Deficits, apathy threat to Legion

Orillia’s long-running Royal Canadian Legion branch has much in common with veterans’ clubs across the country – an uncertain future in the face of dwindling finances and attendance. The executive is determined to turn the situation around with fresh thinking and a call for greater membership involvement. “There comes a point where you have to say it is time to deal with this,” first vice-president Colin Wackett said. “We cannot afford to carry on this way. Otherwise the roof literally comes crashing down.” The local branch has reported deficits for the past five years, closing out 2008 with a $30,000 shortfall. Declining attendance, a fall in bar sales and rising operating costs are contributing factors. “This is not isolated to Orillia, believe me,” said Wackett. “It is everywhere.” Members are concerned. A recent meeting to discuss the Legion’s future drew record attendance, with more than 250 people turning out for the brainstorming session. Many said programs catering to younger adults were crucial to ensuring the organization’s success, as the number of veterans declines each year. A monthly jam session was suggested as a potential draw, as was the introduction of mid-day programs for those less inclined to visit at night. According to Wackett, this is just the kind of thinking that is crucial to the branch’s success. “The younger generation doesn’t have the same history with the Legion as (elderly veterans) do,” he added. “How do we bring those people in? We do so much in the community that we don’t want to let go. We have got to change the methods of the past.” Orillia’s branch boasts a membership of more than 1,700, but too few regularly visit the building or become involved on a volunteer basis, he said. “If everyone who came to that meeting came into the Legion once a week, we wouldn’t be having that meeting,” Wackett added. “If ever there was a time to step forward, it’s now.” Adding to the Legion’s money problems is the rising cost of maintaining and operating its aging waterfront building. The heating bill rose to $4,200 this winter, up from  $2,200 the previous year. “Sure it was a cold winter, but doubling your heating costs is pretty startling,” he said. “It means you have to raise the extra money to cover it.” The Legion relies largely on fundraising events, as well as fees from the rental of its upstairs hall to operate. While acknowledging the branch’s lakeside building could net a hefty sum – were it sold and the Legion relocated to a smaller facility – Wackett said the idea has been roundly rejected.  “There is a sense of pride and ownership in that spot,” he added of the building, which was bought and paid for by the membership. Wackett was under the impression that the Legion’s Dominion Command would retain some of the proceeds from the building’s sale. As Orillia Today learned, that isn’t accurate. Individual branches reap all proceeds from the sale of their properties so long as they retain their charter, said Bob Butt, spokesperson for the Legion’s Dominion Command. A sale is subject to the approval of provincial command, he added. “They could sell their building, build the new building and they keep that extra (money),” he said in a phone interview, adding that, “If they are not dissolving, they are not losing anything.” Even so, a sale of the historic building appears to hold little appeal for the membership, regardless of their financial woes. “They have a very close attachment to that building, it is a legacy,” said Wackett. “(A proposed sale) would be rejected out of hand. “That is our pride and joy,” he added. “It has the best views of the waterfront in the city.” Whether it makes financial sense to hang on to the building out of nostalgia remains to be seen, given the hurdles facing the club. According to Butt, Orillia is not alone as it works to overcome its challenges. Legions across Canada are struggling with the realities of an aging membership, weak bar sales and falling attendance.  “But we’ve still got 1,540 branches,” Butt added. “Some branches have amalgamated and some branches have closed.” The Orillia Legion’s executive will examine recommendations offered at the recent gathering, and put them to the membership during a general meeting. Along with the recommendations was a commitment from “a lot of people” to volunteer when needed, Wackett said. “Even though a lot of members are aging, it is not physical volunteering we need, it is organizational,” he said. Despite its financial woes, Wackett said the Legion would continue to support local youth programs, including baseball, air cadets and track and field. “We are determined they are going to continue,” he added. Asked whether the Legion would consider partnering with other branches in the region, Wackett said such discussions are traditionally directed by provincial or district command. “If we were approached, we would certainly listen,” he added. “We certainly would not reject any request that way.” Local members intend to meet with other branches to discuss what measures they are taking to address the challenges facing Legions. “It is time for the members to step forward and say, ‘I am willing to help,’” Wackett added of the Orillia situation. “The solution is there. It is a matter of people.” And money.


