Up the Gatineau! Article

This article was first published in Up the Gatineau! Volume 24.

Wilson’s Corners Storekeepers and Some of their Neighbours

Mary Holmes-Burke

“When Henry Wilson started the Corners, the east side of the Gatineau was practically unbroken forest and the road on the cast side of the river was little more than a trail. ... Today that road as far as Cantley village is a Quebec government road, and is becoming a highway of the first quality. ... The Corners is nol much larger than it was in the time of Henry Wilson, but is holding its own as a center.” This was Wilson's Corners as described in an Ottawa newspaper article in 1939.1 This is the story of some of the people who were "holding their own” in Wilson’s Corners in the 1930s and 1940s, and of some of those who set the scene.

Wilson's Corners map
Wilson's Corners in the 1930s and '40s. Map: Mary Holmes-Burke and C. Martin

Henry Wilson, after whom Wilson's Corners is named, came to the area from Ontario’s Fitzroy Township around 1864 when he was 25 years old. He was the son of Charles Broughton Wilson and Mary Ann Tripp, and married Frances Mulligan of neighbouring Huntley Township in 1860. They raised a family of eleven children, and when Frances died in 1887, Henry married her first cousin, Caroline Boucher, with whom he had three more children. Henry first opened a “stopping place” with a general store on the west side of the Cantley Road (now Highway 307), and then built a sawmill to serve the needs of the neighbourhood farmers: Maurice Downey, William Holmes, Thomas and William Lawlor, John Morris, John Stevenson, and James and William Sullivan. Later on Henry had a grist mill and a lumber mill and owned several mines in the area. He was also the first postmaster of Wilson's Corners, from 1875 until 1894, the year of his death.

Following Henry as general merchant was Patrick (known as Peter) McGlashan. He came to Canada from Scotland around 1872 with his parents James and Agnes and their other children including a brother, John. The journey took ten weeks on the boat and Peter was sick the whole time. The family located in St. Pierre de Wakefield near what was (o become known as McGlashan Lake.

Peter worked for the Maclarens in Wakefield and the Browns in Cantley, both storekeepers, and married Annie Brown, daughter of Robert Brown and Mary Ann Walker.

Peter and Annie McGlashan eventually moved to Wilson’s Corners, where they purchased land on the east side of Highway 307, a quarter acre from Henry Wilson and three quarters of an acre from the Sullivans. Peter became postmaster of Wilson’s Corners in 1896, a position he held until his death on February 6, 1936. He and Annic opened a general store in 1899 and Peter also worked as a carriage maker, building sleighs, wagons and buggies. One of the expresses he built can still be found in the neighbourhood.2 Peter served for a time as Secretary-Treasurer of the School Commission of St-Jean de Wakefield, Wilson’s Corners’ elementary (and only) school.

After Peter's death, his son Maynard with his wife, Alice Power, took over the store. At that time, Anne Lawlis had a boarding house across the road.3 Anne is remembered as a good-natured woman whose husband, and later her daughter Mildred, “drove the mail” with horse and buggy or sleigh, depending on the season, between the Cantley Post Office at the corner of River Road and Highway 307 and the one in Wilson's Corners. On the south of the Lawlis property at this time were Jack Donavan, a retired farmer, and the Strachan house. Jack Donavan built a house al Wilson's Corners around 1926 on land he purchased from Stephen Holmes. He increased the size of this lot in 1940 by buying more land from Anne Lawlis. His wife, Annie Cleary, was first married to a Mr. Maloney, with whom she had one surviving daughter, Clare. Clare married James Sheridan and went to live in Detroit where James was pressman for one of the newspapers. They and their sons used to come to Wilson's Corners to visit. The Strachan house belonged io Martina (Kyle) Strachan, widow of Alexander Strachan. After his death in 1931, she moved her family to Ottawa but kept the house in Wilson’s Corners as a summer home.

Behind the Donavans and the Strachans to the west were Stephen Holmes and then Simon Downey, both farmers, and then the Martin family near Martin's Lake. The Martin houschold consisted of Annie, who was blind, and her two brothers, Billy and Jimmy. Annie looked after the house and fetched water by following a wire down to the creck. When she was no longer able to care for herself, she was moved out to the Strachan house and looked after by Margaret (Peg) Kyle.4 Billy was a simple man, who was always curious about the prices of things in the store, especially those on the top shelf. He often went into the store and asked Alice McGlashan for those prices. Alice was only 5 feet 2 inches tall, but being obliging and patient, she climbed the ladder and got the prices for him. Jimmy Martin was a huge man, so big that the family made a kind of nightgown for him to wear day and night. When he died, Deziel's store (at St. Pierre de Wakefield) did not have a casket large enough, so neighbours brought in lumber and made one for him. When it came time for the funeral, the casket would not fit through the doorway so a crosscut saw was used to enlarge the opening and his casket was then loaded onto a wagon for the ride to St. Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Church.

