October 30, 2013

Kindness Day generates random good deed ideas

As published in The Erin Advocate

The quality of kindness, like that of mercy, is not strained, but rather drops as the gentle rain from heaven. As Portia so wisely observes in The Merchant of Venice, it blesses the one who gives and the one who receives, being a quality of God himself. Or herself, as you please.

‘Tis surpassingly strange then that two days hence, we will mark Random Act of Kindness Day. What will be next, a special day to nice to our mothers?

While it is obvious that charitable behaviour ought to be our daily business, there does seem to be a streak within human nature that craves special days to remind us of themes in the collective consciousness. Thinking about the whole thing all at once is considered too daunting.

And since we have clawed our way into a secular age, in which holy days have become mere holidays, there’s always a market for creative new artificial events like Random Act of Kindness Day. (I won’t even get into Good Deeds Day, on March 9 – www.gdd.goodnet.org.)

Retailers and greeting card publishers have not yet found a way to spin Kindness into a big money affair, but it has still raised an eyebrow or two among the cynical – with whom I occasionally consult.

Here’s the rub. It is one thing to use your imagination and take the risk of being more charitable, but quite another to seek gratification in being seen as holier than thy neighbour. If doing a good deed on one day simply eases your conscience for the rest of the year, then you’ve clearly missed the point.

Should we pursue our altruism in a quiet, private way, or try to inspire others by setting a good example in public? Should we push other people to pay it forward?

There are no easy answers, and no regulations in the world of kindness. If it makes you feel good to do good, no one can deny you the pleasure. Is it more important that the deed be done than to figure out why? Is cynicism just a crutch, an excuse for doing nothing?

Doing an act of service when it is convenient is a good start. It could be a reminder that it is possible to build a lifestyle around that idea. But to become a regular servant of others who are not members of our own family, especially when it is not convenient, that is a difficult goal in our me-first, mind-your-own-beeswax, consumer culture.

Thus ends a convoluted preamble to a simple community announcement: This Friday, November 1 is Random Act of Kindness (RAK) Day and East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) is urging people to get involved.

Suggestions include everything from showing courtesy on the road to buying someone else’s groceries for them. Download a fact sheet and a list of 101 ideas at www.eastwellingtoncommunityservices.com.

“It’s not about fundraising or giving money – just a day to celebrate kindness,” says the EWCS release. “The opportunities to do something nice for someone else happen every day but this is a special day to really celebrate all the small things that make living in our communities so wonderful.”

EWCS is supporting the Guelph Community Foundation which organizes the annual event. Last year, more than 200 organizations participated, including schools and businesses.

Some 50,000 RAK Day cards will be printed, encouraging holders to perform a simple act of kindness for someone then hand over the card to that person, encouraging him/her to do the same.

“Do something kind, make someone’s day, hand over the card, feel great…Repeat,” says the group’s fact sheet.

Also, EWCS is starting to organize its annual Christmas Hamper and Adopt-a-Family program. For more details about becoming a sponsor or a recipient, call Alyssa Cunningham, Care Coordinator for EWCS, at 519-833-9696.

Well, that’s my good turn for the day – just obeying General Baden-Powell’s Law like a good Scout. I’m sure it will not go unpunished.

And while I’m trying to think up something for tomorrow, I’ll give the last word to Portia: “How far that little candle throws its beams; So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”

Professor appointed as Integrity Commissioner

As published in The Erin Advocate

A retired political science professor from the University of Waterloo has been appointed Integrity Commissioner for the Town of Erin.

Council has hired Robert James Williams on a $500 retainer for 2014, and $300 annually thereafter. He will charge $125 per hour (plus mileage and expenses) for any investigations or reports required in connection with council’s Code of Ethics.

Williams was recommended by CAO Kathryn Ironmonger after consultation with her professional network, and her report says the fee is “very reasonable”.

“The expenses of any investigation will be carried out as frugally as possible without impacting on the validity of the process and outcome,” said Ironmonger. “Mr. Williams has extensive knowledge of municipal administration and governance and is an excellent candidate for the position.”

Williams had also been suggested by Ironmonger as a potential consultant to help the Town with the process of setting ward boundaries, since he has been involved in numerous similar processes for other municipalities, but council decided not to attempt the creation of wards for the 2014 election.

Council previously hired John Craig as Integrity Commissioner, but only to investigate a single complaint made on July 4. His report was originally due on October 4, but council agreed to delay the deadline to November 4.

Williams was a faculty member at the University of Waterloo from 1971 until his retirement in 2006, and has since then been Professor Emeritus. He was chair of the Department of Political Science for six years, served as a member of the university senate and board of governors, was Director of the Centre for Election Studies for three years, and was a mediator in the Conflict Intervention Programme.

He was academic director of the Ontario Legislature Internship Program (1994-2003) and has served on the Region of Waterloo Municipal Elections Compliance Audit Committee since 2006. He was appointed Integrity Commissioner for the Township of Wilmot in March this year.

The Code of Ethics applies not only to council members but to members of the public who have been appointed to any municipal committees, boards or commissions.

 It set standards for members’ conduct that are in addition to existing laws, intended to instill public confidence and create a baseline for both integrity and courtesy.

The Code says: “An individual, organization or employee of the Town, member of Council, Council itself or Member of the public who has reasonable grounds 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.

CVC to get 3% more from Erin

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town of Erin will pay just 3% more to Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) next year, even though the average increase for member municipalities is 8.5%.

The difference is due to provincial revisions to property assessment values. Peel and Halton municipalities will have increases of more than 8.6%, while Orangeville, Mono and East Garafraxa will actually have small reductions in their levies.

CVC collects more than $20.4 million, 96.1% from the Region of Peel and its local municipalities (Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon). Erin will contribute $64,649 in 2014, representing .3% of CVC revenue.

Deborah Martin-Downs, who recently took over as CVC’s Chief Administrative Officer, appeared as a delegation before Erin Town Council, along with Corporate Services Director Gerry Robin, to present details of the CVC’s 2014 budget request.

