There is no doubt 2020 has been a year like no other in almost anyone’s recall. Those with memories of the last global pandemic are more than 100 years old and were young children when that influenza swept the globe, killing millions and disrupting all aspects of life.
This past year began normally enough and with considerable optimism publisher Dave Adsett expanded the Community News, from a publication with a Mapleton-only focus into a broader newspaper covering the entire north Wellington region, including Minto and Wellington North.
Of course, the arrival of COVID-19 changed the focus of the news, as it changed the flow of our lives, and for several months the fledgling North Wellington Community News was limited to a few pages within the Wellington Advertiser, before returning as a separate publication last fall.
As always, on our pages we chronicled the year’s events, for better or worse. The following 2020 Year in Review touches on both the triumphs and the tragedies of a truly remarkable 12 months.
The Community News coverage area was expanded to include Wellington North Township, in addition to Mapleton Township and the Town of Minto, with a total circulation of over 13,000.
“It is the intention of this new publication to bring people together – for local shopping, local news, local entertainment and celebrations of all things local,” said publisher Dave Adsett.
The move continues a publishing evolution recognizing the increasing synergy between the northernmost municipalities in Wellington County.
Mapleton, Minto and Wellington North have long been connected through affiliation with local hospitals and high schools, local sports and service groups and the three municipalities have been conducting joint economic development committee meetings since 2012.
The establishment of a shared community newspaper started in 2019, when Ray Stanton of London Publishing purchased Metroland’s southwestern division, which includes the Independent Plus along with paid circulation papers the Listowel Banner, Wingham Advance-Times and Walkerton Herald-Times. A new company called Midwestern Newspapers Corp. was formed.
“Clearly I’m bullish on print and strongly believe in the importance of newspapers,” said Adsett, who served with Stanton for years on the Ontario Community Newspaper Association board.
“When the opportunity to purchase 50% of this new company came up, the answer was, ‘I’m in.’”
A snowy evening with a bitterly cold wind didn’t deter people from attending the first-ever Christmas Tree Bonfire sponsored by the newly-formed Downtown Mount Forest Committee with help from the Mount Forest Lions Club, the Township of Wellington North and local radio station, 88.7 The River. Residents were encouraged to drop off Christmas trees at the bonfire site at Campbell-deVore Park, adjacent to the Mount Forest and District Sports Complex, in exchange for a free spring sapling. Those without Christmas trees could exchange a donation to the food bank for a sapling. At the Jan. 4 event, the township provided hot chocolate while the radio station provided music at the site. Wellington North firefighters from the Mount Forest station monitored the tree fire.
More rain fell Jan. 10 to 11 than predicted and some local residents remained without power well into Jan. 12, but it appears flooding was limited to low-lying areas, particularly in Drayton and Harriston.
The Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) reported up to 100mm of rain fell on Jan. 11, far exceeding the 60 to 80mm the authority had predicted leading up to the weekend.
“This event produced the highest January rainfall on record for this part of the province and resulted in substantial flooding in a number of communities in the northern and central portions of the watershed,” states a GRCA update issued on Jan. 12.
Mapleton Fire Chief Rick Richardson said the GRCA issued a flood alert for Level 1 and Level 2 locations in Drayton around noon on Jan. 11.
Firefighters delivered notices door to door to residents in the affected areas and later delivered notifications in Level 3 areas as well.
While the notices advised residents the PMD arena was designated as the main evacuation centre should the need arise, Richardson said things never progressed to that point.
The Mount Forest Lions Club completed its pledge of $25,000 to the Louise Marshall Hospital Foundation (LMHF) in support of the North Wellington Health Care – Louise Marshall Hospital Redevelopment project. Combined with a 2017 pledge of $75,000, the club has now donated $100,000 towards the hospital expansion.
LMHF president Rick Sinnamon accepted the final cheque for $12,500 at the club’s meeting on Feb. 6 and said that amount of money from one club “is no small feat.”
Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) elementary schools were closed throughout the county on Feb. 6, 10 and 11 due to the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario’s (ETFO) ongoing strike action. The strikes on Feb. 6 and 11 were province-wide, while Feb. 10 was a rotating strike day.
ETFO president Sam Hammond said the union was striking to ensure appropriate funding for special education; a strategy to address classroom violence; maintaining the kindergarten program; fair hiring practices; class sizes that meet the needs of elementary students; and compensation that keeps up with inflation.
Mount Forest Patriot Riley Cribbin is the MVP of the Provincial Junior Hockey League (PJHL) Pollock Division for the 2019-20 season. His 86 points were the best not only in the division but across the PJHL. The Drayton native had 39 goals and 47 assists.
Rookie-of-the-Year honours went to Ryan Goetz of the Hanover Barons. The forward from Arthur finished with 23 points, sixth in team scoring.
The award for Most Sportsmanlike player was awarded to Mount Forest forward Jack Birkett.
Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece says he used his appearance on an episode of TVO’s Political Blind Date to shine a spotlight on Ontario agriculture.
“Ontario farmers, and especially those here in Perth-Wellington, are true professionals,” Pettapiece stated in a press release from his office. “That’s the message I wanted to convey to people across the province, and it’s why I jumped at the chance to appear on this program.”
Entitled The Food We Eat, the episode aired on Feb. 11 on TVO. As part of the network’s continuing series Political Blind Date, it featured Pettapiece and Green Party Leader and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner.
The episode focused on how farmers are transforming their operations with technical innovations. They also discussed what role government should play in supporting large and small scale farms.
The Drayton and District Figure Skating Club’s 2020 Skating Carnival was held on March 7 at the PMD arena. The Greatest Showman, On Ice was the theme.
Following a 6-3 victory on March 5 against the Mitchell Hawks, the Mount Forest Patriots now head into a best-of-seven Pollack Division final series against the Wingham Ironmen.
The Harriston Rising committee hosted the Great Bowls of Fire Chili Challenge at the Harriston Legion on March 6. Diners sampled the recipes created by members of the local business community and voted for their favourites.
Municipal facilities and activities were shut down around the region in response to the ongoing global outbreak of COVID-19, even before Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a province-wide state of emergency at 8:30am on March 17.
The Township of Mapleton and the Town of Minto closed all municipal recreational and cultural facilities on March 13. Both municipalities said closures would remain in effect until March 20, but on March 16 both extended the closures to April 6 and announced other measures, including closing the local municipal offices to the public.
Wellington North announced on March 13 that public skating would be cancelled and by Sunday had issued a statement asking residents to use the internet or telephone whenever possible and eliminate non-essential visits to municipal facilities. By March 16 at noon, all municipal facilities were closed to the public, including the Mount Forest and District Sports Complex, Arthur and Area Community Centre, Arthur and Mount Forest fire halls, Damascus Hall, the Arthur Seniors Hall and the Kenilworth municipal office.
Ford’s March 17 declaration meant that bars and restaurants across the province the were ordered closed until at least March 31, except to provide takeout or delivery of food.
The province also ordered indoor recreation facilities, public libraries, private schools, licensed childcare centres and theatres to close immediately and banned public events of over 50 people, including parades and services inside places of worship.
The Ontario declaration came on the heels of a decision by the federal government the previous day to essentially close Canada’s borders to foreign nationals other than American citizens, with some exceptions.
Obstetrical services at Wellington County’s two northern hospitals were transferred to Groves Memorial Community Hospital in Fergus to increase capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The move, announced by hospital
officials on April 13, applies to obstetrical (OB) services at the two North Wellington Health Care (NWHC) sites: Palmerston and District Hospital and Louise Marshall Hospital in Mount Forest.
“Temporarily moving OB services to [Groves] will allow us to increase bed capacity, if needed, at NWHC during the pandemic,” stated Jill Schitka, VP Patient Services and chief nursing executive at NWHC and GMCH.
The Optimist Club of Moorefield put out a request to Mapleton residents looking for empty deposit bottles and cans they could spare for donation to the Drayton Food Bank.
