Iconic hardware store celebrates 90 years

MINDEMOYA—As the Williamson family of Mindemoya busies themselves with the 90th anniversary celebrations for the iconic hardware and sporting goods business D.A. Williamson and Sons this weekend, they took a moment to stop and reflect on nine decades of the busy store.

David Williamson was born March 13, 1880 in Ayr (near Cambridge), the third son of David and Sarah (Lynch) Williamson. He came to Manitoulin at the age of 7 months with his parents and his two older brothers, James and William. He was raised on the family farm on Lake Mindemoya, along with his eight brothers and two sisters. He married Jessie Mae Ferguson on November 7, 1917, in Mindemoya and had five children: Alden (Si), Lorna Geraldine, Anita, David (Bus), and Eloween.

David, or ‘Davy’ as he was called, started his hardware business in 1921 and called it the D.A. Williamson Store. David Williamson actually only had one name, as many people did at that time. He chose to add the letter ‘A’ to his name when he opened the store, as he thought it sounded and looked better to have the two initials, D.A.

He sold many wood heating stoves, called box stoves, as well as wood heating cook stoves plus many washing machines and a general type of hardware. He also did eavestroughing and installed lightning rods on barns and houses in many parts of the Island.

Davy had a good hardware business and was handy at doing small repair jobs, even putting the soles on people’s shoes. His wife Jessie Mae died November 4, 1942.

A grocery section was added after the war, in approximately 1948. At that time his son, Bus, had returned from the war services, and he worked with his dad in the store. David Orion Williamson was his real name, but everyone knew him by his nickname, ‘Bus,’ including his niece, Sheila Fogal who worked in the store 55 years ago as her first job.

“I worked in the grocery section,” she said. “Back them you did it all—cashier, pricing, bagging.”

Ms. Fogal explained that she boarded upstairs with the family, helping Doris Williamson with the care of the house when she wasn’t working in the grocery.

“Things were so much different then,” she continued. “It was much quieter then, there weren’t so many people around and when you bought cheese, it all came in a wheel and it had to be cut from it.”

Bus married Doris Hutchinson, daughter of Elias and Grace (Mitchell) Hutchinson, on May 16, 1953 and Davy lived with them for the rest of his life. Davy passed away in 1967 at the age of 87 and had remained active in the store until his last years. From about 1956 until 1973, Williamson’s sold all kinds of appliances, electric stoves, wringer washers, Hoover washers, automatic washing machines, freezers, and fridges and Bus serviced them all.

Business was good. The hardware store was expanded to include another 25 ft. x 50 ft. area and was fully stocked by December 1971.

Unfortunately, Bus died on December 12, 1971, before the official opening of the new section. After that, Doris and her two sons, Blaine and Barry, along with their other employees carried on the business. Doris passed away October 28, 2006.

About three years after Bus passed away, the store discontinued selling large appliances. The business has continued to expand.

The Up Top Sports Shop was built over the new hardware part in 1981 and in 1988, a 50 ft. x 70 ft. addition was built on the back of the main floor for more hardware and the same size was built over top for more Up Top Sports. This addition was completed in 1989.

The grocery section of the store was discontinued in 2000.

Doris’ philosophy, which came from her father-in-law and husband, was to carry “everyday things that people need.” If people came in wanting an item that they do not have, they would try to get it for them.

Doris was known to say, “With our good customers and out wonderful help, we are still carrying on with the business”.

The family likes to joke that salesmen who travelled to Manitoulin said that it seemed like they couldn’t get away from the Williamsons. Everywhere they went they ran into a Williamson, or a relative of the Williamsons, who operated a store business. For example: Stuart McPhee, who married Davy’s youngest sister, Elizabeth (Lizzie), had the Manitowaning General Store; Joe Ward, who married Davy’s other sister, Molly, had the Tehkummah General Store; Austin Hunt, who married Anita Williamson, daughter of Davy, had Hunt’s Store in Kagawong; Andy Watson, who married Dot Williamson, a niece of Molly, Lizzie, and Davy, had the Sandfield General Store; Lester Williamson, a nephew of Molly, Lizzie, and Davy, and who married Rhea Watson (sister of Andy), had the Whitefish Falls General Store; Allan Little, who married Marguerite, daughter of Joe and Molly Ward, had the downtown grocery store in Little Current; and Tommy Dunn, who married Elda Williamson, niece of Molly, Lizzie, and Davy, managed the Crest Hardware store in Little Current.

Williamson’s continues to be a thriving business in downtown Mindemoya. People are always surprised at the variety of items that are carried in their store. “You can likely get it at Williamson’s” is the general comment.

Blaine and Barry have continued to carry on the family business ever since. All four of their daughters, Brittany, Jade, Jenna, and Nikki Williamson, also work there. Because of this, some say that the business is going to have to be renamed to ‘D.A. Williamson & Daughters.’

“My 3-year-old brother Wyatt, another member of the 4th generation of Williamsons, also stops in when his play and sleep schedule allow a visit,” Brittany Williamson said. “I think celebrating 90 years is also important, because in an age of big box stores and chains, it’s heartwarming to see that a family business can still survive.”

“I also think it is important to celebrate 90 years because it would have meant the world to my Grandma Doris,” she continued. “She was one of the most hardworking women I have ever known, working here right up until she passed. I am planning this event, in part, as a thank you to her for all that she did for the store. Grandma cared deeply about the store, everyone who ever worked here, and anyone who walked through the doors. She put her heart into this place. The celebration that I have planned for the 90th anniversary of Williamson’s Hardware is a tribute to her hard work and dedication. If she were here today, she would be running around in her moccasins to help me prepare this event, and baking up a storm. It is to her that I dedicate this celebration.”

“This celebration is also a big thank you to our amazing customers, who have been so loyal over the years,” Ms. Williamson said. “Without their dedication, Williamson’s Hardware wouldn’t be here, celebrating almost a century of business. One customer recently told me that his grandfather bought from Blaine and Barry’s grandfather, his father bought from Blaine and Barry’s father, and now he buys from Blaine and Barry. It is customers like him and his family that support Williamson’s Hardware.”