'The Citizen' looks back at an eventful, challenging and inspiring 2020
The merger between the Perth District Health Unit and the Huron County Health Unit was finalized, coming into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. The new entity would be named Huron Perth Public Health and it would operate under the guidance of Dr. Miriam Klassen as the newly-formed entity’s first-ever medical officer of health.
The Blyth Festival’s first-ever Holiday Show and Sale raised $6,300 during the months of November and December of 2019. Most of the money raised went to artists, but $2,000 of the proceeds would be donated to the Festival.
Continuing with the Christmas season at the Blyth Festival, Artistic Director Gil Garratt said over 4,000 tickets were sold to A Huron County Christmas Carol, the Festival’s first attempt at a holiday show. Garratt said the success of the show all but guaranteed that a holiday show would return to Blyth in 2020.
Two local authors, Bonnie Sitter of Exeter and Shirleyan English of London, were set to see their book come to life on the 4th Line Theatre stage. Their book, Onion Skins and Peach Fuzz: Memories of Ontario Farmerettes, would be turned into a play courtesy of playwright Alison Lawrence for the theatre’s 2022 season.
The Brussels Fire Department handed out the John D. Pennington Award for 2019 at its award night, honouring Jamie Mitchell with the accolade, named for the former Brussels firefighter.
The Blyth Brussels Atom Rep Crusaders claimed gold in the Fort Erie Winter Challenge tournament, sweeping through their games without a loss.
The Brussels Agricultural Society held its annual meeting, installing Zoellyn Onn as its new president. Monique Baan would serve as the home craft president, while John Lowe would serve as the treasurer and Crystal McCallum would be the secretary. Both took over for Brian Schlosser, the departing secretary-treasurer, by splitting the position into two jobs.
Nearly 40 volunteers were honoured by Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson at her annual New Year’s Levee in Teeswater. Those being recognized by Thompson included Jane Smyth and Mikayla Ansley of Blyth, Zoellyn Onn of Brussels, Karen Redmond of Auburn, George and Ruth Townsend of Seaforth and others.
With various teachers’ unions regularly striking in front of the Blyth office of Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson, they said they were planning provincial strike expansion. The unions said there would be weekly provincial strikes if a deal wasn’t reached, in addition to rotating local strikes.
Mikayla Ansley added yet another trophy to her mantle, being named one of 12 Ontario Junior Citizen Award winners. The awards, handed out annually by the Ontario Community Newspaper Association, would be presented on April 3 in Toronto.
Huron County Warden and Central Huron Mayor Jim Ginn was acclaimed as chair of the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus. Ginn wouldn’t be the only Huron County representative, however, as Huron County Chief Administrative Officer Meighan Wark was named its secretary for the coming term.
The Blyth Festival Art Gallery announced the featured artists for its coming season and there was certainly a local flair.
Blyth’s Kelly Stevenson, Lucknow’s Hannah Dickie (also a photographer for The Citizen) and Rob Tetu from Seaforth were among those who would be featured in the summer.
Wingham would be the host for the first-ever mixed doubles championship thanks to Team Cottrill, which was set to host the event at the Wingham Golf and Curling Club.
Despite the Blyth Business Improvement Area (BIA) working to see teachers’ union protests as an opportunity, several Blyth business owners said the protests were hurting their shops. They said the protests were either making it difficult for shoppers to access their stores or that people simply avoided Blyth altogether on protest days.
The Citizen was named a finalist for two Ontario Community Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Competition Awards. One recognized The Citizen’s sports photography, while another honoured the newspaper’s general excellence.
The Wingham Ironmen swept the Walkerton Hawks in the first round of the North Pollock Division playoffs in the Provincial Junior Hockey League, moving on to their next opponent: the Kincardine Bulldogs.
The Blyth Brussels Atom Rep Crusaders opened their Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) semi-final series with a win over the Mariposa Lightning.
Shawn and Katie Cottrill, the two members of Team Cottrill, would be competing in their fifth straight Canadian Mixed Doubles National Championship later in 2020.
The Blyth Lions Club was working towards several celebrations in the coming year. Not only would the club be hosting a golf tournament to honour the late Charlie Shaw, a long-time member of the club, but it would also be marking its 75th anniversary that summer.
The Blyth Brussels Atom Rep Crusaders won their Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) semi-final series against Mariposa and earned a spot in the finals against the East Lambton Eagles.
