Did you know you can get compost at the landfill, made from our own yard waste, free in quantities you can shovel into your pick up?

I went down to the landfill yesterday and got some.  The pile is thawed now, and the ground dry so you can back right in and fill ‘er up.  I was there last spring, and the pile hasn’t shrunk since then as much as I expected.  Perhaps that means that the public isn’t aware of our recycling at the landfill, including the compost pile, so I will try to explain.

Dryden can be very proud of its landfill; it is quite unique, way ahead of its time, all oriented around recycling as much as possible.  This is done by piling unwanted material which does not need to be landfilled in separate ‘laydown areas’ on the landfill property.  The public is welcome to come and scrounge in these ‘laydown areas’ for items they can use, and quite a lot is taken away to be reused or repurposed, there are even ‘professional scroungers’ who visit quite often.

There is a ‘laydown area’ for tires, and by collecting tires into workable quantities, Dryden’s tires got recycled at low cost long before the deposit/return system was initiated by the province. The scrap metal laydown area is cleaned out by contractors occasionally; usually they pay for the material.

There is a laydown area for scrap lumber and building materials; I did an informal survey several times in years past, and found that fully two thirds of the material brought out went back to town to be used for some project, or even just firewood. One guy claimed that some of the pallets were made out of some kind of foreign ‘monkey wood’, hard as flint and with a beautiful grain for high end woodworking.  There is another laydown area for tree branches and such, and yet another for dirt and rocks.

But perhaps of most interest, the city piles all the leaves and yard waste up to compost in a low tech way, turning the pile at least once a year. It takes several years to produce finished compost, while a high tech composting operation does it in a few months, but, hey, we have lots of room out there.

There are contractors with a huge portable shredder capable of reducing a car to small pieces in seconds, and every few years the city gets one to come in and shred up the scrap wood and lumber piles, the resulting little sticks are piled up and will eventually be compost. While the machine is here they run the yard waste compost pile through it, making a defined pile of reasonably uniform compost which the public is welcome to pick up.  Oh, sure, the odd bit of shredded up garbage bag comes with it, along with some sand and fine stone and even pine cones (apparently they do not compost, they wait for a chance to produce a new pine tree), but over all, it is good stuff, and best of all it is free!

So give your lawn and garden a break, and go get some compost made from your own leaves and yard waste! And while you are there, you can browse the other laydown areas, you might find a set of wheels off an old mower that would be just right for the go-cart you are making, or an old table for your garage, or an old chair to put out by the back fence and watch the sunset from, or who knows.  Recycle!

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Many of you remember Bill and Mavis Rushak as long-time operators of the Dryden bowling alley. We get into all kinds of discussions at the Seniors Centre and one day Mavis told me that when she was a toddler some 80 years ago, her grandfather Howard Lutz was manager at a factory at Emo where they canned some kind of food.  She remembers opening a door and going into a room where there were big vats filled with shiny cans immersed in boiling water.  She said it was pretty scary and she got out before she got into trouble.  She remembers another room where rows of shiny cans on a conveyor were getting labels put on.  She wondered if I knew anything about such a plant.


So I did some research, well, actually I asked my cousin who lives in Emo to do some nosing around. She found a very old lady who remembers a particular location in Emo being referred to as the ‘pea cannery’.  So I googled ‘pea cannery in Emo’, and came up with a historical sketch from the Fort Frances Times September 27, 1995 special 100th anniversary edition, here is a quote.  “A canning factory was established at Emo, and district farmers for years boasted growing the best peas and beans nationwide in major agricultural fairs”


It shouldn’t be surprising that the Rainy River valley was proud of its peas and beans, they are legumes, and legumes do really well in our part of the world; clover was the foundation of agriculture here and clover is a legume. Or that they sent stuff to fairs, that seems to have been a hobby in those days, one Wabigoon Valley farmer even won first prize for his potatoes at a fair in Chicago!  Or that the canning plant has disappeared, all of our Canadian food processing seems to have disappeared in favour of importing our food.  Even BC’s Fraser valley, one of the best gardens anywhere in the world, and which 30 years ago had all kinds of canning plants and freezing plants for all kinds of veggies, now pretty much only produces alfalfa cubes for Japanese horses!


