6 groups that made a difference in 2017
stories by stories by Janet Lees
photography by Kristie & Brenden Woods
People are the foundation of the lifestyle that makes Southern Georgian Bay so special, and we can lay claim to having some of the best within our midst.
In each community, small groups of people quietly but persistently go about making a positive impact. In many cases, no one person can be singled out – it is a team effort.
On The Bay honours six local groups made up of extraordinary people from all walks of life who have banded together to make a difference that will be felt for years to come. We should be proud to call them our neighbours and friends.
The Environment Network
The Environment Network board, l-r: Kerri MacDonald, Lea Pankhurst, Michele Rich, Karley ONeill.
Protecting the environment is ultimately about people, and The Environment Network wants to catch them when they’re young. As part of this initiative, the nonprofit has teamed up with Elephant Thoughts and other community organizations to revitalize, renovate and run programming at the Collingwood Youth Centre.
With the help of a Trillium grant, the Youth Centre programming includes after-school groups for young people dealing with issues such as tobacco and drug use, healthy eating, an active lifestyle and self-esteem.
“What we really focus on is whole health,” says Michele Rich, who has been the volunteer executive director and a board member of The Environment Network since its inception in 1993. “It’s a lot about empowerment so that they can meet their own basic needs and they’re not looking to adults to meet their needs for them, but are empowered to meet their own needs.”
The Environment Network was originally formed as part of the Remedial Action Plan (RAP) for Collingwood Harbour. After the harbour became one of the first to be delisted as a “Canadian Area of Concern” in 1994, the Network continued to focus on curbing environmental degradation so remediation wouldn’t be necessary, becoming part of the Ministry of Environment and Energy’s Green Communities Initiative and creating a strategic plan for the “greening” of the entire community with specific goals, objectives and action plans.
However, it was often difficult to get people engaged. “We felt that we really weren’t getting anywhere, but since we identified what was stopping people from meeting their needs, particularly youth, we’ve seen more engagement in the environmental work,” notes Rich.
Other youth programs include Active and Safe Routes to School, which encourages kids to get out of the car or bus and onto their feet or bikes to get to and from school safely. The organization also runs Exploration Green day camps, which introduce youth to the many trail systems, parks and public spaces our area has to offer. “It helps kids learn about the environment and respect the environment if they’re in the environment,” says Rich.
In its new location in the Elephant Thoughts building, the Environment Network also runs a shop selling everyday products that are fair trade, sweatshop free, locally made, organic and natural whenever possible.
The Environment Network is currently looking for board members and a new executive director. For more information or to get involved, go to environmentnetwork.org.
Clearview Community Theatre
The Clearview Community Theatre board. Back row, l-r: Ella Baker, Alex Wyant. Middle row, l-r: Grenville Bray, David Reid, Deanne Baker, Laurie Gee, Kayla Dutka, Bradley Crittenden, Danielle Wyant, Lisa Squire, Lydia Bramberger, David Gee, Richard Paul, John Bramberger. Front (at table), l-r: Desiree Danbrook, Diane Crittenden, Dr. Bill Ives. Absent: Charlotte Davey, Jo Christopher.
“The only difference between us and Mirvish is six million dollars,” laughs Gren Bray as he compares the local theatre group he helped form to the company that mounts most of Toronto’s high-end theatre productions. Bray has every reason to be proud – the nonprofit Clearview Community Theatre (CCT) does a lot with very little.
Since its inception in 1996, the CCT produced more than 25 shows in various community halls in Duntroon, Avening and Stayner before moving to the Great Northern Exhibition grounds for its major show each fall (this year’s production was Anne of Green Gables).
“The thing I can take one of the greatest pleasures in is the fact that so many people have bought into the idea that this can be real quality if we work at it,” says Bray, who is the stage director and musical director as well as president of the board. “I want to set the highest standard possible, and everybody – the set crews, the people who hand-make the costumes, the people who hand-make the sets, the stage manager, the huge number of props, and of course, the actors – everyone really gives it their all.”
