July 31, 2013

1913 inferno devastated downtown Erin

As published in The Erin Advocate

This week marks the 100th anniversary of Erin’s most dramatic fire, the loss of an important landmark and the start of a political battle in which penny pinching would trump demands for fire protection.

The Queen’s Hotel, located on the west side of Main Street across from All Saints Anglican Church, was a two-storey stone structure with two beautiful chestnut trees in front. It had an archway, like the one at Hillsburgh’s Exchange Hotel, which led to a back courtyard with a livery stable and drive shed for horses and buggies.

It was there that flames were spotted at 4 am on Saturday, August 2, 1913. The hotel was packed with guests for Civic Holiday weekend, celebrating Erin’s 2nd annual Old Home Week.

They all escaped safely as the fire bell rang and citizens spontaneously formed a bucket brigade from the mill pond just behind the hotel. The fire was well-established, however, and it spread from the shed to the stable and the hotel, then north to a shoe store, a butcher shop, an insurance office and the Steele & Foster General Store, the largest retailer in the village.

Volunteers rushed to help merchants save some stock, but the entire block of businesses was lost. The heat was so intense at its peak that it was impossible to walk on the street in front of the fire, and flying embers ignited the roof of All Saints and a furniture store. The bucket brigade doused these fires, and the roof of the Mundell Planing Mill as a precaution.

In her 1980 book, Main Street – A Pictorial History of Erin Village (available at the library), Jean Denison recounts the tale of Mrs. Ridler, wife of the hotel keeper, who after escaping from the building was standing outside looking in through the window of her room. When she spotted her teeth in a glass by the bed, she slipped a few pennies to an Erin youth who slid through the bedroom window and safely retrieved them for her.

The fire wiped out the Erin Armories, and was a huge blow to the commercial sector, destroying one third of the frontage between Charles Street and Church Street. The total estimated losses of at least $35,000 for buildings and contents are equivalent to about $750,000 in 2013 dollars.

Most of the information on this fire comes from archived issues of The Erin Advocate, but for some details I am indebted to historian Steve Thorning, who researched the event for an article in the Wellington Advertiser.

“Erin's fire fighting equipment in 1913 consisted of a bell, a couple of stacks of buckets, and some wooden ladders in various states of repair,” said Thorning. “It was truly a miracle that there were no serious injuries.”

Because Erin had no water works, fire fighting equipment or even a proper volunteer brigade, fire insurance was very expensive for business people. The hotel keeper Mr. Ridler lost contents worth $4,000, but was only insured for $1,000.

Advocate Publisher Wellington Hull was highly critical of the reeve and some village councillors for lack of action, warning that businesses would not be rebuilt without fire protection.

The political battle that ensued for the rest of 1913 will be the topic of a future column. A plan to spend $1,500 on a heavy duty gasoline powered pump, with 500 feet of hose, was deferred indefinitely. It wasn’t until after the nearby Globe Hotel was destroyed by fire in 1945 that the village got serious about fire protection.

The Queen’s Hotel block remained an empty lot for 33 years. Eventually, Dave Mundell built two stores there, renting one to Ed Holtom for his bakery.

It was a busy holiday weekend in Erin when the fire struck.

Teens plant gardens to help pollinators

As published in Country Routes

The bees will certainly appreciate the work done by Conservation Youth Corps (CYC) volunteers at Terra Cotta this summer, as will others who like to visit flower beds, including butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, wasps, ants, flies, beetles and, of course, humans.

Two pollinator gardens were planted at the Conservation Area in July by high school students – one team from Erin and Orangeville and the other from Mississauga.

“We’re trying to enhance the environment and provide habitat,” said Erin Glasser of Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), who helped with the planting. “We’re starting new education programs, so these gardens we are building we can use within our programming. For example, Grade 4’s, part of their curriculum is habitats and communities, so we can really utilize these gardens.”

Emily Verhoek of CVC led by example at the planting.
 The gardens were also ready in time for the July 20 Pollinator Workshop at Terra Cotta, designed to help landowners incorporate pollinator-friendly habitats into their properties. Each participant got a copy of A Landowners Guide to Conserving Native Pollinators in Ontario - it can be downloaded at paperworksdesign.ca.

“The worrying truth is that pollinator species are declining,” said Mike Puddister, CVC Director of Restoration and Stewardship. “This can have lasting impacts to ecosystem health and local agriculture. We can tackle the problem if we work cooperatively.”

Calvin Hyde and Jack Laidlaw of Erin dig holes
for plants in the new Pollinator Garden
at the Terra Cotta Watershed Learning Centre.
 Workshop participants learned about the current status of some key pollinators and how to create pollinator-friendly areas in their gardens or on their farms to provide a food source for native bees. Information was available on constructing bee nests and limiting the use of insecticides.

The Youth Corps program enables teens to earn volunteer hours for their diploma requirements, while making connections to nature areas with a combination of learning and much-needed manual labour.
“We try to make it local so it means something to them,” said Cameron Parrack, Assistant Program Coordinator for CYC and Community Outreach.

Students from Mississauga get a taste of the
wide-open spaces in the Credit’s upper watershed.
 Other projects in the same week included Pulling Garlic Mustard (an invasive species) at the Upper Credit Conservation Area near Alton and Planting Trees at the Erin Deer Pit.

The CYC program involves some 250 students, part of CVC’s broader effort that enables more than 3,000 community members to volunteer on projects throughout the watershed each year.

