June 24, 2015

Sitting down for a chat with the Dutch Queen

As published in The Erin Advocate

Freda Leenders of Erin had the thrill of a lifetime when she had the opportunity to meet the King and Queen of the Netherlands during their recent visit to Canada.

During a reception at the Art Gallery of Ontario on May 29, Freda was among 400 people chosen to shake hands with King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima. TV coverage of the event happened to show her greeting the couple – which was seen by acquaintances in Europe.

She was also one of 40 people selected to sit down for a chat, with four groups of five people meeting the king, and four groups meeting the queen, each with different preselected topics. She and four other seniors talked to the queen about what it was like to leave Holland and make a new life in Canada.
“It was very special and exciting – a great experience,” said Freda. “We were so nervous, but as soon as they came, it was relaxed.”

The event was organized by the Dutch consulate, which included an application process. Participants were not allowed to give any gifts, but Freda was able to slip the queen a copy of a poem she had had written about the experience of immigrating to Canada.

It was something she had written previously as part of a project for the Coningsby Women’s Institute, of which she is the president. The opening of the poem reads:

“A long, long time ago

My parents said we must go

To a far away land

Where our liberators are at hand

The winds of war brushed across our favourite land

But Canadian soldiers knew where to stand

They served by land, sea and air

Wherever the urgent need they were there

The very least that is their due

Is to be remembered by me and you.”

Freda’s family came by ship in the spring of 1951 when she was 15, initially to New York and then by train to Oakville where they had a sponsor. They learned English and returned to farming, which had helped them survive the war.

Joe and Freda Leenders operated a farm in Erin for many years and have been very active in the Dutch community, organizing events and hosting visitors at their home.

“When we were in Holland in May for the 70th anniversary of the liberation, we really felt their connection and friendship with Canada,” she said.

King Willem-Alexander assumed the throne of the Netherlands in 2013 after his mother, Queen Beatrix, abdicated the position. The state visit included a meeting with Prime Minister Harper, and several Dutch cabinet ministers came to discuss foreign policy, trade and education issues with the “Dutch Caucus” of Canadian Members of Parliament.

When the Dutch royal family fled the German invasion of the Netherlands to England at the start of World War II, Queen Wilhelmina sent Willem-Alexander's mother and grandmother, Beatrix and Juliana, to live in Ottawa. Willem-Alexander's Aunt Margriet was born there.

The First Canadian Army was responsible for defeating the Nazis in Holland in May of 1945. About 8,000 Canadian soldiers died in the campaign, which allowed relief supplies to reach millions of starving people in the north of the country.

After the war, Princess Juliana sent Canada 100,000 tulip bulbs as a gesture of thanks, a tradition that has continued and is celebrated with the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa.

June 17, 2015

Septic inspections could require property alterations

As published in The Erin Advocate

About one in five properties covered by this summer’s septic system inspection program in Erin will likely require some remedial action – but in most cases it will be minor.

Letters have gone out to 127 landowners who are close to wells that supply municipal drinking water, as part of the Source Water Protection Plan.

Engineer Michael Varty of WSP Canada, the firm hired to do the inspections in Wellington, told about 20 people attending a Septic Social educational event at Centre 2000 recently that based on experience in other areas, 81% of properties will likely pass the inspection. Very old systems will not need replacement if they are working properly.

“The focus is on whether the system is safe,” said Katherine Rentsch of the Ontario Rural Wastewater Centre at the University of Guelph. “Overall the experience is positive. It’s a good way to bring the community together.”

Most properties that do not meet safety standards will require relatively minor work, such as tank pump-outs, repair of equipment or tank lids, cleaning or replacement of effluent filters (which have been mandatory on new systems since the year 2000), diversion of surface water or the removal of shrubs or trees affecting the septic bed.

“Only about 1% will require significant construction,” said Varty. In the worst cases, replacement of the septic tank and bed could be required, with the cost ranging from $15,000 more more than $25,000, depending on the property.

Sheds, pools and parking areas are not allowed on septic beds, and inspectors will require access to both hatches of the tank, even if this requires moving a section of deck or patio. Those who receive remedial orders will have to demonstrate to the Erin Building Department that the work has been done.

Homeowners must arrange an appointment, which could last 30-60 minutes, and have an adult present to discuss the septic system with the inspector. Funding from the provincial government means there is no cost to the homeowner, but that is not guaranteed for future inspections, which will be required every five years.

