What makes Ridley College exceptional? In our latest blog post, young alumna, Geena Prestia ’21 explores three areas pivotal to Ridley life—spirit, service and student life—and how they contribute to an extraordinary Ridley experience.
By: Geena Prestia ’21
Spirit and service and student life, oh my! Ridley is well-known for the stellar academic curriculum it has to offer; however, there are a vast number of opportunities for students to try new things and develop useful skills outside of the classroom.
This blog will explore three areas pivotal to Ridley life—spirit, service and student life—and how they contribute to an extraordinary Ridley experience.
Go Blacks Go! One of the many beloved Ridley cheers sung at spirit events, where our student body is full of orange and black pride. No matter how athletic or artistic you are, there is always a place where you belong at Ridley. As a tight-knit community, the Tigers always look forward to exciting school events such as Snake Dance and Pep Rally, where school spirit is at the forefront of it all. “Some of my favourite memories from my time at Ridley were spent decked out in orange and black gear with friends; we always had a blast cheering and dancing at spirit events,” said alumna, Geena Prestia ’21. This school spirit will stick with you long after you leave the Ridley campus. Once a tiger, always a tiger!
At Ridley, there are endless opportunities for you to serve our community, as well as those outside of Ridley. From the Santa Claus Parades across the Niagara region to weekend dog walking on campus, or even March Break service trips, Ridley provides several options for students to choose from. “I went on a service trip to Guatemala in grade nine, and it was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had,” said Geena. We are so fortunate to belong to a safe and welcoming community at Ridley, and this we recognize as we encourage our Tigers to give back to those less fortunate.
Our students bring life to campus. Ridley facilitates an environment beyond just a school; for most, it is a second home. With over half of the Upper School population being made up of boarders from all over the world, the students truly rely on one another for support and fun at their home away from home. “Even as a day student, I always found the students at Ridley, especially the girls I spent most of my time with in G-East, to be like my second family,” said Geena. At Ridley, it doesn’t matter what your favourite sport is, how many instruments you can play or if you know how to spell International Baccalaureate; every student has a place where they can be themselves and share that with their peers. The bonds our students make at Ridley are long-lasting during their time at the school and in the years to come.
When she reflects on her eight years at the school, Geena said, “Ridley is a special place, and I know that I will always have a home there.”
Alumnae, Geena Prestia ’21 and Angela Finn ’22 share their thoughts on the best places to shop, snack and explore in the Niagara Region.
By: Geena Prestia ’22
Calling all Ridley explorers! Ridley is proud to be a part of the bountiful Niagara Region, and we know that when our students want to stretch their paws, they love to explore all that the outside community has to offer. From the plethora of restaurants in the area to the many beautiful sights, like Niagara Falls, there is always something for our Tigers to do when class is not in session. Recent graduates, Geena Prestia ‘21 and Angela Finn ‘22 share the best places to shop, snack and explore in our latest blog post.
When Geena remembers her many years spent at Ridley, there is a collection of fun memories, both on and off campus. Here were some of her favourite things to do in Ridley’s surrounding community:
Clifton Hill & The Falls
As a Niagara Falls native, one of Geena’s number one recommendations for an exciting day trip is visiting Niagara Falls itself at the bottom of the infamous Clifton Hill. “With arcade games, mini golf, haunted houses and the big Sky Wheel, there is so much to explore in such a small area!” she says.
At the very bottom of Clifton Hill is where you can overlook the amazing waterfalls. It’s a view you will not want to miss!
Pen Centre & Landmark Cinemas
When winter rolls around, it can get quite chilly in Niagara, making some outdoor spots a little tricky to visit. If you’re looking for a way to stay warm on a cold day but still have some fun, we suggest you visit the Pen Centre mall and Landmark movie theatre in St. Catharines. Just a short drive from Ridley’s campus, there are plenty of trendy stores for you and your friends to spend the day browsing in. Conveniently built right next door to the mall, Landmark Cinemas always has great movie showings, and you can enjoy the show with a nice buttery bag of popcorn!
Apart from the various places you can visit in Niagara, the region is home to several incredible restaurants for you to try. Angela Finn shares some of her top recommendations for the foodies of Ridley:
Wind Japanese & Thai
If you are a sushi fan, this restaurant will not disappoint! Just a short walk over the Burgoyne Bridge, Wind is the perfect lunch or dinner spot for our Tigers. “My friends and I always loved going to Wind for dinner, they have so many options and the food is delicious!” says Angela. If you do decide to go, we recommend wearing some loose bottoms, because this all-you-can-eat style restaurant will have you stuffed for hours!
Mahtay Café & Lounge
If you’re looking for something a bit more casual, or even a new study space, Mahtay Café is the perfect spot for you. The urban vibe of the restaurant is a hit among our students, and their creative sandwich recipes are to die for! Next time you’re feeling a little restless on a Sunday afternoon in the dorms, bring a good book and an empty tummy down to St. Paul Street for a tasty snack and refreshing iced coffee at Mahtay.
Niagara has so many opportunities for Ridley students to explore new places, try new things and take a break from their busy school schedules every now and then. So, put your explorer hat on and immerse yourself in all the excitement that Niagara has to offer!
The Ridley community is deeply saddened by the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on September 8th, 2022.
We have been inspired by her dedication to a life of service, leadership and kindness. Her legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of our community and the world. Along with the rest of the Commonwealth, we mourn this tremendous loss. Our flag is lowered to half mast in her honour and memory.
Earlier this week, Headmaster Kidd shared his heartfelt reflections on this monumental event in Chapel. We share them with you below.
On Thursday morning, just after lunch, we heard the news that Queen Elizabeth II had passed away at her beloved Scottish home, Balmoral Castle. It was one of those historic, “where were you?” moments, and I know that I will never forget where I was — standing on the shores at Camp Onondaga watching a strange student competition known as ‘greasy watermelon.’ It was there, in the warm sunshine, I was approached by Mr. and Mrs. Bett asking if I had heard the news – the Queen was dead. Like so many people around the world, not only British and Commonwealth nations, but also informed citizens from around the world, I was surprised to find myself instantly flooded with so many strong feelings of shock and sorrow. I had to pause — I was literally stopped in my tracks. It seems strange to consider now. I knew that she had been ill, and I also knew that she was 96 years old. And yet, like so many people around the world experienced, the news was jolting and filled me with sorrow. It choked me up. In the days that followed, this common response has received more than a few reflections.
Perhaps the news triggered a flood of sorrow from memories of recently passed loved ones. I thought of my aging parents — my mother shared a birthday with the Queen and they are ardent monarchists.
Perhaps it was an unsettling epiphany that a constant star in our lives ceased to exist; that a very important thread connecting us to our past was now severed? Perhaps it was that her death represented the passing of an era. Some have said she was the last of the great leaders of the 20th century — her name, her image, and her legacy is ubiquitous, from the coins and bills in your wallets to the highways we drive on and the schools, hospitals and institutions we attend.
Or maybe it was the melancholic and very personal recognition that this very public family had just lost their matriarch — their great grandmother, their grandmother and for King Charles and his siblings, their mama.
