Sanctuary Sundays

My personal sanctuary on retreat.

My personal sanctuary on retreat.

As an author, Sue Reynolds identifies with writers’ needs to regenerate their writing skills in a safe and quiet place. Her Sanctuary Sundays give new meaning to the word refuge.

From beginners to advanced level writers, a day with Sue at her country retreat is a peaceful, nourishing environment for practising writing, or working on existing projects. Sue, an experienced facilitator and writing teacher, guides morning exercises in a large-windowed room that overlooks a natural landscape of woods and water.

If Ontario delivers spectacular September days, my day at the retreat was just that. I elected to spend 2 hours of private writing time  in a zippered mesh gazebo on a grassy meadow at the side of the house.

Blue jays squabbled at the bird feeder, adding to the hum of a late summer afternoon. I cloistered in my gazebo-tent, perfectly appointed with a single table and chair. My project got the dedicated  focus I’d not been able to achieve at home. The time was a gift.

Others writers settled on the dock overlooking the pond, strolled the paths and trails, or nestled into cosy nooks with desks and plug-ins. There is only one rule for private time: silence. No one interrupts anyone else. Imagine that, my writer friends.

At a final gathering, participants shared their prose and poetry, uplifting on so many levels. I had a breakthrough in a portion of my writing that I’d been avoiding for a very long time. The difficult part of the day was leaving.



Through the Glass by Shannon Moroney

Memoir: Through the Glass by Shannon Moroney

Memoir: Through the Glass by Shannon Moroney

Canadian Bestselling Memoir based on Restorative Justice 


Would I marry a man who had served 10 years in prison for murdering a woman in a crime of passion?  I asked myself this question before meeting author Shannon Moroney at Turquoise Waters Writers’ Retreat at Sandy Lake, Ontario in July 2014.


Allyson Latta, Copy Editor for Shannon Moroney’s book Through the Glass (published by Doubleday), arranged for Ms. Moroney to speak to a group of writers about her decision to write a memoir about a three-year period when the trusted husband she’d married only a month before, betrayed her by kidnapping and sexually assaulting two women.


After the shocking tragedy of the kidnappings and rapes, the author’s experiences, and her ensuing battle within our Canadian justice system that failed to support her as a physically uninjured victim – but victim nonetheless – is a story of outreach, survival and transformation. Ms. Moroney spoke to us for nearly 6 hours, not only about the sadness and concern she felt for the victims in the aftermath of the event, but also about healing through the writing process, attaining an agent and acquiring a publishing contract.


She refused to allow her association with a perceived monster to dictate her humanity. We cannot forget that she lost a much beloved, but (unknown to her at the time) flawed husband. She lost her privacy. She lost her job as a high school Guidance Counsellor. She lost friends. She lost her sense of who she was as a person and the future she’d planned for her life.


At times the justice system dragged slowly through its complicated process, only to bluntly arrive at mind-boggling decisions that protect the rights of criminals, but left little room for protecting victims. Moroney’s determination to make sense of  her husband’s role by staying in touch with him was controversial, and challenged some to believe that she was naïve, foolish, or (her worst fear) complicit.


But her belief that criminals also have rights for timely psychiatric treatment made her an advocate for change. Waiting 5 years for treatment in a system where there is one psychiatrist for 600 inmates went against all of her beliefs and training.


But you’d have to understand the influential principles of her birth family and the career she’d chosen to help homeless and challenged youth in the justice system – a convincing argument for the woman’s sincerity and intellect. She interviewed her husband’s parole officer and prison psychiatrist many times to feel comfortable with the knowledge that her husband-to-be had paid his debt to society for his teen crime. The professionals confirmed that he’d been a model prisoner and fulfilled the requirements of his parole for many years. And evident to me after reading the book was the force of Moroney’s positive nature.


But after years of knock-downs, Moroney suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, weight loss and sleeplessness. Her family’s and close friends’ love and support sustained her through the fears, doubts, impoverishment of life and spirit and constant travel for jobs, court dates, prison locations and temporary places to stay.


