A Visit to the Historic Brockville Railway Tunnel


Here’s something many of you may not know:  the oldest railway tunnel in Canada still exists under the downtown core of my home town, Brockville, Ontario, located on the shores of the St Lawrence River at the eastern edge of The Thousand Islands.

Until the waterfront area at the bottom of Market Street was revitalized and turned into a venue for various family activities, I too was unaware of its existence, and even then doors to the entrance were always closed. Both the northern and southern portals have been upgraded and maintained by the City of Brockville, since the tunnel was acquired as part of a waterfront land deal between the City and the Canadian Pacific Railway. Several years ago a short portion at the southern entrance (about 80 feet) was upgraded and opened to the public during the day as a sort of museum.

In 2011 a committee of Brockville’s City Council was formed with the goal to open the tunnel end-to-end for residents and visitors and to eventually see the tunnel and its north gorge area connected as part of the Brock Trail system. Renovation construction started in August of 2016. On August 12, 2017, as part of the City’s Rails to Trails Festival and its Canada 150 celebrations, the renovated interior of the tunnel was opened to visitors to enjoy during the summer months.

This past Saturday, a beautiful autumn day, Jim and I joined my son and my brother, and his friend on the walk through. We were very impressed. The atmosphere has been complimented with music playing and sometimes the sounds of train wheels turning and whistles blowing. The strips of every changing coloured lights passing through the tunnel give the impression of train lights approaching and reflect off the stalagmites and dripping water on the walls.

Unfortunately, while packing to go to Brockville the day before, I neglected to check my camera. When I tried to shoot some photos, I discovered that I had left my SD card in my computer at home!  I had to rely on my cell phone. Next time I go I’ll make sure I have everything I need, including a tripod, but for now, here are a few shots.

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Southern Entrance

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Inside looking out

Some History

The tunnel was built between 1854 and 1860 to allow the fledging Brockville and Ottawa Railway to connect the Brockville industrial waterfront area to the outlying areas lying between the St Lawrence and Ottawa rivers.

On December 31 of 1860, the first small train, a wood-burning locomotive and two coaches came through the completed tunnel and the tunnel was officially open for traffic. The tunnel is arch-shaped, measuring 14 feet 9 inches from the top of the arch to the ground and 14 feet across. The overall length of the tunnel is 1721 feet in length and passes right under Brockville City Hall.

To learn more, click here: History of Brockville Railway Tunnel

Let’s Start a Productive Conversation


Before we can have a productive conversation, we have to acknowledge that both talking and listening to understand are necessary.

Today I’m doing some mind traveling.  I have a need to write about something that causes pain to my heart, and my body.

Each day, I log onto Facebook knowing that my feed is going to be loaded down with the troubling stories of things going on in the world. Someone told me that they just have happy postings on their feed, things that lift them up. It’s true. I could change my settings, block posts from news outlets and people who repost such things. I could at the very least stop reading the comments. Would that make my heart lighter and my body less tense? For me, the answer is no.

So today I’m speaking out from my heart. I’m not going to tell people they are wrong, or make accusations, or call anyone names, or call for rioting. I’m just going to explain my sadness, frustration and incredulity, and maybe offer a step toward solving at least one problem.

There are many, many things happening around the world that cause these feelings – floods, hurricanes, fires, threats of war. But the most incredible thing in the news this past week is not about these disasters or what can be done to prevent more and what can be done to help all those suffering. No. What is making the biggest headlines, and causing the biggest division among people is an event that took place a year ago. This is the one that I’m going to address now.

A black football player chose to protest the most recent (at the time)unwarranted treatment/death of some other black men, with no consequences to the perpetrators, by quietly kneeling during the opening ceremonies of the football game. Did he choose that moment because he wanted to be noticed? Yes! Did he do it to show disrespect toward the soldiers that fought for his right to free speech; to show that he hated his country? No! My understanding is that he did it in the hope of starting a conversation about the racial discrimination that was putting constant fear into the lives of his fellow man, conversation that could bring people together with a better understanding of each other. His choice of time and venue was to get the attention of many. It did. But instead of the conversation he’d hoped for, it became a conversation about patriotism, the national flag and anthem, ego and hate. This week it was brought into the foreground again in a political speech.

