June 30, 2010

Harness native plants for spectacular landscaping

As published in The Erin Advocate

If you going to try your hand at naturescaping, be sure to let your neighbours know it is part of a plan. Who knows, they may even want to get in on the project, extending an area of ground cover, wildflowers, ferns and flowering shrubs over multiple properties.

"Keep it neat and communicate with your neighbours," said Melanie Kramer, a residential greening specialist with Credit Valley Conservation (CVC). "If you trim the area or use a border, it looks more intentional."

Plants should not be too orderly within a naturalized landscape, but you can still treat your land like a living, three-dimensional canvas, with groupings of colour and varieties of texture. Planning the view from different vantage points (your window, the street or a bench in the middle of the zone), you can plant taller elements in the background and shorter ones near the front.

"Ask yourself what is missing from your yard, and look for opportunities," said Kramer, who presented the Your Green Yard Workshop recently in Orangeville. "Over time you can build it up. Start with hardy species that you know will survive."

Become familiar with your soil type, how the water drains and what may be buried underground, like well pipes, septic systems and cables. The Ontario One Call utility notification service has a toll-free line: 1-800-400-2255.

If converting a lawn area, it is recommended that you remove the grass or kill it off by covering it with plastic, or a layer of newspaper and soil. It is a dramatic commitment, so it is perhaps best to start with a small area.

Low maintenance is one of the goals, so it makes sense to use native plants that thrived in this area for thousands of years before European settlement. Native species are drought tolerant and will not require chemical pesticides or fertilizers.

Groupings of trees or shrubs provide shelter and resting sites for birds, butterflies and small mammals – berry or nut-producing shrubs will attract wildlife year-round.

More trees are always good news – only about 12 per cent of this area has tree cover, and Environment Canada recommends 30 per cent. Species like Sugar Maple, Black Cherry, Yellow or White Birch, Basswood and White Ash should do well if you want to create a deciduous canopy.

For primarily sunny areas, pick prairie and meadow plants like the purple Wild Bergamot, the yellow Black-eyed Susan, the orange Butterfly Weed or the pink Spotted Joe-pye Weed. There are many attractive tall grasses as well. Learn more through the native plant database at www.evergreen.ca or try the Canadian Wildlife Federation site: www.wildaboutgardening.org. Photos of various plants are easily accessed through Google Images.

For shady areas, choose woodland plants like the blue Wild Geranium, the red Wild Columbine or the showy white Bloodroot; some are better suited to moist conditions. For shrubbery, consider Serviceberry, Chokecherry or Flowering Raspberry. You can also cultivate a rain garden by directing water run-off to a low area well away from the house.

There are many plants that are considered "invasive" – not just the poisonous ones like Giant Hogweed, but more common ground covers like English Ivy and Periwinkle. These two are acceptable if they are not allowed to "escape" to a natural area where their aggressive growth could crowd out other plant species. Others, like Curly Pondweed, Goutweed and Japanese Knotweed are considered a risk anywhere. Check out www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca.

If buying plants from a nursery, consider native varieties instead of "cultivars" that have been grown to enhance specific characteristics. Also, plants like Queen Anne's Lace are not encouraged, since they were imported from Europe and are not true "natives". Learn more from the Ontario Society for Ecological Restoration: www.serontario. Also, the Canadian Wildlife Service has "Planting the Seed" guides on aquatic plants and meadow communities at www.on.ec.gc.ca/wildlife (click Publications).

CVC's ecological landscaping web page has a list of landscape architects that can assist with large projects, which could include low-maintenance lawns, permeable paving and "green" structures. Go to www.creditvalleyca.ca/landscaping. You will also find there a list of Native Plant Nurseries and Seed Sources where you can get advice, ranging from Humber Nurseries in Brampton (www.gardencentre.com) to Baker Forestry in Erin (905-877-9390).

Additional fact sheets will soon be added to the CVC site, including lists of which plants grow best in various soil types. More workshops are planned for this fall.

June 23, 2010

Highway corridor will go south of Georgetown

As published in The Erin Advocate

The idea of a major highway corridor connecting Brampton and the north end of Guelph has been rejected by the Ministry of Transportation (MTO). One of four routes under consideration, it would have sliced through the Niagara Escarpment and the farms of south Erin.

At an open house last week in Brampton, Senior Transportation Planner Jin Wang said the MTO has narrowed the plan to two possible southern routes, as part of the GTA West Environmental Assessment. All methods of moving people and freight are being studied, with a 20-year time frame.

