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.

We Did Make It to Mesa Arizona!


Sunrise

Sunrise

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been at Mesa Regal for over a month now. I’m sure some of you have thought the journey had taken us a very long time, since my postings have been far between and without an arrival at our destination. I apologize for that, but for much of the time we had difficulties with internet connections, and upon our arrival we immediately began connecting with many of the friends we made here last year. There have been street parties, ukulele lessons and jams, dances, and Pickle Ball and Bocce Ball games. Some of our old friends have not yet returned; some new friendships have formed.

We solved our internet troubles with a T-Mobile hot spot that seems to be working well, since we had the original SIM card (purchased with the device in San Antonio) replaced.

Our arrival also brought us some sad news. We learned that our dear friend Mary Lee from across the street had been recently diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. For the first couple of weeks we were helping her out in any way that we could. When the pain became too unbearable she ended up in hospital and is now in a Hospice, with her family at her side. She is greatly missed by our little 7th Street community.

I have a few more places along our way that I will soon write about, to get up-to-date before we begin more exploring around this area, so stay tuned.

Trouble in Paradise


Wednesday evening a note was posted throughout the park warning that the water would be turned off on Thursday morning from nine until noon, for needed repairs. Not even the park staff knew that that would be the least of the worries.

Thursday morning everyone was up early getting showers over, coffee made and breakfast dishes done while water was still available, when the power suddenly went off. Of course, because we have battery back-up, our lights only flickered. Almost immediately I heard two people talking on the street:

“Did your power just go off?”

“Yes.”

“The transformer just blew up!”

Blew up was an exaggeration, but the recently newly installed transformer had indeed malfunctioned. Soon, a congregation was assembling on the street corner, and work crews were pulling up to the big transformer located a half block from us.  The rumour mill began. Most people hadn’t yet had their coffee, so there was lots of grumbling. We learned that only half of the park was affected by the power outage. By ten o’clock, when we walked up to the park entrance for a curious look at the new park model homes on display, we found that a large crowd had gathered to take advantage of the free coffee and donuts promised during the Open House. The outage was the topic of conversation. Some were already worried about the food in their fridges and wondering how they’d keep warm if the power wasn’t back on after dark.  We were thankful for our generator, something that fifth-wheels don’t have, unless they carry one in the back of their tow vehicle, and certainly no park model has.

As the sun came out to warm things up, people began to go about their daily business, except if they had something planned for indoors.  There were no lights and no computer or internet access. Some people made use of the pool and hot tub while they were still warm; others gathered on the patio to chat with friends. Somehow they managed lunch, either at home or out at restaurants.

When the sun went down, the temperature dropped quickly, as is usual here. The grumbling began anew. Work crews were still on the scene. The water was turned back on, but it looked like the power would remain off for a while.  The rumour mill said it wouldn’t be back on until Saturday. That night most people were in bed very early because there wasn’t much else to do in the dark and bed was the warmest place to be.  Even though we had heat from the propane tank, and could turn on the generator for electricity, we had to conserve, so we too turned in early.

Friday morning we shared our coffee and toast with our new neighbour and friend, Mary Lee, before going to see if The Country Store (a weekly market of local vendors) was in operation. It was, but only with enough vendors to fill the outdoor lounge. It was too dark inside the hall for the others. At the office there was another notice posted: Power would be restored by 2:00 pm, if not earlier, and there would be free hot dogs given out for lunch on the patio. As we were walking over to get the free lunch, a tractor and trailer pulled in, carrying a new transformer and a huge generator.

Transformers and generators moving in

Transformers and generators moving in

A large crowd enjoyed lunch with friends while sitting in the sun listening to the resident Dixieland players, who had moved their Friday morning jam session outdoors. The atmosphere was far more positive.  Two o’clock came and went; then three and four. The atmosphere changed. Crowds began to form around the work area again. Free pizza delivered in the back of a Cal-Am (the parent company who owns the resort) pickup truck was offered to the spectators. It was a good way to get to know our neighbours, at least. Gradually everyone drifted off to the comfort of their beds when it became apparent that there would be no power again that night. The generator was running, but for some reason it couldn’t be connected to supply power to residences. Again, rumours as to why spread around. Sometime in the early hours it was turned off and the workers went home.

Early Saturday morning our back-up propane tank was empty, so our heat went off. Fortunately there was still enough gas left in our main tank to heat the place up once more.  We called to get the backup tank replaced, and were informed that they could come on Monday! We again shared breakfast with neighbours and Mary Lee later loaned us her car so we could go to Home Depot to purchase a small propane tank that would last us for the weekend.

A new posting appeared in various places around buildings and parking lots of Mesa Regal.

Posting

The line was long, but moved quickly and we appreciated the pulled pork sandwiches, chips and fruit salad.

In the afternoon we gathered down the street for a block party, where we shared a pot luck meal of fruit, raw veggies, crackers, dips, cookies and cupcakes, and lots of laughs. We met most of the new people who had arrived after Christmas.

Block Party

Block Party. No electricity needed!

Best of all, when we got home at 5:30 the power was back on. I wonder how many went next door to Tower Point (another Cal-Am property) for the free dinner.

Everywhere we went during this ordeal people had opinions, stories and criticisms. I heard of one woman telling someone in the grocery store that it had gotten so cold in the night that two people had been taken to hospital by ambulance because of hypothermia! Fortunately another Mesa Regal resident overheard the conversation and set the record straight, but that’s how rumours get started and spread and become more exaggerated.

Yes, the outage was inconvenient and stressful to many people, and yes perhaps there might have been ways to prevent it, but sometimes shit just happens and there is no way to be prepared for everything. What’s more important is how it is handled.  In my opinion Mesa Regal worked hard to fix the situation and to make amends as quickly as possible. These things take time.

The Great Canadian Yard Sale


Gilmour Street in Peterborough, Ontario is a beautiful seven-block-long, tree-lined street of original early 20th century homes that have been well maintained, with groomed yards. On one Saturday in May for the past twenty years, it’s been the host of a bargain seeker’s delight – the Great Canadian Yard Sale.

Gilmour Street

Some of the immaculate homes on Gilmour Street

This year was no exception. The weather was perfect and the adjacent streets were jammed with parked vehicles that brought the throngs to wander the length of Gilmour Street. We spent an hour or more wading through the crowds and taking in the atmosphere, which is that of a relaxed, friendly community where people share a coffee, catch up, support the charities that have tables set up, and enjoy bargains. Amateur musicians and young break dancers entertain; entrepreneurial children sell homemade lemonade and cupcakes.

The traffic

The traffic

The Bargain Hunters

The Bargain Hunters

It’s amazing what you can find there!

Golf Balls

Golf Balls

Appliances

Appliances

Antiques

Antiques

Coat of Armour

Even a Coat of Armour!

Motorcycle

A Motorcycle

Kitchen Sink

And yes, even the kitchen sink