What I find sad, frustrating and completely incredible is the number of people who choose to believe the politician’s reasoning rather than that of the football player. There are some who think that because a black man or woman has the “privilege” of earning a good salary, they forfeit their right to freedom. Some say they are  alright with the protest, but not the time or place. There are even those who declare that “there is no racism in the United States.”

To them I ask, “How many black people have you sat down with and asked to hear their stories? How many have you really listened to, with the objective to understand? How many times have you imagined yourself in their shoes?

I’m a privileged white person, living in a community where there is little cultural diversity, but I’ve listened to some of the history of a black man who was brought to Canada from Africa and adopted by my uncle, who recognized his potential and wanted to give him a chance at a better life. He was a teenager when he arrived. He’d had a good education while in Africa, with the help of my uncle, and despite the prejudice and poor treatment by some, he managed to get a University degree and become successful in his life. His younger adopted brother, who was only five years old, had a much harder time of it.

Quite recently, I’ve heard enough of the story of the only black family who lived in our community when my children were in school, to learn that despite them being an educated, well liked, upstanding family of the community, they too often experienced the discrimination of being suspect because of the colour of their skin. I was surprised.

These stories got me paying attention! Now when I read about the fears of black people, I understand, and my heart aches.

Sure there are many black people who have fought their way through life with violence and crime; who have joined gangs just to belong. But there are just as many, or more, white people in the same situation. They should be afraid of the law.

Then there are the black families who mind their own business, have jobs, take care of their families and friends, and yet live in fear for their lives every day. They know that at any time, for any reason, they could be stopped by the police because they look like someone (black/brown skin, dread locks) who just robbed a bank in the neighbourhood they are driving through, or because they supposedly have a light out on their car, or they are driving an expensive looking car, or a neighbour told the police that a crime suspect had gone into their house. And they know that no matter how they respond, they could end up dead.

How many law-abiding white people, living in the US or Canada, live with these same fears?

Let’s start the conversation right here, right now! Tell your story; explain your fears; ask questions; listen to understand; practice respect; share this post. This is the conversation that needs to go viral!

 

 

Adventures in British Columbia, Part Four – Hornby Island


On Tuesday, September 22nd my son-in-law Frank dropped me off at the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal where I bought my ticket to Hornby Island at the low price of $17.00. I was there in plenty of time, but apparently my brain hadn’t quite woken up yet. I heard the ticket agent tell me to take the stairs up and then follow the red line to Waiting Area A, but the red line part didn’t register. I looked for signs and when I saw a sign that read “Waiting Area A” with an arrow that appeared to be pointing to my right, I followed it through a door and across an outside passenger bridge. That didn’t seem right. I eventually got turned back around and this time followed the red line! The room slowly filled to capacity before we were called to board. Because the vehicle passengers hadn’t yet made it to the main deck, there were no lines at the cafeterias. I took advantage and bought myself a packaged sandwich and a coffee that would be my breakfast and lunch, supplemented with the cheese sticks and granola bars that I had in my bag. Those two items cost me almost as much as the ferry ticket, at $11.25! Be forewarned, if you plan to travel on the BC Ferry System, and you’re on a budget, pack some food if at all possible.

The hour and a half trip went quite quickly. I slept for a while; I read my book, and I people watched, one of my favourite pastimes. I chatted with the woman sitting next to me who was travelling with her daughter and two granddaughters.  She’d traveled by foot before and told me where to find the Island Link shuttle bus that I needed to catch when I got off the ship. I found it without any problem and an hour later I was at Buckley Bay on Vancouver Island, where my sister Pauline and her husband Jim were waiting to drive me, via two more much smaller ferries, to Hornby Island. I breathed a sigh of relief. I could relax for a week.

