November 26, 2008

Erin residents rally to fight Rockfort quarry

As published in the Erin Advocate

The proposed Rockfort Quarry may be in Caledon, but it has many Erin residents worried about potential harm to their well water and the rural environment.

They made their voices heard at a public meeting last Wednesday at the Caledon Country Club, hosted by the Coalition of Concerned Citizens (CCC), which has fought the quarry plan for almost 12 years.

Proposed by James Dick Construction Limited (JDCL), the 220-acre open-pit mine would replace farmland on the Erin-Caledon border at Winston Churchill Boulevard and Olde Baseline Road, providing dolostone for the construction of highways, bridges and buildings.

The latest in a series of environmental studies by JDCL has been reviewed by Caledon, Peel Region and the Credit Valley Conservation Authority. All three will take formal positions on the project early in 2009. On December 10, 7 pm, at the Community Complex in Caledon East, people can get more information and express their views to Caledon Council. On May 25, a hearing begins at the Ontario Municipal Board, possibly lasting six months.

“We estimate it will take $1 million to wage the fight,” said Willa Gauthier of Erin, who hosts a huge, annual fundraising garage sale at her farm. With a golf tournament and other events, about $100,000 is raised annually, she said. The CCC has launched an additional fundraising drive, to hire the best possible advice and expert witnesses for the OMB hearing.

CCC concerns include industrialization of a rural area, harm to trout fisheries and rare wildlife, damage to wetlands, reduction in the water table, contamination of waters above and below-ground that flow south into the Credit River, reduced property values, noise, dust and up to 1,000 extra trucks per day on Caledon roads.

“These threats are simply too risky, harmful and expensive to judge this as an acceptable site,” said Bob Gardner of Erin, a CCC director. He said methods proposed for mitigating water impacts are “uncertain at best”, and have never been tried on this scale.

JDCL would cut up to 100 feet into the water table. A pump system would re-infiltrate quarry water back into the ground. A “grout curtain” – a series of deep holes drilled outside the excavation, filled with impermeable material – would hold back water.

Greg Sweetnam, Vice-President of Resources at JDCL, said the technology is tested and “state-of-the-art”. He said the site would be developed gradually over 10-15 years, with stringent testing and government inspection, so that any hint of trouble could be corrected before any impact was felt.

“There is next to no risk,” he said. The site is ideal, he said, because there are relatively few homes in the area, and it is close to where the stone product is needed, reducing the cost and pollution of trucking. He said the site is not sensitive enough to have been excluded in any of the studies.

“We’re just arguing about extraction timing,” he said. JDCL promises rehabilitation that will include lakes and forest, inspired by other former quarries near Rockwood, Belfountain and Elora. “It will look like a national park in 50 years,” he said.

Caledon is already the fifth largest producer of aggregates among Ontario municipalities, with extraction of 4.7 million tonnes in 2007, according to an industry report. Rockfort could produce up to 2.5 million tonnes per year, with production totaling 39 million over 30 years.

Hydrogeologists have mapped an area in which well water could be affected if JDCL is unsuccessful in maintaining water levels – a worst-case scenario. The map shows serious impact very close to the quarry. A moderate impact zone includes Caledon lands, part of Halton Hills near Terra Cotta, and an area of Erin: west from Winston Churchill to a point between the Eighth and Ninth Lines and a short distance north of 5 Sideroad in the area of Rogers Creek.

Jana Vondrejs of Erin knew nothing of the proposal when she moved into a house across the road two years ago. JDCL says on its website that noise and vibration from drilling and blasting will be “controlled”, but she is very worried.

“If they do this, it would ruin a very special place,” she said, adding that the Town of Erin “is not supporting us as they should.” John Walker of Erin wants town council to hold a meeting to get residents’ views.

Erin Mayor Rod Finnie was not at the Caledon meeting, but later said an Erin meeting was a “possibility”, and suggested residents contact the Town in writing. Both Erin and Wellington County registered objections to the quarry with the province about 10 years ago. Erin stays informed, said the mayor, but has avoided the high costs of direct involvement. After Caledon Council votes its position, Erin Council could decide whether to support it.

