Firefighters continue Port Carling Santa tradition

This year, Muskoka Lakes firefighters helped Santa AND Muskoka Food Bank…


(December 31, posted 10:30am PORT CARLING) For the past 29 years, Santa, with the help of the members of the Port Carling Station of the Township of Muskoka Lakes Fire Department, has spread cheer to all within the community of Port Carling. Each year, Santa catches a ride on a Muskoka Lakes fire truck to trek around Port Carling wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

On December 24th, 2014, the adventure began again at 6pm with Santa atop a fire truck. But this year there was a slight twist.

Santa asked those how could to donate to the West Muskoka Food Bank (even Santa needs a little help from his friends!). At the end of the night, Santa’s heart was filled with pride and joy when two full pick-up truck beds were dropped off at the food bank.

“I know Santa wanted to thank the community of Port Carling for their generous donations,” said Deputy Chief Harry Baranik, “and the members of the Port Carling Station of the Township of Muskoka Lakes Fire Department for their time and effort for such a great cause.”

Fire truck all ablaze with Christmas lights
Fire truck all ablaze with Christmas lights


The Township of Muskoka Lakes Fire Department, Chief Richard Hayes and Deputy Chief Baranik and all volunteer firefighters of Muskoka Lakes wish everyone a safe Holiday Season and a Happy New Year.

Muskoka Lakes firefighters battle attic blaze in Port Carling

Firefighters battle flames and freezing cold temps to save Port Carling home…


(December 31, posted 10:30am PORT CARLING) It took four hours to bring a stubborn blaze under control at a home in Port Carling overnight.

Firefighters from Port Carling, Milford Bay, and Minett responded to a call that came at about 11:30pm last night (December 3o) from homeowners at 30 Harris Street in Port Carling.

Muskoka Lakes Deputy Fire Chief Harry Baranik says flames shooting from the area around the chimney from a main floor fire place had spread to the home’s attic. Members of the fire department fought the cold temperatures for almost 4 hours before bringing the fire under control.

The investigation as to the cause is under way. Damages are still to be estimated. There were no injuries.

Mayor rejects Bala Falls conflict of interest charges by Wahta

No pecuniary interest says Huntsville Mayor after Wahta Chief accuses Huntsville and Bracebridge Councillors of putting money ahead of a portage…


(December 30, 1130pm MUSKOKA) The Chief of Wahta First Nation is accusing some Muskoka District Councillors of acting out of greed rather than for the greater good of the District – and one Mayor has already rejected Chief Franks’ charges. Continue reading “Mayor rejects Bala Falls conflict of interest charges by Wahta”

Fire Christmas Day destroys Million Dollar Georgian Bay Cottage

Update December 26, 10pm: Investigators from the Ontario Fire Marshall’s Office attended the scene of the fire with members of the Georgian Bay Fire Service today. After investigation, officials have concluded that that cause of fire yesterday was electrical in nature and in no way suspicious.

(December 26, 11am, GEORGIAN BAY): Fire destroyed a cottage Christmas Day on King’s Farm Road in Georgian Bay Township. The cottage was empty at the time of the blaze.

Members of the Southern Georgian Bay Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) say neighbours called 911 for Emergency Services at 5:27pm on December 25, 2014 after noting a fire had broken out which eventually totally engulfed a nearby cottage. The OPP responded along with members of the Georgian Bay Township Fire Service.

The value of the loss is estimated at 1.2 million dollars. The Ontario Fire Marshall’s Office will help fire officials determine the cause of the fire, which police say is not considered to be suspicious in nature at this time.

Over 220 truck accidents in past 10 days on Ontario roads

Police concerned about increasing trucking accidents on Ontario roads

(December 22, Release from OPP Georgian Bay): The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) is concerned about the more than 1,200 commercial motor vehicle (CMV) collisions it has responded to so far this winter and that not all CMV drivers are on board with the OPP’s call for motorists to change their driving behaviours and help reduce the number of collisions on Ontario roads.

Between November 1 and December 17, 2014, the OPP responded to 1,295 collisions that involved CMVs, with more than 220 of these incidents having occurred over the past ten days alone. In one recent incident, the driver of a tractor trailer drove into a bridge support, resulting in the jack-knifed truck leaking approximately 15,000 litres of diesel fuel into a creek (east of Toronto). Editor note: An official with OPP Central says there are no regional statistics available that are specific to Parry Sound-Muskoka.

The OPP continues to see large trucks lose control and roll over when the drivers ignore posted ramp speed advisory signs and fail to slow down when travelling on highway on/off ramps.  With months of winter driving remaining, this is a particularly important time for drivers of large commercial trucks to drive within the speed limit and to slow right down when weather and road conditions deteriorate.

Nine trucking-related deaths since November

“The OPP acknowledges that many commercial motor vehicle drivers take their driving responsibilities seriously. But it is imperative that every person who drives a large truck recognizes the increased risks and social costs. The risk of death and serious injuries is greater and the property damage and disruption to the movement of traffic are more extensive when these large load-bearing vehicles are involved in collisions,” said Chief Superintendent Chuck Cox, Provincial Commander, OPP Highway Safety Division.   Nine of the CMV-related road crashes investigated by the OPP since November 1, 2014 resulted in the loss of life.  Since January 1, 2014 the OPP has responded to more than 8,850 collisions that involved a CMV, with 74 resulting in deaths.

In November, the OPP warned Ontario drivers that not changing driving behaviours this winter could set the stage for a repeat of last winter’s carnage (2013-2014) which ended with more than 33,000 road crashes (in OPP jurisdiction).  CMV drivers and other drivers need to share the road and give each other the space they need to travel and stop safely.

As Ontarians get ready to head out on the road with their families to visit loved ones over the holidays, the OPP is reminding all drivers to:

  • Adjust your speed and slow right down when visibility and road conditions deteriorate and avoid non-essential travel during these periods.
  • Activate your full set of headlights every day throughout the winter months.  Using the full set of headlights is the only way to completely engage your rear lights and this is critical in helping to reduce the risk of collisions when driving in poor visibility.
  • Use MTO’s Ontario 511 Traveller Information Services to obtain easy access to up-to-date winter information on road conditions and road closures on provincially maintained roads. Ontario 511 also provides voice-activated, hands-free service.  Drivers are expected to observe Ontario cell phone laws when using Ontario 511 while on the road and are encouraged to pull over to a safe location to use it as the safest option. Planning ahead and being prepared will help keep road users safe so help spread the word about Ontario 511!


Two Bracebridge residents face charges after store thefts

Alleged holiday shoplifting spree thwarted in Bracebridge

(December 20, 10:30pm, BRACEBRIDGE): A Bracebridge woman and man are being held for bail on charges related to what the OPP says was a holiday shoplifting operation.

Members of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Bracebridge Detachment and OPP Muskoka Vice Street Crime Unit worked undercover together at a Bracebridge department store in an effort to stop holiday thefts.

