March 08, 2018

ERIN INSIGHT – 500 weeks of not being a bot

When I sit down to write for the Advocate every week, I gather all of my information into a numbered folder, a system that started with my first column in July 2008.
This week I have the satisfaction of hitting a milestone, with a folder labeled “Week 500”. The series includes one (or sometimes two) columns per week, hundreds of news stories, and a whack of features, photos and editorials.
The first column was called Moonlighting for Gas Money. I’ve enjoyed the freedom of picking my own topics and putting a personal twist on local news. I’ve been like one of those pesky horseflies that just keeps buzzing around.
It has been like writing three or four essays a week, for an English course that never ends. That can be challenging, but it’s way more fun than being the editor – good riddance to that job.
In case you missed an article, or are having a hard time falling asleep, the columns and major news stories are available on my blog, There are no comments from readers.
The blog is useful for checking an older story or reading up on an issue, maybe prior to the October municipal election.
Not only can you search for key words or phrases, but there is a topic index – for example, 57 stories on education, 61 on farming, 105 on history, 11 on suicide, 18 on theatre, and (the grand-daddy) 112 on sewers.
Warning: Do not attempt to read all the sewer articles in one day. The fumes could be hazardous.
I’m not sure if readers are actually any better off as a result of all my scribbling, but I know for sure that anyone who cares about Erin’s public affairs certainly has had the opportunity to be well-informed.
The key bits in the previous sentence are “anyone who cares” and “public affairs”. People are often so overloaded with information from the internet and other media that they are forced to retreat into not caring about pubic business. Jobs and family needs come first, and can consume all of your energy.
For those with some attention to spare, contact with the outside world often includes Facebook, Twitter and a variety of platforms that engage people on topics of their choice. That can be good, but there are dangers.
First of all, you get inundated with crap you don’t want. Second, spammers and programmers are always trying to invade your devices, scooping up private information and ensuring that you receive ads and “news” that match your interests.
If you only engage with people who are almost the same as you, and only receive news that simply entertains you or reinforces your existing attitudes, how will you ever develop an understanding your society or other cultures?
Then there are the bots, computer programs that control a robotic virtual character, imitating human behaviour on the web. I am persistent, but I am not one of those.
Bots can analyze information and carry out tasks much faster than a human brain. They can answer questions, chat with you, teach you, search for information such as on-line bargains and even make comments on news stories.
Bots can be used for cheating at video games, conducting attacks on major networks, or the rapid spreading of news that may be “fake” or slanted to promote a political cause. They could even help steal an election.
Traditional news sources, on the other hand, are good for democracy. Truthful news and diversity of opinion (whether on-paper, on-air or on-line) help bind communities together.
Old-fashioned journalists may not be totally unbiased, but at least they apply a filter to the flow of information that guards against manipulators and upholds the public interest.

Residents hope to avoid school closures

When Erin and Hillsburgh parents were asked what they want their schools to be in the future, their main response was “Open!”
About 100 people turned out to a workshop style meeting at Erin Public School on Feb. 28, hoping to discuss low enrolment issues.
The meeting was hosted by the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB), as part of the consultation process in developing a Long Term Accommodation Plan (LTAP) throughout Wellington, Dufferin and Guelph.
There will be another round of consultation before the final plan goes to trustees in June. There will be no recommendations on school closures – just further steps in a lengthy process that could lead to future changes.
There was some frustration because the meeting format did not allow attendees to make comments or ask direct questions of school board officials in the public session. Instead, people sat in rotating groups of six and were asked to describe their schools now, and what they want them to be.
 “The discussion questions last night were odd,” said Cooper in a Facebook post. “They didn't address the issues the school communities were facing at all.”
Town Councillor Jeff Duncan called the questions “lame”, since they did not deal with enrolment.
“This was an intentional attempt by Board officials, not even supported by their own trustee, to keep a lid on the community being able to voice its concern over the real issue here of the future closure of schools,” said Duncan. Residents were asked to fill out an on-line survey that closed just two days later.
There is particular concern over enrolment at Ross R. Mackay School in Hillsburgh. Its population of 90 students is expected to drop to 64 in five years, using only 32 per cent of the school’s capacity.
That rate could stay low if there is no housing growth, making it a candidate for closure. With new subdivisions supported by sewers, enrolment could rebound to 165 (83 per cent usage) in ten years.
The discussion groups were able to bring forward suggestions to help boost attendance at MacKay, including a boundary review that could increase its catchment area, and the transfer of some special education classes to the school.
There is also the possibility of making Brisbane Public School entirely French Immersion, which could result in more English-only students at MacKay.
Cooper supported investigation of such alternatives, but said the suggestion of adding Grades 7 and 8 at MacKay would not be practical. Technology courses for those grades are only feasible with higher student populations.
With sewage capacity to support new housing, Brisbane is projected to reach 107 per cent of capacity (477 students) in 10 years and Erin Public School to reach 79 per cent (423 students). Without substantial new housing, Brisbane would grow more slowly, reaching 101 per cent in 10 years, while Erin Public would decline to 47 per cent.
St. John Brebeuf Catholic School in Erin village currently has 238 students, but could accommodate more than 300. Principal Lowell Butts​ said they are holding steady, with the same number of students as in the previous school year.
Mayor Al Alls and Trustee Cooper have urged residents to support development of a wastewater system, but there is concern about the cost to existing urban homeowners. An Environmental Assessment is expected to wrap up this spring with a definite wastewater plan, but an actual system could still take well over five years to develop.
“The town has spent a large amount of money, time and energy in going through the regulatory hoops to allow for growth in our community,” said Duncan.
“I would hope the UGDSB would over the short to mid term allow this required process to play out and work with us.”

