Saturday, December 31, 2011

London Children's Museum New Years

The London Children's Museum in London, Ontario is a gas. It is even greater fun if you're a kid. My wife and I took Fiona there yesterday when I learned that they were celebrating the new year 12 hours early for the children.

It was great fun. There was music, and dancing kids, and balloons --- lots and lots of balloons. Fiona's first balloon broke and she this really upset her. An older girl heard her distress and graciously gave Fiona her balloon. Fiona wiped her tears and whispered, "Thank you."

The latest display at the museum is My Arctic Discovery. Fiona loved it. The inukshuk display encouraged kids to build their own inukshuk. The little black blocks that Fiona is admiring are made of light, black plastic foam and the sculptures were done earlier by other children. Soon Fiona was making her own "stone" sculpture.

When I was in Iqaluit a few years ago, the Inuit told me that inukshuks were often used to mark trails across the arctic wilderness.

How busy was the museum on the last day of the year? Busy. I took a picture of the cars parked along the street half a kilometre from the museum. There was not a parking spot available anywhere near the museum. I guess kids love celebrating new years early.

Fences up, security guards in place

The fences are up and the security guards are in place. The Electro-Motive Diesel plant in London, Ontario shows every sign of hunkering down for an ugly strike or a nasty lock-out. EMD makes diesel-electric locomotives and has made them in London since 1950.

Until 2005, the plant was part of the Electro-Motive Diesel division of General Motors. It was then that GM sold the entire company to an equity investment group for $201 million. They actually did a good job running the operation and flipped the company to Progress Rail, a subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc., for $810 million just last year.

Caterpillar has a well-earned reputation as a powerful, and successful, union buster. Progress Rail is essentially a non-union company. The unionized EMD workers have been asked to accept a cut of more than 50 percent in wages, slashed benefits and put their pensions on the table.

Many see this not as an offer but as a gauntlet being thrown at the feet of the skilled workforce. The workers have responded by giving the CAW a strike mandate with a 404 to nine vote held Friday.

The question is will the company demand that the workers, returning after Christmas break, accept a cut in pay of 50 percent? If this happens, a strike is sure to ensue. Or will the company simply lock out the staff?

Many of the affected are skilled workers. They can leave London for work in the oil-rich western provinces. The older workers, facing retirement in a few short years, will be left with concerns for their pensions. And the City of London, already reeling from the recent recession and the loss of jobs, will lose another 2000 jobs if the plant closes, if one counts the jobs in the community that are only there to support the plant.

With an unemployment rate hitting almost 10 percent, this Southwestern Ontario city cannot afford to have this plant sit empty. Will the city rally behind their friends and neighbours, the EMD workers, or will the workers stand alone while Caterpillar strips them of their income?

Some have written that Cat is also trying to strip the workers of their dignity. I don't know that I agree. But dignity has certainly been lost here, and it is Caterpillar's. Sad.

I've posted two stories on this to the Digital Journal. These can be found here and here. Click the links.

The local paper, The London Free Press, also has some excellent reports. The ones by Jonathan Sher are especially good.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper once used as the backdrop for a photo-op. The PM toured the plant and briefly chatted with some of the 900 employees then employed there. The number is now down to about 700.

Harper used his stop at EMD to make an announcement on his government's efforts to make Canadian manufacturers competitive in a global marketplace. The London Free Press reports Harper proclaimed, "Ontario is the heart, it is still the engine of the Canadian economy. There's no reason the Ontario economy can't be as strong as the economy in any other part of this country." To spur growth, a $1-billion tax break for Canadian industry was announced.

If the Electro-Motive story plays out as poorly as many believe, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be looking for a new photo-op back-drop in London. A deserted factory, devoid of workers, will not convey the right message --- but it would be an accurate one.

The Electro-Motive Diesel plant is down for the holidays. Will it re-open on schedule?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

'twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring . . . well O.K., one creature was stirring: Fiona.

