By way of Canarsie: New doc revisits ’hood’s halcyon days

Taking names: Canarsie historians in search of hall of famers
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Take a stroll down an unpaved memory lane.

A new documentary titled “A Walk Through Canarsie” captures the neighborhood in the 1880s and 1950s, when it was a quintessential seaside community, known for its yacht races and seafood — instead of the place you wake up in when you fall asleep on the L train. These were ’hood’s halcyon days, according to one of the film’s creators.

“It is really hard for me to say that anything great exists in Canarsie besides its past,” said Canarsie History Museum founder Ramon Martinez, who produced the film. “It is not even a quarter of what it used to be.”

The nostalgic flick, which will screen at the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club on Aug. 17, interviews longtime locals who remember when the neighborhood was more back-roads than buildings.

“Everyone was saying how they remember dirt roads,” said Andre Riggins, the filmmaker who shot the documentary in three weeks. “One lady was saying she brought her furniture over with horses.”

Martinez, who has also written a book about Canarsie’s history, said the neighborhood — which has had more than 98 hotels throughout its history — was a tourist hotspot, self-sustained by its million-dollar fishing industry that supplied seafood to Manhattan, Long Island, and upstate New York.

“The waters were rich with sea life — lobsters, clams, oysters,” said Martinez.

Water pollution from local sewer systems and a dye company destroyed that industry — and Martinez said the water still hasn’t recovered. But one of the elders interviewed in the film said there are still great neighborhood niches, such as the Lions Club and the Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, where she said she spent many happy years.

“We had a very good time,” said Theresa Scalise, who lived in her Canarsie for 68 years. “So many friendly visits where we spent hours just talking and enjoying.”

“A Walk Through Canarsie” screens at Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club (77 Conklin Ave. between E. 93rd and E. 94th streets in Canarsie). Aug. 17 at 1:30 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Vanessa Ogle at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow her attwitter.com/oglevanessa.