September 28, 2011

Rural internet project neglects parts of Erin

As published in The Erin Advocate

A Wellington County project to improve rural internet service, with a $1 million boost from the Ontario government, is having a limited impact in Erin because most of the town was considered to be already well-serviced.

Many Erin residents, especially in the north, would disagree with that assessment, but the good news is that wireless and satellite capacity is expanding quickly, so good quality internet could soon be available to everyone at a reasonable price.

The Rural Connections Broadband Program was started in 2009, one of 47 initiatives in the province to bring high-speed web access to under-serviced rural areas. The idea was to partner with a private firm that would build a series of towers, beaming a wireless internet signal to receivers at people's homes.

Residents in urban areas like Hillsburgh and Erin village can choose to receive high-speed service via TV cable or phone line, but in many rural areas, the only options are slow-speed dial-up, a satellite link or a wireless tower that requires a direct line-of-sight transmission.

Initially, the County planned to partner with Everus Communications, but the process was delayed when Everus went out of business. In 2010, Barrett Xplore Inc. (BXI) purchased some of the Everus equipment and customer base, and was chosen to proceed with the $3 million project. BXI, which operates with the brand name Xplorenet, is investing $2 million and will receive $1 million from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs when the work is complete.

There are now 14 towers set up as part of the project, with three more being finished this month and the last one in October. Only one of the new towers is in Erin, located at Ospringe, providing improved service to rural residents in the west part of the town. Other parts of rural Erin did not qualify.

"Areas of the County that previously had at least 75% high-speed internet coverage were not eligible for funding," says the website. "Those areas will not be receiving additional coverage as part of this project."

The Town of Erin has been involved in the process and did make it clear to the County that there is a need for better service in various areas. Councillor Jose Wintersinger was on the committee, and both former Mayor Rod Finnie and current Mayor Lou Maieron have both been vocal proponents of improvements. They've received many complaints about lack of quality internet, even though it is not a municipal responsibility.

A public information meeting was held by the County at 6:30 pm on Tuesday last week at Centre 2000, but it was not advertised in The Advocate. Nine residents were there, including four politicians and one columnist, to see a presentation by Don Ticknor, a Sales Manager for Xplornet. (It's a good thing there wasn't a large crowd, since the projector wouldn't work, so we had to huddle around a laptop.)

County Councillor Ken Chapman said he was shocked to see that north-east Erin was not mapped as an area qualifying for improvement. For this project, Xplorenet could only build upgrades where the County directed them.

"The gaps still exist," said Maieron, and he urged Xplornet to consider parts of Erin for future expansion (after this project), since there is a relatively high density of rural residents, including hundreds of people who need high-speed internet to operate businesses from their homes.

Kirk McElwain, a councillor from Elora who chaired the Wellington broadband committee, said they surveyed service providers to check existing coverage, since the County was not supposed to be funding one company in a competitive market area.

Although he had some doubts about the extent of the coverage, he said, "We took their word for it". He said that while service may not have been great in some parts of Erin, it was better than areas like Puslinch where there had been none at all.

Ticknor said it generally takes about 400 newly-connected households to make installation of a tower economically viable. His firm is involved with 31 government-assisted projects.

"We are Canada's largest rural high-speed provider, and are doing our best to provide the service. Our new 4G technology provides robust, reliable service that is interference-free and can be continuously upgraded."

Some parts of rural south Erin get wireless service from Hummingbird Wireless of Halton Hills. Others are customers of Firefly Networks, which in August merged with Standard Broadband (Data Matters Inc.) of Milton. They transmit from a series of towers in south Erin and the Ospringe area, and are currently upgrading to higher-capacity technology.

Figuring out just how many households were getting good service is complicated. People can receive a wireless signal either through an outdoor receiver or through plug-in equipment on their computers such as the Rogers Rocket Stick. Signals can be blocked or degraded, however, by trees – a constantly "growing" problem – or hilly terrain. Satellite transmission eliminates that issue, but has traditionally been much more expensive.

Ticknor said that by the end of this year, new satellite capacity will allow his firm to offer a 4G satellite signal at the same price levels as a tower signal – plus an extra equipment rental cost of $10 per month. Installation costs are also extra. Call their Arthur-based dealer, Northwind, at 519-957-2438 and go to or for more details.

The effort to bring better internet service to the County was coordinated by the Waterloo Wellington Community Futures Development Corporation (WWCFDC), a federally funded non-profit agency that promotes economic development. As part of the broadband program, they are hosting three free workshops for small businesses.

On October 12, from 9 am to 4 pm, at the WWCFDC office in Elora: Social Media Basics – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN and YouTube. On October 19, from 9 am to 1:30 pm, at the WWCFDC office in Elora: Is Your Website Making the Grade? Maximizing web tools to promote, manage and grow your business. And on November 9, a repeat of the Social Media program, at the Mount Forest Community Centre. Call 519-846-9839 ext. 227 or go to

September 21, 2011

Getting serious about transportation alternatives

As published in The Erin Advocate

For the past 15 years, I've been thinking about cycling to Hillsburgh and back, along the route of the old Credit Valley Railway, but have never gotten around to it. I've needed a special event to prod me into action, and now it has arrived.

