Friday, April 25, 2008

Remembering the Alexandria

Alexandria Great Lakes Steamer

It's an unusual day. A fairly strong wind is blowing off the Lake onto the shore lifting large waves that crash into the beach at the foot of the Scarborough Bluffs.

I'm taking my dog to Sylvan Park for her morning run because these conditions are too special to waste. Sylvan is located mid way along the ten kilometer length of the Bluffs at the end of Sylvan Drive deep in the heart of Guildwood Village.

If you don't know the park is there, you'll never find it in the maze of suburban streets. The bluffs are much taller here, close to their 90 meter maximum. And from the top of the bluffs on days when a strong wind blows onto the shore you can still see her in the troughs of the waves.

Her great boiler and some of her decking are all that's left of the Alexandra. And those are usually hidden just below the surface of the Lake.

On Tuesday August 3rd, 1915, the 49 year old Alexandria was bound for Toronto when she ran into a massive storm. Capt. Bloomfield was steaming for the safety of the Toronto harbour hoping that the old wooden side wheeler would hold together long enough to survive. With only 300 tons of cargo aboard, she was riding high in the water and was easy prey for the raging wind and the heavy seas.

Her 50 horsepower was simply not enough to hold her on her course and she was pushed further and further towards the lee shore with each battering wave. Although the light of Toronto's Eastern Gap was in sight, she finally lost her battle and the old ship rammed onto the sands at the base of the Scarborough Bluffs.

Alerted by the forlorne peal of the ship's horn, the top of the bluffs was soon lined with spectators leaning into the savage wind and rain to watch the 173-foot, 863-ton Alexandria's fight to the death. They didn't have long to wait.The crushing seas soon began to dismantle the vessel and her end wasn't long in coming.

The hull began to break up about 8:00 p.m. when about 50 feet of the bow broke off. The terrified crew then took to the boats but the waves were vicious and all twenty-two of her crew were tossed into the churning waters. Clinging to lifelines rigged from the beach, and with the help of those on shore, all the men reached safety by midnight. No sooner had the last man reached shore, than the stern section of the ship tore away from the wreck and broke up.

The following morning winds had died down and the lake quieted. The wreckage lay scattered along the shoreline. I still find pieces of it even today. What was left of the Alexandria had been pushed very close inshore during the night and now she lay facing in a westerly direction and listing over on her port side. The cabin had been badly smashed by the waves and the top section of the funnel had disappeared over the side.

Her cargo of pickles, canned vegetables, potatoes and sugar had been washed away and residents along the shore as far west as Ward's Island stocked their shelves for the winter with supplies from the stricken steamer. Quite a few sheds were also built that year from her planking.

Succeeding storms soon broke up what was left of Alexandria's woodwork and all that remained above water was the walking beam and the upper portion of the boiler, these being quite visible, especially at times of low water. For over twenty years these relics were a feature of the eastern shoreline. For many years the local children used the walking beam as a diving platform.

But in due course, with the high water and the erosion of the shoreline, the last visible remains of Alexandria disappeared from sight and local residents were left with their memories of the stormy night that "Alex" came ashore. And a few jars of pickles.

It is only on days like today that she still comes alive again, fleetingly glimpsed between the waves. The ghost of another time and another era.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Natural Garden Care

by Katie

Spring has arrived, the snow is gone and the flowers have started to poke their heads through the earth so now is the time to start to think of ways to protect them and yourself from insects and rodents. You don't need to grow vegetables in order to use natural means of pest control, in fact you don't need a garden at all.

During the summer months do you see mosquitoes, ants moths or mice around your yard? Plants and herbs will keep these pests away from your garden or home. You don't need to spend a fortune either and if you look at the cost, natural means of controlling pests is cheaper and much less dangerous than using any commercial bug killers. And they help[ you to stay clear of Toronto's $5000 fine for those breaking the new pesticide bylaw. The good thing about using these natural and proven methods of insect control is that you can have just a few flower pots of these things that you can move around to where they are needed or you could do as I do and scatter them throughout the garden but I also have some of these plants by my front and back doors to repel insects and to keep them out of my house.

I plant marigolds at the front and back end of my vegetable rows. I put Marigold there because the scent from Marigold confuses flying insects. They can't ruin your plants or vegetables if they can't get to them and Marigolds do an outstanding job at keeping flying insects away. They try to get near the garden, hit the Marigold scent and they get dizzy and fly off. Garlic is another good herb to use as a means of keeping flying insects away too and it also keeps a number of beetles and grubs away as well.

