History of Lipa Park
LIPA PARK is always a vivacious and happy place year round and known for many cultural events. Generosity and delicious homestyle cooking cooking are well known traditions of our cultural heritage in a broad sense of meaning. This is the place of the cultural club of the Slovenian National Home of Niagara Region. It’s the center of all people with a spirited will and heart.
At over 13 acres of well manicured grounds with the pavilion style building, built up and around in many phases with outside dance pavilion for summer festivities, garden and tool storage, barbeque pits and serving area, children’s playground and sports grounds and activities for all ages. The driveway and wheelchair parking is paved, well kept and organized. The park is planted with many Linden trees which symbolize our Slovenian roots and many Oak trees to symbolize our inner strengths. The park is situated on top of the escarpment in the heart of Niagara’s Vineyards and the Fruit Belt, it is close to Niagara-on-the Lake, Niagara Falls and is surrounded by St. Catharines, Welland, Fenwick, Jordan, Vineland, Beamsville and Grimsby in the jurisdiction of the township of Pelham.
In numbers it is one of the strongest Slovenian clubs in Canada, since it maintains more than 400 individual and family members. Facts alone support the data, Which, since the establishment and buildup of our Association, the Canadian soil has embedded 162 members and founding fathers and the support group.
The history of LIPA PARK belongs to two groups: Branch #12 – Bled Mutual Benefit Society (B.M.B.S) – Novo Mesto, St. Catharines founded in February 1943 and to Slovenian National Home LIPA PARK Cultural Club, that succeeded from the outdoor recreational area and supporting grounds which were purchased in 1967 by the original members, who through their persistence, hard work and the growing interest by new members and the financial support of all involved built this into the wonderful hall and recreational facility that it is today.
The original dream of having a mutual place to meet occurred already in the year of 1966, at the (B.M.B.S) of St. Catharines and by 1967 when the elected president was Frank Vrhovsek, the purchase became possible and the dream was fulfilled. The purchase agreement was signed on February 14, 1967. The three member committee was then established to take care of the property by Frank Vrhovsek, Frank Kukovica and Alojz Susa. The committee and the board of Branch #12 decided that since it was a Centennial Year for Canada, the planning of numerous activities and fund raisers to enable them to have the Grand Opening of LIPA PARK grounds and the building would be celebrated on Canada Day July 1, 1967.
The first President Frank Vrhovsek remembers: “The history of LIPA PARK and all the members that lived in the area is like a part of our common path. In the interim we got to know each other well, became close friends and remained in constant contact even though we live in all directions and corners of the Niagara Peninsula. When we settled in Canada, we did not know one another, since we were all born and raised in different regions of Slovenia. When a person is surrounded by people of same origins, the feelings and emotions surface that overwhelm the soul. With ownership of our piece of ‘Heaven‘ including the building which housed our new home of the cultural heritage, the sub-consciousness and national pride arose from within. It felt like we were at home in the old country. For me personally it felt like a new experience which enthused me to start forging ahead with continuous building and leading the organization in order to prevent any possible obstacles. Since there was a shortage of cash, most of the work was performed voluntarily. in order for our new home to succeed we asked for help from every one of our Slovenian families in the area regardless whether or not they were members of the (B.M.B.S). When the number of supporters doubled, however, things got very complicated. Due to the circumstances I was caught between ‘the Rock and the Hard Place‘. It took a lot of effort and finesse to maintain peace and tranquility among all Slovenians. The meetings and events were held strictly in Slovenian Language. The enthusiasm and trust of supporters and members that was expressed toward my leadership abilities was overwhelming and are definitely my best and dearest memories. Unbelievable devotion of my friends and supporters will forever remain in my heart.”
The building was successfully completed by the opening day and celebrations were held in honor of the Centennial Year and our proud new home.
Regardless of thousands of hours of arduous work, well attended cultural events held at the park, the surplus of cash and donations of our members and supporters did not cover the expenses of day to day operating costs and bank loans. Branch #12 – (B.M.B.S) was unfortunately forced to reconsider the ownership of the park. The thoughts of selling the park were given serious consideration. At that time the idea of common management between the two parties originated and as a result the new club was born that would respectfully be named Slovenian National Home LIPA PARK. Due to the separation and clarity of ownership the members became more secure in knowing where their loyalties lie, therefore, each club went on building their new dreams with full support and enthusiasm of their followers.
As a result of mutual co-operation, LIPA PARK facilities remained available to (B.M.B.S) Bled Branch #12 Novo Mesto for holding their monthly meetings and annual picnics.
