July 29, 2009

Artist explores dreams and myths at Main Street studio

As published in The Erin Advocate

Before Paul Morin paints, he charges himself up with the sights and sounds and smells of the environment he wants to capture – whether it is an Erin forest or an African tribal ceremony.

With an established reputation for dramatic paintings, award-winning book illustration and eclectic music, he continues to pursue new inspiration for his work.

"I rely on dreams, as gifts," he said. "I am a sponge...I like to be inside the forest, or the dance. That's where I am inspired to paint, to grasp the essence of it."
Morin moved to Erin Township 21 years ago, but he has now opened a storefront art gallery in the village, at 110 Main Street. He had a gallery for several years in Rockwood, near his home and studio, but he was impressed with Erin's busy downtown and decided to move his retail location here.

"The market was right, due to the recession, but when there's a crisis, that's the time to take a risk," he said. "If people see the paintings, they're going to fall in love with them."

Despite an international career, he says it makes good business sense to have his own local gallery. The time and expense of mounting a major show can make it hard for an artist to break even. Morin found he sold most of his paintings at shows when he was there in person to promote them, so he finds it more practical to do that in his own space, close to home.

The gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm, or call 519-833-9906 to arrange a viewing anytime. Most of the paintings on display are landscapes (the most popular with the public), but his overall work also includes abstracts, animals and explorations of symbols from primitive cultures. His books and CDs are also available. To see a broader sampling, go to www.paulmorinstudios.com.

The paintings combine high contrast with subtle details and unique perspective angles, and he is able to create powerful lighting and shadows within the art.

Morin was born in Calgary and grew up near Montreal. He got interested in art during a high school placement at an advertising agency, where he saw that the sketch artist had the most interesting job; but he was not able to get into any art schools in Quebec. He ended up studying a wide range of arts at Grant MacEwen College in Edmonton, illustration and photography at Sheridan College in Oakville, then painting at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto.

As a young man he visited Guinea, the former French colony in West Africa where his father worked for a few years, and was moved by the rhythms and exotic imagery of the native culture. He has since travelled to study cultures in China, Australia, Africa and the Americas, and now does multimedia lectures on mythology, anthropology and biodiversity at conferences and schools. He plans to lease his Erin gallery out to other artists for three months each year so he can continue his travels.

For his first book illustration, he took the risk of going to Africa at his own expense to find material. Then he had to persuade the publisher to accept richly painted images that were totally unlike the watercolours often used in children's books. The result was The Orphan Boy (1990), a commercial success that also won him a Governor-General's Award for Illustration.

Early in his career he worked for ad agencies, which he concedes could have influenced his ability to "clobber people over the head" with bold paintings. Eventually, he grew tired of other people getting credit for his work, so he switched to freelance pursuits.

Along with his artistic skills, he seems to have mastered his business skills. A painting he might sell to the public for $1,000 could go for $20,000 if he sold it to a company for a product label or ad campaign. "I know the value to them. I have learned to defend the value of my art," he said.

He has exhibited in museums across Canada, including solo shows at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. His local shows include several at the Burdette Gallery in Orton and the Wellington County Museum.

His work has appeared in Newsweek, Maclean’s and in the Society of Illustrators annuals, and his 14 book projects have earned more than 25 national and international awards.

July 22, 2009

Erin residents selling solar power to Ontario Hydro

As published in The Erin Advocate

Now that Joe and Frieda Leenders have retired from farming, they are getting into the power business. An array of 24 solar panels, installed last month on the south-facing roof of Joe's workshop, is now feeding "green" energy into the electrical grid.

They are among the first to take advantage of Ontario's new Green Energy Act, which was approved in the spring. A key part of the plan is to offer small producers such as homeowners, industries, farms and communities a guaranteed rate of payment for solar or wind power that they generate.

On a traditional electricity bill, by the time you include GST, debt retirement, regulatory charges and "delivery", you pay about 11 cents per kilowatt hour. If you generate power yourself, the Ontario Power Authority will contract to buy it from you at up to 80.2 cents per kilowatt hour for the next 20 years.

