Saturday, July 31, 2021

The history of the Island Park Metro

I love the Island Park Metro. I've spent my entire life living within short walking distance, and as a kid, it was the place where my family did most of our shopping. Before the arrival in the neighbourhood of the big box stores like Superstore and Sobey's, the Metro was one of the few grocery store options in the area, and believe it or not, one of the biggest. 

Opinions on the Metro seem mixed amongst people I've spoken to. Some love it because it's close by, small, and has that old-school charm. Or others avoid it for the perceived lack of selection, small size, or whatever. To me, its almost like shopping at Morris Home Hardware. A smaller location, but the selection is pretty impressive, the staff are awesome, its just a short walk away, and it just has that extra neighbourhoody feel to it. 

I was in the Metro two days ago and realized I didn't really know the history of the store, and had never written about it. 

And since it has been way too long since I've written something for the blog, I thought it would make for a nice, shorter piece. So here we go... 

* * *

The Metro property actually has a grocery store as part of its history going all the way back to 1908! In that year, prominent Hintonburg businessman William George Wilson built a 2-storey red-bricked house at the corner of Carleton and Richmond (fronting Richmond, but on the far west edge of the property, which is now the Metro parking lot). The ground floor was built as a commercial space, with an apartment upstairs. The house was leased to 24-year old Henry Porteous and his family, who moved in upstairs and opened a grocery store downstairs. The would go on to operate this store for the next 19 years, until 1927.

The neighbourhood was growing steadily at this time. Though the Ottawa Land Association property east of Western would remain empty fields until 1920, the little pocket of homes north of Richmond along Carleton and Rockhurst, and south of Richmond along Piccadilly and Mayfair was enough to keep the store busy.

Business must have been good; Porteous later bought the building from Wilson in 1917, and around that time as well purchased the house on the other side of Carleton fronting Richmond for his family to move in to (they then rented out the apartment above the store). 

May 6, 1922

Porteous sold the grocery store property in 1927, and opened a small hardware store out of his home next door for two years, before passing away in 1929 at the young age of 45. 

James M. Shouldice purchased the grocery store in 1927, and after a brief stint as "Shouldice & Rogers", became Shouldice Brothers in 1929. The store would have been for several decades the primary grocery store for the area east of Westboro and west of Parkdale Avenue. 

Shouldice Brothers Grocery
(illustration by Lorne Parker)

I don't have a photo of the grocery store, but this illustration by long-time resident Lorne Parker survives. Parker grew up with the Shouldice store in the 1930s and 1940s, and wrote this about it several years ago:

"The Shouldice Store was on of the focal points that attracted us youngsters for one reason or another. They sold a full line of groceries plus most of the requisites of everyday living, a forerunner of the present-day department stores. Unlike today, the owners were present to serve and chat with the customers,  young and old. No need to have a credit card for your purchase, just tell them you'll drop by tomorrow or "put it on the bill" til payday, which to their consternation, sometimes never came. The Shouldice Brothers, Rug and Jim, often handed out free candy to the assembled kids who occupied their front veranda and window sill for most of the daylight hours, six days a week. Sunday was then a day of rest, which the majority of people required after working nine and ten hour days. Another use for the front entrance of the Shouldice Store was a dropping-off spot for the Ottawa Citizen and Journal papers, for delivery to customers on the "paperboys" route in the area."

In 1945, it became known as "Island Grocery & Meat Market", around which time the Shouldice Brothers sold to Morris Krantzberg, who soon after sold to Max and Lillian David, who continued business under this same name. 

Ottawa Citizen - May 16, 1946

In 1957, the grocery business was changing, and larger grocery store chains had arrived and moved into the neighbourhood. The smaller shops could no longer compete with the chains who had access to discounted products and shipping lines. The Davids leased the building to Esbar Kouri, who opened a restaurant here called Kouri's Restaurant, and by the mid-60s had become Island Park Variety (a convenience store with a lunch counter). 

The old building's life came to an end in July of 1965 when the assets of Island Park Variety were sold by auction. The Davids had sold the property to M. Loeb Ltd. in October of 1963. 

