August 26, 2015

Credit Valley Trail plan gets a burst of energy

As published in Country Routes

After decades of trekking over rough terrain, advocates for a continuous network of trails to connect Orangeville, Caledon and Erin with Lake Ontario are seeing a light at the end of their journey.

The Credit Valley Heritage Society (CVHS) has brought together a consortium of local volunteers and municipal officials to help Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) finish off a footpath concept that has been part of its mandate for 60 years.

More than two thirds of the trails network already exists in various communities, and now tentative preferred routes have been mapped out for linking them together. The Credit Valley Trail will become the main thread in a tapestry of trails throughout the watershed.

It will bring together nature appreciation, fitness, environmental protection, historical awareness and the economic benefits of establishing a brand to attract visitors. Sections of the network will also be suitable for bicycles, horses, strollers, wheelchairs and snowmobiles.

A preliminary overview of the Credit Valley Trail, created by CVC.
The final route has not been determined in some areas.

CVHS is an agency under the Ontario Historical Society, which has advocated for preservation of the Barber Mill on the Credit River near Georgetown. In 2012 they expanded their vision to the whole watershed.

“If we could find a way to promote the cultural and natural resources of the river together, then we could advocate for the conservation and preservation collectively – this is when the vision for a Heritage Tourism Trail was born,” said CVHS Acting Executive Director Susan Robertson, at a meeting of 45 participants at the Alton Mill.

Susan Robertson
“We’re promoting an ethic of care, and in terms of quality of life, this concept promotes sustainable transportation, getting people out of their cars, giving people an alternative – connecting nature with culture and recreation.”

The project is similar to other history-themed routes such as the Shared Path along the Humber River in Toronto and the Laura Secord Legacy Trail from Queenston to Thorold, which focus on “history hidden in the landscape”. Robertson expects the Credit River Trail to be the largest of its kind in Canada.

Deborah Martin-Downs, Chief Administrative Officer at CVC, praised the successful efforts of the Friends of Island Lake. With CVC and other partners in the Orangeville area, they raised funds and built the Vicki Barron Trail. It includes major sections of boardwalk and is designed to link with other trails.

“If Orangeville can do this, we can do the rest. We can tackle the rest of the watershed easily,” she said. “The idea of the Credit Valley Trail is not a new one, and the early pioneers and the First Nations would tell you that they’ve already been there and done that.”

An Orangeville to Port Credit route was envisioned at the founding of CVC in 1954, as a series of public footpaths linking conservation areas, but Martin-Downs said it has lacked a champion and funding.

“I think now is the right time. In two years it is Canada’s 150th birthday, and what is more Canadian than a trail that connects our natural and cultural history?”

A trail in the Grange area near Alton,
where Shaw's Creek joins the Credit.
A variety of existing trails running roughly east and west would intersect with the Credit Valley Trail and serve as a network of side trails. The Grand River Trail runs west out of Alton, while the Elora Cataract Trailway links Hillsburgh and Erin, continuing east into Caledon as part of the Trans-Canada Trail.

In the Terra Cotta area and points south, there are intersections with the Bruce Trail, the Caledon Trailway and the Greenbelt Cycling Route. In Georgetown, the trails in Hungry Hollow are expected to be linked with Willow Park (where Silver Creek meets the Credit in Norval) and with the Guelph Radial rail trail coming in through Acton and Limehouse.

Dave Beaton, Manager of Community Outreach for CVC, said there has been major progress in acquiring land along the river, especially more than 400 acres for the Upper Credit Conservation Area near Alton.

Dave Beaton
“The biggest bang for our buck is having nature interpretation and cultural heritage information along the trail system,” said Beaton, noting the connection between mills and the river. “We’re connecting the tree huggers with the heritage huggers. It’s a very natural fit. Tourism is a major draw, so we can be spinning this into a lot of economic benefits.”

He said outdoor activities are “integral to our well-being and integral to a sense of magic”, and that the project will “help fend off the crisis of nature-deficit disorder that seems to be plaguing this world.”

With help from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, CVHS has formed a steering committee to create a Master Heritage Trail Plan. Future projects will include signage, ensuring safety and protecting historical sites, but the current challenge is the fact that sections of possible trail are on privately-owned lands.

“There has been a groundswell of community interest,” said Eric Baldin, Senior Lands Planner at CVC, who deals with property owners. “The ultimate goal of completing the links is very, very achievable.”

Trail plans for the Upper Watershed - Orangeville, Erin and Caledon areas.
CVC has put the project into its new strategic plan as a way to celebrate shared local history and create an emotional connection to the river valley. The trail will create destinations as part of a tourism strategy, provide “access to nature’s art gallery” and create an active transportation corridor.

Towns and cities within the watershed are including trails in their plans for infrastructure and economic growth, and the province has identified waterways as Ontario’s number one tourism asset.

