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 and

“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.

December 09, 2015

Legion plaque pays tribute to artist Robert Lougheed

The young soldier looks both innocent and determined, lit by slanting sunlight against a turbulent sea and sky. It’s a painting that has greeted visitors to the Royal Canadian Legion in Erin for many years, but it was only recently that a plaque was posted with information about the artist.

The unsigned painting is by Robert Lougheed, who lived from 1910 to 1982. He grew up on a farm in Grand Valley and went on to a successful career as an illustrator in New York and an artist in the American West.

Erin became his Canadian homestead, since it was the home of his brother Cliff, who moved here from Grand Valley in 1940. Cliff and Eleanor Lougheed bought a house on Main Street four years later, and Robert gave them the painting of the soldier at about that time. Later they donated it to the Legion.

Cliff passed away 11 years ago, but Eleanor continues to live in the same house. Her neighbour Joanne Gardner was aware of the painting and felt there should be some recognition of the artist and the donation. She worked with the Legion to create a plaque, including two photos of Robert Lougheed, which was mounted with the painting in September this year.

Robert learned to draw as a child, earning his first commission at the age of 11 for a chicken feed advertisement. In 1929 he moved to Toronto, working as an illustrator for mail order catalogues and the Toronto Star while studying at the Ontario College of Art.

In 1935 he moved to New York to continue his studies and his freelance illustration career. As a fine artist he became known for his paintings of horses, but his most famous horse was the red flying Pegasus that he created for the Mobile Oil logo.

In a 30-year career, he illustrated children’s books and worked for National Geographic, Reader’s Digest, Saturday Evening Post and Colliers magazines. In 1970, the US Post Office commissioned him to design a six-cent buffalo stamp for their Wildlife Conservation Series.

In 1941 he enlisted with the Canadian Army and was stationed in Montreal, where he continued his studies at the École des beaux-arts. He did drawings and paintings of soldiers, and of Quebec homes, barns and horses.

Later he lived in Connecticut, and toured not only the American West, but also Canada, Alaska and Europe for his painting. He and his wife Cordelia eventually moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

He joined the Cowboy Artists of America and helped found the National Academy of Western Art, both of which honoured him with major awards. He produced about 5,000 paintings in his lifetime, with a representative selection displayed in the Lougheed Studio, at the Claggett/Rey Gallery in Vail, Colorado.

December 02, 2015

Bill Dinwoody an advocate for health and recreation

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin has lost a strong advocate for community health care and recreation services.

Bill Dinwoody, 73, chair of the Recreation and Culture Committee and the Erin Trails group, passed away on November 20 after a brief illness. He is mourned by his beloved wife Martha, and children Thomas, Johanna and Shana.

“He was thoughtful, kind and soft-spoken,” said Joan Fisk, Chair of the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network (LHIN). “He gave great advice and had a deep feeling for community health care.”

Dinwoody was to retire this month from his service on the LHIN Board of Directors, which administers funding for hospitals, long-term care, community agencies and home care. He was on the Finance Committee, working to improve efficiency and acc
ountability in the local system, which serves 775,000 residents.

“He was a very positive person – an important citizen who will be sorely missed,” said Mayor Al Alls. A memorial service was held on November 28 at Butcher Family Funeral Home.

Dinwoody was a senior manager at the Royal Bank of Canada, and had retired after a 45-year career. He managed the strategic technology planning and development function, and served on national and international committees to develop a strategic technological direction for the banking industry.

Bill Dinwoody helping out on CVC’s Check Your Watershed Day, measuring temperatures in the
West Credit River, making sketches of bridges and looking for obstacles to the movement of fish.

He lived formerly in Toronto and Shelburne, and had a passion for outdoor activities such as hiking, horseback riding and fishing. He had been a scout leader, a ski instructor, a Sunday school teacher, a guitar player and a wood carver.

He was very active with Credit Valley Conservation, which honoured him with awards for his work on the Woollen Mills Trail and organizing tree planting projects.

Providing leadership on the Erin Trails group, he also helped develop the Rotary and Water Tower Trails, as well as Riverside Park, which had its official opening this year.

With Recreation and Culture, he was an advocate for the Skatepark that was built next to the Centre 2000 arena.

New walking trail reveals heritage of downtown Erin

As published in the Erin Advocate

A self-guided tour of the Victorian architecture in Erin’s historic downtown district is now available, with brochures provided in many local shops.

The Heritage Walking Trail takes less than an hour to complete, starting at the Founding of Erin historical plaque on the east side of Main Street near the West Credit River.

It is a joint project of the Town’s Trails and Heritage Committees, with support from the Wellington County Planning Department.

The brochure has two maps, one of the downtown core from Centre Street to Water Street, and the other showing the network of village trails and greenspaces, from the Elora Cataract Trailway to the Water Tower Trail. It can be downloaded as a PDF file from the Trails section of the Town website.

