LOCAL TOURIST / TRANSPORTATION
Via Rail to unveil “train of tomorrow”
WindsorOntarioNew.com Nov 17 2011
The passenger train experience is about to get a lot different – and better. Via Rail will be introducing an entirely new fleet of trains on the Windsor – Quebec City corridor beginning late next year. The corridor carries the overwhelming number of Via’s passengers – 97 per cent of its 427 trains over a 12,500-kilometre network. The new trains have a sleek look more reminiscent of rail travel in Europe than traditionally in Canada as per the accompanying photo. In a short video Via Rail shows a “train set” travelling with locomotive and built-in driving cab on the other end. These new
“bi-directional” trains can operate in both directions without having to turn around saving time and operating costs. The colour scheme has also been changed with Via’s signature logo but a scheme of yellow, black and beige. And there won’t be just a few of the trains but almost three dozen train sets. “1 brand new train
is nice. But 32 in the next few years is even better!” says Via in a public email. Via says it has been working on the new trains for four years. Besides the new look outside and in, the fleet will be cleaner with “state-of-the-art” diesel engines. They will also be built to last 30 years or 9,600,000 km. Via says passengers will experience a more comfortable ride, with wider seats and aisles and a "quiet zone." (On some railroads passengers in "quiet cars" must keep their voices to a minimum, cell phone use is prohibited and passengers must listen to electronic devices through headphones or ear buds). There will also be enhanced Wi-Fi with much lower overall noise. “The new fleet was designed to offer our passengers a more comfortable, accessible, sustainable and reliable travel experience, and we can’t wait to share more,” says Via. The trains are being built by Siemens Canada.
Photo: Via Rail
"Many complaints" about ArriveCAN
WindsorOntarioNews.com Nov 2 2021
By RON STANG, WON.com publisher
The ArriveCAN app is compulsory for Canadians and others entering Canada. The app asks for passport information and to upload photos of your vax certificates, as another preventative measure against Covid-19. The only problem is that it sometimes doesn’t work. It worked fine for me when I tested it on my phone prior to leaving for Greece. But a couple of days before returning home – you can only fill it out within 72 hours of arrival back in Canada – it simply didn’t work. I kept getting “sign-in failed” messages. I changed my password several times and it still didn’t work. I tried four different wi-fi connections around Athens and it didn’t work. I also submitted my problem to technical support but didn’t get a response. Finally, I went to the Canadian embassy and a receptionist, who knew nothing about the app, eventually allowed me to use a desktop computer. This time, using the ArriveCAN website instead of the app, it worked and I could fill it out. I had been concerned I wouldn’t be allowed to border my flight home. But all Air Canada demanded at check-in was proof of a negative PCR test. When I arrived at Pearson airport in Toronto I told the Customs’ official about my problem. He said the app’s questions could have been filled out upon arrival. I submitted this information to MP Chris Lewis’s office. Lewis’s office responded that it has received “many complaints” about the app and passed the complaint to the appropriate government department. Kelly Belanger, Director General, Information, Science and Technology Branch Canada Border Services Agency, replied that the dept. would investigate further if more information was provided. The official added that Canadian citizens, etc. who have not filled out the ArriveCAN app “will not be denied boarding of their flight.” Additionally, “Although the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has made ArriveCAN digital mandatory, these cohorts of travellers can complete the ArriveCAN paper form upon entry but may be subject to public health measures enforced by PHAC.” Said MP Chris Lewis, “The ArriveCan App has failed in its purpose to allow Canadians to efficiently enter their own country, causing stress and uncertainty for many travellers. The Trudeau government needs to ensure Canadians have a reliable and secure system to guarantee they can arrive home safely.”
"Prohibitively expensive" PCR tests greet people who need one for travel
WindsorOntarioNews.com October 5 2021
Want to take that first post-Covid international vacation? It will cost you. Most countries, including the United States (so far, only if you’re flying) require a PCR test prior to arrival. To get that test in Windsor you will have to shell out about $200 plus HST. That appears the going rate of clinics that offer PCR travel tests. There are five clinics in the Windsor area that offer the tests, posted on the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit website. These include Medical Laboratories of Windsor at $199 + HST. Audacia Biuoscience’s tests also start at $199 and offers a test + certificate for $230 and a ‘China Package” for $350 (includes other testing such as a venous blood draw). It’s not just Windsor. CBC News reported earlier this year that tests can range from $160 to $1200 and doctors and experts warning that without regulation this could be an out-of-control industry. This contrasts dramatically to the free tests offered by public health in Windsor-Essex for people suspecting they have Covid symptoms. Testing sites include local hospitals and, again, the Medical Laboratories of Windsor. Another concern of experts is the lack of medical oversight in terms of the efficacy of the tests. The CBC quoted Dr. Anna Banerji, a physician and infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health. ”Who's doing the tests? What are the standards? How do we know that they're doing it at the same sensitivity and specificity as those done in provincial labs or hospital labs?" Anecdotally WON.com has heard of PCR test costing as little as $25 US in the United States and under $100 Can in Europe. WON.com also contacted Ambarish Chandra, Associate Professor of Economic Analysis and Policy at U of Toronto, who agreed that the tests are “prohibitively expensive.” One of the Windsor test sites is at a pharmacy, another is an adjunct to a family physician’s office. Another appears to have a wide variety of experience in travel vaccinations and testing. Chandra said this is an example of a “captive” marketplace. “It is in the interests of large medical organizations and testing facilities to ensure that cheap, rapid tests are not available to the general population as this would cut off a lucrative source of revenue.”
