September 30, 2015

Hillsburgh pond options to be presented next year

As published in The Erin Advocate

The first Public Information Centre in the Environment Assessment of the Station Street dam and bridge in Hillsburgh will not be held until early next year.

The Town of Erin must decide on rebuilding the bridge, which is now 98 years old, and was identified as in need of replacement as early as 1973. Pond preservation is also a major issue, both in Hillsburgh and Erin village, since the dams not longer meet provincial safety standards.

Just a few miles downstream on the West Credit River, there are similar issues as Credit Valley Conservation studies what to do with the popular dam and pond at the Belfountain Conservation Area. A Public Information Centre on their EA and Management Plan was held last week, with local residents concerned more about visitor flow than stream flow.

The Hillsburgh EA is a $190,000 project, with future work on the bridge, dam and road expected to cost well over $2 million, whether the pond is saved or not. Part of that would include installing infrastructure to service future housing west of the pond, with development fees possibly offsetting the cost.

The road was closed in 2011 due to a failing outlet pipe and emergency work was done in 2012 to make the road safe for traffic.

The start of the EA was announced in November 2014, and a full cycle of seasons was needed to study the plants and wildlife in the pond ecosystem. Triton Engineering is assembling a Background Information Statement, and will prepare an outline of possible options for the Public Information Centre.

The EA is actually the product of a series of studies on factors such as the cultural and heritage value of the pond. The Elora Cataract Trailway runs by it, but recreational usage is very limited since the pond and most of the adjacent land is privately held.

All of the options will be costly, but it will be interesting to see if there is any political support for innovative solutions that benefit fish and the river environment. Or will the Town be content to simply maintain safety and a scenic view?

Construction of a narrow channel to handle the main flow
of the West Credit River is one of several options in a study
of the pond and dam at Belfountain Conservation Area.    
There are some differences with the Belfountain situation, but both have sub-standard dams and sediment-filled ponds. The Belfountain study, available on the CVC website, could provide a preview of some of the issues to be debated here.

What will be the impact on local wells? Are we willing to alter the man-made pond ecosystems that have developed over the past 190 years? Is it better to leave the sediment, dredge it or let it wash downstream? Should we create more usable land by partially filling in ponds? Do we preserve ponds as valuable assets, or let the river gradually return to its natural state, including wetlands.

One of the most interesting options outlined in the Belfountain EA is construction of a by-pass channel that would handle most of the stream flow. The pond would be preserved with a new dam, but it would be “off-line” from the main river – the same concept as at Stanley Park, or the new channel around Wolf Lake at Terra Cotta Conservation Area.

Such a system would provide the colder water temperatures that fish need, and a route for them to swim past the dam. It won’t be the cheapest option, but it might satisfy some of the local concerns while improving the environment.

September 23, 2015

Social justice requires choices for common good

As published in The Erin Advocate

Of course, we should pay heed to events like Hunger Awareness Week, now in progress. It is so easy to let it slide by, since the issue never seems to go away. We should not be lulled into thinking, however, that there are no solutions.

Poverty may well be part of the human condition, but that does not relieve us of an obligation to better the lives of people other than ourselves. We have the capacity to ensure that everyone gets enough food.

East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) is urging us to wear red this week, to show common cause with those in need and others who care. We can certainly educate ourselves at sites like

But what does it profit a wealthy town, in a wealthy nation, to merely read up on the problem, to wring its hands and say to the hungry, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill”, yet not supply their bodily needs?

We can make the leap from words to action by actually bringing food to the EWCS office at 45 Main Street, or donating money to help their food banks in Erin and Rockwood.

In the last year, EWCS distributed 50,000 pounds of food, valued at $125,000. They handled 1,350 visits and provided for some 300 individuals – 42% of them children.

With food bank use rising 25% in the last seven years, Canadians need to ask themselves what kind of country they want to live in, and identify the areas where the social values we cherish have been eroded.

We live in a world dominated by competition, but we are not mere victims of market forces. We can make choices that promote the common good. We can ask questions that push the discussion of hunger beyond the need for charity.

What does it profit a wealthy nation to channel more and more of its wealth into the hands of a very few, who are already wealthy? Will that promote prosperity and stability?

The creation of a middle class, imperfect as it may be, has been about sharing the wealth. Its impending demise is quite properly an election issue.

