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Year in review: Part 4

Looking back at January 2018, part 2

Niagara Guide needs your stories

Know any interesting people?

Mark Kawabe wants to hear about it.

A 20-year veteran of the computer industry, Kawabe showcased his Niagara Guide business at a Business After Five event held at the Biscotti Café on Front Street Wednesday night.

Specializing in social media, search engine optimization and related skills, Kawabe recalled how when he started, “We didn’t even have Google. Yahoo was the biggest” back then, he told a group of fellow members of the Greater Thorold Business Council (GTBC).

He began by hosting an online health directory, since he said “They didn’t have Yellow Pages online” at the time.

“Then I did B & B directories and started doing restaurants and wineries and cycling, and over the years, it turned into the Niagara Guide. It’s been going in one form or another since 1997.”

The Guide operates largely on a user-submitted basis, said Kawabe, and offers free event calendars, business listings and press release distribution.

The Toronto native said he “knew nothing about Niagara” when he moved here. “I started working in Fort Erie, which seemed like the end of the world.”

After settling in St. Catharines, he said he and his wife Andrea “came to our senses and bought a house in Thorold 20 years ago, and it’s been awesome. There are so many different stories of interesting people,” which he wants to feature in his Guide.

A board member of the Thorold BIA, he refers to himself as “an annoyingly curious person, and I like hearing interesting stories.”

Kawabe is inviting the public to nominate the most interesting people they know, and their stories will be highlighted on his website,

They may be categorized as the most interesting in the arts, business, or sports arenas, or simply be “interesting individuals,” he said. 

Two people shot, three arrested near Niagara Falls/Thorold border

NRPS 2 District Niagara Falls uniform patrol officers were at a hotel near Lundy's Lane and Kalar Road in Niagara Falls for an unrelated investigation on Jan. 28 when a member of the public alerted them to an ongoing robbery taking place in one of the rooms and a firearm was believed to be involved.

As officers were obtaining the information from the member of the public, they heard a gunshot. Officers moved towards the room, as numerous other NRPS units responded to the scene from around the city. Officers found two males suffering from serious gunshot wounds, and conducted a high-risk arrest of three persons from a hotel room, who were subsequently transported to the NRPS Central Prisoner Management Unit in Niagara Falls.

The two injured parties initially received treatment locally before being transported to an out of region hospital. Detectives from the 2 District Niagara Falls office of the NRPS continue to investigate this shooting incident.

As of 4:30 p.m. today, one of the victims has been discharged from the hospital. The other victim remains in an out of region hospital in serious condition.

Felicia Joan Marie Dion, age 26, of Sarnia is charged with the alleged offences of: Robbery with firearm, Aggravated assault, and Forcible confinement.

Oliver Jermaine Slowley, age 41, of St. Catharines is charged with the alleged offences of: Robbery with firearm, Aggravated assault, Forcible confinement, Use imitation firearm during the commission of an offence, and Possession of firearm contrary to prohibition order.

Shyheim Dejuans Slowley Bailey, age 23, of St. Catharines is charged with the alleged offences of: Attempt to commit murder using a prohibited firearm, Discharge firearm with intent to endanger life, Robbery with firearm, Possession of prohibited firearm, Careless use of firearm, Aggravated assault, Forcible confinement, Fail to comply with recognizance.

All three arrested parties will attend a bail hearing on Monday, January 29 at the Robert S. K. Welch Courthouse at 59 Church Street in St. Catharines.

Detectives are appealing to the public if they can provide any information as to the actions and whereabouts of the accused persons in the hours just before the shooting. Anyone with information is asked to contact the police at 905-688-4111, extension 9462.

A forum for Thorold citizens: Editorial

One of the top motivators to re-launching the Thorold News was to offer a forum to its citizens. The avenues for doing so have been severely eroded over recent years.
In our first online poll, asking Thorold citizens what should be our top concerns for 2018, student housing topped the list, outdistancing other concerns nearly two-to-one. It has gained a lot of media attention and has been the source of concern for Thorold council in recent years.

All university towns face the problems that arise when a large percentage of their population are temporary renters. Thorold is feeling the rapid growth of both Brock University and Niagara College and the associated need for more student housing. It’s not surprising this topped the polls as it is a significant increase in the city’s population and bound to impact all areas of city operations.

The next group of concern areas were a distant second but Regional governance, property taxes, public transportation, and the new arena were all ranked as nearly equal concerns to each other. 

Most respondents offered positive and constructive criticism, noting that Thorold is generally a great place to live.

Readers offered other areas of study including strict parking by law enforcement, proper bike lanes on Ormond Street and vigilant snow shoveling on rental property sidewalks.

Still others suggested stepping up efforts to attract investment through proper infrastructure maintenance, moderate tax increases and partnering with between municipalities and educational institutions. 

One argued it was time to eliminate the region and form one or two Niagara cities. Another feels that gender equality should be achieved at city council, citing the current complement of “all white men,” which doesn’t reflect the diversity of Thorold residents.

Some pointed to the local government tendency to gearing buses and bus schedules, as well as housing developments, toward students almost exclusively. They argued that transportation for all residents and increased housing for seniors should also be stepped up.

Other points raised included, the lack of championship banners in the arena, speeding on Richmond Street, curbing residential development, and preserving nature.

Thanks to those who took the time to make their voices heard. Watch for our next poll coming soon.

Legalizing pot 101

The Canadian government is just a few months away from fulfilling a campaign promise and legalizing marijuana (cannabis) for use by the general public. 
It is a huge shift in the way the drug has been viewed and handled in the past.  Few are aware of the monumental tasks that lie ahead in making such a major shift in policy, not to mention all the logistics that go along with it.

Niagara Centre MP Vance Badawey will be in Thorold this Friday afternoon to host a public information session at the Thorold Activities Group gymnasium, from 2 until 4 p.m. The meeting is designed to give the public much more information on all aspects of marijuana (pot) production, licensing, taxation, control, and distribution.

The move will see an infusion of tax dollars, similar to the distribution of alcohol, and reduce policing and prosecution costs. But it also raises myriad concerns from the public.

There are so many facets to the production and distribution of legalized marijuana that remain a mystery to most Canadians, it’s doubtful most have stopped to consider what a vast undertaking it is.

For example, a variety of cultivation licenses issued ranging from industrial hemp to micro-cultivating licenses for medical and non-medical uses are set to be issued.

A series of measures taken to prevent the sale of marijuana to youth and to guard against promotions aimed at youth are to be put in place.

There will be restrictions on the amounts possessed in public or grown at home. Strict penalties for misuse including driving while impaired, illegal sale or distribution, possession over the set limits, illegal transportation, or the sale of the drug to minors will be enforced.

There are rules set out for the legal possession and cultivation of pot by individuals covering amounts allowed, home-grow operations, purchase and consumption and medical uses.

The federal government will oversee cultivation and manufacturing while the provinces will govern distribution and retail sales.

The federal and provincial governments are both involved in taxation as well as responsibility for safeguard practices and enforcement. 

Add to the components already mentioned a vast array of rules and regulations being set out for each of them and the size of the undertaking can seem daunting.

Badawey will present the two-hour forum with the goal of explaining many of the processes and answering questions.

The Thorold Community Activities Group office is at 131 Richmond St. in Thorold.  

Southern Blues set to warm up Thorold

Hundreds of international blues acts apply to take part in Thorold’s annual Canal Bank Shuffle Blues Festival. 

Not all are accepted as artistic director Tim Sinnett has maintained a high level of musicianship in those who make the cut.

Then there are those artists who are sought after by Sinnett but are not always available when the festival rolls around. 

Florida-based Damon Fowler is one whom Sinnett would welcome.  “We’ve tried for a few years to get Fowler but our schedules didn’t connect,” he said. “A tour bringing him to Buffalo gave us the opportunity to bring him to Thorold for one night.”

Fowler is a member of one of the most demanded blues bands in America—Southern Hospitality. The band also features JP Soars, who has become a Thorold favourite, and famed keyboardist Victor Wainright. 

Sinnett noted, “All three are outstanding performers and there’s no doubt we’ll get Wainright someday as well.”

