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Niagarans get a seat at the table

by Kevin Vallier

Three prominent Niagara residents have recently been appointed to key provincial boards. Jessica Friesen, CEO of Gales Fuels was appointed to the Niagara Parks Commission Board while recently retired Niagara MP Rob Nicholson is now Chair of the Niagara Escarpment Commission and Niagara businessman Dragan Matovic has a seat on the Board of the LCBO.

board room table

Province Reopens More Businesses, Niagara Eyes Public Testing Facility

by Kevin Vallier

The Ontario government announced yesterday that more businesses will be able to reopen in the next week provided the overall provincial health indicators continue to trend positively.

These businesses must comply with strict health and workplace safety measures to be permitted to reopen.

open sign on a door

Life after hockey

by Kevin Vallier

It’s not always easy for professional athletes to make a successful transition from playing the sport they love to a completely different career – one that probably won’t come with nice hotels, travel, being asked for an autograph and the thrill of scoring a goal or winning a championship in front of thousands of fans. But for most athletes the reality is there will be, has to be, a life after sport.

Even McGrath on the ice

Snowbirds make spirits soar

by Kevin Vallier

There were a lot of Niagara residents looking skyward on Sunday. They weren’t looking for the sun although you couldn’t blame them for wondering where it went after making a brief glorious appearance nearly a week ago. No, tens of thousands of Niagara residents stood on their driveways, sidewalks, back decks or in the middle of the road hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the most popular military flight demonstration teams in the world – Canada’s 431 Air Demonstration Squadron; Otherwise known simply as the Snowbirds.

snowbirds flying over a group of firefighters

Local wineries adapting to new normal

by Kevin Vallier

Like many businesses around the province and across the country Niagara’s wineries have had to adapt, pivot and get creative to simply maintain a certain level of business. And while business would certainly be better in a non-pandemic environment, hard work and determination is keeping Niagara’s wine sector in a glass-half-full kind of state.

wine glass and barrels

Sweet home Alabama

by Kevin Vallier

It was starting out to be a great season of Division 1 college baseball for Niagara Falls native Owen Diodati. He had a spectacular debut with the Alabama Crimson Tide where Diodati plays left field and is a designated hitter in his sophomore year. Then, like everywhere else in the world, the season came to an abrupt halt with the onset of a global pandemic. While most people are self isolating with family in their homes, the young Canadian is stuck in Alabama away from his parents and living with a teammate’s family.

Owen Diodati

Reopening business, slowly

by Kevin Vallier

The Ontario government has opened the door a tiny crack to slowly getting the provincial economy back on track by allowing some businesses to reopen. Premier Ford announced Friday that a select few businesses sectors will be allowed to open providing they follow strict public health guidelines. The Premier was quick to caution the public however that a continued trend downwards of the number of new COVID-19 cases will need to happen before the door is swung fully open.

Open for business sign in a door

Keeping it clean

by Kevin Vallier

They are truly the unsung heroes of healthcare. Rarely in the spotlight, quietly going about their job with a smile and friendly hello to patients and other staff, these essential workers have a very important job; stop the spread.

Jocelyn Malangis

Residents not pleased with Region’s response to help homeless

by Kevin Vallier

It was Easter long weekend when Niagara Falls resident Tiffany Aello had heard that those who had no place to call home found themselves in even more of a tough spot. With arenas, libraries, coffee shops and other facilities closed, the homeless had nowhere to go to warm up or clean up. “I got a phone call asking if I had any tents,” said Aello explaining how she got involved with a project that now consumes her life seven days a week. “I thought it was for one person, I didn’t realize there were 15,” she said.

sleeping bag and teddy bear inside of a tent

Coping with mental side of COVID

by Kevin Vallier

There has been a lot written and a lot discussed about the impact of social isolation on people’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. From elite athletes to business leaders to stay-at-home parents who aren’t used to their significant other working from home, the new normal is wreaking havoc on motivation levels, focus and overall mood.

man on couch wearing mask

Niagara MPs want back in the House

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara MPs Dean Allison and Tony Baldinelli are, like the rest of Canadians, trying to get accustomed to what has become the new normal. It’s a pretty big adjustment when you are used to spending most of the day in a large room with 337 other people, in constant communication, travelling back and forth from Niagara to Ottawa, attending grand openings, business roundtables and the many other events Members of Federal Parliament attend on a daily basis. Throw in the fact that you are part of the official opposition trying to hold a minority government to account during a national crisis and things are anything but normal.

Dean Allison MP and Dean Baldinelli MP

The Shaw must go on

by Kevin Vallier

As far as anyone can remember it’s the first time in the Shaw Festival’s history that the entire slate of season opening performances has been cancelled. To date the Shaw has had to cancel more than 180 shows in total. The first production was set to hit the stage on April 2. “We were days away from Charley’s Aunt being on stage,” said Shaw’s Executive Director Tim Jennings.

Zoom Rehearsal for the cast of Charley's Aunt

Possible pandemic peak in province

by Kevin Vallier

The COVID-19 pandemic may have peaked in Ontario according to the Ontario Government’s health experts.
Yesterday, the Government of Ontario released updated COVID-19 modelling, which shows that the enhanced public health measures, including staying home and physically distancing from each other, are working to contain the spread of the virus and flatten the curve.

covid-19

McMaster team developing home COVID-19 test kit

by Kevin Vallier

A team of scientists just down the QEW at McMaster University in Hamilton have developed a COVID-19 testing kit that is similar to taking a home pregnancy test. A person will be able to swab their mouth, put the swab in a tube and wait no more than 30 minutes for a result. Essentially, if there is one line on the test stick the person is negative. If there is a double line the person is positive for the virus.

Yingfu Li

Ford the ‘Friendly General’ demands more COVID-19 testing

by Kevin Vallier

Throughout the dramatic last month of the advance of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontarians have become accustomed to daily briefings given by Ontario Premier Ford. Most often he has been joined by his Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott. Other Ministers rotate in, including Minister of Finance Rod Philipps, Ministers of Economic Development and Small Business, Vic Fedeli and Prabmeet Sarkaria, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton and Education Minister Stephen Lecce. Also quite often, six to 10 feet from the Premier’s side, are his Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, Peter Donnelly head of Public Health Ontario and/or CEO of Ontario Health Matt Anderson.

Premier Ford at his desk making phone calls

Former St. Catharines Teepee Pat ‘Whitey’ Stapleton dies

by Kevin Vallier

He wasn’t very big in stature. In fact, by today’s standards he’d be considered a very small NHL defenseman. But what he lacked in height he more than made up with his huge heart and infectious smile. Pat Stapleton, listed at 5’8”, who patrolled the blue line for the St. Catharines Teepees before landing in the windy city to become a Chicago Blackhawk, passed away last week. He was 79 years old.

Pat Stapleton on the ice

Making masks makes money… for charity

by Kevin Vallier

A few years ago St. Catharines resident Jennifer Armstrong was working for a fashion design company when she was given a choice; move to Montreal with the company or stay and be out of a job. She decided to stay in Niagara to open her own boutique clothing manufacturing company called Ecolove and hasn’t looked back.

While sales climbed over the past few years, Ecolove like so many businesses in Niagara came to an abrupt stop with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like her former employer Calhoun, Jennifer has turned her attention to making masks to help Niagara residents stay safe. She’s also donating proceeds to the Niagara Health Foundation.

Jennifer Armstrong, owner of Ecolove clothing manufacturer

Niagara businesses continue to be financially hammered from the COVID-19 pandemic but that doesn’t stop them from continuing to step up to the plate and help their community fight back against the virus.

Frontline healthcare workers are not only putting their lives on the line caring for the sick but in many cases are also forced to be separated from their families to protect their loved ones. When John Petrie, owner of Niagara Trailers, heard about this he knew there was something his company could do; lend out RV’s so that those on the frontlines could come “home” and yet still be isolated.

Niagara RV owner John Petrie and his wife Anna beside one of the trailers

Local sportswear company shifts to mask making

by Kevin Vallier

Marty Myers started what many know today as Calhoun Sportswear (now called Calhoun) 47 years ago as a young graduate from Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in St. Catharines. His initial business came from printing rock concert t-shirts for bands touring through the Toronto area and hiring his high school buddies as his first employees. The business grew with the help of his wife, Michelle, to a 40,000 square foot factory with sales all over North America. That’s all changed for now.

sewing

Unsung Heroes

by Kevin Vallier

When praising emergency services workers, typically firefighters, police and paramedics – people often use the description ‘they are running into a burning building while the rest of us are running out’ as a way of explaining their heroism.

grocery store worker

Elliott: “We will make it through”

by Kevin Vallier

Ontario’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott says if all Ontarians do their part the Province will come out of the COVID-19 global pandemic and life can return to normal.
In an interview today with The Niagara Independent the Minister said she along with her cabinet colleagues and medical experts are working around the clock, seven days a week receiving and analyzing the latest information so that the province can try and get ahead of the outbreak and flatten the curve as soon as possible.

christine elliott

Local Chambers championing business during tough times

by Kevin Vallier

Both the South Niagara Chambers of Commerce and the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce (GNCC) are doing what they can to help local businesses try and survive the massive negative impact the COVID-19 global pandemic has had on Niagara’s small and medium sized businesses.

“We’re making calls to all 2,000 of our members,” said Dolores Fabiano, executive director of the South Niagara Chambers. She said while there’s no doubt her members are feeling the tight squeeze of little to no revenue they are trying to stay positive. “If you’re a business owner you’re resilient.”

Staff at the Welland Chamber of Commerce Office making calls

Niagara’s AAA minor midget teams were headed to OHL Cup

by Kevin Vallier

The Niagara North Stars and Southern Tier Admirals were supposed to be heading to Toronto next week to participate in the OHL Cup. Like many sporting events and tournaments the OHL Cup has been cancelled. It’s a big tournament from a team perspective but as individual players, it’s also one of the most important tournaments of the year as it’s the last time scouts will see the players in game situations prior to the Ontario Hockey League draft which takes place April 4.
In a statement organizers said, “Since the start of the spread of Coronavirus/COVID-19, the OHL and GTHL have closely monitored the rapidly evolving situation with a view to the health and safety of players and their families, team and league staff, on and off ice officials, fans and the general public.”

north stars hockey team

New nuclear technology is a game changer

by Kevin Vallier

They’re called SMRs, they will soon be a game changer for the world’s energy sector and Canada is at the forefront of their development.
SMRs or Small Nuclear Reactors have been around for a while, originally designed and built for naval use, but now they are coming online as part of the world’s power generating options. And they bring with them a lot of advantages.

small modular nuclear reactor on a truck

The Region’s public works committee signed off on a proposal put forward by Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati to have the Niagara Region hire consultants to review current garbage collection practices and to determine how the system can be more cost effective to the taxpayer.
The proposal also called for the development of a plan to address the potential illegal dumping and public health problems “that could arise as a result of moving to bi-weekly pickup”. The City of Niagara Falls had previously expressed concern that the Niagara Region “did not adequately address concerns related to garbage and recycling collection methods”.

worker picking up recycling

Leaders Under Fire: New book looks at crisis communications

by Kevin Vallier

It will happen. That moment in time when something goes wrong, a tragedy occurs and the spotlight is shining brightly on a corporation for all the wrong reasons. How best to handle crisis communications in the corporate world in the twenty-first century? Two of the most experienced leaders in this space have put pen to paper and compiled their experiences and lessons learned over decades into a new book called Leaders Under Fire – The CEO’s Survival Guide to Navigating Corporate Crisis.

: Jeff Chatterton and Conway Fraser

Province releases plan to combat human trafficking

by Kevin Vallier

Ontario Premier Doug Ford was in St. Catharines Friday along with Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues to announce funding and strategy to combat the human trafficking problem Ontario is facing.
According to the province, human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes worldwide. Approximately two-thirds of police-reported human trafficking violations in Canada occur in Ontario with the average age of recruitment into sex trafficking at 13 years old.

General Sylvia Jones and Premier Doug Ford

Hornblower planning for early launch

by Kevin Vallier

What a difference a year can make.
This time last year Mory DiMaurizio and his team at Hornblower Niagara Cruises were wondering if they would ever get their iconic boats launched to take eager tourists on the famous voyage that gets visitors up close and personal with the world famous Niagara Falls. Eventually the boats were launched – 45 days later than scheduled.

hornblower niagara in the river

Uncertainty and low confidence shakes markets

by Kevin Vallier

There’s a lot going on in the world and the impact on the stock markets has been disastrous. From the potential of the Democrats south of the border electing a socialist leader in Bernie Sanders to take on current US president Donald Trump, to the Covid-19 virus that continues to spread across the globe to right here in Canada where protestors disrupted the national economy and tried to shut down Canada’s natural resource sector, markets around the globe are taking a serious hit.

a man with a tablet and chart

Playing catch-up with Long-Term Care

by Kevin Vallier

The term “hallway medicine” is thrown around a lot these days and while the latest catch phrase to describe backlogs in local acute care hospitals is fairly new the problem is decades old. Despite healthcare spending eating nearly half of the entire provincial budget emergency department backlogs, crowded hallways and long wait times continue to plague the system. Niagara is no different. Despite the best efforts by management and staff and a number of funding announcements by the province, the frustration remains.

Merrilee Fullerton at the podium

Grimsby residents face nearly 17% tax hike

by Kevin Vallier

The Town of Grimsby’s budget committee approved a whopping 16.7% increase for homeowners’ property taxes.

“It’s really been a team effort,” the Town’s Chief Administrative Officer Harry Schlange said of the creation of the proposed budget.  “Everybody has really contributed to this.”

Harry Schlange speaking at council budget meeting

Niagara Falls should go it alone with waste collection says expert

by Kevin Vallier

A local resident with extensive knowledge in waste collection isn’t happy with what he’s been seeing and reading when it comes to the Region’s new plans for garbage and recycling collection – and he fully supports Niagara Falls City Council for wanting to go it alone.