Peas grow really well here, in earlier times it was common to plant oats and peas together; the oats support the pea vines, and the peas feed nitrogen to the oats, and the mixed oats and peas made good high protein animal feed. Our neighbour F. T. Brignall was one of our most progressive farmers in early years and apparently he claimed that the best mix for silage is OPV, that is, oats, peas and vetch grown together. The advantage of adding the vetch is kind of lost in antiquity, but maybe it is something to be looked into. Perhaps there is a synergy that makes OPV better than, say, OP or OV.  Maybe we need to do some experimenting.  And maybe we need to revisit growing peas and beans as a crop as well.


Anyway I managed to acquire a tiny package of vetch seed this winter. I don’t have a farm, but I think I will plant it along the outside of my garden fence, just to see what it does.


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We church-goers hear atheists saying “if there is a God, why would he allow disasters like the Humboldt Crash?” Of course they have a point, but there are disasters and cruelties happen every day, and we can only say “God works in mysterious ways”.

The Humboldt crash tugs at our heartstrings in so many ways, so many promising lives destroyed through no fault of their own. While we grieve for the victims, we should also look for anything good which might come out of it.  Certainly the outpouring of affection and support around the world says so much good about humanity and is a good thing.

My life is simple, I just blame the government for everything, and there may be another and more important positive result from the huge amount of publicity generated. It is focussing attention on the trucking business and especially the licencing of big truck drivers in a way that cannot be ignored, and so will no doubt result in government addressing some of the issues.

There was a time when the best drivers on the road were piloting the big long-haul rigs. Today’s trucks do not require anything like the skill level of those underpowered, double-clutching rigs of say 50 years ago, and sadly, as the trucks get better a growing proportion of the drivers do not measure up. There are still some professional truckers that we admire, always obeying the speed limit and paying attention to road conditions, operating with concern for minimizing fuel consumption and wear and tear on the truck, fully aware and respectful of the traffic around them.  Knights of the road, to be admired.

But we know there is a new kind of driver out there; we see them here in the northwest, where all the transnational traffic gets choked down to our two lane highway.  We see the rigs in the ditch, and up on top of rock cuts, and even in the river.  We know we cannot depend on our having a green light protecting us as we go from North Dryden to downtown, because too many of these guys blow the red light on highway 17, not worth their time to stop.  We know because we have all seen big rigs doing strange things on the highway, so when ‘accidents’ happen we do not believe their explanations that the deceased ‘veered in front of me’.  We know because we are half way between Toronto and Vancouver so we get more than our share of fatigued drivers.

Not to pre-judge the trucker involved, his fate will be decided by the courts, and his life is already ruined. Not to pre-judge truckers in general, it is a very competitive business, wages and returns are probably too low, but government needs to review the rules they operate under.  Probably what is needed is not new rules so much as clarification and enforcement of the rules already there.  The best thing Donald Trump has done so far is his edict “for every new regulation we pass, two old obsolete ones have to be cancelled”.

Just another Contrarian opinion.

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A PAGE FROM WILLY BRANT’S DIARY —Joe and I were on our way to Bear Narrows for our annual ice fishing trip.  Takes quite a while to get there trundling along in his old pick-up truck, so we needed some conversation.  Not a lot new happening in our lives, and just for something to talk about I asked him “So, what do you think about this whole pot thing?”

Answer “I dunno, I don’t have any strong opinions on it, looks like just another government tax grab, not going to affect us”. With a sharp look at me “Is it?”

I ignored the implied suggestion I might be a toker, and asked, “So how do you get a tax grab out of that?” “Well, it’s a long story”.  “OK, we got lots of time” Silence for a minute.  “Ya gotta go back to Prohibition, possibly the worst thing ever done.  Prohibition, making anything to do with alcohol a crime was one of the first and biggest government intrusions into people’s lives.  At that time most of us thought it was none of the government’s business what we ate or drank.  But its repeal was even worse, especially here in Canada.  They didn’t just let it go, they turned it over to their corporate friends to produce and retail the stuff, and made it a huge tax revenue cash cow.  Same with marijuana, they made it a crime to have anything to do with the stuff, and they will not just reverse that, they will only make it legal to use what is produced and handled by their corporate friends, with a big tax added.  Just a big tax grab.”

