In the 25 years since Oh Canada Eh? has been offering dinner theatre patrons homegrown songs celebrating the Great White North, Eric Hitchcock has had a front seat through a good deal of them.
Now general manager of the Niagara Falls-based theatre, Hitchcock was there for the first show on May 17, 1994 — though just as a member of the audience. With a friend in the show, which features performers singing songs either created or made famous by Canadians, Hitchcock wanted to show his support. By the second performance, however, he was put to work, first at the bar of the venue, then located near Clifton Hill and now on Lundy’s Lane, and eventually all manner of duties.
“Whatever they needed,” he said, “wherever they needed help.”
The NPR show (from WBUR in Boston), Only a Game, had a repeat of this segment this past Saturday. I didn’t hear it the first time, but heard it on Saturday. It is a neat history of Red Hill and his family.
William “Red” Hill Sr. was born on Oct. 27, 1887 in Niagara Falls, Ontario. His career saving lives began when he carried his 4-year-old sister, Cora, out of their family’s burning home. For his bravery, he was awarded a medal from the Royal Canadian Humane Society. He was just 9 years old. But it was in the perilous waters of the Niagara River, not fire, where he saved the most lives.
In light of the furor to remove John A. Macdonald’s name from public institutions and bar his visage from the public square, it might be prudent to relate this serendipitous anecdote from our city’s rich history…
By the late 1870s The United States had begun its journey to create an imperialist state, cancelling the free trade treaty of the 1850s. “Reciprocity” had been a boon to Hamilton’s first mass transit enterprise, The Great Western Railway. Rail laying equipment, iron rails, steam-powered shovels and even locomotives had streamed across the recently built suspension Roebling bridge at Clifton Hill on the Niagara River, without interruption or inspection.
Visitors to the city of Niagara Falls usually came by train in the early years when railroads were the main conveyance for tourists. However, you could not be in a hurry to reach your destination as travel by rail during 1800 for example was very slow. It probably took at least 10 days to get from New York City to Niagara Falls but this was almost cut in half by 1830. Imagine stepping off the train at the depot on Falls Street during the late 1800s and met by transport to your hotel , probably one of the notable hotels of the day. Ladies dresses of the day had a bustle and usually three of four underskirts. And her shoes would be what we now refer to as “high button shoes.” Gentlemen wore a frock coat and a top hat to look his best.
In a ceremony held today, The Niagara Parks Commission was pleased to rededicate the awe-inspiring amphitheatre, Oakes Garden Theatre, in celebration of the venue’s 80th anniversary.
Oakes Garden Theatre and its associated Rainbow Gardens are outstanding examples of design and architecture created to specifically act as a dramatic gateway to Canada. Influenced by the City Beautiful architectural movement of the mid-20th century, the venue was first opened to the public with an original dedication ceremony held on September 18, 1937.
Never let it be said that you could not get a room when visiting Niagara Falls during its early years before it was a city. There were 70 hotels and saloons listed in the Town of Niagara alone. This was before Niagara Falls was a city. Names we probably never heard of, such as the American Hotel at Niagara and Fourth streets, which was razed in 1929. The American Hotel in Suspension Bridge Village was removed May 18, 1887 and another American Hotel during 1878 was in Lewiston, built in the 1830s and burned in 1893 and rebuilt as Cornell House in 1894. I am not listing them all – only the ones I was able to find some items of interest on them.
This is kind of a random article that came across my news feed about Bill Stern, a sports broadcaster from the 1940s. I have no idea if this particular story is true, but a Philadelphia Enquirer story shares the following…
In 1946, Stern told the story of millionaire Harry Oakes. Decades earlier Oakes had been a hobo. De-training in Baltimore, he found a $1 bill. About to use it for food, he remembered hearing about a local orphan who pined for a baseball bat.
Oakes bought the bat for the youngster and soon left town on a journey that led to his discovery of an untapped Canadian gold mine.
“And that young orphan’s name was … Babe Ruth!”
Of course, Harry Oakes’ name is all over the city of Niagara Falls as well!