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Oct. 16, 2021 | Saturday
Local News
Candles burn brightly at annual NOTL stroll


Brittany Carter 

and Tim Taylor

The Lake Report

Niagara-on-the-Lake’s annual Candlelight Stroll shone its light on longtime farmworker Delroy Castella this year, supporting him after a traumatic stroke and arduous recovery.

In early September, Castella cycled to the Virgil walk-in clinic immediately after working his entire shift, even though he was feeling “distinctly unwell” throughout the workday. He was quickly diagnosed at the clinic as suffering from a stroke and taken to the Greater Niagara General Hospital.

The stroke left most of his strength and physical skills intact, but it had stolen his ability to speak.

After almost two months at the Niagara hospital and Hotel Dieu Shaver Hospital in St. Catharines, he is just now recovering some of his speech.

NOTL Chamber of Commerce’s events organizer Nicole Cripps said Castella’s story resonated with the board. She said it was an easy decision to award this year’s benefit to him to continue his recovery back home in Jamaica.

“This year Delroy’s story just really struck a chord with everybody and just how important the migrant workers are in all aspects of Niagara-on-the-Lake. We’d be kind of lost without them and I think they get forgotten sometimes,” Cripps said.

“So, I think it’s really important to focus on them as well.”

Cripps said though the strol has been growing steadily over the last few years, this year wasn’t as well attended as a couple years ago, when more than 30,000 responded as “attending” to the Facebook event page.

“We had probably about 15,000 that year,” she said.

Castella led the lighting of the candles before boarding the horse-drawn carriage for a ride along the stroll route. Chair of the board and Konzelmann Estate Winery’s director of marketing Andrew Niven said it means a lot to people to have Castella there at the stroll.

“They can really see who is benefitting from the money raised, it makes the whole thing more real and meaningful,” he said.

For the past 35 years, 58-year-old Castella left his wife Joan and six children in a small district of Clarendon Parish, called Longbough, west of Kingston, Jamaica, to work in the orchards and vineyards in Niagara for the season.

He’s been in Niagara’s fields longer than most of the men he works with have been alive. For the last six years, he has worked on farms owned by George Lepp. He lives with seven others in a house on Creek Road, north of East West Line.

Now, Castella faces a long recovery, and may not return to work in Niagara.

His wife chalks up his slow but steady recovery to her own persistence and the loving help he has received from local families who shared their homes with the couple since his release from hospital. He continues his rehab at Shaver, twice weekly.

Joan managed to find enough money for airfare to come to her husband’s side in early October. She said he has difficulty finding the words to say sometimes.

“He was a very big talker. He get’s very frustrated.”

She is a farmer in their small community, raising four pigs, 200 chickens and harvesting a small market garden.

“We plant the fields before Delroy leaves and then harvest them when he returns.”

Before joining Castella in Canada, she discovered he loved to hear her sing hymns when she connected by Skype. “I am a good Christian,” she says.

“He had tears in his eyes. So, I started to sing hymns to him, ‘Be not dismayed, God will take care of you.’ “

Now she tries to get him to sing as part of his recovery, but he just shakes his head as if to say he never could sing, anyway. “We practise speaking all the time,” she says.

“We repeat one word over and over. Then we do a sentence over and over and over.”

Cripps said she’s happy to see the money this year go to such a meaningful cause. Each year, the chamber asks for community involvement to choose the recipient of the organization’s fundraising event.

This year, the chamber is also donating a portion of the money raised to purchase farmworker welcome kits.

“Whatever we make tonight, all of that will go to Delroy, but $1,000 will go to the welcome kits,” Cripps said. She added the chamber was approached by Julia Buxton-Cox about funding for the kits. She has recently become involved with the welcome kits through Niagara Workers Welcome.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero said she couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the annual Candlelight Stroll tradition than by “listening to the beautiful carols and raising funds for a worthy cause.”

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