Inspiration From “The Trail”

Share this post:

Recently, it was my honour to be asked to be the “Inspirational Speaker” at the Toronto Bruce Trail Club’s Annual General Meeting. For the second year in a row, their AGM had to go online because of pandemic concerns. This was going to be a challenge, partly because I am a technophobe, and partly because the Bruce Trail is sacred ground for me. In these chaotic times, I wanted to ensure I would deliver that much needed inspiration.

For those new to Ontario, the Bruce Trail was founded in 1960 when four members of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists – Norman Pearson, Ray Lowes, Dr. Robert MacLaren and Dr. Philip Gosling – met to discuss Lowes’s vision of a hiking path that would span the entire Niagara Escarpment.

By 1963, the Bruce Trail Association had incorporated – three years from vision to action. The journey continues to this day with Clubs from nine different sections united in care, conservation and education for the Bruce Trail Conservancy. The Toronto Section runs from Kelso to Cheltenham where my own Caledon Section begins.

My personal history with the Trail began in 1968, with many a solo hike to release the stress of the first years of teaching. In those days there were overnight campsites and cooking areas and access to springs. In 1972, I switched from Elementary to Middle School and thus began eight years of leading student hikes on a “5 day 50 mile” Bruce Trail hike during the last week of September. That was the beginning of a long term relationship culminating with my decade at the Mono Cliffs Outdoor Education Centre right beside the Bruce Trail.

This keynote was much more than another speaking engagement. This was a thank you from the heart and I didn’t want to miss. However, as a public speaker, I am used to live audiences where you can interact, feel the energy, work the room, and physically engage the participants. This online concept was actually making me a little nervous.

Add to that, the frequent and detailed reminders that hit my emailbox alerting me that the meeting was coming, and to get ready for the rehearsal.  Usually when I speak at a conference, I am given a theme, I arrive, get a feel for the audience and then hit the stage, often for an hour straight. This one had a rehearsal. With a script. I was worried. I don’t do rehearsals. And I have never used a script.

When the day for their AGM rehearsal came, I prepared my computer for a ZOOM meeting and waited anxiously. I need not have worried. This rehearsal was to make sure that all of their online connections were working so that their 100 plus members attending in a week could engage, interact, ask questions, and vote. And the script was simply the organizational agenda for the meeting.

Best of all, I got to meet the thirteen members of the Board online  This Toronto Bruce Trail Club Board was organized and efficient and diverse. Too often on hiking trails in the past few years, I kept encountering kindly elderly folk in their Tilley hats and pants with their walking sticks eagerly sharing their nature wisdoms.

Well, this Board, while appearing to certainly be kind and sharing, was anything but homogenised milk about to meet its due date. The thirteen faces I met on the screen were a diverse combination of cultural backgrounds, genders and ages. It was like a breath of fresh air. And to boot, they were technologically literate! The joke around our home is that I can light a fire in the pouring rain with a flint and steel, but I can’t turn on my cell phone.

The sequence of the meeting was confirmed, all the ZOOM buttons tested, the voting boxes checked, and the two hour meeting set for April 10, 2022.

It went off without a hitch. All of the Board’s careful planning smoothed the AGM into a much shorter online time and still managed to cover all of the business, financials, awards and tributes. During that time I learned more about the Toronto Club, the first to publish a statement on the need to encourage cultural diversity, inclusion, and awareness of social justice issues surrounding us all.

I was also reminded of the hard work of the volunteers who maintain and improve the trails through the GTA along the 45 km Toronto section that services the largest Club in the Bruce Trail’s 900 plus kilometres from Niagara to Tobermory. This Club has the biggest membership in the Conservancy and possibly the greatest responsibility to teach the very diverse Toronto Area population about how to walk lightly and responsibly on the land.

As more and more people come to our cities from around the world, we cannot assume that they all had joyous summer camp experiences or outdoor education opportunities in school or nature-based excursions with their parents. More and more the exact opposite is true. The Toronto Bruce Trail Club recognizes this, and the energy to deliver on that responsibility is reflected in their new Board of Directors, the “old wisdoms” of their many volunteers, and the enthusiasm of their members.

