After well over twenty years of thinking about this new venture, I have finally overcome the ultimate procrastination.
Last January, with the aid of John Duff, a talented branding and graphics buddy, we came up with the name. Over the course of the next few months we finalized a new design. Then began a search for a supplier, a manufacturing facility, as well as the patience to overcome the dozens of hurdles you encounter on a new business start-up!
This is my story of the new Signature Lapboard.
I cannot now, for the life of me, recollect where our original lapboard came from, but I have lived with it for as long as I can remember. With certainty, I can picture the original, sitting beside my Mother’s living room chair back in the 60’s.
Having been in my possession, as these many decades have flown by, I can also confirm that the original board had many uses, and became a very handy accessory for every member of the family.
While I was still working at Standard Broadcasting in Toronto at CKFM, I overcame the first deferral of my creativity, by asking one of my best friends, (the late) Ted Pocock, to make me twenty copies of the board, to give to family and a few associates at work for Christmas. Teddy made custom kitchen cabinetry for a living, so he knew a thing or two about wood. I can confidently say that the folks who still own one of those lapboards will attest to their convenient practicality.
Fast forward another two decades of lapboard vacillation, and January 1st, 2020 rolled in along with the usual hangover, NCAA football games and of course, my favorite, the Rose Bowl parade. (Yes I was a drummer in a marching band in high school).
That day I made three resolutions: to write a children’s book, to slice up two large hollow logs in my possession into 14 custom mirrors for family, and….. to finally take the leap of faith: to manufacture the topic of this diatribe.
Sorry to report the book has not been written yet. My grandchildren will have to wait, as this is still on my to-do list; likely a 2022 project. But the mirrors were cut, sanded and beautifully rendered this past summer, with the assistance of yet another mentor in the ‘wood’ business.
I am blessed to know a highly skilled young man who also played an important role in the new and improved Signature Lapboard. Devon Cutting, humble and very modest, is noted here to award credit for what we have created, and to give thanks for what has become a great friendship.
To the nuts and bolts of the project, I literally worked with three manufacturers who had the inclination to accomplish such a complex task. I was indeed fortunate to find the fourth, who could finally achieve the results I was after, and the level of quality required. Bingo!
Suffice to say, producing the Signature Lapboard in its final form requires a highly specialized laser cutting, routing, and logo engraving machine (all in one) to produce what you see pictured here below. Then, the edges had to be perfected, and a finish applied that would impress anyone with a knowledge of professional wood working.
My belief was, that if I could make this product to spec, and if I loved it, that my marketing skills would be the final piece of the puzzle. Well, as many of you know, there are a lot of moving parts to manufacturing, distribution, and marketing.
All my life I have been surrounded by incredible mentors, so I would be remiss if I did not mention Dr. Chris Oswald as one of the key sets of business eyes on my work the past year. ‘Doc’ as I like to call him, is not only one of my two amazing Sons-In-Laws, but also the inventor of MuscleCare, and the CEO at his very successful Chiropractic practice in midtown Toronto. Chris’ unwavering experience, has been a significant bench marking factor in the implementation of this project.
So my bride Pam and I are now the proud owners of a supply of perfectly sized ‘pizza boxes’, (for Canada Post delivery), lovely custom greeting cards with a specially engraved pen, and an informative hang tag attached to each, one of a kind, new, improved, Signature Lapboards.
All we have to do now…… is sell a few.
Procrastination is one of my weaknesses, when applied to the corner recesses of my mind. Typically I am well known for my determination, my dogged persistence, and a reasonable balance from the left side of my brain getting too much in the way of my creativity.
We’re pleased to have crossed off the list the beginning of this project in 2020. Now we’ll see if the plot thickens in chapters two and three.
As Ben Franklin coined: “Nothing Ventured…….”
My business world centres primarily on marketing. The creative work and service that I provide, emphasizes protecting and increasing client’s top of mind position when a customer has a need for their product or service. Persuasion is a skill and an artform.
During this lengthy career, there are few people who have had more influence on my creativity than Terry O’Reilly.
For those who don’t know Terry, he is widely considered to be the most talented and effective creative writer, director, and producer of Radio ads in Canada over the last thirty five years. To refer to Terry as a marketing guru would not be an exaggeration.
After an incredibly active and successful career with his company, Pirate Radio, Terry now is best known for his very popular Radio show on the CBC: “Under The Influence”. The program explores the world of advertising and marketing in general, in a fun and irreverent way. With over a million listeners a week in Canada alone, Terry knows how to target consumers and listeners!
A successful writer of books, Terry also has recently delivered a wonderful new effort called “This I Know – Marketing Lessons From Under The Influence”.
Other than being a fan, and enamored with Terry’s work over the years, you might wonder about our connection. For me professionally, I was most fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, as a Sales Manager in Toronto at CKFM, or what was then MIX 99.9 (owned by the Slaights of Standard Radio, now Virgin Radio, owned by Bell Media).
