Richard Meloche

Co-An Park turns 40, tree dedications part of the event

 

By Jonathan Martin

 

Co-An Park has turned 40 and its patrons have thrown it a birthday party.

Folks gathered around two small trees last Saturday in recognition of the contributions Robert Anderson and Murray Sellars made to the park.

Co-An Park is run through a collaboration between the municipalities of Essex and Amherstburg (formerly Colchester and Anderdon, respectively).  One council member and three community members from each municipality make up a committee that runs the park.

The friends and supporters of the late Robert Anderson hold a brick on which his name is carved in front of a tree that was planted in his name. They planted the tree in Co-An Park, which he helped beautify during his time on its organizing committee.

Every year, the committee chooses two people who have contributed to the improvement of the park and plant a tree in their name.

Murray Sellars currently sits on the Co-An Park committee.  Robert Anderson was a former member who died in 2017.

Leo Meloche is Amherstburg town council’s representative on the committee.  As stones with Sellars’ and Anderson’s names were placed in front of the trees’ trunks, Meloche spoke about their legacies.

“Bob truly dedicated his life to his family and to his fellow man and we thank his family for allowing us to celebrate his achievements today,” he said.  “Murray, we thank you for your service and dedication to your community and to the Co-An Park.  Please accept this tree as a memento of our gratitude.”

Essex Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche is the official representative for his municipality.

Kenneth Holden was one of the first people to work on the park as it stands today.  Forty years ago, he landed a spot on the board and started working on the park’s fences and seating.  Today, he simply likes to volunteer.

Last Saturday, as he cooked up steaks for the park’s hungry baseball players, he reminisced about years gone by.

“We finished the bleachers on Christmas Eve,” he said.  “We were sitting there in the freezing cold, working on them.  That was 20 or 25 years ago and they’re still here.”

He said that over the past few decades, he’s seen the park improve dramatically.  He said a lot of work has gone into making it what it is today, but that the work is worth it.

As kids whooped at the crack of a baseball bat, he smiled.

“McGregor News” presentation packs community centre

 

 

By Ron Giofu & Jonathan Martin

 

A pair of events have been held recently in McGregor by the Town of Essex, but Amherstburg had some involvement in both.

The Essex Municipal Heritage Committee presented “McGregor News,” a presentation that explored the first 25 years of the Village of McGregor. The village is currently split between Essex and Amherstburg down Walker Road.

The evening had some Amherstburg involvement too, as it was held in collaboration with the Marsh Historical Collection.

After tours of St. Clement Church, people made their way into the McGregor Community Centre where retired librarian Nancy Brown made a presentation on the origins of McGregor along with events and people that shaped the community.

“The bulk of the information came from volume one of the McGregor News,” explained Brown. “McGregor had its own column in The Amherstburg Echo from 1875-1900.”

Timber was a big draw in McGregor’s early years.

“That was the big resource at that time,” said Brown.

Despite being a predominantly French village, it was named for William McGregor, whose background included being an Essex County warden and Member of Parliament.

After men such as Thomas Adair and Thomas Ouellette started buying up land in and around the “Walker Path,” now known as Walker Road, the timber industry started booming with Hiram Walker wanting lumber to build railway cars. Rail lines stretched from Walkerville to Kingsville. Sawmills also went up in and around McGregor, which was known for its tall trees.

During its first 25 years, McGregor had six butchers, two meat markets, three harness shops, five shoemakers, nine barbers, eight blacksmiths and much more.

“It’s hard to imagine there was so much activity back in those days,” said Brown.

While fires in 1881, 1890 and 1891 caused damage including the warping of train tracks, there was still much activity including the construction of schools and churches. An original wood framed church was built in 1880 while the current St. Clement Church was built in 1903.

St. Clement Church

“Just like today, there were fundraisers for things,” said Brown.

People would travel by train around the county going to picnics and dances and listening to debates and bands. Sometimes, attendance went into the thousands, Brown indicated.

Such clubs included bachelor’s clubs, the McGregor Council of Chosen Friends and many other groups.

One tale was about a seven-year-old girl fainting, and later dying, after seeing a large snake. Other people reportedly saw the same snake later on and Brown referred to it as “our own Loch Ness Monster.”

