Welland History .ca

The TALES you probably never heard about


Late Reporter for Welland Tribune

[The Evening Tribune, 19 July 1958]

Although some of the old names still exist today in Welland business circles, most of the city’s early stores and shops have long gone the way of their founders.

This, however, is perhaps all the more reason to recall a few of them on the occasion of Welland’s 100th birthday. After all, these were the people who were the pioneers of our modern businesses on East and West Main streets. Their general stores were in more ways than we might think possible the forerunners of today’s supermarkets and department stores.

It is a sad fact, however, that our information of these early businesses is, to be charitable, limited. Although the first settlement in this area was known to be before 1790 we have practically no information at all about the daily life our forbearers until well into the nineteenth century, and nothing at all on the stores where they bought the necessities of life until 1850. And then it is sketchy information at best.

However, limited as our knowledge is, we can still glean some idea of what our “prehistoric” stores were like; and we even know some of their names and where they were situated.

This last problem is, in a general way the easiest to solve, as, until after 1900 the business district of the area consisted, as far as one can learn, exclusively of East and West Main Streets. The exact location, however, of some of the stores is often hard, and sometimes impossible to determine.

Of course, as in all small communities, tastes were much simpler, then than now. They had to be. Nevertheless, if one goes by the advertisements, in early, early newspapers the people were not too badly off. All the necessities and most of the luxuries of life, including China tea, coffins, and ready-made suits seemed to be available.

The reason for this was certainly that Welland, as well as most other 19th century communities, was much more self-sufficient than is now the case. With transportation both less convenient and more costly this was the only solution for smaller towns and villages.


One thing Welland never seems to have lacked is hotels and taverns. There at least eight of them, evidently doing a brisk business in beer and hard liquors in the 70s and 80s when the population was still under the 2,000 mark.

It was the grocery stores of the village of Welland which perhaps would be at once both the easiest and the hardiest for present-day residents. The most restricted ones largely took the place of crockery and hardware stores as we know them, while one could also buy clothes, including suits and dresses in some of the more adventurous shops. When considering the early days of this area one enterprise which immediately comes to mind is of course the Ross Store, with a continuous history of 80 years as part of the city’s business district in the same location.

The founder, David Ross, came to Welland in 1878 as manager of the town’s branch of a store belonging to the Bull and Ross dry goods change chain. A few years later “Daddy Ross” as he came to be known, bought out the Welland store, after the chain had experienced financial difficulties.

The store was originally in the same location, as today, although it occupied much less space. The building, known then as the Mellanby Block, also contained two other establishments, one on each side of the Ross premises. On the corner to the west was Cumine’s Drug store, while to the east was Thos. Teskey’s general store. Both were eventually taken over by Mr. Ross after he had bought the whole block shortly before the turn of the century.

Another of the earliest businesses established even before the arrival of David Ross, and still continuing in operation  was the boot and shoe store of Daniel McCaw, who died in 1902 at the age of 92, started his shop in 1867 at the corner of Cross and East Main Streets, opposite the court house.

As well as being one of the area’s most prominent businessmen, Mr. McCaw also became the first reeve of Welland. His son John, and currently his grandson, L.D. McCaw, followed in his footsteps.

Celebrating it own centennial just two years ago was a third Welland store which has been here for many many years, that of Richard Morwood and Co., hardware retailers. Started back in 1856 at the same location on West main St., as it now occupies, the business is now in the hands of John and Arthur Morwood, grandsons of the original Richard Morwood, who was one of the business pioneers of this community. When first started the store dealt in groceries and dry goods as well as hardware.

An indication of the nature of the grocery business in the early years is provided by advertisements in the Welland papers of the 1870s. For example Crites Brothers grocery store located in Mellanby’s Block ( now the Ross Block), advertised “tweeds, cottons, shirtings, green tea and coffee,” while Hendershot and Hancock, also on East Main St., had groceries, crockery, china, glassware, oils, paints, syrups and salt.