Working on a heady project back then, likely considered impossible to accomplish today, we corralled EVERY Radio station in Toronto for a common cause: to promote the use of Radio advertising. To prove to advertisers that people actually listen to Radio ads. This meant ultimately persuading the media owners of the day, the likes of Gary Slaight, Allan Waters, Ted Rogers, to name-drop a few, to agree to a project thought up, by what was called the Toronto Radio Action Committee (TRAC).
I was on that committee, with several talented Sales Managers. Gary Murphy (“Murph”) of Rogers fame and I were given the creative assignment for the project. Who do you think was the marketing talent of choice for our Committee? Right! Terry O’Reilly. To make a long story short, Terry created two memorable campaigns for that project which aired on every Radio station in Toronto with heavy frequency for several weeks.
A risky venture it might have been, but for the fact that Terry had such an amazing track record for delivering results for SO many ‘A list’ clients. One of the two campaigns, “Basil’s Pre-owned Warehouse” won a GOLD that year at the Marketing Awards.
Those campaigns caused quite a stir, one promoting and encouraging listeners to visit a store that did not even exist, and the second, books, where the Radio creative gave away the story endings in the ads! Unthinkable tactics to most. Not to Terry. Radio enjoyed a great deal of water cooler talk during the time these campaigns aired, not to mention people running around downtown Toronto, looking for a store that did not exist. Incredibly, to their credit, the Toronto Star showcased the campaigns with a front page article. The results were dramatic.
Fast forward thirty years or so. Terry has been very influential in assisting me with some of the Business Development Media Training that I have presented the last several years. When talking to Account Executives (and clients) about the power of Radio and Marketing in general, I have been able to replay some of the incredibly successful ads written and directed by Terry. All of which enjoyed results that altered opinions and often, dramatically influenced sales curves in an upward direction. One realizes how effective Radio can be, utilizing the power of a great and original idea.
Which brings us to the now. Will you be in Muskoka September 27th? If so, you are in for a treat. If not, perhaps a change of plans is a consideration. Terry O’Reilly will be speaking at the Algonquin Theatre in Huntsville on that Thursday evening. If you enjoy the stimulation of creativity, this talk is for you. If you own a business, and struggle with marketing, Terry will be focused on assisting you with concepts of big ideas on small budgets. Hmmm, sound like an oxymoron? Not at all. Skillfully weaving the use of emotion and story-telling, your take-away will be memorable and potentially quite profitable. All in all, a very entertaining evening is anticipated.
Have a listen to Terry:
(if you are viewing this message via email please click this link to listen to the audio)
Tickets available by calling the Algonquin Theatre box office or on line at:
Oh… and pleased to report that Terry’s talk is sponsored by a plethora of local Home Hardware, and Home Building Centre dealers in the Muskoka, and Mid Ontario area. Thanks all!
See you there!
Enough is Enough. A Final Appeal:
To: Premier-Elect Doug Ford
To: Norm Miller MPP Parry Sound-Muskoka
To: Ontario Citizens – (see contact info below for Premier Doug Ford and Norm Miller, MPP)
In the District of Muskoka Lakes, we have had plenty enough of our Mayor. There will be shouts of “Good Riddance” this fall when he is finally ousted. This Mayor and several ‘Crone Councilors’ have repeatedly displayed their stripes to create havoc with development issues in Muskoka and most importantly, done everything possible to advance the work of a private developer towards a useless Power Plant in the village of Bala.
Further, in the larger picture, the Provincial Liberals have completely ignored the cries for environmental help and safety towards construction of this monstrosity that has been planned for over a decade. The giant turbine of the power plant represents a horrible danger to the public, up and downstream of the site, and also to the Muskoka watershed.
On June 21st, 2018, (which is in fact, ironically our summer solstice), a direct mail piece was delivered by the the proponent (the private developer) in Muskoka outlining that:
“The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests currently operates the Bala North and South dam. After Bala’s power plant is up and running, our company will operate these dams.”
God help Muskoka!
Perhaps in the name of Premier-Elect Doug Ford, who visited Bala and spoke to the community PROMISING that once elected:
“As sure as I’m standing here, I’m going to come back, and each and every one of you can hold me accountable. I will be back in the same spot to STOP this project”.
Recent chants of ‘foul play’ have echoed throughout the province towards Government. The current distaste for politicians ramping up deficits is a key issue. The stench of politics is reaching far and wide. No doubt Mr Ford’s success is a result of his straight talk to cut Government spending and cancel contracts like the one so onerous in Bala.