Dean Rosiana has been an accountant for more than 30 years and is the former deputy director of finance with the Town of Fort Erie. He’s also been involved at the senior management level of waste management companies since 1996. “I’m retired and have no skin in the game with this particular contract but I’ve been through this process many times and as a resident and tax payer I have a problem with it.”

worker picking up recycling

McNaughton meets with business leaders while in Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

While much focus was placed on the weekend protests by various unions towards the Ford government, many of the MPPs and in particular cabinet ministers were meeting key stakeholders in Niagara on important issues like health, business, the economy and the skilled trades.
Monte McNaughton, the province’s Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development was one such MPP who took the time to meet with business owners and those working in the construction sector to discuss key issues like the province-wide labour shortage, skilled trades and new government initiatives at a roundtable discussion.

mcnauaghton walking in the labour day parade

After years of consultation, council says more consultation needed for elected chair

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Regional Council decided last Thursday to look into the formation of a governance committee and to consult Niagara’s 12 chief administrative officers after considering St. Catharines Councillor Laura Ip’s motion for a citizen elected Regional Chair.
“I think it’s long past time to hear directly from the citizens of Niagara as to what they want,” Ip told Council.

niagara region

Welland shows no sign of slowing down

by Kevin Vallier

Contrary to some municipalities in Niagara, Welland’s mayor, council and staff aren’t afraid of the ‘D’-word. Development in the Rose City set records in 2019 and there’s no sign it will slow down in 2020.
Whether it’s new home construction, redeveloping old industrial land or attracting new manufacturing businesses Welland has not shied away from growing it’s one time stagnate, in fact declining, city. Mayor Frank Campion, who recently delivered his annual state of the city address, told The Niagara Independent that job growth and prosperity are keys to growing his community.

frank campion speaking at an event

Diodati belts three homers in ‘Bama debut

by Kevin Vallier

It wasn’t that long ago that Niagara Falls native Owen Diodati had a tough decision to make; One that most teenagers or adults will never have to make in a lifetime. Sign with a professional baseball team and bank a cool million bucks or go to college to play ball. Diodati turned down the money and a chance to become a Toronto Blue Jay and instead head to Alabama and play for the Crimson Tide.
This past weekend reaffirmed his decision. Not that there was much doubt.

owen diodati at bat

More Questions, Few Answers around Region’s attempted $14 million Biosolids deal

by Kevin Vallier

Despite Niagara Region’s Public Works Committee requesting specific information from Regional staff concerning past contracts with Thomas Nutrient Solutions (TNS), the Niagara Region’s contractor to manage its biosolids program, the information was not provided.
Last month, committee rejected a staff recommendation to extend – for the second time since 2013 – a $14 million contract to TNS for the management of the Region’s biosolids program and instead opted for a competitive process. The program oversees the management of materials removed during the treatment of drinking water.

peter nicholson in council chambers

Niagara’s Angel network helping entrepreneurs spread their wings

by Kevin Vallier

A little over a decade ago 14 local business leaders came together all with the same mission – to establish a private sector investment group that would help local entrepreneurs launch their businesses. The Niagara Angel Network soon took flight and its current executive director Terry Kadwell has been there since the beginning; although that wasn’t necessarily his intention. “I got involved 11 years ago to help get it off the ground and seven years ago I became full time,” explained Kadwell.
While not much is known about the group and who is involved, Kadwell said that’s starting to change. “Originally we protected the anonymity of the angels but we realized lately that we are getting more traction by letting people know who’s in the group.”

Terry Kadwell speaking at an event

Conservative leadership contender could make history

by Kevin Vallier

While much of the attention in the federal Conservative Party leadership race has been focused on Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole a third contender is hoping to make history. Leslyn Lewis has entered the race and if she could pull off the upset would become the first black woman to lead a major Canadian political party. The current Conservative health and science critic Marilyn Gladu is also running.
Lewis was in Niagara Falls on the weekend at that riding’s annual general meeting where she had the chance to speak to members. Krystle Caputo who attended the meeting said, “It was awesome to have CPC leadership candidate Ms. Lewis come to Niagara Falls and share her vision for Canada. We’ve also recently hosted Mr. O’Toole in Niagara and I understand Mr. MacKay is coming this way soon as well.” Caputo said there is a strong Conservative base and members are eager to engage with the leadership candidates.

Ms Lewis

Falls wants to throw out garbage contract

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Falls wants out of the waste management contract it is currently a part of after the Region signed a deal with a new service provider that essentially sees taxpayers paying a lot more for a lot less.

“We’ve put a request into the Region to go it alone,” said Niagara Falls city councillor Victor Pietrangelo, who has been dead-set against the current agreement from the start.

worker picking up recycling

Exclusive: Niagara’s Jay Triano shares memories of time with Kobe

by Kevin Vallier

It was 2008 when Niagara’s Jay Triano, NBA and Canadian national team coach, was in Las Vegas for the USA men’s Olympic basketball training camp. Even though he is a Canadian, Triano was one of the few NBA coaches with international experience and so American head coach Mike Krzyzewski tapped Triano to be one of his assistants. The “redeem team” was loaded with talent featuring the likes of LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Chris Bosh and Kobe Bryant.

In an exclusive interview from his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Triano now serves as the head assistant coach for that city’s NBA franchise, the Charlotte Hornets, Triano recalls some of the encounters he had with Bryant throughout his many years as an NBA coach.

Jay Triano

O’Toole ramps up for possible leadership run

by Kevin Vallier

The race for the next leader of the Federal Conservative Party of Canada is on and someone many see as a front-runner for the position made a Niagara stop earlier this week.
Erin O’Toole, the veteran MP arrived at the Grantham House in St. Catharines for a meet and greet with about 60 Niagara conservatives. He wanted to hear their thoughts on the party, the recent federal election and what they are looking for in a leader. O’Toole, a Canadian Armed Forces veteran, took the time to speak with those in attendance individually before addressing the crowed and providing his vision of what the next leader of the Conservative party needs to bring to the table in order to form the next government.

A rich history of supporting military personnel

by Kevin Vallier

The Order of St. George of Canada and the Americas has a rich history dating back nearly 700 years. King Charles I, Duke of Anjou, founded the Order in Hungary in 1326 as the first royal and secular charitable military order of its kind. In Canada, the order was established in Niagara Falls in 2003 at Christ Church, where about 70 members of the Order gathered recently to select a new Grand Master, Colonel Andrew Nellestynin (Retd) of Ottawa.

Colonel Andrew Nellestynin and Paul Cane sitting in pews

Purchasing problems plague Region

by Kevin Vallier

Less than a week after Niagara Region staff recommended a controversial sole sourced multi-million dollar contract, two bombshell audits were delivered to the audit committee outlining significant issues with its purchasing regime and sole sourcing.
When goods and services are required by Niagara Region’s various departments, they must work through a centralized purchasing department, known as procurement, to ensure proper processes are followed and fairness and accountability measures remain intact. For smaller purchases under $25,000, it is not required for Regional departments to engage with procurement staff; however, it is expected of departments to comply with the Regional policies overseeing these purchases.

niagara region

Report left in limbo

by Kevin Vallier

Two audits covering significant issues in the Niagara Region’s purchasing regime, one of which was kept from elected officials for over a year, did not sit well with the Audit Committee or St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik Monday.
Sendzik, who is not a member of Audit Committee but was present to discuss the reports with the committee, left scathing words for Regional staff for their decision to withhold the audits from elected officials.

Bob Gale

“Not interested in the past” says new NPCA Chair

by Kevin Vallier

“I’m not interested in the past folks.” And with that blunt statement Hamilton representative Brenda Johnson began her term Wednesday as the newly elected Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority Board Chair. Johnson went on to say, “We’ve dealt with the past. I’m more focused on today and what we’re going to do tomorrow. Let’s get to work.”
Johnson, who has served as a Hamilton city councillor since 2010, was elected Chair at the NPCA’s recent Annual General Meeting. Four individuals ran for the Chair’s seat; Rick Brady, David Bylsma, Ken Kawall and Johnson. Bylsma was seeking a second term but came under fire just days before the election for his views on climate change. He did not make it past the first ballot. There was a tie between Brady and Kawall. Eventually the vote came down to Johnson and Brady.

Chandra Sharma and Brenda Johnson

“Faulty and Unfair Process”: Vendor Slams Niagara Region Sole Sourcing

by Kevin Vallier

Fireworks were set off at Niagara Region’s public works committee meeting earlier this week over a staff recommendation to effectively sole source a multi-million dollar contract for liquid biosolids for a period of three years.
The contract, valued at $4.5 million in 2020 alone, was recommended by Niagara Region staff to be awarded to Thomas Nutrient Solutions of Hamilton for its Liquid Biosolids and Residuals Management Program. This program oversees the management of materials removed during the treatment of drinking water. Thomas Nutrient Solutions has held the contract since 2013 and has already received a three year renewal in 2017.

Representatives from TerraPure Environmental Solutions in council chambers

“Showrooming” and its impact on locally owned retailers

by Kevin Vallier

The negative impact of the massive popularity of online shopping on the bricks and mortar retailers is well known and been a topic of conversation for a few years now. But the local impact, particularly on family owned businesses in Niagara runs deeper than just their bottom lines.
The trend and its negative effect on communities of “showrooming” or “showroom shopping” was recently pointed out in a Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) report. The term refers to shoppers going into local retailers, having staff provide them with product information and suggestions or try on clothing items and then the customer leaves without making a purchase, goes home and orders the product online.

a person on their computer

Trekking through the Sahara for a cause

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara resident Michael Sommer says he’s never done what was expected of him. He took that motto a step further, several steps actually, as he trekked across the Sahara Dessert recently to raise money for Gillian’s Place a shelter for abused women and children.

The idea for the adventure of a lifetime started in 2018 when the local real estate agent was at a Royal LePage conference in Halifax. “Two years ago the trek was in Iceland and in 2018 they announced the 2019 trek would be through the Sahara Desert,” explained Sommer. He said as a corporation Royal LePage established its own foundation called the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation and it would have a bi-annual adventure to raise money.

Michael Sommer walking in the desert

IceDog scores golden goal

by Kevin Vallier

He didn’t see nearly as much ice time as he would with his club team the Niagara IceDogs but Akil Thomas sure made the most of it.
Thomas, a fourth line forward for the Canadian junior team that captured gold this past weekend in a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Russia, scored the game winning goal late in the third period on a partial breakaway that required quick thinking and lots of skill.

Akil Thomas scores

Province gives tax break to small businesses

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s small business owners received some welcomed news from the province to start their new year as the Ford government will be cutting their tax rate 8.7 per cent reducing the rate to 3.2 per cent. The change came into effect on January 1. The reduction, said the government, is part of its plan to attract investment and enable entrepreneurs and risk takers to grow their businesses and create high-paying, good quality jobs.
“Ontario has tremendous opportunity and potential, and we are working to create the conditions for job creators to grow and succeed. An important part of our plan is to reduce the tax rate for small businesses, as they play a vital role in the economy,” said Rod Phillips, Minister of Finance in a media release.

small business owners

Niagara Falls rings in New Year’s in style

by Kevin Vallier

An estimated 60,000 people jammed Queen Victoria Park and surrounding areas in Niagara Falls on New Year’s Eve to ring in 2020 with Canadian rock icon Bryan Adams. Billed as one of the best New Year’s Eve concerts the city has hosted the large crowed danced, clapped, smiled and sang the lyrics to iconic Adams’ hits right up until midnight. City and Parks Commission leaders couldn’t have been happier.

Bryan Adams on stage

IceDogs’ Thomas celebrates birthday with world win

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara IceDogs’ forward and Los Angeles Kings second round draft pick Akil Thomas celebrated his birthday in fine style yesterday turning in a solid effort helping his Canadian teammates secure a never-in-doubt 6-1 quarter-final victory over Slovakia.

Thomas has seen more ice time as the tournament has progressed and sources tell The Niagara Independent that the skilled forward is a highly regarded by bench boss Dale Hunter. The Canadian kids will now head to the semi-finals (Saturday at 1 p.m.) where they will face a much stiffer challenge in the Fins who knocked off the Americans 1-0 in their quarter final game. The other semi-final will feature a classic showdown between Russia and Sweden.

Canada’s national junior team

Niagara West MP looks back and forward

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara West Member of Federal Parliament Dean Allison is looking forward to a busy and productive 2020 with lots on the go both in his riding and the nation’s capital.

When looking back on 2019, not surprisingly, the first thing that the veteran MP mentions is the recent federal election campaign. “I’m grateful we did better in this last campaign but disappointed we didn’t win,” said Allison. One of the areas he feels the Conservatives could have made a better argument was climate change. “We didn’t do a good enough job talking about our environmental plan. The carbon tax is extremely punitive and hurts people on a fixed income.” Allison said a carbon tax is also out of touch with people in rural areas who have to drive to grocery stores and hockey arenas for example because they don’t have public transportation. He said the Liberals have no choice but to increase their carbon tax in a significant way if they want any hope of hitting the Parris Accord targets.

Dean Allison

Unsung heroes receive Christmas cheer

by Kevin Vallier

A few years ago local business owner Wolfgang Guembel started to realize that there were a lot of people in Niagara that go above and beyond every day helping others in the community and receive little to no recognition. He wanted to change that.
After some discussions and initial planning with business associates and friends, a Christmas Wish was born. This was the third year for the event. People in Niagara can nominate someone that has made a significant positive impact to their community. Once the organizers read through the applications a handful are selected to be recognized in a day of first class treatment.

Christmas Wish gather

Niagara hospitals get cash injection

by Kevin Vallier

Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott was in Niagara earlier this week to announce a substantial funding boost to help local hospitals address infrastructure needs. Minister Elliott was joined by her colleague Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff and NDP MPP Jenny Stevens at Niagara Health’s St. Catharines site along with hospital executives, staff and board members who were all pleased to hear the minister say they would be receiving a little over $1.6 million for facility upgrades.

Sam Oosterhoff and Christine Elliott

Discipline helping Niagara North Stars win games

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s two minor midget AAA hockey clubs are having themselves solid seasons. Currently both are in the top three of the standings with the Southern Tier Admirals sitting comfortably in first place while the Niagara North Stars are in third. It’s an important year for the 15 year-olds as they hope to catch the eye of the scouts and get drafted into the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
Both teams are now past the half way point in their respective seasons and for Niagara North’s head coach Matt Miller things have gone pretty much according to plan. “We’re right where I expected us to be. We’ve been playing extremely well,” said Miller.

tai york

Athletic drive leads to business success

by Kevin Vallier

It was recently announced that a local athletic apparel company was selected as the official merchandiser for the Niagara 2021 Canada Summer Games. It’s a big job, big responsibility and huge opportunity; Nothing new to RegattaSport.

The company’s founders and current owners Joe Camillo and Chris Cookson first thought of the idea of starting a company that sold rowing specific clothing more than three decades ago. The story dates back to 1987 when both Joe and Chris were rowing at the St. Catharines Rowing Club. That same year the pair tried out for Canada’s national rowing team and made it. They were actually in the same boat. It was at the world championships in Denmark where Joe first had the idea to start a company that would eventually turn into ReggaSport.

