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Building community in online conferences, events (opinion) | Inside Higher Ed

Building community in online conferences, events (opinion) | Inside Higher Ed

We read, with interest, Nolan Higdon and Allison Butler’s recent Inside Higher Ed piece, “Conferencing Critically in a COVID-19 World,” in which they discuss various drawbacks to remote and hybrid conferences. While we agree with some of the key points in their article, we feel that others underestimate the potential of virtual and hybrid professional development.

One statement in Higdon and Butler’s article stood out for us: “One additional risk of a remote conference—and, by extension, remote education—is that it keeps us isolated from each other.” People who have been teaching and connecting online since before the pandemic would disagree with this notion, especially those who centered humanizing approaches to online learning and pedagogies of care; many others learned during the pandemic how to build community and create affective ties with learners and peers globally, without gathering in a shared physical locale. Moreover, being “in person” does not necessarily result in less isolation. In-person events can be isolating for anyone who is not already part of the in crowd.

We recently worked with others to organize Equity Unbound’s #MYFest22, a virtual event that sought to center community and support, and rethink the many pitfalls of online, in-person and hybrid events that we’ve seen in the past two years, and even before the pandemic. We kept MYFest virtual because we agree with Higdon and Butler that virtual conferences can promote better access for those without funds or freedom to travel, and because virtual conferences are certainly better for climate justice.

The inaugural Mid-Year Festival 2022, aka #MYFest22, from Equity Unbound—an equity-focused, connected intercultural learning network that co-creates diverse, open learning experiences—was not a conference per se, nor was it similar to anyone’s local professional development. It was not a series of one-off, high-cost, multisession workshops offered by a large contracted organization. MYFest was designed to be a three-month-long “recharge and renewal experience” with a “choose-your-own-learning journey” approach, exploring a variety of themes, including critical pedagogy and open education and digital literacies. In addition, two themes intentionally addressed isolation: “well-being and joy” and “community building and community reflection.” More than 300 participants from five continents joined us.

We offer here ideas for what organizers of online events can learn from MYFest. Inspired by a “call for promoting ownership, equity, and agency in faculty development via connected learning,” we aimed to deepen adult learning by leveraging human connection, respecting agency and self-determination (heutagogy), designing for equity, and recognizing the need to make time for critical self-reflection—both individually and in community—in order to support cumulative transformative learning.

1. Have a diverse community of organizers.

To capture a diverse audience, design with diverse organizers. Many academic events are organized by people who are mostly from one institution, one country or one professional organization, yet claim to offer professional development for diverse participants from all over the world. Instead, #MYFest22 built on relationships among 14 organizers from four different countries (Canada, Egypt, South Africa and the United States), many of whom have built trust and collegial friendship online as part of a thriving, intersecting long-term personal learning network with community values of mutual support. We have supported each other through illness and wellness, grief and joy, frustrations and solutions. Our ongoing conversations have helped us realize just how significant a gap there is in traditional professional development worldwide.

2. Aspire toward participant agency and reflection.

Educator and author Sherri Spelic has observed that badly designed professional development for educators tends to be “undifferentiated.” In contrast, MYFest was a “build-your-own-learning journey” experience over three months, a “buffet approach” (participants chose sessions of interest, could change selections at any time and could attend as much or as little as suited them). In addition, MYFest was declared a No FOMO (fear of missing out) experience. If a participant’s life and schedule did not permit attendance for certain gatherings and activities, this did not result in being left behind.

Three months (not two to three days!) gave participants time to build community and relationships synchronously and asynchronously, and opened up room for reflection and cumulative transformative learning. The significance of both individual and collective reflection was the glue of the MYFest experience, including some sessions focused on group reflection, exercises with individual written reflections and a call for curation of participant-created multimodal artifacts and writings.

