December 30, 2015

Measuring the quality of a semi-rural lifestyle

As published in The Erin Advocate

No doubt there is a price to be paid for living in an uncrowded area with plenty of fresh air, fresh water and fresh food. But senior governments need to be reminded of the value that rural communities provide to the economic and environmental welfare of city dwellers.

The Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation released a report this year that says small towns and Aboriginal communities have been getting the short end of the stick when it comes to services that all Canadians should enjoy.

“We have been neglecting rural Canada,” the report says. “Despite the vital role of rural places in this country, and despite their partnership with urban Canada, we have been neglecting rural places and permitting the erosion of an important community development foundation of Canadian society and economy. Fundamentally, we have forgotten how to re-invest in rural and small town places, preferring instead to simply run down the capital invested by previous generations.”

Erin may be relatively affluent, but most of our money is generated elsewhere, so there is a lack of motivation to invest in the local community. We need to demand a fair share of the wealth that comes from the offices and factories of the Greater Toronto Area, but the Foundation also urges us to be innovative in developing our own economy with local action.

“As we approach a re-imagined rural Canada we need to listen to rural peoples,” the report says. “We cannot re-imagine places and economies without the vision and experience of those who live and work every day in these places.”

Another report with more local information was released this year by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), analyzing the changing use of farmland within our watershed based on the 2011 Census of Agriculture.

“Agricultural producers are key stakeholders in protecting environmental resources such as water, air, soil and biodiversity,” said Mike Puddister, Deputy CAO and Director of Watershed Transformation at CVC.

CVC provides financial incentives for farmers, stressing that conservation and improvement of environmental resources benefits everyone, including densely populated areas like Brampton and Mississauga.

“Adopting conservation practices is increasingly important with climate change,” said Mark Eastman, Agricultural Program Coordinator at CVC. “For example, planting buffer zones along streams protects fields from erosion, filters nutrients and pollutants, and shades water keeping it cool for fish.”

Ontario’s prime farmland is concentrated in the southern part of the province, where there is huge pressure for new homes, roads and businesses. So it is no surprise that from 1956 to 2011, Ontario lost 36% of its farmland – compared to an 8% decline in Canada as a whole.

The census data for the West Credit Subwatershed (most of the eastern half of the Town of Erin) show a 26% drop in the number of farms, from 1996 to 2011 (88 farms down to 65), with most of the decline from 1996 to 2001.

The total acreage, however, was down only 9.2%, since average farm size was increasing. Most of the farms are in the 10-69 acre category (25 of them) or 70-129 acres (15). While farm acreage was down, the total number of acres in the subwatershed being sprayed with herbicides was up 43% in 15 years, and acres sprayed with insecticide were up 32%.

Other trends in the larger watershed include more acreage in field crops and less in natural land for pasture. The number of farms producing fruit, berries and nuts was down by more than 50% in the 1996-2011 period. The number of farms producing vegetables was stable, but the acreage was down 34%.

The CVC study found that 50 per cent of farms in the watershed are rotating their crops, 28 per cent are using rotational grazing, 25 per cent have buffer zones around water bodies and 30 per cent have windbreaks and/or shelterbreaks within their fields. Of all the farmland, 48% was rented – up 14% over 15 years.

December 23, 2015

Town Hall renovation makes good sense

As published in The Erin Advocate

Advance planning for improvements to Erin’s Town Hall is an excellent idea, even if completion is many years down the road.

It would be naive to think that Town operations will not expand. There is a huge pent-up demand for development. The province (and local residents) continue to demand more tasks of Town staff. And we could end up with a wastewater department before long.

The current space at Town Hall is adequate in many ways, but there is also some inefficiency. With this in mind, Paul Sapounzi of +VG Architects was invited to prepare some concept drawings for both short- and long-term renovations, which he presented to Council at their December 15 meeting.

On the short-term side, the province is demanding compliance with accessibility standards. That means eliminating an unnecessary platform in the council chamber and installing an elevator from the lobby to the lower floor. Since the logical spot for that elevator is next to the door, currently the clerk’s office, Mayor Al Alls suggested that perhaps Clerk Dina Lundy could add Elevator Operator to her job description. 

