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MEMORIES OF WELLAND by E.R. YATSCOFF

[August, 2017]

I was born in the Welland Hospital and have two sisters, Elaine and Brenda, and a brother Fred. We lived on Deere St. with our parents Lorraine (from Saskatchewan) and Andrew (born in Detroit). Andrew worked at the Page Hersey as a welder for almost 40 years. My grandfather George lived on Harriet street after his rum-running days were over in Windsor/Detroit area. My father’s sister, Rose, told me about the gypsies which used to pass through Welland occasionally. When she got up early on the farm, just west of Eastdale high, to do her chores, now and then off things would occur. The eggs were gone and the cows had already been milked. She said the neighbors also had the same problem. Then someone spotted a gypsy encampment outside  of town. The men got on their horses and rousted the camp, running the gypsies far out of town. My father’s brother, George, owned the grocery store next to the Tastee Freez on Ontario Road. They moved away to Stratford.

I learned to swim at the Memorial Park pool and then moved on to the old canal and the rock quarries and beaches around Port Colborne. I remember almost drowning at Nickel Beach and also the big flour mill fire out near the Pt Colborne pier

My elementary school was the now non-existent St Peter and Paul school. Some nuns could be very strict and mean but there was a piano in every room and they taught us to sing every day. We also used to clean the school yard of litter a few times a year. The school boundaries would change often so I went to Centennial Secondary, Eastdale, Welland High School and a stint at Niagara College.

As teens, my pals and I  would chase girls down at Long Beach and Niagara Falls. The drinking age in Ontario was 21 so we’d all pile in cars and go ‘over the river’ to Buffalo. where the age was 18. Bars there were a lot of fun, much looser than the uptight Ontario. I worked at Dominion and A&P stores in Welland, Niagara Falls and Dunnville.

I left town for traveling in 1973, returning in 1975 for a few months and worked at Stelco in Hamilton before leaving again for good.

In my middle grade books on Welland, I string together real characters and incidents Wellanders can enjoy too. The stories bring back memories and their kids seem to be interested in what life was like back then, too.

THE GREEN SCHOOL – ORIGINALLY IN THOROLD TOWNSHIP

by PHYLLIS HILL

13 September 1989

The Green School was built in 1921 as a temporary school at the corner of Thorold Road and Willson Road on railway property.

Due to the heavy industrialization of Welland, the Brick School on Fitch Street also known as the Red School or Stop 20 School had become overcrowded.

The Green School served Grades 1 to 4 and the Brick School became the Senior School for Grades 5 to 8.

The one-roomed Green School was simple furnished with a piano, desks and benches, blackboards, the teacher’s desk, a potbellied stove, boys and girls cloak rooms and out back two seater outhouses. The warm days the teacher taught lessons in the shade of a nearby orchard. This school was in use until 1948 when a new school was built-namely J.C. Bald.

The Green School was used by the Anglican Church for Bible classes as early as the 1920s’ and occasionally throughout the years. On February 16th, 1947, the first session of St. David’s Church School began in the little Green Schoolhouse.

This school later became a Community Centre and at that time St. David’s Church began holding more regular services which led to the building of St. David’s Church. The school was later moved to Fitch Street in 1953 and became a private residence.

All that remains are fond childhood memories and grateful parishioners at St. David’s Anglican Church.

JOHN ROBERT BRADLEY

My first years were spent in Northern Ontario, so I grew up with an affinity for Nature and the wonders of what lay hidden in the woods. I appreciated it even more after a move to Niagara Falls and the beginning of school life. There I found my favourite subject was always art. As a young boy, growing up the eldest in a family of six I entertained myself and others with cartoons and caricatures of friends and family, creating my own storyboards and comic “strips”. As a teen, I learned to draw the figure by copying my comic book heroes and when I got to High School I was able to benefit from some skilled teachers. There, I was encourages to experiment with various media including the newly introduced acrylic medium. I was able to try landscapes for the first time. It took me back to my days in the North and the way I saw the wonderful world of Nature.

