Wartime memories

The following excerpts about WWI wartime life (1914 – 1918) near the Welland Canal are from an autobiography by Frances Cairns (nee Pidduck), my maternal grandmother. “Lou” is my grandfather, Louis Cairns. Lest We Forget the sacrifices made on our behalf.

poppy and wheatIn Nineteen/thirteen, the first year we were at McCalla’s the Welland Ship Canal was started and there was a lot of men looking for work, of course they could not employ all the men that arrived looking for work, so we would have men knocking on our doors wanting something to eat. For a while we always gave them food, but it became too much, because when one left the house, he would put a chalk mark on the telephone pole in front. This we found was to let others know where they could find food. Mr. McCalla would go out and rub the marks off and they too, stopped giving them food. Some days we would have twelve or more. Finally it got so bad we had to keep the doors locked, some would even try to open the door.

welland1At the end of Scott St. they built large sheds for the men to live in, and they had their own cook to do the cooking for them. This was paid for by the Government. They also had large stables there, where they kept the mules they used for hauling ties for the railway. These were laid down for the train, that brought rocks to build up the banks of the canal. They never lifted these rails, just covered them over and laid another railway on top. There are thousands of tons of buried rails in those banks. Jim left the farm and went to look after the mules that were stabled on the canal bank. The canal work closed down during the war, and did not open again until the war was over. It was not finished until later.

By this time the city [St. Catharines] had passed a law that all milk had to be bottled. Before that, the milkman would come around with large cans of milk, using a ladle, that measured a pint, he would measure the milk into the customers own container. Now the bottles had to be washed and boiled in a big copper boiler.

That winter of Nineteen/fifteen, Lou went to work in the ammunitions plant. It was hard work and his muscles would be very sore, as they turning the out large shells on a hand lathe and he was working thirteen hours a night. He become quite sick from working so hard, also, [as a farmer as well] he had never been used to working indoors.

In Nineteen/sixteen during the war everyone was to have dark curtains, to keep lights from showing on the outside. They placed wardens in different places to see that this law was carried out. Lou and a Mr. Brown were two of the wardens and were to meet at a certain spot each night. Mr. Brown came along swinging a “lighted” lantern, so of course Lou told him to put it out, as they were to look for people who had not shut in the light. Before the war we were allowed to drive along the canal. After the war broke out we had to have a pass, and you had to have a good reason for wanting one. Mother and Father lived on Lake St. and it was a short cut to their place. Once when we were going along there, a boat was tied up in the canal. Just as we were driving past, they tightened the ropes that held the boat to the wall. It raised the buggy right off the ground. No one was hurt, but the ropes were loosened in a hurry.

poppiesAt the start of the war before conscription, a married man did not have to go if he had a good reason. Lou had, he also had to carry our marriage certificate, to prove he was a married man. My Father begged him not to join the army, as he was the only one to look after things, if anything happened to him. Lou’s Mother and Father also begged him to stay. They said they already had three sons at war. Bill in the Black Watch as a scout, Jim in the Gordon Highlanders, and Bob a dispatch rider on a motorcycle. It was Jim that sent [our son] Will the kilt from Scotland.

In the spring of Nineteen/seventeen, Lou decided to stay working in the city, where he had worked all winter in the ammunition plant…

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Delegation to Council

The following is the text from one delegate’s representation to council last night, Ms. April Dickin, regarding the Wilson Farm Park farmhouse. It’s worth a read.

Madam Mayor Farbridge and Councillors of the City of Guelph:

Thank you very much for providing this opportunity for me to publicly share my opinion on the highly debated issue of the Wilson Farmhouse.  Also, a special thank you to Mayor Farbridge for supporting the decision to demolish the farmhouse.

My husband, daughter and I moved to Guelph in April 2012 and added our son Benjamin in August 2012.  We watched the process of the Wilson Park being built and have enjoyed the playground and grounds often.  We enjoy the large walnut trees as they provide ample shade for picnics on the warmer days and walnut hunting in the cooler days. I have brought a picture of our family enjoying the walnut trees and grounds by the Wilson farmhouse. 

I do not specifically align with the Northern Heights group and believe that I can make a best-educated and reasonable opinion on the matter.  I do believe it was unfair and unprofessional that a previous delegate has alleged Mr. Lackowicz to be a bully.  I have personally found him to be supportive in providing information about Northern Heights and the farmhouse.  While he may be passionate, I cannot see reason to allege him to be a bully and detract from our purpose of finding a resolution to the Wilson Farmhouse. 

