March 23, 2016

New signs will boost Wellington County identity

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin will be getting some fancy new signs at its borders, as Wellington County tries to offer a friendlier welcome to visitors.

A new signage strategy called This Way to Wellington was approved by County Council last month. It was developed with local focus groups and a public survey by Stempski Kelly Associates, the same consulting firm that is doing Erin’s Riverwalk Feasibility Study.


The Wellington County Coat of Arms
















The signage is expected to cost at least $200,000 over the next three years.

New “gateway” welcome signs will replace the simple blue ones, informing drivers on major roads that they are entering Wellington County. They will be 2.7 metres (9 feet) wide with a curved top, and Welcome to Wellington County in large letters. The background is blue, with images of growing grain, and the County Coat of Arms inset.

In case you have not paid much attention to the Coat of Arms, which is at the centre of the County logo, it features Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, holding a sword and riding a white horse. Below that is a red cross dividing a blue background with five white dots in each quadrant, surrounded by golden sheaves of wheat. The motto is VISION VALOUR.

The welcome signs will have the name of the local municipality, such as Erin, in the lower right corner on a grey background. They are intended to complement existing local welcome signs.

Erin will get two primary signs, which means they will be mounted in an attractive rock landscaping. One will be on County Road 124 as drivers enter from Caledon, and the other will be on Trafalgar Road as drivers from Halton Hills cross the county line in Ballinafad. Each installation will cost about $6,000.

Secondary welcome signs will be the same size and design, but simply mounted on posts, and will cost $3,500 each. When the project is complete, Erin will have one of these on County Road 125 just north of Acton at the Halton Hills border, and another on Trafalgar Road north of Hillsburgh, at the East Garafraxa Township border.

There are 62 roads entering the county, but the smaller ones will not get signs. There will be 13 primary signs and 18 secondary ones.

There will also be directional signs of the same style near Erin village and Ballinafad, pointing towards other destinations. There would only be 18 of these throughout the county.

Another type of sign is called “Pay-to-Play”, meaning that businesses will pay a proposed annual fee of $250 to have their attraction featured. The number of these has not been determined, but each will cost $2,500. They provide classy-looking tourism promotion to local towns, without cluttering up the countryside with a wide variety of signs.

March 16, 2016

Refugee group launched to sponsor a Syrian family

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Erin Refugee Action group was launched on March 3, with the goal of bringing a Syrian family of four to live in the community.

A fundraising target of $40,000 has been set, to provide for various needs during the family’s first year in Canada. That’s more than the minimum of $27,000, since the group wants to have a contingency fund for unexpected costs.

“We’ve raised $9,500 so far, and have an anonymous donor matching funds – we’re almost halfway there,” said Chair Barbara Harrison. “We have heard that many of the Syrian refugees are from rural areas. We hope to be matched with one of those families.”

The timing is still uncertain. The family could arrive within three months of a match being made, or it could take up to a year, said Harrison.

Support for the project has been provided by Transition Erin and local churches. The application for the sponsorship is being done through the Anglican Diocese of Niagara with local charitable donations processed by All Saints Church in Erin.

The money raised so far is in addition to about $10,000 raised in December with an event at Erin United Church, mainly to support the First Line for Syria sponsorship in Mono. That group has now welcomed a Syrian family of three. Khaleel Huseyin Alos, his wife Sabah Abdulkadir, and their seventeen-year-old daughter Helin had to move from their home city of Damascus to a refugee camp in Turkey. Now they have moved into an apartment in Shelburne.

Erin Refugee Action has set up a steering committee and has a broader group of volunteers. Drivers will be needed to help a family get to shopping, employment, appointments and English language classes.

“We'd love to get the service groups involved as well as other churches, local businesses and any community groups,” said Harrison. “One of our goals is to create community connections. We are hoping that other groups will take on some of the fundraising.”

The plan is to start off with temporary housing in Erin, then arrange longer-term accommodation either in the Town or within a practical distance, depending on the needs and preferences of the family.

Anyone who wants to volunteer, or find out what is happening, is welcome at the next meeting on April 6, from 7 to 9 pm (or come at 6 pm to be part of the fundraising team meeting). The location is All Saints Anglican Church Hall, on Main Street, Erin. Two immigrants from Syria will be leading a discussion on Syrian culture and resettlement.

Donation cheques should be made out to All Saints Anglican Church (with Erin Refugees in the memo line). Tax receipts will be issued for donations $10 and over. Donations can be mailed to Erin Refugee Action, PO Box 308, Erin, N0B 1T0. On-line giving options are being arranged, and donations of furniture, clothes and food will eventually be needed.

“We'll keep fundraising even after reaching our $40,000 goal,” said Harrison. “We may end up being matched with a family larger than 4 members (and therefore need more money) or might even consider sponsoring a second family, perhaps related to the first.”

