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The TALES you probably never heard about

Things I Remember About Welland in the 1940’s & 50’s

By Allan Garner

Myrtle Avenue – Main Street

In those days Welland was the armpit of Southern Ontario. Some would say it still is. There  were many industries such as foundries, forge shops, textile mills and the bigger factories such as the Atlas Steel, the Electric Metals (Union Carbide), Page Hersey Pipe Mill and of course the Wabasso Cotton and Dominion Textiles.

These great industrial giants surrounded our blue-collar neighbourhood. As mentioned the Atlas Steels was the biggest and employed almost a thousand men during World War ll. We lived at 27 Myrtle Avenue with my Grandma and Grandpa Garner. The Canada Foundries and Forgings employed my Dad’s family. For example Grandpa Garner and his brother, Uncle Fred Garner started at the plant around 1918 or so. By the time they retired, they had logged about 90 years at Canada Forge between the two of them.

The factory was right at the end of the block at the corner of Myrtle Ave. and Major St. East. It was a two-minute walk for Dad and Grandpa to go to work in the morning.

The Atlas Steels Recreation Club was the predecessor to the modern day recreational facility. They had a bowling alley, and a projector and screen set up where they would show Hopalong Cassidy movies with William Boyd as “Hoppy” and Andy Clyde as his side kick. There were also cartoons and free donuts and chocolate milk. The rules were that it was for employee family members only, but I always managed to scam my way in. Thanks to the Brettell boys. Even at the tender age of seven or eight I figured out how to get in through the pass gate.

Winters

I remember the very, very cold winters of Welland. Jesus it was cold in the winter. Snow up to here, the cold crunch of your boots on the snow. Walking out to “The Pond” to play ice hockey. We would pack our lunches and walk out to The Pond. It was about a mile and a half walk from our house on Myrtle Ave. Maybe it wasn’t that far but it seemed that far when I was a kid.

We’d strap on the blades, play shinny all day long till almost dark. It seemed like ten miles on the way back. I’d skate back home on my very fragile ankles, tears in my eyes, exhausted but happy to be part of the gang.

WWII

The world from my eyes, those of a five year old was all black and white. I remember in those days that almost every movie that you went to was in black and white. There just wasn’t much colour. An event that sticks in my mind, even to this day are the blackout curtains and the air raid sirens going off. We had to practice for the dreaded German invasion of course! Because the Germans were about 4,000 miles from us! Welland in those days was a major supplier of war materials so we had to be very careful and aware of the consequences of the dreaded Nazi Blitz Kreig attacks. But there was hope, generally it was ok. And eventually we won the War!!!

One of the things that I remember as a kid was going to Plymouth Cordage Park in Welland after the Allies won WWII. It was a huge gathering of people, perhaps some 3000-4000. Effigies of Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini were burned as the bands played and people cheered. The war was over and we won.

Another post war memory is that the city had a parade for the returning vets. I remember walking down Main Street just about where the liquor store was in between River Road and Hellems Avenue with my uncle Willard proudly holding his hand at this victory celebration parade. The war was over. Uncle Willard was home from the war. He was my hero. Willard was captured at Dieppe and was a POW for some 31 months. He was released from a German prisoner of war camp, a hero. I don’t think he considered himself a hero though. He probably considered himself an unlucky SOB to get captured at Dieppe and held captive in a German POW camp for almost three years.

I often wonder how my Dad felt about Willard. My Dad you see was drafted to go into the army. Family and friends had a big party for him. He was on his way to war. He was on his way to Hamilton to get sworn in. At the last moment a phone call came and he was told that because he was the last surviving son in Canada he didn’t have to go to war. I often wondered if he was happy or disappointed. Probably a little of both because the war was such a big thing in those days.

Welland Canal

To write about Welland and not mention the old Welland Canal is almost sacrilegious. The Canal as it was rightfully called in those days ran right through the centre of town. It joined Lake Ontario to the North and Lake Erie to the South. The Canal was, and still is an integral part of building the trade routes between the United States and Canada via the Great Lakes.

The canal in those days separated the executive families who lived on the northwest side of Welland from the blue-collar worker’s families that lived on the southeast side of the town. We of course were of the blue-collar class. But the meeting place and focal point in the summer was the old Welland swimming pool. It was located right beside the canal. I was never a swimmer when I was a kid mostly because my Dad wasn’t a swimmer. So he never thought that I should be. I was always afraid of the water and would always make excuses not to go swimming in the deep end of the pool or dive off the pier. A fence at the deep end of the pool separated the pier and the pool. There was a wall about 12 feet high that all the older guys would dive off of into about seven or eight feet of water into the canal.

My buddy Jack Brettell was one hell of a swimmer. He could practically swim underwater halfway across the canal a distance of some 300 hundred feet. I remember one time he dove off the pier and he didn’t surface. We waited and waited and waited. A good fifteen minutes must have gone by and for sure we all thought he was a goner. Well old Jack he was a cagey SOB. He had swam underwater and surfaced along the banks of the canal unseen by us kids. He told me years later that he sat there laughing his guts out, listening to us worrying about him. I loved that guy and as matter of fact I still do.