Joe Camillo and Chris Cookson

Sir Winston brings home cross country gold

by Kevin Vallier

There were nearly 300 high school student athletes braving the cold wind and the slippery snow covered trails in Sudbury at the recent Ontario high school (OFSAA) cross country championships. In the end, it was St. Cathairnes’ own Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs that captured the novice boys gold medal and the overall boys title while also showing a very strong performance on the girls side. The Bulldogs finished just one point away from the combined championship taking home silver.

novice boys champions

The human trafficking nightmare

by Kevin Vallier

It’s sickening. It’s real. It’s happening in our own backyard.

Human trafficking is a huge problem in Canada, Ontario and right here in Niagara. In fact, Niagara Regional Police Chief MacCulloch has created a special task force to deal with the problem. “While this issue is not singular to Niagara, we recognize that being a border community, human trafficking is a concern that has a direct and unique impact in our Region.” The Chief went on to say, “As part of the 2019 operating budget, we created a Human Trafficking Unit to further strengthen the assistance and support our investigators are able to give to victims and survivors of human trafficking.”

child with hand over their mouth

Niagara tourism heats up in winter months

by Kevin Vallier

Long gone are the days when Niagara tourist operators would roll up the carpets, turn the store signs to close, switch off the lights and come back in April to get ready for the next wave of summertime tourists. Today, and over the past number of years, tourists flock to Niagara by the millions even in the cold and snowy months. It’s something that local politicians and tourism sector leaders have been chipping away at for years.

festival of lights

College president’s career celebrated

by Kevin Vallier

You know you’ve left a positive impression well beyond the walls of your workplace when staff, students, alumni, family, friends and community leaders fill a performing arts centre to say thank you.
Hundreds of well-wishers gathered inside Partridge Hall at the St. Catharines’ FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre Friday night to wish soon-to-be-retired Niagara College president Dr. Dan Patterson a fond farewell and to thank him for his quarter century of service to not only the post-secondary institution he lead but also for his massive impact on the Niagara community in general.

Dan Patterson and the Niagara College Board of Governors

“Iconic” hotel to be added to Falls skyline

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Falls residents and city councillors got a detailed look at what is being called an “iconic and architecturally significant” hotel being proposed for the tourist city. The massive 72-storey building, which will also be home to residential units and commercial space, is slated to stand at 6609 Stanley Avenue near the Fallsview Casino area. The site is currently surrounded by other hotels, restaurants and shops.

niagara falls hotel rendering

Niagara manufacturer going global

by Kevin Vallier

About a year and a half ago Bob Benner, CEO of Niagara manufacturing company Hamill Machine Company Inc. was faced with a challenge. Business was going well but certainly could’ve been better. Benner’s company was always looking at ways to diversify and change with the times to stay relevant. A grocer had asked Benner if he had a machine that could cut the tops off of leafy greens and micro greens. No such product existed so Benner and his team invented one. It was a risky but wise move.

leafy greens and micro greens

Determined Marauders to battle fighting Irish for football title

by Kevin Vallier

Despite the lopsided score of the District School Board of Niagara’s senior boys’ championship football game Friday night, it wasn’t an easy win. It was a victory months in the making according to A.N. Myer head coach Dave Buchanan. “I don’t think it was anything Sir Winston did wrong, it’s just this group of players we have are completely motivated and focused,” Buchanan explained a couple of days after his Marauders beat the Bulldogs 52-0 in the final.

A.N. Myer senior boys’ football team

Niagara veteran urges residents to say “thank you”

by Kevin Vallier

Michael Blais would like to see Canadian military veterans thanked for their service more than one day a year. Blais is a veteran himself and the Niagara Falls resident says it’s important for veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD, or other mental illnesses as a result of their combat service, to receive a smile and a thank you from their fellow Canadians. “I always tell people to say thank you on more than one day a year. It takes two seconds to shake that man or woman’s hand and say thank you because it really does a make a difference,” he said.

Michael Blais

St. Catharines council slams door on business

by Kevin Vallier

After a passionate debate at St. Catharines city council earlier this week on whether or not to pass a reconsideration motion moved by councillor Karrie Porter that simply asked to reopen discussion on the subject of Community Improvement Plan incentives, particularly as it applied to the Harbour Club, a Port Dalhousie condo development, council ended up very divided on the issue.

In the end, council voted 8-5 in favour of Porter’s motion. However, the motion needed two-thirds majority, or 9 votes, in order to pass. Thus it was defeated.

st catharines council

Rogers Hometown Hockey skates into Welland

by Kevin Vallier

The Niagara region is becoming a regular stop on Rogers Hometown Hockey as hosts Ron MacLean and Tara Slone arrive this weekend in Welland to share the Rose City’s numerous hockey stories with hockey fans from across the country. Hometown Hockey has made previous stops in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls.

Welland is one of 25 selected communities across the nation to host the Rogers Hometown Hockey Tour and is the sixth stop on the tour, which began Oct. 5, 2019, in Halton Hills and will wrap up in March in Edmonton.

Slone and Maclean

Mr. D gets honorary diploma

by Kevin Vallier

Vince DiCosimo receives his honorary diploma from Niagara College president Dan Patterson at last week’s convocation. Supplied photo. Vince DiCosimo, or “Mr. D” as he’s known to many, has spent the vast majority of his career helping build Niagara’s tourism sector. His most iconic achievement, the Hilton Fallsview, stands tall and proud overlooking Niagara Falls. […]

Vince DiCosimo

Is St. Catharines council biting the hand that feeds them?

by Kevin Vallier

In an attempt to clarify a mountain of misinformation and misunderstanding with regard to how a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) grant actually works, St. Catharines city councillor Karrie Porter will be bringing a motion forward to Monday night’s council meeting that would ask her colleagues to have further discussion on the Harbour Club development condo project taking place in Port Dalhousie where the former Lincoln Fabrics building exists.

harbour club

It’s status quo for Niagara governance… again

by Kevin Vallier

After months of repeating his frustration with the number of municipal politicians in Niagara premier Doug Ford has decided to change nothing when it comes to how the region of Niagara and the way its individual municipalities are governed.
During the summer months there were essentially two camps that surfaced when it came to a favoured new governance structure: a one-city model and a four-city model. Turns out neither group will get their way.

region map

It’s the economy…

by Kevin Vallier

Trevin Stratton, Chief Economist for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce will be in Niagara this Friday speaking to those in attendance at the annual Niagara Economic Summit. The Niagara Independent columnist will be discussing the state of the nation’s economy including some of the key challenges and opportunities.

bay street towers

Welland Canal was a game changer

by Kevin Vallier

The South Niagara Chambers of Commerce is hosting their second annual Game Changers event and there’s no question this year’s topic truly was a game changer for Niagara – the Welland Canal.
A panel of experts will discuss the history and economic impact of the canal as well as its future on Oct. 29 at Taris on the Water in Welland. Known as an engineering marvel construction on the first canal, which began at Port Dalhousie and ran along the Twelve Mile Creek to Port Robinson, started in November of 1824.

canal lock 9

The rise of Chateau des Charmes

by Kevin Vallier

Paul Bosc Sr. arrived in Canada from France in the early 1960s. He settled in Montreal and took a job with the liquor board. A fifth-generation French winegrower, Bosc knew a thing or two about wines and it quickly became apparent that Canada did not produce good wine. “Canada didn’t really have professional winemakers,” said Bosc. Not even 30 years old at the time, Bosc was often giving advice on winemaking. “I was lucky they had problems because I could fix them. They thought I was a genius, I wasn’t,” he said with a laugh.

Paul Bosc Jr. with his father Paul Sr.

Becoming a Leafs captain

by Kevin Vallier

There was a lot of hype a few weeks ago as to who would be the next captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It consumed Toronto media and “Leafs Nation”. Eventually most hockey pundits were right in their prediction it would be veteran forward and former Islanders captain John Tavares who would skate onto the ice for the team’s home opener with the ‘C’ on his jersey.

Following Tavares’ first game as captain, a video showing the Leafs’ star forward walking into an office with GM Kyle Dubas was made public. They were met by team president Brendan Shanahan and Tavares’ wife and baby. It was a nice moment for Tavares, his family, the team and their fans and it was certainly different from how the captain was named in the past.

rick vaive on the ice

Role reversal – Volunteer to candidate and candidate to volunteer

by Kevin Vallier

It’s the start of another busy day of campaigning and the Honorable Rob Nicholson, the Member of Parliament who has served the Niagara Falls riding for over 24 years is having coffee and reminiscing with Tony Baldinelli, the Conservative candidate who is hoping to succeed his former boss to become the riding’s next MP.

“It’s really a full circle story,” said Nicholson. “When I was first elected in 1984, over 30 years ago, Tony supported me and volunteered on my campaigns, and even worked for me in Ottawa beginning in 1988; now here I am volunteering on his campaign all these years later.”

nicholson and baldinelli

Developer blind-sided by council decision

by Kevin Vallier

To say the recent decision by St. Catharines City Council to not approve a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) grant to the development company breathing new life into the old Lincoln Fabrics building in Port Dalhousie was a surprise, is an understatement. “We were completely blindsided,” said Sheldon Rosen, President of Port Dalhousie Harbour Club.

Rosen said since day one the team behind the project has worked well with city staff and have “checked all the boxes” when it comes to what was asked of them by the city. “We’ve spent a great deal of time and funds working with the city,” explained Rosen. He acknowledged that city staff has been great to work with but the recent council vote to not approve the CIP funds, despite a staff recommendation to allow it, has him and the team very frustrated. Last Monday council voted 7-5 against providing the funding, which would amount to about $3 million, despite the fact that the project met all of the criteria to receive the grant.

harbour club

Will St. Catharines elect first female MP?

by Kevin Vallier

She’s knocked on more than 40,000 doors trying to convince the residents of St. Catharines riding that she should be their next federal member of parliament. If that happens, Conservative candidate Krystina Waler would become the riding’s first federally elected female since the riding was formed in 1966.
“It’s something I don’t take for granted,” said Waler when asked about the potential of a groundbreaking victory on election night. She’s in a tight race with Liberal incumbent Chris Bittle.

Krystina Waler and Team

Two out of three stars ain’t bad

by Kevin Vallier

The Niagara IceDogs lit the lamp eight times in front of a loud crowd at the Meridian Centre Friday night. The offensive explosion was lead by Philip Tomasino and Kyen Sopa who combined for a total of 11 points in an 8-4 victory. The IceDogs now sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a 3-2-1-1 record good enough for eight points.
Not only did Tomasino and Sopa earn post-game star honours but they were both recognized by the Ontario Hockey League for their offensive efforts with Tomasino earring the league’s first star of the week and Sopa earning second star.

Icedogs Sopa and Tomasino

Craft beverage industry gets provincial support

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s craft wineries received some good news recently that will help stabilize the industry and allow wineries to plan for the upcoming year. Last week, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman, was joined by MPP for Niagara West, Sam Oosterhoff to announce a one-year transition funding of over $15 million dollars. This investment will help small wineries, cideries and distilleries with key business decisions and planning while the government continues to conduct its review of the beverage alcohol sector.
While Ontario’s craft wineries, the vast majority of which are located throughout the Niagara region, continue to work with the government to try and eliminate what is essentially an import tax that is currently placed on wines produced in Ontario, this interim solution will help bridge the gap. The announcement gives the craft wine industry time and stability over the next year.

bottles of wine

Ludzik Gala: Time to roast the host

by Kevin Vallier

For the past seven years former NHL player and coach Steve Ludzik has put coaches and teammates in the line of fire at his annual celebrity roast. It seems this year his hockey pals have decided it’s time for Ludzik to get a taste of his own medicine.
“I guess they want to see if I can take it,” said Ludzik who will be the centre of attention as NHL players, coaches and other celebs line up to take their best shots at the man they call Ludzy. “They just need to figure out what stories they want to tell or can tell,” he said with a laugh.

steve ludzik

Chambers host binational business mixer

by Kevin Vallier

Ross Romano, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities was in Niagara this week holding a roundtable with local business owners. The Minister then attended the South Niagara Chambers of Commerce annual Niagara Networks Showcase. Minister Romano met with a select group of Niagara business owners to talk specifically about the labour shortage that Niagara businesses continue to wrestle with.
South Niagara Chamber CEO Dolores Fabiano said members and Chamber staff have been working on the issue for the better part of a year. “We’ve been working with the other Niagara Chambers and we’ve come up with some action items that we think will help and so we wanted to meet face-to-face with the Minister to share our thoughts and get his feedback.”

niagara networks

High school football kicks off

by Kevin Vallier

It’s a sure sign of fall. High school athletes are taking to the gridiron all across the region this week as high school football kicks off for another season.

The St. Paul Patriots look to repeat as Niagara Catholic Athletic Association (NCAA) senior boys champions while A.N. Myer in Niagara Falls looks to repeat as District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) champions.

high school football

New Niagara Falls hospital makes the list

by Kevin Vallier

While there have been doubts as to whether or not there will ever be a new south Niagara hospital built, a recent Infrastructure Ontario document titled P3 Market Update – Fall 2019 puts those doubts to rest.
The document lists a number of projects in the pre-procurement stage. Not surprisingly under the section titled “Hospitals and Other Social Facilities” the new West Lincoln Memorial Hospital is listed. What came as a welcomed surprise to many was “Niagara Falls Hospital” also being listed in the document.

niagara falls hospital sign

Police to get new command post

by Kevin Vallier

For the second year in a row Niagara Regional Police has received board approval to purchase a new vehicle that will assist in different emergency response situations. Last year the board approved the purchase of an armoured response vehicle. At last week’s Police Service’s board meeting, members approved the $4.15 million 2020 capital police budget that included $450,000 for a new mobile command centre.
Niagara Falls regional councillor Bob Gale and Wainfleet Mayor Kevin Gibson who sit on the police board voted against the purchase of the mobile command centre. That vote and the vote for the balance of the budget passed.

mobile command unit

What it takes to be a Snowbird

by Kevin Vallier

As a young boy growing up in St. Catharines Blake McNaughton says he was fortunate to know exactly what he wanted to do as an adult. “I was very lucky in that at a very early age I knew I wanted to be a military pilot,” said Captain McNaughton.
He not only met that goal but flew right past it on his way to piloting Snowbird number 10 for one of the most famous military air demonstration teams in the world. After flying for the team for the past three years, McNaughton is now an instructor and while his colleagues were dazzling on-lookers over the Niagara District Airport in Niagara-on-the-Lake earlier this week, Captain McNaughton was back in Saskatchewan helping train the next crop of potential Snowbirds as the Flight Safety Officer.

mcnuaghton-snowbirds

Niagara tech company nationally recognized

by Kevin Vallier

A couple of weeks ago Caddle CEO and Niagara native Ransom Hawley received an email with some exciting news but he wasn’t allowed to share it until yesterday. Hawley was informed that his four-year old tech start-up was named by Canadian Business and Maclean’s to the 2019 Startup 50 ranking of Canada’s Top New Growth Companies. Caddle was ranked 35th.
Caddle is like a 21st century focus group. It’s an app that can be downloaded to your smartphone. Essentially there are users on one side and brands on the other. The users take a few moments to watch a brand’s video, take a short survey or watch an ad. In return the user gets cash back and the brand gets critical market intelligence. “Almost everyone has a smartphone so it is a much faster and less expensive way for brands to collect market research data,” said Hawley.

caddle team

Development charges: friend or foe

by Kevin Vallier

Depending on who you talk to it’s either a necessary charge applied fairly to cover growth related infrastructure costs or a form of tax on home buyers that has over time become completely out of whack with other economic indicators. Regardless, development charges are a hot topic.

