Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

Posts Tagged ‘Port Elgin


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Controversy is always lying on our doorstep like some tattered old doormat. Big city, small town, wherever you live, wherever you go, controversy finds a way to seep through the cracks of life drawing you into its core. It is invasive, like a weed you can’t get rid of.

I thought I’d avoid controversy when I retired to my small town. What I have sadly discovered is that it is whirling all around me like a hurricane, touching down at will, spreading chaos into every corner of small town life. Some of the damage done is minimal, some major. Some has the potential to permanently and perpetually change what we now have. In my beautiful corner of the world (Southampton, Saugeen Township, Port Elgin) controversy is healthy and destructive.

In the parking lot of their sprawling summer retreat and convention center, the C.A.W. (Canadian Auto Workers) has erected a Wind Turbine that breaks all the setback rules and stands boldly over the homes of concerned citizens. The controversy swirling around this has seen many protests, some quite bitter. The potential of hundreds more Wind Turbines on the North Bruce Peninsula is alarming both permanent and seasonal residents, spurring town hall meetings, media finger-pointing and raucous confrontations with local councils.

Saugeen Shores Council has decided to enter the competition that could result in the burying of all of Canada’s high-level radioactive waste somewhere in our community. This waste would be buried in a Deep Geological Repository (DGR),  in an estimated area of 930 acres below ground and 250 acres above ground; deep enough to hold up to 144,000 metric tonnes of used nuclear fuel bundles that are still radioactive. And if you talk to people on the street, read the flyers, attend the SOS rallies (, council meetings and listen to the interviews, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) aren’t helping to bring a balanced perspective to the situation. The NWMO is totally funded and its Directors appointed by the nuclear industry. They answer to no one except the PMO.

Vilification is in the air. Accusations of ‘who said what and lied to whom’ are part of every conversation. The negative impact of a high lever nuclear DGR is evident people who live here. They worry that this DGR is too close to Lake Huron, they fear quality of life; tourism and property values will suffer. They say we already have the Bruce Nuclear Plant just down the street where they already store low/medium level fuel bundles…why do we want more.

This controversy is far from over. It will rage on for years as people and politicians grapple with the pros and cons, the right and wrong, the morality of the situation. The damage this will do to relationships will probably have a half-life of a generation or two.

Controversy always leaves scars. Unfortunately.

If only folks would take a deep breath, wander down at sunset and read the advice posted on the side of the Range Light at the harbor mouth of the Saugeen River…




 Words to live by.




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Video courtesy of Peter McNeice as posted on The Saugeen Times

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A few months back I received an invitation to join the Organizing Committee for the Saugeen Shores Olympic Torch Relay. I hesitated. But then I realized that the Olympic Flame would probably never pass this way again in my lifetime. So, I said yes. Good thing. I got to work with some wonderful, resourceful people and local media, all of whom gave their time and talent to all aspects of the task.

On a typical Saugeen Shores squall-filled night the Flame started at one end of Port Elgin and made its way down the highway to Southhampton, on to Saugeen First Nations and then to Owen Sound. Our trademark ‘horizontal snow’ did its worst. But the community didn’t care. They braved the winds and cold to line the streets and cheer the Torchbearers on. The flame went out a couple of times. The road was slippery. But the runners prevailed.

Afterwards they came back to the Plex for our after-party. As they entered the Green Room prior to their introduction, the looks on their smiling faces were priceless. And this is the thing…they were cold, tired, exhilarated and excited and so happy to be part of our local history. The squalls didn’t bother them a bit.

Noted broadcaster and Olympic Commentator Brian Williams was one of the Torchbearers. Between interviews with CTV and the local press, he was selfless and unselfish, posing for multiple photos with local dignitaries and anybody else that happened to be in the room. And he did this in spite of his worry about getting back to Toronto to make a morning flight to Saskatoon for the announcement of the men’s Olympic Hockey Team. There was rumour that they were closing the highway behind the Relay.

And they did. When I left the Plex to head home down Highway 21…the barriers were up. I knew all the alternate routes. Even though the squalls were coming directly off the lake, the Shore Road was open. It took me home.

I’m not sure what everyone else did that night…but the pubs were full. And I did see Brian on TV like he said he would be.


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I go searching for something to blog about on this cold, grey November day. Thoughts always come to me when I’m out and about.

Ice fog is lifting off the Sauble Beach Parkway, hovering over the tops of the trees waiting to see if the sun can squeeze through the clouds to burn it away. The ceiling is too low though and it looks like rain.

The parking lot of my favourite breakfast spot is empty. Since we are well into the off-season I fear they might be closed. They’re not. But they are empty. Its a strange feeling given the crowds they cater to from May 24 to Thanksgiving. From my window seat I can see that ’emptiness’ is all around me.

