Welland: A Special Place to Call Home

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If you ask Naomie Cesar how she ended up in Welland, she will tell you it was because she ran out of money. If you ask her why she stayed in Welland, she will tell you it was because of the people. After leaving Haiti Naomie lived in Miami for 7 years.  In 2008, she left a warm Miami and was welcomed by frigid January temperatures when she arrived in Fort Erie. She had finally made it to Canada but she had only $50 dollars in her pocket.  No where near enough money to get to her intended destination, Montreal.  Just enough to get a ride to Welland.  Naomie will also tell you about all the people in Welland who helped her finish her education to finalize her residency requirements. She will tell you about Mary, her Welsh adoptive Mom, who continues to help Naomie strive for new dreams. Naomie can’t stop talking about what a special place Welland is.

Eventually Naomie was able to afford a trip to Montreal but it didn’t take her long to realize that it wasn’t the place she wanted to raise her children. A friend suggested she check out Toronto but by then there was no place like Welland in Naomie’s heart. It was home. The people of Welland had helped her when she needed help desperately and now it was her dream to give back to the community that had given so much to her.

DSCF9422In the past few years, Naomie has helped others who are new to Canada.  Besides being a RPN at the Niagara Falls hospital she volunteers with Niagara Victim Support Services. She also travels to people’s homes to give foot care.  That’s how she started providing  difficult to find hair products her clients are always looking for.  A dream to open a shop offering imported hair & beauty supplies as well as Caribbean foods started to form in her mind.  Welland’s Heritage Council provided training through their Women’s Entrepreneurship Development Programme that helps immigrant women reach their dreams.  That is how I met Naomie when the programme asked me to provide mentorship to her.  Although we serve different ethnic communities, our product lines present  the same challenge of finding and providing hard to source items people are seeking.  Like Naomie, we also started our business from the ground up.  It was a good fit immediately.

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I have been impressed with Naomie’s strong work ethic, her caring heart and her amazing courage.  We are fortunate to have her call Welland home.  Even more we are fortunate that she is helping to revitalize Downtown Welland and contributing to the wonderful diversity that makes Welland the special city it is.

Join her May 13 to celebrate the opening of her dream store:  CaribAfrican Specialty Shop.  You will find it near the Tribune offices at 234 East Main St.

TGF & new beginnings

To be honest I have always found exclamations of “Thank God it’s Friday” a bit flippant.  End of work week jubilation probably grates on the ears of those without the privilege of a regular job to go to.  Wellanders who have experienced their “last Friday” might long for the good old Fridays of the industrial era and their steady paychecks.

But like Fridays’ promise of weekend fun, the end of that era has also lead to promise of new beginnings. I would like to share some of the exciting developments past the tracks in Welland’s East End.

  • A realtor told me last week that there are more new developments and building permits are happening in Welland East than in the rest of Welland.
  • The downtown BIA development board jurisdiction ends at the East Main tracks. Businesses east of the tracks are so excited about the new developments and initiatives that they see happening downtown they are wanting to get organized. I recognize this as a new beginning because I have lived in this neighbourhood for over 25 years.
  • Niagara Regional Council has approved retaining the Provincial Offences Act Court in Welland. A new courthouse is in process for the old Empire Public School property. Welland’s historic courthouse on Cross Street brought growth and prosperity to Welland in its day. This new courthouse will help spread the revival we are experiencing downtown past the tracks to the old Atlas Steels neighbourhood.

A few weeks ago on Friday I helped survey Food Fest attendees about their impressions of Welland downtown. There were an overwhelming number of positive responses to what is going on downtown. People are noticing. The young people love coming downtown. They are not focused on what was and will be no more. They see the new beginnings; a new Welland.

Let’s take a moment to remember the end of an era and celebrate new beginnings:

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History within these walls.

