Alison Garwood Jones

Henry Pellatt’s Strength

March 27, 2023

Yesterday I climbed the staircase that takes you up and over the steep, ancient shore cliff of Lake Iroquois with my eye set on reaching the turreted mansion on the summit.

I’ve lived in Toronto since 2000. But, for whatever reason, I had yet to check out Casa Loma, built in 1911. Maybe its vibe was too Medieval Times for my taste. Or maybe my preference for post-WWI history was stopping me. I now suspect I had to get through all five seasons Downton Abbey — which only happened last year — to open my mind to this showpiece from Toronto’s fluttering red, white and blue Empire-worshipping past.

Casa Loma gardens -photo by Trip AdvisorPhoto: Trip Advisor

Henry Pellatt, its owner with his wife Mary, had the energy of Teddy Roosevelt, the wardrobe of Edward the VII (who knighted him in 1905), and the entrepreneurial thrust of Andrew Carnegie.

Henry Pellatt's bedroom decor.Henry Pellatt’s bedroom decor. Photo by Alison Garwood-Jones

How did Pellatt amass his fortune? “Sir Henry harnessed the power of Niagara Falls to electrify the streets of Toronto.” This appeared on the historical plaque at the bottom of the stairs. Good writing always makes me want to get up and move. And with that one sentence — and not my hours at the gym — I was inside the castle faster than I thought possible.

I spent most of my time in the library because that’s what I do when I’m visiting someone’s home (bathroom tours are also top of my list). Of the thousands of books still housed inside the glass cases of Pellatt’s chandeliered library, I happened upon the autobiography of Andrew Carnegie first …. followed several books over by Emmet’s Principles and Practice of Gynecology. As I write this, with only the fumes of my good instincts to lean on, I suspect that this tome was added to the shelf by Mary. By all accounts, Pellatt was a faithful husband and a kind and fair employer to the scullery maids and butlers in his charge, even with all that money. And he liked strong women.

Bookshelves at Casa Loma - photo Alison Garwood-JonesCasa Loma library shelves. By Alison Garwood-Jones
Library books at Casa Loma by Alison Garwood-JonesCasa Loma library shelves. By Alison Garwood-Jones

Mary was a tea-pouring, live-out-loud champion of women’s rights. She brought the Girl Guide movement to Canada, which empowered young girls to surpass the lady-like limitations placed on them and, instead, go for their fire, electrician, first-aid, and aeronautics badges. Meaning, she too electrified the city. With her ideas.

Casa Loma Girl Guide DisplayThe Girl Guide display on the 2nd floor. By Alison Garwood-Jones

The thrill was short-lived. The Pellatts only lived in the castle for 8 party-throwing years. In a cascading series of events — including bad land deals, a bank collapse, rising property taxes, and Mary’s death — Henry, the Edwardian industrialist, lost everything and was forced out of his castle.

He bounced around for another 20 years, living in a series of progressively smaller residences. In his final years, Pellatt moved into the depression-era clapboard bungalow of Thomas Ridgway, his former chauffeur.

Thomas Ridgway's bungalow in Mimaco. From The Pellatt newsreel: The Man Who Built Casa Loma

Sir Henry moved into Thomas Ridgway’s bungalow in Mimaco. Ridway was his former chauffeur. Photo: from the documentary, The Pellatt Newsreel: The man who built Casa Loma

At his apex, Pellatt’s business ventures amounted to 25% of the Canadian economy. He managed it all from a desk he had copied from Napoleon.

Sir Henry Pellatt mannequin by Walt WizardA lifelike model of Sir Henry on the third floor. A creation of Walt Wizard. Photo by Alison Garwood-Jones

I got the full story of his fall from a documentary looping in the basement of the castle. A small movie theatre has been set up at the bottom of a concrete swimming pool that was still in construction when Pellatt was forced to move out. It was like sitting inside a tomb.

But, like Teddy Roosevelt, Pellatt was somehow able to look past all he had lost and focus on all he had experienced — the love of Mary and the steady friendship of people like Ridgway, and meeting the King. When the Kiwanis Club of Toronto opened Casa Loma to the public in 1937, Pellatt stood in the sunshine at the podium of the ceremony and, without an ounce of self-pity, welcomed the good people of his city into his former home. I can only imagine the strength that took.

