Niagara Grocery

By Ted Ross

Then

In 1908 a store was constructed on the south side of Niagara, just west of Government Street. The address was 581 Niagara. For two years the building, which also had an upstairs rental suite, stood empty.

The Beacon Hill region of James Bay was under construction in those days. In 1908 the Caledonian Society had subdivided and sold off the Caledonian Field, bounded by Niagara, Government, St. Andrews, and Simcoe Streets. Over a dozen new houses appeared on that block by 1909. Other blocks, subdivided from the farm which had occupied this land, saw much building during the first decade of the 20thCentury.

A grocery store was needed in this developing area.

In 1910, Frank W. Holliday set up a grocery business in the Niagara Street store. He stayed until 1913. Groceries stepped aside for the Victoria Art Emporium that year. Locals must have shopped for their groceries in the stores at Niagara and Menzies and at Simcoe and Menzies at this time. In the meantime, housewives from the new houses looked for decorative pieces in the emporium, finishing their household accessories. Their husbands worked in the industrial area of the James Bay peninsula west by the Rithet wharves. A flour mill, bakery, and other concerns kept the people employed there. Streetcar service provided transportation.

The emporium stayed until 1920, then Robert A. Brown took over the store and sold groceries. Brown was grocer until 1938, adding a telephone in 1936. Locals shopped for supplies in his store. Fresh bread, fruit and vegetables, cold milk, some meats and canned and dry goods were available. In later years a freezer provided frozen delights. Little children came in with their pennies to purchase treats from candy jars, the sweets put into tiny paper bags for smiling youngsters. The business was a central part of the neighbourhood.

Miss E.A. McHurg became the new grocer in 1938. The next year, her mother became resident in the upstairs suite. In 1941 Miss McHurg sold to I.W.F. Jackson, who established a confectionery in the building. In 1948 Jackson sold to S.E. Tront who started Parkway Food Store. Tront added a second rental apartment upstairs. Tront's market did duty until 1961, meeting the grocery needs of the Beacon Hill neighbourhood at that time.

Frank Schroeder took the business over in 1961. He called it Niagara Grocery, the name it has had since. He ran the grocery store for over twelve years. Frank was well known in the James Bay community through his many years of involvement with local sporting organizations and the James Bay United Church.

In 1974 George Lee took on the grocery. By now, in addition to groceries, the shop sold lottery tickets, tobacco products and a few magazines. There were still candy bars and frozen treats for the youngsters and a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread for mom's kitchen. Some fruits and vegetables and dry goods could be purchased, but the arrival of a huge Safeway supermarket at Menzies and Simcoe (today's Thrifty Foods) had changed local shopping habits. Lee ran Niagara Grocery until 1984.

Lee's son-in-law, Allan Chow, then assumed ownership. He operated the business as a convenience store for the next ten years. The market opened at convenient hours. Multiple shelves throughout the shop displayed household goods, groceries, snack foods, candy and toiletries. Soft drinks occupied coolers along the wall, with ice cream and frozen goods in the adjacent freezer. Tobacco products and lottery tickets were purchased at the counter. Magazines and newspapers filled a rack next to the cash register.

Allan sold the market to his childhood friend Lokin 1994. Lok maintained the convenience store format for the next fifteen years, selling snacks, tobacco products and lottery tickets, but little in the way of groceries. He was well loved in the neighbourhood and the store was the place to go for your Scratch and Win ticket. Folks would stop by for a cup of coffee and a chat, visiting with the owner and picking up their lottery items.

Now

In 2009 Jennifer McKimmie and Ken Winchester purchased the Niagara Grocery business, with a lease on the store building. It was her intention to change the store's role in the community. She saw it as a means to get local high quality products to her customers.

For the first year or two of her ownership, Jen haunted farmers' markets to find local goods to sell. She regularly attended the weekly James Bay Market at Menzies and Superior to acquire stock. She found, eventually, that those she was purchasing from started coming to her with their products. In this way, she has established solid connections with producers of quality local products, from produce to eggs, breads, chocolate bars and much more. The store's shelves are loaded with high-quality items of every conceivable type for use in baking and other kitchen activities.

If you are on a gluten-free diet, you'll find a great assortment of gluten free products. Organic is the standard on produce, and it is from local sources whenever possible. Local bakeries' breads are sold. Eggs are from local producers. Even locally manufactured sodas and beverages are available.

There are no tobacco or lottery products in the store today.

Another added feature, under Jen's management, is the in-store roasting of very good coffees. The aroma drifting out of the grocery is lovely! A central sit-down counter allows you to enjoy a mug right there in the market. Passing folks stop in for a cup to go, especially BC Transit drivers, close to their end-of-the-line layover.

Local readers appreciate the small lending-library shelf established by the check-out counter. Its 'take a book/leave a book' policy leads to a wide range of material being available.

In recent months the owner of the building placed it on the market. As there is no heritage protection for the old store, it was feared a new owner would knock it down and build a multi-unit condominium in this prime location. How great was the relief when Seamus McKeating and his wife Jennifer Gunter purchased the property, offered Jen a new lease for the business. Seamus went to work in the market himself.

There are two rental apartments upstairs in the building. When Seamus isn't working downstairs selling groceries, he's upstairs renovating the suites to get them on the market again.

When you do stop in the store for a cup, the steady flow of customers around you is impressive. Despite the nearness of Thrifty Foods, this is a busy little grocery store. Local residents appreciate what Jen McKimmie has done, shop at her place, and happily dub her the 'Grocery Goddess'.

 

Bibliography

Vancouver Public Library, City Directories, 1918-1955, digitized; Victoria Public Library, City Directories, 1956-2000, bound copies; Victoria Public Library, Victoria Telephone Directories, 2001-2015; Wikipedia, 'Convenience store', 2016; Times-Colonist, 'Frank Emery Schroeder - obituary', February 20, 2011; Jennifer McKimmie, interview, April 18, 2016; Rev. Don Hume (ret.), interview, April 28, 2016.

The interview with Jen was over a cup of fine Niagara Grocery coffee! TR

The surname 'Chow' for George Lee's son-in-law is fabricated, not authentic. Only his first name, 'Allan', appeared in my research. TR