|St. Catharines Before New Year's|
St. Catharines, Ontario (Map)
With Essex County New Year's plans falling through in recent years, I decided to travel up to Toronto upon hearing about Ingram & Andy throwing a party.
It was also convenient that the Niagara Ice Dogs were playing on New Year's Eve; as I really wanted to see them play at their old, current arena.
For a place which was only a few hours away, it took me until the 20s to see New York State (it was something like state #24 for me). The first time was when I went to Buffalo to see the old Sabres auditorium, where I was intrigued by all of the new surroundings once we left the Niagara Falls route.
I would pass through this area when coming home for Christmas from Nova Scotia & then again, when going to Buffalo to see hockey with Rye.
Throughout all of these times, I've craned my neck at the interesting surroundings around places like St. Catharines, Thorold & Lewiston. I knew a little about the Welland Canal and the history of these areas, but with a lot of elevated highways & branching roads, the mind will wonder as to what is around, what can be explored and what infrastructure is disused.
I left Windsor in my rental car and moved expediently towards the St. Catharines area, only allowing one stop for Taco Bell in Dutton.
I had found a tunnel I wanted to see in person & set my sights for the slab of land marked above with a red asterisk. I would first find myself on the other side of the locks, north of Thorold Secondary School. I corrected this by going through the Thorold Tunnel (near the bottom), then immediately going north onto Davis Road. This felt like the American South by now, with thick vegetation and rundown, small industry along the low-lying road.
That part of Davis Road over the water is actually an abandoned bridge. Taking the eastern road over the water, I reached the other side of Davis Road for a hundred metres, until I found myself at some jersey barriers. I parked the car and appreciated all this strange, disused infrastructure as I walked north to the old Lakeview Cemetery (the grey square to the left of the (new) Lakeview Cemetery you see above.)
I eventually returned to Thorold Townline Road and ignored the controlled access trespassing signs as I went north. I would park at an abandoned diner on Glendale Ave, forced to walk down the Seaway Haulage Road, as the start of the road was gated.
General Motors St. Catharines Engine Plant is right next to the Seaway Haulage Road, not making me nervous, but at least excited about whether this was actually the road I wanted, or if it would simply lead to a General Motors security gate.
I had 2 kilometers of Seaway Haulage Road to walk, although I had no idea how long the road was at the time (outside of what I could see in my GPS & from what I'd gathered on the ground). The dirt and grass had a foot of snow, but the pavement was dry as a bone. A deck of 6 cardinals hopped about up ahead, until I reached their personal space and they flew behind me. The GM plant started to angle towards the road until there was an opening, where I continued walking right past & even wondered if the plant was even active.
I would then pass under a railway bridge, with stone walls beside me. I started to notice small dams and cement structures off to my left, but the vegetation and snow quickly returned me to the road when I tried to take a closer look.
I would continue on until the road started to look more serious, with guardrails and a view of the sizable Third Welland Canal pumphouse.
Up to the pumphouse, I looked down upon the locks of the abandoned Third Welland Canal.
This was all great - I was loving the free afternoon of first-time Welland exploring, but where was the tunnel I had been searching for? It isn't exactly the best kept secret & therefore, I thought it would be quite obvious (I inexplicably left my GPS in the car because of this assumption).
The day was starting towards the evening and I decided I should probably give up and leave myself time to get to my hockey game.
I dejectedly walked back to the car until I thankfully noticed "Tunnel ->" spraypainted on the guardrail to my left!
The slope down to the entryway was anything but shallow & of course, I didn't bring a change of clothes. I thought about where I could find replacement pants on New Year's Eve, while sliding sideways down the hill like a snowboard, but without the snowboard. The trees weren't big enough for comfort in being able to grab them, but I made a few ninja moves & stayed upright until the wet bottom.
The Merritton Tunnel was constructed in the 1880s in order to provide a more reliable way across the new Third Welland Canal, by passing under the water between lock 18 and 19. The train tunnel was used up until 1915, the year which the last train was pushed through. Afterwards it was periodically used by farmers and pedestrians, but judging by how desolate the surrounding area is today, that stopped a long time ago.