More information is available on the Erin Refugee Action Facebook page. Email contact can be made at erinrefugeeaction@gmail.com.

In addition to the 25,000 Syrians the Canadian government had committed to resettling, it has announced a plan to increase the number of privately sponsored refugees this year. The number had previously been about 6,000 per year, but now they are setting aside up to 18,000 spaces for them.

Immigration officials have told private sponsorship groups that Syrian refugees who arrive after March 1 will have to pay back the costs of their airfares and medical exams — about $1,000 for each plane ticket and several hundred dollars per person for health screening. Sponsorship groups would not be obligated to cover that cost, but they could end up doing so.

However, Syrians being sponsored through the government-assisted “Blended Visa Office Referred” program – the joint sponsorship that the Erin group hopes to be part of – will continue to have those expenses paid by the government.

Overall, Canada plans to admit between 280,000 and 305,000 new permanent residents this year, the highest projected level in decades. There will be a priority on reuniting families. Those coming primarily to seek work in Canada will make up the largest block of the 2016 immigrants, estimated at 162,400 people.

March 02, 2016

What are the top things you’d like to see in Erin?

As published in The Erin Advocate

The list could be quite long, but let’s start with the top three. What things would you like to see in Erin? The question is being asked by Robyn Mulder, the Town’s Economic Development Officer.

Of course, we already have some great stores, restaurants and services, but more economic activity is clearly needed. There has been some gloom and doom talk lately due to a number of vacant storefronts, especially Mundell Lumber.

We’ve been suffering from a lack of new population and affordable housing, which is impacting businesses, schools and non-profit organizations. The community remains very attractive and resilient, though and I believe that moderate growth will resume in the next few years.

Some new businesses are moving into downtown Erin village. Mejores Foods is selling meats, cheeses, baking supplies and bulk foods. Brighten Up Toys and Games has expanded its educational camp facilities.

A Benjamin Moore Paints outlet has opened at Decor Solutions. The Busholme Inn is being renovated and will reopen soon. Snowberry Botanicals has moved in beside Treehaven Natural Foods, offering floral arrangements and bouquets, plus event planning and rentals.

The former Renaissance location will soon have a store called Epiphany – a second location for Laura Demers who has operated the Epiphany store in Elora for the last five years. It is a boutique specializing in affordable clothing, plus accessories, books, cards and gifts.

I’ve been hearing rumours of new developments at the old Guardian Fiberglass plant, and the old elementary school, so some good news would be welcome at those locations.

Erin needs a full-fledged trail system to help attract visitors and residents to our stores and natural areas. We have some good trails now, but a riverside boardwalk in Erin village and a trail around the Hillsburgh pond would be huge steps forward.

A retirement home would be a perfect fit, and more children in the community would be a welcome boost to the daycare / nursery school sector.

There have been efforts to create an outlet for reusable household goods (similar to Wastewise in Georgetown), and I remain hopeful that it will happen some day. It would be nice to have electronics and sporting goods stores, but we need the right population and market conditions to make them financially viable.

In 2012, I proposed building a Big Shamrock, a huge, green icon of our identity that could be known around the world – in the same way that the Big Nickel has put Sudbury on the map. Read more by Googling: erin “big shamrock”.

Revitalizing our commercial areas with more of what people want and need all year round will add value to the “buy local” proposition. Progress will be built on confidence in the town’s future, so it is in everyone’s interest to be salespeople for the community – building it up and talking it up.

“I’m focusing on small, independent businesses,” said Mulder. “The biggest part of my job is connecting with people.” You can call her with your comments at 519-855-4407 ext. 241, email robyn.mulder@erin.ca, or drop in for a chat at the Town office.

It was a big step for the Town to hire someone with the expertise to help retain existing businesses and recruit new ones. The least we can do is tell her what we want.

February 24, 2016

Local boys self-publish science fiction adventure

As published in The Erin Advocate

When I was 12, I thought that I could write a novel. I’ve now been procrastinating for 47 years. Despite earning a degree in English literature and writing thousands of newspaper articles, there is still no novel in sight.

So I was a bit envious when I met Henri Clark from Hillsburgh, who just went ahead and did it. His 13th birthday party was also a book launching.

The Adventures of Zeppron features a hero in another universe whose space ship is shot down, far from his home planet. He makes alliances with mysterious characters and does high-tech battle with an even more mysterious enemy. 

Author Henri Clark and Illustrator George Wilson
“Zeppron is young and small, but with the knowledge of an adult,” said Henri. “He uses technology to his advantage, like MacGyver.” Angus MacGyver was a TV secret agent (1985-1992) known for solving complex problems by making devices out of ordinary objects.

Science fiction is a good way for a novelist to start out, since there is plenty of inspiration in popular movies and TV shows, and it permits a wide range of possibilities.

“I can invent technology for whatever I need,” said Henri, who wrote the book in about 4 months. It started out as a short story, but with so many ideas floating around, it expanding to a 169-page novel, and a plan to write five more as a series.

