July 29, 2015

Island Lake trail could provide some inspiration

As published in The Erin Advocate

For an enjoyable outing, and an idea of what a team of dedicated enthusiasts can accomplish, take a drive to Island Lake Conservation Area just east of Orangeville, where the final section of an 8.2 km loop trail has just been opened to the public.

We might not be ready to dream of anything on this scale in Erin, yet, but it could provide some inspiration.

The completed Vicki Barron Lakeside Trail has been a ten-year project of the Friends of Island Lake group, working with Credit Valley Conservation Foundation (CVCF). They have raised more than $2 million in donations of cash, in-kind labour and materials, and organized the contribution of more than 12,000 volunteer hours for the project.

“Completion of the west link now connects the park to the surrounding community,” said Bill Lidster, Operations Manager for the north zone at CVC. “It gives local citizens and all visitors an outdoor hiking experience that is second to none.”

The regular trail is hard-packed gravel and soil, about eight feet wide, suitable for bicycles and even wheelchairs, but the most interesting (and expensive) feature is a series of five boardwalk style bridges with observation decks.

Boardwalks are not only attractive, but allow people get close to natural features without trampling them. Erin could benefit from some boardwalks to show off its views of the West Credit River and beautiful wetland areas.

No one is going to donate money or time, however, based on talk. For Orangeville, an appealing plan and an achievable goal resulted in huge support from residents, local businesses, service clubs, charitable foundations, big corporations and various levels of government. Once a good idea gains exposure and momentum, cooperation increases and serious fundraising becomes possible.

Change is in the air for Erin, so residents need to figure out what they really want and start going for it.

The process for Orangeville was perhaps more clear-cut, since they had a beautiful lake surrounded by publicly owned land. The 400 acre reservoir lake was created with the construction of two dams in 1967 to regulate the flow of water in the Credit River. The Conservation Area also includes wetlands, forest, meadows and a wildlife sanctuary, protecting the headwaters of the Credit and Nottawasaga Rivers.

The general admission fee, which includes parking and a variety of uses, is $5 for adults and $3 for kids. The public can enter the area at no charge from various points such as the corner of Hwy 10 and Fourth Ave., or from Hockley Road to the north, for trail use only.

The area is popular for bird watching (including osprey, heron and mallards), fishing (with heated ice hut rentals in the winter), and canoeing, kayaking and non-motorized boating. There’s windsurfing, picnicking, a kids’ wading beach, ice skating, snowshoeing and of course hiking, not only on the long loop trail, but shorter trails. For more information on area activities, including special events like Yoga in the Park, go to www.creditvalleyca.ca. (The website has not been updated with the newest trail information.)

An official celebration of the Close the Gap Trail Campaign and completion of the lakeside trail is planned for August 28, at 11:30 am, at the newest trail section near Hwy. 10.

July 22, 2015

Catching a glimpse of steampunk horsepower

As published in The Erin Advocate
The title of the painted horse sculpture at McMillan Park, which has arrived during the Pan Am Games as part of the Headwaters Parade of Horses, has had a few people scratching their heads.

The words of “Future Past 2412” make sense enough. The work is in the steampunk mode, which uses imagery of old-fashioned steam powered mechanics and Victorian aesthetics to create a futuristic style of art, as well as science fiction, attire and lifestyle.

But what about the 2412? Could it be a secret code or an allusion to something that will happen 397 years from now? Or maybe an obscure numerological reference – 24 being the 12th even number, the number of ribs in the human body and the number of furlongs in one league.

Clicking around the world wide web got me nowhere, so I just emailed the artists, Eva Folks and Judy Sherman, and asked about the horse’s name.

“We decided we wanted to add something personal to his name,” said Folks. “Judy came up with the idea of using our birthdays. I’m July 24th and Judy is September 12th. So there is the 2412. Mystery solved.”

The idea of man-made mechanics as part of a living being is central to the steampunk genre. The fiberglass horse stands 15 hands tall and appears to be held together with leather straps, chains, rivets, nuts and bolts, and has an ornate steam gauge that recalls the industrial revolution. There are portals into its interior showing a fiery furnace, gears and a gentleman with his hand on a lever. He is formally dressed, with a Victorian mustache and round goggles that are a trademark of steampunk fashion. 

He reminds me of Captain Nemo, from the 1870 science fiction novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne. Nemo is a mysterious, vengeful scientist; a foe of imperialism; a connoisseur of art and technology; an anti-hero who roams the oceans in the battery-powered submarine Nautilus. He has been adopted by steampunk culture.

Folks said the man was nicknamed George Frankenstein IV by two young friends of the artists who saw the painting in progress. Strangely enough, Mary Shelley’s gothic Frankenstein character from 1818 is also a favourite of steampunkers because of its quest for identity and the experimental merging of mechanical and human elements.
Steampunk seems to have only a distant link to punk music – perhaps in a gritty, anti-establishment attitude. It is also linked to cyberpunk, which can be seen in stories and movies about technology and the future breakdown of social order.

