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November 11, 2006

Going Home Again by Doug Mackey U.E.

I recently returned to my home town Port Colborne where I grew up, for the funeral of my mother’s brother Lester Winn.  I have been back to weddings and other funerals including my mother and father over the years but to nothing in recent years.  The trip triggered many memories of my life there for my first 30 years before I moved on. 

The 1901 Neff Steam Buggy in the Port Colborne Historical and Marine Museum – Museum photo.

Port Colborne with 18,500 people hugs the south end of the Welland Canal at Lake Erie.  The canal attracted many industries and workers.  My wife’s father came to work at the INCO refinery and I met my wife in Port Colborne because of that.  My grandfather Mackey helped build and worked on the railway spur line from the main rail line to the Government grain elevator and a huge flour mill on the lake.  My Dad had a long career at the elevator.  A brother to the one whose funeral I attended had a long career at the local steel plant.  My Grandfather Winn among other things made a living from diving during the building of the canal.  Many residents made a living from ship repair and maintenance and as provisioners for the many ships on the canal. 

I worked a mile out in the harbour in Lake Erie at the lighthouse where I had my 16th birthday.  I then worked the next three summers at INCO where the week went from 48 hours to 44 hours and to 40 hours in my time there.  I met my wife in Grade 10 at the high school in November 1946 and we are still together – 5 children and 12 grandchildren later.  The first 4 children were born in Port Colborne. 

My brothers Paul and Richard also grew up in Port Colborne.  Paul was a pallbearer at the funeral with me.  Richard, the family genealogist remained in B.C. Richard tells me that Great Grandfather Silas Winn was Welsh and Grandfather Mackey Irish coming here in 1881 in the Potato Famine.  Both maternal grandmothers were United Empire Loyalist stock who came from the U.S. in the late 1700’s.  My brother traced one of the U.E.L. lines back and received approval to use the U.E. designation after his name.  I by default can use it and for the first time have after my name above.  

The Winn household which Silas (1828-1888) built in 1879 still remains and his son Tom (1875-1935) followed there and had three children including my mother.  The deceased Lester lived there for 92 years.  A house next door is the home of Lester’s son Allan and Allan’s son Tom lives nearby.  Lester was, and Allan and Tom are, part of a plumbing business active today in town.  Allan’s son Tom and daughter Mary have children making five generations in Port Colborne.  My genealogist brother notes that great grandfather Silas and grandfather Tom both died young in accidents one in a well cave in and one in a logging accident.  The brother of second generation Tom was called Charles Dominion because he was born on July 1, 1867 the day Canada became a Dominion. 

At the funeral some old school mates visited and I was surprised at some of the memories brought back and how 50 years later the names and faces came back. 

An old school house dated 1835 discovered in the restoration of a home in Port Colborne and moved to the Museum in 1976. D. Mackey photo.

While in town I visited Port Colborne’s remarkable Historical and Marine Museum and bought a couple of excellent history books on the area including one commemorating the community of Humberstone.  Humberstone, now amalgamated with Port Colborne, was on an early road about a mile north of Lake Erie that crossed the Welland River and was as logical place to start a fascinating community before the canal that gave birth to Port Colborne,  One story I will talk about in a future article involves the production of an automobile in Humberstone over a hundred years ago and the restoration and return of one of those vehicles that has been called “the finest antique automobile in North America” to the museum. 

The books I bought were written by Don Anger a retired teacher and husband of Virginia Anger the curator of the museum.  I took a course with her in the late 1980’s when we were working on a certificate in museumology. 

I will tell one story I almost forgot about until I saw the Dairy Queen on Highway 3 which runs through the old Humberstone just east of the bridge over the canal.  The Dairy Queen appeared exactly the same as it did 50 years ago and reminded me of an experience I had as a teacher in Port Colborne’s largest elementary School.  The Elm Street School in Humberstone did not have a grade 7 & 8 so the students came to the larger school in Port Colborne.  The larger school was allowed 2 girls teams in the school softball league.  I was asked to coach the “B” team which was mostly made up of Elm Street outsiders.  We lost the first game 26-0, and immediately went into serious training.  We won the next game and eventually won the championship. 

The punch line to this story is that I took the girls to the Dairy Queen for a treat for winning.  In the middle of the orders we saw a huge pink convertible Cadillac pull up and out stepped the famous T.V. personality and wrestler Yukon Eric who wanted a cone.  He always wore an open plaid shirt showing his 66” chest and had a remarkable presence.  The girls froze in awe in a scene that I will never forget as he stepped up chatting to the girls giving them and me the thrill of a lifetime for the second time that day. 

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