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CAO McLlwain resigns, Grant appointed interim – Public Works vote to decertify

The Town of St. Marys announced the resignation of Kevin McLlwain as CAO/Clerk on February 20, 2015. In a release the Town said that “Mr. McLlwain has chosen to take time to focus on his family and to pursue new challenges. The Town of St. Marys extends its appreciation to Mr. McLlwain for his nearly 3 years of service”. In a special meeting on Tuesday night, it was decided that Bruce Grant be appointed as CAO/Clerk during a transition interim period with this appointment effective March 5, 2015. Council felt that during this transition period before a new CAO/Clerk is hired, the appointment of Bruce Grant in the interim will provide stability to the operations of the Town and assist staff.

Lorraine Heinbuch will continue in her role as Deputy Clerk and assist the Town of St. Marys during this transition period. The search for a new CAO/Clerk is now underway. In a press release Kevin McLlwain said, “it is with mixed emotion that I announce my resignation today from the Town of St.Marys as CAO/Clerk. Over  a week ago I began discussions with Council regarding my desire to resign for personal reasons and to pursue other opportunities. I feel it would be unfair to the Town of St. Marys for me to continue in my current role as CAO/Clerk if I was not able to give 110% all the time. I have had the privilege of meeting and working with a wonderful group of people. The residents are very passionate about this wonderful town and the staff take great pride in providing excellent service to them. The leadership team is a great mix of talented managers and I am proud to have had the opportunity to work with them and achieve all that we have over the past few years. I thank all those who have provided wonderful support and encouragement to me during my time here in St. Marys”.

As a result of these changes, the Budget meeting schedule for February 26th is postponed until March 10th, until the Interim CAO/Clerk is in place. The COTW Day 1 meeting is cancelled and will be combined with COTW Day 2 on March 17th.

In a vote on Thursday, the employees of the Town’s Public Works Department vote to decertify from being union members of CUPE. In a vote that was supervised by Town and Union staff, the vote was unanimous for those eligible to vote.

MP Schellenberger’s Stratford Festival Motion Passed by the House of Commons – By Dan Rankin

On Tuesday evening in Ottawa, the House of Commons spent nearly an hour discussing a region of the country that rarely comes up in those hallowed halls: this one.

At about 5:55 pm on Feb. 24, Perth-Wellington MP Gary Schellenberger put forward Private Member’s Motion M-545, seconded by Oxford MP Dave MacKenzie. The Motion read: “That the House recognize the Stratford Festival’s distinct cultural and economic contributions to Stratford, southwestern Ontario and Canada since its inception in 1953.” It was passed by a voice vote after about 50 minutes of debate, some of which was spent congratulating the retiring Schellenberger on what he said would be his “last time presenting a private member’s motion or bill.”

In his speech, Schellenberger detailed how the Festival developed over the years to now presenting “a wide variety of repertory theatre ranging from Shakespearean tragedies to musicals to contemporary pieces” from April to October every year, directly employing over 3,000 people with full-time jobs and entertaining over 400,000 visitors every year.

“It attracts visitors from around the world, and the valuable tourist dollars brought into the region provide strength and prosperity to the retail, dining, and hospitality industries,” he said, calling it a “tremendous contributor” to the region’s economy. “In total, the Stratford Festival generates approximately $140 million in economic activity each year,” he said.

London-Fanshawe NDP MP Irene Mathyssen called the Festival an “incredible jewel of Canadian culture,” noting that of all the visitors to our region, over 95 percent “come for the Stratford Festival.”

“Governments come and governments go, but the theatre, its value, and indeed the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, endure,” she said. “It is up to all of us to protect that which is so precious to ensure that it does continue to endure.”

In a speech full of Shakespearean wordplay, former Liberal leader and current heritage critic Stéphane Dion, questioned Schellenberger’s motives for putting forward the motion.

“The question must be asked, because a festival as well known and prestigious as the Stratford Festival certainly does not need such a motion,” he said. “Surely it is not meant to incite a debate. There is nothing to debate, because no reasonable person could oppose this motion or oppose the Stratford Festival.”

Dion stated that, in his opinion, Schellenberger “simply wanted to give us a farewell gift before leaving politics.” For his part, Dion took the opportunity to declare his admiration for the Festival, which he visited in January.

“The motion from the government side is all the more welcome in that, so far, most of the government’s forays into cultural affairs have been a Comedy of Errors,” he quipped. “Let us hope that the motion will not amount to Much Ado About Nothing.”

