After reading the book, Sweeney Todd, I had reservations about entering the local butcher shop 19 years ago, however, having heard many good things about the man that owns and runs the store, I decided to venture forth.
I met with Brent Herrington and he gave me a tour of his premises. His face beamed with pride when he showed me the massive freezer in the back as well as the hospital-like, energy efficient room, which he built himself.
I must confess I knew very little about butchering and was intrigued by what I was shown, but as our conversation developed I grew more impressed with the man who ran the operation.
This monthly feature was developed to share the lives of prominent Port Perry people within the community, and Brent, who does a great deal of good for the neighbourhood, also operates a very successful business in the fashionable ‘Queen West’ district of our downtown core.
For those of you who have lived in or frequented Port Perry for many years, you may recall Reg Cook, a heavy-accented Brit, who opened a butcher shop on Queen Street in 1994. Reg ran the shop for five years until October of 1999, when he talked about selling his business to his protégé and part-time employee. In October of that year, twenty-four year old Brent Herrington bought a butcher shop.
Brent was born on a farm near Campbellford. At the age of thirteen, after his father passed away, he had to make a major, life altering decision: if Brent had a desire to take over the dairy farm one day, they would keep the 250 acre property. If not they would sell the farm and move. It was the kind of decision most of us defer until we are in our twenties or later. Imagine a thirteen year old boy who had not experienced much beyond a hundred or so Holsteins, and life in a very small Ontario town of 3,800 inhabitants, making such a decision.
Brent decided that farming was not for him, and had his heart set on becoming a chef. The farm went up for sale, and the family packed up and moved to Port Perry, where Brent attended Port Perry High School.
Brent was an active rugby player and through a school co-op program, landed a job at Pineridge Packers, a local abattoir near Blackstock, and really began to hone his talent. This became an interesting turn of events for the young farmer from Campbellford. After rugby practice he would rush to work, and found that he had a natural flair for meat cutting. Coupled with his love for cooking, Brent took an uncanny interest in the business.
Excelling at the craft, Brent secured a full-time position at Windcrest, a local meat packing firm in Scugog Township, and then to Reg Cook.
Brent began to court his high school sweetheart, Jacqueline Griffin in earnest, and in 1999 the two were married, solidifying the American Graffiti fairytale. The happy couple bought their home in Port Perry the same year, and also opened Herrington’s Quality Butchers.
Soon after, the couple were expecting their first child, and Jacqueline retired from her career as a dental assistant to raise the young family. Two years after their son William was born they were blessed with a daughter Victoria, and as if he wasn’t busy enough Brent realized his lifelong dream and purchased a used Harley 1450. Between kids, the store and life’s busy turns, Brent found short moments to relax by polishing his bike, and every now and again he even had an opportunity to ride it.
His success in the business is not only because of excellent products that he sells, but because of his attitude and outlook on life. He buys most of his beef from local farmers, he puts his family first, and he gives back to the community, at a rate which would put many to shame. “It’s all about the people,” Brent says, with a genuine grin on his face.
Ten years ago he moved the butcher shop a few stores away to where it is now, expanding into a space twice as large. More importantly, he has rebuilt the interior to make it extremely efficient and spends less on heating then he did in the original location, makes food safety his first priority, and runs a production-efficient operation. Brent now has 18 employees and operates a very successful business.
So what does the future hold for this forty-three year old entrepreneur? His goal is to continue growing his business and serving the people of Port Perry and the surrounding area with quality products and service. For Brent Herrington, it is ‘mainly because of the meat’.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures, at photosNtravel.com.
Most of us who have grown up in Canada, have probably made numerous trips to one of our national institutions, Canadian Tire. From eagerly awaiting catalogues with the latest, smartest home improvement items, to repairing every facet of our vehicles, Canadian Tire has always been there.
Port Perry’s Canadian Tire store has seen at least three locations in the past 50 years. First a small store on Queen Street, to a larger outlet in the Port Perry Plaza, to its present location on Simcoe Street, just south of town.
One of the commonalities in all stores is the friendliness and knowledge-ability of the staff, largely due to the environment created by owners, and new owners Terry and Andy Leitch are no exception. Having been successfully involved with the Canadian Tire organization for 14 years, this hard working couple has never been afraid of a challenge.
Born in Montreal, Terry moved to Stouffville at an early age. Her father, a representative for Gulf Oil, later purchased by Petro Canada, travelled a fair amount, but fortunately the family was able to call Stouffville home, at least until Terry completed high school.
During those years, Terry waitressed at several neighbourhood restaurants, and also worked at the Sleepy Hollow Golf & Country Club. It was while in high school that she met a red haired boy named Andy Leitch.
“Andy was actually friends with my sister and a few of her friends,” Terry explained. “Once we met though, we knew it was meant to be.”
Andy, born in Newmarket, lived with his family in Churchill, a small community just outside of Ballantrae. His father had a very successful masonry business, where Andy, when he wasn’t dating Terry, worked in his off hours. The family business grew, and when Andy completed school he decided to join and run the business.
“A number of masonry projects that we worked on in this area are still standing”, Andy said, proudly.
Terry attended Trent University, majoring in business, which prepared her for her career as a marketing representative for Turbo Resources Ltd., in Oshawa. In 1983 the couple married and decided to make Port Perry their home. Their two daughters, Jordan and Alex, were born within the next five years and life was good for the happy couple.