“You are getting good value for your dollars,” said Robin, noting that CVC spent $172,742 in Erin this year, and may spend $318,431 here next year.

Erin and other municipalities in the Credit River Watershed pay an annual levy to support the CVC. Unlike in previous years, Erin has not been given the option of paying an additional levy to support extra local projects, which they declined to pay last year.

CVC work in Erin involves support for the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) and the Wastewater Assimilative Capacity that will control new housing development. It also includes maintenance of the Elora Cataract Trailway, monitoring streamflow, water quality and other environmental factors, restoration of natural areas, education, and supporting Source Water Protection for municipal wells.

CVC has had a drop in the proportion of revenue for program budgets that it raises on its own, including user fees, from 10% to 8%, and a decrease from 5% to 2% in the proportion covered by provincial and federal grants. To partly make up for this, 4% more is being collected from the general levy on municipalities.

Watershed areas do not match political boundaries, so municipalities often support more than one conservation authority. Peel also supports Toronto Region, and Erin also supports the Grand River Conservation Authority.

The mandate of the CVC is to ensure adequate water quantity in its territory, and to protect and enhance water quality, for both environmental and human needs. It cares for ecosystems, protecting and enhancing both plant and animal life, in the water and on land.

It protects public safety, minimizing damage from natural hazards, and promotes social and economic health through water management.

“To manage the watershed, one must manage the lands in the watershed and we have many studies that show that planting trees, retrofitting older communities with stormwater management, restoring wetlands, protecting natural heritage systems, they can all positively affect issues of flood protection, erosion of streams and water quality improvement,” said Martin-Downs.

“These are all things that we need to take very seriously given the recent storms that we’ve been experiencing. I think Erin has a lot to boast about in terms of a healthy watershed and healthy communities, so keep up the good work.”

October 24, 2013

Erin Artists' Alliance presents "Nature" show

As published in The Erin Advocate

A new group of local artists came together recently to put on an art show and sale called The Nature of Erin.

The Erin Artists’ Alliance organized the event at the historic Melville White Church on Mississauga Road, just north of Olde Baseline Road, on weekends from September 21 to October 13.

“The newly-formed Artists’ Alliance will provide opportunities for local artists to showcase and market their work,” said artist Monica Schut.

In the bio she posted with her work at the show, she said, “The longer I live in the rural community or Erin, the more my eye sees and interprets the nuances of subtle changes occurring in the trees, fields, ponds and rivers.

“It is my hope that through this work I can share the profound wonder and joy of the beauty of nature where I live.”
Erin artist Audrey Devonshire with her watercolour Fox. In September,  she also opened The Owl’s Nest Gallery, selling art at her store Minerva’s Boutique on Main Street.
Barry Young of Alton with two of his lathed wood creations – Bonaria, made from a gnarly apple stump from a Hillsburgh orchard, and Bowl, made from an old ironwood tree and black locust wood. He has been a volunteer and demonstrator at Erin’s Made for Wood show.
Lucille Weber with her acrylic painting Happy Thoughts, inspired by the natural beauty of this part of Ontario. She lives in Inglewood, has a studio in Alton
Also participating in the recent Alliance show were artists Jackie Clark, Audrey Devonshire, Annette Dyon, Rosemary Hasner, Diana Hillman, Sally Mappin, Susan Powell, Lucille Weber and Barry Young.

Each accepted the challenge to create work with an Erin connection, which ended up including images of wildlife, the Mundell Planing Mill, organic ingredients from Everdale farm and impressions of local properties.

“It’s such a great theme because many artists are inspired each day by our surroundings, so painting a picture that captures what you love about the Town of Erin and sharing it with all in a show like this, is truly wonderful,” said Susan Powell.

The Event was promoted by Headwaters Arts. The Melville White Church, which was built by Erin founder Daniel McMillan and his brothers in 1837, has been renovated and is used for weddings, musical performances and art shows.

The Town of Erin Council voted to provide a $500 grant to help with the show expenses.
The new organization expects to hold different events during the year, and is separate from the Hills of Erin Studio Tour, which brings the public into artists’ workplaces, and which marked its 25th anniversary recently.

October 23, 2013

$2 million grant sought for dam and bridge

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin is applying for a provincial grant of $2 million to help upgrade the Station Street dam and bridge in Hillsburgh, from a program aimed at “urgent public health and safety issues”.

Council agreed with Road Superintendent Larry Van Wyck’s recommendation to apply to the Small, Rural and Northern Municipal Infrastructure Fund, which will distribute $100 million to various projects.

“Going for this is a no-brainer,” said Councillor John Brennan. The application has also been supported by the Mill Pond Committee.

No decision has been made on whether to preserve or drain the pond, but the road and bridge need to be rebuilt at a cost of more than $2 million in either case. The Town is facing a provincial order to have a detailed plan in place by next June.

The costs of Environmental Assessments are eligible for the funding program, which is designed to support “applicants with challenging economic conditions and limited fiscal flexibility, with additional consideration for applicants who are making significant infrastructure investments.”

Fill Guide requirements called "onerous”

As published in The Erin Advocate

A proposed guide to help citizens do their own initial investigation of suspected improper fill sites was rejected by councillors last week.

They were satisfied with the sections that educated the public on fill issues, but sent the document back to Planner Sally Stull for revision because of the requirement to ask questions in person.

Councillor Deb Callaghan said urging citizens to confront people possibly engaged in an illegal activity is “putting them in a situation that is not safe”.

“I don't want to be putting residents in harm's way,” said Mayor Lou Maieron.

“Expecting people to gather this is quite onerous,” said Councillor John Brennan. “As much of this information as we can get from the complainant would be good, but certainly I would not like anybody to think that if it isn’t completed in full, that the complaint would not be acted upon.”

The introduction in the draft version of the guide advises users that, “The Town of Erin Municipal Law Enforcement Department cannot undertake an investigation or lay charges without the following information being provided.”

