Sharing with you things that are on my mind...Maybe yours too. Come back to Wrights Lane for a visit anytime!

11 February, 2013


The Wellington County Museum and Archives is a National Historic Site.  It is located in a building that stands as the oldest remaining 'House of  Industry" in Canada. It was built in 1877 as a "Poor House" or place of refuge for the poor, homeless, and destitute people in Wellington County. It operated as a Poor House and Industrial Farm until 1947 when it became a County Home for the Aged. It was later transformed into the Wellington County Museum and Archives. A new Archives wing opened in 2010.
Recent discussion within the Dresden Virtual History Group is centering around "poorhouses" as they existed in the l9th century.  I grew up hearing the expression "poor house" more often than I care to recount.  You know..."We're all going to end up in the poor house" or "It won't be long before I'm in the poor house."

That was my mother talking when my dad did not bring home enough money from his business at the end of the week or when she was hard-pressed to meet living expenses.  "You're driving me to the insane asylum" was another expression often directed at the three men in her life -- my dad, my grandfather and me; but that's another story.  We're talking here about poor houses, although there might well be some correlation.

Though more commonly associated with Victorian England and novels by Charles Dickens, such as Oliver Twist, the poor house was part of Canada's social fabric for more than 60 years and one of its earliest legislated responses to poverty. Poor houses have been forgotten but they are part of our local history. These "houses of industry and refuge," as they came to be known, were shelters of last resort for the destitute, homeless, "feeble-minded" and elderly. In exchange for their labour, they were provided with spartan accommodation, clothes and simple food, much of it grown themselves. At Christmas, there might be small gifts, perhaps a handkerchief, a pipe or an orange.

The poor house closest to my home in Dresden was located in Chatham and according to a virtual history group member there was another located in Strathroy (her great grandmother died there).  To the best of my knowledge both houses were demolished years ago.  One of the oldest surviving examples of a poor house in Canada is in Wellington County (see photo). The Fergus, ON. building, a national historic site, opened in 1877 at a time when "pauperism" was considered a moral failing that could be erased through order and hard work. I have visited the Fergus facility and it is truly one of the province's best kept secrets.

It was also something Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe had very much wanted to avoid when he arrived in Upper Canada in 1791.  In his native England, more than 100,000 people were swallowed up in work houses, funded by a "poor tax" on landowners and criticized for being costly and creating cycles of dependency.

"When he came over to take up his position here, he was absolutely convinced he wasn't going to allow anything like that to develop," David Wood, a professor emeritus of geography and urban studies at York University's Atkinson College, has commented.  Yet poverty was inescapable. Crops failed. People starved. On farms and in cities, as the province slowly started to become industrialized, many couldn't work because they were sick or injured or old.

The only option for indigent people in the province's earliest days was to seek shelter for a night or two at the local jail, said Wood in a newspaper interview a few years ago.  He has written on the legislative history of Ontario's poorhouse system and admissions in Wellington County. One newspaper account from the early 1870s tells of one elderly man who was living in a hollowed-out log on a farmer's field in a township outside Fergus, partly paralyzed and in danger of freezing to death. The council was debating what to do and the story was being repeated hundreds of times across the country.

Across Canada, elected officials were struggling with similar problems. Handouts of food or clothing known as "outdoor relief" became common and, in New Brunswick, one solution was to auction off care of the poor to the lowest bidder at "pauper auctions" that were compared to slavery in the American south.  In Ontario, the province passed the Houses of Refuge Act in 1890, which provided county governments with grants of up to $4,000 to purchase at least 45 acres of land and construct a suitable building. By 1903, new legislation required every county in Ontario to have a house of refuge.

Much like today, misfortune seemed to hit society's most vulnerable people the hardest – the unskilled, the elderly, the disabled and children. While Canadian society has evolved and a sophisticated social safety net has developed to ease the burdens of those who've fallen on hard times, attitudes toward poverty remain much the same today.

Just another not-so-happy peek at yesteryear. A time that we should not so readily forget as we enjoy the comfort and security of our lives today.

10 February, 2013


WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH THAT MESS?  This is what faced me at
noon on Saturday --  three-and-a-half feet of snow in my driveway.

DIG YOURSELF OUT YOU FOOL!  After almost an hour of  shoveling I 
finally penetrated the heavy  blockade but couldn't help leaving some 
snow in the street.
I know that I am no different than any one else when it comes to coping with mounds of snow piled in my driveway by municipal road clearing crews each winter. It is an unfortunate fact of life this time of year, but that does not make it any less of a nuisance that places inconvenience and physical strain on all of us.  Adding insult to injury for me this week was an announcement by Saugeen Shores Police Chief Dan Rivett to the effect that is was a breach of the Highway Traffic Act to deposit snow back onto the roadway, a crime that carried a $110 fine.  I just could not sit back and take it any more and vented my frustration in the following Letter to the Editor of the Saugeen Times.  I'm sure that readers will appreciate where I am coming from on this one.