Beside Anne Lawlis to the west were the Poiriers, mica miners. To the north of her property were Arthur Lough, a retired sawmill operator, then James Lawlor, a farmer, and still further north, the Lafléche caves. Arthur and Annie (Morris) Lough purchased their house, located at the foot of Lawlor’s Hill, from William Lawlor in 1927. Annic’s brothers were Matt, Joe and John Morris. Arthur is remembered as a droll old gentleman who, when asked how he was, would reply, “Born tired and never got rested.” The Lawlor properly is one of two in Wilson's Corners where descendants of the original pioneers still live. The Lawlor children and those living on the William Holmes farm are the fifth generations of their families there.

On the east side of the road to the south of the store lived Henry Easy, a very skilled carpenter. Among his many projects was the installation of v-joint over the plaster walls and ceiling of St. Andrew’s United Church in Cantley. To the north were the Morrises, sawmill operators and farmers, and farther along the “back road” (now rue des Cavernes) were Georges and Aldeneiges (Martin) Cleary and the school.

McGlashan's store was the commercial heart of Wilson's Corners for many years, Maynard McGlashan used to say, “We sell everything here from soup to nuts.” Indeed, they did sell almost everything: groceries, hardware, feed, gasoline, oil and coal oil. Many of the products came in wooden chests or boxes and were sold by the pound: tea, both green and black; raisins; currants; dates; sugar, brown and white; beans and dried peas. Therefore, the weigh scales were important and had to be government-inspected every year.

The McGlashans were known to have the best molasses in the area, and people came from miles away to get it. It came in large wooden barrels holding 45 to 50 gallons. A steel spout was put in a bored hole and the barrel laid on its side. During the winter, the molasses flowed very slowly into the one-gallon measuring can. One of their regular customers was Henry Cooper from Cantley, who came in his horse and buggy with his five-gallon glass jug wrapped in straw wicker for protection. The men cutting logs and wood in the bush also used a lot of molasses.

Electricity came to McGlashan's Store in 1948 a few days after Christmas. Before that, refrigeration was a problem. Maynard had a wind charger and an old engine with a generator to charge batteries for supplying light. The perishable products were stored in a large cement “cooler” in the ice house. The cooler was under a pile of sawdust-covered ice blocks cut from Martin’s Lake.

It was in this cooler that row after row of baloney hung from hooks. Maynard purchased the baloney, much in demand by those working in the bush, in long rolls, by the case. The Doiriers nicknamed Wilson’s Corners “Baloney Town” because of the large quantities of baloney that McGlashans used to sell.

Tommy Lamothe and Benny MacDonmell delivered bread during the summer for Morrison-Lamothe, an Ottawa bakery. Tommy was a student for the Roman Catholic priesthood, and a character. One Friday when everyone was busy in the store, Tommy and Benny went out to the cooler, cut several thick slices of baloney off a roll, took some bread out of the cupboard and made sandwiches. Coming into the store, they smiled as they showed off their sandwiches. At that time, Roman Catholics were not supposed to eat meat on Fridays, and the following Monday, Alice made a point of asking them if they had enjoyed their Friday meat sandwiches. “Yes,” they replied, “they are more delicious on Fridays.”

The store was a gathering place, the information centre of the community. There were counters along both sides of the store with shelves behind them. and in front of the counters were benches. Every evening the benches were filled with men swapping stories, old and new. The most noteworthy came from the Morris family — Matt, Joe and John. Mait and Joe had joined the gold rush of the Yukon and Alaska and their stories held the attention of their audience for hours. Another of the regular evening visitors was Simon Downey. Simon was the greatest weather forecaster anyone there had ever known. The radio would be forecasting sunshine for the next day. Simon would say, “Aye. it's going to rain tomorrow.” It rained.

Maynard McGlashan was postmaster until his retirement in 1969, ending his family’s 73-year link with the Post Office. For a time, the McGlashan store also housed a suboffice of the Provincial Bank of Canada, a forerunner of the National Bank. One day Maynard was warned that burglars were planning to rob the store and the bank. Malt Morris and others stayed with Maynard in the store overnight with shotguns, wailing for thieves who fortunatcly never came.

