About Ryan Androsoff

You can find my professional profile here: http://ca.linkedin.com/in/ryanandrosoff All views expressed on this site are strictly my own.

New Chapters, Life Calendars, and Dr. Who

As some of you might know, last month I got some big news about how I am going to be spending 2015:

In just a few days I am going to be taking this next leap in my life’s journey, moving to Paris for at least the next year to work on digital government issues for the OECD. This is an incredibly exciting opportunity and I think will prove to be quite an adventure professionally and personally.

Preparing for this kind of a transition is obviously an opportunity to pause and reflect. All the more so with it being the holidays and New Year’s Eve upon us, a time of year I have always found full of self-reflection. Last year at this time I posted about my reflections on 2013, which I described as the toughest year of my life to date. I predicted that 2014 would see me move into a new phase of life professionally and personally, which proved to be true even if not in the ways that I expected (but then again, when does life ever unfold in the ways that we expect).

2014 was very much about setting the stage for the next act. I had to make some choices at various points throughout the year to close certain doors in my life, often without knowing which ones would open up in turn. My family and I went through the difficult experience of losing my step-mother to cancer this fall. There were real moments of joy this year as well, and many reasons to celebrate victories, births, and important milestones of those in my life. More than anything, when I look back on 2014 it strikes me as a year where I learnt more about myself.

One of the exercises that I started in 2014 was creating a “life calendar”. For those who have been following this blog (or my Facebook or Twitter feeds) you may have read a bit about this project of mine. I’ve done some further refinement of my life calendar since my last post in September, and I’m happy to share with you the fruits of my labours:

Life Calendar - Beta 2

You will notice the yellow squares with numbers I’ve added throughout my timeline. Those represent major transitions in my life, or as I have come to think of them, my “Dr. Who moments” (bare with me for a moment and I will circle back to explain what that means). These are major transition points in my life which launched significantly new chapters. They were all instigated by a career change, a move to a new city, or in many cases both. They also involved having new people become a part of my life, and in many cases having to say goodbye to others. Arguably only #1 and #6 were truly transformational, with everything in-between being smaller chapters within the same narrative arc. A new number is going to be added to the calendar next week, and I am fairly confident that #8 will fall into the “truly transformational” category.

Which brings me to Dr. Who. Last year around this time thanks to the magic of Netflix I started watching the modern seasons of Dr. Who (starting from the 2005 re-boot), the British sci-fi series that has been running for over 50 years. For those who have never seen it, the central character, the Doctor as he is known, is a Time Lord that travels through time and space having frequent madcap adventures while saving the universe. While the Doctor is for practical purposes immortal (though not completely), if he is fatally injured he goes through a process of “regeneration” where he takes on a new physical appearance. Through this convenient plot device there have been 12 different actors who have played the Doctor since 1963.

Predictably, I loved Dr. Who and ended up gobbling up all 8 seasons of the modern re-boot in fairly short order. Immersing myself in it, I soon realized that beyond the sci-fi plot lines there is a deeper metaphor being explored throughout the Dr. Who series. To me, it speaks to the nature of the journey that is our lives. How the journey itself changes us and we can appear, at least to others, to become different people at different points along the way. How some people travel with us for part of the journey (the Doctor often has a travelling companion), even sometimes through multiple regenerations, but more often than we would like through choice or circumstance our travelling companions have to take different paths.

The best expression of this metaphor in the series is the final episode of David Tennant’s run as the Doctor, titled “The End of Time”. Throughout the episode he knows due to a prophecy that he will soon be needing to regenerate and struggles with moving on to this next phase of his journey:

Later in the episode, after he is critically injured and knows that he only has a little time left before he regenerates into the next Doctor, he takes some quick trips through time and space to say goodbye to the people that were closest to him through his most recent travels (the clip below captures the last couple of these goodbyes; unfortunately I can’t find one with the full scene):

The past month I have spent a lot of time saying my own goodbyes to the people that have been important to me these past few years. I’m truly excited about the journey ahead, but I would be lying if I said that there weren’t moments of pause in the realization that this really is the start of something new, and everything that means.

So as I begin this new chapter, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to blog more regularly, in part to keep my friends, family and colleagues updated on my Paris adventures. If you are interested, I’d encourage you to to sign-up for email updates from my blog through the subscription box below:

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Wishing you and your loved ones health and happiness for 2015! À la prochaine!

Life Calendar (Beta Version)

Those who follow me on Twitter or Facebook may know that about two months ago I bought a “Life Calendar” from the wonderful blog “Wait But Why” (and specifically, inspired by this blog post). After putting down $15 and waiting a few weeks, I had my very own 2 foot by 3 foot life calendar.

Life Calendar - blank

There are 52 boxes across the horizontal axis (one for every week of the year) and 90 rows down the vertical axis (one for every year of a 90 year life – above the average, but still a reasonably achievable goal). That’s it. Your entire life graphed on one piece of paper. I have to admit, unrolling it for the first time, tacking it to the wall, and stepping back and looking at it was an interesting mix of humility, inspiration, and terror.

Over the past month I have had some (unexpected) time for reflection and to work on a few projects that I have had kicking around, including this one. I decided to take a first crack at visualizing the contours of my life using the calendar as my canvas. I must admit that I underestimated how much time it would take to actually remember/research my life down to the granularity of week-by-week and convert it to calendar that starts on May 28th, decide what to include on the calendar and how to represent it in a meaningful way, and then put pen/marker to paper.