As a result of the investigation, the OPP has recovered several stolen items, including computer equipment, toys, food and clothing valued at approximately $1,500.00.


NDPers fire back at Clement over gun registry comments

Clement charge that NDP would revive long-gun registry called ‘BS’ by local NDP riding president


(December 20, 10pm, MUSKOKA): Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Tony Clement’s shot at the NDP about the dead long-gun registry has local NDPers firing back. Continue reading “NDPers fire back at Clement over gun registry comments”

Parry Sound-Muskoka Liberals meet potential candidates

Federal Liberals meet in Port Sydney as local party gets ready for anticipated 2015 election

(December 20, 2014 8pm, PORT SYDNEY) Liberals packed the Port Sydney Community Hall last Sunday, December 14, for a holiday social that featured four aspiring nominees looking to become the the federal candidate in the 2015 election.

Photos and release submitted by Morgan Earl: Featured Photos hows  aspiring Federal Liberal candidates for Parry Sound-Muskoka riding at Port Sydney Community Centre.
L to R:  Phyllis Winnington-Ingram, Trisha Cowie, Mary Robertson and Eric Gonneau. A fifth nominee for candidacy, Paul Everitt, was unable to attend.

“Members are very happy to see so many well-qualified people stepping forward,” said Leigh Beal, president of the Parry Sound-Muskoka Federal Liberal Association, noting that there are actually five prospects but that one, Paul Everitt could not make the meeting.Following lunch, the four prospects had the opportunity to speak to the group and to take part in a question and answer session. Beal says each performed very well and, at the end, received a thunderous round of applause.

The federal election is scheduled for October 2015, though there is the possibility that it could come sooner. “The Conservatives have not adhered to their fixed election date once since bringing it in, so I don’t think it s wise for us to assume they will this time,” said Ms Beal. “We are working to be prepared for anything.”

Parry Sound Muskoka Liberals
Parry Sound-Muskoka Liberal members question aspiring candidates in hour long Q&A

The session was robust and optimistic. The government’s decline in recent polls is fuelling the sense that it is time for change, said one Liberal member in attendance.

Eric Gonneau, federal Liberal candidate
Mark Gonneau and daughter Keira were there as Team Eric Gonneau supporters Sunday.

The successful local Liberal candidate will be selected by a vote of the membership at a nomination meeting; the date of which is determined by the Liberal Party of Canada and has not yet been set. In the meantime, each of those in the running will be campaigning among the existing members and recruiting new ones to support them in their bid.

Seeking the nomination are: Trisha Cowie, a lawyer in Bala and member of the Hiawatha First Nation; Paul Everitt, a Bracebridge equipment sales man, Eric Gonneau, a fifth generation Muskokan and real estate investor; Mary Robertson, a Bracebridge social worker and corrections officer; and Phyllis Winnington-Ingram, a local community development consultant.

A small group of  Liberals met again on Thursday, December 18, at the Griffin Gastro pub in Bracebridge as part of the local riding association’s Speak Easy series. Robertson and Paul Everitt were two candidate prospects there chatting with potential supporters.

Aspiring nominees to represent federal Parry Sound Muskoka Liberals:


For more information on the Liberal Party or the nomination contest visit <>  or call 705-224-9461.

Related Articles:

November 29, 2014, MNW: Potential Parry Sound Muskoka Liberal candidates unveiled

December 19, 2014, Liberal contestants vying for candidacy

BREAKING: Accused of swindling millions, Nick Smirnow nabbed by Huntsville OPP

Not the welcome at arrivals they expected? Huntsville OPP arrest Lake of Bays couple at airport; one is Nicholas Smirnow, accused of multi million dollar Ponzi scheme

(December 16, 2:10pm, HUNTSVILLE): To call this a big bust is an understatement. 56-year-old Nicholas Smirnow, known for the online business, Pathway to Prosperity, was arrested Friday at the Toronto airport by members of the Muskoka Crime Unit and Huntsville OPP. Also arrested was 44-year-old Dianna Rose Smirnow for allegedly defrauding the Ontario government. Both are from Lake of Bays.

This is a long-awaited arrest. Investigators in the U.S. and Ontario have been waiting to nab Nicholas (Nick) Smirnow for allegedly ripping off 40,000 investors on six continents of an estimated $70million. U.S. federal investigators allege he used a Ponzi scheme he used to warn people about as part of his own online business to attract investors.

Featured photo source:

According to, Smirnow’s business was more like “Pathway to Poverty” and his reported promises to investors started raising red flags in 2008, just before he vanished. Quoting that account:

“After several complaints about Nick Smirnow’s behavior (in North Dakota), the Ontario Provincial Police became involved. After a brief investigation, Detective Andy Muller of Huntsville, Ontario released a questionnaire urging all Pathway 2 Prosperity victims to participate. Andy Muller’s actions were followed by Jacob Gholson, a United States postal inspector, asking all U.S. based victims to contact him and forward the questionnaire to his office as well.”

Accused Ponzi Mastermind Nicholas Smirnow arrested at Pearson Airport Toronto
Nicholas Smirnow Wanted Picture. Source: INTERPOL.

Acting on a tip, the OPP in Huntsville learned that Dianna Smirnow was returning Friday, December 12, and met her at the airport to execute an outstanding warrant for her arrest stemming from an extensive investigation in 2008. She is accused of defrauding the Ontario Ministry of Communications and Social Services with a substantial amount of money over a period of a year. The accused had left the country and a warrant for her arrest was obtained.

Nicholas Smirnow also had outstanding warrants: the OPP Anti Rackets Branch was helped by the Muskoka Crime unit in gathering information that led to charges in relation to Fraud over $5000.00 x2 and Possession of Property Obtained by Crime under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Both accused were transported to the Huntsville detachment and were held for a bail hearing on December 15, 2014.

Dianna Smirnow will be back in on December 22, 2014 in the Ontario Court of Justice in Bracebridge to answer to her charges. Nicholas Smirnow will be in court in Bracebridge again on January 5, 2015.


Related Articles

May 2010: Huffington Post: Nicholas Smirnow warned clients to avoid Ponzi schemes


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Another $150K donated to Muskoka Lakes Nursing Station in Port Carling

The Cowan Foundation presents $150,000 Donation (Release December 11, Port Carling): The Cowan Foundation has presented a cheque for $150,000 to the Muskoka Lakes Nursing Station team, including Allen Edwards, Chair; Brock Napier, Vice-Chair and Linda Edwards, Secretary.

The presentation took place Monday, December 8, at the temporary nursing station located at the Port Carling library and included a site visit to the location where the permanent station will be built in the spring. The nursing station will include a full-time Nurse Practitioner, Administrative Assistant, and a collaborative association with a Physician. It will be a key component of the new Brock and Willa Wellness Centre in the Muskoka Lakes area that will also include a hospice and retirement residence.