The Blyth Festival Singers were in the midst of planning for their 40th anniversary concert, set to be held on March 28 at Memorial Hall in Blyth. The Singers planned to welcome past members and conductors to the show to celebrate four decades of music in Huron County.
The Blyth Brussels Atom Rep Crusaders began their Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) final series against East Lambton with a 6-1 loss, but that would be the team’s last game of the season, with COVID-19 being declared a worldwide pandemic and shuttering everything from stores to arenas to concert venues across the province, the country and much of the world.
Huron Perth Public Health found its first case of the deadly virus in St. Marys in the form of a 64-year-old man who had just returned from Mexico.
The provincial government shut down all non-essential businesses as a result of the pandemic, saying the lockdown would remain in place for at least 14 days.
With his restaurant, Part II Bistro in Goderich, closed, owner and chef Peter Gusso, a Blyth native, provided nearly 100 take-out meals for staff at the Goderich Alexandra Marine and General Hospital while they coped with the pandemic.
Blyth Cowbell Brewing Company rolled out its ‘Grateful Bread’ program, providing loaves of bread baked with spent grain from the beer-making process to those in need during the pandemic.
After the first COVID-19 exposure in the Huron-Perth region was discovered in St. Marys, Huron County had its first case in South Huron, as a man in his 60s arrived at a local hospital and was then transferred to London for care.
The Jam Jar Pub and Eatery in Brussels, though closed to the public, used its resources to provide meals to residents of the Highland Apartments at Huronlea Home for the Aged.
The kind gesture began with a call from Florida, looking for a take-out meal from the restaurant for a resident of the apartments. Due to the pandemic, staff was mandated to discontinue meal service to the apartments due to health and safety concerns.
As a result Jam Jar co-owner Maddy Miller began delivering meals to residents there and kept it going for several weeks.
Marion Stewart, a resident of Huronlea Home for the Aged, marked her 100th birthday at the home, but due to health and safety regulations, she was not able to leave, nor were her family members allowed to enter. The family celebrated with her by the window of her room, marking a milestone few reach.
Huron Area Search and Rescue (HASAR) was chipping in during the pandemic, delivering Meals on Wheels throughout Huron County through OneCare.
While area restaurants were permitted to fill take-out orders, but not host indoor dining, many local restaurant owners said take-out orders simply were not filling the gap left by the pandemic.
For the first time in its history, the Blyth Festival suspended its season, a decision that was inevitable as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to spread.
John Hoonaard was busy throughout Blyth, building glass barriers for essential businesses that had to remain open during the shutdown. He had placed barriers at the Blyth post office and Watson’s Home Hardware, among others.
Sixteen-year-old Luke Fritz was drafted to the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires after a youth of playing hockey with the Brussels Bulls and the Huron Perth Lakers.
Unsure of the future, the Blyth Festival Art Gallery followed the Festival’s lead and cancelled the annual Student Show. Organizers still hoped the season would go ahead, however, perhaps just later in the year.
The Blyth Lions Club partnered with the Blyth Food Market to deliver groceries to those not wanting to do their own shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several local talented sewers began making masks, headbands and all other manner of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and those at essential businesses, paying their kindness forward.
The Blyth Brussels Atom Rep Crusaders were named provincial co-champions after their series with the East Lambton Eagles was unable to finish due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As expected during the pandemic, local food banks were seeing an increase in usage, but at the same time, seeing an increase in donations as well.
The Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story and the annual Barn Dance Jamboree Weekend in Blyth both joined the parade of events being cancelled due to the pandemic. While the Munro Festival would move forward with virtual events throughout the year, organizers of the Barn Dance said they planned to host the event in 2021 and it would be their last in Blyth.
Though the Brussels Optimist Club was unable to host its annual spring dinner and auction, it went ahead with making donations, handing out $20,000 to local hospitals tangling with COVID-19.
The Blyth Festival officially cancelled its 2020 season after suspending it the previous month. The Blyth Festival Art Gallery would also follow suit, cancelling its season, but retaining the artists in the hopes of repurposing the season for 2021.
Many service club officials detailed the loss of thousands of dollars due to cancelled events and fundraisers.
A hand sanitizer drive initiated by Seaforth native and Stanley Cup winner Ryan O’Reilly resulted in over $41,000 worth of the product being donated to hospitals and long-term care homes throughout the county.