Here's wishing you a very merry Christmas and a happy new year. If this isn't quite right for you, hey, I do hope you have a great time over the holiday season.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Eastern wild Turkey

It has been almost three decades since the eastern wild turkey was re-introduced to Southwestern Ontario. Before Europeans settled in the area, these large birds thrived in the forests. About a hundred years ago the species  disappeared due to unregulated hunting and the loss of native forests.

On the way home from the neighbourhood supermarket I noticed a number of turkeys in a field near my home. Under the glow of the setting sun, I grabbed a shot of one member of the grazing flock.

Today there are some 70,000 wild turkeys living across southern Ontario. Active during the day, the wild birds roost at night to avoid predators. In residential areas, it is not uncommon for turkeys to be found in suburban backyards, attracted by the seed that blankets the ground beneath backyard bird feeders.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

First good dusting of snow for London, Ontario

The first decent snowfall has dusted London, Ontario. The light snow, when hit by the afternoon sun, reveals hidden patterns. The above is the result of snow-hidden paving stones. The ridges are caused by bulging moss.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Time in Canada

It is December 6th and time to get the Christmas tree up and decorated. Like many Canadians, we have an artificial tree. We have had it for years and it is developing a rich patina of memories. Tonight we burnished the patina. We let little Fiona, our 27-month-old granddaughter help decorate the tree.

When our daughters were young, we always had a real tree. The home filled with the wonderful aroma of a real fir tree. That part was nice. Then there were the not so nice bits: The fallen needles, the jammed vacuum cleaner, the carpet stained from the spilled mix of water and sap, and the trunk of our car filled with so many evergreen needles that we never got them all out.

Real trees are nice but artificial ones can be nice too. The memories that attach themselves to those ersatz branches are anything but phony. The memories are the real deal.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

. . . and the candy canes were "Yummy!"

I see big parades like the annual Santa Claus Parade in New York or the Rose (Bowl) Parade in Pasadena, California, and I think, "Wow!" But, they are truly over-the-top events.

There is something to be said for a simple parade of local kids marching for the fun of it, and being encouraged by the positive hoots and hollers of thousands of local kids and their parents who line the parade route.

Saturday's parade was small even by London standards, but it was still good. Hey, just ask Fiona. And the candy canes were, "Yummy!"

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Santa Claus Parades are about fun

Don't you just love her smile. Saturday's parade featured lots of smiles.
London, Ontario has two Santa Claus parades. The official London parade was held earlier in November, downtown and a night. The much simpler parade today was held before noon in northwest London, ending in what was once the village of Hyde Park.

Did the parade have fancy floats? No. But, there were lots of smiling kids --- both in the parade and lining the sides of the road. This parade was a throwback to the days of the small village parade. It was an opportunity for kids to parade, to dance, to strut their stuff, to wave and it was a chance for other kids to watch and to cheer. Everybody knew their part; There were lots of wave and lots of cheers.

The parade was a success.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Long walls are becoming common

When I was born, Canadian neighbourhoods didn't have walls. This is no longer true, especially in the newer subdivisions. Roads are far busier today than they were in the past. And busier means noisier. Walls not only block out the sight of a busy road, walls deflects noise.

This wall is quite new. It is just a few years old. As you can see, some areas are already showing wear. This is because the wall is not solid brick; It is not even a brick veneer; It's fake. This wall is a relatively, inexpensive prefab construction. It is not very durable.

Curious as to what is to be found hiding behind this wall only a short walk from my London, Ontario home? Look below.

Monday, November 21, 2011

City Centre towers

Decades ago the finest hotel in London sat at the corner of Dundas and Wellington Streets. Londoners still talk fondly of Hotel London and its beautiful, oh-so-ornate ballroom. But the hotel fell to the wrecking ball, makimg way for the modern towers. At the time they were built, the towers were the tallest buildings in London, Ontario.

Today a hotel is part of the complex: Hilton London. It's a nice hotel but not all that special. Originally, it was a Holiday Inn and one might say the old girl's roots are showing.

Personally, I wish Hotel London was still on the site. I'm very fond of old, city-core hotels.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

White swan on dark water

You can't go wrong with a shot of a white swan on dark water. Trees bare of colourful leaves and ground still bare of white snow, take a picture of the perfect fallback - a white swan on dark water.