Submitted photo (from left to right): Brock Napier, Principle Donor, Wellness Centre; Christine Cowan, Research/Executive Assistant, The Cowan Foundation; Tom Dietrich, Board Member, The Cowan Foundation; Willa Napier, Principle Donor, Wellness Centre; Tracy Spark, Director Personal Insurance Group; Allen & Linda Edwards, Chair & Secretary, Muskoka Lakes Nursing Station, Community Health Hub.

Other supporters of the project include local community and seasonal donors and foundations, the LHIN and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care who has approved operating and start-up funding for the Muskoka Lakes Nursing Station, community health hub.

• “The Cowan Foundation is proud to support the Muskoka Lakes Nursing Station, a community health hub  that will provide expanded services for health links to Port Carling and the surrounding areas,” explained Tracy Spark, Director Personal Insurance, Cowan Insurance Group  “Donating $150,000 to this outstanding facility aligns with our Foundation’s goal that focuses on health and wellness – while at the same time providing an opportunity to contribute to a project that matters to local residents.”

• “We are honoured to be the recipient of this generous donation from The Cowan Foundation and their faith in us to see this much needed primary health care facility becoming a reality for all permanent, seasonal residents and visitors to the Township of Muskoka Lakes.  Many residents do not have a doctor and now will have the continuity of health care in a rural area” explained Allen & Linda Edwards, Chair and Secretary of the Nursing Station.

• Brock Napier, Vice-Chair commented, “We are very appreciative of this donation and would like The Cowan Foundation to know that the $150,000 has moved us forward to be able to start the build this coming spring.”

About the Muskoka Lakes Nursing Station

The Muskoka Lakes Community Health Hub (Nursing Station) is part of the District of Muskoka’s primary health plan and has been chosen as a pilot health care model for all of Ontario by the Ministry of Health.

The station will include a full time Nurse Practitioner, Administrative Assistant, and collaborative association with a Physician. These features align with the overall plan for the nursing station, as well as additional space for other health services incorporated into the architectural design.

The project is supported by the LHIN due to its focus on expansion of services for health links to rural communities.

The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care has provided start up funding; resulting in plans to open the temporary primary health care facility in the lower level of the Port Carling Library this winter. Building of the permanent facility on the property donated by Brock & Willa Napier is slated for the spring of 2015.

About the Brock and Willa Wellness Centre

The Brock & Willa Wellness Centre consists of a nursing station, hospice and retirement residence. Each project is a separate building located on the property creating an overall wellness centre serving the Township of Muskoka Lakes and surrounding areas.

About The Cowan Foundation

The Cowan Foundation was started in 1995 in honour of Frank Cowan, the founder of Cowan Insurance Group and Frank Cowan Company. The Foundation is sustained by the ongoing success of the Princeton Holdings group of companies including Cowan Insurance Group, Frank Cowan Company, The Guarantee Company of North America, Millennium Credit Risk Management and Cowan Asset Management. Together they provide insurance risk management products and services for individuals, businesses, organizations and public entities as well as assist employers with their group benefits, retirement, health and  disability management plans. The goal of The Cowan Foundation is to make a positive difference in the lives of Canadians and the broader well-being of our communities.

As well as the Nursing Station that is part of the Wellness Centre, there are other projects planned for campus of care in Port Carling, including:

Muskoka News Watch encourages donations to any of the THREE excellent care facilities proposed for the site in Port Carling: The Port Carling Nursing Station, Andy’s House Hospice and The Hub of the Lakes Retirement Residence.

Related Articles


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Handel’s Messiah inspires in Bracebridge; performance in Orillia today

Messiah in Bracebridge enthralls full house at St. Joseph’s Church last night; tomorrow, The Cellar Singers are at St. Paul’s United in Orillia (Update Dec. 13, Bracebridge):

About 250 people packed St. Joseph’s Church in Bracebridge last night to hear The Cellar Singers of Muskoka and Simcoe perform Handel’s epic Messiah. The 14 piece orchestra was mesmerizing (violins, oboes, bassoon, trumpets, and even a harpsichord from a Muskokan’s collection played by the incredible Blair Bailey) along with four stunning soloists.  Some of the comments from attendees: “Still tingling from such glorious music,” “a stunning performance,” and “a transcendent evening.” The Cellar Singers get to do it again Sunday, December 14 at 3pm at St. Paul’s United Church in Orillia.

Handel's Messiah Concert by The Cellar Singers
To buy tickets online until Sunday morning, click here (not on image).

A rare holiday treat for Muskoka to enjoy Messiah with local community choir, renowned professional soloists and orchestra, including a locally loaned harpsichord


(Friday, December 12, 2014, BRACEBRIDGE): At this time of year, Handel’s Messiah is performed all over the world – as it has since its premiere debut in Dublin in 1742. But in Muskoka and Simcoe region (and all central Ontario), the only community choir to present this seasonal masterpiece with professional soloists and orchestra is The Cellar Singers.

Born in Dr. Monk’s basement in Bracebridge 47 years ago, the local ensemble brings Messiah to Muskoka, Orillia, Parry Sound, as well as other locations, every other year (as well as in other locations). So The Cellar Singers have sung Handel’s Christmas masterpiece at least 50 times.

Featured Photo: A glimpse of the 2012 performance of Messiah in Bracebridge featuring mezzo soprano Marion Newman. Submitted photo.

Sue Newman has sung Messiah hundreds of times

In fact, one Cellar Singer may hold the record for singing Messiah. Sue Newman of Orilllia figures between performances, workshops and rehearsals, she’s sung it “roughly 450 times.” If you’re catching this year’s performance, watch for the red head in the Alto section – you’ll note she’s singing Messiah from memory – and with incredible joy.
“For over 20 years, I had the great privilege of singing Messiah with The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and The Toronto Symphony each December, with world-class conductors and soloists, including recording the work with Sir Andrew Davis and Kathleen Battle, says Newman. “To sing Messiah with the Cellar Singers and Artistic Director Mitchell Pady in Orillia, is a continuation of my love affair with this beautiful composition by Handel.”

Even after so many performances, Newman says she always look forward to performing this beloved work, which to some, marks the beginning of the Christmas season.

“The great choruses, the memorable arias and recits: to be able to participate in the creation and interpretation of music with The Cellar Singers renews for me the joy, blessing and peace of singing,” she says. “We continue to be part of a tradition, where over the years, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, in multiple languages, have both heard or sung Messiah at the same time of year as we are now doing. Hallelujah and Amen!”

The group’s Artistic Director, Mitchell Pady, has himself performed Messiah over 200 times with the first time being when he sang it as a boy treble at about age nine (Just this past Friday, her sang it with the Elmer Iseler Singers and Amadeus Choir in Toronto, also with orchestra).