Brown used to work in the McGregor Library and came across materials from the village’s history. She became very interested in the area’s roots and got a lot of information from the Marsh Historical Collection.

Rita Jabbour, assistant planner with the Town of Essex, said the Essex Municipal Heritage Committee is the resource base for information and knowledge for Essex council, administration and the community on all matters of heritage.

McGregor residents from both the Amherstburg and Essex sides of the road took part in a recent community cleanup. (Special to the RTT)

“The Town of Essex is made up of four communities with distinct and unique histories. McGregor is unique in particular because it transcends the Essex and Amherstburg municipal boundary line. Guest speaker series, like the presentation with the Marsh Collection Society, is one of the ways in which the committee endeavours to communicate the rich history of those four communities. Speaker series also serve to shed light on important organizations and institutions, like St. Clement Parish and the Marsh Collection Society, which by their existence, preserve and communicate our local history.

Jabbour said they do not have a formal speaker series established; guest speakers are just one of the methods that the committee employs to communicate Essex history.

“We were very, very pleased with the turnout. The committee recorded nearly 150 people in attendance. I think this really speaks to the thirst in the community for information about our past and merits consideration of a speaker series,” said Jabbour. “The committee would like to work with the Marsh Historical Collection to organize a Part 2 to Nancy’s presentation in the future – hopefully with more chairs and food! In the meantime, the committee plans on unveiling two historical plaques this summer on the Colchester Reef and the founding of Harrow, in advance of Explore the Shore in July and the Harrow Agricultural Fair in August.

Those who attended the McGregor event are encouraged to contact the Town of Essex at 519-776-7336 ext. 1128 or rjabbour@essex.ca to suggest future topics for guest speakers.

A few weeks earlier, McGregor got a lot cleaner thanks to a community cleanup.

Richard Meloche, deputy mayor of the Town of Essex and Leo Meloche, Amherstburg town councillor and deputy mayoral candidate invited local residents to pick up litter from the Town of Essex’s four urban centres.

Around 50 people turned out for the cleanup, which more than doubles the 20 or so who showed up for previous years, according to Richard Meloche.

“I think a big part of it was Mrs. Ducharme and Mrs. Wood from Colchester North Public School, who decided to help out,” he said.  “They brought around 25 people just themselves.”

Altogether, the group picked up around 60 bags of garbage in a two-hour span.

“I was surprised and disheartened at the number of liquor bottles I found on the side of the road,” Leo Meloche said.  “I don’t like the idea of booze being that close to roads.”

Each volunteer was supplied with gloves and bags, which were purchased by the Town of Essex.  After the work was done, a free lunch was hosted for the volunteers by the McGregor Columbian Club, which Richard Meloche said was rented by the town at a discounted rate.  Leo Meloche said he would look into contributing financially to future iterations of the annual project.

“Amherstburg benefits from this too,” he said.  “It’s only fair.”

The Meloches agree that the benefits are definite and pronounced.  They explained that they like to see their communities get taken care of, but they love to see their neighbours coming together to make it happen.

 

Harrow Fair presented for 163rd consecutive year

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A fair that is older than Canada itself was celebrated again this year.

The 163rd annual Harrow Fair was held last weekend with this year’s theme being “Scarecrows and Sunflowers.” Livestock showings, carnival rides, games, live music and, of course, the popular Harrow Fair parade highlighted the event.

“The Harrow Fair offers a place for friends and neighbours both rural and urban to gather. Some will come to view the displays and exhibits while others will experience the fun and satisfaction of participation,” said Brenda Anger, president of the Colchester South & Harrow Agricultural Society.

The Sun Parlour Pipes & Drums perform in Saturday’s Harrow Fair parade.

Richard Meloche, deputy mayor of Essex, brought greetings from the host municipality and recalled looking forward to attending the Harrow Fair when he grew up there as a kid.

“That was the talk of the summer,” said Meloche. “Everyone was talking about what was going to happen at the Harrow Fair.”

Meloche believed the Harrow Fair “is more of a county fair” and that past, present and future volunteers deserve credit for its annual successes.

“We want this fair to go on for years and years and years,” he said.

Warden Tom Bain clowns around with a scarecrow during the opening ceremonies of the 163rd Harrow Fair.

Warden Tom Bain also pointed out it was a family event, noting members of his family joined him at the fair.