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Ian Falconer, Olivia’s Dad

March 24, 2023

My insides dropped a thousand feet when I heard that Ian Falconer, the set designer and father of Olivia the pig, died on March 7. He was only 63.

Falconer created Olivia in his tiny West Village studio apartment back in the late 1990s. It was a tribute to his new niece with the little pug nose and the determined spirit.

A few years later, when a jittery Falconer presented his drawings to a children’s literary agent on Madison Avenue, she nodded and said, “I like them … but she’s not Eloise. She’s not Eloise” (twice in case he didn’t hear her the first time).

The agent proposed that Falconer turn his drawings over to a professional author who would pen a new story. Falconer was dismayed. He thanked her and left. By now, his nervous energy was off the charts. All I knew was that I couldn’t bear to give Olivia up, he said.

If any of you would like to hear a wonderful interview with Falconer, I consider this the definitive sit down: His May 8, 2014 conversation with Jessica Harris on NPR’s “From Scratch.”

Harris, without asking what Ian’s inspirations were (Worst. Question. Ever), managed to pull from him a full bouquet of inspirations. For example, I learned that he drew Olivia in charcoal (I’m not a fan of charcoal, but now I’m not so sure … I mean, look how sensitive it is!!). Then he smudged the charcoal with women’s makeup sponges and cotton swabs. In a final splash, he dressed Olivia in red gouache dresses and maillots, with the occasional fisherman’s stripe for some extra zing. He layered shadows on top of the gouache using more smudged charcoal. To protect his creation, he locked the lines in place with hair spray.

Tribute to Ian Falconer's Olivia

Ian has inspired me to try something different than my usual Uniball pen and watercolour. It turns out, I have all the art and beauty supplies on hand, right down to the eyeliner sponges. I never use these on my face. I’d rather smudge up a pig!

We’ll always remember you, Ian!



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Spot Drawing Love

March 20, 2023

Nothing makes me happier than a good little spot drawing.

Spot drawing by Alison Garwood-Jones

Spot drawing by Alison Garwood-Jones\Spot drawing by Alison Garwood-JonesSpot drawing by Alison Garwood-Jones

Spot drawing by Alison Garwood-Jones


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Milton Glaser on Attentiveness

March 14, 2023

Milton Glaser illustration by Alison Garwood-Jones

“Attentiveness is the great benefit of drawing.”

Milton Glaser said that. But becoming attentive to your life is a question for every human, not just artists.

To pay attention without preconceptions is massively challenging. As Milton explained it, too much belief spelled the end to observation and understanding.

Self-restraint, like listening, is an exercise in maturity, brute strength, and the softest of touches. Not many people present that combo.

And so we have our marching orders: connect the dots, observe what is, ask “Am I doing harm?” and hope that the iconic will rise from the force of your intuition.

Thank you, Milton.

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AI and Eureka

March 6, 2023

Butterfly drawing by Alison Garwood-Jones-Jones

Here’s the thing:

When you hand over the heavy lifting of writing to AI, you stop having to come up with the thrust of an argument. I’m finding that incorporating AI’s output into my own writing makes me feel further from my subject (and clients), not closer.

The nervous energy that fuels a writer’s search for the “So What” and the elation we feel upon discovering an argument or a story structure … well, that stuff has lit humans up since the beginning of time. It’s a feeling of ownership over a challenge and emerging the victor. Watching AI yank that away from us is like witnessing your family home burn down.

Artificial neural networks have no idea what I’m talking about. It couldn’t tell you what synergy feels like. It doesn’t even know what it feels like to be fast, efficient and under budget. It meets the smiles of CFOs with a blank stare.

Here’s what else AI doesn’t know: that we’re in a showdown with it. And, dammit, we can’t even lob a good heckle at it because there’s no one to point to and say, “Yeah, but that AI … he’s got awful taste in shoes. And small hands.”