If we are forced to become a less wealthy nation, perhaps due to the rise of previously impoverished nations, are we willing to share the reduction equitably? Can we abandon the myth of perpetual growth?

What does it profit a wealthy nation to channel more and more of its workers into low-wage jobs – part-time, casual, temporary and casual work, with no security or benefits – while allowing real estate values to skyrocket? It is the epitome of unsustainability.

How can we lie to our children, telling them that education and hard work will allow them to maintain a standard of living that is, in fact, slipping away from the majority? Does their education include ways to be happy with less?

One of the pieces in this economic puzzle is the minimum wage, which finally hit $11 last year and will soar to $11.25 next month. Considering the value of these jobs to our economy, it is not nearly enough.

There’s a movement for higher increases (read up at, which make good economic sense. People need hope of decent work, not charity. A higher minimum wage would stimulate growth in the economy, providing more spending at small, local businesses.

Tax cuts for profitable corporations do not produce the same benefits. They are under no obligation to create more jobs or pay better wages.

That’s why we elect governments, whose job it is to do what’s best for society as a whole. Let’s make sure they get on with it.

September 16, 2015

A new comedy and a new music series

As published in The Erin Advocate

This past weekend was a fine one for entertainment in Erin, with a new comedy opening at Century Church Theatre and the first concert presented in a new monthly folk music series at the Busholme Inn.

The theatrical offering is A Bench in the Sun, written by Ron Clark and directed by Jo Phenix. Young folks could well enjoy the show, but it is probably funnier for those who can relate to the antics of two grumpy old men competing for the attentions of a mature actress who moves into their retirement home.

Neville Worsnop plays Harold, a dapper fellow who is very proud of his life’s adventures, and never ceases to brag about them to his childhood friend Burt, with whom he now shares a sunny bench.

Wayne Moore plays Burt, a retired accountant who is fixated on his newspaper and haunted by a conflict from his past. He naps so often that he wears pajamas all day – this is, until he takes an interest in Adrienne, played by Vickie Forsyth.

The aging movie star has a glittering hair-do and a relentlessly sunny disposition, which certainly perks up the lives of the menfolk – whose previous entertainment consisted of antagonizing each other with constant arguments.

Michelle Moore provides the voice of the retirement home PA announcer, introducing each scene with slice of seniors humour.

Neville Worsnop, Wayne Moore and Vickie Forsyth
The story is about the frailties of advancing age, and the frustrations of relationships at any age, all simmered together in a stew of puns, witty wordplay and physical gags. And while true love remains elusive, the two men are eventually able to resolve a long-standing conflict.

It is a mellow comedy, and sometimes that’s just what the doctor ordered. The show continues this Friday and Saturday evening, and Sunday afternoon. Go to for more details.

Meanwhile, at the Busholme, Erin was treated to the fine voices of Tannis Slimmon from Guelph, and Clela Errington from Toronto. Each had their own sets, but provided backup vocals for each other on selected songs.

It was the first in a series of monthly concerts called Erin Roots, organized by Folk Roots Radio host Jan Hall of Hillsburgh. She’s promising a broad mix of folksy / bluesy / alternative acoustic music.

Clela Errington
Clela Errington’s music leans towards soulful jazz – passionate and upbeat, but very relaxed, with some nice ukulele and harmonica work to supplement her guitar playing.

Her voice has a huge range, and she’s able to sing lightly, but with richness and power at the same time. She has four albums, the most recent being More Love and Happiness.

Tannis Slimmon is well-known on the folk festival scene, both as a solo artist and as part of various groups including The Bird Sisters, during a career of 30+ years. She has a way of engaging and uplifting an audience, whether the song is happy or sad.

Tannis Slimmon

In 2008 she was named Contemporary Vocalist of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards for her album Lucky Blue. Her 2013 album In & Out Of Harmony was produced by her musical partner Lewis Melville, who provided the second guitar and vocals during Saturday’s concert.

Melville is a wizard with his guitar improvisations, and he’ll be back on October 24 for the next Erin Roots concert, teaming up with Ian Pattison in Banjo Mechanics. Also featured will be the blues guitar and cello duo of Dennis Gaumond and Jen Gillmor, who go by the name Jennis.

September 09, 2015

Question Period approved for Erin Council meetings

As published in The Erin Advocate

Establishment of a public Question Period at the start of Erin Town Council meetings is good news for local democracy.