The fruits of my labours, what I am going to call the “beta version” of my Life Calendar, is below along with a rough legend to help you make a bit of sense of the colour scheme:

Life Calendar -  Beta 1 Life Calendar - Legend

A few explanatory notes, followed by a some initial observations and questions. First, the legend should hopefully make at least a cursory review of the Life Calendar possible by anyone (those who know me well will probably have a bit easier of a time figuring out what exactly is what – I’ve admittedly done a lot of different things in the first 33 years of my life and kept the categories fairly general as a result). In each week’s box, only the top half is coloured in. This represents the “primary activity” I was doing that week (put another way, that week what was my most likely answer to the question “what do you do?”) – more on what, if anything, I will do with the bottom half of each square later. Along the far right side you will see city names. Those specify which city I lived in for the majority of that year of my life (every year had a pretty clear winner). I had considered colouring in the the gaps between boxes to indicate different cities lived, but I was not only running out of colours but also worried that it would make the whole calendar less legible. I did try the grey border around the two times I lived outside of Canada…not sure how well that worked in the end.

I’m still taking this in and what it means. It really is powerful to see one’s entire life graphically represented at a glance like this. A few initial things that jumped out at me:

  • The sheer volume of my life to date that is taken up by formal education of some type is surprisingly large to me
  • I was also surprised by how much of my professional life was spent working in politics in one form or another (perhaps because it feels like it was a long time ago) – it’s actually under-represented on this version; more on that later
  • While 20 of my 33 years I have lived in Saskatoon, only 2 of those were as an adult, if we use the age of 18 as the definition of adulthood (debatable, I know). Of my 15 “adult” years, 10 of them have been in Ottawa, 2 in Saskatoon, 2 in Boston, 1 in Washington DC
  • There are only two significant gaps in my Life Calendar in my adult life where there was no “primary” activity: 9 weeks in my 23rd year and 8 weeks in my 29th year (there was also a bit of a “slump” period of about 12 weeks in the later half of my 26th year, but using the methodology I’ve chosen it doesn’t really show up as such). I remember those gaps being filled with anxiety trying to answer the question “what’s next?”, and for the most part being not particularly pleasant periods of my life

In my mind this is not yet a finished product and I’d love some feedback to help get it there. Keeping the scope purely to my professional life, there are a few notable absences given the methodology I’m using that are significant parts of my life story (e.g. my work on Parliament Hill during all four years of my undergraduate degree, my work last year on getting my tech startup company off the ground). Should I use the bottom half of squares to colour in areas where there were important “secondary” activities in my life? Beyond that, should I try capture non-professional/educational aspects of my life? If so, how and which ones (e.g. significant trips, relationships, specific milestones)?

I hope this post doesn’t come across as too much naval-gazing but is taken in the spirit in which it is intended: a mix of geekish interest in effectively visualizing complex systems and personal self-reflection.

Round Numbers

Even after all the promises you’ve broken to yourself,
All will be well. 
You can ask me how but only time will tell.
– “All Will Be Well” by The Gabe Dixon Band

There is something deep in the human psyche that makes us inclined to want to celebrate and reflect on anniversaries that end in 0s or 5s. It’s not clear to me if this is a biological imperative or driven more by cultural influences, but regardless of the cause it remains a fact of life.

This week I was back home in Saskatchewan, in part to celebrate a round number anniversary. In this case that of a very special person in my life, my Baba Mabel Androsoff who turned 90 on June 6th.


After a family dinner we had at her home in Blaine Lake in honour of her birthday, we decided to watch the video of her 65th birthday party. This was one of the first major family events that I have any significant memory of. As I sat there watching the parade of faces, many of whom have now left us, a realization started to wash over me. The images I were seeing were from 25 years ago. Mental math ensued. Then it hit me: in this video, my parents are the same age that I am now. A strange feeling started to grow in the pit of my stomach, which I struggled to articulate.

Later that evening I was driving back to Saskatoon and decided to take a bit of a scenic detour through the north end of Saskatoon where early in my career I lived and worked. As I was driving a second realization washed over me. Exactly 10 years ago I was in the midst of a particularly monumental period in my life. That 12 month period from September 2003 to September 2004 would set in motion much of the next decade of my professional and personal life. I could viscerally recall exactly what I was doing 10 years ago in June of 2004 and how the shadows of that time in my life still linger in unexpected ways. That same unarticulated feeling came back.

As I sit here writing this, I can tell you what that feeling isn’t. It isn’t a feeling of being old. It isn’t a feeling of regret. It isn’t even a feeling of nostalgia. Perhaps I can best describe what it is as vertigo brought on by a sudden loss of a frame of reference. In that feeling may also lie the reason as to why we have such a strong attachment to round number anniversaries – after all, one of the ways to treat motion sickness is to focus on a fixed spot on the horizon.

The Seduction of the Startup

Last spring I co-founded a tech startup company called Beyond 2.0. Our mission: to build innovative products and services based on open data. Around the same time I was returning from language training to Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) where I was taking on a new challenge managing the team that runs the Government of Canada’s internal collaborative platforms, GCpedia and GCconnex. I was putting in long hours with my public service job, while my early mornings, late nights and weekends were filled with trying to get the start-up off the ground. This was never going to be a sustainable arrangement in the long run and I had given myself a year to pursue both paths and make a decision as to if I would stay in the public service or leave to run the startup full time.