There is redemption in her journey. Due in part to her belief in restorative justice she continues to fight for victim and prisoner rights. She returned to university and graduated with an MA, her dissertation based on a passionate interest in trauma recovery and restorative justice. Her life mission as an author and public speaker is to  change treatments for prisoners, people who are often childhood victims themselves, and victims of criminal or traumatic crimes.


“I was living in a landscape of broken dreams. As I tried to construct new ones, I found myself holding back with uncertainty. … I wanted to be able to trust and connect again.” Shannon Moroney

Botanical Artist – Maeve Hughes

Trout Lilies by Maeve Hughes  Honourable Mention March 2014

Trout Lilies by Maeve Hughes
Honourable Mention March 2014

In April 2013, my sister, Maeve Hughes, and I crawled on hands and knees in local woodlands to photograph one of our favourite spring plants, the Trout Lily. We captured the delicate  stages of development as the plant sprouted among dry winter leaves As a botanical artist Maeve uses this photographic memory to help create watercolour paintings, or coloured pencil drawings.

A year later, Toronto’s Todmorden Mills Papermill Gallery featured The Botanical Artists of Canada Juried Art Show titled The Four Seasons. Jurors, Pamela Stagg, Kathryn Chorney, and James Eckenwalder, selected 64 outstanding works for the exhibition. Artists are from Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

My sister achieved placement in the show for four of her juried submissions in the Watercolour category.

Fiddleheads by Maeve Hughes Honourable Mention March 2014

Fiddleheads by Maeve Hughes
Honourable Mention March 2014

(See Maeve’s Coloured Pencil winning entry, Rosehips, from the show November 2012). This year she earned 2 Honourable Mentions for Trout Lilies and Fiddleheads. Recognition for her work makes crawling around the damp woodlands in the chilly spring worthwhile.

Months of preparation by the executive and membership of the Botanical Artists of Canada paid off. The heritage venue, Todmorden Mills, is an excellent locale for hosting an art show of this calibre. A record-breaking number of guests at the opening reception enjoyed a buzzing ambiance and delicious food and refreshments.

Congratulations to Best-in-Show winner, Quebec artist, Lilyane Coulombe, and to all selected artists who represented their categories. I’m proud of my sister’s accomplishments. She is a serious student of Botanical Art, taking weekly watercolour classes at the Toronto Botanical Gardens with instructor Leslie Staples. And she meets monthly with a group of Coloured Pencil artists who appreciate the discipline of this art form. Botanical artists painstakingly study plants to reproduce incredible likenesses in various media. It’s delicate work, requiring a steady hand and dedication to perfection.

2014 Jurors: Kathryn Chorney MScBMC is an avid nature journal-er, friend of fungi, and science/nature/medical illustrator. She is a full-time professor at Sheridan College where she teaches Scientific Illustration. An award-winning artist, Kathryn is a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI) as well as the Southern Ontario Nature and Science Illustrators (SONSI).

Pamela Stagg came across a hidden talent at a workshop at Toronto’s Civic Garden Centre in 1987, her first solo show came only a short time later in 1989, and in the same year three of her works were acquired by North America’s most important collection of botanical art. By 1991, she was awarded the world’s top prize for botanical illustration, the Royal Horticultural Society Gold Medal. Recently  a commission by the Royal Canadian Mint to design the Trillium Coin for the prestigious Pure Gold Coin series. Pamela’s book Roses: A Celebration, published by Northpoint Press in the Fall of 2003, containing more than thirty of her original paintings. It is available in major bookstores in Canada, the US and UK.

Dr. James E. Eckenwalder, Associate Professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. Dr. Eckenwalder’s area of interest is plant systematics.

Port Stanley, Lake Erie

Port Stanly, The First Hundred Years, 1804 - 1904, co-authors Robert J. Burns and Craig Cole

Port Stanly, The First Hundred Years, 1804 – 1904, co-authors Robert J. Burns and Craig Cole

If you’ve grown up near Ontario’s Great Lakes you likely know the famous port towns that dot the shorelines: Colborne, Dover, Stanley, Grand Bend, Saugeen, Tobermory … to name a few. These port towns grew out of 19th century demands for produce and products, which were transported by sail, steamship and planked roads before a network of mid-century railways  linked them to larger centres.