“I don't want this to be a requirement,” said Councillor Barb Tocher. "This is only a guide."

The document, which would be available on the Town website, is written for residents who “have witnessed and are concerned about soils being delivered and placed on land within the Town of Erin”. They would answer a series of questions with Yes or No, and fill in a series of blanks with information before contacting the Town.

If the citizen determines that more than 20 truck loads have been dumped (the maximum without a permit), they would be asked to take photos and “may inform the person running the fill operation that it must be terminated immediately as they are in violation of the site alteration by-law and continued operation without a site alteration permit will result in charges being laid. Inform them that they will be receiving a written ‘cease and desist’ order from the by-law enforcement officer.”

Anna Spiteri of the group Citizens Against Fill Dumping said it is reasonable for citizens to provide some information to the Town, but not to be involved in investigation and enforcement.

“This has a high likelihood of developing into a physical altercation. The citizen is not trained as an enforcement officer. Estimation of loads can best be done by an enforcement officer who has the right to go onto the property and to ask questions. Very few taxpayers will have the nerve to question a driver and very few drivers will provide accurate information to a person who is not an official of the Town.”

The guide is an attempt to screen out complaints about fill situations that are outside the Town’s fill bylaw jurisdiction, including aggregate pits which are controlled by the Ministry of Natural Resources, large areas (about 50 per cent of Erin) which involve wetlands and are regulated by Credit Valley Conservation, and fill being placed under authority of a building permit.

“We’re sending them everywhere but here – one-stop shopping would be nice,” said Tocher, prompting a burst of applause from some in attendance.

Brennan said the guide should not be construed as taking the place of the planned review of the fill bylaw. Maieron said there is “loophole” for abuse if excess fill is brought in on a building permit.

“The simple solution for the bylaw is that no fill be accepted except from a licensed aggregate site,” said Tocher, to another round of applause. “You know it’s clean fill and they’re paying for it, not being paid for it. We don’t have to care if they get 10, 20 or a hundred, because they’re paying for it.”

Stull noted that the Town’s Municipal Law Enforcement Officer has only a part-time position, and that fill investigations can require “considerable staff hours”. There have been no applications or approvals for site alterations in 2013.

If a citizen suspects fill is contaminated, they are urged to contact the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) directly, since contaminating the environment is a provincial offence. Spiteri said the MOE is only interested in dealing with contamination from “waste”, and not from fill.

Next election won't have wards, more councillors

As published in The Erin Advocate

Town council has rejected the possibility of creating wards for the 2014 municipal election, and of increasing the number of councillors from five to seven.

CAO Kathryn Ironmonger presented council with a series of options and they decided that maintaining the current system, in which all councillors represent the entire town, would be “in the best interest of the community”.

Among the rejected options is the hiring of a consultant for $9,000 to help draft ward boundaries. Increasing the council by two members would have cost about $50,000 per year in salaries and benefits.

The motion to do nothing was carried by a vote of 3-1, with Mayor Lou Maieron opposed and Councillor John Brennan abstaining. The mayor had been promoting the ward idea, and expressed concern that the issue was being dealt with now, when there is not enough time for the process to get a bylaw in place by the December 31 deadline.

He requested a report in May this year, but council was told by the previous CAO that it would not be ready until the fall. He had requested a report on the same topic in March of 2012, particularly on “establishment of a ward system by public petition”.

A municipal council can initiate a ward process, or it can be forced to do so by a 500-name petition from electors. The Advocate had front-page coverage of the 2012 report, but council did not receive a petition. A majority of councillors have said they oppose a ward system.

Councillor Jose Wintersinger spoke out against it in a letter to the editor in 2012, saying it would “take things backward”, creating a divide between urban and rural residents.

Last week’s motion said, “Anticipated growth facing our community is unknown, which could result in a further ward boundary configuration adjustment.”

It also said, “The short public consultation period would increase the possibility of an appeal being filed, which would result in the ward boundary being pushed back to the 2018 election.”

Councillors won't answer SSMP questions

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin Town Councillors were willing to discuss the SSMP and the prospect of new housing development last week, but not to answer tough questions about the confusion surrounding the process and exactly how it will proceed in the coming months.

Shelley Foord from the Wastewater Solutions Working Group of Transition Erin appeared as a delegation, with questions about the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan that were outlined in a Letter to the Editor in last week’s Advocate.

Council authorized SSMP Project Manager Dale Murray to work with the Town lawyer to come up with a written response to the questions, which will later be posted on the Town website.

“Our first question is, ‘Who is in charge of this process?’” said Foord. “This is not meant in any way to be antagonistic, but from a citizen’s perspective, it is hard to tell.”

Transition Erin wants to know why planned work was not done by consultant BM Ross, and whose responsibility it was to monitor the work. They are concerned that the SSMP is proceeding so slowly that the Town may be vulnerable to an Ontario Municipal Board appeal that could “take the options out of our hands”.

They agree with Mayor Lou Maieron, who wants the SSMP done well before the October 2014 municipal election. Murray has been authorized to get additional work done on sewage options, ground and surface water and financial analysis as soon as possible.

Foord also asked whether the action plan suggested last May by Water Superintendent Frank Smedley would be pursued.

The Town and its consultants are waiting for new data from Credit Valley Conservation about the flow of the West Credit River, which will enable calculation of its Assimilative Capacity – how much treated sewage effluent the river can handle. There are other issues, however, which are being discussed now for the first time.

Murray has told council that they should decide the location of future development before the SSMP is complete, not afterwards, even if the exact numbers are not set.

“There’s more land in the urban boundary than assimilative capacity of the river, so everyone can’t build out at the new [provincial] densities, so it’s going to be a difficult decision,” said Maieron.

Councillor Barb Tocher said, “I wouldn’t want any council to make any decisions with less than as complete and accurate information as possible. We would love to see this done during this term, but I wouldn’t want to see this done just to rush it through. I want to see it done properly.”

Councillor John Brennan wants a timeline laid out at the next meeting.