As I was going through this journey something very interesting became apparent to me: most people in my life were rooting for me to leave government and take the startup path. Friends, family, and colleagues alike. Over the course of that year whenever I would go to social events, family get-togethers, or catch-ups with professional contacts, when I would tell them what I was doing with Beyond 2.0 their eyes would light up. They had a million ideas. They had people I needed to talk to. They would send me articles they clipped from newspapers or tell me about the latest episode of Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank I needed to watch. They were all rooting for me, and it was a great feeling.

Yet here is the rub: by any reasonable measure of contribution to the public good and society at large, my work as a public servant is at least an order of magnitude more important and impactful. My team and I are putting in place some of the infrastructure that will enable government to stay relevant and agile in a modern networked world. We are empowering public servants to find and connect with each other in ways they simply couldn’t do a few years ago. We’ve grown our internal collaboration ecosystem beyond just the early adopters and tech enthusiasts and now have tens of thousands of mainstream public servants logging on to these social networking and collaboration tools for the first time. These are big moves that will have impacts on the public service for years to come in ways we can’t even envision right now. For our work my team and I won the TBS Award of Merit last year. Yet for most people in my life, all they really wanted to know for the past year was what was happening with the startup and how soon I was going to leave government.

“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads”
Jeffrey Hammerbacher, data scientist and early Facebook employee

Recently I had the great pleasure of being back on the Harvard Kennedy School campus to take part in the IDEASpHERE conference. One of the sessions I attended was a discussion by my former thesis advisor Nicco Mele, whom I have known since my time at the Kennedy School and whose work I follow closely, and fellow communications and internet innovator Morra Aarons Mele who I had the great pleasure of meeting for the first time. During their panel about the “promise and peril of the internet” Morra started a great discussion about what she termed “entrepreneurship porn”, namely how the excessive value that our society is putting on startup culture is causing a serious brain drain for traditional institutions like government.

It clicked for me during her talk that I had been living this exact scenario for the past year. Moreover, I am not alone. In the four years since I moved back to Ottawa to join the federal public service I have met countless passionate, dedicated, innovative public servants who to their very core want to improve how government works and serve the public. Yet almost to a person, they are battling a constant crisis of faith in a public service career and considering if they can accomplish more or be more fulfilled working outside of “the system”. Much has been said about the challenges with government HR processes to recruit and retain talent, and those issues are still as valid as ever and need to be addressed. But what is now becoming clearer to me in a very personal way is that at the same time we also need to address the equally detrimental stigma that exists around working for government. The poisonous attitude that I hear from far too many, even from those in the public service itself, which says anyone who is good at what they do wouldn’t be working for government.

As the session with Morra and Nicco wrapped up, we started talking about where we go from here. One concrete idea was the notion of encouraging public sector entrepreneurship, specifically allowing startup-type organizations to be born, grow and, sometimes, fail inside of government itself. As a friend of mine later put it, creating (and in some cases preserving) enclaves of awesomeness. There are of course numerous other ideas and initiatives that need to be part of this conversation, but what I do know is that this is a conversation that we need to start having. I’m encouraged that the recent Destination 2020 report recognized this in the recommendation to shape the brand of the public service. This is critically important for anyone who cares about public policy, because the alternative is that we run the risk of losing a generation of our best and brightest public servants to the pursuit of building better click-bate.

In case you are wondering, I decided to stay.

Hello 2014

“Make a little money, take a lot of shit.
Feel real bad, then get over it.
This will be a better year.”
– Strictly Game by Harlem Shakes

I’ve always found the Christmas and New Year season a time to reflect on the year past and to consider the year to come. This past week is no exception.

A year ago at this time not only was I in a very different place in my life, but on a very different trajectory. It was not necessarily one that I was happy with for a variety of reasons. I pledged to myself to change that trajectory, no matter how hard it would be to do so.

So I did. And it was hard. Very hard. In fact in retrospect I am prepared to say that 2013 was one of the most difficult years of my life.

Momentum is a funny thing. When we are younger, we have less built up. That means it doesn’t take as much effort to change course. As I am learning, as we get older we build up more momentum (some might call it inertia, but I actually think momentum is a better way of describing it even though the practical effect is the same). The more momentum you build up on a certain trajectory, the stronger the G-forces are when you try to change that trajectory. Our natural inclination is to ease off on the throttle, not to change so much so quickly. Yet the pain is probably a good thing, and fighting that natural instinct likely saves us in the end. The longer you stay on the same course, the more momentum you are going to build up; it will never be easier to change something in your life than it will be right now.

Five years ago I was finishing up my first semester at Harvard. I wrote a piece called “Emotional Homelessness” about my reflections on that first semester and some of the struggles that came along with it. It resonated with many of the friends I shared it with. Today I was thinking about the last line I wrote in that piece:

“Perhaps this is indeed the curse of our generation; the realization that comes over the course of our 20s of what has been sacrificed upon the altar of unlimited possibility.”

Five years later, it occurs to me that my perspective has evolved. That there is a growing realization, often just a whisper in the subconscious, that those sacrifices may have been to a false god. That in fact over time you can’t keep a door open without closing others, and that the ability to choose what you are prepared to let go of in life is just as important as knowing what you want.

