Category Archives: Sports


This coming weekend, Ottawa will experience the launch of a fun, interactive live game that challenges problem-solving skills, patience, and bravery at CLAUSTROPHOBIA, the new “escape room” game venue located in Ottawa’s Hintonburg/Mechanicsville neighbourhood.  I recently spoke with Claustrophobia founder and architect of the current two rooms , Jennifer Schnare (below) who kindly shared the who, what, where, when, why and how about this worldwide phenomenon where teams of friends, family, classmates or co-workers are locked into mysterious rooms and have to solve puzzles and clues in order to unlock the door….and escape.  It’s a thrilling, spine-tingling game that results in trust and team building which usually ends up with tons of laughs all around.

Everest 341Jennifer, what inspired you to open an escape room gaming venue?
I played an escape room for the first time about a year ago and was immediately drawn to the concept. Not only did I have an amazing time in the room and trying to solve the puzzles, but I continued thinking about it after I left.

Why Ottawa?
I first started the planning for Claustrophobia to launch in Toronto but it quickly exploded into a phenomenon and there were a significant number of competitors. I moved to Ottawa and quickly saw that there was a market here, too, and only one other competitor.

get me out Key ImageWhat’s the background or history of the “escape room” phenomenon?
The real life escape room phenomenon was inspired several years ago by “escape room” video games popularized in Japan, and the live game has already taken off in the U.S., England, Switzerland, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Mainland China. Over the past couple of years, escape room game venues have mushroomed all across the US and now Canada, and is ideal for families, friends and companies looking to encourage team building with their staff.

trapped2Who writes all the clues and comes up with the room themes for Claustrophobia?
I do with the help of my close family and friends. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without their support!

Did you personally have to search for all the furnishings and nic-nacs to create the correct ambiance for each room? And where did you find these things?
Yes, I found all the furniture and décor accessories! This was a big job, sourced over months. Kijiji was my biggest source for the larger furnishing – I was renting a Uhaul and driving around Ottawa and surrounding areas by myself, relying on the kindness of the seller to help me lift things. Many of the smaller pieces came from sites like e-Bay, Etsy and Amazon.

labWhat business background do you have that suggests you will make Claustrophobia a resounding success?
I’ve worked as a fundraiser and marketer for over 12 years. This has allowed me to gain the skills in everything from managing a budget, sourcing and working with vendors, to finding cost-effective ways to advertise, developing creative ideas and problem-solving.

Do your friends and family think you’re nuts…or are they all supportive and helping out?
Oh yes indeed, they do think I’m a bit of a nut…LOL…but they’re all very supportive and love to help out. Most have said that they “can’t believe I am doing this” and “I wouldn’t have had the guts to do this” but I wanted to take the risk because I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t. And I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur.

Describe the two rooms your currently offer, and their capacity.
There are two rooms – The Laboratory (see description here: which accommodates 2 to 5 people. The second room is The Hostel (see description here: and it accommodates 2-4 people. It’s important to me that the rooms don’t feel crowded and that you don’t have to play with strangers. I also wanted to ensure you have a full hour to complete the puzzles.

RoomAny plans to increase or expand the current rooms?
Yes! My current venue has the room to expand and I’m already in the process of mapping out the new game room called ‘The Gallery’.

trapped lockHow do people book the rooms and do you have any plans for a Claustrophobia tournament in the near future?
People can book via the website. For the grand opening weekend coming up (March 12-March 15) we’re offering a special discount: $25 per room using promo code ESCAPE25. I don’t have plans for a tournament at this early stage but there are opportunities for corporate team building, birthday packages and of course we have a prize for the team who gets out the fastest every month by room.

ClaustrophobiaBlack (2)To learn more about Ottawa’s newest live “escape room” venue and to book a room, please visit


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About 18 months ago, I was introduced to one of Toronto’s unsung heroes, a woman who launched a news site that champions the underdog stories and gives a voice to those causes and issues that don’t get much exposure in mainstream media due to their lack of media “sexiness” or mass appeal. These are the stories that confront day-to-day life and issues in the naked city.  KJ Mullins is passionate about Toronto and her neighbours, and publishes her daily NEWZ4U.NET e-newspaper with the help of talented reporters and photographers dedicated to bringing the real news to you without corporate or advertiser “filters” and without fluff or filler content.

I recently sat down with KJ and asked her to tell us all about and what prompted her to create the site.