A life in retail after high school took me away from my art although my creativity never wavered. It was always there, just inside waiting for a chance to come out on a permanent basis. It was after a spiritually transforming experience in the spring of 1998 that I was given the chance to return to school to study art….so being in Toronto at the time I was accepted into the Fine Arts program at the Ontario College of Art and Design. At O.C.A.D., I benefited from the attentions of some of Canada’s most accomplished artists and the tremendous talents of fellow students.  I took courses elsewhere when I could, and was particularly interested in the art derived from dreams and the aboriginal art in Canada and elsewhere in the world. A very special and close friend had a cottage and it was there that I felt the call to pick up the brush of landscapes once again. It was a joy to my heart that had been missing for many years. I also learned to honour the teachings I was receiving in my dreams which came each night in full colour and remained fixed in my mind until I had carefully sketched the details and recorded the colours I was seeing.

After graduating with honours with a diploma in fine arts and a major in drawing and painting I did a few shows but a return to the world of retail again cut into my creativity. I did manage to develop and teach a course in dreams and symbology at the Ottawa School of Art in the fall of 2004 and that convinced me to pursue that at some time in the future. Painting and teaching have finally become a passion and I have structured my working life around that instead of the other way around. This has led to much satisfaction in myself as an artist and teacher, and also as a person. I look forward very much too where Spirit will now take me on this journey.

John does commissions and would happily consider your request to reproduce a special building for you.

Contact # for John is jrbradley1953@hotmail.ca


Crashing Weddings

by Al Garner

When I was a teenager (17-18 years old) growing up in Welland in the mid to late 1950’s, one of the social events that helped pass the time was occasionally crashing weddings on Saturday nights at one the many ethnic halls in the city. For example there was the Hungarian Hall, Italian Hall, Polish Hall and the Ukrainian Hall.

Our modus operandi was as follows. We’d check out the Welland Tribune newspaper to see what was going on at a particular hall on the upcoming Saturday night. We’d dress up in our best clothes either a suit or sports jacket, white shirt and tie and of course shined dress shoes. We’d hit the hall of choice after the wedding guests had eaten their dinner, usually about 8:30pm-9:00pm. By that time everyone was well oiled from the booze and food and no one would pay attention to us. We’d saunter in usually one or two at time. We’d work our way up to the bar, order free drinks, usually beer or rye whiskey and munch on the food that was left over from dinner. At the Hungarian Hall, which was my favorite, there would always be paprika chicken or cabbage rolls and perogies to chow down on.

We’d hang out at the wedding for a couple of hours, have a few drinks, dance the polka or chardosh with the good looking girls, get half pissed and then jump in our cars and head over to Niagara Falls, New York and go drinking and dancing until the bars closed at 4am.

Now keep in mind this didn’t happen every Saturday night but when we got bored or were low on money, which for me was most of the time, it was a fun way to get free drinks and have a good time.

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.

Family Farm

Everyone has a special memory of their childhood and looking back over the years this is perhaps one of the nicest. An only child I was taken to visit my father’s family in Stevensville every Sunday and share in picnics, family gatherings and outings with the odd assortment of relatives who lived in the area. Because it was a weekly event, I sometimes resented the routine of my parents, but now I wish I could have one day with the Fox family eating scrumptious food prepared by my grandmother and listening to their stories. One of the best remembrances was the flavor of my grandmother’s icing that donned every cake. Made from farm fresh cream it is a taste one never forgets. Picnics were held on the farm under a shady tree and I can still see the grouping of people laughing and carrying on.

My father was raised on House Road, Stevensville, by his grandparents, and it was not an easy time. They had little money and he was often left to take care of himself, which he did quite successfully. The old house had a barn, circa 1860, that the Fuch family built on arrival to the area. I did not appreciate my roots until it was too late to record the stories which is often a sad fact of our past.