In 1993 an opportunity arose for Terry and Andy to purchase an Imperial Oil franchise, along highway 401 in the Woodstock Area. “The work was tough and the hours awful, but we did our best and made it work.” Terry clarified. It must have been gratifying, as they acquired a second franchise nearby and owned them for ten years.
When an opportunity arose to invest in a Canadian Tire franchise, both Terry and Andy were very interested. “Canadian Tire was a second home for me,” Andy said, smiling.
It took about six months of training and another six months of waiting for a store to become available, and when they finally received the phone call they had mixed feelings. “We were so excited to receive the call”, Terry said, “Until we learned the location we would be running was in Winnipeg.” They had hoped for a store closer to home, however both agreed it was an entry into the chain, and certainly not forever.
Three years later another store became available in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, and the couple jumped at the opportunity. “New Brunswick is so beautiful and we just loved it there.”
They seriously contemplated staying forever, but unfortunately the economy in that area was not great, and when the Greenwood, Nova Scotia store became available, the Leitch family picked up its roots and moved on.
Shortly after they purchased the store, the government of Nova Scotia decided to raise the HST to 15%. Many shoppers crossed the border to buy everything from gasoline to clothing, not a great future for Nova Scotia retailers.
In 2013 the Port Perry store became available, and when Terry called Andy, they both jumped with enthusiasm at the prospect. “The chances of us getting the store were small, as it was a pretty prestigious area, but we applied none-the-less,” Terry explained.
You can imagine how excited they were when they received the call, explaining the store could be theirs. “We had five days to make up our mind,” Terry said. “I was already in the area and I called Andy, who dropped what he was doing, grabbed the dog, made his way to the nearest ferry and drove the 18 hours to get here.”
They purchased the franchise and bought a house in Janetville. “It was a crazy weekend,” Andy explained. “We had closed the deal on the store, bought the house and got word that our house in Nova Scotia had caught fire and burned to the ground.”
The next few months were a total upset, as they lived in a trailer in Nova Scotia while they waited for their store to sell. The end result was a happy one, and Terry and Andy moved back to where it all began.
They have since left Janetville and moved to Port Perry and enjoy the community. They speak highly of their business and love the area. Andy spent an entire day writing personal Christmas cards to each of their eighty staff members, and both he and Terry can usually be found in the store.
“Port Perry is our home,” they both agreed. “The plan is for us to retire here.” They are enjoying their new granddaughter, and attending as many local events as possible. For Terry and Andy Leitch, Canadian Tire is more than just tires.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com
Christmas is a very special time and no matter what your belief is, world peace and goodwill toward people, has to be a part of it. During this extraordinary season I was honoured to have a chat with two of Port Perry’s prominent people, who work together for two of our churches. Elaine Hall and Don Willmer are ministers of the Port Perry and Prince Albert United Churches.
It seems like yesterday when this couple came to Port Perry, but in reality it has been more than six years. The ministerial couple now work together to fulfill a common goal, but that was not always the case.
Both were born in Toronto, east of the Don Valley Parkway, but from very different backgrounds. Elaine’s father was a postman and her mother a stay at home mom. Elaine was the youngest of three girls.
During high school, where she was valedictorian for her graduating class, Elaine also worked as a lifeguard and taught swimming. There was never any question in her mind about her vocation. She knew from an early age she wanted to be a minister, and studied philosophy at the University of Toronto.
To pay for tuition and have a little spending money, Elaine scooped ice-cream and later managed a shop. She also managed a blood donor clinic for the Red Cross and spent summers working for Parks and Recreation, doing whatever needed to be done.
Elaine sang in the local United Church choir, which is where she met Don, another choir member. Don was born at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, and grew up in the same general area as Elaine did. His father was a teacher and his mother worked for Consumer’s Gas, and Don, along with his three younger siblings, grew up in a happy, hardworking environment.
At the ripe age of nine, Don took on a paper route and as he grew older, also began working part time at the local library. After high school, Don attended Queen’s University, studying economics and later law, at the University of Toronto.
When he graduated, Don practiced corporate and commercial law for a Toronto firm and, as challenging as his career was, he wanted more. It was not until he met Elaine that he decided the ministry was for him, and he followed his passion. Elaine had just graduated from Emmanuel College, and the couple were married in 1992.
After a two year internship and being posted to New Brunswick and South Western Ontario, Don and Elaine received a solid offer to minister in Cape Breton. It was the perfect path for them to follow, as they each worked a fifty percent shift, allowing them to spend equal time with their two children.
“It was great to be able to raise our boys together,” Elaine said, as Don nodded in agreement. They looked after four churches and were quite busy, but after seven years, the kids were growing and it was time for a move. They headed to Perth, Ontario where their third child was born.
Continuing to each work half time, gave them the ongoing ability to raise their children together and although it was hectic, their life was quite fulfilling.
The kids grew and Don and Elaine wanted to devote more time to parishioners. It was by chance that an opening in the Port Perry area arose, due to the retirement of Reverend Rohan Wijesinghe, and a move to the U.S. for Reverend Elaine Bidgood-Sveet.
“We jumped at the opportunity,” Don explained. “Port Perry seemed like such a wonderful place to raise kids and become involved in the community.” And they have. Their time is now split 75 percent, each looking after Prince Albert and Port Perry United Churches, and their days consist of visiting and meeting people, working with youth groups and connecting with the community.