“Boy, did the community respond,” stated Optimist Dan McIntyre of the April 11 fundraiser.
“Empties were left out at the end of driveways for our members to pickup. Working in teams of one, we rounded up the donations and returned them to a safe sorting area.”
The collection raised $4,768 for the local food bank.
The Town of Minto passed a 2020 budget with a 5.1% tax levy increase at a special meeting of council held via teleconference on April 7. The levy requirement (the amount to be raised through taxes) of $5,558,780, is an increase of $271,803 over the 2019 budgeted levy of $5,286,977.
A draft of the budget was set to be presented at a public open house on March 17. However due to the COVID-19 outbreak, this meeting was cancelled.
“In response to the public postings of the 2020 budget information, no adverse comments have been received,” treasurer Gordon Duff noted in his April 7 report. Duff stated the budget was prepared prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and adaptation may be required.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the region rose to over 100, including the first death attributed to the virus. On April 2, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) announced “an individual in their 80s” died in Guelph.
“Out of respect for the family of the deceased, no further information will be provided on the individual at this time,” stated a WDGPH press release.
In an interview later that day, Dr. Nicola Mercer, Medical Officer of Health and CEO of WDGPH, said it’s not unexpected for elderly patients to die from the virus, “but at the same time, it’s heartbreaking.”
Councillors in Welllington North indicated they were not interested in changing the township’s policy on backyard chickens.
A letter from local resident Mark Baldock was discussed by council at the May 4 video-conference council meeting.
“I ask that you revisit the matter of backyard chickens, and would like to use this correspondence as both a formal application for my own family, and also as a request for the bylaw to be amended for all residents of Wellington North, to allow for six or less chickens (depending on property size) to be allowed in small, secured, backyard coops.”
In his letter Baldock pointed out that with the potential for increased strain on food banks during the current pandemic, and with many people being out of work, “this would provide people with a way to either help in providing for their own family, or given them the ability to help provide to their neighbours and loved ones.”
After introducing a motion to receive the correspondence as information, Mayor Andy Lennox told council he had advised Baldock that “unless a member of council really wanted to champion this cause” the correspondence would likely be received, but no action taken. The motion to receive the correspondence for information was approved by council.
Operators of a fledgling distillery operation stonewalled by the COVID-19 fallout have found a new purpose and, they believe, a long-term product line, making hand sanitizer. After operating as a contract distiller since 2016, Waterloo Region-based Pepprell Distilling Co. was set to gear up production in its own facility to meet a growing demand when the pandemic hit.
About three weeks ago “we put all efforts forward and we turned our whole operation into a sanitizing production facility,” said Cameron Curry, sales and development lead for Pepprell Distilling, and now Hilwood Sanitizer.
Ontario extended a state of emergency until June 2, but there appeared to be some light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, as the province also started to allow some businesses to reopen. A state of emergency was first declared by the province on March 17.
The province announced on May 6 that garden centres, nurseries, hardware stores and safety supply stores would be allowed to fully reopen in time for Mother’s Day (May 10). Garden centres and nurseries were able to open on May 8, with hardware stores and safety supply stores reopening the following day. The province has also given the green light to reopen on May 11 to retail stores with a street entrance to provide curbside pickup and delivery.
Wellington North and Minto agreed to share a fire department management team led by a new Director of Fire Services. Chris Harrow, Minto’s current fire chief, was appointed to the position by both municipalities in separate council meetings on Tuesday night (May 19). The shared position was prompted by the pending retirement of current Wellington North Fire Chief Dave Guilbault on May 31.
Deputy chief Marco Guidotti and assistant chief Callise Loos will form the rest of the administration team.
Mapleton Buds and Blooms held its annual plant sale on June 6 from 9am to noon in front of Hammond’s store in downtown Moorefield. Society members were also selling 2020 memberships. A portion of each $8 membership fee goes towards buying plants for the community gardens that members look after. The event, held in compliance with physical distancing guidelines, was among the first in-person community events held in the area since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March.
