Now and Then: Flin Flon shopping in the 1950s

The news that the North of 53 Co-op store will be on the move “below the hill” brought on a wave of early ’50s recollections.

Tom Therien, the current Co-op manager, confirmed that my memory still has a few working parts. It was indeed 1950 that the present location of the Co-op was developed – much to the delight of Flin Flon and area shoppers.

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Mind you, there was a rather limited trade area at that time as this was the pre-Highway 10 and very much pre-Hanson Lake Highway era. Nevertheless, there was a healthy and invigorated population of some 12,000 that sought more modern shopping opportunities.

Not that there weren’t long-time grocery and meat markets prevailing up and down the busy angled-parking Main Street.

Ostry’s on the corner of 1st and Main led the pack with a grocery store, dry goods store – and butcher shop tucked in the back. Central Meat and Grocery, located south on Main near The Bay, was operated by the Perepeluk family.

Northern Grocers had a short life next door to the P&G bakery while the Blue and White Grocery and Meat Market was on the corner of 3rd and Main – now a parking lot.

The Blue and White was owned by the Ostrys and managed by a man named Rudy. The store was named the Blue and White because… the store was painted blue and white. (It might have been the other way around! Who’s to know?)

The west side of Main had only one grocery store, that being Fruit and Produce owned and operated by Kay and Steve Kowalewich. The name of this store perturbed my child mind as being somewhat out of sync as, while they did have a small selection of fruit and produce, they indeed had a full line of groceries and a meat department. Mysteries!

That, for the ’50s era, was pretty well the lineup of grocery stores on the main drag. I would be grossly remiss, however, if I failed to mention everyone’s favourite butcher. Archie (Red) Donaldson, along with his brother Don, operated Shamrock Meats on the south side of the Rex Theatre. (Anyone remember the Shamrock walkway from Main Street to the back alley?)

Archie, of Irish heritage, had a fine tenor voice that would often ring out while he sawed and chopped his orders.

The iconic Eddie’s Grocery held the roost in South Hudson as it does to this day. The Ross Lake Market, Pop Iannone’s and the Cash and Save in Mile 84, and grocery stores in Birchview, Willowvale and Channing offered convenience to those “below the hill.”

The Co-op brought a new world of shopping experience to Flin Flon. It was an impressive edifice – two stories of shopping with groceries and meat and a coffee bar on main floor.

The dry goods/clothing/shoe and hardware/toys departments was located on the second floor. A Co-op gas bar and service station across the street added to the Main Street dynamic.

The Co-op introduced a then-novel grocery shopping experience with store aisles, grocery carts and checkouts with rotating discs that moved your groceries forward. “Wow! What will they think of next?”

The much smaller stores, such as the Fruit and Produce, had no room for carts; thus shoppers would walk around the store, select the items from the shelves and pile them on the counter until finished. Each item and its price would be written down in a bill book and the total would be calculated on a hand-cranked adding machine.

As a young lad, and the family shopper, I would stand in a stupor of amazement as Kay Kowalewich’s flying fingers punched numbers on the adding machine and cranked the handle while never, ever looking away from the bill book. And she never, ever made a mistake!

The site for the new Co-op will require some drilling and blasting, but not to the extent as back in 1950 when tons of rock were agonizingly drilled and blasted to create a basement for the Main Street store.

Where, you may wonder, did they dump all that Precambrian rubble? Take a drive along Creighton Street. Creighton Street IS the Co-op basement rubble! Seems appropriate though, as “share” is the Co-op mantra.

Happy shopping! And let me know if you find a Fat Emma chocolate bar

Vincent Murphy-Dodds is a former Flin Flon resident now living in Regina. His column appears the first Friday of the month. Your comments on his column are welcomed. Contact vincent.murphy@sasktel.net.

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