City to remove several traffic signals
WindsorOntarioNews.com Sept. 14 2021
To the, no doubt, applause of many motorists, the City of Windsor is planning to remove several traffic signals from various intersections – six in all. These include Brock at Sandwich St., Campbell Ave. at Grove, Aylmer at Chatham St, E., Kildare at Seneca, Lauzon Rd. at McHugh St. (Tim Hortons) and Banwell at Mulberry. The city reviewed traffic based on “resident or other related complaints,” says a city report going to the city's transportation committee’s September meeting. “Many signals…..fall well below the volume, pedestrian and other criteria for a new signal to be installed,” the report says. It adds that it is “not clear, based on available data, why the signals at these intersections were installed originally. Many are very old and warrant criteria may have changed, expected developments may have not come to fruition, traffic patterns of drivers may have changed, they may have been installed for political reasons.” Having signals where they’re not warranted can create negative consequences. For example, “when signal phasing causes longer wait times, both drivers and pedestrians tend to become impatient and violate red lights, or drivers cut through neighbourhood streets to avoid the congestion or stopping at the signal.” The former signal at Tecumseh Rd. E. and Joe St. Louis previously had an average of five collisions yearly. After 2017 there have been only two collisions. “Reverse” traffic warrants are used to determine whether a signal will be removed, measuring traffic volumes, pedestrians, lanes, and speeds - the same as if a signal was to be installed. The report notes reasons for removals. The signal at Aylmer Ave. and Chatham St. E., for example, has little traffic because the casino “is not generating the significant levels of traffic that were anticipated and with the opening of the west wing, most traffic goes west from there or north on Goyeau to Riverside Drive.”
More visitors during lockdowns brought more litter, other abuse, to Point Pelee
WindsorOntarioNews.com August 24 3021
More people than ever used Canada’s federal and provincial parks last year. As many as 13 million visited Ontario parks alone. The reason? Covid-19 lockdowns had people heading for the relatively safe great outdoors and away from cities. All well and good, say park officials. But with the additional visitor traffic came problems. These include more littering, people heading off-path, and other behaviour which threatened protected areas. While most people respect the parks “even a relatively small number of visitors who do not behave responsibly can cause significant challenges for parks and protected places,” Parks Canada southwestern Ontario spokeswoman Elizabeth LeBlanc says. This occurred even in Canada’s most southern park here in Essex County. “Many Parks Canada administered places, including Point Pelee National Park, had issues with littering, illegal parking, and speeding. Crowding on trails and in some popular destinations, like the west beaches at the park, was also an issue,” she said. A new campaign, For the Love of Parks, appeals to the public to take a greater stewardship role when it comes to parks. Litter and garbage, for example, pose specific risks. “Garbage and waste not only impact other people's enjoyment of a place but pose a risk to wildlife,” LeBlanc says. “Human food harms wildlife. We need the support of all visitors to ensure wildlife do not access human food, garbage or other natural attractants.” Among measures parks staff hope the public will adopt include planning ahead by checking parks’ websites to find what areas are open and “how to prepare” for a visit. Visitors should also bring their own “clean-trip kit, including hand sanitizer, garbage bags, masks when recommended by health authorities, as well as table cloths if you plan to use a picnic table.”
Goderich rebuilt in remarkable time after town was hit by 2011 tornado
WindsorOntarioNews.com July 30 2021
A modernistic stage (photo left) is symbolic of the new spirit that embraced Goderich after the devastating 2011 tornado. The stage replaced an obsolete gazebo on “The Square,” the town’s historic cetrepiece hosting the longtime courthouse. The old gazebo was “was terrible, the acoustics were bad, you couldn’t see the performers,” Mayor John Grace said. The new stage and canopy was made from a 1918 shipwreck’s broken hull hung upside down over a performing arts stage, part of efforts by the town after the tornado to modernize and attract businesses and tourists. Goderich was dubbed “the prettiest town in Canada” by Queen Elizabeth. The tourist and business community on Lake Huron suffered a massive F3 tornado August 21, 2011, which caused widespread destruction. But to visit the almost 8,000 population community now you’d never know the event occurred. Sure, a few downtown business facades look new. But the business district leading from The Square to the waterfront and extensive beaches is vibrant and virtually unchanged. Astonishingly, most of the town was rebuilt in only a couple of years. Grace said the town didn’t wallow in pity. Instead, it consulted an urban expert and seized the opportunity to rebuild with new ideas. This meant a reconfiguration of The Square as well as installing new infrastructure to allow businesses to flourish. As Grace put it, the town had “a chance to bring a new 21st century downtown to rural Ontario.” Around the courthouse, sidewalks were widened, more public areas added for flea markets and concerts. A greater assortment of trees were planted. New utility lines also provide greater and safer power to businesses. “We were having fires every couple of years,” Grace said. Facades had to be rebuilt because bricks got pushed in by the tornado. “Nobody noticed it until 8 or 9 months after the tornado and all of a sudden all the bricks are falling off these buildings,” he said. They have now been rebricked. Meanwhile, Grace said the waterfront is splendid with a rebuilt shoreline and 1.8 km boardwalk. “We’re putting in wi-fi down there,” he said. “Yesterday I think we had over 800 vehicles down there.”
Photo: Trip Advisor
100 Kellogg Lane, reimagined old cereal factory, pops London’s Old East Village
WindsorOntarioNews.com June 28 2021
London’s Old East Village, long a collection of restaurants, pubs, coffee houses and boutiques in an older part of the city, has now really popped with the addition of 100 Kellogg Lane. The massive former Kellogg’s factory offers one of the most innovative recreation and entertainment facilities in Canada. The village is just a few blocks east of downtown and encompasses the Western Fair grounds and famers market. It’s become a hip destination in recent years with almost 40 eateries along its historic streets. “It’s really exciting to come and see,” says Susan Judd of the Southwestern Ontario Tourism Corp. We found Korean, Thai and Ethiopian restaurants listed and four craft breweries. Ethnic bakeries, even a couple of distilleries line the streets. There are about the same number of shops and services like salons and yoga studios, from the Worlds Away “geek cave” comics store to Odyssey Records. And Neo Tokyo, specializing in Japanese animation, to the Mystic Bookshop selling witchcraft and occult books. But the new centrepiece has to be 100 Kellogg Lane, the massive, converted Kellogg’s campus. It features The Factory, dubbed Canada’s largest indoor adventure park. Spanning 170,000 sq. ft. it has the largest ropes course in the world – that’s right, the world! There’s zip lines, a huge arcade, and an ultimate warrior course. Check out Next Level Virtual Reality, again the largest in Canada with 24 HTCTM headsets and 22 gaming pods. Get lost and solve puzzles in the Mystery Escape Rooms. The Club House features more than 30 of the world’s most iconic golf courses which you can play on simulators. The London Children’s Museum is moving there this year and the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame is located there as well. The Powerhouse Brewery offers tours and tastings and Paradigm Spirits is coming soon. And for accommodation there’s top of line Hard Rock Hotel. “It’s really excellent to see such an investment being put into the east end of London,” Judd said. “If people haven’t been there, I think it would be a really great experience for them.”