“The scope of whatever growth we might have depends on the assimilative capacity. The location is different. I think we can get the location without necessarily knowing the scope. No matter how you decide, there’s going to be some degree of arbitrariness,” he said.

“Do we exclude Hillsburgh, do we split it evenly between the two urban areas, does Erin get more because it is bigger, does Hillsburgh get more to achieve some kind of parity? I think we should go ahead and work on that.”

He noted that a sewer system would make it practical to subdivide urban properties. He said sewage capacity needs to be reserved for existing homes, then for the infill growth that is required by provincial growth guidelines.

“Whatever is left over is what you have for the developmental growth that we’re looking at,” he said.
Mayor Maieron said it is important to consider the needs of the existing population.

“I don’t think that dialogue with the existing has been carried out that far to say, do you want a plant? What sort of a plant do you want? Who needs it? Who doesn’t need it? Why don’t you want it? What if you got it 15 years from now, would you be more receptive?” he said.

Foord was assured by councillors that the final SSMP report would include a range of practical options, and that the new format of the Liaison Committee would enable its members to put forward their suggestions to council, instead of primarily just receiving information from the consultant.

Citizen committee to review councillors’ pay

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town will be setting up a citizen committee to make recommendations on councillors’ pay, but any changes would not take effect until after the October 2014 election.

“The Committee will consist of 6-12 members with representation of the entire community and the members must declare that they are not running for a position on Council in the 2014 municipal election,” said CAO Kathryn Ironmonger in her report.

“The purpose of the Committee is to review Council's remuneration levels based on the responsibility to govern including participation on committees, boards or commissions and on external comparison of similar sized municipalities with a part-time mayor and councillors, each being a standalone community and not part of a larger, metropolitan area.

“The Committee will develop recommendations with respect to the remuneration policy relating to the elected officials’ duties such as attending conferences or travelling on specific municipal business, salary, benefits, mileage, laptops and the continuance of the one-third tax free status of council salary and any other recommendations related to direct compensation.”

Councillors currently earn a base salary of $12,758 per year, but with amounts allowed for additional work averaging $2,600, conference fees of about $3,000, and benefits valued at $6,500, the cost to the Town is just under $25,000 per year.

The mayor earns a base salary of $22,963, and with additional amounts, benefits and conferences, the position costs the Town about $37,700 per year. This does not include income from the mayor’s service on county council.

The terms of reference for the committee is available on the town website, in the October 15 agenda. The document also has the council cost breakdowns, in the ward section on page 93.

Town needs analysis of wastewater options

As published in The Erin Advocate

While visiting the Ontario Rural Wastewater Centre at the University of Guelph last week, I was reminded of how limited our discussion has been in Erin about how to deal with sewage.

From the beginning of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) process, people have advocated alternatives to a big, traditional sewer system, but consulting firm BM Ross never had confidence in anything other than the tried and true approach.

And maybe they are right. Maybe none of the smaller-scale modern technologies is feasible here. But instead of dismissing them, the SSMP should provide serious analysis of options that have been tried in other places. We’re not talking about exotic, untested schemes, but realistic scenarios, with full explanations of how they could be phased in and how the costs could be shared.

The assumption that one technology should service all the urban areas needs to be set aside. It might not be ideal to have a “patchwork” or a “two-tier town” (partial sewers), but the fact is we are already chopped up into neighbourhoods with totally different needs.

A mix of septic systems and other technologies could form a hybrid approach that would be acceptable for many decades to come. After all, our transition to municipal water mains has been going on for more than 50 years and it has a long way to go.

It doesn’t make sense to abandon millions of dollars worth of private septic systems that are working perfectly well, just so that those people can help pay for sewer service in other areas. There will always be some perceived unfairness in any transition, but the goal should be moderate cost and only as much disruption as necessary.

The next assumption to flush is that septic systems are solely the responsibility of the homeowner. Waste is a communal matter, so if any areas are to keep their septic systems, the Town must have an inspection system to ensure that they work.

If the Town or the CVC insists that all new (or replacement) septic systems in urban areas be Type IV (previously called tertiary), we would guarantee high-quality effluent, have smaller drainage beds and have annual testing through the building code. The system would cost the owner an extra $5,000 to $10,000, plus an annual fee, but that might be the price of avoiding big sewers.

It would also be ideal to have a waste system that is fully owned by the public. But if we can’t get sufficient government funding, it would be better to accept private investment than to do nothing.

Perhaps if we had a partnership with a company that guaranteed performance of their system for a certain number of years, the Town could have the right to buy them out once the system is established.

Maybe a traditional sewer system makes the most sense for something on the scale of the new 1,200 home Solmar subdivision. The company is prepared to build its own treatment plant. It could also handle septage from rural septic tanks, and the Town could tap into it with other waste, but only as needed.

Maybe certain neighbourhoods, or industrial parks, could be best served by a large communal septic tank, as is already done for some homes in Stanley Park. The new models can have air constantly pumped through the liquid in the secondary chamber, making them very efficient.

Maybe some areas could be best served by a miniature stand-alone sewage plant, such as the only already used by the high school and Centre 2000.

Maybe downtown homes and businesses (in both Erin village and Hillsburgh) would be best served by what is called a “small bore system”. Properties would still have a septic tank, but the treated water would flow to a public system of small pipes. Since they do not need to be deep in the ground, streets would not have to be torn up.

With the initial processing of waste still done in a septic tank, effluent could be treated at a small fraction of the traditional cost, or fed into a regular sewage line, and we wouldn’t need a sewage pipeline flowing out of Hillsburgh.

These options would help keep growth moderate within the existing urban areas, even with the intensification that the province wants, and lower the impact on the river.

All of this assumes that we can be finished with the SSMP. Regardless of the population limit that the study will impose, council needs to choose a strategy. Instead of an all-or-nothing decision, it could be a decision to do further Environmental Assessment of several simultaneous options, including retention of septic systems in some areas.

