Canadian general calling on SCI

Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson of the Canadian Armed Forces will visit Stayner Collegiate Institute on Mon., March 23 as part of a public outreach tour he is conducting. He will be at the school from 1 p.m. to 2:15 p.m., giving a talk about the role of Canada’s Armed Forces in Afghanistan. From May 2008 to February 2009, Thompson was commander of the Canadian joint task force in Afghanistan. The visit to Stayner Collegiate is a coming home of sorts for Thompson, who attended the high school in the 1970s after graduating from New Lowell Central Public School. Pam Jeffrey, a teacher-librarian at SCI, invited Thompson to the school. “How it all happened is kind of a funny story,” she said in an interview Monday. Jeffrey said her husband, Dayn Leyshon, went to high school with Thompson but the two had lost touch. She said in May 2008, her husband read a newspaper story about Thompson and thought it might be the same guy he knew from high school. She said he compared a current photograph of Thompson with an old yearbook picture and determined it was indeed the same person. In February of this year, Jeffrey said she sent an e-mail to the Canadian Armed Forces, trying to reach Thompson. She said she was thinking he or a designate might be able to do some type of web-cam presentation on Afghanistan that would be of interest to students. Four days after she sent the e-mail, Thompson personally replied and through e-mail the two were able to arrange his visit to the high school. Jeffrey said the entire student body will be on hand to hear Thompson’s presentation, plus Grade 8 students from public schools in Clearview Township. Jeffrey said the public is invited as well, but she asks that people contact the school ahead of time to arrange a seat. To contact the school, call 428-2639.


Public school board boasts 131 six-figure earners

The Simcoe County District School Board paid 131 employees more than $100,000 last year, according to public-sector salary figures released Tuesday by the province. Topping the list was Lou Brandes, who earned $156,000 as the board’s associate director and superintendent of facility services. The list of six-figure earners is published annually and includes organizations that received transfer payments from the province of at least $1 million, or that received 10 per cent of their gross revenues from the province during the previous year. “Our government is committed to being transparent in how we use taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said in a news release accompanying the list. The highest salary paid to a public-sector worker in the Midland area was the nearly $275,000 earned by Brian Tamblyn, president and CEO of Georgian College, which has a campus in town. Educators and school officials figured prominently on the list. The Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board had 67 employees named, led by director of education Michael O’Keefe at $194,000. Several employees of local municipalities also raked in impressive salaries in 2008. In Midland, CAO Ted Walker ($125,000) was one of four people on the town payroll to crest the magic number. His counterparts in Penetanguishene, Tiny and Tay also made the list with salaries ranging from $107,000 to $114,000. In the health sector, six individuals employed by the North Simcoe Hospital Alliance were included on the list, led by Carol Lambie, who made almost $163,000 as executive director of the Penetanguishene Hospital site. Also under the health umbrella, eight Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit employees and six people toiling for the North Simcoe Muskoka Local Health Integration Network brought home more than $100,000, including CEO Jean Trimnell, who earned $252,000. The Children’s Aid Society of Simcoe County, Community Living Huronia and the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka were also mentioned on the provincial list, a complete copy of which is viewable online at www.fin.gov.on.ca/english/publications/salarydisclosure/2009. [email protected]


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.


Charges laid in hit and run that killed horse and injured rider

A young horse named Bella was left to bleed on the side of the road and later died after a motorist hit the horse and rider and drove away. Police announced on Thursday, April 9 that The Blue Mountains resident Martin Wickens, 46, was charged with careless driving and failing to remain at the scene. He is scheduled to appear in court in Owen Sound on May 14. Jessica Ruppel, a show rider and coach, was riding three-year-old Bella on the 9th Concession outside of Redwing around 5:30 on Tuesday, March 31. Something she does often. She had put a deposit down on Bella and was trying her out before buying her. Monica Wolf was riding on the road with Jessica, about 15 feet in front of her. Several cars passed them with no reaction from the horses. Ruppel said she noticed a pick-up truck coming towards them quickly and on the wrong side of the gravel road. She and Wolf moved to the side of the road as far as they could and began waving at the driver to slow down. The driver held his speed and continued towards them, missing Wolf and colliding with the back end of Bella, causing her to fall forward on top of Ruppel. The driver stopped his landscaping vehicle about 50 feet away from the injured horse and rider. Wolf watched as the driver and passenger got out of the vehicle, walking a little of the way toward them. Ruppel and Wolf both said they were angry at the driver, and asked him why he hadn’t moved over. The driver yelled at the two women who were riding the horses, both he and the passenger got back into the vehicle. They fled the scene. Bella was injured and bleeding on the side of the road. Ruppel, Wolf and Bella’s breeder, Suzanne Hess, tried to keep her from standing while they waited for the vet. The vet attempted to stabilize the horse with painkillers and fluids.  But, according to Ruppel, she became more distressed. The vet then sedated her in order to turn her over. The horse’s pelvis was shattered. Two hours after being hit, Bella was euthanized. “My only regret,” said Hess. “Is that I trained her to stand still when traffic is around. She stood still and trusted that she was doing the right thing.” Ruppel said she had a black eye and was bruised. She had some aches, and on the encouragement of family and friends, went to the hospital on Wednesday to be examined. She sustained no serious physical injuries. Police are still investigating the collision. Ruppel works with horses full-time, and often rides on the road. She and Wolf said that cars rarely slow down and move over enough to make way for a horse and rider. Often the horse and rider are sprayed with gravel and the horse gets spooked. “We have the right of way,” said Ruppel. “Horses are allowed to be on the road.” Hess described Bella, a Hanoverian Thoroughbred Cross, as a very curious horse, who sometimes acted more like a dog. Her show name was Royal Symphony. “She always understood exactly what you wanted from her,” said Hess. “She was loving … she had real character and a super temperament.” Hess said Bella was the best babysitter horse she had. When freshly weaned horses were put in the pasture, Bella took care of them, making sure they stayed in a group, acting like a “big sister.” Bella would have turned 4 years old on June 3. She started training for riding at age three. After just nine times with a rider on her back, she was walking, trotting and cantering, according to Hess. That summer, several children rode her, and she remained calm, relaxed and quiet for the new riders. Bella was buried at the farm where Ruppel works. Hess said one student rider is going to plant a tree with small pink flowers at the grave. Hess said she and others will approach the local MP and mayor to ask that any road with a horse and rider pedestrian sign be designated a 50 km/h zone. She encourages others to make the same requests so that no other horses and riders are injured or killed. “I hope Bella hasn’t died in vain,” she said.