We are concerned citizens within the Northern Heights neighbourhood, we have been following the matter of the Farmhouse building and watching it degrade over the 17 months that we have been here. I appreciate that the City of Guelph acknowledges their neglect with a number of procedures for the Wilson Farmhouse over the course of a decade. I also appreciate the City’s movement to create change and move forward in the best method possible.

I do not support severing and selling the Wilson Farmhouse property for a few reasons.  The initial plan for this land supported keeping it whole for all to enjoy.  There are many beautiful trees on this land and if the Farmhouse is severed and sold, there are limited means to control what the buyer will do with the property or the trees.

If I were the Wilson family who left the property to the citizens and City of Guelph I would be quite unimpressed with the decayed state of the home as it stands from over 12 years of neglect.  From the information provided from an assessor through Northern Heights Neighbourhood group, it appears to me that the neglect of the Farmhouse has decayed the heritage elements of the home and there is little to preserve.  Based on assessments previously stated by other delegates, the home would cost in excess of $500,000 to repair to ensure the home is not further decaying and I would not want to pay (through taxes) that cost for a home that is not contributing in any active way (or much in the way of heritage) to the community.  Especially considering that if the Farmhouse had been managed in accordance with proper procedures, the preservation cost would have been a small fraction of what it is today.

It is important to me that we protect parkland as an asset in our City.  With continued urban sprawl, the City of Guelph needs to ensure we maintain our collective desire to live amongst easily accessible green spaces.  The proximity to green areas is part of the reason why our family chose to live in the Northern Heights region of Guelph.  I recently took part in the Adopt-A-Tree program through the City.  The Wilson Farmhouse property has many beautiful established walnut trees that should be protected and enjoyed by all.

I believe the most cost-effective and respectful method of honouring the Wilson Farmstead would be to preserve any heritage elements that may still be remaining after decay, demolish the Farmhouse, create a plaque or miniature scale model of the home, and incorporate the Farmhouse area within the park.  The City should take heed from this experience and place preservation efforts into other heritage homes that currently exist and are within reason to maintain.

Unfortunately, my husband and young children could not attend this evening but we all hope that Mayor Farbridge and Council will support demolition of the farmhouse and preservation of any heritage elements while honouring the Wilson Farmhouse with a plaque or something of the like and incorporate the space in the park.

Sincerely, April Dickin and family

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Mitchell Farmhouse 2.0 ?

Mitchell farmhouse

Mitchell farmhouse; Guelph Tribune Photo

A question I considered asking in my column in this past Friday’s Guelph Mercury was how much of the energy around the fate of the Wilson farmhouse now is actually about the demolition of the Mitchell farmhouse — how much of the emotion in this controversy stems from it?

Is the energy in this matter about re-fighting a past, lost battle?

Ben Bennett seemed to be circling the question I am asking here in his column in the Guelph Mercury:

Wilson farmhouse; Mercury photo

Wilson farmhouse; Guelph Mercury photo

The idea of another farmhouse in Guelph being destroyed because of bureaucratic negligence and political convenience is making this a very emotional issue for some.

— Though I would have gone further in saying saving the Wilson farmhouse shouldn’t be about the Mitchell farmhouse. They are different issues, different contexts.

And Ben, it is different from The Boathouse as well, which indeed was successfully re-purposed in a high profile locale. Let’s not pretend the differences in that instance and this one are irrelevant.

The Boathouse; photo by Guelph Arts

The Boathouse; photo by Guelph Arts

For whatever it needed by way of repairs, The Boathouse was never separated from its context, it’s historical landscape in the way the Wilson farmhouse has become.





Post update:

Recent editorials on this issue:

Don’t rush to judgement, Guelph Tribune, September 19/13

Farmhouse file a no-win issue for Council, Guelph Mercury, September 24/13

Recent columns on this issue:

Time is now to finally knockdown farmhouse in north Guelph, Scott Tracey, Guelph Mercury, September 20/13

Many share blame in farmhouse fiasco; Alan Pickersgill, Guelph Tribune, September 26/13

One farmhouse, two views; Chris Clark, Guelph Tribune, September 26/13

Bothered and bewildered about call to raze Wilson Park farmhouse; Susan Ratcliffe, Guelph Mercury, September 26/13

Consider dilapidated historic farmhouse in its full context; Craig Chamberlain, Guelph Mercury, September 27/13

Message to city council: Don’t demolish the Wilson farmhouse; D’Arcy McGee, Guelph Mercury, September 27/13

Just where do we sit?; Ben Bennett, Guelph Mercury, September 28/13

Recent Letters to the Editor:

Questions in need of answers; Guelph Tribune, September 12/13

Where was due diligence, Wilson Farmhouse neighbours?; Guelph Tribune, September 17/13

Demolish farmhouse for sake of parkland; Guelph Tribune, September 24/13

Farmhouse historically insignificant and danger to community; Guelph Tribune, September 26/13

It’s time to demolish the Wilson farmhouse, Guelph Mercury, September 28/13

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Wilson farmhouse

The Wilson farmhouse, today: Look at it. It is in the air.

