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The Wisdom Speakers

Insights and Inspiration for Wisdom Seekers


The Wisdom Speakers project captured messages of extraordinary “ordinary” people. The premise was to spread their wealth of knowledge in the form of short videos.  Nicole and I wished to capture pearls of wisdom and pass them on to current and future generations.

In this small collection we hope you’ll find valuable information to inspire and to perhaps ignite the wisdom in you.


Howard Jerome

 “Becoming the Possible You”

Howard Jerome is a pretty fun guy!

Born in 1939 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Howard has always done as he pleased, from his youthful days trying different career paths, to his nearly 100 TV and film credits. He has had the opportunity to work with Leonard Nimoy, Liam Neeson and Diane Keaton. Howard is the founder of the Canadian Improv Games and has even run for mayor of Toronto!

In his own rapping words: “I’ve been a Buddhist/ a nudist/… I’ve whirled like a dervish/ I’ve worked with Ed Mirvish!/… And I love it all”

To say that Howard is a fun, wise man is an understatement. He says “I’ve studied the wisdoms of every culture in every time in history.” We were drawn to him for his ever-present belief in the possibilities in each of us. In his words: “We can reclaim our power! Let us be the kind of people we can be!”

See and hear for yourself as we present to you this Wisdom Speaker video featuring Howard Jerome. 

The Wisdom Speakers would like to thank Daniel Mathers, Doanald Quan and Sony Creative for their permission to use their original compositions.

Louise Russo

“You need to do what you can with what you have”

On April 21, 2004, Louise Russo, mother of three, was an innocent victim of gun violence. Caught in the cross fire at a local sandwich shop, she was paralyzed from the chest down, and tragically lost the use of both of her legs.

Louise graciously invited The Wisdom Speakers into her home and shared her story with us along with her vision for moving forward with acceptance, grace, and determination. We were very taken with her smile and joy and desire to make a difference by helping others to choose the right path in life. She gifted both of us with a leather bracelet with the word “Believe” written on it – a wonderful reminder that we need to believe in ourselves to make good choices in life.

In this special Wisdom Speakers video, Louise shares aspects of who she was seven years ago, what got her through difficult times since the incident, and how independence is one of the most important things for her in moving forward with her life. “People complain about the silliest things,” she says with a laugh, and gently reminds us that crazy traffic is not nearly as important as getting to your destination safely.

Louise is a true inspiration. With the incredible support of her loving husband, family, and good friends, she is determined to stay positive and not be consumed by pain and the obstacles she faces. She is also the founder of Louise Russo W.A.V.E – Working Against Violence Everyday ( ), an initiative that is centered on principles of Respect, Responsibility and Role of Leadership. Its goal is to inspire young people and members of the community to take action, make positive choices and initiate projects to make their schools & communities a safer place to live, learn & play.

We invite you to watch this video and be inspired by a true hero.

The Wisdom Speakers would like to thank Snowbird666 and Blackaura for their permission to use their original compositions.

Ellen S. Jaffe

“Listen to the heart of the world”

Nicole has known Ellen Jaffe for at least 5 years now as a facilitator with the Living Through the Arts program at the Royal Conservatory. Nicole has witnessed Ellen “in action” working with vulnerable populations guiding them through a writing process that is inviting and engaging.  Her compassion is outstanding and it is amazing how she is able to draw out the very best in the people she works with.  Using words and language as her tools, she injects each relational moment with poetry, curiosity and deep caring.  We thought she’d make an excellent Wisdom Speaker.

Ellen was born in New York City, came to Canada in 1979, and became a Canadian citizen in 1993.  She has many published works, including a young-adult novel, Feast of Lights (Sumach Press, 2006), a poetry collection, Water Children (Mini Mocho Press, 2002), and Writing Your Way: Creating a Personal Journal (Sumach Press, 2001). Two of her poems were published in Crossing Lines by Seraphim Press (2008), an anthology by poets who came to Canada during the Vietnam War era. She received the Orion prize for poetry in 2000.

