EDITOR’S NOTE
Earlier this month, the Voice invited a selection of elected officials, community members and our own writers to contribute their thoughts about yet another unparalleled year coming to a close. We present their responses in alphabetical order, and thank each respondent for taking the time to write such thoughtful, insightful essays. We begin with Nancy Beamer, District School Board of Niagara Trustee for Pelham.

(While all of Pelham Town Council was asked to participate, Councillors Hildebrandt, Stewart, Haun, and Kore did not acknowledge the Voice’s invitation.)

 

2021 YEAR IN REVIEW | Nancy Beamer, DSBN Trustee

Some thoughts at year’s end

The first four months of the school year are coming to an end. And guess what—the pandemic is still here and once again causing more disruption in everyday lives. But even though the schools have experienced some cases, we are still moving forward.

In the secondary schools, we have reverted to pre-pandemic academic scheduling. Any of the students with whom I have spoken are very happy with this change. Most felt they did not like online or cohort learning. Intramural sports have resumed, as has inter-school competition. The E.L. Crossley Senior Boys volleyball team travelled to North Bay and won silver at OFSSA. Congratulations to coach Michelle Gibson and the team.

E. L. Crossley Secondary students also received two awards from the town’s Beautification committee — one in the Green Industries category for designing, building and planting a corner of the sports field that was often filled with weeds, and another award in the Visual Arts. In this category the students were challenged to paint a mural dedicated to Marlene Stewart-Streit, located at the park named for her in Fonthill. The project, which took six students 36 hours to complete, was both educational and a lots of fun.

Both of these projects helped students to develop a sense of school and civic pride and to contribute to the community. We are very fortunate to have such dedicated teachers and students who are talented in so many areas that are often overlooked.

Across the board area, there have been some significant developments. The new West Lincoln secondary school is proceeding on schedule and should open the fall of 2022. Also the DSBN has been approved for funding for a new elementary school in south Niagara. With all the building going on in Thorold and Niagara Falls, this school is definitely needed. The building of the coterminous school in Wainfleet is also on schedule. In keeping with our budgetary planning (two schools per year), two more secondary schools, Port Colbourne and Thorold, will be having their sports fields upgraded to the synthetic turf that the students at Crossley have been enjoying. At this time, discussions are also taking place to fix the muddy kindergarten play area at Glynn A. Green school.

The Parent Involvement Committee (PIC) has lined up some interesting speakers for their online presentations in the new year. Check the DSBN website for dates.

At this point we are not sure what the new year will bring for our staff and students. With case numbers going up as rapidly as they are, parents should be aware that an extended out-of-school time and a return to online learning is a strong possibility. Let’s hope it won’t happen, but we should be prepared.

In the meantime, stay safe and enjoy the holiday break.

 

2021 YEAR IN REVIEW | Mike Breaton, Column Six contributor

Dancing in the dark

Whose woods these are
I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up
with snow…

Every year around this time, without fail, this old Robert Frost poem starts to repeat in my head, ear-worming its way through my life like the refrain of a song that I just can’t shake. I walk down the street silently chanting it to the cadence of my footsteps. It was first inflicted on me by my marmish Grade 7 English teacher (may she live to be a hundred) and I’ve loved it ever since. If you don’t know it, do yourself a favour and get thee to Google and read it. Don’t panic; it’s short.

When I was a fresh-eyed Grade 7 student, bookish and nerdish, more interested in words than sports and devouring the written page like my sanity depended on it, I loved the Santa Claus feel of the character in the poem. Here was the old elf, a couple of nights before the annual trek, tired out by all of the work that had gone into the preparation but heartened by the sight of the end. Just a few more things to sort out and then he could rest; give Mrs. Claus a squeeze, plop down into his favourite chair with a nice cup of cocoa, and put his feet up by the fire. Maybe read that book he’d been putting off since the summer. If he’s anything like the rest of us at this time of year, he’ll end up snoring in the chair with his glasses halfway down his face. It doesn’t matter. In the end, the poem is hopeful. Sure it’s dark, but only for now. Once we get through these last few things, we can rest, and all will be well.

But this year, I find that the cadence of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” keeps getting interrupted by the equally seductive rhythms of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” with its markedly more sinister and hopeless tone. That one’s a bit longer, so I’ll give you the short version: a man who’s broken-hearted by the death of his love resorts to “quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore” to ease his pain. The poem suggests that he has attempted to breach the veil of death to reach her, but instead he accidentally summons something horrible from beyond that arrives in the shape of a “ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore” — the raven of the title. In the end, the character in this poem is driven to madness and despair by the raven repeatedly taunting him that he will know happiness “nevermore.”

I know why this poetic competition in my head is happening as well as you do.

Here we are, what, two?…three?…50? years into Covid? I’ve lost track.

The holidays are nearly upon us, and we should be feeling festive. Chestnuts roasting and all that. And yet, here we are, with the Doom of Omicron looming over us. Our politicians are opening and closing things based on the latest poll numbers, telling us to do this or not do that, while they do as they please. The political and social Left and Right are locked in an endless cycle of churlish hatred. The economy is circling the drain. The environment is feeling vengeful. “Come on!” we want to scream. “All we wanted was Santa Claus, but we got the damned raven instead!” It feels a lot like a stocking full of coal to me.

It’s not just about Christmas, though, or Yule, or Hanukkah, or whatever. It’s about light, and all that it represents. For all of our temptations and tendencies to the contrary, we humans are creatures of the light. We crave it. We seek it out. We miss it when it’s gone. We feel vaguely uneasy as the nights get longer and the warmth drains from the world at the end of every year. We feel the darkness closing in, tightening its grip on us. But our species is old, and we’re wise to the ways of the darkness. We know that if we’re patient, if we don’t give up hope, if we deserve it, the light will return and bring with it all good things.