My explanation is that this feeling is a very complex sadness — part nostalgia, part anxiety. I am most certain the Ancient Greeks had a name for this feeling that we moderns can’t quite define — a realization that with the passing of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, we experienced the passing of some part of our collective humanity — the best part of our collective humanity, the parts that we seek to recreate and adopt. Perhaps in her, we sensed the very best of us, embodied and manifested in a life and a reign of 70 years as monarch, sovereign and head of state for millions of people around the world.
As French President Emmanuel Macron quipped to the British people, “To you, she was your Queen, but to us, she was The Queen.” I think what he meant was that she was The Queen – the pinnacle of human values that we so admire. She was values in action – values such as duty, service, humility, dedication, stoic resolve and calm leadership.
At the age of 25, with the death of her father, King George VI, she was called to the throne; called to lead not only a nation but through her redefinition of the role, to lead an entire commonwealth of nations, including Canada (less than a century old at the time). Her life was the history of the 20th century — WWII, post-war recovery, economic austerity, unrest in Northern Ireland, the independence of former colonies such as Hong Kong and most recently Barbados, wars in Argentina and the Middle East, and most recently, COVID.
I have a chapel homily on the topic of death and funerals (I’ll save it for the darkest day of the year, just to cheer you all up). In it, I admit that despite the pain of loss and mourning, I sometimes enjoy attending funerals and finding myself inspired by the eulogies — the uplifting insights into lives well lived. Indeed, when a great person passes (whether a famous Head of State or a close relative), we have an opportunity to learn, to marvel, and hopefully, to emulate the best aspects of their lives, the values that informed their actions and how they chose to spend their time on earth. As King Charles noted in his address to the nation — “In our sorrow, let us remember and draw strength from the light of her example.”
So, what can we learn from the light of Queen Elizabeth’s example? Duty, service, dedication to the task she was called to, humility.
On multiple occasions, facing crisis, she reassured us that all would be well. “Keep calm and carry on” was a British government wartime message and was not coined by the Queen, but nevertheless, these five words of Stoic advice very much capture the dignity with which she lived. As a 14-year-old, amid the darkest hours of WWII, she delivered a radio address to her British people, that was intended to reassure the children of Britain. Boris Johnson reflected on this moment in his tribute to the Queen in parliament on Friday:
“She said then: ‘We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well.’ She was right.
And she was right again, in the darkest days of the COVID pandemic, when she came on our screens to tell us that we would meet again.
And we did.”
In the last few weeks, it is now clear that the Queen was slipping away, her life energy no doubt sapped by the loss of the love of her life, her late husband Prince Philip. But in one last act of service, duty and dedication, last Tuesday, she rose from her bed in Balmoral to preside over the departure of outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson and to greet her new Prime Minister (her 15th), Liz Truss.
In a special session of the House of Commons on Friday, British politicians and leaders took turns paying tribute to the Queen, capturing what she meant to the British people and to the world.
The Prime Minister, Liz Truss remarked:
“Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known.
She was the rock on which modern Britain was built. She came to the throne — at just 25 — in a country that was emerging from the shadow of war. She bequeaths a modern, dynamic nation that has grown and flourished under her reign.
The United Kingdom is the great country it is today because of her. The Commonwealth is the family of nations it is today because of her.”
Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party noted:
“She did not simply reign over us; she lived alongside us, she shared in our hopes and our fears, our joy and our pain, our good times and our bad.”
And then, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, remarked:
“Over her reign she has seen unprecedented social, cultural, technological change, through it all she has been the most conscientious and dutiful monarch.
But whilst she understood the unescapable nature of duty, which sometimes must have weighed upon her heavily, she also delighted in carrying it out, for she was the most devoted monarch.”
This week, in tribute to her Majesty the Queen, our flag will fly at half-mast until sundown on the day of her funeral, which will occur on Monday, September 19th. The Government of Canada has declared 10 days of national mourning. On Saturday past, the Government of Canada and Governor General Mary Simon issued a proclamation of King Charles III’s ascension as Canada’s new sovereign and Head of State.
And finally, once again in UK Parliament on Friday, Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith concluded his tribute to the Queen with these words:
“If the House will indulge me, I want to quote a W.H. Auden poem with a few changes:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drums
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.”
She was our North, our South, our East and West,
Our working week and our Sunday rest,
Our noon, our midnight, our talk, our song.
We thought that love would last forever: we were wrong.
May God bless her and keep her, and hold her in our hands, and may we bless the royal family.”
I ask that you join me in a moment of silence, honouring the life, the leadership, and the very human values embodied in the actions of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
With the challenges of the pandemic and the economic-political climate in Hong Kong over the past few years, Victor has focused on quality family time and discovered climbing as a positive way to relieve stress and deepen his connection with his daughter.
The manufacturing business that Victor finds himself dealing with in Hong Kong today is significantly different than the one he knew a few years ago. Several factors have contributed to this.
First, in 2019 during Donald Trump’s term as President of the United States, restrictive trade rules and hefty tariffs on Chinese goods imported to the United States have hurt the manufacturing business throughout China. A new guideline referred to as ‘C+1’ (China plus one other country) mandates that any goods manufactured in China and destined for the United States may not be solely supplied by China. Products can be manufactured in China but must also include a second source of supply from one other country, such as Indonesia or Thailand.
Then, in 2020, the COVID pandemic, with its travel restrictions and lockdowns, struck another blow to business. Without the ability to meet in person with international clients and to go over samples together, production has slowed, and the product development cycle has more than doubled.
Finally, the political situation in Hong Kong has been increasingly tense since 2019, which adds to existing trade tensions and wariness from the western world. Victor’s outlook is one of realism. “We are surviving. We have seen a 20% decrease in sales in the past two years and we are at one-third of production compared to where we were during our best days. It has been a gradual decline though, not a sudden, catastrophic drop.” He sees this impacting all manufacturing companies in China. “More and more U.S. clients are leaving and, with the C+1 mandate, there is a gradual exodus of manufacturing from China to other South Asian countries.”
Victor joined his father’s manufacturing company fourteen years ago. Their company is part of a much larger conglomerate, with factories across China and a new one in Indonesia. The company that Victor manages is in mainland China, about 25 km from Hong Kong. While Keurig coffee machines are one of their main products, they also work with other major brand names such as Hamilton-Beach and Cuisinart.
Beginning in 2010, Victor started to move towards what he calls the ‘localization’ of management of the company. “In the 1980s, the company needed to bring in Hong Kong managers to run the plant as there was not that skill set in the local area. However, we have gradually shifted to utilizing local talent who now have the necessary skill sets and who know the environment better than those living in Hong Kong,” Victor noted. This has proven to be very fortuitous as Victor, who commuted regularly to the plant prior to the pandemic, has not left Hong Kong nor visited the factory since 2020. He manages all his work via daily Zoom calls with the managers on site.
Most of the business can be managed relatively easily via Zoom, but when it comes to the engineering and technical side of production, it is much more complicated. This, in turn, creates a longer development time and adds to the challenges of trying to create and launch new products. Victor sees this drawn-out product life cycle impacting other sectors such as the electronics and automobile industries. He predicts that this, together with the current trade tensions and restrictions, will exasperate shortages that are already being felt around the world.
