October 29, 2008

Myanmar comes to Erin

As published in The Erin Advocate

If someone asked you to find Myanmar on a map of the world, would you know where to look? Before going to the Myanmar cultural event at Centre 2000 recently, I knew only a few things about the country (known as Burma until 1989).

I remember U Thant, the Burmese diplomat who was Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1961 to 1971. I have read about Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader who has been kept under house arrest by the military government, since her party won an election in 1990.

And of course, most people have heard about the terrible cyclone there, which left more than 140,000 people dead or missing last May, and about the government’s initial reluctance to accept foreign relief aid.

That’s not really a lot to know about a land of 50 million people, which was conquered and named Burma by the English in the 19th century. It is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, located east of India, south of China and west of Thailand.

As so often happens, the controversies that make it into the news shed very little light on the everyday people and customs of a country.

Kim Terzi of Erin organized the event at Centre 2000, with members of the Myanmar Cultural Association of Brampton (MCAB), featuring crafts, dance and cuisine. (I can highly recommend the curried beef and mango salad.)
“I wanted to help people know about the culture – it is a very peaceful country,” she said.

Erin residents, including Mayor Rod Finnie, were entertained with a series of graceful dances, including the Candlelight Dance of the Rakhine State, part of the Festival of Lights, which pays respect to elders in the community.

The Brampton association has been prominent at that city’s Carabram festivities, with more than 4,000 people visiting their pavilion this year. They also won an award for their booth at the CNE. More information can be found at www.mcab.ca.

The association is helping three villages back home recover from the cyclone, raising money for medical supplies, tillers, seeds, food and clothing. Many communities in the severely-damaged rice-growing region near the Bay of Bengal are not accessible by road, making relief efforts especially difficult.

Myanmar is primarily a Buddhist nation, and is known for its golden pagodas, or temples. The environment ranges from mountains in the north, to tropical jungle, to the vast Irrawaddy Delta to the south, near the capital city, Yangon.

MCAB Secretary Bessie Terzi helps operate a family business, Mya Yadanar, which imports handcrafted treasures directly from artisans in Myanmar.

“It is called The Golden Land,” she said.

The country is famous for its lacquerware, elaborate bamboo bowls and containers with a high-gloss finish inlaid with gold or other elements, often presented as gifts by the country’s kings.

Then there are the creations in Amboyna Burl Wood, an aromatic hardwood with spectacular grain patterns, the intricate hand-painted umbrellas and the gold-embroidered scarves and tapestries, many featuring images of the elephant. Find out more at www.myayadanar.com.

The country is also a major producer of gemstones, especially jade. The Unites States has imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar because of the poor human rights record of the military government, including a ban on importation of gems. Gems are still sold, of course, mainly to Chinese and Thai merchants, with a recent auction raising about $175 million, according to an Associated Press report.

October 22, 2008

Jamboree is quite the party

As published in The Erin Advocate

I dug up my old cowboy boots a few weeks ago, found the oilskin cowboy hat I use for working outside in the rain, threw my new guitar into the back seat and headed on down to the Olde Tyme Country Jamboree at the Erin Legion.

My singin’ and guitar-playin’ normally happen either at church or at folk music circles, so most of it is not country. Still, there ain’t much music I don’t like, and working up a moderate country twang is as easy as rollin’ off a log.

I was expecting a concert-type event, but it is really a big party, with lots of people up dancing to every song. As a newcomer, I was made to feel extremely welcome. Folks were more than just polite, they were eager to sit down and talk.

“People are very friendly,” said Legion Entertainment Chairman Mark Southcott. “They come from all over the place.”

The Jamboree happens monthly at the Legion, except for December. The next one is this Sunday, October 26, 1-5 pm, followed by a roast beef dinner. Regular admission is $5, but if you sign up to sing or play a couple of songs, you get in free. Dinner is $10, with $2 off for entertainers.