In a release, Schellenberger said he was “pleased that the Government of Canada has officially recognized the significance of the Stratford Festival to Southwestern Ontario and given it the special distinction it deserves.” The release went on to say “This distinction will provide the festival with an invaluable promotional tool in support of economic development through tourism.”

Schellenberger also said he was “very proud to represent the riding that is home to the Stratford Festival,” and “very glad that the festival has received so much support from the Federal Government through the Canada Cultural Investment Fund, the Canadian Arts and Heritage Sustainability Program, as well as the Marquee Tourism and Events Program.”

Perth-Wellington Liberal candidate in the coming general election Stephen McCotter told the Independent he thinks it’s “about time” Perth-Wellington “is getting talked about in Ottawa.”

“It is too bad that this attention to our riding wasn’t brought about in, say, 2009, after the recession when it was really needed,” he said. “As far as what I think of the motion itself, I think Mr. Dion’s speech says it all, and I encourage everyone to read it. Bottom line is that it is long overdue.”

McCotter called the Festival at “the top of the list” of the rich and varied things Perth-Wellington has to offer, calling it a “huge employer.”

“It generates so much offshoot business, and it, along with all businesses in the riding, deserves to have someone in Ottawa fighting for every penny of investment and support that can be sent to Perth-Wellington,” he said. “If elected I remain committed to putting this riding back on the map, and getting it its fair share of the federal pie.”

The Festival opens its 62nd season this spring.

DCVI grad shares “mindblowing” Guatemala volcano experience – By Dan Rankin

DCVI grads John Glover, 27, and his girlfriend Monique Aarts, 24, like to escape the cold of February in Ontario by travelling somewhere warm and, often, exotic. In 2014 it was a personal tour of southeast Asia. But this time, planning their 2015 excursion to somewhere warm, the Central American nation of Guatemala caught Glover’s eye.

First, he said, it was a really cheap flight. But also, “I’ve always had a pretty keen interest in volcanoes and geology,” he said. “I took some courses in it at Waterloo. So, the natural attractions there looked really cool.”

They were interested in checking out the many different “adventure tourism” options offered in Guatemala, including kayaking and river tubing in the jungle, and a hike up an active volcano. So they booked their trip south and made a few other arrangements – including booking two spots in the “O.X. Expeditions Double Whammy” hiking excursion. “That was a major thing we planned to do, along with camping and everything,” he said. “But I never thought I’d see something like that happen though.”

They set off for Guatemala, a nation of nearly 16 million people, on Feb. 4. Three days later, on Feb. 7, one of the country’s four active volcanoes, Fuego, erupted in what experts called its biggest blow up since 1999. Glover and Aarts witnessed the natural phenomenon – from a safe distance away – along with a small group of other hikers, from atop a nearby dormant volcano.

Glover called the seven hour hike up Acatenango, which is adjacent to Fuego, “The most grueling and exhausting thing I have ever done, but without question the most rewarding experience of my life.”

They hiked over 2,000 metres up, past the mountain’s high alpine forest. “You’re walking up a really steep hill that’s just loose gravel,” he said. “Every step you take you kind of fall back a half-step. It was pretty treacherous and, coming from flat old Ontario, the elevation definitely plays a factor too.”

So, short on breath and with hearts racing, they kept hiking, until they began to notice odd behaviour from their guides – and from Fuego.

“Around 1:00 pm or so, it just started raining down ash,” he said. Suddenly it was as if they were in a snowstorm, with the ash blackening their clothes and faces. “Then the guides stopped to make a phone call because they said this wasn’t normal.” When they learned more about the eruption of Fuego, there was talk of turning back.

“They had a bit of a debate and said we would modify where we were going to camp, but we would keep going,” he said. They were told that a little bit of ash was normal, but not like what they were seeing. “It was coming down like a Southwestern Ontario blizzard, he said.” That evening, they and the other hikers from Canada, Australia and the USA watched lava spew from atop Fuego for several hours before heading back to their camp. In a video viewable on the O.X. Expeditions YouTube channel, Glover called the experience “pure euphoria.”

“It was just mindblowing to witness the power of nature,” he said. “It’s a humbling experience really to see.”

Not even a week into their 16-day trip, Glover said the eruption set up a “tough act to follow,” but other memorable moments included kayaking and cliff diving at Lake Atitlán and visiting the ancient Mayan city of Tikal.