Ontario residents now understand why the cost of Hydro is so debilitating to our provincial finances. The deficit is out of control and energy costs are having a significant impact on ordinary citizens who cannot afford the whiplash effect of a horribly planned green energy program. Much has been written of late about the hordes of Solar fields (and wind farms) taking advantage of contracts which should never have been offered or issued in the first place. It has become obvious that the investment in Ontario Energy programs is bankrupting the province. It is quite telling that both the Ontario Auditor AND the Federal Auditor General have written scathing reports on the accounting policies of Ontario Hydro and the Liberal bean counters.
The Bala Hydro plant falls under all these headings. Check off all the boxes to see a small community decimated by poor communication, divisive politics, and just plain bad decision making on the part of elected officials.
Those that know me, are well aware that this diatribe could go on and on to explain why Ontario does not need an unsafe 4.5 megawatt power plant in the middle of the tourist friendly town of Bala on Lake Muskoka. But mercifully, I will not. I have produced to the best of my abilities, with help from compatriots, several videos to help explain this. And, please review Mitchell Shnier’s excellent and persistent work on the Save The Bala Falls website.
No. Today all I ask, and all, that the vast majority of the people in Muskoka ask…. of the Citizens of Ontario … is to type TWO simple emails: (copy and paste)
“Please cancel the Power Plant in Bala !”
That’s it folks.
Feel free to watch this latest video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EY5WY-RFnJA
This video paints a new picture.
The community of Bala has many ideas what to do, with what is left of the mess created by the private developer, once the contract is cancelled. Making room for a proper historical Portage Landing is one of them. This is a heritage site. Our First Nations friends and neighbours have a long and storied history here. We MUST be allowed to celebrate our past, in particular, the work of David Thompson, the Canadian explorer who paddled up the Moon River in 1837. A man we are so proud of, yet is so unheralded.
The following is a remarkable Newsletter from Howard Smith, the Managing Director of the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary here in Muskoka that we receive periodically. This one grabbed my heart and squeezed until I decided to do something about the aching it produced.
Those of you who have followed my ‘stories’ know about our significant attempt to save a loon in distress. That peice is here if you’d like to reacquaint yourself with it.
PLEASE, read Howard’s Newsletter below, which he yesterday agreed to let me share with those of you who are either not familiar with the great works of the Sanctuary or who have never donated to their efforts. We do, or would not ask the same of you.
“Happy Holidays, friends of Aspen Valley!
All too soon, another successful year of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation has come and gone! In 2017, we at Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary were able to care for over six hundred and fifty wild animals in need. Looking back on the year, our hearts are warm with gratitude to YOU, for all of your generous support that makes our work possible on your behalf.
The year began busily, with many injured and orphaned animal arrivals in the spring. Our three bear cubs from Banff National Park arrived in April, and after many months of careful care, have grown from 6lbs to over 100lbs.! They are now hibernating cozily in their outdoor enclosure. In the spring of 2018 they will be sent back to Banff for release, and return to the wild where they belong.
In September, a bobcat kitten was hit by a vehicle in Northern Ontario, and became our very first bobcat rehabilitation case. X-rays showed a broken front leg, which was able to be pinned and braced externally. After one month of healing, the brace was successful in correcting the break, and was removed. As he is too young to survive in the wild without a mother at this age, he will stay with us overwinter in our rehab program. In the spring he will be old enough for release. In the meantime, his attitude is feisty, and his spirits are high!
Later in the year, in October, we worked closely with a concerned resident on a very tricky rescue. The resident had noticed a deer with an arrow stuck into its side, towards its back leg. The deer had fed outside this citizen’s home for a week, with a growing abscess around the puncture site, until we were able to safely tranquilize him. He was brought back to the sanctuary where our vet, Dr. Sherri Cox, performed the difficult procedure of removing the arrow, which was stuck a deep ten inches into the deer’s abdomen. Luckily, the arrow did not puncture any internal organs, and he made an amazing recovery. He will stay in our care over winter in an outdoor enclosure before he is released in the spring.
A recent difficult rescue which is still ongoing involves capturing a family of sick and injured red foxes in Algonquin Park. The adult pair are quite old and estimated to be 10 to 12 years old. There is also one juvenile with them. These foxes are probably the most photographed foxes in North America, as they have been conditioned by the public, through feeding, to come to the roadside along an interior Park road. In early November we received a call that the adult male had lost all the hair on his tail and appeared to have a broken front leg and was having considerable difficulty moving about and would not likely survive the winter. Working with the approval of the Algonquin Park biologist, 5 live traps were set and monitored daily. Even though these foxes seem tame, they are extremely difficult to catch even when sick and injured. After 25 days and over 4000 km of driving to check traps, the old male and a juvenile female were finally caught. We are still hoping to catch the adult female, who has an injured hind leg.