Personally, I am opposed to this quarry – by instinct, and what I have heard so far. I have no expertise in environmental risks or the aggregate business, but as a taxpayer I have hired experts to evaluate the evidence, and the OMB to judge wisely for the common good. It may be a cumbersome system, but it appears to be working.

November 19, 2008

Cromaboo, Part Two

As published in The Erin Advocate

In a 1948 letter to the Fergus News-Record, Baptist Johnston of Toronto said, “I am sending you a copy of ‘The Cromaboo Mail Carrier’, written by my great-aunt, Mary Leslie, in the 70’s, under the nom de plume of James Thomas Jones. … Some of the characters were so thinly disguised that my Aunt was threatened with a lawsuit for damages, and on that account the book was withdrawn from circulation.”

Last week’s column was about this 1878 novel, one of the first published in Wellington County, which used the name Cromaboo for the village of Erin. It can be read on-line at

It is not known who threatened the lawsuit. Many village residents are portrayed in a negative way, though never identified by their real names. There’s a “disreputable veterinary surgeon” who poisons our hero, Robert Smith. Could it be the doctor who avoids treating patients? Or perhaps the postmaster, said to be “obstinate as a jackass”?

Although it is fiction, almost any of the 700 inhabitants could have taken offence when a character says that the people of Cromaboo are “all of a lower class, and they are so dreadfully immoral; nearly everybody”.

When some well-to-do folks in the story invite the serving-class Robert to sit at the dining table with them, they are acutely aware of breaking a social taboo. Mary Paxton, the leading lady who resembles the author, is fond of Robert and uncomfortable with the shackles of class distinctions.

“It is the man after all, not his class or occupation, that makes the difference," she says. When Robert’s long-lost father returns and reveals that the family actually has upper class connections, it paves the way for Mary and Robert to wed. That was to occur in the sequel, but alas, it was never published.

The novel also provides a view of the times, as logging companies stripped Ontario of its forests. One character describes the newly-cleared land as “denuded of its beauty and scarred with ugly stumps and weeds.” She remembers an earlier time in the 1830s when she saw Niagara Falls “not as you see it now, but guarded by mighty forests”.

How did the author come up with the name Cromaboo? It could be from “Crom-a-boo”, the war cry of the prominent Fitzgerald clan of Ireland. Crom was the name of a castle that the Fitzgeralds acquired after helping in the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169-72 AD. It could be translated as “Crom forever”. Another source says the term Crom-a-boo was outlawed by King Henry VII, since it encouraged dissent.

Perhaps the choice of Cromaboo was simply a way for the author to put an obscure Irish label on Erin and show off her European education.

I heard about this novel through an extensive article written by Barb Mitchell, published by the Wellington County Historical Society in 1994, which provided some of my background information. She drew on research done by historian Hazel Mack, who published books on Wellington County in 1955 and 1977. Mary Leslie’s personal papers are stored in the Archives of Ontario.

Leslie worked exclusively as a writer, but was not successful. Strand magazine in England refused to publish the Cromaboo novel in installments, calling it “a little too outspoken”. She had many short stories published in newspapers, but two text books written for Ontario schools were rejected. When she borrowed $100 to publish a book of poetry in 1896, called The Rhymes of Kings and Queens in England, she was unable to repay it with receipts from book sales.

She lived on her family money until middle age, but lost her house during a recession and lived in poverty with her sister in Belwood, near Fergus. She published another book of poetry, Historic Sketches of Scotland, in 1905, and died in Toronto in 1921.

If you have information or comments for me, send an email to:

November 12, 2008

Novel outraged Erin residents

As published in The Erin Advocate

The term “blackguard” is rarely used these days, but if ever it is applied to you, be aware that it refers to a rude, unscrupulous, foul-mouthed scoundrel.

So when a book came out that called Erin “the most blackguard village in Canada”, residents became irate and attempted to have it banned.

Mary Leslie, an upper-class lady who lived on the road between Guelph and Erin, published “The Cromaboo Mail Carrier: A Canadian Love Story” in 1878. Not many copies were sold, but it holds a special place in Canadian literary history, as one of the earliest novels published in the western part of our newly-created country.