(This image has been messed with a bit using Photoshop content aware. To learn more, I posted some info on my Photo blog on a post titled, "It was a firing offence." Stay alert, there is a link that leads to a post on media use of models to illustrate news stories. Forgive me if this appears like I am trolling for hits. I'm not. I'm just trying to share.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Children are the future of our cities

Fiona checks out the bouquet she gathered for her grandmothers.
Many cities are in trouble, all around the globe. But they do have a hope: Children.

Fiona loves walks and this fall she discovered the dry, withered leaves of fall covering the ground. She loves them. They crackle and snap when walked upon. They float wildly, dispersing everywhere, when tossed in the air. And they make a great bouquet when gathered up and carried home. (Huh? I never thought of that.)

The little 26-month-old child carefully gathered a fist full of leaves, telling me they were for her grandmas back home. When she had gathered too many to carry without damage, she called for me. "Help, gah-gah! Help!"

After spending some time gathering leaves, she examined her collection with a critical eye and decided something extra was needed. She picked a couple of dandelions gone to seed. The white fluffy heads contrasted perfectly with the brittle, brown-yellow leaves. She had the focal point for her dried leaves bouquet.

Our children have imaginations that are not trapped in the past. We must nurture these young minds. We must encourage our children. The seeds of a promising future are contained within.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

More Fall Colours

This is another shot of fall colours in London, Ontario. This one, too, was taken in London's Springbank Park on the Thames River in the southwest end of the city.

For a post on art, craft and photography, please follow this link to Rockin' On: The Blog.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fall colours in London and Southwestern Ontario

Took two shots, then wind blew away the yellow leaf.
The past couple of days have been blessed with wonderful fall weather. Days just on the verge of being warm. They've been perfect for getting out to enjoy the fall colours.

Today I hiked about Springbank Park. I took lots of shots but the one I liked best was a shot of fallen leaves on pavement. Maybe I should have just shared it as it was shot, but I shot it RAW and when it came time to convert the file I took some liberties with the colour. It was just too tempting. Forgive me.

The colours now reflect my memories of fall rather than the reality.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Green Toys sold in London, Ontario

"Oh boy! Yots uh yummy stuff. gamma."
Fiona's mother and father follow the green path as do many of their young friends. When Fiona hit two, a couple of months ago, her mother's lifelong friend, Emily, gave the little girl a Green Toys tea set.

I had never heard of Green Toys but it is not surprising that Emily knew of the company and supported it. All Green Toys are made in the States, mainly from recycled plastic milk containers. The company says that every pound of recycled plastic they use saves enough electricity to power a television for three weeks.

Just recently I blogged on a Canadian entrepreneur, Kevin O'Leary, the chap from the Dragon's Den and Shark Tank. In researching the piece I learned that the American toy manufacturer Mattel no longer makes toys in the United States. Some years ago, Mattel CEO Robert Eckert closed the toy company's Murray, Kentucky, manufacturing facility, moving all production to China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Mexico. (I don't believe they have brought back much, if any, of the production.)

Surely, making stuff in the States from materials made in the States is better for the American economy than the Mattel approach. It would certainly have been better for the workers and the cities and towns affected by the closures.

If companies like Green Toys are able to produce stuff in the States, why idle plants and throw thousands out of work? Is the company's bottom line that important?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dandelions are invasive; they're from Europe!

I always knew dandelions were invasive. When they invade one's lawn, they are just about impossible to get rid of. This is especially true in Ontario now that the province has banned herbicides for use on lawns.

What I didn't know is that dandelions are a true invasive species; They are not native to North America but came here from Europe. Gosh! Did someone bring them here with the goal of making dandelion wine?

I hate to confess this but in the spring I actually find lawns bright with yellow blossoms quite attractive. But it isn't long before the youthful, spring dandelions have grown old and grey, covered with seeds ready to be spread by the wind.