On examination and x ray by our wildlife vet, an incredible set of issues were found on the male. He had a recent break in his front leg, the other front leg had an old break and a hind leg had an old break as well. In addition, he had mange which resulted in total hair loss on his tail. Had he not been captured, he would have soon lost his tail from frost bite as winter approaches. As well, he had severe gum disease. The two-year-old female had a broken pelvis and a dislocated hip, which were old injuries that had healed over. The pain these animals had lived with over the years was incredible and yet they still carried on – a testament to the will to live in these foxes and really all wildlife.
All these broken bones were consistent with vehicle collisions and were not the result from fights. The adult male probably was hit two or three times. This points to the tremendous injustice done to these foxes by the public in feeding them, so they would come to the road to be seen. Most of what was fed to them was totally inappropriate and unhealthy. Even though many people thought they were helping the foxes they, in fact, were subjecting them to great suffering and pain in the end.
Even though the adults are quite old, their pain and suffering are the result of human interference and therefore, it is our moral obligation to treat them as best we can.
Both foxes are in our care now and receiving medical treatment for their conditions. Hopefully, we will catch the remaining adult.
We would like to sincerely thank you again for making this year’s success possible. We are grateful in knowing we have your support as we move into the new year. We wish you and your families a warm holiday season and happy new year.
Together, let’s make 2018 another year of great wildlife-rescue success.
Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary
P.S. Our 2018 Aspen Valley calendar is available to order online and has some great photos of our animals.”
Think it is fair to say that we have a lot to be thankful for living in Muskoka, and Canada for that matter. This non-profit is a very worthwhile location to park some funds before year end or anytime you feel, what we have felt, towards their excellent team of caregivers. Their website is here and their telephone number is 705 732 6368.
Best of the season to you all…
There are several people in my life who enjoy confirming, that on occasion, I appear to have too much time on my hands. As expressions go, there is some truth in sarcasm.
When it comes to grandchildren however, time takes a back seat: schedules altered, creative juices flow, and the desire to be, and feel like, a child again, can be overwhelming.
This past summer during quiet moments alone, thinking about family, an idea was hatched that I knew would take some planning, props and tricky execution. I also knew the grand-kids would love it!
We all know about scavenger hunts, but this nautical version took on a life of its own. The plan was to send my two daughters out in our little 12 foot boat (a ten on the back) with the three g-kids on a hunt for buried treasure. Buried that is, under water! Instructions were printed, placed in an envelope and off they went. Presenting itself, was one of the few perfect, sunny, 80 degree weekend days of the entire summer. Sunscreen galore! To be safe, my bride Pammy went with our two sons-in-law in another boat to keep an eye on everyone. A full family affair. I stayed behind to enjoy some peace and quiet.
The ‘crew’ were directed to drive to four different locations where to begin with, more instructions were found taped under a wooden bridge by the Bala Town Dock. These instructions provided a treasure map to the first of three underwater locations!
What took my time and effort was organizing and ‘placing’ the treasures. New, empty, one quart paint tins were loaded with granite stones and topped up with gummies for the kids in sandwich baggies. The stones added so the tins would sink. Lids were hammered on tight. The tins in turn, were placed in double-bagged grocery bags with more rocks and tied off with pieces of ski-rope and then….dropped into specific locations which were, in turn, tied to…. floating buoys. Yikes! I hoped no other marauding pirates would find this booty and make off with it before our crew arrived.
If anyone had of seen me sinking the treasure, and videoed my actions, it would have been a gigantic viral hit on YouTube. On one occasion, the grocery bags somehow became untied and the paint tin, that I was sure would sink on its own, miraculously floated to the surface as I was idling away from the secret location. Thank God, because had I not seen it, the pirates would still be looking for it! I can only imagine the look on my face! Here I was thinking I had covered every detail, and 20 feet away was a paint can treasure chest, floating away in the wind! I managed to retrieve it and go through the whole process again. One attribute of Muskoka is that granite rocks of all shapes and sizes are beyond plentiful, so I was able to gather more rocks hanging over the side of the boat! Crazy. So I again sank the now very tightly tied off bags with paint can cargo and goodies secured for future discovery, hopefully attached to stay to the floating buoy.
The second YouTube event may have been even more amusing to the voyeur. Difficult to describe, but a memory I won’t soon forget. Out in the middle of Bala Bay is the well-known and dangerous ‘center marker’ (see picture at top). At night, the marker flashes brightly to keep boats away from its shallow rise from the depths. The wind was quite brisk so managing the little boat was tricky in the shallow water. Here I was dropping another treasure into the lake tied off with rocks and a buoy. As the little boat turned, and was pushed leeward, I did not notice that the rope attached to the treasure, went under the boat and towards the engine’s prop which was running the whole time. The next thing I knew, the prop tangled the ski-rope and UP came the plastic bags with treasure attached! I could not believe my eyes. I turned off the engine, swearing several expletives as the wind blew me totally off course and the whole routine had to be repeated yet again. Leaning over the back of the boat, unraveling the ski rope off the prop of the 10 horsepower (which was still attached to the plastic bags with treasure included), I wondered, what would go wrong next? Was an unplanned swim in my future?