“So, what will happen to the folks making a living on the stuff now?” from me. “Not much”, says Joe, the government won’t sell the stuff to the kids, so that market is there for them, they just might have to market a bit harder, make even more of our kids into addicts.  Plus they can always undercut the government price, just like moonshiners do with alcohol.  No problem, guys who can’t or won’t work have to eat too”.

After a few miles of silence, I asked “So, Joe, you said Prohibition was the worst thing ever, or something like that. So what makes that such a big deal in your mind?”

“Ok, think about it, in a free country, a citizen can do what he wants as long as it does not harm anybody else. The government’s job is to enforce that ‘do not harm anybody else’ ethic, and do stuff individuals can’t do, like protect us from invasion from other countries.  Laws that regulate your personal private life because some busybody thinks they are smarter than you, whether it is consuming alcohol or smoking tobacco or wearing your seatbelt or smoking mushrooms or getting a flu shot or eating meat on Friday go beyond that legitimate role in a free society.  It is the start of the change from a free country where the government serves the people back to a feudal system where the people do what they are told by the nobility, now a bureaucracy instead of lords and ladies.  It was a huge departure from government’s proper role in a free country.  And it snowballed from there to regulations on every aspect of our lives, no more property rights or right to privacy or free speech, we have gone from people to sheeple, pushed around by our shepherds, –“

Silence for a while, then he added “Marijuana is just a variety of hemp, can’t tell the difference by looking at the plant.  Hemp is a really strong and cheap natural fiber, but it was out of fashion for clothing and pretty much only used for rope and sacking and upholstery and so on, so there wasn’t a huge outcry when they outlawed hemp along with the marijuana”.

“So, how does that matter to us?” from me. “Well, back about 20 years ago there was talk about making it legal to grow hemp to replace synthetic fibre and plastics in stuff like insulation and interior panels for cars and so on.  Save the environment.  Our local Soil and Crop Association sponsored some trial plots, and it grows really well here, could be a good cash crop for us.  But nothing came of that, the regulators were too afraid of marijuana hidden in the hemp fields, to heck with the environment.  It would be a great thing if they did throw out the prohibition on hemp when they legalize marijuana, but don’t hold your breath”.


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There’s a lot of hype around electric cars these days, especially the Tesla, with new models coming out that might even be affordable for ordinary people. But you won’t see me rushing out to buy one because I see a pretty fair chance of it becoming an orphan.  Every effort so far to break the hold of the noisy, stinking, polluting internal combustion car has met with failure, or even disaster.

Start with the Thomas Edison nickel-iron battery electric car, invented over a hundred years ago. Edison’s factory for making these superior, last-forever batteries was bought by the conventional battery industry and permanently shut down.  Then there was the Lear car (same guy as invented the Lear jet).  A high tech, external combustion engine which could run on any fuel, even yesterday’s newspaper, and would far outperform and out-last conventional cars.  Before it hit the market Mr. Lear met a conveniently untimely death.

After the iron curtain fell, Skoda from Czechoslovakia introduced to North America a simple economical electric car using conventional batteries, similar to the Marathon, a Canadian car already in business. Minimal range and maximum ridicule from the establishment kept sales of both near zero. Then there was Alvin Snaper’s souped up lead-acid batteries, could have made electric cars practical, tied up for the past thirty years in patent disputes.

Who can forget the Chev EV1 fiasco – an electric car so successful they recalled and destroyed every single one. And now the Tata car, running on air compressed by electricity in your garage, is tied up in endless red tape.

The conventional car, with its short-lived engine, easily taxed fuel, and built-in obsolescence has been the most effective device so far for transferring wealth from the country to the city, and from the little guy to the big guys. It is the biggest single driver of the world economy. A truly practical electric car would be a disaster for our wealthy elite.

With the bewildering events happening all over the world stage this past few years, I have become so cynical that the only way I can make sense of things is to say “Follow the Money”. So I think there will be lots of opportunity for the powers that be to derail even the mighty Elon Musk and his Tesla before it becomes a threat.

With this kind of negative attitude, it is no wonder folks walk across the street to avoid me these days.

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George Wice, in his excellent book ‘Carved from the Wilderness’, tells that before 1910 there was a little beach, just to the south of the west abutment of the CPR Bridge over the Wabigoon. Picture that, it would be in front of the mill now, in an area since filled over and grassed.  It was artificial, the sand having been washed into place while building the bridge abutment.  It would have been a gorgeous little spot, high well-treed banks all around to keep the wind out, sheltered from the north by the railway embankment, with rapids above and below to keep the water fresh and clean on the beach and in the little bay or pond which is still in the center of our little town.

