Monthly Archives: November 2014

Remember When: The ‘Thump’ Test Helped Pick The Tree

Christmas trees spotted in a parking lot brought back memories. (Photo by Joe Barkovich)

Christmas trees spotted in a parking lot brought back memories. (Photo by Joe Barkovich)

By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large

The sighting earlier today of Christmas trees for sale in a parking lot brought back memories.

Decades ago, we bought our Christmas tree from a lot on Thorold Road near Lloyd Avenue. It was DiMartile’s, and just about everyone we knew got their trees there. Or so it seemed.

You couldn’t go without bumping into an across the street neighbour, down the street neighbour, across town friend, school buddy, and so on.

Now let me say this: There was ritual involved in this yearly tradition of choosing the tree.

First, everyone would eyeball the trees: Dad, Mom, my sister and me. There were just four of us.

When there was consensus, or pretty close to it, then came the litmus test. Dad – he was a big guy – would lift up the tree, give it two or three hard thumps on the ground so the boughs would fall out and the tree would be studied again.

The tree that measured up to everyone’s standard after the thump test would be the one we settled on. The thump test was crucial to determining whether the tree had balance.

Then came the work of gently stuffing it into the trunk just right so limbs would not be crushed or broken. Then came the five-minute drive home to Sharon Avenue where we lived at the time. Yes, five minutes. We didn’t have to look far and wide for our tree.

We bought Douglas firs, rarely Scotch pines. They came from the DiMartile family’s Christmas tree farm, that’s what everyone said.

We decorated with icicles of course, and something rarely seen nowadays – something called “Angel’s Hair”. I can see it in my mind’s eye even though it has been long, very, very long since I last saw Angel’s Hair on a tree. There were also all sorts of bulbs, lights and one particularly memorable type of tubular-shaped light: it had bubbles moving around in a liquid contained within. They never stopped. Of course, there was always a Nativity set underneath the tree.

Going to DiMartile’s to buy our tree took place in early December. As I recall, it was mostly a weekend adventure so that everyone could take part.

I could be wrong, but I don’t recall the trees on DiMartile’s lot being fenced in. Maybe they didn’t need to be a few decades ago: five, tiptoeing closer to six. Remember when?

(A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown Welland, Ontario, Canada’s Rose City. Remember When is a new feature on the blog.)

My View: Empty Chairs Need Bodies

Welland committees, boards have chairs to be filled.

Welland committees, boards have chairs to be filled.

By Joe Barkovich Scribbler-at-large

Interesting to see the public notice in Thursday’s newspaper in which the City of Welland extends the deadline for applications to various boards and committees.

Is the city having difficulty recruiting “qualified citizens” to fill the seats on these public bodies?

Oh, before going further, these boards and committees should be listed:

Accessibility Advisory Committee;

Arts and Culture Advisory Committee;

Committee of Adjustment and Committee of Revision;

Heritage Welland;

Market Square Advisory Committee;

Senior Citizens Advisory Committee;

Town and Gown Committee;

Transit Advisory Committee;

Welland Arenas Advisory Committee;

Welland Community Wellness Complex Advisory Committee;

Welland Development Commission;

Welland Public Library Board.

This public notice appeared Nov. 27 on the city’s Civic Corner page. If my memory is correct, it is the same notice that appeared Nov. 20 (and prior), when the deadline for applications was listed as Nov. 21. The notice that appeared Nov. 27 extends the deadline for applying to on or before 4:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 12. That’s 2 weeks and a day – a lengthy extension.

The notice provides info about the number of appointees on the various boards and committees. Welland Public Library Board, for example, has 8 citizen appointees, the Town and Gown Committee has 4 (3 residents-at-large, one of which must be a resident in the direct area of the Niagara College campus and a landlord rep from an approved housing facility in the city), Heritage Welland, 5 and Arts and Culture, 6. As you can tell from this sampling, the numbers vary.

These are important positions. In almost all cases, the term of office is four years – the same as council’s. I believe the only exception is the Town and Gown committee, where the term is two years: Dec. 1, 2014 to Nov. 30, 2016.

What’s happening? I see three scenarios:

Are people reluctant to apply because of the duration of the term? Four years represents a major time commitment, even if, say, a committee or board meets only monthly;

Is reluctance to come forward a reflection of volunteer burnout in Welland – are too few people doing too much of the volunteer work that’s required in a community and, in the process, becoming tired of, and from, it?;

Or is this another sign of anemic interest on the part of the community in municipal affairs? Welland had 37,926 registered voters for the recent municipal election with a total of 13,568 cards cast, representing a dismal voter turnout of 35.8%. If so few people are interested in doing their democratic duty and voting on election day – should it be surprising that it’s difficult to get people to come forward and apply for these positions on committees and boards?

