Valley Lives - Murdoch Joseph Aucoin

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the January 29, 2020 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Mert's Pro Harware store more of 'a friend's kitchen than a hardware store'

By Geoffrey Aucoin

Some might remember the days before the IGA, and the other IGA, when that stretch of road along the 105 was home to two small businesses. A minimart, and a Pro Hardware owned by my grandad, Mert Aucoin. That time and place was special to Mert, as it is to those who miss him.

Mert moved to Wakefield in 1977, with his family and close friends the Wenkoffs. They were taken with Wakefield's laid-back charm and decided to open a hardware store to better acquaint themselves with the community. Their first location, on Chemin Gendron, became a popular place to hang out while "browsing for nuts and bolts," which was more of a way to pass the time than to find a choice selection of nuts and bolts.

Mert Aucoin
Mert Aucoin with his grandson, Geoff Aucoin. Photo courtesy of Erin Harper.

They soon expanded to that stretch along the 105, beside the mini-mart owned by the Charles family. The new location, along with the magnetic personalities of the owners, led to more traffic, more people stopping by, more browsing for nuts and bolts.

In 1987, Mert retired from his career in the Canadian Air Force. In 1990, tragedy struck the Aucoins and Wenkoffs as a loved one and family pillar was taken by cancer. Shattered by the loss, Mert devoted his time to his two passions: his family and his community.

Mert's chipper disposition and genuine desire to help others were a winning combination, and he was loved by everyone he met. He lived behind the counter of the Pro Hardware, ready to help you find what you were after. He'd ring it up on your tab. If you didn't have one, no problem - just sign your name and shake his hand, that's all he needed. He'd even go so far as to deliver materials for home projects to your door (he was the original Amazon Prime). It was on one such delivery that he met Marion Brown. Bonding over the common loss of a partner, the two quickly fell in love.

Pro Hardware eventually closed its doors. Mert and Marion relocated to Lanark where they lived happily for many years thereafter. She was his great love and soul mate, and the place they built together was a small piece of paradise. Even still, they kept in touch with the community they both loved. He talked of Wakefield and his time at the store fondly and often.

What I remember from that time comes in short flashes like headlights reflecting for a moment off a windowpane: pushing open the door to be whisked up and feel the bristle of his moustache against my face; bouncing on his knee in a way that rivaled the paint shaker he kept in the back; him slipping me a quarter from the cash to get BBQ peanuts from the machine beside the counter. I remember loud, lively conversation, and a sense of a place that was more like a friend's kitchen than a hardware store. I remember people stopping by just for the sake of stopping by, or maybe just to browse a little, and he was glad to have them.

Memory can tie itself to a place in a way that almost strips that place of context. It becomes fixed, and although it changes around you, that place is always of a certain time. The lights in that plaza will soon be mostly dark. But when I drive along that stretch of road, I see the mini-mart, the Pro Hardware, and my grandad at the window, ready to greet you, a warm grin under his bristly moustache.

A celebration of Mert's life will be held at the McGarry funeral home on Saturday, Feb. 1st at 11 a.m. Please stop by.

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