There are photos and information on 17 points of interest, plus codes that people can scan with their smart phones to get more details on-line. Erin’s mill history is highlighted on a sign at McMillan Park. On the west side of Main Street, the tour diverts to Riverside Park, which has a sign with even more information on local history and natural features.

I have a personal interest in the current project, helping plan it over the last few years with Steve Revell and Bill Dinwoody of the Trails Committee, and doing much of the design, writing and photography. This year, the Heritage Committee got involved and pushed the project to completion, with the support of Chair Jamie Cheyne, Councillor Jeff Duncan, Economic Development Coordinator Bob Cheetham, County Planner Director Gary Cousins and the BIA.

It is all a continuation of work done previously. In 1985, signs were created for downtown shops with historical information on the buildings, and many are still in place. In 1994, the Village of Erin published a Walking Trails brochure, with the help of Tim Inkster of The Porcupine's Quill, identifying the downtown business district as The Heritage Trail.

Trails support the principles of the Wellington County Active Transportation Plan, which encourages people to get out of their cars and get moving under their own power. This is good for fitness, good for the environment, good for local business and good for educating people about heritage and nature. As former trails volunteer Frank Smedley liked to say, “It’s all good.”

For economic development, trails promote a positive image for the Town as a desirable destination. Having a public network, with brochures and signs, gives visitors some well-defined choices.

The network so far includes the Elora Cataract Trailway, the Woollen Mills Trail, the Rotary Trail, the Water Tower Trail and Riverside Park. It could be expanded with a Riverside Boardwalk, a link through the Stanley Park area and a Height of Land trail extending from the water tower.

When we have new housing subdivisions, we should incorporate trails as part of the essential infrastructure. Also, Wellington County’s purchase of land surrounding the Hillsburgh Mill Pond opens up possibilities for a new trail in that area.

A Trails Master Plan would identify the type of trails network the Town wants, and how we can go about building it. Fortunately, planning and promotion of trails has become a key part of Erin’s Economic Development Action Plan, and grant money is being sought to make more progress.

November 25, 2015

Residents’ Association builds neighbourhood connections

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Erin Residents’ Association (ERA) has been building new links of friendship and support in the community, and is inviting more people to get involved.

“We try to connect people with each other,” said founder David Spencer, who saw the benefit of a multi-interest group, in addition to existing networks such as service clubs, church groups and sports associations.

The spark was a series of power blackouts in recent years, where there was a need for more support among neighbours and communication with the Town and Ontario Hydro. The group has succeeded in getting a transformer replaced. They are also keeping the Town informed about burned-out or malfunctioning streetlights.

The primary activity, however, is community building, including social events, encouraging people to support local businesses and an informal Neighbourhood Watch effort to promote a safe environment and provide information to the OPP when necessary.

The group is marking its first anniversary with a fundraising dinner at David’s Restaurant this Saturday, November 28, at 5:30 pm. Tickets are $40. Funds raised will go to finance ERA projec
ts and charity initiatives within the village of Erin.

More information about the dinner and the group is available at, and Spencer can be contacted at

There is a regular e-newsletter with information on coming events (like the Teen Battle of The Bands), local services (like the Education Workshops hosted by the East Wellington Family Health Team) and links to other community organizations (like Transition Erin). Past issues of the newsletter are available on-line through Google Groups.

The ERA is inclusive and non-political, and membership is free. People can sign up as members, or just to receive the newsletter.

Volunteers are needed to expand the group’s activities, which could include making residents more aware of all the goods and services that can be purchased in Erin. Businesses can arrange to have their name and web link on the Resources page of the ERA website.

“It is sad to see stores and restaurants closing,” said Spencer. He is a teacher in Peel, and one of the people who helped start Erin Radio following the major power blackout of 2003.

There are no strict boundaries for ERA membership, but their area of interest is Erin village, with about 30-40 active participants. They have organized activities such as bowling, campfires, dog days, street parties, home music jams and yard sales, and have made an effort to welcome new families that move to the village. They help educate people about how to maintain a septic system.

Members have the option of sharing information about their children, to promote connections between families with children of similar ages, and about their dogs, to facilitate joint dog walking.

If the organization expands in the future, Spencer said there is the possibility of having different zones in the Town, so people could connect with their relatively close neighbours, but also be part of a larger community group.

The ERA is separate from other local organizations such as the Hills of Erin Residents’ Group, which is focused on opposition to expansion of the CBM gravel pit north of Hillsburgh. It is also separate from the Concerned Erin Citizens (CEC) group, which is focused on concerns about local taxation, spending and wastewater issues.

November 18, 2015

First World War soldier will be added to Erin cenotaph

As published in The Erin Advocate

The name of Private Alexander Cochrane will be added Great War plaque on the Erin cenotaph, after it was recently discovered that he died while on overseas service.

