Girl, mother take cleanup into their own hands

Midland will be participating in the annual Pitch-In Canada Week from April 20-26. A little girl and her mother, however, got a one-week head start on Monday. Brenda de Rusett and her daughter Serenity, 7, cleaned up around the grounds of the old Regent Public School, which closed in 2007. “We were over at the school on Sunday, and she was riding her bike in the parking lot and we noticed all the glass and the garbage,” said de Rusett. “(On Monday), I said, ‘What would you like to do today?’ And she said, ‘I’d like to go over to the school and clean it up.” De Rusett was dubious at first, but Serenity insisted. “She said, ‘No, we’ve gotta go. It’s our environment, and we’ve gotta think of the community.’” Serenity attended the Russell Street school as a junior kindergarten student, but it closed and now she’s in Grade 2 at Huron Park Public School. These days, her time at the school consists only of playful excursions from her nearby home. “Kids like to come here and ride their bikes and stuff, and they wouldn’t want to come here and have fun if it was all dirty,” explained Serenity. “There was glass all over.” With gardening gloves, rakes and brooms, mom and daughter spent more than five hours picking up trash on Monday. “I’m very proud,” said de Rusett, noting Serenity’s devotion to the environment originates at home and at school. Regarding the litterbugs and vandals responsible for the state of the property, de Rusett said it is terrible. “I cannot believe people would do that,” she said. “Everybody was concerned when the school closed that’s what would happen…. It must be really an eyesore for the people who live across the road.” Serenity said she hopes others will hear about her efforts and attempt something similar in their neighbourhoods. Midland residents will have that chance during next week’s 43rd annual Pitch-In Canada Week. With 3.5 million participants, the program is the largest multi-province environmental improvement campaign in Canada. Its goals include: • involving Canadians in local projects that clean up, restore and/or preserve the environment; • cleaning up litter and other garbage from urban, rural and wilderness areas; • initiating local projects such as habitat preservation/restoration and urban renewal activities, thereby promoting respect for Canada’s natural and urban environments; • encouraging civic pride. Andrea Rabbitts, a Midland town planner and Pitch-In Canada Week co-ordinator, said the municipality is a big believer in the program. “There’s 150 letters that went out to local businesses, schools and organizations asking them if they have the time and the volunteers to participate,” she said, noting Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Pillsbury are among those that have responded in the affirmative. She added several local schools intend to do their part on Earth Day (April 22), and town employees will clean up the area around County Road 93 and Yonge Street. Rabbitts said she shares de Rusett’s bafflement over the amount of litter produced by “lazy people that have just thrown stuff out the (car) window.” “It’s crazy,” she said. “People just don’t care.” For that reason, Rabbitts said, she is particularly happy to see a youngster like Serenity taking responsibility for her environment. “Picking up garbage is something all children can do,” she said. “It’s great to see the inspiration is in someone that young to go out and help and make a statement.” [email protected]


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.


Angus high school could house public library

The new Angus high school could be a place of learning for more than just students. The Simcoe County District School Board and Essa Township are having ongoing discussions to build a new branch of the town’s public library in the school. Nothing has been finalized yet, but if the project does move forward it would be accessible to students and members of the public, said Lou Brandes, associate director and superintendent of facility services for the school board. "We’re really pleased to have the collaboration," Brandes said. "It would be full-time use by both populations. We’ve seen examples of how it works in other communities." Essa trustee Rob North said the Essa school will be a new format for the SCDSB, but the idea of integrating community services into schools is becoming increasingly popular in other areas. He said sharing of the library would allow the township and the school board to supply the better resources for students and the community at a lower price, by avoiding duplication of resources and overhead costs. "It’s a change for Simcoe County somewhat, but there are other municipalities out there that have done this very successfully. You do what you can with the money you have allotted, and you try to maximize it for the taxpayer," said North. The resource sharing will allow both sides to save money, something that has been holding up construction of new Angus library branch for a few years. For the past two years, the new library has been left out of township’s budget, and it has been turned down for federal grant money. It was recently turned down in a grant application that would have allowed the township to build a stand-alone building with a price tag of over $3 million. With the lack of funding for a stand-alone building, the option of putting the library in the school is a good one, said Essa Mayor David Guergis. "We think it is a tremendous opportunity. For governments at different levels to work together, it’s a tremendous way to save money." School planners aren’t stopping with just the library though. They’re also looking at incorporating a Nottawasaga OPP satellite office in the school. There is already an extended services office in Angus, but school board, OPP, and township officials are discussing possible options, which could include moving that office. Many Ontario high schools, including Banting Memorial High School in Alliston, have liaison police officers that work closely with students and school staff. North said this is an opportunity to expand that relationship. "I think it’s a great idea. We already have community officers in our schools, so having a small touchdown station for them makes perfect sense," said North. School board officials are still finalizing plans for the building, including choosing a site. Brandes said a public meeting is planned for later this spring. The school is scheduled to open by 2012. E-mail reporter Kurtis Elsner at [email protected]


