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News - Dec. 18 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Thursday, 18 December 2014 07:41
Not all the songs at Maitland River Elementary School’s Christmas concert on Dec. 10 were about the fun and joy that comes with Christmas, some focused on the important aspects of the holiday, like following the rules and not forcing parents to wag a finger at you. Shown reminding us all to stay on Santa’s good list are, from left: Emma Crawford, Hannah McKinlay, Breelle Walker, Kaleigh McLean and Casey Bernard. (Denny Scott photo)
Not all the songs at Maitland River Elementary School’s Christmas concert on Dec. 10 were about the fun and joy that comes with Christmas, some focused on the important aspects of the holiday, like following the rules and not forcing parents to wag a finger at you. Shown reminding us all to stay on Santa’s good list are, from left: Emma Crawford, Hannah McKinlay, Breelle Walker, Kaleigh McLean and Casey Bernard. (Denny Scott photo)
Last Updated on Thursday, 18 December 2014 11:49
 
Memorial Hall Renovations Pushed to 2016 - Dec. 18 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 17 December 2014 13:41
Campaign 14/19 found support for a plan to push renovation plans for Memorial Hall back a year to make room for more comprehensive long-term planning at a recent North Huron Council meeting.
Karen Stewart, administrator of the initiative, made a presentation to council on Dec. 15 explaining that the services of Ketchum Canada Inc. (KCI) and The Partnership Group were being secured by the campaign to help with its planning and fundraising. This development, however, would require pushing renovations at Memorial Hall back a full year.
“This is a two-tier approach,” Stewart said during the meeting. “By having [KCI’s] ‘bricks and mortar’ campaign complemented by the long-term operations campaign of The Partnership Group we feel we are truly honouring our past and, as importantly, planning for our future.”
Starting in the new year, both groups will start a feasibility study that will be completed and have results available by the spring.
“We realize by taking this feasibility approach to fundraising that we will not reach our April targets as set by the Township of North Huron for Memorial Hall,” Stewart said, making reference to the fact that council had requested the funds for the proposed renovations for the hall be available by April. “But we also know that by taking this prudent step now it will enable us to achieve the full target amount for all three phases of the initiative. We are working diligently to develop our programs for the CCRC – the part of the project that leverages significant interest from potential investors, partners and sponsors.”
Councillor Brock Vodden stated that, while he wasn’t initially thrilled with the idea of pushing back the construction, he did find value in the plan.
“When I first heard about this, I felt disappointed we wouldn’t start construction until a year later,” Vodden said. “However, the rationale is very, very sound. Rather than scrambling trying to raise a few dollars to meet the next goal, the advice of the fundraising groups is to hold off and really prepare well for the next opportunity for development.”
Stewart agreed, saying that those involved with Campaign 14/19 had worked very hard with the renovation committee to come up with a design for the revitalized Memorial Hall.
“We don’t want to cut corners,” she said adding that some costs for the renovation were yet to be finalized. “It will remain that way until we can finalize the plans.”
Councillor Trevor Seip asked what this meant for the rulings of the previous council which had set the earlier deadlines and Director of Recreation and Facilities Pat Newson explained the new timeline.
“The shovel-in, groundbreaking ceremony was hopefully going to be in mid-September after the 2015 Festival season,” she said. “With not meeting this deadline, we need to move forward another year as the Festival season is a priority. We can’t interrupt it. We’re now looking at shovel-in in 2016 with all the fundraising ducks lined up as it should with these companies.”
The renovation committee came to council with its own three-phase plan for the changes to Memorial Hall, Newson explained, and stated that the same plan would still be used, just with a bit of a delay in starting construction.
She said that the plans are still going forward and will continue to until they are approximately 90 per cent complete.
“Actual construction will require council to hear the funds are ready and the designs are ready to tender and move forward,” Newson said. “At that point, we’ll dust off the plan and finish the last five to 10 per cent of the design and go forward from there.”
Campaign 14/19 found support for a plan to push renovation plans for Memorial Hall back a year to make room for more comprehensive long-term planning at a recent North Huron Council meeting.
Karen Stewart, administrator of the initiative, made a presentation to council on Dec. 15 explaining that the services of Ketchum Canada Inc. (KCI) and The Partnership Group were being secured by the campaign to help with its planning and fundraising. This development, however, would require pushing renovations at Memorial Hall back a full year.
“This is a two-tier approach,” Stewart said during the meeting. “By having [KCI’s] ‘bricks and mortar’ campaign complemented by the long-term operations campaign of The Partnership Group we feel we are truly honouring our past and, as importantly, planning for our future.”
Starting in the new year, both groups will start a feasibility study that will be completed and have results available by the spring.