While it began as a youth theatre group, the CCT today includes all age groups, with a special emphasis on young people’s theatre. There are open auditions for the big GNE show, but for many of the other productions and “travelling troupes,” no auditions are necessary. There is a youth travelling troupe for teenagers, a children’s troupe for those 12 and under, a ukulele troupe, and an “open” troupe whose youngest member last year was six and the oldest 90. The troupes all make the rounds to area nursing homes performing music and, in the case of the children’s troupe, a mini-musical.
“You walk in the door, you’re part of the group,” says Bray. “It’s really good for young people especially, because they start to get an idea of what it’s like to belong to a singing group, it gives them a little more confidence, and if they decide they want to audition for the fall show, it’s not quite as intimidating. It’s a really good way for them to get used to who we are and what we’re about.”
All four travelling troupes numbered more than 100 registrants last year, and more than 80 people auditioned for the fall show. If acting isn’t your thing, there are also opportunities behind-the-scenes as stage crew, assistants and the like.
“There’s a place for everyone in the theatre and that’s why I love it,” says Bray, adding, “The CCT is an organization that welcomes people and makes them feel like family; they refer to it as their CCT family. It affirms everyone, in particular affirming young people in their abilities and giving them an opportunity to investigate whether this is something they want to do.”
For more information or to get involved or become a patron, go to clearviewcommunitytheatre.ca
Georgian Bay Symphony
The Georgian Bay Symphony board. Standing, l-r: Deidre Orr, Greg Blokland, Danielle Gibbons, Claire Baker, Nancy MacDonald, David Adair, Francois Koh, Betty Adair. Seated, l-r: Colin Gibbons, Sandy Stevenson, Julie Kruisselbrink. Absent: Alexandra Bainbridge, Sandy MacGibbon.
“There’s a symphony in Owen Sound?” Sandy Stevenson hears that a lot, and is always happy to answer in the affirmative. In fact, the Georgian Bay Symphony, based in Owen Sound, is now in its 46th year. “It’s quite a remarkable phenomenon that it has such a long history and has grown to be what it is,” says Stevenson, a director and past chair of the nonprofit symphony’s board.
The Georgian Bay Symphony (GBS) began in the early 1970s when a group of local string players began to gather and play at the local high school. “One year they decided to compete in the Kiwanis Music Festival, and one of the adjudicators, Herman Dilmore, who was on the faculty of music at the University of Western Ontario, was so impressed that he suggested that maybe they should start an orchestra, and he then became the first music director.” (To this day the symphony awards a bursary to a high school music student in Dilmore’s name.)
From those humble beginnings, the GBS has grown into an outstanding community orchestra, attracting talented musicians from Grey and Bruce counties and Owen Sound. The GBS today numbers more than 50 volunteer musicians plus five professional “principal players” and a professional musical director, François Koh.
The GBS performs five concerts per year at the 700-seat Owen Sound Collegiate and Vocational Institute (OSCVI) auditorium, which the GBS helped to fund. “We are at a point where we pretty well are filling the hall,” says Stevenson. “We get 6-700 patrons for each of the five concerts, which in a city of this size is astounding.” There are more than 400 annual subscribers in addition to those who purchase tickets for individual shows. Guest artists have included some of Canada’s best musical talent, including Shauna Rolston, Angela Cheng, Nadina Mackie-Jackson, Alain Trudel, George Gao, Adrian Anantawan, Richard Raymond and Sharlene Wallace. The 2016 Christmas event put the iconic Canadian story The Hockey Sweater to music, with author Roch Carrier reading live for the concert and composer Abigail Richardson-Schulte in attendance.
“We try to really engage the community,” says Stevenson, “and the community has been really great with its support over the years. We’ve had a couple of wonderful benefactors, including Eva Leflar, who yearly would put some money up to support the symphony in the early days, and Agnes Brown, who donated the money to buy a beautiful grand piano. She wanted it in the community. The symphony is the guardian of the piano, but it’s also available when young people in the community are studying and rehearsing for their music exams. We like them to have the opportunity to play on a really good piano so that when they go for their exams they know the feeling.”