Tell us a little about KJ Mullins – what is your personal journalism/business background?
KJ: I started out in college on the journalism track but went to drama/psy instead. Ten years ago after other jobs and being a stay at home mom, I got the writing bug again and this time went full steam.  One of the first articles I wrote back in college helped to bring forth positive changes for disabled students rather quickly, and seeing that I could make a difference was really powerful.

KJ MullinsWhen was your website first launched?
KJ: I launched NEWZ4U.NET on May 12, 2010.

What first inspired you to create Newz4U & what news niche wasn’t being fulfilled by the national newspapers?
KJ: I wanted to get my voice out there and the voices of others who may not fit into the mainstream model. Social issues like homelessness, poverty, LGBT issues and the arts are often overlooked in the mainstream because if it’s not a ‘front and centre’ story it isn’t sexy. The same is true with stories on the city’s front line responders – in mainstream media the motto of if it bleeds it leads also means that stories about good works aren’t covered. It’s rare to find articles about the various Kops and Kids programs that do curb youth violence.

homeless porter_002 DSCF8097How did you source your first news items?
KJ: We have always sourced our news items in the same way; with on the scene and through interviewing with fact checking. We also use reliable newswires for additional coverage. 

What sort of feedback did you receive from readers once the first few editions were e-published?
KJ: Knock on wood, from the beginning we’ve had positive feedback. For the readers who had personal issues in the city like a pot hole appearing and reappearing at their Toronto Community Housing building which we helped to bring positive results, the feedback was extremely positive.


DSCF0879Who are your readers and how do you reach them?
KJ: Our readers are mostly from Toronto and are generally 25+, evenly mixed between genders. Most have university educations and many are movers and shakers. They are interested in social change and the arts.

DSCF3761As a web-based news source, what sort of reach does Newz4U enjoy?
KJ: In 2014 we had over 449K readers who read over 2.4 million articles. We average 31K monthly readers going through 146K articles.

What stories do you look for?
KJ: We are always looking for new stories about social issues. Fresh produce in the city, and childhood hunger is a current issue we are tackling hard. In Canada’s largest business city it is mind-blowing how many go to bed hungry every night or haven’t got a bed to sleep in. We’ve covered Pride and the Caribbean Festival for several years, looking into the areas that aren’t touched by mainstream.

DSCF2517The arts are also a strong interest for us. We cover as many events, big and small, as possible. Right now we are working on the RBC Taylor Prize and the Lionel Gelber Prize, both covering Canadian non-fiction literature. Each shortlisted book is read and reviewed prior to the prize announcements. It’s a lot of work but promoting our Canadian authors is very important. These men and women are putting forth some amazing work. Photography, fine arts and music are also a prime focus. We hope to be at the Junos this year with one of our newest writers whose focus is music.

DSCF8833 DSCF6408We will also be covering sports at the Pan Am Games. Our sports photographer, Hugh McClean, has been covering soccer and rugby in the past year, two sports that get very little coverage in the city.

?????????????????????Do you offer sponsored pages or ad space and if so, what is the range of $s?
KJ: This is a hard one for us but yes we do have ad space. Ads run from $25 to $150 a month depending on placement. We have plans to change up our layout in mid-March/early-April that will allow for pages to be sponsored as well. Prices for this are still in the works.

We also have a sponsorship program which gives ‘free’ ad space for Toronto small businesses. Our Angel sponsors keep us going and growing.

NEWZ4U.NET gives back to the community by offering local grassroots and small charities space for promoting themselves and their events for FREE.

How do people reach you for editorial coverage and/or advertising?
KJ: We are always available via email at We respond within 24 hours Monday-Friday. You can always get in touch with me personally on Twitter @kjjournalist.

20141018_143931Above photo: G.J. Fordham

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HONDA INDY TORONTO PT. 2 – The rain, the park & everything!

All day yesterday, I had that popular Cowsill’s 60’s hit “The Rain, the Park & Everything” playing in my head as we dodged storm clouds and heavy rain down at Exhibition Place, making the most of the exciting media opps, thanks to Sarah Fisher and her SFHRacing team & driver Josef Newgarden at the Honda Indy Toronto with my client, the other Sarah Fisher (star of TV’s Degrassi).  When we started off, it looked like we were boarding the Hogwart’s Express (the Fisher family pictured with me below) – taking the GO Train from Union to the race track so as to avoid all the downtown road closures, construction and parking log-jams.


Arriving at the track, we got everyone hooked up with credentials (thank you, Becca from GRand-Solutions) so we had access to just about everywhere including the pits and starting grid. On the way over to the paddock where all the interviews where scheduled, we met the pretty Sunshine Hostesses so of course, I threw Sarah into the line-up!