“We realize by taking this feasibility approach to fundraising that we will not reach our April targets as set by the Township of North Huron for Memorial Hall,” Stewart said, making reference to the fact that council had requested the funds for the proposed renovations for the hall be available by April. “But we also know that by taking this prudent step now it will enable us to achieve the full target amount for all three phases of the initiative. We are working diligently to develop our programs for the CCRC – the part of the project that leverages significant interest from potential investors, partners and sponsors.”
Councillor Brock Vodden stated that, while he wasn’t initially thrilled with the idea of pushing back the construction, he did find value in the plan.
“When I first heard about this, I felt disappointed we wouldn’t start construction until a year later,” Vodden said. “However, the rationale is very, very sound. Rather than scrambling trying to raise a few dollars to meet the next goal, the advice of the fundraising groups is to hold off and really prepare well for the next opportunity for development.”
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Morris-Turnberry Mayor Paul Gowing Elected Huron County Warden - Dec. 18 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 17 December 2014 13:20
Morris-Turnberry Mayor Paul Gowing has become the first person from the Townships of Morris and Turnberry since 1987 to be elected Huron County Warden.
This election was the first for the newly-implemented two-year term of warden, meaning Gowing will lead Huron County Council for 2015 and 2016.
Gowing was elected to the position by Huron County councillors at council’s inaugural meeting on Dec. 10. There hasn’t been a warden from Morris Township since Bill Elston in 1974 or from Turnberry Township since Brian McBurney in 1987. In the nearly 15 years since amalgamation there had never been a warden from Morris-Turnberry.
Gowing’s victory was after two votes. Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Orchard explained that the county’s procedural bylaw stated that a warden could only be elected if he garnered a majority (eight of the 15 votes), despite the number of candidates. With three candidates – Gowing, Huron East Mayor Bernie MacLellan and Howick Reeve Art Versteeg – vying for the position, none of the candidates received a majority of votes on the first ballot. MacLellan received the fewest number of votes, so he was eliminated from contention and a second vote between Gowing and Versteeg then commenced.
After the second vote, Orchard called for a motion that would name Gowing to the office of warden and the gallery, which included a large number of Gowing supporters and Morris-Turnberry councillors and staff members, burst out in applause.
When he accepted the chain of office and sat in the warden’s chair, Gowing was very gracious, but said few words.
“It’s been quite a day,” he said. “Thanks for all of your support.”
Gowing was nominated for the position by Central Huron Mayor Jim Ginn, who listed Gowing’s numerous achievements and responsibilities within the county, both at the upper- and lower-tier levels.
Ginn said Gowing has shown the ability to be outspoken and the willingness to voice his opinion, while at the same time accepting the democratic process and supporting decisions made by council, even if he didn’t personally support that specific direction.
Before he was elected, Gowing told his fellow councillors that it was his recently-discovered passion that made him feel the time was right to run for warden.
“I have been involved with Morris-Turnberry for 11 years, but recently I have come to realize the passion I have for the part of the world I live in,” he told councillors.
Gowing cited many of the hot button issues for the county as items on his list of topics to be addressed, including broadband internet in rural areas, increasing financial difficulties from increased policing costs and reduced Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) money and the province’s “outdated” taxation model.
He also mentioned the current two-tier government model in the county, saying it might be time to revisit the structure.
Gowing also mentioned his recent health issues, saying that having to go through open-heart surgery just one month ago has made him further realize that there is no time but the present to accomplish his goals and the goals of the county.
In a media scrum after his election, Gowing answered a number of questions relating to the next two years in Huron County, including his own future, saying that he now has a clean bill of health from his medical team, so further health complications will not be an issue.
When asked about representing Morris-Turnberry in the warden’s chair for the first time in over a generation, he said it was Morris-Turnberry’s time.
“[The position of warden] is meant to move around. It’s somewhat ceremonial, but it’s certainly a job that has to be done,” Gowing said.
Gowing also trumpeted the work of the Economic Development Board, saying that a new approach to economic development is exactly what the county needs right now.
He also said that the ongoing search for post-secondary education in Huron County is also a priority, but one that should be dealt with in the proper manner. He said that municipalities shouldn’t be competing against one another to attract a post-secondary education institute, but that the county should work to bring such an establishment here because the rising tide from such a move would indeed raise all boats.
He is also concerned about establishing a “rural lens” with the province, so that policies can finally be viewed in a way that will take into consideration how they will affect rural Ontario.
He also acknowledged that while he was initially not in favour of a two-year term of warden, he now understands why it is a good idea, because time is needed to develop relationships and establish continuity.
After Gowing was elected, Morris-Turnberry Deputy-Mayor Jamie Heffer spoke to council, saying that Gowing’s election was a “long time coming” for Morris-Turnberry residents.
He said that council supported Gowing’s decision to run and they wish him the best in the position.
