TEDx In Orillia

By John Swartz

If you know Charles Pachter, or have heard him speak, you know he can be engaging. You also know he will fill the available space with his stories. So, knowing this information, one has to wonder how he’ll manage to keep a speaking presentation to the 18 minutes he’s allowed as a presenter at a TEDx event.

“I’ve only done about 300 talks, so it will be a breeze for me,” said Pachter.  “I will zip through it quickly.” Pachter has given numerous talks in Orillia at the Leacock Museum, the Orillia Museum of Art and History, and other places, and he draws from a repertoire of saved Powerpoint scripts, obviously updating and embellishing. He said he’s working on paring down a 45 minute speech from his files to the allotted time, but he’s not worried about hitting the mark.

“Knowing them, they’ll probably have a buzzer and get a hook and take me off if I go too long,” he laughed.

TEDx is an offshoot of the Technology Entertainment Design (TED) conferences, first held in 1984. There are several conferences held annually, mainly in North America, each year. The flagship conference happens in Vancouver.  Speeches are freely available to an audience of 500 million. The scope is global for TED, regional for TEDx.

Pachter’s place on the 9 speaker roster for March 30th’s TEDx event at the Orillia Opera House came by way of City Hall. The economic development department is involved with producing the event.

“I was speaking at an event with one of the speakers (who is involved with Orillia’s TEDx). They actually approached us and it was certainly aligned with our mandate,” said Laura Thompson, the department’s manager of real estate and commercial development. Rick Talbot already had 7 speakers lined up when the City got involved.

“The City of Orillia became an event sponsor. We asked to have some input in terms of the speaker line up,” said Thompson. That meant recruiting other speakers., people with an international profile. “Bob McDonald (CBC’s Quirks and Quarks) and Charles Pachter were the first that came to mind.”

Bob MacDonald at the Orillia Hall of Fame induction, July 2015.

Rick Talbot is the organizer of record and the person the TED organization licensed to put the event on.

“The success or failure lands on the organizer,” said Talbot. He’s a regular podcast listener and was a fan of the suspended Couchiching Conference.

“It left a void. I think the modern version of that and the one that is international is TED,” said Talbot.

He is a resident of Orillia since 2014, having departed Toronto for greener pastures. He researched a list of growing cities in Ontario and decided Orillia was going to be home.

“The reason we were attracted to Orillia was because of the potential for the city,” said Talbot. “It has a real community and a real sort of identity. It’s not just a suburb.”

After getting a license to hold the event he had to find speakers.

“I talked to people I knew,” from his group of friends asking, “do you know people who have interesting ideas, the theme is transformation. Within a month I had 7 people chosen,” said Talbot.

The City of Orillia is investing $3,000 in the event. There is experience doing something like TEDx. When Don Tapscott spoke to a full Opera House in 2014 it was at the invitation and expense of the City.

“We had previously looked at doing a TED event here in Orillia,” said Thompson. The TEDx event theme is Transformation. “We’re currently looking at transforming our waterfront, transforming our downtown. What better way to do that than have the community come out, hear about ideas, share ideas and be part of that innovation and transformation.”

In Pachter’s case, he has a long history with transformation that goes well beyond changing a blank canvas into a work of art. His side career has been finding properties in need of an artist’s touch and vision, transforming them into valuable places. For example, his Moose Factory gallery and Toronto residence was picked up for $145,000; he said a recent valuation by his bank puts it at $5 million. He is doggedly transforming his Orillia neighbourhood, renovating older Victorian era homes.

“People always gasp when they see the transformation. Then I’m going to tell the story of how I lost everything in the 80s because of the interest rates – I was 30 when I started and 40 when I lost everything – and how fate plays its part,” said Pachter.

His Moose Factory of Orillia studio and residence is a prime example of transformation. Once an auto repair garage, he bought it and expanded the foot print of MOFO, then bought and renovated a neighbouring Elgin Street house, and another on Elgin closer to Veteran’s Park.

“I started to drive into Orillia in the 70s and I’d go to Wilkies for butter tarts and go to the Goodwill. Then my real estate nose started to twitch because I couldn’t understand why this heritage town an hour north of the 401 and people were so negative. Everybody had awful things to say about Orillia and I couldn’t figure out why.” said Pachter.

“I didn’t care. To me bricks and mortar are bricks and mortar, I started on Western Avenue right behind the Goodwill; nearly freaked out when the Goodwill closed, it’s like an artist’s temple.”

He also talks about friends and acquaintances he’s convinced to move to Cedar Island, nearby MOFO on Matchedash, and several units in the Matchedash Lofts condo. It’s almost like he’s a one man transformation mogul.

“My great success is based on, and this is what a lot of artists do, going where others fear to go,” said Pachter.

He’s excited about doing the TEDx event.

“It’s a big deal for Orillia to get TEDx because the stuff is exposed widely; it goes on line everywhere,” said Pachter.

The other presenters are Beth Grixti, Erin Dixon, Emma Reynolds, Risha Yorke, Yvonne Heath, Nancy Osborne, and Ligaya Byrch. There are only 20 tickets left and you can get them online, or at the box office, 705-326-8011.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)

CORRECTION: Opera House phone number.


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