The couple works well together and has a great ability to bounce ideas and problems off one another. They are also involved in many aspects of the community, such as liaising with other churches, evident recently in our Santa Claus parade, where many denominations walked together, as well as working to bring the refugee families from Syria into a safe environment.
Currently they are preparing for the Christmas Eve services at 5 and 7:30 p.m., as well as the many other events and activities planned around this festive season.
Feel free to drop a line to Don and Elaine at firstname.lastname@example.org. They would love to hear from you, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year. Along with Elaine and Don, I would also like to take this opportunity to wish each and every one, a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2018.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com
We are very fortunate in this area, to have many business owners with a true philanthropic nature. There are countless less fortunate people, especially this time of year, and for concerned business owners to pick up the slack, is a true blessing. One such person is Terry Vos, owner of Vos’ Your Independent Grocer, in Port Perry.
Terry Vos has not always been in the grocery business; in fact he came into it by pure chance. Born in Belleville, Ontario, Terry’s father worked in the sporting goods industry, and his mother was a stay-at-home mom. Terry was one of three kids and his younger sister still lives in Belleville, whereas his brother has relocated to London, Ontario.
Baseball was Terry’s love at Queen Victoria School and he played catcher and third base. After graduating, Terry attended Quinte Secondary School and became no stranger to work. He managed to obtain an entry position at the local Burger King and worked his way up to shift manager, which included an increase in pay as well as more responsibility. Little did Terry realize this was the start of a very long career in the food related industry.
After high school, Terry had his heart set on Electrical engineering, but once he started his courses at Loyalist College, he soon discovered it was not for him. He started working at Mother’s Restaurants as a manager and did well. In fact, he did so well they moved him to Peterborough, and Terry worked there until the Mother’s chain was taken over by Little Caesars.
At the same time, Terry had noticed a charming waitress who worked for him, but it was strictly against corporate policy for managers to date employees. Terry however was always the entrepreneur and found a way around company rules. He dated Christine for a number of months, before he was ordered not to. “It pretty much amounted to me having to fire Christine, so we could keep dating,” Terry said, and he did. Of course, not without first securing a similar position for her with a friend, who owned a restaurant. The couple continued to date, and a year later they were married.
Christine continued her university education and the new firm moved Terry back to Brockville, as they made a decision to franchise the operations. He stayed with the franchisee for a few years, but he decided the restaurant business wasn’t really for him. Unexpectedly, he was offered a position with the Loeb Grocery chain, where he became the prepared food manager at their Belleville location.
By now the happy couple had two daughters, Stephanie, who currently lives in Italy, working for the World Health Organization, and Ashley, a customs officer, who recently moved to Estevan, Saskatchewan, with the Canada Border Services Agency.
The Loeb chain was sold to Provigo, and Terry was promoted to produce manager. It was not long after, that Provigo was sold to Loblaws, and Terry decided to apply for the management program, under the Provigo banner and attended the course in London, Ontario.
During his training, a store in Kingston became available and Terry was offered a managerial role until he completed his training. The store Terry worked at was sold to Metro and his talents were quickly recognized. Well respected in the industry, Terry became a problem solver for various stores in the Kingston area.
The year was 2005 and Terry received a call from a friend, asking if he wanted to apply for a franchise to own and operate an Independent Grocer Store in Oshawa. “It was a difficult decision,” Terry explained. “Not because of the opportunity, but Christine had just started her ‘dream’ job in Belleville and this would mean a move to Oshawa.”
It took the Vos family two days to make their decision and they moved to Courtice, where Terry oversaw the conversion of a Loblaws store to the Independent, a chain still owned by Loblaws. Terry worked hard and his results were evident. In a short two years he doubled sales. Unfortunately a Walmart Superstore opened nearby, and Loblaws wanted to convert Terry’s store into a No Frills brand.
Terry made it clear that he would prefer the Independent trademark and shortly thereafter, a store in Port Perry became available. “We had never heard of Port Perry before,” Terry said, amusingly. “In fact when we drove up for the first time, I missed the town and we ended up in Beaverton." he smiled as he reminisced. “Christine was having a fit, and frankly I was a bit nervous.” They managed to find Port Perry and in December of 2008 moved here, two months prior to opening Vos’ Your Independent Grocer.
I asked Terry if this was the end of the moves and he was adamant when he said yes. “We have integrated ourselves in the community and love it here.” This is evident by all they have done, and continue to do for our town. Terry explained that in order to succeed in a small community, they had to get involved in every worthwhile cause. They are all about family brand and family values.
The Vos’ took it one step further and initiated a hiring campaign for people with intellectual disabilities. They immediately hired three applicants and are constantly raising the bar on community involvement.
Terry serves on several boards, including Durham North Community Living and Big Brothers and Big Sisters of North Durham, as well as being involved in many organizations. They also introduced the ‘Canada Day Cupcake’ cake, which this year included 4,500 cupcakes enjoyed by thousands. Loblaws was so taken by the idea, they are rolling it out to other franchisees.
Very few people in North Durham are not familiar with Terry and Christine Vos, and if you ever want to chat with them, send them a note at email@example.com. They would love to hear from you.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, published author, columnist, and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com.
I recently read an article about many people not enjoying the job they go to every day. That is certainly not the case in this month’s Story Behind the Person, regarding Rory Snider-McGrath. Rory, a very familiar face around town, taught and was head of the music department at Port Perry High School for many years.
