Down Queenston Bowl’s memory lanes

Bowling_ball_and_pinsMy past two columns gave a general history of changes to Hamilton’s bowling over the years. Here is brief history of one of Hamilton’s top bowling centres in the 1960s, Queenston Bowl.

Located at 108 Queenston Road close to the east-end traffic circle, it started out as Blondie’s Lunch and in 1955 converted to 10 lanes of five and ten-pin bowling with pin boys. As you entered the front door, to the right was a shoe counter and coat rack and to the left was the control counter with a pinball machine usually beside it and a black-and-white TV overhead. At the back of lane one was the entrance to the downstairs washrooms. Between lanes five and six were support beams which separated those lanes more than the others. On the wall above lane one was a blackboard titled “10 Pins Hi Score Club.” Right out in front was a convenient bus stop but if you drove, the Derby House was next door with ample parking.

Pin boys were paid six cents a game for five pins and 10 cents a game for ten pins and were the highest in Hamilton. At the end of their shifts, owner Carl Balon let them bowl for the cost of paying the pin-boy. The ball returns were above lane. A hazard for the courageous pin-boys were flying pins resulting in many bruises but nothing serious. A couple of times an “injured” boy would send a ball back down the lane at the offending bowler, usually missing him. Once in a while a satisfied bowler would throw money, usually quarters down the lane for the boys. To set the pins, a lever was pushed down with the foot and 12 spikes were raised just above the pin deck. The two “extra” spikes were for the placement of the middle two five pins. The original “count” for five pins from the left was 4, 2, 1, 3 and 5 and the 4-pin was the “counter” pin. If you didn’t knock it down, you receive nothing for the frame. If you fouled you would receive a score of minus 15 for the frame making it possible to record a minus game. No records of a minus game are known, but a “zero” game is in the books. Later the pins were re-numbered 2,3,5,3 and 2 with no counter pin.

After the leagues were visited for the night, the doors were locked and “pot” games took place with Balon, Leo Gral, Gabe Bihary, Stan Prokop, Jim Bonk, Don Watson, and others. League high averages were usually in the 175 to 180 range. Many of the year-end banquets were held at the recently demolished City Motor Hotel. When Queen Elizabeth visited Canada, she passed right in front of Queenston Bowl and Carl was out front waving a Canadian flag.

In 1974, Queenston Bowl was only five pins with automatic machines until closing in mid-1987. It re-opened with several different businesses, such as auto repairs and a dance studio. It was originally owned by Balon until he sold it to Joe and Frank Pastrak.

Karol Elias Balon was born near Krakow, Poland in 1918, the second youngest of nine. By the time he graduated from Stanislaw State College in 1937 he was an accomplished alpine skier, spoke six languages and could play several musical instruments. During the Second World War he was active in the Polish underground. In 1976 the future Pope John Paul II, one of his college friends, came to Canada and visited Balon in Winona. On another occasion, the Pope asked for Balon’s daughter, Maria, an Air Canada stewardess, to accompany him on his trip home to Italy. One of Balon’s prized possessions was a photo of them on the plane.

After the war Balon travelled to Italy, England and in 1949, Canada. In the early 1950s he opened Blondie’s Lunch and in 1954 converted it to the 10 lane bowling alley. Balon also found time to operate Hamilton Travel Bureau, first on James Street South then on Barton near Civic stadium.

There were only two tenpin leagues there during Balon’s tenure: Tiny Tens on Tuesday and Queenston Mixed on Saturday. Some of the five-pin leagues were Barber, Teenagers, Liquid Air, Comstock, Firestone and Neighbourhood. At the end of each bowling season, Balon hosted a party for all his pin-boys at his Winona home where there was a tennis court and an in-ground swimming pool.

Balon also built a ski run on a part of the escarpment. Anyone who visited his Winona home was assured of food and drink, usually brandy. A saying of his was “Eat and drink. Don’t you remember when we didn’t have anything to eat and drink. Eat and drink, life is short.”

Carl Balon, who was inducted into the Hamilton Tenpin Hall of Fame in 1982, passed away May 19, 1999 in his 82nd year and his obituary was prominent in the Hamilton Spectator on June 12, 1999.

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