The annual contributions of community groups and individual volunteers add up to more than 12,500 hours of volunteer service, with an estimated economic value exceeding $200,000.

Caitlin McCleary of Orangeville
plants pollinator-friendly flowers.

Many species of insects rely on pollen as food, and transfer it between plants. This cross-pollination stimulates the creation of fruit and seeds, and disburses genetic characteristics that strengthen the plant population.

Pollination Canada says more than $1 billion worth of our fruit and vegetable production relies on pollinators, but that they are threatened by loss of habitat, fewer food sources, disease and agricultural pesticides.

The decline of the honey bee population, partly due to parasites, is a special concern since they not only pollinate but create a product that is of high value to humans.

The honey bee is an import to North America. As they become less plentiful, there is renewed focus on the hundreds of species of native bees. Many of these are solitary, living only one season, storing pollen in a nest for their offspring to eat during the winter.

A diversity of suitable flowers is needed in a supportive garden, since different pollinators are attracted to different plants, based on scent, colour and structure. Wild ginger, for example, is particularly convenient for ants.

In the shady area by the Learning Centre, the Youth Corps planted species such as such as wild strawberry, columbine, geranium and raspberry. In the sunny area near the constructed wetland they planted butterfly milkweed, wild bergamot and foxglove.

Pollination Guelph has planted a series of gardens, and is planning a huge (112 acre) Pollination Park at the decommissioned Eastview Landfill Site.

Erin hops on board county business plan

As published in The Erin Advocate

With their own plans to reorganize economic development efforts still in a state of limbo, Erin councillors were glad to support an aggressive county plan that could provide local benefits.

Wellington Economic Development Officer Jana Reichert made a presentation to council on July 16 regarding the new Business Retention and Expansion (BR+E) project, one of the key activities in their Economic Development Implementation Plan.

“We know that we have high concentrations of manufacturing, agriculture, health care and the creative economy,” she said. The project will focus on these four categories, though local councils can identify others to study.

“Most of our business base, 78 per cent, is made up of employers with less than 10 employees. We need to better understand what kind of products and services they are providing, and what kind of business support services they could use to be able to expand their activities.”

She noted that this project is unique in the province and a first for Wellington County. When marketing the region to potential investors, she said it is important to know our strengths.

“What distinguishes us from other places?” she said. “We want to diversify our economy, recognizing that manufacturing and agriculture are part of our heritage, part of the economic base, but we have a lot of small businesses are doing a lot of innovative things, and we want to be able to support those as well, because that means better services for our residents.”

The Erin portion of this process was approved by council, authorizing the CAO to negotiate the services of Mary Venneman of MV Consulting to conduct 40 interviews with owners or managers of local businesses – ten in each of the four targeted sectors.

The County has set up a standardized questionnaire which will be used this fall. The data will be analyzed for a report expected next March.

The report from CAO Kathryn Ironmonger said this process will allow local business to “help set priorities for future policy decisions and economic development efforts” and that it will “help identify issues and suggest strategies for retention and expansion of existing businesses.”

The main BR+E project is funded by the Communities in Transition Program of the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment (MEDTE).

Wellington’s strategy document (available at www.wellingtonmeansbusiness.ca) says it is important to “support the growth of small to medium sized enterprises through more comprehensive business retention and expansion activities and marketing and investment attraction activities.”

The strategy says there is an opportunity for development of a stronger rural “creative economy” in Wellington County. This term refers to the broad range of jobs that are based on individuals’ talents, in fields as diverse as engineering, research, retailing, tourism and entertainment.

The strategy calls for “more support for the development of knowledge-based employment opportunities and business ventures that offer high-value impacts to the County, but also support for the creative-cultural businesses that can assist with quality of place improvement (e.g. performing arts, artisans) that will be critical in generating and sustaining opportunity within key sectors like tourism, and in attracting and retaining new skilled residents to the County.”

At the July 16 council meeting, there was also a delegation from John Gainor, who has done business in China and wanted to know if Erin is doing anything to attract Chinese investment.

“There is potential in Erin to bring Chinese investment here – there are a lot of medium-sized Chinese businesses, manufacturing, especially in the ag industry, that would like to get into the North American market.”

He told of one Chinese business person who had been interested in doing business here and bought some land, but then about three years ago had “less of a reception than he was hoping for here in the town and he left”.

“Doing business with the Chinese is certainly not easy, in fact it is very, very difficult. There’s a lot of cultural issues you have to understand before you deal with them.”

He said we don’t have any potential to export to China, since their economy is largely self-sufficient.

“If the town would like to see Chinese investment come to Erin, we need to sit down and have some sort of plan. There’s no budget for it, but something as simple as doing a flyer in English and Chinese, and having it distributed at some of the large Chinese trade shows.

“There’s a lot of Chinese manufacturers of agricultural equipment that would like to have a base in North America. Erin could possibly be that base.”

He said if components were shipped here for assembly and sales, it would give a business the advantage of have Canadian-made content in their manufacturing process.

July 24, 2013

Mayor needs to talk less so council can do more

As published in The Erin Advocate

When 11 pm finally rolled around at last week’s council meeting, and they were only half-way through the agenda, it was obvious that this council has some serious problems.

Getting through a 220-page agenda package efficiently requires that valuable time be used only for items that really need it.

Councillors have an absolute right to speak about items they vote on, and in some cases they do not say enough about where they stand on important issues.

