November 25, 2015

Residents’ Association builds neighbourhood connections

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Erin Residents’ Association (ERA) has been building new links of friendship and support in the community, and is inviting more people to get involved.

“We try to connect people with each other,” said founder David Spencer, who saw the benefit of a multi-interest group, in addition to existing networks such as service clubs, church groups and sports associations.

The spark was a series of power blackouts in recent years, where there was a need for more support among neighbours and communication with the Town and Ontario Hydro. The group has succeeded in getting a transformer replaced. They are also keeping the Town informed about burned-out or malfunctioning streetlights.

The primary activity, however, is community building, including social events, encouraging people to support local businesses and an informal Neighbourhood Watch effort to promote a safe environment and provide information to the OPP when necessary.

The group is marking its first anniversary with a fundraising dinner at David’s Restaurant this Saturday, November 28, at 5:30 pm. Tickets are $40. Funds raised will go to finance ERA projec
ts and charity initiatives within the village of Erin.

More information about the dinner and the group is available at, and Spencer can be contacted at

There is a regular e-newsletter with information on coming events (like the Teen Battle of The Bands), local services (like the Education Workshops hosted by the East Wellington Family Health Team) and links to other community organizations (like Transition Erin). Past issues of the newsletter are available on-line through Google Groups.

The ERA is inclusive and non-political, and membership is free. People can sign up as members, or just to receive the newsletter.

Volunteers are needed to expand the group’s activities, which could include making residents more aware of all the goods and services that can be purchased in Erin. Businesses can arrange to have their name and web link on the Resources page of the ERA website.

“It is sad to see stores and restaurants closing,” said Spencer. He is a teacher in Peel, and one of the people who helped start Erin Radio following the major power blackout of 2003.

There are no strict boundaries for ERA membership, but their area of interest is Erin village, with about 30-40 active participants. They have organized activities such as bowling, campfires, dog days, street parties, home music jams and yard sales, and have made an effort to welcome new families that move to the village. They help educate people about how to maintain a septic system.

Members have the option of sharing information about their children, to promote connections between families with children of similar ages, and about their dogs, to facilitate joint dog walking.

If the organization expands in the future, Spencer said there is the possibility of having different zones in the Town, so people could connect with their relatively close neighbours, but also be part of a larger community group.

The ERA is separate from other local organizations such as the Hills of Erin Residents’ Group, which is focused on opposition to expansion of the CBM gravel pit north of Hillsburgh. It is also separate from the Concerned Erin Citizens (CEC) group, which is focused on concerns about local taxation, spending and wastewater issues.

November 18, 2015

First World War soldier will be added to Erin cenotaph

As published in The Erin Advocate

The name of Private Alexander Cochrane will be added Great War plaque on the Erin cenotaph, after it was recently discovered that he died while on overseas service.

Cochrane had emigrated from Ireland and was working on a farm in Hillsburg (as it was spelled then). With no prior military experience, he enlisted in Erin on October 13, 1915. His wife Annie and his parents, James Beattie and Mary, still lived in Dechomet, Ballyward, Banbridge, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland.

Erin Legion Service Officer Doug Kirkwood said Cochrane’s name would be added to the cenotaph with a small plaque. The Legion had a record of Cochrane enlisting, but not of his death.

Maple leaves are engraved on most of the tombstones at the Caix British Cemetery in Northern France,
marking the final resting places of 219 Canadian soldiers from the First World War.

Chaplain Irene Walback highlighted Cochrane in her address at the Legion’s Ecumenical Service on November 8. Echoing author Ted Barris, she said, “For every war statistic, there’s a story to be told.”

Cemetery records list Cochrane’s age of death at 44, but the Attestation Form he signed when enlisting shows he was born on October 31, 1880, in County Down, making him 37 years old when he died on August 8, 1918.

That was the date on which the Canadian Corps won a battle for the village of Caix, located about 28 km south-east of Amiens in Northern France. Caix had been occupied by Commonwealth troops in March 1917, lost during the German advance of March 1918, and recaptured on August 8, 1918, according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Cochrane served with the Central Ontario Regiment of the 4th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry. He is buried in Caix British Cemetery. It was created after the Armistice when graves (mainly from March and August 1918) were brought in from the battlefields and from small cemeteries in the neighbourhood. It has the remains of 219 Canadian, 133 British and 13 Australian soldiers.

Cochrane’s Attestation shows that he was Presbyterian. He was 5 feet, 4 inches tall, with a dark complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair. He had images of a star and a woman’s face tattooed on his right wrist. Unfortunately, I have not located a photo of him.

Cochrane’s name, rank and battalion number appear in the First World War Book of Remembrance. The Canadian Virtual War Memorial produced by Veterans Affairs Canada ( has information on him, as does the database at

It’s not certain what year he came to Canada, but there had been a surge of migration from Ireland to Canada, with 5,980 people moving in the years 1911 to 1913. Ireland was in the midst of severe political turmoil at the time. Emigration had been most intense during periods of famine during the mid-1800s, but it was still running at a high rate. Between 1850 and 1913, more than 4.5 million men and women left Ireland, leaving its population reduced by about one third.

Recently, I was doing some research for the Great War Open House that was held October 29 at the Town office. It was hosted by the Heritage Committee, with about 45 people attending, and it included several tables filled with war memorabilia.

I made a presentation about what it was like to live in Erin during the First World War, based on old issues of The Advocate, which I reference every week in the Looking Back column.

It was while looking through the Erin soldiers on the Canadian Great War Project database that I noticed Cochrane, and the fact that he had died overseas. I am very glad to have made people aware of his sacrifice.

November 11, 2015

Nodwells important in Hillsburgh history

As published in The Erin Advocate

Plans to preserve the Nodwell farmhouse in Hillsburgh have been in the news lately, so it is a good time to provide some background on the family and the homestead that has been part of the local landscape since before Confederation. Jeff Duncan of the Heritage Committee assembled the documentation.

A Family History written in 1936 by Robert D. Nodwell notes that the original family name had been Nedwill, but it was changed before they moved to Canada. William Nodwell’s family were Presbyterian Scots from the town of Anaghmore in County Londonderry, Ireland.

Loss of a valuable stock of horses due to anthrax influenced their decision to emigrate, and much of the family landed in Quebec in 1838. They travelled by oxen-drawn wagons and settled on 200 acres at Lot 24, Con 8 in Hillsburgh, including the current site of Ross R. MacKay School and Meadowview Place Seniors Apartments.

Within a year, their house and belongings were destroyed by fire. William sold the north-east half of his land to Angus McMurchy, and they built a new log house. Robert D. says his grandfather William was: “A Free Mason, and held strong views re Democratic forms of Govt., Free speech, Govt. by properly constituted authority, etc.”

William died in 1845, and the land was divided between his sons Robert and Thomas. Robert bought a farm in East Garafraxa, and then traded it for his brother’s share of the family farm. A new frame barn and shed were built in 1857. Some later sources say the red brick and limestone farmhouse was built in 1868, but architectural professionals said in 2004 it appears to be from about 1865. The 1936 history says:

“A new brick house was built in 1864 and is now occupied by Mungo Carrick Nodwell a great grandson who is now directing the business of the old farm.”

William’s son Andrew had moved from Ireland to Philadelphia in 1836, then to Hillsburgh three years later. They lived 27 years in a log cabin at Lot 22, Con 8. One of his nine children, Robert C. born in 1857, was 92 when interviewed in 1949 by the Guelph Mercury. He recalled working as a potato farmer, selling the farm and retiring in Hillsburgh in 1923.

“Mr. Nodwell has been for many years an ardent Christian gentleman, a forceful protagonist for the prohibition of intoxicating liquors and a Liberal of no mean calibre,” said the Mercury.

The Nodwells were known for breeding Short-Horn Cattle in the 1890s. Family members were leaders at St. Andrew’s Church, and Robert D. was President of the Hillsburgh Branch of the Upper Canada Bible Society. His son, Lieutenant William E. Nodwell of the 30th Wellington Rifles, was a recruiter during World War I. Robert C.’s wife was active with the Hillsburgh Women’s Institute.

Dr. R.J. Nodwell served in the Medical Corps in World War II, was appointed Deputy Director General of Medical Services for the Army in 1953 and Medical Director of Toronto Western Hospital in 1960.

In a 2009 collection called Shades of the Past, Hillsburgh native Francis Gray Currie wrote that Mungo and Lillian Nodwell created a social hub for the community at Homestead Farm. They grew seed potatoes, working the land with horses from 1926 into the 1950s, had a large dairy herd and delivered milk door-to-door by horse and wagon. Lillian was known for her art and her cooking.

The Great Room had a massive harvest plank table that could seat 12, a huge stone fireplace and almost floor-to-ceiling windows, making it “the heart and soul of the farm”.

Advocate columnist Joyce Graham wrote about the end of an era in 2004 when Mungo’s daughter Nina Nodwell and Les Richards moved to Markdale after selling the farm to Manuel Tavares. They had raised sheep since 1985 and operated Hillsburgh WoolWorks.

A lamb roast, with a campfire, games and fireworks, was held at Everdale Environmental Farm to bid them farewell.

November 04, 2015

Science fiction thriller tackles ethical issues

As published in The Erin Advocate

Sharon Sasaki has published a science fiction thriller that projects today’s medical issues into an outer space future where technology has advanced – but human nature has not.

Formerly a family doctor in Erin, Sasaki now works as a surgical assistant at Guelph General Hospital. She will be promoting her debut sci-fi novel, Welcome to the Madhouse, on Saturday, November 14 at the Tin Roof Café on Main Street, 6-8 pm, with a reading starting about 6:30 pm.

The story starts with Lt. Dr. Grace Lord arriving at a medical space station. Most of the patients are humans who have been altered with fantastical animal adaptations to make them more versatile soldiers or workers, on planets being exploited by the profit-seeking Conglomerate. They arrive horribly injured, frozen in cryopods, needing to be rebuilt.

The narrative shifts among several modes, including strong action sequences that are pushed to extremes by the eccentric characters and technologies within the space station. It is a mix of hospital drama and Space Opera science fiction, with inspiration that ranges from Isaac Asimov stories to Star Wars movies.

Other sections are introspective descriptions of characters and their philosophical musings. Should one mind be allowed to use two bodies? Should the minds of important humans be copied, so as to resurrect them in new bodies after they die?

Still other sections focus on the patter of conversation among doctors, such as the bizarrely abrasive surgeon Dr. Al-Fadi (“Welcome to the Madhouse, Dr. Grace!”) and the easy-going anesthetist Dr. Dejan Cech.

Then there’s the space station’s commanding officer Nelson Mandela (an ever-present artificial intelligence who is not all that smart), Sophie Leung (a tiny nurse with a huge voice), and patients like Dris Kindle (a human-leopard soldier planning to give up her babies for adoption).

For such a high-tech facility, it is surprisingly disorganized, vulnerable to the weaknesses of humans and uncontrollable outside forces. Barely holding the upper hand are human creativity, ingenuity and personal respect.

There are emotional and ethical issues involving android SAMM-E 777, a surgical assistant whose real name is Bud. Like many a sci-fi robot, he is aware of his lower class status and explores ways of becoming more human. He develops his capacity to experience confusing emotions, feels loyalty to his creator, upgrades himself to protect his beloved Grace from threats in the Madhouse and takes initiative to save the station from a mysterious virus attack.

While the endearing Dr. Lord is the centre of the action, she doesn’t drive it. She’s too busy reacting to crazy characters and incidents. Powerful evil impetus is provided by a psychiatrist who abuses his mind-melding techniques.

“Grace is a moral voice,” said Sasaki. “But the book is really about Bud. He embodies all the good characteristics of humans. The theme is: What does it mean to be human?”

It’s not an optimistic look ahead. The future seems to be ruled by competition for resources and profits rather than higher ideals.

Sasaki, who has read science fiction since she was 7, says, “The book is based on what we face in the hospital – we never know what’s coming in the front door. It’s a platform to question things that are going on in today’s world. I raise questions, without giving answers.” She is planning to expand the story in a number of sequels, and a prequel.

The book is available for $15 from the office of her husband, Chiropractor David Sherrington, 18 Thompson Crescent in Erin, and at the Nov. 14 book reading. It’s also available at Booklore in Orangeville, The Bookshelf in Guelph and Chapters at Square One, or through (print on demand), or