Christmas, before it became an orgiastic celebration of consumerism, was the rebirth of hope in a hopeless time, and eventually early Christians moved it to Yuletide to buy (ha-ha) into the symbolism that came with the winter solstice. Yule, in its turn, was a pagan celebration of fertility and renewal at this most barren time of the year; a determination to be alive in the midst of death, to celebrate rather than to despair. Fires were lit across the land to show our defiance of the dark, and people danced. Hanukkah is a celebration and remembrance of a victory against all odds, the recovery of a lost home, the reaffirmation of faith in a ruined temple where one small lamp that was nearly out of oil burned impossibly for eight nights, its tiny flame pushing back the darkness with a singular courage still echoed today with every lighting of a menorah. People after people, culture after culture, back and back into human history we have done this. We look into the darkness and say: “Yes. But there will be light again. Let’s dance.”

In Robert Frost’s poem, the character pushes on despite his weariness because he’s got promises to keep. If you think about it, a promise is just a deal that we make with the future; a commitment to fulfill an obligation sometime then, when the time is right, usually in exchange for something now. I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. At its heart, a promise is an expression of hope. In the poem, the weary traveller’s simple act of continuing on despite his weariness is a declaration of hope. A declaration of his belief that things will get better, and then he can rest.

I think of these things and it makes me want to run out into the streets like some demented Scrooge: “You, boy, what variant is this?”

“Why, it’s Omicron, sir!”

“Clever boy! Now go and buy me a turkey, and keep the change!”

I want to hug strangers, and pat dogs, and throw snowballs — if only we had any snow. I want to dance in the street. I want to remember that people are basically good, that despite the madness that seems to be consuming the world, most folks are decent, commonsense sorts, who mean well. They’ll smile if you do. Try it if you doubt me. Sure, there’s another stupid Covid variant. And you know what? There’ll be another one after that. And another. We’ve miles to go before we sleep. But that’s okay. We’ll get there; we always do. It’s what we do. We just have to keep the faith in ourselves and in those around us. We need to re-believe that the light, symbolic as well as literal, is still out there and can be regained if we just deserve it hard enough. We’ve got to shut the window against the raven and stay Frosty. After all, even though the woods are dark and deep, they’re still lovely. I promise you.

 

2021 YEAR IN REVIEW | John Chick, Voice correspondent

An impossible dream

I am going to use this space to present to you a grand vision that has as much chance of happening as Amazon enlisting a battalion of flying pigs to deliver online purchases to your house.

This is not about the Bills winning the Super Bowl or the Maple Leafs the Stanley Cup (two things that may currently appear plausible in the new year, but let’s face it, won’t happen).

No, with all the transit talk flying around here lately, I have decided that the time has come to construct a high-speed rail tunnel underneath Lake Ontario between Niagara and Toronto’s Union Station.

In addition to all the good environmental and forward-thinking infrastructure-building reasons to do this, I am also sick of the fast-food options along the QEW between Niagara and the GTA. With all due respect to the Five Guys in Stoney Creek or Arby’s in Burlington, diverse choices are limited.

The author at a Burlington Arby’s. SUPPLIED

Anyway, in all seriousness, I’ve had this idea in the back of my head for two decades. I originally envisioned it as a highway tunnel, connecting the QEW/406 junction with the 427/Gardiner Expressway interchange on the west side of Toronto. However, what with sustainability sensibilities these days, a true high-speed rail option might actually convince some drivers to leave the car at home as they venture back and forth between here and the Big Smoke (not to mention fostering further growth and tourism in Niagara, likely to the chagrin of some down here).

Did you know that Canada is the only G7 country without regular high-speed rail service?

While I’m well aware my idea has zero chance of happening when this country— which too often cannot innovate its way out of a wet paper bag — can’t even build such a surface line between its two largest cities of Toronto and Montreal, I also have doubts that the long-discussed, all-day GO Train service between here and the GTA will ever happen either.

While the pandemic understandably reduced the number of commuters for a time, it is a fool’s errand to believe that a Golden Horseshoe region expected to grow to a population of 15 million by 2051 will not need comprehensive infrastructure upgrades. With Doug Ford’s government seemingly more interested in building highways through empty fields northwest of Toronto, it’s clear, as usual, that Niagara is primed to once again get the short end of the stick.

But even if that all-day GO service does one day come to fruition, it won’t be ideal. As someone who used to take VIA, Amtrak and weekend GO Trains back and forth to Toronto, I can tell you the services did not save time. At an average travel duration of well over two hours, it was often faster to drive. All trains would slow to a crawl as they passed through Hamilton, and anyone who has ever taken a GO Train will probably tell you that the seats can become quite uncomfortable after about 45 minutes perched on them.

Meanwhile, the notion of a large-scale commuter ferry connecting Niagara and Toronto appears to be thwarted by the harsh realities of winter. The high-speed jetfoil ferries employed in places like Asia don’t have to deal with the winds and potential ice buildups on the Great Lakes in January.

And therein lies the reality. In order to get people to seriously consider options other than gridlocked traffic, you need to offer a faster, affordable alternative.

Now, I am clearly not an engineer, but such a massive project to tunnel underneath a large body of water has precedent. The length of the English Channel tunnel, or “Chunnel,”is 50 kilometres. The distance from St. Catharines to Toronto across Lake Ontario is 51 kilometres.

Therefore, one would think if two national entities such as the United Kingdom and France (who historically have almost been as hostile to each other as Niagara and Toronto have) could get together and build something so large, so could we.

Of course, the $21 billion US price tag of the Chunnel is probably where you’ll start to lose people. Most politicians on this continent can barely think past a 24-hour news cycle, let alone dare budget for anything that won’t be completed until long after they’ve left public office.

Ultimately that’s sad, because while there’s a really good chance that my possibly harebrained scheme here is prohibitively expensive, it could be argued that it would pay off in the long run. It’s also big and cool—but unfortunately, we don’t do big and cool.