Music held an interest for Rory from an early age, but it wasn’t until high school he expanded his love for wind instruments.
Rory was born in Terrace Bay, a small community about an hour, this side of Nipigon in Northern Ontario. His dad worked for the railroad and his mom was a teacher. At the young age of three, Rory and his family moved to Barry’s Bay, east of Algonquin Park. His father had left the railroad and took up plumbing, as his mother continued to teach.
Rory, along with his two brothers, attended Madawaska Valley District High School and began learning the tuba. Being born into a hard working family gave Rory the ambition to seek employment while going to school. His first job was at the local Red & White, but he soon moved on to Murray’s Lumber, where he worked the midnight shift.
“We carried 4x6 ties from the yard onto two tractor trailers each night,” Rory explained. “They were headed for Texas, but no one seemed to know what they were used for.” In an effort to earn more money, Rory began working at the Beer Store, where he held a position for five years, during both high school and university.
Music was now a major part of Rory’s life, and he wanted to attend a university that offered a substantial education in wind instruments, especially the tuba. Unfortunately, the only tuba teacher in Southern Ontario looked after five universities, as well as playing in orchestras, which meant there would be little opportunity for the young musician to get the assistance he would require.
His high school teacher had completed a master’s degree at Potsdam University in New York, a major entity that specialized in music and computer science. “When I attended, there were 5,500 students at the college,” Rory said. “And today there are only 3,000. Amazingly, the number of music students per year has not changed.” The school is now venturing into musical theatre.
Rory wanted to be a professional tuba player and had the opportunity to play in the orchestra for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. “It was so cold, that the valves on our instruments were frozen.” It was the last year the Olympics used a live orchestra.
He took on a part time job as a chauffeur to the president of Quaker Oil, who happened to have a cottage in Barry’s Bay. Unfortunately, while driving, Rory’s car was hit from behind and he suffered a terrible injury, which ripped the cartilage from his chest. The result was, he could not play the tuba for 12 months. Instead, he took education courses, as now his focus was turned toward teaching music.
After university, Rory took a position in Bancroft, at Joseph Gould Senior Elementary. After four years, he moved to Brock High School in Cannington. From there, Rory moved to Port Perry and taught in Whitby. One day, he received a call from Charles White, head of the music department at Port Perry High School. He offered Rory a position in the music department, which Rory gratefully accepted.
Rory traded in the tuba for a trumpet, not because he preferred the instrument, but because it was lighter and much easier to carry to class.
By this time, Rory had married Margaret, a music teacher at Prince Albert Public School, and after the retirement of Charles White, Rory took over the head of the music department at Port Perry High. Two of Rory’s four children are pursuing musical interests, whereas the other two are leaning toward athletic careers. Recently, Rory celebrated the birth of his first grandchild, Lilah.
I asked Rory what he loved about teaching music. “I always enjoyed working with the jazz band at the school, but when I had the opportunity to work with the wind ensemble, I had goosebumps every time I listened to them,” Rory said, smiling.
Heading up the music department has offered Rory some great travel opportunities. “Playing in Ottawa and Quebec was great, but travelling to Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and England was fantastic,” he explained.
Several years ago I had the pleasure of emceeing one of the Christmas concerts performed by the music department each year. I was amazed at the talent, and also at my first meeting with Rory Snider-McGrath. His hair, at the time, was platinum blonde, a result of a wager to raise money for a worthy cause.
Port Perry is proud to have such a dedicated individual as Rory Snider-McGrath. There are very few students who have attended our high school, and have not been influenced by his dedication, willingness and genuine love of music.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com.
The responsibility that accompanies being a member of government is immense, in that you are tasked with the challenge of representing constituents in many different decisions, conflicts and challenges. I often wonder why anyone undertakes the task, but am glad that a handful of individuals choose to do this often thankless job.
One such individual is Councillor Bobbie Drew, the regional representative for Scugog Township, who has served the public and represented the Township of Scugog, in matters pertaining to the Region of Durham for nearly thirty years.
Bobbie Drew, born Roberta Beamish, was raised in the Bluffs area of Scarborough. Her father worked for the Scarborough Board of education and her mom, although a stay at home mother, was heavily involved in the local church, as well as operating a catering business as a hobby.
During the summer months, Bobbie helped out at the family owned restaurant in Woodland Beach and, while attending R.H. King, she worked at a local convenience store. She also had a part-time job, shampooing heads at a local salon, during Christmas vacation. She met a hairdresser, during her stint at the beauty salon, and took a fancy to him. Rick Drew, must have noticed the young assistant, as they started dating soon afterward.
Bobbie’s first full time job was at Garrett Hodson, a direct mail firm, where she had her first taste of travel, by winning a trip to Texas. Unfortunately, the company sold to a larger conglomerate which meant a move for Bobbie. Instead, she decided to change careers and joined Columbia Records, as the assistant manager of advertising, and later, executive assistant to the VP of Marketing.
Bobbie and Rick were married, and the following year started a family, with the birth of their daughter Korin. They decided that Scarborough was not the place the Drew's wanted to raise a family, and Rick, who had visited Port Perry to go fishing when he first came to Canada from the U.K., suggested the town as a possible relocation destination.
“I thought the town was beautiful. That’s what inspired me first,” Bobbie explained.