3. Foster global connections and community with intentionally equitable hospitality.

We sought to foster global online conversations through skillful facilitation and by embracing “intentionally equitable hospitality,” designing sessions in ways that strive toward ensuring everyone participates as fully as possible in the ways they feel most comfortable, and inviting the most marginalized voices. We sought to host with the “generous authority” Priya Parker promotes (in Parker’s words, a gathering run with generous authority is one “run with a strong confident hand, but … run selflessly, for the sake of others”). Participants had various modes of participation, synchronous or asynchronous, and there were options to go to a “quiet room” during breakout room activities if someone did not want to chat that day. There was never an expectation of cameras on, or of oral participation if someone preferred typing in the chat. Slides were provided ahead of time where possible, with alternative text for images. Automated live transcription was enabled in live sessions. Chats were lively in most sessions, and opportunities to participate anonymously via Google docs, Google Jamboard or polling tools came up throughout. Sessions were recorded, unless the conversations were very personal and the more equitable choice was not to record them in order to provide a safe space. Participants were often invited to write privately and share only what they felt comfortable sharing.

4. Co-create and experience community and joy throughout.

The MYFest participants did not meet to talk about community and well-being. Rather, we met to experience and co-create community and well-being. MYFest facilitators have expertise in participatory approaches to online facilitation, including the use of community-building approaches and “liberating structures” (these are “easy-to-learn microstructures that enhance relational coordination and trust” meant to “quickly foster lively participation in groups of any size”).

Community (and the trust that is the foundation of healthy community) cannot be established with one or two speed networking sessions at an event. We laid the foundation for MYFest with at least one weekly community building engagement, making time for people to get to know one another in small groups with creative prompts like the Fast Friends protocol, and to reflect together creatively, through prompts like ice cream/broccoli and spiral journal. We welcomed and engaged with participants as they wove in and out of each other’s lives, building and strengthening connections over time.

5. Schedule wisely. Resist Zoom fatigue and decision fatigue.

MYFest exemplified what Spelic suggests: “professional development that is wisely scheduled.” We spread our offerings out over three months, avoided overlapping sessions and had no more than three events per day. We therefore avoided the familiar Zoom fatigue as well as decision fatigue. Some MYFest events were threaded as “tracks,” where one may attend multiple sessions and do some asynchronous work around the same topic, an approach that opens up the potential of “cohort” congeniality. In our Slack channel, MYFest participants could discover, connect and share with new colleagues at any time across multiple themes and tracks.

6. Embrace emergence: welcome and leverage participant expertise.

MYFest sought to be “emergent” by actively building on participant expertise. Every session in MYFest encouraged participants to bring and share their expertise. Additionally, there were special sessions within MYFest inviting participants to contribute their own expertise in building community—contributing those ideas to the OneHE/Equity Unbound community-building resource site—so these sessions built on participant expertise while also contributing to an open resource that is available to all on the open web.

7. Make it family-friendly.

Another unique aspect of the MYFest experience was the intuitive involvement of family and friends. By focusing on well-being and joy, as well as critical discussions, we intentionally designed programming for the entire family. MYFest participants brought both (grand)parents and children to certain threads, embracing the power of intergenerational learning and connection. The Reader’s Theater invited children and adults to co-read plays together online, and MineFest invited children from all over the world to play Minecraft together safely. MYFest therefore addressed Spelic’s call for professional development that “acknowledges [educators’] full humanity in the learning process.”

8. Go beyond access and focus on accessibility.

Compared to in-person events, there’s more flexibility to make online conferences affordable, as adding participants in a virtual event does not have an incremental cost. It is therefore easier to create a system for scholarships or waivers for folks who are marginalized or do not have institutional funding. In the case of MYFest, we were awarded a Hewlett Foundation grant that allowed for the foundational overhead cost, and it covered the labor of the main facilitators and some of the invited guest facilitators, as well as the technology needed to run the event. And while MYFest was not advertised as a free event, there were multiple discounts available, and also the possibility to attend for free via a waiver.

By keeping the conference virtual, we avoided the costs of accommodation and travel associated with in-person events, as well as the logistical and social barriers to travel for parents of young children, people with disabilities and people who lack visa privilege. And, in the case of COVID-19 (and now monkeypox), people with compromised immunity.

Despite these efforts, we recognize, as Higdon and Butler do, that while “digital may be more accessible, it is not entirely accessible” all the time and for everyone. Differences in time zones meant that some sessions would often fall at an inconvenient time for people (particularly those located in East Asia and Oceania). We intentionally offered some sessions in “time zone sweet spots” that might work on all continents. But these attempts can never be perfect. And of course, some people may have no internet access, expensive internet access, intermittent electricity or low bandwidth.