Last year I had the barn painted by my dear friend John Robert Bradley and it is part of a legacy to be passed on to my children. Taken from a photograph, the likeness is uncanny and a tribute to the artist. I wish to share John’s work with you and to see the value of preserving these images in whatever way we can.

POINT ABINO LIGHTHOUSE

[Submitted by B, November 2014]

On my bucket list is a night sleeping in a lighthouse. The late Mr. Anonymous and I had spent many happy hours visiting these marvelous old structures, many now gone or in disrepair, and one of the finest we explored from a distance was Point Abino. One can not spend the night there, but tours are now arranged to see the lighthouse up close. I hope to take advantage of this opportunity next summer.

The lighthouse is situated on a small plot of land owned by the Town of Fort Erie, but as Americans in gated communities own the surrounding landscape, it was impossible at the time to access this piece of history. We simply had to get closer, so we put the canoe in the water and paddled our way to Utopia. As long as we didn’t venture onto private land and stayed on Lake Erie, we were fine. Mr. Anonymous, bless his heart, could paddle at the speed of light if need be, but without a doubt it was a calm, pleasant journey. I have always thought of my canoe as a miniature yacht, so despite a few furrowed brows from the seamen on larger watercraft, we fit right in.

Some of these aged lighthouses have been recorded as being haunted, such as Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island, the oldest existing lighthouse on the Great Lakes. I have visited it several times, and thoroughly enjoy the mysterious story surrounding the famed lighthouse keeper, John Paul Radelmüller, who was murdered in 1815. Many a wondrous tale could all light keepers report of their lonely existence and challenging labor. They are truly to be respected.

A SAD ENDING

[Submitted by B, October 2014]

I love travelling by water with its mesmerizing pull and constant changing voice. I have had the chance to spend time on many of Ontario’s ferries and always find the ride exhilarating. My late father occasionally spoke about his journeys from Crystal Beach to Buffalo on The Canadiana. It was during his youthful years when he would travel to the big city to admire the sights and attend the live shows. Beer was cheap and the ticket return was 50 cents. I have no recollection of his mentioning having danced the night away to the music of the big bands on board the ferry or promenading on the hardwood deck, but being extremely reserved, he most likely just quietly enjoyed the short trip across the lake. Living with his family on a farm in Stevensville, this was probably a great Saturday night adventure for a young man. When the Canadiana was sent to Ramey’s Bend for dismantling, we took the opportunity to say good-bye.

The Canadiana, launched in 1910, carried commuters who worked in Buffalo and patrons of the amusement park, Crystal Beach, Ontario across the Niagara River. Towed to Ramey’s Bend in Port Colborne, the ferry met its fate at the end of April 2004 when it was cut up for scrap due to a lack of funds for its restoration.

For anyone wanting to investigate the Fort Erie Greater area more fully, plan to visit the Fort Erie Museum at www.museum.forterie.ca

They have a great seating area, hundreds of archival files and a wonderful staff to assist you in answering any questions you might have.

Special Photographs by our Special Featured Author, Joe Barkovich

[--All photographs are copyright Joe Barkovich 2014]

Main Street Bridge Under Renovation 2014

Pathway Along The Old Canal, Looking North

Along the Old Canal Looking in Direction of the Main Street Bridge

Canal-side Amphitheatre

Demolition in Progress

[RELATED LINK: Reporter - Joe Barkovich]

Reporter: Joe Barkovich

By Joe Barkovich

Just call me a “hometown boy”. Having lived here, Welland that is, for six decades and then some, I think I’ve earned the appellation.

I love this place. I know it like the palm of my hand. I discovered alleys and avenues, side streets and main drags when I was kid, driving my Huffy balloon tire bike around town from sunrise to sundown, especially in the summer holidays.