If this all sounds a bit dark, it isn’t meant to be. It is meant to be honest. In fact I am very proud of what I have been able to accomplish this past year. I co-founded a tech startup company. I learnt French (well…”learnt” may be overstating it…survived six months of language training might be more accurate!). I lead a team of 10 people to make huge advances in the Government of Canada’s internal use of social media tools, for which we received the Treasury Board Secretariat’s Award of Merit. I continue to be blessed with loving and supportive friends and family across the globe.

Life is good. Not in spite of 2013 being a tough year, but because of it.

I am legitimately excited about the year to come. One way or another I will be moving into a new phase of my life professionally and personally. There are some great opportunities ahead, and my only resolution is to grab hold of them as they come and to enjoy the journey each and every day.

Happy New Year to you all and wishing you the very best for 2014!

A Tale of Two Cities: Snow Removal in Saskatoon and Ottawa

Yesterday I made a quip on social media about how bad the snow removal is in Saskatoon (a fact that was made evident to me once again while back in town visiting family for the holidays these past few days). Like really bad. Like “driving on a skating rink would only be marginally worse” bad – particularly on residential roads. Growing up in Saskatoon I guess I was just used to it (as I suspect most people here are). I didn’t realize that pavement on a residential street not seeing the light of day from the time of the first snowfall until the spring thaw isn’t necessarily the natural order of things. But having since lived in and visited many other cities in northern climates I now know that it is not the way things have to be. That knowledge, that in fact this isn’t as good as it gets, now makes it all the more painful to see the state of snow removal in my home-town.

So instead of just randomly whining on Facebook and Twitter, I thought that since I am on vacation and have a little more time on my hands than usual, I might as well put all that public policy training to good use and do a little bit of research. At the very least my annual complaining will be more informed from here on in.

So I did. And what I found was fascinating. So fascinating, that I thought it was worth sharing here as no doubt this may be of interest to others.

An important caveat before I continue: I have approximately zero expertise when it comes to winter road maintenance and related issues. Everything that follows is based on some relatively quick research, and it is entirely possible that I am missing important facts, figures and context. If so, I would love to know where I am wrong so don’t feel shy to chime in via the comments section.

So what did I learn? Here are three things that jumped out at me after a bit of Googleing:

1) The City of Saskatoon had an $8.4 million “Snow and Ice Plan” for 2013, of which $1.88 million was earmarked for road sanding/salting.

2) Priority streets will be cleared within 72 hours of a snowstorm ending (Priority 1 streets, which are essentially Circle Drive, 8th, 22nd, 33rd, Idylwyld and Wanuskewin, are to be cleared within 12 hours). Non-priority streets (i.e. most residential streets in the city) will only be considered for plowing once they have more than 6 inches of packed snow, and at that are only budgeted for 2 cleanings per winter. Note: for those interested, description and map of the priority routes for snow removal is available here.

3) The city uses a 19:1 ratio of sand-to-salt in the mixture it uses on winter roads.

While that is all interesting, facts in a vacuum don’t mean much of anything. Maybe that represents world-class best practice in snow removal given Saskatoon’s per-capita number of roadways. Maybe it doesn’t. What we need is context. Thus short of doing extensive comparative research, it struck me that the path of least resistance here would be to compare those three factors to another city that I know well and which on a purely subjective basis I can say does an outstanding job of snow removal: Ottawa.

Now I will grant you that Ottawa isn’t a perfect comparison to Saskatoon, but it isn’t an awful one either. Obviously it is a significantly larger city (according to 2011 numbers from Wikipedia, 883,391 vs. 222,189) with a significantly larger number of roadways (5,400km of roadway vs. 1130km). What is interesting in eye-balling those numbers is that while Ottawa has a population about 4 times larger than Saskatoon, it has almost 4.8 times the number of roadways. Surprisingly to me, the potential argument that Ottawa snow removal is more efficient because of a more densely populated city is actually not true, and in fact per capita Ottawa has 0.006km of road per person to clear vs. 0.005km per person in Saskatoon.

In terms of weather conditions, they are both cold winter cities. Based on almost 30 years of Environment Canada data (1981-2010), Saskatoon is colder on average with winter month temperature lows running between 5 to 8 degrees lower on average than Ottawa. However, Ottawa has significantly more snowfall with 63.3 snow days and 233.5 cm of snow a year on average compared to 55.4 snow days and 91.3 cm of snow a year for Saskatoon. That is a surprisingly big difference and again nullifying one of the potential arguments as to why Ottawa snow removal might be better, namely that there is less snow to remove. In fact the opposite is true with there being approx 2.5 times more snow to remove in an average winter.

So how does Ottawa compare across the three factors I listed above for Saskatoon:

1) Budget: The City of Ottawa’s “Winter Operations Budget” is $59 million. That is approximately 7 times that of Saskatoon’s. Now while we would expect Ottawa to spend significantly more on snow removal than Saskatoon, 7 times strikes me as a bigger multiple than a straight scaling considering our baseline comparison data (4x as many people; 4.8x as many roadways).

2) Response Time: The difference here is striking. While in Saskatoon priority roads are to be cleared by the end of 72 hours (Priority 1 roads within 12 hours), in Ottawa all roads, including residential, are to be cleared within 10 hours! Moreover, while in Saskatoon residential roads won’t even be considered for cleaning until there is 6 inches (15cm) of packed snow (and at that only budget for twice a year), in Ottawa residential roads are cleared every time there is more than 7cm of accumulation. I can tell you that from personal experience, city crews in Ottawa hit these targets regularly and that equipment is out on the major roads almost as soon as the first snowflakes hit the ground.

