December 29, 2010

Dams should be part of Erin's business plan

As published in The Erin Advocate

If the dams in Erin village are going to stay in place for many decades to come, as it appears they will, they should become part of a plan to attract more visitors to the area. The West Credit River is a treasure that could be made more scenic, and more accessible to the public.

The Church Street Dam has ugly slabs of concrete at odd angles (some of them crumbling), broken safety railings, a heavy-duty guard rail and a steel girder sticking out of the water. The Town eventually needs to fix it up or tear it down.

With more frequent and severe weather events anticipated as a result of climate change, there will be extra strain on dams, so they cannot simply be ignored. I asked Bob Morris of Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) how important the village dams are for stormwater management.

"Not likely any significant role, especially if floods threaten structural integrity," he said. The goal is to control stormwater before it reaches the river. "Dams that trap sediment actually create sediment problems upstream and more erosion problems downstream."

The public land between the Church Street Dam and the Valu-Mart parking lot has potential as a park – an idea that has been around for years. It is an inexpensive project that the Town could undertake at any time, requiring some benches, waste containers and a sign. The trees could be thinned out to create a fantastic view of the river.

If the dam were eventually taken down, it could be replaced with stepped rocky ledges, which would still hold the water back somewhat, but create a series of pools that would also be quite attractive.

Whether the dam is there or not, the park could be an important hub in a network of trails that would bring more visitors to the village. There could be a route from that park upstream to Dundas Street, to the park on Carberry Street, across the south dam of Stanley Park and on up to the Trans-Canada Trail (Elora-Cataract).

Another trail could go from the Church Street Dam, possibly using part of the roadway to the old village landfill site, taking hikers up to the Height-of-Land Trail, south to the water tower and back down to William Street.

Obviously there are privately-owned lands involved. But if the Bruce Trail Association has built 1,000 kilometres of trails between Tobermory and Niagara-on-the-Lake by making deals with landowners, and acquiring land when it could, surely Erin can develop a few kilometres of trails.

CVC may be interested in acquiring more riverfront land, as it has done extensively in Caledon. There is possible funding for this sort of effort, but only if there is a plan. A committee of citizens will be working on that in the coming year.

Perhaps the most significant parcel of riverfront land for the long-term future of downtown Erin is the Mundell lumber yard. Owner Dana Mundell would like to move his lumber operation to the north end of the village and develop the vacated strip, anchored by the Planing Mill at the south, and the Grist Mill at Daniel Street. The Town, however, will not allow development there until a sewer system is built.

It is a long-term project, but the possibilities are exciting. There could be a boardwalk along the river leading to McMillan Park and a bridge over the river to the Woollen Mills Trail. There could be a cycling route, bypassing the Main Street traffic. There could be a pedestrian area, with a series of shops and restaurants facing the river.

Other towns have restored historic mills, making them successful as educational sites and commercial ventures. The belt-driven Planing Mill, with its ornate 19th century woodworking machines, is particularly important, since it dates back to 1838.

It is the last such mill in the Credit Valley watershed which can still be operated. People would line up and pay good money to see it in action. Perhaps it is pre-mature to put too many public expectations on the site, which is still part of a private business, but it has the potential to become a more prominent part of Erin's identity.

The mill is powered by water from the Charles Street Dam, through a flume that passes under Main Street. The same water could also generate electricity on a small scale. There are various arguments in favour of preserving this dam, which gave the village its start, but the existence of a functional mill is certainly the strongest.

December 22, 2010

Expensive upgrades could reduce impact of dams

As published in The Erin Advocate

When I think of dams, I think of farms. They do not look much alike, but they are both drastic human interventions in the environment, redirecting the power of nature to serve our needs. Dams and their mill ponds are often quite scenic, but unlike farms, they have become industrial relics.

There are more than 500 dams in the Credit River watershed, including several in the Erin-Hillsburgh area. Most were built in the mid-1800s as European settlers made a furious effort to tame the Ontario wilderness, building mills to saw up trees as they cleared the land and grinding grain from the new farms.

Many dams are still worth preserving, for historical, cultural and environmental reasons. But are we willing to pay millions of dollars in the long term to maintain and rebuild structures that have lost their original economic purpose? Will our descendants see the value in them 100 or 200 years from now?

The best options for Erin dams will have to be determined by dam owners, the local community and technical studies. What follows is simply a look at what changes may be possible to improve safety and water quality.

With the provincial government considering expensive new regulations for maintaining dams, I called Bob Morris, an aquatic biologist and Manager of Natural Heritage at Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), to get some background.

CVC has no direct authority over normal dam operations. The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is responsible for dams, but does not currently keep track of their maintenance. The CVC and MNR get involved when permits are needed for repairs or alterations. Dam owners are liable when a dam fails and causes damage to other landowners downstream or to the river environment.

"It is assumed that dam owners would take necessary precautions to prevent such an event but regulations are not likely to be applied until such a failure," said Morris.

"Dam owners must apply for a permit to repair or alter a dam and only then does MNR become aware of any safety issues. It would be unlawful to flush sediments downstream. Owners are responsible for maintenance, operations and surveillance of their dams."

The Charles Street and Church Street dams in Erin village were identified in 1997 as "structurally inadequate" by modern standards, but the CVC would not offer an opinion on their current safety or need for repair. The Church Street structure has some areas of crumbling concrete, but to an amateur observer it appears to be solid.

CVC can provide maintenance advice to dam owners to reduce damage to the environment and improve safety. Possible changes include fish ladders or rocky ramps, designed to enable migration of local fish species.

Ponds typically have higher water temperatures, which can be detrimental to the environment downstream. This can be offset by a "bottom draw", a separate pipe which in the summer would discharge some of the cooler water at the bottom of a deep pond.

Other pond problems include sediment build-up, high levels of nutrients and low levels of dissolved oxygen, leading to algae growth. Dredging and disposing of sediment is very expensive, and does not provide a long-term solution.

"CVC promotes the development of wetland communities in impoundments to improve some water quality parameters and habitat values," said Morris. "Dredging is generally discouraged."

Other possible changes include lowering a dam, which would leave the sediment in place and result in more wetland vegetation. Bypass channels can be used to divert a portion of the river flow around a dam, or even around a whole pond. Rocks can be used to build up the stream bed near a dam, or create a stepped series of riffles and pools.

If it is determined that a dam should be removed, the largest environmental concern is to avoid releasing sediment downstream during the project.

"Full removal of the dam and sediment would achieve full stream and valley restoration, that is best in many situations, but not always feasible in terms of economics and landowner objectives," said Morris. "The main issue seems to be public acceptance of losing a cultural feature and open water body that is different from a stream. Cost is also a big issue – but so are repairs or liability costs after a failure."

Could our dams be part of a plan to bring more tourists to the area? Are they essential for stormwater management? More on these issues next week.

December 15, 2010

New dam regulations too expensive for Erin

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town of Erin could be forced to remove the Church Street Dam on the West Credit River if it cannot afford the cost of maintaining it under new regulations now being proposed.

The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is responsible for Ontario dams, but no requirements now exist to ensure safe management of the structures, which can deteriorate and become prone to failure.

If the proposed changes to the Lakes and River Improvement Act become law, dam owners could bear the cost of inspections, a long-term safety review and various plans for operation, maintenance and upgrades. Costs could range from $105,000 to $240,00 per dam – not including the capital costs of actual upgrades.

"These requirements will require significant staff resources that we do not have," said Water Superintendent Frank Smedley, who alerted Council to the proposed changes in a recent report.

"The initial, capital and ongoing cost will also be significant and may impact the tax rate. It is likely the Hulls Dam will need rebuilding due to being in poor condition. The cost is likely to be substantial. Decommissioning this structure may be the best option."

The Town owns the dam, near the end of Church Street West (also known as Hulls Dam), and has partial ownership of the Station Road Dam near the Hillsburgh Fire Hall, according to Smedley's report. There are also several privately-owned dams in the Hillsburgh area, in Stanley Park and at Charles Street in Erin village.

Smedley said it may be also be difficult to get approval to decommission a dam through the Environmental Assessment process, since it would change the existing ecosystem, create flooding risks and result in "significant negative implications to the surrounding properties".

Henry Trout built the Charles Street Dam in 1826 and operated a sawmill there, which was purchased by Daniel McMillan in 1829. McMillan built a series of mills, including the 1838 Oat Mill (now the Planing Mill) that helped drive the early growth of the village. In 1845, McMillan built a second sawmill, at the Church Street Dam he had constructed, then in 1849 used water diverted from that pond to power his Grist Mill on the other side of Main Street.

These two dams are significant artifacts of Erin history, and the ponds have become a key part of our environment and heritage. The loss of either would be a major disappointment to many residents.

Dana Mundell owns the Charles Street Dam mechanism, while the Town owns the bridge, and the road bed which helps hold back the water. He also owns the Grist Mill and the Planing Mill, which is still in operable condition, as well as water rights, granted by the Crown to mill owners for power generation.

While he wants to preserve the Charles Street Dam, Mundell is not prepared to spend huge sums on plans and maintenance programs. He has seen provincial dam initiatives come and go over the years, and he doubts that this one will have much impact.

"The dam is safe," he said. "I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. It held in Hurricane Hazel."

In 1954, Hazel blasted the Toronto area, killing 81 people. It destroyed a dam on the Humber River, washed out some 50 bridges in the region and swept dwellings into Lake Ontario. It spurred a major effort to improve storm water control.