Photo: 100 Kellogg Lane
Ghostly downtowns punctuate otherwise beautiful Bruce scenery
WindsorOntarioNews.com June 4 2021
The one lingering memory of a short trip along the Lake Huron coast over to Georgian Bay is the ghostly appearance of all the otherwise vibrant and touristy small shoreline towns. Goderich, Kincardine, Tiverton, Port Elgin and Southampton had so few people and cars on their onetime bustling thoroughfares you could, well, proverbially shoot a cannon down the streets. Very sad. But such is life in locked down Ontario even during an otherwise great late spring weekend. Not that there weren’t – some – people around. But they were down at the beaches. And beaches aplenty there are, most having seen major upgrades with boardwalks, themed lighting and other amenities over the past decade. The first surprise was Goderich. After a devastating tornado hit “Canada’s prettiest town” in 2011 it now looks like there had never been a massive storm. Driving around Courthouse Park it was hard to see what buildings had ever been damaged. That’s great of course and shows the remarkable effort that rebuilt the town in only a few short years. Meanwhile, it was interesting along the route to see all the references to “southwest” Ontario while, point of pride, the real southwest to people from Windsor-Essex is right here. But the longtime “Bluewater” (Lake Huron) designation is certainly apt. The other difference between there and here is the historic architecture. Red brick dominates the Windsor area. There, like in London, the brick is of a faded yellow because there is less iron in the clay soil. Most of these towns not only have nice beaches but great marinas and inlets or rivers, perfect for canoeing or kayaking. Driving east between Owen Sound and Meaford you come to the end of a plateau and a spectacular view of western Georgian Bay (photo). It’s a short hop from here to the Blue Mountain ski resort and Collingwood. But Blue Mountain was shuttered tight. Sure, there were strollers. But every trendy upscale bar and restaurant was dark, and the hotels shut. Neighboring Collingwood has beautiful downtown Hurontario Street with blocks of interesting retail shops – alas, mostly closed. Collingwood increasingly looks like the GTA with Toronto-style subdivisions. Must be retirees taking in the great skiing and summer hiking. Even a local couldn’t explain it. “It might be because people are moving here and working remotely because of Covid.”
An unofficial Ontario-Quebec travel bubble among wider border closure
WindsorOntarioNews.com May 19 2021
Despite Quebec yesterday announcing an easing of Covid restrictions one thing that will still remain closed is the Ontario-Quebec border. While Premier François Legault said travel among regions in Quebec would again be allowed, because of higher Covid cases in other provinces and internationally, other border restrictions will remain in effect. That is, with one major exception. WON.com has learned that while non-essential travel is discouraged, the border between Ottawa and neighbouring Gatineau, across the Ottawa River, is open. Therefore, Ontarians and Quebecers can freely travel back and forth between the cities. Sgt. Benoit Richard of the Sûreté du Québec (Quebec provincial police) said the roadblocks between the provinces are “not stiff.” Unlike Ontario, which has a hard roadblock on Hwy. 401, those entering Quebec won’t face a traffic stop. But police may indeed randomly stop an Ontario vehicle if they see one and turn the driver back. Richard said when the border closed last month it was pandemonium between Ottawa and Gatineau, about the same distance as Windsor is from Detroit and served by five bridges. “We saw the first day it was closed in Gatineau and Ottawa it was hell during the first two hours,” he told WON.com. “Like we had cars waiting for maybe an hour, an hour and a half, to get through to Ottawa and some of those people were working for the hospitals in Ottawa.” So, if only for practical puropses, unofficially the two cities are in a bubble and people can move back and forth. These days there are fewer Covid restrictions on the Quebec side than in Ontario. Reported local Ottawa CTV, despite a stay-at-home order in Ontario, some Ottawa residents crossed to Gatineau to go shopping. One, Gideon Kamunga, visited Costco and Sports Experts. "We were at home for so long so it is nice to just get out and buy a (basketball) ball for example," he said. Another Ottawa resident Robert Lalonde said he wasn’t surprised to see other Ontario shoppers. He said he was buying mostly food. "We could have gone to another store," he said. "We did buy some clothes." But while these cities are in an unofficial bubble if you’re an Ontario resident don’t expect to travel further afield, at least if your car has Ontario plates. Those Quebec provincial police, if they see you, are liable to just turn you around.
Covid variant highway roadblocks but what about plane and train travel?