Mayor Lou Maeiron, however, often has so much to say that it obstructs the operation of the council.

This is an opinion formed from several years of observation, and is not intended as an insult, or a criticism of his character or views. Politicians have to be free to play their cards however they want. But when business bogs down to an embarrassing state of disarray, the public should demand the exercise of good judgement from all involved.

The Code of Ethics notes that the head of council should be providing leadership, presiding over meetings in a way that “business can be carried out efficiently and effectively”.

The mayor does take his leadership duty seriously, with many valid points to make and excellent questions to ask. He does care about controlling costs, being accountable to the public and delivering good value.

But when meetings become dominated by him and his views, constant arguing over procedures, rehashing old decisions, refighting battles from years ago and side trips into issues that don’t directly concern the Town, efficiency goes out the window.

The mayor is not the cause of all the wrangling. Other councillors and staff like to put their own spin on things, as humans naturally do, but they seem to do it with fewer words. How can there be a cooperative atmosphere when people are constantly pissed off?

It was a heavy agenda last week, with only one meeting scheduled per month in July and August, and 21 reports to discuss and vote on. Maybe we do need to move to a system (promoted by the mayor) where committees do most of the work, with council ratifying or rejecting recommendations.

Here are some of last week’s time-consuming extras:

• While the delegations watched with glazed eyes, council started with a long argument over agenda preparation and previous minutes.

• The Activity List was discussed at length, trying to manage the to-do lists of department heads. The mayor pushed for a quick report on switching to a ward system, with a new bylaw by December 31, the deadline if the change is to affect the next election.

• Businessman John Gainor appeared, asking what Erin is doing to attract Chinese investment. This allowed the mayor to tell stories of his recent trip to China.

• The skatepark project, the subject of numerous reports, was reviewed again. The mayor portrayed it as substantially over budget, while staff and other councillors did not.

• There was an update on the Station Road Dam and Bridge. If the Town does not have a repair plan ready by next June, the province could force the work to be done levy a $1 million fine. The mayor held up a big map and showed how the Town might close the road, creating dead-ends at the bridge, and build a new bypass road along the Elora-Cataract Trail starting at Trafalgar Road. The topic was shelved.

At the 11 pm curfew, there was not unanimous consent to continue. They didn’t even sit at the table to pick a date for a follow-up meeting. They milled about and didn’t announce a date until after all members of the public had left. Here are a few of issues that were deferred:

• Hiring an Integrity Commissioner to investigate the recent alleged violation of the Council Code of Conduct.

• Passing bylaws to appoint a Town Clerk and a Drainage Inspector

• Holding a closed session to review cost overruns at the new Fire Hall and get advice on potential litigation. They paid their lawyer to sit waiting for over two hours for this session.

• Appointing members to the Mill Pond Ad Hoc Committee

• Holding a series of 6-10 Community Consultations on various themes, possibly costing $1,000 each, in order to get input for completion of the Town’s Strategic Plan.

The Code of Conduct also says, “Members shall encourage public respect for the Town”. That’s a tall order, but they could start by getting their act together at meetings.

Mayor could be facing Code of Ethics complaint

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron believes he is facing the first-ever complaint under the Council Code of Ethics, but since the process is shrouded in secrecy, the public may not learn the details until after an Integrity Commissioner investigates and reports to Council.

CAO Kathryn Ironmonger told councillors last week that a complaint has been filed against one of them, and that they are now obliged to hire an Integrity Commissioner. That person can use the powers of the Public Inquiries Act “to investigate in an independent manner”.

At a follow-up meeting on Monday, council passed a bylaw to hire John Craig, who lives just north of Barrie and currently serves as an Integrity Commissioner for several other municipalities. His rate is $175 per hour, plus expenses.

The identities of the council member and the person making the complaint, as well as the section(s) of the Code allegedly violated, are to remain confidential. Periodic reports from the Commissioner to Council are to be made public, but personal identities are to be protected.

Mayor Maieron, however, said in open council session last week that he believes that the complaint is against him.

At the June 25 meeting, Maieron said that former CAO Frank Miele had been "terminated" by council. After being warned by fellow councillors that this was confidential information, he said, "The CAO was let go, whichever way you want to put it."

The Code of Ethics specifically prohibits members from revealing confidential information about Town business, or the details of in-camera meetings (which are closed to the public).

Although the nature of the ethics complaint has not been made public, the mayor said he thinks it involves the June 25 meeting, the one from which he later walked out.

“I read further down the agenda, there is a Code of Conduct violation, and this could be part of it, so I’m starting my defense right now, suspecting I will be the person named,” he said last week. As part of that defense, he requested additional text be added to the minutes of the June 25 meeting about the arguments he had made, saying there were insufficient details.

Before approving those minutes last week, Council agreed that the following paragraph be added, in the section that describes the mayor’s discussion of how the agenda of that meeting was prepared, complaining that a certain item was not included in the regular business of the meeting:

“The Mayor pursuant to the procedural by-law made his concerns known about how and by whom the additional non-scheduled item was added, whether the proper notice was provided to the public for this meeting, and that he requested a item ‘CAO Selection Process’ be discussed in open council which became an item under Notice of Motion for reconsideration without his knowledge or approval.”

The process to potentially promote Clerk Kathryn Ironmonger to the position of Chief Administrative Officer had begun at previous closed-door meetings. It was referred forward to the June 25 meeting and she was appointed, but not until after the mayor had complained that the meeting was being improperly held.