Some minor concrete work was done on the Charles Street Dam a few years ago. The dam is lowered occasionally to flush out algae and improve water quality in the pond. If a major storm is expected, the pond level is lowered in advance to help absorb the flow.

In comments submitted to the MNR, Smedley said the proposed system "will create extreme financial hardships", and urged the government to set up initial and ongoing funding for small municipalities and private dam owners.

"These dams were typically installed many years ago and contributed to the growth and prosperity of our province as a whole. Now that these structures do not generate taxable revenue, the province which benefited from them in the past should pay for a significant percentage of their remediation."

He said communities downstream should support upgrades in Erin, since they benefit from the storm water control the dams provide, and urged the ministry to consult with the local stake holders before any new dam requirements become law.

So what should be done with Erin's dams? I will have more information in the coming weeks on their environmental impact and their role in the local economy.

December 08, 2010

Active Transportation Plan will get assets moving

As published in The Erin Advocate

Gill Penalosa cut to the heart of the matter last week, in a discussion of Erin's future transportation needs: How do we really want to live? Are we content with a car-dominated culture, or are we prepared to demand an infrastructure that values walking, cycling and other modes of human-powered locomotion?

"It's not about the money, it's about having the vision," said Penalosa, an internationally renowned liveable city advisor, speaking at a series of workshops throughout Wellington County. An audience that included business people, environmentalists, trails enthusiasts and town councillors attended the session at Centre 2000, part of an initiative to develop a Wellington Active Transportation Plan.

"It's time to build alliances, to get everybody working together – it might not be easy," said Penalosa. "We've got to develop a sense of urgency. We have to make the best quality of life – the general interest must prevail. We need to make walking and cycling a normal part of life."

Penalosa is the Executive Director of 8-80cities, a Toronto-based non-profit group that promotes healthy, people-oriented communities. Their name is based on the strategy of designing public areas that are not only safe and comfortable for able-bodied adults, but also for eight-year-olds and 80-year-olds. Check out

An Active Transportation Plan (a process that is already well-advanced in nearby regions) provides a guide for future development that could, for example, require adequate bike lanes when roads come up for reconstruction. It a joint initiative of the County, local municipalities and the Health Unit, which is concerned about rates of obesity, heart disease and other consequences of inadequate levels of physical activity.

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health already sponsors the "WDG in motion" initiative, with a mandate to “create a culture of physical activity” in the region, according to their website, If you have ideas for the Active Transportation Plan, you can write to Karen Armstrong, In Motion Coordinator at the Health Unit: A consultant will be hired next year to work on the project.

It will be on a broad scaler than other related efforts, such as a Trails Master Plan for Erin, which is also being discussed. As with all such plans, they should not be used as an excuse for doing nothing until the plan is complete. If there is a consensus on the need for a certain project, it should proceed. The bias needs to be in favour of action.

Here are some of the ideas being floated to create a better environment for pedestrians and cyclists. The fact that some have been floating about for decades, but never achieved, does not make them less worthy of consideration.

• A bypass to take traffic, especially trucks, away from the downtown core of Erin village. This was mentioned by many participants at the workshop as a major factor in improving safety and quality of life in the village.

• Cross-walks or traffic lights to improve safety and discourage vehicle traffic.

• Improved off-street parking and elimination of some on-street parking to create a bike lane, with a concrete curb or barrier between the cars and the bikes.

• Improved trails, including a bridge over the river to link McMillan Park with the Woollen Mills Trail, a loop route on the water tower hill, a link from Stanley Park to Elora-Cataract rail trail, a loop including the rail trail in Hillsburgh and improved access to Barbour Field.

• Pedestrian-based areas of retail stores, restaurants and offices close to the downtown cores. Any significant redevelopment would require a sewage system.

• Bike lanes on selected rural roads to create a network among various destinations. Increased construction costs would be offset by the fact that wider roads last longer.

• A boardwalk along downtown sections of the river. The fact that some of this land is now privately owned would make such a project more complicated, but not impossible.

• Better bicycle parking areas in public places and at schools.

• Bus service to neighbouring municipalities.

• More parks and renewal of existing parks to make them more appealing to the public.

• More closures of downtown streets to vehicle traffic for special events on weekends.

• More local employment to reduce the rate of long-distance commuting.

Of course, in a town where the majority of residents live outside the urban areas and work elsewhere, cars and trucks will remain a necessity for many people. But we can still give higher priority to "active" transportation, and enjoy a better quality of life as a result.

December 01, 2010

Pantomime offers escape to land of silly surprises

As published in The Erin Advocate

If you are in the mood for grim tragedy, elegant plot progression or even subtle character development (and who isn't, sometimes), you should resist the urge to attend the current production at Century Church Theatre in Hillsburgh.

But (one of my favourite words), if you fancy a little escape to a land of heroes in peril, bad guys being like totally bad, buffoons falling down, cross-dressers cavorting, stunning surprises, silly songs, cunning disguises, men in tights and contrived happy endings, then come on down, or up, whichever you prefer.

The advice should be taken as biased, since I am in the cast of the pantomime Babes in the Wood, written by Bev Nicholas and directed by Martyn Worsnop, which takes a few liberties with the tale of Robin Hood. I play good King Richard, coming back from the Crusades to restore order at the bottom of page 42, kiss Maid Marion on page 45 and join the finale on page 48.

It is a small part, suitably proportioned to my available time and acting ability. Although I studied theatre at university, I didn't have the confidence to pursue it as a career and the newspaper business offered better prospects for steady pay. Now after thirty years, my involvement with drama normally extends only to the low-stress role of usher.

The Century Church panto has become a popular pre-Christmas tradition over the past six years. Shows continue this Friday night through Sunday afternoon. Tickets are available at local library branches or through the box office at 519-855-4586.

In preparation for my part I did a bit of research, though I use the term loosely since Wikipedia was involved. It seems Richard the Lionheart, crowned in 1189, does not meet today's high standards for a good leader of England.

He imposed a crippling tax to finance his war against the Muslims. He sold off public posts, like that of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Like most of the ruling class, he spoke only French, and during his ten-year reign spent only six months on English soil.

Though he was a skilled military commander, he failed to capture Jerusalem and was himself captured by his Christian enemies. His subjects were taxed again to raise the ransom, 65,000 pounds of silver, more than twice the Crown's annual income at the time.

For more in-depth research, I watched Robin Hood: Men in Tights, the Mel Brooks spoof on the legend. At the end, I was surprised to see Sir Patrick Stewart (Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek) playing the part of King Richard, reciting some of the same lines I had just learned. Borrowing is an important part of the panto tradition.

Some of the silly comedy that we see on-screen today has its roots in British pantomime, a family entertainment that evolved in the 19th century. It grew out of "Commedia dell’arte", a type of street theatre which came from Italy in the 16th century, featuring music, dance, buffoonery and set character types.

Pantomimes always have a melodramatic villain, a principal boy hero (played by a female) and a flamboyant dame (played by a male). The humour is a little on the saucy side, but never too rude for children in the audience.

Children are an important part of the cast, in this case as villagers, or merry men (and women). Getting kids involved in drama is a huge benefit for them. They learn how to have fun in a very disciplined way, helping create something of value. They have others counting on them to do their best, to make the show work.

They feel what it is like to take a good risk, to make mistakes and carry on, to make allowance for other people's mistakes, to be vulnerable with everybody looking at you and to discover that fear can be channelled into positive energy. After all, as Shakespeare reminds us in As You Like It, "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players."

I am always amazed that shows come together as well as they do, considering the complexity of the undertaking – so many personalities, so many other commitments, so many lines and lyrics. It takes dedicated leadership, a network of folks hooked on the theatre lifestyle, a supportive community and the synergy created by "amateur" enterprise, that is, doing it for love instead of money.

November 24, 2010

Christmas bells call for peace and generousity

As published in The Erin Advocate

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

That is an excerpt from I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. It is one of my favourite carols, partly because it acknowledges that things are not always joyful as we put up our holiday trees. The words are from the poem Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who at the time was grieving the loss of his wife in a fire, and the wounding of his son in the American Civil War.

Our country has been at war for almost a decade. I am proud of our soldiers, and I feel a stab of pain when any one of them is wounded or killed. But are Canadians able to feel the full measure of pain from the thousands of lives lost in this war? Does it only hit hard when a loved one is the victim? Do we feel anger, now that the Prime Minister has broken his commitment to bring the troops home in 2011? Or are we just numb – too tired after dealing with jobs and family matters to think about war and peace?

So at Christmas, comforting words flow over us once again, even though we know that peace on earth and good-will to men (and women) can be hard to find. It gets complicated when we hear that the more accurate translation of that passage is, "Peace among men with whom God is pleased." Are we among the favoured ones?

Christmas is a time of heightened expectations. There are many happy gatherings, but for some people it is a stressful and potentially depressing time, making obvious the gap between hopes and reality. Communities instinctively take notice that there are families who do not have enough money to celebrate the season well, and so we rally to help them.

It will never be enough, but it is still good to make charitable donations of time and money. Actions are always more helpful than words, and there is a natural instinct to take action locally – helping people with whom we share a bond, even if we do not know them personally.

For example, East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) makes a special effort to help its food bank clients at Christmas. People can make donations of cash, food and toys for the Christmas hampers. If you would like to sponsor a family, or find out more about how you could help EWCS make a difference, call Gillian Riseborough at 519-833-9696 or visit

Our televisions deliver to us a deluge of opportunities for Christmas giving, much of it based in Toronto. People in the Town of Erin often do not feel they have much in common even with Guelph and the rest of Wellington County, and are not aware of organizations with a mandate to help the whole region.