Similarly, Gowing commended Heffer and staff, specifically long-time Administrator Clerk-Treasurer Nancy Michie. If Gowing is called away on county business, he said, the municipality will be in good hands with Heffer. As for Michie, Gowing said, if it wasn’t for her hard work and expertise, there was no way he would have considered running for warden.
In his speech to councillors prior to the election, Versteeg, nominated by Central Huron Deputy-Mayor Dave Jewitt, said he had learned a lot over the past four years as a Huron County councillor.
He also referenced broadband internet throughout the county as an important issue, additionally citing the upcoming organizational review for Huron County Emergency Medical Services as important in the coming years.
He said that while the county isn’t making the decisions to increase policing costs and reduce OMPF pay-outs, it does have a role to play. If the county can keep its tax increases low, it can help the lower-tier municipalities get through these lean years of numerous cuts, he said.
If elected warden, Versteeg said, he wanted to make Huron County an even better place to live.
MacLellan, nominated by Bluewater Deputy-Mayor Jim Fergusson, said that when he was warden in 2011, he received a lot of positive feedback from ratepayers who said he was accessible and open with them.
Perhaps, he said, it was because he had developed a good working relationship with local media outlets, but if elected warden, he said he hoped to continue being open with ratepayers and accessible to local media.
MacLellan said his biggest priority going forward would be economic development in Huron County.
With Huron East leading the economic development charge as the first Huron County municipality to hire an economic development officer, he said he was the man to lead Huron County through a period when economic development would have to be paramount.
Morris-Turnberry Mayor Paul Gowing, second from left, is seen here taking the oath of office as Huron County Warden for 2015/2016. He is the first warden elected from Morris-Turnberry since amalgamation and the first from Morris Township since the 1970s. From left: Clerk Susan Cronin, Gowing, outgoing Warden Joe Steffler and Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Orchard. (Shawn Loughlin photo)
Morris-Turnberry Mayor Paul Gowing has become the first person from the Townships of Morris and Turnberry since 1987 to be elected Huron County Warden.
This election was the first for the newly-implemented two-year term of warden, meaning Gowing will lead Huron County Council for 2015 and 2016.
Gowing was elected to the position by Huron County councillors at council’s inaugural meeting on Dec. 10. There hasn’t been a warden from Morris Township since Bill Elston in 1974 or from Turnberry Township since Brian McBurney in 1987. In the nearly 15 years since amalgamation there had never been a warden from Morris-Turnberry.
Gowing’s victory was after two votes. Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Orchard explained that the county’s procedural bylaw stated that a warden could only be elected if he garnered a majority (eight of the 15 votes), despite the number of candidates. With three candidates – Gowing, Huron East Mayor Bernie MacLellan and Howick Reeve Art Versteeg – vying for the position, none of the candidates received a majority of votes on the first ballot. MacLellan received the fewest number of votes, so he was eliminated from contention and a second vote between Gowing and Versteeg then commenced.
After the second vote, Orchard called for a motion that would name Gowing to the office of warden and the gallery, which included a large number of Gowing supporters and Morris-Turnberry councillors and staff members, burst out in applause.
When he accepted the chain of office and sat in the warden’s chair, Gowing was very gracious, but said few words.
“It’s been quite a day,” he said. “Thanks for all of your support.”
Gowing was nominated for the position by Central Huron Mayor Jim Ginn, who listed Gowing’s numerous achievements and responsibilities within the county, both at the upper- and lower-tier levels.
Ginn said Gowing has shown the ability to be outspoken and the willingness to voice his opinion, while at the same time accepting the democratic process and supporting decisions made by council, even if he didn’t personally support that specific direction.
Before he was elected, Gowing told his fellow councillors that it was his recently-discovered passion that made him feel the time was right to run for warden.
“I have been involved with Morris-Turnberry for 11 years, but recently I have come to realize the passion I have for the part of the world I live in,” he told councillors.
Gowing cited many of the hot button issues for the county as items on his list of topics to be addressed, including broadband internet in rural areas, increasing financial difficulties from increased policing costs and reduced Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) money and the province’s “outdated” taxation model.
In the books of outgoing Huron County Warden and Huron East Deputy-Mayor Joe Steffler, right, 2014 was a year to remember, as he fulfilled a decades-long goal of his, to sit in the county’s top position. Last week when Morris-Turnberry Mayor Paul Gowing, left, was elected warden, he presented Steffler with his warden’s nameplate as a reminder of the momentous year. (Shawn Loughlin photo)
Last Updated on Thursday, 18 December 2014 12:00
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Blyth Festival Board Chair David Armstrong Comes Under Fire at AGM - Dec. 18 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 17 December 2014 13:09
After a controversial season when the Blyth Festival said goodbye to one artistic director and welcomed another, all while Memorial Hall renovations loom, the organization’s annual general meeting on Dec. 11 caused some tempers to boil over.
