Niagara Gazette

Columns

May 24, 2013

HAMILTON: Mona - that little old woman who could

Niagara Gazette — Wrotniak’s Highland restaurant was consumed in flames not long ago. Witnesses say that it was young children. Now all that remain is a charred hulk of brick and mortar that is fit for nothing more than the wrecker’s ball. It not only reflects too many of the once vibrant buildings that lined the streets of a once-vibrant city that is now trading businesses and owner-occupied homes for subsidized government housing, wherein now lies the dreams of prosperity that are just as dark and bleak as the remains of Wrotniak’s.

As burned out as the building may be, for me, and perhaps for us all, there will always be a light reflected from it that burns brighter than even the flames that the firemen fought to extinguish there; for it was there that Mona Gwozdek had spent most her life. I often saw her in and around her home and business. To me, Mona was the little old woman who could.

Most people, who either drove or walked past “the bar” knew it as Wrotniak’s, but according to daughter Sharon Hayes, it had been in the family since her grandfather “got off the boat” and bought the then-five year old building in 1920.

Sharon said that her father, Matt, wanting to stay in Niagara Falls, then bought the bar from his father in 1948. That’s when Matt’s job was moving to Oklahoma. He changed the name to Matt’s Tavern, but he kept the painted sign that was on the window just as it had always been. Even his father did not change the name.

Mona joined him there, when his, and every other business, was booming. That was when the smokestacks at both the then-Pittsburgh Metallurgical and National Carbon were belching out the white smoke that rose as pollution, but then fell groundward as paychecks into the pockets of the thousands of workers who labored both there, at the Chisholm-Ryder tractor factory, at Prestolite, Wicker Lumber and at the Lehigh Switchyard nearby. Those workers could walk to lunch at Matt’s Tavern, or to a half-dozen other nearby places, and then return to work in time. Or they could walk there after work and then stagger home, both late and to a waiting wife with a rolling pin in her hand and a half-dozen children underfoot.

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