Humans love Eureka moments. The moment we are born, we come teaming with wonder and competitive juices, hoping for that eureka moment in almost every situation we’re in — from discovering the mobile above our cribs, to solving a basic math problem, to crafting a persuasive B2B white paper. Eureka is our best hope of distraction from our own mortality.

But back to that point I was making about how dropping AI’s paragraphs into my own writing was making me feel further from my subject (and clients), not closer. The only thing I can liken it to is that AI has kicked me out of the driver’s seat. Now I’m the passenger. Not an original thought. So many people are saying that right now. But let me add: AI drives like Mario Andretti, which causes my head to spin and nausea to rise up. Too often it does multiple laps around the same track until it just stops. “Wow,” I say at the end of it all, and yet …

I was fine to hand over spellcheck and grammar to the bots. My spelling stinks. But storytelling by humans is informed by bad breakups, black ice, driving down country roads, losing your parents, and so much more. Great writing understands the needs and fears we humans have, and temporarily solves them in a way that says, Yup, I see you (I am you), here you go, and you’re welcome! That’s the secret handshake that humans share with other humans we are trying to reach. In the moment of that exchange, everyone feels motivated to do something.

Since AI’s big reveal last fall, the Metaverse might be dead on arrival (for now),” but Silicon Valley is still saying yes to “moving fast and breaking things.” And most writers I know aren’t Mario Andretti or Chuck Yeager. Eureka is always proceeded by a groaning stillness. Human writers tend to move at the speed of Uncle Morty and Aunt Helen driving to their 5pm buffet. But have you noticed they still get there in pretty good time? And Aunt Helen? Man, she is knowledgeable to the point of being psychic about your relationships. She’s always asking for updates on how it’s going with you and your target audience. She might as well have an honorary Ph.D. in human nature. And Morty? Eight of his ten jokes are groaners, but the other 2 are worth the wait. Helen and Morty’s take on life’s struggles and signature moments puts our entire existence into context and makes the journey more meaningful.

How do we put that into a PowerPoint for clients?

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Content Relief Supplements

February 24, 2023

Content Relief Cartoon by Alison Garwood-Jones

I’m suffering from mood swings … over AI.

I go from “Holy Wow, this is cool. Let me ask it this question” to “How dare the Tech Bros foist this upon us when we’re still climbing out of a pandemic.”

In my sleep-deprived moments, Generative AI feels like content marketing in a pill.

I know it won’t play out that way, but still …

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Artists Win Copyright Ruling

February 23, 2023

Artists win copyright protection again AI bots. Cartoon by Alison Garwood-Jones

Big Tech has always ruled in its own best interest, while the government dithered.

Case in point: Social Media.

Yesterday, it only took the U.S. Copyright Office about 8 weeks to rule on the legality of AI-generated images.

This is a rare win for artists and creatives.

Read the full story.

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Tech Explainer

February 16, 2023

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AI and Creativity

February 6, 2023

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ChatGPT Won’t Be Writing To My Valentine

January 16, 2023

If you haven’t read Ann Handley’s newsletter this week, here it is.

She wrote it herself.

Actually, she brought her full self, past and present, to this rumination on AI’s breakout moment.

Ann probably had to tie her hair back while she was writing — now that she has grown out her pixie. And maybe she had to stop herself from chewing on the end of her pencil? Do you even use pencils and erasers anymore, Ann?

For those who don’t know Ann Handley, she’s the ridiculously tech-savvy and adaptive Chief Content Officer for Marketing Profs, an online training company for marketers based in Boston. The key to her success isn’t loud suits with zippy patterns or inflated promises, it’s heart.

a valentine heart

Ann expresses her heart best through writing, a skill in existential crisis ever since the blockbuster debut of ChatGPT, an app that writes almost anything at your command: ads, short stories, blog posts, screenplays, jokes, and listicles galore.

I’m glad I won’t have to write another listicle (AI’s brainstorming power is mind-blowing). And I’m grateful I have Excel (AI too) to format my spreadsheets and do all the calculations. Meanwhile, Bing is scanning this post as I write it, checking for unintended plagiarism picked up during my research. I like that it has my back.