There has always been misunderstanding, confusion and discussion about development charges (DCs) since they were enacted in the Development Charges Act of 1997.  Conversation has ramped up again with the province passing Bill 108 – More Homes, More Choice Act which addresses some of the issues with what some call the “housing tax”.

home building

Feds pull through with summer games funds

by Kevin Vallier

The final piece of the funding puzzle has been put in place for the 2021 Canada Summer Games.
The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities; along with feral colleagues Vance Badawey, Member of Parliament for Niagara Centre and Chris Bittle, Member of Parliament for St. Catharines; Doug Hamilton, Chairman of the 2021 Canada Games and a host of other politicians and dignitaries were at the Welland Flatwater Centre yesterday to announce funding for the construction of two new sports facilities, the rehabilitation of seven other sporting venues, and the purchase of new specialized sports equipment for two events, all of which will be used for the 2021 Canada Games.

summer games funding announcement

Niagara shipyard looking for fair shake

by Kevin Vallier

The deadline for submission on a massive shipbuilding project – several new icebreakers for the Canadian Coast Guard – was Friday, Aug. 30 and while Shaun Padulo, president of Heddle Marine Services – which took over the Port Weller Dry Docks in Niagara in 2017 – was happy his company got his submission in, he’s still frustrated over the federal government’s procurement process.
Padulo, who became Heddle’s president last year, feels there are signs the process favours a Quebec shipyard over all others. He said he’s been watching the federal government’s procurement processes closely for a couple of years and there have been a few red flags that it may not be a fair process. One such red flag occurred when the industry was asked to bid on the construction of two new ferries. One of the ferries being replaced was originally built at Port Weller. The contract went to Davie shipyard in Quebec after the sizing of the vessel was changed at the last minute. The only shipyard that qualified after the size change was Davie.

heddle shipyard

Quirk cleared of any wrongdoing

by Kevin Vallier

Former regional councillor Tony Quirk has been completely cleared by auditors MNP of any wrongdoing when it comes to his campaign financial statements from the last municipal election. The exercise cost Niagara taxpayers about $11,000 according to sources.

Quirk’s finances were forced under the microscope when St. Catharines resident and executive director of A Better Niagara Ed Smith, filed a complaint to the Niagara compliance audit committee back in May. Smith alleged that Quirk’s auditor contributed more than is allowed by one individual to Quirk’s campaign. “Based on the analysis MNP concludes that the Candidate’s filing was appropriate and when specifically reviewing the issue related to the valuation of audit services, the value assumed by the Candidate was within a plausible range for the service,” reads MNP’s conclusion.

tony quirk

North Stars have Miller on draft

by Kevin Vallier

For the top minor midget AAA hockey players in Canada it’s a year like no other. Same goes for the head coaches of those teams. That’s because this is the year the kids have played their entire minor hockey careers for – their major junior draft year. For those playing in Ontario it’s their shot to take their hockey careers to the next level – the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
It’s a pressure packed year for the young players, parents and the coaching staff. Niagara North Stars’ minor midget AAA coach is no stranger to guiding young OHL and NHL hopefuls through their most important minor hockey season. Matt Miller has been there and done that. Miller, a Pickering native who now lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake, played NCAA hockey before going behind the bench to pass along what he learned over the years as a player and from his former coaches.

matt miller

Kemps earn success on and off the court

by Kevin Vallier

From the locker room to the board room, Jessica Kemp and her younger brother Michael have had a tremendous amount of success. The siblings are extraordinary athletes, both attended U.S. colleges on athletic scholarships, Jessica for basketball and Michael for baseball (he would eventually transfer to Brock and play basketball for the Badgers). Both have followed in their parent’s footsteps off the court running a highly successful financial planning firm that bears the family name – Kemp Financial.
Jessica Kemp played basketball locally at A.N. Myer in Niagara Falls before heading across the river to continue her hoops on the hardwood at Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She had a stellar career playing in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) as a Purple Eagle. She excelled on the court and in the classroom earning an MBA along with her impressive on-court statistics. In fact, in recognition of her academic and athletic success at Niagara University her name will be added to the MAAC Honor Roll at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. on Sept. 14.

Jessica and Michael Kemp

Regional Chair’s golf tournament another success

by Kevin Vallier

While Canada’s Brooke Henderson, one of the top female golfers in the world attempted to defend her Canadian Open title in Aurora, Ontario, weekend warriors were hoping to hit the odd fairway at the 22nd annual Niagara Regional Chair’s Charity Golf Tournament this past Friday at Niagara Parks’ Legends on the Niagara Golf Course in Niagara Falls. The tournament was another sellout and another huge success.
The tournament is an annual end of summer tradition on the charity golf circuit and over the two decades, it has raised about $2 million for a variety of local charities. This year proceeds from the tournament were principally directed to the Education Foundation and Hotel Dieu Shaver.

legends clubhouse

American visitors highest in over a decade

by Kevin Vallier

The number of American tourists coming to Canada is at the highest point in a little over a decade according to recent figures.

In a new study, Statistics Canada revealed that nearly 12.3 million trips were taken to Canada by Americans in the first six months of 2019. It’s the highest number of American trips that Canada has seen in the first half of a year since 2007. The study also found that two-thirds of the American travellers spent at least one night in Canada which is good news for everyone but particularly restaurants and hotels.

niagara falls bridge

Municipal politicians hope they made impact with provincial leaders

by Kevin Vallier

Dozens of Niagara’s municipal and regional politicians descended upon the nation’s capital earlier this week attending the annual Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) conference. It’s an opportunity for local political leaders and senior staff to shake hands and bend the ears of provincial and federal ministers, network with municipal colleagues and attend educational sessions on various topics from economics to policy development.

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati said that while the sessions are important and informative he finds the networking aspect a key to a productive conference. “The importance of networking and the exchanging of ideas is so important,” said Diodati. “You can roll up your sleeves, talk about important issues with no filters and have a very productive and useful conversation.”

mulroney and welland councillors

Niagara’s housing market continues to heat up

by Kevin Vallier

Contrary to pundits recent talk of a Canadian housing bubble about to burst or at least a coming large correction in the Canadian housing market, July home sales across Canada showed a substantial uptick. And according to the Niagara Association of Realtors, Niagara was a leader of this trend. Between July 2018 and July 2019 residential home sales across the peninsula jumped from 588 units to 715, an increase of 21.6 per cent.

giving keys

Funding means go time for games

by Kevin Vallier

Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Lisa MacLeod announces the province’s intent to fund the Canada Summer Games while board chair Doug Hamilton, board member Sandie Bellows and MPP Sam Oosterhoff look on. Let’s get started! That was the consistent message heard around Henley Island earlier today when Lisa MacLeod, the province’s Minister of Tourism, […]

games 2021

Niagara GO service expands to year-round

by Kevin Vallier

Metrolinx announced yesterday that they will be expanding weekend GO train service in Niagara year-round. “Weekend Niagara GO train service is becoming a year-round thing, so people in Niagara Falls and St. Catharines have options 365 days a year. The schedules will be the same as they are today,” read the statement.
“More service options for commuters in Niagara will make taking the GO more reliable and give customers more choice when they plan their trips,” said Niagara’s only conservative MPP Sam Oosterhoff.

go train

All in the family

by Kevin Vallier

It was March 10, 1968. That’s when the Nitsopolous family moved to Toronto where they would begin a new life in Canada and a journey that would eventually take them to St. Catharines where they would become one of the most successful business families in the city’s history.
“In our third year in Toronto we bought a house and in our fourth year we bought a business,” explained Angelo Nitsopolous the third oldest of the five brothers that include from oldest to youngest; Chris, John, Jimmy and Peter. The business, as Angelo describes it, was a chicken burger joint. It would be a sign of things to come as the brothers would soon launch themselves into the restaurant and hotel industry in a city located down the QEW. It was a good start considering their father arrived with just $300 in his pocket.

chamber awards

Province to announce Summer Games funding tomorrow

by Kevin Vallier

Canada Summer games funding announcement expected tomorrow. It’s looking like it will be a happy Friday for those individuals leading the organizing of the 2021 Canada Summer Games to be held in Niagara. At 1:30 p.m. tomorrow Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport is scheduled to make an announcement at the St. Catharines […]

summer games torch

Niagara Detention Centre to get specialized security team

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara MPP Sam Oosterhoff was joined by Ontario’s Solicitor General Sylvia Jones in Throold this morning at the Niagara Detention Centre as they announced new Institutional Security Teams (ISTs). The specialized teams will be added at the Niagara Detention Centre and Toronto East Detention Centre.
“These new teams will keep our institutions and our frontline staff safe by gathering intelligence about criminal activity inside and outside our facilities,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “Keeping gang activity, drugs and weapons out of our jails is critical to ensuring a safe work environment for the men and women who work on the front lines every day.”

minister jones at the ndc

Grimsby second best community in Canada

by Kevin Vallier

Maclean’s magazine recently released their inaugural Canada’s Best Communities rankings and Grimsby finished second behind only Burlington. Niagara-on-the-Lake also made the top ten coming in at number eight.

First place finisher, Burlington, ranked in the top 25 per cent in six out of 10 categories Maclean’s measured. It was also selected as this year’s best place to raise a family.

downtown grimsby

Washuta never wasted an opportunity

by Kevin Vallier

What started out as a seasonal paving company has turned into one of the largest and most successful waste management companies in North America. Steve Washuta (who passed away in 2008) moved to Niagara from Saskatchewan in the middle of the twentieth century to join his family. There were four Washuta brothers in total (one of the brothers’ son Greg Washuta was a long-time St. Catharines city councillor) and Steve went to work for his older brothers at their sand and gravel operation. Then he rolled a company truck and his brothers promptly fired him.

modern corp founder

“Bama Bound for Baseball

by Kevin Vallier

After having some time to reflect on one of the most stressful decisions any 17 year-old (he turns 18 this month) will have to make, Niagara Falls native Owen Diodati is all business and all baseball.
It was just last month when the strong power-hitting catcher had to decide between turning pro after being drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays or pursue his education while playing the game he loves. The Jays approached Diodati in the early rounds and made him an offer. The youngster had a number in mind and said the Jays weren’t far off which made the decision even tougher. “I had a number in my head. The Jays came really close to it and it made it a really tough choice but I want to go to school,” explained Diodati. He ended up still being drafted. “For the Jays to still draft me in the later rounds was pretty special. So much thought goes into draft day leading up to it and then I had about five minutes to make a life changing decision.”

owen diodati

Henley opens as two-year countdown to summer games begins

by Kevin Vallier

It was a perfect night to kick-off one of the biggest and most renowned regattas in North America and celebrate the two year-out anniversary until the launch of the 2021 Canada Summer Games.

A who’s who of Niagara politicians, athletes and business professionals gathered under the grandstand in Port Dalhousie for the dual celebration. After 11 year-old Ella Lambert sang a beautiful rendition of Oh Canada, emcee Rod Mawhood kept things moving as dignitaries and local politicians brought greetings and congratulations to the athletes in attendance.

A special addition to the evening’s agenda was the induction of the late Neil Campbell to the Rowing Canada Hall of Fame. Campbell, who coached numerous high school, club and Olympic crews was fondly remembered by two former members of the 1984 Olympic Games crew that won gold for Canada. 

henley opening

Gold to be hidden in Hamilton

by Kevin Vallier

A real life treasure hunt is coming to Hamilton and Niagara adventure seekers are welcomed to participate.
GoldHunt, has already captivated residents of Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary, the popular challenge has become so successful that organizers have expanded east and Hamilton will be one of the stops.
It’s a unique type of lottery where people purchase a map and begin their hunt for the $100,000 of real treasure, consisting of gold and silver coins hidden in the city.

chest of gold

So many students, so little housing

by Kevin Vallier

In some ways, it’s a good problem to have. Enrollment keeps climbing but all those students need a place to live. While Brad Clarke, Brock University’s Director of Student Life and Community Experience, is quick to point out the school is not in a “housing crunch” they are definitely looking to those in the community to open their doors to students.
Brock is even asking empty-nesters — or anyone with a surplus room or two — to consider renting it out to students.

quarry view residence at Brock

Prudhomme’s Landing development achieves another important milestone

by Kevin Vallier

It’s a game changer. That’s how the proposed massive development at Prudhomme’s Landing on the north side of the QEW in Vineland is being described as the project continues to move forward achieving another milestone last week. Town of Lincoln Council approved a zoning amendment and draft plan of subdivision agreement.
The purpose of a draft plan of subdivision is to develop land in an orderly manner by making sure that the proper infrastructure and municipal services will be in place. The lots may be developed individually, or as a group, and for a range of uses.

prudhommes landing

Niagara Parks ready for busiest weekend of the year

by Kevin Vallier

There’s a little something for everyone.
That’s the message Niagara Parks’ Chief Executive Officer David Adames would like tourists and locals to know about the numerous activities and attractions being offered this August long weekend by the Parks. “It’s very important for us to offer a variety of activities,” said Adames. He noted that there are different types of activities from passive trail walks, to arts and culture to more adventurous outings.

fort erie seige

Gales joins list of Niagara companies providing a living wage

by Kevin Vallier

Gales Gas Bars is the latest Niagara business to become a certified living wage employer. More than 20 companies throughout the region are now certified and the list will no doubt continue to grow. The living wage for Niagara comes in at $17.99 per hour which is slightly below the average for Ontario according to Anne Coleman, campaign manager for the Ontario Living Wage Network. Windsor has the lowest calculated living wage at $15.15 and not surprisingly Toronto comes in at the highest point with a $21.75 per hour living wage. All wages are for a family of four.
There are three categories of a certified living wage company; Supporter, Leader and Champion. Gales is considered a Supporter which means they will be paying their full time employees a living wage with a commitment to pay their part time employees that same wage in the future.