Port Stanley on Lake Erie’s north shore, is an example of the necessity for early supply lines for 19th Century settlers, and the eventual transitioning of these towns to famous lakeside playgrounds. From the bridge overlooking Kettle Creek near the harbour, you see handsome stores, restaurants and art galleries. Old and new cottages rim deep sandy shores. New housing developments peer over the lake from the top of high bluffs.

Recently, I read Port Stanley, The First Hundred Years, 1804 – 1904, co-authored by Robert J. Burns and Craig Cole.

The importance of being selected as a “railway town” cannot be exaggerated in Ontario’s settlement in the 1900s. Port Stanley’s railway links from the shores  at Kettle Creek developed into a staging harbour for moving stock and passengers through Southern Ontario and the USA.

There was a genteel late 19th Century passion to temporarily holiday away from  more populated commercial cities like St. Thomas, London, Buffalo and Cleveland. Churches and organizations arranged massive excursions by steam ships and rail cars for the “fresh air” picnics beside Erie’s breezy shores. Port Stanley, with it’s natural escarpment set back from the town, and having a wide creek and harbour, and road and rail links to the interior was a desirable location for investing in resort hotels, cottages and popular amusements for entertaining large crowds.

The ambitious scale of constructing the recreational facilities that came after the  railways in the 1870s (to a town with a population of 600) is unimaginable today: hundreds of pleasure-seekers arrived by steamship and rail on the same day. They headed to many of the famous resorts, such as Fraser’s parklands on a bluff overlooking the lake. Large hotels with 150-ft verandas and a 2-car incline railway between Fraser’s Heights and the beach, led visitors to boating excursions, bicycling, diving towers at the end of long piers, recreational fishing, and taverns enough to satisfy all … captured in photographs in the book.

As the publication indicates, the heyday of growth did not come without  setbacks: fires destroyed early wooden buildings, and shifting silt and sandbanks blocked the harbour. There were long appeals for government help to develop a fishery, which became a successful enterprise after 1900. Maritime disasters lost steamships as they crossed the lake in all directions.

The authors, beginning with a Phase A report for a proposed Heritage Conservation District in Port Stanley, ended up publishing an entertaining account of a specific 100-year period of Port Stanley’s early development. They received much support from Heritage Port. Port Stanley’s Historical Society funded the publication, and all proceeds for sales of the book return to them to continue their good work.

If you are a history buff, and appreciate learning how our famous Great Lakes port towns developed and added much to the romantic remembrances of visitors who flocked to their sandy shores, I recommend this book.

The book is available locally in stores and venues in Port Stanley, or through the Port Stanley Historical Society.

How the Light Gets In by Pat Schneider

How the Light Gets In by  Pat Schneider

How the Light Gets In by Pat Schneider

I’d heard about Pat Schneider from friends who had attended her workshops in Canada. Pat is American, and known as a sensitive writing instructor.

I read her latest book How the Light Gets In. Unlike some books on writing, Pat’s approach, termed Writing as a Spiritual Practice, reveals much of her troubled early life and how to write  memoir based on a long life of contemplation.

A few quotes that appealed to me:

I feel my own smallness, but I feel that I too belong. If I am open to the possibility, I sense that I am seen; I am known: I am held in the attention of the mystery.

I hold suffering and secrets as sources of what may be our deepest and greatest potential, both as writers and as human beings just trying to make sense of our lives.

Darkness and light are inextricably bound together.

Writing is often a struggle between the personal and the universal …

What we mean is usually a mix of memory, knowledge and imagination. Myth is woven of those three.

Secrets more than anything else, are the stones that make up writer’s block.

That first voice, the voice of home, is the one that writers must protect from the contempt, disdain or disregard of any critic.

Hurt hangs on and you can’t pry its fingers loose.

Story can be the clothing that makes the mystery visible. Story kept us alive when food failed, when water dried up, when the body itself began to fail.