Occasional teachers reach deal with public board

Public elementary occasional teachers have reached a tentative agreement with the Simcoe County District School Board. A ratification vote will take place later this month by members of the Simcoe County occasional teacher local of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO). “This is a good deal,” ETFO president David Clegg stated in a news release. “Guaranteed, negotiated working conditions for occasional teachers provide a supportive school environment that benefits student learning.” Clegg noted Simcoe is the sixth occasional teacher local to reach a tentative deal. The other five agreements have already been ratified. “The ETFO bargaining team has worked very hard to secure a deal,” said Bob Blackwood, president of the ETFO’s Simcoe County occasional teacher local. “Once the deal is ratified, it will ensure four years of improved working conditions and better benefits for my members.” The Simcoe County local represents approximately 900 public elementary occasional teachers. Their contract expired Aug. 31, 2008.


Thornton welcomes soldier home this weekend

Thornton is welcoming home a father of two this weekend after he spent more than half a year in Afghanistan. Lt.-Col. Adam Barsby is returning home after a seven-and-a-half month tour of duty helping train the Afghan National Army. Barsby’s wife, Helen, said she is really excited for her husband’s return home. "It will be nice to be a family again," she said. The couple has two children, 16-year-old James and six-year-old Victoria-Ann. To help welcome Barsby home, a local florist has donated yellow ribbons to residents and businesses so they can show their support for Barsby. This is Barsby’s second tour of duty in Afghanistan.


Solar farm steams residents

A multi-million dollar solar energy project proposed for Oro-Medonte farmland is receiving less-than-sunny reviews from neighbouring residents. Homeowners along the ninth line say their picturesque views will be permanently obscured, should Helios Energy blanket a nearby field with large solar panels that at times could reach nearly 14 feet in height. “We bought here because the view is perfect, it is nice, open country,” said Carl Swanson, a retired police officer who moved to the area 15 years ago. An application for the solar energy project is now before the township, said Mayor Harry Hughes. “I don’t think anyone has a disagreement with creating energy from sunlight,” Hughes said. “Everyone recognizes we have to have hydro produced from some source. It is a matter of which source people have a preference for.” Hughes supports the call for environmentally friendly energy sources, but wants to learn more about the project that is said to represent an investment of more than $200 million. “I haven’t got all the data yet,” he added. “Whenever you bring something in, it is going to have an impact one way or the other. And we have to decide that as a council.” Power generated by the massive solar field would be fed directly to the provincial grid through the Orillia transmission station, according to the planning firm representing Helios Energy. The panels would cover about 60 per cent of the property’s 380 acres and produce enough power to supply about 3,000 homes. “This is a major investment,” said Ray Duhamel, of Jones Consulting Group Inc. The property, which Helios Energy has leased, is south of Highway 400, between the eighth and ninth concessions. A flat site with access to the highway made it an ideal candidate for the project, Duhamel said. “Simcoe County has reasonable sunshine to make it fly,” he added. The county’s new Official Plan recognizes “green” energy as an acceptable use for farmland, though Oro-Medonte’s plan does not. Whether township council approves the necessary rezoning may prove irrelevant if the province passes the Green Energy Act, legislation that would pave the way for such projects and supercede municipal planning policy. “There is every indication it is going to be passed,” Hughes said. Duhamel said the company is aware of local concerns, and has offered to plant a thick vegetative border to lessen the visual impact of the solar farm. “Some people just won’t like (the project) because it is change,” he said. “Some people like looking at that agricultural field and don’t want to look at solar panels.” Residents were meeting with township officials on Wednesday evening to discuss their concerns. Swanson, who enjoys a view of nearby ski hills, forests and the escarpment, said he and his wife passed out about 100 flyers inviting area residents to attend the meeting. “We are concerned this (project) is going to ruin our views and depreciate our property values and cut down on the enjoyment of our properties,” he added. “The whole field would be like a glass pond.” Hughes said the public would have an opportunity to weigh in on the matter in future. “People don’t have enough information yet to make up their mind one way or the other,” he added. The panels follow the sun’s movement by way of small electric motors that do not operate in the evening. The noise generated by the motors “falls below the Ministry of the Environment noise guidelines,” Duhamel said.