The community benefits in other ways from the symphony’s presence as well – local businesses and restaurants experience a surge in patronage on show nights. “It’s quite unusual for a city this size to have a symphony when lots of cities are losing theirs,” says Stevenson. “We’ve been really fortunate, and we look forward to many years to come.”
For more information, to donate or buy tickets or subscriptions, go to georgianbaysymphony.ca
Friends of Nancy Island
The Friends of Nancy Island board, l-r: Peter Willmott, Jessica Jackson Lehr, Elaine Mundle, David Foster, Brian Mundle, John Ferguson, Marilyn Beecroft, Rob Potter, Mary Watson. Absent: Fiona Ryner, Ryan Mundle.
What do tiny shorebirds called piping plovers have in common with a huge War of 1812 ship? The Friends of Nancy Island, who protect and celebrate them both, along with many other aspects of Wasaga Beach’s rich history and ecology.
Founded in 1997, the Friends of Nancy Island is a charity, but more than that it’s a committed group of individuals who dedicate personal time to educational, interpretive and conservation programs at Nancy Island and Wasaga Beach Provincial Park. The group promotes historical events like Wasaga Under Siege each August, complete with cannons, muskets, bayonettes, encampments and reenactments to “avenge the demise of the HMS Nancy.”
The Nancy started out as a fur trading ship before being pressed into service by the Royal Navy in the War of 1812. On August 14, 1814, the ship was blocked in the mouth of the Nottawasaga River by American forces and destroyed. There she lay largely forgotten while an island of silt formed around her, until 1928, when the Nancy Museum opened to commemorate the ship and its contribution to the war effort. Today, the Nancy Island Historic Site brings the Nancy and her crew to life with the help of the Friends of Nancy Island.
So how does this relate to piping plovers? While their contribution to historical awareness is significant, the Friends of Nancy Island have in recent years earned an equal reputation for their environmental stewardship of Wasaga Beach Provincial Park, which the endangered shorebirds call home.
Piping plovers typically nest on wide beaches with little vegetative cover, which puts their young at risk from predators as well as human activity. After many years when the plovers were absent from Wasaga Beach, The Friends of Nancy Island launched a Piping Plover Recovery Program to bring the birds back and protect them while they nested. Every year, volunteers monitor the birds while they are nesting, protect the newly hatched chicks and educate the public on the piping plovers and their importance to the environment.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of these volunteers, more piping plovers return to Wasaga Beach each year. The program – considered a model for bringing together the local community, businesses, government organizations and the public toward habitat stewardship – recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with Ploverpalooza, a series of events to mark the success of the recovery program.
“To have the combination of the environment plus the history, it’s quite unique,” says Rob Potter, president of the Friends of Nancy Island. “There’s the historical component so people appreciate and understand the history of this area, and the other aspect is the ecology. Wasaga Beach is a unique park – it’s the only provincial park inside a municipality of its size – and the Friends group is trying to make it better. The people we have are truly excellent and work hard to make things happen.”
To learn more about the Friends of Nancy Island or to get involved, go to wasagabeachpark.com
Homelessness may not be as visible in Southern Georgian Bay as in larger centres, but that doesn’t mean our area is immune from the “hidden homelessness” identified in a recent study as widespread in rural and smaller communities. That’s where Home Horizon comes in, with the mission of transforming the lives of homeless women, children and youth through support, counselling and housing.
Since its inception in 2006, Home Horizon has offered six three-bedroom transitional housing units in Collingwood for up to a year to women and children who are homeless, often as a result of escaping an abusive partner. “More than 400 individuals have been housed in those units over the 11-year period, and 95 per cent of those who leave are transitioning to a permanent home,” says board chair Garth Martin. Now, with the opening of the new Barbara Weider house, the organization also has a seven-bed facility to help homeless youth make the transition. In addition to housing for those aged 16 to 29 from the “catchment area” ranging from Meaford to Stayner, the Barbara Weider House provides counselling support as well as social and life skills training for its residents.