Main Street Sauble Beach is shuttered up tight for the winter. The plywood and such covering the windows and doors of the gift shops and restaurants add to the tackiness of the scene. This street screams ‘beach town’ at the best of times. You don’t notice it that much in summer because of the crowds. Summer people come here in droves and bring their big city ways with them filling in every ounce of space on both the street and beach.

I’ve always wondered why Southampton and Port Elgin don’t suffer this fate. They seem to rise above it. I’m not being critical here…just a personal observation.

But, it doesn’t matter now. The town is empty. The beach is empty. The stores are empty. I drive an empty shore road and a great calm descends on me. I realize why I love this time of year. It is still. No crowds madly rushing off in all directions at the same time. No craziness.

I drive on to the beach. I can park wherever I want and not pay the customary fee.  Walking in solitude I get lost in the emptiness.

The peace and quiet of the approaching winter is on the land.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

November 29, 2009 at 10:07 PM


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If you’re cruising slightly above the limit along Highway 21, leaving Southampton on your way to Port Elgin, you might miss them.

If you happen to catch a glimpse as you zip by you’ll probably do a double take. I know I did the first time I caught sight of them. When I took a quick look back I just about rear-ended the truck in front of me. These things could become a traffic hazard. But after your first sighting – you tend to ignore them.

I mean, really – Palm Trees, this far north, on the side of the road?  No big deal.

They’ve been there all along. Rght? They must have been covered in deep snow this past winter. Or hidden behind high roadside snow banks like everything else.

But that can’t be. These things would never survive in this climate…even if we do live in Southwestern Ontario. No. Someone in Saugeen Shores has a sense of humour…or loves to indulge in wishful thinking…or just plain likes to play with our heads.


But they are real – two tall Palm Trees outside of Shoreline Stone & Garden Centre between Southampton and Port Elgin…sitting beside a leaning hydro pole, enjoying our cool spring weather…and not a coconut in sight. I do have to say, though, they are looking a little worse for wear. Still getting use to the climate, I guess.

The Twin Palms traveled to our shores all the way from Florida. Obviously they had no problems with the recent heightened levels of scrutiny at U.S. border crossings. I guess you get a pass when you “Buy America.” There go our import/export quotas.

Anyway, if they survive the summer they’ll tough out the winter in the Shoreline’s big plastic enclosure. That way you can visit them when you go to buy your Christmas tree.

Maybe they should stage an annual replanting event. Like letting loose the swans on Fairy Lake or raising the Big Flag down on the beach on the 24th of May. The Bringing out of The Palms could be a rite of spring like May Day celebrations.

But seriously, it is a nice gesture – one that brings a smile to the faces of weather-hardened locals as we anticipate another of our wonderful, albeit, short Saugeen Shores summers.

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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You have to have a good reason for writing a Blog.  You need a hook! Mine, I imagined, was quite interesting. Why not compare where I am now and to where I was? I.E. – after living and working in big cities all my life – what was it like to take up residence in a small, simple, quiet, little town? The contrast between the two, I hoped, would make good copy. Their similarities would, I believed, be miles apart. I was wrong.

I found something that bridged my two worlds in a way that made me frown and smile at the same time.

I grew up Italian in a city that was built by Italians – Toronto. One need only look at the turn of the century influx of immigrants from Italy to T.O. to see how they lived in ‘The Ward” in managed squalor.

Award winning novelist Nino Ricci points out that…”it is almost inconceivable that the city of Toronto could have been so transformed from dirt streets and ramshackle boarding houses of the 1880s…to the present day city…without Italian workers.”

Josie DiSciascio-Andrews in her book How the Italians Created Canada says Italians…”literally paved the way for the cosmopolitan sophisticated city that Toronto is today. From their early presence…the Italians of the 1800s began to play a consistently visible role in the evolution of Toronto’s history.”

When the economic boom of 1910 hit Toronto a new infrastructure was needed – roads – buildings – water mains – streetcar tracks and sewer systems. Before sewers were built, Toronto’s waste was collected in cesspools. Work on these projects fell to men from Sicily, Calabria and Abruzzi. With bare hands, strong backs and the sweat of their brow…they worked long hard hours digging ditches.

“Italians brought the know-how for updating this archaic state of affairs, by installing modern sewer pipes…which were already operational in Italy,” writes DiSciascio-Andrews.

Yes, my countrymen were ditch diggers before they became anything else. And they dug themselves deep into my old hometown.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered, while involved in some local heritage research, that Port Elgin (just down the road from where I now live) had a lot in common with Toronto and Italian immigrants.

In 1906 – a by-law was voted in, which allowed for the installation of a waterworks system in Port Elgin. The town engineer, a Mr. Chipman and the contractor a Mr. McLean hired 16 Italians to dig the ditches by hand. Obviously my countrymen’s reputation and skills were know beyond Toronto’s city limits.

There you go. A palpable connection with the history of the Italian Immigrant in Ontario…where I was, compared to where I am now…in spades…so to speak.

Funzionando con il selezionamonto e la pala.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

October 31, 2008 at 1:51 AM