Cochrane had emigrated from Ireland and was working on a farm in Hillsburg (as it was spelled then). With no prior military experience, he enlisted in Erin on October 13, 1915. His wife Annie and his parents, James Beattie and Mary, still lived in Dechomet, Ballyward, Banbridge, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland.

Erin Legion Service Officer Doug Kirkwood said Cochrane’s name would be added to the cenotaph with a small plaque. The Legion had a record of Cochrane enlisting, but not of his death.

Maple leaves are engraved on most of the tombstones at the Caix British Cemetery in Northern France,
marking the final resting places of 219 Canadian soldiers from the First World War.

Chaplain Irene Walback highlighted Cochrane in her address at the Legion’s Ecumenical Service on November 8. Echoing author Ted Barris, she said, “For every war statistic, there’s a story to be told.”

Cemetery records list Cochrane’s age of death at 44, but the Attestation Form he signed when enlisting shows he was born on October 31, 1880, in County Down, making him 37 years old when he died on August 8, 1918.

That was the date on which the Canadian Corps won a battle for the village of Caix, located about 28 km south-east of Amiens in Northern France. Caix had been occupied by Commonwealth troops in March 1917, lost during the German advance of March 1918, and recaptured on August 8, 1918, according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Cochrane served with the Central Ontario Regiment of the 4th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry. He is buried in Caix British Cemetery. It was created after the Armistice when graves (mainly from March and August 1918) were brought in from the battlefields and from small cemeteries in the neighbourhood. It has the remains of 219 Canadian, 133 British and 13 Australian soldiers.

Cochrane’s Attestation shows that he was Presbyterian. He was 5 feet, 4 inches tall, with a dark complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair. He had images of a star and a woman’s face tattooed on his right wrist. Unfortunately, I have not located a photo of him.

Cochrane’s name, rank and battalion number appear in the First World War Book of Remembrance. The Canadian Virtual War Memorial produced by Veterans Affairs Canada ( has information on him, as does the database at

It’s not certain what year he came to Canada, but there had been a surge of migration from Ireland to Canada, with 5,980 people moving in the years 1911 to 1913. Ireland was in the midst of severe political turmoil at the time. Emigration had been most intense during periods of famine during the mid-1800s, but it was still running at a high rate. Between 1850 and 1913, more than 4.5 million men and women left Ireland, leaving its population reduced by about one third.

Recently, I was doing some research for the Great War Open House that was held October 29 at the Town office. It was hosted by the Heritage Committee, with about 45 people attending, and it included several tables filled with war memorabilia.

I made a presentation about what it was like to live in Erin during the First World War, based on old issues of The Advocate, which I reference every week in the Looking Back column.

It was while looking through the Erin soldiers on the Canadian Great War Project database that I noticed Cochrane, and the fact that he had died overseas. I am very glad to have made people aware of his sacrifice.

November 11, 2015

Nodwells important in Hillsburgh history

As published in The Erin Advocate

Plans to preserve the Nodwell farmhouse in Hillsburgh have been in the news lately, so it is a good time to provide some background on the family and the homestead that has been part of the local landscape since before Confederation. Jeff Duncan of the Heritage Committee assembled the documentation.

A Family History written in 1936 by Robert D. Nodwell notes that the original family name had been Nedwill, but it was changed before they moved to Canada. William Nodwell’s family were Presbyterian Scots from the town of Anaghmore in County Londonderry, Ireland.

Loss of a valuable stock of horses due to anthrax influenced their decision to emigrate, and much of the family landed in Quebec in 1838. They travelled by oxen-drawn wagons and settled on 200 acres at Lot 24, Con 8 in Hillsburgh, including the current site of Ross R. MacKay School and Meadowview Place Seniors Apartments.

Within a year, their house and belongings were destroyed by fire. William sold the north-east half of his land to Angus McMurchy, and they built a new log house. Robert D. says his grandfather William was: “A Free Mason, and held strong views re Democratic forms of Govt., Free speech, Govt. by properly constituted authority, etc.”

William died in 1845, and the land was divided between his sons Robert and Thomas. Robert bought a farm in East Garafraxa, and then traded it for his brother’s share of the family farm. A new frame barn and shed were built in 1857. Some later sources say the red brick and limestone farmhouse was built in 1868, but architectural professionals said in 2004 it appears to be from about 1865. The 1936 history says:

“A new brick house was built in 1864 and is now occupied by Mungo Carrick Nodwell a great grandson who is now directing the business of the old farm.”

William’s son Andrew had moved from Ireland to Philadelphia in 1836, then to Hillsburgh three years later. They lived 27 years in a log cabin at Lot 22, Con 8. One of his nine children, Robert C. born in 1857, was 92 when interviewed in 1949 by the Guelph Mercury. He recalled working as a potato farmer, selling the farm and retiring in Hillsburgh in 1923.

“Mr. Nodwell has been for many years an ardent Christian gentleman, a forceful protagonist for the prohibition of intoxicating liquors and a Liberal of no mean calibre,” said the Mercury.