During the Depression, Matt Morris planted a large arca of sandy ground with fruit trees and raspberries and paid three cents a quart to have the berries picked. Matt was a big, strong man who wore size 16 boots, special-ordered by the McGlashan store. He had a Chevrolet Maria van, black in colour, squaresided and quite narrow, but he didn’t drive it himself. Murray McGlashan, son of Maynard and Alice, remembers getting up one day at 3:00 a.m. to accompany Mait and D'Arcy Lawlis to the Ottawa Market with a truckload of berries, D'Arcy was driving and Murray was sitting on a little box between him and Matt. D’Arcy was a good-natured lad but a terrible tease, and he was tormenting Matt that morning. Finally, Matt couldn't take any more. “Stop the truck, Lawlis, you're fired,” he shouted. D’Arcy brought it to a halt and they all got out. D'Arcy said, “Okay, Matt, you drive,” knowing full well that Matt did not have a driver’s licence. After a moment’s pause to consider his options, Matt answered, “Okay, Lawlis, you're hired again.” And off they went over the rough roads with their delicate load and a fragile peace.5

McGlashan’s Store
McGlashan’s Store, 1980s. Photo: Mary Holmes-Burke

The original McGlashan store and house on this site burned down in a fire that started at 5:00 a.m. on January 22, 1938. Everything was lost except lives. The alarm had been sounded in time by Allan Kilby, one of the men working at Hupé's Mill. Some of these men boarded at Anne Lawlis’ house and kept their horses in Hupé's stables. They gol up early to get their horses ready for the day’s work and spoticd the fire. Maynard and his youngest son, Peter, were both very sick and staying in Ottawa at the time. The weather was terribly stormy and the roads, such as they were, blocked. Displaying remarkable resilience, Alice enlisted the help of friends and neighbours, and with her niece, Mary Kripps, and her other son, Murray, set up the shop and the post office within a couple of days in another building on their property. It had been built for the village blacksmith in the 1890s by Peter, and was so cramped for space that they had to store boxes under the beds. But they persevered. Alice and Murray stayed in the Lawlis boarding house. They were housed by Mrs. Lawlis in the fron, facing east. Murray remembers waking up one morning with six inches of snow on the foot of the bed. One of the window panes had blown in.

The following summer, a new cement-block building to house both store and living quarters was constructed by Emerson Faulkner. The family has fond memorics of the generosity of their neighbours, especially James McGarry, who spent a weck digging out the basement with his horse and earth scoop at no charge.

There were others who, at different times, ran “a little bit of a store with cigarettes, chocolate bars and the like.” Henry Easy had one at the front of his house, right at the edge of the road. He also had the telephone central of the East Wakefield Telephone Company.6 Georges and Aldenciges Cleary ran a little store in an extension built onto their house, which was located beside the school and they, t0o, had the central. Their son André described the central as banks of telephones for different lines running east and north. It ran on batteries that lasted a month. He remembered the room turning blue and the people being stunned during a storm when the central was struck by lightning. Later on the Clearys moved to a farm further along the same road, and Georges was mayor of St. Pierre de Wakefield in the 1950s.

Cleary’s Store
Cleary’s Store on Townline Road. Photo: Andreé Cleary

Mica mining was a big industry in the area as early as the 1880s. The largest mine was the Blackburn Mine in Cantley where the Browns and Lawlors worked steadily, and others worked off and on over the years. Even during the Depression, as many as sixty men were employed at the mine. The Poirier brothers, Eugene and Adelard (Moose), discovered a mica vein near Pike Lake, south of Martin's Lake, and in the 1937, 1938 and 1939 seasons they rented an old carriage shop beside McGlashan's store for use as a mica culling workshop. Culling involved splitting the mica crystals and trimming them into pieces. Many women, and some men, culled mica for a few cents a pound.

The community of Wilson's Corners in the 1930s and 1940s was a splendid blend of people with their idiosyncracies and mix of languages, cultures and religions. Speaking English or French or both languages, with backgrounds of Irish, English. Scottish and French ancestry and professing Protestant or Roman Catholic faiths, some stayed and continued to “hold their own.” Others left with memories of the characters and the work they grew up with.

The author gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Ruggles Holmes, Patrick Lawlor, André Cleary and, in particular, Rev. Murray McGlashan.


  1. Ottawa Evening Citizen, October 7, 1939, p.18.
  2. An express was a four-wheeled horse-drawn vehicle, used for carrying passengers. It sat up high off the ground and had two padded bench seats.
  3. Anne (Crilly) Lawlis was the widow of Thomas Lawlis. Henry Wilson was the first owner of this land, and it changed hands several times before Thomas Lawlis bought it in 1921 from Adelard Poitier. In 1943 Anne Lawlis sold it to Edward (Ned) McGarry, who tore down the house and used the lumber to build a new house and blacksmith shop.
  4. Margaret (Peg) and Martina Kyle were sisters.
  5. D'Arcy was Anne Lawlis’ son. He and Percy Barton were killed in a train accident in Hull in November 1942. He was 29 years, 11 months old and is buried in St. Elizabeth’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Cantley.
  6. See Wendy Ellen Quince, “The Telephone Industry in Wakefield and Surrounding Area,” in Up the Gatineau! vol. 3.

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