November 28, 2012

Contaminated soil bumps fire hall cost

As published in The Erin Advocate

Dealing with cadmium-contaminated soil has increased the cost of construction for the new fire hall in Hillsburgh, a project already plagued by soil problems.

Construction crews encountered the contamination in the front driveway area, and investigation showed that it came from a truck fire in the early 1990s.

A truck with a load of batteries caught fire while traveling on Trafalgar Road, and the driver pulled into the fire station for help. The fire was extinguished, but the chemicals that leaked from the batteries were not cleaned up.

"They weren't used to remediation – it wasn't tested, and we're now dealing with it," said Fire Chief Dan Callaghan, who came to Town Council last week requesting an additional $40,000 for contingency expenses. It was unanimously approved.

Callaghan said it may be possible to recover some money from the insurance company of the original polluter, but records of the incident have been difficult to trace. Anyone with specific information about the fire, especially the date, should contact the town.

Architect Joe Somfay said in a letter that the cost of moving the contaminated soil to a facility in Chatham "would have been exorbitant".

Callaghan said some of the soil has been used as backfill, while the most contaminated has been sealed in place with nine-foot deep cement barriers. He assured Mayor Lou Maieron that the soil engineers have ruled out problems with water run-off or leaching.

"We have contained the contamination to its present location – it is not a hazard to leave it on site," he said. "In place, it's fine. It's actually under the parking lot."

The problem was discovered because of other unstable soil, with buried organic matter, which had to be excavated to ensure proper construction of the new building. Some money had already been budgeted to deal with soil issues, but in April, an extra $150,000 was added to the project.

With the latest addition, the project is now $190,000 over budget. Extra costs related to soils total $254,000 (including previously budgeted amounts), while extra costs for the building will total $66,000. The Town has borrowed $2.1 million over 20 years to cover most of the overall cost of the project.

Council receives Solmar plan despite warnings

As published in The Erin Advocate

Faced with the certainty of an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) if they refused, Town council voted last week to deem the subdivision applications from Solmar Development Corp. as "complete".

The resolution was passed unanimously without any public debate or questions from councillors, after they returned from a 70-minute closed-door session with their lawyer, during Tuesday's council meeting.

The decision overrides the objections of Town Planner Sally Stull, who told council the applications were incomplete and premature, since it is not possible to have definite information about sewers while the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) is still in progress.

Stull said she has not had time to fully evaluate the material and that further study is needed on a traffic bypass route. She reminded council that other developments have been on hold for several years, and that the Solmar plan exceeds Official Plan population targets by more than 700 homes.

"It would essentially eliminate anyone else from participating, unless they were within the current Erin village, which is of course stymied by the problem that it doesn't have servicing," she said.

In a separate report to council, Water Superintendent Frank Smedley outlines a broad series of concerns, including the need for new wells, lack of staff expertise with sewers, and the potential for settlement of basements and roads due to poor soil drainage conditions.

"The SSMP should be completed as soon as possible," he said. "This will allow Council to give clear direction to the developer and staff.

"This is our opportunity to work with a developer to reduce the cost of servicing the urban areas with municipal sewage, if this is the path Council chooses."

Last week's resolution has three additional points: Despite the "complete" status, approval of the applications would be premature until the SSMP is complete and council has time to assess its implications and consider a course of action; council is not satisfied with the level of detail in the documentation; and the legally-required public meeting is considered premature until the SSMP recommendations are available.

Wellington County is eager to have Erin accept its share of regional population growth. Gary Cousins, Wellington's Director of Planning and Development, has notified the Town that the County considers Solmar's applications "complete". He also said approval must wait for the SSMP, and his exact words on this issue were used in Erin's resolution.

Council's vote does not approve the 1,240-home proposal, but simply starts the formal application process, with input from the public, Town staff and outside agencies.

Stull said the project would make Erinville Drive a major collector road, and that the proposal includes 570 single detached dwellings, 472 semi-detached, 48 townhouse units and 150 apartment-type units.

