Is this thriving general store a model for Queensborough?

The general store in tiny Castleton, Ont.: if Castleton can do it, why not Queensborough? (Photo by Will S. via Flickr)

I’ve written before about the excellent blog Ancestral Roofs (ancestralroofs.blogspot.ca). It explores heritage and architecture, with a particular focus on southeastern Ontario, including Hastings County. Pretty and historic little Queensborough is frequently cited in it, to my great pleasure (and, I’m sure, those of other Queensboroughians who love to see the attributes of our hamlet celebrated).

Anyway, one recent post at Ancestral Roofs has been buzzing around in my head for a while. In the post (which is here) we read about the general store in Castleton, Ont.: “Post Office, LCBO, general merchandise – what more could a village want? Judging by the traffic in and out, folks are pretty satisfied with the services offered. Built in 1870, and featuring some of the original counters and display cases, the building has Greek Revival grandeur – reminds me of the old store in Queensborough, though the years have been kinder to this structure.” (There are also some beautiful photos showing details of the building. Go have a look!)

I learned a bit more about the store at the Visit Cramahe website. (Castleton is a hamlet in Cramahe Township, which is part of Northumberland County – the county immediately to the west of Hastings County, where Queensborough is.) Here’s what that site’s page on the store tells us:

“You will truly take a step back in time when you visit the Castleton General Store. Built in 1870, it still contains some of its original countertops and display cases. Now one of the longest continually run general stores in Canada, it is very well known for its ice cream lineups in the summertime. The store also offers a variety of gifts and groceries. Open 7 days a week until 9 p.m. For more information call (905) 344-7341.”

Now, here’s what else I found out about Castleton while doing some quick research for this post: the population is only about 350 people! That’s not vastly more than the population of what I like to call the Greater Queensborough Area, which would include Queensborough proper, the reasonably well-populated area to the east of it on Declair Road and Rockies Road, the hamlet of Cooper, the hamlet of Hazzard’s Corners, the homes south of town on Bosley Road, and the homes west of town on Queensborough Road.

In addition, Castleton is located more closely to a “town” than is Queensborough: it is less than 15 minutes to Colborne (and Highway 401), whereas it’s 15 minutes or a little better from Queensborough to either Madoc or Tweed (both of which are still half an hour north of the 401).

So here’s what I’m getting at: if tiny Castleton, population 350ish, can support a thriving general store, could Queensborough do so once again? (I wrote about the general stores of old here.) It certainly would not hurt one bit if such a store were able to have Liquor Control Board of Ontario and Beer Store franchises, as the one in Castleton does. Not that I’m suggesting the people of Queensborough (or Castleton, for that matter) are lushes, but hey: it’s a draw for a community if people are able to buy wine, beer or spirits there – in addition to food and other essentials, of course!

Since we bought the Manse, several people in Queensborough have been kind enough to say that if we ever run out of anything – milk, eggs – to not hesitate to come borrow it from them. And we’ve also been told that people making a run to Madoc or Tweed or Belleville don’t mind picking up necessities for others.

But wouldn’t it be awesome if Queensborough, like Castleton, boasted a place to mail a letter, to buy a hot cup of coffee or a newspaper or an ice-cream cone, to pick up the milk and butter and eggs and toilet paper that you always need, as well as perhaps some locally made home baking or handicrafts, maybe some freshly picked local corn or tomatoes or blueberries, and maybe some beer or a bottle of wine, maybe even some gardening or hardware materials: to me, that would be absolute heaven. We could enjoy the Manse and never have to go anywhere if we didn’t want to!

I know that a couple in Queensborough are thinking of – actually, I think they have moved beyond the “thinking” to the “planning” stage – opening a café that might have a store or even bed-and-breakfast component. That would be so terrific.

I think tiny Castleton can show us the way!

10 thoughts on “Is this thriving general store a model for Queensborough?

  1. So, turn the Manse into a General Store?

    Many years ago, after she had sold the store, Bobbie told us that running a general store was financially marginal for her the final few years. [If it wasn’t for the social assistance clients whose finances she “managed” on their behalf and the tenant she had above the store, she would have likely closed years earlier.] Vast improvements in the roads to both Madoc & Tweed, historically low fuel prices, better vehicles, and the fact that many residents were employed out of town led to a decline in business. This has happened to the general stores in many other small communities such as Cooper, Eldorado, Actinolite, Crookston, etc and could potentially happen in Springbrook if McKeon’s dealership ever closes. Heck, even Madoc & Tweed has noticed the loss of business to Belleville [ie, to the “mall” & Mallwart, oops, I mean, Walmart]. It seems that as small towns become depopulated [the young migrate to urban centres, the elderly die off] and transformed into “bedroom communities”, they encounter a downward business spiral that is very difficult to arrest or even reverse.