It’s fun to dream though, and what better time of year than the holidays to let your imagination run wild.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

 

2021 YEAR IN REVIEW | David Cribbs, Pelham CAO

Growth is both blessing and curse

The year 2021 did not unfold as envisioned. Like many other civic administrators, I felt confident that the worst of Covid was behind us and that the Town would be operating in closer to normal fashion. Reality was far different. Town facilities were closed far longer in 2021 than they were in 2020. The Provincial and federal governments were generous in late 2020 with financial support, and all of that has now been spent to cover losses and provide safe working environments. If 2022 looks like 2021, difficult choices will have to be made, as the higher orders of government seem to have taken a step back from direct financial assistance.

The Town continues to experience considerable growth, which is both its blessing and its curse. This is an extremely attractive community which draws new residents as fast as homes can be built (faster in fact: Town staff believe that there is a waiting list for each development, and that several have sold out instantly).

David Cribbs. SUPPLIED

Managing this is a fundamental challenge for council and staff: how to hit the Provincial/Regional growth target without damaging all that’s good about the community. Pelham has no choice but to grow (again, upper government mandate), but there is some control over how it grows, and this is the art and science of local governance. Council has juggled these conflicting priorities in admirable fashion: the Town keeps growing, but at a human scope and human scale.

As a municipal corporation, the Town has made some progress in improving its understanding of the challenges faced by First Nations residents—new initiatives include mandatory all-staff training (largely accomplished), land acknowledgment at the start of meetings, participation in Truth and Reconciliation Day, and hosting the REDress exhibit. Staff are exploring some exciting new engagement opportunities for 2022, which hopefully will include a speaker series and possibly a cultural/artistic event for all residents to experience, enjoy and from which to learn.

The community has also made its wishes quite clear over the past year. Strong support for Pelham’s trails, and for maintaining, if not enhancing them, drew many delegations, emails, phone calls and plenty of media coverage. Similarly, and closely related, community advocates for the tree canopy helped push work forward which has resulted in a new tree policy and greater emphasis upon the health of the tree canopy. Council heard these concerns and made strategic decisions which appear to further the objectives identified by residents.

On the administrative side, and notwithstanding the general operating challenges posed by Covid-19, the Town was able to complete many of the items identified in the strategic plan. A succession management plan and program were introduced, and have already produced results — both the new Town Clerk and Deputy Clerk were internal promotions, as is the new Supervisor in Recreation, Culture and Wellness. Almost two years into the Town’s first collective agreement with CUPE Local 1287 there is only a single grievance outstanding between the parties. Later this month the new asset management plan will be unveiled, which is a major accomplishment that will financially benefit this community for years to come by supporting better budgeting and better decision-making. Legal costs have been reduced by the successful introduction of a part-time Town Solicitor.

Through all of this I am proud of the work and performance of Town staff. There is not a single major service that Pelham stopped providing to its residents in 2020 or 2021, apart from those temporarily prohibited by law. The municipal corporation is in better financial shape now than it was at the start of the pandemic and is better positioned, by a combination of the utilization of technology, the addition of new talent to the workforce, by the new financial software, and with the advent of a robust asset management system. I’m now wise enough not to try and predict the future, but here’s hoping for a healthier, but equally productive 2022. On behalf of Town administration, I wish all residents a healthy, happy and successful 2022.

 

2021 YEAR IN REVIEW | Margaret Ferguson, Column Six contributor

A year of discovery about myself

Perhaps it is a good thing to have to look at ourselves deeply every once in awhile and whittle out the useless parts of our nature. As I look around me and hear my friends talk, I realize that they, too, are busy sorting out the important things in their lives. So, here is my attempt to clarify my life adventure during this Covid time for everyone.

One important thing is about balance. Usually we think of balance in a physical way, but I urge you to go deeper and think of balancing inner thoughts and emotions. Learning to juggle our sadnesses and disappointments, not necessarily with great happiness, but with understanding. I have had several experiences with this during Covid, and have been forced to learn this lesson if I wanted to experience any pleasure in daily living.

Another thing is trust. We have to trust ourselves that our physical actions are solid and true. But much more than that, we need to go deeper and learn to trust our inner feelings. I have had trouble many times with trusting my own decisions, but with practice I know that this trust is basic for our nature. This year has been a great learning time for my inner life.

I also know that it is vital to take time to relax and reflect on life and to see what can be accomplished by letting go. We do not need to carry a heavy load all the time. The times that I have had over this year to be still and just enjoying the moment, have been very precious, and are becoming a little easier to experience. It is a time of learning patience. I cannot become that patient person if I am impatient to get to that point. I want it now—but life is not like that. I need to cultivate patience with myself and my thoughts—not the easiest thing for me. It is such a privilege to observe ourselves as we all have powerful recollections. Being inside more during this year has allowed for more introspection and hopefully more improvement. I know I have to cultivate more ability to balance these important life attributes for the good of all life. This had been an opportunity to learn flexibility of body and mind.

What a wonderful world this would be if we all learned to be conscious of others but also of our inner selves. It is a step forward when we can see ourselves as part of the world’s humanity, and each work toward that end.

 

2021 YEAR IN REVIEW | Diana Huson, Regional Councillor

A year of Regional accomplishments

It’s hard to believe another year is almost over! I think all of us were hopeful that 2021 would leave Covid far behind in the hopes of getting back to normal. Instead, we had a roller coaster ride of emerging waves and new variants, coupled with vaccination rollouts and a revolving door of pandemic rules that seemed to change on a regular basis. The holidays are a welcome reprieve from yet another challenging year to focus on family, good will and the spirit of giving! It’s one of my favourite times of the year.

Regional Councillor Diana Huson. FILE

The Region played a central role in Niagara’s pandemic response with our Public Health department administering 275,000 vaccine doses. Together with our local hospitals, family doctors and pharmacies, nearly 750,000 doses have been administered to Niagara’s residents. The Region has also handled a whopping 125,000 phone calls, emails and live chats from residents and businesses since the beginning of the pandemic. This support is in addition to the extra demands placed on our paramedics, long-term care staff, police and other vital first responders and healthcare workers.