The Nodwells were known for breeding Short-Horn Cattle in the 1890s. Family members were leaders at St. Andrew’s Church, and Robert D. was President of the Hillsburgh Branch of the Upper Canada Bible Society. His son, Lieutenant William E. Nodwell of the 30th Wellington Rifles, was a recruiter during World War I. Robert C.’s wife was active with the Hillsburgh Women’s Institute.

Dr. R.J. Nodwell served in the Medical Corps in World War II, was appointed Deputy Director General of Medical Services for the Army in 1953 and Medical Director of Toronto Western Hospital in 1960.

In a 2009 collection called Shades of the Past, Hillsburgh native Francis Gray Currie wrote that Mungo and Lillian Nodwell created a social hub for the community at Homestead Farm. They grew seed potatoes, working the land with horses from 1926 into the 1950s, had a large dairy herd and delivered milk door-to-door by horse and wagon. Lillian was known for her art and her cooking.

The Great Room had a massive harvest plank table that could seat 12, a huge stone fireplace and almost floor-to-ceiling windows, making it “the heart and soul of the farm”.

Advocate columnist Joyce Graham wrote about the end of an era in 2004 when Mungo’s daughter Nina Nodwell and Les Richards moved to Markdale after selling the farm to Manuel Tavares. They had raised sheep since 1985 and operated Hillsburgh WoolWorks.

A lamb roast, with a campfire, games and fireworks, was held at Everdale Environmental Farm to bid them farewell.

November 04, 2015

Science fiction thriller tackles ethical issues

As published in The Erin Advocate

Sharon Sasaki has published a science fiction thriller that projects today’s medical issues into an outer space future where technology has advanced – but human nature has not.

Formerly a family doctor in Erin, Sasaki now works as a surgical assistant at Guelph General Hospital. She will be promoting her debut sci-fi novel, Welcome to the Madhouse, on Saturday, November 14 at the Tin Roof Café on Main Street, 6-8 pm, with a reading starting about 6:30 pm.

The story starts with Lt. Dr. Grace Lord arriving at a medical space station. Most of the patients are humans who have been altered with fantastical animal adaptations to make them more versatile soldiers or workers, on planets being exploited by the profit-seeking Conglomerate. They arrive horribly injured, frozen in cryopods, needing to be rebuilt.

The narrative shifts among several modes, including strong action sequences that are pushed to extremes by the eccentric characters and technologies within the space station. It is a mix of hospital drama and Space Opera science fiction, with inspiration that ranges from Isaac Asimov stories to Star Wars movies.

Other sections are introspective descriptions of characters and their philosophical musings. Should one mind be allowed to use two bodies? Should the minds of important humans be copied, so as to resurrect them in new bodies after they die?

Still other sections focus on the patter of conversation among doctors, such as the bizarrely abrasive surgeon Dr. Al-Fadi (“Welcome to the Madhouse, Dr. Grace!”) and the easy-going anesthetist Dr. Dejan Cech.

Then there’s the space station’s commanding officer Nelson Mandela (an ever-present artificial intelligence who is not all that smart), Sophie Leung (a tiny nurse with a huge voice), and patients like Dris Kindle (a human-leopard soldier planning to give up her babies for adoption).

For such a high-tech facility, it is surprisingly disorganized, vulnerable to the weaknesses of humans and uncontrollable outside forces. Barely holding the upper hand are human creativity, ingenuity and personal respect.

There are emotional and ethical issues involving android SAMM-E 777, a surgical assistant whose real name is Bud. Like many a sci-fi robot, he is aware of his lower class status and explores ways of becoming more human. He develops his capacity to experience confusing emotions, feels loyalty to his creator, upgrades himself to protect his beloved Grace from threats in the Madhouse and takes initiative to save the station from a mysterious virus attack.

While the endearing Dr. Lord is the centre of the action, she doesn’t drive it. She’s too busy reacting to crazy characters and incidents. Powerful evil impetus is provided by a psychiatrist who abuses his mind-melding techniques.

“Grace is a moral voice,” said Sasaki. “But the book is really about Bud. He embodies all the good characteristics of humans. The theme is: What does it mean to be human?”

It’s not an optimistic look ahead. The future seems to be ruled by competition for resources and profits rather than higher ideals.

Sasaki, who has read science fiction since she was 7, says, “The book is based on what we face in the hospital – we never know what’s coming in the front door. It’s a platform to question things that are going on in today’s world. I raise questions, without giving answers.” She is planning to expand the story in a number of sequels, and a prequel.

The book is available for $15 from the office of her husband, Chiropractor David Sherrington, 18 Thompson Crescent in Erin, and at the Nov. 14 book reading. It’s also available at Booklore in Orangeville, The Bookshelf in Guelph and Chapters at Square One, or through (print on demand), or

October 29, 2015

Katie Pound stars in Anne of Green Gables

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin’s Katie Pound seems to be well suited for the role of Anne Shirley, which she plays in an upcoming production of Anne of Green Gables in Georgetown.