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Sarah joined some students from the University of Toronto who showed off their solar-powered vehicle…


…and then we had so much fun posing for media with the other Sarah and SFHR team driver Josef Newgarden for interviews and photos.

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We were thrilled to meet legendary Indy champion (now retired) DARIO FRANCHITTI who had survived a near-fatal crash last year, in the hospitality tent were Sarah got a chance to meet several other race VIPs (below)

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I was also happy to autograph copies of one of my racing books written a few years ago: Women Racers: Inside Stories from the Fast Lane (OverTimeBooks – avail. from Each of the Sarahs also signed the books where I had written a chapter on racing’s Sarah Fisher then I presented each of them their own signed copies. A proud moment indeed, if I do say so myself, and Shannon Skinner also interviewed me briefly on the book for a segment on her

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My brilliant photographer Gabriella captured some great action pics from trackside, including Josef riding past during the driver intro’s, the team line-up for the national anthems, as well as the tremendous hydroplaning when the cars finally got going…although the race was eventually cancelled. Keep an eye out for this talented young racer who everyone agrees has a great future in Indy competition:

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20140719_123238TV’s SARAH FISHER meets Indy’s SARAH FISHER…. and throw in one of the hottest young Indy drivers, JOSEF NEWGARDEN, and we have a sparkling media opp that blows the rain clouds away here in Toronto….at least for a couple of hours! Yesterday (Saturday), Degrassi tv star Sarah Fisher got to meet her namesake and Google-search “twin”, Indy racing trailblazer Sarah Fisher and although we were rained out after several attempts to start the race (with Josef in the #67 car), we all had a blast at the SFHR team trailer as well as being in the pits and on the grid with the team. As a race fan, I was thrilled and honoured to be a part of this exciting event and even through the rain, I was cheering Josef as he tore past us, hydroplaning and avoiding several spin-outs by other competitors as they at least tried to get a clean start. Hopefully today, Sunday, they can get enough laps in, prior to the main race later this afternoon, and Josef will add a few more points to his standings (and hopefully get a podium finish, too).

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Degrassi’s Sarah Fisher ( joined the cast of the critically acclaimed show three seasons ago as a series regular playing Becky BakerDegrassi has featured her singing on the show and will be using two of her original songs in the upcoming season.  A classically trained vocalist, she sings in many varied genres of music including pop, opera, jazz and musical theatre and this past week, she released her debut single/video, “Ceiling” (avail. on iTunes and YouTube)

At just 33-years-old, the other Sarah Fisher has competed in nine Indianapolis 500′s, been voted “Most Popular Driver” four times in two separate Series (IndyCar and NASCAR), been awarded “Indy’s Best & Brightest Leaders Under 40″ and enters her seventh season as an IndyCar team owner – Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (  Sarah is the first woman to qualify fastest for a major North American open-wheel event, the fastest woman to ever qualify for the Indy 500 and is the youngest woman to compete at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In May 2010, Fisher made her ninth start in the Indy 500, marking the most starts for a woman in the 93-year history of the race. As team owner, Sarah is now helping guide the career of 23yr old Josef Newgarden, a native of Nashville, TN ( who joined the two Sarah’s for Saturday’s photo shoot and interviews.

Below are some candid shots of the media scrum and race preparations, plus a cool rock’n’roll photo shoot by my social media friend, Timothy Khan ( who is currently working on a David Bowie documentary project incorporating stunning gold guitars courtesy of designer, Phillip Jarrell.  Scroll down and check out the Sarah’s + Josef striking their best rockstar poses!

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Here’s Timothy with Sarah and a hole lotta shakin’ going on, even Josef tried his best rock star moves much to the delight of fans and onlookers!


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SFHR’s Director of Mkt’g, Drew Coomes, picked up a guitar, too!


We were thrilled to welcome TV host Shannon Skinner of Extraordinary Women TV (in orange blazer) to the paddock, and Shannon intervied both Sarah’s and even asked me a few quick questions about my book on the history of women auto racers. I’ll link those interviews here once the show airs.

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No Indy race is won without the hard work of the entire team – the mechanics, the techies, the wheel changers, the jackman, the fuel guys and crew chief. They were all so busy working on Josef’s #67 car while all the cameras were rolling, but I got a chance to snap a few shots of the guys….thanks for putting up with all the disruption, fellas.

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Racer Sarah was so kind in allowing TV Sarah to sit in the cockpit of Josef’s car and feel what it’s like in the hot seat.