Another grocery store was James Griffith’s in Dunigan’s Block. Here as well as groceries and dry goods, customers could also buy shoes, readymade clothes of all sorts and millinery. Even modern supermarkets seem to have been outdone by some small town grocers, in the variety of goods offered.


Prices for foods were of course ridiculously low by present standards. In the village period eggs were 10 cents a dozen, best beef eight to twelve cents a pound, with the heart, liver, tongue and kidneys thrown in. However, beginning to lament the passing of “the good old days,” we must remember he was a very lucky man who got a salary of more than $600 a year and that the average was considerably less than that.

Other grocery stores included “Stalker’s Old Stand” on West Main at Frazer, J.B. Taylor, also on West Main, and several on East Main. These were Swayze’s in Dunigan’s Brick Block, J.S. O.Neal in the Opera House Block (now the Odd Fellows’ Hall,) John Crites, S.H. Griffiths, “China Hall,” where lamps and dinner sets mingled with the vegetables, and “The Old Gothic Store,“ of James Bridges.  And The Toronto Star” in which boots and shoes shared the limelight with groceries and dry goods.

In addition to the grocery stores there were also establishments for the dispensing of strong drink and tobacco, and as the Toronto Tea Store (which did also sell tea) and T.F. Brown on East Main. One store exclusively devoted to meat that of R.A. Lambert, also flourished for some years.

How so many grocery and food stores could survive in a town with a population under 2,000, can only be surmised. They must have been at least partially saved by the wide range of haberdasher, clothing and hardware business that most of them did. Of course the farmers of the area formed a good portion of their clientele.

Hardware stores did also exist, although perhaps they were not of quite the same type as our modern ones.

Instead of selling small kitchen and household utensil, these old stores sold eavestroughs, roofing and stoves, taking in exchange “hides, pelts, rags, old copper, brass, iron, etc.”  Clayton and Hopkin’s hardware on East Main also sold “smoke stacks of any size,” to those who were interested. J.H. Crow on West Main St., combined his hardware store with a plumbing business and repair shop for tin and iron ware.

A fair number of furniture stores also existed, in spite of the fact that so much of their business was done in the groceries. One of the oldest and most best known of these was Mrs. R. Cooper’s millinery shop, on West Main St., since 1868 at which time Mrs. Cooper, a Scottish immigrant, had come to this country.

In addition to Ladies’ hats, Mrs. Cooper sold “fancy goods,” to her clientele. With her own work shop and with several employees, this lady exemplified the self-sufficiency of small town merchants in the last century, It was not for her to buy hats ready-made at some central fashion house. Instead, following along lines suggested from New York and Paris, Mrs. Cooper gave the benefits of at least some originality of her Welland customers.

In men’s clothing M. Whalley and Co., established 1877, L.H. Pursel started in 1884, and Andrew‘s hats and caps, on East Main, took some portion for at least a few years, of the clothing trade remaining after the grocery stores had finished with it.

Horses also needed equipment in these pro-automotive years, and harness shops, blacksmiths and livery men took the place to today’s ubiquitous garages, and gas stations. A.D. White was one of the earliest with a blacksmith and carriage business on East Main Street in 1866, expanding into livery in 1874. Another livery was that of Lawrence and Sutherland just opposite the court house which had been started at some time before the turn of the century,

It the name of was any indication E. Brasford’s: Harness and Horse Clothing Emporium: established on West Main St., in 1889 must have been well patronized by the upper crust of equine society. A fourth business catering to horses was Andrew Carl’s harness shop on West Main, started in 1871.

In a related field we find the Agricultural Hall of W.G. Somerville on the west side of the canal on North Main (now Niagara St.,) just off West Main, which began in 1880.


When it comes to eating out, village residents do not seem to have had much choice other than to go to a hotel or tavern, as restaurants as such, from all evidence, appear to have been non-existent. However, from the last years of the century, if they were satisfied with dairy products, they could patronize one of the pastry shops, such as R.G. Common’s near the courthouse or W. H. Crowthers on North Main where the delights of the ice cream parlor and the newfangled soda fountain awaited them.

