Low Down Articles
Echoes from the Past
This article first appeared in the "Echoes from the Past" column in the January 1, 1998 issue of the The Low Down to Hull and Back News. Reprinted with permission. See complete list of Echoes from the Past articles or search Low Down Articles.
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The Store and Post Office at Simmons
The tiny community of Simmons is marked on a 1983 federal government topographical map. It is doubtful that travelers passing the full length of the Vanier Road realize that they have travelled through Simmons, Quebec. Vanier Road extends from Deschenes, on the eastern outskirts of Aylmer, crosses the Hull-Aylmer highway, continuing northward until it meets the Mountain Road, where it ends.
Simmons was settled in 1816-1817 by Benjamin Alonzo Simmons who came from Westleigh, Devonshire, England with intention of working for Ruggles Wright, third son of Philemon Wright, Hull's Founder. Benjamin Alonzo came armed with a letter of recommendations from his former employer, John Woodward, who wrote in glowing terms of his former head servant.
As Ruggles Wright, accompanied by his wife, Hannah, had spent some time in England in 1816 hiring employees to come to Canada to work for the firm of P. Wright and Sons, it is likely that Simmons and Wright met. It appears that John Woodward was serving as hiring agent for the Wrights. There is a list of employees who were engaged in the National Archives of Canada. At the bottom of the list, but separate from it, is a notation which reads: "Benjamin Simmons, 35, strongly recommended to manage the farm (Columbia Farm).
Whether Simmons ever accepted the position of manager is not known, but what is known is that he was granted 100 acres of land on June 16, 1816. He selected Lot 17, Range 5 as being the place he wished to settle.
Shortly after his arrival he married Gertrude, daughter of Joshua Losee, a United Empire Loyalist. There were five children, one of whom, George Simmons I (1830-1905) married Elizabeth Pink (1834-1926). George, a capable farmer, purchased the northern half of his father's farm where he lived with his family. George Simmons also acquired fifty acres on the east side of the road. Benjamin, the father, died on January 4, 1837.
George and Elizabeth Simmons were great church workers and strongly supported any efforts undertaken for the good of the valley. There were six children of this union, Benjamin Alonzo Simmons II (Sept. 10, 1858 - Jan. 14, 1925) being the eldest. He received his education in Simmons and later worked on his father's farm, until 1884 when he suffered a serious injury. He spent some time in the General Hospital at Montreal. He returned to Simmons, unable to carry on heavy farm labour. He bought an acre from his father with the purpose of erecting a store to serve his neighbours.
A two story framed building was constructed m 1887 with the general store occupying the ground floor. The operation appears to have done well; so well, in fact that young Simmons - he was in his mid-20's - found it difficult to keep up, because of his handicap.
In the spring of 1894 the original store was replaced by a much larger one. The first store was moved and attached to the new building. It was used as a residence with its own private doorway facing southward. The new store was painted white with blue trim. There were large display windows, one in each side of the door in the middle. The whole faced the road.
On June 6, 1894 Simmons married Mary Jane, the daughter of William C. and Fannie (Ferris) Radmore. The pioneer Radmore, Calvin, was the first workman - he was a 22 year old joiner & carpenter - on the list of the people Ruggles Wright brought to Canada in 1816/1817. Benjamin Alonzo with the aid of his new wife, now managed to keep abreast of the demands of his wide-spread customers at the Simmons General Store.
Uncle Alonzo and Aunt Jennie, as they were known, had seven children who as they grew and developed helped their parents greatly in the store. The building was heated in winter by a large box stove in the centre. There were two fifteen-foot counters ranging East and West, one of which had a weighing scale upon it. There were no packaged or canned foods in those days, everything having to be weighed. Also on one of the counters there was built a large box to contain the baker's bread which was brought from Hull once a week. Displayed in the store where the usual items of a hundred years ago which the store's clientele could not grow or make for themselves.
Until 1910 Alonzo ground grain for feed; a windmill being use for power. The operation was housed in a long shed across from the store. It was finally destroyed by lightning.
Mrs. Simmons knitted socks and mitts for men and children. Her daughter Nancy Pearl helped with this task. Mitts sold for a surprising 25 cents a pair. Yard goods came in bolts. A measuring sick was screwed to one of the counters. Printed cotton sold for 10 cents a yard, ticking for 25 cents. Alonzo started making delivery trips as far away as Deschenes and took orders as he travelled. The whole Simmons family were an enterprising lot.
In 1896 Alonzo Simmons felt a post office was needed. The residents signed a petition which on presentation to the postal authorities resulted in July of 1896 in the installation of a Post Office in the store.