WindsorOntarioNews.com May 6 2021
As per many anomalies in rules during the pandemic, especially regarding travel, the closing of the border between Ontario and Quebec (and Manitoba) last month didn’t mean it was closed entirely to everyone. Provincial police set up roadblocks along Hwy. 401 at Bainsville on April 19 checking on whether motorists have legitimate reason for crossing the interprvincial border. For example, if a person must work or attend an educational institution, they can still cross. Or if someone is travelling through Quebec to another province they can even stay overnight in Quebec along their journey. Rules are basically reciprocal for those entering Ontario. And if they're a provincial resident they of course are allowed entry. But if not travelling by car it gets fuzzy. Quebec allows exemption for “A person who is required to enter Québec or cross the border as part of an international trip or a trip to another province by bus, train, ferry, or plane.” And, indeed, Air Canada and VIA Rail are still booking travel to the province whether passengers are going somewhere else or not. “VIA Rail will continue all scheduled services. Passengers are responsible to comply with provincial restrictions,” the railway says on its website and links to the emergency travel legislation. Said VIA spokeswoman Claudia Labelle, “In this context, we remind our passengers that it is their responsibility to comply with current provincial restrictions. We remain in contact with provincial authorities and we will adapt our service according to the evolution of the situation.” WON.com attempted to reach both Quebec and Ontario provincial police to ask if they were also checking non-highway travellers but didn't receive a response from either agency. [UPDATE May 7: QC provincial police spokesman Sgt. Benoit Richard said there are only random car checks and he advises train and plane passengers would have "the decency" to respect Covid regs.]
New in 2021: paved bike lanes between Amherstburg and Holiday Beach
WindsorOntarioNews.com April 21 2021
Look for a major new bicycle lane paving project coming this year to southwestern Essex County. The County of Essex will be paving the shoulders of County Rd. 20 from Front Rd. South in Amherstburg through to County Rd. 50. That’s the old scenic drive that borders Lake Erie and has become increasingly popular in recent years as an agritourist route alongside wineries and fruit stands. From County Rd. 20 the shoulders of County Rd. 50 will also be paved as far as Holiday Beach Conservation Area. From there “they can use the road network within the conservation lands to access Lake Erie,” Jerry Behl, the county’s manager of transportation planning and development, says. This follows on a project last summer that saw both sides of Front Rd. S. paved, enabling seamless access to downtown Amherstburg. The new paving will add 8.6 km of paved lanes. Meanwhile, County Rd. 50 has bike lanes in places – such as through the village of Colchester – but still does not have connected lanes all the way through to Holiday Beach. No word on when that paving will take place. Other projects, part of CWATS (County Wide Active Transportation System) this year include three in Kingsville. One is a multi-use trail along County Rd. 45 between County Rd. 20 and County Rd. 34 for 1.5 km. Another is a two-kilometre paved shoulder on County Rd. 34 between Inman Sideroad and Rd. 29. And a third is 2.1 km. of paved shoulders along County Rd. 34 between Upcott and Inman roads. There are also two projects in Essex - 2.9 km of paved shoulders along Rd. 18 from Rd. 23 to McCormick and a connection a half kilometre connection along Rd. 18. In Lakeshore a feasibility study will be carried out to improve “active transportation” along Rd. 2 between Brighton and East Pike Creek roads “and in particular on the bridge crossing Pike Creek,” (photo) Behl said. Why these projects? Behl said priority is given to areas with highest potential demand, have “critical gaps” in the trail network or align with county infrastructure projects. “The County tries to schedule CWATS route implementation with capital road improvements to achieve economies of scale and reduce cost,” he said in an email. Total project costs are $1.6 million. The county alone absorbs rural costs. Urban projects are split 60-40 between the county and local municipality.
New Lakeshore Holiday Inn a trifecta
WindsorOntarioNews.com April 1 2021
A new eastside hotel is a trifecta. The largest hotel between Chatham and Windsor, the first high rise on the east side, and the first new major hotel in Windsor in probably 20 years. The new Holiday Inn Express & Suites will open April 24 at 14 Amy Croft Dr. in Lakeshore, just off Manning Rd. It also marks the first of several similar hotel projects that the developer, David Petretta, will bring to southwestern Ontario. The area has been underserved by the hospitality industry, ironic given the booming housing, industrial and recreational opportunities in east Windsor, Lakeshore and Tecumseh. “I did a market study for it in east Windsor and the reality is, from downtown Windsor to Chatham, there wasn’t a hotel,” said Petretta, whose new hotel development company is the Petcon (for Petretta Construction) Hospitality group. The six-storey hotel will have 105 rooms. It won’t be a full-service hotel like the Holiday Inn on Huron Church Rd. which has a restaurant and bar. But it will offer free breakfast and has two large meeting rooms. But the $20 million hotel is next door to numerous restaurants, bars and grocery. The building features the brand’s new “blue design” with a contemporary esthetic. Advanced technology includes “unique” IHG Connect high speed internet, Petretta said. Petretta says the market is largely business travellers weekday and families weekends, especially sports related stays in proximity to the WFCU and Atlas Tube centres. Given the east side’s housing, industrial and commercial boom, the tower’s location is in “actually a really interesting mixed-use area now.” Condo projects are also going up in the neighbourhood, in fact on the same former Tecumseh Golf land as the hotel. (See BUILDINGS, HOMES & REAL ESTATE). The project also allows Petretta to diversify his portfolio. Other of his buildings include TD Bank and The Keg downtown, Dolce Vita Retirement on Erie St. and Tregaskiss industrial.
Tunnel's Detroit freeway connection will eventually turn into a boulevard
WindsorOntarioNews.com March 16 2021
Windsor motorists used to a quick zip from the Windsor-Detroit tunnel up I-75 to venues like Oakland Mall and Great Lakes Crossing Outlets will have their rides slowed down - eventually - at least in downtown Detroit. The changes probably won’t come until late this decade. The freeway, known as I-375 which runs from Jefferson Ave. by the RenCen one mile north to the I-75 interchange, will be converted into a regular city boulevard, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). I-375 opened in 1964 and is nearing “the end of its useful service,” says an MDOT report. Why not just rebuild it? Mainly to create “stronger vehicular connection” to the eastern side of downtown Detroit rather than the sunken limited-access current highway, which mostly walls off downtown. The boulevard would likely see three through lanes in each direction along with turning lanes and a landscaped median strip. There would also be bike lanes and sidewalks. MDOT says the current design also has a tight ramp-like turn from I-375 on to Jefferson Ave. which has been the scene of “major accidents” over the years. The new boulevard would have traffic lights at seven intersections and there would be a “two to seven-minute delay” in travel depending on the direction. But while, say, Windsor motorists would be slightly impeded by taking a stop-and-go route to Detroit’s northern suburbs, it would also give them easier access to Detroit’s downtown and sports and retail sites like Ford Field and Eastern Market. MDOT’s Rob Morosi says his agency hopes to obtain federal “clearance” this summer to begin the design which will take “several years to complete.” Public consultations have found most Detroiters are “positive” to the conversion. Once the border re-opens Canadian motorists will still be using I-375 for some time. Morosi said construction isn’t expected to begin until Spring 2027 though MDOT will “evaluate opportunities to perform the project earlier.”
