May 26, 2010

Aaron Muir country CD celebrates family tradition

As published in The Erin Advocate

Whether it is a jamboree, a church event or Saturday night at the bar, Aaron Muir and the Muir Family Band have a versatile mix of country tunes to suit the occasion.

"We adapt to the venue and the crowd," said Aaron, who is releasing a self-titled CD next month. It seems there's a strain of country music in the family DNA. Aaron and his brother Brandon, who plays drums, were surrounded by music while they were growing up and have been performing since the mid-90s.

Their mom Donna, who sings harmony vocals on the CD, used to sing locally in a band with her brother Jeff Barry. She helped her sons produce the album, along with Bruce Ley, who did the recording at his studio in Mulmer, Ontario.

If you are at the 5th Annual Erin Rodeo, presented by the Erin Agricultural Society on June 5 and 6, you'll find the Muirs providing dance music for the cowboys and cowgirls. For more on the rodeo, go to

The following weekend, everyone is welcome at the CD release party – Friday, June 11, upstairs at the Erin Legion, 8 pm - 1 am. Admission is free.

Aaron has picked music from some of his heroes, especially Dwight Yoakam, for the CD. I listened to Yoakam's recordings of songs like 1,000 Miles, Miner's Prayer, Two Doors Down and I Sang Dixie, and can tell you that Aaron's versions stand up very well in comparison.

His voice is engaging and confident. It is on the raunchy side for upbeat songs like Rockin' My Life Away (written by Mack Vickery and a hit for Jerry Lee Lewis), which has a nice boogie-woogie feel; and suitably mournful for songs like Crying Time (written by Buck Owens and a hit for Ray Charles). Vickery's The Fireman, a hit for George Straight, is a strong lead-off song for the CD.

Overall the music is professional and well-balanced – not bad, considering they treat it more as a hobby than a career. The mixing is uncluttered, so the instrumental solos come through pure and clean.

The project features Aaron Muir on guitar and vocals, Paul Holmes on bass guitar, Brandon Muir on drums and percussion, Gerry Companion on electric lead guitar, Mike Slauenwhite on fiddle, Bruce Ley on piano, organ and guitar, Doug Johnson on steel guitar and dobro, Kim Ratcliffe on acoustic guitar and Donna Muir on vocals. Also with the group is Mark Parrish on fiddle.

They are working in the tradition of the Bakersfield sound (or California country), which is strong on electric and steel guitar and has its roots in American honky-tonk. It is a contrast to the slicker production of the Nashville sound, which is known for string orchestration, and "New" country, which is more pop-rock oriented. A medley from Bakersfield star Buck Owens is the final track on the CD.

Donna hosts a show on Erin Radio called Country Grass, on Thursday evenings. If you miss the CD party and want to get a copy, call and leave her a message at 519-856-9159.

May 19, 2010

Alton's cedar forests create hiking opportunities

As published in The Erin Advocate

I recently took a pleasant hike to one of the major forks of the Credit River; not the scenic juncture east of Belfountain known as Forks of the Credit, but further north, where Shaw's Creek joins the river. It is definitely worth the 15-minute drive to Alton, where there are two fine protected natural areas.

Just east of Alton, bounded by Beechgrove Sideroad and Porterfield Road, nestled by the Osprey Valley Golf Club, is the 350-acre Alton Grange property. It was purchased from the Grange family by the Ministry of Natural Resources back in 1974. The community volunteers of the Alton Grange Association signed on as partners in 2002 to help manage the land. The easiest access is via Station Street, off Main Street.

Shaw's Creek flows east through Alton, where it once powered the historic mill (now a beautiful arts and heritage centre), then into the Grange property. The East branch of the Credit River flows south from the Island Lake Reservoir near Orangeville, which was created in 1967 by a dam that flooded 445 acres of farm, forest and swamp. The reservoir helps dilute the discharge from Orangeville's wastewater treatment plant.

Where the creek joins the river in the Grange tract is a towering cedar forest that is eerily quiet, filled with mossy undergrowth. The network of trails takes you through meadows, hardwood forests, highlands that were reforested back in the 1930s and vast wetlands with many a gnarled, uprooted tree stump. Steel bridges enable river crossings, and a boardwalk traverses part of the swamp. I encountered turkey vultures, ducks and woodpeckers on my two-hour tour.