Ellen invited us into her cozy home where we had the opportunity to interview her and observe her at work in her writing nook.  She candidly reveals some lovely insights from her many years of writing and working with others that we are delighted to share with you in this Wisdom Speakers video.


Ellen’s website:

The music featured in Ellen S. Jaffe’s Wisdom Speaker video is courtesy of:

Jay Linden –

Joe Rosenthal

“We need to learn as much as possible about the Holocaust…to be in a better position to ensure that it never happens again”

The Wisdom Speakers is proud to present this special feature video.

This video was commissioned by Baycrest and produced by Gilles’ video production company, True Connections Video Productions.  The video was screened as part of “Holocaust Education Week” in Toronto. We’re very happy to be sharing this poignant video as a Wisdom Speakers video.

Joe Rosenthal is an exceptionally talented 89-year-old professional painter and sculptor. He uses his art to remind us of the atrocities of the Holocaust in the hopes that such an event never happens again.

Ann Tudor

 “Happiness is our birthright”

After hearing Ann Tudor read from her latest book “Hesitating at the Gate ~ Reflections on Aging” at the Runnymede Library, we invited her to be our next Wisdom Speaker. She welcomed us into her home and we learned more about her journey and her no-nonsense insights about her life and the thresholds she has crossed.

For those of us who have not yet reached (or are approaching) the “Land of Old” she shares a humorous account of her view from there. At 73 years of age, she is vital and carefree and speaks with candor about her aging – a reality we all face.

We were particularly taken with her story about how she never really knew her mother due to a reticence on her mother’s part to reveal aspects of herself.Ann invites us to show ourselves to others and reassures us that we won’t die of the shame of taking such a risk.

In this Wisdom Speakers feature, Ann is indeed “aging gracefully” and reveals of herself to us all.

The music featured in Ann’s Wisdom Speaker video is courtesy of:

Kirk Elliott –
Kye Marshall –

Fay Wilkinson

“Now the invisible has been made visible”

Fay Wilkinson is a true creative wizard. She is a courageous artist who explores fibre, masks, and stories and is not afraid to face her fears. She is the founder of The Creative Cocoon – an artistic environment where she encourages wisdom to reveal itself. She is also the coordinator of the Expressive Arts Program at the Haliburton School of the Arts.

In this Wisdom Speakers video, Fay shares her unique ways that she receives inspiration and also describes her creative process and how it helps her access her inner wisdom. She encourages all of us to find that which “makes our heart sing”.

She lives in a beautiful home on Eagle Lake, north of Toronto, surrounded by nature, which doubles as her studio. Come and witness the creations in the Cocoon!

We thank the musicians featured in Fay’s Wisdom Speakers video:

Daniel Mathers –
Jake Wilkinson –
Rick Monaco –
Zappo (Germany) – email:

On the Streets – Your Biggest Dream

 “Complete this sentence: “My biggest dream in life is to…”

We went out on New Year’s Eve and again on New Year’s Day to ask people to complete the sentence above. Did we think that because it was New Year’s, and because some people make resolutions, that people would be thinking about their biggest dreams in life? Yes we did.

UPDATE: On New Years Day, 2010, you interviewed me in Bloor West village, asking me what my dream was. Well, it took two years, but my novel “Dominance: South Africa” is being released on the 21st. Would it have happened if I hadn’t verbalized it to you? I don’t know.

John Whitaker Appearing in this video

But, as any documentary filmmaker will tell you, what you are hoping to capture is not necessarily what you’ll get. So this short video encapsulates the answers that we received.

Did we want more? Yes.

Did we want bigger and grander dreams to be revealed? Yes.

Do we want to be inspired by others? Absolutely!

So we put this question out to you. What is your biggest dream in life?

And we challenge you to dream BIG! Let’s inspire each other with our dreams.

