Academy members were chosen by their Facilitators as outstanding exemplars to share:

Joan McCordic on Cultural Appropriation from the Art Crime workshop, nominated by Cathy Spark.

Carol Ann Witt on Persuasion from  the "Examining Ourselves and Others" workshop, nominated by Thea Herman and Yvette Matyas.

In Case You Missed It....     Our Fall 2021 Forums

Academy Forum: Adoption - A Matter of Truth, Equal Rights and Identity

Adoption, stressed Karen Lynn, is always about loss – for both parents and children. As a 19- year-old single mother in the 1960s, she was forced to give up her child at birth. It took 35 years for her to reunite with her son. Michelle Edmunds was taken into custody by Children’s Aid at age two. After three and a half decades of searching, she finally reconnected with her birth mother, just a few months before the latter’s death. These heart-rending experiences were the foundation of their talks to the Academy Forum on Adoption.

When she got pregnant in the early 60s, Karen became entangled in lingering but deeply entrenched Victorian assumptions about the unfitness of mothers who gave birth out of wedlock. Immediately after delivering her baby, she was prevented from holding and breastfeeding him. Later, after erupting at the sight of a staff note claiming that she did not wish to feed her child, she was finally allowed to nurse him, but lacking experience and psychologically distraught, she felt her only option was adoption. Her story is typical, as she learned when she went on to found the Canadian Council of Natural Mothers (a lobby group that advocates for the rights of women who have put children up for adoption) and came into contact with many others who endured similar treatment. The pain of losing a child to adoption, they attest, is intense and enduring.

Michelle was bombarded by different sorts of negative messages – that it was disrespectful to her adoptive parents and a sign of maladjustment to want to find her natural family, that she should be grateful for having been taken in, that she was lucky just to be alive and that intruding on her birth mother’s life would ruin it. Told that searching was wrong, it nevertheless felt right to Michelle. Driven by the innate human desire for genetic connectedness and unable to suppress fundamental questions about who she was and where she came from, she pressed on, processing snippets of often unreliable information provided by the state, working around the secrecy of the official system through research and pressuring the government to unseal original birth registrations. Eventually, she located her natural family, reconnected with it and developed strong relationships with some of her siblings, but the process required protracted struggle.

Social pressures to put children up for adoption have eased significantly in the last half century. Unwed motherhood is much less stigmatized. Mothers’ Allowances provide a modicum of financial support for single parents. Family preservation is now a higher priority. That said, all too often the concerns of adoptive parents and the adoption industry remain paramount. The system has yet to successfully prioritize the needs of the children involved.

The sense of belonging is surely one of the most complex human emotions. Once fractured, it is difficult to mend. Karen Lynn and Michelle Edmunds make a compelling case for putting an end to coerced adoption and for ensuring the right of adopted children to know the identities and histories of their birth families.

                                                                                                           Keith Walden

Academy Fall Debate - Whither the Monarchy?

The Academy’s second fall forum focused on whether or not Canada should abolish the Monarchy. It’s a timely topic, with Canada having evolved into a multicultural nation with fewer ties than ever before to the United Kingdom.

Academy members were treated to a lively, informative and entertaining exchange of ideas so fundamental to our political system. Under the deft hand of moderator Linda Tu, the four debaters adhered to the strict time limits, allowing ample opportunity for subsequent discussion and summary.

A poll taken prior to the debate showed a remarkably even split: 14 participants in favour of abolishing the Monarchy; 14 opposed; 13, undecided.

Priscilla Platt began the debate by underlining the unrepresentative nature of the current Monarchy. Having a foreign non-resident ruler as our head of state seems incongruous, she maintained, to Canada’s present reality. Canada is no longer a colony but a distinctive nation in its own right. Why should Canada be bound to a British ruler? Moreover, why should Canada follow ancient rules of primogeniture passed by a foreign government?

