January 30, 2013

CVC chief fears erosion of political support

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erosion of political support for environmental protection could have disastrous consequences, according to Rae Horst, Chief Administrative Officer at Credit Valley Conservation (CVC).

Those who care about the environment must keep up the pressure on politicians at all levels, not just on local issues, but for the preservation of the Green Belt and the survival of conservation authorities (CAs), she said.

"Conservation authories are under serious threat," said Horst, who will be retiring in May. "All could be lost, if decisive action is not taken by all environmentalists in the province – the crisis is coming."

She was speaking to members of the Credit River Alliance, a coalition of environmental groups, who met last week in Brampton to renew their commitment to the watershed, and to refocus on new environmental threats.

They are also mourning the death in December of one of their founders, Peter Orphanos, former Chair of Sierra Club for Peel Region, who dedicated more than 30 years to the protection and restoration of the Credit River.

When Horst worked for the province in the 90s she said the Ministries of Natural Resources and the Environment were well-funded.

"They have been decimated and are skeletons of their former selves, incapable of protecting the natural environment locally," she said. "The inability of the province, and the unwillingness of the federal government to protect the natural environment could not happen at a worse time. We're at an all-time weak position in Canada."

She said one major threat is extinctions – locally there are 42 rare, threatened or endangered species. The other is climate change, already too late to stop. Much of the burden for promoting protection and adaptation (ie stronger infrastructure) is falling on conservation authorities.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has said that he wants to dissolve conservation authorities or strip them of their powers. The CAs long ago lost their strong provincial funding, but municipalities such as Peel Region have stepped up with major support. From 2001 to 2013 the CVC budget went from $3.5 million to $25 million, and staff increased from 35 to 175. CVC spent $1 million in the successful fight to stop the Rockfort quarry.

"CVC is a force to be reckoned with environmentally in this watershed. This happened largely because of the Credit River Alliance. The CA has the clout if it wants to use it, and the Alliance can make the CA use it and keep the municipalities honest."

Many would like to see Ontario's Greenbelt expanded, but Horst said it could be a struggle just to hold on to what we have. The Greenbelt, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan are all to be reviewed in 2015.

Horst said the creation of the Alliance in 2004, representing over 20,000 people, helped ensure that the CVC's mandate to protect the watershed was taken seriously by local politicians.

"The challenge of unbridled development was starting to tell on the watershed –  Mississauga was already experiencing flooding and erosion," said Lorraine Symmes, who is stepping down as coordinator. "More ominously, Brampton was beginning a huge era of expansion that would seriously threaten the health of the river. The Credit is the most diverse cold water fishery in the province."

They formed a coalition of community groups to raise awareness with local governments about their concerns, at a time when the Walkerton report emphasized the importance of looking entire ecosystems. The Credit runs through 10 municipalities.

"Only the conservation authority has the big picture of the watershed and the ability  to do the science which is really key to understanding and supporting the river's overall health," said Symmes.

They came up with seven guiding principles, pushing for: better storm water management and sediment control, funding for land acquisition of sensitive sites, a prohibition on stream course alteration, limits on water-taking permits, funding for tree planting in stream corridors and incentives to increase wetlands and forest cover in the watershed.

They were able to speak out on behalf of their 31 member groups, which include environmental activists, fishing advocates, quarry opponents, local land stewardship organizations, naturalists, organic farmers and neighbourhood associations. They've made many presentations on municipal issues, attended and addressed meetings of the CVC board, and generally promoted low-impact development. More information is available at www.creditriveralliance.ca.

"We have spoken up for the river," said Symmes. "It's better than it would have been without us."

January 23, 2013

Getting the inside story on Great Lakes novel

As published in The Erin Advocate

It is interesting how personal connections from the past will spark the interest of people, especially when it comes to the myriad of subcultures that thrive outside the mainstream of Canadian society.

Erin publisher Tim Inkster received a manuscript in 2005 for a semi-autobiographical novel called Sailor Girl, by Sheree-Lee Olson, about the adventures of a young woman working in the kitchen of a Great Lakes freighter.