Not only does Pady know Messiah, he knows concert halls, and he says the space at St. Joseph’s Church will make this Friday’s performance especially entrancing.

Pady,Blair & singerscu
Rehearsing at Gravenhurst High School

“Hundreds of Messiahs are being done across the province, but we’re the only ones to bring Messiah with orchestra and renowned soloists to the region,” says Pady. “And it’s such an intimate performance in Bracebridge because of the space at St. Joseph’s. The seats are so close and encircle the orchestra so that the audience is immersed in the experience, almost surrounded by the ensemble. From that perspective, that is what makes this performance of Messiah different.”

It’s also unusual for Muskoka to have a choir perform with an orchestra. Messiah in Bracebridge will include strings, obo, trumpet, bassoon and a harpsichord loaned from the collection of Frances Balodis of Ullswater.

Featuring leading Canadian soloists

Handel’s Messiah is an oratorio, which means it is a musical theatre piece without acting, costumes or sets but presented in a concert setting. Four of Canada’s most dynamic classical singers will join the Cellar Singers in this performance, including soprano Jennifer Taverner, mezzo soprano Jennifer Enns Modolo, baritone Benjamin Covey and tenor Joseph Levésque, who says he is thrilled to be singing it in Bracebridge again.

The Messiah mystique endures

What brings people back to listen or sing Messiah time and time again? It may be the mystique around Messiah – Handel composed the entire work in just 24 days, for example. And although the famous “Hallelujah” chorus is nowhere near the end of the show, audiences around the world always rise when they hear the first strains of the chorus. Often people who don’t know the tradition look confused as their neighbours stand suddenly. But the tradition began, so the story goes, when King George II of England was so overcome by emotion on hearing the Hallelujah chorus that he jumped to his feet – and when a King stands, everyone stands. In popular culture, the Hallelujah chorus pops up in films and television shows as diverse as Die Hard to the most recent installment of the HBO’s The Newsroom. There’s just something about Handel’s Messiah (including an ongoing controversy over the spelling of Handel’s name!)

Tickets available for tonight’s performance in Bracebridge and Sunday in Orillia

For an unusually uplifting, emotional and quality musical experience, everyone should see Messiah at least once in their lifetime, agree choristers and past audience members. Or maybe, like so many members of The Cellar Singers, you might just get to sing it a few hundred times.

Dress rehearsal begins for The Cellar Singers
Dress rehearsal begins for The Cellar Singers

Tickets for Messiah can still be bought at the door at St. Joseph’s Church in Bracebridge tonight at 118 McMurray Street. To ensure a seat, make sure you have your ticket at least 15 minutes before the 7:30pm start time. Tickets are $30 for adults and $15 for students. To learn more, visit

Can’t catch tonight’s performance? The Cellar Singers will sing Messiah with orchestra again this Sunday afternoon (3pm) at St. Paul’s United Church.

OTHER MUSKOKA CONCERTS THIS WEEKEND: The Elderberries under direction of Deb Tilson sing their Christmas Concert, Saturday, December 13 at St. James Anglican Church in Gravenhurst starting 7pm.

The Muskoka Advent Choir perform the cantata, Changed by a Baby Boy, December 14 at Pinegrove Baptist Church. This is a historic series for the choir as it is the last time it will be directed by Reverend George Johnston. Read about the advent choir in Muskoka ToDaily by clicking here.

Free Chataqua jam also on tonight at Marriott in Minett.

The watch woman of Bala Falls brings hope for some, pain for others

People are tired of anger occupying Bala. My Christmas wish is a return of the town I love most.

December 9, 2014, Bala: Opinion and Commentary by Norah Fountain:


Some people hated Wakestock once. They pretty much ran it out of town. Then, Wakestock came back, and the people were at peace with it. [A Bala parable].

To the man who shoved me yesterday and the woman who feels I don’t have a right to speak or write about Bala Falls because I live a few miles away, I say, I get it. I understand your anger. I’m angry, too. But I’m also hopeful that somewhere amidst the controversy and emotion that divides Bala is an equally strong mutual concern for the Bala Falls. I have to believe that ‘somewhere’ will win out in the end.

If you feel like a long read about what I’ve observed in Bala over the past 100 days, and the minor incident I experienced yesterday, settle in for The Only Chronicle I Plan to Write on 100 days of the Occupation of Bala Falls. Or watch brief video clips below from my interview yesterday with Peggy Peterson, the Huntsville woman at the heart of Monday’s small protest. Monday marked 100 days of her keeping periodic watch over the falls.

In this interview (in which she agreed to be videotaped), I asked her about her present location and if it meant that her physical occupation of Crown land is over (to which she responds her move is “friggin’ obvious”) and I tried to ask her to reconcile that fact with her celebration of 100 straight days of occupation of that said land.

Interview clips from interview with Peterson:

Click here: Asking Peterson about what Crown land she claims to occupy or have occupied. Next, Click Here: Peterson confirms move from Crown site

I’m genuinely curious about how a protest occupation is defined, when it is considered to be over officially, and what can turn a peaceful protest sour. I learned a lot, first hand, yesterday. After the morning interview, I returned for the 1pm gathering at which about 15 people turned out to mark Peterson’s 100 days in Bala. She started on Crown land by the North Bala dam, and moved to Township land, and now parks a van, car and fire pits on a mix of Crown, Township and CP Rail land leased to Purk’s Place.

Despite Peterson’s pleas for media to attend, my arrival was not appreciated.  With some encouragement, she did make a newer statement in which she mentioned Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was having a meeting with government officials that very day about the future of power projects. Wynne did meet with B.C. Premier Christy Clark to discuss carbon pricing and a possible climate change pact yesterday, but there is no indication from any reports that waterpower was discussed.

Meantime around the fire in Bala…In answer to my questions about whether anyone would comment on the fact that the power project build site was no longer being occupied, some members of the group decided to walk on to the site with me following with camera and the iPad I’m trying out to capture video (I told the crowd I was taping and many were taping me back). That’s when things got a bit, well, pushy.

Wants press, doesn’t want press, loves non-flying pigeons

Later I learned that before the afternoon gathering, Peterson had been asking via her newly hooked up Internet connection about how to stop journalists from asking her questions, saying she was “interested in knowing how so I can stop the proponent pigeon from flying in here” followed by the hashtag #love. Now that she’s made it clear she doesn’t want press, I’m happy to oblige. Even though I’m curious about her love for grounded pigeons.

To read my take on the past 100 days of the one-woman occupation of Bala Falls and how its brought hope for some, pain for others, along with what I learned yesterday about ‘peaceful’ protest, check out “The Only Chronicle I Plan to Write on 100 Days of the Occupation of Bala Falls” commentary.

Featured photo shows the Crown land site that Peterson has vowed to protect.

Chronicling 100 days of the occupation of Bala Falls

A minor assault is one thing, but telling me I shouldn’t care about Bala because I’m from Torrance? Ouch.