Like the river, the Credit Valley Trail has major tributaries including the Caledon Trailway (Terra Cotta-Caledon East-Palgrave), the Elora Cataract Trailway (Forks of the Credit-Erin-Hillsburgh) and the Radial Line Trail (Limehouse-Guelph), all former railroad routes, as well as the Humber Valley Heritage Trail that leads to Bolton.

It also intersects with the Bruce Trail, which covers the length of the Niagara Escarpment, the Grand Valley Trail that runs from Alton to Lake Erie and the Trans Canada Trail – the world’s longest recreational network with 23,000 km of trails connecting all three of Canada’s ocean coasts.

“One of the key goals is to connect communities with nature, and promote environmental awareness, appreciation and action,” said Martin-Downs. “We believe that the most powerful force for environmental protection is an informed and mobilized community. Connecting people with nature is the first step in demonstrating how a thriving environment is vital for health, safety and well-being.”

Trail plans for the Middle Watershed - Terra Cotta, Glen Williams,
Acton, Limehouse and Georgetown areas.

Ambitious plan studied for economic development

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin’s new Economic Development Action Plan outlines a series of initiatives that will build some valuable momentum towards a stronger community, for the benefit of local businesses and residents.

Town council received the first draft of the plan, written by Economic Development Coordinator Bob Cheetham, on August 11. They hope to finalize it in September, as a guide for the next four years.

“It’s an aggressive plan – a roadmap to follow,” said Cheetham. “It’s a transparent process, and it’s always open to change. It will take the leadership of the municipal council to foster a proactive, collaborative presence and respond to the desire for change and managed growth within the Town of Erin.”

Written comments and suggestions from the public about the 68-page draft plan were requested by August 25 – a very brief opportunity, especially during the summer.

On the other hand, people have had many opportunities to comment on most of these issues in recent years, and can provide input to council and staff at any time.

The Action Plan draft can be downloaded from the Economic Development page, under Departments on the Town website,

Even if you don’t expect to offer suggestions, the document is a good read for anyone who cares about the community – an overview of what’s going on, or could soon be surfacing.

On September 3, the draft and the public comments will go for further discussion to the Erin Economic Development Committee, which along with four sector focus groups helped create the plan. The final version will be presented to Town Council for approval on September 15.

If councillors disagree with parts of the Action Plan, or feel that more public input is needed, they should seek agreement on amending it or deferring some sections. But they must avoid the trap of endless talk and no action. Some version of the plan should be approved soon, to move the process to specific measures in a “doing” phase.

The plan is not carved in stone, but is rather a framework in which “action” can actually take place. Council should choose some targets and get on with them.

While there are 51 initiatives in the plan, six are rated as “top priority”. One is to hire an Economic Development Officer – Cheetham has been on a one-year contract since last November, and expects to pass the torch to a permanent staff person.

Others include establishment of an overall Community Improvement Plan that would benefit targeted areas. There should be applications for funding for a feasibility study on a Riverside Trail / Boardwalk, and for developing Erin as an “Equine Hub”.

The Plan urges council to develop terms of reference for the Wastewater Environmental Assessment and to move forward with it, and to provide direction on which urban areas should get sewer servicing.

All of the suggested actions work towards achieving various goals: fostering a more positive business climate, building partnerships with business groups and government agencies, establishing Erin as a premier location for equine enthusiasts, promoting the town as a tourism destination and developing a sustainable economy.

Some actions relate to retaining existing business, supporting the development of under-used business properties, encouraging growth in sectors where Erin has an advantage and diversifying the economy to be more resilient.

Here is a sampling of just a few of the other action items:

• Develop a Community Profile (print and web-based);

• Work with the County for a Main Street Crosswalk in Erin village;

• Undertake a Trails Master Plan;

• Establish public washroom facilities in Erin village;

• Host a regular Business Showcase event;

• Undertake an “Open for Business” marketing campaign;

• Promote Bed and Breakfast businesses;

• Work with Headwaters Tourism on a Four-Seasons Attractions Strategy;

• Investigate a St. Patrick’s Day Festival in March;

• Investigate a winter skating environment on the Charles Street pond;

• Undertake a Transportation and Parking Plan for the urban centres of Hillsburgh and Erin village.

August 12, 2015

Signage strategies needed for both County and Town

As published in The Erin Advocate

The road signs that tell motorists where they are (and where they could go) do much more than provide information. They help create an image for a community, and can provide an identity boost that builds pride among residents and economic activity for local businesses.

It’s good to see that Wellington County is working on a signage strategy to promote its “brand” – something that other counties such as Huron and Perth seem to have done quite well. It’s harder for a large geographical area to define its unique character (compared to the attractions of a small town), but the tools are simple.

A colourful sign with a consistent, well-designed look should welcome drivers at every entry point to the county. The Town of Erin welcome signs on major roads are excellent. The County signs could be designed to go on the same posts, to make it clear that Erin is part of Wellington, or they could be separate.