Do you have problems with ants in your garden or in your house? Ants will be repelled by Sage. Plant some sage around your property and around your garden and you will be ant free all year, it will drive the ants out of their underground homes and will chase them into your neighbors yard. If you plant some sage in some flower pots and place them beside your front and rear doorways, you will keep ants out of your house forever. You can also place a few sprigs in your cabinets or cupboards and that will keep the ants out of your kitchen. Leaving a few sprigs in the cellar will keep the ants from tunneling in to the house as well.

Are you tired of running around your home with a rolled up piece of newspaper trying to swat a fly that got in? A great way to keep flies out of the house altogether is to once again take some plower pots and plant some Basil. Place these flower pots by the doors and by a few windows and you will keep flies away. Basil is a tremendous all purpose insect repellent and it will work against moths, flies and other flying pests. Basil planted around tomatoes will help them taste better and it helps them grow better but the best part is that when the tomatoes are ready to be picked, you have the Basil for making sauce right there beside the tomatoes!

Two of the most disgusting creatures you find in gardens are snails and slugs....yuch. To keep these slimy creatures out of your garden and out of your life, plant some Anise. Anise is a great repellent for slugs and snails and also works to repel aphids.

I have a large and open back yard and I have a brook that runs through my yard and a lot of open space on each side of the brook. That means that I have field mice running around the area. I dont want to kill them but at the same time, I dont want them in or anywhere around my house, so I plant spearmint along the brook banks and around my yard and garden, I plant a lot of it around the foundation of my house and by my doors. This keeps mice away from my house altogether. It also makes my yard smell tremendous too but spearmint works and it will keep all rodents away without fail. If you ever get a mouse in the house, then you can always take some sprigs of the mint and scatter around the house or you can go to the nuclear bomb of rodent control and get some spearmint or peppermint oil and soak a cottonball in it and leave it in the corners of a few rooms. The smell will drive the rodents right out of the house and wont harm them at all.

Another great method of controlling ants, aphids and mice in and around your garden or house is to plant some catnip. Catnip is a superb repellent of insects but it will attract cats who just may find that they like to use your garden as a giant kitty litter box so if you plant some Rue there as well, that scent will repel dogs and cats and keep your garden happy.

There are a lot of natural means to keep your garden and your home free from insects and other pests. You do not have to try to destroy them by using harsh chemicals when natural means exist to control all garden and home pests. I use no chemicals in my gardens at all. I only use natural means of pest and rodent control and I have never lost any of my vegetables to insects or any four legged creatures. I attract the insects that I want such as bees but the rest always find a not welcomed sign waiting for them.

Try some of these methods, once you see that they do indeed work then try another and then another. In a very short time you will find that natural methods work better than any chemical that you can buy.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Shooting in West Hill

It was in the late afternoon and I heard the shots plain as day from my home half a kilometer away.

Two Toronto Police officers were patrolling an apartment at Morningside and Lawrence when they were shot at by a drive-by gunman outside a Scarborough high rise.

Slugs ripped into two cars parked at the apartment and also into the empty St. Martin de Porres schoolyard across the street. The shooting took place half a block away from where the police horse Brigarier was run down and killed.

Officers from 54 Division raced to the area and quickly found the four-door 2006 Acura parked on Oak Knolls Crescent, about three kilometers away.

A search of nearby McDonald's restaurant on Kingston Rd. near Port Union Rd. led to the arrest of one male who had moments earlier tried to hide a knife in the washroom.

Ours is a quiet neighbourhood, for the most part, as city neighourhoods in a major urban area go.

Crime has decreased by nearly ten percent over the past couple of years. We have a large new police division building, our outdated Mall is being replaced by a modern new shopping complex, our GO/VIA Train station has just completed a multi million dollar renewal.

New luxury condos are spreading along Kingston Rd. New Restaurants are being built. A vibrant community market with fresh vegetables, crafts and entertainment runs through the summer on the St. Margarets-in-the- Pines Church grounds. The City have rebuilt Kingston Road with a new treed median and Lawrence Ave in slated for upgrading this summer.

A new book by our local United Church Minister has become a national best seller. New Community Associations are hosting Community Picnics, Clean Up Days, Neighbour's Nights out and other events. More than any other area in Toronto, there is a sense of vibrancy about West Hill.

But all it takes is a punk with a gun creating the impression of the area being a dangerous place to visit to put everything at risk.

We are just emerging from the second most vicious winter since records were kept and may be entering a long hot summer.