When it came time to conclude the meeting, my “inspirational keynote” spontaneously came straight from the heart. All I could see on my computer were a hundred little faces in boxes scrolling at top of my screen. It was hard to know if I had done my job, but the time for questions at the end turned into a series of thank-yous from the participants. I’m hoping it was enough to get this Toronto Bruce Trail Club inspired to take on another year of protecting the legacy and vision of our founders.

Every trail has a story. Every person is a storyteller. This is our story. The way I see it.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Farewell to the Chains of Office

Share this post:

I had the honour of sitting down with Caledon’s Mayor Allan Thompson a few days ago to reflect on his time in office now that he has announced he will not be seeking another term. The first question I asked him was, “What was the most significant moment of your time as Mayor?” He thoughtfully reflected and then said, “The Wampum Belt, the restoration of the Wampum Belt which reaffirmed our commitment to working with our First Nations Treaty people.”

His answer completely took me by surprise, but it also defined the man. It wasn’t some photo opportunity moment for political aggrandisement that mattered most to Allan Thompson. It was the heartfelt acknowledgement of the stewardship we bear to the lands upon which we now live and conduct our business.

The restoration of the Wampum Belt, originally exchanged at the signing of the Ajentace Treaty of 1818, was more than a symbolic gesture. It was a renewal of the terms of Treaty 19, and a commitment to honour the promise of stewardship we had made to care for the lands that would eventually become most of Peel Region. The homeland of the Mississaugas of Credit First Nation (MCFN) was given in exchange for our promise to be good stewards of the land. 

Thompson was the first Mayor and Caledon was the first municipality to recreate the Wampum Belt exchange on Caledon Day in 2018 with Chief Stacey Laforme of the MCFN, The exchange took place in an historic ceremony, almost two hundred years to the day that the original Ajentace Treaty had been signed. It was a genuine act of reconciliation. When Thompson reads the Land Acknowledgement at Council meetings, it comes from the heart.

It also explains his answer when I asked him why he had wanted to be Mayor in the first place. When asked why he ran for Mayor of Caledon, he did not hesitate in his reply, “I wanted to make it a better place, make a positive difference.”

“When I went knocking on doors during that first campaign, I kept hearing the same request, especially from seniors. They all wanted high speed Internet. That’s why we worked so hard with the provincial and federal governments to get the funding to bring Broadband to everyone in Caledon by 2025.” Although some cautioned against it, Allan pushed hard to get the local Broadband Tax portion included on citizens’ tax bills. “I wanted it to be as transparent as possible in showing that the Town was committed to the funding.” His hope is that he can have the last federal signature on the final funding before he leaves office.  Promise kept.

Under Allan’s leadership, the Town planned the community smart development in Mayfield West, the revitalization of Bolton, including the much needed traffic calming at the Four Corners, and the recent passing of all-day parking. He felt  the completion of Caledon’s Official Plan based on the Places to Grow Act of 2005 was one of the most important accomplishments of his final term. This includes the ongoing planning of an innovative forward looking GTA West Corridor for sustainable mobility. “We must be the architects of our own future,” he said.

In the continuing work dealing with burgeoning growth and public frustration with ever changing health guidelines and restrictions during a global pandemic, Thompson had nothing but praise for the Town staff. “They are all so very good at what they do. I felt our working relationship was healthy and respectful.” He noted the toll that social media attacks from a frustrated public put on the Town staff. “There were a lot of personal and angry comments directed to our staff. It’s OK to criticize the role, but not the person,” 

In his role as Mayor, Thompson built a positive relationship with Regional and Provincial colleagues. Allan Thompson is not a “Look at me, look at me!” kind of person. No grandstanding, He and his team just quietly got the job done. He said that when he wears the Chain of Office as Mayor, it is a humbling reminder that he is representing and speaking for the Town, not as an individual.