Many things in Hong Kong have changed over the past few years and, as Victor notes, most of it is not pleasant. But he remains focused on the positives and the future. Due to lockdowns, international travel restrictions and the long quarantine requirements in Hong Kong, he has more quality time with his family. With the exodus of many foreigners from Hong Kong, a number of international schools have had to close, including his daughter’s school. He and his wife Gigi spent time researching options and are happy that their daughter Eunice is now enrolled in a school with a strong history and will be guaranteed a spot in secondary school.
Looking for an outlet to relieve the stress of four lockdowns and the political and economic situation, Victor found a new passion in climbing. He credits his daughter with introducing him to this new sport.
“I trained and was the belayer for Eunice when she started climbing. It got me interested in trying it too.” Now he cherishes their father-daughter time when they go climbing. “Every Sunday afternoon it’s just the two of us. We climb both indoors and outdoors, where it’s great to connect with and appreciate nature. I am so grateful for this time that I have with her as she is growing up quickly.” In addition to his Sunday climbing time, he will go out and climb three to four times a week!
Victor, who attended Ridley from 1995–1998, says that his Ridley experience had a big impact on his life and how he viewed the world. “Ridley felt like a global village. There was so much diversity compared to Hong Kong. I met peers from all over the world. I learned first-hand about tolerance and inclusiveness, values that I think reflect Canada as a country.” Living as a boarder in Leonard House, Victor has fond memories from his time with fellow housemates. “Being a boarder away from one’s own family during the curious and rebellious teenage years, Leonard House became a second family to us. Living under the same roof, we created a real sense of togetherness. Over the past 20 years since I’ve graduated from Ridley, the closest friends/brothers around me are those whom I’ve known at Ridley, specifically my pals from Leonard House. They are the purest and most genuine friendships I have among all my friends.”
The Ridley motto Terar Dum Prosim has resonated with Victor over the years. He said, “It reminds me of Winston Churchill’s words: ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’” Victor truly lives by those words and has been a long-time supporter of Ridley. In addition to his annual giving, Victor supplied each residence with new Keurig coffee machines and provided the Cadet Corps with new caps in honour of Ridley’s 125 Campaign and anniversary. He has supported the Chapel Restoration project, provided the funds for new Cadet swords and a mace and he has made a major donation to the Campaign for Ridley. Every time the Headmaster or Ridley Development staff travel to Hong Kong, Victor always finds the time to meet over a meal and is keen to hear news about the school. Ridley is very grateful to this loyal Ridleian for his continued interest and support from afar.
What does the future look like for Victor? He anticipates that his father will retire in a few years and he also plans to retire at that time. His dream is to return to Canada with his family and to have his daughter Eunice attend Ridley. While he thinks of retirement, by no means is he about to stop working! He is keen to pursue new work and adventures that align with his values and passions – perhaps as a climbing coach or perhaps in establishing his own climbing gym. We look forward to following his future path and to welcoming him back home where lots of climbing opportunities are waiting for him!
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Spring 2022 issue.
For 16 days in August, student-athletes, coaches, families, and fans flocked to the Niagara Region to experience a celebration of Canadian sport during the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games. Now that the dust has settled after this whirlwind experience, we share our top ten moments of the Canada Summer Games of 2022.
1.Ridley Athletes Represented
Niagara hosting this celebration of sport was already sweet enough, but our Canada Games experience was made even sweeter when we found out that ten Ridleians, past and present, were selected to represent their home provinces during the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games. From basketball to rowing, seeing our student-athletes, and even a coach too, compete at a sport they hold so close to their hearts was a dream come true. Congratulations to: Presley Daschuk ’24, Talia Nixon ’23, Sammie Balfour ’23, Jack Petrunick ’19, Lauren McPhail ’23, Shane Keagan ’22, Niko Schramm ’20, Eli Djordjevic ’23, Topaz Nnani ’22 and Coach, Dereck Schwandt for all their hard work and determination making it to the Summer Games.
2.Community Members Carried the Torch
Before the Games began, the torch made its way through Quebec and Ontario before landing in Niagara. Along its journey, several Ridleians held the flame, including alumnus, Tim Taylor ’68, and Board Administrative Assistant and alumni parent, Linda Chang. During the incredible Opening Ceremony, members of the Ridley Rowing team rowed the torch into the arena in spectacular fashion. Watch the Opening Ceremony here (Ridley at 1:43:50): https://vimeo.com/736672360/536afa015d.
3.The Cadet Band Played at First Medal Ceremony
If you were watching the first medal ceremony of the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games, you might have spotted some familiar red uniforms. That’s right, members of our very own Ridley College Cadet Band volunteered their time to participate in the swimming medal ceremony on August 7th. This was the first medal ceremony of the Games and a life-changing experience for our Cadets.
4.Ridley Tigers went Head-to-Head
On August 12th, two former Ridley Tigers—Topaz Nnani ’22 and Eli Djordjevic ’23—went head-to-head during the Alberta vs. British Columbia basketball game at the Meridian Centre. Courtside was recent graduate, Shunsho Ando Heng ’22, who captured the game on camera while cheering on his fellow Ridleians. In the end, British Columbia took home the win, but both players brought home lifelong memories.
5.Headmaster Kidd and Mrs. Kidd Presented Rowing Medals
On August 20th, the rowing finals took place, culminating with the medal ceremony. Ridley’s Headmaster, Ed Kidd and Director of Wellbeing, Hanna Kidd, presented medals to the athletes. Our highlight was seeing gold medals placed around the necks of not one but two Ridley Rowers.
6.Student-Athletes Brought Home Hardware
The opportunity to participate in the Canada Games and represent your home province is remarkable in and of itself but standing up on the podium and taking home a medal is simply transformative. Three Ridley athletes had this experience as they took home Silver and Gold medals for their respective sports. During the Rowing finals, Shane Keagan ’22 took home one Gold medal with the Team Ontario men’s eight crew, while Niko Schramm ’20 took home two Gold medals with the Team Ontario men’s eight and men’s quad crew. On the court, Eli Djordjevic ’23 took home Silver with the British Columbia basketball team. We hope they cherish these medals for the rest of their lives and remember the grit and perseverance they displayed to earn them.
7.Conversations started at the Niagara Quality Sport Summit
Inspired by the Canada Games, 20 Niagara Region organizations joined Brock University on August 19th for the Niagara Quality Sport Summit. There, they started a conversation about how to enhance accessibility and participation in sport for those residing in the Region. As one of the most active schools in the nation and one that strives to ensure each community member finds a passion for physical activity, this was a conversation we just had to be a part of.
8.Volunteers Give Their Time and Talent
We would be remiss if we talked about our top ten highlights without mentioning our INCREDIBLE volunteers from the Ridley community. Students, staff, friends, and families volunteered their time to help with medal ceremonies, activation stations, event marshalling, photography, and more, making the Canada Games a reality. Over the course of the Games, Ridleians participated in a jaw-dropping 75 per cent of the medal ceremonies. As a school rooted in giving back, it warmed our hearts to see so many members of our community contributing their time and talents.
9.Ridley Spread our Message of Physical Literacy
As a partner of the Canada Games, Ridley had activation stations set up at the Meridian Centre, Canada Games Park, Welland Stadium, and the Henley Grandstand. There, interested Canada Games goers could learn more about Ridley and find out how we—along with our partners, Active for Life and Sport for Life—deliver quality sport to students and teach them the importance of physical literacy. Pin collectors could also stop by our booths to collect the limited edited Ridley College pin.