In retrospect, I could not believe that I had brought enough grocery bags to resupply the badly managed paint cans. THAT was good fortune.
In the space of 90 minutes, ‘Murphy’ had once again perched on my shoulder, laughing at me while sabotaging my treasure hunting plans.
My girls were great. They were able to figure out the ‘chicken-scratched’ treasure maps and navigate the route around Bala Park Island, and eventually return home with three children who had worked hard to recover the bootie and eat enough of it to spike their sugar levels.
The reward for accomplishing their tasks? Gran and Grandad took the three youngsters out for a special brunch the following week.
For fun, those of you who have 3 more minutes or so, this Video will show some of the antics that day: taken by my girls and Ava, one of our grandkids.
What will we think of next? Perhaps the secret is to continue to ensure that we DO have a little extra time on our hands, because as we all know… it passes far too quickly.
There are times you are so happy with customer service you want to crow about it.
A while back, we made a decision to ‘safety’ our property by adding a set of special railings for three sets of our stairs. Having looked around and seen different styles at various cottages we frequent, a mental consumer report was developed. We chatted with a few friends and envisioned the look and features of this important element at North45.
We were motivated to ensure that all members of the family could manage our topography without mishap. My Dad had a fairly serious fall many years ago negotiating the original old granite stairs down to the dock with broken ribs the result. More recently, about ten years ago, a Welshman buddy took a serious dive off the same stairs, northbound, tumbling wine glass in hand, and was most fortunate to land feet first, lakeside. Think we were both emotionally bruised. Could have been nasty. Liability was paid up, but it’s hard to put a price on a friends body parts.
So long-time friend, Randy Bennett, who does our amazing dock and crib work, basically did us a favor, and was first to install cottage-to-lake railings for us. They were very creatively conceived and crafted to prevent any further libelous events. Made from cedar trees, the stocks were planted solidly into the ground and the railings curved beautifully down the stairs to the dock from the cottage. Beautiful.
Fast forward another 12 years and the cedar, not un-expectantly, rot-softened in the ground, grew weary, a little long in the tooth.
So….. back on point, we were in the market again for railings, and as a 60 + year old, this was to be a lasting investment that our G-kids and all members of the family would appreciate.
Many folks in these parts are familiar with The Smithy, the wrought iron specialists. I’ve been in their shop at Glenn Orchard, just north of Bala many times, looking over fire place tools, grill grates, andirons (firedogs to some) outdoor lights and sundry item produced by professional welders.
By chance, I had met a local fiberglass expert who was connected to The Smithy and mentioned to me that the good folks made custom railings. I took the bait and started communicating with Chris and Cathy.
The long and short of it, was that we hired their team to do our new railings, and it was not a small or simple task. They visited our property several times – measured, probed the ground, asked all the right questions, and then when the time came arrived late fall to do their handiwork.
Talk about impressed. As merchandizing and marketing people know, the combination of great customer service, quality products and where applicable, an excellent installation is a winning combination.
After the job was completed we were just thrilled. The railings perfectly mirrored the difficult curves and slope of our topography. In effect they are solid, stylish, and effective. Everyone in the family uses the railings for support, and everyone who visits North45 comments on the quality and style of a job well done.
There is no motivation to promote The Smithy, other than to say THANK YOU. Occasionally you make an investment in your home or cottage and you are reminded, almost on a daily basis, what a great decision is was to do so. Hard to put a price on safety for friends and family.
There are times when I feel compelled to write about a topic, communicating a passion to associates and friends. This is about one of these proud passions.
Our hamlet of Bala, Ontario produces such an amazing spirit. A small community that overcomes significant obstacles, coming together time and time again as a shining example of what can be accomplished as a team, with persistence, creativity, and ingenuity.
Once again Bala will provide for others an event for the ages to enjoy. An event known to many as:
The Trek to Bethlehem.
“When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us. When our community is in a state of peace, it can share that peace with neighboring communities.” — Dalai Lama
If you have never been to Bala to enjoy ‘The Trek’, you might consider planning now to make time this Saturday to do so. It is not too late, because I for one, think it is one of the most amazing spectacles you will ever attend. The reality is that mere words do not do justice to the spirit of this small community and what actually transpires for guests as you join in, and walk about. Pound for pound, Bala continues to be one of the finest fighting promotional fish in our fair land of Canada.
This Trek, for many, signals a start to our Muskoka winter, and of course, the many holiday traditions we enjoy at Christmas.
Here below, is a piece written for local Muskoka media by Patricia Gidley, the long time, and tireless Chair of the event. Read on to find the many reasons why you and your family will enjoy a magical evening here in Bala at The Trek to Bethlehem:
On Saturday, Dec. 3rd, Bala will be offering a family-friendly, true–meaning–of-Christmas event, the Trek to Bethlehem, for the 24th year in a row. A circle of Bala streets will be transformed into biblical scenes that suggest what the first Christmas night might have been like 2,000 years ago. Many families come back year after year for this totally free event.
