Thursday, 25 February 2010

To Russia and back on a Sea Doo - Soviet guns pointed our way - boating magazine adventure feature


To Russia and back on a Sea Doo
Pack Ice Pas De Deux

In 1998 I worked on an adventure TV show that saw a group of Canadian and American boaters travel from Alaska to Russia on Sea Doos. I wrote the show script and went on the trip. The Globe and Mail took the following story and held onto it for almost a year before giving it back (with a kill fee check) ... a boating magazine and a Vancouver based boating newspaper subsequently bought and carried the piece. The actual adventure aired as part of Power Boat TV.

By Stephen Weir

Passing through the Anchorage airport, Russian wilderness expert Andrey Velikanov stopped in front of the departure lounge newsstand, looked at the stack of clear plastic wrapped Playboy Magazines and gave loud thanks to Hugh Hefner. “Yeah, and to Jim Beam and the Marlboro Man too.”
Mr. Velikanov was tipping his baseball cap to the American icons of sin because a gift of cigarettes, alcohol and “adult” magazines helped facilitate his release from arrest on a remote Russian island outpost in the middle of the Bering Sea. It was the conclusion of a strange Arctic Circle boating adventure that saw Andrey and a team of Canadian and American media types travel from Alaska to Russia and back aboard three Sea Doos and a custom built Glacier Bay (a 9 metre long catamaran power boat).
Aside from the loss of one Sea Doo to an acre wide chunk of pack ice, and the arrest and subsequent release of Velikanov, participants in the expedition achieved a number of Personal Watercraft (PWC) records earlier this summer. They are the first people to pilot watercraft across the International Dateline, the first to travel from the America to Russia on Sea Doos and the only madmen to drive PWCs in both the Chukchi and Bering Seas in a single day.
The records are no more than simple bragging rights that will knock ‘em dead at the next few boat shows. However, this summer’s expedition signals an extreme change in the way that the Canadian designed (and now US built) Sea Doo can be used. In the land of the midnight sun, the PWC morphed from a noisy cottage country gadfly to a low cost, unsinkable vessel that can be used by just about anyone to explore just about any watercourse in the world ... even the tumultuous Bering Straits!
The Bering Strait is the 60 km wide channel that separates Asia from North America. Long considered the land bridge between the two continents, this narrow waterway is also the only link between the Arctic and North Pacific Oceans. It is a barren, bleak Arctic Circle passageway that is the collision point between southbound ice packs and the warmer northbound currents of the Pacific.