It got going ten years ago, at the suggestion of Ken Paisley. From the start, the musical energy has been provided by Rod’s Country Classics, the house band that will back you up on just about any song you can come up with. It features Brian Stevenson on drums, Boyd Dolson on electric guitar, Wilma Dolson tickling the keyboard ivories and Rod Salisbury playing the fiddle.

“It was a success right from the start – Rod brought in an audience,” said Mark, who is retiring and moving to the Sarnia area soon. The Jamboree is an important fundraiser for the Legion, and organizers would love to have more people from the Erin area come and see what it is like. Cowboy attire and the ability to square dance are not mandatory.

When I was there, about 25 people got up to entertain with the house band, creating an amateur talent show that was lots of fun. When it was my turn, I did Yankee Lady by Jesse Winchester and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine by Jimmy Rogers, and was surprised to have lots of people not only dancing, but singing along.

Jamboree lovers will travel all around southern Ontario to meet their friends at events in places like Grand Valley, Shelburne and Caledon East.

The Erin Jamboree is “the best one”, according to Al Anscomb of Inglewood. Three years ago, he had an elderly friend who was no longer able to attend jamborees for health reasons. Al and his buddies put together a musical group, now known as the Caledon Country Boys, to play at the nursing home.

“We would take the jamboree to him,” said Al. “So many good things can happen when you do something nice for someone else.”

Word spread about the group and before long they were being booked to play in many locations – including a recent gig on Main Street in Erin during the Fall Fair.

The Erin Legion, Branch #442, is located at 12 Dundas Street East. For more information on the Olde Tyme Country Jamboree, give them a call at 519-833-2212.

If you have ideas for future Erin Insight columns, or other information for my edification, send an email to: erininsight@gmail.com. Those with spare time can go on line to check out previous columns at www.erininsight.blogspot.com.

October 15, 2008

Few applicants for tax rebates

As published in the Erin Advocate

I saw an ad the other day about a Wellington County program that provides partial rebates of property tax increases for low-income seniors and disabled persons, and decided to get more information. It turns out that very few people are applying.

The program provides a rebate of any increase over $150 on the total tax bill for property owners 65 and older who receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), or disabled persons who receive benefits under the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

People need to re-apply each year to the Town office, and the deadline for this year is November 1.

Only 21 applications came in from the whole county for 2007, down from 47 in 2005, said Emma Reddish, Property Tax Analyst at Wellington County. The average rebate was $300. The program can be of particular value if taxes rise due to property reassessment.

“People should not pre-determine whether they qualify based on tax bill comparison – if they receive GIS or ODSP they should apply or call,” she said. “Applications are extremely easy to fill out.”

All rebated amounts are shared between the local municipality, Wellington County and the Boards of Education. The rebate is only made once all the property tax for the year has been paid. The program used to apply to tax increases over $300, but in the spring of 2006, County Council lowered the threshold to $150.

Low-income disabled persons who do not receive the ODSP may still qualify for tax relief, since eligibility may be determined on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the County Social Services Department.

There is more information at the bottom of your tax bill. You can get an application at the Town of Erin office, the County Administration Centre, or on-line at www.wellington.ca. Call Emma at 519-837-2600, ext. 2940, or email: emmar@wellington.ca.

• • •

I’ve never been fond of idle chit-chat, especially in written form, so the idea of launching a blog had never really crossed my mind.

Recently, however, a number of people have asked if the Erin Insight column is available on-line. The opportunity to publish my writing at absolutely no cost, to an unlimited number of readers, was certainly worth investigation.

It was so simple; I set it up during a lunch break. Now, you can aim your trusty web browser at www.erininsight.blogspot.com, and read, well, what you are reading right now.

That might seem redundant, but it opens up some interesting possibilities. For example, my Mom and Dad can now read the column, as can anyone else who does not get The Erin Advocate. Columns will be posted on the blog in the week after they appear in the newspaper.

When the site appears on your screen, you will see the most recent column, followed by previous ones. You can scroll through them, call up various ones by title, or click at the side to see related columns according to topic.

Over time, I hope it will create a portrait of Erin from many different angles.

