Leslieville Lives; Stories from the ‘Ville – Whitney Ross-Barris
Meet Whitney. We’ve lived on the same street for some years now: she at the top me at the bottom, but it wasn’t until last year during my Day in the Life project that I got chatting to her and another neighbour, Kate, on the street one day. Both Moms with 2 little guys under the age of 5, we had little in common to connect us prior to our street meet. It wasn’t until later when I became friends with both of them on Facebook that I got to see a bit of their lives. Two crazy, fun mamas. One night I started reading some of Whitney’s posts and had to grab the kleenex. Yes, from crying. Not sad crying, laughing crying.
June 10: PA day has broken me.
May 20: Prayer for being on public transit: Oh ye gods of inside voices, let not my son’s thoughts on yonder gentleman’s “big tummy” be audible to any but mine own sheepish ears.
March 19: I’m fully hiding in my kitchen, drinking a mimosa at 4:30pm. #motheroftheyear
Aug 21st/2015: Hotter than…? (I’ll take “a Yeti’s crotch” for 800, please, Alex?)
I wasn’t long into reading her funny posts that I came across an MP3 and a post about her ‘new release’. ‘She’s a jazz singer?’ I asked myself. I have a neighbour who is a comic and an amazing jazz singer? I listened to several tracks/watched a few videos and remember sending her a PM telling her how I was up til 4am reading her posts and listening to her music. The things you discover when you chat with your neighbours on the streets of Leslieville.
Whitney has talent in her genes. Her grandfather was Alex Barris, a recording artist, broadcaster and columnist for The Telegram in the 1950s, and was the host of ‘The Barris Beat’ on CBC in the late 1950s. Her dad Ted, followed in his dad’s footsteps and while initially drawn to journalism in the early 1970s, he ventured into freelance, writing music reviews for the Globe and Mail, and has contributed to many CBC radio programmes, is a teacher, documentarian and has published a bestseller. Whitney’s mom, Jayne MacAulay, is no less talented/media savvy. Semi-retired now, she was a Senior Editor of Zoomer magazine and still freelances for them.
The younger of 2 girls, ‘My sister? She’s the white sheep. She did something sensible. She became a teacher’, Whitney was born in Edmonton, raised in Uxbridge and studied Theatre Arts at U of T/Sheridan. But not before winning a scholarship in high school to study theatre in Norway for one year, where she performed Shakespeare – in Norwegian. I can’t really put into words her description of that experience. Just know that it was, of course, entertaining ‘live’. I’m looking at the clock thinking ‘Omg it’s 2:30pm and we’re only at high school’. I laugh, interrupt her and say ‘I could stay for hours but…we need to fast forward a bit’. ‘I come from a family of writers. We talk a lot,’ she says, trying to eat some lunch as she embarks on her Canadian Idol contestant story. Simultaneously, her youngest decides he is full and doesn’t want any more pasta. Then, 60 seconds later, he’s hungry and wants pasta. She rolls her eyes, smiles and manages to keep talking while feeding and watering her 2 kids; the younger known as the ‘VP’ and the older ‘The CEO’. Artists are great multi-taskers.
She didn’t make the Idol final cut, but after she graduated from U of T/Sheridan, Whitney did Summerstock (theatre productions throughout the Summer) all over Ontario. In a dive bar one night after doing shows in Lindsay, she met her husband, Ian, a flying teacher and it was love at first flight. Thus began the move: first to her parents’ basement in Uxbridge where she worked slinging Swiss Chalet while Ian continued teaching flying, then to a friend’s in the west end. In 2007/8 she joined Girl’s Night Out, a weekly open mic on Church near Richmond and began connecting with other jazz musicians. ‘I don’t go to gyms, I go to jams’. She and Ian moved to the Distillery district around this time after a year of sharing with friends, but were drawn to Leslieville and would walk over most weekends. She fell in love with the area but due to her ‘selfish love of pretty things’, admits she is terrible with money and thought her life as a renter was a given. But as luck be the lady, when her grandmother died, she was left an inheritance and in 2009 she and Ian bought their house in Leslieville. You’ve likely seen a few of her posts on the I Am A Leslievillian Facebook page, but the classic gold is on her personal page. She admits that being a mom of 2 makes her blog and FB posts a necessity and a great outlet for comedy connections.
Whitney has performed in some amazing places around the world including a salt mine in Poland, a farmyard in Millbrook & all over Canada, the US and Europe. You can check out her pipes at whitneyrb.com. Whitney’s trio is called the Bright Lunch Trio – after The Bright Lunch, which was her great Grandfather’s diner in Chelsea in NYC. She and co-writer/collaborator/band member Nathan Hiltz perform regularly in Toronto. Get out and catch this funny lady/flying star at a venue near you.