The sludge level in the tank will be checked and the inspector will be looking for wet, mushy areas in the septic bed. Inspections are being coordinated by Wellington County, with Risk Management Official Kyle Davis advising local municipalities.

In Hillsburgh the homes to be inspected are on Howe St. near Trafalgar Rd. and on Church St., north and east of Victoria Park. There are two zones on the Halton-Erin Townline near Third and Fourth Lines, for wells that service Acton.

The dual Bel-Erin wells (near the Butcher funeral home) have a large inspection zone to the south that includes more than 100 homes on Dianne Rd., Kenneth Ave., Mountainview Cres., and parts of Armstrong St. and McCullough Dr. Detailed maps and more information can be obtained in the May 19 Council agenda at www.erin.ca, at www.wellingtonwater.ca, or by calling 1-844-383-9800.

At the septic social, some expressed concern about gasoline-contaminated soil at a former service station site just north of the Bel-Erin well. Town officials later confirmed that it is a separate issue – the wells get water from the south and were not affected by the gasoline.

The Bel-Erin wells were shut down in 2001, but not because of contamination. It was more efficient to supply the former Bel-Erin and Mountainview water systems from the main Erin village system.

When the full Source Protection Plan is approved this fall, inspections will turn to storage of fuel and pesticides, and the use of manure.

Larger vulnerability areas are mapped out for Dense Non-Aqueous Phase Liquids. They tend to sink into the ground if spilled and do not dissolve readily in water. These include dichloromethane, trichloroethylene and other chemicals used in products like paint strippers, metal cleaning, dry cleaning, adhesives and pharmaceuticals.

Even small amounts of chlorinated solvents can cause toxic contamination that is very difficult to remove and may persist for decades. Property owners who store or handle such liquids in these areas will be required to take safety measures.

June 10, 2015

Erin in top 100 of Canada’s Best Places to Live

As published in The Erin Advocate

High income, low crime and low unemployment have teamed up with a strong arts and sports culture to place the Town of Erin at #76 on the MoneySense list of Canada’s Best Places to Live.

This is the first time Erin has been included in the magazine’s annual ranking of 209 municipalities. Orangeville is another new arrival, coming in at #97, and it seems we live in a good neighbourhood. Veterans of the list include Caledon at #56 this year, Centre Wellington (Fergus-Elora) at #52, Halton Hills at #21 and Guelph at #15.

Of the 209 places listed, Erin scored in the top 25% for income, employment, arts and sports activity and lack of crime.

It scored lower in the categories of affordable housing, healthy population growth (only 1.3% in five years), access to health care, low taxes, good weather, and ease of walking, biking and taking transit. The report says 3% of Erin residents use public transit to get to work.

Many Canadians say the place they live is the best, but MoneySense writer Mark Brown says the list is not about civic pride. “The purpose is to take an objective look at the communities across the country and identify the ones where residents can thrive,” he said.

The statistics were provided by Environics Analytics, Statistics Canada, Environment Canada and IHS Automotive. Points were awarded to communities using weighted categories: Weather - 10%; Commuting - 11%; Wealth - 28%; Demographics - 17% and Other (including crime, amenities, healthcare, culture and taxation) - 35%.

Boucherville, Quebec (south of Montreal) came in #1, while Calgary, a former #1, slipped to #19. Other highlights include Burlington #3, Oakville #6, Stratford #7, Waterloo #16, Toronto #35, Kitchener #40, Hamilton #41, Milton #57, Mississauga #61 and Brampton #154.

The median annual household income in Erin is listed at $105,809, with average discretionary income of $58,112 and an average household net worth of $784,001.

In comparison, households in the Town of Caledon are said to have median annual income of $95,118, with discretionary income averaging $61,238, net worth at $926,552, property valued at $621,859 and property taxes at $3,414.

The value of an average Erin resident’s primary real estate is pegged at $576,460, with the property tax averaging $3,306. What that tax figure includes, and for what year, is not stated, but it does not line up with the Town’s numbers.

After passage of the 2015 budget, the Town of Erin calculated that a home assessed at $400,000 would generate about $1,150 in Town taxes, $2,596 in County taxes and $780 in School taxes, for a total of $4,526. That’s up 2.22% from 2014.

