May 10, 2022
Interior of McFarland's Store, circa 1900
At one point, Fenelon Falls had seven grocery or general stores each of which catered to its own unique clientele. Vanatter’s specialized in meat, Burgoyne’s had the finest of everything, while Alice and Welly McFarland did a great job of looking after the farming community.
Alice (Green) McFarland grew up near Bury’s Green in North Verulam and had an especially close connection with her old neighbours once she moved into town. Being a grocer was seen as a good job back then, and many people aspired to work in retail—hence there being seven grocery stores in Fenelon Falls. Unlike today’s supermarkets which receive shipments from their parent corporations, it was a lot of work to track down everything that was sold. Alice and Wellington were the last generation to operate McFarland’s, a store that dated back to 1873.
McFarland’s sold a lot of shoes and boots, particularly to ordinary working folk, in contrast to Burgoynes that were just down the street and catered to an elite clientele. McFarland’s had a lot of men’s clothing, work clothes, shorts, jeans, coats, vests and socks. On the other side of the store there were groceries. Back then if you wanted to return something, you had to give a long explanation and could not take for granted that a refund would ultimately be issued. A lot of the merchandise was in the dark hardwood cases characteristic of old Ontario stores.
Catering to farmers was a very utilitarian business. Kathleen Armstrong recalls that her family would shop for “just the real basics. There were no luxuries, I am quite sure…. You didn’t get anything to make a Christmas cake until the family allowance came in. Just flour to make bread with. We would not have bought any cookies.” Most of her neighourbours could easily relate to her childhood experience of making the most of what was available.
McFarland’s Store was located on the northeast corner of Colborne and Francis Streets, in a building that Joseph McFarland had built as a general store in 1904. After Wellington died in 1948, Alice continued the business, though she sold the south half of the building to druggist John Coburn. She shifted the remainder business to Brian Devan and retired in 1969.