Fiona loves dandelions, spring, summer or fall. I told the little girl to make a wish and then try and blow all the seeds away. If you can blow a dandelion bare with one try, I assured her, your wish is granted. Well, that's what my mother told me. I'm just passing on the fun.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Using up the Thanksgiving leftovers

"Me try. Me try." She tried and she succeeded. Kids amaze me.
Monday was the Canadian Thanksgiving. Today, Thursday, we are down to our last leftover turkey, thank goodness.

Judy was making a turkey pie from the last remaining bits of turkey. Little Fiona wanted to help. The little 25-month-old grabbed her toy pastry roller, pulled a chair up to the kitchen counter, climbed up and set to work.

In the end, the kid was actually successful. She managed to roll some dough flat. It was just too cute. Judy took the little piece of dough and patched it into the bottom of her pie shell.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Fall is here!

Fall has come to London, Ontario. Leaves are turning red and yellow, streets and sidewalks are covered with fallen leaves and kids are excited. The red and yellow leaves and stuff are new; kids just tend to be excited; The season doesn't matter.

Little Fiona just turned two. This is her first fall and she loves it. Without prompting, she scoops up oodles of leaves and tosses them into the air. She thinks leaves are even better to toss than the sand she threw everywhere this summer. Leaves don't get in your eyes.

And the big, blue, leaf rake is so much more fun than the tiny sandbox pail and shovel. And leaves are everywhere, just everywhere. Sand is only found in any really amounts at the park --- or in the gutters at the side of the road. But the gutters don't count 'cause nobody will let you play there.

Gosh, if she thinks fall is fun. I can hardy wait to see her reaction to our Canadian winter.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Canadians love their pets

Taking a well earned time out for himself.
I don't own a dog nor a cat. Yet, many of my friends and relatives have at least one pet and often more.

Whenever I take my young granddaughter for a walk around my London, Ontario neighbourhood we encounter lots of folk out walking their pets. It is not uncommon to look up the street and see a couple of dogs and then to look behind us and see another dog or two, all being walked on a leashes.

After shooting this picture of one of my nieces' pets, I began wondering, just how many dogs and cats are there in Canada? I found this estimate on a pet forum site:

"Canadians currently own a total of eight million dogs and cats. According to Statistics Canada, there are approximately 3.5 million dogs and 4.5 million cats in the country."

Well, now I know. And if my granddaughter had her way, I'd be among those pet owners.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Neo-gothic buidings at the UWO

The University of Western Ontario (UWO) is famous for its campus. It is has lovely grounds with a great many neo-gothic style buildings. Up until the 1960s, the neo-gothic style was the rule rather than the exception. Today, the UWO plays an important role in the life of London, Ontario. The building towering over the trees is Middlesex College.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rain, rain, don't go away! On second thought . . .

It rained today. At times the downpour was a veritable deluge. Fiona thought it was simply wonderful. You see, she had her red raincoat, red-plaid boots and a new umbrella. This was walking weather.

Fiona ran down the street; She spun about with merriment; She stopped to check her reflection in a small puddle. Everything was wet and that was neat.

She greeted other walkers with a happy "Hi!" They, in turn, would smile and return her cheery greeting. Fiona was the one bright spot in a rather dark and dismal day.

And then it started to rain, really rain. Big, fat drops fell all around with loud plop, plop, plops. When the rain started pounding down on Fiona, I put her umbrella up and showed her how to hold it above her head

This was not a good move, in Fiona's opinion. Her new, hot-pink umbrella was getting wet. She could hear the rain belting down on the taut plastic. Looking up, she could see the rain drops through the translucent plastic. The rain was running down the umbrella to the circular edge and falling to the ground in numerous, steady streams.

Even with the umbrella up, Fiona was getting wet. Dark, wet patches were appearing on her purple pants. It was time to head home and watch the rain from the comfort of a warm kitchen. I picked Fiona up and we headed back up the small hill towards home, all the while Fiona was cheering me on with calls of "Go Ga-gah!"

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Day in the Life of London, Ontario

Stuff is expensive. Children require lots of stuff. You do see where this is going, right?

My little granddaughter was was two as of the second of this month. She is a delight and has brightened up this old man's life. That said, she is expensive. I cannot believe what a good pair of shoes for a little kid cost.