October 16, 2013

Fair always bigger and better

As published in The Erin Advocate

“Erin Fall Fair, which is usually looked upon in this vicinity as the event of the season, was held on Thursday and Friday last. The exhibits in every department of the Show were excellent, the total number of entries far exceeding anything in the past.”

That’s a front-page snippet from the Erin Advocate a century ago, showing the newspaper’s support for the event. It is no mean feat to produce a fair that is bigger and better than all those that have gone before.

In my spare time, I like to read the 1913 issues of The Erin Advocate, to see what was going in the days when horses still pulled buggies and cutters, farming drove the economy and no one dared to print bawdy sayings on T-shirts.
A picture postcard of George Wheeler, with his son Norman on his knee and his other son Albert driving, from the booklet Erin Fall Fair...since 1850, by June Switzer, published in 2000. Postcards were a popular item in fairs in the early 1900s. The booklet is available at the Erin library.
By then, the fair already had quite a history. Mr. G. Awrey of Elora, 85, attended for the 60th consecutive year in 1913. Are there any today who can claim a similar record?

The fair that year had about 2,660 entries. There was an “immense” show of homemade butter, including 50 lb firkins (casks), and over 30 entries vying in the 5 lb category.

The Erin Advocate’s Prize for the Largest Pumpkin Pie was won for the third time by Mrs. J. Small. The editor said it was largest pie he had ever seen – 18 inches across, and the office “devil” said, “It was a peach”.

The large classes of light and heavy horses “would be hard to beat anywhere”, and included some “nobby turnouts”. (Nobby is a complimentary adjective, of Scottish origin, meaning high class and stylish.)

“We had almost forgotten to mention the show of eggs in the Hall, which were the most uniform in size that we have ever seen.”

Of course, a large gathering can attract some unwelcome guests, including a professional pickpocket who stole large sums from several patrons. “The afternoon being wet, everybody crowded into the Hall, which gave the light-fingered gent a grand opportunity to get busy.”

Also, some exhibits didn’t make it back to their owners. “The parties who carried off a pair of dressed ducks and ten pounds of butter will please settle for the same and avoid further trouble.”

Entertainment was provided by the Laurie brothers performing Scotch songs and dances, and by the Fergus Band, said to have given general satisfaction. “The members of the Band are all a gentlemanly lot, and did not stint their music.”

The Advocate printed the names of a hundred or so visitors and those with whom they stayed. They also listed all the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Prize Winners’ names, starting with R. McEnery with the top brood mare, and ending a full page of type later with the photography award going to G.A. Matthews.

The dimensions of the newspaper in those days was 14.5 inches wide and 20.75 inches deep, more than double today’s page size. A one year subscription to the Advocate was just one dollar, but not everyone was paying: “If you are owing one, would you without further notice forward it to us. We would like to be able to buy about three tons of coal this winter.”

E. Barbour had the fattest sheep at the fair and Jas. Milloy had the best Berkshire Boar. Township pupils in Form IV (Grades 7-8) competed in the Penmanship Classes, with W.J. Russell producing the best copy of the Lord’s Prayer.

And speaking of old-style education, here’s a note received by a teacher in the region: “Dear Mis. You writ me about whippin Sammy. I give you permission to beet him up any time he wont learn his lesson. He is jest like his father and you hev to beet him with a club to lern him enything. Pound nolege into him. Don’t pay no attention to what his father says. I will handle him.”

In the week prior to the fair, a challenge had gone out to see if anyone could beat   Alex McArthur’s potato, which was 13.5 inches by 17 inches and weighed 2 lb 5 oz. Township Treasurer W. Wheeler came in with the winner, at 3 lb.

And of course there was plenty to eat. Mr. Bush, proprietor at the Globe Hotel across the street, opened up an extra dining hall upstairs, while Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Leitch served meals to many.

“The ladies of All Saints church availed themselves of Mr. Island’s large store [pianos, stoves and Singer sewing machines] where excellent meals were served. There was no need of any person going hungry, for there was an abundance for all.”

15 Sideroad could be renamed Dundas East

As published in The Erin Advocate

Janet and Thomas Collis do not want any more confusion about whether they live on Dundas Street or 15 Sideroad, especially when it comes to 911 emergency calls.

Last year Janet called 911 for an ambulance for her husband, but the dispatcher in London could not find their location, at the corner of 15 Sideroad and Tenth Line, just east of Centre 2000.

“When the dispatcher said she found us, it was not the proper location,” said Janet in a letter to Linda Dickson, Emergency Manager at Wellington County. “She continued to look and finally after some time the Fire Department came and were very helpful stabilizing Thomas until the ambulance came from the Town of Caledon. It took far too long – too much time was wasted.”

Dickson appeared before Town Council earlier this month to address the problem. Road signs do not indicate where Dundas Street West ends and 15 Sideroad, a former township road, begins. The address number for the Collis home did not register with either road in the 911 system.

“When people and businesses put our address into their GPS, no one can locate us,” said Janet. “Numerous times we have not received our mail. Since Sideroad 15 and Dundas Street is a very short road east of Main Street Erin and also west of Main Street Erin, it should have one name only.”

Dickson said the Ambulance Communication Centre is now aware of the situation. She said Erin Council should decide whether to rename the road, or simply to improve the signage.

“There are a number of other properties,” she said. “To simply go ahead and change it would impact a lot of residents. An appropriate way to deal with it is to hold a public meeting, bring residents in to discuss it.”

Councillors agreed that a public meeting should be held, but they did not set a date. They also agreed to eliminate all reference to 15 Sideroad at the Eighth Line near the Erin Heights subdivision, using Dundas St. W. on all signs.

“Certainly, it seems to me we have to make it consistent,” said Councillor John Brennan.

“We have a similar problem with Shamrock Road and 17 Sideroad,” said Mayor Lou Maieron. “It’s confusing for people and businesses.”

Dickson also recommended that a Civic Addressing Bylaw be adopted, which would bring addressing in the urban areas up to the standards used in rural areas. The former Erin Township passed an addressing bylaw in the 1990s, to meet the needs of the 911 system.

