Apostle of Ontario

Father Alexander Macdonnell in the clearance Year of the Sheep
was first Catholic chaplin in the British Forces though that leap
hadn’t succeeded since reformation he’d been named same
so when his flock, evicted by a false Highland Chief of same name
(who chose to be a leader of wooly sheep rather than Scotsmen)
our Alexander shook the dust off and to Glasgow went when
he learned he could guide his from Glengarry Scotland
to Glengarry County on the lip of Upper Canada away from England.
There were only two other priests in that vast area, neither trailblazer,
one quit and the other stayed close to present day Windsor.
Father Alex did roam throughout the territory and returned to duty
as Chaplin again in the World of 1812 and the Fencibles of his county.
He became Vicar Apostolic of Upper Canada and then became Bishop
and founded churches and schools far as he could canoe, walk or gallop
and could preach, man, even in the Church of a friend Presbyterian
so misers would empty their pockets for this Catholic oratorian.

All this I consider as I sip tapped cider
below the hill given by Galt to this man’s cause
on the Guelph street named for the tireless builder
and think here’s a man worthy of gusty applause.



The Eramosa Bridge getting rebuilt, 1852

A warm summer day it was when Miss J. Thorp,
visiting her friend Miss E. Clarke,
drank root beer in an iced mug
up upon the Clarke’s widow’s walk.

They watched the daring men jump
and wrestle huge screws as they assembled
the new iron bridge over the Speed.
The men were closely supervised by none other than Mr. John Watt
a very handsome man, if there ever was one, with his long moustaches.

Everyone knew that Breakneck Bridge had been due
to be replaced for years.
Dr. Clarke had apparently said that £700 was a reasonable sum.
The girls had a hard time imagining that much money
or what they could, breathless, buy with it.
But there were holes clear through in places
and it was hard to get the horses to slow down after Eramosa Hill.
Emilia Thurtell had a large bruise
from when their trap had suddenly stopped
as their filly had broken her leg there in the Fall.
But Elizabeth and Jane, both whispering,
were sure Emilia was too much of a complainer.

As the root beer diminished in their mugs
the chatter turned to how the construction could interfere
with the ice in the channel.
Would the wood supports be gone by the next winter?
Elizabeth said her brother thought so.
Jane hoped so.
It wasn’t where the chaperoned skating occurred of course.
That was downriver where it was wider by the Priory.
They liked to tie on their skates sitting back to back
on the stump and using the fence to hold them up.
But in the narrows on this side of Eramosa was where the boys
preferred to play hockey.
And smoke!

A sudden gust came up the river
and brought a heron winging overhead
long wings out
languidly flapping below the tree tops
but over the highest iron arch
and unconcerned with the enterprise below.
As if it didn’t care.
But the girls watched, silent, for only a moment.
Mr. Watt, his silver watch out, yelled ‘Lunch’ to the men
and, spell broken, the girls’ banter began again.

Canada Day Events

Guelph has a very active Rotary club who put on many activities and, I presume, do a lot of charity work around town. But their website this year for their big Canada Day Activities event got me laughing yesterday. I wanted to find something that was fun for my kids so I went to their site. Here are the ‘activities’ you get:

  • Carousel Rides
  • Train Rides
  • Pony Rides
  • Petting Zoo filled with Goats, Lambs and Bunnies who await love and interactive feeding.
  • Mid Way has something for Everyone – Cotton Candy to Thrilling Rides!
  • Inflatable Bouncing Games for the Kiddies offer the Giraffe, Castle and Gigantic Slide.
  • Fireworks
  • Duck Races
  • Children’s Play Zone: Children 6 and under a variety of activities
  • Rotary Information Tent
  • ATM Machine

Again I applaud our Rotarians for what they do (although my kids were in that too old and not old enough range and so didn’t want to go the park with me this year… again) but still, it’s a sad thing when an ATM becomes an activity. Especially when the ‘machine’ is repeated. What’s with that anyway? ATM stands for Automated Teller Machine… why tack on another machine?

