Gallery: The one thing you should know before you die, according to Olivia Chow, Maestro Fresh Wes and more
Politician Olivia Chow, Love It or List It’s Hilary Farr, rapper Maestro Fresh Wes and seven other famous notables each took 10 minutes last Thursday to talk about the one thing everyone should know before they die. The stacked speaker lineup (and promise of wisdom distilled into soundbites) drew a huge crowd to the Winter Garden Theatre for the third annual Top Ten Event benefitting Autism Ontario. Abiding by the TED Talk-like time limit proved difficult, however—comedian Ron James and a few others ran over their time, while humanitarian Roméo Dallaire joked that “brevity is not a strength of generals.” Below, we round up all 10 key messages.
1. Olivia Chow, Member of Parliament, former city councillor
The Message: Find your peace
The Highlights: Chow elicited sighs and excited murmurs when she announced she wanted to “tell a story about falling madly, passionately in love at age 16.” However, the object of her affection in this case was not her late husband Jack Layton, but the Canadian wilderness. While working as a junior forest ranger in Northern Ontario one summer, the grandeur of her surroundings made her own problems seem insignificant, and helped her to locate a lifelong source of peace and contentment.
2. Roméo A. Dallaire, retired general, senator and author
The Message: We’re all in this together
The Highlights: Dallaire explained that technology has made the world small, which means ignorance is no longer excusable and being an engaged global citizen is obligatory. With both passion and precision, he laid down three ways to begin: 1. educate the world’s women; 2. move from a culture of mere tolerance to one of respect; and 3. travel the world—”see it, touch it, smell it, and bring it back.”
3. Linda Lundström, fashion designer
The Message: Embrace failure
The Highlights: Lundström charmed the crowd by admitting she graduated high school with a 53 per cent average because she was usually up until 3 a.m. the night before a big exam making an outfit. The designer’s line was a huge success before it imploded in the financial crisis of 2008, and she spoke movingly about losing everything, even her home. Lundström now sees “big, fricken’, life-altering failure” as a crucial experience. “When it comes, welcome it,” she said. “It brings gifts: humility, empathy, and simplicity.”
4. Alison Smith, CBC news correspondent
The Message: We have more in common than we think
The Highlights: Smith had the audience in tears with an anecdote about covering the funeral of Princess Diana, where she noticed a small white card on top of the casket with the word “Mummy” written in a child’s handwriting. The moment helped her to realize that “no matter how famous or glamourous she was, she was a mother, like me.” Her next story drew chuckles: while covering Pope John Paul II’s funeral and viewing, she saw that his right foot was askew. In the midst of such elaborate ceremony, the moment struck Smith as hilarious and humbling and made her realize that “our imperfections unite us as humans.”
5. Wes Williams, aka. Maestro Fresh Wes, rapper, record producer, actor
The Message: Expectation, operation, destination
The Highlights: The Maestro bounced around the stage while relating how some of his biggest disappointments—like when a first grade classmate told him he couldn’t be a hockey player because he was black—were precursors to his biggest successes. Sadly, he did not rap, but the elements of his three-step plan for success did rhyme: find your passion and keep moving forward (expectation); put in the work (operation); and celebrate your wins (destination).
6. Deepa Mehta, film director and screenwriter
The Message: Communication is everything
The Highlights: The director was worried she might have to drop out of the event because she was too busy to write a speech, so host Stuart Knight offered to interview Mehta onstage instead. She told him people are most afraid of the unfamiliar, stressing that communication is key in overcoming awkward confrontations with the unknown. Asked which recent films moved her, Mehta mentioned the French film Amour, (“It’s really about communication in unexpected ways”)—but also the Disney animated flick Brave, which she called a “good old-fashioned feminist film” with a touching mother-daughter story. “I wasn’t expecting Brave!” said a flabbergasted Knight.
7. Bruce Cox, executive director of Greenpeace Canada
The Message: The power of one
The Highlights: Like Dallaire, Cox cut straight to his message within moments of stepping on stage, expounding on the power of a single vote. “Governments don’t lead, they follow,” he said. “They follow the votes; likewise, corporations follow the consumers.” Cox also explained that Greenpeace routinely asks how they might reach just one person because all social movements are made up of inspired individuals. A quote from Springsteen brought the point home: “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”
8. Rose Reisman, health and wellness expert
The Message: Take care of yourself
The Highlights: It’s easy to see how Reisman has managed to author no fewer than 17 bestselling books—her talk included a long list of ways to improve physical and mental well-being. She urged the audience to seek balance, to find a passion so you “never work a day in your life,” and to avoid fast-fix diets because an all-or-nothing mindset is a bad way to approach anything in life.
9. Hilary Farr, designer, co-host of Love it or List it
The Message: Every emotion has an upside
The Highlights: “This is so outside of my comfort zone,” admitted Farr, jokingly asking, “am I supposed to be telling you the design tips you must know before you die?” She then explained that vanity led her to take the speaking gig, and as a result, she was doing something new and scary—a sign that even “negative” emotions can yield benefits. (“Vanity is a cultivatable asset!” she half-joked.) She implored her listeners to derive edge and courage from anger, and to seek in every emotion the opportunity to learn.
10. Ron James, comedian
The Message: Follow your own plan
The Highlights: James’s bon mots covered everything from his inauspicious start in acting to the absurdity of Tim Horton’s coffee (“When did they wrap themselves in the flag? It wasn’t brewed on the slopes of Vimy in the heat of battle, guys!”). The key message, however, was to follow your bliss and not worry about what others are doing. “People think you can have it all right away,” he said, “but you gotta do the work.”