I grew up in the small city of Welland Ontario, a city situated between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. When I was growing up, it was a steel town – our main business was Atlas Steel, but there were other industrial companies located here. Our downtown was booming with business – lots of little mom and pop shops, bakeries, shoe stores, and a movie theatre where I saw many movies, including one of my favourites – Grease. I can still narrate this movie word for word…. but I digress.
Welland was a wonderful place to grow up. It was big enough to have fast food places and fun places to go shopping, lots of green space and beautiful parks to play in. Best friends were made at the local schools, and I am lucky that some of those friends are still friends to this day.
But then the industrial companies started to move out and our beautiful downtown changed with it. A big shopping mall opened in the late 70s in the north end, and that also affected our downtown. Many stores closed down because of the mall. And then Walmart moved in. Change is good, I believe that, but sometimes this kind of change is not always good.
Downtown Welland, like so many other downtowns in Canada (and I am sure in other countries as well), has become a destination for homeless, for addicts, and there is an increasing amount of crime happening in our downtown area.
I was witness to a sad event today on my way home from a nice day out. I arrived at our downtown bus terminal (never a place where good things happen…) and I was witness to a woman, who I believe looked close to my age, completely strung out. The police had to be called and, as she was in possession of drugs, she was handcuffed and taken away – presumably first to the hospital since she couldn’t stand up on her own. This saddened me to see, in my hometown, the place where I grew up and have such wonderful memories.
What happens to people that they turn to a life of drugs? I have no idea, but at one point in this woman’s life, she was a child, presumably had some good memories from her childhood, and perhaps she even had a career at one point. I don’t believe that people are born this way – something happens that makes them believe this is the best they can do. I wish I could help them all, but that is just too big of a job for one person.
I hope one day to help in some way to make my downtown a better place to be, to thrive in, and for newcomers to feel welcome and safe. For now, I will keep thinking positive and hope that this does not stay the norm and that it is only a phase our city is going through. My optimism is strong, and one day, it will be the place I remember.