BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY
The century has seen many businesses in the township flourish and die out. Records show the earliest general store in the area was that of a Mr. Thornton who built a store in Bar River in 1880, on land purchased from John Evoy. This same store later became the home of Silas Evoy for a few years. In another change of ownership, James Collings converted it back to a store with living quarters upstairs. This was in 1904. In this year also, the Post Office was transferred to a more central location, and Mr. Collings became Postmaster as well. It remained in his hands until 1909 when a Mr. Stonehouse purchased it and occupied the establishment for one year, when Mr. Collings returned and was again operator, until the store was purchased by R.D. Curry in 1911. Mr. and Mrs. Curry offered a service to the whole of Laird Township, not only with the Post Office, but when mail delivery took place, quite often a telephoned grocery order would be delivered along with the mail. The Curry family consisted of Homer, Glen, Iris, Jewel, Shirley and Noel, the first two being born at Garden River, where the Currys had operated a store before moving to Bar River. Residents in the area well remember the family and their service, not only as the village storekeepers, but in the Presbyterian and Methodist churches as well. Their tenure in the retail and Postal business lasted for the next 40 odd years. When Mr. Curry died in 1953, Mrs. Curry remained by herself, continuing with business until she eventually sold to Mr. and Mrs. Bill Johnson. They, too, operated the store and Post Office quite successfully, until Mr. Johnson passed away in 1964, leaving Mrs. Johnson to carry on until 1972, when the Post Office and store were closed.
Another store which served a different part of the township for several years, was that of the Fremlins. Built on Section 5, by W.D. Fremlin, and operated by his daughter, Jessie, and her husband, Ed Hollingsworth, ledgers indicate that it was in existence as early as 1888. The Bar River was a natural, much-used waterway for boats travelling up and down stream, loaded with railroad ties, and so the Fremlin Store was used by many people from Garden River to MacLennan as an obvious choice for obtaining their supplies. These same ledgers show a great variety of merchandise purchased by these customers, so the inventory of a general store had to be vast. The store was in operation until the early 1920’s.
A third store in the northern part of the township was that of Louis Garnett at Isbester. The land in the area of Isbester had all been leased by Mr. Garnett, and here he lived, ran the store and a saw mill for many years. He also had a Post Office for a short while. Mr. Garnett purchased the first automobile in the area – a bright red “Hupmobile”. This make of car was very small, and Mr. Garnett was extremely tall and slim, and many people have related to me, not unkindly, that when he drove down the road, both knees had, of necessity, to be up around his ears, resembling a long-eared rabbit. When he travelled with his good friend, Wilkie Collings, who was of equal stature – I’m sure it was a sight to be remembered.
Laird Corner became the next business site in the township. Here, Peter Ansara had a country store as well as a travelling business, where he would take clothing and other goods around to the homes, making it easier for farm folk to purchase their supplies. This store also changed hands many times in the following years, from Mr. Ansara through the Bradshaws, Bill Fremlins, the Garretts and Matthews to the present owners, the Haynes Family, making it the only original store in the township still in existence.
Mr. Albert Davidson began a general store in his house on Section 29, on the old Soo-MacLennan Road. This was operated as a Trade and Barter business, but I understand that if you just had cash, then he wasn’t above accepting that as payment. This was carried on as a business by Mr. Davidson for many years, at least until the late thirties. Many of the people from that end of the township depended on the General store at MacLennan for their main grocery supplier.
Another store in the lower end of the township was that run by Jack McCluskie. This was at the corner of the present highway and the Neebish Road, and was operated by Jack and his wife Evelyn for many years. The Shewfelt family ran opposition to Jack for a few years across the corner with their own store and gas pump.
Now, in 1991, the only other store in the township, is that operated by Fran and Russ Donahue, at the corner of the Highway and the Bar River Town Line.
Although not in Laird Township, two other stores were in the area and operated by Laird residents. One of these was on the corner directly across from that of R.D. Curry’s, and built by Walter Greenwood. This was later purchased by Bill White, then by Ernest Evoy, who joined forces with Oliver and Elsie Shular.
Unfortunately, with people not being able to make payment, and perhaps, being too generous with their line of credit, the store could not continue. However, next to this a Mr. Bill Maguire built a store to try his luck. This was purchased by Lois (Evoy) and Jim Gormley and operated by them for three years, when it was resold to Mr. Maguire. From here on, the store had quite a history, showing that the folk of Laird were into “recycling” long before it became the present day byword. Besides the previously mentioned owners, the store changed hands again to Mr. Jim Granger, hence to Wes Vivian, where it became the Dealership for Massey-Harris farm equipment. Later still, a repair shop and finally it was purchased by Wendell Evoy and transported up to the hill where it is used as a garage.
The village Smithy was very popular in those days. Since the hardware store had not as yet come into existence, farmers had to rely on the blacksmith for repairs and perhaps new parts for their much used machinery. The first that we know of in Laird, was that of John and William Evoy. Both of these gentlemen had worked at “smithing” in their former locale. Alex Stewart told of another shop operated by a Mr. Gottlieb, on property owned by Mr. Wm. Hollingsworth, about 300 feet west of the hill. This would be around 1897. A third black smith shop was that first run by a Mr. Murphy, built along side the riverbank in Bar River, later run by a Mr. Boville and then Mr. Conway. The most well-known blacksmith, of course, was Stinson Archibald, or “Stenny” as he was called. A small man in stature, but a big one in heart and ingenuity, Stinson was a “Jack-of-all-trades, and could be called upon to invent many of the repairs needed by the farmers in the community.
