Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

Archive for January 2009


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Winter driving is nerve wracking at the best of times. Winter driving on county roads with wide-open farm fields on either side is hardly any fun at all. I always wondered why farmers never planted windbreaks on the road-side-edge of their fields. You always see a tree line running 90 degrees to the highway marking off sections for pastures and planted crops. But never parallel to it. So when the wind blows, it moves surface snow off their land and on to the roads. One is always mindful of wind direction (among other things) when setting out on long drives.

We watch the sky too. High Cirrus clouds predict fair weather. By watching their movement you can tell from which direction weather is approaching. When you see Cirrus clouds you know a change in weather is 24 hours away. High thin, sheet-like Cirrostratus Clouds that often cover the entire sky usually come 12-24 hours before a snowstorm. The Cirrocumulus clouds usually indicate fair, but cold weather. When we see gray or blue-gray mid level Altostratus clouds covering the entire sky we wonder. They’re made up of ice crystals and water droplets. And Altostratus clouds often form ahead of storms of continuous snow.

Local radio stations give you the weather. They tell you about road closures. Whenever we’re under a Snow Squall Warning we can predict, with a fair degree of accuracy, where the OPP will set up their barricades.

Then there’s the Internet. Its always fun to compare The Weather Network’s and Environment Canada’s forecasts. They are never the same. Environment Canada is more accurate. The Weather Network is more optimistic. Although they do give you an hourly breakdown. But Environment Canada gives you radar and a complete list of road conditions.

Usually, a day or two before we have to drive any distance, we check all of them. If there’s a 40 % chance of snow in the forecast and if the winds are any higher than 30 km per hour…we have second thoughts about going. Even though we drive a 4×4 with snow tires…we think twice about driving. We’ve been caught, day and night, too many times by miserable weather.

Snow Squalls are blinding. We drive in the middle of the road, high beams on, as much as we can. We leave space. We slow down. When we loose sight of cars ahead of us, we slow down even more. We’ve learned to hang well behind snowploughs as they throw back the equivalent of a blizzard when they move fast. We learned how long it takes between towns and memorized the distance so we always know when and where we can safely wait out the squalls if we have to. We are cautious when we have to drive. Maybe its a sign of old age.

As terrible as this all sounds, there are days – when the sun is high – the sky blue – the air crisp with floating ice crystals – when long, smoky shadows fall across pure white frost-crusted snow – and wind drifts swirl like a whirling dervish off roadside snow shoulders – when circling hawks hang in the air – and the road is dry – that you marvel at the beauty of a winter’s drive in the country.


Gateway – Signs of the Times

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Somewhere, on a continuum of approval, lies the prospect of new Gateway Signs for Southampton and Port Elgin.

Those are the installations that greet visitors and locals alike as they drive into either town. It’s all part of a Bruce County signage strategy. Which is all well and good. But, there seems to be a problem. No one can agree on anything. The curse of committee consensus is upon the project. Which is not a surprise.

Consensus is not a creative force. Good design is seldom the end result of approval committees. Public Meetings, Focus Groups and research can provide direction, but, more often then not, they are misinterpreted and their dictums carved in stone. Everyone has a different take on objectives, creative strategy and tactics. A quick reading of all the articles on this subject proves me accurate.

What is even more surprising is that a American Firm is charged with designing for small town Ontario. More surprising is  that the cost of these Gateway Signs is approximated at $40,000 to $50,000. Really! Just looking at some of their proposals shows you how off-base they are.



I have only one question – Are there not creative, competent design houses in Canada? Having worked in the business, I would have to say “Yes!” Why we went across the border for an American interpretation of our County is beyond me. That’s a question for Bruce County Tourism.

Nonetheless, I can’t recall the Port Elgin sign. But, the one for Southampton features a visual of the Imperial Light on Chantry Island and the line – “The Oldest Port on the Bruce Coast.” You can’t turn around in ‘South’ without seeing some replica/picture of that beacon. And so it should be.

The Chantry Island Light

The Chantry Island Light

The lighthouse identifies the town. That place, where the Saugeen flows into Lake Huron, the reference to the harbour, radiates years of historical importance.

It’s a great sign. Relevant, intriguing and instant in its communication. Sure it could stand a little freshening up – or some new reincarnation – but it needs no more than that. Southampton’s Gateway Sign needs no change as far as content is concerned.

Port Elgin faces a bigger challenge. Committees, consensus and politics are bad designers. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be any other way. I wish them luck.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

January 21, 2009 at 10:55 PM


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‘Just-n-Time’ bulls her way through the ice floes flowing relentlessly towards her as she chugs into Southampton Harbour. Gun-metal-grey smoke floats out of her black-diesel-soot-coated stack as she comes about. Two crew, orange bib overalls garishly bright against the sunny afternoon sky, scramble on deck to grab lines and make ready to tie up, as she floats gracefully, gently dockside. The Captain has obviously done this a time or two before.


Weather weary and steel rusty, lime green and white paint peeling, she certainly isn’t pretty. In fact she is kind of tawdry. Not like the two other fishing boats already dry-docked on shore safe from whatever freeze-up might be coming over January and February. Or the ones nestled safely in Port Elgin’s inner harbour.

‘Just-n-Time’ just came in from doing whatever she does out on the lake in the middle of winter. Huron isn’t frozen yet, so she comes and goes while she can. The ice is building along the shore though. There’s plenty of pack ice in the Saugeen floating uninhibited into the lake and forming a barrier across the mouth of the river, obviously not strong enough to hold back ‘Just-n-Time’ and her intrepid crew.

Standing dockside you can hear the creaking, crackling ice as it brushes her steel hull. It hisses a warning, it threatens – it is not safe to stay.


Two years ago, river ice over a foot thick crushed the James B – pushed her sideways against the dock almost depositing her on shore. Nothing could save her that day. Two cranes tried to lift her out but failed on the first try. They let her sink. The ice won. When they did get her out she wasn’t a fishing boat anymore…she was scrap metal.


The 'James B' overcome by River Ice in Southampton Harbour.

Just-n-Time’ is the only boat in the water now. She sits quietly in the harbour as if waiting. She shouldn’t stay too long.

The ice is in the river. And the weather man says were in for a cold spell. 


Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

January 9, 2009 at 9:52 PM