gales gas bar

A successful hire wire act

by Kevin Vallier

“You’re faced with two paths in life. One is nicely manicured with nice grass and flowers and easy to travel. The other is rocky, covered in broken branches and pot holes and takes a lot more work to walk down. If you take the easy path early on in life then you have to navigate the difficult path later on when you’re older, weaker and have less money. If you take the more challenging route in your younger years then you usually end up walking down a much more pleasant path in your later years.”
That’s the philosophy that Niagara businessman Larry Vaughan shares with his kids, his young employees and something he eventually figured out at a young age himself. My father told me, “What you learn once you get out of school, that’s most important,” said Vaughan. “My first day working for him, I brought my college diplomas and asked him where I should hang them.” His dad was quick to reply, “in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet.”

gams

Tourism businesses step up for soup kitchen

by Kevin Vallier

It’s a simple message printed in white on a bright red t-shirt: Be Nice. But it’s resonated with tourists in Niagara Falls and now across Canada.
Hugh Hockton, owner of the Niagara River Trading Company came up with the idea of putting the two words on a t-shirt while south of the border. “I was down in Florida and I saw something with ‘Be Nice” and I thought what a great simple message. It’s Just a nice thing to say and do.”

soup kitchen

Two models rise to top for governance change

by Kevin Vallier

As the provincial government awaits the highly anticipated report from its advisors, Ken Seiling and Michael Fenn, on how best to move forward with governance change in a number of regions across Ontario, including Niagara, it appears that two locally developed models of governance are getting most of the attention. The One Niagara NOW model, primarily supported by a St. Catharines group, has published a document and hired a lobbyist to state their case locally and at Queen’s Park. A similar effort is being made by a group that is championing a four city model. They too have published a document and have submitted their case to the advisors.
The four cities model calls for the elimination of the region leaving behind four merged cities: 1) Niagara Falls (Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake), 2) Welland (Welland, Port Colborne, Thorold), 3) St. Catharines and 4) West Niagara (Wainfleet, Pelham Lincoln, West Lincoln and Grimsby).

region map

Clearing the air on conservation authorities

by Kevin Vallier

Gale Wood has seen it all before. The CAO/Secretary Treasurer (the “acting” has been removed from her title) is no stranger to the politics and constant push and pull from special interest groups trying to influence their local conservation authority. The biggest challenge she said is getting the public to understand what exactly a conservation authority does and doesn’t do.
“Most of the confusion relates to our role with flood plain hazards and natural heritage and what we can comment on in terms of development,” said the seasoned conservation authority leader. “People believe we have a greater ability to protect natural heritage.” Wood said people in the public think the NPCA should be providing comment on everything when in fact there are really just three specific areas of responsibility for a conservation authority.

binbrook

Shut it down CBC

by Kevin Vallier

Canada’s public broadcaster should be ashamed of itself.
Word got out recently that the CBC was exploring the idea of doing a series about the horrific and brutal 1991 and 1992 killings of Kristen French, 15, and Leslie Mahaffy, 14. The man charged with those murders also admitted to raping more than a dozen other women between 1987 and 1990. His wife at the time, who, by all accounts, played a very significant role in those murders, and the killing of her own sister, is now enjoying her freedom and has been for several years. He continues to serve a life sentence for abduction, sexual assault and murder.

cbc

Birds of a Featherstone

by Kevin Vallier

How do you go from owning a specialty food store in Guelph to owning one of the most successful craft wineries in the province? It’s not as much of a stretch as you might think. But like any successful business story the road is paved with hard work, a bit of luck and good timing. Such is the case for Louise Engel and David Johnson co-owners of Featherstone Winery located in Vineland.
At the age of 21 Louise and husband David started a specialty food store in the 1980s. At that time red meat was taboo. So the young couple specialized in selling poultry. “If it had feathers, we sold it,” said Engel. They both grew up on farms and David’s education is in agriculture. Engel’s is in business. “The more we got interested in food the more we got interested in wine.”

Louise with falcon

Major manufacturing investment for Niagara College

by Kevin Vallier

The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, along with Vance Badawey, Member of Parliament for Niagara Centre, announced a FedDev Ontario contribution of $14 million to Niagara College to expand the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI). Badawey made the announcement on behalf of the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minister responsible for FedDev Ontario.
The $14-million investment will allow the network to grow to 10 partners, enhance its reach into the manufacturing community and support over 550 jobs.

Jackfish hitting it out of the park in inaugural season

by Kevin Vallier

Exceeding expectations. That’s how Welland Jackfish President and CEO Ryan Harrison would describe his ball team’s inaugural season in the Rose City. Well into the second half of their 36 game regular season schedule the Jackfish are an impressive 14-11 and sit in third place, five games back of first place Barrie Baycats.
“Our goal was to be 18 and 18 this season and knock on wood we should be above that at the end of the year,” said Harrison. This past weekend the Jackfish won two and lost one. “We had a big win against Guelph on Saturday as they are right behind us in the standings.”

jackfish

Pop-up beer garden becomes permanent

by Kevin Vallier

Shoppers at the Pen Centre in St. Catharines can now grab a cold craft brew or glass of local wine while perusing the stores.
What began as a temporary pop-up kiosk has turned into a permanent beer garden located between the Ricki’s and Aldo stores. Back in October, Lock Street Brewery founder Wolfgang Guembel had the idea to try and bring his brews to the shoppers at the Pen Centre during Oktoberfest. The Lock Street Beer Garden was born and it was a success. It returned for the Black Friday weekend and then again for another 10 days over Christmas. “December was slamming every day from 10 a.m. to closing,” said Guembel.

wolfgang

The rise of schoolyard hoops

by Kevin Vallier

Ever since the Toronto Raptors captivated Canadians with the country’s first ever NBA championship reports of kids flocking to community and schoolyard basketball courts have surfaced from city to city. A prime example is right here in Niagara where on any given summer night there can be up to 50 kids shooting hoops at the outdoor courts located at A.N. Myer high school. Both boys and girls of all ages are reenacting Kawhi Leonard’s now famous buzzer beater against the 76ers in the playoffs or driving to the hoop like Kyle Lowery.
Opened on Oct. 27 in 2016, the Phil Mazzone Sports Complex is home to four beautiful outdoor courts that were already used on a regular basis by local kids since they opened. It was the first public school in Niagara to have such a facility. However, since the Raptors playoff run the number of young NBA hopefuls has increased dramatically and that’s a good thing according to Vito DiMartino who at the time the idea of the complex was being discussed headed up the high schools physical education department. He was one of the driving forces behind the planning and building of the courts.

an myer courts

Niagara Falls selects conservative candidate

by Kevin Vallier

One of the biggest surprises leading up to this October’s federal election was the news that long-time and highly respected MP Rob Nicholson was not going to seek re-election. The 67 year old Nicholson has represented the Niagara Falls riding for 25 years in a federal capacity as well as serving his local constituents as a municipal politician in between his two stints in federal office.
Not surprisingly a number of people stepped forward to throw their hat in the ring and seek the nomination. In the end members of the Niagara Falls Conservative riding association selected Tony Baldinelli to represent them during the fall election.

tony baldinelli

The making of a business leader

by Kevin Vallier

Starting next week The Niagara Independent will be running a new series taking an in-depth look at Niagara’s most successful business leaders. In one-on-one interviews with the most successful entrepreneurs in the region we will go back in time and explore their stories from the very beginnings and map out their journey to success.

While Niagara may not be home to the global headquarters of Fortune 500 companies it is home to some of the most fascinating and inspiring business success stories in the country. Stories about people taking massive risks, working extremely hard, catching a few breaks and in the end providing good paying jobs and benefits to thousands of Niagara residents. They also contribute millions to local charities.

business success

Young fiddle player returns to roots

by Kevin Vallier

Alexander George is quickly becoming one of the best fiddle players in the country and this summer he has been given a chance to return home to Niagara where he will play in the musical comedy Oh Canada Eh in Niagara Falls.

The 18 year-old Humber College music student grew up in St. Catharines before moving to Ottawa to attend Cantebury high school which is home to a specialized arts program. He’s thrilled to be back in Niagara for the summer doing something he loves; and getting paid to do it. “My first fiddle teacher called me out of the blue in February or March and told me there was an opportunity with Oh Canada Eh,” said George. He auditioned and got the gig. “I got lucky because these gigs don’t come around often.”

alex george playing the fiddle

Niagara doctor has the heart for healing

by Kevin Vallier

It doesn’t take long to understand that Dr. Melanie Senechal was born to care for people.

The New Brunswick native arrived in Niagara in 2012 to become an emergency department physician with Niagara Health. She primarily works out of the St. Catharines site but also spends time caring for patients in Fort Erie once a week and since 2016 she’s been the medical director for the sexual assault and domestic violence care team.

Dr. Melanie Senechal

Thank those who serve whenever you can

by Kevin Vallier

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a great race in Niagara-on-the-Lake known as the Niagara Ultra. I highly recommend it for any of the runners out there. It’s well organized, has a great route down the Niagara Parkway and back and you can select from a number of distances including 10km, half and full marathon and even a 50km distance.

This year had an added special touch. Upon crossing the finish line runners were handed a water bottle and their finisher’s medal by members of our Canadian Armed Forces. There were at least six of them, maybe a couple more. They were young, wore the uniform with pride and very gracious and humble.

canadian military

Canada Day at the country’s most famous address

by Kevin Vallier

Even during her time as Chair of the Niagara Parks Commission, Janice Thomson didn’t believe in a “tourism season”. She still holds that belief in her new role as President and CEO of Niagara Falls Tourism. “We have four seasons of tourism and summer is the busiest of the four but Niagara Falls has plenty to offer tourists all year around,” she said.

Niagara Falls and its tourism operators are ready and willing to entertain the hundreds of thousands of tourists that will descend on Canada’s most famous address during this country’s birthday weekend. “There’s always a great mood on Canada Day weekend,” said Thomson who will attend Artistry by the Lake this weekend in Niagara-on-the-Lake before heading down to the Falls and Clifton Hill to interact with tourists. “I love watching the kids’ expressions as they see the Falls for the first time or when they arrive on Clifton Hill and see all the great attractions.”

canadian flag

What will guide Niagara’s budget process?

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara regional government’s budget meeting of June 20 signaled a significant change in regional financial policy.
While politicians and the public were preoccupied with the compensation and benefits of Niagara’s 31 regional councillors, there was very little attention given to the potential 3.3 per cent pay increase for 3,600 regional employees as a result of a staff recommendation to switch from using the Core Consumer Price Index (CPIX) to what is known as a Municipal Price Index (MPI) for guidance when preparing the Region’s 2020 budget.

redekop

Former Brock Badgers men’s basketball head coach Charles Kissi is now head assistant coach with Raptors 905. It was a view that will be etched into his memory for the rest of his life. In an interview with The Niagara Independent, former Brock Badgers men’s basketball coach Charles Kissi, who is now the head assistant […]

kissi

An open process for publicly funded projects in Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara residents can rest assured that bidding on tax-payer funded capital projects being constructed by the Region, local municipalities, school boards, hospitals and post-secondary institutions are open to all qualified bidders both union and non-union. Not so in many other regions around the province until recently and still not the case in Toronto.
In a move that has enraged non-union smaller and medium sized contractors, Toronto City Council voted 20-4 yesterday to opt-out of legislation that would allow the city to accept bids for construction projects from non-union companies. Canada’s largest city is now poised to be the only municipality in Ontario to have publicly funded projects built exclusively by a select group of labour unions.

cabinet shuffle

Niagara business leaders to be honoured

by Kevin Vallier

Mishka Balsom, President & CEO of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce at the 2018 Niagara Business Achievement Awards. Some very familiar names will be honoured at this year’s edition of the 16th Annual Niagara Business Achievement Awards put on by the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce. There are a number of successful small and […]

Mishka Balsom, President & CEO of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce

Day of a thousand musicians returns to Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

Paul Lemire and John Fillion aren’t going to give up on gathering 1,000 musicians together in one place to crank out some classic tunes.
Day of 1,000 Musicians returns to Niagara Falls for the second year on July 20, this time at the Gale Community Centre. Doors will open at 12 noon for the public and the concert is expected to wrap up around 7:30 p.m.

1000 musicians

Niagara federal show down

by Kevin Vallier

Who will Niagara residents send to Ottawa in October? The four races are shaping up to be very interesting. The Liberal red wave of four years ago under Justin Trudeau that sent Chris Bittle and Vance Badawey to the nation’s capital has taken a significant hit while the Andrew Scheer led conservatives have surged in the polls, but Canadians have seen that gap close before as momentum swings are a weekly occurrence leading up to election day. The NDP continue to be a distant third but with Niagara going mostly orange in the provincial election; will that translate over federally?
The Niagara Independent takes a look at the four Niagara ridings and provides a preview of the candidates from the three main parties running in each.

ballot box

Hutchings reflects on Niagara career and community

by Kevin Vallier

Walking through the halls with outgoing Brock University vice president of administration Brian Hutchings two things quickly become clear. One is that people are shocked he’s leaving. The second is he will be missed.
From the cashier at the Tim Horton’s kiosk, to faculty and staff passing by in the halls, everyone commented on Brock’s recent announcement that Hutchings will be leaving the academic world and heading back to the sector from whence he came; the municipal world.

brock turf

Oosterhoff reflects on one year in government

by Kevin Vallier

There’s no question west Niagara MPP Sam Oosterhoff has had an interesting first year as a member of the governing party. There have been some highlights and some controversial moments but overall he continues to have the same enthusiasm and passion for the job.
Oosterhoff pointed to seeing many of his local priorities moving forward as some of the accomplishments he’s most proud of. Number one is the announcement to build a new hospital in West Lincoln, something that was promised and cancelled a number of times by the previous Liberal government. “I was born at that hospital, so to stand next to the premier and make the announcement at West Lincoln was very meaningful to me personally,” said Oosterhoff. “The government has made this project a priority.”

sam oosterhoff

Progress for Port Dalhousie development

by Kevin Vallier

It’s been a long time coming.
There were many people in St. Catharines who thought they’d never see the day when a condo sales office in Port Dalhousie would actually open for business, welcome potential customers and sell units. But this past weekend the development known as Harbour Club launched its sales centre, known as the “Sails Pavilion” with a frenzy of interest.
By all accounts it was a successful opening with 40 units sold (out of 120) at an average price of $827,000. According to spokesperson Kate Carnegie, the majority of people are buying the two bedroom plus den units that are between 900 and 1,150 square feet.

