Monday, October 28, 2013


You can learn much by walking. It is not only a physical exercise, but an opportunity for meditation on the huge issues dominating life. And it is the best way to observe things, especially how things change.

I live in a wonderful town, Newmarket Ontario. Recently, Money Sense magazine declared Newmarket to be one of the ten best places to live in Canada. Such things as median income, employment rates, schools, traffic, and other "quality of life" criteria were taken into consideration. Residents of this historic town have known of Newmarket's excellence for some time.

For me, walking from Newmarket's historic heart reveals how the town grew. Like a tree, there are rings of growth. The oldest part exists along the Holland River and Fairy Lake. The old Main Street is the core of this area, and the lovely homes and buildings, many proudly displaying plaques of the original owner's name and year of construction cluster around the core. Many buildings pre-date Confederation.

As the walker moves east, changes are evident. Many homes in the next outer ring are of the "post war" style, simple bungalows on large lots with corner stores and laneways behind houses. Move further out and the "surveys" of the 60's and 70's come into view: larger homes, many multi-story and with shorter and shallower front yards are the style. Then, the streets become a jumble of cul-de-sacs and crescents as the 80' and 90's emerge. Now, the new millenium arrives and houses become huge structures on postage stamp sized lots. And in the future ...? Will a walker find younger, stronger, fast growing rings decades from now?

The town is currently involved in a process which will determine how the town will grow in the next eighteen years. In that time, Newmarket will add upwards of 21,000 new residents. Where will they live? How will they get around? What will our town look like in 2031? To deal with all of this, a plan, known as the "Town of Newmarket Urban Centres Secondary Plan" has been formulated and was discussed at a public meeting at the new town hall. In a nutshell, the plan identifies areas where growth will occur and will need to be managed, with new streets, new transit, new infrastructure, and new buildings to house people and allow them to conduct their businesses. The plan is ambitious, wide-ranging, daunting, expensive, and will completely change the face of Newmarket forever. 

Many people voiced concerns about the draft plan. Some of the main growth areas in the plan involve the Yonge Street and Davis Drive corridors. Several developments include provisions for the construction of high rise mixed use buildings, some going as high as ( potentially ) thirty stories. People raised genuine concerns for the appearance of such construction, the problems with density impacting traffic ( already bad in the corridors ) and safety of pedestrians, school children and seniors. People who live in quiet neighbourhoods voiced concerns about the shadows of high rises looming over their homes. And people quibbled about the difference between "absolute" height limits and "bonus" limits. Developers were regarded as though they were sharks circling our town, ready to devour it and all who live there.

For me, I share the concerns of residents .... to a point. Unfettered growth is dangerous, and, to be sure, developers are motivated by one thing only: profit. Those who voiced concern about the greed and lack of concern for quality of life must be listened to. But some people are undoubtedly motivated by "Nimbyism" ... the "not in my back yard" syndrome.  I would certainly be concerned if one of these towers were build overlooking my yard. But Nimbyism is narrow and selfish. It is motivated by only thinking and being concerned about oneself and one's own interest, without paying any attention to the greater good. It denies growth and believes that one can put a halt to growth permanently and, thus, preserve the status quo forever. Nimbyism is utter nonsense. Growth is coming, whether Newmarket likes it or not. The population estimates are based on trends. But what if the projections are wrong? What if more than 21,000 people choose to live here before 2031? What then? Will Newmarket drown in a chaotic mess of poor development and lack of services? Will we stagnate in a town where it is impossible to even get around? Will current respectable neighbourhoods become over-crowded ghettos as middle class people move out to quieter places like, say, Sharon or Holland Landing?

The fact that Newmarket has a plan is encouraging. The fact that the plan is public and allows for public input is laudable. And, most importantly, the fact that the plan allows for future generations of Newmarket residents to prepare for further growth is not only appropriate, it is truly visionary. Thirty story towers are not going to be built in the next five or ten, or even fifteen years: but twenty or thirty years from now? The need for them may well be pressing. For a group of residents or for the current town council to put permanent caps on growth, handcuffing future town councils and preventing them from managing the changes that they will face looking forward to the next hundred years would not only be short-sighted, it would be destructive and plain stupid.