Two more die after fire

Two more residents of an Orillia retirement home, gutted by an early morning fire on Jan. 19, have died. As reported earlier, the January fire initially claimed the lives of Robert McLean, 90, and Hugh Fleming, 85, who died of smoke inhalation. An official with the Office of the Fire Marshal has confirmed that two other residents of Muksoka Heights Retirement Residence have died. However, spokesperson Bev Gilbert said he could not provide further details regarding the identities of the deceased, their ages or when they died. “We can’t release anything else on that,” Gilbert told Orillia Today. Further questions were directed to Dr. Dirk Huyer, regional supervising coroner. Huyer would say only that, “We are now investigating four deaths.” “The Coroners’ Act limits us from releasing any information without family consent, and even then we wouldn’t likely release it while the investigation is ongoing,” he added. The coroner’s office can release information when it is warranted due to an issue of public safety, he said. However, “There is no immediate public safety risk at this moment that would allow us to override the need for consent,” he added. An investigation into the blaze is ongoing, as officials attempt to determine the cause of the fire that is believed to have started in the centre of the two-storey building. Officials are sifting through and examining evidence trucked away from the severely damaged structure. “They seized a lot of stuff from the scene and they are still examining that,” Gilbert said. “It is a very long, arduous process.” Officials are continuing to speak with witnesses and are examining the home’s fire safety plan. “It goes well beyond cause and origin,” Gilbert added of the investigation. “It goes on anything that might have impacted on the fire. “One of the goals is certainly to prevent something like that from happening again, from ever happening period,” he added. Huyer said a coroner’s inquest “certainly is possible,” but added that it was too early to determine whether that would happen. Officials last month reported that seven residents of Muskoka Heights Retirement Residence remained in hospital, five of them in critical condition.


Schomberg senior wins travel draw

Mary Watts of Schomberg was the lucky winner of an Alliston Potato Festival draw at Bradfield Travel. Although she’s retired, Watts has been too busy to make the trip up to Alliston to pick up her prize until recently. She won two WestJet airline tickets to anywhere in Eastern Canada. Seen here, from left, are Rod Bradfield and Peggy Bradfield, both from the Alliston travel agency, Watts, and Leah Irvine from WestJet Airlines and WestJet Vacations. Watts is planning to go to Prince Edward Island with her family. – Kurtis Elsner photo


Local reservists train in Arctic

The protection of Canada’s north and the assertion of its sovereignty are becoming major issues on the political and military agenda. The Canadian Forces is creating quick-response units to deal with any emergency that may arise, and to defend remote communities and resources. Reservists with the Grey and Simcoe Foresters have been given this mission in Ontario, and the nascent Arctic Response Company recently returned from its first weeklong training exercise 650 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. The company commander is Capt. Perry Rittershofer of Penetanguishene. A mechanical engineering technician in civilian life, he said working with the Rangers was an outstanding experience for his troops. “It was excellent for me to lead soldiers in such a harsh environment, and to see them develop over the course of the week. When I watched them, with all their kit on and pulling those laden toboggans, I was really impressed on how well they learned and adapted.” Corp. Grant Kempster said there are tremendous challenges presented by living and working in such an environment. “It’s not just the weather, but also the scarcity of material and resources,” he explained. “Everything has to be flown in and, although we can bring what we need, for the local people, this means that bread costs $5.50 a loaf.” Kempster, a Barrie resident and part-time soldier, said he found himself humbled by the skills and strengths of native people in the North. “We have to be aware not only of their impact on us, but of our impact on them. The village elders stressed to us their young people need to know there is more to Canada than just the North. And we certainly need to know that there is more to Canada than just our own region.” Angus resident Capt. Craig Bawden is the regiment’s operations officer, responsible for ensuring the smooth running of the training, which included such skills as rescuing someone from icy water, cooking traditional foods, and re-supplying the camps by snowmobile. “Everyone had to build survival shelters using natural materials, and they had to spend a night in them,” he said. “It gave them a real sense of accomplishment.” The Kitchenumaykoob-Inninuwug First Nation is a community of about 1,200 people on the shore of Big Trout Lake. Many inhabitants of the region, and throughout Canada’s remote areas, are members of the Canadian Rangers. These largely aboriginal reservists acted as instructors and mentors for the Foresters and other troops on the exercise, teaching them the intricacies and subtleties of living off the land in a hostile, yet fragile, environment. “The exercise tested our ability to survive, move and communicate under extreme conditions,” Bawden added. “Some days, it was as cold as -36 (C).” The Foresters’ commanding officer, Lt.-Col. Wayne Bruce, was also on the exercise. “I was most impressed by the welcome the community gave us,” he said. “The last day, they prepared a feast for us, including caribou, beaver, moose, trout and whitefish.” Foresters form one platoon of the company, as well as the company headquarters. The other platoons are made up of soldiers from throughout 32 Canadian Brigade Group, including such historic regiments as the 48th Highlanders, Toronto Scottish, and Queen’s Own Rifles.