For example, the Children's Foundation of Guelph and Wellington gives grants of up to $400 to low-income families to help cover the costs of kids' participation in sports, cultural and recreational activities. They support more than 12,000 children through school-based breakfast, snack and lunch programs.

At Christmas, they run Adopt-A-Family, which provided gifts to 600 families last year. Donors (individuals or groups) get a wish list from the adopted family. The families are referred by social service agencies or schools and have to qualify for the assistance. Donors buy presents and deliver them to the Foundation, which operates a wrapping warehouse at this time of year. For more information, call 519-826-9551 or visit

Christmas charity – how much, and how far it is spread – is a very personal matter, which depends one how you perceive yourself in relation to your neighbour. For some, it is simply a habit that makes them feel good. For others it is a matter of social conscience, or of religious devotion and tradition.

Longfellow lived in a more religious era, but even in the 1860s, Christmas was becoming a secular event. His famous Christmas song is no hymn. It makes no mention of Jesus Christ – nor of praise, thanks or salvation. It ends with a simple, optimistic message from the church bells, one in which we may take comfort, if we choose.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

November 17, 2010

Duct tape adventures in wastewater management

As published in The Erin Advocate

When water goes down the household drains, I just want it to go away – preferably far away. I do not want to see it, hear it, smell it or touch it. Unfortunately, I've had to do all those things this fall.

It started with a soggy spot at the end of the septic bed, and proceeded to the guessing game that septic system owners must eventually face: Are my weeping bed tiles disintegrating? Are they clogged with crud from my septic tank? Have the roots from nearby trees grown into the pipes and choked them? Has the layer of biofilm (smelly black gunk) under the pipes gotten so dense that the water has to drain up instead of down?

With the expensive possibility of having to replace the entire system looming, I asked the inevitable bottom line question: What is the least amount of money I need to spend to get this system working again?

The tank is about 33 years of age, but I get it pumped every three years and it still works properly. Since I was unsure about the condition of the septic bed, I decided against a system that would regularly pump air into the pipes and possibly rejuvenate their ability to process wastewater.

I got some helpful advice from Dave Doan at SepTech Wastewater Systems in Hillsburgh. We decided the best first step would be to pump out the bed, which could solve the problem, at least for the short term. That's when the fun started.

I had to get access to the drain pipe, downstream of the septic tank. To save myself some money, I said I would do the digging on my own, since the pipe appeared to be only about 18 inches underground. When I started digging, however, I found that the pipe took a sharp turn downward, through some dense clay.

Many hours later, I finally had the pipe exposed at the bottom of a three and a half foot deep hole, dug wide enough for someone to get in and work.

I found too that the drain pipe had for some time been separated at one of the joints, leaving a large gap. Standing in the hole, I wondered why the ground was totally dry.

Then, someone flushed a toilet. I was suddenly flooded with a realization: the tightly packed soil I had just dug out had formed part of the drainway. I jammed the pipes together, wrapped the joint in plastic bags and sealed it up with duct tape until a proper repair could be done.

The next day, a whole truckload of gunk was pumped out of the septic bed and the drain was fixed – complete with a new access pipe so I could add hydrogen peroxide to the drainage bed. It breaks down to oxygen and water, putting dissolved oxygen into the system to help the digestive process. The wet spot on the lawn dried up, and everything was fine.

A few weeks later, though, I heard strange gurgling sounds through the kitchen sink. When we used water in any part of the house, it started filling up the kitchen sink. The laundry drain was backed up, and when I tried to let some water out of it, I got a solid spray in the face. I thought the whole septic system may have failed and backed up, but when I went outside and lifted the septic tank lid, the water level was normal.

That meant there had to be a blockage in the pipe between the house and the septic tank, which led me to the big threaded clean-out plug in my crawlspace. But before you can attack the clog, you have to get rid of all the water in your drains. That means unscrewing the plug just enough to let the smelly water pour into buckets. If you have poured Drano into the system, in a futile attempt to clear the clog, then you have to haul out smelly, caustic water.

Running a bucket brigade to get wastewater out of your basement may seem like an unpleasant job, but trust me, it can be much worse. If you are ever in this situation, do not be tempted to loosen the plug just a bit more, to speed up the process.

When the plug popped out of the drain pipe, it only took a few seconds to force it back on. But with a 3.5-inch pipe under pressure from the whole house, that was enough time to create an unforgettable mess. The type of mess that requires not only a Shop-Vac, but a small shovel.

Moving right along...the water was eventually out of the pipe and I had access to the clogged drain, but my plumbing snake was not long enough to reach the clog. So, naturally, I got three broomsticks and attached them together with duct tape. That made a ramrod that would go all the way from the basement to the septic tank.

The clog didn't stand a chance and soon the drain was draining like it should. We put a proper snake through it a couple of days later just to be sure, but the adventure was all over, except for the cleanup.

And the moral of these two stories? It is pretty obvious. Before you start any household project, always have plenty of duct tape on hand.

November 10, 2010

Climate change facts are hard to pin down

As published in The Erin Advocate

Just after writing about the benefits of tree planting in the effort to ease the impacts of climate change, I read about a study from the University of Guelph suggesting that tree planting is not going to be as much help as expected.

Understanding climate change science these days is like trying to nail Jello to a wall – there are just too many people with an interest in keeping it slippery.

Researchers went to 2,300 sites on six continents to study the yearly growth rings on 86 types of trees. Higher carbon levels in recent decades have been thought to boost tree growth, which would capture more carbon and slow the rate of global warming. It appears that in 80 per cent of the world's trees, it is not happening.

"We can’t look to forests to offset emissions from burning fossil fuels,” said co-author Ze’ev Gedalof, Associate Professor of Geography at Guelph. “There might be a very slight increase in the total rate of growth in trees, but they’re not going to be these vacuum cleaners that will magically suck up the CO2 that we’re emitting.”

As often happens, some scientists say the results are inconclusive and oversimplified. And as usual, there's a strong political message: Don't be complacent about climate change, just because we're planting lots of trees – we still need to reduce the carbon footprint created by our factories, vehicles and lifestyles.

Trees have many benefits for water, wildlife and the human environment, even if the carbon sink turns out to be smaller than expected. Our tax dollars support a lot of tree planting by Credit Valley Conservation and Wellington County – one million trees have been planted since 2004 under Wellington's Green Legacy Program, making it the largest municipal tree planting program in North America.

Forest now covers about 17 per cent of Wellington, but Environment Canada says 30 per cent is needed to maintain a healthy water system. Another 50 million trees are needed, so Rob Johnson, Green Legacy Tree Nursery Manager, is not content with the current rate of 156,000 trees a year. “If each resident planted just ten trees, almost one million trees would go into Wellington County annually,” he said.

When it comes to public policy on climate change, there's a huge public relations battle going on. Scientists appear truly baffled that people do not take their warnings seriously. The public is glad to enjoy the benefits of new technology, but is suspicious of scientists – perhaps seeing them as manipulative, or too idealistic.

The conflict swirls on many fronts, including the "Degrees of Change" chart and analysis published by Canada's National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. It outlines various impacts of climate change, but says they won't be too bad, and that there will be benefits.

I am not knowledgeable enough to say they are wrong, but I do not trust the study's main sponsor, Suncor Energy (Petro-Canada/Sunoco), a major oil sands and greenhouse gas producer. The chart has become a target.

“It is full of bad science and utterly downplays the serious impacts of climate change” said U of T climate scientist Danny Harvey, quoted on “How can we (Canada) talk about profiting from climate change when most of the world will suffer devastating impacts, in part because of our emissions? It is disgusting.”

I also do not trust the Canadian government, which has dedicated itself to doing as little as possible on climate change. It has banned its own scientists from speaking freely to the media, even about climate change research that they have already published. The federal scientists' union says they face "dwindling resources and confusing policy decisions," and they've started a website,, to make their work better known.

Virtually all climate change scientists agree that human industry is making things worse, yet there was not enough support in the US Congress to legislate emissions reductions – even before the recent elections that brought more climate change deniers into power. Stephen Harper can relax now – there is no longer any chance of the US slapping restrictions on Canadian oil sands.

California has a greenhouse gas reduction law. Two oil companies spent $10.5 million supporting a proposition to suspend that law until unemployment declines to 5.5 per cent for 12 months. Voters rejected the proposition, perhaps moved along by the $31 million spent by environmental groups and other businesses to defend the law.

So the expensive fighting carries on, with the environmental movement winning the occasional battle, but remaining a long way from winning the war.

November 03, 2010

Water recognized as a sacred source of life

As published in The Erin Advocate

Just a few days after seeing a presentation on the sacredness of water, my roof sprang a leak, delivering a steady drip into my front hallway. So I ended up on the roof at night with my flashlight, in the middle of a thunderstorm, attaching an extension to a downspout that would direct the deluge away from some damaged shingles. I can assure you that I was not thinking about the sacredness of water.

The presentation had been by Anthony Templer, an Elder from the Peel Aboriginal Network, at the annual meeting of Wellington Water Watchers, the group that has led the local fight against bottled water and high-volume water taking by Nestlé.

After a cleansing ceremony and a drum song, his message was blunt: there's a crisis looming as the world runs low on clean water. Ontarians are often wasteful of water because it appears to be so abundant. Maybe we would be more interested in conservation if we had to carry it long distances in buckets, as millions of people do in other countries.

