Sunday 04 Dec 2016

Explosive Campaign
David Simmonds

In July of this year, the Niagara Parks Commission rolled out a series of ads encouraging Torontonians to "shake off the city". A mayoral candidate took objection to the slagging of Toronto in order to build up Niagara Falls. The Niagara Falls advertising people professed surprise that anyone took offence, showing Toronto in a negative light was hardly shading the truth, pulled some of the advertisements and went home happy with a publicity bonanza on the rebound.

That shrewd piece of publicity hounding prompted me to consider other advertisements that might try to provoke a response. Immediately, some bizarre advertisements that appeared in the local media, not long ago, came to mind. Entitled "Public Notice: Wellers Bay National Wildlife Area," their grave words stated that, "Public access prohibited ... to protect the public from hazards posed by unexploded explosive ordinance. This former National Defence bombing range designated as a National Wildlife Area.... All unexploded explosive ordinance, new or old, partial or complete, must be considered dangerous as it may explode, causing serious injury or death. If you find something that is possibly an unexploded device, do not touch or disturb it in any way."

I had to look that one up too. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines an "ordinance," with an "i," as an authoritative decree. "Ordnance," with no "i," denotes military materials. I don't imagine they're that worried about unexploded administrative decrees, but we get the point.

Now you might wonder if this is just an official stern warning. Don't they have spy satellites these days that can spot Osama Bin Laden brushing his teeth? Couldn't they hook one up to a robot and a metal detector and defuse or set off the stuff, finally? The details didn't hang together. I began looking for alternative explanations.

My first thought was that it could be part of a campaign by residents of Colborne and Brighton and people of that ilk to persuade tourists from Toronto to stop short before they enter the county. Surely, I concluded, they wouldn't stoop so low.

My next idea was that it might be the harbinger of a campaign by the authorities in Consecon and Carrying Place to attract teenage boys as tourists. What we would see in the coming months is a series of ads that said "try Wellers Bay, dude; it's a blast." Then I remembered that teenage boys don't have any money, except if it needs to buy clothes or cell phones.

I stuck with the idea that the ad was part of a local stealth campaign. My suspicions were heightened when, in reply to a probing question from me, a local official would only offer a dismissive "I don't know what you are talking about; you are a complete idiot." When I asked around, no one professed to know anything about it. That's when I knew I was on to something.

I considered the facts and came up with a theory that fit. The conclusion is explosive

The facts are that two activities are becoming increasingly popular. One is extreme sports. Women and men seem addicted, hopelessly, to exposing themselves to risk or to watching as others do so. New sports crop up on television like dandelions. New equipment and apparel industries gear up and roll out overnight.

The second is birding. For evidence, you don't have to look much beyond your home territory. I was driving south of Milford a few weeks ago when I came across a traffic jam and a whole posse of people in Tilley Endurables peering through binoculars at a haystack. I later learned, thanks to Terry Sprague, that a "vagrant," a black-bellied whistling duck, had blundered its way into the county. The popular duck was the latest in a series of exotic visitors such as the fork-tailed fly catcher and the western grebe, all of which have served to help the county economy as avid birders strive to enlarge their 'life list' of sightings without having to take a trip down the Amazon. Yet, with so many people throwing so many resources into the hunt, we may have arrived at a time when the keenest birders have done it all and are looking for a new challenge.

Add the facts together and the theory falls in place. The Wellers Bay warning, by my uncorroborated intelligence analysis, is merely the opening stanza in a local stealth campaign to target the county as a haven for a new sport: extreme birding.

Those clever folks around Wellers Bay, who have no doubt been keeping mum to protect their competitive advantage, may just be getting in on the ground floor of the next big thing. They can influence standards for the sport, call the county 'the birthplace of extreme birding' and host an annual convention. Maybe Carrying Place could become the home of the extreme birding hall of fame. Maybe a developer might be interested in building an 'extreme birding community' in Consecon as a refreshing change from the 'exclusive golf course' communities that we see almost everywhere.

"Unexploded explosive ordinance" sounds too tempting to resist. Wouldn't you feel good if you met someone rather pompous, say, as from Toronto, who announced, "Yes, I've finished my life-list, at last"? Now I'm redoing it extreme style. I got a cormorant while I was wakeboarding." You reply "Oh, well done. I've only got my painted bunting, while waist deep in a minefield full of unexploded explosive ordinance in Wellers Bay."

The county abounds in extreme birding opportunities: let's get the public to make suggestions. Here are two from me. Watching a common raven as it bicycles the Millennium Trail. Spotting a Herring Gull as it tries to exit Sobeys parking lot.

I urge those who favour extreme birding to step forward. No modesty, please identify yourselves. You're on to a good thing. To the Niagara Parks Commission: thanks for helping us pick up the thread. To Toronto: turn your binoculars around.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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