Village Surrounded, Landmark Lost — Down Comes “The Dainer.”

Down comes The Dain City Tavern, for a century the landmark of this little hamlet just south of Welland previously known as Airline Junction for the train brakes it produced and later Welland Junction for the city that swallowed it up. Progress rules.
Up goes an eight-story edifice in its place, the centrepiece of Empire Homes’ $20 million ambitious plan to construct 2,200 homes in that area that used to be the John Deere plant. This new housing complex, more of a city than Dain City, will include a sports complex and a replacement bridge across the Welland Canal where the old sits broken and useless.
The Dainer stood apart from the village, just north along the canal bank of the town’s “commercial centre” which included Ort’s convenience store and Frank Mihalyi’s soda shop/gas station. We hung out at Mihalyi’s store. Frank sold cigarettes to kids for two cents each. Doris Evans’ General Store was also the post office and the Walmart of its day.
A bit of a brat, I once stole a can of brown shoe polish from Evans’ General Store and my mother marched me by the ear, all the way down Forks Road, to apologize to Doris. The woman nodded but then gave me a quizzical look like “most kids steal chocolate bars, what is wrong with this child?” Today my right ear is noticeably longer than the left one.
Growing up in Dain City it seemed the hotel next to the railway bridge had always been there. Once a stagecoach inn where the horses were bedded in the basement, The Dain City House over the years was an inn, a sailor’s lodge, a restaurant, a bar, a brothel, a strip joint and illegal betting shop. I delivered the Saturday Star newspaper to the homes of both of the bookies. They were by far my best tippers.
I lived next door to Ocean Salicco, one of the bookies who operated out of The Dainer. Neva’s best friend, my mother, was amazed the house was always filled with new fridges and stoves. Turns out it was the Leons Furniture boys. They gambled a lot and when they lost, they sometimes paid off in appliances.
In the ‘50s milk and butter were delivered to your door by Sunnyside Dairy’s horse-drawn cart. Teddy Zack “the egg man” left cartons of “Grade A Large” on your doorstep. Teddy Zack nicknamed me “Billy The Bumble Bee.” I called him a name I can’t print here.
Just down my street and over the tracks was the Welland Drive-In, the hub of summer activity. Walking to the concession stand in the dark, you had to be careful not to trip over a speaker cord or a brassiere. Kids today have sex education classes. Malcom Hilton and me, we had binoculars and the Welland Drive-In. Right now, a sea of housing is under construction on that site as well.
The Dainer was dwarfed by the train bridge, one of two towering 70-metre structures over the old Welland Canal. The lift bridges were our summer midway rides. The last kid to let go and plunge into the blue water below as the bridge rose slowly skyward to accommodate a passing ship… won. But the kid who bluffed, faking a few jumps but holding on for dear life — he had to stay up there for an hour or two until the bridge came down. He wore the title of “Chicken Little” for weeks.
Many, too many years ago, upon the publication of my very first book The Tabloid Zone – Dancing With The Four-Armed Man, my publisher Gordon Green of JAG Communications in Hamilton, insisted we do a book signing at The Dainer. I was a tad skeptical.
“No, no,” said Gordon, “You’re Dain City’s favourite son. They love you there. The place will be packed.”
Gordon was right. On that fresh, fall afternoon we arrived for the signing at the posted time of three o’clock and the place was jammed to the rafters. The locals were in a great mood, we exchanged some lovely nostalgic moments and… we never sold a book. As a matter of fact one went missing so the scoreboard on the wall by the pool table read: The Dainer 1 — Favourite Son 0.
As we packed up the books and folded up the table, Gordon wondered aloud how so many people could show up and not buy even a single copy. The answer — Dain city was an island, caught in a time warp between two cities and split by a bustling shipping lane, the residents really only had each other so… ‘Saturday Afternoon At The Dainer!’ Where else would you rather be? (Oh, and by the way, ‘Who was that guy sitting up on the stage and what’s with all those books?’)
Empire Homes should — but they won’t, of course — set aside a small space in the lobby of that sports complex for the Dain City Heritage Museum. Some framed photos of the hobo camp, the train station, the drive-in and the Copper Kettle. The sign ‘The Dain City Tavern’ would be great as would a single copy of the Tabloid Zone, maybe the one that went missing. That way, future generations will be reminded that real life once thrived on the site of their new homes and by the way, so did the people of Dain City. A tough and vibrant village that survived the ravages of time but not the small town curse of suburban sprawl.

This is a rough excerpt from
William Thomas’ next book
And That’s Why I Love Small Town Living

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