"Something has to be done immediately for the water and the land," he said. "Don't forget what you inherited from your parents and their parents. It's all up to you. For the sacredness of water you have to be grateful. We need to be stewards of it. We listen to the water and it tells us that it is sick."

He said inadequate protection and wasteful attitudes will lead to a water crisis in which many people will die.

"Eventually, we won't be able to drink it. We have to be on fire on this issue. It's a passion – not an aggression – and it catches on. Be honest all day. Then you can respect the sacredness of water. Because before it was water, it was spirit."

For those who consider water sacred, the buying and selling of it as a commodity is offensive, and it creates various dilemmas. We pay money to have municipalities purify water and deliver it to our taps, but some people find it unacceptable that private firms like Nestlé make a profit by taking an essentially free resource and selling it in environmentally-offensive plastic bottles.

At the recent all-candidates' meeting in Erin, some wanted to see a heavy license fee put on water taking, partly to preserve the water and partly to generate income for the Town. The province has the authority in this matter, but has given no sign it is interested in high fees, and Water Watchers has no official position on them. The issue is complex, because once water is taxed as a resource (like oil), it becomes more of a commodity – one that the Americans could claim is tradable under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Wellington Water Watchers is a grassroots group of people from Guelph and Wellington, committed to protecting local water resources and to educating the public about threats to the watershed. They've distributed more than 13,000 reusable water bottles and brought their promotion of tap water to 30,000 area students – aiming for 50,000 soon. Check out

They keep a close eye on water taking by Nestlé, which runs tanker trucks day and night from a well in Hillsburgh to a plant in Aberfoyle. The firm is entitled to take up to 1.1 million litres per day, but normally takes considerably less. Although the well has not caused measurable harm to the local water supply, Water Watchers is still concerned about the long-term impact.

The Peel Aboriginal Network is a social and cultural organization that promotes awareness of Aboriginal values and traditions. Check out Templer said we need to be more than just thankful for water, but to be thankful to the water.

Water is important in the Judeo-Christian tradition, starting with the Spirt of God hovering over the dark waters even before the creation of light, at the opening of the Book of Genesis. Most spiritual traditions throughout the world recognize a special significance in water, for its role in creation, purification, rebirth, healing and fertility.

"Water, the first living spirit on this earth, gives life to all creation," says the Indigenous Environmental Network, on its website, "Our knowledge, laws and ways of life teach us to be responsible at all times in caring for this sacred gift that connects all life.

"All people deserve the right to a clean and accessible water source. However, throughout the world people are struggling for this basic human right. World trade agreements, industries, and corporations want to view water as a commodity, an item that can be traded and sold to the highest bidder, rather than acknowledge that water is a common and basic need for all life."

October 27, 2010

Looking for good news on climate change

As published in The Erin Advocate

It seems like everywhere you turn these days, someone is cranking the alarm, telling us that life as we know it will be ending sooner instead of later. In this era of instant news and short attention spans, it is hard to maintain a focus on complex disasters like climate change. They say it's happening fast, but it seems so slow.

Depressing news seems to trigger either a hope reflex or a total tune-out. People will seek a quick bite of "It's not going to be that bad", or settle for a forkful of "Why the heck should I care?"

I went looking for some good news on climate change, but the pickin's were slim. I heard climate change expert Don MacIver speak in Alton, at an evening sponsored by Caledon's Green T Environmental Awareness and Credit Valley Conservation (CVC).

MacIver has the ultimate credentials. He is a farmer, the mayor of Amaranth Township (near Shelburne) and a climate change scientist with Environment Canada. As a researcher with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.

"The atmosphere is unforgiving," he said. "It doesn't even know we exist. But we have tickled it. We need to find out how we're going to adapt to these changes. Damaging storms will be more common and more severe."

We will need stronger buildings, bridges, roads and drainage systems, and they will have to be replaced more often. Municipalities will need plans to deal with more frequent flooding and heat waves, and be prepared for more freezing rain instead of snow.

Most municipalities are not even able to maintain existing infrastructure, so the situation seems bleak. Can we accept the idea that our standard of living has been unsustainably high, and that sacrifices will have to be made (higher taxes, lower expectations) if we want to preserve a portion of what we have had?

Canada's climate has changed significantly since the 1950s, accelerated by human activity. Temperatures have increased, especially in the winter and spring, with the annual average up 1.4 degrees. There will be more wildfires, more drought in the prairies and higher sea levels – though it will be a long time before we have a shorter drive to the ocean shore.

Since 1960, CVC and its partners have fought the change, planting 2,500 hectares of new forests in the watershed. They hope to capture an extra 5,400 tonnes of carbon per year, adding about .8 per cent to the 6.5 million tonnes our forests already store. As climate zones move north, they will have to plant the types of trees that now flourish in places like Pennsylvania.

The issues now revolve around mitigation, not on stopping or reversing climate change. "It is too late for that – we have to adapt," said MacIver, challenging people to be creative in their response to the crisis. "Climate change doesn't always have to be bad and disastrous."

The harsh realities will be in the news. More people (far away) will perish due to storms and floods. Aboriginal communities (far away) will have to abandon their traditional way of life. Entire species (far away) will be lost to extinction. Nations (far away) will go to war over scarce food and water.

On the bright side, we may get a 20 per cent longer golf season. As polar ice melts, Canada's economy may benefit from northern ports, Arctic tourism and access to more oil, gas and minerals. (No wonder the oil companies are in no rush to slow global warming.)

We live in a protected bubble here, overflowing with resources and suffering few natural disasters. But if the economies of our trading partners are devastated by climate change, our economy will be extremely vulnerable. When we get the inevitable "carbon tax", will we welcome a conserving lifestyle?

If farmers can deal with more drought and pests, maybe they can benefit from a longer growing season. If we can get used to hotter summers, maybe we will appreciate the money saved on winter heating.

Over a million people and a thousand stewardship groups are active in Canada, working to protect or restore forests and wetlands. Together with alternatives to fossil fuels, these efforts will be key to preserving a portion of our standard of living. The fact that Canada produces a small fraction of the world's greenhouse gases should not stop us from showing leadership in this area.

If the average citizen comes to feel personally threatened by changes in the climate, perhaps stewardship efforts will involve the majority of people – an act of communal defence on an increasingly inhospitable planet.

October 20, 2010

Skateboard park more realistic than a pool

As published in The Erin Advocate

Election season always brings out a bit of wishful thinking about recreational facilities, so it was no surprise when council candidates were asked about the possibility of a swimming pool or an additional ice rink in the Town's future.

It is an important discussion to have from time to time, even if it is only a superficial stirring of the pot. And even if there is no hope of a pool, it is interesting to see how candidates respond. Here are excerpts from their answers, in the order they spoke, at the October 6 all-candidates meeting.

John Brennan: "I think it would be wonderful to have a swimming pool in town. It would be a recreational asset and a healthy exercise promoter. They are tremendously expensive to maintain. It would be difficult for us to do on our own, but certainly we should explore the possibility with the school board. For recreational spending, I think we should be spending at about 20 per cent of the operating budget. It's a healthy investment for the town. We need to expand wherever we can, but we need to seek grants and do it in a fiscally responsible manner."

Josie Wintersinger: "Yes, I would be in favour. There are lots of people, and particularly young children, who are not getting the exercise that they need. You also have an older population, and swimming is an activity that they can do. However, that is going to cost funds, and where are we going to get the funds from? I don't see, unless people are going to fundraise for it, how we're going to come up with the kind of money that you need. So in all due fairness, unless as taxpayers you want to contribute a little more, I don't see how it's possible."

Shawn Wilson: "I'd have to say no to a pool. There's one in Caledon. Mayfield has one, I don't think it gets used that much. It's a huge cost. It doesn't say much for our previous planning that now we have to put an addition on the arena for four change rooms. And now you want to put a pool in there? That's not common sense thinking. That's foolish thinking. That's a waste of money and time."

Craig Porterfield: "It would be a nice toy, but the maintenance costs for a pool are just too high. As far as an additional ice rink, I think that's unfeasible as well. You have to be able to be held responsible when spending tax dollars. Frankly, I think that there's too much money that goes towards sports now for a select few."

Barb Tocher: "We'd all love to have them, but can we afford them? We just do not have the critical mass to support a pool. I don't think we're at a time that we can afford that kind of a luxury. There will come a day when we will need a new arena facility with ice pads. We're not there yet. We're taking small steps. The skateboard park will run us about $100,000. How are we going to pay that? Corporate sponsorships, fundraising from the kids that are involved, the stakeholders are getting involved with the town, so they're coming to a partnership."

Deb Callaghan: "Much as I'd love to see a pool in the town, I don't think it's feasible. It's far too cost prohibitive. As far as the skating rinks – quite often the ice surface is empty, no one is using it, so there is no way I could ever support another ice surface."

The mayoral candidates were asked about a pool at the October 14 all-candidates meeting. Lou Maieron expressed his support for a pool, since "not everyone plays hockey". Rod Finnie said that instead of an expensive pool project, "we're looking at a splash pad".

On the issue of a skateboard/BMX park at Centre 2000, it is interesting that much progress has been made just before an election. I hope that the momentum continues after the election.

No opposition was expressed at a recent public meeting, and the Town has agreed to match funds raised one-to-one. Compared to pools and ice rinks, the 5,000 sq. ft. facility is relatively inexpensive ($85,000) and will require little maintenance.

