by Brent Eades
A while back I posted a local history quiz, which readers seemed to enjoy. One question, however, did lead to some raised eyebrows:
Which Mississippi Mills business has been in continuous operation since 1840?
The Pakenham General Store was originally built in 1840. It is the only general store in Canada to have the historical significance of having been continuously open, in the same location, for so long.
A couple of readers wrote to say that the Clayton general store has been around since 1839 and that there are general stores elsewhere in Canada even older.
The phrase ‘continuously open, in the same location’ is important here. Local history author Rose Mary Sarsfield tells me this about the store in Clayton:
Clayton’s first store was a log building purchased from Edward Bellamy in 1839 by a man named Ewan Cameron, according to the land records. This building sat to the right of the present store. However Ewan Cameron had a liquor license as early as 1837 so in fact he may have been in this location from that time.
He died in 1845 and his wife operated it until 1849 when she sold it to Andrew and Esther (Rath) Geddes. It is believed that Andrew Geddes built the present store. He died in 1855. So the present store was likely built sometime between 1849 and 1855. Esther Geddes operated the store by herself until 1860 when she married James Dickson. The log building was sold in 1858. James Dickson died in 1867 and Esther Geddes operated the store by herself until 1896.
So, in fact, there was a store in Clayton from at least 1839 but not in the same building.
Pakenham appears to win this round. What about other contenders around the country?
Trousdale‘s store in Sydenham, outside Kingston, even has the domain name www.canadasoldestgeneralstore.com and has been in operation in one form or another since 1836 — but not in the same location.
Then there’s Frieze and Roy in Maitland, Nova Scotia, opened in 1839. There are plenty of references to it as ‘Canada’s oldest general store’ online, but I can’t find any firm evidence that it’s been in the same location and continuously operating as a general store since that date. So: maybe, maybe not.
Regardless, our local general stores have been here a very long time indeed and are still vital parts of our communities.