2002.9.12 – love canal, 25 years later, the saga continues

Before we dive in…this is a continuing piece. The previous entry gave a history of Love Canal and it can be found in my archives under “My Life and Love Canal…Part 1”. So…without further ado…away we go…

Next year will be the 25th anniversary of the evacuations at Love Canal. My family was one of the first to leave the area and it was an extremely traumatic experience at the time. Being a 4 year old, I didn’t have a complete grasp of the situation, but now I have come to realize the magnitude of it all.

I recently took a drive around what used to be my “old neighbourhood”. It is chilling to see that the 5 blocks in which my home and, what would have been, my grade school are fenced off. After the evacuation of all the families in Love Canal, the city had the houses torn down and buried. A fence was erected around the area and ominous signs were posted displaying the tag lines “warning, dangerous area, keep out” and the like.

To think that people lived here, that they raised children here, is sad and difficult to comprehend. How could the toxic contamination of 400 families go on for so long unchecked? What has become of this area now?

The funny (in a morbid sort of way) part of the story relates back to one of the best movies of the 1980’s… In the film “Tootsie”, Bill Murray plays a struggling writer who is the roommate of Dustin Hoffman’s main character. The play that Murray’s character is writing is called, “The return to Love Canal” and it depicts a family that moves back to the ill-fated area after a “clean-up” has taken place. Hoffman’s agent in the film, played by Sydney Pollack, comments to Hoffman that the play concept is far fetched because “who wants to see a play about a family who moves back to Love Canal…it isn’t realistic…nobody will ever move back there…”.

The irony is that people have moved back. The city told residents that the other side of the cross street (Colvin Boulevard) that runs through the site was safe to return to. Many houses were restored and sold for low mortgage value, which sounds like the cycle repeating. The same thing occured in the 70’s, when the city put up low income housing on the most detrimental part of the land and didn’t warn any of the residents of the dangers their homes may possess.

An interesting side note to my journey through the modern Love Canal area is that a brand new apartment complex was constructed a few years ago on the opposite corner from the fenced in area. This complex is a senior housing community and when these old folks sit on their back porches, they have a fantastic view of the dumpsite. I guess that the city feels that these individuals are getting near the end, so a few chemicals shouldn’t matter now…Morbid, I know, but likely. After all, the city and school board of Niagara Falls built a grammar school and homes right on top of the site in the 70’s, so why should anything change now.

Overall, my drive through the “old neighbourhood” gave me an eerie feeling. I have looked at several maps of the entire expanse of Niagara Falls, New York and noted that Love Canal is not the only dumping ground in this old industrial town. Any day now, the whole city could turn into a dump, and it wouldn’t be a big surprise, but the area that used to be my home is empty and fenced off, giving a chill to any Sunday driver who may venture there.

Don’t worry…my next entry will be more light-hearted. At least, as light-hearted as is possible for me. I just thought that it was useful to let people know what happened back then and to show the magnitude of something that has been buried in the press ever since. Next year will be 25 for us evacuees and it is about time somebody started talking about it! Lois Gibbs has been talking for years, but one woman just isn’t enough. Former residents need to stand up and let the world know what happened to them. We need to remember, so that it never EVER happens again!


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