There's a community bike ride this Saturday, September 24, on the Elora Cataract Trail, with registration starting at 8:30 am in Erin and at 9:15 am in Hillsburgh. It is a political demonstration, of the decidedly peaceful variety, to show local politicians and provincial candidates that people feel strongly about curbing greenhouse gases, promoting alternative methods of transportation and reducing Canada's carbon output.

Sponsored by Credit Valley Conservation Authority (CVC), the Climate Change Action Group of Erin (CCAGE) and Erin Trails, it should be an enjoyable way to bring people together. It is part of a world-wide day of cycling action called Moving Planet: A Day to Move Away from Fossil Fuels. A visit to will update you on the many efforts to reduce the earth's carbon dioxide level to 350 parts per million. For more information on the Erin "Ride for Change", contact Heidi Matthews at 519-833-9816 or email:

A bike ride won't shut down the carbon-producing tar sands in Alberta or produce immediate changes in our consumption-driven, car-dependent economy. But doing something is always more powerful than just talking. If millions of people not only speak up to say that current trends are unacceptable, but also demonstrate that they are willing to make lifestyle changes to benefit the planet, they will have an impact.

Another way to make a difference locally is to fill out the on-line survey that is part of the Wellington Active Transportation Plan, which aims to get more people involved in things like walking, jogging, running, cycling, in-line skating, skateboarding and even snowshoeing. The goal is to make non-motorized transportation more practical for commuting to work or school, for recreation and exercise, and for destination travel such as shopping and visiting friends.

This would be achieved not just through education, but by improvements to infrastructure such as bike lanes and trails. It is a joint effort involving the Public Health Unit, the County and local municipalities.

Do a search on Wellington Active Transportation or go to to access the survey. It will take about 15 minutes to complete, asking about current activities and priorities for improvements. You do not have to provide personal information.

In the Comments section at the end, I made two suggestions. If you agree with them, please back them up with your own comments. First, that both the County and local municipalities should commit to creating paved bike lanes whenever a road is being rebuilt. This does cost more initially, but some costs are recovered over time because the wider pavement lasts longer.

Second, that Wellington County establish a fund, similar to those in Peel and Halton Regions, to contribute towards the purchase of lands for protection of natural areas and development of recreation and trails. Such deals are typically coordinated by conservation authorities and often require funding from several sources – provincial, region/county, town and charitable foundations.

I saw a notice recently that Centre Wellington (Fergus-Elora) is launching a formal study to create a Trails Master Plan, a process they expect to cost about $50,000. Erin does not have that kind of money for trails, but it is worth noting that trails have become a high priority for many municipalities.

Trails are not a recreation luxury. They should be a key part of the local infrastructure, supporting physical and mental health, environmental protection, road safety, tourism, economic development and the town's reputation at large.

September 14, 2011

Natural areas should be protected and accessible

As published in The Erin Advocate

Nestled among some of Mississauga's most expensive homes, and close by the massive Suncor lubricant refinery on the Lake Ontario shore, Rattray Marsh is a significant ecological refuge in the urban landscape.

This sensitive wetland is the last remaining lakefront marsh between Toronto and Burlington, home to a wide variety of plants and animals, and a popular destination for migratory birds (and their watchers). The pounding waves of the lake have created a beach of small flat cobble stones, forming a barrier that backs up the waters of Sheridan Creek.

On a recent hike along the Waterfront Trail there, I was surprised at the extensive work done with raised boardwalks and railings. These allow people and pets into the natural marsh without having them trampling the vegetation or getting stuck in the mud.

It is something we need to consider for Erin's wetlands. Protection of natural areas is the first priority, but in populated areas it is almost as important to make them accessible, with trails and educational signs. When people are able to appreciate their local treasures, it builds political support for protection and improvements.

Like Erin, Rattray is also on the route of the Trans Canada Trail, which (from the west) comes through Sudbury, south through Barrie, west through Caledon, Erin and Elora, south to Brantford, then east along the Lake Ontario shore through Hamilton, Mississauga and Toronto on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Except for the Credit River, Erin doesn't have much in common with Mississauga – Canada's 6th largest city, with about 750,000 residents. But the Rattray Marsh may have some lessons for our future.

The area was owned by Major James Rattray, who tried to encourage governments to take it over. He died in 1959, but the battle to acquire the marsh lived on for several years, as there was a plan to fill it in and build homes.

Concerned citizens were unsuccessful in stopping Phase 1 of the development, but after years of negotiation and lobbying, Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) was able to buy 82.5 acres in 1972, preserving it for public use.

CVC now works in partnership with the Rattray Marsh Protection Association, a dedicated group of volunteers that help improve the network of trails, and protect the Marsh resources through education and stewardship. Except for police patrols, no bicycles are allowed on the trails.