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Even TV Sarah’s handsome beau, Michael, got the chance of a lifetime to sit in the car and pose with a guitar!

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Soon, it was time for a few autographs for Josef’s fans then off to the grid for driver intro’s and the national anthems of the US and Canada…..

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Race time…so back to the pit box to wait for the start!

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And then down came the rain! At least we got to watch some of the rain-soaked action on the monitor in the pit tent.

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My photographer, Gabriella, and I bailed at about 5:30pm after several false starts & spin-outs and numerous bags of chips that we pinched from the crew snack box!!  TV Sarah’s mum and dad, Laureen and Stuart were also in attendance and it truly was an opportunity of a lifetime to join the SFHR team for the afternoon. I’d like to send out a big THANK YOU to team PR goddess BECCA BORNHOST of GRand-Solutions in Indianapolis without whom none of yesterday’s media opps would have taken place. Becca tried to avoided our cameras but here she is (in teal t-shirt) in full-on work mode.


We also got a chance to meet Josef’s dad, Joey (at right, with Drew – below) who was so enthusiastic for his racing son, and a fountain of race information and tech stuff.


Lots more cool photos will be posted later as soon as Gabriella downloads all the great pics she snapped. Hope you enjoy today’s races…rain rain go away!!

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Woohoo…it’s Honda Indy Toronto week!


….and Degrassi tv series star SARAH FISHER will be meeting her namesake, celebrated ex-Indy racer SARAH FISHER who now owns Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing  in the paddock at the Exhibition grounds on Saturday July 19th at 12:30pm in the afternoon. Media will be in attendance for photo opps and interviews with the two Sarahs along with hot new SFHR driver, Josef Newgarden.  If you’re attending the Indy races this weekend, say hi if you see the Sarahs.

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Then on Sunday July 20th, Sarah (Degrassi) will perform live on the Yonge/Dundas Square main stage as part of the YOUTH DAY celebrations at 8:30pm and will also be at the Kids Help Phone booth earlier in the evening signing autographs and posing with fans for photos. Check here for details of the day’s events:


Sarah will be releasing her new single, “Ceiling” this week and will be performing that song two others as part of the Youth Day concert.   Then…..


… WHISKY & SPICE gourmet hand-crafted all-Canadian mustards will be offering tastings of their super-deelish flavoured condiments at this Sunday’s LESLIEVILLE FLEA  located at 1444 Queen St East (pictured above). Made from the finest spices and premium Canadian mustard seeds, the three flavours include Porter Beer, Whisky and Riesling/Apple and all go extremely well with BBQ, cold cuts, cheeses, pretzels, sandwiches …in fact, W&S mustard goes well with anything that needs a little “boost”.  Come meet mustard maestro Dan and wife Laura (pictured below), tickle your tastebuds and pick up a jar or three!

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What a busy week we’re having, and I’m thrilled to be with the two Sarah’s at the Honda Indy Toronto autographing my book “Women Racers: Inside Stories from the Fast Lane” which contains a chapter on the history-making Indy car driver Sarah Fisher. Ladies, start your engines! Vvvroooooom…..

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CONGRATULATIONS, SRI LANKA! SANGA leads SL team to ICC World T20 championship over India


Sri Lankan cricket legend KUMAR SANGAKKARA (pictured above) helped nail the coffin shut on Team India’s quest for victory in today’s championship final of the 2014 ICC World T20 series held at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium in Dhaka, Bangladesh, scoring 50 runs to lead his country to a much needed/well earned World Championship. After announcing his retirement from World T20 matches, this is the most glorious end to a brilliant and inspiring T20 career…. Bravo, Sanga!  You are and always will be one of my great heroes in life as well as sports. A class act all the way.

Sri Lanka finally managed to break their jinx of losing the finals of global events, having gone down in the decider of the 50-over World Cup in 2007 and 2011 and T20 World Cup in 2009 and 2012 Sunday’s final was also a repeat of the 2011 50-over World Cup final which India won in Mumbai.


“It’s been a long time. I can’t be happier or prouder because I think the side carried me all the way through to the final. I didn’t do much other than keeping wickets,” a satisfied and always humble Sangakkara said at the presentation ceremony. “I’m pretty happy to be able to give something back to them. It means a lot to all of us.”


Cricket correspondent Nishad Pai Vaidya of Cricket Country filed one of the best game reports and with respect, I’m posting his column here for all my cricket friends to read.