3) Salt: Why do I care about salt? Because I see evidence of how well it works every (winter) day in Ottawa. While it is awful for what it does to shoes and pants (though I am sure a boon to the drycleaning industry in Ottawa!) my completely subjective observation is that it makes a huge difference in dealing with ice on roads and sidewalks. So what do the numbers say? While Saskatoon uses a 19:1 ratio of sand-to-salt, Ottawa uses a 50:50 mix. Why the big difference in salt usage? I’ve heard it said that salt doesn’t work when it gets too cold. While that may be true (I really have no idea), Saskatoon isn’t THAT much colder than Ottawa that it would strike me that it would preclude its use.

There are clearly a whole host of issues that I haven’t given any consideration to which could account for at least some of the differences between these two cities, such as how those dollars are actually being spent (Are they more efficient in one city vs. another in terms of dollars per snowflake removed? Is there a difference between using in-house equipment vs. contractors? etc.). I don’t know what exactly is being included in the snow removal budgets for the two cities and it is entirely possible that I am not exactly comparing apples to apples with those budget numbers. There may also be some sort of economies of scale issue going on with snow removal where the first KM of snow removal is a lot more expensive than the last KM of snow removal, thus bigger cities have a natural cost advantage built in. The salt issue itself raises a number of potential environmental, regulatory, and cost questions which may account for some of the difference in practice between the two cities.

One final fascinating figure to consider: both the City of Saskatoon and the City of Ottawa spend approximately the same percentage of their annual budget on snow removal: 2.2% vs. 2.3%. Why they get such dramatically different results is an interesting public policy question and one that I hope others who are better positioned than I will look into further.


I had the pleasure of hearing Julien Smith speak in person on Friday night. I’ve been following Julien’s blog “in over your head” for a couple of years now. A lot of Julien’s work focuses around human nature, and how our biology isn’t often well adapted to the pace, stresses, and landscape of modern life.

During his talk on Friday he put up a slide which was a comparison of two hand-drawn graphs – both tracking two models of “pain” over “time” which looked something like this:Pain Graph

His point: the first model is the one we all shy away from – lots of pain quickly, and then sustained over time – because it is really, really hard (think ripping off a band-aid). This is the kind of pain that makes us stronger in the end.

The second model is the one most of us fall into – slowly rising amounts of pain which at first don’t bother us all that much until before we know it those days, weeks, months, or years start compounding quickly and rise exponentially. This is the kind of pain that kills us in the end.

The graphs stuck with me, and I started thinking that night about the difference between “perceived pain” and “actual pain”. Thus my hypothesis is that the interplay between these two concepts, using Julien’s model, might look something like this:Pain Graph - modified

This hit home for me as for much of 2013 I have been living the first model. It has been tough at times, but as memorably phrased in The Shawshank Redemption: “That’s all it takes really, pressure, and time”.

Baking Bread the Doukhobor Way

I was back in Saskatchewan last week visiting family, which coincidentally happened to coincide with the annual Saskatoon Exhibition. Exhibition week was always important to me growing up, not just for the rides and cotton candy but because my family (and when I was a bit older, me too) would work at the Doukhobor bread baking booth. This is one of the major fundraisers for the Saskatoon Doukhobor community each year, where on average 1000 loaves of bread each day, baked the traditional way in wood-fired clay ovens, are made and sold (and when I say sold, I mean sold. As in sold out. Every night, with big line-ups waiting for the last batches before the fair-grounds close for the night).

As I was saying, I was back during Exhibition this past week and decided to sign-up for a shift of bread baking along with my Mom, Dad, and cousin. There are three options for working in the booth: the kitchen (where they make and pan the dough), the ovens (where they bake the bread), and “up front” (where they sell the bread, either as full loaves or as slices with butter and/or jam). I worked all three when I was younger at one point or another, but I’ve always enjoyed working the ovens. There is something very zen-like about it, and the job is also part PR in nature as you get to chat with curious fair-goers who pop by to watch the firing and baking process in action. Don’t get me wrong – it is hard work. While the 8 hour shift usually flies by, it is always busy (and hot!) and the next day I am inevitably at least a bit sore – regardless of whether I was 15 or 32.

Being 2013, I decided it would only be right to introduce a bit of social media into the process this year. Thus I used Vine to capture the life of a slice of Doukhobor bread from start to finish in three 6-second videos. The fruits of my labour (trust me, creating three 6-second videos over the course of 2 1/2 hours with no chance for a do-over is actually a bit more difficult than one would think) are posted for your viewing enjoyment.

And for one of those “now and then” shots to prove that I actually did bake bread back in the day, here is some photo evidence of me hard at work at the bread booth – first when I actually was 15 (with my Mom, Uncle, Baba (Grandmother) Androsoff and Dyeda (Grandfather) Cheveldayoff) and then from last week.

Bread Baking

Ryan breadbaking 2013

Thoughts on the future of the Doukhobors in Canada

I’ve had Doukhoborism on my mind lately. A number of months ago I was asked if I would put some thoughts together about the modern day relevance of St. Peter’s Day (or Petrov Dien) for inclusion in the Canadian Doukhobor Society newsletter. I was happy to say yes as over the past few years I’ve been thinking more and more about what it means to be a Doukhobor in an era where increasingly the term is one talked about in the past tense rather than the future (or even the present).  I’ve been wrestling with the increasing realization that one day in the not too distant future I may very well find myself as literally one of the last of the Doukhobors.

