Growing up at the Rosseau General Store
By Patti Vipond
Terry Einarson tells a story well, and both Susan, his wife of 20-years, and I lean a little towards him as he pauses to recall details from his life as one of the sons of the owners the Rosseau General Store.
“As kids, we grew up on the lake and had an old Peterborough boat we called the Gasping Annie, and delivered groceries with it,” he smiles, sitting comfortably on a wicker couch on the porch of the couple’s home in the village of Rosseau. “I did deliveries twice a week in the summer, and the other three days I took groceries out to Lake Joe on Stanley House Road and on Burgess Road, because in those days, husbands brought their families up here and the wives didn’t have vehicles. So, I was the grocery boy that showed up in the old truck.”
Eventually, Terry’s Aunt Freida arrived in Rosseau from Iceland to be with her cousin, Terry’s grandmother. She met and married Jim Brown, and they bought the store in 1918.
Meanwhile, Terry’s grandfather, after business problems in Toronto, went to Manitoba to become a farmer. But in 1920, he arrived in Rosseau and joined Jim in the store. Terry picks up the tale at this point.
“Everyone charged their groceries and paid every so often,” he says. “In 1944, dear old grandfather died of cancer and we moved from Whitestone. By 1945 or 1946, Dad bought the store from Uncle Jim and ran it until 1967. Uncle Ivan, who married Dad’s sister, was a partner from 1946. By 1967, the ?slave labour’ had all left. My oldest brother James went on the railroad, Bill became a chef and then food controller for Cara Corporation Canada, and I was working in the aircraft industry after being in the Royal Canadian Air Force.”
The house still attached to the store was the Einarson home. Ivan and his spouse lived in the Homer family’s former apartment over the shop. What is now the ice cream parlour beside the store was the Einarsons’ living room, and the store behind the parlour was their dining room. The kitchen was behind the dining area, and three bedrooms were upstairs.
But proximity was not the motivation behind the Einarson boys’ involvement in the store’s operation. All family members were expected to support the enterprise.
“You went in after supper and you filled the shelves, swept the floor and carried things up and down stairs and at 9 o’clock, if you got the chance, you went and did your homework,” Terry recalls. “That’s the type of life we had with the store. Dad fed you and clothed you, and you lived in his house, so you just kept helping him.”
“When Uncle Jim ran the store, as you came in the front door, all the groceries were on the right hand side and boots, pants and dry goods were on the left,” says Terry. “Cereal boxes were up top, so they used a stick to bring them down. There was a long counter and stools. You came in, sat down and put your list on the counter. Someone ran around and picked up all your groceries. Aunt Freida would go in the house and bring you a cup of tea or coffee. That still happened when my father took over, but the store soon became self-serve.”
Esther Einarson often kidded one customer who arrived at the store from his cottage with a different girlfriend on a regular basis. “One day, he came into the store with a woman and he said, ?Mrs. Einarson, don’t say a word. I’m marrying this one,'” Terry laughs.
In the 1950s, the Rosseau General Store became renowned for its cheese thanks to an aging room downstairs. Rounds of Schneiders cheese, stored in wooden barrels, were turned over once a month to let the oil seep through. In summer, cottagers from all over bought blocks of the prized cheese to take home.
“I remember when I was a kid up here in the summer, we couldn’t get old cheese anywhere that was a good as you got at the Rosseau General Store,” says Susan.
Fred Einarson brought in fresh fruits and vegetables from Clark’s Produce in Toronto, and meat from local farmers as well as from the city. Terry picked so many raspberries for the store that the thought of picking or eating them now is out of the question.
But despite the hard work, Terry met many people who became friends, and was acquainted with the village’s familiar summer faces. He remembers a beautiful young woman called Adrienne who married one of the Clarkson boys from Lake Rosseau. She later became Canada’s Governor General.
Terry tells one more story about another visitor to the general store.
“Prince Andrew was standing in the doorway of the store one day,” he says. “He would come and stay with the Eaton family. My father-in-law George put his hand on Prince Andrew and said, ?Get out of the way son, I want into the store.’ Once he got in, people said, ?Do you know who that was? That was Prince Andrew.’ And George said, ?I don’t care. He was in my road.'”