December 9 Commentary by Norah Fountain

Misinformation and irony have both plagued and sometimes amused those following the controversial Bala Falls saga. Personally, I find nothing about it amusing — but I certainly experienced the irony yesterday. A woman I’ve volunteered with and whom I consider a community neighbour shouted at me yesterday, “Why do you care? You don’t even live here”, while the protestor she was there to support is from Huntsville.

Last time I checked, Huntsville is farther away from Bala Falls than my lifelong home in Torrance, but don’t get me wrong, I’m glad people in Huntsviille like Bala, too!

It should be more obvious, however, why I care about Bala. I’m also the unfortunate journalist who first stumbled upon the story in December 2003 of a proposed hydro site release in Bala and I’m compelled to see the story to the end (so I guess this month marks a milestone for me, too. Not 100 days, but 11 years of the Bala Falls saga and still no bully has shut me up on any side of this complex story — and yes, dear readers, there are more than two sides).

Peterson adds to protest arsenal

I’m also trying to forgive the few protestors who aim hatred at anyone who expresses anything but the Just Say No side. I believe these people are deafened to reason by their anger over the past decade, and empathize with them about feeling helpless over a situation that is mostly out of their control. Peggy Peterson of Huntsville makes them feel like they do have some control — after all, it appears she may have slowed forward motion a bit on the hydro project at Bala Falls.

At first I thought her efforts were somewhat noble — at least she wasn’t resorting to the cowardly bullying and intimidation tactics displayed by some supporters of the stop the hydro plant lobby group. On day two, she told me she was only holding the space in reserve for the people of the Williams Treaty, specifically the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation. 100 days later, they haven’t replaced her. As we Protestor at bala fallsheaded into October, I worried she was being taken advantage of by those who cheered her on, and brought her food, but were not likely to leave the comfort of their homes to ever camp with her (kudos to Allan Turnbull who gave her one night of kind relief by camp sitting for her). She became active on social media, and started telling people how she was going to be featured in a documentary film entitled, Revolution, which had already been released in 2013, making it difficult for her to ever appear in it. I wondered if she had been misled, but then concluded she simply mixed things up as What’s Up columnist Jack Hutton wrote on October 1 that another film might be in the works as a result of the impact Peterson made on film-maker Rob Stewart. Still, film production takes a long time, and while it buoyed her hopes and added to the misinformation that flies around Bala, she was soon forced to move from the site at the north Bala dam. She was served with a trespass notice by MNR and the few tents came down. Only a tarped-in enclosure remained, which was already partially on Township land closer to the South falls. On November 27, after making  appeals for people to join her or replace her or to ask if anybody really cared, she announced she wasn’t giving up, but was leaving the occupation site to spend her days in a van she calls her office and by her fire at Purk’s Place. Her signs and other objects now cover an area that includes Crown, Township and CP Rail land, the latter leased to Purk’s Place.

Condition of occupation site alarms some in town

Her efforts weren’t embraced as enthusiastically by others in Bala, however. There were mutterings from people in the town when clothing and material was hung on the bridge and graffiti started to appear early in September. An election was raging, and Peterson became a target for both supporters and those who believed the presence of someone camping in town might be bad for business.

By October, people in town started to grumble more loudly, contacting officials with the Province, District, the Township and the local Chamber of Commerce (Note the Chamber has no position on the Bala Falls controversy) about the mess in the middle of town made by the hand-made signs and graffiti, etc. Letters of complaint and support fired back and forth in local newspapers. An often repeated sentiment was “Surely, Bala would be cleaned up before Cranberry?”. When I called MNR to ask that exact question, Ministry officials advised the situation would likely not be taken care of until after the election.

What did I do? Muskoka News Watch didn’t cover occupation after harmless mention on Sept. 2

At around the same time, Peterson began attacking me personally on Twitter (I was to to learn of this later as I was away travelling for much of October). I have a stated policy about trolls: I block them. She took major offense, thinking I was referring to her as a troll under a bridge. It’s amazing how these things can escalate, although I’m surprised the analogy escaped me as she was right, it did seem to fit. While complaining generally about a lack of media attention, for some reason she  decided to single me out. She had bought into a lie that I am only interested in Bala for some mysterious financial gain. Supporters piled on with more nonsense about me personally, so I went to visit her one afternoon to talk to her about it. On that day, there was no one there, although a fire was burning, unattended. I drive through Bala almost daily and I started to note she was often not there, and yet her social media posts suggested she never left the site. Awhile later I noticed a wheelbarrow and sand dumped mostly on the Township land. Now it was my turn to become suspicious. The camping rule, whether you are there just for the day or not, is to leave only footprints. Dumping sand so close to the river’s edge didn’t seem all that environmentalist-like to me. I dropped by again to see if she could explain. Still no Peterson. I started to question, can you have an occupation if you really aren’t occupying anything? Don’t you have to really be on the site?

So the 100-day claim and the Facebook requests to get media out prompted me to go see her yesterday morning and return later to see if she had the turnout she hoped for in the afternoon. I had also planned to raise the conversations I had with three different business owners who expressed dismay that more signs had gone up on both sides of the highway just before the Trek to Bethlehem (but it was quickly apparent that it wasn’t a safe crowd to raise those concerns with so I just stuck to my original questions about what makes an occupation an occupation). No one wanted to comment, but a demonstration was suggested and off some of them went to stand on the Crown land site. At some point, a man walked straight up to me, covered my camera and pushed me roughly away. I heard some female voices saying, “look, she’s going to say she was pushed,” and “watch her go to the OPP now.”

It’s a reporter’s cross to bear when it comes to covering controversy, but the apparent widespread approval of this man pushing me, and of the women jeering at me daring me to report it, was disturbing and you’d think it would disturb those who witnessed it (I must note Karen Commandant of Wahta expressed concern for me, urging me to be careful about stepping backward onto the highway and I’m thankful for that kind gesture). There was also a group by the fire at Purk’s that did not see this happen at all. Enough. I lived to write this long piece!

Back to the central question: 100 day occupation or no?

Despite the way I was treated today, I changed my opinion on whether Peterson could claim her actions as an active occupation.  Although I take issue with someone suggesting they are somewhere constantly when they are not, there’s nothing to say an occupation has to be 24×7. If the criteria is you’re technically from out of town and you come spend the night once in a while, maybe camp, and hang out a lot, then I guess I can say I’ve occupied Bala as well. I’ve just never desperately needed to feel like I’m part of an occupy movement.

But hey, if Peterson is correct and Premier Wynne was sitting down to fix everything just yesterday, maybe the committed lady from Huntsville won’t have to live up to her renewed pledge that she “will not be leaving this land until the Project is cancelled.” Hope she’s right, or she’ll be looking at a long winter in the van by the railway and the river.