“The bylaw talks about how you number properties, the standards for fixing numbers to buildings, the responsibility of owners to post their signs,” said Dickson. “It is very important for emergency services. If a 911 call was ever placed, if it’s not visible, you’re going to have a hard time.”

The standard bylaw would require green property identification signs with numbers at least four inches in height – they would be installed by the Town, but belong to the property owner. It would be illegal to take them down.

While Dickson provided a draft bylaw for council’s consideration, they did not discuss the details. Staff are to report back to council with comments and recommendations.

The draft bylaw says the urban signs would “conspicuously placed on the building, or in some conspicuous place on the property facing the street on which the building is situated and shall not be less than four (4) nor more than ten (10) feet from ground level of the building.”

“I think a bylaw is a good idea because it ensures that there is a consistency throughout the municipality,” said Councillor Barb Tocher.

Development charges mid-range in Wellington

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town should put a positive spin on its development charges (DCs), which are lower than in some neighbouring municipalities, according to Erin Finance Director Sharon Marshall.

“In my opinion, respectfully, I think it is important for Council to paint a more ‘positive’ face on the town,” said Marshall, in a letter to Erin councillors, with charts showing Erin’s DC’s compared to those in other Wellington municipalities, plus Halton Hills and Guelph.

“You will notice that the Town is not really ‘high’ compared to  Wellington – nor to our neighbours,” she said.

The letter came after comments by Mayor Lou Maieron and Councillor Jose Wintersinger, who are concerned that DCs are making it difficult to attract growth in the town.

“We have high development charges,” said Maireon, during a recent debate on whether to increase the fee to landowners who qualify to sever their land, known as Cash-in-lieu of Parkland (separate from DCs).
He also noted that Centre Wellington (Fergus-Elora) “is dropping their DCs by a thousand – they’re trying to encourage people to come into their community.”

“It’s a big concern because our DC charges are high,” said Wintersinger. “A lot of people can barely afford to set up buildings. Farmers in particular, if you want to take a severance, you also lose ten feet of your frontage – that’s a lot of land you have to give for nothing. Then you have to give your park fees, then you have give your DC fees. It’s got to stop, or else nobody’s going to be able to afford to live here. I’m sorry, but I can’t ignore that.”

A bylaw to increase the flat rate parkland fee from $5,000 to $7,500 was to be considered by council at this week’s meeting. The Planning Act allows the Town to charge up to 5% of the land value as the parkland fee, and the average price of lots has gone up.

In 2007-2008, the average lot sold for $150,738, while in 2013 the average was $184,000 – 5 % of which is $9,200. The mayor said a 50% increase in the fee would stifle the Town’s current main source of growth.

“I look at it as another tax grab,” he said.

Centre Wellington’s residential DCs remain the highest in the county, though direct comparisons are complicated by the fact that DCs have three components: the fee for a detached residence, the fee for water service and the fee for wastewater. These vary dramatically, and some municipalities such as Erin have no wastewater service.

“I feel that it is important that the correct information is available to the public,” said Marshall regarding her letter to council. “It seems that Erin is getting a reputation for high taxes and high fees – and it isn’t entirely justified.”

She referred to a recent issue in which Olympic Forest Products was facing development charges of $56,304 ($42,024 in Town DCs and the rest from the county) for a $110,000 building.

“If they built the same addition in Acton or Georgetown they would pay $166,953 to Halton Hills,” said Marshall in her letter. “Certainly the Town of Erin is NOT high compared to other GTA municipalities. Let’s promote that fact!”

Municipalities are not obliged to collect DCs, but if they do, the methodology for calculating, collecting and spending them is controlled by Ontario law. DCs are meant to pay for increased capital costs required because of increased needs for services arising from development.

There are no minimums or maximums, but the levy amount must be supported by a background study. The study and its calculations can be appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board, which sometimes happens with large-scale developments.

October 09, 2013

Council says planner has no conflict on fill

As published in The Erin Advocate

Town Council gave Planner Sally Stull a vote of confidence last week, saying she has no conflict of interest in working on a review of Erin’s fill bylaw.

The issue arose because of allegations made in a letter from Dr. Marieke Wevers, a critic of current fill practices, published in the September 17 Erin council agenda.

In addition to concerns about trucking, possible contamination and lack of consultation about various sites, including riding arenas on Third Line, she alleged that Stull had a conflict of interest because of involvement in a fill project in Halton Hills.

After meeting in closed session last week, Erin councillors released the following statement without any discussion: “With regards to the allegations made in correspondence, Council is satisfied that the Town Planner has no conflict or pecuniary interest in regards to the Town of Erin Fill By-Law.”

The Town recently issued a cease and desist order for the Third Line project, and council agreed to a staff review of the bylaw after hearing protests from residents.

Stull said that she wanted a statement from council before working on the review. While she and her husband had been trucking in fill to a pit on their farm north of Georgetown, she said her work for the Town of Erin could not bring her any personal advantage.

Wever’s letter was one of many in the storm of controversy that has erupted over what some residents consider a weak and poorly enforced fill bylaw, and the fact that substantial filling was allowed on the Third Line outside the bylaw, under the terms of a building permit.

“I have also expressed grave concern that our Town Planner Sally Stull remains the permit issuer and supervisor of these sites,” said Wever’s letter, suggesting that Stull is biased on this issue. “A large number of citizens have indicated that they have made complaints to Ms Stull about these fill sites and similar to my experience their concerns have been abruptly dismissed.”

The Independent & Free Press newspaper has written about the Stulls’ use of land as an aggregate transfer station, their plan to restore a pit to agricultural use, and their bitter dispute with neighbours and the Town of Halton Hills.

In May this year, they reported on a Site Alteration Committee hearing, saying that in 2012 the Stulls were importing fill, “despite the protest of frustrated neighbours and in contravention of the Site Alteration Bylaw, forcing the Town to issue a cease and desist order in August after a staff investigation.