To be here now near the end of life, here with  love or the memory of love – along with the memory of stars and galaxies and the intimate roads of home – is to know how transient, how precious, the now is. And that knowing becomes more intense, more infused with joy every day.

Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge hosted Pat’s Canadian launch of her book in October 2013. See a review and what people say about this remarkable woman who has devoted her life work to helping writers.

Stouffville Raxlin Family

Dorothy and Irvin Raxlin, Main Street, Stouffville, July 2013

Dorothy and Irvin Raxlin, Main Street, Stouffville, July 2013

Former Stouffville resident, 92-year old Irvin Raxlin shared his memories of growing up in Stouffville from the 1920s when Stouffville’s population was 700. The town now boasts about 40,000 residents and continues to grow.

Stouffville old-timers will remember Raxlin’s Furniture Store and Frigidaire dealership at 6276 Main Street, east of Mill Street. In 1944, Ben Raxlin purchased the red-bricked building, which housed Snowball’s Barber Shop and Sanders Photography Studio.

Before the 1920s, Irvin’s parents, Ben, a Russian immigrant, and his wife, Annie (Rudnick), struggled for a foothold in Toronto. Ben’s sister, Elizabeth, and her husband, Mr. Herman, were already established in Stouffville, operating a new and used farm implements business. They convinced the young couple to live in the town and learn the business with Mr. Herman’s guidance. In 1924 Ben placed ads in The Stouffville Tribune, to pay the highest market price for Live Poultry, Geese, Ducks and Feathers. In 1928 similar ads for farm implements sales included buying wool, hides, fat and poultry for shipment to Toronto’s industrial market.

To prosper, Ben Raxlin worked long hours establishing his reputation and integrating his family into the community. When his brother-in-law’s health failed in the late 20s, Ben gradually took over the operations as proprietor of the farm implements business. This occurred as The Depression worsened.

With horse and wagon Ben attended frequent farm auctions and advertised acquisitions weekly in the Stouffville Tribune. Ben’s fascination and love of auction sales led to little misadventures, which Irvin fondly recalls. His father once bought a beautiful-looking horse – which turned out to have no wind. Another time he bought a load of hay, then discovered there was no way to transport the load over a tiny makeshift bridge. Buying items outside of his business line was often irresistible to Ben.

Irvin (nicknamed Sonny) and his brother Lewis were born in the 1920s. For decades, the Stouffville Tribune posted achievement grades for Stouffville’s Continuation School students. Not only did Irvin and Lewis show above average standings, reports indicated the brothers won several field day foot races, standing jump competitions and soccer goals.

Lewis became well-known as a skilled baseball player, representing the Stouffville Junior and Intermediate Baseball Clubs and Stouffville Red Sox team between 1947 and 1952. In 1942, Lewis won Best Comic performance at the Winter Carnival. He was also a member of the local Air Cadets.

The Raxlin’s first family home was south of Main Street on the east side of 10th Line, now demolished. Irvin recalled a superstitious neighbour woman who treated warts by rubbing them with raw meat and burying the meat in the back yard. The Raxlins later moved to central Stouffville on the north side of Main Street near St. James Presbyterian Church. Demolished in the 1970s, the house made way for a block of stores with apartment units above.

Raxlin's Furniture Store and Frigidaire Dealership, 2013. Building built by photographer J. Mertens in the late 1800s.

Raxlin’s Furniture Store and Frigidaire Dealership, 2013. Building built by photographer J. Mertens in the late 1800s.

In the post war boom, Snowball’s Barber Shop and Sander’s Photography relocated for Ben Raxlin’s expanding furniture and appliance dealership. Ben and Annie worked here until selling the business and building to Herb Kring in 1965. As Ben often travelled to acquire new merchandise, Annie managed the store. She kept up with housework, baking and gardening, and participated in her sons’ activities and community events. As is often the way of small town reporting, acknowledged public notices of thanks and travel plans appeared in the Stouffville Tribune.

