August 27, 2008

Make a connection with Erin artists

As published in The Erin Advocate

Getting art into my home could be such a simple process. See it. Like it. Decide if I can afford it. Buy it. Enjoy it.

Browsing through galleries, studios and craft displays is one of my favourite activities. When it comes to parting with my cash, however, doubts get in the way.

What if I do not like the piece two months from now? What if I am paying too much? Will I know what to say when friends ask why I bought it? What if I get addicted to buying art and spend all my money on it?

When I was young, I did not have the money to buy art. Now that I can afford some modest purchases, perhaps I still see art as a luxury. Maybe I am frugal to a fault.

Monica O’Halloran-Schut, an Erin sculptor, says my condition is actually quite common. And fortunately, there is a cure.

She is one of the founders of the Hills of Erin Studio Tour, now in its 20th year. It has grown from six artists at five locations, to 37 artists at 17 locations. Drop in at some or all of the studios and galleries on the weekend of September 27-28, 10 am to 5 pm. For details, check the website,, call (519) 855-6320, or email:

“The Studio Tour is a good way to meet the artists,” said Monica. “Stop and take a look at the art. It is handmade, one-of-a kind. Art can become part of your everyday objects.”

For those who rarely buy art, she points out that many pieces are not expensive. And once you do buy something from an artist you have met, you have a relationship that would not exist if you bought something that was mass-produced.

“You will see things you have never seen before, and you will meet your neighbours.”
It was a desire to make artistic connections with people that took Monica from the insurance industry to the floral design business back in the 1970s. Eventually, she and her husband Dave moved from Toronto to Erin Township. In 1988 she saw an advertisement in the Erin Advocate from Rosalind Baumgartner, looking for fellow artists to organize a tour for the public. The original group, from the Hillsburgh area, included Rosalind, Monica and Dave, Jim Reid, Stan Hall and Carol Tyler.

The work of the current artists includes weaving, oil painting, furniture, pastels, concrete, drawing, watercolours, acrylics, wreaths, collages, jewellery, reclaimed objects, turned wood, photography, hats, sculpture, pottery, book binding, baskets, glass, forged metal and figurines.

“These artists continue to push themselves,” said Monica, noting that Erin’s rural setting creates a good atmosphere for creative endeavours.

Some of the Erin artists are also involved in the Headwaters Arts Festival, which has events and workshops over a wide area that includes Erin, Caledon, Orangeville, Hockley, Mono and Shelburne. It includes an Art Show and Sale September 27-28 and October 4-5 at the SGI Centre in Alton. Check the website,

Monica last month received the Artisan of the Year award from the Hills of Headwaters Tourism Association, for her work with the Erin tour, the Headwaters festival and the Headwaters Arts organization.

Her studio is called Croi go Lamh, meaning Heart to Hand in Irish Gaelic. She has gone from weaving fibres to explorations of mineral textures and metal techniques, with inspiration drawn from natural objects.

She carves her larger pieces from lightweight building insulation, and then applies architectural surface materials. Other work includes wearable silver sculpture, made by coating small natural objects with art clay silver, a putty made with silver reclaimed from used X-ray film. A firing kiln burns away the original object, leaving a unique, shiny creation. Find out more at

Many of the artists in the Erin Tour are also participating in a Preview Showing at the Burdette Gallery near Orton, which continues until this Sunday, August 31. Get directions at

August 20, 2008

Googling the Town

As published in The Erin Advocate

Have you ever Googled the place where you live?

Like searching out your own name on the Internet, checking the hits on Erin can lead to some interesting, but time-consuming tangents.

The Google search engine produces 54.9 million references to Erin, but if you narrow it down to “Town of Erin”, the total is a mere 10,100.

You could inadvertently learn all about Erin Mills, or Erin Brockovich, or the many companies that use Erin in their corporate name.

Are you curious about Erin, New York, located east of Elmira in Chemung County near the Pennsylvania border? How about Erin, Nigeria, south of Abeokuta?

Wikipedia, the popular on-line encyclopedia, lets us know that the word Erin is derived from √Čirinn, a form of the Irish word for Ireland, and that it originated with the Gaelic name Eireann.

Wikipedia also has a very brief article (a “geography stub”) on our Erin. In addition to some basic facts, it says, “The town’s new industrial park is attracting a number of new industries, due to its cheaper tax rate, accessibility to transportation, and its location within the ‘Technology Triangle’, a series of high-tech driven cities including nearby Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge.”

Fascinating stuff. The Town, or anyone for that matter, is welcome to edit or add to the Wikipedia article. Fortunately, it has a link to, an excellent source for local information.

The Town of Erin website is a treasure trunk of interesting stuff. Of course there are the municipal things, like agendas, minutes and permits. But you will also find an excellent photo gallery, lots of local history articles, details on coming events, and directories of businesses and community groups. It is an attractive marketing tool that will be seen by people thinking of buying a home or setting up a business here.