Mapleton and Minto will be partners on a new Integrated Youth Services Network (IYSN) hub to be located next to Norwell District Secondary School in Palmerston. In separate council meetings on June 16, both municipalities authorized the signing of a lease agreement at 390 Main St. E in Palmerston and allocated up to $20,000 toward the project. Seven such hubs are planned in the region, with four to be located in Guelph while others will be in East Wellington and Centre Wellington. The IYSN model is a “one-stop shop” for youth aged 12 to 26 designed to meet needs for services related to mental health, substance use, primary care, education, employment, training, housing and other community and social services.
The Town of Minto agreed to work with Wellington North on a plan to share a full-time municipal drainage superintendent. Minto council authorized staff to pursue an agreement for the position at its June 16 meeting.
Staff from the two municipalities, as well as the Township of Mapleton, met in February to discuss future plans for the provision of drainage superintendent services for each municipality, explained a report from Minto roads and drainage manager Mike McIsaac. Wellington North was interested in pursuing a different service provision for local drainage superintendent services, which are currently provided through contracted engineering firms in both municipalities, the report notes.
A subcommittee will be formed in Minto to seek ways to provide support for “marginalized voices” within the community. Council authorized a motion to create a subcommittee of the Town of Minto Cultural Roundtable at the June 16 meeting after receiving correspondence from local resident Andrew Gowan. Citing “witting and unwitting discrimination against BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour)” Gowan believes there is legitimate pressure to take action at this time.
Facilities in Mapleton Township were reopened, four months after closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The township announced on July 14 that public playgrounds would reopen on July 17 to coincide with the start of stage three of the province’s reopening plan, which also includes reopening of restaurants (for indoor dining), movie theatres and gyms, among other businesses and amenities. On July 20, Mapleton opened all township facilities, including the township administration office, PMD Arena in Drayton, Moorefield Community Centre, Alma Community Centre, and the Moorefield Optimist Hall.
Water users throughout the Grand River watershed were asked to cut their consumption by 10 per cent, because of the hot, dry weather. Rainfall in June was sporadic with extended dry periods, and the first 10 days of June there was almost no measurable rainfall in the Grand River watershed. The low rainfall, coupled with the hot temperature, has contributed to reduced streams flows on a number of tributaries through the watershed. The call for the reduction came from the Grand River Low Water Response Team, which met via conference call on July 8.
With a move to stage two of the COVID-19 reopening in Ontario, the Mount Forest Family Health Team updated the way it provided services. The update also changed how people access LifeLabs services at Claire Stewart Medical Clinic. To keep patients and staff safer, the MFFHT asked the public to only come into the clinic if needing lab testing, to drop off or pick up samples or paperwork, or for a scheduled appointment. Otherwise, people are asked call the clinic.
The Mount Forest Family Health Team (MFFHT) received a grant to help it provide virtual support to area Mennonite and Amish residents. The Centre Wellington Community Foundation (CWCF) announced on July 13 it had awarded a $10,880 grant to the Township of Wellington North. The grant enables the township to provide support to help the health team obtain appropriate technology and support services to assist Old Order Mennonite, Old Order Amish, and Dave Martin Group Mennonites with access to health services that must be delivered virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The MFFHT catchment area includes approximately 5,217 Old Order Mennonites, Old Order Amish, and Dave Martin Group Mennonites.
Minto resident Mark MacKenzie had a good day on the links on Aug. 4. The Town of Minto councillor hit a hole-in-one during a round with fellow councillor Ron Elliott and two other players at the Rockway Golf Course in Kitchener. MacKenzie scored the ace on the 106-yard, par three 11th hole.
“We couldn’t see the green – there’s a mound in front of it – and it my shot was heading toward the stick, but we couldn’t see it, figured it would be close,” MacKenzie said.“So we drove up and one of the guys that was with us, he went first and said, ‘Hey, your ball’s in the hole.’”