10.Faculty and Staff Supported Student-Athletes
Students are at the heart of Ridley and the connections formed between students and their circle of care are strong. So, it was no surprise that Coaches, Advisors and Heads of Houses, to name a few, could be spotted in the stands cheering on their past and present students as they compete in the Games. We are so grateful for the relationships that are formed here at Ridley.
Check out our photos from the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games:
From lessons learned in sport, life experiences, and meaningful relationships, Wendy is flourishing as a highly successful freelance casting director and an accomplished Masters level rowing champion.
Growing up and watching her older brothers, Jamie ’81 and Kevin ’83 at Ridley, in addition to hearing stories from her uncle Doug Dron ’74, Wendy was eager for her turn to become a Ridleian. She spent Grade 9 as a boarder at The Bishop Strachan School in Toronto and vividly remembers crossing off the days on a calendar until she could join Ridley in Grade 10 (the entry year for girls at that time). Although she lived in Fonthill, she convinced her parents to let her board, so she could soak up the complete Ridley experience. “I just wanted to get involved in as much as possible,” she recalls. She felt supported and encouraged to join in new activities, noting that “Ridley was a safe place to fail. The fact that you can get up afterwards is, in itself, a success.”
While Wendy did not consider herself a natural athlete, she became very involved in rowing. Although she took a short break when she missed the cut for the Junior National team in the summer of 1986, she returned to rowing in her senior year. Over the course of her Ridley career, she won two gold medals in the Women’s Eight, a gold medal in the Women’s Double, and bronze in the Women’s Four at the CSSRA. Rowing for the Ridley Graduate Boat Club, she won gold again in the Intermediate Women’s Pair at the Canadian Henley.
Following her passion for rowing, Wendy attended the University of Washington in Seattle, renowned for its rowing programme. She lettered every year at university and was named captain of the varsity team, spending many hours competing across the United States. She had her hopes set on competing for the Canadian Olympic team in 1992, but with training remotely in the United States, unfortunately, the stars did not align.
In 1992, during the final year of her B.A. where she majored in English with a focus on creative writing, Wendy took an internship with a casting company in Seattle. She always had an interest in dramatic arts, as far back as Grade 9 when she auditioned for a few productions in Toronto. While her interests in dramatic arts had taken a back seat during her competitive sports days at Ridley and university, she now had an opportunity to explore this creative side. She made a conscious decision to take a hiatus from rowing during this early career move.
From her four-month internship, Wendy landed a job in Vancouver, first as an assistant casting director and then as Associate Casting Director for the series The X-Files. She then set out on her own and subsequently cast the TV series, Cold Squad and Highlander. In 1997, loving the creative side of her work, she realized that she would need to move to Los Angeles in order to participate on a larger scale with more exposure and opportunities.
Fast forward to 2021, and Wendy has a highly successful and busy career as a freelance casting director in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.
She returned to row at the highly competitive masters level, training out of three different clubs: California Yacht Club, Long Beach Rowing Association and the Toronto Sculling Club. When she isn’t busy casting for various films and TV series, she is training and competing in rowing regattas across the country. Her list of accomplishments in competition is impressive. At the Head of the Charles Regatta, she has competed in the Women’s Master Eights on countless occasions, winning gold twelve times and setting three-course records, one of which stood for over a decade. This is a race with over 150 competitors, many of them former Olympians, national and/or world champions! In 2017, she won the Royal Henley Masters Regatta, followed by the Masters National Championships in the United States in 2018. Wendy’s focus is on the support and encouragement that comes from the team, noting that “there is always someone better or someone worse than you.” Not surprisingly, Wendy was recognized and inducted into the Ridley Athletic Lives of Distinction at her last class reunion in 2018.
The self-discipline and hard work that comes from being a highly competitive athlete has helped her to juggle the many aspects of her life and enjoy success. As a freelance casting director, Wendy has been involved with multiple companies such as NBC, ABC, HBOMax, FX and Netflix in a wide range of films and TV series over the years. In 2004, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her work on the series Carnivale on HBO. She enjoys helping to shape roles and characters as well as challenging norms in terms of diversity and inclusion. When asked about some of the productions she has worked on that stand out for her, she provided the following observations. Casting for The Way Back (Warner Bros. Pictures) with Ben Affleck required finding balance with the subject matter, which was dark, by finding actors who could naturally infuse some humour, and finding kids who could actually play basketball well and act. She is proud of her work for the TV drama series Sons of Anarchy (FX) which was very challenging and for her work on the TV series Dave with Lil Dicky which was a very complicated casting project. She is enjoying working on the 15th season of the sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, noting that, “It’s a really fun series to be involved with.” Other projects have included Mr. Mayor, a sitcom TV series with NBC, Abbott Elementary with ABC, a mockumentary about teachers in a Philadelphia public school, and Mayans MC, a drama TV series where the cast is 95% Latino. She is currently casting the biopic Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, Blockbuster, a romantic comedy with Netflix, and a new TV series American Gigolo, based on the original 1980 film.
Freelance work and the world of film, television and casting are not for the faint of heart. Wendy comes across as very grounded, calm and balanced. How does she do it? She credits the support that she has received from her family, team members, former teachers, and lessons learned over the years, be it through sport or life experiences like those at Ridley. “Ridley taught me so much from living and co-existing with others to leadership skills, learning to compromise, and preparing me for life at college.” She went on to say, “When I think back to Ridley, I still have so many ‘aha’ moments, where the lessons taught keep resonating with me, and I am still learning from them. The Ridley teachers who most come to mind for me are Mr. Lewis and Rev. Shantz who provided subtle guidance and a moral compass. The teachers provided 24-hour support and they were visible everywhere — from the classroom and library to the dining hall, dorms and sports fixtures. I would not be who I am today without these experiences.”
If she could give advice to today’s Ridleians, she would tell them to take full advantage of what Ridley has to offer. “Don’t wait — go for it and remember to thank your teachers before you leave.”
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Spring 2022 issue.
Through creativity, innovation and strategic planning, Shaun and his team at Heddle Shipyards are growing and revitalizing shipyards on the Great Lakes.
When it comes to the marine industry, Shaun Padulo ’07 is no stranger and already has a great deal of experience under his belt. Working in and around ships has long been a passion of Shaun’s. He spent his summers in Grade 11 and 12 working as a deckhand on tugboats sailing the Great Lakes. He continued working his way up during his university years, moving to the front office of McKeil Marine Limited in Fleet Operations between 2003 and 2012.
Prior to joining Heddle Shipyards in 2017, Shaun spent five years in the marine and offshore contracting sectors. He lived and worked in the Netherlands, working for the Dutch firms Dockwise Shipping B.V. and Boskalis Offshore B.V. While at Dockwise, Shaun honed his skills and gained experience in logistical management and transportation and installation of offshore production structures. He then moved to Houston, Texas and, working for Boskalis Offshore B.V., he focused on offshore installation projects, decommissioning projects, and subsea inspection, repair and maintenance projects.