Naturally, there is some risk of noise and rowdy behaviour, but let's face it, that risk exists in many areas. Nearby residents do have a valid concern about noise, so the Town should investigate a buffer of dense trees to reduce the impact.

With young people involved in the fundraising, the risk of vandalism should be diminished. It is a high-traffic area, with three security cameras nearby, so it should be possible to create a safe environment.

This project has been requested many times over the years by young people and their parents, and the time has come time for it to actually happen. When the fundraising starts, I hope that businesses, service clubs and members of the public will be supportive.

October 13, 2010

Torchlight volunteers provide immediate support

As published in The Erin Advocate

Sometimes, you just need someone to talk to, someone to listen without passing judgement, someone to give you good advice without forcing you to do anything. A person like that is sitting near a phone right now, ready to help.

Community Torchlight volunteers and staff have provided quality listening services to people in Wellington County, Dufferin County and the City of Guelph for more than 40 years.

The help is free, every day, around the clock. It is paid for mainly by the Ministry of Health, through the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs), the United Way of Guelph-Wellington and fundraising efforts.

Known previously as the Distress Centre, Torchlight has expanded in recent years, and now has five different phone lines. Their Distress Line takes about 10,500 calls a year, with a team of 35-50 volunteers, each providing 16 hours of service per month.

They get 32 hours of in-class training and a period of professional mentoring before taking calls on their own. They range from senior citizens with time to contribute, to younger adults planning a career in social services.

"It feeds a sense of giving back to the community," said Executive Director Jesse Baynham. To find out more about volunteering, call 519-821-3760 or go on-line to

Torchlight has hosted The Walk for Suicide Awareness in Guelph and Orangeville, and has helped facilitate a series of Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training workshops.

In seeking financial donations from the public, Baynham said it is often families who have been affected by mental health issues who are especially inclined to support the agency. For those unaware of the issues, it can be a difficult message to get across.

Torchlight helps callers cope with a wide range of difficulties. "We are supporting some of the most disenfranchised people in the community," said Baynham.

Here are the various services (not long-distance calls from Erin):

• Distress Line – 519-821-3760 – a 24/7 listening service for people who are lonely, confused or in distress. Anonymity is assured, since Caller ID is not used. Referral to other sources of help is provided when requested.

• Crisis Line – 519-821-0140 – a 24/7 hotline for people experiencing a mental health or suicide crisis. This service is provided by professional staff, not volunteers, who are skilled in crisis assessment and de-escalation. This can be the first point of access for a range of services within the Crisis Intervention System of Guelph, Wellington and Dufferin.

The Crisis Line is the most expensive section of the Torchlight operation, made possible by funding of more than $400,000 annually from the Waterloo-Wellington LHIN. It is part of the provincial effort to reduce demands on hospitals, by assessing crisis situations and linking people quickly to the help they need.

• Youth Support Line – 519-821-5469 – an alternate way to contact Distress Line volunteers, an outreach to young people.

• Emergency Shelter Resource Line – 519-767-6594 – a 24/7 service for people in need of a warm, safe place to sleep. The volunteer will ask for the caller's name, gender and location, and direct them to an appropriate temporary shelter.

• Telecheck Dufferin – 519-415-3764 – a daily telephone check-in service that supports independent living for seniors 55 and older. Volunteers call the seniors for a brief chat, making sure they are not in need of help. If the senior cannot be contacted within one hour, the volunteer calls an emergency contact person.

The volunteers are mainly seniors. The team has grown in five years from four people to 23, making 17,531 calls in 2009-2010, including on weekends and holidays, serving 64 current clients. The Telecheck service is intended for residents of Orangeville / Dufferin, with funding provided by the Central West LHIN since 2008.

For Torchlight to provide such a service in the Erin area, it would require an interest among seniors, including potential volunteers, partnership with a local group and funding from the Waterloo-Wellington LHIN. Telecheck Dufferin got about $85,000 from the Central West LHIN in 2009-2010 as part of the Aging at Home strategy, and also gets support from the Dufferin Alzheimer's Society.

East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) offers a scaled down version of the service. Sherri Plourde, Manager of Seniors Services, personally calls to check in with eight seniors, two or three times a month, to see how they are doing. She would like to have a volunteer-based program, and have it funded and recognized as an essential service.

It is easier said than done, of course, since staff and volunteers are already busy with existing programs, and there are many projects that need funding. As always, public awareness and demand are the essential first steps.

Distress Line volunteers provide immediate help

As published in The Erin Advocate

Sometimes, you just need someone to talk to, someone to listen without passing judgement, someone to give you good advice without forcing you to do anything. A person like that is sitting near a phone right now, ready to help.

Community Torchlight volunteers and staff have provided quality listening services to people in Wellington County, Dufferin County and the City of Guelph for more than 40 years.

The help is free, every day, around the clock. It is paid for mainly by the Ministry of Health, through the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs), the United Way of Guelph-Wellington and fundraising efforts.

Known previously as the Distress Centre, Torchlight has expanded in recent years, and now has five different phone lines. Their Distress Line takes about 10,500 calls a year, with a team of 35-50 volunteers, each providing 16 hours of service per month.

They get 32 hours of in-class training and a period of professional mentoring before taking calls on their own. They range from senior citizens with time to contribute, to younger adults planning a career in social services.

"It feeds a sense of giving back to the community," said Executive Director Jesse Baynham. To find out more about volunteering, call 519-821-3760 or go on-line to

Torchlight has hosted The Walk for Suicide Awareness in Guelph and Orangeville, and has helped facilitate a series of Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training workshops.

In seeking financial donations from the public, Baynham said it is often families who have been affected by mental health issues who are especially inclined to support the agency. For those unaware of the issues, it can be a difficult message to get across.

Torchlight helps callers cope with a wide range of difficulties. "We are supporting some of the most disenfranchised people in the community," said Baynham.
Here are the various services (not long-distance calls from Erin):

• Distress Line – 519-821-3760 – a 24/7 listening service for people who are lonely, confused or in distress. Anonymity is assured, since Caller ID is not used. Referral to other sources of help is provided when requested.

• Crisis Line – 519-821-0140 – a 24/7 hotline for people experiencing a mental health or suicide crisis. This service is provided by professional staff, not volunteers, who are skilled in crisis assessment and de-escalation. This can be the first point of access for a range of services within the Crisis Intervention System of Guelph, Wellington and Dufferin.

The Crisis Line is the most expensive section of the Torchlight operation, made possible by funding of more than $400,000 annually from the Waterloo-Wellington LHIN. It is part of the provincial effort to reduce demands on hospitals, by assessing crisis situations and linking people quickly to the help they need.

• Youth Support Line – 519-821-5469 – an alternate way to contact Distress Line volunteers, an outreach to young people.

• Emergency Shelter Resource Line – 519-767-6594 – a 24/7 service for people in need of a warm, safe place to sleep. The volunteer will ask for the caller's name, gender and location, and direct them to an appropriate temporary shelter.

• Telecheck Dufferin – 519-415-3764 – a daily telephone check-in service that supports independent living for seniors 55 and older. Volunteers call the seniors for a brief chat, making sure they are not in need of help. If the senior cannot be contacted within one hour, the volunteer calls an emergency contact person.

The volunteers are mainly seniors. The team has grown in five years from four people to 23, making 17,531 calls in 2009-2010, including on weekends and holidays, serving 64 current clients. The Telecheck service is intended for residents of Orangeville / Dufferin, with funding provided by the Central West LHIN since 2008.

For Torchlight to provide such a service in the Erin area, it would require an interest among seniors, including potential volunteers, partnership with a local group and funding from the Waterloo-Wellington LHIN. Telecheck Dufferin got about $85,000 from the Central West LHIN in 2009-2010 as part of the Aging at Home strategy, and also gets support from the Dufferin Alzheimer's Society.

East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) offers a scaled down version of the service. Sherri Plourde, Manager of Seniors Services, personally calls to check in with eight seniors, two or three times a month, to see how they are doing. She would like to have a volunteer-based program, and have it funded and recognized as an essential service.

It is easier said than done, of course, since staff and volunteers are already busy with existing programs, and there are many projects that need funding. As always, public awareness and demand are the essential first steps.

October 06, 2010

Outhouse solution could solve Erin's waste woes

As published in The Erin Advocate

In the ongoing debate about what to do with Erin's wastewater, some have suggested we think outside the box. I suggest we take it a step further, and think outside the bathroom.

I propose that the Town go back to a technology that served us well for many years – the outhouse system. It did the job for some homes in Erin village until at least the late 1950s, and longer in other areas.

Did that lack of convenience do any harm to those residents? Did it not build character, resilience and a realization that nothing was going to be handed to you on a silver platter? Did kids not have good fun throwing pebbles at the neighbour's outhouse while there was someone inside?

The concept has several modern aspects. It builds on the popularity of recycling. It is also the ultimate low-flow toilet. We pay a lot already to get drinking water into our homes. When clean water becomes more scarce, and if water costs skyrocket, we may not be so keen to flush it down the toilet.

Water shortages are increasing as the globe heats up, so we need to plan for the future, and not take our water for granted. Many septic systems are not overloaded with waste, but overloaded by excessive water use.

So to save water and show a fine example to the rest of the world, I propose that indoor toilets be outlawed in the Town of Erin. Exemptions would only be allowed for apartments, restaurants and homes with very small back yards.