For decades, Annie Raxlin won recognition for her garden flowers in the Stouffville Horticultural Society flower shows. Baking, especially her sponge cake, won prizes at the District Christmas Baking Exhibitions. Mr. and Mrs. Raxlin donated money and gifts to every local event and fund-raiser, and financially assisted the war effort and the Red Cross. As a member of the IOOF, and a keen euchre player, Ben (and Annie) joined in the social activities available in a small town.

In 1942, the Stouffville Tribune featured Irvin Raxlin for the following: Irvin Raxlin, second year Arts student at Toronto University, and son of Mr. and Mrs. B. Raxlin of this town, was among the 1,000 students who entrained at Toronto for the Western harvest fields recently. Ben went to the Union Station to see his son off, and says that when the students from the various universities assembled in groups the noise was deafening when the college yells were given. Some of the lads were dressed in straw hats, light shoes, and otherwise flimsy attire, while others were prepared for cold weather with their heavy boots, heavy coats and some good woolens. Irvin Raxlin appears to be Stouffville’s lone representative at University this year, and is having an experience no other student ever had from this village, since the student body is charged with helping to lift the Western grain crop.

In June of 1944, an announcement for Irvin’s graduation with a Bachelor of Arts degree appeared in the local paper, with this addition: Irvin is in military camp at present undergoing training in connection with his University degree.

Within a few years, Irvin graduated as a pharmacist, eventually owning a drugstore in Toronto on Parliament Street. His next store was in Scarborough at the Wexford Heights Shopping Plaza. The last store he owned was Milliken Mills Pharmacy, which he sold in 1986. Irvin married Dorothy Lichtenstein, and they now live in North Toronto. Their daughter and her husband and grandson live in Texas.

In 1954, Irvin’s brother Lewis Raxlin married Marilyn Logan of Canton Ohio. They resided in one of Stouffville’s new homes built on Rose Avenue, south of Main Street before moving to Scarborough. For a few years Lewis worked in his father’s Main Street dealership. Eventually, his father-in-law invited Lewis to join him in the restaurant business in Canton. Ben and Annie felt sad when Lewis and Marilyn moved to Ohio with their three sons. The Raxlin families visited back and forth across the border for many years. Lewis passed away October 13, 2001.

From the early 1950s to mid 60s, Ben Raxlin travelled in the province to meetings and conferences with fellow IOOF lodge members. Due to health concerns and a few hospital stays Ben hired an assistant to help manage the store. After over forty years of conducting business in Stouffville, Ben Raxlin retired in 1965. He sold his Main Street home to Gino Testa. He and Annie moved to Downsview where his son Irvin lived. The couple continued to visit old friends in town and donated to local fundraisers, acknowledged by notes of thanks in the Stouffville Tribune. Ben Raxlin died November 22, 1972. His wife Annie died September 5, 1977.

Perhaps a quote by Ben in The Stouffville Tribune, Dec. 3, 1964 sums up over forty years in the community. “We consider Stouffville our home,” Mr. Raxlin said. “The people here have always been fair. A newcomer to our town would never be lonely because people here are among the friendliest we have ever met. Stouffville has treated us well. We are sorry to leave.

Irvin stood once again by the red brick building at the hub of Stouffville’s Main Street. He remembered friends of his and his brother Lewis: photographer Ted Cadieux, the Schell boys, the Hazzard family, the Wards, Billy and Wally Nicholson, Lloyd and Bea Jennings, and others. Memories flooded back, like the times the local boys hung out at a blacksmith’s shop south of Main Street on Market Street where the CIBC parking lot is now. He recalls a functioning grain mill and slaughterhouse and skinny-dipping in the pond at the back of the park. The boys mischievously upended outhouses on Halloween night. He had his first glimpse of actress Mae West in a movie at the Stanley Theatre behind the clock tower.

Ben and Annie Raxlin’s family thrived in Stouffville. They worked through nearly five decades to become prominent business people on Main Street. They raised two sons and gave them opportunities to prosper. It is fitting that Raxlin Street in a new subdivision in southeast Stouffville beside a park with tennis courts, splash pad and basketball courts, commemorates the contributions of this family to the character of the town. Thank you Irvin for sharing your memories.