It also links to many other sites of local interest, such as: Credit Valley Conservation, Wellington County and Health Unit, erincinema, Hills of Headwaters and the Agricultural Society.

I got caught up in this web of Erin links while researching another burning issue – what to name this newspaper column. When naming something these days, it is wise to go on-line to see who else is using the name. Many thanks to the readers who gave the matter some thought, after I requested help two weeks ago.

John Sutherland phoned to suggest Erin Gleanings, since I tend to gather up things that have not made it into the regular news.

Jane Vandervliet suggested Teetering on my Soapbox. “Reflects need for firmer stance,” she said. “After all an ‘opinion’ column requires the writer to actually have one.” Ouch.

“Don’t be afraid of ticking people off. Persuasive writing is all about challenging others to think with the goal of change for the better for all.”

No offence taken, Jane. It is true that I tend to cautious, trying to see various sides of an issue. Also, my intent is a mix of news, trivia and opinion. Maybe I will take a few more risks when the time is right.

Hill Cox emailed a series of ideas, including: Shades of Green, The Spirit of Erin, Phil’s Focus, Erin’s Advocate, Village Views and Erin Perspective.

I liked Shades of Green, since it is a bit Irish (like me), and a bit environmental (all the rage these days). Google has almost 1.5 million references to “Shades of Green”. I would be sharing the name with a hosta nursery in Aylmer, Ontario; a forest website; an environment series on CBC; a housing estate on Vancouver Island, various landscaping firms and an Armed Forces Recreation Centre at Walt Disney World in Florida. Ultimately, it was too ambiguous.

Heidi Duncan (who named her business Heidi Hoe) dropped off a list that includes: Soapbox Stories, A Wee Tale to Tell, Much Ado About Nothing, Erin’s Hullaballo, Shamrock Stories and – meant with good intentions I’m told – The Phillage Idiot. I am feeling inspired. Less need for self-deprecation when readers are willing to help.

Anyhow, it is thumbs down on all the above. My favourite is Erin Insight, suggested by Hill Cox. The term doesn’t turn up in Google, except for a couple of references to insightful people named Erin. Not as racy as some, but it is likely to stand up better over time.

Of course, the column name does not refer just to “insights” of mine, but to those of people I interview or who send me their views. I have avoided putting my own email address in the column, but I will soon set up a new one for dialogue on column topics.

August 13, 2008

Hazardous waste service inadequate

As published in The Erin Advocate

As a dedicated saver of the planet, I have been obliged in recent years to set up my own Hazardous Waste Depot. It is also known as my garage.

So it is with some eagerness that I await the annual Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Event Day, hosted by Wellington County staff.

I missed the event last year, so I will be bringing two years’ worth of toxic material to the Centre 2000 parking lot, on Boland Drive in Erin, this Saturday, August 16, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There is no charge.

The cars and trucks will be lined up, loaded with old motor oil, compact fluorescent light bulbs, latex and oil-based paint, automotive and household batteries, medical sharps, glue, gasoline, pesticide, drugs, mercury thermometers, cleaners, antifreeze, propane tanks and aerosol cans, to name only a few. (Check the Solid Waste Services page at for a full list.)

Of course, I could always drive my HHW to the City of Guelph HHW Depot, formerly the Wet-Dry facility, at 110 Dunlop Drive, Tuesday through Saturday. (Call 519-767-0598 or visit for details.)

But I don’t have a large quantity of HHW, and it is just not worth a special drive to Guelph. I also do not illegally burn it, dump it in the ditch or throw it in with the regular garbage.

If I lived in another part of Wellington County, I could bring a certain amount of HHW to my local transfer station or landfill site (Aberfoyle, Belwood, Elora, Harriston or Riverstown) throughout the year. I am also welcome to drive to these other stations and use them at no charge.

These locations are set up as “Selected HHW Depots”, and will accept ONLY: Automotive Motor Oil and Filters, Antifreeze, Batteries, Aerosol Cans, Propane Cylinders and Medical Sharps.

The Hillsburgh and Rothsay Transfer Stations are the only ones that do not take any hazardous waste. County Councillor Lou Maieron is surprised at the inconsistency.

“It is unfair that the eastern portion of the county is not serviced,” said Maieron. “They should give us the same standard of service. People are definitely paying enough in taxes.”

The councillor has long advocated a comprehensive waste plan that would include rural collection, composting and local drop-off of household hazardous waste. There is a rural collection pilot project for regular garbage and recyclables being conducted in Guelph/Eramosa and Minto, and County Council will decide this October whether to expand it to other areas.