On-demand transit could be the answer to underutilized routes, rural areas
WindsorOntarioNews.com February 16 2021
On-demand transit could be coming to a street corner, or even your front door, in the near future. It’s part of the Transit Windsor Master Plan (image), which will be deliberated by city council later this year. And a feasibility study, pending provincial approval, is expected to launch this summer. On-demand could be the answer to many local transit woes. Rather than have largely empty buses travel along fixed routes with low ridership, vehicles would respond to exactly where passengers need them. “That is kind of the future of transit especially in areas that are underserviced,” Transit Windsor GM Tyson Cragg told WON.com. On-demand is part of a transit master plan approved just over a year ago that would see a massive overhaul of local bus operations. For example, rather than the current radial bus route pattern routes could go to a grid in the city. Meanwhile, “underutilized” routes or areas with low-density populations could still see transit but in an entirely different form. “That is kind of the future of transit especially in areas that are underserviced,” says Cragg, who joined TW last year from London Transit where he was operations manager. “There’s a lot of industrial areas out there where there’s calls to provide services,” he said. Rural areas could also see such routes. On-demand could use vehicles ranging from vans to full size buses. A community like Innisfil, Ontario, north of Toronto, is the “poster child” for on-demand, using Uber for transport, Cragg said. “It’s just an example that there’s a lot of innovative stuff out there." (Windsor’s incoming new CAO Jason Reynar was Innisfil’s CAO.) Cragg says the concept isn’t entirely new. As far back as the 1970s some cities had dial-up transit. Now, on-demand would probably primarily use a smart phone app. “You’d call from home and say I need a bus to come pick me up at whatever cul de sac or residential street with super low density, the bus would take you to a transfer point where the trip continues on a fixed route,” Cragg said.
Image: Transit Windsor
Councillor fears blow to tourism if Colchester boutique hotel shot down
WindsorOntarioNews.com January 26 2021
Essex town councillor Chris Vander Doelen is afraid the burgeoning County Rd. 50 tourist route could lose a new star attraction. Essex town council has postponed a decision on converting the 140-year-old Colchester schoolhouse by three months. In a Facebook post he calls that a “horrible”: decision especially in light of the fact the building’s purchase has a Jan. 31 deadline. That “effectively means we have killed the most promising development offer the town has seen in a decade or more.” The $2.3 million project would convert the landmark into a stylish boutique hotel. Vander Doelen says those who voted to “delay” said they are “in favour” but “not now, and just not there, and just not the way they are doing it.” Project opponents “invariably say” the building should be turned into a community centre but there is one “a few thousand feet away,” he said. Others like the idea of a park “except that nearly half of central Colchester already is official greenspace.” The town in recent years invested millions of dollars building the harbour, marina and beach, including the children’s pirate ship. Vander Doelen also says the hotel would help stem the proliferation of Airbnbs - there are now about 30 – “which many residents see as a plague.” Colchester is in the heart of the expanding County Rd. 50 wine and agri-tourism region, attracting an increasing number of visitors from near and far. Council split the vote. Those who voted to proceed included Mayor Larry Snively and councillors Morley Bowman and Joe Garon. Councillor Sherry Bondy voted to delay because the public had not been consulted. “I believe that when council sells a public property that has cultural or heritage value public opinion should be sought,” she told WON.com. Nor did the heritage committee make a recommendation. She said Jan. 18 was the first time the plan had been presented and admitted it “was beautiful.” But she pointed to “much opposition” to the project in a residential area. And she said those who voted in favour are “out of touch” with the local community. Bondy is holding a virtual town hall meeting Jan. 31 at 7 pm to get public response.
[UPDATE Feb 3: The developers have put off their decision until March.]
Photo: Vander Doelen/Facebook
London's Thames Valley Parkway - some 40 km of walking or cycling joy
WindsorOntarioNews.com January 14 2021
Windsor-Essex may have the Chrysler Greenway and the Herb Gray Parkway trail on the city’s west side. Meanwhile, there is a hodgepodge of cycling and walking trails in various parts of the city that are either distinct or only connect in isolated segments. But the City of London last fall added a key link to its 44 km. Thames Valley Parkway (TVP), “one of the best recreational pathways in the country,” Mayor Ed Holder said at the time. Two new bridges opened to allow residents to cross the city’s Thames River allowing 50,000 people to directly connect between Western University and downtown. City parks official Andrew Macpherson told WON.com the trail now may not be the longest urban one in Canada but relative to the city’s size it is “comparable on a smaller scale.” The trail system is based on an old electrical railway right of way that stretches west from downtown following the Thames River to Springbank Park. The trail begins at the “forks of the Thames” downtown with sections going west, north, and southeast. After decades to build – starting in 1980s – with last fall’s link-up there are only two 500-metre sections that use local roads and these have little traffic - “very safe for family travel,” MacPherson said. The trail’s scenery varies from the downtown and urban core to linked parkland heading west. Going north is parkland and natural scenery, going east is “three quarters” natural, Macpherson said. Perhaps the most scenic section is the south leg. “It’s a very pretty ride if you’re looking for natural landscapes,” he said. There are as many as 50 places to park your car and get on the Trail. There are major parking lots at Springbank and Greenway parks. For Windsorites seeking a day trip, you can park just off Hwy. 401. at Wellington Rd. The TVP links to 150 km of smaller trails in all corners of the city. It has an asphalt surface and is between 2.4 and 4 metres wide and designed for two-way walking and cycling travel. Macpherson suggests one route. Get on the trail at Springbank Park. “You can ride all the way to the northeast corner of the city and that would be 25-30 kms, turn around and come back. So a good 60 km ride on a safe and scenic pathway.” You can find the TVA on the city’s interactive CityMap.