Should we be concerned by the slow response and the need for extending the deadline to apply? I think so. While there is no shortage of redneck commenting on newspaper websites by anonymous armchair critics who purportedly have answers to anything and everything, there appears to be a reluctance by people to become actively involved as responsible citizens in the community. How sad is that.

I know and understand that some people have commitments already, even to the point of being “in over their heads” as the saying goes. But there are probably others who could afford the time commitment but choose not to make it – apathy is a powerful force! I think that diminishes us as a community, because there are many, many good candidates “out there”. The challenge is in convincing them to become involved. Like it or not, that’s My View.

(A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in Welland, Ontario, Canada’s Rose City. My View is a recurring feature on the blog.)

We’re Not Taking Care Of Each Other, Columnist Laments

Columnist Joe Fiorito  was guest speaker Monday evening at St. Kevin parish, Welland. (Photos by Joe Barkovich)

Columnist Joe Fiorito was guest speaker Monday evening at St. Kevin parish, Welland. (Photos by Joe Barkovich)

By Wayne Campbell and Joe Barkovich, Scribblers-at-large

Toronto Star columnist Joe Fiorito in observations and readings drew a grim sketch of Canadian society today.

DSC_0643 (2)This year’s guest at  Monday evening’s St. Kevin’s Distinguished Speaker address said we are developing into a society in which we are not taking care of each other.

He gave examples of politicians, social workers, and social housing operators turning their backs on those in most need of help.

In his column, Fiorito writes about social problems and triumphs in Toronto.

Too often it is the former rather than the latter, he said. The popular column appears in The Star’s Monday, Wednesday and Friday editions.

He would like to stop writing about the misery and start writing about a revolution.

Something is wrong when governments are not really motivated to help “the lowest of the low,” he said.

He told the story about an elderly man evicted from his apartment who died after sleeping under the porch of his building for a week.

DSC_0645 (2)No one thought to ask him why he was sleeping there, said Fiorito.

The inquest into his death brought down 85 recommendations in what was called “death by bureaucracy.”

It basically told social workers, housing officials and other government workers “to do your damn job,” he said.

A major problem today is that governments are afraid to collect taxes.

“By saving money in the short term they are causing incredible misery.”

This in turn leads to increasing costs in policing, health care, and other major expenditures to deal with the outcome.

DSC_0653 (2)“Who says we live in a world of scarcity?” he asked about the typical political response.

Fiorito said the work done by churches “should be the icing on the cake for society, unfortunately the cake is disappearing.”

More and more social services are falling on the shoulders of churches and other charities.

“Food banks were supposed to be a temporary measure now they have become an institution.”

(An unforgettable headline is one that appeared in The Star, June 30, 2003, about how food banks moved from a short-term to long-term measure: “How a snack became an endless meal”).

Fiorito said Canada is moving toward an American model where the reliance for care is on private charities. Those in need must come to them as supplicants rather than as deserving citizens.

Despite the gloom Fiorito sees solutions.

“We have to call our politicians to account,” he said.

“They have to be led, cajoled and kicked in the butt.”

DSC_0655 (2)At the same time, organizations that want change have got to get together.

“Churches now do it individually, not collectively,” he said. “Do you realize what your collective power would be?”

To the audience of about 80, Fiorito suggested starting a community newspaper as a worthwhile project to tackle community issues. But it should not be as an organ of the church, he said.

Throughout the evening, the columnist stressed the need for each person to take responsibility for the society they want to live in.

“Take pride in your contribution and don’t let it be whittled away.”

To those in despair of acting, he said “we are all in this together, there is no use sitting around doing nothing.” ‘We’re All In This Together’ was the theme of his address.

Later in the evening, Fiorito said those promoting social justice and a caring society “should not just make moral arguments but also make economic arguments.”

If you have less poverty and more people working, you have more contributing to economic health of the society, he said.

The money spent on training, housing and other programs to get them out of poverty are paid back many times over.

Fiorito declined the honoriam for being guest speaker, choosing to donate it to St. Kevin Food Bank.

 (Wayne Campbell and Joe Barkovich are long-time journalists and also parishioners at St. Kevin Church, Welland, where Distinguished Speaker Night is held annually. The next is on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015.)

My View: Don’t Let This One Go To Waste!

The insert that's a keeper! (Photo by Joe Barkovich)

The insert that’s a keeper! (Photo by Joe Barkovich)

By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large.

I’m not one for trash talk.

But hey, something caught my eye today and I can’t let it go without dumping praise on it.

It’s the insert that came tucked inside today’s local newspaper. The insert is Greenscene, published by Niagara Region.

