By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette — Cheers this week to LaSalle Pride which according to its website was “formed to promote, protect and preserve the cultural, historic and environmental well being of the LaSalle neighborhood of the city of Niagara Falls by the resource utilization of volunteers, private and public sectors.”
Incorporated back in 2005, this organization has been active throughout the LaSalle neighborhood with many accomplishments. The organization’s first president, Patsy MacKenna, a former educator with a quiet manner, was a driving force, giving the group the motivation and momentum to continue their goals even after her untimely death in 2009. They continued their efforts to improve their neighborhood quality of life and presented a bench in her memory to the LaSalle Library which had become their meeting place and their home base.
The organization with its many volunteers has worked with the Beautify Niagara citywide clean up campaign since the group’s inception. They partnered with employees of Life Technologies from Grand Island and worked in vacant lots in the Girard Avenue area in 2010 which is just one example. They held weekly “on the spot cleanups” every other week inviting “anyone who could” to show up at a selected area. They assisted families in the Evershed area who encountered flooding when a water main broke on 56th Street near Buffalo Avenue in March of 2009.
BOOM Days became an event on everyone’s calendar each April when LaSalle Pride hosted an open house to “celebrate the end of winter.” The date coincided with the removal of the ice boom in Lake Erie and it was the beginning of the group’s venture into the historical significance of their area. Held at the LaSalle Yacht Club they welcomed spring with reenactors from Old Fort Niagara and a group of representing historical figures dating to the very earliest discovery and settlement of the Village of LaSalle. How can we forget Ken Sherman in what resembled his bathrobe as Cavalier de laSalle and Walt Kendzia’s annual portrayal of Father Hennepin landing by canoe at the Yacht Club. How about the year Cal Babcock missed the dock and had to be pulled from the water? That’s dedication!
This early encounter of LaSalle history led to the successful creation and sale of a photo calendar in 2011 to raise needed funding. Recently they began to take a serious look at what they had been doing as a civic organization and decided that “LaSalle Pride will now focus on the historical aspects of the former Village of LaSalle as a basis for meeting the mission of the organization”, which is highlighted in the Plan of Action for 2013 and was shared with me by Teresa Lasher Winslow after I called her to obtain some facts for this column.
The object is to instill pride in residents and property owners in the history of their community. They want to establish historic districts such as Evershed and International Paper Company’s “factory housing” by building a historical marker program and self-guided walking tours using brochures to market the area to its residents and tourists. I think this may be what is called “branding yourself.” Areas could include places such as Jayne Park, LaSalle Village Halls, the original Town of Niagara Town Hall and other spots of interest.
Long-range goals are the redevelopment of the commercial district of Buffalo Avenue to enhance its proximity to the waterfront and the promotion of a walkable community with small shops and restaurants. They plan to do this with the city and the LaSalle Business and Professional Association. LaSalle Pride will continue to support the LaSalle Library both financially with their restoration efforts of certain areas and the purchase of needed supplies for the auditorium and will include the promotion of the Library as the “Community Center of LaSalle”
The Plan of Action includes a lecture series at the library to teach residents and the general public the history of LaSalle. All research gathered from these lectures, including oral histories and scanning of historical photos and documents brought in by participants, will be added to the LaSalle collection in the Local History Department of the Niagara Falls Public Library. The second floor Village Hall Reading Room (furnished by LaSalle Pride with monies raised from the 2011 LaSalle Legacy Calendar will house displays of historical topics. The LaSalle Legacy Calendar will continue as a means of financial support and the spreading of the historical nature of LaSalle as a unique community in which to live, shop and work. There is that “branding” aspect again. More ambitious plans call for a Book of Historic LaSalle as a fundraiser and a learning experience. Teresa mentioned they would have to apply for grants to carry out these plans and they have been looking into various venues.
Celebrating history does create a sense of community pride and it affects how we live in our community today. The sharing of records, information, photographs and ideas builds a strong sense of community among neighboring residents and Teresa Lasher Winslow believes in sharing. She has started a discussion of this aspect with various historical and preservation organizations. Hopefully this will culminate in an annual or semi-annual meeting of the minds to work together to promote and preserve our local history. Three cheers for LaSalle Pride for recognizing that we are where we came from and for adopting a new lease on the life of their organization to promote their history as an integral part of our entire community.
Speaking of history, please find time this busy holiday week to attend the continuing lecture series presented by the Friends of Local History and featuring Niagara Falls Fire Department Battalion Chief Dan Boland and the history of the Niagara Falls Fire Department up to 1955. It will take place at 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Main Street Public Library Auditorium.Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.