“It seems like we only have wine glasses,” says Cheryl Blake, looking for a water glass.
“Welcome to Niagara-on-the-Lake,” says her husband Roman Mamalyga, laughing.
Blake and Mamalyga have recently been welcomed to town from Oakville. As transplants, they are already reaching deeply with their roots.
“We do everything local,” says Mamalyga. “I love to go to Valu-mart every day for my groceries. I walk to Willow every morning and when she sees me she puts two large coffees on the counter.”
“If you want to create value and help people you have to put stuff into the community,” Mamalyga says passionately. “We do everything here, absolutely everything. That’s the only way to do it.”
Blake has had a long-term relationship with NOTL, having visited often in her youth with her philanthropic father, Philip Robert Blake, who was a patron of the Shaw Festival. “I’ve been coming here since I was this high,” she says, holding her hand three feet off the ground. “That’s how I got my love for the theatre, Vintage Inns, and the retail therapy here.”
“Five years ago when she suggested we should go to Niagara-on-the-Lake,” says Mamalyga, “I had no idea what she was talking about.” He was an urban Torontonian whose knowledge of Southern Ontario stretched only as far west as Oakville, “where all the rich people lived.”
They started visiting NOTL once or twice a year, on their anniversary, and for Christmas. Over the 2017 Christmas holidays, they booked several days at the Pillar and Post, and enjoyed the snowy celebrations.
“You know how it goes in life where things just start happening,” asks Blake. “We had booked a special private walking tour with Dick Coyne,” she recalls. “He said, ‘If you ever consider moving Niagara-on-the-Lake, there are some areas I would suggest you look at.’”
“For all the years we’d been coming to NOTL we had never been past the golf course,” says Mamalyga, who was inspired by Coyne’s suggestion to go for a drive in the Chautauqua and surrounding neighbourhoods. They spotted a “for lease” sign for a house on Nassau Street, and impulsively decided to act on it. They called the realtor listed on the sign. “Laurie [Sobil] said she had just walked in the door from a trip to England — we caught her just in time. She said, ‘You guys are so lucky.’” He shakes his head and says, “Yeah, we are.”
The couple saw the house and promptly decided to become locals. “Laurie asked if I wanted to see the upstairs and I said I didn’t need to — we’d take it,” says Blake.
They moved here in March, 2018, and integrated fully. “I joined the golf club. John and Laurie Sobil have become good friends,” says Mamalyga. “Mike Berliss has introduced us to many people, and gives us a list of local wines to try every week.” Through Berliss Mamalyga has also joined the international group Les Marmitons: amateur chefs who meet up once a month to learn high-end cooking techniques from professionals.
“All of a sudden he’s a cook,” laughs Blake — and goes on to describe the dinner parties for which they’re becoming known. She describes Mamalyga’s Ukrainian spin on entertaining, which they do often. “Most of our friends are here now,” says Mamalyga, amazed at the difference one year can make.
Blake — or “Miss Blake,” as Mamalyga fondly calls her — is a history buff, and refers to locations in town by their proximity to historical sites. Charlotte Street is “by the old railroad,” and their newly-purchased home in St. Andrew’s Glen is “near Butlers Burial Ground.” When her adult son visits from Toronto they like to follow the old train paths around town and imagine the way things were. “I read about a group looking to preserve the trails — that would be something I would love to be involved in,” she says.
The outgoing Mamalyga has joined the local Rotary club, and was excited to be among the volunteers at their holiday house tour. “There’s a lot of positive in the NOTL Rotary,” he says. “The people, meeting them for the first time — you’re part of the family. All successful people just giving back.” Blake — who says she’s taking a bit of a back seat for now — has joined Friends of Rotary, and sustains her long-term relationship with the Shaw by volunteering for the festival.
Mamalyga had never been to the theatre before attending A Christmas Carol in 2017. Now the couple attends at least one play a month, and has joined the Friends of the Shaw.
“It’s all magical,” says Mamalyga, “but the timing was right.” He’s referring to the fact the couple was able to uproot their relatively new life together and integrate into a whole new community because their children are grown and have lives of their own — Mamalyga has three children and one grandchild, Blake the one son. They were also able to change their business focus, Mamalyga moving away from his career in the flooring industry and Blake from hers in insurance and administration. They have launched a shared business in the financial field.
“We’re really putting down roots,” says Mamalyga. “That’s it, we’re here.”
“This is it for us,” says Blake about their new life as locals.