Thursday, 11 February 2016

Family Day Fun in Elgin County

Family Day weekend is finally here and although it’s February, there are activities of all sorts going on in the Elgin County area. From great food, to live theatre, art, and family fun, there is something for everyone to enjoy! Get out of the house and shake off those winter blues! 

2016 World Tubing Championships and Winter Carnival
Feb. 12-13, 2016
Central Elgin

Watch teams of four compete in timed down hill runs to see who emerges as the World Tubing Champions for 2016! Enjoy fun family activities at a free on-site winter carnival. All proceeds go to the St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital Foundation. 

Lion’s Club Valentine’s Fish Fry
Feb. 13, 2016
Dutton-Dunwich Community Centre

Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Show and Valentine’s Dance
Feb. 13, 2016
Malahide Community Place, Springfield 

The Pineapple Room Winter Series: Happy Valentine’s
Feb. 13 & 14, 2016
Telegraph House, Port Stanley 

Three course fixed-price dinner with wine. Soup or salad, main, and dessert. 

Annual Family Day Open House at STEPAC
Feb. 15, 2016
St. Thomas – Elgin Public Art Centre, St. Thomas 

Free drop in art activities, games, and more for children in JK to grade 6. Must be accompanied by a parent. 

Sparta Family Day Celebration
Feb. 15, 2016

Come to downtown Sparta for free hot chocolate, draws, and competitions for children. 

Dutton Family Fun Day
Feb. 15, 2016 
1 Scotland St., Dutton

Family skate, hot dogs, hot chocolate. 

Elgin Theatre Guild Presents... Jake's Women by Neil Simon
Feb. 11 - 21, 2016
Princess Ave Playhouse, St. Thomas 

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

AMBER Energy Co-operative - Renewable Energy Initiatives in Elgin County

The AMBER Energy Co-operative (Aylmer, Malahide, Bayham, Elgin Region) is named for the communities in which it got its start, acquired its first projects, and completed the construction of these projects.

Founder Jamie Kent has over 10 years of experience working in the North American renewable energy sector and is the co-founder of Kent Brothers Renewable Energy (KBRE).

The purpose of the AMBER Energy Co-operative is to work with participants in rural areas to find locations for small renewable energy systems, earn renewable energy contracts, and develop and operate these systems for the term of the contracts (20 years). These renewable energy systems include solar panels, biogas and biomass generators, and small wind turbines (turbines are approximately the size of a hydro pole and used to power on-farm operations).

Contracts for these systems are obtained through the Independent Electrical Systems Operator (IESO) FIT (Feed-in-Tariff) Program. The IESO is the provincial organization that directs what power is being generated in Ontario and where it goes. AMBER Energy Co-operative is classified as a community group under the rules of the IESO FIT Program and since its inception it has received 1.7 megawatts of solar contracts under the IESO FIT 2 program, 1.5 megawatts of solar under the IESO FIT 3 program, and an additional 1.5 megawatts in biogas contracts under the IESO FIT 3 program. These contracts are scheduled to begin construction in the fall of 2015.

The co-operative operates as a partnership between land owners who lease their land for renewable energy systems, Kent Brothers Renewable Energy (KBRE) who operates, oversees and manages all renewable energy systems on behalf of AMBER Energy Co-operative, and other co-operative members who provide feed stock and farm waste to operate biogas generators.

Biogas is generated with a unique mix of livestock manures, additional on farm waste (corn silage, rotten apples, potatoes), waste from other processing operations (vegetable food processors, corn/soya oils) and bio diesel waste. Biogas is used to operate a generator that creates electricity that is then sold onto the electrical grid as part of the contract system or used on-farm to generate heat for livestock barns, houses, and swimming pools.

In addition to overseeing and operating renewable energy systems on behalf of AMBER Energy Co-operative members, KBRE offers power management systems to agricultural clients. The company will bring in an engineering team to audit an agricultural operation’s current power usage and identify opportunities for savings. In some cases a farmer may be able to reduce his or her electrical bills by 50% as a result of power factor correction and the implementation of energy saving technologies. Most farmers see a return on investment in less than 4 years.

For more information about KBRE visit or to learn about joining AMBER Energy Co-operative visit

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Bit of Brit – A Taste of Jolly Old England

A Bit of Brit is a little taste of jolly old England right here in the heart of Elgin County. Located in the Village of Sparta, A Bit of Brit has been offering authentic food and collectible items imported directly from the United Kingdom since it opened in June of 2015.

Owner Steve Railton left his hometown just northwest of London England at the age of 18 and settled in Canada where he began a career in construction.  He eventually became the Safety Manager for a large construction company in Newmarket, ON until a double hip replacement forced him into early retirement.  Looking for a change of pace, Steve and his wife Val left Newmarket for Elgin County. He had always been fascinated with British stores and over the years would seek out the local British store whenever he was travelling for work to stock up on his favourite childhood treats. Steve, a true people-person, was intrigued by the idea of owning a retail operation, and thought that opening up a British store would be a great way to meet and connect with lots of new people.

