Dolores Canoles

Dolores Canoles (1991, Baltimore Sun / August 10, 2011)

Dolores B. Canoles, a longtime Canton neighborhood activist who joined the battle in the late 1960s that successfully defeated a proposed extension of Interstate 83 through East Baltimore and who later was a member of the city Liquor Board, died Aug. 3 of complications from dementia at Oak Crest Village retirement community.

She was 84.

In 1969, Baltimore City announced plans to complete the East-West Expressway, which would have created an eight-lane highway through Canton and Highlandtown, and would have linked up with Interstate 95 near Ponca Street.

Mrs. Canoles and her neighbors, with the help of Barbara A. Mikulski, then a social worker and now a Democratic U.S. senator from Maryland, came together and formed SCAR — Southeast Committee Against the Road.

SCAR then joined forces with Fells Point anti-highway activists and preservationists, and out of that allegiance came the Southeast Community Organization, which is better known as SECO.

The highway battle lasted nearly a decade and came to an end with the building of the Fort McHenry Tunnel, which spared Canton, Highlandtown and Fells Point.

"Dolores Canoles' life story is the story of East Baltimore during the better part of the 20th century. She was a stalwart in the Canton Improvement Association, SECO, the United Evangelical Church, St. Brigid's Catholic School and the Canton Library," said Senator Mikulski in a prepared statement.

"But above all, Dolores was a major reason that the proposal to build Interstate 95 through East Baltimore never materialized," she said. "She and I fought side by side against misguided interests who sought to destroy our neighborhoods and our way of life."

Senator Mikulski added: "Dolores was a genius organizer and a courageous foot soldier. I loved her for her moral convictions, loyalty and zest for life."

Joseph McNeeley, SECO director, knew Mrs. Canoles for more than 40 years.

"I've known Dolores since 1970, when I came to Baltimore to work with her and SECO organizing activities against the highway," he said. "She was absolutely fearless and one of those community leaders who'd go anywhere to represent the community, even if it meant going beyond her comfort zone."

Mr. McNeeley described Mrs. Canoles as a "wonderfully warm human being" and "someone I could always call on."

He recalled a rush-hour demonstration that tied up traffic on Haven Street.

"Dolores walked right in front of trucks, and when their angry drivers came down from their cabs, she'd go up and speak to them, and once they listened to her, agreed they wouldn't want a highway in their neighborhood, either," he said.

Gabrielle "Gay" Holland was another veteran of the highway struggle and a neighborhood activist.

"We heard about the road coming and that's when we got together. There was a proposed entrance ramp on East Street, where I had lived for years," recalled Mrs. Holland, a retired city schoolteacher.

"We fought the road and became friends. And we liked each other," said Mrs. Holland, who left her Canton rowhouse and moved to a one-floor home in Graceland Park, where she has lived for the last decade.

"Dolores was fearless and wonderful. She had her finger in every pot," said Mrs. Holland. "She was a wonderful lady, and I love her."

The women who were foes of the proposed road also helped Senator Mikulski win her first elective office in 1971, a seat on the City Council.

"She was both a wonderful activist and a very strong power in the Democratic Party. She was competent, bright, warm and friendly," said former state Sen. Julian L. "Jack" Lapides.

"At the same time, there was never any nonsense about her not being able to handle the job. Her fight against the road was legendary," he said.

"She loved Canton and Southeast Baltimore. She was of the old school when people got involved in things and their communities and never expected any recognition in return," said Senator Lapides.

Active in politics, Mrs. Canoles had served as state Sen. Cornell Dypski's treasurer in his 1974 campaign for state Senate. She also had been involved in Senator Mikulski's campaigns for City Council and City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke's 1995 mayoral campaign.

Mrs. Canoles was appointed in 1979 to the city Liquor Board by Gov. Harry R. Hughes and served until 1981, when she failed to be reappointed.

She was born Dolores Bock, the daughter of parents who ran a poultry breeding farm, in Mannington, W.Va., and was raised in Farmington, W.Va., where she graduated from high school in 1948.

She came to Baltimore that year, taking a position as a clerk with the Social Security Administration, which in those days had its headquarters in the Candler Building downtown.

She was married in 1947 to Thomas B. Canoles Sr., an electrician, and stopped working two years later when they had children.

He died in 1997.

She returned to work in the 1960s when she became an office worker at Church Home and Hospital. During the 1970s and 1980s, she was a secretary to several doctors.

Mrs. Canoles subsequently worked for the Masters, Mates and Pilots Association in Linthicum, and at the time of her retirement in the mid-1990s was working for Four East Madison Orthopedic Associates in Baltimore.

Since 2001, Mrs. Canoles had lived at the Parkville retirement community. She enjoyed singing in choirs, directing musical productions and attending the theater.

"Politics was her passion and hobby, and she passed her sense of community involvement on to her children," said her daughter, Mary Strassner of Perry Hall, a former president of the Canton Improvement Association.

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday in the chapel at Oak Crest, 8800 Walther Blvd.

Also surviving are four sons, Robert Canoles of Parkville, Daniel Canoles of White Marsh, Brian Canoles of Baltimore and Thomas Canoles Jr. of St. Charles, Ill.; 10 grandchildren; and four great-granddaughters.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com