"These applications provide tremendous benefits to the community, strong job creation, strong housing options," said Solmar Planner Maurizio Rogato, who appeared as a delegation to voice disagreement with Stull's report to council.

"We're not looking for a decision on the actual applications themselves, we're simply looking to state that the applications have been completed, and they can be circulated, which allows dialogue to take place."

When the applications came to council in October, Mayor Lou Maieron suggested a Social Impact Study, since Solmar could eventually more than double the number of homes in the village. Transition Erin, a citizen group that is responding to the Solmar plan, also wants such a study, and possibly a "Health Impact Assessment".

They are "looking forward to the remaining components of the Solmar application being released to the public so that we can study them." Information on the group is available at

James Kennedy of KLM Planning, working for Solmar, said all of the required information has been submitted, and that council can still meet its objective of not approving any new subdivision until the SSMP is completed and approved. That could be in February or March.

Solmar says the studies they have already done (some already available on the Town web site), supporting their applications for a draft plan of subdivision, and zoning and Official Plan amendments, will "inform" the SSMP process. Stull says the Solmar proposal "distracts" from the SSMP.

"There is no question about how these lands will be serviced," said Kennedy, noting that the province requires sewers for this scale of development. Solmar may be able to proceed with its own sewers, even if the Town decides against them for the existing village.

"You are a long way from the stage where major development is permitted. I can see no reason not to get started in this process," he said. "The SSMP will define the big picture, and the details relative to these applications will follow.

"Should council deem these applications incomplete, Solmar will appeal this decision to the Ontario Municipal Board. We would prefer not to be forced to take this approach. We don't really need to start off this process on that basis.

"If and when this development does proceed, it will generate millions of dollars in revenue for the Town, as well as a new fully-serviced business park attracting jobs to Erin."

Deeming the applications complete starts the clock on a legal 180-day period during which the Town theoretically would have to decide whether to approve the project. Rogato said that in practice, it often takes much longer.

"If things are moving, things are working cooperatively and we're reviewing reports, we want to be there as a willing partner," he said.

 But, after 180 days, if the developer feels that sufficient progress is not being made, Rogato said they have the right to force the issue by appealing to the OMB – an expensive process for both sides. Of course, if the applications are ultimately denied, that could also be appealed to the OMB.

After Solmar's presentation, Maeiron commented on a possible sewer plan for the existing village.

"We can approve it in principle, but where's the money coming from?" he said. "Because for 160 years, or for forever, this municipality has done nothing with respect to bringing the servicing up to today's standards."

He said it would not be realistic to have two sewage treatment plants, and noted that if Solmar builds its own expandable plant, the town could feed into it in the future.

"I'm not trying to side with the proponent, but working concurrently to bring in our needs, if we decide that we need servicing to today's municipal standards, with an incoming plant, sort of tends to make some sense to me," he said.

Chamber of Commerce seeks a fresh start

As published in The Erin Advocate

As part of an effort to spark new interest in the East Wellington Chamber of Commerce (EWCC), business people in Erin are invited to an early morning meeting to learn about the proposed Solmar subdivision.

Maurizio Rogato, Director of Planning and Development at Solmar Development Corp. will speak about the impact of the project on local business. The free event is at 7:30 am on Tuesday, December 4, at David's Restaurant, 20 Shamrock Road.

"We want people to get excited about this chamber – it represents the voice of business in the community," said restaurant owner David Netherton, the new chairperson.

"We need a strong, credible group that will influence decision makers. If you want to have any kind of a say, you have to step up to the plate."

Joining Netherton on the new board are Vice-Chair Dave Doan from Septech Waste Water Systems, Secretary Mary Shields, a former town councillor who initiated the Chamber in 2010, Chris Bailey of Brighten Up, Janet Hern of FitYou, Rob Smith of Erin Auto Recyclers, Steve Storey of Erin Wine Makers and Brian Travis of Forks Bicycle Shop.

EWCC is a non-profit group of business owners and professionals representing both Erin and the Rockwood-Eramosa area. They emphasize economic development, promote local business, lobby governments and hold informative events.