A blog (short for web log) is like a diary or scrapbook. You can set a simple one up for free with Google or other companies, or pay a small fee to get a fancier site.

The author has control over who can read it; some blogs are restricted to family and friends, but mine open to everyone.
Some blogs have many authors posting submissions, so they become complex, wide-open forums for debate. I plan to keep mine simple. I will be the only one posting articles, normally the same as what appears in the newspaper, but sometimes with extra material that would not fit onto Page 7.

Many blogs allow readers to attach their own comments to a story, for all to read. I am not providing that option, at least for now, mainly because I do not have time to screen and moderate the process.

If anyone wants to contact me with alternate views, additional information or ideas for future columns, send an email to: erininsight@gmail.com. This will be private correspondence; I will not publish your letter, quote from it or use your name, unless you request that I do so.

To comment publicly, send a Letter to the Editor, to the address on Page 6, or via email: editorial@erinadvocate.com.

October 08, 2008

Is victory possible?

As published in The Erin Advocate

It was a simple question, but there could be no simple answers.

I attended the federal all-candidates meeting at Main Place in Erin last week and posed the following question about the war in Afghanistan: Has the mission been worth the cost, and is victory possible?

The commentary that followed for the next ten minutes was thoughtful and passionate. The candidates, perhaps wisely, avoided answering the question directly.

Noel Duignan of the NDP said our troops should be immediately withdrawn from their combat role, but that Canada should continue its commitment to strengthening the government of Afghanistan.

“Whether the war can be won or not – I can’t speak to that. I’m not an expert in that field,” he said. “Whether it was worth it or not, it’s an open-ended debate. I believe to a point it has been worth it. Our soldiers have died over there. Hopefully they haven’t died in vain.”

He said Canada should try to eliminate corruption in the Afghan government. “If that doesn’t happen, then I believe maybe everything was in vain.”

Brent Bouteiller of the Green Party said the US-led NATO force should be replaced with “a more culturally-faced” United Nations force.

“This will allow us to remove our forces by the end of 2009,” he said. Canadian troops could remain to provide logistics training to the Afghan army, he said. He deplored the destruction of valuable food crops in the attempt to destroy poppies being grown for the opium trade. He supports a Poppy for Medicine program that would build legitimate production of morphine and codeine.

The website poppyformedicine.net says that in 2006, Afghanistan produced 92% of the world’s total illegal opium, directly involving at least 13% of the country’s population.
Jeffrey Streutker of the Christian Heritage Party said Canada should act independently, not being told what to do by NATO or the UN.

“The purpose of the military is to guard our borders,” he said, suggesting that a continued role in Afghanistan would be justified “if it can be proven that our military’s actions are still helping prevent attacks into Canada, and at the beginning that was the reason. I believe that requires some study.”

He suggested that efforts to reduce corruption, redevelop land, build the economy, and “help them realize that they can be self-sustaining” would reduce the chances of an attack on Canada. He said setting a withdrawal date would be “very dangerous”.

Bruce Bowser of the Liberal Party, who grew up in a Canadian military family, said he is pleased that the mission has not been an election issue.

“The best we can do when our soldiers are in harm’s way is to support them in the way we have, keep them in our prayers and stand behind them,” he said. “I think the government has done a good job of collectively saying we’re committed to having our troops in Afghanistan to play a role in fighting against terrorism.

“I don’t think there’s a question in anybody’s mind we want our troops back home as quickly as possible, and there’s a date we’re working towards, but in the interim I think the best thing we can do is continue to support our troops and cheer them on.”

MP Michael Chong said we have a responsibility to “stay the course” and help the people of Afghanistan establish a stable government.

“It would be the height of irresponsibility to unilaterally withdraw our troops immediately, leaving in our wake chaos and destruction that would quickly fill the vacuum.”

He voted in favour of the parliamentary motion to withdraw forces from Kandahar province by the end of 2011. He said it is premature to say whether “Canada’s military presence in another part of the country” would be appropriate.