Now the adjoining lots are also part of the story in what makes up today's Metro property. The Porteous/Shouldice/David lot was "lot 7" on Richmond Road. Lot 8 to the east had a house on it built also in 1908 by sawfiler John James Clark (later the long-time home of the Bennie and May families). This house was purchased by Max David in 1954 and included in the sale to Loeb in 1963.

Lots 9 and 10, which is the east end of the parking lot and the Island Park Dental building today, was the long-time home of the 'Ottawa West Garage', a very early neighbourhood car repair shop opened by Charles Weatherdon in 1922.

May 6, 1922

It later became Young's Service Garage (1936-1939), McNally's Service Station (1940-1955), Brazeau Motor Sales (1956-1959), Bytown Motors Ltd. (1960-1962), Goodwin Motors (1964-1965), and Wally Biggs (1965-1966).

The small service station building was demolished in 1966, and the property in lots 9 and 10 leased to M. Loeb Ltd. (it's kind of interesting that the Metro does not and never has owned the eastern half of the property - or at least did not until the 2000s if it ever has). 

Meanwhile, there were three houses fronting onto Garrison Street (then known as Perth Street) which had to be demolished to make way for the big supermarket. In May of 1964, Leonard and Edna Schan sold their house at the corner of Carleton (341 Carleton, a small, wood-frame 1 1/2 storey house); in September of 1965 Palmerino and Maria Nicoletta sold their house at 18 Perth (a 2 1/2 storey brick house); and in July of 1965 Rene Ladouceur sold the house at 14 Perth (a 2 storey wood-frame house) to M. Loeb Ltd.

Though I do not have handy any photos of those buildings or houses, the aerial photos of 1958 and 1965 from GeoOttawa show the detail of where those houses were located, and also shows the site in 1965 in mid-transition, with the used car lot and old Shouldice Grocery still standing, along with the Ladouceur house on Perth still there. All three buildings would be gone within a year.

1958 aerial view (GeoOttawa)

1965 aerial view (GeoOttawa)

* * *

Construction on the Metro store would have begun sometime in the late fall of 1966. The store had it's grand opening as IGA Foodliner on Tuesday July 18th, 1967.

Ottawa Citizen, July 14, 1967

Ottawa Citizen, July 19, 1967

Here is a classified ad looking for clerks just after opening:

Ottawa Citizen, September 22, 1967

Moses Loeb came to Ottawa in 1912 by way of Cincinnati, in search of new business opportunities. He purchased a store in LeBreton Flats and began selling groceries. He also began selling candy and tobacco to other grocery stores with his horse and wagon, growing his business so that the family's Eccles Street home was essentially a warehouse. The wholesale business was profitable, but the Loeb business did not take off until son Bertram returned from WWII and purchased the first Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA) regional franchise in Canada, and started signing up small neighbourhood grocers. By 1952 they had 34 stores, doing $3.5 million in annual business. Bertram then took the IGA concept across Canada and in to the US, and took the company public in 1959. He was the first to implement computerized inventory, and also intrdouced Gold Bond Stamps (which shoppers could exchange for toasters and blankets). Loeb in radio ads in Ottawa began to use the slogan "I Give Away" to represent IGA. The Island Park IGA opened when Loeb was at its peak, with sales and profits franchise-wise increasing 40% annually. 

Example of the interior of an Ottawa IGA store
at the time. This was taken at the IGA Foodliner
on Merivale Road in April of 1964

Here are two views from just overheard taken on May 13 1969. The second photo is similar but is taken more to the west so you get a bit of a view of the front wall (unfortunately the photo is cut off as it is at the edge of the photo):

Here is a better shot of the store taken in 1974:

July 1974 (part of Ottawa Archives CA-10408)

Below is a profile of then-manager of the Island Park IGA, Ray Moise:

Ottawa Citizen, August 9, 1972

Ray Moise would be in the newspaper quite a bit over the next four years, adamantly fighting the Sunday store closure laws. It all began in May of 1972, when Moise began fighting what was known as the Lord's Day Act, which required that larger stores be closed on Sundays. He argued that he was losing a lot of business to smaller stores. "I was forced to open by Mac's Milk and the other supermarkets that were staying open in the area. I would lose my business otherwise and I can't afford to see a lifetime of work fly out the window" he stated in June of that year. 