IMG_1156If you are visiting Welland for the first time, you might note the rich cultural heritage of the city…particularly evident on Saturday mornings at the local farmers’ market at Market Square. IMG_1107IMG_1126A memorial just down from the market beside the canal pays tribute to the people who built the Welland Canal. It is fitting, therefore, that the world is coming to Welland for the 12th World Dragon Boat Racing Championships because the world lives in Welland. Here at the European Pantry we celebrate this rich heritage of cultures. We carry a wide variety of ethnic imports and are always looking to find those products that bring the taste of home into the kitchens of Welland. IMG_3209Apropos then that our store here at 30 Avenue Place is located in a building that also has a strong cultural history. Today we had an enjoyable visit from yet someone else who has a family connection to the building.  It was a pleasure to meet Josephine Davies nee Ort.  Several members of her family lived here about 65 years ago. She told us of her German immigrant family, the Orths who settled as farmers on Forks Road south of Welland. Two Ort(h) sisters, Anna and Louise, married  two local Templain brothers, also of German heritage.  When Louise’s husband died soon after the marriage, she moved into 30 Avenue place.  Her sister Anna settled across the street at 23 Avenue Place. After both Anna’s husband and Louise died, Anna moved into 30 Avenue Place with her daughter Marjorie. Josephine said that Anna and Louise were real city girls despite their farm upbringing. They used their exceptional seamstress skills to keep themselves dressed to the nines.  Louise worked at a fancy store just a block over in downtown Welland….so dressing well was important.

So the walls of our store which once watched the activities of both German and Hungarian families must smile now as the descendants of these immigrant groups SAM_2135come here to find the foods that connect them to their roots.  And our city, built by immigrants of so many cultures, smiles as we welcome the dragon boat racers of the world!

Jamestown, New York comes to visit.

IMG_4196Some more cyclists came by last weekend. This time from Jamestown, New York. Did you know that Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown?  I didn’t. She also is buried there and it is home to the Lucy Desi Museum and Center for Comedy.  This summer Jamestown hosted a Lucille Ball comedy festival.  So many interesting things to learn when people come by and visit the Pantry. And our visitors went home knowing a bit more about Welland. Plus they received one of our handcrafted souvenir  lunch bags.

The world will be coming to Welland next week for the International Dragon Boat Races. Take the opportunity to chat with someone and learn a bit about their part of the world!

Welcome Dragon Boat Racers of the World!

IMG_4193  The European Pantry is sending Three Thousand Welcomes to our Dragon Boat visitors coming to Welland AugustIMG_4190 19-23 to participate in the 12th World Dragon Boat Championships.

A warm welcome was tied into each of the little invites.  We hope your visit to Welland will be enjoyable.  We wish you all smooth waters and speed as you paddle your way to distinction!

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Please drop by our Pantry andIMG_4215 introduce yourselves so we can personally welcome you to Welland. We would love to hear where you are from!  On the back of each card you will find a coupon for some sweet savings and a map of our location. Come and explore our wide selection of cheeses and European imports!

Bike Trips

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We have had this towel for a long time.  I am not sure if it was a gift or if we “inherited” it from family. Friesche Elfsteden refers to a “tocht” which translates into English as a journey or trip. In this case it is a 235 kilometer journey through eleven cities in Friesland, The Netherlands. The “Elfsteden Tocht” can be completed by bike, car, ice skates or by boat. This morning my eye fell on the bicycle pictured on the towel.  It got me thinking about Niagara’s Circle Route. Visitors completing the route won’t be taking home a towel like this. Perhaps bottles of Niagara wine? What else can they bring home that will remind them of their trip years from now?

The Elfsteden Tocht has been challenging people for over 100 years. Our Niagara Circle Route is a babe in arms compared to that. However, we obviously are part of an old tradition. Let’s make our visitors welcome so they go home with many special memories and hopefully some of momentos made right here in Niagara.

Do you produce something special here in Niagara? This is a call out to you or anyone who can suggest products that visitors can take home with them. Message us and we will post as many as we can here!

For more about the Elfsteden tocht  click here