Pandemic aside, there has been a tremendous number of Regional accomplishments worthy of note. From an infrastructure and service perspective, this term of council has invested more than $260 million in its 770 km of roads and 130 bridges. These investments will be important to ensuring we not only sustain our existing infrastructure, but also reduce a significant infrastructure gap. We’ve also successfully secured impactful investments in broadband infrastructure connecting more than 5,600 homes and businesses in west Niagara with further plans to bring service to more than 50,000 households and businesses by 2024.

We also took a giant leap forward for transportation in endorsing a harmonized Regional transit model. If successfully, a harmonized service will operate under a single governance board delivering an enhancement of servicing across municipal boundaries and better connecting our rural areas. Moving towards a Regional model promises many benefits including an increase in access to education, healthcare, and employment. The next steps to make this a reality requires endorsement by a majority of our local councils which also must represent a majority of Niagara’s electorate. Pelham will most likely consider this important vote in January.

You may also recall garbage collection woes earlier in the term that facilitated a review of our waste collection contract. This resulted in splitting Niagara into two separate service areas with two new service providers. It also came with a service shift to every other week garbage pick-up, in addition to maintaining weekly organic and recycling collection. Since implemented the changes in October 2020, I’m proud to report minimal service interruptions, but also diversion of 12,000 tonnes of garbage away from our landfills and an overall increase of 24 percent in organic collection. This should help preserve the longevity of our landfills while ensuring organic matter can be more efficiently handled.

Another important milestone is the progress we’ve made in our planning and environmental policies. The official plan is being comprehensively reviewed for the first time in nearly 50 years which is vital in addressing our housing shortages, but also defines where and how Niagara will grow in consideration of significant population growth pressures. Just this past month council approved the natural heritage component of the plan that will protect 70,000 hectares of our natural features. It’s a significant environmental accomplishment in addition to an earlier approval of a greening strategy and updated tree bylaw that will further protect and build upon our woodlands. I was also successful in initiating a funding opportunity that resulted in nearly 7,400 seedlings being planted on Regional property and expanding our tree canopy.

I continue to advocate for more diverse, inclusive and equitable voices to inform our governance model. I currently serve as Chair of the Region’s Women’s Advisory Committee, where I’ve gathered support for a grant application for a mentorship program to increase women’s participation in politics, with an emphasis on racialized women, and will learn if the grant is approved early in the new year. I was also successful in being appointed to the Regional Chair’s new Youth Advisory Committee, having a representative from each of our 12 municipalities. This committee will fill an important gap in addressing an aspect of our population that is not often engaged in municipal government. They have already expressed an interest in policy pertaining to mental health, the environment and diversity, equity and inclusion. I’m looking forward to seeing how this promising new committee can help contribute to better policymaking at the Region.

This past June I was also successfully elected to the Ontario Caucus of the Federation of Canadian municipalities. The organization advocates on behalf of issues and funding with the federal government. It’s the first time Niagara has had a voting member on this body, and I’ll have the opportunity to add Niagara’s voice to those discussions but also help bring attention to advances in policy or funding opportunities that we may benefit from. It’s an exciting opportunity to learn and grow, but also to network with colleagues from across Canada who are all just trying to better their communities.

The dawn of a new year is always a natural time for reflection. And in reflecting on my role as your Regional Councillor, I feel quite proud of the accomplishments we’ve made to date. As a council, we have not always agreed on outcomes but have always maintained respect for the process and for one another. It’s been an honour to serve my community and I have always felt it is a great privilege to represent Pelham at the Region. As always, please reach out with your comments, concerns or questions. I am always available to help where I can.

 

2021 YEAR IN REVIEW | Tim Nohara, CCC chair

A Cannabis Control Committee update

To the residents of Pelham, I hope this short note from the Cannabis Control Committee (CCC) finds you well as we approach the Christmas season. It has been a challenging time for many of us, and I pray easier days lie ahead in 2022.

As the pandemic has prevented us from gathering at council chambers for an update, your fellow CCC volunteer members Carla Baxter, James Steele, Jim Jeffs, John Langendoen, Louis Damm, Bill Heska, and I would like to report to you on where we are at with the Odorous Industries Nuisance Bylaw (OINBL) adopted by Pelham Town council in March 2020, and the cannabis Official Plan Amendment (OPA) and Zoning Bylaw Amendment (ZBA) adopted by council in July 2020.

The OINBL

It’s hard to believe it has been over a year since the last official update we provided you on the OINBL. As our Town’s Bylaw Enforcement team were just starting to use their Nasal Ranger to take odour measurements, I discussed, in the October 29, 2020 issue of the Voice, how to file an odour complaint using the Town’s Public Service Request (PSR) system. The article can be found at: https://bit.ly/3eb4sbG

I know that council and staff are aware that many of you are unable to properly use the PSR system and that improving the system is a priority, which hopefully will occur in 2022.

Tim Nohara. YOUTUBE

This past spring 2021, CannTrust and Redecan brought an Application to Quash the OINBL with the Superior Court of Justice. As a result, the contractor-conducted Ambient Neighbourhood Odour Monitoring Program never got started and is on hold. This program was designed to have odour professionals take regular odour readings around the cannabis facilities to track odour emissions that are a nuisance to neighbours. Unfortunately, this legal action will likely not make it to court for at least a year or more, which means that it will likely be handled by the next Town Council.

The OPA and ZBA

You may recall that CannTrust, Redecan and Woodstock Biomed appealed the OPA and ZBA to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) in late summer 2020. The Voice reported on this on June 23, 2021. The article can be found at: https://bit.ly/32kNDby

LPAT is now called the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT).

The appeal of our OPA and ZBA will be heard and decided by the OLT in just a few weeks on January 24-27, 2022. The OPA and ZBA were designed to ensure a public process for any new cannabis and industrial hemp facilities in the town; and provide policies, required studies and standards including setbacks to ensure harmonious coexistence. The good news is that the goal posts will (hopefully) finally be decided by the OLT just a short time from now.