However, accessibility goes beyond internet access. An accessible event should mean that when people join, they feel included, they feel they can access learning and belong to groups and learn in ways that reach them where they are. It means that people with different abilities can learn comfortably without constantly needing to ask for special accommodations, people from across the globe can find relevance in the work and organizers are always open to feedback and suggestions.

As our colleague Kate Bowles said to us, “The pandemic has also taught us that all sorts of fixed fittings turned out to be moveable: scheduling, assessment modes, grades, logistics of scale. We’re now somewhat free not to put them back as they were.” (Twitter DM shared with permission.)

Let’s not put exclusionary professional development practices back to what they were before March 2020. A more worthy goal is to aspire toward equitable, accessible professional learning environments that can bring us joy in community and promote the transformative learning we hunger for.


The authors would like to acknowledge the entire MYFest organizing team (all bios here). We would also like to acknowledge our guest facilitators and participants, who have all enriched the MYFest experience.

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How to take the anxiety out of children’s news consumption

How to take the anxiety out of children's news consumption

As a new report shows young people are anxious about world events, Lindsay Nadin andHelen Care set out some tips for supporting interest while reducing worries

As a new report shows young people are anxious about world events, Lindsay Nadin andHelen Care set out some tips for supporting interest while reducing worries

31 Jul 2022, 5:00

Our new Pearson School Report, shaped by the views of almost 7,000 teachers in England, reminds us all that schools do not operate in isolation. They are very much microcosms of the wider world, affected by broader global events themselves and by how they are represented in the news. And in an age when young people have access to social media, this is increasingly impacting on them and their expectations.

Teachers in both primary and secondary schools across the country have told us they’ve seen a rise not just in pupils’ awareness but in their levels of anxiety over this past year. Issues like the invasion of Ukraine, Covid-19, the cost-of-living crisis and climate change are among the causes. So too is worry about their own and their peers’ mental health. And the summer break is unlikely to ease things; Pupils will return in September just as a new prime minister is announced.

There is clearly risk here, but also opportunity. In their efforts to develop active citizens, schools will want to harness their learners’ interest in emerging issues. But they need to do so sensitively in order to manage their anxiety at the same time.

So this year we’ve supplemented our work on the school report with some additional free resources founded in clinical psychology. Here are some of our top tips for striking this difficult balance.

Approach topics openly and honestly

As the Pearson report shows, today’s learners are curious and care about what’s happening in the world. Many are accessing information through social media platforms – which are great for raising awareness and facilitating conversation but can also drive up anxiety by disseminating unhelpful information or misinformation.

It is therefore important not to try and pretend things aren’t happening or to lie to your pupils. When broaching these subjects, focus on providing the facts honestly, in a neutral way and tailoring them to your learners’ developmental age.

Allow children and young people to bring their issues to the fore too. If they feel they are being shut down or are unheard, they may be confused or angry. If it is not appropriate to talk about the issue at that time, it is OK to say so. But try to always provide an alternative opportunity for them to be open about their worries.

Avoid overwhelming them

Not all children will be at the same level of awareness or capacity to cope with these global issues.  So it may be useful to provide opportunities for choice about how much they are engaged in discussions. For example:

  • Allow pupils to remove themselves from conversations without judgment if it becomes too much.
  • Start small and provide space for greater discussion out of normal class time, like in a lunchtime focus group.
  • To avoid anxiety overwhelming information, contain discussions to certain specific times like when a member of staff is available to support discussion. All queries or outside of those times can then be directed back to that opportunity.

Empower action

Young people are not apathetic. They are engaged, interested and want to make change.

We know that a lot of anxiety about global events is driven or exacerbated by a sense of lack of influence and control. Helping young people channel their interest and engagement in practical action is key.

Think about fundraising and partnering with local charities or organisations who are practically involved in these issues. You could appoint student ‘champion’ groups who can be supported to read up, find out facts, present assemblies or reports in school newsletters and run campaigns at school.

Some schools have done wonders to welcome refugees this year. When such direct involvement isn’t possible, the simple act of sending letters or messages of support can be very powerful.

Being part of the solution, even in the smallest way, makes a difference. We always feel better if we feel we are trying. And it’s the cumulative effect of all these small acts that results in big changes in the end.