It’s the Winter 2014 edition. What a gift this is for this time of year.

What an eye grabber! Page 1 has all sorts of useful info: Holiday Curbside Collection Changes; Extra Holiday Garbage guidelines; Christmas Tree Collection guidelines and a visually-pleasing Recycle Right – Holiday Guide.

It’s not my bedtime reading of choice, but I can’t wait to get between the sheets to look through it a second time. This eight-pager has everything you need to know, should know and want to know about recycling, “Poly” and “Greycie”, various initiatives in the region, such as programs for seniors and caregivers, a handy dandy infrastructure construction update, a feature on the new look of signalized intersections and more. This is a “must read” for its timely info pertaining to the upcoming holidays and for general info that comes in handy on an as needed basis. Well done, staff at Niagara Region!

Garbage gurus, this insert is definitely a keeper – until the next one comes out. Don’t let this guide go to waste, that would be a shame. Sort it from the rest of those inserts in the newspaper and keep it close by for future reference, you’ll be glad you did. That’s My View, and I won’t be separated from it.

(A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown, Welland, Ontario, Canada’s Rose City. My View is a recurring feature on the blog.)

My View: Farewells Made Good Television

By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at- large

There was some darn good television to watch Tuesday evening.

No, I’m not referring to the repeat episode of that steamy new series, The Affair.

I am referring to the last meeting of 2010-14 Welland City Council, covered on the local cable channel and in particular, the farewell remarks of those moving on, whether it be back to private life or other elected government.

Michael Belcastro (All photos by Joe Barkovich)

Michael Belcastro (All photos by Joe Barkovich)

Those farewells were made by Michael Belcastro (did not seek re-election in Ward 3), Paul Grenier (elected to a Welland seat on Niagara Regional Council), Dan Fortier (did not seek re-election to regional council) Bob Wright (defeated in re-election bid for Ward 6) and Barry Sharpe (defeated in re-election bid for Welland mayor).

Saying goodbye is difficult to do, regardless of the circumstances. While we do not always see eye-to-eye with our politicians, it’s moments like these that are so-called common denominator moments. No political soap box speeches here. No grandstanding. We see the persona for what it is in real life.

Michael Belcastro did not seek re-election because of work commitments but he remains passionate about Welland. He was effusive in his praise for city staff, thankful for their support and co-operation in the short-time he was back on council (appointed in 2013 to fill a vacancy), enabling him to better serve constituents. He offered to continue being of assistances as needed.

Bob Wright

Bob Wright

Bob Wright congratulated Jim Larouche, who was re-elected in Ward 6 and Bonnie Fokkens, who was elected to the ward’s other seat. Wright said he tried his best over the past four years but for him it didn’t work out. It’s time to move on he said, because “that’s politics.” A gentle man showing the true gentleman that he is.

Paul Grenier

Paul Grenier

It was, at times, an emotional farewell for council veteran Paul Grenier who is moving up to regional council. Grenier thanked his Ward 3 constituents who supported him over the years and also those from across the city who supported his bid for the regional seat in the Oct. 27 election. Leaving Welland council chambers is emotional for Grenier who choked up at times during his remarks. The new council’s meeting Dec. 2 in chambers will be the first he will not be part of, a lengthy string of 400-plus consecutive meetings over his career. He congratulated the incoming Ward 3 councillors, John Chiocchio and John Mastroianni and pledged assistance if needed: “I’m only a phone call away.”

Dan Fortier

Dan Fortier

Also emotional was Dan Fortier, who did not seek re-election because of a move to New Brunswick, to where he is returning after a lengthy absence. His son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter are there and many other family members. Fortier said he will miss serving Welland taxpayers as a regional councillor (he was appointed in 2013 by city council to fill the seat held by Peter Kormos). He was a Ward 4 councillor from 1997-2006, then was re-elected in 2010 in Ward 3. He said his career is not ended by the forthcoming move, “I have lots on my plate”.

Barry Sharpe

Barry Sharpe

Barry Sharpe presided at his last meeting as Welland mayor. He said he is proud of what council, staff and community stakeholders were able to accomplish in the past four years, whether it was major projects like the Youngs Sportsplex, other infrastructure projects, procedural bylaw changes, economic development and strategic planning, and more. “We have set and met a higher standard” over the four years of working together, he said.

The farewells were interesting and at times, moving, to watch. One of my takeaways was that it’s not always necessary to see eye-to-eye in order to walk arm-in-arm when it comes to getting things done. These were parting comments from the heart. That’s My View.

(A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown Welland, Ontario, Canada’s Rose City. My View is a recurring feature on the blog.)