“When we come to a fair, we come as a family,” said Bain. “There’s something to do for everyone. Every year, rain or shine, the Harrow Fair is a success.”

Essex MPP Taras Natyshak brought greetings from both himself and his NDP colleague, Essex MP Tracey Ramsey, and also thanked the many volunteers that help present the fair every year.

Libro Credit Union’s Harrow branch made a $2,500 donation towards a shade shelter at the fairgrounds while $13,510 was raised for the John McGivney Centre through the pie auction.

McGregor Music Festival raises $39,000 for Windsor Cancer Centre Foundation

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

It was a big year for the McGregor Music Festival and that was proven with the cheque the committee presented to the Windsor Cancer Centre Foundation.

A cheque for $39,000 was presented to the foundation last Tuesday night at the home of Susan LeClair, chair of the McGregor Music Festival organizing committee. The June 11 festival was the 28th annual and was held at Co-An Park with nine bands, a car show, a pig auction and raffles.

“We had 700 people attend and they brought their wallets,” said LeClair. “We’re $3,000 over last year.”

Proceeds will benefit men’s health programs and the patient assistance fund, with LeClair noting they assisted women’s health programs last year.

The festival began through the McGregor Knights of Columbus, as a sister of a member became stricken with cancer and they wanted to do something to help.

Representatives from the Windsor Cancer Centre Foundation accept a cheque from the McGregor Music Festival committee at the home of chair Susan LeClair (front row, second from right). The June 11 event raised $39,000 with the cheque presentation occurring last Tuesday evening.

Representatives from the Windsor Cancer Centre Foundation accept a cheque from the McGregor Music Festival committee at the home of chair Susan LeClair (front row, second from right). The June 11 event raised $39,000 with the cheque presentation occurring last Tuesday evening.

“They are still part of it,” pointed out Richard Meloche, a member of the committee’s board of directors.

LeClair said the pig alone sold for more than $600 and they had strong corporate sponsorship this year.

“All of the people are doing this for free,” added Meloche. “We don’t pay for any of the music. It’s awesome that everyone comes together the way they do. It’s such a great cause. Who hasn’t been affected by cancer?”

Meloche credited LeClair for her leadership, but LeClair put credit back on to the committee.

“Everyone knows they’ve got a job and they do that job,” said LeClair. “It’s a well-oiled machine.”

While some work has started now, the committee won’t start meeting in earnest again until next March.

Houida Kassem, executive director with the Windsor Cancer Centre Foundation, said the $39,000 raised through the McGregor Music Festival is “fantastic” and credited LeClair and her team of volunteers for their work.

“Every dollar makes a difference to the people in our community,” said Kassem.

Kassem said the money will make difference to the people living with cancer and said the $39,000 will help ensure the treatment at the Windsor Regional Cancer Centre is state of the art.

Essex County libraries re-open Feb. 16 after strike finally ends

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

After a 230-day strike, the Essex County libraries are getting ready to re-open.

The 14 branches across the system, including the Amherstburg library, will be open to the public this Thursday after the nearly eight-month strike concluded late last week. Workers actually went back to their jobs Tuesday with workers spending two days clearing up logistical matters and other issues that may have arose during the strike.

A new four-year contract was struck around 2 a.m. Thursday morning and ratified by CUPE 2974.0, the union representing the 58 library workers, later that day at the CUPE regional office in Windsor. Lori Wightman, unit chair for CUPE 2974.0, said after Thursday’s vote that 70 per cent of the workers in attendance ratified the contract.

CUPE 2974.0 unit chair Lori Wightman addresses the media following the union’s ratification vote last Thursday afternoon.

CUPE 2974.0 unit chair Lori Wightman addresses the media following the union’s ratification vote last Thursday afternoon.

With 55 unionized employees at the meeting, it meant 39 people voted yes and 19 people voted no.

“I’m relieved and a little bit sad,” said Wightman.

Wightman called it sad because neither side got everything they wanted.

“It’s the best deal we could get,” she said. “There was never going to be a big win here.”

Wightman added that “no one is going to be popping champagne corks.”

The strike was difficult and took its toll on the workers, she added.

“This was a long time. It was a very hard ordeal on all of our members,” said Wightman.