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Opinion | White House reporters object to exclusion from Biden events

Opinion | White House reporters object to exclusion from Biden events

When Salon reporter Brian Karem attended the Medal of Honor ceremony that President Biden presided over Tuesday in the East Room of the White House, he hadn’t been in that room in more than a year.

“It should be a big thing for us in this country: How to hold officeholders accountable if we’re not able to question them?” says Karem.

Access to the East Room has become a point of contention between some reporters and White House officials. Last week Karem sent a letter to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre regarding the ability of reporters on the White House campus to attend certain events the president headlines. “The current method of allowing a limited number of reporters into these events is not only restrictive and antithetical to the concept of a free press, but it has been done without any transparent process into how reporters are selected to cover these events,” reads the letter, which was written by Karem and signed by more than 70 journalists, including former ABC News correspondent Sam Donaldson.

The restrictions at issue in this case — which originated in the Biden White House, according to three correspondents — aren’t a headline-making monstrosity. They’re a quiet, bureaucratic piece of statecraft that affects an indeterminate number of media outlets. But who is blocked today may be different from who is blocked tomorrow — and since access curbs tend to stick around, it’s a worthwhile fight.

White House access for journalists is a tiered and complicated affair: The Secret Service and White House officials issue security credentials — known as “hard passes” — for press-corps regulars to enter the grounds (“day passes” are available for reporters who only occasionally go to the White House). Those passes, however, don’t guarantee holders entry into every presidential event. The nonprofit White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA), whose mission includes ensuring “robust coverage of the … presidency,” coordinates “pool” coverage — that is, reporting by a small squadron of journalists — for presidential appearances in spaces where the entire White House press corps can’t fit. Frequent locations of pool coverage include the Oval Office and the Roosevelt Room.

Karem is focused on White House events in spaces where all journalists with passes have traditionally been allowed to pile in. Those include the East Room, the State Dining Room, the Cross Room Hall and the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (which has been reconfigured for virtual events and now holds fewer people than in years past). These days, according to White House reporters, Biden officials routinely ask journalists to register to attend presidential appearances in such spaces. White House staff review the requests and deny some. A White House official notes that it has sought to “accommodate as many journalists as possible in a number of different spaces under constantly changing COVID conditions — challenges unlike any other Administration has faced.”

When the events feature a large number of invited guests, says the official, there isn’t room to accommodate every journalist who wishes to attend.

Steven Nelson, a White House correspondent for the New York Post, says he was denied access to registration-required events from November until Friday, when his attendance at an abortion-policy event with the president got the green light — one day after Karem’s letter was sent. One caveat: The New York Post participates in a rotating pool with about 30 other outlets and occasionally gets into events through that mechanism.

“Frankly, that seems pretty inexcusable to me,” says Nelson, who recruited other journalists to sign the letter. “I was surprised at the number of reporters who thanked me and expressed indignation at what’s going on. It seems a lot of people are affected.”

Affected, that is, by a policy they don’t know much about. Both Karem and Nelson say there’s no transparency into decisions on who’s welcome and who’s not. Karem says he’s been denied entry to all but a “mere handful” of the large presidential events on the White House campus since Biden’s inauguration. Like Nelson, Karem has gotten more favorable responses from the White House since sending the letter.

Contesting access at the White House has become something of a side gig for Karem, who’s been on the presidential beat since the Reagan administration and roared into the national spotlight in recent years by shouting down Donald Trump’s press secretaries. After a boisterous encounter with Trumpite Sebastian Gorka at a Rose Garden event in 2019, the White House suspended Karem’s hard pass; he went to court and secured its restoration. In September 2020, he asked Trump if he’d commit to a peaceful transfer of power. “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens,” the then-president responded.

In any administration, journalists have to double as access lobbyists at the White House. The Obama administration, for instance, routinely barred news photographers from events, only to later release photographs by the official White House photographer. Trump provided White House press with endless opportunities to quiz him on the day’s issues, though his underlings targeted certain reporters for exclusion, including Karem and CNN’s Jim Acosta and Kaitlan Collins.

“You had Donald Trump, who had nothing to say and said it all the time. And you have Biden, who has something to say and he rarely says it,” says Karem, who stresses that access issues affect the entire White House press corps.