Photo: City of London
Major overhaul would add hotel, boutiques to Detroit riverfront site
WindsorOntarioNews.com November 18 2020
Detroit is moving ahead with the next steps to revitalize one of its most iconic historic sites, Historic Fort Wayne, right across the Detroit River from Windsor and in the shadow of the new Gordie Howe International Bridge. While an active tourist site – opened pre-pandemic on weekends and an active spot for numerous community events and wedding parties – many of its buildings are dilapidated. Recently a draft plan for redevelopment also would take the fort to the next level. This would include a cafe, boutique hotel, tourist-oriented retail and a pedestrian walkway connecting to Detroit’s RiverWalk downtown and beyond. But it could take up to $100 million to revive the site. The fort served as an induction center for the military from the Civil War up to the Vietnam War. There are some 40 historic structures in various conditions over the almost 80-acre campus. The fort also hosts a parade grounds and the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum. But delays in rehabilitating the fort have been ongoing for decades. Finally, however, the Detroit City Council agreed to pay $110,000 to the U. S. General Services Administration to amend three deeds and implement a preservation covenant to protect the fort’s character. The city has already accepted five concepts from various planners. The deed changes mean the city can now team with private partners to restore the site and open it to new uses like boutiques and restaurants.
A Manitoulin first timer
By Ron Stang, Publisher
WindsorOntarioNews.com October 21 2020
The “Hawberry” motel? What the heck is a hawberry? Well, says the receptionist at the small hotel on Little Current’s main street, it’s what the Manitoulin Island early settlers, who had little food or supplies, “had to live on - not that it was the best tasting berry in the world!” So, a little history about this island – the largest island in the world surrounded by fresh water – was a fine introduction to this northern enclave in Lake Huron. To get there, it’s an unexpected six-hour drive to Tobermory and the Chi-Cheemaun ferry (make reservations). Driving along the southern Bruce Peninsula there are, surprisingly, Mennonites in their horse-driven wagons. Another surprise: Tobermory – tiny tiny, but with a horseshow harbour ringed by souvenir and food shops. The Chi-Cheemaun takes two hours to cross to South Baymouth. Then a quick 45-minute drive along superb blacktop – complete with bicycle lanes – to the northeast's Little Current. This being “northern” Ontario one might expect more forest and hills. Rather, Manitoulin has vast expanses of farmland not dissimilar to southern Ontario. But there are some spectacular water views entering Little Current, a summer tourist mecca almost touching the mainland. The town’s historical highlight is the black swing bridge. Downtown offers a row of shops including Turners Crafts ‘n More, The Island Jar whole food market, the Loco Beanz coffee shop and the town’s main dining and gathering spot, the Anchor Hotel. Just down the street is the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre. Across is the picturesque boardwalk and water views looking to the North Channel. A 45-minute drive west along Highway 540 takes you through several First Nations reserves and to Kagawong. Check out the Bridal Veil Falls and Hiking Trail and get lost in the fall colours. Gore Bay, half-way across the island, is another premiere tourist spot with wide water access and marina. On the east is a high bluff offering spectacular views south, west and north. You can drive an hour further west to Meldrum Bay, another marine and touristy town. But driving south from Gore Bay offers mainly agricultural lands with a few lakes surrounded by cottages. Providence Bay offers a beautiful beach, park and children’s playground, with a spectacular vista across Lake Huron. For outdoor enthusiasts – the kind who like to exercise their legs - Manitoulin has numerous biking and hiking trails. There are more than 20 hiking routes from less than one kilometre long to more than 10 km.
Photo: Manitoulin tourism
"Canada’s Victorian Oil Town"
WindsorOntarioNews.com Sept. 30 2020
A new four-storey boutique hotel will become a major tourist landmark in Petrolia, the birthplace of Canada’s oil industry. Petrolia is an hour and a half from Windsor and 20 km southeast of Sarnia. The Kingswell Hotel, with 31 rooms, is expected to open in 2022. It’s among a number of recent acquisitions by an ownership group headed by Jenna Gorzeman. The group has also acquired the historic Kingswell Glen 18-hole golf club and owns Crabby Joe’s Bar and Grill. The golf course is one of Canada’s most historic and dates to 1895. Originally a six-hole course it was inspired by St. Anne’s in Scotland. It was founded by the early oil barons, led by Jake Englehart. According to Tourism Sarnia-Lambton executive director Mark Perrin in recent years the town has developed much cachet rebranding itself as a heritage industry town with British Victorian roots. The Victoria Playhouse (photo shows theatre and town hall) has long been a destination for its active theatre though the schedule was postponed this year due to Covid-19. “It’s that Victorian heritage where most of their events and concerts centre around,” Perrin says. Townsfolk on special occasions dress in Victorian costume and welcome tourists into homes for lunch. Perrin says the town has been “really creative” in showcasing its history and heritage “of a really booming community which has been brought back to life.” Petrolia, population 5700, is dubbed “Canada’s Victorian Oil Town.” Oil in fact was discovered in the 1850s just “down the road” in Oil Springs, part of the PTA (Petrolia Greater Area) a humorous play on Toronto’s GTA. “Oil Springs and the Petrolia Discovery were really the first two major sites of the oil industry,” Perrin says. But the oil barons lived in Petrolia and their mansion-like houses are still there. But tourists can visit the Oil Museum itself in Oil Springs. In Petrolia the downtown has several restaurants and pubs as well as bed and breakfasts and Airbnbs. Also check out the Black Gold craft brewery, the name capitalizing oil heritage - black gold, get it? “It’s just something else to really feel the vibe,” Perrin says.