Adventures include the use of a glowing golden device called the Staff of Zepronas that can restore things that have been damaged. Then there is the amazing suit that enables Zeppron to fly and control weapon systems.

The story focuses on the friendship among the good guys, with many narrow escapes as they try to stop the evil Blackhat from succeeding.

“It’s not supposed to be happy or sad – it is a series of cliffhangers, getting the reader to the next section,” said Henri.

His partner in the publishing project is his friend George Wilson, who created the illustrations that appear on the title pages for each part. He is also working on promotion.

They have their own business card and postcard to advertise the book, and they’ve been interviewed by a columnist from Metroland Media.

The book looks cool with its glossy cover, and though it was done for fun, they are selling it for $9.59 US ($13+ CAN) on Amazon.com. Just Google the words Zeppron and Clark and you’ll find a number of websites from different countries selling the book.

It was done through the website blurb.com, which for a very low cost enabled them to set the book up, get a small number of copies and make it available to the public.

With the “print-on-demand” system, customers get the book in just a few days, and there is no need for an expensive inventory.

February 17, 2016

Spring is in the air at Erin Garden Club

As published in The Erin Advocate

In the middle of winter, when the great outdoors is looking a bit dreary, a meeting of the Erin Garden Club is just the thing to stir up hopes of springtime.

The group normally meets in the Wellington Room at Centre 2000, providing an opportunity each month for education and inspiration on all aspects of gardening.

“We are a service group and we need new volunteers to help in planting and maintaining gardens in the village of Erin,” said President Jenny Frankland, at the January meeting.

Birdhouse Building was the topic for speaker JoAnne Howes, but not the traditional style of construction. She took on the creative challenge of making birdhouses out of natural material such as gourds, or household objects just waiting to be re-used.


“We went to Wastewise and got all kinds of junk,” said Howes, showing off a series of unique creations. “We had fun making these, and I think we spent $10.”

Howes showed off several bird shelters made from unlikely items, such as a teapot, a jelly mould, an olive oil can and children’s rubber boots. You can even make a birdhouse out of a 2-litre plastic pop bottle, painted to suit your garden décor. Step-by-step instructions for various projects are readily available on-line.

Nest-friendly enclosures will normally have a hole of 1 to 1.5 inches, and an interior area of 4 to 5 inches square, depending on the type of bird you want to attract. An outside perch is needed, and some ventilation and drainage holes inside are a good idea.

Instead of creating complete birdhouses, some gardeners simply like to create sheltered nooks for birds that are willing to build more open nests. Just make sure that cats can’t get at them.

Birds will use a wide variety of materials for nests, including sticks, moss, grasses, leaves, feathers, dog hair, dryer lint, pine needles, bits of string and cedar chips. Providing a nearby supply could encourage a building project.

The Garden Club has a series of flower shows with different themes, where members can compete with entries that they have grown or designed.

There are various guest speakers throughout the year, with Garden Ergonomics featured at the February 24 meeting. Other topics include the growing of cacti and other succulents, plant spirit medicine and home landscape principles.

Some sessions provide hands-on workshops, such as Fairy Garden Planting, Garden Hedgehogs and Seasonal Decorations.

Other events are field trips to special gardens, and there’s the Garden House Tour on July 16, which is open to the public. On September 9-10, the club will have their Plant Sale at McMillan Park in Erin village. The Annual Meeting in October features a Photography Show.

Members are entitled to discounts at Country Crops, Country Garden Concrete, the Dufferin Garden Centre, Greenscape Nursery and Meadowville Garden Centre.

More information about the club, also known as the Erin Horticultural Society, is available at eringardenclub.ca.

February 10, 2016

County wants ideas for new Hillsburgh Library

As published in The Erin Advocate

Libraries have done a good job of moving beyond books in the services they offer, but with a new library complex opening in Hillsburgh next year, there is an opportunity to do even better.

Wellington County staff and +VG Architects are seeking input on what features people would like to see. Pick up a comment card at existing local branches or the Town office, send an email to HillsburghLibrarycomments@wellington.ca or visit the library section of the county website.

Libraries are all about sharing, learning, community engagement and culture. So what can we share in that physical space that is not readily available on the internet?

How about the work of local artists? Of course, the library foyer should be filled with a series of art exhibits. But what if you could borrow a piece of art for free, with the option to buy it?

How about face-to-face conversation? An enclosed veranda overlooking the pond, with a café and comfortable seating, would be an attractive social meeting space.

How about seeds? A seed library would allow patrons to take home a variety of seeds for their gardens and flowerpots, and later in the season, contribute seeds from their plants back to the community stock.

How about tools, and toys, and musical instruments? A co-op for sharing these would require some initial investment, and perhaps a membership fee, but it could start small and be built up with fundraising and item donations.