Should you think that I’m being melodramatic, let’s look at some statistics. In May of this year the latest data from the 2011 Canadian census related to religion and ethnic origin was released. According to the census data, there are just 2,290 Canadians that self-identify as Doukhobor. This follows an unmistakable trend of a shrinking Doukhobor population in Canada in each and every census since the Doukhobor population’s peak in the 1941 census at 16,898. It is also a rapidly ageing population, with 38% of those self-identifying as Doukhobor being 65 years or age or older – more than double the rate of the Canadian population as a whole of which 15% are 65+. As they say, demographics are destiny.

When I think back to my own Doukhobor journey, I realize that I was fortunate to be a “child” of the brief resurgence amongst the Saskatchewan Doukhobor community in the lead up to the 1995 centennial celebrations of the Burning of the Arms and the 1999 centennial of the Doukhobor migration to Canada. The 1990s gave me an opportunity in my formative years to be actively involved with and learn about my cultural and spiritual roots and traditions. Many didn’t have those same opportunities however, and even fewer do today. The reality is that in many Doukhobor communities we will soon lose the generation of elders who carry the cultural and spiritual traditions of Doukhoborism with them.

Doukhobor Burning of Arms - June 29, 1895

The Doukhobor “Burning of Arms”, June 29, 1895. Painting by Terry McLean. From: www.doukhobor.org

A few years ago I had the opportunity to attend the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts to take a Master in Public Policy degree. While there, I was part of a fascinating course on “Moral Leadership” which was designed for extensive self-reflection. As a focus for that reflection, we would often turn to the three questions that were originally posed by the Jewish elder Hillel some two thousand years ago:

  • If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
  • When I am for myself, what am I?
  • And if not now, when?

When I read those questions now, and think about them in the Doukhobor context, they haunt me. The Doukhobor story is an inspiring one that speaks to the vision of creating a more caring, loving and peaceful world. It is also a story that speaks to the great adversity that exists to any attempt to change the existing order, which is something that we reflect on extensively on St. Peter’s Day. Yet if I am being honest, I struggle with a vision of Doukhoborism that is anchored in the actions of the past. Being a “spirit wrestler” is, by its very definition, something that is active and fluid – yet too often our conversation is rooted firmly in a fixed past with little discussion about how to translate that to the problems of the present or a vision for the future.

I had the opportunity to talk about the Doukhobors and my own personal journey during another one of my leadership classes at Harvard. I had a remarkable exchange with my professor, whom is a world-renowned expert on the topic of adaptive leadership, which went on for over 20 min (while a class of over 100 from literally every corner of the world learned about the Doukhobors for the first time). At the end of it all, his final words on the subject were as follows:

“The adaptation of the values and virtues and competence and wisdom embedded in these loyalties [to the Doukhobor community] as it applies to today’s problems, right now, may require preserving and conserving and holding constant a lot of that wisdom, but not all of it. But you don’t know which of it to value and which not. As you put your hands though it, you have to be able to approach it with an open mind to begin to figure out what adaptations are required to apply the best of my Spirit Wrestling tradition to the problems of people today. You probably do have, and your community probably does have, real contributions to make to lots of peoples in the world. But not by simply in a wholesale fashion, almost a mindless fashion, just applying the software you’ve got to this particular application. It would have to be reconfigured a little bit, wouldn’t it?”

There are no easy answers to some of the questions I am raising. What I do know with certainty is that Doukhoborism as we have known it for centuries is on the verge of disappearing. The time for a serious conversation about what parts of our collective past we want to preserve and be able to pass on is rapidly coming to a close. Simply put: we are out of time.

I believe though that there is a very limited window that still exists to do some important work as a community as we prepare for whatever Doukhoborism is to become in this next century. Specifically, new Internet and multimedia technologies provide us an opportunity that has not existed before to capture and share the essence of our Doukhobor “spirit wrestling” tradition in powerful new ways. In recent months I have been having discussions with a number of people, including some talented friends in the field of multimedia design and documentary film making, about ways in which we can capture that “essence” of Doukhoborism.

Ours is a story that needs to be not only preserved but also given life for future generations. So as I reflect on the modern relevance of St. Peter’s Day, I think the question that all of us should ask is: what steps are we taking right now to ensure that those remembrances, values and pieces of universal wisdom that are so core to what we celebrate on St. Peter’s Day aren’t lost to history?

It is a conversation that I think we need to have and I’d welcome your comments below.

Blaine Lake @ 100

I am reposting here the “Storifyed” recount of my visit to the Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan centennial celebrations this past August (in part to test out embedding a Storify on a blog – so far so good). Enjoy!

P.S. Still considering how to best use this piece of virtual real-estate. Stay tuned.

