A hidden piece of history at Canalfest

NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) –For one week out of the summer, every year, the canal connecting the Tonawanda’s lights up with excitement. That’s because Canalfest comes to town! But there’s a  part of Canalfest’s history that you may not know about.

Thirty-five years ago, the first ever Canalfest connected Tonawanda to North Tonawanda. Over time it has seen many changes but there has always been one constant. That constant is North Tonawanda native Jan Schrekengost.

Jan tells News 4, “I was born and raised in North Tonawanda. Born at DeGraff, raised in North Tonawanda, and lived in North Tonawanda my whole life.”

From day one, Jan has always showed pride for her city. She loves everything from the Riviera Theater to the carousel collection but her favorite event to take part in is without a doubt Canalfest. She said, “From the first day it started, I’ve been here every day. I’ve never missed a day. My children came, my grand kids came, and my great grand kids come now.”

It’s become a tradition within all generations of her family and she knows that will carry on forever. Especially because she uses the festival as a way to catch up with all the people she hasn’t seen since the year before. Jan said, “I love to see people that I haven’t seen all year long. And when I sit on my bench there are people who will sit right next to me and that.”

You heard her mention that bench. It’s been unofficially dubbed her own because that’s where, for the last 35 years, she has sat. She explains, “The bench is on Sweeney St. and Webster St. in North Tonawanda right at the bridge going across in to Tonawanda.”

A tradition of hers has now turned into a tradition of others. Passerby’s look for her and if she’s not there, they go looking! Jan said, “Sometimes if I’m over in Tonawanda, eating over there my friends will find me and say I looked on the bench for you and you weren’t even on your bench, you know?”

She’s a staple to the North Tonawanda community and to the festival. And she doesn’t plan on missing it, even in the worst of circumstances! Jan say, “I’ve told my children if I’m in the hospital, I don’t care if I come here in a bed from the hospital or whatever I’m coming to the Canalfest!”

She also says, rain or shine you can catch her wandering around, spreading love for her city.

Her message to everyone…

See you next year!

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