How about garden plots? We’re long overdue for a community garden, which would allow apartment dwellers or owners of small properties to work a borrowed patch of fertile soil. It could be a secure, supervised facility, one of many outdoor features on the spacious site.

How about a trails welcome centre? This is a unique, beautiful public space. We need to promote it and take advantage of the opportunity for nature education. The library could be a hub for use of an around-the-pond trail, the Elora Cataract Trailway (owned by Credit Valley Conservation) and the nearby Nestlé parklands.

How about a stage overlooking the grounds, for outdoor concerts? How about canoe and bicycle rentals? How about permanent chess board tables on a patio? Once the ideas start flowing, there’s no telling what could be considered.

The Library has made a good effort to use new technologies, with services such as its e-book system and 3D printers. It should remain vigilant for opportunities to add on to what people can already do at home.

Within the structure, dedicated spaces are needed for functions such as children’s programming, workstations that can be reserved by business people and older students, and perhaps a magazine lounge. There should be a small meeting room, and a larger room for lectures, small-scale performances or travelling exhibits.

Perhaps the treasures of the Museum and Archives could be displayed more throughout the county. How about a local history corner, instead of just a couple of shelves?

When I was a kid, our school did not have a proper library, but the public library arrived in the school parking lot once a week in the form of a Bookmobile. It was a converted bus filled with bookshelves.

Now that schools do have adequate libraries, county staff should think about what unique services they might be able to deliver to the public outside the library buildings, either at schools, special events or other community facilities.

And then of course there’s the book collection. DVDs may be following videotapes into oblivion, but books are not going away. So we’ll need a good selection of those too.

Warden George Bridge says the Hillsburgh Library will be “a showpiece of our library system, and indeed the envy of library systems throughout the Province.” The building needs to be attractive, complimenting the 1892 house that will be part of it, but its form must be driven primarily by the needs of its users.

February 03, 2016

Mayor’s Breakfast good for information and connections

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Mayor‘s bi-annual breakfast meetings can be useful not only to business people, but to anyone willing to get up early for an update on activities at the Town and County, and a chance to talk to other people who care about local affairs.

Al Alls hosted one at David’s Restaurant on January 19, including presentations by Economic Development Officer Robyn Mulder, her Wellington counterpart Jana Burns and County Warden George Bridge.

The mayor covered a few highlights of recent Town activities, such as digging out soft spots and old corduroy logs during reconstruction of 17 Sideroad, replacing rotted boards at Hull’s Dam and installing new boards at the Hillsburgh arena – which could become a sledge hockey centre.

He took the opportunity to publicly introduce two new members of Town staff, Michael Tapp (IT Systems Administration) and Carol House (Chief Building Official), and to remind people that the Town would like to hold a major celebration for Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.

He stressed the importance of getting the Wastewater Environmental Assessment done during this term of council, and of implementing the Momentum Economic Action Plan to build up the commercial and industrial tax base.

“We need to kickstart this community and get it going,” he said. “The Town is open for business.”

Warden Bridge said Wellington is actively promoting local benefits to potential new residents.

“We want make sure people understand that they can do everything they can do in the big city, and have a quality of life they will never have the big city.”

He said rural areas and small towns need access to reliable, high speed internet, especially for high-tech farms and home-based entrepreneurs. The Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus is working on a $287 million project called SWIFT, to build a fibre optic cable backbone that would enable private firms to deliver the service more economically.

They’re hoping for $100 million from the federal government and $50 million from the province, plus major private sector investment to make the plan a reality. He points out there are 3.5 million people living to the west of the GTA-Hamilton area who don’t get enough support from senior governments. He said municipal property taxes cannot bear the cost of needed improvements, so major infrastructure funding is needed.

Robyn Mulder said that she would be producing a monthly Business Newsletter for Erin. There is a section of the Town website, erin.ca, dedicated to economic development, with links to various reports and initiatives.

For example, business respondents are needed for the EmployerOne Survey, by the Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin. It will analyze hiring trends and recruitment strategies, to provide guidance to schools, community partners and government on the local labour market.

Jana Burns highlighted some County initiatives, including Global Talent Attraction, which helps businesses access the people they need from the “talent pool”. That’s one part of the Business Retention and Expansion project, which this year will focus on the downtown retail sector.

Burns also highlighted the promotion of events, especially the 2016 International Plowing Match and Rural Expo, to be held September 20-24 in Harriston. It will bring in about 75,000 visitors, an opportunity to promote Wellington’s assets, including food and entertainment.

They continue to promote the Taste•Real initiative, with the Source It Here food networking event February 8 at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre near Guelph.

The County is also working on a visitors map, a signage strategy, live & work bus tours, an Agri-Food Forum on international trade, and has released a Welcome to Wellington video that features Erin.

January 27, 2016

Tax variations raise a million-dollar question

As published in The Erin Advocate

Owning a house that is assessed at $1,000,000 can be quite a burden when it comes to paying property taxes. Councillor Matt Sammut raised the issue at the January 20 budget meeting, in a heated discussion about the impact of tax increases.