Update: On January 12, 1915, Irving Raxlin died at Toronto General Hospital.


St. Lawrence Grains and Farm Supply, Stouffville


St. Lawrence Grains and Farm Supply, Stouffville, Ontario, 2013

Urban creep is changing Stouffville’s diminishing agricultural heritage. In July, while crops were lush, I investigated how whole grain bread gets from the golden wheat fields surrounding our town to store shelves. I didn’t have far to look to find a famous Stouffville resource.

St. Lawrence Grains & Farm Supply’s tall cement storage silos loom large in the skyline southeast of Tenth Line and Bloomington Sideroad. With permission from General Manager, Richard McNamara, I photographed the 12 silos and environs, operating since 1979.

In mid-July, winter wheat is ready for harvesting. Fully loaded trucks rumble up the driveway to the office where farmers register the contents. Drivers proceed to the unloading dock beside the cement towers where a Canadian flag waves on high. Each truck is weighed before depositing grain through a grate above a storage pit, and weighed after the deposit. Good weather brings intense harvesting, and with two harvests for wheat, and fall harvests of soya beans and corn, the silo business is open for drop-offs for months, from early morning until late at night.

Jeff Taber

Farmer Jeff Taber watches Robert Baird take samples of grain deposited into a storage pit

I watched Ballantrae area farmer, Jeff Taber, open the gates at the back of his truck. Slowly the truck’s hydraulics tilted the load, the grain flowing like a golden river through the grate. The young man said the variety of his crop is hard red wheat. Harvesting means working from dawn to sometimes after dark, seven days a week. Like many local farmers, Jeff worries that the long work hours have less appeal for young people today.

The first step for grading the quality of the product at St. Lawrence begins at this stage. Grader, Robert Baird, scoops grain samples from different times in the flow. When the truck’s bucket is empty, it is weighed again to calculate the weight of the unloaded crop.

The skills of St. Lawrence’s two Graders, Brad Howsam and Robert Baird are essential to the success of the operation. Brad and Robert explained to me in their office beside the silos, the first step is to measure water content in the grain with specialized equipment. Then under magnification, the grain is assessed for disease, or excess weeds that grow with the crop. This is a tense time for the farmer, as the poorest grade will designate his wheat for cattle feed and bring him the lowest price. But if like Jeff Taber’s crop the grain is dry, disease-free and with little evidence of weeds, the grain is rated as Grade 2, and pays the most.

Up to this point, the operation is visible to me. Graded grain that is deposited into the pit has to be shifted by a conveyor belt system. Inside the housing, multiple buckets scoop grain from the pit and deposit it into a closed conveyor belt assigned to specific silos (a moveable hopper and spout). The components of the system must be durable enough to shift tons of grain as dust-free and energy-efficiently as possible. Grains can be safely stored in silos for months, and even years if the grains are re-circulated in the system.


Unloading into a storage pit

When grain buyers are ready to move grain out of storage at the silos, empty trucks are positioned at a second loading dock where the grain is released from above into containment. The process is gravity-driven from a valve and chute system. The grain is then covered and distributed by truck to processing facilities.

This is the nuts and bolts of the mechanical side of the grain silo business. But minute-by-minute price changes in the commodities market dictate how much the farmer will be paid for his graded grain.

According to an August report from Grain Farmers of Ontario, “Ontario wheat yields have been variable, as tricky harvest weather has challenged many producers. Off and on again rain showers have made it difficult for combines to roll.

Robert, at St. Lawrence, said too much rain causes a disease, Fusarium, which I saw magnified as pinkish colouring on a sample. Fusarium downgrades a crop to cattle feed. But on the other hand, overly dry weather or drought causes poor crops too. And there are considerations for corn and soybean crops affected over the spring to fall growing period.

The next time you butter your toast, you might consider the hard work, long hours, processes and weather variables that culminate in the ease of buying at the store. Thank you to the tenacious farmers who are hanging on to farming traditions in Stouffville.

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