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History walking tours of downtown offer blast from past

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Cathy Dobson 

If Marg Scott had her way Sarnia’s historical walking tour would be much longer.

That’s how much she loves hearing stories about the community’s past.

“I’d like them to talk about a few more things,” said the 86-year-old history buff as she took a recent tour.

Like what?

“There was the story about Popcorn Pete,” said Scott who grew up near downtown Sarnia and now lives in Point Edward.

“Popcorn Pete had a stand on the corner of Lochiel and Christina when I was growing up. He sold it for five cents a bag in the ‘40s. It was the really good stuff with butter. At the end of the day, he’d come over and give us kids his leftover popcorn free.”

Scott was one of nearly 100 people who joined the first historical tour of the summer hosted by the City of Sarnia.

“I think this is great,” Scott said. “Good job.”

For the second year, a summer student is leading the tours, which stop at buildings and plaques of historical significance on Christina Street.

Last year, four of the free tours were held and attendance increased each time. The last tour of 2018 attracted 250 people and set the stage for this year’s success.

Summer student Emma Franklin said she isn’t from Sarnia but is a quick study. She’s working with the city’s heritage committee to expand on last year’s tour information and change up the route a bit.

The tour starts at City Hall and heads south on Christina. Stops include Lochiel Street, where the first town hall and jail stood, the Downtown Market near Cromwell, where Const. Jack Lewis lost his life taking down gangster Red Ryan during a robbery in 1936.

“This is the most interesting story on our tour,” Franklin told the crowd. “Red Ryan was the Canadian Al Capone. This time he did not make it out alive.”

She told stories about big time musicians like Tommy Dorsey and Louis Armstrong who played at Kenwick Place across from City Hall.

“It was the spot to go to in the ‘40s,” Franklin said. “It was an entertainment centre.”

Weaving dates and historical details between colourful anecdotes, she included spooky stories of ghostly sightings in the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. The tour ended at Veterans’ Park.

Five downtown tours were scheduled for this summer with three remaining on August 9, 14, and 21.

They begin at 6:30 p.m. at the City Hall fountain and take 60 to 75 minutes.

Tours are free but donations are welcome to support Sarnia’s heritage committee and the preservation of Sarnia’s built heritage.





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