BARKOVICH: Welland’s ’40s and ’50s tales live on
John Peters, Nick Petrachenko and Tommy Bell prep for the Welland Boys Reunion taking place Monday, Oct. 24. The annual get-together is “something special” to Welland, Petrachenko says. (Joe Barkovich/Special to Postmedia Network)
A Saturday morning coffee klatch at the Blue Star on King Street provided grounds for sharing memories and memorabilia.
Tommy Bell, who is 87 but looks a generation younger, talked hockey as played in the 1940s and 1950s in Welland and Crowland. John Peters, 75, talked about life on King Street in its heyday decades ago. He also brought to life a popular hangout, Boys Town on Church Street. Nick Petrachenko of the Welland Boys Reunion committee drank it all in, their storytelling getting the better of the cup of joe resting near grinning Nick’s hand.
It was kind of a warm-up for the annual Welland Boys Reunion coming up Monday, Oct. 24. Nostalgia runs thick at this get together, which celebrates neighbourhood culture and camaraderie. Roots go back decades. Think of it as a gathering of oldtimers and their descendants: guys from King Street ’hoods, the ‘wartime housing,’ Welland South and others.
Bell grew up on Crowland Avenue and went to Empire School, recently demolished to make way for a new court facility. He lived on Crowland to his mid-teens when the family moved to Foss Road, Fonthill, and also lived in Port Colborne for a time.
“But I still call Welland my home,” he said.
He worked 43 years at the Union Carbide plant, 1947 to 1990.
“It’s another place that’s gone, but not forgotten,” he said.
Bell is remembered for his on-ice talent with several local teams, but has another claim to fame — coaching the team at Memorial School. With his guidance it won the Welland-Crowland junior championship in 1948 and two seasons later the senior title.
Peters grew up around Roosevelt Avenue in the “east wartime houses.”
“It was mixed, but mainly it was French-speaking people. They were all good people.”
He has lived in the same house, 143 State St. for 53 years. When he worked at GM in St. Catharines, he had a hankering to move there but ties that bind kept him on State. His wife had many family members there — “about a dozen or so” — and he couldn’t bring himself to move away from family.
Peters collects photo memorabilia. At one point he left the interview to drive home and retrieve a folder flush with old black and whites.
“There are a lot of stories in here,” he said proudly. “But it would take me long to share them with you boys.”
One showed a group of guys at a storefront on King Street near The Rex, taken in 1938. I jotted down some of the names, names still well known around town: Frenchetti, Lingo, DiLeo, LaRose, D’Amico and others.
“King Street was a hanging out place,” he said.
Another was Boys Town, on Church Street, in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Peters was one of the youngsters who frequented Boys Town, which offered camaraderie, games, boxing, basketball, checkers, floor hockey, making model airplanes and more.
“Do kids still play checkers?” Peters wondered aloud.
A photo from that day shows two young pugilists, identified as Spec Yari and Stan Unyi, squaring off in the boxing ring.
“You have to give credit to Bob Napper Sr. for keeping it going,” Peters said.
He enjoys the reunions because he likes meeting people, old friends especially.
“It’s what life is all about, people,” he said.
Tommy Bell agreed: “You get to meet old guys you don’t see very often.”
Petrachenko said the nostalgia celebration is “something special” to Welland and he is proud that it is.
He added: “It gives you a recharge just to see all of these guys together and it makes the next day even more bright.”
Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. The venue this year is Croatian National Home. There will be a family-style dinner, guest speaker Terry Hughes, a trivia contest, memorabilia displays and socializing. Fellowship starts at 4, dinner is at 5.
Tickets are available at: Lifestyle Wealth, 190 Division St., Welland; Sobeys, Highway 20, Fonthill; and Lifestyle Wealth, 99 Clarence St., Port Colborne. For more information if needed, call Steve Talosi 905-732-1640.
— Lifelong Welland resident Joe Barkovich has spent much of that time watching people. He continues to be amazed seeing the best, and at times the not so best in us, but that’s life. Get a glimpse of how Joe sees our part of the world in his weekly column. He can be reached at email@example.com.