"Very high growth is expected in the GTA area, and we have to plan now," said Wang. "We need a full suite of transportation improvements."

A new highway, likely with a parallel bus transitway that could be converted to rail in the future, will start at Hwy. 400 in Vaughan, as a third major east-west route north of Hwys. 401 and 407. Coming west, it will merge with the recently completed Hwy. 410, and continue along the Mayfield Road corridor towards Georgetown. At that point, it could have cut north towards Erin.

"That would have had a very high impact on the environment, on farmland and on communities," said Wang. Instead, the route will go south of Georgetown, linking to Hwy. 401 either at the Hwy. 407 interchange near Winston Churchill, or further west near Tremaine Road in Milton. The fourth option, now rejected, was to run the highway from Georgetown, parallel to the 401, making a new cut through the escarpment to join Hwy. 6 south of Guelph.

Milton Regional Councillor Colin Best, representing Halton Region on a municipal task force reviewing the plans, had lobbied to have the highway take one of the northern routes. This would have preserved industrial and farm lands near Milton, taken more commuters off the 401 and provided an alternative to Hwy. 7 through the Georgetown-Acton area.

If the highway heads south along the Peel-Halton border to the 407, it will be part of an already-planned municipal freeway, which will intersect with a Hwy. 7 bypass of Norval. Hwy. 401 would have to be expanded to 12 lanes (express and collector) leading to Milton. The MTO plan is to be finalized by the end of this year, and public comments are still welcome. Go to www.gta-west.com.

The route through Erin would have deferred the need to widen County Road 124 between Guelph and Caledon, with an Erin bypass, so that pressure will continue to increase.
MTO Information Officer Will MacKenzie, however, suggested that evolution of the highway web might eventually give Erin some relief from the truck traffic between the Alliston Honda plant and the Cambridge area. Alliston is on Hwy. 89, west of Hwy. 400.

With current improvements to Hwy. 89, plus eventual widening of Hwy. 400 to 10 lanes, shippers may find it easier to go east to the 400, then south to the new highway, instead of coming west through Erin.

Public transit is touted as the top priority and a new study is being undertaken of "inter-regional transit opportunities". The MTO wants to "identify rural areas that warrant transit connections", which could mean a GO bus link from Erin to the "spine" – the GO Train station in Georgetown. We could also be a stop along the way if a bus link is established between downtown Guelph and downtown Brampton.

They are even studying the possibility of new rail connections, including the "potential to implement commuter rail transit on active tracks or on reconstituted abandoned tracks". It seems unlikely, but it is interesting to imagine a resurrection of the Elora-Cataract rail line that put Erin on the map 131 years ago.

With the population exploding all around us, who knows what might happen?

June 16, 2010

Disabled still face long-term accessibility obstacles

As published in The Erin Advocate

The steps at the doorways of some Erin stores present an impossible barrier for people in wheelchairs. Improvements have been made at many locations, but even with new customer service regulations coming in 2012, the town will still have a long way to go before it is truly accessible.

Nicole Valentine lives near downtown Erin village, and deals with the frustration all the time because her six-year-old son Pierce needs a wheelchair. He had meningitis as a baby, causing delay to his development and damage to his sight. When driving through town with her children, she would like to be able to stop and bring them into a store.

"I usually don't shop in town, that's the sad part," she said. Sometimes, she gets a babysitter so she can run errands on her own.

Newer stores generally have level entranceways, but at many older, historic buildings, there is not sufficient room on the sidewalk for a ramp, and only an expensive reconstruction of the storefront would enable easy access.

Valentine does not expect owners to tear up their storefronts, but in cases where there is enough room, she is hoping for more ramps, and doors that can be activated with the push of a button. These also help people who are frail, and those pushing strollers.

About 1.85 million Ontarians (15.5 per cent) have a disability. Within 20 years, as the population ages, 20 per cent will be disabled. Already, more than half the population feels the direct impact, if immediate family members are included.
“As caregivers and supporters, they also experience the reality of disability,” said Lieutenant Governor David Onley.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is gradually bringing in standards in various areas: Customer Service, Built Environment, Transportation, Communications and Employment. The goal is full accessibility by 2025.

The Built Environment Standard, however, will apply only to new and significantly renovated buildings. Store owners will not be required to retrofit existing structures just to meet the standard. Other exemptions are planned, where compliance would be structurally impractical, be detrimental to a building's heritage value or create "undue hardship".