They often appear together but also have the rare distinction of being outstanding front men of their own bands, touring more often separately than together.
“We’re happy to have Damon coming to Thorold. He’s a tremendous artist and has played all the major festivals. This is his first trip to Thorold, but I doubt it will be his last,” said Sinnett. “He’s one of those guys new to Thorold audiences but like Studebaker John, who appeared here before Christmas, he’ll create a new base of fans before the performance is over.”

Landlords: new licensing bylaw costs inaccurate

The city’s contention that the new licensing by-law will cost landlords about $20.88 per month over two years “is very inaccurate,” said Maria Rekrut.

A local landlord and president of the Niagara Real Estate Investors Association, Reikrut said a group of landlords who own rental properties in Thorold “estimated on the high side” what each landlord will have to spend per property to meet standards set by the city’s newly passed residential licensing by-law.

“The $500 licensing fee is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Reikrut, adding that real estate investors “can't afford” all the other expenses outlined in the 47-page licensing guidelines.

Spread over two years, landlords estimated it would cost approximately $225.75 per month to implement, and Reikrut claimed tenants won’t be able to afford the rent increase landlords “will be forced to download in order to receive cash flow from their properties to pay their bills.”

In addition to the $500 licensing fee per rental property, a floor plan and site plan are required to be provided with an application for a license, with the nature of requirements for these plans dictating preparation by a professional, said landlords.

A floor plan, at approximately $1.25/sq ft. would cost $1,800, a site plan and driveway plan: $1500, a fire safety plan, including drawings and routes: $180, preparation of paperwork: $300, re-inspection, if necessary: $150, deficiency corrections as per license expectations: $500, and a corporate profile, which landlords said “most likely has to be obtained through a lawyer” would cost $50. 

Factoring in Electrical Safety Authority certificate fees at an estimated cost of $269 plus $169 for a required ESA sub-panel confirming compliance with the Electrical Safety code, Reikrut said it all adds up to a total cost of $5,418 per property, which, divided by 24 months is $225.75—“A far cry from the $20.88 per month that the city quoted us.”

The by-law requires inspection of the rental property upon receipt of a complete application. The city hired two full-time by-law officers to administer it. With approximately 1,200 rental properties requiring a license, and on the basis that one officer could reasonably perform three inspections per day, it would take 40 weeks for these officers to complete all inspections required, landlords claim.

Reikrut appeared at Thorold council meetings to voice her opposition, along with Arun Pathak, president of the Hamilton District Apartment Association.

“The problem in cities with universities and colleges who have introduced licensing is it’s an issue of student behavior,” said Pathak. ”The university has not taken control. They should’ve built more student residences. The pressure on the neighbouring areas would be a lot less.”

"Thorold has a lot of students but they also have a lot of non-students who are usually the ones with the low income.  Students can always go to a different city. It’s the poor people who are not students who are going to get hit by the rent increases and they don’t really have the opportunity of moving to another city.”

According to mortgage agent, Rob Parsons, “The application would have to be re-done every time the property turns over, so buying power is reduced 20 per cent.”

Maria Esposito, CEO of Elite Property Investments, analyzes properties for potential investors. 

“This is a really big problem because a lot of my investors come from the GTA and southern Ontario so they will have to take into account this extra cost and it won’t be feasible for them to come here,” she said. “If you are bringing multi-million dollar clients here, this is going to put a very big hold on the economy, because if they have approved it here in Thorold, what’s going to happen to other areas?” 

The city’s response to these comments will be presented in an upcoming article.

Fate of Thorold’s murals left hanging

A section of murals along the Welland Canal trail have been partially pried off the building and painted with “vulgarities,” which Coun. Tim Whalen wants removed.

The councillor made a motion at a recent council meeting that the city’s operations director work with the Thorold Murals committee to take down the murals that are on removable panels and store them “until they can be hopefully resurrected.”

Whelan, who is also liaison to the BIA, told the Thorold News, “We are trying to clean up the situation that has happened to the original works. I have asked (city) staff to work with the old committee to have the destroyed murals taken down so they will not get further vandalized. It is a shame as to what has happened to all the hard work that was put into them. Now we have graffiti defacing the artwork with vulgar and dirt that is making a major corridor into Thorold look bad.”
The original murals committee has disbanded, said city staff, and according to Coun. Fred Neale, “There was no forward funding to look after it.”

