When they say ‘you can’t go home again,’ I always think they’re talking about Chernobyl. I can certainly return to the place of my childhood and will do just that this Sunday for the first-ever Dain City Reunion.
From the age of two until I took off for university I lived in quirky little hamlet halfway between a drive-in theatre and the Welland Canal. Lost in the middle of John Deere, Mud Lake, Ramey’s Bend and Bethel, this place might as well have been the midway between the moon and New York City.
The names changed over the years, Airline Junction became Welland Junction, Dain Manufacturing became John Deere, SS No. 4 became Bridgeview School. One day Sunnyside Dairy pulled the plug on their milking machines and put the horses out to pasture. One night I went to bed in a house at 53 Ontario Street and woke up in the morning at 53 Forks Road East. Nothing had moved except the dog who ran away from home in protest.
Welland amalgamated the village in the 50’s and changed the name to Welland Junction and now they refer to it as Ward 6 but memories are too long and pride too strong and it will always be known as Dain City.
I spent all eight years of my grade school education at SS No. 4. There was no pressure to win because every school sports team I played on was greeted with chants of: “We’re Number 4!” “We’re Number 4!”
The commercial centre of town included Ort’s convenience store and Frank Mihalyi’s soda shop/gas station. We hung out at Mihalyi’s store. Sid Hilton would sit at the end stool slurping Coke through a straw he crushed because it make the drink last longer. Frank sold cigarettes to kids for two cents each. Deed’s Place, a tiny pub and diner occupy that property today. Evans General Store was also the post office and the Walmart of its day.
It seemed The Dain City Hotel, on the canal next to the railway bridge, had always been there. Once a stagecoach inn, where the horses were bedded in the basement, The Dain City House over the years was a brothel and illegal betting shop. I delivered the Saturday newspaper to both of the bookies – they were by far the best tippers. From public house to a private residence, “The Dainer” is now an abandoned building with a couple of chip wagons in the parking lot.
I lived next door to one of the bookies that operated out of The Dainer. My mother was amazed the house was always filled with new fridges and stoves. Turns out it was the Leons the furniture boys. They gambled a lot. They lost a lot. They paid off in appliances.
Just down my street and over the tracks was the Welland Drive-In, the hub of summer activity. Walking to the concession stand in the dark, you had to be careful not to trip over a speaker chord or a brassiere. Kids today have sex education classes. Malcolm Hilton and me, we had binoculars and the Welland Drive-In.
Towering 230 feet (70 metres) over the Welland Canal, the lift bridges were our midway rides; the last kid to let go and plunge into the blue water below as the bridge rose slowly skyward, won. The last kid still holding on for dear life, but chickened out of jumping had to stay up there until the boat went under and the bridge came down. He lost.
I went fishing with Jimmy Creighton at John’s Lake, which was really just a big pond. I brought fishing tackle; he brought dynamite. Suddenly, there was an explosion and a lot of fish swimming upside down, but nothing for me to catch.
I went duck hunting only once, with Allan Creighton at nearby Mud Lake. I shot him in the leg. We were both quite surprised. To this day, I thank Allan – for not returning fire. That could have gotten ugly in a hurry.
I smoked my first cigarette with Malcolm Hilton out in the bush near the construction site of Dain City’s new subdivision. I coughed and spit my way through a long, unfiltered Viceroy cigarette Malcolm had nicked from his older brother. On my way home, I vomited green bile on my desert boots. That was my last cigarette.
In 1958, we began to get our news from CHOW-Radio, which went on the air at its newly built studio on Forks Road West. Before that, we relied solely on Alex Hilton. She had a watchful eye and a party line. If you did a bad thing, first your Mom and then the world would hear about it.
Among all those little settlements that sprung up in the first half of the 1900s, Dain City has won the war of attrition. I was a bat boy on a Dain City softball team that played against Perry Station, White Pigeon, Cooks Mills and Netherby. None of those villages exist today.
I’m amazed at the number of kids who never left, stayed to raise their own kids in this quiet, safe setting. Occasionally, I take a slow drive through the village. Little has changed. The school is now an apartment building and two of three stores are still operating. Then Allan Creighton spots me and starts running like hell toward Buffalo, New York.
Dain City – a tough but vibrant village that survived the test and ravages of time. The reunion is long overdue.
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