He says that since the meeting was scheduled as an informal staff-council working meeting, council was not allowed to make decisions, and last week he produced a bylaw to back his argument. The other councillors contend that the hiring process had been properly referred to June 25, and that they were legally entitled to conduct regular business.

The mayor had attempted to put reconsideration of the hiring process onto the main agenda for June 25, but in the preparation of the agenda, Ironmonger placed that item at the end – after the hiring was to be completed. Council approved that agenda, with only the mayor opposed, and after he failed in an additional attempt to defer the business to the July 16 meeting, he walked out.

Ironmonger said later that she acted according to established protocol in putting the mayor’s item at the end of the agenda as a “Notice of Motion”. She said that is the proper procedure councillors must follow to initiate reconsideration of a process already in progress.

Erin Council adopted its Code of Ethics last March, despite repeated objections from the mayor. No Integrity Commissioner was hired, since there were no complaints.

Craig has been hired only for the current case. The investigation needs to be complete within 90 days of the complaint, which was made on July 4.

Later this summer, council will look to hire an individual (or firm) for a two-year term, and want to choose from at least three qualified candidates.

The Code says: “An individual, organization or employee of the Town, member of Council, Council itself or Member of the public who has reasonable ground to believe that a Member has breached this code may proceed with a complaint and request an investigation.”

The Commissioner is expected to check to make sure the complaint is not frivolous, and even if a formal investigation proceeds, they are encouraged to seek an informal resolution of the complaint. They are expected to provide periodic update reports to council, and make a final report within 90 days.

If the Commissioner finds that a breach of the Code has occurred, they will recommend a penalty, but council will make the decision on that. Penalties may include a reprimand, an apology, the return of money or a gift (where applicable), or a suspension of pay for up to 90 days. Removal from office is not on the list of penalties.

If the Commissioner finds “that a contravention occurred, however, the Member took all reasonable measures to prevent it, or the contravention committed was trivial or committed through inadvertence or an error in judgment made in good faith, the Integrity Commissioner shall set this out in a report to Council.”

The complete Code of Ethics document and the complaint form are available in the Town Council section of the municipal website, www.erin.ca.

Fire hall could cost an additional $85,000

As published in The Erin Advocate

Cost overruns are pushing the price of Hillsburgh’s new fire hall to new heights, with the Fire Chief requesting additional funds up to $85,000 at a council meeting last week and warning of “potential litigation” in a dispute over some of the extra costs.

The original budget was $2.1 million for construction, plus $80,000 for furnishings and other equipment. Council had already debated and approved previous increases of $150,000 and $40,000, plus an additional $327,335 in the 2013 budget.

The latest request from Chief Dan Callaghan would bring the total cost to $2,782,335, an overall increase of $602,335, or 27.6%.

Approval of the additional amount was initially deferred until after councillors could examine the issue in a closed session, but they ran out of time last week. The discussion took place at a continuation of the council meeting on Monday this week, and the funding up to $85,000 was approved in the open session.

“We need to figure out how to do this better in the future,” said Councillor John Brennan. “On 2.1 million dollars, it is a significant amount to go over. The unforeseen stuff, [i.e. soil contamination] there’s not much you can do about that, but maybe we can learn some lessons.”

The new building, including an ambulance bay, is to have its grand opening on August 17, during Hillsburgh’s Spirit of the Hills Family Fun Day.

An update report from Director of Finance Sharon Marshall shows that about $32,000 of the new $85,000 request includes additional furnishings, signage, blinds, phones and radio equipment. Some of the interior work is being done on a volunteer basis by firefighters.

The report also shows an unidentified portion of about $53,000, which was to be reviewed in closed session because it involved potential litigation.

“This $85,000 could be significantly reduced once the review and dispute are resolved,” Marshall said later. She expects the final amount would be funded by additional debt.

Mayor Lou Maieron criticized the staff report as having not enough detail, and said there are “serious issues” with a such a large overrun.

Callaghan last week said the situation is “fluid” as invoices come in, with the amount for furnishings going up by $4,000 in the few days from when the council agenda was published to the time of the meeting.

“They are getting a final grip on their numbers and passing them on to us, so we can pass them on to you,” he said. “Here’s the simple fact too, Mr. Mayor – the lowest bid is not always the best bid. Because the lowest bid invites cost overruns. They make their extras on the extras for the building. They come in low and then hit us hard, and they are trying to hit us very hard.”

In 2011, Councillor Jose Wintersinger asked that monthly reports be made to council on the progress of construction of the new fire hall, but her motion was defeated. At that time, she said she could not justify the acceptance of cost overruns that are brought to the attention of council when it was too late to do anything about them.

CAO Kathryn Ironmonger declined to name the party with which the Town may have a dispute. The main companies involved with the project are Somfay Masri Architects and PM Contracting, the consultant overseeing construction.

Erin bylaw will regulate pigeons and chickens

As published in The Erin Advocate

Town council has decided to allow urban residents to continue keeping pigeons and chickens, but to prohibit the keeping of exotic animals in all areas of the municipality.

By a vote of 3-2, councillors directed staff to prepare a new bylaw, which will also rescind an old bylaw on animals other than domestic pets which applied only in the Erin village area.

The new regulation would require any buildings that house pigeons or chickens to be located at least 7.5 metres (25 feet) in from the side and back property lines.

