Snow Day across Simcoe

School buses across Simcoe County remained parked this morning thanks to another spring snowfall. The weather not only left children with a much appreciated snow day, it also created treacherous road conditions during the early morning commute. The snow is expected to continue into Tuesday with a high of -4 C.


Construction outlook strong in Orillia

City officials and members of the construction industry are predicting an upswing in development amidst growing optimism. At least some of the brightening mood is being driven by a flood of infrastructure funding aimed at giving local economies a lift in uncertain times. “There is no doubt it is going to have an impact,” Mayor Ron Stevens said of the federal stimulus package.  “These are the things that are causing a level of positiveness.” Orillia benefited from a $4 million boost to its library project during the first round of an earlier federal/provincial fund created for communities of less than 100,000. A newly announced fund that promises billions more for infrastructure works will continue to bolster local economies, Stevens said. “It creates jobs, and that creates spending,” he added. In addition to recently approved municipal works – including a $6 million extension of West Ridge Boulevard – the city is enjoying a strong start to the year on the housing front. The value of building permits for the first three months of 2009 sat at $3.3 million, up from $2.8 million over the same period last year. “Which tells me there are dollars out there,” Stevens added. The return of larger-scale developments is coming, but will take time, Angelo Orsi said. Orsi plans to build about 40 homes this year – roughly half the number erected in 2008. However, he remains optimistic for the future. “We have not seen any rebound as of yet, and believe we should see some bump once the auto sector issues get resolved,” he said. Federal and provincial dollars earmarked for municipal infrastructure projects should help spur development, though “it will take awhile to feel the benefits, as it has to work its way through the system. “I believe we should feel a solid rebound by the third quarter of this year,” he said. Industry veteran Jim Storey reports a “slowing trend” at the moment, but is equally hopeful. “I’m looking at 2010 being a very strong year,” he said. “This year might be a little quiet, but there is all the indication in the world that 2010 is gearing up to be a stronger year.” Projects benefiting from the promised infrastructure dollars will take time to bear fruit, said Storey, president of Bradanick Construction Services.   “They are talking about putting in these different plans to help the economy and create employment, but most of that work will be 2010 before that gets off the ground,” he added. Storey, who focuses mainly on commercial construction, noted that several large-scale projects are already on the horizon for Orillia. “We have a university starting, we have some major road construction happening, there’s (the reconstruction) of Westmount Drive,” he said. “I don’t see the future as bleak, I see it as prosperous,” he added. “It is just going to take some time to get there.” Wes Brennan, a builder of high-end custom homes, has no shortage of work to keep his crew of 15 busy. “We are all booked up for the year,” said Brennan. “We have got all kinds of work. We are always busy.” Brennan, who has several houses on the go, said the current economic climate hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of his moneyed clients. “The recession has not bothered them so much,” he said. Reliable companies that offer a quality product “will have the work,” he added. Brennan said a slowdown in the early 1990s amounted to no more than “a couple of days” without work. “I’m sure I have enough work to keep me busy for the rest of the year,” he added.


Three vying for Rec Complex pro shop

If a contract for the pro shop in the New Tecumseth Recreation Complex goes to the best bid, a private hockey school has threatened to pull out of its ice time, New Tecumseth council heard Monday night. A report from Parks, Recreation and Culture manager Joyce Epstein recommended the town rent the empty pro shop to George’s Arena Sports Limited, which is owned by Glenn Tilson. Epstein said Tilson is from Tottenham and has run a similar business in Bolton for about 10 years Deputy Mayor Rick Milne asked Epstein if she was aware that the owners of C and C Sports, Clay Birkett and Chris Pilon who were also vying for the contract, rent ice at the complex for Basic Hockey Skills camps. Milne said if the contract doesn’t go to C and C Sports the town could lose $30,000 in ice time rentals from the school. Epstein said George’s Arena Sports was chosen based on the pro shop application only. Regarding the potential loss of ice rental, she said she has also had inquiries from another private hockey school looking for ice time should Basic Hockey Skills pull out. Hutchinson Sports previously occupied the pro shop space in the new arena from October 2007 until this past January. Epstein couldn’t comment on why Hutchinson Sports left the arena because it is a legal matter. George’s Arena Sports was chosen as a replacement after each of the three applications was evaluated by Epstein, the New Tecumseth Recreation Complex co-ordinator, the senior buyer and a council member. George’s Arena Sports had the highest overall score. The contract negotiated is for a four-year lease, with the owner paying $10,000 plus GST each year for the space. Epstein hopes the pro shop will be open and operational as soon as possible. Improvements to the space are expected over June and July and the pro shop is expected to be fully operational for the start of the regular winter ice season in August. A final vote will decide the issue this coming Monday. 


Collingwood eyes more affordable units on High Street

The Town of Collingwood is now looking to other levels of government for assistance with the High Street affordable housing project. The project, currently being developed, was designed to include 18 affordable housing units and 12 market-rental units. The municipality had received about $1.26 million from the province to develop the project. However, Council voted on Monday to ask the County of Simcoe to lobby the government for an additional $840,000 to make the additional 12 units affordable housing units. Counc. Norman Sandberg was poised to defer the motion until the Affordable Housing Task Force had an opportunity to offer its opinion. However, CAO Gordon Norris said if council didn’t make a decision that night, there would not be enough time to apply for the grant. Sandberg voted in favour, but appeared to be hesitant. "There is always a preference for mixed (residential development) in a development such as this," he said. "I do it with some reluctance." Norris underscored the importance of the development, saying it’s taken more than 20 years to get one affordable housing unit. "These are the first residential units we have constructed in Collingwood in 20 years," he said. Counc. Kathy Jeffery was in favour of the plan. "I think this is a good thing, especially with the economy we are going into," she said. Council passed the motion by a 7-0 vote.