As the meeting began, Blyth Festival Board of Directors President David Armstrong said attendance at the meeting looked to be the best in years, adding that he had set out 40 chairs, in honour of the Festival’s 40 seasons, and that nearly all of them were full.
The Festival’s financial statements, which were presented by accountant Ron Burt of Takalo and Burt Chartered Professional Accountants, showed that while the 2014 season ended in a small deficit, due to other sources, the Festival ended its fiscal year with a small surplus.
Burt explained that as of the end of October, the Festival ended its financial year with a small deficit of $8,633, but including a transfer from the Festival’s Endowment Fund, the Festival ended with a season surplus of just over $4,500.
Burt commended the Festival staff, specifically General Manager Deb Sholdice, who he said has an excellent handle on the Festival’s finances. He said that she is tremendous at anticipating a potential deficit and preparing for it financially.
On the financial note, Armstrong said, he was proud to announce a new, three-year sponsorship commitment from Parkland Fuel, the company that purchased Sparling’s Propane last year.
Armstrong said those at Parkland were greatly encouraged by the revitalization of Blyth and Memorial Hall through Campaign 14/19, which was a major factor in the contribution. This now continues a commitment of over 40 years between the Festival and Sparling’s Propane, and now Parkland.
Despite the meeting starting on an optimistic note, there would later be tough questions about the past year at the Festival.
Actor and playwright Ted Johns said he had some concerns he wanted to voice, mostly surrounding the decision not to renew de Vries’ contract earlier this year.
Johns voiced his displeasure with the decision earlier this year in a Letter to the Editor in The Citizen and addressed Armstrong directly about the board’s decision.
Johns said he didn’t understand why the Board of Directors had to work in such secrecy in regards to the decision not to bring de Vries back.
“Why was it so important to keep it secret for a month?” Johns asked Armstrong, saying that the decision to part ways with de Vries was made nearly a month before it was announced to the public in late October through a press release.
Armstrong said that most issues pertaining to de Vries and the decision to not renew her contract are internal personnel matters and he was not at liberty to discuss them. In terms of the timing, however, he said that the dates were mutually agreed upon by both the board and de Vries.
Armstrong assured those in attendance that the decision to not renew de Vries’ contract was made by the entire Board of Directors. He also said that no one on the board had new Artistic Director Gil Garratt in mind for the position before de Vries was told she wouldn’t be coming back.
In reference to Garratt, Johns then asked if Garratt applied for the job, or if he was appointed. Armstrong told Johns that the board followed the same procedure for the hiring of Garratt as it had when Peter Smith was hired on an interim basis for the 2013 season and when de Vries was brought on for the 2014 season.
“What did she do that was so bad?” Johns asked, wondering if de Vries even knows why she was not brought back.
Armstrong assured Johns that all procedure in terms of de Vries’ non-renewal was done legally and that all members of the board were in complete agreement on the decision.
RENOVATIONS
Another of the issues that sparked debate was the upcoming renovations to Memorial Hall, which were referenced in Sholdice’s annual report.
In the ongoing quest to bring the theatre up to accessibility standards, seats will have to be widened, as will aisles, meaning that the number of seats will be reduced.
This drew the ire of a number of people who said fewer seats in a theatre is never the answer.
Two-time Artistic Director Janet Amos was vocal in her disagreement with the plan, citing the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto as an example of a historic theatre with old-fashioned, smaller seats.
It was explained that, as the oldest operating theatre in North America, the theatre has a heritage designation, meaning that it has been “grandfathered in” on a number of new acts, including accessibility, so it is not subject to the ever-changing accessibility requirements.
Memorial Hall, Amos was told, does not have a heritage designation, meaning that it will have to continue changing with the times as further legislation requires it to.
Sholdice said there is an ongoing “arm-wrestling match” between those at the Festival and the Township of North Huron over the number of seats. She said that changes have to be made and there’s no way around it, but she is constantly working with planners to ensure as many seats remain as possible after the renovations. Current estimates, however, are for approximately 400 seats remaining, down over 40 seats from the hall’s current capacity.
Amos, as well as Festival co-founder James Roy, argued that even if shows are not selling out on a nightly basis, reducing seats will result in revenue loss on nights when shows do sell out. Roy said that even if you look at the 11 Saturday nights every Festival season, the loss of $1,000 per night from 40 fewer seats, could easily add up to $11,000 of lost revenue.
Sholdice said that she is well aware of the consequences of losing seats and that it’s the Festival’s goal to keep as many seats in the hall as possible, but there are realities of accessibility legislation and audience experience that cannot be ignored.
AUDIENCES
Roy, who had made the trip from Toronto to attend his first annual general meeting since he was a member of the Board of Directors in the 1990s, made an empassioned plea to those involved with the Festival he co-founded, to not overlook the need to renew audiences.