“Who is paying the brunt of it?” he asked. “If your home is valued at $400,000, and you get a 5% increase, that’s a couple hundred bucks, I can live with it. It’s the homes that are valued at 7 – 800, a million dollars in our community, that are getting killed, and we’ll continue to kill that group.

“You can just do a simple comparison right next door. You have a million dollar house in Caledon, you have a million dollar house here. Here, you’re paying about $12,000 in taxes; over there you’re paying about $6,000.”

Mayor Al Alls expressed shock at that statement, but after two hours of working on Erin’s budget, he said he would not argue about Caledon. Sammut suggested that he read the Toronto Star on a regular basis. Alls said, “I don’t need your lecture, Councillor Sammut, and I call you out of order.” At that point, he adjourned the meeting.

Overall taxes are known to be lower in Caledon, but a difference of $6,000 seemed like a major exaggeration. So I looked up the tax rates for Erin and Caledon, and multiplied them by a $1 million assessment.

It turns out that the tax bill for 2015 was actually $2,349 higher in Erin. That’s not small change, but it’s a long way from $6,000. Sammut acknowledged the discrepancy later.

“Yes, I exaggerated the variance in taxes as my goal is to motivate our Council that we must discuss fiscal sustainability and fiscal fairness in our community,” he said.

He has a long list of concerns, including high infrastructure costs, the undervaluing of rural homes in provincial assessments, tax credits for farmers and the high percentage of county taxes. Some communities have advantages under regional government, have more money to provide services, and have better internet, lower hydro rates and lower water rates.

The Town of Erin has little or no control over these issues, however, so they cannot be solved in the Town budget. Erin could slash its taxes by 80%, and residents here would still pay more than in Caledon.


Looking at the chart of what is paid in various communities, it is clear that Erin’s Town taxes are relatively low. Caledon residents pay 30% more (and get more services). But like others in Wellington County, Erin’s total taxes are much higher than in Caledon and Halton Hills.

This has nothing to do with efficiency. It has everything to do with population density and the massive commercial and industrial tax revenues generated in Brampton, Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington, which reduce the burden on residential taxpayers in Peel and Halton.


In addition, Wellington County Treasurer Ken DeHart says the chart illustrates a shift in property taxes from urban to rural communities.

January 20, 2016

Should rural Erin help pay for urban sewers?

As published in The Erin Advocate

When building a sewer system, the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan study emphasized the need to hook up all urban residents, to divide the cost into smaller portions.

Severe restrictions on how much treated waste will be allowed in the river, however, are limiting the total urban population to 6,000 people. Unless the Town can have the rules relaxed, “serviced” growth will total only 400 new homes.

Mayor Al Alls is looking for ways to raise that number, though he makes it clear that these are ideas that may or not be approved by Town Council or the Ontario government.

One strategy is to provide wastewater service to only the older homes and allow newer homes with good soil conditions to carry on indefinitely on septic systems. This would create three tiers of housing: rural (private wells and septics), urban partial (public water and private septics) and urban fully serviced (public water and wastewater).

Say for example that half the homes in the two villages were exempted from wastewater service. That would be about 800 fewer existing families sharing the cost, but presumably this would be offset by developers being allowed to build 800 additional homes.

Normally, the cost of a wastewater system – construction and on-going use – is paid only by the people who are actually hooked up, just like the water system.

But what if everyone in the town, including rural residents, helped to pay off that debt – maybe over 30 years? That’s what Alls suggested in a recent interview – again, just his own opinion.

“The way I see it, it’s a user pay system, but the initial construction and base of the system will be a Town-paid system,” said Alls. Several residents at last week’s public meeting objected to that idea, but the mayor did not respond in detail, saying only, “If it’s not affordable, we won’t build it.”

He points out that septic tank owners will benefit from having a local plant where tank pump-outs (septage) can be dumped. But even if there were a cost saving, it would be minor compared to a share of a huge loan payment.

The Town at large has already paid some $650,000 for the SSMP process and is looking at up to $200,000 more per year for the Environmental Assessment. Is that a precedent that can be extended to construction of a sewage treatment plant?

There are, of course, indirect benefits to a sewer system, if it provides desirable population growth and economic development. And it’s true that most people already pay for lots of government and school services that they don’t personally use.

That might not be enough to convince rural residents though, who are already paying for their own waste systems. What about new residents on serviced lots – will they have their full share of the sewer system cost included in the price of their homes, creating a huge cash flow for the Town? And what if we allow some new partially serviced subdivisions, where new residents would be paying for high-tech septic systems? Should all of these people also help pay for the wastewater system through their taxes?

There may be a scenario where extra contributions from rural residents, developers and new residents could help solve our wastewater problem, but the possibilities should be researched in the near future. The plan needs to be fair, in the public interest and legally defensible.