Included in the network is the Alton Side Trail, which runs north from the Bruce Trail, along McLaren Road. It starts at Forks of the Credit Provincial Park near Cataract village, passes through Charles Sauriol Conservation Area, the Grange property and Alton, and ends at the Pinnacle lookout. There it meets the northern terminus of the Grand Valley Trail, which turns towards Orton, on a 275 km trek along the Grand River system to Lake Erie.

If you head north out of Alton on Peel Road 136, you'll find the relatively new Upper Credit Conservation Area, created by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC). You won't see any signs at first, but turn right at the Canadian Pacific Railway line (turn left and you're in gravel pit territory).

The small network of trails, complete with free doggie clean-up bags, can be hiked in less than an hour, covering both meadows and established forest areas. There are educational signs along the way, courtesy of AGCare and the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, explaining how farmers are doing their bit for the environment.

The land was acquired with the help of the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Region of Peel and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Since 2007, volunteers including the Conservation Youth Corps have planted more than 10,000 trees and shrubs in open areas near the Credit there, to stabilize the banks and extend the wildlife corridor.

It is worth departing from the beaten path to explore the edge of the river through part of the cedar forest – a truly memorable environment. It is amazing how many natural treasures are available, so close to the large cities of Southern Ontario. The fact that they are practically in our backyards does not make them less spectacular, just easier to take for granted.

May 12, 2010

Water Watchers promote tap water alternative

As published in The Erin Advocate

Ontario has some of the best tap water in the world, but many people choose to pay extra for bottled water. Wellington Water Watchers is working to reverse this trend, both to preserve the resource and to fight what they see as wasteful consumer spending.

Strong demand for bottled water has been "manufactured" by the bottled water industry, they say, scaring people away from tap water. Bottled water is not always purer or better tasting, and its quality is definitely less regulated.

For soft drink companies, it is all about marketing liquids in plastic bottles, and that is where much of the controversy swirls. Mike Nagy of Water Watchers, who has been a Green Party election candidate, was a guest at the recent showing of the film H2Oil in Erin, part of the Fast Forward Festival.

He held up a plastic water bottle, one quarter full of oil, representing the energy it takes to make that bottle. Arlene Slocombe, the group's executive director, said that the manufacturing process uses three times the volume of a bottle of water, to make one bottle. The group made a presentation to Erin high school students recently, urging them to use refillable water containers.

"Bottled water is one of the most energy intensive products," said Nagy. "I'm all in favour of making a profit, but we should not profit on water. Water is the new gold. Water is life – we cannot afford to waste it."

There are environmental costs not only to make the bottles, but also to ship the water, and dispose of the bottles – many of which end up in landfills or shipped overseas.

Erin has a special interest in the industry, since bottling giant Nestlé has a well in Hillsburgh, with a steady stream of tanker trucks shuttling to a plant in Aberfoyle. They have a permit to take up to 1.1 million litres per day, but usually only draw about 25 per cent of that.

Nagy said that although the Nestlé well has not caused discernible harm to the local water supply, he is still concerned. "We do not understand the long-term cumulative effects," he said.

Nestlé has made an effort to demonstrate care for the environment by installing attractive containers for "public spaces recycling" at Erin's new McMillan Park. Gail Cosman, President of Nestlé Waters Canada, said this "will help to put the community at the forefront of environmental sustainability in this province." She said the same thing, word for word, about Aberfoyle when containers were installed there.

Nestlé says the bottled water industry uses just .02 per cent of all permit-controlled water in Canada (compared to users like power plants, manufacturers, municipalities and farmers).

"We are committed to operating our business with no adverse effect on our neighbours, even in the event of drought conditions," said Cosman. "We only harvest what can be replaced by nature."

A well protection agreement between Nestlé and Erin is designed to provide rapid response to any complaints by well owners. The firm promises to pay for scientific evaluation and to fix or replace any well that fails because of their water taking. They also promise to cut back or stop production during drought conditions, if they decide it is necessary.

Nagy would like to see those cutbacks mandated by law. The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario has recommended that step-by-step cutbacks for low water conditions be built into the permit process.

Nestlé has access to a valuable resource through a low-cost provincial license, without paying fees to the Town. Nestlé improved its reputation on that front by donating $30,000 last year towards construction of McMillan Park.

