Self-Guided Tours — Westmeath

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The Davis/Blackwell Grocery Store


Carlson's Tailor Shop. 1920Joe Davis, founder of the Davis Grocery Store, emigrated from Ireland at the age of 13. His family settled at Huntley, Ontario. As a young man, he opened a blacksmith shop in Bells corners. He married Hattie Stinson then moved to Westmeath to begin farming on River Road. He later settled in the village where he started a grocery business by converting a millenary shop. He also got back in the blacksmith business, later selling it to E.O. Gervais. Mr. and Mrs. Davis raised seven children in the Westmeath area.

Mr. Davis was an ardent angler and hunter, prominent both in politics and in the Orange Lodge. He was the centre of several stories in a national newspaper, magazines, as well as on television programs. He was an authority on duck and goose hunting, on birdcalls, fishing and wildlife. His decoys during hunting seasons were unique. He fashioned them out of real mounted birds.

More than one reporter and amateur angler spent the day entertained by Joe’s tall tales. The travelers (sales reps) enjoyed challenging him to a game of checkers. Everyone knew Joe to be a skilled player. He usually sat by a wood stove in the main part of the store, surrounded by wooden chairs and a blazing wood fire in the colder weather. He also cleaned his Remington pump shotgun there and one day in the mid-forties there was nearly dire consequences. As he released the barrel, turned it halfway to remove it, a shell that was stuck in the chamber discharged. Some of the blast caught customer John Perrault in the hip. The remaining charge smashed into the condiments and tobaccos in the glass display-case behind the counter. Archie Blackwell, son-in-law of Joe, was working there and had just bent down to pick something up. His wife Muriel raced in from the house-section after the explosion to see Archie in disarray, covered with ketchup and mustard and so on. Meanwhile John Perrault went to the hospital to have the pellets removed. From that day on, Joe played checkers and cleaned his guns out of sight in the dry goods section. In Westmeath’s Centennial year celebrations, he received the award for being the oldest man in the village.

The store had a large oak freezer cooled with blocks of ice, each 16’x16’ across and the thickness of the river-ice. From the storage and covered in sawdust, they brought blocks of ice and set in place in the freezer with pulleys and tongs. The business passed to Mr. Davis’s daughter Muriel and son-in-law Archie Blackwell in the mid-forties. One of the first things Archie did was replace the walk-in freezer with a modern one that did not require ice. The couple ran the store for 20 years, a total of 50 years for the Davis family. After selling, Mrs. Blackwell had remarked that she actually missed the after hour knocks on the wooden door for forgotten purchases, or making a pot of tea for customers on occasions. Next, the store became a restaurant briefly. After that, the store section of the building was dismantled and the attached house refurbished, still being lived in today.