Like Anne, she exudes confidence and takes on challenges with enthusiasm. She also has the vocal training and stage experience to handle a major role.

“Anne is positive all the time – she doesn’t let the judgment of others get to her,” says Katie. “She is a strong-headed little girl, who sometimes has to take things into her own hands.”

Katie has been very busy with rehearsals this fall, since she is also in the musical Legally Blonde at Mayfield Secondary School in Caledon, where she is a Grade 11 student in the Performing Arts Program. That show runs November 5-7.

Globe Productions presents the musical Anne of Green Gables at the John Elliott Theatre, November 20-29, directed by David Ambrose, with music director Darryl Burton, choreographer Cheri Lindsay-Jarvis and producer Lori Girvan. Go to for show details.

The stage play is based on the famous novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery, another strong, positive character who lived for a time in Norval. The story follows the adventures of Anne as she adapts to life in the conservative Prince Edward Island community of Avonlea in the early 1900s. She arrives as an orphan at a farm where they had wanted a boy to help with the chores.

She has to deal with the strictness of Marilla Cuthbert (played by Michelle Gardner) and finds a kindred spirit in her shy brother Matthew Cuthbert (Mark Llewellyn). “Marilla is not mean, but wants to bring Anne up right,” says Katie. Ultimately, Anne charms the entire town with her imagination and heart.

The show provides an opportunity for singing, acting and dancing, and Katie tries to be a good role model for the young kids in the cast.

Starting singing lessons when she was 11, she was introduced to a variety of music such as jazz. She sang in talent shows (including first place at the Erin Fall Fair) and various choirs. She is grateful to Nick Holmes for the opportunity to participate the Kids Can Act program in Hillsburgh, with productions such as Charlotte’s Web and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Now she enjoys the opportunity of being in the spotlight, and is serious about pursuing a career in the performing arts. She is exploring an interest in opera, with coaching from renowned tenor Mark Dubois, and attending a master class where she was critiqued by famous New York soprano Aprile Millo.

She went to Italy in July for a program hosted by Millo, with lessons in Italian language, culture and opera repertoire, and a performance with an audience that included the granddaughter of famed opera composer Giacomo Puccini.

In a culture where musical interests tend to fixate on pop singers and their latest videos, Katie is getting a unique and well-rounded education, which will stand her in good stead throughout her life.

The Great War Open House

On Thursday, October 29, 2015, I made a presentation at the Great War Open House hosted by the Town of Erin Heritage Committee, held in the Council Chambers. It attempts to show what life was like in Erin in 1914 and 1915, and the role that the Erin Advocate newspaper played at that time.

CLICK HERE to download the images from that presentation as a single PDF file (33 MB).

My thanks to

- Chair Jamie Cheyne and members of the Heritage Committee.

- Councillor Jeff Duncan, who provided enthusiasm and research help.

- Doug Kirkwood, Service Officer for the Erin Legion, who shared some of his extensive research on local people involved in the war.


- Looking Back at the past is fascinating, not only because we see how different things were. When we get a glimpse of the lives of real people, we can imagine ourselves living at that time.

- The No. 7 Company of the 30th Battalion of the Wellington Rifles was based in Erin. They were formed in 1866 after the scare of the Fenian raids and eventually became part of 153rd Wellington County Battalion during World War One.

- Erin’s soldiers came from all walks of life, and enlisted in many different places. A cenotaph to help us remember our fallen was not dedicated until 1956.

Arthur Berry

- The first name on the list is Arthur Berry, a farmer from Orton, the son of George and Annie Berry of Orton, a member of the Disciples of Christ. The Canadian Great War Project is an on-line database. It says he enlisted at age 18, served with the 153rd Wellington Battalion and was killed in action at age 20. His body was not recovered.

Arthur Berry Vimy Memorial

- His name appears on the Vimy Memorial

Arthur Berry plaque

- And on a plaque at Orton United Church, formerly the Methodist Church

Population Chart

- In 1914, Erin Village had about 500 people. Erin Township including Hillsburgh and the other hamlets had a total of 3,000 – less than they had 50 years earlier. The combined Erin population would dip as low as 3,100 in World War Two. It would not pick up until 1961, after our water works were installed, and it soared to 11,000 by 2001.

- We’d had the railroad for 35 years – great for shipping out potatoes and bringing in tourists to Stanley Park. There were two trains a day to Toronto and two returning, plus regular bus service to Guelph.

Going West this Spring?

- At World War One, Erin Township had been settled for almost a hundred years, but there was no fire department, the roads were dirt or gravel, and there were no sewers.

- Life expectancy was mid-50s, many women still died giving birth and over 10 per cent of babies didn’t live until their first birthday.

- Erin was already past its peak as an industrial centre. Our water-powered mills were still operating, but steam turbines at big town factories were driving the economy.

- Rural areas like Erin were being depopulated as farming became more mechanized. People were moving to the cities and to the fertile farmland of the Canadian Prairies. Canada’s population was growing, but the immigration from Europe was being directed to the West.

- The Canadian Pacific Railway was urging people to go West, and many Erin residents did. Though many returned during the prairie drought of the 1930s.

Archduke’s assassin

- Community newspapers in those days were often the only source of news – international, national, provincial, local events and social gossip.

- The Advocate reported that Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip appeared before a magistrate in Sarajevo, expressing no guilt for assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie on June 28, 1914. It was treated as far-away political upheaval.

- And even once the war was on, many people expected it would be over by Christmas of 1914. Canadians realized only gradually that they would have to change their way of life.

King George

- King George in his uniform, ready to fight.

- Canada’s identity, outside Quebec, was embedded in the British Empire. Once England was at war, Canada was at war – no questions asked.

Mother Britain poem

- Every week, there was a poem on Page 1 – like this one, warning the bally Huns, that those who strike at Britain, must reckon with her sons.

Uniforms at Salisbury

- The Canadians looked quite spiffy in their uniforms, while training in England.

Ford car

- A few people could afford the new automobiles, but horses and buggies were still the norm. And the cars weren’t much use in the winter, so cutters or sleighs were a necessity.

Magic Baking Powder

- Here are some other examples of ads in the Advocate. Magic Baking Powder, made by the Gillett Company.

Corn Flakes

- No comment needed

The Darkest Hour novel

- Every issue of the paper had the next chapter of a serialized novel – usually a mix of romance and melodrama.

Fashion news

- And even with a world war raging, the Advocate carried the latest fashion news from Paris. This hat, with rabbit ear bows of black velvet, was considered one of the smartest creations of the season.

W.A.R. Store

- Merchants were not above using the war for commercial promotion – like this ad from W.A. Ramesbottom.

Columbia Records at Bell’s store

- Robert Bell’s store carried the latest music from the relatively new recording industry. The 3rd last song on the list: Cows may come, Cows may go, but the Bull goes on forever.


- The newspaper was packed with ads for dubious medicines, and testimonial articles claiming miracle cures. Perhaps a pre-cursor of today’s info-mercial.


- Castoria promises to contain no opium or morphine – which tells you something about other medicines on the market.

Advocate prints butter paper

- The war drove up the price of butter wrapper paper – but the Advocate was selling it at the old price. We would print almost anything.

Wellington Hull

- The publisher of the paper was Wellington Hull, a master of multiple revenue streams. Before buying the paper in 1894, he had been a farmer, a butcher, a village councillor and the reeve. He owned land in Erin village, just west of what is still known as Hull’s Dam.

- He was a Wellington County Constable, and later a Magistrate and Justice of the Peace.

- He was the official starter at local horse races

- He was a car salesman.

Advocate – Union Bank building

- Hull built a solid building and leased the ground floor to the Union Bank, later the Royal Bank.

- Wellington Hull passed the paper on to his son Roy, who passed it on to his son Charles. The family operated The Advocate for 78 years. The great thing about owning a newspaper, is that you can run free ads for yourself every week.

Farms for sale

- If you couldn’t get a loan downstairs, you could always try upstairs at the Advocate office.

Real estate agent

- He was a real estate agent and farm equipment dealer.


- An auctioneer

Marriage licenses

- And the issuer of marriage licenses. Note the cost of an annual subscription – $1 per year, which is probably why he needed other sources of income.

Bombs on Dunkirk

- The paper normally had two full pages of war news, like this story of a dirigible air raid. It was a constant narrative of heroism, foul deeds by the enemy, glorious victories and human slaughter.

War news – Nerve pills

- For those who were depressed by the war news, there were Milburn’s Heart and Nerve Pills, designed to build up the unstrung nervous system.

Pleasant pellets

- It appears some women were having crying spells. They were starting to feel old and look old – due to some weakness or derangement. Fortunately, Dr. Pierce’s Pleasant Pellets could be ordered by mail to restore youthful vigour.

German guns seized in Toronto

- There were frequent stories of German spies. Canadian transport ships had been the target of mines and submarine attacks in the Atlantic, and it was widely believed that spies had fed critical information to the enemy.

- The United States was not in the war at this stage, and there were millions of Germans living there. Canada feared those Germans might invade Canada, so as a precaution, police confiscated all firearms belonging to Germans in Toronto.

Wellington raises half-regiment

- In 1914, Wellington County was planning to raise half a regiment of 500 men. It would cost $90 to outfit each soldier, for a large expenditure of $45,000.

Acton Tanning Co. busy

- In Acton, they were working day and night to supply leather for war horses.

Cavalry horses painted blue

- The French had a novel idea – they would paint their horses blue so they would blend in with the horizon and not be noticed by the enemy.