The first known bakery, that of David McEwen believed to be on East Main St., did not have any of these new ideas when it was flourishing in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Instead, there one went, taking one’s own wrapping paper to buy cakes, buns and candy, dispensed by old Grandma McEwen while the proprietor attended to his baking.

In 1900 modern times came closer with the establishment of ice cream rooms in conjunction with two stores of the Dilworth Drug Company in the town. The “Wilhelmina Room,’ in the east side store, became a favorite meeting place for the town younger set.

One of the more important of the early drug stores was the Medical Hall, started by J.H. Burgar on East Main St., in 1866, which was used for a short time as the town library just before the turn of the century. Another early druggist was Thomas Cumines in Mellanby’s Block, at the foot of East Main St., also established before 1870.

That drug stores were early branching out is to be seen in an advertisement for Burgar’s store in 1872, then known as Burgar & McKee’s in which the reader is informed that spectacles worth $2.50 were to be had for one dollar, “less than cost” as this forerunner of the modern “sale” ad put it.

Welland also had other stores and businesses, ranging from jewelry shops to billiard parlors. In the first category was T.H. Lord in Lamont’s Brick Block on East Main St., who advertised watches in the early 1870s’ for “from 25 cents up”. In the second was J. Bradburn’s Arcade Billiard Parlor and Sample Rooms. The latter were for the sampling of wine, liquor and cigars.

Just barely in the jewelry line was the shop of L. Goodvilliers on East Main. However, this line of goods almost reminds us of the grocery stores, at least in its range. As well as watches, clocks and jewelry, he had available “stationery, soaps, perfumes, school books and fancy goods.” His motto- a very modern one-“quick sales and light profit.”

Of course, there was one barber in town, and perhaps more. The only one known definitely in the 1870s was Abraham Jamieson on East Main St. What is more surprising is the existence of the “Royal Photograph Gallery” under its proprietor Alf Lord on East Main in these years.

Among the other stores were Mrs. J. Tuckey’s jewelry and optical shop, started in 1862. J.M. Livingstone music store, specializing in pianos and organs, and O.H. Garner in the Opera House Block, who carried on the rather queer combined trade of ticket agent, telegraph clerk and bicycle dealer.

Of the early hotels, probably the leading establishment was the Commercial Hotel, conducted by a Mr. Vanderslip. This was the only one which had regular bus service at the station of the Grand Trunk railway, as well as being unique in having a colored porter on duty in the lobby. It was built in 1856, the year of the California gold rush, and its first proprietor is reported to have lost his life while joining in the search in the far west.

Other hotels included the Barney House on the west side, the City Hotel (where Woolworth’s stands), the Union House, (opposite the jail), the Dominion Hotel (on the site of the old registry office), the Franklin (across from the old Grand Trunk), the Maple Leaf (on the site of the fire station), the Tremont on West Main and the O’Brien Hotel on the former Canal Street.

Room and board for a week in these establishments cost from $2.50 to $2.75 a week in the village days of Welland.

For many years the population of the community grew very slowly, and of course no great expansion in business activities could be expected at such a time. Even so, a steady development in them can be seem from earliest days, with the gradually increasing variety of stores and products until the veritable explosion that took place just after the coming of the 20th century.


From 1905 to 1911 the population of the town of Welland more than tripled, jumping from under 1,800 to

6, 250. This was the real beginning of the growth of Welland to its present status as a medium size, highly industrialized city.

Along with the population growth has gone great commercial expansion and of course change. Certain it is that great surprises would be in store for some of our early businessmen if they could return and see East and West Main Streets as they are today. The general layout of district would be the same, but the size and variety of the stores would be rather shaking.

However, the fact of variety in itself would not be too remarkable, for our visitor, especially if he had run a grocery store. The number of goods might astound him, but that one store can sell both clothes and can openers would not seem at all strange to one who himself had outdone in some respects our ultra-modern supermarkets.