Letter to the Editor, Saugeen Times

I may have been guilty of breaking a law under the Highway Traffic Act on Saturday, February 9, 2013.

I read with interest and a degree of chagrin the "Police Beat" column published in the Saugeen Times, February 7, 2013, and a notice "From the Desk of the Chief (Dan Rivett)" announcing to the tax-paying public the sin of "pushing snow onto the roadway." He added insult to injury for 90 per cent of the population of Saugeen Shores by pointing out the potential of a $110.00 fine. My immediate reaction was "I think I may be in trouble."

You see I am a 75-year-old senior citizen recovering from total hip replacement surgery. For three days late last week I was marooned in my home due to the heavy snow fall and the fact that town road and sidewalk plows had deposited a good three-and-a-half-feet of snow in the entrance to my driveway. Finally, on Saturday, February 9, with no snow fall overnight, I had no other option but to dig myself out -- we were running out of food and my disabled wife needed a drug prescription refilled. I started shoveling at 1:15 p.m. and by 2 o'clock I had made my way down to the entrance to the driveway -- that's where the real work began. I took a short break for a hot cup of soup and two Naproxens, then set out to try to make a dint in the waist-high pile of snow at the roadway. Exactly 50 minutes later, I made the breakthrough.

Just as I was finishing depositing the last shovel of snow in the by now six-foot mountain at the curb, an elderly woman happened by on foot. We chatted briefly. She told me that she and her 90-year-old husband had a similar problem at their home just around the corner. "He (her husband) is laid up today because he worked so hard for two days trying to clear the pile of snow at the foot our driveway. I tried to tell him to take it easy, but he insisted; now he's paying a price," she lamented. I fully sympathized.

I live on Grey Street North in Southampton where the sidewalk is separated from the street by a two-foot-wide boulevard which limits space to pile up snow cleared from the street entrances to our driveways. Try as I may, I could not help but spread some of the snow approximately three feet out onto the street where it came from originally...In fact we all do it, out of necessity. The accompanying two photos show exactly what I am talking about. The scene was repeated several hundred times in Southampton this weekend.

This is how the "placement of snow" act is printed in Town of Saugeen Shores "Winter Maintenance Procedures".

Placement of Snow on Municipal Right-of-Ways

"Residents of the Town of Saugeen Shores are reminded that, pursuant to Section 181 of the Highway Traffic Act:

No person shall deposit snow or ice on a roadway without permission in writing to do so from the Ministry or the Road Authority responsible for the maintenance of the road R.S.O. 1990, s 181. Deposition of these materials on the roadway interferes with property maintenance practices. Your attention to this Act is required to assist us with keeping the roads maintained in a safe and useable condition."

Since he has publicly made an issue of this matter, my question to Chief Rivett is this: How much snow "deposited" back on the street is too much and how far out on the street is too far? For most of us it is virtually impossible not to leave some snow on the roadway after clearing the entrances to our driveways. Surely his officers will show due discretion as they patrol town streets (?) after heavy snowfalls and make allowances for senior citizens in particular who do not set out to break the law...They just need to get out of their driveways by the most expeditious means possible and without getting stuck in the snow that the town has redirected onto their property. Sometimes it is not a fair world! Not even in Southampton the good.

