June 17, 2009

Young at Heart Singers just wanna have fun

As published in The Erin Advocate

I love coffee. I love tea. I love the Java Jive and it loves me. Coffee and tea and the jivin' and me. A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup – boy!

Do you know what I mean? If you do, and probably even if you don't, you would probably have some fun if you dropped in for a session with Erin's Young at Heart Singers. They meet for an hour on Mondays at 10 am, in the hall at Burns Presbyterian.

Oh, slip me a slug from that wonderful mug, and I'll cut a rug till I'm snug in the jug. A slice of onion and a raw one, draw one. Waiter waiter percolator.

Written by Milton Drake and Ben Oakland, and recorded in 1940 by The Ink Spots, Java Jive is one of those songs that's all about rhythm and fun with words, making it perfect for the Young at Heart participants. Inspired by the movie Young@Heart, in which a group of seniors becomes famous for their rock and pop concerts, Enid Acton started the group last March, and recruited singer Kim Pearson and pianist Pam White to help lead the sing-along sessions.

"Music can be a good reason to get up in the morning," said Enid. "In a rural community you can do a lot that you can't do in the city. It's really inspiring – there's some great talent."

Kim has quite a talent for harmony. She can sing "upon the roof" with the sopranos and "down in the dungeon" with the guys in the bass section, and knows when to get singers to "put that little 'whoop' in there". I sang with her in an a cappella group back the 1990s, along with my wife Jean, Peter Olsen and Rick McLarnon – we sang at the Fall Fair one year.

I didn't know what to expect when I showed up last Monday, so I brought my guitar and copies of lyrics from some folky 1960s tunes ("Today" by the New Christy Minstrels and "We'll Sing in the Sunshine" by Gale Garnett). Fortunately, I meet the criteria for participation:

"You don't have to be a good singer, just have a passion for singing," said Kim. You can join any time, and you don't have to come every week. There are usually about 20 people. Call Enid at 519-833-2869 if you are interested. Although she had seniors in mind when she started the group, there are a number of younger participants as well.

Kim led us through some golden oldies, like Sentimental Journey (Doris Day's first #1 hit, in 1945, also covered by Ringo Starr in 1970) and The Happy Wanderer (written by Friedrich-Wilhelm Möller, and a hit for the German war orphans of the Obernkirchen Children's Choir in 1953).

Of course, singing is good for your health, both physical and mental. It gets your heart pumping and seems to circulate endorphins, like a natural opiate – no wonder people get hooked on the activity. Music can have unique benefits for the brain, from early growth in infants to the rousing of memories in the elderly.

Singing boosts the immune system, reduces stress and depression, improves posture and lung capacity and gives you more energy. Unlike many medications, there are no nasty side effects.

Singing is also a communal activity. There's a tingling sensation and a feeling of bonding that happens when voices join together to make a sound that could never be made by one person alone. Check out Young@Heart on YouTube. If you're free on a Monday morning, give the Erin version a try.

I love java sweet and hot. Whoops! Mr. Moto, I'm a coffee pot. Shoot me the pot, and I'll pour me a shot. A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup!

June 10, 2009

A good time to revive shuttle to GO Station

As published in The Erin Advocate

A reliable shuttle bus to the Georgetown GO Station would be a valuable service for people in Erin. It would improve access to employment for those without a vehicle, and provide a commuting alternative that is easier on the environment.

GO Transit is planning major improvements in the next few years, with more frequent service, and trains to Acton, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and Pearson International Airport.

A shuttle was operated for many years by Denny Bus Lines, but it was discontinued about ten years ago when regular ridership dwindled to just two or three people, said Operations Manager Joyce Marshall. There was one run in the morning and one in the evening, serving both Hillsburgh and Erin village, timed to match the GO train schedule.

"We would revive it – we would need at least ten people who would use it every day," she said. If you have a possible interest in such a service, give her a call at 519-833-9117, so she can get an idea of how many are interested, and which train departure is most popular.

Denny's currently runs a Thursday-only service, linking Orangeville, Erin village, Hillsburgh and the Stone Road Mall in Guelph. The company recently lost a few of its traditional school bus routes in a bidding process, so the timing might be right for a new venture.

Mayor Rod Finnie floated the idea of a GO link last September when Town Council was considering how to spend its infrastructure funding. Nothing has come of it, but he likes the idea of partnering with a private company.

"If we take advantage of existing resources, it may be possible," he said.

It is too early to say what the fare might be, but it would be a lot less than the $30-$35 it now costs for a taxi ride from Erin village to the GO Station.

If the Ontario government wanted to boost GO ridership, reduce the pressure on GO parking lots and get more cars off the roads, it could actually subsidize shuttle services for communities close to the train routes.