To reach the Straits most expeditions begin in Nome Alaska. This city of 4,000 is America’s last saltwater port on the western seaboard. Even though the harbour is free from ice for just five months, it is the lifeline for the community. Food and medical supplies are flown in daily, however it is by barge that fuel, automobiles, hardware, and even Sea Doos and a catamaran power boat, arrive in Nome.
Just as the Russian expedition was getting started, the community of Nome was preparing to marks its 100th anniversary. The 1899 discovery of gold on the beach created an instant city around the mouth of the Snake River. Although the community is now best known as the finish line for the Iditarod -- the famous 1,500 km long dog sled race -- gold still plays a role in Nome.
A litre of water for $3.25 US. A loaf of bread costs $3.00 US. $95 US a day to rent a battered 7 year old van. The last frontier comes with a hefty price tag! Despite the expense, Nome has modern hotels, garages, grocery stores and full service airport, is best equipped to support the Russian expedition.
The personal watercraft had been in storage at the local Ski Doo dealership for over a year. A lack of Russian visas in 1998 and a concern over the weather had forced a lengthy delay in the project. While the machines were being prepared for the cold water conditions ahead, the expedition drivers -- a parade of Who’s Who in the boating world --started to arrive in Nome. David Seidman, the editor of New York based Boating Magazine; Ted Rankine, the host of Canada’s Power Boat Television Show and National Geographic columnist Jim Thornton were to share driving duties with Andrey Velikanov and Tim McKercher, a professional personal watercraft racer and executive with Sea Doo.
The expedition was taking place while the Bering Sea was in the middle of an unexpected heat wave. It was June 28 and temperatures were approaching 28 degrees Celsius -- this blistering heat melted away the pack ice that days before had clogged the Bering Strait.
The Seward Peninsula is shaped like a human face. Nome is down around the fleshy part of the chin and the American end of the Bering Strait is the tip of its long nose! There is also a mouth and that is where the village of Teller is located. The route was easy, chin to mouth to nose and back again!
The Glacier Bay sailed from Nome to Teller while the expedition’s three PWC were trucked up to Teller. During the summer the State maintains a gravel road from Nome to Teller. The true beauty of the region lies in the countryside and this 110 km trail passes through a land of snow tipped mountains, tundra, salmon runs, grazing musk ox and spring busting washboards.
Some towns decorate their waterfront with fancy lights, but, in the village of Teller the colour comes naturally. In season there are racks of dangling red salmon lining the long beach. Native fishermen fillet their catches and hang the salted ruby red meat out.
47 year old Rick Blodgett controls most of what goes on, economically speaking, in town. He owns the power generating station, the town’s grocery store and restaurant, the gas station, and a 10 room Bed and Breakfast. He also drives the local school bus.
“Watch out for the south wind. It blows across the pack ice and when it hits the Straits it creates a fog so thick you can’t see your hands,” warned Mr. Blodgett as he fueled the expedition boat. “Last summer we lost a family of six to the pack ice and fog when they were making the crossing. They’ve lived on Diomede all their lives; they haven’t found the bodies yet!”
The expedition was using a satellite cell phone to stay in contact with a New Jersey weather guru. He predicted that there would be no dreaded South winds for the next 48 hours and recommended that the voyage begin.
The sun had been up for five hours -- it was nine in the morning -- when the eight man expedition gathered on the beach and prepared to leave. Looking like mini-Michelin men, each Sea Doo rider was wearing a dry suit overtop of a wet suit. They also wore neoprene hoods, gloves and booties. Yellow duct tape was used to tape ankles and wrists to make sure that the water couldn’t get in.
The three watercraft and the catamaran headed out into the Bering Sea, prepared to meet the worst conditions that Nature could throw at them. Everyone was happily disappointed. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the seas were flat.
There isn’t a tree to be seen en route to Wales. The craggy hills and mountains that line the shore are green with lichen and blooming tundra flowers. Dirty white snow linger in gullies and clefts. Save for the diving cormorant, there were no signs of life.
A course was set for the town of Wales, 100 kms northwest of Teller. Print journalists don’t always make the best expedition members! Endorphins flowing and the wild unexplored coast beckoning, the drivers roared off to explore; all at different speeds and in different directions.

