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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.)

[PHOTOS:  Click HERE]

FIFTEEN MILE CREEK

Without stretching the truth beyond a reasonable doubt, I will confess to giving my late canoe partner, Mr. Anonymous, a moderately close near death experience. Truthfully, it was not premeditated; whatever he claimed. Please judge for yourself.

Several years ago there was a secluded parking area, and still may be, on Glass Road just off Gregory Road that had a perfect access site for putting your canoe on the creek. Pointing our bow straight ahead, we travelled through a sea of cattails and marsh area with plenty of opportunity for spotting frogs, turtles and herons at rest. Much of the landscape around the creek was farmland; however, there were many spots to rest for an afternoon picnic without fear of trespassing. On this hour-long paddle, we passed through two tunnels before brought to a halt by a barricade of tree trunks lying across the creek, making further travel impossible. Undaunted by mere obstacles, we pulled ashore and portaged for approximately 25 feet before setting Persnickety, my little red sidekick, safely back in the water. We had a pleasurable short run before arriving at the point of contention that put our canoeing partnership at risk. Rather than portage, I felt we could safely navigate the canoe through a narrow alcove between the logs near the shore. Gravitating toward land, I suddenly decided a pit stop was in order and leaped from the canoe for a moment. Looking over my shoulder, I saw my partner hanging onto a tree branch with the canoe rocking and rolling at a 45-degree angle. Where is my camera when I need it! Attempting to face the situation with a sympathetic approach, I soon saw the dark humour of it all and fell to the ground gasping for air. As Mr. Anonymous put forth great effort to hang on, Persnickety showed very little patience with the situation and tried to heave him into the cool, if somewhat muddy waters of Fifteen Mile Creek. It was a fight to the finish, but pitted against a seventy-five pound fibreglass frame, Mr. Anonymous came out the winner. I climbed into the canoe and we quietly headed back. Another happy ending to our canoe travels.

Reminded of the times..

[Submitted -by- B, March 14, 2014]

Reading the comment by Jeanette LaRose on her “magical” days on the farm in Wellandport, I was reminded of the times spent canoeing this stretch of the Welland River. Once a thriving shipping community, the little village that now stands on the edge of the river is a picturesque rural town untouched by modern commerce. The surrounding agricultural landscape makes for a delightful visit.

At the time we accessed the river by the Community Centre on Canborough Road where there was a large parking and picnic area. Even at the height of the boating season, there was ample room for safely leaving your vehicle. I imagine this has not changed.

Cows grazing freely on the tree-lined banks and laundry dancing merrily on the clothes lines greeted us as we paddled along the river. Toward town, the remnants of an old bridge remained; one of the few mementos of an earlier time. Passing through the village, we continued into a more isolated area of the river that travels on for miles. Yes it was magical. – B

WINTER BLIZZARD OF ‘77

© Harold Fox

Pictured here are six photographs taken at Lake Erie during the snow blizzard that paralyzed much of the area. Erno Rossi wrote the classic book “White Death-The Blizzard of ‘77” which covers the spectacular events of that winter.

It was a four day storm. People went to work on Friday January 28, by late morning the snow began to fall. High winds by the afternoon had visibility at zero. It was not until Monday night did the storm loosen its’ grip. It had paralyzed much of south Niagara..
Many vehicles were left abandoned on the roads, hampering clean up operations. The storm stranded about one hundred and thirty people at Niagara schools, Fort Erie, Wainfleet and Port Colborne.. About one hundred people were stranded at the Seaway Mall in Welland. Hotels and motels were filled as well.
There were twenty and thirty foot drifts along Lakeshore road in Port Colborne. C-HOW radio broadcast emergency operations providing assistance and information. The Lincoln and Welland Regiment helped in Welland and Port Colborne .Private citizens with snowmobiles helped police and fire rescue.

Many people opened up their homes giving food and shelter to strangers. Many people were stranded in vehicles buried in the snow.

Farmers in the area suffered due to running out of food for animals. Unable to get milk to the dairy, they had to dump the milk at a high cost. Turkeys died, heavy snow caused roofs to collapse.

The cost of the storm was believed to be around three hundred million.

The Blizzard of 1977 carved a place in our history books.

Did you have a personal experience in this blizzard, if so we would appreciate any comments you wish to make.

Reference: Welland Evening Tribune Thurs Feb. 10, 1977

CRYSTAL BEACH AMUSEMENT PARK

© HAROLD FOX

Crystal Beach Amusement Park ceased operations at the end of the summer season 1989, its rides dismantled or demolished. Today the area it once occupied is a gated community closed to the public.

(1888-1989)

THE SILENT OLD MILL

by Winston E. Ralph

Bancroft, Ontario

15 November 2012

The Old Mill on the Humber River

Every so often we go out and drive around
to see if we can find some old ghost town
People don’t realize there isn’t a few
and most times looking we find more than two
We enjoy seeing old buildings wherever we go
even though some are rickety that you know
Some are used as before or are now a home
while others aren’t recognized in a bush all alone
Its sad to see old buildings with character disappearing
as no one for new buildings will ever be cheering
On Nov 7 we drove down a road called Grist Mill
and found one there at the bottom of a hill
I don’t know its age but its been there for years
to see it in poor shape filled my eyes with tears
We can see the farmers there many years ago
pulling up with their wagons and hollering Whoa
The wagons were full of grain from farms near and far
drawn by horses as no farmer owned a truck or car
As the creek was dammed the pond gave the power
to turn the stone grinding grain into wheat flour
The grain was put in the hopper falling under the stone
while the farmers waited with sacks to take the flour home
As they waited the farmers talked and heard whats new
since they were always home with plenty to do
The farmers were happy taking flour to the wife
where she was happy with less work and some strife
Each mill was always busy in the fall every year
grinding grain with the stones and squeaking gears
The mills are all closed now the wheat is sent away
and for a poorer quality flour a very high price we pay

You’re old like me when..

by R.A West.

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Remember reader if you please, these are not researched recollections. Add your corrections or own experiences at will.

Also having been written on and off over 3+ years somethings are not now timely as written.
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You’re old like me when:
You remember the three movie theater locations in Welland.The opening of the ‘Park theater’ I think a Tarzan movie the ‘Community Theater’ on South Main..aka King st.” I saw the original King Kong there. I think it has been a flower shop of late. Or, older yet when you remember when there was only  one, the Capitol theater. I was told my Grandpa Banks did some of the plaster work in there. You may recall the rather ornate ceilings/walls.

When the swimming pools down Cross street to the canal were built,one being an old dock and slip closed off at the pier. The other the wading pool for beginners. Many of the ‘older’ kids swam at the pier in the canal.

When there was a Crowland township around part of Welland part way down main east and part way up King, and no Q.E. to Fort Erie. No arena either. No nothing really. We did our own thing  playing on home made ball fields and outdoor rinks.

The original Canadian Tire on East Main? It was next to the Temple club, across from the former legion site where dad was once president. He was President of the Humane society once as well, and, organized one of the Rose Parades.

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