Sheldon D. Rosen and Walter Sendzik

Trades strike province wide

by Kevin Vallier

Members of the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association walked off the job earlier this month when contract negations with Ontario General Contractors Association broke down. This week bus loads of sheet metal union members made the trek to picket in Niagara as part of what the union is calling their “solidarity bus tour”. About 4,000 sheet metal workers are on strike across Ontario.
Also on strike province-wide are Ontario’s plumbers and pipefitters. It’s the first time in 30 years that the sector has walked off the job. They’ve been on strike for a week while the sheet metal workers walked off the job more than a month ago.

sheet metal strike

Airbus Flying high in Fort Erie and around the world

by Kevin Vallier

Just a few months ago the first Airbus H145 helicopter to be delivered in Canada arrived at the RCMP’s base at Langley airport in Metro Vancouver. Why is that news in Niagara? Well because the state-of-the-art helicopter that allows the RCMP to support day and night operations over land and water, and conduct fast roping and hoisting, medical evacuations and search and rescue operations was manufactured, assembled and painted in Fort Erie.
While Airbus is a global company with offices in almost every country around the world most people in Niagara don’t realize that the Canadian headquarters is located in Fort Erie, employs nearly 300 people and is celebrating 35 years of operations.

Airbus employees

He was a man on a mission. Five years ago Steve Ludzik started what has become a trio of fundraisers to help those in Niagara who suffer from Parkinson’s disease. His celebrity roast is one of the must attend annual fundraisers in the region, a golf ball drop at Eagle Valley Golf Course was added to the mix and of course there is the annual Steve Ludzik Golf Tournament.
The tournament itself has raised more than $140,000 in just five years. Proceeds support the Steve Ludzik Centre for Parkinson’s Rehab.

ludzik

High school track and field championships

by Kevin Vallier

The crack of the starter’s pistol is quickly followed by the thundering sound of high school track stars racing towards the finish line while family, teammates and coaches scream encouragement from the sidelines.
Yesterday and today more than 1,200 student athletes representing high schools from Brampton and Georgetown all the way around to Fort Erie descended on St. Catharines to compete in the South Region finals and a chance to represent themselves and their school in Guelph next week at the Ontario high school track and field championships.

track and field

Province to create centre of excellence for mental health

by Kevin Vallier

It’s a disconnected, inconsistent and complicated system for patients and family members to navigate and understand. That is the reason the provincial government announced this week their intention to create a mental health and addictions centre of excellence for Ontario.
Called the Foundations for Promoting and Protecting Mental Health and Addictions Services Act, the legislation, if passed, will set up a provincial body that will coordinate mental health and addiction services, set care standards and deliver a better and more consistent patient experience.

robin martin

Fort Erie live racing begins today

by Kevin Vallier

Flashy Margaritta with jockey Kirk Johnson won the first race of the 2018 season. Supplied photo/Michael Burns It’s just a matter of hours until the thunder of thoroughbred hoofs power through the dirt oval as Fort Erie Race Track kicks off its live racing season today with the first post time at 4:20 p.m. In […]

fort erie racetrack

Niagara youth to design Summer Games mascot

by Kevin Vallier

They were loud, enthusiastic and united.
About 200 kids from five different Niagara elementary schools filled a conference room at White Oakes Resort and Spa yesterday morning to learn how they can potentially be the one who names and/or designs the mascot for the upcoming Canada Summer Games 2021 to be held in Niagara.
The information session quickly turned into a Summer Games pep rally with emcee Bawe Nsame whipping the crowed into a frenzy. Students and teachers alike chanted, clapped and cheered their way through the session.

summer games mascot

Once, and for all – Canada Summer Games prep begins

by Kevin Vallier

Regional Chair Jim Bradley along with 2021 Canada Summer Games Host Society Chair Doug Hamilton provided an update to about 100 people including elected officials and key stakeholders on the status of the Games Niagara will host in two years.
The message was clear – work is well underway and there’s a lot to be done but everyone must work together.
While the Host Society anxiously awaits funding announcements from provincial and federal governments, Games’ organizers continue to make headway on a number of fronts including infrastructure opportunities, legacy venues, the massive volunteer program, the brand, advocacy, cultural events and opening and closing ceremonies.

artist’s rendering of Canada Games Park

Niagara’s Mayors weigh in on governance options for Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

There are two prevailing theories on which way the Ontario government is going to go with governance restructuring in Niagara – four cities or one mega city.
The one city option has been discussed on and off for decades and is once again being trumpeted by a primarily St. Catharines based business group called One Niagara Now.
The Niagara Independent reached out to all of Niagara’s mayors for comment on which, if any, of the two popular governance models they prefer. Opinions varied with the common theme of wanting to maintain their individual communities and identities. The vast majority of Niagara’s mayors said they are against a one city model.

under review

Finance Minister speaks to South Niagara business leaders

by Kevin Vallier

It was a packed house at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse last night as many of Niagara’s business leaders and elected officials were on hand to hear provincial Minister of Finance Vic Fedeli discuss the province’s recent budget.

The event, organized by the South Niagara Chambers of Commerce, was, not surprisingly, very well attended as it’s not often business owners get to hear directly from the person in charge of the province’s finances.

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli speaks to business leaders of south Niagara Thursday night.

Dogs for sale?

by Kevin Vallier

It’s been a tough 24 hours for the Niagara’s Ontario Hockey League franchise the Niagara IceDogs.

First, a Superior Court judge ordered a lawsuit unsealed that revealed a not-so-pretty picture of player recruitment and infighting amongst current ownership, former players and head coach. The lawsuit filed by former IceDogs player and Chicago native Zach Wilkie dealt with a secret side deal that Wilkie says was made prior to his agreeing to sign with the IceDogs. The deal would have provided money to cover his full university costs. The Icedogs ended up balking at the deal at the end of Wilkie’s OHL career telling him he had to take it up with the Sudbury Wolves, the team Wilkie was traded to from Niagara.

In addition to the legal mess and public embarrassment, word broke last night that a local group is making a pitch to buy Niagara’s OHL team from the current owners, Bill and Denise Burke.

meridian centre

Sticks to bricks

by Kevin Vallier

Signing a professional contract to play hockey in North America doesn’t necessarily mean huge pay cheques, fancy cars and massive mansions. In fact, for the majority of professional hockey players their entire careers are short lived and spent mostly in the minor leagues like the American Hockey League (AHL) or East Coast Hockey League (ECHL).

As a player’s time in professional hockey reaches the end of the line they are usually still young, somewhere in their late twenties or earl thirties. They need to think about transitioning into their next career and that can be stressful. After being a star on the team for many years and feeling very comfortable doing what they’ve always done, it can be humbling searching for a new job.

stick to bricks

Two decades of providing power

by Kevin Vallier

They produce half of all the energy generated in Ontario. They have a significant footprint in Niagara and Ontario Power Generation (OPG), under the leadership of its new President and Chief Executive Officer, Ken Hartwick, now sets its sites on their next 20 years.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of OPG. The energy producer was established in April, 1999 under the Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris as a precursor to deregulation of the province’s electricity market. While the production, distribution and cost of energy in Ontario has consistently generated attention, particularly around election time, OPG has quietly gone about its business expanding an innovating to provide the lowest cost energy in Ontario.

“We want to be seen as a valuable company in Ontario and we take a lot of pride in not only providing low cost energy but being good partners in the communities we operate in,” said Jessica Polak, OPG’s Vice-President of Operations for Niagara.

Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating station in Niagara Falls.

St. Catharines pursues world rowing championship

by Kevin Vallier

The dedicated group of rowing enthusiasts that year-after-year maintain the rowing course and facilities at Henley Island in St. Catharines, organize regattas and continuously promote the sport are once again aiming to host the rowing world.
While the initial target year to host a world event was 2020 the group now has their sights set on the World Rowing Championships of 2024. Regional councillor and long-time rowing volunteer Tim Rigby said the St. Catharines group that was working on the bid for the 2020 championships realized there were just too many roadblocks getting in the way of their bid submission. Rigby said the main hurdle was a strict financial piece that FISA (the governing body for world rowing) had in place at the time.

rowing

The future arrives today

by Kevin Vallier

It’s the most anticipated arrival of any Blue Jay in the team’s history.
After Wednesday’s loss to the San Francisco Giants, Jays’ skipper Charlie Montoyo finally announced what Toronto baseball fans have been waiting to hear for a long time… their most prized prospect, the number one prospect in all of baseball, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is being called up to the show.
It’s being called V-day. Ticket sales and media interest spiked both in Canada and south of the border when news broke of Vladdy’s call-up. Guerrero’s Buffalo Bisons teammate and highly ranked prospect in his own right, Bo Bichette, tweeted out Wednesday night, “You’ve become like a brother to me and I can’t wait to watch you play. Wayyyyyy overdue. Yo te amo.”

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

The world’s most famous boat ride

by Kevin Vallier

“We’re like the race horse chomping at the bit ready to get out of the gate.”
That’s how Hornblower Niagara Cruises vice president and general manager, Mory DiMaurizio describes how he and his team feel at this time of year. Eager to launch their world famous vessels and anxiously awaiting the ice to melt or move down river, Hornblower Niagara is excited about the upcoming tourism season. “Everyone just wants to get going,” said DiMaurizio.
Hornblower arrived in Niagara in 2014 and officially launched on May 15 following a change in operators after the Maid of the Mist boats cruised up and down the Niagara River for decades. Current regional councillor Bob Gale was on the Niagara Parks Commission Board at the time and questioned why the Maid of the Mist operation seemed to be automatically renewed as the service provider every year. Gale pushed for an open bidding process which Hornblower won. The transition ended up being very favourable to the Parks Commission saving them at least $300 million.

hornblower

The economic transformation of Welland

by Kevin Vallier

They changed their approach and the results are impressive.
The City of Welland has undergone an economic transformation in the past few years. Once seen as an economically depressed and struggling community, the Rose City has pulled up its boot straps, changed its approach to business and is now a leader in economic activity.
“We’ve been fortunate to attract a lot of private sector investment,” said Welland’s Chief Administrative Officer Gary Long. The city had $9.2 million in land sales in 2018 for both industrial and residential development and Long says the demand is still high.

welland

Women candidates weigh in on SNC scandal

by Kevin Vallier

Krystina Waler and April Jeffs have been paying close attention to the SNC-Lavallin scandal that has consumed much of the Canadian media’s and public’s attention over the past few months. Both women are running for the Conservative Party of Canada in the upcoming federal election, Waler in St. Catharines and Jeffs in Niagara Centre. Both women don’t like what they’ve seen from the Prime Minister and are sympathetic to their female colleagues even though they carry the flag of a different political party.
Scandals, of varying degrees, in Ottawa certainly aren’t new and have involved every political party at one time or another. They also tend to fade fairly quickly like a cheap pair of blue jeans put through the wash machine one too many times. SNC-Lavallin however has the real potential of not going anywhere fast.

jeffs, mulroney and waler

Niagara’s casinos will be on level playing field

by Kevin Vallier

The two casinos in Niagara Falls will soon be operated by an American company, Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment, and now thanks to a recent decision by the Ontario PC government, they will be able to do one thing their American casino counterparts have done for years, serve free alcohol to patrons.
“The cornerstone of putting people first is consumer choice and convenience,” Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said when presenting his government’s budget last week. “This is why our government is taking steps to modernize the way we sell, distribute and consume alcohol in Ontario.”
Part of the selling, distributing and consuming alcohol in Ontario mandate is to allow the province’s casinos to advertise free alcohol, something U.S. casinos have done for decades.

casinos

Nicholson says goodbye to politics

by Kevin Vallier

It’s one of the most impressive careers any Canadian has had in federal politics and now it’s time to step aside says Niagara Falls Conservative member of Parliament Rob Nicholson. After serving his constituents as their Ottawa representative for 24 years as well as serving all Canadians in his roles as a federal minister (including justice, defence and foreign affairs), Nicholson wants to spend more time with his family.
The father of three served under three prime ministers during his time as a conservative MP. He also spent six years as a Niagara regional councillor. “I’ve had a good run at it,” said Nicholson in an interview Wednesday with The Niagara Independent. “Serving over three decades in public office only works if you have the full support of your family as well as having a great staff,” explained the Conservative MP. “If you’re family doesn’t support you in this line of work, you won’t make it,” he said.

Niagara Falls MP Rob Nicholson during his time as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Chair acknowledges past successes

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s Regional Chair Jim Bradley highlighted numerous successes of the past Regional Council during his first state-of-the-region address last week, hosted by the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce and held at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls. With decades of political experience under his belt, the former Liberal MPP knows when to be diplomatic and when to turn the page on the past. Instead of beating the proverbial dead horse of hiring practices and lawsuits that some councillors still want to drag out, Bradley chose to give credit where credit is due by acknowledging the work of past council during his remarks to Niagara’s business and public sector leaders in attendance.
Using terms like “teamwork”, “shared vision” and “spirit of cooperation” early in his speech was about as close as the Chairman would come to addressing the past council’s negative press. He then quickly moved on to praising Niagara’s business community for “providing the jobs and economic opportunities needed to keep the region both strong and vibrant.”

Regional Chair Jim Bradley delivers his first state-of-the-region address

Niagara doctor has seen first-hand the importance of organ donation

by Kevin Vallier

He’s witnessed first-hand the enormous impact an organ donation and successful transplantation can have on a family. As a kid Hari Vasan spent a lot of time in hospitals. His father was sick and urgently needed a new kidney. “My father was on dialysis for years,” said Vasan. He recalls his basement being full of dialysis supplies when his father was receiving peritoneal dialysis from home. “He was self employed as a lawyer so having to receive dialysis several times a week for a few hours a time made it very difficult to have a career and support a family.”
Then the phone rang. “I can still remember getting that call,” recalled Vasan. The phone call was to say they had found a donor and that the elder Vasan was going to receive a life-saving kidney that would give him a quality of life he hadn’t had in years. The kidney came from someone who had passed away and decided to donate their organs. “We will be forever grateful to that person.”