Wilson farmWhere have you seen that before? In greenfield developments, where the developer has carved around some house during regrading — until it’s moved? It’s now a former farmhouse perched against armour stone a few feet from its front door. The context is lost. It may as well be dropped anywhere in Ontario now, for its contextual significance now.

Context should be more than an address, and the context in this case simply wasn’t protected.

What happened, regarding the frontage? Why was that permitted, if the intention was to retain the building, heritage value or not?

Wilson farmIt seems that on a certain level, the decision to move or demolish this building was cast when the house was left in the air. So, let’s attempt the next best play and try to sell it for a buck.

Perhaps the buyer will give it a back to the countryside and restore it, and restore for it some meaningful context.


See the staff report, starting on page 58.

Thanks to blogger Historically Guelph for the photos. My comments are, of course, strictly my own.

Also, see my column on this matter.

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Guelph’s Farmers’ Market

GuelphFarmersMarket-Spring2The Guelph Farmers’ Market is back in its Gordon Street location. There were a few would-be market-goers passing the house this morning, on their way to Exhibition Arena, where the market has been this summer while improvements were made to the interior of the space it has used downtown. I can’t say how many cars pulled into the Exhibition Arena parking lot this morning, looking for the market.

I wrote about the temporary market this summer. For those who missed it, here it is:

Temporary move to Exhibition Arena has re-energized the farmers’ market, July 19/13.

This was relayed to me from a conversation overheard this morning at the Red Brick Cafe, downtown:

Did you come to the market?

Yeah, but it was so packed I couldn’t get in and just stayed outside.

Me too. But it’s so nice to have it back downtown, the energy downtown is so much better now.

Yes, it is so much busier downtown with the market here.

It was one conversation, but I’m guessing it won’t be unlike many that happened today and will be happening over the course of the week. Clearly, it was not about the market, but about the downtown, though — which is the starting point for an honest dialogue about the future of that market, especially for those who understand the bigger-picture implications that go with not just a strong farmers’ market — the appearance of which can be somewhat manufactured — but a growing farmers’ market.

Beyond today’s bump of curiosity about the new old location, and the spill-over of new interest from a positive experience at the Exhibition Arena location, time will soon tell if the gains the market has made, hold.

But typically, having a venue that doesn’t allow patrons to enter isn’t a winning strategy.

Perhaps the time has come to rethink that location… and the Baker Street project… though vehicular access remains an issue there as well. It starts with a compelling business case.

Catch this Guelph Mercury Editorial: Farmers’ Market reopening will spur discussion

And here is a list of what was reported on it:

Exhibition Arena to be the summer home for Guelph Farmers’ Market, Apr. 19/13 [Aspects of the renovation project were dropped due to costs.]

Downtown Guelph business group unhappy with planned move of farmers’ market, Apr. 19/13

Farmers’ Market vendors welcome renovations, not move, Apr. 22/13

Guelph councillors upset at ballooning cost of Guelph Farmers’ Market renovations, Apr. 24/13

Guelph official defends decision not seek bids in market floor renovations, June 5/13

Market renovations could stall vendors’ return to core, June 26/13

Guelph Farmer’s Market to return downtown in September, Aug. 3/13

Farmers’ Market to reopen Sept. 14, Aug. 14/13

Guelph Farmers’ Market returns to its Gordon Street location, Sept. 9/13

As you will recall, this is not the first time in recent memory that the market was pulled from the Gordon Street location.


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Long White Beard

white beardWaiting on the OMB Board’s decision regarding Abode Varsity Living’s applications reminds me of the “Long White Beard” Saturday Night Live bit — the hearing concluded October 3rd, 2012.

The applications, (which are listed as Adobe (sic) Varsity Living in the City’s latest Litigation Status Report, pg. 411) refer to 716 Gordon Street Guelph, regarding Abode’s applications for Official Plan and Zoning By-law amendments to permit proposed student housing.

Check out this thread of banter on 59 Carden St. and some background links, with this from the Guelph Mercury’s Rob O’Flanagan and this from the Mercury’s Vik Kirsch, and this and this and this from the Mercury’s Scott Tracey.

