Niagara This Week – St. Catharines
By  Scott Rosts

ST. CATHARINES — It’s well documented that St. Catharines was home to one of the first zipper factories in the world, but the city’s Heritage Committee wants you to know the city is also home to the first canine jump from an airplane.

Cal, Canada's first parachuting dog, with his owner, Harold Brooker, and the airplane pilot.
Cal, Canada’s first parachuting dog, with his owner, Harold Brooker, and the airplane pilot.

On August 4, 1931, the first parachuting dog successfully reached ground at the St. Catharines airport. Four-year-old police dog Cal readily climbed aboard a plane with his master, Harold Brooker, a member of the St. Catharines Flying Club. With club engineer David Imrie at the controls, they travelled to a height of 1,800 feet. Cal’s parachute was fastened to the wing of the plane, and the dog leaped into space without hesitation when his name was called and Brooker disappeared over the edge of the wing. Cal made a perfect four-point landing near where Brooker touched down safely.

That’s just one of the stories that will be depicted in the St. Catharines Firsts display at the Central branch of the St. Catharines Public Library in downtown St. Catharines as of May 1. The exhibit, which will be on display for two months, highlights some of the pioneering moments in St. Catharines history.

“It’s a chance to have a little bit of fun and really let people of all audiences know some of the history of our city,” said Marty Mako, a member of the city’s heritage committee.

The story of Cal — Mako dubs him the “Downward Dog” — is just one way to try to hook residents through a human interest angle.

“Everyone loves dogs and pets, so it seemed like something everyone could relate to. I think it will capture peoples’ interest,” said Mako.

The exhibit also pays tribute to Mary Malcolmson, leader of Canada’s first Girl Guides troop, the first polka king Walter Ostanek, the first zipper manufacturing factory by Lightning Fastener, and the first public park designed by Frederick Law Olmstead in Ontario — Montebello Park. There will be a variety of artifacts and photos courtesy of the St. Catharines Museum, including Ostanek’s accordion, an original girl Guide uniform, and even a stuffed dog that will be parachuting from the library ceiling.

In addition to the display, there is also a blog where there will be more detailed information, along with other posts by the city’s heritage committee. Those interested can log onto www.stcatharinesheritage.com.

The goal, said Mako, is to engage residents to celebrate the unique history of the city. Last year they did so with an installation regarding the history of the Welland Canal.

“We want to reach out and educate the community about our history,” said Mako. “We have a lot to be proud of, and these St. Catharines firsts are just some of the colourful stories of our past.”