“The trucks continued until the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ordered at a hearing on Nov. 29, 2012, ‘there be no further importation of fill (or any other material) to the subject property pending the return of this application or further order of this Court, or the granting of a variance, amendment or exception to the Site Alteration Bylaw.’

“Only then did the Stulls’ company 1244002 Ontario Inc. apply for a variance to the Site Alteration Committee in December 2012.”

About 40 opponents attended the hearing, bringing a 138-signature petition and complaining about heavy trucks, noise, fumes and possible contamination of drinking water. The committee turned down the pit plan.

Sally Stull appeared at an appeal hearing in August, saying Halton Hills councillors and staff had not provided reasons for denying the application.

According to the minutes, she said the committee decision “was not made as per the requirements of the by-law but rather by public input on the matter”.

“Stull stated that the use of illegal fill has not been proven, that the haul route used has not changed in 20 years, and that residents knowingly bought their homes in close proximity of an aggregate transfer station. Activities at the Pit are in keeping with all levels of government, and Council cannot obstruct, ignore and deny activities like this...the use provides for employment and is an appropriate use for fill.”

The appeal was denied.

October 08, 2013

Deanna raises $6,601 for Humane Society

As published in The Erin Advocate

The animals at the Upper Credit Humane Society shelter have a special place in Deanna MacKay’s heart, and she has made a special effort to help them, delivering $6,601 in pledges for this year’s Bark Around the Park Walkathon.

“I really believe in it,” she said. “It’s a sad thing when you see that animals have no home, or they have a home, but are not treated properly.”

She rounded up 256 sponsors, with some donating as much as $200, for the annual  walk at the CBM - St. Mary’s Sales Facility / Aggregates Pit in Limehouse on Sunday.

About 35 people and 20 dogs attended the event, with a total of more than $7,800 raised to help the animals.

The walk was followed by a BBQ, face painting, dog games, nail trims and vendor displays. Susan Saxe from Silpada Jewellery donated 70% of the proceeds to UCHS, and there were donations of goodies for participants from Royal Canin and Global Pet Food Orangeville.

Erin’s Deanna MacKay presents pledges totaling $6,601 to Laura Boardman, Fundraising Chair for the Upper Credit Humane Society.

Shop local. Donate local. Eat local. Drink local.

As published in The Erin Advocate

Working for The Advocate, I’m always reminded that there is a demand for local news. But, with long commutes and an abundance of big box and on-line shopping opportunities, many people find that the idea of shopping locally slides to the bottom of the priority list.

Shopping close to home seems logical, but it can require a shift in habits and perspective. It generally requires a stop downtown and a walk down Main Street. It can lead to chatting with shop keepers and finding stuff you want.

People generally like Erin’s charming atmosphere, but tourist dollars are not enough to keep the downtown vibrant. If you want to see healthier businesses and better selection of merchandise, consider spending money on what we have now, so it can grow.

If everyone who can afford it would spend at least $50 locally during the crucial Christmas shopping season, it would be a welcome boost to the local economy. Not that merchants should get a free ride – they still have to compete with good quality and service. I just think we should give them the opportunity to compete.

The same goes for restaurants. Hillsburgh and Erin have some excellent establishments, from fine dining to fast food.

I thought I’d stop in and have lunch last Friday at the new Prime Rib Bistro at the north end of Erin village beside Tim Horton’s. Unfortunately, I can’t give you a review of the food. There were so many people lined up to order, I could not get in the door, so I guess that is a review of sorts. I’ll be back.

And speaking of local dollars and local food, it’s time to think about supporting East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) with their Thanksgiving Food Drive.

There are a lot of good causes and worthwhile ways to make donations, but feeding hungry people in your own Town has a special appeal. In an unstable economy, a family that can afford to donate today could be visiting the Food Bank not too far down the road.

“EWCS is thankful for the amazing support of those in our community for all of our programs and services,” said Erika Westcott, Manager, Community Services and Volunteers.

The Food Bank has supported 221 Erin families (including 140 kids under 18) from January to the end of August. That is a 13 per cent increase over last year, with 22,322 pounds of supplies distributed.

Go to www.eastwellingtoncommunityservices.com to check out the top items needed by the Food Bank Program – everything from Kraft dinner to shampoo, peanut butter, canned meats and coffee. Food and financial donations can be dropped off at 45 Main Street in Erin, or go to www.canadahelps.org for a convenient way to make a regular contribution.

Or go next door, to the LCBO store (or Foodland in Hillsburgh). Look for the Cabernet Sauvignon or the white Torrontés (both $11.95) from The Little Grape That Could. It is a Toronto based winery selling Argentinean wine, enabling the purchaser to go on-line (www.thelittlegrapethatcould.com) and direct the profits from the sale to a designated charity. EWCS is one of the choices, and it has already brought them $324.

“We decided that every bottle of our wine will carry the name of someone who we want to celebrate or honour,” said Founder Brett Preston. “We want to hear about people that have touched the lives of others, and become a platform for telling their stories. And, when someone drinks a bottle of our wine, we hope they will join in the community and raise a glass to the man or woman on the bottle.”

Water Reserve Fund well spent, report says

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town of Erin has almost drained its Water Reserve Fund, but the money has been properly spent on water system projects, according to Finance Director Sharon Marshall.

She reported to council recently after Mayor Lou Maieron requested a full accounting of the Fund, which now sits at $86,592.

Disbursements have totaled $989,985 since the fund was set up in 2003, with an initial deposit of $177,250. That was taken out of the huge payment of $2.85 million that the Town received when it sold the Erin Hydro Commission to Hydro One in 2001.

Marshall said the bylaw to create the fund clearly stated that its purpose was for “maintaining or improving the water systems of the Town of Erin.”

The fund earned $159,175 in interest, and the only other deposits were $65,150 from an unspent surplus on capital projects in 2008, and $675,000 from a settlement with Greening Donald (Central Wire) in 2007, for contamination of Well #5 in the north end of Erin village.