What can residents do?

The OLT hearing will be held via video conference for four days on January 24-27, 2022. Residents may observe the proceedings at https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/287108853. Persons who only wish to listen to the event can connect by telephone at 1-888-455-1389 (toll free). The access code is 287-108-853.

I encourage you to attend the OLT hearing via video conference or telephone. You will hear arguments from each of the cannabis companies, and you will hear our own lawyers and experts defend the OPA and ZBA that were approved by our council and the Niagara Region. This is your chance to better appreciate the issues that will determine the outcome which will impact our community for years to come.

I also encourage you to write to the Mayor and to your councillors and thank them for their continuing support in seeing this legal effort through. Or write into the Voice. Pelham is indeed punching above its weight, and the goal posts set by the OLT will not only inform and help Pelham and the CCC, but all municipalities in Ontario, as the rules will finally be clear regarding what municipalities can and can not do to ensure harmonious coexistence.

Merry Christmas.

 

2021 YEAR IN REVIEW | Councillor Wayne Olson

In the colour of hope

Next year is the Year of the Garden 2022. It will be an opportunity to remember our agricultural heritage and to continue to harness the creative horticultural genius of our residents. One only needs to see the displays for Christmas to see the pride in our town. I don’t believe it’s my imagination but there seems to be many more lights and decorations this year.

Horticulture, as a global industry, got its start right here in Pelham. The same fine soils and climate have given rise to our vibrant agriculture, landscape and golf course industries. Starting with our Indigenous friends, people have always come to Niagara for food.

There is an opportunity to celebrate true business success and to honour the ongoing stewardship of these important lands. Our businesses are leading the way out of the pandemic and taking all manner of innovative steps to address climate change and the new complexities of business.

Councillor Wayne Olson, with the Junior B Pelham Panthers. SUPPLIED

Federal and provincial policies only “get real” at the municipal level. It couldn’t happen without our superior staff and volunteers. They play a huge role in making Pelham a preferred place to live.

They are masters of the warm welcome, the helpful response and voluntary cooperation with each other and the public. Our staff consistently clears the superior service bar and raises response to the level of strategic asset.

In my experience, succession planning and activation is one of more challenging activities in an organization. Many things need to be right: recruitment, hiring, fairness, evaluation training and retention for succession to work. I am quite happy to observe that our succession plans are functioning well. It delights me to see that many of our positions are filled from within.

I want to acknowledge and appreciate the great work done by our service clubs, volunteers and faith communities. They have also contributed to beautifying our Town and addressing climate change. To all of our wonderful volunteers, we are grateful for your valuable contributions.

I am always inspired by the Voice articles about our young people and their support for food drives, the lemonade stands, the ornament sales and the growing small businesses. There is a vitality, a life force, a special energy and an openness in the way in which our young people go into action to alter conditions of hunger, homelessness, abuse, addiction, oppression, and isolation.

As a community, a focus must be to help our young people get everything they desire out of the experience of giving. Our young people live in the domain between the current reality and their vision of a better future. We’ll need them to help us unloads the burdens of the past.

So many things need to be re-imagined in this challenging environment. There are no magic pills but there are clear paths. I chose to be inspired by the examples provided by our young people and their willingness to struggle for a better place for everyone.

We have all faced unprecedented challenges and uncertainty which have required us to re-examine our priorities, but our community values remain the same. We need to continue to question ourselves about how to share and cede space so that others can fully participate and be heard.

The colour of Year of the Garden 2022 is yellow, the colour of hope. I know that I will be looking for yellow in the spring for the garden. Hope is what we need in this important moment.

Many thanks to the Voice for this opportunity to speak to you. I wish everyone the joy of the season with family and friends. Finally, it is an honour and pleasure to be able to serve you. I am deeply grateful for your confidence and trust. I’m having a great time.

Stay safe!

 

2021 YEAR IN REVIEW | MPP Sam Oosterhoff

We all benefit when supporting our community

The spirit of generosity and compassion was shown by so many across Niagara West in the historic year of 2021. 2021 was also a year characterized by both perseverance in the face of continued difficulties, and optimism about what the future holds for our families, local communities, and for our province as a whole.

Earlier this year, the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines radically changed the game in our collective fight against the virus and its variants. The vaccines approved by Health Canada are overwhelmingly safe and effective at stopping severe illness, hospitalization, and even death from Covid-19 and its variants.

Keri, Sullivan, and Sam Oosterhoff. SUPPLIED

Across Niagara West—including Pelham— a very high percentage of residents stepped up to protect themselves and their community by getting vaccinated, a key step to moving beyond the pandemic and moving back towards normalcy. Slowly but surely, more and more activities which were cancelled because of Covid in 2020, have started up again this year. Even the Canada Day and Santa Claus Parades have been able to return once more — although in slightly altered and socially distanced forms.

In Pelham, organizations such as Pelham Cares, Branch 613 of the Royal Canadian Legion, and the local Kinsmen Club have stepped up and worked with many individuals, churches, and community advocates to support vulnerable seniors and other individuals. It is remarkable to see the innovative ways that people throughout the community continue to reach out and look out for each other.

Unfortunately, local businesses continue to suffer negative economic consequences from health restrictions and lockdowns. Please consider giving a gift to the entire community by taking your Christmas shopping list to local shops, restaurants, and artists in Pelham, supporting families and jobs in our local economy.

Helping provide guidance and resources to local residents and businesses through various public health measures and government support programs was a major priority for my team and me during the past year. We continue to work to ensure that our many job-creators are supported and able to thrive post-pandemic, and that they in turn can provide good jobs to workers across Niagara.

I also worked closely with the Region of Niagara and the Town of Pelham on delivering substantial expansions of broadband internet —an absolute necessity in today’s increasingly digital world —as well as the issuing of an RFP for the new South Niagara Hospital. This billion-dollar hospital will provide world class healthcare —with cutting- edge technology—to the residents of south Niagara, including Pelham. Additional resources are also being provided to the municipality through a doubling of the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund, which will help ensure modern roads, bridges, and community infrastructure.