On the Hornby Island Ferry

On the Hornby Island Ferry

Every time I visit Hornby I am charmed by the island’s uniqueness. This small island has lots to offer to anyone seeking a relaxed vacation away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s a place where there are no trains to catch, or crowds to push through. There are no big department stores or grand hotels and the only “traffic jam” you’ll encounter is while you’re waiting in line to catch the ferry when, reluctantly, you need to leave.

Driving up from the ferry you will come to the hub of the island where all roads seem to meet.  Here you will find a variety of little shops, including a bicycle rental shop, a couple of clothing stores displaying colourful summer wear and a few little eateries where you can experience some great and maybe unusual lunch items.  The main destination in the hub is the Co-op, where you will find all the staples you need, such as groceries (many organic), pharmacy items, dishes, clothing and rubber boots.  You will also find the post office nestled in one corner and an ATM somewhere in the middle.  The only island gas station is outside the door.

There are many residences on the island, but they are usually partially hidden from the road by the natural vegetation and are quite unobtrusive.  The pace is slow and relaxed.  The only “industries” are cottage industries – a variety of potters and weavers, and small farms.

Some of the highlights of this trip were:

Outdoor Cooking

Campfire Dinner

 

Farm Animals at Outer Island Guest Farm

Farm Animals at Outer Island Guest Farm

Beautiful Sunsets

Beautiful Sunsets

 

Walks on the Beaches

One of the many sandy beaches, at low tide

One of the many sandy beaches, at low tide

The rocky beach of Sand Piper

The rocky beach of Sand Piper

Rocky Sand Piper Beach

 

Good Food

Clam Chowder by Chef Ben. Delicious with corn bread!

Clam Chowder by Chef Ben. Delicious with corn bread!

Blackberries

Freshly picked Blackberries

Hornby Island Market

Hornby Island Market

Hornby Island Market

Walking the Trails

A hidden treasure along one trail

A hidden treasure along one trail

Helliwell Trail

Helliwell Trail

We also enjoyed a fantastic music concert by renowned Marc Atkinson – acoustic lead guitar, Brett Martens – acoustic rhythm guitar and Scott White – stand up bass, at the Community Centre one evening, and a delicious meal at the Sea Breeze Lodge dining room another night.

Before I knew it, it was time to pack for home.

Lavender, Motorcycles and Prison


It’s hard to believe that half the summer has slipped away and I’m a month behind with my posts. Guess that means we’ve been busy! I now offer a summary of what we’ve been up to.

1. Something to improve My Quality of Living While in the Motor Home

The installation of a new refrigerator in the motor home was exciting for me, and I was happy with the results when we spent a weekend in nearby Preston Springs at the Country Jamboree. We decided to try a house fridge instead of the usual two-way models used in most motor homes, mainly because the very hot, direct sunlight in the spring in Arizona sometimes causes freezing on those, and because the gas components take up a lot of space that I’d rather have for inside fridge space. Household models are also much less expensive than new motor home models. Since we already had a voltage inverter in the motor home, Jim just had to run wiring to reach from it to the fridge outlet, and install a switch so that we can use the coach batteries to power it when we are on the move, and then switch to 110 volts when we are plugged in at an RV Site. It was a bigger job than expected, but worth it.

 

2. Lavender Fields

In mid-July I made a trip to Campbellcroft to meet my Red Hat friends at the Lavender Fields, but  by the time we all arrived, heavy rain and the threat of thunder storms chased us away to the nearest shopping area and an indoor lunch.

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I was disappointed that I couldn’t get any pictures of the fields, so Jim and I took a drive out a few days later. There were so many people there that day, it was still difficult to get good unobstructed shots, but here are a couple.

 

3. A Motorcycle Ride to Picton

Last week, instead of playing pickle ball on a Wednesday afternoon, we joined our friends Steve and Sue on one of the few motorcycle rides we’ve taken this year. We left Hastings at 10:30 in the morning, expecting to be gone a couple of hours, but having no particular destination. By the time we stopped for lunch at 1:00 pm, we were in Picton in Prince Edward County, having explored many country roads and covered many more miles than anticipated. Picton is an interesting community that is heavily populated with tourists and cottagers during the summer months and well worth checking out if you are in the area. We reached it via Hwy. 49, but after lunch we took the Ferry across the bay to Glenora and drove along the shore of Lake Ontario before turning back north through the towns of Napanee and Tamworth, then cutting back west to Campbellford and home. That was the longest bike ride I’ve been on since my hip replacement almost a year ago, and I have to admit that I enjoyed the scenery and the perfect riding weather, but my joints and muscles were a tad sore when we finally got off at nearly 3:00 pm!

