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Bird’s Grocery, Lost and Found

Bagot Street looking south from North Street (n.d.), courtesy Queen’s Archives

Some demolished buildings are missed for their elegant architecture, but that isn’t likely to be the case with Bird’s Grocery. 462 Bagot Street was an odd cramped addition to the house that still stands at the corner of Bagot and North. Nonetheless, it was exciting to find this photo in the Queen’s Archives.

Why? Because Bird’s lives on in memory as the best source of taffy apples in the Swamp Ward. And here it is! Bring back the taffy apples!

Beyond that immediate delicious association, more stories emerge when we look further into archives and oral histories.

For example, from census records, it comes to light that Leo Bird was born Leo Loiseau in Quebec around 1900. In 1921 he was living on Quebec Street in Kingston with his mother Annie and his siblings William, Alice, Delia, Mary, and Joseph. At that time, Leo was working as a butcher; Alice and Delia were cigar makers; Mary was a domestic; and William and Joseph were still in school. Leo had work as a caretaker at St. Mary’s Cathedral when his wife Josephine started a confectionery attached to their home in 1939. The store stayed open till the late 60s, and the Birds lived in the house until the early 80s. But despite the sweetness of the candy apples, it has to be said that neighbourhood children did not find Leo Bird to be a very sweet-tempered shopkeeper.

Looking back further in time via city directories, we see that the now-demolished grocery shop was built by Daniel Corrigan around 1894. Corrigan lived at what is now 460 Bagot from 1865 while he ran his business in “fancy goods and toys” and “varieties” on Market Square. But eventually he established a grocery next to his home.

By 1935, the corner addition had become Hogan’s Meat Shop. And to play a game of “follow the grocer,” we find that Danny Hogan later moved his shop a block over to Bay and Bagot, where he maintained a friendly rivalry with Danny Gordon a block up at Bay and Montreal. Danny Gordon’s store had other lives as an egg grading station, the first location of Kingston institution Quattrocchi’s, Garrison Electric, and… an angel store (remember that?). Hogan’s store at Bay and Bagot became Cochrane’s Foods, which Laverne Cochrane ran for 30 years after his mother before him. Although Laverne is now retired, he’s happy about what the new owners have done to the store. He does miss his customers, and, he admits, “I miss selling tobacco. I know its hard to believe. I know it kills ya and all. But when you did it all of your life. It’s really something.” Down at Bagot and Raglan, Mrs. Eva Wartelsky kept a shop before Leo Tuggey and then James Devine took over. Mr. Devine was something of a source of fascination with children for his “funny” eye; in fact, as Sylvia (Stephenson) Blaney recalls, her sister Suzanne had a teddy bear who, after he lost an eye, was rechristened “Mr. Devine.” And Ken Matthews remembers that even though Mr. Devine had very poor eyesight, that didn’t stop him from throwing a cleaver at a would-be thief. (He missed.)

Behind all these personalities is a striking economic fact: what is now a residential neighbourhood was once both that and a thriving economic hub. As Vi Rosamond puts it, “we had everything there!” People didn’t have cars, but they didn’t need them: they had lots of shopping choices nearby. Your head is probably already reeling, so we’ll leave the shoe stores, car dealers, and barbers for another day.

— Laura Murray