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. πŸ™‚

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. πŸ™‚

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
Peewee Collage poster

Love Survives

This weekend should have seen over a hundred bikes roaring around the Niagara region partaking in the annual Peewee memorial ride, one of many charity fundraising events run by the NBS Riders. This Summer, like most other social events, the event was cancelled due to… well, we all know why. Pretty much every event has been cancelled this year. 2020 is a complete bust, event wise.

We lost Peewee in 2013. We have lost many others since. This year we have been unable, in many cases, to mark their losses with a memorial. Some, we could not attend a celebration of life. Even their funerals.

That does not mean we forget.

For every loss there are those that mourn. Those that want to pay their respects. That remember.

What we must also remember is that this, too, shall pass. One day we will gather again. Enjoy the sun. Listen to music. Drink beer. Eat pizza. And at that time, we shall remember those we lost. And smile.

The power of community, of friendship, of family by blood or otherwise, unites us all. Regardless of distance. Or time. Or race. Religion. Politics. We will survive. Because together, we are strong. Though far apart we are only a thought away. Reach out to a friend. Make a call. Put a smile on a face. Lighten their day as well as your own. Do it today.

When the time is right our friends and families will celebrate again. And mourn and laugh and cry and dance and sing. We will remember. Above all, we will remember this.

Love survives.

Click to view gallery, and remember.
Car Toon: Cindy the precosious teenager

Car Toons

I love to combine photography with creative illustration. To that end, a couple of years ago I started making Car Toons. Car Toons are vehicle portraits given cartoon personalities. After creating the actual portrait (a photo shoot) I use a combination of Photoshop and Illustrator to ‘toon it into a highly personal caricature, usually of the owner or a family member. These Car Toons are proving popular.

Since I started making Car Toons I’ve been commissioned several times to create wall art and prints. A Car Toon, finished in brushed aluminium or on a canvas wrap, looks amazing when hung on a living room or garage wall. Being hand crafted, each is unique. Each one is a labour of love by me, gifted to the recipient by a loving spouse or family. Or sometimes the owner wants one for themselves.

I’ve been told a Car Toon is a great way to remember beloved relatives (and vehicles) long after they have gone to the great scrap yard in the sky. That’s a nice sentiment, I think.

Caricatures

Like any caricature the trick is matching the right trait to exaggerate. It has to be identifiable. Recognizable. Sometimes it’s a hair style. Sometimes a pair of glasses. With Anthony, a chipped tooth from a youthful tumble. That tooth has disappeared now his adult teeth have come in. The memory fades. But this Car Toon will remain. A reminder of youth. A snapshot in time.

Occasionally, as here, I take one of my photos and invent a personality to suit my mood. I get whimsical. Perks of being the artist. It can be a lot of fun just to play with different looks. Digital Mr Potato Head. It’s also great practice and really sharpens my creative and technical skills as I visualise the little touches, and plan how and where to add shadows and reflections of the non-existent features I’m about to create. Fun.

Are Car Toons realistic? No. They aren’t supposed to be. I could make them photorealistic, but to my mind that would lose the magic. Spoil them. They are Car Toons. Developed over time to my own tastes, this is my style. And I like them just the way they are. I hope you do, too.

If you are interested in having your own Car Toon made please get in touch to discuss details and arrangements. I would love to make something truly memorable for you.

*** Click to view these Car Toons in full screen goodness ***

Shoe Tree, somewhere in Niagara

Niagara Gallery: New Photos

I like to explore and enjoy the beauty of the Golden Horseshoe region, from Hamilton to the US border. I spend many hours roaming the back roads just taking everything in and enjoying the scenery. There is always something new to see, or new ways to see old things. If you take the time to look.

That philosophy applies wherever you live, I believe. From the plains to the cities, the mountains to the shores. Right on your doorstep, there is something wonderful. You just need to find it.

All images here were shot ‘Somewhere In Niagara’.

Browsing the gallery is one pleasant way to spend a few minutes over coffee. All images can be purchased as digital downloads, wall art, and assorted personal items. You can just browse, of course. No pressure.

