Dain City won’t be Port Robinson, says Pietz
New bridge ‘a must,’ says former Welland mayor
A bridge problem in Dain City isn’t anything new for a former Welland mayor, Allan Pietz.
He recalled “a neighbour lady” taking him across the canal in a small boat to attend a Christmas concert. He guessed it was the late 1920s, because he was born in 1925 and he was still a little kid at the time, not yet going to school. He was probably four or five.
Perplexed, I asked why they hadn’t used the bridge.
“The bridge was knocked out. A boat hit it.”
This was the third Welland Canal, he said. The bridge was in the same spot as the current and beleaguered Forks Road bridge, built during construction of the fourth Welland Canal.
Pietz is effervescent as ever, eager to dredge up memories for anyone interested in listening, media included. He lives in a memorabilia-filled ground-floor suite at Seasons First Avenue. Ninety-three and for the most part fit, he still flashes the same killer smile he did decades ago, when he was Welland mayor for seven two-year terms, 1965-78.
He was a “Dain City boy” until a few years ago when he moved here after the death of his wife, Alice, in 2014. The Pietz family, headed by his father, patriarch Paul, was such a fixture in Dain City a standing joke had Pietz “mayor of Pietz-burgh” before making it here in the bigs, eventually becoming a one-term member of Parliament, 1984-88.
He basks in the afterglow of a life in public service kept front and centre in clippings, signs and photographs on walls of his living room.
Why, he beamed, he has three photos of himself with three Canadian prime ministers: one with Dief the Chief, John Diefenbaker from 1962 when Pietz was a candidate in the federal election; a second with Brian Mulroney in 1984, taken at Pietz’s swearing-in ceremony as new MP for Welland; and one with Stephen Harper, taken just before he was defeated in 2015.
“Everyone was telling me he was defeated because he came to see me,” Pietz said, the killer smile absent from his visage.
But it was the bridge I wanted to cross with him, even if just in memory. As expected, memories abound.
“I was there when the Fourth Welland Canal was officially opened,” Pietz said turning back the clock to 1932. He didn’t recall the date — it was Aug. 6 — but he did remember gathering with other kids at S.S. No. 4 (Dain City) school and waiting for the graincarrier Lemoyne to arrive.
“We were waving Union Jack flags, every one of us had Union Jack flags and we were waving them. The bridge looked grand.”
Before that occasion, he recalls the bridge under construction.
“I remember seeing it laid out on the banks, it was orange, I think, but when it went up it was black. The colour surprised me.”
The patriarchal home was on a side road (now Pietz Road) two miles west of Dain City.
“I had to cross the bridge to get to school and sometime the boats would come and made me late. They would ask why other kids made it across in time and I didn’t. I started out later, I guess.”
He and Alice built their home on Forks Road little more than a stone’s throw from Forks Road bridge. They lived there 60½ years, he said. It was like a neighbour.
There were many good times. They got to know the bridge tenders. When company visited and there were barbecues in the yard, a tasty treat for the bridge tender was fare for passage aloft in the bridge tender’s cabin to watch ships pass under raised span.
“I loved looking down on the smokestacks of boats going by below.”
Pietz said the importance of this bridge to the small but intensely loyal Dain City community can’t be taken for granted.
“It’s a lifeline. It’s an important artery,” he said. “All the people who worked in Port Colborne, they used it. It was and still is a popular bridge.”
Pietz pooh-poohed a suggestion making the rounds in at least one coffee klatch: that a fate comparable to Port Robinson’s may be in the cards for Dain City if replacement costs are deemed prohibitive.
Is a ferry service in Dain City’s future? What? That would never become water under the bridge, never, not ever.
“Won’t happen,” Pietz predicted about such an outrageous outcome.
He said: “A new bridge is a must. I don’t see any other answer to it .”
Allan Pietz in his living room shows a portion of his photo collection. Pietz, 93, cherishes memories especially from his time in public service.