He felt that getting the job done is going to be challenging for the next Council considering Caledon’s reduced representation at Peel Region, development pressures coming from Brampton and Mississauga, and the change of rules for the selection of the Region of Peel Chair and new Vice-Chair. “Caledon must have autonomy for its own planning.”

Allan Thompson has served on Caledon Council for over nineteen years moving from Area Councillor to Regional Councillor to Mayor. When I asked him what comes next he got a big smile on his face and answered “More time with my grandchildren and my family. They are over the moon that I am coming home.”

 Allan Thompson was well known for walking into a Council of Mayors meeting or an international conference with a big smile on his face, sharing sincere admiration for the Town of Caledon, and wearing his trademark cowboy boots. He was a country boy and proud of it. Whoever becomes the next Mayor of Caledon is going to have big boots to fill.

***

Top Five Accomplishments of Mayor Allan Thompson as determined by his staff:

  1. Wampum Belt Commitment with the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation – Indigenous Engagement
  2. Connecting Caledon – Town wide access to reliable high speed internet by 2025
  3. Modernizing Town Services with a focus on Customer Service Excellence (live streaming Council meeting – online portal for recreation services)
  4. Community focused capital projects (Caledon East Community Centre Expansion – Southfields Village Community Centre – Seniors Community Centre (Rotary)
  5. Caledon Planning Caledon Mindset – the Official Plan, a roadmap for the future!

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

2022 – From Local Chaos to Global Crisis

Share this post:

We were hoping it would get better.In Ontario, We seemed to be turning the corner on the COVID-19 pandemic and things were about to get back to “normal” this year. Then came the temper-tantrum truckers who terrorized Ottawa for three weeks because they couldn’t handle the mask or the needle. We had Conservative members of Parliament cheering them on from the bridges of Ottawa. We had to bring in the Emergencies Act to get them out of town because the local police felt helpless to stop the honking diesel fume spewing trucks, and the harassment of local citizens.

They blocked borders, disrupted trade and commerce, sickened a city and forced our democratically elected government to invoke the Emergencies Act for the first time in history. Some of the terrorists got arrested but the rest of them all just went home. The border crossing mask mandate they were protesting still held, and it looks like the legitimate government they were trying to overthrow is sitting pretty until 2025.

The estimated cost to the City of Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, for the so-called “Freedom” Convoy’s selfish stupidity is an estimated $36 million and counting.  We thought that we had it bad.

Then Russia invaded Ukraine and all of our troubles faded in comparison. President Vladimir Putin claimed he was defending Russia’s borders. The UN knew otherwise and condemned his actions. The Kremlin was angry that international leaders were calling Putin a “war criminal” but what do you call a man who shells maternity hospitals and cluster bombs residential neighbourhoods? The UN called it a humanitarian crisis as four  million people fled Ukraine with more than half of those refugees entering neighbouring Poland. More than 10 million people, a quarter of the population, have been forced to leave their homes and belongings. NATO leaders talked about help but refused to call for a “no fly” zone over Ukraine. So much for diplomacy.

Meanwhile, as I write this, Ukraine continues to be pulverized by the Russian war machine. What’s stopping NATO? The very real fear that Putin may retaliate with nuclear weapons leading to a cataclysmic World War Three. While we delay, Ukraine is paying the price for our cowardly failure to admit them to the European Union and NATO. We have colleagues at the Kyiv Osokorky Elementary School currently under siege and begging for European and western assistance. Sometimes there is only one way to stop a bully.

Meanwhile in Ontario, the “Scientific and Chamber of Commerce Advisory Panel” has lifted the mask mandate and begun to Open Ontario for Business once again. Boss Ford faces a provincial election in June, Asphalt Annie wants to run for Mayor of Caledon in our October municipal election, and the weather, after a brief fling with spring, is turning back to cold and snow again. The least of our worries.

