A private members’ bill proclaiming Oct. 13 each year as Major Gen. Sir Isaac Brock day received all party support in the Ontario Legislature in early March.
The bill, which was the idea of Progressive Conservative Steve Clark, MPP for Leeds-Grenville, was co-sponsored by Niagara Falls Liberal MPP Kim Craitor and Cindy Forster, NDP MPP for Welland.
“I’m so proud that my bill was a success and I particularly want to thank my co-sponsors, MPPs Kim Craitor (Niagara Falls) and Cindy Forster (Welland),” Clark said in a statement after the historic vote, which allowed second and third reading of the bill to proceed together.
“I can think of no better way to honour the immense contributions of Major-General Brock to our province and our country than by celebrating a day in his honour, especially in this, the bicentennial year of the War of 1812.”
Brock was born on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, in 1769.
He joined the British army at the age of 15. Rising through the ranks, he saw service on the Continent, in Holland, before being sent to Canada in 1802, where he spent a decade preparing the defences of Upper and Lower Canada against an seemingly inevitable war with the fledgling republic to the south.
When war with United States did come, Brock’s troops in Upper Canada were badly outnumbered.
Still, he managed a virtually bloodless victory over the American’s at Detroit before he was killed on Oct. 13, 1812 leading his troops at the Battle of Queenston Heights.
Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. blamed a “significant” slump in American patronage in recent years for the ultimate demise of its slot facilities along the Ontario border with New York and Michigan.
Meanwhile, Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin, still reeling from the announcement that the Slots at Fort Erie Race Track will be shuttered permanently on April 30, 2012, accused the OLG and the government of hoisting a white flag and retreating in the face of competition from U.S. gaming parlours.
“They gave up on (the border) long ago,” said Martin.
“We see it in Niagara Falls, we see it through the (Niagara) Parks Commission, we see it at the slots, we see it at the casino in Niagara Falls as well.
“The government didn’t really have any sort of plan, marketing idea or clue how to try to bring back our American friends to enjoy what we have here… they made absolutely no effort to woo those people back again.”
Martin made his comments following a closed door meeting with senior OLG officials at Town Hall. It was during that meeting that OLG officially delivered the bad news to the mayor and Jim Thibert, chief executive officer of the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium, the not-for-profit group that operates the Fort Erie Race Track.
After the meeting, a grim faced Larry Flynn, OLG’s senior vice-president of gaming, faced reporters in a media scrum and tried to explain the rationale for the closure decision.
“It was a very difficult day standing in front of over 200 employees and informing them we will be closing (Slots at Fort Erie Race Track) on April 30,” said Flynn.
“It’s probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.”
Flynn said OLG’s strategy for modernizing gaming and the decision to close slot facilities in Fort Erie, Windsor and Sarnia, was far from a snap decision.
OLG has spent the last 20 months reviewing its land-based gaming operations and how best to move forward in the face of competition from both the U.S. and online gambling.
In the final analysis, some major changes were unavoidable, he said, specifically noting the decline in American patronage in facilities in border communities.
“The border towns in Ontario were one of our biggest financial gains when gaming was first introduced, and they delivered over $800 million in profit at one point in time,” Flynn told reporters.
Niagara Falls Liberal MPP Kim Craitor did exactly what was widely expected in early March, announcing Casino Niagara will stay open despite a contrary recommendation from the government’s cost-cutting czar Don Drummond the previous month.
Craitor made the announcement during a press conference at the casino, the future of which has been up in the air for weeks following the release of the Drummond Commission report and a previous announcement that Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. plans to close or consolidate underperforming properties.
Just a week earlier, OLG announced Slots at the Fort Erie Race Track and similar facilities at horse-racing tracks in Windsor and Sarnia would close permanently on April 30, 2012.
A panel led by Drummond, a former TD Bank economist who was charged with finding was to trim the province’s $16-billion-a-year deficit, recommended closing one of two casinos in Niagara Falls.
Craitor said from day one, before Casino Niagara opened in December 1996, it was regarded as being an economic driver for the city.
“People invested in this town when the casino came here,” Craitor said. “The hotels, the attractions. It created economic development.”
The economy claimed another business in Niagara in March 2012.
Fine Kettle’O’Fish, a popular eatery in Niagara Falls which began operating in 1984, shut its doors.
Diners found a letter taped to the locked front door advising them of the restaurant’s status.
It read”: “To our valued customers. Due to the poor state of the economy, we are unable to continue operation of this restaurant any further. We appreciate your patronage.”
The 28-year-old business located at 3641 Portage Road is owned by Robert Milinkovich, who took it over in 2011.
Jeff Wallis never had the opportunity to meet his great-grandmother Catherine Jane Wallis. She was one of more than 1,500 people who lost their lives aboard the RMS Titanic almost 100 years ago.
Now as the anniversary of the tragic accident so often depicted in movies and popular culture approaches, Jeff and his younger brother Tim are taking part in a “Titanic Memorial Cruise” to honour her memory.