OSPCA finds 28 dead cattle on farm

Animal cruelty investigators found 28 head of dead cattle and are seizing 24 live head in connection with an ongoing investigation at a New Tecumseth farm. Investigators from the Alliston and District Humane Society, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and members of the Nottawasaga OPP attended the farm Tuesday afternoon (March 10). The farm is located on the 7th Line, just east of Tottenham Road. The animals include full-grown cattle and calves. The live animals were deemed living under distress by a veterinarian and are being removed from the farm, said Kristin Williams, a spokesperson for the OSPCA. She wouldn’t comment further on the current condition of the live animals. "At this point we’ll wait until we get the veterinary report. We’ve sent one of the dead calves to Guelph for a necropsy, which is an animal autopsy," she said. She said charges are currently being considered, and that so far it appears to be a case of animal neglect. When investigators arrived on the farm, there was no apparent sign of food or fresh water, she said. There also did not appear to be any dry bedding, and there were poor sanitary conditions both inside and outside the barn. Investigators have also removed a dog, which was seen hobbling around the farm, before being loaded into an OSPCA truck. Williams said the investigation was prompted after a complaint from the public.


Pressure on Liberal budget to deliver

Ontario’s Finance Minister, Dwight Duncan, will deliver his government’s much-anticipated provincial budget on Thursday and area officials will be watching closely to see what goodies it contains. Simcoe-Grey MPP Jim Wilson told The Stayner Sun he will be looking for the Liberals to deliver several key things for Ontarians, who are struggling to survive the economic downturn. For starters, Wilson said the government should implement a three-month sales tax holiday for the purchase of new cars. He said the move would help people wanting to buy a new vehicle and aid the automotive industry. Continuing on the vehicle theme, Wilson said the government should introduce an incentive to get old cars off the road. He suggested a $2,000 rebate towards the purchase or lease of a new car, when an older vehicle – say 10 years or more – is turned in. He said the move would stimulate the economy and help the environment. As well, the Conservative MPP said the government should "implement broad-based relief to Ontario businesses, including, but not limited to, moving the corporate tax rate down from 14 per cent to 10 per cent. Doing so means all provinces in Canada have the same rate, which would result in Canada having the lowest corporate taxes in the G8. Other provinces are doing it. We should too." The Liberals would also be wise to implement a retail sales tax holiday on hotels and attractions to promote Ontario tourism, a move that would benefit everywhere, Wilson said. Another smart move the government could make would be to introduce a "five per cent annual cap on property assessment increases and send MPAC assessors back into the field immediately to bring assessments inline with actual property values," Wilson said. In other areas, Wilson said he would like to see the government fast track the Highway 26 redevelopment and start planning for the highway to be redeveloped all the way to Barrie. He also wants to see the government "introduce an initiative to immediately begin [building] new long-term care beds throughout Simcoe and Grey counties to bring the exceptionally high waiting lists down." Clearview Township Mayor Ken Ferguson said he wants the budget to provide funding for municipal infrastructure but also for other areas. "There are bigger things than just infrastructure [money] for municipalities," he told The Stayner Sun. "Farmers, entrepreneurs, small business owners – they all need help right now. All of these groups interest me." Despite wanting the Liberal government to loosen its purse strings, Ferguson said he questions whether such a move will have any long-term impact on the struggling economy, a thought he said many others are mulling over. "You can throw money at a lot of things but what if it doesn’t work? What about next year and the year after that?" Ferguson said that whatever funding the government does announce with Thursday’s budget, it needs to make sure the details are communicated. "Show people how you’re going to do things. Tell them. Don’t dribble out announcement after announcement after the budget for the next four or six weeks," he said. "Whatever you’re doing, get the information out on the street fast so people can start accessing things." He said Clearview has lots of projects on which it could spend provincial dollars. He said funds could be put towards improving another bridge in the municipality. Also, funds could be used to rebuild Nottawasaga Concession 10, to County Road 91 – a project that Ferguson said will cost $3-million to $4-million. Clearview could also use money to help pay for the new emergency centre hub – a facility that will house the fire department, police and ambulance – on the eastern edge of Stayner. And, he said, funding could also be put towards the new library branch that’s needed in Stayner. "We have lots of spots where we can spend money," the mayor said. Premier Dalton McGuinty announced Monday that his government will spend $27.5-billion on roads, schools, hospitals and public transit over the next two years in an effort to create 300,000 new jobs. McGuinty said the huge infrastructure investment – which he said will be detailed in Thursday’s budget – will be topped up with another $5-bilion from the federal government. Finance Minister Duncan has indicated that this week’s budget will include a deficit of about $18-billion over two years. Doug Mills is on Clearview Township’s economic development committee. He said he expects the Liberal budget to focus on helping the automotive industry because of its huge presence in Ontario. "Help for small and medium size business – I’m not holding my breath. You’ve got to remember tax revenues are down," Mills said. He added that with more Ontarians out of work and an aging population, the government might focus attention on health care and education. Debbie Kesheshian is the executive director of the United Way of South Georgian Bay, an agency that helps fund various social organizations and programs. She said the budget should include funding for an array of social programs, in particular the Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy. "It’s fine to have these strategies but they need to be funded," she said. The strategy, announced in 2008, aims to reduce youth poverty by 25 per cent in five years, Kesheshian said. She said the Liberals should present a budget that does more to help the disabled and unemployed. And the budget should include stipulations that allow for more tax benefits for people and corporations that are donating to charities. The Liberals should also invest in proven charitable organizations. Kesheshian said charitable organizations can often deliver services and programs far more cost effectively than government. A budget that included more Ontario child benefits and an increased minimum wage would also be helpful, she said.