Knife seized, student charged

Police say a male student at Stayner Collegiate Institute had a 44-centimetre knife at the school on Friday and intended to use it in a fight. However, police say staff at the school caught wind of the fight and confronted the student, who subsequently turned over the weapon. Staff then called the Huronia West OPP. Police conducted an investigation and charged the student with possession of a dangerous weapon. The student – who can’t be named because of stipulations in the Youth Criminal Justice Act – is to make his first appearance in a Collingwood courtroom on June 4.


Van Loan silent about top Ontario Tory job

Could York-Simcoe’s Member of Parliament be a candidate for leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party? Rumours are afloat that Peter Van Loan, now serving as Public Safety Minister in Stephen Harper’s government, is assessing whether a run at the P.C. leadership would be in his best interests. John Tory’s departure from provincial politics after a disastrous by-election loss recently has created widespread speculation about his eventual successor. The party will meet to choose a new leader June 30. Van Loan is no stranger to the provincial scene. He served as president of the Progressive Conservative Party under Mike Harris. Since entering federal politics in 2004, he has held four influential cabinet posts. John Trotter, an Innisfil businessman and staunch Van Loan supporter, said, “Peter is the type of individual who would excel at any public post. He’s very well qualified to make his own decisions and he knows I think he would make a great public servant at any level. He is a tremendous elected official – either as a Cabinet minister, or provincial premier.” Sources told a Toronto newspaper that Van Loan has been contacting party members, trying to determine his level of support. Chris McCluskey, press secretary for Van Loan’s ministry, said Van Loan isn’t commenting on the speculation about his political future. “He is very focused on his work as Public Safety Minister,” McCluskey said. “His focus is on the job.” That job includes meeting with high-ranking officials of the Barack Obama administration this weekend. As for Van Loan, the only public comment he made about Tory’s departure was it “was a great loss for all the people of Ontario.”


It’s all about Jesus

According to local religious experts, Easter actually has nothing to do with a certain floppy-eared, chocolate-delivering rabbit. That might be tough to believe for anyone who’s walked down a supermarket candy aisle recently, but Father Alex Kirsten, director of the Martyrs’ Shrine, swears it’s true. “The bunny has no meaning,” he said. “It’s what commercialism is trying to do to Easter, like what (it) did to Christmas with Santa Claus. It’s an attempt to cash in on a religious holiday.” In fact, Kirsten said, one could argue the Easter Bunny angle is more pagan than Christian, given its emphasis on welcoming spring and receiving delicious gifts. Rev. Catherine Barley, minister at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Midland, agrees the bunny detracts from the true meaning of Easter, but is more open to sharing the holiday. “When our kids were little, we coloured Easter eggs and had the little tiny bunnies,” she said with a laugh. “What I wouldn’t want is for people to grow up thinking Easter is about Easter bunnies. “The symbol of the egg, on the other hand, that’s a very ancient symbol, and that’s about new life…. Living as Christians, when we make that commitment, we’re coming into a new life, as well.” For Kirsten, the holiday is packed with meaning and importance. “Others would argue Christmas is as important,” he said, “but even the Christmas event ultimately points to the Easter event. “It’s the event that reveals Jesus not only as man, but as god.” He explained the entire liturgical calendar builds toward Easter, with Holy Thursday today commemorating the last supper, which established the Christian celebration of the eucharist. Good Friday, meanwhile, marks the day Jesus was taken prisoner by the Jewish authorities. “That entire day remembers his capture, ultimately his condemnation by the Jewish authorities, the suffering he went through, the carrying of his cross leading up to Calvary, where he is finally put to death.” Most Christian churches hold late-afternoon masses on Good Friday to remember that specific event. Holy Saturday is a quiet time for Christians to remember Jesus lying in his tomb awaiting resurrection. That, of course, brings the faithful to Easter Sunday. Many churches hold 12 a.m. or sunrise services to mark the arrival of the resurrection day. Kirsten emphasized Easter is about more than just a day or a weekend. “Don’t forget, for the average Christian, they’ve been preparing now for six weeks,” he said, referring to Lent, a period when devout individuals give up some habit or indulgence. “It’s a way of reminding themselves that they’re getting themselves ready for this event.” Barley said it’s that historic event that makes Easter so tremendously meaningful for Christians. “We all go through … something like a Good Friday experience, where the rug’s pulled out from underneath our feet and we’re going through what seems to be like the death of everything we’ve known to be true,” she explained. “What we see in the resurrection is that Jesus has gone through the absolute worst that can befall a human being … and emerged transformed.” Kirsten said Christians approach the holiday from two viewpoints: solemn and joyful. “We know that Jesus is going to go to his death,” he said, “(but) once you hit the resurrection, it’s joy because, in some sense, what is being conquered is not only sin, but death. “(Jesus) is offering us not only forgiveness of our sins, but also eternal life.” Barley agreed, echoing Kirsten’s sentiments by describing Easter as a time to celebrate new life. “It’s about Jesus Christ as the person who reveals God to humankind, the person who gives himself in complete love,” she said. Barley said Christ’s example is still valuable today, especially in difficult times. “Our deepest longing is to belong … and to be loved. It’s to find meaning in our daily life, and we find that in loving service to others,” she said. “The values of the world are not ultimately satisfying, and I think people really are looking for what is true and meaningful.” In addition to church services this weekend, the Huronia and District Ministerial Association is organizing a Walk of the Cross at noon on Good Friday. Participants will walk through town, stopping at various locations for reflection and prayer, before ending at Little Lake Park. The group will also host a sunrise service on Easter Sunday. It will take place at 7:30 a.m. at the flagpole in Little Lake Park. [email protected]