Movie Theatres in Welland (1940’s & 50’s)

The Community Theatre located on King Street near the old Leon’s building was also called the Garlic Opera, because of its proximity to the Italian and Hungarian communities in the area. Whenever you went into the Community Theatre there was an omnipresent smell of garlic. Hence, The Garlic Opera. No disrespect meant or intended, just stating facts people.

The price for admission at the Community Theatre for matinees was 12 cents. We would go there on Saturday afternoon for the movie serials with Red Ryder, Lash La Rue, The Phantom, Wild Bill Elliot, Hop Along Cassidy and many more that are buried somewhere in my memory banks.

Admission to the Park and Capital theatres was 15cents. These two theatres were where we would go to meet up with a girl and go to the balcony and neck with each other. I often wonder where the term necking came from? You didn’t get much farther than “necking” more commonly known as fooling around, but it was still fun. Occasionally you could cop the odd feel but that was as far as it ever got. There was a lady attendant dressed in a nurse’s outfit whose job it was to catch us fooling around and kick our asses out of the theatre on the spot. Sexual desires and those types of things were stringently suppressed in the 1950′s. Of course we would be back there the following week to do it all over again.

Another thing I remember about going to the movies in those days was they would have additional entertainment at the Capital theatre. Photo Night was one promotion.  Another one I remember is when I was about 12 or 13 years old going up on stage with several other people and being hypnotized. The hypnotist had us doing weird things like making animal noises or rolling around on the floor at his commands. Well I wasn’t really hypnotized because I faked it. I thought that being on the stage and being watched by people was cool. Obviously the so-called hypnotist wasn’t very good at his trade. But none the less for going up on the stage I won a free pass.

Crystal Beach

I remember we used to go on excursions to this great amusement park called Crystal Beach Park. It was situated right on the shores of Lake Erie across from Buffalo, New York, a few miles west of Fort Erie, Ontario. It had to be one of the greatest amusement parks of its kind in Canada, if not North America at that time. It had not one, but two roller coasters the biggest being The Comet. It was scary. The great thrill of the Comet was that it ran alongside of the lake. The first climb up to the top was about 100 ft.  A chain pulled the roller coaster up to the top with about a dozen cars attached together. Once it got to the top it was a free fall straight down. After that it was gut wrenching and twisting and turning tracks that ran right alongside of Lake Erie. It was about two minutes of unrelenting thrills.

The second coaster was called The Giant, not as high as the Comet but certainly a rush for a young kid who was afraid of heights. The other amusements were the Funhouse, Laugh in the Dark, Moon Rocket, Miniature Golf, Bumper Cars, and of course the Ferris Wheel. They had a Kiddies section with rides such as the Merry-Go-Round, miniature airplanes even a mini roller coaster, The Little Dipper that was about 10 feet high and a wide variety of other kiddie rides. The best of all though were the cinnamon and butterscotch suckers from Hall’s. Candies.

  1. On 19 July 2016, Ron West AKA R.A Said,

    A good read.
    My family worked at Atlas. From the initial South Plant through til near the closing. Obviously Atlas played a large part in our lives. Dad worked at Atlas then off to the navy, but my aunt Gladys took over as our family rep as a crane driver during the war.
    At one time on return from the navy, my dad was in charge of the Rec. Hall. Bowling, dances blood donor clinics and all. My mom ran the ‘Tuck Shop’ I set pins for a bit.
    When old enough, I started in the Roll Turn and then my brother to the Chem Lab. Another brother to the N.P finishing. My fiancee,later wife, to the North Plant Finishing.
    My brother in law in Finance. My nephew in the Strip Mill and my son in the South Plant Finishing. I wonder if any Welland family exceeded that list of family employment in one company.
    Atlas held the record for blood donors for quite a few years..
    I saw King Kong early in the days of the ‘Garlic Opera,’ Community Theater, still one of my favorite films. I remember an early color film at the Capital, Kipling’s ” Jungle Book’ with Sabu. Danny Kaye films were my particular joy. The East Side Kids and of course those serials like Flash Gordon. Films are still my ‘go to’ for entertainment other than writing.
    Welland had a Communist party affiliate back then, a politician by the name of Mel Doig.
    Doig campaigned as a candidate of the Labor-Progressive Party in Welland in the 1949 federal election, and subsequently in a 1950 federal by-election in the same riding.
    Tory MPP Ellis Morningstar was ‘the go to man’ in the day.
    Mayors have come and gone, theaters, Industry …gone. Salties through our city…gone and our hospital which we donated to by payroll deductions is threatened. The cell phone an indispensable body extension it now seems yet my first number was on a big black heavy phone for Ruth @ 38 R 6. a party line of course.
    Cars today are difficult for me to tell a part. We knew a Ford from a Nash, a Buick from a Hudson or an early McLaughlin-Buick. They were distinctive. The only thing constant as we age is change.

    Ron West

  2. On 20 July 2016, B Said,

    Great reminiscing. We love it. Adds so much to the enjoyment of Welland history, B

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