Remembering family businesses of the past in Kawartha Lakes

By Ian McKechnie

James A. Peel, founder of Kawartha Lumber Co. Photo courtesy of William Peel.

“Fifty years ago, the stores of Lindsay were family businesses, often of some antiquity,” wrote Watson Kirkconnell in 1967. “Since that time the spread of great chainstore corporations across the continent has presented the little man with inexorable competition in costing and merchandizing.”

Some of the family-run businesses presented here have indeed disappeared on account of the changing economic landscape Kirkconnell describes. Others met their fate when the founding proprietor’s children or grandchildren left the family business to pursue other ventures. Regardless, these are just a handful of once-thriving family businesses in Kawartha Lakes that are no longer with us.

  1. The Argyle Store, Argyle
Victor and Myrtle Fleming, Argyle store owners. Photo courtesy the estate of Rae Fleming.

Opened in the 1880s, the Argyle General Store passed through several proprietors – including Steve Keown, Andy McIntyre, and Tom Myers – before being purchased by the late Victor and Myrtle Fleming in the late spring of 1937. Fleming’s father, who ran the store at nearby Eldon Station, facilitated the purchase via loan of $3,000.

Like virtually every other general store in 20th century rural Canada, the store stocked almost everything. Canned food, clothing, dairy products, groceries, hardware, kitchen utensils, and spices could be purchased from the Flemings in what one local poet likened to Charles Dickens’ ‘Old Curiosity Shop.’ Thirsty patrons might have enjoyed a bottle of Orange Crush pop outside on hot days while Victor Fleming pumped White Rose gasoline – or dug through his legendary mountain of used tires in search of just the one his patrons were looking for. The store was a place to exchange news, mail a letter, and enjoy a good story in the company of neighbours.

Outlasting many of its peers, the Argyle General Store closed in 1984. The rural retail landscape was undergoing tremendous changes, and once-essential crossroads communities were being bypassed by motorists enroute to shop in larger urban centres. Although it enjoyed a brief reprise as a tearoom, gift shop, and convenience store for a few years in the early 2000s, this family business is no more.

  1. Goodwin’s Art Store, Lindsay
W.A. Goodwin’s Art Store, Cambridge Street North. Photo courtesy of Kawartha Lakes Public Library.

Agnostic. Socialist. Vegetarian. The late W.A. Goodwin came to be known for many things over the course of his long life – but for three generations of Victoria County residents, he was best known for the art supply shop he and his children ran in downtown Lindsay.

Goodwin’s Art Store traced its origins back to about 1860, when 20-year-old William Alfred Goodwin arrived in Lindsay from Port Hope and went into the painting and decorating business. For several years prior to Confederation, Goodwin travelled around the countryside with his business partner James Winters to paint houses and hang wallpaper. By 1877, Goodwin had opened a retail store at the northwest corner of Cambridge and Peel Streets – a frame building that still stands today.

Over the course of the next few decades, Goodwin’s Art Store would occupy close to half a dozen locations downtown, with three of the patriarch’s six children selling art supplies, picture frames, wallpaper and other home décor products from behind the counter.

W.A. Goodwin died in 1940, age 99. While his grandsons, Harvey and Edward Goodwin carried on an electricians’ business from the family home on Cambridge Street North well into the 1960s, the art store had vanished from the retail landscape by the end of the Second World War.

  1. Gregory’s Drug Store, Lindsay
Edmund Gregory, founder of Gregory’s Drug Store. Photo courtesy of Jane Gregory-Gill.

Few of the family-run businesses in this area could match Gregory’s Drug Store when it came to longevity. For over 120 years, the Gregory family compounded drugs, dispensed medications, and supplied the community with everything needed to cure ailments afflicting their fellow citizens.

The English-born Edmund Gregory had long dreamt of owning and operating a drugstore – no doubt inspired by two uncles who worked as chemists (as pharmacists were once called – and still are in the United Kingdom). After immigrating to Upper Canada, Edmund compounded drugs for a physician in Colborne before going to work as a druggist in Millbrook. Here he met John Knowlson, and together they formed the Knowlson-Gregory pharmacy in 1858. Not quite a decade later, in 1867, the 30-year-old Edmund became a founding member of the Canadian Pharmaceutical Society and the College of Pharmacy, respectively.

Descendants of Edmund Gregory operated pharmacies in Collingwood, Hanover, Stratford, Toronto, Cobourg, Fenelon Falls, Lindsay, Gravenhurst, Port Hope, and Oshawa. In Lindsay, the business was passed down to Edmund’s son, Alfred Edmund Gregory and his grandsons E. Neill Gregory and Charles Arthur “Bill” Gregory, before proprietorship went to great-grandson, Wellington Neill Gregory, whom everyone knew as Sonny.

Anyone entering the old pharmacy at the northeast corner of Kent and William Streets in Lindsay could expect courteous and efficient service. Typical of a family business, the Gregory children regularly helped out around the store stocking shelves, doing inventory, unpacking orders, serving customers, working the cash register, and helping their father deliver prescriptions.