The mandatory aspect could ruffle a few feathers, but I urge people to consider the common good. The Town needs to hold its nose and do the right thing, without being sidetracked by whiners and wimps.

Certain concessions could make the transition easier. For example, fancy woodwork would be permitted on outhouse doors. (It is a free country after all.) Electric power would be allowed, for heated toilet seats, and chamber pots would be acceptable back in the house during the winter months.

Glossy brochures could be printed, with construction tips. Simplicity is the key. You build a little shack containing a bench, with a big hole for adults and a smaller one for kids (so they don't fall in). A vertical vent tube to transfer odors from the pit out through the roof could be a popular feature.

You dig a big hole in the ground at the far end of your back yard (away from any wells), place the shack on top and you are good to go. Of course, you still have to keep your outhouse clean and be sure to wash your hands. Done properly, outhouses are not a threat to public health and they do not cost millions of dollars. Let's leave newfangled inventions like the sanitary sewer to the city slickers, and to the wannabe folks in other small towns who think they deserve all the conveniences of urban living.

We could get all modern and have a truck come by to pump out our pits once in a while, but I say, let Mother Nature take care of business. Earthworms, bacteria, molds and insects will get right to work fermenting and decomposing, forming a nice compost pile at the base of the pit. After a few years, when the pile gets too high, simply dig a new pit, move the outhouse, and cover up the old pit.

People living on highly porous soil need to put some dense material at the bottom of the pit to avoid quick percolation down to into the ground water. As with septic tanks, paint, oil, chemicals and garbage must not be dumped into outhouse pits.

Do not dig a pit on the low point of your lawn. That could lead to a messy flood during the rainy season. It could also cause erosion at the edges, which could allow your building to sink into the pit.

The main problem is the name – "Outhouse" is kind of boring. Labels like Biffy and Kybo are a bit lame too. Australians refer to it as a Dunny or Thunderbox, while New Zealanders use the term Long-drop. Maybe we can come up with some creative alternatives.

Readers may want to urge election candidates to endorse the outhouse solution, since my own influence is quite limited. And whether you agree with the plan, or think it needs some work, may I suggest that the best way to respond to a tongue-in-cheek column is with a tongue-in-cheek Letter to the Editor. Be careful, though. Someone may take you seriously.

September 29, 2010

West Credit still healthy, despite contamination

As published in The Erin Advocate

If the Town of Erin opts for communal sewage treatment, it will not be primarily to save the West Credit River from the impact of private septic systems. The river is actually doing quite well, in spite of some septic contamination, according to a report by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC).

Surface water quality is good and Brook Trout are spawning, even in the urban areas. Buffer zones of vegetation that help protect the water from human activity cover 84 per cent of the stream banks. Deep groundwater that supplies municipal wells has no impact from septic systems, no organic contaminants and no trace of other chemicals such as pesticides.

CVC spent about $350,000 to test the West Credit and monitor the local ecosystem in 2007-2008, analyze the results and produce this Existing Condition Report. It is the environmental component of Erin's Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP). The cost has been shared by all Credit watershed municipalities, with most of the funds coming from the Region of Peel.

Pollution levels in surface water have increased slightly since the mid-1970s, but are below limits considered acceptable by the federal and provincial governments. Contaminants flow from several sources, so it is not possible to measure how much originates with septic systems.

"Localized impacts were found to be mostly related to surface/stormwater runoff and the cumulative impact of the on-line ponds," said Jennifer Dougherty, Water Quality Engineer for CVC, in a recent presentation to Erin councillors. There are nine dams on the West Credit, creating impassable barriers for fish. The ponds collect sediment, boost water temperatures and alter vegetation and wildlife in the area.

Residential waste water is partially purified by septic tanks and drainage beds, then filtered in the soil. If septic systems are well-maintained, there is very little contamination. But with aging systems, poor soil conditions in some areas and a high concentration of village homes, there is more septic effluent in the shallow groundwater.

"There is an almost complete reduction in fecal bacteria," said Ray Blackport, a hydrogeologist who works with CVC and the Town. These bacteria can come from septic systems, but also from wildlife, pets, livestock and manure spreading. Higher levels of various harmful bacteria make water unsafe for swimming.

He noted that other septic contaminants such as nitrogen (nitrates), phosphorus, toxic organics from cleaning agents, heavy trace metals and dissolved inorganics such as chloride and sodium are of concern, because there is considerable exchange between the shallow groundwater and the river water.

Many farmers have taken steps to reduce the flow of contaminants from their land, and some land has been taken out of production, so it is possible (but not proven) that aging septic systems are contributing a greater proportion of the contamination than in the past.

Nitrates come from farms, urban stormwater runoff and septic systems. The highest nitrate levels are upstream of Hillsburgh, but the volume of contaminants drops in the core area of the village because a large volume of river water goes underground.

Nitrates are higher for short distances downstream of Hillsburgh and Erin village. The river recovers from these increases because vegetation absorbs nitrates. Higher levels of nitrates make it more difficult for fish and frog populations to spawn and prosper. West Credit nitrates average 2 mg per litre, while the federal guideline for nitrates is 3 mg per litre.

"Fortunately the buffer riparian area surrounding the West Credit River has a very high nitrogen removal capability," said Dougherty. "However, it is not wise to rely on our natural wetland/woodlands to filter out our contamination."

Chlorides come from road salt, dust suppression and septic systems (including water softener discharge). Higher levels can cause a decline in fish and frog populations in the long term. West Credit chlorides average 45 mg per litre, well below the draft federal guideline for protection of aquatic life of 128 mg per litre. They are increasing slightly faster than nitrates, however, and unlike nitrates they dissolve and accumulate in the system instead of dissipating.

The river is also affected by phosphorus, which comes from farm runoff, fertilizer application, urban stormwater and septic systems. High levels can lead to excessive algal and aquatic weed growth, which can reduce wildlife habitat and diversity.

This draft report was expected last January, but because CVC staff were busy with various obligations, it wasn't delivered to the Town until May. Councillors got a copy last month. On Sept. 14, a few members of the public, including some election candidates, attended an afternoon council meeting for a CVC presentation. The final report will be attached to the SSMP Background Issues Report this fall, and be available through the Town website.

September 15, 2010

Erin pioneers forged a strong community

As published in The Erin Advocate

After recently taking a picture of the date stone on the old Hillsburg town hall (now Morette's) I was poking around to find out when the "h" was added to the village name.

An article on the town website says it was about the time the police village was incorporated, 1899. The final "h" can be seen in the 1877 Wellington Atlas, but not in the 1906 Atlas, a 1907 insurance map or the 1911 census. C.J. McMillan, in his Early History of Erin Township in 1921, also uses no "h". I am told the "h" was added to make it sound less German. Perhaps the spelling is optional – some people still omit the "h". If anyone can shed more light on this, I would be most interested.

My main purpose today is to recommend the McMillan book, reprinted in 1974 by Boston Mills Press with an assortment of early photos, and available at local libraries. It is fascinating not so much for the historical facts, not all of which are accurate, but for the colourful portrait of Erin's pioneer society that had been passed on to the author through diaries and "tales told by the early settlers of their trials".

Writing 100 years after the first settler arrived, McMillan boasted that Erin Township had never had a crop failure. He was also impressed by the modern technology of his own era, "with news flashed across the continents in a minute of time."

Charles Kennedy, an early township surveyor, was offered a tract of land on the Ninth Line (part of the current Erin village) as payment for his work. McMillan said Kennedy, "not being favourably impressed with the wilderness, refused to have anything to do with Erin. He reported the land as of little value. His report made it easier for grandfather to get all the land he wanted at his own price and terms."

His grandfather was Donald McMillan, who made a 14-week voyage with his family from Argyleshire, Scotland in 1819. After renting a poor farm near Stoney Creek, he met a soldier who had been granted 100 acres in Erin Township. The man wanted $25 for it, but Donald dickered it down to $20. He acquired more land nearby, which now includes the Erin Pioneer Cemetery, just north of Erin village. "As his wife was the first white woman in that section, the Crown made her a gift of lot 18, concession 9."

The family of the first settler, Nathaniel Rozell, is described as "hard-working, frugal and friendly". They were granted land after serving in the War of 1812 and settled in 1820 at what would become Ballinafad.

"More settlers came and everyone was received with joy...All in the township were considered neighbors, and they would go a long way to put themselves to any inconvenience to help one another. They brought very little money, but they brought good health, strength and determination, which is the best asset after all.

"There were very few spongers and no loafers in those days...Whenever there was a logging bee or raising it was not necessary to give an invitation to all, just mention the fact, it soon got to the farthest away settler, and all would be on hand early. Whiskey was cheap and easily obtained and it was considered a necessity at all such gatherings." A two-gallon jug of "Cornick's" best could be filled for 25 cents.

"To consult a doctor was considered the shortest cut 'across the river'. If one was unfortunate enough to get a deep gash with an axe the neighbor with the best nerve was called to sew the wound with a common sewing machine needle, without administering anesthetic." When Matthew Smith bought the first buggy in the township and "rode in state to church," some jealous folk demanded he be disciplined for "showing an example of extravagance".

Of course, there were bilingualism issues: "As the township was settled by Scotch, and very Scotch at that, Gaelic was the universal tongue and later in court sittings one who was pretty well up in English and Gaelic, was sworn in as 'Court interpreter'. Laughlin McLean, being pretty free with the tongue, often acted as interpreter, giving general satisfaction."