There are a number of other galleries to explore. Feel free to look around and, hopefully, enjoy them. You may see something you like or even get an inspiration for your own project. Or event. Hint. Hire me. πŸ™‚

To view the images at their absolute best, click this link to visit the Photo Shop. It will open in a new window. Here you can see this and all my other galleries in glorious full screen. Please, enjoy.
(Note, watermarks not present on purchases).

La Grande Hermine

La Grande Hermine

She is a landmark passed without a second glance by many every day. I took to the air with my drone to capture this fine lady in all her fading glory. This is the story of La Grande Hermine. Enjoy.

Constructed in 1914 this one hundred and forty foot long ship began life as a humble ferry on the St. Lawrence river before doing duty as a cargo ship. In 1991 she was rebuilt to resemble the largest of the three ships used by the pioneering explorer Jacques Cartier in 1535, and became a floating restaurant.

La Grande Hermine, which translates as The Big Ermine, or more colloquially The Big Weasel, came to her final resting place in 1997. She and amenities including a boat launch, a small marina with docks and a bar / restaurant are accessible from the QEW North Service road at Jordan Harbour.

The ship’s owner at the time she arrived professed an intention to turn her into a floating casino restaurant with her home in Niagara Falls. He passed away while awaiting approvals and hurdling red tape. She has languished here ever since, as a beacon to passing tourists and a sightseeing spot for locals. This perhaps proves the old adage, better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

In 2003 the ship caught fire due to some adventurous teenagers trying to stay warm and losing control of the fire. That’s another salutary lesson, kids. Most of the wood burned away down to the steel hull but surprisingly the masts as well as the Crow’s Nests survive.

She sits feet from the shore. Adventurous souls (including your author) have swum or rowed out to explore more closely. I rowed, since I was heavily laden with camera gear. (Watch The Video). Life is simpler with a drone. I cannot in good conscience recommend swimming. The water is full of sharp metal to impale and infect, and the algae and mud could easily drag you to your doom. So don’t do it.

What cannot be seen from the road is the far side of the sunken ship. As the video shows, one brave teen painted a question. That act of vandalism took imagination, preparation, and not a small amount of bravery. Though I deplore it I had to smile, and I always wondered that the answer was.

There is life in the old girl yet. La Grande Hermine is home to nesting birds of several varieties including Geese, and Swallows. They and their nests should be left undisturbed, please. This shipwreck is their home, not ours. Below the waterline, fish thrive in the shadowy depths of the submerged hull, and who knows what treasures the mineral-rich rusty waters surrounding this shell of a ship conceal?

Life is amazing. It goes on, always finding a way. Let that be my closing thought.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, most affectionately… The Big Weasel.

The Changing Pace Of Life

When I was a boy… things moved more slowly. From school, to work, to leisure. It was a much slower pace of life. Until recently. Life has returned to that slower pace. Which gives time to reflect.

Things took days to happen, not minutes. Fast delivery meant sending the kids to get it.

We had no Internet. Think about that. Don’t laugh, you young whippersnappers. We invented it, you’re welcome. Cell phones didn’t exist, few homes even had landlines, so once you left the house you were free to get into (and out of) as much trouble as you could without adult supervision. Think about that.

These thoughts came to mind when I passed this beautiful old barn.

I pulled over, wanting to capture an image that held the memories of youth this barn evoked in me. That reminded me of old movies and TV shows full of rural life and family values. Of my friends and I playing tag in barns just like it, screaming in and around and across the roof. Of throwing ourselves from hay lofts into improvised haystacks made from torn apart hay bales.

Barn life. Nostalgic image of my youth.
Click image to open full screen in a new window. Prints and wall art available for purchase.

Back in the day, bales were not cylindrical as they are now, but brick shaped. Kids like me were the main reason they are now round, I like to think. Because hay bales were the lego of my generation. The bales we didn’t tear apart we made into forts and tunnels and palaces. We really could throw those things around. Constructions 10 bales high with runs and windows and parapets were common. There was nothing we could not build from these versatile building blocks, much to the annoyance of the farmers.

It was all a game. We scouted somewhere, found a field full of hay, played a while, got chased away. I only remember getting shot at once, but that was just to keep us on our toes. He fired with a smile we saw, and we waved back over our shoulders as we ran. We came back later to finish the fort. Fun times.

