Stumble Upon Nature: There Are Riches All Around Us

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Queen Ann’s Lace by Christian Fischer, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15779192

On Saturday, August 12th, 2017 a group of local nature enthusiasts joined Richard Aaron and the staff of the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre on a walk of Colonel Samuel Smith Park.

The weather was fine for a walk; not too cool and not too hot. Shady, though threatening to rain; it thankfully held off until after the tour.

There were over twenty of us, all told. The youngest was around four, and the age ranges in the group meant that our guide was asked quite a diversity of questions. Sometimes he was asked how to remove ticks, or tell the difference between two closely related plant species, and sometimes he was asked “what’s this?… what’s this?… what’s that?” including what kind of grass that was on the side of the path. I don’t think many adults would actually ask that question on a tour, we tend to take the grass for granted, and that was just one of the ways the young folks added a lot to the day.

But we did find lots of things other than grass on the walk: sidewalk mushrooms (relatives of the button and cremini mushrooms you buy at the store), Queen Anne’s lace (which is related to carrots and attracts bugs with a black spot in the centre of its flowers), and even a snake (likely a garter snake, but sadly squished on the road, so hard to identify).

The diversity and beauty of the birds of the park are justifiably one of its highlights, but it was lovely to get out and learn about some of the other creatures that call it home.

After all, it takes a whole ecology to hatch a single chick!

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Echoes of Echoes in the Darkness

For several days in 1987 the buildings of the old Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital were turned into nursery schools, police stations, classrooms, and hospital spaces for the filming of the miniseries Echoes in the Darkness.

Our copy of the book was signed by the author, Joseph Wambaugh, and given to a Toronto location scout who now works as a counselor at Humber.

But before the series, and before the book, there was a story behind the story.

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Wambaugh spent 14 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. His first novel was published in 1971, while he was still a police officer, but he soon turned to writing full time. He based Echoes in the Darkness on the real story of the sordid murder of Susan Reinert and her two children Karen and Michael in Pennsylvania in 1979.

Reinert, William Bradfield, and Jay Smith were all staff at the Upper Merion Area High School. Reinert and Bradfield worked in the English department and Smith was the principal of the school.

Bradfield was variously described as charismatic and cultured, or full of himself and egotistical by those who knew him. He was in a relationship with Reinert and was the sole beneficiary of her $730 000 in life insurance. When her body was found and her children went missing, he was considered the primary suspect, and was convicted of the murders in 1983.

In court, he claimed that it was Smith who had planned to kill Reinert.

A former colonel in the army reserve with a PhD from Temple University, Smith was seen as an erratic and antisocial person. He was already in prison in 1986 when he was later convicted of conspiring with Bradfield to kill the Reinerts. He was serving five years for robbing a Sears dressed as a security guard, and for several firearm and drug related offences.

The prosecution argued that Reinert had been drugged and murdered in Smith’s basement and he was sentenced to death by the electric chair.

In 1992 Smith was still on death row when an antique dealer, Mark Hughes, was hired to clean out John J. Holtz’s attic. Holtz, a police officer, had been the primary investigator in the Reinert case.

His attic contained an identical copy of a comb used as evidence in the trial, police notes that contradicted the testimony of the prosecution, and a letter from Wambaugh offering to pay Holtz’s partner Joe Van Nort $50 000 for information about the case before Smith had even been charged with it.

Hughes delivered the evidence to Smith’s defence attorney, believing it to be part of a police cover up. Because of the number of irregularities and conflicts of interest in the original trial Smith’s conviction was later overturned.

In a legal deposition given in the 90s, Wambaugh testified that he had a financial interest in Smith’s conviction, admitting:

“I didn’t think the book would work until something happened to Smith.”

Eventually Holtz admitted to accepting $50 000 from Wambaugh in return for Smith’s arrest.

Despite this, Wambaugh remains convinced of Smith’s guilt and of his own fair dealings in the case. Upon Smith’s death in 2009 he commented that:

“I do not celebrate the death of any man, but Satan does” and when later asked by The New York Times he reaffirmed this by saying that “A No. 1 draft pick has finally arrived.”

 

Indigenous Beading Workshop

 

Many thanks to Lorralene Whiteye and the Aboriginal Resource Centre for hosting a great beading workshop last weekend! Over the afternoon community members and staff at the Welcome Centre socialized while learning the basics of beading.