Mirpur: Apr 6, 2014

After years of heartbreak and agony, Sri Lanka finally have a world title as they beat India in the final of the ICC World T20 2014 by six wickets at the Sher-E-Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur. After winning the toss, they put India in to bat and bowled brilliantly to restrict them to 130 for four in 20 oversVirat Kohli smashed 77, but the others simply didn’t get going and India could only put that modest total. In reply, Sri Lanka got there without too many problems in only 17.5 overs, and they lost only four wickets. Kumar Sangakkara remained unbeaten on 52 as Thisara Perera smashed the winning six down the ground.


There was a bit of rain around before the game and the start was delayed by 40 minutes. The surface was slow and the Indian batsmen certainly struggled to get going. Kohli too took his time and was initially moving at nearly a run-a-ball.  But as the overs progressed, he unleashed his scoring range. He was also helped by a couple of dropped chances. Soon after the powerplay, Lasith Malinga dropped a chance at mid-wicket. While Kohli did go on to make 77, it wasn’t too costly in hindsight as Sri Lanka kept India in check.


For a major part of the innings, India were moving at a run-a-ball, and it was only during the 16th over when Kohli took the attack by the scruff of the neck. Nuwan Kulasekara was smashed for a six and two fours as Kohli was getting into his hitting zone. But at the other end, it was a different ball-game. Yuvraj Singh was struggling to get the ball away and slowed down India’s progress. His innings of 11 off 21 balls was painstaking for the Indians and in the last four overs, they could only score 19 runs.


When the run-chase began, there were talks about their choke against West Indies in the last final, where they failed to overhaul a similar total. That wasn’t going to happen this time! They did have a few nervous moments though. Kusal Perera was dismissed in the second over. Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan then batted with maturity and took Sri Lanka to 42 in the powerplays. Thereafter, they lost Dilshan and Jayawardene in the space of six overs, and India just sniffed a chance when they had Lahiru Thirimanne cheaply.


However, Kumar Sangakkara wasn’t going to let it go so easily. He calmly steered the ship, by picking his spots and constructing a good partnership with Thisara Perera. In the end, it was only too fitting that Sangakkara took his side home, for he hasn’t had such a good tournament. But, cometh the hour, cometh the man! The Island Nation would celebrate a world title for the first time since 1996.


Brief scores:

India 130 for 4 in 20 overs (Rohit Sharma 29, Virat Kohli 77; Rangana Herath 1 for 23, Angelo Mathews 1 for 25) lost to Sri Lanka 134 for 4 in 17.5 overs (Mahela Jayawardene 24, Kumar Sangakkara 52*) by 6 wickets.

Player of the Match: Kumar Sangakkara

Player of the Tournament: Virat Kohli

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)

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GIDDY-UP…THE RIDER newspaper hosts artist BRUCE K. LAWES at Can-AM Equine Expo

20140329_132317Saturday March 29th – Orangeville, Ontario: What an exhausting but thoroughly enjoyable event! Renowned artist BRUCE LAWES was hosted at this year’s Can-Am Equine Expo event north-west of Toronto by the province’s premier equine newspaper, THE RIDER yesterday and the crowds beat a path to the booth all day!

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Although the snow still lay thick on the ground surrounding the Orangeville Agricultural Fairgrounds (top), it was warm and toasty inside as Rider publisher, BARRY FINN (above left) helped Bruce (above right) set up his easels and stunning original paintings and canvas giclees (prints).

Even before the paintings had been unwrapped, the fans and admirers poured into the booth….

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…and we even welcomed some celebrity visitors, too, including ….

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…and we were thrilled to welcome international “horse whispering” star (and fellow Aussie) GUY McLEAN (pictured below)who was conducting educational sessions as well as showcasing his amazing horses at the Expo. Talk about the real deal – Guy, whose booth was next to The Rider’s, was just  like The Man from Snowy River of legendary Aussie literary fame, and his lovely wife Emily and I chatted about all the things we missed from back home: Lamington cakes, Cherry Ripes and Pollywaffle chocolate bars, and Guy’s favourite and mine: the Aussie meat pie! Oh, my tummy was groaning after all that culinary reminiscing.

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Of course, I just had to take a selfie with one of Bruce’s gorgeous original paintings....but I wish my arms were longer – from my expression, it looks like the horse had just bitten my bum!

20140329_140015Thanks again to Barry and his Rider staff, John and Kelly, for making Bruce feel so welcome. And a big thank you to rock-star cowboy Guy McLean for dropping by and comparing horsey notes with Bruce. For more information on everyone here, please visit their websites:






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