Mail does disappearing act

It’s another weekday morning and business owner Domenic Bianchi once again walks down his driveway to his mailbox. And once again, it’s empty. Bianchi lives on Clifton Boulevard, close to the lake, on a street adorned with neat, upright mailboxes that open out onto the roadway. He says the problem started late last autumn. “I’ve been having trouble getting mail since last November. At first, I thought someone was stealing it.” Bianchi visited the postal outlet at Shopper’s Drug Mart in Alcona to inquire and was directed to the Stroud post office. He telephoned. “I explained the situation to a woman at the Stroud post office. She took my information and called me back five minutes later. She said, ‘I have a pile of mail here for you.’ She also told me our delivery person said there was too much snow in front of my mailbox. I was told the route driver couldn’t access the mailbox and their passenger couldn’t extend their arm far enough to reach the box. “I thought she was kidding, I had taken pictures, showing there was hardly any snow. I asked wouldn’t I get a sticker or some type of notice saying mail delivery had stopped. I explained the grief it caused with late payments and trying to convince other people their mail had not been delivered.” Bianchi reports the postal worker told him, “she would drive past my house that night to check but she never called back.” Snowplows travelling up Clifton Boulevard do deposit snow in front of homeowners’ mail receptacles and they can build up over time, Bianchi admits. “I was telling some of my customers at my business, a couple of weeks ago,” Bianchi says. “ One of them we must be on the same mail route. The same thing had happened to them.” The Journal called Canada Post headquarters in London on Monday, Mar. 9 and explained the situation to media spokesperson Tom Dalby. A couple of hours later, Dalby called back. “It was the impression of the (Stroud) postmaster (Bianchi) was getting his mail,” Dalby reported. “The carrier had reported she was unable to reach the box because of the build up of ice and couldn’t safely deliver the mail. This was explained to him. We’ve had a lot of that this winter, snow build up and ice, even in cities. We’ve even had to cut off whole city blocks because of snow and ice. It’s been one of those years.” Dalby did admit there, “Could have been a little more communication between Canada Post and the customer. He should be getting his mail. As far as we know, mail delivery has resumed.” All this is little consolation to Bianchi who as of March 10 was still waiting for delivery to resume. He checked his box several times Monday afternoon and first thing Tuesday morning. Still no mail. However, a happy Bianchi called the  Innisfil Journal office at 2 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon to report he just got a large batch of mail delivered. “I hope it continues,” he said. “It looks like I have a stack of bills to look at now.”


Feds help local seniors groups

The federal government has earmarked $45,000 to improve the facilities and equipment of three local seniors organizations. “The Government of Canada is proud to support seniors in building and strengthening communities,” Simcoe North MP Bruce Stanton stated in a press release. “These projects will enable the continuation of programs and activities … that allow seniors to stay involved in their communities.” Le Club de l’age d’or de Lafontaine and the Askennonia Senior Centre in Midland will each receive $10,000, while La Clé d’la Baie in Penetanguishene will get $25,000. The funding comes from the capital assistance component of the New Horizons for Seniors Program, which helps organizations that support seniors to replace outdated equipment or undertake needed renovations. Since its beginning, the program has funded more than 5,000 projects in hundreds of communities across Canada. For more information, visit