He did not publish it until 2008, but he initially gave it a serious look because he knew about that culture – his father and grandfather had worked on the boats. He is proud of his grandfather, Captain Walter Inkster of Collingwood, who became a friend of Scott Misener while travelling across the Atlantic to deliver a boat to Montreal in 1903. Misener went on to operate a shipping fleet, and that same boat was later named after Inkster.

Shelley Austin, Sheree-Lee Olson and Tim Inkster
Shelley Austin, a member of a book club called the Joyous Erin Wine & Literary Society (JEWLS) was recently looking for ideas for a book event. Elke Inkster of Porcupine's Quill suggested Sailor Girl, and she took an immediate interest because her grandfather had been an engineer for Misener Steamships from 1925 to 1950.

She planned an evening that brought together about 30 women from four local book clubs last Friday at Tintagels Tea Room on Main Street, to meet Sheree-Lee Olson. The event was sponsored by Jim and Audrey Devonshire, owners of Tintagels and the Devonshire Guest House, and by Tim and Elke Inkster of Porcupine's Quill, who also run a small bookstore, located in comfortable surroundings at the back of the Renaissance store in downtown Erin.

When Shelley asked me about covering the event, I was interested not only because of the local aspects, but because my uncle had been a Great Lakes freighter captain. I grew up within earshot of the boats on the Welland Canal, and as a kid found it strange that my uncle Bernard had a job that only allowed him to be home with his wife and children during the winter.

Conditions could be harsh on that edge of society, as Olson discovered over seven summers, working her way through university. She went on to be the Style Editor at The Globe and Mail, and is currently a copy editor for Globe Life.

"I was so thrilled to finally get this book published, after spending twenty years writing it," she said. After many false starts in her 20s, she finally found an opportunity to work all week at her job, and every weekend for four years on the book.

Finishing it in her 40s made it "much more informed by my own experiences in the working world, and by feminist issues, and just trying to honour people whose lives are pretty much invisible...They are an outlier society."

While she had personal experience on the lakes, she found it was necessary to do a lot of research to recapture details about the lifestyle. Some characters were based on real people, others were composites, and others, like Calvin, were inventions. "I made him up because I wished I had Calvin, instead of the other jerks," she said.

She promotes Sailor Girl as having "salty dialogue and gripping description", as a "uniquely Canadian story, one that distills a vanishing part of our heritage", and as a love story in which "a middle class girl finds a deep connection with the unruly young men and toughminded women of the lakes."

The book has had critical acclaim and won a bronze in the 2009 Independent Publisher Book Awards, but sales have been modest, and she describes marketing a book as something of a "crapshoot".
Sailor Girl got a boost with the placing of a "Bookmark" in Port Colborne, at Lock 8 on the Welland Canal, in 2011. Project Bookmark Canada installs plaques bearing selections from notable Canadian works, in the exact locations where scenes are set.

There is also a movie version of Sailor Girl in the works, with Markham Street Films (MSF) planning to start shooting this year. Naturally, Inkster is hoping that goes well, since there's nothing like a successful movie to propel book sales.

MSF describes it as a coming of age story, in which "19-year-old art student rebel Kate McLeod signs on to a Great Lakes freighter and sails off into an unexpected world of stormy, sexy and dangerous adventures."

Olson said that to distill the story, screen writer Johanna Schneller had to "really collapse the book – a whole new treatment that was very visual and very visceral, and really cut out all the boring stuff – it was great."

For more about the author, go to www.sheree-leeolson.com, and for a taste of that Great Lakes shipping culture, go to www.boatnerd.com.

January 16, 2013

Time to get hopping mad on climate change

As published in The Erin Advocate

Don't try this at home, but if you were of a mind to boil live frogs in an open pot, the secret is supposedly to increase the temperature slowly. The frogs would adjust to the new "normal" environment, not suspect imminent danger, and die.

Now if the frogs in the pot realized they were causing the boiling, they might get hopping mad and demand relief. If they were part of a democracy, maybe they could figure out a way to turn the heat down.

And maybe the whole frog metaphor has its limitations, especially since real frogs hop out of heated pots, and we do not have the option of hopping out of ours. But it still makes for a good film title to kick off Erin's fourth annual Fast Forward Environmental Film Festival.

It starts tonight (Wednesday) at the Legion hall, 7 pm, with the documentary How to Boil a Frog, by Canadian Jon Cooksley. He uses zany visual effects to teach about "overshoot" – too many people, using up too much of the planet, way too fast.

"Global warming isn't the problem, it's a symptom of a much bigger problem," he says. "This is called overshoot. It turns out that you can go past what nature can give you, the same way you can keep buying things you can't afford."

The trailer says the film is a "change the world by learning how screwed we are and what we can do create a sustainable future while peeing you pants laughing so hard kind of a movie." Check the website, www.howtoboilafrog.com.

The evening is sponsored by Transition Erin and Harmony Acres, and will include the usual mix of environmental news, healthy snacks and information displays, which go well with the sub-title of the movie: "make friends / make fun / make trouble".

It is part of a movement that does not pretend we can simply do away with our industrial, consumption-driven economy. It is possible, however, to build a culture that recognizes the need to live more conservatively, and to encourage the growth and diversity of our natural environment.

These environment conversations often come back to the importance of trees, those organisms that actually sustain our atmosphere by capturing carbon and pumping out oxygen. At a recent stewardship conference hosted by Credit Valley Conservation, I saw a presentation by Azadeh Chobak of the group Trees Ontario (www.treesontario.ca).

"We need to create natural playgrounds," she said. "If there is high quality greenspace available, people are more encouraged to go out there and get their physical activity. Physical activity itself has been linked with positive impacts on physical and mental health. It also reduces the risk and severity of heart disease, some cancers, diabetes and osteoporosis."

She said even a view of trees has been shown to reduce the amount of medications needed in hospitals. Greenspace has also been linked to lower heart rates and blood pressure, with improved rehabilitation and recovery rates for hospital patients, and less severe symptoms in attention deficit disorders.

She said a minimum of 30% forest cover is needed for a healthy, sustainable ecosystem (Wellington County has about 17% now, and growing). Lack of sufficient forest is impacting our resistance to climate change, she said.

"With forestry, it is a huge infrastructure and we really need to invest in that. It's not just about planting the trees. It's to collect the right seeds, to have the nurseries, to be able to develop those seedlings and educate our foresters.

"It's about education and culture change at the individual and societal level. We really need to educate the younger generation. They need to be aware that our health is impacted by the health of our natural environment – it's a two-way relationship."

Bill Kilburn of the Royal Botanical Gardens also spoke at the conference. He manages the Back to Nature Network (www.back2nature.ca), a consortium of groups funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

He said that kids are suffering from "nature deficit disorder" and that they are immersed in technology even before they are born.

"They learn that the essence of being human is using technology," he said. "What is the cause of this disconnection between ourselves and nature? I think it can be encompassed in decreased access to natural spaces."

He said convenient natural areas are becoming fewer, people have less time to go to them, they often cost money, and parents are afraid to let kids go there unsupervised.
The Network's mandate says a connection to the natural world is fundamental to all aspects of child development and is essential for a sustainable society:

"Research shows that when we foster a child’s connection with nature, the child flourishes: child obesity decreases, bullying rates decrease, child injury rates decrease, while academic achievement rises, physical activity rates increase, attention spans improve, physical and cultural barriers melt away and environmental stewards of the future emerge."

January 09, 2013

Growth will increase pressure for bypass

As published in The Erin Advocate

If you think traffic in downtown Erin is heavy now, imagine what it will be like with a few thousand more residents and a new industrial zone in the north end of the village. There will have to be an alternative route for heavy trucks and other vehicles that are travelling through.

As a result of increasing local and regional traffic by 2032, intersections at the north and south of the village are expected to exceed their capacity at the afternoon peak time, resulting in noticeable delays, according to a traffic study completed for Solmar Development Corp.

