Print this Page Cushing's Message Boards

Share |

Media: Erella

Erella's Artwork

View more of Erella's artwork on Facebook or her website

Erella Ganon. Neighbourhood Stories is a documentary series profiling interesting people who live and work in Toronto’s distinct neighborhoods. It was created by a some very talented people for Rogers TV in Toronto and broadcast April 2010.


In the performance of a lifeline
Toronto's arts community takes a leading role to help one of its own
May 20, 2008


Call her a blessed E. Vent.

Erella Vent Ganon, an illustrator/radio broadcaster/artist/poet/writer/lecturer/art show curator was a fixture on the exploding Queen Street West art scene in the heady `80s. With a name pronounced "irrelevant," she hung out at Crash and Burn, arguably the first punk club in Canada, where she slunk around in a clear shower curtain with black tape over the naughty bits.

She is also a brain tumour survivor, scheduled for her fourth round of surgery next week.

She gets by with a more than a little help from her friends. In these cynical times, the artistic community has come together for one of its own. Contractors and workers are renovating Vent Ganon's house for chump change. Starving artists are donating goods – everything, including the kitchen sink found in a backyard. An exec at ACTRA supplied a toilet; film editor Barbara Kerr provided kitchen cabinets idling in her basement.

Vent Ganon's Toronto home, recognizable by the sweet blue-and-floral mural she'd painted with help from musician and visual artist Kurt Swinghammer, was in dire need of repair. She and her 14-year-old daughter, Celeste, haven't had a flushing toilet for a year.

And for the past decade, she has suffered through multiple brain tumours and surgery. "I have a rare disorder, Cushing's disease," Vent Ganon says of the condition that makes her pituitary gland release too much ATCH (adrenocorticotrophic hormone), which stimulates the production of cortisol, a stress hormone, triggering the tumours.

They started with a two-day garage sale last month to clear out the clutter so the construction workers could gut the downstairs and repair plumbing.

"I've had the house for 27 years, so there was 27 years of stuff," Vent Ganon says. "There was a closet I hadn't opened in a decade."

In addition to her stuff, "Fiona Smyth made posters to sell; Barbara Klunder made a lunch box," Vent Ganon adds.

Smyth, a major Queen St. W. mural artist, now teaches at the Ontario College of Art & Design. Illustrator Klunder , who started out making hand-knit sweaters featured in Vogue magazine, now teaches at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

"Barbara was here scrubbing pots for the sale and (singer) Mary Margaret O'Hara made chocolate mousse cake," Vent Ganon says.

The $2,000 she made went to the construction team.

Contractor Paul Davies, who owns a design and building firm, booked off two jobs just to finish her indoor and outdoor sets of stairs.

"I said to Paul, `I know you're not making any money on it,' and he said, `But what is a life for? Money will come.'"

Davies got involved through a friend of a friend who knew Vent Ganon from her volunteer work at Dufferin Grove Park, a community group dealing with local issues.

A committed activist, Vent Ganon produced the city's first AIDS benefit in October, 1986, inspired by her friend, multi-media artist Tim Jocelyn, who succumbed to the disease in 1987. As a result, the late film critic Jay Scott introduced Vent Ganon to June Callwood and she helped launch Casey House AIDS hospice. She also helped co-found Word on the Street.

"My friend said, `Here is a woman in need of help,'" Davies explains. "Her house has not been maintained in 20 years. We had to make it right so she can manoeuvre."

Davies is most concerned about making the house habitable in time for her six-month post-op recovery.

"We put a step-in shower with a bench," he says. "We replumbed the whole house – water wasn't getting to the second floor because the pipes were so corroded. We made the kitchen more user-friendly, gutted the bedroom and we've done a part of an electrical upgrade."

And Marie, a neighbour, is painting her kitchen a robin's egg blue.

"I don't even know her – she's so awesome," Vent Ganon allows. "I didn't even know her name."

She has depended on the kindness of strangers, as well as friends. Eric Steinbach, an artist/gallery director who lives across the street and in whose loft she has been bunking during the reno, put together a team of 40 – "The Mighty Team" – who went in and de-cluttered. They include musician Jocelyne Lanois; ex MuchMusic producer Joni Daniels; former auction house curator Marla Good; Liisa Ladouceur, music and pop culture critic on CBC's Definitely Not The Opera; actor Tara Hughes; tour manager Karen Pace; CBC radio host Philly Markowitz; and CBC-TV's Shirley McQueen.

"We see this amazing woman who was suffering and out of pride didn't want to ask for help," says Steinbach, who has known Vent Ganon since he moved into the `hood in '96. "For six months, she sat with a pitcher of water trying to bathe herself. I said that we have to get something going and she finally said, 'Okay, I need your help.' "

"What would have happened to me if Eric had not stepped in?" Vent Ganon asks. "He knew the specialist who knew the right neurosurgeon."

Dr. Fred Gentili at Toronto Western Hospital is scheduled to perform the surgery, another in the series of operations Vent Ganon, 48, has had because of brain tumours over the past decade.

"In '98, I had my first brain surgery to remove the first tumour," she recalls.

"Then another in '99 because it is likely that they missed as little as one cell. In 2004, they went in to take out a tumour and found two more. That was the biggie."

"They are doing the surgery through my nose, between my eyes," she says of the procedure to be performed with endoscopes, slender flexible tubes with cameras.

And yet she says she is lucky.

"It's not cancer; it's operable. I am so lucky. I have nothing but wonderful people in my life. Each person is like a jewel and I have a necklace.

"Having the last brain tumour is the best thing that happened to me. I hope Eric and my Mighty Team are duly compensated for this in heaven."

Heaven can wait. Steinbach wants to tackle the backyard next.

Toronto Star

HOME | Contents | Search | Adrenal Crisis! | Abbreviations | Glossary | Forums | Donate | Interactive | Bios | Add Your Bio | Media | • Erella's News Article | Erella on Neighbourhood Stories |