He said that while the Festival has maintained decent audiences in the wake of declining attendance in theatres across the country, attendance is still down and that should be a priority in the coming years.
While he appreciated the finer points of the night’s reports, he said, it was important not to gloss over the crucial issue of box office, which in the 2014 season, a success by all accounts, was still under 50 per cent.
Not to be “doom and gloom” he said, but there is a limited window to solve problems like the one the Festival faces, and if the window closes, it will be too late.
Roy said the Festival would have never existed beyond its first year, had it not been for excellent box office numbers.
He said the Festival needs to attract younger audience members, including those between the ages of 40 and 50, as well as keeping up with the Young Company program.
“That should be a huge focus and it’s not going to be solved in a year,” Roy said. “Gil is the key.”
Johns said there needed to be more outreach on the community’s “dirt roads” in an effort to bring farmers and their families back to the theatre.
Festival co-founder and Citizen Publisher Keith Roulston agreed, saying that years ago, Festival plays used to begin at 8:30 p.m. in an effort to allow farmers time to complete their daily work and have the time for a show. It may be time, he said, for a return to that.
Armstrong said there has been a definite effort to build relationships and connect with audiences and that work is ongoing.
Garratt, said the Festival’s Young Company is a program that’s very close to his heart, adding that he will put a tremendous emphasis on the program in an attempt to reinvigorate it.
He hopes to bring back an alumnus of the program to direct this year’s show, while also pointing at next season’s Fury, which features music written by Sam Sholdice, another Young Company alumnus.
Roy also said that there needs to be more involvement at the board level. There are only 12 members of the board, which has a capacity for 19 members.
With one board member retiring at the end of the term, the number of members was brought down to 11. However, Roulston and Roy nominated Sarah Gusso of Blyth, local business owner and wife of Blyth BIA Chair Peter Gusso, to be a member of the board and she accepted the position.
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
In addition to reinvigorating the Young Company program, Garratt said he has a number of ideas he promised to implement in the coming years, which he presented as part of his annual report.
Although Garratt was only named to the position in November, after the end of the Festival’s fiscal year of 2014, he still had plenty to report in regards to the future of the Festival and its importance.
For his presentation, Garratt focused on a recent meeting he had with Irfhan Rawji, vice-president of strategy and corporate development for Parkland Fuel regarding potential sponsorship of the Festival.
Garratt said that while at first he thought he was meeting with someone from a fuel company, which he was, he discovered that Rawji is a former professor who has, over the years, supported two of the more radical theatre companies in Canada: Buddies in Bad Times and Praxis.
He found a lecture Rawji had once given and found it to fit perfectly with what the Festival is and what it’s trying to achieve now, and in the future.
The lecture focused on being unreasonable, Garratt said, which wasn’t presented as being a bad thing.
The Festival, he said, is an unreasonable proposition. Building a 500-seat theatre in a community of 1,000 is unreasonable, which is perhaps why it has worked for so many years.
Garratt then focused on a number of changes he hoped to implement at the Festival in the coming years. He felt that lengthening the season is something that should be addressed, as seasons that run from May to October or November at theatres in Port Stanley, Gananoque and Port Dover have proven successful.
He also wants to focus on residencies in the future, saying that he hoped there wouldn’t be a week in the calendar year when an artist wouldn’t be in Blyth on a residency.
The best work produced at the Festival over the years, he said, has always come from the artists who have spent the most time in Blyth connecting with the community. There is a direct correlation between the two, he said.
Going forward, Garratt said, he plans to continue on the “unreasonable” path of the Festival, to create world class work and make the Festival a destination for audiences of all ages.
ANNUAL REPORTS
As the president of the Festival’s Board of Directors, Armstrong said the 2014 season was one to remember. Between the four excellent productions – Kitchen Radio, Billy Bishop Goes To War, Stag and Doe and St. Anne’s Reel – and Amos’ 40th anniversary cabaret, the 40th season was a special one in his books.
The season’s success, he said, was due in large part to the decisions and artistic vision of de Vries, whose contract was not renewed earlier this year. Armstrong said de Vries “hit it out of the park” in the Festival’s 40th anniversary season.
Rhea Hamilton-Seeger presented Blyth Festival Art Gallery President Vicki McKague’s annual report on the gallery, saying it was an encouraging year, especially with the high level of involvement from young artists, including Blyth’s Kelly Stevenson, who had her own exhibit and also placed first in the Huron County Art Show earlier this year. Hamilton-Seeger also said that the over-100 entries into the annual student show from high school students was also encouraging to see.
Hamilton-Seeger also said she was excited at the prospect of Stevenson sitting on the gallery’s board, something in which Stevenson had recently expressed interest.