Throughout the county, there should also be many more way-finding signs, again with a recognizable design instead of just a place name and an arrow on a blue background. Some of these could be promotional, directing visitors to natural attractions like the Elora Gorge or to commercial hubs like the shopping area of downtown Erin village.

If the County is ready to spend money on signs, Erin councillors and business operators need to speak up about what exactly they’d like to see on those signs. A Focus Group meeting at Centre 2000 on August 5 provided a good opportunity for that. A mid-summer survey had also solicited public opinions on signage, but unfortunately was no longer open when I went to the website after the meeting.

For more information on the Wellington Signage Plan, call the Economic Development Office at 519-831-2600 x 2611.

Good signs are expensive, but they can also produce a revenue stream – as the provincial government has utilized on the 400 series highways. The County also plans to have signs on which businesses can buy advertising space for their nearby establishments, whether they be restaurants, bed & breakfast homes or zip-line adventures. Conservation authorities could advertise recreation areas and the Towns could advertise its parks and trails networks, or even its industrial zones.

I would much rather see well-controlled advertising on public signs than purely commercial signs on public property (or right next to it).

The Town of Erin, as part of its new Economic Development effort, could have its own sign strategy – not to duplicate the County effort, but to give priority to local attractions, both commercial and non-profit. These would be functional, but also send a more subtle message – letting visitors know that we are confident and organized in promoting ourselves. Here are just a few sign ideas:

• Ban all private signs from the public lands surrounding selected major intersections. Reducing the clutter will give a much better impression to visitors.

• Formally request that the Ministry of Transportation have more directional signs naming Erin on area highways. For example, drivers on Highway 10 in Caledon could see a sign indicating that Erin is to the west, and not just Guelph.

• Have more signs directing drivers to the various hamlets within the Town of Erin – this would be educational even for existing residents.

• Have signs indicating the river or creek that is being crossed. This is an excellent orientation tool, which the province used to use on its highways. Maybe we could leverage some funding from Credit Valley Conservation for such a project.

• Let’s let everyone know that Erin village, Hillsburgh and Orton are stops on the Trans Canada Trail, an important route for hiking, cycling and snowmobiling. It should be a big deal.

August 05, 2015

Belfountain Festival has classical music for all ages

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Belfountain Music Festival presented a special children’s concert on Sunday afternoon, as part of an ambitious classical music series being held over 11 days at the Melville White Church on Mississauga Road. 

The festival continues until this weekend, bringing together a collection of professional musicians in small ensembles, playing compositions mainly by the big names in classical music. It also provides performance opportunities for many student musicians. 

Violinist Urszula Zielinski Brock leads the children in a march.

The children’s concert started out with a little Eine kleine Nachtmusik, from the 1st Movement of Mozart’s 1787 Serenade in G Major, putting a nice, light touch on a famous melody. 

The “Hear the Music” quartet, which also plays in schools, consists of Zachary Ebin (Artistic Director for the festival) and Urszula Zielinski Brock on violins,
Alex McLeod on viola
and Tova Rosenberg on cello. 

Cellist Tova Rosenberg helps 4-year-old Anna Simonyi 
try her hand on the big instrument.
Some of the tunes were classic, if not quite classical, such as the ever-popular Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (with variations, of course). 

There were a couple of Bach minuets, and the kids were invited to show with a happy-face – sad-face sign when the music switched between cheery and melancholy. The quartet had them marching like toy soldiers, dancing with scarves and relaxing to Brahms’ Lullaby. 

It was an educational effort as well, with the kids answering questions and learning how the cello makes the low sounds, the viola handles the medium range and the violins hit the high pitches. It was a short concert at just over 30 minutes, which was probably just right for the three and four-year-olds, but the slightly older audience members would have enjoyed a bit more. 

The show had a good follow-up, with everyone invited to the stage to try out instruments and ask questions. So all in all, it was an excellent family affair, which helped the kids appreciate good quality classical music. 

It was just one of 17 concerts and other events in the festival. Last Saturday there was old-time country music and dancing, featuring Rod Salisbury on piano, Brian Stevenson on drums, Sam Leitch on fiddle, Wib Tupling on guitar and Lionel Gibney on bass. 

Prominent on the schedule is pianist Maria Dolnycky, who with Zachary Ebin has recently released a CD entitled “Dreams: A Revival of Ukrainian Music”. 

After the Thursday night (August 6) concert featuring the Glenellen String Quartet, there will be a campfire sing-along led by composer-educator Dean Burry. 

The Friday night concert has Alex McLeod on viola and Jeannine Maloney on piano, with mezzosoprano Arianna Maubach. Saturday night it is The Accolade Trio: Patricia Wait on clarinet, Mark Chambers on cello and Elizabeth Acker on piano. The final concert Sunday night is a solo performance by singer and pianist Emily Vondrejs. 

Admission to most of the concerts is $20 for adults and $5 for children, but admission to a series of student concerts and demonstrations is free. Full details are available at