Town Council must ensure that a full analysis of financial options is included with the discussion of technology options in the next phase of the Environmental Assessment.

January 13, 2016

Community grant requests invited

As published in The Erin Advocate

As usual, the provision of grant money from the Town of Erin to community groups will get some intense scrutiny. This is quite proper, since it is public money, but the amount is very small compared to the Town’s overall spending.

The current plan is to give out $32,950, the same as last year, with the final amount and allocations to be set during upcoming budget debates.

A report last October from Finance Director Sharon Marshall, based on the work of a Grant Committee, recommended that almost half the money ($16,000) go to East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) to support the Seniors Program at Centre 2000.

Other local groups seeking funding for 2016 from the remaining $16,950 must apply by January 31. That amount represents about one tenth of one per cent (0.128%) of Town spending, budgeted in 2015 at $13.2 million.

It is only natural that people focus attention on smaller amounts. Most councillors and residents do not have the expertise to critique expenditures of hundreds of thousands of dollars on fire department equipment or bridge construction projects.

I don’t know when the law changed, but it was normal until the mid-1900s for major spending bylaws to be put to a public vote in Ontario municipalities. I wonder how that would work today? Unfortunately, we are down to a state where public input has become symbolic at best. Most people have no expectation of influencing public affairs.

But getting back to local grants, Council has adopted a policy that clarifies how applications are considered. A Grant Committee is appointed each year, made up of the Mayor, CAO, Economic Development Officer, Treasurer and one other Councillor. They review the applications and make recommendations to the full Council.

The maximum grant (except for EWCS) is $3,000. Each application should support the priorities of Council, and will be evaluated by the following criteria:

• Benefits the majority of Town residents

• Facilitates self-sufficiency and/or sustainability of the community organization

• Promotes volunteerism, participation and leadership development

• Promotes affordable, accessible, inclusive and diverse programs or services

• Fosters a healthy, safe and active community

• Provides new or complimentary programs or services

• Supports efficient and effective use of municipal resources and facilities.

The policy prohibits community grants to faith organizations, political groups, hospitals and other medical services, schools and government agencies.

A link to the policy and the application form is available on the home page of the Town website, erin.ca. Applicants will need to provide information on their plan, volunteer involvement, the organization’s goals, other funding sources, previous Town grants and current executive.

Applications for grants will be accepted from any individual, group, or organization operating on a not-for-profit basis, having a formal organizational structure, and providing local services, products, programs or initiatives.

Grants can be used for core operating funding, one-off events, special programming or small capital purchases.

The Town already provides some benefit to local groups by charging reduced fees for use of Town facilities. Council is planning to review its policy on waiving fees, but fees will not be waived as part of the community grants process.

January 06, 2016

Helping Syrian refugees as they arrive in Greece

As published in The Erin Advocate

Barbara Harrison wanted to do more than just help Syrian refugees as they arrive in Canada. After seeing some of these victims of war while travelling in Greece last fall, she looked for a way to make a practical and personal contribution to the relief effort.

“It makes you feel like there’s nothing you can do – it’s such a big problem,” she said. “But there is so much we can do.”

The Erin resident has now travelled to the Greek island of Lesvos, where many Syrians land after a perilous sea voyage, to work as a volunteer with local agencies. She will be there with her friend Denise Bates from Tennessee until January 17.

“I’m sure it will be a profound experience,” she said.

Harrison is part of the Transition Erin group and her trip was highlighted at their recent fundraising event, An Evening of Dickens. About $10,000 was raised, with most going towards a sponsorship in Mono. But more than $1,000 will go to Harrison’s project, for medical supplies, food, clothing, blankets and direct aid to “boots on the ground” agencies in Greece.

“We want to support the Greek economy and spend the money there,” said Harrison. She and Bates have raised about $2,000 through online crowdsourcing (Act4Lesvos2016 on generosity.com). They are paying their own travel, accommodation and other expenses.

The situation on Lesvos can be chaotic, as officials struggle to provide food and shelter in makeshift refugee camps. The island is the shortest crossing point from Turkey on the trip to northern Europe, and refugees are expected to stay only a few months.

Local aid groups are operating without central coordination and without strong backing from international agencies. The island has only 86,000 residents and they have been overwhelmed in 2015 – sometimes with more than 1,000 refugees per day.

“While I've worked with refugees for 20 years, I personally have never seen such a human crisis as intense as this one,” said Bates, on their fundraising site. “We are a global community. We should have each other's backs.”

Harrison expects to be doing manual work – washing clothes, moving supplies in warehouses, delivering meals, looking after children and providing transportation. She does not speak Greek, Arabic or Farsi, but does not expect to have any trouble finding English speakers to help with translation.

Apart from the assistance they can deliver, the travellers have a professional interest in the refugee crisis. The experience will serve as research for an academic paper on grassroots assistance for refugees.