Robbery suspect suffered hypothermia

A man alleged to have robbed a convenience store clerk with a knife suffered hypothermia while hiding from police in a wooded area, the OPP has reported. Police say a lone male armed with a knife entered the Cumberland Beach store on Highway 11 near Bayou Road on Tuesday, at about 9:30 p.m. His face was hidden behind a black mask and he was wearing a hoodie. After demanding money from the clerk, a struggle ensued and the clerk suffered a small cut to one hand. The suspect took an undisclosed quantity of cash before fleeing the store, only to be located by an emergency response team and a K-9 unit two hours later in a wooded area. He was taken to Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital and treated for hypothermia before being transported to the Orillia OPP detachment. A 19-year-old Cumberland Beach man is charged with robbery with a weapon and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose. He was to attend a bail hearing in Barrie court on Thursday.


Stolen 2010 pickup fished out of river

Police and tow truck crews pulled a brand new, Ford F-150 pickup truck from the depths of the Nottawasaga River at about 6 p.m. tonight (Thurs., April 16, 2009). The truck was found submerged in the river where it crosses the 5th Line of Essa just north of Nicolston Dam on Highway 89. It had apparently been spotted a couple of days ago by a young fisherman, but he didn’t think anything of it at the time. However, another passerby today spotted it and called police. Prior to that, high water levels from rain and spring runoff likely kept the vehicle hidden from view in the deeper, murky water. There was some initial concern that the driver might have still been inside, but it quickly became clear the vehicle was empty. The ignition had been punched out and a check by Nottawasaga OPP revealed the 2010 model, four-door pickup truck had been reported stolen from Toronto April 1. Police believe the truck has been in the river ever since. Access to the water was apparently gained by a rough driveway just north of the river used by fisherman to park. All the windows in the vehicle had been rolled down. It took two tow trucks and a Jeep with a winch to pull the soggy vehicle up the steep embankment onto dry ground.