Annual reports on the Blyth Festival Singers and the Blyth Festival Orchestra were also presented by Shelley McPhee Haist, president of the Blyth Festival Singers and Dr. Maarten Bokhout, president of the Blyth Festival Orchestra respectively.
After a controversial season when the Blyth Festival said goodbye to one artistic director and welcomed another, all while Memorial Hall renovations loom, the organization’s annual general meeting on Dec. 11 caused some tempers to boil over.
As the meeting began, Blyth Festival Board of Directors President David Armstrong said attendance at the meeting looked to be the best in years, adding that he had set out 40 chairs, in honour of the Festival’s 40 seasons, and that nearly all of them were full.
The Festival’s financial statements, which were presented by accountant Ron Burt of Takalo and Burt Chartered Professional Accountants, showed that while the 2014 season ended in a small deficit, due to other sources, the Festival ended its fiscal year with a small surplus.
Burt explained that as of the end of October, the Festival ended its financial year with a small deficit of $8,633, but including a transfer from the Festival’s Endowment Fund, the Festival ended with a season surplus of just over $4,500.
Burt commended the Festival staff, specifically General Manager Deb Sholdice, who he said has an excellent handle on the Festival’s finances. He said that she is tremendous at anticipating a potential deficit and preparing for it financially.
On the financial note, Armstrong said, he was proud to announce a new, three-year sponsorship commitment from Parkland Fuel, the company that purchased Sparling’s Propane last year.
Armstrong said those at Parkland were greatly encouraged by the revitalization of Blyth and Memorial Hall through Campaign 14/19, which was a major factor in the contribution. This now continues a commitment of over 40 years between the Festival and Sparling’s Propane, and now Parkland.
Despite the meeting starting on an optimistic note, there would later be tough questions about the past year at the Festival.
Actor and playwright Ted Johns said he had some concerns he wanted to voice, mostly surrounding the decision not to renew de Vries’ contract earlier this year.
Johns voiced his displeasure with the decision earlier this year in a Letter to the Editor in The Citizen and addressed Armstrong directly about the board’s decision.
Johns said he didn’t understand why the Board of Directors had to work in such secrecy in regards to the decision not to bring de Vries back.
“Why was it so important to keep it secret for a month?” Johns asked Armstrong, saying that the decision to part ways with de Vries was made nearly a month before it was announced to the public in late October through a press release.
Armstrong said that most issues pertaining to de Vries and the decision to not renew her contract are internal personnel matters and he was not at liberty to discuss them. In terms of the timing, however, he said that the dates were mutually agreed upon by both the board and de Vries.
Armstrong assured those in attendance that the decision to not renew de Vries’ contract was made by the entire Board of Directors. He also said that no one on the board had new Artistic Director Gil Garratt in mind for the position before de Vries was told she wouldn’t be coming back.
In reference to Garratt, Johns then asked if Garratt applied for the job, or if he was appointed. Armstrong told Johns that the board followed the same procedure for the hiring of Garratt as it had when Peter Smith was hired on an interim basis for the 2013 season and when de Vries was brought on for the 2014 season.
“What did she do that was so bad?” Johns asked, wondering if de Vries even knows why she was not brought back.
Armstrong assured Johns that all procedure in terms of de Vries’ non-renewal was done legally and that all members of the board were in complete agreement on the decision.
RENOVATIONS
Another of the issues that sparked debate was the upcoming renovations to Memorial Hall, which were referenced in Sholdice’s annual report.
In the ongoing quest to bring the theatre up to accessibility standards, seats will have to be widened, as will aisles, meaning that the number of seats will be reduced.
This drew the ire of a number of people who said fewer seats in a theatre is never the answer.
Two-time Artistic Director Janet Amos was vocal in her disagreement with the plan, citing the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto as an example of a historic theatre with old-fashioned, smaller seats.
It was explained that, as the oldest operating theatre in North America, the theatre has a heritage designation, meaning that it has been “grandfathered in” on a number of new acts, including accessibility, so it is not subject to the ever-changing accessibility requirements.
Memorial Hall, Amos was told, does not have a heritage designation, meaning that it will have to continue changing with the times as further legislation requires it to.
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Blyth Festival Posts Paid Attendance Increase - Dec. 18 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 17 December 2014 11:44
Members of the Blyth Festival’s administration, along with its recently appointed Artistic Director Gil Garratt visited North Huron Township Council on Dec. 15 to give a brief overview of the previous year and look ahead at what 2015 will hold for the organization.
General Manager Deb Sholdice stated that new play development is of extreme import to the Festival and its success.
“We’ve premiered over 120 plays in 40 seasons,” she said. “It’s why we’re so successful.”