"It's the coming thing," said Frieda, referring to the need to conserve electricity and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. "This may entice other people to do it."

In the past ten years, the cost of solar equipment has dropped about 90 per cent, but even with government rebates and a guaranteed price, it is still a costly venture.

"Some people have told me I'm crazy, but I've been crazy all my life," said Joe, who has always been interested in the idea of power generation. "This is an investment in the future."

They are spending $52,000, and it will take about ten years to make back that amount in savings and revenue. Unlike "back-up" systems that are ready in the event of a power failure, their direct link to the grid does not require an expensive bank of batteries to store electricity.

"Some people use it for retirement planning," said Steve Eng, an energy engineer at Enviro-Energy Technologies Inc. of Markham, which is installing the equipment. "If you are getting a return on your investment of 10-11 percent per year, that's better than what the bank will pay you."

He said Ontario is willing to pay a good price for the power, because the small producer bears the capital cost. "The government gets more green electricity on the grid and won't have to build as much generation capacity, such as natural gas, and even nuclear plants. We are all subsidizing it," he said.

The new Ontario incentives are now the most generous in the world, according to an article on the website: renewableenergyworld.com. This could attract serious investment from energy companies looking to expand into North America. The approval process for wind farms and solar parks will be streamlined, making it difficult for municipalities to block development.

The Green Energy Act is part of a $5 billion commitment by the Ontario government to encourage the growth of renewable energy, stimulate the economy, and create an estimated 50,000 jobs over the next three years. An energy audit will also be mandatory when selling a house, unless it is waived by the buyer.

Premier Dalton McGuinty said the plan will boost electricity bills by one percent. "It's a new green tax," said Kevin Gaudet, Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, quoted in The Ottawa Citizen.

Despite this "green" initiative, the government continues to come under fire from groups like the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, Greenpeace and the David Suzuki Foundation, because it intends to build more nuclear reactors. That plan has recently been delayed, due to uncertainty about costs.

A major push to bring small producers to the grid is long overdue. Germany, for example, gets less sunlight but has ten times more solar generation than all of Canada. Some US states have been doing this for years. If we had started earlier, we wouldn't be so reliant now on coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

July 15, 2009

Smoke alarm inspections planned for every Erin home

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Erin fire department will be checking every home in town to make sure that smoke alarms are installed and working properly. If firefighters discover a problem, they plan to fix it on the spot.

The new inspection program was launched this month, a stepped-up effort to ensure that homeowners and landlords meet the minimum legal requirements: a working smoke alarm on every level of the home, and outside every sleeping area.

"If there are no smoke alarms, we will put them in for free," said Kevin Gallant, Chief Fire Prevention Officer for Erin Fire and Emergency Services.

It is going to take six years to cover the whole town, including rural properties that may never have been inspected before. A team of three firefighters will come to your home and ask if they can do an inspection. Two will come in, and one will stay with the fire truck.

The program is voluntary – you are not obliged to participate. If you let them in, they will check the placement and operation of the smoke alarms, and look for other fire safety hazards. They do not intend to charge people, but they do intend to deal with any issues right away.

"We're not going to leave a home unprotected," said Fire Chief Steve Goode. He is particularly concerned about safety in older farm houses.

Previously, the department was inspecting about 200 homes per year, in the urban areas. (The 2006 census reported 3,960 private dwellings in Erin.) This year, Town Council allocated $9,500 in the budget for increased inspections. The Fire Protection Act mandates the Town to have a smoke alarm program, but Erin is going beyond the minimum requirements with the current plan.

If you refuse to allow the firefighters to install smoke alarms, and you later have a fire without working detectors, you are likely to be prosecuted. The ticket carries a fine of $235 for each missing or non-working unit. Landlords can face penalties up to $25,000. The same protection is required in mobile homes, boats and cottages.

Smoke alarms became mandatory outside sleeping areas in 1998. The death rate from residential fires in Ontario declined about 24% from 1999 to 2008, according to the Fire Marshall's Office. About half the fatal fires were in homes without proper smoke alarm protection. About 17% of those had no smoke alarms and 28% had smoke alarms that did not work, usually because the battery was dead or missing.