 

4. A Tour of Kingston Penitentiary

This past weekend we went to Kingston to tour the Kingston Penitentiary, which ceased operations on September 30, 2013, and was opened to the public just last year. I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy it, but the hour and a half passed very quickly. We were amazed by what we learned about this, the first British North American penitentiary, which sits on 8.6 hectares of land on King Street. It was constructed through 1833 and 1834 and officially opened on June 1, 1835 with the arrival of the first six inmates. Our various tour guides, many of whom are retired guards or wardens, explained the operation, the security systems, the routines, and enlightened us with stories of riots, escapes, work crews, rehab programs and building updates. It was well worth the $25 price of admission.

 

After a visit with family in Brockville over the next couple of days, we stopped in Napanee on our way home to have a lovely lunch with friends on the riverside outdoor patio of a relatively new restaurant that wasn’t there when I used to live in Napanee. How things change in thirteen years!

 

Next week I’m flying out to British Columbia for three weeks to visit with some more of my family. Because they are spread from southern BC to Vancouver to the Gulf Islands, it has been a challenge arranging the various modes of transportation needed. It will be an adventure. Stay tuned!

Canada Day Celebrations 150th Year


We live in a small community of 1200 people, but we are part of the larger community of the Township of Trent Hills, which includes the towns of Campbellford, Warkworth and Hastings. Each town has a multitude of events throughout the summer months, but the times are fairly well coordinated to make it easy for the citizens of Trent Hills to attend as many as they’d like. When a major event happens, like Canada Day, the celebration venues and times are also coordinated throughout the day.

So we started our day with a pancake breakfast at the waterfront park in Campbellford. Despite the threat of rain, there was a good crowd.

We skipped some of the later events, and missed the Opening Ceremonies in Warkworth, but we were in downtown Hastings for the Opening Ceremony there. We grabbed lunch from one of the many food vendors; we joined in the singing of Oh Canada while a local pianist played the newly presented “community piano.”

We watched a medieval sword fight presented by the Blades of Glory.

We enjoyed watching a performance by the Firelights Belly Dancing Troup, and the brave efforts of audience members during a lesson in the art.

At 4:00 the parade began. As often happens, this small community parade was as interesting as many major city ones, and maybe a little more fun.

At 9:30 the crowds of people began to assemble on the shores of the Trent Canal and on the bridge, for the Annual Fireworks Display. Since we moved to Hastings we have agreed that this is the best fireworks display we’ve ever seen, and we’ve seen many. It is said that 10,000 people flock in from far and wide just to witness it. We walked the half block over to the park on our side of the canal and parked our chairs amongst the crowds. For some reason, perhaps because of the earlier thunder storm and deluge of rain, there seemed to be a problem getting started. It was an hour later that the first bursts of colour lighted up the sky right over our heads, but it was worth the wait! The money raised by our local firefighting teams to put on this show created another spectacular ending to the Canada Day events.

Get a Free Travel App and Hear About an Amazing Young Performer


There is nothing like listening to some great live music to take your mind off of the political turmoil for a while. Late Thursday morning we drove into downtown Mesa to do just that, at the outdoor noon-hour concert series sponsored by the Mesa Arts Centre. I think I’ve mentioned these wonderful free concerts before. The performer this week was highly promoted by our neighbour Jan, and our expectations were high.  We weren’t disappointed!

After picking up a take-out lunch at our favourite little café, Sweet Cakes, we walked to the Arts Centre to where the stage and seating were set up. It was only 11:30 and the concert didn’t begin until 12:30, but the best seating was already filled! We managed to grab a couple of chairs that weren’t too far away from the stage, but sadly not facing it. While we waited for the show to begin, we enjoyed our very thick turkey-on-(freshly baked) sourdough, side salad and still-warm chocolate chip cookie. Yumm.

