Owen Sound Businesses in the 1920s: The Backbone of the Community

Owen Sound Businesses: 1920s were owned and operated by families whose deep roots in the community and efforts had created the backbone of the community and brought success to the port city.

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of Owen Sound becoming a City. I thought. it might be interesting to look at some of the commercial establishments which were in operation here in the early 1920s. One thing is abundantly clear from this examination. 

Many of these businesses had been in operation for a long time in Owen Sound and many of the families who were, involved had deep roots in this area. 

In 1922, the main thoroughfare, 2nd Ave. East, was a thriving hive of commercial interests. Between 8th and 10th streets, there were over 100 different business establishments 

Immediately opposite the city hall where the old Coulson House once served travellers was the showroom for Slater and Harker displaying the latest Ford products. Further to the north was a three-storey building housing the R.A. Breckenridge Furniture and Furnishings company. This company had been in operation in Owen Sound for a half century. Interestingly, the Breckenridge company also provided an undertaking service out of the same location. 

At the corner of 9th Street and 2nd Avenue was the Owen Sound Sun Times building. Through a merger in 1918, the Sun Times has been providing news coverage to this area since the early 1850s. 

In 1922, the Sun Times had a circulation of 6,300 papers throughout the Georgian Bay region. 

As well as being a newspaper publisher; the Sun Times operated a plant which manufactured folding paper boxes. In all, the company employed 40 full-time workers in 1922, 

Back on 2nd Ave. East, we find the W.T. Lee and Sons Dry Goods store. This business originated in 1888 as a partnership under the name, McColl and Lee. In 1898, Lee bought out his partner and in 1909 he re-established a partnership; this time with his two sons, Charles and Percy.

Further down the main street was the McKay Brothers store. In the mid-1880s, Thomas McKay had moved to Owen Sound where he worked in the trade until 1905 when he formed a partnership with his brothers and opened their own commercial establishment. 

Near city hall, J.A. Thompson operated the Thompson and Co. clothing store and mail order business. Further down the street, Thompson’s two brothers, Charles and George, ran an ice cream and confectionery business. 

To the south of city hall, one would find the wholesale fruit and grocery warehouse of the Lemon Brothers, descendants of one of the original families in Sydenham Township. Established in 1909, this company had experienced growth and prosperity, 

Recognizing the value of a location in a busy Great Lakes port, the Lemons sought out and developed markets in Sault Ste. Marie, Port Arthur and Fort William, Business at the Lakehead was so successful that the Lemon Bros. company opened a branch office in Fort William. By 1921, this company was doing $1,600,000 annually, more than five times the annual turnover of $300,000 in the company's formative years. 

Another store, McClarty’s, on 8th Street was opened by the grandson of Donald McClarty who came to Owen Sound in 1841. Another businessman, T.W, Douglas had operated a tailoring business for 40 years. 

Many of these establishments no longer exist. They have been merged with national and international retail chains or they simply went out of business, for one reason, another. One thing is evident. Many of the early settlers to this area became long standing entrepreneurs and they recognized that their success was inextricably linked to the community, as whole. 

Therefore, many of them not only managed their own enterprise, but they also took an active role in the life of the community. 

A version of "Owen Sound Businesses in the 1920s: The Backbone of the Community" originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.

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