Decades old original bridge proposal exactly where new bridge being built
WindsorOntarioNews.com Sept. 8 2020
By coincidence, the location of the new Gordie Howe International Bridge (GHIB) happens to be essentially where one of the early proponents of a new bridge, 20 years ago, suggested it should be built. That’s Ross Clarke, land surveyor and former managing director of the Mich-Can International Bridge Company. Clarke, now 80, has been a well-known local businessman and community leader and at one time chaired the local chamber of commerce and was president of Essex County Development. He recently sold his venerable Clarke Surveyors business as he moves into full retirement. Back around 1990 Mich-Can put forward an “unsolicited proposal” to privately build a badly-needed new Windsor-Detroit bridge. The location: west end Windsor next door to the Windsor salt mine. Ten years later a government planning process finally ensued and 15 possible bridge crossing sites were examined. Clarke told WON.com: “The bridge is being built exactly where we said it should be built. But they had to go through the environmental assessment up and down the river because (then competing Ambassador Bridge owner Matty) Maroun would have nailed them to the wall if they hadn’t have done that.” Clarke added that Maroun “like any good businessman” understandably tried to protected his franchise. (That included launching numerous and prolonged litigation.) “And they ended up right in the place where they are today.” Mich-Can would have built the bridge without government funding, using bonds paid off by tolls. In addition to more than $500 million in preliminary costs, the publicly funded GHIB, a P3, is costing $5.7 billion, the feds footing more than 80 per cent, the private construction consortium, Bridging North America, the remainder. Ottawa will collect all tolls. The bridge is slated for completion in late 2024.– 9/8/20
Leamington's new urban style buses will have all the bells and whistles
WindsorOntarioNews.com August 14 2020
The town of Leamington will be getting two spiffy new city style transit buses made by the same company that manufactures London England’s famed red double deckers. The town ordered the buses back in April and provincial transit funding for them was recently announced. The new buses will be quite different from the existing school bus type buses operated by Leamington Transit. They are Enviro200 buses designed for the North American market. The manufacturer is Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL) Britain’s largest bus builder and which has North American manufacturing facilities in Indiana. The actual cost is $1.08 million but provincial grants and the Ontario transit gas tax reserve will cover all the costs. There are also yearly operating costs of almost $28,000, which the town will pay. The price may seem large but it is what it is. “Yes, this is today's market for a small size (10.5 meter) conventional transit bus. A regular size conventional bus fully outfitted will push $700k," said Robert Sharon, the town’s Director of Infrastructure Services. The buses will be compliant with Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), as are current buses. They will be “low floors” without steps, compared to the “cutaway” buses that now exist and which have the look of school buses. There will carry audio and visual stop announcements. The buses will have hi tech features including automatic passenger counters, which assist in government funding, determining route stops, planning and emergencies such as accident reconstruction. They will include optional real time passenger information, media management and web displays. The first allows passengers to see when their bus will arrive and alert schedule changes. The second allows “media” to play onboard with “preprogrammed information.” It can be used for tourism or “targeted” info to passengers. The third is a web display. “This is a low-cost way of providing transit information at hubs or strategic locations such as malls and hospitals,” a town report says. The buses have 24 seats and two wheelchair spaces and offer “improved passenger and driver comfort.” They also have longer life spans from 12-20 years “depending on refurbishment decisions,” Sharon said. The transit system has one main route and a summer route is currently suspended due to Covid-19.
Windsor to Ottawa and back
By Ron Stang, Publisher,
WindsorOntarioNews.com August 4 2020
A late August road trip between Windsor and Ottawa seemed almost normal. Traffic along Hwy. 401 looked at its regular pace and even for a Sunday relatively robust through Toronto and beyond. The ONroute service centres had Covid-19 protocols but at one centre, the men’s urinals were spaced every second urinal for use; not so at another. Beyond Toronto an ONroute centre was so crowded there was a Covid line-up – social distancing - outside. No thanks. Exiting at Trenton found a much quieter service station. The drive took us initially to Toronto Pearson International Airport to drop off a friend flying home to England. The airport wasn’t as deserted as I’d expected nor it’s old bustling self. And drivers remember, Terminal 3 is a long way from Terminal 1. (Terminal 2 was torn down long ago.) Beyond Toronto every third or fourth vehicle seemed from Quebec, many packed to the gills or towing boats or Sea-Doo’s. So much for lack of interprovincial travel during the pandemic. Ottawa had been in Stage 3 re-opening two weeks but shop owners were still getting their feet wet. One mall saw a number of store vacancies – sad – while opened stores had hand sanitizer at the front and the ubiquitous arrows on the floor, sometimes in lots of different directions! A hair salon took clients’ temperatures as condition of entry. A large and busy LCBO at 5 pm on a weekday had only two checkouts open, causing 10 - 15 minute waits; some things never change. Driving home to Windsor, Hwy. 7 was chosen as the “scenic route.” It really wasn’t. Past Lindsay a drive up to Muskoka on Hwy. 12 via Cannington along the east side of Lake Simcoe afforded absolutely no views of the lake. Then join claustrophobic divided Hwy. 11 for a further drive through had-seen-better-days retail and motels, into Gravenhurst. At last, a tranquil pretty town surrounded by water – the Muskoka experience! But there were few tourists about. In fact, major resorts seemed deserted (Muskoka Tourism didn’t return a request for comment.) But it was lovely driving along the southwest arm of Muskoka Bay up to Bala, the shore dotted with cottages presumably filled with vacationers. Then a drive south to Port Severn on Georgian Bay – a surprise how tiny and unoccupied the place was. The final sprint home along Hwy. 400, exiting west on Hwy. 9 via Orangeville, Georgetown and Halton Hills. These were indeed hills. With twists and turns, discrete farms and orchards and historic towns, Halton Hills was almost as memorable as Muskoka.