Since Shaun joined Heddle Shipyards, the company has seen tremendous growth. He assumed the role of President, a position he currently holds, in 2018. Heddle Shipyards is the largest Canadian ship repair and construction company on the Great Lakes, which are key arteries for the shipping of grain and other important resources destined for other parts of Canada and the world. In the past three years, they have tripled in size, with shipyards in Hamilton, Port Weller in St. Catharines and Thunder Bay. In November 2020, Heddle made headlines with the announcement of a new agreement between Heddle Shipyards in Ontario and Seaspan in Vancouver. The agreement will bring new jobs to the Hamilton, St. Catharines and Thunder Bay shipyards and will create ‘tens of millions of dollars in economic activity in Ontario.’1 In addition, Heddle won a major $12M Coastguard project that will bring additional people onboard and provide long-term employment at the Port Weller Dry Docks. When Heddle took over the Port Weller Dry Docks in 2017, it was a shadow of its former self. After three years of extensive capital expenditures for repairs and reimagining the shipyard, while at the same time completing over twenty successful projects, the Port Weller Dry Docks has a bright future ahead. As Shaun says, “It isn’t a matter of if we will build vessels again in Port Weller, it is a matter of when.”
Shaun credits the unique leadership team at Heddle for its growth and success. A progressive, dynamic and diverse group comprised of veterans and young professionals, they are invested in comprehensive maritime policies and procedures and skill development, including virtual reality training, 3-D mapping and robotics. In order to mitigate or avoid traditional boom-and-bust cycles, the company has focused on multi-year projects and working with the government on long-term recurring projects. This includes work with commercial operators whose ships move grain and other resources up and down the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Canadian Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Navy. While the current pandemic has certainly had its challenges for large shipyards, Shaun is proud to note that Heddle has remained fully operational throughout, investing significant resources on health and safety measures for its employees.
The company, which was founded in 1987, has become the largest operator of shipyards in Canada. The partnership of entrepreneurs, Rick Heddle and Blair McKeil were instrumental in the early expansion and vision. As philanthropists themselves, they laid the groundwork for much of the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility Program. The company offers a matched gift program encouraging employees to volunteer their time in addition to donating funds to charitable activities. Heddle is also committed to helping fund charitable projects related to education, the environment, the military and the communities where Heddle has facilities. As an example, Shaun notes that Heddle proudly sponsors SWIM DRINK FISH, a non-profit organization that focuses on connecting people with the tools to safeguard local waters as ‘everyone has a right to swimmable, drinkable, fishable water.’2
Shaun attended Ridley from 2002–2007 and is an alumnus of the University of British Columbia, McMaster University and Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam. He holds a Master of Science in Maritime Economics and Logistics.
When Shaun reflects back on his five years at Ridley, he feels that the foundational skills he learned — skills like respect, excellence, service, and professionalism — are ones that he uses every day. He has many fond memories of the teachers and coaches, in particular Mr. Filion, Commanding Officer of the Cadet Corps and Mr. Milligan, his Grade 8 form teacher. As Mr. Filion remembers, ‘Shaun was a great student, involved in so many aspects of school life — football, hockey, rugby and cadets. He was team captain for football and rugby and Regimental Sergeant Major in the Cadet Corps during his senior year.’ Shaun’s best friends are ones that were created during his time at Ridley and many of his business relationships can be linked back to his Ridley connections. He is an active alumnus and volunteer, serving on the Board of Governors Finance, Audit and Human Resource committee since September 2020. Just prior to the pandemic and lockdowns, Shaun was the guest speaker at the Cadet Mess Dinner in January 2020, where he told students to ‘never stop dreaming and to reach for the stars.’
Looking to the future, Shaun is excited that Heddle is focused on future growth, and continued revitalization of shipyards with the vision to build large ships again in Ontario. We look forward to following the growth and development of shipbuilding right here in our own backyard.
1 The Hamilton Spectator, November 12, 2020, article by Kate McCullough.
But with so many new books in the marketplace, how do you know what to read? We can help with that!
Each summer, as part of Ridley’s ongoing commitment to flourishing and personal growth, our stalwart leader, Headmaster Kidd, curates his aptly titled Headmaster’s Reading List—a short programme of transformative texts that captivate and inspire while also supporting our flourishing and wellbeing initiatives.
This year, Headmaster Kidd solicited suggestions from members across the Ridley community and narrowed the list down to these five electrifying titles:
Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain
In her latest masterpiece, Susan Cain, author of the bestselling phenomenon, Quiet, reveals the power of a bittersweet, melancholic outlook on life, and why our culture has been so blind to its value. Here, Cain employs her signature mix of research, storytelling, and memoir to explore why we experience sorrow and longing, and the surprising lessons these states of mind teach us about creativity, compassion, leadership, spirituality, mortality, and love.
As an accompaniment, Cain has also included a special Book Club Kit, which includes a letter from the author, discussion questions, writing prompts, a list of takeaways, and a Bittersweet playlist!
Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion by Dr. Wendy Suzuki
Hundreds of millions of people suffer from everyday, low-level, non-clinical anxiety. Popular science suggests that this persistent anxiety is detrimental to our health, performance, and wellbeing. But what if our preoccupation with avoiding anxiety is costing us something? What if we could learn how to harness the brain activation underlying our anxiety and make it work for us, turning it into superpowers?
In Good Anxiety, Dr. Wendy Suzuki unpacks the cutting-edge science that will help readers channel their anxiety for positive outcomes—accelerating focus and productivity, boosting performance, creating compassion, and fostering creativity—transforming our understanding and experience of everyday anxiety forever in the process.
How People Matter: Why It Affects Health, Happiness, Love, Work, and Society by Isaac Prilleltensky and Ora Prilleltensky
Mattering, which is about feeling valued and adding value, is essential for health, happiness, love, work, and social well-being. We all need to feel valued by, and add value to, ourselves, others, co-workers, and community members.
How People Matter shows not only the signs, significance, and sources of mattering, but also presents the strategies to achieve mattering in our personal and professional lives. Using research-based methods of change to help people achieve a higher sense of purpose and a deeper sense of meaning, this book equips therapists, managers, teachers, parents, and healthcare professionals with the tools needed to optimize personal and collective well-being and productivity and explains how promoting mattering within communities fosters wellness and fairness in equal measure.
Rest, Refocus, Recharge: A Guide for Optimizing Your Life by Greg Wells, PhD
In a 24/7 world, it can be a real challenge to get proper rest and give your mind and body the opportunity to fully recharge.
In this new book, Dr. Greg Wells outlines how small changes in the way you rest, refocus and recharge can help you improve your mental health, prevent illness and deliver optimal results, offering simple and practical techniques that you can easily incorporate into your existing routine.
Uncommon Sense Teaching: Practical Insights in Brain Science to Help Students Learn by Barbara Oakley, PhD, Beth Rogowsky, EdD, and Terrence J. Sejnowski, PhD
Neuroscientists have made enormous strides in understanding the brain and how we learn, but little of that insight has filtered down to the way teachers teach. Uncommon Sense Teaching applies this research to the classroom for teachers, parents, and anyone interested in improving education. Topics include:
Strategies for keeping students motivated and engaged, especially with online learning
Helping students remember information long-term, so it isn’t immediately forgotten after a test
How to teach inclusively in a diverse classroom where students have a wide range of abilities
Drawing on research findings as well as the authors’ combined decades of experience in the classroom, Uncommon Sense Teaching equips readers with the tools to enhance their teaching, whether they’re seasoned professionals or parents trying to offer extra support for their children’s education.