No limit on the number of animals was specified, but the proposal would effectively force owners of smaller urban properties to locate animal sheds in the middle of their back yards. The bylaw itself has not been written or voted on yet, and councillors could decide to change the size of the setback.

Residents in agricultural areas will also retain the right to keep pigeons and chickens, but they will also have to comply with the setbacks. Council considered whether to regulate or prohibit the keeping of other agricultural animals on small properties within agricultural zones, but decided not to include that in the bylaw.

There will be a long list of prohibited exotic (non-domestic/wild) animals. Non-venomous lizards (less than 2 metres long) and snakes (less than 3 metres) will be allowed.

Animal issues have been under discussion since March 2012, when a complaint was made to Council regarding the keeping of pigeons on Mill Street in Hillsburgh. A special public meeting last summer drew about 100 people, expressing a wide range of opinions.

Councillors considered whether it was necessary to enact a town-wide bylaw to deal with an isolated dispute between neighbours. Planner Sally Stull has met with the parties, and says that the differences are not likely to be resolved with further mediation.

“A solid tall fence may be the best remedy regarding the differing of opinion on nuisance and unsightliness of the keeping of pigeons,” she said.

Voting in favour of preparing a new bylaw were Councillors Jose Wintersinger, Deb Callaghan and Barb Tocher, with Mayor Lou Maieron and Councillor John Brennan opposed.

“This won’t change the situation,” said Brennan. “It’s an exercise in nothing.”

July 17, 2013

Semi-retirement can be a lot of work

As published in The Erin Advocate

I thought I was busy when I worked full time, but after sliding into semi-retirement, it seems harder than ever to accomplish the items on my to-do list.

Juggling an assortment of part-time jobs can really divide up your time and attention. I’m organized enough to always show up where I’m supposed to be, but without the discipline to schedule myself some quality leisure time.

Variety is something I’ve always wanted in my work life, but like all good things, it comes at a price.

Writing this column has given me the opportunity to meet hundreds of interesting people and tell some of Erin’s stories – though it feels like I’m just scratching the surface. I’ve just passed the five-year mark with Erin Insight, with more than 250 columns, plus a wide assortment of features, reports on Town Council and photo assignments.

I’ve also written a bunch of articles for Country Routes, the monthly supplement for rural readers published by The Advocate; and for the Sideroads magazines in both Caledon-Erin and Halton Hills, which have fancier design and nicer paper.

I would have to do a lot more than that, however, to actually earn a living as a freelance writer, and until last year I’d always had a full time job. When my employer went out of business (sorry, no money left for severance pay) it was an opportunity to branch out and try some different things.

Of course, part-time work and good wages rarely go hand in hand, but I have been able to do several part-time jobs thanks to my wife Jean, who has a good job. I expect to continue working long after she has retired, since I don’t think I could handle not working.

I did have another full-time job during the winter, but things did not work out well and I quit after a few months. Some employers want staff who can do more for less, but if the stress gets too high, it’s better to get out.

After writing several articles on organic farming, I was thinking I might enjoy a job in that field, so to speak. And sure enough, I found a classified ad in the Advocate’s employment section (it doesn’t take long to read through it) for Deerfields Nursery near Hillsburgh.

“Come enjoy a summer in the sun,” it said. So now I am working a couple of days a week for John Sutherland.

I knew it would not be an easy job. It’s intense manual labour, either outdoors or in greenhouses, and for some reason it usually seems either too cold or too hot. There’s no tractor driving, roto-tilling or spraying of chemical fertilizers or pesticides – just lots of old-fashioned hoeing, digging, seed planting, transplanting, watering, mulching, weed-pulling, raking, wheelbarrowing, harvesting and packaging.

In addition to the sunshine, there are fringe benefits, including friendly people to work with and an improved level of fitness. There are no phones to be answered, no questions from customers and no traffic noise. The view is great and the barn swallows provide constant entertainment. And while the work is manual, there’s always plenty to learn about the business.

In my spare time, I’ve also been learning a bit about the upholstery business – again, the hard way. I’ve been working occasionally for my friend Gwenda Chapman, who has been very busy re-upholstering chairs and sofas.

I’ve been ripping the old fabric and padding off the furniture, which sounds easy enough, until you realize that manufacturers use far more staples than they really need. The challenge is to learn how to use the tools get the job done with reasonable speed, without hacking up your hands.

It’s going to look great on my resumé, but to tell you the truth, I really don’t care about the whole career thing any more.

I’ll just do whatever comes along that seems interesting.

July 03, 2013

Train display recreates Credit Valley landscape

As published in Caledon-Erin Sideroads

The locomotive glides smoothly through the hills of Caledon, hauling a precious cargo of memories along the banks of the Credit River.

The model Credit Valley Railway display that Steve Revell has built in his garage captures an era when trains were still a vital service for passengers and businesses in Caledon, Orangeville and Erin – complete with people, cars and the Niagara Escarpment terrain.

A model train crosses the river on the Credit Valley Railway, approaching Forks of Credit Station just east of Belfountain, headed for Orangeville. Just to the north at Cataract, a branch line was opened in 1879, providing rail service to Erin, Hillsburgh, Orton, Fergus and Elora. Those rails were lifted in 1988 and it is now the Elora-Cataract Trailway.
Steve bought his first train set when he was 12, with earnings as a paper boy, though the hobby was soon surpassed by his interest in cars and girls. After he got married, his wife Donna knew of his previous interest, and bought him a train engine.