P.S. Writers are told often they should write about what they know best. In the case of the controversial Bala Falls hydro project, that’s been a curse for me, but I remain ever hopeful that some day I’ll return to writing mostly happy stories about Bala because in the past, the happy Bala stories always outnumbered the not so happy. I’m not nostalgic: I just want a return to normalcy.

Bracebridge vigil remembers victims of violence

“Violence against women shouldn’t happen anywhere, but it does. Tonight is our reality check.” Rachelle Walker, Muskoka Womens Advocacy Group.

December 6, 6pm, Bracebridge: 40 people came out to the Bracebridge bandshell tonight for a vigil to mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Across Canada on December 6, vigils are held to commemorate the 14 female engineering students massacred at their school in Montreal. It was 25 years ago today that a gunman saying he hated feminists walked into Montreal’s École Polytechnique and gunned down 14 women, injuring ten more and four men before turning the gun on himself.

Bracebridge vigil Dec 6
Candlelight vigil in Bracebridge

Tonight the crowd at the Bracebridge Memorial bandshell on Manitoba Street listened as the names of Ontario women murdered this year, most often by people they knew, were read off, one by one. The crowd was also reminded of the horrific dangers Indigenous women experience in Canada. RCMP statistics show over 1,000 Indigenous women and girls were murdered between 1980 and 2012 and the terrifying trend continues today, with many acts of violence going unreported. 16 candles burned along the edge of the bandshell tonight: 14 for the women of Polytechnique, 1 for missing and murdered Indigenous women, and 1 for all women who have experienced or continue to experience abuse of all forms.

Why are violent acts against women buried in the media, asks Walker

Vigils like tonight’s gathering are important, stresses Rachelle Walker, Executive Director of the Muskoka Women’s Advocacy Group, as society is increasingly desensitized by violence, particularly violence against women. Why, asked Walker in her opening remarks, does a murder of a woman not make front-page headlines?

Here is the full speech by Walker:

“We are honoured to be here with you this evening to mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. This date, December 6, 2014, marks 25 years since 14 women were murdered at L’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal simply due to the fact that they were women. In this sector, we have a number of recognized events throughout the year. This one is the most solemn. This one is our reality check and underlines the precariousness of women’s safety in our society.

Rachelle Walker on violence against women
REALITY CHECK: Crowd listens to Walker speaking on the reality of ongoing violence against women

Each year, our provincial association provides us with a list of women who have been murdered across the province in that given year. And each year when this list is released to the shelters across the province, we are always saddened and outraged to see the number of women who have died as a direct result of sexist violence. This year, the list was late in coming.

Usually we see a first draft by early November but it still hadn’t arrived. So, instead of simply waiting, I started working on one on my own. My partner also started working on one. Despite both of us being decent at online research, we were stunned to see that it was almost impossible to find the information we were searching for. Neither of us was able to find the names of more than 11 women, but, because our work in the anti-violence sector, we also both knew that there were many more women’s tragic stories out there.

That fact, in and of it self, is telling. How does this information effectively disappear from our news sources and our collective consciousness within the span of one year? This sort of information should make the front page or a headline for more than a single day, if it makes it there at all.

This is happening right here, in our communities, all too often. Violence against women shouldn’t happen anywhere. Ever. Period. And when it does, it should be such an unthinkable tragedy that the woman’s story ought to be the leading headline of the newscast on TV and the first thing you see when you go to your favourite news web page. But it’s often not and these women deserve to be remembered. These stories are often buried in the media. Why?

Largely because it’s become so commonplace in our society and, in turn, we become more and more desensitized to it.

Bracebridge vigil
Final candles handed out at Bracebridge bandshell

The 16 candles you see lit up here are here for the purpose of honouring the 14 women who died in Montreal, one is to commemorate the hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada, and the final one is to pay remembrance to all women who have ever experienced or are still experiencing sexist violence.

Tonight, our job is bring attention to these women, their stories, and the fact that they didn’t need to die. Thank you for joining us as we re-affirm our commitment to addressing this serious and pervasive issue and as we stand together to mourn the loss of so many women who have been killed as a result of sexist violence.”

Facts about Violence Against Women Today (from

  • Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.1
  • 67% of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted.2
  • On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.  In 2011, In 2011, from the 89 police reported spousal homicides, 76 of the victims (over 85%) were women.3
  • On any given day in Canada, more than 3,300 women (along with their 3,000 children) are forced to sleep in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence. Every night, about 200 women are turned away because the shelters are full. 4
  • Each year, over 40,000 arrests result from domestic violence—that’s about 12% of all violent crime in Canada.5 Since only 22% of all incidents are reported to the police, the real number is much higher.
  • As of 2010, there were 582 known cases of missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.6 Both Amnesty International and the United Nations have called upon the Canadian government to take action on this issue, without success.7,8 According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, “if this figure were applied proportionately to the rest of the female population there would be over 18,000 missing Canadian women and girls.”

Facts from No More Stolen Sisters about violence against Indigenous women

  • Indigenous women are far more likely than non-Indigenous women to experience violence. In a 2009 government survey of the ten provinces, Aboriginal women were nearly three times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to report being a victim of a violent crime.
  • The violence experienced by Indigenous women is more severe. RCMP statistics released in 2014 show that Indigenous women are four times more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous women.
  • The high rates of violence threaten the lives of Indigenous women and girls from all walks of life, in every region of the country, on reserve, and in major Canadian cities. The perpetrators include Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal men alike.
  • Some patterns of violence facing Indigenous women and girls are different from those facing non-Indigenous women. For example, according to the RCMP report released in May 2014, Indigenous women are more likely than non-Indigenous women to be murdered by what the police call acquaintances—friends, colleagues, neighbours and other men who are not intimate partners or spouses.
  • A report released by the RCMP in May 2014 states that 1,017 Indigenous women and girls were murdered from 1980-2012. Because of gaps in police and government reporting, the actual numbers may be much higher.

Donations to the Muskoka Women’s Advocacy Group are encouraged by Muskoka News Watch. To donate to MWAG, click here.

Published December 6, 9pm, by Norah Fountain.


Muskoka businesses give Bracebridge hospital technology boost

Leadership for hospital’s technology upgrades comes from ten local businesses

Ten local businesses have stepped forward to support their community by investing in critical technology at the South Muskoka Memorial Hospital site.

“Our hospital is one of the most important services in our community,” says Paul Hammond, Chair of the South Muskoka Hospital Foundation (SMHF), “and it affects each and every one of us who live here year-round and seasonally. These businesses recognize the critical nature of having a great community hospital and have stepped forward in leadership and commitment to their community right at the starting point of our campaign.”

The Foundation is gearing up for a $6.5 million campaign, called the ‘Get Better’ campaign, to update technology at the hospital. These ten local businesses have followed very quickly on the heels of other significant donations from year-round and seasonal residents.