“We feel very strongly about the quality of what we do,” says Martin, adding, “We are extremely grateful for the extensive volunteer support we receive from our board as well as those who assist in a variety of other ways. We could not function without that community support.”
In one example of community support, each of the six units for women and children is affiliated with one of Collingwood’s churches, whose volunteers do everything from cleaning the unit to providing furnishings when required.
“We also have three major fundraising events and some more minor events, and we really rely on volunteers and the local community to come together to make those events successful,” says Martin.
The best known of these is the annual Bowls for Beds event in April, for which local school children paint soup bowls and 20 local restaurants volunteer to bring their own special soup to the event. “People can come, receive a bowl, go around and sample any number of the 20 different soups available, and vote on their favourite,” explains Martin. “It’s a wonderful social event, invariably on a Sunday afternoon, and year after year, people are very supportive. They love it!”
The Barbara Weider House itself is another example of the community coming together, starting with a “very generous donation” from George Weider in honour of his late wife, Barbara. Next, Ray and Wynne Smith of Applevale Properties offered to build the facility at cost and to hold the mortgage. And finally, a capital campaign has so far raised about 60 per cent of its target of $850,000 to fund the new building. It’s all about offering a hand up, not a handout.
“Homelessness in rural areas is more hidden – couch surfing, living in a car, living in a tent – they’re not lying on a street corner, so they’re not visible, and it’s out of sight, out of mind for most people,” explains Martin. “The people we see don’t want to be homeless; they don’t choose it as a lifestyle. If we can reach people earlier, we can provide the support to get them back on track.”
For more information on Home Horizon or to donate or volunteer, go to homehorizon.ca
Beaver Valley Outreach
The BVO board, l-r: Marty Lacey, Sandy Auestad, Nicoleta Coldas, Carolyn Letourneau, Norine Baron, Karen Newton-Stewart, Ann Gorton, Kris Wichman, Karen Chisolm. Absent: Cathy Innes, Ann Dyer, Judith Gillman.
Thirty-five years ago, long before there was a Town of The Blue Mountains, there was the Beaver Valley – a collection of largely rural communities extending from Flesherton to Thornbury, where the idea of neighbours helping neighbours was as natural as the land. So after a small group of women from local churches met to work out a plan to give Christmas hampers to families in the Beaver Valley, it wasn’t surprising that new recruits, food, toys and clothing soon flooded in. Beaver Valley Outreach (BVO) was born.
Today, BVO is a beloved mainstay of the community, which has retained its grassroots essence while growing to offer a staggering array of services, including a preschool, thrift shop, breakfast club, before and after school programs, recreational funding subsidies, day camps, emergency assistance, a food bank and seniors programs. And yes, every year around this time a small army of “elves” still puts together those Christmas hampers for families in need. “Our mandate is to fill gaps,’ says BVO executive director Carolyn Letourneau. “We try not to duplicate programs, but if something is not happening, we step in to fill the need.”
Perhaps most familiar to area residents is the BVO Treasure Shop, which accepts used clothing and housewares and sells them at reasonable prices to anyone in the community. Housed since 2001 in a tiny former fire station on Bruce Street, the Treasure Shop, along with BVO’s emergency needs food bank and administration, will soon make the move to the much larger former Pipers restaurant building on King Street East (Hwy. 26) in Thornbury. “We ran out of band-aids,” says Letourneau of the reason for the move. “We had done multiple renovations but the building was just not conducive to everything that we do to serve the community and didn’t have the accessibility we require.”
With tentacles throughout all aspects of life, from children to youth, adults, families and seniors, the BVO is known as the hub of the community, and no doubt will become even more so with a larger and more accessible space in which to do its great work.
Of course, none of this would be possible without a corps of more than 250 volunteers, some of whom help out once a year for an event while others put in 30 hours a week or more. “We really couldn’t do what we do without our amazing and committed volunteers,” says Letourneau. “They are what make the BVO such a unique organization and such an integral part of the community.”
For more information on Beaver Valley Outreach, or to donate or volunteer, go to bvo.ca