Erin Mayor Rod Finnie was quoted as saying, "This is the latest example of the company's commitment to working with Erin to further enhance the quality of life in what is one of the very best communities to live, work and play in Ontario." A few days later, I saw those same words in another newspaper, but in reference to Aberfoyle, spoken by the president of the Optimist Club there after Nestlé donated $50,000 to a recreation centre.

It is simply a sign of a coordinated public relations effort. Naturally, Nagy is unimpressed, calling these "token" donations. "They do this all around the world," he said.

Some municipalities have banned the sale of bottled water in their facilities, and last month the Nova Scotia was the first province to announce they would do so. The Polaris Institute is organizing a petition to have Ontario do the same.

Check out for information on the Water Watchers-supported effort to map places to fill up your water bottle for free. Some other interesting sites:, and

May 05, 2010

Making sure our water stays plentiful and safe

As published in The Erin Advocate

I once rented part of a farm house, where the landlord was so worried about his well water that he would turn off the water supply if I ran the shower for more than 15 minutes.

My habits have become more conservative over the years, but like most environmental efforts, it is never quite enough. Now I'm being challenged to limit showers to three minutes.

The advice comes from Wellington Water Watchers, a non-profit group dedicated to preserving this valuable resource. Ontario has one-third of the entire earth's fresh water supply within and along its borders.

They are also urging people to turn off the tap while brushing their teeth, get a rain barrel for watering gardens, install low-flow shower heads, switch to low-flow toilets and give up drinking bottled water – both to save money and reduce the demand on well water.

Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) has still more advice, asking people to choose drought-resistant grass and avoid mowing it short, to reduce the need for watering. They suggest using soaker hoses instead of sprinklers, and leaving clippings on the lawn.

"Here in the Credit Valley Watershed, we've had a relatively dry fall and winter," said John Kinkead, CVC Director of Water Resources. "If this trend continues, we're going to see lower groundwater tables and reduced flows in area streams. Water conservation measures will be even more important this year."

Erin homes rely on wells, whether private or municipal, and it is easy to take that supply for granted. The Town reports that the average urban household uses 750 litres per day: 35% for showers and baths, 30% for toilet flushing, 20% for laundry, 10% for kitchen/drinking and 5% for cleaning.

Opportunities for waste abound. Dishwashers and laundry washing machines are often run without full loads. A slowly-leaking faucet may waste 70 litres per day, adding $10 to your 90-day water bill. A steadily running toilet could waste 2,500 litres a day.

Erin Water Superintendent Frank Smedley said a dry summer is not likely to force restrictions on the municipal supply, since the Town's wells are quite deep, and are not directly affected by short-term variations in surface water. Shallow private wells are at greater risk of shortages and contamination.

Get more information on local water at Check out the Ontario Drinking Water Surveillance Program, which includes Erin, at

While the Town does extensive testing for bacteria and chemicals, owners of private wells are legally responsible for the quality of their drinking water. The Ministry of Health recommends testing each summer, fall and especially spring, when surface water is plentiful.

Test if you notice any change in the clarity, colour, taste or smell of your water, after major plumbing work, after an extended dry spell or after a lengthy period of non-use. Three samplings spaced one to three weeks apart are needed to be sure of a stable supply.

Testing for bacteria is free, but I am sure many people do not do it, because of the inconvenience. You can pick up a test bottle at the Town of Erin offices on Trafalgar Road, but the bottle has to be delivered in person to the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health offices in Guelph, Fergus or Orangeville, with restrictions on acceptable times.

Results are mailed out, with the most common issue being "total coliform" contamination. These bacteria do not usually make people sick, but you may need to repair or disinfect your well. Evidence of E. coli bacteria is serious, meaning you must stop drinking the water until it is treated. For advice, call the health unit at 1-800-265-7293.

Testing service is much better in Halton Region, where they will mail you a test bottle if you phone, or request it on-line. Halton Hills residents can drop off samples not only at the health office at 93 Main St. S. in Georgetown (as I do too), but at the Acton and Georgetown libraries, including some evening hours. You can sign up for testing reminders by mail or email.

Halton also provides additional free testing for nitrates, a compound that can come from fertilizer, sewage or plant decay. It is particularly dangerous for infants, and cannot be boiled away. The Ministry of Health recommends testing once a year for nitrates, but in most places it is at your own expense.

For nitrate and all other chemical testing, you have to shop from a long list of labs published on the Ministry of the Environment website. Google "Ontario accredited labs", or call 416-235-6370 for assistance.