The Crown, Priscilla pointed out, has presided over some highly disturbing aspects of Canada’s history. Over a million Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools run chiefly by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. First Nations youngsters were ripped away from their parents, language and community and sent to live in harsh conditions designed to rob them of their culture. An estimated 10-15% died while in the care of these government-sanctioned institutions. Queen Victoria presided over Canada during much of this period. Perhaps, then, her successor, the Queen today, should apologize for the Monarchy’s role in this abysmal tragedy.

Continuing the abolitionist position, Sheila Neysmith contended that doing away with the Monarchy would pave the way for a “made in Canada” head of state. That office might take many forms. It might be a president, separate from the head of government, who would be elected or appointed. Having a British monarch might have made sense when Canada was in its infancy, a nation born of two founding nations. But that is no longer the Canadian reality or experience. Contemporary Canada has a rich diverse culture made up of peoples from all over the world and it is time to move away from a British ruler.

The opposing side was led by Chris Marston. He focused on the Monarchy’s longevity, ceremonial importance and its symbolism as an institution that rises above the politics of governing and therefore unites the nation. Noting the Monarchy’s 900-year history, Chris contended that “constitutional monarchy is brilliant,” providing an important ceremonial figure, the symbol of our nation. That person can allow us to celebrate good times and outstanding achievements, affirm our best aspirations and convey comfort and hope during difficult times.

The final debater, Greg King, outlined a series of practical problems. Doing away with the Monarchy in Canada would be no mean feat. It would require the approval of the federal parliament and all provincial parliaments. A lengthy and time-consuming process, this endeavour would take focus and energy away from other pressing issues such as the economy and reconciliation with the First Nations. Relations with the latter groups would be thrown into confusion since the treaties enacted by the various First Nations were with the Crown.

Many of the nations that enjoy the highest standards of living are constitutional monarchies (e.g. Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, and, of course, the United Kingdom). So, Greg asked, what would be the alternative to Monarchy?

Participants raised a number of issues. Some were amusing, e.g. if we were to abolish the Monarchy, what would happen to Queen Victoria Day? On the other hand, some contended that the current royal family seems dysfunctional (the Queen herself excluded). Some questioned the costs of maintaining the infrastructure of Monarchy federally and provincially as well as its outdated character. Others wondered if the Crown represents a unifying force across various nations as in the member states of the British Commonwealth.

Many thanks to the moderator – Linda Tu – and the debaters – Priscilla Platt, Sheila Neysmith, Greg King, Chris Marsden – who took the time to prepare excellent presentations, answered questions, clarified stands and carefully defended positions. It was a delightful hour and a half contemplating the future that might be Canada’s.

At the end of the debate, another poll was taken. Results favoured the abolitionists: 20 for abolition; 12 opposed; 6, undecided.

Barrie Wilson

Academy Fall Forum -  Adding Nature to Toronto’s Landscape

Ellen Schwartzel, current president of the Toronto Field Naturalists (TFN), presented some important, well-documented and timely issues in the fourth Fall forum. Her background in the Environmental Commission of Ontario, including four years as Deputy Commissioner, provided her with significant insights into the role of nature in our urban life.

The TFN works to connect people with nature in Toronto by offering 140 guided walks each year, doing field work to control invasive species, cleaning up ravines and generally acting as an advocate to help people understand, enjoy and protect Toronto’s green spaces. Such work is
a challenge as Toronto grows at a rate of 130,000 people per year, with a projected population of over 10 million by 2046.

Ellen made a persuasive case for more nature in Toronto. The green spaces in Toronto include natural corridors like the Humber, Don and Rouge watersheds, collectively part of the Northern Carolinian Zone, which is one of the most diverse and fragile ecoregions in Canada. Over 360 species of migratory birds have been documented, with 39 considered at risk, and with these birds particularly dependent on wetlands like Ashbridges Bay Marsh, now much diminished in size. Moreover, natural spaces have an impact on climate change. Toronto’s urban forest
absorbs carbon dioxide to store carbon. Local nature outings, as compared to travel, lower the carbon footprint in all seasons and natural lands act as buffers to absorb floodwaters. A graphic of carbon footprints in the Toronto area showed that urban sprawl is not the answer to our climate crisis; the denser urban core of the city is in general “greener” than the suburbs.