After a visit, both Bobbie and Rick decided they wanted to move here, and Rick opened a beauty salon on Queen Street, while they lived in a small apartment in the back. Bobbie was a stay at home mom, raising their daughter and two sons Brett and Landon, while Rick operated the salon. It was not long until the couple became immersed in the Port Perry way of life, and Rick became involved in the Chamber of Commerce, and Bobbie served as Secretary/Treasurer for nine years.
Bobbie was involved in volunteer work at R.H. Cornish elementary school, and worked a number of jobs with the YMCA, which allowed her to bring her youngest along. Both Bobbie and husband Rick were involved in the ‘Western Weekend’, a Chamber event, which is still talked about today. The event was always well attended, and was a financial success for the Chamber, local businesses, and service groups involved.
In 1985 Bobbie ran for school trustee. The outcome was unsuccessful for the up and coming politician, as she lost by seven votes. Three years later, she ran again and this time was voted in by a large majority.
I asked Bobbie how she became involved in politics. “I was encouraged with my involvement in the school community, to run for trustee.”
She continued looking after the issues of education for twelve years. Bobbie ran for Ward 2 Councillor, and in 2003 joined the council. Working with Mayor Marilyn Pierce and council, was both challenging and rewarding, and the feeling of accomplishment proved to be quite satisfying, Mrs. drew conveyed.
In 2010, Bobbie decided to take her political career one step further and ran for Regional Councillor, representing Scugog in all matters of the region.
During the nearly thirty years of her political career, Bobbie has been involved in countless events and projects. Among them were the library expansion, the traffic circle, and phase one of the waterfront expansion. Bobbie was also involved in the sale of hydro, which gave the Township some much needed reserves for future projects and unforeseen emergencies. It gave the Township the ability to lend itself money for road repair and construction, all of which was paid back, and still left enough money to assist with projects, such as the expansion of the hospital.
“I love working with the people of Scugog, as well as finding solutions with staff,” Bobbie said, summing up her love of the job.
In the last council, Bobbie Drew acted as deputy Mayor and oversaw many committees. During her seven years on council, she has chaired Parks and Recreation, Budget, Healthy Lake Scugog and Canada Day Palmer Park committees. She has spent eight years on the Public Arts Committee, as well as the Scugog Council for the Arts, and numerous other committees and boards. One of her most enjoyable tasks is serving on the Police Services Board, which gives her great insight into law and order.
Preparing for meetings takes up 40% of her time, and she loves to sing, evidence of which is in the archives of the Scugog Choral Society. The Township of Scugog is fortunate to have Bobbie Drew as part of the team. Her experience and leadership has served our community well.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com
Not many people are born with the gift of talent, and even fewer have the desire to hone that talent into a beautiful craft. Such is the case in Leslie Ann Bradley, one of the finest symphonic and operatic singers in today’s world. Believe it or not, Leslie Ann was born and raised in our very own, Port Perry.
To be totally accurate, although born in Port Perry Hospital, Leslie Ann spent the first four years of her life in Sunderland, until her father, a farmer, became a salesperson for John Deere and her mother, Jillian, opened a clothing store called Country Classics, on Queen Street in Port Perry, where they settled.
Attending R.H. Cornish Public School, music began to play an important role in Leslie Ann’s life. “My grandmother was very influential in my love of music,” Leslie Ann explained. “She played the piano and we all sang together.” It sounds wonderful, and Grandmother Betty Stone still tinkles the ivories today.
Leslie Ann also had a knack for business and with her sister, Betty Jo, she sold homemade jam in front of her mother’s store. Of course, she also helped pick the berries that went into the product. Her love of music constantly resurfaced.
At age five, Leslie Ann used to attend choir practice, even though she was not actually a member, and quietly sang hymns along with the choir.
At age eight, she took a serious step to enhance her music career. Under the direction of vocal teacher, Eleanor Bailey, Leslie Ann developed an already beautiful voice. During high school, her love of music blossomed, and her gratitude to teacher Charles White is unending. Charles White was head of the music department at Port Perry High School for many years.
“I chose two periods of music per day and then added a third,” Leslie Ann explained. “My teachers wondered if perhaps I had bitten off more than I could chew,” but she hadn’t, because she could never get enough of singing.
I asked what she loved about her craft. “It’s a constant exploration, because you never know enough about music.”
Leslie Ann also played the flute, as well as the piano. “I was awful on the flute, unlike my sister who makes it sound magical,” she said, smiling.
One fantastic benefit to living in Port Perry is the immense support for music and art, as visible by our theatre groups. Leslie Ann joined the Scugog Choral Society, and her first role was that of Ngana in South Pacific. Some of her musical talent comes from her mother, who was also in the Choral Society and brought the house down with her role as Maria Von Trapp in the Sound of Music in 1987.
During high school, Leslie Ann worked at Brock’s Department Store in Port Perry. She started in ladies wear and worked with Claudette Brock, spending hours and hours in the storage areas finding and pricing shoes, etc. for the yard sales.
After high school, Leslie Ann attended the University of Toronto, specializing in a four year music and language course. Her French is excellent and her musical talents were once again taken to the next level. During weekends she would return to Port Perry and teach vocals to students at home, including well known Mallory McGrath.
Another person who was very instrumental in Leslie Ann’s life was Bev Foster. Leslie would accompany Bev to Toronto, to participate in the Orpheus Choir as the only paid soprano soloist they had.