Community involvement was also emphasized by Sholdice, who said the organization has raised over $20,000 for local service groups with its country suppers prior to performances and, in the past year, donated $36,500 worth of free tickets to area groups to be sold for fundraising as well as selling some tickets at a group discount to allow community groups to sell them at normal cost and make a profit.
Education was also a highlight of Sholdice’s presentation, highlighting how important the workshops hosted by the Festival are, including both workshops for play development as well as workshops that teach business people how to speak and think quickly on their feet, saying that having theatre professionals teach those courses is a natural fit.
Sholdice also pointed to the Festival’s work with various groups including Duncan McGregor, the Foundation for Education and its own Young Company program to bring theatre to younger audience.
As far as 2014 was concerned, Sholdice reported that the year was a success.
“There was a six per cent increase over main stage shows in paid attendance,” she said. “It’s encouraging to see that, after the little downturn after the 2008 economic recession, we’re starting to recover. We’re reporting a small surplus for 2014.”
The Festival was also again nominated for the Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
The annual award was created 11 years ago and the Festival has been nominated three times.
“We went to the presentation and the excellence of arts organizations in that room just made us humbled and honoured to be a finalist, especially for a third time,” Sholdice said. “We were glad to represent North Huron and Huron County in that room.”
The Festival also instituted an new outreach program this year which saw actors visiting local events and groups to show what kind of entertainment the theatre offers.
“You don’t always get what we are from a print advertisement or a video,” Sholdice said. “We went to the Exeter Rodeo and did a great street show and the cast of St. Anne’s Reel performed at [local retirement home] Goderich Place.”
Sholdice then spoke on Memorial Hall, saying that the Festival is proud to be the primary tenant of the building, saying there was an impressive increase of revenue from shoulder season use over 2014.
“This year’s shoulder seasons generated $13,500 in revenue, a 25 per cent increase from last year,” she said. “When I started the annual rentals in 2007 was under $7,000. We’ve increased that by working with promotion groups and outside acts.”
Garratt then spoke on the 2015 season, explaining the four main stage productions: Seeds, The Wilberforce Hotel, Fury and Mary’s Wedding as well as Edna Rural’s Church Supper, a somewhat unique addition to the Festival’s list of plays brought to life by Canadian puppeteer Ronnie Burkett in the Festival’s Phillips Studio.
“First, I can tell you there will be no dinner served,” Garratt said with a laugh. “Ronnie Burkett is a world-class, master puppeteer. He performs all these characters and performs, literally, all over the world. He sells out stadiums in Melbourne, Australia, has won a Tony and makes puppets.”
The reason that the show is in the Phillips Studio, a smaller venue where Garratt says plays that “push a couple of boundaries” can be performed, is because it is decidedly not a children’s show, though he said the piece will be fun.
Sholdice then presented council with the 2015 co-operative marketing plan. For the past several years, the Festival and North Huron have partnered, allowing North Huron to get coverage through the Blyth Festival’s brochure which is direct mailed to 15,000 households.
This year, Sholdice requested $12,500 which would buy four pages, including the back cover of the brochure, as well as a half-page ad in the Festival’s in-house program.
North Huron will also receive acknowledgement for its contributions and special hosting opportunities at the Festival.
Councillor Trevor Seip, one of the council representatives newly elected to North Huron, said this was indicative of the changes he wants to see while on council.
“I think this is the kind of stuff in the municipality we need to deal with for partnerships,” he said. “We’re not always marketing specialists. When you have the ability to use marketing and people to help market the whole municipality and use that strategy it’s best for both. From my perspective this is a win-win for everyone involved.”
While there were no dissenters to Seip’s opinion, Reeve Neil Vincent indicated that any agreement would need to be deliberated on in the 2015 budget.
Members of the Blyth Festival’s administration, along with its recently appointed Artistic Director Gil Garratt visited North Huron Township Council on Dec. 15 to give a brief overview of the previous year and look ahead at what 2015 will hold for the organization.
General Manager Deb Sholdice stated that new play development is of extreme import to the Festival and its success.
“We’ve premiered over 120 plays in 40 seasons,” she said. “It’s why we’re so successful.”
Community involvement was also emphasized by Sholdice, who said the organization has raised over $20,000 for local service groups with its country suppers prior to performances and, in the past year, donated $36,500 worth of free tickets to area groups to be sold for fundraising as well as selling some tickets at a group discount to allow community groups to sell them at normal cost and make a profit.
Education was also a highlight of Sholdice’s presentation, highlighting how important the workshops hosted by the Festival are, including both workshops for play development as well as workshops that teach business people how to speak and think quickly on their feet, saying that having theatre professionals teach those courses is a natural fit.
Sholdice also pointed to the Festival’s work with various groups including Duncan McGregor, the Foundation for Education and its own Young Company program to bring theatre to younger audience.
As far as 2014 was concerned, Sholdice reported that the year was a success.