Neale’s uncle is one of the veterans portrayed on the mural.

“I agree it’s a mess, and it’s getting worse,” said Coun. Anthony Longo. 

“Now, we will have bare walls and a blank canvas for the graffiti artists. I believe they were respectful of the artwork for the longest time, until somebody started it. But this isn’t going to solve the vulgarities. It will probably ramp it up a bit more.”

Local Thorold artist Catharine Mellor, whose mural currently welcomes visitors to “our historic downtown” near the RBC on Front Street, has completed another mural, which focuses on cycling, and is currently in storage. 

Mellor said that Dale Robinson, chair of the former murals committee, e-mailed her in November, notifying her of the “interest on Thorold Council and in the Thorold BIA to refurbish the Thorold murals properly, as well as find a home for the ‘Home Hardware’ mural.”

According to Mellor, she and Robinson made a decision to hang the cycling mural on the former Home Hardware building on Front Street in 2013.

“It was designed specifically for that space. The mural wasn't completed till after the building was sold. By the time the mural was completed, the building, from what I understood at that time, was waiting for demolition paperwork to be completed. This location was initially chosen because it needed a (FACADELIFT) and we knew that it was unlikely to happen; we never foresaw the sale and demolition coming.”

Mellor added, “It is, and may be, the only 3-D iconic geological cycling map mural in the world. It has been in storage since 2014. In order to read the mural, you need to view it from the west side of Front Street looking east.”

“When the Home hardware building was sold, I sent a proposal to city hall requesting a space on the east wall of the arena. Another location request I made to L.A.C.A.C was over the east fence divide in the Battle of Beaverdams Park. Another possibility would be the east wall of the Book Depot across from the Foodland right front drive, on to Pine St.”

Susan Morin, tourism agent and former chair of the Welland Festival of Arts murals, said that groups aiming to promote local talent and engage the community have transformed other cities’ walls into huge public canvases and the results of their labour can have a lasting effect on local neighborhoods.

As chair of the Welland Murals for five years, she hosted a national mural symposium for Canada and met spokespeople from “mural cities,” like Chemainus in B.C. With a population of 4,000, like Thorold, the town has suffered the closure of pulp and paper mills. After visiting Chemainus, the owner of Welland’s Seaway Mall was inspired to start his mural project at the mall with two murals, before spreading throughout the city.

“I think a mural project in Thorold would complement the growth downtown,” she said, “but it would need a commitment from dedicated individuals as well as Council. It could focus on historical tourism and the Welland Canal. It would include input from the heritage and historical committee. Some people travel the world to see murals. I would love to see a proper mural project, but you need everyone’s support.”

She added many aspects to a mural project must be considered, including “A location that affords easy viewing with no restrictions, an ongoing maintenance program of the murals (cleaning, clear-coating), ongoing maintenance of the area around the murals such as the building itself, grass, obstructions, and contracts with building owners to allow these murals in perpetuity. This can be difficult when buildings are sold to another owner.”   

Gearing up for the 2018 race season

Merrittville Speedway has a long history of champions and heroes. The excitement, speed, roar of the cars and cheering crowds elevate local drivers to star status.

Few drivers were more honoured than Jeno Begolo. From 1958 through until the mid-70s, the hero of Thorold South was a track favourite along with a small group of peers whose track records matched their popularity among race fans.

His son Jimmy picked up the torch and raced for 25 years, but the family legacy is far from finished.

Jimmy's son Brent picked up the torch and has been carving a name for himself based on his own success and prowess on the track.

Last season, in his 10th year, the younger Begolo picked up the points championship in the Mod Lite division taking seven wins along the way. He finished second in the Sportsman Division taking three wins in that category. He also finished second in the King of the Crate series, an inter-track competition.


Cathy Pelletier

About the Author: Cathy Pelletier

Cathy Pelletier is an award-winning newspaper journalist/editor who writes for
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