They have the support of MP Michael Chong, who says they will be "a much needed voice of business, creating a network for business and community which advocates a healthy community economy."

Membership can help build a series of business contacts and education resources, and provides access to group medical and dental insurance and other member discounts. The cost to join is currently $130, which is $100 off the regular fee.

Enter your business card at the door on Dec. 4, to enter a draw for a free membership. If you are planning to attend, or have questions, contact Mary Shields at 519-217-1630. More information is available at

Blue Christmas fosters hope in time of sorrow

As published in The Erin Advocate

It's not about crying the blues, feeling sorry for yourself or taking a bah-humbug approach to the holiday season, but finding a way to deal with the reality that the festive frenzy of Christmas can be very stressful for people recovering from a loss in their lives.

The Blue Christmas Service will be held this Sunday, December 2, in the lower hall at All Saints Church on Main Street in Erin, starting at 7 pm.

It is a reflective Christian service, with music, readings and candle lighting, honouring our sorrows and finding cause for hope. It may be of interest to people who do not rely on organized religion for their spiritual needs. For more information, call Irene at 519-855-5985.

Losses, of course, encompass much more than the death of a family member or friend. There can be loss of a job, loss of a relationship, loss of worldly goods, loss of reputation or loss of self respect.

People and things in our environment give us a sense of who we are, so even when we know in our minds that change is natural and inevitable, it is still an emotional shock – a threat to our identity. I will be speaking briefly at the service, about how a time of crisis can sometimes help people deepen their faith and relationships with others.

Today, I'm finishing a series about a panel discussion on depression, held last month by the Family Health Team. Rev. Amy Cousineau, who will also be speaking at the Blue Christmas Service, was on that panel to tell of her own struggle with depression, and her husband Fred provided insight on supporting a partner in crisis.

That crisis started in 2006 with news of her mother's terminal illness, and the need to take time off from her job as Rector at All Saints' Anglican Church in Erin. Shuttling to Florida to care for her Mom was very stressful. When her Mom died after six months and Amy returned to work, she was constantly tired. The situation was compounded within a few months by the death of her best friend.

"I felt like I had been knocked down with a blow to the stomach, and I couldn't get up," she said. "If any little thing went wrong, I would get very angry, or start crying, but still I kept on working."

She had anxiety episodes where she would start to shake, and her weight was dropping. She cut back to part time, then went onto long-term disability, and later resigned her job.

"My expectations of myself were outrageous," she said. "I was not paying attention to my body – it was telling me something was wrong."

Support came from her family, her congregation and her faith in God, although that faith seemed more theoretical than practical at the worst times.

"I couldn't imagine any way to survive, but people were holding me up," she said. "It was horrible, such an awful dark place to be."

Fred said that his faith was certainly "stretched" as he experienced all these events and stages with Amy.

"The grief counselling that we went to really helped me – it helped Amy too, but she was in a completely different state, which we didn't realize at the time," he said. "Amy had always been this self-motivated work-a-holic, very confident, a super woman. She always pushed me. That all changed, to a person who was saying they couldn't do this anymore. There was also fear there. Every day was different. I listened a lot."

He offered frequent reassurance of his support, as Amy tried various strategies. He had to give up some things, but made sure to take some time for himself, to do things he wanted to do. Last year, they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.

Additional help came from her family doctor, a personal counsellor, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication, exercise, yoga, massage, naturopathy, and traditional Chinese medicine herbs and acupuncture. She learned how to live with depression.

"I know what my limits are and I honour them. I had to make adjustments to my life and understand myself in a very different way."

Now, she works as a freelance priest and spiritual director, doing weddings and funerals for people who do not have a church connection, hosting retreats and workshops, and doing guest preaching.

In a sermon published on her website ( she sums up her recovery: "I slowly came out of the dark, into the light. I emerged from that dark cave I was in and began to live again. It was a kind of resurrection."