Fast forward 50 years from the time he talks about, or 50 years back from now, that entire pond was a polluted mess. The original mill was built with its log debarker on the bank of the river, so all the bark went directly into that pond, killing the water and creating drifts or ‘sandbars’ made of bark.  This was followed up with sewers of all kinds, on the town and mill sides.  Large quantities of papermill wastewater which included lots of woodfibre, chemicals and dies made a semi-permanent, foamy, multi-coloured bed on top of the water.  Assorted unpleasant smells emanated, and the riverbank became a distinctly unpleasant place to be.  Abandoned.


Fast forward again to now. All that is gone, the sewers are no more; the ugly deposits have been scoured away by the floods when the dam has to be opened, the water is clean, fish, critters and birds abound.  The mill has sloped and grassed the river bank on their side; unfortunately, the bank on the town side has deteriorated into a wasteland of brush and weeds.  But it is potentially once again the gorgeous little spot that George Wice so fondly remembered.  It just needs a bit of imagination and a bit of work to make it a City Center Park we can all be proud of.

A logical first step would be to plant a little forest on both sides, (my choice, red pine, but what do I know?), small trees cost peanuts to plant, and in a few years grow into big ones. First cut out the brush and destroy the weeds of course.

Next step, come up with a plan for development into a place people might use – not likely skinny dipping, boys in the morning, girls in the afternoon as in days of old, but perhaps picnic pavilions; a trail, kayaking facilities (shooting the rapids?), public washrooms, a restaurant/bistro, even Roy Wilson’s dream of a zipline from the swinging bridge to somewhere near Duke St. The first stage, clean up the brush and weeds, perhaps some grading, and lots of planting of little (cheap) trees should be a no-brainer.

How to come up with a plan? Well, if we hire a big city ‘landscape architect’,   make sure there is lots of local input; remember it was big city professionals who came up with the Duke street dock (tree) and the King and Earl park, both of which look like they were transplanted from downtown Toronto and are never used.  Local input, that’s the key.  Maybe a service club or group will take it on.

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It has been said that History cannot be written until at least 50 years passes, and 300 years is better, to avoid the prejudices and opinions of the writer. This is strikingly illustrated in one of my favourite history books, “The March of Folly”, where Barbara Tuchman, professor at a California University, shows how great historical events are generally rooted in gross incompetence on the part of somebody.  Example, while the Americans make a great fuss about their patriarchs (and so they should), she argues that the American Revolution was mostly about the gross incompetence of King George.  Her argument seems well supported as she discusses such events through the years, until she comes to the chapter on the Viet Nam war.  For that she offers a half-baked politically correct explanation, as seen through her baby boomer eyes, a solid demonstration of the author’s prejudices distorting the historical account.

Canada’s history has been completely rewritten these past 50 years to accord with our ‘modern’ oh-so-politically correct worldview; really just that of California students of the 60’s, and I despair of our getting it anywhere near accurate within the next 50 years. In 300 years, when our history is properly written, it will certainly look different from the silliness being stuffed into our kid’s heads now.

What brings this sour point of view to mind is an article in ‘Canada’s History’ magazine which points out that one of the towering figures in Canada’s history is Prince Rupert, even though he is forgotten in today’s politically correct narrative.

Described as ‘dashing and daring’, Rupert was a military hero. A cousin of King Charles of England, he put together a consortium of investors and formed a corporation, one of the first investor-owned corporations ever, and persuade the King of England to grant it absolute dominion over a vast territory which was fittingly named ‘Rupertsland’. That corporation became the Hudson’s Bay Company, and Rupertsland was the area claimed by Henry Hudson for Britain, being all lands which drain into Hudson’s Bay.  This is huge, two thirds of the land mass of present-day Canada along with parts of the present-day United States.  In the custom of the day, if a territory was claimed for a European crowned head and that was accepted by the rest of Europe and acquiesced to by the inhabitants, it became a possession of that crowned head.  So Prince Rupert became the monarch of most of what is now Canada.

Northern Ontario is right in the heart of Rupertsland, so perhaps when we form our own province we ought to name it ‘Rupertsland’. Or maybe not.  Just another contrarian idea.

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