On a personal note, in January of this year my wife, Keri, and I were blessed with the birth of our first son, Sullivan. As he approaches his first birthday, Sullivan is already learning to walk and comment on the political landscape! You should be receiving a Christmas postcard from my family soon.

As a Christian, the Christmas season is an especially important reminder of the great love of God in sending his Son to earth to die for the sins of the world. This holiday season also serves as a reminder to love our neighbours and those around us, especially in these challenging times.

I am very thankful to serve the families, seniors, and job-creators of our community; it is an honour and responsibility I do not take lightly. It is also so important for me to hear from you about the issues that matter most to you and your family, so that I can advocate for your concerns at Queen’s Park.

As we continue through the Advent season and approach the end of this year, I wish you and your family a very blessed Christmas, and a happy and healthy New Year!

 

2021 YEAR IN REVIEW | Teresa Quinlin-Murphy, Pelham Treasurer

Organizations and events of note

This has been an incredible year. The Town has been busy applying for grants. I am happy that there will be two new splash pads next summer, one in Fenwick and the other in Fonthill. This request has been made by residents at several Budget Open Houses in the past few years.

It has been a challenging year for staff due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I am proud of the outstanding work from staff in the past year providing great service to our community.

I would like to highlight the three organizations that I support: Women’s Place of South Niagara, Niagara Health Foundation, and Niagara College’s Nourishing Minds Fund.

Pelham Treasurer Teresa Quinlin-Murphy. SUPPLIED

The pandemic has created a dangerous situation for women and children affected by abuse. Gender-based violence has increased by 30 percent, and the severity of cases reported has also increased. Thankfully, Women’s Place continues to offer their lifesaving services, and has some exciting updates to help address this urgent demand. Women’s Place will be consolidating their two shelters and is undergoing an expansion of the Nova House from a 20-bed to a 40-bed shelter is part of a plan to meet the growing need for domestic violence services in Niagara. This project will increase the total shelter capacity by 25 percent. Women’s Place will be opening a new outreach office operating out of the Hope Centre in Welland, accessible to the community five days a week. Also, there is a new Prevention and Public Education Manager, who will help increase education and awareness as they work on preventative measures. A total of 106 women and 52 children have lived in shelter in 2021, while hundreds more benefited from the outreach programs, including 24/hour support lines, transitional housing and legal support, counseling, and safety planning. Work to end gender-based violence is far from over and everyone can play a part in achieving this mission. To learn more visit www.womensplacesn.org.

The Niagara Health Foundation has played a pivotal role in supporting Niagara Health during the pandemic. As the charity responsible for securing funds to purchase vital patient care equipment, the Foundation has adapted, been agile, and thrived in 2020-2021. For example, alongside Mr. Tom Rankin, the Foundation successfully raised over $2.8 million in just over two months to purchase a third MRI in Niagara, which will drastically reduce wait times for Niagara residents. The Foundation also saw incredible success in its “Ride from Home” Big Move Cancer Ride, raising over $414,000 for the Walker Family Cancer Centre. In addition, the Foundation has grown its Niagara Health Community Lottery and awarded over $302,000 to winners and across Niagara in 2021. Lastly, the Foundation has launched the “It’s Our Future” fundraising campaign for the new South Niagara Site of Niagara Health and has already secured over $18 million in pledges. To learn more visit www.niagarahealthfoundation.com.

I established the Nourishing Minds Fund at Niagara College as a gift to the students at my retirement in 2015. This fund supports the needs of struggling students with their financial ability to purchase food. To date this fund has raised over $275,000, which has served more than 70,000 breakfasts and 200,383 food vouchers in various denominations from $25 to $250. I am so happy to see that people have continued to support this important cause addressing the needs of students. To learn more visit www.niagaracollege.ca.

I was honoured to receive recognition as a Fellow of the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario this year. I want to thank all the wonderful people I have worked with in my career who have contributed to my success and have made going to work a joy.

On a personal note, it has been a magical year. I married the love of my life, Dom Murphy, in September and we visited the Canadian Rockies for our honeymoon. The mountains, lakes and wildlife were spectacular. We are truly blessed to live in such a beautiful country.

 

2021 YEAR IN REVIEW | David Siegel, Political Science Prof. Emeritus

Minority governments here to stay, Niagara transit inches closer

The Voice’s invitation to write about my perspective on the past year was both tempting and daunting, but I couldn’t resist this kind of interesting assignment. Of course, Covid is the obvious news story of 2021, but so much has been written about this important topic that I felt that I had little to add. Instead, I will turn my attention to politics, and write about two events, one at the national and one at local level that I see as having lasting import.

Canada had its second federal election within a two-year period, and it resulted in relatively little change. So, why is this something to write about? Canada has had minority governments before, and the sky hasn’t fallen.

The return of two minority governments in a row, with a particular configuration of parties indicates a basic shift in the way that we will be doing politics for the foreseeable future. Canada now has four parties operating at the federal level that are capable of winning a significant number of seats, and all four appear rather firmly established in their current positions. The fifth party, the Greens, has not yet made a major breakthrough, but it will be growing in strength as more young people who are concerned about the problems associated with climate change start voting. The People’s Party of Canada has not yet won a seat, but it will be attractive in some regions of the country.

David Siegel. SUPPLIED

As long as we have a four-, or five-, or six-party system, the math is fairly clear. It will be difficult for any party to win a majority of seats. As mentioned earlier, Canada has had minority governments before, but these have usually served as a transition between majority governments. For example, in the 2004-11 period we went from a Liberal majority, to a Liberal minority, to two Conservative minorities, to a Conservative majority.