Four horses in a shell hole

- George Arnett of Erin was a member of the Royal Horse Artillery. He said the artillery shells would make a hole large enough to put four horses in. A later letter said six horses.

Canada makes shells

- The British War Office had placed orders for $154 million worth of shells – and every machine shop or factory capable of making shells was busy. Canada was shipping out 10,000 shells per day, and hoped to push the average to 40,000 shells per day.

Drawing of barn being shelled

- There was very little action photography, but survivors would describe battles, and artists would create drawings for the newspapers – like this barn being hit by a shell.

Drawing of air battle

- Air battles caught the public’s imagination, with the exploits of flying aces like Canada’s Billy Bishop and Germany’s Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron).

Sgt. Frank Belway

- Frank Belway didn’t move to Erin until later, but he was well known as the manager of Stanley Park, owner of a grocery store and the third President of the Legion.

Distinguished Flying Cross

- In World War One he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for flying low over enemy lines under heavy machine gun fire, to get exact information on the positioning of their troops.

German albatross forced down by Belway

- He also had the rare distinction of forcing an enemy pilot to land behind the Allied lines.

Carmichael ad – Shot to Pieces

- The Carmichaels were a prominent Hillsburgh family with a prosperous store. The website carmichaelfamilyonline is an excellent source of information on Hillsburgh history.

John and Grace Carmichael

- Portraits of John and Grace Carmichael.

Marjorie visits

- The Advocate social notices reported a visit by their daughter Marjorie, who was about to leave for France.

Nursing Sister Marjorie Carmichael

- At the age of 29, working in Toronto as a nurse, Marjorie had enlisted as a nursing sister.

Open Letter to Women

- The Advocate carried an open letter from the most powerful women in Canada – the National Committee for Patriotic Service:

- The President was Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Connaught. That was Louise Margaret, a German princess who was married to the third son of Queen Victoria, Prince Arthur – who was Canada’s Governor General. Her daughter was Princess Patricia, who had her own Light Infantry Regiment in the Canadian army. Then you had the wife of Prime Minister Robert Borden, the wife of Opposition Leader Wilfred Laurier, and a long list of upper class ladies.

- The message was simple: Canadian women must “ungrudgingly” give up their sons and husbands for this struggle.

- A side note about the Duchess – she died of influenza during the war, at a time when there was no vaccine for the flu, and doctors didn’t even know it was caused by a virus. The flu pandemic in 1918 would infect 500 million people and kill at least 50 million – 3 per cent of the world’s population. That was far more than the 11 million soldiers and 7 million civilians who died in the war.

Patriotic Concert by Brisbane students

- Student concerts and many social events were raising funds for aid to the Belgians, who were being allowed to starve to death after their country was invaded.

- Erin Township Council voted to start a Patriotic Fund to assist in the war effort. Councillors were assigned areas and would canvass every resident.

- There was also a Patriotic Association that helped out the families of soldiers. Many children did extra work in the farm fields while their fathers were away. Farmers who had not enlisted were under extreme pressure to increase food production.

W.C.T.U. knits socks

- The Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Erin was busy knitting socks for soldiers, and collecting material for bandages.

Teachers donate ambulance

- Wellington teachers decided to donate one per cent of their salaries to buy a motor ambulance for the front.

Red Cross fundraising

- The cost of treating the wounded was very high, so the Red Cross launched a major fundraising campaign.

Machine gun drawings

- It cost $1,000 for each machine gun, and the federal government appealed for public donations. In 1915, communities across Canada gave over $1 million for machine guns.

War Tax Stamp

- The federal government brought in new taxes to help pay for the war effort, including an extra one cent for every telegraph message, a one-cent war stamp on every letter (regular postage was two cents), two cents for every bank cheque, five to ten cents on train tickets, five cents on every pint of regular wine, and 25 cents on each bottle of champagne.

Surcharge on property taxes

- The provincial government brought down a special surcharge on property taxes that would raise $1.8 million.

Pensions for wounded

Severely wounded survivors were entitled to a monthly pension that ranged from $264 for privates, up to $2,100 for brigadier-generals.

Parliamentary propaganda

- News or propaganda: “Canada’s loyalty to the great struggle of the Motherland for the cause of right was again manifested in the vote of another $100,000 for the war fund by the absolutely unanimous voice of the members of the House of Commons.”

Soldiers’ fountain pens

- Soldiers were urged to buy good quality pens that would last for years after the war.

Hugh McMillan photo

- This is Hugh McMillan. When the war broke out, Prime Minister Borden promised Britain 20,000 troops. Within a month, 30,000 had enlisted at an army camp in Valcartier, Quebec.

- Travelling to Valcartier to enlist were Erin boys: Hugh McMillan, Albert McBride, Elmer Green, Horace McArthur, Alan and Ernie Royce, Howard Cox, Gordon McRae and Laurence Tarzwell.