The sculpture has been funded by the Town of Erin and by Chris Naraysingh of Rapid Rentals. For more about the 26 horses (including Rosie at Century Church Theatre in Hillsburgh) and artists, visit headwatershorsecountry.ca, in the Parade of Horses section under Happenings.

July 15, 2015

Major expenditure needed to replace one-lane bridge

As published in The Erin Advocate

One-lane bridges need to become a thing of the past, especially when they carry substantial high speed traffic between communities – and sooner rather than later if they’re falling apart.

That’s the case with the bridge on Winston Churchill Blvd. just north of 27 Sideroad (Highpoint Sideroad on the Caledon side). It was built in 1920, rehabilitated in 1950, and now handles an average of 2,400 vehicles per day. A recent inspection report found it to be in “very poor condition” and recommended a new two-lane bridge “to improve public safety”.

People who use the road regularly to travel between Erin and Orangeville have learned how to judge the speed of oncoming traffic to see who will have to slow down and who will get to go first. But for those unfamiliar with the road or not paying attention, a one-lane bridge creates the need for an unexpected quick decision, which can be more difficult at night.

Winston Churchill is the boundary road for Caledon on the east (in Peel Region) and Erin on the west (in Wellington County). Further south, it is considered a Regional Road, with the Region and County sharing the costs, but this bridge, which crosses a tributary of Shaw’s Creek, is in a section where the local Towns are responsible.

There’s no detailed cost estimate yet, but Transportation Engineer Hilda Esedebe, of the consulting firm McIntosh Perry said a full replacement with two lanes could cost about $1.5 million.

At a recent Public Information Centre in Alton, as part of an Environmental Assessment (EA) now being conducted by the Town of Caledon, she said the reconstruction is planned for next summer and that the Town of Erin is expected to contribute 50% of the cost. The existing bridge has an estimated remaining service life of six years.

Erin Mayor Al Alls said that while it is normal to share costs for boundary roads, Erin has not been formally asked to participate. He expects to discuss the matter soon with Caledon Mayor Allan Thompson.

Erin has, however, included the project in its 5 Year Capital Plan for 2016, with an amount of $680,000. Like most of the 55 other items on the Roads list, the Winston Churchill bridge is “unfunded”, with no grants allocated and no reserve funds set aside. The draft plan provided to council last January showed $21.8 million in Roads infrastructure needs over five years, with $17.4 million unfunded.

The bridge will be discussed in the 2016 budget process, when council decides how much it is willing to borrow and which projects will make the cut.

Of course, the costs for Erin and Caledon could be greatly reduced if they were shared with all taxpayers in Wellington and Peel – but the bridge could collapse while waiting for such good news. Caledon has been lobbying Peel to take over this section of Winston Churchill (north of Beech Grove Sideroad) as a major arterial route, and similar discussions are ongoing at County Council. Erin will take any road uploading it can get. If upper tier municipalities take over a road, they are legally obliged to take over any debt payments related to its improvement.

The EA for the Winston Churchill bridge considered the lower-cost options of doing nothing, of closing the bridge permanently or of leaving it at one lane. Rehabilitation of the existing deck and foundations could last 20 years, and a new one-lane deck on rehabilitated existing foundations could last 50 years. The recommendation is an entire replacement with two lanes, expected to last 75 years.

The updated design would mean lower maintenance costs, a wider span that would improve river flow, and roadside barriers and railings that meet modern safety standards.

July 08, 2015

Public school cannon brings back memories

As published in The Erin Advocate

These days, people would never expect to see a World War I cannon mounted in a schoolyard, but there was such an installation for many years at Erin Public School – and George Short has the photo to prove it.

The picture is of his first wife Emily, sitting on the wheel of the big gun, taken in 1939.

George Short's wife Emily with the Erin Public School cannon
The cannon was a tribute to veterans of the war, but George recalls that when he was a teenager in the early ‘30s, the boys of the village were known to have some fun with it on Halloween night.

To avoid the problem, the cannon was moved to the barn across the road owned by school trustee Tom Scott, but this simply created a challenge for the young folks. One year they managed to get it out and started rolling it down the road, only to have it collapse when one of the wheels broke.

George happened to arrive at the scene and was rounded up with the other mischief makers. They all had to contribute a hefty 75 cents for the repair job and endure the wrath of their embarrassed parents.

“We should have had a kick in the rump, because it was an honour thing for the soldiers from the First World War,” said George, who served overseas in the Second World War. He doesn’t know what was eventually done with the cannon.

I met recently with him and his current wife Florence, who are approaching their 25th anniversary this year, to look at some old photos and talk about Erin as it was in the early 20th century. George was born in Erin in 1918 and has lived most of his life here. He worked at the Ford plant in Oakville, and was a welder at Massey-Harris in Brantford and General Electric in Guelph.

