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Joe Van’t Hof (left) and Rob Letts were co-chairs of the Optimist Hill project.
 
Optimist Hill opens
Diefenbaker Park becomes winter wonderland

A person on Twitter asked whose “celebrity” deaths
affected his followers most. These are the “I can’t believe she/he is gone” people.
It’s perhaps a bit odd that the person who came to mind right off the top for me was Prince. I have no idea why. I liked his music, but wasn’t a huge fan by any means.
The second person I thought of was John F. Kennedy. I remember, as a nine-year-old, being consumed by the story. I heard of the president’s death while I was going up some stairs at Haultain School. As an aside, I remember being in a hotel room in Weyburn when I learned John Jr. had died.
The third death was John Diefenbaker’s. He lived a long life, to be sure. I remember being angry when he lost his leadership to Robert Stanfield. I was lucky to shake Diefenbaker’s hand when I received my arts degree from the University of Saskatchewan. He died about a year later.
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Ed Mendez takes on general manager’s role at GTNT

Ed Mendez has become a fixture of the Saskatoon theatrical community over the last 10 years, doing everything from swordfighting to sketch comedy to administration.
It’s the latter background that has taken him from a long-time position with Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan to Gordon Tootoosis Nikaniwin Theatre, or GTNT.
“I was at Shakespeare for a few years and I was looking for a change of pace, and that’s what drove the move,” said Mendez in an interview. “The change of pace wasn’t related to wanting to be at a different theatre. It was me wanting to get back to the artistic side.”
More on how that’s worked out later, because at GTNT, Mendez has taken on the role of acting general manager.
“I was approached by GTNT to come in and give them some help on the administrative side, so I decided to come on board.”
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I’m concerned about SNC-Lavalin debacle, and the Riders

I should probably be more concerned with the extremely strange SNC-Lavalin mess in Ottawa than with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and our quarterbacking problem.
(Yes, our. You know we own whatever happens with that team. I certainly do, and so I took matters into my own hands, as you will later see. You’re welcome.)
And I am! Concerned about the government and SNC-Lavalin, I mean. Glued to the TV on successive evenings, when I’m often already in bed, I watched this weird apparent dispute unfold between our prime minister and Jody Wilson-Raybould, former justice minister and attorney general.
As I begin this column, she just resigned from cabinet over the SNC-Lavalin debacle. Maybe it’s just as well, in that she may now actually say/be able to say something. Maybe I’m not very surprised, either.
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USask program seeks additional therapy dogs

A University of Saskatchewan (USask) sociology professor is encouraging faculty, staff and students to have their canine companions tested for inclusion in USask’s therapy dog program.
Dr. Colleen Dell (PhD), Centennial Enhancement Chair in One Health and Wellness, said more therapy dogs are needed on campus. The animals can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression among students and can assist in mental health crises.
The human health benefits of interacting with animals have been well documented, and Dell’s research at addictions and mental health treatment sites has shown clients experience therapeutic benefits in their healing from therapy dogs.
“There’s just so much opportunity from what we’re seeing in all our research,” said Dell, who has therapy dogs named Anna-Belle, Subie and Kisbey.
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Judges got it wrong in Saskatoon and Regina cases

What happened in a Saskatoon courtroom last week was nothing short of appalling.
It was a sentencing hearing for John Pontes, the 75-year-old owner of the notorious Northwoods Inn and Suites, on the conviction of sexual assault he received late last year after being acquitted of the more serious charge of raping and extorting the same victim.
Pontes is no stranger to the legal process. In 2014, Saskatchewan’s Court of Queen’s Bench found that he violated the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code by “engaging in gender-based discrimination in the form of sexual harassment” of a female hotel clerk in 2009, awarding that clerk a precedent-setting $45,000 in damages.
“The judgment is financially notable as the damages provided by the code far exceed usual damages for wrongful dismissal,” said David Arnot, chief commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. “This is a clear message that egregious human rights violations will not be tolerated in the workplace.”
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Water, water everywhere and not a drop without political debate

I thought if the day came when Coun. Darren Hill became the beacon of light on council, that would be the day I hung up my spurs.
I’ll put that thought on hold and wait to see if his illumination was caused by a one-time power surge.
On the debate about possibly banning the sale of bottled water sold at civic facilities, Hill said: “I think that our citizens are smart people” and “they know the impact of single-use bottled water and they can make their decisions on their own. We don’t need to do that for them.” Thank you, councillor, for the respectful comment about the people you serve.
The only time I buy bottled water is when I am visiting a country where the water quality is iffy and barely potable even with a purification kit. In my opinion, Saskatoon has good water, so why buy the bottle when the taps are free (or should I say pre-paid?)
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Indigenous stories told with humour

There is one area that doesn’t get much attention in the writing world.
Indigenous short stories are generally stories that teach lessons with humour. The stories are made up and passed along so others can share them. Throughout the years, I’ve collected a few of these stories to share, mostly with the kids from the neighbourhood.
I make up stories and test them on young people. During the summer it’s nothing to have half a dozen eight- and 10-year-olds sitting outside my place with me telling them stories.
The stories include the Snow Snake, which is a snake that slithers around under the snow. It’s about a metre long with pink eyes and if it bites you, your body turns into a giant ice cube.
But the snow snake can only be found in the bush, so stay away from the bush during the winter.
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