On Trek night, beginning at 5:30 p.m., visitors line up outside the Bala Community Centre where they soon enter, to start singing Christmas carols. Each person is given a decree stating they have been summoned to the city of their fathers to be ‘counted’ and to pay taxes. Tours from the Community Centre begin at 6 p.m. as small groups are led around the Trek route by costumed guides.
Along the route, visitors meet up with “Abigail and Ezra”, another family on their way to Bethlehem to pay taxes and be counted. The three kings are soon encountered and their wealth and gifts for the Messiah are in evidence. An angel choir sings of wondrous things. The group journeys on, greeting shepherds, avoiding Roman soldiers and finally arriving at the tax collector’s tent to be counted and to pay taxes.
After a visit to the marketplace, the Inn, and after hearing from a prophet that a child has been born, the family continues on to the manger scene. The journey ends at the Bala Arena, known for the evening as the Bethlehem Inn, where the family enjoys hot chocolate and cookies.
The whole evening is a Christmas gift to you and your family from the citizens of Bala. Further information is available at 705-762-5663.
Chair, Trek to Bethlehem organizing committee
My parting gift to you all, is a gift from the outstanding creative team at ‘Pure Muskoka’, Andy and Ben, who produced this video a few years ago. A small taste of the Trek and the local passion behind our community. Enjoy.
Recently I received a complimentary communication from an old friend. The gist of it centred on life style and how Muskoka traditions and balance in our lives has had a positive impact on our children and now, our grandchildren.
Like many other aspects of life, I am opinionated about traditions.
While it is now late fall, memories of this past summer still loudly resonate. Many of our friends are now experiencing the joys of an expanding family tree, so it is no surprise to my bride of 39 years and me that our three grandchildren now take a form of main stage in most proceedings at the cottage.
With two amazing daughters, (yes – and two great sons-in-law), summer 2016 presented us with a magical brood aged 6, 5 and 4. This was my first summer where all three kids could ‘do stuff’ with Grandad – and we did!
Editors note: Now, before I get too deep into this, ‘Gran’ for the most part, is by far the favourite. No surprise. Selfless, caring, understanding and patient beyond words, Gran is the centre of the universe.
In the morning, I am the early riser, 100% of the time. When the youngsters appear, it’s “Morning Grandad, where’s Gran?” Too funny. Leave your ego in the bedroom.
BUT…. then the little muggers will follow that up with “Can we go to the bakery in the boat Grandad?” Heart rate jumps. A knowing nod brings smiles all around. Back in business.
Incredibly, we literally had a portion of the ‘family’ in residence every day of the summer proper, which as you know, is measured by the end of one school year and the week prior to the start of the next. Mothers’ back to school readiness always takes precedence over cottage culture, so a disappearance was in order the last week of August.
I’d be the first of two to admit, that we LOVED the company. This past summer, as we’re still able to recall, we were blessed with such perfect weather that it was unlikely that any family became bored (with ‘cottage fever’), due to rain — so we were an active group all around.
Back to traditions. Do we create them or extend them? Do traditions morph, or does the imagination motivate us to greatness? My answer is a full on yes.
Canada, and Muskoka in particular, is infamous for changing seasons and weather that promotes every form of indoor and outdoor activity imaginable. We take advantage of that, and do our very best, to have fun doing it.
This means, pending what divisions of the genetic tree are in the kitchen in the early morning, quietly gathering ball caps, sunglasses, socks, shoes or sandals, pullovers, or windbreakers and heading out the sliding glass door, carefully negotiating old stone stairs down to the boathouse – destination: Don’s Bakery!
Once inside the boathouse, unannounced roles take over. Bowlines are carefully removed, with the understanding that falling between the dock and the boat would have dire consequences. “Permissions to go board Captain?” are queried. Life jackets sought out from the tightly doored cuddy cabin. One of the ‘Vice Commanders’ turns on the engine’s blower. Once the engine has turned over, the rear lines are removed with care. Anticipation of another adventure looms. We exit the boathouse in reverse and once underway, the bumpers are tightened and the blower is shut off by another of the junior rank and file.
Fresh, hot coffee in hand, my joy is palpable. Smiles abound as we plane the Fury7 to a perfect cruising speed of 25 miles an hour. Hoots of “alligator” echo as knowing eyes describe the changing rooster tail off the back of the boat. No idea where THAT term came from. Often one of the munchkins, will sit on my lap handling the steering wheel and assist the motion of the throttle.