    Now, if we were to transform into an Amish or Mennonite community…

  2. I have to say that I agree with Graham, however there is a movement towards supporting local business. This movement doesn’t just happen – it takes some well thought out planning and some research however if you keep in mind a few key points, then an idea may come to fruition with great sparkle. I think that it is key to remember that consumers fall inlove with personal stories, take note of hard labour carried out by those who have goods to sell, they very much appreciate organic goods and also are on the search for items that remind them of their childhood.
    My husband and I live in a small community and we always try to support the local businesses and we do our best to only purchase Christmas gifts locally rather than drive back into the city to support a big box store.
    Watching someone open a gift that you purchased locally is always so much fun! The response is almost always, “where did you ever find that”, or “wow, I haven’t seen on of those since I was a kid!”.
    Hats off to those who have the desire and drive to add yet another value add to lovely Queensborough! Best of luck to you!

    • Christina and Graham, thanks to you both for extremely thoughtful comments. I’ve been thinking about them all day today. I think Graham’s analysis of what killed the tiny-community general store is bang-on; on the other hand, that was what – 15 years ago? 20 years ago? As Christina points out, there has been a considerable move since then toward local, local, local. So while I understand why the stores in Queensborough died when they did, I am not (yet) convinced that there is not a future for small commerce in Queensborough, featuring local products – and probably the stuff people always need. Milk, butter, eggs, and toilet paper.

      Sent from my iPhone

  3. Another town that “died” was Gilmour, just to the north, when its small public school was closed. This illustrates the value of some public institutions.

    On the other hand, Coe Hill [to the northwest of Gilmour] & Whitney [at the entrance of Algonquin Park] seem to be thriving. Note that both do have schools. Hmmm…perhaps if we closed both the Madoc Public & Madoc Twp schools and built a new facility in Queensborough…

  4. I read your story of the old general stores & I too go back in time & remember a local place that you could always ride your bike or horse to a place that was filled with magic. Not only did I visit & buy goodies from our local merchant I eventually grew up to the very big age of 13 & worked there. I pumped gas, stocked shelves, served the local villagers & traveling people as they came by on there way to the big city, Which I was always amazed to hear there were such places other than Marysville. I remember the gray & white checkered floor & the red bar stools sitting up higher next to the counter so you would have to climb up & get a rootbeer soda float or just talk to the owner while he or she prepared things for other customers. And then you would always get lots of attention when someone would say & who are you? Once you told them your name they would then proceed to tell you all about your mom & dad. In my little village my mom became the local postmaster & hair salon lady. My dad was the proprietor of a public house & a construction company. Our local gas station where I would again ride my bike or horse to the shop bays run inside & climb up the ladder above the work area & play with the rabbits & guiniepigs in cages up there amonst the new tires & auto parts. Occasionally Freddie the machanic would climb up & see me with the animals. Tell me to come down & have a small coca cola with him while he took a break in the front of the gas bar while feeding my horse a cigarette. And then Bill McCauley owner of the gas station would call me bob jack & give me a candy. Of course these very fond memories of these people are long gone but the idea of what if or could it be are always a possibility in ones mind. Could we capture that great community friendship once again in a small town. I really don’t think so. It is hard enough to keep your bread & milk fresh bringing it home from the stores in bigger cities & towns little alone keep it fresh in a tiny off the beaten track in a fridge just waiting for that special customer to run out at 9 o’clock at night. I know it would be great to turn back time, but life doesn’t always accomodate. The times for small general stores dotted about the landscape are no more. With stricter rules these little town stores are far & few between. You see so many little gas stations all boarded up. My hat goes off to the Castleton General Store & to the ones that are left in hopes to survive. It is a cruel world out there! But with our memories & story telling the Old General Stores will live on. And with a little imagination & hard work maybe those Old General Stores can breath again with an added change in merchandise. But the stories could still be told 😉 Nothing ever stays the same but we don’t have to forget the past!

    • “…I know it would be great to turn back time, but life doesn’t always accomodate. The times for small general stores dotted about the landscape are no more…”

      Sure we could…if we changed Queensborough into an Amish or Mennonite village!

      • Second time you’ve mentioned the Amish/Mennonite thing, Graham, if I’m not mistaken. I know there now is a Mennonite presence in Hastings County; I wonder if there is a possibility it could extend to the Queensborough area. Though I believe those folks tend to choose good farmland, and I don’t think our area quite fits that model.

        Sent from my iPhone

    • What lovely memories, Marykay, and what an evocative way you have of telling them! Thank you so much for sharing your own story of growing up in proximity to the all-important general store. Good background for living in Queensborough!

      Much as I might regret it, I do realize that the general-store idea might be an impossible dream for Queensborough. But I do think it will be vital for the community to have at least one place of commerce – where visitors to the village (cyclists, or kayakers, or history buffs) can buy a sandwich and a cold drink or cup of coffee, maybe also some local products, and pick up a brochure about the history of the village. People like to spend money when they travel, and I’d love to see them spending it in Queensborough!

  5. “…Second time you’ve mentioned the Amish/Mennonite … those folks tend to choose good farmland, and I don’t think our area quite fits that model…”

    One would be surprised about how much farmland is around Queensborough — including up to the Rockies, out to Hazzards, north to Cooper, south to Madoc…Of course some is fallow and little is currently for sale but they seem to have a fair amount of money behind them to purchase homesteads

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