Council flips on decision to turn off fluoride

Adding fluoride to the water system is the safest, most equitable and cost-effective way to distribute it, heard New Tecumseth council Monday night. A group of Canadian dental experts highlighted these points at a committee of the whole meeting after learning council had told town staff to take the necessary steps to end fluoridation of the water system in Tottenham. The motion to remove the fluoride was started by Tottenham Coun. Jim Stone, who said fluouride has been linked to some cancers and there is no proof of people having fewer cavities in areas where fluoride is added to the water.   Council has now decided to rescind their earlier decision and allow the fluoridation process to continue. "It was very disturbing when I read in the paper that people had voted in favour of removing fluoride from our water without knowing other information," said former Tottenham Reeve and New Tecumseth Deputy Mayor Joan Sutherland. "If fluoride was as much of a poison, I should be dead because I have been drinking tap water for 36 years, and still do." The decision to add fluoride into Tottenham’s water system was made in 1973 and was voted on by the residents during the municipal election that year. It is the only community in Simcoe County to add fluoride to the water supply. When the motion to end fluoridation was brought up this March town staff believed the only step to remove it was to apply to the Ministry of Environment to amend a certificate of approval for the fluoridation practice. A report from manager of public works Chad Horan this week said council is also required to pass a bylaw to discontinue fluoridating the water. The Fluoridation Act also says that a question may be put to the public before passing a bylaw, although it’s not required. Muskoka-Simcoe Dental Society president Gerry Ross has lived in Tottenham for 38 years and has had a dental practice in the community since 1971, before the fluoridation practice started. Ross said he was disappointed Stone, Ross’s local councillor, didn’t come to him for more information before introducing the fluoridation removal motion to council. "What I see in my practice is a tremendous difference in teeth in children in Tottenham and those from Beeton, Alliston and other surrounding areas," said Ross. Charles Gardner, Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit medical officer of health, said the evidence supporting fluoridation and that was provided by the dental experts at the meeting is based on systematic reviews, not a selective review. He said the first involves careful research and examining all relevant articles whereas a selective review picks and chooses information to prove a point. Gardner said fluoridation reduces tooth decay 20 to 40 per cent in the population at large and that there is no consistent, strong or relevant evidence to suggest fluoride is linked to an increase in cancers, kidney disease or other diseases. It can cause mild fluorosis, which is light white marks on the teeth usually only visible to dental professionals. Oral Health in Simcoe Muskoka, a SMDHU study, shows a trend of tooth decay in children. It shows 40 per cent of five-year-olds and 60 per cent of seven-year-olds have tooth decay in the SMDHU area. Overall, the oral health of five, seven and nine-year-olds in the region ranked in the bottom 15 to 30 per cent of the health units in Ontario. "Our trend is not a positive trend, it’s of concern," said Gardner. The SMDHU recommends fluoride being available to all residents on municipally supplied drinking water. Along with the Simcoe-Muskoka Dental Society and SMDHU support of maintaining Tottenham’s fluoridation, the Ontario Dental Association, Ontario Association of Public Health Dentistry, Health Canada, and the immediate past president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry were at the meeting to advocate the importance of fluoridation. "(Flouridation) has been researched to death and back and it has been guaranteed to be very safe," said Peter Cooney, chief dental officer for Health Canada. Stone said he doesn’t trust Health Canada though. "One of the reasons I don’t respect the stats of Health Canada is that I believe that they support the giant corporations (drugs, food and chemical) in this country," said Stone in a written report to council. Stone said his concerns extend beyond dental health. "Dentists always talk about teeth and they didn’t seem to talk about the holistic affects that fluoride has for you," said Stone. He believes fluoride is a deadly poison that does much harm to your body. New Tecumseth has two water systems. Alliston and Beeton get their water supply from the Collingwood-Alliston pipeline and Tottenham has its own well system. According to a town report the fluoridation question was put on the municipal ballot for Alliston and Beeton in 1976 and voted down. If the question is put to Tottenham residents about fluoridation, the report said the question could also be put to Alliston and Beeton. Adding fluoridation into Alliston and Beeton’s water supply would be more difficult than in Tottenham as there are at least seven stations that would need to have fluoridation systems installed, as well as receiving Ministry of Environment approval, according to the town report.


$2 bag tag fee appears likely

Meaford residents can expect to be paying $2 per bag of garbage beginning in May. Meaford council at a budget meeting held last Thursday evening appeared to be leaning towards supporting the implementation of a $2 per bag fee. As part of a new list of potential budget cuts and new revenues presented at the meeting municipal staff suggested the municipality adopt a garbage bag tag fee of $2 per bag. Staff estimated that if the new fee is implemented beginning in May it will raise approximately $370,000 in new revenue for the rest of 2009 and more than $500,000 over the course of an entire year. The issue will still require debate and formal approval from council, but at Thursday’s meeting several councillors indicated they would support such a new fee. Deputy Mayor Mike Traynor said he preferred a bag tag fee to some of the proposed budget cuts that would eliminate downtown flower planting, gravel maintenance on rural roads and the reduction of core services like the library, sidewalk plowing, dust suppression and fire department rescue services. "Some of this stuff is just demoralizing. Charging $2 a bag – I don’t think that hurts as much as some of these other things," said Traynor. Councillor Harley Greenfield said Meaford has to face the reality in waste disposal. He noted that bag tags are common in other areas. "I think the time has come for bag tags. It’s not a statement I like to make," he said. Councillors Gerald Shortt and Jim McPherson said bag tags are a tax increase with a fancy name. "It’s still a tax increase. It’s still being collected from our ratepayers," said Shortt. McPherson said he was worried residents would resort to compressing their trash more leading to fewer bags, but a higher volume of garbage being thrown out. "This is a tax grab," said McPherson. Council did not make a decision about bag tags at Thursday’s meeting. Council did set a budget target of an overall 5% tax increase (11% on the local municipal portion of the tax bill) for the 2009 budget. At council’s next budget meeting to be held on March 30 municipal staff will present a budget at the 5% target. If staff presents council with a budget that includes bag tags, council will have to debate and approve or turn down that option at the meeting.