Karen (Charge Nurse), Dr. Hari Vasan and Elayn (Clinical Manager – ICU)

South Niagara Chambers launch business focused governance survey

by Kevin Vallier

The South Niagara Chambers of Commerce, consisting of Niagara Falls, Welland, Fort Erie and Port Colborne, along with the west Niagara Chambers of Commerce and the Niagara Centre Board of Trade have recently released a survey on the topic of governance review. The group totals about 4,000 Niagara businesses. This is the latest in several surveys available for residents of Niagara to participate in, however, it’s the first survey primarily focused on what business owners would like to see as a result of a governance shake up. The province, Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce (GNCC) and various municipalities have all completed or have surveys currently available for the public to complete.
The GNCC survey results are in and are now posted on their website. Their findings indicate that overwhelmingly Niagara residents feel a strong desire for governance reform (76% in favour), fewer politicians and faster decision making. Although some have tried to make the argument that more elected officials is a good thing for democracy and provides greater access to elected representatives, those who take the GNCC survey clearly stated that access to their councilor was not a priority in the least.

welland canal

Niagara Independent contributor named Editor-in-Chief for Sun Media

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Independent contributor, Mark Towhey, will be joining Postmedia and specifically Sun News as Editor-in-Chief. He’ll replace Jamie Wallace who left the role in January. From the inception of The Niagara Independent, Towhey has been a valuable contributor providing columns and commentary on social and political issues including: the Police Services Act, the Province’s sex-ed curriculum, the opioid crisis and gun control.
Former Ontario Finance Minister Janet Ecker has been added to The Niagara Independent roster of contributors to fill Towhey’s void. Ecker will be writing on provincial issues and brings a wealth of knowledge on the most important issues facing Ontario.

mark towhey

Full steam ahead for Port development

by Kevin Vallier

It’s called The Harbour Club and the Port Dalhousie condo development is now starting to set sail.

The sales pavilion won’t open for another few weeks but the interest in what was the Lincoln Fabrics building, but soon to be high-end condos, has grown consistently since the project was first announced. Now that the development has essentially received the blessings needed by city staff and council to move forward and get a shovel in the ground, those involved with The Harbour Club say that word is spreading beyond Niagara’s borders.

“Interest is coming in from around Ontario and in particular the greater Toronto area,” said Sheldon Rosen, President of The Harbour Club project. Rosen said that initially awareness of the project was limited to local residents but since receiving more media coverage and an increase in marketing, people well beyond Niagara are taking notice. “Word has spread that Port Dalhousie is back and interest is 50-50 from within Niagara and outside of the region,” said Rosen.

harbour club

Province’s wine industry needs fair shake

by Kevin Vallier

In speaking with a number of wine industry leaders and combing through numerous studies, financial analyses and reports one thing is clear; Ontario’s craft wine industry is at a crossroads and the Ford government needs to make sure they choose the right road when making changes to legislation regarding alcohol sales in Ontario.
Simply putting booze in big box stores isn’t going to help. In fact it will do more harm than good when it comes to craft wineries. While many Ontarian’s, particularly in Niagara, fancy themselves sophisticated wine connoisseurs the fact of the matter is more often than not they will reach for $9.99 import bottle instead of the $14.99 VQA offering.

bottles of wine

United Way taps next generation Sherk for Campaign chair

by Kevin Vallier

Some people are just born leaders. They don’t want anything handed to them and they earn every opportunity they get. Then, once they achieve some well earned early success, their first thought is, “how can I give back?” That’s Caroline Sherk and at age 24 she’s the youngest person ever to Chair a United Way campaign in Niagara. Add to that, the St. Catharines native and Brock graduate is the first to chair a campaign under the newly amalgamated United Way Niagara model that in 2018 saw St. Catharines, Fort Erie and Niagara Falls United Ways come together to operate as one organization under the leadership of Executive Director Frances Hallworth.

Caroline Sherk

New Parks CEO has priorities picked

by Kevin Vallier

The Niagara Parks Commission, now lead by new Chair, Sandie Bellows, and vice-chair, April Jeffs can add CEO David Adames, to its leadership team. Adames becomes just the 12th CEO to serve in the Commission’s top administrative position since its inception in 1885.
The organization’s new leader is not new to the Niagara Parks however. He joined the organization in 2013, as Senior Director of Business Development. Adames then assumed the role of Chief Operating Officer in 2016 and Acting CEO in October 2018.

adames

Wineries press for more retail options

by Kevin Vallier

With the current provincial government set to make significant changes on how alcohol is sold in Ontario, The Niagara Independent is examining the challenges and opportunities facing Ontario’s wine industry and what type of impact the potential changes could have on this province’s wine makers.
Ontario’s craft wineries are excited about the province’s promise to expand retail options for wine sales in Ontario. It seems like a natural win-win but depending on how the proposed expansion ends up being structured it could be boon or bust for Ontario’s small and medium sized wineries. For decades now the craft wineries in Niagara and across the province have advocated to expand wine retailing to privately owned and operated businesses.

wine sales

Niagara poised for industrial growth says Port Authority CEO

by Kevin Vallier

Ian Hamilton, President and CEO of the Hamilton Port Authority was in Niagara Wednesday speaking to politicians from across the region about intermodal transportation and how the city of Hamilton has leveraged their port for the benefit of an entire municipality.
The event, entitled, Building Niagara, was born five years ago as a result of the realization that there really wasn’t a time when Niagara’s politicians at all levels of government got together to discuss issues of the day. “We would get feedback from our municipal politicians after they returned from the AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) conference that they would say to each other how great it is to get together and so we thought why not have an annual event that allows that to happen right here in Niagara,” said Dolores Fabiano, Executive Director of the South Niagara Chambers of Commerce. The Chambers, along with lead sponsor, The Niagara Industrial Association hosted the event. About 65 politicians were in attendance for this year’s talk.

South Niagara Chambers of Commerce Executive Director, Dolores Fabiano, keynote speaker Ian Hamilton and moderator John Armstrong.

Fort Erie receives horse track funding

by Kevin Vallier

The provincial government has announced additional funding to help ensure long-term sustainability of Ontario’s horse racing industry.
The Ford government will provide $10 million a year to support programs for breeders and horsepeople through the Horse Improvement Program (HIP). This will support breeding and industry development for Ontario-bred horses and will be administered by Ontario Racing, replacing the Enhanced Horse Improvement Program previously administered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

fort erie track

Medical students want to learn in Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

There was a time when trying to get a medical student to come to Niagara to receive clinical training was nearly impossible. Rundown and outdated hospitals, uncertain healthcare restructuring and no formal affiliation with any medical school made clinical teaching within the walls of a Niagara hospital seem like a pipe dream. Times have changed.
Today, the Niagara Health System averages just over 1,900 clinical and clinical support student placements a year and those students come from a whopping 96 different post-secondary institutions. More than sixty are Ontario schools, 18 are Canadian colleges and universities from outside of the province and 11 are American. Of the 1,900 students, 1,700 are clinical students with the remainder being students studying in support areas like bio-medical engineering, health information management, human resources or business. Nursing accounts for the highest number of clinical placements.

clinical teaching

Taxing times for Ontario’s wine industry

by Kevin Vallier

They don’t want special treatment. They just want fair treatment.

That’s the message the Ontario Craft Wineries are hammering home to the Ford government as the province explores ways to expand the sale of alcohol across Ontario. Yes, the association that represents small and medium sized VQA wineries throughout the province have ideas and recommendations about alcohol sale expansion but the more pressing concern is the archaic tax system under which they are forced to operate. It’s a system that when explained to people outside of the industry it usually elicits a jaw dropping, eyes widening response of, “that’s ridiculous!”

Essentially there are two different models of taxation that Ontario wineries face; one for when they sell product into the U.S. market and one for Ontario sales. The U.S. system is a three-tier distribution system where Ontario wineries must use a U.S. importer at which point they face a 35% markup (tax), then the product goes through a U.S. distributor where the wine faces another 35% markup and finally it ends up in a retail space where it gets slapped with another 35% tax for a total of a 100% markup.

twenty valley

Building her career

by Kevin Vallier

Even in 2019 the construction industry is dominated by men but that isn’t stopping Jessica Garrett from pursuing her dream of one day having a very rewarding career in the field.
The Niagara College third-year Construction Engineering Technology student was recently awarded the College’s first Women in Construction Faculty Award. Established through the generosity of Welland resident Jan Erion, the award is a $500 donation toward a student’s tuition, designated specifically for a female student in one of the College’s construction programs.

Third-year Construction Engineering Technology student Jessica Garrett

Niagara-on-the-Lake leaders lauded

by Kevin Vallier

There’s probably only one thing that could top being awarded Citizen of the Year and that would be having your daughter follow your acceptance speech with her own heartfelt words of thanks, congratulations and gratitude for what you mean to her. That’s exactly what happened to local businessman Rainer Hummel recently as he was presented the prestigious annual award from Lord Mayor Betty Disero and then fought back tears as his daughter, Raiana Schwenker, a successful businesswoman in her own right, praised her dad.
Disero mentioned in her remarks how often Hummel has acted as a mentor for Niagara-on-the-Lake businesses. Hummel’s own path to business success has been paved with hard work, strong values and relentless pursuit of excellence.

Two Sisters Vineyards won the Company of the Year Award at the recent Spirit of Niagara Awards. The winery’s co-proprietors are Angela Marotta and Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli.

Olympic hopefuls will be put to the test in Niagara

by Kevin Vallier

Young athletes from around the region who have aspirations of being an Olympian, will be put to the test this weekend as Brock University plays host to an Olympic combine talent search.
The first stop for RBC Training Ground in Ontario will be tomorrow at the university’s Sports Performance Centre.
Training Ground aims to provide amateur athletes a chance to compete in Canada’s Olympic pool. It’s the third time the combine will be held in Niagara.

olympic training

New study highlights tourism sector’s big impact on economy

by Kevin Vallier

There’s no doubt that most people in Niagara recognize that the tourism industry has an impact on the local economy but they probably don’t know the extent.
A new report from Niagara Economic Development has dug into the numbers and the numbers are big. In a first-of-it- kind report, titled Niagara Tourism Profile, it states that tourists visiting Niagara pumped $2.4 billion into the local economy. According to the region, the report, which uses data compiled in collaboration with Statistics Canada, is the first to provide a comprehensive understanding of the tourism industry’s contribution to Niagara’s economy.

niagara falls

The future of Ontario’s wine industry

by Kevin Vallier

The future of Ontario’s wine industry is at a crossroads. Changes are coming and depending on what those changes are, small and medium sized wineries in Ontario (the vast majority of which are in Niagara) could either flourish or potentially flounder.
The Niagara Independent will examine what’s at stake for the province’s wine industry over a series of articles that will examine the current tax structure on wine, location of product sales, the importing of foreign wines and comparing the regulatory burden on the wine industry versus the cannabis industry.
In the Niagara peninsula alone, the wine industry has a nearly $4 billion economic impact according to the latest studies. There are nearly 100 wineries just in Niagara and the number of wine related tourists that visit Niagara is over two million a year. Province-wide the wine industry is responsible for about 18,000 jobs totalling $870 million in wages. It’s big business.

wine

The show must go on says Ludzik

by Kevin Vallier

Steve Ludzik is in yet another battle. The former NHL player and coach has been in as many battles off the ice as he as on it. It’s no secret that “Ludzy” as many affectionately know him, has battled health issues for decades. First it was Crohn’s disease which almost ended his hockey career while still playing junior. Then Ludzik was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease as an adult. Now he is in need of a liver transplant after being diagnosed two weeks ago with primary sclerosing cholangitis – the same disease that ultimately took the life of Walter “Sweetness” Payton, the legendary Chicago Bears running back.

Over the past few weeks there had been rumours about Ludzik’s health as it was apparent from his physical appearance something was wrong. “I don’t see why I should keep it a secret,” Ludzik told The Niagara Independent. “People start to guess; Is it cancer? Is alcoholism?”

ludzik

Ontario embarks on new era of healthcare

by Kevin Vallier

In a much-anticipated announcement, Ontario’s health minister, Christine Elliott, laid out the government’s plan to make some significant changes to how healthcare is run in this province.
The Ford government has said all along that it wants to “end hallway medicine” in Ontario but until this week they had not put forth a detailed plan on how they would go about that. In the absence of details, the NDP filled the airwaves with speculation about privatisation and cuts. What Minister Elliott announced in fact, was a plan to bolster the use of technology, reduce bureaucracy by winding down and eventually eliminating the Local Health Integration Networks (LHIN), and bringing several existing (Ontario currently has a large network of provincial and regional agencies, clinical oversight bodies and 1,800 health service provider organizations) provincial healthcare programs under one roof called Ontario Health. One of those existing agencies that the ministry looked at as a very successful model to emulate is Cancer Care Ontario. “It’s a great example of what is working. Cancer Care Ontario is world class,” said Elliott.