Mapleton council went back to its previous consulting engineers, but not back to the drawing board, as its sought a new path forward to upgrade local water and wastewater systems. In a motion approved on Aug. 11, council directed staff to “begin where we left off” and work directly with CIMA+ to address water and wastewater needs in Drayton and Moorefield. A proposal that would have seen the township outsource construction and operation of municipal water and wastewater infrastructure was discontinued at a special meeting of council on July 30. At that time council agreed instead to look at borrowing against its own reserves to finance the project, expected to cost between $15 million and $30 million.
Customers at the A&W in Mount Forest got quite a shock when a bullet crashed through the window of the restaurant. Wellington County OPP officers responded to “a weapons incident” at the Mount Forest eatery on Main Street North at about 4pm on Aug. 22. “Preliminary investigation revealed that a single projectile, which is believed to be a bullet, pierced the window of a restaurant and came to rest on the floor,” police stated in a press release.
There were customers and staff inside the restaurant at the time, but no one was injured, police say.
“This is believed to be an isolated incident and there are no concerns for public safety at this time,” states the release.
The Shine Your Light Sunflower Tour held on the farm of Matt and Leona Ottens in Mapleton raised more than $10,000 to fight cancer. The event, held Aug. 15 and 16, offered visitors an opportunity to walk through a field of sunflowers, support local vendors, and raise money to fight cancer. A steady stream of visitors took in the event, which began Saturday morning after the Ottens family got together for Matt’s five-year post-cancer celebration.
A new bus service will soon be coming to Wellington North, transporting residents north or south as they wish. At its Aug. 24 meeting, council approved the use of municipal parking lots in Arthur and Mount Forest as drop-off and pick-up points for the Owen Sound to Guelph Voyago inter-community bus service.
Voyago, the City of Owen Sound’s chosen operator for its Guelph Owen Sound Transit service, plans to launch the service on Aug. 31, following a delay from a spring launch due to COVID-19.
In Mount Forest the bus stop location will be in the municipal portion of the parking lot behind Foodland at 136 Elgin Street South and in Arthur at the municipal parking lot behind the TD Bank at 156 George Street.
A campaign by a downtown business organization is raising awareness of childhood cancer and funds for a local youth fighting against it. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and Mount Forest Downtown has placed gold bikes in front of businesses accepting donations that will help Mount Forest youth Simon Edgar-Dickert in his battle with brain cancer.
“He’s only six years old and he’s been fighting brain cancer for some time,” said Devon Madden of Mount Forest Downtown.
Madden said 50 per cent of the money raised through the Gold Bikes For Simon campaign – almost $3,000 as of Sept. 11 – will go to help Simon, parents Tyler Edgar and Sam Dickert, and Simon’s three siblings with “whatever they possibly need to get them through this.” The other half of the money will be donated to Ronald MacDonald House Charities, which provide accommodations for parents visiting their children in hospitals.
The 10th annual Town of Minto Mayor’s Charity Golf Tournament raised about $5,000 for a planned youth centre in the municipality. Mayor George Bridge reported at the Sept. 1 council meeting that 35 teams participated in the event, which was held at Pike Lake Golf Centre on Aug. 6. Funds from this year’s tournament will be used to assist an Integrated Youth Services Network Hub to be located in Palmerston. The hubs are part of a grassroots community initiative, led by the Rotary Club of Guelph, to bring an integrated youth services model to the city and Wellington County.
Citing strong community opposition, Mapleton council turned down a request for a zoning change that would have allowed an underground bulk propane storage facility at the Core Fuels property here. Local residents filled most of the available seats at the Alma Community Centre for the Sept. 8 meeting. The zoning amendment under consideration would have allowed Core Fuels to add a provision for “bulk fuel storage” to the site-specific highway commercial zoning of a property at 6976 Wellington Road 7. Core Fuels was planning to add four 226,800 litre underground propane tanks to the site for the storage and distribution of propane and to relocate their bulk storage operations to the Alma site. Two tanks were proposed in the initial development.
Graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020 were cancelled at both the Upper Grand and Wellington Catholic district school boards. In notices posted on their websites, both boards cited the dangers of COVID-19 and restrictions on gathering sizes as the reason why commencement ceremonies can’t be held.
The Mount Forest Downtown (MFD) Gold Bikes for Simon Campaign wrapped up at the end of September, which is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, after raising more than $17,500. The funds were split between Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) and the family of six-year-old Simon Edgar-Dickert, a local youth battling brain cancer at an Oct. 22 cheque presentation.
Minto town council wants Community Living Guelph Wellington (CLGW) to reconsider its decision to shut down day programs at its facility in Harriston. The closure of six day program sites – in Harriston, Mount Forest, Fergus, Erin and two in Guelph – has left many participants with specialized needs and their parents and caregivers concerned they have been left without critical support. Community Living officials have stated the agency is adopting a “person-centred” approach to care, allowing clients to choose their own life goals and activities. Council passed a motion directing staff to send a letter to CLGW asking the agency to reconsider ending day programs and to provide a response to the town.
Legion branches across north Wellington hosted unusual Remembrance Day services, modified due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on Nov. 11. Legion branches in Harriston, Drayton, Arthur and Mount Forest asked members of the public not to attend the services, in order to ensure physical distancing requirements were met.
Public health has ordered the closure of schools and churches in Old Order Mennonite communities in northern Wellington County. Individuals in these communities have also been ordered to follow public health measures such as wearing masks, reducing the size of social gatherings, cooperating with contact tracing, getting tested for COVID-19 if symptomatic and isolating if sick. Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer, of Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH), issued three Section 22 orders under the Health Protection and Promotion Act on Nov. 12. Mercer said a recent spike in cases in Wellington County can largely be attributed to this population, many of whom do not wear masks, do not observe physical distancing, and have not altered their behaviour due to the pandemic.
The Palmerston and District Hospital Auxiliary, like many other organizations, has had to adapt fundraising efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. In lieu of the annual Christmas bazaar, the auxiliary hosted a greenery sale on Dec. 5 in Palmerston. The sale was a success, as the auxiliary sold all its items and raised over $4,000.
Two minor sports organizations here received a big boost from a local family through the Centre Wellington Community Foundation (CWCF). A contribution from the Donald family (Kate Ross-LeBlanc and Jim Donald) to the foundation’s Wellington North Youth Fund was split between the Mount Forest Minor Hockey Association ($47,500) and the Mount Forest Minor Ball Association ($9,500).
Mapleton officials were forecasting a 2.17 per cent reduction in municipal taxes next year, based on the second year of a multi-year budget. On Dec. 1, finance director John Morrison said ratepayers would receive a reduction of $10 per $100,000 of assessment – down from $476 to $466 – on their taxes for 2021. That’s because the tax levy remains steady at $8.5 million (0% increase), but there was a 1.4% increase in assessment across the township, which results in additional tax revenue of $119,000.
“We’re coming into 2021 and obviously we’ve had COVID around for a while now and we have some people and some businesses that are struggling so having a tax reduction for 2021 and not having the MPAC assessment being changed is going to be a real benefit to our community members,” said Mayor Gregg Davidson.
Santa Claus visited Mount Forest for a reverse drive-thru parade organized by the local Lions Club on Dec. 4. From 7 to 9pm, vehicles could travel around the fairgrounds track so local residents could view stationary floats on the infield. Those without vehicles could view the event live on Facebook. The theme of the event was “Keeping spirits high.” Similar events hosted by firefighters and service groups were held across north Wellington as communities adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Local municipalities, which had already scaled back operations under Ontario’s red COVID-19 alert level, will close down tighter in response to the province-wide lockdown set to begin on Boxing Day.
The provincial restrictions, announced on Dec. 21 by Premier Doug Ford, will be similar to those imposed in March, with indoor social gatherings prohibited and only those businesses deemed essential allowed to stay open.
As they announced local closures, municipal officials from across the county encouraged residents to dine and shop local (online if possible) to support area businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic.