Empire Sandy fires the canon to start Canal Days

Canal Days 2020

This year has seen a huge change in normal life across the globe. Here in sleepy Port Colborne many things are different. Few things bring this home to me more clearly than the absence of the Empire Sandy to kick start Canal Days with a literal bang as they fire the cannon on their arrival the night before.

This cannon signifies to anyone in earshot, which is 90% of the population, that they should batten down the hatches for a long weekend of crowds, noise, traffic congestion, and queues. Everywhere.

Around the downtown core, street performers and musicians entertain patios full of diners with live music and food from around the world. On the water, the Tall Ships are open for tours and trips out into the lake. Along the canal, street vendors and food trucks line West Street from one end to the other. You can enter a wide range of prize draws, drive golf balls across the canal, race plastic ducks, even graffiti a wall.

There is a mini-carnival for the kids with a Ferris wheel and other rides. Birds of Prey and other animal attractions are on display. Craftsmen offer everything from caricatures to chainsaw carving. At the various parks we have car shows, kite competitions, face painting, live music, any number of activities.

The central market square across from City Hall is turned into an outdoor music arena for the duration with bands performing on stage from morning until night, to the enjoyment of the many thousands of tourists that flock here, and the dismay of those in the surrounding city blocks that just want to sleep. Saturday sees the main music event, whoever the headliners happen to be that year.

The whole shebang concludes on Sunday with a boat parade of lights, followed by what is widely acknowledged by almost everyone, locals and tourists alike, to be the best fireworks display in the Niagara region, bar none. The fireworks are also preceded by the firing of the Empire Sandy cannon. It’s a neat start and finish bookend to the weekend: Between two cannons, that’s Canal Days.

After the fireworks, the crowds drift away. Families head home. Locals, those vendors that are staying one more night, and boat crews head somewhere air conditioned to cool down and wind down. The clean up crews start work. Monday sees the remaining vendors leave. The Tall Ships leave. By end of day, the City is almost back to normal.

Another year, another Canal Days. For over forty years. Until 2020.

Many here in Port Colborne hate it. Many love it. The debates at City Hall and online are often heated, repetitive, endless. In other words, normal life in a small community. The tourists that come not only from the surrounding region but across from Buffalo and New York State to see this annual spectacle often come back year after year, so this little corner of Canada must be doing something right.

All I can say this year, is that it’s awfully quiet. I miss that canon.

Empire Sandy fires the canon to start Canal Days

For more Canal Days images from previous years please visit my Photo Site

The Road Less Travelled.

Onward

Life is a river that flows in one direction. Onward. As a youth you enjoy the speed and excitement as the current pushes you from one experience to the next. Learning to read. Write. Speak. It’s exhilarating.

As you get older, the impulse is to try to hold back those river horses. Consolidate what you’ve learned. You’ve spent years learning everything you think you will need to know in this life, then everything changes. And that can really throw you. You have to start again. Again.

But life, the simple definition of which no two sciences or theologies fully agree on, doesn’t care about your last ten years. Or that your career just became surplus to requirements. Or even that you were replaced by a software update. It just flows onward. This thing we call life, simply is.

If you try to hold back the river you are likely to drown. Or at the very least, look quite silly. The better thing to do, therefore, is go with the flow. See where it takes you. Onward.

In life, metaphorically and otherwise, we come up against dead ends. Some, you just cannot overcome. Others, you can. Since I was a child I have not tried to fly by jumping from a roof and waving my arms. I may be wrong but I still believe that would end badly.

I have, however, continued to learn new skills every year, and will for as long as I can. I have changed horses in mid-stream more times than most. Primarily, because I enjoy it. Learning new skills keeps me fresh, and helps me move into the future to face new challenges. Onward.

From grease monkey to sales, purchasing, logistics, customer service, training, photography, and a lot of in-between along the way, I discovered one simple truth many years ago. Learning one way to do things does not mean it will always be the only way; just ask a film photographer. So I’m adaptable. Open to change. To my mind, it’s the only logical move we have.

Case In Point

Case in point: I like to get out and explore. Growing in to a career producing print materials, web, and video designs, I adopted a camera as a tool of the job. Beyond that, I use it for event and landscape photography – some of which you can see at http://photos.gystservices.com.

While doing all this, I fell in love with the camera as a tool for relaxation and fun. I spend much of my down time driving around taking photos. My camera is my constant companion, providing solace and peace while it records my adventures. I drive for hours. Just drive. This is my explanation of how and why I found myself on a No Exit road, face to face with this particular sign.

When I saw it, I smiled. Because the limits had been set. The challenge was before me.
One look into the wilderness and I knew I could go further. So I did.

I took my fate into my own hands and drove on. Taking this cautionary sign at it’s word I proceeded carefully, navigating around deep ruts, potentially deeper standing water, fallen trees and the encroachment of nature on all sides. And, a half mile or so later, came out the other side.

No worries. This was a calculated risk. As a commercial driver for years I know my own limits and those of any vehicle I drive. I felt comfortable knowing I could back out, navigating hazards in reverse. I knew the clearance under my car. I’d checked Google Maps satellite view for obvious dangers, and knew exactly where I would emerge. I had cell signal to call for a truck and knew which way to walk to the nearest road if I had to. Risk management 101: Know your exits. This is perhaps not as romantic as the thought of diving headfirst into the wilderness, but hey. I’m adventurous, not stupid. I took stock of the situation. Then took a leap of faith.

My reward was seeing things not visible from the well-traveled road. Three does, a stag, squirrels and birds and strange buzzing insects beyond number. An abandoned barn. Wild chickens. Wild turkeys. Rabbits.

All because I was a little adventurous, and faced a new minor challenge. Despite what this sign said, the road did not end here. The real road, just like the the river of life, flows onward. And I’m still driving it. Or going with the flow. I have to stop mixing metaphors. Comedic juxtaposition and humorous silliness aside…

I can recommend getting out of your own comfort zone sometimes. When the asphalt ends, or the river of life takes an unexpected turn, try to at least keep your head above water and go with the flow. Do something new, every day. Make your own road. It’s very rewarding. It keeps you young. It’s worth it.

Writing down all these deep thoughts has taken quite a lot out of me. I need some down time now, I think. I think I shall go for a drive.

Onward.

Onward: The Road Less Travelled.

Happiness

Happiness is where you find it. Here, it’s in a quick video snippet of Nikki and I out and about enjoying the Summer. This bit of silliness was recorded during a stop at a local Conservation Area.

Just because the world seems to be coming to an end is no reason to let life get us down.

You take your happiness with you. Wherever you go, there it is. Or isn’t. Happiness can be shy and may not want to come out and play. Happiness is like a child. Petulant. Stubborn. Unreasonable. Beautiful.

Happiness needs nurturing. Take it to the park for a picnic every so often. Buy it an ice cream.

There is joy and happiness aplenty to be found in this silly old world. Sometimes, you just have to coax it out from the rock it’s hiding under and bring it into the daylight kicking and screaming.

Mixed metaphors aside, things can always get worse. Conversely, they can always get better. Remember that. You can’t control what life throws at you, but you can control your response.

Be happy, in spite of all the reasons not to. In some cases, not all, it’s a choice. Not always easy, I know.

Whatever shape your own happiness may take, start a conversation with it. Learn what it likes. Buy it an ice cream. Make the effort. We found ours. Seek. And you, too, shall find. So go. Off with you.

Barn - After editing

Photo Editing: Before and After

Once the working day is over I can turn my focus to one of my passions, photo editing. There is something beautiful about taking a raw image and reshaping it with light and colour into something unique. It relaxes me. Frustrates me. Makes me happy and sad at the same time. Takes my mind from my worries and gives my brain some much needed down time. Photo editing and retouching are good for the soul. Getting paid for it is a bonus. Whether my style appeals to you or not, it does to me. And that’s primarily why I do it.

Case in point, during one of my frequent explorations of the Niagara region I came across this old barn which has seen, let’s be honest, better days. There must be history here. A family farm. Kids playing in the hay loft. Cattle sheltering from a winter storm. If my own youth is any guide there was probably some canoodling at some time, which may explain those kids in the hay loft.

All gone. Time passes. One day time will take it’s final toll and this piece of history will be no more.

However

Photo editing can make this barn live again. Not as it was, for that you need Photoshop, which I use daily and think of as my second home. However, that is not the feel I wanted. I wanted to see this barn in the present day, infirmities and all, with those decades of memories intact. Proud and strong despite everything nature continues to throw. Not going down without a fight. I respect that.

I wanted to give those golden memories one last, glorious summer. So I brought the sun.

For photofiles the original was shot in RAW, with a Tamron 17-55 2.8 at 1/200th sec at ISO100. Edited to personal taste in Adobe Lightroom. After having an hour or more of fun playing and trying variations I came down on the side of this one. I went for the emotion.

A little over the top? Maybe. Call it creative license. Every image is different. For me, for this image, this treatment works. For some, it may not. But that’s the amazing thing about photo editing. I can come back tomorrow and do something completely different. Same image, different feel.

Right now, this pleases me. Hits the notes I aimed for. Says what I want to say. That makes me happy.

Barb - before editingBarn - After editing
9/11 memorial, New Jersey, New York

A Little Perspective

On July 4, this photo of my wife Nikki at the 9/11 memorial in New York is a powerful reminder of how messed up this world can be. War, genocide, human rights abuse, famine… the list is long.

We live in Port Colborne, in the sleepy Niagara region of Ontario, Canada. The biggest scandal in our little corner of the world right now is that due to COVID-19, a by-law exemption allows servers to cross the street carrying cold beers to patrons on temporary outdoor patios. People on both sides of this constitutional crisis are up in arms over this issue. We clearly need more fiber in our diet.

However bad you may think things are right now in your own corner of Canada, remember that you didn’t get planes crashed into you, hit by a hurricane, flooded, killed for being different, or put under curfew. And that’s just in the shining metropolis of New York, New York.

My perspective is this: If the biggest thing on your radar lately is someone crossing the street with a beer for you, you live in a pretty great place. Smile.

We got this. Be thankful. And be happy. Peace.

9/11 memorial, New Jersey, New York

Morning Mist

The morning mist over these trees caught my eye during one of my lone early morning explorations somewhere in Niagara as I watched the world awaken. I love the subtle colours, the way the mist interacts with the distant trees, and the contrast between the sun and the tree cradling it in it’s arms.

Call me romantic. The simple low key composition really draws my eyes. I find it hypnotically pleasing. It reflects closely how I felt when I was there in that moment. It works for me, especially at full size.

Available for digital download, prints, gallery wraps and assorted wall art, starting at $3.

Port Colborne word cube

Thank You Port Colborne

While playing with the new version of Blender 3D this evening I was monitoring and enjoying feedback from my post about the Robin Hood Mill in Port Colborne. Close to two hundred people and counting have so far shared it across various social media platforms. Between them and their legions of friends hitting the site all at the same time, I had to double the monthly bandwidth allowance on the server – twice in 48 hours. That’s a factor of 4. It’s a problem every site owner wants to have.

I run my own servers so I was able to manage easily. I’m happy. I’m also very happy this post was so popular. Thanks to all those that shared and enjoyed!

This of course made me wonder about a follow up. It seems I struck a vein with Robin Hood, so what, I thought, should I write about next? That’s where I’m hoping to get your help with suggestions, dear readers. What in Port Colborne would you like to read about? And who should I approach?

Your suggestion may become my next personal project. Or the next word added to the Port Colborne Cube, below. Either way, please, let me know.

The Port Colborne Cube

It was while noodling that I doodled with 3D, making a short list of some places of interest. That list swiftly became this design, the Port Colborne Cube. I can add or change everything, and probably will as I continue to play. The words I chose show only a fraction of the things this fine city has to offer.

Words, lighting, camera angles, colours. I may animate it. Everything is up for grabs. I did nothing for the last two hours but play with lighting setups. Being a photographer and having unlimited lighting options? Priceless. I’m like a kid in a candy store. This may take over my weekend. I kid you not. Really.

By the way, if you might like your own Cube, get in touch. This design can easily be customized to your brand, colour scheme, placement, backdrop. On a wall it would be a great way to present a wine list, menu, or a welcome board on an easel at a wedding. Even a billboard. Just a couple of thoughts. I am the Design Guy, after all. It’s what I do. Spoiler alert, there will be a fee. Hey, I have bills to pay too. 🙂

Geek Stuff

OK enough of that, let’s quickly get some tech stuff out of the way. Skip this section if you have no tech inclinations. The LTS 2.83.1 version of Blender 3D is available for download. This amazing software can now do even more, even faster, and for even less money. Well, that’s not strictly true: It’s always been free.

The interface and speed improvements alone make it worth the cost of the upgrade (free). I created all these images in one evening and found myself exploring some of the more arcane features simply because the time overhead between click and finished render has all but disappeared. I found myself throwing stuff around just for fun to see if I could crash it. Which I did. Bad idea. Bad Carl.

New features galore for me to explore (happiness rhymes). The Eevee rendering engine is such a delight. Creating and spinning models around in real time, seeing them draw instantly is, frankly, hypnotic. It gives the creative mind a chance to quickly try ideas that previously took hours of fine tuning. Click. Done. Happy dance! I’m going to continue refining this. These are effectively roughs and this Cube and I are both far from finished.

Suggestions Please

OK, geek stuff done, I once more wish to thank everyone for the response to the Robin Hood article.

As I say I hope to write similar items of just as much interest. Could be fun for us all. Please reply to this post, comment on social media, or email me through the contact form on the site. I’m open to ideas. All printable suggestions for topics will be considered and all will be greatly appreciated.

And remember, if you want a custom cube…

The Robin Hood Sky Train

Robin Hood Mill

Standing like a behemoth on the Northern skyline of Port Colborne is the imposing edifice of the Robin Hood Flour Mill. This magnificent building has dominated the local landscape for decades.

Loved by some, loathed by others, the once thriving mill employed around seventy at it’s peak in the 1960’s and was a significant economic force in the local economy and beyond, as flour was processed and sent to all corners of Canada and America. The world changed. Those glory days have passed.

Robin Hood Mill employee locker room
Robin Hood Locker Room

Behind almost every door in the old locker room are written names long since forgotten. Many doors are inscribed with combinations to neighbouring lockers – this was back when you and your workmates trusted each other. Simpler times. Some would say better.

The flour mill went through a series of changes before finally being closed for good in 2007. During the next two years it changed hands several times. In 2009 the site was acquired by Ceres Global Ag Corp., a Minnesota based grain company that saw the potential in both the building and its location on the Welland Canal.

During the next three years work commenced on re-purposing the mill from flour to grain distribution, removing much of the unneeded milling equipment and adding rail, truck, and boat loading infrastructure. Now a central part of Canada’s grain economy and distribution network and fully covered under the Grain Act of 1987, Robin Hood is ready willing and able to deliver high quality grain throughout Canada.

A Promising Future

The storage capacity is impressive. Robin Hood has 129 grain bins which can store 2.3 million bushels. These cylinders give the building it’s unique look and height. As someone that has walked on the roof of these bins I find it hard to convey their sheer size. From a distance they are imposing. Looking into them through a grill at the top, they are phenomenally huge. Let me put it this way. You could easily drop the contents of a small car dealership forecourt into each without filling it to the top.

The high speed conveyor system and pipework required to channel fast moving grain into 129 bins is equally staggering. The biggest grain elevators (there are half a dozen or so) can each move 1000 tons of grain per hour. These lift the grain up to the appropriate conveyor, which carries it to the correct bin. I found it interesting that the system used to position the outpouring grain above the correct bin is, surprisingly, manual. I like that in this automated age the human touch is still required.

The newest addition to the grain management operation, installed earlier this year, is the drying system. Grain tends to absorb moisture and this can cause problems with quality control. Previously, grain had to be shipped onward to specialist drying facilities, which of course incurred cost to farmers and producers. This addition makes Robin Hood a much more appealing venue as drying can be done on site, saving both time and money for the customer, and getting the product to market faster.