"That led to a railroad, in our first apartment, taking over the dinette," said Steve. "In our second place it took over a bedroom, and in our third place it took over the basement."

After moving to Erin in 1986, it was decided that no cars would occupy the double garage. It was to become the stage for an extravagant train and miniature landscape creation that would encompass Steve's interest in history, trains, classic cars and the natural environment.

Steve shows off his multi-level model train display, which has scenes from the 1950s depicting the industrial section of old Brampton, rural Caledon and the town of Orangeville.

"I use inexpensive materials and recycle them," said Steve. The viewing platforms are built out of bi-fold doors, and the hills and valleys out of foam and paper towel.

Basswood bark can be made to look like limestone outcroppings. Weeds and pickled lichen come in handy for greenery, though they can be improved with glycerine and green dye. And whiskers no longer needed by his cat serve as fishing poles for little people by the river.

He has built in "O" scale, which is 1/48 of actual size. A figure of six-foot-tall person is 1.5 inches tall, and rail cars are big enough to look inside. He has separate sets of trains, so he can portray the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s.

He uses old photos of historic buildings to learn their details, and if they still exist, he'll show up with a tape measure to make sure he gets the dimensions right.

"It's almost finished," he said, showing off the barn he had just added to his countryside. More than just an ongoing project, the display has become a meditative place, where the hum of remote-control engines helps him reflect on his explorations of the real world.

"It's a very soothing sound. I've been here. I've hiked here. I've explored these buildings. I've seen trains climbing these grades. It's re-creating good times."

Living in Mississauga and Brampton he was always close to the Credit Valley Railway, which had been part of the rail boom of the late 1800s, so it was an obvious choice for an ambitious modeler and history teacher.

"It goes through some of the most beautiful scenery in Southern Ontario," said Steve. A walk in his garage proceeds from Orangeville, though Cataract and Forks of the Credit, and into the industrial area of Brampton. It is something he has created for his own enjoyment, and he does not offer public tours.

Steve retired from the Peel Board of Education in 2002, after 17 years at Alloa Pubic School and 14 at Caledon Central Public.

"I'd take kids out for hikes to Cataract, through the Forks park, down to Forks of the Credit, and then up the escarpment," he said. It's a nature walk, a taste of local history and a lesson on the evolution of Canada's economy.

One of the many quarries in the Forks area that provided business for the CVR, and distinctive pink sandstone for construction of the Ontario Legislature building.
"Through the Credit Valley, you have the farms, the quarries, the bricks, the mills, the logging, the power generation. It's Ontario history, the succession of it, and that's why I love the Elora-Cataract Trailway."

Steve was part of the group that worked with conservation authorities to establish the trailway. He has also chaired the Erin trails committee, helping build the Woollen Mills Trail and expand the local hiking network.

"I always felt that I was fortunate, and that I should be giving back," he said.

He has a favourite bit of poetry by Alexander McLachlan (also known for an ode to Erin founder Daniel McMillan), who in 1874 wrote of the railway:

"And from Chinguacousy's fertile plains
We hear the thunder rally,
To open up wealth's thousand veins,
Throughout the Credit Valley."

Figures of Steve playing with a cat beside the tracks, along with his father Gerry and daughter Peggy. The train display allows him to enjoy his interest in vintage car models.
Rail fans have a fascination with the human drive to harness technology, undertaking high-risk ventures and altering the environment in hopes of making a profit. In an era without trucks and good roads, trains provided an efficient alternative to boats for the movement of freight, providing access to inland areas of Southern Ontario.

In the 1870s, entrepreneur George Laidlaw built the CVR to compete with established rail lines. He had a $3,000 per mile government subsidy and huge investments from businesses and municipalities wanting reliable transportation. Wellington County pledged $135,000 and Peel $75,000.

"The CVR was already in serious financial trouble by the time it reached Erin in 1879," said Steve, in a booklet on Erin history he published in 2007.

Fraxa Junction, north-west of Orangeville.
"The arrival of the railway did facilitate travel to the outside world, but for the village itself the railway was more of a convenience than a stimulus for economic growth. Passenger service was limited after the Crash of 1929 and abandoned in 1958."

The CVR had a line west from Toronto to St. Thomas, a branch north from Streetsville to Orangeville and later to Georgian Bay, plus the Elora sub-branch.

The business collapsed under heavy debt in 1883, with its valued routes scooped up by Canadian Pacific, but the culture of the project is still admired.

A model of the old Orangeville station with its distinctive "witch's hat" turret and pointed roof as it looked in the 1950s. The real building was sold and moved in the early '80s, becoming a restaurant in downtown Orangeville.
Freight continues to move up and down the valley on the local CVR route, now used by the 55-km Orangeville Brampton Railway. The Credit Valley Explorer offers scenic train tours out of Orangeville and spectacular bridges remain as monuments to a bygone era.

Ironmonger new CAO after mayor walks out

As published in The Erin Advocate

Clerk Kathryn Ironmonger was appointed as Erin's new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) last week, after Mayor Lou Maieron clashed with fellow councillors over procedures and walked out of the meeting in protest.

Councillor John Brennan took over as chair, and after a lengthy closed-door session, said that council had examined the 2012 CAO search, "to see if a suitable candidate could be found without incurring a lot of extra time and cost."

"A candidate was identified, an agreement was drawn up and reviewed by the Town's HR legal firm, the offer was made and accepted, and I am pleased to announce that Kathryn Ironmonger is our new CAO / Town Manager," said Brennan.