The annual reunion of the Huron Pioneer Thresher and Hobby Association was cancelled for 2020, as were the Six String Music Festival, held annually in Seaforth, and the Brussels Fall Fair.
After two weeks, the Huron-Perth region saw no new cases of COVID-19 and, as a result, no cases were being considered active at the time.
Several local young women, who dubbed themselves the Quarantine Fairies, were spreading joy throughout North Huron and beyond by placing baskets full of goodies on the front porches of their friends, asking them for nothing in return, only to pass the kindness on to someone else.
Despite the pandemic, Auburn’s Huron Chapel marked its 40th anniversary with a special virtual church service and a look back at four decades of history.
The Wingham Knights of Columbus found success by hosting a take-out fish fry dinner that sold out. Other area service clubs would replicate that success, hosting fundraisers while keeping everyone involved safe at the same time.
The Huron County Plowing Match became the most recent event to cancel its 2020 offering.
The Clinton Raceway opened its 2020 season, but with no fans in the stands due to COVID-19 safety protocols.
A late-night fire devastated the Wingham headquarters of Green’s Meat Market. The fire was not being treated as suspicious, but it left 25 local people unsure if they would have jobs in the weeks to come.
Goderich Mayor John Grace said his town was descending into crisis due to the growing homeless population and a lack of services and places for them to go due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Blyth Cowbell Brewing Company had recently been certified as one of the greenest employers in Canada, Half Hours on Earth in Seaforth also had reason to celebrate as it was certified as being carbon-neutral.
Brussels musician Lyndon John X (also known as LJX) won the 2020 Juno Award for The Warning Track, which was named Canada’s best reggae album of the year. This came after LJX had been nominated for a Juno Award three times earlier.
Blyth Festival alumnis and Huron County native Cam Laurie was one of many winners of the year’s Dora Mavor Moore Awards for excellence in Toronto theatre.
Central Huron Mayor Jim Ginn said he would not be seeking a third two-year term as Huron County Warden, opening the door for a new top politician in the county.
The Belgrave Fowl Supper, the biggest fundraiser on the Belgrave Community Centre Board’s calendar, was cancelled for 2020.
Huron County native and Stanley Cup winner Ryan O’Reilly was nominated for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship.
The Brussels Leo Club cut the ribbon on its new playground in Brussels, after working hard to raise the funds to make it a reality.
A fundraiser for a local transport truck driver who struck and killed a pedestrian during a protest in Burlington topped $100,000 to aid in the man’s legal fees after he was charged with careless driving causing death.
The stone dust surfacing project for the Goderich-to-Guelph Rail Trail hit a milestone in July with those applying the stone dust making their way from Perth County into Huron County. Dignitaries and those involved with the trail held a special welcome ceremony.
Shannon McGavin of Walton was named the new executive director of the Tanner Steffler Foundation.
North Huron Council decided to sell the Wingham trailer park, despite receiving a petition signed by nearly 500 urging council to retain it and keep it a trailer park.
The Blyth and Brussels United Churches announced they would be welcoming Alex Jebson as their new student minister, with his time in the community set to begin in September.
Two men voiced their intent to become the next Huron County Warden: Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh Mayor Glen McNeil and South Huron Mayor George Finch.
After the in-person ceremony being cancelled, Mikayla Ansley was honoured with a virtual ceremony and a special gift box from the Ontario Community Newspaper Association as one of 12 Ontario Junior Citizen Award winners for 2020.
Jolande Oudshoorn of Auburn was named the Junior Farmers Association of Ontario Novice Member of the Year. Since joining the organization in 2019, Oudshoorn had become very involved, being elected the Huron-Perth chapter’s vice-president near the end of the year.
Ryan Van Dorp and Emily van Leeuwan, both employed at the Blyth Tim Hortons, earned two of just 220 scholarships handed out by the company. The two triumphed by writing essays about what the company means to them.
Though a traditional Brussels Fall Fair didn’t move ahead this year, the Brussels Agricultural Society held a special parade and decorating contest that served to bring the community together.
Blyth Festival Artistic Director Gil Garratt said the Festival would be looking forward to outdoor shows in 2021, utilizing the natural amphitheatre at the former soccer field at the Blyth campground.
