Like many I will be working from home for the next couple of weeks as we adapt to a somewhat different lifestyle. Thanks to technology I spent last week working from my Manitoulin Island cottage which was a nice break. Even life up on Manitoulin has been impacted by COVID-19 with noticeably fewer people out and about and yes they had a run on toilet paper there as well.

During my stay I had to do some shopping and visited a local retailer “Ward’s General Store” located inland from my cottage in the village of Tehkummah.  Note: The name Tehkummah comes from a native chief named Louis Tekoma.

Started is 1922, this year marks this store’s 98th year in operation which is now in the 3rd generation of family ownership. I have been going to this store ever since I was a little kid. It’s a throwback in time when stores like this sold everything from groceries to clothing, hardware, kerosene for lamps, lumber, farm supplies, you name it.  At one time it also housed the post office and only in recent years did it become an LCBO outlet.  The closet thing we have in southern Georgian Bay is Hindale’s Hardware in Clarksburg which is ironically around the corner from where I live.

As a kid I would spend summers at my grandparents nearby farm, at the time the farm still had a telephone with a  “party line” and dialling was done by cranking the phone. Everybody on their particular line had a special ring (something like morse code) so you knew the call coming in was yours or a neighbours. I still remember my grandparents ring, a long following by two short rings.  My grandmother would dial Ward’s store, place her grocery order and we would either go pick it up or the mail man would deliver it.  Yes the mail man.  Nowadays for the most part you bag your own groceries, in your own bags and check yourself out using your ATM or credit card.  We don’t  even get home mail delivery much less your groceries dropped off.

I remember the days when there was no cash checkout counter at Ward’s. Many of the food items were behind a huge counter just like what you see in Western movies and above the counter was a wooden rack which held different sized brown paper bags for packing customer’s orders. That rack is still there suspended from the ceiling.  Year’s ago I got up into the attic above the store and there was all kinds of stuff up there that the Canadian Pickers would die for.

The only noticeable difference in the store last week from when I was there last summer was the check out lady wearing a mask and surgical gloves. With the recent impact of COVID-19 around the world, even Ward’s store had to implement a change.  For how long is anyone’s guess at this point. In the meantime I hope they don’t loose the old wood floors, the wooden shelves and stuff hanging on the walls or piled in the back rooms.  It’s truly a unique place to visit and even my 29 and 31 year old son and daughter think it’s pretty cool.  They as well have been going there since they were kids.