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.