Asked about the letter at Tuesday’s briefing, Jean-Pierre said, “We’re coming into a different place of covid — things are starting to open up, we’re even doing tours here. …We understand, we want to be accessible, we want the president, at his events, to be accessible and we are working to that.” She called the matter “a priority of ours.”

The letter to Jean-Pierre acknowledges that social-distancing imperatives “played a role at first,” but the attendance restrictions have outlived the public-health rules. Nelson says that attendance-denial notices from the White House formerly cited covid restrictions but no longer do so. Nowadays, he says, they merely cite space considerations. The White House official says that “there are a lot of considerations — space considerations, covid considerations, sometimes people don’t meet deadlines.”

Although the WHCA commonly presses officials on access problems, the letter doesn’t bear the organization’s imprimatur. WHCA President Steven Portnoy, however, signed it. “We have pressed the point repeatedly privately, and I was happy to co-sign Brian’s letter,” says Portnoy.

Don’t be surprised if the attendance-request system has a long lifespan, considering that wisdom on limiting press access gets handed down from one administration to the next. “We’re worried about the precedent for the future,” says Nelson. “In the next administration, it could be The Washington Post that finds itself essentially blacklisted from presidential events.”

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OPINION: Events in Ipswich ‘more important than ever before’

OPINION: Events in Ipswich 'more important than ever before'

6:30 AM July 4, 2022

After a two-year break forced on us by Covid it was great to see thousands of people once again thronging to Christchurch Park this weekend to enjoy some fabulous free musical entertainment.

Saturday saw Global Rhythm and Ipswich Jazz Festival join forces to provide a celebration of worldwide music and culture. Five stages provided a programme of jazz, blues, Caribbean and world music with something for everyone.

David Ellesmere, leader of Ipswich Borough Council, says the new sports centres will be 'better quality'

David Ellesmere, leader of Ipswich Borough Council, says the new sports centres will be ‘better quality’


There were music and dance workshops, a funfair, craft stalls and street food and drink.

Sam Kelly will perform during Global Rhythm and Ipswich Jazz Festival

Sam Kelly will perform during Global Rhythm and Ipswich Jazz Festival

– Credit: Sam Kelly

For those who wanted to get another fix of music after the park closed there was a gig at the Smokehouse or the amazing production of Sweeney Todd at the New Wolsey Theatre.

On Sunday Ipswich Music Day returned to Christchurch Park for its 32nd year.

Six stages will be set up around the park, allowing the opportunity to listen to different music genres

Six stages will be set up around the park, allowing the opportunity to listen to different music genres

– Credit:

With six stages of live entertainment and music from local upcoming artists along with the four classical stages hosted by Ipswich Arts Association, Ipswich Music Day remains the largest free one-day music festival in the country.

The first Music Day was in 1991. It originally started as a government initiative to have a “National Music Day”. However, over the years most other places gradually stopped putting on events.

I’m really proud that Ipswich Borough Council has continued to support Music Day through three decades, putting on a festival that is the envy of other towns and cities.

I’m sure the reason other places stopped their music days was down to one reason – money – and with the twin hits of ongoing Covid costs and rising prices, Ipswich Borough Council’s finances are certainly being tested as never before.

But as family finances continue to be squeezed by the Cost of Living Crisis we think it is more important than ever for there to be events that everyone in Ipswich and Suffolk can enjoy regardless of their income.

For tens of thousands of people, the first weekend of July has become synonymous with Ipswich Music Day and I don’t think that anyone running the Council who ended this would ever be forgiven.

That doesn’t mean that things should always stay the same though.

That’s why, this year, we’ve brought the two days of music together as an experiment to see if we can bring a bigger economic benefit to the town by holding a weekend of music rather than a single day.

If there’s a weekend of entertainment this will hopefully attract more visitors who will stay at hotels on Friday or Saturday. By having events after the parks close, we can entice people into the town centre and hopefully spend some money.

We will be looking to organise more of these weekends throughout the year.

We will also be running our usual programme of free summer events.

Indian Summer Mela held in Christchurch Park

Indian Summer Mela held in Christchurch Park


Next weekend will see the return of the popular Indian Mela in Christchurch Park. Run in association with Ipswich and Suffolk Indian Association, the Mela celebrates Indian culture with a mix of live entertainment, music, dance, a market, and amazing food.