He’s been around long enough to remember Wellington Hull, the influential publisher of the Advocate, who also loaned money, issued marriage licenses and was the local auctioneer.

He also remembers Harry Gear, Erin’s long-serving doctor, who once sewed up a gash in George’s foot after an axe accident in the bush. No anesthetic was used – the doctor just had one of George’s brothers sit on his leg to keep it still. Gear’s house (next to the drug store) remains a village landmark, built by William Graham.

George still lives on a section of the land owned by his family just north of Erin Public School. When his mother Ada passed away, he ended up with a new photo collection. One example of that is a postcard showing the members of the 1915 Erin Shamrocks.

Top left in the photo is Bill Bush, whose family had a hardware store that he operated until 1973, then Humph Matthews, a harness dealer. In the centre is Dr. Henry Gear, followed by William Ramesbottom, who owned a large general store on Main Street, George Saunders, who lived on Charles Street and Wibb Small, who ran a downtown grocery store.

In the front row are Archie Chisholm, Harry Saunders, goalie Jack Trimble, a blacksmith who operated a garage in Belfountain, Tom Bush and Abe Hurd.

The photo was taken before his time, but George has heard that they were “a pretty hot hockey team”. They played in a red horse barn near the river on the Agricultural Society grounds. George would one day manage the arena that was later built on those grounds, with curling a very popular pastime in addition to hockey.

For those who are interested in more details about the olden days of Erin Village, Hillsburgh and Erin Township, I highly recommend a visit to the local history section at either branch of the library. Also explore the history articles on my blog, erininsight.blogspot.com, and on the Town website, erin.ca, in the About Our Community section.

July 01, 2015

EDHS French Immersion could shift to Orangeville

As published in The Erin Advocate

Despite the popularity of French Immersion in Erin, local students may eventually have to transfer to Orangeville if they want to continue in the program through high school, according to Trustee Kathryn Cooper.

Brisbane, Erin Public and Erin District High School (EDHS) are all are dual track schools, offering both French Immersion and regular instruction, and Orangeville students are currently bused to EDHS for French Immersion.

With little population growth in Erin, and strong growth elsewhere, that situation could be reversed, with Erin students having to go to Orangeville for French Immersion.

“This will be a fight that we will have to fight,” said Cooper. “There are demands for a French Immersion High School in Orangeville. In about four or five years’ time, there will be more kids coming from Orangeville into EDHS French Immersion than there will be coming from this region. At some point, the parents are going to say, that’s crazy, why wouldn’t we bring the smaller group of kids into Orangeville rather than the bigger group of kids into Erin.”

Between now and December, the Upper Grand District School Board will be reviewing all of its French Immersion and Core French programs, with the goal of creating a sustainable, efficient system with “equity of access”.

Cooper says Erin’s elementary school French Immersion programs are doing fine and are not at risk of closing. There is no French Immersion at Ross R. MacKay School in Hillsburgh, and that school is at risk of closing entirely within a few years if there is no population increase.

Erin has three representatives on the large board committee that is starting the review – Trustee Cooper, Parent Sandra Paolucci and Student Trustee Dylan Challinor. After each Committee meeting they will hold a meeting with local parent council members and other interested members of the public to share information and gather input.

“I’m not worried about the high school in general, but if you move out the Orangeville kids and the Erin French Immersion kids, then you have a more challenging situation, because there’s so many kids that go into French Immersion in the Erin area,” said Cooper.

If the Orangeville high school students move out and the Erin students stay, it will weaken Erin’s French Immersion program. Despite its popularity, there may still be not enough students to offer an optimal program.

More information on the process, and a link to the terms of reference for the review, is available on Cooper’s blog, www.cooper4trustee.wordpress.com.

Erin has almost 500 French Immersion students (elementary and secondary combined). Two thirds of the kids at Brisbane are in French Immersion. Two out of every three students in junior and senior kindergarten that were enrolled last year in Guelph went into French Immersion, and some Guelph schools are completely French.

“French Immersion has been growing in leaps and bounds around the board, more so in the urban areas such as Orangeville and Guelph. It’s putting accommodation pressures on the existing schools. When you have dual track schools, you can’t put as many kids into the school – you can’t balance the classes in the optimal way,” said Cooper.

“Sometimes you have so few kids in the English track in the Guelph area that you’ve got Grade 1-2 splits and 2-3 splits. So the more schools with these dual track systems, the more pressure we have and the more schools we need. If this continues to grow at this pace, there’s going to be a problem.”

Upper Grand is one the few boards that actually bus French Immersion students. In other boards it’s considered a specialty program, with no busing provided.

Other boards have put caps on French Immersion or held lotteries to get into the program, something that Cooper does not want to do.