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Welcome to the personal website of Andrew Turnbull. This outpost features tons of stupefying and trivial things pertaining to various and diverse interests of mine. Chances are, if there's something I know about or like that doesn't much other representation on the 'net...there's a bit of it here.

July-September 2019 Archive

30 September 2019

Last year, I wrote a post titled "London's bygone Dundas Street markets." A few afternoons of digging through microfilms has made me abundantly clear of one thing, however: While doing local history research, you never fail to run into surprises!

[A&P store] [A&P store]

What was one surprise? Take 831 Dundas, the site of a bygone 1950s A&P grocery store. 831 doesn't appear on the city's parcel map, so I figured that the building had been torn down years ago. Then I found a grand opening picture from the London Free Press...and noticed that the angled corner of the building matches one that still stands on the block today! Yet, the brickwork has been changed and the address has floated from 831 to 809. Mysteries...

[Dominion store]

I knew from directory research that a Dominion store had operated at 124 Dundas through at least 1945 before closing. I had no comprehension of why it closed, however...until I stumbled across this image on microfilm! Surprisingly, 124 Dundas Street was gutted by fire on the evening of 19 December 1946, destroying $12,000 worth of "canned goods and other food." The blaze must not have completely ruined the building, however...since it still stands today. Another mystery...

[1947 newspaper microfilm]

An added bonus: The discovery that the Loblaws stores at 94 and 688 Dundas both opened the same day on 20 Nov. 1947! Why was this a surprise? Because both addresses were also listed as Loblaws stores in the London city directory from 194...5. Yet another unsolved mystery on my hands...

With all of this new research in tow (not to mention the fruits of a road trip or three), it's a great time to give my idiosyncratic Supermartifacts project a toot of the horn. New and updated locations:

The Artifacts of A&P, Part 1

  • 831 Dundas St., London, ON
  • 69 Downie St., Stratford, ON
  • 145 Erie St., Stratford, ON
  • 48 Wellington St., Stratford, ON

The Artifacts of A&P, Part 2

  • 1486 La Salle Blvd., Sudbury, ON

The Artifacts of A&P, Part 3

  • 980 Franklin Rd., Cambridge, ON
  • 1030 Adelaide St. N., London, ON (New picture added)
  • 1070 2nd Ave., Owen Sound, ON

The Artifacts of Dominion

  • 1500 Royal York Rd., Etobicoke, ON
  • 124 Dundas St., London, ON (Historic picture added)
  • 496 Dundas St., London, ON (ditto)
  • 577 Hamilton Rd., London, ON (ditto)
  • 1154 Hamilton Rd., London, ON (New and historic pictures added)
  • 215 Wharncliffe Rd. S., London, ON (Historic picture added)
  • 1120 2nd Ave. E., Owen Sound, ON
  • 2 Douro St., Stratford, ON
  • 477 Huron St., Stratford, ON (New picture added)
  • 2208 La Salle Blvd., Sudbury, ON
  • 149 Sherbourne St., Toronto, ON
  • 171 Ingersoll Rd., Woodstock, ON

The Artifacts of Loblaws, Part 1

  • 205 Kent St., Lindsay, ON
  • 688 Dundas St., London, ON (Historic picture added)
  • 407 Hamilton Rd., London, ON (ditto)
  • 179 Wortley Rd., London, ON (ditto)
  • 19 Frood Rd., Sudbury, ON

The Artifacts of Loblaws, Part 2

  • 4380 Wellington Rd., London, ON
  • 82 Lorne St., Sudbury, ON
  • 1485 La Salle Blvd., Sudbury, ON

The Artifacts of Loblaws, Part 3

  • 472 Bayfield St., Barrie, ON
  • 150 Holiday Inn Dr., Cambridge, ON
  • 180 Holiday Inn Dr., Cambridge, ON
  • 111 Charles St. E., Ingersoll, ON
  • 1350 16th Ave. E., Owen Sound, ON

23 September 2019

What do I do when I'm feeling down, and I have an afternoon to burn? The same thing I always do: I'll go to the library and look at old microfilms for FUN.

[1979 newspaper microfilm]

Is this London, England or London, Ontario? No kidding around here: British Leyland actually imported the Rover SD1 into the North American market for one model year (1980). No, I've never seen one in my life.