Community comes to aid of medical mission

Local physicians and health-care providers have proved a slowing economy is no impediment to generosity. Kim Buckley, an intensive-care nurse and nurse educator at the North Simcoe Hospital Alliance’s Huronia District Hospital site, will be heading to the Dominican Republic later this month on a medical mission with Dr. Marty McNamara. The pair wrote to local physicians and approached various hospital departments asking for assistance in collecting medical supplies for the trip. The outpouring, said Buckley, left her in awe. “It’s just been completely outstanding, and I am in awe of the people that work at the hospital,” she said. “There are good things going on (at the hospital) and good things going on in our community. “People are coming up and offering supplies,” she continued. “All I had to do was mention it and people bent over backwards…. Every department in our facility has dug into their pockets.” The pharmacy donated medications; the central dispatch department pulled together a variety of old surgical instruments no longer being used in the hospital; linen supply offered old bed sheets and patient gowns. Local pharmacies and physician offices have also stepped up to provide boxes of materials and medications. “It’s a great community outpouring,” Buckley said. “We’re able to see beyond what’s going on in our own town.” Buckley and McNamara, along with other volunteers, were at Georgian College in Barrie on April 5 packing up donated supplies. They leave for the trip April 28. [email protected]


Couple believed killed in fire were longtime residents

An elderly couple who owned a home north of Rosemont destroyed by fire last week largely kept to themselves in their final years. Police have not confirmed the identities of two victims killed in the fire, but neighbours said Ostop (Stan) and Myra Najduk had lived on the property on the Mulmur-Tosorontio Townline for about 50 years. The body of an elderly woman was pulled from the fire last Monday. The remains of a second victim were discovered in the rubble a day later by fire investigators. Ostop, known to most as Stan, was bedridden and had difficulty walking after suffering a stroke. Myra was rarely seen outside the house, and occasionally walked to the end of the driveway to get the mail and went into town to buy groceries. The Najduks originally farmed the property, which is north of the 5th Sideroad. They later moved out of the farmhouse and built a second home on the property. That was the house that burned to the ground last Monday. Verona Velazquez was born just up the road from the Najduks and has spent most of her life living there. She remembers the couple moving to the area as immigrants during the middle of the last century. After years of farming, Stan decided to give it up to work in Collingwood, Velazquez said. "They were very, very good people, and very good neighbours," she recalled. Velazquez said many of the families who lived in the area when the Najduks came have since moved away. She suspects that as new people moved into the area, the Najduks found they had less in common with their younger neighbours and became more reclusive. "They kept to themselves in the later years. They didn’t know the people who had moved in on the road," she said. "They were real farm people, and they probably didn’t want to encroach." Roman Najduk, a godson of the couple, said the Najduks did not have any children, but said they have family in Canada and Ukraine. He said the extended family is still waiting for the coroner’s office to confirm the identity of the victims. OPP Const. Al Buck said the cause of the fire hasn’t been determined, but foul play has been ruled out. The investigation is ongoing.


Thieves break into Angus restaurant

An Angus restaurant was broken into after closing last Thursday night. Police were called to the Mill Street business at about 9:30 a.m. Friday, when employees noticed someone had broken in through the drive-thru window. Once inside, the culprit forced open a safe and stole an undisclosed amount of cash. Police said the break-in is believed to have happened between 9:30 p.m. Thursday and 9:30 a.m. Friday. Anyone with information is asked to call police at 1-888-310-1122 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.