The Transformation of Trail’s Stone Bleachers

by Eileen Pedersen

Sixty years ago, Guglielmo “Bill” Di Domenico and Stefano “Steve” Como built a stone retaining wall in Trail’s most beautiful and unique Gyro Park. The 240-foot-long marvel, known as the Bleachers, has recently undergone a desperately needed face lift; an uncovering; an unveiling; a deep cleaning.

Thick overgrown flowering bushes masked their view from the park’s sidewalk above. 13 years of accumulated leaves from about a dozen old poplar trees growing in front of it encrusted the six tiers, further shrouding the magnificence of this cultural and historical legacy left to us by these proud stoneworkers.

Prompted by the recent death of Mr. Di Domenico, and wishing to commemorate his contribution to our city, members of the Rock Wall Project, lovingly initiated this Reveal Party much to the delight of locals and visitors. (Visit the Set in Stone Facebook page for comments.)

Now this is not your regular retaining wall. This is a six-level mortared rock wall that stretches 240 feet in length AND rises six levels to accommodate Columbia River swimmers and sunbathers of yesteryear. Hand Built. An Engineering Masterpiece. Deserving of our Respect.

And so we went to work. Lugging rakes, shovels, long-handled pruning shears, a saw and a broom, pails, snacks and drinks, and mindful of wood tick season, we slowly exposed the structure by first pruning the bushes above and hucking the branches to the ground below the bleachers. There were a LOT of branches. We shoveled and raked leaves, one section at a time, and shoved them off onto the ground below. These composting leaves yielded rich loam so we scooped up pails full and hauled them home.

Every single day we were there, people out for a stroll stopped to chat, to thank us, to encourage us, and even to disclose they had no idea the Bleachers existed. So, we’d provide them with a short history of the purpose of their construction, and invite them to make use of them. People offered to help. Jamie Legarie visited with us and helped clear leaves. Monty McGale, an import from Lloydminster 6 years ago, wasted no time becoming curious about and enamoured with the city. Monty volunteers for Communities in Bloom and keeps “B” Street Park in West Trail pristine. One level of this particular park contains a natural amphitheatre, accessible by descending an exquisite multi-level set of 82 stone stairs, designed by stonemason Louie Bedin and built by him and Frank Balkovec.

Monty was at Gyro Park one day, enjoying the sunshine and the river, and tossing a ball for a rambunctious young doggie when he noticed a woman working on the Bleachers. He approached her, shouted “I Love You!” and immediately offered to bring his gas powered leaf blower to finish clearing the remaining leaves and dirt from the far half of the Bleachers. When our cleaning crew returned a few days later, the job was done.

Mike Gerrard stopped to chat and voice his appreciation. He brought coffee, took photos, talked it up in town, and suggested that people plant flowers and bulbs amongst the flowering bushes. We thought that was a brilliant idea. There certainly is plenty of sunshine there and they’d do well.
Cindy Hill keeps the path she walks, between the Bleachers and the huge rocks beside the beach, clear of debris. She helped us pile cuttings along the path for when the city works crew comes to remove them. She uncovered rotting logs, hauled them and threw them on the pile. She raked and swept and swept and raked and tremendously improved the approach to the Bleachers. We decided we want a picnic table on the small clearing close by.

One pair of regular walkers always stops to oversee and encourage the progress and to jest with us. We’ve dubbed them the project supervisors.

And the city’s Public Works Department is on board. We’ve been promised a metal informational sign that will hang on the sidewalk railing and, once work crews are freed up, clean up of the debris at the beach level.

We so much appreciate visiting with community members and out of towners who have come for appointments and want to experience the Bleachers and the park.

This project has brought people ‘together’ during these challenging times. With residents staying closer to home, it’s one more local gem to discover and experience. We encourage people to make use of the Bleachers, to sit and relax in the sun or the shade and to enjoy the views of the river, people climbing on the rocks, and families with small children digging in the sand. There is certainly plenty of room for physical distancing. We’ve been told they’re visible from different parts of Trail now. Since dams now stem the river’s flow, water no longer reaches this stepped structure. And yet, it’s beauty and functionality remains.

It’s been a lot of fun. Though it’s still a work in progress, we’ll get there.

Eileen Truant Pedersen is an adult educator, writer, and retired school teacher who loves kids, music, dancing, and photography. She is the author of “Set in Stone~A History of Trail’s Rock Walls”, about the 100s of rock walls and their builders, mostly Italian stone masons. Her son and grandsons are based in the Northwest Territories. She returned to her home town of Trail, BC 20 years ago.

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