Customer Service was the first standard to come into effect, in January this year for public sector facilities. As of January 2012, it will apply to the private sector. An IPSOS REID survey last month found 68% of Ontarians polled were either not very aware, or had never heard of the new rules, which are based on the principle of equal opportunity.

Private firms will have a legal obligation to train staff and accommodate the needs of customers with a variety of disabilities: physical, hearing, sight, cognitive and intellectual. Goods and services must be provided in a way that respects their "dignity and independence". Firms must communicate with customers in a manner that takes into account their disability, and unless otherwise prohibited, allow guide dogs onto the premises. For more details, go to www.mcss.gov.on.ca.

The Town of Erin has trained its staff on the new service standards. They will take action to meet the needs of a disabled person at the municipal office, though in some cases they will need advance notice. This could include providing larger print or even braille materials for a visually impaired person, hiring an interpreter for a hearing impaired person or holding a public meeting on the main floor instead of the basement, since there is no elevator. There is $9,900 in the current budget to raise the sidewalk slightly at the front entrance and install an automatic door.

Most public sector buildings in Erin are wheelchair accessible, with the exception of the upstairs banquet hall at the Hillsburgh arena. Since that building is considered quite old now, accessibility will likely have to wait for a new facility.

The Royal Bank office in Hillsburgh has no room for a sidewalk ramp, but they have still made helpful improvements with a heavy-duty hand rail and automatic door. The Family Health Team medical centre in Erin has a small ramp of pavement from the parking lot to their sidewalk. There are no markings on the pavement, however, so drivers may not realize they are parking on the ramp, blocking the access. The Erin Post Office has a large ramp, but like many facilities, a heavy door that is awkward for anyone in a wheelchair, or pushing one. This would be an ideal spot for an automatic door.

Charles Beer, a former Minister of Community and Social Services, released a review of the AODA in February. He said a major effort is needed to educate people about the new regulations, and that standards need to be harmonized and streamlined. "I sense a tremendous angst among representatives from the obligated sectors and fears that the cost of compliance will be burdensome," he said.

The rights of persons with disabilities are protected under both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Ontario’s Human Rights Code. Those rights don't mean much until there are regulations in place, with adequate enforcement.

"Accessibility turns legal rights into practical, everyday realities," said Beer. "As accessibility increases, Ontarians with disabilities will bring their talents to bear more effectively in the workplace and in all other aspects of Ontario life. Youth with disabilities will have more opportunity for educational achievement and seniors will live more fulfilling lives.

"Consumer spending by persons with disabilities will rise. And our quality of life will be enriched by the fuller inclusion of Ontarians with disabilities in our social relationships and community activities. Most important, the realization of accessibility will demonstrate our shared commitment to each other — and reinforce the values of decency, fairness and respect for individual dignity that bind Ontarians together."

June 09, 2010

Take care of your land (and save your planet)

As published in The Erin Advocate

I've been thinking of letting part of my back yard grow a little wild, but really don't know where to start. The goal is to have it look attractive – not like a weedy patch of untended grass that I was too lazy to cut.

Of course, one person's weed is another's wildflower, but I really need a plan that will give some design to the project. So when I heard that Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) is hosting a free workshop on ecological landscaping, Your Green Yard – Discover the Possibilities, I signed up to attend.

It is on June 16, 7-9 pm, at the Orangeville and District Seniors Centre, 26 Bythia Street, presented in partnership with the Orangeville Sustainability Action Team. Register on the CVC Stewardship Hotline, 1-800-668-5557, ext. 221, or at www.creditvalleyca.ca/bulletin/events.htm.

Of interest to both urban and rural residents, the event will provide fact sheets, design tips and plant lists. The idea is to create a diverse landscape that will improve local air, water and soil quality, conserve energy and water, avoid flooding and even reduce the impact of global warming.

Using native plants, you can have a low-maintenance area that enhances the habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. You can branch out, so to speak, with green walls, living fences, natural pools and permeable paving.

The workshop is one of many presented by the CVC during the year, for those who are keen to learn about the local environment. There is a monthly email newsletter from CVC called The Source, covering various events.

Another of particular interest is a free workshop called Your Guide to Caring for the Credit, helping rural residents who are not farmers learn how to be better "stewards" of their land. Designed for those with more than two acres of land, it will be held at Terra Cotta Conservation Area on Winston Churchill Blvd., June 24, 7-9:30 pm. Register by June 17 at 1-800-668-5557, ext. 221. There will be another one on November 13 in Alton.

