Monday, November 16, 2015

Review of "The 39 Steps," by the Dunnville Community Theatre

The 39 Steps,

Presented by the Dunnville Community Theatre,

Theatre Review by John Taylor,
for the Dunnville Free Press

The Dunnville Community Theatre opened this season in its new, brighter and more spacious location at the Dunnville District Anglers and Hunters Conservation Clubhouse with a performance of the play, "The 39 Steps." This play is a reworking of the story originally written by John Buchan (Scottish novelist and one time Governor General of Canada) during the First World War. The novel was adapted for the cinema in 1935 by Alfred Hitchcock, among the first of the genre of spy-thriller blockbuster. It is the story of an ordinary man, a Canadian no less, is caught up in a sinister plot to smuggle a secret out of the country. The bad guy, just as in the James Bond series, is suave and sophisticated, an evil mastermind determined to smuggle out of England plans for a revolutionary, completely silent aircraft motor. In the play, however, all the craft and conventions of the stage are applied to turn "The 39 Steps" into a farce.

The result is a mystery, truly magical. I could not believe my eyes. Here we were laughing uproariously at a story that -- I could have sworn --was decidedly not funny. It was a total change, as a Monty Python film puts it, "And Now For Something Completely Different." I was so intrigued that I went right home and watched the 1935 Hitchcock film right through, and was astonished to find that much, if not most, of the action and dialogue were left unchanged in this theatrical version. How did they make a thriller into a comedy that looks like it was born and raised for laughs? Now I feel like going back to watch the play again and again in hopes that I will somehow catch what its secret is.

Credit for this amazing piece of legerdemain no doubt should go to the "adapter" Patrick Barlow, but for bringing it to Dunnville and putting it on stage here, we have director Nancy Erskine to thank. Without actually walking onto the stage, her spirit pervaded the evening. The leading man, Jordan Heron, carries his role well, with understated distinction. Kathryn Stengel makes a svelte and gracious romantic lead, but more than that, she make three leading ladies, complete with three different accents. In the role of "clown 2" Diane Morris offers a comic charm that anchors the shenanigans surrounding her, through all of the many roles she plays. The youth element is represented by Gordan Huffman, Clown 1, who delivers a poised performance with a natural sense of timing that promises greater things soon to come.

It is not too late to catch this unique experience. Two performances are upcoming next weekend, including the well known "dinner theatre," where you taste a chef's interpretation of the themes of the evening's play before enjoying the play itself.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Ron Speer Commemoration

Since not all members of my old mailing list from the Badi Blog have moved with me to Facebook, I am sending this out, since many of you knew Ron Speer.

Here are the pictures I took for the Dunnville Free Press of the meeting to commemorate the life of Ron Speer. My article about him should soon be available too. 

Don't ask about the Hindi lettering, because I have no idea why they turn up. Must be some Google Plus/Facebook thing.

Ron Speer Celebration of Life 2015-08-23 (19 ภาพ)

Check out my book on history's first proposal for a democratic world government at:

My pictures of Ron Speer throughout the ...

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(Almost) All Candidates Meeting

(Almost) All Candidates Meeting

By John Taylor, for the Dunnville Free Press, published in the October Issue, 2015

The Dunnville Chamber of Commerce sponsored an all-candidates question and answer session at the Legion Hall on the 8th of October, 2015. In attendance were (in the order listed by the Chamber of Commerce) Les Bory, running as an independent, Dave Bylsma of the Christian Heritage Party (CHP), Wayne Ettinger of the Green Party, John Harris of the New Democratic Party (NDP) and Joan Mouland of the Liberal Party. Conspicuous in her absence was the incumbent, Diane Finley of the Conservatives. Audience members submitted written questions, of which there was time for each of the would-be Members of Parliament to answer about ten.

The moderator cautioned the participants to talk about what they are for, not what they are against, and to be civil. On the whole, that is how it went. To start off, candidates were given three minutes to introduce themselves. Dave Bylsma has run eight times for the CHP, here and in St. Catherines, in every election since 1993. His party holds that families are the building blocks of society, and is the only one to take a stand against abortion and for opposite sex marriage. A solution they offer is smaller government.

Joan Mouland, a lawyer from Simcoe, is the recently chosen Liberal candidate. She is running here for the first time. She pointed out that Justin Trudeau is bringing youth into politics, and that his father, Pierre Trudeau, should be remembered for devolving power to local MP’s. Wayne Ettinger of the Green Party was a farmer for thirty years and now is running a small railroad between Port Colborne and St. Catherines. He is running because he is upset with the dirt in politics. He pointed out that Elizabeth May, his party leader, was voted hardest working parliamentarian by her peers in Ottawa. Greens are for a national pharmacare program and free post-secondary education.

John Harris of the NDP stated that he has an academic background in political science, specifically, political theory. He thinks we should ask, what change do we want? Haldimand has had job losses, so he would work with businesses to bring work here. We should also, his party holds, abolish the senate and eliminate poverty among seniors. Leslie Borie has run five times. He is an independent but his sympathies are with the Maple Party of Canada. Perhaps the most radical and declamatory of the candidates, he would nationalize the banks and oppose the “corporate parties” who keep us in perpetual debt, with interest payments sucking public money into private hands. His slogan is: “We will live better if we vote better.”