Richard "Dick" Wright

05 February, 2013


I publish the following story especially for the enjoyment of old baseball chums Bruce Huff, Bob Peters, Jarvis Cook and Floyd McKorkle (all regular readers of Wrights Lane) and my friend Larry Balkwell Sr. of Chatham whose son Larry Jr. will soon break into baseball's professional ranks. We can all relate, for different reasons. This excellent account was written by Bob Fai who is publicity director for the Vancouver Canadians Baseball Team.
By Bob Fai
(Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium - Vancouver, B.C.) - We are in the business of selling dreams here at the ballpark, it's as simple as that.
We tell you of players like Rich Harden, Kurt Suzuki and Nick Swisher that have gone on to play under the bright lights of a Major League Baseball stadium. It is what we hope makes us a credible summertime destination for passionate fans of baseball here in Vancouver.
Sure we have hot dogs that are as long as your child's arm, we have a grounds crew that breaks out in dance on a nightly basis - but we also try and sell you on the 'future' as well - the future of our players who maybe, just maybe, will one day go on to become the stars that you'll find on TV playing for the Toronto Blue Jays.
C's pitcher Zack Breault (above) moments after winning the NWL Championship in Boise, ID.
Canadian's pitcher Zack Breault 
moments after winning the NWL
 Championship in Boise, ID. 
Some make it, while others more often than not - don't.
That's okay to admit because what we are actually selling isn't the assurance that you are watching future Major League Baseball players - but that you are watching players 'try' to become Major League Baseball stars.
That to me is what makes our players' journeys so wonderful each summer.
Let me tell you the story of a player who chose this week to stop his pursuit of wearing a Blue Jays jersey - or any Major League jersey for that matter.
I became friends with now 'former' Canadians pitcher Zack Breault in the summer of 2011 shortly after he was assigned to Vancouver to play for our hometown team.
Our brand seemed fitting as Zack was one of five Canadian-born players to make the roster two summers ago and was named Opening Day starter just hours before we began the pursuit of what would be the first of two straight Northwest League Championships.
At 6'4", I looked up to Zack in stature but as I got to know him, eventually, I looked up to him as a person as well.
You couldn't 'not' appreciate his demeanour.
His razor sharp sarcasm, his desire to win were all traits that I enjoyed being around much like his teammates.
It's not easy for every pitcher in the Minor Leagues to simply go out and win, but Breault would work through the highs and lows and always find a way to balance the cheques and balances of his statistics finishing his professional career at .500.
Four wins and four losses.
Sitting just behind me on our many bus rides together back in 2011, Zack and I would constantly go back and forth with me trying my best to pull off an impersonation of him while he could do nothing more than shake his head.
It might have bothered him, but you'd never know it - that was just Zack.
We would talk about baseball, life in Amherstburg, Ontario (his hometown) and his housing family here in Vancouver.
Shortly after announcing his retirement recently to a local newspaper back east, Zack went out of his way to thank Bill and Jana Maclagan as well as their children Konnerand Keegan.
"They were great people," said Breault to the Amherstburg River Times.
"They did everything in their power to make me feel as comfortable as possible. They were a pretty big part of my pro career."
A pretty classy move to thank those who waited up late and woke up early to ensure his progression on and off the diamond.
The Maclagan's have housed Canadians players for years now and Zack would likely rank right near the top of players whom they hold near and dear to their hearts.
This past summer, his second with the Canadians, Breault would find his way into Clayton McCullough's bullpen as the rotation from our Championship squad of 2011 looked completely different a year later.
Admittedly, it would take Zack a few outings before his game finally 'clicked' and at times you could see his frustration building.
A rough night in Everett back in late-July seemed to be the 'moment of truth' for Zack as his one inning of relief was anything but with the Aquasox torching him for a pair of runs, on a trio of hits en route to a Canadians loss, one that fell squarely on his shoulders.
Zack was as quiet as I had ever seen him after that outing as his 'slow burn' could be felt by everyone sitting near him on the bus. It would be a night where I chose wisely not to say a word.  We knew he needed the silence to figure things out - and he did.
That rough night in Everett would mark the last time any team in the Northwest League could manage a run off of his arm.
As he began to steer his season back onto the rails and toward overall success in August, I would watch him in the clubhouse, on the bus, at the field and around town - I think he knew even before we did that it was his time. He had reached as far into the professional game of baseball as his ability could take him.
I hope as you read this that you see there is absolutely no shame in this statement.
If anything, a sense of pride should be felt when you realize that even if your road doesn't end up in the Major Leagues, you have still gone further than 99% of those who dared to dream about a career in professional baseball.
Sometimes it's that peace and understanding that helps you do something you might not have done since you first signed a pro contract - breathe.
Once he exhaled, Zack was unbelievable down the stretch for Vancouver in 2012.
Not one run crossed home plate on his watch as his 14 1/3 innings of 'lights out' relief helped the Canadians chase down a playoff spot on the final day of the season.
If you can still remember, Vancouver needed every single one of those 46 wins in 2012 just to punch their ticket into the playoffs, and in reflection, it almost seems fitting that on a warm summer evening in Yakima, it would be Breault who would find the final victory of his career to help the C's clinch.
A week earlier, Breault was also at the center of another key moment in our season.
Those offensively-gifted Boise Hawks had been crushing LHP Kyle Anderson over his 1 2/3 innings of work here at Scotiabank Field as they put six runs up on the board in the top of the 2nd inning, forcing manager Clayton McCullough to summon Zack from the bullpen much earlier than expected to try and stop the bleeding.
Wouldn't you know it might have ended up being Breault's best outing as a professional.
Four and 1/3 innings of two-hit baseball holding the Hawks off the scoreboard until he turned the ball over to LHP Colton Turner who also slammed the door on the Hawks bats. This as the Canadians would somehow erase a six-run deficit to top Boise 7-6.
Had Vancouver not won that game, had Breault not come in and silenced the free swinging Boise bats, we would not be gearing up to slip on our second straight Northwest League Championship ring.
Simply put, Zack Breault can retire knowing that he finished his professional career as strong as anyone around him.  Even more beautiful, he leaves on his terms. No pink slip hanging in his locker. No injury that prevents him from taking to the field.
Zack simply gets to look his loved ones in the face and say 'I gave the best I had and this is as far as my abilities ended up taking me".
Every year we get to see upwards of 40 players try and reach for the stars.  Every year I find myself just as enamoured with those who choose to step aside from the game as I do those players who continue to push through.
I hope Zack will hold his head high, remembering the long bus rides full of laughter and learning, always looking at both of his Championship rings with the same pride that I look at mine - knowing that the only reason I have either of them - is because of players like Zack Breault.