Film buffs salute cult classic

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Niagara residents will help mark 25th anniversary of A Christmas Story


Cleveland’s Steve Siedlecki stood in front of the former Victoria School on Niagara Street earlier this year and felt he’d come full circle.

The school-turned-women’s shelter was the final piece of Siedlecki’s journey through the real world of the 1983 cult classic film, A Christmas Story, partly filmed in St. Catharines.

“It’s cool. It made my experience,” said Siedlecki, executive director of A Christmas Story House and Museum in Cleveland.

“Going up there made the whole experience full circle. I’ve seen everything for it. It’s complete.”

The Cleveland museum’s new Canada Room displays photos of the former school along with an original chalkboard, door and coat hooks for fans to delight in.

This weekend, 4,000 of those film buffs are expected to flock to Cleveland for the film’s 25th anniversary celebration and convention.

The participants include three St. Catharines residents who were at Victoria School during the filming and will participate in a panel discussion about behind-the-scenes shenanigans.

Dozens of children at the school were paid $1 and used as extras in the movie about a boy named Ralphie in 1940s Indiana who longs for a Red Ryder BB gun.

“It’ll be the start of the Christmas season,” said retired Victoria School teacher Anne Dean, who’s on the panel and bringing her scrapbook of class journals, photos and calls sheets for scenes and schedules.

Dean, who helped organize students during the shoot, said she remembers the time well. “It was very different, something like that happening in a school setting.”

Members of the Chippawa Volunteer Firefighters Association will also be attending the convention and offering rides on the historic fire truck used in a key scene.

In the movie, the 1938 pumper brought firefighters to the school to rescue Ralphie’s classmate, Flick, whose tongue was stuck to a flagpole.

“Everything is fit and polished to go,” said Chief Gord Chase, whose members Ken Prohaszka and Ray Anderson will deliver the truck. It’s travelling on a flatbed in plastic wrap to protect it from damage on the highway.

Chase said that since publicity began about the truck going to the convention, people from all around the world have visited the fire hall.

“It’s like Star Trek,” Chase said. “We’re all flabbergasted. It’s a big deal and we’re overwhelmed people know so much about it.”

Convention-goers will also get a chance to meet actors from the movie, visit the restored Cleveland house used for external shots and is now part of the museum, enjoy a character look-a-like contest and see premieres of film-related documentaries.

One of those films, Road Trip for Ralphie, follows former Port Colborne resident and mega-fan Tyler Schwartz and his fiance Jordie Smits as they visit the film’s locations.

It was Schwartz who showed up at former Victoria school as it was being renovated for Gillian’s Place and pulled the chalkboard, door and hooks out of a dumpster for the Cleveland museum.

Schwartz, who lives in Oakville and works in marketing at a software company, not only produced the documentary, but has also opened an online store for leg lamps — a key prop in the classic film.

He’s also been co-ordinating things on the Canadian side for the convention.

A Christmas Story continues to grow in popularity and Schwartz said he has no idea when the interest will peak.

“Right now it’s pretty big,” Schwartz said, “and this is the time of year people are thinking about it.”

There are ornaments, cards, bandages, clocks and other merchandise on the market, while a Christmas Story Broadway musical is in the works.

Siedlecki said it’s a movie people of all ages can relate to and enjoy, as he’s discovered when visitors go through the restored house.

“You can come here and act out one of those scenes in the home that brings back memories,” he said.

“No matter what age, there’s something for everyone in that movie.”

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