While the Linden trees and our mighty Oak trees grew bigger and bigger so did our new home with enthusiastic help of our youthful Slovenian membership. First we erected a small building which served every purpose. It housed a humble kitchen, bar and a small dance hall where we held all of our meetings, gatherings and even dinner dances. In short, it was a place where families came to relax on a Sunday afternoon, children enjoyed fresh air and the adults contemplated life and future plans of the club. Friendships flourished among all. In the late fall of 1967 we built the outside dance pavilion and the childrens playground. All of the construction work was supervised by Vinko Vrhovsek in which he helped a lot with his own two hands. At his side were his three brothers. including the late brother Stanko as well as other members and fnends, too numerous to mention. All of the volunteers are named on the wall inside the building.
Following years brought about the need for a Slovenian School, since the children of our members were growing and the parents expressed wishes for their children to have an opportunity to speak the language, learn all about the culture and the beauty of their parents homeland. Along with the school was born the folklore dance group. Shortly after that we established a choir and we joined the Folk Arts Festival, participating in parades along with all the different nationalities. We held an Open House yearly where we were able to display our handy work and our cultural traditions and identity. With the amount of activities. bigger and better celebrations, banquets, weddings and sheer number of new Slovenians arriving to Canada and joining the Club, the vision of the expansion once again became a necessity. In the years of 1982 and 1983 we rolled up our sleeves and collected donations from our membership and were able to add onto the existing building the grand hall which is capable of holding up to 450 guests. The hall is used for the yearly Open House, Sausage Festival, Music in the Park, Oktoberfest, St. Martin’s Vine Christening Banquet, Santa Claus day for our children, annual New Years Eve and numerous other banquets, as well as the annual Ambassadors Ball in April. Our Ambassador represents LIPA PARK at our celebrations and other Ethnic Clubs during the Annual Folk Arts Festival held for two weeks in May in St. Catharines and area.
In May of 1991 we added onto the back of the hall to incorporate the stage for the bands and especially the Drama Club, since they had to construct their own props every time they performed since its conception in 1988. There are no words to express their gratitude.
With so many banquets the need arose to expand the kitchen facilities and storage areas, so yet again we rose to the occasion and rebuilt and expanded the kitchen area, added the pantry and cloakroom.
In the late 1990’s we added more space to the washrooms and modernized and expanded the ladies room, men’s room and added a wheelchair accessible washroom. In summer of 2002 the bocce ball lanes were improved.
Since 1989 we have been joining other Slovenian clubs in Ontario to help celebrate “Slovenian Day” festivities under the leadership of “All Slovenian Cultural Club” of Ontario with its roots in Toronto.
We continue to host numerous groups from Slovenia: Cyclers, Rowers (which won a gold medal) during the World Rowing Competition here in St. Catharines, Choirs, Dancers, Bands and Drama Clubs that wish to perform at our facilities.
LIPA PARK has had many visitors from the Slovenian Embassy in Ottawa and Consuls from Toronto. Lately we had a wonderful array of politcal heads of state from homeland. They were all treated with highest praise and deepest respect and enjoyed delicious meals and home baked delicacies from our talented kitchen staff.
It has to be said that our LIPA PARK members are very good hearted people, always ready to help at various functions and especially when the peole in Slovenia need their help. A few years back there was a flood in Celje and its surroundings and an earthquake in the Primorska. They unselfishly decided to donate medical aid and money to the needy and less fortunate children.
Let’s not forget the ladies in our club as they reminisce about the beginnings of this place, picnics in the raw nature, without buildings or tables, without the luxuries that we enjoy today and so readily forget about those days. Because the ladies carried the burden of being companions, mothers, housekeepers, cooks, teachers, keepers of Slovenian heritage and traditions as well as being the moral support for their breadwinners and builders of S.N.H. LIPA PARK, while some of them having to learn the English language. Families would come to the park with a picnic basket full of food and on the lighter side it gave the families a chance to be together to have fun, dance, sing and laugh. Their children were free to enjoy sports activities and the playground. Ladies got involved with their mates in club’s sports activities as well. However, since drinks were not allowed to be consumed outside the home, the men would secretly purchase a drink from the club, and so began the cashflow of today’s successful endeavour.
Even though the aforementioned men’s efforts will never be forgotten, our ladies had a huge part in helping acheive the success it is today. A big acknowledgement goes out to the pillars of our community for the last 35 years while they held together the threads of every Slovenian household to enable this huge success to be acheived.
All of the above mentioned success was accrued through hard work, blistered hands and endurance of the striving members of Slovenian National Home LIPA PARK. Without you our dedicated men and women, there would be no LIPA PARK. There would be no proud legacy to continue and pass along to our children and grand children. For that reason and all of the above mentioned arduous achievements we shall be proud looking back at the 35 glorious years.