“I did not see any clause or condition that restricted the Town’s use of the $675,000 settlement money,” said Marshall. “Our commitment was to decommission Well #5, which we subsequently did. There is no reference to a requirement that the funds be used to drill or replace Well #5.”

The Town stopped using Municipal Well #5 after environmental monitoring found trichloroethylene (TCE), a cancer-causing industrial solvent, in the water. The result was a settlement through the Ontario Superior Court of Justice with Greening Donald (Central Wire), which owned the property next to the well.

In 2007, they agreed to install and operate a groundwater control and treatment system on the property and pay the Town $675,000 for all claims. Council allocated all but $25,000 (legal fees) of this to the Water Reserve Fund.

Expenditures from the fund have supported Water Department expenses, including software, vehicles, studies, hydrants, water tower maintenance, pumps and pumping stations. Water expenses are normally supported by revenue from water bills.

Most committee members want to preserve pond

As published in The Erin Advocate

For most members of the special committee studying the Station Road dam in Hillsburgh, draining the mill pond would have more disadvantages than preserving it.

The committee met for the first time last week, and started off by dismissing as impractical a proposal by Mayor Lou Maieron to investigate construction of a new road along the Elora-Cataract Trailway, to bypass the current dam.

The rail bed would have to be widened – it is surrounded by wetlands, with a 40-foot drop in places. Additional property would have to be purchased or expropriated, especially to for proper intersections at Trafalgar Road and the existing Station Road.

Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), which owns the trailway, has pointed out that there are major hurdles to building a road there, since it was funded as a natural recreational area.

“The bottom line is that we still have to fix the dam,” said Road Superintendent Larry Van Wyck, who estimates a new bridge along the trail could cost $1.8 million.

The committee voted to set that proposal as the fourth and lowest priority, below the “do nothing” option, which is also not getting serious consideration since it does not meet provincial requirements.

The meeting was chaired by Councillor Barb Tocher, but she is abstaining from voting since she will participate in the decision by Town Council. The committee hopes to have a recommendation for council within a month or two.

Creation of the committee was approved in March. It is to consider the interests of the entire Town, including costs and environmental issues, and specifically the possibilities of the Town owning or co-owning the pond, making improvements to private property at public expense or entering a public-private partnership.

Any member having a conflict of interest in a matter before the committee is obliged to declare it at the beginning of the meeting and may not discuss or vote on that matter. No declarations were made. A closed session was held at the end of the meeting to discuss a property transaction.

Committee member Pauline Follett was the lone voice backing up the general policy of Credit Valley Conservation, which prefers to see the river revert to its natural condition when possible.

Removal of dams leads to better mobility for fish, and flowing water is cooler, with a higher oxygen level. Reverting to a stream would mean a major change in the local ecosystem that has developed over the last century and a half.

Member Victor Bayko said CVC has identified 81 species of birds using the pond, including ospreys and egrets, along with many fish, turtles and toads.

Follett said that while the area could be unsightly and stinky for two years, new foliage and wildlife would develop on the mudflats.

“It would look quite pretty,” she said.

Other committee members in attendance, including Ivan Gray, Jim Peavoy and Ron Moore, favoured keeping the pond as an attractive asset which promotes tourism, and pointed out the disruptions that draining would cause.

“If you drain that pond, it’s not going to be pretty,” said Bayko, who doubts the two-year time line. “It’s extremely sensitive in terms of cost.”

At a meeting last January, Councillor Tocher said that the Town had considered buying the property and giving it to the CVC, but decided not to when CVC said they would reduce the pond to a stream.

“This is a gem for the Town,” said Peavoy, who likes to skate on the pond. “To drain it doesn’t make sense.”

“My property value would drop,” said Ron Moore, who lives by the pond.

“The cost factor for draining the pond, in the end, is going to be more,” said Bayko, who also believes that the existing road is adequate.

Van Wyck told council recently that existing dam must either be upgraded to current engineering standards or decommissioned.

The full upgrading is estimated to cost $2.44 million, while decommissioning would cost $2.15 million (not including liability issues). Decommissioning would mean a less expensive bridge, but the environmental assessment would be more complex and expensive due to sediment and other issues. And because it involves a major change, the decommissioning process could be appealed by members of the public.

The bulk of the cost in each case is to rebuild the narrow road, including water and sewer lines, and the 96-year-old bridge, which was identified as in need of replacement as early as 1973.

While the Town owns the bridge, the road, and the earth below it that holds back the water, the structure the controls the water flow belongs to a private landowner. The Ministry of Natural Resources ordered that one of the six-inch boards holding back the water be removed, resulting in a lower water level this year.

There are now seven boards in place, 42 inches high, but there is 30 inches of sediment piled against them on the pond side.

If the Town builds a new bridge, it could include a new control structure that would take over from the existing one.

Emergency work was done last year to shore up the deteriorating dam, to make the road safe for traffic, but the MNR gave council until June 1, 2014 to not only decide what they want as a permanent solution, but complete any required environmental assessment.

There could be additional costs if landowners beside the pond claim that their riparian (shoreline) rights have been violated. The dam keeps the water table in Hillsburgh artificially high and it is estimated that 19 homeowners who rely on shallow wells would be at risk of losing water supply if the pond were drained. Many homes in Hillsburgh do not have municipal water.

“There are septics which are not working properly,” said Follett, who is concerned about shallow wells. “They must be polluted – there must be cross-contamination going on.”

A landowner may also have the right to make use of the drop in water from the dam – it could be capable of generating enough electrical power to supply a small number of homes.

There are several liability issues. If the current dam failed during a major storm, there could be major property damage downstream. But if the main pond reverted to a stream, some members believe a major storm could blow out two other dams a short distance downstream.

Dredging out sediment from a 30-acre pond would be an expensive and environmentally challenging project.

“The sediment would flow,” said Van Wyck. “It’s not going away, it’s just changing address.”

The committee will meet again on October 8 at the Town office, 7 pm, and the public is welcome.