No one expects a town the size of Erin to set up a municipal transit system, or to provide major subsidies to a private enterprise. But there may be an opportunity for the Town to help in the start-up, coordination and promotion of a shuttle service, which would clearly be in the public interest. The Town could add some prestige to the project, without incurring major costs.

Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott has been lobbying hard for extension of GO train service from Georgetown to Acton, Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo. Guelph-Eramosa is also pushing for a Rockwood station. (There were trains to Acton and Guelph starting in 1990, but they were discontinued in 1993 as a cost-cutting measure.)

In February, the federal and provincial governments announced shared funding of $500 million for GO Transit improvements. In March, $30 million was allocated to widening the rail bridge over the Credit River east of Georgetown, to enable addition of a new second track on that route and provide capacity for a third line in the future.

This will eliminate a major bottleneck in the system. Environmental assessments and design work have been done, and construction should be completed late in 2010, but extended train service will still not be in place until at least a year after that.

In other developments, GO Transit has spent $160 million to buy the CN rail line in north-west Toronto that carries the Georgetown GO trains, VIA passenger trains and CN freight service. The Ontario government also has a long-range plan to build a new, 5-kilometre spur line to Pearson Airport, to enable a link with Union Station.

On a typical weekday, GO runs 183 train trips (180,000 passengers) and more than 2,000 bus trips (35,000 passengers) – taking more than 90,000 cars off the roads.

By 2020, GO ridership outside the Toronto core is expected to triple, according to GO's strategic plan. Their goal is to provide two-way, all-day service in their core service area by 2020, with a train or bus departure every 15 minutes during peak periods, and every 30 minutes in off-peak times (on primary corridors).

June 03, 2009

Busy downtown is good news for Erin

As published in The Erin Advocate

I saw a nice pair of crutches at a yard sale on the weekend, right beside some mountain biking body armour. I enjoy browsing around these sales, which sprout up every springtime, though it is rare to find something I want. I was tempted to buy the crutches, just in case I need them someday, but I figured that would be bad luck.

Light fixtures from the '70s, antique video games, dusty golf clubs, a trampoline set in a wheelbarrow – it all seemed so familiar. I think garage sales bind us together. There is comfort in knowing that the stuff other people want to get rid of is the same stuff that we want to get rid of.

Speaking of which, I have a trampoline to give away, free to a good home. It is in reasonable condition, except the protective pads disintegrated a few years ago and the springs are rusty. I will deliver it to your house. Send me an email.

Browsing around Erin village took me to Credit River Motors, where the Rotary Club washed my car. They were also selling hot dogs and raffle tickets to support construction of the new park at 109 Main Street. Political correctness being what it is these days, the cars were washed with biodegradable soap.

Took a walk down to the park site, where a crew was nailing in the rafters for the pavilion. It has a raised stage, an octagonal roof and is positioned as an attractive focal point.

A grand opening on Canada Day at first seemed too optimistic, but the way things are going it is quite possible. The project has strong support from the Business Improvement Area (BIA) and was approved by Town Council, with $73,000 earmarked, though the total value will be about $120,000.

Importantly, it is benefiting from volunteer labour and donations of money, services and materials. The Optimists have put a lot of effort into the pavilion. Also, the Garden Club is contributing $5,000, the Lions Club $5,000, the Rotary Club $2,000, and the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation $1,000. Budson's is donating grass seed, and Keeler Electric is providing a 10% discount on the electrical work. (These are examples from the park committee minutes, not a complete list.)

With the gardens, benches, clock, winding walkway, special lighting, community board, tourism kiosk and big Christmas tree, it is designed to provide what the Town website calls "a lovely tranquil ambiance in the middle of our bustling village".

Speaking of which, take a look around on a sunny weekend – the village has quite a buzz. The picnic tables in front of Bailey's Ice Cream are full and the sidewalks are filled with shoppers. We seem to have become a major stopover point for cruising motorcyclists, and tour bus operators are making downtown Erin a destination for their customers.

As I drove home, I saw a sign just south of the village, "Original art for sale", and so I stopped. Roy Grandy had filled his driveway with a display of his own oil, acrylic and watercolour paintings. Now this is not an easy thing to do. The painting must have taken many hundreds of hours, plus the cost of framing and the risk of putting something personal on display for the public.

Roy said he gets lots of compliments on his art from family and friends, but is still unsure about how others will react. Well, I am not a professional art critic, but as someone who loves to browse through art galleries, I can say that this is good quality work. His website is not ready for the public yet, but you can email him at rggrandy@sympatico.ca.

His southern Ontario farm scenes are very attractive, but most appealing to me are the depictions of the rugged terrain in the Killarney region (west of Sudbury). He is able to portray the starkness and wildness of those mountains, lakes and trees, experimenting with light and shadows to capture different moods.