[1979 newspaper microfilm]

Is this London, England or London, Ontario? Yes, this is Boots, the quintessential British chemist founded in Nottingham in 1849. I had no idea that they had ever operated stores in Canada until I found this page. Supposedly, most of them turned into Pharma Plus in the 1980s.

[1979 newspaper microfilm]

Hmm. I'll pass...

[1979 newspaper microfilm]

Back in January, I exhumed the tale of the Superstore Mall...a mostly-desolate development on the south side of London. It turns out that names don't lie: There really was a Loblaws Superstore on the site at one time (1979 to be precise), and it sported an all-out bizarre slanted facade decked out in enormous lettering. Dave Nichol looks so pleased!

[1954 newspaper microfilm]

Creeping back in time another 25 years, there's...this. What can I say? The 1950s were weird.

16 September 2019

[Inverted Signal Ahead sign]

I wonder how long it'll stay like this.

8 September 2019

[ghost sign in Stratford Ontario]

Wellington Street, Stratford, Ontario. The ghost sign on the side wall of the two-chimneyed building is a bygone advertisement for "H. Ubelbaker & Son, established 1855." I'm guessing that 1855 was still a milestone of the living past at the time this was painted on the wall!

Speaking of milestones of the past, the low-tech facsimile of a weblog that you're reading now went online two years ago this week.

[Winnipeg Manitoba in 2015]

I've also celebrated my second year of living in Canada...the anniversary of that fateful day in 2017 in which I pulled into customs with a car packed to the brim and a ledger's worth of paperwork in tow! Yet when I reconstruct the steps of how I came to be here, that isn't the moment that sticks in my mind. That honour goes to my memories of the week I spent in Winnipeg, Manitoba in September 2015. That was the moment I arrived in spirit, anyway.

I was a tourist visiting Winnipeg for a few days' sightseeing and an atheist conference (back when I was still convinced that the atheist movement would save the world). Yet crossing the border from North Dakota, it somehow felt transformative. Ever look around you and find yourself saying, "This is the place I could live for the rest of my life?" That's the way I felt in Winnipeg.

Part of the reason why the city felt so compelling was because Manitoba was under the governance of a strong and stable NDP government at the time. It doesn't have one anymore. I'm keenly aware of Canada's imperfections and failings; its bigots and its bullies. But a country with an imperfect track record is still better than one where I don't have the freedom to live without being written out of the constitution by 70% of my neighbours or shot. I don't regret coming to Canada. And I'll never forget the way I felt those special days in Winnipeg, four years ago.

2 September 2019

[Maximum Speed 20 km/h]

This week's post is a spiritual follow-up to this one from the green days of 2017. (Yes, I celebrated my second anniversary of living in Canada a few days ago.)

Obviously, it's a speed-limit sign...but this isn't just any speed-limit sign. This is an old sign that contains an obvious paste-over and repaint of the original speed number...almost certainly an artifact of Canada's metrication in the 1970s. I'd bet my life that "20 km/h" is covering over a "15" in imperial 19th-century miles.

This blast from the past clings to life on the grounds of London Hydro in London, Ontario. The chances aren't high that anything like this is still posted on a public road, but I'd love to be proven wrong.

26 August 2019

[National logo]

Once upon a time long, long ago, there was a business that called itself the National Tea Company...National for short. Like Jewel, they were founded in Chicago in 1899, and their business consisted of selling tea. They expanded into dry goods, and by the 1920s they were one of America's leading grocery chains.

There was a catch, though: National was rarely a leader; rarely an innovator; rarely a first mover. In the 1920s, A&P aggressively moved into cities, blanketed neighbourhoods with thousands of stores, and used scummy tactics and vertical integration to put the squeeze on independent competitors. Kroger was also quite aggressive, and shored up its presence in the midwest through a series of rapid-fire acquisitions. National...did not. Though they did manage to establish critical masses of stores in cities like Milwaukee and Chicago, the places where they thrived were dwarfed by the numbers of places where they showed up late, trailed competitors in store count and development, and were run out of town.

National wanted to compete in Michigan. But National had a terrible track record of competing in Michigan. The company had tried to expand into Grand Rapids in the late 1920s, where they opened up two a city where A&P had 51 stores and Kroger had 99. National had been crushed, creamed, humiliated in the market. But two decades later, they still wanted a piece of the action. So what did they do? They went shopping.