The previous process led to the hiring of Frank Miele, who started the job last October. Following an in-camera discussion in May, the mayor announced that Miele was no longer CAO of the Town of Erin. He gave no further details at that time, since it was confidential personnel matter.

Before leaving the meeting last Tuesday, the mayor revealed for the first time that Miele had been "terminated" by council.

"We just went through a process, that we terminated a CAO, and that process didn't work out very well," he said.

Maieron was immediately interrupted by Councillor Barb Tocher on a point of order, and cautioned by the clerk, who said, "You are disclosing stuff that you should not be discussing in open session."

The mayor carried on, however, saying "the CAO was let go, whichever way you want to put it."

"I can't believe you just did that," said Tocher.

The meeting had started with the mayor contending that the meeting itself was "improper", since it was originally scheduled as a Council-Staff Working Meeting, at which decisions would not be made. It had been re-designated as a Regular Meeting where decisions could be made, but Maieron said proper notice of this had not been given to the public and media.

Ironmonger said notice was proper, since the same notice applies to both types of meetings. Councillor John Brennan said that while council has chosen to not normally make decisions at these working meetings, it maintains the legal right to do so.

"This is always a regular council meeting," said Brennan afterwards. "The idea of a staff-council meeting was that we would try not to - we didn't want a third council meeting [per month]. Did we ever formally say we'd never pass a resolution? No."

The mayor had tried to have a new item put on the early section of the agenda, to reconsider the selection process, but the clerk added that item to the end of the agenda as a Notice of Motion, coming after the bylaw to appoint a new CAO. While the clerk prepares agendas, council must vote to approve them at the start of each meeting.

The mayor's motion to defer the CAO appointment to the next regular council meeting on July 16 found no seconder. Instead, in a recorded vote, they approved the agenda with only Maieron opposed.

He said that the clerk had "no authority" to place his item at the end of the agenda, but after the meeting, Ironmonger said she followed proper protocol in doing so. The item called for reconsideration of a process that was already in progress, which normally requires a Notice of Motion for the matter to be dealt with at the next meeting, she said.

Justification for converting the meeting to Regular status lies with the deferral of confidential business from a previous closed session, to the closed session of last week's meeting, said Brennan. Ironmonger said she had clear direction from at least three council members to put the business on last week's agenda.

At issue is whether council made a decision in closed session to hire internally, rather than follow a more lengthy process with a recruiting firm. Agreements made behind closed doors must normally be confirmed with a public vote, but Maieron said there was no resolution passed by council about the selection process.

"The process should have been an open council item," he said. "We are about to pass very serious bylaws and virtually we have excluded the public from knowing that."

"Lou, you're pretending you don't know what's going on and you do - you are part of it," said Tocher. "Don't ask those questions in public when you know they can't be answered."

"We went in closed session where I identified potential candidates - I'm not naming them," said Maeiron. "Are you telling me the selection process for moving on to the new CAO was done in closed session? I have tried to put something on the agenda to protect council, so that the process was open, transparent and accountable."

Councillor Tocher said that according to written advice from the Town's lawyer, council can choose not to discuss that process publicly. Maieron said he had a lengthy discussion with the lawyer on the matter, but Tocher said it was improper of him to do so without council permission.

"Council members do not have the ability to directly speak with consultants," she said.

Maieron then discussed how former CAO Frank Miele had left his job.

Later, after leaving the council table and the closed session had started, Maieron was asked if he intended to stay and observe the final part of the meeting.

"I know the outcome - I've got better things to do," he said.

Ironmonger has 30 years of experience in municipal administration, more than 20 of them in Erin. She was Clerk-Administrator for the Village of Erin, then Clerk in the amalgamated Town of Erin. She served as Acting CAO / Town Manager after Lisa Hass resigned last year, and more recently since the departure of Miele.

Like Miele, Ironmonger will have responsibility for Economic Development, though the idea of hiring someone for this work, perhaps part-time, has been discussed. The vacant position of Clerk will now be posted internally.

Committee needs mandate for sewer advice

As published in The Erin Advocate

The mandate of Erin’s SSMP Liaison Committee should be changed, enabling it to provide useful advice for Town Council on how to handle wastewater in our urban areas.

The Servicing and Settlement Master Plan process is in delay mode again, after Credit Valley Conservation decided more data is needed on river conditions near the Tenth Line.

An additional seven months worth of data should allow the Assimilative Capacity Study to be completed, putting a cap on urban population growth in Erin village and Hillsburgh, based on the ability of the Credit River to safely handle sewage effluent.

Residents have expressed serious concerns about the cost of a sewer system, and the Town now says that the SSMP Draft Final Report presented by consultants is “not sufficiently complete” for council to consider its recommendations.

“Comparison with the Terms of Reference for the SSMP has identified significant gaps that remain to be completed by the SSMP consultant team, including a comprehensive financial analysis and the completion of the assimilative capacity study,” the Town said in a press release.

SSMP Consultant BM Ross has been directed to prepare a work plan and timeline “to address the deficiencies”. Council recently appointed Dale Murray of Triton Engineering, a long-time advisor to the Town and previously the Village of Erin, to oversee the process.

The Ministry of the Environment has said it expects Erin to continue making “ongoing commitment and progress” towards a sewer system for existing homes and businesses – and they could make the process mandatory.