Garratt said he hoped the Festival could build a stage and plant trees on the land in the hopes of using it in the years to come.
Seven young people were honoured with scholarships courtesy of the 2017 International Plowing Match Legacy Fund.
Peter Smith of the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity said this year’s Rural Talks to Rural conference would be moving head virtually in November.
Joan Vincent was honoured with the Jim McGee Volunteer Award, presented by the Belgrave Community Centre Board, for her extensive work in the community over decades of her life.
Steven Del Duca, leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, visited Huron County, meeting with several farmers at the home farm of the Whyte family, just southwest of Winthrop.
After being shut down early due to the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by a long summer, hockey was back on the ice in Huron County, with local boys’ and girls’ teams taking the ice for practices before the season was set to start.
Broomball, however, was shut down for the 2020/2021 season based on direction from the Federation of Broomball Associations of Ontario.
Long-time volunteers and Blyth Festival supporters Laurel Armstrong and Cindy Fisher announced they would be hosting an art auction to benefit the Festival to be run between November and December.
On advice from Huron Perth Public Health, local Legions began the process of organizing Remembrance Day ceremonies that would be closed to the public, but perhaps shared via social media or streaming services.
Blyth won a radio station contest to be featured in a reworked Tim Hicks song thanks to a slick video spearheaded by the Blyth Community Betterment Group and featuring well-known local man Floyd Herman.
A new committee was struck to organize the Brussels Homecoming and 150th anniversary, set for 2022, with Dan Fritz and Mike Thomas named as co-chairs of the event.
A COVID-19 outbreak at a Stratford long-term care home resulted in a surge of cases across the region, marking a 32 per cent increase in cases in just one week.
The provincial government released its budget, which had been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson said there was plenty to be happy about in the budget for families, seniors and small businesses.
Huron East Council considered purchasing the conservation area property in Brussels, which would include the Logan’s Mill property. Though the municipality would technically own the property, the request being considered would involve several parties, including the Maitland Mills Association and the Brussels Community Development Trust.
After sitting empty for a short period of time, the Queens Bakery building was given new life after being purchased by Karen Middleton-Meadham and Gerrit Sepers who hoped to reopen it in 2021 as Brod Bread and Pastry, a Danish bakery.
After reconsidering the ward system again in the municipality, Central Huron Council voted to retain its ward system moving forward.
Annie Sparling of Blyth and the late Bob Kellington of Brussels were named Citizen of the Year Award winners for 2020.
Sparling was awarded for her relentless work with the Blyth Community Betterment Group, including the resurrection of the Blyth Rutabaga Festival and the creation of the Hometown Holiday Weekend, while Kellington was recognized for his work with the Brussels Lions Club, the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and his local church, among others.
Huron County released the terms of reference with a goal of construction in 2022 for a traffic solution for the troublesome intersection of Blyth and London Roads in Blyth. Whether it would consist of a set of traffic lights or a roundabout would be determined over the course of the process.
COVID-19 cases continued to rise in both Huron and Perth Counties, while Medical Officer of Health Dr. Miriam Klassen detailed abuse levelled at her staff as they attempted contact tracing for local infections.
The move online and an expanded schedule benefitted the Rural talks to Rural conference in 2020, according to organizer Peter Smith, who said people were able to engage, watch and take part in the conference from rural areas all over the world as a result.
Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh Mayor Glen McNeil defeated South Huron Mayor George Finch to become the next Huron County Warden. McNeil took over for Central Huron Mayor Jim Ginn, who said he wouldn’t run again after serving two two-year terms in the position.
Holiday celebrations went forward in Huron County with reverse parades, virtual celebrations and distanced visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus filling the void left by cancelled Santa Claus parades and other celebrations unable to move ahead due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As 2020 came to a close, COVID-19 cases were rising dramatically in the region, surpassing 500 cases since the pandemic began, including cases at long-term care homes and some area schools.
As case numbers rose in Huron and Perth Counties, they too were rising across the province, which resulted in a second province-wide lockdown, set to begin on Dec. 26.
A study presented by University of Guelph researchers showed that the mental and physical health of Huron and Perth County residents was slipping during the pandemic, which was a cause for concern in many ways.
Huron County Council pledged to bring this information forward to the provincial government and work to ensure residents stay healthy during the early months of 2021 as the arrival of the vaccine is eagerly awaited by many.