'A different kind of guy': New film tells tale of the Bridgeport General

A new film tells the story of Frank Groff, more widely known as the Bridgeport General, who was this region's first crossing guard.

Film about area’s first crossing guard premieres Thursday in Waterloo

This photo shows Frank Groff, the Bridgeport General, holding his handmade stop sign. He used to help children cross the busy intersection at Lancaster Street and Bridge Street. (KW Record Negative Collection/Provided by Rob Ring)

There was always a poster of a man holding a stop sign in Rob Ring's basement when he was growing up.

"It was just this picture of this ratty looking old guy with a stop sign and there was some text written beside him on the print, but as a child I never read it," Ring said.

A few years ago, when his dad was downsizing, he asked Ring if he'd like the print.

Ring said yes and it sent him down the path to creating Care for the Child: The Story of the Bridgeport General, a film which premieres Thursday night at the Princess Cinemas in Waterloo.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Frank Groff was the Bridgeport General — a self-appointed crossing guard at the corner of Lancaster Street and Bridge Street, now a roundabout — in the 1960s in what was then the Village of Bridgeport. It later became part of the City of Kitchener.

'A different kind of guy'

"To put it gently, he was a different kind of guy," Ring described Groff, who was known to wear the same clothes year-round.

Decades ago, Groff saw the busy intersection and became worried about the safety of children who crossed there. So he made his own stop sign and began to help the children cross, stopping vehicles on the road.

When Kitchener annexed Bridgeport, city staff asked Groff to stop his work. But the community revolted, protesting with chants of "we want our general."

Not long after, he was back on the job.

Rob Ring is the writer and director of Care for the Child: The Story of the Bridgeport General. It tells the story of Frank Groff, who made himself a crossing guard at a busy intersection in the Village of Bridgeport — now Kitchener — in the 1960s. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Ring called Groff's story a universal one — you don't need to be from Kitchener or Waterloo to enjoy learning more about him.

"More than anything, I think it's a story about tolerance," Ring said.

"You have this guy who, a lot of the community appreciated him and understood what he was doing and thought that was great, but he was a different kind of person and he did things his own way and not everyone thought that was a good thing."

The film premiere and two other screenings this month are already sold out. A fourth screening will be held Feb. 10.


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