Newer homes have the alarms wired to the power supply, and linked so they will all sound in an emergency. Ideally, they should have a battery back-up, in case of a power failure.

The law was changed in 2006 to require alarms on every level, not just outside sleeping areas. Despite intensive public education efforts, many people are not getting the message, so fire departments are resorting to charging those who do not make the effort to comply.

It is important to test your alarms once a month and change the batteries every year. Replace units that are more than ten years old. Never remove batteries if you are getting nuisance alarms – move the device farther away from cooking or wood stoves, or get ones that have a "hush" feature.

If anyone in the household sleeps with the bedroom door closed, there should be an alarm installed in the bedroom. Make sure everyone knows what to do if an alarm sounds – develop a home fire escape plan and practise it with everyone in the household.

Over 90 per cent of residential fires are preventable, but if they do occur, your opportunity to safely evacuate your family is often a matter of minutes, or even just seconds. Smoke alarms tip the odds in your favour, so don't wait for the firefighters, make sure you have the protection right now.

July 08, 2009

Winston Churchill won't be paved until at least 2013

As published in The Erin Edvocate

Winston Churchill Boulevard, between Olde Baseline Road and Terra Cotta, may eventually be rebuilt to modern safety standards, but it won't happen for at least four more years.

A public information session at the Terra Cotta Inn last week revealed a tangled web of political, environmental and safety issues that have continually delayed improvement of this notoriously bumpy stretch of gravel road.

Many of the commuters are from Erin, needing a route to Mississauga Road. From Erin village, they can go through Belfountain, or south on the paved section of Winston Churchill, then east on Old Baseline. But for those of us in the south, a paved trip requires many kilometers of extra travel. That will improve once 5 Sideroad is rebuilt this year, providing paved access to Olde Baseline, taking some of the pressure off the Terra Cotta route.

Albert Almiron lives on the Ninth Line, and drives the gravel section of Winston Churchill daily. He has been trying to build support for paving ever since March, 2008, when his daughter was forced off the road by a driver who had moved over to find a smoother surface. This was on the hill south of Ballinafad Road, where sightlines are poor, one of the spots that would be more level in the proposed plan.

"The road turns into a mess as soon as there is a little rain," said Ninth Line resident Gerry Karker. "I don't see the harm if it was paved. It is not a minor road."

In 2007, after a previous meeting, Winston Churchill resident Art Rice submitted this comment: "Pave this road, and do not listen to the tree huggers. My family has had two accidents because of this road."

Winston Churchill is the boundary between Peel Region (Caledon) on the east, and Wellington County (Erin) on the west. South of Ballinafad Road, the west side is Halton Region (Halton Hills). Since it is a regional road, the $4 million cost of reconstruction would be shared by the regions and county.

I asked Peel Regional Councillor Richard Paterak if one of the main reasons the road north of the Terra Cotta has been left unpaved is to maintain a barrier to commuter traffic, and he said that is a "fair statement" of the situation.

Residents of Terra Cotta do have valid concerns. Drivers will often ignore the posted 50 kph speed limit, cruising by the conservation area at 80-100 kph, or cutting onto narrow side routes like Isabella Street, to save a few seconds on their trip to work.

These problems, however, and the prospect of increased traffic flow, do not justify a terrible road. As of 2006, it handled 245 vehicles per hour each morning, and 300 each afternoon.

"The gravel driving surface is in extremely poor condition and is not in compliance with current engineering standards," said Project Manager Solmaz Zia. She has assured Terra Cotta residents that the rebuilt road would not be a haul route for the Rockfort Quarry, if it is built.

If you would like to make a comment, email her at: solmaz.zia@peelregion.ca by the end of next week. More information is available at www.peelregion.ca – go to Public Works - Roads - Environmental Assessments. An Environmental Study Report is set for this fall.

Paterak is also a member of the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC), which must be satisfied before any development can proceed. "We're well on our way to crossing the t's and dotting the i's," he said.