“Our goal through the ‘Get Better’ campaign,” says J. Douglas Lamb, Campaign Chair, “is to improve patient care through updating our technology at the hospital. Although we’re well above Ontario hospital standards and averages on many fronts, we lag behind other Ontario hospitals in terms of technology.”

It was specifically this desire to keep their community hospital strong that prompted the following ten local businesses to take the lead and contribute $25,000 or more to the ‘Get Better’ campaign:

  1. Canadian Tire Bracebridge
  2. Cavalcade Ford Lincoln
  3. Greavette Chevrolet Buick Cadillac GMC
  4. Muskoka Chrysler
  5. Muskoka Kia
  6. Muskoka Leon’s Stores
  7. Nissan of Muskoka
  8. Paul Heenan & Linda Ratkovsky, Royal LePage, Port Carling
  9. Scotiabank
  10. Subaru of Muskoka

Components of the ‘Get Better’ campaign include $2.5 million for diagnostic imaging upgrades (mammogram, CT and x-ray), $2.5 million to install an Electronic Health Record system, $1 million for automating pharmacy operations and $500,000 to expand video-conferencing so that patients and medical teams can better access specialists.

“I’m inspired by the leadership of these ten businesses,” adds Hammond. “Truly, it’s all of us in South Muskoka who will benefit from their generosity.”


South Muskoka Hospital Foundation (SMHF) was established in 1980 to support the compassionate care of patients at South Muskoka Memorial Hospital. In the past 34 years, the Foundation has raised more than $40 million in support of providing the best possible patient care environment. Find out more about SMHF by visiting

 Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC) is a multi-site healthcare organization providing acute care services at the Huntsville District Memorial Hospital and South Muskoka Memorial Hospital in Bracebridge. Find out more about Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare by visiting

Media release and photo submitted by Nancy Beal Published December 5, 10:40am


Muskoka Lakes Council actions: Deputy Mayor, Committee members named

Jean-Ann Baranik named Deputy Mayor during Mayor’s inaugural address; Committee of Adjustment members announced Wednesday

Photo from left to right: Sandy Currie, Ruth Nishikawa, Gault McTaggart, Allen Edwards, Terry Ledger, Jean-Ann Baranik, Phil Harding, Linda Barrick-Spearn, Donelda Kruckel and Mayor Don Furniss seated. Photo by Norah Fountain.

The new Township of Muskoka Lakes held its inauguration ceremony on Monday and then got right down to work. During his inaugural address on Monday (you can read that address following this update), Mayor Don Furniss announced Jean-Ann Baranik of Port Carling would be Deputy Mayor. Baranik is a second-term Ward C Councillor and runs The Fun Store in Port Carling.

On Wednesday, a special meeting of Council was held to approve the appointment of the member of the Committee of Adjustment, While members are appointed by the Mayor, the Council votes to approve the appointments.

According to Councillor Terry Ledger, there were six letters from people interested in joining the committee. Ward B District Councillor Allen Edwards will remain the Chair and Councillor Baranik was also re-appointed to the committee. Public members include Greg Knight of Torrance and Mary Grady, a former District Councillor, and Susan Benson was re-appointed as a public member as well.

Declaration of Office by new Muskoka Lakes Council on Monday
Declaration of Office by new Muskoka Lakes Council Monday

The Committee of Adjustment makes decisions on certain applications under the Planning Act, including:

  • Minor Variances from the provisions of the Comprehensive Zoning By-law
  • Extensions, enlargements of variations of an existing legal non-conforming use
  • Consents for land division including: creation of a new lot, adding land to an existing lot, obtaining a right of way over land

Other Committees of Council to be determined include the Fence Viewers, Public Library Board and Property Standards Committees.

Mayoral Inaugural Address given Monday, December 1, 2014: As part of the inauguration ceremonies, Don Furniss gave his first address as the new Mayor of the Township of Muskoka Lakes after receiving the chain of office from Clerk Cheryl Mortimer. What follows is the text from that address:
“Distinguished guests, fellow members of council, staff, ladies and gentlemen,

It is indeed an honour and a privilege to have been elected to serve as your mayor for the next 4 years. Thank you for your support and the trust you have placed in me.

It’s been a long and often tough election campaign. It is encouraging that 44% of our ratepayers cast ballots…a 10% increase over 2010. Our electorate was engaged with the issues and has provided your council with a decisive mandate to move forward with initiatives outlined during the campaign.

Our new Council is composed of seven returning members who bring a wealth of wisdom and experience, as well as 3 new faces – one new Councillor from each ward, all with great enthusiasm and fresh ideas. I extent a hearty welcome to all, and particularly to newcomers Councillors Currie, Barrick-Spearn & Ledger.

Your Mayor is one member of Council with one vote. I believe it is essential to listen to each you, communicate effectively, and operate in a fair and balanced manner, to earn your respect as a leader. There will certainly be numerous opinions on every issue we consider as Council – even dissenting views – if you can believe that! I am convinced however, that through open, respectful discussion around the table, your council can move towards consensus on every issue.

Over the next month or so, it is my intention to hold a public meeting in each of our Wards, as well as one in the GTA…to listen to our citizens ideas on the strategic initiatives they deem important to foster the long term vitality of our Township.

Based on this feedback, along with Council’s evaluations and of course a cost benefit analysis to be respectful of your tax dollars, a strategic plan will be crafted. This ‘Four Year Road Map’ will be a living plan, with fine-tuning and updates as required, during this term, yet we will keep a true course that has been collectively set.

One of the most challenging issues facing this and every past Council, is the huge economic diversity that exits in our Township. From multi-million dollar seasonal homes at one end of the spectrum, to the harsh daily life of many permanent residents struggling to make ends meet…toiling in seasonal service occupations, or living on disability and social assistance allowances. This is the reality of Muskoka. Your Council must be compassionate and ever mindful of this dichotomy within our community.

Sustainable economic activity is absolutely essential to the health and viability of any municipality. I believe we need to work cooperatively with property owners and business people, to ensure your Township is a supportive resource, to those who share our passion for Muskoka and are above all, respectful of our unique environment and the vision of our official plan.

Like many municipalities in Ontario, our Township is being squeezed by our Federal and Provincial Governments through continued downloading of services and a reduction in transfer payments, such as the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund for capital projects.

Many of our roads and bridges are nearing the end of their useful service life and must be replaced or rehabilitated. On top of this, more extreme weather is taking an added toll on our infrastructure. Your new council must look for ways to extract efficiencies and be more creative at delivering services our public expects.

It becomes ever more difficult to stay ahead of the curve, especially when our tax payers are now faced with a three million dollar annual increase in policing costs, stepped in over the next 3 years. Doing more with less, will be the biggest challenge your Council faces over the next 4 years.