Most residents admit that sooner or later, Erin will likely have a sewer system, but they would prefer it much later – ideally, not during their lifetime. At the current rate of progress, that could well be the case.

As for practical discussions about possible solutions, there was general support at a recent public meeting for a Steering Committee to advise Town Council on these issues. Instead, the Town now says the existing Liaison Committee will be expanded. This is a good idea, since another committee could complicate the situation.

The Liaison Committee was set up in 2009 with representatives of council, the BIA, developers, social services, members of the Town’s Environment and Heritage Committees, Town staff, Dale Murray, and members of the public. Transition Erin and Erin Concerned Citizens will now be invited to appoint members.

East Wellington Community Services needs to renew its involvement, since the availability of affordable housing is a major issue. The sewer question affects different neighbourhoods in different ways, and all voices need to be heard.

All of that will not be enough, however, if the mandate of the committee does not change. Until now, its main tasks were to evaluate community needs, develop a mission statement and be educated by the consulting firm BM Ross about wastewater issues.

That was valuable, but what is needed is a group where expression of opinions is encouraged, various strategies are discussed, some consensus is sought and a report is made to Town Council.

Unanimity will not be possible, but the group could report on areas where they agree, and outline different positions where they disagree. This will assist Council when they have to make decisions.

“I think what will happen is the Liaison Committee will become the Steering Committee,” said Councillor John Brennan. “It would change in nature – it would be a much more directive committee.”

The Terms of Reference should be changed to make that change official. The new committee should also send its report to the influential Core Management Group, which includes Brennan, Murray and the mayor, Town and County planners, and staff from Conservation Authorities and the Ministries of the Environment and Natural Resources.

After all that talking is done, and the data is summarized, the public will once again be invited to express their opinions directly.

Council will eventually have to decide whether to proceed with a sewer system. If that happens before the 2014 municipal election, I will be shocked.

Environmental activity a high priority in Erin

As published in the Know Your Community magazine

Liz Armstrong moved to Erin during the drought of 1988-89, and as she worked in her garden on Sundays, she listened to the CBC radio series It's a Matter of Survival, by David Suzuki.

That series sounded an alarm about where the planet was heading, long before the term climate change entered our vocabulary. It was part of a grassroots effort that led to creation of the David Suzuki Foundation and the Declaration of Interdependence – promoting care for the diversity of life, recognizing limits to growth and calling for a "new politics of hope".

It also inspired Liz to devote a regular portion of her time to environmental causes. She had seen how community action could make a difference, and decided to do more than just work on the sidelines.

She co-authored a book called Whitewash (1992), on the problems of chlorine-bleached paper products, did research on carcinogens in the environment, helped found the Women's Environmental Health Network and the Breast Cancer Prevention Coalition, and was a co-chair of Prevent Cancer Now. In 2007 she co-authored (with Guy Dauncey and Anne Wordsworth) the book Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic.

Liz grew up in Toronto and remembers DDT being sprayed to kill mosquitoes in a ravine near her home. She was influenced by Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring, which helped launch the North American environmental movement and led to the banning of DDT in 1972. For many years her efforts were linked to hubs of environmental activity in Toronto, but more lately she has turned her attention to the Erin area.

"It's easy to be against stuff, but what are you for?" she said. "For every problem there is some solution – we need the vision to see that there is a way. Erin can be a really wonderful place to live, not just a charming place."

For her efforts in promoting local environmental awareness over the years, Liz received one of the Town's Shamrock awards in March of this year. It was part of the first annual Celebrate Erin event, which recognized volunteers in various categories.

In 2007, Liz was in discussion with Lynn Bishop at Everdale Environmental Learning Centre in Hillsburgh about local activities. Don Chambers and Joanne Kay brought in the inspirational film Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream for a showing at Main Place, and a coalition of people came together, known as the Climate Change Action Group of Erin (CCAGE).

Activities included a tour of natural gardens, successful lobbying to have the Town of Erin adopt an Anti-Idling Bylaw for vehicles, efforts to get school kids interested in environmental issues and a regular Climate Change Corner item in the Erin Advocate.

They talked of having a film club (like a book club) where people could see a film and stay for discussion. With the help of Lisa Brusse and Credit Valley Conservation, the Fast Forward Eco-Film Festival was born.

The fourth season of the festival recently finished, featuring one film per month at the Erin Legion, from January to May. Environmental documentaries have become a well-established genre, combining entertainment, education and ideas for taking action.

Attendance has been in the 60-100 range over the years, but was 2013 was the best so far thanks to strong promotion. There were at least 125 people for Revolution, which had not yet been released in theatres.

The film nights are sponsored by local businesses and organizations. There are guest speakers, question and answer sessions, and opportunities to sign petitions and get involved in lobbying efforts. There are always displays and people to talk to from various groups such as organic farms, along with organic popcorn and natural snacks made with locally-sourced products.

This year, CCAGE and the film festival have merged into Transition Erin, a broader group working on a variety of issues. The film festival is one working group, but there are others including sustainable development, wastewater solutions, promotion of fruit trees, reduction of waste from plastic bottles, and Foodshed, promoting local, organic, seasonal food and recipes.

"It has real appeal, because it is local and positive," said Liz. "Small groups can really take off – it's supposed to be fun. We need a sense of urgency. I think there's shift, when we think of kids and grandkids, and we want to make things better."

For more information, including events and background on local issues, go to www.transitionerin.ca.