November 21, 2012

Environment a key factor in public health

As published in The Erin Advocate

With our health care system stretched to the limit, we will soon need to rely more on the environment – both natural and "built" – to keep ourselves healthy, according to the keynote speaker at last month's Stewardship Forum, hosted by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC).

Dr. David Mowat, Medical Officer of Health in Peel Region, said the design of urban areas can help improve people's health by providing access to natural features, facilitating physical fitness and promoting local self-sufficiency. He said diabetes is increasing at such a rate that by 2025, one in six people in Peel will suffer from the disease, and in 50 years it will be one in three.

"The last time we had in our society something that affected one in three people was in the 14th century, and it was the Black Death – so this is quite serious," he said, noting that children are increasing in weight and declining in muscle strength. One third to one half of Grade 9 students in Peel do not meet minimum standards for physical fitness.

"We often, by default, think that we're ill and the system makes us well. But do we ever stop to think that we should be well. What makes us ill in the first place?" he said. Health care spending now accounts for 44 per cent of provincial expenditures.

"Clearly, very soon, the ability of our health care system to take ill people and make them well again, will be exhausted. Too often, the only way we can think to address it is to point to personal responsibility for changing behaviours. That will not do it. We need to recognize the influence of our physical, social, economic and natural environment on determining those behaviours."

Peel Public Health has a mandate from regional council to comment on new housing developments. They have emerged as one of the leaders in Canada, exploring the connections between community design and the health of residents, said Mike Puddister, CVC's Director of Restoration and Stewardship.

"Many solutions can be found in the way we plan communities," he said. "They require collaborative approaches."

The Town of Erin is now dealing with a subdivision proposal from Solmar Development Corp. that would more than double the size of Erin village in the coming decades. It is a huge opportunity to create a well-planned group of neighbourhoods.

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) has expertise in various aspects of the built environment, including promotion of physical fitness, maintaining the quality of air, soil and water, the value of urban forests and good design of parks and playgrounds. There is no formal requirement to involve the public health unit, but it would make sense to invite their advice in the Solmar planning process.

"We would like to be at the table," said Shawn Zentner, Manager of Health Protection at WDGPH. "We are well-positioned to make some evidence-based comments."

Exposure to natural elements includes parks, gardens, trees, conservation areas, trails, rivers and wetlands. While it is difficult to measure exactly, it is clear that these features improve our physical and mental health. Walking, of course, can have social as well as physical benefits. The interactions at the Fall Fair or last Friday's downtown Window Wonderland are good examples.

Dr. Mowat said it is important to "build the kind of human scale, aesthetically attractive environment that will get people out there walking – let's make our streets more livable."

Modern zoning is based partly on public health needs, with the effort to separate housing from toxic industries. But we've ended up with people stuck in their vehicles, living far from their employment, even though most do not work in heavy industry. Traffic congestion drains $6 billion annually from the GTA economy.

"Can we have people live, and work and play in the same community, so new development would be complete communities? There would be agriculture and industry and residential and transportation, all in the same moderate size community. We need to look at how we're building suburbs, and the extent to which they are still livable once you lose your driver's license, or once you can't move so fast.

"Only about 15 per cent of Canadians will regularly take part in any recreational physical activity. The vast majority of us get our physical activity by going from A to B – utilitarian. So opportunities for recreation are important, but on their own, not enough."

"We're talking about active transportation – having engineered physical activity out of our lives, to try and put it back in again."

November 20, 2012

Ecology park provides environmental education

As published in Country Routes

Whether you're looking for a fun, educational outing for the kids or a leisurely, scenic hike, the Willow Park Ecology Centre in Norval has plenty of attractions to offer.

This year-round nature preserve is great for bird watching, picnics and photography, featuring a butterfly garden, a wildflower meadow, a wetland pond and a snake hibernaculum. There are community events, and opportunities for volunteers to help improve the site.

The five-acre park is located just off Highway 7 – turn on Mary Street and park at the ball diamond. A former residential trailer park, it is at the point where Silver Creek, flowing down from Erin and Georgetown, joins the Credit River on its meandering journey to Lake Ontario.

