Bunnell: 'Small hiccup' delays STEPAC reopening

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Robbie Burns said it, didn’t he.

Best-laid plans gang aft agley (often go wrong).

And though St. Thomas-Elgin Public Art Centre hoped to reopen its door Tuesday this week, its best-laid plan has gone awry … the Closed sign remains up.

Explains STEPAC Exec. Director Laura Woermke:

“We have had a small hiccup in reopening today and we will need to be closed the rest of the week.

“We were very excited but you know how things go.”

Indeed. The gallery had prepared an extensive plan for staff and patron safety in these times of COVID-19, posted to the STEPAC website.

However, reopening is uncharted territory. In fact, the Ontario Association of Art Galleries just Monday released a 13-page document of resources. 13 pages!

Says Laura:

“We are still looking for some protocols and procedures that have not been supplied or offered yet….

“We are not under-prepared but our circumstance and environment is different than other galleries and we took note of this and will need some time to develop them.”


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Southwest Public Health also had input into the gallery’s plan, and apparently raised issues. Says Dr. Joyce Lock, medical officer of health:

“Public health works with businesses to give guidance on how to reopen safely, specific to infection prevention and control measures. Workplaces do not need to open if they feel they cannot do so safely.”

And Laura concludes, “What a strange time.”

I think R. Burns certainly would have agreed with that!

When the Open sign does go up, the art gallery is planning a summer-long survey exhibition of work from its permanent collection.

* * *

The difficulty faced by Horton Farmers’ Market to come up with a plan for its own reopening, has cost two members of the market’s eight-member operating board.

St. Thomas city council last week accepted resignations of community rep Heather Crockett and vendor rep Chris DeVries, who was Common Ground Farm at the market.

As personnel matters, their letters were read in a closed door session and are not being released.

But Heather and Chris say they both were concerned by market board leadership and felt their concerns about getting the market open, were not heard.

Heather Crockett:

“I have no choice but to send in this letter of resignation because I do not feel that this board is being led with the best interest of all members. A board of directors is made up of many members, in our case community and vendor, and these voices are not being heard. It is unfortunate that because of this the board is losing two members. I really didn’t want to step away but with the current leadership and how things have been run, I do not wish to be part of something like this any longer.”


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Chris DeVries:

“I did not agree with the actions we were taking as a board or our approach to opening the market. It seemed help was being turned down and decisions were being made without considering the true impact on the viability of the market for the vendors and the customers. Also, I didn’t seem able to contribute effectively any longer as a board member.”

He now has set up at Wildflowers Farm’s Friday market and is uncertain of returning to the city-owned Saturday market.

“We cannot, as a business, plan and operate with so little information or planning interaction with the market and its manager.”

Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands chairs the market board and stick-handled the reopening, finally supported by city council last week after a first plan was rejected.

Says she:

“I will say that prior to this term of council, I spent eight years on the Horton Farmers’ Market Board … I’ve also been a farmer, I’ve also been a vendor at the market, and also ran a farmer’s market ….

“We’re in very unusual times. The board is made up of vendors and members of the public, members of council, and we’re subjected to the rules of (city) administration, the new rules under Southwest Public Health, all of the special interests that needed to be accommodated – there was an extra layer of procedures we had to follow – and when it came to the vote, I brought all of the info that I had, so did everyone else bring all the pieces of information to the table, and it was voted upon ….


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“I did a roll call for comments and a roll call for the vote … and we voted and the majority was called upon and we moved on.”

Any second thoughts?

“The most important thing for me is ensuring the market is open, that a 142-year tradition is met, and that connection with our local food and growers, and customers that we have at the market, is maintained. And that is the ultimate goal.”

The market opens Saturday with physical distancing and other safety measures.

* * *

Meanwhile, there will be something to really celebrate Monday when Elgin’s municipal beaches finally reopen. And not just the fact the Lake Erie shoreline is once again accessible.

For a 10th year, Central Elgin will hoist the Blue Flag this year at Port Stanley’s Main Beach. There’s a ceremony at 11 a.m. near the main pavilion.

The flag is an international symbol of eco-certification, attesting that a beach or marina meets strict environmental standards. It’s a comprehensive assessment – there are 33 criteria for beaches, alone (and 38 for marinas).

Main Beach was the first Blue Flag beach in Elgin but Port Glasgow Beach and Port Burwell East Beach also now are Blue flagged.

* * *

But in these times of COVID-19, how to organize a neighbourhood public meeting to give voice to opposition of a 635-unit high-density development – the thinking is highrise – proposed by Toronto interests for Shaw Valley?

The meeting is 10 a.m. Saturday in Shaw Valley Park, with spaces for households and their bubbles marked to follow provincial guidelines for distancing, explains Brandon Fox. He’s one of about 10 organizers who hope to rally the 300-household neighbourhood in advance of a public zoning meeting next week, and to form a ratepayers’ group.


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“It’s just not the right spot for it,” he says of the development, proposed for what originally was to have been a golf course but now is zoned for lower-density residential.

* * *

Tho’ StT expat Cyril Goddeeris was speaking from his home in New Jersey, across the Hudson from his Goldman Sachs office in New York City, Wednesday’s online coffee chat organized by St. Thomas and District Chamber of Commerce had a real hometown flavour.

In advance of the online get-together with chamber members to talk the like of the financial markets, as well as pro sports (Cyril’s a minor owner of Las Vegas Golden Knights), Streamliners’ Maria Fiallos sent the guest of honour a shipment of Las Chicas del Cafe coffee from the St. Thomas coffee roastery. The frontier is still open for essentials like that, don’t you know.

While no one can get together these days in person for chamber events, the chamber’s coffee chats with community and business leaders, and others, attract between 20 and 50 participants. About 40 signed on for this week’s edition.

The chats were introduced in these times of pandemic by new chamber head Paul Jenkins, who moderates:

“At the chamber, we are keen to celebrate our community’s success no matter how far afield their success has taken them.

“You can be a Hollywood star and come from St Thomas, a first ballot NHL Hall of Famer from our community, or be an incredibly successful businessperson and own part of a professional team.”


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And he says the chats likely will continue, even after the world starts turning again.

Next is June 25 with Kim Destun, St. Thomas fire dept., about a safe community during the Canada Day holiday weekend.

* * *

And Paul explains how the chamber and Cyril connect:

“Cyril is two years older than me and good friends with my sister (Jodi O’Reilly), but I grew up playing hockey with his brother (Rick) and I’ve known him since we were little.

“Plus, like me, he’s a goalie, and goalies know goalies. In fact, back when Elgin high schools had their own hockey league, Cyril was in net when St Joe’s won their sole title.”

And Cyril has been a big supporter of St. Thomas Elgin-General Hospital, where Paul formerly headed STEGH Foundation

It’s a small world!

* * *

Lastly today, it’s time to break out summer clothes! The season arrives 5:43 p.m. EDT on Saturday in St. Thomas.

You know, I get that the new normal summer wardrobe includes face masks. I get it.

But after several downright chilly nights recently – the heat actually came on last week at the house! – must we really have to have bedsox, as well?

So unfair.

(And with the summer solstice, the days now start getting shorter. Don’t even get me started on that one ….)

Stay well!