A preliminary concept from +VG Architects, with a darker area showing an addition
to the Town Hall and lighter shading for areas of renovation.

The foyer and other public areas need better counter design to welcome visitors, to add privacy for confidential business and to provide a more secure division between public and staff areas. There is a need for an additional small meeting room off the lobby, and for reorganization of storage space and other room functions.

The larger, longer-term project is a small addition that would extend the peak of the roof over the council chamber towards the parking lot. There are no cost estimates attached to any of these architectural concepts, but councillors made it clear that with the Town facing many other financial obligations, an addition will have to wait. The first step is to make better use of the space they already have.

If there is a future need for more space, however, a modest addition will be less costly than a new building and more efficient than satellite offices. The Town has often been criticized for a lack of long-term planning, so this is a positive move.

One of the attractive features of the conceptual plan is a two-storey window on the new front of the building, facing the parking lot. An excavated area with a sloped rock wall would allow natural light to shine into the basement office area.

The centerpiece would be a larger council chamber, turned 90 degrees from the current design, with the new window behind the councillors’ seats. The room would be 80% larger, and hold twice as many spectators – there are several occasions every year when there are not enough seats for a meeting.

If well designed, the council chamber could be converted on short notice into an attractive multi-purpose room, available to be rented out for medium-sized events. The space below the chamber would be expanded as well, allowing for the addition of 8-12 work stations.

Of course, some people will consider any changes to the Town Hall to be needless and extravagant. An addition must be justified and withstand constructive criticism, but I think it should be seen as a valid opportunity to improve the function of the building and add a touch of class. When the time is right, it should be given serious consideration.

December 16, 2015

Greenbelt expansion could limit Erin’s future growth

As published in The Erin Advocate

In order to preserve farmland, woodlands, wetlands and ground water near the GTA, is there a need to lock down vast new areas of the countryside, including the western part of Erin, to drastically limit future development?

A coalition of environmental groups is advocating a major expansion of the Greenbelt, which already protects the eastern part of the Town of Erin, including the lands surrounding Hillsburgh and Erin village. Within the Greenbelt, most development is banned outside the fixed urban borders of hamlets and villages.

The Greenbelt is now under review by the provincial government and there is debate over how much protection is needed. In a tug of war between environmentalists and the development industry, the province has the difficult task of setting priorities, finding solutions and striking a reasonable balance.

Dark areas on the map show proposed local additions 
to the Greenbelt. Existing Greenbelt lands are to the east.    
On one hand, Ontario sees population growth as essential to the economy, and insists that counties and regions accept their share of new residents – mainly with denser concentrations. In 2006, 8.4 million people lived in the Greater Golden Horseshoe; by 2031 the number is expected to be 11 million, up 31%. Developers, and large cities already bursting at the seams, want the Greenbelt territory and restrictions reduced to allow for more growth.

On the other hand, the government also agrees with vast majority of residents who don’t want to see Southern Ontario covered with pavement.

The Greenbelt was intended as a barrier to urban sprawl, but development is now leapfrogging over it. Greenbelt lands are also threatened by new mega-highways, including the GTA West that will run from Vaughan to Caledon, Georgetown and the 401, and by the large-scale dumping of potentially contaminated soil as fill on farmland.

The Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation is quite happy with the recent report of a Coordinated Land Use Plan Review advisory panel led by former Toronto Mayor David Crombie. It backs growing the Greenbelt, which already covers 1.8 million acres, stretching 325 km from Rice Lake to the Niagara River.

Farmland and sensitive natural areas outside the Greenbelt already have some protection through provincial policies, conservation authority regulations and local official plans.

The Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, which includes 115 groups such as the Wellington Water Watchers, is proposing to add almost 1.6 million acres to the Greenbelt. That would include river valleys in built-up areas, huge zones surrounding Barrie and Cobourg and significant groundwater sources throughout Waterloo Region and Wellington County.

The Waterloo, Orangeville and Paris-Galt Moraines provide the headwaters of the Grand River and aquifers for drinking water in Guelph, Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge. The new water protection zones could be called the “Bluebelt”. For more information, go to and

“The County Planning department would like to understand the purpose of expanding the Greenbelt,” said Wellington Planning Director Gary Cousins.

“The Greenbelt was initially established as a separator between the GTA and what has been called the ‘outer ring municipalities’. It appears the purpose is changing based on providing higher levels of environmental and agricultural protection, but there are many protections already in place to achieve these purposes.”

Erin Councillor Jeff Duncan raised the issue at the December 1 meeting of Town Council, with a reminder that in 2004, part of Erin was unexpectedly placed in the Greenbelt without consultation or consent. Council had to make decisions about urban boundaries on short notice.

Duncan suggested that the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, funded by the provincial government, is releasing “trial balloons” to test reaction to the possibility of Greenbelt expansion.

“The Greenbelt has both negative and positive attributes to it, but our citizens and Town/County officials should be prepared to debate those issues,” he said.

December 09, 2015

Legion plaque pays tribute to artist Robert Lougheed

The young soldier looks both innocent and determined, lit by slanting sunlight against a turbulent sea and sky. It’s a painting that has greeted visitors to the Royal Canadian Legion in Erin for many years, but it was only recently that a plaque was posted with information about the artist.

The unsigned painting is by Robert Lougheed, who lived from 1910 to 1982. He grew up on a farm in Grand Valley and went on to a successful career as an illustrator in New York and an artist in the American West.

Erin became his Canadian homestead, since it was the home of his brother Cliff, who moved here from Grand Valley in 1940. Cliff and Eleanor Lougheed bought a house on Main Street four years later, and Robert gave them the painting of the soldier at about that time. Later they donated it to the Legion.

Cliff passed away 11 years ago, but Eleanor continues to live in the same house. Her neighbour Joanne Gardner was aware of the painting and felt there should be some recognition of the artist and the donation. She worked with the Legion to create a plaque, including two photos of Robert Lougheed, which was mounted with the painting in September this year.

Robert learned to draw as a child, earning his first commission at the age of 11 for a chicken feed advertisement. In 1929 he moved to Toronto, working as an illustrator for mail order catalogues and the Toronto Star while studying at the Ontario College of Art.

In 1935 he moved to New York to continue his studies and his freelance illustration career. As a fine artist he became known for his paintings of horses, but his most famous horse was the red flying Pegasus that he created for the Mobile Oil logo.

In a 30-year career, he illustrated children’s books and worked for National Geographic, Reader’s Digest, Saturday Evening Post and Colliers magazines. In 1970, the US Post Office commissioned him to design a six-cent buffalo stamp for their Wildlife Conservation Series.

In 1941 he enlisted with the Canadian Army and was stationed in Montreal, where he continued his studies at the École des beaux-arts. He did drawings and paintings of soldiers, and of Quebec homes, barns and horses.

Later he lived in Connecticut, and toured not only the American West, but also Canada, Alaska and Europe for his painting. He and his wife Cordelia eventually moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

He joined the Cowboy Artists of America and helped found the National Academy of Western Art, both of which honoured him with major awards. He produced about 5,000 paintings in his lifetime, with a representative selection displayed in the Lougheed Studio, at the Claggett/Rey Gallery in Vail, Colorado.

December 02, 2015

Bill Dinwoody an advocate for health and recreation

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin has lost a strong advocate for community health care and recreation services.

Bill Dinwoody, 73, chair of the Recreation and Culture Committee and the Erin Trails group, passed away on November 20 after a brief illness. He is mourned by his beloved wife Martha, and children Thomas, Johanna and Shana.

“He was thoughtful, kind and soft-spoken,” said Joan Fisk, Chair of the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network (LHIN). “He gave great advice and had a deep feeling for community health care.”

Dinwoody was to retire this month from his service on the LHIN Board of Directors, which administers funding for hospitals, long-term care, community agencies and home care. He was on the Finance Committee, working to improve efficiency and acc
ountability in the local system, which serves 775,000 residents.

“He was a very positive person – an important citizen who will be sorely missed,” said Mayor Al Alls. A memorial service was held on November 28 at Butcher Family Funeral Home.

Dinwoody was a senior manager at the Royal Bank of Canada, and had retired after a 45-year career. He managed the strategic technology planning and development function, and served on national and international committees to develop a strategic technological direction for the banking industry.

Bill Dinwoody helping out on CVC’s Check Your Watershed Day, measuring temperatures in the
West Credit River, making sketches of bridges and looking for obstacles to the movement of fish.

He lived formerly in Toronto and Shelburne, and had a passion for outdoor activities such as hiking, horseback riding and fishing. He had been a scout leader, a ski instructor, a Sunday school teacher, a guitar player and a wood carver.

He was very active with Credit Valley Conservation, which honoured him with awards for his work on the Woollen Mills Trail and organizing tree planting projects.

Providing leadership on the Erin Trails group, he also helped develop the Rotary and Water Tower Trails, as well as Riverside Park, which had its official opening this year.

With Recreation and Culture, he was an advocate for the Skatepark that was built next to the Centre 2000 arena.

New walking trail reveals heritage of downtown Erin

As published in the Erin Advocate

A self-guided tour of the Victorian architecture in Erin’s historic downtown district is now available, with brochures provided in many local shops.

The Heritage Walking Trail takes less than an hour to complete, starting at the Founding of Erin historical plaque on the east side of Main Street near the West Credit River.

It is a joint project of the Town’s Trails and Heritage Committees, with support from the Wellington County Planning Department.

The brochure has two maps, one of the downtown core from Centre Street to Water Street, and the other showing the network of village trails and greenspaces, from the Elora Cataract Trailway to the Water Tower Trail. It can be downloaded as a PDF file from the Trails section of the Town website.

There are photos and information on 17 points of interest, plus codes that people can scan with their smart phones to get more details on-line. Erin’s mill history is highlighted on a sign at McMillan Park. On the west side of Main Street, the tour diverts to Riverside Park, which has a sign with even more information on local history and natural features.

I have a personal interest in the current project, helping plan it over the last few years with Steve Revell and Bill Dinwoody of the Trails Committee, and doing much of the design, writing and photography. This year, the Heritage Committee got involved and pushed the project to completion, with the support of Chair Jamie Cheyne, Councillor Jeff Duncan, Economic Development Coordinator Bob Cheetham, County Planner Director Gary Cousins and the BIA.

It is all a continuation of work done previously. In 1985, signs were created for downtown shops with historical information on the buildings, and many are still in place. In 1994, the Village of Erin published a Walking Trails brochure, with the help of Tim Inkster of The Porcupine's Quill, identifying the downtown business district as The Heritage Trail.

Trails support the principles of the Wellington County Active Transportation Plan, which encourages people to get out of their cars and get moving under their own power. This is good for fitness, good for the environment, good for local business and good for educating people about heritage and nature. As former trails volunteer Frank Smedley liked to say, “It’s all good.”

For economic development, trails promote a positive image for the Town as a desirable destination. Having a public network, with brochures and signs, gives visitors some well-defined choices.

The network so far includes the Elora Cataract Trailway, the Woollen Mills Trail, the Rotary Trail, the Water Tower Trail and Riverside Park. It could be expanded with a Riverside Boardwalk, a link through the Stanley Park area and a Height of Land trail extending from the water tower.

When we have new housing subdivisions, we should incorporate trails as part of the essential infrastructure. Also, Wellington County’s purchase of land surrounding the Hillsburgh Mill Pond opens up possibilities for a new trail in that area.

A Trails Master Plan would identify the type of trails network the Town wants, and how we can go about building it. Fortunately, planning and promotion of trails has become a key part of Erin’s Economic Development Action Plan, and grant money is being sought to make more progress.