One wonders how the townspeople of Newmarket in the 1840's ( the time when my beloved Grey Goat was built as a well-to-do farm house ) might have felt about the construction of the homes and businesses that comprise the current core of the town. They would probably be horrified to think that their little settlement of a few dozen souls could grow into a town of a couple of thousand people. Imagine how they would react if they could see Newmarket today? They would probably cry havoc and try to prevent the changes that allowed the growth to occur that created today's town.

Similarly, we in the present cannot allow our immediate concerns to cloud our judgement. Certainly, common sense has to prevail. Appropriate priorities need to be established and adhered to. But Nimbyism cannot ever be allowed to stop the inevitable.

Newmarket, like the venerable old maple trees that grace the front yard of the Grey Goat ( probably a hundred years old, at least ), will grow new rings. We must accept that, and embrace the growth. It will happen no matter how we feel about it now. We can't stop it. So, let's plan for it and do the right thing. Let's grow tall, strong and smart and grow with vision and hope for a better future.

Monday, October 21, 2013


Now that the weather is turning colder, many people are becoming wistful for summer. They bemoan the loss of heat and humidity. They look out of their windows into an October sky and comment on the arrival of winter. People look to coop themselves up, put on layers and wait out the upcoming weeks until spring.

Not me.

I love all the seasons, but I now have a special spot in my heart for autumn. When I was working, autumn was an enemy: it signalled the return of the work year and the loss of complete freedom that a summer brought to a teacher. Oh well ... that was then, this is now.

I have had the opportunity, between the sighs and curses of friends and family, to recount what I have been able to do this autumn. I've been to Algonquin Park twice, once to kayak on a quiet and serene lake and river and behold a lovely waterfall by myself. The other time to Algonquin was with my wife and my mom to take in the absolutely spectacluar display of colour in the hardwood forests.

I have also been boating with a couple of good friends on Lake Couchiching. Again, the lake was completely deserted. The fish weren't biting, but it didn't matter. The weather was cool, but we were dressed for it. We had good conversation, good companionship, and time slowed down to a nice rhythmn as the breezes ruffled the waves.

I've seen some good football, both live and on TV. This is the time for "football weather", and the cool, sunny days allowed for some incredible displays of athletic prowess. In fact, October is a sports fan's paradise. Football, both Canadian and American, professional and college, is in full swing. Baseball is in its post-season. Hockey is starting up, with all the promise of early days' success. Golf, tennis, auto sports, horse racing, soccer ... they are all going strong at this time. There is no better time of the year for a sports fan.

We have been able to enjoy our family. We celebrated Thanksgiving here in Newmarket with a traditional turkey dinner. We marvelled at our sister-in-law's talents at an art show in Toronto. We celebrated a truly fun and unique wedding of my second cousin and caught up on all the family accomplishments.

Lou and I took a long and enjoyable road trip through the Canadian and American mid west. Technically, the trip took place in summer, but I count it part of the autumn since much of it was in September. We saw some wonderful things, enjoyed the pleasures of great cities like Winnipeg and Chicago and ran into some good friends.

Autumn always brings back wistful memories for me. Many years ago, when my dad was diagnosed with the cancer that would eventually claim his life, we went through a terrible time as we watched him grow weaker and sicker. And yet, I remember that the weather that autumn was wonderful, and the colours absolutely fantastic. I tried to spend as much time with my dad as I could. I went home every weekend and sat with him in the back garden talking and enjoying the sunshine. Even though I knew he was slipping away from us, I think of those last days and weeks as the "golden days." We had many wonderful talks which I will carry with me all the days of my life. My dad finally grew desperately sick and died in the winter, so, for me, that last autumn was truly "golden."

When I take long walks along the trails here in Newmarket, I begin to think of my own life. I guess it's true to say that I have now entered the autumn of my own life. I like to think of myself as still youthful in my outlook: I am still in pretty good shape: I enjoy all the pleasures and aspects of life. Yes, I still think I'll live forever and never change. Until I look in the mirror. The signs are unmistakeable. Just as the weather grows cooler, the sun's light grows paler, and the trees' colours more remarkable, I see someone changing into something other than young. I'm not angry or depressed by this: it's natural. And, just as though the best pleasures of the year are in autumn, I truly believe that the next few years will be incredible for me. I have health, a wonderful wife, a loving family, truly good friends and , well, a little money to do some things. Winter is a long way off yet.

It really has been a great autumn. The weather has been unusually mild, the colours fantastic and the family and friends so warm and precious. So what if it rains a little, or the leaves are starting to fall, or the temperature is in single digits now?  It's truly great to be alive !!