At 12:30 the Honky-Tonk Rebel (a.k.a. Mario Carboni) appeared on stage with his keyboard and trumpet. With a bit of introduction, he started to play and he blew our minds.  This young man, who started to play at a very young age, had his fingers speeding across the keys in a blur; and then his rich country voice filled the air. The sound system was perfect; no problem hearing every note from wherever you sat. I wish I could remember all of the songs he performed, but I was mesmerized by those fingers on the keyboard. He has an eclectic play list, everything from honky-tonk country, to truck driving songs, rock and roll and classical. I’ve never heard “The Flight of the Bumblebee” played so perfectly and fast! He did many cover rearrangements and many of his own songs, with a tad humour thrown in once in a while. For a couple of numbers he played his trumpet and keyboard at the same time, without missing a beat. The crowd roared, and at the end of the one-hour performance gave him a standing ovation. The host invited him to do an encore, much to our delight. When the show was over, Mario greeted fans with a smile and a chat while we lined up with our newly purchased CDs in our hands, looking for an autograph. He’ll be on tour across the US and back up to Alaska, where he spends his summers performing, most of this year. Check him out at www.honkytonkrebel.com/    .

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Mario on the left with one of his buddies, Jimmy Phillips

Jimmy Phillips, former drummer with Merle Haggard, Red Simpson and several other “Bakersfield Sound” Country stars, joined Mario on stage for a couple of songs.

Concerts like this are just an example of things you might find to do in over 470 cities around the world using one of the popular GPSmyCity apps that feature self-guided city walks, allowing visitors to explore the best of the city on foot at their own pace. The apps are now available for both iOS and Android phones or tablets.

Would you like to give one of these a try for free? Simply leave me a comment on this blog by February 17th, 2017. The first twenty readers to comment will receive a free access code to the city of their choice, shortly after the contest ends.

There’s more!  During this promotional period you can get a lifetime access to ALL of the guides for just $60 (1% of the total original price).  For more details visit  http://www.gpsmycity.com/cf/

Another Interesting Summer Day in Hastings, Ontario


I’m often amazed at how easy it is to find something interesting to do in this little town that we call home.

On Monday we learned that the Kawartha Voyageur was going to be cruising down the river and through Trent Severn Waterway Lock #18, something we’ve been wanting to witness, but hadn’t before been able to catch it. We weren’t sure of the time so we took our chairs and books to the lock, prepared to wait.

The Kawartha Voyageur is a river boat that provide 5-day cruises along the Trent-Severn Waterway. It navigates across many lakes and along a few rivers and through many locks between Peterborough and Big Chute, and Kingston to Peterborough. On other weeks it follows the locks of the Rideau Canal from Kingston to Ottawa.

While we waited, we accepted free (temporary) tattoos that a Parks Canada representative was offering, and I had my picture taken with Parka, the Parks Canada Mascot.

Then we decided it might be better to move further up the river, to the Gazebo, where we could see this cruise ship master the winds and glide through the canal, then we’d jump back into the car and return to the lock to see it go through.

We didn’t get much reading done. Shortly after 2:00 p.m. we first heard the horn, and then we saw the vessel appear from around a bend.

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Back at the Lock, we watched as it entered, and then waited for the water to be lowered so it could exit the other end. While the passengers waited, they were entertained by Parka.

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Jim got a hug too

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By the time the Kawartha Voyageur was through the Lock and on its way, three private yachts were waiting their turn to go through from the other direction, so we stayed a little longer to chat with the owners and watch them go through. The two larger ones are doing America’s Great Loop, an adventure that can take a year or more to complete. The boat from Fort Meyer’s Florida had already been traveling for six months; the other, from Texas, had only begun a few weeks ago.

Loop Boats

AGLA flag

We’d like to add that adventure to our bucket list, but considering the cost, it would be unrealistic.

Maybe the Kawartha Voyageur cruise might be a possibility someday though.