Christine Whelan FEO, August 31, 2023, VOL. 4 ISSUE 27
The Fort Erie LaFrance Association Museum, located at 1118 Concession Street in Fort Erie, held an Open House and BBQ on Saturday, August 26 for exposure, letting the community know they exist. The building was designed to look like a fire hall, but the problem is, people don’t realize it’s a museum.
There is a real call to bring in more members to keep the Association and the museum going.
The Fort Erie LaFrance Association is a not-for-profit registered charity. While not associated with the Fort Erie Fire Department, four of the eight operating vehicles the association owns were in service at one time in the Town of Fort Erie.
Thirteen volunteer firefighters of Fort Erie Fire Co. No. 2 formed the Fort Erie LaFrance Association in 1983. Since then, the Fort Erie LaFrance Association has acquired and restored numerous antique firefighting apparatus dating back to the 1860s. The Fort Erie LaFrance Association Museum was opened in 1986 to preserve and display these historical apparatuses.
That was information found on the Association’s website. You can get more information of its kind on the website. The link is provided at the end. For this story, Jack Seebach and Norm Sisler, the two remaining members from the original thirteen, fill in some gaps for me.
How It Started
It all goes back to the one truck, the 1947 LaFrance.
A call was answered during the Blizzard of ’77 to the Landmark Hotel on the corner of Netherby Road and QEW. It was on fire.
Jack described the night once the fire was put out. “The LaFrance got stuck coming back from that fire at the hotel. We were following two graders coming back but they got stuck. And since we didn’t put a lot of antifreeze in the trucks because they were stored inside, the head on the engine cracked.
“We couldn’t go anywhere with it so we had to abandon it. We had to leave it in the middle of Townline Road. It took earth-moving equipment to get the truck back to Jarvis Street.”
Norm also recalled, “And then we lost it for years. We didn’t know where it was.”
Jack revealed, “It had been sold to George Hall, one of the owners of the Crystal Beach Amusement Park.” During that time, George had gotten the LaFrance going again.
Norm continued, “In ’83, one of our members from Station 2 on Jarvis Street saw it in a barn in Crystal Beach.”
That member, according to Jack, was Donnie Hall, and it was for sale.
The 1947 LaFrance was sold back to thirteen members of Fire Co. #2. Norm noted, “We pooled our money together and bought it back from him. We didn’t want to lose it again.”
Norm recalled the beginning of the Fort Erie LaFrance Association. “We were funded by Bingos on Jarvis Street and had a much better budget. We fixed the LaFrance right up.”
Jack stated, “At that time, we stored it in one of our members’ garages on Phipps Street.” He added with a laugh, “It was a big garage to start with but we had to knock out the back wall to make it a little bit longer.
“Through Bingos, we were able to acquire the building on Concession Road.” He added, “If it wasn’t for the bingos, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
The Association continued to acquire more equipment. They eventually had to put an addition on the back of that building.
Norm explained, “We have nine vehicles now. We didn’t plan on having nine vehicles back in ’85. And now we’re right out of space.”
What Does the Fort Erie LaFrance Association Do?
Norm replied when asked, “We support other fire departments in the town. We bought the Fort Erie Fire Department a van one year ago. We were giving Ridgeway-Crystal Beach High School a scholarship every year. We donated money every year for a while to the Fort Erie Fire Department, Public Education. That’s a part of our mandate. We just can’t do all that anymore. We don’t have the money.”
Their 80-foot ladder truck had been in the Santa Claus parade every year until the parade began starting at 4:00 p.m. Once it got dark, they found it was just too dangerous to have the truck on the road. They were once a part of the Rose Parade in Welland, as well.
The truck’s been to the Junior Firefighters Program in Stevensville. Norm explained, “They were coming to the firehall every August. We let them loose and do whatever they wanted. We just told them not to press any buttons or flip any switches. This was when their training was all done.”
Sisler admitted they have had to really adjust over the years from an annual budget of $129,000 to a current $15,000 budget.
He talked about the days, around the year 2000 when bingos in Fort Erie were able to fund much more of the town’s community services and groups. He commented that there was a real change once passports were required to get over the border with the majority of bingo players coming across the bridge to play.
“That hurt everybody of course, not just us.” Bingos are still the Association’s primary source of funding.
“Then through COVID, we had a GoFundMe page and a CanadaHelps page for donations and we made it through,” Norm said.
“We did have a golf tournament at times but we don’t do that anymore. We used to park cars at ZOOZ (Safari Niagara). We just don’t have the membership.”
Jack added, “Now we’re just on a wing and a prayer, still working bingos. We do have small fundraisers.”
Both Norm and Jack are focusing on recruiting new members. Norm personally thinks that the Association won’t be around this time next year unless things change with membership and would be happy with a half dozen people right now.
To any residents, both newcomers and long-timers, Sisler invites, “If you are firematically inclined or into antique cars, you might really enjoy this.”
Jack voiced, “We’re trying to get some younger blood in who are interested in the preservation of antiques. They’d have to be willing to work our fundraisers as well.”
He replied when asked if women get involved, “My wife works at the bingos with me. In fact, I think the wives of most of the members who are married sit with them during our bingos.” The Association is not a men’s group. Women are invited to participate.
However, these days, out of all the current members, there are only three that take an active role, Jack says.
Looking for funding
Since the pandemic, it’s been tough. “We can’t pay utilities with bingo money so we need to find additional funding.” The Association welcomes any help with donations. As they are a not-for-profit organization, they can provide a tax receipt.
Norm admitted, “What we really need are corporate sponsors.”
The museum will be holding an Open House during Ontario’s Southcoast DREAMDRIVE, which is the drive from Fort Erie to St. Thomas and back, on September 16 and 17.
Norm stated, “We will be there as one of the stops. The only thing is, we’re off the road a bit.” The drive is along Highway #3 and the museum is just down Concession from the highway, behind McDonald’s, next to Picard Peanuts.
To learn more, book a tour of the museum, make a donation, or look into being a member, you can go to their website: forterielafrancefirefightingmuseum.com. You can contact Norm Sisler directly by phoning 289-303-7925
Please visit us on Facebook, Fort Erie LaFrance Assoc.