“Seeing the podiums in front of these majestic pyramids where Mayans conducted human sacrifices was quite eerie,” he said. “Just looking at the city makes your imagination go wild picturing the way these cities functioned in their prime.”

He and Aarts returned on Feb. 20. Glover said he would highly recommend visiting Guatemala. “The people are friendly, the food’s great, and it’s a place of natural beauty,” he said. “To witness the humbling power of nature so close and literally feel the eruptions is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

With a chuckle, Glover adds that since last summer he’s experienced a tornado in Grand Bend, where he and Aarts live, and now a volcanic eruption. “I guess I just need to go to the Caribbean and be hit by a hurricane for the trifecta,” he said.

It might be worth it, to escape this cold.

New album by Stratford hip hop artist released on UK record label – By Dan Rankin

Since 2006, the UK-based hip hop record label Blah Records has specialized in trawling the underground for young talent and creating critically acclaimed records. Earlier this year (on Valentine’s Day, fittingly) the label released the first Canadian album in its catalogue: Danny Lover’s “My Best Friends Keep Dying.”

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“Danny Lover” is the musical persona of 24-year-old Stratford hip hop artist Rick Heisz, a young rapper who is no stranger to conjuring up characters and narratives then making them come to life on songs and in music videos.

In an interview with the Independent, Heisz commented on the excitement he has felt since the album’s release. “This is my first experience with an album that has caught worldwide attention,” he said. “Everyday I wake up to something new: a new fan, a new review. Honestly, the reception has been keeping me going. It is amazing when I wake up and have a message from a fan from New Zealand or Australia or the UK. Knowing that my music is reaching people from all corners of the world makes me feel like I have a purpose and this is it.”

Up for less than a month on the Blah Records YouTube channel, four music videos produced by the workaholic Heisz and his crew of collaborators are into the thousands of views, with overwhelmingly positive viewer feedback.

Heisz especially credits one of his collaborators, friend and St. Marys hip hop pioneer Kyle Sager for helping craft the entity that is “Danny.”

“He introduced me to the world of commercial hip-hop and melodic love songs, which ironically influenced me more than anything,” Heisz said, explaining how the chart-topping Casanovas Sager exposed him to helped him envision Danny as “this 1950’s dapper gentleman: sipping wine, smoking cigarettes, ghost-writing love letters.”

Behind the album’s artwork and responsible for filming the majority of its music videos, Sager, 25, is also a featured performer on the album under a nom de plume of his own: “Luke Luscious.” He and Heisz became fast friends after they both performed at a New Year’s Eve party in St. Marys four years ago. “I knew from our first handshake that this would be a long term friendship,” Sager said. “He has a tireless work ethic which inspires artists around him to perform with the highest quality in mind.”

He called Heisz’s slow-and-steady delivery style “so smooth it sounds effortless,” but notes “it has taken years to perfect.” Heisz’s measured vocals combined with the album’s hauntingly looped backing tracks make a surreal listening experience, audibly imitating the effects of the prescription drugs preferred by “Danny” and his peers.

The lyrical content of the album certainly earns the “Restricted” rating plastered on the album’s cover. But according to Heisz, it all stems from true emotions he felt during a personal period of isolation while in a long-distance relationship and following its breakup. “I figured it was a good time to personally pour my heart and soul into some music,” he said. “It was tough but I really channeled that into the music. It was heartbreaking. I was waking up in the middle of the night… writing, smoking, drinking. It all came together.”

Heisz said he owes “everything to all the people involved with this album,” including Lee Scott and Reklews at Blah Records, longtime friend Mike Johnson, who engineered the vocals, and Wes Murray, another St. Marys musician, who sings the vocal hook on the track “That Thunder.”

“It was cool being a part of it, creating lyrics and vocals to go on a hip hop record,” said Murray, whose musical output up to now (including his latest project We Are The Temple, alongside Joe Mills and Keegan Omel) has been mainly as a folk singer-songwriter. “I love hip hop, R&B and funk, so it was a lot of fun working in a different genre; one that I always respected.”

Looking ahead, Heisz said he’s working on releasing more music, as well as anticipating the sale of the printed vinyl version of “My Best Friends Keep Dying.”

“This is now my full time job. This art is what I truly want to dedicate my life to,” he said, adding that one day he hopes to perform in the home of Blah Records, the UK.

“One year ago we were building relationships and giving them respect for albums they were releasing,” said Sager. “Now it’s the other way around and it feels spectacular.”

To buy the album or listen to some of the tracks, go to BlahRecords.com