One of the best parts of being a Councillor over the past 4 years, was the number of compliments I received from citizens on the positive experiences they had in dealing with Township Staff. If there was a problem, it was usually fixed faster than I could reasonably expect. We are truly blessed in Muskoka Lakes with a dedicated, hard working professional staff. I look forward to working with them, and for them, over the next four years.

One group that does not get enough recognition, but really weaves its way into everyone’s life in our municipality, is our volunteers. Often putting in countless hours to help others, so thank you to our fire fighters, to library volunteers, church, groups, service clubs, lake associations, those who serve on our advisory boards and numerous others individually and collectively, who work tirelessly to make our community a better place for us all… Thank you so much for all you do.

One last important council item, it is my distinct pleasure to announce that Jean Ann Baranik, Township Councillor for Ward C, has agreed to assume the added responsibilities of Deputy Mayor. Congratulations Deputy Mayor Baranik, you will do a great job.

I’d like to close on a personal note by thanking everyone who has been so supportive of me in my political journey…many are here today.

I am also very fortunate as well, to have members of my family here. I regret that my father who loved Muskoka, could not be physically present, but my sister Colleen and Aunty Mom are here today.

And last but far from least, my better half, Carol, who has provided me her generous love and support for the past 40 years and I am astounded to say, she has signed on to supply more of the same for at least the next 4 years.

I thank you all…from the bottom of my heart.”

Immediately after the ceremonies, Muskoka News Watch asked Mayor Furniss about the plans for a town hall meeting in the Greater Toronto Area as the Township’s bylaws under the Municipal Act do not allow Council meetings outside of the municipality (something the municipality has within its power to change if it were to create a bylaw allowing it to do so). Furniss explained Council understood the restrictions and a quorum of Council would not be attending so that the meeting can proceed. A location for that meeting, and other Town Hall meetings proposed in his inaugural address, has not yet been selected.

Also at the Inauguration Ceremony were five protestors holding Save the Bala Falls and Stop the Hydro Plant signs on the walk to the front door of the Port Carling Memorial Community Centre. Some of them asked people entering to “get engaged.” One man brought a sign into what had become the Council Chambers for the inaugural meeting but put his sign down when requested to do so by Fire Chief Richard Hayes.

Published December 4, 11:30pm

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Annual miracle as Bala transforms to Bethlehem

Bala Trek to Bethlehem happens this Saturday

If you are looking for a family-friendly, true–meaning–of-Christmas event this season, join the community of Bala as it presents the 21st annual Trek to Bethlehem this Saturday evening, Dec. 6th.

Once again a circle of Bala streets will be transformed into a biblical village where visitors come to journey back in time to experience what the first Christmas night might have been like.

The current weather forecast calls for a brisk bundle-up evening on Saturday but with no snow.  That means that hot chocolate will be the perfect ending for everyone at the Bala Sports Arena  following your 20-minute guided tour.

Tours start from the Bala Community Centre at 6 p.m. but the doors open at 5:30.  Many start lining up well in advance and soon enjoy singing Christmas carols inside  As they enter, each person is given a decree stating they are summoned to the city of their fathers to be counted and to pay taxes. Eventually they depart in small family groups, led by a costumed guide who escorts them around the trek.

Along the route visitors will meet up with “Abigail and Ezra”,  another family on their way to Bethlehem to pay taxes and be counted. The three kings are soon encountered and their wealth and gifts for the Messiah are in evidence. An angel choir sings of wondrous things.  The group journeys on,  greeting shepherds, avoiding Roman soldiers and lepers and finally arriving at the tax collector’s tent to be counted and to pay taxes.

After a visit to the marketplace, the inn and after hearing from a prophet that a child has been born, the family continues on to the manger scene. The journey ends at the Bala Arena, known for the evening as the Bethlehem Inn,  where the family enjoys warmth, hot chocolate and cookies.

There is no charge.  The Trek to Bethlehem has been a Christmas gift from the Town of Bala ever since 1993. 

Published December 4. Release submitted by Jack Hutton.

Miller wants Highway Traffic Act updated for ATV riders

Parry SoundMuskoka MPP Norm Miller is hoping his private member’s bill might lead to updates to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act to include new classes of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) – something he says will benefit ATV enthusiasts. He introduced the bill Monday at Queen’s Park, and a news release from Miller’s office states that Bill 51, Utility Task and All-Terrain Vehicles Act, 2014, has passed first reading.

If it passes into law, the Ontario Highway Traffic Act could then include new classes of all-terrain vehicles– including two-up models and utility task vehicles.

“In September 2013, I was happy to call for the modernization of the Highway Traffic Act as a component of the PC White Paper a Champion for Northern Jobs and Resources,” said Miller in Queen’s Park on Monday. “This bill is aimed at ensuring the current legislation is updated so that ATV and UTV owners in Ontario will be able to ride with certainty, and take advantage of the great trails that our province has to offer.”

It was just over a year ago, on November 7th, 2013, that the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed a motion to update regulation 316/03 of the Highway Traffic Act which does not account for the use of all-terrain vehicles that are designed to carry multiple passengers, including two-up and side-by-side models.

“I have received hundreds of emails and other inquiries at my local constituency offices by ATV owners, as well as members of various ATV clubs and sport organizations calling on members of provincial parliament to act,” added Miller.

“Updating the legislation will be a benefit to individual riders, trail organizations, and the tourism industry in Ontario,” he continued. Miller says there is support amongst all three parties to move this initiative forward, and and he is confident that Bill 51 will help to show the importance of including two-up, side-by-side, and utility task vehicles in the Ontario Highway Traffic Act.”


Published Dec 2, 230pm.

$3,500 Raised for Muskoka Watershed Council at Paddling Event

The 2014 Great Muskoka Paddling Experience (GMPE) has raised $3,500 for the Muskoka Watershed Council (MWC). GMPE organizer Sandy Schofield attended the MWC meeting on November 28 to present a cheque to MWC chair Peter Sale.


Featured photo: GMPE organizer Sandy Schofield (left) presents a cheque for $3,500 to MWC Chair Peter Sale (right) and FMW Board members Debbie Vernon and Peter Seybold (centre). Photo by Rebecca Willison

Despite the difficult weather on October 11, there was an increase in the number of paddlers at the event as well as the number of boats over previous years. 164 paddlers in 127 canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards took to the water to earn trophies, medals and prizes in over 30 categories, including a 2.5 km family fun run from Annie Williams Park up river to Bracebridge Falls and back.

Categories that have seen the largest growth during the four years the event has taken place are for Stand-up paddleboards (SUP), going from no category in 2011 to both male and female categories with over 10 participants in each in 2014. As part of this growth, GMPE plans to have a special race and prizes available at next year’s event for SUPs.

Other plans are under way to celebrate the 5th anniversary of GMPE, including a new race length. The 2015 Great Muskoka Paddling Experience is scheduled for Saturday, October 10, 2015.

To learn more about the event, see photographs and get official results, visit

Published December 1, 8:30am