The PWCs were equipped with radios and global positioning sensors. Still, It took an hour to find the wayward drivers. The flotilla regrouped near Tin City, a huge gray mothballed mining installation that silently towers over the coastline.
Bobbing on the water, a mile off shore, the expedition changed drivers and refueled the Sea Doos. Facing Northwest, the Russian island of Big Diomede and the America’s Little Diomede could easily be seen 30 kms away. Asia’s eastern coast was low on the horizon. A course to Little Diomede was set and the watercraft headed out into the Bering Strait.
The Sea Doos and the Glacier Bay fought the current and waves as they approached Little Diomede and the International Date Line. Suddenly conditions changed. The waves stopped and the current slacked. Although the sky was cloudless, a wispy fog lightly drifted in and covered the sea’s blue surface. The boats had entered a slowly moving floating ice pack.
In amongst the large flat pieces of ice, the boaters encountered life. Loons waddled onto the ice floe weary from hunting herring. All heads turned sternward when the dorsal fin of a bow whale broke the water a scant few meters away. The whale came up for air two more times before disappearing into the mist at the edge of our pack ice.
“Each hunk of pancake ice was so huge that it effectively blocked out the wave action. In between each chunk the water was as smooth as glass,” explained TV host Ted Rankine. “What a rush. It was amazing to whiz between flats of ice that were bigger than a city park!”
Personal Watercraft have a shallow and can function safely in water only as deep as a cup of coffee. The same is not true for the Glacier Bay -- it was prudent to travel slowly through the icefield. It was slow going and the decision was made to beach the boat on the largest and thickest pancake.
The PWCs ran themselves right up off the water onto an acre sized slice of ice. The Glacier Bay nudged up against the block and let her passengers step regally onto the temporary island. There were small hillocks on the block and in the middle there were puddles of sweet meltwater, great for drinking if one doesn’t mind lying prone on a moving ice floe.
After taking the obligatory group photos it was time to set off again. As the personal watercraft prepared to leave, disaster struck. One Sea Doos was pushed backward, engine running, smack into another ice floe. The driver yanked it sideways and in doing so dismantled a vital steering cable. The camera boat was a floating repair shop, but this was one malfunction that could not be handled at sea.
A rope was attached to the PWC and it was towed to Little Diomede Island. On board the boat the mood had suddenly switched from elation to group depression -- the Glacier Bay was using too much fuel pulling the craft and we were heading towards a land that reportedly had no gas.
Rising vertically 360 meters into the air, the granite rock known as Little Diomede is home to hundreds of thousands of noisy water birds. There is a small beach area on the west coast where people have lived for centuries. The slope from water’s edge to the base of the rock is so steep that the 80 homes village are built on tall wooden stilts.
Whale bones line the rock path that lead from house to house up the mountain. The water’s edge is covered with the bloody skins of walrus. Diomede is a killing field for walrus, seal, polar bear and whales and a tenuous toe hold for 200 Inglikmiut Eskimos. Yes they have MTV, but the Diomede people live in America’s harshest environment.
“We are just like any other community. We live by subsistence (hunting),” said Pat Omiak, the owner of a walrus hunting boat and president of the Native council. “The majority that we eat are marine mammal. There are very few jobs here. We use walrus ivory for carvings here on the island and sell them. We do the Eskimo dancing which is the strongest cultural tie here.”
Despite warnings from the islanders not to wander into Russia waters, the expedition was off again, this time towards Big Diomede just 4 kms away. It takes a day and 20 minutes to reach Big Diomede since theInternational Date Line runs between the two islands -- it was Wednesday when the boats left America and Thursday when they arrived in Soviet waters.
Big Diomede is … big, but like it’s sister island, offers marginal protection for humans. At one time a thriving Eskimo population lived here. Following the Russian revolution all native residents were moved to mainland Asia and a military installation was established. A dozen soldiers now live on the island year round keeping tabs on America.
When the two personal watercraft arrived at the rocky shores of the Big Diomede it was a rag tag version of the mighty Soviet Army that greeted the vessels. Wearing a mishmash of uniforms, sweat pants and running shoes, the armed soldiers immediately arrested Andrey Velikanov as he climbed up the rocky shore.
“As I was being taken away, I signaled behind my back at Timmy and Jim to keep their Sea Doo away from land,” explained Velikanov. “No point in all of us getting arrested.”
“I was taken to a wooden building above the beach. All of the structures were in very very bad condition. The room that I was in had one light bulb and several chairs, however, most of the seats were broken,” continued Andrey Velikanov. “They gave me a tea and examined our papers. I had arranged visas for everyone to enter Russia legally, but, according to the soldiers Big Diomede was off limits.”
The story does have a happy ending ... sort of. The Russians gave permission for the two Ski Doos to proceed to the mainland some 40 kms away but they would not let the big boat to proceed any farther into Russian waters. The Sea Doers were not prepared to travel to Asia without the safety boat and the expedition officially ended on the Russian island.
Velikanov was formally released from arrest and the second PWC landed. The senior officer gave the men his dress hat and wished all of the USA a Happy Fourth of July. As they were leaving the Americans presented the soldiers with cigarettes, beer, liquor and adult magazines.
Chef Omiak, dressed in a blood stained white fur coat was preparing his skin boat for an evening hunt when the expedition arrived back on Little Diomede. Made of wood and walrus pelt, the ancient craft carries six armed hunters. Dead walrus don’t float., the skin boat is needed to get the men quietly onto an ice floe where they attempt to shoot the beasts before they reach the water.
Before launching his boat Mr. Omiak told the visitors to report to the town hall. Once in the office high on the cliff we received a bill for $800 US -- there is a fee to step onto the island. Anyone not paying has to leave; the cash starved expedition departed immediately!
It took eight hours to tow the damaged Sea Doo back to Teller. By the Fourth of July all of the machines and the Glacier Bay were back in Nome. As the eight explorers prepared to head south, there was talk of returning next Spring Equinox, crossing the Strait and actually beaching the Sea Doos on mainland Russia. Those dreams ended when bargain hunting Alaskians bought up the boats!

Top: Ted Rankine pulls his Sea Doo up to a floating ice pancake. The ice pancake straddles the International Dateline north of the Arctic Circle.
Middle: Author Stephen Weir gets a warm welcome from the children of Little Diomede Island (USA). In the background you can see Big Diomede Island (Russia).
Bottom: The expedition (minus me - I was on another ice floe taking this picture). Russia in the background.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Housing journalist is asking for thoughts about Art and the Zen of decorating a condo!


Cutline: left: Dick Wehrs masks fight for wall space in a Water Tower Pisan window filled condo.
Far Left: No room for art in this small downtown condo.
Below: Roving I, a Flickr photographer took this picture of art in a bathroom in Macau.


Has the downtown condo boom hurt the sale of original art? If you don't have wall space do you just buy smaller art?
The Zen of Condos (according to an article I wrote for the US trade magazine Paint Decorating Retailer) says that when you live in a finite space you must remove something old to make room for something new. Buy a chair? Throw out a coffee table!
What about art? Buy a painting throw out a wall clock?
In space challenged downtown condos the norm is for the builder to provide as much natural light as possible ... at the expense of walls. Kitchen walls are removed. There is no spatial differential between the living room and dining area. Outside walls are curtain wall glass.
Do new condo owners want original art on their walls? Or, in the Zen of things, is it the flat panel screen that becomes the "Got It" and the Chris Temple canvas that is the new "Trade It"?
Or, do new condo owners use art to define their living space? As new works of art are acquired do pieces get zenned out, or does the proud owner simply stack the paintings on the wall like a 19th century salon? I know I could write a lengthy article on the art gallery bathrooms I have seen while working on stories for the Toronto Star and on videos for the McMichael Gallery.
The articles that I write for the Star tend to be assignment based - I don't pick 'em, I just get asked to write them (which is why it takes me a long time to write some of them -- I have to upload a lot of information and understanding about the topic before I begin to call people). Currently without an assignment. Thinking about pitching a story to the Star about original art and the Zen of decorating a Condo.
I have a lot of questions. Like? Well like:
1. Has the explosion of downtown condo towers had an effect about the original art market.
2. Are new condo owners budgeting to buy original art (or do reproductions and flat panel displays become the focal point of wall space). Could mention the high rez Group of Seven art that condo owners can show on their Hi Def flat panel screens (for a price).
3. Does the lack of wall space in condos influence the size of canvases that artists are producing?
4. If people have to move a painting out to make room for a new purchase, are auction houses seeing more paintings getting sold or do new condo owners prefer E-Bay.
Do you my website readers have an opinion on these four questions? Please let me know. Do you have art in your condo? Please post or email me. Thanks!
I will be talking to artists (I have already talked to one artist who's customer base is mature ... people who if they downsize to condos get luxury units that have dynamic space for his large works), builders, designers, art gallery owners and of course, condo owners. Sure would like to talk to you!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Canadian Aerospace News - Malcolm Stanton moves to HISS

Toronto based Defence Company appoints
Malcolm Stanton -- Director for Business Development

Highland Integrated Surveillance Systems
, Inc. (HISS Inc). is pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. Malcolm Stanton as Director for Business Development for HISS, Inc. for the Middle East and Asian region.
Malcolm brings over 40 years of experience that covers Customer Service, Program Management and Business Development in the Canadian and International Aerospace / Defence community. Most recently Malcolm Stanton was Director, Business Development for L-3 Communications - WESCAM, responsible for Business Development in the Asia- Pacific region.
“We are pleased to welcome Malcolm to the HISS team and wish him every success in this challenging role,” said Roger Smibert, president and CEO of HISS Inc.
HISS, Inc is an internationally recognized surveillance mission system solution integrator with a focus on applications in the military and paramilitary airborne, ground and marine sectors. HISS has a demonstrated track record of success in providing turn-key, on-site installations, including site commissioning, training and service, in multiple regions, challenging environments and many diverse cultures.
With facilities in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Wilsonville, Oregon, USA and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, a well established and proven supplier base, and satisfied customers in 13 countries, HISS is well positioned to continue to provide world class integrated mission systems wherever they are needed.

For further information:

Roger Smibert
President & CEO
Highland Integrated Surveillance Systems Inc.
385 The West Mall, Suite 405,

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Toronto Star Housing Feature: Recycled condos: More than the sum of its parts February 6, 2010


The Recycled Condo. EVERYTHING old is new again
By Stephen Weir

It looks news. It smells fresh. It has a new home warranty. Yet, some of the parts of its sum have been around at least once before. Recycled materials are beginning to be used in the construction of new condos, not to save money but to save the planet.
When it comes to constructing Toronto condominiums EVERTHING old, from broken glass to discarded animal skin, is new again. In a drive to be green, developers are using recycled materials in almost every aspect of the building cycle.
There isn’t a totally recycled condominium in Canada … yet. But a visit to a number of new building projects offers a glimpse of the future fast approaching. One building uses century-old wood for flooring in new half-million dollar condos, another uses concrete blocks made with old broken wine bottles. And then there is the building that has recycled leather car upholstery on the walls and floor.
“ There is a consumer demand for all things green – including the use of recycled materials,” explained Mark Cohen, Founding Partner of The CondoStore Marketing Systems. “ And, at the same there are new developers coming on the market with a social conscious and a real desire to follow the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle).”
“ We all have a responsibility in this day and age to preserve our environment and the communities that we live in,” said Cohen. “It is good to see condo developers playing their part because their developments have a huge impact on the urban environment.
CondoStore Marketing Systems is a Toronto based firm that specializes in marketing condominiums and large-scale subdivision in and outside the GTA.
Like the bionic man, there are bits and pieces of recycled material being used all-over Toronto and the rest of the country. Were these parts combined one could create the completely recycled condo tower. Beginning under the dirt and working our way upward, the Toronto Star looks at the use of recycled materials.

Ground Level – When Pro-Green Demolition took down the massive Molson Brewery along Toronto’s Lakeshore Boulevard; it was able to recycle most of the concrete used in the block-long building. The concrete was pulverized and used as bedding material under the grounds and the roadway leading into the West Harbour City condominium development, which replaced the old brewery.
Franco Provenzano, the company president, said that most of the concrete recovered from the brewery did get used – be it on the Lakeshore or somewhere else in Toronto.
"That puppy (the Molson beer factory) was over-built. There was at least 3,000 metric tonnes of recyclable steel (encased in the cement) in there. It was as though they were getting ready for World War Three," says Frank Provenzano, one of four brothers who own and operate ProGreen Demolition, a Concord company that specializes in recovering recyclable materials from the buildings it tears down.

The Concrete Foundation - A York University building has it. Condo towers in California, British Columbia and the Majestic Court project in Unionville (Markham) use it too.
Some call it EcoSmart Concrete; others have dubbed it Fly Ash Concrete. It is a new building product that reduces the amount of cement used in concrete by replacing about half of it with blast furnace slag --fly ash – the residue that is left when coal is burned to produce power.
In 2001 York University built its large Computer Science Building using fly ash concrete. It was a test to see if concrete mixed with recycled fly ash could be a viable high-rise building material.
“No detrimental cost effects were experienced in this project. On the contrary, fly ash costs about half the price of cement and is readily available. As well, the labour required to place fly ash concrete proved to be less than conventional concrete due to its workability,” reports Busby and Associates Architects, the firm that oversaw the project.

Between the walls. The ugly, rough concrete block has been a part of construction projects since the 1830s. The standard block is rectangular with two large holes in the middle (for metal tie beams).
Cement blocks are often used in the walls and basements of housing projects. Now more and more of the blocks are turning up at Condo sites (including the Liberty Village condominium project), where they are used to build interior walls between suites.
Originally the recipe for the common block was a mixture of poured cement and sand. Now, in these recycling times, one Canadian company is making blocks from cement and pulverized glass harvested from Toronto’s blue box programme.

“We are seeing it (being used) in higher end condo projects,” said Don Gordon President & CEO of the Midland, Ontario based Atlas Block Co. Ltd. There is a demand for our new concrete block (which he calls the PCR Block). Up to 30% of the block is made from ground and processed glass. With the glass inside the cement there is less sound transference than with the old style block – which is important for condo owners. They add an insulation value, they contribute significantly to builders looking to meet environmental building standards and they are cost competitive.”
“We have been on this path (developing a glass and cement block) for about three years. We are doing this because we think this the right thing to do. We want to focus on reducing our environment footprint and this is such a beautiful idea,” he continued. “This block will last at least a century. People will lose their appetite for the building long before the block wears away. Then they can tear them down and grind them up and use them again.”

Between the walls even more – It is pink. It is green. It keeps out the heat and cold and dampens noise. Insulation is as much a part of a condominium build as glass, steel and wood.
Insulation is used in the walls between suites to reduce noise. It is also placed on outer walls to keep out the heat of summer and the cold of winter. The most popular forms of insulation are bales of fiberglass (often coloured pink) and rigid slabs of polystyrene insulation.
Canadian fiberglass insulation is a mixture of sand, glass and paper wrap. Both recycled glass and sand are rapidly replenished, inexhaustible resources. Owens Corning Canada, a major supplier of insulation to the condo building industry says they produce a recycled product that saves more than 12 times the energy used to produce it in its first year of installation.
“ The minimum recycle content of our (pink) glass fiber insulation in Canada is 60%. I don't have specifics for the source of the recycled glass we use, but it comprises post-industrial and post-consumer waste from local sources like Toronto’s grey box recycling programme,” said Owens Corning insulation expert Nigel Ravenscroft. “Glass fiber insulation products produced at our Scarborough plant include much higher levels of recycled glass, 60% is the minimum claimed. We supply building insulation for the Toronto market primarily from plants located in Toronto and Valleyfield which minimizes transportation emissions.”
“Our rigid extruded-polystyrene insulation contains a minimum of 20% recycled polystyrene,” said Ravenscroft. “Our compression packaging is the most efficient in the industry, which means you get more insulation on a delivery truck. The carbon footprint in terms of transport is getting smaller every year.”

Windows - Most window glass used in Toronto buildings is manufactured using the recycle friendly "float" process. It is sort of like making taffy. Silica sand and other materials (soda and lime) are melted overtop of a hot bath liquid tin. As part of the bake, 30% or more recycled glass (cullet) is mixed in.
The big concern in using the cullet is that impurities from the recycled glass could literally taint the finished product. However, the savings both to the environment and the bottom line make the use of clean cullet a North American standard for glassmakers.

Steel – Toronto’s skyline is built on steel. Without structural steel girders the condominium tower would never have been invented. Steel provides strength, shape and longevity to the modern skyscraper. The strength to weight ratios is so high that steel is used on practically every construction site in the city.
As well steel is used more and more for framing, roofing and decking on large scale condo projects. Most Ontario steelmakers produce steel products that are cooked with up to 30% recycled steel.