Funding sought for electric vehicle charging station

The Town of Erin is applying for funding to get a high speed charging station for electric vehicles at Centre 2000.
Wellington County already has plans to install a charging station at the new Hillsburgh Library, which is expected to open this spring.
Erin town council is hoping for 50 per cent funding from the federal government, and that the Upper Grand District School Board will cover half of the remaining cost, since the station would be a benefit to Erin District High School.
The fast charging (Level 3) stations cost about $85,000 each. If the federal and school board funding comes through, the town would pay the balance up to $25,000 out of the 2017 Nestlé voluntary levy. The water bottling company makes payments to the town based on the volume of water pumped at its Hillsburgh well.
Natural Resources Canada has a funding program designed to create a Canadian network of Level 3 stations. These can charge two electric vehicles (EVs) to 80 per cent of battery capacity in about 30 minutes, with a travel range of about 250 km per hour of charging.
These are expected to be common in public places and along major highways. Users would pay about 28 cents per Kw or $12 per hour pro-rated by the minute, with a $2.50 flat fee per session.
The non-profit group Plug’n Drive says less expensive Level 2 stations are expected to be installed by many employers and commercial building owners, taking four to six hours for an 80 per cent charge, with a range of about 30 km per hour of charging.
EVs can also be charged at Level 1 through a regular wall socket, providing only about 8 km of travel range per hour of charging.

March 01, 2018

LOOKING BACK – More rental units needed in Hillsburgh

From the Advocate – 35 years ago (1983)
More rental units needed in Hillsburgh
A draft development plan predicts Hillsburgh’s population will grow by 350 in the next 12 years. Consulting firm R.J. Burnside and Associates advises that more rental accommodation will be needed, especially to retain young people and seniors as residents. The population was 1,061 in 1981, and is expected to grow by two per cent annually.
Responding to a questionnaire, residents said they wanted improved parking, more stores, a clean-up of the village and a reduction in loitering and vandalism.
Burnside is recommending that land north of the village and along County Road 22 east of the railroad tracks be zoned for industry. Hillsburgh’s current tax base is 92 per cent residential and eight per cent commercial-industrial. The village has advantages such as low land prices and a beautiful countryside, but disadvantages such as a lack of skilled labour and no wastewater service.
From the Advocate – 25 years ago (1993)
Composting facility proposed
A public meeting will be held concerning a proposed composting business in Erin Township, after council determined that the facility would comply with the municipal zoning bylaw. The Ministry of the Environment has been asked to host a hearing for a Certificate of Approval.
The proposal is from Jon Dickey’s Grass Co. on Lot 27, Concession 4. He wants to blend grass clippings, leaves and vegetables to create a “soil additive” that could be used as a topdressing mixture suitable for turfgrass. The company would distribute and pick up bins at various waste producers such as grocery stores, feed mills and restaurants, as well as waste transfer stations.
30-hour fast by students
Forty-eight Erin District High School students experienced first-hand what many youths encounter daily when they participated in a 30-hour fast ending at 11 p.m. Friday. During the fast, students only drank water, milk and juice, but did not consume any solid foods.
The fast was organized to support World Vision, a Canadian charitable organization that helps poor people throughout the world. The money EDHS students raised in pledges will be directed to assist Brazilian and Canadian street kids.
By Friday afternoon, the kids admitted they were feeling hungry, but video games and gym activities helped ease their anxiety. The evening ended with a pizza “pig-out”, courtesy of Rainbow BBQ Grill. Steen’s, Hillsburgh IGA, Valu-Mart and Foodland supplied the liquid nourishment.
From the Advocate – 20 years ago (1998)
Reception for Dr. Bull
Last week at McMaster University, a reception was held to honour Erin family physician Dr. Duncan Bull, the first Canadian recipient of a bone marrow transplant from a donor who was not a relative. He received his transplant to cure a relapse of leukemia ten years ago, after a match was not possible from his siblings. “Dr. Bull was truly a pioneer, because the Canadian Unrelated Donor Program did not exist at the time of his transplant,” said a university press release. He offered thanks to all who cared for him and for the support of his wife Cecile and family. He had spent eight months in hospital during 12 admissions over 22 months, but since the transplant has worked full-time at his practice and not been admitted to hospital.
Senior Girls volleyball champs
Congratulations for the Erin District High School Seniors Girls Volleyball team who defeated Mount Forest to win the District 4 championship and earn a berth at CWOSSA. Coached by Ms. Brandt, the team includes Andrea Bates, Sadie Blacklock, Mel Brunskill, Vanessa Chaperlin, Sherri Fraser, Lorrie Hagyard, Laura Hamilton, Nicky Clughan, Corinna Miller, Sabrina Piercy, Jocelyn Shutt and Tara Smith.
Long distance area expands
Bell Canada has announced that the toll-free calling area for local exchanges will be expanded by this fall. Erin (833) residents will add Orangeville and Rockwood to their list of local calls, while Hillsburgh (855) will add Rockwood.

Erin Home Show cancelled for 2018

The East Wellington Chamber of Commerce (EWCC) is taking a break from staging the Erin Home Show this spring, but plans to bring it back with a renewed format in April 2019.
Notices of the cancellation went out to previous exhibitors on Feb. 22. EWCC took over the show from the town several years ago, and it has attracted good public attendance at Centre 2000.
EWCC Vice Chair Chris Bailey said the amount of volunteer time required to put on the show was one of the factors.
In addition, EWCC is going through a reorganization with several new board members, and they are taking time to plan how the group will operate, and how the Home Show will fit into that plan.

“We will be reaching out for input from businesses and the public,” he said.