Traditions. For as long as I can remember, once parked a mile down the bay from the cottage, at the scenic Town Dock in the hamlet of Bala, we all take the ‘secret passageway’ over the train tracks, to then cross the road to the celebrated bakery. There is more than one secret passageway to the bakery, but since it involves a wooden bridge and very involved parking skills in a ‘tinny’ boat this may remain a secret.
Once up the stairs, and through the squeaky screen door inside Don’s Bakery, we take a number and wait our turn, which can be lengthy given the popularity of this establishment.
Proudly I wait with these hungry monkeys, as they discuss and broadcast their daily choice of treat: various cupcakes, chocolate donut with sprinkles, apple fritter, cinnamon roll, or “Just a scone Grandad”. Of course these items are all child-eye-level, so the merchandising is VERY effective, and mouthwatering.
Exiting Don’s, everyone carrying goodies, we “look both ways” prior to crossing Highway 169 to once again navigate the CP railroad tracks. “Any trains coming?” I ask always. Skilled feet and youthful legs walk the tops of the tracks for 10 paces, imaginations balancing steel like a high wire act.
Carefully, we go through all the same ‘commander’ motions of getting underway from the town dock, baked goods in hand. This time it might be a ‘Lieutenant Commander’ doing the deeds.
Tradition: “Can we go to Purk’s Grandad!?” — “Yes, PLEEEASE, can we go see Mr Bill?”
Incredibly, since I was a child, I traveled to this same famed location. In those days it was “Cunningham’s”, and for me, this was where I deposited my allowance for worms and the ability to go fishing. Today, Bill Purkis owns what is likely the coolest old bait and tackle store in the province. Most folks don’t realize that Purk’s Place is located on an island between two sets of often raging waterfalls, and, no more than fifteen feet from the previously mentioned CP rail line. The building reeks of history.
For the youngsters in this decade, the prize is still worms for fishing, but also the tradition of ‘nickel candy’. Bill, and his lovely family, also rent boats, videos, sell fireworks, and various family boating and swimming float-toys. If you love fishing, you’ll love Purks Place. Rods and reels, lures and fishing paraphernalia of every description are presented along with worms, leeches, and one of the favourites: minnows. The kids love climbing up on the available padded high chair, and peering over into the dark depths of the big tank full of the miniature ‘fishies’ as they jump and dart around.
“Okay team, get a baggy and you can each pick two treats.” All the nickel candy, of which there is probably a selection of ten, are in glass jars with rubber rimmed lids to keep the product fresh. Inside are tiny tongs providing the kids a means to extract the goodies. Then it’s always the challenge: “Grandad, can we have one now?”
Mr. Bill, smiling, looks at me, wondering how I’ll handle the choral request. “Nooo, you know the drill. You can have ONE, when we get back to the cottage.”
Bill’s floating docks feel like a ride at the CNE as we walk along back to the boat. A wee tipsy. Certainly not dangerous, but the kids love it. Since the dock is located very close to the falls down to the Moon River, a current is always running here, so managing the boat is a priority. There are emergency booms with floats crossing close by, so it adds to the adventure. ‘Commanders’ don life jackets once again. Blower is engaged by another ‘Sub-Commander’ (everyone works a turn) and off we go, idling out of the little bay towards open water.
Traditions. I would not be exaggerating to report that our family has a ton of traditions. Ice rinks, ‘skate the bay’, boat rides to the center marker, jumping out the boathouse window, walking Muskoka trails, fishing well-kept-secret-locations, boathouse games, swimming in the rain. Realistically, every Canadian family has their traditions: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Canada Day….New Years….. many involving food and beverages. We are SO fortunate to live in a country where our freedom allows us the ability to be individuals, while celebrating our cultural and historical past.
A little project that I have been anxious to get off my list of new endeavors, has now been completed. This video, hopefully will set in motion, a new tradition.
Seven years ago, we had no idea what it meant to be Grandparents. Now, as our time flies by, we hope to be so fortunate, and pray that ‘it’ will be possible….. to add another word to our monikers, and make it ‘Great’ Grandparents !
This is a lyric from one of the greatest songs ever written by Gordon Lightfoot: “The Canadian Railroad Trilogy”. A fitting opening line to this latest note to you all about Life on Bala Bay in Muskoka.
This month, we discovered that CN Rail was to do some major rail repair to our ‘Middle Bridge’ right across the bay from us. So the trains were halted for this repair. The ‘Trilogy’ came to mind, so the track hit the turntable for a nice loud spin.
We have a most fortunate and remarkable view across Bala Bay which looks upon a unique, three quarter mile section of undeveloped land. Virtually no cottages, no boathouses, no docks. The reason? The CN rail line weaves north from Toronto and crosses three bridges that join our Muskoka mainland to two islands: Bala Park and Wanilah. The line occupies the western half of Bala Park ensuring no cottage development.