Between 1952 and 1955, National opened up its corporate chequebook and bought four supermarket chains in Michigan:

  • Dole Super Markets of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, with 6 stores.
  • George T. Smith's Market Basket of Lansing, with 6 stores.
  • C.F. Smith Stores Company of Detroit, with 211 stores.
  • H.A. Smith Markets of Detroit, with 9 stores and 1 meat packing plant.

These acquisitions gave National a retail presence throughout the lower palm of the state. It was a patchy one, though...and there were cracks in the picture. Dole, Market Basket, and H.A. Smith weren't strong companies by any stretch. C.F. Smith had a far stronger competitive position (in Dearborn in the 1940s they had more locations than A&P and Kroger combined), but with a stable of older stores that were getting outdated by the day.

So what did National do? They opened the corporate chequebook again, and started building new stores. Lots and lots of them, especially in the Detroit Metro where it really mattered. Never mind that by building new stores, they had more or less nullified the financial advantages of buying a pre-existing company (or two, or three, or four) in the first place.

[former National supermarket in Ypsilanti Michigan]

The stores that National built seldom varied: Glazed blonde brick construction, with bowstring-truss barrel roofs. Modest footprints of 10-15,000 square feet. And wide, flat brick pylons protruding above the roof, serving as a handy place to put the diamond-shaped National sign.

[former National supermarket in River View Michigan]

Did it work? No. Detroit's grocery-market competition was heating up in the 1960s, with local competitors like Food Fair/Farmer Jack and Wrigley taking on national chains like Kroger and A&P in service and price...and National was left out in the cold. National itself was no longer an independent company: They had sold out to George Weston Limited of Ontario in 1955, which owned the Loblaws chain and was taking its time merging the two together. Moreover, they were in trouble...with declining profits, low-volume and outdated stores, and market share in free fall...not only in Michigan, but even in places like Chicago where the company had operated since day one. Worse, Loblaws in Canada had financial problems of its own. Something needed to be And about the only thing to do was to start cutting limbs.

[former National supermarket in Wyandotte Michigan]

So it came to pass, and in 1966 National exited Michigan (again) after fourteen tumultuous years. Its physical legacy...its actual stores...were dispersed to a host of competitors, including Chatham, Farmer Jack, and A&P. And over half a century later, a remarkable number of those buildings are still there...though almost none of them are still selling food.

It's time to give Supermartifacts a modest update, with the latest captures and information from the summer's road trips on both sides of the border:

The Artifacts of A&P, Part 1

  • 15819 Southfield Rd., Allen Park, MI
  • 131 Elm St., Wyandotte, MI

The Artifacts of A&P, Part 2

  • 2035 McKinley St., Lincoln Park, MI

The Artifacts of A&P, Part 3

  • 15255 Michigan Ave., Dearborn, MI
  • 19150 Telegraph Rd., Detroit, MI
  • 17447 Haggerty Rd., Northville Twp., MI

The Artifacts of Dominion

  • 169 Wellington St., London, ON
  • 152 Wharncliffe Rd., London, ON

The Artifacts of Kroger, Part 1

  • 10620 W. McNichols Rd., Detroit, MI

The Artifacts of Kroger, Part 2

  • 26800 Dequindre Rd., Warren, MI
  • 26233 Hoover Rd., Warren, MI

The Artifacts of Kroger, Part 3

  • 600 W. 9 Mile Rd., Ferndale, MI

The Artifacts of Loblaws, Part 1 (including National)

  • 15219 Michigan Ave., Dearborn, MI
  • 5726 Middlebelt Rd., Garden City, MI
  • 12850 Sibley Rd., Riverview, MI
  • 2319 Fort St., Wyandotte, MI
  • 522 W. College Ave., Appleton, WI

The Artifacts of Loblaws, Part 3

  • 345 Notre Dame St., Belle River, ON
  • 400 Manning Rd., Tecumseh, ON
  • 5890 Malden Rd., Windsor, ON

19 August 2019

[I-94 West, or maybe I-94 East sign in Dearborn, Michigan]

The world's most useless highway guide sign (and the world's most inconveniently-placed traffic light), Dearborn, Michigan.

Is this the way east? Or is it the way west? That's for MDOT to know, and for you to find out.