Endless Summers

Summers were indeed endless. Leaving the house at dawn and returning at dusk gave massive exploration potential. We would routinely walk many miles in random directions, crossing rivers and highways and woods and abandoned mines, sometimes grabbing a couple apples from a tree along the way because we forgot to pack lunch. There were no fast food franchises, even if we had money. Hungry? Go home. Broken a leg? Hop home. Fell in the river? Swim home. Lost in the dark? You’re late: Run home.

Social media was kids yelling over the back fences and exchanging information in person. Learning opportunities were limited to school, and your best friend’s best guess. There was no Google. If we wanted to know something we would research it ourselves. We went to the library. Read newspapers and magazines. We collected comics and made scrap books and played chess. Well, I did.

TV was in it’s infancy. Changing channels involved walking up to the set and spinning dials, sometimes while leaning out of the window waving the fabled ‘bunny ears’. Kids were the remotes.

We walked, ran, cycled or swam everywhere. Kids were sent alone to get groceries and had to make important decisions. If anything on Mom’s shopping list wasn’t available, an alternate had to be picked that the rest of the family liked. That’s stressful when you have an older brother. Failure was not an option. Nor was going home without, as you just get sent back and that meant covering twice the distance. It’s weird to think now that a whole generation grew up deciding which cigarettes their parents would smoke.

After doing the shopping, kids would load their bikes and ride home trying not to drop anything, under pain of a walloping. It is a skill worthy of a resume entry to be able to ride with a sack of potatoes balanced on your crossbar and a grocery bag swinging from each hand. Cars? Those were for special occasions. When it came to shopping, kids were far cheaper. And far faster.

Nostalgia Has Limits

That is not to say all was peachy in this rose-coloured world of my youth.

We had Polio and Smallpox. Measles. Whooping Cough. Rickets. Scurvy. Power cuts. Bad dentistry. No nuclear imaging. No DNA or genetic medicines. No Tesla. I prefer the world in which we live today. Much longer life expectancy. Much better medicine. Nicer cars.

Yes, I would love to be a kid again. But if I had the choice I would do it all again in the here and now of today’s world. For everything wrong with this planet, it’s a pretty nice place with much I still want to see. Life has a lot more going for it these days. Kids today even have the Internet.

Did I mention, we invented that?

Gibson Lake

Rarely A Straight Line

We live in interesting times. Lurching from one disaster to the next, rarely a day between them. From COVID-19 to floods, plagues of locusts, forest fires… every day brings new challenges.

Life is a struggle. Throughout history, life in all forms has striven to overcome challenges. Life, in one way or another, finds a way. Even after an extinction level event such as the dinosaurs experienced life doesn’t stop. Life never gives in. Never surrenders. And it rarely goes in a straight line.

As a boy growing up in the North of England, I could never have predicted the sequence of events that would lead me to a life in Canada. Never in my wildest childhood dreams did I think, “My future second wife will be born today, oh, let’s say around 3,500 miles in… (waves an arm vaguely) that direction.”

Everyone plans their life to some degree: School, career, family. Along the way, curve balls hit us. Illness. Unemployment. Pregnancy. Many things force us to redirect. I, for example, wanted to join the Air Force. Due to one of the above unplanned events this did not happen. I never got to work with or fly planes. I raised children, took cash in hand jobs, and worked my way up, via many circuitous routes with many more diversions along the way, to a different life. Because as life happened, my plans changed to meet it. I evolved. Plans? Ha. Overrated. Hold on and enjoy the ride.

COVID-19 is the latest of many game-changing disasters that will affect us all, now and into the future. We cannot predict where this will take us. The situation will evolve, and we will move to meet it.

I have no doubt there will be permanent changes to societies around the world. Right now, we are all having to redirect ourselves and find new ways forward. Nobody is unaffected. Daily living is unrecognizable. Supply chains are stretched to breaking, the global economy is tanking as countries fight to finance the mitigation of this virus, and healthcare services are overwhelmed as they try to deal with what is, to me, a no win scenario. To the Star Trek fans, that’s a Kobiyashi Maru.

But.

Life will win. We will win. As a species, we will go forward. As societies, we will evolve. As people, we will find a way. We always do. This is not yet the End Of The World. Life will go on. Life moves forward.

But.

Rarely in a straight line.