Sonny Gregory retired in 1979 and, believing in the importance of family-run pharmacies, refused to sell out to ‘big pharma.’ Thus ended a 121-year run for a Lindsay institution.

  1. Kawartha Lumber Co., Lindsay

James Albert Peel established the Kawartha Lumber Co., in 1922 to plane rough-cut lumber into dressed lumber for shipment across Ontario by rail. Peel, a 48 year-old lawyer, already had close to a decade of experience in the lumber industry thanks to his involvement with Coboconk’s Gull River Lumber Company, which he and his brother, Charles, cofounded in 1913.

Located in the old Sylvester Manufacturing Company complex at the southwest corner of Kent Street and Victoria Avenue, the Kawartha Lumber Company operated for close to three decades. Apart from dressed lumber, the company also produced cottage furniture, mouldings, and windows. A retail operation was located adjacent to the manufacturing facility.

The business was very much a family-run affair: James’ son, Walter, managed the business starting in the 1930s while another son, Stewart, served as shop superintendent. “My best memory as a youth was the huge Belgian gelding horse that was resident at the factory property,” says Walter’s son, Bill Peel. “In the absence of forklift trucks, every board was piled onto wagons and moved around the yard by horse. I spent many hours visiting and patting the horse.”

By the 1950s, larger brand-name firms offering a greater range of products had appeared on the scene, making it difficult for smaller companies to compete. The Kawartha Lumber Company’s retail business was sold to the nationally-known chain Beaver Lumber, while its machinery went to the privately-run Bagshaw Lumber, located west of Lindsay.

  1. Robson’s Farm Equipment, Fenelon Falls
Monty Robson at Kinmount Fair. Photo courtesy of Maryboro Lodge: The Fenelon Museum.

Not all family-run businesses began from scratch. Many emerged when a key figure acquired the assets of an existing firm, renamed it, and expanded its offerings. That was certainly the case in 1877, when Thomas and William Robson purchased a fledgling foundry from Fenelon Falls’ William Hamilton and went into the business of making agricultural implements.

Under the name Cameron Lake Foundry, the Robsons produced a dizzying assortment of cast iron goods. The April 14, 1883 edition of the Fenelon Falls Gazette invited prospective customers to visit their 640 square-foot showroom at the corner of Colborne and Francis Streets. “The idea is a good one,” observed the Gazette, “as they have long felt the need of a showroom nearer the business centre than the foundry is.” This development foreshadowed the future of the Robson family’s business. Ten years later, a fire would reduce the foundry to ruins and the family would concentrate on the retail side of farm equipment, operating a Massey-Harris dealership in downtown Fenelon Falls.

The business thrived for nearly 70 years thereafter under the leadership of Thomas Robson’s nephew, W.T. Robson, who subsequently passed the reins to his son, Monty Robson. Newell Watson acquired the business in 1959, and Robson’s passed into Fenelon Falls’ commercial history.

  1. White’s Summer Resort, Pontypool

Some family-run businesses reflected the cultural and religious diversity of Kawartha Lakes over the last century. One of the most well-known of these enterprises was a now-gone summer resort in Pontypool, owned and operated by the late Thomas [Toviah] White, a Jewish entrepreneur.

Born in 1899 to Russian immigrants, White was raised by his older sister Clara and her husband, Barnett Breslov in Lotus, a tiny farming community in Manvers Township. It was a far cry from the vast resort business springing to life in nearby Pontypool, where, starting in the 1930s, several Jewish families began establishing summer resorts.

Though not the first family to run a resort, the White family’s operation was certainly one of the most popular. Starting around 1944 and continuing into the 1960s, Thomas White and his nine children rented a group of cottages to Jewish excursionists. A large dining hall, capable of feeding 150 people, was always busy – as was a snack bar from which guests could purchase gum, pop, chocolate bars, and other sweet things.

Ever the entrepreneur, Thomas White went on to be instrumental in launching the Canadian Christmas tree industry after planting Scotch pine trees on Pontypool’s sandy soil to mitigate erosion. He later established economy stores in Bowmanville and Lindsay, the latter still a fixture in town. Although these White-owned enterprises would continue to thrive under the leadership of Thomas’s sons, Lawrence and Stan, the summer resort business is now a mere memory in Manvers Township.


  1. Young Susan says:

    So very interesting! My family history is deeply entrenched in little old Lindsay and I really appreciate this information fom long ago. I’m sure my family were well aware of these businesses. Great job Advocate team.

  2. Deborah Cascadden says:

    There used to be a little diner type restaurant in Lindsay owned by Cascadden, (my husbands family) what can you tell us about it?

  3. James Cruikshank says:

    Can you find information regarding Finny Lumber in Lindsay. Angeline St. South, before Mary St.

  4. Barb says:

    Would love to know about a grocery store the Decks ran around 1940

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