Flooring - Nice new floors in your condo? Nice maybe but probably not 100% new. Builders targeting areas within their projects where recycled materials can be effectively used need only look down.
Some of the most unique methods of utilizing recycled material in new buildings can be found underfoot. The rubber undersides to carpeting often contain rubber that has been literally around again – recycled car tires are plentiful and cheap. Recycled tiles using everything from recycled wine bottle cork to reclaimed porcelain and clay are finding their way into condo projects.
Downtown, at the Clear Spirit building in the Distillery District, century old wood, harvested from one of the project’s soon-to-be torn down rack houses (buildings where barrels of liquor were stored) is being converted into flooring. Wood that was used to hold up barrels of booze is now lining the condo’s lobby walls and the floors of suites.
“It is more a philosophical statement than a business decision,” said Jamie Goad, one of the principals of the Distillery District. “We are trying to promote the experience of living in the Distillery. When people move in here, they are part of the community and by using this lumber it makes the connection between the past and the future.”
“ The trees were probably cut a hundred years ago. Because it was first growth trees the wood is straight and true” he continued “Fabulous wood. Tight grain. Almost clear. Can’t buy it for love or money. The Rack House has to come down so we are really glad we can save the wood.”
New homeowners in Tridel’s Renaissance complex in Richmond Hill (Major Mackenzie Drive and Yonge St) can upgrade the flooring and wall coverings in their new condo units with tiles made from recycled leather.
“ We have had an amazing response from architects who like the look and durability of our leather flooring (tiles and planks). We have shown in a model home in Calgary – Cow Town of course – and here in the Greater Toronto area,” said Karen Deel, brand manager with Mississauga’s Toryls Smart Floors.
“Leather flooring has been around forever. In Europe there are churches and castles that have 700 year old leather floors,” explained Deel. “It is interesting that in terms of Canadian consumers, only a small portion are totally green. They are coming to our leather flooring for other reasons. The floor has a certain high-end style. There are health reasons too, the floors do not emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds that affect air quality) and the cork underlay is also environmentally sensitive.”
Christian Nadeau, a Montreal lawyer who now operates EcoDomo Recycled Leather Tiles in Maryland, is credited with launching the product in the United States. EcoDomo works with Toryls here in Canada. Their tiles are used on floors, walls and even elevator interiors.
“ I get my cow hide leather in South America. Most of it comes from car seat manufacturers. I buy up the leftovers, the leather that would normally end up in a land fill site,” Nadeau told the Star. “We tear the material into a fiber, blend with water, tree bark and latex, the product comes out 100 mm thick, and then is compressed to 3 mm thickness.”
The blending of the leather is done in Argentina and then the product is shipped to the USA, where a protective coating and backing is applied to the tile. “I work with the Amish community in Maryland – we send it out UPS and it comes back on a horse and buggy.”
“Leather is durable. It looks classy and the costs are coming down ($14 to $28 US per square ft),” he continued. “ There is no end to our supply of leather. We have received an offer from Wilson, the football manufacturer to supply us with 50 tons of recycled leather a month!”

The Big Picture “ This is just the beginning,” said CondoStore’s Mark Cohen. “We can expect a raising of the bar when it comes to using recycled materials. More and more consumers are looking to feel good about how they live. It is the responsibility of the developers, to fulfill that desire. This will effect their buying decisions and ultimately the success of their projects.”
“There is a desire among Toronto's condo builders to stay ahead of
the pack … even on an international level. The industry here wants to use the latest in green technology and recycling initiatives.”


Top: Library Leather flooring made by EcoDomo Recycled Leather Tiles
Middle: Glass bottles are used in the creation of recycled concrete blocks by Atlas the Block Company

The Recycled Condo - Three Types of "Recycled"


SIDEBAR: Three different types of recycling

Recycling is the cornerstone of the Three R’s. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. However, there are several different ways to recycle. In the condo construction industry there are three different types of recycled building material.

Salvage – The purest form of recycling is to make use of salvaged “stuff”. This means taking used building material (like bricks or wooden beams) and with little or no processing using them in the construction of a new structure. Since there is no mixing, treating, or processing the use of salvage is carbon neutral. It is so golden it is green!

Post-consumer recycled content – This refers to recyclable items that are components within the manufacturing process of new building material. When glass bottles are ground and then mixed with new material to create insulation, the insulation is said to contain post-consumer recycled content. The finished product is good but not squeaky green. That is because new materials have to be added to the recycled supplies and carbon is spent in the processing of same.

Pre-consumer recycled content - Back in the last century when retread was considered a bad word there was considerable waste generated in the production of building material. Scraps of wood. Metal trimming. Off-sized aluminum strips. All industrial trash that was routinely trucked to landfill sites. Nowadays? One company’s garbage is another firm’s secret ingredient. Although there is a carbon footprint used in the creation of the scrap and the subsequent processing of it into a new product, it is still considered to be green. Landfill sites are spared, waste is reduced and components are recycled.

Cutline: Bits of glass used by the Atlas Block Company to produce recycled concrete blocks