“There are three intractable problems that we have to tackle. First, we are not going to defeat the Taliban – they are part of the solution. Secondly, we are not going to eliminate the opium trade.

“Third, we have to work with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to mediate the fundamental differences that these two states have between where the international border is and who is responsible ultimately for the Pashtun people, in terms of their security and their presence on both sides of that border.”

October 01, 2008

Terra Cotta Conservation Area gets a boost

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Saturday night dances at what is now the Terra Cotta Conservation Area are well before my time, but I do have good memories of camping and skiing there and bringing my young children to swim in the huge, one-acre pool in the early 1990s.

That all ended with funding cutbacks in the mid-1990s, but the 20-km network of trails, with links to the Bruce Trail, is still great for dog walking and getting away from urban noise.

Last week the Credit Valley Conservation Authority (CVCA) held an open house to launch a new management plan for the Terra Cotta and Silver Creek Conservation Areas, which with nearby CVCA forests form a protected zone of about 2,000 acres along the Niagara Escarpment from Winston Churchill Blvd. to Trafalgar Road.

“This gem of a property needs more attention,” said Judy Orendorff, CVCA Director of Lands, who is hoping to have an official reopening with new facilities next year. “We are ready to move from planning to action.”

Terra Cotta Conservation Area is to become a “Centre for Environmental Learning”. Located just south of Erin and north of Terra Cotta village, the Area has undergone some major transformations.

After the CVCA acquired the land in 1954, they got rid of the dance hall (near the current picnic pavilion) and eventually turned the roadside lake into a concrete swimming pool.

At the height of its popularity as a recreation destination, there were more than 100,000 visitors annually, for camping, picnics, mini-golf, swimming, fishing, ice-skating, cross-country skiing and hiking. The cars would line up all the way to Terra Cotta.

It was quite the attraction, but the activity trampled one of the finest natural areas in the Credit River watershed. The funding cutbacks created an opportunity to restore the hardwood forest and turn the concrete pool into an attractive natural wetland.

Lack of funding has meant minimal care. The Area has remained open for hiking and fishing (there are three small lakes created with dams), but the unused buildings have been in poor condition and there was little educational activity.

The Regional Municipalities of Peel and Halton have each contributed $372,000 for 2008, and improvements have started, mainly with new public washrooms in the former pool changehouse building.

The same amount is being requested from Peel and Halton for 2009, and the Credit Valley Conservation Foundation is seeking grants and corporate donations to increase the funding. Like all local municipalities, the Town of Erin financially supports CVCA operations, but no special levies are planned for this project.

Most improvements are designed to make the area more accessible, interesting and convenient for visitors, boosting appreciation of the natural features and general support for environmental protection.

Next year, a Watershed Learning Centre will be built. There will also be a Visitor Welcome Centre, a new gatehouse and expanded office space. The picnic shelter will be upgraded with a locked room to be used by groups renting the facility.
New signage is intended to make the area an outdoor classroom.

There will be a new fishing pier to reduce wear and tear on the shoreline, trails will be rehabilitated and water flow will be re-channeled to improve fish habitat. Harmful invasive species such as Giant Hogweed and Garlic Mustard will be removed.

The public is being asked to support the newly-created Friends of Terra Cotta, not only with donations, but also with time and energy for things like fundraising events and trail restoration. To get involved, call Partnership Development Coordinator Sharlene Hardwar at 905-670-1615, ext. 447, or email: shardwar@creditvalleyca.ca. More information is available on line: www.creditvalleyca.ca.

There is a $5 fee to park at the Terra Cotta Conservation Area (on the honour system) and $50 will get you an annual pass to all 10 CVCA Areas, including Belfountain Conservation Area.

Rae Horst, CVCA’s Chief Administrative Officer, points out that the local environment is facing some serious deterioration, with water shortages in Georgetown and Orangeville, rivers that are not suitable for swimming or drinking, and a decline in bird populations.

“Natural corridors will help species survive,” she said. “Hope is not lost. We can substantially improve the environment in the GTA, and this project is part of that. We need an aware and supportive public.”