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May. 28, 2022 | Saturday
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Wanderers find friendship one Wednesday at a time
Wanderers Wednesdays at the Sandtrap. The core Wanderers group (from near left, around the table): Russ Phipps, Leslie Mann, Otto Lowas, Warren Fraser, Tony Read, David Waller, Keith Whitmee, Rick Preece, Rich Gallant and Keith Grimble. (Tim Talor/Special)

Count them — almost 1,000 Wednesday evenings together, since the Wanderers first gathered at a local pub some 21 years ago.

At first, the Wanderers just wanted some “guy” time. Their wives were spending the evening at Newcomers, an organization created to welcome new Niagara residents to the community.

The Niagara Newcomers is entirely female.

So, newly-arrived male newcomers, Tony Read and Keith Whitmee, just wanted to wile away a few hours chatting and getting to know each other, in their wives’ absence. Each week they tried a new watering hole. Hence the name: Wanderers.

It wasn’t long before they began accumulating recruits to their Wednesday evening sojourns. Today the email list totals over 45 names, plus 30 or so spouses.

The core activity is the Wednesday night get-together at a designated pub. There have been many different pubs over the years, but for almost a year, the Wanderers have frequented the Sandtrap Pub & Grill.

“We gather for a drink and conversation,” says Tony Read, above the din of the Wednesday night crowd. Read is the self-styled honourary president but acknowledges that he doesn’t do a great deal anymore, except enjoy the comaraderie.

The real work is done by Keith Whitmee, who provides secretarial services for the group, maintaining the participants list and making sure everyone knows what’s going on.

The Wanderers are no longer just about beer and conversation. On Monday mornings there’s golf. On Tuesday it’s snooker. Thursday is a day off. And Friday morning the walkers take over, completing brisk fair-weather walks around town, often followed by lunch.

On a less frequent basis, Wanderer-regular Keith Grimble organizes bridge and wine-tasting events. They even run the “Wanderers Airbus,” a mutual transport system to get members to and from airports.

Today, the Wanderers encourage spouses to attend many of the activities.

But Wednesday remains just for the guys.

“There is only one rule,” according to Whitmee. “Rule number one says there are no rules.” But someone down the table immediately pipes in: “And we don’t talk about religion. We would talk about sex but most of us can’t remember.”

And while the average age of Wanderers is over 70, it’s not a prerequisite. They come from all sorts of working careers.

Not everyone does all the activities. “We hover around 20 or 25 for most and fewer for bridge and wine-tasting,” says Read.

The table is somewhat thoughtful when asked how someone joins the Wanderers. There seems to be no hard and fast rules. But the consensus is that an existing Wanderer must bring along a recruit to a Wednesday event. If they stick for three Wednesdays, the secretary will get their email address and count them in.

There’s clearly a feeling that many more members would make it harder to organize the kinds of events that make the Wanderers so special.

Warren Fraser is an original Wanderer — number five — he thinks, so that means since 1998. He tells a number of colourful stories about the early days. But then he becomes serious: “It is the best support group I’ve ever had, even better than work.”

Keith Grimble joined in 2002. He agrees with Fraser: “These are nice people. People you like to be around. We all have common interests. It is a wonderfully social experience.”

Conversations around the Wanderers’ table are punctuated by comfortable laughter, gentle ribbing and a kind of easy, familiar friendship.

With any luck, the Wanderers will be around for another 1,000 Wednesdays.