It won’t be like Question Period in the House of Commons, where MPs can only ask questions planned by their party. In Erin, residents will be able to ask anything they want.

It will encourage people to bring up topics in public – not to embarrass staff or politicians, but to ensure that responses are heard by other members of the public and the media.

People will not have to register days in advance as a delegation or provide details about the question they intend to ask.

‘It certainly answers to the openness and transparency that we may be accused of not having,” said Mayor Al Alls. “It’s a bit of an experiment for Erin Council, but I think it’s worth trying.”

Clerk Dina Lundy suggested that Question Period be limited to 15 minutes, with a limit of 5 minutes per person for the question and response.

As the chair at Council meetings, Alls will refer the questions to councillors or staff members. If they don’t have the requested information, the answer will be provided later. “I guarantee we’ll get the answer,” said Alls.

Councillor John Brennan said any delayed answers should be available to all members of the public at the following meeting. Support for the Question Period was unanimous, so it is expected to be ratified on September 15.

This will be just one of several ways to communicate with the Town. People can still phone, email or visit the Town office to get answers from councillors or staff. The public can sit in on committee meetings and speak with politicians in person. There will still be a separate time at council meetings for delegations, in which people can make a 15-minute presentation.

The mayor liked the Question Period idea during the election campaign, but then suggested it was perhaps better to hold regular Town Hall Forum meetings. Various people have advocated a Question Period, and after talking to the mayor of Grand Valley, Alls agreed that it could work in Erin.

The Town is under no obligation to provide this opportunity, so it could easily be cancelled if it is abused.

That means we need actual questions that are of public interest and related to Town business. Questions may need a bit of background, and might imply some criticism of the Town or Council, but anyone who launches into a speech, makes offensive comments about individuals or tries to engage in debate is likely to be shut down quickly by the chair.

The exact procedure to sign up as a questioner has not been set, but Alls said his intent is to give priority to residents who have not asked a question at a recent meeting.

Meetings at 6:30 pm

Councillors also approved a new start time of 6:30 pm for evening meetings, in hopes of finishing by 10 pm. That could make it difficult for some commuters to make it to the meeting, but overall it seems a practical idea.

Clerk Dina Lundy said that trying to wrap up business by the normal 11 pm deadline “can contribute to fatigue and rushing through agenda items.”

Council will meet at 6:30 pm on the first Tuesday of the month and at 1 pm on the third Tuesday. Agendas are available in advance at

Special short meetings required under the Planning Act are normally scheduled before regular council meetings. Clerk Lundy suggests that incorporating them into the main meeting, as many other towns do, would be more efficient.

September 02, 2015

Tin Roof Café has freshly-baked treats

As published in The Erin Advocate

Rachel Craven has launched into an exciting business venture with the grand opening last weekend of the Tin Roof Café, at the south end of Erin village.

She’s hoping to find a niche in the local marketplace with a selection of coffees, specialty beverages, lunch fare and in-house baking, along with a friendly atmosphere.

“It’s been good so far,” she said. “I really appreciate the small town – everyone has been supportive. I’m free to put all of my energy into this. It’s an atmosphere where you can get to know people’s names. We’re aiming for really high quality.”

Rachel is a graduate of Erin District High School, who has moved back to Erin. She worked at The Shed when it was operating at 4 Main Street, and has now converted that building into the Tin Roof Café. She also gained baking experience working at The French Press Coffee House & Bistro in Orangeville.

Within a few days, Tin Roof will be launching their lunch menu, with a variety of soups, salads and sandwiches.

Beverages include locally-roasted organic-fair trade drip coffee, Las Chicas French press coffee, espresso, lattes and loose-leaf tea. They also make their own almond milk.

Like most businesses in the coffee sector, they provide Wi-Fi internet service, which can encourage customers to take a table and stay for a while. They will be operating from 8 am to 6 pm.

Rachel has had strong family support for her venture, with her parents Martin and Elizabeth buying the unique building earlier this year. It features an open-concept front, an inside balcony level with a fireplace, and a tin roof. The parking lot has now been paved and marked.

Cabinetry has been created by Fox Custom Woodworks, located just to the south at the intersection of Main Street and County Road 124.

Reaction on Facebook to the new business has been positive – check it out at /TinRoofCafeErin, or visit their Twitter feed, /tinroof_cafe.