- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2016

OTTAWA, Ill. (AP) - The very existence of Ottawa is due to the creation of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, where freight and passengers were originally moved by mule-drawn boats.

But as the years and decades passed, so did the importance of the canal, until it became as it appears today, drained of its water and historical significance.

It got to the point where Ottawa visitors - and even residents - who drove over the dry canal didn’t realize what it was.

However, in recent years a small group of volunteers has been working to change that.

Their goal is to re-water a section of the canal in downtown Ottawa and promote its tourism possibility.



The nonprofit group is called - no surprise here - the Ottawa Canal Association.

While its goals are clear, the group, by collective nature, is not pushy. But it does continue to push forward.

Their leader is Arnie Bandstra, a native of Chicago’s far South Side Roseland neighborhood, who now is a permanent resident of Ottawa.

He ended up in Ottawa to work for the city as its assistant engineer, a position he since has retired from. In that capacity he became familiar with the recently restored toll collector’s office on the south bank of the canal between La Salle and Columbus streets.

With permission from the city, Bandstra began to find - or make - furnishings for the office, and then would, on request, open the toll collector’s office for visitors.

Next, he began to meet with local businessmen and residents who shared his interest in the canal.

In 2010, to give visual meaning to the site, he headed up the effort to have a replica canal boat that had been a movie prop set on concrete piers near the toll collector’s office.

The tours and talks at the toll house became more frequent, and often the docents wore period clothing to give a more historical feeling to visitors.

The OMA members put their individual skills to work, helping to maintain the toll house, the replica canal boat and the even the outdoor grounds.

“That’s the way they are,” Bandstra said. “If there is something that needs to be done, they’ll do it.”

“We host local school groups from both the high school and grade schools to teach students about the early history of the canal and Illinois,” said Linda Roberts, the OCA treasurer. “We have also had bicycle groups traveling on the canal visit the toll house, as well as people walking the towpath.”

Bandstra values and appreciates the OCA volunteers.

They are lovely people, he says.

“They have a passion for history in general and the history of the canal in particular - and they want to communicate that,” he said.

The group meets monthly in the most civilized way you can imagine.

They gather at Bianchi’s Pizza in Ottawa and hold their meeting while eating pizza and drinking beer or soda. Then, when the food and drink is finished, so is the meeting.

But, in canal parlance, Bandstra is wondering if the time for the organization to be floating along should be ending, and a more aggressive stance would prove helpful.

“I don’t mean aggressive in the sense of being confrontational, but in setting goals and deadlines and working toward them.”

So, he also is on the lookout for go-getters, organizers and doers.

“We can find a use for anyone’s abilities.”

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Source: The (Ottawa) Daily Times, https://bit.ly/1VrYyDy

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Information from: The Daily Times, https://www.mywebtimes.com

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