By Terry Hughes
Although age can dull the minds of us who are now considered senior citizens and then some, certain events stand out clearly as if it were yesterday. Our photo book, Walking Through Welland, Celebrating 150 Years offers a treasure trove of events that occurred both before my time as well as the seventy-six years that I have lived here. The early events of Welland’s past show East Main St. festooned with banners for the Fireman’s Celebration and the crowds that attended the Welland Fair at the old fairgrounds For me, however, the celebration of Welland’s one-hundredth birthday was the best.
The make-up of the various committees reflect the tremendous success of this event. Familiar names such as Cudney, Holcomb, Brown, Ector, Diffin and many others were part of the centennial committee. City council of the day were not only part of this planning but participated in many events such as the beard growing contest. The Centennial booklet reflects the wide range of activities for a week. No one nor group were excluded from this celebration.
Although politically, Welland and Crowland were separate entities, the people here forgot that fact and celebrated it as one. Some of the highlights included the daily firing of the bomb from on top of the Main St. Bridge, operating a midway at Central School grounds (next to Holy Trinity Church), daily variety shows at the arena, sports and games at Burgar Park, a number of street dances on Cross St. and the visitation of RCAF’s Golden Hawks flying Canadian-built F-86 Sabre Jets that flew 200mph faster that Canada’s Snow Birds. Having been hired as a part- time lifeguard at the Cross St. Pool, the staff were provided with old-fashioned bathing suits from Ross Store. Overall there wasn’t any day that there wasn’t something percolating somewhere in the city.
The most memorable event was the parade that in my view has never been eclipsed. But, let’s set the stage for that Saturday when the parade was to begin.
Weather for that week was perfect but by parade day it was nearly 90 degrees. To top it off there was a beer strike on but the local hotels had anticipated it and had truckloads of the suds parked nearby. (A case of beer on the black market was going for an inflated $16.00) As it turned out the parade was more than three hours long and featured bands such as the renowned Preston Scout House Trumpet Band. Housing for such a large influx of participants must have been quite a problem!
Main Street featured new fluorescent lighting and the street was resurfaced too. All the trees on downtown’s landscape were gone and every second pole featured a shield signifying our birthday. Not happy with making this event a local celebration, Mayor McCrae with some city officials visited all the major cities as well as Buffalo N.Y. using an old style carriage to announce the event. Years later, when talking to parade chair, Doug Brown, the issue of the bridge going up was not considered and will be addressed later. But the structure featured a new coat of silver paint in anticipation of the Seaway Authority take-over in 1959. The band roundel in Merritt Park had been replaced with a round fountain featuring a special lighting effect.
Permission was given by the city to close the fountain so we could view the parade. As the parade marched by local restaurants began to run out of pop due to the high temperatures. However, standing across the street from the Reeta Hotel, I saw that one twelve-year-old left the premises with an open bottle of beer.
And then there was the issue with the bridge. Canal authorities were not impressed with the city needing an uninterrupted parade using the bridge and as it worked out, the bridge had to be raised twice. The first time the bridge was raised, it was uneventful but the second time was an entirely different story. Unable to get people off the bridge in time the bridge master told everyone to hold on and he took everyone up. The ship passing under the span saluted accordingly.
Laurie Muise selected as the queen of the city rode with her three attendants in convertibles. And how can one forget the variety of culture groups dressed in their regalia and playing the music that added to the pipe and bugle sounds emanating from the parade.
Upon reflecting on this celebration, it might be thought as the end of an era and the beginning of a new city. The annexation of our communities lay in the near future and the promise of being part of the Seaway would start next year. “Salties” would replace the little canallers and steam engines had one more year to hold us up at the Main St. crossing. Remember the fog horn that alerted the fire fighters of an impending blaze?
A new city hall in a questionable location, the construction of the new hospital and a new addition to WHVS built to accommodate Wellanders and Crowlanders alike completes the story. Old structures like Central School and the city hall on King and Division St. would meet the wreckers ball and would soon be forgotten. A new post office and customs facility replaces the ornate structure that still beckons to us on King St.
And it would take this long for me as a senior to appreciate all that happened then as opposed to the seventeen-year-old sporting a suntan thanks to being a lifeguard while checking out the girls.
(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading.)