By Guest Author, Mike Bradley
My cynical friend, who wishes to remain anonymous (Julie), say the brain is remarkable. It works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, from the day you are born till the day you fall in love.
In early 2004 wrote in the “Open Mike” column “The demolition of the former Sears store in Northgate Plaza is an illustration of how retail shopping and the community has changed in the last 50 years.” Now it is the end of an era in retail with the demise of the entire Sears department store chain. The words “department store” appear to be headed for oblivion in the future with on-line shopping and ever-shifting consumer tastes. In Sears’ case, some of those shifting tides impacted on their failure but the key reasons were mismanagement and greed to feed investment funds, leaving 12,000 people out of work and many without pensions. No one should retire with fear of loss of their pensions or dramatic changes to their benefits. So far the Wynne government is missing in action on protecting the Sears pensioners.
When the first Sears’ store was built as a modern, one story building in 1954, it was outside the City of Sarnia boundaries in a green field. It was one of the first Sears’ stores in Canada. Today a Shoppers Drug Mart and the Canadian Coast Guard Building at Northgate mark the location. Nearby Colborne Road was called Cemetery Road and Exmouth and East Streets were the City’s boundary roads. London Road, then a two lane road, was the main entrance to the City. There were two landmark stone pillars there to greet visitors. Later they were re-located to the main entrance to Canatara Park at Christina and Cathcart and remain there to this day.
Sears changed the retail world in the 50’s and beyond. At that time there were no suburban department stores anywhere in Canada. Sears started the trend that led to the migration of retail from Canadian downtowns which left many, including Sarnia’s, struggling. First the downtowns tried to compete and couldn’t and now many, including ours, have reinvented themselves as niche retail and culture and entertainment centres.
Canadian retail expert John Winter (we did many cross border shopping war shows in the 90’s but, unlike the War of 1812, we lost that war)) said “the defining moment of Canadian retailing is in 1954 when Sears opened its first store in the suburbs in Hamilton”. The average person being able to own automobiles gave people mobility to shop and where to live and in turn changed retail and communities forever.
The store in Sarnia was described as joining “a brilliant roster” of new Sears stores that provided free parking (compared to parking downtown with evil parking meters). It pioneered Friday night shopping which led to Thursday night shopping. Sort of how Monday Night Football begat Thursday Night Football which then begat Sunday Night Football. Chuckle about how Thursday Night Football is called Monday Night Football on Thursday night. Clear evidence that there is serious concussion issues in football. (Digressing as I often do to entertain the reader and to use up the column word quota).
Sarnia, when Sears opened, was built on the crest of the “Bluewater Boom” that brought thousands of new residents to Sarnia to build and work in the Valley. In 1959, a phenomenal 600 homes were built that year. A second floor was added to Sears in the late 1960’s with escalators to get you up there. Growing up as a teenager have fond memories of hanging around the Sears cafeteria for its cheap French fries till security usually threw us out. And its record section was where I bought many of my first rock record albums to my parent’s ongoing dismay. (For younger readers albums were pieces of vinyl that you placed on, in a remarkable coincidence, a device called a record player). When the Sears store closed at Northgate and moved to Lambton Mall it was the last free- standing store in the chain that wasn’t part of a shopping mall. This time the Sears era is truly over. Sadly it didn’t have to be this way.
“The past is never dead, it’s not even past.” – Faulkner
Our history will come alive this Remembrance Day as banners will fly on Christina and Wellington Streets leading to the Cenotaph, honouring the living and dead who served. Banners will be hung on street poles during Remembrance time. The banners will be put up each year for three years then returned to the sponsor. This initiative, by Bill and Laurie Chafe of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 62, is part of the renewal of our history along with the War Remembrance Book with the life stories of all those who served and perished in service to Canada since the Boer War till today. The banners cost $150 apiece and Bluewater Power has generously agreed to install them. The vinyl banner will have a picture of the service member with name and details of their service and who purchased the banner.
Tom Slater, author of The War Remembrance Book, and a group of friends, Tom, Lou, Randy, Gary and myself, are sponsoring two banners. One for the living, Tom Slater’s Dad, Oliver Slater, and one for the dead, my Grandfather, Harold Johnston.
Oliver Slater now resides in Sarnia. He joined the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve at age 17. Served along the east coast in a sub chaser and in convoy duty across the Atlantic to Ireland and Britain as an Able Seaman. The Battle of the Atlantic lasted the duration of WWII and was critical to victory. Many died in the watery grave of the Atlantic.
The second banner is in memory of my Grandfather, Harold Johnston, who served in the 8th Army in North Africa as a Bombardier in the Royal Artillery. He died for KING and COUNTRY on June 10th 1942 and is buried in the Allied War Cemetery in Tobruk along with 2,220 other servicemen. My Mom, May, was six when he died and all her life she remembered and treasured his memory and service. The inscription for the dead in the cemetery in the sands of North Africa is “THEIR NAMES LIVETH FOR EVERMORE”.
The banner programme is a simple, powerful way of ensuring those who served liveth for ever more. Looking forward to November 11th as the parade marches by the banners with pride and respect. “We Will Remember Them”.
If you have any ideas or comments please call me at 519-332-0330 Ext. 3312 or 519-336-8092 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Mayor Mike Bradley, a South Australian native, has served as a Member of Parliament for Sarnia Lambton (1980-1985). He was first elected to Sarnia Council in November 1985 and elected Mayor in 1988. He was the youngest Mayor in Sarnia’s history. On January 1st, 1991, he became the first Mayor of amalgamate City of Sarnia-Clearwater and the first Mayor of Sarnia to serve on Lambton County Council in over seven decades. In October 2014, Mayor Bradley was re-elected for a 9th term with 70% of the vote.
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