“There was a six per cent increase over main stage shows in paid attendance,” she said. “It’s encouraging to see that, after the little downturn after the 2008 economic recession, we’re starting to recover. We’re reporting a small surplus for 2014.”
The Festival was also again nominated for the Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
The annual award was created 11 years ago and the Festival has been nominated three times.
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Expert Recounts 'Painful' Year for Crop Growers - Dec. 18 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 17 December 2014 11:39
One word describes the 2014 crop year that is finally winding up in Huron County says Mervyn Erb of CropAdvisory.com in Brucefield: painful.
But if crop growers here think it’s been a bad year, they’ve had it easy compared to growers north of Highway 9, all the way east to Ottawa, he said. Farmers in that area got a killing frost on Sept. 13 leaving their corn wet and immature. A lot of that corn will be left in the field to dry over the winter, which will probably result in a loss of about 20 bushels per acre, but at least farmers will save on drying costs, Erb said.
North of that again, in the New Liskeard area, growers are still trying to get off oat and canola crops, which are usually harvested in mid-summer.
Here in Huron, there were basically two crops of corn this year, Erb said. Those few farmers who got enough dry weather to plant before May 13, ended up with good yields and corn that dried well on its own and had high test weights (the weight of a unit of volume such as a bushel).
Most corn in Huron, however, was planted after May 23 because of a cold, wet spring. This corn did not dry down in the field, resulting in drying costs on average of $127 an acre, Erb explained. Because the grain was so wet, it had to be dried slowly, and with a low level of starch in the corn, it had to be dried to a percentage of moisture lower than it normally would or it would “bounce back” to a higher moisture  level during storage. Test weights of the corn were much lower than desireable.
As well, Erb explained, the cobs were soft which meant they didn’t thresh well when going through the combine, meaning there were remnants of the cobs in the corn when delivered to the elevator. The softness of the kernels also added to the amount of “fines” in the dried corn that had to be removed.
As for the other main crop, soybeans, harvest lasted three months from September to November because of wet weather, Erb said. Again, there were basically two crops. Growers who managed to get their beans in the ground early got yields of 50 bushels per acre. Late-planted beans yielded only 40 bushels.
Most beans came off the field much higher in moisture than normal, Erb said, some at 17-20 per cent moisture which required drying. Beans need to be dried at much lower temperatures than corn so the drying took a long time.
Growers of identity-preserved (IP) beans had a particularly frustrating year because the higher prices they expect for these beans depend on meeting exacting standards – standards that were hard to reach with the difficult weather conditions.
“They learned how many acres of IP beans it’s safe to grow,” Erb said,  because if you have too many beans you can’t harvest them quickly enough in adverse conditions to preserve the quality. Beans that don’t meet the IP standards must be sold into the regular market at lower prices.
Painful as this year has been, many growers were in a position to weather the situation because of good yields and good prices a couple of years ago, Erb said. Looking ahead, 2015 seems likely to be more difficult because high yields in the U.S. and elsewhere this year are likely to drive prices for corn, soybeans and wheat even lower than they are now.
It will be even more painful if the predictions of two meteorologists Erb heard at a recent conference in Winnipeg come true. They predicted, he recalled, that Ontario would have a mild fall and winter, as we’ve had lately, but another cool, cloudy summer in 2015.
One word describes the 2014 crop year that is finally winding up in Huron County says Mervyn Erb of CropAdvisory.com in Brucefield: painful.
But if crop growers here think it’s been a bad year, they’ve had it easy compared to growers north of Highway 9, all the way east to Ottawa, he said. Farmers in that area got a killing frost on Sept. 13 leaving their corn wet and immature. A lot of that corn will be left in the field to dry over the winter, which will probably result in a loss of about 20 bushels per acre, but at least farmers will save on drying costs, Erb said.
North of that again, in the New Liskeard area, growers are still trying to get off oat and canola crops, which are usually harvested in mid-summer.
Here in Huron, there were basically two crops of corn this year, Erb said. Those few farmers who got enough dry weather to plant before May 13, ended up with good yields and corn that dried well on its own and had high test weights (the weight of a unit of volume such as a bushel).
Most corn in Huron, however, was planted after May 23 because of a cold, wet spring. This corn did not dry down in the field, resulting in drying costs on average of $127 an acre, Erb explained. Because the grain was so wet, it had to be dried slowly, and with a low level of starch in the corn, it had to be dried to a percentage of moisture lower than it normally would or it would “bounce back” to a higher moisture  level during storage. Test weights of the corn were much lower than desireable.
As well, Erb explained, the cobs were soft which meant they didn’t thresh well when going through the combine, meaning there were remnants of the cobs in the corn when delivered to the elevator. The softness of the kernels also added to the amount of “fines” in the dried corn that had to be removed.
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