Before crossing the bridge to the Ecology Centre, check out the tribute to Anne of Green Gables author Lucy Maude Montgomery, who lived in Norval from 1926 to 1935. She described the charm of the area in a hand-written journal, now archived at the University of Guelph:

"Norval is so beautiful now that it takes my breath. Those pine hills full of shadows – those river reaches – those bluffs of maple and smooth-trunked beech – with drifts of wild white blossom everywhere. I love Norval as I have never loved any place save Cavendish. It is as if I had know it all my life – as if I had dreamed young dreams under those pines and walked with my first love down that long perfumed hill."

At a recent volunteer work day, teens and adults were out helping Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) staff clean up the trails and gardens, and dig out invasive species such as buckthorn and garlic mustard.

"We can only do a little bit at a time, but definitely progress is being made," said Lindsey Jennings, Assistant Program Coordinator, Community Outreach at CVC.

Park activities carry on throughout the year. This Sunday, November 25, Willow Park has events to mark Universal Children's Day, with a drum circle starting at 1 pm, then nature activities and children's games from around the world, 2:00 - 3:30 pm. (It is also the weekend of Buy Nothing Day, an opportunity to teach kids about having fun without buying more stuff.) Entrance to the park is always free.

Register for events and learn more about the park at Celebrate the Longest Night of the Year on December 21, 7:00 - 8:30. Dress  warmly for a Winter Solstice night hike, games, and hot chocolate with marshmallows around a bonfire.

Willow Park Ecology Centre is operated by a volunteer board of directors, in partnership with CVC, the Town of Halton Hills, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Sobey's Community Endowment Fund and Wastewise. They also get support from Halton Region, Halton Hills Hydro, the Ministry of Natural Resources and corporate sponsors.

Schools can take advantage of their environmental field trips and in-class presentations, designed for various grade levels. Willow Park will customize programs for pre-schoolers or groups such as Scouts-Cubs and Girl Guides-Brownies. They also run sessions for adults at their Renewable Energy Education Station.

The Carolinian Forest Zone in Southern Ontario has many vulnerable, threatened or endangered species, including the American Chestnut tree (threatened) which is represented at Willow Park. They have a tree monitoring program to help determine current and future needs of the forest, a Tree Trail to help people learn about different species, and beaver guards to make sure that no trees are chopped down.

One of the major education exhibits is focused on compost, and with the help of Wastewise, there's a demonstration area showing how found or discarded objects can have a second life in a garden.

Willow Park has one of the few public butterfly gardens in Ontario to use exclusively native wild plant species. It provides a living environment for the four stages of a butterfly's life cycle, plus hibernation boxes, and education about how to promote habitat for birds and butterflies on your property.

On the river banks, wooden cribs are used to provide sheltered resting and feeding places for fish. They are called LUNKERS (Little Underwater Neighbourhood Keeper Encompassing Rheotactic Salmonids).

A viewing platform, suitable for wheelchairs and strollers, has been built at the wetland area, which is home to a variety of frogs, snapping turtles, garter snakes, salamanders, mallard ducks, red-winged blackbirds, damselflies, and even pond scum – the green algae that provides an environment for tadpoles, insect and microscopic life.

Chimney swifts, a species of bird that stays in flight except when nesting and roosting, is threatened by the lack of suitable chimneys, so Willow Park has a special tower to replicate this environment for them.

Snakes need a frost-free shelter to survive the winter, so the hibernaculum features buried rocks, logs and stumps on a south-facing slope to maximize sun exposure.

November 14, 2012

Erin sewage system could rely on gravity

As published in The Erin Advocate

It should be possible to build a gravity-based sewer system for Erin village and Hillsburgh, despite the many hills in town, according to consultants running the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) study.

There is still no estimate of the cost, or when it would be built, but details of how it could work were outlined at a meeting of the SSMP Liaison Committee on October 17, hosted by Project Manager Matt Pearson of B.M. Ross and Associates.