As was common for women writers at that time, she uses a masculine pen name (James Thomas Jones), to increase the chances that her work would be taken seriously by publishers and the public.

She gives the name Cromaboo to the village, and the name Gibbeline to Guelph, in an attempt to fictionalize the setting. Her style is dramatic and exaggerated, so there is no way to know whether her descriptions are based more on fact or fantasy. Still, scholars believe that this novel provides unique historical details about rural culture in that era.
Some Erin residents, apparently seeing too much of themselves in various unsavoury characters in the story, threatened to sue the author.

I examined the book at the Wellington County Archives, where they make you wear cotton gloves, so the oil on your skin will not harm the fragile pages. You can read all 296 pages on the Internet – just go to and search for “Cromaboo”. Here is the opening passage:

“Cromaboo is the most blackguard village in Canada, and is settled by the lowest class of Irish, Highland Scotch and Dutch. It consists of seven taverns, six churches, and about one hundred shabby frame houses built on little gravelly mounds. Fights are frequent, drunkenness flourishes, vice abounds; more tobacco is smoked there than in any village of the same size in the Dominion; swearing is so common that it passes unnoticed, and there is an illegitimate child in nearly every house – in some two, in others three, in one six – and the people think it no sin. Yet even in this Sodom, there was at the time of which I write, a Lot.”

She goes on to introduce the village postmaster, Owen Llewellyn, proprietor of the stagecoach that carried the mail from Gibbeline. The other main characters are the hero, Robert Smith, a lower-class 18-year-old stagecoach driver who is in love with the heroine, Mary Paxton, a 32-year-old upper-class lady who lived on the stagecoach route. Her life closely resembles that of the author.

The story notes the progress of the village: “Ah! Times are changed. Now the great Credit Valley Railway passes through Cromaboo, but at the period of which I write such a thing was not dreamt of; a rough uncovered waggon ran between that village and the great town of Gibbeline.”

In real life, that rail line was completed through Erin the year after this novel was published, followed by incorporation of the village.

Cromaboo turns out to be not such a bad place, but the plot evolves ever so slowly. Much of it is about the snobbery of upper class people, the influences of religion, and the evils of alcohol (Erin voted to ban its sale in 1915).

In one dramatic scene, the stagecoach is attacked by Yankee ruffians, who had been hiding in the swamp near the Sixth Line, intent upon raping Mary, who was a passenger. Robert knew the attack was likely, but was ready with his pistol to repel the villains.
“You have saved my life and my honour,” she says.

Leslie sometimes unexpectedly addresses her readers: “Do not be discouraged my reader, and give up the story…I promise to introduce you to the most fashionable people. I promise you romance, adventures, love-making in galore, and finally orange blossoms and wedding favours; kisses – blessings – only have patience.”

The story does not live up to these promises, since the main characters never get around to professing their love for one another. Much more was planned for a sequel called The Gibbeline Flower Seller (Robert’s new occupation), but it was never published.

So how do Mary and Robert bridge the gap between the upper and lower classes? How did the author survive after her novel was forced off the market and she lost her house? And just where did the name Cromaboo come from? The answers to these and many other burning questions will be revealed in the sequel to this column, to be published next week.

November 05, 2008

New strategy needed in Afghanistan

As published in The Erin Advocate

If you have walked along Erin’s Main Street lately, you may have seen a reproduction of a Globe and Mail front page from May 8, 1945 displayed in the window of the Erin Chiropractic Centre. That was VE Day – Victory in Europe – when German forces finally surrendered to the Allies in World War II.

The headline proclaims, “This is victory”. Beneath a photo of a weary solder is an excerpt from a poem called The Song of the Pacifist, by Robert Service:

“When our children's children shall talk of War
as a madness that may not be;
When we thank our God for our grief to-day,
and blazon from sea to sea
In the name of the Dead the banner of Peace
. . . that will be Victory.”