Great teachers see themselves as great learners—and they see learning through the eyes of their students. That’s why our dedicated faculty and staff are thrilled to dive into this list, so we can model curiosity, intellectual humility, and a zest for lifelong learning for our students. But also, because reading is great fun!
We encourage all in our community to read along with us, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on these fascinating titles!
We live in divided times, and our world is more polarized than ever before. While social media platforms today allow us to communicate instantaneously and effortlessly anywhere in the world, they have engendered a new crisis, ironically, of communication—the effects of which we could not possibly have anticipated.
At present, the prospect of communicating across divides—political or otherwise—seems an impossible task. As our lives become increasingly isolated and insular, we feel more distant from our friends and neighbours, and from the world at large. The American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt offered a poignant assessment of our contemporary social affliction in a recent article for The Atlantic: “We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth. We are cut off from one another and from the past.” Yet, recent data published by Gallup reveals that our society was more cooperative, with intergroup relations perceived nearly twice as positively, only ten short years ago. So, how can start to bridge our modern divide and begin to heal collectively, as a society?
Professor Irshad Manji (University of Oxford) proposes a simple, yet satisfying, answer: by learning to communicate with each other—again.
Last year, Ridley College joined the growing ‘moral courage community’ by partnering with Professor Manji’s non-profit Moral Courage College (MCC), an organization that empowers and works with institutions, including K-12 schools like ours, to engage in honest diversity work rather than simply rushing to adopt the trendiest framework out of fear of appearing unresponsive.
In September 2021, we invited Professor Manji to host a series of virtual workshops with students, faculty, and staff to teach us about moral courage and set out on a path together, as an institution, to develop the skills to engage constructively about contentious issues without sowing division.
Of course, Professor Manji is no stranger to Ridley College. As many in our community will no doubt recall, she was the inaugural speaker in our MGI-Gordon Distinguished Speaker in November 2005 during the tour for her controversial second book, The Trouble with Islam Today, which had been released the previous year. Seeking a dynamic speaker who could spark discussion and debate around big ideas, she fit the bill perfectly and, as with her latest visit, she certainly did not disappoint.
This year, however, Professor Manji returned to Ridley in a new capacity—as our first Global Leader in Residence, sharing her wealth of knowledge and insight with our students, parents, faculty, and staff, as well as some of the intimate biographical details that inspired her to establish the Moral Courage Project.
Before joining the University of Oxford’s Initiative for Global Ethics and Human Rights, Professor Manji served for many years as a professor of leadership at New York University. Prior to that, she held a number of positions under Canadian New Democratic politicians—as a legislative aide, press secretary, and speechwriter—while somehow also finding time to moonlight as the host of a television program about queer issues and author multiple New York Times bestselling books, most recently, Don’t Label Me: How to Do Diversity Without Inflaming the Culture Wars, published by St. Martin’s Press in 2019.
But despite her many accolades—including Oprah Winfrey’s Chutzpah Award for “audacity, nerve, boldness, and conviction”—Professor Manji remains completely authentic, wholly unpretentious, and down to earth. She moves fluidly between registers from session to session, deftly navigating a spectrum of big—and often controversial—topics in a way that is engaging and memorable, masterfully modulating her message to command the full attention of her audience, whether comprised of Kindergarteners, teens, or adults over 50.
Stepping out onto the Mandeville Theatre stage in person for the first time in nearly two decades, she addresses the packed crowd on Monday morning with humility and grace—virtues she credits to having her proverbial butt kicked in the early years of her career. “I wanted to change the world without recognizing that I had to change myself,” she reflects.
“Back then, the voice in my head told me if you don’t fight back, your opponents won’t know that you mean business. […] But this was the biggest mistake I ever could have made because it made my critics more rigid in their thinking and made my sympathizers question my sincerity.”
But this change did not come easily. After nearly a decade of “digesting toxic energy,” experiencing clinical depression and panic attacks, she collapsed just moments before the biggest interview of her life. Then, her doctors presented her with an ultimatum—either she quit her book tour, or they quit as her doctors. “It was the hardest decision I ever had to make,” she explains. “My body was trying to tell me something, but I was not listening. Then my body showed me who was boss.”
Today, she is no longer the incendiary, confrontational figure who “used to walk on stage with her metaphorical fists clenched, ready to punch back at her opponents,” but instead, strives to be a thoughtful and respectful adversary to those with whom she disagrees—a power she claims is entirely within reach for those who are willing to “speak truth to the power of their own egos.”
Drawing on the principles of neuroscience and positive psychology, she started the MCC to help educators and leaders communicate and develop relationships across divides by learning to modulate their emotions in situations where they are forced to confront difficult, often emotionally charged, issues. This instinct to fear and lash out when we are confronted with views different from our own, and the related impulse to subdue this perceived threat by labelling others, is a fundamental part of how we are wired, she explains. However, letting our emotions—primarily fear—guide us tends to produce only fast, often temporary, fixes that only deepen existing tensions and polarization.
“Instinctually, we are always scanning for threats. When we perceive them, the primitive region of our brains—the amygdala [part of the Limbic System]—starts to take over. […] When we disagree on subjects that we feel passionately about, our brains make us believe others are attacking us. We perceive disagreement as an existential threat. But in reality, we are only experiencing mere discomfort.”
In those decisive moments, we are forced to make a choice. We can let fear overtake us and become defensive—usually at the expense of being heard by our opponents—or we can choose to listen, which requires us to acknowledge and respect the singularity of the individual we are facing, despite our initial instinct to reduce them to a set of labels.
“There is no shame in categorizing,” she continues.
“The trouble with labels is not that they exist, but the baggage that goes with them. But we must remember that we are also owners of a more evolved part of the brain. Rather than letting emotion bully cognition out of the picture, we must find a way to let cognition and emotion peacefully co-exist.”
A problem arises only when we let our assumptions—and our emotions—take the wheel and shut down rather than engaging with our opponents as equals. In these moments, we deprive others of their humanity by reducing them to caricatures rather than engaging with them as our equals with complex thoughts, opinions, and emotions, at which point, Manji emphasizes, “social justice becomes anti-social, and justice is reduced to ‘just us.’”
True justice, she counters, manifests when we recognize that individuals who belong to the same demographic group are not identical, and we are impelled to create space for that individual to express their unique point of view.
“I am a Muslim. But does that mean that I think like every other Muslim? Not all Muslims think alike. And if that’s true of marginalized groups, it is also true of the so-called straight white guy. […] If you’re going to [make the conscious effort to] know me, [rather than] ofme, you are going to engage with me, not make assumptions based on this or that label.”
So, how do we outsmart the limbic system which causes us to react this way? The answer might surprise you: take a deep breath. “We must give our bodies the time and oxygen to transition from this hyperemotional ego brain to the more evolved pre-frontal cortex […] where cognition and emotion can cohabit and coexist,” Manji claims. This is not to say we need to banish emotion. “Good luck trying,” she scoffs. Rather, it is coming to the realization that our biggest obstacle is not the other person, but our own egos.