Launched in May 2009 and originally expected to take two years, the SSMP is finally entering its home stretch. Engineering work is being done to explore various alternatives and assess the capacity of the river to handle treated effluent. Pearson hopes to have a draft plan by the end of January, which would be the focus of a public meeting.

To complete the study, which is currently holding back all subdivision development, town council will have to choose one of the possible strategies. Actual construction of a sewage system would be a separate decision at a later date.

For the plan to work, said Pearson, it will need the support not only of the current Town Council, but of future councils, since the process will take many years. Solmar Development Corp has a subdivision plan in the north of Erin village that could add 1,240 homes over 30 years. It is prepared to build its own modular sewage plant on the 10th Line, which could be expanded to service other parts of Erin.

"You don't need to rush in and do it all at once, if it makes sense to phase it," said Pearson. "A master plan lets you get out of the reactive mode...not just lying around waiting for the government to come along and give you money."

While sewers will definitely require money from senior governments, the SSMP allows Erin to plan a direction – unlike the sewage plan of 1995 that was not supported by village council. Pearson said the SSMP can help ensure the solution is "technically, financially and environmentally sustainable".

The province will no longer allow new subdivisions on septic systems, and the aging systems for older homes may not be replaceable due to small lot sizes.

"These systems are going to start failing, sooner than later," he said. "You've been lucky so far, but eventually there's a point when you'll get a critical mass. People will not want to put the investment into that back yard, knowing that the sewers should be here, may be here. That's a pretty expensive adjustment, so they'll be looking to the municipality."

A traditional gravity-based sewer system would be the most costly to construct, but the least costly to maintain and operate, since it would have few mechanical and electrical parts.

Road disruption would be substantial with a gravity system, since some of the pipe trenches would have to be quite deep. While a road can go over a rise of land, a gravity sewer pipe has to maintain a continual downslope. To get through a hill, backhoes would have to dig deeper than the nearby low land, so the challenge is to route the system between the hills.

"You're not the first place to get sewers – probably the last place," said Pearson. "This has all been done before."

When necessary, the sewage flows to a pumping station at a low point in the landscape. It is stored temporarily in a large underground tank, then pumped through a pressurized pipe, either to the treatment plant or to a high point of land where it resumes gravity flow.

Pumping stations can cost from $650,000 to well over $1 million, but Erin might need only one, said Pearson.

"Topography plays a big role in where sewers are routed, because the goal is to minimize how deep they go," said B.M. Ross Engineer Dale Erb. "Are gravity sewers realistic for Erin? We think they are."

A pipeline could be built along the Elora-Cataract Trailway to move sewage from Hillsburgh to Erin, along the gentle slope established by railroad engineers in 1879.

One advantage of a traditional deep system is that it would enable direct service to plumbing fixtures in residential basements. If the hook-up is closer to the surface, waste water from basements would have to be pumped up to the sewer pipe.

A modified gravity system, not deep enough to serve basements, could save millions of dollars by enabling shallower road trenches and reducing the number of pumping stations.

An alternative system would require every home to get a new septic tank in their front yard, which would provide the initial waste processing. But instead of the outflow going into a weeping bed, it would go by gravity or pump into a public sewer system.

Pipes for this alternative are smaller, and could be installed beside roadways without large trenches. The pipes are not as deep, and do not require a continuous grade, as long as the overall flow is downhill. The sewage would be lower in volume and easier to treat.

But the septic tanks would have to be maintained and pumped out, and the smaller pipes would be more susceptible to blockages.

A fully pressurized system not likely in Erin, but there could be a hybrid design, with certain low-lying areas having pressurized pipes, delivering the waste water into the main gravity system.

A Low Pressure System would require homes to have an outdoor "grinder pump" buried in the front yard instead of a septic tank. This would chop up the waste before pumping it into the public system.

Road excavation would be reduced, since the pressure would allow the pipes to be installed fairly shallow and on different grades, and there would be less need for pumping stations. Costs would include electricity and maintenance, and there would be more risk of odours.