But Ann steps up to argue that the promise of “ease” of AI Writing is false. She calls it “a trap.” I don’t think she says this because she’s trying to save her job or stand in front of progress with outstretched arms and legs. Whatever happens next, Ann will figure it out, and she won’t be blocking fast-moving traffic to make her point.

She believes that to be effective and memorable at writing — the kind that transforms both the reader and the writer — you have to exercise your full humanity with all the vigour (or “vigah” as they say in Boston) of an athlete.

“Writing is a full-body contact sport,” she says. “You need to participate fully. Your brain. Your hands. Your personality. Your voice. All of it.”


“We writers can’t passively sit back and let AI write *for us*. The way to use AI is as a gymnast using a spotter and a coach—a way to help you create with more confidence. Even fearlessly. Yet it’s your talent that drives AI. You are the gymnast!”

You can feel her words dancing to “Let’s Get Physical.”

I remember a decade ago Alice Munro telling an interviewer that she knew that Dear Life would be her last book because she no longer had the physical stamina to keep writing.

For decades, our culture has marvelled at Munro’s ability to illuminate the mundane — doorknobs, shrubs, weeds, linoleum and, one can even imagine, widgets — into something incandescent and universal.

It should be no different for B2B marketers whose job involves describing how inherently boring things exist in the world, like tongue depressors (the example Ann gives in the 2nd edition of her splendid book, Everybody Writes). How do you tell that particular true story well? she asks.

As humans, some of us will never stop striving to be incandescent in our professional writing. Nor will we stop worshipping and obsessively studying those whose work has made us feel a sense of everlasting radiance: Alice Munro in books, Wes Anderson in films, George Lois in ads (yes, ads), Luiz Bonfa on guitar, Billie Eilish at the mic, and Ann Handley in marketing.

When we rely too much on AI to do the work for us — or even dazzle us, as it may do soon — we’ve stopped caring, caring about the value of tackling things with heart and with someone specific in mind.

Many years ago I was working the door at a restaurant when a delivery guy walked in with a big bouquet of red roses.


I have a delivery for Alison


[slight intake of breath] And the last name?




[barely contained squeal, outward nonchalance]

Oh, that’s me …

I put the flowers and the heartfelt card in a non-trafficked corner of the restaurant and planned to lift them up, cradle them in my arms and accompany them home at the end of my shift.

Halfway through the night, I noticed my bouquet was gone. What the …? I circled the room, periscope up, determined to solve who had moved my flowers. Then I spotted a guy heading for the exit holding my bouquet upside-down by the stems, the petals practically sweeping the floor. I made a beeline for him.


“Excuse me, may I have my flowers back?” I asked, locking him in a stare.

This is when being 6’3” in heels is delicious.

He looked up and gave me a weak smile, then handed them back.


What were you going to do with them?


Give them to my girlfriend.

I hope she dumped his lazy ass.

Mary Richards had a similar experience in Episode 1, Season 1 of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Just as she was settling into her fabulous new apartment in Minneapolis, her ex-fiancé (a doctor) knocked on the door hoping to win her back with a speech and flowers he swiped from a patient’s death bed. Mary was underwhelmed by his pitch. Needless to say, he wasn’t The One. During the show’s seven year run, his name was never mentioned again.

Mary Richards getting flowers from her ex.

Image originally owned by MTM Enterprises (now defunct)

When you give up trying, or you outsource the work it takes to truly understand or connect with another human being, life loses so much meaning. Can you imagine asking ChatGPT to write your Valentine’s Day message this year? Oh god, maybe you can …

Let’s say you use it. Your lover will probably feel the hollowness. Or, maybe they won’t because, even though it was awkward, it was from the heart and it did sort of sound like you (warts and all).  But it wasn’t you. And it wasn’t from the heart. A machine did your homework, and now you are the one feeling hollow because you cut corners. How long can you keep that up?

Don’t deny yourself the growth opportunity of making your words match the human race’s dazzling emotional range, whether it’s in life or in marketing.

It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, and one of the most rewarding.

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