Bates’ background is in Public Health, and Harrison taught previously at the University of Guelph. She has been involved in promoting the idea of learning through service and community engagement, and has offered a course on the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Program.

After Harrison returns, Transition Erin will host an evening for her to share stories about the trip. It will be held on Monday, January 25, from 7 pm to 9 pm, in the lower hall at All Saints Church, 81 Main Street in Erin. It will also be an opportunity for local groups to explore ways of working together to offer more support to Syrian refugees.

Harrison is hopeful that the Erin community will be able to organize enough support to sponsor a refugee family.

December 30, 2015

Measuring the quality of a semi-rural lifestyle

As published in The Erin Advocate

No doubt there is a price to be paid for living in an uncrowded area with plenty of fresh air, fresh water and fresh food. But senior governments need to be reminded of the value that rural communities provide to the economic and environmental welfare of city dwellers.

The Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation released a report this year that says small towns and Aboriginal communities have been getting the short end of the stick when it comes to services that all Canadians should enjoy.

“We have been neglecting rural Canada,” the report says. “Despite the vital role of rural places in this country, and despite their partnership with urban Canada, we have been neglecting rural places and permitting the erosion of an important community development foundation of Canadian society and economy. Fundamentally, we have forgotten how to re-invest in rural and small town places, preferring instead to simply run down the capital invested by previous generations.”

Erin may be relatively affluent, but most of our money is generated elsewhere, so there is a lack of motivation to invest in the local community. We need to demand a fair share of the wealth that comes from the offices and factories of the Greater Toronto Area, but the Foundation also urges us to be innovative in developing our own economy with local action.

“As we approach a re-imagined rural Canada we need to listen to rural peoples,” the report says. “We cannot re-imagine places and economies without the vision and experience of those who live and work every day in these places.”

Another report with more local information was released this year by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), analyzing the changing use of farmland within our watershed based on the 2011 Census of Agriculture.

“Agricultural producers are key stakeholders in protecting environmental resources such as water, air, soil and biodiversity,” said Mike Puddister, Deputy CAO and Director of Watershed Transformation at CVC.

CVC provides financial incentives for farmers, stressing that conservation and improvement of environmental resources benefits everyone, including densely populated areas like Brampton and Mississauga.

“Adopting conservation practices is increasingly important with climate change,” said Mark Eastman, Agricultural Program Coordinator at CVC. “For example, planting buffer zones along streams protects fields from erosion, filters nutrients and pollutants, and shades water keeping it cool for fish.”

Ontario’s prime farmland is concentrated in the southern part of the province, where there is huge pressure for new homes, roads and businesses. So it is no surprise that from 1956 to 2011, Ontario lost 36% of its farmland – compared to an 8% decline in Canada as a whole.

The census data for the West Credit Subwatershed (most of the eastern half of the Town of Erin) show a 26% drop in the number of farms, from 1996 to 2011 (88 farms down to 65), with most of the decline from 1996 to 2001.

The total acreage, however, was down only 9.2%, since average farm size was increasing. Most of the farms are in the 10-69 acre category (25 of them) or 70-129 acres (15). While farm acreage was down, the total number of acres in the subwatershed being sprayed with herbicides was up 43% in 15 years, and acres sprayed with insecticide were up 32%.

Other trends in the larger watershed include more acreage in field crops and less in natural land for pasture. The number of farms producing fruit, berries and nuts was down by more than 50% in the 1996-2011 period. The number of farms producing vegetables was stable, but the acreage was down 34%.

The CVC study found that 50 per cent of farms in the watershed are rotating their crops, 28 per cent are using rotational grazing, 25 per cent have buffer zones around water bodies and 30 per cent have windbreaks and/or shelterbreaks within their fields. Of all the farmland, 48% was rented – up 14% over 15 years.

December 23, 2015

Town Hall renovation makes good sense

As published in The Erin Advocate

Advance planning for improvements to Erin’s Town Hall is an excellent idea, even if completion is many years down the road.

It would be naive to think that Town operations will not expand. There is a huge pent-up demand for development. The province (and local residents) continue to demand more tasks of Town staff. And we could end up with a wastewater department before long.

The current space at Town Hall is adequate in many ways, but there is also some inefficiency. With this in mind, Paul Sapounzi of +VG Architects was invited to prepare some concept drawings for both short- and long-term renovations, which he presented to Council at their December 15 meeting.

On the short-term side, the province is demanding compliance with accessibility standards. That means eliminating an unnecessary platform in the council chamber and installing an elevator from the lobby to the lower floor. Since the logical spot for that elevator is next to the door, currently the clerk’s office, Mayor Al Alls suggested that perhaps Clerk Dina Lundy could add Elevator Operator to her job description. 

A preliminary concept from +VG Architects, with a darker area showing an addition
to the Town Hall and lighter shading for areas of renovation.

