Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Old stores, Old stories

I've begun researching old stores, those general stores from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that stocked socks and sugar, coal oil and cookies, hoes and harness. Centres of rural community life at one time, they were often found at country crossroads. Add a church and a school and a few isolated farms and you have a settlement. We can still find echoes of these centres today in small rural communities around Hastings County.

Most general stores are very simple practical structures, with few architectural pretensions. I like this store, which although now in the centre of Madoc, was likely on the outskirts at one time. Must ask local historian Brenda Hudson. It has a sweet and refined Italianate shopfront with rounded arches proliferating, and a vaguely gothic false front to the simple front gable design. I love the arched double doors with etched glass. A beautiful rubblestone side-wall with brick window surrounds and quoins is the perfect spot for the sign advertising the resident Tea Room and Antiques.

As I begin watching cross-roads for signs of former stores, and talking to people about my quest, I have been delighted by the generous loan of two wonderful local histories, prized family treasures. Unasked, Byron loaned a Wollaston township history 'Memories of the Lives of our Pioneers' and Judith shared 'Times to Remember in Elzevir Township'. I began by scanning the pages for references to country stores; I stayed to savour these accounts page by page, photo by photo. These books and the legions of others produced by communities to commemorate significant local anniversaries are history goldmines, inspiring and heart-breaking accounts of the difficult lives of simple folks.

I recall our delight at meeting author Peter Unwin this summer, while we were camping in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. Peter was on a book tour, sharing slides and stories from his recent  book 'The Wolf's Head: Writing Lake Superior'. An inveterate outdoorsman, he was conducting his book tour from the comfort of his tent, which he shared with his lovely wife and delightful daughters. We enjoyed his presentations, and a growing friendship, and we met up again in Lake Superior PP. Peter's favourite source for his books are local histories like the ones I'm enjoying. His dedication in 'The Wolf's Head' speaks to their importance: "This book is dedicated to the diarists, letter-writers, history buffs, historical society and museum volunteers, authors of self-published chapbooks, story-tellers, old-timers and all the crucial enthusiasts who keep the past from giving up on us." Nice, Peter. Couldn't agree more.


  1. Road trip? I'm ready to accompany the researcher. Shall we start with UCM?

  2. Hello,

    That building in Madoc used to be known as "Roy's Bakery", around 1960. I lived there during that period, and I remember the bakery well. Across the street was a mill, but I think it's been demolished and might be a parking lot now.