I walked to the other end, not realizing until later that you usually can't do that because of water levels/muck. Returning, I took my sweet time & appreciated the tunnel around me. Appreciating that the town never took the time to fill it in & the construction which was of such a skill that it remains in great shape to this day.
Back outside, I decided to go up the other side of the tunnel exterior, reasoning that it had to be easier. Wrong. Me in my fancy New Year's pants, really lost on this side, as it was even more slippery on account of the even steeper slope.
Thankfully I finally made it up to the road, amazed that I hadn't managed to fall in the late December soup.
By now, the sun was about to set & the game would start soon. I briefly stopped at a LC for a 40, judging St. Catharines on the people I met at an LC on New Years Eve. I didn't have much time to experience St. Catharines itself, but I found a few giant, modern buildings shoehorned amongst some old buildings with actual character.
Parking in front of an abandoned theatre, I walked a couple of blocks, noticing that at least most of the buildings were occupied and there were people downtown. With the way I walked to the Jack Gatecliff Arena, I started to find myself on the fringes of a highway system, but myself & the Ice Dogs fans scurried across the road & into the arena parking lot.
I had bought my ticket online a few weeks prior & judging by the number of people, that was a good decision. I noticed a sad couple at the ticket window being told that it was a sellout & that management wasn't sure what they could do for them.
I was here for Ontario Hockey League hockey as the Niagara Ice Dogs were taking on the Erie Otters.
This was a priority for me as the OHL is basically a mini-NHL with giant, sterile arenas; but Niagara has been stuck with the 1938 Jack Gatecliff Arena while they try and get their own little mini-HSBC or mini-Jobing.com arena built. This is why I like the QMJHL so much more, as they renovate or accept their old arenas (for the most part) and the viewing experience is more akin to what I like, versus what a CEO likes.
So even though this wasn't the QMJHL, I had to see this arena before she became a distant note in the history of OHL hockey in the Niagara region.
The sizable crowd attending the game added to the confusion as I passed in my ticket & realized I needed to walk up the stairs to my left. For this to be OHL hockey, it reminded me more of attending my cousin's games in places like the old Leamington Arena or some other forgotten rink of my youth.
The stairs would lead up to a concession area, with a very low roof adding to the claustrophobia, feeling more like a subway station than the cafeterias of modern rinks. From there, once I acquired a sausage, I passed through one of the doors into the actual rink, with a small concourse and a throng of people making you feel like you need to move.
And that's why I didn't end up getting all that many pictures I'm happy with. I loved the experience and was taking it all in, but the concourses are tiny & the arena was packed to the gills with fans.
It was hard to stop and take pictures, without feeling the pressure to keep moving so people could get to their seats.
A portrait of the queen, an item that should be a requirement in all good Canadian hockey arenas.
You'll notice that they don't have individual seats, but two man benches where you sit next to someone for the game. My partner was a dad bringing his children to the game. He was a large man, and I'm mostly uncomfortable, but the seats were perfectly fine. In fact, I don't even remember any discomfort on account of them.
Speaking of the fans, it's not hard for a sellout crowd to be loud, but this seemed to be a good sellout crowd of hockey fans, very excited and vocal in regards to their Ice Dogs.
They even gave poor Erie Otters left winger Stephen Harper the business throughout the game. Yelling things about how they don't like his tax reform & foreign policy, or how he stinks and he let down the economy of the Niagara region.
(There was a guy a couple of rows back throwing some really good ones at the shy-looking, 19-year-old Stephen Harper; but I can't remember them for the life of me.)
At least with the Stephen Harper thing, it gave me something to talk about at the New Years party.
Speaking of which, I rushed out of the arena and into Toronto. I was quite worried that I might get caught in traffic and miss one of my favourite holidays, but I found the quietest Toronto I've ever seen. I raced through empty streets and into a parking garage, getting to Ingram's place even before a few Toronto people had made it.
Even without the Ice Dogs, the hassle of renting a car was completely worth it to get up there and see old friends.
Lastly, as for the Jack Gatecliff Arena, they're already working on the new Meridian Centre (because of hometown Meridian Credit Union). Apparently they had started while I was there in December 2012 & they expect the arena to be complete for September 2014.
The Ice Dogs play again at the same time on New Years this year & I'm having a hard time finding a reason not to make this same trip.
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1 - Welland Canal - Wikipedia