Jeff, a Niagara Falls native, will fly with his brother, who lives in Waterloo, to England on April 6 before departing Southampton, England just as the Titanic did for a 12 night cruise, retracing the ill-fated liner’s path towards New York.
“My brother calls it ‘completing her journey,’” says Jeff, “and that’s very well put, because you tend to think about the tragedy and not the fact these people were on a trip that was interrupted.”
Their great-grandmother was aboard the ship working as a matron, or nurse, to support her three young children as her husband had drown just eight months earlier. Part of the tragedy of Wallis’s story is the fact that she was one of the lucky ones to have made it to a lifeboat, of which there were infamously too few, only to realize she had forgotten her passport and paperwork. She left to retrieve them, and never made it back to safety.
On April 15, the day the Titanic struck an iceberg about 600 kilometres off the coast of Newfoundland, the passengers aboard the cruise will hold a memorial as they pass the site of the sunken ship below them.
Tim Wallis, whose birthday is April 15, says that as much as they’re taking the cruise to honour their great-grandmother, they’ll also be remembering the life of their aunt Joan, who died, coincidentally, on April 15, 2006. Joan spearheaded the DNA testing for Titanic victims movement, to help the families of victims identify their loved ones.
Tim said after his aunt died he was given a silver trinket that belonged to her, which he had made into a silver cross with both Joan and Catherine’s name on it.
“On the 15th, during the memorial, I think my brother and I will just slip away quietly, maybe say a few words and let it fall to where we believe our great-grandmother rests.”
It was an exciting day for the city of St. Catharines on day in early April as ground was officially broken for the new Performing Arts Centre on the 4.5-acre site located downtown at Carlisle and St. Paul streets.
The centre is part of a joint academic and cultural arts project between the city and Brock University, which will see its Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts relocate to the former Canada Hair Cloth Building.
Its $60-million price tag was jointly funded by the Government of Canada, the Province of Ontario and the City of St. Catharines, and on hand for its construction launch was a crowd that included MPP Jim Bradley, MP Rick Dykstra and Mayor Brian McMullan.
Executive Director of the new Centre Steve Solski says that with today’s groundbreaking the 30-month construction period officially begins that will help revitalize the downtown core and so much more.
“This is an amazing day as we break ground for this milestone building in downtown St. Catharines. This is a building that we are not only building for today but for decades to come. This really is going to be the centre of creativity for the region and we’re looking forward to the different art forms from groups that will be using this centre and I truly think it is going to be an amazing thing for St. Catharines and the region.”
Dykstra commented on the significance of the funding from various government levels.
“We did a little research on this project and the only other facility in this country that received anywhere near this kind of funding from both the provincial and federal governments was the Opera House in Toronto and the last time I checked our population was 135,000 and theirs was 1.2 million.”
Bradley called the day one that would have a major impact on downtown St. Catharines adding that “what we are seeing now from government are some unprecedented investments in this area.”
Bradley says it will act as a catalyst for the downtown and usher in further public and private investment.
Another city of Niagara Falls manager left his post in late April.
The city’s chief building official, John Castrilli, is no longer employed by the municipality.
Bullet News learned of Castrilli’s sudden departure through sources.
Ken Todd, the city’s chief administrative officer, confirmed the news, but was reluctant to say much about the circumstances.
Typically, said Todd, the city does not talk about personnel issues publicly.
“John has resigned and decided to take retirement,” Todd said Friday afternoon.
Todd said an internal and external recruitment process to fill the vacancy will begin immediately, but it could take a several months before a replacement is hired.
Castrilli worked as a building inspector with the city before taking a job as Fort Erie’s chief building official. He returned to Niagara Falls as chief building offical and has served in that capacity for about a decade, said Todd.
Castrilli earned $105,624.83 in 2011, according to the so-called “Sunshine List” of people earning more than $100,000 published each March in keeping with the provisions of the Ontario Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act.
Castrilli could not be reached for comment.
The city had seen a number of changes at the managerial level in recent weeks.
In late March 2012, two recreation department managers – Steve Hamilton, the manager of recreational services, and arena supervisor Kevin Carr – were handed their walking papers.
Hamilton and Carr were casualties of a management shakeup at city hall in the wake of a staff report outlining issues involving the first year of operation at the Gale Centre area complex, including a $600,000 cost overrun.
The city budgeted $2 million for yearly expenses, but was hit with higher than expected expenses and revenues that did not live up to expectations.
Afterward, the city announced it planned to hire two new supervisors to help get a handle on expenses, and had promoted Rob McDonald, who works in the city’s recreation and culture department, to manager of community relations and customer service. He will be in charge of marketing and promotions at the Gale Centre in addition to his current role.
Acting recreation and culture director Kathy Moldenhauer was asked to take a more hands-on approach with the Gale Centre to get a handle on some of the problems.