12 August 2019

[City 1934 sidewalk stamp]

Sidewalk stamp at the corner of Queens and William, London, Ontario.

I'm not sure I had been aware beforehand that concrete was capable of being this old...

5 August 2019

Flickr's Controls are Useless for Fighting Harassment.

In 2008, I completed a long-distance move from West Virginia to Wisconsin. I bought a digital camera so that I could take pictures of my new surroundings. And I joined Flickr.

[Flickr Loves You]

Back in 2008, Flickr was the leading social website for photographers. It boasted a community of millions who commented, fostered bonds around shared interests, and engaged. Over the next five years, I used Flickr to upload, tag, and wax poetic about more than 4,000 photographs of buildings, places, and things.

Unfortunately Flickr was owned by Yahoo!, and Yahoo!'s overlords couldn't leave a good thing alone. I all but quit Flickr when the site's 2013 redesign made it impossible to use from either of the two older computers I owned at the time, and the elimination of paid accounts made it clear that paying customers had no influence in the way the site was run.

A year later, I gravitated to Twitter to keep up with some of the online writers I follow. If Twitter has any redemption, it's in its simplicity: It's real-time text messages in chronological order, period. It's a glorified RSS feed that you can reply to.

Twitter also has a gargantuan harassment and abuse problem, and it's a minefield to navigate. And the rot goes to the top.

There's one silver lining: You can block abusive users. Extremely vigilant blocking is the only recourse that makes Twitter palatable. I unhesitantly block any user who espouses white-supremacist, homophobic, transphobic, and nativist opinions, is infatuated with imageboards that espouse the same, or follows Tr*mp's extended family. And I'll pre-emptively block every follower of any red hat or green frog avatar I come across.

Just because Twitter can be made palatable, however, doesn't mean that it isn't exhausting. So in the last week, I drifted back to Flickr for rest, respite, and a chance to see what had become of its community since 2013.

I quickly made a mortifying realization. As broken and abusive as Twitter is, Flickr's abuse-control systems are so much more broken that they almost make Twitter's systems seem good. How can that be?

Let me count the ways...

Flickr has a user blocking feature superficially similar to Twitter's. Blocking a user will prevent them from commenting on your pictures or following you through their web interface...but unlike on Twitter, it does nothing to prevent them from seeing your profile or contributions. It doesn't even disable their ability to follow your photostream by RSS! Comments by blocked users will still appear and persist on other users' photostreams, in a user's activity window, and in Flickr Help. Abusers on Flickr therefore have full empowerment to view your uploads, screencap them, link to them in their own Flickr comments and photo captions, and stalk your online activity without the slightest element of deterrent. They can even bombard you with comment replies, as if you hadn't blocked them at long that the replies in question take place in another user's photo thread or in the support forum. Blocking on Flickr is a toothless and ineffective gesture against harassment.

[Flickr Blocking]

And that's not all that's broken about Flickr. Mercifully, abusive users don't have "John Doe has blocked you" notifications broadcast into their activity windows, which stymies some of their ability to retaliate...but if you block an abusive user from a Flickr group, they will have a notification broadcast straight to their eyes. (I learned that the hard way.)

You can view the accounts that an abusive Flickr user is following, but you cannot view the accounts that follow an abusive Flickr user. This means that if a user actively coordinates harassment campaigns from their photostream, there is no way to pre-emptively block the users who would act on them. This is a far cry from Twitter, where the (imperfect, third-party) Block Chain extension allows one to cut off the acolytes of incendiary users in one swoop.

To block an abusive Flickr user, one must search their profile page for an inconspicuous "Block user" link. Oftentimes, this link gets pushed out of the viewport by freeform profile content...while the "Follow" link is much more visible. Also unlike the block feature, the "Follow" link activates immediately with no interstitial page. I have accidentally followed abusive users on Flickr by misclicking on their profile pages. And even if you unfollow or block them immediately, the damage will be done: The instant you follow a Flickr account, a private message bearing your name and a link to your account will be transmitted to that user's FlickrMail folder, drawing attention to yourself and laying the impetus for retaliation.

