Horse and Buggy

This two-storey hotel (circa 1880) occupied the land where LCBO built its store in Kearney in 1962.

Then & Now: LCBO Kearney

If walls could talk, the LCBO store in Kearney would provide hours of fascinating dialogue.

(MAY 2013)—The LCBO in Kearney, Ontario, originally housed a two-storey hotel in the 1880s which was torn down and replaced by a building that subsequently housed a garage, a grocery store and, in 1962, an LCBO store. 

Manager Jeff Ingham, a transplanted Mississaugan, is fascinated by the store’s background and the history of the town that shaped its various identities.  Kearney, often hailed as “the gateway to Algonquin Park,” is located 40 kilometres northeast of Huntsville with a population hovering around 800. Besides seasonal tourism, the town is known for its annual weekend regatta and winter dog sled races.

In its heyday – the turn of the 20th century – Kearney was a prosperous logging town that was home to 7,000 residents, says Jeff. “There were three sawmills, lumber camps, a basket weaving factory, two hotels, a bank and a train station,” he says. A railway siding connecting the town to Algonquin Park enabled logs to be loaded onto a train after floating down the Magnetawan River.

CSR Joanne Clark, a fourth generation Kearney resident well -acquainted with the town’s history, adds it was also home to three churches, a blacksmith shop and several stores. In fact, her great grandparents were the first couple to be married in one of its original churches. Historical records also indicate the presence of a chair factory, kilns, a tannery and a charcoal factory.

She relates a humorous anecdote about the LCBO store’s former proprietor: “Someone told me that the owner of the garage used to sell moonshine,” she says with a laugh. “If so, the current building has always been a liquor store in one form or another.”

The railway siding was abandoned by the Canadian National Railways in 1959, crippling Kearney’s main livelihood and all but destroying its economy. 

Although the sawmills have shut down, a scaled-down lumbering industry remains, says Joanne, a 31-year employee at the Kearney LCBO. As a child, she recalls seeing logs in Mirror Bay, the store’s majestic backdrop.  

Including Jeff and Joanne, the “D” store employs four staff. Last year’s sales totalled $998,000 with business climbing 400 per cent during the summer months. In recent renovations, new shelving units were placed in the store to improve and expand display options, a second cash register was installed, a shelf was placed in the beer fridge and a Vintages fixture was added.     

Hope for an economic boost exists in the form of a revitalized graphite mine now under new ownership and set to reopen later this year. According to new owners Ontario Graphite Ltd., the Kearney Mine closed five years after opening in 1989 due to “under-capitalization during a drop in global graphite prices.” 

 

 

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