Brant Street merchants
Quite early in the development of the village of Wellington Square, Businesses began to open on Brant Street, especially those that catered to individual household needs. The mill and wharf activity was serviced for a long time on Water Street,
however, in later years it became the site for gas stations, car dealership and repair shops.
I have chosen to profile five merchants on Brant Street this month, most of which you may have shopped at if you were a resident of Burlington during the 1950 to 1980 time. We follow the businesses of a shoe store, bakery, jeweler, hardware store and a grocer.
Graham’s Shoe Home – Mel Howden Shoes
This shoe store business was operated by one family, under the two above names, for about 73 years. They must have done something right!
Henry Graham, or Harry as he was known, had been a travelling salesman for a number of years. At about 30 years of age he acted on the opportunity to purchase a well-known shoe store for sale on the east side of Brant Street, not far up from the lakeshore. He took possession on May 1st, 1906. A photograph shows the front of the store not long after with his name on a sign in the window. Three years later, Harry moved the business directly across the street to what is now 359 Brant Street.
His business plan was to carry a full line of up-to-date shoes, and in every instance, keep his prices below those in the city. When the First World War broke out he announced in his advertisement that he would not raise prices because of the war as some other merchants were doing.
Harry and Mabel, his wife, had only one child, a daughter, born about the time the store moved to the east side of Brant Street. Helen, no doubt, helped her dad in the store as a teen, then married George Bell and began to raise her own family.
When Mr. Graham reached the position of needing permanent help in the business his wife Mabel’s nephew in Alberta took an interest and in 1932 Mel Howden came to work for his uncle, staying until he signed up for WWII. Mel returned to Burlington and the store following his discharge and, in time, a partnership in the business was arranged.
Harry A. Graham suddenly died in 1948, in his 69th year, leaving Mel Howden to continue with the business for which he was well prepared. After an appropriate time, Mel changed the name of the business to Mel Howden Shoes.
In January of 1949 the latest in fitting shoes, an X-Ray machine, was installed in the store. A description of how the machine functioned and its advantages was detailed in the Burlington Gazette.
This store was well known for the gesture of giving to each new baby that was brought to the store, his or her first pair of white boots, a goodwill incentive perhaps, with the hope of a returning customer.
Mel Howden retired in 1979 and closed this successful business which had been opened by his Uncle Harry A. Graham in 1906.
The Grahams and the Howdens are interred in Greenwood Cemetery, Blocks 51 and
Waumsley’s Home Bakery
The Waumsley family came from Lincolnshire, England to Canada in 1913, moving to Burlington a year later when the father, Mr. James M. Waumsley obtained a job with Jackson’s Bakery, at that time on Brant Street. Mr. Waumsley later opened his own bakery at what is now 369 Brant Street, one store north of Pine Street.
Mr. Waumsley as quite a young boy had apprenticed in a bakery in England and had the foresight to bring to Canada with him some recipes, especially one for home made bread, which the family continued to use all the while the bakery was in business. The changes in the refining of the flour over time, however, made for some difference in the texture of the bread.
Following World War II, daughter, Flossie Waumsley, and her husband Jock Harrow took over the bakery. A major change was made with the replacement of the old brick oven to a rotary gas oven which could bake 100 loaves at a time with more even heat. The bakery was open 6 days a week, with the baking starting at 4 a.m., Monday to Friday and 2 a.m. on Saturday, when extra help was
Typical 1920s bakery scene – Etsy.com required to wait on customers. Cakes, pies, muffins and crumpets, wedding and birthday cakes were also available to their patrons and added to the sweet smells emitted from the ovens.
During the 1966 Brant Street “Spruce Up” campaign, the Harrows joined forces with Dales Hardware next door to give the front of their buildings a new tudor facelift.
Mrs. Waumsley died in 1948 and James in 1955. They were survived by 3 sons, all who lived and had businesses either on, or near Brant Street, and also 5 daughters. James, when he was younger, had found time to be part of the Volunteer Firemen’s drill team and all 3 of his sons followed in his footsteps, becoming members of Burlington’s Volunteer Fire Brigade.
Flossie and Jock closed Waumsley’s Home Bakery about 1969 after nearly 50 years in business.
The Waumsley family plot is in Block 56 in Greenwood Cemetery.
Allan E. Watson – Watchmakers and Jewellers
Allan Watson came to Burlington in 1948, looking for a suitable place to start a new business. Mr. Watson was in his late 30’s and had recently been discharged from 3½ years of service in the Navy. For about 15 years prior to the war Allan had been in business in St. Catherines. He was an experienced watch repairer. He saw possibilities for Brant Street and soon opened a new business here in a building that once was a lovely home, now 401 Brant Street.