“By lowering our emotional defences, we are using our power wisely to motivate the other to follow in our footsteps,” she explains. But unfortunately—in the age of cancel culture and reactive social media platforms—many social justice advocates and educators have lost sight of this noble ambition.
As governments, businesses, non-profits, and other institutions around the world continue to direct considerable effort and resources to creating or revising DEI or JEDI mandates, Manji emphasizes the need for creating organizational cultures that respect and encourage a diversity of viewpoints, which she suggests is both a cornerstone of our pluralistic, liberal-democratic way of life. Recent events show, however, that this way of life is increasingly threatened by a creeping homogeneity driven by a fear of appearing ineffective, behind the times, or worse—prejudiced.
“There is a tendency to frame free speech as antithetical to social justice and social justice as contradictory to free speech. You can have one or the other but not both. I’m calling B.S. on that. You must have both.”
In response to changing tides, administrators in K-12 and higher education have deployed various “inclusion efforts” and “inclusion training” programs over the last decade which Manji claims have only “inflamed the culture wars” and fuelled an “us versus them” mentality—usually in service of “speaking truth to power,” a slogan that Manji partially takes issue with.
This statement, and the term “moral courage,” she explains, are usually attributed to the same source—former U.S. Senator, Robert F. Kennedy, who was an advocate for the civil rights movement and fought against corruption before his tragic death in 1968. When we are called upon to “speak truth to power,” we are being asked to take a moral stance on an issue and stand up for what is right, even when it is inconvenient or unpopular, or our position might be perceived as unnecessarily critical or offensive. But in our current climate of “us against them,” Manji claims, “the way we speak truth to power matters as much as the truth we think we are speaking.”
“Speaking truth to power is not enough. We must appreciate that we have power. Moral courage today has to mean speaking truth to the power of your own ego, even as you are speaking truth to powers external to you.”
One of the key tactics deployed by the civil rights movement that ought to be leveraged by today’s educators and social justice advocates is the capacity to educate one’s emotions. She explains:
“During the civil rights movement, facilitators of activism taught young people to educate [their] emotions. If you simply lash out, you are not going to make your point in a way that motivates the other to hear you. These moments spent so much time building resilience and antifragility. We have lost that today.”
Doing moral courage work today, therefore, requires learning to master our emotional defences so we can productively communicate and develop relationships across divides. Doing so, she explains, permits us to overcome our all-pervasive us versus them mindset so that we can begin to work co-operatively to build cultures—organizational and otherwise—that reject shaming and labelling and champion free speech, diversity of expression, and diversity of viewpoint. For educators, this means rejecting fear and putting these skills to work in their classrooms to create and cultivate respectful spaces for open dialogue and debate. But it also means teaching students to respect the plurality of forces at work in each of us and begin to view themselves and others as more than individuals or a set of labels—but as “plurals.” Only plural, Manji explains, “accurately captures all sentient beings [and suggests] that there is so much more to any of us than meets the eye.”
This responsibility will not fall squarely upon faculty members. In the fall, Professor Manji will be virtually leading an exciting new club, “We the Plurals,” which is open to all students between Grades 7 and 12 who are 100 percent committed to the cause. The club will teach students to recognize themselves and each other as plurals, teach them to educate their emotions and equip them “with the skills to engage across lines of difference, disagreement and mutual disgust”—skills that Professor Manji notes are increasingly in demand in our global society.
Members of our faculty and staff will also enroll in Professor Manji’s Moral Courage Mentor Certification Program in the coming months to become certified Moral Courage Mentors. This program, which she bills as a “Moral Courage boot camp,” teaches participants to “finesse [their] moral courage skills, boost [their] confidence to teach those skills to younger people, and meet fellow aspiring Mentors.” At the conclusion of the course, all participants will receive a certificate issued by the University of Oxford and be equipped with the skills to teach Moral Courage both in the classroom and in communities beyond. We encourage parents and students to consider enrolling in the course as well to help us extend our Moral Courage teachings beyond the classroom.
As we continue to advocate for and define our individual approach to cultivating justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion on campus, we remain committed to empowering our diverse community of learners, fostering global competency, and providing a safe space for healthy debate on global issues. Above all, Ridley College is a place where everyone belongs and finds a home. Equally, we reject the chilling modern tendency to respond to intolerance with new, sometimes greater, forms of intolerance.
We are so grateful to Professor Manji for her kindness and profound insight, and we look forward to working with her in the future as we continue to integrate the teachings of Moral Courage into the essential foundation of our learning community.
Retired VP Sales at RIM Don McMurtry ’82 knows playing in the tech industry is a full contact sport—and players need to be quick on their feet. Now, the Ridley Board member offers his take on the competitive sector and shares how strong communication and giving back have been fundamental aspects of his life.
If during the early 2000s you found yourself scanning the room for a flashing notification light, tapping happily on a tiny keyboard, or feeling phantom alerts in your pocket for the first (but not the last) time, chances are you’d jumped on the BlackBerry train—and we’d garner a guess you quickly became addicted to BB Messenger too.
The wildly popular device that dominated the market (and infiltrated our culture) had been in the works since researchers at wireless data tech developer Research In Motion (RIM) found a way to not only receive messages on a pager, but to send them back. From there, it was only a matter of time before RIM launched the first BlackBerry, a wireless handheld computer capable of email, browsing and paging—and addictive enough to soon earn it the nickname, “Crackberry.”
And if you’re unfamiliar, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that it wasn’t born in Silicon Valley; RIM was based in nearby Waterloo, Ontario—and Ridleian, Don McMurtry ’82 was its Vice President of Sales, joining the company in 1993 just as the wireless data market was emerging.
As we chat earlier this summer, Don comes across as thoughtful, down-to-earth and distinctly outdoorsy—he canoes and kayaks and it would seem he’s happiest pitching a tent in the most remote parts of Canada. On dry land, Don’s also passionate about running, occasionally still nostalgic for his days on Ridley’s track and harriers teams and running down the country roads near campus.
Originally from Fort Erie, Don followed his brother John ’78 to Ridley in 1979 when their parents decided he should improve his university prospects. Soon after settling into Gooderham House, Don discovered the computer lab, and he laughs that being viewed as a computer nerd minimized competition for a scarce resource; at that time, only three other students had any interest. When he returned for Grade 12, Don brought along his own computer; by then, learning to programme had become an obsession—one which led him to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York.
Don started classes at RPI a bit early, taking the opportunity to dabble broadly in introductions to philosophy, medical ethics and metaphysics, and he was soon on the lookout for a research project. “I had a broad interest in science from a young age,” he says, “and almost everyone at Rensselaer was studying either engineering or science. There were endless opportunities to explore new ideas and technologies.” The next summer, Don was hired as a database developer by a professor in the chemistry department. The research work would last throughout his time at the school.
When he returned to Canada, Don moved to Waterloo, where he spent three years working as a Product Manager before accepting a job running sales and marketing for a nearby communications manufacture. But as his new ‘early-stage’ employer struggled to put additional financing in place, they kept delaying his start date, and Don took matters into his own hands. He contacted a few of the Waterloo-based companies listed in the local technology guide, and soon found himself deep in conversation with RIM founder, Mike Lazaridis. Don walked out with a job offer.