Henry Trout had settled on the Ninth Line in 1821. C.J. McMillan does not mention that Trout built the first dam and mill in Erin village in 1826, at Charles Street, nor that it was bought by Donald McMillan's son Daniel, the entrepreneur responsible for the growth of MacMillan's Mills – later known as Erinsville, then Erin Village.

C.J.'s account says Daniel and his brothers Hugh and Charles, made the "first break in the wilderness where that beautiful village of Erin is located," by clearing three acres in 1832. He describes a mill-raising bee: "All the men available were on the ground to assist, accompanied by a dozen or more women, who volunteered to come to feed the men after their strenuous task. The men were hungry, the food prepared was excellent, but when all were satisfied, there was none left for the women, who had so generously supplied the food, and the most of them had come a long way on foot."

September 08, 2010

Septic inspections would maintain standards

As published in The Erin Advocate

With many septic systems in the Town of Erin reaching the end stages of useful service, perhaps it would be in the best interests of public health to start a municipal inspection system.

The provincial government gives municipalities the authority to do inspections, but does not require them to do so – at least not yet. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has been talking about requiring septic re-inspections through changes to the Ontario Building Code, but such initiatives always proceed slowly.

A local inspection system is not being considered now, and I would be surprised if any election candidate would endorse the idea, but sooner or later, the issue will arise.

While vacationing near Goderich, I read about an inspection system started in 2007 by the Township of Huron-Kinloss, in response to requests from property owners.

Inspections and repairs are mandatory there, covering all 2,800 private septic systems in a rotating schedule over six to seven years. Their township website sums up the rationale: "If unmaintained, septic systems are a threat to public health and the environment."

By coincidence their system is operated by B.M. Ross, the same consultants doing Erin's Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP). Residents make an appointment, arrange to have their tank pumped out before the inspection, and ensure that the lid is accessible.

It is joint venture with the local health department, funded by a $55 per year surcharge on people's tax bills. The compliance rate is 99 per cent, and they even have "septic socials", with their mayor hosting educational demonstrations. Check it out in the Environmental Initiatives section of their website,

While building departments monitor construction of new septic systems and major renovations, the primary responsibility for maintenance and replacement falls to the property owner. Should the Town be sticking its nose into what some may consider a private matter?

I was contacted by a Hillsburgh village resident last year, who wanted to know about progress on municipal sewers. They were upset at getting high bacteria readings in their private well, and suspected local septic systems as the source.

Maybe this was an isolated incident, and maybe the well was defective, but it highlights a potentially risky environment, and a communal matter. I suspect it is being made worse by people holding off on septic replacements, wondering if sewers are coming any time soon. If your own waste is seeping up into your lawn, do not be holding your breath waiting for sewers. At a minimum, you should be paying for rehabilitation work, since sewers could take 5-10 years.

The Town of Erin has about 4,000 dwellings, 91 per cent of which are single detached homes and virtually all with septic systems. Since 2001, only 30 septic systems in the whole town were replaced. Systems normally last 25-30 years, though some last much longer. Today the average age of Erin village systems, not counting the newer subdivisions, is about 33 years.

A Health Department study in 1995 found that 61 per cent of homes in Erin village have inadequate space to replace a regular septic system to the modern standards of the Ontario Building Code. (Smaller systems may be possible, at a much higher cost.) There were 94 lots totally inaccessible to the large equipment needed to replace a septic system.

A Ministry of the Environment study in 2005 found "adverse effects" on the Credit River due to aging septics. The Ministry is adamant that sewage treatment is a necessity, not just to benefit the urban areas, but to handle the septage from rural properties. Septage is the sludge pumped out of septic tanks, which is now spread as fertilizer on Erin farm fields, or trucked at high cost to a plant in Collingwood.

To those who are opposed to sewers and the growth they will bring, I say now is the time to step forward with practical ideas. Fear of development is easy to whip up, but realistic solutions are harder to come by. The problems of a decaying septic infrastructure are serious, so doing nothing is not an option.

I have advocated a sewer system because it provides clear solutions to various problems, and I think major growth and excessive housing density are unlikely. But I am open to alternative ideas, and I hope that the SSMP will give serious attention to alternatives in its technical research. The SSMP is an Environmental Assessment that the Town was obliged to undertake, and is the only mechanism we have for dealing with this matter.

Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) has done a technical study on the health of the Credit River as part of the SSMP, and last month I urged Town Council to make it public before the election campaign. SSMP Project Manager Matt Pearson called that a "red herring".

Councillors got a copy on August 24. The CVC will make a presentation about the report to councillors next Tuesday, September 14 at 2 pm. It is open to the public.

I have written 12 columns on sewer-related issues since early 2009, so if you want some background before the election, go to my website: Just scroll through the topics and click on Sewers. For the SSMP section of the Town site, go to All households should receive an SSMP newsletter this month.

September 01, 2010

Hillsburgh Fun Day tour brought history to life

As published in The Erin Advocate

There is a big difference between reading about history and hearing stories from someone who has lived through them. That's why it was so interesting to take a tour of downtown Hillsburgh with long time resident Ivan Gray, during the recent Family Fun Day.

He provided a refresher on the earliest days of the village (before his time, which started in 1936). Naturally, someone asked if Hillsburgh named for the local hills. As most residents know, it was initially Howville, after William How who founded the settlement in 1821, then built a general store and trading post. In 1823, however, Nazareth Hill arrived, built the first hotel, surveyed the area and put his name to the village.

Gray took about 15 people on a tour, with commentary on the churches, businesses and Victorian homes, and showed photos of lost buildings that were once part of a strong downtown business district.

It is fascinating to hear some of the details, like how buggies were built in the Royal Bank building, or about slot machines at the soda bar. The once-classy Exchange Hotel, built about 1883, used to rent out horses and buggies so that tourists could tour the countryside. It was eventually converted to a restaurant and apartments, and is unused now, but Gray remembers it as a great place to play pool, and that it was once home to one of the first TVs in the village.

One of Gray's jobs was doing auto repairs for the McLaughlin family business, across the street from the current arena, which included an early Chev-Olds dealership. There was once a harness shop in that area, and in the 1940s an egg grading station. The village had several gas stations, but in those days there were virtually no cars on the road during the winter, allowing for wide open sled rides from the top of the hill, all the way to Station Road.

The two-storey Town Hall was built in 1887 by the Oddfellows and the Workmen Societies, and it was the scene of many dances and shows. The building was bought in 1962 by Bruce Morette for his furniture business, expanding from the factory he had established in 1958 at the former potato storage building near the CPR tracks.

Churches played a big role in the community, with the Baptists organizing in 1853 and building their church in 1862. Presbyterians formed a congregation in 1860 and built their church in 1869, named St. Andrew's in honor of their Scottish ancestry. The Hillsburgh Christian Church building, now home to Century Church Theatre, dates back to 1906. Hillsburgh United Church was built in the 1926, after the partial amalgamation of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregationalist Churches in Canada.

The Anglican church was used from the 1890s until about 1918, then was eventually bought by Gray's father, who was a beekeeper. He converted the building to a honey extracting plant, which became known as the "honey house".

As with many communities, Hillsburgh's history is marked by major fires. Despite public pressure, there was still no fire department in the village in 1965 when St. Andrew's Church was destroyed by flames in February 1965. The organ was saved, but only the stone walls remained standing.

The church was rebuilt in just over a year, but people were tired of relying on the Erin fire department and minimal equipment in the village. "There was a hue and cry," said Gray. Many felt the church could have been saved if Hillsburgh had had its own fire department. In the fall of 1965, the township responded, stationing a fire truck in a building right beside the river. Gray was the first fire chief.

Obviously, these are just a few highlights from a rich local history. For those wanting to know more, Hillsburgh's Heyday by Patricia Kortland is available at the library. It was published in 1983 by Boston Mills Press, and while Gray notes that it has a number of inaccuracies, it is still a fascinating collection of photos and stories.

The "About Erin" section of the Town website ( has a lengthy township history article that deals with Hillsburgh, and if you type Hillsburgh History into the Google search, the first hit will be a village history, courtesy of the Carmichael family. The second is a history of the Exchange Hotel, one of several Hillsburgh articles on the Town website by historian Steven Thorning. Perhaps Ivan Gray will also publish his stories, for the enjoyment of future generations.

August 25, 2010

Seniors Wellness Expo helps add life to your years

As published in The Erin Advocate

Getting older is getting more complicated all the time. With life expectancy creeping higher in our affluent society, it is no wonder there are so many people trying to help seniors live better. Fortunately, we have agencies dedicated to helping us figure out which other agencies we should be using.

For those with an interest in educating themselves on the process, it was worth a visit to the second annual Seniors Wellness Expo, put on by East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) on August 18 at Centre 2000. It will be on again in Rockwood on Monday, September 13, 1-7 pm. Transportation is available – call EWCS at 519-833-9696 or go to

The displays were by private companies, charities, social agencies, health professionals and government departments, all in a casual trade show environment. EWCS unveiled a new display booth, a professional way to show off its many services, which include the Seniors Day Program, information & referral, caring callers, foot care & hearing clinics, and activities for older active adults.

There are various other free services not based in Erin, but intended to serve our population. For example, Community Torchlight of Wellington-Dufferin offers a Distress Line, 519-821-3760, a non-judgmental listening service. It is for anyone who is lonely or upset, needing to talk to a supportive person. Check out for their other services, including a Mental Health Crisis Line, 519-821-0140.