A Bit of Brit provides an opportunity for British transplants and Canadians alike to enjoy traditional British candies, desserts, salty snacks, and more without having to step on to an airplane. 

 British chocolate is a particularly popular item. According to Steve and Val, anyone who has ever sampled chocolate from across the pond can instantly tell the difference between the North American and UK varieties. Slightly different ingredients in the UK chocolate result in a creamier texture and a sweeter taste that have even Canadians coming back for more. 

The store sells a variety of Cadbury chocolates including the iconic “Flake Bar” as well as the Galaxy brand of chocolate. In addition to chocolates, A Bit of Brit offers a selection of British candies including Jelly Babies and Horehound’s to sooth a sore throat. 

If you are looking to host your own authentic British High Tea, A Bit of Brit is the perfect place to stock up on biscuits, teas of all types, jams, and marmalades.

Spotted Dick, a sponge cake with raisins and currants, is the store’s best seller according to Steve. “It is a 200 year old recipe,” said Steve. “People from the UK buy it because they have always eaten it and people from Canada buy it as a joke for a family member or a friend.”
If savoury flavours are more your style, A Bit of Brit has a wide selection of Crisps (Chips) in traditional British flavours such as Prawn Cocktail, Roast Chicken, and Smokey Bacon as well as British condiments, Pickled Onions, and Branson Pickles. 
In addition to imported goods, the store also carries a selection of freshly baked meat pies, tarts, and short bread cookies from Scottish bakery Grandpa Jimmy’s in Grand Bend, ON. Selections include Steak and Kidney Pie, Chicken Pie, and Cornish Pasties – a hearty meal of potatoes, meat and vegetables wrapped in pastry and traditionally eaten by miners in the UK.

During the holiday season A Bit of Brit stocks Mince Pies, Christmas cake, and various gift baskets perfect for all of your gift giving needs. Other available gift items include t-shirts, mugs, and a variety of Dr. Who, Coronation Street, and Downton Abbey collectibles.

Steve and Val have found the business community in Sparta to be tight-knit and friendly. The Village Collective Gallery and the Sparta House Tearoom among other neighbouring businesses have been exceptionally helpful and welcoming to the new business.  The location is also ideal as it is a great fit to have an authentic British tea room in such close proximity to a British store.

One of the greatest joys that Steve has experienced since opening A Bit of Brit is the ability to reconnect British expats with the comfort foods of their childhoods.

“The best part is when people come in and recognize a product that they haven’t seen in years and then the stories that they have to tell are absolutely remarkable,” said Steve.

A Bit of Brit is open Tuesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday Noon to 4 p.m. For more information about the business visit Facebook or call (519) 775-1114). 

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Step Into a Fairytale in Sparta

Visiting Julia Hansford’s Studio is like stepping straight into one of the artist’s delightfully enchanting paintings. The walls of the studio are not only a place to hang art but one big canvas themselves, providing a unique experience for visitors that enter her location in the village of Sparta.

Hansford offers a variety of original artwork in a style that is often described as whimsical and quirky. Her subjects range from adorable animals to strange and macabre characters and everything in between. Many of Hansford’s characters have one big eye which has become somewhat of a trademark for the artist. 

“I don’t always know where my inspiration comes from,” says Hansford. “I let my imagination run free for the most part and that usually transfers onto the canvas.”

Her work is heavily influenced by her interest in “fairytale” lands like the Enchanted Forest, Neverland, Oz, and especially Wonderland. The beauty, magic, and different creatures that live in these fictional realms are frequent subjects of her work.

Hansford has turned her work into two children’s books, a calendar, mugs, greeting cards, hand-painted Christmas ornaments, fairy-doors, and fridge magnets - all which are sold in the studio. Hansford also has plans to transfer her unique artistic style into home decor items that will be available in 2016.

She also does custom orders, modifying her work to fit what the customer is looking for. She most frequently receives requests to paint a child’s name surrounded by her adorable animal characters. These paintings are one-of-a-kind gifts that are perfect to decorate a child’s bedroom. 

The village of Sparta is an ideal fit for Hansford’s distinctive style of art. People that frequent the village’s galleries and boutiques are usually looking for something different - something that they can’t find at the mall, and a Julia Hansford original work of art fits the bill perfectly.  She has also found the community of artists and business owners in the village to be exceptionally welcoming and supportive, appealing to her need to be part of a strong community. 

To view Julia Hansford’s work visit her website or visit the studio in person at 46341 Sparta Line, Sparta, ON.