2022 is going to be a very interesting year. The way I see it.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

 

The Coldest Night of the Year

Share this post:

Last night, January 11, 2022, the temperature in Caledon dropped to -21 degrees Celsius and -25 if you factor in the wind chill. At these temperatures the unsheltered human body goes through a sequence from frost nip to frostbite to hypothermia. We begin to shiver uncontrollably to keep our body warm. Within one hour the heart stops pumping blood to our extremities concentrating the life giving warmth around our vital organs. By the end of three hours, the brain shuts down, the heart stops beating and we freeze to death. Last night Environment Canada issued an Extreme Cold Weather Alert for all of Canada except BC, They are getting hit with more rain, and flooding, and mudslides. The new normal.

Imagine being homeless in these conditions.

The Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) walk was conceived to raise funds to address the issues of homelessness and hunger and prevent the kinds of tragedies that come with extreme weather conditions. Water, Food, and Shelter are basic needs of all peoples and are the first to be lost to the disadvantaged in our society. CNOY began in 2011 and, to quote from their website history, was “launched in two locations supported by three charitable partners, including Ann Barnard Ball at Yonge Street Mission, Greg Paul at Sanctuary Ministries in Toronto, and Harry Whyte and Scott Brush at Ray of Hope Community Centre in Kitchener/Waterloo.” They placed their trust in the Blue Sea Foundation to manage the event, and that trust was not misplaced.

CNOY has grown every year since 2011, bringing communities together in awareness and action for the benefit of our most disadvantaged. In a country as wealthy as Canada and in a province that is “For the People” the the only obstacles to providing shelters and affordable housing are lack of political will, corporate greed, and public apathy.

The first CNOY walk in the Town of Caledon began  in 2020, organized through Caledon Community Services. Families came together on a cold February night  to make a 5 km walk through the streets and trails of Caledon East. At the end of the walk we all met in the Caledon East Community Centre for a celebratory bowl of warm soup and to give thanks to the CCS volunteers. It was the true meaning of community.

Since then the global pandemic has not made things any easier for the most vulnerable among us. In 2021 the CNOY walk went online unless you could take your small masked, appropriately spaced group on a local outdoor trail. That will be the same situation this year on February 26, 2022 when the Caledon community takes a walk on the Coldest Night of the Year.

If you can, please support the CNOY project wherever you are – it’ll do your heart good. The way I see it.

To find out more go to the Blue Sea Foundation and to make a donation to CNOY ’22  go to <cnoy.org>

“””

Skid Crease, Caledon

*image from cnoy.org

100 Seconds to MIdnight

Share this post:

In 1945, Albert Einstein and fellow scientists at the University of Chicago created the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The cover of the first Bulletin published in 1947 featured a design by graphic artist Martyl Langsdorf and the Doomsday Clock was born. In 1947 the Clock was set to seven minutes before midnight.

One year ago, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published this warning:

“To: Leaders and citizens of the world

Re: This is your COVID wake-up call: It is 100 seconds to midnight

Date: January 27, 2021

Humanity continues to suffer as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads around the world. In 2020 alone, this novel disease killed 1.7 million people and sickened at least 70 million more. The pandemic revealed just how unprepared and unwilling countries and the international system are to handle global emergencies properly. In this time of genuine crisis, governments too often abdicated responsibility, ignored scientific advice, did not cooperate or communicate effectively, and consequently failed to protect the health and welfare of their citizens.”

The nuclear powers of the world bear responsibility for their stupidity in continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction. At present this includes the United States, Russia, France, China, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea. Consider the dangers of nuclear war both on Earth and a few hundred miles above Earth’s surface in our Thermosphere and Exosphere as “developed” nations continue to rattle sabres. Throw in the consumptive greed of industrialized countries as corporate arrogance finances climate change denial. Combine that with the entitled selfishness displayed by the wealthiest nations towards the neediest nations during this recent global pandemic, and it is easy to see why the Doomsday clock has symbolically ticked five minutes closer to midnight in one short decade.

I have written recently about the dangers of ignoring the warning signs. Just like Cinderella at the ball, we are being warned that the party is over when the clock strikes midnight. In 1991, the Doomsday Clock was previously set back 17 minutes to midnight after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

If we are going to reset the clock back for the upcoming decade, then It is time for some significant local and global New Year’s resolutions and long overdue neglected actions, The way I see it.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon