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Shops, Services and Business

The Village Blacksmith E.O. Gervais with an Exceptional 54 Year Career

The following three paragraphs comes from a 1977 Ottawa Citizen Article on the occasion of E.O. Gervais’ 100th Birthday.  This exceptional man went from the era of horses to motor vehicles and played a main role in transportation maintenance for his community. His was a well respected fixture of village life.

“According to tradition, the elder boys inherited the farm and Eulysse at 17 became a blacksmith’s apprentice in Coulonge for $3 a month room and board. After working as a blacksmith in the lumber camps for several years and saving $400 he bought a shop in Westmeath. There were three blacksmith shops in the village, which was a bustling portage spot on the rapids.

“As a French-speaking Catholic in a Protestant settlement, the early days were not easy. But soon one of the three closed down and Eulysse bought out the third, paying $1,200 for the house and shop – the house he was to live in until 1973. His speed and skill brought in customers from afar. “I shod seven span of horses a day and that’s what killed the opposition”, he said. Often the road leading to the forge was lined with up to 30 teams waiting to be shod. At one point he had seven men working for him. With the advent of the automobile the writing was on the wall for blacksmiths and Eulysse could see it. He opened a garage next door and bought a Model T Ford – only the second car in the Township.”

The Eulysse Gervais blacksmith business was located at the corner of Main Street and Grace Street.  When the motor car era began he sold ESSO gasoline at his garage, competing with Ed and Hazel Conroy selling gas for BP at their store one block north on Main.

Gervais selling petroleum products and blacksmithing together – the transition between real horsepower and  engine horsepower.

Another blacksmith’s and machinery shop was operated in the village for many years by Gideon Gervais on the corner of Gore Line and Main Street, beside the Conroy Store and opposite the Presbyterian Church. It was sold to Graham Leach who then operated a grist mill for awhile. Ed Conroy then bought the building and lot and after using it for storage (baler twine, bags of salt, wire, etc.) he tore it down.

1939 Noreen Conroy and Ella Robinson with the Gideon Gervais blacksmith shop on the corner of Gore and Main in background. Photo courtesy of Patti Desjardins.

Westmeath Post Office – Post Mistriss Eva Grylls Retires

The Westmeath Post Office started at the Goddard”s Corner at Lookout Road which served a large area encompassing both Pembroke and Allumette Island.  Later, after the WWII, the Grylls family home became the Post Office until her retirement in 1959.


Canada’s first dollar bills were issued by the Bank of Montreal, which began business in 1877.  Until then in those colonial times, the main currency, had been British Pound Sterling. Much domestic business was done by barter.

The Bank of Ottawa Shareholders 1893, 1893 Shareholders, Bank of Ottawa, only had one local man: Alex Fraser,  but a  Bank of Ottawa branch was established at Westmeath in 1906, becoming the Bank of Nova Scotia in 1919, which was discontinued in 1935. The cancelled cheques from the early twentieth century have a postage stamp as well.

The building served as a private home for a number of years before being demolished.

The End of an Old Landmark – The Westmeath Bank

In the early 1900’s, Westmeath had a branch of the Bank of Ottawa in their village. The brick bank was built on the corner of Jessie St. and Main St., on the corner of the Roman Catholic Church lot. During the first days, banking days were tri-weekly, then became daily from Monday to Friday. It, too, amalgamated with the Bank of Nova Scotia in1919 and continued under that name until this branch was phased out in 1936.

Bank managers were: A.E. Atkinson; Waddington; Allan; Norman Hamilton and A.E. Smith. The latter was a native of Westmeath, son of Mr. & Mrs. Alfred Smith. After the closure of the bank, the building was rented out to tenants. Being that the building was relatively small, it was an ideal place for newly married couples.

It housed the Credit Union for some years, with the slogan painted on the window, “Teach Your Dollars To Have More Cents”.  Some of the local couples who rented the building were Mr. and Mrs. A. Zettler; Jean and John Gervais; Gail and Ron Ethier; Yvette and Bob Watson; Margaret and Lester Dupuis; Susan and Bryan Laderoute; and last tenants Gail and Michael Watson. The building had become in poor repair and the church people decided to tear the building down, thus making the church lawn much more attractive and spacious. The excavation took place on June 24, 1988 and it came down very quickly. With notes from Westmeath Tweedsmuir and other sources.

The Westmeath Credit Union has a new name, and its board of directors held their first annual meeting on March 6, 1980 – exactly 38 years to the day, after the official founding of the organization. Membership has increased, with a total of 167 in 1980, an increase of 17 from the previous year. Assets rose from $68,000 to $75,000 during the same period.

The new offices were purchased in 1979, several months after the credit union lost their old quarters in a fire at C.M. Shea’s. Special recognition was tendered to Fred Gervais, who co-ordinated the renovation. The present office is situated in the old town hall on the Gore Line. The treasurer’s report indicated a net income of $5,626 for the past year.

-Taken from The Cobden Sun, April 1980

The Westmeath Credit Union

The Westmeath Credit Union has a new name, and its board of directors held their first annual meeting on March 6, 1980 – exactly 38 years to the day, after the official founding of the organization. Membership has increased, with a total of 167 in 1980, an increase of 17 from the previous year. Assets rose from $68,000 to $75,000 during the same period.

The new offices were purchased in 1979, several months after the credit union lost their old quarters in a fire at C.M. Shea’s. Special recognition was tendered to Fred Gervais, who co-ordinated the renovation. The present office is situated in the old town hall on the Gore Line. The treasurer’s report indicated a net income of $5,626 for the past year.

-Taken from The Cobden Sun, April 1980

The Davis – Blackwell Store

By Bob Grylls

Joe Davis, founder of the Davis Grocery Store, emigrated from Ireland at the age of 12. His family settled at Huntley, Ontario. As a young man, he opened a blacksmith shop in Belles Corners.  He married Hattie Stinson then moved to Westmeath to begin farming on River Road (now Rapid Road).  He later settled in the village where he started a grocery business by converting a millinery shop. He also got back into the blacksmith business, later selling it to E.O. Gervais.  Mr. and Mrs. Davis raised seven children in the Westmeath area.

Mr. Davis was an ardent angler and hunter, prominent both in politics and in the Orange Lodge.  He was the centre of several stories in a national newspaper, magazines, as well as on television programs.  He was an authority on duck and goose hunting, on birdcalls, fishing and wildlife.  His decoys during hunting season were unique.  He fashioned them out of real mounted birds.

More than one reporter and amateur angler spent the day entertained by Joe’s tall tales.  The travellers (sales reps), enjoyed challenging him to a game of checkers.  Everyone knew Joe to be a skilled player.  He usually sat by a wood stove in the main part of the store, surrounded by wooden chairs and a blazing fire in the colder weather.

Archie and Muriel Blackwell

He also cleaned his Remington pump shotgun there and one day in the mid-forties there was nearly dire consequences.  As he released the barrel, turned it halfway to remove it, a shell that was stuck in the chamber discharged. Some of the blast caught customer John Perrault in the hip. The remaining charge smashed into the condiments and tobaccos in the glass display case behind the counter.  Archie Blackwell, son-in-law of Joe, was working there and had just bent down to pick something up.  His wife Muriel raced in from the house-section after the explosion to see Archie in disarray, covered in ketchup and mustard and so on.  Meanwhile John Perrault went to the hospital to have the pellets removed.  From that day on, Joe played checkers and cleaned his gun out of sight in the dry goods section. In Westmeath’s centennial year celebrations, he received the award for being the oldest man in the village.

The store had a large oak freezer cooled with blocks of ice, each 16” by 16” across and the thickness of the river-ice.  From the storage and covered with sawdust, they brought blocks of ice and set in place in the freezer with pulleys and tongs. The business passed to Mr. Davis’s daughter Muriel and son-in-law Archie Blackwell in the mid-forties. One of the first things Archie did was replace the walk-in freezer for a modern one that did not require ice.  The couple ran the store for 20 years, a total for 50 years for the Davis Family.

After selling, Mrs. Blackwell had remarked that she actually missed the after hours knocks on the wooden door for forgotten packages, or making a pot of tea for customers on occasions.  Next the store became a restaurant briefly.  After that the store section of the building was dismantled and the attached house refurbished, still being lived in today.

Carlson’s Tailor Shop

In the latter part of the 1800’s, a few families from Sweden were immigrating to Canada and settling in Westmeath. One of these was Lars Carlson. Like a lot of other adventurous people from Europe and elsewhere, Lars thought of finding a new life in Canada for himself and his family. He left their small children and a pregnant wife and landed in Westmeath. It was his intention to secure employment, find a home, and raise enough money to send for his family. All this could not be accomplished in a short time. A few years passed and understandably at the time, the lines of postal communication were very slow. He sent money or whatever means for his family’s passage, and said he would meet them in Montreal at a certain date.

Carlson Tailor Shop, Main Street, Village of Westmeath.

Meantime in Sweden, Mrs. Carlson had become discouraged in the long lapse of time and fretted about her uncertain future. Being very despondent, she took the infant in arms and walked out into the river. So Lars’ sister and her child came to Canada posing as Mrs. Lars Carlson. She also brought along the three young children; Yule, August and Hannah.

Lars had established himself as a tailor and was doing a fine business. Time passed and Lars married Annie O’Brien of Westmeath. They were very productive and had ten of a family namely Lizzie, Mabel, Hilda, Lily, Nellie, Vera, Willie, Alof, Carl and Nelson. The Carlson tailor shop had become a thriving business in Westmeath, housed in the shop which was later bought by Joe Davis and later Archie Blackwell. Lars was an expert tailor and at one time employed eight people, his expertise was passed on to his sons August and Willie. Lars, by now getting up in years, returned to Sweden for a visit and his wife sold their living quarters and moved to Copper Cliff, he later followed her. August had taken over the business in Westmeath and Willie was a tailor in Fort Coulonge. In 1987 the building was purchased by June and Bryan Kenny, extensive renovations done, the front store part torn completely away and a nice home is the result. The house is rented out to the present occupants, the Reverend and Mrs. Warren Hudson and daughter Crystal; Warren being the United Church minister.

Compiled by Noreen Desjardins – as told to her by her mother Hazel Conroy, whose parents the Lingstroms had come to Canada from Sweden at roughly the same time as the Carlsons. Feb. 1989.

Shea’s Store – Fire Destroys Westmeath Landmark

“Colin “Mylie” Shea is optimistic about his future, despite losing just about everything he owned in a May 1 blaze that levelled his two storey Westmeath store and home, possibly the oldest standing structure in the village. It was something of a landmark in the Village, with indications of it having been built before Confederation. Mr. Shea said he and his son had found a big copper coin, dated 1849, while excavating around the property some time ago.

Mylie Shea 1979

“Mr. Shea first bought the building in 1920, operated it for a couple of years before going to the United States until 1937, when he returned to the village and the store.  The building itself had quite a history.  Mr. Shea said a former tannery was on the property when he bought the place.  White walls of what is now ash and ruin, were insulated with tanner’s bark.

“The 85-year-old shopkeeper was a former scaler with the J.R. Booth Lumber Company until his first wife died.  He started up the store dealing in groceries as there was more market for produce in those days. A big room also destroyed in the fire was locally known as The Lunchroom.  It had a various times served as a dancehall, a party room and an ice cream parlour.  The jukebox would be jumping as 60 to 70 people showed up for sandwiches and coffee after local hockey games.  In the 1950’s daughter Norma recalls the room being set up as a very successful ice cream parlour.  Lights and tables were also set out on the lawn.  The streets were full of people Saturday nights, many of whom would drop down to the store. Most recently The Lunchroom was occupied by the Westmeath Credit Union.  They will have to find other quarters.

“It was always a hang-out Mr. Shea and his daughter both recall. Youngsters would always be dropping by – for a soda pop, a game of pinball – and Mr. Shea loved every minute of it.  He remembers watching youngsters go through the turmoil of the war years and emerging as adults with families of their own – if they survived those troubled times. He remembers the 1950’s with its so-called “lost generation”. But to him kids were kids and he misses not having them around anymore.

-Taken from The Cobden Sun, May 1979

Note: Shea’s Store also served as an election polling station for the village for some years.

The Fraser Paterson Store; Later the Schultz Store

Stella and Gordon Schultz on their store’s doorstep.

Gordon and Stella Schultz, (proprietors of the property from the mid-1930’s), closed the store in the 1950’s but continued to live on the second floor.  In the 1980’s two old Fraser Paterson Store original ledgers were given by Stella Schultz to Arthur and Beryl McBride for safe-keeping.  Thank you to the McBride’s for allowing these original source documents to be digitized for this site. These old account books  give a unique and very interesting “view back in time” during the years 1896 to ‘99.

These two ledgers (pictured) are hundreds of pages long and very weighty;  filled with beautifully rendered handwritten entries –presumably done by Mr. Paterson at his high desk with his bottle of ink and blotter.

The first document  is a listing of all the customers by name and their individual accounts at March 31st, 1899.   Big Ledger Accounts

What was on your ancestors shopping list?   The second document is a much longer compilation of many individual customer accounts.  The document pages have been alphabetized by surnames so you can find your ancestor’s account more easily.   A Look Back in Time    Magnify the page if you can’t read it easily.  This is only a sampling; the two ledgers are too lengthy to digitize in their entirety. Commercial accounts with various lumbering concerns like the Reid Brothers have not been included.

Currency indexed for inflation: The prices of the merchandise as listed in the accounts in 1896-99 can be converted to today’s currency as roughly $1.00 to approximately $20.00.  So if Great- Grand-Papa was buying a new tea kettle for 90¢, then in today’s money it would cost $18.00. If he was selling 170 bushels of oats at 25¢ per bushel, he would get $42.50; or in today’s CAD he would receive $850.

From the Ross Museum Website at: Fraser & Paterson’s Store

Alexander “Red” Fraser built and operated a general store in the village of Westmeath since well before 1900. The two-story structure was located on Main Street adjacent to the only bridge and creek in the village. Inside at the front door an 8-foot wide stairs led to the second floor where there were large items like furniture and linoleum.

“The store catered to the needs of the lumbering industry. Fraser owned large timber limits on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. Cattle bought from farmers were kept in the lot at the front of the Westmeath Public School. In the autumn months, the cattle were brought to the side of the store, weighed on the only scale in the area, and returned to the separated lot at the school. Then large herds of cattle were driven by foot, crossing at Spotswood’s ferry to Waltham and up the Black River to the camps. Hay and oats bought from farmers for feed accompanied the expedition.

“The general store was also an outlet for farmers’ produce. When Alexander Fraser went into partnership with John Paterson, the store was enlarged. A new building behind the store housed much of the bulk goods. Bert Goddard worked at the store for years as a clerk. John R. Fraser a cousin of Alexander’s was the store’s bookkeeper. The store sold mostly in bulk. Usually customers brought in a container to have filled from the bulk one. Clothes and fruit were also sold at the store. Eventually a generator installed between the store and the creek provided lighting. It was the only building or home to have such a luxury.

“G.B. (Gordon) and Stella Schultz bought the store in the mid-thirties and operated it in much the same fashion until the mid-fifties. G.B. built living quarters on the second floor, removing the stairs inside the front door, and continued to live there after the store closed. After the Schultz’s the building changed hands a few times. The unit at the back was dismantled over time. Otherwise, the Fraser & Paterson Store maintained its original facade.”

Hotels and Stopping Places

Little has been found about the operation of “stopping places” in Front Westmeath, other than the fact that there was an Adam Hotel and a Bromley Hotel in operation in the late 1800s. Stopping Places  were often like a B & B of today; travellers stayed in the family home and ate communally. Also provisions for the teams of horses was also provided. Westmeath Village was on the portage route to bypass the Paquette Rapids of the Ottawa, north of the village and so everything needed to be trans-shipped on Rapid Road between the ferry river- crossing at Spotswoods and the calm waters of the Lower Allumette Lake at Westmeath Village. This was a very busy route because all  supplies and materials for the lumbering industry, up in the Laurentian Hills of Western Quebec, was moved through Westmeath Village. It was not sustainable however, and when the hills were cut over, the lumber companies moved away into other sections of virgin forest.

The Cecile Hotel

Cecile Hotel circa 1900

Cecile’s Hotel on the Main Street of the village was a very busy place at the turn of the twentieth Century. By this picture from the Westmeath Tweedsmuir Book something was stirring that day.  Stopping places at local hotels were needed approximately every twenty miles to allow a rest and meals for travelers and their teams of horses.

E.O. Gervais is believed to be the man with the blacksmith’s apron on at the front corner and Mrs. T. Cecile standing with the baby carriage.

Cecile Hotel, later the home of June and Bryan Kenny.

This painting of Cecile’s Hotel was gifted to June and Bryan Kenny on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of their ownership of the Kenny’s Store by Linda and Art Bromley.  Photo from Linda Bromley.

Conroy’s Store – Mr. & Mrs. W.E. Conroy Retire After 45 Years in Business

Mr. and Mrs. W.E. (Eddie and Hazel) Conroy of Westmeath have sold their grocery on Main Street after being in Business 45 years. Mr. and Mrs. Bryan and June Kenny a well known couple from the Village are the new owners.

The grocery store is a real landmark, (at the corner of Main Street and the Gore Line in Westmeath), built in 1922 and known as the Westmeath Meat Market; it had a sawdust floor and huge insulated ice-boxes.  Eddie likes to sit and reminisce about the old days, when steak sold for 18¢  a pound, pork chops were two pounds for 25¢; pound tins of red salmon cost 15¢; while a package of tobacco with a book of papers tucked in the side sold for 5¢ and the spools of thread were worth the same price.

He recalls that he was one of the first National Grocers customers 43 years ago.  The Conroy’s have seen many salesmen come and go.  They have had business relations with J. Freedman and Sons; Ottawa Fruit Supply; Gordon Distributors; Jules Patry; Tony Lavelle; J.G. Whyte; H.H. Middleton; Keyes Supply; Cockburn and Archer; M. Loeb; Maple Leaf Dairy; Pembroke Creamery; Ottawa Valley Grain and Renfrew Bottling Works.

Westmeath Meat Market

Mr. and Mrs. Conroy have no immediate plans for the future.   Their life revolved around the grocery store which was open early and late to accommodate the public.  They realize it will take some adjusting for a private life.  They intend to visit their family who were all apprenticed behind the counter but all five have chosen other careers.

The traveler from BA Oil was down to see the Conroy’s this week.  He had with him news of a plaque to be presented to Eddie as the operator of the service station having been with the BA Oil longer than anyone in Canada.  BA came to Westmeath in 1931.  The keys to the store are being handed over to the Kenny’s today, with forgivable nostalgia and sentiment

The Conroys behind the store counter

“I guess we couldn’t stay here forever”, said Mrs. Hazel Conroy, “But I’ve been mighty sad all week thinking about today.” There have been phone calls and callers all week thanking the couple for their service and all the little extras that a make a general store owner a special figure in the community.

Mr. Conroy had a sideline that of taking the cheques of some elderly Westmeath folks into Pembroke to cash at the bank every week.  And especially in the summer he would be over at the store at 7 a.m. ready for the early morning customers and travellers wanting to fill their gas tanks and stock up on “grub”.

They’ll long be remembered to Westmeath people who have come to think of the Conroy’s as permanent fixtures behind the counter.  The Conroy’s plan to stay in their home right across from the store.  Eddie is looking forward to sitting around with the other retired gentlemen, talking in relaxed fashion; something he never had time to do in the past.

Article Taken from the Pembroke Observer, Nov.1969.

1954 Getting the News: When you went to the general store you came back with your purchases and all the latest local news. From Left: Alfie Dunn, Joe Davis, Guy Drapeau, Jim Baird and Harvey Morrison at the Conroy Store front on Main Street.

Kenny’s Store, Westmeath

Kenny’s store in Westmeath is a family affair.  Bryan and June Kenny bought the store 16 years ago when June was contemplating going back to work.  They had bought the house beside the store shortly before the store itself came up for sale and saw it as a opportunity for June to go to work without leaving home and her five children, the oldest of whom was then 12.

The Kennys built an addition to the store and attached it to the house to make that plan work even better.  Since then two more daughters have been born.  Paula 12, is just beginning to help in the store and Jane 6 still has a few years to go before she is put to work.

“It’s a good life”, says Mrs. Kenny, ”The older children say they always appreciated having a means of earning spending money when they were teenagers. And they have found that experience has helped them tremendously in school and in finding jobs.”

Both Mr. and Mrs. Kenny had previous retail experience before going into business for themselves.  Even though they enjoy the store, it’s only a sideline for Mr. Kenny, who is a mechanical general foreman at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited at Chalk River.

They don’t keep quite the same hours as the Lacroix Store in LaPasse.  They open at 7:30 a.m. every day except Sundays, when they stay closed until after mass at Our Lady of Grace Church and they close at 9 p.m. six days a week and 6 p.m. on Sundays. They are shut down tight Christmas Day, New Years Day and Easter.

There are three part-time staff people assisting customers with purchases which can include fishing and hunting licences, clothing and hardware.

The family shares with other general store owners an obvious enjoyment for what they are doing.  Mrs. Kenny feels that the philosophy of her father-in-law Dyer Kenny says it best.

“He has always told his children and grandchildren that, when you chose a career, you should pick something you like to do so much that you would do it for nothing.”

Excerpts from article “The general store is surviving in the twentieth century”by Marie Zettler, Cobden Sun, April 10, 1985

When June and Bryan Kenny were ready to move into retirement, their family supplied the answer to “Who would buy the business?”,  when two of their sons and their wives stepped up.  This village landmark store has been only owned by two extended families and been in continuous  business since 1922.    Kenny’s Store 2010