By William A. Warnick
Published May 27, 2001
in The Dunnville Chronicle
Last month I told you about the Maitland Arms hotel and Willow Dale Home. This month we move across the road to Tom McKee’s store and Post Office. As a young fellow who grew up on the east side of the Grand, I recall rowing across the river in the summer months or walking the ice in the winter to buy a pop or chocolate bar at McKee’s store. It was one of those quaint country stores with wooden floors, interlocking wood stained ceiling and a pot belly stove. When you walked in, you felt the history of the community and the sense of being in an old country store. Tom’s daughter Jean Weiderick, ran the store in my day, but Grandma McKee and old Tom were still having much to do with the operation. Funny thing about Tom was that by 1960's, he was in his seventies, I was in my early teens and like every other youngster I called him by his given name, never Mr. McKee.
Tom was known to enjoy a beer from time to time and being across from the Maitland Arms he could sell a bit of gas then put a dime or two in his pocket and head across the street a quick draft. It is said that LeRoy Kramer, owner of the Maitland Arms upon seeing Tom coming, would in readiness pour a couple drafts. Tom could drink the beers and complete the entire trip and be back pumping gas in nineteen seconds!
Another story has it that Tom was looking for a wife and advertised in the want adds. Andrena (Irene) Ainsley of Manitoulin Island answered his add and arrived in Dunnville only a day or two before the nuptials. Neither had seen each other until then and had no idea what either looked like. It proved a successful method of finding a wife as Tom and Irene grew into old age together.
Prior to Tom owning the grocery store he had worked out
west. It may be that he intended to homestead and things didn’t work
out as expected. He told the story of digging a well eighty feet deep
by himself. He would descend the well scraping up a pail of soil and
carry it back to the surface only to repeat the process thousands of
times before finally striking water.
Brothers-in-law, James Henry (Pat) Patterson and Herb Hussey purchased the store from Ed Harris sometime between 1915 and 1919. Both Pat and Herb were adventuresome fellows having spent some time in the oil fields of Venezuela and Peru. It seems they had done alright for themselves and wanted to make an investment. Their venture in the grocery business did not last long at Port Maitland and little was mentioned of this enterprise. Pat’s daughter Jean Pettit, who lives in Dunnville was not aware her father and uncle Herb ever owned the McKee store. Both Pat and Herb returned to South America for a short time in the mid 1920s, taking their young families with them before returning to Dunnville. I am not aware when Tom purchased the store from Messrs. Patterson and Hussey, but it must have been just prior to 1920.
The old store was closed in the early 1980s and sat empty for a few years before it was put up for sale. As the property was on town land and town would not permit continued use of this land once the present owner sold their property, it was necessary to remove the building. In the fall of 1988 Joanne Millen, Tom McKee’s granddaughter sold the old store to Harold and Anne Drouin. Harold and Anne shortly thereafter had it moved by Clarence Chambers of Welland. Harold tells me that the moved presented some interesting obstacles and renovations bestowed the Drouin’s with a few old newspapers of the 1920's as well as old soda fountain menus and other sundry items. Tom’s old store now sits nestled comfortably on a lovely wood-lot on Kings Row Road providing shelter and some fame to the Drouin family where much of its architecture remains as before while modern day comforts have been necessarily added.Next month I will write about the Demonte Inn and if there is room I will tell you about the home of John Miskin which was just south of the old pool room.
Tom McKee at Post Office in Port Maitland
McKee's Store Port Maitland
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William (Bill) Arthur Warnick - email