I got very lucky when it came to buying Fiona a little girl's kitchen. I found one at Homesense. And I mean one. I imagine it wasn't the last one in stock but the only one they ever had.

You see, Homesense is a "jobber" outlet, that is, it is a store (in this case, a  Canadian chain of stores) specializing in buying odd lots of leftover inventory from wholesalers and other retailers, and selling the stuff at discount.

The Homesense inventory changes drastically from week to week and, with some things, from day to day. There's no guarantee they will have what you are looking for, but when they do, the price is an incredible bargain.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Scarecrow, nope. A scareowl.

To keep pigeons off roofs and ledges, folks often resort to using plastic owls as a type of "scarecrow" meant to banish the troublesome bird pests. The London Free Press had one; Pesky birds still built nests in the large company sign mounted on the paper's east wall. The owl pictured was set on the roof of an area hairdressing salon. Local birds didn't seem to take much notice.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kids just gotta run

Do you recall being a kid? You could never just walk anywhere; You had to run. What better activity than running for kids attending a summer day camp, or similar function, at a local park?

When Fiona saw these kids go running by she was jealous. The little toddler took off at, what was for her, a fine running pace. When the group came by a second time, Fiona was inspired anew. I can't speak for the running mob but Fiona slept well that night.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Splash pads replacing wading pools

Splash pads are the watery wave of the future in London, Ontario. They are slowly replacing wading pools right across the city. The pools demand no chlorine addition nor chlorine monitoring. Life-guards are not necessary. Despite what appears to be a very generous use of water, splash pads are reportedly less expensive to operate than the old shallow, wading pools.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

London, Ontario bigger by one

The population of London, Ontario took a very small pop yesterday. At dinner time Saturday the population of this Southwestern Ontario city grew by a little one, and the little one is my beautiful, new granddaughter Eloise.

Mother and daughter are doing well.

Cheers world!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Thames Turtle

A park walker noticed that I was shooting pictures and alerted me to the turtle sitting on a rock on the other side of the Thames River. "Do you have a long lens?" I answered yes and headed off.

My little Fuji HS10 found itself challenged. The turtle was quite some distance away. I tried to steady the camera against the trunk of a small tree. I shot a number of pictures and hoped for the best.

I've seem better shots of turtles in the London, Ontario river. Today, this one will have to do.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Simple rides, simple pleasures

London's Springbank train is simple but it provides a lot of simple pleasure.

The problem with the little train in London's Springbank Park, if there is a problem, is that it is just a ride and not transportation in any sense. It would be really cool if the little train actually went somewhere in the park; If it provided a unique form of in-park transportation.  "All aboard for the wading pool and playground!"

Our London train already has a station thanks to the Sifton family. The local London family, famous for such developments as Westmount and RiverBend, built the beautiful Springbank Express train station to celebrate 75 years in the construction business.

As a small boy I have very fond memories of the miniature train at the Detroit Zoo, officially known as the Tauber Family Railroad. That little railroad it still running today with two complete trains of six coaches. There is one standby locomotive. All three locomotives were donated by the Chrysler Corp. in the 1950s and Chrysler is still involved today.

Even a young child can see these trains are special.
What makes the Detroit set-up so neat, is that it serves a purpose other than giving kids with a simple ride; It actually fills a transportation need.

The railway still operates today as it did when I was boy, a family can board the train near the park entrance, ride to the back of the park and then stroll back through the zoo to finish at the front gate. Or a family can walk through the zoo, view all the exhibits and then board the train for a ride back to the zoo entrance. We never bought a round trip ticket. The little train was our transportation within the park.

If you'd like to know more, watch the little video.

And folk at The London Free Press please note the involvement of The Detroit News in Detroit's little railroad. Maybe instead of just asking what can be done to improve London, the paper should do what was done in the past and donate time and money to the city in which it operates and which has given the paper such a long and successful life.

Add some track, maybe some new and improved trains and let's go!