The combination of the politics and the math means that we are now on the threshold of a period of relatively permanent minority governments. (Nothing is truly permanent in politics.) This means that we will need to learn to govern with minority governments not as a transitory phenomenon, but as a more permanent feature. This is not the catastrophe that some would make it. Parliamentary systems are built to function in minority situations. Some European countries have had minorities for extended periods.

It’s not a catastrophe, but it does require a different way of governing. The parties will need to learn how to work together to provide some level of stability. This could even result in a coalition government. This is a fairly common occurrence in Europe, but not so in Canada.

My second point is closer to home. It’s not final yet, but we seem to be very close to agreement on the establishment of a Regional transit system. This is significant at two levels.

First, it will provide a service to local residents that has been needed for some time. It not only provides greater mobility between major population centres, but it has also encouraged less densely populated places that could not sustain their own conventional transit system, like Pelham, to develop innovative forms of public transit which have become a part of the Regional system. This will make it easier for people to get to work, school, shopping, medical appointments, and just visiting friends. This increased mobility will enrich the lives of residents.

Second, this is an example of area municipalities cooperating with one another to deal with a regional issue. This is not the place to argue about governance issues like “one Niagara,” or amalgamation, but it is important for residents to start seeing Niagara as one region that transcends the interests of each separate municipality. Transit is an example of the 13 municipalities in Niagara working together to accomplish a shared goal. This was a learning process that can be extended to other services for residents. Maybe Niagara residents and their representatives will start thinking about Niagara as one region. That would be a major change.

Neither one of my ideas about major events for 2021 is actually a done deal yet. Both are in transition in some way. I think they are moving in a positive direction, but it falls to the prime actors involved in these areas to continue down what I see as productive roads in both cases. At the national level, minority governments can be made to work in the long term, and, at the local level, inter-municipal cooperation in service delivery is certainly a positive step. Happy New Year.

 

2021 YEAR IN REVIEW | Helen Tran, Voice correspondent

Learning how to look forward

At the close of 2020, I made a series of promises to myself: to plant flowers in the spring, to live cautiously where it concerns Covid, but let life continue to surprise me.

My to-do list for the new year was both big and small: finalize my divorce, enjoy my new home, focus on rebuilding my career after two rounds of maternity leave. Write a few stories. Snap some good photos. Read the self-help books gathering dust on my shelf. Live a little. Maybe fall in love. Despite the pandemic, life at the start of 2021 felt like a fresh page in a new book, ready to be written upon.

Ah, the sweet smell of optimism.

I began 2021 feeling like I had already jumped the biggest hurdles life could place in my path. I had already faced sudden single-parenthood while pregnant, and moved myself and two young children into a new home during a pandemic. I had logged hundreds of hours in therapy, and come to surprisingly good terms with the end of an 11-year relationship.

I had leased a brand-new town home a few months prior. The lease was for one year, with the expectation of signing a longer lease if all went well. The pandemic clearly wasn’t ending anytime soon, so I threw myself into my new life with gusto.

With my landlord’s blessing, I planted hundreds of flowers, transforming my blank lawn into a floral paradise. I built a playhouse for my kids. I mowed the grass. I bought an outdoor dining set, with the hope of hosting some small meals outside for my friends and family.

I got this handled, I remember thinking, covered in sweat as I painstakingly hauled boulder after boulder to build flowerbeds for my daughter to plant dozens of pansies.

Did I mention that I was optimistic?

I’d always been a naturally happy person, able to smile no matter what happened to me. I always try to see the good in any situation, or any person. It is a weakness as well as a strength.

Looking back on how 2021 went, there were just as many highs as lows, alternating and altering my life with no discernable pattern:

My daughter started school. My son started saying “mama.”

I started going professional with my photography. Moderate success.

I fell in love more than once. I also fell out of love. More than once.

The self-help books continued gathering dust on the shelf. Oh, well.

I got vaccinated. Socializing occurred. Adventures were had.

Friends and family got vaccinated. Some didn’t. Rifts ensued.

I continued teaching, while worrying as my hours were cut again and again. And again.

I started going professional with my writing. Reasonably moderate success.

I worked on some stories for the Voice that I am truly proud of: “Breaking her silence,” a piece detailing the courage of Faith Flagg and her long road towards recovery after being hit by a drunk driver, and “Don’t call me a hero,” a piece in which nurse Annie Mazmanian described the tribulations of the nursing profession during Covid and brought awareness to mental health issues.

Divorce proceedings dragged out into months, into yet another year. Morale? Low. Legal Fees? High.

As summer turned to fall, I planned to use the winter season to rest, to lick my wounds, to nurture the memories of parts of the year that had been successful, to let my heart hibernate, and allow the few magical moments of 2021 to sustain me, to keep me sane.

You got this handled, I remember thinking, as I cleaned up my yard in preparation for winter.

Did I mention that I wanted life to still surprise me? If I had a fairy godmother, she would have said: Be careful what you wish for.

My year-long lease ended, after which it was abruptly announced that instead of renewing the lease, my unit would be listed for sale. My home, so snug and safe, was now just a house. For me, the sale of my home, which I had worked so hard on, was the last straw. The spell had broken.

My daughter, who is very opinionated for a four-year-old, describes me thus: “Mommy you are very interesting, even though you forget things all the time.”

I am grateful that she describes me this way, that this is how she pictures me. The “forgetful” mommy she remembers was in reality a very stressed-out mommy. While she was learning how to write my name at school, while my son was babbling happily at daycare, I was spending my days and sleepless nights trying to keep our life together. Legal fees crept higher. The “for sale” date loomed closer. My job seemed more precarious than ever. I was exhausted, too tired to cry.

Somewhere in the midst of it all, I found the strength to continue. Days turned to weeks. Weeks became months. I survived; am surviving. A tree weathering a storm. A rock remaining steady, braving wave after wave. I didn’t do it alone.

If I have learned anything from this year, it is that I am loved and supported by many. 2021 was an exercise in letting life lead me in unexpected directions, and a proving ground for what I was capable of. It was also the year in which my friends and family showed me that love is woven from many threads.