The study, which is available on the Town website (www.erin.ca), also recommends new traffic lights at County Road 124 & Winston Churchill Boulevard, at County Road 124 and Tenth Line (on the north side of the Solmar subdivision) and at County Road 124 and Erinville Drive (south of Tim Hortons).

Over the next 20 years, traffic volumes are expected to increase by 1% per year on Winston Churchill, County Road 124 and County Road 52 (Bush Street). An increase of 2% per year is expected on Dundas Street and Shamrock Road.

Wellington County has no current plans for major improvements to its arterial roads in the Erin village area, but its 2012 Development Charge Background Study reports that traffic projections show a need to eventually widen or add more passing lanes on County Road 124 between Erin and Guelph.

Within Erin village, the County study says projected traffic growth "would require widening to a four-lane cross-section by the 2031 horizon", but says this may not be feasible "due to potential impacts to existing development" (ie. downtown businesses).

"An alternative solution might be to provide a truck by-pass road along a new alignment around Erin. The viability of this solution could only be properly validated/confirmed through the completion of an Environmental Assessment."

A bypass to the north of the village has been studied, but never acted upon. Bypasses to the south would also be possible, involving Wellington, Peel Region and Halton Region.

Drivers coming west towards Erin village on County Road 124 could be directed to turn south on an upgraded Winston Churchill Boulevard. They could then use County Road 52 to reconnect with 124, though intersection improvements would be needed at the south end of the village.

If drivers instead continued south on Winston Churchill to the Erin-Halton Hills Townline (Sideroad 32/County Road 42), then west to Ballinafad, they could turn south or north on Trafalgar Road. Or they could continue all the way to Crewson's Corners, joining Highway 7 on the far side of Acton.

The Niagara Escarpment Commission expects that proposing a haul route on 32 Sideroad will generate "a lot of push-back" from residents, and that the intersection at Ballinafad would need major improvements.

In this context, it is interesting (and instructive) to read about the efforts of Halton Region to find a solution for similar (but more severe) truck problems in Acton. An update to their Transportation Master Plan in 2011 proposes a solution for Acton that could assist Erin.

"Regional Road 25 and Highway 7 through downtown Acton will be over capacity by 2031 requiring one additional lane in each direction," the report said. "Heavy truck traffic is part of the problem in this area and has also resulted in safety concerns in the downtown area. "

They considered a southern bypass, a northern bypass and the prospect of widening to four lanes through downtown Acton. The recommendation is to build a new northern four- lane alternate route starting at Highway 7, going north along the Fourth Line. It would turn west along 32 Sideroad (the Erin-Halton Hills boundary), around the north side of Acton, and reconnect with Highway 7 at Dublin Line or Crewson's Corners.

The Erin and Acton bypasses could have a common section on 32 Sideroad, with the potential for cost sharing.

"While this alternative will have greater effects on the agricultural community and natural environment, the socio economic effects of a widened Highway 7/Regional Road 25 through downtown Acton and the capital costs to do so are so great that they outweigh the negative effects of the northern alternate route," the report said.

The Town of Halton Hills wants Halton Region to take over responsibility for Winston Churchill, south of 32 Sideroad, since it carries "a significant amount of long-distance traffic that is not locally generated or destined." They also want Halton to take over 32 Sideroad if it is to become a major arterial route.

Ted Drewlo, Manager of Engineering Services for Halton Hills, said his staff found that "traffic volumes are forecast to increase and could triple by 2031" on 32 Sideroad.

Peel Region is already planning to reconstruct the unpaved section of Winston Churchill from Olde Baseline Road to Terra Cotta. They are also undertaking a study to "confirm and identify priority routes within Peel, having regard for connectivity with key external routes". Peel Engineer Gary Kocialek said they "will be looking at the potential upgrades that Halton is considering for Ballinafad Road".

January 02, 2013

New Homechild production recalls a shameful era

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin playwright and composer Barb Perkins continues to have success in her quest to both entertain and educate Canadians with her story about British Home Children – a part of our history that needs to be better known.

"I'm just thrilled that the word is getting out," said Perkins, who is helping Orangeville Music Theatre with a new production of Homechild – The Musical, which premiered in Erin in 2005.

Back in 1984, she learned that her grandmother and three of her eight siblings had arrived in Canada from Wales in 1907 as "home children", and she later travelled to Wales to meet relatives and research the child emigration movement. She used her talents as a music teacher and songwriter to create a show that would capture more than just the historical story of a separated family.
"The music really brings out the emotion," she said.

The play had an extensive workshop at the Charlottetown Festival in 1999, but really came to life in Erin in 2005 with the help of Brett Girvin, Steve Sherry and Erin Community Theatre. There was broad community support to mount the first full production at Centre 2000.

Since then it has been produced at West End Studio Theatre in Oakville in 2009. Awareness of the history has grown, with Canada Post creating a special stamp to mark the Year of the British Home Child in 2010.

The play was produced again at Goya Theatre in Ottawa in 2011, and Ontario declared September 28 as the annual British Home Child Day. Now, Orangeville Music Theatre has taken it up close to home, with performances this month at the Town Hall Opera House on Broadway.

The show dates are January 12, 18, 19, 25 and 26 at 8:00 pm, and on Sunday afternoons, January 13 and 20 at 2:00 pm. Regular tickets are $20, with children 12 and under $15 (plus a box office fee). The box office can be reached at 519-942-3423, with on-line tickets available at www.orangevillemusictheatre.com. There is more information at www.homechildmusical.com.

The new production is directed by Raeburn Ferguson, with musical direction by Pam Claridge and choreography by Mariah Abbott, and will include some Erin talent, including Dick Murray, who acted in the 2005 show.

Starting January 9, Orangeville Library will be presenting a display of Homechild memorabilia including trunks and memorial quilts, as well as available books on the subject.

The stories of home children are particularly tragic because many were not orphans, but simply from poor families who thought they were doing the right thing by sending them to a land of opportunity – an escape from the social upheavals of the industrial revolution.

The agencies that set up the Child Migration schemes had good intentions, assuming that poor or orphaned children would have a better life in a new land that needed workers. The emigration undoubtedly saved some lives, and some children were fortunate to be taken in by kind families, but for many it was a life of unremitting hardship and abuse. Siblings were separated and any contact with the parents was strongly discouraged.

The practice gained popularity in the era of child poverty and workhouses made famous by Charles Dickens in novels such as Oliver Twist, and even though slavery had been abolished in England by then, the parallels with that particular evil are inescapable.

Some home children did commit crimes here, but many were falsely accused of criminal behaviour, denied access to basic education, and denounced by doctors, politicians, union leaders and newspaper writers as degenerates and carriers of disease.

Many were forced to work under terrible conditions. Some were severely beaten and systematically starved, while others were sexually abused. Some died as a result of their treatment, and others took their own lives.

Most survived and made lives for themselves in Canada. About 118,000 came here between 1833 and 1939, and it is now estimated that 12% of our population has a home child in their ancestry.

Like the abuse of aboriginal children in residential schools, the story of the home children is a shameful element of Canadian history that needs to be understood by future generations. Perkins said efforts are being made to include it in the Canadian History curriculum. To learn more go to www.britishhomechildren.org or www.canadianbritishhomechildren.weebly.com.

Famed psychiatrist Dr. C.K. Clarke (after whom Toronto's Clark Institute was named) campaigned relentlessly from the late 1800s until his death in 1924 against allowing "defective and insane" immigrants into Canada. Like many others, he believed home children were part of Great Britain's plan to ship sub-normal people out to the colonies.

The belief that "feeble-mindedness" was a hereditary problem was the basis of the eugenics movement that swept the world, and took particular hold in Alberta, where thousands of people were unjustly confined, stigmatized and sterilized between 1929 and 1972.

Is our modern society now morally superior to those earlier times when terrible injustices took place, or are we simply so affluent that we are not tempted into desperate measures?

If Canada were plunged into real poverty and chaos, would we have learned anything from our history? Or would we be as cruel and lacking in human decency as our ancestors?