Blaine Lake @ 100

Centennial celebrations for Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada (August 3-5, 2012) – through the eyes (and the iPhone) of Ryan Androsoff

Storified by Ryan Androsoff · Mon, Aug 06 2012 18:11:28

Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada (pop. ~500). Though I have never lived in Blaine Lake myself, it has always had a very special place in my heart. My family has lived and farmed in the Blaine Lake area since they emigrated from Russia in 1899 along with 7500 other Doukhobors. Both of my parents (Michael Androsoff and Virginia Cheveldayoff) grew up in Blaine Lake. Throughout my childhood all of my grandparents and great-grandparents lived in Blaine Lake, and to this day my Uncles and Aunts on both sides of the family continue to farm near Blaine Lake.
This weekend the town was celebrating the 100th anniversary of its incorporation, and so I travelled back home to Saskatchewan from Ottawa to join my family for the festivities. Of course this is 2012 and the age of social media is upon us, so I decided that for the occasion of Blaine Lake’s centennial some live Tweeting was in order. What follows is the collection of my tweets and pictures capturing the Blaine Lake centennial through my eyes (or more accurately, the eyes of my iPhone).
Planning on using #BL100 as the hashtag for tweets from the Blaine Lake centennial this weekend (my spiritual homeland)Ryan Androsoff
The night before we were to head up from Saskatoon, I came across the “Big Blue Book” that is ubiquitous in the homes of those with roots in Blaine Lake. Though a bit dated now (it was published in the early 1980s), it remains an impressive collection of history of the town and region and the families who helped build it.
Studying up for #BL100 w/ Bridging the Years a.k.a. The Blaine Lake Bible a.k.a. The Big Blue Book http://via.me/~3ouzb3iRyan Androsoff
IMG_0581Ryan Androsoff
The next morning we were up bright and early to make the approximately 100km drive north from Saskatoon to Blaine Lake.
Have finally arrived for #BL100 http://via.me/~3pws71aRyan Androsoff
IMG_0599Ryan Androsoff
Blaine Lake grain elevatorRyan Androsoff
As we came into town we drove past my grandmother Androsoff’s house (or as I have always called her: Baba Mabel), and I was pleasantly surprised to see the sign below on her fence. She is a very special and inspiring lady, still full of energy, life and fun at 88!
Seen along the parade route – very proud of my Baba! #BL100 http://via.me/~3px5v6sRyan Androsoff
IMG_0604Ryan Androsoff
The sun was shining, and it was time for that essential of any small-town community celebration in Saskatchewan – a parade!
Amazing weather out today for #BL100 – I can hear the bagpipers for the parade getting closer…Ryan Androsoff
Parade has arrived #BL100 http://via.me/~3pxwkgwRyan Androsoff
IMG_0607Ryan Androsoff
The Blaine Lake RCMP – past and present #BL100 http://via.me/~3pz1xlaRyan Androsoff
IMG_0608Ryan Androsoff
Blaine Lake’s first, and still only, female Mayor (a.k.a. Baba) #BL100 http://via.me/~3pz4ts0Ryan Androsoff
IMG_0612Ryan Androsoff
The first of many mini-horse drawn carriages #BL100 http://via.me/~3pz9orkRyan Androsoff
IMG_0624Ryan Androsoff
The bagpipers #BL100 http://via.me/~3pzc6k8Ryan Androsoff
IMG_0618Ryan Androsoff
Blaine Lake Jail on wheels (not sure of the historical accuracy on this one…) #BL100 http://via.me/~3pzdv02Ryan Androsoff
IMG_0621Ryan Androsoff
A brief history of farm equipment. First up: 1928 #BL100 http://via.me/~3pzgbnaRyan Androsoff
IMG_0627Ryan Androsoff
A brief history of farm equipment. Next up: 1934 #BL100 http://via.me/~3pzgthoRyan Androsoff
IMG_0626Ryan Androsoff
A brief history of farm equipment. Next up: 1936 #BL100 http://via.me/~3pzh916Ryan Androsoff
IMG_0628Ryan Androsoff
A brief history of farm equipment. Finally, a quantum leap to modern day #BL100 http://via.me/~3pzi9aoRyan Androsoff
IMG_0629Ryan Androsoff
Top marks for creativity on this one – guest appearance by Snoopy #BL100 http://via.me/~3pzk42gRyan Androsoff
IMG_0639Ryan Androsoff
Though this may take the cake for creativity – a plumber taking a bath on a van #BL100 http://via.me/~3pzlnwiRyan Androsoff
IMG_0641Ryan Androsoff
Briefly mistaken for the Ghostbusters car, actually just an old-time ambulance #BL100 http://via.me/~3pzn1zcRyan Androsoff
IMG_0649Ryan Androsoff
Church on wheels #BL100 http://via.me/~3pzoqzwRyan Androsoff
IMG_0661Ryan Androsoff
Now the full-sized horses #BL100 http://via.me/~3pzpzbiRyan Androsoff
IMG_0643Ryan Androsoff
And closing up the parade, some live guitarists #BL100 http://via.me/~3pzqpsqRyan Androsoff
IMG_0664Ryan Androsoff
Parade finished, it was time to find some lunch, explore town, and of course lots of visiting.
Parade done, next stop: Ukrainian Church for what will no doubt be an excellent lunch #BL100Ryan Androsoff
A line-up onto the street in Blaine Lake? Must be good eats inside! #BL100 http://via.me/~3q0o5ewRyan Androsoff
Line up for Ukrainian lunchRyan Androsoff
Afternoon of visiting with family. Now getting ready to head out to the hottest ticket in town: the steak supper #BL100Ryan Androsoff
The evening events took place in the heart of Blaine Lake, right next to the railway and the former train station (which is, at least according to my reading the night before in the “Big Blue Book”, the raison d’être for Blaine Lake’s existence). A 500 person steak supper (which had been sold out for weeks), followed by a street dance was on the agenda.
