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Keeping Shop: Episode Two of Stories of the Swamp Ward

The many small businesses of the Swamp Ward were a constant theme in our research and so have featured several times in our blog previously. You can find more information on Montreal Street here; on Hyman’s Deli here; and on Bird’s Grocery here. And just as a public service, to the right is a shot of the building that was the first Quattrocchi’s store, 140 Montreal Street, where Phil spread out his wares on the street as you’ve heard in the podcast. It wasn’t the first Italian store at this location: in 1929, Amodeo Brothers Wholesale Fruit operated here. In the 30s and 40s it was Gordon’s Grocery, where Bill Hackett remembers being terrorized by rats in the basement while bagging potatoes for his uncle. The building hosted Quattrocchi’s, then Palmer’s Grocery, and then it became an Egg Grading Station. Its final commercial incarnations were Garrison Electric and then, I swear, an Angel Store. Some of you can back me up on that.

But I want to take this post to look into a few stores we couldn’t fit into the podcast. What I did is something I used to do in Toronto when I lived there: walk around and look for signs of former shops. Before strict residential-only zoning, and before supermarkets and big box stores and online shopping, stores were sprinkled everywhere. You can still see them, if you look.

OK, here’s Exhibit A. Put up your hand if you know it! It’s at the corner of York and Cherry. It is residential now and to a casual observer may not draw attention, but notice the flattened corner and the new brickwork: giveaway signs of a former store. I know the building as Leighton’s, and Charley Leighton did run it from 1987 into the new millenium, but it turns out that is the least of its commercial history. In the 30s it was Mac’s Barber Shop, and then Lane’s Grocery. In the forties, proprietors included Francis Tallen, Ray Brown, and G.E. Clarke. Later grocers included Paul Reynolds, John Costa, and Irene Johnston. It isn’t clear to me why so much turnover. Bad location? Bad karma?

Just down York Street, at the corner of Raglan, you can see signs of another former grocer in quite a grand house. The store was run by Hugh Johnston in the 20s, and Isabel and Agnes Johnston in the 30s. Of course a block away, at the corner of Barrie and York, the Store Famous still operates. I am told that in the 70s, it was a Portuguese shop, where you could get seafood, and grapes in season for wine-making from 18-wheelers who rolled up from Niagara, and where men gathered outside for voluble discussions of soccer. I’d love to hear more about this era: call me if you have a lead! Before that, in the 30s, this corner was a Jewish hub, with Tevan’s, a dry-goods store, on the northwest corner, and across from it, now Kim Snyder’s jewellery, was Robinson’s and later Hamburger’s — both kosher butchers. Along Barrie Street one more block from there, at Colborne, were other shops as well… McGlade’s and Jimmy Reid’s on the northwest corner (you hear about Jimmy and his eggs near the beginning of the Keeping Shop podcast), and at the southwest — well, Rose DeShaw who lives there now has posted its history herself, so just walk by and read all about it. All this to say that when I claim in the podcast that you could get candy at every corner, I’m not really exaggerating.

But let’s slide down to Montreal Street for two more examples. 254 Montreal, at the corner of John, has always caught my eye. You can really tell from its shape that it was a shop. Well, as early as 1900 it was, under Malcolm Corkey, and then the Gage brothers and T.R. Pybus until the depression. McKane’s Grocery had a long run there from 1935 to 1966. After that it alternated as a TV store and a used furniture store until a brief run as “Candy Land” in 1975-76, before settling into its current residential life.

A little further south at Markland Street is a place you may know because its current resident, Kathleen Chepizak, often sits outside watching the passing parade. Here she is, in fact, nicely captured with the reflection of the buildings across the street, and her flowers and window decorations. Kathleen’s father Mike Chepizak was a shoe repairman, one of several in this area (you heard about Harry Tanevich in the podcast), and this was his shop. Kathleen will be eager to chat with you any time you drop by, and in fact she always has an extra chair handy.

You can play this game too: find a building that looks like it might have been a shop, and send me its address or its photo. I might tell you something about it, or I might show you how to find out. It can be a pretty satisfying way to spend an hour or two!

— Laura Murray, with City Directory research by Yianni Pantis & Lauren Luchenski


1 Comment

  1. Maria Kerby

    Playing “what did this building used to be” is one of my favourite games. I’ve always been intrigued by the big red brick house on the corner of Main and Colborne. The Colborne side and Main side seemed so different, especially before the recent addition was put on the Main side. Also I’ve often wondered why it’s called Main St. Main St of what?

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