He wrote it after serving as an ambulance driver for the Canadian Red Cross in World War I, the “war to end all wars”. It claimed the lives of 67,000 Canadians, with the total of our dead and wounded representing three percent of Canada’s population at the time. Today, with the war in Afghanistan in its seventh year, the meaning of victory remains elusive.

Remembrance Day is next Tuesday, November 11. Fortunately, it helps raise us above the gritty questions of politics and strategy, to honour those who have died in the service of Canada and the quest for peace around the world. We pay tribute also to the wounded, and to the families of our soldiers, who bear the heaviest of burdens in the war effort.

There will be a Remembrance Day Service and Parade this Sunday, November 9, with a 10:45 am service at the Erin Cenotaph and two minutes of silence at 11:00 am. A parade to the Royal Canadian Legion on Dundas St. E. will be followed by a non-denominational service. On November 11, the cenotaph service starts at 10:45 am.

After Remembrance Day, Canadians should ask some serious questions about Afghanistan. We honour the fallen and show concern for those now fighting when we hold our politicians accountable for our military actions.

Why has the federal government tried to obscure the cost of the war, which may now hit $18 billion by 2011? A parliamentary report in October concluded that MPs had to vote on spending for the mission without knowing the real costs. This is unacceptable in a democracy, one for which so many have given their lives.

Despite the unexpectedly high expenditure, it appears to be insufficient. Despite major progress in some areas, our Coalition has been unable to establish control in southern Afghanistan. We don’t have the troops or firepower to fully suppress a well-funded, highly-motivated enemy. It is now widely accepted that a military victory is not possible in Afghanistan under current conditions.

The loss of 97 Canadian lives is not in itself a reason to reconsider the mission. We expect soldiers to risk their lives to protect our interests, and they accept the risk. But if the current strategy is not working, it makes sense to take a step back until a better one is decided upon.

Our troops should remain in Afghanistan until 2011 as planned, but reduce their active combat role in Kandahar province. We have earned international respect by already doing more than our duty there. I know that parliament has passed a motion to have troops stay in Kandahar, but a change is possible.

Ultimately, we must weigh the costs against the potential benefits. Do we dig ourselves in deeper by applying overwhelming force, or do we accept that bringing stability to the region and countering the global terrorism threat are primarily tasks of diplomacy and economics?

The Afghan poppy crop generates $3.1 billion a year, allowing the Taliban to buy weapons, bribe government officials and pay its soldiers three times what they would make in the Afghan army. NATO forces have no mandate to eradicate the crops and labs, or go after those who run them. The trade will never been totally eliminated, but Afghan government is not yet strong enough to significantly reduce it.

We must find ways to suppress the Taliban’s military funding, influence and recruitment and build up the confidence of all Afghans – including those now loyal to the Taliban – to determine their own future, and work out their differences in peace.

As MP Michael Chong said at the Erin all-candidates meeting recently, “we are not going to defeat the Taliban – they are part of the solution”. He also said we can help mediate between Afghanistan and Pakistan to help negotiate some security for the Pashtun people on both sides of the border.

That sounds more reasonable than invading Pakistan, a possibility that has been raised in the US.

The task of converting tribal cultures into a modern democracy will take many decades, if indeed they want to be converted. Reconstruction has improved conditions in some areas, but the United Nations says Afghanistan remains extremely poor, with lack of basic health care leading to extremely high rates of maternal and infant mortality. Some 1,400 civilians have been killed this year, mostly by Taliban forces, but 395 in Western air strikes. Clearly, war is the worst solution for everyone involved.

This is primarily America’s war, but they have been too busy in Iraq to deal effectively with Afghanistan. An expected surge of US forces would improve the situation for Canadian troops, but it will not solve Afghanistan’s problems.

There is cause for hope, with George Bush about to fade into history, and US General David Petraeus leading a reassessment of American strategy in the region – essentially an admission that the original strategy has not worked well. The review will reportedly focus on reconciliation, economic development and regional diplomacy.

Here in Canada, let us see what the new US president does, and whether a new strategy is actually adopted. Then let us consider whether we will continue fighting in Kandahar province for three more years.

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