Train StationRyan Androsoff
The Blaine Lake Snowmobile Club in action, keeping us well fed #BL100 http://via.me/~3qcxdkmRyan Androsoff
Steak dinner chefsRyan Androsoff
Main Street Blaine Lake at dusk #BL100 http://via.me/~3qfru4mRyan Androsoff
Main Street at DuskRyan Androsoff
IMG_0674Ryan Androsoff
Of course to close out the day, fireworks #BL100 http://via.me/~3qizp1uRyan Androsoff
Fireworks 9Ryan Androsoff
Fireworks 7Ryan Androsoff
And fireworks… #BL100 http://via.me/~3qj0r1iRyan Androsoff
Fireworks 5Ryan Androsoff
Fireworks 6Ryan Androsoff
…and more fireworks #BL100 http://via.me/~3qjc09yRyan Androsoff
Fireworks 4Ryan Androsoff
Fireworks 3Ryan Androsoff
Though most people were out on the streets until the wee hours, catching up with friends and family they hadn’t seen in years, that didn’t mean that there was time to sleep-in the next morning! After a little bit of early morning rain, the sun was up and shining again and it was time for a community breakfast.
Sunday morning and time for, of course, a pancake breakfast at #BL100 http://via.me/~3r979dmRyan Androsoff
Sunday breakfastRyan Androsoff
Participated in #BL100 Non-Denominational service this morning w/ Gospel Chapel, Ukrainian Orthodox, Roman Catholic & Doukhobor communitiesRyan Androsoff
My Doukhobor heritage has always been a big part of who I am. The Doukhobor community, which played a central role in the founding of Blaine Lake, participated in the morning’s prayer service through the singing of some traditional psalms.  After getting my arm-twisted a little bit by my Baba, my Mom and a few others, I ended up getting a unique vantage point on the service. Thankfully my “muscle memory” from singing in Doukhobor choirs when I was growing up kicked-in, along with a little help from a songbook that has English phonetics for the Russian psalms.
I got drafted to be part of the Doukhobor choir so here was my view of the service #BL100 http://via.me/~3rd7qnmRyan Androsoff
Non-denominational serviceRyan Androsoff
Feeling spiritually nourished, it was off for some nourishment of the more earthly type.
Now, as is usually the answer to the Q "what’s next" at any Blaine Lake event, time for more food #BL100 http://via.me/~3rdhqf0Ryan Androsoff
Sunday lunchRyan Androsoff
Discussion over lunch: starting a "draft Mabel for Mayor" campaign so Blaine Lake can start it’s next 100 years with a female Mayor! #BL100Ryan Androsoff
And now for the unveiling of monuments and plaques #BL100 http://via.me/~3rgmqayRyan Androsoff
Mill Stone UnveilingRyan Androsoff
Plaque explaining this history of the grain milling stone #BL100 http://via.me/~3ria048Ryan Androsoff
Mill Stone PlaqueRyan Androsoff
The milling stone itself – this is an original from the site of a local Doukhobor village #BL100 http://via.me/~3ric02iRyan Androsoff
Mill Stone 1Ryan Androsoff
Mill Stone 2Ryan Androsoff
The Memorial Park plaque that was unveiled – includes the names of my grandfather and my uncle #BL100 http://via.me/~3ridncwRyan Androsoff
Memorial gardens plaqueRyan Androsoff
The other new memorial in town unveiled this weekend was a statue of wheat sheaves #BL100 http://via.me/~3rii12sRyan Androsoff
Wheat SheavesRyan Androsoff
Blaine Lake Library – haven’t been inside here since I was a kid #BL100 http://via.me/~3rij2hqRyan Androsoff
Blaine Lake LibraryRyan Androsoff
In fact here is the kids section where I used to take drawing classes during summer visits to see my Babas #BL100 http://via.me/~3rikqcuRyan Androsoff
BL Library – Kids AreaRyan Androsoff
I discovered that the Library now has a little two-room museum in it as well. Amongst a number of interesting items I found a 1970’s typewriter donated by my grandmother from my mother’s side (or as I have called her since I was little: Baba Chev). She was a secretary in the local school board office for many years, so her typewriters were always cherished items to her.
Baba’s TypewriterRyan Androsoff
Baba’s Typewriter – signRyan Androsoff
Found inside the Blaine Lake Library: a copy of the very first edition of @TheStarPhoenix from Oct 17, 1902 #BL100 http://via.me/~3ris352Ryan Androsoff
First edition of the SPRyan Androsoff
Seems the writing style of 1902 wasn’t that different than Twitter today: an aversion to periods! #BL100 http://via.me/~3rivfg0Ryan Androsoff
Wordy article from first SP editionRyan Androsoff
After spending the afternoon taking in some history and reliving some childhood memories, there was one last stop on the itinerary.
Sign w/ historical info outside the cemetery where much of the Cheveldayoff side of my family is buried #BL100 http://via.me/~3rkyfnyRyan Androsoff
Cemetery SignRyan Androsoff
Amazing prairie landscape from near the original Cheveldayoff homestead; Blaine Lake on the horizon #BL100 http://via.me/~3rl30v8Ryan Androsoff
Prairie Sky – Long ViewRyan Androsoff
With that, it was time to head back to Saskatoon, feeling grateful that I could be in Blaine Lake to celebrate the history of this place that is such a big part of the story of my family.
Very happy to have been part of Blaine Lake’s centennial this weekend – thanks to all the organizers! #BL100 http://via.me/~3rld58eRyan Androsoff
Blaine Lake Centennial BannerRyan Androsoff