The first known sawmill in the township was that operated by the Ross Brothers on the John Armstrong farm in 1889. We are not sure how long this was in existence, but it was later taken over by John Armstrong.
About the year 1895 or so, a second one was constructed – that of Robert Wilson – on land given him by his good friend Alex Stewart, on the bank of the Bar River near the Government Road. This remained in operation until a disastrous fire destroyed most of it, from which time Mr. Wilson made berry boxes, finally closing the mill down and moving to Orillia in the middle forties.
Nane Rivers had a small sawmill on his property as well, which served the area below the present highway.
In the lower end of the township, John Rydall also operated a sawmill. Apparently, the mill had been moved to the location on Section 29 from a previous site at the end of the town line. This mill was destroyed by lightning, but a second mill was built by Duncan Rydall on his property later. This was steam powered and it was one of the duties of Delbert McKinnon to keep it fired with snowballs in the winter.
The Garnett mill at Isbester has already been mentioned in the previous chapter.
Past the range of hills at Laird, still another family were in the business of sawing lumber for their neighbours. The Hares, both father William and son, Bob, operated a mill on their farm and served the people of that end of the township for a good many years; Walter Greenwood was a die-hard entrepreneur, who just wouldn’t give up. Arriving in the community about 1910 from near Weston, Ontario, his first place of work was with a man by the name of Albert Wilson in a blacksmith shop approximately where Stinson’s shop was by the bridge. Then he decided to go into business for himself across the comer in Macdonald Township. This, in time, was turned into a planing mill, which ran for a few years. Unfortunately, a lighted match somehow got too close to a coal-oil barrel, and the said barrel blew through the roof, pretty well destroying the mill. Not being beaten, Mr. Greenwood bought property from the Lapish family across the tracks and constructed another planing mill, where Alan Cook’s house is now, and a sawmill back of this and closer to the tracks. Walter’s son Pete, left the A.C.R. about 1951, and took over the Mills. The Saw mill burned around the early 60’s, and poor health caused Pete to terminate the planing mill. However, until this time in the early 70’s, Pete Greenwood’s was the place known for miles around, where one could get the best deal in lumber, even though he had to go to the Sault to obtain it himself.
Cheese and Butter Factory
Although not situated in Laird Township, this factory was a great source of revenue for those farmers in the area with excess milk on their hands. It was first begun around the late 1890’s, and eventually closed before 1912.
A great boon to the residents around was the development of the quarry on the Ernest and Percy Evoy farms. A demand for Silica, an alloy used in the steel-making process, and the. proximity to the railroad, not to mention the abundance of this natural resource, made the development of this industry very favourable. About 1935. Dr. Symington expecting a great return on his investment, I am sure, signed a contract to develop this resource. With Jack McKay as foreman. and up to two dozen men working there at one time, the quarry was a going concern. The rock was dynamited into chunks, trucked to the railroad siding and transported by train to the Chrome Plant in Sault Ste. Marie. Here. it was crushed, smelted and used to make steel.
Some of the rock from the Laird Quarry even made its way to England, being shipped in barrels. Frank Lapish, who was working at the Chrome Plant at the time, is my source of information. Crude blasting methods and, perhaps less than ideal safety practices led to at least one serious accident, and some near misses. However, the quarry provided a livelihood for many township residents. Silica, produced as a by-product in the nickel industry at Sudbury, made it cheaper to be transported by rail from that city to the Soo, than for it to be mined locally, so the quarry closed around the early 1940’s. From then it became a popular spot for wiener roasts. The path up the side of the quarry is still used by blueberry pickers.
A second quarry in the area was that of West Neebish, or Quarry Island, as it was known. Here, the same methods were used, but the rock was loaded onto ships at the dock that was in existence at the time, and transported to its destination.
I am told that a Pool Hall was in existence right beside Curry’s store on the riverbank. There was a bit of a confectionery store in the building too, but this building was later moved up to Laird Hill.
The 1891 Census tells us that a Mr. Havelock had a Wheelwright Shop on the S. 1/2 of the N.W. 1/4 of Section 19, off of the present Reid’s Road. I would suppose that he obtained his livelihood from making wagon and buggy wheels for the residents.
Little is known about the Ice Cream Parlour that Jim Khull operated for a little while, just kiddy corner to the store at Laird Corner.
It appears from all reports that the Schoales family had the comer on the market as far as the local gas stations were concerned. It was the year 1894, that Mr. Francis Hamilton Schoales III came to Laird from Huron County, with his wife and their three children: Francis Hamilton III, Irene Elizabeth and William Lloyd. Farming was his desire in spite of the fact that his parents had wanted him to become a doctor.
With one year of medical school, he was a great help with medical emergencies. With the farm purchased, a house was built with the neighbour’s help, and while here four more children were born; Annie Isabelle, Elma Jane, Mona Annette and Marion Blanche. His son, Lloyd, was the only one of the seven children to remain in Laird and he built a house on what is now the corner of the highway and Pumpkin Point Road. His training, which took place at a mechanics school in Michigan led to a degree in Motor and Tractor Mechanics. He opened a garage beside his house, and made his living servicing the farm vehicles and automobiles as well as selling gas. Lloyd married Olive Mick in 1929, and they had four children.
More Links To Business And Industry In Laird:
Laird History Volume Two – Transportation & Industry
Photos – Mercantile & Drug Store