Please help me get to the bottom of the cold-storage business

The cold storage

Okay, people: what can you tell me about the past life of this Madoc building?

This rather nondescript, and I believe currently unused, building on Russell Street (or is that Russel Street?) in Madoc is a small mystery for me, and I am hoping that you readers will help me figure it out. Tonight, in other words, it’s you and not I who must jump into the roadster, grab Bess and George, and make like Nancy Drew.

Every time I drive by this building a vague thought along the lines of “cold-storage place” comes into my mind. That’s because this building was, back in the days of my childhood at the Manse in Queensborough (just a 12-minute drive from Madoc, which is generally “town” for us), a cold-storage place. Or at least, I think it was. In my memory this building is associated with large blocks of ice and large pieces of meat – like, half-cows and the like. So what’s the story on that?

Was it a butcher shop? I don’t think so. Was it a place that simply sold meat by the large quantity? I do remember that back in those days it was quite common for people to buy a quarter or a half of a beef cow – and maybe pigs too? – that would be cut and ground up into the usual forms for serving – roasts, steaks, hamburger, soup bones, etc. – by the butcher or seller, and these pieces, wrapped in dark-pink paper and carefully labelled, would be stored in “the deep freeze” (as we called freezers back then, especially chest freezers).

Okay, so if people stored these large quantities of meat in “the deep freeze,” why was there a need for this cold-storage place? Is it possible that, in those long-ago days when maybe not everyone had a deep freeze, people rented freezer, or at least cold-storage, space in places like this?

If my vague memory is at all right, I kind of like the fact that this building still has one of those buy-your-ice-here boxes out front. (Though I imagine it is empty, given that the building itself seems to be.) A nod to its former use.

I was also intrigued, as I took some photos of it this afternoon on my drive home from work, by the fine old wooden doors you can see off to the left side in the photo at top. Here’s a closer look:

Old doors and apparatus at the cold storage

Those are great old wide wooden doors – three panels’ worth each!

And have a look at the old wood-and-metal apparatus that comes out of the wall immediately above them. I’ve got no idea what it is, but I wonder if it’s something to do with hooking up large slabs of meat (like, half – or whole – cows) and hauling them in to the cold storage.

Am I close? Am I way off base? People, please share what you know!

18 thoughts on “Please help me get to the bottom of the cold-storage business

  1. My memory is very hazy about this but I have a vague memory of my parents renting a “locker” (???) in a cold storage place. This facility was affiliated with a grocery store; the meat came from this store. This would been in the early 1960’s.

    This was another one of my Dad’s “good ideas”. The rationale was that they would try this out and then decide if was worthwhile to invest in a deep freeze (not freezer – I’d forgotten about this nuance in terminology!) It seems to me that it must have been an incredible pain to have to get in the car – with three small children in tow – and drive to the locker to retrieve a pot roast or whatever else you fancied for dinner two nights from now. Very inconvenient, I would imagine. Probably that part of the “good idea” would be my mother’s responsibility.

    Like many of Dad’s good ideas, this one was quickly shelved and my parents bought a ginormous freezer. This wasn’t a great idea either as my mother was a very petite woman and she was not able to reach the bottom of the freezer.

    • I suspect a great deal of your story will sound very familiar to many readers, Jane. It seems (from subsequent comments) that your memories, distant though they may be, are correct about what such a cold-storage locker was used for. As for not being able to reach the bottom of the deep freeze – man, I’d forgotten that, but yes! Up at my family’s farm in Haliburton County we had one of those chest freezers, and as far as I was concerned as a small and even not-so-small child, the very bottom of it was terra incognita. Your poor mum!

  2. My husband says that the contraption IS for hauling the meat into the building. I’ve mentioned before that he’s from Cottam ON, and lived around the corner from Cottam Cold Storage which has been in business a very long time.
    The doors are wonderful.

    • Hey, Jane (and Jane’s husband) – thanks for that information! I was so glad that I took a few minutes not only to get out of the car and take the picture of the building, but to get close enough to examine those doors and the contraption above them. Amazing the things you find when you just take the time to look.

  3. In the 70s and 80s Terry Fox ran “The Lockers” as we called it. There was an area for storage, and possible aging meat. He was also a butcher and there was a full meat counter in the south end of the shop.

    • Wendy, that would be just after my family’s time in the area (the ’60s and early ’70s), but I am sure that Mr. Fox would have been carrying on a previously established business. Thank you for the information!

  4. Yes, I remember my grandmother stopping at “the locker” on our way home from shopping and picking up meat. It was all wrapped up in butcher paper, still frozen, and had writing on the outside. My grandparents had a deep freeze at home, but it was always full of chicken and turkey and frozen bread and baked goods etc. No room for beef and pork…. I’d forgotten that the freezer was called the deep freeze until I read Jane’s comment above.

    • Thank you for sharing this memory, Karen! I am so tickled that I was not wildly off-base in my dim recollection of what this building was used for. It’s a happy thing, to imagine families stopping there to pick up a roast for dinner as they did their other shopping and errands in Madoc. Sad to see the building looking so vacant now. But we have our memories!

    • Oh now that’s interesting, Bob, and it makes perfect sense! Since so many people in the Madoc area go hunting, yes, I am sure there would have been (maybe still is) call for a place to store the carcasses from a successful hunt. Excellent point!

      • Goodness! Another odd topic which interests me. Before we had meat lockers and home freezers, the work involved with preserving food, especially meat, was so labour intensive…..and you’d have to be pretty quick about it to avoid spoilage. Having a cold storage locker must have seemed like the height of modern technology!

      • I wonder what things that we think of today as “the height of modern technology” will be seen, 40 or 50 years hence, as the equivalent of the cold-storage locker…

  5. Well, it’s not about the past but Peter and I buy blocks (i.e. the size of a cinder block) of ice from that place in the summer. And they are in a large freezer inside…

    • Well now that’s most interesting, Mimi! And here I thought the business was completely closed up – but I guess not in summer. And to think one can still buy big blocks of ice – well, anywhere! I am highly intrigued, and determined to find out more. I mean, ice in blocks, as in for iceboxes? That’s so cool! (So to speak.)

  6. “Madoc Frigid Locker” was founded c.1950 by Joe Miles. Joe and Jack Martin worked there. Later it was operated by Terry Fox who would take in our beef and pork, cut and wrap it and put it in our locker . We all used “the Locker” to store our beef/pork. When we went to town on Saturday we got some pieces of meat from the locker Fridges only held so much. That was just before the era of the deep freezer. (I lost a toe nail there when I dropped a large piece of meat on my big toe, trying to help my mother)!!

  7. My memory says the Madoc Frigid Lockers were built and operated by Norm Whytock,Probably about 1946 + Or-. Used to freeze many containers of Blue Berries -Huckleberries for the locals.

    • What a great detail to add to this story, Ken! Everyone else (including me) has mentioned beef and pork as what was frozen at “The Lockers” – but how nifty to know that the bags and buckets of blueberries (or, yes, huckleberries, as I also recall them being called) gathered on excursions around the flat rocky terrain here in our part of the world would also have been stored there, for use as needed in making jams and especially pies. Oh lord, fresh warm blueberry pie – I can taste it now…

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