Ellen also described the relationship between nature and mental health, suggesting that the immune system, blood pressure, mood and sleep could all be improved with increased access to nature.

Maintaining parkland is becoming increasingly difficult in the face of growth and cost of land acquisition, but there have been some successes. The development of the Leslie Street Spit into Tommy Thompson Park has produced more than 500 hectares of natural space. The Evergreen Brickworks, Corktown Common and The Meadoway in Scarborough have transformed desolate areas into meadowlands and walkways. The Port Lands and Don Mouth Naturalization and Humber Bay Park Revitalization projects are well under way.

Ellen also presented some controversial proposals for adding nature: modification of Toronto’s five city-owned golf courses, changes to large cemeteries like Mount Pleasant and diversion of development funds intended for public art. She finally suggested some ideas for “nudging nature along,” including setting municipal targets for nature, earmarking development charges for nature restoration and encouraging volunteer groups to maintain nature patches. Moreover, significant progress could be attained by stronger follow-through on the many existing city strategies such as the “Parkland Strategy,” “Ravine Strategy,” “Biodiversity Strategy” and
“Canopy TO.”

An interesting discussion followed Ellen’s presentation that included issues like Metrolinx, the “monetization” of Ontario Place, golf courses and public art. Participants were invited to seek more information and perhaps join the organization at And all of us were urged to become more aware of the importance of nature in our urban lives.

Don Plumb

Academy Fall Forum -Until I Smile at You: The Ruth Lowe Story: How One Girl’s Heartbreak Electrified Frank Sinatra’s Fame

This forum was presented by Tom Sandler and Peter Jennings. Tom, Ruth Lowe's son, was born in Toronto in 1950; he is a self-taught photographer. Peter is a creative, non-fiction writer.

On August 12, 2012, Tom and Peter attended a fundraising tribute in Port Carling, Ontario to mark Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday. Tom sang his mom's song, “I'll Never Smile Again.” Tom said to Peter, “You are going to write a book about my mother, Ruth Lowe.” He wanted her amazing contributions to be fully recognized in Canada. The result - Peter is the author of the biography Until I Smile at You.

Ruth's father died in Toronto during the depression, leaving his wife and two daughters. On his death, Ruth said, “I'll never smile again.”

She had the gift of music. She took a job at a Toronto music store to support her mom and sister. She played the piano to demonstrate the music to the customers.

Ina Ray Hutton's Melodears, a famous American all-girl jazz band, played summers at the Toronto Bandstand. They needed a piano player. Ruth was suggested; she joined the band and toured on the road.

In 1938, at the age of 23, Ruth married Harold Cohen, a music publicist, in Chicago; sadly, he died one year later.

Ruth poured out her heart in writing both the lyrics and tune for “I'll Never Smile Again.” The song was played on CBC Canada in 1939 before it became a big hit.

Tommy Dorsey was given a copy of the record and eventually decided to have his dance band play the song. A young singer, Frank Sinatra, was brought in to sing it with the band! Ruth and Frank became friends. She was the only woman who wrote for Frank, the first woman songwriter to break into the big boy band scene. The song was Sinatra's first hit.

Frank called Ruth when he needed another song for a 1944 NYCity/NBC radio show; he needed it the next morning! She had some lyrics but needed a tune. Two other musician friends helped Ruth finish the song. It was entitled “Put Your Dreams Away for Another Day” and was used as the closing song for Frank's radio series. The song was also played at the end of Frank Sinatra's funeral.

Ruth Lowe wrote songs about love, happiness and sadness; she was a true romantic. She was born in Toronto in 1914 and passed away in 1981. Thank you to Tom and Peter for an engrossing look at the life of a true trailblazer.

Janet Broadley