We will be running Family Fun Days in parks across the town through the summer. From 22nd July to 5th August there will be a fun day at Alexandra Park, Ransomes Sports Pavilion, Murray Road Rec, Bourne Park and Whitehouse Park.

September will see the return of the One Big Multicultural Festival in Alexandra Park, run in association with BSC Multicultural Services – a fantastic combination of music, dance, sport and food from around the world. For more details see:

I’d just like to end by asking us to remember all the council staff, our partner organisations and a whole range of volunteers who work so tirelessly to put these events on.

There is a huge amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure we are entertained and kept safe, and we owe them a huge debt of thanks.

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Hotter weather heralded with summer sipping events

Hotter weather heralded with summer sipping events


Summer’s almost here, and while folks head out to the lake or on vacation throughout the warmer months, there’s still plenty to do when it comes to food and drink — locally made and otherwise.

Low Life Barrel House, whose year-long build I wrote about in the Free Press in early May, just released its first batch of wines made from organically grown Ontario grapes. The five initial offerings are all available by the glass or for takeaway by the bottle from the Daly Street facility, and include a white wine made from Riesling and Geisenheim grapes, a sparkling rosé made from Cabernet Franc and Vidal and an orange wine made from Vidal and Gewürztraminer.

Sticking with local wine (including some made with Manitoba grapes, no less), Shrugging Doctor Beverage Co. is collaborating with Loaf and Honey for a wine-and-cheese event taking place Wednesday, June 22, at 6:30 p.m. in its tasting room, located at 448-B Brooklyn St. A selection of cheeses will be paired with a range of wines, and Dustin Peltier of Loaf and Honey and Willows Christopher of Shrugging Doctor will talk about their respective products and processes. Tickets are $40 plus taxes and fees are available at

As the weather heats up, rosé becomes the wine of choice for many, myself included. On Wednesday, June 29, De Luca Fine Wines will host an in-store “Rosé All Day” wine-and-food pairing event which, despite its name, doesn’t actually start until 7 p.m. at the wine store, located at 942 Portage Ave. Tickets are $75 and will feature five rosé wines being poured as well as small bites. For tickets visit

On the beer front, the list of sippables being poured at the Flatlander’s Beer Festival has been updated on the website ( And while there are plenty of local offerings, there are a few Winnipeg breweries that appear to have sat out the fest this year. Also of note is this year’s addition of coolers, hard seltzers and the like to the lineup of beer, mead and cider being poured on June 17 and 18 at Canada Life Centre. Tickets are $49.95 plus taxes/fees through Ticketmaster.

For those sticking around this summer, there are a couple of local drinks tastings to put in your calendar. Saturday, July 16, sees the inaugural Gulping Horse Festival take place at Assiniboia Downs from 5 to 10 p.m., featuring a number of local producers as well as food and live entertainment. Advance tickets are $40 plus taxes/fees and are available at

On Saturday, July 23, Shaw Park is hosting Ballpark Brewfest, featuring all Manitoba-made beer (as it does throughout the concourse for all Winnipeg Goldeyes games). Regular-price tickets are $50 and includes samples and admission, starting at 2 p.m.; VIP tickets are available for $80 and include admission an hour earlier. Both options are available through Ticketmaster.

Further down the road, Fort Gibraltar (866 Rue St. Joseph) will once again play host to the Winnipeg Beer Fest, taking place Saturday, Aug. 13. Tickets aren’t yet available, but check in the coming days for more information.

Drinks of the week

If it’s Saturday and you’re reading this, I’m probably somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean en route to Italy’s Abruzzo region, where a group of us wine writers, sommeliers and the like are slated to visit a bunch of wineries and taste through all manner of reds and whites. So for this week, here are some tasting notes on a fun range of coolers, hard seltzers and the like for your warm-weather imbibing…

Mike’s Hard Red Freeze (Delta, B.C. — $3.99/473ml cans, Liquor Marts and beer vendors)

This vodka-based drink is presumably supposed to harken back to red freezies and, at least in colour, it does. And while it does bring those sweet red-candy fruit notes, there’s a slightly medicinal aroma that’s tough to get by. It’s fairly sweet, and the cherry-cough-syrup component really lingers — drinking it over ice might help. Five per cent alcohol. 2/5

Hector’s Hard Purple Craze Wildberry (Winnipeg — $3.89/473ml can, brewery, Liquor Marts and beer vendors)