Allan and his wife, Doris, developed a flourishing business, always making an effort to improve. They spent money to enlarge the store to accommodate a larger and varied stock and, in 1961, spent more remodeling the front and redecorating the interior. Allan attributed his success to hard work and providing plenty for people to choose from, so they had no need to shop elsewhere.
The store carried precious and semi-previous jewellery, Royal Doulton and Wedgewood china, clocks, watches and Orange Blossom and Bluebird diamonds. Mrs. Watson did the majority of the buying. In 1967 the store had a staff of 14, four of whom were watchmakers, needed for the busy repair requests. One of the watchmakers was a woman, Mrs. Kathy Fletcher, who Mr. Watson believed to be the only lady watchmaker in Ontario.
Allan E. Watson Ltd. was sold in 1969 having been in business on Brant Street for over twenty years.
Allan E. Watson died in 1989 and Doris, his wife, in 2015 in her 102nd year. They wer interred in Greenwood Cemetery, Block R.
Graham’s HardwareOn March 1st, 1949, Mr. Chris Graham and his wife, Dorothy, purchased the hardware store of Joseph Smith on Brant Street. Chris and his family had lived in Burlington for over fifteen years. He had past retail experience in the hardware business in both Milton and Georgetown and for the previous 21 years was a traveler for the Wood, Alexander and James wholesale hardware, so he was well qualified for success in business for himself. This location suited the business until in 1960 an opportunity resulted in the Grahams selling this store and moving to 383 Brant Street.
In these early hardware stores, windows could get re-glazed. Screens, new wire mesh, nuts, bolts, screws and nails, as well as many other now packaged items, could be purchased by the pound or just the number needed. And – yes, much visiting of residents took place in the hardware store; a paradise for children to be allowed to browse the toys and just “stuff”.
About this time, Chris Graham’s son, Paul, came into the business. Later taking it over in 1971 when his dad retired.
Christopher and Dorothy raised two sons, Paul and Donald. Both Chris and Paul were involved in community affairs. Both belonged to Burlington Central Lion’s Club and both were honoured as “life” members of Lion’s International. Paul coached and was a director of the Burlington Amateur Softball Association and served as Director of the Burlington Chamber of Commerce.
A new Graham Pro Hardware was opened at the Burlington Mall about 1979 with the Brant Street store remaining for about a year, closing about 1980. Graham Hardware served Burlington for over 35 years.
Chris Graham died in 1995 at 92 years of age and his son Paul in 2011, aged 80 years. Both are interred in Greenwood Cemetery: Chris & Dorothy in Block S and Paul and his wife Beverley in Block 59A.
The Taylor brothers, Fred and Charles, were the sons of Charles, Sr. and his wife Margaret. The father was a carriage painter. Two sisters died of lung disease in 1901 and 1905. Prior to entering into business on their own, Fred had worked for a number of years in the Kerns store on Water Street and Charles was bookkeeper for a travelling firm in Hamilton, but in 1904 was given a gold watch and gold headed cane and transferred to the “Northwest”.
The Burlington Gazette reported that in October of 1905, Frederick W. Taylor had severed his connection with W. Kerns & Co. and had commenced the erection of an up-to-date general store on the corner of Elizabeth and Water Streets, near the post office. His brother Charles came home from the west in February of 1906, when the store was ready for opening. They entered into a partnership, the firm to be known as Taylor Brothers, which later was shortened to Taylor Bros.
The Burlington Gazette printed a detailed description of this new enterprise. In addition to groceries, the store carried dress goods, general dry goods and men’s furnishings and tailoring. The store would specialize in the best teas and coffees, and featured 2 Toledo computing scales and a large National Cash Register that made a record of all transactions, making the occurrence of a mistake almost an impossibility.
Sadly, within a year of opening this new store, the younger brother, Charles, Jr. took ill and like his sisters died of a lung condition at age 27 years. Fred’s early retail experience enabled him to carry on with the store. The name remained the same and Taylor Bros. remained at this location until 1927, when Mr. Macklin of Weston came to town and made a deal for the Taylor property. With just six weeks to vacate, a new Taylor Bros store was built on Brant Street at the corner of James, now number 421. The business took just one overnight to move in.
Ten years later, Fred Taylor died suddenly, while transacting some business in a Hamilton store. His wife, Orpha, continued the business for about another 13 years, until the spring of 1950. Taylor Bros. served Burlington for over 40 years.
The Taylor family plots are in Blocks 21 and 34 in Greenwood Cemetery.
Sources: Burlington Gazette
Vernon Directories, Central Library