The foyer and other public areas need better counter design to welcome visitors, to add privacy for confidential business and to provide a more secure division between public and staff areas. There is a need for an additional small meeting room off the lobby, and for reorganization of storage space and other room functions.

The larger, longer-term project is a small addition that would extend the peak of the roof over the council chamber towards the parking lot. There are no cost estimates attached to any of these architectural concepts, but councillors made it clear that with the Town facing many other financial obligations, an addition will have to wait. The first step is to make better use of the space they already have.

If there is a future need for more space, however, a modest addition will be less costly than a new building and more efficient than satellite offices. The Town has often been criticized for a lack of long-term planning, so this is a positive move.

One of the attractive features of the conceptual plan is a two-storey window on the new front of the building, facing the parking lot. An excavated area with a sloped rock wall would allow natural light to shine into the basement office area.

The centerpiece would be a larger council chamber, turned 90 degrees from the current design, with the new window behind the councillors’ seats. The room would be 80% larger, and hold twice as many spectators – there are several occasions every year when there are not enough seats for a meeting.

If well designed, the council chamber could be converted on short notice into an attractive multi-purpose room, available to be rented out for medium-sized events. The space below the chamber would be expanded as well, allowing for the addition of 8-12 work stations.

Of course, some people will consider any changes to the Town Hall to be needless and extravagant. An addition must be justified and withstand constructive criticism, but I think it should be seen as a valid opportunity to improve the function of the building and add a touch of class. When the time is right, it should be given serious consideration.

December 16, 2015

Greenbelt expansion could limit Erin’s future growth

As published in The Erin Advocate

In order to preserve farmland, woodlands, wetlands and ground water near the GTA, is there a need to lock down vast new areas of the countryside, including the western part of Erin, to drastically limit future development?

A coalition of environmental groups is advocating a major expansion of the Greenbelt, which already protects the eastern part of the Town of Erin, including the lands surrounding Hillsburgh and Erin village. Within the Greenbelt, most development is banned outside the fixed urban borders of hamlets and villages.

The Greenbelt is now under review by the provincial government and there is debate over how much protection is needed. In a tug of war between environmentalists and the development industry, the province has the difficult task of setting priorities, finding solutions and striking a reasonable balance.

Dark areas on the map show proposed local additions 
to the Greenbelt. Existing Greenbelt lands are to the east.    
On one hand, Ontario sees population growth as essential to the economy, and insists that counties and regions accept their share of new residents – mainly with denser concentrations. In 2006, 8.4 million people lived in the Greater Golden Horseshoe; by 2031 the number is expected to be 11 million, up 31%. Developers, and large cities already bursting at the seams, want the Greenbelt territory and restrictions reduced to allow for more growth.

On the other hand, the government also agrees with vast majority of residents who don’t want to see Southern Ontario covered with pavement.

The Greenbelt was intended as a barrier to urban sprawl, but development is now leapfrogging over it. Greenbelt lands are also threatened by new mega-highways, including the GTA West that will run from Vaughan to Caledon, Georgetown and the 401, and by the large-scale dumping of potentially contaminated soil as fill on farmland.

The Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation is quite happy with the recent report of a Coordinated Land Use Plan Review advisory panel led by former Toronto Mayor David Crombie. It backs growing the Greenbelt, which already covers 1.8 million acres, stretching 325 km from Rice Lake to the Niagara River.

Farmland and sensitive natural areas outside the Greenbelt already have some protection through provincial policies, conservation authority regulations and local official plans.

The Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, which includes 115 groups such as the Wellington Water Watchers, is proposing to add almost 1.6 million acres to the Greenbelt. That would include river valleys in built-up areas, huge zones surrounding Barrie and Cobourg and significant groundwater sources throughout Waterloo Region and Wellington County.

The Waterloo, Orangeville and Paris-Galt Moraines provide the headwaters of the Grand River and aquifers for drinking water in Guelph, Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge. The new water protection zones could be called the “Bluebelt”. For more information, go to Greenbelt.ca and Greenbeltalliance.ca.

“The County Planning department would like to understand the purpose of expanding the Greenbelt,” said Wellington Planning Director Gary Cousins.

“The Greenbelt was initially established as a separator between the GTA and what has been called the ‘outer ring municipalities’. It appears the purpose is changing based on providing higher levels of environmental and agricultural protection, but there are many protections already in place to achieve these purposes.”

Erin Councillor Jeff Duncan raised the issue at the December 1 meeting of Town Council, with a reminder that in 2004, part of Erin was unexpectedly placed in the Greenbelt without consultation or consent. Council had to make decisions about urban boundaries on short notice.

Duncan suggested that the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, funded by the provincial government, is releasing “trial balloons” to test reaction to the possibility of Greenbelt expansion.

“The Greenbelt has both negative and positive attributes to it, but our citizens and Town/County officials should be prepared to debate those issues,” he said.