Welland Boys Reunion: Nostalgia, Camaraderie Rule

A view of King Street looking north. It was in the side streets and environs off King that neighbourhood culture was celebrated decades ago, and is enjoying a resurgence in current day. (All photos by Joe Barkovich)

A view of King Street looking north. It was in the side streets and environs off King that neighbourhood culture was celebrated decades ago, and is enjoying a resurgence in current day. (All photos by Joe Barkovich)

By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large

Do you remember the Bright Spot?

Chances are if you do, you hung around in or visited the King Street neighbourhood around Sixth Street, back in the 1950s and thereabouts.

And what about “Gumpy” Gojmerac’s place on Broadway?

The Bright Spot was a greasy spoon at the corner of King and Sixth. Gojmerac’s was an Esso station, grocery and confectionary on Broadway across from Clifford. All the kids in Welland South popped into that confectionary, it was a great neighbourhood hangout.

It’s stuff like this that re-surfaces at a popular, annual reunion of “old-timers”, their descendants and newcomers who find appeal in jawing about the past and listening to stories and memories about the way we were.

They will have that opportunity at the Welland Boys Reunion, Monday, Oct. 6 at Riverstone Event Centre.

Nostalgia and camaraderie are big with this crowd. Steve Krar knows that. He’s one of the pioneers of the reunion movement, one of the organizers of a group that was known as King Street Boys South.

Steve Krar as photographed at his 90th birthday in July 2014.

Steve Krar as photographed at his 90th birthday in July 2014.

“I’ve got a lot at stake in it,” Krar said when asked if he will be attending. “I want to see this carry on.”

He recently celebrated his 90th birthday. The former high school teacher and renowned textbook author considers neighbourhood nostalgia one of the “crown jewels” of Welland and Crowland culture and lore. He still attends meetings of the reunion organizing committee whenever he can.

“The Welland Boys Reunion keeps the spirit of the King Street Boys going,” he said. “It brings back the memories and brings out a lot of old friends. Some of the originals have gone, we lose some every year, so it’s up to their sons and grandsons and the like to step up and keep this going.”

Jim Larouche makes a point of attending the reunion each and every year.

“Just being there and experiencing it reminds me how my dad was heavily involved in sports,” he said. “I still have scrap books and clippings from the old Burgar Park days back in the ‘40s when announced attendance for a ball game was 4,000 or so. Unbelievable!”

Larouche showed memorabilia he displays on a wall in his office at F. E. Coyne Insurance on Division Street.

“It’s close to my heart that way,” he said. “I can count on hearing stories about this stuff when I meet various guys at the reunion. The old days always come up, you never tire of hearing about them.”

Tradition and history are important to a community’s lifeblood, Larouche believes. Welland and what used to be Crowland have so much of that: “You have neighbourhood groups like the King Street Boys and Joe Miller’s, you have cultural diversity with all the halls we had and schools we attended and friendships we made. Thinking about these things always brings a smile to my face.”

Don Murray says he hasn’t missed a reunion and looks forward “with great anticipation” to the one coming up.

“It’s the camaraderie and the good fellowship and the story sharing that bring me back year after year,” he said.

He will be 80 when the calendar opens to January 1, 2015 and has “a lot of good memories” from over the years, especially from 63 years as part of the local business community, retiring in December 2013.

“I just hope we can keep this going and keep bringing in new people to ensure that it carries on. I don’t know too many other communities that can brag about having something like this reunion year after year.”

Retired teacher and Welland historian Terry Hughes will be a guest speaker.

“There’s a lot of history in education and our schools,” he said. “I’ll be talking about schools in Welland and Crowland, focusing on the Depression era, war babies and post-war baby boom,” he said.

He has many memories from first-hand experience during some of those years.

“There were two school systems: Welland public and Crowland public” he said of the era. “I think we in Crowland got the better system. Welland was tight with their money, we had a lot more supplies and extras in the Crowland system,” Hughes said.

He attended Memorial School from Grade 1 through Grade 8, then went to Welland High and Vocational School.

“In our day, penmanship was very important. Grade 5 was an important time, that’s when you started using ink, that’s what those ink wells were for. Remember them?

I could go on, Hughes shared so much, but will leave the history lesson to the former history teacher.

I asked him, though, why the reunion is important: “I think it’s the cat’s meow. We’ve got to talk about the foundations of this community, what was it that brought us here, that kind of stuff. In so many ways, this event does that.”

Gary Talosi and brother Steve Talosi Jr., to whom the torch was passed by Krar and other pioneers, have come to regard the responsibility as something of a sacred trust.

“It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been,” Gary Talosi said in a brief interview. “Roots are important, so are the routes those who were here before us took in their lives, routes that helped many of us get to where we are today.”

About 180 people attended last year’s reunion and Talosi expects attendance could reach about 200 for the reunion coming up.

“There seems to be a lot of interest,” he said. “We must be doing something right.”

Fast Facts:

What: Welland Boys Reunion;

When: Monday, Oct.6;

Where: Riverstone Event Centre, 414 River Rd., Welland, 4 p.m. fellowship, 5 p.m. family-style dinner;

Tickets: $20 in advance , $25 at the door;

Outlets: Lifestyle Financial, 190 Division St., Sobey’s, Hwy. 20 Fonthill, HollisWealth, 99 Clarence, Port Colborne;

Additional information if needed: Steve Talosi, 905-732-1640.

VERBATIM: “Another reason we’re involved in this , our Dad (Steve Sr.) would be so proud. This is something he would have loved.” – Gary Talosi.

(A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ontario, Canada’s Rose City.)

© Joe Barkovich 2014

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