The spirit of the old Diana Sweets diner in St Catharines has been resurrected (in a way) and you’ll never guess where! I sat in one of the old booths today and had a cup of coffee.
July 26, 2014 -- This weekend my aunt, sister and I took a trip down Memory Lane to the old Diana Sweets which used to be on St Paul Street in St Catharines. We had coffee in its old booths and reminisced about our favourite drinks and food we enjoyed at the “Di” – butterscotch sundaes for my aunt (about 70 years ago) and French Chocolate Nut sundaes and the world’s most perfect French fries for me (about 30+ years ago).
Now, I know what you’re going to say: the diner, which stood at 115
St Paul Street for more than 75 and years and served generations of teenagers their
first sodas and fries etc, is long gone! It closed in 1996. A tragic loss to
the community. But you’re only partly right.
The old "Di" was once a fixture of downtown St Catharines … but
now its fixtures are on display in (of
all places) – a motorcycle shop in Niagara-on-the-Lake, about a 10 minute drive
from its original location in downtown St Catharines. These fixtures include the
beautifully crafted old wooden booths, tables, cabinets, mirrors and stained
glass from the 1920s.
They even have the old wall panelling!
And look at that wood! In case you’re wondering, that is apparently “gum-wood” – a wood that was very popular during the 1920s and 1930s, partly because it was cheap and could masquerade as more expensive woods, like mahogoney, walnut or oak, with the right finish. (If you’re interested, there’s more information here: Gum Wood.
So how did the carcass of the old Diana Sweets wind up in the back of a motorcycle shop, of all places? Well, that’s another story.
When the Di shut down in 1996, the interior was stripped and the whole lot sold at auction in 1996 to a Buffalo company. It went “over the river” (as we say in the Niagara region) and sat in storage for many years. A group was even formed, Friends of Diana Sweets, to “Save Our Diana Sweets”. There’s a page on a local realtor’s web site Sally Dollar with more information about it; people have written in to the site to add their memories of the diner.
Then, at some point (sorry, I’m not sure when), the owner of a motorcycle shop bought the fixtures. In 2012, he had it
installed by some local architects in the back of his HUGE shop at Clare's
Harley-Davidson Niagara, 590 York Road, Niagara on the Lake. It's NOT a restaurant, but he did set up
a coffee machine and fridge there, so if you’re feeling sentimental (or just
want to steady your nerves before making that Harley
purchase), you can sit in the old booths and relax. Your choices are coffee, tea, pop or water.
If you look on the wall you’ll see photos and articles about the Di as well as an old menu. It doesn’t say the year of the menu but I’m guessing it’s not too old because coffee is listed at $1. So maybe that was the last menu in 1996.
We had a great time revisiting the past. If you have memories of the diner I’d recommend a trip. Until then, here’s another glimpse of the Gal:
Note: The former location of Diana Sweets in St Catharines is currently occupied by a fast food restaurant.
The fixtures of the former Diana Sweets are set up like a museum set in the Clare's
Harley-Davidson Niagara, 590 York Road, Niagara on the Lake.