This ‘middle’ bridge (seen at top of page) is quite famous, as it was historically a ‘swing’ bridge back in the day, that welcomed, and allowed the steamships passage into Bala Bay travelling from Gravenhurst Wharf. Vessels like Sagamo, Segwun, and Cherokee, adorn posters and old postcards of the day. I have included a picture here of the old CPR train station in Bala with the S.S. Cherokee docked at the old town dock.
The history of our railroads, steamships, and our dance hall, Dunn’s Pavilion, are all worthy of a great book. Most folks do not know, that both CN and CP rails clickety-clack though our small hamlet of Bala.
Back to the repairs. Being a boater, I was intent on seeing the work being done on this, ‘our’ bridge. So of course Pammy and I checked it out, took some pictures and waved to the construction crews over a 10 day period.
Here is another shot of the south end of the bridge facing south west. A new girder appears to have been installed and the concrete abutment has been worked on:
What really caught our attention one night, was this tremendous series of bright flashing lights, stretching half a mile down the shore across the bay from us. Think Alien spaceships lined up 25 feet above water level, where total darkness typically prevails.
So the next day, I had to go over in the boat again to investigate. Trusty camera in tow, I discovered a serious beehive of activity, the likes of which I have never seen. A decision was made to shoot video because the scene was so active and so interesting. Essentially, this HUGE crew of men and machines were now replacing the ties under the rails.
Thinking back to Lightfoot’s trilogy, the railway men Gordon sang about were: “Layin’ ‘em in and tyin’ ‘em down.” He described the men:
“We are the navies who work upon the railway. Swingin our hammers in the bright blazin sun. Livin on stew, and drinking bad whiskey, bending our backs till the long days are done.”
Some of the old pictures we’ve perhaps all seen, displaying rather horrid working conditions. Well I’m writing here today, to let you know, the railroad repair business has changed.
Hopefully our bridge has been secured, and now, the rails can withstand what we believe is increased traffic on this line. These trains, often a colorful mile long, frequently carry oil to market, so any rail issue or subsequent spill would be a disaster beyond our imaginations.
So what is the treat this month? Well, there is a treat. Here is the link to my video of activity rarely seen by the public. Enjoy!
The question is: how do we keep fresh, and top of mind, an idea, a concept, a request for action, that many people have tired of, and feel helpless about?
I receive all kinds of comments and questions about the efforts that continue to be made on behalf of Saving the Bala Falls.
“I thought it was a done deal”. “Not much we can do now is there?” “Tell me Johnny, what’s going on with the Bala Falls?”
Think about it: The original proposal to construct a power plant in Muskoka’s hamlet of Bala, dates back to 2005. With all of the technical issues, the politics, the divisiveness the proposal has caused, it is no wonder that some people wish the controversy would just end.
This note today could ramble on and cover forty issues, doing my best, to convince you of the wrongs being committed here in Bala. For many of you, this would just be a continuation of the complex process, and you might consider stopping your read here. I won’t, so please don’t.
Would it be fair to say that as Canadians, we are not the most activist bunch in the world today? By FAR, this is the most difficult and multifaceted issue that my family has ever been involved in. For my family, and for many of our friends and associates, this is by also by FAR, the most politically active, we have ever been. The reasons are tangible.
What I, and ‘we’ are asking is for you to continue the fight with us or get involved now, if you have not been. Candidly, we ask for your help. To be more effective in our quest for this behemoth to be safe for our community, we require our supporters to become members.
Yes members! And yes, it will require you investing $20 of your hard earned grocery money to become a member. Our STBF’s leaders have learned much about activism and communicating with Queens Park, the Feds, the MNR (&F), the local Council and District Council. From a legal perspective, we’ve done our best to be effective, but to be a force to reckon with, we need members to show that we mean business, and that we have broad community support, that is real, and can be counted.
Being counted, means that you agree with this statement:
“I am concerned that the proposed hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls would be too dangerous.”
You can invest on line or by cheque. All the information is on the new members tab link.
Please sign up here.
We also make the request to read the monthly newsletters. Mitchell Shnier, our consummate leader, an engineer (and smart as anyone I know) does an incredible job of keeping us all up to speed with what is going on. Mitchell simplifies the issues so you don’t have to be an engineer to know why this power plant in its current form, would be deadly dangerous.
If you have never seen the Bala Falls from the air, my wife and ‘observer’ Pam and I, were able to video the falls by drone (UAV) to show what is at stake in Muskoka. Have a look-see here. Special mention: the voice over was done by one of Canada’s finest announcers: Mike Kirby.
The quote “Persistence is omnipotent” is one I have lived by as many of you know. Do not, please, tire of this issue. Please count yourself in and become a STBF’s member. Read the latest newsletter and educate yourself about the one issue that is key for all: “Will it be safe?” Keeping Muskoka safe and beautiful and economically vibrant is our mantra. Please consider forwarding this note / link to friends. We CAN make a difference. Thank you.