In researching this post I discovered that when the new station was built, new track was installed and the loop was moved to a spot closer to Storybook Gardens. See the Closed Canadian Parks Internet page; Scroll almost to the bottom. You will see a picture of an older Springbank locomotive and some interesting background information.

"It was reported that in 1999, plans were being made to connect the old and new track layouts so that people could use the (Springbank) train for transportation to the wading pool at the old location."

From the looks of things, the above didn't all happen. Too bad. The loop should be kept for the youngest of little riders who just want a short, simple ride.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Port: London's Lake Erie resort

Port Stanley habour is used by commercial fishers and recreational boaters.
Port Stanley is a fine, little harbour south of London on Lake Erie. At one time, The Port was a major shipping harbour but today it is mainly a commercial fishing and recreational port. I bought my second sailboat from a fellow who docked his boat in Kettle Creek just above where the large creek empties into the harbour.

Today being the Sunday before the August 1st holiday, the Port and adjacent beach were busier than usual. Last year I got caught in heavy traffic heading for the beach.

This year I parked some distance away and walked until I found a spot to shoot some quick stuff from some distance. My old car doesn't do well in stop 'n go traffic on a hot summer day.

At one time London had a direct railway connection to The Port but the London and Port Stanley Railway was allowed to fold some decades ago. Today some remnants of the tracks are used by a local group of railroad keeners who run Port Stanley Terminal Rail from The Port to the southern edge of St. Thomas, the town midway between London and Lake Erie.

Today one must drive to get to Port Stanley. The road is direct and it only takes about half an hour by car. It can be done by bike if you've got the time and the energy. At my age, I have neither.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Colourful beetle and spider

"Get your camera!" My wife saw the neatest, little beetle crawling on a piece of stainless steel in our backyard and she wanted a picture; Even more, she wanted to know what this colourful, metallic little beetle was.

According to the Internet, the beetle pictured above is a chrysochus auratus or dogbane beetle. It is beautiful in its iridescent shell and common right across the United States and southern Canada. I read that it prefers milk weed and dogbane for dinner. This makes sense as we have a field with lots of milkweed and dogbane right across the court from where I live in London, Ontario.

While shooting the little beetle, another little fellow showed up eager to pose for a picture. This was a spider with the green abdomen and striped yellow/brown legs.

A search of the Internet failed to turn-up a likely candidate for naming this beautiful little critter.

My guess, and it is just that, is that this is a hunting spider out on the prowl. I don't imagine it ever spins a proper web.

If anyone has a suggestion as to this little spider's correct name, I'd be interested in hearing form you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

English Morgans in Canada's London

An umbrella serves as a quick, temporary tonneau cover.
Back in the '50s and '60s Morgan roadsters were sold in two places in Canada: Windsor, Ontario and Burnaby, British Columbia. Today they are not sold at all, at least not in Canada, at least not new. A dispute between the Canadian government and Morgan Motors has kept the unique, little roadsters from being imported into the country for decades.

My Morgan is well down towards the end of the line.
After more than a century the Morgan automobile company is still building cars in Malvern Link, England. There is still a Morgan dealer in Canada — located a little north of Toronto in Bolton, Ontario. CMC Enterprises, run by Martin and Steve Beer, may not sell new cars but they do a damn fine job of keeping old ones, decades old, reliably on the road.

My British racing green Morgan Plus 4 is one of about half a dozen Morgans in London, Ontario. Because of their past availability, Morgans seems to be concentrated even today in Canada in Southwestern Ontario and southern British Columbia.

Sunday my wife and I took our Morgan north to Durham, Ontario where we linked up with about a half dozen other Morgan owners to tour a llama ranch and later tour a small, craft brewery in Neustadt.

There are quite a number of llama ranches in Ontario and from the spiel given by the owners of the ranch visited Sunday raising llamas is good business.

The owners have three farms devoted to llamas. Mostly they sell the wool sheared from the South American beasts but sometimes they sell the odd one to another farmer to use as a guard animal.

Llamas will protect a herd of sheep from coyote predation, for instance. The docile looking animals can be quite fiesty when pushed and they don't take any pushing from coyotes.