Meanwhile, there has been protracted wrangling about whether the Hillsburgh Transfer Station will stay at or near its current location. I have not been able to find out if that debate has affected the question of making the Hillsburgh station a Selected HHW Depot.

The facilities to handle limited types of hazardous waste would be inexpensive, and easily moved if a new location was established elsewhere, according to Councillor Maieron.

Hillsburgh is the second-busiest station in the County, which means that a year-round depot could divert a significant volume of hazardous waste from residential garages, or from improper disposal.

“If you make it convenient, people will use it,” said Maieron.

If a community is to treat environmental protection seriously, once a year for hazardous waste is not enough.

Here are a few more pertinent facts for handling your HHW.

• Alkaline batteries up to size D can also be disposed of in special tubes located at all County libraries.

• The County does not accept industrial, commercial or agricultural hazardous waste. If you live on a farm, only the household portion of your hazardous waste can be dropped off.

• Do not bring empty containers to the HHW event, even if they previously held paint, oil or pesticide. Treat them as regular garbage or as recyclable plastic. Let any wet empty paint cans or brushes dry out, leave the lids off and put them with regular garbage.

• If you have medical sharps (needles, syringes, lancets), put them in a rigid puncture-proof plastic container (like a bleach bottle) labeled “SHARPS”. Soak them in bleach for 24 hours, pour off the bleach, seal the container and tell the attendant that you have it.

Call Solid Waste Services at 519-837-2601 for more information.

August 06, 2008

Column could use a snappier name

As published in The Erin Advocate

When I told a friend I would be writing an opinion column, she said, “That sounds great. You won’t even need to know what the heck you’re talking about.”

Fortunately, being right all the time is not in the job description, at least when it come to opinions. I may be right all the time, as I sometimes convince myself, but it is not a requirement.

When I was a news reporter, it was simple. You found out the important details of an issue and got other people to give their opinions on it. They were the ones who would feel the heat if others disagreed.

Now here I am with the freedom the pick my own topic, and sound off as I please. I have not been elected, but I have my own little soapbox to stand on. I have not been ordained, but I can preach weekly. It is a frightening prospect, both for myself and for readers.

I have been cautious so far, and I know of no complaints to the editor. Perhaps I need to try harder.

Often it is not about being right, but about covering the interests of people who care about a topic. Recently I wrote about tourism, mentioning local shops, restaurants, natural attractions and accommodations. My friend Neville Worsnop, of Century Church Theatre in Hillsburgh, pointed out that I did not mention theatre. It was a valid point, because live theatre does draw people to small towns, and they spend money on other things while visiting.

Theatre never crossed my mind while writing that piece, though I have spent years volunteering to support it in Erin. When I fail to notice the obvious, I blame the advance of years, but I never get any sympathy.

Concentrate, Phil. The column is almost half done. Time to broach the main topic.

When I wrote the first column, I suggested to Joan Murray that we not have an official name, since I could not think of a good one. To my surprise, she gave it a name anyhow: “Life in the Town of Erin”.

This is intended to serve until we come up with some other inspiration. Or we could make it permanent, which would be all right. It stresses the local angle and imposes no other restrictions.

But maybe the column could use a snappier name. Something a little edgy, but not so edgy as to alienate any major sectors of the population. A clever combination of words to entice busy readers to tarry a while.

And who better to help with naming than the valiant readers who have made it this far? If you have suggestions for a column name, mail them to the address on page 6, or email them to: There is no prize, other than having your name in the paper (plus bragging rights) if yours is chosen. I may mention other submissions as well, and I promise not to make fun of any of them.

To help the process along, here are some of the name ideas that have already been considered.

The Way I See It: I was thinking of this one, but while I was thinking, my tennis buddy Bruce Hood went and took it for his column. Sheesh. As they say at Sunday Morning Tennis, if you snooze, you lose.

Horsefeathers: A bit too agricultural.

Off on a Tangent: Still a possibility, since it describes my normal method of processing ideas, but it is unclear if that should be encouraged.

The Devil’s Advocate: Somewhat appealing, since it plays on the newspaper name. It suggests a writer who takes a contrary view just for the sake of argument. That is not how I want to be, especially not all the time, and the negative slant would be hard to maintain.

Sunshine Sketches of a Little Green Town: Upbeat, but presumptuous, to say the least. The Irish twist is insufficiently subtle, and the extra-terrestrial allusion (little green men) could cause some to take offence. Nothing but trouble. Rejected.

Some people say I have a slight tendency to over-analyze. Others call it severe. I am still trying to figure out which group is right. What if the first group is just being polite, or worse – sarcastic? Maybe they are both partially right. In any case, I doubt that both are completely wrong.

My computer has an alarm that sounds when a column hits 700 words, and it has been going for a while, so I must wrap it up.

Maybe I should stick with Life in the Town of Erin. Let me know.