Navigating disjointed bike lanes
By Ron Stang, Publisher, WindsorOntarioNews.com July 6 2020
As a resurrected bike rider, it’s interesting how quickly I’ve become almost a connoisseur of local roads, parsing which are most favorable to cyclists based on traffic, pavement quality and bike lanes. Let’s take Amherstburg, a small enough and delightful town to cycle around with the added convenience of Essex County’s adjacent sprawling flat rural expanses. The “Old Town” section is what you might expect, narrow historic streets shared with – mostly polite and slow moving – motorists. Head south out of town along Dalhousie St. and you enjoy good pavement, lovely homes and great views of the Detroit River emptying into Lake Erie (with Fermi II’s silos across the way). The two kilometre road connects at the Blue Haven Motel to Front Rd. S../County Rd. 20, re-paved just last week (photo) with new bike lanes on both sides, whereas previously the lane had only been on the east side. Only problem: the new pavement ends at Amherst Pointe, about three km. away. Then you’re on your own – and dangerously – driving further east. Although there are wide shoulders, they’re only gravel. Too bad, because a nice circular route through the premier Big Creek Conservation Area and over to bike-laned Meloche Rd. and Simcoe St., would make a great circle route back to town centre – about 15 km. Another enjoyable and relatively safe bike route is to take Simcoe St. east straight out to Howard Ave., an invigorating drive that takes you deep into farm country, where you can watch the majestic fields growing soybeans, corn and whatever other crops – or none – to mark the bucolic scape. It’s almost 20 km. one way. The great thing about the route is there are bike lanes on either side so you can just drive back. (There are no lanes on Howard.) Then there’s the disjointed bike lanes pattern running north and south on the urban town’s east side. For example, the aforementioned Meloche Rd. will take you northbound on bike lanes from Lowe’s Side Rd. (no lanes and little traffic) across Simcoe St. to Alma St. But to connect to Thomas Rd. where lanes continue northbound, you must do a west bound jog less than half a kilometre on to dangerously narrow and busy Alma St. with only a north side old paved shoulder. Thomas Rd. has only an east side lane for two-way bike and pedestrian traffic – no prob - and stretches about five km. You end up on Middle Side Rd. -again a wide highway with wide shoulders, only they’re gravel. But you can foreshorten this by taking a left at Texas Rd. and head west on a bike lane to the Detroit River, 2.5 km away. That’s fine. But when you get to four-lane Front Rd. N./County Rd. 20 (recently repaved without bike lanes) and head back into town, screw up your courage as you ride this heavily trafficked commuter route.
A "rubber tire market" big time
WindsorOntarioNews.com June 17 2020
Drive the country’s highways and byways, support local restaurants, play golf, take hikes along local trails and yes, stay in a local hotel. It’s all part of a fast turnaround plan local tourism officials had to come up with to help the hard hit tourism sector re-emerge from Covid-19 lockdown. In some ways, marketing is not all that different from before. “We are primarily a rubber tire market - meaning day-trip by car,” CEO Gordon Orr of Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island (TWEPI) said. That means the focus is on visitors from a maximum 320 km radius conditional of course on when the market fully reopens. The pitch is hybrid – emphasizing staycations for locals but easy roads trips for those elsewhere in southwestern Ontario with themes like “See You Down the Road.” Meanwhile, there is a “hyper-local” emphasis on “outdoor adventure activities” like golf, boating, water adventures and cycling. Once stores reopen the emphasis will be on shopping “YQG,” which dovetails into the overall TWEPI post-Covid slogan “YQG Stands Strong” a takeoff on the Windsor International Airport’s YQG code. The staycation is targeted to “locals and London South” and tied to “your own backyard experiences.” But a "Road Trip" theme beckons people south of Toronto for day and overnight trips, visiting family, friends and unique attractions. Another is the "Windsor Pizza Club" and local food and drink and of course “world-famous Windsor-style pizza.” And, said TWEPI’s Orr, looking ahead six months, “Our (Christmas) holiday campaign is geared to putting visiting friends/relatives up in a hotel when they visit you this holiday season.”
Not driving much? Car still needs care
WindsorOntarioNews.com June 3 2020
With Canadians driving a lot less during the pandemic cars are also sitting idle for longer periods of time. That doesn’t mean they don’t need care and could even use the odd drive or two, if just around your city or town. The Canadian Automobile Association has several tips. Idle cars can negatively impact brakes with surface rust settling on the rotors even after a few days and can eventually cause corrosion. The battery can also drain “to the point where you might not be able to start the car the next time you try to head out,” the CAA says. But driving to the grocery store or pharmacy for “is a great opportunity to keep your battery operational." And driving the vehicle 20-30 minutes a week will be a big help. As for gas, keep the tank three-quarters full to prevent condensation from forming inside. And for tires, air can slowly leak out so check their pressure before you drive. Most garages are sticking to essential repairs. So summer tires, preventive maintenance, and non-emergency repairs are not considered a priority. Meanwhile, with nicer days on hand take time to clean and disinfect your car. That’s “especially if you’re occasionally going out for supplies for yourself or your loved ones. Anything you touch should be cleaned and disinfected,” the CAA says on its website. These include the steering wheel, gear shift, seat belt buckle, touch screen, charging connector, handles and controls, key and key fob, sun visors. Wear gloves in public but never the same pair. A 70% isopropyl alcohol solution (rubbing alcohol, Purell hand sanitizer, etc.) is effective against viruses or you can even use dish soap. But avoid hydrogen peroxide and bleach.