Growing up in Niagara-on-the-Lake doesn’t exactly set you up for a great relationship with Welland. As a kid, what little I heard of the place came through the grapevine – a grapevine that was no more favourable to Welland in the nineties than it is today.
Thing is, there’s a commonly accepted way of talking about Welland. People do not speak kindly of this place, including – even especially – Wellanders. There are an annoying number of conversational memes I hear all the time, the most persistent being:
“Oh, you’re from Welland? I’m sorry.”
You know what? I’m sorry too.
I’m sorry more people haven’t driven down Edgar St. in the fall, when the canopy of trees overhanging this peaceful residential road starts morphing into a golden archway of yellow, orange and red.
I’m sorry more people have never been to Benedict’s on a Sunday, when the parking lot is so full you have to circle the lot four times before cramming your car into something that may or may not resemble a parking spot, knowing that a few meager scratches will be nothing compared to the cozy booths, hot coffee and familiar faces within.
I’m sorry for anyone who hasn’t enjoyed free hot apple cider at the Welland Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings, where seasonal, local produce is gloriously -affordable on any budget, where the chicken is freshly butchered and the conversation always lively and exciting and enjoyed over hot breakfast.
Most of all, I’m sorry it took me this long to wake up to the greatness of our city.
Welland isn’t perfect. I could wax on for a good while about all the empty storefronts on East Main St., the mammoth-sized brownfields that decorate the periphery, the disproportionate number of mega store pharmacies, including three Rexalls and two Shopper’s Drug Marts within easy biking distance of one another.
But that’s not what defines Welland. Not by a long shot. There’s more to this city then empty factories.
When my partner, Jay Kalryzian, and I printed our first “It’s All Welland Good” t-shirts last year, we could never have predicted the reaction. The city was hungry for a new cultural meme, one that would represent Welland in a way that inspires pride in those who live here. And didn’t they embrace It’s All Welland Good.
Since the fundraiser for Cordage Green (a sustainable community development project), we’ve been bombarded with information confirming the truth of this new meme. Almost daily Jay will discover something new, something impossibly underground and delicious that we can’t believe more people don’t know about.
Perhaps most exciting are the number of underutilized facilities with unlimited possibilities available in Welland, places it sometimes feels like hardly anyone knows about. Cases in point:
Chippewa Park Community Centre (pictured below): This pristine space – one that cost the city well over a million dollars to renovate – rents for just $28/hr. It’s equipped with a shiny new show kitchen, two fireplaces, lovely clean bathrooms upstairs and down, and cleaning is included in the rental price. (Hint: It’s also the site of Jay’s Welland Good Christmas Bash on Dec. 6.)
Renaissance Midwives: A participant at our Welland Good Workshop last month remarked to me what a great idea it would be to have a midwifery clinic in Welland. Heads up: We have one! People drive from all over to the region and further to visit this well-respected practice. As parents-to-be, it is by far our favourite place in the city. Beats the heck out of the doctor’s office.
*Note: While they may be little-known locally, they are in no way underused. They function at capacity all year long and have recently added a new team to keep up with the demand.
Phantom Gallery by the BLX: The art in the windows of the now decrepit and unassuming Sleep Factory on Niagara St. comes to Welland thanks to the efforts of the Black Lantern Experience. What most don’t know is that underneath lies a several-thousand square ft. warehouse space just waiting for a mission.
Rose City Kids Theatre: This sweet little 300-seat theatre is completely redone from top to bottom and used just a few times per month, though it’s available for event rentals. It’s also equipped with an $80,000 audio/video system, courtesy of the Trillium Foundation. Next door is a similarly redecorated RCK Leadership Cafe, a premium coffee shop-style space that the foundation uses for its tutoring program. (pictured right)
Upcoming projects we’re equally excited about:
Seaway Mall BLX Store: Opening on Black Friday, this store is the answer to the BLX’s hugely successful project The Hardway. (Props to Kevin, who spotted Jay on the street and somehow tracked me down on Twitter to get this whole “It’s all Welland good.” t-shirt thing rolling.)
Black Sheep Lounge: Call me crazy, but the image of a black sheep doesn’t exactly scream “community hub” to me, but nevertheless I’m excited about the idea of not having to go to Target for an espresso when the mood strikes.
The success of Niagara Sport & Social is a testament to what we can create when a great facility bumps into the right person. The old soccer dome was gathering dust after the city moved all activities to the new sports complex. Since Kerby Bentley came along and leased the space, it’s become the largest indoor volleyball complex in Ontario, exploding with players, who come as far as Hamilton to be there.
There’s way too much good going on in Welland for this “I’m sorry” business to continue a moment longer. There’s also a mass of people motivated to make it even better, the WellanDO-ers, and rather than waiting for the city to come to the rescue, perhaps what we really need is simply for the city to clear away the red tape, to provide easy avenues for people to launch their projects, open their cafés, or repurpose unused buildings, and realise their high hopes for their city in whatever way they can.
Let’s give the people something better to talk about when we talk about Welland, shall we?