SOUTH BAYMOUTH—It was business as usual while more than 50 members of the Brown family, along with cousins, friends and community, celebrated the 50th anniversary of Carl’s Trading Post in South Baymouth. Brothers Robert and Gary Brown operate the business today. It was their father, Carl, who started the Texaco station that eventually became a full service gas station with service garage and grocery store.
“My father purchased this lot in 1964,” said Robert Brown. “It was a bit of a swamp back then. That was good. South Baymouth is all rock. He could bury the tanks here. There were three 1,000 litre tanks when he started.”
Texaco was involved in a lawsuit with Pennzoil in the United States and sold their Canadian division to Imperial Oil (Esso). “We researched it at the time and stayed with Esso for about 10 years, until they didn’t renew the contract. We became Shell dealers after that and have been ever since.”
“My parents had six kids at home when they built this place; that would have been quite an outlay then. Maybe that’s why they built it, to get us all working. When my father was out driving the school bus my mother was at home with the kids. There was a bell and when someone wanted gas the bell rang at the house and she would go over. That’s how we kept it going back then.”
The original building had a flat roof that leaked. When they added a peaked roof they stretched it out to accommodate expansion. “This was a busy town at this time because they were putting the dock in,” said Mr. Brown. “We knew the ferry was coming. There were other gas stations but no garage in town for service and maintenance of vehicles, so we added that. As time went on we started to sell more groceries in the parts department. We saw a need but weren’t sure if it was to become a grocery store or restaurant. A representative from National Grocers came in filled the place up so that’s when we started the store.
“In the ‘80s we squared out the whole building, added coolers at the back, and the building has been the same ever since. We upgraded the interior about 10 years ago. That included new counters, floors, siding. We paved the yard also, probably in 1988 or ‘89. It was all trees before that. That was an important upgrade. It made a space for people to park, to wait for gas, to come in for tourist information and to use the washroom.” The way ferry traffic is routed as they leave the boat, traffic is not encouraged to visit the visitor information centre at the ferry terminal, so Carl’s has been an important location for that.
“Really, our customers have led us through all of this,” Mr. Brown acknowledged. “People wanted a service and we responded.”
There are more personal memories too. “Every picture I’ve seen from the 1970s,” said Mr. Brown, “there are dahlias in the picture. They came from my grandmother’s farm in Tehkummah. We had pink and yellow flowers. My father took the pink ones out. He thought the yellow ones would get bigger and they did. And they’re still here.”
Robert’s sister Bonnie remembered coming to the store to get treats. “For me, it gave me a good sense of serving the customer,” she said. “Now I work in economic development for the city of Mississauga, supporting businesses and business retention. I learned from working here what it takes to run a business and to be successful. What I’m most grateful for is what my parents taught me, that is serving the customer. I think it’s important to support 50 years in business, to celebrate”
Sister Janice said, “we all tried to sneak candy out of the store. Dad would say ‘you’re eating the profits.’ But we all had to pitch in.”
It was Lydia McKenna’s idea to celebrate the 50th anniversary. “We should be celebrating,” agreed brother Robert. “It’s quite a tribute to my parents. Gary was nine and I was 10 when this started.” Robert studied chemistry at university before returning to South Baymouth in 1975. “Gary stayed on after he finished high school. I remember Gary and I having battles to serve gas. Now we fight to see who doesn’t go out.”
Mr. Brown estimated that about 250 people came out for the celebration. “The turnout shows appreciation to me,” he said. “We didn’t know how many to prepare for. We (the family) don’t get together like that all that often. It was a special event. We won’t forget it.”
“We owe a lot of thanks to those guys who cooked: Tim Riordan, Tom Bell, Loretta Mucha, Jack Greenway, Pax McKenna, Hank Hyytiainen, Raymond Corbiere and family members. We had two practice runs in the winter.” That was a good thing as there were long lineups throughout the evening.
Down Yonder played under the tent. “We wanted live music but we weren’t sure who to get. Gordy Lapierre (who played with Down Yonder) has a lot of connections here, and Debbie Robinson. She sang at the girls’ weddings and at mom’s funeral. At the end of the night she sang a song for her. Gordy did too. We made the right choice. I think they enjoyed themselves too.”
Overall the weather cooperated. The rain came down hard for a few minutes just before the party started at 5 pm. Lightning started about 8:30 pm and they packed up in a little bit of rain.
Now it’s back to business as usual, until the season winds down for another year. “Over the summer you feel like you’ve travelled the world with all the people who come in and then stop back in on their way back,” Robert said. “When the boat quits for the season it’s just suddenly quiet. It takes a while to get over that.”