Maintenance of the sewer system would be done by the Town, but the costs would be recovered through a sewer bill. With all systems, the cost of connection would be paid by the homeowner, normally over time.

Additional study is to be done on issues such as compatibility with existing water lines and other underground services, with ditches, and with high-level groundwater.

There also has to be planning so that future development areas will be able to feed efficiently into the system, ensuring that the pipes are large enough to handle the additional flow and that the river can assimilate that input.

The Ministry of the Environment sets river water quality standards that will effectively limit the number of residents that can be hooked up to an Erin sewer system, based on a standard sewage treatment plant.

The maximum number has not been announced, but it should be in the next SSMP report. It could be increased by upgrading the level of treatment in the plant.

Combined treatments help depression sufferers

As published in The Erin Advocate

For the treatment of a complex illness such as depression, patients should not expect a simple pharmaceutical cure. Success will usually involve a combination of therapies, with a lot of effort put into the choices, to see what works best for the individual.

This is the second column based on a panel discussion held last month by the East Wellington Family Health Team (EWFHT).

There are not simply enough psychiatrists to treat every person with depression or other mental illness, so family doctors and therapists often start a patient on the road to recovery.

Michele Ross Miller is a Mental Health Therapist who provides one-on-one, marital and family counselling to patients of the EWFHT, as well as public education programs.

"By the time you come to counselling, you have experienced a lot of judgement about your depression," she said. "There are traditional beliefs about depression – it’s laziness, you just have to pull up your socks, you have to try harder. Counselling is about different kinds of therapies that challenge not only how you’re thinking, but also how you’re behaving."

People should seek help when they are no longer able to function at what they consider a normal level. They may still be going to work or school, but unable to concentrate and make decisions.

"The purpose of counselling is to set personal goals for improving your life, gaining greater insight into who you are," she said. "It’s not a process where the counsellor tells the client what he or she should do. You come to the session and the counsellor helps you come to decisions. Also, to get some education about what contributes to depression."

One of the popular strategies is called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, based on the concept that thoughts create feelings. Just as a brain can become accustomed to negative thoughts and feelings, it can be trained in the opposite direction through positive thinking. This short-term program works well for some people, but should not be considered a substitute when acute psychiatric care is needed.

Another panelist was Dr. Wendy Davis, a naturopathic doctor at the Harmony Naturopathic Clinic in Orangeville. She tries to discover root causes of patients' health concerns, treating them with various dietary, lifestyle and naturopathic remedies.

"We’re based on treating the whole person, which isn’t that different from conventional medicine – it is very much preventative," she said. "I believe in a combination of conventional and naturopathic medicine."

She looks at digestion, stress, sleep, energy, immune function, hormone balance, and environmental toxins. She stresses the value of B vitamins, Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin C and vitamin D, with the priority on diet rather than supplements.

"They actually help to decrease that anxiety, that stress effect that gets you to that depressive state," she said. "We need to support the body so it has what it needs to get back up and to work with the stress."

Blood sugar control is important, since the ups and downs caused by skipping meals and eating high-carb snacks are very stressful on the body. She said black licorice can help with stress (if you don’t have high blood pressure), and she prescribes combinations of supplements, such as the common anti-depressant St. John’s Wort, with passion flower and skullcap.

"Just because you get a vitamin or supplement from a health food store, or Walmart or Shoppers, and it’s ‘natural’, it doesn’t necessarily always mean it’s safe. You should see a medical doctor or a naturopathic, someone who has an idea of how different things interact. Health Canada is really cracking down on different supplements – they’re making sure that what it says on the bottle is actually going to be in the product."

She also uses techniques of meditation, and elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine. "Acupuncture increases endorphins, just like exercise increases those feel-good hormones. It’s really good for relaxation and pain relief. It overall helps to balance the nervous system. The whole concept is the body in balance, it’s ying and yang. Too much of anything – too much broccoli – is not good for you. So it’s moderation in everything."