Participants get a self-assessment manual produced by the University of Guelph, aerial photos and maps showing natural areas and features on their own property and a stewardship kit with free samples of environment-friendly household products. They will also be eligible for free on-site advice from CVC experts and free admission to a follow-up expert speaker series.

People sometimes buy rural property without a full understanding of how to care for the land, and how their actions could either enhance the environment or put themselves and their neighbours at risk. The workshop will help people see how their property fits into the local ecosystem.

A series of worksheets will deal with rural issues like wells, septic systems, ponds, woodlots, drainage, meadows, wetlands, wildlife, wind breaks, stream banks, energy conservation, fertilizers, fuels, pesticides, invasive plants and the benefits of native plants. The goal is an action plan, tailored to the individual property.

The CVC is concerned about the impact of climate change on the watershed, which is already under a lot of stress. Since most of the land is privately owned, the CVC has increased its educational efforts in recent years, urging residents to take more responsibility.

"We need to get the watershed into the best shape possible, to withstand the effects of climate change," said Lisa Brusse, CVC's Headwaters Stewardship Coordinator.

On the final night of the Fast Forward Environmental Film Festival at the Erin Legion last month, Liz Armstrong of the Climate Change Action Group of Erin, urged both governments and individuals to act boldly to reduce the negative impact of human activity on the planet.

"Climate change is real, and happening faster than most scientists predicted," she said, claiming that the Baby Boom generation, which was spared the trauma of war, is now "rolling the dice" on the well-being of their descendants.

"Previous generations put their lives on the line in the face of grave danger. We need to take radical action that will have future generations thanking us, instead of spitting on our graves. Let's answer the call, and be remarkable."

June 02, 2010

Seniors Survey could lead to service improvements

As published in The Erin Advocate

What do seniors in this area really need? East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) is conducting a major survey, to get answers that will help it plan improvements in the coming years.

The questions cover four topics: housing requirements, transportation needs, social activities and health services. Substantial deficiencies exist in all these areas, forcing many seniors to move away.

"From this survey, our goal is to be able to provide a community where our seniors will want to stay and where they will feel involved," said EWCS President David Robart-Morgan.

The Seniors Advisory Committee, including seniors from across the Rockwood-Erin district, has been working on the survey. It is available this week at libraries, churches and doctors' offices, through service clubs and seniors' groups, and at EWCS facilities. For information, call EWCS at 519-833-9696.

The survey is intended for anyone 55 and older, though a younger person could fill it out on behalf of a senior. It is anonymous, encouraging people to speak their minds freely. The goal is to make a survey available to everyone who is interested, even if it means delivering it personally, and providing assistance if requested.

"We will sit and help them fill it out," said Sherri Plourde, EWCS Manager of Seniors Services.

The process is being supported by a $25,000 grant from the federal government's New Horizons for Seniors program, which is designed to help non-profit organizations improve the quality of life for seniors. A staff member is being hired to support the work of the committee.

A separate survey has been designed to get input from groups that provide services for seniors. Once all the data is analyzed, there will be a final report, scheduled for August.

"We will distribute it to funders and government agencies," said EWCS Executive Director Glenyis Betts. "We can look at partnerships to bring in services to make it a more senior-friendly community."

The committee may be able to carry on as an independent Seniors Association that could seek funding for programs, and organize ways for seniors to help each other. EWCS is hoping to organize public meetings for people to share ideas, and will hold their Seniors Expo this fall.

Of course, there are many needs within current activities, plus programs or facilities that do not yet exist. The survey will help determine what is most important to the people who are directly affected.

Do we want a dedicated seniors' centre, with several separate areas, so different activities could be held at the same time? Currently, there is the permanent Seniors Room at Centre 2000, but in Rockwood, EWCS has only occasional use of space at Rockmosa Community Centre.

Do we want a retirement home or a nursing home? Do we want more apartments or condos? Do we want some smaller houses? "Low-cost" accommodation in Erin may not be possible under current market conditions, but could we hope for housing on the less extravagant side of the market?

Do we want better public bus service? Do we want better accessibility to public buildings? Do we want more specialized health services? Do we want better support to help people grow old in their own homes?

Do we want more fun?

Seniors certainly do not have to be passive recipients of social services. As they become an ever-larger part of the population, they will not only have the political clout to demand things that they need, but the community support to create what they want. If they set their sights high, there's no telling what might be achieved.