Once we climbed the initial learning curve many in attendance said they found it to be a meditative and soothing exercise. We also marveled at the skill involved in the “sample” piece that Lorralene brought with her to show us. (You can see it in orange on the table in the image on the left).

I tried to bead a broach for myself, but when I got it home and tried to cut it away from excess felt backing, I nicked the string!

Be mindful of your string folks.

Don’t end up at loose ends like me!

Upcoming Event!

Never Alone(1)

We’ve almost finished up all the logistical work for our upcoming event Never Alone: LGBTQ+ activism and collective action forum. We’ve partnered up with the lovely folks at Humber’s LGBTQ+ Resource Centre to find some passionate speakers to talk about community organizing and what people can do to help make change in their own communities.

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Tara Farahani is an award-winning social worker, advocate, and writer whose work has featured in the Huffington Post and the Journal of Critical Anti-Oppressive Social Inquiry.

 

Sylvia-Thorn---Akia-(colour)Akia Munga is the outreach coordinator at the Black Coalition for Aids Prevention and co-chair of Toronto’s Harm Reduction Alliance. His advocacy focuses African Caribbean Black Trans & Non-Binary folks who have sex with men.

Christopher Karas (Chris Young, Globe and Mail)

Christopher Karas was inaugurated into the “Legion of Queer Heroes” at World Pride 2014 for his advocacy work challenging the Catholic School Board’s stance on Gay-Straight Alliances, and continues his advocacy challenging Canada’s Gay Blood Ban.

For more on our speakers and event, check out our Eventbright page!

Bee Hotels: Enough Bee Love to Go Around

Many thanks to everyone who made it out to the bee hotel workshop this weekend!

In this video assistant curator Ben goes over some of the reasons to care about native bees and why you might what to make a bee hotel.

A few things to keep in mind when you’re making yours:

  • Hang the hotel between 3-5 feet off the ground if you can
  • Different diameters and depths of holes will attract different kinds of native bees (See: Creating a Solitary Bee Hotel by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
  • Hanging the hotel in the shade will attract more wasps. Hanging it in the sun, especially eastward facing, will increase the likelihood of bees living there
  • Avoid using plastics for your bee hotel
  • If you want to paint your bee hotel, remember to use paints that do not contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Bee hotels can’t fix everything though, it also helps to preserve organic leaf litter and fallen trees.

If you’re interested in learning more about honey bees, check out Humber Arboretum’s Sustainable Urban Beekeeping Courses

Also be sure to check out our “How to be Bee Friendly” handout!

With thanks to the support from Humber’s Office of Sustainability

Designing a Bee Hotel Workshop

tumblr_oluboed9hh1uiehroo1_1280I’ve been thinking of a bee hotel workshop since last September, and now that Spring is just around the corner it’s finally time to start making it happen!

While there are around 4000 different kinds of bees in North America, we usually only hear about the charismatic honey bee. But as charismatic as they undoubtedly are, honey bees are newcomers on the ecological scene. Introduced by European settlers, up until about the 1850s there weren’t even any honey bees in British Columbia, for example. That’s hardly a blink of an eye in terms of ecological history!

Biodiversity is a good in its own right, but it also makes a lot of practical sense to protect our native bee species, like Mason Bees, who live in wood, and Solitary Mining Bees, who live in loose dirt, or the Wood Nesting Augochlorine which lives in rotten wood, because they all pollinate different plants with various degrees of efficiency.

Bee hotels provide homes for a range of indigenous bee species that nest in wood, and encourage bees that tend to travel only short distances to take up residence in your gardens or green spaces and help you grow things throughout the season.

Be on the lookout for our very own “how to build a bee hotel” workshop that we’ll be putting on this April at the Interpretive Centre!

For more information of local bee species and their habitats, see this handy guide developed by the David Suzuki Foundation.

Strictly Steam

Assistant Curator Ben Mitchell talks about his research on a radiator from the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital that was pulled out of G Building during the recent renovations.

The radiator can be seen on the third floor of the Student Welcome and Resource Centre at Humber College’s Lakeshore Campus, just across from the Office of the Principal.

With special thanks to the folks at HeatingHelp.com, and Peter Owens from Barnes & Jones Inc.