Moise was one of the first stores to fight the Act, following the lead of the Alta Vista IGA and Paquins Pay Less on Bank Street at Walkley, which began operating 7 days a week in January of 1972.

That July, Moise's Island Park IGA, as well as Fournier's IGA in Britannia (now Farm Boy) were charged under the Lord's Day Act (which dated back to 1906). When it finally got to court in April of 1973, Moise was acquitted of some of the charges on the odd technicality that "evidence failed to show whether or not he was the owner last June 11; a Sunday on which his store was open." (He was obviously the owner at the time). Paquin was found guilty and fined $25 (the maximum fine for each day of a store being open was just $40), and at court in August, other stores were found guilty as well. Moise was later brought up on other charges and fined the minimum $25, as the Judge took into account that Moise had stopped opening on Sundays once he was charged.

However, that seems to have changed by later in 1973, as Moise and other grocery store owners decided to remain open on Sundays "until the fines became too high". He said that "Sunday was as good a day for business as the rest of the week". 

The fines piled up, and on July 4th, 1975, Regly Markets Ltd., operators of the Island Park IGA, and its owner Ray Moise were convicted of 60 charges and fined $4,080. A total of 186 charges for three stores resulted in more than $11,000 fines assessed. 

Yet, that Sunday, Moise remained open (as did the two other stores found guilty and fined heavily that previous week). Ottawa morality detectives visited the store and sent reports to the Crown attorney's office for potential prosecution. Moise argued that many corner stores remain open Sunday and "if it's fair for them, it should be fair to me", and noted that he would keep his store open on Sunday's despite the threat of legal action. "We're going to try to see it through anyway." 

By the fall of 1975, the unions of retail store employees began picketing grocery stores (which were now opening in abundance across Ontario - including 108 supermarkets on one Sunday alone in Toronto), arguing that employees should not be forced to work Sundays, and that the additional costs of overtime/increase shift premiums would result in the companies passing on the costs to the public. 

On New Years Day 1976, new provincial law came into effect (the Retail Business Act), stating that stores with up to 3 employees with less than 2,400 square feet of floor space can stay open on Sundays. Larger stores face fines up to $10,000 for opening. This was enough to force Moise and all of the Ottawa supermarkets to close on Sundays. At other stores, there were layoffs due to the new Sunday closures, while Moise noted to the press that he hoped to absorb his additional staff into the weekly work schedule. 

It would not be until 1989 when Sunday shopping would be allowed in some areas (Ontario Liberal new legislation allowed local municipalities set Sunday shopping rules), and then across the province in June of 1990 when Ontario Supreme Court Justice James Southey declared the legislation unconstitutional, allowing for wide-open Sunday shopping. Sunday shopping became one of the big issues in the fall 1990 provincial election, which saw Bob Rae's NDP emerge victorious under promises to eliminate Sunday shopping. In March of 1991, Ontario Court of Appeal ruled Sunday shopping had to stop, and it became a political issue for all of 1991 into 1992. Finally the government relented, and on June 7th, 1992, Sunday shopping became permanently allowed across the province. 

Here is a view of the IGA from August 28th 1984:

August 28, 1984

The name of the store changed from IGA to Loeb in July of 1992, after Provigo (who had acquired Loeb Inc. in 1977) sold the IGA trademark and franchise rights to Oshawa Group Ltd.

I wish I had a photo of it at street-level from the 1980s or 1990s. (If anyone does by chance, please let me know!). 

The best I can do is this old photo from Google Streetview from before it converted from Loeb to Metro, from September 2007:

September 2007 (Google Streetview)

The Island Park Loeb was one of the final 31 stores to carry the Loeb name. It was renamed with the new Metro branding in the Spring of 2009. 

Ottawa Citizen, August 8, 2008

Which brings us to today, 113 years after Henry Porteous opened a small grocery store in a brick house on this spot, and the now 54-year old Metro building remains a distinct, familiar building on the Wellington West strip.