“I hope the pandemic will encourage more kids to build a deep appreciation and fascination for the methods and tools of science and engineering. Regardless of what career path someone takes, this is an incredible opportunity for parents and educators to help young people see how science and engineering are woven into all of our lives.”
It really was a no-brainer. Inspired by the exciting potential of wireless data, Don quickly dropped the other—higher-paying—offer and started working for co-CEO Jim Balsillie as RIM’s first salesperson. “You gotta skate with your head up,” Jim warned; the tech industry was highly competitive and required its players to be agile and to relentlessly innovate—those who slowed, suffered defeat. Within a few years, Don became VP Sales and helped the company launch the BlackBerry in 1999. It would create an entirely new category of product for network operators; until that point, the market had been dominated by Motorola, Ericsson and Nokia (at times referred to as ‘The MEN’).
“That first year, we didn’t spend a dollar on advertising,” Don remembers, “but we had a very active PR campaign and gave out a lot of free demonstrations, making it easy for customers to test our product. Initially, we didn’t have ‘sales’ people; we had ‘wireless email evangelists.’ Wireless email revolutionized how people could conduct business and manage their lives.”
As the BlackBerry took off, Don marvelled at how the small device changed users’ day-to-day routines: the senior executive who slept with it under his pillow so he could wake in the middle of the night and reply to emails from his colleagues in Japan; or the CIO of a Fortune 100 company who could be at her child’s Little League game while attending to corporate responsibilities—and that was before you could browse the web or make phone calls. During the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, the portions of the U.S. government that had deployed BlackBerry were more resilient and productive, results that substantially accelerated its adoption in many government organizations.
“BlackBerry wasn’t the first wireless email solution,” explains Don, “but it was the first that connected you to your existing company email address and it was transformational because we made it very easy to adopt—we could gain users without working with the IT department, which became a common strategy for all of the cloud-based software platforms that have emerged in the last twenty years.”
The initial wireless network had limited coverage compared to what we now enjoy, but BlackBerry used it efficiently, and battery life was nearly two weeks. As they expanded onto cellular networks around the world, RIM helped operators to retain or acquire new customers. From the start, the company had known it would need an enormous scale of distribution and plenty of strategic planning went into making those powerful partnerships.
Don retired from RIM in 2006, but a year later, armed with millions of subscribers and an agreement to distribute BlackBerry smartphones in China, the company was worth a whopping $68 billion, making it the most valuable in Canada. Users hopped cheerfully from the Curve to Bold model (a resolution jump that matched Apple’s iPhone), and subscriptions kept on rising.
Over the next few years, however, Google and Apple made headway fast. Google was building its own platform and operating system and Apple had learned to play hardball after it had lost the PC battle to Microsoft—and it sure wasn’t about to repeat the mistake in the smartphone wars. And though RIM tried valiantly to pivot, purchasing new software systems and rolling out stores, models, apps, and tablets—even changing the company name to BlackBerry in 2013—things never did bounce back. Hindsight points to hasty engineering choices and the competition dumping billions into technology that RIM was slow to match. Leaders stepped down, staff was cut by the thousands and BlackBerry eventually exited the phone-manufacturing business altogether.
“Momentum is a really important thing,” Don remarks wryly. “The computer industry has always been a fascinating place to play. But it’s a full contact sport; everyone is trying to put everyone else out of business. And when the whole industry plays by those rules, it moves incredibly quickly—because if you don’t, you get crushed.”
Today, BlackBerry is competing for the software systems that run the current and next generation of cars—which are themselves becoming ever more mobile communication devices.
Don still lives in Waterloo with his partner, Andrea, his time spent in nature and working as a self-proclaimed ‘voluntrepreneur’ (a term he coined to describe his entrepreneurial approach to volunteer work).
Conservation is a large part of his focus. Don has served on the boards of Ontario Nature and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). “I once heard it said that there are three causes for acting unsustainably: greed, ignorance and desperation,” he says. “For most people, our unsustainable behaviour comes from a lack of understanding or from lacking the capacity to monitor how the countless things that we depend upon impact our natural world. I think of conservation organizations as businesses that I pay to make sure our local, provincial and federal governments are meeting the ecological needs of the plants and animals that cannot speak for themselves.”
He has also served on the Ridley’s Board of Governors since 2016 and has been Chair of the Advancement Committee since 2020. When asked where his penchant for service comes from, Don recalls his grandparents and parents always volunteered their time and resources to community service organizations, and his university education was paid for largely by an endowed scholarship. In turn, he created a scholarship at RPI which helps undergrads conduct research each year. Don has a system in place to keep track of organizations who are doing good work, and looks to fellow members of Ridley’s board who inspire him as they seek to fill in society’s gaps—like Ridley’s Scott Paterson ’82, who’s not-for-profit, ComKids provides underserved children with computers and teaches digital literacy.
“Being a volunteer is a good way to expand your compassion for others in society and to increase the number of communities you are involved with,” Don suggests. “The best not-for-profit organizations help their supporters participate in something of substantial value—they create a sense of community.”
“Exploring what is interesting and important to you beyond your career leads to many opportunities to contribute in your communities—and I say communities in the plural because we all develop a diversity of associations which are each a unique community. Helping those communities flourish by volunteering your skills, your time and your financial resources will expose you to even more communities that will enrich your life and others.”
Since 2007, Don has also been volunteering with Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB), which was founded by two engineers who’d graduated from the University of Waterloo and sought to solve complex, system-wide challenges. Right away Don knew they were doing something big. “I liked their approach to helping young people (especially engineers) develop their capacity to make substantial changes to public policies that were perpetuating poverty in the world,” he explains, positing that EWB has delivered the biggest return on investment of any charitable donation he’s made. The organization has shaped several impactful changes to Canadian public policy, unlocking millions of dollars per year that help businesses around the world build their local economies, and has mentored a long list of social entrepreneurs along the way.
“Two words,” Don replies when asked what advice he can offer fellow science enthusiasts and voluntrepreneurs. “Study people. Studying how people communicate and make decisions is as essential as air—if you can’t do it then your career will suffocate.”
That focus on communication really is key—no matter your sector. “When I was young, I naively though I only needed to have the best or most innovative idea but being able to communicate well with others is absolutely essential,” Don advises. “The computer industry encompasses a huge breadth of careers now. Technical innovation and scientific discoveries almost exclusively rest on collaboration with colleagues. Managers will fail if their teams aren’t working together to create great products and deliver valuable services. And entrepreneurs will never see their ideas prosper if they can’t influence the opinions and desires of customers and investors.”
After the past year-and-a-half, which brought with it both stories of inspiration and harsh societal lessons, Don is more determined than ever to support the initiatives that will help move society forward. “The most simple and profound marvels in our lives are due to an enormously interconnected network of ideas and innovations,” Don says, hoping the pandemic will encourage students to build a deep appreciation for the methods and tools of science and engineering. “This is an incredible opportunity for parents and educators to help young people see how these are woven into all of our lives.”
And as the world shifts shape into something new, whether he’s paddling through Canadian landscapes or working with the causes he hopes will protect them, you can be sure Don is thinking of ways to keep reaching out. Communication, ever widening, only increases our ability to understand the complex issues facing our world, making global outreach possible, strengthening our relationships and organizing our day to day lives. It’s a good thing, and one he’s watched happen before.
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Fall 2021 issue.