Questions addressed were, what are we to do about the ageing of the Canadian population? Do you support income splitting, and if not, what should be done for seniors? What, specifically, do you propose be done to help Haldimand’s economy? What would you do to save the ecology of Lake Erie? Why does the government borrow from private lenders when we can get interest free loans from the Bank of Canada? Do you believe that doctor assisted suicide should be legalized? Do you support election reform?

I think the last question was the most important, and not only because I was the one who wrote it down. Just after the meeting, my 21-year-old daughter, who will be voting in a national election for the first time, put it in a telling way when she asked, “Will my vote be wasted?” The sad answer is that if you like any of the speakers there, yes, it will. Most people vote with their demographics. In a rural riding like Haldimand it will be a snowy day in hell before the majority votes for anybody but the Conservatives. Diane Finley demonstrated absolute confidence in this reality by not taking the time to show up for both candidates meetings, this one and that in Norfolk County. She did not even answer emailed questions from this newspaper.

The Conservative party was found in contempt of parliament in the previous election. In the same way, our present MP’s absence surely put her in contempt of voters. The only mudslinging that took place at this meeting was when the Liberal Joan Mouland pointed out that Diane Finley had been found by the federal ethics commissioner to have violated conflict of interest rules as Minister of Public Works. Mouland distributed a newspaper clipping from the Simcoe Reformer to prove it. While I am against personal attacks, I cannot disagree with this action, which is surely justified. Finley would have had a chance to defend herself if she had deigned to be present. Whatever the duties a member of parliament has, surely the first is to make themselves available for questioning from voters at meetings like this one.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Three Area Public Schools on the Chopping Block

ARC Meeting; Two Local Public Schools May Soon Close

By John Taylor

Submitted to the Dunnville Free Press, June 07, 2015

When the time comes to shut down a school, who decides? The answer to that question was laid open to public view in Grandview Central Public School's gymnasium at 7 PM on June 4th, 2015. The decision makers are the "Accommodation Review Committee (ARC)" an open committee (that is, they never meet behind closed doors) of seventeen principals and school trustees, seated in two semi-circles, ten on the left and seven on the right. A packed audience showed how great the concern is among the public as well, especially from parents and other supporters of the two schools on the chopping block. Signs are popping up all over Dunnville declaring, "Save Fairview School," "Save Grandview School" and, outside town, "Save Anna Melick Memorial School."

The ARC Chair, Brian Doyle, opened the meeting with a brief history of what made further closures necessary so soon after Dunnville Central Public School was shut down in 2011, less than one "cycle" of five years ago. Ultimately, the need to cut is caused by the shrinking family (fertility is much smaller than it was in the 1970's), an aging population and the slumping economy of Dunnville. Even construction of new housing developments and the re-opening of the former Bicks plant by Original Foods in this period has not been enough to reverse the trend. With only .32 students per dwelling, the growth adds up to only enough to fill two classrooms.

In order to deal with redundancy, the Ontario government has instituted a "ten kilometre rule" across the province. Any school below capacity that is closer than that distance from another facility will not qualify for full funding and is subject to closure. Only ten schools in our area qualify for such immunity. No matter what, at least one public school will have to close by the first of September, 2016.

Doyle declared that their purpose this time was not to make final decisions but to review recommendations and gain input from committee members and the public. Trustees were confronted with a bewildering array of five complex options of closing one or a combination of small schools and redistributing their students among one or more larger schools of two or three hundred students, such as Thompson's Creek in Dunnville, or J.L. Mitchener in Cayuga (which is far below capacity). As discussions continued, the list soon grew to six, seven and then eight, then shrunk down to six again. Members raised several further questions. Should they consider expanding the larger institutions with portable classrooms? Should the students of any closed schools be kept together or distributed among several larger schools?

At least one creative suggestion was brought forward, to combine J.L. Mitchener school's building with the new library that is planned for Cayuga, a merger of two institutions with the compatible purpose of learning. Others pointed out that their decision could have unforeseen consequences. For example, closing Anna Melick Public School is likely to provoke an exodus of students to a closer school in Winger, which is part of the Niagara Board of Education. The chair declared that this is unthinkable because it would mean a further loss of funding for the Grand Erie Board. Competition with the Catholic Board of Education for a diminishing talent pool further complicates the situation.
The chair declared that he had not seen before so much discussion as had just taken place, and promised that they would come up with the best solution. He then offered the microphone to an eager public. Bob Lake expanded further on the history of schools, going back as far as the 1960's, concluding, "We need to maintain our rural heritage." Another questioner asked, "What are we doing to attract more parents and jobs to the area?" Another felt that we should close the rural schools and stop "picking on Dunnville."

I was impressed by the openness of the process, the non-confrontational attitude of the participants and the concern expressed by the general public. The tone of the discussion was truly exemplary. My only criticism is that technology seemed underused. Only a display of the agenda was projected on a screen, though I am told that maps and graphs have been shown in the past. The process may have been sped up with an electronic meeting system, and decision-making simplified with consultative software designed for facilitating such meetings.

Full resolution versions of all photos I took are at:

For more information about the ARC process, see their site:

Former teacher Bob Lake addresses the ARC review committee.