Made by Fort Garry Brewing Co., this “flavoured alcoholic beverage” with “natural mixed berry flavours” is pale purple in colour and a bit murky, with malty and Flintstone-vitamin aromas. It’s quite sweet and medium-bodied, and while the “purple” Gatorade-like flavours aren’t so bad, a bit less sweetness would be nice. A robust seven per cent alcohol; it also comes in two-litre bottles. 2.5/5

Smirnoff Ice Peach Lemonade (Toronto — $3.99/473ml can, Liquor Marts, beer vendors)

Pale yellow in appearance and hazy, this beverage’s peachy notes on the nose bring back memories of bad decisions in my formative years. It’s light, medium-sweet and quite fizzy, and the peach-candy flavours work well enough over ice, although are a bit too cloying on their own. The lemonade aspect here is minimal; for the most part it’s peach candy all day. Five per cent alcohol. 2.5/5

Georgian Bay Cranberry Gin Smash (Toronto — $3.79/473ml can, Liquor Marts, beer vendors)

Kudos to Georgian Bay for including “best served on the rocks” on the label — as most of these drinks should. This gin-based drink is clear and colourless, and aromatically brings sweet cranberry notes and very modest gin botanicals. It’s mildly sweet and light-bodied, with tasty cranberry flavours and a touch of citrus. Best on ice but decent on its own too. Five per cent alcohol. 3/5

White Claw Pineapple Sparkling Hard Seltzer (Toronto — $16.99/6x355ml cans, Liquor Marts and beer vendors)

One of a handful of new flavours launched by White Claw recently, this hard seltzer is clear, devoid of colour and smells like pineapple Life Savers — full stop. It’s off-dry, quite fizzy and light, bringing those pineapple Life Savers flavours… and that’s about it. Five per cent alcohol and, for those who care, just 100 calories per can and five per cent alcohol. Refreshing. 3/5

Super Fun Beverage Co. Pear & Elderflower Hard Seltzer (Winnipeg — $3.49/355ml can, Liquor Marts, beer vendors, Barn Hammer Brewing Co.)

One of four flavours from the new, local Super Fun Beverage Co. made at Barn Hammer on Wall Street, this hard seltzer is clear and devoid of colour, with fresh floral aromas and some pear as well. It’s dry, light-bodied and more complex than the White Claw, with subtle fruit flavours working well with a slight saline note. Some may find this a touch too dry, but not me — it’s quite tasty. 5.5 per cent alcohol. 3.5/5

Twitter: @bensigurdson

Ben Sigurdson

Ben Sigurdson
Literary editor, drinks writer

Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.

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Opinion | Have an event happening in Niagara? Help us spread the word.

Opinion | Have an event happening in Niagara? Help us spread the word.

It’s about trust. Our relationship with our readers is built on transparency, honesty and integrity. As such, we have launched a trust initiative to tell you who we are and how and why we do what we do. This column is part of that project.

After more than two long years following the great shutdown in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, business, attractions — and especially events — are back up and running.

This week our newspaper featured a special section, Best of Summer, which highlights some of the best festivals and attractions taking place across Ontario. The feature will continue throughout the month of June.

One of the pieces, by Abby Green, centred on Pride month and all the ways in Niagara to celebrate it — from flag raisings to a selection of curated films to the fan favourite Pride in the Park event.

But unfortunately, we don’t know about everything and we know the difficulties non-profit groups and grassroots organizations have trying to get the word out about their events and press releases with small teams and varied budgets.

The good news is we can help.

Whether it’s a fundraiser, festival, farmers’ market or holiday happening, we invite community groups and organizations to share news of their events on our website.

Our online events calendar is a popular feature. And the best part? It’s absolutely free.

Looking to submit an event? Follow these simple steps:

• Visit

• Register for a free account or login using your existing credentials

• Under your username, select “Submit Your Content”

• Click on “Submit Event” to create an event

• Fill out the required fields and click submit.

If you run into issues, you can download an easy-to-follow guide or reach out to a member of our team at

With life starting to return to normal — or perhaps the new normal — people are anxious to venture out again and enjoy the places and events they took for granted in the past. Perhaps your event can become a new favourite.

Mike Zettel is the online editor for Niagara this Week.