We thank KooLKYLE, Cedarville Records and Dekidasu for the music in this video.

Sharon Jones & Houdini

 “She (Houdini) made me figure out how I can be the best version of me.”

We met Sharon Jones while horseback riding at Wildwood Manor Ranch outside of Georgetown, Ontario. Sharon and her beloved horse and “teacher”, Houdini, were our personal trail guides. The topic of our project, “The Wisdom Speakers” arose and Sharon related that Houdini had been and continues to be a significant source of wisdom in her life.

We immediately knew that we wanted to feature both of them in a Wisdom Speakers video.

Sharon learned to ride English style in the U.K. at the age of 7. Here in Canada, in 2003 her love for riding resurfaced and despite a hip replacement in 2004 Sharon has not been off a horse since. In 2005 she purchased her own horse, Houdini.

Houdini got her name because early on Sharon would tether her and Houdini would magically break free. She was therefore named after the famous magician. The funny thing is that only later did Sharon discover, to her surprise, that Houdini was not in fact an escape artist but Sharon had not been tying the rope correctly using the proper knot.

In this video, Sharon shares how her relationship with “Hoodie” has changed her life. It’s an inspiring story of human-animal connection, love and persistence.

*** Be sure to watch until the very end 🙂

The music in this video is from the talented musician/singer/songwriter Oh Susanna,

Toronto Street Wisdom

 “My personal wisdom?… to take care of myself”.

The Wisdom Speakers Project took to the streets of Toronto in the Annex district and asked various people a couple of questions regarding Wisdom:

  1. What does the word “Wisdom” mean to you?
  2. What is your own personal wisdom? (or.. What is the most important thing you’ve learned so far in your life?)

We wanted to see how complete strangers walking the streets would respond. We were pleasantly surprised at the willingness of the people we approaced to give us their time and spend a few minutes to participate in this project. As you’ll witness, we approached young and older to get various perspectives.

A common thread definitely stands out from these random interviews. Watch the video and discover what it is.

The music in this video is the song “Street Walk” by Gilles Gagnon.

Skid Crease

 “Take the time you’ve got and make every day meaningful”

Meet Skid Crease:

Passionate, energetic, commited and driven.

Skid is a high-energy educator, advocate and environmental expert. A respected public speaker, he has travelled far and wide to learn and share his knowledge. We filmed and interviewed Skid at his home north of Toronto.  In this interview, Skid reminds us of the importance of making every day meaningful along with other wise advice he received from his father. Skid’s mantra? Life is good!

The music in this video is by Roger Gibbs – an exceptional musician/singer/songwriter from Barbados living in Toronto, Ontario.  Visit his website at

John Franks

 “A great mentor of mine once said: Wow! I made a mistake!”

Meet John Franks. John is a retired music teacher who has produced musical theatre and also spent 3 years in Germany with the Canadian Armed Forces teaching music.

With the help of friends, he fulfilled one of his dreams of building himself a log cabin north of Toronto where he currently resides. The serene, peaceful setting allows John to commune with nature. When we met John at his cabin, he immediately reminded us of Henry David Thoreau. He enjoys his solitude away from the fast pace of the city and breathes deeply every moment of this natural haven.

At his cabin, we asked him three thought provoking questions.

  1. What is the most important advice you would have liked to have been given when you were young?
  2. What is best choice you made in your life and what was its impact?
  3. What are you still curious about?

Thank you, John, for sharing your thoughts and reminding us that it’s through our mistakes that we grow and develop.

David Anderson

 “That’s what we are, that’s all we are… is stories”

David Anderson is the Artistic Director of Clay & Paper Theatre in Toronto which he founded in 1994. His goal was to produce narrative theatre and larger-than-life puppetry as a means of animating public spaces and igniting community festivity and celebration while bringing both simple and complex issues to light. He has been successfully taking his vision of public performances to streets, parks and public places for more than 38 years and has performed and directed across Canada, the United States, Russia, Europe and the Georgian Republic. Large-scale puppetry and stilt walking are trademarks of David’s productions.