Abuse of older adults is a serious issue which often goes unreported. It is not just about violence, but includes issues of medication, denial of mobility aids and neglect of basic needs. Help is available from the Wellington Seniors at Risk System Coordinator, 519-843-6191; from the Waterloo-Wellington Community Care Access Centre, 519-823-2550; and from SOS - Seniors Offering Support, a confidential phone support line with senior volunteers, 519-767-4445.

Anyone who has experienced domestic violence can get treatment, emotional support and advice from specially trained nurses or social workers at Guelph General Hospital. Call 519-837-6440, ext. 2728.

If a senior is being treated for any type of problem at a hospital emergency department in Guelph, Orangeville, or others in the Waterloo-Wellington area, they are likely to encounter a Geriatric Emergency Management (GEM) nurse. They are trained to identify seniors at risk, and link them with community service agencies.

"We try to keep them at home as long as possible, and to avoid emergency admissions and re-admissions," said Nora Bamsey, a GEM nurse from North Wellington. It is part of the Local Health Integration Network's Aging at Home initiative. The issues can include falling, over-medication, underlying health conditions, caregiver burnout and lack of in-home help. Check the website:

Not all of the displays were about seniors needing help. Many seniors are active in providing help to others. For example, the Volunteer Centre of Guelph/Wellington has many opportunities – call 519-822-0912 or go to

Of course, the East Wellington Family Health Team had a display to promote its community workshops, including Better Sleep, Stress Management, Weight Loss, Diabetes Management, Healthy Living and Meal Planning. One upcoming event is Eat Well - Age Well: Senior Friendly Ideas for Healthy Eating, September 29, 10 am to noon, at Centre 2000. Go to

One of the business displays was from the Lord Dufferin Centre Seniors' Residence in Orangeville. It is owned by Erna Baniulis (a resident there) with her daughter Donna and son-in-law Dave Holwell. They are planning a new "life lease" adult lifesyle condo development in downtown Orangeville. For details, call 519-943-0847 or go to

Just one more website. While poking about on-line, I came across an interesting lecture on living a long, high-quality life. Go to and check out "Dan Buettner: How to live to be 100+".

August 18, 2010

Family Health Team offers counselling service

As published in The Erin Advocate

Access to counselling help has become quicker and simpler for patients of the East Wellington Family Health Team (EWFHT).

With new staff and a range of services, doctors can now refer people to local professionals for help with issues like grief, life transitions, drug and alcohol problems, conflicts at home or work, depression, stress, anxiety and chronic illness.

"People go to the doctor's office for everything else," said Kim Bell, Mental Health Worker and Program Lead with the team. "It's regular people with life issues that we are seeing."

She says if a condition is interfering with a person's ability to enjoy life, they can decide to view it as a something to be treated, not a weakness to be hidden. In fact, she has been impressed with the strength of many patients, in light of the stresses they have endured.

One in five people will personally experience a mental illness during their lifetime, but if the current trend continues, two-thirds of those will not seek help, said Bell.

She was previously a program manager with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). "Society does not view mental health like, for example, diabetes," she said. The stigma attached to these problems often serves to make them worse.

Mental illness can affect people in all age groups, regardless of their income level, education, cultural background or level of intelligence. The CMHA says about 8 per cent of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives. Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia each affects about 1 per cent of Canadians. Suicide accounts for 24 per cent of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16 per cent among 25-44 year olds.

Counselling is available at EWFHT for individuals, families, and occasionally short-term groups, but only for patients of doctors on the team. Patients take an active role in the process, setting goals and making decisions about treatment. It is not a crisis service – urgent cases are referred to other agencies.

There is no waiting list, so getting the first appointment (day or evening) normally takes only from a few days to a few weeks. The service is funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, so there are no costs to the patient. The health team approach is designed to provide more options for doctors and more local treatment for patients.

Michele Ross-Miller joined the team in February as a full-time mental health therapist, after working as a family counsellor in Guelph. I asked her what she finds satisfying in dealing with people facing major stress in their lives.

"There are a great variety of issues, and at times it is frustrating, but there is always something that people take away," she said. "People are often relieved that there is someone there to listen to them and understand. It makes a big difference in their lives, but change comes slowly."

Some people may need to see a psychiatrist, but this service is not offered at EWFHT, and a referral can take more than nine months, said Bell. In any case, a psychiatrist may not do the longer-term therapy or counselling. Often they do assessments and prescribe medication, but the patient remains primarily in the care of the family doctor and mental health workers.

EWFHT has started an initiative with the Ontario Telemedicine Network, using two-way video-conferencing. Each Friday, a doctor in Hamilton who specializes in geriatric psychiatry sets aside time to "see" patients in Erin – without long waits or travelling. They see each other on video screens and have a discussion, with local staff providing assistance. "Patients have responded positively," said Bell.

For people without a local doctor, publicly funded help is available through Trellis Mental Health and Developmental Services, with offices in Guelph, Orangeville, Fergus, Mount Forest and Kitchener. Go to, or to speak with an information and referral worker, call 519-821-3582. There are also various private counselling services, though these can be expensive if not covered by a group insurance plan.

Also offered by EWFHT, and open to everyone in the community, are workshops related to mental health. Go to for details on the Stop Worrying sessions to be held next March, which provide tips to help people understand and modify harmful worrying behaviour.

There is also an eight-week group program on Relaxation and Stress Management Skills Training, which can help in the self-regulation of headaches, muscle tension, insomnia and anxiety. It will be held on Monday nights in Erin starting October 18, and Tuesday nights in Rockwood starting January 4. Register on the website, or call 519-833-7576, ext. 224.

August 11, 2010

Porcupine's Quill supports Canadian visual artists

As published in The Erin Advocate

One of the rewards of doing this column is the opportunity to interview writers and artists who have taken on remarkable projects, satisfying their own passions while reaching out to the public. It gives one a touch of envy, a reminder that value lies not in what you intend to do, but in what you actively pursue.

Richard Nevitt lives in Alton, and in 2008 published A Caledon Sketchbook with Porcupine's Quill in Erin. He has retired from 40 years of teaching at the Ontario College of Art, but still works at his home studio and gives workshops at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg.

The book is a journal of 60 pen and ink drawings, based on sketches that capture "chance moments of solitude" and the spiritual power of the Niagara Escarpment landscape. He was signing copies during the recent Doors Open event.

Early in his career, he studied art as applied to anatomy and medicine, which expanded his creative vision, and he went on to work in a variety of media. In 1968 the Canadian Government invited him to document peace-keeping activities with the Canadian Armed Forces in Cyprus.

"I draw every day," he said. "It is important to be observant. I extend my observations of anatomy into landscapes. It's learning how to look at things and bring out their strengths."

McMichael Executive Director Tom Smart said, "In the turn of a line, a scrap of contour, an oblique hint of mass, form and volume, Nevitt lends his subjects a living quality, a breath of life and of vitality."

Nevitt's great grandfather, Richard Barrington Nevitt, was a doctor, artist and journalist who came to Toronto from the Confederate South. He went to Alberta in 1874 as an assistant surgeon with the North-West Mounted Police, and documented the plight of the Blackfoot natives.

Nevitt is appreciative that publishers like Porcupine's Quill and organizations such as Headwaters Arts ( have helped create "a dynamic support system for the arts".

In addition to fiction and poetry, Porcupine's Quill has often published books that support the visual arts, especially serving the niche market for reproductions of wood engravings. Their newest offerings include a collection of engravings called A Calendar of Days by various artists, and Book of Hours, a graphic novel by George Walker which traces, without words, the routines of daily life in the hours before the 9/11 attacks.

"The art books give a voice to the artists that they wouldn't otherwise have," said Tim Inkster, who puts his own artistic flair into the design and production of books, giving them a traditional, textured look and feel. Their equipment is traditional as well, with a Baumfolder folding machine dating back to the '40s and a Smyth book binding sewing machine from 1907.

In 2008, Tim and Elke Inkster were appointed to the Order of Canada for their contributions to Canadian publishing and promotion of new authors.

The other interesting conversation I had at the publishing shop was with Jane Lind, a writer, editor and sculptor who is passionate about the work of Canadian experimental filmmaker and visual artist Joyce Wieland (1931-1998).

"I am mainly interested in stories of women artists who have really developed their creative lives," said Lind, who published a biography in 2001: Joyce Wieland - Artist on Fire. A preview of that book can be seen on the Google Books website.

Wieland made an impact on the art world in Canada and New York, from the '60s to the '80s, with avant garde work that celebrated the surge in feminist sentiment, while making use of traditional female crafts such as quilting. It is an unusual blend of sexuality, politics and patriotism. A highlight of her career was True Patriot Love, an exhibition in 1971 at the National Gallery of Canada – the first such show devoted to a living Canadian female artist.

"She was a pioneer for women's place in the art world," said Lind. "She pokes fun at the weird things people do, and how foolish politicians can be in their obsession with power."

Lind, who lives in Guelph, has now published a follow-up book, with Porcupine's Quill. Joyce Wieland: Writings and Drawings, is an eclectic selection of drawings, journal entries and stream-of-consciousness poetry from 1952 to 1971, drawn from the archives at York University. It reveals the aspirations and struggles of a woman in a male-dominated field.

The introduction to the book provides sufficient background, so that it is is not necessary to read the published biography to appreciate the work. Lind hopes that it will help renew some interest in Wieland with scholars, art historians and the public.