Ontario’s health minister, Christine Elliott

Hope for Port Dalhousie condo project

by Kevin Vallier

There is renewed optimism amongst many residents now that one of the most respected business owners and residents in Niagara, Tom Rankin, has purchased the site in Port Dalhousie that has failed to see a proposed condo development become a reality for well over a decade.
The original developers proposed a 20-storey glass tower condo in 2004. That proposal faced opposition from local residents and was eventually shot down by the city council of the day. Fortress Union Waterfront purchased the property in 2015 and proposed a mixed-use 14-storey building. St. Catharines city council was awaiting a staff recommendation on that proposal when it was announced that the project yet again came to a grinding halt as Fortress went into receivership last year.

port tower

Brock Men win Silver and Women take Bronze at OUA curling championships

by Kevin Vallier

Brock University will be sending both its men’s and women’s curling teams east to the national championships in Fredericton, New Brunswick with impressive performances this past weekend at the Ontario finals.
“I’m very proud of our Varsity men and women for working so hard all year and achieving the goal of medalling at OUAs and reaching USport Nationals. Our entire curling program, from our developmental teams to our coaching staff and support people, share in our success,” said head coach Murray Etherington.

brock curling

Creating spirits of today with a nod to the past

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara Falls Craft Distillers is banking on a very successful future. Part of that success is built on their recognition of the areas rich past. It’s a history the company ties into each product be it vodka, whiskey, rum or gin.
Established in 2017 under the leadership and vision of local businessman and Niagara native Chris Jeffries, the distillery has had some good success in a short time period. Niagara, once known solely for its wineries and vineyards, is now making a name for itself in the craft beer and spirits markets as well. Jeffries, who owns the Syndicate restaurant in Niagara Falls where he has been brewing craft beer for over a decade, decided to take the leap into the spirits market.

niagara falls craft distillers

Crossing the line – councillors fed up with leaks

by Kevin Vallier

Many of Niagara’s regional councillors have had enough of confidential information being leaked to the public. The latest in a string of such code of conduct violations occurred this past summer. It was reported this week that someone secretly recorded the deliberations in a closed-session meeting last July then handed the recording to a local reporter, a clear violation of the council’s Code of Conduct (referenced at the bottom of this article).
Regional council members The Niagara Independent spoke with expressed frustration, anger and disappointment with the fact that one of their colleagues secretly recorded in-camera conversations.

confidential

Convention Centre key to local economy

by Kevin Vallier

Since opening its doors in 2011, the Scotiabank Convention Centre the 280,000 square foot facility continues to accomplish what it supporters hoped it would. The Centre, located across from the Fallsview Casino doesn’t receive a lot of publicity but that doesn’t mean things aren’t busy.
“Most of what happens inside these walls is business to business conventions and conferences and therefore they aren’t marketing to the public so people may have this impression that there isn’t much going on because they only hear about concerts or things like Comic Con,” said Noel Buckley, the Centre’s president and general manager. In fact about 70 per cent of the Centre’s revenue comes from the business to business conferences, conventions and trade-shows.

scotiabank convention centre

D’Angelo did not resign

by Kevin Vallier

Contrary to news reports and memos from the Region last week, the Region’s CAO Carmen D’Angelo has not resigned.
D’Angelo, who was hired as the Region’s CAO in October of 2016, never did resign contrary to the numerous media reports and social media posts. D’Angelo’s hiring is a focus of a current provincial Ombudsman’s investigation which should wrap up later this month.

niagara region HQ

Health Minister knows firsthand importance of rehab care

by Kevin Vallier

It was a busy end to the week as two high profile provincial cabinet ministers were in St. Catharines to make funding announcements. First, the province’s Minister of Infrastructure Monte McNaughton joined St. Catharines federal MP Chris Bittle to announce up to $400,000 to fund the replacement of 12 diesel engines for the St. Catharines transit bus fleet.
McNaughton then hustled over to Hotel Dieu Shaver Health and Rehabilitation Centre where he joined his cabinet colleague and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Christine Elliott to reaffirm that their government will indeed follow through with a half million dollar planning grant that originally was a campaign promise made by the then governing Liberals leading up to the provincial election. The actual cash was welcome news as past Liberal campaign promises, like a new hospital in Niagara Falls, which was announced by the Liberals twice during the past two provincial campaigns but never came to fruition.

Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Christine Elliott at Hotel Dieu Shaver

Brock transforms Goodman Business School

by Kevin Vallier

The Goodman School of Business at Brock University has been transformed. At a ribbon cutting on Friday, university officials, students and dignitaries gathered inside the bright, modern facility to officially open the new digs.
The Canadian business school market is highly competitive with many well established schools like Ivey at the University of Western Ontario, Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and York University’s Schulich School of Business to name just a few. Brock is hoping that the $24 million project, which includes 79,000 square feet of new and renovated space, will give Goodman the push it needs to compete nationally and internationally with the big business school players that have been around much longer.

goodman school of business opening

Summer games leadership heads west

by Kevin Vallier

In just two weeks from today Red Deer, Alberta will kick-off the 2019 Canada Winter Games. At those games will be a contingent of Niagara representatives observing, asking questions and taking note of how to successfully run a national sporting event.
Doug Hamilton, chair of the 2021 Host Society Board of Directors, says there will be three groups heading to Red Deer at three different times. Ten Niagara representatives will be making the trip west in two weeks for the opening ceremonies while another group of similar numbers heads to Red Deer mid-games and the last group of 10 to 12 people will book their flight for the closing ceremonies.

summer games

Niagara icebreaker keeps the power on

by Kevin Vallier

While Niagara residents try and stay warm during this recent deep freeze, the Niagara River needs to keep its waters flowing in order to supply power to the province and electricity to homes and businesses. A frozen Niagara River can quickly cause a problem, from flooding to power failure. Enter the Niagara Queen II, an 85-tonne vessel, powered by two 1,720-horsepower diesel engines, the icebreaker smashes through the frozen waterway ensuring the rivers icy waters continue to flow.
First commissioned in 1992, the small, dependable icebreaker, owned and operated by Ontario Power Generation (OPG), helps keep the water flowing to OPG’s Adam Beck hydroelectric stations, which generate more than 2,000 megawatts of power for the province.

Ice Breaker

The police budget balancing act

by Kevin Vallier

As Niagara’s Police Services Board works with Chief Bryan MacCulloch and his senior staff to finalize the 2019 budget, much has been made about recent reports of the services’ reserve funds being drained. The Niagara Regional Police (NRP), which has no-less than eight different reserve funds currently totalling $10 million, had a 2018 operating budget of $143 million. That was up 4.5% from 2017 and currently the board is dealing with an ask of a 6.5% increase for 2019.

In 2017, regional councillors directed the Region’s agencies, boards and commissions to present budgets with no more than a 1.5% increase. The police board however was forced to wrestle with an arbitration award that year which added $6.7 million in salary costs retroactive to 2016. Salaries and benefits make up more than 90 per cent of the NRP’s budget.

gansel

Game Changer: Thomson to tell tales of how Falls landed casino

by Kevin Vallier

The South Niagara Chambers of Commerce will be kicking off a new series featuring conversations around initiatives that have changed the landscape of the Niagara Region.

On Thursday, January 31, former Niagara Falls Mayor Wayne Thomson will give audience members a behind the scenes look at how of one of the greatest economic investments the region has seen in the past 25 years unfolded. The fireside chat will reveal the vision, challenges and eventual success that lead to arguably Niagara’s biggest ever game changer.

casino niagara

Sold! Inside the live auction world

by Kevin Vallier

Live auctions have a long history. In fact, reports suggest that history extends as far back as 500 B.C. The Roman Empire used auctions to liquidate property and estate goods. There’s also evidence of Buddhist monks in China using auctions to fund the creation of temples, as it became customary to auction off the property of deceased monks for this purpose. Early auction houses were created in the 18th century. Sotheby’s was created in 1744 and Christie’s was created in 1766.

Today, St. Catharines resident Mark Balanowski and business partner Frances Fripp have teamed up to launch a unique auction company that is changing the face of the industry.

auction

Oosterhoff defends Bill 66 from fear mongering

by Kevin Vallier

“Let me be very clear; we are not touching the Greenbelt.” Those were the concise words of west Niagara MPP Sam Oosterhoff to regional councillors at last week’s council meeting during a discussion on the province’s Bill 66 entitled “Restoring Ontario’s Competiveness Act”.

Oosterhoff added that the proposed legislation “does not touch the Clean Water Act”. The MPP was forced to defend the bill at regional council after learning St. Catharines NDP MPP Jeff Burch would be making a presentation encouraging council to submit a response to the province opposing the Act.

West Niagara MPP Sam Oosterhoff speaks at Regional Council meeting

An iron will to succeed

by Kevin Vallier

The fact that there are no quality standards in place for pet food manufacturing may surprise people and it’s a little scary for pet food owners. But a Niagara company is not only producing a top quality raw dog food but is doing so in a facility that meets the most stringent regulations for making human food.

Located in a nondescript building on the border of St. Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake, Iron Will Raw pet food is a Niagara business success story on many fronts. President and CEO Matt Bonanno, a Niagara Falls native, started his working career as a carpenter in the Toronto area. At the same time he was training dogs that would eventually join the K-9 units for police forces around the province. It was during that time that Bonanno noticed a big difference in the animals when they were eating quality raw food. He started experimenting with his own recipes to come up with a food that had the proper balance of proteins, vitamins and minerals for strong, active canines. Eventually he moved back to Niagara where he took over a very small raw dog food making business from a Welland woman who was moving to Alberta. Bonanno bought her home and continued serving the few clients she had.
ra where he took over a very small raw dog food making business from a Welland woman who was moving to Alberta. Bonanno bought her home and continued serving the few clients she had.

ironwill

Safety Minister addresses police association

by Kevin Vallier

Ontario’s Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, the Hon. Sylvia Jones, was in Niagara Falls yesterday to address the Police Association of Ontario (PAO) which is the official voice and representative body for Ontario’s front-line police personnel. The Association provides representation, resource and support for 53 police associations across the province with a membership of over 18,000 police and civilian members.

As a former Minister of Tourism, Minister Jones said she was thrilled to see the PAO holding their annual winter membership meeting in Niagara Falls. The falls will be lit in blue this evening to recognize the Police Association of Ontario and honour deceased members. There will also be a fireworks display. “It’s a very nice gesture to our fallen officers,” said Minister Jones.

Minister Jones

Region looks to spend big

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s regional councillors are in budget mode and it appears a lot of money is going to be spent this term of council.

Helen Chamberlain, the Region’s Director of Financial Management and Planning provided a presentation to councillors at last Thursday’s Budget Review Committee of the Whole. In her presentation, Chamberlain informed councillors that capital spending would be increasing significantly from the $186.5 million spent in 2018 to $273.9 million this year. She broke the lump sum down into three areas: 1) Sustainability ($163.8 million), which makes up 60 per cent of the nearly $274 million; Strategic Investments ($53 million) such as regional transit is slated to make up 19 per cent; and Growth ($57 million) projects like the Martindale Road and QEW work in St. Catharines comes in at 21 per cent.

mayor wayne redekop

Chief makes mental health of members a priority

by Kevin Vallier

Ontario’s Chief Coroner is launching a review of suicides by police officers in the province after learning that a total of nine officers took their own lives in 2018. Dr. Dirk Huyer said that the spike in the number of deaths from suicide by police officers was “greater than we typically see”. The plan is to form a diverse panel of experts to dig deeper into the sudden increase, gain a better understanding of the root cause and try and reduce future deaths. The committee is expected to meet this spring with a report being finalized sometime in the summer.

Chief Brian MacCulloch

Province looks to increase housing options

by Kevin Vallier

The provincial government has begun an extensive consultation process called the Housing Supply Action Plan to explore the best ways to increase housing options for Ontario homebuyers. The consultation focuses on five areas: the length of time it takes to get development projects approved; the number of restrictions as to what type of housing can be built; development costs; renting; and innovative ways to increase housing supply.
Currently it takes years for a homebuilder to get the shovels in the ground on a housing project. Over the last 15 years a number of regulations and more red tape have been added to the process making it incredibly challenging to get a project off of the ground. The cost to home builders for navigating their way through the sea of red tape, public consultations and often times court battles with special interests groups, who are opposed to a project, can be in the millions. Add to that the various taxes (about 25 per cent of a cost of a new home is tax) and homes in Ontario quickly become unaffordable.

home builders

Niagara’s Jay Triano shares basketball journey in new book

by Kevin Vallier

There’s no question basketball in this country has taken off like Michael Jordan launching from the free-throw line. Many Canadians would attribute that rise in popularity to the competitiveness of the Toronto Raptors and the influence of individual players in the past decade like Vince Carter, Steve Nash and the crop of young kids now playing in the NBA. But the foundation for basketball in Canada was laid by a select few, including Niagara Falls native and current lead Assistant Coach with the Charlotte Hornets, Jay Triano.
Triano recently released a book titled ‘Open Look’ in which he takes the reader on a highly entertaining and inspirational journey throughout his career. The stories he shares reveal an intimate behind the scenes look at what it was like to be one of the best basketball players in the country at a time when very few people paid much attention to a game invented by a Canadian. Triano spoke recently with The Niagara Independent about writing ‘Open Look’ and his time growing up in Niagara.

Niagara Falls native Jay Triano coaching Canada’s national basketball team. Photo: Canadian Olympic Committee

Not to be: Canada loses in World Junior Quarter Final

by Kevin Vallier

Canadian world junior teams have never failed to medal when the tournament was held in Canada, until now. Wednesday night in Vancouver, in a stunning and bizarre late turn of events, Canada was knocked out of this year’s tournament by Finland, losing 2-1 in overtime.
The game was a defensive struggle as both teams played things tight. Both goalies, Mikey DiPietro for Canada who made 32 stops and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen for Finland who made 24, played brilliantly.
After a scoreless first period, Canada opened the scoring early in the second when Barrett Hayton carried the puck into the Finland zone dishing off to defenceman Ian Mitchell joining the rush. Mitchell shot a laser over the left glove hand of Luukkonen.

Canada Juniors lose

Niagara gas prices to jump in April

by Kevin Vallier

Just as Niagara residents were enjoying a break at the pumps with gas prices as low as they have been in years, the cost of fuel is set to jump as much as ten cents a litre in a couple of months as the Trudeau government’s carbon tax will take effect April 1.
Fuel industry expert and former Liberal MP, Dan McTeague, also known as Canada’s Gas Guru, said at one point the tax on fuel was to take effect Jan. 1 which actually would have been the smarter move for both the government and consumer. McTeague says implementing the increase in April is “dumber than a bag of hammers.” He said April 1 is when the industry shifts from winter to summer gas and that comes with a cost increase – about five cents per litre. Add onto that the expected increase from the carbon tax and the cost of fuel is expected to rise anywhere between 15 and 18 cents per litre in Niagara. “The government is not taking the consumer into consideration,” said McTeague. He also said that there is rampant speculation that if the current Liberal government is re-elected the tax on fuel will increase dramatically during their second term.

gas prices

Twenty Valley’s Winter WineFest kicks-off icewine season

by Kevin Vallier

Twenty Valley’s annual Winter WineFest will celebrate its 10th anniversary this coming weekend, Jan. 11-13 in Jordan. The unofficial launch to the icewine celebrations in Niagara has grown in both size and popularity over the last decade.

On average the event attracts around 10,000 people to Jordan and organizers are hoping, with some help from Mother Nature and more musical entertainment, that that number will be surpassed this year. “It’s the quintessential Canadian street party,” said Twenty Valley Tourism’s Erin Thomson.

wine festival

Life as a magician

by Kevin Vallier

The popularity of magic may be at an all time high. With the superstardom of people like David Blaine, Chris Angel and of course the legendary Penn and Tellar taking up residency in Las Vegas as well as numerous Netflix shows featuring magicians and illusionists, it’s big business that generates millions.
Niagara’s Alex Kazam was five years old when he first met a magician at his local library. It was an encounter that would set him on a career path that has been truly magical.
Kazam moved to Niagara when he was 12 years old and other than a couple of short-term stays in Toronto he has called this region his home the majority of his life. He got his first magic kit when he was six and growing up he was constantly reading magic books and watching VHS tapes of magicians. “The stop and rewind buttons were my friends,” said Kazam. He did his first show in grade five when his teacher, who noticed her student’s talents, asked him to perform in front of the class. His first paid gig was at the Chippewa

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