Erin is not on any of the specialty lists published by MoneySense, including Canada’s Richest Cities, based on Household Net Worth. Caledon places #9 on that list with households averaging $926,552. That’s similar to places like Oakville, Vaughan, Richmond Hill and Aurora, but far short of West Vancouver, #1 with households averaging $3,152,364.

Halton Hills has the distinction of being #9 on the list of Best Places to Raise Kids. It has an average monthly daycare cost of $1,222, with 62.6% of families having children, 20.6% of the population under age 15, and a crime rate that has dropped 32% in five years.

Other interesting facts about Erin from the profile:

• Population: 11,282.

• Unemployment rate: 2.98%.

• Crime Rate per 100,000 people: 2,636 (down 23% in the last 5 years).

• Violent crime severity index: 15.8 (compared to Halton Hills at 20.1, Guelph at 42.5 or Brampton at 51.3).

• Average income tax for a person earning $50,000: $8,571.

• Vehicles 2012 or newer: 17.9% (Luxury vehicles 2012 or newer: 1.3%).

• People walking to work: 2.6%.

• People employed in arts and recreation: 2%.

• Medical doctors per 1,000 people: .98.

• Owned homes: 94.8%.

• Climate: 750 mm annual rainfall, 105 days with maximum temperature over 20°C, 7.7 days over 24°C.

June 03, 2015

Fox on the Fairway a farcical romp

As published in The Erin Advocate

Two pastimes that can be enjoyed without a high level of proficiency have teamed up to provide a very funny show at Century Church Theatre in Hillsburgh.

Golf and sex are the stars in Fox on the Fairway, a farcical romp set at a private country club not far from here, written by Ken Ludwig and directed by Jo Phenix. The ‘fore’play continues this Friday through Sunday.

In the fine tradition of English farce, Fox contrasts the follies of young lovers with the absurd antics of old folks who wish they were young folks and who haven’t grown any wiser with age.

Wendy West (as Muriel) uses an umbrella to make a 
point with Neville Worsnop (as Henry), 
while Nick Forrow (as Dickie) has a good laugh.
Naturally, the plot twists them into precarious predicaments, which can only be resolved with improbable revelations and coincidences. The show keeps up a nice brisk pace, with many a visual gag and ribald double entendre.

It may be over the top at times, but it is more fun to see actors try a bit too hard than not enough. It captures the exuberant innocence of farce, with no evil characters and the comfort of knowing that in spite of the foibles of pride, all will be well in the end.

The tension of this plot is driven by an annual golf tournament bet between Henry (played with fine comedic timing and facial expression by Neville Worsnop), president of the Quail Valley Golf and River Club, and Dickie (played with irrepressible animation by Nick Forrow) of the Crouching Squirrel Golf and Racquet Club.

Henry’s job is on the line after five years of losing the tournament, and after making an outrageously large bet, learns his “ace-in-the-hole” golfer has defected to the other side. Salvation looms when he discovers that his new assistant Justin (played by Greg Allen) is an excellent golfer.

However, Justin only plays well when he is not upset, and during a rain delay in the big match, he discovers that his fiancée Louise (played by Dani Lowry), the club waitress, has accidentally flushed her new engagement ring down the toilet. Hilarity ensues.

Allen is very humourous as Justin discovers that cracking jokes does little to sooth a distraught fiancée, and Lowry flips confidently between sensible and emotional.

Meanwhile, among members of the jaded senior generation, Henry is rekindling his interest in an old flame, Dickie’s former wife Pamela (played with sincere cynicism by Brigida Scholten).

When this accidentally becomes public knowledge, Henry’s nagging wife Muriel (played with high octane energy by Wendy West) is suitably unimpressed, though it turns out that she has a secret interest in Dickie.

Eventually, the golf match reaches its climax, the bet is won and relationships are sorted out in comical fashion. I’ve promised not to reveal details about the ending, but let’s just say it hinges on Louise’s hidden hereditary birthmarks and secret talent. There is also a truly unique denouement, which has a silent film quality about it.

Making things work smoothly behind the scenes for this play are Stage Manager Trish Hamilton and the voice of the golf course starter, Robert Hetu – who will be directing this year’s Century Church pantomime, Hansel and Gretel. Auditions for adults and kids are on June 20 – call 519-855-4586 for information.