[Flickr Report Abuse]

Although Flickr has a "Report Abuse" link on each page, the menu contains no explicit option for reporting sources of hatred or harassment. The closest thing to an anti-harassment category is "I see a photo and/or buddy icon in public areas that I feel violates the Flickr Community Guidelines," which is almost hopelessly meek. Several of the other abuse-report options do nothing but trigger a paragraph of text that effectively says "there's nothing we can do."

Have you or your friends been harassed?

You bet. It's all part and parcel of being queer (or female, or black, or disabled, or an immigrant...) on the Internet.

  • One abuser from Manitowoc, Wisconsin left a series of overly-familiar comments on my photos, hounded me daily for attention he felt entitled to, and started stalking several of my Flickr contacts in a similar way. After he ignored my rebuffs and continued to badger me against my will, I blocked him...which resulted in an explosion of hatred from his profile where he chewed me out as a gay man for "forcing their perverted lifestyle on normal people" (i.e., existing) and said that his god would "punish" me for my "sin." Months later, I discovered that this man was a supporter of the virulently-homophobic, anti-semitic Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod that's a close ringer for Westboro as the most evil church in America. And, he was a sex offender. Seven years later, his account is still online.
  • A second abuser from Wisconsin plagiarized a personal photo that he used to attack my personal character with, then promptly turned to a sockpuppet account that he used to channel gruesome threats to dig up my grandparents' graves and dump their bodies at my door. Flickr's staff completely ignored my harassment reports, and both of his accounts are still online.
  • A third abuser from New York harassed one friend of mine by bombarding her with dozens of insults dehumanizing her for her weight, then harassed another by taking out a fraudulent Kijiji ad leaking his personal information. Predictably, his account is also still online.

Flickr's Community Guidelines explicitly prohibit hate speech and harassment. But guidelines are meaningless if they're not enforced.

So then...

I think that when Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake created Flickr in Vancouver 15 years ago, they fell into the common trap of looking at their product with starry eyes and idealistic optimism, never supposing for a moment that human beings would do anything but good things with it. Flickr was predicated on the honour system of being a social network inhabited entirely by nice, creative people who would never be impolite to people of lesser privilege, never make arguments in bad faith, and never be abusive. Since...photographers don't do those things, or something.

[Yahoo! actually used this logo at one time]

Yahoo! kicked the can down the road, tying up developers in typical Yahoo! fashion by tasking them to integrate Yahoo's login system and redesign the interface over and over instead of enforcing their community guidelines and improving the user controls and access of the product. And rather than being accountable to the paying customers who used Flickr, they changed Flickr's terms of service in 2013 to eliminate the paying customers.

Now that Flickr has been severed from the rancid hulk of Yahoo! and has a new owner that restored its business model, is there any chance that their thinly-stretched developers and staff might build some controls and resources that are usable for fighting harassment? The chance now is probably higher then zero.

But I wouldn't ever bet on it.

29 July 2019

[London Pride]

22 July 2019

[Andrew Turnbull]

15 July 2019

Did you hear the one about the dude whose life was so pathetic that he spent his summer taking pictures of old grocery stores for fun?

[creepy, abandoned A&P in Northville Michigan]

Yes, it's update time again. Sorted into categories for your convenience:

The Artifacts of A&P, Part 1

  • 1351 S. Gratiot Ave., Mt. Clemens, MI
  • 125 E. Main St., Northville, MI
  • 139 E. Main St., Northville, MI
  • 882 W. Ann Arbor Trail, Plymouth, MI
  • 2620 W. Jefferson St., Trenton, MI
  • 16125 West Rd., Woodhaven, MI
  • 373 Talbot St., St. Thomas, ON
  • 495 Talbot St., St. Thomas, ON
  • 3663 Tecumseh Rd. E., Windsor, ON
  • 424 Dundas St., Woodstock, ON

The Artifacts of A&P, Part 2

  • 22451 Michigan Ave., Dearborn, MI
  • 8655 N. Telegraph Rd., Dearborn Heights, MI

The Artifacts of A&P, Part 3

  • 23000 Michigan Ave., Dearborn, MI
  • 50 N. Groesbeck Hwy., Mt. Clemens, MI
  • 42475 W. 7 Mile Rd., Northville Twp., MI
  • 41840 W. 10 Mile Rd., Novi, MI
  • 346 Wellington Rd., London, ON
  • 780 Talbot St., St. Thomas, ON
  • 3880 Goyeau St., Windsor, ON
  • 868 Dundas St., Woodstock, ON