David is a playful and creative genius! He is also a singer and musician and you can often find him playing his accordion or other exotic instruments.

The music heard in this video is from Darbazi, a group that David is a part of. You’ll also hear tracks from his solo musical work.

As David says “All we are is stories”. Here is part of his.

Rena Upitis

 “A goal is a dream with a timeline”

Rena Upitis had a dream…

Rena had a dream of building an off-grid retreat/learning centre. (Off-grid: does not rely on municipal water supply, sewer, electrical power grid or similar utility services.)

In 2008, Wintergreen Studios was born. We stayed at this unique centre north of Kingston, Ontario, during an artist education week. We had the privilege of being its very first guests (you can say the drywall was still drying!). The building is constructed using straw bales and has numerous unique features. Many hands were involved in creating Wintergreen.

We interviewed Rena in her beautiful wooded surroundings and asked her about the manifestation of her dream. The building of Wintergreen is proof that what your mind can conceive, you can achieve.

Rena is a real dynamo and is also the former Dean of Education at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Watch, listen, be inspired and go for YOUR dream!

The music on this video is from the talented 3-woman band The Swamp Ward Orchestra from Kingston, Ontario.


Behind The Wisdom Speakers Project


Gilles was born in Montréal, Québec. He is a video producer, composer, musician, and web designer and founder of True Connections Video Productions. It is Gilles’ fascination with people, their stories and life experiences that has led him to create “The Wisdom Speakers”. His fascination developed after meeting interesting people while backpacking in places such as Tunisia, Morocco, Spain and Ecuador. He harnesses the power of video to bring the audience closer to the subjects.

Gilles has a background in Information Technology and worked for medium to large corporations before launching True Connections Video Productions . This experience as a computer programmer and network analyst assists him with the technical aspects of video and sound production, that is, editing, engineering, mastering and mixing. Gilles also delivers animation and documentary film workshops at the National Film Board of Canda (NFB). He also creates promotional videos for the NFB.

The Wisdom Speakers project is a creative outlet for his various skills and interests for what is a worthwhile cause.

Gilles resides in Toronto, Ontario.


Nicole is honoured to be a part of such a special project as The Wisdom Speakers. To be able to meet and interview such fascinating people has been inspirational for her. Having come from an extensive theatre directing background, Nicole’s main interest in the creative process is working with metaphor and creating thought provoking ideas that lend themselves to deep reflection and intellectual stimulation. She has often been told of her skills to empower actors to their finest performances. This, combined with strong dramatic storytelling, has created emotional resonances for her audiences in plays and projects that she has chosen to explore. Now, with her collaboration with Gilles Gagnon on The Wisdom Speakers, she is able to merge her deep curiosity of the human condition with interviewing people and helping to creatively tell their stories through video.

Nicole has been working in the arts industry for the past 20 years working as an arts administrator, special events coordinator, theatre director, casting director, performer, workshop facilitator and fundraiser. Since receiving her BA in Theatre Studies from York University and a diploma in Events Management from Algonquin College, Nicole has worked for such arts organizations as The Royal Ontario Museum, Equity Showcase Theatre, Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, Theatre Columbus, Theatre Smith-Gilmour and The Royal Conservatory of Music. She is a recent graduate of ISIS-Canada in Expressive Arts Therapy.

Nicole has worked as an independent theatre producer and director for several small companies and fringe shows in Ottawa and Toronto. She is currently working for Learning Through the Arts at The Royal Conservatory as the Community Programs Manager of the Outreach Program, the Active Ecology Program and the Institute of Creativity, Health and Social Change.

Nicole’s other interests lie in mask making, labyrinths, and writing. She is enamored with the infinite awe inspiring power of nature and is exploring creative ways of contributing to the healing of the planet, Mother Earth, our home.