To those who bought my photo calendars and cards, trusted me with family and wedding photo shoots, and referred me — thank you. You helped a struggling single mother pay bills, rent, and legal fees.

To those who dropped off food, cooked me meals, played with my children, made me laugh, called or emailed or video-chatted when I was feeling down—thank you. You helped me keep my sanity.

To those who read my stories and articles, listened to my jokes, and encouraged me to laugh and let laugh, to write and let live — thank you. You reminded me of my self-worth.

To my daughter, who writes my name by combining “mom” with her imagined spelling of “Helen” —thank you, thank you, thank you. “MAHM” loves you and your brother so much.

As this bittersweet year nears its end, I ask myself: How long will this pandemic continue? Will we ever go back to the way things were before? To the first question; I don’t know. To the second; I think my answer is no. We can’t. But that doesn’t mean that the future isn’t good, or can’t be good. One can only rebuild with the materials of what came before. There is a harsh beauty, and some comfort, in that.

A special alchemy takes place in ourselves when we practice acceptance, gratefulness, and compassion (for others, and also for ourselves) in the face of adversity or suffering. Or when we reach out to help others, unasked and without reward.

I know my story is only one of many. Many have struggled and undergone unimaginable losses during the pandemic — so much of Covid has been about uncertainty, and dealing with monumental changes to life that nobody asked for.

To all who have experienced hardship and grief this year, this is what I want to say: All of what you felt and still feel is real and valid. You have been through so much. You are strong, you are brave. You can do this. You are loved. You are valued.

Dear 2022,

Whatever the future holds, I accept it, with cautious hands but an open heart.

Please be good to all of us.

Yours truly,

“MAHM”

 

2021 YEAR IN REVIEW | Councillor John Wink

Much to do, but 47 Zoom meetings later much was done

I cannot believe council has completed three years of our mandate. 2021 was a very productive year for your council and staff. Council met via Zoom 47 times this year including regular and special council meetings as well as public meetings.

Covid-19 has been on all our minds the past 22 months and staff had to pivot to deal with ever-changing regulations. Many staff had to work from home and for a number of months the public had restricted access to all Town facilities. Two years ago I had never heard of Zoom but now it has been the way that we can still meet and do business.

Councillor John Wink. SUPPLIED

The Meridian Community Centre was closed for five-and-a-half months in 2021, which severely impacted our revenues. Thankfully the Town had received grants in the latter part of 2020 and we were able to apply the Safe Start Funding grant to offset the revenue losses. The MCC has been home to vaccination clinics where over 70,000 vaccinations have been administered. We have not received any funding from Niagara Health as yet and we are hopeful to recover the additional costs of utilities, cleaning, and staffing for the clinics.

As much as we have all been inconvenienced through Covid-19, Town activities are starting to return. The Farmers Market, Summer Chill Series, and the Bandshell Concert Series were revived with certain restrictions. The Christmas Market held recently was well-attended and had that feeling of pre-Covid times. Unfortunately the Santa Claus Parade was cancelled due to the weather event but I sense it would have also been well-attended. Finally, the Pelham Summerfest Committee has commenced meeting to plan for our 2022 event. We are all looking forward to having some normalcy to our lives.

As chair of the Finance and Audit Committee, I can report that we met five times this year. Our Town debt has been reduced by approximately $2 million this year and I am pleased that we did not have to borrow by way of debentures in 2021; there are no plans for debentures in 2022 as well. We still have concern over our underfunded reserves, which the Town is trying to replenish the best it can. The committee has been pleased with the progress we are making with our finances and are appreciative of our Corporate Services staff. Under the guidance of our Town Treasurer Teresa Quinlin-Murphy and Deputy Treasurer Charlotte Tunikaitis, they have procured over $1.7 million in grants this year alone, and more applications are waiting for approval.

While the accomplishments of this year are many, I would like to highlight a few. At the beginning of this year council made a motion to preserve the Steve Bauer Trail and Gerry Berkhout Trail as they currently exist. In other words, no new road crossings are allowed. We have had this come before us a few times throughout the year but I am proud that council has had the resolve to hold our position. I cannot speak for all of council but I had more positive support from town residents, by way of phone calls and emails, on this issue than anything else we have dealt with over my three years on council.

I would also like to point out that council approved a Tree Maintenance Policy this year. I commend staff for listening to concerns of the Pelham Tree Preservation Society. While all recommendations were not approved, the collaboration by all parties helped create this bylaw. Thank you to all involved.

The Second Dwelling Units (SDU) bylaw was well-discussed by the public with strong comments coming for and against. So why was this necessary? The Provincial government made changes to the Planning Act through Bill 108/Regulation 299 of the Province of Ontario (More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019) on June 6, 2019. The More Homes, More Choice Act requires that the Town permit additional dwelling units on a property containing a single-detached, semi-detached, or street townhouse residential dwelling, and permitting these units in an accessory building. The Provincial government identifies affordable housing as a “fundamental need,” and second dwelling units were identified as one of the least expensive ways to increase affordable housing supply while encouraging intensification and maintaining neighbourhood character.

One of the concerns that the Active Transportation Committee had this year was that the Town approved a Traffic Calming Policy last year—however staff, councillors and the committee continued to receive concerns from residents, and there is a process that concerns must go through. The Town now has the Neighbourhood Traffic Management Policy on the front page of its website and there will be periodic reminders in our local papers.

There is still much to do. Some of the hot topics for the early part of next year are the amalgamation of Regional transit, the joint venture of Pelham and Lincoln Library Boards, the Rice Road Stormwater Pond Erosion concern, and parking in our urban communities, as well as resolving additional parking at the Meridian Community Centre. Stay tuned.

I would like to commend the efforts of council for the amount of work we completed this year. More importantly, I would like to thank all Town staff for all their hard work and efforts they put forth daily for the betterment of our community. My family and I would like to extend our warmest wishes to you and your families over the holidays. Be well and be safe.