The Artifacts of Dominion

  • 184 Ridout St. S., London, ON
  • 275 Talbot St., St. Thomas, ON
  • 309 Talbot St., St. Thomas, ON
  • 431 Talbot St., St. Thomas, ON
  • 7 White St., St. Thomas, ON
  • 2411 Dougall Ave., Windsor, ON
  • 2491 Dougall Ave., Windsor, ON
  • 461 Dundas St., Woodstock, ON
  • 236 Springbank St., Woodstock, ON

The Artifacts of Kroger, Part 1

  • 117 E. Main St., Northville, MI

The Artifacts of Kroger, Part 2

  • 33195 23 Mile Rd., Chesterfield, MI
  • 41941 Garfield Rd., Clinton Twp., MI
  • 65 S. Livernois Rd., Rochester Hills, MI
  • 31 E. Long Lake Rd., Troy, MI
  • 5640 Dixie Hwy., Waterford Twp., MI
  • 3645 Highland Rd., Waterford Twp., MI

The Artifacts of Kroger, Part 3

  • 2627 Dix Hwy., Lincoln Park, MI
  • 14155 Eureka Rd., Southgate, MI

The Artifacts of Loblaws, Part 1

  • 41 Mondamin St., St. Thomas, ON
  • 571 Talbot St., St. Thomas, ON
  • 478 Dundas St., Woodstock, ON

The Artifacts of Loblaws, Part 2

  • 295 Wellington St., St. Thomas, ON
  • 2430 Dougall Ave., Windsor, ON

The Artifacts of Loblaws, Part 3

  • 100 Highland Rd. W., Kitchener, ON
  • 123 Pioneer Park, Kitchener, ON
  • 4136 Petrolia Line, Petrolia, ON
  • 360 Caradoc St. S., Strathroy, ON
  • 59 Mill St. E., Tilbury, ON
  • 7201 Tecumseh Rd. E., Windsor, ON
  • 969 Dundas St., Woodstock, ON

And as an added bonus: A colour-coded Google map of the locations I've documented for Supermartifacts, also serving double-duty of a record of where my travels have taken me over the last 11 years.

8 July 2019

[Detroit-Windsor Tunnel approach]

Andrew's holiday week as it unfolded:

  1. Drive from London, Ontario to Tilbury.
  2. Drive from Tilbury to Windsor.
  3. Drive from Windsor to Detroit, Michigan.
  4. Drive from Detroit to Trenton.
  5. Drive from Trenton to Dearborn.
  6. Drive from Dearborn to Northville.
  7. Drive from Northville to Waterford Township.
  8. Drive from Waterford Township to Rochester Hills.
  9. Drive from Rochester Hills to Troy.
  10. Drive from Troy to Mount Clemens.
  11. Drive from Mount Clemens to Port Huron.
  12. Drive from Port Huron to Sarnia, Ontario.
  13. Drive from Sarnia to Petrolia.
  14. Drive from Petrolia to Strathroy.
  15. Drive from Strathroy to London.
  16. Sort through the 246 pictures you took on the road, glum that your website visitors will never see most of them.
  17. Collapse into bed.

1 July 2019

[Decades-old Dominion sign still clinging to the wall of what was once a store]

Today is the holiday traditionally known in Canada as Dominion Day. However, Dominion was bought out in 1985 by A&P. Therefore, the holiday is now known as "A&P Day." </jk>

[Dominion store]

This building is in Woodstock, Ontario, and it actually did house a store of the defunct Dominion grocery chain years ago. This store had a surprisingly short life as such, opening in the 1960s and closing in the 1970s when the company jumped ship to the new Blandford Square Mall on the northeast end of town. The mall in question eventually failed, metamorphized into a vacant ruin, and was bulldozed flat in the 2000s. Meanwhile, this older building stands in pretty much the same condition it was in 50 years ago before the mall was even built: It's as if Blandford Square never came to exist at all.

How did I come to know this? The same way I've come to know all the arcane bits of local commercial history I've picked up on over the years: By visiting the local library and browsing the directories in its local history collection. The same local library, incidentally, where I saw this amusing sign:

[Don't fill out crossword puzzles in library newspapers]

That's Woodstock, Ontario. And that's me, signing off on another week...

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