We lived in a tight-knit part of town back then, the early -50s to the mid-60s.It was the King Street neighbourhood, especially the part from Fourth Street to Sixth Street, although some might include Seventh Street even though it was on the other side of the railway tracks.

We had three neighbourhood mom and pop grocery stores in the space of two blocks: Spitali and Sons (later Silenzi’s), John Husnik’s store and Ideal Meat Market. Old man Gronski’s shoe store was between Husnik’s and Ideal Meat Market, which was a neighbour to Mr. Hannah’s Rexall Drug Store. Then there was Doc Singer’s office and Morrison’s department store at the corner of Sixth.

I can’t forget Pete Santone’s barber shop – where you could sit for hours listening to stories about Welland and Crowland Township politics, as well as other news, rumours and gossip. But the gem of the neighbourhood, at least in my books, was Joe Miller’s sporting goods and variety store. We bought our penny candy there, as well as sunflower seeds – everybody, more or less, chewed sunflower seeds back then and our pop – do you remember a brand named Evangeline, and of course Orange Crush, which came in brown, “ribbed” bottles as I used to call them.

This was a blue-collar part of Welland, big time. Folks worked at places like Plymouth Cordage, a rope maker, Electro Metals (later Union Carbide), Wabasso, better known as the “cotton mill” and of course the Page Hersey plant, a pipe maker, to name a few. Other big employers were Atlas Steels and John Deere. All are gone now.

I said it was a tight-knit neighbourhood because it was. It was ethnic (largely Croatian, Polish and Italian), francophone families and overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. Everyone knew everyone else. On Halloween nights, when it was chilly or downright cold, you could expect to be invited into one baba or another’s kitchen for a bowl of homemade cabbage soup – just to warm you up! What a touch of class that was.

Way back then, we lived with my maternal grandparents but made the move to the west side of Welland when I was in my mid to late teens. I never wanted to leave Welland, and so I didn’t. I had two jobs in my lifetime – one in the financial services industry and the other – the love of my life – at the local newspaper. Started there in the spring of 1969 and left in the fall of 2012.

I witnessed many big events in Welland’s life story over those years – like in December, 1972 when a crowd estimated at about 25,000 jammed the city’s downtown to watch the ceremonial closing of the Main Street bridge; because a bypass section of canal was built, lakers and salties no longer would move through the city’s downtown and the Main Street bridge, a vertical lift bridge, would no longer go up and down to let them pass through. That was “progress”, it was said, but “progress” cost us dearly. A part of Welland was lost forever after 1972.

But the bridge is still with us, and it has become contentious. A paint job and infrastructure project is currently under way, having started in the spring and scheduled for completion in early fall. All that time, the bridge is closed and out of service to vehicular traffic and pedestrians. The consequences on Welland’s downtown are ongoing and will of course be subject to evaluation as the project goes on.

But there is also so much good happening here. We have the International Flatwater Centre, where some of the Pan American Games water sport competition will be held next year, joining rowing, canoeing, kayaking events and races that are held here regularly. We have the Illuminaqua concert series, musical events held at the canal-side amphitheatre near the Main Street bridge – a fantastic venue, one that other communities would just love to have. My hometown also celebrates ethnic and cultural diversity, holds an annual Rose Festival and is home to the “peninsula’s tastiest party”, the Niagara Food Festival. That’s just a small, small sampling of life in this hometown boy’s community.

My hometown never ceases to amaze me. Discoveries are still to be made daily, all one needs to do is roam and wander. My balloon tire bike is long gone of course, but there are other ways of getting around and about. The kid who rode it is a fading memory, but it doesn’t mean his spirit, thirst for adventure and discovery are no more. I will always be a “hometown boy” and am proud of it.

(Joe Barkovich, a Welland native, was a long-time reporter and city editor at The Tribune. His hobbies include growing roses (the City of Welland rose is Welland’s official flower), blogging (http://fromareportersnotebook.wordpress.com/) and volunteering with various community organizations.)

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