Students travel for Habitat for Humanity

A bruising round of dodge ball at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School kicked off a campaign to build a new life for residents of an impoverished country scarred by civil war. Travis Frampton and Mady Harber, both 18, leave April 24 for a two-week stay in rural Tajikistan, an earthquake-prone region with a battered infrastructure and inadequate housing. There they will join a dozen members of Habitat for Humanity Global Village to build a home for a family in the town of Nurek. “They need attention on the world stage,” Frampton said moments before students at his alma mater plunked down a toonie each to spend the afternoon drilling one another with rubber balls. All proceeds went toward the $5,000 in travel expenses and building materials each participant in the upcoming build are expected to raise. “The support is just amazing,” Harber added. Both graduates of the local separate school, the two met in a Grade 12 philosophy class. “We realized we shared a lot of the same interests,” Frampton recalled. When her like-minded friend decided to leave Orillia to help build a house for a single mother of eight in El Suyate, Guatemala last year, it was Harber who organized a fundraising coffee house event at the school. The resulting experience was life changing for Frampton. “It is not something I ever want to stop doing,” he added of the labour intensive but satisfying work. “It made me realize how ridiculous it is the things we complain about here.” Neither is Harber a stranger to the spirit of volunteerism. Proceeds from a locally produced CD and concert she organized last year raised more than $3,600 for the local Habitat chapter. The upcoming trip, “is going to be the first of many,” she added. “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” Harber plans to study international development with the aim of improving living conditions for residents of Third World countries. “When I set my mind to something, I try my best to make it happen,” she added. Anyone wishing to contribute to the upcoming trip can do so online at www.Canadahelps.org


40th reunion for GBSS being planned

Meaford resident Garry McEachern is looking for about 8,000 people. McEachern is busy these days working with a special committee planning the 40th reunion celebration for Georgian Bay Secondary School to be held this July. The reunion is taking place from July 3-5. McEachern and a special committee have been meeting for the past few months preparing the event. "Reunion weekend is beginning to take shape," he said in an interview last week. "We’re looking for everybody who went to GBSS from 1968 and on," he said. Several events for that weekend are being planned. The committee plans to have two tents set up in the Market Square on Saturday morning for breakfasts prepared by local service clubs. In addition, a number of local bands will be playing at the Market Square throughout the day. "Most of (members of the bands) are people that graduated from the High School. We also hope to have the top three finishers from GBSS Idol playing that weekend," he said. Saturday night of reunion weekend will feature a dance at the arena. McEachern said the entire weekend will be very family friendly. "We’re hoping to have lots of things for graduates with young families to do," he said. Events and plans about the reunion weekend are being listed online at www.meaford.com McEachern said the toughest part of organizing the reunion is finding all the people that attended school in Meaford. "If we graduated 200 kids every year since 1968 that’s about 8,000 people. We’re slowing getting the names together. We hope to send a letter (about the reunion) out on April first," he said. The TD Bank in Thornbury and Fotos and Flowers by Joanne in Meaford have reunion information slips available at each location. If local residents know the address or email address of an out of town GBSS graduate they are encouraged to fill out a slip at one of those two locations. "We have close to 50% of the graduates on the lists we’ve sent out. We’re hoping that 2-3,000 people come back for that weekend," said McEachern. The idea to plan a reunion began to percolate with McEachern last year as Meaford United Church celebrated its 100th anniversary. He said Grey Highlands Secondary School in Flesherton recently celebrated its 40th anniversary and felt that Meaford should do the same. Those thoughts led to a booth at the fall fairs in Meaford and Thornbury and from that a reunion committee formed. Costs of the reunion will be $25 per person and $40 per family.