New Horizons

The facility looks from the outside to be in a state of disrepair, abandoned. This is not so. The redirection of purpose in recent years has given the facility new life. Most of that is not visible from the outside. Repairs continue to be made, additions added, updates installed. It will take time, but it will be done.

In 2019 Ceres signed signed an agreement with London Agricultural Commodities (LAC), Ontario’s leading distribution network, for storage and handling at the site. This agreement will see the opening of new markets in 2020 coming in to Port Colborne by rail, truck, and boat, boosting the local economy. This venerable facility will be around for a long time to come. And that makes me smile.

To close, I wanted to show one more aspect of the Robin Hood: The view.

It is quite simply breathtaking. A quick trip to the roof provides uninterrupted 360 degree views across the whole Niagara peninsula and beyond. Talk about new horizons.

Chase Your Dreams

Life is full of surprises. Some good. Some, not so much. Rolling with the ups and downs only gets you so far. If you really want something, you have to make it happen. You have to chase your dreams.

Your dream may be big: Marriage, family, a home, a career. It could be as simple as getting your driving license. Going on vacation. Passing an exam. Finishing a home improvement project. Learning to knit. Everything involves a degree or two of commitment. No surprises there. Dreams take work.

What might surprise you is how short a time you have in which to make those dreams a reality.

Case in point, so far this summer five people I know have died. Three unexpectedly, two after illness. All left life with unfulfilled dreams. Dreams they kept putting off, for various reasons, until later. Sometimes there is no later. Which begs the question, why put off your dreams?

I am within a decade of retirement. I have plans. For one, going on an epic road trip around Canada, travel blogging and taking photos to help pay for the trip. Open to discussions on sponsorship. 🙂

This trip will be open ended. It may take years to complete. There will be no rush to come home. With a camper van full of our down-sized lives, my long-suffering wife and I will head off into every sunset to see what’s over the next hill. And there’s a lot to see in Canada.

Tick Tock, Watch That Clock

This year’s events make me ponder bringing our plans forward. I’m not getting any younger. None of us are. Some won’t get any older. Whether you are sixteen or sixty six, whatever your circumstances, we all have dreams of one size or another. The one thing we should all remember is this: Tomorrow never comes. So chase your dreams today. Delay no more. Before you know it the clock has ticked on and the opportunity has gone, forever. Too old. Too young. Too busy. Don’t do that.

Start making plans. Chase your dreams. If you (nice segue, Carl) want to help me chase mine, and maybe inspire yourself or others, consider buying something from my store. This design features my wife taking in sunset at our lakeside cabin in Muskoka. A happy memory. A dream fulfilled.

Available products include T-shirts, badges, mugs, pillows, coasters, window stickers and prints.
Click the image to go to the shop and see all the products on offer. You choose.

The clock is ticking, so chase your dreams today because tomorrow never comes.

Here’s some background on this dream of ours. In my previous life in the UK I lived on the road as a sales manager for many years. I set my own route and schedule, spending four nights per week in hotels (expense accounts are awesome) schmoozing clients from one end of that sceptered isle to the other. Logistics are second nature. The road holds no fear. The stories I could tell…

I averaged 1500 km per week, which in the UK is quite a feat. This was in the days before Google maps. I kept a box of maps under the seat. After the first year I rarely opened it. I didn’t need to. Just climbed in and drove. But I was always racing the sun. Never had time to slow down. To enjoy. That’s where this is coming from.

It will be fun to take the scenic route for a change. Take time to smell the roses, go at our own speed. Onwards, into the sunset. Or a new sunrise. Either way. We aim to live our dream.

Now go. Live yours.

Port Colborne Water Tower

The Water Tower

This water tower was part of the Port Colborne skyline for a very long time. Iconic. Before it was demolished I made time to get some shots and video of it.

I love my flying camera. Of course, I’m not actually up there. I would have liked that. Spending an hour on that walkway enjoying the scene would have made me very happy. I added myself later.

The thing about being the guy behind the camera is, you are never in front of it. But you can fake it.

Port Colborne Water Tower