Would Erin be ready to form a "protection association" if the need arose? We have some protection from excessive development, thanks to our Official Plan, the CVC, the Niagara Escarpment, the Greenbelt and our lack of a sewer system. It may be tempting to do as little as possible, hoping that everyone will just leave us alone.

But anyone who has attempted to drive down Mississauga Road lately will have seen the development pressure that is building. The road is being widened, there's a Walmart Supercentre at Williams Parkway and huge tracts of land are being prepared for subdivisions.

Here in Erin, it is important to continue building up public awareness of environmental issues and our network of concerned citizens, so that any proposed development will be subjected to intense public scrutiny. It is not here yet, but the time will come when we will be called upon to aggressively defend the things we really value in this town.

September 07, 2011

Column took the pulse of a thriving community

As published in The Erin Advocate

"A chiel's amang you taking notes, And, faith, he'll prent it."

That is the quote that appeared every week, as the first line in the Local News Items column of The Erin Advocate, one hundred years ago. A rough translation: "A young fellow is among you taking notes, and you can be sure he will print it."

The line is lifted from Robert Burns' 1789 poem, On Captain Grose’s Peregrinations Thro' Scotland, and would have been recognized by Erin's upper class readers at the time.

Browsing through the September, 1911 issues of The Advocate, there is a large portrait of Conservative Robert Borden, who had just defeated Liberal Wilfred Laurier to become Canada's eighth Prime Minister. You'll find another portrait of Borden, who brought us military conscription and income tax, on the $100 bill. Wellington South (including Erin) stuck with Liberal Hugh Guthrie, who six years later crossed the floor to become one of Borden's cabinet ministers.

Tucked onto the back page, Local News Items covers the social comings and goings of people, whether they like it or not, with items such as:

• Mr. T.G. Howell, of Toronto, motored to Mrs. Hunter's, 10th line, last week.

Virtually every paragraph is a brand new topic, with random bits of humour: "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may be married." The column is a smorgasbord, with lines of poetry, editorial ads for products like Holloway's Corn Cure, descriptions of residents' illnesses, and reports of various burglaries, funerals, birthday parties and sermons.

There are frequent promotions for the business interests of the publisher, Wellington Hull, who was also a real estate and buggy salesman, and an auctioneer of farm implements. Every week, the column has lines like: "I have any amount of money to lend at a low rate on first mortgage.–W. Hull," and "Marriage licenses may be had by calling at The Advocate office." He also has advice for local politicians, on an issue that never seems to go away:

"We have at different times called the attention of parents to the folly of allowing their children to run the streets late at night. They are not only getting into all sorts of mischief, but learning bad language. Every small child under a certain age should be compelled to be off the street not later than 9 o'clock. Why not the Council pass a By-Law to this effect?"

There is the tale of Mr. W. Duthie, manager of the Hillsburgh branch of the Union Bank, who disappeared without a trace on a business trip to Toronto. Described initially as "a gentleman of good business ability and universally respected", it turned out the following week that he had abandoned his wife and children, with a "very considerable" amount of the bank's money.
Here are some other interesting excerpts from the column in 1911:

• A number of Italians who had been working on the C.P.R. track near Hillsburgh appeared before Magistrate Hull, charged with fishing on Sunday and trespassing on the reserves of the Caledon Mountain Trout Club. They were fined $5 each and costs.

• Colour-Sargeant Ward of Erin has been appointed to take part at the King's Coronation. (George V, grandson of Queen Victoria, became King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions including Canada, and Emperor of India, on June 22, 1911.)

• Mr. B. Mundell has been making some improvements to his planing mill, including the putting in of a new flume.

• Erin Village Council motion, carried: That we put down 300 feet of 4 ft. cement walk on the west side of Main Street, from the Agricultural Hall up towards the Station; and from Mrs. Morley's, on the east side of Main Street, to the north side of English Street, and put down new crossings at Spring, Scotch and English Streets; also put in curbing along the west side from Mill Race to Charles Street.

• The Clerk was requested to prepare specifications and advertise for tenders for building the bridge over the dam on Church Street.

• The Erin Tennis Club has been organized for the season. Mr. J.W. Flett is President and Miss Jessie Overland Sec.-Treas.

• Mr. R. Grundy has returned home from the North West and is again at his old position in Russell's store.

A large ad from Russell's boasts: "All the latest styles...See our Ruffs, Muffs, Caperines and all kinds of up-to-date Furs...We lead in Men's, Boy's and Ladies' Underwear...We have fitted a room upstairs for Fair Visitors where they may leave their Wraps with safety...Groceries always Fresh...Highest Price for Produce...Ladies' White Blouses, beautifully trimmed, reg. $1.25, for 98c."

A weekly ad for powdered soap, a relatively new invention, is typical of the era: "GOLD DUST is a good, honest vegetable oil soap in powdered form – scientifically combined with purifying ingredients of magic power." Too bad they don't make it any more.