In grabbing a link to Scott Tracey’s reporting on this for you, I was reminded Scott had included script from the “Bad Idea Jeans” Saturday Night Live bit in his column about this proposal.

Kinda weird, maybe even in a Shakespearean kind of way when you also consider the weather we’ve had this Spring. So, I’m guessing City Hall is OK with waiting for the Board’s decision on this one.

Bad Idea Jeans and Long White Beards may yet prove to be omens regarding these applications.

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Keep your handbills… But please complete another survey, and Tweet and Like something for us*

* Or, “Worried about your temporary structures? You’re kinda missing the bigger picture.**”

**Or, “It’s actually about getting your data, stupid (not that I think you’re stupid).”

survey data miningGiven the community’s response to those aspects of the City of Guelph’s draft public nuisance by-law, and concerns about how they could impact on civil liberties if enforced, I admit there seems to be for me a peculiar inconsistency on the part of some regarding their comfort with… well, let’s agree to call it data mining.

I’m guessing the complacency around this issue comes into play because those same people know data helps to win elections, and locally, they’re actually OK push come to shove with the current powers-that-be having it. But they may want to reflect on their assumptions about the merits of accepting any administration having the ability to troll around social media. (You may recall my previous posts on this issue.) Presumably, local trolling is OK, while other involvement, not so much. Maybe for some, it’s really a matter of who’s doing it.

I suggest to them that there is a broader theme of intrusiveness at work into our lives, civic and otherwise locally, aimed at maintaining a preferred status quo.

Some call it… engagement, regrettably.

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Twister coming to Guelph?

civil rights twister gameThe application of the ill-considered nuisance by-law recently considered by Council and referred back to committee would have had the effect of creating a municipality with restrictions and requirements around public activities that would have been the civil liberties version of the game Twister. Convoluted, indeed.

I was even able to find something to help make the point (left).


During Council’s consideration of the We Need It But We Won’t Use Most Of It Nuisance By-law, the F-word — “facism” — was used on two occasions, once by a delegate, once by a councillor.

Notwithstanding comments from councillors regarding the need for a response to nuisance parties in the city and especially to provide additional measures for by-law enforcement of parties run-amok in Wards 5 and 6, and all of the mention of courage for speaking to this need, it just doesn’t square with some of the provisions of the by-law as presented to Council.

Less does it square with aspects of the by-law as it was first crafted by staff.

But good can come from an experience such as this, though it would be reckless to suggest that good is ever inevitable. It allowed for push-back from the community and it allowed council to distinguish itself from staff, which is healthy for local government. And in the public’s rejection of particularly problematic and embarrassing aspects of the by-law, the community was also pushed into considering its notions of Guelph — confirming that if it needed a workable approach to dealing with nuisance parties, it also valued freedom, not Big Brother micromanagement.

Which of course, deserves further reflection by all involved, least of all by staff.

Update: Be sure to catch the column by the Guelph Mercury’s Scott Tracey regarding council’s reaction to the proposed by-law.

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How to embarrass a city council, badly

polarbearOne approach: Take a draft by-law initially intended to address the issue of “nuisance parties”, an issue that is especially challenging in two wards, and turn it an impractical omnibus by-law requiring a permit to exercise Charter Rights in the city. Then bring it to council, after public feedback suggests it shouldn’t have left the drawing board.

(Which, from the start, is where I said it should have stayed, until it was teased apart.)

Then, reveal that you perhaps(?!) didn’t understand what you’ve just heard from the delegations speaking against it.

More comment to follow.

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Calling bullcrap

Good for the Guelph Tribune with their editorial and cartoon that called bullcrap on the spin staff offered for restricting temporary structures such as tents on City property, as part of the proposed and highly controversial nuisance by-law:

bullcrap detector 2The rationale offered in a new city hall report for being against unauthorized camping is laughable: “Staff believe the erection of tents and other structures has safety implications to other citizens, especially in park areas where tents have been known to be taken by wind and may cause injury to other park users.”

We aren’t stupid. We know full well why those provisions are sought by staff. Which is something deserving further reflection: Just how stupid does the City consider everyone to be, or is by its arrogance that it can offer up spin that no thinking person would buy into, but is expected to accept just the same? Maybe call it, arrogance induced laziness? At least show us the respect of making the spin plausible.

But as for the credit the Tribune suggests staff deserve “for removing a few of the most objectionable aspects of the original version of the city’s proposed public nuisance bylaw” — that’s unduly diplomatic. Really — staff had a choice in that? The proposed nuisance by-law was otherwise going approximately… no where.

Here’s the story by the Tribune’s Doug Hallett.

bullcrap c3poAnd in other news, left.

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