As a member of the Folk Arts Council from the very start LIPA PARK became the center of Slovenian cultural activities in Niagara Region. Our dance groups successfully presented our national heritage at all the multicultural events and received numerous awards and recognition for the love of our tradition and talented performances. Over the years we had over a hundred enthusiastic youngsters entertaining their parents, visitors and dignitaries from other countries as well as other ethnic groups.
Our Slovenian School classes that were attended by children as well as adults, regardless of origin or nationality were fulfilling their desire to promote the Slovenian language and literature as well as a wish to preserve our homeland and its beauty. Classes ran almost continuously throughout the existence of our club. A great big thank you to all our dedicated teachers for all their hard work and efforts in obtaining the goals.
The ladies and gentlemen of our Slovenian Choir entertained the members and guests for many a year, however, it’s survival depended on availability of directors, so there were periods where our own members tried on their own to satisfy their personal needs to uplift their Slovenian hearts.
All our cultural programs were held by our Slovenian School students, dancers and the Choir singers on numerous occasions at LIPA PARK.
From the moment that the sports equipment became available and was installed, our young enthusiasts, which we were at the time, carried on an array of games and activities such as: soccer, volleyball, basketball, bocci ball, and lots of other games too many to mention.
At the end of every event there was always enough energy left for a dance or two to the sounds of our Slovenian bands. In the midst of our new establishment and individual talents that entertained us with their accordions, arose an interest in our children to show their willingness to participate. Out of that enthusiasm were created quite a few wonderful bands which in turn became professional and still entertain throughout the whole Niagara Region.
Seemingly out of the interest for entertaining the members we also had the very first Button Box Band in the whole of Canada, consisting of only LIPA PARK members. In continuation of this tradition, other nationalities joined the band and continue to entertain not only in Canada but in the United States as well. They are a very desirable orchestra to entertain on cruise ships and other occasions. They also toured many European countries including Slovenia.
Ten years ago our members decided to try their luck at hunting and fishing as a newly established Hunters and Anglers Club. They have an annual Fishing Derby and lately ladies decided it was time to join the fun and activities, if for no other reason than to help bring home the catch. Our hunters go on a yearly hunting expedition and have many trophies to show for their marksmanship in deer, moose and turkey hunting.
Nearly fifteen years ago a group of enthusiasts decided to present to LIPA PARK members as a surprise a newly learned drama in Slovenian language. Since it was so well accepted, the group decided to broaden its repeitoire and to explore Slovenian literary heritage further. Many performances in long and short form depicting the life of Slovenian Ancestors trials and tribulations were presented at LIPA PARK stage. To make the presentation more theater like, the club enlarged the main hall and added a room to encompass the stage. The popularity of Drama Club expanded throughout Ontario and even across the border into northern U.S.A. For their tenth anniversary the group celebrated by touring Slovenia with eight performances. The group was the first and only group of fellow countrymen that dared to perform in Slovenian language in Slovenia. In spite ofthe years spent away from the original home land and the age of the actors, they were still able to perform with ease and perfection of speech which excited the audiences all over Slovenia. The group began with twelve members and expanded to twenty two at the present even though the group lost two of their active members due to the early passing. The group and the members of the club hope to attract the younger generation to step forth and lend their talents to continue the tradition and love of Slovenian language by the group.
Last but not least by any stretch of the imagination the club is very proud of our outstanding kitchen and the staff that operates it in many capacities. LIPA PARK is a well known establishment all over Niagara Peninsula for its excellent home cooking. For that reason our hall and well manicured surrounding grounds are sought after for many different occasions and family gatherings, not only by Slovenians, but by all nationalities that enjoy the versatility of our food. Our wedding and banquet facilities are bar none the best in the area. The reservation book is filled up well more than a year in advance.
In the last while the club has been putting forth much effort to attract as many young descendants as possible. The founders strongly hope and wish that the young generation would follow in their footsteps and take the initiative to keep the Slovenian national tradition and the national identity for as long as possible on this Slovenian oasis in the Canadian vastness of the land. We feel very blessed to live in a country that supports our ethnic and cultural dreams and supports the multiculturalism, and it offers us everything at our disposal to retain and preserve our Slovenian nationalism, Slovenian culture and Slovenian legacy. It would be unthinkable that LIPA PARK after more than three decades of immense efforts, hard work and much deserved success of many friends, lovers and devotees to the Slovenian word, song and dance would lose the little tile in the mosaic of the Canadian collective of Nations.