- When Hugh McMillan signed up, he listed his occupation as “Chauffeur”, and that’s what he was assigned to do. He was a truck driver supplying the trenches, an ambulance driver, and a chauffer for senior officers.

Hugh McMillan pennant, and Marjorie

- McMillan was a prolific letter writer, and quite proud of his home. He raised the Hillsburg Pennant not far from the front lines in France.

- He also mentions Marjorie Carmichael from Hillsburg, working in a nearby hospital, keeping in touch with the local boys.

Hillsburg pennant

- Image from the Wellington Museum and Archives

- The “H” at the end of Hillsburgh did not come into common use until the Second World War

McMillan – shell didn’t burst

- McMillan was very casual about the dangers, saying his house had been hit by a shell, but it didn’t burst.

McMillan – respirators issued

- Or that he’d been issued a respirator for poison gas

- “The Germans will pay for this.”

News from Ypres

- Ypres was Canada’s first major battle. Chlorine gas was used for the first time by the Germans.

- Listen to the news language used about Canadian soldiers: “Though reduced in the lines, and with dispositions made hurriedly under the stimulus of critical danger, they fought through the day and though the night, and then through another day and night; fought under their officers until, as happened to so many, these perished gloriously, and then fought from the impulsion of sheer valor, because they came from fighting stock.”

McMillan – under fire at Ypres

- Ypres was the battle during which Doctor John McCrae of Guelph wrote his famous poem In Flanders Fields.

- From the same battle Hugh McMillan wrote of rescuing a comrade whose truck had stalled, with shells falling all around. There was a German aviator overhead sending signals to the artillery. The road was filled with women and children running from the shells. “You have no idea what it was like, and I couldn’t explain it in writing”. In fact, he was having trouble writing because the guns were making the ground shake. “Bye, bye dear mother. Write soon, and oftener.”

McMillan – souvenirs

- McMillan lost a batch of letters during the Battle of Ypres, but another soldier found them and forwarded them to his parents. He sent some souvenirs, including a piece of the Yres cathedral, and a “Housewife” – a string shopping bag he picked up from a German soldier.

McMillan – if my turn comes

- “If my turn comes, it will be no worse than hundreds of other poor fellows who have fallen. The only way to do out here is to do your best and trust to God to bring you through safely.”

- “I’ve only been off duty half a day since coming to France, and that day I had a headache.

McArthur gets Advocate, congratulates hockey team

- Horace McArthur was very glad to receive copies of the Advocate at the front. He congratulated the Erin Hockey Team and wished them a successful season.

- His job was to dig trenches on the night shift, ducking out of sight when the German flares went up.

McArthur has close calls

- He too was very casual about danger, reporting that a shell had fallen four feet away from him, but that the explosion had only covered him with mud. After a bullet went through his hat, he said, “That was close enough for me”.

McArthur believed dead

- It was rumoured that Horace had been killed, and The Advocate wrote to his father, a minister, for information. Rev. McArthur reported that Horace’s letters had suddenly stopped after the Battle of Ypres. He was with the 48th Highlanders, 15th Battalion, three fourths of whom were lost.

McArthur in prison camp

- Finally a letter arrived from Horace. He had been captured, sent to a German hospital, treated for gas poisoning and appendicitis, and sent to a prison camp where he was allowed to receive mail, as long as it had no reference to the war.

- Horace later escaped from that prison camp.

F.W. Wood funeral director

- Typically, the local furniture maker would be the casket builder as well, in this case F.W. Wood.

High school debate

- His son Arthur was a senior high school student, and was involved in a Literary Society debate, arguing that the United States was morally obligated to join the war on the Allied side.

New recruiting drive

- At that time there was a new recruiting drive, and Arthur Wood was one of two high school students who signed up.

Jolly good fellows recruited

- Principal Tomlinson held a big party at his house, and the boys were each presented with a gold ring. They were also rewarded with a rendition of the song, “For They Are Jolly Good Fellows”.

Twenty volunteers

- The goal was 25 recruits and they got 20.

- Notice the wording from the editor at the end – “Keeper up the good work boys. You Country needs you now.”

35,000 more men needed – now up to 150,000

- Stories in the newsapaper could seem like a country talking to itself, reassuring itself that it was doing the right thing: “Canada is surely measuring up to her duty in her contribution of men to the war.”

- Today, it would be controversial front-page news. In 1915, it was one paragraph on an inside page – 35,000 more men needed for the firing line in France. That would bring the total so far to 150,000, but even then, we were just getting started.

- Canada had a population of 8 million in 1915. Eventually, she would have 650,000 men and women enlisted, 8.3% of the population. The casualties would total over 65,000 dead and 172,000 wounded.

- Erin Township and Village had a combined population of 3,500. From that we had 228 volunteers and 97 draftees, for a total of 325. That’s 9.3% of the local population. Of those, at least 28 died.

- As we promise every November, they have not been forgotten.
Erin is still proud that we did our bit for King and Country.

- And that’s the story so far.