The End of Ann Street

What is the identity of a Street?
Ann Street (2 n’s and no e) was apparently named after Princess Ann daughter of Queen Elizabeth (which is weird since Queen Elizabeth I didn’t have children and Queen Elizabeth II‘s daughter was Anne with an e) in 1956. Its original name was Victoria Street (named after Queen Victoria) which it had from 1906. The reason for the renaming was likely that there was a Victoria Road that became more important as Guelph grew. It was named in 1911 and is much longer then our wee Ann Street. Perhaps Victoria, as a name, was thought ill used for such a short street. We can only have one Victoria and just a lane way won’t do.
Well. It’s the motion in the ocean baby… and not the size that matters.
But that’s alright. Ann works for me. In fact, if I take my postal code N1H 1L8 and use my wife’s creativity I can put them both together with devastating effect. Ann + N1H 1L8 = AnnNihileight = annihilate. Way cooler than with Victoria.
Also Small is Beautiful as E. F. Schumacher wrote. Ann Street is far nicer then Victoria Road is. More a shady refuge than a 4-lane through way dissecting the city.
So Yes, I prefer Ann. She doesn’t go to anywhere else. She’s what is called a dead end. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing: dead is one part of life after all.
If you’re in a car and you come to the end of Ann then it means turn around, you’ve gone too far. How many times have you wished someone had told you that?  Many times for me.
But if you’re on foot or on a bike you know different for Ann Street is known as one of those streets that ‘goes to the river’. Well it doesn’t actually go all the way to the Speed River. You have to go past a little hillock and down a path, over the railway tracks, down a wooded hill riddled with paths before you get to the river. But Ann Street can’t shake that impression of River access because people know it’s there. You can also follow the tracks northwest to Riverside Park or southeast to downtown.  The little path makes Ann Street accessible in ways that exclude a car:  that’s kind of nice.
The City of Guelph has decided to link up the separate parts of the spur of the Cross Canada trail that runs through the city. It’ll go beside the railway tracks for some strange reason that no-one seems to be able to explain. The proposed path would be much more usable and fun if it was down by the river side.  Down by the river side.  Down by the river side. But because of this proposal for a boring trail by the tracks, the people that run the railway want 1.5 metre fences protecting their rails. It’s all about liability, of course: “look out people, you’re too stupid to know how to deal with railway tracks, especially with trains that go by (at most) twice a day at blistering speeds that a drunk sloth could avoid”.
So this is going to be the new end of Ann Street. It will end in two fences. It’s that street that ends at the fence/railway/fence. It’s just another victim of our over-protective, antiseptic and walled off society.
Some people like gated communities.  I don’t.

White Water on the Mighty Speed

My son Justin and I went white water canoeing on the Speed River yesterday evening. Spring is really the only time you can do any canoeing of length on the river that bisects our glorious and royal city of Guelph (Ontario).
We were delivered to Monkey’s Bridge (on Victoria Rd) by my wife and had to walk several hundred metres up the bike and dog-walking trail until we could access the fast flowing river. In fact we had to canoe across a long strip of flooded land to get to the bank, disembark and then join the river proper.
The water was quite fast (perhaps it should be called the High Speed River in the Spring) and we had a few tense moments when forced near the left or right banks avoiding low hanging branches on trees tilted above the water (particularly Willow and Cedar). Luckily we were wearing bike helmets and minimized the scratching. At one point we had to haul clear across the river as a tree trunk was blocking almost the entire breadth. Breathtaking but fun.
The next near collision was at the Woodlawn Rd bridge whose central support is like a sharp knife edge. I asked Justin to pick left or right and he nearly took too long to decide!
Riverside Park has several obstacles to overcome. Mainly there is the large falls which is about 2 metres high normally but was probably bigger at this time of year. There is a sluice-way on the left side of this falls which is regulated by a guillotine-like water gate. Justin didn’t want to portage and suggested that we just shoot it but I told him again that we wouldn’t fit through the water gate. He said No. He wanted to shoot the falls. After portaging around I showed why we couldn’t do that particular ‘leap of faith’. Even in a kayak it would be difficult as it’s concrete below. But there are other little dams in the park and we did shoot the last three. The last one was about a 1 metre drop compared to about 0.5 metres from the other two. It was too late to avoid when I saw the huge standing wave at the bottom and so we got very wet. The canoe was about 1/6 full of water which we had to dump out while standing in the icy water.
We canoed down to just below where we live just past the Speedvale bridge and walked home. We were hoping to go further but the sky was getting dark and it did take a while to dump the rest of the water out of the canoe. Nope. Thoughts of a warm bath each won.

Jeremy’s Trickling Ghosts

My friend Jeremy Shute gave a fascinating talk entitled Ghost Rivers of Guelph at the Guelph Field Naturalists meeting last night. His laid back lecturing style and easy humour made for an enjoyable investigation of Guelph’s forgotten small waterways. It made me look at my topographical surroundings differently as I biked to and from work today. I was, after all, going over at least four buried waterways on the way. Little dips in the road and schools, oddly enough, are good signs, especially in Guelph, of the path of this stealth water.
Jeremy mentioned how he, as a child, had bravely penetrated 100 metres of the concrete tunnel that hosts the mouth of Pond Creek. This waterway originally went  from the Speed River to as far as Lourdes High School or Exhibition Park depending on the fork you take. And then told us that he had met others who have gone much further and that their discoveries could be found on the net. I take the liberty to provide a link to a delightfully written blog post from someone who did just that.
One melancholic thought that struck me as I listened to Jeremy and during my commute was how things have changed since I was young. I remember rafting on Bullfrog Pond when I was a kid and shudder to think how it has been replaced by the present Bullfrog Mall. There is a crime being perpetrated with the use of that name in my opinion. Likewise, my friend Pat and I enjoyed many hours on the pond that once existed in the marshy area between Bagot Street and Edinburgh Road. There are tall condos there now. They provide much housing I’m sure but I still can’t help but think of what has been lost. What my children won’t experience.
Of course the creeks are still there and will likely remain no matter how diverted or how much we otherwise try to tame them. Who knows? There may spring hope that an enlightenment will come to them in the future. When we aren’t so covetous of ‘our’ land.