After graduation from university, Leslie Ann moved to Montreal for seven years. During that time, she also lived in France where she trained at the famous Ravel Academy. Leslie enjoys the European influence so common in Montreal, and not found elsewhere in North America.
Having sang in many top venues in North America, I asked Leslie Ann what her favourite location was. “The one that makes me the most nervous is performing in my home town. When I stand in front of the hundreds of people and all I see are teeth; big, welcoming smiles. It makes me very emotional.”
In 2009, Leslie Ann moved back to Toronto and studied under Lorna MacDonald, who helped her polish her musical ability. She attended a wedding and met Edward Graham, who lived in New York. It wasn’t long before Leslie moved to New York, and now lives there with her husband Edward.
Leslie Ann specializes in symphonic and operatic music. The difference is, in operas the performers wear wigs and make-up, whereas in symphonic productions, they do not. She has a love of musical theatre as well as classical.
She has played venues all over North America, including Vancouver, Montreal and New Orleans, where she met Grammy-nominated mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimor. After Lattimor’s performance, Leslie Ann asked if she would take her on as a student. The great performer agreed, and Leslie Ann’s ability was sharpened even more.
The future for Leslie Ann Bradley is, to keep exploring and continue the adventure. “I think the United States is my next big challenge,” Leslie explained. She has performed at numerous venues throughout the U.S., but there are many left to conquer. After that, it will probably be Europe, but wherever this performer’s talent is heard, it has a lasting effect on the listener.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures, at photosNtravel.com
I always enjoy writing these articles, as it gives me an opportunity to meet some fantastic people and dig into their life story. As recently is was Canada’s 150th birthday, I thought it would only be fitting to write a story about one of Port Perry’s past residents, none other than, Joseph Bigelow.
Joseph and his twin brother Joel, were born in 1829, in Simcoe County, in Tecumseth, which is now west of Bradford. His father, Hiram Bigelow, managed several mills for people. When an opportunity arose to move to Lindsay, Hiram and Mary, along with their children, took advantage of it.
When Joseph was 22 his father heard of the death of Peter Perry, a visionary in Port Perry who had great ambitions. His death left a large gap, which needed to be filled. Hiram immediately saw this as a great opportunity for his sons. He purchased a parcel of land, known as lot 5, now the Tweed and Hickory Building, for his sons to make their fortune.
Joseph and Joel set forth and constructed a small general store on the property on Queen Street. Prior to this, Port Perry was the industrial part of Scugog. All social and commercial business was done in Prince Albert. Things were about to change.
Joseph was courting the daughter of a Member of Parliament and proposed marriage to her. Elizabeth Paxton accepted and the couple were soon married. This of course presented a problem, as brother Joel was living with Joseph in the small house adjacent to the store. After the wedding, Joel decided to leave and moved to Whitby, where he opened another general store. Shortly after the success of that venture he relocated to Chicago, where he opened and operated the Bigelow Tea Company.
Joseph and wife, Elizabeth, decided it was time to expand the venture and, in 1863, tore down the existing building. This was replaced with a giant, three story structure known as the Royal Arcade. The business expanded, to include clothing, medicines, hardware, a post office and a branch of the Royal Canadian Bank. This undertaking was very successful, and Joseph became Port Perry’s first postmaster.
Elizabeth decided that it was not fitting for the family to live on the main shopping street, so they physically moved their residence to 100 Perry Street. The house still stands today, and was recently renovated to become a very modern dwelling within the confines of an historic shell.
Being quite, the business man, Joseph purchased a lumber mill from Stephen Doty. Located on the lake, just south of the causeway, it was very successful and added to the entrepreneur’s assets.
His father-in-law, Thomas Paxton, a member of the Ontario Assembly, was a huge proponent of building a railroad to Port Perry. He enlisted the help of Joseph, who jumped whole heartedly into the project. In 1868, Joseph Bigelow became the first president of the newly formed Port Whitby/Port Perry Railway.
The project prospered and the railroad made its way here. It was not long after, that it was extended to include Lindsay. With the Bigelow family owning much wooded land, as well as a lumber mill, the opportunity to get his product to the harbour in Whitby was very beneficial.
In 1872 Joseph left the railroad, due in part to a scandal, brought on by his fraudulent ways. People realized the cedar rails Bigelow was purchasing on behalf of the railroad were coming from his mills, at dramatically inflated prices. It also turned out that most of the lands expropriated for the railroad were in fact, properties Bigelow owned.
After his resignation, Joseph turned to politics and successfully ran for Mayor of Port Perry. No doubt most of his votes were purchased or came from friends, but he did add many benefits to the town. He was responsible for the new Town Hall building, at Simcoe and Queen Street, as well as the replacement of the floating bridge for a more permanent causeway structure.
The Bigelows had five children, but not a single male grandchild. The family prospered and sold the arcade to a Toronto Entrepreneur, Jonathan Blong. In 1877, the year the store was sold, the new owner renamed it the Blong Block.
Mr. Bigelow sold his mill to a Mr. Trull, who wanted to build a dam next to it. Unfortunately the mill burned down before the dam was constructed. Part of the lands expropriated by the railroad from Joseph Bigelow included a stave factory and a lumber mill, which he ran even after the railway bought the property in 1872. He moved the building uptown, where it housed an apple evaporator.
In addition to these ventures, Mr. Bigelow owned a sawmill, a planing mill, a carding mill and a tannery. He also partnered, for 20 years with his father-in-law, Thomas Paxton: in a flour-milling business, located on Water Street: as well as the Tate Foundry, on Perry Street, where Westshore retirement residence sits today; as well as the Big Red Apple Elevator, on Lilla Street, now Simcoe Street.
Joseph Bigelow owned a large property, bordered by Queen and Reach Streets, and Rosa and Simcoe Streets. Together with his lawyer, Mr. Cochrane of Whitby, they began to develop the property, adding two new roads and aptly naming them Bigelow and Cochrane Streets. The two sold the lots and Bigelow built a house for himself on one of the parcels. The house still stands at 178 Cochrane Street.
One of Joseph and Elizabeth’s daughters, Emma, married a local jeweller, Hugh McCaw. They lived in the house on Cochrane Street and raised their 8 daughters, six of whom were married there, the other two remained spinsters.
In 1881, Joseph Bigelow ran for the Legislature, but was defeated. His ruthless attitude, unfortunately, left him a much disliked individual. He paid his workers in company vouchers, which means they were only good at his arcade or his mill. Fortunately the practice did not last long, but long enough to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths.
In 1902, he became president of the Port Perry division of the Royal Bank of Canada. In 1903, he became president of the Board of Trade.
Joseph Bigelow lived in his house until his death in 1917, at the age of 88. He was very instrumental in Port Perry being the prosperous community it is today.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com.
Thanks to Paul ‘Joseph Bigelow’ Arculus, for his assistance in compiling the facts for this article.
Most people in Port Perry know Doug Brown. Tall, thin and sometimes wearing a white lab coat, Doug has been filling prescriptions for us for more than 20 years.
Born in Bowmanville, Doug, one of three children, was the son of a civil engineer and a high school teacher. At the early age of fourteen, his father put him to work in his land surveying business. “I would deliver documents to law offices and later assist on survey crews,” Doug stated. He also did a stint renovating a century home, for a friend’s father.
“I was a music geek,” Doug explained, when I asked him what his interests were during his high school years. “I was quite small, only five feet tall, until I was 16.” Although Doug was interested in sports, his love for music was greater and he played a pretty mean trumpet. “I played in a band and we were pretty good,” Doug beamed. “We were booked three out of four Saturdays a month. Watching people dance to the big band sounds until two in the morning, was a great way to spend my weekends,” Doug continued. “My father liked it because it kept me out of trouble,” he smiled.
Once University started, Doug shelved his trumpet and became engaged in team sports. He had now grown to six feet in height, and was the perfect size for the Varsity rowing team. Doug decided to enter the pharmaceutical field, while still in high school. “At first I wanted to become an airline pilot,” Doug explained. The recession of the early eighties however, changed his mind, as airlines were cutting back dramatically.
Upon graduation from the University of Toronto, Doug completed a nine month internship at Sunnybrook Medical Centre. “I was the pharmacist for the trauma step-down unit", which he enjoyed, but he longed for more patient interaction.
When the opportunity arose, Doug took a position in Chelmsford, just outside of Sudbury. “I loved the job, but I would commute to Bowmanville/Toronto every other week, and a severe car accident made me re-think the distance from home.” Fortunately Doug was not injured in the automobile mishap, but he did decide to make a change in the location of his career.
Doug took a position in London, Ontario at, Big V Pharmacies, a large chain with more than 130 stores.
In 1994, Big V purchased the pharmacy from Jim Lawrence, in Port Perry. They built a new store, the largest in the company’s history, and asked Doug to move here and run it. “Most of our pharmacists were from the London area and Port Perry was like Siberia. For me it was a great opportunity, as it was much closer to home,” Doug explained. Two years later, the entire Big V chain was purchased by Shoppers Drug Mart, and Doug was offered a chance to purchase the franchise. “The times were exciting and I loved Port Perry,” Doug said.
In 1999 Doug met his, soon to be, wife, Kristy. In 2003 the couple was married, and was blessed with three daughters in the next six years. Life was good for the Browns, and Doug was now fully integrated in Port Perry. "My commute from the Island is four minutes", Doug explained. “It gives me lots of time to be with my family.”
Being part of a large corporate organization offered tremendous opportunities, but, at the same time, the retail operations were becoming more and more of a demand on Doug’s time as a pharmacist and impacting the time he could spend with his patients. He left the organization in 2015 to work independently, and started to practice at Pharmacy Associates of Port Perry, which opened in October of 2015 in the Monte Carlo plaza. It has thrived from the outset and continues to allow Doug to focus on his passion: caring for his patients and the community.
The Browns have embraced the community. Doug is a member of the ‘100 Men Who Care’, and was so taken with the project that he and Kristy, along with a few friends, launched ‘Couples Who Care.’ The group is now up to 15 couples, and the group provides financial support and mentorship to teenagers under the care of the Durham Children's Aid Society. “Our goal is to help kids finish high school,” Doug explained.
In 2003 Doug joined the Port Perry Hospital Foundation Board, and in 2007 became its President. Together, with Dr. Bill Cohoon, they co-chaired the ‘Lighting the Way’ campaign, to raise funds for a new endoscopy centre. “The generosity of the people of Port Perry is second to none,” Doug said. “We reached our goal of $4.5 million dollars in a short, eighteen months.”
Recently, Doug was honoured with the most prestigious award in his profession. Out of nearly 16,000 pharmacists, Doug was chosen to receive the coveted ‘Pharmacist of the Year Award for Ontario’. The award was presented by the Ontario Pharmacists' Association, at a gala last week in London.
We are very grateful for all that Doug Brown has, and continues to contribute to Port Perry. We wish him well in his new venture and his continued dedication to our town.
Drop by the pharmacy at 11 Water Street or send Doug a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com
I first met Neil Crone in 1996, when we each launched a book at a writers’ festival in Pickering. I immediately became a fan of the comedian, and am pleased to say, a friend as well. There are very few people in Canadian entertainment who are as funny as ‘Fred Tupper’, Neil’s recent character on ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie’. His latest film, Bon Cop, Bad Cop 2, was released last week, where Neil, along with Colm Feore, keeps law and order in Middle Brook.
Neil has just finished a lengthy film stint in North Bay, for yet another of his many Hallmark Christmas flicks. In this one, the working title of which is ‘Unexpected Christmas’, Neil plays opposite Andie MacDowell, who is known for Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Groundhog Day. I still get a kick out of One Starry Christmas, the Hallmark festive movie from two years ago.
Over dinner recently, Neil and Kathryn announced they were leaving Port Perry, for a more rustic life, just north of town. “We love to walk our dogs in a country setting,” they explained. “It is simply a natural progression for us.”
Neil and Kathryn regularly walk their dogs, Owen and Dooly, at trails in the area. “It will be great to have our own property where they can run free.”
I recall, several years ago, how easy it was to spot Neil around town. Every time you saw a bright yellow, Volkswagen Beetle and noticed the faint smell of French fries in the air, it would be Neil.
He had converted his car to run on vegetable oil, hence the interesting odour. “I love the concept,” Neil said. “I get free fuel at local restaurants and I help the environment.” he smiled, “I do find I get hungry a lot and constantly crave an order of fries.”
Neil Crone was born at St. Mike’s hospital in Toronto, and grew up in Agincourt. The second youngest of six kids, Neil had a good childhood in a family where his mother, a nurse, had met her husband when he was in a body cast as a result of an accident. Neil attended Sir John A. MacDonald Collegiate, whose alumni boast the likes of Mike Myers, Deb McGrath and Eric McCormack to name a few. While attending high school, Neil worked as a landscaper, a busboy, a waiter and a roofer. As he put it, “Great jobs to fall back on in case the comedy wasn’t working.”
Although he was comedic in school, it wasn’t until his last year of high school when he decided to attend Ryerson, and enroll in the radio and television arts program. Unsure of where he was heading, Neil went to Teacher’s College at U of T and became a high school teacher in King City, teaching Drama and English.
Like most of us at the end of our teens, we lack direction and Neil was no different. He attended Bible school in upper New York State for two months, and although he wanted to be in front of an audience, a career as a minister was not for him.
His education and practical experience solidified his longing to be an actor, or more so, a comedian. He did a few rounds at Yuk Yuk’s and cut his teaching to half time, allowing him to participate in auditions. One such effort with Second City proved successful, and Neil was on the road to comedic greatness.
In 1989, Second City wanted Neil to join their touring company, which gave him the opportunity to travel across Canada. Neil Crone never looked back. “Acting is a tough business,” he admitted. “No matter how good your current gig is, when it’s over, you start from scratch again.”
Fortunately, for Neil, his past successes have allowed him to receive some great roles. He has been in 124 movies or television roles, including in; ‘Eerie, Indiana’; ‘Free Willy’ and the ‘Red Green Show’. Neil had many recurring roles in television, such as: Mr. Chesney, in ‘Goosebumps’; Ollie Jefferson, in ‘Wind at My Back’; and of course, memorable, Coach Harry Strand, in ‘Power Play’.
I asked if working on ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie’, was as enjoyable as it seemed.
“When it’s this much fun, you feel guilty at having to call it work,” Neil replied, grinning. “We shot part of the show in Regina and met up with the ‘Corner Gas’ gang, who were out there at the same time. Regina has never been the same.”
‘Little Mosque’ has finished six seasons and is seen in more than 100 countries. When he is not in front of the camera, Neil does voice-overs for commercials and many animated shorts, guest speakerships at corporate events and writes his syndicated, ‘Enter Laughing’ column. His downtime is spent with Kathryn and his two sons, Colin and Duncan.
Along with numerous stints on Murdoch Mysteries and his recently completed cartoon series, Kody Kapow, Neil has written several books. From poetry tomes to the popular ‘Farmer’s Secret Midnight Dance’, and of course, who can forget his hilarious novel, ‘Who Farted?’ Several years ago, Neil had a nasty bout with Colon cancer, but he has survived and become the spokesperson for the Colorectal Cancer Association. He even wrote an awakening book entitled ‘Semi-Colon’.
I asked him how he measured his success. His best compliment was from a reader, who said she had put his newspaper column on her fridge. He smiled humbly. “Directors now know me and let me do my own thing, which is amazing. I recently received a script and all it said was ‘Neil acts Crazy’.”
I am still mesmerized by Neil’s wit and humour. His column and books crack me up, and his on-camera spots are usually hilarious. I’m sure you will agree, one of Canada’s funniest comedians lives right in our own backyard.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a travel photographer, author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures, at photosNtravel.com
Jonathan van Bilsen
Join Jonathan van Bilsen in the Standard as he begins a series of feature articles on prominent residents of North Durham in his new column, The Story Behind The Person.