Wightman didn’t question why 30 per cent voted to reject the deal and said the union was transparent with members the whole time.

“Every member gets to vote how they want to vote,” said Wightman. “I do what my members say. I don’t hold either vote against anybody.”

The main sticking point in the strike was sick time and the county’s desire to have a third-party insurer for short-term disability (STD). Wightman said “in a perfect work, (the) short-term disability (issue) would have went away but it’s not a perfect world so we had to deal with it.

“We got a little of what we wanted and they got a little of what they wanted.”

She emphasized that the union did as good of a job as they could do in negotiations.

“We got the best deal we could,” she reiterated. “This bargaining team did everything we could do to bring this to a resolution. There’s nothing I regret.”

As for whether there needs to be any fence-mending with management, Wightman said they would move forward professionally. She also didn’t anticipate any sort of backlash from patrons, believing they would come back.

“People love their libraries,” said Wightman. “I guarantee you everyone will be back within a month.”

The library workers are anxious to get back to their jobs, she added, and said it will be “lovely” to see their patrons again.

“The public will not see any difference,” she said.

Wightman added that the union received a lot of support while on the picket lines. Many people dropped by with food and beverages while other unions also showed support for the library workers.

“The support has been humbling,” she said.

The Essex County Library Board unanimously approved the new deal at a meeting late Friday afternoon at the Essex Civic Centre.

“We ratified with a third-party insurer and a new STD plan that covers employees so that they can be taken care of very well in times of illness,” said board chair Richard Meloche.

The Essex County Library Board gets ready to discuss the contract prior to their in-camera ratification vote last Friday afternoon.

The Essex County Library Board gets ready to discuss the contract prior to their in-camera ratification vote last Friday afternoon. Clockwise from left: chief librarian/library CEO Robin Greenall, library board chair and Essex Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche, Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos, Lakeshore representative Steve Nepszy, Amherstburg Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale, LaSalle representative Bill Varga. Tecumseh councillor Andrew Dowie joined the meeting after the photo was taken while LaSalle Mayor Ken Antaya participated in the meeting over the phone.

In addition to the short-term disability plan, Meloche said the new plan also features a two-per cent per year wage increase for the employees and a $3,000 signing bonus for workers.

“We feel it that it worked out pretty good for everybody,” he said.

The sick-time plan will “definitely benefit the librarians,” Meloche believed, noting there are 60 hours of sick time per year for full-time employees with that being prorated for part-time staff.

“In a lot of industries, part-time people don’t have any benefits. In this contract, we do have benefits for our part-time people. That includes people who work under 15 hours per week,” said Meloche.

All employees have life insurance and short-term disability coverage, though those under 15 hours per week would be self-funded by the county. Those between 70-80 years of age working for the library will also be covered by the plan, he added.

Current employees can use their banked sick time to “top up” their pay on top of the 75 per cent the employees would receive if they are off on short-term disability. New employees will not be able to “top up” their salaries if off on STD.

“Previously we were self-funded,” said Meloche. “(The new plan) adds stability to your budget. Right now, we don’t have a reserve if somebody goes off sick. We have to absorb that somewhere in our budget. Right now, we have an unfunded liability of $1.1 million. What we wanted to do is get rid of that $1.1 million unfunded liability.”

Meloche said by putting a cap on banked sick time at 520 hours, it limits the ability of the unfunded liability to grow.

The library board is “very happy” to have finally reached a settlement, Meloche added.

“CUPE pointed out very well that our patrons wanted their libraries back. We knew that. We were hearing that from people as well but it takes two sides to want to come to an agreement on a contract. We finally got that,” said Meloche. “I’m happy as a representative of the library system that we finally have our libraries back for our patrons. I can guarantee you I’ve had several letters, I’m going to say dozens since Thursday, that say ‘thank you very much for bringing our services back’ and we hadn’t even ratified yet. They were counting on us ratifying for sure.”

Meloche added the board is bringing in people to help relieve any problems that might arise when workers re-enter the workplace.

“When we do come back, we’re going to have some professionals come in to try and work through any problems we have,” said Meloche, “and try to ease employees back into the job. If anyone is having any issues trying to get comfortable with their jobs, we have someone that help them ease them back in.”

Essex County libraries have been closed since June 25, 2016. The new contract expires in March 2020.