There will be one more column in this series on depression, including comments from the other panelists: Amy Cousineau, an Anglican priest (formerly at All Saints in Erin), who told her personal story of recovery; and Fred Cousineau, her husband of 40 years, who shared the frustrations and satisfactions of being a support person for someone in crisis.

November 07, 2012

Transition Erin promotes healthy urban design

As published in The Erin Advocate

The organized response of Erin residents to the Solmar subdivision proposal is part of a world-wide movement to design the urban environment with features that enhance human health.

The Transition Erin group started meeting earlier this year, but kicked into high gear after learning that Solmar Development Corp. was about to submit its application to transform 300 acres in the north end of the village.

The plan for commercial, industrial and recreational development, along with 1,240 homes over 30 years, needs intense scrutiny, and Solmar is eager to engage not only with Town staff and councillors, but the general public.

Community groups, whether for or against development, are not constrained by planning procedures, and can hold public meetings and have extensive input well in advance of the formal process with town council.

Transition Erin is clearly in favour of new development, including a sewer system, to help expand the industrial and commercial tax base, and improve the housing mix. In last week's Advocate, the group was critical of the development proposal for its initial lack of detail, and insufficiency of desirable features. Solmar's plan is being judged against a set of 11 principles (outlined below) that would allow Erin residents to "achieve their highest level of health".

In September, Transition Erin held a meeting with a presentation by Paul Young, of Public Space Workshop, to learn how citizens can engage in planning discussions and shape their community by influencing developers and politicians.

"You need to build a constituency of support and a coordinated response," said Young, stressing that healthy, inclusive, sustainable communities have sufficient density to provide local jobs, recreation and shopping.

They provide a range of housing types, and have a good trails network for pedestrians, cyclists and wheelchair users. They are more economical to build and service, and help preserve farmland. Older neighbourhoods tend to be more walkable and livable than many new subdivisions.

"Our built communities are having an impact on all sorts of health-related issues," he said, noting that lack of physical activity is leading to more obesity and diabetes. "We're stuck in the car, we're getting heavier and less physically active, and chronic disease is going up."

Based on a concept of sustainability called permaculture, the Transition Town movement encourages communities to build up their resilience, in response to expected shortages and price increases for oil, extreme conditions due to climate change and the uncertainties of an unstable economy.

Rob Hopkins, a permaculture pioneer and a driving force in the Transition Town movement in England, wrote in 2009: "By shifting our mindset, we can actually recognize the coming post-cheap oil era as an opportunity rather than a threat, and design the future low-carbon age to be thriving, resilient and abundant – somewhere much better to live than our current alienated consumer culture, based on greed, war and the myth of perpetual growth."

Awareness of sustainable living principles is expected to lead to more walking and cycling, less use of fossil fuel energy and more reliance on local farms and gardens instead of long-distance food chains. "Green" community design has become fashionable.

As of 2010, there were more than 400 official Transition Town projects in the UK, Ireland, Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Chile. You can get more information about the new Erin group at Contact them by email at Check out the Guelph group at

Transition Erin's first principle in evaluating the Solmar subdivision is that Erin must retain its rural charm and scenic environment. Existing natural features and mature trees should be preserved, and the architecture should reflect the local heritage.

A strong sense of community would be promoted through connected gathering places such as parks. They want it to be attractive, with street views of house fronts, gardens and open spaces, not high fences and garages.

It would be designed for minimum impact on the environment, through good water management, energy efficiency, resilience to extreme weather, and accommodation for use of local renewable energy sources.

There would be housing suitable for young families and seniors, and local jobs to reduce the need for long commutes. There would be convenience stores and other small retailers within walking distance of most homes. Public facilities would be easily accessible, and cycling would be promoted with bike shelters and racks. There should even be provision for possible future bus stops and shelters.

Safety would be promoted with adequate night lighting and clear sight lines around parks, public buildings and along various pathways. Connection with older parts of Erin village would be promoted with trails and walkways that link to existing routes.

With so many significant wetlands and valuable environmental features in and near the village, "the new development should do its utmost to preserve and protect the natural systems."