There would be a four-way stop at Ballinafad Road and a three-way stop at Olde Baseline, with painted markings directing southbound traffic to turn east. Caledon Mayor Marolyn Morrison even suggested the possibility of a "Local Traffic Only" sign for the road to the south of Olde Baseline.

Terra Cotta resident Dave Rutherford wants the southbound stop sign removed and the road designed to flow even more traffic to the east. "We're not opposed to paving," he said. "We just want to make it safer for everybody."

A rebuilt road would be wider (with bike lanes) and concerns have been raised about preserving stone fences and an old butternut tree. There are also breeding ponds nearby for the Jefferson Salamander, an endangered species.

To reduce its impact, the road is designed to wind slightly to avoid sensitive spots. Urban-style curbs are planned for some areas, taking rainwater along the road to outlet points, reducing the need for wide ditches. "They have tried to address the concerns, but I'm not sure they have succeeded," said NEC Senior Strategic Advisor Kathryn Pounder.

Peel's 1996 reconstruction plan was shelved, and the current plan is on its third version since 2006. If approved, design work would happen in 2010, property acquisition and utility relocation in 2011 and 2012, then construction in 2013. The paved S-bend would not be rebuilt.

July 01, 2009

Literary treasures at fantastic prices

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Bookends store in Erin is one of those treasures that keeps on being discovered – by people who didn't know it was there.

In an era when it seems almost everything can be found on one website or another, it turns out that people still want to hold a real book in their hands, open it when they please, be guided by the skill of an author and be entertained at their own pace.

This process does not require brand new books, and so we share our used ones. As a fundraising venture operated by East Wellington Community Services (EWCS), Bookends accepts donations of books and CDs, and sells them for a small profit.

"The money stays in the community to fund programs," said Robyn Pyrczak, Retail Coordinator and Event Planner at EWCS. Bookends contributes about $20,000 per year to the organization's revenue.

This Saturday, June 27, EWCS (known as EWAG until recently) is celebrating its 25th anniversary by offering a free breakfast to anyone who drops in to the Seniors Centre at Centre 2000, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Powered by volunteers and supported by fundraising efforts throughout the community, by local businesses and service clubs, and by all levels of government, EWCS operates programs for children and seniors, an information centre, a food bank and three thrift clothing stores. They serve Erin, Hillsburgh, Rockwood, Orton and Guelph-Eramosa Township.

For more information or to find out about volunteering, call 519-833-9696, or go to www.eastwellingtoncommunityservices.com

The Bookends store is located in the EWCS building at 45 Main Street, at the corner of Millwood Road, between the LCBO and Mundell's. The main entrance is on the side, towards the back, but recently a passageway was opened up inside, allowing people to walk between the book store and the New to You thrift clothing store and EWSC offices at the front of the building.

"This has made a huge difference," said Pyrczak. "Some people thought it was a separate entity. We have had good feedback and increased sales."

The store is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday, operated by a team of 24 volunteers on three-hour shifts, coordinated by Enid Acton and Charles Lewis.

Although the store has been around for many years, some local residents are still surprised to discover it – a useful service they had overlooked. There are signs, but the store does not have a high profile as you drive down Main Street.

It was opened in December 1985, with Gillian Cantrell as its first coordinator. She was assisted by her husband David, Fran Hoag and Joanne Page. It was originally in the small, green shed behind the building, donated for use by Bob McEnery.

Bookends is very well organized, like a mini-library, and it is not too crowded. The fiction sections have useful names like "War/Spy/Adventure", "Horror" and "Christian Novels". Non-fiction areas like Health have subsections such as "Stress", "Cancer" and "Pregnancy".

The books are in good condition, with many paperbacks selling for 50 cents or less, ranging up to fancy coffee-table books for $6. There are also vintage books. Most donations are welcome, but they do not accept magazines (including Reader's Digest) or VHS tapes.

Their CD collection is very small and could use a boost. With many people transferring music collections to their computers, the number of redundant CDs in the community must be huge. Used CDs are a great way to build up your collection at very low cost, and once you've got the songs you want, you can donate the CD back to the store for someone else's benefit.